NATIONAL BESTSELLING SERIES
There’s no rest for a Longknife—even if you’re a newlywed. Vice Admiral Kris Longknife’s honeymoon gets cancelled when she hears that the space raider’s home world may have been discovered. Finding where the raiders came from could be the key to saving humanity. If only uncovering their secrets was that easy...
As Kris returns home, she ends up tangling with a mutinous crew determined to take off on their own. The dissident group leads Kris straight into a new mess—a system filled with strange, deadly enemies poised to wipe another sentient civilization out of existence. Kris and her squadron are ready to prevent total annihilation, but the mutineers have other plans...
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Mike Shepherd is the national bestselling author of the Kris Longknife series, including Defender, Furious, and Daring, as well as the Jump Universe series, including To Do or Die and They Also Serve, and the Vicky Peterwald series, including Target.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Rear Admiral Kris Longknife relaxed, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her oh-so-vibrantly-alive skin. Two weeks ago, she could have easily ended her days dead and frozen in the dark emptiness of space.
But she’d won her battle. She and her command were alive, and countless billions of ill-advised alien invaders were dead.
Now, finally, Kris was free to enjoy the beach with just herself and a smile. Oh, and a just-as-naked Jack, husband of less than a month, beside her.
It seemed like it had taken forever to get here, to take the third day of her interrupted honeymoon. A honeymoon should be a full month. That was why it had the “moon” thing in it, right?
Her honeymoon had been interrupted after one single lovely night. To Kris’s way of thinking, when she reported back to duty she was owed twenty-nine more days.
Kris was most definitely keeping count.
Now, two days into the rest of her honeymoon, she was enjoying herself. And looking forward to another twenty-seven.
She deserved the break. It had taken Kris two weeks to shed all of her hats, as well as her clothes and inhibitions.
What wife needs inhibitions around a husband like Jack? was asked and answered with a smile.
For two long weeks she had been Commander, Alwa Defense Sector; Senior Executive Officer of Nuu Enterprises in the Alwa System; and United Society Viceroy to the Human Colonists on Alwa as well as Ambassador to the Aliens. For two interminable weeks, she’d worn her multiple hats, burying her dead and tending to the living.
Collecting the wreckage of both human and alien ships had not taken long. Faced with possible capture, both sides had dropped their reactor containment vessels and blown themselves to atoms. Kris knew why the humans had: The aliens must be denied any scrap of information that could lead them back to human space on the other side of the galaxy.
But why are the aliens doing it, too?
Five of Kris’s ships had been blown to bits and another ten had been bled heavily of their Smart MetalTM armor. Two of those losses had been from the six ships spun together from her twelve survey and ore-hauling ships. Thank heavens Admiral Benson, commander Canopus Station and its yard, as well as retired Musashi Admiral Hiroshi, who commanded the Kure yard, had survived. Admiral Hiroshi had been wounded as the Kikukei struggled under heavy alien laser fire. Still, the two yards had already changed the four damaged warships back into seven ore carriers.
They were now carrying asteroid miners back to their distant claims.
This made a lot of the people who reported to Kris as Senior Executive Officer of Nuu Enterprises in the Alwa System happy. When the mines shipped ore, the fabricators and mills on the moon made goods, both for war and for the budding modernization of the Alwa economy.
Sooner or later, there had to be a way to make money off the crazy Alwans. Some very savvy businesspeople were pulling their hair out as they tried.
Kris, being Navy, would let them worry about that.
As Viceroy to the humans on Alwa, she’d been happy to report the success of the U.S., Helvetican Confederacy, and Imperial Musashi Navy in defending their lives. Then, as ambassador to the Alwa aliens, she’d been invited to address the Association of Associations.
That address had not gone well.
Kris came prepared with visuals, both of the gigantic alien base ship and one of the several hundred monstrous alien fighting ships. She also projected pictures from her battle board of how the fight went.
Half the aliens in the sunlit plaza where they met stood in one silent huddle, eyes wide, arms, formerly wings, showing their only reaction as they flapped nervously on occasion. The other half of the Association’s members were mostly made up of older Alwans, who did a lot more flapping as they ran around the plaza. Their arms waved wildly, and their long necks ducked up and down as they ran together in small groups that formed and re-formed to no pattern that Kris, or any other human, had been able to figure out.
KRIS, I’M TRYING TO FIND A PATTERN IN ALL THIS, BUT NEITHER I NOR ANY OF MY KIDS CAN SPOT ONE. Such an admission from Nelly and her family of supercomputers was unheard of, but not to be unexpected. Biological diversity could introduce such random factors that defied rational analysis.
What came next was more rational, but no less surprising.
The Alwans had a serious debate.
For Alwans, that meant putting on wild displays of motion and plumage, what they had left of it. The Alwans may have started as birds, but they hadn’t flown in several million years, and feathers now were quite vestigial. Still, the plumage was colorful and made for some rather bright displays.
Among these Alwans, particularly the ones Kris knew as Roosters, all this dancing around and flapping resulted in no actual harm. No doubt among the southern clans, the Ostriches, there would have been some heavy chest butting, maybe even a head kick or two.
When it was all over, the plaza emptied in a blink.
“What just happened here?” Kris asked her Granny Rita.
“Damned if I know,” the old woman replied. Rita was the titular head of the human colony for near on eighty years, a survivor of the Iteeche War as well as a marriage to Kris’s great-grampa Ray, known better to most as King Raymond I of the United Society.
She turned to one of the Alwans who worked with the humans, and, using Nelly’s translator, repeated her question about what just happened.
Bringer of Harmony Between the People and the Heavy People waved her own arms in what almost came off as a human shrug. “They have agreed to disagree. They will take this back to their own associations. There will be much more dancing and posing. Then, who knows what will happen? Maybe we will see different elders at the next Association of Associations.”
And if the news reports were true from the Sharp Eye View, Alwa’s main news network, the debate in the local associations were going long, loud, wild . . . and just about as inconclusive.
Kris was only too willing to let them do their arm waving while she spent her time on the beach.
Kris reached for Jack. She found him, fondled what she found, and let her smile grow into a happy leer as he responded to her.
“Wife, won’t you let a man rest?” Jack said with a groan that failed to reach below his belly button.
“But you seem ready for more. I’ve learned that you men need a lot of rest, but . . .” Kris said with a pout that she knew had too much eager smile in it.
Her husband reached over and caressed her closest breast. “Hmm, the wife does seem willing, and it appears the husband is recharged.”
“Kris, are you decent?” came from the bowl where Kris had put both her computer, Nelly, and Jack’s computer, Sal, so the two supercomputers, easily worth as much as any of the warships in orbit, would not get sand in their self-organizing matrices.
“Nelly, what does it matter to you? And why are you interrupting my husband and me?” Kris demanded.
“I don’t care what you two humans do with your time. I’m enjoying working on some refinements to the new Smart Metal they’re producing at the lunar mills, but Penny wants to know.”
“Because she and Mimzy are coming up the beach, and the view from Mimzy says you don’t meet the normal human standard for decent.”
Kris grabbed for the sarong provided by the hotel and lay it over herself. A glance down showed that it had merely added color to her skin and hid nothing. Jack doubled over the sarong he had worn from their cottage, but it really did no better.
Kris tossed the spare towel over his lap.
“I’d rather you cover up a bit,” was his response. “No doubt, Penny has her boyfriend, Lieutenant Iizuka, with her.”
Now Kris did glance down the beach. Yep, Penny, one of her recent Maids of Honor and her boyfriend, sidekick, and fellow intelligence officer, but from the Musashi Navy, were coming up the beach. He was well behind Penny and making a studious effort to keep his eyes anywhere but where Kris and Jack were.
“Nelly, tell Penny to go away. I’m on my honeymoon.”
“She says that you’ve gotten more of a honeymoon than she ever got, and you sent her off to find the alien home world and have been avoiding her ever since she got back.”
“Ouch,” Jack said.
Kris lost her smile. Penny did have a claim on short honeymoons. She and her bridegroom Tommy had enjoyed only one night before they’d followed Lieutenant Kris Longknife into a hopeless and desperate fight to save their home planet. They’d won through, but the last shot from a dying battleship had skewered their tiny fast attack boat. Tommy had made a heroic leap that shoved Penny to safety and left him pinned in the wreckage. Kris made one of those horrible calls you do in a fight that saved most of their lives . . . but cost Tommy his.
That Kris had been silently in love with Tommy long before he met Penny only added to the pain.
That, however, was an old scar. It had nothing to do with Kris’s being too busy to see Penny during the last two weeks and choosing her honeymoon over something Kris was sure could wait.
“Is there any chance you will give me another week?” Kris asked, through Nelly.
“Nope,” came back quickly. Down the beach, Penny didn’t even hesitate as she made her way through the soft sand toward Kris.
Defeated by her own subordinate, Rear Admiral Kris Longknife stood to meet the lieutenant commander. She wrapped the sarong around herself several times, resulting in her almost becoming decent. Beside her, Jack did the same, his being wrapped at the waist while Kris’s started at her oh-so-small breasts that her husband seemed very satisfied with, so Kris was doing her best to be satisfied with them, too.
Jack’s sarong failed to hide a certain bulge, so he sat back down and settled the extra towel in his lap.
“We’re decent,” Kris grumbled in resignation.
Penny and her fellow intelligence officer labored through the soft sand to stand before Kris. Iizuka Masao was ever the dutiful gentleman. He spread a towel, and the two of them settled their khaki-clad bodies cross-legged on the cloth.
Without preamble, Penny said. “You sent us to find the alien home world. I think we did. You really need to see it.”
Kris studied her friend. The short sleeves of her khaki uniform showed pale skin starting to burn.
“Are you wearing any sunscreen?” Kris asked.
“I told her she needed sunscreen,” Lieutenant Iizuka said, “but she insisted on charging out here as soon as we arrived.”
“It can wait,” Penny snapped.
“Let’s adjourn this meeting to the veranda of our bungalow,” Kris said, pointing to where she and Jack were staying.
“Kris, you can’t put me off.”
“I’m not putting you off,” Kris snapped. “I’m just moving this meeting to someplace where you won’t be laid up for a week with sunburn if it goes more than, say, fifteen minutes.”
“Okay,” Penny said, and stomped her way through the sand toward the nearest shade. Kris followed, leaving the men to collect the blankets, towels, and computers.
At the bungalow, Kris offered Penny a seat at their breakfast table, then excused herself to dress. Jack soon joined her. Both of them chose the most covering of the clothes provided by the inn, rather than their uniforms. For Jack, it was a pair of shorts and a three-button shirt; for Kris it was a muumuu. Both took the time to reinstall their computers. For Jack, it was just a harness that settled easily on his head. Kris, however, had paid to have Nelly jacked directly into her brain. She removed the plug that had kept sand out and plugged a wire from Nelly back in.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH, were the first thoughts that formed in Kris’s head. I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT FORGET ME.
THAT’S NICE TO HEAR, had more sarcasm in it than a computer should be allowed. However, Nelly had been upgraded way too many times to keep count since she had been given to Kris before the first grade. One of those upgrades had included a fragment of a storage device left by the three alien races that had built the highway between the stars 2 million years ago.
Now, Nelly was just plain Nelly. Obstinate, outspoken, an atrocious joke teller, and the one item that could possibly rival Jack as the most important thing in her life. SHALL WE GO SEE WHAT PENNY HAS FOUND?
I ALREADY KNOW, KRIS. MIMZY TOLD ME. I’VE JUST BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO FIND TIME TO LOOK INTO PANDORA’S BOX.
Which was Nelly’s none too gentle way of reminding Kris that she and her kids could handle a lot more data a whole lot faster than mere meat mortals.
Kris settled Nelly in her usual place below her collarbone, eyed Jack, who gave a slight shrug, and together they returned to the veranda. Iizuka Masao had rustled up two more chairs from somewhere, and the four took their own corner of the table, Kris sat with Jack on her right. Masao settled on her left, leaving Penny the position directly across from Kris.
That was a bit of a surprise. Kris had expected Penny to take the place at her left hand. Clearly, Penny wanted to confront Kris head-on. Mentally, Kris notched up the category of this meeting from Best Friends’ Get-together to Official Staff Meeting; maybe even Staffer has a Major Bone to Pick with Boss.
Kris raised an inquisitive eyebrow and waited for Penny to start. It was, after all, her dime.
“You sent me to search five or six systems and see if one of them might have the night sky that we’ve found on the overhead of all the alien ships we’ve examined. See if it might be the home of the alien raiders we’ve been fighting,” Penny said without preamble.
“I know I got back just in time to see you win a hell of a fight with one more of those alien raiding clans. I know you’re busy. But I also heard that there were three alien warships watching your latest fight, and they’re likely observers from three more of those huge clans. You know and I know that there’s another fight coming. We don’t know how long it will take them to get their act together. Okay, fine, you have a lot on your plate. I can understand it. You’re one of those damn Longknifes, but you’re just a Longknife. Not God.”
Penny paused for a moment. “But, Kris, I’ve seen shit that I really think you need to see for yourself. You need to see this stuff and dig deeper than I was able to with just one ship and me looking over my shoulders and ready to run if anyone or anything said ‘boo.’”
Penny again paused in her pleading, and Kris considered what she’d heard. Yes, she’d sent Penny off in a knocked-together warship with half its lasers aimed aft so she could shoot while she ran. And yes, Kris had more questions about the aliens than she could catalog.
The damn things would not say a word when hailed. Heaven knows, Kris had tried and tried again to open communications with them. Their response was to try to kill her every time, and when they failed, they made sure that every last one of them died.
These aliens were frustrating...
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