Pay Me, Bug!

Pay Me, Bug! Chapter 32

Never bet against your captain

WHEREIN Our Hero, Having Settled Matters to His Satisfaction, Considers the Relative Merits of Mercy and Justice

Eleven agents were dead, ten more were badly wounded. Carsons and Laris were both alive, though hurt from the two-G fall. Of Grif’s crew, Cutter had been wounded in the arm by a gauss pistol and Morgan had taken a shot to the gut. Both would live. The others had only superficial injuries.

Ktk wanted to know what the hell was going on.

Amys explained the situation to Ktk as Grif and Cyrus ran a diagnostic to make sure no ship systems had been adversely affected by the fluctuating gravity. The ship was fine: aside from some scoring on the walls from stray gauss pistol bursts, there was no trace of the fight.

An hour later Grif, Amys, Cyrus and Hari were in the Wardroom reviewing the situation.

“Gurgan and Vod are guarding the brig,” Hari reported, ridges on his face fully extended. “Armed to the teeth. They will shoot anyone who tries anything that looks even remotely suspicious.”

“Good,” Grif said. “How are Morgan and Cutter?”

“OK,” Cyrus said. “I just came from the medibay. Morgan spent a little time in the autodoc while it fished flechette rounds out of his gut, and is now resting in his quarters. Cutter put his arm in a sling and claims he’s fine.”

“Good,” Grif said. “Amys, excellent job. Just out of curiosity, how badly did you hurt your, ah, escort?”

Amys smiled. “He’s in medibay now. He’ll recover.”

Grif poured everyone a glass of Stellis. “How is Ktk?”

Cyrus chuckled. “Ktk is upset that it missed the entire thing.”

Grif laughed. “I think they might have surrendered sooner if Ktk had been involved. Nothing quite so disturbing as seeing a two and a half meter bug floating around the ship, wrapping tentacles around the necks of its opponents.”

“I’m glad the ship came out OK,” Cyrus said. “The grav plates are getting old, Grif, and we never did get around to upgrading them. We’re going to need to do that soon or the next time we do this she’ll hurt herself.”

“Yeah,” Grif agreed. “Some of the plates in Bay Three sounded like they were straining pretty hard. Well, that’s something to worry about later. Right now I need to go talk to our prisoners and see if there’s any reason I shouldn’t kill them.”

“I’ll come with you,” Amys offered, and they went down to the brig together.

“What are we going to do?” Amys asked as they made their way aft. “About this job, I mean? Scrap the whole thing and go home?”

“That’s where I’m leaning right now,” Grif said. “I don’t see the point.”

“Yeah,” Amys agreed, then she frowned. “On the other hand… it means we’d have to deal with a very ticked-off Alef Halge.”

“I don’t particularly care,” Grif growled. “Goddamn mutineers.”

The brig was on deck two and hadn’t been used in some time–they’d used it as an extra storage room for a while. It was simple and effective, a single room sealed off with a plasteel door and wall, making it completely transparent to the jailers. It was set inside an outer room where Gurgan and Vod stood watch.

Six people sat in the brig: Velis, Bennet, three other agents, and one scientist. Three scientists were tending to the wounded in the medibay. The fifth scientist was one of the wounded in the medibay.

Velis sat on the floor, lost in her own thoughts. Bennet sat on one of the benches in the room, also staring off into space. The scientist and the three agents were sitting together, talking quietly.

When Grif entered the outer room, Velis and Bennet looked up at the same time. Velis scowled upon seeing him. Bennet looked a bit guilty.

“I suppose you’ve come to gloat,” Velis said. “Not that it matters, since without our help you’ll never get that–“

“I’m not here to gloat,” Grif said, no emotion in his voice. “Amys is here to gloat… she has that luxury. She isn’t the captain of this ship.”

Amys knew that voice. She started to plan how they would dispose of the bodies, and how they would explain the reduction in crew the next time they were searched.

“I am here, Velis, because you organized a mutiny on my ship.”

The word “mutiny” had an electric effect on all within the brig. Velis’ eyes widened in shock. The four men talking together fell silent, and turned to look at Grif with worried expressions on their faces. Bennet seemed to deflate further and looked at the floor.

Mutinies were no laughing matter on any starship, and were usually dealt with on the spot. Even the Alliance considered the execution of mutineers as an act of self-defense under most circumstances.

Velis had the presence of mind to keep silent. Nothing she could say would have alleviated the situation–she and Grif both knew what she did. She raised her chin in defiance, however, which made one of the agents wince.

“Ten of your people are now dead, Velis,” Grif said, voice harsh but calm. “Eleven are recovering from serious injuries. One of them, a scientist, I’ve half a mind to keep out of this, since all he was doing was trying to get out of the way when the gravity kicked back in. But the other half of my mind is in no mood to make exceptions. I need to decide what to do with you, and soon.”

Velis kept her voice steady. “You will need our expertise to break into Ur Ados. Especially if that Sword is expecting you.”

“Yes, well, this is the problem, Velis,” Grif said. “I don’t trust you. At all. We took back our ship because you didn’t expect us to fight for it, and you underestimated how good we are at fighting for what’s ours. But now you know, and you’re all very good at your jobs. So unless I find some way to nullify the threat you pose, I have no way of knowing you won’t try it again.”

The prisoners were silent.

“So what should I do? If we weren’t in orbit I’d be tempted to shove you all out an airlock and watch you swim before I hit tach. As it is, I’m half-inclined to break orbit right now to do just that. Fortunately for you, Varkav Orbital Command would have too many questions if I tried to leave so soon after arriving.”

“We could just flood the brig with a toxin,” Amys suggested.

Grif nodded. “I’ve considered it. But there is the matter of that artifact. We came all the way here to steal it.”

Velis jumped on this thought. “Alef is expecting us to return,” she said. “If we don’t–“

“I will tell him about your attempted mutiny and explain that if he has a problem with the way I deal with mutineers on my ship he can take me to court.”

Velis fell silent.

“So,” Grif said, “here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to bed. It’s been a rough day. I’ll be back in the morning: when I arrive, you’re going to give me a reason to trust you and your people. If it’s a good reason I’ll let you go, and we’ll try to carry on with the job your boss hired me to do. If it isn’t, then I’ll deal with you in the manner all mutineers are dealt with on my ship.”

With that, Grif left the room. Amys stayed behind, chatting a bit with Vod and Gurgan, watching the prisoners out of the corner of her eye. The four in the middle started to whisper amongst each other again. Bennet got up, looked at Velis, hesitated, and then sat next to her.

“Is he bluffing?” Bennet asked. He tried to ask the question quietly, but the microphones in the room picked his question up clearly.

Amys turned to the prisoners. “No,” she said. You’ve got till tomorrow to convince him you can be trusted.”

Velis snorted. “He’s not going to kill us,” she said dismissively. “He’s just trying to put me in my place…”

Amys looked at Velis in disbelief. “Are you really that stupid?”

Velis glared at Amys.

“Velis, part of me hopes that you really ARE that stupid… just to see the look on your face when he pulls the trigger. But because some of your people aren’t stupid”–she looked directly at Bennet when she said that–“let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Grif won’t hesitate to kill the lot of you, including your wounded, if you can’t convince him you can be trusted. He’ll do it and he won’t feel a second of guilt. You tried to take his ship.”

Velis didn’t reply.

“I’ll try this one more time,” Amys said. “I don’t care what you think Grif is or isn’t, but understand one thing: when it comes to protecting his ship he is one of the most cold-blooded men I’ve ever met.”

Gurgan and Vod nodded in agreement.

“If you want more proof,” Amys continued, “just ask Vod about her brother. I’m going to bed.”

Amys left the room. Bennet looked at Vod questioningly. “Your brother?”

“He was an idiot,” Vod said, scratching her scalp irritably. The agents had given her hair, and she hated it. “He deserved what he got.”

“They were never close,” Gurgan explained.

* * *

The next morning, Grif came back to the brig, accompanied by Amys and Cyrus. He was wearing a sidearm.

“I’m listening,” he said, and then leaned up against the doorway, arms folded.

Velis stood and walked to the plasteel wall. “Do you remember the last time we were all on Kinnar?”

Amys looked startled. Grif nodded.

“That is how I guarantee that, for the duration of this trip, I will acknowledge you as the captain of this vessel and, what’s more, the leader of this mission.”

Grif stared at Velis for a long time, saying nothing.

“It’s the only pledge I can give,” she said. “The only one that has any meaning to either of us.”

Finally, slowly, Grif nodded.

He turned to Vod. “Let ’em out.”

Vod shrugged, nodded, and keyed in a command at the jailer’s station. The plasteel door hissed and unlocked. Gurgan slid it all the way open.

“Thanks,” Grif said. “Get something to eat, and get some sleep. You look beat.”

Gurgan and Vod nodded in agreement.

Grif turned to Velis. “You and your people can go back to your cabins,” he said. “Get some sleep, take a shower, eat. Amys will stop by and collect all the monitoring equipment you’ve been using on us… that’s going to stop.”

Velis nodded.

“All right. Get out of here. See to your wounded.”

Velis hesitated. “What about the dead?”

Grif thought. “Your call,” he said finally.

Velis nodded again, then left. The other agents filed out behind her, including Bennet, who didn’t speak.

After they left, Amys turned to Grif. “So you actually trust her now?”

Grif shrugged. “Kinnar.”

“Kinnar,” Amys muttered.

“What?” Cyrus asked. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Velis just told me she owed me, big time,” Grif said. “I already knew that, but this is the first time she ever admitted it to my face.”

Cyrus looked from Grif to Amys then back, exasperated. “Are you ever going to tell me what happened at that ruddy wedding?”

“I saved Velis’ career,” Grif said. “And probably the Alliance. Well hell, Cyrus, don’t look at me like that. It was an accident!”

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