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Mage-Provocateur (Starship's Mage: Red Falcon Book 2), page 1

 

Mage-Provocateur (Starship's Mage: Red Falcon Book 2)
 



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Mage-Provocateur (Starship's Mage: Red Falcon Book 2)


  Mage-Provocateur

  Red Falcon Book 2

  Glynn Stewart

  Mage-Provocateur © 2018 Glynn Stewart

  Illustration © 2018 Jeff Brown Graphics

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Other Books by Glynn Stewart

  1

  The young woman across the table from Captain David Rice seemed utterly unperturbed by the panel interview. She just barely qualified for the Senior Ship’s Mage position she’d applied for aboard the jump freighter Peregrine, but there was no sign of that in the slim redheaded Mage’s poised form.

  “All right, Miss McLaughlin,” the stockily built Captain of the freighter Red Falcon—and owner of the soon-to-be-commissioned Peregrine—said. “Everyone in this room knows that we’re going to have at least half a dozen more-qualified candidates for Peregrine’s Senior Ship’s Mage.

  “So, I suggest you tell us why Captain Campbell should hire you.”

  Jenna Campbell sat to his right, the stoutly built blonde woman his strong right hand. After ten years as his XO, however, there was no question who would be the Captain when he’d purchased a second ship.

  Grace McLaughlin smiled.

  “I can think of a few reasons,” she told them. “Firstly, I served as Ship’s Mage aboard Gentle Rains of Summer for over two years, rising from the most junior Mage to second-most senior through my skills.

  “Captain Michaels and Ship’s Mage Caomhánach have both provided glowing references that I have supplied you,” she continued. “The only reason I’m looking to leave Gentle Rains is that Mage Caomhánach has no intention of retiring anytime soon, so I’ve advanced as far as I can under Captain Michaels.”

  And David was quite certain she knew he and Michaels were old friends. That was part of how McLaughlin’s friend had ended up as Ship’s Mage aboard David’s old ship, Blue Jay.

  “I’ve read Mage Caomhánach’s reference,” the third person on the hiring side of the table noted. Ship’s Mage Maria Isabella Soprano had rapidly become David’s strong left hand, even if her presence had dragged him into working with the Protectorate’s Martian Interstellar Security Service.

  “It’s glowing and adorable,” Soprano continued in her calm, lightly accented voice. “But sufficiently short on details to easily be the kind of letter you write a politically connected subordinate as a favor.”

  McLaughlin’s smile didn’t even waver.

  “I would be glad to demonstrate my skills to you, Mage Soprano,” she said firmly. “I’m no Navy Mage and I doubt I am as powerful as you, ma’am, but I am more than capable of fulfilling both the jumping and the defensive portions of the Ship’s Mage job.

  “I understand you’ve had some difficulties with the crime syndicates?” she concluded.

  David chuckled.

  “You know Damien Montgomery,” he noted. Everything in David’s life right now still seemed to come back to hiring that one Mage. Now they both served the Protectorate, though David understood that Montgomery was somewhere in the Sol System, training to be some kind of uber-Mage.

  Even that was probably more than he should know.

  McLaughlin coughed and flushed slightly.

  “I know Damien, yes,” she confirmed. “Part of my reason for applying with your crew was that I know he works for you.”

  “Damien worked for me, yes,” David told her. “He left us for the service of the Mage-King eighteen months ago or so now. He was a capable subordinate and a dear friend.”

  “That he was,” she agreed, her eyes flickering aside. David figured he’d just lost a quarter or so of her interest now she knew she wouldn’t be working with Montgomery again.

  That was…fascinating, and he smiled at her.

  “I hope that doesn’t render this interview pointless?” he asked.

  She laughed.

  “No,” she told him. “I’ll admit that working with Damien again would be a large bonus, but your new shipping line is intriguing to me—and getting in at the beginning looks like a good idea to me!”

  After the young Mage had gone on her way, David refilled his officers’ coffees and looked at the two women questioningly.

  “Well?”

  “If we could bring her in on the secret, I’d take her as a junior on Red Falcon instantly,” Soprano replied. “I’m not so sure at making her senior on a ship—especially with a first-time Captain; no offense, Jenna.”

  Campbell snorted.

  “None taken. I’ll note that if she was on Falcon, she’d inevitably be working with Xi Wu, at least, if not LaMonte herself. How many of Damien’s ex-girlfriends do you really want on a ship?”

  David laughed.

  “Given Miss LaMonte’s demonstrated lethality to anyone who threatens her friends, that’s a trick question,” he pointed out. “It’s irrelevant in any case; the Agency has already made up the Mage complement for Red Falcon.”

  Maria Soprano had, apparently, been an agent for MISS since she’d come aboard. His own membership in the organization was more recent—and was why they now owned Peregrine.

  He and Soprano had been tasked to go poke several of the galaxy’s more dangerous underground organizations with a stick. He wasn’t taking anyone on that mission who didn’t know what they were getting into, so he was shuffling a large chunk of his crew over to Peregrine and replacing them with a mix of MISS personnel and people the Agency had cleared.

  An even larger portion of his crew was ex-Navy now than Red Falcon had carried before—and since Falcon was a former armed Navy auxiliary, the big ship had always had a solid cohort of Navy crew and Marines.

  “Almost as important, though,” Campbell noted, “is that rumor has it that Sherwood is calling home any of their Ship’s Mages they can find for a new security force. Anyone want to bet that the Governor hasn’t already sent a letter to his granddaughter?

  “Or that Miss McLaughlin won’t disappear back home to answer the call?”

  “I’m not taking that bet,” David agreed. “So, she’s off the list, then. You’re going to want an experienced senior Ship’s Mage in any case, XO. I’m not prepared to send you off into the black without the best I can give you.”

  Campbell chuckled.

  “I know, boss,” she replied.
“What about you? I know the Navy gave you a new tactical officer, but who gets my job?”

  He shook his head.

  “I was waiting until LaMonte finished her Mate certification to make the decision,” he admitted. “I was planning on making LaMonte our new Fourth Mate and Chief Engineer, bumping Kellers to the XO slot.”

  Soprano chuckled.

  “I’m going to guess our friend Kellers shut that down fast?”

  “Before I’d even finished the offer,” David agreed. “However, since I’m not a first-time Captain, and I have First and Fourth Mates I can rely on…”

  A merchant freighter usually had three Mate-certified officers, people who were qualified to take over command if something happened to the Captain. First Officer was the Ship’s Mage, Second Officer was the executive officer, and the Third Officer was the Chief Engineer.

  Armed ships like Red Falcon—and like Peregrine once her refit was complete—moved the Chief Engineer to Fourth Officer and inserted a tactical officer as Third Mate.

  “You’re making LaMonte XO?” Soprano asked carefully. “She’s a little…young.”

  “She is,” David confirmed. “And she’s dating both our second-most senior pilot and our second-most senior Mage,” he continued, shaking his head at the complexity of the relationship mess going on with his mid-twenties officers. “A complication I expect you, Ship’s Mage, to keep an eye on.

  “That said, she’s one of the best programmers I’ve ever met, good with people, and a solid engineer,” he continued. “I’ll teach her to fly the ship, and the other three Mates can keep her feet on solid ground. She’ll be fine.”

  “Sink or swim with that Mate certification, huh?” Campbell noted.

  “She’ll swim,” David replied confidently. “If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be tossing her in the deep end.”

  The Tau Ceti System was the heart of the Royal Martian Navy’s presence outside the Sol System, and the entirety of David Rice’s little shipping line was docked at one of the civilian stations orbiting the massive military shipyard complex.

  Red Falcon had only recently left the military yard, the RMN technicians far more capable of dealing with the armed megafreighter’s idiosyncrasies than most yards. She was a big mushroom-shaped vessel, with a rotating hab-ring tucked underneath a heavy armored dome containing her main water tanks and most of her arsenal.

  Next to the twenty-megaton ship, Peregrine looked tiny. That was deceptive at best. The Maui-class heavy freighter was rated for twelve million tons of cargo, four times David’s old Blue Jay, if still far less than Falcon.

  Of course, the Maui class normally only carried a half-dozen of the Rapid-Fire Laser Anti-Missile turrets for self-defense, with no heavier armament. Peregrine was nearing the end of a two-month refit in the capable hands of one of Tau Ceti’s more reliable contractors.

  When it was done, she’d still be a fusion-drive ship with rotating ribs for gravity—but she’d be a civilian ship with four battle lasers, a complete suite of gravity runes for her Mages to keep charged, and sixteen missile launchers.

  David had made far too many enemies over the years to send people out under his banner without making sure they could protect themselves.

  The transfer pod he and his senior officers were aboard slowed to a halt in the zero-gravity section of the station docks. Two bays next to each other were now labeled with the simple text of his expanded company: Rice Shipping Interstellar.

  “If I’m reading my mail right, our new tactical officer should be reporting aboard this evening,” David told his companions. “I’ll stay aboard until then. You two?”

  “I’m going to go take a walk around my ship,” Campbell replied. She was still sleeping aboard Falcon, but Peregrine was intact enough that her captain-to-be could walk her decks now.

  “I’m going to get a drink,” Soprano said. “The ship is getting stuffy.”

  He chuckled. Fast as she was, any lengthy voyage would involve them spending weeks or even months locked aboard Red Falcon. Stuffy wasn’t something the environmental plant would permit.

  “Don’t stay out too late, and behave,” he ordered his Ship’s Mage. “Tau Ceti may be safe, but…”

  “I still have friends here,” she replied. “I’ll be fine.”

  2

  Kelly LaMonte entered her Captain’s office with a certain degree of hesitation. It had seemed so clear to her when she’d started the Mate certification program: she’d get the certificate and then her career would take off.

  That had been when she’d been aboard a ship she’d been afraid would fall apart around her. It had been post-Damien Montgomery but before Xi Wu and Mike Kelzin. Before Red Falcon and their conflict with Azure Legacy and the Legatans.

  Before her ship had helped end a pirate fleet and become an unofficial covert operations ship for the Protectorate.

  Now…she wasn’t quite sure what to do with the certificate that said she could be one of the senior non-Mage officers of a starship. The MISS courses in hacking and programming she’d taken hadn’t helped either. They’d expanded her skills to a level she couldn’t help wanting to try out…and no ordinary ship was going to give her that chance.

  “Have a seat, Kelly,” Rice told her, gesturing to the chair across his desk. “Coffee?”

  “Please,” she agreed, nervously tugging on her hair—currently a natural-looking red—for a moment before folding her hands in her lap. She couldn’t be certain, but she’d thought she’d seen her Captain conceal a smile at the nervous gesture.

  Rice returned to the desk with two mugs of coffee and slid one over to her.

  “I saw the posting from the Shippers’ Academy,” he said. “Congratulations.”

  “Thank you, Captain,” Kelly replied. “They don’t tell us much other than ‘You passed.’ You can kind of guess how you did on the different sections, but they don’t tell you.”

  She knew, for example, that there was no way she’d excelled on the normal-space flight portion of the test. Campbell had helped teach her, but she knew she lacked the instinct that Campbell or Kelly’s own boyfriend had for maneuvers.

  “Officially, they don’t tell anybody,” Rice agreed. “Unofficially, your Captain can usually get at least a rundown from your tester.”

  She sat up straight, leveling a curious gaze on her boss.

  “Can you tell me?” she asked frankly.

  He laughed.

  “You sure you want to know?”

  “I need to know where I still need to improve,” she said instantly.

  “You’re a freshly minted ship’s mate, Kelly,” Rice said gently. “You need improvement everywhere; that’s the nature of the world. That said…” He held up a finger.

  “To no one’s surprise, you nearly maxed out the programming and engineering portions of the test. You did almost as well on the personnel interactions and counseling portions, which I’ll admit I didn’t expect. You were fine on the rest but, bluntly, got a pity pass on normal-space flight.”

  She winced.

  “I didn’t think pity passes were a thing,” she admitted. Somehow, that was more important than the nearly max grade on almost half the components of the testing.

  “They’re what happens when your history and the rest of your testing say you’ll make an exemplary officer,” Rice told her gently, “but you fail one or two components by a slim margin.

  “If you stay with us, we’ll make sure you get more practice and training at the stick,” he continued. “You’re fine on the software side, the navigation, but given the kind of scrapes we get into, we need a live hand on the controls more often than most.”

  “‘If I stay’?” she repeated.

  “You now have your Mate’s certificate, a mechanical engineering degree, eight years’ experience, and a stack of glowing recommendations as long as your arm,” her Captain pointed out. “This is Tau Ceti, Kelly. You could walk off Red Falcon and have six interviews scheduled by the end of the day and
be in a Chief Engineer slot somewhere by the end of the week.

  “I don’t want you to feel obligated to stay,” he concluded. “We’d love to keep you, but we don’t have a perfect slot to drop you into. There are ships out there that could be a better fit for your skills and experience, much as I hate to say it.”

  “And how many of them have stopped a war?” she asked quietly.

  Rice coughed.

  “I’ll note that I don’t think we’ve stopped any wars,” he replied. “Though I’ll admit that we’ve probably helped delay a civil war by short-circuiting some of Legatus’s plans.

  “But, yes, Red Falcon is probably the only covert Agency ship available,” he admitted. “With your qualifications, though, you could probably talk your way into the Navy with a near-guaranteed rapid promotion scale.”

  “Probably,” she agreed with a smile. “But I’m guessing you do have some openings for me?”

  Rice chuckled.

  “I do,” he confirmed. “None are what I hoped, but, as I doubt surprises you, Kellers refuses to leave Red Falcon’s engineering section.”

  Kelly wasn’t surprised at all, sadly. The perfect job for her would have been to take over for Kellers in the engineering section she knew inside and out, with the people she already knew.

  “The first option is probably the most obvious,” Rice continued. “While we’ve interviewed several solid candidates, Peregrine doesn’t have a Chief Engineer yet.

 
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