A Rake by Starlight

A Rake by Starlight: Chapter 21

A Rake by Starlight, by C. B. Wright

WHEREIN Secrets are Revealed, and Negotiations Begin Anew

Grif stared at the impassive face of Stebbil Tanz and tried not to look surprised.

Tanz was human—that made sense, since Mogra Tylaris was human, and Tanz had been his doctor. Some doctors specialized in cross-species medicine, but it was more common for doctors to study their own racial biology. He was a tall man, slight of build, and his light brown hair was thinning on top and graying on the sides.

“You look more distinguished alive,” Grif said.

Tanz didn’t reply.

“I don’t find you at all amusing.” Baron Tyrelos’ voice carried a dangerous edge, and her soldiers tensed. “You lied to me about Tanz—”

“—I didn’t lie,” Grif said.

“Don’t interrupt. You lied about Tanz. How do I know you’re telling the truth about anything else? How do I know this ‘synaptic map’ even exists?”

Something flickered behind Tanz’ eyes at the mention of the map. Grif glanced over at the Station Authority guards—they were still tense with anticipation. Adyt regarded him cooly.

“Don’t worry about them,” the baron snapped. “Worry about me. These men are completely loyal to me. If they do anything right now, it will be because I told them to. And that will be the only reason.”

Grif locked eyes with the baron. “They seem to be anticipating a very specific order.”

“You brought that on yourself,” Baron Tyrelos said.

Grif clenched his jaw. He stared at Tanz for a moment. The doctor said nothing. He had a hell of a poker face.

Maybe it’s time to call.

“Follow me,” Grif said, and spun on his heels, heading for the door. The sound of pulse rifles powering up filled the room. Grif didn’t miss a step.

“Stop right there!” Adyt shouted.

“Get stuffed, Lieutenant.” Grif didn’t even bother to turn around. “If the baron wants an answer to her question, she and her doctor-friend can follow Cutter and I to the Medibay. If she doesn’t want an answer, she can order you to shoot me in the back.”

Cutter eyed the guards warily, shrugged at the Baron, then followed his captain.

The baron ground her teeth, then exhaled sharply. “Fine. Dr. Tanz, come with me. Lieutenant, take three men and follow.”

“Ma’am!” The Lieutenant saluted sharply, then called out three names. The group followed Grif and Cutter.

“We going where I think we’re going?” Cutter kept his voice low as they made their way to the lift.

“Were you thinking the MediBay?” Grif asked.

Cutter nodded.

“That’s where we’re going.”

Cutter nodded.

The Fool’s Errand’s MediBay was large, much larger than the crew needed. This part of the ship kept to the original floor plan, and as Maximilian class ships had originally been troop transports the medical wing had been designed to hold many potential patients. It was well-stocked for a traditional trader’s ship. It even had an autodoc—a coffin-sized machine that could perform automated diagnostic, treatment, tissue regeneration, and limited surgical work.

The baron was momentarily startled by the size of the space, but she recovered quickly. “You’d better not be wasting my time.”

Grif didn’t bother to reply. He and Cutter went to a wall lined with five stasis chambers—devices used to keep patients in a suspended state until they could be treated properly—and Grif turned to Cutter, gesturing.

“Which one?”

“I hate this,” Cutter said.

“I know,” Grif said. “I hate it too. Second time—no, third time—inside two years. But I don’t want to take the secret to my grave.”

“What is going on?” Baron Tyrelos raised her voice half a decibel. “If you’re stalling, I’ll—”

Grif whirled to face her. “Shut up.”

The baron’s eyes widened in shock. Adyt stiffened, opening his mouth to retort, but Grif pointed a finger directly at him and said “you shut up, too.” The finger moved to Tanz. “You, though. I’d like to introduce you to somebody.”

Grif nodded to Cutter. They both reached back behind the stasis chamber, one on each side, tugging at something hidden from view. A moment later a soft click released the chamber, sliding it away from the wall by a few centimeters. Grif and Cutter tugged at the chamber, forcing it to slide out further. When it was clear of the wall, the faint outline of a hatch could be seen.

“You have a secret room in your MediBay?” Baron Tyrelos was torn between amusement, curiosity, anger, and frustration.

“Told you to shut up,” Grif said, panting from the effort of moving the stasis chamber. “Cutter, why isn’t that thing on wheels?”

“You wouldn’t let us put wheels on it,” Cutter said, also panting. “You said if we put wheels on it people would wonder why it had wheels on it.”

“Well,” Grif said, “that’s inconvenient. I kind of wanted to shout at somebody about that.”

“I still do,” Cutter said. “I sort of hoped Cyrus and Ktk would be here, like before.”

Grif nodded. “Then it’s official: we’re blaming them. OK, let’s open it up.”

Cutter keyed the hatch. It slid open with a soft hiss, revealing another coffin-like enclosure with writing stenciled on the front.

Baron Tyrelos scanned the writing quickly. Her eyebrows shot up. “You hid another stasis chamber behind your stasis chamber?”

“Where else would I hide it?” Grif grabbed one end of the coffin, Cutter the other. They pulled, and it slid out into the room.

“Such a great idea,” Cutter sighed. “Lasted all of four months.”

“We’ll drink to its demise later,” Grif said. “Right now we have an introduction to make.” He keyed in a command on the datapad embedded in the top, and as the top of the coffin slid open, he and Cutter stepped aside to allow the room an unobstructed view.

The baron gasped in surprise. Lieutenant Adyt stared down at it in shock. Tanz betrayed no visible emotion, but he stared down into the stasis coffin intently.

The chest was a mess of torn flesh, but he face was unmistakable. It was an exact duplicate of Tanz.

“So,” Grif said, eyeing Tanz cooly, “which one of you is the clone.”

Tanz looked at the body a moment longer, then turned to Baron Tyrelos.

“I am.”

It was the first time he’d spoken. His voice was smooth, educated, and a little thin.

He turned back to Grif, his face now full of emotion—hope, fear, curiosity, and eagerness all mixed together. “Do you really have the synaptic map?”

Grif didn’t reply.

“Can I see it?” The desperation in his voice was strangely moving.

“No,” Grif said. “You can’t. At this point I’m considering blowing the goddamn thing up.”

“No!” Tanz’ eyes widened in horror in shock. “Baron, please, he can’t—”

“We had an agreement, Captain,” the baron said, cutting in smoothly. “You can’t expect to be paid for something I can’t buy.”

Grif whirled on Baron Tyrelos, visibly angry. “I’m not sure I want to do business. Right now I’m leaning towards writing the entire thing off as a loss and relocating to a less hostile part of space. Maybe hand myself over to the Radiant Throne, and collect the reward money myself.”

The baron’s eyes flashed defiantly. “I thought you were pulling a con. For all I know, you still are. You have Tanz’ body, but you’re not showing us the map. You could still be making that part up.”

“You’re right,” Grif snapped. “I could be lying through my teeth about the whole thing. I could have found his body floating in space and made the entire story up, which doesn’t explain why Tanz’ clone believes the synaptic map exists, but let’s not focus on that right now. Let’s just say we all cut our losses. You take your goon squad and your new clone friend and leave my ship, and I’ll get my crew and we’ll head off to, I don’t know, maybe the Duthis Barony. They don’t like Terrans, so Morgan and Cutter will have to stay on ship, and there’s a fifty-fifty chance they’ll try to sell us off into slavery, but I still think I have better odds there than I do here.”

The baron cocked her head to one side as she stared hard at Grif, sizing him up. A moment later she nodded, once, in acknowledgment. “You’re right.”

Grif blinked. “I’m… what, now?”

“You’re right.” Baron Tyrelos sounded almost humble in her admission. “I was wrong. I had reason for caution—you won’t fault me for caution, Captain Vindh, no matter how angry you may be right now—but I let someone—” she glanced at Tanz, who flinched, his face flushing scarlet with embarrassed guilt— “turn that caution to his own ends. But that’s a private conversation, to be pursued later.”

Tanz stared at the floor, fidgeting uneasily beneath her gaze.

Baron Tyrelos turned back to Grif, her expression softening. “I am in the wrong, both personally—and this is more important, I’m sure you’ll agree—professionally. That must be rectified.”

Some of the anger left Grif’s face, replaced with calculation. “Rectified?”

“It’s more than common for penalties and fees to be assigned to a breach in a partnership. And there’s no question such a breach occurred. I believe it’s more than reasonable for us to renegotiate the terms to accommodate your… inconvenience.”

Grif nodded slowly. “Including the unwilling disclosure of a trade secret.”

Baron Tyrelos raised an eyebrow. “Trade secret?”

“We had to show you our hidey-hole,” Cutter explained.

“Right…” The Baron nodded, then smiled, suddenly radiant. “Is there somewhere on this ship where we can get a drink, Captain Vindh? Negotiation is a thirsty business…”

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