Doubts is an Tyme Setting Story.
Artwork by Samuel Pray created using Photoshop and Filter Forge
This story follows the events in Starfire currently on sale on Amazon for $4.
“Scanners are clean, Captain. No sign of The Lair, or anything else for that matter,” Sendril turned away from the monitors, his brilliant yellow eyes narrowing, small lines furrowing across his brow. The male paused a moment before rolling his eyes and continuing, contempt dripping from every word. “Shit, this is ridiculous. This is the ass end of nowhere! Are we even in the right place?”
“Yes, we are.” Questioning his judgment, well it wasn’t the first time that the navigator, Sendril, had pulled something like that. Frostfire refrained from sighing, or spitting out a sharp word at the male. Damn, he had to put a stop to this before it got any worse. Before the man challenged him at the wrong moment. Was there a right moment for a public challenge? “They’ll be here soon enough. Focus on your work, keep scanners active, shields up, weapons on alert.” Frostfire stood, rolling out his shoulders before he let his gaze move around the men and women on the bridge. Seven in total, not including himself, most of which had been through the fires of hell with him and would no doubt do so again. “We wait.”
“How long do you expect us to wait, Captain?” Sendril hadn’t shifted in his chair but kept his gaze on Frostfire. “Do we sit here until the energy death of the universe?”
“For as long as we have to.” His tone never changed. In all his years in space, he’d never once lost his temper in front of the crew, or any crew for that matter. It wasn’t about to change now, even if his fingers itched with the need to wrap themselves around Sendril’s neck. What the hell was wrong with the male?
“And if they don’t show up?”
“They will,” Frostfire gestured to the monitor. “Tend to your duties, Sendril.”
“Yes, Captain, I’ll get right on that.” the male’s gaze narrowed, a glint flashed in his eyes, his shoulders tight as he slowly moved in his chair, his attention finally focused on the monitor. “Anything you say, Captain.”
And there we go again. Sendril was good at his job, but the questions, the defiance, had grown in the last year. Small things at first, a push here, a shove there, and now this. In full view of the rest of the bridge crew. Rebellion but on a ship it had another name, something that Frostfire hoped it wouldn’t come to.
If it reached that point Frostfire would have no choice but to pass immediate judgment. Was Sendril willing to take it that far, or did he assume that Frostfire would back off? Shit, the man had to know better than that by now, he’d served with the ship for long enough to have witnessed the discipline of the ship for himself. Those who didn’t serve, were removed from the ship either by being dropped off at the next port of call - sometimes in chains or they were executed.
Though spacing was rare, it still happened and truth be known it was still an accepted punishment for mutiny. He’d spaced one crew member, many years ago, long before the Swan Song. He could still see the man’s face, hear his cries for mercy combined with threats of retribution, memories that never faded but waited in the dark corners of his mind, ready to torment Frostfire when he least expected it and if things didn’t improve there’d be a second name and face carved into his memory.
No sane Captain enjoyed spacing someone.
I’m going to have to deal with him soon enough as it is. I can’t let this go on much longer. Truth be known, if they hadn’t been sent out to meet The Lair, then Frostfire would have ordered a hearing to deal with the males insubordination. The orders, however, had come directly from the queen and even a loudmouth like Sendril wasn’t going to prevent Frostfire from following that order.
The queen. He smiled at the thought. She’d been barely more than a girl the first time she’d walked across this bridge. Her long, flame red hair tied back in a braid before it had been pinned to her head in a stern but intricate bun. Even then she’d been all business, her quicksilver eyes moving over the men and women who had opted to serve with her instead of finding their own vessel. Eighteen, eager to strike back at the Raiders, but intelligent enough to know that she couldn’t do it alone.
Had she made mistakes?
Of course, they all had at some point, but the majority of hers had been made long before she’d claimed the captaincy of the Swan Song. Even then, she’d turned to others, seeking advice, listening to those who had been there, done it and damn, even picked up the t-shirt.
Frostfire turned away from the male, letting his gaze move around the bridge once more. The Swan Song was his pride and joy, a replacement for the first ship he’d been the Captain of, the Flame of Freedom. That was a ship he’d loved, but the Song was something different. Powerful, built for a woman he’d served under for several years, a woman he’d helped to raise when they’d brought her on board as a screaming, sobbing baby. Little more than a newborn who had spat up in his arms, peed all over him several times a week and challenged him every step of the way.
The woman who had been the first to use the mask of Daggeria - and still did from time to time - much to his dismay. A woman he had fought side by side with, and would do so again in a heartbeat. This ship had been hers, built using funds she had raised with the help of her friends and allies alike, partly through legitimate work, and partly through funds raised by striking hard and deep against the Raiders.
No, the Song was a state of the art vessel, the lead for the Chronian Fleet and, according to the Raiders, a pirate vessel. Well, after some of the things they’d done in their strikes against the Raiders, they’d earned the title. Maybe they were pirates, maybe they were free fighters but personally he preferred the name Queen Kayala, the first Daggeria, had given them. Front runners, part of system one’s home fleet. That, sadly, had only increased the bounty on the crew. Shit, if he added up the combined bounties on the heads of the crew, it would be enough to buy the Swan twice over, if not more. His alone might pay for the equipment on the bridge. Well, maybe if he bought the equipment from a less than reputable merchant.
“Don’t know why we’re here, she’s no longer a part of the crew.” Though low pitched the words carried. “We could have met them somewhere decent. One of the stations. Hells, we could have gone to Freedom Station! At least we’d then be able to get some R and R time.”
“Can it, Sendril.” A woman with midnight hair growled. “We’re here. We wait. End of story.”
“What, I’m only saying what the rest of us are thinking.” Sendril leaned back in his chair, crossed his ankles and rolled his eyes. “Come on, you’ve got to admit it. This is stupid and a waste of fucking time.” He snorted. “Nothing out there and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The Lair has better things to do than play taxi service!”
“Speak for yourself,” she countered. “Dacre needs us, we’re here. We wait. You don’t like that, you keep it to yourself. Rest of us don’t want to hear it.”
“Yeah, right, you females all stick together. Got it. Should know that by now right. All in service to the Queen. Fucking nonsense.”
Breath, keep my temper under control. He’s pushing because he can start a show here, maybe find a few others to join in. Wouldn’t be the first time that someone like Sendril had found a button to jump up and down on.
“You really are a bloody ass, you know that.” A chair moved, soft steps following the sound. “You want to bitch and moan, do it off duty. Do it with your buddies, if you have any left, but don’t pull this shit on the bridge.”
“Come on Belliana, you know how this works. We all know the game. Dacre’s one of the Queen’s favorites - maybe she got on her knees at some point to service our beloved queen, who knows? So, we miss out on shore leave to check in with her. I mean, please, she’s probably fucked her way through half the ship by now. Gods alone know that someone like Fenris wouldn’t have kept her in his bed for very long. No, she’s just another pair of pretty legs to spread. She used her skills often enough to complete jobs. Might have given it a go myself if she’d stayed on…”
A pain filled grunt filled the air even as Frostfire growled and turned to look at the pair.
Sendril, his bright green hair slicked back over his scalp, was sprawled on the deck.
“You really don’t know a damned thing, Sendril. I know Mara, worked with her, I’ve seen how she handles her jobs and the last thing that woman does is crawl in and out of beds. Not even to get to a target. If you think she’s going to be any different on The Lair then you’re a bigger fool than I thought!” Belliana loomed over the downed man. “I’d be more fucking concerned about MacTire harming her. Everyone knows he hates pirates, for all we know she’s his prisoner!”
“Yeah, well, serves her right if she is!” Sendril spat.
“You ignorant son of a…”
“Belliana, Sendril, stand down!” Frostfire stalked across the bridge. “Now!”
“She struck me, fucking bitch hit me!” Blue blood seeped from Sendril’s nose, leaving a thin trickle that marked a path to his top lip. “I want her sanctioned! No, I want her off this ship! I want her…”
Every head turned, gazes locked on him but he didn’t falter.
“Belliana, report to me after shift for disciplinary action.”
The woman didn’t flinch, instead she lifted her head, straightened her back and met his gaze. “Yes, Captain.”
“’Bout fucking time,” Sendril muttered, though the words carried across the bridge.”She’s insane. Thinks she can lay her hands on me like that. Shit, if she were a man I’d knock her fucking head off.”
“Sendril, front and center.” Frostfire narrowed his gaze, watching the male closely. Damn his timing. He didn’t need this right now.
“Yeah, fine, whatever,” with an arrogance that had been hidden until recently, Sendril got to his feet, brushing off invisible dust before he made his way across the bridge. “I’ll be filing for…”
Frostfire struck before the male could finish. With all the speed and accuracy of the experienced warrior he knew himself to be, Frostfire landed a blow in the male’s solar plexus, knocking him to his ass in front of the crew. Breath exploded from the navigator, followed by a groan as Sendril rolled onto his side, hugging his knees to his chest.
“Get him out of here,” Frostfire rubbed his knuckles and nodded to the groaning male.
“Captain?” The security officer assigned to the bridge, Kelvin, stepped to the side of the male, meeting Frostfire’s gaze for a moment. “Detention?”
“No, you - you can’t.” Sendril protested.
Kelvin reached down, hooking one of his arms under Sendril left arm. “Best thing for you to do is - is to shut up. You can sort this out later.”
Frostfire said nothing as the navigator was hauled away.
“Well, shit,” Belliana sighed and returned to her post.
Silence settled across the bridge, save for the occasional noise from one of the stations and only then did Frostfire return to his chair. It would take time for the crew to come to terms with the change in Sendril, but it had gone down before reaching the point where a full mutiny had been called for. Would that have worked? Would his call for change have triggered support from other members of the crew?
No, they were loyal. The only sign of dissent had been from Sendril and that change hadn’t happened overnight.
“We have a signal, Captain.” Belliana’s calm voice broke through the silence. “Checking details, but first scan results suggest it’s The Lair.”
He nodded, bringing up the information on his screens, running the signal against the secure data that only he and two other members of the crew had access to. “It’s a match. Open com.”
He smiled. “Lair, this is the Song. Awaiting contact.”
Silence followed for a few moments before a strong male voice replied. “Song, good to hear from you. Are we in the clear?”
“All clear on this end.” Frostfire confirmed. “Coldfire and clear skies.” He gave the arranged signal but waited for the response.
“Cold enough to cut with a blade,” came the answer. “Well then, good to finally be able to meet up with you, Captain Frostfire. We’ll be within range shortly. Your place or mine?”
“Where ever you’re the most comfortable.” There wasn’t a safe neutral meeting point here, no station, no port, it would have to be on one of the ships. Even using shuttles would make life awkward.
“Come into my parlor…” Frostfire began.
“Said the spider to the fly. Sounds like a plan to me. Mara’s looking forward to seeing you all again.”
“As am I.” Bloodline and several other members of the crew would want to be in on the meeting. “We’ve missed her.”
“Understood, let's get this moving.”
Docking wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Bringing two large ships into close quarters, close enough to extend a docking tube and lock it in place so both vessels were locked together, was enough to make any captain nervous, but this had to be done. Even if the order hadn’t come down from the queen, there were items that Frostfire wanted to, needed to, pass on to the young woman who had been a part of his crew for several years. No, it was more than that. She’d been little more than a cadet the first time Mara had been placed in his care. Strong, talented, her Psi abilities already off the scale and she’d embraced the life that the queen had offered her.
Level five Psi abilities, not something he’d wish on his worst enemy. Those with high level gifts ran the risk of breakdowns, especially if they had any level of empathy or telepathy. Gifts from the bloodlines of the five worlds - well, he’d seen firsthand what that involved, though his own abilities were limited to one gift and that was something he could only use on rare occasions. Gods alone he knew what using it did to him so he could only begin to imagine what Dacre went through whenever she used her own abilities.
“Docking in five… four… three… two… and,” Belliana counted down until a small shudder vibrated through the Song. “Docking complete.”
Frostfire rose. “You have the bridge, Belliana.”
“Yes Captain,” she moved to the command chair. “I have the bridge.”
Despite her actions earlier, Belliana was a good crew member. She’d still face discipline for her actions earlier, but he trusted her. He couldn’t blame the woman for his actions, he’d wanted to wring Sendril’s neck. Hells, he’d struck the male himself but as ship’s Captain he had the right, well mostly. A small smile touched his lips as he rubbed the back of his hand, still feeling the blow echo across his knuckles. Without looking back, he headed for the door and entered the lift. They were here, they had a job to do and then they would be on their way again. Back among the stars, dealing with whatever new threat or job was sent their way by the queen, the way it should be.
His thoughts shifted to Mara. The woman had been in his care, a member of his crew - in a loose sense of the word. The Song had been her home. Was she happy with MacTire? Was this a choice she regretted? His jaw set. If he had to rescue her, he would and the gods be damned.
“We’re ready, Captain.” Security, two crew members, one male and one female. Tykia and Liam. He knew both well enough to know that they would remain calm no matter what happened. “For anything.”
Frostfire nodded, watching the closed hatch. Anything, well, at least he wasn’t the only one who thought they might have to do a snatch and grab in order to save a former crew member. No, it won’t come to that. Mara’s no fool and even Kayala has accepted this situation. She’d know if there was something wrong with this set up.
Easy to think, hard to accept.
Lights flickered at the side of the hatch. Red. Yellow. Green. A soft click and a hiss of air marked the opening of the hatch. Two figures stood in the entrance, with two more standing behind her just out of immediate line of sight. All he could make out at first were the shapes, he couldn’t tell if they were male or female, not that it mattered right now.
“Permission to come aboard, Captain.” Male, strong and very familiar. Cold mercury eyes narrowed and focused on Frostfire. Strong, tall, and confident with rich black hair, Fenris MacTire met his gaze without hesitation or the slightest hint of fear. The man was powerful, dangerous and a killer.
“Permission granted, Captain MacTire.” Frostfire nodded a greeting. “Welcome aboard,” he let his gaze slide to the woman at MacTire’s side. “Welcome back, Mara.”
The young woman with multi-colored hair and bright eyes, stepped in with MacTire. “It’s been a long time, Captain.”
“Too long, but you’re looking good.” His instinct was to open his arms and pull her into a hug, but she was no longer a single woman. Instead she was a Captain’s mate, wife in all but name - perhaps even legally his wife now - for all he knew. Such ceremonies were often held on board ship. It didn’t matter. MacTire’s shoulder’s tightened a fraction, the lines around the other man’s eyes increased even as he shifted his weight.
Possessive or protective? Frostfire mused as he watched the other captain. If Mara wasn’t his mate but a prisoner there would be hell to pay, in more ways than one. Yet there was something in the man’s face, a look in his eyes that another man might have missed. This wasn’t fear that the woman would say something - no this was concern for the woman herself. Hmm, he doesn’t trust us. It didn’t matter that Mara would have explained that the Song wasn’t a pirate ship. No, Fenris hated pirates, real pirates, that part was well known - just as it was also known he’d turned in or destroyed several true pirate vessels without ever bothering to collect the bounties, so it made sense that he would be on guard.
Was Mara safe? Truly safe? His gut tightened, the desire to snatch the young woman and if need be space Fenris, bubbled up from within. Doubts he’d tried to silence now screamed through his mind, his hands tightening, threatening to fist at his side. Breathe, he had to breathe, focus, use his mind not give into the demands of his heart.
Mara shot a glance at her mate, her captain, searching for an answer. Something unreadable passed between him before Fenris moved, offering a short nod that was little more than a small inclination of head. Without warning Mara shot forward, wrapping her arms around Frostfire tight enough to make his ribs crack. He didn’t think. He only reacted, closing his own arms around the young woman.
“Damn girl, I’ve missed you.”
Mara Dacre, assassin in the service of the queen, did something he’d never heard her do before. She laughed.
Any doubts Frostfire had maintained about the relationship between Mara Dacre and Fenris MacTire, vanished in that moment.
“Mara?” His throat tightened even as his grip around the young woman loosened. With a shaky smile he pushed the young woman back, searching her face and eyes.
“I’m… it’s alright. It really is.” She glanced over her shoulder at Fenris before turning her gaze back to Frostfire. “It really is. He’s the one. He really is the one.” She swallowed hard, tears glistening in her eyes.
Tears. The assassin, the Dagger of the Queen, was crying. In all the years he had known her, the time she had served on his ship, called it home in between the missions assigned, he had never once seen her cry.
“She’s safe with me, Captain.” MacTire’s gruff voice reached his ears. “And yeah, I know, you’re not pirates. I’m still struggling with that one, but she’s done her best to change my mind but I’m a bit on the stubborn side.” He coughed, clearing his throat. “Shit, I’m not… look, you can put your doubts to rest, she’s my mate, my wife - yeah, even down to the legal shit - we’ve claimed each other.”
Not claimed her, but claimed each other.
That was all he needed to know…