At last, Javier realized he’d overheard quite enough of this. This was very personal. He’d always hated when his little sister had spied on him and his friends back at home, and now he realized he was doing practically the same thing.
Quietly as he could, Javier backed away from the door and crept back down the hallway, feeling unsettled. He wasn’t as close to Corra as a few people aboard, like Cyrus and Leta and Niki, but still, she had a lively spirit about her. Everyone liked her — a fact he both admired and felt envious of.
Distractedly, Javier returned to his task. He was going to find Niki. Perhaps he was on the observation deck again? That was where they had spent the previous night. Niki had snuck food from the pantry and set up a whole picnic for them for no reason at all, except, apparently, because they were such good friends. Although Niki had also said the view of the stars was “very romantic,” which didn’t seem right, exactly, for two friends. Javier had obliged only with a nervous laugh.
Javier was just considering that confusing moment (he was trying to forget it, actually), when he suddenly froze again — this time, it was out of sudden alarm.
Around the corner, he could hear Fiearius talking low and harsh. And someone else barking back at him. Ludo? Was that Ludo? He wasn’t sure he’d ever heard the gunhand actually speak before. Generally, Ludo took his meals alone in his room, followed Fiearius out the door when he was ordered to and didn’t bother anyone, as far as Javier knew, although a few of the few female deckhands had remarked that he was creepy. He was practically mute.
Apparently, he actually had much to say. His voice was low, rough and steady. Javier had never heard anyone speak like this to the captain.
” — been four months and still haven’t seen a single fucking credit to my name,” the man was gritting out. Javier had the sense he was holding back roiling anger with difficulty. “Do I work for you or not?”
Fiearius shot back, his voice venomous, “Look, if I had any credits to give you, I fucking would, believe me.”
“And why aren’t we making any? This is supposed to be a business, captain,” Ludo growled, “and instead of making money, we’re stopping on Dune for — goddamn parties — ”
Fiearius laughed once, sharp and humorless. “A damn party and a lead on a smuggling job out on the edge,” he spat impatiently. “I’m not a fucking idiot, Ludo. I’ve got this, okay? You’ll get your damn paycheck.”
“I’ve been on this ship a year and a half. A year and a half doing everything you ask! And I’ve never gone this long without going on a job. You’re bringing doctors with you now!”
Javier peeked around the corner just in time to see Fiearius roll his eyes, “Yeah, well it made sense at the time. And I’ve already paid for the mistake enough, thanks, so I don’t fucking need to hear it from y — “
Then Fiearius raised his hands, as if forcing himself to calm, and said more slowly, “Look, I appreciate you’ve been aboard that long. And I appreciate all the help you’ve given over that time. But since you’ve been here that long, you should know by now what this business is like. We’re in a dry spell. It happens. Just enjoy the vacation while it lasts ‘cause I’m sure there’ll be plenty of shooting to be done soon enough.”
“Will there? Will there, Fiearius?” Ludo demanded. “And yet — “ His voice was lighter, taunting. “In the meantime, you’re just sitting on a bounty right now. Waiting to be cashed in.”
There was a very heavy, pointed pause. Javier had no idea what he was talking about, but Fiearius clearly did.
“I don’t think you wanna suggest what you’re suggesting,” he said coldly.
“That girl’s got a reward on her big enough to pay our wages for months!” Ludo suddenly roared. “And that reward is dead or alive. Give the doctor back to the Society already. We don’t need her. We don’t need a doctor. What we need is fuel. She’s got a bounty on her h — “
“Yeah, and so do I,” Fiearius barked. “Wanna turn me in too? Bet I could find someone who’d pay for you as well. How ‘bout that?” Before Ludo could answer, Fiearius leaned in closer, looking like he wanted nothing more than to smash his head against the wall. “We don’t betray our own.” His voice was threateningly low. “Don’t ever fucking ask for that again.”
Javier waited for this to end. Surely, it was over now. But somehow Ludo wasn’t done. When he spoke again, his voice was full of warning. “We don’t get paid soon,” he challenged, “don’t be so sure that the crew won’t take matters into their own hands.”
Javier wished desperately he hadn’t heard a word of this. He wanted to forget the whole thing. Were they threatening one another? They were definitely threatening one another. Leta sounded like she was in danger, too.
Shakily, Javier stepped backwards on his heel, but then, his hand slipped in exactly the wrong way against his leg. His sketchbook fell to the metal floor with an audible thwap at his feet. Both pairs of eyes shot to him.
At once, Fiearius’ face darkened. “What the fuck are you looking at?” he growled, turning toward him sharply.
“I wasn’t — nothing!” cried Javier at once, hurrying backwards. “I w — ”
“Then why don’t you go the fuck — ”
But suddenly Javier felt a hand reach out and grab his arm from behind as a cheerful voice rang out.
“Oh hi, cap’n!” Nikkolai greeted, a massive grin on his face that made Fiearius falter. “Good to see you!” he went on, obviously scraping to pull conversation out of nowhere. “Isn’t it a beautiful day? Evening. Night? Not that it matters on a spaceship, right?” He blurted an uncomfortable laugh. Fiearius’ glare didn’t lighten. Hopelessly, he added, “We were just leaving,” and before Javier could speak, he was being dragged away by the arm.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Nikkolai said, “You know I’m all for being adventurous, but eavesdropping on the captain? Probably not the best idea. What were you doing?”
“I was looking for you! And I didn’t mean to overhear, it was an accident!” Javier protested, his voice shriller than normal as he checked over his shoulder to be sure Fiearius wasn’t chasing them down.
His mind reeling over what he’d just witnessed, Javier was still short of breath when they made it to stairs and he said shakily, “But you wouldn’t believe what I just heard … ”