Excerpt: THE COLD BETWEEN, Chapter 5

In Which: Greg is mad at, well, the whole universe.

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He spoke to them in the only area large enough to hold the entire crew: the massive VIP conference room, years ago repurposed as the ship’s pub. He kept it brief and factual, talking about justice and love and losing one of their own, and he saw in some faces, at least, that it helped. They believed in him, and they believed he would find justice for Danny. After all, he was the man who made things happen, who circumvented regs and logic and the goddamned laws of physics when it suited him. His reputation, as exaggerated as it was, worked in his favor. When he finished they were shocked and grieved, but reassured that he would get to the bottom of it all.

When Greg turned to Will at the close of his speech, his first officer looked pallid and shaken, unable to hide his shock. Will had played some poker with Danny–Danny excelled at losing money, and was popular at the gambling table–but Greg had not thought they were so close.

It was a rare crack in Will’s armor, and Greg thought he could use it.

“With me,” he said stiffly, and walked out, trusting Will would follow him. There were too many people still milling about to have this conversation in public.

Will trailed into Greg’s office after him and sat in his usual chair without asking. Greg leaned against the edge of the desk, arms crossed. Will met Greg’s eyes, already defensive.

“I hate coincidence, Will,” Greg told him.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’ll spell it out, then,” he said, still calm. “One of my men gets killed in the middle of a cargo mission you requested, right around the time I get my ass handed to me because you decide Shadow Ops has somehow given you the authority to keep me out of the loop on a general alert. Which coincidentally involves some fairy story MacBride is telling about being attacked by PSI. And here’s the most interesting thing about that. Do you know who Novanadyr is holding for Lancaster’s murder? Some PSI expat who just settled there. Who somehow manages to kill a trained fighter with an old-fashioned, low-tech blade.” Greg leaned forward, looming over Will’s chair. “Lancaster was nearly decapitated, did you know that? I didn’t tell the crew, but I’ve got that picture in my head. A thirty-five-year-old man, with a sister and four nieces, bleeding out in seven seconds on an alien planet.”

He had not raised his voice, but Will had flinched. “So let me reiterate, Commander Valentis: I hate coincidence. Explain to me why I shouldn’t shut down your investigation right now and tear up the concrete on that rock down there until I find out what happened.”

“You don’t have the authority,” Will said, his voice dry.

So much for sympathy. “We are ten days away from the closest Central hub, Commander,” he returned. “Five months away from Earth, if we take a straight shot. I can do whatever the fuck I want out there, and every soldier on this ship will back me up.” He leaned back. “Try again.”

Will swallowed, and looked away. “I don’t believe Lancaster’s death is related to my work, sir,” he said.

Greg stood up and circled behind his desk, parsing that. “Why not?”

“Sir, I–dammit, Captain, I’m under orders here. From people who outrank you.” He sounded desperate. “I can’t just give you this investigation. It’d be my career.”

“It always comes back to your career, doesn’t it, Will? It’s never about the crew, or even the mission. It’s always what’s in it for you.”

Will had reddened. “That’s not fair, Captain. What I’m doing for S-O is important.”

“Yes,” Greg said icily. “I’m sure it is. So important you can’t tell a living soul, so now e’ve got a dead one.”

“You’re not putting Lancaster’s death on me.”

“Then tell me who to put it on, Will.”

Will exploded. “I’ve told you! I–” He looked away, then got to his feet, agitated, running his fingers through his short black hair. He was graying here and there; Greg had not noticed before. “Lancaster spoke a lot with the Demeter crew, yes.” He began to pace. “You know what he was like; he wanted everyone to get along, and most of our crew hasn’t exactly welcomed them with open arms.”

Greg thought that went both ways, but he let it pass. “Would they have discussed anything proprietary with him?”

Will had stopped at Greg’s window and was looking down at the planet. “They shouldn’t know anything proprietary,” he said at last.

That had cost him, and Greg tried to remind himself to appreciate that. “But if they did,” he pressed, “would they have told Lancaster?”

“I won’t speculate.” Will’s expression had closed, and Greg thought that small admission was the only thing he was going to get.

Greg allowed himself to rub his eyes; there was no point in posturing anymore. Will had told him all he needed to know about how deeply Demeter was involved in all of this. Any further investigation was going to have to be his own. The problem was how to ensure he could investigate unencumbered. He did not want to make an enemy out of Will, not in the middle of a crisis. It had crossed his mind, however, that they might be beyond that point.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, Commander.” He spoke calmly, wanting Will to understand that his decision was not made in a temper. “We’re going to stay here as long as it takes to get Lancaster’s death resolved. That means more than just Novanadyr charging his killer; it means we find out why he did it.”

“Central won’t allow that.”

“You let me worry about Central.” There were delaying tactics he could use, everything from semantic arguments to outright lies. If he achieved his ends, he thought the Admiralty would forgive him, or at least not come down on him too hard. “But in the meantime…I’m shutting you down, Commander. Your investigation stops right now. S-O gets nothing until we find out what happened to Lancaster.”

“You can’t do that, Captain!” Will turned on Greg, shouting into his face. “They are not just my superior officers. They are yours as well, and this will not be tolerated!”

Greg held on to his temper. “Maybe not,” he said evenly, “but that’s on me, Will. I’m revoking your external comm privileges, effective immediately.”

And to his astonishment, Will laughed. “They’ll bust you for this,” he said, with certainty.

“Maybe.” Greg wondered exactly who Will’s allies were. “But if they do, it’ll be after we get answers for Danny Lancaster.”

****

Copyright ©2016 by Elizabeth Bonesteel. All rights reserved.