Serial: Earthrise, Episode 64

Welcome back to Earthrise! We are now on our regular schedule, free on Tuesdays, with Thursday and Saturday available if donations or subscriptions that week go over $15 per episode. You can catch up on existing episodes, donate, or set up a subscription here! And now, on to the story:

Earthrise
Her Instruments, Book 1

Episode 64

      “So I set down here,” Reese said, tapping the map, “then take the crystals into this compound, where you believe the man in charge of it all is waiting.”
      “Marlane Surapinet,” NotAgain confirmed. They were sitting in one of the StarCounter‘s luxurious but small conference rooms, having extremely fresh shipboard coffee. Reese had never been aboard a Fleet ship, though she’d seen pictures of their interiors. Nothing prepared her for the visceral reality. The StarCounter smelled fresh, was clean and well-appointed; its corridors seemed designed for comfort and yet nothing struck her as overdone. And the technology level was simply astonishing. The appliances in this conference room alone would have cost her as much as employing the twins for a couple of months.
      Back to the plan. “I convince him to personally sign over the money for the crystals and then you have your evidence,” Reese said. “And then I leave.”
      “That’s the plan under best circumstances,” NotAgain said.
      Reese eyed him. “What are the worst circumstances?”
      “That they know you’re coming and that you’re working for us, and they imprison you. At which point we’ll come after you, since they’ll have no legal reason to kidnap you.”
      “Okay, I like that option a lot less than option number one,” Reese said, shivering.
      “There’s worse,” NotAgain said. “We have cause to believe they base a lot of their operations out of the Barris, where you’ll be landing. If they have ships there and they realize what you’re doing, your arrival might inspire them to flee.”
      “Why’s that bad?” Reese asked.
      “Because I’d be required to stop them,” NotAgain said.
      Reese shook her head. “I’m so glad I don’t have your job.”
      He laughed. “It’s rewarding work. It’s just not easy.” He tapped the map. “What I’d like you to do is to stay on-planet after you make your drop-off until you receive word that local-space is clear.”
      “That sounds straightforward enough.”
      “We’ll also loan you some men to help secure the area around your landing site,” NotAgain said. “Unfortunately I don’t have a lot to spare, but I can get you at least two, possibly four.”
      “Every extra hand will help,” Reese said. “Thanks. When do you want me to make my final approach?”
      “I’ve called in some help,” NotAgain said. “We should be ready in a couple of hours. Speaking of which, I hope you’ve evolved a cover?”
      Reese nodded. “I think I’ve created a persona I could actually believe.” She smiled wryly. “I’m not exactly the most dangerous person in the world, but I have a good imagination.”
      “Good,” NotAgain said. “I hope your persona wears a button-down shirt.” He set a pin topped with a round black seed on the table between them.
      “What is it?” Reese asked, picking it up. The pin was barely the length of one of her nails.
      “A remote 3deo capture,” NotAgain said.
      Reese started. “This thing? It’s microscopic! I’ve never seen a camera this small on the market!”
      He laughed. “And you won’t find one there.”
      “I guess there are benefits to being Fleet,” Reese said. “Aren’t they going to detect it, though?”
      “They shouldn’t,” NotAgain said. At her look, he said, “We do our best to stay ahead of the curve, captain, but that doesn’t mean we always succeed. That’s the latest in surveillance equipment but you should never assume the advantage. If they find it at all, it will probably be in the same check that finds the weapons we’re lending your crew for verisimilitude. Shrug it off as something any mercenary would have and they shouldn’t think twice about it.”
      “Unless they recognize it as Fleet issue,” Reese said.
      “They won’t,” NotAgain said. “Nor the weapons. We’re careful about clandestine operations.”
      Reese sighed. “I guess I can’t hope for more than that.”
      He shook his head. “No. I’ve already sent the weapons to the Pad room, where your crewman should be waiting—” The meeting room door chimed. NotAgain glanced at the ceiling. “Yes?”
      “Captain, one of the Earthrise crew to see his captain.”
      NotAgain looked at her. “Are we done here?”
      Reese nodded. “It’s probably Sascha.”
      The Tam-illee said, “Thank you, Ensign. Let him in.”
      The door opened on a young human who acknowledged his captain before stepping aside for Hirianthial. For once, Reese allowed her frustration full rein: doing that made it easier to ignore just how gaunt he looked. And was he listing to the side, just a touch?
      “Lord Sarel Jisiensire,” NotAgain said. “It’s good to see you on your feet.”
      “Thank you, Captain,” Hirianthial said. He looked at Reese. “I am given to understand you are following the pirates to their den?”
      Reese had the feeling she’d regret any answer she gave. She scowled. “Yes.”
      “I’m going with you.”
      “You’re crazy!” Reese exploded. “Look at you! You can barely stand straight and you want to waltz into a slaver junction? They’ll tie you by your hair and cart you away before I even open my mouth! What exactly are you going to tell them you’re there for?”
      “I’m your bodyguard,” Hirianthial said.
      Reese gaped at him. No one spoke, so she had to. “You can’t be serious.”
      “It might work,” NotAgain said.
      Reese composed herself. “I already chose someone to act as my heavy,” she said. “Bryer. He’s tall, he’s impossible to read and he’s got talons an inch long.”
      “Having more than one isn’t unusual,” NotAgain said.
      “But him? Look at him!” Reese said. “You could knock him over with a feather!”
      “What exactly would you be doing to protect her?” NotAgain asked.
      “Reading the minds of her enemies,” Hirianthial said.
      “That’s not funny,” Reese growled.
      NotAgain ignored her, rubbing the edge of his chin. Then he said, “You should take him.”
      Reese looked from him to the Eldritch, then back. “Are you serious? Who would believe him as a bodyguard?”
      “Believe him?” This time NotAgain met her stare with a polite incredulity. “He wouldn’t be pretending.” He looked at Hirianthial. “Am I correct?”
      Hirianthial said. “You have divined my intent, Captain.”
      The world had gone insane.
      NotAgain continued, “If you’re worried about them abducting him you’d have better luck having him in full view; if he hides on the Earthrise they could plan a raid while your back is turned and deny complicity when you found out. Taking him along, on the other hand, would fit the profile of a brazen, self-confident mercenary. I don’t think they’ll doubt his efficacy. And having along one of the men they dearly want to take for themselves would be a significant statement.”
      “Of what?” Reese asked, recovering the use of her tongue. “Stupidity?”
      NotAgain squinted at her. “Captain Eddings, I confess I don’t understand your misgivings. Your Phoenix will make an excellent combatant if negotiations come to blows… but an Eldritch mind-reader at your back will be a deterrent to violence that your enemies won’t be able to equal or anticipate. And the man has volunteered to protect you.”
      “I’m more worried about protecting him,” Reese said.
      NotAgain nodded. “We’ve already covered that. If they want him, they’ll do their best to kidnap him whether he’s in plain view or not. Best to have it in the open.”
      Reese clenched her hands under the table. “If you think it’s a good idea—”
      “I think you should count yourself lucky to have such a resource,” NotAgain said. “And I think you should guard yourself against dismissing his value.”
      Reese sighed. “Fine. He comes. But I hope everything works out as planned… and that’s as planned for option one, not all the rest.”
      The Tam-illee smiled. “You and me both. Now unless there’s anything else…? No? The ensign outside can escort you both to the Pad room.”
      “Thanks,” Reese said. “I’ll be waiting for the signal.” She stepped outside, paused to allow the ensign to gather them with his eyes, and then started after him. She had resolved to remain silent, but the dogged presence of the Eldritch at her back nagged at her until the words broke loose. “This is a bad idea.”
      “Chasing pirates, slavers, thieves and killers?” Hirianthial said. “I find no part of it objectionable.”
      “Not that part! The ‘you coming along’ part,” Reese said. “You’re barely out of bed! Not only that, but you’re not a killer! What good is a pacifist bodyguard?”
      “Be careful what you assume, lady,” he said, and something in his voice, some hint of a husk, put the hair on the back of her neck up. Then, with a lighter tone he said, “I have more than one ability to apply to the situation.”
      “Yeah, let’s talk about that,” Reese said. “I thought you said you don’t read people’s minds.”
      “It is considered immoral,” Hirianthial said.
      “Doesn’t seem to stop you,” Reese said.
      A whirl of white and the jingle of a prayer bell and he was standing in front of her, so abruptly she almost ran into him. Reese stopped only a few inches short of his stomach, and though at this angle she had to crane her neck to look at him she decided to do that rather than backpedal. She raised her head.
      Long ago—far longer than the actual passage of the days—she’d sat beside him in a straw-filled cell and watched a look cross his face that had not belonged on a healer. She remembered being glad that look hadn’t been directed at her. Faced fully with it now, she didn’t stumble away because fear petrified every part of her but her hands, which started shaking. His habit of looking at someone completely was bad enough. She didn’t want to know that his eyes could make her heart palpitate and sweat pop from her skin.
      Before her knees could loosen and dump her to the floor, Hirianthial twisted his head aside and closed his eyes. He visibly composed himself; she could almost see the anger draining away. He straightened, stepped to one side and said, “I find myself unmoved by ethical arguments when they protect men I already know are criminals.”
      Just like that, he was Hirianthial again, the doctor who wouldn’t kill anyone even seemingly in self-defense, the annoying Eldritch who’d fished around in her mind and pulled out her deepest secrets. That she had to force her shaking legs to propel her after the silent ensign only added to her rage. By the time they reached the Pad room, she was ready to throttle him.
      The greeting Sascha started to voice died as he opened his mouth. “Err… do I want to know?”
      “No,” Reese snarled.
      “Riiight,” Sascha said.

***

We are… $5 toward our Thursday episode! And roaring toward the final climax of the book. *rubs hands together gleefully*

Also: why yes, Hirianthial has a scary past! Whatever gave you that idea. >.>


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