Authors: Lisa Paitz Spindler
The Spiral Path
By Lisa Paitz Spindler
After defecting from the Star Union eleven years ago, Starship Captain Lara Soto is now the leader of the free Chimerans. Her only regret is the intense young officer she left behind. When Terra’s
goes missing with her brother Rafael on board, she has to push aside the pain of her betrayal and team up with her old love once again.
Commodore Mitch Yoshida has never stopped thinking about the woman who deserted him. He’s also witnessed firsthand the Terran discrimination Lara foretold, from sequestering Chimerans on starships to enforcing indentured military service.
With Rafael and the
crew held prisoner, Lara and Mitch must travel to a whole new dimension to secure their release. Will they be able to resist their long-denied attraction and complete their rescue mission?
A new year always brings with it a sense of expectation and promise (and maybe a vague sense of guilt). Expectation because we don’t know what the year will bring exactly, but promise because we always hope it will be good things. The guilt is due to all of the New Year’s resolutions we make with such good intentions.
This year, Carina Press is making a New Year’s resolution we know we won’t have any reason to feel guilty about: we’re going to bring our readers a year of fantastic editorial and diverse genre content. So far, our plans for 2011 include staff and author appearances at reader-focused conferences such as the RT Booklovers Convention in April, where we’ll be offering up goodies, appearing on panels, giving workshops and hosting a few fun activities for readers. We’re also cooking up several genre-specific release weeks, during which we’ll highlight individual genres. So far we have plans for steampunk week and unusual fantasy week. Readers will have access to free reads, discounts, contests and more as part of our week-long promotions!
But even when we’re not doing special promotions, we’re still offering something special to our readers in the form of the stories authors are delivering to Carina Press that we’re passing on to you. From sweet romance to sexy, and military science fiction to fairy-tale fantasy, from mysteries to romantic suspense, we’re proud to be offering a wide variety of genres and tales of escapism to our customers in this new year. Every week is a new adventure, and we want to bring our readers along on the journey. Be daring, be brave and try something new with Carina Press in 2011!
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Executive Editor, Carina Press
To my parents, Norbert and Sharon, for nurturing my crazy imagination.
To Scott, any day without you would be hollow. You’re my hero.
To Lauren, your imagination is out of this world. I love you deeper than a black hole.
Finally, to my grandparents, Franz and Anna, for teaching me to never give up.
I may subsist on coffee, chocolate and wine while writing, but I actually thrive due to the support of a great group of friends and family.
Thank you to Leslie Dicken, critique partner extraordinaire, for both listening to me whine and knowing when to tell me to shut up and write.
To Mary Jo Putney, C. L. Wilson, Tawny Weber and Susan Grant: thank you for paying it forward.
Further gratitude goes out to Heather Massey of the Galaxy Express, whose enthusiasm for science fiction is contagious. Thank you so much for your early feedback on this story.
Many thanks to my wonderful editor, Deborah Nemeth, whose editorial eye made me a better writer and this a better story.
To the ladies of The Writers Playground: I am continuously grateful for your support and in awe of your talent.
So many other people have supported my writing that I cannot possibly list them all here. You know who you are. Thank you.
The wormhole, what sailors called the Spiral Path, led to only one of the many dimensions in space-time. Unfortunately, Lara might not be crossing into any of them today.
your launch slot has been denied,” said a voice from Cassini Command. “Captain Soto, please report to the embark bay antechamber for inspection.”
“Inspection? What’s stuck up those Star Union asses now?” Camryn Rossa, Lara’s first officer for the past eleven years, locked down her station and unsnapped her restraints.
Lara leaned back in her command chair and clicked her nails on the arm. Those damned royal pains. All her permits were in order, immaculate even. The
s manifest had been logged days ago. Star Union officials could be sticklers—especially out here at Cassini Station—but no one had ever denied her launch before. No one would dare threaten a Creed aristocrat, even one with a reputation as tarnished as hers. Plus, pissing off the Creed prime minister by detaining her daughter could destroy diplomatic relations, which meant the Union might have finally given up on peace.
Except, like the rest of her crew, Lara wasn’t just Creed, she was also half-Terran. In other words, a Chimeran—born of both dimensions. And neither Terra nor Creed trusted the Chimerans. They were unnatural, after all.
Lara’s stomach clenched and a cold sweat shivered on her skin. Maybe the Union was finally trying to make good on their threat to enslave her and her Chimeran crew. Maybe her days of freedom were over.
“Captain, are we going?” Cam stood statue-still and patient, gods bless her, hands clasped behind her back. Despite walking out of the Union Academy with her over a decade before, the woman had learned her lessons well. No way could Lara let her longtime friend down now.
Lara stood and smoothed the creases out of her leather jacket. Outside the viewport, Saturn’s rings floated behind its moon Titan. She glanced at her young navigator. “Chandra, you have the conn. If we don’t return in fifteen minutes, blow through that launch bay and rendezvous with the
on Alpha Haven.”
The ensign swallowed and nodded but took her command seat without hesitation. “Yes, ma’am.”
Lara clenched her jaw. This was the boy’s third mission. If anything happened to Chandra, his uncle would kill her.
“Expecting trouble?” Cam fell into step beside her. “We’re not even transporting anything illegal this time. What’s Union’s diss?”
“I have no idea, but activate your wrist-sync.” Lara kept her gaze trained ahead and pushed her panic away. If the Union wanted a fight, she’d give them one, but not at the risk of her crew. She’d ceased following their orders a long time ago. “We’re stopping at the weapons locker on our way.”
Mitch stared out Cassini Station’s viewport at the
, the command ship of Lara Soto’s little Chimeran navy. After Lara walked out on him eleven years ago, asking for her help was the last thing he ever saw himself doing. And he’d be damned if he’d ask for it now.
No, as a Star Union citizen, Lara would fall in line and obey her duty. Or she’d be spending some time in Cassini’s brig, to hell with her aristocratic Creed family connections.
“Captain Soto and XO Rossa have left the
“Thank you, Ensign.” He nodded. “Dismissed.”
Mitch released his tight shoulders and relished the silence. In a few minutes his ears would be burning with Lara’s temper, something that could not have changed much over the years. The last time they’d seen each other, Lara had been none too kind. Called him a slave trader, in fact. She’d abandoned a chance to serve the Union with her Chimeran ability to live in either dimension, an ability that made her invaluable. The Union needed Chimerans to serve as spies and ambassadors, something her brother Rafe had understood. Something Lara had rejected.
Mitch cleared his throat.
Don’t think about Rafe.
Wherever the Creed had imprisoned him, Mitch would get his longtime friend back.
The door chimed.
“Enter.” Mitch clasped his hands behind his back and faced the entrance.
The door faded, its elementary particles shifting out of phase with their dimension and becoming transparent, mutable. The barrier now vibrated at a different temporal frequency. Lara Soto, and no surprise with First Officer Camryn Rossa in tow, strode through the portal.
Mitch let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Did he imagine her step pausing? When she bit her lower lip—as Lara was prone to do when stressed—he couldn’t believe over a decade had passed since he kissed her.
“Commodore Michio Yoshida.” She might as well have said “bastard” for all the inflection used. Like all Chimerans, Lara possessed two different colored eyes, one paler than the other. Hers glinted like lavender ice.
Mitch held his ground. “Captain.”
“All of our paperwork is in order and has been approved by Union command.” Rossa tossed a holotablet onto the conference table between them. “You have no reason to detain us.”
“Indeed, this delay is not about paperwork, XO.”
Lara clasped her hands behind her back. A lock of thick ink-black hair, cropped short at her chin, fell forward. “The
is leaving Cassini Station in less than fifteen minutes with or without your approval, Commodore.”
And there it was, the sultry flash in Lara’s eyes contradicting the steel in her voice. The woman hadn’t changed a bit, and the connection he thought severed forever lit up. His palms tingled with the memory of smoothing his hands over her skin as they danced slow in that little Chim-town bar. Their favorite bar. Mitch suspected that Lara’s passion, however, had long since turned to hate. He couldn’t trust her.
is leaving without its two top officers.” He nodded at the doorway, and two Union security officers stepped inside the small office.
Lara glanced over at Rossa. “We’re under arrest? For what?”
“Not under arrest. Yet.”
Mitch snatched up the holotablet, logged it into the station’s cloudbase and found the document he needed.
“Per edict from the Star Union Council, I am conscripting your ship, Captain Soto, as well as your skills and those of your crew.” He held out the holotablet.
Lara glanced down but didn’t reach for it. “You have no authority over me, my ship or my crew. We’ve all renounced our citizenship in the Star Union.”
Mitch skirted the table and dropped the tablet in front of her. On his way to the far window, he leaned in close and whispered, “The Union never accepted your renunciation, Lara. And neither did I.”
A familiar citrus scent drifted over him. The last three feet to the window seemed a marathon, but Mitch made it. And pushed away every good memory he had of Lara Soto. Any minute her famed temper would show itself unless he distracted her.
disappeared two days ago on a mission to Creed.”
Lara said nothing. She had no idea how the rest of his news would affect her.
He wanted to see her face when it sank in, so he turned around. “Rafe was the top-ranking Chimeran on board.”
Lara’s eyes widened, but she glanced down to hide it. The woman couldn’t hide the step back, though, and her obvious sudden desire to run after her twin brother—even if she had no idea where to run.
“And my mother? Surely relations with Creed must be strained if a royal went missing on Terra’s watch.”
“No word yet from Countess Osai. We’ve been sending emergency messages to Creed ever since the
failed to check in.”
Lara licked her pale lips. “You want my crew. For what?”
“The Union wants you, your crew and your ship, at my command, to hunt down the
Your little band of pirates has proven to be elusive. If Creed has done anything to our citizens—”
“We’re private contractors, not pirates. We operate at the behest of the Creed government in trade transactions. Certainly with a noble house son on board the
“That ‘noble house son’ is half-Terran and serves in the Star Union Navy as an officer. Like you used to.” Mitch faced the viewport. “Who knows how Creed will react? Now, are you going to do your duty or not?”
“I don’t have a duty to you, Michio.”
Mitch caught his breath. He so rarely heard anyone pronounce his name like Lara did, with the soft “sh” in the middle. How long until she ran again? He looked over his shoulder.
Lara and Rossa each clicked a device on their wrists and immediately their forms faded.
Damn it, they’d shifted out of phase sync. He stepped toward them. “What are you doing?”
“Goodbye, Mitch. You could have asked for my help. I think you know what to do with that edict.”
Mitch lunged for Lara—and he would have caught her, if his hands hadn’t slid right through her semi-transparent body. The guards reacted too late as well.
Lara and her XO walked right out the door, and his life, once again.
Lara and Cam leaped through Cassini’s corridors as if in microgravity and reached the ship in half the time. It had taken years to devise wrist-syncs that enabled wearers to slip out of temporal phase with either Terra’s or Creed’s dimensions, but not so much that they would fall through walls and floors.
Cassini’s alarms blared and Mitch’s voice barked out commands at every turn.
So that’s it, then.
Lara swallowed past the lump in her throat. The tiny hope she’d held on to all these years that they could be friends wilted. As many different ways as she’d imagined their reunion would be, her running away from him again was not one of them.
As soon as they passed the
s cargo bay doors, Cam sealed the launch compartment.
Lara yanked open the throat of her jacket and tabbed on the comm. “Chandra, spin up the Trans-D engines.”
They reached the bridge just as Cassini’s launch bay doors closed. Lara took her station and clicked through the status messages. All systems were ready, just one barrier ahead.
“Ma’am, the launch doors—”
“I see, Ensign. Release the phase anchors and synchronize wrist-syncs on my mark.”
No way was Mitch Yoshida, in his perfectly groomed black Union uniform—pulling just so over those broad shoulders—going to get in her way. How many times did she have to prove that to him?
“Do it, Chandra. We’re flying through that door.”
“On my mark. Three, two, one…mark.”
Cam anticipated the move, though, and had the anchors ready to let go. With Lara’s order, her XO launched the de-sync cascade and they each tabbed on their wrist-syncs.
shook, a few seconds only, and the world out the viewport paled like an old Terran photo. As usual, the pit of her stomach plummeted, but not from excitement this time.
Lara pushed her feet into the floor and tensed in the command chair.
C’mon, girl, let’s do this.
catapulted through the launch bay. Beyond the semi-transparent doors, faraway stars glistened. The ship sped through, as clean a cut as if it were a just-sharpened blade. Saturn’s rings coalesced into shape as Cassini Station shrank to a dot on the horizon.
They were free. For now.