Immortal in Shadow [The Shadow Gods Saga #3]
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by Stefan Vucak
Category: Science Fiction
Description: He had the Power to Unleash Cosmic Death! In the third in the EPPIE nominated Shadow Gods Saga, Tanard, a renegade officer formerly in the service of the Sherll Combine, on his way to a prison planet escapes and vows vengeance on the worlds of the combine. An agent of the enemy Paleans recruits Tanard to weaken the Combine by raiding a key ally, the worlds of Kaleen, home of the mysterious brotherhood of Wanders. First Scout Terrllss-rr, an officer in the Combine fleet and a Wanderer himself, must locate Tanard's support base before the Wanderers rise up and unleash the terrible power of cosmic Death in retaliation for the assault on their worlds. Then Terr meets Tenna, who is everything he has looked for in a woman. Soon the two are passionately in love. But when Teena discovers that Terr used the Wanderers' devastating power of cosmic Death to interrogate prisoners, she rejects him. Heart and mind in turmoil, Terr must carry out one last desperate mission under the shadow of Death, to find and destroy Tanard's base, risking everything, even the future of the Combine, in a mad gamble to win back the woman he loves.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: March 2005
17 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [496 KB]
Reading time: 321-450 min.
"A powerful story that pulls you deep into its depths as Terr learns to accept what he is and has become. It is also the story of political intrigue, the greed to obtain more than is one's due, and the not so pleasant outcomes of such greed. The struggle Terr faces and the political mechanisms that pull the series together are brilliant. I highly recommend this book and the entire series. Stefan is a gifted writer with the ability to draw you into his world."--Science Fiction Reviews
Lying on the hard bunk, eyes closed, Tanard allowed the background hum to carry him into blackness and oblivion. It was but a small step to make, for the ship was carrying him into oblivion. It wasn't exactly death, but it might as well have been. Death was preferable to the nightmare of eternal imprisonment that waited for him when the transport made its last planetfall. Grounded, he would never again feel a deck beneath his feet or the tug of far stars. No, the tug will always be there, he just wouldn't be able to answer it. It was perhaps a greater cruelty. They should have shot him, it would have been a kinder fate, but they had let him live and he planned to exact full toll for that oversight.
The ship whispered to him in the darkness of his mind.
Gravity changed and the deck shifted slightly, almost a tremble, as the transport dropped normal. His skin prickled and a hot flush raced through his body. Oblivion will have to wait, for a little while anyway. He lifted his head to meet Winn's steady gaze.
"Not long now," Tanard rasped and swallowed, absently touching the scar running across his neck and mangled throat. He ignored the dull burning that followed his touch. The pain was familiar now, almost a friend--another companion in the dark and one that was slowly killing him.
Winn grinned and slid his long legs off the bunk. His large black eyes, framed by a narrow triangular face, shone with anticipation. Freedom! Or at least a chance. He turned and shook the prone figure on the next bunk. The figure groaned, looked up and blinked vacantly.
"We there?" Railee mumbled indifferently.
"Depends on how far off we transited," Winn said.
Their eyes connected, the same thought clear on both their faces. After two years of hell it will all end soon, one way or another. That it could also end in their deaths did not even occur to Winn. He was past caring. It was a luxury that got in the way of just surviving and he had gotten tired of that too. A real death now or death on Cantor later, there did not seem to be much of a difference. Still, he was not about to give up on life just yet.
Railee did not particularly care whether he lived or died either. Captivity had toughened him and the interrogations, first on Anar'on, then on Kalakan, made him hard beyond his years. His jailers were not cruel or in any way mistreated him physically. That would have been a sign of consideration, an acknowledgment that he existed, that he mattered. No, what they did was far worse. They had taken away all hope. But he did not hate, not exactly. His captors did what they had to do. It was inevitable really. His fate was decided when he made his choice to join Tanard and become a raider. He could pretty it up with words of patriotism, a fight for Palean imperialism, because that's what it was, but when the façade was stripped away, he had forsaken his commission in the Fleet and sold his soul to prey on helpless merchants. What price idealism?
It was a cosmic jest, but he was still to get the joke.
He planted both feet on the hard deck, stole a quick glance at his commander's scarred face, the disfigurement a comforting sight now rather than a shock it once was, nodded and strode into the bathroom.
Tanard watched his weapons officer and the corner of his mouth twitched. He caught Winn's amused expression and jerked his head at the bathroom door.
"He's come a long way."
"We've all come a long way," Winn said fatalistically, crossed his legs and stifled a yawn. Tanard grinned.
Was that his first officer talking? Railee may have lost his youth and innocence, lamentable perhaps, or perhaps not, but Winn has probably changed most of all. No longer timid and hesitant, he was now confident to the point of indifference. With nothing to live for, Winn now dared to even challenge him. Tanard approved of the transformation and wondered mildly if his first officer will revert to type if they ever managed to get off this rust bubble. He hoped not. For what he had in mind, he needed Winn cold and hard. They will all need to be cold and hard.
Railee emerged tugging down the tunic of his prison blues. He plopped on the bunk and propped himself against the bulkhead, hands locked behind his head.
"What's the name of this dump again?"
"Feron," Winn said and bobbed his head, his thin hands twining in a characteristic nervous gesture.
"Feron," Railee repeated in a high voice like it was something dirty and made a face. "Picking up more unfortunates for Cantor's fodder mill, I'll bet."
"Like you cared."
"You're right, I don't care. Why should I? Do any of them care what happens to me?"
"Probably not, and I don't care either."
"My friend." Railee looked disgusted.
Tanard frowned and the two of them fell silent. He wasn't conscious that he had shown any displeasure. He only knew that the inane chatter had distracted him. Over the last two years the other two had come to know his moods intimately and acted without him having to say anything. They were better than a partner, he mused sardonically and his irritation evaporated.
He forced himself to sit still when every fiber in his body ached from the strain of waiting. Will the plan work? Will they be able to get off the ship? Once on the surface, how will they evade the inevitable hunt that will ensue? It could all be an elaborate trap, a plot to kill them. He was being a paranoid fool and knew it. Le Maran wouldn't go to all this trouble merely to have him killed. If the ATP Provisional Committee had wanted him out of the way, he would already be dead. There would be no need for such elaborate sidestepping. His frown deepened. The worst part of it was that none of them dared talk openly to vent their feelings and frustrations for fear the cabin might be monitored. It probably wasn't, but they couldn't take that chance. It was maddening. What he craved was a release, to pace around, to rage and storm, to let his bottled emotions free before they consumed him. But of course, that would never do. Even on a prison hulk a commander's dignity had to be preserved, which amused him intensely. Any dignity he may have had was stripped away on Anar'on by the unsmiling, shadowy Wanderer interrogators.
He sensed the ship slow and stop. It was a subtle change in the background throb of small ship noises that after a lifetime of Fleet service, he recognized instantly. The alarm siren wailed then, which made everyone jump, and the milky ceiling changed to pulsing amber. The hatch snapped open into the bulkhead with a sharp clang.
"Abandon ship! This is not a drill," the computer blared. "Everyone to their assigned survival blister."
Le Maran has done it!
Instead of excitement, Tanard felt a calmness that surprised him. Then again, it wasn't all that surprising. Training had prepared him to face action with calm resolution and he was certainly facing action now. He grunted, stood up in a single flowing motion and gathered the other two with a glance.
Now that the moment had come, Winn hesitated, mortified that he could still feel indecision. Was he a coward after all? Then his mouth firmed and his eyes darkened as he turned to Tanard.
"Just don't let them take me..."
There was a wealth of emotion behind those simple words and Tanard was touched. Winn had changed, enough to realize that there were many kinds of death, not merely losing one's life.
"Then let's make this work, okay?"
Satisfied, Winn nodded, glanced at Railee and jabbed a long finger at the open hatch.
"Right! Let's get it on!"
Tanard lunged and grabbed his arm. "Wait!"
The young fool will get himself killed! He stepped to the hatchway and carefully peered into the corridor. Dazed prisoners peered cautiously out of their cabins and looked uncertainly at each other. The computer repeated its warning and the passage began to fill. If the ship was indeed in danger, there was no time to waste. At the end of the corridor a hatch cycled open and two burly marines stepped through. Several prisoners made a dash past Tanard toward a row of four survival blisters at the far end of the passageway, their access hatches already gaping open.
"Stand to!" one of the marines bellowed and leveled his power rod. A pale violet beam struck one of the fleeing prisoners in the back. The man yelped, flung up his arms and crumpled to the deck in an untidy heap, unconscious.
With the siren still wailing the prisoners now turned their attention on the marines. They had perhaps moments to escape from what may be a doomed ship and the guards were gunning them down. A heavyset individual, teeth bared, eyes glowing with blood lust and hate, launched himself in a flying leap at the two guards. The violet beam sizzled along the ceiling as others rushed into the melee, the ungainly power rods useless for any close in work and the guards were dumb to bring them.
Tanard nodded. It was time to go.
"The far blister," he said and slapped Winn on the back. The three of them ran toward the open pods. Several inmates were already scrambling through the hatches.
The siren stopped its wail.
"Disregard! Disregard!" an angry voice boomed over the intercom. "Computer error. Everyone into their cabins now! Repeat. Disregard abandon ship!"
Hearing the command, some of the prisoners stopped and stood still, not quite sure what to believe. The downed guards lay still on the deck. The heavyset man picked up one of the power rods and marched deliberately toward the blister pods.
"Disregard be damned," he growled, trailing cronies in his wake.
Winn did not relish arguing it out with the guy. He reached the blister and dived through the hatch. Railee gave a triumphant yell and plunged in after him. A body sailed out of the hatch a moment later. Tanard elbowed aside the luckless individual trying to scramble back in and jumped into the gloomy interior.
Winn stabbed the pulsing yellow purge pad with a stiff finger and the hatch clanged shut, cutting off the panicked screams outside, leaving only the faint sound of futile pounding. Tanard piled into a couch just as the blister surged down the launch tube. The restraining field caught them, then released when the blister reached stable boost. Winn quickly checked the main display plate. Three other blisters had cleared the stationary transport. Feron hung above them, a blue-green world covered in fluffy white gauze. After eleven days of staring at nothing but gray bulkheads, it was a gorgeous sight.
"Any threats?" Tanard demanded and leaned over Winn's shoulder.
"Showing three survival blisters in terminal descent," Winn said, scanning the display plates. "Make that four. Two VLBCs in a holding pattern nine hundred talans to port. No Fleet units within detection range, but this thing doesn't have much of a sensor suite," he added with an apologetic scowl.
The parked merchants, Very Large Bulk Carriers, were no threat. Tanard pursed his thin lips and allowed himself to relax. The first and most difficult part of their escape had worked out well enough. He did not know who on the transport had sabotaged the computer or how it was done and he did not particularly give a damn either. Le Maran had kept his promise and that was enough. Too bad that it had taken him two years to get around to it, but Tanard could hardly blame his controller for that. Busting them off Kalakan, the Fleet's premier Palean base, would probably have taken far more than Le Maran or the Committee was prepared to give. To the Committee's faceless men the effort just wasn't worth the return. Tanard's capture had caused them enough damage as it is. Even after two years the memories were poignantly sharp and he squirmed in his seat at some of the more unpleasant ones.
The aborted attack on Zavian that was supposedly carrying the Unified Independent Front delegates, the subsequent running battle with young Terr and the loss of his arm, all were things that haunted his nights and stalked his days. On Anar'on his Wanderer interrogators had peeled open his mind with detached indifference, laying bare the Committee's secrets, what he knew of them, which was enough, seeing how he was instrumental in the planning and setting up of the raider base on Lemos. Le Maran compromised--hard to see how that could have been avoided--and much of the Committee's operational arm with it. It must have been a grave setback for them, one that will probably take years to overcome, if at all. The Committee was exposed now and the hunters will be prowling. He could still see the probing orange eyes of his Wanderer captors and the image made his skin crawl. When they were done with him, they discarded him, an empty drained shell. The subsequent BueCult and Palean inquisitions on Kalakan were almost mild in comparison.
To have foregone those mind wrenching sessions!
"You are on manual?" he snapped.
"On manual," Winn confirmed, "and I've shut off the transponder." It wouldn't do to let SC&C, Surface Command and Control, take over the blister. Not after they have come this far. That gag would land them at the nearest Field where grim marines brandishing power rods would be waiting for them to disembark, ready to haul them back into captivity. Winn wondered briefly if the other blister pilots remembered to be as careful, then gave a mental shrug. It wasn't his problem.
Tanard reached over Winn's shoulder and punched in the nav coordinates he'd been given on Kalakan by an ATP agent.
"It appears that we have a reprieve from purgatory," Railee piped, a huge smile wrapped across his face.
"That still remains to be seen," Tanard said gravely and looked at Winn. "How long to touchdown?"
"Three minutes. We'll be crossing the night terminator any moment now."
"Excellent." Darkness will not stop SC&C from tracking them, but it will hinder, if for a while, the local authorities in their efforts to find them once they were down. By the time the blister was located, he will be part of the background scenery. If everything worked out, he reminded himself. There were plenty of things that could still go wrong.
SC&C started squawking almost immediately, demanding that they go automatic, that they were tracked and will be fired upon if they did not comply. Tanard gave an irritated growl and Winn cut off the verbal tirade. It was an idle threat anyway. Feron was an insignificant world on the Palean/Karkan border and had the most rudimentary Fleet facilities. A was a transit station at best. Its sparse and scattered agricultural population shunned the metropolitan centers and the city dwellers were happy to have it like that. It made for vigorous competition during the seasonal tourist trade. Feron was not advanced, but its position in a minor shipping corridor ensured that it would never be just another backwater frontier world. And that's why it was picked as a staging post for their escape. There were enough offworlders on the planet at any one time that three more should not raise any excitement. By the time the authorities got themselves organized, he hoped to be off the planet. But how were they supposed to get off the planet? One thing at a time, he told himself.
"Mr. Winn? Send a single comms ping on the 31.2 C band," Tanard ordered.
Winn glanced at his commander, then punched in the frequency, his flash of resentment that Tanard had kept aspects of their escape from him evaporating. It was only reasonable. If their flight from the transport had failed, he could not divulge information he did not have.
Almost immediately a single sharp response shattered the blister's muted computer whispers.
Railee raised an appreciative eyebrow. "A welcoming committee?"
Tanard gave him a stern glance. "Our escape was meant to succeed."
"I am comforted," Railee said unabashed. "It would have been mildly disconcerting if this was simply someone's idea of a macabre prank."
Tanard suppressed a smile, but he was serious when he said that their escape was meant to succeed. The ATP had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that the resistance network was ready to take them back in. At least he hoped that was the case. Le Maran had never actually said that they would be assuming their old roles, or what roles they would really have. Tough to be an effective operator with the Serrll's entire security apparatus after you.
Winn rotated the blister as they crossed the terminator. Thick cloudbanks obscured the ground far below. Lightning flashes rippled silently through them, accompanied by brilliant red and blue sprites high in the stratosphere at the edge of space itself.
The blister angled to port and plunged into black cloud. Turbulence shook the little craft and Tanard's stomach squirmed as the deck suddenly fell away and the restraining field snapped on. A high-pitched shriek of tortured air set his teeth on edge. Then they were through and the ride became smooth. On their starboard side a checkered pattern of lights indicated a large settlement or small city. The blister slowed and steadied in its descent. In the blackness below an occasional solitary light identified a lone residence. The main display plate showed open countryside and planted fields that crowded a ragged forest.
The blister descended quickly, paused, then settled with a gentle bump. It was kind of eerie to be on solid ground again.
"Adjust for local gravity," Tanard rasped.
"We've got company." Winn touched lit pads and nodded at the display plate. A combie was making a direct line for them, its nav lights blinking. It braked hard and dropped beside the blister.
"At least it's not an APC," Railee muttered darkly. An Armored Personnel Carrier would definitely have spoiled what had so far been a great day.
"Crack the hatch, Mr. Winn," Tanard ordered and stood up. The countryside appeared deserted, but someone was bound to come looking sooner or later and he had no wish to be around when that happened.
The hatch sighed open and warm, sweet air rushed in. It smelled of grass, freshly turned earth and cut timber. It tasted good after days of canned ship's goo.
"Let's not admire the scenery!" an impatient voice shouted from the combie.
Tanard jumped out, ran to the combie and scrambled through the open doorway. Winn glanced at Railee and followed. The door snapped shut as Railee squeezed in and the combie immediately surged up. A green safety strip along the bottom of the curved shell offered feeble light in the darkened interior. The combie cleared the timberline and Winn muttered a silent thanks to the survival blister, then turned to study the approaching town with interest. There was little to see in the dark.
Tanard looked curiously at the driver. The Karkan glanced at him and smiled, his pointed tongue flicking briefly.
"Welcome to Feron," the driver hissed. "Before you start, I can't tell you anything because I don't know anything. My job is just to get you out of here. When I set down, I will disappear and you'll be on your own." The Karkan gave a guttural hiss, his idea of a chuckle.
"My thanks for picking us up."
"Save it, Mister. I got paid plenty for snatching you."
Tanard nodded. To the local ATP branch it may have been cold and calculating, but it also made very good tactical sense. Things can always go wrong in any operation. Why expose the local setup when you can hire someone else to run all the risks.
The township loomed before them. Surrounded by lesser buildings, three low towers climbed into a black sky, their color-reactive panels glowing pearly yellow. Traffic was thin this time of night. An occasional combie, communal and private sled-pad crossed the flight lanes. The combie tilted and skirted the local spaceport. Tanard scanned the Field complex with detached regard. Access tubes tethered two cargo carriers and a bulky liner to the L shaped terminus building. Maintenance hangars and repair facilities, lit by bright floodlights, crowded the terminal. He thought he saw an M-1 scout parked at the edge of the apron. That wasn't good.
For such a small town this was a pretty large facility. A major agricultural port?
The combie swept past the Field and descend in a leisurely sweep. It sagged and came down vertically behind what looked like a shopping complex. The door opened and the Karkan grinned.
"End of the line."
They piled out and watched the combie take off, its navigation lights bright. When it vanished, Tanard looked around. Surrounded by buildings the small quadrangle was deep in shadow. A thin breeze stirred invisible rubbish. Two combies lay parked side by side against a towering black wall.
"Mr. Tanard?" a disembodied voice came from the left machine. "No, don't come any closer. I cannot afford to be seen. When I leave, take the other combie. It is preset to take you to a local hotel. Suite 16-12. When you get there, do not attempt to use the combie again." There was a brief hiss as a door slid shut and the combie immediately lifted.
"Oh, this is terrific!" Railee retorted caustically, his fingers working in agitation. "What happens after we get to suite 16-12? And how are we supposed to get into the damned thing?"
"The lock is probably keyed to one of us," Winn ventured.
"Hopefully not under our real names," Railee added dryly.
"There is only one way to find out," Tanard said and headed for the lone combie.
It was a short flight. He wondered why their Karkan pickup hadn't taken them directly to the hotel, then answered his own question. The Karkan was not meant to know and what he did not know, he could not divulge. They came down on one of the landing ramps that protruded like a rude tongue from the building's side. They climbed out and the parking system whisked the combie away. Railee watched it disappear and shrugged.
Past the deserted foyer the corridor walls glowed soft beige, offsetting the pale blue of the ceiling. Their footfalls made hollow echoes in the thick silence. They easily found the large double-door entrance to their apartment. Without hesitating, Tanard pressed his palm against the sensitized plate set waist high beside the door. The lock cycled and the two panels slid into the opposite walls. They entered as the comfortable lounge flooded with light.
An opaque floor-to-ceiling window screen occupied the far wall. The wooden floor was polished to a dull sheen and the narrow boards made a pleasing linear pattern of brown and amber. Two formchairs flanked a low glass-topped table on which lay three pouches and what looked like ID tags. The entire right wall held a full-dimensional communications station. On the left the living area opened into an adequate kitchen.
"I could get used to this." Railee nodded in appreciation and sprawled into the nearest chair.
The Wall screen brightened.
"You have a message. Do you wish to view message?" the housekeeping computer asked pleasantly.
"Display message," Tanard said.
The Wall cleared. Tanard was not surprised to see Le Maran's corpulent sleek face. It appeared that life was very comfortable for his old controller. Tanard felt a pang of resentment and jealousy.
"Friend Tanard, I want to welcome you to Feron and congratulate you on your, ah, obviously successful extraction." Le Maran gave a tight smile, his fingers working themselves into knots. "Although eminently preferable, I regret that circumstances made it impossible for me to see you in person. On the table before you are new identity tags and travel documents. The IDs are genuine with verifiable local legends. Please study them. It was convenient to bring you all here this one time, but for obvious reasons you cannot remain together. As you may have surmised by now, your survival blister's landing point was not a random event. Mr. Railee and Mr. Winn, you have reservations at the local Field's transit lounge. Change your clothes, then go there immediately and check in for your flight. The liner leaves in the morning. Friend Tanard, your departure is somewhat more involved, for which I apologize in advance. You need to take a morning shuttle to Kumran, the planet's capital. A booking has already been made and you will have enough time to make an off-planet connection that leaves in the afternoon. There will be security checks, but your IDs will hold, provided that you don't miss your flights. Each of you will receive further instructions when you reach your respective destination. Until then..." The image faded and the Wall pooled into merging, confused patterns of color.
"A flight in the morning?" Winn demanded in outrage. "He's got to be kidding! Who is he, anyway?"
"He was the Committee's operations controller," Tanard said, mulling over the message. There was a lot left unsaid there and a lot to be taken on faith. The elaborate planning and organization behind their escape completely dispelled any thought of betrayal.
"You mean he's the schmuck who cooked up the Italan deal that got us caught by the Fleet?"
Tanard's mouth twitched. "I received my instructions from him, friend Winn, but I doubt that he planned the operation."
"That's just great! And we're supposed to take his word and just stroll to the Field with security crawling all over the place?"
"It's not a bad plan when you think about it," Tanard mused. "Your flight is obviously pre-booked and you'll be expected. That is hardly something a freshly landed prisoner would be able to arrange."
"And if you're wrong?"
"I will apologize."
"Oh, that really helps." Winn snorted and shook his head. "Why should we listen to this guy at all? With new IDs and money we could make our own way--"
"To what?" Railee said and stood up. Tanard lifted his hand to silence him.
"Friend Winn, we have discussed this already."
Winn took a deep breath and clasped his hands behind his back to mask his agitation. He hated this confrontation with his commander, but there was too much at stake to take things on the word of a mealy-mouthed bureaucrat. He had sampled one result of bureaucratic incompetence and did not relish being the object of another such event.
"We have discussed it, yes, but as I recall nothing was decided. I am grateful to the Committee for getting our butts off that Cantor transport, but after what I've been through, I think this only makes us even. They used us on Lemos and when Italan failed, they abandoned us. I am not that anxious to trust them again."
Tanard appreciated the courage and strength it took Winn to say that. His first officer had changed, all right.
"I don't have an easy answer for you, friend Winn, and frankly, I am too tired to give you the long winded one. Yes, we were used, betrayed and discarded, and we may be discarded again. What we did on Lemos, did it make a difference in the larger scheme of things? Perhaps, but probably not. I am fatalistic enough to realize that. Italan has always been a mad scheme doomed to failure and we were lucky to walk away from it alive."
"Rotting on Kalakan for two years, some luck."
"You could have been dead."
"I wouldn't have minded," Winn snapped. "If you knew that Italan was doomed, why did we go there?"
"Because it's what we do!" Tanard thundered. "Because those were our orders, and like it or not, we are mercenaries, little better than the raider scum we used on Lemos. Paint it with patriotism, but that's what we were. Every cause demands payment in blood and we have certainly paid for ours in full." Tanard glared at them and raised his cyberplast arm.
After failing to take Zaviar, his ship crippled, he knew that death would be a preferable release to what the Fleet had in store for him. When Second Scout Terr boarded to take his surrender, he was about to kill the young officer, but fates conspired against him yet again. Instead of killing Terr, he lost his own arm in the firefight.
"There is very little patriotism in attacking an unarmed merchant," Tanard rasped wearily. "But patriotism or not, if they give me a ship, I am going out there again."
"And walk into another half-baked scheme?" Winn hissed, greatly daring.
"No more wild schemes, friend Winn. This time it will be on my terms."
"Like we have a lot of options," Railee added flatly. "We are marked men and the Fleet won't rest until it has us recaptured. You've got to know that. How far do you think your new ID will take you on your own?"
"Far enough! I didn't mind throwing away my career. That was gone when I stepped on Lemos, but that was my choice! What I mind is being tossed aside on a crummy deal like Italan for the sake of expediency."
Tanard sighed and shook his head. Young and idealistic and now disillusioned, his first officer was finding life's hard knocks tough to take. It was time for a reality check. He thrust out his jaw and leaned forward.
"What did you think we were doing on Lemos, eh? The ATP Provisional Committee needed killers and we were available. We know how to drive ships and how to kill them. We are good at it and that is why we got picked. And if we manage to get out of here, you will be killing more ships."
"Or get smeared by one more likely."
"If you want out, you're free to take your ID and go. I won't stop you."
"Not much of a choice, is it?" Winn muttered in resignation.
"You always have a choice," Tanard said harshly. "The problem is in picking which one to take."
The room was deathly silent as they stared at each other, knowing that by committing themselves, even Cantor would not be an option any more.
"Well, I only have my life to lose. How bad can it get?" Winn said with a small grin.
Railee laughed and slapped Winn on the back.
"That remains to be seen," Tanard murmured and absently massaged his cyberplast arm.
Next time, friend Terr, I won't miss.