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Jinna's surprised exclamation softened to a sigh and Rory’s grip eased. His hands slid down her shoulders to hold her hands, and he deepened the kiss as she gave a little gasp.
John cleared his throat and looked away.
Jagati watched like they were at a matinee of I Love Lucy.
“I believe that’s quite enough of that,” Galileo’s voice cut through the moment and, as John looked back, gestured to Colin and Ysabel, each of whom stepped up to collect one young lover apiece.
John, looking at where Galileo prowled the aft deck, thought the technocrist was looking a mite rough around the edges.
Ysabel pulled Rory back to the starboard D-ring, this time wasting no time fitting the shackles around his wrists with a foreboding clang.
Colin, meanwhile, led Jinna to port, near John and Jagati. She walked quietly, her hands together as if in shock, and her eyes kept darting to Rory, as if uncertain of what she saw.
“Now young love has been requited,” Galileo said, drawing John’s attention, “it’s time to get back to business.” He paused, looked over the assembled. “Where is it?”
“Why bother to ask, Mr. Creeparoundinpeople’sheads? Professional courtesy?” Jagati asked, continuing in her campaign to make Galileo angry.
From the black glare that followed, she’d succeeded.
“I wager he cannot,” Eitan said, drawing the glare, and the ire, in his direction. “Hiding yourself for over an hour on the tram, throwing me into the past, blocking time for four minds at once, hiding your crew from ours until you could take the ‘ship, and even now forcing Rory to relive his past?” His left arm waved over to where Rory leaned against the bulkhead, still visibly shaken. “It’s no less intense than fighting in a long battle. Worse,” he added, turning to the others, “because of the backlash.”
“You would know,” Galileo offered Eitan a hooded gaze. “I may have no more psi-tricks to hand, but ’tis a rare fool who Keeps all his bees in one hive.” As he spoke, he crossed the bay to where Ysabel had just secured Rory and held out a hand for her sword.
“No.” Jinna started forward, but Colin held her back.
“While it’s true I would never harm a mother,” Galileo said, holding the blade under Rory’s chin, “I have no issue at all with killing him.”
“How is that not harmful to her?” Jagati shouted. “The trauma could induce—something—miscarriage!”
John, meanwhile, felt sure the only reason she hadn’t pulled his arm out of the socket as she lunged forward was that he’d lunged at the same time.
“I dare say our Jinna is made of sterner stuff,” Galileo countered, “but if no one talks, I suppose we’ll find out.”
“Enough,” John said. “You already know I’ll tell you. But only if you swear on your honor you’ll not harm Rory.”
“Assuming he even understands the concept,” Jagati said.
“I’d imagine anyone who’d spent time with Eitan would have to,” John told her while holding Galileo’s gaze.
“Perhaps not the best example,” Rory offered gamely, “seein’ how things worked out.”
“It may be you’re smarter than you appear,” Galileo told the mechanic, then lowered the sword with a flourish. “There.” He send John a slight bow, “He is safe, and will remain so if you tell me where the cargo is hidden.”
“It’s on the Errant,” John told him.
“We searched the Errant, from envelope to cargo bay. T’was nowhere to be found,” Galileo said, and swung the blade towards Rory.
“I didn’t say it was in the Errant,” John said as every eye in the room turned his way. “I said it was on the Errant.”
“Now that,” Galileo said, pointing the sword John-ward, “that is clever. And more than a little mad.”
“A bit of the wasp calling the hornet tetchy,” Rory muttered, then subsided at John’s glare.
“Where?” Galileo asked.
“Under the starboard aft engine pod.”
“What? How? When did you get it out there?” Jagati asked, glaring.
“Over Lycos,” he said, still watching Galileo. “Right after I left the galley, I harnessed up and went outside.”
“You left my prototype calculator secured under an engine pod on an airship?”
“What’s a calculator?” Colin asked Jinna.
“No clue,” Jinna replied.
“It’s protected,” John said, ignoring the byplay, “and well secured.”
“It had better be.” Galileo drew a thick key from his pocket and held it up. “So, who’s to fetch it?” He took a few steps towards Eitan, then paused. “Not you, I think.”
Eitan’s head tilted. “You think me unable?”
“I think releasing you would be a roundabout form of suicide.”
“I’ll—” Rory began.
“I’ll do it,” Jagati said at the same time.
“Nonsense,” John said. “I’ll go.”
“Years leading jump teams,” Jagati pointed out, dripping with irritation.
“I got it out there,” John said. “I can get it back. And beyond all that,” he said as he pointed at himself with his right hand, thus pulling Jagati’s left, “Captain.”
“First Mate,” she imitated his tone and pointed at herself with her left arm, pulling at his right. “As such, it is my duty to lead any off-ship retrieval while you safeguard the vessel.”
John felt his eye twitching. “I should never have taken you to see Star Trek, The Musical when we docked in Epsilon.”
“But ya did.”
“Except that’s fiction.”
“Didn’t you just finish explaining to me how the life of the captain is considered more valuable than that of his airmen?”
He hissed, hearing his words from the galley thrown back at him. “I was speaking of life in the Corps,” he said, “and you know it.”
“This is taking too long,” Galileo said, holding up the key. “Ysabel, unlock the cap—”
And then Jagati shifted her weight and slammed her knee into the side of John’s—the one with the shrapnel in it—and watched with apparent dispassion as it gave way.
Shouts of surprise from Rory and Colin underscored the curse John let out as, sweating and furious, he gripped their shared chain to hold himself upright.
Galileo looked at Ysabel, then jerked his chin towards Eitan.
She nodded and crossed to the Fujian, catching the sword Galileo tossed to her as she passed by him.
“So you understand,” Galileo said as he looked at Jagati, “if I see the slightest sign you’re playing me for a fool, ’tis Eitan who’ll pay the price. Perhaps,” he turned to his onetime lover, “he will lose his other hand.”
Eitan looked at Galileo. “And you wonder why I left you?”
“You said you left me for Rhonda.”
“Rhonda was an incentive,” Eitan admitted, “but hardly the deciding factor.”
“We understand.” John, still hunched over his knee, shot Eitan a dark look. Did his entire crew have suicidal tendencies?
Jagati rattled the chain. “And that box ain’t gonna rescue itself.”
Galileo didn’t respond, but he did unlock the chain.
As she stepped away, though, he pulled Jinna in to take her place.
“Really?” Jagati frowned as she shook her hand. “It’s not like she has anywhere to run.”
“I prefer to take no chances. Apologies,” Galileo said to Jinna as he slammed the shackle closed on her left wrist with a metallic clunk. “I’d rather you not put yourself in any further danger.”
“But you’d maim a man you used to love?” Jinna asked, her right hand forming a fist on her hip.
“Nice shot,” Jagati murmured.
“I never said I loved him,” Galileo told Jinna, then glanced at Jagati. “Get into your harness. I would like to finish this business before the sunsrise.”
“So say we all,” Rory tossed in as Jagati crossed to where the jump lines and harnesses hung near the bay door.
“Jagati,” John said, waiting for her to look in his direction. “I value it,” he said, “at far more than a pin’s fee.”
He saw, by the flash of surprise, followed by resentment, she remembered the other part of their conversation in the galley.
In the end, threatening Eitan hadn’t been enough for Galileo.
By the time Jagati donned her harness and gloves, the money-hungry technocrist had discovered the boarding axe. Yanking it from its hook on the bulkhead, he promised to cut her line if anyone, anywhere, caused any trouble at all.
It took serious work, but Jagati managed not to roll her eyes at the melodrama.
She did roll her eyes at John, but only because he expected it.
And really, whatever John’s opinion, she was the logical crew member to send after the calculator. Okay, Rory would also have been an apt choice, but if she let herself think about that, she’d be forced to think about what John said back in the galley, about her throwing herself in front of the arrow.
Which echoed disturbingly close to what Jinna had said about Rory.
Which, okay, she also didn’t want to think about.
Anyway, fetching the damned calculator allowed her to do something besides watch Eitan’s ex-lover play the circus villain.
Briefly, she wondered if Rand had been so theatrical when he’d wrested the Kodiak from John’s command.
Wrested command by having John stabbed, she reminded herself with a judder of nerves for the people she was leaving behind.
And then she further reminded herself that obsessing about Nasa back in the day wouldn’t get Galileo off the Errant now.
And Galileo, axe in hand, was glowering at her.
So she twisted and grabbed hold of the jump handle outside the door. With her left hand she toggled on the harness torch, leaned back, and, with the habitual “three, two, one...go” made the initial jump, her brake hand low and her guide hand working the line until she hit the gondola’s lower hull, where she planted her feet and braked.
“Easy peasy,” the words fogged the damp air as she swung back and then forward to catch one of the gondola’s maintenance grips. As soon as she got hold of the grip, she pulled herself in and got a toehold on the base rail. With a practiced flick she looped the slack line over its hook on the harness belt and began to edge her way aft.
At least he’d chosen the pod closest to the jump door. Especially given it was smogging cold out here, and her flight jacket, while sufficient inside the ‘ship, wasn’t enough to keep her from shivering as she eased down the gondola’s length, letting out the excess line as she went.
To pass the time, she hummed a tune that had wormed its way into her skull soon after being introduced to Quinn’s draco.
“Since my b-baby left me,” chattered through the night, a lyrical counterpoint to the low creak of the anchor line, just seven meters amidships from her position, “I f-found a new p-place to dwell…”
She’d just gotten to the point where the sappy lovers were crying in the gloom when she reached the pod junction, a thick appendage from which the pod itself extended from the main hull.
Inside the Errant, the crew (or, Rory, mostly) used the junction to access the pod’s interior mechs or, if the engine itself took fire or for any reason threatened the rest of the airship, he could seal off the gondola and jettison the entire pod.
Outside, one scaled the pod using the hand and foot rungs fitted over the entire gondola.
“He had to put it on the bottom,” she said as she reached the bulbous pod. “Couldn’t have hidden it on top. Or on the side…”
Complaint registered to the universe, Jagati unlooped a little more line and made a one-handed bowline through one of the grips. With the line secured, she rechecked her harness at all points, and then let herself drop from the line so she could swing down beneath the pod, so the circle of light from the small harness torch at her shoulder danced along the underbelly, where the light of the moons did little more than add to the shadows.
For all that, it didn’t take long to spy the cargo, securely fastened just fore of the vent.
Very securely. With, like, a kilometer of envelope tape.
She’d seen wasps nests that were less lumpen.
“Johnnnnn…” the name ground out between her teeth as she tried to figure out how to release the thing without dropping it in the process.
Venting a steady stream of curses likely audible to those above, she leaned back and succinctly shouted up that, “A knife would be helpful!”