Three alarms were triggered simultaneously. Rowena jumped to her feet, shoved her wheel-mounted workbench in front of her wall of remembrance, and dropped every shield in the engineering section.
By the time Captain Hoshi Lee arrived the place looked as desolate as he probably hoped she felt. And he looked proud of himself. A sure sign that he’d done something monumentally stupid that was going to get the Lee family in trouble. Again.
She focused on polishing the laser scope and wondered how many hours of free labor she’d be doing for another crew to cover this disaster.
The Danielle Marie let a boatswain’s shrill whistle. “Captain approaching.”Rowena dropped the scope and cleaning gear and came to attention.
Hoshi swaggered into the room. Before acknowledging her he made a show of looking around, examining everything even though they both knew he couldn’t tell a wrench from a flinjammer. “At ease,” he said as he circled. “Today is a very good day, Yeoman. Do you know why?”
“No, sir.” She stared straight at the bulkhead.
He held up a small tablet. “Today, the Lee family will be announcing candidates for the Office of Imperial Affairs and the Star Guardian training program.”
The day I breath vacuum. There was no way Hoshi had found someone to sponsor the crew like that.
Hoshi chuckled. “I can see from your expression that you don’t believe me. But it’s right here. Please. Read.”
Cautiously, she took the tablet. There was a lot of formal language but the gist of it was that the Lees were being offered two training slots, one OIA one for the guard, for candidates of the captain’s choosing. In exchange the fleet training academy in Enclave had the right to take any officer from the crew. It wasn’t the worst deal ever. “Congratulations, captain. I know you’ve looked forward to this day for some time.”
“We all have,” he said, snatching the tablet from her. “Except for you. Ungrateful wretch of a child. If I hadn’t stepped in and begged for leniency, promised the allied crews that I would see you properly punished, they would have executed you!”
“Yes, sir.” She’d been locked in the brig of one of the Wariea ships, she still wasn’t sure which one. The crew hadn’t talked to her, but they’d be kind enough. Two ration bars a day, clean water, and privacy.
She’d expected to be executed.
Deserved to be executed. She’d killed people. It didn’t matter what everyone else had done, or what would have happened if she hadn’t fought on the front lines. At the end of the day she owned her choice. She’d chosen to fight. And she’d chosen to come back to the Lees as a yeoman.
Hoshi circled around. “Aren’t you going to ask who I’m nominating?”
“I assumed you’d make a formal announcement to the full crew, sir.”
“It won’t be you!”
She nodded in agreement. “Understood, sir.”
“Hayato will go to the OIA and Kanon will go to the Star Guard.” Hoshi beamed with pride. “Do you like my choices?”
“Yes, sir.” Hayato was an obedient young man who’d fought in two battles of the war with her. He’d never keep up with the Elite in the OIA, but he’d be good office staff for someone. Everyone needed a reliable paper filer. Kanon was going to get crushed by the Star Guard training, but maybe they’d take pity on her and let her be an assistant.
If they had assistants.
She’d have to ask Titan what in the name of the Emperor he’d been thinking allowing this mad scheme to go along.
Hoshi scowled at her, probably unhappy with her lack of reaction. “The announcements will be made later this evening. I will be throwing a celebration for Hayato and Kanon.”
“I’m sure the crew will enjoy that, sir.”
“You will not be welcome.”
Behind her back her fist tightened and her nails cut into her palm. She was Lee too. She belonged with them. “Of course, sir.” Blood seeped between her fingers and her implant pushed a new wave of nanites out to heal her, but there was no expression on her face or in her voice. She’d never let Hoshi have the satisfaction of beating her.
“Make whatever excuse you require. Visit Aronia. Find something to repair. Go wander the Enclave. But do not be in the public area of a Lee ship until the third shift tomorrow. I don’t want your bad luck polluting the celebration.”
Bad luck? She’d followed orders from the same captain he obeyed. Her jaw ached from wanting to scream.
“Sir, yes, sir!” Rowena saluted, the blood already drying on her hand.
Hoshi waved a dismissive hand. “Your first stop might be the Golden Apple.”
That made her frown. “Sir? I’m not familiar with that ship.”
“It belongs to the Sekoos,” he said the name like they were worms. “One of their techs requested help and named you specifically.” The way he said it implied he couldn’t imagine why another crew would want her services, even though it was her skill that the Lees traded on for everything they had at this point. “You may take your kit and render assistance.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll go as soon as I clean my work station.”
He wrinkled his nose at the rack of tools that kept the Danielle Marie functioning and shrugged. “Consider yourself dismissed, yeoman.”
Hoshi walked away humming to himself.
Rowena pinged Titan, she needed the support, but his signal was weak. She pulled out her personal com and contacted the Sabiha.
“This is the Sabiha, Ensign Mars Sciarra speaking.” A younger version of Titan appeared. His face was softer, his eyes gentler, but there was no mistaking the young Sciarra for what he was. “Hello, Rowena. What do you need?”
“Hi, Mars. I’m trying to get in touch with Titan.”
Mars made an exaggerated frowny face that was dramatic as it was comical. “There’s a tiny problem with that. He’s in medical right now. Getting yelled at.”
“There was a bomb and his stitches ripped and…” Mars shrugged with both hands in the air. “The captain says it’s a bad combination of testosterone and ego. Personally, I think he’s just stubborn.”
“All Sciarras are stubborn.”
“You say the nicest things!” Mars grinned at the screen. “Do you want me to run a message to him? The EMP bomb drained his implant so he can’t ping you until he recharges.”
She sighed. “No. It’s not urgent. I was just-“ Hurt, because Hoshi was a mud-sucking parasite and because she felt unwanted.
Mars grimaced in commiseration. “Wanna hang out at Cargo Blue tonight? Some of us were going to take Titan out while he was weak and see if he still scares people.”
“I’m not in the mood for Cargo Blue.”
“Titan probably won’t be either, but the captain says you have an open pass to come visit the Sabiha if you want. I can send you the shield code…” It was both a question and a statement.
She nodded. “Yes, that be nice. Thank you.” Titan had given her every code to access the Sabiha since her trial finished, and told her at least twice a week that she could join his crew. But she doubted Titan had told anyone else about his offer, and telling would only get him yelled at more. “I have to go check out something for a tech on the Golden Apple, but then I’ll come over.”
“Great! Bring some of the Giggle Water.”
“You know it has no alcohol, right?”
“Who cares? It makes Titan tell jokes,” Mars said.
Rowena smiled. “Sure. I’ll bring some. See you in a bit.” She turned the com off and rolled her eyes.
Titan need Giggle Water, he just needed to relax a bit.
Grabbing her gear she teleported to the edge of Sekoo territory. She could have gone straight in, their shield was a flimsy network laced with bad code and no real defensive capabilities. They were a war crew. Before the wormhole collapsed they’d been basic scavengers, running errands for the colonists, scooping what resources were available out of the rings of the inner planets, shuttling passengers in and out of the wormhole, or to and from the system’s main space station.
When the fleet and grounders chose distance the Sekoos had gone with the fleet, attaching themselves to whatever crew that would take them.
The man who hurried down the ramp was wearing a frayed pilot’s jump suit with no insignia. And he had no detectable implant. “Can I help you?”
“One of your techs contacted the Danielle Marie and asked for me?”
“Do you know who?”
Rowena shook her head. “All I know is it was a tech.”
“And you are…?”
One of the most infamous people in the fleet, last she’d checked. “Yeoman Rowena Lee.”
Maybe he’d been one of the people who took head trauma during the war. Some of them hadn’t healed quite right.
He wiped a hand across his nose. “Well, you can come in and I’ll ask around. Let me unplug the shield real quick.”
“You could give me a temporary guest code,” Rowena said.
The man stared at her in confusion. “No. We… um… it’s not that kind of shield. You can’t walk through it.”
While he ran back up the ramp she stuck her hand through the shield. Nothing happened. But she waited, politely, because showing someone their weak points wasn’t her job. Even if it made her grind her teeth.
The shield dropped with an audible whine and the man waved at her.
Rowena teleported to the ramp. “So, I assume the shield is what you want fixed? If it’s making that sound the power source is out of phase. I can tune it, no problem.”
“Oh, no, it’s always like that.”
A brief vision of knocking the inept Sekoo unconscious and fixing the shields without permission flashed through her mind. Probably a bad idea. There’d probably be a report of some kind, or a reprimand. As if those were having any effect on her career.
She turned at the sound of her name but couldn’t identify the woman walking towards her in the Sekoo uniform.
“Lily Sekoo. I’m the one who asked for you.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Tech Sekoo,” Rowena said.
Lily was… off. The uniform she was wearing was too short, and too wide in the shoulders. Her features were an odd blend of genetic features from several major crews, and somehow it gave the appearance of being counterfeit. It made a shiver crawl up Rowena’s spine.
Maybe Titan was right, she’d spent so long locked up with the Lees that she was beginning to think like Hoshi. The war was over and she was done judging people by who they were born to. Except for the Silars. They deserved everything she thought about them.
Forcing a smile she held out her hand.
Lily ignored it and gestured down the ramp. “Could we talk for a few minutes?”
“Of course.” Rowena blinked in confusion. Her implant said the Sekoos used the same physical greetings as the rest of the fleet. She’d have to update that. “What did you need repaired? The man on sentinel duty didn’t seem to know.”
Lily glanced back at the ship. “Who? Taro? He’s not on duty.”
“Oh.” That made no sense.
“The captain gave everyone leave this week to remember the war and all we lost.”
Rowena carefully hid her surprise. At least a period of mourning explained the mismatched uniforms and the general feel of malaise hanging around their ships. “If I’d known I wouldn’t have intruded. My captain made the matter sound urgent.” But maybe Hoshi was hoping she’d get caught by the bilge crew and die here.
“Oh, it’s urgent, but it’s not something I need from you,” Lily said with what she probably thought was a teasing smile. It made her look like a feral rat. “I have some information I think the Lees will want.”
“Your captain will have to take that to Captain Hoshi. I don’t speak for the Lees.”
Lily shrugged. “Maybe, but in this case you have what I want.”
They stopped at the edge of where the Sekoo shield would be, under the shade of a derelict battle cruiser being slowly dissected for parts.
“You have Titan Sciarra,” Lily said. “And I want him.”
Rowena raised her eyebrows. There were always rumors in fleet, and when there weren’t rumors there was amateur entertainment in the forms of books, songs, and videos passed around the back channels. Her name was linked to Titan frequently, but never in such a proprietary way.
“I don’t own Titan or have any claim or control over him,” Rowena said. “He’s not an engine I can trade.”
Lily turned, crossing her arms. “Even for medicine?”
“We have contacts on the outside that the guardians probably wouldn’t approve of.” Lily took her arm and tugged Rowena along, forcing her to walk. “You know these things go. Some things are easier to handle without all the legal paperwork.”
“I have someone who found part of the warehouse shipment that was stolen.”
“You need to tell the guardians.”
Lily grimaced. “I would, and I will, but I want it done the right way. Your sister is sick. Don’t bother denying it, I know you’ve reached out to every crew with an infirmary.”
“We need medication for the baby because she went into labor early,” Rowena said.
“A new Lee.” Lily stopped walking. “The person willing to give us the drugs wants a small trinket to sell on the antiques market. It’s worthless to us, but see, this is where my genius lies. I can always find the best solution so that everyone walks away happy.”
Rowena nodded. “And? What’s the solution you see here?”
“Give me time with Titan Sciarra. I’ll buy the meds, and give them to you for time with Titan. That’s all I want.”
“Why?” She stepped back. Titan would do it if she asked, he understood how important her sister was. But she was not going to prostitute out her best friend.
She might offer to sell him and then double-cross the Sekoos, but if Lily hadn’t thought of that it was a Sekoo problem and not Rowena’s.
Lily laughed. “Don’t you see? He rescued me today! Saved me when the bomb went off in our storage yard. If he comes back and spends time with me, think of what everyone will say!”
“You do realize he’s the Sciarra scion, next in line for the captain’s chair. There is no way in this life or any other Elea would let him marry an enlisted sailor.”
“I don’t want to marry him!” Lily sounded appalled at the idea. “I don’t even need him to like me, or hold my hand, or any of that. I just want to spend time with him. Go for a walk on the beach, maybe. Or sit together on the upper deck. Something small is fine. It’ll be enough to show the fleet that the Sekoos are a respected crew. That I’m special enough to have his attention!”
Rowena shook her head. “That’s not how it works. If you’re trying to boost your ego this won’t do it. Trust me. I’m a bit of an expert on being around the powerful and influential. Hovering in their shadow doesn’t make you special.”
Lily stomped away.
“I’m sorry,” Rowena said, catching up to her. “But wouldn’t you rather know now than hope an hour or two with Titan will make you feel better? I’ll trade for the medicine. Name what you want. Your shields? I can make them ten times better. Your implants? I could give you upgraded tech. Engines? Rations? Ships? I have three fighters I own outright, the best machines in this whole cracked fleet. Their yours in exchange for the medicine.”
“I don’t want ships!” Lily shouted. She stomped her foot and a small cloud of dust danced in the waning sunlight. “I want Titan! I want time with him. Why can’t you give me that?”
Rowena tried to formulate a logical answer to an illogical request. “Titan’s time isn’t worth the medicine. It’s a bad deal!”
“Not to me.” There were tears in Lily’s eyes when she turned around. “Don’t you see? It’s all I want. A few minutes to live my dream. To have what I’ve always wanted.”
Attention. Rowena shut her eyes. “Fine.” Ancestors, forgive me. “I’ll talk to Titan tonight and bring him by first thing in the morning. Can you get the medicine by then?”
Lily nodded with an eager smile. “I’ll get it tonight. Oh! Rowena, I can’t thank you enough! I’ve waited so long for this day to come!”
Rowena nodded. “I hope it’ll be everything you ever wanted.”
“It will be,” Lily promised. “It will be.”