The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy
Greta van der Rol
"Watching the Admiral fumble at falling in love is a treat, and makes him even more realistic. The clash between races is handled extremely well. My only complaint is it stopped too soon - clever, clever writer."
"This book is a winner. Science fiction action-adventure with a romance thrown in. Wonderful characters, intriguing world-building. Strong heroine interacting with a alpha military hero. This might be the first in a space opera series. If so, this may be a series worth following. There is definitely a second book coming and I am definitely going to be looking for it."
"The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy is what a proper SF story should be: high stakes interspecies conflict, plots within plots, action, adventure, technology to satisfy even the most discriminating, um ‘geek/nerd/lover of all things hi-tech’, and—oh yes— a healthy dollop of romance thrown in."
Politics. Hatred. Star systems on the brink of war. A species under threat of extinction from a deadly virus.
Ex-Admiral Chaka Saahren goes undercover to discover the truth. Systems Engineer, Allysha Marten, takes one last job to rid her of debts and her cheating husband. On Tisyphor, deadly secrets about the past explode, as Allysha and the undercover agent scramble to prevent the coming holocaust and xenocide.
When the ex-Admiral’s identity is revealed, she must come to terms with her feelings for a man she thinks caused the death of innocent civilians, including her father.
In a race against time, Allysha must set aside her conflicted emotions and trust a man she barely knows. Saahren must convince the woman he loves to find the truth as he once more assumes his position as … The Iron Admiral.
Shernish, Carnessa, main planet of the Qerran Suldanate
Shernish, Carnessa, main planet of the Qerran Suldanate
Ullnish Space Port, a spectacular confection of multi-colored domes and turrets in the best Ptorix architectural style, glowed a welcome. Allysha traded a look with Sean as the driver guided his taxi around the concourse to join a line of vehicles, all depositing passengers.
“Looks like we made it,” she murmured.
“So far. But they’ll be after us.” Sean stared along the road to Shernish, where lights were starting to hold their own in the gathering dusk. A lingering line of orange still stained the horizon where the sun had disappeared.
Allysha paid the driver and climbed out of the taxi to join Sean on the pavement. He reached out to grasp her arm but she jerked away. “Let’s not make with the happy couple thing, okay? I mean it. When this is over, I want a divorce.”
He grinned that lopsided grin she used to think was cute. “Don’t be like that, Ally. You know you’re the only one I love.”
Time was that might have worked; had worked. Now she was beginning to wonder what she’d ever seen in him. “Me and that blonde bimbo you were screwing in my bed?”
Sean flushed, scratched at his hair. She’d come home early from her trip to Brjyl and caught him at it, stark bollocks naked with her riding him.
They followed the crowd into the cavernous main hall. Most of the passengers were Humans, probably getting out while they could. Just like us. Sean headed toward the flight schedule displayed in the middle of the main hall while Allysha waited, arms folded, foot tapping on inlaid tiles, eyes flicking around the hall. The building glittered around her, all curved walls and ornate embellishment, busy with people and luggage. A Ptorix voice rose above the echoing din and she started, nerves jangling. No. The two conical forms approaching her had pale blue fur and wore elaborately decorated, green robes. High caste business people, she’d guess. The writhing tentacles at the ends of each of four arms betrayed tension, nervousness maybe, but not alarm. They passed her, appearing to glide in their floor-length costumes.
Hard to believe that the sight of a Ptorix would frighten her. Then again, she would never have imagined the violent demonstrations, crowds of Ptorix brandishing placards saying ‘Humans Out’ rampaging through the streets, attacking human businesses, looting, even assaulting passers by. She shuddered at the memory.
Sean returned, weaving his way between people and luggage. “Next shuttle to the space station leaves in ten minutes.” Stale alcohol wafted with his words. He cast a glance toward the entrance doors. “Best to get lost in the crowd. You can bet Bronx’s mashers will come here when they can’t find us.”
He strode off down the corridor toward the lounge, pushing past people as he went. Allysha hurried to catch up with him. Idiot. How he could have been stupid enough to fall foul of the local crime boss was beyond her. Bronx would ensure they’d both suffer. Ptorix law was very direct when it came to debts; Sean’s debt was her debt. Well, this was it. One last job to pay off Bronx and then the divorce court. Bye, bye Sean.
The corridor widened into the departure lounge, little more than rows and rows of seating and a counter beside the closed doors to the ramp. All the seats were occupied; at least an hundred other people huddled together in nervous groups, their belongings stacked around their legs on the floor. At the counter a woman sobbed, pleading, and a man, red faced and belligerent, shouted at a sullen Ptorix attendant. Somewhere in the crowd, a child started to cry. Every now and then a few bars of piped music struggled above the formless din of murmured conversations until it was drowned out again. The place was claustrophobic. Too many people, too much noise, too much fear. Foreboding pressed down on Allysha’s soul.
“Lucky for us,” Sean said, gazing upon the scene with a satisfied grin. “We’ll be harder to spot in this.”
She shot him a glance. Lucky? If this was lucky, she couldn’t imagine being unlucky.
Following Sean, she edged into the crowd, standing too close to too many people. The sooner they got out of here, the better. The air-conditioning fought a losing battle with the stink of nervous sweat. Her skin prickled with heat. She peered between the bodies, scanning the few Ptorix in particular. They stood together, trying not to attract attention. Judging by their tentacles, which waved in and out of the four wide sleeves like an anemone in a swift current, they were as unhappy to be caught up in this as everybody else. Shouts rang out above the background buzz. Her heart jolted and settled again. Just another irate customer venting his fury on the unfortunate counter staff. She eyed the water dispenser out in the open, near the corridor. She’d love a drink. Best to wait.
Sean’s leap forward sent a lightning bolt down her spine. Her pulse rate slowed when she realized he’d snared two seats against the wall when the incumbents went to the counter. She flung herself down in her chair and rolled tight shoulders. The shuttle should be boarding soon. Surely.
A flash of blue at the edge of the crowd. Her heart bounced. She grabbed Sean’s arm. “Bronx’s goon. Over to the right.”
“Yes, I see him,” Sean said.
The big Ptorix was so obviously a thug. His dark-blue fur marked him as low caste, and his tentacles slashed in rhythmic arcs; backwards and forward, purposeful, concentrated. She slid down in the chair. The three eyes at the top of the Ptorix’s conical body could easily cover three hundred and twenty degrees. But big as he was, most of the human men were taller; he’d find it difficult to spot them in the crush of bodies and luggage.
The piped music stopped. Silence fell as people looked up expectantly, listening. At last, the boarding announcement.
“Galaxy Interplanet would like to welcome all passengers traveling to Carnessa Station for transit. Please have your ticket ready for scanning.”
The room erupted into noise and activity as people stood and gathered up belongings. Multi-headed queues began to form at the gate, passengers jostling for position to be first into the ramp. Allysha couldn’t see the Ptorix thug anymore through the thicket of bodies. Or more importantly, he couldn’t see them.
“Hurry.” Sean pushed his way forward. “We can go to the front—we’ve got first class tickets.”
“I’m impressed,” she said. “Employers with money.”
Sean barged his way through the throng, brandishing his ticket like a weapon in response to any protest. Even so, he had to work to get through the logjam at the gate.
“Ghatuzsh!” The Ptorix howl rose above the din.
Her pulse raced. “He’s seen us. Quick.”
Sean surged forward, shoving his way through protesting passengers to the scanner. The match of ID and ticket took a split second, then he was through, sprinting down the passageway, Allysha pounding at his heels.
The ramp bent to the left, no longer in a direct line from the lounge. Sean slowed to a rapid walk and she followed suit, panting. She glanced over her shoulder. Shouts in Ptorix and Standard issued from the shuttle lounge but no one seemed to be following.
“We’re okay, Ally.” Sean’s face creased into a satisfied smile. “We’re safe. They won’t let him follow us.”
She just looked at him. If this was safe, so was holding up the targets in a shooting gallery. “Whatever you say. I hope this job’s worth the effort.”
“It’ll be worth it, Ally, you’ll see. We’ll be able to buy Bronx off and still have plenty left.”
She hoped so. This job on Tisyphor wouldn’t be hard work. An old mine being reopened, existing Ptorix systems to be interfaced with a brand new human system. Set up the security, set up monitoring. It was similar to the work she had completed at Brjyl. And the money, as Sean had said, was excellent.
A steward greeted them at the airlock and directed them to their seats, half-way down on the left of the first class compartment. The cabin started to fill; grim faced businessmen, a couple with two children, an elderly couple, all escaping Carnessa. When a couple of Ptorix came on board her pulse began to race again. But she recognized the high-caste businessmen she’d seen in the departure lounge. They were guided to two places on the other side of the shuttle, where the steward pressed the buttons that converted the human seats to Ptorix platforms for them. Soon all the seats were full.
“Welcome aboard the transfer shuttle to Carnessa Space Station,” said the IS in Ptorix. “The flight will take approximately forty five minutes. Please relax and make yourselves comfortable.”
The announcement was repeated in Standard. At last. The hatch seals hissed. Harnesses rose from compartments in the seats and clamped into place over her shoulders and legs. The ship lurched into motion. She let out a breath, blowing away the tension in her shoulders.
The ship’s cabin had been conditioned for take-off, but she still felt some of the pressure of acceleration. She gazed at the view screen as the ground raced away below, details lost in the greater whole. The lights of Ullnish lined the dark ribbon of river and out to sea scattered gleams betrayed ships waiting to dock. To the west, a small patch of lights must be Shernish.
The ship pierced the clouds and the ground disappeared. Like a curtain closing at the end of a performance. One last job. One last job and she could get on with the rest of her life.
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