As Jana and friends run for their lives, what is Jeanine doing?
I paid close attention to the older man in front of me. His much younger and much more attractive wife stood next to him, pretending to do the same.
“And that, Your Grace, is why I sought this appointment,” said Baron… Baron… Morton? Yes, Baron Morton.
Okay, I wasn’t much better than Baroness Morton. In our defense, the good Baron was at best a bore and at worst a blowhard. He wasn’t the least bit interesting nor particularly intelligent. Worse, he had no feel for the needs of his people. The few times I tuned in on his words, the message was invariably about his needs, his desires, and his profits. Not once did he explain how the subjects of his barony would benefit from the changes he requested.
My office door opened quietly and Drake looked in. Relief washed over me at the sight of him walking my way, a purposeful expression on his face. Baron Boring droned on, so I must have kept that relief off my face. Then again, the Baron seemed so enthralled by his own words, that he might not have noticed if I stripped naked on top of my desk.
Drake nodded at the Baron and Baroness before whispering in my ear, “Get rid of this guy.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Baron,” I interrupted, “but an extremely important issue has arisen which requires my immediate attention.”
Amazingly, the Baron heard what I said and responded, though not in the way I might have expected. “I understand completely, Your Grace, but my needs are extremely important, as well. If you’ll just bear with me for another few moments, I’ll—”
Drake had walked back around my desk as Baron Morton spoke. Now, he caught the man by the arm and forcibly brought him to his feet. In a coldly formal tone, he said, “I am not a noble, Baron Morton, but even I recognize a polite dismissal when I hear one. As of this moment, Lady Jeanine has far more important demands on her attention than your requests.”
“But, I traveled four hyperspace jumps to—”
Baroness Morton caught his other arm and led him toward the door, “And we can return and discuss your matters later, when Her Grace hasn’t any pressing matters calling for her personal attention.”
I smiled gratefully at the Baroness and remained silent until my office door shut. “What’s happening, Drake?”
In response, my husband opened the desk drawer and pulled out the specially constructed data pad and writing tablet he had given me and began setting them up on my desk. While he did that, I pulled the opaque mask from the drawer, settled it over my eyes, and waited for Drake. Seconds later, he positioned my hand over the writing tablet. He began tapping on my back and I translated the taps into his message.
Message from our friends.
We had developed our own shorthand code, so Drake delivered that message with only a few taps. ‘Our friends’ meant Jana, Kelly, and Tilly.
Knowing the Star Stone could not divine meaning from a single word, I skipped using the writing tablet and asked, “What?”
They’ve been discovered and are on the run, Drake’s fingers drummed on my back.
“Dammit!” Even as I said that I began writing a question on the tablet. Has Jana made contact with that slicer?
It was Drake’s turn to speak a single word response, “Yes.”
I rapidly spelled out my next question. Did that slicer turn them in?
“No.” Drake’s fingers added, He’s on the run with them.
How long has it been since they were discovered?
Only a few hours, babe.
It always amused me when Drake tapped out an endearment like that. It also told me that our friends had not been captured nor did it appear capture was imminent. Drake would never have wasted even the few seconds necessary to spell out ‘babe’ in either of those cases. In a way, endearments had become shorthand for ‘the situation could be a lot worse.’
How did you get word so quickly? I asked.
It took Drake a while to tap the response because it didn’t involve everyday concepts. Tilly and I set up several means of communication before they left. Kelly and I did the same. All either of them needs is a few minutes to send a message to us.
I nodded my understanding before spelling, Can they get off Xapreathea?
Drake’s voice broke as he uttered that one-word death sentence. For that is what it was. If the Royal Intelligence Agency captured our friends, we would never see them again. We would never know their fate, but we would pray for a quick end rather than suffering years of torture and deprivation.
What about the Neert Palace on Xapreathea? I spelled.
It will be watched, Drake tapped. Besides, if the RIA suspects traitorous activity within the Palace, they may disregard its sovereignty. Royal permission is required, but Queen Charlotte will give it without a moment’s hesitation.
What about the Rising Star? She’s a fast ship, could they—
“No.” Drake followed that pronouncement with the tapped explanation. Xapreathea is heavily guarded by the Royal Navy. I couldn’t get past them, and I’m a much better pilot than Kelly.
You and I got away from Gaunner before I was recognized.
Drake’s fingers tapped, We had Jana’s program interfering with Gaunner’s planetary defense network and Grant’s precision hyper jump calculations to get past the space-based defenses.
I considered that for a moment. Jana is right there and has the help of another slicer. They can hobble Xapreathea’s defenses in real time. Can’t Grant calculate a course for them? Then, we just have to send it to them.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Drake replied. Tapping on my back, he added, Hyperspace calculations that complex have to be done just before you use them. There are too many variables — space stations to orbital weapons platforms to construction docks to large ships — to consider. Grant would have to be on the Rising Star during her take off window.
You know Grant better than I do, I spelled, will he go to Xapreathea and do that?
Yes, but it’s too dangerous. He’s already done way too much for me. I won’t ask him to do this.
“No,” I said, “but I will.”
What else could happen to hamper our heroes? Find out in Chapter 25, coming Wednesday.