The ship jolted starboard just as Jeb was exiting the lazivator, causing him to stagger and whack his shoulder against the door. Damn inertial jostlers! Once again, he wished for an off switch for the device. To his right, he heard Lt. Straus swear. “Missed again! They’re too fast.”

“Warp ten-point seven,” Lt. Cruz reported from the helm. “They’re coming around.”

“Photon torpedoes, full spread, try to lead their path,” Jeb’s Number One advised, then said, “Captain, I regret to inform you our assassin is dead, and the ship started attacking almost immediately after. Standard phasers, but overpowered—just like the engines.”

“Missed again,” Straus reported. “They dodged them.”

Smirnov said from the Ops station, “Sir, I don’t know how that ship is taking the strain. They executed a 30-degree turn at Warp Ten. They have to be tearing their hull.”

The Impulsive shook again.

“Wikadas shields down,” Straus reported.

“Helm, get us out of here, straight line toward the Kikas’ location, everything you’ve got. Full shields aft,” Jeb commanded. He hurried to his chair and sat.

“Aye, sir! But we can’t outrun them,” Cruz protested.

“I don’t intend to. On my signal, slow to warp five. Straus, when they overshoot, you get your shot. Make it count.”

“Aye, sir!” Her fingers flew over her console. The ship rocked from another hit, but everyone ignored it.

“Targeting solution ready, Captain!”


Folks were jerked forward when Cruz hit the brakes. As anticipated, the attacking ship surged ahead. Leslie didn’t hold back. Several phasers blasted against the shields of the alien ship, and when it tried to circle back, she had a barrage of photon torpedoes waiting. The ship’s shields flared, then there were small explosions as the remaining torpedoes struck its hull.

The alien ship went dark and still.

The bridge crew whooped in approval.

“That was for Gregar and Ellie,” Straus said. Then she screwed her eyes shut. Tears spilled out anyway. Lt. LaFuentes, who had arrived from the brig just in time to see the action, set a hand on her shoulder and with a few quiet words of approval, took over.

In that tender moment, the screen flared with brilliant light as the enemy ship destroyed itself.

“Lieutenant?” Jeb demanded.

“It wasn’t me, Captain!”

From Ops, Smirnov agreed. “It wasn’t our attack, either. We damaged their drive systems, but sensors didn’t detect any damage severe enough to cause the ship to bust apart. That explosion was internal in origin. They self-destructed rather than be taken prisoner.”

“Like our prisoner,” Enigo said. “He had some kind of biometric bomb in his head. I had him, Captain, then he jerked and collapsed. His brain was completely fried.”

Jeb smacked a fist against his chair arm. “Is there anything left that can give us a clue as to who’s responsible for all this?”

As if in response, another series of smaller explosions tore through the remnants to the destroyed ship.

Jeb exchanged an exasperated look with his first officer.


Captain’s Log, Intergalactic Date 677063.51

The assassin and the ship that had been following us are both gone, destroyed by their own hands, and we none the wiser about who they really were or what they’d hoped to accomplish. While we are reasonably confident that the threat has passed, we continue to take precautions. We’ve resumed our route to Belon, with the HMB Kikas as an escort in case we have any more shadows. We’ve similarly given our passengers escorts but are allowing them some freedom of movement. Not surprisingly, many have asked to visit the Doalls and offer comfort and condolences.

Lieutenant Doall is entering her ninth hour of surgery. We took some heat for not replacing our EMPT with a human doctor, but right now, I’m grateful for Doc Sorcha’s expertise—and for the fact that she does not fatigue.

If only the rest of us were so lucky.

There weren’t many times when Enigo felt like he’d failed his crew, but today was one of them.

An ambassador dead, one of his favorite crewmates critically injured, the being responsible for both dead before he gave them any information… Once the distraction of the battle had ended, Leslie had barely kept it together the rest of her shift, and LeRoy hadn’t been much better, blaming himself for letting Ellie go down the corridor alone, unarmed, and dressed like a civilian. He’d reassured LeRoy and had taken Leslie aside and let her cry on his shoulder, but he knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. This would take time—time, and knowing Ellie was going to be all right, something he couldn’t guarantee.

Toward the end of his shift, the captain had taken him aside. “Once we have our guests safely at their conference, we’re going through this FUBAR with a fine-tooth comb to see what, if anything, we could have done different,” he’d told him. “But in the meantime, I want you to remember: Shit happens, and we can’t always stop ourselves from stepping in it. Sometimes, you just gotta wipe your boots and keep going.”

Enigo grew up on the Hood. He’d lived through gang wars, the Dread Oog, and the zombie pandemic. He knew all about events being out of his control. He’d even given his own team a similar speech. But he had to admit, at the moment, he wasn’t feeling it.

He entered his quarters with his mind set on a stiff drink and a deep sleep, when he saw Todd sitting on the couch, eyes shut and head bent over his hands. His fingers caressed a string of beads while his lips moved in a whispered litany.

Enigo sat beside him and joined him in the recitation of prayers passed down through millennia.

Afterward, Todd let out a long sigh. “Thanks,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind—my coming here, I mean. It’s just, there were so many people coming and going out of Ellie’s quarters—diplomats, you know? For the Doalls. I felt…” He shrugged.

“It’s okay. You’re welcome here.” Enigo went to the replicator, ordered a bottle of tequila and two glasses, and brought it back to the couch. Todd slammed down his first shot, poured a second, and gulped it down, too, before Enigo had had a chance to sip his.

Enigo grabbed the bottle. “Whoa, man. That’s enough for you.” He poured himself a second shot before setting it aside.

“Is it always like this?” Todd demanded. “People getting killed, and everyone catching some horrific space sickness, and…” He waved his glass vaguely to indicate disasters unknown.

“Nah, man, it’s just been a bad year. Sometimes, we just get turned into puppets.”


“Don’t worry about it. Eh-heh? has a mean streak and a twisted sense of humor.”


“No. It’s Eh-heh?—two syllables and you gotta inflect up on the end. He’s really particular about pronunci—”

“Do you hear yourself right now?” Todd practically screamed. “How can you be so, so, casual about living in constant peril?”

Enigo looked at him in askance. “I grew up on the UGS Hood.”

“And I grew up on a space station in the Sol System.” Again, Todd slumped forward over his knees. He rolled his glass between his palms, staring into it as if the dregs of alcohol could tell him his future. “I don’t know… Maybe Ellie’s parents were right after all.”

“Right about what?” Enigo asked suspiciously. He did not like Todd’s defeated posture.

“Maybe… Maybe I’m not a good match.”

Enigo’s grip tightened on his glass.

He’s stressed, a part of him said—the part that was HuFleet trained and civilized. He’s out of his environment, and the woman he loves is hurt and he can’t do anything about it. He’s scared and in shock and speaking from his fears. He’s looking for clarity…

But there was another part to Enigo, a part that spent 18 years fighting for everything from general survival to each individual moment of love or joy. The part that had vowed to break Todd’s face if he ever hurt Ellie.

Both parts had just had a really, really bad day.

Slowly, Enigo set his glass down and stood.

“Where are you going?” Todd asked.

Enigo took a deep breath and let it out. He spoke in deliberate, measured tones. “I may have prayed with you, but I am not your confessor. You do not want to discuss this with me. But you had better learn your mind and you had better find your steel because that woman deserves nothing less than complete devotion, comprende?”

“I…” Todd started, then stopped when he saw the feral look in his roommate’s eyes. “Yeah. I get it. I understand.”

Enigo peered at him a moment longer; then, satisfied, grabbed the bottle and shoved it into the disposal on his way to his bedroom. The last thing either of them needed was more drink.

Todd watched him until the door closed behind him. Then he looked again at his glass, and seeing it empty, turned to Enigo’s.

The security chief’s was riddled with spiderweb cracks.