QBBS Merideth Reynolds, Yollin System
A couple of jump gates away, inside the most powerful woman in the galaxy, an AI was…chuckling.
If only to himself.
Bethany Anne put a hand up to stop General Lance Reynolds from making a comment. He had barely raised an eyebrow when she went inside herself to have a conversation.
Why are you laughing, ADAM?
>> ADAM isn’t here right now, please leave a message after the beep.<<
Cut that shit out. Who are you fucking with?
>> Wait, why would you think I am presently messing with anyone?<<
You live inside my head. Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ve learned a trick or two over the years. Now, who is it?
He paused long enough for Bethany Anne to register his hesitation before he answered.
Bethany Anne mentally chewed on that answer for a small part of a second, looking at the different ways ADAM could interact with her Ranger, and why he would.
Are you messing with Achronyx?
>>Well,<< he gave her the mental equivalent of a sniff, >>she keeps complaining about Achronyx, so I thought I would modify his code. With his permission, of course.<<
Make sure it doesn’t affect an operation. She was just about to return to the conversation with her dad when she added, and keep me in the loop.
The General’s eyebrow was still raised in curiosity, as he had waited less than a couple of seconds before she came back to him.
Pirate Ship F’zeer
The pirate ship’s hatch unlocked and allowed Tabitha and Ryu to enter. Its warning systems had been hacked to prohibit notification of anyone inside. Both humans deactivated the protective shield that had facilitated their short spaceflight. The shield had kept radiation and other nasty things away from them, and heated them, so they didn’t freeze out in space.
Tabitha wrinkled her nose and whispered, “Why is it that Skaine ships always smell so nasty?”
Ryu nodded in agreement. “It would be nice if they would sanitize a little more before we came over to kill them.”
“No shit,” Tabitha agreed as she checked her weapons. She unsnapped a couple of secondary weapons, making sure they were loose and available.
Captain Brell turned in his chair. “Notify Command of our location. Send them all of our information. If we are going to get busted, we need to make this a haul worth talking about.”
Communications Mate Yuhig smiled at his captain and sent a very short message.
It was time the Skaine brought in the big guns. No more being careful with the Etheric Empire.
City of Bouk, Planet Straiphus, Straiphus System
R’yhek looked down at the human.
He was pretty damned large for a Yollin. Many figured his mercenary years had made him a fighter, but while he could hum the tune quite well, his preference was to make money by trading. When he left the teams, he had bought himself a halfway-profitable bar away from the main planet and bullshitted with other Yollins and the occasional alien in exchange for some cash.
R’yhek scratched one of his mandibles in consternation. “Are you even old enough to drink, human?”
The young woman smiled, then winked one eye at the Yollin. “Depends on whether my parents are around, Barkeep.” Her Yollin was fluent, which surprised R’yhek.
His eyes narrowed in concentration. “Table or bar?”
The young woman nodded toward the bar. “Bar, if you got time to talk?”
R’yhek shrugged. “Bar it is.” He took a couple of steps, then twitched and grunted, grabbing at his back. “Stupid-ass weather.”
“You having a problem with the carapace, Barkeep?” the little human asked from behind him.
R’yhek turned to look down at her. “What do you know about Yollin physiology?”
She shrugged. “Quite a bit, actually. Usually, when a Yollin is holding his back like you are we need to break off some chiton so your back plates can move easier.”
“Oh?” He clicked his mandibles together twice. “How do you do that?” He paused a moment. “And I didn’t get your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t offer it, Barkeep,” she told him, then smiled. “But I’ll share it with you.”
She leaned toward the larger Yollin a little, a glint in her eyes. “My name is Christina.”
Pirate Ship F’zeer
“The battleship should arrive in…” the crewman’s voice faded a moment as the captain swiveled to look at his communications personnel, “…about a twentieth of a turn, sir.”
Captain Brell turned to First Officer Wig and shrugged. “I wonder where the hell they’re going that they were so close?”
The First Officer pursed his lips. “I’m thinking they were lying hidden somewhere nearby and staying dark. We should have known they were around otherwise.”
Captain Brell nodded. “That is puzzling. We had intel on this ship we didn’t share and yet one our battleships was that close by accident when we call out for help?”
Brell stood up and looked around. “Ask them to send us the verification sequence.” He put his hand on the all-call button.
“Sir, they aren’t replying!” Communications came back, his eyes opened in concern.
“Well, how the hell am I supposed to know what the verification sequence is?” Tabitha hissed to Achronyx. “It’s not like I’m the one inside their computers right now!”
“That information,” her EI came back, “is not in any area I’m capable of accessing. There is no way for me to confirm that I’m the ship they want to see at the moment.”
“Well, that tears it,” Tabitha huffed as she pulled a pistol. Ryu raised an eyebrow and unclipped his own gun. “Make sure Barnabas knows the score, as well as our guys on the ship. We should be fine, but the jig is up now. We need you here.”
The EI responded. “Yes, Ranger Tabitha.”
There was a moment of silence as Tabitha cracked the door to peek into the hallway outside the small room the two of them had been hiding in. Achronyx came back online.
“Ranger Tabitha, Barnabas has been notified, and now we have a more serious problem.”
“What’s that?” she asked as she pointed Ryu toward the engines. He rolled his eyes and took off.
“We really do have a Skaine battleship arriving about the same time as I am.”
Tabitha headed toward the bridge. “Well, that’s just fucking fine. More Skaines to line up for Justice.”
Back on their ship, Achronyx sent the update Barnabas had requested as he pushed his engines into the red. His was a capable ship, but even he couldn’t duke it out with a battleship and win.
If he couldn’t get there in time and Ryu couldn’t convince Tabitha to leave, there was going to be a problem.
Tabitha had already promised to never run from a fight with Skaines.
City of Bouk, Planet Straiphus, Straiphus System
“Huh.” R’yhek reached down to slap her outstretched hand. “You know a few of our customs.”
Christina twirled her hand in a circle. “Turn around. I’ll deal with your back problem.”
“What, just like that?” R’yhek asked. “Don’t you need some medical equipment?”
“Well,” she shrugged, “that would certainly help, but if you can handle a little pain, one of my uncles showed me how to do a field-expedient fix for the issue.”
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“I’m going to slam my open palm,” she told him, opening her mid-sized hand and gently pushing it forward while pulling her other arm back, the fist closed on that hand. “Right between the two plates, pushing the middle one out.”
R’yhek blinked a couple of times, then shrugged. How hard could this little human hit, anyway?
He turned around. “Ok, I’m game.” He clicked his mandibles in humor. “What the hell, how much can this hurt?”
“Well,” she told him, “my uncle says it hurts like a sonofabitch.”
“It’s the son of a female dog, but I know a few dogs, and I’ve no clue why he says that.”
“Who’s your uncle?” R’yhek asked.
“This one’s name is Kiel,” she told him. “Now hold still for two seconds…”
City of Bouk, Planet Straiphus, Straiphus System
The slap to his back, when it came, was nothing like R’yhek had expected. It was everything her uncle had said it was.
And twice as painful as he would ever have believed possible.
He let out a roar of agony as he staggered three steps before falling into a table, bouncing off, twisting in the air, and landing on his back on the floor.
“Oooowww,” he groaned as he heard footsteps come closejr to where he was dying in pain. Or living, yeah, he guessed he was living in pain since he still felt it.
“So Uncle Kiel was right, huh?” someone asked.
R’yhek looked for the person who belonged to the voice. His eyes finally focused on the young human again. “What did you hit me with?” he moaned. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a bistok.”
“My palm,” she answered, lifting her hand. From where he was laying on the ground, it looked inflamed. Just as if she had used it to hit him.
“How?” he whimpered.
“My aunt says if you are going to hit something, do it hard, fast, and continuously.”
“Another Yollin?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Who is your uncle?”
“Uncle Kiel is the Leader of the Empress’ Yollin Mercenary group.”
R’yhek followed what she said, but then his brain caught up. “WHO?”
“Uncle Kiel.” She shrugged.
“Not that who.” R’yhek had just realized who she was talking about, though. No Yollin who paid any attention to politics in the Etheric Empire was unaware of the Empress’ Yollin Mercenary team or their leader. Kiel.
“Oh, my aunt?” she asked him, holding her hand out.
He reached up, not thinking about how much he weighed versus her. It wasn’t until she helped pull him up that he realized she was damned strong.
Really damned strong.
He reached around and grabbed his back. He gingerly twisted to his left, then right, and finally bent back further than he had recently dared.
He was pain-free. “I’ll be dropped in bistok shit,” he murmured. She made a face of disgust. “What, have you been around bistok shit before?”
“Too many times,” she agreed. “The Bitches like to go play with them in their nests. It’s just gross.”
Her casual use of an Etheric human term twigged R’yhek once more. “Who did you say your other relative was?”
“I didn’t.” She grinned. “But I can tell you I’m named after her.”
“Christina?” he asked. “I don’t recognize that name.”
“No?” She smiled. “My whole name, good sir, is Christina Bethany Anne Lowell.”
R’yhek’s eyes opened wide. He knew exactly who this human was. There were whispers about her all over the place, and he looked around in concern. Wherever she was, her parents were bound to be close. Those three couldn’t come into an area without all kinds of whispers happening.
You absolutely didn’t fuck with the girl. But if you did, you had best make sure Mom didn’t find out, or you would get your kneecap shattered by a bullet.
And for bistok’s sake, you didn’t ever want to ever get her father pissed off.
“Oh, they will be here shortly,” she told him. “But don’t worry. We aren’t here to screw you over,” Christina told him as she moved toward the bar and slid onto a stool.
R’yhek slid behind the bar and walked over to the human. When he reached under the bar, he noticed her tense and drop an arm to her side. He knew she had something in a pouch, but he hadn’t realized it was a weapon until he grasped just who she was.
He slowed his movements. “Just liquor.” When he brought out a clear bottle with a deep amber liquid inside.
She winked. “Sorry. I can never be too careful.” He noticed she kept her arm lowered.
“That’s damned smart,” R’yhek agreed, grabbing two small glasses from behind him. He put them halfway between the two of them and poured each about a third full. “This is from the Eubos System. In general, the stuff they distill could be used to clean engine parts.” He closed the bottle. “But they have a station—”
“Seven-Seven-Two,” she interrupted. “I recognize T’ller’s mark on the side of the bottle.”
R’yhek blinked a couple of times at the human and turned the bottle to see. She was right. He looked back at her. “How do you know T’ller?”
“Um, my,” she scrunched her face up a bit, “I’d say aunt again, but Aunt Tabitha says to call her BFF, because calling her ‘aunt’ makes her feel too old.”
“Tabitha?” R’yhek felt a little cold at this revelation. Given the crowd she was running around with, there was probably only one human named Tabitha she might know. “You mean Ranger Tabitha? Ranger Two. That Tabitha.”
“Sure.” She grabbed the two glasses and handed R’yhek the one in her left hand. When he held it, she clinked her glass against it and took a large swallow, then shook herself quickly. “Damn!” she got out, before taking a smaller sip. “That first shot fucks a person up.”
R’yhek eyed the human as he slid the bottle back under the bar. She had just taken a shot of T’ller’s best, and strongest, alcohol. Most Yollins in this town would have had to spend a day working to earn enough money to buy that swallow.
He eyed his own glass and mimicked her shrug. He took his first swallow and grinned at the blaze of fire as his body seemed to come alive. He wasn’t sure what it did to a human, but from her flushed face, it was certain she was feeling something.
“And your aunt?” he asked, leaning on the bar with his left arm and manipulating his glass with his right.
“No, the one… Oh…” R’yhek closed his eyes. “Your name.” He took another large swallow of his drink and let the fire hit him a second time before he asked, “Would someone like myself call her ‘Empress?’”
When she smiled and nodded her head, all R’yhek could wonder was…
What did he do to have the who’s who of the Empire walk into his bar?
It was at that moment that his doors opened again and R’yhek looked up to see two more humans come in.
R’yhek sighed. He was well and truly fucked, he just didn’t know how—yet.
FROM MICHAEL! >>> I’m eating TEX-MEX right now 😉
I’m so hhaaaaapppyyyy…SOOO VERRRY HAPPPPYYYYY….. (Tex-Mex makes Michael a happy, happy guy)
I’m traveling to Austin, TX in a couple of hours to work with Martha Carr tomorrow on the Oriceran stuff, and work on the beats for MIGHT MAKES RIGHT (TKG 18 – Next book) … Then w/ Ell Leigh Clark on Aliens Monday… PLUS…
CELEBRATE THE RELEASE OF FOREVER DEFEND TOMORROW!
(More chips and salsa, please.)