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Game Armada Phantom Bounty: Part Three

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Writer’s Note: Phantom Bounty: Part Three was published originally in Jump Point 3.3. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

Mila and Rhys had chased the Phantom for months, had spent nearly every last credit, had put all their hope in finding her and collecting the bounty.

The Phantom stood in front of them at last, cuffed inside their prisoner pod. Mila should have felt elated, but all she felt was shock.

Evony Salinas. Mila had stopped going by Evony a decade ago, yet the Phantom knew her real name. And the Phantom’s face looked just like her former best friend’s — Casey Phan — a girl found murdered ten years ago.

It couldn’t be possible. But it was. The terrorist who had hit all those Phan Pharmaceutical labs was the founder’s own daughter. And she wasn’t dead. She’s alive.

Mila kept her eyes on the Phantom and wavered on her feet. Rhys reached out and grabbed her arm, steadying her.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Mila whispered.

Casey swallowed and averted her eyes, looking at the wall behind them. “And you’re supposed to be on Terra.”

“You . . . you almost killed me.”

Emotions Mila hadn’t expected flashed across Casey’s face. Anxiety. Regret. “I swear I didn’t know it was you. You shouldn’t have followed me.”

Rhys stepped in front of Mila, blocking her view of Casey, and made a move to shut the pod.

“Stop,” Mila commanded.

Rhys sharply responded, “She’s a terrorist, Mila.”

“I need to talk to her.”

Rhys paused and stepped back, working his jaw. “We can’t stay here. We’re sitting ducks.” He looked at the Phantom. “Did you contact anyone to meet you?”

Casey pressed her lips together and didn’t answer.

Mila clenched her hands into fists. “Everyone thinks you’re dead. How could you . . . and now you’re attacking your father’s labs — killing people?”

Casey’s nostrils flared. “It’s not like that. I’ll tell you. But not with him here.” She pointed to Rhys. “I don’t know him.”

Rhys let out an abrupt laugh. “You tried to kill us three times today. That has to be some kind of record. Now you wanna give Mila some sob story, hope she’ll free you? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

Casey went rigid as Rhys started searching her spacesuit for anything she might be hiding.

Conflicting emotions swirled within Mila, anger warring with relief. How the hell could Casey be alive? She’d seen the reports of her murder, she’d attended the funeral. It was basically a state ceremony, with many ranking Terran officials in attendance.

Mila wore a solid black floor-length dress and a widebrimmed Terran hat. She covered her face, crying the whole time as Casey’s father gave the eulogy. Afterward, her own mother stayed by her side every day, helping her to get through the grief. Her mother had always supported her until the day she’d turned her back on her family to become a bounty hunter.

And it had all started with Casey’s death.

Casey Phan was supposed to be dead.

Mila met Casey’s eyes. This . . . this person in front of her couldn’t be her friend. Was it some kind of trick?

Rhys finished searching Casey, found nothing, and slammed a fist into the button on the pod. The door eased shut, locking Casey away again.

When the door beeped, verifying it was secured, Rhys turned to Mila. He ran a hand through his brown hair, clearly trying to make sense of the situation. He shook his head. “Look. We gotta get out of here and back to Tevistal to hand her over to the Advocacy. We’re too exposed right now if she called for back-up.”

Mila nodded. She cast a glance back at the pod and saw the top of Casey’s head through the glass panel. Her head was hanging low, the expression on her face not visible. How could this be happening?

Mila’s stomach churned as she followed Rhys back to the cockpit. “Please. You fly. I’m no good right now.”

Rhys took the pilot’s seat and fired up the engines. He eased them away from the cargo ship and past Casey’s abandoned Cutlass, through the floating detritus of the junkyard.

Mila pulled up the scanner, searching for signs of powered ships, but she found none. The scans were either blocked by the debris, or they were alone out here.

She and Rhys sat in tense silence until they reached the edge of the junkyard. A few ships popped up on their scanner, but all of them were docked at the nearby platform, Septa. None of them were headed their way.

“The Advocacy will want to go back and search her ship.”

“I logged the coordinates,” Mila said.

They pulled into open space, and the revelations of the last few minutes hung heavy in the air between them.

Mila took a deep breath.

“You asked me back on Tevistal . . . you asked why I couldn’t let this bounty go?”

Rhys nodded, but didn’t speak.

Mila sighed and settled back in her seat, trying not to be so aware of Casey, locked in a pod behind them. “Casey and I were really close. We grew up together. My father owned a components manufacturer, and her father owned a biotech firm, and they did business together. Our families spent a lot of time together. I thought I knew her.” Mila’s voice broke, but she forced herself to continue. “When I was sixteen, Casey went missing. They eventually found her body off-world — she’d been murdered. Her father threw everything he had at finding her, then at trying to track down her killer, but they never figured it out. I thought she was kidnapped or lured off planet. I couldn’t believe she’d just take a transport off-world and not even tell me where she was going.”

“So everyone believed she was dead.”

“Yeah. They did. I did.” Mila turned toward Rhys and gripped the armrest tightly. “Casey’s death ten years ago was the reason I went into bounty hunting. I couldn’t get justice for Casey, but I could for others. My family basically disowned me when I left. And when a terrorist started attacking Phan Pharmaceuticals again a few months ago. . . it brought up all those old feelings.” Mila’s eyes burned, and she tried to keep tears from coming, but failed. “Casey’s murderer had gotten away, but now someone else was hurting the Phan family, and I could actually do something about it this time.”

Rhys stopped the ship and let it drift. He took off his harness and leaned toward her to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“Thank you for telling me.”

Mila unstrapped her harness and got up. Rhys stood with her, wrapping her in a hug, which only made her cry harder. She gave in, letting him hold her for a few moments, then got it together and wiped her eyes.

She stepped away from him and blew out a breath. “I gotta talk to her. I can’t hand her over without finding out the truth. I need to know what happened.”

Rhys narrowed his eyes. “I don’t trust her. She’s dangerous. I need you to remember she’s not the friend you grew up with. She might say anything to gain your sympathy.”

“I know. I know. I just . . .”

“I’ll stay up here. . . I can listen in if you want me to.”

“No. She said she wanted to talk to me alone. Do you trust me?”

Rhys touched her face, wiping away the last of her tears. “You know I do.”

Mila gave him a small smile and went to clean up at the sink to make sure she didn’t look a mess. She couldn’t let Casey see how much of an effect she’d had on her. Rhys was right. Casey was a terrorist now. She’d faked her own death. Those were the actions of a sociopath, at the very least. But she still needed to hear what Casey had to say.

Mila typed in the pod’s code and stepped back as the door swung open. Casey blinked at her blearily and then straightened her shoulders.

“I want to talk,” Mila said.

Casey narrowed her eyes. “Where’s the other guy? I want proof he’s not listening in.”

“He’s not. Take my word for it, or I’m closing this pod. You won’t get another chance to talk.”

The tension hanging in the air was palpable, and a trickle of sweat made its way down Mila’s back.

Finally Casey relented, and she gave a stiff nod.

Mila let out a breath. “Why did you fake your own murder?”

Casey’s eyes softened at something she saw in Mila’s face, which threw Mila off balance again. Could a sociopath show empathy? Or was she faking that, too?

“That’s not what happened,” Casey said. “Trust me . . . it’s eaten away at me that people I loved thought I was dead. But it was better that way. Safer for everyone involved.”


“Are you taking me to the Advocacy now? How far out are we?”

Mila stepped forward and jabbed a finger into Casey’s chest. Casey flinched back. “No. I’m asking the questions. And you’re answering. What happened to you?”

Casey licked her lips. “Right before I . . . before I disappeared . . . I discovered some things. About what my father’s company was doing. Illegal bio testing on Human subjects. The more I dug the worse it got. He was making bioweapons, Evony.”

“Mila. My name is Mila now. And you’re lying. If your father was into any of that, the UEE would have shut him down years ago.”

Casey barked out a laugh. “There’s so much that goes on under the surface. People get paid off along the way to keep things hidden. ‘Law-abiding’ Citizens deal in just as much dirt as the people you hunt. But I guess you wouldn’t see it that way. I mean, you’re a bounty hunter now. How did that happen?”

Rage flooded Mila. I did this for you. She suddenly couldn’t stand to look at Casey any longer. She lifted a hand to shut the pod.

“Wait,” Casey said. “Okay. You don’t have to believe me, but I’ll tell you everything.”

Mila let her hand fall away from the button. “Fine. Talk.”

“I heard my father on a private comm. . . He said things about experiments, getting rid of the evidence. It scared me. So I snooped through his mobi, found what I had hoped I wouldn’t — terrible, cold reports. Then I had proof. But I didn’t know who to go to.”

“We were close.” Mila’s words came out like an accusation. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was terrified you’d go to your parents. Do you know how much stock they have in Phan Pharmaceuticals? They’d want to cover it up just like my dad did. When he caught me poking around, he got so angry I knew he was guilty. I needed to find a way to stop him . . . but how could I turn my own father in to the UEE?”

“You apparently don’t mind blowing up his facilities and employees.”

“I didn’t . . .” Casey shook her head, looking frustrated. “Just listen. I showed up at a few of those anti-pharm meetings. I met a guy who called himself Desh. Said he and some others were secretly working to stop the pharmaceutical corporations that engaged in dirty work. I confessed I had information about a company — and he promised if I provided proof, he and his friends could make it stop. They said that no one else would get hurt.”

“Seriously? You expect me to believe this? Were you really that stupid?”

Casey’s face screwed up with regret. “I was sixteen.”

“And what happened at these meetings? What happened with Desh?”

“He asked me to bring the proof with him to meet the other members. He and I boarded transports separately and met up off-world. But it all went sideways from there. He took me to a ship waiting at the edge of the system, and that’s where I found out he was part of PF.”

“People First. Yeah, I know them. Bunch of conspiracy theory nut jobs. They weren’t mentioned anywhere in your bounty. You work alone. And they were smalltime. They haven’t been active in years.”

“You’re wrong. They’ve just gotten better funding. And got better at covering their tracks.”

“So what happened? You just . . . faked your own death and joined PF?”

Casey shook her head sadly. “Not exactly. Two Advocacy agents infiltrated us. Desh took them both out, but not before they transmitted an image of us back to Terra. We got out of there, but I couldn’t go back to Terra.”

This had to be an elaborate lie, but how else could she explain how her dead friend had disappeared from Terra as a teenager and turned up as a terrorist ten years later?

“PF took me with them,” Casey continued. “They helped me disappear. They had people still on Terra who told me that my dad covered it all up . . . made it look like I was just an innocent bystander who died during the shootout. He made sure my name wouldn’t be connected with PF. He covered it up with your mother’s help, Ev.”

Mila’s pulse sped up, and she shook her head. “No. No, my mother wouldn’t do that.”

“She did.” Casey’s voice turned bitter. “Remember, my dad was making a run for the Terran Senate that year. He couldn’t have it getting out I was seen with terrorists.”

Mila pressed her lips together and laid a hand on the wall to stay standing. Her mother. A cover-up. She felt suddenly dizzy. Nauseous. Her mother had high-level connections as Chair of the Governors Council Budget Committee. If she was part of a cover-up . . .

“PF protected me,” Casey said again, interrupting Mila’s thoughts. “They gave me a new identity. I soon learned they destroyed facilities where illegal experiments were taking place. They freed test subjects who could be saved. We have benefactors in and out of UEE space that help fund our mission. PF seemed to be doing the right thing.”

“You sound proud of yourself.” Mila’s voice rose. “Proud to be a terrorist. How many people have you killed?”

“I didn’t.” Casey pulled against her restraints like she wanted to move her hands, plead with Mila to believe her. A desperate look crossed her face. “Whatever they say about me isn’t true. I get in, get the goods, destroy the labs, and get out. I’m not a murderer.”

“You almost killed us. You planted a bomb in a hostel.”

A rueful smile cracked through Casey’s desperation. “But was it empty when you showed up?”

Mila narrowed her eyes and didn’t respond.

Casey nodded. “It should have been empty. I paid a guy to warn everyone. It wasn’t my fault if they stayed.”

“So that’s how you sleep at night. You just lie to yourself. Explain away everything bad you do.”

Casey got quiet and averted her eyes. “No. I do what I have to do. Doesn’t everyone?”

“Why are you even telling me all this?”

“You wanted to know.”

“If you think it’s going to make me free you . . . it’s not. The Advocacy will try you for your crimes. You have to pay for your choices.”

Casey’s eyes widened. “Look — the things I’ve done probably have saved millions, maybe billions of lives. Do you know what was in the last lab I hit? They were working on a bioweapon that could take out entire worlds. Entire worlds, Ev. My father has been playing with fire for years, and we finally had the funding and information we needed to hit his labs. If I didn’t do these jobs, some other PF agent would have. And they might have left fewer survivors. He’s my father. His crimes were my responsibility. But. . . that job was the last job I was ever going to do for them. You have to believe me.”

“I don’t. Of course you’d say it was your last job.”

“I was giving it all up. PF doesn’t just let people quit the organization . . . once you’re in, you’re in for life. I was on my way to meet someone who was going to smuggle me into Xi’an territory. If you let me go now, you’ll never hear from me again. But I have to go somewhere they can’t find me either.”

Mila stayed silent for a few, long moments, then finally met Casey’s eyes. “You were my best friend. I would have done anything to help you.”

“You can help me now.”

“No. You’re the Advocacy’s problem now.”

Real fear appeared on Casey’s face. “The Advocacy can’t protect me. The second I’m in custody, I’m a liability to PF. I’m a problem to be taken care of. There’s a reason no one knows much about them. And if they don’t get me, my father will.”

Mila’s chest tightened, and she found herself repeating the words Rhys had said to her back on Tevistal. “There’s always a choice. Always. You made the wrong one. I’ll make sure you’re taken to a secure facility.”

“I have to warn you, then. If I do manage to make it to trial . . . I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure my father is exposed. Your mother covered up my death, so I can’t promise she won’t be a casualty. After that . . . if my father doesn’t kill me, PF will. If you hand me in . . . you’ll be responsible for all of that.”

Mila’s anger flared. “Is that a threat? No. You’re responsible for all of that.” Mila slammed a fist on the pod button and the door swung closed on Casey, beeping when it sealed. Breathing hard, Mila stalked back to the cockpit.

Rhys lifted his brows, waiting for her to speak.

“You were right. She’s a liar. Every word out of her mouth was a lie, and she just wants me to free her.”

Rhys narrowed his eyes, searching Mila’s face, worried about her. He ran a hand along her arm. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Mila said, trying to talk around the giant lump in her throat.

“You just gotta keep remembering . . . that’s not your friend in there. It’s someone else.”

“I know. Let’s just get her back to Tevistal.”

Mila and Rhys strapped back in, and she kept the scanner up as they retraced their course back to the planet they’d just left.

“I’m exhausted.” Mila leaned back in the seat. They hadn’t slept in almost twenty hours.

“As soon as we hand her over we’ll crash.”

Mila murmured a noncommittal reply.

“Do you want to sleep while I fly? You do look like you need it.”

“Oh, thanks. No. I don’t think I could, even if I wanted to.”

“Are you really okay?”

Mila released her long brown hair from its tie and ran her fingers through it. “Honestly? No.”

“I’m ready to hear what she said, whenever you’re ready to share it.”

“Just what you said she would. Claimed she wasn’t a bad terrorist, whatever that means. She says her father is into . . . illegal testing. She says she’s working with PF — the People First crazies.” Mila pressed her lips together. She couldn’t bring herself to say the things that could implicate her own mother.

Rhys worked his jaw. “So Casey’s a front for something bigger, and her dad is just as bad as she is, but no one in the entire UEE has caught on to it in more than a decade.” He shook his head. “Well, the Advocacy will know what to do with her. It’s not our job.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Mila thought of the young girl she’d been friends with. Thin and petite, long black hair always hanging in her intelligent eyes. “I don’t get it.”

“People change.”

“Ever since we were children, though . . . When we were twelve, there was this girl at school, Lia. Really wealthy, who held these ridiculous parties at her mansion. They’d bring in games, expensive prizes, the kinds of rides you’d find at fairs. It was crazy. We were all friends with her . . . until I accidentally insulted her one day at Academy. So I was the only one not invited to this party. Casey announced she was done with Lia in front of everyone, then stayed home the night of the party, watching old vids with me in our crash room. She was always doing stuff like that for the people she cared about. Always so . . . loyal. None of this adds up.”

“There’s never a good enough reason to do what she’s done.”

A long silence stretched on between them, and Mila’s mind struggled to come to terms with the Casey she’d known and the Casey locked up in the pod on Devana.

The story Casey had told . . . about finding the illegal research, about deciding to fix it herself . . . it did line up with the old Casey. It made Mila doubt . . . everything. And the fact that she felt doubt scared her. There was no room for doubt in this job.

“What if Casey’s telling the truth?” she blurted out.

Rhys stiffened in his seat. “Then we let the Advocacy determine that,” he said carefully. He looked toward her, studying her face. “We stick to the mission. The right thing to do is hand her over. If they determine she’s telling the truth, the proper authorities can handle it. You and I will get away from all this . . . get some downtime. That was the plan, right?”

“Right,” Mila answered quickly.

After a few awkward minutes, Rhys cleared his throat. “You know, this is the most you’ve ever told me about your past.”

“You’re a bounty hunter.” Mila said, glad to drop the subject of Casey. “Didn’t you research me before we went into business together?”

Rhys smirked, but it had no real mirth behind it. “Yeah. You did a good job wiping yourself off the map. Evony, huh?”

Mila winced. “Yeah. My family kind of disowned me when I joined the guild. This wasn’t the life they had planned for their only child. I decided to start over, use my middle name.”

“We all have histories . . . and a lot of us choose bounty hunting to leave those behind. I followed my gut about you.” Rhys met her eyes, and she could see the open trust displayed there. “And I know I made the right decision.”

Mila smiled, and they lapsed into silence for the rest of the flight back to Tevistal.

Rhys trusted her.

But could she trust herself?

The pit in Mila’s stomach grew worse as Rhys landed back at the Tevistal docks. He commed with maintenance and used up the last of their creds to get the forward screen patched and the maneuvering thruster replaced.

“I have just enough to hire a hover,” he said to Mila, as he brought up the Advocacy office address and a list of the agents who worked there. “We can’t risk broadcasting the Phantom’s whereabouts. I know this Advocacy agent,” he said, pointing to a name. “I’ve worked with him before, and I trust him. I’ll make contact with him personally so we can hand Casey over. Then we get paid, and we get outta here.”

Mila nodded, and Rhys headed back to their quarters to change into planetside clothes and grab his gear. Mila squeezed her hands tight in her lap and watched as the workers began to patch the cockpit from the outside.

I can do this. I can turn Casey over.

Mila stood up as Rhys headed back toward her.

She lowered the forward ramp for him and looked up at him, at the worry on his face, wondering what her own face looked like. His eyes crinkled around the edges and he leaned down to press his lips to hers. She kissed him back, relishing his warmth, willing Rhys and his loyalty and trust to erase her doubt over Casey.

He wrapped her in a tight hug. She listened to the thump of his heart beneath his shirt, and a new feeling of dread bloomed within her.

She didn’t want to let him go, but he finally pulled away. “I should be back soon with agents. Don’t let anyone inside this ship.”

“I won’t.”

“Everything will be fine.” Rhys kissed her gently again, and then she was watching his back as he headed down the ramp to the docks.

Mila retracted the ramp and went back to the co-pilot’s seat, not allowing herself even to look at the pod holding Casey.

She’d never had such a hard time turning in a criminal before. But then, she’d never personally known a criminal like this. It was good Rhys was handling it. She couldn’t.

He had faith in her, and that meant everything. This was her life now. And she needed to do her job.

But . . .

Mila activated her mobiGlas and accessed the local network. She searched a decade back, looking for old news posts about Owen Phan and Casey Phan’s death.

The first image she pulled up was of Owen Phan during his failed Senate run. Owen and Casey’s mother Lynn stood together at a charity event. And next to them: Mila’s parents. Mila’s heart lurched. Her mother stood between her father and Owen. She pulled up another dozen images, and more than half of them showed her parents with the Phans. If Casey was telling the truth, then Casey’s trial would destroy both their families.

And if it was true, it meant her own mother had lied to her, let her mourn when Casey wasn’t even dead. Mila took a deep breath and pushed down her anger at the thought. She searched for articles on Casey’s death.

Phan Pharmaceutical Heir Found Murdered Off-World

Mila had read this statement dozens of times. Casey had taken a trip on her own. Someone had killed her. Wrong place, wrong time. Murderer never found. Family devastated. No new leads. Case closed.

Mila ran a new query.

Phan Pharmaceutical, Illegal Bioweapons

More than a thousand results appeared. Mila raced through them. Most of them were PR releases from Phan Pharmaceutical themselves, promoting all the hard work they’d done to stop the creation of bioweapons. Spectrum wasn’t getting her anywhere. She was going to have to dive deep into the boards. She switched her profile over to a persona she had built up for just such occasions and began pinging threads.

Within seconds messages appeared.

Illegal test subjects.

Proof of bioweapon development.

Suspected facilities.

Heart in her throat, Mila scanned the documents someone named “DarkStar” had uploaded. The list contained all the facilities the Phantom was reputed to have hit in the past few months. Why hadn’t Mila thought to do this research before? She’d been so focused on tracking down the Phantom, she’d ignored any possibility that Phan Pharmaceuticals might have done something to deserve the attacks.

But there was never a good reason for terrorism. There wasn’t.

Another user had posted documents with the claim that Phan’s research facility on Gen was up to its eyes in psychoactive weapons. It was the third facility the Phantom had attacked.

Mila pulled up the documents. Internal memos with the Phan Pharmaceuticals logo on top. Redacted statements recovered. References made to the ILIOS Project. Mila skimmed them, her heart pounding.

100% fatality rate

Spread quickly through physical contact


Buyers from four worlds

This wasn’t proof. Maybe they were working on a cure for something, not a disease. But what disease still existed that had a 100% fatality rate . . . something people would want to buy a cure for? Mila exited her search and got to her feet. Her hands were shaking as she made her way back to Casey’s pod and typed in the code. It beeped back at her and flashed red.

She tried it again. It denied her access. Again.

Rhys had changed the code on it. He hadn’t trusted her.

The realization was a kick in the gut. She assumed things . . . believed things to be true. She’d thought he trusted her. But she’d built her whole life on lies. And now everything she’d taken as truth was falling apart around her.

Mila swallowed hard and held her mobiGlas up to the panel. She activated the hack program she’d used back at the hostel, and the door swung open.

Casey blinked at her. “The Advocacy here?”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth about the bioweapons? Do you have proof?”

Casey’s eyes widened. “I destroy everything when I go in. That’s the point.”

“I can’t —”

“Evony. I knew you. You knew me. Am I lying to you?” Her eyes were wide, pleading. Mila shook her head. “I don’t know . . . I . . .”

She met Casey’s eyes and tried to see the girl she used to know. Mila couldn’t be responsible for her childhood friend’s murder. Not after she’d already grieved once. And she couldn’t risk Casey bringing down the whole Salinas family with her. Because something in her gut told her that her mother might well have done whatever it took to help the Phan family succeed. Her mother was perfectly capable of manipulating reality to fit with her goals.

Mila groaned. “If I let you go, you’ll leave? You’ll leave and never come back?”

A light sprang into Casey’s eyes. “If you can help me get to the meeting with my patron, she’ll get me into Xi’an territory. You’ll never see or hear from me again. I swear it.”

“I don’t want Rhys involved in this . . . I’ll say . . . I’ll say you overpowered me, stole the ship. They can find me later.”

“Yes. We’ll keep him out of it. I promise.”

“You better not make me regret this.” Mila used her mobi to release the cuffs from the interior bar.

Mila clenched her jaw tight as she loosened Casey’s cuffs. If she was wrong about this, Casey could try to overpower her right now and escape. But the blows never came.

Instead, Casey threw her arms around Mila, surprising her with a tight hug. “You won’t regret this.” She stepped back and massaged her red wrists. “Now tell me what I need to do.”

“I’ll fly us out of here,” Mila said. “You navigate us to your meeting point.”

They hurried to the cockpit, and Mila barely breathed, still expecting a betrayal, waiting to see if she’d made a mistake. But Casey didn’t turn on her. Not yet, anyway.

Right after they’d strapped into their seats, the comm crackled. “Mila,” Rhys’s voice came through. “Ten minutes out by hover.”

Mila jabbed a finger into the comm. “Received. Everything’s . . . good.”

“See you soon,” Rhys said.

Dread threatened to engulf Mila, but she tried to ignore the feelings as she took the controls. In the seat beside her, Casey pulled up the comms and requested emergency clearance to take off.

If they made it off-world, Rhys would never, ever forgive her. But it was too late. She’d made her decision, and now Casey Phan, the Phantom, sat beside her, ready to escape UEE space once and for all.

Clearance came in, and Mila fired up the engines.

“Thank you, Ev. I mean it. I don’t deserve your trust after . . .”

Mila just shook her head. “No. You don’t.”

“Mila.” Rhys’s panicked voice came over the comm. “Mila, I have you in sight. Why are the engines fired up? What’s going on?”

Mila activated the comm, and winced against a jolt of pain in her shoulder. The numbing agent was fading, the burn from her pistol wound returning. Casey had shot her, and here she was freeing her. Mila stared at the comm and tried to think of what she could say to Rhys. But there was nothing to say.

She’d have to lie to him if she got out of this alive. Whatever they’d had together . . . it was over now, burned by her decision. And the less he knew, the better off he’d be.

I’m so sorry, Rhys.

She removed her finger from the comm without saying a word and lifted Devana into the sky.


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    • Przez Game Armada
      Hello everyone,
      Hopefully you all had as great of a weekend as those who attended BritizenCon in Manchester. The team members fortunate enough to visit the Museum of Science and Industry, where the event took place, are still talking about the fun they had, and the amazing members of the community they met. A big thank you to the organizers for putting on such a great community-lead convention.
      Last week, we announced the winners of our Easter Screenshot Contest on Spectrum. Make sure to check out the fantastic screen shots taken at Benny Henge, the Javelin Wreck, and Jump Town. Big thanks to everyone who submitted an entry and congratulations to the winners!
      Also last week, we introduced our new Thursday show Inside Star Citizen, taking you inside Star Citizen’s development first hand with a new name and a revamped format. Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this makeover and what we can do to make the show even better.
      Now, let’s see what’s going on this week:
      Tuesday, the Lore Team takes a look at a controversial vote that kept the UEE capital on Earth instead of moving it to Terra following the fall of the Messers.
      Thursday welcomes a new episode of Inside Star Citizen, our weekly look inside the world of Star Citizen development.
      Friday sees a Roadmap update and the RSI Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. We also welcome a new episode of Star Citizen Live, which broadcasts LIVE on our Star Citizen Channel. Stay tuned and keep an eye on Spectrum for more information about who this week’s guest will be!
      See you in the ‘verse!
      Ulf Kuerschner
      Senior Community Manager
      *Screenshot by Angaeda

      The Weekly Community Content Schedule
      MONDAY, APRIL 29TH, 2019
      TUESDAY, APRIL 30TH, 2019
                  Lore Post – This Day in History   (
      WEDNESDAY, MAY 1ST, 2019
      THURSDAY, MAY 2ND, 2019
                  Inside Star Citizen    (
                  Vault Update   
      FRIDAY, MAY 3RD, 2019
                  Star Citizen Live   (
                  Roadmap Update   (
                  RSI Newsletter   

      Community MVP: April 29TH, 2019

      We are constantly amazed by the contributions made by the Star Citizen community. Whether it's fan art, a cinematic, a YouTube guide, or even a 3D print of your favorite ship, we love it all! Every week, we select one piece of content submitted to the Community Hub and highlight it here. The highlighted content creator will be awarded an MVP badge on Spectrum and be immortalized in our MVP section of the Hub. Don’t forget to submit your content to our Community Hub for a chance at seeing it here!

      I need a hero by RocketElf

      RocketElf’s character was stuck on a ledge when an unsung hero came to the rescue. He decided to create a FOIP tribute to honor his savior.

      Check out the video on the Community Hub.

      Przeczytaj całość
    • Przez Game Armada
      This week we played though the Pacheco mission with Lead Designer Luke Pressley and Senior Live Designer Gareth Bourn along with a few guests.

      To watch Reverse the Verse LIVE each and every week, tune into
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    • Przez Game Armada
      Jump Point Now Available!
      Attention development subscribers: the April 2019 issue of Jump Point is now available in your subscription area. You’ll learn all about developing the updated flight model which premiered in Alpha 3.5, track the history of flight controls in the RSI Museum and find out everything you ever wanted to know about Leyland’s Tortoise in an all-new Galactapedia. Plus a lore featuring MaxOx!
      Interested in becoming a development subscriber? You can learn more here.
      Przeczytaj całość
    • Przez Game Armada
      Welcome to Inside Star Citizen, the triumphant return of our weekly development update show. In this episode we learn about a new particle lighting system, public telemetry, Crusader’s city in the clouds, and upcoming improvements to a classic ship.

      To watch Reverse the Verse LIVE each and every week, tune into
      Przeczytaj całość
    • Przez Game Armada
      Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part Four was published originally in Jump Point 3.8. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
      A recorded hymn played as they sent Arun “Boomer” Ains­ley into whatever great adventure awaits in the everafter. Gavin set the service in the Rhedd Alert hangar, and the recording sounded terrible. The last somber note rebounded off the room’s hard surfaces and harsh angles.
      He wished they could have had a live band. He would have paid for an orchestra, if one were to be had on the orbit­al station. Even a bugle would have been a better tribute for the man who had brought Dell into his life. For the man who taught him and Walt so much about living a free life.
      Dell’s arm felt small around his waist and Gavin pulled her in close to him, unsure if that was the right thing to do. He turned to kiss her hair and saw Walt’s lean form looming beside them. Walt’s face was fixed in a grim mask.
      Gavin knew his brother well enough to know that Walt was berating himself inside. He didn’t deal well with guilt or re­sponsibility, and Gavin suspected that was a big part of why Walt always ran.
      The gathering started to break up. Pilots and the hangar crew busied themselves with tasks around Rhedd Alert’s battered fleet of fighters. Dell didn’t move, so he stayed there with her. Walt rested a hand on his shoulder.
      “Gavin. Oh gods, Dell. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
      Jazza leaned in and spoke in a low tone, almost a whisper. “Landing gear up in ten, boss. Your rig is on the buggy.” She motioned with her chin to where his ship waited.
      Dell turned into him and squeezed. “Be careful.”
      “I will, babe.”
      “You come home to me, Gavin Rhedd. I’ll kill you myself if you make me run this outfit on my own.”
      He pressed his lips to the top of her head. Held them there.
      “Wait. What?” Walt’s jaw was slack, his eyes wide. “Tell me you aren’t going back out there.”
      Jazza bumped Walt with her shoulder, not so much walking past him as through him. “Damn right we are, Quitter.”
      “You know what? Screw you, Jazz. All right? You used to quit this outfit, like . . . twice a month.”
      “Not like you. Not like some chicken sh—”
      “Jazz,” Gavin said, “go make sure the team is ready to roll, would ya?” With a nod to Gavin and a parting glare at Walt, she moved away into the hangar.
      “Let it be, Walt. We really do need to go. After last time, we can’t risk being late for the pickup.”
      “Screw late!” Walt’s eyes were wide and red-rimmed around the edges. “Why the happy hells are you going at all?”
      “Walt —”
      “Don’t ‘Walt’ me, Gavin. There is a pack of psychopaths out there trying to kill you!”
      “Walt, would you shut up and listen for two seconds? We don’t have a choice, okay? We’ve got everything riding on this job. We’re months behind on this place and extended up to our necks on credit for fuel, parts, and ammo.”
      “They can damn well bill me!”
      “No,” Gavin said, “they can’t. Your shares reverted back to the company when you quit. But I’m legit now. You think we lived life on the run before? Just you watch if I try to run from this.”
      Walt turned to Dell for assistance, “Dell, come on. You gotta make him listen to reason.”
      “Boomer’s shares transferred to me when he died,” Dell said. “We’re in this together.”
      “Okay, boss,” Jazza called. The three of them looked to where she stood with a line of determined crew. “It’s time.”
      Walt watched the big bay doors close as the last of Gavin’s team left the hangar. His fighter and the few remaining ships looked small and awkwardly out of place in the big room. Standing alone next to Dell gave him a great appreci­ation for that awkwardness.
      “I’m so sorry, Dell. If I’d been there —”
      “Don’t,” she stopped him with a word, and then contin­ued with a shake of her blue-tipped hair. “Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been over the tactical logs. He got beat one-on-one, and then they OK’d him. There was nothing you could have done.”
      “I still feel rotten,” he said. “Like, maybe if I hadn’t left . . . I don’t know.”
      “Gavin blames himself, too. That’s just the way you two are built. But believe me, there was never a soul alive able to keep my dad out of the cockpit. He was flying long before you Rhedd boys tumbled into our lives.”
      That gave him a smile. A genuine smile. It seemed to bright­en Dell’s mood, so he did his best to hang onto it.
      “Come on,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. Join me for some coffee?”
      He did, and for a time they spoke softly at the tall tables in the hangar’s kitchenette. Dell caught him up on life aboard Vista Landing since he had left. She was clearly exhausted and not simply from a sleepless night and her father’s funeral. Her shoulders sagged, and dark circles under her eyes were the product of weeks of labor and worry. The constant apprehension of the Hornets’ vi­cious attacks had apparently exhausted more than just the pilots. It seemed odd that the attacks felt strangely personal.
      “You know what I can’t figure out?” he mused aloud. Dell looked at him, tired eyes politely expectant. “What the hell are these guys after?”
      She nodded, “Yeah. There’s been a lot of speculating on that question.”
      “Hard to say, isn’t it? Could be political wackos opposed to the research in Haven. Or maybe it’s one of the old gangs that don’t like us going legit. Could be it’s a group of Tevarin lashing out against UEE targets. Who knows?”
      “Naw. If they were Tevarin, we could tell by how they fly.”
      “Then you tell me, if you’re so smart. I mean, you were out there. You fought them.”
      Walt shrugged and took a sip of cooling coffee. Something she said nagged at him. “Hey, you said you had navsat tac­tical logs from the fight, right?”
      “Yeah.” What remained of her energy seemed to drain away with that one word. Walt cursed himself for the insensitive ass that he was. He’d just asked her about re­corded replays of her father’s murder.
      “Dell. Ah, hell . . . I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
      “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been over and over them already. Really, I don’t mind.”
      They moved to a console and the lights dimmed automat­ically when she pulled up the hangar projection. She se­lected a ship, and oriented the view so that the hologram of Boomer’s Avenger filled the display. No, Walt reminded himself, it wasn’t Boomer’s ship any more. Dell was his heir and — along with his debt — Boomer’s assets now belonged to her.
      Dell bypassed the default display of the structural hard­points and dove into the ship’s systems. Something caught his eye and he stopped her. “Wait, back up.” She did, and Walt stopped the rotating display to look along the under­carriage of the ship. He let out a low whistle.
      “That, Walter Rhedd, is a Tarantula GT-870 Mk3.”
      “I know what it is. But where did you get it?”
      “Remember those pirates that gave us so much trouble in Oberon? I pulled it before we sold the salvage.”
      He certainly did remember, and the bastards had kicked the crap out of two of their ships with their Tarantulas. “How’d you get it mounted on an Avenger?”
      “Hammer therapy,” she said. He gave her a confused look, and she held up one arm, curling it to make a muscle. “I beat the hell out of it until it did what I wanted.”
      “Damn, girl.”
      “Did you want to see the flight recorder?”
      They watched the navsat replays together in silence. It looked like one hell of a fight. Chaotic. Frantic. The Rhedd Alert fighters were hard pressed.
      Jazza had moments of tactical brilliance. As much as she rubbed him the wrong way, Walt had to admit that she made her Cutlass dance steps for which it wasn’t de­signed. Gavin orchestrated a coherent strategy and had committed extra fighters to drive off the attack. Some­thing was wrong, though. Something about the fight didn’t make sense.
      Walt had Dell replay the scene so he could focus on the marauders. It didn’t look like much of a fight at all from that perspective. It looked more like a game and only one team understood how all the pieces moved. The Hornets flew to disrupt, to confuse. They knew Gavin would send a force forward to protect the transport. He’d done it every time they had met.
      “See that?” he said. “They break apart there and get called immediately back into formation. They never leave a flank exposed. Our guys never get a real opening.” He pointed out one of the attacking Hornets. “That one calls the shots.”
      “That’s the one that OK’d Boomer.”
      Reds and greens from the navsat display sparkled in Dell’s eyes. Her voice was emotionless and flat. Walt didn’t want to see her like that, so he focused again on the display.
      The marauder he’d identified as the leader broke from the melee. Gavin gave chase, but from too far behind. Boomer intercepted, was disabled, and his PRB flashed red on the display. The Hornet took a pass at the transport before turning to rejoin its squad. Then it decelerated, pausing before the overkill on Boomer.
      “Why take only one pass at the transport? They’ve hit us, what? Six times? Seven? And once they finally get a shot at the target, they bug out?”
      “You said, ‘us’,” Dell teased. “You back to stay?”
      Walt huffed a small laugh. “We’ll see.”
      “We’ve been lucky,” Dell offered in answer to his question. “So far, we’ve chased them off.”
      “You really believe that? They had this fight won if they wanted it. And how do they keep finding us? It’s like they’ve taken up permanent residence in our damned flight path.”
      That was it. He had it. The revelation must have shown on his face.
      “What?” Dell asked. “What is it?”
      “Back it up to the strafe on the Aquila.”
      Dell did, and they watched it again. He felt like an ass for making her watch the murder of her father over again, but he had to be sure of what he saw.
      And there it was. Strafe. Turn. Pause. A decision to com­mit. An escalating act of brutality. And then they were gone.
      “She’s not after the transport at all. We were her target this whole time.”
      “Wait,” Dell said, “what she? Her who?”
      “Please tell me your ex hasn’t drunk himself out of a job with the Navy.”
      “Barry? Of course not, why?”
      “Because I just figured out who killed your father.”
      Morgan Brock called the meeting to a close and dismissed her admin team. Riebeld caught her eye and lifted one hand off the table — a request for her to stay while the others shuffled out of the conference room.
      Riebeld kept her waiting until they were alone, and then stood to close the door.
      “I take it,” Brock said, “that our Tyrol problem persists despite the escalation?”
      “I got word during the meeting” — he took a seat beside her at the table, voice pitched low — “that they should be making the jump to Nexus soon.”
      “Our discreet pilots? Are they deployed or here at the sta­tion?”
      His answer was slow in coming, his nod reluctant. “They are here.”
      Brock checked the time. Did some mental math. “Disguise the ships. We will leave at 1700 and meet them in Nexus just inside the gate from Min.”
      “Morgan,” Riebeld’s eyes roamed the room, “these guys aren’t taking the hint. I don’t know what losses we have to hand them before they back down, but . . . I don’t know. Part of doing business is losing bids, am I right?” She didn’t disagree and he continued. “Maybe . . . Maybe we ought to write this one off?”
      “A comfortable position to hold in your seat, Riebeld. Your commission is based on the contract value. I barely turned a profit on that job for years. I did it willingly, with the expected reward of windfall profits when traffic to Haven surges.”
      “I get that,” he said. “I really do. But at some point we have to call it a loss and focus on the next thing, right?”
      “Then suppose that we let the Tyrol job go, and Greely and Navy SysCom see what they want to see from bou­tique contractors. I can already imagine anti-establishment politicians pushing for more outsourced work. Hell, they will probably promise contracts to buy votes in their home systems.”
      She watched him squirm. It wasn’t like him to wrestle with his conscience. Frankly, she was disappointed to learn that he’d found one.
      “If Rhedd Alert won’t withdraw willingly,” she said, “then they will have to fail the hard way. Prep the ships, Rie­beld. We have done very well together, you and I. You should know that I won’t back away from what is mine.” He seemed to appreciate her sincerity, but Brock wanted to hear the cocksure salesman say it. “Are we clear?”
      “Yes, ma’am,” Riebeld swallowed and stood. “Perfectly clear.”
      “Any luck?” Walt pulled up Barry’s record in his mobiGlas and hit connect.
      Dell sat at the hangar console trying to reach Gavin and the team. Her brow furrowed in a grimace and she shook her head.
      “Damn. Okay, keep trying.”
      Barry connected. The accountant wore his uniform. He was on duty, wherever he was, and his projected face looked genuinely mournful. “Hey,” he said, “long time no see, man. Listen, I can’t tell you how sad I am about Boomer.”
      “Thanks.” Barry had known Dell and Boomer for most his life. He’d probably been torn between attending the service and allowing the family to grieve in privacy. Regardless, commiseration would have to wait. “We need your help, Barry. Please tell me that you have access to the propos­als for the Tyrol contract.”
      “Of course I do. And who’s we? Are you back with Dell and Gavin?”
      “I am,” he felt Dell’s eyes on him when he said it. “Anyway, we need a favor. I need to know the ship models and con­figurations proposed by the incumbent.”
      “Morgan Brock’s outfit, sure. No can do on the ship data, though. That information is all confidential. Only the price proposals are available for public review, and those only during the protest period.”
      “Come on, Barry. We’re not talking trade secrets here. I could figure this out with a fly-by of their hangar in Kilian. I just don’t have time for that. I need to know what ships those guys fly.”
      Barry breathed out a heavy sigh, “Hold on. But I can’t send you the proposals, okay? You guys are already on thin ice with this contract as is.”
      “Tell me about it. And thanks, I owe you huge for this.”
      Walt waited, throat dry. He scratched at a chipped edge on his worn mobiGlas with a fingernail.
      “All right,” Barry read from something off-screen, “it looks like they’re flying a variety of Hornets. Specifically, F7As. I can send you a list of the proposed hardpoints, and I hap­pen to know that Brock herself flies a Super Hornet.”
      The mobiGlas shook on Walt’s wrist. His face felt hot, and he forced his jaw to relax. “Barry, if you have any pull with the Navy, get some ships to Tyrol. It’s been Brock this whole time. She’s been setting us up to fail. And she’s the bitch that OK’d Boomer.”
      “I’m going, Walt. That’s final.”
      Walt rubbed at his eyes with the flat part of his fingers. How did Gavin ever win an argument her? Forbidding her involvement was a lost cause. Maybe he could reason with her. “Listen. When’s the last time you were even in a cockpit?”
      “I know this ship. I was practically born in these things.”
      “Dell —”
      She threw his helmet at him. He caught it awkwardly, and she had shed her coveralls and was wriggling into her flight suit before he could finish his thought. She stared at him with hard eyes and said, “Suit up if you don’t want to get left behind.”
      Dell was as implacable as gravity. Fine. It was her funeral, and he realized there was no way his brother had ever won an argument with her.
      They finished prepping in silence. Walt pulled the chocks on her Avenger when she climbed up into the cockpit. He gave the hulking muzzle of the Tarantula an appreciative pat. “You have ammo for this bad boy?”
      “I have a little.”
      “Good,” he smiled. “Let’s hope Brock isn’t ready to handle reinforcements.”
      Walt mulled that thought over. It was true that Gavin had split their team in each fight, but Rhedd Alert had never sent in reserves. Each engagement had been a fair and straightforward fight. Brock wasn’t likely to know anything about their resources, however limited, beyond the escort team. That could work to their advantage.
      In fact, “Hey, Dell. Hop out for a tick, will you?”
      “Like hell I will.” The look she shot down at him was pure challenge. “I said I’m going and that’s that.”
      “Oh, no. I’ve already lost that fight. But you and your cannon here got me thinking about those pirates in Oberon. Tell me, did we ever find a buyer for that old Idris hull?”
      “No. It’s buoyed in storage outside the station, why?”
      Dell looked at him skeptically and he grinned. “We’re going to introduce these military-types to
      some ol’ smugglers’ tricks.”
      Gavin held the team at the edge of the jump gate between Min and Nexus. “All right gang, listen up. You know the drill and what might be waiting for us on the other side. Jazza, I want you and Rahul up on point for this jump. I’ll bring Cassiopeia over after you and the rest of the team are in. Anyone not ready to jump?”
      His team was silent as they arranged themselves into position with professional precision. The pilot aboard Cassiopeia sounded the ready and Gavin sent Jazza through. The others were hard on her heels, and Gavin felt the always-peculiar drop through the mouth of the jump gate.
      Light and sound stretched, dragging him across the inter­space. Another drop, a moment’s disorientation, and then Nexus resolved around him.
      Without warning, Mei’s fighter flashed past his forward screen. Incandescent laser fire slashed along the ghost grey and fire-alarm red ship, crippling Mei’s shields and shearing away sections of armored hull. Mei fired back at a trio of maddeningly familiar Hornets in a tight triangular formation.
      Jazza barked orders. “Mei. Rahul. Flank Gavin and get Cassiopeia out of here. Gavin, you copy that? You have the package.”
      He shook his head, willing the post-jump disorientation away. He didn’t remember bringing up his shields, but they flashed on his HUD and his weapon systems were armed.
      “Copy that.” Gavin switched to the transport channel, “Cassiopeia. Let’s get you folks out of here.”
      The crew onboard the UEE transport didn’t need any more encouragement. Gavin accelerated to keep pace with the larger ship as two Rhedd Alert fighters dropped into posi­tion above and below him. Together, they raced toward the jump gate to Tyrol.
      The Hornets wheeled and dropped toward them from one side. Gavin’s HUD lit up with alerts as Jazza sent a pair of rockets dangerously close over his head to blast into one of the attacking ships. Her ship screamed by overhead, but the Hornets stayed in pursuit of the fleeing transport.
      Alarms sounded. They needed more firepower on the Hornets to give Cassiopeia time to get clear. He yelled a course heading, and Cassiopeia dove with Mei and Rahul on either flank.
      Gavin pulled up, turned and fired to pull the attention of the attackers. He spun, taking the brunt of their return fire on his stronger starboard shields.
      The impact shook the Cutlass violently, and his shield integ­rity bar sagged into the red. Gavin turned, took another wild shot with his lasers, and accelerated away from Cassiopeia with the Hornets in close pursuit.
      Navsat data for the jump into Nexus crept onto the edge of Walt’s HUD. Several seconds and thousands of kilometers later, the first of the embattled starships winked onto the display. His brother and the Rhedd Alert team were hard-pressed.
      Walt watched Brock and her crew circle and strike, corralling the Rhedd Alert ships. Gavin tried to lead the attackers away, but Brock wouldn’t bite. By keeping the fight centered on the UEE transport, she essentially held the transport hostage.
      Time to even the odds.
      Jazza tore into one of the Hornets. Walt saw the enemy fighter’s superior shields absorb the impact. He marked that Hornet as his target, preparing to strike before its defenses recharged.
      He killed his primary drive and spun end to end, slash­ing backward through the melee like a blazing comet. His targeting system locked onto the enemy Hornet, and his heavy Broadsword blasted bullets into it.
      Mei’s battered fighter dove through the streaming wreck­age, but the Super Hornet, presumably Brock, waited for her on the other side. A blast from her neutron cannon tore through the Rhedd Alert ship. Mei ejected safely, but their team was down a ship.
      “Gods,” Gavin’s voice was frantic. “Get the hell out of here, Walt. Form up with the transport and get them away from the fight.”
      Walt ignored him. He came around for another pass and triggered his mic to an open-area channel. “The game’s up, Brock.”
      His words cut across the thrust and wheel of close com­bat, and for a moment the fighters on all sides flew in quiet patterns above the fleeing Cassiopeia.
      “You know,” Walt said, “if you wanted us to believe you were after the transport, you should have saved your big guns for Cassiopeia instead of overkilling our friend.”
      “I suppose I should be disappointed that you have found me out,” Brock’s voice was a pinched sneer, and every bit as cold and hard as Gavin had described. “On the other hand, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me. I might have been content disabling the majority of your so-called fleet. Now, it seems that I will have to be more thorough.”
      She fired, he dodged, and the fight was on again in earnest. Walt switched his comms to Rhedd Alert’s squad channel. “Brock was never after Cassiopeia, Gav. She’s been after us.”
      “Maybe I’m a little distracted by all the missiles and the neutron cannon, but I’m failing to see how that is at all relevant right now.”
      “We’re no match for the tech in her ships. If she goes after the transport, they’re toast.” He rolled into position next to Gavin. Together, they nosed down to strafe at a Hornet from above.
      “Great,” Gavin said, “then why did you tip her off?”
      Walt suppressed a wicked grin. “Because,” he said, “she can’t afford to let any of us get away, either.”
      “If you have any brilliant ideas, spit ’em out. I’m all ears.”
      “Run with me.” For all Walt knew, Brock could hear every word they were saying. She would tear them apart if they stayed. He had to get Gavin to follow him. “Run with me, Gavin.”
      “Damn it, Walt! If you came to help, then help. I’ve got a pilot down, and I’m not leaving her here to get OK’d like Boom­er.”
      “This ain’t about doing the easy thing, Gav. Someone I truly admire once told me that this game is all about trust. So ask yourself . . . do you trust me?”
      Gavin growled his name then, dragging out the word in a bitter, internal struggle. The weight of it made Walt’s throat constrict. Despite all of their arguments, Boomer’s death and his own desertion when things got hard — in spite of all of that — his brother still wanted to trust him.
      “Trust me, Gavin.”
      Brock and her wingman swept low, diving to corral Cassiopeia and its escorts. Jazza redirected them with a blazing torrent of laser fire and got rocked by the neutron cannon in return. The shields around her battered Cutlass flashed, dimmed and then failed.
      Walt gritted his teeth. It was now or never.
      “Jazz,” Gavin’s voice sounded hard and sharp, “rally with Cassiopeia and make a break for it.”
      Walt pumped his fist and accelerated back the way he’d come in.
      “Walt,” Gavin sounded angry enough to eat nails, but he followed, “I’m on your six. Let’s go, people! Move like you’ve got a purpose.”
      Walt pulled up a set of coordinate presets and streaked away with Gavin close behind him. The two remaining Hor­nets split, with Brock falling in behind Gavin to give pursuit. Even together he and Gavin didn’t have much chance of getting past her superior shields. Instead, he set a straight course for the waypoint marked at the edge of his display. When incoming fire from Brock drove them off course, he corrected to put them directly back in line with the mark.
      Brock was gaining. Gavin’s icon flashed on his display. She was close enough to hit reliably with her repeaters. As they approached the preset coordinates, Walt spotted a rippling distortion of winking starlight. Correcting his course slightly, he headed straight for it. Gavin and Brock were hard behind him.
      “Come on,” Walt whispered, “stay close.”
      On the squad display, he saw Gavin’s shield integrity dropped yet again. Brock was scoring more frequent hits.
      “A little farther.”
      Walt focused on the rippling of starlight ahead, a dark patch of space that swallowed Nexus’ star. He made a slight course correction and Gavin matched it. Together, they continued their breakneck flight from Brock’s deadly onslaught.
      The small patch of dark space grew as the three ships streaked forward. Walt opened the squad channel on his mic and shouted, “Now!”
      On his HUD, a new ship flared onto the display. It appeared to materialize nearly on top of them as Dell’s Avenger dropped from her hiding place inside the blackened hull of the derelict Idris.
      Walt punched his thrusters. The lift pressed him into his seat as he pushed up and over their trap. He heard Dell shouting over the squad channel, and he turned, straining to see behind him. Bright flashes from Brock’s muzzles accompanied a horrible pounding thunder. Dell had left her mic open and it sounded like the massive gun was threat­ening to tear her ship apart.
      “Heads up, Gav!”
      Dell’s voice hit Gavin like a physical blow.
      He saw his brother climb and suddenly disappear behind an empty, starless expanse. Then Boomer’s Avenger materi­alized from within that blackness, and Gavin knew that his wife was inside the cockpit. She was with him, out in the black where veteran pilots outgunned them.
      His body reacted where his mind could not. He shoved down, hard. Thrusters strained as he instinctively tried to avoid colliding with her. A brilliant pulse like flashes of light­ning accompanied a jarring thunder of sound.
      Gavin forced his battered ship to turn. The Cutlass shud­dered from the stress, and Gavin was pressed into the side of the cockpit as the nose of his ship came around.
      He saw the first heavy round strike Brock. The combined force of the shell and her momentum shredded her for­ward shields. Then round after round tore through the nose of Brock’s ship until the air ignited inside.
      “Dell” — the flaming Hornet tumbled toward his wife like an enormous hatchet — “look out!”
      Brock ejected.
      Dell thrust to one side, but the Hornet chopped into the hull where she had hidden. The explosion sent ships and debris spinning apart in all directions.
      He swept around to intercept her spinning ship. Walt beat him there. Thrusters firing in tightly controlled move­ments, Walt caught her Avenger, slowed it and stopped the spin.
      Gavin rolled to put himself cockpit to cockpit with his wife.
      She sat in stillness at the controls, her head down and turned to one side.
      “Come on, baby. Talk to me.”
      She moved.
      With the slow deliberateness of depressurized space, she rolled her head on her shoulders. When she looked up, their eyes met. Dell gave him a slow smile and a thumbs-up. He swallowed hard, and with one hand pressed to his heart, he shut his eyes silently in thanks.
      Gavin spun his Cutlass and thrust over to where Brock floated nearby, his weapons systems still hot. He paused then, looming above her as she had hesitated over Boomer.
      Her comms were still active. “What now, Rhedd?”
      He remembered her from the meeting with Greely. Tall, lean, and crisp. She seemed small now, drifting not more than a meter away from the battle-scarred nose of his Cutlass.
      “Gavin?” Dell’s voice sounded small after the ruckus of the fight.
      Walt eased into view alongside him. His voice was low and calm, “Easy, buddy. We weren’t raised to OK pilots.”
      “She’s not worth it,” Dell said.
      Brock snarled, “Do it already.”
      He had studied Brock’s reports for months. She had more ships and more pilots than he could ever imagine employing. What drove her to harass them and kill one of his crew for this job?
      “I just want to know why,” he asked. “You’ve got other contracts. You’ve probably made more money than any of us will see in our lives. Why come after us?”
      He held Brock’s eye, the lights from the Cutlass reflecting from her visor.
      “Why?” she repeated. “Look around you, Rhedd. There’s no law in these systems. All that matters here is courage to take what you want, and a willingness to sacrifice to keep it.”
      “You want to talk sacrifice?” he said. “That pilot you killed was family.”
      “You put him in harm’s way,” she said, “not me. What little order exists in these systems is what I brought with me. I carved my success from nothing. You independents are thieves. You’re like rodents, nibbling at the edges of others’ success.”
      “I was a thief,” he said, “and a smuggler. But we’re building our own success, and next time you and I meet with the Navy,” Gavin fired his thrusters just enough to punch Brock with the nose of his ship, “it’ll be in a court­room.”
      She spun and tumbled as she flew, growing smaller and smaller until the PRB on his HUD was all he could see.
      A pair of Retaliators with naval designations were moored outside the Rhedd Alert hangar when Gavin and the crew finally limped back to Vista Landing.
      Crew aboard Cassiopeia had insisted on helping with medical care and recovery after the fight. The team scheduled for pick-up at Haven was similarly adamant that Rhedd Alert take care of their own before continuing. Technically, no one had checked with Navy SysCom.
      Did the Navy fire contractors face to face? For all he knew, they did.
      Gavin saw to the staging of their damaged ships while the others hurried the wounded deeper into Vista Landing. When he’d finished, he exchanged a quick nod with Barry Lidst who stood at ease behind Major Greely.
      “Major,” Gavin held out his hand, “I assume someone would have told me already if I was fired.”
      His hand disappeared in the major’s massive paw. “I sup­pose they would have, at that.”
      “Then to what do we owe the honor?” Dell and Walt joined them, and Gavin made introductions.
      “‘I’ first, then ‘we,’ ” Greely repeated, “I like that, Rhedd. I appreciate a man who accepts consequence personally but insists on sharing accolades with his team. Tell me, son. How’d you get Brock?”
      Gavin nudged his wife. With a roguish grin, Dell pulled her arm from around Gavin’s waist and stepped over to pat the Tarantula on her battered Avenger.
      “Nice shooting, miss.”
      Dell shrugged, “Walt pulled my tags, nav beacon and flight recorder before we left. I was sitting dark inside a decoy when the boys flew her right down the barrel.”
      Barry leaned toward Greely and in a completely audible whisper said, “It might be best if we ignore the illegal parts of that.”
      Greely waved him off. “This is what the ’verse needs. Men and women with the courage to slap their name up on the side of a hangar. A chance for responsible civilians to create good, honest jobs with real pay for locals. That an ex-military contractor tried to muck that up . . .”
      Gavin and the team got a good, close look at what angry looked like on a Navy officer. It was the kind of scowl that left an impression.
      “Anyway,” Greely composed himself, “not a soul in the ’verse would blame you for writing us off as a bit of bad business. I’m here to ask that you stick with it.”
      Gavin was reluctant to bring their financial situation up in front of their one paying client, but they were tapped out. Rhedd Alert didn’t have the cred to buy ammo, much less repair their downed fighters. “Actually, sir. I think we may need to find something a little more lucrative than getting shot up by disgruntled incumbents.”
      “About that,” Greely rested his hand on Gavin’s shoulder. He led him to look out one of the large hangar windows at the Retaliators buoyed outside. “My accountant tells me there may be some room to renegotiate certain parts of the Tyrol contract. But that job won’t be enough to keep your team busy now that Brock’s out of the way.”
      Gavin laughed. “On that point, I most certainly hope you are right.”
      “Well . . . I’ve got more work for an outfit like yours. I hope you’ll accept, because you folks have surely earned it. Tell me, Rhedd, are you familiar with the Oberon system?”
      Behind them, Walt dropped his helmet.
      The End
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