Having found myself stuck and unsure of where to go with The Fugitive Snare, I have put that novel aside for now and am now working on the sequel to my most recent novel, The Counterfeit Captain. Rest assured, I will finish Matt’s and Michelle’s story, just not right now.
* * *
“No! You’ll die if you stay in here, Sko.”
My voice was barely audible over the wind tearing at us, rushing out into the vacuum of space. Alone, I’d have been swept along with the wind. Alone, I’d have died. But I wasn’t alone. One strong arm wrapped around me, keeping me safe. The other strong arm fought from handhold to handhold, slowly driving against the wind.
Sko. Brave, gentle, wise Sko. Loving, passionate, intelligent Sko. The man I was meant to spend my life with.
Behind us, the wind carried that bastard Smith into the squirming mass of men who formed his crew. For a brief second, the howling wind fell silent. For a brief second, Sko was free to act. Always decisive, always putting others above himself, Sko carried me to the open hatch separating the computer room from the bridge.
One of Smith’s men popped through the knot of men and out into space. Once again, the wind roared and snatched at us. Sko put his lips against my ear so I might hear him.
“But you, my Captain, my love—you will live.”
He slapped the emergency close button and the hatch slid shut. In our final second together, Sko’s smile said everything he did not have the time to say. In our final second together, I died inside.
The stupor I’d worked so hard to drink myself into faded with alarming rapidity. Bloody hell. This could only mean one thing, but I wasn’t sober enough to remember it. It also meant the end to my three-year record of remaining falling-down drunk on the anniversary of Sko’s death.
Whatever else was going on, I was sober enough to realize I was in a dive bar. Worse, I was sober enough to realize the bar’s vid was showing one of the many versions of my story. I stared at the images through bleary eyes. A buxom blonde in a too-tight flight suit and showing lots of cleavage—something impossible to do in a real flight suit—held an imploring hand toward a closed hatch.
“Lilla is the blonde, you morons. I’m a redhead.”
I only realized I slurred that out loud when a couple of guys turned irritating looks my way. The bigger one of the two said, “Shut up—we’re watching the vid.”
The blonde with the big tits flounced to what was supposed to be a tech command console. A constipated expression crossed her face and she cried, “Your destruction is at hand, Arktu! With but the press of this ring icon, I will destroy you. With but the press of this ring icon, I shall have vengeance for my beloved, my Sko!”
Ah, that constipated look was obviously meant to be an expression of triumph. Or something. Obviously, this actress’s primary assets were still jiggling and had nothing to do with actual acting. Part of my mind wondered if she bungled the lines or if the scriptwriter was even worse at his job than the ‘actress’ was at hers.
An entirely human-sounding voice, filled with entirely human emotion, cried, “No, Nancy Martin! I beg you, let me live!”
“Never!” The woman’s hand rose. Her boobs bounced. She looked out of the vid at us. “This is for you, Captain Jonathan Yarrow!”
Her hand still rising, her boobs still moving, her eyes still staring vacantly out of the vid at us, she said, “This is for you, Chief Technical Officer Deborah Armstrong!”
She struck an overly dramatic pose. “Most of all, this is for you, Sko!”
“No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” screamed the all-too-human voice as the woman’s hand descended. She almost missed the console entirely, but her thumb did brush against the edge.
That’s when I shot the vid unit. Blew it into a million pieces. Considering I was still sobering up, I thought it was a pretty damned good shot. None of the other patrons agreed, so I tried reasoning with them.
I adopted my most diplomatic tone of voice and sneered, “Look, you morons, that’s not how it happened! And that has to be the worst-acted piece of garbage I’ve ever seen.”
I holstered my blaster, snapped the flap over it, and flashed my most winning smile at the others in the bar. “Face it, I did you drunken idiots a favor when I shot the unit.”
The drunken idiots stared at me, apparently unmoved by my impeccably reasoned and diplomatically-worded pronouncement. Then the guy who told me to shut up surged up and staggered my way. A few more men followed him.
The barkeeper called, “Don’t kill ‘er, boys—least ways not ‘till she pays for a new vid unit.”
I think I held my own until the police got there. Or I would have if I hadn’t gotten knocked out.
Some minutes or hours later, I woke up in a hospital room. A quick check with my implant showed I’d been out for close to two hours. I felt remarkably healthy for a woman who was on the wrong side of a one-sided bar brawl. Nothing ached. Nothing was broken. Worst of all, I was completely, depressingly sober.
A police officer stood by the door, speaking with a well-dressed woman. The policeman wasn’t pleased with what the woman said. His voice rose as he spoke, making it easy for me to hear him.
“…reckless endangerment, firing a deadly weapon in a crowded establishment, provoking a riot, destruction of private property, and whatever else I can think of to charge her with. So, no, the charges will not be dropped and this woman will not be released to you!”
A comm buzzed from the officer’s pocket.
“You’d better get that, Sergeant Mooney,” the woman said. “It’s your chief.”
Mooney grabbed his comm. His eyes widened as he read the caller ID. “Yes, Chief?”
The man listened, his expression darkening with each word. “I don’t care who she is, sir. The woman is a menace and she belongs in police custody.”
Mooney held the comm to his ear for another few seconds. “Yes, sir. Very clear, sir.”
The officer jammed the comm into his pocket, disgust written on his face. “Maybe you got to the Chief, but that bar was pretty busted up. The owner-”
“Has already been compensated, Sergeant Mooney. In exchange, he is not pressing charges.” The woman smiled without humor and patted the officer on the shoulder. “Run along now. I have private business to discuss with this woman.”
Without a glance my way, Mooney stalked from the room. The woman shut the door and faced me for the first time. “Hello, Captain Martin. I’m glad you’re awake.”
“My correct title is Captain Martin, Retired.”
The woman’s expression never changed. “I’m afraid your retirement must be put on hold for a while.”
“Why do I suddenly find myself wishing Sergeant Mooney was taking me into custody right now?” I asked.
“I have no idea, Captain Martin.” The woman’s lips turned up in an attempt at a friendly smile. “Do you mind if I call you Nancy?”
“Yes—especially since you haven’t introduced yourself.”
“You may call me Special Agent Hampton,” she said. “I work for-”
“The Federation Bureau of Investigation,” I interrupted. “You do realize your agency holds no authority over me, either as a private citizen or as a Federation naval officer?”
Without a word, Hampton handed a pad to me. I scanned the orders displayed on the screen. “Why the hell have I been reactivated and assigned to the FBI?”
“I could tell you, Captain Martin, but-”
“Then you’d have to kill me?”
“No.” The woman’s tone remained level throughout this exchange, though her eyes hardened after my last interruption. “I could tell you, but you’ll have to shut up long enough for me to do so.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “Tell me why the FBI needs me.”
“We don’t,” Hampton said.
She reached over and tapped the pad’s screen. My orders vanished, replaced by what looked like a school vid. A couple of hundred children in their mid-to-late teens milled and posed and cut-up for the cam. The kids laughed and chatted and mostly ignored instructions called from an adult—probably a teacher—behind the cam.
“They most certainly do.” Hampton caught my gaze and, for the first time, I saw a glimmer of humanity shining in her eyes. “Minutes after this vid was taken, those children left on an end-of-year school trip to a rim world. They never arrived.”
I looked back at the vid. Unbidden, images of children slaving away in harsh conditions under Arktu’s direction flooded my mind. Unbidden, I pictured the children Arktu no longer needed approaching the acid bath. Unbidden, I saw Lilla laughing with Sko.
“What do you need me to do?” I asked.
“We need you to find them, Captain Martin.”
Without taking my eyes from the pad, I said, “Call me Nancy.”
What can Nancy do that the FBI cannot do? Find out in Chapter 2, coming Wednesday.