Authors: Loren Rhoads
ALSO BY LOREN RHOADS
In the Wake of the Templars
The Dangerous Type
Kill By Numbers
Copyright © 2015 by Loren Rhoads
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.
Cover illustration and design by Cody Tilson
Print ISBN: 978-1-59780-830-9
Ebook ISBN 978-1-59780-849-1
Printed in the United States of America
This book is dedicated to Jeremy Lassen, my hero.
he air on Lautan hung breathlessly still, so thick with moisture that all edges looked softened. All colors were smudged. Unhappy in the humidity, Raena Zacari wasn’t paying attention where the crew of the
led her. Among her high-spirited crewmates, there was much shoving, teasing, consultation of the handhelds, and starting off in new directions. She was too old for that nonsense. She just wanted a drink.
Much more interesting to Raena were the people roaming around the old district of Lautan’s tourist city. The scattered visitors crossed the spectrum between somewhat avian to insectile to reptilian, but Raena saw far fewer furred people than she’d gotten used to. Other than Mykah Chen, the
’s captain, and Raena herself, she didn’t see another human face.
She wasn’t sure if that could be blamed on the planet’s climate. The ambient temperature made her feel sticky. She wondered if the city—whatever it was called—had an ocean and whether it was swimmable. That might justify dragging around in conditions like these.
“Finally.” Vezali’s translator used a high-pitched, girlish voice. The Dagat’s tentacles had gone greener than usual, as her body turned a sunset pink. “I’m starving.”
Raena looked up to see a highly stylized logo that read “New Bar” in Galactic Standard. How new could it be, she wondered, to be worth the epic hike through the humidity it had taken them to reach it?
Inside the darkened bar, the air was comfortably cool. Oversized screens, flickering with sporting events or weddings or tragedies, provided the only light.
“Xyshin?” Coni asked her. The blue-furred Haru girl wore a sleeveless sundress patterned with large orange carnivorous flowers. They clashed with her coloring.
“Sure,” Raena agreed abstractedly, transfixed by the images flashing all around her. It was disorienting to see through all these windows into the galaxy at once.
“Come sit down,” Haoun suggested. The big lizard led her through the tables to a corner, where she could get her back against the wall. Once she only had to deal with the screen in front of her, Raena felt better. She frowned, trying to puzzle out what was happening in the video. It seemed to be some form of wrestling match.
Mykah excused himself to chat with a waitress. She switched the channel on the screen that faced them to the news.
Vezali arrived with a large bowl full of swimming ribbons. Raena turned away as her friend reached a tentacle in to catch one. Raena was pretty sure she didn’t want to watch Vezali slurp down anything while it was still wriggling.
For the most part, her shipmates turned a blind eye to each other’s gastronomic quirks. Although the
provided plenty of physical space for the five of them, they still lived more or less on top of each other. The only sure way to put up with each other’s eccentricities was to ignore them.
Coni arrived with an oversized bottle of xyshin and a carafe of fizzing water on a tray full of glasses. Xyshin was one of the few types of liquor that the crew agreed on. Raena liked its syrupy sweet flavor, because the sweetness forced her to stop drinking long before she became very impaired.
Raena was entertained that the crew chose to stick together, now that they finally had space to spread apart. All five of them wedged in around the table as the music for Mellix’s show came on. “Is this what we’re here to see?” Raena wondered aloud.
Mykah grinned. Today he’d braided the hair on the sides of his head so that his skull looked taller and narrower. He was still clean-shaven, a look he’d experimented with and seemed prepared to stick to for the moment. That left only his hair to play with.
Raena accepted the glass of xyshin Coni handed to her and settled back.
The screen filled with low-light footage of Outrider facing them in the dusty warehouse on Verwoest. Raena had had no idea that Mellix had been close enough to record that. She’d had her hands full at the time.
The video showed the firefight with the three Outrider androids. Mykah got shot in the first exchange. He dragged himself behind some crates and put down covering fire for Raena, who launched herself at the androids with a pair of stone knives. The blades worked surprisingly well for dismantling the weird mechanicals.
“Such a badass,” Haoun whispered. Raena ignored him, unsure whether he meant to mock her.
In the video, Tarik Kavanaugh, the old war buddy who’d backed her up during the fight, held the androids off enough that Raena had time to disassemble one after another.
The video ended with Raena rolling the last Outrider head up in black Viridian slave cloth. The camera’s focus had been on the thing in her hands, tentacles writhing out of the stump of its neck. There could be no doubt it was Templar tech.
Once Raena had the head wrapped up tightly, it went quiescent. Then the camera pulled back to look at her.
Her image filled the screen. There she stood, spiky black hair like a corona around her face, black eyes alight with energy left over from the fight.
Raena felt sick. She’d trusted Mellix to keep her out of the story. Now she kicked herself for being so gullible. She’d known he was an investigative journalist when the
took him in.
The documentary moved on, exploring the history of the Messiah drug and its recent reappearance. Raena couldn’t concentrate to follow the story. Her thoughts were hijacked by the knowledge that she’d been revealed to the galaxy. In fact, now that she looked around the New Bar, most of its screens had been switched to the same station. Everyone watched Mellix’s show.
Raena’s first inclination was to run. But where could she hide that would be beyond the reach of the galactic media?
Mykah turned to her, aglow with pride. As soon as he saw her face, his good mood evaporated. “I’m sorry,” he said immediately. “I wanted to cut sooner, but Mellix insisted on giving you credit for taking down the Outriders. He said it was important to humanize the fight.”
Raena saw the sense of that, vaguely. She wished they’d chosen Tarik Kavanaugh to be the human face of the fight against the Messiah drug. Kavanaugh would have been honored by the attention. Instead, Raena regretted stepping up to mount the attack. She should have trusted it to Mykah and Kavanaugh, although it might have gotten them killed. She should have turned the whole thing over to the authorities. Would have, in fact, if she’d thought there was any way in hell she could have gotten them to believe her. She should have left the Messiah drug to trickle out into the galaxy, do its damage, and destroy humanity. She should have washed her hands and kept her anonymity. Now, she didn’t know how or when or why, she was doomed.
“Let me out,” she told Haoun.
He got up to give her room to get off the bench and around the table.
“Where are you going?” Coni asked. She stood in front of Raena and laid a warm paw on her bare arm.
“I don’t know.” Her body wanted desperately to run, anywhere, immediately.
“There’s no one left to look for you,” Coni promised. “They’re all dead. You’re safe now.”
Raena appreciated the blue-furred girl’s assurances, but adrenaline sang in her blood. “I’ve got to get out of here,” she insisted. “I won’t leave the city. I just need to get outside. Into the light.”
“I’ll come with you,” Haoun said. “The rest of you should celebrate. Congratulations, Mykah. This is excellent work.”
* * *
Coni took Mykah’s hand in hers and squeezed. “I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “I knew she’d be upset. But I thought it would be better for her to see how brief the closeup was, so she would know it wasn’t much to worry about. We didn’t even identify her by name.”
Coni rubbed her head on his shoulder, scenting him. He pulled her back down to the bench and picked up his glass of xyshin.
Coni changed the subject. “What’s up with Haoun and Raena?”
“Is something up?” Vezali asked, surprised.
“He seems to be finding lots of excuses to be in her company,” Mykah observed. “He used to date ‘warm girls’ on Kai.”
Coni and Vezali stared at him. Mykah laughed. “His words, not mine.”
“You think he’s dating Raena?” Vezali asked.
Mykah turned to his girlfriend. “You’re the expert on all things Raena. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure,” Coni said slowly. “There’s a distinct possibility. I just wondered if I was the only one to notice anything.”
“If it’s true, that’s going to change the dynamic on the
,” Mykah warned.
“Hope she doesn’t hurt him,” Vezali remarked.
“Hope he doesn’t hurt her,” Mykah countered. “Haoun’s kind of a playboy. Love ’em and leave ’em,” he clarified, in case Vezali’s translator didn’t know what to make of the phrase. “Haoun doesn’t want to tie himself down because he’s still in love with his kids, back home.”