I ought to curse the rest of the council for excluding me from the war effort. To be ignored like this- humiliant!
For days, I’d been surfaceside on Lasswitz Silo, participating in the daily High Council K-cast but little else other than that. A week prior, I’d received an order from Victor Laius that the majority of Mukusibii’s system fleet was to be pressed into service to help him combat the raids that were happening all over Omega space.
Imbecile. Does he not think I need them here?
I scowled and looked over the cityscape of Lasswitz Silo. Just the other say, a Hauler laden with explosives had detonated in Ledyard Dock, killing several dozen people and crippling operations for the day until the damage and debris could be cleared. And now the damne
ex-military man wanted my fleet so that he could play toy soldier and relive his glory days?
Damn that Victor. And damn Marra, too. I don't need them. I rule this system with or without the council's help.
Exhaling loudly, I forced the issue from my mind. One way or another, the war would end and things would return to normal. In a way, the stay at my penthouse was a vacation as much as it was a sidelining. I was no military woman, and war and hardship are hardly my areas of expertise. Except for the initial mishap of the poisoned wine, I’d had an easy time compared to the other three. It had taken some time, but I'd been able to pull myself together with a reminder of who I was.
What a fool I was to allow myself to be so affected by that. And what fools the Serpents would be to try such a thing again.
I looked behind me, the captain of my personal guard at my door. He was an older man, dour with eyes that had seen little pleasure. The black uniform of the Omegas suited him.
He cleared his throat, standing aside. “Your, uh- package from Tjakiri has arrived. Along with something else.”
My eyes widen. For the past several days, travel has been dangerous. As a council member, I’m safest in my own system, surrounded by loyal guards in the comfort of my own suite. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see to myself. I just needed to get creative and call in a few favors.
I looked at my captain sideways. “My package arrived with a package of its own?”
“It did. At Marrakech Morgan’s personal expense.”
Now that’s a new one.
“No need for details. Now leave.”
The man pursed his lips, bowed slightly, and excused himself, shutting the door behind him. Sure enough, my eyes beheld the item I’d ordered. But it was the woman holding it that piqued my interest. She was short, barely five feet tall and of Asiatic descent. In her delicate hands was an ornate ceramic bowl with a matching lid. I walked over to her and lifted it.
Inside was a pile of fine white powder and short metal tube with an engraved skull on the end. Satisfied, I replaced the lid and tilted the chin of the women from one side to the other, looking with a professional eye at her flawless features. She was young, with exotic lines, olive skin, and a tightly-wrapped silk robe. Already, my heart was pumping harder, lust spreading into my belly.
“And who might you be, mademoiselle?
The diminutive thing before me bowed submissively. “Maiva of Exotica. I come bearing Marrakech Morgan’s regards.”
I took the bowl from her hands and set it on the bed, resting a hand over the lid. “Such a good friend, sending me a care package all the way out here.”
Of course, what she really wants is to keep me cooped up here with Degginal all to herself. The woman is entertaining delusions of grandeur. But at least she's keeping me entertained.
My communicator buzzed. It was the city’s control, reminding me of an early-morning K-cast with the rest of the council. I dismissed it and deactivated the device, tossing it aside to the floor. With the war elsewhere and my package here, I had other priorities on my mind. I gestured to the container, lifting the lid and eyeing my guest with a smile. She returned the smile but didn't immediately accept the invitation. Instead, she stepped forward and ran her hand along the head-to-toe transparent glass, taking in the view of the city below. After a moment, she turned and gestured to the metropolis.
"It's beautiful. A woman could feel like a queen from all the way up here."
I smiled, not only because of the sincerity of the compliment but also the courtesan's skill. Not just mindlessly rushing things. Taking in the view. Establishing rapport. I could use ten just like her.
I lifted the bowl and began to to arrange a neat line of blow before me. "A woman often does
The rustle of silk dropping to the floor was Maiva's only answer.
The first thing I was aware of was the dull, repeating alarm.
But I didn’t set one.
The second thing I was aware of was the muffled sound of a distant explosion.
I sat up, flanked by my new companion and the half-empty bowl of pure rush. A faint staccato noise of multicannons echoed outside my window. I reached over to the suite’s holo-controls to open the blinds to the wraparound picture windows, not knowing what to expect. It was still dark, with only the sea of lights from the city proving any illumination. From here, things seemed perfectly normal. In fact, maybe I had only left the holovision on last night when-
I jumped backwards as a Black Omega Viper thundered by my window, far too close for comfort and its entire rear half on fire and falling apart. The ceramic container of precious white powder spilled all over the sheets, coating both myself and my sleepy companion. My jaw dropped as I watched the ship spiral out of control and crash in the cityscape below. For a moment, I was unable to take my eyes off of the distant fireball.
My breath died in my throat. Mon dieu!
The door to my suite burst open, startling me again. Through it came the captain of my personal guard of Enforcers, weapon at the ready.
“Council, we have to evacuate you. Now!”
I nodded like a panicked schoolgirl and rushed to him, not even caring about my nudity. By now, Maiva had woken up and realized the danger as well. She held her blankets up to her chest and wailed in terror, looking to me for guidance.
Her fear gave me the contemptuous focus I needed. Worthless
“Get to the guest quarters!” Without a word, the woman dashed out of the room, not even bothering to dress. I picked up her silk robe from the floor and threw it over myself.
A much louder explosion caused the floor under my feet to tremble and shake. I braced against the wall for stability as the two enforcers struggled to stay on their feet. The trembling stopped as I looked around in fear and rage.
“What the hell is going on?”
The captain caught his breath and held out his hand. “It’s the Snakes. We’re under attack!”
I seethed, cursing my luck. “How many?”
The man swallowed, hesitating to answer. “One.”
A dark shape streaked by the penthouse, and his outstretched hand turned into a pointing finger. “Yeah. One.”
I turned around to see the thruster pattern of a Fer de Lance, its black hull almost invisible against the darkness of night. It was pursuing another Black Omega Viper, red tracer rounds from its multicannons shredding the smaller ship in seconds.
The explosion from the hapless Black Omega ship temporarily illuminated the penthouse. I whirled back to the security captain, beside myself with rage.
“Then launch our ships, espèce d'idiot!"
Again, the man gulped as he carefully stepped nearer the giant window, his eyes following the flaming wreckage of the Viper as it scattered over the settlement.
“That was the last one. The drones, too. They’re gone.”
I felt my breath die in my throat. No…
The black ship looped around and sped straight for the penthouse suite. Lines of red dots streaked out from it at the same time that the captain threw me down to the ground, both of us dreading that our times had come, but the glass remained intact. Whoever was flying the ship hadn’t been targeting the penthouse. Instead, we both felt the vibrations of multicannon slugs impacting against the tower structure beneath us. The lights flickered and everything electronic in the suite died.
The captain pulled me to my feet as another enforcer appeared at the entrance. “Captain! The main lift is gone! We’re not going anywhere!”
The man nodded and held his fingers to his ear, listening to the security comms. A dour look crossed his face as he pointed downward.
“The ship is hovering right next to the breach and deploying hostiles. Look alive!”
His deputy nodded and began shouting orders into his comm. I slowly stood up and looked around, not believing that I could possibly be trapped in my own penthouse suite. I turned to the man and re-fastened the robe, attempting to reassert control of the situation.
“What do you mean, the ships are gone? Why were there only a handful of ships guarding the entire damne
The security chief looked away, hesitant to answer. “Most of the system’s Authority were ordered to help hunt down the snakes. The directive came from the council itself.”
Despite the danger, I held up a warning finger to the man. To even hint that I am somehow responsible for this! The balls on this one!
I took my finger and pointed down the dark hallway. “Deal with the intruders, captaine!
I want them dead!
The sounds of gunfire and men dying echoed only a level down. Grimacing, the captain and his deputy shut the double doors to the bedroom, unslinging their weapons and preparing for anything. Another explosion shook the penthouse, icy blue emergency lights illuminating the darkness. I still couldn’t see anything, and the screams of dying men were getting closer and closer to the double door. All three of us heard footsteps leading up to the door.
In one sudden motion, the double doors burst open, and I saw the panicked face of my gifted companion from Exotica. Blood was splattered on her body as tears ran down her eyes. Her hand shot out to reach for us as she stumbled our way.
We heard a sharp crack
behind her as she stiffened upright, a look of shock and pain on her face. For a moment, her wide-open jaw twitched as her back arched, her terrified eyes looking up at the ceiling. Her knees buckled and collapsed, the nude, blood-covered whore slowly falling forward.
I felt myself gasp as I saw the evil-looking end of the razorwhip, lodged in her spine and holding her up. With a quick pull, the pointed tip popped out from between the vertebrae and flicked back out of sight into the hallway. I cowered in front of my bed, my mind revolting against the terrifying reality of the moment. Maiva crumpled face-down, twitching and paralyzed.
How the fuck did it come to this?
The captain and his deputy fired into the darkness, filling the air with a dreadful noise. I squeezed my eyes shut as spent shells fell around me, the strobe-like effects of the muzzle flashes visible even through shut eyes. Already I could smell the burn of gunpowder and the battle screams of both men, determined to annihilate whatever it was that had made its way all the way to us. In short order, the clips of both weapons were exhausted. But there was nothing. Not the moans of dying intruders, not the heavy stomping of men getting into position- nothing.
Down the hallway, we heard the slow, steady tapping of heels on marble. And then we heard something else: laugher
. A woman’s laughter, haughty and accented and dangerous. The slim feminine figure was just starting to become visible, striding confidently our way. The men at my sides looked down, fumbling to reload their weapons. The captain was the first to jam the clip into his carbine, and was just starting to raise his weapon when-
The thin black razorship lashed from the darkness, shattering every bone within his palm and nearly severing it at the wrist. He doubled over in pain as the second lash cut deeply into the meat of his thigh, dropping him to his knees as he clutched his useless hand.
His deputy looked up in terror, dropping his carbine and unsheathing his combat knife. He raised it and charged at the figure with a battle yell-
The whip rapidly curled itself around his arm, dropping him to one knee as the razors cut their way through flesh and bone. With a single hard pull, the man’s arm came clean off, spraying blood all over the floor. The man rolled away and screamed until a final crack
silenced him forever.
From the shadows appeared a woman’s silhouette, stepping forward into my bedroom. I scrambled to my feet and backed away- but was blocked by my own bed. The woman took another step forward into the icy blue light. She was young, with raven hair and cruel eyes, tight leathers creaking around her hips as one heeled stiletto stepped in front of the other. But it was her arms- her exposed arms on either side of her black leather halter top- that fascinated me even in my terror.
From shoulder to fingertip, the dark, winding, intricately detailed serpentine figures coiled around the woman's flawless pale skin. Even in the icy blue shadows, I could see their ornate dark coloring, greens and golds mixed among against the detailed black scales of the snarling dragons. I looked up, the woman looking down at me and shifting her weight to one hip. We locked eyes, her mouth curling into a smile now that she had found me. Somehow, it was even more terrifying than when she was slaughtering my guards.
The captain, still alive, struggled to raise his weapon to the leather-clad intruder. Without looking away from me, she pointed her pistol and ended him with a single blue-tinted shot. In a flash, I knew who I was facing. I raised my hands to my sides, my heart beating wildly and my mind scrambling for a way out of the situation. So this was Marra’s nemesis. The one who killed her father, who twice had almost killed her
, and who had apparently had turned the Gold Crew into a legitimate threat to Black Omega. It was her. It had
to be. I was in the presence of-
“Kat von Steuben,” I said as casually as I could. “You’re younger than I’d pictured.”
The barest hint of a smirk further curled one side of her mouth. “Azalea Constantinestu. You’re uglier
than I’d pictured.”
I took a cautious step forward, trying to mirror the expression. “It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. I am a reasonable women. Credits, position, safe passage- even flesh, if you want. I can guarantee all that and more. Just say the word, oui?
An amused look crossed Kat’s face, as though she were considering the offer. “Fleisch?
I think I’d like that.”
Before I could react, I felt the sting of my skin splitting open, the razorwhip’s head piercing my thigh like a serpent’s tongue. I screamed as I dropped to one knee, the pain and the panic unbearable.
I struggled to my feet and held up a hand. Again, the bed stopped me from backing up further. “Please, mademoiselle!
I beg you! I’m not Marra!”
A look of sympathy, almost sadness crossed Kat’s features. “No, mein kleiner Pfau
, you are not
I kept my hand up, feeling a glimmer of hope.
Perhaps she only intends to humiliate me? Like she did Marra? Perhaps there is hope, oui?
As though answering my thoughts, Kat von Steuben's beautiful face contorted into a picture of rage as she bared her teeth and drew back the razorwhip.
“But you’re a verdammt