I spent over two hours digging through my ship’s system code, but I couldn’t find the tracker Jax had planted. I knew just enough about software to get myself in trouble, so I decided to wait until an expert could look at it.
Commander Adams hadn’t tracked us here, so the tracker must only transmit when the jump location was locked in or when the jump happened. Either way, it would be safe enough to jump back to Arx with the tracker enabled because Adams already knew I was headed there.
Luckily for me, even a destroyer couldn’t jump straight to Trigon Three from our last location. If Commander Adams did decide to follow me to Arx, by the time he arrived, he’d find a few nasty surprises waiting for him. The Rogue Coalition might not be able to hold off an army, but a single destroyer was well within our capability.
For additional security, my letter to the Kos Empire was going to strongly hint that the Quint Confederacy was likely to attack Arx and I couldn’t be held responsible for the Emperor’s wellbeing if that happened. It was meant to light a fire under otherwise tediously slow negotiations, but it also meant Kos might stash a few ships nearby to defend if necessary.
If they were planning to pay me for Valentin at all.
But I had committed to this plan, so I had to carry on as if it was going to work. It took an hour and a half of constant revision before I was happy with my message to the Kos Empire.
I demanded a ten million credit payment for the safe return of Emperor Kos. I worked in a few subtle threats, but mostly I spun it as a finder’s fee. Ten million credits would be a lifeline for the Rogue Coalition, but it probably counted as petty cash to the Kos Empire.
I wrote a second message to my advisors to let them know what was going on. I’d likely arrive before most of them read it, but if anything went wrong with the next jump they’d at least know I didn’t vanish into the ether on purpose.
Messages done, I went to medical and dosed myself with another shot of painkiller. Then I retreated back to the bridge before I got any ideas and made a fool of myself. Again.
I drifted in a half doze while I waited for the drive to cool down. Invictia would alert me if anything needed my attention, so I didn’t fight as the painkiller worked its magic.
The time passed quietly. My mind drifted to Valentin. He’d apologized for yelling at me. Even more surprising, he’d seemed sincere about it. Perhaps when this was over, I’d fix his advisor issue for him, pro bono. It would be tricky to get close enough to sort out the malicious advisors from the simply incompetent, but I lived for tricky jobs.
And figuring out who was pulling the advisors’ strings would be the trickiest bit of all. I suspected his brother Nikolas, of course, but proving it could be difficult.
I ran imaginary scenarios while I floated in the painkiller haze. The easiest way in was to disguise myself as a servant. No one paid attention to servants and the palace of an emperor was bound to have quite a few.
I was working through ways I could accidentally bump into Valentin while I was in the palace when Invictia chimed to let me know the stardrive was ready. I reluctantly pulled my thoughts back to the task at hand.
I stood and stretched. My thigh ached, but not nearly as much as it had. The second dose of painkiller seemed to be working, which was nice since I had to go all the way back down to the maintenance area to turn on the communication array again.
I’d dimmed the lights earlier, so the hallway was bathed in the soft glow of the nightlights. Valentin didn’t yell as I approached, and a quick peek into the room showed him sprawled out on the narrow bed in his cell. His breathing was deep and even. If he wasn’t asleep, then he was doing an excellent job faking it.
I crept past and went to send my messages and get us moving.
A little bit shorter today because Chapter 8 is longer overall and split into three parts. The next part will be up tomorrow and I’ll post the third part later this week.