Eldorado, Garris Major System
May 3rd, 2403
Lauren Kelly stepped down off the loading ramp and took a deep breath of fresh air. She coughed it out almost immediately as the acrid fumes of the spaceport cut into the back of her throat. Her companion continued down the ramp. His long, panther-like stride took him to where a customs agent waited. Lauren watched the two speak briefly. She didn’t see when Mason slipped the agent a bribe, but a moment later the other man left. “How much did that cost us?” She asked.
Mason turned. “More than I’d like. I guess there’s some kind of revolution going on in the system. We aren’t carrying a prohibited cargo, but I didn’t want him looking at our navigation computer and wondering what we have to do with what’s going on in Faraday.”
“Do you think they’ve heard anything here yet?” Lauren asked. She wasn’t terribly surprised about some kind of revolt here. More than half the systems in the Colonial Republic had insurrections or uprisings. Most of those were from fractured ethnic or political lines, though some were ostensibly about freedom.
“About your Baron Lucius?” Mason smirked, even as his eyes swept the dingy landing pad for eavesdroppers. “Probably about his defeat of the Chxor at Faraday. Definitely rumors about the Dreyfus Fleet.” He stepped forward and took her duffel off her shoulder. He spoke the next part in a low tone, “Hopefully they’ve heard nothing about Mason McGann’s involvement.”
Lauren nodded, oddly relieved that she, at least, had no personal infamy to worry about She had possessed somewhat of a reputation back at Faraday for her actions during a mutiny aboard a Chxor ship and later during a ground attack against a planetary defense base. Neither of those put her remotely near as juicy a subject of discussion as a former pirate turned smuggler who’d once run with Tommy King. Even that must be easier than actually being Tommy King.
“Let’s go, I’ve locked down the ship, and there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” Mason said. Lauren smiled slightly, glad to see the eagerness in his face. His expression had looked so hard in the aftermath of the battle against the Chxor.
“Who’s this, I thought you didn’t have any friends?” Lauren asked.
He led the way through a doorway and then out into the crowded streets. “I don’t,” Mason said, over his shoulder. “He’s more like a teacher.” Something in his voice suggested that their relationship was more friendship than he would like to admit.
The industrial smell of the spaceport blended with the stench of unwashed bodies and the faint reek of an open sewer. Lauren fought back a memory of her childhood raised under Chxor occupation. She clenched her fists and blinked away sudden tears.
She continued to follow Mason, though her enjoyment of being on a new world had vanished with the memories of the one she’d been born to. She absently wondered if she would ever kill enough Chxor to make her feel better about her childhood. No… not ever, she thought, not even if I could kill them all at once. She’d become so caught up in her own thoughts that she nearly ran into Mason’s back when he stopped suddenly.
The first thing she noticed was the sudden tensing of his shoulders. “Mason?”
He slowly set her duffel down, “Wait here.”
He stepped forward and she saw his hands brush his prayer beads. A moment later, those same hands came to rest on his holstered pistols.
Lauren sidestepped into a nearby doorway and her hand fell to her own pistol. The street Mason had led her down seemed to empty of people as she watched. Mason had stopped, three or four meters away from the ornate entrance to a walled courtyard.
As if on cue, three men stepped out of the shadows of the gate. All three were big men and carried weapons. The two flankers carried submachine guns, Lauren saw. The one in the center held a drawn pistol, not quite aimed at Mason. He was the one who spoke, “Took you long enough to get here. Almost thought you hadn’t got the message.”
“I hadn’t,” Mason said, “I’ve been… detained. What’s this about?”
Something caught Lauren’s attention above. Her eyes flicked to the rooftops to where two men took up overwatch positions, rifles held ready.
“Just a friendly chat,” the speaker said. “Our boss had no bone to pick with the priest. What happened here could have been avoided if he’d cooperated sooner.”
Lauren drew her own pistol as she saw Mason’s body stance shift. Even so, she barely had it out of the holster before his first shots rang out. The three men in the doorway were down. She had her pistol trained on the nearest of the men on the rooftop. Even as she squeezed the trigger, four more shots rang out, so rapidly they might have come from a machine gun.
One of the men fell onto the street, body limp. The other, struck by her shots and Mason’s, flopped back out of sight. Lauren peered around. Her heart beat rapidly. The burnt smell of smokeless powder stung her nose. “That’s all of them,” Mason said, his voice flat and emotionless as a robot. There were times he scared the hell out of her.
His cold blue eyes met hers and he frowned, “Are you alright?”
Lauren nodded, “I’m fine.”
Mason cleared his throat, “I… have to see this, but if you want…” A part of her cringed at his tone, for she knew exactly what he expected to find in this place. He hadn’t spoke of it much during the voyage, but the few words he’d said had held tones of reverence.
He expected to face the worst – his sanctuary, the place he found his soul again – to be violated. And he’s willing to face it alone, Lauren thought, as if I would leave him. Lauren said, “No, I’ll come.” She stepped forward and picked up her duffel to stand by his side. He smiled, at her and she smiled back.
The stepped through the gate and Lauren bit back a shout of surprise at what she saw on the other side. The wall had concealed a large, open compound. Dozens of trees, some in bloom with bright pink flowers, sat in clusters around small buildings. In the center, a larger stone building squatted. It consisted of many heavy stone pillars supporting a roof that seemed more curves and angles than anything else.
Boiling out of that structure came dozens of men and women in brightly embroidered robes. The ocular impact almost reset her brain after the dingy brown streets of the city. The crowd came to a halt, their leader an ancient old man with, what Lauren judged, what had to be the most absurd hat she’d ever seen in her life. It towered, a mass of feathers, beads, bells, and possibly acres of silk.
He managed to bow gracefully and Lauren repressed a giggle at the fact that the hat stayed firmly in place. “Mason, it is good to see you.”
Mason looked stunned, “Lan, it’s very good to see you, I thought–”
“You thought they had killed me,” The old man spoke calmly.
“Yes. I’m glad you’re alright.” Mason let out a deep breath. “Did they say why they came?” The old man nodded, his face expressionless, serene in a way that made Lauren feel uncomfortable. Not nearly as uncomfortable as his next words, though. “Yes, they came looking for Tommy King.”
The Shattered Empire will be available on the 25th of October, 2014 from Amazon. Read below for the teaser.
Baron Lucius Giovanni has managed to buy the human race a brief reprieve from the two alien races which seek humanity’s extinction. In the process he has become the leader of a new nation and the commander of a powerful fleet. However, victory comes with consequences. Without an imminent threat, old feuds have sparked back to life and tenuous alliances falter. There are also old enemies who cannot forget that Lucius has what they wanted. He must find a way to hold off scheming rivals, sociopathic psychics, and even former friends. If he can’t do all that and take the fight to humanity’s true enemies, billions may die under alien servitude.