I wouldn’t say that I regretted not taking the offer from Dario Oberon, but as I sat in my little metal cell with nothing but a grimy toilet as companion, it certainly crossed my mind.
Dashing good looks. Check.
Roguish smile. Check.
Freakishly quick reflexes. Check.
Not to mention, his own ship, and enough funds to maintain his vagabond thief lifestyle.
In my gut, I knew it wasn’t for me, at least at this stage of my life, but it was a better alternative than prison.
Regret wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was going to be telling my father. I rubbed the sunset colored wool sweater that had served me well through my adventure, trying to warm myself even though I wasn’t really cold.
Even if I got out of this, he’d never forgive me. I was his last link to Mom. I know he’d think that I had somehow tainted her memory.
When the guard took me to the interrogation room yet again, I slumped against the chair, hands folded in front of me in semblance of prayer.
A little while later, Captain Hennessy entered and took up the chair opposite me.
“I thought I said I didn’t want to see you again,” said the captain, “but here I am. Not only that, but the events that transpired in Oya system and around the Gurzil jump point will mean that I won’t get a weekend free for the next six months, not to mention the official reprimand I received for letting you through Oya Station. I’m lucky I didn’t get knocked down a few ranks.”
“I’m sorry, Captain Hennessy, I really am. But I’ve already told everyone everything I know. I’m just as confused about the whole thing.”
Captain Hennessy steepled her fingers. “I’m afraid that’s not good enough. You’re going to have to give us something. The only thing we have besides dead pirates is a little courier who won’t say anything. When these kinds of things happen, there’s always punishment for someone. If you’re all we got, well …”
The Captain let the threat hang like a noose.
“But I haven’t done anything wrong,” I said. “When that guy, Burnett, stole my MobiGlas, I just thought it was some thug, or that maybe the company was testing me. I didn’t think I’d get kidnapped into space and thrown into the middle of a pirate war.”
I buried my face in my hands and sniffed. I wasn’t acting. The tears were real and so was my exhaustion. I’d told various officers the story at least twenty times, maybe more. Each time, they asked questions about the details.
Who was the ringleader? Where did the files go? What kind of weapons files were they? Who stole them? Was it an inside job? Do you know what company they’d been taken from?
I’d told them everything that happened to me, leaving out Dario’s involvement. They still hadn’t pieced together that he’d been the one to put the files on my MobiGlas. They were convinced the files had been put there at FTL HQ on Castra II.
“You want to be a Citizen someday, right?” asked Captain Hennessy.
My stomach turned into rock. I nodded.
“Then give us something. Something we can work with. Who do you think might have smuggled the files on your system at FTL? Your supervisor? Another person? We just need something. Or we’re going to have to charge you with abetting a smuggler, and that’s going to wreck your chance at a Citizenship, not to mention the time you’re going to spend in prison.”
I rubbed my temples. If I gave them Dario, then I’d gone back on my word, and who knew if he was the type of criminal to punish an indiscretion. If I lied and gave a name at FTL, then kiss that job, and any other like it, goodbye. Not to mention that I’d be a flat out liar.
“What about Burnett?” I asked. “He’s the one who kidnapped me. Doesn’t that help?”
Captain Hennessy glanced at her clasped hands and sighed. “We have no records of this Burnett at the battle, or on planet. Or anything else. At this point, we’re convinced that you made him up, to hide the real perpetrator who’s promised you payments for your silence. Tell us who it was that brought you back to planetside, at great risk, and we might consider some leniency. Some.”
I slapped my hands on the table. “But I didn’t know him and he didn’t say his name. I already gave his description. He might have been one of the pirates for all I know. He just happened to be the one who picked me up from the Night Stalker after I came through the jump point.”
Captain Hennessy tightened her jaw and clasped her hands tight. “All the explanations or excuses in the world aren’t going to help. I need information. Reliable information, or you’re going to take the heat for this. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”
She left me and the guards led me back to my cell. I slumped against the wall until I was sitting on my rear. A numbness spread from my face, down my chest and invaded my body like a plague. You could have slapped me and I wouldn’t have reacted.
I wasn’t sure why it was so hard. I had to turn in Dario, and simple as that, I’d be set free. He was the one who put me in this situation. Why was I protecting him?
My father would blame it on my hormones. Without Mom around to correct him, he blamed everything I did on my hormones, for which I guess I should be grateful. He’d never hit me, but he could make a priest feel guilty with his scowl.
I squeezed my knees to my chest and buried my face between my knees. I wasn’t sure why I was delaying. Eventually I’d have to turn in Dario. Better to do it now while they were still offering a deal. I’d probably lose my job and my father’s trust, but at least I wouldn’t have a criminal record, or spend time in prison.
With a heavy heart, I banged on the door with my fist and called for the guard to get Captain Hennessy. Not long after, I was sitting in the same interrogation cell again.
The captain arrived about ten minutes later. She sat down and clasped her hands in front, waiting.
I bit my lower lip. “Did you ever check the Stardevils pirate base? Maybe someone there?”
The tight shake of the head was the only answer I got. I could see it in her eyes, if I didn’t give her Dario right now, she’d get up and call the guards and I’d have nothing to look forward to but prison.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “I’ll give you who you want. The guy must have known something about me taking a trip with the FTL courier service. That was how he knew …”
The answer hit me square between the eyes. I felt dumb for not seeing it before. He even knew about the “lead sled” runs, and what kind of clearance that was needed for the weapons files. Which made me realize he probably did have a line on another set of data.
Across from me, Captain Hennessy was tapping her fingernail on the hard steel table. She looked ready to leave.
“I know where you can find Burnett,” I blurted out.
“We’re not going down that road again,” said the Captain, rising out of her chair.
“No wait! I know how he knew about the files. He works for FTL. That’s how he knew I was going through Oya Station and was there to grab the MobiGlas! Please, check. And the electrocycle! They might have records that match the description of the guy I gave you. Or the FTL employee records. I bet FTL is how he gets the files to sell to pirates.”
The words tumbled out of my mouth so fast, I had to wipe the spit from my lips when I was done. Captain Hennessy was stuck in mid-rise. Something in what I’d said hit a chord and her brow was narrowing by the second.
Eventually, she straightened. “You, stay here,” she said, and then left.
As if I could leave.
The wait this time seemed interminable. To keep myself from climbing the walls, I bounced my knees and tapped on the table.
A decade, or maybe an hour later, Captain Hennessy returned. She had her MobiGlas in hand and looked surprised by the information that it contained.
“The tip checks out,” said the captain. “Once the company IDed your description and started digging, they started finding irregularities in his access. He’s a member of their security division, which explains how he got access to files like the weapons data. We don’t know for sure what file he was selling, but he’s bound to have gotten it through FTL.”
“Does that mean I’m free to go?” I asked.
The way the corners of her lips tugged towards the floor put a stone in my gut. “Not quite. We need to follow up on a few things with this Burnett character before we can clear you. But while you’re waiting, there’s one thing you have to do before I’ll let you go.”
My heart sank as Captain Hennessy left without telling me. The reproving glance tangled my feelings into a knot.
“What in space could that be?”
to be continued …
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