Veronica sez: The Library Journal Best Books of 2016 pick Pets In Space anthology is reduced to $.99 for January 17 through 22 only! Don't miss your chance to pick up this fun assortment of stories featuring scifi romance and heroic pets. Here's an excerpt from my story in the volume. (Slightly edited from the published version.) The Sectors Criminal Investigation Agency has now boarded the ship to talk to the stowaway.
“SCIA has boarded the ship,” Maeve said on the senior officer link. “On their way to the wardroom.”
The special agent in charge wasn‘t the stern bureaucrat with a badge and a blaster Owen had expected, but a drop-dead gorgeous woman in a well-fitted suit, with a mane of curling red hair and a sultry deep voice. She threw him off for a moment, which he realized was probably one of her most effective tactics.
“I’m Special Agent Anjali Paterson, these are my associates Ben Fredricks, Al Vorson and Emund Osto.” Having introduced herself and her team, Anjali honed in on Tyrelle, sitting between Owen and Jake. “You must be the stowaway?”
“I’m Captain Fleming, and Miss Tyrelle is an inadvertent passenger,” Fleming said, his voice firm. “The CLC Line has no complaint against her.”
“Should she have a lawyer present?” Owen asked.
“And you are?” Anjali’s voice was cold as she eyed him.
“Cargo Master Owen Embersson, Miss Tyrelle’s advocate on this ship under ICC regulations.” He made his voice just as icy. She didn’t scare him, except of course when the issue was her authority over Tyrelle.
The agent closed her eyes for a moment and rubbed her forehead. “I sense we’re getting off on the wrong foot here. Miss Tyrelle isn’t being charged with anything. She’s not under arrest, and she doesn’t even have to talk to me…although, of course, I hope she will. She’s free to go if you choose to shuttle her to the surface, Captain.”
Tyrelle clutched Owen’s arm. “Where would I go? What would I do? I have no credits, no papers. They – they’d find me again—”
He was given no chance to reassure her.
“Exactly. And none of us want such an outcome, do we?” A pleased, almost secretive expression on her expertly made-up face, Anjali seated herself in the central chair across the table from Captain Fleming. “Let’s start over again. Can you please introduce yourselves?”
The group went around the table, providing names and ranks, with Maeve chiming in at the end.
“All right, I can understand the Ship’s Security Officer being involved, and I’m willing to accept the advocate’s presence, rather than waste time arguing. Let me tell you what I’m here for.” She took charge of the meeting smoothly. “For a long time the SCIA has been trying to penetrate the Amarotu Combine operations in this arm of the Sectors. Finding this stowaway represents our first major break in the case. I’m prepared to offer Miss Tyrelle a deal, a substantial deal, in return for her assistance.” Speaking directly to her, Anjali said, “We’d give you a new identity, more than enough credits to begin a new life and relocation to a frontier Sector world far from here where your nonTerrestial origins would draw less attention. I can offer you several choices of new home.”
“After I help you.”
“Well, yes. First I want to hear your story.” Anjali held up one elegant, well-manicured hand. “After which I’ll tell you what we know and what we want.”
Tyrelle told her story much as she’d recited it to Owen in the secret garden a few days prior.
Owen was glad she’d been through it once with him already, because she sounded calmer and more controlled today.
Tapping her fingers on the Zulairian mahogany conference table, Anjali nodded. “Yes, we’ve known for some time now the Combine has a standing order with the Shemdylann for slaves with psychic powers or any other unusual attributes. They pay an extra bounty for such sentients. Your world, your people and abilities are previously unknown to us, Miss Tyrelle, so your home solar system is probably deep in enemy Mawreg territory.”
“Mawreg?” Eyebrows raised, she sought enlightenment from Owen.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said, remembering she didn’t even know about the Shemdylann pirates who’d originally captured her.
“The Sectors government is concerned about the increasing link between the pirates and the Combine,” Anjali explained. “We’re not sure if the connection represents a new strategy for creating chaos in the Sectors on the part of the Mawreg overlords, or if the Shemdylann are becoming more independent. Those are among the facts we’re hoping to glean during this investigation. We also have a Mellurean Mind attached to this task force as a consultant, at their request, due to the Combine’s concentration on sentients with special abilities.”
Owen liked the sound of the Mellurean involvement, which might benefit Tyrelle, if the all-powerful ancient race took an interest. The aliens kept themselves apart but anytime Sectors Command could persuade them to assist was counted as a victory. The Mellureans had unparalleled mental powers so might be extra sympathetic to a woman with similar abilities.
“Our understanding is the Combine has several teams of captives working as assassins, influencers, what have you under the control of what they not-so-humorously call ring masters,” Anjali said, waving one hand in a circle. “Like old-fashioned circuses? The ringmasters send out their captives under the close eye of a subordinate handler, who usually travels on the same ship with the assassin concealed in an illicit cryo sleep container such as the one you found. The handler has the tech to activate the explosive collar if needed.”
“Yes.” Tyrelle nodded, agreeing with the agent’s assessment. “You understand the system well.”
“Thank you for the confirmation. The Combine provides services on a contract basis to others and also uses these unfortunate prisoners for executions and coercive actions serving the Combine’s purposes. We believe Miss Tyrelle was separated from her handler due to the freight forwarding situation you encountered two stops ago. He or she—”
Tyrelle shivered in her chair. “He. Cosimil.”
Owen could feel her fear, and he took a deep breath to subdue his anger. He had to concentrate on the agent’s discussion.
“He’ll try to reacquire her when you arrive at Devir Six in a few days. Since you kept the incident so quiet, for which I congratulate and thank you, Captain Fleming, we believe the Combine has no idea she’s been exposed. We want to preserve our advantage.” Focusing directly on Tyrelle, she said, “We want you to go undercover as our operative.”