After receiving a comm call, Sam pulls his blaster on Nancy.
It’s never fun staring down the business end of a blaster, but this wasn’t the first time for me. People like Sam are the same all over—they’re looking for fear. They get off on it. They feed on it. They get bolder. And, too often, they end up doing something really stupid, such as shooting the person staring down the business end of the blaster.
I was all for Sam doing something stupid, just not if that something ended up with me dead. So I kept my face impassive, folded my arms, canted my hips, and raised one eyebrow.
“I thought you were in a hurry, Sam.”
I was rewarded with a look of confusion that flitted across Sam’s face. He got control of himself pretty quickly, but it was obvious the confrontation wasn’t going the way he expected.
“Call your partner and tell her to come back here.”
Crap. Someone on the base must have caught Erica. None of the crew from the base saw her during the unloading, so if a resident spotted her heading back here they wouldn’t automatically know she was a stranger. But if they caught her and couldn’t identify her, that would point right at the only ship currently docked at the base–the Darkheart.
Erica and I had a plan for this, but it was tenuous at best. Part one of the plan was for me to play dumb.
Shrugging as if Sam’s request wasn’t a big deal, I tapped my comm. “Erica, can you come back to the cargo hold for a minute?”
I waited a few seconds and then tried again. “Erica? This is extremely unfunny—like blaster-pointed-at-my-chest levels of unfunny.”
After a few more seconds, I rolled my eyes and then met Sam’s gaze. “You want me to go up front and look for her or do you want to send one of your crew?”
“There’s no need for anyone to look for her,” Sam said. “Someone else is already bringing her back to the ship.”
“She was caught inside the base?” At Sam’s nod, I did my best to look furious. “Son. Of. A. Bitch! I can’t believe she’s doing this crap again.”
“What crap?” Sam looked truly puzzled as the scene followed a different script than the one he expected.
“I took Erica on as a favor to a friend. Call her a reclamation project. She was a thief growing up, straightened out for a while in the Fringer Navy, but fell back to thievery after her husband died.” I shook my head sadly. “A friend thought she’d respond well if she was working with another war vet who lost someone near and dear.”
“And that’s supposed to be you?”
This is the point where most people nod in understanding, so I didn’t have to fake my expression of astonishment. “Yes, me. Captain Nancy Martin of the Terran Federation Navy assigned to the TFS Phoenix. Fighter Squadron three oh eight.”
“I’ve never heard of you.”
“What about the Ark 2. Does that ring any bells?”
“Nope.” Sam looked at his crew, “Does that mean anything to any of you?”
Heads shook ‘no’ all around me. I’d been searching for someplace where every other person didn’t ask me about the battle with the insane AI Arktu or offered sympathy for the loss of Sko. Apparently, I just didn’t go out far enough until this trip.
“Whatever. The point is, I’ve kept Erica on a tight leash so she can’t wander off and get into trouble. That’s why I had her in the pilot’s compartment giving me cargo balance readings.” I screwed my face up in puzzlement. “And she was doing that, too. How the hell did she manage that and slip off the ship?”
Watching me, Sam lowered his blaster. He didn’t holster it, but at least he wouldn’t blow a hole between my breasts if his finger twitched unexpectedly. At the same time, a couple of men from the mining station dragged Erica into the docking bay. Dr. Spinnock trailed along behind them.
My partner lifted her head, an undoubtedly real expression of remorse on her face. “I’m sorry, Nancy, I-”
Sam stepped over and slapped Erica hard. “Silence! I’ll tell you when you can speak.”
Dr. Spinnock frowned at the scene but didn’t comment on it. “We caught her slipping out of the medical records room. I can’t imagine what she was doing in there since we don’t keep anything of value among the records.”
Sam grabbed Erica by the hair and jerked her head up to face him. “Explain yourself.”
“I…I got lost. I was looking for shops so I could lift a little something. A souvenir, you know?” Erica tried to shrug, not an easy thing to do with a man holding each of her arms and Sam pulling on her hair. “When I found the records room, I thought maybe I could find some receiving records and maybe get the door number for a storeroom.”
Sam motioned for a couple of his crew to take Erica from the men holding her. “Put her in her cabin. I’ll take care of her once I finish here.”
“Don’t be too harsh on the woman,” Dr. Spinnock said. “She did no real damage. In fact, she was remarkably neat, leaving the records exactly as she found them.”
“She did considerable damage to our reputation,” Sam growled.
“No, Sam,” I said, “she damaged my reputation. Members of my crew are my responsibility.” I turned to the doctor. “Thank you for returning her to us. May I repay you for your time and effort?”
Dr. Spinnock waved off my offer, “There’s no need, Captain Martin. It gave our security team a much-needed real-life test.”
“That’s very kind of you, sir,” I said, extending my hand.
The man took my hand, eying me curiously. “That young woman called you Nancy. You aren’t the Captain Nancy Martin of Ark 2 fame, are you?”
I ducked my head, embarrassed despite myself. “That was a lifetime ago, Dr. Spinnock. These days I’m just plain old Captain Martin.”
“I think I understand, Captain—at least as well as anyone who wasn’t there can understand.” The man added his second hand to our clasp and flashed a brief smile. “Let me just say, I thank the Creator there are people like you in this universe.”
With that, the doctor and his two companions turned and left.
“What was that all about?” Wanda asked no one in particular.
“It don’t matter,” ungrammatical Sam spat. “We done wasted enough time on this crap. Get yer asses onboard.”
I ignored Sam, watching the doctor’s retreating back until he entered a tunnel and was lost from sight. What could cause a man like that to do business with someone like Miss Perkins? I simply couldn’t reconcile the man’s words, his caring tone of voice, and the look in his eyes with people who would kidnap young people just to harvest their organs.
“Hey, Captain Hero,” Sam called from inside the ship, “get a move on. We got a schedule to keep.”
Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to have a very long talk with Dr. Spinnock. As I followed Sam into the ship, I began concocting a plan that might let me do just that. It was a desperate plan, but it couldn’t be any worse than going to war against an insane AI and his robot army. Could it?
What is Nancy planning? Find out in Chapter 14, coming Friday.