Rebel Princess(3)

By: Blair Bancroft



“Certainly, sir.” With no further sign of tension at his implication that something was wrong, she focused her entire attention on the hologlobe. They watched in silence as the cadets, led by acting Tactical Officer Kiolani, put down Alpha Group’s attack in fourteen minutes, twenty seconds.

When the holo winked out, Cadet Kiolani’s gaze dropped to the hands clasped in her lap. A classic portrait of female subservience, waiting for her master’s voice. Little witch.

“The anomalies, Cadet. Can you explain?”

She looked up, eyes wide and limpid, deep pools of innocence. “Surely a comp malfunction, Captain. We both know trajectories don’t do that.”

“Not without help.”

“Pardon?”

Mallik, but she was good. “Someone else is bound to notice, Kiolani. Someone less flexible than I. You can’t be unaware that relations between Psyclid and Regula Prime have deteriorated. If you were doing what I think you were doing today—though I haven’t the slightest idea how—then stop it. It could not only get you bounced out of the Academy, it could get you killed.”

“But, Captain . . .” She paused, frowned, returned her gaze to her lap.

“Speak your mind, Kiolani.”

Her head came up, setting long shimmering black strands waving around her face, over her breasts . . .

Concentrate, Rigel. Pysclid. Cadet. Anomalies. Batani witch. She’d worn her hair down, added enhancements so she could charm—

“Try to be objective, Captain.” He could feel her willing him to understand. “If—and I emphasize if—I have any special gifts, they could be helpful to Fleet.”

Tal tapped a button and the hologlobe disappeared, leaving him a clear view of Cadet Kiolani’s elfin face. Since the afternoon’s exercise, his goals had shifted. He was curious about her suspected powers, yes, but talk overheard in the last few hours had overridden the puzzle of malfunctioning trajectories. He had a decade more experience than this all-too-bright cadet, yet finding words to penetrate her self-confidence, her certainty—her oblivious certainty—that all was right in her world was more of a challenge than he’d anticipated.

“Listen to me, Kiolani. People fear what they don’t understand. And the fear of Psyclid powers grows stronger every day. Logic has no part in it.” Tal fisted his right hand, dropped it to within an inch of the tabletop. “What I’m saying, Cadet, is that you need to watch your back. Not all the mutterings I heard after the exercise were from my own officers. There are cadets outside your own squad who are beginning to talk, maybe turn on you.”

“You aren’t . . . you can’t possibly be saying I should leave the Academy.” The little Psyclid looked horrified. “I’ve wanted to go into space my whole life. In ten months I’ll be an ensign.”

“And I’m saying that even if you graduate, it’s doubtful they’ll assign you to the fleet. Maybe a desk job, researcher or something like that. A ridiculous waste of talent.”

“No-o!”

“Or it could be worse.”

“How worse?”

She seemed genuinely puzzled. Foolish girl, she truly didn’t understand. Must be all that Psyclid nonsense about peace and love and the Psyclidian way. He’d just have to spell it out. “It could come to war.”

She laughed out loud, right in his face. “War is a joke. You can’t make war on a planet that owns nothing more than a few armed escort ships to guard our merchant fleet. We have no battlecruisers, no hunterships. We are boringly peaceful. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to attend the Academy. I thought it was time at least one of us learned how to fight.”

How could someone so bright be so unaware? The concept of personal enmity seemed beyond her grasp. “Your bravery isn’t in question, Kiolani. Nor your brilliance as a cadet. But you’ve stepped on toes, made a lot of people angry. Psyclids aren’t supposed to beat a warrior race at its own game. I want you to be aware trouble is coming. I’m almost certain of it.”

Pallor leeched color from skin the shade of the honey produced on his uncle’s farm on Regula Prime. “Genocide?” she murmured.

“I hope it won’t come to that, but I don’t like some of the things I’ve heard.” Particularly in the last few hours since she’d made fools of them all. Again.

Huge amber eyes looked straight into his soul. Pok! Tal was nearly as angry with her as his crew was, and yet he’d swear she’d just branded him. Made him hers. No matter what happened to the stubborn little Psyclid, those eyes were going to haunt him for the rest of his days.

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