Authors: D.L. Jackson
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by D.L. Jackson
Cover art by Fantasia Frog Designs
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“Ava!” Uncle Theo barked above the alarms. Ozone rolled across the deck, and overhead lights blinked on and off with a buzzing pop, creating a strobe effect. “A little help here. We’ve got a League destroyer off our port bow.”
“I’m working on a plan B.”
The destroyer had already fired once. The shot clipped their hull close enough to start a fire in the forward control panel. The deck erupted into chaos, and the crew scrambled to extinguish the flames before they spread through the oxygen-saturated environment.
“You better move.”
“Going as fast as I can.” A holographic dome encased her, providing a three hundred and sixty degree view of her controls, readouts—everything she’d need to get them out of the situation they were in. Uncle Theo was right. None of it was worth a damn if she didn’t out-maneuver them, and quick. Captain Ava Frost spun her seat and hit the navigation charts. A blip on the dome indicated the
, her ship, had moved within range of League cannons, more than confirmed by the shot from the Regulator vessel. The next one would punch a hole in the
’s bow, and they’d crumple like foil if she didn’t bring her ionic shields up. “I see her.”
“They’ve got backup. Two off the starboard.”
“Fantastic. They want to make it interesting.” Ava whirled the other way and brought up the schematics of their ships. “Got them. Make that four League Destroyers. We still got a buddy on the other side of that wormhole.” She eyed the screen. Too much attention for a small-time smuggler. “What are they all doing here? They don’t normally patrol together.” Whatever it was couldn’t be good. From the grim expression on her uncle’s face, he’d come to the same conclusion. If they wanted to get out of this alive, they’d need to lose them.
And she’d investigate later. Ava ignored the wailing alarms and the burning in her throat and eyes. She had to focus, or they were done. Her uncle never surrendered his ship, so there wasn’t a question as to what she’d do. It was the how she hadn’t figured out.
No, the destroyer wasn’t docking with her ship, and they sure as hell weren’t boarding. The Galactic Regulators, pit bulls brought in by the United League of Planets to enforce law in League space, had locked on to their position, and it would only be a matter of moments before they made link and demands. Of all the police forces out there in the universe, they were up against the most highly trained and diverse group of law enforcement. Every world with membership in the ULP sent their top candidates to train and serve as League Regulators. Most Regulators came from military backgrounds in special operations and thrived in hostile environments, looking for trouble wherever they could find it. There would be little she could do to surprise them, but that wouldn’t stop her from trying.
Her favorite part.
One objective mattered. Ditch them and get to the world below. Once they were on the planet’s surface, the Regulators couldn’t touch them. New Xieran bureaucracy at its finest, a big pain in the ass for the League, and a criminal’s godsend, provided the perfect sanctuary for them. Unless her crew committed a crime on New Xieran soil, the locals wouldn’t let the League make any arrests on their turf. Since her crew carefully avoided breaking any laws in the past, amnesty would apply and the Regulators could look, but not touch.
The com chimed, and she ignored it as her fingers flew over the controls. Disengage this, activate that.
“Ava. Their cannons are charging.”
She glanced out to view the ships in the distance. “That’s what it looks like.” Their underbellies glowed, plasma igniting in their weapon’s ports, prepping them to deliver a kill shot. No, they weren’t playing. They’d given them a warning. The next blast fired would put a hole in her ship.
Regardless the threat, the demands they made, or that they were within League jurisdiction, Ava didn’t plan to let them board, and she sure as hell couldn’t outrun them in open space. Only one way out. The
would do a blind jump, full reverse thrusters, down the throat of a wormhole not twenty clicks from their aft end. Thing was, they’d just come out of the anomaly and she’d no clue if their buddy decided to follow. To enter while another ship was inside the hole was suicide, unless on the off chance they happened to get lucky and miss it when they passed.
Doing it backward didn’t increase their odds. “Delay them for a few seconds. They did damage to our primary jump drive. I need to reroute and get as much power to the forward engines as I can. I don’t have ionic shields. We can’t seal a breach if they hit us again.”
“It doesn’t look like they’re going to give you time for any of that.” The com chimed, punctuating his statement. One warning. Everyone knew it.
“Okay, okay.” She locked gazes with her uncle. “Let’s chat.” Theo nodded and stood to the side, out of view. Her face wasn’t on a wanted poster, but her uncle’s was, and he had enough warrants to guarantee his arrest, and her crew’s. Remaining unseen would be best. One look and the talking would end. The League ships would blast them out of space.
Wanted dead or alive. Preferably dead. They didn’t like Uncle Theo much. They weren’t exactly fond of her either, but they had nothing on her. Executing her would be a breach of multiple treaties—unless they caught him on her ship.
There were other concerns, too. The cargo they smuggled wasn’t in their hold, it was the ship itself. All the tiles on the skin, every square inch of the exterior was made from a rare metal, quadradium, illegal to possess and deadly to mine and refine. Biradium, extracted from the quadradium through a special refining process, was one of four known fissile metals in the galaxy, the only one that achieved critical mass with minute quantities, and could keep up with the power demands of battleships and cruise ships.
Harmless before refined, an incredible power source after separated from the component that made it stable. The quadradium had good qualities, far outweighed by the bad though. To add to the nasty factor, engineers often used mercury in the refining, separating the fuel from the precious metal in a deadly process that could result in both poisoning and horrific explosions.
And she planned to deliver it to the planet. If the New Xieran government knew, they’d step to the side and let the Regulators have them. New Xiera had protected the Nexian Rebels for years, feeling they needed a sanctuary from the tyrants that governed their world. They had been allies and friends, but that could quickly change given the right circumstances, and what she intended to do, would certainly qualify.
This would be the only excuse the League needed to finish off the Rebels and bring their form of peace back to the galaxy. They always had a ship sitting outside every safe harbor, in this case, four, waiting for someone to slip up and give them a chance to take into custody any they considered revolutionaries.
The League restricted all traffic to and from the planet the metal originated from. What she’d hauled into New Xieran space was the last shipment smuggled out before the Regulators sealed the planet off tighter than a miser’s asshole. They didn’t want it out in the galaxy and were determined to take it upon themselves to police space. Both because of an embargo against the government of the mined planet for humanoid rights violations, and the unstable nature of the byproduct left after smelting, which could be used to create planet-crushing weapons and fuel for smugglers. Part of her believed the League wanted to keep the energy source for themselves. Who wouldn’t? With it, they could control most of the galaxy.
To get caught in League space with even one ounce of the substance would ensure twenty to life. Anything more and you were walking the proverbial plank, not to mention that the Rebels who took harbor on the planet to which you traveled, would no longer be safe. Nobody wanted the unrefined metal or fuel byproduct on their world, or the people responsible for it. Ava had informed them she’d only do it once. She didn’t like moving the dangerous element around the Nexian chessboard and had only agreed because she owed friends a favor.
The skin of the
, her vessel, consisted of a little over fifty tons of the material. Add all that up and a backward ride, blind through a wormhole, looked pretty damned good.
She glanced down at the screen. A delay would help while she disengaged the rear engines and put the front thrusters online, but Uncle Theo was right, she needed to open the link. So she’d drag out the conversation until she had the engines fully engaged.
Ava lowered the zipper on her top, released her braid, and did a quick finger-comb of the dark tresses she’d inherited from her Rebel father. One deep breath and she initiated the link. Ava gasped. “Oh damn.” The man on the screen before her fit her every fantasy and nightmare. Nice to look at with his earthy-brown hair, square jaw, and intense green eyes, but Ava knew appearances could be deceiving. The rank on his lapels designated him a Legatus, a fleet commander, making him a step down from a League admiral and one of the worst people she could mess with. Handsome or not, the man before her was dangerous, more trouble than she needed and the sooner she got out of his line of sight, the better.
“Your ship is out of compliance with regulation three-two-three of the Galactic Trade Agreement.” And he had to quote the damned regs in his smoking League uniform, giving her a visual feast of the forbidden, tempting her to throw her hands up and let him arrest her. Gods, it had been a long time since she’d seen a man like that. “And League regulation one-two-one.”
She blinked and snapped back to reality. “How’s that?” Ava disconnected the rear engines and flipped the control to the bow. She didn’t need to ask. She only did it to buy a little more time. Ava knew why she’d drawn the Regulator’s attention, but if she could delay a couple minutes, the
’s engines would be powered up, and they’d be gone before he could fire his cannons. “We’re not carrying anything in our
that’s illegal. The ship is empty and headed for port for routine maintenance.”
And to drop off an illegal load of ore
. “We’re also not registered under League jurisdiction, and therefore, not subject to
Galactic Trade Agreement. Until you have the permission of the New Xieran government, you’ve no authority to detain us. Stand down and let us pass, Legatus.”