19 Decem, 5249 PD


“Looks like my timing could have been a little better,” Deacon observed as Adam met him on the windblown landing pad at Halo Ridge. “Ran a little late, huh?”

Adam shook his head even as he reached to shake Deacon’s hand. “Your timing was fine. I shudder to think what would have happened here if you hadn’t shown up when and how you did. You have our thanks.”

“And my services, but I’m thinking that’s something better discussed over drinks somewhere under cover.” Deacon squinted against the wind and sun, then glanced out over the vista that stretched below.

Once the all-clear sirens had been sounded, the job of assessing the damage and cleaning up had begun with little fanfare. Rachel was down in the city, helping coordinate the efforts. They both knew the losses were heavy, likely to get worse when the final tallies were complete. Ezra Grace and Renee Vilenauva wouldn’t be getting much sleep for the next few days as they dealt with the worst of the injured, including Inspector Winston and Brendan Cho.

“At least we’ve got the chance to rebuild,” Adam said, following Deacon’s gaze. “It’s not Mimir, but it could have been. You stopped that from coming to pass, you know.”

“Somehow, I doubt that.”

“Don’t,” Adam said. “It’s true. If you hadn’t showed up—” He stopped and shook his head. “You’re right. This is something better discussed in private. Did you want to come inside? We’ll put you up here for a day or two until we can arrange something better. Did your crew need leave or anything?”

“That’s something we’ll have to discus,” Deacon said, tearing his gaze away from the devastation below. “I was told that the Foundation had made an arrangement with Mission Systems.”

“You heard right,” Adam said, turning toward the house and waving for Deacon to follow. The other man trailed in the marshal’s wake toward what had once been the Grace family home. “It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. They needed a soft place to fall and we need the ships they can provide us with—including the ones the Guard commissioned before Mimir fell.”

Deacon nodded slowly as they stepped into a sunlit study at the back of the house. “The Guard certainly isn’t using them.”

“Exactly.” Adam felt a pang of regret. The Guard wasn’t using them because the Guard was dead except for remnants and refugees—some here, some back in Commonwealth space.

Anyone left in Commonwealth space is in danger. He barely suppressed a shiver as the thought crossed his mind.

“Is this our savior?”

Deacon froze at the sound of America Farragut’s voice.


America stepped into the room with a bottle of local whiskey she’d liberated from Halo Ridge’s cellar. She gave Deacon a warm smile and nodded to one of the reading chairs that littered the study. “It’s good to see you again, Deacon.”

He dropped heavily into one of the chairs, eyes wide and staring. “We were told you were dead.”

“Rumors of that were greatly exaggerated,” she said, unstacking four small glasses. She started filling them one by one with the whiskey. “You’ll find that things like that aren’t always to be believed.”

“Apparently,” Deacon said, gaze flicking toward Adam. “Mission Systems hired me for the shake-down cruise on those ships. I didn’t realize I’d be flying into a warzone, but I’m glad I came prepared.”

“We are, too,” Adam said as he handed one of the glasses of whiskey to Deacon before he claimed one of his own. He eyed the fourth glass, glancing toward America. “Is Grant joining us?”

“Grant’s alive, too?”

America laughed a little and nodded. “He’s alive, but he’s not going to be joining us. He’s down in the city with Rachel, helping with the damage assessment.”

Adam frowned. Then who’s that glass for? “Then who…?”

She waved away the question, perching on the arm of another chair and staring at Deacon. “Was your employment with Mission Systems temporary?”

“Single run,” he said. “Which leaves me rather unemployed at this point.”

One corner of America’s mouth twitched toward a smile. “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

Deacon shrugged. “My wife’s people are Wanderers. I can’t think of a better place to be than out here with the only people who have actually promised to figure out what happened at the Whispers.”

Adam arched a brow and glanced toward America. She shrugged slightly.

“We’re already walking that path and dragging Inspector Winston along for the ride.”

“The Commonwealth actually sent an inspector out here?” Deacon asked. “I think I’m shocked.”

“Ye of little faith, Deacon.” Frederick limped into the study, leaning a little more heavily on his cane than usual. Adam rocked back against his heels, blinking in surprise right alongside of Deacon.

“I didn’t think that Ezra Grace was going to let you out of his sight for at least a day or two,” Adam said.

Frederick shrugged with one shoulder, lightly touching the bandage taped against his temple and then tugging at his fresh shirt to resettle it. “He’s got far greater issues than me right now. I’m better off than most of the people that Dr. Grace and Dr. Vilenauva are dealing with right now.”

“I’m seeing ghosts,” Deacon said, his grip on his glass white-knuckled. “I bloody well died up there in that engagement and I’m seeing ghosts.”

“Not a ghost,” Frederick said as he eased into a chair and accepted the last glass of whiskey from America. “Not really. I just feel like one sometimes.”

“Telling everyone that Freder was dead was the only way we could protect him from whoever tried to murder him,” Adam said quietly, still unsettled by his friend’s sudden appearance. Daci was going to kill them both when she found out that he was here instead of in bed. “He’s been here since then.”

“If it makes you feel any better, they very nearly succeeded in that,” Frederick said, taking a quick sip of his whiskey.

“No, it really doesn’t.” Deacon sucked in a deep breath, still staring at Frederick. “I—I’m sorry, this is a little bit of a shock.”

“Rachel had the same reaction,” Adam said. “In any case…it sounded like you were offering the Foundation your services as a military tactician. We could use a fleet commander—I think that Aidan and Daci will agree with me.”

“I guess I was,” Deacon said quietly, shaking himself and looking at Adam again. “But it comes with a price.”

Adam raised a brow. “Try me.”

“My crew needs a safe place to live,” Deacon said quietly, “and there are two dozen families back in New Earth space that need to make it here before something bad happens to them. I need your help to make that happen.”

America and Adam exchanged a glance. America shrugged.

“Only two dozen? I think we can make that happen.”

Adam suppressed the urge to shake his head. This is going to be a doozy.

They’d find a way, though. They always did.


‘And then, in the hours in which all hope is lost, a light will shine in the darkness.’  Sarah had never looked at me like I was absolutely insane before, but she did when I said that.  She asked me why I’d said it—we’d finally won our peace, what I’d said didn’t make sense.  I had to tell her that I didn’t know.  It’s bothered me in all the years since.  I’ve never been able to explain it.  Maybe someday, someone will figure it out.

— From the journal of Ryland LeSarte


19 Decem, 5249 PD


“Deacon Black, you bastard!  What took you so long?”

Relief threatened to leave him shaking as Adam leaned against a nearby console.  The sound of a familiar, friendly ghost from his past was more than enough to do that.  They’d known each other on Mimir before the end of the Psychean Guard.  The last Adam had known, his old friend had been teaching at a war college on New Earth—a posh academic position that let his bloodline be quietly forgotten.

The Black family had been heroes of the Rose Foundation back in the days of Farragut and LeSarte.

“Well, you know, I had to find a ship that I liked and that was harder than I thought—you lot didn’t order much variety, did you?”  The faint sound of a proximity alarm sounded in the background of the transmission.  “We can resume this once I’m done dealing with the trouble in orbit.  Tell your fighters to stay out of our fire-lines.”

“Roger that.”  Adam glanced at one of the techs, who nodded quickly and cut in another line, one to the fighter squadrons that had disobeyed orders and stayed to fight.

“Friend/foe just came online,” Tomasi said from behind him.  “They’re broadcasting Psychean Guard.”

“They’ve got the Mission Systems ships,” Adam murmured, staring at the video feeds.  “They couldn’t be anything else.”  Not broadcasting the Guard identifiers, anyway.

He felt the brush of his wife’s thoughts against his and smiled.  Rachel must have sensed the abrupt shift from dread to relief.  We’ll make it through this one—by the skin of our teeth, but we’ll make it.

The black ships came about, swinging toward the newcomers, their attack on the surface forgotten.  Adam sucked in a deep breath as he watched Deacon’s ships continue to pour fire on the black ships, his heart beating hard against his breast.  The engines of one ship flared, then died.  Another began to run, trying to knife its way through the formation of newly-arrived ships only to meet its end in a flare of brightness after successfully running the gauntlet, the damage inflicted by broadsides too much to survive.

“And so the tide turns,” Adam murmured to himself, watching the video feeds.

Then he smiled.

•    •    •

The distant sounds of the all-clear signal roused Alana from the strange half-sleep she’d drifted into.  Ezra was still with her, still holding her as they perched on the edge of the cot in the shelter beneath his clinic.

“You were going to go find your comm,” she said in a shaky voice.  Even though he’d given her a full dose of the usual painkillers not too long before, she’d already decided it wasn’t nearly enough.  Her arm ached with every heartbeat and her head throbbed in time with her pulse, too.

I’m just falling apart in my retirement, aren’t I?

“Couldn’t figure out how to lay you down without jostling your arm funny and waking you up,” Ezra said as he released her.  “Stay here.”

“They’re sounding the all-clear,” Alana said, cradling her bad arm against her belly.  “We can go back up.”

“You’re not going to make it all the way up the stairs.”

She set her jaw, eyes narrowing.  “I will if I’ve got to.  We have to make sure they’re okay.”

Ezra apparently knew better than to ask who she was talking about.  His lips brushed her temple and he started on the hunt for his comm.  “Just stay put,” he said again.  “Let me handle this.”

“You’ll need my help.”


“Ez, please.”  She bit her lip, hating herself for the lump building in her throat.  “Don’t make me wait on the sidelines.”

He stared at her for a long moment, then exhaled a sigh.  “Fine.  Wait here, I’ll go find your sling.”

“Thank  you,” she whispered, watching him turn away and head for the stairs, the blast door above.  Alana sucked in a pair of ragged breaths, trying to pretend that amputation of her arm wouldn’t have been preferable to the pain she was experiencing.

You’ve felt worse.  Deal with it.

Of course, she was lying to herself.  This was worse than anything she’d ever felt before—worse than it had been when the cyberware had gone in by a factor of ten.

Her vision swam and she wavered on the edge of the bed.  Hold it together.  You have to go up there, see what’s going on, see what’s happened.

            They’re okay.  They have to be.


She startled, eyes blinking open, the lids heavy.  She hadn’t heard Ezra come back.  “Did you find it?” she whispered.

“Yeah.”  He held up the sling even as he pressed his hand against her forehead, against her cheek.  “But you’re burning up.  Lay down.”

“No, I have to—”

His fingers laced through her hair and she shivered.  His hands felt cold.  Maybe she really was spiking a fever again.  Ezra’s lips brushed her forehead and she whimpered, her eyes fluttering shut.

“Ezra,” she whispered.

“Sleep.” He eased her down against the pillow at the end of the bed and tucked a blanket over.  “I’ll make sure all of them are okay.  I promise.  Just stay here so I don’t have to worry about you, too.”

Tears welled up behind her closed eyelids.  His fingers brushed against her cheek and she leaned toward the touch, her heart aching as much as her head, as much as her arm.

“Sleep,” he said again, then pressed a pain patch against the joint between her neck and shoulder.  “I love you.”

Whatever he injected into her arm after that sent her sinking down into the soft, quiet oblivion of sleep.

She didn’t even hear him walk away.


Even when hope fades, there must always come light after the darkness.  Believe in the light and it will come—hope finds a way.

— From the personal journal of Ryland LeSarte


19 Decem, 5249 PD


The debris above their heads moved, shifting slightly.  Dust drifted down onto them and Frederick swore, struggling to haul Brendan and Winston deeper into the cellar.  His ribs ached fiercely, pain pulsing with every heartbeat.  Brendan swore—loudly—as Frederick moved him, and the pilot’s curses found a twin in those of his lover aboveground.

“What are you doing down there?”  Kara yelled.

“Moving them in case something shifts wrong.  Haven’t kept them alive this long so they could get crushed.”

Brendan choked on a laugh at Frederick’s gallows humor.  The laugh ended in a fit of coughing and a pained moan.

“Just hang tight.”

“Would have been helpful if they’d brought her brother along,” Brendan muttered, his eyes fluttering shut.  “I’m not doing so hot.”

Frederick grimaced.  I’m thinking we both know that—they probably know it, too.

The debris grated above them.  Frederick squinted at the sliver of light that grew larger, first by inches, then a foot and another.  Lindsay slid through the gap first, landing in a crouch and scrambling toward Brendan.  His breath rasped in his throat as his eyes came open, watching her.

“You look like hell,” she said as she dropped to her knees next to him.

“I feel like hell,” he answered before his gaze drifted toward Frederick.  “But I’m still breathing.  That’s something.”

Kara came next, swearing as the ground shuddered around them.

“They’re savaging the south of the city,” she said with a shiver.  “I don’t know what kind of intelligence they’ve got, but that’s where they’re hitting.  It doesn’t look like they’ve turned the base into a crater yet.”

“It’s only a matter of time,” Frederick said quietly.  “There’s no doubt about that.”  He stared at Lindsay.  “It’s Mimir, Lindsay,” he said.  “It’s just like Mimir, all over again.”

Lindsay’s lips thinned and she shook her head hard, her fingers curling around Brendan’s hand.  “It won’t be,” she said with no small measure of conviction.  “We won’t let that happen.  It can’t happen.  It won’t.”

Kara touched her shoulder.  “How do you know?”

“Because we both know,” Lindsay whispered, glancing down at Brendan and then up toward her friend again.  “We’ve both seen too much for everything to end here.  Haven’t we?”

Brendan’s eyes slid shut again.  “She’s right.”

“We have to save your life,” Lindsay said, her eyes meeting Frederick’s.  “I’ve seen it.  You’re giving a speech and someone’s coming after you and you get knocked out of the way just in time to save your life.  It happens.  I know it happens.  There’s so much…”

Brendan’s fingers flexed.  “Enough,” he whispered.  “How’s Inspector Winston?”

“Still breathing,” Frederick said, his voice grim.  “I can’t say much  more than that.  Unless this ends soon…”

“I’ve learned a thing or two from Ezra,” Kara said, carefully moving around Brendan’s prone form to kneel alongside Winston.  “I’ll see what I can do.”

“I think it’s bad,” Frederick said.  “He hasn’t said anything in a while.”

“Talking hurts,” Winston whispered.  “But I’m still here—barely, but still here.”

“Well, let’s see if we can’t keep you with us a little longer,” Kara said with a reassuring smile and a gentle touch to the younger man’s shoulder.  “Just yell if it hurts, okay?”

“I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask.”


* * *


“They haven’t fired on us yet,” Tomasi whispered.  “Sir, why haven’t they obliterated the base yet?”

“Could be that we have something here that they want,” Adam said quietly, staring at the video feeds.  I’ve got no idea what it could be, but maybe they think we’ve got something here that they’d want.  “Where have they hit?”

“Two locations near city center, non-military targets.”

“South of the city’s burning, too,” Tomasi added.

“Mimir,” Adam murmured, half to himself, gaze fixed on the screens.  Hate and terror.  That’s all they cared about.  Sowing terror and their hate.

Tomasi gave him a confused look.  He shook his head slightly.

The comm crackled.  “Control, new contacts, big ships, coming hard and fast.”

Adam’s heart dropped to his boots.  That’s why they haven’t opened up yet.  They were waiting for the heavy hitters.  “Get out of here,” he said quietly over the comm to the lingering fighters, the ones that had disobeyed orders and stayed behind as a final line of defense.  “Save yourselves.”

He closed his eyes and waited for the sudden barrage to begin.

“Sir!  Control, they’re opening fire on the black ships.”

Tomasi’s voice was an excited shout.  “Marshal, we’re getting a hail from the lead ship.”

Adam sucked in a breath, his eyes coming open, his heart beating at three times its normal speed.  “Put it through.”

“Better late than never, huh, Marshal Windsor?”

Adam’s eyes widened and he began to laugh.



19 Decem, 5249 PD

The world flared bright and the ground heaved.

Lindsay and Kara sprawled and rolled as the field bucked beneath their feet, their mad dash toward the downed aircraft abruptly aborted.  Lindsay gasped for breath as she came to a stop in a shallow furrow between rows of grapevines, all the wind knocked from her lungs when she’d been thrown from her feet.

She tried to orient herself, tried to figure out what had just happened.  Her head was ringing, but her vision was clear.

Did they just fire on us from orbit?  Is that what just happened?

            How is that even possible?

She felt sick, wanted to puke up everything that was in her stomach at the thought.  The worst part about it all was that she knew it was possible, she knew it could happen.

She’d seen it happen.

“Lin!  Lin, we’ve got to get under cover.”  Kara scrambled toward her from the next furrow over, ducking beneath one of the arbors, keeping low as she moved.  “I’m not sure what they were targeting, but I can see fires burning in the city proper.  They’re firing from orbit.”

Her blood ran cold and a shudder ran through her.  No.  No, it’s too soon.  It has to be too soon.

            We were going to stop this from happening.

“Get up!  We have to move.”

“The only cover is where—”

“I know it.  Get your feet under you.”

Lindsay swore and fumbled to her feet, stumbling a step as her ankle tried to fold underneath her.  She grimaced, gritting her teeth as she fought through the pain.  Must have twisted it when I went down.  Damn it all.

Kara tucked her arm beneath hers shoulders.  “Stay low,” she warned.  “Just in case.”

“They’re softening us up before they send landers,” Lindsay said, suddenly breathless.  “That’s got to be it, Kara.  That’s got to be it.”

“Right,” Kara said, her tone anything but reassuring.  “A repeat of the Whispers won’t do them any good if they want our trees and our farmland.”

Lindsay shuddered.  There were thousands upon thousands of miles of undisturbed forest and plain beyond Nova Spexi.  The enemy—whoever was attacking them—could destroy the city and everything in a two mile radius around it without significantly hurting their ability to use the world’s available resources.

“You had to say that,” she said.

Kara glared at her.  “Sunshine and rainbows doesn’t exactly strike me as the proper reaction to our current situation.”

Lindsay caught a flash out of the corner of her eye and twisted back toward the city.  Something exploded there and the ground moved beneath them again.

This time, the pair was ready for it, expecting it, and they kept their feet.  It was less than a dozen yards to the fuselage.  They just needed to make it there and then maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to find something like shelter from the bombardment.

Brendan, are you still with me?

His pain clawed at her again, forgotten in the midst of sudden heart-pounding panic and surprise.  Barely, came the reply that accompanied the agony.  What’s happening up there?

She sucked in a breath.  Orbital bombardment.  That’s what’s happening out here.




“Frak me,” Brendan groaned, his voice weak.  Frederick startled at the sound, looking toward the pilot.

“You’re awake.”

“Still, and barely.  Lin’s in my head.”

Frederick swallowed, a shiver shooting down his spine.   “Did she tell you what’s going on topside?”

“You don’t want to know,” the pilot muttered, his eyes squeezing shut.

“I may not want to know, but I’m fearing that I might need to.”

Brendan exhaled.  “Bombardment.  They’re firing on us from orbit.”

“Bloody hellfire,” Frederick said, feeling light-headed.  “It really is happening all over again.”

“What is?”

“Mimir,” he said, forgetting that Brendan hadn’t been entirely conscious for their last discussion.  “It’s Mimir all over again.”

“Except they didn’t want Mimir’s resources when they came there, right?  They wanted something else.  Something worse.”

“The extermination of a race,” Frederick whispered, staring blankly at the cellar wall.  “The destruction of psychics.”

“More than that,” Brendan rasped.  “I can see it, now.  Listening’s done me good—reading Lin’s books has done me good.  Knowledge, Inspector Rose.  They wanted to destroy what Mimir knew.”  His eyes fluttered shut again.  “What do we know that they knew?”

His blood went cold, ice tumbling through his veins as he stared at the semi-conscious pilot, the Sarah Farragut to Lindsay’s Ryland LeSarte.  Frederick’s heart was in his throat as he whispered, “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“It just fits,” Brendan mumbled.  “It all fits.”

“Freder!  Brendan!”

Lindsay’s voice echoed quietly, barely penetrating the debris above them.  Brendan opened his eyes again and stared at the earthen ceiling and the shattered fuselage that blocked access to the cellar.

“They came looking for us,” he mumbled.  “They shouldn’t have.  It was stupid.  They did it anyway.”  The ghost of a smile touched his lips.  “The fact that she’s stubborn is part of why I love her so much.”

Frederick heaved himself to his feet, limping toward the sound of Lindsay’s and Kara’s voices, barely audible.  “We’re down here!”

“How many?”  Kara asked.

“Three,” Frederick said, glancing at Brendan and Inspector Winston.  “Just three.”

“Hold on.  We’re going to try to get down there with you.”

“What about getting us out?” Frederick asked.

“Too dangerous!”  Kara called back.  “We’re joining you.  Safer down there than it is up here.  City’s on fire.”

Bile crept up in Frederick’s throat, sickness threatening.

Just like the last time.

Could Brendan be right?  Was this about something they knew, not about the resources they controlled?

Bloody hell.  That’s something I never thought about.

            Or did I? Have I just forgotten?

“Oh Seph,” he whispered.  “I hope you’ll be able to unravel whatever I left behind because god knows that I can’t.  I can’t.”

The end…?

And then the bombs began to fall as the black ships dipped low in the atmosphere, laying waste to the colony.







Just kidding.  Happy April 1 (and happy anniversary to my wonderful parents, who have been married 36 years today–no foolin’).

Real update will post on April 8, hopefully along with an update regarding when I’ll be doing the paper and ebook releases of The Last Colony along with UNSETIC Files: The Measure of Dreams and Awakenings: Omens and Echoes, all of which are currently in the works and destroying my brain.


When the black ships came gliding out of the night, dark against the stars, we should have known the end was upon us.  Perhaps we would have if we’d had eyes to see at the time.  We had been blinded by then and all chance of saving ourselves, all hope of Mimir’s survival, had already been utterly obliterated.

— From the personal journal of Rachel Farragut


19 Decem, 5249 PD

Lindsay watched the bombers against the clouds, startling slightly as she realized they were lifting higher instead of descending for another pass.  She poked Kara hard in the ribs and pointed upward.

“Look,” she breathed as she peered up past the leafy canopies that were their cover as they sheltered in a copse of trees a few hundred yards from the vineyard’s property line.  “They’re lifting.  They’re running.”

“Running?”  Kara grimaced.  “Are you sure that’s what they’re doing?”

Lindsay’s stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch and she swallowed.  “I sure as hell hope so.”  The alternative isn’t something I want to contemplate.  I’m not even quite sure I know what the alternative would be, but I know it’s not going to be something I’d like.

“Me too.”  Kara edged out from under cover to get a better look.  Gray clouds were moving in from the west and the wind was stiffening.  “Maybe there’s a storm coming.  Maybe they’re breaking off because of it.”

“Hopefully that’s it.”  Lindsay sucked in a breath, looking down over the rolling hills toward the sea.  They were on Kara and Gabe’s property, now, property she knew almost as well as she knew the woods where she’d grown up, the woods she lived in now.  She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a slow, deep breath.  She could smell the smoke that drifted on the air, could taste the fuel and exhaust from the fighters and bombers.

So many minds.  So much fear.  She shivered.  Kara squeezed her shoulder.

“Reel in,” her friend murmured.  “It’s not worth it.”

“It’s always worth it,” Lindsay said, swallowing hard.  It was only half a lie.  She knew what she might be doing to herself.  Her hand unconsciously strayed toward her belly, showing no sign of her pregnancy at this early stage.

I can’t wonder what this is going to do to all of us right now.  All I’ve to do is find Brendan.  That’s all I have to do.

A thought brushed against hers, faint and frail.  She latched onto the sense of Brendan, relief making her knees momentarily weak.

I thought you were dead.  I was afraid you were dead.

The sense of him was weak, but it was there.  You’d know if I’d died.  Are you safe?

“For the moment.”  She murmured the words even as she pushed them to him.  Kara grimaced, squeezing her arm.

“You found him?”

Lindsay made a ‘sort-of’ gesture with one hand, biting her lip.  Where are you?

As safe as I can get for the moment.  Freder and the inspector are here.  Winston’s hurt worse than I am, I think.

Lindsay swallowed hard.  How bad is it?

I think I busted my ribs.  Not sure what else.  A lot of pain.

She could feel it nibbling at the edges of her own consciousness.  Her breath quickened.  They had to be close.  She caught Kara’s hand and darted out into the open, heedless of what might see them.

“Holy shit, Lindsay, what are you—”

“They’re close!  I can feel his pain, they’re close.”  She tried to use their bond as a guide, tracking the bright thread that tied them together in her mind’s eye.

Don’t let me go.  Don’t stop talking, Brendan.  Stay with me.

She felt his pain spike and winced herself.  His thoughts were weaker now.  Trying.  It’s hard.  Hurts a lot.

“Just hang on,” she whispered.  “We’re coming.”

We?  Who’s we?  What are you—Lin!  Lin, no.  You can’t.

She actually laughed.  Too late.

“There!”  Kara jerked on her arm, spinning her to the side.  “They’re over there.”

Lindsay blinked, eyes stinging as a gust of wind blew smoke from a smoldering bomber in their direction.  “How do you know?”

“Just trust me,” Kara said.  “There’s a cellar beneath that fuselage.  They’ve got to be down there if they’re close.  They’re sure as hell not out in the open, are they?”

Brendan?  Are you underground?

Yeah, he thought back.  One of the cellars, I think.  Hard to tell.  Vision’s blurry.

Lindsay grimaced.  He must have hit his head again, too, which made her even more worried than she’d been a few minutes before.  No one needed him to undo all the work that Ezra had done to patch him up again.

Shit, where’s Ezra?

Probably at home with Alana.  Keep talking to me, Lin.  I keep trying to pass out and staying conscious is getting hard.  Starting to drift.

Her lips thinned as she and Kara broke into a dead run.  Just hang in there, Brendan.  I’m coming.  I promise, I’m coming.


•    •    •


Tomasi looked away from her console and toward Marshal Windsor, who stared at the video and sensor feeds that their evacuating fighters were still broadcasting.  They’d keep broadcasting until they were out of range; standard operating procedure.  It was only a matter of time, though, before they were well out of range, traveling to their destinations on the Marshal’s orders.  “Yes, sir?”

“Anything from that fleet that’s coming in?”

Tomasi checked her boards just to be sure, then shook her head slightly.  “No, sir.  They’re running silent.  I’m not even picking up ship to ship, but…well.  It looks like they took out some of the long range relays and sensors before they moved in for the kill.”

There was a collective wince and shudder that ran through the staff in operations at her poorly chosen words.  The young pilot turned her gaze to her console, stared at her hands.

Windsor’s hand fell on her shoulder.  “It’s all right,” he murmured.  “We were all thinking it.  You’re just the one that said it.”

“Yes, sir,” the girl said quietly.  Windsor’s fingers flexed and he stepped away.

“Marshal, the bombers are pulling back,” someone on sensors said quietly, as if they feared shouting would somehow shatter the fragile control they all maintained, as if speaking louder would leave them all utterly shattered.  “Do you think that maybe they’re leaving?”

“Not bloody likely,” Windsor said, heart sinking to the level of his boots.  “This is what it was like at Mimir.”

“They’re here to kill us all,” someone said.  “They want our planet.”

“Ships are moving into geosync.  They may be setting for orbital bombardment.”

No maybe about that.  Windsor closed his eyes.  I love you, Rachel.  I love you.  He took a deep breath.  “How many over Nova Spexi?”

“Looks like three, sir.”

“Gunports are cycling open.”

So this is how it ends.  Windsor cleared his throat.  “It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.”

All they could do was watch as the visual feeds showed the first of the blasts two heartbeats before the ground began to shake with the effects of the bombardment.

The first siege of E-557 had begun.


Dead men tell no tales, but the survivors bear serious grudges.

— attributed to Ryland LeSarte, date unknown


19 Decem, 5249 PD

“Grumpy?  Adam!  Are you still there?”

“Sounds like the line went dead,” Winston’s voice said faintly.  The young inspector’s eyes were closed, his breathing raspy and shallow.  Blood oozed from the gash above his ear, his body limp on the dirt floor of the hollow they’d tumbled into just in time to avoid being crushed by a crashing enemy bomber.  “Do you think he heard you?”

“I know he heard me,” Frederick growled, suppressing the strong urge to fling his commlink as far as his arm could throw it.  “I just don’t know if he was able to figure out where we are.”  Or if he’s even able to send someone to help us.

He’d better send someone.  I’ve got the inspector on one side and Brendan on the other.

He hadn’t dared to move Brendan Cho beyond struggling to drag him clear of the edge of the hollow, and he’d been glad that he’d at least done that.  A split second after he’d managed to pull the pilot to safety, the wreckage above them had shifted.

Cho would have been cut in half if Frederick hadn’t moved him.

Now the pilot lay within arms’ reach, unconscious and flat on his back, his face dirty, breathing shallow but even.  Still, when Frederick had checked his eyes, they’d been rolled up into his skull and the young man’s body was entirely limp.

Frederick hadn’t seen him coming or what had happened when the bomber hit, but he knew that there had to be more going on beneath Brendan’s uniform than what was immediately visible.

Damnation, Grumpy, you’d damned well better send someone to find us—and be quick about it.

“You think it’s bad out there?”

Frederick snorted, then groaned.  The world spun for a moment, then righted itself again.  “I have no doubt,” he said.  “We’ve never been attacked quite like this before.  Whoever’s come means business.”

“They’re nervous,” Winston said.  “Whoever it is, whoever did what they did to the Whispers.  They’re worried we’ll figure something out—that I’ll figure something out.  I’m sorry, Inspector Rose.  This is all my fault.”

“Like hell,” Frederick said.  “There’s no way that’s true.  They probably don’t even realize you’re here.”  And once they do, they’ll just chalk your injuries up to collateral damage.

            If we live that long, anyway.

Frederick shuddered, remembering what had happened on Mimir.

The attack had come without warning one early morning.  It had started with flyovers by unmarked fighters.  The first wave of bombers had come next as unknown ships drifted in from out of nowhere, black ships that vanished against the darkness of space.

No warning.  No escape.  The cities had been bombed, experimentally at first.  A few had been completely destroyed.  Others had suffered less damage, but had suffered more in the aftermath.

Sickness and starvation had come next, since the spaceports had been destroyed, the hospitals bombed into ruin—Mimir had been abandoned by everyone except for its allies, who often found themselves falling victim to the minefield that had been left behind by the mysterious attackers.

No one had moved.  No one cared.  The death of the Psychean Guard had begun that day that Mimir was bombed and had ended when Grant Channing and America Farragut had been captured.

“It’s happening all over again,” Frederick whispered.  “It’s the same people.  It’s same conspiracy.”

“What do you mean?” Winston asked, eyes cracking open.  One eye was bloodshot, ringed by a black eye.  He’d taken the brunt of the impact when they’d taken their tumble, when the bomber had come down.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s just like Mimir,” Frederick said, feeling cold from head to toe.  “It’s exactly like Mimir.”

He’d read all of the reports, penned a few of his own based on eyewitness testimony from the survivors.  He hadn’t been on Mimir when that world had ended, but he knew enough.

I used to know who killed it.  Damnation, I wish I could remember.

Frederick Rose was no fool.  He knew that at one point, he’d unraveled the mystery, and the fact that he’d gotten far too close had nearly killed him.

And now, walking in my footsteps is going to get Inspector Winston killed.

“Go home once we make it through this,” he said hoarsely to the younger man.  “Go home and tell Sephora that she shouldn’t send people out here to get themselves killed.  My example should’ve taught her better than that.”

“I’m doing my job,” Winston said, his eyes sliding shut again.  “Are you telling me to run from my duty, Inspector Rose?”

“Living, breathing investigators are better than dead symbols,” Frederick said, wincing at the bitterness in his own voice.  “You know that they both begged me not to go?”


“Daci and Seph.  They told me not to go to Eldas.  Daci said she had a bad feeling about it.  Seph said someone had been trying to divert our attention from there.  There must have been a reason for it.  I should have listened.  Instead I went and found out what I needed to find out and they tried to murder me for it.”

“Do you remember?”

“No,” Frederick said, feeling the old ache start to rise again, the pain of not knowing, of not being able to remember.  “No, I’ve got no idea what it was that I used to know and forgot.  I know I was going to go back to New Earth and break the whole thing wide open.  There was going to be hell to pay and I was calling the piper’s tune.

“Or I would have, anyway, if I’d made it back in one piece.”

“But you’re sure it’s the same people?”

“The modus operandi is all the same,” Frederick whispered.  “It’s got to be the same people, the same conspiracy.  It’s all too close.”

“The records of your findings were sealed,” Winston said.  “You had to have diplomatic credentials or be a part of the Inspector General’s office to see them.  Hard for someone to copycat that.”

“Hard, but not impossible.”  Frederick shuddered.  “No.  It’s the same people and it’s happening all over again.

“E-557 is the new Mimir, not the Whispers.  The Whispers was just incidental.  This was their target all along.  We were their target all along.”

“That’s all right,” Brendan Cho rasped from the floor nearby.  “We’ll be making them pay just the same.”


Hell rained down on them,

A rain of fire, a rain of tears,

And o’er all who lived there

Spread the desolation of murdered dreams.

— Olarius Kemp, On the Death of Karenis Prime,c. 2013

19 Decem, 5249 PD

Her head throbbed dully as she stirred awake in an unfamiliar bed–not the one she’d been sharing with Ezra, not the bed that she’d slept in alone for so many years, but somewhere else, somewhere unknown.  The blankets smelled like her lover, though, and she shifted slightly, pushing them back and away.  A hiss of pain escaped her lips as the tattered, wasted muscles of her arm spasmed, the ache bone-deep abruptly returning.  She remembered taking something for the pain and something to help her sleep and falling asleep in their bed.  Now she blinked blearily at her surroundings and found them unfamiliar.

Where the hell am I?  Where’s Ezra?  Alana rubbed sleep from her eyes as she sat up fully, the blankets falling away.  “Ezra?  Are you here?”

No one answered.  She swung her legs over the side of the bed–barely more than a cot, though a little more comfortable than a ship’s bunk or a soldier’s billet back in Compact space–and stood slowly, testing her legs.  She felt a little shakier than she’d have liked, but straightened easily and looked around.  “Ezra?”

No answer.

She exhaled through her teeth.  It was a small room, non-descript with silver-gray walls and a few cots. Some kind of shelter, maybe?  Shelter from what?

Her arm hurt from shoulder to fingertips as she hugged it against her belly, cradled in her good arm.  The sling she’d been wearing was nowhere to be found and she muttered a quiet curse under her breath.

What the hell is going on?

She could hear rumbles in the distance, the ceiling shivering slightly.  Bile rose in her throat and she swallowed it back down.  That’s not a good sound.

“Where the hell is my comm,” she muttered to herself, already starting to poke around.  The place didn’t looked lived in at all, despite how neatly appointed all of it was.  It felt sterile.  Utilitarian.

Alana swore aloud.  It’s a bomb shelter, a raid shelter.  What the hell is going on up there?  She coughed and cleared her throat.  “Ezra Mason Grace, where the hell are you?”

The next bang she heard was much more immediate, followed by the sound of Ezra’s voice swearing heartily.  The door at the far end of the narrow room swung open and Ezra appeared, lugging a crate of something along with him.

“What are you doing up?”

“Never mind what I’m doing up.  Where the hell are we and what the hell is going on outside?”

“Shelter under the clinic,” Ezra answered promptly, giving the crate a final shove.  “The sirens went off and I got you moved down here.  You were out like a bloody light.”

“I’ve been drugged up to my eyebrows since you started working on my arm,” Alana muttered.  “Not that I’m not grateful for it because it hurts like a bitch if I’m not.  Why did the sirens go off?  What’s going on?”

He hesitated and she swore, heading for the door.  His hand instinctively shot out, grasping her shoulder to stop her.

Alana howled as white-hot pain lanced through her arm, dropping to a knee.  Ezra’s hand snapped open.

“Shit, ‘lana, I’m sorry.”  He scrabbled through an open medical kit set on a side table and pulled out an injector full of a pale blue liquid.  She tried to push him away but found that the pain had consumed what little energy she’d had.  A second later, he’d pressed the injector against her neck and released the drug into her system.  Another few seconds after that and it had started to take effect, the pain ebbing.

She looked up at him with eyes hazed by tears, tears she hated.  There were some things that you didn’t get used to shedding after you served the Compact and tears were one of those things.  “You should be sorry,” she whispered, her voice hoarse.  “Dammit, Ezra!  Just tell me what’s going on.”

“We’re under attack,” Ezra said quietly.  “The raid sirens went off.  It was all I could do to get you down here.  It was still early when they went off, not much of anyone out and about yet.  I don’t know what it looks like above right now and I don’t know that I want to find out.”

“I need my comm,” Alana said, struggling to her feet.  “And my sling.  Where are they?”

“Probably upstairs to the first and definitely upstairs to the second.”  Ezra helped her stand, wrapping an arm around her waist and steadying her as she swayed.  “Get back in bed.”

“There are people dying up there.”  Probably dying.  Maybe dying.

Ezra winced.  “I have to hope that most folks made it to shelter and are okay,” he said quietly, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper.  “There’s nothing I can do about that right now, ‘lana.  It’s too dangerous.”

“Lindsay and your sister.  Rachel.  Where are they?”

Blood drained from Ezra’s face and he shook his head slightly.  “I don’t know,” he said softly.  “I know that they were planning on meeting with some people at the council chambers today.  I’m sure they’re fine.  They’d have made it to cover.”

And I’d know if she was dead.  Alana swallowed against sudden tightness in her throat, lips thinning.  At least, I have to believe that I would.  She’s blood, practically my little sister.  I’d know.

I’d have to know.

“Get back into bed,” Ezra said gently.

“I have to find out where they are,” Alana whispered even as Ezra drew her back to the bed she’d been sleeping in.  “Ezra, I have to know.”  Her throat tightened.  “She’s my family.”

“I know,” he said quietly.  “Just settle.  I dropped my comm somewhere between here and the stairs.  I’ll see if I can raise her once I find it.”

“Promise me,” Alana said fiercely, even as she sank down onto the edge of the bed, cradling her bad arm tightly against her belly.  “Promise me, Ezra.”

“I promise,” he said quietly.  He leaned down to kiss her gently.

A shiver wracked her.

“I have a bad feeling, Ezra,” she said quietly.  “I’ve got a really, really bad feeling.”

“It’ll all be okay,” he murmured, actually sounding like he meant it.

Maybe he does.  Maybe he’s got the hope that I can’t carry anymore.

Ezra kissed her temple and left her there, perching on the edge of her bed, staring blankly at nothing as she hoped against hope that whatever Lindsay had seen all those weeks ago were dead wrong.

Thirty-two (part 5)

“Marcus, how many ground troops can we scramble right now?”

“Two squads are on base,” Harmin Marcus reported from his station.  “If we’re lucky and get the alert out now, we might be able to get two more.  Three squads are on-station across the water.”

Adam grimaced.  “They can’t help us now and they may be suffering the same sort of assault we are.  Have we heard from them at all?”

“Nothing, sir,” Tomasi said quietly.  “We’ve been pinging them, but it’s like they’re been completely obliterated.”

Only one way to know for sure, I guess.  Adam toggled the voice pickup back on.  “Theta Lead, do you have a read on Fort Solace?”

“Looks like it’s still there, sir, but we haven’t tried to raise them.”

Probably took out their towers or the local power grid there, too.  Adam shook his head even though the pilot couldn’t see him.  “Negative, Theta Lead.  Don’t deviate from your course.”

“Roger that, sir.”  Her breath rasped over the comm line.  “They’re starting to get close to the upper atmosphere.”

“If the bombardments start, run.”

“Yes, sir.”

His personal comm crackled in his pocket and he winced.  Who the hell’s trying to get in touch with me that way?  He dug it out and thumbed it active.  “Windsor.”

“Grumpy,” Frederick’s voice rasped.  “Grumpy, it’s bad.”

Adam’s heart stuttered, then returned to normal—if a little bit faster—rhythm.  “Freder!  Where the hell are you?  Where’s the Inspector?”

“He’s here.  They’re both hurt.  I can’t tell if I am.  Head’s still ringing and everything hurts.”


“Send help, Grumpy.  One of the cellars at the vineyard.  Send help.”

The comm crackled once and died.

Bloody hell.  We’re about to be invaded and all of a sudden the only thing I can think about is how the hell I’m going to get help out to that vineyard to save my best friend and an Inspector First Grade who might be able to save us all.

What the hell am I going to do?