When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy's most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire's voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.
Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.
When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire's inner workings.
Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can't, millions may die.
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|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)|
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Eris got the call from her commander while she was killing a man.
The guard slumped against her, dead in under thirty seconds from a blade to the throat, a stab in the carotid artery. Fast and quiet. The sharp, tangy scent of his blood wafted toward her as she hauled the guard’s still-warm body against hers and slowly lowered him to the spacecraft’s floor.
Could she have prevented this death? If she were honest with herself: yes.
But there was no time for guilt. She was doing her job.
Her Pathos, the communication chip embedded within her cerebrum, echoed through her skull with the most irritating musical tune. Commander Sher had chosen it because he knew Eris couldn’t ignore it. <Riiing riiiing this is important,> the tune sang. isten to meee and remember don’t murder people!>
<I’m busy,> she sent back through her Pathos.
Most Pathos only had a range of a planet, half a solar system at most. Sher was outfitted with a beta design that could bounce its signal off satellites as far as it pleased as long as he knew her rough coordinates.
It irritated the shit out of her. She had a spacecraft to commandeer.
Scylla was larger than most of the ships she’d taken in the past. It had the capability of growing large amounts of hydroponic food, and if there was one thing the Novantae resistance was short on, it was food, followed by weapons.
Eris grabbed the guard’s identity card and cut off his finger with a swipe of her blade.
Almost every ship the resistance had was taken through force or subterfuge, and Eris was damn good at her job. She slid the identity card through the slot, pressed the guard’s severed finger against the pad, entered the code, and hurried down a second hallway that led to the main corridor. Five seconds to get through this section before the alarms sounded.
<Riing riiiing this is important—
Eris gritted her teeth. Shoved the identity card in. Pressed the finger.
Entered the code.
The door slid open. Oh, shit.
Eris rolled to the ground as the high-pitched blasts of laser bullets stung her ears. They dotted the metal of the ship above her head with a deafening clang clang clang. She shoved herself behind one of the storage containers before they could correct their aim and riddle her body with seared holes. Of course there would be soldiers on the other side. Of course. She would have been better prepared had it not been for that stupid—
<Riing riiiing this is important—
Son of a bitch.
She commanded her Pathos to answer the godsdamn call.
<Finally,> came the commander’s voice.
<You had better be dying,> she said to Sher as she pulled the gun out of her holster.
Eris peeked over the storage containers and hid again just as more blasts rained and exploded like stars. Eight against one, six blasts left in her antique gun. If she ever smiled genuinely, she would have then. Challenging odds—her favorite. Otherwise, she wouldn’t bother running around with a weapon so old most people didn’t know what the flame it was. She had back up weapons, of course—five knives and two Mors—but this was her baby: a gorgeous filigreed limited-edition RX Blaster from the turn of the last century. She was a beauty. Updated with little add-ons to keep her blasts deadly, but the shooting style was all old-school skill. No lasers to help aim.
<We need you back at Nova,> Commander Asshole in her head said.
<I said I’m busy,> she replied, lifting her blaster.
One, two, three down. Lasers in the Mors weaponry might be more accurate, but her little baby had a beautiful curve to its fall that lodged the blast right where she wanted it. It had charm. It had character. She liked its quirks.
And, yes, she felt sentimental about it.
<Get un‑busy,> Sher said.
<I am>—she pointed her gun—<in the middle of>—one shot to the head of a soldier—<a job>—one shot to another’s torso—<and you are>—another soldier down—destroying my focus. And now I’m out of shots.>
<So use one of your other weapons.> He sounded impatient, as usual.
<And try not to shoot them all in the head this time.
<I got a few in the knee and a few in the gut.> Only some in the head. If you called just to give me a lecture, I’m turning off the Pathos.>
The soldiers yelled—calling for reinforcements from the other part of the ship. More loyal Tholosian soldiers would be flowing into bullet crafts, speeding through space to close off her exits. Eris had to seal the doors and disable the comm system, or she’d never take the command center.
She could practically hear his sigh through the Pathos. <I’ve got another mission for you.
<Are you kidding me? I’m in the middle of commandeering a ship.> She only had the blade in her boot left and less than three minutes before the other soldiers arrived. She’d told her other superior, Kyla, that she was looking for something challenging. Eris could never decide if the other woman was obeying her wishes or deliberately trying to kill her.
<Kyla says you’re usually faster than this.
Eris paused. <She did not.
<She’s telling me that if you don’t finish your mission in the next fifty seconds, it’ll be your slowest run time—
<If you’d shut up—she lunged from behind the metal container—for one—threw her blade into a soldier’s gut—godsdamn—dove to avoid a spray of laser blasts that exploded into white lights behind her upon impact—second.
Eris leapt onto the last soldier, tore the Mors from his grip, and slammed her fist into his face. Her body modifications were a godsend, giving her strength unmatched by a common soldier. Her punch cracked the bones of his face. He staggered, spitting blood onto the floor. He didn’t manage to recover before she snaked an arm around his throat and snapped his neck.
Sorry, Sher. Sorry, Kyla.
She heard another bullet craft anchor to the hull. The screech as doors opened. The patter of footfalls above her as more soldiers— twenty at least—came to try their luck at killing her. Eris sprinted to the door that opened the command center. The captain was unprotected, vulnerable.
“Wait,” he only just uttered before Eris grabbed his shirt.
“Disable the doors.” When he hesitated, she seized his arm and squeezed until he cried out. “Do it.”
His fingers moved fast on the controls as he sent the commands. Captains were trained in rudimentary defense tactics, but not more than the guards stationed outside. He would have seen her through the monitors, known his skills were no match for hers. If this had been one of her captains—if she were still called General—she would have either killed him or sent him back for more training. No weakness. Only sacrifice.
So far, Eris could justify the corpses left in her wake tonight. Kill or be killed. This man wasn’t attacking. Kyla told her to end a life only if necessary, save as many as possible. Eris should at least try to keep her word.
“There.” His voice trembled. “It’s done.”
“Good,” Eris said.
She saw the exact moment his Oracle programming kicked in. The rapid eye movement and dilation of his pupils, the curl of his lips as his hand reached for his belt. His snarled words barely sounded like the voice he used before: “For Tholos.”
The captain lunged with a blade. Eris smacked the weapon away and pivoted, but he came at her and slammed her into the ground. His hands were on her throat, a tight squeeze. Eris saw stars. The Oracle’s programming was a benefit and a curse. Right now, it was pumping adrenaline through his body and running code through his brain until all that remained was the Oracle’s commands: God of Death, I kill for Thee. In Thy name I give my body.
Nothing else. No consciousness. No choice. No autonomy.
She hit him, aiming for his kidneys. Just enough to get him off her. But it was no use; the Oracle had taken over. The programming all Tholosians had hardwired into their brains since birth was bad enough, but the chip at the base of his skull gave the AI control over his body’s motor functions.
He was so far gone, he might never come back. Shorted out into what the Tholosians called gerulae. Mindless servants. Human drones. Eris edged the knife out of her wrist sheath and struck. She aimed for his arm, and shoved him hard enough to knock him on his back.
“Captain? Captain, come on. You’ve got to fight through the—”
“In His name,” he murmured, grasping the hilt of the blade. He yanked it out of his arm in a single move.
“Captain—” Eris scrambled to her feet.
“I give my body.”
The captain slit his own throat.
Eris stopped short, shutting her eyes at the sight. “Fuck,” she breathed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” She reached into her pocket, closed her fingers around her small animal figurine. The weight of it helped her breathe. But it was a poor replacement for the man who had given it to her.
<Eris?> Sher’s voice came through the Pathos. <Is it done?
She closed herself off to feelings. There was no place in her line of work to mourn the dead. There was only this: small moments after a mission. Taking stock. A quiet moment to tally up her kills.
Even the ones she’d intended to save. Or the ones she’d given quick deaths.
Did the captain count?
<Yeah,> she told Sher, trying to keep her inner voice light even as a heavy weight settled in her chest. Guilt had become too familiar. <Tell Kyla I beat my personal best for a ship this size.
<Well done,> he said. <Now report back to Nova. Kyla will brief you on the way.
<Fine. Be there as soon as I can.
She pulled out of the call, stepped over the captain’s body, and entered a command into the ship’s computer. She might have killed to take the ship for supplies, but sacrificing the few to save the many was the way of the resistance. It was sure as shit more merciful of an end than those the Empire gave. The ship’s survivors would have the chips at the base of their skulls removed and be deprogrammed of the Oracle’s influence. They’d be given another chance on Nova. And who survived was simply the luck of the draw.
The God of Death did not have favorites. He simply took.
Eris locked the other soldiers in and directed the ship back to Nova headquarters. Maybe some of the soldiers would be freed of the Oracle’s programming and could be turned to the cause. Most would fail, and she was delivering them to their death.
She unclasped the necklace at her throat, with its tiny metal scythe, and bent over the captain’s corpse. She might not have been able to save him, but she could offer last rites. The ones she would have given in her previous life. His fate would be decided in a level of the Avernian underworld, all seven the realm of a different god. For the Tholosians, the gods and devils of the Avern were one and the same. Light only shown by the dark.
And her patron god was Letum, the most powerful of their pantheon. Death Himself.
Eris whispered a prayer to her insatiable god.
In His name.