19 Decem, 5249 PD
“Looks like my timing could have been a little better,” Deacon observed as Adam met him on the windblown landing pad at Halo Ridge. “Ran a little late, huh?”
Adam shook his head even as he reached to shake Deacon’s hand. “Your timing was fine. I shudder to think what would have happened here if you hadn’t shown up when and how you did. You have our thanks.”
“And my services, but I’m thinking that’s something better discussed over drinks somewhere under cover.” Deacon squinted against the wind and sun, then glanced out over the vista that stretched below.
Once the all-clear sirens had been sounded, the job of assessing the damage and cleaning up had begun with little fanfare. Rachel was down in the city, helping coordinate the efforts. They both knew the losses were heavy, likely to get worse when the final tallies were complete. Ezra Grace and Renee Vilenauva wouldn’t be getting much sleep for the next few days as they dealt with the worst of the injured, including Inspector Winston and Brendan Cho.
“At least we’ve got the chance to rebuild,” Adam said, following Deacon’s gaze. “It’s not Mimir, but it could have been. You stopped that from coming to pass, you know.”
“Somehow, I doubt that.”
“Don’t,” Adam said. “It’s true. If you hadn’t showed up—” He stopped and shook his head. “You’re right. This is something better discussed in private. Did you want to come inside? We’ll put you up here for a day or two until we can arrange something better. Did your crew need leave or anything?”
“That’s something we’ll have to discus,” Deacon said, tearing his gaze away from the devastation below. “I was told that the Foundation had made an arrangement with Mission Systems.”
“You heard right,” Adam said, turning toward the house and waving for Deacon to follow. The other man trailed in the marshal’s wake toward what had once been the Grace family home. “It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. They needed a soft place to fall and we need the ships they can provide us with—including the ones the Guard commissioned before Mimir fell.”
Deacon nodded slowly as they stepped into a sunlit study at the back of the house. “The Guard certainly isn’t using them.”
“Exactly.” Adam felt a pang of regret. The Guard wasn’t using them because the Guard was dead except for remnants and refugees—some here, some back in Commonwealth space.
Anyone left in Commonwealth space is in danger. He barely suppressed a shiver as the thought crossed his mind.
“Is this our savior?”
Deacon froze at the sound of America Farragut’s voice.
America stepped into the room with a bottle of local whiskey she’d liberated from Halo Ridge’s cellar. She gave Deacon a warm smile and nodded to one of the reading chairs that littered the study. “It’s good to see you again, Deacon.”
He dropped heavily into one of the chairs, eyes wide and staring. “We were told you were dead.”
“Rumors of that were greatly exaggerated,” she said, unstacking four small glasses. She started filling them one by one with the whiskey. “You’ll find that things like that aren’t always to be believed.”
“Apparently,” Deacon said, gaze flicking toward Adam. “Mission Systems hired me for the shake-down cruise on those ships. I didn’t realize I’d be flying into a warzone, but I’m glad I came prepared.”
“We are, too,” Adam said as he handed one of the glasses of whiskey to Deacon before he claimed one of his own. He eyed the fourth glass, glancing toward America. “Is Grant joining us?”
“Grant’s alive, too?”
America laughed a little and nodded. “He’s alive, but he’s not going to be joining us. He’s down in the city with Rachel, helping with the damage assessment.”
Adam frowned. Then who’s that glass for? “Then who…?”
She waved away the question, perching on the arm of another chair and staring at Deacon. “Was your employment with Mission Systems temporary?”
“Single run,” he said. “Which leaves me rather unemployed at this point.”
One corner of America’s mouth twitched toward a smile. “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”
Deacon shrugged. “My wife’s people are Wanderers. I can’t think of a better place to be than out here with the only people who have actually promised to figure out what happened at the Whispers.”
Adam arched a brow and glanced toward America. She shrugged slightly.
“We’re already walking that path and dragging Inspector Winston along for the ride.”
“The Commonwealth actually sent an inspector out here?” Deacon asked. “I think I’m shocked.”
“Ye of little faith, Deacon.” Frederick limped into the study, leaning a little more heavily on his cane than usual. Adam rocked back against his heels, blinking in surprise right alongside of Deacon.
“I didn’t think that Ezra Grace was going to let you out of his sight for at least a day or two,” Adam said.
Frederick shrugged with one shoulder, lightly touching the bandage taped against his temple and then tugging at his fresh shirt to resettle it. “He’s got far greater issues than me right now. I’m better off than most of the people that Dr. Grace and Dr. Vilenauva are dealing with right now.”
“I’m seeing ghosts,” Deacon said, his grip on his glass white-knuckled. “I bloody well died up there in that engagement and I’m seeing ghosts.”
“Not a ghost,” Frederick said as he eased into a chair and accepted the last glass of whiskey from America. “Not really. I just feel like one sometimes.”
“Telling everyone that Freder was dead was the only way we could protect him from whoever tried to murder him,” Adam said quietly, still unsettled by his friend’s sudden appearance. Daci was going to kill them both when she found out that he was here instead of in bed. “He’s been here since then.”
“If it makes you feel any better, they very nearly succeeded in that,” Frederick said, taking a quick sip of his whiskey.
“No, it really doesn’t.” Deacon sucked in a deep breath, still staring at Frederick. “I—I’m sorry, this is a little bit of a shock.”
“Rachel had the same reaction,” Adam said. “In any case…it sounded like you were offering the Foundation your services as a military tactician. We could use a fleet commander—I think that Aidan and Daci will agree with me.”
“I guess I was,” Deacon said quietly, shaking himself and looking at Adam again. “But it comes with a price.”
Adam raised a brow. “Try me.”
“My crew needs a safe place to live,” Deacon said quietly, “and there are two dozen families back in New Earth space that need to make it here before something bad happens to them. I need your help to make that happen.”
America and Adam exchanged a glance. America shrugged.
“Only two dozen? I think we can make that happen.”
Adam suppressed the urge to shake his head. This is going to be a doozy.
They’d find a way, though. They always did.