Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 26

< Chapter 25                                                                                                       Chapter 27 >
Matt and Michelle discover the ‘help’ Cassie told them about is Matt’s ex-pirate uncle.

Give credit to my uncle, he recovered quickly. “I’m impressed you found me, Matt. I’m even more impressed you’ve managed to evade the navy search teams who’ve been combing the station for you and your lovely wife.”

“I could say the same about you,” I responded. Then, because I was still really pissed off at him for all the years he kept my parents prisoner in his hidden pirate base, I added, “Except for the wife bit, of course. That didn’t work out so well for you.”

Gunther’s expression hardened at my gibe. Michelle immediately started our way, her eyes going cold even as she still worked her hips. Gunther saw her, as well, and let his features soften. It didn’t stop Michelle, but it did slow down her advance.

“I’m surprised you went for such a low blow. You never were a cruel child growing up,” my uncle said to me as he shook his head as if in sorrow. “I’m disappointed in you, lad.”

“Said the kidnapper uncle to the nephew he all but orphaned.” It was my turn for a set jaw and steely eyes. Seeing that, Michelle quickened her pace. I shook my head in disgust. “Your disappointment in me pales in comparison to the vast, yawning cavern of disgust I feel for you!”

Gunther leaned toward me, anger flaring to life in his eyes. Just as he opened his mouth to let me have it, Michelle grabbed both of us around the neck and pretended to hug us. When she’d pulled us close, Michelle hissed, “Are the two of you trying to draw station security’s attention. In case the two of you have forgotten, the Feds are hunting both of you!”

Michelle gave us both one of those near-the-cheek false kisses exchanged by women the galaxy over. She smiled brightly at the two of us and said, “Dearest Uncle, is there someplace private where we can talk?”

“Of course, child,” Gunther responded in kind. “Why don’t you come aboard my ship?”

I didn’t say ‘oh hell no’ but my face must have telegraphed it to my uncle. “I’m no longer with my old shipping firm, lad. These days, all I’ve got is a small freighter with a small crew—just me, in fact.”

Michelle and I exchanged a glance. She arched her eyebrows, essentially asking if we should trust Gunther. I gave him a quick surface check with my ability and felt no deception in Gunther. I shrugged and nodded. “Lead on, Uncle.”

Michelle linked arms with Gunther—ensuring he couldn’t just bolt away from us—and filled the air with inane chatter about shoes, fashion, shopping, and how I refused to let her spend any money without Gunther’s approval. For a woman who abhorred small talk, Michelle was very good at faking it.

A few minutes of walking brought us to a small docking bay in which a smaller-than-expected freighter sat. Gunther coded open the hatch and we all entered the ship. I’d like to say I felt better hidden from Piscain Station’s sensors, but I’d just traded one source of stress for another.

“How about a tour of the ship, Uncle-by-marriage?” Michelle asked as soon as the hatch slid shut again. “We can start at the front of the ship and work our way backwards in a very careful and systematic way.”

Despite himself, Gunther gave a brief smile. “Your father taught you well, young lady. I must say, I was rather relieved when I read you and Matt got married. He’s a talented young man, but he always had his head in the clouds. Matt needs someone practical to keep him pointed in the right direction.”

“Have you ever considered what it must have been like for my husband after you kidnapped his parents?” Michelle asked icily. “Can you imagine knowing your parents are alive but being unable to tell anyone why you know that or convince anyone to even give a damn?”

“No, I never thought of it that way,” my uncle admitted. “Matt has found quite an adamant defender in you, Michelle.”

“Damn right he has.”

“No doubt you’d do anything for him, too,” Gunther said, showing us into the cargo compartment and completing his tour of the ship. “Even break the law.”

“I see where you’re going with this, Gunther, and it’s a false equivalence,” Michelle admonished. “You kidnapping Matt’s parents is not the same as me helping Matt avoid capture by Psi Corps.”

“Federation law says otherwise, Michelle,” Gunther replied, crossing his arms. “But let’s be honest with each other. If you thought it was in Matt’s best interests to shove me out an airlock, I’d be breathing vacuum right now.”

“If I thought it was in my best interests, maybe I’d help her do it,” I interrupted the discussion. “But let’s cut to the chase—are you trying to blame my parents’ kidnapping on Aunt Tess while casting yourself as the reluctant-but-supportive husband?”

“Yes, because it’s true.” Seeing the skeptical looks on our faces, Gunther continued, “I was born into piracy and had my whole career path laid out in front of me. I never enjoyed the life and was always looking for a way out of it. I thought I’d found that way out when your aunt and I fell in love, figuring the Brotherhood couldn’t touch a Connaught son-in-law. I didn’t count on Tess loving my career more than she loved me.”

“And you expect me to believe that?” Even as I asked the question, I remembered my last conversation with Aunt Tess and her willingness to sacrifice me if I gave her too much trouble.

“You already do believe me, Matt,” Gunther said, “but why stop with mere belief? You’re the empath—read me and see if I’m being honest.”

“I think you should do it, babe,” Michelle said. “The sooner we know if we can trust your uncle, the better.”

After all of my recent training and experience, it didn’t take me very long. I sifted through his deepest emotions, verifying his truthfulness and discovering one other thing. “After everything she’s put you through, you still love Aunt Tess?”

“Of course I do. Love isn’t rational and it’s not something you can turn on and off like a light.” Gunther smiled ruefully and gestured all around him. “This ship is perfect for smuggling, which I’m doing to raise bribe money. Once I have enough money, I can bribe her way out of prison.”

Michelle considered this. “Tess doesn’t strike me as a ‘life on the run’ type of woman. Are you sure she’ll thank you?”

“Life on the run must be better than life in prison,” Gunther countered. “Even if she leaves me, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing she’s free.”

Michelle and I exchanged calculating glances, then I asked, “How much money do you need, Gunther?”

“Tess is a high-profile prisoner. I’ll need at least fifty million credits.”

I smiled for the first time. “If you help us rescue our friends from station security and get somewhere safe, I’ll pay you sixty million.”

Gunther barked a laugh. “Do you expect me to believe you’re on the run and have that kind of money?”

“Do you really believe my father and Jonas wouldn’t stock an escape ship with everything Michelle and I would need to get away, including money?” I countered.

That brought him up short. “Show me.”

I pulled out the credit sticks I’d taken with us when we left our spaceship and thumbed the balance displays. Gunther gave the numbers a quick look and asked, “What do you want me to do and when do we start?”

Does Matt have a plan? Find out in Chapter 27, coming Friday.