Don’t freak, Victor told himself, his mental voice at the edge of hysteria. By all that’s holy don’t free. Why had the officer sent a message, and why was he standing there, just glancing at his datapad? They’d been made. It had to be it. The message was a request for reinforcement. How could Miranda look so calm? Well, maybe not calm, she was scowling, but she’d been doing that since she’d had to change. He didn’t see why she was angry, she didn’t look bad. She still had the form-fitting getup under it, and when the jacket moved as she walked, it gave hints of her curves. It was surprisingly enticing.
“Alright,” the officer said, “Everything’s in order.” If you’ll follow me.
“Huh?” Victor said, cleverly, but the officer was already walking. Miranda grabbed Victor;s arm and shoved him forward, glaring at him. He opened his mouth to apologize, but her glare intensified.
He fell into steps behind the office, with Miranda next to him. Victor tried to make his steps assured, like hers, but he could hear in uncertainty in how his boots clicked on the floor. He was sweating too hard he was surprised alarms were going off, or that the people didn’t wrinkle their nose.
Stop thinking about how you don’t know what you’re doing, he told himself. Focus on something else, not what can go wrong. Not on the thousands of ways you can screw this up, can yourself, Miranda and Alex captured and Tristan remaining a prisoner of the Sayatoga. By the Holies, they were going to take on a prison ship. He was insane. That was the only answer to why he’d agreed to this.
He wanted to prove to Alex he was worthy of Tristan, and that in and of itself was insane. It wasn’t like the two of them would just share what they had with him, although it would be kind of hot if they did. The three of them living together, bringing order and justice to the universe, celebrating their victories in their bedroom.
No! Don’t go there! He cursed himself. Thinking of sex with Tristan was too much of a distraction, he knew that from experience. How many time had he ended up with the boner to end all boners while at work because he’d been bored and his mind drifted? Think of something boring, like the corridor.
It was white and featureless, except for doors. How many of those had they walked through? Damn it, he needed to pay attention to where they were. What if he had to run back to Alex? How was he going to do that if he didn’t know the way? It was too late anyway. If things went bad, he was fucked. By the Holies he hoped Miranda had paid attention.
They entered a lift, which was white and featureless. How could people live like this? There was nothing to look at. No sky, no buildings, no colors. When Alex had called this a city ship he’d imagined a city with a dome over it. Or maybe a city inside a box, but this was just a ship, with endless corridors.
The lift stopped and they exited to yet more white corridors.
What was the attraction? Why would anyone want to live here? Well, other than never having to worry about the Law, that had to be appealing. Scientists could do whatever experiments they wanted, no matter how immoral, not to say of the pleasure of the flesh. He’d heard one of the Sovereign families engaged in perpetual orgies.
Great, now his boner was coming back.
Okay so maybe he could see the appeal of being part of a Sovereign family. But they really should do something about making the corridors more visually interesting. He’d die of boredom walking them. At least he wasn’t thinking of the multiple ways he could screw this up.
The officer stopped and opened a door.
Like freezing in front of the door because he was certain this was a trap.
Miranda bumped into him and apologized softly. The impact was enough to engage his brain. It had been a long time since he’d picked up a prisoner, but this he knew how it went.
He entered the room, a laboratory, by all the scientific equipment in the room. The woman was seated in front of a terminal looking at it intensely.
She motioned to the counter without looking away from the screen. “Whatever you want me to make, just leave the data chip in the box, I’ll get to it when I’m done with everything else.”
“Miss Holiander?” Victor said more forcefully.
She turned. “Damn it, I said—” she froze on seeing the three of them.
“I’m Detective Victor Barstone, I’m here to bring you home to answer for your crimes.”
Mary didn’t seem to understand what was going on. She looked from him to Miranda and back to him. Then she was up and backing away from them. “No, no. You can’t take me away from here.” She looked at the officer. “I have to stay here!”
Victor was baffled by her reaction. Didn’t she know who they were? Hadn’t Alex told her they were here to get her out? Maybe she was acting? If that was the case she was a better actor than he was. Still, he needed to proceed, and this was a scenario he’d practiced many times at the academy, and the words came back to him.
“Miss Holiander, please don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be. If you resist it will just add to an already long list of charges you need to answer for.”
“No! I’m not going with you. Do you hear me? Tell the Lady Priam I want to stay here!”
Victor looked at ht officer. “Is that someone who can interfere?”
“The Lady is the family, but she doesn’t bother with people like her.”
Victor nodded. “M—Beckie, restrain Miss Holiander…” his voice trailed off. Restraints, he didn’t have any, did Miranda?
Miranda took out cuff looking things and strode toward Mary, who looked for another way out of the room. Victor winced as Miranda handled Mary, catching her by the arm as she tried to bolt, turning her and slamming her against the wall. She forced Mary’s arms behind her back and attached the cuffs.
As soon as Miranda released her Mary ran for the door, for Victor and the officer. Determination filled her face and Victor readied himself to catch her. Before she reached the middle point Mary tensed and fell to the floor, twitching.
She stopped moving and Miranda pulled her up. “How pleasant was that? Run again and it’s going to be worse, got it?”
Mary looked dazed.
“That isn’t a department issues model,” Victor said, surprised at the use of something that inflicted pain.
“Unlike you, Detective, this isn’t my first time retrieving someone. Running after their scared asses gets old really fast. It was either that or knocking her unconscious and throwing her over my shoulder, but I figured your sensitive constitution wouldn’t approve of that.”
“Right. Well, let's get back to the ship.” He turned and caught the officer covering up a smile. Hopefully if he found this amusing it meant he wasn’t suspecting anything. The officer led the way. They made it partway to the lift when a woman heading in their direction saw them. Her eyes went wide and he ran toward them. Victor placed a hand on Mary to stop her and He saw Miranda reach behind her back.
“Where are you taking her?” she asked, sounding worried.
“She's going back to her planet. She’s something of a crime lord there.”
“What?” Mary exclaimed, then cried out as Miranda clamped a hand on her shoulder.
“But she’s supposed to make my batch.”
“It’ll be assigned to one of the other chemists.”
“But she’s the best. I’ve never had that amazing of a high until she made it.”
“It’s out of my hands.”
“Can’t they at least wait until she’s made it?”
“No, they need to be on their way.”
“Look, this had been cleared by the people in charge. You have a problem with it, take it up with them.” He moved her out of the way and set off again.
Victor followed. The woman looked like she’d watched a gang of muscular enforcers kick her kitten. By the sound of it, she’d wanted drugs, and she looked devastated. At least she had other chemists to go to. If she’d been on Bramolian Six, not being able to get her fix meant she’d been suffering until she stole enough, or sold herself for the money to get more. Fuck the people here had no idea what suffering was like.
In the lift Mary tried to get herself out from Miranda’s grip. “What’s this about me being—Ouch! Let go of me! You can’t treat me like this, I have rights.”
The officer snorted.
Miranda leaned in close. “You have the right to remain silent. If you don’t want to do that, I have the right to inflict pain.”
“What happened to procedures?” Mary directed the question at Victor. “I know how this is supposed to go. I’m going to sue the department for mistreatment.”
“Girl,” Miranda shoved Mary against the wall. “Procedures don’t apply when you’re hiding out off-planet. If you wanted to be treated better you should have found a planet to live on, those all have better rules on how to treat criminals.”
“You think I chose to be here?”
“I don’t care.”
Victor caught the officer watching the interaction, licking his lips. “Like it rough, do you?”
The officer jerked forward. “What? No! I—” he looked over his shoulder. “Fuck, that’s a woman.”
Victor didn’t care for Miranda’s behavior, but he had to agree with the officer, she was quite the woman. The door opened and they exited. This time Miranda kept her hand on Mary’s shoulder as they walked. Victor found it easier to focus what was happening now that it was almost over. He hadn’t screwed anything up. Of course they weren’t on the ship yet. So maybe he shouldn’t sound too confident.
What was it with him and this constant need to talk down to himself? Sure he’d been behind a desk for decades, but he hadn’t given into the despair there. He hadn’t listened to the constant talk of him being a failure the others had thrown at him. He was better than that. He was a good officer.
They reached the hangar without problems, and Victor found himself going on alert. Now that he could see Miranda’s ship, he was terrified that everything would come crashing down on them. Anyone moving in their direction could be another officer ready to arrest them, even the older woman with grease up to her elbow. If he hadn’t had his body rejuvenated he’d be afraid that the way his heartbeat would give him a heart attack.
Victor turned as they reached the ramp. “Sorry?” the officer had said something, had it been important?
“I just wished you a good trip.”
“Oh, thanks. You too.” He went up the ramp after Miranda and Mary, then closed it. When it shut he leaned back against it. They were in. It was done. He could lie down and die in peace now.
“Welcome back,” Alex said, looking over his shoulder. “Hi Mary.”
“You,” the woman growled and launched herself out of Miranda’s grip at Alex.