Valmont Contingency Excerpt — Meet Captain Rick

Garrick checked the ping on his long-range sensor array, flagged it for identify and smiled at the results. Corinth 6.0, flagged Port Hazard, ident: Trouble’s Here. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one member of his bridge crew flinch, and two others grinned in response. That meant he’d shown a few too many teeth.

“Charlie, get me an intercept with our bogey. Joss, send a standard hail, hold for inspection.” He pulled out his control panel from the armrest lock. “Shak, get the boarding party ready. We’ve got tail.”

Tail was freighter parlance for the trail of ionized particles a starship engine left behind between jumpgates, probably an allusion to a comet’s tail of similar particles. Bogey was a word so old nobody knew what language it came from, but it meant an unknown sensor contact. And in this case, it was inaccurate. Garrick knew exactly who was out there, and Trouble’s Here was on his List of Marque, flagged out of Port Hazard, a station on the boundary of the Republic and the Reich that changed allegiance with every watch shift. Its last port of call had been Dorrigan, which was a much higher dock zone than Trouble could afford unless her captain was running something off manifest. Something that would shortly belong to Garrick Yusuf ben Khalid and the crew of Direwolf.

Damn, he loved this part of his job.

Next came schematics, complete with his personal notations of every likely hidey-hole on Corinth Model 6.0. He forwarded that to Shakiro Nobinata, who would be leading the boarding party. The departure manifest was light, showing only high-value pharmaceuticals with very specific handling instructions. Garrick frowned. Not bloody likely that the Blaine cartel would be shipping on a tramp. It had to be a cover, and whatever it was covering was now up for grabs. And he had big hands.

“Intercept in two hours, thirty-six minutes and four-point-two seconds.” Charlie wanted to be Vulcan when he grew up, and as a result he was overly precise about, well, everything. If he hadn’t been the sector’s best navigator, he wouldn’t have gotten away with it.

“No response to hail.”

Did they have comm turned off to save power, were they ignoring him, or was Trouble about to be somewhere else?

“Bogey jink, forty-five degrees absolute vertical with fifteen percent velocity increase. New intercept two hours, forty-six minutes, thirty seconds.”

Charlie must be busy if he’d left off a decimal. “Boarding, I’m on the way. Intercept in two and forty-five.” He glanced up and Charlie was glaring. “Give or take.” He swung the computer back into the armrest of his chair. “Gentlemen.”

“Yeah, we know the drill,” Misha said from the copilot’s station. “Go play, Rick. Bring back something pretty.”

His new space armor rubbed his right shoulder when he put it on and he made a mental note to have Shak or Misha adjust the pauldron’s curvature. The new umbilical homed perfectly on the freighter’s personnel hatch and connected atmosphere-to-atmosphere without manual override. Inside, Trouble’s Here had that special kind of corner-grime that he only saw in all-male ships.

The captain and watch crew were white-lipped on the bridge, everyone else herded into the wardroom and locked down. And then it was time to search.

Everything was going according to plan until, “Rick, we have a passenger.” Shak’s comm unit squelched. “In a closet in enviro. She…you’d better come take a look.”

“Did you say she?” The plan had turned left without him.

There were no passengers on the manifest. No females in the crew. And Trouble was the kind of ship that gave steerage a bad name. He turned right at the next corridor intersection and took the lift to the mechanical deck. Enviro was normally as far away from crew quarters as possible, because it always had a certain smell to it, no matter what kind of seals and scrubbers tried to contain it. In his experience, this also tended to make it a desirable place to hide contraband in his experience. Nobody in his or her right mind would go rummaging around in there unless sealed into an environmental suit.

For a woman to hide in enviro, she had to be serious about not wanting to be found. He frowned at the deck indicator. What in the known worlds was she hiding from?

“Rick-san, you’re not going to believe this,” Shak told him on the command channel when he stepped into the room containing the environmental control systems. It was barely bigger than a closet. “If I weren’t looking at her, I wouldn’t effing believe it.”

He edged past Shak’s armor and looked for himself. She was pretty enough, in a grime-encrusted sort of way. Wearing practical clothes for stowing away, nothing-colored ship knits, her hair pulled back in a medium-brown braid. There was something familiar about her eyes, but he couldn’t place it. The rest of her face might have been anyone’s, features the symmetrical dead average associated with good genes and good nutrition. “What won’t I effing believe?” he asked on the same private frequency as he watched her stare back at him.

“She’s got a chip passport. Give it a standard scan.”

Garrick sighed and brought up his scanner display, checking the readout for the woman’s implanted identification. Text scrolled up his visor as he skimmed for a name. When he found it a couple of updates back, he blinked, in case it had been a mistake. And blinked again.

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