Rebel Princess

By: Blair Bancroft

Chapter 1

“Captain’s on the bridge.”

Talryn Rigel scanned his bridge crew as they shot to their feet, their dark gray uniforms contrasting sharply with the huntership Orion’s white walls and gleaming viewscreens. Today, every bridge station was double-staffed, one Orion crewman and one Academy cadet at Helm, Nav, Tactical, Engineering, Comm, and Watch. For the war game about to be launched, the cadets were in charge.

“As you were.” Officers and cadets resumed their battle positions. “Status, Kiolani.”

“Alpha and Beta squadrons in position, sir. Archer at Mark 10.”

As Tal stalked toward Tactical, Cadet Kass Kiolani’s back stiffened. Even though her gaze remained fixed on the glowing tri-dimensional hologlobe in front of her, there was no doubt she knew he was there. Tal Rigel, captain, practically breathing down her neck.

He read the hologlobe’s icons at a glance—Orion in the center, the Tau-20 fighters, four in each squadron, doing lazy circles to port and starboard, and Orion’s scout ship, Archer, hovering near the edge of the globe, ten marks out. All in position, but he’d let Kiolani sweat a little. Too full of herself was the little Psyclid. So slight of body he could snap her neck with one hand, and with the face of a fairy princess out of some ancient legend. For the hundredth time since the cadets came aboard for hands-on training, Tal wondered how a Psyclid, a female Psyclid, made it into the Regulon Space Academy.

Most likely by sheer merit, he conceded grudgingly, answering his own question. Kass Kiolani was the most outstanding cadet he had ever seen. Her very first time on Tactical, her cadet squadron had trounced his battle-hardened crew. His disbelief deepened when she’d done it a second time. And now, two days before the cadets were due to leave Orion, he was giving her an opportunity to do it again. Bets were laid, cadet faces eager, Orion regulars grim. And, by Omni, this time Tal Rigel was going to figure out how she was doing it.

He took his seat in the captain’s chair, for a moment allowing himself the luxury of enjoying the star-sprinkled black void on the other side of Orion’s broad viewport. Playing war games with children had been a restful downtime for his crew, but the spice of moments like this one were few and far between. They all needed to get back into deep space and set Orion to doing what she did best—exploring the Nebulon Sector for new worlds to conquer.

Tal activated his own hologlobe, confirmed all the players were still in their proper places. In today’s exercise the armored scout ship Archer was designated the enemy, the much larger Orion allowed to use only weapons comparable to Archer’s. In addition to its missile array, each ship would be defended by four Tau fighters. Team Alpha, chosen from the squadron’s most skilled men, was assigned to Archer. Team Beta, cadets all, were set to defend the massive huntership.

“Kiolani,” Tal ordered, “commence exercise.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Her first time at Tac, the little Psyclid had taken out his four Tau-20s and the scout ship in twenty minutes. The second time, with the cadets assigned to Archer, Kiolani’s Beta Team had triumphed in eighteen minutes, thirty seconds. Today . . . ?

A scant nine minutes later, Tal was already glad he’d refused to place a bet.

“Got ’im!” A cadet pilot’s triumphant shout echoed from Comm.

“Beta One splashed Alpha Three, Captain,” Kass Kiolani reported in carefully neutral tones. “That’s two down for Alpha Squadron.”

Tal sat steady in his chair as another red icon winked out. Mallik! She was doing it again. He had no difficulty detecting the smug satisfaction beneath the cadet’s oh-so-proper military façade. From his bridge crew, only gloom. Most of them had bet against her. Of course they had. She was Psyclid.

“Archer starting her run, aft, five o’clock,” Cadet Kiolani intoned. “Aft battery, prepare to fire missiles five and six. On my mark, lock on. Betas, look sharp. Sting her before she gets to us.”

Tal stifled a wince as the four cadet fighters easily eluded his two remaining pilots and zoomed in on Orion’s scout ship. Fortunately, the light beams raking Archer only looked like lethal lasers, the hits and misses instantly recorded by Tactical’s complex comp system.

“Aft battery, lock on,” Kiolani ordered. “Wait for it . . . wait. Fire!”

Pok! Tal swore silently. The girl had the confidence of an officer twice her age.

“Incoming!” At Tac Two, Orion’s First Officer, sitting shoulder to shoulder with a Psyclid cadet, didn’t bother to hide his glee as the Fleet regulars on Archer fired two missiles at point blank range.

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