Drake hides Jeanine in a smuggler’s compartment in his cabin then lets Sir Phillip and his inspection team search the Star.
My first few minutes in the smuggler’s compartment weren’t too bad. I didn’t have a lot of space, but Grandfather’s training regimen kept me limber enough that I wasn’t really uncomfortable. A cushion beneath my backside would have been nice, but at least my neck and shoulders weren’t hunched. And then the commotion began above me.
Feet pounded over my head as one—no, two—people entered the Captain’s cabin. They stamped around overhead doing Lord knows what in the cabin, and I found myself ducking every time they approached the sliding deck plate. Since the deck plate was part of the small area of open floor space in the cabin, they stomped right over me a lot. Every time they did, I caught my breath, waiting for the plate to slide aside and leave me revealed and helpless before whoever was searching the room.
I assumed I’d get used to the tromping overhead and no longer feel a stab of fear every time someone crossed the plate, but I never did. Worse, my body’s fight-or-flight reaction pumped adrenaline into my bloodstream with every crossing. I was jittery with excess energy by the time the two people finally left the cabin. Sweat trickled down my face and between my shoulder blades, adding to my discomfort.
Even when the two people searching the Captain’s cabin left, I found relaxation impossible. Though muffled by distance and the deck plate, I heard lots of other banging and stomping inside the Star. Could my little compartment be the only smuggler’s hold in the ship? Of course not. I remembered Drake’s casual tale of smuggling an entire family out from under House Kahn’s noses, so there were bound to be several more compartments hidden throughout the ship. If those searching found just one of those other hiding places, I felt certain the man in charge—the man Grandfather called ‘Phillip’—would have the Star torn apart until he discovered every compartment.
Then I would die just like Grandfather had.
That’s when the fear I’d held at bay, the one thought I’d refused to acknowledge, broke through my willful ignorance and occupied my mind. Grandfather was dead. He had to be. There was something in the way this Phillip and Grandfather spoke to each other, some long-past undercurrent of hatred which made me certain their fight had been to the death. Besides, I knew Grandfather would die to protect me. He told me as much all the time while hammering into me the understanding that I must not waste his death, that I must use the seconds he bought to run away.
Growing up, I assumed Grandfather was using this melodrama to make me take my training seriously. Even if there was some strange secret foe chasing Grandfather, I assured myself that I would stay and fight with Grandfather when the foe appeared. And having me fighting at his side would tip the balance of the fight in his favor. In my dreams, we’d vanquish the enemy and, pride shining in his eyes, Grandfather would tell me how I had saved his life and helped bring down some intergalactic criminal.
When the all-too-real foe came through our doorway, I didn’t hesitate. The second Grandfather said ‘Argenta protocol’ all of my childhood determination went by the wayside and I ran. I abandoned him without a second thought. I left my grandfather to die.
Filled with shame and remorse and sorrow, I found myself blinking back tears. Only the tears couldn’t be blinked back. They overflowed my eyes and streamed down my cheeks. Then the dam broke and I had to stuff my fist in my mouth to muffle my sobs as my entire body shook, racked with grief.
Finally, emotions spent, I subsided into quiet mourning for the man who raised me. I have no idea how long my grief consumed me, but the racket from the search no longer had any effect on me. I just sat in my little hole and waited for whatever would come next.
It grew stuffy and hot in the smuggler’s compartment as my body heat raised the temperature in the small space. Soon my sweat-soaked top and the short skirt were plastered to my skin and my hair stuck to my neck. When sweat rolled into my eyes and stung them, I looked straight down so the sweat dripped onto my lap instead.
I was so miserable from grief and discomfort that I didn’t notice when all of the banging around the ship ended and feet tromped off the Star. Only when a single pair of feet entered the cabin did I realize how quiet it was. I resisted the temptation to find and press the button which opened the deck plate, assuming the feet belonged to Drake and that he’d open the compartment soon. Then I heard a single voice raised above me. I couldn’t make out the words nor could I imagine who Drake was talking to, but I desperately wished whoever was out there would leave so Drake could let me out.
I felt the stab of bright light and the blissful rush of cool air as the deck plate suddenly slid aside. Drake looked down at me with concern written on his face. “Are you okay, Jeanine?”
I raised my face and let the wonderful fresh air blow across me and nodded. “Are you alone? I heard you talking to someone.”
“I was quoting a few choice royal laws, just in case Sir Phillip had the inspection team plant a few video and audio bugs on board. It’s a pretty common practice with customs officers and completely illegal without a warrant of some kind.” Drake held up a small device. “This thing sends out a pulse signal which overloads the receptors for any bugs they left behind. I always quote the laws before triggering it so they’ll know it would be a waste of time to come back.”
“How do you know they didn’t have a warrant?” I asked.
“Because someone like Sir Phillip would have done a whole lot more than trash the furniture if he had any authorization beyond his badge.” Drake extended a hand to me. “Come on, let’s get you out of there and into a shower.”
I accepted the help gratefully, groaning as protesting joints and muscles uncoiled. Wondering if Drake planned on joining me in the shower and also wondering how I’d react if he did, I let him help me to the bathroom.
“Do you have any other clothes besides what you’re wearing?” he asked, stopping outside the bathroom.
I patted my bag. “Yes, thank you.”
“Good. Toss your sweat-soaked clothes out here and I’ll run them through the cleaner while you’re bathing.” Leaving me at the door, he added, “The Star is hooked up to the city’s water system, so take as long as you need in there.”
I did exactly as Drake instructed. The clothes I’d been wearing slapped wetly on the deck when I tossed them out of the bathroom. More importantly, the water didn’t shut off after two minutes. I luxuriated under the hot water, scrubbing myself all over twice before I felt clean. Then I just stood under the shower and let the water cascade over me. My brain tried to think about what I was going to do next, but I simply couldn’t concentrate. Grandfather always said I shouldn’t force myself to think about something unless it was a life or death situation. My overall situation did fit that description, but the threat wasn’t imminent any more. I told my brain to shut up and just let myself relax. And grieve some more for my grandfather.
Eventually, the hot water lost its appeal and I shut it off. I emerged from the steamy bathroom a few minutes later, dressed in the black outfit I’d planned on wearing for our date. Drake hadn’t been idle while I was showering, either. He’d cleaned up the little living area where we’d eaten our dinner a few hours ago. Drake had even managed repairs of a sort to some of the cushions.
He gave me an appraising look. “How are you feeling?”
“Clean,” I said. “Sad. Scared.”
“You’ve already figured out your grandfather is dead?”
I nodded. “That damned knight would be dead if grandfather was still alive. Did you find some kind of news report about it?”
“Yeah. The report blamed it on criminals, of course.” Drake waved me over to a chair with one of the repaired cushions. “You need to tell me what’s going on, Jeanine. Why is Sir Phillip out to get you?”
I flopped into the chair and gave Drake a look with far too much desperation in it. “God’s truth, Drake, I have absolutely no idea.”
What does Jeanine know? Find out in Chapter 7, coming Friday!