Seducing Stag Page 33

“Exactly,” Stag said, feeling grateful the male took his side. “The engine fluid caused erosion, since the pumps were slow to drain out the section. I fixed those too.”

“I told you I could help out more.”

Stag hid his irritation with Kelis. “Your skills were better used in Control monitoring for any signs of the Markus Models searching for us.”

“Maze could have monitored the sensors since shuttle repair isn’t his forte. We’re moving slow enough for their sensors to misread us.”

“Perhaps they adjusted their sensors. We can’t take that chance. It’s logical for them to assume we suffered severe damage at a minimum if we escaped dead space after they set those bombs. We’d be slow moving or have to find a place to hole up to do repairs. I want someone in charge of Control who is skilled with battle tactics if needed.” Stag glanced at the medic. “We’re also in pirate territory. You might hesitate to fire on them, since they’re known to take female captives. You’d feel sorry for any innocents aboard their ships. No offense, but I wouldn’t put you in that position.”

“None taken.” Maze smiled. “I never want to take your seat, Stag. I don’t want to make those difficult decisions.”

A beep sounded and Stag turned on coms. “Status?”

“Nothing to report but you wanted an update every two hours,” Veller stated. “We aren’t picking up any traffic in this system.”

“You have excellent timing. Repairs are finished. Start engine two, but baby it. Compensate for the difference with thrusters.” Stag motioned the men in the room to move toward the door to a safe spot in case any of the seals blew. “We may as well test them now while we’re in communication.”

A loud hum began and Stag relaxed within minutes when nothing went wrong. He smiled. “Let’s go home, Veller. I’m on my way to you.”

He nodded at his men and left fast, done with the conversation. He knew he’d avoided Nala and didn’t need his crew giving him any crap about it. They wouldn’t understand how unsettling his last conversation with her had been.

He stopped in one of the crew quarters quickly and used the cleansing unit, then borrowed an outfit from Hellion’s storage.

He reached Control five minutes later. Veller stood and moved out of his seat. Stag dropped into his chair, placing his palm over the pad. The screen in front of him showed open space.

Then the sensors almost instantly detected six ships.

Stag wanted to punch something. “Where the hell did all of them come from?”

“Shit!” Veller moved fast, taking the weapons station. “Pirates.”

“I’m reading the radiation signatures too.” Stag opened coms ship-wide to his crew. “Get to Control now.”

“There shouldn’t be so many.” Veller sounded stunned. “Where did they come from so fast? Were they hiding behind the dead planets?”

“It appears so.” Stag evaluated the other ships, their placement, and put the Varnish on high alert when the other ships began to head in their direction. Red lights flashed at the back of the room. “They laid in wait for a ship to come and now are engaging. It seems we’re in for a fight.”

“We’re under orders to avoid conflict if possible,” Veller reminded him. “We should attempt to outrun them.”

“The seals are still hardening. We could lose engine two if we put that much pressure on that new fluid line. We can’t risk it going down and losing power to a main thruster.” Stag changed course. “There are only two ships in this direction. Target them as soon as we’re in range. We just need to stay ahead of the group until it’s safe to full burn.” He mentally calculated how much time it would take. “We have to keep out of their weapon range for five hours.”

Veller grumbled something but it wasn’t loud enough to hear.

“What was that?”

Veller twisted to face him. “We could still outrun them if engine two goes down.”

“We could,” Stag agreed. “But if we lose engine one, we’d come to a full stop and lose all power, including two weapons. I’m not willing to take that risk.”

“I don’t foresee that happening.”

“Did you foresee engine two going down five days ago? I’m certain the stress fractures were caused by our maneuvers out of the dead zone. We scanned but they didn’t show until the leaks happened. The same could happen with engine one.”

Veller’s mouth compressed into a tight line and he faced his station. “Understood.”

Stag regretted snapping at him. They were all under stress, wanted to return to Garden, and being slowed down by repairs always frustrated his crew. He adjusted his tone to a calmer, more neutral one.

“Part of my duty is to take everything into account. We’re heavily outnumbered and now is not the time to take any unnecessary risks. It’s best to be cautious. We’ll damage the two ships, keep ahead of the four trailing us, and outrun them when we’re certain the fixed fluid line can hold the pressure going through it.”

Veller glanced at him and nodded. “You’re right.”

The doors to Control opened and Hellion, Kelis, and Maze entered. Maze spoke first. “Parqel and Yammer are sleeping. Should I wake them?”

“No.” Stag changed course again. “Take stations. Maze, you’re not needed here. I want you back in the engine room watching those new seals. Alert us if they begin to leak.”

“Understood.” Maze spun around and left.

Kelis grunted. “The pirates seem organized.”

“They do,” Hellion agreed. “It’s like they’re communicating with each other and working as a team.”

Another blip showed on sensors. Stag fisted his hand. “There are seven of them now. They are attempting to surround us.”

“We should inform the Star.” Veller glanced at him. “It could be a decoy to lead them from us. Pirates would love to engage a vessel that large.”

“I spoke to Flint four days ago. One of our warning sensors went off in the Ovis System. They went to check out what is there.”

“That puts them too far from us.”

“Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Hellion.” Stag scowled. “We’ll still take out the two ships ahead of us and clear a path. They can trail us. We’re fast enough to stay ahead of them. Otherwise, we’ll turn and take them out one by one. We are better at targeting.”

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