Snakes and Starships: III

Evander Sol’s ship dogged the Promise as it tried to leave Cygnus II, but Atlas was able to fly the Union pilot – not that you’d know it given Atlas’ bitching.

When they’d boarded, Jazz took charge of the unconscious woman Tyrian had been carrying, and Orion ordered Jaxon to keep an eye on their unknown in the infirmary.

“What the hell was that?” Atlas snarled, glaring at Tyrian from his seat.

“Evander Sol,” Tyrian answered, looking equally as displeased. “I don’t know how he found me.”

“That fancy suit would be my guess,” Atlas grated. “Bringing that asshole into things.”

“It’s clean,” Tyrian retorted, bristling and balling his fists.

It was then he realised there was blood on his hands, and this seemed to take the heat out of his irritation.

“Who’s the woman?” Orion questioned.

“No fan of Sergeant Sol, that’s for certain,” Tyrian replied. “She came out of nowhere and just pounced. Disarmed half of Sol’s soldiers without a weapon, took one then started firing.”

“Brave,” Nova appraised, but Atlas disagreed.

“Stupid.”

“Out-numbered and out-gunned, Sergeant Sol had me pinned,” Tyrian frowned, glancing toward the corridor leading away from the bridge. “He’d have captured me before you could arrive if not for her.”

“So you thought you’d bring her onto my ship?” Atlas glowered. “Having you here is bad enough.”

“She may just have saved my life,” Tyrian argued, firing up again. “I wasn’t going to leave her there for the Union to… butcher.”

“All right, that’s enough,” Orion broke in, placing himself between the two men before things could get really out of hand. “We’ll have Jenna take another look at the suit to make sure it’s not hiding anything the Union can track, and when the woman wakes up we can find out who she is and where we can leave her.”

“Sol is like a dog with a bone,” Tyrian scowled. “If he finds out who she is, he’ll hunt her down too. Because of me.”

“That’s your problem, Buddy,” Atlas sniffed, turning himself back to the controls.

“I’ll take responsibility,” Tyrian nodded staunchly, then stalked from the bridge, Nova following him when Orion tipped his chin.

In the infirmary, Jazz had had to pretty much kick Jaxon out the door so she could treat the anonymous woman’s wound without her clothing in the way. The blaster wound in her shoulder was clean, but it was the bloody laceration on the back of her head that concerned Jazz most. At least the bleeding had stopped.

“You sure picked an interesting group to fall in with,” she said quietly, dragging a portable scanner over and taking images of the woman’s skull. “Hmm, well you’re at least lucky there are no fractures.”

After checking for brain swelling, Jazz covered the unnamed woman with a blanket and unlocked the infirmary door. Not a second later, Tyrian entered with Jaxon at his heels.

“How is she?” Tyrian queried, a deep furrow between his brows.

“She took a nasty blow to the head,” Jazz reported, “but the wound isn’t as bad as it looks, and I’d be really surprised if she didn’t wake soon. Scalps always bleed a lot. The blaster wound is going to bother her for a while, but it’s not life threatening.”

“Any clues to who she is?” Jaxon asked, drawing a little closer to get a better look at the woman’s face.

“Nope,” Jazz admitted. “The only thing of any interest she had in her possession was this ring.”

She had removed the large gemstone ring from her patient’s hand and placed it on a tray nearby; its size and sparkle immediately engaged Jaxon’s interest.

“That thing has got to be worth…” he began, but Tyrian cut him off with his thoughts vocalised.

“Incongruous with her attire,” he noted, and Jazz nodded.

“Agreed. The clothing is several sizes too big,” Jazz said. “Not what I’d expect from someone who leaps from rooftops and attacks heavily armed Union soldiers.”

“There wasn’t much time to consider the reasoning, but I’m sure Sergeant Sol recognised her,” Tyrian mused darkly. “He seemed particularly surprised.”

“Then she could be Union?” Jaxon offered, then frowned.

“Possible,” Tyrian supposed, but he didn’t sound convinced. “But if she is, she isn’t afraid to make – or be – an enemy of one of the most ruthless men among their ranks. And for what? To save a stranger?”

“Sure you don’t know her?” Jazz poked.

“I’d like to get to know her,” Jaxon smirked, his eyes wandering over the sleeping woman’s body.

“Cut that out,” Jazz scowled grabbing Jaxon by the arm and propelling him toward the door. “Lay a hand on my patient and my next procedure will be a double orchidectomy.”

“Orchi-huh?” he blinked.

“She’ll remove your testicles,” Tyrian explained.

At this, Jaxon took a big step away from both the bed and Jazz.

“Tyrian, you made it!” Jenna exclaimed, nearly falling over herself as she burst into the infirmary and unashamedly threw herself at him.

“Hi there, Firebug,” Tyrian smiled, giving her a light hug. “Yeah I made it, though not without incident.”

 

Atlas continued to share his sentiments about their unexpected guest, but his voice had dropped to a disgruntled mumble.

“Just get us far away from Cygnus II and Evander Sol,” Orion instructed curtly.

“The hell does it look like I’m doing?” Atlas grunted.

“Ideas, Captain?” Nova prompted, seeing Orion deep in thought.

“It seems unlikely Mirra would tell another admiral about her failure,” Orion reasoned, frowning.

“But a death-row prisoner’s escape, especially someone with Lieutenant Aquila’s record, would be difficult to keep quiet,” Nova pointed out, and Orion nodded in agreement.

“God damnit,” Atlas cursed, and Nova and Orion looked to him. “We’re being hailed by your asshat brother.”

“On screen,” Orion sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and looking up to where Antares’ face soon appeared. “Antares,” he greeted as coolly as he could. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“You just blasted off Cygnus II past a Union warship,” Antares began, without any pause or pleasantries, “with something that belongs to me.”

Genuine surprise patterned Orion’s face.

“You picking fights with Sol on purpose now?” Orion queried, shrugging his shoulders a little. “Not that he’s much of a challenge these days.”

“Very soon, the Union is going to be the least of your worries,” he declared, his tone cold, expression serious – not that he was often anything other than those two things. “Give me the princess,” he went on sternly. “This is one bounty too hot even for your band of misfits to handle.”

“I know he’s got a pretty, purple, ponytail, but calling the guy a princess?” Orion smirked, but his mind was turning over.

Atlas, meanwhile, looked to the door leading off the bridge, the knowledge of what was in the infirmary with Jazz making his hackles rise.

Unimpressed, Antares glowered at his brother.

“I’m not interested in the Union traitor,” he dropped. “But unless you want the entirety of the Empire’s fleet breathing down your neck, you’d best hand the woman over and leave this sector post haste.”

The idea of being the Empire’s enemy number one didn’t thrill Orion much; skirmishes were one thing, poking his nose in their business, sure, but in the belly of the Promise laid the injured daughter of the Empire’s greatest tyrant. That was more than a target on their backs if word got out.

“You said bounty,” Orion pointed out, focusing back in, and Antares’ lips twitched in displeasure.

“Believe me, she’s not worth any amount of money,” he asserted.

“You’re right, we wouldn’t take payment from a genocidal maniac like Rastaban Saiph,” Orion snorted, “but I know you’re not just toeing the Empire line, Antares, so what do you actually want with his daughter?”

A short silence that followed, which Orion eventually broke with a chuckle.

“It can’t be,” he laughed, folding one hand over his stomach.

Antares looked even less amused.

“No,” he responded flatly. “All you need to worry about is the pain the Empire will bring if she is caught on your ship.”

“We might not do deals with filth like Saiph,” Atlas put in, still in his chair with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, “but what’s your girlfriend worth to you?”

At this point, Antares inhaled a slow breath, attempting to hold his temper, while Orion continued to stare expectantly.

“I am trying to help you,” he said, very nearly through his teeth, and Atlas hissed out an incredulous splutter, followed by a loud laugh.

“And I’m the centre of the fuckin’ universe,” he announced.

“Atlas has a point,” Orion noted, now crossing his arms over his chest. “You get to claim the bounty, and we get nothing, which doesn’t sound like much of a deal.”

Again there was a pause, Antares’ eyes darkening with each second that passed.

“Fine,” he said eventually. “Name your price.”

 

Jazz finally kicked Jaxon and Jenna out of the infirmary but allowed Tyrian to remain. He sat at the woman’s side with a scowl crumpling his forehead, glaring at her face like it could tell him who she was and why she had intervened.

When the door opened and Orion stepped in, Tyrian raised his head and examined the man’s expression; he didn’t like what he saw.

“What’s going on?” Jazz asked as Tyrian got to his feet.

“That,” Orion began, pointing at the unconscious woman, “is Miho Saiph, daughter of maybe the biggest tyrant in the history of all species in the known universe.”

“Saiph?” Tyrian blinked with no small measure of horror, looking between Orion and Miho.

The Emperor Saiph?” Jazz added slowly, her eyes bugging.

“That might explain her zeal in attacking Sol,” Tyrian mused darkly.

“The last guy was bad enough,” Jazz exhaled, hand moving to cover her mouth. “But Saiph is…”

“A true monster,” Tyrian finished for her.

“Antares is going to take her off our hands,” Orion told them. “He’ll give us the bounty the Emperor is offering for her safe return, and we don’t have to have anything else to do with her or her father.”

“Wait,” Tyrian frowned uncomfortably. “What was she doing on Cygnus II dressed like that?”

“Who cares?” Atlas huffed, appearing at Orion’s shoulder a moment before he all but stomped over to Jazz. “I want her off my ship.”

“Uhmm,” Jazz murmured, pinching her lower lip between her teeth for a second before finishing her thought. “No.”

All three men blinked at her.

“What do you mean, no?” Atlas responded gruffly.

“She is my patient, in my infirmary,” she declared staunchly, “so I get to say when she’s well enough to travel.”

“Come on, Jazz,” Atlas scowled. “This ain’t anybody, this is…”

“I heard who she is,” Jazz broke in, setting her jaw stubbornly.

“And I’m not comfortable with treating an unconscious injured woman like a payday,” Tyrian added, much to Atlas’ irritation.

“The day you get an opinion on my ship is the day I give up drinking,” he growled.

“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Jazz muttered, but the foul look Atlas sent her warned her not to say anything more.

“She wasn’t marching through the city, flanked by battalions and armed to the teeth,” Tyrian pressed. “She was skirting rooftops in clothing obviously not hers, and she saved my life for whatever reason. The very least she’s owed is the chance to give a little context before she’s bundled up and carted away like cargo.”

Orion seemed to be considering Tyrian’s plea, much to Atlas’ disdain.

“At the very least it’s worth finding out what she was up to,” Tyrian added, and Orion seemed to be swayed.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Atlas exclaimed.

“I want her in hard-light cuffs before she wakes,” Orion said finally. “Atlas, we need somewhere to lie low for the time being.”

“This is bullshit,” Atlas snarled, stomping out of the infirmary in a volatile humour.

“Secure her,” Orion commanded, his lips a thin, sour line. “And if she makes one false move, Jazz, sedate her. Nova will stand guard.”

 

“No way,” Jaxon dropped, his eyes wide. “What am I, an emperor’s daughter magnet?”

“She didn’t come looking for you,” Tyrian pointed out flatly.

“Hey, she could have heard I was going to rescue you on Cygnus II,” Jaxon postulated. “And just happened to run into you getting cornered by Sol.”

“Unlikely,” Tyrian responded coldly.

“Quit the bickering, you’re giving me a headache,” Atlas complained, filling his tumbler with whiskey. “What’re you going to do about your brother?”

Orion scratched at the back of his neck.

“I doubt very much he’s interested in the bounty being offered by the Emperor,” he mused. “But I don’t know what his real motivation is. Whatever it is, he’s not going to be pleased we’re not following his orders.”

“I’m all kinds of cut up about that,” Atlas snorted, before taking another swig,

“What about Sergeant Sol?” Jenna piped up, looking a little worried. “I mean, we’re not his favourite people already, and, then we go and, well she went and beat up his people and we rescued her so…”

“For the record, I was against that,” Atlas grumped, and Jenna took the opportunity to move a little closer to him. “And the fact Sol’s involved?”

Atlas looked like he wanted to spit.

“It wouldn’t hurt to get a little information on what the Empire is up to,” Orion reasoned thoughtfully. “If the princess isn’t cooperative, we lose nothing offloading her to Antares.”

“Be the only good to come of that guy,” Atlas added.

“He is a bit scary,” Jenna admitted.

“Wouldn’t act so tough without all that Empire tech behind him,” Atlas snorted.

“We could just tell Sol, Fairchild has the princess,” Jaxon pointed out, and everyone looked at him.

“A surprisingly good idea,” Orion acknowledged, and Jaxon looked offended.

“Surprisingly?” Jaxon balked in exaggerated offence.

“Jenna, can you subtly bring this information to the Union’s attention?”

“Uhm, sure,” she nodded, pulling her tablet up from where it hung at her side. “Easy-peasy.”

“We’ll lay low on Pragmicet, on the outskirts of Los Urlio,” Orion informed then, shifting his eyes to Tyrian. “Once we figure out what’s going on, we’ll decide what further action to take.”

 

It was with a near blinding headache that Miho awoke. She was hesitant to open her eyes, but as memories returned to her, she became increasingly aware she had no idea where she was.

Sol’s outraged face was the last thing she remembered, but the smile tugging at her lips caused her skull to throb with greater ferocity.

It was her muttering that drew Jazz’s attention, and before Miho was properly awake, Orion and Tyrian entered the infirmary, leaving Nova outside just a shout away if need be.

When she did peel her eyelids back, it was Orion’s face that first came into focus, and though his hair was short, there was an odd familiarity about him. Her wonder, however, lasted only as long as it took for her to realise she was in cuffs.

“Did I somehow get invited to a weird foursome?” she murmured, her gaze wandering to the other two people in the room. “Again?”

Then Jaxon entered.

“Fivesome?” Miho grumbled, eyes finally fixing on Tyrian. “Huh, well if it isn’t Evander Sol’s best friend.”

“Hardly,” Tyrian responded, but it was Orion who continued.

“We know who you are, Highness,” he declared seriously. “What we don’t know if what you were doing on Cygnus II, and why you attacked Sol.”

“Unarmed,” Tyrian added.

If being questioned straight off the bat was supposed to faze her, Miho showed no signs.

“I don’t need a reason,” she snorted. “The guy is a grade-A asshole. I should think, however, given my insatiable need to ruin Sol’s day allowed muscles here to avoid capture – and it’s clear that is what was about to happen – I’d get a little more thanks than hardlight cuffs.”

“That doesn’t explain why you were on Cygnus II in the first place,” Orion pointed out.

“Very observant,” she smiled, exhaling slowly and gently stretching her muscles.

“Just take it easy,” Jazz told her, moving a little closer though Orion stopped her. “You were injured covering Tyrian’s escape.”

“Tyrian, is it?” Miho mused, giving him a look up and down. “So what was it you did to piss Sol off? Everything about you screams Union, so, what was it? Too slow following blind orders?”

Had he not now become accustomed to being a ‘traitor’, Tyrian might have winced at that comment, but as it was, his expression remained neutral.

“Cygnus II is in Union space,” he said. “What business could the daughter of Rastaban Saiph have on a Union colony?”

“Must I be the daughter of Rastaban Saiph?” Miho counter-questioned, her eyes roaming again until she spied her ring across the room. “Are you all the sum of your parents? Hmph.”

She’d have crossed her arms if she was able.

Orion drew himself up a little taller.

“Well, if all you’re going to do is make attempts at misdirection, then you’re worth no more than the bounty Commodore Fairchild has offered for your return.”

His eyes narrowed, and hers hardened – he’d definitely touched a nerve.

“Why would he be so insistent?” Orion added, his tone as infuriatingly off-hand as he could make it.

“I honestly don’t think he’d want me to tell you,” she smirked, a knowing and arrogant smirk that actually reminded Orion of his brother.

“Is that your final answer?” Orion prompted.

“You cheated on him, didn’t you?” Jaxon piped up for the first time.

Despite some discomfort, Miho lifted herself up a little to peer at Jaxon more closely.

“Are you offering?” she asked, and beneath the weight of her scrutiny Jaxon looked surprisingly caught off guard.

“Uhmm,” he murmured noncommittally.

Her gaze shifted to his metal arm.

“You could at least give a girl a hand,” she added bitingly.

“Come on,” Jazz implored, though she looked a little annoyed. “We could have just handed you over to Commodore Fairchild already, but we wanted to hear your side of the story.”

“You’re all awfully Commodore this and Commodore that,” Miho noted, looking over Jazz from toe to top with far more appreciation than she’d given Jaxon. “Anyone would think this…”

She paused to take them all in as she decided what to call them.

“… group, was pro-Empire, though that doesn’t account for him,” she reasoned, focused turned back to Tyrian. “Unless you’re a traitor – that would explain why Sol descended from on high to deal with her personally.”

“I am not a traitor,” Tyrian scowled, taking a step closer to where Miho was lying, much to her enjoyment.

“Enough,” Orion huffed. “We’ve no time for games, so if you’re not interested in telling us what you’re up to, you can discuss it with the Commodore on his ship.”

“You think he’ll pay you and then just leave you go on your merry way?” Miho scowled, as Orion lifted his command tablet.

“We have an understanding,” Orion smiled thinly, tapping against the screen until Corvus’ face appeared. “Tell Commodore Fairchild we have what he wants.”

“Waaaaait,” Miho grated out slowly, the sound of loathing.

“You’ve got some nerve, Orion,” Antares growled from the tablet’s surface, but Orion hit the mute button. “I’m listening.”

Everyone was listening, and Miho did not look the slightest bit pleased.

“Commodore Fairchild interfered with my covert mission, removing me from my ship,” she explained. “Since I have more important things to do than him,” she continued, not losing momentum despite the innuendo, “I was forced to extricate myself, and landed on Cygnus II to rendezvous with my crew.”

“What covert mission?” Orion pressed.

“Sure,” Miho scoffed, “allow me to waive all subterfuge and spill the inner workings of my covert mission.”

“It couldn’t have been too important if you were willing to risk getting caught by Sol, or worse,” Tyrian noted, and Miho sneered.

“I think you underestimate my dislike for the man,” she snapped, rolling her eyes.

“If you’re on a mission, what’s with the bounty your old man posted?” Jaxon queried.

“The bounty is my cover, obviously,” she sniffed. “There was no kidnapping, there is no kidnapper.”

“Cover for what?” Orion insisted, but Miho ignored his question.

“Which is why, Orion, giving me to Fairchild is as good as handing him to the Emperor for execution – getting in the way of my plans? He’ll pay with more than his rank for that, and where would that leave you and your understanding?”

Orion couldn’t help but look down at his tablet’s screen, where Antares was glowering up at him.

Then he ended the call.

“Smart,” Miho nodded smugly, then held up her bound wrists, but the shake of Orion’s head said it was over.

“You story doesn’t add up,” Orion declared, and Tyrian added his thoughts.

“A cover that would have every power-hungry Empire thug looking to gain the Emperor’s favour hunting for you? Sounds counter-productive to me.”

“You’re making assumptions,” she snorted.

“Counter-productive unless you want every power-hungry Empire thug hunting you,” Orion concluded, and Miho rest her head back and let out a long, slow breath.

“All you small-fry need to know, is that the universe will be a much better place if you let me get on with my work,” she huffed.

“You still want to let her go?” Orion asked Tyrian, who rolled his shoulders but did not allow his attention to wander from the bound princess.

“Give us a reason to let you go,” Tyrian said – not imploring, but Miho could see he really didn’t want to turn her over to the Empire.

“You dislike the Empire that much?” she questioned, laboriously pulling herself up into a sitting position.

“I dislike anyone who harms others for their own benefit,” Tyrian responded earnestly, which caused Miho to chuckle.

“You want to know what I’m up to?” she posed, and everyone in the infirmary nodded. “I’ve been going on a killing spree.”

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