Authors: Odette C. Bell
Tags: #space opera, #sci fi action adventure, #space opera romance, #sci fi action adventure romance, #science fiction action romance, #science fiction romance adventure
She knew there was no point.
So Sarah leaned down, plucked up her pillow,
brushed the remnants of her lamp off it, secured it under her head,
and went back to sleep.
As she drifted off and a new dream rose to
meet her, she couldn't deny one sensation.
It felt as if someone was walking over her
He stood in the large room, back directed
towards the view as he neatened his uniform and waited.
He didn't have to wait long.
A second later, the doors opened, and
Admiral Forest walked in, leading two Corthanx Traders.
They were small, with hunched bodies, faces
hid entirely by cloaks.
It was a crime in their culture to reveal
A useful rule – as the Corthanx Traders
were known for their illicit ways. He hadn't been kidding when he'd
said they would trade with anyone. And if you did commit yourself
to a life of crime, it sure was handy to keep your appearance under
He let a pressured breath sink deep into his
chest. It pushed his shoulders out, suddenly made him keenly aware
of his implants.
Though he'd agreed to stow his misgivings,
he couldn't ignore them completely.
He'd promised himself, every night before
going to sleep, that he would never help the Barbarians in any way.
Maybe Admiral Forest was right, and the traders no longer had any
ties to the Barbarian Empire – but Karax doubted that. Which meant
that right now, right here, he was betraying his values.
Naturally, his jaw stiffened.
The admiral led the traders into the room,
completing all perfunctory greetings and switching smoothly into
the role of the gracious host.
There were several other high-level officers
in the room.
Technically speaking, Karax shouldn't have
to do a thing. He was only here to assess the worth of the true
intelligence holograms, not to make the traders feel at home.
So it didn't take long until he found
himself turning, his gaze searching the horizon.
Once more – as ever – he was pulled into the
scale of the Academy grounds framed by the sky above. And yet,
while that scale could usually take his breath away, he found his
gaze searching through the buildings until it locked on one of the
It was where Sarah Sinclair lived.
He found himself wondering if she was okay.
Yes, he knew it was a stark turnaround from his attitude this
morning, and yet the more he thought about her, the more he felt
sorry for her.
Her troubles had been an academic fact
Now that image of her thrashing in the
cobbled laneway would be with him for life.
The admiral cleared her throat. “Lieutenant
Karax here will be in charge of implementing our training
Karax spun on his foot and realized the
diplomatic party were behind him. “Yes, sorry, admiral, that's
correct.” He nodded politely at the two traders. “I will be
implementing the program. And I must say, I have quite a few
One of the traders raised a hand
dismissively. “All questions will be answered by a
He frowned. “It will take some time to adapt
the Academy's holographic emitters to sustain your program. And it
may be best that we do not try at this stage—” he began, not even
attempting to hide the wariness in his tone.
The trader waved dismissively towards him
again, not even bothering to look his way, locking its attention on
the admiral instead. “First demonstration will be with a portable
holographic kit.” Without pause, the trader stepped aside, and the
other trader brought up a case it had been holding stiffly in its
Without waiting for permission, it dropped
to one knee and opened the case. As soon as it did, the case began
to change, growing into a box-like console with strips of green
light glowing down the sides.
Immediately Karax twisted to stare at the
He waited for her to tell the traders that
this was out of line. That it was too soon.
She didn't. Instead she stood there, hands
clasped behind her back, stony expression locked on the
... Even though her expression was
controlled, he swore he saw something underneath.
Something he convinced himself could never
He had no idea how many resources the
Coalition had lost to the Ornax. But as he stared at Forest, he
realized it had to be enough to push the admiral this far.
Before Karax could be potentially
insubordinate and voice his own concerns, the portable emitter
jerked into life.
A split second later, the woman in white
Half an inch in front of Karax's face.
He jolted back, eyes growing wide and
locking on that smooth helmet, especially the two red lines that
ran down her left cheek.
This close, he could clearly see that they
were smeared blood.
The woman in white... was perfect.
She was indiscernible from a real live human
Even as one of the traders shifted in front
of the portable emitter, the hologram didn't change. Didn't
flicker. It remained just as perfect as before.
Before he knew what he was doing, Lieutenant
Karax reached out a hand and tapped it on the woman in white's
... Real. The sound of his fingers rapping
against the metal, the feel of the armor's texture under his skin.
He could even hear the steady low beat of her breath.
As he drew his hand back and let it fall
slack at his side, he shifted to the left.
Her helmet turned to follow him, her
chestnut brown hair tapering down her back.
There was something about that hair—
“Who will fight Sora?” One of the traders
“What, here?” Karax questioned
The trader nodded. “Here. Now. Sora is
versatile. Can fight in any setting.”
The trader pointed at the woman in
Sora was an unusual name around these parts,
but not where he came from.
In fact he'd known a Sora on his home
planet... she too had died like his brother in the first wave of
Karax couldn't help but stiffen, and as
tension climbed up his back and locked into his jaw, Sora tilted
her head to the side and appeared to watch him, the end of her
ponytail trailing over her left shoulder.
It drew his attention to... something.
At the nape of her neck, was a point.
Nothing more than a black triangle sunk a little under the line of
He frowned at it.
He brought a finger up and pointed at it,
knowing he couldn't push his curiosity away. “What's that?”
“Irrelevant,” one of the traders snapped.
“Only thing that is relevant is who wants to fight her.”
The admiral cleared her throat. “It would be
inappropriate to hold a display match in this room. It simply isn't
“Inappropriate doesn't count,” the trader
said. “Only thing that counts is learning to fight like the Ornax.
They will fight you in boardrooms, in buildings, anywhere. You must
learn to fight them, too.”
It was a halting argument, not helped by the
trader's stilted turn of phrase. Yet it appeared to have an effect
on the admiral.
She shook her head lightly before nodding.
“Very well. A simple demonstration. An easy one. I don't want
anyone thrown out the windows. Nor do I want any damage to the room
or my people. Do you understand?”
The trader bowed low, its cloak always
remaining firmly over its eyes. Even in a full wind, a Corthanx
cloak would not blow up and reveal its owner's face.
Karax assumed that the trader would wait –
find out who wanted to tussle with the hologram before turning it
The trader didn't wait.
It made a specific gesture with its hand,
and Sora appeared to come to life. But that wasn't entirely
correct, even as she stood there, she still breathed, still shifted
her head around with attentiveness.
But this, this was different. In a single
second, she shifted forward, right towards him.
He was the closest, sure, yet he couldn't
help but suspect that she zeroed in on him for some other
Whatever it was, it didn't matter.
Her speed and agility did.
He shifted to the side, pivoted on his foot,
rounded his shoulder, and shoved her as she went to grab him.
She wasn't strong enough that she could
withstand his blow. Instead, she absorbed it, pushed into a roll,
and immediately snaked out with a kick.
She saw an opportunity he hadn't, and he
paid for it.
The kick sank into his right ankle, and he
was pushed off balance.
Rather than slam to the floor, he shunted
He shoved out at her with a kick.
It was well-placed, and let out a resounding
clang as his boot slammed against her armored ankle.
Again she fell, but again she rolled.
She shoved forwards and shifted behind him,
wrapping a strong arm around his neck and pushing hard against his
He let out a roar as he used the cybernetic
implants in his right shoulder to shore up his back and give him
the power to latch a hand on her arm and yank it forward.
Though his move was strong enough to break
her grip, she instantly responded by locking a leg around his
stomach, pushing into it, and knocking him off balance.
Before he knew what was happening, she
rolled onto his back, dug her elbow into the base of his spine in a
vicious move, and latched onto his neck.
He tried to shift a hand around, tried to
grab her arm, but he couldn't reach.
He began to splutter as she choked the life
out of him.
It didn't last.
Admiral Forest strode forward. “End the
Sora pushed off his back and stood quietly,
her hands now loose by her sides.
It took him a few seconds to regain his
breath, his senses, too.
That fight had been breakneck.
Sora hadn't stopped.
She'd been relentless.
And yes, as he pushed to his feet and locked
his enquiring gaze on her helmet, he could appreciate that she was
no ordinary hologram.
He stared at her warily, his chest punching
in and out until his breath settled.
One of the traders strode forward and stared
up at the admiral. “Like demonstration? Satisfied with
The admiral appeared to ignore the trader as
she stared at Karax instead. “What are your impressions,
“That, that was... one hell of a fight.” He
tentatively touched his neck, prying fingers searching for
“It wasn't a fair fight,” one of the
officers in the room pointed out. “She was wearing full armor.
What's the point of this simulation if we can't program it to match
the skill level of our students?”
“She was wearing armor, but it is nothing
more than metal plating. She is programmed to be easily defeated,”
the trader explained.
Karax couldn't help but laugh as he dropped
his hand from his neck. “That didn't feel like easily defeatable to
“This is Sora's lowest setting. You can use
her in multiple ways and in multiple scenarios. With time, you will
become better at fighting her, but she will also adapt to your
methods. This is what you want, no?” The trader fixed his attention
on the admiral. “A program that will help you train like the Ornax?
Train, regardless of whether you know you will lose?”
There was silence as everyone present
considered the trader's words.
Finally the admiral nodded. “Yes, that's
what we're after. Thank you for this initial demonstration, but we
will require more before we agree to procure this product. We must
also assess whether it is compatible with current Coalition
Both traders nodded. “Then let the
The traders were led into another room by
the group of officers, as Admiral Forest hung back to hear Karax's
As soon as the doors closed and they were
alone, she rounded on him.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest
and nodded at his neck. “Was that real, lieutenant? Or were you
He didn't even have to consider her
question. He shook his head. He coughed past his raspy throat.
“Hell no, admiral. She almost crushed my throat.”
“What's your initial assessment?”
Again, Karax didn't have to pause. “That the
traders are right – that hologram was definitely different to any
I've ever fought before. It's not just the fact she's seamless and
solid, indistinguishable from a person, it's how she thinks. There
was true intelligence behind her moves. You could tell she was
adapting to the way I fought. Heck, I felt I could even see it in
“You couldn't see her eyes, lieutenant,” the
admiral corrected. “She had a helmet on.”
“I can't put my finger on it, admiral, but
there was definitely something there.”
“I agree. Though I wasn't the one fighting
this Sora, my observations concur with yours. This doesn't mean I'm
ready to commit the Academy to acquiring this technology yet. But
it's a step in the right direction.”
He began nodding, but stopped. “Aren't you
worried about any security implications?”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Security
“Do you really want to give a couple of
Corthanx Traders free access to our holo emitters?”
“That was never on the cards, lieutenant.
They will be supervised wherever they go. However, if your initial
experience and my observations are correct, this is not a
technology we can pass up. It would revolutionize our ability to
train and properly prepare our cadets. It will show them not just
how to win, but how to survive.”