Read an Excerpt
The Highroad Trilogy Volume 2
By Kate Elliott
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Kate Elliott
All rights reserved.
Obsessions are dangerous in proportion to the amount of fear they breed in their possessors: the closer the possessor to loss of control, the greater the fear.
Kyosti Bitterleaf Hakoni, professionally known as Hawk, had three obsessions. The first was his work as a physician, work denied him for almost twenty-five years but now restored. The second was his lover. But last, and encompassing the first two, he was obsessed with a fear that someday his past—not even the past people knew him for, the one that had made him and his compatriots both heroes and criminals—would catch up with him.
Of course it would. And, of course, in the way he most feared.
But at this moment Hawk sat against the sheen of one wall of his cabin, an arm, half-obscured by the riot of his pale hair, hooked behind his head. With a concentration that directly recalled his namesake, he watched his lover as she slept. His eyes seemed hooded in their intensity, as if he feared that the full force of his stare might obliterate her, flesh and soul.
She did not stir.
He watched her for a long while, silent, and finally a series of chimes, the change of watch, rang through the ship and she shifted beneath the blanket and her eyes opened.
At first she glanced around the room, recalling where she was, but when her gaze found Hawk she relaxed, and yawned and stretched. He watched her.
"Kyosti," she said when she had finished, "what were we doing when we went through the last window?" Her voice still held the slight hoarseness of awakening, lending it an unwittingly passionate quality.
"That's what I thought. Hoy." She sat up, her covers slipping off her to reveal the light curve of her skin and the medallion—five interlinked circles pierced by a spear—that Heredes had given her. It hung now, just as it always did, just below the hollow of her throat. She shivered, as if the memory of what they had been doing brought her both pleasure and anticipation, and rested her head on her hands, palms covering her eyes. "I could become addicted to that."
His eyes had not lost their intensity, giving his smile a disturbing blend of amorous warmth and that complete instability brought on by unquenchable thirst. Then she looked up, and his expression changed abruptly to something much more innocuous.
"Don't laugh at me," she said. "And don't even try to kiss me. I need something to drink." He stood up. "Yes," she added. "You can get it for me, please."
He left, the door sliding to behind him. For an instant his presence still seemed to be with her, and then that feeling dispelled.
"Hoy," she said again, but with more emphasis, and she lay back down. Above her on the bunk, the intercom buzzed and she reached up to flip it on. "You're through."
"Lily?" A woman's voice, tight and controlled. "Get up to the bridge. Fast. Your pilot—"
"I'm coming." Lily dressed and left the cabin before Hawk returned.
The corridor of the Easy Virtue stretched out in dimness before her: evidently Captain Bolyai had chosen to spare as much power as possible. Lily padded double-time to the elevator that gave access to the bridge. She punched an unlit button with one finger and felt the lift shudder and rise beneath her feet. Its low hum sighed to a halt and the door shunted aside to reveal the glare of the bridge.
"—and I don't care if your tupping grandmother was a saint of the Lotus Way, Tobias, you heard the radio traffic—there's a general alert on in this system and we haven't got the clearances to get past a close check. So sit down at your damned station."
Jenny Seria stood gripping the tunic of a nondescript man whose chief feature was a grimace of pure hatred directed at the wild tattoos covering the pilot Pinto's face and bare arms. Jenny herself bore a look of disgust tempered by the exasperated glance she cast over her shoulder at Lily's entrance.
"And I told you," hissed Tobias, "that I won't ship with any cursed tattoo." As he spoke, Lily noticed that his left eye was beginning to swell, mottled with a deep bruise, and that Captain Bolyai, bearing a harassed look and worried frown at the same time, had a tight but tenuous grip on Pinto's right arm. "I'll rot along with the cursed ghost fleet and all the corpses on Gravewood before I'll touch the same board as that whore's get—"
Pinto broke free from Bolyai and lunged for Tobias.
Lily met Pinto halfway, bracing herself, and stopped him dead in his tracks. He began to fight against her, realized who she was, and froze into a posture stiff with fury.
"I'll kill him," Pinto muttered, but despite the rage in his voice he did not attempt to break past Lily.
Lily looked at Captain Bolyai. "Isn't there someone else who can man that station?"
Bolyai shook his head. His eyes examined Lily with the look usually reserved for a once-trusted pet who has brought something truly disgusting in off the streets. "Th'other just went off-shift. Tobias hadn't been up before—"
"Cursed right I hadn't," began Tobias. "And if you think I'd've stayed on this boat knowing you let such filth aboard—"
Pinto jerked forward, caught in Lily's grasp, but Tobias responded to the movement by flinging himself gleefully toward Pinto. Only to be thrown hard to the ground by Jenny. The mercenary knelt over him and twisted his arm up behind his back until he cried out in pain.
"Captain!" This from the man at comm. "Military scan. One cruiser, one cutter entering oct quadrant."
Bolyai flushed. "Put it through."
"—request that you identify yourselves. Repeat, this is Heart of Lion. We are in control of this system. We are impounding all vessels without Central clearance. Identify yourselves."
For a long space the only sound on the bridge was the crackle of static as Heart of Lion waited for a reply, mixed with Tobias's gasping breaths as Jenny let up on his arm.
"Tupping idiot," she muttered, jerking him up to his feet and shoving him into his chair.
Bolyai went from pale to mottled red as he recovered from the first shock. He took three swift steps to stand behind the navigator's chair. "Get us out of here." His voice shook.
There was a second moment of silence as all attention focused on the nav chair's occupant. Maned with a glistening crest, the seated sta shook her head and hissed inaudible words to herself as her six-fingered hands tapped calculations into ship's computer. She sighed, like water flowing downhill.
"The last fix I received from the station here leads into a narrow vector. At our present course, our shift would narrow both our velocity window and our angle—no room for error. None."
The comm came to life again. "This is the Heart of Lion. We are under orders to fire on all hostile vessels. We repeat: identify yourselves."
Pinto tugged at Lily's arm, and she released him. He too went to stand by the nav bank, studying the three-dimensional chart that came up on the screen.
"I can do it," he said.
The sta glanced up at him, scale-rimmed eyes blinking once, slowly, before she turned her gaze to Bolyai.
He had by this time broken out in a sweat. "I'll lose my ship," he whispered.
"I can do it," Pinto repeated.
"You're not going to let that whore of a tattoo put his filthy hands on—" Tobias's words cut off as Jenny tightened her grip on him.
"Shut up." She looked at Lily. "He got us this far, after all."
Bolyai looked at Lily.
Lily nodded. "Trust him."
"Go," murmured Bolyai, as if by speaking softly he could negate the responsibility for the command.
"This is the Heart of Lion. We will fire if you do not—"
"And turn that tupping noise off," shouted Bolyai, gaining strength of purpose in anger.
The sta had already entered the coordinates and began to read out the numbers.
"I won't—" began Tobias.
"You will," said Jenny.
He hesitated, and she drew a pistol, laser light red, from her belt. He began to transfer coordinates through engineering.
For perhaps ten seconds all proceeded in silence. Then the sta's crest raised slightly, and she hissed out a long, nervous breath.
"Velocity out of phase," she said, almost singing in fluid nervousness. "I need a correction. Immediately. I need seven point seven eight degrees at three forty-seven, current vector."
Pinto slipped into the pilot's chair, twisting the stillstrap around his body. "Call them in." He adjusted the viewers to his eyes.
"Vector clearance," began the sta. "Window at one point five, neg three point eight, forty-two."
"That's tight," muttered the comm man.
"We're all dead," cursed Tobias in an undertone meant to carry across the bridge.
"Homing to six ought fifty-seven degrees. Three twenty-two bits."
"Shifting vector," said Pinto. The minute movements of his hands could not be seen under the stillstrap.
The sta read off her numbers, calculating as the ship shifted placement. "Six ought sixty-seven. Six ought eight five. Seven ought one. Seven ought four. Reverse." Tension invaded her fluid voice. "Cancel seven ought seven point eight. Add seven ought eight point one at three forty-eight bits."
"Check," said Pinto.
Bolyai's hands trembled as he gripped the back of the navigator's chair. Tobias cursed fluently.
"Oh, tup yourself, Tobias," said Jenny genially. "They say if you vector wrong you end up in Paradise. What are you worried about? It's the only way you'll ever get there."
"Captain!" The comm man gasped. "Cruiser is banking for fire."
"Seven ought six. Seven ought seven point eight. Three forty-six bits. Three forty-seven. Three forty-seven."
"I've got surges," swore the man at comm. "They've fired. We'll never make it."
"Three forty-seven. Closing imperative. Seven ought eight point one. Three forty-eight. Break."
"We will," breathed Lily.
They went through.
Behind, the hunter trailed her by scent, inexorable, nearing. However far she fled, however faint her trail grew, it would pursue, until at last she would turn to see its face.
And came out.
"Perfect," hissed the sta.
Lily turned. The lift door slid open to reveal Kyosti. He stared directly at her, almost as if he had been watching her even through the metal of the door. She shuddered, shaking off the vision, but as it faded she remembered with greater clarity their last trip on the Easy Virtue, when he had moved across a cabin inside a window.
An impossible act, and in time she had let herself believe she had imagined it. Except that now—surely he had been in the mess, or in their cabin. Could he possibly move so far in a space that lasted no more than an instant for everyone else? What if he had reached her before they had come out of the window?
He did not move out of the lift.
"I have Jungfrau beacon," said the man at comm. "Holy Void. That's the tightest vector I've ever shipped. We skipped Joch system completely." He turned disbelieving eyes on the sta navigator. "Did you know this window would skip us so far?"
The sta merely unfurled her crest so that it glittered, bronze, in the glare of the lights. "Yes," she breathed, sibilant. "I saw the Ridani's touch on the first vector we rode through. It was our only chance, but I believed." She rose, uncurling her great height, and flattened her crest as she faced Pinto. "You are a master." The gesture embodied formal respect.
Pinto unstrapped and laid a delicate hand on the softly humming board. "Thank you," he murmured.
Tobias flung himself out of his chair and shouldered past Kyosti, who was in his turn forced to step out onto the bridge as Tobias commandeered the lift and vanished from sight.
Captain Bolyai sat down in the vacant chair. He had gone pale again, and his hands were slick with perspiration. "I've never had to run before," he whispered. His breathing came ragged. "Not like that. Circumspection is all one needs." He swiveled to glare at Jenny. "I want you all off my ship. I said no troublemaking on this boat, and I meant it. No attracting attention. All of you off."
Lily glanced at Jenny, but the mercenary had fallen silent, quiet, as if only by not speaking could she keep her anger in check. "This system is no more than a beacon," Lily countered, meeting Bolyai's gaze. "With a rotating crew. They don't even have life support for so many."
Bolyai dropped his eyes to examine the boards. Pinto was smiling, a look of mocking cynicism. The sta sighed and sat back down at her station, beginning calculations anew.
"I'll drop you," began Bolyai in a low voice. "Name your system. You deserve that much at least, getting us out of Arcadia system. But all of you have to go. I won't have trouble on the Virtue."
"All right," agreed Lily. Bolyai let out a held breath, as if her acquiescence came as a surprise to him. "Harsh."
"I beg your pardon?"
"We want to go to Harsh."
He turned several new shades of pale. "Void, woman, that planet is a prison."
"There are several fine Stations where a fugitive can find employment, safety, money—"
"Harsh," she repeated.
He sighed, but he did not protest further. "Very well. Harsh it is." He motioned to the sta. "Start running a route. As short as possible."
The sta's fingers raced over the keypad, setting a course.
"Harsh? Have you lost your tanks, Lily-hae?" Jenny sat down on the bunk in Lily's cabin, where they had retreated from Bolyai's resentment and anger.
"I'm sorry." Lily stood by the door, her attention on Jenny, but her glance resting at intervals on Kyosti, who reclined on what little floor space was left. Above, on the top bunk, the sphere that was Bach drifted a finger's breadth above the mattress. "I'm sorry," Lily repeated. "I never meant to get you and Lia and Gregori thrown off."
Jenny shrugged. "Bolyai's a coward. I'm amazed he let a tattoo pilot the Virtue, but we were in such a rush to get out of Central—and no one on first shift had Tobias's idiotic objections—that he had to use what he had. Now that the shock's worn off, he'll take it out on whoever's easiest to blame. When our last pilot tried to fly on ambergloss and almost ran us into the next life, he tossed off our second engineer with her, since they were bunkmates. He looks for someone else to blame for his own nerves. We'll be all right."
"Come with us," Lily offered.
"To Harsh? Into the hands of Central's troops, who would gladly arrest us, lock Gregori and I away in the mines, and send Lia back to her family? I think not."
Bach, Lily whistled. Bach rose, lights flashing, and drifted down to hover beside his mistress. Plug into the screen.
Jenny raised her eyebrows, puzzled, but said nothing.
Bach began to sing in fine four-part counterpoint. Figures came up on screen and shifted to new figures as he paged through his memory.
"Master Heredes is dead, Jenny." Lily's voice came out flat, suppressing her grief. "Murdered, by Central. That's why we're going to join Jehane."
"Jehane! I never took you for a revolutionary."
Lily hesitated. "I'm not sure I am one. But Central will pay, Jenny. They're the ones who murdered Heredes. And my friend Robbie—you might know him as Pero—made me. Understand that Central is corrupt. They won't give up their power voluntarily. I think Jehane's revolution is the best chance, maybe the only one, that Reft space has to have a fair government."
Kyosti, unmoving on the floor, regarded Lily with no obvious expression.
"I can accept that." Jenny ran a finger over the tight nap of her hair. "But why Harsh?"
"Because according to information Heredes sent to me—to Robbie, really—" Lily shook her head. "It's a long story. But Jehane is moving on Harsh. I fully expect that when we reach there, Jehane's troops will be in control."
"Why would Jehane want Harsh? One blazing inferno of a moon orbiting a methane hell of a planet, producing ore and fuel and tell-chips with what amounts to slave labor working under killing conditions. Or at least that's what you hear over the nets."
"What do you think he wants? He wants those prisoners. They have every reason to hate Central. They'll join Jehane without a second glance."
"Fine army," muttered Jenny. "I'll remember not to turn my back on any of them."
Excerpted from Revolution's Shore by Kate Elliott. Copyright © 1990 Kate Elliott. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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