The door from the command deck slid open to reveal utter chaos, then slid shut to silence the noise. “Apologies for the delay,” he said. He moved to the desk and practically fell into the chair behind it. Rubbing his hands over his face, he leaned forward to prop his arms on the desktop. “What’s going on, Sadie?”
“You and your friend, Fintan, have been playing loose with the rules. Since he wed the Imarian woman, the marshal’s office have placed spies on his ship.” She passed the package over to him. “They want to bring you all down. They’re trying to find who all is with you. I never once thought to ensure that his destroyer was protected as well. Sure I’ve hidden the telemetry on his ship when I could, but I didn’t think about scouring it clean the way that I did yours.”
Bracken waved off her concern as he looked over the pieces of the package she’d been left. Reaching out, he pressed a button. “Draven, get Fintan for me, please,” he said, then released the button. “They really are starting to get desperate,” he muttered, shaking his head slowly.
She shrugged and leaned back once more. If he wasn’t concerned, why should she be? It was likely time she stopped protecting him as much as she did. “If you have nothing else to say, I should go back to my quarters. It’s been a very long and trying day.” Especially since she had been shoved onto the one ship in the universe she didn’t want to be. Not because she hated Bracken, but because she cared far too much for him.
“Don’t move,” he said sharply. A beep sounded, and the screen to her left lit up.
“Bracken, what’s going…oh, hello.”
“Fintan, meet Doctor Sadie Monterey, friend of the family. Mainly the sisters but we’re forgiving her for her horrid taste in friends. Sadie, meet General Fintan Daykin. The marshal’s office is stepping things up, Fintan. They’re into planting evidence now, and moles.”
“I know. I caught two just this morning who are now crammed into an escape pod with three others that will be jettisoned sometime in the next hour. I’m sweeping through the crew, looking for the others they thought they could slip past me.”
“Good. I already have Draven looking into our crew as well. They actually think we don’t know each and every member by name and face.”
“Well the offices are being run by an egotistical ass who wants to make a mark by wiping out the Imarians once and for all.”
Bracken shot her a look and snorted. “They’re not above getting rid of those that could discover their plans, either. Where are you at?”
Fintan leaned to the side with a frown. “About a day out from your position. Why?”
“Because we’ve been sabotaged and I’m pretty damn sure they have a plan to ignite this war, and we’re the fucking suckers about to be splattered across the galaxy.”
“I’ll get Markus to encourage the engine room to run in the red for a while. Keep me apprised of the situation. And Bracken.”
“Don’t get dead.”
“Copy that, General. See you soon.” The screen went black as Bracken turned his chair to face her once more.
“So you’ve known what’s been happening for a while now I take it?” she asked as she leaned back, tapping her finger to the arm of the chair in her telltale nervous fashion. “What I don’t get, though, is why assure that I’m on board? I’m the one who designed the AI’s and without me they will all go dormant. There is a kill switch that’s encoded with my DNA, so making me dead is a good way to kill all of the Craegin destroyers, so why?”
He lifted a brow and stared at her. “Come on, Sadie. Think about it. They have a whole new line of destroyers that are ready to be put into place if not for the fact we’re not at war and don’t need that many out here. All with a different AI system to run them. Kill all of us off with a fake Imarian fleet, and they can roll out their new ships with commanders in place who do as they are told, and don’t bother to think for themselves.”
She shook her head and leaned forward. “You really don’t know me as well as you think that you do.” Sure, everyone was certain that the new, top-of-the-line destroyers were all clearly based upon a new design, but she was a chameleon. She could change her looks at whim and did so often so that she could ensure Bracken was safe. She hid the true self that she was, the scarred woman that men only wanted for a title and money. No, Sadie was no one’s fool. Not now, not ever. “Why do you think you know me as well as you do? Yes, I’ve been friends with your sisters for as long as I can recall but you don’t really know me. No one does.” No one had ever truly tried to know her. Not after she had been disfigured. Sure she had been sought after, but they didn’t want her just the prestige of being her husband.
“You may have put in the initial systems, but they were all changed out on the sly a year ago,” he said quietly. Digging into his desk, he tossed a file onto the top near her. “We’ve been suspicious for a couple of years now, but the instant they did that we all started to cover our asses. We have enough dirt on several politicians to bury them for centuries. But we don’t yet have the one key piece. The why of it all. You’re as expendable as the rest of us, Sadie. Why do you think you were forced onto this ship with us? Especially if we’re such threats to the current government. You could have kept watch from Craegin remotely. You have access to everything here. Why put you on this ship now?”
“Don’t know.” Oh she knew all right but she wasn’t saying. “Well since you have absolutely everything figured out you really don’t need me now, do you? You can assign one of the tramps to take me back or drop me at one of the moon bases.” It pissed her off that someone was putting her shit out there. It bothered her even more that Bracken felt he knew more about her and what was happening in her life than she did. A lot.
“And leave you unprotected? Hardly,” he said, adding on a snort for good measure, she was sure. Bloody irritating was what it actually was. He looked ready to say something else to her when another beep sounded. Snarling a heap of swear words under his breath, he hit the button. “Yeah? What? When?” he asked. Then he let loose with another string of curses, some used in a rather creative manner. “Get us there as quick as you can. Alert Fintan that we’re diverting. Son of a bitch,” he complained as he got to his feet. When he reached her side he tugged on the shoulder of her shirt lightly. “Come on, doc. You’re going to want to see the evidence for yourself.”
“If you say so.” Said said as she rose to her feet and adjusted her suit. It was clear by the rigidness of her stance that the woman hated being led around on a string, but what was worse was she would do anything for this man. She was Craegin through and through; she was passionate, but she was also submissive if the right man ever came along. He never had, however, not since the right man sat before her and never once looked at her as if he wanted anything to do with her at all.
He put a hand on the small of her back as they stepped onto the command deck. The volume was intense on the deck, though it lowered for a moment as Bracken entered. Several nods came their way before everyone returned to their work.
She moved so that she had her back to the wall and simply surveyed the controlled chaos that was happening on the command deck.
Bracken went over to his first officer. She watched as he listened to the man. It was his expression she noticed the most, what she could see of it, that was. He started frowning, but slowly it melted off until she could practically feel the rage wanting to let loose. Bracken took the data pad the man passed him and came slowly toward her as he viewed what was on it.
“So, what’s happening?” she asked, shifting to better see the data pad and so that no one could possibly get behind her. She had been there before and now there were very few people she allowed at her back. “What has you looking so angry?”
“You watch and tell me what you see.” He passed over the data pad and moved so his back was to the wall at her side. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes. In a brief flash she saw how tired he was before he masked it all under a neutral look.
Sadie took the data pad and watched the horror unfold and gasped. “Holy mother,” she whispered, then touched the pad, increasing the size of the screen and replaying what was in it. “Wait.” She squeezed in closer and shook her head. “They have the Imarian insignias wrong. Look.” She turned to him. “They’re trying to make this look like Imarian, but they screwed up the insignia.” She had studied the insignias at great detail, mostly so that she could write a script into the coding of the AI’s that would recognize anything to do with an Imarian ship.
“I know. It’s begun,” he muttered. Someone called to him, and he gave a nod. Pressing his hand to his ear, he let out a sigh. “I’m guessing you’ve seen the footage so far? Yeah, we saw that here too. Better let our friend know the next step is likely already underway for the retribution. Right, let me know when you hear something. Sorry,” he said, looking to her again. “We’ll be pairing up from here out. Fintan’s going to be riding not far from us for the next while, and all those who are against our government’s tactics have been warned to do the same. It’ll stretch us a little, but the hope is that we can keep one another safe with the tactic since command won’t be expecting two ships when they start to try picking us off.”
“You need to ensure that the hidden codes inside of your communications panels are disabled. Each ship is built with a minimum of fifteen hidden codes to report back to command. I need for you to take me to engineering first, communications and then the armory. I’ll do what I can to help you. When the general’s ship is in range I’ll go to his ship and do the same.”
He stared at her long enough to make her mildly uncomfortable. “Thank you, Sadie,” he said in a low, intimate tone. Reaching out, he took the data pad from her fingers to pass off to a junior officer. “Let’s get going. We need to do this quickly because I have a feeling we’re going to need every damn advantage we can get.”
“Yes, you are.” She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. Going through her mind was everything she needed to do. “And if they are using the new class of ships there is a kill switch that I hid inside of them. They don’t know about it. Not even the people on my team know about the kill codes. It’s something that I put into place with everything that I’ve designed for the last fifteen years.” She had been a child prodigy, able to create programs for ships for as long as she could recall. It had been the one and only way to escape the machinations of her mother to try to get her sold off, married off, whatever.
“Let’s keep that as a last resort. I’m not putting you in any more danger than you already are, Sadie. I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to keep you here and safe. Putting you on a moon base is just begging for an assassin to take you out when you’re not looking. Not even you can watch your back every moment of every day, no matter how much you would wish otherwise.”
“I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve learned how to protect myself and hide in plain sight.” She’d been doing it for the last six years, since she had been attacked and permanently disfigured. “Your sisters have the gift of being able to go about in the world without a care. I’m not. I never have been.” She was one of the original families’ descendants, one of the few Craegin that still had diluted Imarian blood in her veins, her family having intermarried far more often than not over the generations. Not something she was proud of and likely why her father had been as crazy as he was. “I don’t need a moon base for the kill switch. I just need to be within range and an amplifier dish.”
“If I had a bloody opinion on those females I’d lock them up in a dungeon and keep them from wreaking havoc on the world. Unfortunately only my father sides with me. Mother doesn’t see it as an issue.” He put his hand on her back as they walked through the corridors at a quick pace. In the lift he keyed in their destination before turning to look at her. “Once you’ve done this we need to have a talk. Frank, open, no more hiding, Sadie. You up for it?”
“Depends on what exactly it is that you wish to discuss. If it’s to lecture me, again, then I believe I’ll pass on that conversation if you don’t mind.” There was only so much that she could take before her heart would break. “Your sisters are only on your case as much as they are because your mother and father have forbade them from marrying until you have married. Just saying.”
“Which is utter crap,” he said. “I don’t lecture, Sadie. I pass out useful pieces of information that I believe someone could use. But to put your mind at ease, this isn’t a lecture of any sort. Truths, and nothing but truths. That’s it. I’ll tell you some truths I know, and you try and come up with excuses and blow me off yet again.” He gave her a tight smile and spun as the doors opened. Stepping to the side, he waved her out into the corridor.
He really didn’t know her at all. That much was far more apparent with each moment she spent with him. Perhaps her heart and soul were wrong; they had to be. People who belonged together didn’t act as they did to each other.
Once more his hand landed on her back to guide her through the ship to do what needed to be done to keep him and his crew safe. When they reached engineering he stayed close but didn’t crowd her. Bracken did ensure that none of the crew came wandering over to see what she was up to, mainly by planting his rather large frame between her and everyone else.
Settling into the seat before the console, Sadie pulled open the backdoor she had built into the systems and began to go through the programming. Finding the key code she needed, she just smiled. “There you are,” she said and removed the line of coding that would communicate back to the home world. “There.” She turned and looked up at Bracken. “Armory next, please. Then communications, medical and the science labs. That should take everything out so that they can no longer eavesdrop upon you or your ship.”
And so it went with each area that she had told him about. Together they traveled the ship from end to end, her removing codes as she did so. Once that was finished they were outside of hydroponics. “Now what?”
“Now we talk.” His hand landed on her arm, this time in a firm grip. Hard enough to hold her but not to bruise. Apparently he wasn’t taking any chances in her going anywhere but where he wanted.
It was the stupidest thing ever, and she chastised herself immensely when his hand landed upon her arm. The moment that he squeezed she felt her panties get wet. The touch was firm but not painful. It was the touch she had craved from him all of her life, oddly enough. She allowed him to lead her. She allowed him to take her through the ship as he wished.