Mercenary Instinct: Chapter 5

Posted by on August 19th, 2014 in Excerpts / Freebies | No Comments

Ankari woke up when the lights, which had been dimmed for the night cycle, powered up to full strength. Striker was back, standing on the other side of the forcefield and staring at her. At Jamie actually. It was creepy. How long had he been there?

A pair of boots were visible on the desk at the other end of the hall. Ankari found that reassuring, though she didn’t know if she should. The crew might look the other way as this Striker dragged a prisoner off to his cave for unspeakable torments.

“You rethink my offer?” Ankari sat up. She and Jamie had been sleeping on the floor, while Lauren took the bench. Every surface in the cell was equally hard.

“Nah,” Striker said, “but the captain said we could have sex.”

“Uh, what?”

Jamie was awake now, too, and hadn’t missed the fact that the big brute was looking at her as he spoke. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. With her eyes wide, glancing back and forth between Striker and Ankari, Jamie appeared young and vulnerable. Ankari had been anything but young at twenty, but when Jamie had spoken of the small rural community she had grown up in and the strict father who had shooed away boys, Ankari had gotten the impression that she might still be a virgin without a birth-control implant or anything. Not that anyone of any sexual experience couldn’t be alarmed by Striker’s words.

“He said we could get horizontal if you agreed to it.” Striker grinned. “Or vertical. I’m easy.”

That much was obvious. That the captain had deemed it appropriate to let this thug wander down here and proposition them gave Ankari one more reason to want to clobber him. Still, this could turn out to be an opportunity.

“Who exactly are you propositioning?” she asked.

“That one.” Striker pointed at Jamie, who squeezed herself into a tighter ball. “But I’d poke any of you.” He looked at Ankari’s chest, making her glad she wasn’t wearing anything revealing. His pleased smile had all the charm of an auto-tram barreling down the mountain at a woman tied to the tracks.

“How magnanimous.” Ankari touched the cylindrical lump inside her jumpsuit pocket. She hadn’t decoded all of the options inside the syringe tool—the display showed the full medical names rather than ones a layman might know—but she had recognized a sedative. She had risked showing Lauren, for verification, though she had been worried about the camera picking up the tool.

“Who’s interested?” Striker puffed out his chest. “I’m good at my job, all of my jobs, if you catch my meaning.”

“Shocking,” Lauren muttered, her eye lingering on Ankari’s pocket.

The real shock would be if this idiot had ever convinced a woman to sleep with him without paying her. A lot.

“No, thank you,” Jamie said politely. The wariness hadn’t faded from her eyes. She must wonder, as Ankari did, if the thug would take no for an answer.

Striker’s face remained unperturbed, or maybe optimistic was the word, for he merely turned toward Ankari. “What about you?”

“Where would we do it?” Ankari asked. “Do you have a private cabin?” She gave the boots on the desk a significant look. She couldn’t see around the corner to see the rest of the security man’s face, but he had to be entertained by this conversation.

“I do have a private cabin. I’m a senior sergeant, been here since the beginning, you know. Got all kinds of perks. But the captain said we’d have to do it in here.” Striker tapped his fingers on the wall beside the door pad. “Shall I come in?”

If he’d still been wearing the bandolier of grenades, Ankari might have been tempted—surely the three of them could have overpowered him, grabbed a few, and made a stand—but blowing up the brig wasn’t what she wanted. She needed a chance to roam free for an hour or two and find the ship’s library—if a mercenary ship had such a thing—or someplace quiet to access the net. She needed to get Fumio researching for her and to learn more about Lord Felgard. She’d heard the name before, but had no idea why he might be after her team. All she could think was that this might somehow be related to their company, but they hadn’t set up a clinic yet or taken on any clients. How could he have even heard of their business? Aside from that handful of meetings Ankari had arranged, they hadn’t told anyone what they were doing.

“Look, I might be interested,” Ankari said, “especially if you might be willing to put in a word to the captain on our behalf and perhaps get our samples and equipment returned to us…” That ought to add a little verisimilitude. As dumb as Striker seemed to be, he would probably be suspicious if one of them jumped at a chance to ride his… poker. “But, I’m afraid I prefer privacy for sensuous matters.”

“I can make it dark.” Striker thumbed a panel, and the lights dimmed, then went up again. “And your friends can turn their backs.”

Gee, how private. “Sorry, big fellow. I need to be in the mood too. Privacy, romantic music, and a strapping gentleman with a nice muscular chest.”

Striker’s brow had been furrowed, but it smoothed at this. “I have a nice muscular chest.”

“I’m sure you do. And if we go up to your cabin, you can show it off to me.”

“And you’ll show off your chest to me.”

“That’s generally how these things work.” Ankari did her best to give him a flirtatious smile. No one had ever accused her of being a great actress, but he wasn’t the most perceptive audience either.

“But the captain said…” Striker chewed on the side of his lip. “Maybe we could…” He glanced back at the boots. “I mean, of course we could. I’m a trusted part of this crew. I can take a prisoner out if I want. Not like you’re going to get away from me and run off.” He gave her a dismissive sniff.

Whatever got him to let her out of the cell.

“Ankari,” Jamie whispered, “you shouldn’t… I mean, you can’t really be thinking…?

Either Jamie hadn’t seen Ankari pick pocket the tool, or she had little faith in her ability to use it on Muscles over there. Or maybe she was playing along, making this all seem more realistic to Striker.

“Aw, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’ll be nice. Unless you don’t like nice.” Striker grinned. “I’ll even show you my comics.”

“Er, how can a girl say no to that?” Ankari asked.

“You can’t. You already agreed.” His triumphant smile made her nervous. If this didn’t work and she wasn’t able to sedate him, she had a feeling he wasn’t going to let her change her mind later. Not easily anyway. She tried to draw some strength from the fact that she’d had years of her father’s training and had used it on the streets a few times. But this wasn’t some brute from one of the roving gangs; he was a trained soldier. He would have seen unarmed combat in all its variants at some point in his career, and he would have an answer for her attack unless she caught him off guard.

The forcefield dropped, and she was out of time to second-guess herself.

Striker extended his arm, as if he were inviting her to stroll out to a ballroom floor with him. Right.

Ankari licked her lips and stepped out. She resisted the urge to look back at her partners with a what-have-I-done expression on her face. Instead, she laid her hand on Strider’s arm and smiled up at him. He reactivated the forcefield and led her past empty cells and to the door at the end of the corridor.

“Gotta sign her out,” said the soldier at the desk. He was watching a movie on his tablet—maybe he hadn’t been all that entertained by Striker’s attempts to woo a prisoner after all.

“The captain said—” Striker started, but the soldier interrupted him.

“I don’t care what the captain said. I’m not getting busted on account of your oversexed tentpole. Gotta sign her out.” He flipped from his movie to a signature form and held it up for Striker.

Ankari was beginning to wonder what the captain had said. It seemed to have changed from the time Striker had first entered to now. Rewriting the conversation in his head as he went along, was he?

Striker shrugged and scribbled his name with his finger, then led Ankari out the door. He slung an arm around her and started groping her as they walked. She hoped it wasn’t far to his quarters, but if it was… she let her hand dangle close to her pocket.

“This is going to be fun,” he promised.

“Can’t wait,” she mumbled.

“Really?” He stopped in front of an alcove with a ladder going up, his eyes burning like he might strip her down right there.

“No, I can wait.” The man was literal, wasn’t he? “I want the romance. The music remember. And your comics.”

“Oh.” He brightened, then stepped onto the bottom rung. “Yes, I just drew a new panel. You’ll like it.”

He was an artist? She couldn’t even imagine what he might draw. Something lurid, probably.

“Follow me,” he said.

Between one eye blink and the next, she realized he was giving her the opportunity she had been hoping for. While he was climbing, he wasn’t holding her and couldn’t see what she was doing. She lunged up the rungs behind him to catch him before he clambered out on the next level. Fortunately, he was going up two levels. They were halfway to the top deck when she got close enough to stab him in the butt with the needle. She jammed it in without mercy, knowing it had to go through a couple of layers of clothes and also knowing that he would jerk away as soon as he felt it. She pressed the button that released the drug.

“What was that?” he roared, spinning on the ladder and staring down at her.

“My fingernails,” Ankari said, trying to hide the syringe from view and hoping the sedative kicked in quickly. “I saw your hard butt and couldn’t resist—”

He dropped down, smacking her arm away. “That wasn’t any fingernail.”

Her knuckles banged against the side of the ladder well, and the syringe flew from her hand. It bounced off a rung, dropped a floor and a half to the deck below, and rolled into the light spilling in from the corridor.

“You drugged me?” Striker demanded, taking another step down and reaching for her hair.

And that was her cue to run.

Ankari let go a hairsbreadth before he caught her hair, skimming down the ladder and dropping to the deck. She lunged out into the corridor. Fortunately, it was late enough that nobody else was around. She thought of sprinting in a random direction, but plastered herself against the wall instead. If she fled, she risked running into someone.

Striker barreled out of the ladder well. He must have expected her to run—he started to sprint, then stopped himself with a jerk, his arms thrown out for balance, and she got her split second of surprise. She launched a foot at his exposed torso. The sidekick slipped under his arm, hammering him in the ribs. She’d thrown all of her weight behind it, but he was so big that he didn’t even stagger to the side. He might have a bruise in the morning, but that didn’t keep him from lunging at her.

She evaded his long arms by dropping to the floor and launching a second kick as she fell, this one taking him in the side of the knee. It affected him more than the blow to the ribs had. There was less muscle to protect the joint, and his leg crumpled. He didn’t lose his balance and go down, but he did pitch forward for a moment, having to grab the wall to support himself.

Ankari rolled backward in a somersault and came up on her feet, facing him. He glowered at her, rage blazing from his eyes.

Anytime, that sedative could start working anytime…

Striker lunged at her. Were his movements the tiniest bit slower than before? She didn’t know his norm and couldn’t be sure, but she had time to leap back, throwing up a block to deflect his grasping fingers.

“Stop moving, you tricky bitch,” Striker snarled. “I’ll—” He lunged again, punching toward her face.

Expecting it, Ankari leaped back again. This time he had been feinting, and he followed his jab with a rush and a fist toward her stomach. Under normal circumstances, his speed and strength might have gotten through her defenses, but he was definitely moving more slowly. He almost stumbled over his own feet too. She blocked both attacks and threw a heel strike at his groin. Her first thought had been to go for the ribs, but she had already felt how much muscle plated them. The groin was a different story.

He yowled, and she winced at the noise. She needed to shut him up somehow, or she would never get her chance in the library. Soldiers would be streaming out into the corridor any moment.

But the sedative finally kicked in, and he didn’t get another yowl out. He was clutching his groin with one hand and reaching uselessly toward her with the other when his eyes rolled back in his head. He crumpled to the floor.

Though Ankari’s instincts were to run, to get space between her and the commotion and who cared about the direction, she took fifteen seconds to pat him down first. If he had a tablet on him, she wouldn’t need to find a library. But he didn’t have anything in his pockets besides folding knives.

Ankari thought about pulling him into the ladder well or maybe even a cabin, if she could get a door to open, so she would have more time before he was found, but he was well over two hundred pounds and too heavy for her to drag far. She dared not waste any more time, so she left him as he was and ran down the corridor, glancing at doors. Some had labels, some didn’t. This level had shuttle bays, weapons and sensor stations, and cargo bays, rather than cabins—that might explain why nobody had burst out to check on the noise yet. More out of curiosity than anything else, she tried to open the shuttle bay door. She couldn’t leave without her comrades, nor did she have any idea how to fly some random mercenary craft, but it would be good to know if she could get into that room. Alas, the doors were keyed to people’s palms, and it didn’t budge. Would any of the doors open for her? What if she found her library and couldn’t get in? Like the security pad in the brig, this one had that little sensor below the palm pad. Maybe she could find the key that activated it.

She reached the end of the corridor and was on the verge of running back to the brig and trying to sedate that guard who’d had a tablet when she spotted a door labeled “recreation.” That was probably for drinking and gambling and watching movies, but it might also have the computer she longed to hijack.

She reached for the palm pad next to the door, dreading a rejection, but the entrance opened before she touched the panel. “I guess anyone is allowed to recreate,” she mumbled, slipping inside.

The room inside stood empty. Ankari had to weave around pool tables, floor dart lanes, and through an aerial star-fighting game flashing its lights in the air, but she spotted what she sought: a bank of computer stations waited on the far wall, and she jogged over, sitting down at one. A hologram flared to life in the air above the desk and waited for a voice prompt or physical commands. Glad for a familiar operating system, she swiped at the air, bringing up the mail program, and she logged into GalNet. She tapped her fingers on the desk, and a keyboard flared to life. She sent a hasty plea to her hacker friend, Fumio, explaining her situation in as few sentences as possible, then pulled up information on Felgard at the same time as she located a copy of her wanted poster. They were a ways out from the core planets, so the net wasn’t very fast, and she drummed her fingers with impatience as she waited for her search requests to be answered. She was all too aware of her limited time. More than once, she second-guessed herself, wondering if she should be doing something better with these minutes of freedom, something that might lead her to an escape. But where could she go? Even if she could acquire and fly a shuttle, her options would be limited if they weren’t close to a planet.

The information on Felgard came up and she skimmed through it, trying to commit as much to memory as she could.

Far too soon, the hiss of a door sliding open sounded behind her. Ankari kept reading, kept devouring information, until a hand landed on her shoulder. She held her open hands out and turned, expecting a security guard. But it was the captain. His hair was tousled, and he was wearing a rumpled short-sleeve sleep shirt. She stared down at the corded muscles of his forearm beneath black tattoos of leaves and thorns stretching from his wrists to his elbows, and belatedly realized she should have hunted around and found the syringe before leaving Striker. She could have jabbed him with a dose of sedative, or something more toxic if she could have found it. The bastard deserved it.

Someone shifted in the doorway. Ah, there were the security guards. The syringe probably wouldn’t have mattered when there was backup so close.

Ankari lifted her gaze to the captain’s eyes, wondering what she would see there. Irritation, most likely. Especially if he had been woken from sleep.

“You seem to have left your date,” he said blandly.

For reasons she could only guess at, he seemed more… amused than irritated. It flustered her. Perhaps because he wasn’t wearing all of his weapons—or his habitual glower—she had a hard time remembering this was the man who had destroyed her ship. Or maybe it had something to do with the way that shirt so nicely hugged his form. Who had dreamily pointed out he was handsome? Jamie? It was true, especially without the glower.

Ankari lifted her chin, determined not to acknowledge any attraction—and determined to stop looking at his nicely outlined pectoral muscles. “He had roaming hands. I find that unacceptable on a first date.”

The captain snorted. “All right, woman. Back to your cell.” He took her elbow and pointed her toward the door. His grip wasn’t harsh, but it was firm. She would have to be content with the information she had gathered, because she wasn’t getting any more tonight.

Chapter 6

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