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Authors: Chandra Ryan

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He followed her back out into the corridor. Her head was
bowed over the computer as her fingertip followed the columns of names and
access codes. She didn’t even seem to pay attention to where she was leading
him but he couldn’t help but notice. They were making their way to her
quarters. He could tell with each step and turn they took. He wasn’t ready to
be alone with her in her rooms but he couldn’t turn back either.

It could be worse though. As they entered her quarters
another blast hit the ship and sent her body slamming into his. He was
definitely not ready for that. Desire surged through him and made his body
shake with need. It’d only been a couple of days since they’d been together. He
shouldn’t need her so desperately. But he did. And now all he could think about
was getting away from her. Wrapping his hands around her arms, he gently
steadied her and then took a step back. “Damn it! That wasn’t supposed to
happen.”

He took another step back from her as the trembles quieted
and eventually stilled. But he couldn’t tear his eyes from her still-racing
pulse at her neck.

Her hand flew to the spot, covering it from his view. “Don’t
do that.”

“Do what?”

“Look at me like that. You’re over me, remember?”

“I know it’s easy for you. You weren’t in a relationship.
But it’s not for me. I have—
had
feelings for you.”

“You think this is easy?” Her words were hot with anger. “It’s
not. Nothing about this is easy. This isn’t what I wanted.”

“Then what do you want?” He wasn’t sure why she was talking
to him about their relationship—or lack thereof. Maybe the pressure of the
situation and the stress of the last couple of days had worn her down. But she
was opening up and that was all that mattered.

“From you? I don’t know and it scares the hell out of me.
And I can’t deal with it. Not right now. I need to focus on my ship. I need to
find out who the traitor is and make sure they don’t succeed in freeing any of
the prisoners.”

“It’s Barkswell.”

“It’s not. I know it isn’t him. When I told you he saved my
ass, I wasn’t speaking figuratively. Three years ago he pushed me out of the
way just as a transformer blew. He used his body to shield mine from the
explosion. He has scars down his back that should’ve been mine. So no. I won’t
believe he’s tried to sabotage my ship. Not without solid proof. I owe him that
much.” Only he thought he heard a little doubt in her voice.

“Just because he did the right thing three years ago doesn’t
mean he’s still a good guy. Things change. People change. You could read his
mind. We’d know once and for all who is right.”

“I won’t do that, Parker. I’m not a by-the-book captain but
there are some lines I won’t cross. Not with my crew.”

“Okay. I get it. I guess that just leaves me to find proof
he’s the one behind this.”

“I’ll find the traitor. I don’t need you to do my job for
me. I’m not looking for—”

“A fucking knight in shining armor? I know. But you found
one, sweetheart.”

Chapter Eight

 

Harlow stared at him with her mouth slightly agape for a moment
before she thought to slam it shut.

“Come on, Harlow. Think about it. Even if you’re right and
it isn’t him, it’s somebody. We need to find out who’s behind this and you don’t
have the time to investigate and protect the ship. Let me help you. It’s why I’m
here.”

“Fine. You’re right.” That was the shitty part. He was. And
if she couldn’t admit it she didn’t deserve the title “captain”. “I can’t be in
two places at once. You dig into the who and I’ll keep an eye on the why.”

“Yes sir.”

She put on a layer of thin armor and then left him in her
quarters to go check on the prisoners. There was no doubt that the assailants
would be making their way to the cells once they successfully breached the
ship. If she had any suspicions as to why they were attacked, finding out the
prison’s division fields had failed had gotten rid of them.

“Engineering to Captain.” She breathed a sigh of relief as
her com burst to life.

“Captain here.”

“We have communications and the subspace engines back online
but the division fields are still down.”

“Acknowledged, engineering.” She smiled at the news. Finally
something had gone right. “Captain to Barkswell. Get us the hell out of here.”

“Aye, Captain.”

She’d never been a fan of subspace travel but she almost
enjoyed the sensation of the world freezing around her this time. Her breath
caught and time stretched around her but they would soon be free. The boarding
vessels might make it through subspace with them but the war ships wouldn’t be
able to follow. They might just have a fighting chance now.

As soon as they burst back into regular space she took a
grateful breath. “Report, Barkswell.”

“One boarding vessel made it through with us but there is no
trace of the other ships.”

“Good to hear. I’ll be with security if you need me. Captain
out.”

When she reached the prison wing of the ship, the guards
were still outside with their weapons drawn. She immediately caught them up. “Engineering
is working on fixing the division fields but the subspace engines and
communications had priority.”

“Of course.”

“We lost most of the hostiles in the subspace jump but there
is still one boarding ship attached to our hull. Tactical should be able to
handle any possible breach but we believe there’s a traitor in our midst. Which
means we need to be vigilant with the prisoners.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll make sure nobody gets past us without
your permission.”

“I appreciate your dedication. But I’m going to need you to
open the hatch.”

“With all due respect, Captain, we can’t do that. Without
functional division fields, that hatch is the one thing keeping the prisoners
in.”

“I think you misunderstood me. That wasn’t a request. It was
an order.”

He looked at the other guards around him as if he were waiting
for some sort of confirmation.

“Open the fucking hatch.” She moved her weapon so she was
holding it at the ready. “You can either follow me in or face charges for
insubordination. The person they’re after is in there and I’ll be damned if I
make him easy for them to find.”

“Of course. Sorry, Captain.” Finally he turned and began
entering the code to unlock the door. When the lock popped she took a deep
breath and willed her body to relax. Having a shaky trigger finger could and
would get someone killed in this situation.

The soldier opened the door slowly. It gave them the ability
to gauge the chaos they were walking into and it allowed them time to show the
inmates they had weapons trained on them. The last thing she needed was for the
prisoners to realize they outnumbered the guards and rush them.

“Everybody on the floor. Facedown. Hands out to the side.”

One of the men started to run toward the open door but a
well-placed shot to his leg stopped him.

“The next one will be a head shot. On the ground. Now.” This
time they complied. They all lay down on the floor calmly except the man she’d
just shot. He was sitting in a ball with his arms wrapped around his injured
leg. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to feel bad for him. “I’m looking for
Prisoner Lee.”

No one moved.

“I’m not in a charitable mood today. Don’t push me. Where is
Lee?”

A shadow detached itself from one of the far corners of the
room. As he took two steps toward her she could only assume he was the Prime
Minister’s father. He was a large man with a thick beard and a weapon trained
at her chest.

“I’m wearing armor. And even if you do manage to get past
me, there’s no way you escape my ship alive.”

He lowered his weapon but his smile made her nervous. “Who
says I want off the ship?”

“The people coming to rescue you.”

He handed her the weapon as soon as he reached her. “They’re
not here to free me. They’re here to imprison my son.”

His words took a moment to sink in. “But—”

“Can I be frank with you?”

Hadn’t he already? “Sure.”

“I don’t need to be rescued, Captain. I’ll be found innocent
in a court of law.”

Slowly the pieces started to shift in her mind. “But if you’re
pulled off a prison ship everybody would suspect your son arranged it.”

“Isn’t that what you thought?”

Damn if he wasn’t right. They’d been looking at this all
wrong. “Then you should have no problem coming with me. If what you’re saying
is correct, I’m guessing the raiding party doesn’t exactly want to keep you in
good health after making you disappear.”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

“Still, you won’t fault a little caution on my part.” She
turned to her men. “Follow us out. Keep your weapons ready. If he so much as
twitches, shoot out his knees.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Comforting.”

“Maybe not. But at least it’s honest.” She turned and left,
confident in the fact they’d follow her. She needed to get back to Parker. He
had to hear what’d just happened if he had any hope of finding the traitor.

They walked back to her quarters in silence but once they
reached the door she ordered her men to wait outside. Once she and Lee were
inside she filled Parker in on the new information.

But Parker just shook his head. “As interesting as his story
is, it could just be that—a story.”

His response confused her. “What?”

“I admire and respect what he’s done for the people, but he
is a criminal. They’re known to skew the truth if not outright lie. If those
people boarding us are here to take him and frame his son I’m all for
protecting him. But if they’re here to free him, you’ve saved them the time of
fighting through security and blasting through a secured door. How do we know
that wasn’t his goal?”

“He had a weapon. One he surrendered to me.”

“After you showed the prisoners you weren’t afraid to shoot
them if need be. And where did he get that gun? It implies he’s got some pretty
serious connections on the inside.”

“Your XO is right. You shouldn’t take me at my word. I may
not be lying now but I’ve stretched the truth enough in the past to be suspect.”
Lee smiled mischievously at them. “Even Jasper requires some sort of proof
before he trusts me. Unfortunately I don’t travel with a lie detector. But I’m
open to suggestions as to how to prove myself.”

“He’s not a member of your crew, Harlow,” Parker said. “You
could find out if he’s telling the truth easily enough.”

Harlow grimaced at the position she’d just been placed in.
But Parker was right. She couldn’t just trust Lee. She might be playing into
his plan. “I’m a Sub Type One—a telepath. If you’d allow me, I can access your
mind and read your motivation.”

“Nothing you see in there is admissible in a court of law,
is it?”

“No, it’s not. Thanks in large part to legislation sponsored
by your son.”

Lee nodded. “We may not always see eye to eye but he’s one
smart cookie. I’ll give him that. So what would I need to do?”

“Nothing. I just need to touch you.” She held out her hand
but paused as he flinched.

“Will it hurt?”

Parker laughed at the question. “I managed to live through
it. I think you’ll be okay.”

“Okay then. Let’s get this over with.”

Harlow placed her hand in his and then slowly sank into his
mind. It was a cold environment filled with plans and contingencies. Each
contingency was linked to a series of probabilities and exigencies for if they
failed. When she sank further, though, she found layers of secrets and
government deals any prosecutor would give his left nut to know. The man was a
vault of leverage.

“Getting a little crowded in here. Have you found what you
needed?” His words boomed through her thoughts so loudly she wasn’t certain if
he’d thought them or if he’d actually spoken them.

“Almost. Believe me, I don’t like this any more than you do.”
She’d finally found the root memories of his imprisonment and transport. There
was no way he could possibly fake or even stretch those. Not at the level she
was at. So she pulled herself out of his mind just as cautiously as she’d
placed herself in it.

When she finally broke free she let go of his hand and
grabbed a metal vase on her desk. Her whole body shook and her stomach cramped
painfully.

“Are you okay?” Parker asked.

She nodded but kept her eyes closed tightly against the
light in the room as she sought out some sort of peace of mind. “He’s telling
the truth.” She took a deep breath. “About this at least.” She opened her eyes
slowly as she regained control. “I hope I never have to do that again.”

“You and me both.” Lee smiled as if he wanted to defuse the
tension of the moment but there was too much strain in his jaw for her to fall
for the expression.

She nodded in sympathy. “So who would want your son
impeached?”

Lee laughed. “It’d be quicker to start with who wouldn’t.”

“Barkswell can’t be on both lists,” she pointed out to
Parker. “He’s ambitious and connected to Prime Minister Lee. I can’t imagine
him wanting to throw away his best political contact.”

Parker gritted his teeth. “As much as I hate to admit it, he
doesn’t seem like the most likely candidate now.”

“It’s time to start looking at people who have connections
with other politicians.”

Parker typed a command into his reader and the crew’s
personal communiqué folders came up on the screen. “There’s a lot of political
correspondence going on.” His focus stayed on the handheld reader as he spoke
to them. He listed off several names but Lee shook his head at each of them.

“None of them would benefit enough if Jasper were tossed in
jail to outweigh the consequences of being caught. Plus they’re all lackeys.”

“Damn it. Where else should we look?” She started pacing as
she thought through the problem. There had to be other avenues to explore but
she’d exhausted every option she could think of.

“Engineering would be able to spot any hidden files,” Lee
suggested.

Parker shook his head. “They’re too busy trying to patch up
the ship right now to pull Vance away. Besides, I already spoke with him about
this a couple of days ago. He hadn’t noticed anything suspicious. And if he saw
anything today he would’ve told me about it.”

She stopped pacing and turned to look at Parker. “Wait. You’ve
already talked to Vance about this?”

“Not about this specifically. How could I? I only learned
about all of this a couple of minutes ago.” He ran his fingers through his hair
in apparent frustration. “But I did pass along my concerns about sabotage and
asked him to keep an eye on Barkswell.”

“That’s odd.” She sank down to sit on her couch as she
thought. “When I spoke with him earlier he acted as if it was the first time he’d
heard about a possible saboteur. And he gave me your name as a possible
traitor.”

“Why would I go to him looking for a traitor if I was the
traitor?”

“I’m not sure.” She stood again and crossed the room to
stand next to him. “His actions don’t make sense. Pull up his files.”

He complied and quickly began scanning through the
correspondence. “I don’t see anything here.”

Lee looked over his shoulder as he continued to page down. “Stop
there.”

She instantly recognized the name but shook her head. “That’s
one of our crew members. Or, he was until I kicked him off the
Tempest
for disrespect.”

“He’s Colonel Speck’s son,” Lee said sharply.

“I’m well aware of that. Believe me, he made sure I knew who
he was.”

“Speck and Jasper have a past. One Speck would love to come
out on top of in the history books.”

“But that would mean Vance was tied to the sabotage.” Even
as she said it she had a hard time wrapping her head around the implications.

“Tied to it? My dear, if this is right, he is the key
player.” He pointed to the form Vance had filled out asking Speck to serve
aboard the
Tempest
.

“No. It has to be a coincidence.”

“Has Vance ever formally petitioned to have a soldier
stationed on the
Tempest
before?” Parker’s voice was soft as he asked
the question.

“No.”

“Then I don’t see how this could’ve been an accident.”
Parker maximized the file on the screen. “His one request is the son of the man
who wants to bring down Lee. On a run where Lee’s father will be our prisoner.”

Her heart hurt at the truth of the statement. “But why? He’s
a good soldier. Of all the members of my crew, he’s the only one who was
already on the
Tempest
when I was assigned here. We came up together.”

“And yet you’re the captain.” The words rang through her
head. “Not him.”

“If he’d succeeded and tied me to this plot, I could’ve lost
my ship.”

“Along with your commission and, most likely, your freedom.”

BOOK: Subservience
13.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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