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Under Snow and Stars

By Gareth Vaughn


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2019 Gareth Vaughn

ISBN 9781634868853

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

Under Snow and Stars

By Gareth Vaughn

“Come on, Eryx, you can’t go out in that,” said Cassandra. Again.

Eryx ignored her. Again. He could handle a little snow. It was the work environment for practically half the year, and the chances of getting lost with the appropriate equipment were almost none. He finished with his boots and straightened.

“Projections show it’s a big one. Tina already pulled in Jon and Mandy, and you know Mandy’s work on those ibex stats was good. It sucks when we’re all sardined in here together, but this isn’t a few flakes. You can die out in that.”

“I saw your weather data. You heard the alerts.”

“You’re not seriously going after those poachers,” said Cassandra.

Eryx didn’t look at her. He clipped his transmitter to his belt and reached for his company-provided gun, staying far away from her amber eyes and firm gaze. Cassandra didn’t understand what he was going through right now. The walls here were pushing in on him.

“It’s not worth it,” she said.

“Last time they got five leopards,” said Eryx.

“And Ray got fired. But that was preventable. None of us will get let go for this. We’re supposed to stay put in weather this bad—you know every time we get refresher training we’re reminded the SeeingSpots CEO doesn’t want to deal with our families suing.”

Eryx turned his back on her and walked toward the heavy metal door. It didn’t matter how good Cassandra’s arguments got—he wasn’t going to stay stuck at home base with half a dozen other scientists and specialists if there was an excuse to go out. Even if it was a dangerous one.

She followed him down the hall, Eryx clenching his teeth as he heard her footsteps behind him. Cassandra’s work bordered on perfect, but she wasn’t the sort of person to keep high standards to herself. Sometimes he appreciated it for the errors it caught and time it saved, but other times it was downright infuriating. Still, he knew she couldn’t really stop him from leaving base.

“Do you need more time off?” she asked, the irritation suddenly out of her voice. “I was talking to Tina about the possibility of some of us donating time off so you can get another chance to return to Earth and visit your brother.”

Eryx’s fingers fumbled on the zipper of his coat. “I’m good,” he said, and knew that she knew it was a lie. The faster he got out into the snowstorm, the better.

“It’s just…you haven’t said anything since you got back a few weeks ago. I figure…things are bad. You should get a chance to try again.”

Eryx couldn’t stand here listening to this. His throat felt tight. He wanted to breathe in the damp, cold air of the wintry storm, let it cool him off some. He went for his gloves, and Cassandra went for a different tactic.

“We’re supposed to handle poachers in twos.”

“Report me to Tina,” said Eryx, louder than he meant to, and hit the unlock on the door.

Cassandra didn’t follow him out.

The path he and the other team members had worn into the snow was already filling up with fresh flakes. The light was a dull grey and getting darker as the cloud cover thickened. Eryx didn’t pause before taking the path to the left, comfortable enough navigating familiar territory even in this weather. Large, wet flakes came down hard like rain, caught on the fleece covering his mouth, and melted. Stuck to his eyelashes. Danced in the air.

Eryx exhaled hard, relief filling him with each chill breath of air. It was good to be out doing something, away from coworkers trying to make uncomfortable small talk. The difference between the atmosphere of home base with its low ceilings and cramped rooms, and out here where there was nothing but hills and mountains and sky, was abrupt and freeing. Immediately some of the stress Eryx had felt wrapping around him like an invisible snake started to ease up and slide off.

Visibility was shit, even at the start of the storm, but Eryx knew generally where he was going. There were paths they used regularly, and even paths they used semi-regularly he knew like the back of his hand. Those would get him to the area he wanted to be in, where the poachers had shown up on the satellite system. His transmitter would lead him the rest of the way.

The air had that sound to it when the world went almost completely still and everything seemed to echo in the few feet around him, like the falling snow was bouncing Eryx’s presence back at him. His boots depressing the snow sounded dull and cottony. All the birds had taken cover. Really, any creature with any sense had taken cover, apart from him.

And the poachers. Cassandra was right; a single person really couldn’t handle an entire team bent on nabbing half a dozen leopards. Eryx knew he should turn back. It was pointless. Even if he found them he doubted he’d be able to shoot. Trained though he was, he knew he couldn’t kill anyone. Before he’d returned to Earth he would have had a different answer, but not now, not after seeing AJ.

His mind wandered to his brother, how he’d said he forgave Eryx on transmission. AJ had been sick for years and Eryx had gotten used to blowing all his time off visiting family because family could never visit him, could never meet him halfway, hop a space flight to some destination planet halfway between Earth and out here. Eryx was the one who’d moved so far away, after all. Who’d taken a job working for some rich bastard on a privately owned planet in an obscure system with a forgettable name. Who regularly missed holidays and never had much to send back on video transmissions.

He knew it was the grief, but recently the walls at base seemed to press in on him, blame him for living out here, immersed in work. He also knew he should take Cassandra up on her offer. Eryx figured his parents could use a visitor, even if he didn’t think he was ready to go back to Earth yet. Even if he couldn’t stand Cassandra’s caring and didn’t want to feel he owed her anything.

Eryx stopped, pulled out his transmitter, and checked the GPS. The poachers’ ship was halfway around a foothill a good mile and a quarter off this path. He blinked snowflakes off his eyelashes and considered. In normal weather, the trek would be easy. But with the snow piling up and the flakes increasing, it was dangerous. Of course, if he injured himself he could always message home base for Tina to send people to get him. She’d be pissed and he’d get written up. Again, probably, if Cassandra had done her duty and reported him.

Eryx knew he should turn back. Instead, he adjusted his gun and stepped off the path.

Over halfway toward where he wanted to be, the transmitter started getting buggy. Eryx adjusted and adjusted again, but the GPS couldn’t get a fix on the poachers’ ship. Once it dropped off completely, he set the guides to last known position and continued on, until he realized the GPS wasn’t reading him either.

“Shit,” he muttered to the storm swirling around him, flakes thicker and heavier now. The equipment was supposed to handle this sort of interference. Supposed to never lose operator coordinates. He’d run the checks on it before leaving, but it was just his luck it would choose now to break, when he was halfway to where he wanted to be.

The bright white and darker grey flecks of snow against the dull grey background of storm hurt his eyes, made them water. He blinked hard, determined not to let himself get emotional. But the situation had turned so fast, and Eryx was still dealing with the last time that had happened to him, and finally he admitted to himself he’d gone too far.

If the GPS wasn’t working, the poachers could be anywhere, even surround him, and he wouldn’t know. If it couldn’t locate his signal, he had no way to navigate back to home base. The snowstorm had intensified in the past ten minutes, and the cold had chilled the heat of Eryx’s frustration and helplessness. He felt ridiculous, standing alone in the middle of the wilds, and so very tired. He wanted to get somewhere warm and sleep.

“Base Home, come in,” he said to his transmitter, not proud he had to ask for a rescue but not foolish enough to try to haul his ass back without some way of knowing where he was going.

“Eryx?” The response sounded grainy, and he couldn’t identify the speaker’s voice. “Where are—your transmit—”

“Yeah, it’s not working too well. You’re breaking up.”

“I said—r transmitter.”

Eryx adjusted the device again, swallowing back building panic. Home base wasn’t reading him either. Cassandra was probably telling everyone how she’d tried to stop Eryx from leaving; Tina would be ordering her to shut up. But if they couldn’t locate him, Eryx was still stuck. In the middle of a snowstorm projected to last at least two days. No water, no food, just a gun and a group of armed poachers out there who would definitely kill him if they could.

“—and we will guide you. Respond affirmative, please.”

Eryx breathed out as the transmission cleared, almost to the point where he could guess who might be on the other end. It sounded like Mandy. Maybe.

“Yes,” said Eryx, turning to face the way he’d come. His boot prints were already eaten up by fresh snow. “Ready.”

“Turn to two o’clock and walk carefully. The area there gets rocky.”

Eryx paused. He definitely hadn’t come from that direction.

“What? Please confirm that’s the way back to home base.”

“We’re not guiding you to Base Home. It’s too far. There’s a minor station in your area where you can wait out the storm. Base Four.”

The voice was definitely Mandy’s. Just at the edge of the transmission, Eryx heard someone who could only be Tina.

“That asshole. If he gets himself killed—”

“Copy,” said Eryx, adjusting his direction. Well, at least he could put off getting chewed out by Tina. He wondered how many times she could write him up.

He didn’t think he’d regret getting fired. Not really. He doubted his parents wanted more bad news, though.

Getting to this point in the snow hadn’t seemed to take any time, but the next three tenths of a mile stretched on and on. Mandy gave him simple directions, but the closer he got to Base Four, the worse the transmitter functioned. Mandy’s voice grew grainy again, then clipped, and at the point where Eryx could make out only every third word, he grew concerned.

“Which direction?” he asked after she’d updated his course again. He was only three-hundred-and-seventy feet from where he wanted to be, but in a storm like this, Base Four might as well be on the other hemisphere.

“—to—”

Eryx adjusted the transmitter for the next ten minutes, but the connection had gone. He stood there for another five, snow whipping aggressively around him as the wind picked up. He could die a few hundred feet from shelter, all because he hadn’t wanted to stay locked up in a little building.

All the tension in his body bubbled over and he laughed until the cold air hurt his throat and made him cough. He really had no option other than to try to find Base Four with nothing to go on.

Eryx picked a likely direction and walked deeper into the storm.

* * * *

When Leander came to, he noticed the headache first, stabbing and painful. He groaned, blinked, put a hand to his head. That had been a bitch of a landing. The entire control room was cold, but he was still breathing, so environmentals were on the fritz; he obviously had oxygen, but minimal to no heat. It was difficult to tell when his viewscreen showed nothing.

“Des, audio interface?” he asked. When he heard how his own voice croaked, he winced. The headache flared. Leander swore.

“Audio interface mostly intact. Sorry, some linkups unavailable,” replied his ship. The words were smooth, sexy, but the reminder that Leander had purchased a titillating voice option for his computer interface annoyed him now. It was all fun until something catastrophic happened, after all.

“Des, general status?” asked Leander, wresting with his safety restraints until they released him.

“Structural stability at eighty-eight point forty-seven percent. Cargo hold intact. No hull breach. Landing sequence ninety-three point two percent completed.”

“Des, what wasn’t completed?”

The computer interface took a moment. Leander took the opportunity to tilt back his head and close his eyes. He felt like shit. His head throbbed again, causing his stomach to lurch, and his entire body felt mildly sore. Rough landings sucked.

“Unable to verify,” said Des.

Leander breathed out hard. “Okay, Des. Environmentals?”

“Engines not operational. Backup systems charged only enough to maintain breathable levels of air, minimal lighting, minimal heating.”

“Hey, Des, why is it so effing cold?” asked Leander. He slid out of his padded chair and staggered to the port side of the control system, hoping he could still access his ship manually.

“Temperature is five degrees Celsius and falling.”

“Falling?” asked Leander, irritated. Even on minimal environmentals, Des shouldn’t be getting that cold. “Des, why falling?”

“Unable to determine. Unable to link with backup systems.”

Bracing himself against the side of the ship with one hand, Leander went through the system manually, trying to work out what had happened. His engine had started flashing warning signals, which generally meant one of the cheap, second-hand parts he put in it needed maintenance. Since he’d just came on a system where he used to have a stash point, he figured he’d set down and take care of the issue, at least rig something until he could get to a proper ship mechanic.

He hadn’t expected the engine to just give out on him. One shitty emergency landing later, he had a headache strong enough to turn his stomach, and more questions than anything.

“Hey, Des, any cameras working?”

He let the interface search for some visual of where he was while he pulled up documentation of the landing. Engine failure, followed by emergency protocols. He remembered strapping himself in, the rush as he wondered whether he was about to die, the pressure around him, then passing out. Backup systems completed a rough landing but weren’t doing well if they couldn’t maintain a steady temperature.

“Aft starboard,” said Des, and displayed a white mess on the viewscreen.

“Oh, it’s winter now,” said Leander, unimpressed. This planet could be very pleasant during the warm months.

“Question?” asked Des.

“Yes, Des. Two. If the temperature in here falls to the outside temperature, will the cargo be affected? And how far from the destination point are we?”

“Cargo will be unaffected. Connection with destination beacon lost.”

Leander rubbed his temple, closed his eyes, and steadied his breath again. Shit. Just his luck.

“Des, calculate likely path to destination based on last known position of beacon. Transmit data to portable transceiver.”

Leander locked down the computer access and dragged himself to the airlock, swearing under his breath. He couldn’t stay here, not with environmentals screwed up, not when he’d stashed away a few things that were helpful in a pinch for repairs. In the cave he had once used for smuggling, he’d also left a portable space heater, and right now, he could really use one. He grabbed his transceiver and some food, suited up for cold weather, and left Des to run diagnostics alone.

A gust of freezing wind full of snow struck him full in the face the moment he stepped out. Leander staggered back against the ship’s hull and swore. He hated winter on any planet. He’d spent his childhood on the Moon, where everything had been climate controlled to perfect weather every day. He’d never even seen snow until he’d started smuggling, and he despised it. He checked his directions and set out.

Leander should have been glad a blizzard covered his presence here, but instead, he was pissed. This was turning into one bad day. The transceiver recorded the distance he walked and told him when to alter course, but not even halfway to his stash point he lost connection with Des. He tried to reestablish once, twice, three times before giving up. He’d deal with that later.

It was hell to be out in this frozen storm. How easy it would be to die caught up in something like this, the cold searing against any skin he hadn’t completely covered. Just when he was beginning to worry about the accuracy of the computer, he came upon the rocks. Not that the rocks themselves looked familiar, but it eased his mind somewhat, and within the next ten minutes, the directions brought him to solid rock, then the slit in the side of the rock barely large enough for him to squeeze into.

Leander wriggled through to a small cavern and steadied himself against a fresh wave of pain from his head. Passing out in space flight was always hard on him. The temperature in the cave was, at best, a degree or two warmer than outside, but there was no wind to tear at his skin, making it feel much warmer.

One flashlight and a crack in the wall later and he was opening his secret chamber to nothing. It was completely empty. Leander blinked, shone his flashlight around, and stepped inside. The small cavern held dust, chipped rock, and nothing else.

He stepped out, concerned.

“Yeah, we pitched all that shit,” said a voice.

Leander looked up. A man held a gun on him, pointed at his chest, and he did not look like he was in a generous mood. He did, however, look good. Leander knew he was still feeling the effects of losing consciousness if he was about to be shot and all he could think about was how easy the man was on his eyes.

“Let me guess, hands up?” asked Leander.

The man tilted his head and Leander took that as a “yes.” He moved his hands up slowly, while the man watched him, wariness worse than Leander’s in his brown eyes. His face was set with anger, but even that looked good on him. He was black, with short hair and trimmed beard, good build, and held himself well. He looked comfortable holding a gun, which wasn’t a good sign, although his clothes appeared issued, implying he wasn’t one of Leander’s kind, but rather an employee.

If he was just Some Guy working for Some Company, Leander wasn’t in much danger. If he was security at all, though…Hell, Leander wasn’t reputable, but he wasn’t vicious, either. He only had a stun gun on him, and he’d been in some shitty situations, but never outright killed anyone.

He wondered whether the man with the gun could tell.

“So you’re waiting for me to talk?” asked Leander as casually as he could.

“Your name.”

“Leander, Leo, call me whatever you want as long as you don’t shoot me.”

Leander grinned. The man’s face hardened more.

“Disarm yourself. Slowly.”

Leander had been waiting for that. He kept one hand up as he removed his stun gun and knife, not liking the way the man frowned at the meager assortment.

“What?” he asked as he straightened and put up his free hand again.

“That’s your weapon? A little outdated shocker?” The man adjusted the gun. “No tranq rifle? No personal gun or handgun? No flash grenades?”

“Sorry if you were expecting more. I don’t like actually killing people.” Leander found it difficult to keep the upbeat expression on his face. This was definitely not going well. “And right now I’m really hoping you don’t either.”

The man eyed him, then gestured with a half nod. “Move over to that wall.”

Leander swallowed. The notion that he could be shot execution style and his body left in a cave on some random planet was not a comforting one. The pain in his head seemed distant now, but his stomach flopped harder. Halfway to the wall, his adrenaline surged and he turned back. “I want to face you.”

The guy looked confused, then surprise quickly covered the hardness. “I’m not going to shoot you unless you try anything.”

Leander didn’t really trust him, but he had no choice. He figured it meant he could put his back to the rock, so he did. He watched as his stun gun and knife disappeared into the man’s pockets.

“Now what?” asked Leander.

“Now you come with me.”

* * * *

Eryx wasn’t sure if he had great luck or the opposite. Sure, he’d been stuck in the snowstorm, but he’d found his way to Base Four. And now he’d captured a poacher—alive. Even being written up for disobeying orders and nearly getting himself killed wouldn’t be able to outweigh that.

He didn’t envy Leander. The poor bastard was going to be locked up and questioned, probably not too gently either. Poaching of rare animals on privately owned planets had gotten to be a real problem in the past five years especially, and the kinds of people who could afford to own and operate a planet were the kinds who had no problem with hard measures to get what they wanted. It was why the SeeingSpots policy was to shoot poachers first and ask questions later. The fact that Eryx had caught this one with his pants down only meant he wasn’t dead.

“You know, I thought this cave was a great hiding place,” said Leander as he walked, hands where Eryx could see them.

“You thought wrong. We found it months ago.”

“Damn. Well, how’d you do that?”

Eryx didn’t answer. He watched the back of Leander’s head as the man walked down the rocky passage. The hood of a stylish but definitely well-used coat hung dripping off Leander’s shoulders, and his hair in the back was pushed in different directions, like he’d slept roughly on it. This poacher looked a mess. Eryx wasn’t sure what he’d expected, really, but it wasn’t anything like this man.

“If you found my cave months ago, why are you back now, in a snowstorm?” asked Leander. When Eryx didn’t respond, he added, “Shouldn’t you be in some high-tech shelter somewhere, with a mug of cocoa in front of a fire projection?”

“You’re really trying to provoke me?” asked Eryx. He was pointing a gun at Leander’s back and the man was acting like it was nothing.

“Maybe I just want to talk.” Leander paused, and for a moment, Eryx thought he might shut up, but then he started voicing questions again. “Let me guess—you got caught out in this? Had to duck into the caves here when the storm hit? What were you doing out here, patrolling in this?”

Eryx frowned, entire body tense. He really did not want to shoot this man, but Leander was not setting him at ease. He was too upbeat, chatty, like he had something planned. Eryx would assume it was nerves, except poachers tended to be tough and wily, used to extreme situations and wriggling out of problems.

“I was out here tracking down your ass,” said Eryx as gruffly as he could.

Leander fell silent at that, which was unexpected but not unwelcome. They followed the corridor cut from rock until it stopped at a dead end. Eryx ordered Leander to the side, hands where Eryx could see them. He seemed a bit more sober, but that didn’t make Eryx feel any better.

He moved to the far wall, angling his body so he could reach the access panel without giving away his codes to Leander, yet also keeping the poacher in his line of sight. Then, he flipped open the disguised rock and unlocked the entrance to Base Four. The camo tech vanished, revealing the cracks along the edges of the door, and the rock-covered metal clicked.

“Whoa,” said Leander. “That’s more than a step above my hiding spot.”

“Next time you get a payout, buy some quality projectors,” said Eryx, pulling open the door and gesturing with his gun. “Oh, that’s right. You won’t be getting one of those again once I turn you in.”

Leander moved forward, ignoring Eryx’s comment. By how his eyes scanned the seam between door and rock, he was truly curious. “Why not just project an image over the whole door?”

“Because your eyes will skip over any imperfection in the projection when it’s covering a tiny crack, but the tech is obvious over a wide space.”

“Huh. Makes sense. I suppose that should have been obvious to me.”

“Just keep moving,” said Eryx, scowling at Leander’s back. He was annoyed he’d so readily answered the poacher’s question, but then, Eryx was a scientist, and a bit of a nerd at heart—not trained security—and harshness didn’t come naturally to him.

The door shut behind them and they passed by a series of storage compartments in the rock before entering a kitchen area. It was tiny, and Eryx marched Leander through to the next section, which was open and multi-purpose.

The poacher stopped and let out a whistle. “This is nicer than my ship.”

“Then I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay.” Eryx pulled the vet table away from the wall and into the middle of the room, then stepped back. “Get on it.”

“What?” Leander looked at Eryx, confusion and slight amusement on his face, like he couldn’t believe what he was being asked to do.

Their eyes met. Eryx was determined not to look away, to stare this man down. Leander had brown eyes, captivating in that they perfectly echoed his expression. He was Chinese, and his hair from the front looked nearly as messy as from the back. He wasn’t quite smiling.

“Get your ass on the exam table,” said Eryx.

“It’s metal. It looks cold as—”

“Now!”

Eryx watched the man climb onto the table and sit, hands on either side of himself, gripping the edge.

“Now lay down.”

Leander’s amusement faded and he eyed Eryx, then his gun. He did as told again, letting out a loud sigh as he lay on the metal surface like it was a bed. “Fucking awful day.”

Eryx tried to work out what he should do next. When he’d made it to Base Four, he’d been relieved. He’d intended not to do anything unwise again until the snowstorm passed and he could safely return to home base. But while the communications and main sensors were out here, too, short-range scanning still functioned and had alerted him to Leander’s presence.

What to do with the poacher posed a problem. Eryx didn’t even know how to restrain him properly. To get close, he’d have to set down his gun, and while he had regular training in how to shoot poachers, SeeingSpots never taught them hand-to-hand. But then, Leander had been impressed with the camo tech. Eryx decided to try a bluff.

“Base,” he said, as though speaking to the interactive program. “Lock onto second man’s life signs. Activate defense systems and set to mode two. Shoot him if he moves.”

Eryx had never seen anyone hold so completely still as Leander did. Good. He set aside his gun, glad he wouldn’t have to use it, and crossed to the vet table to pull the straps tight across Leander and fasten them in the cam cleats. He stepped back, surveyed his work, then pulled a length of cord from supplies. He didn’t trust the straps to hold the poacher, so he tied Leander’s wrists, cord passed under the table, to keep him from lifting his hands.

“Base, stand down,” said Eryx. Leander visibly relaxed. Clearly he had no idea Base Four didn’t have defensive capabilities beyond camouflage and a locked door.

“Now what?” asked Leander. He shifted his arms, but the cord held.

“Now we wait out the snowstorm.” Eryx relaxed some, what with his poacher restrained, and moved to put aside the gun before realizing he ought to keep it near just in case Leander tried anything. Eryx had heard stories about those who let down their guard around space pirates and the like.

“Seriously? You’re going to keep me tied to this metal table for hours?”

“More like the next couple days. Storm’s projected to be a big one.”

Leander groaned.

“Can you at least turn down the lights? They’re right in my eyes and my head’s killing me.”

Eryx almost used a vocal command, but caught himself in time; the key words to activate the interface were different than what he’d used to bluff and he had to assume Leander would notice. Instead, he crossed to a wall pad and shut off the lights directly above Leander.

“Hung over?”

“I wish,” said Leander, sounding pissed. “Would mean I at least had a good time recently.”

Eryx didn’t want to listen to the poacher whining, so he retreated to the couch in front of the viewscreen and sat down to have a look at Leander’s weapons. The image projected was from one of the several cameras set up in the area to monitor the snow leopards, although they kept an eye on other resettled wildlife, too, particularly anything the leopards ate. The camera showed little but flakes, and a crusty buildup at the bottom of the screen.

It was getting buried. It should have been a good foot off the ground.

Leander’s knife was old but well maintained, one of the all-purpose varieties, and his stun gun was in a similar state. Not new, not falling into disrepair, although Eryx saw the battery had been replaced with a cheaper version at some point. He pulled it apart and set it to the side. When he glanced at the poacher, he saw Leander watching him.

“What?” he asked.

“You’re the nicest thing to look at in here.”

“Oh, fuck you,” said Eryx, and got to his feet. He wanted to try adjusting communications again.

* * * *

The metal table made his back sore, and even with the lights dimmed, Leander didn’t have much to focus on other than the throb of his headache. And the man who’d captured him.

He stood on the other side of the room at the moment, using a wall pad to run diagnostics. Something at the base was broken. Leander watched the man shrug off his coat and set it aside, scowling as results scrolled across the screen. Apart from the physical discomfort, Leander was a little more comfortable mentally. He’d been around a lot of shady, dangerous people and this man didn’t ping as “security” to him—just the “Some Guy working for Some Company” Leander had been hoping he was. Earlier, he’d set down his gun while tying Leander to a table, which screamed inexperience.

Well, either that or serial killer. But Leander didn’t think he was having that bad of a day.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

The man looked over, and Leander couldn’t tell whether the annoyance on his face was about him or whatever had crapped out at the base. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, come on,” said Leander as the man turned back to the wall pad. “We’re stuck here how many days together? I gave you mine.”

The man put his back fully toward Leander. So he was a bit of a challenge.

“You know we’re going to have to trust each other.”

“Really? You’re going to try that?”

“I’m not trying anything,” said Leander. “Either you’re going to have to let me up at some point or deal with me pissing myself. Can’t hold it for two days.”

The man’s shoulders stiffened. Good…he hadn’t thought about that.


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