The pilot stumbled as he leaped from his chair.
Dex took the throttle, his bladed knuckles shining as another streak of gunfire shot past. He could hear a commotion in the background, the sound of the pilot’s whining voice as he commed the general. Pathetic tattletale. Dex blocked it all out as he tapped on the screen, losing himself in the motions he’d grown so used to.
This was where he belonged, in the pilot’s chair. Behind the throttle of his own ship.
The copilot, a man covered in purple spikes, stared at Dex openmouthed. “You were right,” he said, his massive canines visible. “They’re heading for Gollanta.”
Of course I’m right, Dex wanted to say. Androma always runs until she finds a place to hide.
Through the viewport, Dex caught a perfect, shining glimpse of the Marauder, its jagged, dagger-like shape heading right into the mouth of hell.
“Alert the fleet near Solera,” Dex said as he angled the Tracker to follow them. Solera was the closest planet, just on the outskirts of the asteroid belt. They could make it in time to intercept the Marauder if they sent their fastest ships.
“Alert them of what, sir?” the copilot asked.
Dex sighed. “They need to meet us in the center of the belt. Cloaked.” If he was wrong, well, he was already under the general’s control. He may as well use it to his advantage. “Tell them the Marauder is heading their way.”
Dex closed his eyes and allowed himself to hope. Then he begged the Godstars that his last-minute plan would fall into place.
Androma was good at what she did. But so was Dex.
And a protégée could only outrun her master for so long.
Chapter Five (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
A world of space rocks dancing around them with death knocking at every viewport.
Andi stared out at them, her eyes wide and bright against the dimness of space. Darkness surrounded them, lit only by the faint shine of Tavina’s distant stars. And, of course, the telltale flashes of the three ships still trailing them.
She’d make them regret coming after the Bloody Baroness. It was time to end this.
Andi turned on her com. “Breck, Gilly.” The permanent lens in her eye, activated by a light tap to her temple, allowed her to patch into another crew member’s visual feed.
They’d installed them months ago, and the blessed coms had saved their skins several times over. They were well worth the expensive visit to the shady doctor on the satellite city near Solera.
She patched into Breck’s com first, revealing the gunner’s targeting screen, the glowing crosshairs focused on the nearest ship’s wing. Andi clenched her teeth as an asteroid resembling a skull came hurtling toward Breck’s viewport. Breck took a shot, and it exploded into space dust.
Andi blinked, shutting off the eye connection and returning to her own view of the asteroids. Lira sat beside her, the scales on her arms flashing as she tried to keep her nerves under control. Music still filled the space, calming Andi, allowing her to concentrate.
This is just another day, she told herself. Just another chase.
“We’re low on fuel, low on ammo,” Gilly yelped into the com.
“Shoot the small stuff and wait for my command,” Andi said. “Then we’ll use the Big Bang and turn their bones to dust.” The weapon sent out a pulse, crippling an enemy ship’s defensive systems, followed by an explosive that could obliterate an entire ship with one shot.
It wouldn’t be able to hurt the Tracker, but the other ships would be perfect prey, if Gilly and Breck played their cards right. They only had one Big Bang left on board, so they’d have to make it count.
Gilly answered with a giggle sharp as a knife. “Done.”
Tick, tick, tick.
An old spacesuit floated past the window to her right. Andi wondered if a corpse was still inside and shivered slightly.
Death was Andi’s closest friend, a little demon that whispered in her ear on dark nights. And here in this wasteland, a graveyard where many had met their demise, death felt closer than ever.
“We need to single out the Explorers,” Andi said. She’d never flown one herself, but she’d seen plenty of demonstrations at the Academy. They were designed for agility and speed, which meant they were somewhat lacking in armor.
“I’m on it,” Lira answered.
The Tracker was a beast as it followed. The smaller asteroids bounced off its sides, barely scraping the reinforced material. The Explorer ships followed behind, protected from the brunt of the asteroid attacks.
The girls had to separate them, get the Explorers alone in the sky.
A massive, hulking rock appeared ahead of them, easily the biggest asteroid they had seen so far.
“Lira,” Andi said, a plan brewing in her mind as she pointed at the asteroid, “circle us around that thing.”
“Circling will slow us down.” Lira cocked her head, orange light dancing across her face as Solera’s distant sun came into view.
Andi gritted her teeth. “Do it, Lira.”
Lira nodded, clenched the throttle and sent the Marauder careening right around the massive asteroid.
The Marauder swung in a great arc, the music rising in volume as cymbals crashed. In the rear-cam, the ships pursued, flashes of silver and black, shadows that just wouldn’t quit. But as they angled farther and farther around the outer edge of the asteroid, the Tracker ship slowed too much and pulled out of the race.
Now it was just the Explorers and the Marauder, odds Andi knew her crew and her ship could handle.
“Wait for it...” she whispered, her breath hitching in her throat. In the rear-cam, the Explorers followed like streaks of light, their guns firing as they tried in vain to catch up to the Marauder. What was their plan? Even if the two Explorers caught them and tried to dock, ships that small wouldn’t be able to haul the Marauder across the skies.
A flash darted behind them, a short distance away.
“They’re getting closer!” Breck shouted in the com. “Ready for the command!”
Andi bit her tongue, the metallic tang of blood strong enough to keep her fear at bay.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw another flash, closer now.
Prox alarms blared in her ear. The music was too loud, the whine of the strings too piercing.
“Incoming!” Breck shouted. “They’re almost on us!”
“Anytime, Cap!” Gilly yelped.