Junior Commander Hoara Felin of the Republic's Space Fleet has problems. Her ship is inoperable and her shipmates are dead. The only thing that can make a bad situation worse is finding she has crashed on the notorious prison-planet of Bliss—a place where condemned criminals are sent…but never leave.
She finds an unexpected ally in Toh, a caring man who treats her injuries and hides her from those who would hold an officer of the Space Fleet for ransom. But, as Hoara is about to find out, Toh is keeping a terrifying secret of his own.
(2016 update: This book, previously titled ON BLISS, has been re-edited and contains a compact list of people, places, and things)
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Hoara's fingers flew over her console even through her swearing. Behind her, at the navigation console, Hanek tried to keep the tension out of his voice. Tried and failed.
"We've lost the stabilisers and most of our sensors," he ground out.
Hoara heard his breathing--quick exhales of air--and knew he was trying desperately to keep their small scoutship together.
If this had been the Patience, they would not have been in trouble. Her ship had enough shielding and power to suffer only minor damage from the gravity shear they hit. But this was Odyssey, and the scoutship couldn't cope.
"Sim, what can you see?'
"We're blind." Even the astrophysicist, normally the epitome of calm, betrayed panic in her voice. "I thought I detected an habitable system before the sensors fritzed. But we don't want to land there."
Hoara wasn't looking at her two shipmates. She heard the discomfort in Sim's voice but discounted it. To her right, a relay hissed and one of the small panels covering the bulkhead flew out into the cockpit, missing the top of her head by millimetres.
"We may have no choice. Set a course." She felt the small ship slide sideways, as if gliding on ice, and grabbed the console with both hands. "Hanek, what can you do about stabilising us?"
"I've tried initialising the backup system," the young navigator replied," but it won't respond. Think I'll--"
Then chaos blossomed.
It appeared to Hoara that the entire ship exploded, but that was impossible because she was still breathing air. The Odyssey started tumbling wildly and she lost her grip, feeling her sweaty hands slide off the smooth metal. There was no time to seehow Hanek and Sim were coping--there was nothing more any of them could do.
She tried to keep her eyes open, saw limbs out of the periphery of her vision, mixing with equipment that had come loose and the sharp edges of the cockpit machinery. And everything, somersaulting over and over. There was no point of reference to focus on, nothing that stayed in view long enough to make sense.
Hoara felt something hard and unyielding hit the side of her head ... stars inside the ship ... inside her head.
No, that can't be right....
There was something covering her body when there shouldn't have been. She moved her hands and felt roughness, not the micro-suede of her chair. There was silence where there should have been the hums and understated chirps of the scout ship.
And, she realised as she swallowed, she was thirsty. So very very thirsty.
Footsteps approached, solid thuds when they should have been muffled by the cockpit's carpeting. Then a strange hand settled upon her forehead, hotter than it should have been.
Her military training kicked in. She threw off her blanket in one smooth move and captured the hand with her right while arrowing for her enemy's throat with her left....
At least, that's what should have happened. Instead, she got as far as a feeble tangle in the sheet covering her before needles of sharp pain riddled her body.
"Try to relax," a voice told her.
It was only then that she opened her eyes, sinking back into the hard mattress with reluctant relief.
At first it was hard to focus. She blinked hard a few times before his features swam into view.
Regular. Tanned skin, brown eyes, chestnut hair. His shoulders were broad and his arms muscled beneath the close-fitting material of his shirt.
"You've been in an accident," he explained, his tone soothing as if speaking to a child. "I carried out some basic treatment but your burns are still healing. It will take another day before you can get up."
She noticed his lips as he spoke. They were soft and generous.
"How long...?" She stopped. Was that her voice? That creaky whispering thing?
"Three of our days. You landed far out on the Northern Waste."
Recollection flooded her mind. Flashes of the deep night of space through the twisting cockpit window. Smoke filling the cabin. Lateral gyros shot to hell.
Oh please, don't let them be dead ... please, don't let them be dead....