Tara closed her eyes. It was easy to trust a man with gray hair and honest, blue eyes. Her muscles tensed in response to the sensation of the cool liquid dripping onto her bruised and burning buttocks. She grabbed the edges of the black medical bed and pushed herself upward until a firm hand in the middle of her back pushed her back down. Turning her head to the side, she stared up at the man and tried to relax.
Quinn massaged the liquid into her tortured buttocks, gently kneading her reddened flesh. “I know it hurts,” he said, “but this will help.”
“I know,” Tara said, trying not to wince at his efforts, “I’m a— I mean, I used to be a doctor.”
Quinn added more ointment and continued rubbing it into her cheeks. “The pillory can change a lot of things, especially the way you see the galaxy and the way it sees you, but it doesn’t change who and what you are.”
“I’m not a thief,” she said.
“I know.” He nodded.
“How could you?” she asked, propping up on her elbows to get a better look into his face.
He kept working the ointment into her skin, avoiding looking into her eyes. “I just do.”
Tara considered her situation for a moment and decided she had nothing left to lose. “You’re hiding something from me, and so is the girl.”
Quinn closed the bottle of ointment and turned to put it back in the medicinal cabinet on the wall in front of the bed. “I’m finished,” he said.
She rolled off the bed onto her feet and smoothed her skirt back into place. Her panties laid on a nearby table, but she decided to leave them where they were. She stared at Quinn’s back until he finally turned around to face her. “It’s not that I’m not grateful. It’s just that LX did such a good job framing me, my own parents thought I was guilty and yet here I am with you and that girl both telling me you know I’m innocent. How could either of you possibly know that?”
Quinn said, “Because we know the real thief’s identity.”
Tara blinked in confusion. “I didn’t think there was a real thief. I thought it was all manufactured just to get me out of the way.”
“Out of the way?” Quinn asked. An eyebrow raised on his forehead. “Out of the way of what?”
Tara shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Maybe not,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.”
She shook her head. “I’d rather talk about where we’re going and why.”
“Suit yourself,” Quinn said. “We’re headed for a system called Rasa to deliver some supplies they need. It’s nothing too exciting and nothing to be worried about.”
“So you’re privateers,” she said.
“Good,” Tara said, “cause I was thinking you were smugglers considering your familiarity with a thief who apparently got a free ride on me.”
“Nothing quite so glamorous,” Quinn said. “Rasa is a remote system which means our delivery is going to take a few days, but we’ll get a nice load of cash out of it. With your share, you’ll be able to start over any place you like and if you stay off the core worlds, no one will even ask the sort of questions you’ll be wanting to avoid.”
“Why would I get a share?” Tara asked. She gazed into his eyes expecting to find secrets and mystery. If they were there, she couldn’t find them. “What are you people expecting me to do?”
“You don’t have to do anything,” Quinn said. “We just want to help you out.”
“But why?” she asked.
“You got a raw deal,” he said. “Kit wanted to do what she could to make it right and I felt the same.”
Tara asked, “Are you the thieves?”
“I’ve never stolen anything,” Quinn said.
“Alright,” Tara said. “So why was that woman chasing us? Kit said she thought you’d stolen something from her and people don’t jump to those kind of conclusions without reason.”
Quinn said, “The person who used to own this ship didn’t always have ethical dealings. The woman back in the city thought because we we’re on this ship, we were in league with the former owner.”
“But you’re not,” she said.
Quinn wavered, swinging his head lightly from side to side. “It’s not that simple. We weren’t, but circumstances changed. We’re not doing anything illegal though.”
“Was that woman with the police?” Tara asked.
“So what are these supplies we’re carrying?” she asked.
“Pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Rasa is apparently in desperate need.”
Tara’s hackles raised. “I imagine that means they could use an extra doctor too.”
Quinn nodded. “I would expect so, but you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
Tara snorted a half laugh. “I’m going to get some rest. It sounds like I’ll need it.”
She left the medical bay and Quinn behind. A few doors down she found an empty room with a bed and stepped inside. She listened by the door until she heard Quinn leave the medical bay and enter the elevator. Alone on the deck, she made her way forward and found the stairwell leading down into the cargo bay. It could all be a coincidence and it was possible the girl and her gray haired friend were just trying to help, but her gut told her such coincidences were unlikely. When she saw the crates and confirmed what was inside, she knew the truth; Her saviors were nothing of the sort. They were smugglers and they were working for LX.