Rebel Princess(4)

By: Blair Bancroft

“I refuse to believe it,” she told him, head high. “I can’t give up now, sir. I can’t.”

“Then watch your back, Kiolani. Watch your back.”

“Yes, sir. It hurts, but I’ll remember.”

Tal watched her stiff shoulders as she walked out, wishing the uniform fit her better, wishing it revealed a bit more . . .

Now there was a sure way to find himself captain of a supply ship on the run to the outer rim. A Psyclid. He might as well lust after a Nyx.

Nonetheless . . . captains had privileges. Perhaps when Kiolani graduated, he would have her posted to Orion, where he could keep an eye on her and . . .

No. Tal frowned as scraps of high-level intelligence briefings played through his head. Odds were, Kass Kiolani wasn’t going to make it to graduation.

Chapter 2

By the official calendar of Regula Prime

Five months, one week, and four days later

Kass Kiolani scowled at the viewscreen of her portapad, which was set on a regulation black metal table in her quarters at the Regulon Space Academy. Why, oh why, were they required to study the physiology of every last species in the sector? Psychology, yes, but aliens’ insides, and what they ate? Ugh! But she’d ace this exam, just like all the others, because that’s why she was here. She was going to explore the galaxy and prove that a Psyclid could best a Regulon anywhere, anytime.

Kass closed her eyes, pressed her fingers to her temples. A noble goal, but Captain Rigel’s words kept ringing through her head. People fear what they don’t understand. Watch your back, Kiolani. She’d refused to let his words scare her, but ever since the cadets had returned from maneuvers on Orion, things had been skidding downhill faster than a skier plunging down the slopes of Mount Tycho. Whispers, sidelong glances in class, at meals. Fewer people speaking to her, friendly nods turned cool. Maybe she should have listened to the captain and taken the next transport home.

Never! She only had to hang on for a few more months and she’d be an ensign in the Regulon fleet. Maybe she’d even be assigned to Orion . . .

The door to her room flew open so hard it crashed against the wall, toppling a vase with flowers she’d bought that afternoon from a street vendor. The vase shattered, sending shards of glass skittering across the faustone floor. Water splashed onto Kass’s regulation jumpsuit. She made no effort to run, not even a dash for the weapons stashed under her bed. She was too well trained not to know an impossible situation when she saw it. Her unexpected visitors were three men, all in black, pullover masks concealing their faces. Each carried a P-11 laser rifle and wore a Steg-9 on his belt.

One of them tossed a carry-all onto the portapad’s keyboard. “Pack,” he barked. “No uniforms.”

They were letting her pack for prison? Internment? Whatever the Regulons wanted to call it when they declared war on Psyclid. Poor Psyclid, it wouldn’t last a week against Regulon legions. Kass swore softly as she threw clothes into the bag. She didn’t care what Tal Rigel said, it wasn’t supposed to come to this. She was supposed to graduate, become something no Psyclid had ever been before. An explorer and a warrior.

The three men stood silent, rifles at the ready, and watched while she packed. Did they enjoy their view of the lacy and nearly transparent undies she chose to wear beneath her austerely gray cadet uniforms? Were they were smirking beneath those masks? The little Psyclid squadron leader in sexy frills. Ha!

Kass gasped as the large hand of the tallest of the three men reached into the breast pocket of her jumpsuit and grabbed her handheld comm unit. He threw it on the floor and stamped on it, his heavy boots crushing it with ease. “No!” she cried as the same man picked up her portapad and threw it on top of the remains of her handheld. His rifle butt crashed down. Again, and once again. Kass felt the blows in her heart. Her whole life was in that comp unit, everything she had learned at the Academy, every paper she’d ever written, every grade received, every meticulously coded comm she’d written home, and every carefully composed reply. Her life on the planet Regula Prime, now in nearly as many pieces as the crystal vase, her future suddenly as short as the already drooping flowers lying in a pool of water.

No further words from her captors as they motioned her out of the room and down the hall. Obviously, news of the midnight invasion had spread. Cadets stood in every doorway, some shocked and gaping, some cheering, some . . .

“All hail Regula! Got the little witch at last.”

“That’ll teach the Psyclid bitch. Give her a good one for us!”

“Hey, no fair. We had our own plans for her.”

Kass could swear she still heard the jeers as the elevator doors slammed closed. Dear goddess, these were her friends. Head bowed, her spirit as crushed as her portapad, she let the three men lead her where they would.

Also By Blair Bancroft

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