Home > Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1)(3)

Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1)(3)
Jessie Mihalik

The tone of the engine changed and my stomach dropped as the FTL drive engaged. We’d traveled far enough away from the station for our first jump. The lights flickered as the ship switched to auxiliary power. The hum of the engines ratcheted up and then went silent. Less than a minute later, my stomach settled and the main engines started up again. Depending on the age of the ship, it would take up to a week to recharge the FTL drive for the next jump. I had to be gone before that time was up.

“I will see you tomorrow for dinner, yes?” I asked with a coy smile.

“Yes, yes, of course, my lady. The lad’ll see you back to your quarte—” He flinched. “I’m terribly sorry for your accommodations, but I’m afraid the mercs won’t like it if I move you.”

“It is fine. I like it; it makes me feel safe.” And I was surprised to find that it was true.

The same kid from before was waiting for me outside of the captain’s door. I wondered if he stood there all the time, and if so, was he looking out for the captain’s interests or the mercenaries’?

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Charles, but everyone calls me Chuck.”

“Chuck, I’m Ada. Pleased to meet you.” He ducked his head but didn’t respond.

We returned to my cell by the same path we’d taken earlier. When we arrived, the display next to the door showed Loch still standing in the back section. He had to have been standing for hours, but he wasn’t slumped or fidgeting. I made a quick decision that I hoped I wouldn’t come to regret.

“The captain said to lower the barrier,” I said. “So that if I need to use the facilities, they are available.”

“Umm . . .” Chuck stole a glance at the control screen, but he clearly had no idea what to do.

I swept past him. “Allow me.”

“I don’t think—”

But I was already tapping on the screen. I lowered the separator, set the lights to stay on all night at a dim setting, and lengthened Loch’s chains. He wouldn’t be able to stretch out, but at least he could sit. And I would remain out of his reach.

“Easy peasy,” I said. “I could teach you, if you’d like.”

The kid eyed the video display with distrust, but it was easy to see that Loch remained chained. I prayed that Loch wouldn’t move and give away the fact that his chains were longer, but he still stood in the same position. I wondered if he was sleeping standing up. Was that even possible?

“I don’t need help from you,” Chuck said. “The crew is teaching me everything I need to know.” He swung the door open. “Now get in there and don’t give me any trouble.”

I entered the dim cell and the door slammed closed behind me. Without the energy field separating us, Loch seemed bigger, more immediate, and vastly more dangerous. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I just had to keep reminding myself that we both wanted the same thing.

I tilted my head slightly toward the door, and Loch barely shook his head. I hadn’t heard the kid leave, either, so I had to assume we had an audience.

“Did you miss me while I was gone?” I asked.

“No.”

“Ah, that’s too bad. Would you like to hear about the captain’s quarters?”

“No.”

I couldn’t help the slightly evil edge to my smile as I began to describe, in excruciating detail, the captain’s dining room. Every rug was lovingly described, as was every vase, flower, piece of furniture, and place setting.

After five minutes, Loch stepped away from the wall with a rattle of chains. “He’s gone, but feel free to keep talking. I was nearly asleep.”

“Did they feed you?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I ate.”

I’d spent three months as part of a merc crew shortly after I left home. I’d been on my own for the first time and thought—incorrectly—that being part of a crew would help my homesickness. It wasn’t a total waste, though, because I learned a great many lessons in that short time and the nomadic lifestyle helped me stay ahead of Father’s security team in the crucial first months.

One of the lessons I learned was that bounty-hunting mercenaries, by and large, were ruthless and sadistic. Even the higher-tier crew I joined was not exempt. They loved to torture their captives by providing just enough food to prevent the captive from dying, but not enough to prevent constant, aching hunger. It also kept the captive weak enough to be easy to manage, so in their minds, it was a win-win.

Loch did not look weak, but according to the captain they’d only had him for a few days.

I pulled two dinner rolls wrapped in a paper napkin out of one of the pockets on my pants. After all, what was the point of pants with so many pockets if I wasn’t going to use them? And if they failed to pat me down after dinner, then that was hardly my fault.

“Sadly, nothing else would transport well, so it is bread or nothing. But I’m willing to give you these two delicious rolls in exchange for your name. I know the mercs call you Loch, but I don’t know if that’s your first or last name or something they made up.”

“You’re trying to bribe me with bread?”

“Yes. Is it working? I’m Ada.”

“I know who you are,” Loch said.

It was my turn to be surprised. I might be a von Hasenberg, but I’d never been in the spotlight like my four elder siblings. Those four all looked like younger versions of our father, even poor Hannah and Bianca. I had the golden skin, dark hair, and blue-gray eyes of our mother. Only our youngest sister, Catarina, shared my coloring.

“And so you are . . . ?” I prompted.

“Marcus Loch,” he finally replied.

“Pleased to meet you,” I said. I tossed him the bread, napkin and all. We might be making polite conversation, but I had no doubt that Mr. Marcus Loch would eat me alive if I ventured too close.

Marcus Loch. The name sounded familiar. I mentally sorted through the rosters of important people in all three High Houses, trying to place him. I knew he wasn’t part of House von Hasenberg. He couldn’t be directly part of House Yamado or House Rockhurst, either, because he would have their name. So either he was a distant relation or an in-law, but I couldn’t remember. Where had I heard that name and who had he pissed off to get such a bounty?

“Let me save you some time,” he said as if reading my mind. “I’m Marcus Loch, the so-called Devil of Fornax Zero, and the man with the highest bounty in the ’verse . . . at least until you showed up.”

It was only thanks to long practice that I managed to keep my expression perfectly placid. Now the chains made sense, as did the mercs’ wariness. The Royal Consortium claimed that Marcus Loch had killed at least a dozen of his commanding officers and fellow soldiers during the suppression of the Fornax Rebellion. Then he disappeared.

The Consortium put out an ever-increasing bounty, but so far no bounty hunter had been able to bring him in to claim it. Rumor had it that he’d been caught six or seven times, but every time he had escaped and left nothing but a pile of bodies behind.

Marcus Loch was a deserter, a killer, and a traitor to the Consortium. And he was just the man I needed.

Chapter 2

“How long did it take you to perfect that mask?” Loch asked between bites of bread.

I raised one imperious eyebrow and stared down my nose at him, even though he was taller than me and across the room. After seeing the expression work so well for my mother, I’d practiced it in the mirror and wielded it without mercy. Lesser prey would flee at the merest hint of it.

So, of course, Loch grinned. “That long, huh?”

“Longer.” I sat on the bed and rubbed my face. After being on all evening with the captain, I was exhausted. “Haven’t had much use for it lately. I must be out of practice; you’re supposed to be trembling with fear.”

“It takes more than your pert little nose in the air to scare me, darlin’,” he drawled, dropping the g. As if to emphasize his point, he stretched his arms and rolled his massive shoulders. He slid down the wall and sat. “I suppose I have you to thank for this?” He rattled the chain that bound his leg to the wall. At least now he could stretch out his legs.

“Seemed like the neighborly thing,” I said.

I scooted back and wedged myself in the front corner of the cell, where the bed was pushed up against the walls. I’d slept sitting up before, and being in a corner made it easier. With the bed attached to the floor, at least I didn’t have to worry about him dragging me closer.

“Afraid?”

“Smart,” I countered. He grunted.

Ships and stations usually operated on Universal Standard Time, so it was the clock I was accustomed to. And right now, it was well after midnight. I needed to talk to Loch about a possible alliance, but I needed to be on point to get it right—I couldn’t just steamroll over him like I’d done with the captain.

He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. All of that glorious skin and muscle was on display, which prompted a question. “Why’d they strip you?”

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