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“Well, at least the rain will wash the blood away.” Surly’s expression was frighteningly close to a grin. She was not known for her sense of humor.
“These guys after Jacks?” Ape asked as he drug the last of the dead bodies off the tarmac underneath the Kintani and dumped it, unceremoniously, into a nearby ditch, joining its three comrades.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Happy replied, looking around to make certain they’d not left anything incriminating laying around. That was hard to do, as the rain was bucketing down, and it was pitch dark except where he aimed his weapon’s spotlight. Bloody Pensa Port wouldn't spring for decent night lights. It was no wonder folks ended up dead so often here. “Come on, let’s get aboard. Sooner we get outta here, the happier I’ll be.”
“Wait,” Windy muttered, and turned toward the ditch. “I heard something.”
“Right, the dead rising I suppose,” Surly muttered. “You and your superstitions.”
“No, really,” Windy replied. “Listen.” With the wind, the background noises of a normal spaceport and the rain sloshing around them already lightening up formerly dark red puddles, it was hard to hear much.
“I hear it,” Ape offered, after a moment. “One of those guys ain’t quite dead.”
Everyone turned to look at Happy. The Sergeant frowned. How the hell was he supposed to know what to do now? He always got stuck making the hard decisions.
“Bring him aboard. Better not leave someone there who can testify,” said a voice over their comms.
Always good to have the officers make those calls. Relieved, Happy nodded at Ape and Surly who both headed back to the ditch to figure out which was the live guy. They fumbled around and found him. While they were at it they checked to make sure everyone else was dead. Yup. Thee dead. The one groaning.
Ape struggled to heft the body up onto his shoulder. Of course, the live guy was the biggest of the four. The crew then headed toward the Kintari’s gangway, hurrying to get aboard before any curious eyes wondered what they were up to. The engines were already revving and the ramp rising under them.
Ape headed to sick bay with his unconscious baggage, the rest hurried off to take their usual positions for take offs under hostile conditions.
The Kintari cleared Pensa Port without any indication that the local cops realized anything was amiss. Well, at least they didn't know about this particular altercation. No doubt they were busy with a ton of others, as the port was at capacity, as was the infamous Red Limit Bar. They should know, the crew had gotten into a very satisfying fistfight there with, well, with someone or other. Who cared? Just so you could let off some steam.
Once the ship cleared the gravity well and could jump into hyperspace, Jacks, the First Officer of the Kintari, headed toward sick bay to see just what they’d ended up stuck with. He hit his comms and asked Happy to meet him there.
Legs, the ship medic, was bent over a huge form stretched out on the diagnostic table.
“Well?” Jacks asked as he took a position on the other side of the table, hands crossed on his chest, regarding the scene dispassionately.
Legs turned to regard him. She hadn’t yet gotten their unconscious passenger out of the battered and bloody spacer suit he was wearing. From the look of his garb, he’d been crew on some two-bit freighter. Legs sighed. “Okay, he’s human, sort of.”
“Sort of?” Jacks asked stepping closer to peer down at the body as Legs began to cut away the material that was stuck to his face with dried blood.
“At a guess, Hydran.”
Jacks’ eyebrows rose. Hydrans, as a rule, stuck to their own neck of the woods, seldom venturing to the Rim. They weren't, comparatively anyway, much interested in outworld trading or raiding.
Happy trooped into the sick bay then. He’d cleaned himself up and was wearing his usual ship’s outfit, his hair still wet from a shower. So far as Jacks was concerned, it wasn't much of an improvement. Happy was not valued for his good looks and elegant finery. He looked up at Jacks and grinned. “So we go off for a well-earned night on the town, leave you in charge, and you surprise us with dead guys on the pad?”
Jacks shrugged. “Never a dull moment around me.”
“You owe them money too?”
“Possibly. But if they were after me, you’d think they’d have hailed the ship and threatened me.”
Happy thought that over and nodded. “So, maybe they had a falling out and just happened to be right in front of Kintari when they did?” He looked less than convinced.
“Let’s wait and ask our guest here once he’s recovered.”
Legs was working steadily at removing most of the battered and bloody spacer suit from their ‘guest’ so she could check for additional wounds. As she began cutting the black material down the center of the wounded guy’s chest she suddenly stopped and muttered, “Holy crap.”
Jacks turned to see what had surprised her. Expecting blood and gore, he was astonished instead to see a set of very nice black breasts popping out of the confines of the suit.
“He’s a she!” Happy muttered, staring opened mouthed.
“Brilliant deduction,” Jacks replied.
Legs hastily produced a sheet, covering the unconscious woman’s chest. “Damn big woman. She’d make two of you, Jacks.”
“No argument there,” Jacks replied, examining the woman who was medicated unconscious for the moment. She was huge by normal human standards. But then if she was Hydran that made sense. That system had high gravity and had been a wild and difficult place to tame. Genetics had helped. From what Jacks could tell, she was all muscle and toned skin, that skin as dark as midnight. Her face was long and narrow, not beautiful by galactic standards but not ugly either. He pegged her age as fairly young. Maybe 10 years younger than himself. But then he didn't know much about Hydrans so that was a wag, heavy on wild-assedness. “So? Will she live?”
Legs nodded, looking over at the First Officer. “No doubt. Strong as an ox, constitution to match. She’d be hard to kill.”
“Clearly. Let’s call her Kitten for the moment. When she’s awake and able to talk let me know. Marija’s off duty for the next 6 hours or so.”
“Right-oh,” Legs replied.
Jacks motioned for Happy to follow him as he walked out of sick bay, heading back to the bridge. “What did it look like to you?” he asked. “Any idea who attacked who? Is our girl the bad guy?”
Happy frowned. “I couldn’t tell. Really. But if those three guys jumped her, for whatever reason, they got one hell of a surprise.”
“Lets just be sure we don’t. Put a guard on her at all times - at least until Marija or I say otherwise.”
“Right. Prudent, that,” Happy replied.
Jacks turned to regard the big scarred veteran. “Prudent?”
“I been reading some of your books, Jacks. Trying to expand my mind and improve my intellect. It’s been damn dull of late, what with no action worth talking about.”
“Well, something tells me our luck is about to change.”
Marija Coopersmith poured herself some mud and inhaled the fragrance. Obviously Monk had made the coffee. She suspected the ship’s mechanic routinely added engine oil to it when he made it. But at least it opened her eyes. She sucked in a mouthful, swallowed it, and already felt her body coming alive. She turned to regard her second in command.
Jacks could stare down an army. He never looked flustered, never acted flustered. Calm, cool, deadly. She envied him the self-control. But that had its downside. Never knowing what he was thinking made her doubt him far more than she ought. Yes, he'd proven himself on numerous occasions, particularly given his clear thinking during emergency actions. Even so...
His decision last night to save the woman and bring her aboard. Not something she’d have done. Not something she’d have expected of Jacks. So why on Earth had he made that decision? What did he know that she didn’t?
Jacks regarded her calmly, no doubt guessing at the train of her thoughts. He was like that. No wonder every card player on the Rim hated him.
“So,” she said. “Your bedraggled rescued kitten is female. Is she awake enough yet to talk?”
Jacks came close to grinning. Wow. She’d amused him. “My caged lion is, I was told by Legs about ten minutes ago, now alert. Shall we?” He made a gallant gesture for her to accompany him. Upper class, no doubt. Educated, smart, too handsome for his own good.
Marija nodded and stepped off toward sick bay, Jacks fell in beside her. She sipped more coffee then asked, “Any particular reason you decided to bring her along?”
Jacks gave that some thought. As he always did with everything. She’d learned to expect few unconsidered opinions from him. She envied him that too.
“A feeling?” she concluded for him.
“You didn’t know these guys, did you?” her eyes, narrowed, studied him. She knew little of his background, only that she'd run into him at a bar in the middle of no where, in the middle of a knife fight. Maybe that was why he'd stepped in. He thought he’d return the favor?
Jacks shook his head. “No idea who they were. Happy checked for IDs. He’s running what he has. We should know more soon.”
Marija nodded. Happy would be thorough. He always was.
Jacks waited for Marija to step into sick bay and then followed her in. Their passenger was sitting up. One eye was swollen nearly shut, not yet responding to treatment. Her lower lip was split and obviously had been tended to by Legs, who hovered over her patient. The woman’s skin was so black it was hard to tell how many bruises she might have, but there was some obvious swelling near her cheekbones and jaw.
“Hullo,” Marija said as she walked over to look down on the Hydran. “I’m Captain of the Kintari. My people found you unconscious and brought you here.”
“Why?” the Hydran asked. Her voice was deep for a female, no doubt a function of the massiveness of her body.
“Jacks here has a heart of gold,” Marija replied. “There were three dead guys lying there with you. Care to tell me what went down?”
The Hydran had turned her head slightly to regard Jacks when Marija had said his name. She returned her flat regard to Marija when she asked the question.
Marija couldn’t manage to hide the frown that refusal brought to her face. “You make one move to harm my crew and we’ll cut you down. There’ll be a guard on you at all times. Attempt to shake him and you’re dead. That clear?”
The Hydran nodded. “Reasonable.”
That gave Marija pause. “Otherwise when Legs releases you we’ll give you a room. You’re free to visit the galley and the lounge, but stay off the bridge and out of the cargo bays. We’ll set you down at our next stop, if you’re healthy by then.”
The Hydran nodded. “Thank you. I could not ask for more.”
Several hours later Marija sat slumped in the captain’s chair on the bridge. Jacks had turned in to get some much needed rest. Marija had been monitoring comm traffic. The bodies had been found, but no link, so far, had been made to herself or her crew.
She heard a noise and turned as Happy, the sergeant of her security crew, entered the bridge looking rested and intrigued.
“So?” she asked.
He took a seat and regarded his captain for a moment. Then he said, “I found some ID and ran what I could. I didn’t want to raise any flags given the authorities must be investigating so I couldn’t look too deep. What I did learn is that the three dead guys were crew on a disreputable freighter. It’s got a nasty rep all round. Seems they tend to screw everybody. Only folks who really use them are those who can't find anyone crazy enough to take a job for them.”
“Disreputable?” she repeated, wide-eyed. Not the sort of word Happy normally used.
“I’ve been reading Jacks’s books,” Happy explained, grinning. “I’m betterin’ myself.”
Marija grinned. “Okay... So back to the Hydran...” There were a lot of such freighters. Desperate captains taking desperate risks. Crew hard to find for such ships, they were often forced to take on rabble and hope for the best. But what was the Hydran doing involved with such folks? Didn’t know any better? No, or little choice? She was trouble, no doubt about it. Still, Marija had felt the Hydran, what little she’d learned from her, was not the sort to jump three guys for no reason. “Okay, Happy, just keep one of your guys on her at all times. And report anything suspicious she does. No comms without my consent.”
“Got it,” Happy replied. “You know....” he hesitated.
“What?” Marija asked by way of encouragement.
“She don’t seem the sort to just up and cause trouble,” Happy ventured hesitantly. “Despite appearances.”
Marija grinned at ‘despite’ but nodded in agreement. “Yeah. How the hell did Jacks guess that in only a few seconds though, that’s wat worries me.”
Happy shrugged. “Jacks got mojo, Cap’n. No denyin’ that.”