Текст книги

Lindsay Cummings
Zenith


“Adhirans,” Breck said with a sigh, crossing her thick arms over her chest. At seven feet tall with choppy black hair that just brushed her muscled shoulders, Breck was the most intimidating member of the crew. They all assumed she was a giantess from the planet New Veda, where Mirabel’s greatest warriors were born.

The only problem with that assumption?

Breck had no memories of her past. She had no idea who she was, or even where she’d come from. She’d been on the run when Andi picked her up, a bruised and beaten ten-year-old Gilly at her side.

Gilly, plucked from the market streets of her home planet Umbin, was struggling to escape from a couple of Xen Pterran slavers when Breck found her. The older girl had saved Gilly from a fate worse than death, and now the two girls were as close as kin. To them, it no longer mattered what life Breck couldn’t remember or what past Gilly tried to forget. All that mattered was that they had each other.

Breck tugged on one of Gilly’s red braids, then lifted her chin and sniffed the air. “I don’t smell breakfast. We need a cook, Andi.”

“And we’ll get one as soon as we have the funds to buy a culinary droid,” Andi said with a curt nod. The girls usually traded off on kitchen duty, but Breck was the only decent cook among them. “We’re down to less than three hundred Krevs. Someone spent a little too much on hair products on TZ-5.”

Breck’s cheeks reddened as she touched the new crimson streaks in her black hair.

“Speaking of Krevs,” Gilly added, her tiny hand grazing the golden double-triggered gun at her hip, “when’s our next job, Cap?”

Andi leaned back, arms crossed behind her head, and surveyed the girls.

They were a good crew, all three of them. Small, but mighty in the best of ways, and better than what Andi deserved. She stared at her blades once more before putting them back in their harness. If only she could put her memories away just as easily.

“I’ve got a tip for a possible job on Vacilis,” Andi said finally. It was a desert world where the wind blew as hot as the devil’s backside and the air was choked with the stench of sulfur, just a few planets over from ice-locked Solera. “But I’m not sure how many Krevs it’ll haul. And it’ll be messy, dealing with the desert nomads.”

Breck shrugged her broad shoulders. “Any money is good money if it brings us more food stores.”

“And ammo,” Gilly said, cracking her knuckles like the little warrior she was.

Andi inclined her head at Lira. “Thoughts?”

“We will see where the stars lead us,” Lira answered.

Andi nodded. “I’ll get in touch with my informant. Take us away, Lir.”

“As you wish.” Lira punched the destination into the control panel’s holoscreen. A diagram of Mirabel illuminated the room with blue light, stars floating around their heads and the little planets that made up each major system orbiting their suns. A bright line traced from their current location near an unnamed moon, too barren for habitation, to Vacilis, almost half a galaxy away.

Lira scrutinized the route, then minimized the map and readied the ship for hyperspace travel.

Andi turned in her seat. “Breck, Gilly, go to the vault and do a weapons check. Then make sure the Big Bang is fully loaded. I want you two ready in case we run into any trouble once we arrive in the Tavina System.”

“We’re always ready,” Breck said.

Gilly giggled, and the two gunners nodded at Andi in salute before exiting the bridge. Gilly skipped along behind Breck, her golden gun bobbing against her tiny frame.

“Engines are hot,” Lira said. “Time to fly.”

The Marauder rumbled beneath Andi as she slumped down in her chair, exhaustion worming its way in.

The expanse of space stretched out before them, and Andi’s eyelids began to droop against her will. With Lira by her side, she sank into the warm folds of sleep.

* * *

Smoke pooled into the ruined ship, unrelenting as Andi gasped for air. She glanced sideways, where Kalee’s bloody hand twitched once, then hung motionless over the armrest.

“Wake up,” Andi rasped. “You have to wake up!”

Andi awoke to a rough shake of her shoulder from Lira. Her heart hammered in her chest as her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the bridge. Starlight ahead, the glowing holoscreen on the dash.

She was here. She was safe.

But something was off. A light on the holo blinked red, a silent prox alarm beside the markers that showed not only the Marauder’s location, but three ships behind them, catching up fast. An unwelcome sight to any space pirate.

“We have a tail.” Lira curled her lip in annoyance. She tapped a blue fingertip on the holoscreen, changing it to the rear-cam, showing Andi a faraway look at the ships soaring behind them. “Two Explorers and one Tracker.”

“The stars be damned,” Andi said. “When did they show up?”

“Seconds before I woke you. We came out of light speed just outside the Tavina System, as planned, and the alarm activated not long after.”

Andi’s mind raced, calculating all the possible scenarios. Lira never let anyone get the drop on the Marauder. They had to have been cloaked with technology the likes of which Andi’s crew could only dream of getting their hands on. She told herself this was just like any other night, any other chase, but she couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that this time might be different.

“Do we know who they are? Black market, Mirabel Patrol?” Andi asked, staring at the radar as it blinked, the three hellish red dots slowly gaining on them.

Lira glowered. “With this tech, it has to be Patrol. They didn’t show up on our radar until they were practically on top of us.”

Andi chewed on her bottom lip. “Which branch?”

You know which branch, her mind whispered. She shoved the voice away.

“We won’t know until they’re in our close-range sights, and by then, it’ll be too late for us to escape,” Lira said.

“Then don’t let them get that close.”

The Patrolmen, those bastards. The government lackeys had been after Andi’s ship for years, but they’d never once come close enough to appear on the Marauder’s radar.

Their last job shouldn’t have been enough to capture the attention of the Patrolmen. It was a black-market operation, a simple grab and go. All they’d done was haul a few crates’ worth of meds for a drug lord, nothing significant enough to bring the Patrolmen down on them.

The girls had taken on more high-profile jobs than that—like the time they kidnapped a rich Soleran’s mistress and left her on a meteor, the job requested by the man’s furious wife. She paid a pretty penny for their services. It wasn’t until days later that they found out the woman was not only a mistress, but a prominent politician’s daughter from Tenebris. The politician tore the galaxy apart looking for his daughter. When he eventually found her withered corpse on that barren rock, word got back about who put her there.

Andi screened their jobs much more carefully now. Her crew was still on the run from that politician to this day.

It could be he’d finally caught their scent. She closed her eyes. Black holes ablaze, she was screwed. The ship rumbled beneath her, almost as if in agreement.

“Cloaking is useless at this point,” Lira said as she readied the gears, slamming buttons, tapping in codes. “Engines are still too hot to go back into hyperspace. Damn their tech.”

In the distance, Andi could just barely make out the ghostly forms of their pursuers. They were still far out, but heading closer with each passing breath. “Get us out of this, and I’ll see to it that we get devices of the same caliber.”

“And bigger guns?” Lira asked, her blue eyes wide. “We’ll barely scrape by if we have to turn and fire on them. We only have one Big Bang left.”

Andi nodded. “Much bigger guns.”

“Well, then,” Lira said, a dangerous grin spreading across her face. “I think the stars may align for us, Captain. Any last words?”
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