Authors: Jaleta Clegg
The Fall of the Altairan Empire
Copyright © 2012 by Jaleta Clegg
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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The views expressed in this work are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.
ISBN: 978-1-936564-47-7 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-936564-49-1 (ebook)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012937962
Printed in the United States of America
JournalStone rev. date: August 10, 2012
Cover Design: Denise Daniel
Cover Art: Philip Renne
Edited By: Elizabeth Reuter
I used to think books happened because of one person—the author. I know differently now. Authors don’t write in vacuums and books aren’t perfect without a lot of assistance. Dinner and laundry and carpools don’t happen by themselves, either. I owe my husband and kids a huge thank-you for allowing me to ignore them for days at a time while I was writing. I owe thanks to several good friends, too, for their support, advice, and honesty.
I want to dedicate this book to Heather and Alley. May you always find the story, no matter how bad the initial writing may be. I would not be writing this without your help.
Check out these titles from JournalStone:
That Which Should Not Be
Brett J. Talley
The Demon of Renaissance Drive
Robert E. Hirsch
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The office on Herifon was the same as a thousand other Patrol offices. Dusty gray cabinets lined one faded yellow wall. A battered desk with a chair on each side occupied the center of the room. Gray fibermat so old it showed wear covered the floor. The one small window looked out on acres of weedy, cracked landing pads. The heat in the room contrasted sharply with the chill between the two men occupying the office.
Commander Grant Lowell propped his booted feet on the desk’s uneven surface. He wore a mechanic’s overalls, stained and faded with wear. Nothing about him gave any hint of his rank.
The office’s other man wore the black uniform of the Patrol Enforcers, the clusters of gold on his collar placing him fairly high in their ranks. He slouched against the windowsill, wondering why he’d been honored with a visit from Commander Lowell. He’d only recently been released from medical treatment, and was still on leave for a few days. His gaze followed a plume of dust trailing over the bleak landing field.
“I need you, Tayvis.” Lowell broke the hostile silence. “You are the best, make that the only, man for the job.”
“I don’t want it.” Tayvis turned from the bleak landscape to face Lowell. “Your last assignment almost got me killed. Dadilan was a death trap and you knew it, but you sent me anyway with no backup.”
“You didn’t die. You completed the mission successfully.”
“Because of a lucky accident.”
“That is quite an apt description of Dace, isn’t it?”
“Leave her out of your meddling, Lowell.”
A grin spread slowly over Lowell’s face like a puddle on plascrete. “They weren’t exaggerating about the two of you, were they?”
Tayvis planted his hands on the desk, looming over the seated Lowell. “Leave her out of whatever you’re planning.”
“I can’t.” Lowell’s grin disappeared.
“Then find someone else!”
“There isn’t anyone else.”
Tayvis glared for a long moment. “I’m not looking for her unless you tell me why you want her.”
“I don’t need you to find her, I know exactly where she is. I need you to convince her to work for me. One assignment.”
Tayvis sighed, rubbing the stiffness in his side with one hand. “Details, Lowell.”
“I need her on Tivor.”
Tayvis shook his head. “Do you know how much she hates her homeworld?”
“I can guess. I really don’t have a choice. I need to know the situation on Tivor. I can’t get an agent in.”
“Why her? She’s not the only street orphan to make it off Tivor.”
“Actually, she is.” Lowell punched a button on the console built into the desk. Information bloomed under his fingers. A picture of a slender woman wearing an Academy uniform floated on the screen. Her face was plainer than ordinary with no expression except for a haunted look in her eyes. “I thought you read her file.”
“What does that have to do with this?” Tayvis watched the picture dissolve, his hands curling into fists at his side.
Lowell scrolled through the text. He didn’t miss the flicker of longing that flashed across Tayvis’ face as the picture disappeared.
“Zeresthina Dasmuller.” Lowell shifted from the screen to the other man’s face. “She changed her name to Dace as soon as she legally could. Do you know why?”
Tayvis shook his head. “I didn’t read her juvy record. It was privacy sealed and I saw no reason to pry. I didn’t exactly have much free time on Dadilan.”
“I did what I could, Tayvis. The whole situation was impossible. I didn’t find out how bad it was until after you were down.”
“Now you apologize. Dace is the one you should apologize to. I heard about the charges filed against her. You should have paid her instead.”
“It’s over, Tayvis. I pulled all the strings I could to get her off without a criminal record.”
“And now you want to tangle her up in another mess.”
“Find someone else!”
“There isn’t anyone, as I said before.” They locked stares over the desk. “I can’t just dress someone up and send them in, Tayvis.”
“Dace, born Zeresthina Dasmuller, is the daughter of Lirondalla Murberretton.”
“The resistance leader during the food riots?” Tayvis sat heavily on the other chair. It creaked in protest. “And they let her live?”
“They wouldn’t now. The Tivorian government twenty years ago was relatively humane.” Lowell blanked the screen.
“You send her to Tivor, they’ll kill her.”
“I can protect her. It would only be for a short time, long enough to cause a few riots and get the Patrol sent in. You’re the only one who can convince her. I need her to go willingly.”
“One assignment, Tayvis. I’ll even send you with her. Then you both resign with enough money to buy your own planet.”
“Charges can be reinstated. Would you rather have her sentenced to Basra? Most women last less than two months there.”
“How can you sleep at night, Lowell?”
“If you won’t persuade her, I will be forced to threaten her with Basra. I need her on Tivor.”
Tayvis flexed his hands, face twisting as if he’d bitten into a bitter fruit. “I hate you, Lowell, and I don’t hate anybody. I’ll do it, under protest. But if she dies, I will hunt you down and find a dozen ways to make you wish you had died instead.”
Lowell shivered under the force of Tayvis’ glare. He briefly wondered if Tivor was really worth what it might cost. Years of training and habit squashed the doubts before they became anything more than a brief instant of regret.
“She’s working for a shipping company as a courier pilot. Your leave is extended indefinitely. The normal arrangements for expenses have been made. The scout ship in berth forty-seven is waiting for you.”
“What would you have done if I’d refused, Lowell? Would you really have made good on your threat?”
The two men locked eyes, cold and unflinching.
Tayvis broke first. “Were you born without a heart?” His boots made little noise as he left the room. The door slammed with a thin crack of sound. Swirls of dust filtered through the air.
Lowell stared at his worn boots, still propped on the desk. Necessity forced him to do things he detested. He worked for the greater good. The price was a few lives disrupted. Wasn’t that better than thousands, millions of lives?
The dusty room held no answers.
I glanced up from the stack of papers piled on the table. I’d been sitting in a tiny room of the local branch of the Independent Traders’ Guild for the last three days looking for a co-pilot. Out of the thirteen applicants so far, none of them were qualified to tie their shoes much less fly a spaceship. I’d been stuck on Rucal for almost two months, long enough to work out a contract with Belliff, Inc., but their contract didn’t include a copilot and regulations required one, so I was looking on my own.
The man waiting in the doorway was short, slender, almost too good-looking to be real. Tayvis was better, a little voice in my mind whispered. I squelched that thought. Tayvis was a Patrol Enforcer, tall, well-muscled, the perfect image off the recruiting posters. He was also out of my life.
“I heard you were looking for a pilot.” The man handed me a paper before sitting in the rickety chair across the table.
I skimmed his application. His name was Jerimon Pai, no home planet listed, and he was a fully qualified pilot. I flipped through his papers, not trusting my luck in finding him.
“I want to see your personal file.” What I asked was definitely rude and only borderline legal.
He looked surprised but pulled out his ID plates, sliding them into the terminal set in the wall over the table. He typed in the password codes then sat back.
I scrolled through his file, glancing over past ship postings. I didn’t see anything suspicious. I closed his file.
“Sorry,” I apologized, “I’ve just had bad luck hiring crew before.”
“Does this mean I’ve got the job?”
I nodded. “It’s a courier ship, you and I are the only crew. We fly at the whim of Belliff, Inc. My contract term with them is seven years, at the end of which I own the ship. You technically work for me. You have your choice of salary, though I can’t offer much, or a percentage of profits and a share in the ship.” I paused, something felt off kilter but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “First trip is a trial period to see if this is going to work out. Your pay is free passage to wherever we get sent.”
He nodded. He didn’t ask questions, which made me a little nervous. Everything I’d offered him was standard contracting procedures on an Independent ship, though. I shrugged the feeling away.
“Where are we going?”
“Tebros. Lift off in three hours. The ship is in slot five-oh-nine.”
“The name of the ship?”
I could barely bring myself to say it. As soon as the ship was mine I was going to rename it. “Twinkle.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.” He nodded politely as he left.
He hadn’t cracked a smile. I worried at the edges of his application while I thought. Most spacers would throw fits over such a dumb name. I was surrounded by snickers and rude remarks from the dock crew every time I walked past them. Jerimon Pai hadn’t even seemed to notice. I examined his papers trying to find something to justify my sense of unease.
His last job was piloting for a transport company. Nothing unusual there. His contract term had expired and he had left, or so the paper said. He was twenty-four. His voice was cultured and smooth as Sirian silk, surprisingly deep. His short hair was dark black, with blue highlights under the lights. My mind filled in more details than I thought I’d noticed.