Beyond Seduction Deceit Betrayal

619700
When I saw her after so long, for the first time in a very long time, I found myself wanting my revenge. I wanted a simple revenge, however my better half wanted something beyond that. In appeasing her demands, it brought out a most unselling part of me, knowing that the person capable of making both my better half and I feel this way, was tied directly to my yearning toward our road to vengeance.

Author's note

Professional published eBook version can be found here. Available in ePub, Kindle and PDF. ISBN: 9780463875858. This book is part of Smashwords' "Premium Catalog": the book has been approved to ship to retailers that Smashwords works with.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/948830

The KnM Blade Universe timeline of novels,

Smashwords.com : Kixi Rajki / Professionally published eBooks. These then get distributed to online book stores such as iBooks, Amazon, Kobo, Scribd, Ficton DB, Livraria Cultura, Barnes & Noble, that's just naming a few. :-)

- KnM Blade: She Jhasmin & I Kixi (Coming in early 2020)
- KnM Blade: Part 1. ISBN: 9780463729267.
- KnM Blade: Part 2. ISBN: 9780463849057.
- KnM Blade: Part 3. (Coming in mid to later half of 2020)
- KnM Blade: I Love You And You Love Me - The Wedding Of Kixi And Mako Jhasmin. ISBN: 9780463160930.
- KnM Blade: Beyond Seduction Deceit Betrayal. ISBN: 9780463875858
- KnM Blade: Time's Arrow (Delayed. Coming in 2020)

How they appear here on Movellas.com bellow,

- KmM Blade : She Jhasmin & I Kixi, (In Progress - early 2020)
- KnM Blade in Destiny's Way (Main project. Single book will consist of 4 parts. Part 1 and Part 2 compete. Part 3 is in progress - mid to later part of 2020. Smashwords versions will have parts published as separate books).
- KnM Blade : I love you and you love me : The Wedding of Kixi and Mako Jhasmin (Complete)
- KnM Blade : Beyond Seduction Deceit Betrayal (Complete)
- KnM Blade: Time's Arrow (Delayed. In progress - 2020)

---

KnM Blade Timeline as of 2019/2020

PREQUEL SERIES
3011 - She Jhasmin & I Kixi (Available by early 2020)

MAIN SERIES
3016 - KnM Blade: Part 1 (Published 2019-01-03)
3016 - KnM Blade: Part 2 (Published 2019-01-03)
3016/17 - KnM Blade: Part 3 (Available by mid to later part of 2020)

POST DREX / SKYCOM ERA SERIES
3018 - I Love You And You Love Me. The Wedding of Kixi And Mako Jhasmin (Published 2018-06-15)
3028 - Beyond Seduction Deceit Betrayal (Published 2019-07-13)

FAR FUTURE SERIES
3039/42 - Time’s Arrow (KnM Blade version. Available by 2020.)

---

Proposed KnM Blade Timeline

PREQUEL SERIES
3010 - Formula Zero Speedster
3011 - She Jhasmin & I Kixi (Available by early 2020)

MAIN SERIES
3016 - KnM Blade: Part 1 (Published 2019-01-03)
3016 - KnM Blade: Part 2 (Published 2019-01-03)
3016/17 - KnM Blade: Part 3 (Available by mid to later part of 2020)
3017/18 - KnM Blade: Part 4

POST DREX / SKYCOM ERA SERIES
3018 - I Love You And You Love Me. The Wedding of Kixi And Mako Jhasmin (Published 2018-06-15)
3022 - Corporation Wars
3028 - Beyond Seduction Deceit Betrayal (Published 2019-07-13)

FAR FUTURE SERIES
3039/42 - Time’s Arrow (KnM Blade version. Available in 2020)
3044 - Total Recall (KnM Blade version)
3052 - Reunion: Part 1 (KnM Blade version)
3052 - Reunion: Part 2 (KnM Blade version)
AA
aa

30. Epilogue.

Epilogue.

 

Psi5 Aurigae System, some 54 light years from Earth.

 

Kristy Langley’s shuttle dropped like a raptor into the clear skies of Psi5’s exemplary moon. She sent her cadre of Skysec Secret Service agents down the ramp ahead of her, then on descending, found herself facing a Gexin Combine representative backed by a uniformed security force several hundred strong arrayed in a formation as tight as might be expected of a Skysec battalion. Hopelessly outnumbered, as it were— except for the Cerberus, which was ten thousand metres overhead with its complement of crew and soldiers at general quarters.

“Welcome to Psi5, Ms. Langley,” the Gexin rep stepped forward to say. He was a slender, bold headed human dressed in tight fitting grey clothing emblazoned with the faction’s logo. “To what does the Gexin Combine owe the honour of a visit by the CEO of Skycom Corporation?”

Kristy had no patience for mincing words. “You may well consider it an honour, but I suspect you’ll change your mind soon enough.”

“I take it, then, that we’re dispensing with official protocol.”

“Why waste time?” Kristy said. “We are in pursuit of a Za’ha’meon who was admitted through your cordon and has apparently been given safe haven here.”

“Yes, so you explained when your Super Fortress-Destroyer entered orbit. But in fact, we only permitted your shuttle to land as a courtesy. No foreign ships prior to yours have arrived on our moon, and we have no knowledge of this Za’ha’meon you seek.”

“I suggest you dispense with coyness as I have cordiality,” Kristy said. “Do you think we would arrive without proof? We have the tracking data. We know precisely when and where the Za’ha’meon inserted.”

The rep lengthened an already long face. “Your data must be incorrect, Ms. Langley.” He indicated the landing field and the hangars and buildings beyond. “As you can see, the only ships here belong to the Gexin Combine. You’re welcome, of course, to conduct a search of the hangar spaces, but you won’t find what you’re looking for. What’s more, I hope you will take it on faith that the autonomous worlds of the Gexin Combine would never grant access to the enemies of your corporation, especially those that are part of the illegitimate Zhann Alliance.”

“At least not since after the Battle for Sol ended,” Kristy said.

“Ah, but wartime was another matter, Ms. Langley. With the Drex Dynasty who were formally allied with your own corporation and the Zhann Alliance determined to vie for supremacy, our system was but a sanctuary for those who wanted no part of the fray.”

“Except that the Gexin Combine brooked no issue with building and supplying weapons to anyone who asked— to being equal opportunity profiteers.”

The man tilted his head to one side. “We prefer to think of ourselves as mere entrepreneurs.”

Kristy, who usually knew what it took to get beings to give up their secrets, could see that she wasn’t getting anywhere with the Gexin Combine rep. Even with a Super Fortress-Destroyer overhead.

“May I suggest an alternative explanation, Ms. Langley?”

“You can try.”

The rep proffered a calculated smile. “Skysec Corporation is using this alleged Za’ha’meon insurgent as a pretext for executing some hidden agenda.”

Kristy almost returned the knowing grin. It seemed that she and the rep shared the same skills. She was about to respond when her adjutant appeared by her side with a comm device in hand. “Urgent from the Cerberus, ma’am.”

Kristy moved out of earshot of the rep and enabled the feed.

“Ma’am, the target ship has been identified and located. It appears that instead of landing, it completed an orbit of the moon and is now vectoring deeper into the system, all speed.”

Kristy took a moment to digest it. “Continue to track it, but do not fire. I’m returning to the ship.” Without a further word to the rep, she spun on her boot heels and marched up the shuttle ramp, trailed by her adjutant and contingent of Secret Service agents.

The shuttle began to ascend even before Kristy was fully in her harness. It was clear that the Gexin Combine had seen through the ruse, so perhaps they had denied the Za’ha’meon permission to land.

“Ma’am, scanners indicate that Jasmine escorts from the checkpoint are en route to Psi5,” the shuttle’s comm tech reported. “The ships are fast and heavily armed.”

“Alert the Cerberus to go to battle stations and reposition to protect us while we dock. If any of the escorts lock onto us, the commander has permission to destroy them.”

She had barely gotten the words out when the tech continued: “The Cerberus is receiving an incoming transmission from Jasmine Two Strategic Command.”

Kristy unfastened from the harness and moved to the communications board. “Have the Cerberus redirect the comm to us.”

She had to wait only a moment before the face of an olive skinned brunette woman appeared in the holoprojection. “To whom am I speaking?” The Jasmine officer asked in a dulcet voice.

Kristy identified herself.

“Ms. Langley, you have been denied permission to remain in this system. Make no attempt to move your ship sunward.”

“We are in pursuit of an enemy of Skycom Corporation, General. I will make the determination as to where I can and cannot venture.”

“We have the rogue ship on our scanners, Ms. Langley, and we request that you allow us to deal with it,” the brunette woman said. “Unlike the worlds controlled by Skycom, Jasmine still has a functioning judiciary.”

“I’m afraid that won’t suffice, General. Place its pilot under arrest and we will see to the rest of it.”

“You are violating the sovereignty of an autonomous star system. Withdraw from Jasmine or face the consequences.”

Kristy muted the feed and glanced at the enlisted ratings tech. “Where are our quarries?”

“Still on course for Jasmine Two, ma'am.”

“Inform the Cerberus that I expect a complete assessment of this system’s defences the moment I arrive.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“Do we have hyperspace communications?”

“We do, ma'am, although the Gexin Combine are attempting to jam us.”

“Then contact the battle group at Capella while we still can, and tell Admiral Machairi that I want her to dispatch whatever assets she can spare to Jasmine soonest.”

“Anything else, ma'am?”

Kristy nodded. “Inform the Cerberus to prepare for a micro-jump to Jasmine Two on our docking.”

 

***

In a command pit below the Fortress-Destroyer’s bridge, Kristy viewed the data compiled by the ship’s battle assessment computers. In a move that was unusually cautious for her, she had ordered the Cerberus to exit its micro-jump well out of range of Jasmine II’s downside and orbital defences. The Za’ha’meon’s ship was known to have landed, but Kristy had yet to learn whether the pilot had been arrested or given sanctuary.

“The planet has several massive shield generators, as well as defence cannons capable of putting our deflector screens to the test.” The ship’s commander was saying.

Kristy pinched her jaw as she mulled over the news. “Did the Za’ha’meon deliver any ordnance we need to take into consideration?”

The commander swung to a separate holo to access the information. “According to a report received from Lieutenant Commander Clemson, the Za’ha’meon’s payload consisted of pulse weapons and fission devices.”

“And Jasmine One’s fortifications?”

“Not as well defended on the surface, but home to the system’s flotilla of warships, most of which are older generation Skycom vessels retrofitted with Gencore weaponry— consistent with the Gexin Combine’s leaning before the Battle for Sol. Long distance scans indicate that three ships separated from the home group and are presumably on their way to reinforce Jasmine Two. Hyperspace fluctuations suggest that they may have already taken up positions on the far side.”

“Any word from Admiral Flow?”

“She’s hoping to be able to send two Fortress-Destroyers from Icinda.”

“Hoping.”

“Apparently our assets are widely scattered at the moment.”

Kristy nodded, climbed the few stairs to the bridge walkway, and moved to the forward viewports to gaze on the blue and brown Jasmine II.

A chime from the comm broke her musings and she returned to the command pit, where a one quarter holopresence of Jasmine’s commander had taken shape above the holoprojector.

“We know that the Za’ha’meon has made planetfall,” Kristy said without preamble. “Are you now prepared to surrender the alien to our custody?”

“We decline to do so, Ms. Langley. The Za’ha’meon pilot has sought refuge in our territory, therefore the Gexin Combine will deal with this matter directly. Be that as it may, our leadership remains intent on finding a diplomatic solution to this deadlock.”

“The time for that has passed,” Kristy said.

“Jasmine Two’s ambassador wishes to know if you would be willing to receive him aboard your ship.”

Kristy gave quick thought to several possible scenarios. Perhaps it was possible after all, to achieve a diplomatic solution.

“Tell him he has my permission to come up.”

“His shuttle is already in flight, Ms. Langley, having anticipated that you would be open to exploring alternatives to open warfare.”

“Ma’am,” the commander said from behind Kristy, “we have the consular vessel on course.”

Again Kristy climbed the stairs and stood for a moment at the viewports, waiting for the ship to ascend into the light of Jasmine’s star. On spying the glint of starlight, Kristy swung to the commander.

“Hail the ship. Order the pilot to hold and await further instructions.”

Kristy waited.

“Ma’am, no response from the consular vessel. And something else: a slight delay in communications. Almost an echo.”

Kristy squinted at the distant speck of light. “Scan the ship for life forms.”

The response came quickly.

“Negative for life forms, ma’am. It appears to be a drone. Possibly a ticking bomb.”

“Engage the forward tractor beam to hold it fast,” Kristy started to say when alerts sounded from a separate duty station in the pits.

“Ma’am, three warships emerging from Jasmine’s dark side.”

Kristy traded knowing glances with the commander. “A deliberate provocation?” The officer asked.

Kristy narrowed her eyes. Jasmine was determined to go down fighting.

“Ready the battery cannons,” she ordered. “It’ll be a cold day in hell when Skycom has to be provoked into taking preemptive action.”

 

***

Helix Nebula, 695 light years from Earth...

 

Ol'ah Brecax stood on the bridge of the Fortress-Destroyer CC Remus. There, staring out the window at the glowing Helix Nebula, was the ship's captain and CEO of FerrusCorp, Jaden Caze.

His hands were behind his back while he hummed a little. For just a moment, Ol'ah listened. It was something classical, from sixteenth century Earth, maybe.

“Sir,” she finally said.

He held up his finger. It was a sign for patience as he continued humming, his head swayed, until it reached a small crescendo. Then, without turning toward her, he lowered his finger and said:

“Yes, Ol'ah?”

“There is something I’ve been wanting to ask you.”

“You may always speak frankly with me.” He turned to face her. His countenance was cold, his stare, scrutinising. “Please.”

“The escape plan through Gexin Combine territory."

“Dreadful thing.”

“It did not go as planned.” She hesitated. “Though now I’m not so sure. Did you… plan for it to go that way?”

He smiled. “Explain.”

“I’ve… been thinking. Everything happened so fast. Faster than it should have. Faster than any timeline predicted. And I wondered: Did we have someone in our midst who summoned Skycom Corporation to conveniently show up? I went and I looked and I found... communications. From an encrypted channel on this very ship. Sent out to what appears to be a Skysec frequency.”

“Enlighten me. Why would I have cause to do that?”

She hesitated. “I’ve been thinking about that. I would guess… to eliminate competition.”

“An interesting theory.”

“I’m more interested if it’s an accurate one, Jaden.”

Jaden took her blue humanoid hand and gave it a squeeze. “It was a test.”

“I could have died there. Or been taken captive.”

“But that did not happen. You were not captured. And you remain alive. You have proven beyond any reasonable doubt, that unlike the rest of the Za'ha'meon, that you reject the Zhann Alliance and are willing to serve the Cestus Coalition— most important of all, serve FerrusCorp. You have surpassed my best and my brightest, and that is why you passed this test. Furthermore you have supplied us with much valuable weapons and resources. I need people like you.”

“And if I hadn’t survived?”

“Then my assessment of you would’ve been wrong. You would not have been better than my best and my brightest, therefore not passing the test and being here now." As Ol'ah listened, she tried to repress a shiver. 

“Here,” he continued, pointing out at the glowing red bands of the Helix Nebula— the swooping whorls of crimson clouds and the stars beyond them. “Look out there. Currently, that of what we know of this galaxy is not ours."

“Jaden, we have not lost yet. There are too many enemies to fight single-handedly. You did well to lure Skycom Corporation and the Gexin Combine to fight each other. They will grow weaker while our coalition grows stronger. However we still have other things to concern ourselves about. The Zhann Alliance continues to gain the support of many neutral worlds, while the Drex Empire continues to annihilate those who refuse to bend the knee to their ruthless empress."

“Oh, but for the time being, we have. I see the dismay in your eyes, but this is no cause for despair, Ol'ah Brecax. This is how it must be— at least for now. Currently the Cestus Coalition consists of FerrusCorp, Vanguard Technologies and StarTech Industries, but we are becoming this… ugly, inelegant machine. Crude and inefficient. The only way to defeat such larger forces is to have them fight each other, then slowly they’ll be broken into pieces. As we watch them quarrel with each other, slowly but surely, our foes will become weaker, while we become not only stronger, but a force worthy of ruling.”

Ol'ah didn't know what to feel. Right now it was some strange mix of terror, disgust, but also? Hope.

Had the CEO of FerrusCorp tried to betray her? Or was it truly a test that he had expected her to pass?

“Of course, Jaden.” Was all she managed to say.

“Now, if you will excuse me? I have thinking to do.”

Jaden gently touched Ol'ah's shoulder— a seemingly warm gesture, until he used it to turn her around and send her on her way.

 

***

 

Kitrypso, TV Crateris System, some 150 light years from Earth.

 

“Engage thermonuclear missiles!” Empress Natasi Drex shouted, screaming to be heard over the din of attack, the crackle and spitting of damaged equipment, and the screams of the dying. 

Through the cacophony of battle, somehow she heard Admiral Cuteddu's panic stricken voice.

“Empress?” The admiral stood at the post normally occupied by the ship's commander, which was operating the detector that scanned for any and all forms of life.

“What is it?” The ship took another hit and everyone stumbled, clutching at chairs or consoles to stay on their feet.

“The planet is inhabited!” Cuteddu shouted.

Natasi spared a glance from the hell manifesting on the viewing screens to look at the admiral. Cuteddu's eyes were wide and he looked distraught.

“We know, by primitive life forms!” Natasi snapped. Why was Admiral Cuteddu wasting her time? People were dying on this ship, dying on the other hundreds of vessels in the fleet—

“No, Empress,” Cuteddu replied, speaking quickly. “By sentient beings!”

Natasi stared at him. This wasn’t possible. That planet was uninhabited. Needed to be uninhabited…

You have to be quiet, Admiral, she thought wildly. I can’t hear this. Not now.

But Cuteddu pressed on. “I have detected a complex language and huge cerebral energy.”

The words galvanised Natasi into action. She strode to the admiral and snatched his badge. The detector abruptly ceased functioning.

“Admiral Cuteddu,” she growled through clenched teeth, “history is on the march. Neither you, nor a bunch of savages can stand in its way! Those who we are fighting out there, need I remind you that they, from my count, the Aquana, P'sari, Sissix, Tronix, Hidari-Azini'kala and the Za'ha'meon— all from the City of Everlasting Unity— or, to be precise, from the Osiris Space Station. All these non human scum, have refused to surrender to us— a superior species. Furthermore they could become potential allies of the Zhann Alliance! The Za'ha'meon are already with them, and amongst those pitiful aliens who refuse to fall to command, there are those human Fifth Columnist scum that once served under my command."

But Cuteddu, apparently, was going to try. “It’s an intelligent species, Empress. They might be non human, but they are no threat to your quest for complete galactic dominance. Also, I’m sorry to insist, but their DNA print is bigger than ours.”

“And so our victory will be twice as big.” Empress Drex returned to her post. She did not waver. Staring out on the screen, seeing ships catch fire and being blown to bits— she hit the button that unleashed the apocalypse.

She watched with cold pleasure and a sense of justice done as the gigantic enemy flagship was hit, spiralled out of control, and crashed into Kitrypso. She felt only the slightest twinge as the planet was wrapped by an explosion, devastating the entire surface of the blue green orb.

It had been a pretty planet… but war had casualties.

 

***

 

Guanyin 3, Zeta Doradus System, some 38 light years from Earth.

 

Kashia ke Hanadi sensed the Phantom X-fighter twisting for a shot at her unprotected stern even before the sensors on her ship's computer began flashing red. Her hands went automatically to the control yokes of her Sajnen Starfighter R and hauled them back and to the left, sending the craft spinning to port. Laser fire stitched space where her fighter had been a moment before, leaving Kashia blinking from the brilliant glare. As her fighter completed its roll and locked on to the imperial fighter’s tail, Kashia mashed down the triggers and the Phantom X-Fighter erupted into a ball of fire. Kashia’s Starfighter R shot through the cloud of dust and gas, shuddering slightly.

Kashia opened up the throttle and dodged a pair of light freighters, their ion engines glowing a brilliant blue. Like many other starships above Guanyin 3, they were racing away from the space lanes as fast as their engines could take them, desperate to escape the firefight that had suddenly erupted between three Starfighter Rs being piloted by a combination of Züncålazin Order and USS pilots, and a patrol of Drex Imperial Phantom X-Fighters.

Kashia’s eyes jumped to her long range scopes, noting the position of the two green arrowheads on the screen. Those two symbols represented the Starfighter Rs piloted by USS pilot Cesar Cuchillos, and the squad leader, her Züncålazin husband Klorel ke Soul. Klorel’s fighter was in the lead, protecting a transport carrying Fifth Column leaders being evacuated from Guanyin 3 ahead of the Drex Empire’s agents. Cesar and Kashia were in the rear, keeping the Phantom X-Fighters busy.

Cesar had drifted too far to port for Kashia’s liking; if her fellow pilot ran into trouble, Kashia wasn’t sure she could get there in time to help. And there was no shortage of trouble up there— the Drex Empire had apparently sent every fighter it had in the system to engage the Zhann Alliance raiders.

“Tighten it up, Cesar— we’re each other’s protection out here,” Kashia warned.

“Gotcha, Kashia,” said Cesar. “I was chasing a bandit.”

“And did you get him?”

“His wingman did— flew right into him when I came up on their flank.”

“That counts,” Kashia said.

“Less chatter, ladies and gentlemen,” said the cool, clipped voice of Klorel. “With all this traffic out here there are a lot of places for enemies to hide. You need your eyes as well as your instruments.”

“Copy that Klorel,” said a chastened Kashia.

“You in there, Kashia?” asked Cesar, echoed by an inquiring beep from his ship’s computer. “Klorel wants us to turn to point two-two."

“Right, right,” Kashia said, mentally kicking herself.

Kashia banked to starboard until her fighter was on the course Klorel wanted. Ahead of them, a line of large heavy freighters was cutting across the space lanes, their bows turning every which direction as their pilots tried to avoid a collision. 

“Get behind me, Cesar,” Kashia said. “We’ll scoot and shoot.”

“Right with you,” Cesar said, hitting his retrorockets and dropping astern of Kashia’s

Starfighter R, then accelerating until he was flying practically on her tail. Any inbound enemies would be able to target only Kashia’s fighter, with Cesar scooting up and down to emerge from cover and fire at their attackers. It was a tricky manoeuvre— both pilots had to know each other’s tendencies in combat— which they did, but more than that they had to trust each other completely. Both pilots flew in perfect formation, anticipating each other’s movements without speaking a word.

Kashia switched the deflector shields to double front, and then rolled across the topside of one of the bulk freighters, then dived beneath the next one, juking and weaving to throw off any Imperial that might be trying to get a bead on her. Ahead, three Phantoms wheeled through space, red fire lancing out from their blaster cannons. Laser fire splashed against Kashia’s shields, which flared with the impact. Kashia broke to starboard while Cesar broke to port, their cannons spitting energy. One of the Phantoms vanished in a fountain of fire, while another lurched drunkenly, spraying sparks. The third Phantom was rising, up and away from the fight.

“Cesar! Down!”

Kashia thrust her stick forward, throwing the Starfighter R into a dive that slammed her back in her seat, grunting with effort. Laser blasts burst all around her, dazzling her eyes, while she dodged left, then right. She had no time to peer at her readout and see if Cesar was still alive, or if his Starfighter R had been turned into a superheated cloud by the quartet of Phantoms that had been lurking in the heart of the freighter convoy, waiting to ambush them.

“How did you—” Cesar began, then stopped. “You know, for just an hour I’d like to know what it’s like when you Züncålazin fly with your sixth senses watching my back.”

“It’s almost as good as having you watching my back,” Kashia said with a grin. “Now let’s make them pay for that little trick,” she continued saying, dialing up the inertial compensators.

Kashia slewed her fighter around in a tight turn, grimacing at the sound of some overstressed system groaning in the port wing. Cesar followed her, weaving around Kashia’s fighter and filling the space ahead of them with deadly spears of light. Two laser blasts ripped one of the Phantoms in half, while another flew too close to a freighter’s engine wash and tumbled out of control.

“Two left,” Kashia said. “I’ll take the one to port.”

She opened up the throttle, and the distance between her and the Phantom X-Fighter ahead began to shrink. To starboard, she could see Cesar’s fighter matching her manoeuvre. The Phantom dodged in every direction, the pilot’s desperation increasingly obvious, but Kashia hung right on his tail.

Cesar rolled down and right, then up and left, bracketing the Phantom X-Fighter in his sights. A moment later the Imperial fighter he’d been chasing was a bright cloud in their wake, as they continued to race up and away from Guanyin 3.

“You need a little help there, Kashia?” Cesar asked.

Kashia smacked the side of her helmet, annoyed with herself. She needed to focus.

“I’ve got it, thanks,” she said, rolling her fighter completely over and blasting the Phantom’s starboard wing off with a volley of shots while flying upside down. She brought the Starfighter R right side up as the crippled Phantom X-Fighter tumbled past her, the cockpit oscillating wildly. Then Kashia settled her Starfighter R in beside Cesar’s, their wingtips just metres apart.

“I was just asking,” Cesar said. “No need to get fancy.”

“Nice flying,” Klorel said in their ears. “The transport is clear and calculating the jump into hyperspace. Looks like they’ll be safe now. Time for us to get back to the USS Jhasmin.”

“Copy that, Klorel,” Cesar said. “Readying the ship now for the jump to light speed. See you on the Jhasmin guys.”

A moment later Klorel's Starfighter R vanished into the infinity of hyperspace, followed by Cesar’s, and then Kashia's— but, little did they, nor anyone come to realise or suspect, that the stolen transport had long been comprised.

 

***

 

At the outer fringes of the Alpha Centauri System...

 

"Ma'am..." The squadron commander said as the fighter squadron circled back around, but the Bladestrider from the Sisters of Zica did not acknowledge him. Raven Skyhawk hit a switch and depressurised the fighter craft's cockpit, her SX-77 armour shielding her from the vacuum. Then, as she neared the transport's midline, still swinging her ship left and right to dodge the incoming fire, she mentally selected a spot on the ship adjacent to the gun bubble and, using her advanced sixth sense abilities, took a firm mental hold on it. Her starfighter streaked toward the gun bubble, aimed directly at it.

Content with the trajectory, she unstrapped herself, overrode the starfighter's safeties, threw open the cockpit hatch, and ejected into space. Immediately she was spinning in the zero-g, the ship and stars alternating positions with rapidity. Yet she kept her mental hold on the airlock handle, and her SX-77 armour, sealed and pressurised, sustained her in the vacuum. The respirator was loud in her ears. Her ship slammed into the gun bubble and the transport, the inability of the vacuum to transmit sound causing the collision to occur in eerie silence. Fire flared for a moment, but only a moment before the vacuum extinguished it. Chunks of debris exploded outward into space and the transport lurched.

 

***

A great boom sounded through the connection. Alarms wailed, and Marcus' bridge exploded in a cacophony of competing conversations.

"Marcus, what just happened?" Janet asked the Fifth Columnist captain. Are you all right?" 

"We had a collision. We're all right. Get me status on the damage," Marcus said to someone on his bridge. "Get someone over there now. We're so close to Sajnen Confederate territory, the Drex Empire won't dare to attack us once we're in Zhann Alliance jurisdiction, but it's imperative we make it there first."

 

***

"Ma'am! Ma'am!" The squadron commander called, his voice frantic in Raven's helmet comm. "Bladestrider Skyhawk! What's happening, ma'am?" 

Raven's voice was calm. "I'm docking with the transport, Commander." 

Using her sixth sense abilities, Raven stopped her rotation and reeled herself in toward the large, jagged, smoking hole her starfighter had torn in the transport's hull.

Loose hoses and electrical lines dangled from the edges of the opening, leaking gases and shooting sparks into space. A portion of her ship's wing had survived the impact and was lodged in the bulkhead. The rest had been vaporised on impact. Raven pulled herself through the destruction until she stood in the remains of a depressurised corridor. Chunks of metal and electronics littered the torn deck, the whole of it smoking from the heat of impact. The other starfighters buzzed past the transport, visible through the hole in the bulkhead. 

"Ma'am?" said the squadron commander. 

"All is under control, Commander," said Raven. 

Several members of the fighter squadron whispered awed oaths into their comms. "Maintain comm discipline," barked the squadron leader, though Raven could hear the disbelief in his tone, too.

"Bladestrider Skyhawk... there are dozens of the Fifth Columnists that we chased from Guanyin 3 aboard that transport. If they make it into the Sajnen Confederate, they'll be safely inside Zhann Alliance territory." 

"They won't make it, nor will they be around for much longer, Commander," Raven said. "You are on escort duty now, I will notify you if anything else is required."

A pause, then, "Of course, ma'am."

The transport's automatic safeties had sealed off the corridor with a blast door, but Raven knew the codes to override them. She strode through the ruin and entered the code. The huge door slid open and pressurised air from the hall beyond poured out with a hiss. She stepped through and resealed the door behind her. A few more taps on a wall computer and she'd repressurised the hall. The shrill sound of the transport's hull breach alarm wailed from wall speakers. A hatch on the far side of the hall slid open to reveal a dark skinned man in makeshift armour.

Seeing the Bladestrider, the man's eyes widened in surprise, and he grabbed for the blaster at his belt. By the time the man had the blaster drawn and the trigger pulled, Raven had her X Plasma Blade in hand and ignited. She deflected the blaster shot into the wall, raised her off hand, and with it concentrated on her sixth sense abilities. She made a pincer motion with her two fingers, using her power to squeeze the man's trachea. The man pawed frantically at his throat as Raven power lifted him off the deck, but to his credit he held on to his weapon and the gagging, dying human managed to aim and fire his blaster at Raven again and again. Raven simply held her grip on the man's throat while casually deflecting the blasts into the bulkhead with her X Plasma. Not wanting to waste time, Raven moved her raised hand left and then right, using telekinesis to smash the man into the bulkhead. The impacts shattered bone, killing him, and Raven let the body fall to the deck. 

A voice carried over a comm device on the man's belt. "Darius! Darius! What is going on there? Do you copy? Can you hear me?"

Raven deactivated her X Plasma Blade, took off her SX-77 armour suit's helmet, picked up the comm device, opened the channel, and let the sound of her heavy breathing carry over the connection. 

"Who is that?" 

Raven answered only by continuing with her heavy breathing.

"Darius, is that you? Are you all right?" 

"I'm coming for you now," Raven said. She crushed the communicator in her fist, ignited her X Plasma Blade, stepped over the dead man, and strode into the corridor beyond.

 

***

 

Kitrypso, several days after the devastating attack.

 

Kitrypso's oceans that once teemed with life, were now grey and smoking. Huge bubbles rumbled up to the surface spluttering huge puffs of sulphur into the already chocked air, it was as if Mother Nature were sickened at the sight of her once beautiful planet. The once life giving water that ran through the rivers had boiled away to acid, scarring the now barren planet. Now a former shell of itself, Kitrypso had become nothing more then a cold lifeless ball of dirt. Radiation levels were so high that even the most basic forms of organic life now struggled to cling to the world of the living. 

Chosia Enuxsun opened her eyes. In the dark stillness, she couldn't see much, but the dim glow of the bedside clock and the vague shadow of the lamp next to it. Half asleep, she fumbled with the covers and stumbled to the bathroom. After emptying her bladder and flushing the toilet, she checked her reflection in the mirror. The haunted eyes and dark circles underneath them made the long, drawn in face almost unrecognisable. She waved her hand and the person waved back. "Good," she sighed, "I'm still me."

A dozen needles danced their way across her forehead. She searched the cabinet above the sink and didn't find much but a few small bars of soap. Right, she was in a bunker deep inside the Jade Mountains— the planetary attack, it had been catastrophic.

Washing her hands, she switched off the bathroom light and waited. After her eyes adjusted to the murkiness, she glanced toward the bed. Even before her mind registered the flatness, she knew that the other woman she'd encountered during the attack and had sought refuge with wasn't there. Flipping on the overhead, she scanned the room. Comm device and access keys peeked out from the jumbled pile that overflowed from an oversized leather pouch turned on its side. Chosia glanced at the open locker near the door. Everything hung straight and level, except for a gap where her dark, leather coat should have been.

Chosia checked her timepiece. She pondered, in silence, where the other woman could have gone in such a short period of time, given only thirty minutes had passed since she had first fallen asleep. Quickly, Chosia put on her jacket, her shoes, and rushed up the long steep stairway and out of the bunker.

Consumed by her thoughts, Chosia didn't realise that suddenly, she was being attacked. She felt something over her mouth and she tried to break free, but it was restraining her from moving around.

A traitor to her cause, Chosia was immediately able to identify her enemy— Kes En'jusek. Gravely, she was the other woman that she had confided in.

"Well, well, as luck would have it, I failed to capture anyone important from the Drex Empire, but get to capture you instead." Chosia could hear Kes' muffled voice, only barely making out the words. "I guess this mission might be worth salvaging after all."

"No wa— wait!" Chosia said, her voice strangled beneath whatever Kes had put over her mouth. "The en— emy of— my enemy is my frien—"

"Nice try, but you're still Bladestrider scum. I'm afraid that ain't gonna cut it."

Unlike the Bladestrider's from the Sisters of Zica who tended to side with either Skycom or the Drex Empire, Chosia was from the Divine Sect of Zinglon. In a bold attempt to infiltrate the Drex Empire at Kitrypso, Cestus had hired the Bladestrider— and then Kitrypso refused to bow down to Empress Natasi Drex. Marooned on the planet, Chosia had encountered Kes, who like the Bladestrider had been sent by Gencore to carry out a similar role. Desperate, Chosia's vulnerability allowed for Kes to trick her, having her believe that she too was an agent from the Cestus Coalition.

Zhann Alliance scum, and blasted friends of the Züncålazin, Chosia cursed to herself. How could she have been so naive, she wondered, as she still struggled to escape by kicking and pummelling. She started inhaling deeply due to exertion from struggling. It was a big mistake; She started to feel drowsy by smelling a weird smell that emitted from the thing covering her mouth. Why had she come to this now devastated world, her thoughts wondered desperately, but it was already too late as her vision faded to black.

"Gencore sends their regards." Kes' low rumbling laugh was without humour. Instead it contained promises of pain and torment.

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