Chapter Four: Yasmin

“Work, dammit,” I whispered as I pressed against the side of the corridor.

Usually no one came down to the observation window.

But with my luck, tonight would be the night someone decided to move the party out of the hub.

For the fourth time I swiped the hastily cloned access card across the reader. I’d never tried to use the cloner without watching my hands before, but Hakon had been only mildly interested in the gas planet below.

A twinge of guilt and regret ran through me. He’d seemed like a nice man.

No. That wasn’t exactly right.

He seemed like a dangerous man, but with a sense of honor.

Someone I might have liked getting to know, once upon a time.

But time wasn’t something I had a lot of any more.

And certainly not right now.

PING!

“Dammit,” I whispered.

But no one seemed to notice the happy chime of the secondary control room as it slid open for my illicit explorations.

I hurried inside, sliding the door closed behind me and studying the control panel.

Not one I was used to, but I’d be able to figure it out easily enough.

First step, block any notification that the access point was in operation.  Commander Serrup ran a sloppy station, but Alcyon was no slouch.

If it hadn’t been for his over-the-top security protocols I would’ve been finished with this mission months ago instead of trapped here, making endless widgets while I looked for a way into the company’s records.

Task completed, I started carefully working through the files, learning their structure.

Orders for parts and fabrication, internal comms about delays in supplies.

Quotas and complaining.

Reprimands and excuses.

Billing, shipping, threats from other divisions of Desyk Consolidated.

But nothing that I needed.

I didn’t feel an iota of guilt, ransacking their system, looking for their secrets. If I was successful, Serrup would be recalled. Alcyon might lose his job, might be reassigned.

Either way, it was nothing compared to what Desyk had done to us.

Somewhere, buried deep within the system would be the secret of Station 112.

What I’d come here to find, what I sold myself into a contract for. And when I found it, I could finally go home.

Home.

My chest tightened, thinking of it. Thinking of what it used to be.

But I shoved the unproductive, traitorous thoughts to the back of my mind, locked it away and focused on the task.

PING!

I whirled around, but my explanations and denials faded away at the sight of Hakon, leaning against the wall.

Yup. There it was. That flash of danger behind those dark eyes.

“Apparently you don’t need too much sleep to get rested up, ready for a round of late night espionage,” he said mildly,  his quick glance taking in the room, the activated consoles and screens displaying row after row of filenames.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, chin high. “This doesn’t seem like the sort of place a guest would be interested in.”

He stepped into the room further, as the door slid behind him. “But I’m the one with the access card.” Hakon held it up. “At least, the original one.” His lips twisted into something almost like a smile as he slid it back into his pocket. “I was wondering why you are so eager to show me around. Now I know, don’t I?”

My cheeks burned a little.

It hadn’t just been that.

For the first time I could remember, I’d enjoyed an evening. Eating together, talking about nothing much.

Just his company.

But the mission came first.

“You had something I needed. I don’t know whose side you’re on. What other choices do I have?”

“You could’ve asked for help,” he offered. “That might have been a better option.”

A bitter half-laugh burst from my lips and I turned back to the console.

“Either stop me or let me work,” I said. “That’s all the help I need.”

“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t send a message to Alcyon,” he said. “Void, even half of a good reason. Try!”

My back stiffened and I turned slowly. “What do you think I have been doing ever since I got here?” I spat the words out, heedless of the fact that they would mean nothing to him. “I am trying. I am trying to do what I need to do regardless of the consequences.”

He stepped towards me, hand outstretched. “Tell me what’s so important,” he argued. “If you —”

With a crash, the control room shook, knocking me to the deck.

Or would’ve if Hakon hadn’t dived forward to catch me, holding me so tightly I couldn’t help but notice his strange, spicy scent.

A second later the room rocked again, and the screens flashed red as alerts spread throughout the station.

“If I didn’t know better I’d say the station was under attack,” Hakon said. He frowned at me. “Or is it?”

I wiggled, squirming to get out of his grip. “Let me see!” I insisted.

He released me and I rushed to the console, slapping at the keys until it brought up outward facing cams.

On another screen I spliced into the communications network.

Against the dark of the sky a sleekly curved ship hung in space, smaller craft ranged to each side.

“Why are they here?” I breathed, mind reeling at the sight.

The Foil and her full escort. They should have been anywhere else, but here.

Hakon came to my side, studying the screens. “You didn’t call them?”

“Of course not,” I snapped.

Then another shot rocked the station, not direct hit, just enough to throw all the systems into a tizzy.

The communications channel sprung to life.

“As you have undoubtedly noticed, we have only fired warning shots so far.” The stern, lined face of a tall dark-haired man filled the screen then the camera panned out to show a younger man standing a bit behind him.

Arrayed behind the pair were three more men.

Corporate negotiation specialists, Uncle Ran had always called them, laughing.

Soldiers, specializing in particularly violent negotiations.

And he should know. He was standing on that deck, issuing commands for the surrender of Station 112.

And my brother, my trusted friend and confidant, stood at his side.

I shook my head, focused on what they were saying.

“Consider this a hostile takeover,” Ran continued. “You have 15 minutes to surrender the access codes and sign over all rights to the station and its processes. Otherwise, we will be forced to start taking out targets in earnest.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, hands shaking, just a bit. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve got to go. Now,” Hakon said, eyes fixed on the screen.

He turned away, grabbed my shoulders. “Whatever your mission is, it’s clear this wasn’t part of your parameters. You’re not going to do anyone any good if you stay here and get killed.”

“No,” I said, the steel in my voice surprising even me. “I have a job to do. This doesn’t change that.”

If anything, it made my timeline even shorter.

I could find that file. I could find it and deliver it to my uncle.

Same plan, just accelerated.

Fifteen minutes.

No one would be watching internal security with the ExaTek flagship right outside.

I wouldn’t have to try to be sneaky about it.

“Is it worth—”

With a beep, the communications screen reactivated and split to show the both the bridge of Foil and the command center of the Station, as Serrup started rambling on about his rights, about corporate sovereignty, about how important he was.

It would have been funny, if he wasn’t actually in charge.

Uncle Ran liked word games. In another mood he would have cheerfully run verbal rings around Serrup until the poor fool ended up swearing allegiance to ExaTek while still believing he was faithful to Desyk.

But from Uncle Ran’s tone, this wasn’t one of those times.

Alcyon stood beside Serrup, no doubt whispering lines that Serrup refused to parrot.

A third man stood to the side, tall with silver hair brushed back at the temples.

“Dammit,” Hakon growled. “What is Thalcorr doing there? Why isn’t he back on the Kodo Ragir?”

I glanced over to him. “Who is he?”

“Even more of a pain in my ass than you are,” he snapped. “And unfortunately, my responsibility.” He studied the screen. “I haven’t been there. What’s the fastest way?”

“Use your access card, tell the lift priority override, Command Central.” I turned back to my own work, shut off the comm channel.

I couldn’t afford the distraction.

Somewhere, no matter how well hidden, were the files I needed.

And despite Hakon’s arguments about wanting to help, I was clearly on my own.

As usual.

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