To combat manipulative megacorporations with telepathic technology, two heroes must rebel, overthrowing the enemy's oppressive influence in the third book in this exciting sci-fi adventure
In a galaxy where the super-powers are the megacorporations, and ambitious executives play fast and loose with ethics in order to secure resources, where can good people turn for help? The megacorps control the jump gates and trade routes. They use psi-techs, implant-enhanced operatives with psionic abilities, who are bound by unbreakable contracts.
Psi-tech Cara Carlinni once had her mind turned inside out by Alphacorp, but she escaped, found her place with the Free Company, and now it's payback time.
Ben Benjamin leads the Free Company, based on the rogue space station, Crossways. The megacorps have struck at Crossways once—and failed—so what are they planning now? Crossways can't stand alone, and neither can the independent colonies, though maybe together they all have a chance.
But something alien is stirring in the depths of foldspace. Something bigger than the squabbles between megacorporations and independents. Foldspace visions are supposed to be a figment of the imagination.
At least, that's what they teach in flight school. Ben Benjamin knows it's not true. Meeting a void dragon was bad enough, but now there's the Nimbus to contend with. Are the two connected? Why do some ships transit the Folds safely and others disappear without a trace?
Until now, humans have had a free hand in the Galaxy, settling colony after colony, but that might change because the Nimbus is coming.
Release date: October 3, 2017
Print pages: 544
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If this was winning, Cara Carlinni was sure as hell glad they hadn’t lost. It had been a tough year since the combined fleets of five megacorporations had tried to pound Crossways into submission.
Tried and failed.
Cara threaded her way through what had been a piazza, if that didn’t sound too pretentious on a space station. It was an area wide enough for an assortment of shops, booths, and pavement cafes. Enterprising merchants had cleared away enough rubble to set up their stalls again within a few days of the bombardment, and since there were other, more urgent repairs, they’d been allowed to get on with it. They’d reused the rubble, incorporated it into new walls or carted it off, bucket by bucket, to be disposed of—probably illegally—via an airlock, overseen by someone’s uncle’s third cousin with a blind eye suitable for turning.
She came here most days, ostensibly to get her coffee fix, but largely to take the temperature of the feelings on the station. Empathy cranked up to eleven, she wandered between the stalls, chatting with some vendors, nodding politely to others. She gave the impression of being relaxed, but she glanced left and right, cataloging the faces, noting anything out of place in the organized chaos.
The wounded space station spun in high orbit above Olyanda, a planet with significant deposits of precious platinum, vital for the jump gate system. A platinum bonanza was both a blessing and a curse—a blessing only if you could hold on to it.
Sadly, all the platinum in the galaxy couldn’t bring back the dead. They might never know how many they’d lost. A station like Crossways didn’t keep tabs on its inhabitants.
Whether you called Crossways a free port or a rogue depended on which side of the corporate fence you stood on. Cara might once have called it rogue, but she’d crossed that line when the good guys proved to be anything but and Crossways’ criminal community—most of them, anyway—turned out to be not so bad once you got to know them.
She stood in line at Java Joe’s. The woman in front of her had thinning gray hair. There was the ridge of a scar running diagonally across her scalp, leaving an odd spiky tuft sticking up at an angle. The woman ran her fingers over her head, combing the tuft back into place. It lasted about five seconds and then, strand by strand, sprang to attention again. Cara was suddenly curious to run her fingers through her own short locks to see if there was anything out of place. No, she’d combed it this morning; it was fine.
Joe wasn’t the fastest barista on station, but he gave each customer his full attention, served great coffee from his little handcart, and picked up the best gossip. The thin-haired woman took her cup and wandered away, leaving Cara at the front of the line.
“Hey, headspace lady.” Joe grinned at her. “How are you doing this morning?” He’d quickly worked out that she was a Telepath. The Free Company flash on her buddysuit identified her as a psi-tech of one sort or another, but she could have been a Finder or a Navigator or even a Psi-Mech.
“Hey, Joe. Usual please.”
“Coming right up.” He hit the grinder, filled the filter basket, and tamped the coffee grounds. While the water jetted through, he half-turned his head. “You tell all the Free
Company to come here for their morning coffee. I could do with the business.”
Cara glanced round. “It looks busy enough.”
“Yeah, now it is, but Captain Syke put a temporary curfew on us. Close at nine sharp and don’t open again until seven the following morning. I used to stay open until midnight for the shift change workers.”
“Curfew? Has there been trouble?”
“A few locals getting excited. You know how it is.”
There were still tensions, of course. Nearly fourteen months after the battle, and some sections of Crossways were still sealed off, leaking air like an old sieve. Fifty thousand displaced inhabitants from the station’s rim had migrated toward the illusion of safety at the central core, crowding the established residents. Tempers flared and trouble erupted on a regular basis.
“I think you should go and look at Flash Harry’s stall. There’s something there you might be interested in.” Joe took a scan of her handpad in payment and winked at her before he turned to the next customer in line.
Cara knew where Flash Harry displayed his wares. He was a purveyor of collectibles, or so he said. In practice, that meant he sold items he’d scavenged from the wreckage. One way or another, there was a plethora of abandoned stuff that had once belonged to the dead or the displaced. She suspected he had a stash somewhere, and was gradually filtering it out via this and other stalls he ran.
Harry saw her coming, but not soon enough to hide the one item that drew her attention. Among a selection of bags was a battered satchel with a recognizable scar where a logo had been. It was a Psi-Mech’s satchel, normally filled with small spider bots used for cutting, drilling, riveting, and welding. All mind-controlled.
“Where did you get this, Harry?” She opened it and checked. No bots. “And where’s the tech that was inside it?”
“I swear it’s genuine, Miss Carlinni.”
“I can see it’s genuine. I know exactly what it is. I want to know how you came by it and, more importantly, what happened to the Psi-Mech who owned it.”
Harry’s face took on a scrunched-up look that told her he was going to start whining.
“Or should I call the militia?” she asked.
“No need for that. One o’ my urchins found it close to where the Saturn Arm sheared when the ring broke away. This side of the big blast doors. No bots in it. Reckon whoever owned it was about his business when whatever happened happened. Know what I mean?”
She did. They’d lost psi-techs in the bombardment, some accounted for, some not. If they could figure out who this had belonged to, they’d at least know where he—or
“I’ll take it.” She tucked the satchel under her arm.
“Anytime you find something you think belongs to the Free Company, you bring it to us. Understand? And don’t hide it away for so long next time, or I’ll ask Captain Syke to find an excuse to search your stash.”
“Sure, Miss Carlinni.”
“You won’t be out of pocket.” She flipped a small credit chip over the stall, and Harry caught it with practiced ease. A greasy smile replaced his hangdog expression.
Sipping her coffee slowly, she passed the antigrav tube and made her way to a stairwell with medonite walls and foam-metal steps in a mesh pattern that let her see down to the dizzying depths. Antigrav tubes and hot coffee didn’t mix, and she’d forgotten to ask Joe for a lid for the cup. She skipped up three flights of steps, light in the half-gravity, regaining weight when she emerged close to Blue Seven where the Free Company had made their home.
The duty guard waved Cara through with a nod and a smile.
She walked along the dimly lit barbican, hearing the doors at one end lock behind her before the doors at the other end opened.
She headed straight for the main office where Morwenna Phipps worked her organizational magic. Wenna professed she could run the place with one hand tied behind her back, which was probably just as well since she’d lost her right arm above the elbow several years before, when pirates raided Hera-3. The prosthetic was good, but she still complained that they hadn’t got the nerve grafts right.
Cara put the satchel on Wenna’s desk. “Found by the blast doors near the Saturn Arm,” she said.
Wenna reached out and then drew her hand away without touching. “Max might be able to tell us who it belonged to.”
“Is he in yet?”
“I’m not sure he ever goes home. It must be lonely without Gen and the baby.”
“The station’s over the worst. Surely, it’s time for them to come back. Ben could collect them if they couldn’t hitch a ride on a shuttle. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. A trip to Olyanda would be as good as a holiday. It would get him away from Garrick for a while. He’s been working sixteen hours a day for the last—”
“Are you talking about me again?”
“Ben!” Cara spun to face him, feeling a flush of pleasure. “Only saying what anyone with half an eye can see. You’ve been working too hard. I didn’t even hear you get up this morning. What time did you leave?”
He shrugged. “I was awake, so—” He noticed the satchel. “Is that what I think it is?”
Cara repeated the story about finding it on Flash Harry’s stall in the bazaar.
“Kinan Odell would be the best one to ask,” Ben said. “Max is a better Finder, but Odell knows the crew better.”
Cara sent out a narrow strand of thought and mentally located Odell working in the equipment repair room. She invited him to take a break and join them. He was at the door in less than five minutes, wearing a greasy coverall and pushing his ginger hair out of his eyes with oil-stained fingers.
“You wanted me?” he asked.
“We wondered if you could identify who this belonged to,” Cara said.
“Where was it...?”
“Near the blast doors by the Saturn Arm. It was on Flash Harry’s stall this morning.”
“Damn. I searched that area myself. Did I miss something?” Odell reached out and took the satchel.
“You were looking for people, not equipment,” Ben said. “Whoever this belonged to was probably long gone, but at least we’ll know who it was and where they died.”
“I can probably figure it out if no one’s been using it in the meantime.” Odell closed his eyes. His face took on a dreamy expression.
Cara cranked up her Empathy to coast along the mental path he took. She could feel his thoughts as he absorbed the—for want of a better word—aura of the satchel.
“It’s been through a few hands.” Odell stroked the fabric of the bag. “Some I don’t recognize. Not all ours, I mean. Maybe whoever found it. There’s a hint of Serafin West, but he’s obviously still with us. The only one I can identify from the missing list is Greg Tilney,” Odell said. “Was he on the wrong side when the Saturn Ring ripped free and opened the Arm to vacuum?”
“It’s likely,” Cara said.
“Well, at least we know.” Odell’s face softened. “I owed him a beer. I guess I always hoped he’d found an escape pod.” He cleared his throat. “He was a good man.”
“He was,” Ben said.
“Do you need me for anything e—” Odell’s eyes grew wide. He staggered as if he’d forgotten how to use his feet.
“No!” His pupils rolled upward and he fell to the floor as limp as a discarded child’s toy.
Cara, still empathically linked, felt a mental presence she didn’t recognize. She snapped off all contact and jammed her shields down. She leaned heavily on Wenna’s desk, breathing as if she’d run a marathon. Ben knelt by Odell while Wenna called for a medic.
Cara knew instantly what had caused Odell’s collapse. Ben wasn’t going to like it.
No one was going to like it.
✦ ✦ ✦
Ben Benjamin saw Odell go down and Cara reel back. His first instinct was to help Cara—that would always be his default—but she wasn’t unconscious, and Odell was. He dropped to his knees and checked the obvious. Pulse: fast but present. Breathing: ragged. Pupils: reduced to pinpricks.
He sent out a call for a medic at the same time as Wenna.
Odell started to squirm without regaining consciousness. His head rocked from side to side. Ben rolled him into recovery position and steadied him so he didn’t hurt himself.
“Coming through.” Ronan Wolfe arrived with two med-techs and a well-equipped gurney.
Ben stepped away to give Ronan room, and turned to Cara. “Are you all right?”
She stared at him, hollow-eyed.
“What happened?” Ronan asked as he clipped a portable heart and blood pressure monitor onto the fallen psi-tech.
“He simply keeled over,” Wenna said.
“Uh-huh.” Cara shook her head. “I felt it happen. Someone got to him. The Trust—one of their Telepaths—found him and…and...switched off his implant. He’ll be going all kinds of crazy inside.”
Ben saw realization dawn on Ronan’s face.
Any registered psi-tech could theoretically be traced by their implant. And if they could be traced, they could be damaged.
“It would take a psi-tech equally qualified as a Telepath, a Finder, and an Empath to be able to do it at this distance,” Cara said. “And someone with those kind of qualifications—a triple threat—is as rare as hen’s teeth. Why would any megacorporation, even the Trust, waste a triple threat psi-tech on destroying a middle grade Finder?”
“It’s always been a possibility they’d come after us,” Ben said.
“Yes, but why now? It’s almost a year and a half since we defected. Is it worth the expense?”
Ben rubbed his hand across his forehead and swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the knot in his throat. “If Crowder’s behind it, it means he’s back on his feet. He’ll find the budget from somewhere. It’s personal with him now.”
The Trust’s psi-tech—Ben hoped there was only one—couldn’t get to either himself, Cara, Jussaro, or Max because they’d had new implants fitted on Crossways, but the rest of the Free Company was horribly vulnerable.
Cara had turned pale. As Ronan floated Odell away on the gurney, she sank into a spare chair.
“Can I get you anything?” Ben asked.
“Brain bleach, please. That felt...awful.”
“Did you get an impression of the Telepath on the other end?”
“Not exactly, but I’d recognize them again. Him. I’d recognize him again. I’m pretty sure it was a man. Young, but not new to this kind of work. Bastard!” Her cheeks began to flush pink as Ben felt her anger bubbling around her shields.
Wenna shoved a cup of water into Cara’s trembling hand, and she looked up. “Thanks. I haven’t felt anything like that since Donida McLellan.”
McLellan was dead, but there could be others like her. It wasn’t only the skill they needed, but the will to use that skill to hurt other psi-techs. Cara shuddered and took a sip of water, then a deep breath. “Whoever it was used up a hell of a lot of energy. He’ll not be going after anyone else today. Maybe not even for the next week.”
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