IGO: Sudden Snow, page 1
IGO 1: Sudden Snow
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Copyright ©2010 RaeLynn Blue
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IGO 1: Sudden Snow
Some secrets could change a galaxy -- if they don’t get you killed.
Dr. Cricket Moore is running for her life. Her coworkers murdered and her research stolen, she has no one to turn to. When she’s thrust into the hands of an Intergalactic Organization officer to be transported to headquarters for interrogation, her only hope is to trust her life to a stranger.
It should have been one more assignment. Escort the last remaining research scientist to headquarters for debriefing. Sergeant Darryl Snow takes every mission seriously, but this one seems pretty routine. Cricket doesn’t look all that dangerous. But she’s in more trouble than even she realizes. And the instant attraction he feels for the dark-skinned beauty doesn’t make the situation any easier. How can he win her trust -- and her heart -- without compromising the mission?
Darryl will stop at nothing to protect Cricket from danger… even if the greatest danger he faces is losing himself in her.
“I can’t believe our luck,” complained Mason Lars, brushing his stringy blond bangs from his eyes. He rubbed them as if they itched from fatigue and he swallowed a budding yawn before it blossomed to fruition. “It’s three days out from leave and we ain’t even on The Discovery. Who gives out freakin’ missions this close to annual leave?”
“Capitan Reyes and the Intergalactic Organization, that’s who,” replied Sergeant Darryl Snow from the commander’s slick ivory bucket chair. He ran his hand over his buzzed black hair and sighed. “Being tethered to The Discovery isn’t always cheerful and relaxing, you know. Even during leave.”
Darryl spied the stars zipping by the ship. Their parent ship, The Discovery, remained docked at Mars Outpost 1, prepping for the upcoming holiday and annual leave time. Theirs was the only team sent out this close to leave. There were four teams on board The Discovery spaceship. Alpha, Delta, Omega, and Sigma teams each had been assigned their own spacecraft, smaller vessels for the purposes of conducting independent, individualized missions that didn’t require the entire mass of The Discovery.
Delta team was the scientific based team, a small group of about twenty-four people including Darryl. Many of their missions pertained to the purpose of science, which was how he found himself pulling the early morning shift command while trekking through the bogs on Europa’s surface.
“My wife is doing what she can with our quarters, but, you know, those things are the size of shoeboxes on this spacecraft,” continued Pilot Lars in a longsuffering drawl. “What are we looking for again? Solo shuttlepods can’t get through this on their own? They need us?”
“No, they can’t. So we have to escort the scientists through this murky soup to get readings and the like.”
Private Kovacs, the pudgy comms soldier, snorted behind them. “I could go for some soup -- black bean.”
“Anyway, so why’s it got to be us, huh?” Lars inquired, stifling a chuckle at Kovacs.
Darryl switched his active listening to off as Lars continued his bellyaching and Kovacs recited his food cravings. He never understood how a man who had a beautiful, kind wife, two children, and a great job as pilot could complain about how terrible his life had become.
Darryl grimaced in the lowlights of the bridge and longed to be held once again. To feel the warmth of a lover wrapped around him, whispering soft words of love, devotion and joy made life worth living -- exciting, thrilling.
Mentally swatting the urge back into the abyss, Darryl sighed, looking around the ’shoe.
The ’shoe, as it was affectionately called, was the command station for The Inquiry. It occupied the nose of the ship. Laid out in a horseshoe, the open ends contained both the pilot and navigation seats pointing toward the nose of the craft. At the rear curve was where security sat and the communications station rested. A lone chair overlooked the sunken commander’s chair and pilots’ seats. Security’s console lacked a corresponding chair. Darryl didn’t know why, though as chief of security he couldn’t sit when in the middle of engaging some threat. The entire ’shoe was awash in the IGO red, white and green colors. Oval insignias were emblazoned all over the place as if the crew required constant reminding.
Four ten in the morning and only four hours more to go.
With such a tiny crew, they had only one senior commander and one junior commander. Teams like Alpha had one senior and three junior commanders or jc’s. Commander Taylor, the Delta team’s leader, often referred to Darryl as his second jc, so the twenty-four hour day was broken into three eight-hour rotations to split between the commander, Darryl and the true junior commander, JC Lee.
No problem. Darryl didn’t have anything -- or anyone -- to go bunk down with.
He glanced around to the usual suspects, Pilot Lars, Privates Kovacs and Henson Rojas. No one was at navigations. Commander Taylor had set those coordinates already.
“My wife broke our water conservatory last night. Can you believe it?” Lars rambled on.
At least you have a wife to tuck into a nice, soft bed and kiss beneath the cozy fireworks streaking by. Yeah, I could use the hologram and fake it, but that would be a waste of my energies and my time. Count yourself lucky, Lars.
“Don’t complain about The Inquiry,” Darryl said instead, without even really hearing what Lars’ long-winded talk was about. Each shift they engaged in this boring dance of complaining about whatever met Lars’ fancy. “Besides, this baby is as solid as they can be.”
With his gloved hand, he stroked his chair’s leather arm as affectionately as he would a woman, had he had one. Damn, he had a horrid case of lonely tonight.
“Yeah, uh-huh,” Lars sniggered and pushed his bangs out of his dull sepia eyes once more as he gazed back to Darryl. “Anyway, I heard Commander Ashe is getting demoted to sergeant…”
Rojas laughed, a high-pitched chortle. “Yeah, whatever. No one can beat her record. She won’t be demoted. Even after that crash at Titan, she still kept her rank. The poor pilot took the hit for it.”
Darryl would then return to an empty cabin. Sometimes he brought a pretty girl or an intensive simulation hologram to help fill the time, but none of it satisfied him. Initially, this life of commanding the early duty satisfied him, but holidays hastily deleted those feelings of contentment. It was like a ravaging hunger. The women only served a brief snack. Darryl longed for a more meaningful meal.
What woman would satisfy him on all levels -- would have the patience, beauty, and brains he wanted -- and, above all, love him?
He realized his finger was idly stroking the long, jagged scar across the bottom of his left eye where the blast from a laser gun had sliced open his cheek. The lower half of his torso had been marred when a mine exploded. The injury halted his climb up the IGO ladder, successfully earning him a transfer from Alpha to Delta team. One distraction of the female kind had nearly gotten him killed. So close to becoming a commander at the time of the attack, Darryl now remained lodged at sergeant. He’d been careless and it had cost him.
A squawking horn spooked Darryl out of his brooding.
Kovacs said, “Sorry, sergeant. There’s an urgent comm from Io Outpost R and D. Won’t tell me anything. Keep blaring for Commander Taylor.” Kovacs shrugged.
Darryl nodded, waving to Kovacs to send the communication on through. “Send it.”
He fumbled before finding the tiny green button on the armchair. The grayish fog on the screen cleared, and the bright emerald eyes of a stern looking outtie -- outpost security guard -- emerged. The outtie scowled. The starched navy blue uniform and bronze buttons glistened under the lights. His brunet hair, perfectly threaded with grey, didn’t move as he pounded his fist on the desk.
Darryl pressed the scarlet oval on the commander’s chair to activate the communications.
“I wish to speak to Commander Taylor,” the outtie thundered before Darryl could announce himself.
I don’t care about your wishes. Oy, this isn’t any way to begin a conversation.
Darryl didn’t say this, but instead blew his frustration out. Clearing his throat, he said, “This is Sergeant Snow of the IGO spacecraft Inquiry. Report your business.”
“There is no time, nor am I required to discuss official IGO business with you! This is a matter of life and death. So, get Commander Taylor!”
“One moment,” Darryl said tersely, feeling his stomach twist in annoyance. Outties lay low on the outpost management chain, but because they weren’t official IGO soldiers -- they worked for civilian outfits across the solar system -- they acted superior to IGO personnel. Strange, this one contacting him on IGO business. Outties didn’t rank high enough to handle items of importance beyond ordering outpost supplies and handling small-time crimes.
Sighing with mounting annoyance, Darryl pressed the small green button on his earpiece and waited.
A deep voice answered. “Taylor. Report.”
“An outtie from Io demands, and I mean, sir, demands your attention. Seems to be in a panic. Think it might be about the scientist.”
Earlier a situation had been reported from Europa about a missing scientist from a relatively obscure project around Io. Commander Taylor had said he didn’t think it had anything to do with them, as it appeared to be an internal outpost issue. That didn’t seem to be the case now.
“Put it through,” Commander Taylor said kindly, but firm. Unreadable.
“Yes, sir,” Darryl said with the same practiced response of those who’d said the same thing all the time. “Sending him through.”
“Bastards are always barking at us,” Kovacs remarked from his new position behind Darryl. “How come we’re looking to babysit a scientist? Why can’t Commander Ashe’s team get it done? Aren’t they Alpha team, the investigation branch of The Discovery?”
“I don’t know about Alpha team’s mission or workload. We’re closer anyway,” Darryl said breezily. “It’s not up to us to dish out assignments, you know?”
“Alpha means first, right?” Lars asked, sarcasm turning his voice hard.
At this point the ’shoe’s deck turbo lift opened and out stomped Commander Taylor. His eyes were amazingly clear, but weariness hovered around his mouth and shoulders. He reminded Darryl of a pair of well-worn boots. Taylor, older than Darryl by fifteen years, had kind eyes, watery blue, and a weathered smile that projected leadership and strength.
“Get us up and over to the Io Outpost,” he said, with a fast glance at Darryl. “They have one of our scientists in custody. Let’s get her and get back to The Discovery before Captain Reyes is done passing out the leave passes.”
“Yes, sir!” Darryl shot up from the commander’s chair, and hurried to the security station.
Rojas stepped over to navigations, sitting down in the chair parallel to Lars.
Kovacs continued to monitor the communications coming in and out of the space shuttle. While Darryl searched for anything nasty out in the waiting expanse of space, he suppressed the anxious itching up his spine. His stomach lunged as Lars took them up from the soup to the clearing brilliant glitter of space.
“We’re going to house her here, sir?” asked Lars in a hushed squeakiness. “I mean, we’re a research vessel, not an investigative extension.”
Commander Taylor’s blank face showed nothing. The barest nod confirmed Lars’ comments.
“Set our course and dock in Bank 542, Section 12,” Commander Taylor said, but nothing in his voice or face gave a hint to his thoughts. The commander didn’t flinch as they transitioned from the atmosphere and out into space. He got up as if unable to remain seated and walked forward between Lars and Rojas. Staring out at the frontal visual screen, he remained stone-faced and silent.
Not his usual self. Something’s up. I’ve been with him for over six years’ worth of missions. Something’s eating at him. He doesn’t like this and neither do I.
“Aye, Commander,” Lars said, not turning around, but his hands piloted the space shuttle as if on their own accord. “Can I ask you a question?”
Commander Taylor’s blond hair had been harnessed into a tight ponytail and new growth had sprouted like a fungus over his jaw line. “Question? You’ve always got questions, Lars. Go ahead.”
“About the scientist, sir,” Lars said, suddenly unsure of himself. “Isn’t it a lot to send us for just one person’s return? They’ve never done this before when one of the soldiers are in trouble. Couldn’t she take a transport vessel off to Europa and we pick her up there?”
Commander Taylor turned to face him fully. He easily stood a foot taller than Lars, but his boots set the balance. Lars was lean and athletic, a former soccer player for the IGO team. Nevertheless, the commander outweighed him by fifty pounds. “It is, pilot, different.”
“Yes, sir.” Lars abandoned his questions for the moment.
Darryl scanned the security computer data, but none of it produced any clear clues as to what was going on with the scientist. He hadn’t even been given a name. In excellent operating condition, the ship sailed on without disruption or threat. Good.
Before long the docking clamps jolted the shuttle, forcing everyone to stumble a bit, but soon they steadied, anchored to the Io outpost. Darryl prepared to assume command as Commander Taylor and the junior commander, Lee, would be going aboard to collect the scientist. They handled all diplomatic missions.
“Snow, come with me. The rest of you stay put,” Commander Taylor said as he headed to the lift. He pressed his earpiece and spoke softly before ending the conversation with a nod. His blue eyes met Darryl’s and he said, “JC Lee, report to the bridge.”
Startled, Darryl paused,
Commander Taylor nodded so slightly, Darryl grinned in spite of himself. He set the shuttle’s security to high before joining his commander. Rojas returned to his former post at once.
As the lift doors hushed closed behind them, Commander Taylor looked over at him and said, “Shocked, Snow? You shouldn’t be. Listen, I want you to take over this little outing. Go in and get the scientist, bring her back.”
Something in his words snagged Darryl’s attention and he frowned. “Sir?”
“Listen, due to the classified nature of this mission, I can’t tell you the fine details, but…” He paused and checked the lift’s zipping numbers as they sank lower into the belly of the spacecraft. “But, I want you to deal with the scientist. You’ve been through a lot in your rather short lifespan, and your presence may be of comfort to our new guest. You’re a great officer, Darryl. I have every confidence you’ll do fine.”
Darryl snorted and caught himself. “Sorry, sir.”
“You have great leadership abilities, and though I don’t have an official third in command, you’re it,” Commander Taylor said, smiling at him. He clapped Darryl on the back and kept grinning at him.
“Thank you, sir,” Darryl said, throat full of emotion.
Commander Taylor had never spoken to him like this and he pondered the purpose of the commander being so forthcoming. Not that he didn’t trust his senior officer; he did.
Before Darryl could inquire further, the lift’s doors opened upon the cargo area in the belly of The Inquiry. Above them the commons area which held the cafeteria and crew entertainment waited for occupation.
Darryl stepped out, but Commander Taylor remained. “Put her in one of the vacant quarters, report to me at once, and then get some shut eye.”
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