Home > Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1)(9)

Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion #1)(9)
Jessie Mihalik

I glanced left as I turned right into the main hallway to see if the soldiers’ backup had arrived yet. My body found what my peripheral vision had not—I slammed into a wall of muscle that barely gave under the impact. An arm clamped around my waist to prevent me from rebounding to the floor, and a blast pistol went off behind my head.

The video drone exploded in a shower of sparks.

Loch had already pulled me back into a run by the time my brain caught up with the fact that he hadn’t left. And he was wearing clothes. He looked so much like a merc that it took me a second glance to process that it was really him.

When he pulled me into the port leading to the ship, I resisted. “We need to open the doors. The manual overrides are out here,” I said, trying to pull back. It would be easier to move the moon.

“No time. We’ll blast them,” he said. The doors that enclosed the bay were wired with explosives that could be activated from the escape ship. But that was truly the last resort because it failed as often as it worked.

When Loch didn’t stop to close the port door, I dug in my feet. “The door!”

“No time,” he snarled.

I shook myself loose. “I’m making time. I won’t be responsible for depressurizing half the ship. You go on.”

He left me.

I cursed him silently while I pulled the heavy door closed. If we blasted the outer bay doors with this door still open, every unanchored person in the cargo bay would be ejected into space. And with the ship’s power partially down, I wasn’t sure the safety doors would close to protect the rest of the ship.

While I had no love for the Rockhurst soldiers, they were just obeying orders. The mercs could go to hell, but it would be nice if Captain Pearson’s family could recover his ship in one piece.

I turned and ran for the escape ship. Loch was already closing the door, the bastard. I slid through the narrow opening and kept going. Once I made it to the bridge I realized the ship was already powered up and ready to fly.

Loch shouldered past me and took the captain’s chair. Of course he did. His hands flew over the console with obvious skill, though, so I held my comments. Mostly.

“Stop grumbling and strap in,” he said without looking up.

I dropped into the navigator’s chair and clipped in. A quick look showed that we already had a destination plotted. Before I could check the stats, the outer doors blew and Loch cursed. I looked up from my console and saw that only one of the doors had blown. While the depressurization had slightly opened the other, it was going to be a tight squeeze.

Warnings started blaring as Loch’s hands raced. He unclipped from his seat and moved to the rarely used manual controls.

“What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed.

“Computer won’t take us out,” he said. “Going to have to do it manually.”

I swallowed. I knew how to fly a ship manually—all pilots did in case of emergency. But most pilots practiced just enough to pass the test and to be able to land a damaged ship in a large open field or to dock to a station with docking assist. We did not learn how to finesse an escape ship out of a partially open bay door without tearing a hole in the hull.

“Can you?” I squeaked. I cleared my throat. “Do it manually, I mean. Without killing us.”

His eyes glinted as he glanced at me and his lips curved into a smoldering grin. “Don’t worry. I’m good with my hands.”

Heat flushed through me as I imagined those big hands on my body. Criminal, I reminded myself. Killer. He’d almost left me behind. But he didn’t, an internal voice whispered. It sounded a lot like my neglected libido. Two years on the run didn’t leave much time for fun.

While casual hookups were common in the Consortium, at least then you knew what you were getting—and you’d likely known the person for years. Hooking up for a one-night stand with a stranger wasn’t usually my style, but looking at Loch, I might be willing to make an exception.

“Hold on,” Loch said.

He opened the docking clamps and nudged the controls. The ship slid sideways by a meter. Proximity alarms blared faster than I could silence them.

“Touchy,” he muttered.

My burgeoning confidence in his ability plummeted. Dying in space was not high on my list of ways to go. But at least my father would be pleased that I’d chosen death over capture.

“Do you want me to—”

“I got it,” he said without even letting me finish.

With nothing else to do, I checked our plotted course. We were jumping to the only settled planet in range, Tau Sagittarii Dwarf Nine. The ship’s computer had little information about TSD Nine. It was Yamado-controlled, which was nice with a Rockhurst on our heels. It seemed to be a mining planet.

The most interesting thing about the planet was that it was in synchronous rotation with its sun, so rather than having a typical day/night cycle, one side of the planet was always day and the other was always night.

The screech of metal on metal pulled my attention back to the window. We were nearly out of the docking bay, but our escape had not gone unnoticed. A half-dozen fighters spread out before us and a larger retrieval ship was en route from the Santa Celestia.

I started the pre-FTL sequence. The engine noise increased and heavy shutters covered the bridge windows. Screens flickered on, showing us the same view we’d had before, but now via video. All three Houses had tried removing the windows in various ways over the years, but those ships never sold as well as their windowed counterparts. Humans liked natural sight.

“Incoming communication,” the computer chimed.

“Declined,” Loch and I said at the same time.

I had no doubt that Richard already had someone hard at work on overriding our ship’s system. It was much harder to do because override codes didn’t work remotely, but it was possible.

Another metallic screech and we cleared the Mayport. Diagnostics showed that we had sustained only minor hull damage—nothing that would prevent us from jumping. It took a second for it to sink in.

“I can’t believe you did that without killing us,” I said. “Well done.”

He grunted as he swiveled away from the manual controls. A few seconds later, alarms blared. I watched on my screen as he overrode the safety warnings and prepared to jump.

The lights flickered and my stomach dropped.

Normally I wouldn’t condone jumping so close to other ships, but desperate times called for desperate measures. FTL drives required enormous amounts of energy but weren’t 100 percent efficient. Some of the energy escaped at the initial jump point and caused a shock wave. For a little ship like this, the shock wave most likely didn’t do any damage, even to the fighters nearby. But a large ship could easily destroy smaller ships when it jumped. It was why jumping close to a station was heavily discouraged unless you wanted to start a war or get blacklisted.

The engine steadied and the window shutters retracted, leaving a clear view of the vast emptiness of space. And for the first time, the magnitude of what I’d done hit me. I was alone on a tiny lifeboat, in the middle of nowhere, with a man twice my size. And he was a known murderer.

Without the adrenaline driving me, fear crept in.

Chapter 5

Loch turned to me. “Do you want to explain why Richard Rockhurst wants you enough to board a merc ship for you?”

“No,” I said. It didn’t surprise me too much that he’d figured out which Rockhurst was after me—the Santa Celestia was distinctive to anyone who knew ships.

He grinned. “Fair enough, but you should’ve told me it was Richard from the beginning. You could’ve saved yourself a pile of credits. I would’ve helped you escape for free just to see the look on the bastard’s face.”

“You two have history?”

Loch’s expression went cold and flat. “You could say that,” he said. His tone did not invite further discussion and for once, I obliged. He unclipped from the manual controls and disappeared behind me. I steadied my nerves and idly played with the control panel when what I really wanted was to back up to a wall and keep him in sight. Preferably while holding a gun or two.

I heard him rooting through a container. I checked on our navigation. We were six hours out. I would love to get some sleep, but I wasn’t sure if it was prudent or possible.

“I’m going to shower,” Loch said.

The door to the bathroom hissed open then closed. When I didn’t hear anything else for a few seconds, I risked a peek. The room was empty. I sighed out some of my anxiety.

With Loch contained, I used the time to stand up and look around. My knowledge of this ship was minimal because none of my training had included a scenario where I’d be on one. The bridge and the main room of the ship were basically the same. The back of the room had a tiny bathroom tucked in the port corner, a short hall connected to the exit, and the hatch to the lower engine level.

Each side of the room had two columns of fold-down cots mounted to the walls. The cots were stacked three high, so there was room for twelve people to sleep. When they were all folded down, a narrow aisle down the middle of the room would lead from the bridge to the back of the ship.

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