Chapter Twenty-Two – Easy Does It

"We have a problem."

Morgan shifted in bed, wincing as the movement pulled at her still-healing wound, and threw a sardonic glance Merick's way. "Which one?"

Merick let his loosely folded hands fall into his lap. "Dalaxe put a tracker on the ship, just like I thought they would. Now, normally that wouldn't be a problem. You and I have seen enough of those things to be able to dismantle any one of them fairly easily."

"But the problem is…?" Morgan asked, her eyes darkening.

"It's also a bomb."

She stared at him a moment to be absolutely certain he was telling the truth, then let out a slow breath. "We ever gonna catch a break?" she muttered.

Merick shook his head. "Doesn't look like it."

"Can you defuse it?" Even before the question was out of her mouth, she knew the answer. You didn't live with someone for nine years without knowing things like whether or not they could defuse bombs. She sighed at his quick headshake. "Well, what are our options?"

"The way I see it, we've got three options." He ticked each one off on his fingers. "One, we take the risk and try to remove the tracker ourselves and hope that we don't blow ourselves to hell."

"No way."

"I didn't think so either. Door number two is that we drop out of subspace close enough to a densely populated planet and get lost in the shuffle." He shrugged. "With all the traffic around a heavily populated planet—say, Bannar Prime—there's a chance it'll be harder for Dalaxe to single us out."

Morgan chewed her lower lip in thought. "But more heavily populated planets also mean more security. And at this point, we don't know who Dalaxe has in their pocket. No, I think we'd be better off steering clear of any main planets."

He nodded. "Then that just leaves us with one option left."

Her eyes darkened some more. "If you say we have to stand and fight, Merick, I'm going to hurt you."

"I'm glad to see you haven't lost any of your delicate sense of humor," he said, laughing. "But no, what I was going to suggest is that we try and make it to Ru-Kode before Dalaxe finds us again."

"Ru-Kode." Morgan frowned. "Why does that sound vaguely familiar?"

"Tenann Thrael lives there."

"Your mechanic friend?"

"Yep." He leaned back in his chair and propped his boots against the opposite wall. "I'm hoping he'll be able to extract the tracker without damaging the ship."

"You sure he's going to want to help us?" A nasty suspicion had been brewing in her mind for the past couple of days. "I know Dalaxe doesn't have all the power of a planetary government, but it seems to be getting there. Rekker could have wanted notices out on us faster than you could shoot him between the eyes."

"Well, Thrael hasn't always been overly concerned with the confining embrace of the law," he said with a roguish grin. "I think we'll be okay going to him for help."

"Whatever you say," she murmured.

"The only thing is, Ru-Kode is quite a long jump from here. And the way we're running now is the opposite direction." He let the chair fall back to the floor with a thud. "We'd have to drop out of subspace and plot a new jump to Ru-Kode. Based on some preliminary calculations, I'd say it would take us about twenty-three hours."

Morgan tried some quick figuring in her head. "How long would we need to be in real space in order to plot the jump?"

"About five minutes. There's no way that that's enough time for Dalaxe to locate us and send a ship to overtake us. We should be safe."

She snorted. " 'Should' being the operative word."

Merick scratched at the short stubble that had appeared during his day-long vigil by her bedside. "You've got just about as much optimism as Garrett."

"Can you blame us?" The sarcasm in her voice was as hot as engine wash and just as deadly. "Where is Garret, anyway? I haven't seen him in hours."

"He was watching over things in the cockpit for me while I was here with you," he said. "I finally told him to get some rest."

"Oh." She carefully avoided his probing gaze.

"Morgan—"

"I'd rather not talk about it, Captain." She finally raised her eyes to his. "If that's all right with you."

To his credit, he hesitated only a second. "Sure. Now, get some rest. We'll get you to a proper doctor when we get there, but until then I don't want to see you out of bed."

Instantly she was on the defensive. "I don't need a doctor! I'll be fine." She moved to sit up farther and then hissed between her teeth as a surge of pain flared through her torso. "Really," she mumbled.

Merick cocked an eyebrow. "Really?"

He reached into a compartment above and to the right of the bunk, and pulled out a little square of white plastic. He placed the square in the middle of her forehead, ignoring Morgan's fidgeting. After a moment, the device gave a soft beep and a set of numbers appeared.

"One hundred and two degrees." He tossed the thermometer back into the compartment. "I'm not going to pretend like this is nothing, Morg, and I'm not going to risk losing you. You're going to see a doctor just as soon as we reach Ru-Kode."

"But—"

"Or else I've got some very interesting stories that I can regale Tenann and his boys with while they're working on the tracker." A sudden gleam leapt into his eyes. "Or maybe Garrett. Like that time on Waloes when you—"

Morgan looked horrified. "You wouldn't!"

Merick shrugged, an easy grin spreading across his face. "Only if you don't get some proper medical attention. I'd do it because I care."

"Yeah, right," she replied, indignant. "You'd do it because you're a sasnan."

He laughed out loud. "I think the Mathrin would turn a dozen shades of embarrassed to hear their language used like that."

Morgan grumbled softly under her breath and turned over, her slow, careful movements betraying the lingering pain.

Merick watched her critically for a moment, brow furrowing in concern. "Get some sleep. I'll call you if the plan changes." He waited a few more minutes until her breathing evened out into sleep, then switched off the lights and left.