Outrageous Fortune: Chapter 36


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The second Jagati slipped out of the gondola, silence descended over the bay in an uncomfortable huddle. 

Galileo remained near the open door, his face pale in the moon’s light, both hands holding the boarding axe, while Colin and Ysabel roamed the deck, less to watch for any trouble from the prisoners than to keep themselves warm. 

Rory was right cold himself, but t’wasn’t the chill that worried him so much as the silence. 

That, and the possibility Galileo might at any time choose to Sense the Errant crew. 

“Could ye not at least give the wee lass a coat?” he asked, glancing Jinna’s way, where she immediately huddled closer to John and, when Colin looked her way, produced a shudder for effect. 

“I thought mums-to-be ran warm,” Colin said.

“We do,” Jinna replied. 

“But not ‘standing in an open bay at a thousand feet,’ warm,” John pointed out, rubbing her arm with his free hand. 

“You know the current altitude?” Ysabel asked. 

“You don’t?” he asked back. 

Jinna sneezed. 

Colin glanced at Galileo. “I could go above and fetch—”

“No one is going anywhere to fetch anything,” Galileo snapped, his eyes still on Jagati’s progress. From the direction of his gaze, Rory figured the first mate was halfway to the pod junction. “Radio Mary on the bridge, she can bring down something.”

Mary? Rory held back a curse as he recalled there was yet another member of the invading party. And while he was not at all pleased to have this Mary person on his bridge, he’d be less pleased to have another body here in the bay at present. 

“It’s all right,” Jinna said. “I can handle a little cold.”

“No trouble,” Colin assured, and crossed to the bay radio. “This bird ain’t goin’ anywhere, and if I know Mary, she’s already bored.”

“Keepers forfend Mary be bored,” John murmured as Colin radioed the bridge and made the request.

Rory hoped this Mary person was chatty, as the lock pick he’d passed to Jinna during their kiss wouldn’t do much good if the bay remained too quiet for her to use it. 

He might have kept it himself, and been out in a thrice, but of all the crew, he was the least useful in a scrap, and knew it, so he’d trusted his instincts and given Jinna the spare in hopes she could free Jagati or John. 

“Colin, is it?” he heard Eitan say, and let his eyes drift to where the Fujian leaned against the pallet. One dark eye dipped in a wink to Rory before he turned his full attention in Colin’s direction. 

“Aye,” the mercenary shot a suspicious, and appreciative, glance Eitan’s way. “And what do you need? A pillow? Or someone to scratch your back?” 

“Neither, though I will keep you in mind should I have an itch.” White teeth flashed, brightening the dimly lit bay with the sheer force of Eitan’s charisma. 

Rory watched Colin swallow, Ysabel sigh, and even Galileo, back at the jump door, look up. 

When Eitan turned up the crystal, no one was immune. 

“I am merely curious,” Eitan continued, having captured Colin’s attention, “how a man such as yourself chose this life. You have skills, initiative, looks…” Again the smile, and Rory wanted to cheer, for Colin took another step forward. “Fortune could be your apiary.”

“You’d think,” Colin agreed, running a hand over his smooth, golden-brown scalp. “But you know how it is. War ends, the Corps don’t need the extra bodies, and what’s a demobbed infantryman to do? I spent my life onna lines, pushing the smogging Coal Farts back to their side. S’what I’m good at, pushing them’s as causing trouble back to the other side.” 

“And no one does it better. Colin’s a queen’s dream when it comes to combat,” a new, decidedly female voice agreed.

Rory started, then he, and everyone but Galileo, turned to take in the view.

And quite a view it was, and not only for her own sake but because she wore a pair of his trousers (both overlong and over snug on the curvaceous blonde) one of Eitan’s shirts, John’s leather jacket, and yes, Jagati’s spare boots.

It was as if she’d considered the Errant her own, personal souk. 

“John,” she greeted the Errant’s captain with a gaze as potent as Eitan at his best before continuing to descend with a panache more suited to Epsilon’s Boeing Hotel than the Errant’s cargo bay. 

“I can see why you wanted a wrap, dear.” Mary turned to Jinna with a delicate shiver. “It’s cold as Stolichnaya down here.” She shook out the blanket draped over one arm (like the jacket, the blanket came from John’s quarters), sashayed over to where Jinna waited and tucked it around the girl’s shoulders. 

From his angle, it looked to Rory as if the woman’s hands spent more time than necessary smoothing the folds nearest John’s chest. 

“Hello, Mary,” the captain said. 

“I told you we’d keep looking,” she told him. 

“I recall.” 

Mary glanced about the bay, taking in the space, the locked-up crew, the pale and fixated Galileo at the bay door. “So, this is the ‘ship you’re so keen to hold on to?”

“It suits us,” John told her. 

“It’s a bit—empty,” she pointed out. “I’d have expected a freighter would have more freight.”

“Depends on the client, doesn’t it?” Rory tossed in. “The job you hired us for’s right wee, but you should have been here for the hives.” 

“Please,” Eitan held up his arm, “let us not speak of the hives.” 

“He hated the hives,” Rory confided to Colin. 

“If you don’t mind,” Galileo said, his glare dimming the combined Eitan/Mary glow somewhat, “I’d as soon skip the tea klatch.”

Mary looked at Colin, who shrugged, and Ysabel continued her rounds of the bay as silence once again thudded down. 

At this rate, Jinna would never get the chance to unlock John’s shackle. 

“A knife would be helpful!” 

Jagati’s bellow shot through the bay and energized the enemy team, all of whom gathered for a confab by the door. 

Rory glanced Jinna’s way, but not once did he allow himself the luxury of hope.

* * *

Jagati’s irritable request brought a smile to John’s lips. 

Not only because it drew the occupying forces to Galileo’s side, where they no doubt debated over who would deliver the requested knife—possibly he should have mentioned the patching tape—but because he felt Jinna’s fingers, hidden by the blanket, slip something into the shackle’s lock. 

He didn’t look, nor did he allow himself to think about anything but keeping her warm while, aft of the jump door, Galileo pulled a second harness down and handed it to Ysabel. 

To his left, he caught a shadow of motion that would be Eitan, shifting his weight. 

Across the bay, Rory gave a massive shudder, causing the shackles on his wrists to rattle. The sound drew Colin’s attention to Rory’s starboard position just as, under the blanket, the shackle on John’s wrist snicked open. 

Still, John didn’t look down, didn’t even move, but stood watching—and waiting.

* * *

Jagati wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t Ysabel sliding down on a line with the ease of experience. 

“You needed something cut?” the other woman called over. 

Jagati bit her tongue on the response that wanted to come out and jerked her chin at the super-secure oilskin wrapping. “I considered using my teeth, but your boss in is a hurry.”

As conversational as ever—which was to say not at all—Ysabel worked her way to the pod where Jagati clung. Grabbing hold of one of the pod’s maintenance grips with one hand, she drew a simple utility knife with the other. “It would be bad,” she said to Jagati, “if the package were to fall.” 

Both glanced down. Through wisps of cloud cover, they could see the murky shadings of the Lycos wilds. 

“Ya think?” Jagati asked, looking up again. When Ysabel, typically, made no reply, she took another step aft and anchored her boot on one of the low bars. Then she swung out, under the calculator, and placed one hand on the pod hull, the other on the package itself. 

Ysabel mirrored the move and, once Jagati gave her the nod, sawed through the nearest line of patching tape. 

Jagati had little time to appreciate the keen blade before the freed side of the package fell into her hand, allowing her to wrap her fingers around the box while Ysabel finished freeing it. 

Once loose, Jagati snugged the box close, noting, as had John, how little it weighed, and found that fact irritated her. 

Any object that caused this much trouble should have heft. 

She pulled with her foot and pushed with her free hand to swing back to the pod’s side, where Ysabel soon joined her and held out her hand. 

Jagati’s lip pulled in a snarl but she let the other woman take the calculator, which she slipped into the sack slung over her shoulders. With the cargo secure, both began the laborious process of edging their way to the main hull.

* * *

With Ysabel outside assisting Jagati, the odds against the Errant crew should have been reduced. 

Would have been, were it not for the axe in Galileo’s hands and, given Galileo’s behavior thus far, Eitan did not doubt the man would sever Jagati’s line at the first sign of rebellion. 

Nor did he doubt the underlying madness beneath that threat, for a madness there was. Even from halfway across the bay Eitan could Sense it, coiled like an Illyrian adder in Leo’s mind, watching and waiting for its moment to strike. 

And Sensing it, he wondered if this madness was a new thing, or had it always been present? 

Had it truly been ambition and ego that drove him from Leo’s side those many years ago, or had he known, without knowing, what lurked inside his lover? 

Not that it mattered in the here and now. 

What did matter was stopping Leo before he did any further harm. 

Thinking this, Eitan twisted his right hand to grasp the smooth dowel to which it was bound. The rough hemp of the rope bit into his wrist as he did, but more discouraging, a testing jerk at the dowel itself proved it to be solidly fitted to the corner staves. Freeing himself would require muscle, time, and noise—none of which Galileo’s axe would allow. 

A visible puff of breath emerged as his gaze skimmed the bay, moving from the intently observant Rory, past Colin, standing mid-bay with Ysabel’s sword in hand, to Galileo, pacing in front of the open jump door, on to Mary, leaning comfortably against the companionway rail, coming at last to rest on Jinna and the captain. 

John, too, was studying the situation while Jinna leaned against him, the blanket wrapped close. 

It was her eyes he caught, clear and gray and aware. 

As he watched she glanced down, her brows furrowing and her hand pressing to her side. “Uh oh.” 

“What?” John said, suddenly focused on her. “What uh oh?” 

“I think,” she said as her eyes rose to meet Eitan’s gaze. “I think I should sit down…” 

And then she went limp, her entire body slumping. Were John not at her side, she would have fallen to the deck, likely dislocating her shackled arm in the bargain. 

Everyone jumped and Rory came close to breaking something as he stretched to the limits of his own bindings. But Galileo moved the fastest, rushing to Jinna’s side with a concern so sharp Eitan felt it like a blade to the heart. 

“Little one,” Leo said, coming up short next to John. The axe dropped to the deck with a heavy kthunk as Galileo put one arm under Jinna’s shoulders, helping John support her while the other pressed to her throat. “Deirfiúr?” 

Hearing the Harp term for sister, a surge of alarm shot through Eitan, and he studied Leo’s profile, gone ghostly pale. 

“Please,” Leo continued, his voice harsh with what Eitan knew to be an old, old loss, “don’t go.”

“I won’t,” Jinna murmured, her eyes easing open. “Wow,” she said, her skin flushing as she met Leo’s gaze, “now I almost feel bad about this.” 

Eitan watched the dark head tilt, first with relief, then confusion. 

“Bad?” Leo asked, brushing her hair aside. “About what?” 

“About—” 

John’s left elbow snapped out and across Galileo’s temple, stunning him long enough for his right hand, freed from the shackle, to come around to deliver a cracking uppercut that sent him to the deck.

“—that,” Jinna said while John dove over the slumping Galileo and grabbed the axe.

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