I maintain that sending three individuals, two of which are untrained in covert operations and a third whose talents have atrophied thanks to years of disuse, is quite possibly the most egregious misuse of resources that this Council has ever contemplated and I cannot and will not support this effort with an open heart. My conscience will not let me rest for fear of failure, which I believe that this effort is wholly doomed to.
— D’Arcy Morgause, speech to the Rose Council, 22 Octem 5249
6 Novem 5249 PD
For a few agonizing moments, nothing happened. Brendan listened to the blood pounding in his ears and thought that he’d been betrayed, that any second a cadre of military police and shock troopers would be down here to take him into custody.
Then the door locks slid open with a soft click, the clamps holding the door shut releasing with a clunk, like an airlock. With not a small amount of trepidation, Brendan shouldered the door open.
His heart slammed back up into his throat.
Damn. She looks like Lindsay.
The woman lay on a narrow slab, body hunched into a protective curl, knees drawn to her chest and head bowed slightly. Plastic ties secured her wrists and ankles, binding them so tightly the flesh around the bonds was as bright white as the bonds themselves. Silent tears leaked from her eyes that seemed to almost glow in the dimness of the room, meeting his gaze with an intensity that startled him.
Her jaw tightened around the gag in her mouth as Brendan crossed the floor in three quick strides, digging his utility blade out of a pocket of his jumpsuit.
“Lay still,” he hissed, sliding the narrowest blade of his knife beneath the bindings on her wrist, sawing at them and forcing panic down.
If we get caught, we’re screwed. In the shadows to his left, he could see the bare outline of medical equipment. He swallowed bile again, willing his stomach to stay where it was.
He rocked backward as the bindings on America Farragut’s wrists snapped. Now for the—
She tackled him, fingers clawing at his throat until her hands closed around it. Brendan bucked, eyes popping wide.
What the hell? What the hell is she doing? I’m here to rescue her!
Alternating black and bright spots danced at the edges of his vision. Frail as she looked, her hands were like metal bars linked to pneumatic steel cables. She was crushing his throat.
“Stop,” Brendan gasped, hands scrabbling weakly at her wrists. His body was already going sluggish.
I’m going to be murdered by my wife’s mother who doesn’t know I’m here to save her life.
“Marshal Windsor sent me,” he wheezed, the words barely making a sound.
America’s eyes narrowed.
Not Marshal Windsor. She wouldn’t have known him as Marshal Windsor.
“Adam Windsor,” he mouthed, no longer able to make discernible sounds. “Adam Windsor sent me.”
“Tell her Adam Windsor sent you and she shouldn’t try to kill you when you cut her loose,” Marshal Windsor had said before he’d left.
I should have remembered that sooner, Brendan thought as darkness closed on him.
A sharp slap brought him back to his senses and he gasped in air. The pressure on his neck was gone, but his breath still came in raspy. America sat next to him on the floor, breathing heavily herself and looking vaguely mortified. The gag lay in her lap, spotted here and there with blood from where it had dug painfully at the corners of her mouth. She wiped her face with the sleeve of her thick gray jumpsuit, staring at him.
“I could have killed you,” she said, voice breathy and horrified. “You look like one of them.”
“I used to be,” Brendan said, wincing at how much his voice sounded like a frog’s croaking. “Then I screwed my head on straight.” He groped for his knife so he could free her ankles.
“Gru—Adam sent you?”
Brendan nodded as his fingers closed around his knife. “More than just him, though. We won’t have much time to get out of here. Can you walk?”
“Once you get me loose, I think so.” She swallowed hard as he slid the knife down beneath the binding around her ankles. “I’m sorry.”
“I was stupid. It’s not your fault.”
“What year is it?”
He froze, heart starting to hammer again. She doesn’t know? He looked at her sidelong, meeting her pained eyes. “It’s 5249.”
She nodded slowly, swallowing hard as she rubbed at her wrists. “We’ve lost a lot of time, then.”
I’m not sure who “we” is, but I’m guessing the answer is yes, yes you have. Brendan set his jaw as he dutifully sawed through the thick plastic tie.
“How are you planning on getting me out of here?” America asked as Brendan rocked back, the tie finally snapping loose.
He shook his head as he pocketed his knife and rolled to his feet. “Just stay with me and you’ll see for yourself.” He reached down and pulled her to her feet, increasingly aware of how small she actually was, how thin.
Bloody hell, what were they doing here? He pulled her arm around his shoulders and pulled her out of her torture chamber, into the hall. She winced, even in the dim light of the corridor.
“Damn,” she whispered, eyes tearing. “I must have been in there for longer than I realized this time.”
Brendan opened his mouth to ask a question, then snapped it shut again. Now isn’t the time to ask what they were doing to her, or why. Get out of here first, get home, then you can ask any goddamned question you want.
Just get out of here first, and then you’ll all have all the time in the galaxy—for anything and everything.
At least until the war comes.
America leaned against the wall as he yanked the door shut behind them. The locks and clamps reengaged with a thunk and he felt his heart start to beat again.
If it looks like nothing happened, then that’ll buy us some time.
The puddle of vomit on the floor would probably give them away, though. America was staring at it until he hauled her arm back across his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t realize—”
“It’s all right,” he hissed. “Shields are up again, so I’m not feeling a damned thing.”
She choked on a weak laugh.
He dragged her down the corridor toward the darkened access hall, dreading—expecting—with every step to hear alarms sounding or footsteps pounding down the hall.
They’d almost made it to the hall when Brendan heard the footsteps.
Damn and damn. He started moving faster.
America stumbled, almost fell. Brendan swallowed a curse and picked her up, throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of grain. She made a strangled sound, then went silent as he made a silent, mad dash for the hallway.
“Hey! Hey, what are you—” The man that had come around the curve of the main corridor was slightly taller than Brendan, dressed in a bright white labcoat and sharply pressed slacks. There was an almost predatory gleam to his eyes that melted into hate when he caught sight of who Brendan had been carrying.
Zaki, Brendan realized with a jolt. It had to be.
Brendan stopped thinking. He dropped America unceremoniously to the deck and launched himself at the man. He dropped low, shoulder catching Zaki in the stomach. The taller man folded down over him. Brendan straightened abruptly, using his momentum to flip Zaki up and over him. Zaki somersaulted over him and crashed to the deck, landing on his shoulders.
Brendan spun in time to see Zaki scrabbling in his coat for something. The pilot drew his leg back and kicked Zaki as hard in the temple as he could.
Zaki went still.
Breath burned in Brendan’s throat, his chest moving like a bellows, the sound rasping. He stumbled back toward America, who got to her feet shakily.
“One of the lead scientists?” Brendan wheezed. “I assumed as much. Come on, we don’t have much time. Someone’s going to find him sooner rather than later if he hasn’t already raised an alarm.” His hand closed around America’s wrist and he half led, half dragged her to the dark hallway a few meters from where Zaki lay.
The shakes hit once they were in the elevator, heading back up toward the deck where his ship was docked. Brendan glanced at the lift controls, noting the time on the tiny computer display. He swallowed convulsively.
“Pray that we’re not going to walk into shift change,” he muttered to America, trying to bring himself back under control.
“Are you all right?” she asked, touching his hand lightly. He shivered at the fear bleeding through the touch but managed to smile at the tendril of reassurance she tried to send to him.
“Will be,” he said, straightening up. “Just stay close. We only get one shot at this and we’re going to have to make it count.
The lift doors opened onto a silent hallway, dark on the graveyard shift. Brendan stepped out, drawing America slowly with him, shielding her from sight with his body as he slowly looked up and down the corridor.
The ship should be that way. He headed left, moving at a light jog. The girl had done well—the lift was damned close to his docking port.
Had she known that somehow?
A shiver shot down his spine. That was another thing he’d have to ask America about, but later.
After we make it out of this alive.
He came to the end of the corridor and peeked around the corner, looking up and down the line of docking ports. There were some techs at the very far end, but their backs were to them. He took a deep breath, exhaled it slowly, then hustled America across the hall and down a few ports, heart beating so fast and so loud he was terrified those techs would hear it and look to see what had snapped loose back here.
They ducked into the airlock and Brendan kicked his implant active again, transmitting the command to open the hatch. He gave America a little push inside before the hatch was fully open, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up on end.
Turning slowly, he saw another pilot standing at the end of the airlock.
The other pilot was middle-aged, brows knit over dark eyes. Brendan slowly drew his sidearm.
“Hands away from your link,” he instructed in a rough voice, stepping away from the hatch, which cycled closed behind America with a pulsed command from Brendan.
The other pilot hesitated for a bare second.
Brendan snapped off the safety and powered up his weapon. The man slowly lifted his hands.
“You’re not authorized to take anyone off-station,” the pilot said slowly, keeping his hands were Brendan could easily see them.
“Of course I am,” Brendan said quietly, his rock-steady voice belying the maelstrom gripping his stomach and the fact that his heart was trying to pound its way out of his chest. “General Hatchii ordered me to escort my charge to the ground. He said that Katsuana’s people might offer resistance. Are you offering me resistance? I’m authorized to respond with deadly force.”
The pilot hesitated again.
Not good. Brendan’s finger tightened against the trigger, but he didn’t pull it. Not quite yet. I’ve made it this far. I’ll kill you if you make me. Don’t make me do it. “Answer me.” He pulsed a command to the airlock controls, hoping that it would work.
The station-side hatch gave a quiet hiss, almost too quiet to be heard, and began to ease closed. The other pilot didn’t notice, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
“I have to check your authorization.”
“Wrong answer.” Brendan pulled the trigger, squeezing off a single shot. It sounded far too loud to not be noticed, even as the airlock hatch clanked shut.
The other pilot’s eyes widened at the hole that suddenly appeared in his chest. He dropped inelegantly to the airlock’s deck, a tangle of limbs and clothing.
Brendan swallowed bile, willing himself not to finally give in to his nausea and puke all over the body—not that there was anything left in his stomach to bring up. He holstered his sidearm, tearing his gaze away from the dead man and ordering the ship to cycle the hatch open.
Jaw set, he marched in as soon as the hatch was open enough for him to get inside. He slapped the manual override as soon as he was inside, sending the hatch cycling shut again.
“What happened?” Ezra asked. He was getting America situated on one of the bunks, medical kit already open on the floor next to him.
Brendan shook his head, sliding into his chair at the console. “Someone got a little too curious and didn’t give me the right answers. Splash one Corp pilot.” He could see Ezra’s wince reflected in the window. He shook his head slightly. There was nothing he could do.
The man had made his choice. And I made mine. There wasn’t time to question the morality of the choice—it was done.
At least he’s going to be floating out in space, probably not noticed for a day or two—and he’ll never be able to tell anyone what he saw. Of course, I have to hope those techs didn’t hear the shot.
If they did, we’re screwed.
“Buckle up. Hopefully, this won’t be a bumpy ride, but you never know.” He breathed a prayer and unclamped from the docking port, nudging his ship away from the station.