Mercenary Instinct: Chapter 6

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

Viktor yawned but kept his eyes focused on the video feedback from the brig. He wasn’t going back to bed until he figured out how his prisoner had acquired Doctor Zimonjic’s syringe. Viktor had been standing there, watching the women the whole time that medical treatment had been going on. He’d already scoured the footage from the corridor and, even though there weren’t recording devices in the ladders, had gotten the gist of what had happened in there from Strider’s outcries of rage, which a nearby camera had picked up. What had happened after, out in the corridor, had surprised him. Not the fact that Striker had been bested by a woman—Hazel often took him down on the wrestling mat, because he had a tendency to underestimate the fairer sex—but the fact that this scheming little entrepreneur knew mashatui, a martial art that had developed on the world of Spero. Spero had been destroyed—wiped clean of life and left a radioactive mess—twenty years ago, much as his own Grenavine had been annihilated. Both planets had been used as examples for the rest of the system, a blunt, terrifying, and devastating way to end rebellions that had been centuries in the making. Now everyone knew, those who defied GalCon suffered total eradication.

Questioning his assessment, Viktor had played that short fight in the corridor countless times, watching the flowing style of her kicks and blocks. It was that flow that made the martial art unique and memorable. For centuries before the rebellion, Spero had been ruled by a pair of finance lords who had treated the populace like indentured servants, allowing little to no freedoms. Among other things, they hadn’t been permitted to carry weapons, nor had they been allowed to study unarmed combat. The oppressed citizens, always planning for a day when they might overthrow their unwanted rulers, had practiced an ancient martial art on the sly, adapting it so it looked more like a dance than a style of combat, turning it into something their rulers wouldn’t recognize as a means of attack and defense, even if they were watching the katas being performed. There were precedents, some that dated back to Old Earth, but mashatui was the only living style of this type, as Viktor well knew: every unarmed combat system had been drilled into him during his military training. And even mashatui was barely considered “living,” not when so few of Spero’s inhabitants remained.

Markovich couldn’t have been more than a few years old when the planet was destroyed. Did this mean her family had left before the devastation? That a father or mother had trained her? Viktor hadn’t heard of the art being taught in schools.

He rubbed his eyes and yawned again, not sure why he was expending so much mental effort on musing about her. She knew mashatui, and she might have been born on Spero. So, what? It didn’t change anything. She was still a criminal and still had to be delivered to Felgard, especially since Viktor had told Felgard he had her. If he hadn’t sent word so early, he might have…

“Might have what?” he grumbled to himself. Let her go? Why? Because she might be from a world that had been destroyed? Because he was from a world that had been destroyed? It wasn’t as if they were even the same worlds. “Nothing in common, nothing that matters.”

He waved at the holographic display above the desk to restart it. He hadn’t been paying attention, and Zimonjic was already walking out of the cell. This time, he watched more carefully, but it wasn’t until the third iteration that he spotted Markovich’s quick move, her lower hand subtly delving into the doctor’s pocket. On the video, he couldn’t even see what she had pulled out or where she had hidden it, but he had seen enough. She had deft fingers.

A thief, a martial artist, and an entrepreneur. And a criminal. “Busy girl.”

A chime sounded. His sleepy mind thought it was the door—he was expecting Striker, as soon as a nurse cleared him as fit for duty and he couldn’t hide out in sickbay any longer—but he realized it was just his comm. “What?”

“It’s Thomlin, sir. I got into Markovich’s account and have the message you asked for.”

“Good. Send it to me.” Viktor felt a little sheepish at prying into her personal mail, but he had to know who she had contacted and why. For all he knew, she might be arranging some ambush for the Albatross, so she and her friends could slip away. He would certainly be trying something of that ilk.

“Yes, sir.” Thomlin, his chief intel officer, didn’t sound that excited about the message, so it probably didn’t promise a nefarious threat to the ship.

Viktor read it right away anyway. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, this woman had piqued his curiosity. When he finished, he wondered if he should have read it after all. It could have been part of her on-going act—she must have suspected that someone on the ship would be talented enough to hack into her account and read her outgoing messages—but her plea for her friend to figure out why there was a bounty on her head made him shift his weight uncomfortably. He had already seen the research she had been doing in the rec room, first reading over her wanted poster, and then finding everything she could on Felgard. He was getting the unpleasant feeling that maybe, just maybe, she had been telling the truth, that the poster was a mistake or a fraud and that she wasn’t a criminal.

“Just because she isn’t aware of her crime doesn’t mean she hasn’t committed one,” he told himself sturdily. Because to believe otherwise would mean he had captured her and destroyed her ship for no good reason at all.

The door chimed. This time it was Striker.

“Get in here,” Viktor said.

Striker slouched inside, halting half a step inside the threshold, clearly not wanting to come farther. “Sir?” he asked warily.

“You disobeyed my orders,” Viktor said softly, in what the crew recognized as his dangerous voice. Sometimes, at times like this, it was an affectation, but there were other times when he barely knew he was using it. That was when he was truly irritated. This was a mild inconvenience, an example needing to be set.

“I know, sir. I thought… I mean, I didn’t think—”

“No. No, you didn’t.”

Striker hung his head.

“You’ll take an extra shift for the next two weeks, during which you’ll run a diagnostic on every piece of battle armor for every crew member. I want each suit cleaned and polished as well. You’ll be up at 5 a.m. every day, too, to teach the morning unarmed combat class. It seems you need a brush-up.

Striker winced. “I was drugged, sir. I couldn’t move as fast as usual.”

The captain wasn’t all that sure that would have mattered, but he wouldn’t argue and humiliate the man further than he already was. “Yes, sir, is the expected response, nothing more,” he said, his tone cold and clipped.

“Yes, sir.”

All in all, it wasn’t much of a punishment, so Striker shouldn’t have reason for resentment. It was more of a warning. Viktor preferred not to dock men their pay or reduce their rank, since things like that were cause for resentment, but he couldn’t have prisoners roaming free about the ship.

“One more thing before you start your extra duties,” Viktor said.

“Yes?” A wary glance.

“Find the women’s gear, check it for anything that might be used to facilitate an escape or overpower someone—” Viktor raised his brows with significance, “—and remove it. But give them the rest of their stuff. Their fecal samples and equipment for examining them, or whatever they have in there.”

“All right… but why, sir?”

Why indeed? “Because I said so.”

“Yes, sir.”

Chapter 7

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