Mercenary Instinct: Chapter 8

Posted by on August 25th, 2014 in Excerpts / Freebies | No Comments

Viktor was changing into his exercise togs when his comm chimed. Just when he thought he was off duty for the day…

He didn’t recognize the face that popped into the air above his desk, along with the request to speak. The unshaven man had a nose as pointy as a spearhead, wore a bandana over greasy dark hair, and his eyebrows had been pierced twenty or thirty times, each little ring sporting a small colorful gem. Wryly, Viktor wondered if any of them were made from aliuolite. The man’s scruffiness—and jewelry choices—meant he wasn’t fleet, but didn’t proclaim much else. Viktor called up the communications and intelligence station before answering.

“Yes, sir?” Lieutenant Thomlin asked.

“Someone’s calling my private line. Any idea who?”

“No, sir, but I can find out.”

Viktor could find that out for himself in about two seconds, but he said, “Do that and trace where he’s calling from too.”

“Yes, sir.”

Viktor answered the request—the caller had waited rather than leaving a message. “Captain Mandrake here.”

“This is Captain Goshawk.”

The name was vaguely familiar. A bounty hunter? That sounded right.

“I reckon you’re a busy feller, so I won’t take much of your time, Mandrake. You’ve got some prisoners that Lord Felgard wants right now. Actually he wanted them last week.”

Viktor folded his arms over his chest. He hadn’t told anyone outside of the ship about the prisoners except for Lord Felgard himself. It was possible he had a spy on board—it wouldn’t be the first time—but it seemed even more possible that Felgard had put the word out in an attempt to hasten Viktor along his course.

“So?” Viktor said.

“You’re a man of many words, aren’t ya, Mandrake? The so is that I’m willing to offer you eighty percent of what’s on their heads, take them off your hands right now, and deliver them straightaway to Felgard while you finish your business on Sturm. You’ll get paid right away, and I’ll take over the risk in delivering them, for a fair percentage of the bounty of course.”

Interesting. Had Felgard suggested this to Goshawk personally? Or had he merely made Mandrake Company’s cargo and coordinates known to those who might be able to get him his prisoners more quickly? Either way, it pissed Viktor off.

“Risk in delivering them?” Viktor asked. “They’re three academic women. They’re not much of a risk.” No need to mention that one of them had already escaped a couple of times.

“Even if they’re not a threat, there are always external risks, Mandrake. You know this. Space is dangerous. You never know what obstacles might fall out of the stars and into your path.” A smile spread across Goshawk’s face. It was as greasy as his hair.

Viktor knew a threat when he got one.

Lieutenant Thomlin’s face popped up in the air beside Goshawk’s, and he made a keep-him-talking hand motion. He must be close to pinpointing the location of the bounty hunter’s ship. Good.

“Do you even have eighty percent, Goshawk?” Viktor asked. “That’s a lot of money, and you look like you can’t even afford razor blades.” Or soap.

“Not everyone likes that military look, Mandrake. I’m surprised you, of all people, keep it up.”

“What does that mean?” Viktor asked, though he already knew. Anger welled in his chest in anticipation of an insult.

“It means I know you’re a deserter, Mandrake. Everyone does. And nobody would miss you because of that. I also know your people are trying to trace me, but you know what? I don’t care to have you showing up on my doorstep uninvited. Think about my offer. I’ll be in touch again.”

His face winked out, leaving only Thomlin staring back at Viktor. Actually Thomlin was frowning down at his control panel. “He’s got a scrambler, sir. A good one.”

Viktor grunted, never enthused with excuses.

Thomlin rushed to add, “I can tell he was calling from a ship, though, and that it’s in orbit around Sturm, not on the planet or any of the other moons.”

That was more information than Viktor had expected. Did Thomlin think he’d wanted to know the pub Goshawk would be drinking at that night? When he’d been in the fleet, his unit had possessed equipment that would have allowed that sort of precision, but Mandrake Company couldn’t afford anything that sophisticated, so Viktor kept his expectations realistic.

“So he’s waiting for us,” Viktor said.

“Maybe so, sir,” Thomlin said.

Goshawk might have been in the area for other business when Felgard had contacted him, but for the promise of a hundred thousand aurums, he would have made this his only business. For twenty thousand, he might not have, but Goshawk probably hadn’t been sincere when he’d made that offer.

“Get me everything you can on Captain Goshawk, and pass the word to keep an eye out for him, but we’ll continue with our mission on Strum.” Viktor stopped himself from saying ‘as planned,’ because he decided, in the middle of that sentence, to change one thing.

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as Thomlin’s face disappeared, Viktor called up his second in command, who was on shift at the moment.

“Yes, sir?” Commander Garland asked from the bridge, his short gray hair and leathery face coming into view.

“Our shuttles are scheduled to dock at Morgan’s Rest tonight. Cancel that. We’re going to go down unannounced. Pick a spot in the jungle, somewhere close to Sisson’s camp. Don’t tell anyone except the pilots.”

Garland’s brows rose. He clearly wanted an explanation—Viktor would apprise him later—but all he said was, “Yes, sir.”

In case there was a spy, Viktor wouldn’t make these updates widely known. He would also make sure they left some good men behind on the ship, in case Goshawk decided to come knocking on the door while most of the crew was gone. The Albatross had weapons and shielding enough to defend itself, even with a minimal crew, but bounty hunters tended to be crafty. The ones who survived in the business anyway.

Another chime came in as soon as Garland disappeared from view, and Viktor grumbled to himself. He was supposed to join some of his men for a workout, and the need to pummel people was building in him like water set to boil.

“Sir? It’s Cutty from the brig. One of the prisoners has been bugging me all day, saying she needs to talk to you. I didn’t want to bother you when you were on shift, but she harassed me until I promised I’d at least ask you. Says she wants to thank you.”

To thank him? For the return of their equipment? That was all Viktor could think of, and he promptly assumed it was part of some ruse. She probably wanted to steal his tablet so she could check to see if that acquaintance of hers had replied. Viktor found himself curious about what that acquaintance might have come up with himself. And he wouldn’t mind talking to her, to get answers to some of the questions he had, of course.

“Sir?” Cutty asked. “Should I tell her you’re busy?”

“Is it Ank—Markovich?” Viktor wasn’t sure why his brain wanted to insert her first name. It wasn’t as if she had invited him to use it. He was probably the last person she would invite to use it.

“Uh. I don’t know. It’s the one with brown hair, dimples, and a mouth you wish she’d use for something other than talking.”

Viktor snorted. So, he wasn’t the only one who had noticed Markovich’s attributes, the ones the jumpsuit didn’t hide anyway.

“All right.” Viktor checked the time again. He needed his exercise session, and people were waiting for him, but after that, he was off duty and free of expectations until they reached Sturm. “Take her to the mess hall in an hour. I’ll meet her there.”

“You will?”

Viktor didn’t know how to respond to the shocked tone, but felt he had to say something, lest rumors get started about how the captain was rolling one of the prisoners. He supposed it didn’t really matter, but some might question his professionalism. He had flaws enough for an entire army, but he wasn’t one to take advantage of his position when it came to personal desires. He had already seen Markovich more often than he had seen any other criminal they’d turned over to the law—or the highest bidder—and the crew might be wondering about it.

“I have questions for her,” Viktor finally said.

“Oh, about the business? Striker said we might be able to make some piles if we got in on that. Too bad she’s going to Felgard, eh? Or is she still going to Felgard?”

Striker had a big mouth. And a poor understanding of what pre-revenue meant. But if he had started rumors about that instead of about the captain asking a prisoner to dinner, then that suited Viktor well enough, at least for the moment.

“She’s going to Felgard,” Viktor said, “but her research may have some interesting applications that might serve us. It’s worth learning more about.” In truth, he was skeptical about her business, but he doubted anyone would question his desire to improve the health and stamina of his crew, if something like that was truly possible.

Cutty chuckled. “So she goes and her research stays, and we either use it or sell it to someone else? Crafty, sir.”

Crafty, right. That was him. “Mess hall in an hour, Cutty.”

“Yes, sir. She’ll be there.”

Chapter 9

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