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Authors: Sherwood Smith,Dave Trowbridge

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Ng shifted slightly in her chair, letting him know his
delaying tactic wouldn’t work. But then he had the answer. “It doesn’t matter
which way we think he went,” he continued, “because the local transponder shows
no change from what we popped at Pulwaiya:
Prabhu Shiva
in-system at
Treymontaigne on detached duty at the Archon’s request.”

He tried to keep his voice even, detached, but that quirk of
humor vanished from the captain’s face.

Commander Krajno did not hide his disgust. His lip lifted,
the sneer in his heavy face making him look like a pirate in a vid chip, as the
rest of the officers shifted, or looked away. Few Navy officers had much
respect for an Archon who ran close to the edge under the Covenant of Anarchy,
and then called for a battlecruiser to back him up when his subjects started to
resent his excesses.

“Too much of that sort of thing going on lately,” Krajno
said.

Ng opened a hand, which effectively shut down the topic of
politics.

Rom-Sanchez continued. “So we can assume that Captain
Harimoto will give Eichelly a warm welcome if he chose Treymontaigne, and we’re
for Schadenheim in case he didn’t.”

Ng nodded. “Good.” She turned to the plot-pane, which
responded with a red line, spearing through the Schadenheim system.

Krajno grimaced. “Awful name, that.”

“Ancient Doitch,” said Ng. “Means something like Home of
Destruction.”

Krajno nodded. “Matches the people there—pretty
bloody-minded bunch.”

Ng grinned at the XO. “Coming from you, Commander, that puts
a visit to Schadenheim on a par with a vacation on Dol’jhar.”

Krajno laughed. Rom-Sanchez had come to learn that Krajno
thoroughly enjoyed his reputation for a harsh, rough-and-ready approach to
discipline, but no one had ever called him unfair.

Rom-Sanchez allowed himself to tune out the banter. He
watched Ng instead, the way her short hair, the color of maple leaves in
autumn, swirled against her face as she turned from Krajno to the plot pane and
back. Her hair looked like silk. So did her skin, which was the goldy-brown hue
that some called sallow. He found it beautiful. As she gestured toward the plot
plane, he stole a peek at the way her faultless blues modeled her slight,
muscular figure.

Then he shifted his attention to his compad, and slapped
himself down mentally. He was fairly sure that those hazel eyes did not miss
much. What he didn’t know was what she thought in personal terms: she never
discussed private affairs, ever, with anyone—so far as he was aware.

Did she
have
a private life? Some officers didn’t.
Some of those highborn Douloi from the Tetrad Centrum families acted as
antiseptic as if they’d been decanted as adults from a steel tube straight into
the Academy.

But Ng was not Douloi. Rom-Sanchez remembered Mdeino’s
comment in the wardroom about everyone getting a shot at alpha.
“Lot of
ships you can’t say that about.”
Rom-Sanchez had been lucky in his
assignment to
Grozniy
, lucky to avoid a ship where his Highdweller
origins might hold him back. Best not to screw it up with stupid fantasies
about a captain almost twice his age, not to mention one who’d been awarded the
Panarchy’s highest honor for her heroism at the Battle of Acheront that ended
the Dol’jharian War.

He forced his attention back to the conversation.

“. . . maybe the Local Justice Option, Captain?” Krajno was
saying, rubbing his hands with exaggerated pleasure.

That’s the real decision: what do we do with Eichelly
when we do catch him? I think she’s already decided.

“Look who’s being bloody-minded!” Ng laughed. “A tribunal
won’t need to make that decision. Can you imagine Schadenheimers in particular
not posting on Eichelly? Best we can hope for is a crack at interrogating the
survivors.”

She slapped the pane and it went dark. “That’s assuming our
ruptors even leave enough for the Schadenheimers. “

She tabbed the compad. “Bridge.”

“Yes, sir?” Mzinga’s voice responded.

“Plot a full-speed course to Schadenheim and stand by.”

“AyKay, sir, full-speed course to Schadenheim and stand by.”

She tapped the compad off and turned to Rom-Sanchez. “We
have a few minutes before the tacponder report is ready, which gives us time
for a different kind of tribunal.”

Despite the hint of smile betrayed at the corners of her
eyes, and the wink Krajno sent him, Rom-Sanchez’s stomach lurched.

“So, Lieutenant,” she continued. “Tell me what you did
wrong...”

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BOOK: The Phoenix in Flight
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