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Fire for Effect

J. R. Handley



A Bayonet Books Anthology



















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How far would you go to save an alien? Go to the Candy Shop and find out!

Chapter One

I was born at night but not last night. I had been around the block enough times to know when I was being followed. That itch at the rear of my mind like a sixth sense. The hairs on the back of my neck warning me that all was not well.

I placed a hand on my companion’s small shoulder, guiding him through the flow of steady afternoon traffic. He complied, allowing me to steer him in a new direction.

The city streets on the moon were busy this time of day. Its inhabitants moved from long days of work in corporate buildings to their homes in various parts of the city. I was back doing a favor for a friend. I called him using a comm built into the collar of my body armor vest. The vest would have drawn more attention had it not been for my heavy coat zipped to my neck.

“Daniel?” he asked as soon as I made the call.

“Preacher,” I answered. “You were right. It seems your friend is a local celebrity with all the wrong people.”

“Are you being followed?”

“I can feel it.”

“There’s a candy shop on the corner of Hyperion and Galactica, do you know it?”

“I do, never been there but I’ve heard the stories,” I answered.

I looked over my shoulder in time to see someone or something duck into a deep alley. It was large. It moved quickly. I dare not let my eyes betray me. I turned my head once again, alert and examining the press of people around me. Right hand on my ward’s shoulder, we continued forward.

“When you get there tell them Preacher sent you,” Preacher instructed. “Ask them for the imported chocolates. I’m sorry, Daniel, you’ve been through enough. I shouldn’t have asked—”

“I’m a big boy,” I told my mentor. “I volunteered to help. There was no blaster to my head. We’ll be all right.”

“I’ll send backup,” Preacher told me.

“Understood,” I answered, ending our conversation.

There were no flowery goodbyes. Time was of the essence. Preacher needed to call in the cavalry. I needed to be alert, ready for whatever might happen next.

The street in this section of the town was pristine. The many people moved quickly but orderly. In the downtown district you didn’t get the same street vendors and scammers that were everywhere else. The Galactic Government had Praetorians patrolling the streets ensuring all was well for the wealthy.

If things went down here—who were we kidding, when, things went down here—a heavy Praetorian presence would answer soon after.

I directed my companion, taking a right at the next street, then another left. The high-rise business buildings around us reached up toward the double glass domes around the city. The tops of the buildings almost reached the dome but just missed it, destined to forever extend without any real satisfaction of reaching what they so desired.

Then I saw it. Tucked away between two food establishments. The building was white on the outside with red trim. In big red letters the sign read “Candy Shop”. A smaller sign below read “Open”. We headed for it now. A woman and a young girl stepped out, the former lifting an eyebrow at my colleague, the latter consuming a lollypop as big as her face.

I adjusted the hood over the little guy in front of me.

“He has a condition,” I told the woman with what I hoped was a friendly smile.

Her mouth dropped as if she was about to say something. She thought better of it and moved along her way.

The clear glass doors to the candy store sensed our presence and slid open. We walked into the sweet scent of sugar. Old Timey music drifted from something I knew was a record player, a relic from what was left of Earth. Candy jars of every kind lined both the right and left walls. There were beige gumballs, rosy suckers, indigo caramels, licorice both bright candy apple red and ebony black, I could go on and on, but you get the point.

On the far end of the room was an older woman dressed in a white uniform with short sleeves. She wore a white hat with red trim. A red apron wrapped around her body. At the moment we were the only patrons in the store. She stood behind a bar top lined with red stools connected to the floor.

She regarded us with a smile. I saw her eyes linger over my companion. Dressed in his deep hood it was hard to guess what he might look like. His stature would make one think he could be a small boy or girl.

“Welcome to the Candy Shop,” the woman said in a harsh accent I couldn’t place. “How may I help?”

Before answering I looked over my shoulder. A shadow fell over the door. As quickly as it was there it was gone again. Whoever was outside had decided to wait for backup or ambush us when we exited.

When I turned back to the woman, I realized she too was looking at the door.

I cleared my thoughts of the matter and focused on what I needed to do next. I tried my best attempt at a smile once again. “Preacher sent me. He recommended I ask about the imported chocolates.”

The woman’s face broke from a friendly smile to a gaze that said she was searching for me. She was weighing me in her mind and the validity of each of my words.

“I know who you are, boy,” the woman said with a raised eyebrow. “I know what you are, Mr. Hunt.”

“Good,” I said looking over my shoulder at the door once more. “Then I’m just going to be honest with you. We have company, not the kind that’s going to want to purchase a jawbreaker.”

“Hmm,” the woman behind the counter said with one last pause. “All right, I help you. But for Preacher only. You bring trouble to my door. You’re on my list. My shi—”

“If there was another way, I would have taken it,” I told her looking back to the counter. “My gear is stowed back on my ship. Do you have recommendations for something—robust?”

The woman eyed me again. She reached under her countertop for what I assumed was a button. As soon as she pressed the button the glass windows at the front of the store went frosty white, refusing any wandering eye admittance.

A heavy click sounded at the doors, signaling a locking mechanism in place. The neon sign that read “Open” a moment before turned red with the word “Closed” for all to see.

“You better have credits, Mr. Hunt,” the woman said. “They call me Dalia by the way.”

“Daniel,” I told her although I already knew she knew my name. It just felt like the polite thing to do. I offered her my hand. “Thank you.”

“Hmm.” Dalia took my hand in a much stronger handshake than I would have guessed. “Okay, now for the treats.”

Dalia reached under her counter a second time. This time whatever button she pressed changed the entire room around us. The wall behind her slid open. Where once shelves filled with glass containers imprisoned treats, now rows of weapons lined the wall.

The walls beside us did the same rotating to accommodate displays of both blades and blasters. We were talking the crème de la crème. I was so happy, I wanted to cry. There were rocket launchers, grenades, grenade launchers, shotguns, repeaters, hand cannons and more.

“Is that—is that a war hammer?” I asked incredulously pointing to a fierce looking weapon to my right.

“Only the best at the Candy Shop,” Dalia answered.

“Need—need—me—need,” a small impatient voice spoke from my right.

One look at Dalia’s face and I knew the cat was out of the bag. My companion wasn’t able to contain himself. He had thrown back his hood in wonder, climbed the counter and was now pointing at a rocket launcher on the wall.

“Me—me—need,” he said impatiently groping with his paws for the weapon.

My friend wasn’t human at all. He was a new species, something called a Catvern. While the fact that aliens existed wasn’t a secret, and the general population knew we weren’t alone, most people had never seen an alien up close.

“Me—me—me,” the little guy said looking at us like we were stupid. He placed an open palm on his chest every time he said the word.

“No, you don’t need a rocket launcher.” I gave him a firm shake of my head. “Dalia, this is Vern. Vern is a new species to our solar system. I’m protecting him. Those who are after us fear what they don’t know. I need to get him somewhere safe.”

Dalia’s mouth was still open, eyes huge as she took in Vern. She did the sign of the cross over her entire torso. I think she even muttered a prayer. As far as aliens went, Vern wasn’t the most horrific I had ever met. He was about three feet tall with short green fur, three eyes and other than that he looked like a cat who walked on two legs.

“Please?” Vern asked, blinking three large eyes in my direction. “Me? Please?”

Right now I was less concerned about Vern’s weapon request. I was more concerned with Dalia. The woman looked as If she were in shock.

“Dalia, Dalia, are you okay?” I asked. “Dalia?!”

I shouted this last time, snapping the woman out of her stupor.

“What, what?” Dalia asked, taking me in again. “Yes, yes, fine.”

“It’s important I get Vern out of here,” I explained to her. “We need to get him safely back to his ship.”

“Of course, of course,” Dalia said, clearing her throat. She assumed her normal firm disposition again. Maybe she was even harsher now after being so taken off guard by Vern. “Yes, whatever you need, you pay for of course, but armor, knives, blasters only the best.”

“I’m fine with armor,” I told her opening my jacket so she could see my vest. “Some PFGs would be nice, though. I’ll need something that makes a big boom. The bigger the better.”

PFG was an acronym for Personal Forcefield Generator. The size of a hockey puck, the glowing orange device would provide a forcefield of cover around the wearer when activated. When the forcefield took enough damage, it would power down leaving the user unprotected, but it was usually good for eight or nine direct hits.

Dalia reached to one of the lower shelves. She picked up two PFGs and handed one to me. She tentatively offered the other PFG to Vern. Vern blinked all three eyes at her, accepted the PFG then timidly opened his mouth. In slow motion I witnessed him bring the PFG to his jaws and bite.

He stared at me the entire time.

“No, no, not food, definitely not food,” I told him, taking the PFG from his paws, I clipped it to his belt. I took the extra time to activate his PFG before I did the same to mine.

The doors of the Candy Shop behind us rattled as if someone from the other side were testing the barrier’s strength.

“You take fight out of my shop,” Dalia warned. “No fighting in the Candy Shop.”

“No fighting in the Candy Shop,” I agreed. “Now about that hand cannon.”

“Something new, come in other day.” Dalia went over to a rifle mounted on the right wall. “Phoenix prototype.”

Dalia hefted the large weapon from the wall, racking the chamber with a round. It looked like someone had created a love child between a compact grenade launcher and a shotgun. If they made flare guns as large as rifles, then this would be it.

“Leveraged recoil with an eighteen-round magazine,” Dalia said, handing me the dark steel weapon. “Rhino rounds meant to go through not break apart on impact.”

“Interesting,” I said taking the weapon quickly before Mr. Grabby Hands also known as the alien Vern could intercept the weapon. “Daddy like.”

“Please never refer to yourself as daddy in my shop again,” Dalia said with disgust. It looked like she had tasted something bad in the back of her throat.


We all heard the order at the same time, but our responses were very different. Dalia grabbed a weapon from the wall behind her. I dove to my left for cover. Vern turned around with a smile and a wave.

Chapter Two

“Vern, get down!” I yelled out just before the front doors were blown inward.

Lucky for me Dalia had the good sense to grab the Catvern. She pulled him down behind the counter with her as all hell rained down around us.

If you’ve never been in a firefight, let me tell you it’s nothing like the movies. There’s enough adrenalin in your veins to make you want to puke and poop at the same time. Your heart beats so fast you think it’s about to put on track shoes and rip out of your chest.

It’s so loud you think you’re going to go deaf. Each crack and boom makes your ears ring with trauma. But the human body is extremely adaptable. Years of training can calm you at a time like this. Being calm in the face of a storm is a superpower in and of itself.


Rounds fell around me like hail from heaven itself. Glass candy jars shattered on impact. Hordes of brightly colored sweets were flung through the air, falling to the floor at random. Dalia was going to be pissed. I was going to have to give her a king’s ransom worth of credits to make up for this.

Amidst the carnage being laid down from the other side of the window, I waited. I was certainly out manned, maybe outgunned. What I had right now was the element of surprise if I waited.

Round after round punctured both candy and weapons around me. I hunched low behind a shelf that had been holding candies. Once Dalia had pressed the button behind the counter to show off her weapons, the display had turned into an assortment of blades from knives to machetes and axes.

After what seemed like a short eternity the thunder of the weapons died down. I heard someone shouting orders in a gruff, gravelly voice.

“Titan teams one and two advance,” the voice ordered. “The alien is to be taken alive. Kill anyone else.”

I relied on my sense of hearing, or what was left of it, as the teams advanced into the shop. I slowed my breathing, calming my pulse. I saw my movement in my mind’s eye before I even twitched a muscle. Aim, kill, repeat.

They were getting closer now. One team of four on the far side of the store, and another four advancing on my side of the room. I could hear them breathing hard, their boots crunching over the broken glass and ruined sweets. It was a shame all this candy had to go to waste. I was more of a donut guy myself but still didn’t like to see good treats abandoned.

Here we go, Daniel, I coached myself in my head, repeating a mantra that meant something to me. I recited a new one that was beginning to mean just as much. They can’t kill your spirit. Send me.

“Hello,” Vern said from behind me.

I looked back to see the three-eyed alien—I crip you not, waving a green paw at the incoming teams.

“Hi,” Vern said again with a wave and a grin. His third eye winking at the men.

That was what I needed. That crazy alien had given me the opportunity to even the odds. I rose from my hiding spot and aimed at the team in front of me. I got my first good look at what I was up against.

They wore all black with no insignia to speak of. From their boots to their helmets they were covered in armor. Lucky for me Dalia had hooked me up with—what had she called them, Rhino piercing rounds?

I squeezed not pulled the trigger as I sighted down the barrel of the Phoenix prototype. Fire blew from the end of the barrel like a dragon woken from its slumber. Dalia was right, there was very little recoil. I brought the thunder.

Seven rounds flew from the end of my barrel, ripping through the enemy. The rounds streaked like Zeus’ lightning to obliterate anything in its path. Hand grenade sized holes were left as the rounds made impact with my enemies then went through them. Some of the rounds even served double duty ripping through one of the soldiers, then planting themselves in the one behind him.

In the few seconds it took me to annihilate the men in front of me, the second team turned their weapons on my flank and opened fire. I would have been toast had it not been for two things. The PFG saved me. Enemy rounds sparked off the forcefield warning me that at any moment it could fail, and I would be exposed.

The second thing that saved me was Dalia. The Candy Shop owner was understandably pissed at having her place of business torn apart. For now that anger was focused on my enemy. I’m not sure what kind of repeater she pulled out from under her countertop, but it rested on a tripod, fed by a battery pack. Red laser rounds punctured the armor of the team on her side of the shop.

I turned my attention to them next, adding the Phoenix prototype to the mix. The weapon heated in my hands as I pumped round after round into the team. In seconds they were on the floor.

Vern was still on the counter looking around in shock. Dalia was breathing hard. I turned my attention out to the ruined front doors to see if that might be the end of it. No such luck.

“Daniel Hunt,” that same gruff voice said through a microphone. “This doesn’t have to go badly for you. Turn over the alien or we’re coming in to get him. Either way, he’s coming with us.”

There was no way I was going to give Vern up. I looked back to the blaster-scorched countertop. Vern was there rubbing his head against Dalia’s arm. I locked eyes with her.

She was pissed; there was no doubt about that. Thousands of credits of damage had been done to her store, probably tens of thousands worth. Her lip curled as she looked at me.

“They’ll experiment on him,” I told her before she could get a word in edge wise. “They’ll take him and cut him up into little pieces. They’ll try to clone him, dissect him, learn what makes him tick from the inside out.”

“No not, me not not experiment,” Vern said jerking his head over to me, his mouth wide.

Dalia cleared her throat, rethinking what she was about to say. “You owe me. I want a new store, bigger than this and I want answers.”

“You’ll get your credits,” I reassured her. “You trust Preacher, you can trust me.”

“And answers. Who are you?” Dalia asked slamming another charge pack into the base of her heavy repeater. “And how did you come by this alien?”

“That’s quite a story. You want the long version or short?”

“Daniel Hunt,” the voice called from outside again. “Last chance. Come out with the alien or we’re coming in.”

“All right, the short version it is.” I motioned for Dalia to throw me another magazine as well. “I was an experiment myself from a place called Immortal Corporation. I can heal really, really fast. Vern is the third species of alien we’ve run into. He came to Preacher–who’s part of our company–looking to make contact. He came to us since we have experience with aliens. Preacher has me looking after him for the moment and there you go.”

I worked the magazine into my weapon. I looked up to catch Dalia’s eye. She was shaking her head. “Why, why do I always have to fall for the troublemakers? Preacher has sweet talked me for years. More than that one time I actually invited him home for some—”

“I’m just going to stop you there. Vern, earmuffs!” I shook my head vigorously, trying to get the bad thoughts out. Preacher and Dalia were both older. I didn’t want to imagine what they did back at her place. Somethings you just can’t unimagine.

Vern slapped his paws over his ears to avoid the story as well.

“Dinner,” Dalia said with a raised eyebrow. “I was going to say that I invited him back to my place for dinner. I cooked him a meal.”

“Surrrrrrrre you were,” I told her. “So does that mean you’re not going to kick us out?”

Dalia sighed looking over at Vern who still stood with his paws over his ears.

“If what you’re saying is true, then I don’t think I could live with myself letting this little guy get gutted on a laboratory table.” Dalia removed Vern’s paws from his ears. “You can stay.”

“Stay?” Vern asked motioning over to some of the weapons on the wall. “Me stay? Boom Boom Stick?”

“You can stay, but no boom boom sticks for you.” Dalia almost smiled. “So, Daniel, what’s the plan?”

“Preacher is on the way with backup,” I answered. “Plan is don’t die until he gets here.”

“I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to guess you’re not the brains of whatever company you work with now.”

“No, just the muscle,” I told her good naturedly. “If you see me get pretty banged up against whatever comes in here next, don’t worry. I’m not that easy to kill.”

“So what exactly do you mean, you can heal really fast?”

Before I could answer, the ground shuddered. Something that sounded like a massive step reached our ears and then another and another. With each stomp came a tremor. There was something coming. It sounded big and angry.

I checked the charge on my PFG. It was dry. The battery pack had been spent saving me already. I was on my own.

“Daniel,” Dalia said throwing a belt of grenades my way.

I caught them in the air. Three sticky bombs shone silver, bright. I was familiar with the round grenades. A simple button on top set a five-second delay. Once the grenade was activated, a compartment on the bottom opened to activate a tacky layer of sticky adhesive. Whatever the grenade touched after that it adhered to like a baby to its mother. A very explosive baby.

I saw the great metal beast lumbering toward us. It was a man in an armored suit that covered him from head to toe. It made him look five times as large as any regular human had any right to be. The armor was flat black, no insignia or markings.

Under the armor’s left hand was a mini gun. On the top of his left was a rocket launcher.

“Get Vern down!” I shouted chancing a quick glance behind me.

Vern was nowhere to be seen. Then a flash of green. Our alien friend had decided this was the perfect time to empty his bowls. No kitty litter in sight, he had decided on a box of ammunition that rested in the corner.

“Hand over the alien,” the voice from the suit of armor came through its speaker, robotic, cold. It stood still in the center of the room not more than ten feet away from me.

I knew I was about to do something stupid. Then I did it. Standing from my cover, I lifted my rifle in one hand, the belt of sticky bombs in the other. Immediately the suit of armor turned to me, training both minigun and rockets in my direction.

“Maybe we can work something out,” I told him. “What do you say? Parley?”

Chapter Three

“Hand over the alien, you live.” The robotic voice came from the suit of armor again. “Keep him, you die.”

“Maybe there’s a third option,” I suggested, moving to the center of the room in front of the metal suit. “Maybe we can share custody. You have him during the week, I get him on the weekends? We’re all one big dysfunctional family?”

Apparently the armor suit did not think that was funny. To be honest it wasn’t my greatest work. The mini gun under his left arm whirred to life. That was my cue to get going while the getting was still good.

Rifle in my left hand, belt of sticky bombs in my right, I pressed the button on the first bomb. I hurled it at the suit of armor just as red-hot rounds spewed from his weapon. I was fast but not that fast. I took a round to my chest and another to my left shoulder as I dove to the side.

The round that struck my vest knocked the wind out of me, but my armor held. The round that hit my left shoulder ripped a hole right though me. Pain, white-hot pain comforted by a blanket of adrenaline coursed down my entire arm. I had opted to dive to my right. I rolled until I was behind a display rack of weapons.

The minigun followed my angle, eating up the floor behind me as I rolled. Unlike most weapons with distinct cracks or booms, the minigun sounded like a steady line of BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Dalia was smart enough to take cover behind the counter, seeing what I had done with the sticky bombs. Vern on the other hand would never be accused of being smart. The green cat alien with three eyes walked out from behind the counter. That son of a gun actually smiled then waved to me.


The grenades went off like thunder. I had time to cover my ears and shout a warning to Vern, but it was too late. The force of the explosion flung the little guy backwards against the wall. Heat washed over me as I struggled to compose myself. The force of the blast alone was enough to disorient most. I wasn’t most.

What I did feel was a sharp pain in my left leg. A quick look told me that a section of my enemy’s armor had been blown off and impaled itself in my limb. It wasn’t much larger than a knife. Dark red blood soaked my pants as I pried it free.

The thing about healing quickly was that you still felt all the pain associated with the injury. That part sucked. Gasping, I wrenched it free, trusting my body to do what it did best. In front of my eyes I saw the blood stop. The wound closed over in a matter of seconds.

Gears whirring, hydraulics clicking told me this fight was far from over. I looked over my cover to see the suit of armor struggling to its feet. The thing had just taken three grenades to the chest. It wasn’t out of the fight yet. Smoke clearing, oil leaking from the armor, the steel beast fought to its feet.

Initially I had thought it was manned by a human inside. Now that the chest piece was torn away I could see its guts were no more than a fistful of wires. Steam hissed from its right leg that had crumpled inward from the blast. Sparks exploded from where its helmet met its chest.

“The neck!” I yelled to Dalia. “Aim for the neck.”

Like the badass I was learning she was, Dalia was back on her repeater laying hate. Together we zeroed in on what I hoped was a weak spot. The armored unit spasmed then lifted its left arm to cover its neck with his forearm. With his right arm he aimed his rocket launcher at Dalia.

“No!” I screamed pumping round after round into the steel monstrosity. But what could I do? In slow motion I saw the rockets pan to Dalia. I was about to run forward, lacking a better plan to tackle the beast. I would live through this altercation, Dalia would not.

Then, hope came in the most unexpected form. Vern jumped back onto the counter. This time he wasn’t alone. I don’t know how he was carrying it, but the largest rocket launcher Dalia had in the store was on his shoulder. Vern sighted down the barrel looking especially pleased with himself. “Boom time.”

Boom time indeed. Vern pulled the trigger sending the rocket high. I can’t be exactly sure–my ears were already ringing so badly–but I thought I heard a curse fly from Vern’s lips as he was flung backward off the counter from the rocket’s recoil.

Vern went one way, the rocket went the other. This was without a doubt the strangest firefight I had ever been a part of. If you knew my past, that’s saying something. The rocket was off course. It went high, slamming into the ceiling and exploding on impact. Debris rained down on the armor burying it under a ton of cement.

Dust exploded into the room with a ray of light now penetrating the area around us. Eyes watering I coughed trying to suck in air without the dirt traveling through it. No luck.

Gasping I made for the back of the counter to check on Dalia and Vern. Dalia was there choking on the dust as well. “You are—you are never invited back here again.”

“I understand.” I offered her a hand up. Then I searched the area behind the counter for our little trigger-happy friend. “Vern? Vern are you back here? Are you dead?”

“No, not,” a call came from under a stack of rifles. The tiniest green paw popped up and waved. “Dead, no, not.”

“Hands in the air!” roared the gruff voice from the outside. Boots slapped the floor as a dozen armed men came in wielding rifles.

Quick math told me I could take them, but the collateral damage would be too much for Dalia to endure. The group made a half circle around us, all weapons pointed at me. One man separated himself from the others. He was the only one not wearing a helmet. A short beard covered a square jaw. Hard grey eyes looked me over.

“Daniel Hunt, you’re a hard man to kill,” he said without blinking.

“You have no idea,” I told him. “And you are?”

“Agent Six,” the man said brushing off the answer. He looked over the counter to where Vern was extracting himself from the pile of rifles. “Ahhh, there he is. We’re taking him.”

I was tired of this gauntlet I was being put through, but I wasn’t really the quitting type.

“I’m sure you’ll do your best to try,” I answered.

“You do realize there are a dozen blasters pointed at your head, don’t you?” Agent Six asked while scrunching his brow. “Blaster proof or not we’ll find a way to kill you, sooner or later.”

“And who do you work for?” I asked nonchalantly. “The Galactic Government? Phoenix Corporation? Some new hip shadow organization I don’t even know about?”

Before Agent Six could answer, something chirped in his comm. He wore one of the new sets where a flat circle silver chip was connected just behind his left ear. He paused, then narrowed his eyes. It was apparent whoever was talking to him, whatever they were saying was not to his liking.

“Say again?” Agent Six barked into his comm. “You cut out. Repeat.”


“I say again repeat, you were cut out.”

“I don’t think they’re going to be answering,” a cold voice said from the door. The silhouette of a man carrying a burning red katana framed against the doorway. Half the guns in the room swung over to take him in.

“It took you long enough,” I said recognizing the familiar red blade as Preacher’s. “Next time you ask for a favor the answer is definitely no. You can watch your own alien creatures.”

Vern jumped on the counter on cue. He began cleaning himself. Full-on tongue in the no no box. It was disgusting.

While Preacher made his appearance at the door it seemed Agent Six was getting more news that he didn’t want to hear. “No, sir. No, sir. We have jurisdiction here,” Agent Six said hurriedly. “My orders were to—sir—yes, sir.”

Dalia was content to free herself from behind the counter. Without fear she stalked right up to Preacher. She slapped him so hard that spit flew from his mouth. The older man winced, massaging his jaw.

“Okay, okay, I deserve that one.” Preacher grimaced. “If I had known it was going to get this bad, I would have never sent Daniel and Vern here. I am sorry. All the damages will be taken care of.”

“Oh no, oh no, you think you’re just going to walk right in here with an apology, credits and everything is just going to be okay?” Dalia asked.

“I’m sensing by the tone in your voice that my answer to that question should be, no.” Preacher adjusted the eyepatch on his face. “So, no. What can I do to make this right?”

“Dinner, you cook this time,” Dalia said starting to calm down. “I want a new shop. Better location, twice as big.”

“You drive a hard bargain, but I think we can make that happen,” Preacher said with a genuine smile. “It’s been a long time. I’ve missed you, Dalia.”

I think I was about to vomit but as fate would have it Agent Six was off his call with whatever higher-ranking official had contacted him.

“Stand down,” he told his men, taking one last look at me with disgust. “Stand down, we’re pulling out. This isn’t over. None of this is over.”

“I don’t even really know who you are,” I told him with a shrug. “I was cat sitting.”

Agent Six stalked out of the candy shop, glaring at Preacher as he did. His men followed. In seconds we were alone. Vern was sniffing around the room now, eating ruined candy off the floor.

“No, no you don’t want to—” I cut myself off as Vern popped in a dust-coated caramel with a purr. “Never mind. Preacher, who were those guys?”

“A new arm of the Galactic Government,” Preacher answered. “A special department overseeing alien visitors. They have some cool acronym like SOB or STFU or something like that. I called in a favor with Valentine, and she got us out. “

Zoe Valentine was a contact we had made in our time working with the Galactic Government. She was now a high-ranking officer with plenty of pull within the organization. It seemed like we all owed her one for getting us out of this.

“Time to get Vern secured, see what we can do to help him,” Preacher said and sheathed his humming crimson katana. “Looks like we’re turning into the representatives for alien races.”

“Not we—no we—you,” I reminded Preacher. “I was just doing you a favor, looking after him.”

A deep hacking came from Vern as we all looked over. It seemed like the caramel had gone down the wrong tube. I watched on as Vern coughed up a hairball that looked more like hair poop. I’m not sure why it earned the name of hair ball. It didn’t look anything like a ball.

Vern looked over to us sheepishly. He pointed to one of the rifles on the floor. “Me? Me? Boom boom stick? Me?”

About Jonathan Yanez

I've come to chug caffeine and weave some wild tales. And I'm all out of caffeine.

I'm Jonathan, a husband to the CEO of our company (she never lets me forget that). A father of two wonderful warriors in training. And a writer, in that order.

I think this is where most authors would tell you how many books they've written and awards they've won but I'd rather use this time for you to get to know the real me.

I write because that's what I was born to do and I love doing it. Because of the support from awesome people like you, I get to do it full-time.

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A Prelude to Valor

Josh Hayes

How far would you go to protect your people? Read this exciting story and find out.

Originally published in BACKBLAST AREA CLEAR.


Hostile Contact

A soft, two-tone alert chimed through the CIC. Lieutenant Junior Grade Jackson Fischer glanced over his shoulder down to the tactical station where Paladin’s captain, Commander Brantley Young, stood. The Captain’s arms were clasped behind his back as he watched the mass movement of multicolored dots move through holo-plot projected over the oval table in the center of the “fishbowl.”

“Passing the Inner Beacon now, sir,” Lieutenant Commander Reel, Paladin’s Executive Officer, said.

“Very well,” Captain Young replied. “Continue on heading three-one-six and advise Majestic Sky that we will be in range of the ambassador’s ship in ten minutes. Advise all stations to stand up to Alert Two.”

“Aye, sir,” the XO said, tapping his Link. Another two-chime sounded—this time the alert broadcast through the entire ship. “All stations, all stations, stand up to Alert Two, repeat, Alert Two. Station chiefs report status and readiness to Control.”

Fischer turned back to his station and reached over the sensor tech, keying his acknowledgment. Then he tapped his tech’s shoulder. “Kill it.”

“Don’t think you’re off the hook, sir,” Petty Officer Shane Manchester said under his breath.

“If the Galaxies win, you’ll get your money,” Fischer replied.

The sensor tech killed the live feed of the regional gravball championships. “Did you ever make it to the championships?”

Fischer shook his head. “My senior year we were knocked out in the second round.” He shrugged. “We were good, but we weren’t that good.”

“Too bad.”

“Eh, they were good times. I got to fly around and hit people and get away with it—not sure you could ask for more.”

“You must have killed the EVA course in OCS.”

Fischer laughed. “Hell with that. Zipping around the arena in a repulser suit is one thing, out there is something else in entirely. Took me three tries.”

Manchester laughed and brought up the map of the Del Raycu System. This display gave Fischer and his team a more detailed view than the one projected in the fishbowl, allowing them to track all of the inbound and outbound traffic from the planet. Thousands of multicolored icons moved in seemingly disorganized lines.

“Is there normally this much traffic out here?” Shane Manchester asked, scrolling through the sensor data in front of him.

“Everyone’s here to watch the annexation. Lot of people stand to make a shit-ton of money from this deal.”

The tech shrugged. “I’m in the wrong line of work.”

Fischer grinned. “You and me both.”

Del Raycu was only the latest star nation to be absorbed by the Protectorate, but it was, by far, the most important. Billions and billions of credits moved through the system every hour and the annexation would impose billions in tariffs on those shipping to Protectorate nations.

A red triangle appeared at the edge of sensor range, flashing an alert.

“Got an unscheduled Lane translation,” Manchester announced, taping the icon with a finger. A message box appeared and the tech began scrolling through the data: registry and transponder information, crew complement, cargo manifest.

“It’s the Dark Lady, a long-haul freighter out of Corwynn,” Fischer said, reading the information over Manchester’s shoulder. “She’s scheduled for translation tomorrow. I guess she’s running a bit early.”

Captain Young shook his head. “Very well. You might inform them, that in the future, adherence to flight protocols will be something to pay attention to, especially after today.”

Fischer flashed him a knowing smile. “Aye, Captain.”

The OOD put a hand to his earpiece, eyes unfocused. He nodded after several moments and looked across the holo-plot to the captain. “The ambassador’s ship reports they are in position, Captain. They are ready to receive the Majestic Sky.”

Young nodded. “Very well. Helm, bring us into a holding pattern above them. I want all perimeter security elements in place and advised to maintain position until relieved. No one gets through the net without express permission from myself or the ambassador.”

The OOD nodded and began relaying the commands.

The Majestic Sky, one of the Protectorate’s many diplomatic frigates, shifted course on the main plot, heading to the designated coordinates for the rendezvous. The Del Raycu yacht it was moving to intercept was surrounded by ten frigates. The firepower the small fleet possessed was insignificant to a warship like the Paladin, but against the threats the system normally faced from pirates and smugglers, it was a formable defense.

Something else the Protectorate brings to the table, Fischer thought, watching the two ships close to within a hundred meters of each other. Safety and security. And credits. He shook his head, trying to comprehend the sheer amount of money this deal represented. He really was in the wrong line of work.

Another alert flashed on screen.

“Oh, come on,” Manchester said, tapping the icon.

Fischer sighed. “It’s going to be a real bitch explaining Protectorate transit protocols to all these people.”

Manchester scowled as he scrolled through the data. “Hmmm, that’s odd.”

“What’s up?” Fischer leaned close for a better look.

“Ship’s profile looks like a freighter, but I’m not getting anything back on registration. Transponder is squawking a New Tuscany code, but the computer’s not showing a match.”

“Ping their transit ID.”

The tech tapped a command into his terminal and waited for the response. “Nothing, sir.”

“Is there a problem, Lieutenant Fischer?” Captain Young asked.

“Another unscheduled jumplane translation, sir. Looks like a civilian merch, but we’re not showing a transponder match in the computer.”

Captain Young pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “What is that now, seven? Where the hell are we, the URT? Communications, advise them to hold position until we verify their information.”

“Aye, sir.”

Frowning, Fischer turned back to the display, rereading the data. “Wait.” He tapped the panel, then spread his fingers apart, enlarging the window. “That drive signature doesn’t read like a merch. I wouldn’t expect to see those numbers on anything smaller than a frigate.”

Across CIC, the communications officer said, “No response from the vessel, Captain.”

Fischer put a hand on Manchester’s shoulder. “Redirect a couple of the remotes. Let’s run a Level 1 scan. Focus your platforms on the drive section.”

Manchester’s fingers were already working before Fischer finished speaking. Additional icons appeared as the tech redirected three RSPs—remote sensor platforms—to investigate. A minute later the RSPs were in position and relaying data back to Paladin.

Fischer shook his head. “Their drive is definitely not standard merch, Captain. It’s putting out way too much energy. I’d say military grade or damn near, sir.”

Young crossed his arms. “Comms?”

“Still nothing, Captain.”

The icon on Fischer’s display flashed. Tracking lines appeared, projecting the vessel’s course through the Del Raycu system.

“I’m getting a spike in the drive systems,” Fischer said, turning and putting hands on the rail surrounding the fishbowl. He looked down at the larger holo-plot—the OOD had already splashed the data.

“Give them a broadband flash,” Captain Young said. “Advise them to stand down immediately or they will be declared hostile.”

Fischer watched as the computer estimated the ship’s course, an orange line projecting from the bow of the ship directly to where the Majestic Dawn and the Del Raycu ambassadorial ship were now docked.

“No response, Captain,” the comm officer said.

“She’s still maintaining her heading, speed increasing,” Manchester reported.

“Son of a bitch,” Captain Young grunted. “Take us to Alert One. Declare the contact hostile.”


Unwelcome Guests

“Unidentified vessel now designated Oscar-1,” Fischer called over his shoulder.

“Sir, a flight of Del Raycu sprinter frigates are moving to intercept,” Commander Reel announced as the alert klaxon echoed around the bridge. “Weapons are warming up.”

Captain Young stepped toward the plot, putting his knuckles on the edge of the projection, watching as six green triangles headed for the hostile ship. “Damn it, the last thing we need is an intergalactic incident. Tell them to stand by and maintain their distance. Communications?”

“Nothing yet, Captain.”

“Should we move to intercept, sir?” Reel asked.

Young shook his head. “Our mission is the Majestic Dawn.” He rubbed his chin, considering the plot. “Major Firth?”

The commander of the Paladin’s Marine detachment leaned over the rail just behind the captain; his overstarched charcoal grey fatigues barely moved. “Yes, sir.”

“Are your Marines ready?”

“Just say the word, Captain.”

Young nodded. “Launch the standby assault birds. Advise the Del Raycans to provide overwatch. If that ship doesn’t heave-to, your Marines are to board and secure her.”

“Roger that, sir.” He turned and disappeared through the compartment’s aft hatch.

“Unidentified vessel,” Lt Kyle said. “This is the Alliance Cruiser Paladin. You have entered a restricted area. You must stand down and change over immediately or you will be detained. Acknowledge.” He waited for several moments, then looked at the captain, shaking his head.

Fischer’s terminal chimed. He turned, examining the new data from the sensor platforms. “Captain, updated readings from our RSPs. It doesn’t appear as though the ship has any external weapons emplacements. It’s a standard freighter configuration with enhanced drive systems. I’d say its jump capabilities are on par at least with ours.”

“What the hell would a freighter like that need power jump engines for?”

They bridge crew watched silently for several minutes while the two Albatross assault shuttles crossed the void between ships. The Del Raycan sprinters fell into formation around them halfway to their destination.

“Marines are ready, sir.” Lieutenant Kyle reported.

“And the hostile?”

“Still nothing.”

“Very well, proceed with boarding action. Pipe the audio through.”

“Aye, sir.”

The combat chatter from the Marines came through multiple speakers around CIC.

“Alpha Squad, stand by. Contact thirty seconds.”

“Latched on.”


“Alpha Squad, aft. Bravo Squad, Bow. Secure and detain. Defensive fire only.”


“Contact, get down! Don’t move!”

Fischer continued to listen as the Marines swept the ship, surprised the crew didn’t put up more of a fight. It was good that they didn’t though, most civilian crews wouldn’t stand a chance against a full complement of Alliance Marines. He’d seen them in action a handful of times; each time they took care of business without ever breaking a sweat. They’d invited him to some of their training sessions. He’d accepted the first time, but after not walking without pain for two days afterward, Fischer gracefully declined any further participation.

After several minutes, the major come over the comm. “Ship secured, sir. All crew accounted for and detained. Thirty in all, sir.”

“Very good, Major. I’d like them all brought over and held in the brig until we can get Del Raycan security to take them off our hands.”

“Roger that, sir. We’ll begin transfer operations ASAP.”

“Lieutenant Kyle,” Young said. “Please advise Majestic Dawn the situation has been resolved.”

The communications officer hesitated, eyes staring blankly at nothing, obviously listening to traffic on his earphones. “Majestic Dawn is advising they are sending over two ASI agents and a Del Raycan liaison to interrogate the prisoners.”

Young’s face darkened. “Lieutenant Kyle, please thank them for their offer, but we are more than capable of handling the investigation without any outside assistance. I have military authority in this situation.”

Kyle forwarded the captain’s message, then paused, listening to the response. He sighed before speaking. “Ambassador Holt is insisting, sir. In the interests of partnership with Del Raycu.”

You’re not going to win this fight, Fischer thought, watching the wheels turn inside the captain’s head. Brantley Young wasn’t the most difficult commander he’d had to deal with, but he was definitely the most prideful. And once you got on his bad side, there wasn’t any going back.

Young rolled his head on his shoulders, clenching his jaws. He’d never make a good poker player. “Very well. But I want a team of our people with them at all times while they’re on board. I don’t like the idea of spooks walking around my ship without supervision. Lieutenant Fischer, can you handle that?”

Babysitting, Fischer thought. Fantastic. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. I want updates and the top and bottom of the hour.”


Three Hots and a Cot

“I’m telling you, I don’t have any idea what the shipment was. None of my business anyway, I just keep the life support systems pumping air. Shit, man, lay off.”

The Alliance Security and Intelligence agent leaned back in his chair, eyes locked on the captured crewman. The agent wore an unremarkable black suit and tie. He was balding, his caramel scalp glinting in the small room’s recessed lighting. “Come on. Ship like yours, word gets around, people talk. It’s the same way on navy ships. Gossip rules, right?”

“I told you, I don’t know.” The crewman fidgeted nervously under the ASI agent’s scrutiny.

Even Fischer, sitting next to the agent and not the target of his questions, felt a little nervous, and he hadn’t done anything wrong. But even with his lack of experience in interrogating suspects, Fischer could tell this man was lying.

“You’re not being honest with me,” the agent said. “I know, you know—hell, even this navy puke knows it.” He jabbed a thumb at Fischer. “You give me something, and maybe I can help you. I don’t want to see you hemmed up. Spend the rest of your life in a military prison.”

The crewman’s eyes widened. “Prison? But I’m telling you, I didn’t do anything wrong!”

“That’s what you’re saying, but you’re not telling me what I need to know.” The agent leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table between them. “Look, you seem like a smart guy—you’re sticking up for your friends, I get it. But do you think your buddies are holding up as well as you are? I bet they’re nowhere near as strong-willed as you. I’d hate to see one of them blame you for something you didn’t do, put all this on your shoulders.”

“All what? I didn’t fucking do anything! I’m telling you.”

“Then give me something I can use! What were you transporting here? Why does your ship have a military grade jump drive? Tell me something other than, “I don’t know anything.” I know you know something.”

The crewman slammed a fist into the table, face contorting into a grimace.

He’s on the verge of crying, Fischer thought.

“Damn it,” the crewman said. “I told you, I don’t know. I’m just a systems engineer. Captain Cole signs my checks, I cash them. That’s it.”

The agent sighed, pushing his chair back and standing. “Okay, if that’s how you want to play this…” He turned, reaching for the door.

“I’m telling you the truth, man! Please!”

Fischer rose and was about to follow the agent out, when an idea hit him. “I hope you don’t get it too bad when you get back to confinement.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’ve been with us for a while.”

The man frowned. “What do you mean? I’ve only been here a few minutes.”

“You hungry?”

“I…” the man canted his head to the side, obviously trying to work out if Carter’s question was a trick. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Yeah, I could tell. How about I hook you up with some food, yeah? Alliance rations okay? It’s all we’ve got.”

“I don’t under—”

Carter cut him off with a dismissive wave of a hand. “Think nothing of it. It’s the least we can do. Maybe some clean clothes as well. Well treatment of prisoners is something the Protectorate takes very seriously. Especially prisoners that are as helpful as you.”

“Helpful? I didn’t—”

Fischer stepped around the table, moving closer to the man. He gave the agent a sidelong look, and the spook pulled the hatch shut.

Fischer leaned close. “Didn’t help?” He straightened. “Sure you did. And I want to make sure you get the best treatment we can provide. Tell you what, just sit tight, relax, I’ll have the ship’s stewards pull some extra rations from the galley. I’m sure we have some spare jumpsuits around here somewhere. Can’t have you going back to confinement in filthy clothes. What would everyone think?”

The ASI agent sat on the edge of the table, sandwiching the crewman between himself and Fischer. “Yeah. I mean, if there isn’t any incentive to help us with our investigation, no one’s going to come forward, right? Maybe with the promise of food and fresh clothes…”

The man’s eyes widened as understanding hit him. “But I didn’t help you guys! I didn’t say anything! I didn’t!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” the agent said, exchanging a knowing look with Fischer, making a show of their “connection” for their audience. “I think you’ve helped us a lot. More than any of your buddies.”

Fischer nodded. “I agree. We have to show our appreciation somehow.”

“No, I’m not hungry. I don’t want any new clothes.”

“We’ll bring you the food anyway,” Fischer said. “As for the clothes, unfortunately there’re regulations we have to follow.” He nodded at the man’s worn shirt and pants. “Can’t risk contamination, you know? I’d say a good shower is in order as well.”

“Oh, definitely,” the agent said. He stood and moved back to the hatch. “Definitely a shower.”

Fischer turned to follow.

“Wait! You can’t! You send me back like that and they’ll think…” he trailed off, horrified eyes darting between the two men.

“What?” Fischer asked. “That you helped us? Just tell them you didn’t say anything. I mean, you don’t know anything, right?”

“They won’t believe me!”

The agent grinned. “I sense a trend with you.”

“You send me back like that, they’ll think I snitched! They’ll kill me!”

“That’s awful,” Fischer said.

“Please… you can’t send me back like that.”

The agent shook his head. “You keep pretending, I’ll keep pretending. You give me something I can use… maybe we send you back without new clothes and still hungry.”

The man’s shoulder’s slumped, eyes staring blankly at the table. “I know you won’t believe me, but I am telling the truth. I don’t know anything about the job, really.”

Fischer knew they were on the edge. Just one more nudge. “But?”

The man sighed. “Look, we picked something up on Torin Marsh. Supposed to bring it here, today exactly. But I’m telling you the truth, I don’t know what the cargo is. Honest!”

The agent crossed his arms. “Torin Marsh is a long way from here.”

“That’s all I know. We were supposed to deliver it here. Some kind of weapon, I guess. But I don’t know, that was just the talk around the ship.”

“What kind of weapon?”

“I told you man, I don’t know. The captain doesn’t tell us shit. Please, can I go now? That’s all I know. I’m serious.”

The agent regarded the man for a long moment. He shot Fischer a questioning look, as if to ask, “What do you think?” Fischer shrugged. They’d probably already learned everything they were going to learn from this guy.

“All right. We’re done here,” the agent said, opening the hatch.

The man looked hopeful. “You’re not going to take my clothes?”

Fischer laughed. “And waste good uniforms? No way.” He pulled the hatch shut, shaking his head.

“Dan Carter,” the agent said, extending a hand. “Sorry about the puke thing.”

Fischer waved him off. “Don’t worry about it.”

The agent nodded at the locked hatch. “That was good work in there.”


“I take it you’ve questioned his type before?”

“Nope, first time.”

The agent chuckled. “Well, you seem to have the knack for it. What do you say we go find this mysterious weapon?”


Christmas at Shawshank

“Looks like they’ve been busy,” Agent Carter said. He was leaning against the bulkhead, scrolling through information on a data pad.

Fischer looked up from where he knelt by a plastic crate. “Yeah?”

“I don’t get it,” Fischer said, turning over a small electronic relay in his hand. A crate filled with similar components sat on the deck in front of him, its lid, emblazoned with a stylized “A” and the title “Alastair” folded open.

Agent Carter looked up from the data pad he’d been reviewing. “What’s that?”

Fischer held the relay out. “I mean, all of this stuff is legal, right? I mean, sure there’s a shit-ton of it, but still legal. I figured a ship like this would be packed with contraband.”

“Even pirates have to make a living,” Carter said.

Fischer turned back to the crate, then gazed over the stacks of similar containers lining the dimly lit cargo bay. The compartment was the largest on the ship, accounting for nearly eighty percent of its total volume, filled with shipping containers and racks of crates.

Carter had identified several hidden compartments and cubbies over the last hour, but aside from a single stash of narcotics—probably one of the crew’s—they hadn’t found anything.

“Okay, I’ll buy that,” Fischer said. “But then where’s this weapon they picked up?” He closed the lip and put a finger on the label affixed to the plastic. “This is bound for Corwynn.”

Carter nodded. “They’re all bound for Corwynn. In fact, everything we’ve processed so far is on the ship’s manifest.” He held up the data pad. “Hell, they’ve accounted for their load better than some actual legit shippers.”

“And that doesn’t seem a little odd to you?”

“Shit, I bet you could put this ship through a complete customs inspection right now and it would pass.”

Unconsciously, Fischer put a hand on the pistol holstered on his hip. He trained with it, of course, but wearing it wasn’t something he was completely used to. “And that’s bad?”

“Considering the crew and their reluctance to talk, extremely. There has to be something we’re missing here.”

“But if their shipping manifest matches the cargo, and all the receipts are legit, then what did the pick up at Torin Marsh?”

Carter tossed the pad on top of a container, shaking his head. “Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?”

Fischer chewed his lip, trying to work it out in his mind. Then it hit him. “Does that list the ship’s crew complement?”

Carter raised an eyebrow, then his eyes widened. He snatched up the data pad and started working through the information. “Thirty-seven.”

“And how many people do we have in custody?”


“They weren’t delivering cargo, they were delivering a person.”

“Come on.”

* * *

“An assassin?” Fischer asked, holding onto the black and yellow stripped support rail on the ceiling as the shuttle touched down.

Agent Carter nodded, starting down the still-opening ramp. He held up a finger. “No, that’s right, he’s with the crew… I don’t know who, we’ll have to go through the registry and mark them off one by one… No, the kid did… yeah, we just landed. Be there in—”

A two-tone alarm chimed through the hanger bay. Red and orange lights strobed. A second later Commander Reel’s voice came over the ship’s com, “All stations, all stations, Alert One, repeat Alert One.”

Carter stopped at the base of the ramp, shooting Fischer a questioning look.

Fischer swiped a finger over his Link, sending a call request to Control. Lieutenant Kyle answered. “CIC.”

“Kyle, Fischer, what’s going on?”

“Pegasi warship just dropped in-system. We’re moving to intercept. Captain’s looking for you.”

Fischer turned to Carter, not wanting to return to Control, but…

“Go,” Carter told him. “I’ll take care of this.”

Fischer hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “On my way.”

As Fischer turned to leave, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “You did good, kid.”

“Ha. Thanks.”

Another shipwide announcement piped through the bay. “Attention, attention, combat stations. Attention, attention, combat stations. This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill.”

“Shit,” Fischer said and took off for Control at a run.

He dodged several maintenance techs entering the bay, moving to refit the shuttles. Sailors filled Paladin’s corridors, hurrying to and from their stations. The controlled chaos of Alert One Combat Stations on any warship was hectic even under the best conditions. Crew pressed themselves against the bulkheads, sidestepped around each other and waited for clear hatches before swinging through.

“Make a hole!” someone yelled. A second later a column of Marines appeared wearing full combat kit: charcoal grey uniform with tactical vest, helmet and rifle.

Fischer pressed his back into the bulkhead, head bent forward against a conduit running along to the ceiling. After the Marines cleared he swung through an open hatch and keyed his Link.

Manchester answered almost immediately. “Tactical, PO, Manchester.”

“It’s Fischer, how are we looking?”

In the background he heard Commander Reel’s voice. “Two more Del Raycan ships moving to intercept.”

“All these active sensors are lighting the board up like a Christmas tree, Lieutenant,” Manchester said. “I’m having trouble seeing anything at all. It’s a mess, sir.”

“Tactical, do we have a solution yet?” Young asked.

“No, sir,” Manchester said. “We’re having difficulty—”

“Where is your station chief, Petty Officer?”

You know damn well where I’m at, Fischer thought, pulling himself up another ladder. “Tell him I’m on my way.”

Manchester relayed the message, but before the captain could respond, he heard Lieutenant Kyle from Communications. “Message from Majestic Dawn, Captain. They are requesting permission to enter our envelope.”

“Negative,” Young barked. “We bring them in any closer, we won’t be able to navigate. Advise them to proceed to the prearranged danger coordinates and stand by.”

“Aye, sir.”

Young leaned across the plot, orange and blue light reflecting off his face. “Reel?”

The XO shook her head. “No response from the Del Raycan fighters, Captain.”

Another klaxon reverberated. “All stations, all stations, be advised. We have confinement breach, repeat confinement breach, this is not a drill.”

Fischer froze halfway up the ladder, conflicted. Down the ladder, he’d make it to the brig in three minutes. Up the ladder, CIC was only thirty seconds away.

In the background, Young shouted over the klaxon, “What the fuck is going on?”

“All stations, all stations, be advised,” the confinement guard continued, “a prisoner has escaped.”

Fischer adjusted his grip, pressed his feet to the outside rails and slid down the ladder.



Red lights flashed in time with the klaxon still reverberating through Paladin’s corridors.

“Move!” Fischer shouted at two crew coming through the hatch ahead of him. They quickly jumped aside, pressing themselves into the bulkhead, allowing Fischer to swing through the hatch.

“Attention all personnel,” Commander Reel’s voice piped through the ship. “A Code Red Lockdown is not in place. Be advised, there is an escaped enemy combatant moving freely through the ship. Extreme caution is advised. Report contact to Control.”

Where are you going? Fischer thought, sliding down another ladder.

Deck fourteen was home to Paladin’s confinement section, a small series of secure holding cells designed for minor violators or prisoner transports. Not for entire crews. He swiped the back of his hand across the security panel and the hatch clicked open.

Inside, he found one Marine kneeling next to another lying unconscious on the deck, blood seeping from a gash on his head. He looked up as Fischer came through the hatch. “He jumped us, sir. Didn’t see it coming at all.”

Fischer knelt down. The unconscious Marine was still breathing; his pulse was strong. “He’s going to be okay. Where are the others?”

“Went chasing after the prisoner, sir.”

Fischer nodded. “Stay with him.”


Another alarm sounded. This is getting out of hand, Fischer thought, waiting for the broadcast.

“Unauthorized shuttle launch. Repeat, unauthorized shuttle launch.”

The Marine looked shocked. “He can’t steal a shuttle, can he?”

Fischer took off at a sprint, knowing he wouldn’t make it in time.

* * *

Wailing alarms and flashing strobes assaulted all of Fischer’s senses as he entered Paladin’s hangar bay. Deck crew and Marines scattered across the deck, fleeing as the Falcon class shuttle lifted.

To his right, several Marines fired their sidearms, the gun blasts barely audible over the roaring engines. “Cease fire!” Fischer shouted, waving his arms.

He ducked under the onslaught from the shuttle’s engines as it rotated toward the open bay doors. A shimmering blue forcefield separated the deck from the terrifying vacuum of space.

The ship’s comm blared. “This is the Captain. Stop that shuttle by any means necessary. Shoot it down if you have to.”

At that, the Marines leveled their weapons again, taking aim.

“No!” Fischer screamed. “You hit the wrong thing and that shuttle’ll blow us all to hell! Do not fire!”

As the shuttle neared the forcefield, Fischer scanned the deck, frantically looking for options. Two additional Albatross assault shuttles sat to his left, the only remaining Falcon to his right. A figure was standing the by Falcon’s portside engine, arms crossed, watching as the stolen shuttle departed.

This is not smart, Fischer told himself, already moving.

“Alert! Transition imminent. Take caution.” The recorded warning was deafening in the hangar.

“Hey,” Fischer waved a hand at the pilot as he neared. “This your bird?”

The man eyed Fischer with one eyebrow raised. His black hair was slightly too long to be regulation and he needed a shave. His blue eyes were striking against his brown skin. He gave Fischer a sardonic smile. “Yeah, she’s mine. What’d you have in mind, Lieutenant?”

A new klaxon, accompanied by another automated warning. “Containment field transition in-progress.”

Fischer turned as the stolen shuttle’s bow slipped through the forcefield. Sparkling blue light enveloped the craft as is pierced the protective shield, sending streaks of lightning across the surface.

The pilot laughed when Fischer turned back, obviously reading his expression. He gave a sharp nod at his shuttle. “Hop in.”


Fast and Furious

“Can you catch him?” Fischer asked, hands pressed against the console in front of him.


That was a preview of Fire for Effect. To read the rest purchase the book.

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