Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Five
Ferran had long ago become accustomed to human-style parties. He was inevitably surrounded by curiosity seekers, some of them genuine in their interest, many of them looking for nothing more than a photo op or a chance to feel superior—or worse, feel entitled. Socializing was part of his work as an ambassador, and he bore it gracefully. Positioning himself as the center of attention allowed his husband to escape some of the more rigorous social niceties at these things, and Jason always made it up to him later.
Right now, Ferran was answering the same question for the fifth time tonight and making a mental list of the many, many things Jason would be owing him later tonight. “Yes, my quills do respond to my mood, and no, I would prefer that you not touch them, thank you.”
The woman facing him looked nonplussed, her bright golden hair floating around her head like thousands of tiny tentacles. “I thought that Perels liked touch! Your species has a reputation for being rather…open to that sort of thing.”
“Our youth certainly can be,” he replied calmly. “Especially when they’re on their post-adolescent tours, but I am part of an established relationship and save such liberties for my husband.”
If anything, the feel of her interest increased. Ferran resisted the urge to roll his eyes, a purely human reaction that he’d picked up over the years. “Well, I’d be more than happy to include your husband in any touching that happened between you and me.” She winked. “Shall we go and find him?”
Jason, come and rescue me before I’m forced to be rude.
On my way. His mental voice seemed—worried.
Is everything all right?
We have to leave. I’ll explain when we’re alone.
If both of them had been Perel, Ferran could simply have looked a little deeper into his husband’s psyche and divined whatever it was that had him so concerned. A psychic and empathic connection between spouses was the standard for their people, but no one had thought that Ferran and Jason would manage to develop the same thing. He was human, after all, and they weren’t notorious for their psychic abilities. They’d managed to build a strong connection anyway, but it wasn’t a typical one and didn’t behave that way.
Jason walked up behind him a moment later. The woman brightened. “Speak of the devil and he shall appear! Commander Kim, my name is—”
“You’ll have to forgive us,” Jason said, taking Ferran’s hand. “Something has come up that requires our immediate attention.” He turned away. Ferran went along gratefully, even though his own worry was growing.
“Enjoy the party,” he called over his shoulder before they were out of the ballroom. They walked in silence to the docking bay, but their minds were active with each other.
What is it?
A distress call. Our ship is the closest to handling it.
Ferran frowned. From whom?
Claudia Caractacus and her daughters.
Ferran was stunned. He remembered—vaguely—a plan that Garrett Caractacus had worked out, the equivalent of a mutual defense pact, between members of his family, the children, and those close to them. Ferran knew that he and Jason were on the list, but he’d never imagined they’d actually be called to act on it. Where are they?
Phracian Colony, above Kyres. The distress call has been going for the past five minutes. I conferred with Garrett and we can be there in under half an hour if we burn enough fuel.
Ferran tried to remember the details of the emergency protocol that had been set in place. They’ve abandoned their residence, then.
Their residence was destroyed. Local law enforcement found three bodies in the wreckage, none of them Claudia or the girls, but their bodyguard was there.
Ferran felt sick. And the other two?
No one is unidentifiable in your modern society.
Jason’s forehead furrowed. These two were. It’s a dark op, pure and simple. They’ve undoubtedly got more people looking for the escape pod. We have to move fast.
They made it to their ship, got permission to leave and were in the air in record time, leaving behind the thronging party moon they’d been booked at and heading for the tiny Central System planet of Kyres.
“If there are people looking for the pod,” Ferran said, checking that their nav system was appropriately keyed in to the distress signal, “then they will certainly be on their guard against interference.”
“We won’t be able to get them without a fight.”
Jason leaned over and kissed Ferran’s temple. The strength of their emotional connection surged with touch, and Ferran felt himself calm as his husband’s equanimity swept over him.
Then he saw what his husband planned to do, and his calm vanished.
“That is a bad plan!”
“They won’t expect it.” Jason kissed him again, then went back to pulling on the thin suit that would provide a barrier between his body and the atmospheric suit that he’d layer over it.
“Because it isn’t sane.”
“Marines do these sort of ship-to-ship maneuvers all the time.”
“Between friendly ships, not enemy ones,” Ferran reminded him. “And what about the pod?”
“You’ll have to grab that while I’m dealing with them.”
“What if there is more than one of them?”
“Then we’ll handle it.”
Ferran narrowed his enormous amber eyes. “You are never this optimistic. Are you sick?”
“Just determined.” Jason reached out and stroked a hand over the small, soft quills at the edge of Ferran’s neck. “Imagine if it was Grennson. Wouldn’t we want someone to do everything they could to take care of him?”
“Of course,” Ferran whispered.
“And Miles is doing that, right now. The least we can do is look after his family in return.”
When Jason was right, he was right. Ferran turned back to the control. “We’re coming up on the location of the distress signal.”
“Slow us down, get us as close as you can. And when I give the signal, open the top airlock.”
The suit had been a gift from Ferran’s mother, part of a matched set. “To keep you safe while you explore the emptiness that is most of space,” she’d said, and whoever she’d commissioned them from, they’d done a fantastic job. It was close-fitting, with all the latest amenities to keep him from feeling the vacuum around him. Jason had thanked her, and then taken it to Wyl and had it modified to include some less-than-legal weaponry. Laser cutters, pulse emitters, a miniature gravitational tractor beam powered by a nuclear battery, even some old-fashioned vibro-blade in his gauntlets—it was stocked. Wyl had been amused.
“What, you’re going to storm another ship the old-fashioned way?”
“If I have to.”
“You do know that’s dangerous, right? I mean, the last person I heard of doing it was a cyborg, and even that’s just hearsay.”
Jason had shrugged. “I like to be prepared.” He would have called it overkill if he wasn’t so naturally inclined toward caution. As it was, he considered his extras adequate. Tonight would test that theory.
He’d been a part of dark ops in his distant military past—not participating directly, but hosting operatives on his vessels and running them from afar. Jason knew that the people going after Claudia and the girls wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than success. Even if the pod was hard to track, they’d stay in the area, trying and trying. Soon they wouldn’t have to try—they could just follow his ship’s trajectory and find them that way. Jason couldn’t let that happen.
We’re close. I’m homing in on the signal.
Good. Jason sent a little surge of pride through their connection to his husband—Ferran had come a long way in his piloting skills. And what about interference?
There’s one other ship in detectable range. It’s starting to close the distance.
Patch the coordinates through to my suit. A moment later a breakdown of their relative positions appeared in his visor. Jason patched his implant in, running the heavy math with his own mind. Three minutes to minimum approachable distance. He could do that. I’m going to use our ship as a launch pad when they get close. Open the airlock.
I will be. A few seconds later, his suit firmed up as vacuum surrounded him. He pushed out of the tiny dorsal airlock, let the implant image overlay his natural vision, and assessed.
They were definitely being followed now. The ship was small but well-armed, rather anomalous for something the size of a trader. Ferran was keeping them on course for the pod, which wasn’t visible to the naked eye yet. A few more hundred yards, and Jason would be within range of deploying toward their tail.
If he was seen, he could be shot. The guns on that ship would turn him into frozen slurry in an instant. So as much as he wanted to take the direct route, he couldn’t. His body should be slight enough to slip under their radar, but he needed to avoid coming at them head-on. Which meant he needed to let their ship get close if he was going to swing around behind it.
If I slow much more, I won’t have time to get the pod aboard before they’re on top of us.
I’ll handle that, but I have to reach them first. He felt the ship’s velocity drop off, and attached a nanotube filament and reel from his back to the airlock. As long as he didn’t sever it accidentally, he should be able to reel himself back in to the ship. Jason took a deep breath, waiting for the perfect moment, and then carefully pushed off their ship.
His suit didn’t have thrusters, exactly, but he could redirect his spare oxygen into exhaust vents to give him some sense of direction. He floated, silently, toward the false trader. Damn, those guns were…big. Really big. Good thing they weren’t motion sensitive—a precaution against overzealous firing, smart for a ship meant to be doing covert work. Jason relaxed a little as he passed under the ship. Now all he had to do was get around to the back of it, locate the closest fuel port and—
Jason! They’re preparing to fire!
Over the comm, they just said—they’re going to fire if I don’t transmit them the location of the pod! They can’t see it yet, I almost have it, but—
Don’t reply. Fuck going around the back. He was going to have to get friendly with the guns after all. Just—stall, I’ll take care of it. Jason activated his tractor beam and let it pull him onto the bottom of the ship. He adjusted the strength of it to allow for him to move, then began to crawl back toward the front. He could hear the guns adjusting, going from neutral to firing position and readiness. He moved faster, as quick as he could, using the vibroblades to gouge grips into the bottom of the ship that propelled him faster. He rounded the nose just as the guns began to fire.
We’re not hit! Jason shut his eyes for a split-second in sheer relief. It was a warning shot, but they’re going to fire again in ten seconds. Jason, I can see the pod, but I’m not going to bring them on board if we’re just going to be killed.
You’re not going to be killed. He crouched beneath the right-side gun, leveled his laser cutter up at the belly of it and turned it on high. The laser made enough of a hole that he could jam a pulse emitter into the gap, which began to break the hardened metal apart. The growing whine of an impending shot abruptly cut off.
He moved over to the left gun, doing the same thing. By the time he had the second emitter in place, the first gun had already shaken itself into pieces. Flashing lights on the ship’s hull indicated their state of emergency. Good.
It wasn’t enough to just disarm them, though. He had to disable them. They knew the energy signature of Jason’s ship now, and if they were desperate enough they might try to ram it before they could get up to speed. Jason situated himself right beneath the control cabin and turned his laser cutter on.
Ship shields were designed to combat laser systems. Big ships had big defenses in place, and lasers were considered a primitive means of fighting them. Little ships like this, though, while still shielded, weren’t nearly as tough. A powerful, focused laser with enough time could penetrate a hull, and Jason wasn’t going anywhere yet. It took five minutes, but when he felt the ship shudder beneath his hands, he knew he’d penetrated deep enough. He put his last few emitters into the subsequent hole, then pushed off and away. Let them fly with the hole that was about to erupt from their belly.
I’ve got them! Are you coming?
I’ll be there soon. Jason set his reel to bring him back. He kept his eyes on the ship, watching with cold satisfaction as it began to list. Their fuel storage had been compromised—excellent. The shaking was growing more pronounced—even better.
Where do we go now? To find Garrett? Ferran asked.
No. Nowhere in the Central System would be safe for them now. We go to Perelan.
An explosion in the enemy ship lit the darkness for a moment. A second, larger one followed. The shock wave helped push Jason along a bit faster.
At least we won’t be followed.