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Penduli Station

Tyra Burton
and
Sherrie Fillion

Dunnhead Publishing

Acworth, Georgia



Copyright © 2018 by Tyra Burton and Sherrie Fillion
Smashwords Edition


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.


Tyra Burton and Sherrie Fillion/Dunhead Publishing

PO Box 2719

Acworth, Georgia/USA 30102

www.larundalegacy.com


Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.


Book Layout © 2017 BookDesignTemplates.com


Penduli Station - Larunda Legacy Series/ Tyra Burton and Sherrie Fillion. -- 1st ed.

ISBN 978-1-949256-03-1


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




To Shane who ensures the Tiki Bar is always open.
- Tyra



To my brother Ron whose books drew me into the world of Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Sherrie


Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Acknowledgments

Special acknowledgements from Sherrie

Special acknowledgements from Tyra



Chapter One

“Docking at Penduli Station is commencing. Please, make sure your seat straps are locked and you’re…”

Bang!

Annwyn gasped as she collided with the seat in front of her and landed hard on the floor. Burning pain radiated down her leg. Metal scraping on metal screeched around her as the lunar passenger ship dipped from side to side like a directional flag loose in space.

That doesn’t sound good.

The ship lurched forward, sending unlocked tablets, baggage, and passengers into the aisles. Annwyn leaned over a nearby seat and peered out the aft window, then winced at the awkward angle of the landing clamps.

The sound system crackled, and the audio garbled as the ship collided again with the space station.

Something is very wrong. Blades.

Screams and shouting erupted through the ship. Annwyn glanced up to see a large Scargilian male, his arms flailing, trying to maintain his balance set on a collision course for her. She scurried out of the aisle as he crashed to the floor where she was seconds before. Blood splattered and gushed from the gash along his forehead.

Annwyn closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing. Her pulse raced and her hip screamed at the constant banging against the metal seat legs as the ship rocked. She must control her faculties, or she’d be useless. She took a deep breath.

In one, two, three, four.

Hold two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

Out two, three, four.

The tension in her shoulders eased, and the pain in her hip dulled to a small throb. She opened her eyes and started cataloging the cacophony of activity around her. The passengers scrambled while one voice shouted for the travelers to remain seated.

Really? Most of us are sprawled on the floor.

The ship dropped suddenly, and a loud clicking sound caused silence in the cabin.

“Docked!” someone yelled from the front of the ship.

The acrid smell of electronic components on fire wafted through the cabin, burning Annwyn’s nostrils. First things first, the man’s head needed tending to. She found a med kit tucked under the seats, removed the cover, turned it out on the floor and searched through the items needed. Tearing open several packages, she layered absorbing cloth, and pressed them to the man’s wound. Byrne, the emissary from Aketi blinked.

“Can you hold this on your own?” She asked. After he nodded, she searched for additional injured travelers.

“I can’t get the airlock open!” a Mycan female screamed as she pressed buttons and then banged her fist on the display.

Annwyn maneuvered her way over to the panel and caught the Mycan’s fist before she could pound on it again. “Emissary Riaver? Let me try,” she said calmly. “Why don’t you see if Emissary Byrne is okay? His head is bleeding.”

The woman stared for a moment, nodded, and relinquished her place in front of the door.

Annwyn removed the top panel of the display from the door and frowned at the fused wires. She pulled the hairpin from her tightly woven hair, releasing her long curls from their constraint. After creating a hook from the pin, she tugged the smoking wires from inside the console to where she could examine them. Basic wiring for a transport ship.

“Everyone should return to their seats while we determine the situation. Ma’am, take your seat. We have control of the situation,” a deep male voice spoke from behind her.

“Seriously?” She turned toward the annoying voice, only to stare at the middle of a very muscular chest wrapped under a tight dark grey uniform.

“Do as you’re told and let us handle the situation,” he ordered.

Her gaze moved upward, taking in the vast expanse of the male in front of her until she reached pale blue eyes. She blew a lock of her rampant black hair from her face. Great. The Larunda Force guard joined them on the flight. Glancing down, she noted his furry grey companion stood directly behind him, as though linked by an invisible thread. He must be from the nomadic Oya’s of Krizlar. She returned her gaze to the towering male and lifted her chin.

“I’m Annwyn Silk, the emissary from Haevis, and I am not a child.” She pointed to two men trying to pull the airlock doors apart. “They will not be able to open them, no matter how much they pull. I need something to strip the wires, so I can get a clean…” She noticed a knife from one of the food service trays on the floor. “That will do.”

Annwyn bent over, and her vision blurred when her injured hip sent a jolt of pain shooting toward her back. She sucked in a breath, and her head swam, causing her to lose balance.

The condescending guard wrapped one arm around her, gripping her waist, saving her from landing on the floor again. He picked up the knife with his other.

“My apologies, Emissary. Please, proceed. You won’t mind if we keep trying to open it ourselves?”

“It won’t work. It is a failsafe system.” She turned her back to the man in uniform and started pulling wires, cutting, and stripping them. “They are designed so if a malfunction happens, you won’t have random airlock doors opening since this model does not have a two-compartment system like the military ships do.”

“Do you have any idea what the naiba you’re doing?”

“We’re about to find out.” She touched the wires together.

The doors opened, filling the lunar ship with the sound of wailing sirens. An explosion rocked the ship. Paws landed on her chest and pushed her and the security guard to the ground.

Must keep safe.

The words reverberated in Damius’s mind as a familiar canine tongue licked his face.

“Wren, I’m okay,” he said as he opened his lids to see a pair of blue eyes that matched his own. “Thanks.”

Wren emitted a short howl, then licked the face of the black-haired female emissary sprawled on top of him.

“What…” Emissary Annwyn Silk flailed her hands, trying to beat away the creature licking her.

Wren howled in response, then bounded off the tangled pair to sit next to his master.

The petite woman tried to stand, but fell back on top of him, knocking the air out of his lungs.

Her hand pressed into his chest and pinned him as she tried again. The ship pitched as a second explosion detonated.

“Stop,” Damius demanded, grabbing her hands in his. He maneuvered her into his arms and quickly stood, cradling her. As he shifted to set her on her feet, Wren let out a piercing howl. He could feel his animal companion’s panic in the pit of his stomach.

He threw Annwyn over his shoulder. “Move. Everyone off this ship now,” he ordered. He nodded to the security detail, and they rushed inside to help the other passengers. “Move it. Go, go, go!”

Bolts of panic emanated from the passengers, nearly suffocating him. He tapped a quick finger on Wren, grounding himself with Wren’s presence and blocking the emotions pounding at him. Wren’s howl punctuated Damius’s orders.

“Lt. Balder,” he shouted at the last departing security detail, “make sure she gets to safety.” He moved Annwyn from his shoulder to Balder’s. “I’ll clear the crew.”

“Set me down right this instant. I can walk.” Annwyn beat Balder’s back with her fist.

“She’s hurt. Don’t listen to her. Go, and make sure the platform’s cleared.”

Damius looked around, confirming the main cabin was empty. Wren took off in front of him toward the cockpit.

A security crew approached the airlock and called after him, “We need to close this door.”

“Let me get the pilots.”

“You’ve got sixty ticks, then the airlock is shut. Can’t risk another bomb going off.”

Bomb?

Damius spun around and ran after his wolf. Tensions among The Directorate had been building, but bombs? Was this why he was assigned to bring a guard division here?

Wren was scratching at the closed cockpit door. Damius pulled at the knob, but it wouldn’t open.

“I don’t have time for this,” Damius muttered as he pulled his blaster and shot the knob off. He opened the door to find the pilot and copilot slumped in their seats, blood splattered throughout the room. He quickly felt for a pulse on both and found none for the pilot. The copilot’s pulse beat slow, but steady. Alive.

“Twenty!” the officer yelled.

Wren nuzzled the copilot.

“Out now, Wren,” he yelled, slinging the copilot over his shoulder. Blood dripped down his clothes as he ran for the airlock. He and Wren dashed for the door as the officer counted down the ticks.

They jumped over the threshold as the door whooshed closed behind them. A medloc team took the copilot from his arms and started inspecting him. As they headed inside, one medical turned toward Damius and held out a recorder.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re bleeding,” the medical argued.

“This isn’t my blood.”

Another loud explosion rocked the platform. This time Wren wasn’t fast enough, and Damius slammed into the bulkhead of the space station central room.

“The ship broke free,” one of the police crew muttered, staring out the window.

Damius stepped over and watched as the ship exploded.

“My scans indicate you only have bruising. I would suggest some ice therapy.”

Annwyn tapped her finger against her side, trying not to be curt with the medical who read her bios. She’d confirmed the injury was only severe bruising minutes ago, but she’d waited patiently for the medical’s equipment to tell her the same thing.

“Thank you. Are we done?”

“Yes.” The medical closed her bag and headed out of the glass conference room enclosure.

After fleeing their ship, she and the other emissaries were hustled into the central command room for medical treatment and debriefing. Through the glass walls, she noted the video feeds monitoring various areas of the station. Several of them showed the destruction from the explosions. The replay of her lunar transport ship’s demise played in a loop on one of them.

Was it cold to be thankful her belongings were shipped ahead of her, so she could move right into her quarters? Her loss was minimal, but she doubted the same was true for most of her fellow passengers. Tugging out her small tablet, she punched in the word that male had used during their escape. Naiba. She scanned the translation and sucked in a quick breath. That was one particular profanity she’d never use.

The door to the command room swung open, and a woman with several eight-pointed stars on her uniform collar walked in, followed by what Annwyn believed were lower ranking members of the command team.

“Lead Emissary Moiran,” she said with a low-pitched voice. The ones who entered with her moved to stand near the portal opening.

“Admiral Carmichael.” The Lead Emissary from Orias floated along the floor toward Carmichael and bowed at the waist. They made eye contact, and he nodded, yielding the floor to her.

Annwyn was still familiarizing herself with the intricacies of inter-planet communication. The Larunda Directorate had compromised on a slight bow being the universal greeting between planetary representatives. It was posturing and an unnecessary waste of time. But, if all the representatives thought it necessary, she wouldn’t argue. Couldn’t argue since they made all the rules for planet to planet behaviors. She studied Moiran in his long blue robes with silver weave along the hems. One day, she’d figure out how those Oriasins appeared to float when they moved.

“It saddens me to report your ship was destroyed. No lives were lost thanks to the quick action of Major Elkwood.” Carmichael announced with a quick scan of the room.

“The medical said the pilot was on board when it disengaged,” Emissary Leader Moiran said.

“Yes, but Major Elkwood determined she was dead before he got the copilot to safety. The copilot is still in critical condition.”

“What were the explosions?” Annwyn asked, not able to contain her curiosity.

The Admiral turned toward her and bowed, remaining in the position until she returned the gesture.

Uh-oh. She recognizes me.

“You are Emissary Annwyn Silk, I believe?”

“Yes.”

“Ah.” The Admiral glanced back at Moiran before continuing. “We had three bombs detonate. Suspected acts of terrorism.”

Dismissal at its finest, yet enough interest to cause curiosity among the others, based on the sly glances sent her way. Blades. Annwyn bit her lip.

The door opened again, but this time she recognized the person entering. Her pulse skipped and increased its pace. Interesting.

“Major Damius Elkwood reporting for duty, Admiral.” He bowed in greeting, his wolf stopping beside him. “I apologize for the delay. I needed a change of uniform.”

“It appears you have arrived in time, Major Elkwood. I understand you will lead the investigation of the station bombings. Do you have an alchemist in your ranks?”

“No, Admiral. I was unaware we would need one when I assembled my team.”

Annwyn allowed herself to appreciate Damius this time. While she was sprawled on top of him during the confusion, she had noticed his sturdy body but didn’t have time to truly catalog his assets. He towered over her by almost two feet. His short blond hair was the opposite of her long black locks. His light grey wolf loped over to her, nudging her palm until she laid it on his head.

She enjoyed feline animals when she was home, but this canine seemed special. She scratched him behind his ear, then squatted next to him so she could reach both ears at the same time. In return, he licked her again and nuzzled the side of her face. His contact calmed her racing pulse.

“Wren.” Damius’s admonishment to his companion brought a slight growl, then Wren nudged her hand again for more petting.

“Emissary Silk, I believe you have a background in alchemy,” the Admiral said as all the attention in the room went to her and the wolf’s love fest.

She stood, trying to ignore the wolf, but he licked her hand until she petted him again. The corners of her lips lifted, and she raised one brow at the Admiral. Finally, someone who recognized her abilities.

“Yes, I do. I’m quite well versed in both alchemical and chemical reactions and matter.”

“Good. It looks like the wolf has settled the matter,” Admiral Carmichael said.

“Excuse me, Admiral?” Damius said.

“Emissary Silk will work with you on the investigation. Unless for some reason you or she feels she should not.”

Wren chose that moment to howl and sit right next to Annwyn as if to say it was a done deal.

“No, of course not,” Damius said as he walked over to where she and Wren were. “I’m going to collect my team. Please, let the Admiral’s aide know what you need to test the bomb deposits. We can share our findings later.”

Damius took Wren by the collar to lead him out. Annwyn swore she heard him mutter to the wolf, “Traitor.”


Chapter Two

“We have the situation under control, but I ask that you go directly to your quarters and remain there until we sound the all clear.” She paused a moment, then continued. “It is a long tone sent over the intercoms to announce it is safe to proceed with your duties. I have assigned a crew member to watch over each of you.” The Admiral looked over the delegation and bowed toward Emissary Moiran.

“Let Larunda light your path,” Moiran said to the Admiral.

“Yours as well.” The Admiral turned and strode out of the meeting room.

Annwyn performed the required farewells as, one by one, each person left the room, except for Moiran. He floated across the floor to stand before her.

Moiran’s golden eyes stared at her. “You do realize the gravity of the situation, Emissary Annwyn?”

“I do,” she replied. No one wanted to jeopardize lives. If her father found out, she’d be sent back home, investigation or not. Blades. She bounced on her feet, then clasped her hands together. “If I may ask…” She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Will my assisting in this investigation affect my position with the emissary team for new contact at Paramita Five?”

He stroked his long white beard with thin fingers. “If they cannot allow any ships to leave this space station, I doubt anyone will be heading to Paramita Five anytime soon. It’s not as though we’ve made contact yet. That particular unexplored galaxy must wait.”

Annwyn nodded. “I understand, sir.”

“Good luck and keep me posted personally,” he requested in a low voice, dropping his arm and bowing.

“Certainly, sir.” She bowed.

How odd. She frowned as he departed, leaving her in the room alone. She tapped her fingertips together. Explosions, investigations, possible delay to Paramita Five, and personal reports. Very odd.

As she left the room, a crew member wearing a dark red wool uniform approached her. “Emissary Silk, I am Security Officer Cress. I will escort you to your quarters. The admiral has indicated you will need to visit our labs.”

She followed behind Cress, trying to map the space station in her mind. The station felt like a maze, with each turn resembling the previous. She would need a map to orient herself. As they continued through another hallway, which looked the same as the last, she grinned as the image of the large, snuggly canine came to mind. What a sweet one. Too bad his master failed to be as sweet. Then again, that might not be a bad thing.

Damius’s pale skin enhanced his blue eyes. She’d met Krizlars before, but none affected her like he did.

No time for dalliances. Another time…another place, perhaps. But not this time and not this place. Solve the attack mystery, then get back on course for new contact.

Cress stopped outside a portal, number three sixteen according to the placard beside it. “These are your quarters. Your servant and possessions were delivered earlier. I will remain here in case you need to visit the lab.”

The sliding doors whooshed as she approached them, and she glanced around. Where was Gront? She opened her mouth to call her servant when he rushed out of the secondary room.

“Gront, I need my alchemy and chemistry reference tablets,” she said.

“Yes, Princess.”

“Don’t call me that here. I am Emissary Silk. There is no need for them to know my stature on our home world. Where are my sleeping quarters?”

“To the left, Emissary. I have a room to the right.”

Only two more life-seasons, then he’d be free. Would he stay if she asked? She shrugged, then entered her sleeping room. In contrast to the monotone, drab hallways, her sleeping quarters were decorated in the colors of her planet. Vibrant shades of green and turquoise eased the tightness in her shoulders. She laid her hand on the print recognizer and unlocked her clothing stow. Digging through the folding garments, she located her lab vest, slipped it on and returned to the main area.

Gront handed her the tablets she’d requested.

“I must go to the lab. Stay here. I believe the station is on lockdown. I may or may not return for dinner.”

The door to her quarters swooshed closed behind her as she exited, and she turned toward Cress.

“They have a lab set up for me.” Annwyn walked to stand in front of the hall dirosphere. “Can you tell me where it is?”

“Emissary, it is on level four.

Annwyn spun around and strode toward the labs.

“Emissary. That is not the most efficient route. Plus, I must accompany you since we are on lockdown.”

Annwyn sighed as she turned around. Relax. Cress isn’t responsible for the situation. She waved her hand before her.

“Lead on.”

Damius strode into the control room to face his squad. They were going to complain about having a civilian working with them. Why wouldn’t they? The last time they worked with a civilian, one of his men got hurt. He frowned as he headed to the front display console.

Civilians. All they did was cause trouble, and this one…this tiny little green-skinned breath stealer…this grey-eyed beauty whose curves sent every one of his senses on alert, spelled multi-atom trouble if she affected his men like she affected him. He clenched his jaw. Multi-atom trouble in spades.

Each member jumped to attention when he entered. He nodded, and they took their seats among the various portodesks and waited.

He cleared his throat and drummed his fingers against his thigh when he spoke. “Men, we’re assigned to investigate the explosion. My contacts in the Aeron System informed me this is the second incident.”

“Second?” one man asked.

Damius nodded. “Second.” He tapped the console buttons and brought up a hologram of the ship approaching Penduli Station’s landing dock prior to explosion. “This is a recap of the explosion.” He tapped a second button, which showed the ship in motion with blue lines indicating its landing path. Within ticks, a loud pop echoed in the room, and the side of the ship tilted as it came within range of the landing clamps. Another pop occurred after it secured its position.

“Twenty-two on board with four crew.” He glanced around at his men and waved them closer. They circled the console and scrutinized the animation of the accident. "Soul count confirmed with itinerary. All but one soul saved.”

“Looks like an accident if it was an isolated incident, Major,” his second-in-command, Nicheo, noted.

“Attack since it’s the second,” his logistics officer, Mirbeck, noted in a slow drawl.” Anyone here know about the first one?”

Damius shook his head. “Only us and the Aeron System squad.”

“No one has reported it to Command?” Mirbeck asked.

“No.”

The men began all talking at once, and Damius raised his hand. Silence descended.

“It wasn’t reported as it was a small supply ship with only two crew on board, and no one was hurt. The cargo wasn’t even lost. The ship suffered minor damage.” He punched three buttons simultaneously, and the current image faded and a different one replaced it.

All watched the reenactment of the first attack. The small cargo ship docked and locked on the platform. It shook twice before a black plume of smoke appeared near the back.

“Could be a practice run of some sort,” Mirbeck suggested.

“So, who’s behind these attacks and why?” Nicheo asked.

“No clue…yet,” Damius responded. “Since the damage was so minor, no alchemist or chemist got asked to do an examination. I’ve called in a favor, and some of the debris evidence is being brought over on the next supply run.”

“Major, I hate to point out the obvious, but we didn’t get Dr. Nonyx in the squad for this run. Didn’t think we’d need him,” Cudala, the lone female Nushaoian on his team, said.

“I know. Admiral Carmichael recruited an alchemist for us,” Damius announced.

The team groaned and mumbled various swear words.

Damius raised his hand once again. “Listen up. We needed one and we got one. Yes, I know civilians are a pain in the ass. But it is what it is. Suck it up and let’s get this done.” He shut down the animation and scanned his squad. “Lucky for us”—he smirked—“Emissary Silk is an alchemist and will join us later towards setting. Play nice, men.”

“The Hunee?” one of his men asked.

Damius nodded, eliciting whistles from a few of his crew.

“At least this time the civie will be better to look at than old man Trudgeon.”

“And softer,” Sergeant Cudala cooed. Her pink luminescent skin sparkled reflecting against the bright blue of her hair.

The image of Annwyn’s soft curves pressed in his arms came to mind, and Damius’s stomach clenched. He pushed away the images of her before they could distract him.

“Enough. No distractions. And that includes you, Cudala.” Damius shook his head, then continued.

“Nicheo, talk to Balder, get two of his men, and go scout for information. See what the word is around the station and who may or may not have had an issue with the ship’s crew or passengers. Cudala, start looking at the political structure on Chalar, let’s try to see who is running the show.” He turned to his logistics officer Mirbeck. “I want to know who all had access to the flight plans and the ship prior to departure. We need to know where they were and their next stops.”

Mirbeck shifted in his seat and avoided eye contact. “Um, I already did some digging, and there’s something you should know.” He tugged on his collar, staring at the table.

Damius stilled when the man’s anxiety blasted his face. Wren growled, jumped up from his position near the console, and leaned against Damius’s legs. Damius blinked, rubbed Wren’s head, and waited.

“Of all the passengers, only one had no baggage with them,” Mirbeck said.

Damius felt his heart pound against his ribs. No. “Who?”

Mirbeck flicked a glance up then down again. “Annwyn Silk, our new ‘team member’ with an alchemy and chemistry background. She rode without a single item.” His brows rose. “Made me wonder why.”

Everyone turned and stared.

Damius’s stomach burned while his neck stiffened. “Naiba. Then she goes on the list to investigate.” He glanced around at his team. “I‘ll take care of that one.”

Snickers followed his announcement.

“She’s a pretty little thing, if you go for green-tinged skin. But I hear those Hunee’s know how to—”

“Stop,” Damius ordered. “It’s not that. She’s on the team, like it or not, so this portion of the investigation is going to remain between us only. No one say anything about it. Understood?”

“Understood,” they all said in unison.

“Then let’s get to work,” Damius said and stomped out of the room.

Dear Larunda. That’s all he needed. Why didn’t she have bags, carriers, anything? Why hadn’t he noticed it before? All the passengers, except her, ran out with something in their hands. She didn’t. Too many whys. . .

Annwyn slipped the small piece of metal debris into the extrapolator, set the timer, and stood back. She glanced at her tablet and reviewed her notes. Mercury fulminate had been outlawed on several planets a long time ago. Where had it come from?

The door swooshed open, and Damius and Wren stood there staring at her. She raised one eyebrow and said nothing. His move.

He strode in and glanced at the extrapolator before standing near her. Why did he need to be so close? Warmth radiated from his body. Her eyelids drifted closed as she inhaled his scent.

“What?” she asked.

“What do you have so far?”

“I thought we’d each be doing our own investigations and then collaborate.” She grinned. “Giving in already?”

“Giving in?” Damius frowned. “I’m not giving in. This isn’t a game. One soul has been lost, and more could have been.”

Annwyn frowned and stepped back a bit. Wren followed her. “I’m aware a soul was lost.”

“We work together whether we want to or not. The admiral ordered it.” He shifted and walked away to stare out the port window. “This is the second such incident. The first event took place shortly after departure from Aeron Station.”

She gasped.

“Portions of that ship’s hull are being brought to us for examination. We’ll need to see if the explosions are linked.”

Annwyn stepped forward automatically, then checked herself and stopped. “A second attack. How bad was the first?”

“Where were you before you arrived here?”

“What?” Her pulse picked up its pace.

“Where were you before coming here? I assume Larunda Directorate’s lead emissary chose you for the new contact assignment at Paramita Five?”

“How… Never mind.” She waved her hand. “Yes. However, that assignment has been delayed by this investigation.” She sighed. “Everything has been delayed by this investigation.”

Why such personal questions? She studied his body. Wide, muscled back tapering to a slim waist with thick legs. A thousand catlums danced in her belly.

He turned and faced her. “Where were you assigned prior to coming here?”

“Why do you want to know?” His frown caused her pulse to pick up its pace. What was going on here? “What does this have to do with the attack? It is an attack of some sort, correct?”

“Yes, but that doesn’t answer the question. The reason behind my questions are for the investigation and must be answered and stated in the reports. Nothing left to doubt.”

“Doubt? You’re thinking I had something to do with this attack?” How dare he assume she’d have anything to do with the loss of a soul. She planted her hands on her hips and stepped up to touch his toes with hers. Her lips tightened as she glared at him. “I was training on Aketa in the Isha System for the last solar phase.” She bounced on her toes and poked a finger in his chest. “I have not had contact with anyone but Emissary Moiran since the moment before I boarded for the trip here. How dare you.”

“And why were you without any baggage?”

Annwyn blew out a breath and spun away from Damius. The sudden movement loosened her hair knot, and tendrils of her long hair whipped about her shoulders as she stomped away from him. After pausing a moment, she whipped around and returned to face him, crossing her arms. “I had all my belongings sent ahead with my…with Gront.” She glared at him. “He arrived three transports before mine.”

“Who—Where is he?”

“He’s in my quarters, and you can question him tomorrow. He’s been ill and has needed to rest.”

He strode to stand within a foot of her and dipped his head lower. She could feel his breath hot on her face as his scent wafted around her. Her heart beat against her chest when she met his dark gaze.

“Who is he?” Damius demanded.


Chapter Three

Damius’s stomach hardened as his muscles bunched and stiffened. He sucked in a deep breath to ease the tightness in his chest. It didn’t calm his racing pulse. A scent of lavender and musk wrapped around him. It was her. His eyes drifted out of focus as her energy glowed around her. Its green tinged gold coloring danced liked the frenetic energy he’d received from her in the conference room earlier.

He balled his hands into fists, battling against touching her. “Who is he?” he growled as he inhaled her scent more.

“Gront is a lawbreaker.”

“Excuse me?” Damius stepped back.

“He is serving out his sentence for his crime by being my servant.”

“His sentence? What crime did he commit?”

“He stole some papers from my lab,” Annwyn responded avoiding his gaze.

“And now he is your servant?”

“Yes. On Haevis, the sentence for your crimes is paid via indentured servitude to the people offended. He broke into my lab, and now he serves me.”

“For how long? Did he have a record before this? I will need his full name and file number. We’ll need to run a background check on him.”

Annwyn bounced on her tiptoes.

She’s uncomfortable. Good.

“He is my servant for three life-seasons.” She explained.

One life-season equaled three solar phases. “Do you pay him while he is serving out his sentence with you?”

“No, of course not. I provide him with food and a reasonable place to sleep.”

“And he must do what you command,” he snapped.

“Yes.” Annwyn broke eye contact with him.

Damius took another step back. He’d known of her culture’s laws, but had never met anyone with it enforced, until now, a criminal serving their sentence. His stomach churned as Annwyn’s once enticing glow dimmed.

“Where I come from, the punishment fits the crime. A person may even be cast out of their tribe, but no one is ever made another’s slave.” Damius pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I see. Well,” she continued, “as a member of the Larunda’s interplanetary security, you are aware of various laws held by each planet.”

“I am. Though, I’m not expected to memorize every nuance for all seven planets. Was this his first offense?”

“Yes, but it doesn’t matter, and you know as much. Why are you pressing this?”

Damius stared at Annwyn until she returned his gaze and stopped bouncing. “I am sometimes amazed the treaties between our worlds hold with such differences between us.” He turned and walked toward the lab door. What did Gront try to steal from the Emissary? He stopped, pausing before turning back to face Annwyn. “I will need to speak to your slave alone tomorrow…at star rise.”

“His name is Gront. Star rise is too early. You may question him after our rising meal.”

Damius laughed and stalked back to stand in front of Annwyn, making her back up to the wall behind her. “I am in charge of this investigation. I will interview him, or anyone I deem necessary, when I deem it time, for I am no one’s slave. It would be best you remembered as much, Emissary.”

Her eyes widened at first, then she scowled at him. He’d scared her, which made her angry, a dangerous combination. Good. Turnabouts were fair play.

“The first bomb fragments from the other explosion will arrive at star rise. I would suggest you get some sleep, but of course, you are free to do as you will.” He smiled menacingly at her and turned back to walk toward the lab door again, this time exiting without stopping.

What an infuriating woman.

It was a good thing he left Wren in their quarters to rest. His companion had an unnatural attraction for the Emissary. Usually, Wren was a better judge of character.

Damius snorted.

“Major.” Nicheo ran toward him.

“What is it?” Maybe focusing on the problem at hand would help him put the Emissary out of his mind. She was hiding something. She riled him, but she wasn’t evil. He didn’t have to like the way her people lived to work with her.

“Word in the station is there has been some unrest since it was selected as the jump point for new contact. There’s been a few protests both here and on Chalar. Some of their religious leaders believe it is not in our best interest to make new contact this soon after discovery of its existence.”

“The Directorate rarely takes such things into consideration.”

“Major, they are concerned with profit. Bottom line is always what drives The Directorate. We all know that.”

“Be careful what you say, Nicheo. We serve at The Directorate’s whim.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you think we need to send a team to the surface?”

“I’m not sure it’s warranted yet. The primary religious group, Silvergrass Circle, appears to be the only one with extensive political influence. Cudala is taking a shuttle to meet with Raine, the Circle’s leader. Cudala has a way of getting people to talk.”

“Thankfully, the leader doesn’t know her real leanings.”

“Oh, I’m sure Madame Raine will be pleasantly surprised. It is an all-female membership. I was deemed unclean when I asked to speak to them.”

“Well, they didn’t get that wrong, did they? We’ll reconvene in the command center at star set.” Damius dropped his protective wall momentarily, allowing Nicheo’s emotions to wash over him.

Nicheo reminded him of when he was a child and his father would sneak him candy behind his mother’s back. Nicheo was sneaky, but his heart was good and his loyalty unquestionable. So why had he checked?

Damius grimaced. He shouldn’t have doubted Nicheo’s ability or loyalty. Why did he fall back on using his forsaken talent? He was a hunter. And he needed to hunt. The bomber would be his quarry, but soon he would have to visit his tribe. He’d avoided it for too long.

The door swooshed closed, and Annwyn rested her head against the bulkhead wall, taking long breaths. She clenched her hands. How dare he attempt to provoke her? Who on Haevis did he think he was? Her father had warned her others didn’t agree with their planet’s system of punishment. He’d encouraged her to leave Gront under his care too. But he wouldn’t have treated Gront fairly. Servants, slaves—they were all the same to him. Besides, Gront’s alchemical knowledge rivaled everyone she knew but her own most times.

She straightened her clothes and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. Damius’s tall mass of muscles tempted her fantasies, until he opened his mouth. His ignorance at how her civilized society worked would be laughable, if he wasn’t so imposing.

Her stomach rumbled. She’d been so focused on her work earlier, she forgot to eat. Usually, Gront would remind her or bring her food, but she hadn’t brought him with her, wanting the lab to herself.

She punched up a floor plan of the space station on her terminal and located the dining facilities tracing her finger from the lab to its location. “Two turns left, one right, and down a floor.”

She grabbed her tablet and uploaded her findings to take with her along with plans of the ship. Maybe a meal would help her understand the bombing puzzle more.

Annwyn expected the Cress to be waiting for her outside the lab, but the security officer wasn’t there. She paused, scanning down one hall, then the other. Where did she go?

Does anyone do their job around here?

She sighed. She had told Cress she would be several hours. Apparently, the officer had chosen to take off. No matter, she could find her own way.

Annwyn’s stomach rumbled again, this time loud enough to echo in the hall. Thankfully, she seemed to be the only one roaming the station at this hour. Some stations were twenty-four-hour hubs, but Penduli Station chose to follow the time-cycle of the planet it hovered over. Since Chalar believed in shutting down commerce at star setting, she had a short time to locate sustenance.

She turned the corner again and paused. Blades, where was she? One should always know where they are going, her father had drilled into her. Then she saw it—a virosphere with a blinking light which seemed like a beacon to her.

You are here the red dot on the virosphere indicated.

How did she end up near the cargo hold instead of the dining hall?

She could find her way around any lab easily, but otherwise she needed help, it appeared, especially on space stations with long halls. She took a snapshot with her tablet of the virosphere. Maybe now she could find her way to some food, or her quarters.

She kept her gaze down at her tablet and walked toward her destination. It should be just around this bend. Hushed voices reached her from the next corner. She hurried toward them. Finally, someone to help her. She opened her mouth to call out as she neared the turn, only to freeze when she recognized the speakers. She scooted to the edge of the wall and pressed flat, straining to hear them.

“Were you followed?” Moiran asked.

“No, I’m sure she is still in her lab. She said it would be several hours,” Cress responded.

Why is my security escort talking to Moiran?

“Good. Were you able to install the listening devices in the lab?”

“Yes, she is still analyzing the bomb residue. But Major Elkwood did drop by to talk to her. It appears she was on the ‘to be questioned’ list for her belongings not being on the ship,” Cress reported.

“I’m sure she enjoyed that. Anything else?” Moiran pressed.

“Yes, it appears they know about the other outpost. A bomb fragment is arriving tomorrow for her to analyze.”

“I see. Seems I underestimated the Major’s intelligence.”

Annwyn peeked around in time to watch the Emissary leader reach into his pocket, pull out a few slips of the standard currency, and hand it to the officer.

“Officer Cress, you will keep me informed?”

“Of course. I can give you the receiving code, if you’d like, sir.”

“No. I don’t have time to watch her like you do. Keep doing as I ask, and I’ll be sure you’re compensated well.”

Cress nodded and turned to leave. Annwyn scanned the wall and found a door. Quickly pulling the handle, she discovered a small closet. She crawled inside, shut the door, and peered through the vent in time to see Cress passing.

Her heart beat against her ribs. Why is Moiran spying on me?

There was no way she could return to the lab before Cress got there. She checked the photo of the virosphere, and realized she was directly below the dining facilities. Now, if she could find a port. She waited until she heard Moiran pass by, then silently crawled out of her hiding spot. She retraced her steps to the virosphere. The port doors stood right beside it. Some smart Hunee she was, missing the port like that.

A bit later, Annwyn chewed on her first bite of the sandwich the chef had insisted on making her when Cress came running into the dining hall.

“Emissary, you are not to walk around the station without me,” she chastised.

Annwyn deliberately set the sandwich down on her plate. If there was one thing her time as royalty taught her, it was the precise way to put someone beneath her in their place. She’d learned that at the hand of her father, who considered it a game to see who he could bend to his will. Obviously, Cress needed instruction. This will be as easy as bending wood.

She continued to move deliberately, wiping her mouth with her napkin, setting it beside her plate, before placing both her hands on the table and slowly rising from her seat. Her gaze moved from Cress’s black shoes up to her face and directly into her eyes.

“Cress, you will refrain from telling me what to do. That is not a request.”

“You are—”

“Stop. As I have already said, you are not to tell me what I can and cannot do. You were provided for my security, yet you were not at your post when I became hungry and had to seek food on my own.” Annwyn paused, willing herself to remain perfectly still. “Where were you? I fear I will have to report you to your superiors for not performing your job. You did leave me unattended after all, and I had to find my way here alone…in unsecured halls…able to be accosted by anyone walking around.”

“I had to…”

Annwyn studied Cress’s facial expressions as they changed slightly. Cress was trying to think of the lie she would tell. I wonder if she will blame it on biology.

“I had to visit the bio chamber,” Cress blurted.

Annwyn inwardly smiled. Too easy. Maybe there were some relevant things her father had taught her after all.

“Next time, tell me.” Annwyn sat back down again, her knees wobbling like rubber. Thank Larunda Cress couldn’t see them under her robes. “I wish to finish my meal the chef graciously provided, then return to my chambers. You may wait over there”—Annwyn pointed across the room to a chair by the entrance—“for me.”

“Yes, Emissary.”

Annwyn knew her father would be proud of her now if he were there. She frowned and struggled to swallow her second bite of food, which now seemed like brittle grass. She didn’t want to be like him.


Chapter Four

Damius returned to his quarters where Wren greeted him. The wolf weaved his large, furry body around Damius’s legs, like he had to check behind him.

“Who are you looking for?” Damius asked.

A quick flash of a green-skinned beauty appeared in his mind. Annwyn. His skin flushed and he locked his legs and jaw, battling the burgeoning desire begging for release. Not now. He forced his legs to move and collapsed at his desk. He pressed trembling fingertips to his forehead and drummed them against his heated skin in a long-practiced tempo.

“Stop. She’s not here,” he whispered.

How could Wren do that? Wren was a blocker, not a bringer. Had she affected his ability? Was it Wren or himself? He completed two sets of deep breathing exercises. Inhale…exhale. Repeat. His body hardened while images danced in his mind of touching her…tasting her. Would she taste as fresh as the spring waters of Haevis?

A quick set of pings at his door jerked him from his questions. He shifted to arrange the lower half of his body under the desk. Naiba.

“Enter,” he called out.

“Major.” Lt. Mirbeck gave a quick nod as he entered the chamber. “I received the report from the first accident and evaluated the information.” He waved at the chair opposite Damius. “May I join you?”

“Certainly.” Damius leaned forward, resting his elbows on the cold metal surface of the large portodesk. Anything to distract him.

“According to the reports and my research, the ship involved in the first explosion served as a supply shuttle. Only the pilots were onboard and no passengers. This struck me as odd. There are always wait list travelers at every station looking for a quick hop from one place to another. Even undocumented ones. In this case, no other souls were on the shuttle.” Mirbeck handed over a dime bar.

“Why?” Damius slipped the finger sized alloy memory unit—dime bar into the viewer slot and pulled up the report.

“The shuttle carried cargo disguised as waste management and consigned to a high priority rendezvous.” He smirked. “Smart move as no one wants to sit next to those crates.”

“Some still do, if they’re desperate,” Damius responded, scanning the information in front of him.

“True.” Mirbeck scowled. “In this case, no one did.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “This tells me they set up a quarantine to avoid having anyone inquire about the contents or sneak on board.”

Damius tapped his fingers on the desktop, matching the same rhythm as before. Wren curled on the floor nearby and snored in small bursts. Damius shot a glance at the wolf before returning his gaze to his logistics officer.

He waved his hand. “What else? I can see from your grinning face you’ve got more to tell me.”

Mirbeck leaned forward with his palms flat on his thighs. “The cargo was to be combined with the supplies for Paramita 5 and the new contact emissary envoy.”

Damius stiffened. His gut clenched. “Say that again?”

“You heard it right the first time, Major.” He crossed his arms. “Whoever procured those supplies wanted them specifically for the new contact. Which means—”

“Which means,” Damius said, “whoever set the bomb wasn’t doing a test run. They’re out to jeopardize new contact.” And the emissary team. Annwyn could be in danger.

“Or one of the emissaries assigned to it.”

“Do we know who contracted the delivery?” Damius fisted his hands.

“No.” Mirbeck pinched his nose. “I tried all my contacts, and no luck finding any information.” He rose, stepped toward the exit, then paused.

“What is it?” Damius asked. Mirbeck’s hesitation tapped against his energy.

“Major, we must consider one of the emissaries being involved. A supply order like the one on the shuttle required authorization by an emissary team member…or its leader.” He sighed. “Or someone posing as one. I’ll keep looking.”

“Do that.” Damius rose once his crew member left and paced his cabin. Tapping his fingertips on his thighs, he did a quick mental run-through of the information he’d received. Images of Annwyn lurked in the background of his mind. After unhooking his jacket, he tore it off and flung it over his chair, then growled and continued pacing. She will not be a distraction.

Annwyn stormed into her quarters, completely dismissing her guard, and froze. Gront had redecorated the main room in her absence. He’d altered the color of the long workstation sitting under the window openings in a turquoise and white-water print. Its appearance and movement made it seem like a still pond. Moss padding covered the seats, and various species of holoplants sat on the edges, hung from the ceiling, and covered one entire shelf. The aromatic dispenser floated scents of her home strong enough to surround her like warm-seasoned leaves.

She inhaled deeply, and her body immediately relaxed. A slow smile spread across her face.

“You’ve eaten,” Gront stated, joining her from his private quarters within a few ticks.

“I have.” She frowned. “Unfortunately, my meal was unsatisfying.”

“Would you like me to prepare something?”

“No. I am no longer hungry,” she said and walked toward the workspace. She waved her arm to indicate the room. “Thank you for this. I needed it this setting.”

“Of course.”

She sat and slipped her private dime bar into the viewer. She lifted her hand and pointed to the information on the screen. “Come take a look at this, Gront.” She waited until he joined her at the desk. “I’ve completed all the tests on the explosive materials and…I must admit, it is a puzzle I haven’t figured out yet.”

Gront shifted closer to the viewer to read the itemized component listing along with the particle test results.

“It is poking at the back of my memory. See here.” She pointed to one compound configuration. “I have seen this combination before.”

Gront nodded. “It appears to be an older material.” He stiffened and rose. “I believe I recently came across this in my interplanetary historical science records.”

Annwyn glanced at him, then shifted her gaze back to the screen. “You’re right. I remember this from my studies.” She flashed him a grin. “You wouldn’t happen to have the record with you now, would you?”

He smiled. “Indeed I do. I brought all my records with me to study.” He headed into his personal quarters. “I’ll grab it and return.”

“Perfect,” she said and waited. Thank the trees, he loved to study.

Gront returned with two records. He handed one to her, and they perused the information.

“Here it is,” Gront said. “You’re right.” He held out his record and pointed at one spot.

She leaned over, took it in her own hands, and scanned the information. “Mercury fulminate. How odd someone would choose something this unstable when there are more easily available substances to create an explosion.”

“And not a common substance in this galaxy. Whoever created this bomb had to have known…or studied the scientific history of chemicals.”

Annwyn stared at Gront. Exactly. With this specific component, they might as well have tagged their name on the blasted thing.”

Gront cleared his throat.

“What is it?” Annwyn asked.

“The compound in your notes state SCN, not CNO. That means it wasn’t mercury fulminate, but mercury thiocyanate.”

Annwyn checked and he was right. “Either one can be used in explosive devices.”

“True, but fulminate is more shock-sensitive.”

“Which would be less controlled than the thiocyanate. Yes.” She closed the record and handed it back to Gront. “Major Damius will want this report first thing after star rise when the squad meets.”

Gront nodded. “I’ll return to my quarters now.”

Annwyn dipped her chin and returned to the viewer. She studied the explosion reports again and reviewed the re-creation display. So, that is how it happened. Tricky, but still a risky move using something so easily traceable.

She rose, punched in a request in the drink replicator, and returned to her desk while sipping on cool aloe water. Images of Damius flickered in her mind. Such a tall male…and bulky. He would not be able to hide among the men of her planet. She pictured her last court drawing. Short, muscular, but slim males all vying for the position of her life partner. She shuddered.

She sucked in a quick breath when an image of Damius’s tall body wrapped around hers popped in her head. Heat pouring from him with strong surges of energy called to her. His eyes. Those eyes, she imagined, filled with desire could distract her into making a big mistake. Unless she kept it simple. Would she be able to have a play with him without him wanting to win the game? Should she even consider it? No. She pursed her lips. No. She’d committed to working on the new contact, and that was where her future resided. Not playing with some Oya who had the ability to stir her senses.

Stir. She scoffed. He did more than stir. He whipped her senses and tossed them about like fronds during a storm. She shook her head. No. Not this one.

He will not be a distraction.

Annwyn woke at the star rising and prepared for the meeting. She’d worked late preparing her report for the investigation. She washed her face with cooling cubes to wake up faster.

Why had Major Damius asked her to report to his personal quarters before the squad meeting? Her body shivered at the idea of being alone with him in a small chamber. She shook her head. No. She’d made her decision during star setting. Purely professional. That’s it.

Within ticks, she’d arrived at Damius’s quarters. She rose to the tips of her feet and dropped quickly. She bounced a few more times before clearing her throat and tapping the portal panel.

“Enter.” Damius’s loud booming voice carried through the bulkhead.

She stepped forward and the doorway swooshed open, allowing her entrance. Four steps in, she froze. Damius stood in the center of the main room facing the window. His stature was so large and muscular, it made this area seem like a closet. His quarters were half the size of her own, and his scent seemed to envelop her. She attempted to breathe through her mouth. It didn’t work, and his presence dominated the area. He spun around staring at her, his gaze like spikes, piercing her in place.

She inhaled through her lips. “I am here. Will you explain why we need to meet alone before the meeting?”

Damius moved toward her as though he stalked a prey. Her heart hammered while her pulse pounded in her body. Heat spread from her feet up her legs and pooled at her lower belly. Run or remain? She remained, watching him come closer. Her skin tingled as she labored for breath. Any tick now, she’d begin to pant. What was he doing to her?

“Thank you for coming here before the squad meeting.”

The tension between them was palpable. His pupils widened while his nostrils flared. Her body hummed with desire. Her fingers itched to touch him. Stay focused. She took a step toward Damius, closing the small space between them, when Wren came bounding into the room. She gasped for air as the wolf pounced, placing his paws on her shoulders to lick her face and knocking her over.

Damius jumped forward, his arms coming around her body, catching her. Wren licked his face then sat on the floor, looking at them both.

Her heart quickened as Damius growled. Wren growled back then turned to return from where he came. She leaned her head against Damius’s chest.

“I am sorry. He has never acted like this before meeting you.”

Me neither. She turned in his arms and looked up into his eyes. “I guess he likes me,” she whispered. Blades, her body yearned for him.

“It’s unprofessional,” he said, his arms dropping from around her.

Her body shivered at the loss of his touch. “Everyone needs to relax from time to time.” Perhaps if she did something to alleviate this burning within her, she could concentrate. Did she dare?

“Not while there is…”

She stepped closer to him. “Even during difficult times, a moment is sometimes needed to pause and rejuvenate. Don’t you agree? As a team leader, you must know this.”

She bounced up on her toes, her hand caressing his cheek before she moved it behind his neck, bringing his face closer to hers. “A short moment in time, perhaps?” Before he could respond, she kissed him.

Her tongue swiped across his lip, and the hunter in him took over. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the ground. Her legs wrapped around his waist as his tongue claimed her mouth. Her heart beat as the drums of his tribe did during their celebrations and his responded. Together, the sound and cadence called to the deepest parts of his soul. As he pulled away from the kiss, their breathing was in sync as well.

“Is this why you wanted me to come to your private quarters?” Annwyn asked.

“You kissed me first.”

“You wanted me to and were taking too long.”

“Impatient,” he muttered as he shifted her weight to support her with one arm. His other hand traveled up her body. Her breast molded to his hand as he kissed her again.

What was he doing? It wasn’t like him to lose control. This woman. She made him want to go on the hunt with her as his prey. Why now? What had she done to him? Her body was soft and inviting. How long had it been since he felt a woman in his arms? How long since he desired to lose himself in another’s heartbeat?


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