Rebel Princess(2)

By: Blair Bancroft



“Shields up!” Kiolani’s command rang clear in the sudden tense quiet, Orion’s crew and cadets caught up in the illusion of imminent disaster.

The missile exchange was going to be close. Would Orion’s shields hold? Tal locked his gaze on the hologlobe and waited for the ship’s sensors to record the hit. Heads lifted from viewscreens . . . puzzled looks as nothing happened.

Except Archer’s icon on the hologlobe exploding in a shower of sparks.

Cadet Kass Kiolani—the only Psyclid in the Regulon Space Academy—let out a small yip of triumph.

Orion’s bridge crew groaned. The cadets cheered. Tal Rigel suppressed an audible sigh.

“Captain, do you wish to continue the exercise?”

“Bring ’em in, Kiolani. Well done.” But way too easy. Every time Kass Kiolani took a turn at Tactical, no matter what war game he chose, she made his crew look like they belonged to a merchant fleet on the outer rim. Cadet pilots and cadet gunners, some barely old enough to shave, outmaneuvered and outgunned his best men. Even today, when Archer fired two sure strikes, Orion continued to sail through space, miraculously untouched.

“Shield strength, Kiolani?”

“One hundred percent, Captain.”

His suspicions, however incredible, were justified. After repulsing two missiles at point-blank range, Orion’s shields should have registered as down by fifty percent or more. The scout ship missed. But it couldn’t have.

The hologlobe was still spinning at Tactical, showing Alpha and Beta fighters returning to the ship, closely followed by Archer. One last look, a tiny smile, and Cadet Kiolani shut down the holo and turned her attention to the exercise wrap-up on the flat viewscreen in front of her.

Tal Rigel lowered his voice, speaking to his personal comp unit. “Copy hologlobe record to Ready Room. Add copies of previous exercises involving Cadet Kiolani at Tactical.” The little cadet was good, but she wasn’t that good. No one was.

But she was Psyclid, and that’s what was wrong with this whole batani mess. “Kiolani?”

“Sir?”

“Report to the Ready Room at nineteen-thirty.” Maybe that would keep the cocky little Psyclid quaking in her boots for a few hours. Now all he had to do was figure out what skill she possessed that made her the scourge of Regulon’s fastest, most successful huntership.

And the Nemesis of Captain Talryn Rigel.

Not possible. Tal had studied the three holos until his eyes crossed. They all the said the same thing, and he fydding well didn’t believe it. Trajectories did not glitch. Trajectories did not zig, nor did they zag. Beams of light did not dash off into space like meteors streaking the sky. And in the last holo, those two missiles from Archer should have hit dead on. No way could they have missed. And yet they had.

Tal groaned. The little Psyclid was playing with his mind. But isn’t that what Psyclids did? That’s why they kept to their own planet and kept out of Regula’s way. During the centuries while Regulons were developing their bodies and their weapons, Psyclids were developing their minds, many said to no good end. Some even muttered of witchcraft and sorcery. Tal had steadfastly ignored the rumors, but now . . .

A soft knock on the Ready Room door. Not so bold now, was she? Scared she was in for all the “buts” that would inevitably follow his earlier “well done”? Well, good. Sometimes he wondered if Kass Kiolani remembered he was captain.

“Come.”

Tal swallowed an inadvertent hiss of breath as the Psyclid cadet entered. Gone was the little warrior who had commanded Beta squadron to victory. Playing with his mind again, was she? Long hair hung black and straight well below her shoulders, appearing almost too heavy for her elfin face and slim body. So slim the smallest Regulon uniform was several sizes too large, effectively concealing the figure, or lack of it, beneath. But her face glowed with added color she never wore while serving on the bridge. Full bright lips, a hint of rose on her cheeks, and eyes deeply ringed with shadows darker than her silver gray cadet uniform and emphasizing the sharply intelligent amber eyes of a feline predator.

Did those usually glowing eyes show a touch of wariness, as if this time she remembered who was boss? Probably his imagination, and yet her regal nose managed to appear custom-made for looking down at the rest of the world.

She saluted smartly. “Captain.”

“Sit, Kiolani.” He indicated a chair. “I have something to show you.”

She blinked, long black eyelashes brushing her cheeks. In that instant she knew she’d been caught. He could feel it. She sat.

Tal activated the holo record of the day’s training exercise. “Let’s watch the whole thing,” he told her, “and then you can explain the anomalies.”

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