AVAILABLE ON PREORDER NOW
Follow link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CCMVW82N?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420
Grand Admiral Margaret Burkhouse looked up as the door to her office hissed open. She carefully leaned back in her chair as she watched her guests cross the wide expanse between her door and the desk. It took all her willpower not to smile as she met the eyes of one of them but she kept her expression blank until they stood before her desk. Angela saluted crisply while the other woman simply nodded.
“Commander. Did we have an appointment?”
Angela held up a palmreader. “I stopped by to drop off the progress reports for the three stations. I also wanted to introduce Professor Valery Clarke, who will be heading the Science and Space Advance division on Nova.”
Margaret accepted the palmreader before she skirted her desk to come and stand before the scientist. Professor Clarke was of average height, a little older than Angela but not by much. Her greenish hazel eyes were warm and intelligent as they met hers. Margaret extended her hand.
“Welcome to Nova, Professor Clarke. It’s an honor to have you join us.” A report with a list of the civilian personnel that will man the newly established central space station had landed on her desk days ago and a few names had stood out. Professor Clarke’s had been on top of the list. She was respected and well-known in her field. They were incredibly lucky to have landed her.
“Thank you, Grand Admiral,” the professor said politely in a pleasantly husky voice.
Margaret waved at her desk. “I haven’t read the new progress report yet, but I want to assure you that the current state of Nova is soon to change. The engineers and architects will be out of your hair soon enough, allowing you to work undisturbed.”
The woman smiled. “The work teams are incredibly considerate and always make sure to inform me ahead of time if they will be tinkering about my area.”
Margaret was surprised to hear that. “I was under the impression that most of the departments would only officially assume duty next week, Professor?”
Professor Clarke shrugged. “I’m eager to get to work and wanted to lay the groundwork before the rest of my team arrived.”
Nodding, Margaret smiled at the woman. They were truly lucky, indeed. “In that case, please don’t hesitate to find Commander Burkhouse should you need anything.”
“I promise to do so, ma’am.” She glanced over at Angela, who nodded at her. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Grand Admiral. I was hoping to visit your science department while aboard the Omnitel and Captain Burkhouse was kind enough to make it happen.”
“I wish you a good day, professor.”
When they were alone, Margaret turned to Angela, a soft smile forming on her lips. “How are you doing, darling?”
The stiffness left Angela’s shoulders as she returned the smile. “All things considered; excellent.”
“The wedding arrangements are going according to plan and she’s happy about that. However, add a fast-growing pregnancy to the mix and I’m lucky that she loves me or she would’ve probably strangled me by now.”
Margaret chuckled. “That bad?”
“She’s happy to have our child but the speed at which her body has to adjust to accommodate the baby…” Angela grimace. “She’s suffering from mood swings.”
“Then I’m happy that Mother decided to visit with you for the time being. I swear she was the only one who kept your mother from murdering me during one of her mood swings.”
“Grandma and my mother-in-law are getting along exceptionally well. They are even finishing each other’s sentences now.”
They both chuckled. Martha was supposed to visit for only a couple of days, but it’s coming on to a week now. The Burkhouse matriarch was known to not want to leave her business for an extended period, but Nourima seemed to have stolen her heart. Margaret squeezed her daughter’s shoulder. She would’ve liked to have hugged Angela, but she respected the other woman’s rank when in uniform.
“I know you’ve given me a progress report, however, I want to know what you think about the developments.”
Angela shrugged. “It’s loud and busy, but exciting.” She said the last part with a wide smile. “This, the space station, has always been a dream of mine. So many people will benefit from its presence in the sector.”
The Vimt sector was one of the last tumultuous parts that falls under the Alliance’s rule. Its proximity at the edge of the galaxy near to a wormhole, the presence of several unaligned planets, and rampant piracy are mostly to blame for the disorderliness within the area. For some reason, Angela had been drawn to the sector and finally got her wish. The Vimt sector was in the path of an invading armed force from a nearby galaxy and that was enough to convince the Alliance to establish a strong Galactic Security Council presence in the area. Of the three proposed space stations in the process of development, Nova was the control center while the others will be satellite stations manned by patrolling GSC ships to guard the borders.
“I agree. It’ll not only strengthen trade ties, but our presence will also curb the rampant piracy in the area.”
“May I ask what is happening with the Mursi leader?”
Grimacing, Margaret walked over to her desk. “Your mother and Lily are in charge of debriefing her.”
A sector-wide search for other refugee ships has been conducted and three more hidden ships of alien origins had been detected prowling the rim of the Milky Way and creating tension for the planets in the area. Margaret decided to give a show of power by making having their most powerful ships track their progress. The message was clear. We can take care of ourselves if the need arises.
She could see that Angela wanted to ask more but knew that the chain of command needed to be maintained—even between them. The information was on a need-to-know basis—for now.
“Do you have to go back or could you stay for a coffee? I was hoping to pick your brain on something.”
Without replying, Angela walked to the processor and ordered two coffees which she brought over to the desk.
Valery had been on several spaceships before, but none were as massive and powerful as the Omnitel. The Galactic Security Council’s flagship was even more impressive than rumored. With twenty decks, a staff complement of over a thousand, and the technology of all the Alliance species cramped into it, the vessel was a flying fortress.
“To answer your earlier question, Professor, yes. We do stop on occasion to explore spatial anomalies. That’s if time permits. Our onboard scientists are quite persuasive.” The captain smiled and Valery was once again taken aback by the woman’s close resemblance to her daughter. Captain Norma Burkhouse was very attractive and looked nowhere near the age of a woman who had a grown daughter. Valery had seen images of the captain and her spouse together and must say that they cut a striking pair. Their romance was the envy of many. Even to her and she was nowhere near looking for love.
“I’ll consider that as an upgrade from Spacefleet for me.” Her tenure with Spacefleet had been unfulfilling, to say the least. Most Spacefleet captains were less inclined to indulge their science officers unless they could be credited for whatever time and resources, they were willing to make available for a mission. Thus, when the opportunity to join the Alliance’s newly launched main space station, Nova, as the head of their science and space advance department came up, she jumped at it.
There was nothing back on earth for her and her career had felt like it had been stuck in a rut for a while. At least here, in the Vimt sector, she would be faced with new challenges. Another lure for her was the proximity to Nourima, the Nouri floating world. Everyone was talking about it, although the Nouri were known not to welcome off-worlders to their planet. Being in the same part of space as them was almost enough for her.
The captain’s dark eyes held hers for a moment longer before she nodded.
“I like the sound of that. However, I’m sure you’re aware that the Vimt sector will be getting very busy soon and I hope you’ll not change your mind about being here.”
Valery was sure that wasn’t even a possibility. In the short while that she’d been here, she knew that she wasn’t going to leave here anytime soon.
“I look forward to it, Captain,” she said firmly.
“In that case, I…” The captain’s words were cut off when a door ahead of them opened and two burly guards stepped out, escorting a tall alien woman. The alien woman looked up and for a moment, Valery found herself caught in an intense golden gaze. The alien was astoundingly beautiful. Her silver hair was caught in a long braid that snaked down her back and with her face unobstructed, her elegant features made it impossible not to stare. The amber gaze narrowed slightly as they shifted on the captain, who had stiffened at the appearance of the alien.
“Captain,” the alien said in a smoky voice that sent a strange thrill through Valery.
“Your Highness,” Captain Burkhouse returned crisply. “I take it your excursion was satisfactory.”
“It is now,” the woman said, and this time her amber eyes raked over Valery with a hint of curiosity. Valery stood stiff as a board under the woman’s searching gaze as it traveled down to her chest and even lower. She wasn’t used to such scrutiny, having grown used to always being overlooked in favor of her more attractive colleagues since her academy days. She was hopelessly too mousy to attract the attention of such a beautiful woman. The alien gave her a slow smile that made Valery’s heart rate spike a little. She wasn’t totally immune to a bit of flirting, knowing that that was all it was going to be. No one tried to go any further before and she was sure that gorgeous alien was simply whiling away her time before she was taken back in the brig.
“Greetings, milady,” the voice sounded even deeper this time.
Valery looked over at the captain, who had her lips pursed.
“Professor Valery Clarke, let me introduce you to Her Royal Highness Torsin of the Mursi. She is our…guest for the time being while we establish her presence in our sector.”
The alien’s eyes raked over her once again and Valery inhaled deeply.
“Pleased to meet you, Your Highness.”
The silver head bowed deeply before the woman flicked her gaze over to Captain Burkhouse and nodded. The guards nodded at the captain as they led the woman away. Valery exhaled softly.
“She’s interesting,” she said quietly.
“Uh huh,” the captain said with a thoughtful look on her face. “Shall we continue?”
“Your transfer to the space station awaits the Grand Admiral’s approval,” the guard informed her before he activated the forcefield. Torsin went to stretch out on the bed, her hands behind her head. Not a day went by that she didn’t berate herself for not having done her homework on the Alliance before crossing into their space. They were much better coordinated and equipped than she had even thought before. Not only was her secret communicator confiscated, she was under constant surveillance, even on her short walks that count as exercise. Except for the guards, she wasn’t allowed any contact with other members. Until now. A faint smile played on her lips as she thought of the woman she had met earlier. Professor Valery Clarke. The scientist was her answer out of this mess. As soon as she had seen the look in the woman’s eyes that her plan started forming.
She was Mursi, after all.
They were formidable spies but even better seducers and lovers.
The scientist wouldn’t stand a chance against her charms. Now all she needed to do was find a way to get closer to the professor. She paused her train of thought. This might also be her first foray into human relationships. She had tried her charms on the captain but had found the brunette difficult to read. She was a striking specimen with her intense dark eyes but Torsin was a little wary of the woman. Not only the human appeared not to be easily swayed, but there was an air of danger that clung to her. Professor Valery Clarke was definitely the weakest link in the Alliance’s plan to keep her here while they gleaned all her secrets.
She closed her eyes to hide her thoughts from the ever-present guard. She wasn’t completely sure of it, but she believed him to possess some psychic abilities from the way he kept staring at her.
She would be home soon. She just needed to hang on for a while longer.
Valery was impressed with the flawless setup of the Omnitel’s science department. The head of the department, Lt. Christopher Johns was very helpful in demonstrating how their arrangement not only made the workload more manageable but also generated a high percentage rate of success in their outcomes.
"What would you say is your biggest challenge when dealing with civilian crew members?” Valery asked, as she looked up from the palmreader he had offered her to study their organization chart. The department was largely staffed by civilian experts and knowing what a stickler for protocol and rules Spacefleet was, she didn’t expect that the GSC was any different. Civilians don’t do well with the rigidity which made out militarized associations and structures. That fact bothered her the most about joining the GSC and having to oversee a department with a large contingent of civilians.
“They have their full civilian rights and responsibilities which are entrenched in their freedom of expression within the framework of the GSC. We encourage them to take initiative and question and recommend best practices that have been overlooked by the GSC. Bearing in mind how valuable such a flow of ideas and innovations between the two factions could be, the GSC has adopted a self-governing approach to overseeing our departments. The civilians have their own structure and elected representatives which in turn report to me. However, it happens on occasion that some of our more prestigious civilian colleagues forget that on the ship, a GSC rank rates higher than their personal titles.”
Valery had seen the slight grimace that had crossed the lieutenant’s face as he said the last part.
“What happens in situations like that?”
“We have a civilian code of conduct which clearly states punitive offenses and outlines consequent actions, amongst many other measures.”
That was good to know. She had a number of high-minded folks on her roster and she would hate to make them feel unheard even in a department overseen by a civilian.
“How does the captain fit into maintaining a balance between civilians and officers?”
“She can override all decisions,” he said firmly. “The captain’s the final authority.”
She assumed that was what Commander Burkhouse’s position will be. She liked the woman and respected that she had achieved her rank without using her obvious advantage in having such highly placed and decorated officers within the organization for her parents.
The commander’s service file was open to the public for transparency purposes. Every promotion or accolade she had received had been hard-earned and came from even higher up than her mother, the Grand Admiral.
Valery didn’t know much of the woman besides her professional life and that she was married to the very striking Nouri empress who was expecting their first child. It was no secret that the Nouri outranked the Alliance when it came to technology and science. They have created a floated planet, for heaven’s sake, a relative fortress that remained cloaked all the time. No one, not even she with her wild ideas and fantasies, could’ve thought that something like that was possible.
Even then, the commander came across as very practical and professional. Some may think she was speaking to soon having only been here a few days, but Valery didn’t care. She genuinely liked the commander and knew that they would work well together.
She held out the palmreader to the lieutenant and was a little surprised to find him watching her with keen interest.
“Thank you for your time and for taking me around your department, Lieutenant Johns.”
He smiled warmly, his handsome features lighting up. “It was a pleasure, Professor Clarke. I hope I was of some help.”
“More than you know, Lieutenant.”
She smiled. He may not know it yet but he was barking up the wrong tree. She had very early on realized that she held no significant interest in men. Her earlier dating attempts had been lackluster and ended on a very low note. As for women, the interest was stronger, but she hadn’t tried to explore her preference any further.
“Valery.” She shook his hand and with a curt nod went in search of the commander. She was eager to incorporate some of what she had learned from Christopher. Implementing common good practices could only strengthen cooperation between the departments, secure a high rate of success and foster a good bond amongst individuals.
Norma pushed the buzzer with two salads in her hands that she had ordered from the mess hall processors. The curt ‘come’ allowed her entry and she walked over to the large desk. Margaret looked up and her midnight blue eyes instantly warmed as she realized who her guest was.
“Permission to speak freely, Captain.”
Norma smiled. “Permission granted, Grand Admiral.”
Margaret stood and skirted her desk to come to stand before her, looking her up and down.
“You’re beautiful, Captain.”
Norma leaned forward to capture her wife’s lips in a tender kiss.
“You haven’t seen my wife, Grand Admiral. I pale in comparison to her.” To Norma’s joy, a faint blush appeared on Margaret’s cheeks and she kissed her again. She doubted Margaret believed her, but it was true. Her gorgeous wife had grown even more beautiful over the years. The grey hair at her temples and the few strands that streaked through the thick blonde hair added to the woman’s dizzying appeal. “I love you, my darling.”
“I love you too.”
Not breaking eye contact with the melting dark blue gaze, she held up the salads. “Do you have time for lunch?”
Margaret pouted playfully. “Too bad. I thought you might be lunch.”
Her clit twitched at the thought of a quick, sweaty quickie with her wife, but instead, she lifted an eyebrow at Margaret.
“I thought you banned any fraternizing during office hours between the ship’s captain and the esteemed Grand Admiral, ma’am.”
A warm palm cupped her cheek. “I don’t know why you didn’t stop me from making such an absurd rule.”
Norma leaned into the touch. “Because I can always count on you to do the right thing, my heart.” She took Margaret by the hand and led her to the small seating area where she handed her the salad before she went to order water for them both from the small processor. They ate in silence for a few minutes, before Norma broached the topic she had come to discuss with her wife.
“What do you think of Professor Clarke?”
“Hmmm,” Margaret responded with a positive nod as she chewed on a tomato. “Why do you ask?”
“It was just something I observed earlier.” She took a bite of salad and chewed slowly. “I think we might just have a way of exposing the Mursi’s agenda.”
Margaret stopped chewing. The Mursi was an enigma, a dangerous one. She wasn’t violent at all and was cooperative to a degree, however, she wasn’t very forthcoming with her reasons for being here in their sector. According to her, their planet had been imploding as a result of the effects of the merging galaxies. The Alliance’s scientists are pulling in all external probes to re-test the theory after many have questioned the veracity and timing of such an unlikely phenomenon. Norma couldn’t help but feel that there was more. She had learned to trust her instincts and they were telling her to be careful.
“What do you have in mind?” Margaret asked, all business now with sharp eyes.
“The Mursi was flirting with the professor earlier.”
Margaret shrugged. “She’s flirted with you too, if I remember correctly.” There was a slight edge to her voice as she said it and Norma suppressed a smile. The Mursi had indeed flirted with her the first time they had brought her in for an official introduction befitting her position as queen of the Mursi. Margaret hadn’t liked it one bit as she had sharply informed the Mursi leader that the captain was mated before she had continued with her line of questioning.
“She did, but not the way she was flirting with Professor Clarke. I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. She’s planning something and I assure you that the professor will be in the center of it all.”
“What are you saying, Captain?” The blue eyes were narrowed as they watched her intently.
“I say we set a trap for the Mursi.”
She could see that she had surprised her wife, as the older woman blinked at her.
“Yes.” She speared an olive and chewed on it. “The Mursi is planning an escape, I say we help her.”
She could see Margaret’s mind already racing with ideas on how to use that information to their benefit.
The soft chirp made Valery sigh. The hail came over her deskreader. No surprise who it’ll be. She activated the screen and the frowning face of a man appeared.
The man’s frowned deepened. “Have you made your final decision, Valery?”
She threw her arms wide to include her office.
“Yes, I did.”
Professor Kilburn looked angry now and she waited to see his reaction. The man had tried to stop her from leaving Spacefleet’s Scientific and Explorative Research Institute. Since he was nearing retirement, he had hoped to put her forth as his successor and director of the institute, blatantly ignoring her refusal to succeed him. Now here he was once again thinking he could change her mind.
“I’m rather disappointed that you thought it a viable decision to leave a concrete path of growth and peer acknowledgment in an experienced organization to work for a relatively unproven one.”
She had learned a long time ago not to fall for the man’s bait. The day she had submitted her resignation, had been one of the best. Kilburn’s face had been a mask of shock and disbelief and Valery could almost read his mind. How was he going to survive the onslaught of unhappy colleagues without her serving as a buffer for him? She had hated her position as mediator and Kilburn’s arrogance and manipulative acts made her life unbearable. She knew that his offer to promote her to his position had simply been a ploy to have her remain his shield against the growing dissatisfaction with his leadership from the board and employees alike. He wasn’t in any position to appoint a successor—the Board was, and they already had someone else in mind.
“Is there anything else that I can help you with, Professor?”
He pursed his lips. “Yes, stop this nonsense right now and come back to the office. You are needed here.”
“I’m sorry but I’ve already accepted the position and was officially welcomed by Grand Admiral Margaret Burkhouse.”
He looked stunned to hear that. If there was one person that Kilburn thought the world of, it was Grand Admiral Margaret Burkhouse. He could badmouth the Galactic Security Council as much as he like, but he wouldn’t say a bad word in the grand admiral’s direction. The woman’s authority and her natural intellect appealed greatly to the delicate ego that he tried so hard to hide. Then there was the fact that the grand admiral kept to herself which further added to her enigmatic appeal.
“You’ve met the Grand Admiral?” he asked quietly.
“Yes,” she picked up a palmreader and held it up. “Now, if there is nothing else, Professor Kilburn, I have a few details to finalize that need my superior’s assessment.”
He blinked slowly. “Is this your final answer?”
Trying not to roll her eyes at him, she nodded. “Goodbye, Professor Kilburn.” She deactivated the screen without waiting for his reply. She knew that it was rude, but a man like Kilburn would understand that this was going to be her final contact with him.
Her shoulder communicator buzzed and she activated it.
“Professor Clarke, it’s Commander Burkhouse. Do you have a minute to meet with me in my office?”
“Of course, Commander. I’ll be right over.”
Torsin was surprised when instead of the brig of the space station, she was led to the central hub of the place. It bustled with humans and aliens alike as she was escorted to a suite marked PRIVATE. The guards escorted her inside and she raised an eyebrow when she spotted the Nouri empress’ mate as well as Professor Clarke.
“Professor,” she husked. “We meet again.”
The woman nodded before she returned her attention to the dark-haired commander. She hadn’t seen the woman again after she had handed Torsin over to the Galactic Security Council. Dressed in her uniform and with the distinct bearing of a soldier, she could easily be mistaken for her intriguing mother, the captain.
“Commander,” she greeted and received a small bow in return.
“Your Highness.” Torsin may not like her current situation as a captive, but she appreciated that she was treated with the respect and decency that befit her station. “Please have a seat.”
She glanced over at her guards, waiting for them to lead the way, only to see them step away from her. This was the first time she had her personal space to herself, outside of the brig. She took the chair and folded her arms switching her gaze between the two women.
“I called you both here by order of the Grand Admiral. Since you’ve proven yourself more than proficient in the Astro-geological setup of the planets in this sector, the Grand Admiral decided it might be of interest to you to be assigned to a department while your interview with her is being processed. You’ll be working in Professor Clarke’s department, with your direct supervisor to be appointed soon.”
Torsin was shellshocked. WHAT? They were going to allow her freedom to roam around the station and even better, she would have direct contact with the professor. Was she dreaming of what?
“I’m not sure I understand.” She watched the woman’s face for any signs of deception or jest but Commander Burkhouse’s face remained unchanged—impassive.
“The Grand Admiral could further elaborate on the decision, if you want me to hail her.”
“No.” Torsin wasn’t sure what this was, but she also wasn’t stupid to look a gift horse in the mouth. This was her chance to get out of here and meet up with her ship. Now that she knew how difficult it would be to maneuver this galaxy, she’d take her ship around this sector.
“No, Your Highness? Does this mean that you wouldn’t accept the offer to work outside of the brig for a few hours every day?”
The brig was still an option? She had hoped the offer would mean no more guards. But then, she had underestimated her captors before, she wouldn’t do so again. They knew that she would escape given half the opportunity. Thus, they would still keep her tethered to the brig.
“I accept the Grand Admiral’s offer.”
The commander gave a small smile.
“I’ll inform the Grand Admiral of your decision.” She turned to the professor who had been quiet all this time. In fact, she had been so quiet that Torsin had almost forgotten about her presence. That was a very good skill to have—the ability to remain invisible even out in the open. She took the time to really study the woman. She had shoulder-length chestnut hair that she kept in a tight coil on her head. Alert greenish-brown eyes met the commander’s with a level stare. “We’ve already spoken about potential positions that Her Majesty can fill, perhaps you…”
“Torsin.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s much easier to remember than ‘her majesty’ or ‘your highness’.”
Both humans looked surprised but quickly recovered as the commander continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted in the first place.
“We’ve already discussed possible positions for Her Majesty. Will you run them by me and I’ll make sure to get the Grand Admiral to sign off on them.”
“Yes, Commander,” the professor said crisply.
“Good. With that out of the way, there are a few details concerning your safety and that of the rest of the staff to discuss, Torsin.” She walked to the desk to press her intercom. “Please sent them in.”
Them? Who the hell was coming for her? The door slid open and three masked persons entered. The sight of them made her cringe inwardly. Nouri. They bowed deeply at the commander, who was also their queen consort.
“Your Majesty,” they murmured.
Commander Burkhouse turned to her and rolled up her sleeves. The action looked threatening and Torsin slowly climbed to her feet.
“What are you going to do?”
“We have to fit you with a tracker and an inhibiter to prevent you from escaping or from using your power of camouflage to evade our sensors.”
Torsin clenched her jaw as she looked from the commander to the Nouri. It would take only one of them to subdue her, why the commander wanted to get involved, baffled her.
“And if I refuse to be fitted with a tracker and an inhibiter?”
“Then I’m afraid that you’ll have to remain in the brig under close surveillance until the Grand Admiral is ready to see you.”
She thought about it. Sitting in the brig day in and out would drive her mad. On the other hand, having her opportunity to escape further complicated by a tracker and an inhibiter was just as unpleasant.
But the professor was still a viable chance at escape. Once she had the woman under her spell, she’ll get her to remove the tracker and inhibiter. Not all was lost.
“Where do you want me?”
The commander’s eyes narrowed slightly before she pointed at the couch that made up part of the seating area.
“If you’ll lie down on the couch for us, we’ll commence with the procedure.”
She walked over to the couch and stretched out on it. To her surprise, it was the commander who accepted a cylinder-shaped object from the Nouri.
“What is that?”
“It’s called a medijector. To ensure you don’t remove the tracker, we need you to be unconscious for the procedure.”
It was getting more complicated by the minute. At least the professor will see where they injected it so she could remove it later.
“I’m ready.” She saw the commander come over and kneel next to the couch just as she closed her eyes.
All my other books can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Stein-Willard/