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“Agreed,” Wyatt says, making it clear.

“Roger that.” Gojo casts his vote.

Logan says nothing.

“They’ll take care of her in Red Filter,” Voss tells him. “They take of their own, you’ll see. Citizens don’t suffer. This girl is important to them, and she would be dead right now if we hadn’t pulled her out of the sewer. And she’ll die if we fuck up now. Every member of this team, and every person on this ship, might die if we fuck up. So… for her protection, and ours, we keep to the mission.”

“Yes, sir,” the kid says, that sobering reality sinking in.

“Need you to assist Gojo for a few hours,” Voss adds. “He’s fixed some of the ship’s com software, but now we need a bug on the flight deck, and he may need help with that. Need to be able to observe the pilot and the control screens at all times. Is that understood?”

The medic hesitates.

“Wyatt and I will watch Niri,” Voss tells him.

“Yes, sir,” Logan replies.

Gojo grins, happy to be on task. “C’mon, boy. I’ll show you how to squeeze a sensitive device into a tight space without raising alarm.”

The kid says nothing, just nods and gravitates away from the girl, accustomed now to movement in zero G. It looks like acceptance. It could be something else, but Voss is unwilling to delve any deeper.

Wyatt slants him a look. “Well, wish I hadn’t heard all that shit.”


“New technology… ”

Voss nods, regarding the girl in silence. Niri floats before him, frail, vulnerable, flesh and blood, the same being who grabbed hold of his armor after he took her from her parents. To say that she’s only part human is a misstatement, in his mind. She’s a human with different blood, different attributes, different abilities… maybe. But a human all the same.

I hear terrible things.

He grimaces. What does that mean?

Wyatt sighs. “Bottom line… we don’t know what we’re dealing with here. You gotta convince the Captain to bypass Midstation.”

“It’s their routine. It’ll raise alarms if they deviate.”

“Opens up all kinds of risk.”

“So we plan for it.”

“Yes, sir,” Wyatt replies without enthusiasm, moving on. “And how, may I ask, are current relations with the Captain?”

“She’s avoiding me, I think.”

“Operation Deploy Charm is a failure?”

“Tries to slip away whenever I see her.”

“Not really a bad sign,” Wyatt says. “Women with authority don’t like to be around men who make them nervous. Captains aren’t supposed to be nervous.”

“Still doesn’t help much.”

“She’d rather be invulnerable.”

Voss winces. “Way off the mark.”


“Hot head, drinks too much, says exactly what’s on her mind.”

“Another problem child.”


“Well, you do have your share,” Wyatt says. “At least we haven’t had to drug her, although with your charm being what it is these days… ”

Voss nods, thinking the same thing. “Might be just a matter of time.”

As magnitudes of mistakes go, it wasn’t so bad, only it feels bad because he’s always around somewhere… always there to look at. It wasn’t awkward at first, but now it is… because of
moment, because of her and the vodka, and the serious talk, and the spilling of a dozen truths what should not be said—particularly to Assaulters—like it was nothing.

he hasn’t said her name since, but no real need to, since she can still hear it, in exactly the way he said it, clear as crystal, in close remembering at any minute of the day… along with all the things which passed her lips.
Might have gotten too close to what was criminal because all other doors were closed.

Why? Why say it? Damn fool. Stupid—

“What’s the matter with you?” Clara’s staring up from the pilot’s console like she can hear the train wreck from where she’s sitting. “Not even pretending to read the reports I give you anymore, and the crew’s down in the hold doing whatever they please, and no one to give orders to make ‘em do any different, and you’re up here, staring at bulkheads like they got something to say. You can’t go crazy, Petra, because we both know you already was. Impossible to go from crazy to crazy, so let’s have it. Tell your pilot where you are.”

“I’m here,” Petra mumbles. “Busy with other ship matters.”

“Will you at least look at me when you’re lying?”

Petra cuts her gaze across the flight deck. The older woman peering back at her, eyes bright in the muted glow of the screens, expression highlighted in electric blue, deep creases framing her mouth, brow furrowed with worry. Wisps of violet hair float at her temples.

“I… ” Petra looks toward the shields. “Men make for tough cargo.”

“That Assaulter giving you trouble?”

“Not so much giving it.”

“Ahh,” Clara says, one eyebrow rising. “Just causing it.”

“Told him some things.”


“My name.”


“And other things, plainly not meant for him… personal things.”

Clara makes a frustrated noise under her breath. “’Ere we go.”


“Clearly established, wild thing—more than once—that you’re just fine with employing a man, directing a man wisely on a crew, hating a man, even killing a man, but liking one too much is damn near impossible.”

“Didn’t say I like him.”

“Only you like talking to him… about personal things.”

“I was drinking, and he got in the way.”

“Just crashed in, nothing you did to invite him?”

Petra frowns.

“You know that’s actually the normal way of things, don’t you?” Clara returns her gaze to the screens. “Choosing a man you like and talking to him… telling him your name… ”

“Didn’t know you were set to be amused.”

“No, I’m not. I know… ” Clara looks up again, hesitating, choosing words like it’s all coming from guilt and awkwardness now. “Few of your personal things got triggers attached.”

“Oh, is that what gets said?”

“No one says it. No one has to. Everyone knows you walked out of Red Plain with blood t’ween your teeth and rumors flying which you say nothing about, and none of us got the guts to question. All I know is what murder is in your heart got there for a reason, wild thing, and the years of living with it got you worn thin, drawing on anger because it’s the power you know. It’s a poison too though. And whether it’s vodka, or big sky, or that one moment where truth comes easy… what comes to the surface is what needs to be let go. And so what if you let a little slip? You don’t think an Assaulter, who’s surely got plenty of anger and untold reasons of his own, would understand that?”

Petra hisses through her teeth.

What Assaulters understand, and what horrors they see, have got different context. They’re the powerful, dropping from the sky in full armor, with such weapons as can blow up entire city blocks, gnashing teeth and taking on whatever monsters rear up in front of them.

The anger they’ve got, the anger of the strong, of the righteous, of the team and the purpose, is different from the anger she’s got… the anger of criminals, always alone when that monster’s at the door, and usually the one who brought it bearing down in the first place, fear turned to rage of the type unexplainable, of things done which defy understanding.

“If t’were me… ” Clara shrugs. “I’d go on the offensive. Go talk to him, try and find out something personal which makes the two of you even, or at least find out what secrets he’s holding close but got some obligation to tell… like why the temperature in his cabin rises over what would be expected from just him and three other men, why the air gets used up faster.”

Petra blinks. “What?”

“Life support for the Assaulter cabin is draining more than it should.”

“Meaning what?”

Clara shrugs. “A helmsman with a less suspicious mind might conclude that the calculations for Assaulters are a bit off, as they’re a bit bigger than what anyone figures for, but a nosey woman like me might think they’ve got something else alive in there… or someone, a small person. Math would square.”

” Petra stares, disbelief set to unbalance her temper. “Ten days into flight and you didn’t think to mention this sooner?”

“It is mentioned, a few times, in those reports you don’t bother to read,” Clara says, smug, looking at her console like the cat that’s finally got the bird. “That’s how I know you don’t read ‘em.”

“I’m gonna go kick his ass.”

“They’re a team, wild one.”

“Meaning all their asses.”

“Oh, good. Go pick a fight with a group of professional fighters.” Clara rolls her eyes and leans back from the console, seeming to mock the idea with her entire body. “That’s going to turn out well, isn’t it?”

“He’s gonna explain this.”

“Maybe, if you’re smart… If, on the other hand, you jet down that tube, bang on his cabin and attack him—the big man who holds an auth key—he’s going to stuff you inside a storage crate, and me with you, and you know I don’t like small spaces, so I will hold you fully responsible for us sitting nose-to-ass for the remainder of this flight,

It bears consideration.

“More subtle approach, maybe,” Petra mutters.

“He likes you,” Clara says, and stresses it, as if it isn’t the very last thing she wants to hear. “Why don’t you start with that?”

It only takes the press of an intercom button, a few curt words, to summon an Assaulter to one’s cabin. It takes a hard bit of something else to open the hatch once he’s there, invite him into an area that’s personal and private, and watch him glance over rows of tethered crates which barely give room for a hammock, a spray tube which barely gives room for a human, a wall of white cabinets and computer screens… all of it seeming to interest him far more than it should.

He moves past her and latches one hand around crate cord, filling up what space he does, his gaze settling on her after a moment.

He’s in a crew flight suit now, all whites and greys, high collar and sleeve pockets, no tattoos visible, no sidearm strapped to his thigh… just that strange weight to him, the kind of calm which has no name or proper description, something that speaks to a colder familiarity with violence and emergency, but no particular anger, or simply no need for it at the moment.

She shuts the hatch.

“Captain,” he says, proper and measured, a sign of respect.

“Colonel,” she gives the same.

Subtle… be subtle… be smart... subtle and smart…

“What the hell are you hiding in your cabin?” she snaps, before she can soften or control it, and then the rest just comes spilling out like it was always going to. “Life support’s getting drained faster than what four men can do, temperature’s too high. You care to explain that?”

To his credit, he doesn’t attempt to appear confused, doesn’t make her repeat the question, or talk around it in endless circles. He doesn’t pretend at all… just holds her gaze like she’s got no understanding of what she’s just done, brought true danger down on both of them.

He takes a moment, weighing his options before he speaks. “I can’t tell you what we’re protecting, but I will tell you anything else you need to know. For instance, what we’ve got in there is under control.”

“Under control?”

“Not in a position to do damage to this ship, or its crew.”

“Well, I appreciate that assessment,” she replies, angrier now. “But it’s no great comfort, coming from an Assaulter who’s Earthbound in expertise. No great shame in having secrets. I carry cargo on the low, so I expect lying. I’ve got no suppliers, no clients, who don’t lie, and plenty of situations which call for it on my part, so we can just call this regular business, but a captain’s got to know what’s on the ship she runs through check stations. Got to know, and got to plan for it.”

“Knowing this would put you at greater risk.”

“Of what? No one attacks Rhys Corp people—kills nor does damage—except for terrorists, and they’re all Earthbound.”

He doesn’t answer that, which is answer enough.

“You son-of-a-bitch.” She pushes, drifts closer, within easy reach of his collar, tempted to grab hold and give violent reprimand. “We don’t have security on this vessel. We’re unshielded, unarmed, when we’re in big sky. You had a half-dozen other ships to choose from, some with thicker hulls, and all with captains more deserving of jeopardy… and you float through my airlock, look me in the eye, and bring me into trouble like that? Why? Why

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