The Class-I speeder is typical Elysium: all dark glass and a heartbeat from the vastness of the cosmos, but it is still an I. More like manned guided missile than spaceship, it houses little more than Seara and a couple of engines.
She does not need more. She is a spacer and space is the one place she feels genuinely at home. The militancy is sending her to the heart of the space stations of the Talons and the Medes, but they are hybrids with their planet-born interests, squabbling over planetary resources and living in stable orbit on what might as well be moons or planets. She has lived on space ships her entire life. Flying is like breathing to her, the hull like her second skin.
Eternity gapes overhead through the gaping maw of Kippler's, the bridge of twenty-two star systems. Technically, it isn't a wormhole, but nobody knows what else to call it, so they don't. Seara stares through the glass window at the rippling colors of its wall when, for a fleeting moment, she can feel indescribable vastness opening up before her.
She grabs the throttle and rams it forward, shifts her body with the weight of an I in weightlessness, as if she can feel it, as if it matters.
Darkstation looms, and she slips the tiny speeder over the docking arrays and under a structural support loop. There's the grid, and she's sliding into home, where maintenance bots and droids hang out on the outside paneling just above port emergency thrusters, where no Alliance or military officer in their right mind would ever think to go.
She is spacer. She is pilot. She belongs to the only law enforcement body that has no personal or stated allegiance to that domineering, planetary bureaucracy known throughout the twenty-two star systems as the Human Alliance Council, as if it could possibly represent them all. She hates every single part of her job except the stars.
Docking the I is like sitting down in her own skin. "Let's make this quick," she tells no one in particular, taps her foot with impatience, and slips through the backdoor in.
Invisible sensors follow Stephanie's passage through the back routes of Darkstation, the shadows. They recognize the genetic signature that marks her of the Forrester family, Reid clan, and fail to find any warning flags from outside sensors or communications. Stephanie helped her clan put the security in more than a decade ago. Her mind clicks off each array as she passes.
She follows the slick and ringing sounds of battle into a side bay where trade is normally handled. Her gaze flickers briefly over the Alliance guard uniforms, a few bright military men, then moves to her people the Talons and picks out the boy Kayda described as target, trying desperately to stay back and out of the way—in the shadows. Her body follows gaze, then he glimpses her and stiffens alertly.
He has never seen her before, doubtless never heard of her, but he recognizes her gesture with one hand and the phrase she pleases him with. "Forrester, come to relieve the young." It is a command from a high-ranking Talon and one she would be authorized to give if it was not treachery.
She holds out a silvered palm and he stares at it as if in fear. The Medean artificer made this silver, this conformation of nanobots, and she was the one who gave the Talon boy his half. He will be wondering if Stephanie killed her.
"You love her?" she asks, sympathy in her tone.
He remembers himself, remembers that love is treachery, shakes his head, and holds his palm to hers. It is too late for him to draw back now even if he wanted to. The silver melts and molds itself onto Stephanie's hand.
"What happened?" he whispers.
Stephanie follows his gaze and glances down to her bloody knee. She laughs without humor. "Be glad you are young," she says and slips back into shadow without answering.
Be glad. Be glad, young one. You're not a traitor.
Oh, isn't he? He is traitor to his love.
But Stephanie does not care. She is traitor to her own.
Seara waits next to a repair drone that gladly sits beside her, taking a report on hull wear and tear, despite the indisputable fact that Seara is neither Talon nor an authorized servicer. She grins when she hears the footsteps and looks up. The Alliance officer that finds her stops, clearly startled. Seara notes the red hair, the fair features, the build.
"Talon?" she queries. Innocent tone, word anything but. Spacers are not all spacers and both of these women know it.
The woman's eyes darken and narrow. She hisses in pain as she steps forward on a bad leg. Blood loss, near cauterized edges, melted fabric—the case is good for blastrone, synthetic and cheap weaponry Seara wouldn't touch except under orders.
"The disc. It's silver."
Solid, small, and etched with a presumably Medean glyph. "Shouldn't this go to the Council?" Seara asks coolly, eyebrow raised.
The Talon laughs back at her, a softly dark and bitter undertone. "D— Medes. You'd think, wouldn't you?" She sobers. "It's sensitive data. Guard it well." Sensitive and probably involved in half the current threats of war in the star systems.
Only one law enforcement body that even would keep the Council out of it. Seara pockets the disc and nods. "Happy hunting."
If you like this story, please consider donating and helping the author to continue creating fiction for your enjoyment.