As they neared the correct docking slip, Raena turned to Coni. “Hang out here,” she said, scarcely louder than the rain. “Let me make sure it’s clear.”
Coni found a place to shelter from the storm. Her fur had doubled in weight. Heavens, she hated rain.
She was too far away to hear what triggered it, but Raena spun suddenly, crouching low. Then the loudspeaker over Coni’s head boomed, “On the ground now. Face down. Arms out.”
Coni stared around, panicked. She didn’t know what to do. She wished Mykah was with her.
What seemed like a whole squadron of Planetary Security encircled Raena, rifles trained on her. She looked them over calmly, then knelt, set down her pink shopping bag, and stuck her arms out at shoulder height.
“Face down,” the speaker repeated.
From where Coni was standing, she could see that the tarmac had flooded. Raena didn’t want to lie down in that.
The woman looked so small that it was hard not to think of her as harmless. Coni wanted to race to her rescue, demand to know the charges, protect Raena — but it made more sense logically to keep from being arrested, to work to get the charges dropped from outside the jail. Coni hated herself for being a coward.
As Coni struggled to decide what to do, she saw Haoun galloping down the commonway toward the Veracity. The Security squadron hadn’t seen him yet, but he was going to get himself shot down… Coni flung herself into his path. “Stop!”
Haoun crashed into her. They skidded on the wet walkway and landed in a heap. “What are you doing?” he growled, shoving her away.
Coni struggled to hold him down. “Don’t get yourself killed in front of her,” she ordered.
When they looked back, Raena had complied with the soldiers’ orders. She lay in the puddle, spread-eagled. Security agents surrounded her with rifles at point-blank range.
Coni expected to see Raena spring up, snatch one of those rifles, and beat the security corps off with it, but she didn’t. She lay meekly in the water, let them restrain her and haul her up to her ridiculous boot heels.
Coni scrambled to her feet and pulled Haoun up after her.
“What’s happened?” he demanded.
“Raena and I were shopping when a bounty hunter attacked her this morning. We came back here to get some weapons… Didn’t you get my message to stay away from the ship?”
“Yeah, but Mykah sent another message to say we had to get off Lautan right away,” Haoun argued.
Coni glanced at her comm bracelet to see it flashing. “What’s happened?” she echoed.
“I don’t know.”
The Security detail marched Raena past them. She didn’t turn her head or acknowledge her crewmates at all. The rain had washed her ragged black hair into her face, but with her arms bound, she couldn’t wipe it away.
Coni thought: Raena shackled and sodden, surrounded by soldiers, may be the worst thing I’ve seen in my life. Then she thought over the things Raena had seen and realized how sheltered her own life had been.
Once Security left, people crept out of the nooks in which they’d hidden. Vezali retrieved Raena’s shopping bag as Mykah leaped over the puddles to join Haoun and Coni.
“The Veracity has been impounded,” Mykah panted. Coni hugged him, desperate for comfort. He kept one arm around her waist and held her close.
“Why?” Haoun demanded.
“It’s related to Raena’s arrest somehow,” he said. “Those same agents locked the docking slip just before you came.”
“You’re lucky you weren’t on the ship,” Coni said.
“I was off paying our docking fees so we could get out of here.”
“How did you know they were coming?” Vezali asked.
“I didn’t. We got a message for Raena from one of the Thallian kids. Someone has apparently started up the cloning machinery on his homeworld again. The kid wanted Raena to go check it out.”
Stunned silence greeted that news.
“One of the Thallians invited Raena back to his homeworld,” Haoun echoed. “That’s why you called us to leave?”
“Yeah, but we can’t go now ’til we find out what’s going on with Raena and the ship.”
“Planetary Security didn’t seem to be looking for us,” Vezali observed. “Just Raena.”
Mykah nodded at the shopping bag in Vezali’s tentacle. “Did she steal something again?”
“Not with me,” Coni said. “We were doing a little legitimate boot shopping when a bounty hunter jumped her.”
“Exactly what you’d expect when someone jumps Raena.”
Mykah’s smile flashed past, but he said more seriously, “We need to find out what she’s been charged with.”
Haoun volunteered, “I’ll go to the jail.”
“Not yet. If there’s a bounty on her, let’s find out what it’s for. She won’t like waiting it out, but they want her alive or the bounty hunter would have shot her instead of engaging her.”
“Got a plan?” Coni asked.
“We need to commandeer a public computer so the search can’t be traced to us.”
“Would the business office at a big hotel do?”
“Perfect. Haoun, can you find us a hotel?”
“On it.” He lumbered off.
“What do you want me to do, Captain?” Vezali sketched a salute with one tentacle.
“Get us some walking-around weapons? I didn’t have a chance to get anything out of the lockers. I didn’t even grab my jacket. My Stinger’s still in it.”
“Sure. Meet you for lunch?”
“Yeah, let’s stick to that plan.”
After she left, Mykah turned to Coni. “Did you get a chance to install that kill-switch on the Veracity’s brain?”
Rather than answer, Coni pulled the handheld’s case out of her shoulder bag and handed it to Mykah. “I’m too wet to do it. Can you sign me in?”
Mykah wiped the handheld case on his t-shirt before he opened it. Once it booted up, he typed in her passwords and brought the Veracity online. Coni gave him a string of characters in six different languages. He dutifully typed them in. Coni checked over his shoulder to make sure they were right.
“You’re sure about this?” she asked.
“Raena’s journal is in there. All your recordings of her. The stories she told the Thallian boy… We can’t let anyone get those things. They will destroy her.”
Coni nodded. She had encrypted some of the early stuff, backed it up in a coded info dump off the Veracity. Mellix had other bits of the Veracity’s recordings as research about the Messiah drug. But all Coni’s work on understanding humans, her studies of Imperial history, the book she was writing: it made her sick to think so much would be lost. Still, deleting it was the right thing to do. It was her own damn fault for not backing the Veracity’s memory up somewhere off the ship.
“Tell it to execute,” Coni said. “Then don’t turn off the handheld until it’s done running.”
From this point forward, the Veracity would have new memories. They wouldn’t include going to Mellix’s haven in the asteroid belt. They wouldn’t include the days Jain Thallian spent onboard. There wouldn’t be anything that connected Raena to the Imperial assassin she used to be. It was for the best, Coni knew.
“Now you need a drink,” Mykah said.