Alex searched through the rubble that had been the house; their house. He probably shouldn’t be thinking of it as *theirs*, it was Tristan’s house. But over the last years, whenever he’d talked about returning here, it had been *we*, not *I*, and even if Alex had been included as a thing, not a person, it still meant something to him.
Now, it was destroyed.
He hadn’t wanted to return here, but he needed something that was still there, and he knew it was intact.
He found where he had been dug out, and crouched. He quickly found the Defender, lying on the floor, kept from being crushed by how the pieces of the wall and ceiling had fallen around it, forming a small cave, each piece leaning on the other, keeping the whole from coming down of the small statue.
Alex had to lie down and stretched to even touch it. By the time he’d hooked his fingers around an arm and pulled it to him he was panting. He could hear the debris creak and shift. Dust fell on him as he scrambled back to the open sky.
He shuddered at the idea the rubble might have fallen on him. It would have been hours before anyone realized he wasn’t at the ship. Hours more before they thought to look here. He doubted he would have been lucky a second time and survive until then.
He looked at the Defender, which had only gotten the tip of a triangular ear broken. “I really wish I knew what your plan was, because almost getting me killed the moment I realize how to fix Tristan doesn’t seem to make any sense.”
If anyone heard him talk to the statue they’d think he’d lost his mind. Which might be the case, but if he had, it had happened years ago. Probably when Tristan had given him the chance to walk away from all this, and he hadn’t taken it. When he’d known the reason he’d come here didn’t exist anymore, but he’d thought he’d seen something in Tristan, something that had made sticking around worthwhile.
He stood and dusted himself off. “This has to be part of your plan, because I refuse to believe our luck is that bad.”
He was talking to a piece of sculpted rock, he thought as he made his way out of the rubble. But its powers was based on belief, and Alex had to believe. He had to believe the reason Tristan had been acting so out of character recently was because of the promise he’d made over the statue years ago was forcing him to act contrary to who he was. He had to believe that it was possible to break that promise, but cause the alternative was that Tristan was broken, and there was nothing he could do about it.
* * * * *
The ship was repaired. Twenty-five of the thirty cryo chairs were working, there hadn’t been enough parts available locally to fix the others. Everyone was gone. Jacoby was making arrangement for someone to take over his job in the town while he was away. Alex would be done with this call before he came back, and then they’d be off.
He connected to the node and made sure it was as secure as it could be. They’d be talking via one of the multiple Merc comm nodes, each connecting to it instead of through it to one person hosting the conference. It ensured that if somehow the Law managed to track one of them here, it wouldn’t lead to all their locations.
Will was the first one to join him there, and Alex saw the programs fluttering around him that told him Asyr was checking the node’s security as he had. He didn’t mind, there could never be too much security.
“How are your preparations coming along?” Alex asked.
“All done. Just Aliana and me, Captain said no to the rest.”
Alex nodded, not that Will could see it. This was voice only.
Someone else joined them. “Do you have any idea how much some people would be willing to pay to know how to access this place?”
“And you’d be dead before you could spend that money, Victor. Mercs don’t like one of them talking to the Law.”
“I’m not a Merc. I’m just helping you out. Who else is here?”
Will was staying quiet and the programs around him were forming a lattice. It told Alex that Asyr was listening in, and that she was ready to pull Will out the instant she felt this turned bad. Alex wrote a quick program to carry a message to her. He couldn’t have her paranoia ruin this meeting.
“So,” another voice said. “Who’s this merry crew you put together?” Miranda sounded annoyed, but she’d sounded like that when Alex had first contacted her. The universe hadn’t been kind to her recently and she was taking it out on everyone else. No wonder no one wanted to work with her these days.
“Yeah yeah, just get this going so we can finish this and I can get paid.”
“Alright, so everyone knows the job. Tristan’s been caught by the Sayatoga and we’re going to rescue him. Miranda’s getting us in. She has had dealings with the prison ship before. She’s familiar with their methods and knows how to contact them through proper channel.”
“She’s going to need a criminal to justify calling them,” Victor said.
“That would be me. Crimson is a known partner to Tristan wanted on thirty murder charges, extortion, and Emil’s kidnapping.” Alex had expected that to go away when it was revealed to have been a ploy, but no, the Law had kept the warrants active. He could have gone in and removed everything, but a merc needed a reputation, an empty criminal record didn’t speak too much of one.
“Victor knows the law. On top of being muscle, he’ll be able to make sure that whatever forms are tied to my capture are properly filled. Unlike someone like Tristan, I’m not quite valuable enough to a prison they’ll just let Miranda walk on and hand me off.”
“I wouldn’t normally bother with someone like him,” Miranda said. “Not enough money in it for me.”
“You’ve gone after a lot of high-value criminals?” Victor asked.
“Victor, we don’t have time for—”
Alex sighed. “As far as I know, Miranda is one of the only bounty hunters to successfully capture Tristan by herself.”
“I had a partner, but he was just the decoy.”
“Victor, if you want to know more about her career, exchange personal comm node with her and have that conversation in private. Right now I want to introduce all of you so we can all get moving. The last one in Will, once inside the Sayatoga he’d going to be opening the doors for us.”
“How good of a locksmith are you?” Miranda asked.
“How about something more defined? What’s the best lock you’ve opened?”
“Dunno. Never looked.”
“Miranda. I’ve seen Will open doors I’d programmed to stay closed. I don’t care how good the lock is, when I tell a ship not to open a door, that door shouldn’t open short of blowing it up. Will got in within a minute.”
Alex had always been annoyed that Will could get into their room, no matter how hard he’d tried to keep him out.
“Sop that’s it?” Victor asked. “Four of us to take on what’s probably the most secure prison in the universe?”
“There’s a fifth, our pilot.”
“Why isn’t he talking?” Miranda asked.
“He’s handling his business before we leave. And he’s going to stay with the ship so we can get out to moment we have Tristan.”
“That still seems like a small number of people.” Victor sounded worried.
“This isn’t an assault. It’s an infiltration. There’s only so many people I can keep the ship from seeing. We go in, get Tristan and we leave. How ready are you to head to the meeting point?”
“I’m good to go,” Victor said. “I put in for an extended leave, everyone was so happy to see me go I thought they were going to throw me a party. I got myself a small shuttle that’s in good enough shape to take me where I need to go. I just need a destination.”
“I’ve been ready since you first told me about the job,” Miranda replied, almost snarling. “If you’d told me then I could already be on my way.”
“Be a while still,” Will said.
“No worried Will, I’m taking your time frame into account. We’re meeting at Mobius Station.”
“That’s a tourist station,” Victor commented. “It’s set to watch a black hole eat up a sun or something. Why would you want us to meet there?”
“Because it isn’t just for tourists.” This time Miranda did snap. “It’s a merc station hiding as a tourist one. All the radiation makes tracking the ships around it difficult. And Merc can also enjoy a relaxing view once in a while too.”
Had Miranda just made a joke?
“The other reason I picked it is that it’s in close proximity to where we’ll be picking up our medic.”
“Why aren’t they meeting us?”
“She isn’t in a position to arrange her own traveling. I’ll explain that part when we meet. Any question?”
“How do we find each other?” Miranda asked.
“Look for a ship named ‘Katherine’s folly.’ That’ll be me.”
“Is that the same Katherine that was chasing you and Tristan?” Victor asked.
“Yes. You’re going to have to tell me how you know about her when we’re at the station. Now, if there aren’t any other question. I’ll see you there.” Alex gave them five seconds, during which Will had already disconnected, then severed the connection to the node.
He leaned back in the seat. That had gone better than he’d expected. Victor hadn’t caused the trouble he’d expected about working with criminals. Now all he had to hope was that everyone would play their part as he was expecting.
Jacoby cleared his throat. “So I’m just the pilot?”
“Someone needs to stay with the ship. Keep it warmed up and ready to go.”
“You know, that Lawman is right. That’s too small of a crew to pull this off. You need more muscle. I hate to say it, but there a lot of the kids in town who want to help. They want to rescue Tech.”
“No. They have no idea what they’ll have to do for this to work. And the moment we’ve rescued him, they’re going to see there is no Tech.”
“I don’t think you give him enough credit, or them. They’re not going to care who he really is. He’s their friend. When we come back with him everyone’s going to be happy to see him, whatever name he ends up using.”
Alex didn’t immediately reply. Fiddling with the earpiece he’d taken out of his pack earlier. Jacoby was under the impression he and Tristan were coming back. There was no way Tristan would consider that, not after being attacked here. This safe place had been burned. When he was better, they’d be looking for someplace else to call home.
“Maybe, but I’m still not bringing them. They don’t have any training. You really want to have to explain to their families how they all died?”
“Then you’re going hire more muscle when we reach Mobius?”
“No. I know what I’m doing. A small team is best.”
Jacoby shook his head. “Fine, it’s your job, but I’d think you’d want to put all the chances on your side when it came to rescuing the guy you loved.”
Alex glared at the back of the man’s head, who was heading for packs he’d left by the ramp. He had no business bringing how he felt about Tristan into this. He was going to rescue him, but his way.
“By the way, I’m ready to go,” Jacoby said.
Alex stood and pocketed the earpiece. “Let’s do a last search of the ship for stowaways, then we’ll get going.”