There was a void between the group even I could feel. Original crew and new. One eyed the other, not quite trusting, but needing each other to run the larger ship and get to port safely.
Or as safe as we were all going to be. Because Captain was right. Their ship couldn’t help but tell Freska everything. If I wasn’t sure there wasn’t an AI yet developed, despite all attempts over the years to create the independently-learning computer brains in robot bodies, I’d think it was the first of its kind. Almost before she finished it was spitting out information, sharing files, vids, and even the log history.
“I think we have it.” Deke stood behind two crew members who were feverishly working on the vid screens in front of them. He had his arm cradled against his chest but it wasn’t even wrapped.
“There.” Deke stalked over to a vid screen on the wall and pressed his hand against it, turning it on. He tapped two buttons and the planet on the screen rotated until a large, sprawling cube expanded into millions of tiny cubes.
“This is our first destination.”
Captain’s hands clenched. “That’s Councilman Breck Mejer Frijul Major’s seat. Are you sure he’s part of the conspiracy?”
“You doubt me?” Freska asked.
“No, no.” Captain was quick to reassure her. I didn’t blame him. What she could do with technology….
“Deke said first,” I said. “How many are we actually up against?” I had the vision of half the Central cities and districts being in on it and against us, with all their planets and military resources allied against us with Brox.
“I sent him two. I’m sorry, Captain Querry.” Her aggressive, cocky tone was completely gone and in its place was a true sorrow.
Just two. That was good. Way better than I feared. But why was she sorry?
The crew member brought up the second location, and Deke stiffened at the same time Captain surged to his feet.
“No.” His objection was implacable, his refusal absolute. “There’s no way.”
“What? What is it?” I moved to stand beside him, but there was so much tension running through Captain’s body that I didn’t dare touch his clenched fists.
“We got roped into this business because one of the people asking was Captain Querry’s cousin.” Deke spoke slowly, watching Captain as he spoke. “He’s our contact in Intelligence. Freska’s ship has pinpointed multiple communications coming from his office and his residence.”
“You think she’s wrong?” I asked.
Silence fell over the entire room, like everyone held their breath.
Captain’s shoulders were rigid, and he looked at me. I tilted my head, trying to decipher what he was thinking and feeling. I couldn’t quite do it. But then his shoulders sagged, and his hands opened. I put my hand on his arm, then ran it down and squeezed his hand. He grabbed mine and didn’t let go.
“No. She’s not wrong. It would make sense. It’d have to be someone in Intelligence; they’ve sent us on too many easy missions where everything has gone exactly right. They knew all our moves, all Central Command’s moves. Working with Frijul, they’d have access to the ear of almost everyone who travels to planet. Almost all trade, all travel, goes through his district.” The grip on my hand was so tight, my knuckles were white.
I was strong enough to take it, and anything else he needed to support him. “What are we going to do?”
“That depends.” Captain took a deep breath. “Our guests were supposed to escort us back. If our counterattack remained undetected, we have the element of surprise. My contacts are ready; I reached back far, into our early days. Military escorts will rendezvous with us, in stealth mode, now that we know our targets. We’re going to hit them both, hard, and take down this conspiracy.”
Deke grinned. “I’m all for hard.”
Someone groaned, and Deke made a rude gesture. Kekillill scoffed. “Can you grow up? Captain Querry, I’m unsure of how you expect to be able to land at Intelligence when all air traffic is closed to that location except by express permission; your cousin won’t just allow you to land when he knows you or your soldier allies have figured out what’s going on when you don’t go to Frujil’s ‘port with the escort.”
“We will go to Frijul’s port with the escort. And to Intelligence. Two of the ships are matches to these vessels, and if Freska will agree to ask them to change their names and location pings, we can split the crew between the ships and strike in a coordinated attack.”
Kekillil stood, placing both hands behind her back. “I would be honored to lead one ship, sir.”
Captain shot him a look, and he subsided.
“This ship is mine by writ, and I cannot gainsay that without Command’s express permission in certain situations, and I have already given command of the other ship to Freska. She answers to her, and her alone. You will simply have to remain under my command a bit longer, I’m afraid.”
Kekillill nodded abruptly. “Yes, sir.” She sat.
“Once we get there, what happens?” That’s what I wanted to know.
“Then we take Elliard and Frijul into custody. We find any others involved in this little scam when the vermin scuttle from the light we’ll shine on filthy collaboration. And, with any luck, it’ll all be rooted out in just a few days.”
Even I knew that was highly unlikely, and a few weeks was probably be pushing our luck. Months if we weren’t lucky.
“Then we’re free? Brox has no hold on us? We can just disappear?” That sounded… amazing. I never thought I’d want to hide from the world, after being in that cell, but if Captain was there with me? I was in.
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