Friday, July 31, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 3

< Chapter 2                                                                                                        Chapter 4 >
Trying to slip away from the restaurant unseen in Michelle’s car, Matt’s and Michelle’s cover is blown by their school nemeses, Jayna and Brenda. Now a Fed vehicle is on their tail!

“The Feds are catching up fast, Michelle.” I gave up on the cam and craned my neck to look out the back window. “I don’t think we can outrun them in a little car like this.”

A feral grin spread across Michelle’s face. “Babe, do you really think Daddy would send his little girl out in anything as lame as a standard Jusair? Especially when I might have to use it to get you to safety?”

“Um, no?”

“I’ve been waiting years for a chance to open this baby up. Make sure your seat belt is tight and hang on honey—things are about to get interesting.”

Never let it be said I don’t listen to my wife. I checked my belt then grabbed a strap hanging next to my seat. I had just enough time to wonder if the strap was original equipment before Michelle flipped open a compartment on the steering wheel. She pressed the recessed button within.

I sank back into the seat as the car rocketed forward. Our speed doubled within seconds. Rather than fight the acceleration to look out the back window, my eyes returned to the rearview cam. The Fed vehicle shrank on the screen and disappeared as Michelle whipped the Jusair through traffic and other cars blocked the view. We flew past the knot of traffic and into a clear stretch on the road. Seconds later, the Fed car—now running with blinking emergency lights—repulser-hopped over the front row of cars and into the same stretch of clear road.

“Crap, they’re keeping up with us,” Michelle snarled. “Matt, see if you can get Daddy on the com so we can coordinate with his response teams.”

I caught the flash of movement in the corner of my eye. “Look out!”

Two more Federation cars shot out of cross-streets and blocked the street ahead of us. Even before the big cars came to a stop, Michelle thumbed another button on the steering wheel. The whine of the Jusair’s repulsers deepened to a rumble and the little car popped ten meters into the air, clearing the road block easily. We settled back to the ground and Michelle cut the wheel to the left, taking a side street. The pursuing car sailed over the road block, too, staying on our tail as the others scrambled to join the chase.

I managed to drag my attention away from the chase and bring up the car’s com. “We’re not getting a com signal, Michelle.”

“That’s bad—the Feds don’t shut down com towers for just anyone. They must really want to keep you isolated.” Michelle slewed into an intersection, fighting the controls to take a hard left turn. With a jerk, she straightened the car and we zoomed back in the direction of the restaurant, just one street over from it. “Hit the blue button on the com. That’ll shift from com to radio.”

I did as she instructed and Jonas’s voice sprang immediately from the speaker. “—you there? Repeat, Matt or Michelle, are you there?”

“We’re here, Jonas,” I replied.

“Before you do anything else turn on GenCo encryption. You know the channel.”

Jonas assigns a new emergency encryption channel every morning. Michelle says he selects the channel by rolling dice, ensuring something completely random and unassociated with any potentially hackable electronics. I dialed in today’s code.

Once we established we were on the same channel, Jonas said, “Report.”

“We’re heading south on Benton, coming up on Thess now.” We flashed through the intersection against the traffic signal. Horns blared in our wake. “Correction, we just passed Thess.”

“Why are you coming back this way?” Jonas asked.

“They tried to cut us off with two more cars. I hopped them, but I don’t have enough charge to do that many more times. I thought doubling back might buy us a few extra seconds before those two found out which way we went,” Michelle answered.

“Okay, there’s nothing we can do about that now. I’ve got the decoy positioned north of you, on the second level of the parking deck next to the Promenade. Can you get there or should I have them move?”

“I can make it.” Michelle paused to check the rear view cam for the Fed cars. The first one was no more than a hundred meters behind us. Much farther back, we saw the other two Fed cars make repulser-hops. “Daddy, does all of this mean what I think it means?”

When Jonas replied, his tone was gentle. “I’m afraid so, pumpkin. I’ve been in communication with the house and the Feds have a team there, too. That’s one reason they took down the com towers. I think they’re hoping you’ll decide this is a simple kidnapping attempt and run for home—and right into the arms of their waiting team. We’ve got to assume the Feds know about Matt’s ability.”

Michelle slowed a bit and turned right at the next cross street. The signal was with us this time, so we found another short stretch of clear road ahead of us. Instead of accelerating, Michelle hit the brakes and spun the wheel hard to the right. The Jusair spun around, pointing back the way we came. Michelle downshifted and pushed the throttle to the floor. The car shuddered for a second, then accelerated back the way we came.

The closest Fed car slid around the corner ahead of us, bouncing off of the line of cars waiting for the signal to change. I watched the other driver fight to regain control as the rear end of the car swung back and forth. Michelle twitched her wheel to the left and zipped past the Fed car with less than a meter to spare. Ahead of us, the signal changed and a wall of traffic started across the intersection, headed directly at us!

Michelle swung to the right, nearly sideswiping the same car the Feds hit. I got a glimpse of the driver, his face a mixture of fear and outrage, as we flew past. Without a second thought, Michelle cut back to the left, across lanes filled with approaching traffic. Horns sounded, cars braked, and we heard the grinding sound of metal on metal. Just when a collision looked unavoidable, Michelle thumbed the hopper and the Jusair once again flew up over the oncoming cars, cutting the corner back toward Benton. We cleared the line of southbound cars stopped for the traffic signal and landed in the northbound lane of Benton. My wife straightened the car and sped up the clear stretch of Benton.

Michelle’s timing was perfect. We shot past the other two Fed cars in mid-hop and heading in the completely wrong direction.

“We’ve lost our tails—at least for a few minutes, Daddy,” Michelle said. “What do you want us to do when we get to the Promenade parking deck?”

“The decoy car will make an ostentatious exit from the deck which should draw the Feds after it. You should find an out-of-the-way parking spot and ditch the car. There’s a pack in the backseat with new clothes and new identities for you. Change clothes and take a leisurely walk on the Promenade.”

“You don’t want us to head to the M&M any more, Daddy? A spaceship off-planet seems like our best bet right now.”

“I agree,” Jonas said, “but it’s a safe bet the Feds are watching the M&M—it is rather famously connected with Matt after the rescue last summer. I’ve quietly ordered the ship fueled and provisioned as a further distraction for the Feds.”

Michelle spun the wheel right and took the next side street we saw, then turned left at the next intersection, putting us back on the same street where the chase began. “We’ve got a straight shot to the Promenade. Warn the decoys we’ll be there in three minutes.”

“Roger that.” The channel went silent for a few seconds as Jonas spoke to the decoy team. “Okay, pumpkin, they’ll be ready for you.”

“So, what do Matt and I do after we take this walk on the Promenade?”

“Take a taxi to the space dock south of the city. Go to docking bay AA23 and use the same key code Matt used to open the pirate bay doors on Pegasus Station. Matt’s father bought the ship through half a dozen cutouts, so there’s no way to tie it back to you two.”

Half a kilometer behind us, the three Fed cars roared around the corner and back onto our tail. Michelle immediately abandoned the comparatively sedate speed she’d adopted when we returned to this street and was soon weaving around traffic at breakneck speed.

I wanted Michelle concentrating on her driving, so took up the conversation. “Okay, we go to this other spaceship and just take off. Is it safe to assume you’ve got a flight plan filed?”

“Of course.”

“What about alternate signal transponder codes?”

“Really, sir, must you ask?” Jonas actually sounded slightly offended, enough so to stop using my name.

“Yes. You taught me to never assume anything.”

Magda’s laugh came over the radio. “He’s got you there, dear heart.”

We were less than a kilometer from the Promenade parking deck and Michelle had more traffic to dodge. The three Fed cars were closing the gap, but the nearest one was still several hundred meters behind us.

“One last question, Jonas,” I said. “Where should we go in the spaceship?”

“I…don’t know, sir.” Jonas sounded unsure of himself. That scared me more than anything else we’d faced so far. “For that matter, I don’t want to know.”

Michelle swung into the approach for the parking deck and, briefly clear of traffic, gunned the engine back to top speed.

“What does that mean, Jonas?”

“It means, sir, you’ll be safer if none of us know where you are. Your father has already got company lawyers working on this situation. I’ll use one of Michelle’s message drops when it’s clear for you to come home.”

Michelle braked hard as we entered the parking deck. As we disappeared into the gloom of the deck, the three Fed cars turned onto the approach road. Ten seconds later, a Jusair identical to ours sailed into view as it passed over the three Fed cars. I guessed the decoy hopped the railing from the second level. Well, Jonas did say it would be ostentatious.

As the three Fed cars spun about and set off in pursuit of the decoy, Michelle parked her car in a dark corner in an underground level of the deck. We changed clothes quickly. Michelle pinned her hair up and pulled a ball cap over her blond hair. I put on a matching cap and we grabbed our new identifications.

“Daddy, Mom, Matt and I are leaving the car.”

“I love you, pumpkin,” Jonas said. “Matt, take care of my little girl.”

“Always, Jonas. And she’ll take care of me. Tell my parents I love them.”

“They already know that, Matt,” Magda said, “but we’ll tell them. Go with our love, both of you.”

“We love you, too,” Michelle said, then flipped off the radio.

My wife and I climbed from the car and headed for the Promenade. Hand-in-hand, we left behind everything we knew and everyone we loved.

Where will our young fugitives go to escape the pursuit of the Terran Federation? Find out in Chapter 4, coming Monday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 2

< Chapter 1                                                                                                        Chapter 3 >
After a day spent exercising Matt’s psychic ability, Matt and Michelle go out to dinner with Michelle’s parents.

Even after eight months of marriage to his daughter, I still found it odd watching Jonas in a domestic setting. I’d only known him as my chief of security and, on those occasions when I wanted to sneak off on my own, my diabolical arch-nemesis. In my mind, guarding me encompassed his whole life. I had imagined him living in a small efficiency apartment which was short on luxuries because Jonas was all business. Then came that fateful night when my foolishness forced Jonas to call on Michelle—the secret bodyguard I never knew I had—to rescue me from hired thugs intent on killing me. In the span of five minutes, Jonas morphed into a family man with a wonderful wife and a daughter who just happened to be the love of my life.

“The repulsers on my car have drifted out of alignment, Jonas,” Magda said, taking a delicate bite of her steak.

Jonas, his mind obviously elsewhere, said, “Mm hm.”

Magda gave Michelle and me an exasperated look then grinned. “There’s just enough wobble that I can’t drive naked from the hood of the car anymore.”

Chewing mechanically, Jonas answered the same way. “Is that so?”

“Yes, dear, and now I can’t teach Michelle how to do it. She’s very disappointed.”

Michelle snorted, failing to completely smother her laughter, while I marveled at the strange ways new fantasies are born.

“That’s a pity, dear.”

Michelle’s mother caught Jonas’s hand and shook it. “Dear heart, could you please join us for dinner or, at the very least, tell us what has you so distracted?”

Jonas’s eyes focused on his wife and he gave a tight smile. “I’m sorry, Magda. Work stuff. I’ll try to pay better attention.”

“We haven’t been out to dinner with Michelle and Matt in over a month, Jonas. Considering they are your work, perhaps you could pay more attention to them? Unless you’d like to share what’s distracting you?”

“I’d prefer not to discuss it in such a public location. You never know who might be eaves—”

“Oh, look! It’s Matt and Michelle!” The voice came from behind us, so the speaker didn’t see the pained look cross Michelle’s face and mine when we recognized it. “Why don’t we see you at the clubs anymore, Michelle?”

Jayna, the prettiest and least personable girl in our school walked over to the table. Brenda, second only to Jayna in both categories, trailed along. The two girls wore skirts so short I was surprised they weren’t mooning half the restaurant and shirts whose necklines plunged to their navels.

Michelle plastered on a smile just as warm and genuine as the ones Jayna and Brenda wore. “I’m married now, Jayna. Maybe you heard about it? Some people say it was part of last summer’s biggest news story.”

“Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you have to give up clubbing. Married girls can still go dancing. I suppose you can even bring him along.”  I found myself on the receiving end of a laser-hot stare from Jayna. “He’ll cut into your action, but—”

Michelle looped an arm through mine and leaned against me. “I already get all the action I desire.”

Brenda snorted. “You must not desire much, Michelle. Jayna was there before you and she told me good old Matt is about as clueless as they come.”

I grinned at Brenda. “That’s because I never wanted Jayna. I only dated her to make Michelle jealous.”

Jayna’s eyes bugged out and her mouth opened and closed a few times without anything coming out. I liked the look, but Brenda spoiled the moment by finding her voice.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Matt. Jayna is more beautiful than Michelle.”

“Yes, Jayna is beautiful—just like a perfectly wrapped empty box.” I shook my head in mock pity. “Wrapping paper is all you get. Once you get past it there’s nothing left to discover.”

“You have got to be joking, Matt.” Brenda ran a hand from her neck to her navel. “Unwrapping me is all guys ever care about. Well, unless the guy is an idiot like you. I mean seriously, what has Michelle got that Jayna and I don’t have?”

“A brain.” That earned me a sensuous kiss from Michelle. I didn’t even need a psychic ability to figure out the kiss was a promise for more when we got home.

As Michelle and I finished the kiss, my mother-in-law smiled at the two interlopers. “You’re obviously Jayna, so you just have to be Brenda. Michelle told me all about you two.” Magda turned her smile on Michelle. “It appears I owe you an apology, dear.”

Jayna and Brenda exchanged puzzled looks. Equally confused, Michelle asked, “What do you mean, Mom?”

“I always assumed you were exaggerating when you talked about these two.” Magda shook her head gently. “You’re right, Michelle. They really do put the bitch in the phrase rich bitch.”

As Jayna and Brenda sputtered, Jonas rose and took each girl by an elbow. “I think you girls have overstayed your welcome. Come along.”

Jonas steered the still-sputtering girls to the door. He exchanged a few words with the manager, who escorted the pair the rest of the way out of the restaurant under Jonas’s watchful eye.

As Jonas sat, Michelle asked, “What did you say to the manager, Daddy?”

“Hm? Oh, I just told him Mr. and Mrs. Connaught felt those two had overstayed their welcome.”

“Surely the manager noticed that my parents aren’t even here, Jonas,” I said.

Magda patted my hand. “Jonas was referring to you and Michelle.”

I blushed. “Oh yeah. I’m still getting used to that mister and missus bit. But that still doesn’t explain why the manager threw Jayna and Brenda out.”

“You own this restaurant, Matt,” Jonas said. “Actually, your family owns the company which owns it, but it amounts to the same thing.”

“Oh. I guess I need to spend more time learning all of my family’s holdings. But why did you drag Jayna and Brenda to the door? You could have just called for the manager.”

Jonas’s lips compressed into a frown. “I wanted an excuse to take a look outside.”

“Is that why you were so distracted a few minutes ago, dear?” Magda asked.

Jonas nodded. “The security team outside the restaurant reported a suspicious vehicle parked right outside the door. The team is running the plates but I think Matt should check for threats.”

Michelle took my hand and turned troubled eyes on her father. “Do you think their working for Matt’s uncle?”

“I dearly wish they were, pumpkin, but I think the car belongs to the Federation government. If they’re looking for us, it’s almost certainly Psy Corps.”

My heart leapt into my mouth. “How—?”

“Before we start worrying needlessly, please find out if they’re here for you, Matt.” Jonas gave me one of his rare smiles and his voice assumed the more formal tone he used with me before I married his daughter. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, sir.”

Magda patted Michelle’s hand. “Perhaps you ought to help Matt open up.”

Michelle tore her gaze from me and looked at her mother. “What?”

“Kiss him like you two are back home and tearing each other’s clothes off.”

“Mom!” Michelle’s cheeks reddened slightly, but then she took my head in her hands and did just as her mother suggested.

My mind was whirling and, from the tentative way Michelle kissed me, hers was, too. Gradually, our desire for each other pushed other thoughts of our minds.

“Read the area,” Michelle breathed into my ear.

My mind opened up and I read the emotions from those all around us. Our kiss drew the attention of nearby diners, whose reactions ranged from amusement to nostalgia to disdain. Farther away from us, I picked up a wide range of emotions, none unreasonable from patrons at an expensive restaurant. Expanding my read, I picked up the familiar alertness from the security team outside, this time tinged with concern. And then I found the object of the team’s concern.

Four people close together and with a strong unity of thought. Alert, calm, and determined, the four people waited for one particular person to emerge from the restaurant—me.

I broke the kiss. “I can’t say if they’re Psy Corps, Jonas, but they’re waiting for me.”

“Understood, sir.” Jonas stuck to the formal tone, perhaps hoping its familiarity would calm me—which it did. “Michelle, I had one of the men bring your Jusair in case we needed to split up. It’s parked in an alley behind the restaurant. While you and Matt leave through the kitchen, your mother and I will go out the front and pretend to wait by our usual car for the two of you join us. With any luck, that will distract the people looking for Matt and give you two a chance to escape.”

Michelle turned all business, matching her father’s tone. “Did the security team spot anyone else suspicious in the area?”

“No, but you should assume they have backup within a block of the restaurant. I also recommend you wear your wig and keep Matt out of sight until you’re well away from here.”

“Will do, Daddy. Where do you want us to go?”

Jonas hesitated for a second. “Take a circuitous route to to the M&M. Wait inside the spaceship until you hear from me. You should also refuel and restock the ship.”

Magda paled. “Do you think it’s that bad, Jonas?”

“I hope not, but I also want Matt and Michelle prepared if it is.”

Without another word, Michelle and I got up and walked to the back of the restaurant. The manager met us there and escorted us through the kitchen. He motioned for us to hang back as he opened the backdoor and checked the alley. Then he gave us a nod and we slipped into the alley.

Michelle’s green Jusair was parked right outside the door. Michelle slid into the driver’s seat as I ran around the car and hopped into the passenger seat. My wife popped open a compartment on the dashboard and pulled out a long black wig.

As she flipped the wig over her head, Michelle said, “Lay your head in my lap and stay down whatever happens. We’re coming out onto the street within thirty meters of the people looking for you.”

I did as instructed—usually something I’d find enjoyable—and tried to slow my racing heart as Michelle drove toward the mouth of the alley. She touched the com button on the dashboard. Jonas answered immediately.

“Where are you?”

“Approaching the mouth of the alley. Time for you and Mom to leave the restaurant.”

“We’re going through the doors now. All eyes in the government car are looking at us.”

Seconds later, Michelle stopped the car and her head swiveled back and forth as she checked traffic before pulling out onto the street. With a sharp intake of breath, she muttered, “Dammit, no! Not now!”

“What is it?” Jonas asked over the com.

In answer, I heard a knock on the car’s window followed by Jayna’s voice. “So you decided to ditch boring old Matt and go clubbing with us? You know you look ridiculous in the wig, Michelle?”

Over the com, Jonas said, “The government team just spotted you, Michelle. Go! Now!”

Michelle pushed the throttle to the floor and the little Jusair shot out into the street. Horns blared as cars braked to avoid hitting us. Then more horns sounded down the street as the Federation car accelerated after us. I checked the rearview cam. The Federation car drew closer by the second!

Can Michelle get away from the Federation pursuit team? Find out in Chapter 3 of The Fugitive Pair, coming Friday!

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 1

< Epilogue                                                                                                        Chapter 2 >
Months have passed since Matt and Michelle rescued Matt's parents from space piratesthe events are chronicled in The Fugitive Heir (the title under which The Adventures of M&M will be published). So, how goes life with the most famous newlyweds on Draconis?

Every sense was on high alert as I walked down the path. My eyes scanned everything before me. My ears strained to hear everything behind me. My nose sought out strange and out-of-place odors wafting through the trees. All of my senses concentrated on the task at hand—yet I fought to keep my empathic ability focused on rooting out malicious intent. And it was a major struggle.

My mental filters slipped and slid around in my mind, knocked askew by random sights, sounds, and smells. Once even slightly out of place, unwanted emotions intruded on my thoughts—the simple joy of a gentle breeze on a face, the first gnawing of late afternoon hunger pangs, or casual lust at the sight of a pretty girl.

Wait! I had no pretty girls in my field of vision. I brought my filters back under control and zeroed in on the lusty thoughts. I spotted the guy sitting on a bench about ten meters ahead of me. His gaze wandered a bit but always swung back to look behind me. Concentrating hard, I slammed all of my filters back in place then quickly pulled out the filter for menace.

And that’s when I picked her up, sashaying up the path as pretty as you please and looking like nothing more than a girl enjoying being out and about on such a lovely day. But I knew she was on the prowl, with me playing the part of the prey. I couldn’t begin to guess what she planned to do to me—empaths only pick up emotions, not detailed thoughts—but knowing who was targeting me gave me the advantage.

I slowed down and turned my gaze up into a tree but kept my psychic attention trained on the girl. Judging distance based on emotional feedback isn’t easy, but I’ve been practicing. I waited for the slight uptick in the intensity of the girl’s emotions heralding the change from intent to action.

I never caught the change. Something hit me in the chest with a quiet pop. Looking down, I found red paint splattered right over my heart. Looking up, I saw Jonas, head of my security detail and my father-in-law, watching me over the barrel of a paint gun from thirty meters away.

“You’re dead, Matt,” Jonas called, walking toward me.

“Do I at least get partial credit for picking up Michelle coming up behind me?”

My wife’s arms snaked around me and hugged me from behind. She rose up on her toes and breathed into my ear, “I’ll give you some credit tonight—but I don’t think Daddy will cut you the same slack.”

Michelle was mostly right.

“You can’t be partially dead so you don’t get partial credit.” Then Jonas relented and gave a nod. “Still, you’re getting better. I was surprised when I realized you’d managed to pick up Michelle coming up behind you. It looks like you’re getting better at holding your filters in place.”

I wanted to accept that little bit of praise, but we were working on potentially life-and-death skills. I shook my head. “Not really, Jonas. My filters slipped and I picked up a few random emotions,” I pointed at the man sitting on the bench, “such as Tendack’s as he ogled a pretty girl.”

Michelle crossed her arms and turned a glare on Tendack. “Fantasizing about the boss’s wife, Tendack?”

The man on the bench reddened slightly but grinned into Michelle’s glare. “No, ma’am. I was just sitting here in the park watching for pretty girls. Imagine my surprise when the first one to walk by turned out to be you!”

“We’re still on the estate grounds, Tendack,” Michelle growled, but her smile took all the menace out of it.

“Anyway,” I continued, “since I couldn’t see any pretty girls, I knew Michelle had to be sneaking up behind me.”

“Sneaking?” Michelle protested. “I was just watching your cute ass.”

“So I concentrated my ability behind me and picked up my beautiful-but-deadly wife.” I met Jonas’s eyes and shrugged. “So I didn’t exactly pick Michelle out of the crowd on my own.”

Jonas surprised me by bestowing a smile on me. “You’re downplaying some good work on your part, Matt. You used the information around you and read the situation fairly accurately. The problem came when you concentrated entirely on Michelle and missed my approach and my malicious intent.”

Jonas turned and waved in the rest of the security team, signaling an end to this training session. “So, not exactly great on your part—you did end up dead, after all—but not bad, either. You’ve made some real progress over the last eight months.”

I shook my head. “It just seems like it’s coming so slowly. I mean, I went from holding my ability in check to finding Michelle floating in space in a matter of minutes!”

“Life and death motivate us in ways training just cannot simulate.” Jonas wrapped an arm around Michelle’s shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “Given the choice, I prefer the slow and frustrating approach to training you. After all, someday my daughter’s life might depend on your mastery of those psychic abilities.”

I slipped an arm around Michelle’s waist, trapping her between us. “Me too, Jonas. I just wish I was making better progress.”

Jonas released Michelle and studiously looked away from the two of us. “Mentioning progress, have you managed to figure out how you’re able to broadcast your emotions to Michelle when…Ah…”

“When we’re making love?” Michelle piped up brightly. When Jonas didn’t respond, she said, “Okay, not the phrase my father wants to hear from his daughter. Maybe you’ll like ‘having sex’ better?” Jonas’s cheeks actually reddened slightly at that and Michelle’s grin turned wicked. “Not that, either. Hm, does that mean ‘screwing’ is out, too?”

I took pity on Jonas and interrupted Michelle. “I’m sorry, Jonas, but learning how I project my emotions to Michelle during our most, um, intimate moments takes concentration—and my concentration is on Michelle and not on what my ability is doing.”

“And it had better stay that way, babe,” Michelle added.

“I know what I’m asking is difficult, Matt,” Jonas replied, the red fading from his cheeks. “God knows I remember when Magda and I were newlyweds. I wanted to please her so much—”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Michelle cried. “Daughter present who doesn’t want to hear about her parents’ sex life!”

Now it was Jonas’s turn to grin wickedly. “What? After your list of phrases, I’d have thought—”

“You thought wrong, father dear, and I’ve grown tired of this topic.”

Jonas lifted his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, Michelle, you win. So, I guess I shouldn’t suggest Matt try projecting his emotions to you as part of foreplay?”


“Jonas, dear, are you torturing our daughter?” My mother-in-law, Magda, was dressed to the nines and standing in the doorway to our house. It used to be the guest house, but Mom and Dad gave the house to Michelle and me after we rescued them from pirates.

“Are we running late for our dinner date?” Jonas checked the time. “Besides, she started it.”

Magda shook her head. “I haven’t heard that excuse since the two of you held tickle fights when Michelle was six.” She held up her watch and tapped it. “Our reservations are in one hour, all three of you need to shower and change clothes, and this little house only has two showers.”

Michelle took my hand and led me off toward our bedroom. “No problem. Matt and I can shower together.”

As we disappeared into the bedroom, Magda sighed. “I’ll call the restaurant and tell them we’re going to be late.”

My mother-in-law was right. We were late.

After their previous adventure, Matt and Michelle have more than earned a few easy days like this one. Can these days last for very long? Find out more in Chapter Two of The Fugitive Pair.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Scout's Law - Epilogue

< Chapter 50                                                                                    M&M Book 2 - Chapter 1 >
Chris reacts to the medal Callan awarded to him.


While growing up, I dreamed of the day I’d stand before the royal family and receive an award for valor from the beautiful Princess Callan. Most boys have such dreams at one time or another. Actually having that dream come true was even more exciting than I ever imagined. I just didn’t expect the embarrassment I felt, too.

In your dreams, you swell with pride as your deeds are recounted before your shipmates and the nobles of the court. In your dreams, you know you deserve such praise and are worthy of the admiration directed at you. In your dreams, you’re like David Rice—resolute in the face of danger, an implacable foe of evil, and certain of your rightful place in the pantheon of heroes. 

Throughout the ceremony, I kept waiting for someone to point at me and shout, “Hey, he’s not a hero—he’s just a kid!” But no one did that. They did something worse. They cheered. For me. And for Jade, but at least she deserved it.

The next thing I knew my shipmates were slapping my back and pumping my hand. Then the officers saluted me—even Captain Wright—and told me I was shaping up to be a fine young officer.

When the officers and crew parted, it was to let my family through. Mom hugged me and kissed me and cried and told me how much she loved me. Dad squeezed my shoulder and, in a voice husky with emotion, said he was so proud of me he was about to burst. The scariest part was my brothers and sisters. They were nice to me and said they always knew I’d make a name for myself.

Then we were whisked off to a fancy ball where lords and ladies shook my hand and told me they expected great things from me. Admirals saluted me and their wives introduced giggling daughters to me. I found every dance on my card taken up with the admirals’ daughters or admirals’ wives. All I really wanted to do was dance with Jade, to look into her green eyes and find a little sanity in this strange world I’d been thrust into. But Jade was busy dancing with the sons of merchant princes and lordlings.

Finally, Callan used her royal prerogative and placed herself at the top of my dance card. She whirled me out onto the dance floor, leading without appearing to lead. She studied me for a moment before asking, “What’s bothering you, Chris? And don’t tell me it’s dancing with every eligible young lady in the court. It’s something deeper than that.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but the words wouldn’t come. How could I tell my future ruler she’d given an award to someone who didn’t deserve it? Instead, I just shook my head.

Callan gazed at me thoughtfully for a few seconds then said, “Let me guess. You think you’re just a regular ensign who doesn’t deserve all of this attention, much less the Queen’s Cross, and you’re just waiting for someone to realize it’s all a mistake.”

My mouth dropped open and I blurted, “How did you know?”

Callan leaned closer to me and whispered, “Because I’ve heard the same thing from David half a dozen times.”

My mouth dropped open a second time. “David? But he’s a true hero! He deserves every honor given him and more!”

“If you ask David, he’ll tell you he’s just a man doing his duty as best he can,” Callan said.

I found myself nodding vigorously. “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel!”

“May I tell you a secret, Chris?” Callan asked. When I nodded, she continued, “A hero is someone who does their duty and keeps on doing their duty no matter how trying the circumstances.” Callan brought us to a halt in the middle of the dance floor, took my hands in hers, and stared deeply into my eyes. “And you, my young ensign, are a hero.”

David and Jade spun to a stop next to us and I heard David say, “Of course he’s a hero. And so is Jade!”

“But I don’t feel like a hero!” Jade and I both said at the same time. We looked at each other in amazement and both said, “Of course you’re a hero!”

Callan deftly maneuvered Jade into my arms. “I’m declaring both of your dance cards closed except for each other for the rest of the ball. Dance or don’t dance, but do both together.” Callan laid a hand lightly on Jade’s arm. “Oh, and Chris has been so sweet he really deserves a kiss. I thought about giving him one, but why would he want to kiss an old married woman when he can kiss the most beautiful young lady in the palace?”

“Who, me?” Jade asked in surprise.

I pulled her close and said, “Yes, you.”

And, right there in the middle of the crowded dance floor, in plain sight of both of our families, I kissed the most beautiful young lady in my universe.

The End

This is not the last we’ll see of Chris and Jade, but it’s time to pursue another story which vexed your author many months ago. Rest assured he has a much better idea of where the story will go. Join us on Monday for Chapter 1 of The Adventures of M&M: Book 2 (aka The Fugitive Heir: Book 2).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 50

< Chapter 49                                                                                                 Epilogue >
Thor is dead, his base is destroyed, and Freya is on the run.


The search crews pulled twenty-three survivors and eighteen bodies from the remains of Thor’s base. Among the survivors was Jade’s former sort-of-boyfriend Forbose. From interviews with the survivors, it’s estimated as many as sixty bodies still lay buried under the mountain.

I couldn’t be there when Forbose and Jade met afterward. According to Jade’s mother, the slap Jade gave the boy is probably still echoing through the mountains. I suspect Forbose preferred the slap to his confrontation with Jade’s father, which boiled down to an ‘if you come near my little girl again you’ll wish you were buried under that mountain’ warning. Chris and the two Vanguard crewmen Forbose was abusing when Chris punched the larger boy visited Forbose last. They never touched him, but Jade told me Forbose was white as a sheet when the trio left him.

It took the Federation less than a day to locate Freya traveling toward the southern city-states. A consulate aircar delivered her to Mordanian authorities a few hours later. Freya wore an expression of utter disbelief when she was dragged into the Mordanian Court. She now has a sparse room in the Mordanian women’s prison, where she awaits a date with the headsman’s axe. Federation officials issued a pro forma protest at this treatment of a Federation citizen. Callan offered to commute the sentence to life in prison if the Federation could provide proof of citizenship. Whoever sent the woman to Aashla scrubbed her background completely, including deletion of her DNA records. Freya refuses to cooperate with the Federation and she can defeat their best interrogation drugs. We still have no idea what her mission really was and Freya is intent on taking that with her to the grave.

A week after the trial, the crew of the Tercel lined up behind the surviving crew from the Vanguard in the palace’s largest audience chamber. King Edwar and Queen Elaina officially presided over the ceremony, but all eyes were on Callan. That’s not a fair assessment of the situation since all eyes were usually on Callan even when she wasn’t dressed and coifed to regal perfection as she was today. But no one doubted this was Callan’s ceremony from beginning to end.

She opened with an impassioned account of what bards were already calling the Weather War, lauding the bravery and dedication of the men standing before her and acknowledging the sacrifices of those who journey home in coffins. Her eyes shining with unshed tears, Callan personally presented the families of those lost with folded Mordanian flags and a Cross of Morda, awarded only to those who gave their lives in the service of their country. Without any memory aid, she referred to family members by name, hugged wives and parents, kissed children, and briefly shared grief with all of them.

She presented the same honors to the families of the Wind Dancer’s three lost crewmen. Flown to Morda by Federation representatives, these poor people were still struggling to come to grips with their losses. At least the families of the naval airmen recognized this day might come. Merchant airmen rarely face such dangers, leaving their families unprepared for tragic news.

With the hardest part of the ceremony out of the way, Callan recognized each of the crewmen standing before her—including the crew of the Wind Dancer—giving special recognition to the marines who tossed Thor overboard and the marine sergeant who tackled her to the ground and shielded her with his body.

When she finished with her presentations to the surviving crewmen, everyone expected Callan to return to the dais and officially end the ceremony. Instead, she called, “Jade Cochran, please step forward.”

The blonde’s eyes widened and her equally surprised mother had to give her a little shove to get her moving toward Callan. The girl stopped in front of the dais and curtsied. “Yes, Your Highness?”

“Jade, you risked and almost lost your life aiding in the rescue of the surviving crew of the Vanguard. In light of the destruction of the mountain base, there can be no doubt that your actions saved their lives and, quite likely, the Prince Consort’s life as well. We all owe you a debt beyond repayment.” A servant presented an open box to Callan. She withdrew an ornate, star-shaped medal dangling from a green and gold ribbon and fastened it around Jade’s neck. “From a grateful country and an equally grateful princess, please accept the Princess’s Star, our highest civilian award for courage and service to the throne.”

Callan kissed the girl on each cheek, lingering to whisper, “David also thanks you for pushing me from the pinnace before you went after him.”

Callan was absolutely right. I don’t know how my actions would have changed had Callan been present, but it’s likely Captain Jorson and the Tercel would have been wrecked in the second windstorm had Callan not been there to describe the weather control device and tell him where to look for it. That, alone, probably saved dozens of lives.

Jade giggled and waited for Callan to dismiss her back to her family. Instead, Callan motioned for the girl to stay where she was.

Callan once again addressed the gathered crowd. “Ensign Christopher Marlow, please step forward.”

Equally as surprised as his new girlfriend, Chris managed a parade ground march to the foot of the dais. He bowed deeply and said, “I am yours to command, Your Highness.”

“Rise, Ensign,” Callan responded formally. “After surviving the crash of the Vanguard and avoiding death or capture by trogs serving our enemy, Ensign Marlow thought only of finding and aiding the Prince Consort and me. He did exactly that, providing invaluable assistance tracking the trogs to the mountain base. It was near that cave entrance that we found ourselves trapped by a large number of trogs, each armed with blaster rifles. Thinking only to protect David and me, Ensign Marlow offered up his own life to keep our presence secret. By the grace of God, the shots fired at him missed. While I mourned him for dead, one of the trogs simply knocked out Ensign Marlow. While his actions to follow were valorous and a credit to him, Ensign Marlow’s ready willingness to sacrifice his own life to protect ours is deserving of special recognition.”

The same servant presented another box to Callan, from which she drew another green and gold ribbon to which an emerald-encrusted gold cross was attached. Chris’s eyes widened at the sight of the medal.

“Could you bend over slightly so I can reach around your neck, Chris?” Callan asked in a low voice.

Chris did as Callan asked and she fastened the ribbon behind his neck. “From a grateful country and an equally grateful royal family, for actions above and beyond the call of duty I award you the Queen’s Cross, the second highest military award for valor our country presents.”

After Callan kissed Chris on both cheeks, Queen Elaina rose and kissed him on the forehead, adding her private thanks for protecting her daughter. Chris bowed low to his queen and princess. Then Callan turned Chris and Jade to face the crowd and linked arms with them.

“Ladies and gentlemen, officers and airmen, in the history of Mordan only our beloved, late Milo earned the Princess’s Star at a younger age than Jade. And no member of the Mordanian Navy has earned the Queen’s Cross at such a young age as Ensign Marlow.” Callan paused to bestow a smile on each of them. “These two are shining examples of the kind of young people our country and our world produce. Look upon them and feel hope, for Aashla’s future rests on shoulders of such bright and brave young men and women.”

Callan stepped back and gently pushed Chris and Jade together. Immediately, the crews of the Vanguard and the Tercel raised their voices, cheering lustily for the blushing teenagers. A second later, the rest of the crowd joined in and the audience chamber rang with applause.

The adventure is over, but there’s still a little of the story yet to tell. Find out the rest in the Epilogue, coming Friday.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 49

< Chapter 48                                                                                                 Chapter 50 >
The fight is over and all appears well for our heroes when Thor’s mountain base suddenly explodes!


David and I whirled to face the mountain a few miles off. Dust billowed all about Thor’s base, blocking our view. The wind slowly carried the dust away, revealing the mountaintop in time for us to see some of the surface crumble and collapse in on itself.

“It looks like someone collapsed the cave entrance we discovered…” David’s voice trailed off for a moment. “God, can it only have been yesterday morning?”

I took out the comm the marine had taken from Thor and stared at it. “Was any of this really worth dying for, Freya?”

David cocked his head, eying the comm. “Where did—”

I realized I hadn’t turned off the comm when Freya’s voice issued from it. “You’re right, little princess, none of this was worth my life. It was worth a lot of other people’s lives, though. In that light, I’m sure you can understand why I wasn’t in that ridiculous mountain base.”

I stared at the comm unit with incredulity. “No, Freya, I can’t understand any of this.”

David gently took the comm from me and spoke into it. “This whole situation is extremely convoluted and expensive—especially for an AFIP operation. You guys are usually quite straightforward—find a way to arm the primitives and then attack the nearest human city. I didn’t even know AFIP had the skill and resources to do something as delicate as implant surgery.”

Freya laughed merrily, “Yes, the fippers are a depressingly direct bunch of idiots. And no, left to themselves they couldn’t have stolen working diplomatic and military implants, much less surgically installed them. They were quite happy to have a ‘recruit’ who could do both. Thor and that exiled princeling were quite excited to get their implants. Men are so easy to manipulate—dangle power, sex, or revenge before them and they’ll fall all over themselves to do your bidding. I’m sure the little princess knows exactly what I mean. I’ve seen how you fawn over her, Rice.”

Confusion spread over David’s face. “You’re not a fipper?”

“My, you are slow on the uptake. And here I thought you Scouts were supposed to be smart. Maybe all that honor, oaths, duty, and trustworthiness dulls the mind,” Freya said, her voice thick with condescension. “Why don’t you be a good little man and hand the comm back to the princess.”

I took the comm back from David. “I don’t know who you think you are, you pathetic woman, but you do not threaten my planet, kill my people, and insult my husband! You sound just like one of those supercilious galactic diplomats I’ve dealt with ever since Aashla established contact with the Terran Federation. You expect us to fall all over ourselves to get our hands on your cast off technological baubles and then act surprised and offended when we don’t sign over all of our mineral rights for a pile of cheap crap. You and your kind make me sick.”

“A very impassioned speech, little princess. No wonder everyone either loves or loathes you,” Freya replied. “Anyway, it’s been fun chatting but now it’s time for me to get on with my real mission.”

“You do realize you’re going to stand out here on Aashla,” I said. “You don’t know our customs and you sure the hell don’t understand a woman’s position in this world.”

“You’d be amazed how much information the Federation has gathered on your world, little princess,” Freya sneered, “and it’s all stored in my implant. So don’t you worry about me—I’ll fit right in.”

I laughed at Freya and it was not a pleasant sound. “Thank you, Freya. We’d have caught you eventually, but now I know we’ll have you within a few days.”

“Nice try, princess, but I know better,” Freya said. “I might die from bad luck—barbaric worlds like yours have all sorts of ways to kill—but no one will capture me. I’m just that good at what I do.”

“I’m sure you’ll believe that right up until you find yourself standing before me in the Mordanian Court,” I said. “Then I’ll teach you the true meaning of barbaric. You will beg me for the blessed release of death before I’m finished with you.”

I thumbed the comm unit off and dropped it in a pocket. Looking up, I found David, Jade, and Chris staring at me.

“What?” I asked.

A leer spread across David’s face. “God, you’re sexy when you play the barbaric princess!”

Chris and Jade blushed bright crimson and quickly turned away.

“I wasn’t playing, David—at least not entirely. That woman has a lot to pay for and I am going to collect her debt.” I said. Running a finger lazily down David’s arm, I flashed my best sultry smile and added, “But I’ll be happy to treat you to a night of enthusiastic barbarism when we get home.”

“But how are you going to capture one woman out of millions?” David asked. “That’s hard enough on a Federation world where everyone carries identification and every transaction leaves a digital footprint. But here—”

“Even though you’ve lived here for nine years, David, sometimes you still think like a Federation citizen,” I said. “Freya admitted she has an implant and the Federation has sensors capable of finding anyone with one.”

“Sure they can, but the implants don’t broadcast the owner’s identity,” David said. “Do you have any idea how many people have implants?”

“On your home world, millions,” I said. “On Aashla, eighty-six. Eighty-seven if you count Freya.”

David’s eyes widened in surprise. “You’re right, I was still thinking like a Federation citizen.”

“And so is Freya,” I said. “I’d love to see the look on her face when she’s captured.”

From the deck of the Tercel, we heard Captain Jorson issuing orders and organizing teams to return to the mountain base and search for survivors. David looked up at the airship and said, “I should join one of those teams.”

“You most certainly should not, darling! How many times have you Boosted since you last slept?” I asked. When David looked down sheepishly without answering, I continued, “That’s what I thought. You’re going to rest and get something to eat. The Mordanian Navy will find a way to manage without your help.”

A few feet away, Jade said, “David hasn’t removed you from my care, Chris, and it’s my opinion you are too injured to join a search team.”

“But Jade—” Chris tried to protest.

“Don’t make me appeal to a higher power, Ensign!” Jade said. “I am certain Callan—um, Her Highness—will agree with me.”

“She’s right, Chris,” I called to the teenagers. “But since you desperately want to do something useful, you can take one of the Tercel’s pinnaces and escort Jade back to her family.”

Jade looked distinctly uncomfortable at my suggestion. “Dad’s going to be awfully mad at me for flying off.”

“But he’ll be even more relieved to know you’re safe,” I said. “Chris, are you up to this onerous duty?”

“Flying a pinnace?” Chris asked. “Sure.”

I shook my head. “I meant are you up to meeting Jade’s parents? For some reason young men always get nervous about that.”

“Um, I think so?” Chris replied.

“Just let Jade introduce you, Chris,” David said. “You risked your own life to save hers. Fathers tend to appreciate that sort of thing.”

“It sounds like I’ve missed all sorts of excitement,” I said, linking my arm in David’s. “Let’s board the Tercel and you can tell me all about it while the crew prepares a pinnace.”

David let Jade and Chris tell most of the story, only speaking up to downplay his own role or to highlight the courage of others. By the time Jade and Chris left in the pinnace—Jade pulled rank on Chris and took the controls—I had most of the story. David was asleep before the pinnace was out of sight.

Will Terran Federation representatives find Freya? And what will Jade’s parents think of Chris? Find out in Chapter 50, coming Wednesday.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 48

< Chapter 47                                                                                                 Chapter 49 >
As the Tercel rushes to David’s aid, the mob before him charges!


Incited by someone who wasn’t on the front line, the men before me raised their swords and charged. With Boost-supplied adrenaline still burning through my veins, I leapt forward with quickness impossible for normal men. My sword flashed in the morning light as I swung it at the nearest attacker. The man’s battle cry turned to a gurgle as my razor sharp blade sliced through his throat. Hot blood sprayed into the air, adding more red stains to my already-ruined clothes. I carried the stroke past the dying man and cut the arm of the man next to him down to the bone. He stumbled aside, screaming, as I danced back out of range of the slow counter-attacks aimed at me.

My feet shuffled through the sand and rocks, giving me another idea. Digging a foot into the loose ground, I kicked up at the mob in front of me. Sand, dust, and rocks pelted the men before me and several of them clapped hands to their eyes. I lunged at one, driving a foot of bloody blade into his gut. Twisting the blade, I pulled it free. I saw the man’s eyes go wide in shock before the fight drew my attention elsewhere.

Skipping backward again, I parried two attacks but was unable to find the time to return the attack. From the corner of my eye, I saw the bright glint of steel on my right side and one of my attackers fell as a sword stabbed completely through his thigh. Another flash came from my left and the other attacker barely managed to parry a thrust aimed at his heart. Then the crack of blaster rifles opened up behind us and men on both of our far flanks fell before the shooting of Jade and the two ship’s boys who were armed with modern weapons.

“Sorry we’re late, sir,” Chris said from my right. “We had a tad more ground to cover than you did.”

A quick glance to either side showed Chris and the other three ensigns from the Vanguard standing beside me. All four wore the set expressions of frightened young men determined to master their fear and do their duty.

“It’s good to have you men by my side,” I said, hoping my calm appreciation of their aid might settle their nerves a bit. “All we have to do is hold our line until the Tercel arrives.”

I shuffled forward on the loose terrain and feinted a low thrust against the man before me. As soon as his sword dipped, I reversed direction and sliced upward. Instinctively, the man pulled his hips back to protect his groin and presented his chest to my blade. It sliced through clothing and skin, opening a deep gash from his stomach to his breastbone.

As I stepped back into line with the ensigns, another round of blaster bolts burned the men trying to work their way around our line. I said, “Don’t worry overmuch about the flanks, men. It seems our companions have that well in hand.”

The mob spread out before us and the men on the far ends edged their way forward in an attempt to fully encircle us all.

To either side of me, the young men held their line, showing just how effective a little discipline and teamwork can be against a mob. But that advantage would vanish as soon as our enemies flanked us.

“Fall back toward Jade and the ship’s boys, lads,” I ordered. “Take it steady and maintain discipline.”

Blades clashed and flashed and it seemed I was the only one able to score an effective hit. Then the ensign on the far left gave a cry and stumbled backward. His sword fell from fingers which refused to obey his commands and his free hand clapped over a deep cut in his shoulder. The man who cut him raised a fist and yelled in triumph—then a blaster bolt struck him in the forehead and he slowly toppled backward.

Behind me, Jade muttered, “Take that, you son of a—”

Jade’s next word was drowned out by screams from both sides of us. Looking to my left, I saw a massive ballista bolt impaling four men. More men lay bleeding and screaming along the bolt’s path. A quick glance to the right showed a similar scene. Then men before me cried out and pitched to the ground, crossbow quarrels sticking out of them.

Over the screams, I clearly heard Captain Jorson bellow, “Marines, away! Crossbowmen, reload and fire at will!”

The Tercel was here!

With a full-throated roar, the airship’s marine contingent swung down to attack. Each of them released their rope on the upswing. They flew at our enemies’ rear line, swords raised and teeth bared. Landing just outside of sword thrust range, the marines waded into the poorly trained men with obvious relish. Then another hail of crossbow quarrels rained down on the remnants of Thor’s army and more men cried and fell.

Jorson’s voice cut through the din of battle easily. “Any man who drops his sword and goes to his knees will not be harmed!”

Almost as one, the men before us released their weapons and dropped to the ground. Two men didn’t get the message and the marines cut them down. And then the fight was over.

Dropping Boost, I rushed to the wounded ensign and eased him down to the ground. He struggled gamely not to cry, but tears shone in his eyes.

“Captain, we need a doctor!” I called.

“He’s on his way, sir,” Jorson responded.

“Are you hurt, David?” Callan’s lilting voice carried over the after-battle noise as Jorson’s did.

“I’m fine, dear, thanks to Chris and the other ensigns.”

Chris?” Callan cried in wonder. “He’s alive?”

“I am Your Highness,” Chris responded. “Please forgive me if my actions caused you any distress!”

Then Dr. Mach bustled up and bent over the wounded ensign. Cutting away the young man’s shirt, Mach said jovially, “Ah, that’s going to leave quite the lovely scar, Ensign Parnel. The young ladies are going to be very impressed!”

Looking up, Mach quietly added, “I need to close that wound now. I’m afraid I’m going to need a couple of men to hold the lad still.”

Chris dropped to his knees next to his fellow ensign. “Just tell me what to do, sir.”

Perhaps remembering the somewhat queasy young ensign he’d seen at the start of it all, Mach eyed Chris critically. “Are you sure you’re up to it, Ensign?”

Chris returned the doctor’s gaze calmly. “Of course, sir.”

Mach gave a quick nod. “Yes, I believe you are.”

Minutes later, with the ensign’s wound tightly stitched, the doctor oversaw lifting the wounded young man up to the Tercel. Chris and I rose to feet and found ourselves confronted by the only two women present. Callan ran her eyes over me, no doubt assuring herself I really was unhurt. Jade skipped that step and grabbed Chris in a fierce hug.

As my wife wrapped her arms around me, she watched the teenagers with a smile. “I think they make a lovely couple, don’t you, darling?”

I nodded. “And they managed to find each other without any help from you or your mother.”

Just as I bent close to kiss Callan, a massive explosion shook the mountain behind us!

What happened to Thor’s base? Was Freya caught in the blast? Find out in Chapter 49, coming Monday!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 47

< Chapter 46                                                                                                 Chapter 48 >
On board the Tercel, Callan faces off against Thor, commander of the men attacking David and the crew of the Vanguard.


Much as I wanted to watch the battle and reassure myself David was safe, I knew Thor could be the key to ending the conflict as soon as possible. Turning back to him, I studied the devices the marine took from Thor. I couldn’t figure out what most of the things did, but two were obvious. Keeping the blaster pistol and the comm, I handed all but those two items back to the marine who captured him, then ordered the marines holding Thor to bring him to the bow rail.

“Your men are going to lose, Thor,” I said, pointing at the distant battle. “This is your chance to save a few lives. When I hold the comm to your mouth, order the men to surrender.”

Thor laughed, drawing a rough shake and glares from the marines. “Show some respect!”

“Or what? You’ll kill me?” Thor looked me in the eyes, calm despite the situation. “I could not care less about the lives of any of those men fighting over there. If their deaths can also buy the death of your planet despoiling husband, I’ll die knowing my sacrifice was worthwhile.”

I cursed myself silently for not turning the comm on before speaking to this strange man. That one admission could have spurred exactly the surrender I wanted. I thumbed the unit on, hoping Thor might see fit to say something equally damning.

“I don’t understand you one bit,” I said. “How can you hate humanity so much that you’re willing to throw away the lives of those who serve you?”

Shifting his eyes to the comm, Thor smiled and said, “The Mordanians have taken me. Press the attack and avenge me!”

I nodded at one of the marines and a fist slammed into Thor’s stomach. His breath whooshed out of him, leaving him incapable of speaking. Raising the comm, I said, “This is Her Royal Highness Princess Callan of Mordan. Throw down your arms and surrender. You have my word you’ll receive fair treatment and fair trials.”

“Well, well, if it isn’t the media darling herself,” said an unknown, feminine voice. “I’ve turned off the links to the comms worn by our men. They haven’t heard a word since you first turned the comm on.”

“And you must be the lady of the base. Freya, isn’t it?” I replied.

“That’s the name I’ve used on this operation.”

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to tell me your real name?” I asked. “I so dislike using false names.”

“Says the woman who uses one name and three titles when introducing herself,” Freya sneered. “Besides, I haven’t used my birth name in decades. You’ll just have to make do with what you know.”

“Have it your way. I’m sure the Terran Federation will discover your real name when we turn you over to them.”

Soft and sultry laughter came from the comm. “You’re not going to capture me, little princess, and you’re not going to hold Thor for much longer.”

Despite his wheezing, Thor managed to gasp out, “Farewell, my love. Savor this revenge!”

I looked at the man in alarm, recognizing someone accepting the idea of his own death. “Throw him overboard!”

The marines didn’t hesitate, tossing Thor over the railing immediately. The marine who had captured him tackled me to the deck a second before the explosion. With sickening splats, pieces of Thor landed on the deck. A thin red mist rose next to the Tercel before drifting away on the wind.

“Are you hurt, Your Highness?” demanded the marine who tackled me.

All around us, officers and airmen rushed to our aid. Men shouted as I tried to reassure everyone. Then Dr. Mach pushed through the crowd and knelt next to me.

The doctor’s eyes roamed over my body with a detached professionalism I rarely received from men. “I don’t see any injuries, Your Highness. How do you feel?”

“I feel quite grateful to the sergeant and his men for their quick reactions, Doctor. Now, if you would all stop hovering, I’d like to get up.” I smiled to take any possible sting from my words. Once back on my feet, I turned to Captain Jorson and asked, “How goes the battle?”

Now reassured I was unhurt, the crew quickly turned their attention back to the battle. Seconds later, Jorson said, “The Tercel has been seen, Your Highness, and it looks like our arrival has taken the fight out of our enemies. They’re surrendering!”

A cheer rose from the crew and I felt my knot of tension loosen. Lieutenant Tucker, his spyglass still raised to his eye, spoke over the cheers, “A good hundred of the cowards have taken to their heels, Captain, and are running off into the desert.”

Grinning broadly, Captain Jorson said, “A fat lot of good that will do for them, eh? They’ll come crawling back to surrender when they get thirsty!”

“I am less certain of that, sir,” Tucker replied as he unconsciously leaned forward. “It looks like Captain Rice has Boosted and is pursuing them!”

My knot of tension tightened once again. “Can you see why he’s chasing them, Lieutenant?”

“I’m looking, Your Highness, but—” Tucker froze for an interminable second, his glass locked on something far beyond my unaided sight. “Good God, it’s the Vanguard’s ensigns, the ship’s boys, and a young woman! An officer must have ordered them away before the battle began, but they’re too tired to run fast. If Thor’s men catch them, they’ll negotiate the lives of the youngsters against their own freedom!”

“Does the crew of the Vanguard have their situation well in hand?” I asked.

Jorson swung his spyglass back to the wrecked airship. “They do, Your Highness. Shall we go to Captain Rice’s aid?”

“Yes, Captain, and at all possible speed,” I replied, silently praying we could reach David in time.

“Mister Montgomery!” Jorson called across the deck. “We need all the speed you can coax from the engines!”

“Aye aye, sir!” Montgomery said, unabashed glee evident in his voice. “And thank you, sir!”

The roar of the engines increased immediately. The airship’s big propellers thrummed louder as they spun faster and faster. To my surprise, I had to catch hold of the railing to keep from losing my balance as the big airship surged forward. The Vanguard's crew waved as we passed overhead, cheering us onward.

I raised a hand to shield my eyes as I squinted into the bright morning sunlight. I made out a single figure—David, of coursestanding between the mob of men and the children. Then, to my horror, the men sprang toward my husband!

Can David hold Thor’s men off until the Tercel arrives? Find out in Chapter 48, coming Friday!