Dominion-427, page 1
Shadow of the Dominion, Book 4
Knotted Road Press
About the Author
Also by Blaze Ward
About Knotted Road Press
“You are sure of these coordinates?” Athanasia demanded as she leaned over the pilot’s shoulder to study his screen.
The bridge of Dominion-427 was a sterile place, painted in off-white walls to dull the mind, along with taupe carpet. The crew’s uniforms were equally dreary. Only Athanasia wore anything interesting, dressed in the tight, black leggings and tunic she had chosen for herself on this mission. Her blond hair was up in a single braid today.
Around her buzzed bureaucrats in gray or sage.
She had chased the Anuradhan cargo transport known as Longshot Hypothesis for what felt like the width of the galaxy. Out of the Dominion itself. Across all of Laurentia. Even to the far side of the unruly region known as Wildspace, where an ancient, Urlan Empire had apparently been destroyed some two thousand years go.
She was not about to lose that ship now. Too much was riding on her vengeance.
“Three degrees north of the southern pole,” the captain replied. “Seventeen degrees west of Standard Mean. Those were the coordinates we received from the people at Meeredge.”
Athanasia could find no emotions at all in the man’s voice as he spoke. It was the only reason she had chosen to fly aboard the Assault Courier Dominion-427 as long as she had. The man commanding the vessel she had been given by the Dominion authorities was normally so faceless, so utterly anonymous, that she frequently forgot what he looked like if he wasn’t standing directly in front of her. Most of the crew was like that, or perhaps she had just never bothered to actually look at any of them as anything more than organic robots.
She kept her curses and growls inside for now. This crew had already carried her far beyond the normal limits of their orders. Abusing them now would just cause most of them to rethink remaining with her when she took her next step. And that was coming soon.
Purchasing another warship, hiring a crew for it to replace the ones that would not choose to accompany her, and turning herself into a warlord of the unruly reaches.
“And the scans of the ground?” she demanded of this captain and his crew, just to be sure.
“Interestingly, we find evidence of a number of atmospheric craft at low elevations or on the ground,” the captain spoke carefully, almost thoughtfully. “If I were to attribute purpose to them, I would call the current layout a search pattern by several, distinct groups.”
“But no Longshot Hypothesis?” she confirmed, studying the man who was starting to emerge from his colorless shell after so long.
He had even offered her a personal opinion without being required to.
“No spacecraft are present,” the captain said. “We even triggered a special signal that should have tripped a standard identifying beacon, just in case. Nothing replied within this quarter of the planetary surface.”
Athanasia stepped back from the pilot’s shoulder. It did not improve her humor when the man visibly relaxed, but this entire crew was aware that she had once been high in the personal Household of the Dominator himself. She frightened them, as she frequently intended.
“How long will it take to scan the entire surface, if there are so few ships that we might need to investigate?” she asked, trying to inject a note of warmth and detachment from her hostility.
“Three to four days,” the man replied, giving her a slight bow from the waist, as if the order were already given and he was just about to execute it.
“Very well, Captain,” she said, stepping back again, so that she was a more proper distance away from where her emotions had carried her. “You may proceed.”
Athanasia started to turn away, but the man’s voice shocked her into halting and turning back.
“What if we do not locate them, in near orbit or on the ground?” he asked in a tone equally suited to discussing the weather.
Athanasia was not fooled, however.
“Then we will locate the nearest industrial system,” she said, watching other heads cock in her direction to listen to her words. “Where we will begin the process of dividing the crew.”
“Some may choose to continue with me, Captain,” Athanasia centered her charm on the man. Not because she expected him to be one of them, but so he would convey her mission correctly to his masters when he finally returned home. “I will send the remainder and Dominion-427 home as soon as I have located and purchased a warship capable of carrying me to my vengeance and destroying Dave Hall and his friends.”
Again the bow. Deeper this time. Might this man choose the life of a pirate, over that of a faceless bureaucrat transporting senior politicians around space? She would have doubted it even yesterday, but there was a gleam in his eyes today that left her with doubts.
Athanasia departed the bridge. They would do their duty, especially with the possibility that the hounds had either run their fox to ground, or their mission would change shortly. Many would go home, but she suspected that some would choose to go rogue with her. Piracy was always a tempting alternative to mindless duty.
In her cabin, Stephaneria waited, vibrating with pent-up energy. Athanasia had dressed the woman also in black, showing off the lean, whipcord muscles of the middle-aged, ex-librarian, as opposed to the stout muscles of a woman who had been in the Dominion Household.
Athanasia took Stephaneria’s hand and pulled the woman into a hot kiss, just to feel something warm inside herself again. Too many years without any touch from the man she had married nearly three decades ago.
Athanasia could never return to the Dominion. Anyone with half a brain could calculate that easily enough. The old Dominator had been assassinated by a man who subsequently escaped justice. The new Dominator had been crowned by now, although it might take years for the news to cross Wildspace to reach her. Whoever it was would not welcome the widow of the former Dominator. She would be shuffled off to a retirement pension, well away from Cronus Prime and the center of power. Perhaps they would just have her killed. It didn’t matter, she was never returning to inquire.
She had to chase down a man who called himself Dave Hall these days, and kill the bastard. Once, he had been her husband, when he’d had another name. Before he assassinated the Dominator and fled into the darkness, one step ahead of the Dominion’s Internal Security Bureau, the White Hats, who had also betrayed her.
Athanasia could not tell anyone on this ship the truth, except for things she might whisper in Stephaneria’s ear as they cuddled at night, sweaty and sated.
Dave Hall hadn’t just been the assassin.
He had been the Dominator himself.
Dave smiled as he looked around the compact bridge, really just a cockpit for two pilots, and considered everything. His original goal ha
After that, disappear around a corridor curve at a station and vanish from the knowledge of men. Use one of the other identities he had created, and all the cash, and live a quiet life somewhere.
Oh, he had maneuvered the situation expertly. Valentinian’s former first mate found a better job, working as part owner of a bar on Tuska Station. That left a spot open where Dave had planned to slip into. That part even worked, more or less.
Right up until the White Hats had decided something didn’t add up, and unraveled his scheme in days, when it should have taken them years.
A noise behind him caused Dave to glance back over his left shoulder. He smiled at Kyriaki as she brought him some coffee.
“What’s so funny?” she asked as she handed him a fresh bulb and took the empty one from the cup holder in the console.
“Wondering where Vee and I would be today, if you weren’t so damned relentless,” he said.
“He’d probably have gotten himself killed by Nash,” Kyriaki’s face soured almost enough to wipe the grin from his. “You’d have ended up selling Longshot and walking away. Dave Hall would be dead now, too, and the world would be a darker place.”
Dave couldn’t remember a time when she had sounded like a poet. Kyriaki was a cop. Ex-cop, anyway. The very White Hat that decided the story smelled wrong and tugged on threads until something came loose.
Who had let him go, after he had helped her rescue Vee on Tartarus, when she could have taken him back to Cronus Prime in chains and been considered the greatest agent in the history of the Dominion.
He occasionally wondered if she had regrets, giving up that other life to become part of their crew. Later, she had known too much, and the Dominion would have put her under truth serum to get the whole story, so she’d have been killed as well.
He turned far enough to really study her face. Something had changed, right before they left Kryuome to escape the Widow.
Kyriaki Apokapes was both more relaxed, and more tense than she had been.
Dave hadn’t asked. He might be old enough to be her father, but the group of them had all been partners in this, including Bayjy and the Mondi warrior-pilot Glaxu.
“I feel like I should get you and Vee drunk,” Dave offered in a low voice. “Strip you both naked and throw you into one of the empty cabins upstairs and let you two work it all out.”
There was a distinct flash of emotion in her eyes. To Dave, it somehow combined anger, lust, and fear. Like she wanted to, but was afraid to actually take that step.
He’d seen the two of them. Valentinian and Kyriaki. Every once in a while, they’d suddenly be standing too close, almost dancing except that they weren’t touching. Carefully not touching, but they wanted to.
Binary stars orbiting a common center, wondering who might kiss the other first. Or punch.
Two hard-headed, stubborn kids. Dave could say that. His own children were about the same age. He’d gotten all that silliness out of his system decades ago. At least he hoped so.
Most women looked at him and saw a huge bruiser of a man. Nearly a head taller than Vee. Not brutally ugly, like some of his old Caelon troopers, but not the sort of pirate bad-boy that walked into a room and carbonated the hormones of every woman present, like Vee seemed to do.
Kyriaki started to say something and paused. A second time. A third.
“What the hell happened back there?” Dave asked. “I have never seen you like this.”
“It got complicated,” she whispered.
Dave couldn’t help himself. He started laughing. If the bulb hadn’t been sealed, he probably would have spilled coffee down his front and all over his lap.
She looked like she was measuring him for a punch, but something broke in her a few seconds later and she joined him in giggling.
“Sorry,” he finally gasped. “Got complicated.”
She finally grinned at him with her mouth pulled sideways in a way that reminded Dave of his daughter Euphrosyne.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” Kyriaki breathed out and let a little color into her voice. “We were almost there. Talking serious stuff. And then the damned Widow had to show up and kinda ruin everything.”
“Delay, perhaps,” Dave nodded. “Not ruin. We’re still a team. Still free and in motion. We’ll get to Chatosig and wait her out. We’ve got enough money on hand that we won’t go broke anytime soon. The rest is just patience.”
“Patience. Right,” she said in a sarcastic tone. “Not sure I want patience.”
“He’ll come around, Kyriaki,” Dave replied in a much calmer voice. “You frighten him even more than you do me, and that’s saying something. Give him time.”
“How much?” she asked, pain evident now.
“If he hadn’t been a hard, stubborn, brilliant con artist with an ethical streak and the luck of the gods on his side, I wouldn’t have picked him in the first place,” Dave nodded. “And like you said, we’d be dead now, most likely. He’ll come around.”
“I hope so,” Kyriaki muttered.
Dave let her go as she turned away. Stared out at the lines of warpspace outside the little bubble universe that was Longshot Hypothesis and considered the lines in his past and future like those stars out there around him.
Valentinian’s luck had carried them all this far, through Dominion security and crooked poker games, to Wildspace planets with radioactive ruins hiding treasure. Chatosig would be the next phase of the grand adventure, then hopefully they could finally escape his ex-wife and live a peaceful life.
Not that he believed it for a minute.
He considered being mortally offended as he studied the readout displayed before him, but Glaxu had known that forming a Southern Chain with the human ship Longshot Hypothesis threatened to upend his understanding of speed.
At least once Captain Tarasicodissa had explained to him how fast that vessel really was.
Based on the elapsed travel time, Glaxu wondered for the eighth or tenth time if the cargo ship was pulling him through warpspace, rather than Glaxu’s Mondi fightership Outermost pushing. And that was a cargo transport?
Glaxu left the cockpit of his craft and headed aft to the Larder. Past the Cactus, the room where he slept, and the Branch, where he pooped compact turds recycled for carbon.
What he really wanted right now was something that affected a Mondi like alcohol did to humans. A nice, pleasant poisoning that left few aftereffects and introduced a calmness and relaxation. There were certain plants back home that one chewed for trace alkaloids that would produce an equivalent sensation. Apparently humans did something similar, but they would try anything at least once. Even things that might kill them.
After a few weeks with Captain Tarasicodissa and his other crew, Glaxu no longer wondered how humans had managed to completely overrun this sector of the galaxy and fill in all the ecological niches once filled by Urlan or other species.
That fool back on Kryuome, the human warlord names Truqtok, had learned at great personal expense just how dangerous those four humans were. He could include Bayjy in there, even if she was Pranai. That just meant she was a Variant Human. Tall and well-muscled. Light purple as a base color, rather than the pink/brown of the others. Human in all the external ways.
She, at least, liked proper temperatures, above forty degrees Centigrade, rather than the much colder temperatures that the captain kept his ship, most of the time.
Glaxu fixed himself a bowl of juice and tipped it slowly back into his beak.
Mondi normally got all of their fluid intake from their food, but Glaxu and his previous nest had spent enough time in human-dominated space to develop the habit of drinking liquid refreshment from a shallow bowl, in this case by pouring it with both stubby hands, rather than using his long tongue to lap it
Just another mark of how far from his home nest he had traveled.
But this nest, Captain Tarasicodissa and the others, Kyriaki Apokapes, Bayjy Endon, and not-Dave Hall, had shown themselves to be extremely resourceful, and far more dangerous than Glaxu would have believed from such a small team of humans. And they had accepted him, a small land bird that not-Dave Hall had once called a Dire Ground Cuckoo when he didn’t think Glaxu was around.
Better than the normal human pejorative, which was to call him a roadrunner. Apparently some worlds had a similar creature, unintelligent and much smaller, but following the same basic design patterns. Except they didn’t fight with a dewclaw capable of opening a silly human up like a knife through butter.
Glaxu grinned and returned the bowl to the shelf. He would check the flight path of this new Southern Chain one last time before sleeping for a few hours.
Yes, a speed his old nest could not have matched on their best day, just emerging from the tuning nests back home. Perhaps he needed to convince his friends to visit his own homeworld after this next set of adventures, to show his kin that he wasn’t a screw-up after all. Merely the one they had correctly nicknamed Farther. Perhaps Farthest would be even more appropriate, if he introduced the great nest to these killers, and had Captain Tarasicodissa show the Mondi how to build properly fast engines.
Mondi didn’t need to conquer the galaxy, but it would be nice to be able to stop the humans, when that species finally came to Mondi sectors to try.
BLAZE WARD SERIES:
Other author's books:
- The Red AdmiralDominion-427Queen Anne's RevengePersephoneOutermostWinterhomePackmuleLongshot Hypothesis
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