“But how can you really know that?”
“I just do,” he assured her. “Think about it. Why would he go through all the trouble of pulling me out of Satieri just to tip off Varisian so she can bring me back in? It doesn’t make sense, not even for a crazy bastard like him.”
“That’s just it, Fiear. He could change his mind at any second.”
But Fiearius was shaking his head. “I really don’t think he will this time,” he said with a surprisingly firm conviction. “And even if he does, I’m keeping tabs on him. There’s nothing he can do to us without me knowing about it. I promise.”
“Can you at least acknowledge that you might have a blind spot when it comes to him?” said Leta pleadingly. “He’s your oldest friend. And now — ”
“It’s not a blind spot,” Fiearius defended at once. “He’s been trying to kill me for the last four years, I’m not an idiot, I didn’t forget that. I just understand him a little better than–”
“You need to come to the bridge.”
The voice suddenly broke over the mess hall. Fiearius sat up, startled, as Leta swung her eyes to the doorway and saw Cyrus in the doorway, looking worried.
Once he’d quickly regained his cool, Fiearius frowned at him tiredly. “Dare I ask why?”
“We picked something up,” said Cyrus, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. “I think you should see it…”
Fiearius cast a worried glance at Leta before pushing himself from the table and following his brother into the hallway.
– – – – – – – –
“A distress signal?” Fiearius demanded in disbelief as he scrolled through the bridge’s main console screen. “How? From where? We’re alone in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere.”
“Apparently we’re not,” said Cyrus, hovering behind him. “It’s coming from a small ship not too far off from us.”
Leta crossed her arms over her chest. “How long has this been broadcasting?” she asked, feeling unpleasant worry stir through her as she read the screen: Transmitting signal … DISTRESS CALL. URGENT. DISTRESS CALL. URGENT. M00112 …
Cyrus shrugged. “Hard to say. We’re the only pingback recorded, but that doesn’t mean much. We are in essentially dead space. We could have been the only receiver in range for days, weeks, months, these things can keep going for years if the generator’s still running.”
“I know this signal,” said Leta, stepping closer to the flashing screen. “It’s a code for ‘medical emergency.’”
“And a low fuel signal, yeah,” Cyrus agreed. “Nasty place to run out of bandages…”
But Fiearius looked unconvinced. “Would be, if it were true,” he muttered and without another word, he pressed the dial for the intercom and spoke into it. “Dez, get up here.”
Leta and Cyrus exchanged a startled glance. Then, seconds later, Dez arrived in the doorway. He was possibly the last person Leta wanted to see, and she did not bother to conceal it, as she rolled her eyes.
Wasting no time, Fiearius pointed to the screen. “Recognize this Vessel ID at all?”
Dez peered at the number and shook his head. “Not one of theirs, no.” He paused and tilted his head. “Not that it would be.”
Fiearius grunted agreement. “Exactly what I was thinking. Ambush?”
Dez nodded. “Ambush.”
Fiearius turned to Leta and Cyrus and shrugged, like all was well. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. We’ll be out of range soon.”
Cyrus looked perplexed. “Wait, what just happened?”
“We have no idea what’s on that ship, Cy,” Fiearius pointed out. “And given our status as, y’know, fugitives, I’d rather not find out, would you?”
“You — what?” said Leta in alarm. “You think it’s a trap?”
Fiearius met her eyes meaningfully. Leta knew what he was thinking: Ren’s warning, from the night previous. A fresh wave of bounty hunters on their tail.
But this simply didn’t add up.
“It can’t be a trap,” she went on seriously. “There’s no way the Society or anybody knows we’re on this side of space, how could they just magically know to plant a distress call here?”
Fiearius opened his mouth to respond, but to Leta’s surprise, Dez spoke over him. “Our location has little to do with the possibility of Society interference,” he explained in his cold monotone, looking not at her, but at the screen. “In fact, a more remote location further from bases would be a more agile staging position due to the very logic that a planned attack is improbable.”
“We can’t ignore the call,” Leta said in disgust, rounding on Fiearius. “We have to answer. Remember when the Dionysian’s engine was broken and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere? We would’ve killed for anyone to answer us. We have to go, we have to see what they need.”
“Wait,” said Cyrus, sounding lost in this discussion, “are we seriously considering this ship being some sort of Society scheme? It doesn’t even have any fuel for gods’ sakes.”
“That it’s reporting. You of all people should know how easy that is to fake,” Dez replied simply. “It also is suspect that the ship is transmitting a medical emergency code specifically.” His cold eyes shifted toward Leta. “The Society is no doubt aware of who they are baiting. The medical staff aboard this ship and the tendencies of that staff towards situations such as these have been well-documented — “
It was then that anger darkened Fiearius’ face. “Dez … ” he muttered warningly, while Leta flared up at once.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“In addition, Society or none, distress signals are common tactics of bandit ships to lure in–”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Fiearius interrupted suddenly, holding a hand out in front of Dez, who went icily quiet.
“How about we just call it in?” Fiearius suggested, hoping to find some happy medium between the three of them. “There’s gotta be an emergency team stationed somewhere. They can come out here, check it out for themselves and we’ll just get out of the way. Okay?”
“That could take days,” said Cyrus, exasperated. “Weeks even. Did you see the radar? There aren’t any ports around here.”
“If the signal is recent, whoever’s on that ship could be long dead by then,” said Leta. “There’s no time. It has to be us. We have to go see what that ship needs.”
Fiearius eyed her, his face softening. She was sure he was on the verge of agreeing when Dez cut in yet again, “While your crew’s empathy is admirable, it is foolish and impractical. An investigation is a decision we may not return from. Any view otherwise is naive.”
“I don’t care if you think it’s naive,” said Leta, her eyes narrowing to slits. “Your word doesn’t mean anything on this ship.”
Dez lifted his brows at her curiously and turned to Fiearius, as if expecting him to refute. Leta and Cyrus’ eyes followed. Fiearius, however uncharacteristically, seemed unwilling to make the call himself.
Clenching his jaw, Fiearius said at last, “We’ll check it out. Briefly. But we’ll put the Dionysian in a running dock in case we need to disengage quickly.”
“That, I can do,” Cyrus agreed. He turned on his heel and left for the engine room.
Dez spent another moment gazing hard at Fiearius. “I guess logic and backbone have no meaning on this ship either,” he muttered before he took a deep breath, declared dutifully, “I’ll ready the weaponry,” and headed out.