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Working together is unavoidable. Falling in love…inevitable.
An Impulse Power story.
Syna Davout thought it was supposed to be a simple smash-and-grab job—smash onto a luxury yacht, grab the cash, and split the proceeds with the client. Unfortunately, the client failed to mention that she’s the diversion for an assassination attempt that destroys the yacht and leaves her with a passenger she never expected. A fugitive telepath caught in the middle of a revolution.
Galen Fash thought his days were numbered. The fledgling revolution on his homeworld needs him to buy them time, with his life if necessary. The last thing he needs is to get involved with a pirate captain-for-hire whose larger-than-life emotions draw him like a moth to a flame.
Inexorably, Syna is dragged into a war that isn’t hers, and they both discover—between knock-down-drag-outs—that their whole is far stronger than the sum of their parts. Dodging the enemies that want them both dead will be hard enough. First, they have to survive each other…
This book contains Space Vikings, gossipy AIs, boxing-as-foreplay, rogue telepaths and a demanding pirate captain who likes to be in charge. The author will not be held responsible for a desire to punch your partner in the jaw, or a sudden awareness of latent psionic ability.
“…Starts out with a bang and only gets more exciting as the story goes on..."
- RT Book Review, 4 Stars
Copyright © 2010 J.C. Hay
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
The air in the assault pod smelled stale, so Syna left the hatch open as long as possible. The musty odor was a sign that the scrubbers were getting old. Replacing those cost money, which she should have in abundance in slightly longer than twenty-four hours. First, however, she had to get through the waiting. Her arms and legs ached, wound like springs in anticipation. Her foot tapped on the floor of the pod in a rapid staccato. “What’s the situation, Bree?”
The computer replied in relaxed tones, the same calm voice it always used. “We’re thirty seconds from approach burn. Seventy from main power cutoff, Captain.”
“Good. Keep me posted.” Too long. The moments before a boarding action stretched out like eternity, too much time to think about all the things that might go wrong. Too much time to second-guess every detail. Syna longed for the actual launch, when all prep would be over and it was make or break.
“Beginning approach burn on mark. And mark.”
There was a low rumble as the engine sprang to life. All around her, the pod shook in its harness—sympathetic to the vibrations of its housing ship. Syna counted backwards from twenty, fingers checking her straps one final time. At five she gripped the handle of the pod’s hatch.
“Position achieved, Captain. We’re floating towards the rendezvous point as planned.” The AI sounded smug, as if reporting its successful maneuver seemed redundant. Syna had heard of artificial intelligences gaining sentience before, just never one as small as a shipboard system. Bree never failed to surprise.
“Nice work, Bree.”
“Of course, Captain. Preparing for main power shut off. You should close your pod now.”
Syna grinned and tugged. The heavy hatch slammed down and pressurized with a soft hiss of air. A thin red light came on in the pod, just enough to see the mirror of the ship’s instruments. “You still there?”
The voice came from a speaker inside the pod, tinny, with a bit of static from the transmission, but unmistakably Bree. “Where else would I be, Captain? Main power shut off—now.”
Through the viewport in the pod, she saw the ship’s corridor go dark. They were inert now, another piece of space debris racing in an unstable orbit around Hamunaptra. With any luck it would get them close enough to launch the pod without getting detected.
Syna thought back to the planetside dive where her client had contracted her. A dingy vid-unit had blared something about another bombing in the government sector, while the client offered her enough money to keep the Hangman’s Quarry in the air for a year in exchange for a simple smash-and-grab job. It had been enough to lure her out of semi-retirement. More than enough to buy off any apprehension she might have had at another boarding action after the mess in Yggdrasil.
Yggdrasil—she had a sudden vision of Anbjorn pulled down beneath a tide of saffron-jacketed soldiers and bit the inside of her cheek to regain her focus. No time for memories. No time for regrets. “Keep talking to me, Bree.”
“Preparing to launch pod, Captain. Target ship is sighted.”
“Describe her to me.” Anything to take her mind off the waiting. Anything to keep her from thinking about the past.
“Narcissus-class personal yacht. Minimum crew one, maximum three. Heat signatures abnormal, leading me to believe the owner has modified the engines heavily.”
“Of course not, Captain. I can fly circles around that heap.” Syna chuckled while the AI continued. “And I don’t need unsanctioned modifications to do it.”
“Your programmers left modesty circuits out, didn’t they.”
“On the contrary, I was programmed to understand my limitations completely.”
“Oh, of course. Anything else I should know about the target?”
“Not much to go on, Captain. I didn’t want to alert them with a scan.”
Of course not, it would defeat the entire purpose of running dark. The AI’s systems and the pod’s life support were both minimal signatures, well below the normal threshold for a sensor array. Without the mains on line, there was little chance of the Quarry being picked up with anything less than a deliberate and thorough search. And even then the sensor operator would have to know they were there. Syna twisted, scratching her back against the acceleration pad behind her.
“Maximum number aboard for a Narcissus-class?”
“At full occupancy, passengers and crew, no more than fifteen. And life support could only handle that many for in-system trips.”
Wonderful, at the best it’d be an even fight, at worst she’d be outnumbered fifteen to one. Assuming they decided to resist at all. Syna hoped the element of surprise would eliminate that idea from their minds. Bree had planned to launch the pod at the precise moment the yacht crossed out of the magnetosphere. The transition created a sensor shadow that could allow a skilled pirate to attach without being detected.
“What’s the count, Bree?”
“Twenty seconds to launch, Captain. Be ready.”
“No prayers for the Mother of Machines to protect me?”
“Sorry, Captain. I wasn’t programmed to be superstitious, either.”
“Very well. Count my final five.” Syna checked her straps another time, made certain her monoblade was still at her hip. The ache in her legs seemed to fill her entire lower body.
“Launch in five, Captain. Four.” Bree’s voice continued to be warm and affectionate, but Syna could have sworn the machine sounded eager. “Three.” She suspected the AI appreciated being employed for nonstandard purposes. “Two.” Piracy tested the boundaries of its abilities, which Bree seemed to enjoy. “Launch.”
The pod flared white and lurched with launch acceleration. The Gs slammed Syna into the thick pad and turned the edges of her vision red as blood leaked into her retinas. She thumbed the switch on her autodrug and flooded her system with adrenaline. Clarity rushed into her brain, and the lead fled from her limbs with a scream of synthetic endorphins. Syna’s eyes snapped open, the red haze receding as her blood pressure spiked.
At long last, the moment had come.
The time for thinking had ended. Now there was only action.
“We’ve got company.” Jonas flipped a switch and tapped on the forward scanner. “Small ship. Shu-class. Looks like the Tse aren’t going to let us go without a fight.”
Galen checked the monitor. The white-green blur above Jonas’s finger was too regular, too steady in course, to be anything other than a ship. Jonas’s nervousness brushed at the edges of Galen’s perception, and he pushed it away. “Maybe it’s nothing.”
“I doubt it.” Another light blinked into life on the console. “They’re firing a pod.”
“Boarders? That seems risky.”
Jonas brushed the two metal studs in his temple—a present from the Hegemony’s academy on Xianshi. “Not if they want to take us alive.”
Galen’s flight response kicked in, a moment of terror at the rumors of the horrors the Tse inflicted on those with psi-talent. He felt a gentle push from Jonas to calm him. The only problem with sending two psions on a mission, they tended to feed off each other’s emotions. Unfortunately, circumstances demanded it.
It could be worse. At least we aren’t lovers.
“You’re not my type, for starters.”
Galen glanced over at Jonas, brow furrowed at the touch of his partner’s voice in his head. “Surface scanning? That’s so rude.”
“You’re tough to miss. You’re broadcasting so badly, you may as well have a loudspeaker.”
“I’ll try and tone it down then. Put us on an evasive course, I’m going to head back and repel them. With only one pod, they can’t be sending more than two people.” Two soldiers, likely trained in black-ops and psi-retrieval, and likely completely resistant to any manipulation he could push towards them. He left that part unspoken. They had both understood the danger when they’d agreed to the trip.
Besides, Jonas could pluck it out of his brain without needing to hear it aloud.
The main room would make an effective bottleneck—the handful of corridors on the small yacht all fed into it, and Galen could hold the bridge corridor as a fallback position. Worst-case scenario, they could drop through the emergency shuttle underneath the bridge. That would get at least one of them out alive, and as long as one was alive, there was hope to complete the mission.
“Pod contact in thirty seconds.” Jonas’s voice came over the comm-unit in the wall.
Galen pressed the switch. “I thought you were going to evade.”
“They’ve got a lock on us. Whoever’s piloting that thing knows what he’s doing.”
A deep metallic bang sent a shiver through the yacht as grappling magnets gripped the hull. “I thought you said we had thirty seconds!”
Jonas yelled down the hall, his voice amplified by the echo. “New contact! New contact! Bastards must’ve launched a second pod while we were in the shadow!”
On cue a second clang echoed through the ship as the other pod attached itself.
Galen tapped an access code into the weapons locker in the corridor. As it hissed open, he slid his hand around the slow-moving door and grabbed a fléchette pistol and two clips. No time for games. He would not let them take him alive. Not to be some subject for a Tse scientist on Xianshi.
The clip slid into the pistol and acted to counterbalance the firing mechanism. Loaded, the weapon became so perfectly balanced as to be weightless. Galen ran to the main room and dropped to one knee behind a table. No comm-unit waited nearby, so he took a deep breath and focused his thoughts. “Any more pods?”
Jonas’s thoughts came back clear. “Negative. They’re holding position on the edge of firing range.”
Galen braced the pistol across the top of the table and hoped he was a small target. The yacht wasn’t designed for shipboard combat. All he could see was the amount of open space even his best defensive position presented. The Tse excelled at shipboard combat, and he was certain they were already planning their best assault based on the layout of the yacht. Two pods. Four attackers. A gambling man would have bet against him.
Galen loved to play the long odds. The Tse were methodical—they acted according to strict procedures. He changed his plan on the spur of the moment. A quick push and he vaulted up over the table and towards the aft corridor.
He found them coming in through the rear lock, the black interior of their assault pod still visible through the door. The two soldiers wore saffron-colored vac-suits, the look of surprise evident on their faces as they heard him charge.
Galen fired his fléchette pistol. A cloud of ceramic needles buzzed from the muzzle and shattered harmlessly against the faceplate of one of the soldiers. The trooper winced away, even as his comrade focused on Galen as a threat. It was the opening Galen needed.
He pushed, hard as he could, to overcome any defenses the grunt had in place. You’re suffocating. No air. Something’s wrong with your suit. Pain flared behind Galen’s right eye, and something warm dripped from his nose. Damn, ruptured something.
The soldier screamed and grabbed at his helmet. Thick-gloved fingers threw open latches as he ripped the can off his shoulders. Galen fired again, and this time the fléchettes found meat and bone instead. The soldier collapsed, just as his partner brought an autofléchette to bear.
“New pod! New pod! New pod!” Jonas shouted over the comm and in Galen’s head simultaneously.
Galen dropped behind a bulkhead as the rifle barked in the soldier’s hands. Shards exploded against the walls and burned through Galen’s shirt. He felt a few break the skin; nothing permanent, nothing serious.
The soldier fired again as Galen jumped back into the main room. The second shot ripped into his calf. Needles buried themselves in the muscle, and Galen shrieked in pain.
“You okay?” Jonas’s presence in Galen’s skull calmed him. He took a breath, felt Jonas tripping the pathways that blocked the pain in his leg, prepared himself for another push into the Tse’s mind. He could taste the blood on his lips now, felt it run in a slow current from his nose.
“Yeah. There’s only two down here. Where’s the other pod?”
In an answer to his question, the door from one of the side corridors opened and another soldier—a woman, with no vac-suit—charged into the room.
Syna exploded through the door and plowed into the soldier, shoulder first. The Tse fell back and tried to bring his autofléchette to bear, but Syna already had her monoblade in hand. She pulled back on the blade’s activator and the monomolecular edge of the sword blurred into life. The soldier blanched at the characteristic shriek of the blade, and she could see him mouth the weapon’s feared nickname—screamsword.
The fear in the Tse’s eyes didn’t register. Syna saw only Anbjorn screaming, his axe rising and falling in lethal arcs as the saffron-suited soldiers overwhelmed him. Her heart felt like a lump of ice, her rage the only fire that could melt it free.
To his credit, the soldier responded quickly, his rifle swinging up to block the shot with a speed born of reflex. Against any other weapon it would have been enough. Against the sub-microscopic edge of her screamsword it was as effective as air. The blade split the rifle without resistance and continued into the torso beyond. Syna saw the soldier gasp in surprise, then kicked him free of the blade and sent his corpse tumbling back.
Bastards. What in the seven hells were the Tse doing out on the frontier? It was one thing to see them well within Hegemony borders, like Yggdrasil, but out here on the edge of civilized space? Her hopes of a decent plunder washed away on a tide of anger and bloodlust. Nothing personal, she tried to convince herself, a business decision, not revenge. The Tse would never allow her to take anything off-ship now that they controlled it, so it was in her best interests to remove the interlopers as fast as possible.
“Bree, I’ve got Tse on board, where’d they come from?”
“A warship pulled out of the lunar shadow at roughly the same time as we did. I don’t think they’ve seen us.”
“How many assault pods?”
“Two made contact, they could be holding some in reserve.” The computer sounded annoyed at the change in plans, frustrated that it hadn’t detected the tiny assault craft until too late. Syna felt a pang of sympathy—she hated being reminded of her own fallibility.
“Can you target their home ship?”
“Negative, Captain, not without giving away our position. Normal weapon payloads can’t reach me from their current location.”
“Monitor that. If they close on you, I want them hulled. Got me?”
“Affirmative, Captain. I can try and detect how many are on board. How many crew are left?”
Syna froze. Crew. She’d forgotten about the Tse’s opponent. The monoblade still shrieking, she turned to find him. He sat on the floor a few feet away, a fléchette pistol in a two-handed grip and trained on her center of mass.
She released the blade’s trigger and it fell silent. “Where are the others? How many crew on board?”
He stared at her, and she fixed her eyes on his to make certain he knew she was talking to him. “Where’s the rest of the crew? How many?”
“Just one. On the bridge.”
It took Syna a moment to realize that the crewman’s lips hadn’t moved. The river of blood pouring from his nose took on new meaning, and she pressed her arm to her eyes. She ran towards where she remembered seeing the bridge corridor, her mind racing through multiplication tables, lyrics of songs, anything she could think of to keep the fingers of the psi’s will from getting hold in her brain.
Her shoulder clipped the edge of the door and she spun into the wall, pain flashing white in her closed eyes. She risked a glance, realized she was in the bridge corridor and got ready to move.
“There’s another pod.” His voice, his real voice, in the air behind her.
“I’m sorry. It was reflex. I panicked.”
She risked a look back, but the crewman had a hand covering his eyes. Protecting her. His leg, she realized, had been shredded by fléchettes. His tolerance for pain had to be amazing just to stand, let alone move around. “Where’s the emergency shuttle? Under the bridge?”
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
Only if you wanted off the ship. The Tse likely used it as a secondary entrance. Tertiary, she corrected. She’d occupied one of the airlocks with her own assault pod. Her presence may well have forced them to the shuttle locks.
“Tell your friend not to perforate me, and I’ll get these Tse vermin off your ship.”
“Who in the hells are you?”
“Just tell him.” She started up the corridor, dropping from bulkhead to bulkhead rather than making a straight shot. If the Tse came up through the shuttle, then they likely already held the bridge. Syna saw no point in giving them an easy shot.
She tucked into a corner and called back to the Quarry. “Bree, scan for life forms.”
“I’ve got four life forms aboard the yacht, Captain.”
Four. She and the psion were two of those, and she knew there was no chance that the Tse had only sent one in their pods. That meant her new friend had taken out one on his own. Perhaps the other crewmember had done the same. Hells, anything could happen.
There was a scream behind her as Syna darted up to the next bulkhead. She thought about looking back, but sudden movement in the door to the bridge pulled her attention forward. A ragged human form appeared in the doorway, chest ravaged by fléchette rounds. The corpse teetered for an instant before a boot sent it skidding down the corridor. Another saffron-suited soldier stepped into the door, rifle at the ready. Syna pressed back behind the bulkhead, anticipating the coughing bark of the autofléchette turning the hall into a whirlwind of sharp ceramics. Instead a heavy voice, thick with a Hegemony accent, filled the hall.
“Galen Fash, you are under arrest for violation of the Tse Precepts of Harmonious Living. Come quietly, and no one else will get hurt. Continue to resist, and your ship will be hulled.”
She looked back the way she’d come, but the mouth of the corridor stood empty.
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||Date Added: Saturday 09 April, 2011
Space pirate Syna Davout takes a commission for a basic smas... View Full Review
Rating: [5 of 5 Stars!]
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