Ignatius had several lawyers on retainer. Unfortunately, they all agreed with his bastard cousin. Teepo belonged to Zander. At least half the eggs belonged to Zander.
“Damn them all.” Iggy drummed fingers against the console and glowered at the view screen. Currently, it displayed a peaceful star field. No pirates in sight—for the moment. “He can’t get near the adults. I’ve given orders to shoot him down if he tries, but…”
“But he knows enough about your operation to take it down with him.” Zora sat in the co-pilot’s seat and watched his face. “Doesn’t he?”
“I could try to move my people.” His expression, the lines around his eyes told a different story. Relocating an entire planet of illegal clones without getting caught might be more than their Emperor could manage. Finding them a new world to hide on, she imagined, would be close to impossible.
“No. We need to keep the clones safe. Risking them can’t be an option.”
“But giving the babies to Zander--.”
“Also not an option.” She’d seen the asshole’s zoo, and she wasn’t about to trust him with anything living, in particular not her slug babies. “Any chance you can talk him out of it?”
“Not when there’s profit to be had, and we’re carrying a fortune’s worth. I can’t see Zander letting that go.”
“He’s a piece of work, this cousin of yours.”
“It comes from his father’s side.” He curled his mouth into a subtle grin, and his eyes sparked.
Zora nodded and sank her fingernails into the arms of her chair. She imagined clawing off his shirt, sitting on his lap and…
Heavy steps rattled the mesh floor. Rook ducked back through the bridge entrance with Murray a half step behind him. Neither of them looked like a person who’d just come up with a brilliant idea to get them out of this mess.
“Cyrus 2 is out.” Murray shook her head. “Zander’s filed a complaint with the Gen-fed, and until it’s resolved, they won’t even give us a landing permit.”
“What was the next stop?” Ignatius spun his chair to face them, and all three discussed the itinerary. How many Gen-fed planets would allow them to offload cargo with a complaint attached to it? Few would even let them dock. Zander’s thorn twisted in their side, and each second they spend debating it put them in further danger of being boarded. That was his next move. She knew it, and she guessed Iggy knew it too, but with Murray frowning at her between sentences, Zora didn’t feel like being the one to point it out.
“So long as we have a fortune in slugs in our cargo bay,” Iggy went there before she had to. “Zander isn’t going to let us out of this. He’ll shoot to disable next time, and then we might as well just hand him the keys.”
“Does he have any way of knowing how many there are?” Murray bit her lip and looked ready to burst into tears. “Maybe we can hide some of them.”
“The incubators are too bulky to move much. We might get one or two into our cabins, but we’d have to pray they didn’t search the ship.” Iggy nodded. “Still, it’s a step in the right direction. Then, we can try to deliver as many as possible.”
“Mercur Omega,” Murray blurted and grinned like she’d just invented Syrillian Fizzers. “They won’t side with Gen-fed, not with the animal cruelty charges on Zander’s record. They agreed to take several thousand eggs. I might even be able to convince them to take more, maybe even offer sanctuary for the whole clutch until we sort things out.”
“You are brilliant.” Rook gleamed at his wife until Zora felt like barfing.
“Good. Great plan, Mur.” Zora flicked the toggles and brought up a sector map. It was a pretty good idea, but…
“It might work,” Iggy agreed, but the lines didn’t vanish from his expression. “Mercur is farther than I’d like, but if we hustle--”
“If we hustle.” Zora found her own worries mirrored on his face. Rook and Murray could relax in idealistic optimism all they wanted, the emperor and the harlot knew the score. That was a hell of a lot of space to cross with a pirate on their tail. “Maybe we can get there before Zander works out where we’re going.”
If the jackass worked that out, they might as well kiss the slug babies goodbye. Of course, if she knew pirates—and she did—at that point they’d be lucky if any of them survived long enough to care.
HOW TO READ THE SERIAL
SPACE SLUGS, can be found in the BOOK ONE tab.
To read Book Two, Slug Opera, please look to the table of contents in the sidebar.
To read Book Two, Slug Opera, please look to the table of contents in the sidebar.
“Zander.” Ignatius clarified for Zora’s benefit. It seemed everyone else in the cabin knew their sneaky friend. “I thought you killed the bastard?”
“I did as well.” Rook rubbed a hand through his metallic hair and shrugged in a very non-android manner. “Unfortunately, the opportunity did not present itself to verify that status.”
“Wait a minute.” Zora stood up and pointed at the guy filling up their view screen. Murray had the message on standby, but even frozen, this asshole looked like serious trouble to her. “You tried to kill a Pirate? When?”
“While you were liberating the gastropods.” Murray had lain her head on the console, and she didn’t bother lifting it to speak, just mumbled into the controls and toggles. “He shot me in the gut remember? Asshole.”
“Oh that guy.”
“Yes. That guy.”
Zora looked at him. He had the shirt, the tight pants, the hair. He had the body, and the smirk…and Iggy’s eyes. “Wasn’t he your--.”
“Cousin.” Ignatius nodded, but his mouth kept in a grim set, and his brows slid closer together. He even frowned the same, but with a great deal more class, she bet. “Unfortunately, yes.”
“Maybe that’s why he didn’t kill us outright.” Zora held to the belief that this, Zander, hadn’t missed. He didn’t look like the sort of man that ever missed.
“Not likely,” Iggy continued. “He holds no love for me. If he missed on purpose, I suspect an ulterior motive.”
“Yeah.” At least one of them was considering her argument. “Agreed.”
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have just evaded the shot.”
“Give it up, Mur. You’re not that good.”
“Perhaps,” Rook’s voice raised in volume almost enough to cover Murray’s growl. “We should watch the whole message and then pose theories?”
“Agreed.” Ignatius stood up. He took three steps across the metal grates and placed himself at Zora’s shoulder. “Don’t you think?”
“You never told me he was a pirate.” She didn’t quite feel like being agreeable. None of them had rushed forward to listen to her, had they? Besides, with Ignatius hovering beside her, prolonging the moment didn’t seem like a bad thing. Not to mention the message couldn’t exactly bring good news.
“As far as I know he never was.”
“Well that was a pirate ship, using pirate tricks.”
“How would you know?” Murray mumbled, still face down, but with her head turned enough to aim a nasty grin at her sister.
“I wouldn’t. Of course I wouldn’t. Are you going to play it or not?”
Nobody argued, but the little silence that settled in the cabin didn’t bode well for her cover either. She pressed her lips together and focused on the cousin-turned-pirate posing mid-sneer on the screen. Eventually, Murray triggered the vid, and Zander’s smile stretched even wider.
“Well, well,” he folded his hands together and tapped the fingers against his lips. “What a small galaxy it is, after all.” He sat in a curving chair. The black padding cupped his shoulders and wrapped up behind his head. He swiveled it back and forth while he spoke. “Imagine my surprise to find my illustrious and benevolent cousin has taken up with the very criminals I’ve been looking for. I must say, Ignatius, that I didn’t appreciate the reception I received when I attempted to visit.” His brow fell, and the twist of his thin lips turned nasty. “You’re not hiding something on that covert world of yours, are you? Perhaps something that belongs to me?”
“Crap.” Murray sat up. She looked to Ignatius. All the color gone from her face but for a grid of red blotches in the shape of toggles.
“I think I liked him better dead.” Zora remembered the filthy zoo, and she didn’t regret calling in Murray’s radical friends in the least, but she felt the first stirring of concern, just the same.
“Now,” Zander stopped twisting his chair and leaned forward. “I know you’ve taken my space slugs, and I know about that cargo you’re hauling. You’ve made some charitable agreements with property that, as I see it, is at least half mine. Even if I forgive the damages you’ve caused to my place of business, the losses I’ve incurred, and the misunderstanding as to the ownership of the female, the male is still mine--legally even.”
“You let this guy get you drunk, Mur?”
“Shut up.” Murray laid her head back down again, but this Zander asshole just kept going.
“The way I see it, you owe me half of your cargo plus one adult space slug. I hate to seem greedy, but if you wander the system willy-nilly, giving the things away, my chances of recouping my losses are highly unlikely.” His smile stretched, and he sat back again, crossing one leg over the other and shrugging his broad shoulders. “So my proposal is simple. You give me all the little ones you’ve got in that derelict pile of junk you’re cruising, and I’ll forgive the theft and damages. I imagine I can sell this batch for enough to get back what I’ve lost and still turn a tidy profit. After that, the little buggers won’t exactly be rare anymore will they? Then you can make more slug babies to distribute for free throughout the galaxy to your heart’s content.”
“He’s up to something,” Murray said. “Don’t trust him.”
“Thanks, Mur. That’s not obvious or anything.” Zora shook her head. She didn’t care who this guy was related to, he was a first class creep. “We’re not giving this jackass even one of the babies.”
Ignatius placed a hand on her shoulder and scooted closer. “Agreed.”
“And in the unlikely event that you actually agree to my terms, I will drop all charges that I’ve filed with the authorities and make every attempt to prevent the pirates I have recently employed from blowing you into small pieces the next time they encounter your ship. Considering your treatment of my establishment and property, I think that’s more than fair.”
“What about his treatment of my midsection,” Murray whined.
“Shhh.” Zora held up one hand. She knew what was coming, and she didn’t want to miss it.
“And trust me,” Zander revved up for his big finish. She could see it sparking in his eyes. “The next time I run into you, my offer will not be so sweet. You won’t be so lucky, and I won’t be firing any warning shots.”
“Ha!” She folded her arms and stuck out her hip. “I told you he missed on purpose.”
They all stared at her--even Ignatius. The asshole on screen faded to static, and Murray toggled the viewer off without taking her eyes from Zora.
“What?” This is how they always acted when she was right, damn it. She flipped her hair and ignored them. “Well.” She pouted. “I did.”
Next Episode ◦