“Why am I finding myself in postal brigs?” Jonaldy lay on his back on the top bunk, staring at the annoyingly bland paint.
“I know, right? I was in this brig not too long ago.”
Jonaldy looked at Bophendze, who sat like a robot on the brig’s bench. Bophendze stared straight ahead, oblivious to Jonaldy’s movement. “Is that what was going on when we met?”
Bophendze shifted to a more natural posture and looked at Jonaldy. He breathed deeply, as if he had woken from a nap. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“You said you were in this brig. Why?”
Bophendze looked confused for a moment. “Yeah. Caused a little too much property damage than Postmaster Amzi wanted. He wanted a ship captured so he could profit by reselling some of its contents on the black market.”
“I blew the whole bowbing thing up.” Bophendze mimed an explosion with his hands. “Boom. Oops.”
“Is that a pattern with you?”
Bophendze stood up and stretched. “You mean, am I going to get you killed? Not if I can help it. You’re a civilian. ‘Protect and Serve’ and all that. You’re more likely to get me killed. Jumping into Keichan space to rescue a member of the royal family? By ourselves? We should have taken the whole detachment. At least a couple of cruisers. Keichan space or not. Show of force. And, we should have offed her kidnappers.”
“So you believe me?”
“There was hesitation in her voice. I think she started to doubt whether her former crew was on her side.”
“I didn’t notice any hesitation.”
“Well, you’re a piece of meat. You wouldn’t.”
Jonaldy noticed the condescension in Bophendze’s voice. “I happen to be trained in picking up deception.”
Bophendze chuckled. “How’s that working out for you?”
Jonaldy stayed silent for a while. “Now what?”
Bophendze stretched. “We should be returning to post now. Probably another day.”
“Postal orbital. Post.”
A few days later, Jonaldy and Bophendze were escorted out of the brig. The time was suitably boring, with Bophendze explaining some game named “Batulo” to Jonaldy. At least, he thought that’s what it was called. Jonaldy was never much for card games and paid little attention. He tried to think of a way out.
It only took a couple of beats for them to pass through the ship’s airlock into the orbital. Post, Jonaldy tried to remind himself. They were accompanied by marine guards. The other marines who joined Jonaldy and Bophendze joined them. Each had their hands bound. When he looked at them, either they looked resigned to whatever happened, or stared back at him in anger. Jonaldy had a hard time blaming them. There was nothing they had to confirm whether the mission they just participated in was valid.
They arrived in Amzi’s office, or at least in the anteroom. The door to Amzi’s interior office was closed and sound proofed. Jonaldy and the marines waited outside for the better part of a cycle.
The office door opened. A well-dressed man walked out. The trappings indicated aristocrat. Probably a minion of the planetside governor.
“Let her know she is welcome to visit the surface. If not, he’ll come to her.”
That’s a little disdainful of her station.
Amzi followed the man out. “I’ll tell her. She’s keen on waiting for her yacht and moving on. Better come to her.”
The look on the other man’s face indicated that was not desirable. He bid his farewell and departed.
Amzi looked at everyone waiting in the anteroom. As the man left, Amzi’s face shifted from somewhat happy to frustrated. “Ensign, release those over there. They’re not culpable. Return them to duty. Jonaldy, Bophendze, enter.”
Once inside, Amzi returned to his desk and sat in the oversized chair.
It was the first time Jonaldy paid attention to the interior. The furniture was of an antique style. It looked like wood, but that would be far too expensive for a postmaster to use. It was probably printed to look like wood. Even the walls were paneled in the faux wood. The door had a cushioned padding behind it. It was far too fancy.
Amzi glanced at Bophendze for a moment. His look of disgust was obvious. “Still looking for your salute?” His scoff was exaggerated.
Bophendze did not respond.
“So, not a liberator but a kidnapper?”
Jonaldy had days to think of how to approach this meeting. That he was suddenly at a loss for words confounded him. He tried to speak, but stuttered.
“Really? Nothing to say for yourself?”
“Mission,” Jonaldy finally managed to say.
“Mission. What kind of mission?” Amzi was not in a friendly mood.
“I am on a mission to rescue and protect the princess.”
“Says you. She says she doesn’t need rescuing. In fact, she accused you of kidnapping her. As soon as her yacht arrives, she’ll board with her security detail and depart.”
“They are not her security detail. She just thinks they are.”
Amzi nodded. “Because she would not know what her detail looks like? She interacts with them daily for years until you show up and accuse them of being kidnappers. Not hardly.”
“I was told to rescue her.”
The question gave Jonaldy pause. Giving away the Firm was forbidden. Marin did not give him a suitable cover story. He tried to remember what she said about the mission.
“I can’t give you details. You don’t have need to know. But, with the imperial crisis, she’s in danger.”
“From you. That bint that was with you. Did she put you up to this?”
Jonaldy chose not to reply.
“Because she’s trouble.” Amzi thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think she or her handler put you up to this. I’ll just leave her out of the official record. You are a rogue operator, are you not?”
“I am not. I am her to rescue her.”
“Repeating that does not make it true. If you have nothing substantial to say, then the trial will be brief.”
Amzi pressed a brass button on the faux wood desk. Jonaldy thought the brass was fake, too.
The door opened.
“Escort the prisoner to the brig. We’ll have to put together a proper court martial.”
“I am not a member of the Postal Service.”
“Protest all you want. This is a Postal orbital. You commandeered Postal resources to attempt to kidnap and kill the princess. The civilian authorities below are not interested in taking jurisdiction. You will be court martialled.”
Amzi held up a hand. “Thinking of appealing to the Emperor? The woman you kidnapped is the wife of the crown prince. As soon as the election is over, he’ll be emperor. An appeal to him will probably not be as charitable.”
Jonaldy thought he looked a little uncomfortable.
“Her opinion will decide the conclusion of this imbroglio.”
Amzi looked at the guard. “Take him away.”
With Jonaldy out of the office, Amzi breathed a heavy sigh. “I hope this mess would just go away. What do you think, Gunny?”
“I think you owe me a salute.”
Amzi shook his head. “Don’t start that. I checked the regs. You’re under arrest. No salute authorized. But, you know that, don’t you? Look, we both know he came to us with his fantastic tale of saving the princess. You were there when he and that bint showed up.”
“What of it?”
Amzi’s face looked more charitable. “This little matter needs to be put to bed quietly. All I need from you is a sworn affidavit as to what happened. You can go about your business.”
Bophendze grew skeptical. “Just like that? A signature and I’m free to go?”
“But you know I’m not culpable in doing anything more than following your order. It sounds to me like you ordered me to participate in her kidnapping.”
Amzi cleared his throat. “We’ll let that matter go as well. That’s the price for all charges being dropped.”
Amzi’s emphasis on all surprised Bophendze.
$- He means the other matter, too, puppet.
I know. He lost quite a bit when that happened. My compliance is valuable to him.
$- What are you thinking?
“Let me think about it. Outside the brig.”
“Um, ah. Sure. Sure. Stay on post, but you’re free to consider it. But be quick. I’d like to have this matter resolved before she departs.”