Leroy was shoulder deep in Gypsy Lass’s elevator gears. The metal cage was stuck halfway down to the docks on New Earth, where they’d stopped to refuel before going to Mercury. Having to jump the rest of the way down to the ground was undignified to say the least, and the captain hadn’t been happy about it. Leroy bit his lip as he reached in farther, feeling where the bits and pieces were misaligned.
To their surprise, the crew had been given a job by King Ekon: pick up building supplies from Mercury and deliver them back to Mars. Mercury, conveniently, was the farthest place from the kingdom, except for the prison planet of Alcatraz, and it didn’t take them long to reach the conclusion that Ekon wanted them out of the way.
Because he intended to kill Shots.
No great loss, if you asked Leroy.
He pulled his arm out of the open panel and touched the linker in his ear. “Did you turn off the power to the loading bay?”
“For the third time, yes,” Jax replied.
“I’m just asking. Do you want me to lose a limb?”
There was a silence, just long enough to be offensive. Jax had always been good at getting the desired effect without speaking much. Leroy, on the other hand, used too many words. He knew that. He’d start talking, hoping something made someone laugh or smile, made them want to keep talking.
And then he kept going, craving more, even while a part of him hated that he felt such a need for attention. He’d been called annoying plenty as a kid, and he lived in constant fear that now, even as an adult, he hadn’t kicked the label.
Maybe that was why he hated Shots so much. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. He just told Leroy he was everything he feared, like it didn’t matter, like they were all as dead inside as he was.
Capri had liked him. She’d thought he was funny and fed his ego without ever realizing it. As usual, he’d gone too far. He still felt the sting of her rejection, the surge of anger upon realizing she found that animal more attractive.
If Jax had taught him anything it was that people couldn’t help who they fell for. He and the captain didn’t talk about it much. They weren’t showy. It kept things professional, and it kept Leroy from feeling like a third wheel. But he knew Colin was the last person his brother would have chosen to fall for. Jax was all lists, rules, and order. Falling for a superior was messy. Jax was supposed to be under the captain—figuratively.
Leroy smirked at his own joke and fitted the wrench to the gear. He pulled hard, muscles straining beneath light brown skin, and he felt the gear shift, tighten, and fall back into place. He smiled with satisfaction and touched his linker again.
“You can restore power.”
“I already did.”
Leroy glared at nothing and jammed his finger into the button on the control panel. The elevator clanked down to the ground. He called it back, then released it once more. Satisfied with the results, he put everything back together before calling it back to the loading bay. His back was turned to the metal cage, and the captain’s voice made him jump.
“Shit,” he muttered, spinning around. “Captain.”
“Anyone could have climbed on.”
Leroy’s cheeks flushed. “Sorry.”
“I need to talk to you,” Colin continued, plugging a few notes into a reader before slipping the thin sheet into his back pocket. “The contractors on Venus can supply everything we need for Mars.”
“That’s lucky, but won’t that be more expensive?”
“We won’t see a profit.”
Leroy burned with irritation. “What’s the point?”
The captain narrowed his gaze. He was under a lot of stress, and his patience was thin. “The point is this is the only chance we have at saving Shots from execution. Is everything on the ship in working order?”
“As far as I know.”
“Good. Then you’ll go from here back to Mars. Use a fake name. Land at the far docks. You’re the only one who might be able to get the information we need to get him out.”
Leroy was frozen. He felt so many things: proud that he was being entrusted with something so important; afraid of traveling through space alone for the first time; angry that he was expected to do something so risky for a man he doubted very much would lift a finger to help him.
The captain was waiting for a response. Leroy wondered briefly if he should voice his thoughts, but he’d never been one to keep from saying things he shouldn’t.
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to…hire someone else?”
Anger flickered across Colin’s face, but Leroy could see the question didn’t come as a surprise. He wondered what that said about him and felt a bit ashamed.
“If you’re ever in the same situation, should we just hire someone else?”
“All due respect, Captain, I don’t think you’d ever find me in a similar situation. He got himself there.”
“You might not like him, but he’s a member of this crew.” Colin was always careful not to let the fact they were also family by marriage play into it. “Do I need to make this an order?”
Leroy knew he wouldn’t win this one. He hadn’t expected to, but it was a way to air his grievance.
“No, Captain,” he muttered.
“Look through the work rosters from a few years back and see who he worked with at the palace, who he might have been friends with. There might be someone who could take a message to Capri.”
Leroy perked up. He might see her again. He was suddenly very glad the captain hadn’t listened to his complaints.
“We’ll talk more about it over dinner. Pack so you’re ready to leave after. I’ve booked you passage for tonight.”