Book: But Now I See
Table of Contents
About But Now I See
Praise for The Indigo Reports series
But Now I See
Did you enjoy this story? How to make a big difference!
The next book in the Indigo Reports series.
Sneak Peak: Kiss Across Seas
About the Author
Other books by Tracy Cooper-Posey
About But Now I See
A lethal cat and mouse game.
To pay off a long-standing debt, Tatiana Wang, captain of the freeship Hathaway, takes aboard a politically high-risk passenger. When the Hathaway is caught by the Karassian military’s flagship, led by the biocomp captain Yishmeray, “high risk” becomes “deadly.”
The But Now I See novelette is part of the Indigo Reports space opera series by award-winning SF author Tracy Cooper-Posey.
The Indigo Reports series:
0.5 Flying Blind
1.0 New Star Rising
1.1 But Now I See
2.0 Suns Eclipsed
3.0 Worlds Beyond
…and more to come.
Praise for The Indigo Reports series
Tracy makes the world come alive and by the time you get to the end of the story your sitting on the edge.
An exciting glimpse of what's to come by this author in the SciFi genre.
True SciFi is a magnificent world to enter and this is just the beginning of what I know will be a great series.
Hits all the things that I love about Sci-fi.
So much story!! So much promise!! This will keep my inner nerd happy.
Keeping close tabs on this new Sci-fi series.
I am a big fan of Tracy Cooper-Posey’s because I thoroughly enjoy the intrigue she generates with her fictional-but-believable worlds and unpredictable plots
This little window into the world of SciFi did not disappoint me, in fact, I think I'm addicted!!
But Now I See
Freeship Hathaway. Cardenas Extended Spacezone.
The second time Maximilian Cardenas Scordini de Deluca stepped onto Captain Tatiana Wang’s bridge, he left as deep an impression as the first, yet they were very different impressions.
Someone has beaten experience into him lately, Tatiana thought. She held still as the Eriuman lieutenant came toward her, his stride across the steel plating of the bridge deck sure and even.
Everyone on the bridge had grown still, warily watching Lieutenant Cardenas approach their captain. Ruh stood stiffly just in front and to one side of Tatiana, his arms crossed and his legs spread. He was in full protection mode, but he did not attempt to stop Cardenas when the taller man moved passed him. Cardenas didn’t even look at Ruh.
Cardenas was not wearing his pretty purple uniform with the gold braid and ribbons. Instead, his jacket was simple and dark, the trousers even darker. The shirt beneath had no collar, was soiled, rumpled and looked as though he had been wearing it for days. His chin was dark with growth. Fatigue pulled at his black eyes and made his shoulders slump.
His gaze was still direct, though. He remained the privileged son of Erium even though his life had clearly not been easy or pleasant lately.
When the woman stepped out from behind Cardenas, Tatiana was only surprised it was a female accompanying Cardenas. The skiff Ruh had maneuvered into the cargo bay with the grappling beams had been small and scans had told them there were two people aboard.
Tatiana spotted blood on the woman’s long skirt and silky shirt, beneath the oversized male jacket only just hanging on her shoulders. The woman had Eriuman-black hair and eyes and dark olive skin. Her skin glowed with care and good health. Tatiana also spotted the familial features—the similarity to Maximillian Cardenas in her dark, direct gaze and the determined chin. With a jolt, Tatiana realized who this must be—the sister the lieutenant had spoken of when they had first met four years ago. This was the woman whose influence had made Max let Tatiana and her family go, despite Eriuman policy.
Tatiana’s gaze dropped to the blood stains again. They were stale, stiff, dark brown patches. There had been a lot of blood. The trouble that had forced Maximilian Cardenas to reach out to Tatiana involved his sister.
“Captain Wang,” the lieutenant said, in accented Common. “I appreciate your timely arrival here.”
Tatiana had forgotten the accent, although she had remembered every word he had said the first time he had boarded her ship. “We are in Eriuman space,” she said. “Right over Cardenas itself. The satellites are thick, here. We won’t go undetected for long, so I suggest you get to business.”
“You won’t be seen,” Cardenas said. “I have a…friend, who is making sure of that as we speak.”
Tatiana let out a breath. She trusted him in this matter, especially as his sister was with him. She knew he was trying to protect her right now, although the shape of the threat was still unknown to Tatiana.
“Do you have it?” Cardenas asked.
Tatiana couldn’t help but smile. Then he had deliberately dropped it. She moved around the navigation table and over to the high bench that was her desk and control dashboard, terminal and command post. She opened the left-hand drawer and pulled out the tiny box from the back of it and opened it.
The purple fragment of cloth still clung to the back of the gilt button. Tatiana picked up the button and moved back to where the two Eriumans stood in the middle of the open area of the bridge, surrounded by Tatiana’s crew.
Tatiana held out the button. “You are about to ask me to repay this, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”
He took the button. “Max, for now,” he said shortly. He rested his hand on the shoulder of the woman standing next to him. She was not much shorter than him and Max Cardenas was a tall man. “This is my sister, Bellona.”
Bellona considered Tatiana for a moment, then gave her a very small nod.
“Welcome aboard my ship, Bellona,” Tatiana told her. She looked at Max and waited.
“I want you to take Bellona to Cerce,” Max said.
Not, “Can you take her?” There was no question in there anywhere.
Tatiana hid her sigh, looking at the button she had just given back to him, held between his fingers. “If we are found with one of the Scordinii aboard, by any navy, it will not go well.”
“About as well as it went for me, when I had to explain why I let a freeship go, four years ago.” His tone was even. There was no threat there. He was simply explaining the facts.
Tatiana nodded. “Very well, then. This will clear the debt between us?”
Ruh’s arms dropped. “Tia, no! This is…madness.”
Max barely glanced at him. He had already assessed Ruh as no threat.
Tatiana scowled. “I apologize. My brother has forgotten who is captain.”
Max Cardenas and his sister merely nodded.
Tatiana experienced a sudden urge to see either of them smile. The sadness dripped from them, making her heart beat hard. “Once I have brought your sister to Cerce, then what? A daughter of the Eriuman will be noticed.”
Max did not look at his sister, or confer with her in any way. “If you would print her some clothes from your files, Bellona will take care of the rest.”
“The rest of what?” Tatiana asked curiously.
Max cleared his throat. “I don’t know. I do not want to know. My part in this is at an end. I have taken her off Cardenas and away from…and away.”
Bellona curled her hand around his arm. Tatiana could see her fingers whiten as she squeezed. Her throat worked.
Max gave a soft sound and turned to take her in his arms in a tight, hard hold. Bellona clung just as tightly and while the entire bridge watched, they held each other without shame or embarrassment.
Ruh scowled at the pair. As a male and the head of his own nuclear family which included three grown daughters, he did not approve of such a public demonstration, for he had been raised to the same standards as Tatiana. She, though, understood why the pair cared nothing for who watched them. Whatever the trouble that had brought them here, it was grave enough for them to believe this would be the last time they saw each other. It would force just about anyone to put aside propriety, even her own stiff-necked, proper family.
When Max let his sister go, he blinked hard and cleared his throat again. He picked up her hand. “In a while…I don’t know how long…when I think it’s safe, I’ll have Sang come and find you.” He was speaking in Eriuman, although Tatiana had no trouble following it. She had made herself fluent in both Eriuman and the two most popular dialects the Karassians used, in the last few years.
Bellona shook her head. “You can’t risk it. They’ll be watching you, waiting for you to do exactly that.” She had a pleasant voice, nicely modulated and well-trained, each word spoken beautifully. “You have to go back and erase any trail, then pretend to be as shocked as anyone else.”
Max looked as though he wanted to protest. She gripped his hand even harder. “You must,” she insisted. “You’re all Mother has left, now.”
Max considered her for a long moment. Then, reluctantly, he nodded and let her hand go. He squared his shoulders and faced Tatiana once more. “You have my gratitude, Captain,” he said, sliding back into Common.
Tatiana nodded. “I understand how valuable Eriuman gratitude can be. Thank you. I will see your sister safely delivered.”
His gaze dropped to the deck. She saw him take a deep breath. Then he straightened, spun on his heel and stalked off the Bridge, heading for the main passage that would take him back down to the cargo hold. Again, he did not so much as glance at Ruh as he passed him.
Bellona watched the passage long after her brother could no longer be seen. Tatiana moved back around to her bench and started launch prep as the woman stood transfixed.
The preparations forced Ruh back to his own desk next to Tatiana—he had graduated from the Comms terminal years ago.
It was only after the ship shuddered under the impact of opening the cargo hold doors in a vacuum and the little skiff dropped out of the Hathaway’s belly and back down to the planet’s atmosphere that Max’s sister moved. “If I could have some warm water and access to an assembler, I would be grateful.” Her accent in Common was thick and laborious, although that was to be expected. Eriuman women were sheltered, insular creatures who rarely emerged from their homebases. In her eighty-plus years, Tatiana had seen a dozen or more Eriuman officers and fighters—all of them male. Bellona was the first Eriuman woman she had met.
Tatiana might have supposed that Bellona’s formal words, the polite tone and the woman’s stiff posture indicated she was barely moved by her brother’s departure. As Ruh took over the launch sequence while Tatiana arranged for one of the passenger cabins to be opened up for her, Bellona didn’t move, not even to wipe the twin rivulets of tears marking her clear, high cheeks.
* * * * *
As soon as they were safely back in null-space, Ruh asked stiffly to speak to Tatiana in her office. As Tatiana had reason to speak to him in private, too, she acquiesced and made her way back to the cramped little room, with Ruh following. She moved stiffly. She had been on her feet for too long. Lately, her hips and knees protested if she didn’t rest properly and she was nearly always tired.
As Ruh shut the door behind them, Tatiana spoke to the computer. “Yellow light, forty percent.”
The dim lights came up, illuminating the tiny desk and the two chairs in front of it. The terminal screen was still hanging in the air, showing an image of her great granddaughter, Zita, on her fifth birthday, a sunshiny girl with her grandfather’s eyes. Tatiana rarely bothered to put the screen away. The flow of documents and details never ended. Whoever had claimed that being captain of their own freeship was romantic had never stopped to consider the role was essentially the same as the head of any large corporation. It ate up her life and her time.
Not that she would ever consider giving it up. At least…not quite yet. Which was probably why Ruh was glaring at her from under his thick brows again. The question about his succession to captain had been delayed and put off for years and years. He was a patient man—or Tatiana would have never considered giving him the job—yet she knew his patience was wearing thin.
As she sat with a soft sigh of relief, he spoke. “She’ll get us all killed.” In the low light, his thick black hair glinted with blue highlights. Like Tatiana, Ruh was not going to go gray until his most senior years. Except she had by-passed gray and turned white almost overnight. It was still sometimes a novelty to look in the mirror and see the stranger looking back at her. She had fifteen years more than Ruh, though. He still had time.
“We’re in null space already,” Tatiana pointed out. “Straight to Cerce, no detours, then the deed is done and we’ll no longer be obligated to an Eriuman.”
“You mean, I will not be obligated, right?” he asked softly.
Tatiana punched at the desk controls, bringing up her in-box, while she tried to find something to say in response that had not already been said a dozen times already.
“You know who she is, don’t you?” Ruh said.
“Maximillian Cardenas’ sister?” Tatiana asked, with an innocent tone.
Ruh rolled his eyes. The epicanthic fold was deeper on his eyes than Tatiana had seen in anyone else in the family. In a way, he was a throwback to far older generations and sometimes his attitude was, too—his discomfort with Max and his sister’s emotional parting was a good example. Now, Ruh was back to impatience, because the world was not aligning the way he would prefer.
“You’re not the only one who has been studying the Eriumans and the Karassians, Tia,” he said. “You insisted I learn all that crap and I did, because I thought it would please you. It means I know exactly who those two are. The Cardenas family is the senior family in the Scordinas clan. The Scordinii are one of the primary clans. Reynard Cardenas is the head of not just the Cardenas family, but all the clans. And we’re stealing his daughter away!”
“You saw them both,” Tatiana said. “They’re afraid and they’re in trouble. You think if Reynard Cardenas knew about that trouble, he would just sit back and let them run away? He doesn’t know a thing, Ruh.”
“Maybe he is the trouble,” Ruh said darkly. “Have you thought of that?”
“If he was, then both of them would be sitting in the passenger cabins right now.” Tatiana shook her head. “She is the one covered in blood. Besides, we are settling a debt that is long overdue. If this is what he wants in return for saving my entire family and everyone I hold dear, then I will make sure it happens.”
Ruh shifted his feet, spreading them into the at-ease posture that intimidated everyone on the bridge except Tia. He might be a head taller than her, yet she could bring him down if she had to. The day she couldn’t was the day she really did need to give up this desk. Unfortunately, that day was swiftly approaching.
“Is that why you have hung on for so long?” Ruh asked. “You didn’t think I would honor the debt?”
“Of course that is not the reason. You know the reasons. We’ve been over them and over them.” She waved her hand impatiently. “We can discuss this once we’re back on Cerce. Now is not the time.”
His full lips twisted. “There’s always an excuse, isn’t there?”
Tatiana clamped down on her own impatience. If she deplored the trait in Ruh, it was because she was as guilty as he of displaying it. She took a breath. Let it out. “I will settle on Cerce soon, Ruh. You’re old enough and smart enough to do this job. You have learned a lot, in the last few years. You just have to give me a bit more time to complete the changes we are making.”
“You’re going to ram them down my throat whether I want them or not, aren’t you?” He threw out his hand. “Taking everyone off the ship weakens the family. It divides us.”
And now they were at the nub of it. “It protects us,” Tatiana replied as evenly and calmly as she could. “If everyone who is not needed to fly the ship is living dirtside, then what happened to us four years ago can never happen again.” She thought back to the moments when Maximilian Cardenas’ ship had been overhead, in the perfect position to blow her entire family—roots, branches, leaves and all—out of existence. Only Max’s empathy for family had stayed his hand.
Tatiana’s utter helplessness that day had driven her to make changes that had caused more muttering and protests in the last four years than any other time before. Settling the majority of the family on Cerce had been the major change and the hardest one to put into practice. Everyone had been raised on board the Hathaway. Adapting to dirtside living had caused problems. Ruh was not the only one to speak negatively of the breaking of traditions and customs. Tatiana had been adamant, though. She never wanted to feel that sick-making weakness ever again.
The ship was no longer a family freeship. It was a corporate-owned and run business now. Tatiana held controlling interest, which she would give to Ruh when she stepped down.
“We’re nearly there,” Tatiana assured Ruh. “Settling everyone on Cerce was expensive. It drained our reserves. I don’t want to hand the ship over to you with no operating capital.”
“I think you just don’t want to hand over the ship at all,” Ruh said flatly.
“You want to live forever, on your precious bridge.”
He crossed his arms once more. “Why do you like that Eriuman so much more than me?”
Tatiana sat back, her mouth dropping open. The soundless, formless confusion roiled in her mind. She sought to comprehend that her brother, a grown man and father, was jealous of a young foreigner she had known for a grand total of perhaps twenty minutes. “That is also not true,” she said at last. It was a weak protest.
“He is the reason you have spent the last four years learning everything you could about Erium.”
“And the Homogeny,” she shot back. “For very good tactical reasons,” she added. “We need to know and understand the enemy.”
“We’re trading with the blasted enemy!” he cried. “You just escorted the enemy’s sister to our best berth!”
“Strategic contacts are vital,” she countered. “Relationships win wars.”
“Relationships started this one,” Ruh reminded her bleakly. “The Valerianus would not have been in Karassian space if its bloody captain hadn’t been so hot to seduce the last Karassian princess.”
“No one knows what really happened to the Valerianus,” Tatiana said. She sighed. “I’m not holding you back, Ruh. I know you think I am. I just want to have the ship in a good, strong position before I leave. That’s all.”
“We’re supposed to be free staters,” Ruh said. “We’re supposed to stay out of their war. You’ve got us wrapped up tight in the middle of it.”
She shook her head. “I stay informed. There’s a difference.”
“Then how do you explain the Eriuman woman in the cabin, two decks down?”
“You’re being tiresome, Ruh. I’ve already explained myself to you, which is more courtesy than I would extend to anyone else onboard.”
“No,” she said sharply. “Enough is enough. Go work out your petty jealousy in the exercise suite. I won’t dignify it any further.”
He held still, staring at her, his eyes unblinking.
He dropped his arms, stalked to the door and slapped the controls. He didn’t look back.
Tatiana let out a breath that shook. There was a hard tension in her chest and her gut roiled. Had Ruh hit issues she didn’t know she had? No, it was ridiculous.
She was working to preserve the family, that was all. Just as Maximilian Cardenas had been doing.
Tatiana got back to work, for there was always plenty to do. Null space transitions were great for getting a lot of mundane tasks done, while they were cut off from everything. She dealt with crew issues, pay claims, promoted the cook, reviewed engineering reports and environmental reviews, put everyone on a cleaning rotation and scrubbed her own cabin, too. It was all good, hard work.
If Ruh was more argumentative than usual, she put it down to the tension of having the Eriuman woman on the ship. However, Bellona emerged from her cabin only to eat occasionally. She had printed herself a more practical outfit of trousers and shirt and a light jacket and a pair of the high leather boots spacers preferred. She was polite but remote when she spoke to the crew. From Tatiana’s reading and study about Eriuman culture, she arrived at the conclusion that Eriuman women were docile, obedient and focused upon improving their appearances and domestic skills, both of which would net them a more advantageous marriage. Bellona was living up to her assessment.
Tatiana spoke to her only twice, the second time for a few minutes in the dining room, while Bellona mechanically ate a small bowl of roast beef. Both conversations left Tatiana puzzled by the woman. She offered absolutely no hints about her personality. She shared nothing. She was also just as polite and opaque with the rest of the crew, even with Yammicka, the well-built engineer with broad shoulders and twinkling blue eyes, who could charm stars into going nova.
Tatiana knew the stillness and lack of engagement couldn’t last. Bellona would have to react to her circumstances sooner or later. She was Eriuman and she was human, too. It would catch up with her. Tatiana briefly considered forcing the issue. Having the human equivalent of an unexploded bomb on board was bad for morale.
Then, two days after Bellona had come aboard, the engines cut out without warning, dropping the Hathaway into normal space, right in front of a Karassian cruiser.
* * * * *
“What happened to the engines?” Tatiana yelled as she hurried as fast as she could onto the bridge. “Ruh, talk to me! Navigator, locate us!”
Yammicka looked up from the dashboard he was leaning over. “There’s nothing wrong with the engines! We dropped out of null-space for no reason we can find.”
“Then get us the hell back into null space!” Tatiana cried. “Before the Karassian cruiser lines its sights up on us.”
“It will take three minutes to recalculate the jump,” Ruh said.
“We can’t jump,” Yammicka replied, his normally melodious voice high with strain. “The navigation AI is rebooting.”
Tatiana looked at him, floored. “Rebooting?” she repeated. She couldn’t remember the last time a computer had spontaneously reset itself. “Do we even know where we are?” She looked at the navigator, Jaime, who was bent over the table.
Jaime shook her head. Her eyes were huge.
“There’s a Karassian cruiser on our port bow,” Ruh said. “I think it’s safe to assume we’re in Homogeny territory.”
Yammicka and Jaime looked at her, waiting for directions. There were only the four of them on the bridge. Everyone else would be in the engine rooms, fighting to get the null-space engines up and running once more.
And the navigation computer.
Tatiana swallowed. “Run,” she said and her voice came out in a high squeak. “Turn and run, as fast as we can.”
Ruh leapt to the helm controls and swiped his hand over the board. “The cruiser is faster than we are,” he said. “It’s the Ralston out there,” he added and prodded the go button.
The Hathaway lurched. Tatiana braced herself, gripping the edge of the navigation table.
Only, the expected inertial drag didn’t happen, even though the maneuvering engines screamed at full throttle. The sharp stench of ozone sizzled in her nostrils, grabbing the back of her throat. The decking vibrated under her boots.
Yammicka hung his head.
“Tractor beam,” Ruh said bitterly and slapped the helm dashboard once more.
The engines cut out.
The silence was almost total, broken only by the ticking and beeping of dozens of alerts and notifications on everyone’s dashboards.
Bellona emerged from the main corridor, almost running. She looked around wildly, her thick, shining coils of hair bouncing off her shoulders. “What’s happening?”
Tatiana pointed at her. “Yammicka, get her out of here. Hide her, somewhere the Karassians won’t think to look.”
“You’re not going to dress her up as a waiter?” Ruh asked dryly, referring to the way they had hidden their Karassian passenger in plain sight of the Eriuman boarding party, four years ago.
“That won’t work with Karassians,” Tatiana said, as Yammicka grabbed Bellona’s arm. “Appearance is everything to them. You think they’ll fail to notice her?”
Bellona pulled back against Yammicka’s grip. “Karassians?” she repeated.
Overhead, a coupling gripped the hull with a muffled magnetic kiss. They weren’t going to even try to use a door.
Tatiana waved Bellona away. There was no time to deal with jittery passengers. Yammicka hauled her toward the corridor.
“You said it was the Ralston?” Tatiana asked Ruh.
“The passive scanners extrapolated the size. They only have one ship that big. It can’t be anything else.”
The Ralston. The Karassian flagship. “Yishmeray is the captain,” she added.
“The monster?” Jaime breathed. Her face paled.
“He’s enhanced,” Ruh corrected.
“A cyborg,” Jaime said.
“Biobot,” Ruh qualified.
“No, he’s a biocomp,” Tatiana said firmly.
“A human computer,” Jaime concluded, for all the crew had taken rudimentary studies on the structures and cultures of the two enemies.
Overhead, the hissing and vibrations from the Karassians cutting through grew louder. Tatiana looked up at the ceiling. The inner lining was showing signs of blistering, the white extruded sealant bulging. Tatiana stepped back out of the way and waved everyone else out of the danger zone, too.
“We have to do something,” Jaime whispered.
“What would you suggest?” Tatiana asked her. Calmness spread through her. “Even if we had the power to pull away from the tractor, they’ve broken through the hull, now. We’ll be exposed.”
Jaime swallowed and Tatiana gave her the best smile she could manage. “We may still talk our way out of this.”
“Only…if they just wanted to talk, wouldn’t they have used one of their screens?” Jaime said, voicing what had been bothering Tatiana since the grapple had attached itself to the hull. She had listened to other captains tell their adventure stories for years, across dinner tables and bars, in ships’ dining halls and dirt-side family rooms and gatherings too numerous to mention. Even the most aggressive Karassian vessels paused long enough to establish malfeasance before opening fire, yet Yishmeray had asked no questions before sawing his way down to them.
Tatiana looked at Ruh. He was watching the ceiling just as everyone else was. He looked as scared as everyone else, too.
The lining gave way with a pop and a fizzle of chemicals that filled the bridge with thick, eye-watering smoke and an acrid stench that made them all cough and wave their hands to clear the air.
Tatiana leaned over and hit the controls on her dashboard to fire up the air scrubbers to maximum. The scrubbers hummed into action, sending cold fingers of air over them. She shivered in response.
Figures in dark brown uniforms dropped down through the widening hole in the ceiling, to land heavily then straighten up. Every soldier carried a ghostmaker. As they spread into a circle to shield the others as they landed, they looked around the bridge with their bland, brown-eyed gazes, sizing up Tatiana’s crew.
Tatiana’s heart was working hard, despite her calm. Eriumans were ruthless about maintaining the law of their lands and the territories they annexed. They were disciplined and efficient, yet they could be reasoned with. Not so the Karassians. Especially Yishmeray, if what she had heard about him had not been exaggerated for the sake of the story.
When a dozen soldiers were fanned out around the bridge, ten of them moved forward simultaneously, as if a silent command had been given. The muzzles of their ghostmakers swung back and forth as they poured through the bulkhead doors into the main corridor and moved deeper into the Hathaway.
The last two soldiers separated, bracketing the opening, above.
Then a third dropped down to the floor, landing so heavily the deck trembled. Slowly, he stood up from his crouch.
He towered over the other two soldiers. He wore a sleeveless shirt to accommodate the silvery hawsers running from his massive upper arms to connect with the thick forearms. Augmentation tendons. Where they emerged from his arms, the pale Karassian flesh mounded around the thick metal tendons like lips. Inside the open neck of the shirt, more metal tendons ran from the outer edges of his collar bones, up to his neck.
The rest of his body was hidden beneath the oversized brown uniform. His hands were also metal and made to look like human hands, but thicker and, Tatiana presumed, stronger. A heavy forehead jutted over the giant’s narrowed eyes. He had blond stubble for hair, so short it was barely there. He looked around the bridge, taking in everyone, scowling.
“Hell and damnation…” Tatiana breathed.
“Hayes!” came a call through the ragged, steaming hole.
The monster—for this really was a monster of a man—reached up into the guts of the hole. He lowered down another man in a Karassian captain’s uniform, holding him by his upper arm as if he was moving a toddler around. He put the captain down. The captain brushed himself off and tugged his tunic back into place, then patted Hayes’ arm in casual thanks.
The smoke was clearing now and Tatiana could see Yishmeray clearly. He had white blond hair, cropped short and Karassian brown eyes so light they were almost colorless. His face was gaunt, all angles and planes. His neck was heavyset above the brown collar.
Deeper inside the ship, Tatiana could hear Yishmeray’s soldiers thudding along the decking, shouts from her crew and the sound of carnage—things breaking, being toppled and busted open.
She met Yishmeray’s gaze.
He tilted his head, the chin lifting. His gaze shifted from her, just to one side. He paused. It was as if he had been suddenly struck by a thought. Then his gaze moved back to her. “Captain Tatiana Wang,” he said slowly, with a thick accent that was far uglier than the Eriuman one.
“Captain Yishmeray,” she acknowledged.
Unexpectedly, he smiled. The expression was bright, cheerful and unnerving. “I almost forgot,” he said, digging into a pocket on his tunic. He pulled out a metal stick the size of his finger and waggled it, so the silvered casing flashed in the deck lights. “Payment, where payment is due.” He tossed the stick at Ruh.
Ruh caught the credit stick in one hand. It was an auto-response to having something thrown at him. His gaze was on Yishmeray. Horror built in his face, then his eyes moved to Tatiana. His hand lowered.
Tatiana curled her hands up into tight fists. “No,” she breathed. “Ruh…not you.”
Ruh lowered his head.
“You hated Max that much?” Tatiana whispered. “We jumped to null space so quickly…did you even pause for breath before selling us out?”
Yishmeray was full of good cheer. “Oh, Ruh has been helping me for far longer than this little venture, my dear captain. He has been quite the assistant for years now.”
Tatiana flinched as the truth settled into her bones. She looked at Ruh again. Her brother was watching her now. She could see the anger in him, lifting his shoulders, making his eyes narrow.
“Why?” she demanded.
“You said it yourself,” Ruh said. “Tactical alliances will save the family. Except you kept them all to yourself. I made one for me, instead.” He shrugged.
“With Yishmeray?” Her voice rose.
Yishmeray chuckled. “Oh, Ruh didn’t know it was me, exactly. That’s why I thought I would come along on this jaunt. Introduce myself and sort things out. It’s hard to resist the lure when a high-value Eriuman is dangled in front of one.”
A scream rang out. Ghostmaker bolts sounded. Then more shouting and the sound of running feet.
“Sounds as though they’ve found the Eriuman,” Yishmeray said happily. “Hayes, go and settle it, will you?” he added in Karassian Prime.
Tatiana backed out of the way as the monster plodded across the bridge, his boots landing heavily. He ducked into the corridor and moved down it.
Her movement put Tatiana right next to her command dashboard. She didn’t look at it or draw attention to it.
Yishmeray glanced around the smoking bridge, with all the red alert lights flashing silently. “It is very small,” he said, his tone distant. “Given your reputation, Wang, I expected a much bigger ship.” He turned, taking in every angle, although he stayed behind the two sentries, who hadn’t moved or lowered their weapons.
Ruh had moved, though. Tatiana didn’t know when he had, yet he was much closer to the helm dashboard now than he had been a few seconds ago. He was within reaching distance.
They both jumped when another scream rang out.
“Ah…there we go,” Yishmeray said, sounding jolly once more.
It had not been a woman making that sound, though. Tatiana fought to keep her face still and blank, while she ran through the range of possible actions.
From the corridor came the sound of more struggling. Grunts and panting. Shuffling footsteps.
Hayes appeared. He held Bellona by the arm, almost carrying her along, while she struggled and pummeled at him with her fists. He dropped her to the decking in front of Yishmeray and brushed off his huge hands with slow movements.
Bellona propped herself up on the deck and rubbed her arm, scowling.
“What have we here?” Yishmeray asked curiously. He looked at Ruh. “High profile?” he asked, sounding doubtful.
Lie! Tatiana urged her brother, even though he couldn’t hear her. Don’t tell him who she is!
Ruh licked his lips, looking from Bellona to Yishmeray.
“I hope you didn’t bring me all the way out here for nothing, Ruh,” Yishmeray added, all the sunniness evaporating from his tone.
Ruh wouldn’t meet Tatiana’s eyes. Her heart sank.
“She’s the Cardenas’ daughter,” Ruh said.
Yishmeray lifted his chin and looked away again, for a second or two. His eyes grew unfocused.
Tatiana realized he was communing with the vast computer intelligence built into his body. She didn’t know in detail how it worked with his kind, but did know the computer implants enhanced a biocomp’s mental functions and increased the speed of thought and the clarity of those thoughts, as well as giving the biocomp vastly larger memory capacity, with perfect recall.
“Bellona Cardenas Scordina de Deluca,” Yishmeray intoned. He squatted down to match her level. “How delightful. Ruh, I take back all my doubts about you. This truly is a prize.” He lifted the coiled locks of hair on her shoulders, holding it up for inspection, held between his fingers. “The daughter of the Cardenas himself. Oh, how much fun we can have with you!” His voice took on a crooning quality, dropping in tone. His eyes glittered. “The usual questioning at first, I’m afraid. Boring, yet necessary. Then…mmm, the possibilities are endless. How much would your naval officers do to get you back? How much would Reynard make them do, to have you returned, I wonder?”
Bellona wrenched her head to one side, yanking her hair out of his grip. She looked him in the eye. “I have no intention of being anyone’s leverage,” she said, her voice low and clear.
Tatiana’s heart leapt. This was the first time she had seen anything like animation in the woman’s face.
Bellona threw her head forward, smacking Yishmeray in the face with the top of her forehead. Tatiana heard the sodden crunch of bones and winced.
Yishmeray rolled backward, his hands to his nose, with a muffled shout of pain, as Hayes lurched forward, reaching for Bellona with his metal hands.
Tatiana used the distraction. She leaned over the side of the dashboard and called up the emergency menu and activated the items she wanted.
All the red alert lights extinguished. From farther back in the ship, the shouting and fighting ceased.
Ruh jerked, as the alert command flashed across the helm dashboard, then disappeared. The dashboard grew silent and black. He looked at Tatiana, his gaze questioning.
She held still for three heartbeats, watching him, then relaxed when Ruh said nothing about what she had just done to Yishmeray or the two guards standing over him.
Yishmeray cried out again, the sound thick and gurgling, pulling Tatiana’s attention back to him. He was sprawled on the deck, now. It looked as though Bellona had rolled right over the top of him. She was crouched behind his head, with her back to Hayes, who was still reaching for her. He had plenty of reach, with those long arms. The augmentation tendons stretched with them.
Bellona leaned forward and propped herself up with her hands planted on the deck. She turned and sighted over her shoulder, then kicked out with her booted foot. Tatiana wanted to shout an alarm. Nothing human could overcome Hayes’ grip. If she let him get his hands on her, even her ankle, she was done.
The powerful blow landed, instead, on the inside of Haye’s knee and slammed it sideways.
Hayes howled, his hands dropping to his wounded knee.
Yishmeray reached for Bellona, scrambling backward. He was temporarily blinded by the pain and his hands flailed, seeking her.
Bellona’s leg was still raised, from the blow to Hayes’ knee. She brought her knee down sharply. The point of her knee rammed into Yishmeray’s middle, right over the diaphragm.
Yishmeray grunted, the air bellowing out of him with a wheezy sound. His hands dropped and he laid squirming, trying to breathe. His face turned deep red as his mouth worked silently. His eyes bulged. His nose ran blood, which dripped to either side of his face.
The two sentries on either side of Yishmeray had reacted instantly, only Bellona was moving too fast. As they turned their ghostmakers to point at Bellona, she thrust herself upward on the leg that had been folded beneath her. The other foot swung forward, driving her toward the closest guard. She took the step then kicked up.
Her boot caught underneath the two-handed ghostmaker, snapped it out of the guard’s hands and up into the air in a high arc that came close to the roof. Bellona ignored the gun. Instead, she grabbed the guard by his now-reaching hands and tugged him forward.
He staggered past her, straightening up with a surprised expression. That was when the other guard fired at Bellona. The bolt seared through the first guard’s chest and he dropped to the floor, his surprise frozen on his face.
Bellona threw herself forward and down. Her palms slapped the deck once more. She flipped herself around in a tight, hard arc.
Hayes was just recovering from her kick, his hands reaching out for her again. Her legs swung under his extending arms. She kicked at his other knee. This time, there was no lateral movement to the kick. The impetus was all backward, in the direction the knee couldn’t move.
Hayes grunted again, bending over to grab his leg.
Bellona used the kick as leverage to pushed herself off Hayes’ knee and complete the arc. Her legs scythed around, taking out the second guard’s calves. He gave a shout of surprise as he fell to the deck on his side.
Bellona landed with her boots on the deck, one hand beneath her, propping her up. She reached up with the other and the ghostmaker that had been tumbling down from the high arc into which she had kicked it landed in her waiting hand.
She pulled in her knees, dropping into another low crouch and spun around, aiming the ghostmaker. She fired at Hayes.
Hayes’ hands shot up in front of him. The dazzling white bolt bounced harmlessly off the back of his hands with a sour whine and sizzle and struck the back wall of the bridge.
Hayes tore the ghostmaker out of Bellona’s hands, gripped both ends of it and broke it in two. Sparks sprayed everywhere from the gizzards of the weapon, landing on Yishmeray, who threw up his hands to protect his face, and Bellona, who scrambled backward.
Hayes ignored the sparks that landed on him. He tossed the broken weapon aside, staring at Bellona.
She threw herself at him, diving low over the top of Yishmeray, who was breathing in gasping, pained pants.
Hayes bent to meet her with his hands.
Bellona slid underneath them and through Hayes’ legs. She scrambled to her feet and ran.
There was another soldier at the mouth of the corridor, guarding it. She dealt with him by driving her shoulder into his stomach, caught the ghostmaker as he dropped it and ran down the corridor.
Hayes straightened up and looked at Yishmeray.
“You would let a girl beat you?” Yishmeray panted out, in Karassian. His voice was bubbly with the blood that would be running down the back of his throat. Then, “Get her!”
Hayes turned and lumbered down the corridor, almost stepping on the downed guard. The giant staggered, his weakened knees barely holding him up. His metal hands slapped the walls, scraping them with a sour whine. He was using the walls as crutches to hold himself up.
Yishmeray was still prone. He dropped his head back to the decking as Hayes disappeared, his breathing labored. The other two guards were still.
Tatiana caught Ruh’s eye. She jerked her head toward the door. He had seen the flash command to evacuate. Right now, her crew were evading the Karassians, not engaging. They would be piling into life pods and ejecting, streaming off the Hathaway. Tatiana wanted Ruh to join them. That was the way they had figured it, shortly after the Eriumans had boarded the Hathaway, four years ago. Ruh had been impatient with the disaster planning and all the other changes she had introduced. He was still young enough to think that the worse that could happen always happened to other people, not him.
Ruh looked at her now and shook his head.
Tatiana crossed the deck. “It doesn’t matter how we reached this point,” she told him urgently. “What matters is that it has happened. Go. Now. While you have the chance.”
Ruh closed his eyes for a second. His shoulders slumped.
Tatiana could almost feel his guilt. “You made a mistake, that is all,” she said quickly and quietly. “Max was someone we could take at his word. Yishmeray is…not.” She didn’t say aloud that Yishmeray was a typical Karassian, completely unpredictable, volatile and crazy. It was impossible to get cozy with Karassians.
Ruh nodded. She could see there was a lot more he would say, if they’d had time. “What about you?” he whispered.
“Last off. Captain’s privilege.” She pushed him toward the corridor. “Go.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Yishmeray said, from behind them. His voice was strained and weak.
Tatiana looked over her shoulder. Yishmeray was still lying down, only now he had the second, still-whole ghostmaker in his hands. The ghostmaker wobbled, but not enough to ruin his aim.
Her heart sank. She had forgotten the other gun.
Yishmeray rolled onto one side, holding the ghostmaker out with his upper hand. He pushed slowly to his knees, then lurched to his feet. His face was paler than it had been before, where it was not red with blood he had smeared when he had wiped it away. His eyes were bloodshot. The sleeve of his uniform was thick with the blood he had swiped from his face. It all gave him a maniacal appearance that was, in Tatiana’s opinion, a more truthful expression of his real self.
There was a tramp of many feet on the decking along the corridor, which ran like a spine down the center of the ship.
Yishmeray gripped the ghostmaker firmly, his gaze shifting to the corridor entrance.
Six of Yishmeray’s men surrounded Hayes, as they moved back onto the bridge. Hayes dragged Bellona by one arm. She slid across the decking, writhing and kicking, which was why the six soldiers were ranged around Hayes with ghostmakers trained on her.
When Hayes halted, Bellona curled up, her knees to her chest, then kicked at his arm, her boot slamming into his elbow. His metal hand loosened its grip and she flipped herself onto her hands and knees, ready to push herself to her feet.
“Oh, for the love of…!” Yishmeray began. “Sit on her! Hold her down. Move it!”
The six soldiers standing around her slung their guns and piled on top of her, each of them aiming for a limb, their combined weight designed to drop her back onto the decking.
“Keep her still,” Yishmeray said. “I’ve sent for a chemical cuff. That will hold her.”
Tatiana realized his biocomp implants let him communicate directly with his ship.
The six Karassians were struggling to keep Bellona still. She hadn’t given up. She squirmed and fought, using her teeth and her knees and her head. The men reared and slipped, jostling each other as they battled to pin her down.
From the hole in the ceiling, a capsule elevator lowered, with a Karassian wearing green medical stripes on his collar standing inside the steel frame. When the elevator cage touched the deck floor, he stepped off, brandishing a power injector in one hand and a medical kit in the other. The chemical restraint Yishmeray had called for had arrived.
Bellona spotted the medic from the corner of her eye and her struggles intensified. She surged up, shaking off the two men trying to hold down her shoulders, and reached for the man gripping her calf and trying to sit on it. She shot her hand past his arm and grabbed the hilt of a knife hanging on his belt, then yanked it out and slashed at the man’s arm as she fell back.
The soldier yelped and jumped backward, scrambling to his feet.
Blood fountained from Bellona’s thigh, through the tiny rent she had made in her trousers.
Tatiana stared at the red stream, as the hot, coppery smell reached her, too shocked to move.
Yishmeray swore. “Clamp it! Someone get a grip on the damn thing. Medic, get in there and seal the artery!”
The medic, his brown eyes wide and shocked, moved toward Bellona. She was still struggling and tossing the soldiers around with her writhing. The medic hesitated.
“Give me that,” Yishmeray said and yanked the injector from his hand. Yishmeray crouched down by Bellona’s head, leaned his hand and most of his bodyweight on her forehead and slapped the business end of the injector up against the base of her throat. It clicked and hissed, delivering the drug.
He tossed the injector away. It skittered across the deck, to stop up against the comms dashboard. “Get in there,” he told the medic. “Know that if she dies, you go out the same airlock her body does.”
The medic swallowed and bent over Bellona. Her struggles were weakening and slowing. The drug and the loss of blood would both defeat her.
The medic opened the kit and settled on his knees next to her hip, mindless of the blood pooling around her. “Let me access the wound,” he said, picking up a derma-iron.
The soldier who had clamped his hand over the wound lifted it away. Blood geysered once more.
“Hold behind the cut,” the medic said crisply. “Reduce the blood pressure so I can seal the wound.” He spoke with authority for this was his area of expertise. He sounded confident.
Tatiana let out a heavy breath, exhaling slowly. She had done nothing—she had not even used the moment of distraction to leave the bridge and find if there were any escape pods left for her and Ruh to use. She had been so astonished by Bellona’s relentless struggling against overwhelming odds.
Yishmeray stepped back away from the tight knot of bodies surrounding Bellona’s still figure and around Hayes where he stood looking down at her with a puzzled expression twisting his heavy brow, the powerful hands hanging by his sides. The Karassian captain did a long, slow swivel, taking in the whole bridge, surveying the damage.
The dead screens on every wall were blank, sightless eyes. The lights which had been cut by the Karassian excavation through the roof cast odd shadows, while other lights flickered, their power diminishing. Of the twelve soldiers who had dropped through the roof, only six remained on their feet and two of them were limping. Only four carried their ghostmakers. Four of them had not returned from searching the interior of the Hathaway.
Hayes was favoring one leg, hopping awkwardly on the other as his balance shifted. He had scrapes on his arms and face that would later turn into spectacular bruises and his uniform was scorched and torn. No wonder he looked bewildered. It would be rare for him to experience injuries, Tatiana guessed.
The medic got to his feet, closing the kit, his job done. His dark brown uniform looked black from the knees down, where he had knelt in the blood. The bright red arterial blood had spread farther out, smeared by boots and knees.
In the center of the bloody pool lay Bellona Cardenas. Her eyes were closed, her arms out flung. She was still. The soldiers moved away from her, watching her warily, as if she might spring back to ferocious life at any second.
Now she was motionless, the slightness of her body compared to Hayes and even the male soldiers she had defeated was more obvious.
There was no sound on the bridge. The computers and AIs that made an almost constant humming, clicking buzz in the background, were dead. The ship hung from the Karassian clamps, inert and lifeless.
Tatiana found herself staring at Bellona, awe holding her still. She had never suspected Eriuman women were so…unyielding. On her own, Bellona had very nearly brought an entire squad to its knees, then had unflinchingly taken the last step when defeat was certain.
Yishmeray moved up to the edge of the thick, blackening puddle, looking down at Bellona, too.
“Are all Eriumans like that?” Tatiana asked, thinking of Max and his empathy for Tatiana’s family. Had he been a rare exception?
“No, they’re not,” Yishmeray said, his voice distant. He was thinking. For a biocomp to slow down his speech while he thought things through meant he had to be thinking very hard indeed.
Yishmeray lifted his head and looked at Tatiana. The manic happiness had gone. In its place was a grave, contemplative expression. “This one is something special,” he said, his tone still measured. He looked around the ship. “Someone who can do this…” Then he shook his head. “We will never hold her as she is, with her free will in place. There is a way around that, though. A way to restrain her and use her at the same time.”
“I thought you were going to use her as leverage?”
“Not anymore,” Yishmeray said, glancing around the wreck of the bridge once more. “That would be a waste of talent.”
Tatiana shivered. “She would no more consent to working with you than she consented to being your hostage.”
Yishmeray grinned, the disturbing merriment returning to his eyes. “Oh, we won’t need her consent.” His tone was confident. “Hayes, take her up to the med bay.”
Yishmeray moved back out of the way as Hayes stepped up to where Bellona rested. The giant bent and picked up her shoulders. The glossy black coils of hair trailed through the blood as he lifted her. Hayes’ right hand slipped. He looked at it, turning it, as if the weakness had surprised him. Then he bent even more, scooped up Bellona around the middle with his left arm and lifted her. She hung from his arm, her hands and hair and feet trailing, red droplets running from them. Hayes carried her as if he was holding a carrybag. He squelched over to the elevator cage and stepped onto the platform. Hydraulics hissed and the base of the cage scraped against the floor as his weight settled on it.
Then it rose slowly up through the hole in the roof, taking Bellona and Hayes into the guts of the Karassian ship.
Tatiana looked back at Yishmeray. He had his chin cocked up in the air, the distant look in his eyes. He was thinking, again. Processing far more quickly than Tatiana could and deciding what had to happen next.
Then he met her gaze.
“You’re not taking us as prisoners, are you?” she said.
“If the woman was to be a simple hostage, then I would be happy for the Eriumans to know we have her. I might even have sent you as messenger boy. Now, though…” He shook his head.
Tatiana sighed, letting out the last of her anger and resentment. Time was too short to hold on to those emotions. They blinded and confused the truth, which only now she could see clearly.
Yishmeray didn’t speak again. He moved over to the elevator, which had descended and was waiting, and stepped onto it. The medic joined him on the platform, which used up all the space.
The elevator rose once more. As it lifted up, the remaining soldiers gripped the bottom of the platform and let it haul them up through the great rift.
Tatiana grabbed Ruh’s hand and pulled him toward the corridor. As soon as they were in the wide passageway, she turned and slapped her hand on the door controls. The heavy bulkhead doors rumbled closed and air hissed as they sealed.
“What are you doing?” Ruh demanded.
“The Ralston is going to detach, which will broach the seal they have on the hole they made. The bridge will be exposed to vacuum.”
As she spoke, the ship shuddered under their feet. On the other side of the door, she heard the cyclonic howl of air rushing out through the hole. She put her hand against the door, regret touching her.
“We have to find a pod,” Ruh said urgently.
“There will be none,” Tatiana assured him. “You know the standing orders. Use the pods and jettison the empties, so the enemy cannot use them. When we didn’t arrive right behind them, they would have followed those orders.”
Ruh licked his lips. He was sweating. “Then we have to seal the hole. Limp back to Ceres. Find the pods and get them back.”
Tatiana shook her head. “We have about a minute, Ruh. That’s all.” In her mind, she could see the Ralston moving over them, coming around in a big, gentle curve, to head back to where the Hathaway drifted uselessly in space, the mouth of the Ralston’s forward smart gun turning red as it reached critical.
She picked up Ruh’s hand. “All these years, I thought I had learned so much about the Eriumans. The Karassians, too. It ends up I know very little about them after all.”
Ruh’s eyes filled with tears. “What does it matter, what you learned?” he asked harshly.
“It matters in this moment more than any other moment of my life,” Tatiana told him. “You watched Max and Bellona as I did, Ruh. I saw your face. You wanted to dismiss their display as rude and emotional. Yet they understood and now I do, too.”
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Understood what?” he whispered.
“It’s about family. They’re the same everywhere. They’re the glue that holds everything together.”
Ruh choked and closed his eyes. “You were right,” he said brokenly. “To get the family off the ship. Now they’re safe—from this that I have brought upon us.”
“You were trying to be me,” she said gently. “You were trying to do what you thought was right. I didn’t see that and I’m sorry, Ruh.”
As the seconds ticked away in her mind, she reached out and hugged him. Tall as he was, he still clung to her, taking comfort from her touch, as he never had before.
For the last few moments left, Tatiana was content.
Did you enjoy this story?
How to make a big difference!
Reviews are powerful.
Authors like me, without the financial muscle of a sleek New York publisher backing me, can’t take advertisements out in the subways and billboards of the world.
On the other hand, New York publishers would kill to get what I have: A committed and loyal group of readers.
Honest reviews of my books help bring them to the attention of other readers. If you enjoyed this book I would be grateful if you could spend just a few minutes leaving a review (it can be as short as you like) on the book’s page where you bought it.
You can jump to the book’s page by clicking on this link.
Thank you so much!
The next book in the
Indigo Reports series.
The next book in the Indigo Reports series is Suns Eclipsed, which will be released in late May 2017.
Sign up for Tracy’s newsletter to receive a personalized reminder when this book is released.
Kiss Across Seas
Turn the page to read the first chapter of the upcoming Kiss Across Seas, book 6 of the Kiss Across Time series, which will be released at the end of April, 2017
Granada, Andalusia, Spain. Present Day.
Sydney had never known such deep, contented peace before, although the last thing she could say about the room she was in was that it inspired peace.
There were six people in the big, green pool, thrashing and yelling at each other. An impromptu fight over a bright, inflatable ball had begun. The humans in the pool were not completely out-classed by the vampires, either. Sydney found it interesting that the vampires—Brody, Veris and Rafe—were using pure power to try to dominate the others. Marit, Alannah and Aran, though, had grown up beside a swimming pool. They out-maneuvered the three men with quick dives and rapid strokes through the water.
Well-padded sun lounges lined up beside the pool, taking advantage of the view through the slim Moroccan-style arches on the other side. The bright blue and cloudless sky looked warm but beyond the insulated windows sealing the arches the temperature hovered around only five degrees Celsius. On the horizon, the Sierra Nevada mountains were covered in snow, for it was December.
“Climb up on his back, Alan!” Taylor yelled, next to Sydney. Taylor wore a swimsuit and a thick terry robe. She was still damp from her swim.
Alannah grinned and pushed on Aran’s shoulder, surging up out of the water. Aran boosted his twin, so she could get high enough to latch onto Veris’ broad back, her lithe legs clamped around him and her arm about his neck.
“Cheat!” Veris cried and tried to throw the ball to Rafe. Alannah knocked it out of his hand and it veered off. Marit pushed off from the side of the pool, a slim figure in a bright red suit, her fiery, wet hair plastered to her back in a thick rope, and reached for the ball.
Rafe threw himself forward and whipped the ball out from Marit’s grasp with a gleeful sound. Marit grabbed him and tried for the ball once more, so Rafe curled himself over and around it. The ball sank under him.
“Stand on him!” Aran cried. His voice was still high, although Sydney judged from the width of his shoulders and the height of him that it wouldn’t be too long before his voice broke. He was going to be tall, once he had finished growing.
Marit grinned and pushed on Rafe’s back, sinking him. He refused to let go of the ball to save himself and disappeared beneath the surface. Marit lifted up a few inches as she stood on his back. “Help me!”
Aran and Alan splashed their way over and joined her.
“That really is unfair,” Brody said, wading through the waist high water to where the three of them were clinging to each other and holding Rafe down in the water.
“It’s not like he has to breathe,” Alannah pointed out.
“Three against one…that’s what isn’t fair,” Veris said. He picked Aran up around the waist and tossed him over his shoulder. Aran landed with a splash and a yell. Brody laughed and scooped up Marit and threw her. She landed in the middle of the pool with an ungainly plop.
Brody and Veris between them hoisted Alannah high in the air. She was smiling as they did it. When she was at the highest point, she calmly curled herself into a ball, rolled in the air and landed back in the pool, sending up an impact crater of water around her.
Most of the water splashed onto the cream-colored textured concrete next to the pool and a good deal of it soaked Alex as he walked from the house toward the lounges. He laughed and shook the worst of it off his trouser leg, then came over to the lounge next to Sydney. He was wearing trousers and a buttondown shirt with the sleeves rolled up. It was the most casual he allowed himself to get.
“How on earth did you fail to learn how to swim anywhere during your thousand years, Alex?” Taylor asked, sounding as amazed as she had the first time Alex had declined to join everyone in the pool.
Alex smiled and spread out on the lounger. “There was always something better to do.”
“Like another book to read,” Sydney added darkly.
“Or translate,” Alex said, picking up her hand and kissing it. They had moved to Granada to take up new lives and Alex had returned to translation work at the university. He found it amusing that the “ancient” scripts he now examined with gloves were the same books he had once read for the King of Cordoba, centuries ago. Now he was considered a professor of dead languages.
Rafe was in his element here, too, for this was the land of his birth. It was just Sydney who’d had to adjust and learn Spanish the long way. Considering how happy Rafe and Alex were, she wouldn’t trade the last three years for anything.
Marit, Alan and Aran climbed out of the pool, using the steps at the shallow end, and walked back around the edge to where the three of them sat on the lounges. The swimmers were streaming water as they walked.
Sydney tossed the nearest towel to Marit, who caught it with a murmured thanks, while Alan and Aran deliberately dripped water on Alex’s pants legs and shoes. Aran was already taller than Alan, although they were twins and undeniably Brody’s off-spring. Their hair and brows were the same thick black, although Alannah’s were an elegant, sharp arch. Both of them had Taylor’s smoky gray eyes and Brody’s pure white Celtic skin.
Alex stared impassively at them as they grinned, wriggling their fingers to loosen water droplets. At twelve, they were still kids and most often behaved as kids, yet in the three weeks they had been here, Sydney had seen flashes of discomforting adultness about them.
Marit was pure adult already. At sixteen, she had Taylor’s willow-wand figure, her father’s astonishing blue eyes, and her own determined chin. She rolled her eyes at the twins, tucked the towel around her and picked up her hair and twisted it to squeeze out the water.
Sydney glanced past them. The shallow end of the pool looked empty, yet she could see three shapes beneath the water. They looked as though they were pushing at each other.
“What now?” she murmured. Sometimes, those three were more juvenile than the real children.
Marit rolled her eyes again. “It’s a competition to see who can hold their breath the longest.”
“Theoretically, they could do that forever,” Alex pointed out.
“That’s why they’re shoving and nudging each other,” Aran said. “If they push hard enough, they’ll force the other one into taking a breath. Besides, Uncle Rafe still has the ball.” He hung the towel over the back of his neck and gripped both ends. “I’m starving,” he announced.
“You’re always starving,” Sydney pointed out.
“Who’s at the deep end, then?” Alex asked.
Sydney looked at the other end of the pool, startled. She couldn’t see anything.
“There, right on the bottom. Wow!” Aran said, peering over the edge.
Sydney got off the lounge to see properly. So did Alex and Taylor.
The water had grown still enough that it was possible to see through the lapping surface.
There was a man on the bottom of the pool.
She glanced at the other end. Three distinct shapes. It wasn’t Brody, Veris or Rafe.
“Oh lord, he’ll drown,” Taylor whispered and yanked at the belt of her robe.
“No time,” Alex said urgently. He pushed between Marit and the twins, moving fast.
“Where did he come from?” Marit breathed, looking down at the still form on the bottom of the pool.
Sydney ignored her. Fear gripped her as she watched Alex. He was running by the time he hit the edge of the pool. He pushed off with his foot and her heart leapt as he threw himself into the water in an ungainly dive.
“He can’t swim!” Taylor cried, yanking off the robe.
“Marit, get the other three to help,” Sydney said urgently, pulling off her own robe.
Marit tore off the towel and dived into the pool in a flat, low arc, heading directly for the three men still sitting on the bottom of the pool.
Taylor dropped her robe and dived into the deep end, arrowing straight down to where Alex was struggling twelve feet below the surface.
Sydney considered diving in with them. She could swim, although she didn’t consider herself a strong swimmer. Only, all the adults were in the pool, now. Alannah stood on the edge with Aran, biting her lip, as the two of them watched Taylor and Alex.
All four of the swimmers at the shallow end emerged.
“Deep end!” Marit cried. “Help Alex!”
Veris immediately pushed through the water in a choppy but effective overarm. Brody and Rafe climbed the steps and ran around the edge. Normally, that might have been the faster way to get to the other end of the pool, except that Veris was quick, too.
“What the fuck?” Brody said when he saw the three shapes rising up to the surface. He paused on the brink, showering Sydney’s bare feet with water. “Alex can’t swim,” he said quietly.
“I know,” Sydney replied.
Taylor’s and Alex’s heads emerged and the back of the man they had hauled up from the bottom broke the surface. It looked he was wearing a black suit jacket.
Veris reached them. “I’ve got him. Taylor, help Alex to the side. I’ll take this one.” He flipped the body over.
The man was clearly unconscious, perhaps dead. He looked as if he was in his forties, with black hair and strong features. That was all Sydney could see. Veris hooked his hand around the man’s chin and towed him to the edge.
Sydney and Brody bent to haul the man up onto the concrete. Rafe lifted his head.
“Turn him on his side, let his lungs drain!” Alex called, from the end of the pool, where Taylor was hauling him out by the hands. He didn’t seem to resent the assistance. His focus was on the man who had just become his patient.
Veris surged out of the pool, to splash onto the concrete next to them. “Better to turn him upside-down,” he said. “Brody, Rafe, a leg each. Quickly.”
As Veris got to his feet and Taylor and Alex came around the pool to where everyone was now standing around the mystery man, Rafe and Brody hung him by the ankles. Water ran from his mouth and nose like a faucet.
Alannah skipped backward, away from the expanding puddle, wrinkling her nose. “Ugh! That’s gross!”
Sydney agreed. The water was brown and flecked with sand.
“That’s not pool water,” Rafe observed.
“No,” Veris said quietly.
“On his back. Let me at him,” Alex said.
They laid the man on his back and moved out of the way, as Alex dropped to his knees next to him and began breathing into his mouth.
“I’ll do the compressions,” Veris said, and settled on the other side of the body. He leaned over, measured off the breast-bone, moved the man’s tie out of the way and pressed down on the chest with short, sharp pumps.
Sydney caught Aran’s shoulder. “We’ll need a blanket or two.”
Aran nodded and ran to the big arch that gave access to the rest of the house.
Alannah raised her brow at Sydney, waiting.
“Alex’s surgery will need to be prepped,” Sydney said. “The table cleared off. What else, Veris?”
“Adrenaline,” Veris said shortly, between compressions. “Two syringes, eight hundred micrograms each, just in case.”
Marit tugged on Alannah’s arm. “Come on. I’ll help.”
Sydney bent and removed the man’s shoes. They were standard dress shoes, size twelve.
“Toes look normal?” Taylor asked softly, for she had absorbed as much medical knowledge as Sydney over the years.
Sydney nodded. “No discoloration.” She pushed up the hem of his trousers as something caught her eye, and yanked down the wool sock. There were red marks around the ankle, that looked as though they would become bruises soon.
Quickly, she checked the other ankle. The same red horizontal scoring was on that ankle, too.
The man coughed, his breath rattling wetly in his throat.
“On his side!” Alex called, shuffling back and yanking on the man’s shoulder to turn him.
They lifted the man up and over. His whole body seemed to convulse as the dirty water spewed from him in three big heaves. The smell reminded Sydney of where she had grown up. Wisconsin, where the lake water was brackish and still, muddy and unappealing. That same smell came from the lakes in late summer, when the water receded and the mud and vegetation dried off.
The man rolled onto his back again and laid still.
Alex pressed his fingers against the man’s neck. “Heartbeat and breathing,” he said, sounding pleased.
The man’s eyes were still closed.
“Diagnostics, doc?” Veris asked, for this was clearly Alex’s patient, not his.
The four men picked the stranger up and carried him past Aran, who had returned with blankets. Aran shrugged and followed them. So did everyone else.
Sydney paused to look at the muddy water pooling on the concrete, then trailed after them, troubled.
About the Author
Tracy Cooper-Posey is an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author. She writes science fiction and romance. She has published over 85 books since 1999, been nominated for five CAPAs including Favorite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award.
She turned to indie publishing in 2011. Her indie titles have been nominated four times for Book Of The Year and Byzantine Heartbreak was a 2012 winner. Faring Soul won a SFR Galaxy Award in 2016 for “Most Intriguing Philosophical/Social Science Questions in Galaxybuilding” She has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught writing at MacEwan University.
She is addicted to Irish Breakfast tea and chocolate, sometimes taken together. In her spare time she enjoys history, Sherlock Holmes, reading science fiction and ignoring her treadmill. An Australian Canadian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a former professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line.
Other books by Tracy Cooper-Posey
For reviews, excerpts, and more about each title, visit Tracy’s site and click on the cover you are interested in: http://tracycooperposey.com/books-by-thumbnail/
* = Free!
Blood Knot Series
(Urban Fantasy Paranormal Series)
Beloved Bloody Time Series
(Paranormal Futuristic Time Travel)
Kiss Across Time Series
(Paranormal Time Travel)
Kiss Across Time*
Kiss Across Swords
Time Kissed Moments I
Kiss Across Chains
Kiss Across Deserts
Kiss Across Kingdoms
Time and Tyra Again
Kiss Across Seas
Kiss Across Worlds
The Kine Prophecies
(Epic Norse Fantasy Romance)
The Branded Rose Prophecy
The Stonebrood Saga
(Gargoyle Paranormal Series)
Harvest of Holidays
Pay The Ferryman
Hearts of Stone (Boxed Set)
(Urban Fantasy Romance Series)
The First Trinity
The Second Trinity
Destiny’s Trinities (Boxed Set)
(Science Fiction Romance Series)
Cat and Company
Interspace Origins (Boxed Set)
Eva’s Last Dance
Three Taps, Then….
The Well of Rnomath
The Vistaria Affair
(Short Romantic Suspense Series)
The Royal Talisman
Delly’s Last Night
Jewells of Tomorrow
(Historical Romantic Suspense)
Diana By The Moon
Heart of Vengeance
(Historical Romance Series)
Romantic Thrillers Series
Fatal Wild Child
Thrilling Affair (Boxed Set)
(Science Fiction Romance Series)
Quiver and Crave
An Inconvenient Lover
The Sherlock Holmes Series
Chronicles of the Lost Years
The Case of the Reluctant Agent
Sherlock Boxed In
The Indigo Reports
New Star Rising
But Now I See
Reading Order 2016
This is an original publication of Tracy Cooper-Posey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2017 by Tracy Cooper-Posey
Text design by Tracy Cooper-Posey
Edited by Mr. Intensity, Mark Posey
Cover art by Dar Dixon, Wicked Smart Designs
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
FIRST EDITION: April 2017
But Now I See/Tracy Cooper-Posey—1st Ed.