Gaian widow Ana Ranalla took the job of nanny to explore the Outer Colonies and escape having to go to any more Gaian marriage meets. Looking for adventure but not love she hadn't planned on meeting her best friend's brother, Jack An Flena in a dusk-filled forest clearing. Even worse his unexpected kiss leaves her senses reeling and makes her wonder if Jack could be her match.
An ex-member of Earthforce's most infamous fighting unit, the Dark Angels, Jack An Flena has sought redemption from his misdeeds by rescuing slaves from his former shipmates. Even so he can't believe he could make a woman like Ana fall in love with him or keep her love should the truth ever come out. His Traveler's luck could never be that good.
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New Concept Publisher
November 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Beloved Traveler by Janet Miller
In orbit above Baile Na
It was a lovely little planet, all blues and greens swathed in swirls of white clouds set against the blackness of space. On the bridge of the Traveler's Choice, Ana watched the main viewscreen and smiled in anticipation. After so much time spent in space she would soon breathe fresh air and have ground rather than metal beneath her feet. She could hardly wait to land.
"Your brother is where?"
Kavath's sounded savage. Startled by the tone, Ana tore her attention from the display to see her employer glaring at his wife. Normally Kavath adored his lovely and pregnant wife to the point of distraction, but now he looked furious.
Kavath was a big believer in family ... why should he not want his wife's brother around? Ana knew Mea and Kavath's children, Morgan and Kavy, would be thrilled that they were going to finally meet their Uncle Jack. They'd grown up listening to Mea's stories about the Travelers, and how she and her brother had lived in the original Baile Na, the abandoned mining platform they'd been driven out of.
The attack on Baile Na had orphaned Jack and Mea and they'd been induced to join Earth's military. Mea had become a fighter pilot, same as Kavath, but on the opposite side. They'd met when their ships had crashed onto the same planet, had fallen in love, and were now married with two children and a third on the way.
Mea's story sounded like the plot of a sappy holo-flick, particularly with the happy ending. But Ana had always liked that kind of holo-flick and truthfully she was a bit intrigued by the stories Mea told about her brother. From what Mea had said, Jack was a bit of scoundrel.
Gaian widows rarely got the chance to meet scoundrels, or have the kind of adventures that Mea and Kavath had experienced in real life. Not that she expected anything to come off that meeting ... adventures for Gaian ladies was another thing that only happened in sappy holo-flicks. Still it was fun to think about.
When Ana had been a teenager, she and her friends at school read a series of books entitled Julie and the Pirate about the romantic adventures of a young Gaian woman and a reformed space pirate named Romeo, the man who'd attached to her. Now that she was married, Ana knew better than to ever expect a man to be as romantic as Pirate Romeo but at the time the written romance sent her adolescent heart soaring, while Julie and Romeo's adventures entertained her for hours.
Ana shook her head. She could use a little adventure in her life. Maybe this trip to Mea's people would give her the kind of experiences she'd dreamed about. If she could ever bring herself to get off the ship. Once more she examined the lovely view of the planet in the viewscreen. Yes, she'd get off there, if only to enjoy the taste of fresh air.
Mea and Kavath were still arguing and Ana thought of slipping off the bridge, but she was on pilot duty. If they needed to talk privately they should move to their cabin or relieve her. They did neither so she stayed at her post.
Mea calmly met her husband's glare with a gentle smile. "Jack is part of the settlement and lives there. He took off in his ship yesterday, but they said he'd be returning today."
"You know how I feel, Mea."
Mea gave her husband a long meaningful look, and then sighed. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her head on his chest. "I do know. But it was all so long ago. I'm glad he's here. It's been too long since I've seen him ... since we've seen him. So many years have gone by without resolution. He's the only family I have other than you and the children. It is time to put the past behind us."
Kavath stood stiffly for a moment, but with his wife's arms around him some of his tension gradually eased away. Ana watched her friends, envious of their love--but happy for them, as well.
"You're right," he said finally, kissing gently the top of Mea's head. "The past is past and it has been a lot of years. I wonder what he's been up to all this time."
* * * *
Captain Denn Fuller dragged his attention away from his digital solitaire game to look at his first mate. "What do you mean, they caught up with us?"
Doing double duty as Tactics and Comm officer, Steven Kwam rushed across the narrow bridge of the freighter from one control station to the other, a look of near panic on his face. Watching Denn reflected that it was a shame he couldn't help his crewman out. Unfortunately, he'd put on weight in the past couple of years--only fifty kilos or so--and could no longer fit into either of the station chairs.
Instead he had to wait in the captain's seat made specially to fit his bulk while his solitary crewman did the rest of the bridge chores. Maybe he should consider hiring a new crewman but the idea only lasted as long as it took to remember how much a crewman cost, both in wages and living expenses. If Denn knew nothing else, he knew how to run a ship on a shoestring ... a necessity given his cargo losses lately. Losses that if he was right about the bogie hunting them were just about to repeat themselves.
Denn spent a small curse on the men he was contracted with and their choice of cargo. If it were up to him, he'd give up the trade, but they were insistent and made it clear what they'd do if Denn dared cross them. Unfortunately those in the ship behind him were just as insistent and at the moment much more immediate.
Arriving at the navigation station, Kwam touched some controls and pulled up a new display. He pointed to a small red dot that Denn saw was indeed right on their tail, the red dot that had been haunting them for the past hour since they'd left their last port of call. "There. They were at least four-hundred klicks away five minutes ago, but they've snuck up on us."
Denn's heart sank. That possible cargo loss seemed to be a near certainty unless he suddenly turned lucky and his luck just wasn't that good. Still, no point in giving in yet. "Well, lose them again."
"I would if I could, Captain." The communit buzzed and Kwam switched stations again, running at full speed back to the comm to answer it. "Yes," he shouted.
Instead of a voice a shrill sound erupted from the speaker, a burst of smoke materializing from the console in its wake. "Damn it," Kwam said. "They've fried our comm!"
Similar puffs of smoke emitted from other panels around the bridge and Kwam looked around wildly. "Must have sent some kind of virus!"
Denn stared at his one and only crewman. "A virus? I thought our protections were up to date?"
"It must be a new one. You know how tricky--" Kwam's voice broke off as if not wanting to say the name of the man they both worried was after them.
"Is it ... ?" Denn started then stopped, equally reluctant.
Kwam's hands danced across the controls, bringing up an identity sheet, listing all of the known ships in the area. There weren't really that many. The mystery ship's beacon ID shouldn't be that hard to find.
He ran his finger down the list, until he found a match. "Here, this one ..." Kwam's voice trailed off. "Uh, oh."
Who is it?" Denn demanded.
Kwam sighed and looked even more morose than usual. "Pirates."
With a groan Denn dragged himself to his feet. "Pirates? You mean ... ?"
"Yes, Captain. It's them again."
Denn let out his favorite and most colorful curse. "How the devil do they always find us? We'd better see if we can't jump to hyperdrive--"
The words were barely out of his mouth when an automated alert came through the overhead speakers, the voice coldly mechanical. "Hyperdrive offline."
Solitaire game abandoned Denn attacked the viewscreen in front of him. "Computer. Damage report."
The same mechanical voice proceeded to list what other systems were offline. "Navigation, long distance communication, weapons--"
"What about life-support?"
"Life-support?" There was a pause. "Life-support at fifty-percent. Sufficient for one hour at present consumption."
Collapsing into his seat, Denn growled a curse that even Kwam flinched at. The pair exchanged long meaningful looks and Denn wondered if the air on the bridge didn't already taste a little stale.
Their adversary could do anything to their systems and likely would if they didn't surrender immediately. Most likely the only reason they weren't breathing vacuum was due to their cargo.
Finally Denn shrugged. "Complete stop," he said unnecessarily. Their pursuer had disabled them and they weren't going anywhere.
From the communit came a short burst of sound. "Attention freighter Bronda. Prepare for boarding."
With a heartfelt sigh, Captain Fuller heaved himself to his feet and laboriously headed for the corridor leading to the back of the ship and the airlock he knew his adversary would soon be knocking on. "I'll go see what they want."
That too was unnecessary. Both Kwam and Denn knew what this particular brigand wanted and would exchange for the anti-virus they'd need to get their ship operational again. Kwam watched his boss leave with an attitude of extreme depression.
Through the viewport next to the airlock, Denn watched a sleek ship two-thirds the size of his glide up alongside and extend a boarding chute. Minutes later there was a knock on the inside of the airlock door. Denn stared through the embedded glass at a dark-haired man who gave him a friendly wave with his particle disrupter.
Yes, it was the man he expected.
Grimacing, Denn unlatched the door to the airlock and opened it wide.
The pirate stepped through, his p-dee aimed at Denn's substantial stomach. Through the airlock behind him came a smaller figure, and Denn drew back instinctively. The attractive blonde had an exceptional figure, but she was no less armed than her captain and, Denn knew from previous experience, even fiercer.
Crossing his arms, Denn tried to ignore the implicit threat of the pair. "And what can I do for you today, Jack?"
Jack grinned at him. "You know what I want, Denn. I've warned you before about the kind of cargo you carry."
Denn tried a bluff. "And what makes you think I'm carrying that today?"
Jack's companion aimed her weapon a little lower, at Denn's favorite part of his anatomy.
"Please Jack, let me shoot him just once," she said in a husky voice that Denn might have thought sexy once. "I promise he'll live."
Flinching the big man had to force himself to not cover his genitals with his hands.
"No, Sonja. Don't shoot him yet."
"Aww boss, you never let me have any fun," the blonde pouted.
Jack returned his attention to Denn. "Let's just say my information is as good as usual and leave it at that," he said. He waved his hand towards the right where the cargo hold was located. "You know the routine. Give me what I want and we'll give you the anti-virus. If you'll lead the way."
Grumbling, Denn did exactly that. He didn't think Jack would shoot his balls off, but his companion was something else and he was certain he didn't want to test the theory Jack would keep her from pulling the trigger. Once at the cargo bay he tapped in the code for the thick door and stepped back.
The door opened slowly. Inside it was dark and a little stuffy, but the odor wasn't as bad as usual, and Denn realized that the life-support in the cargo bay hadn't been as curtailed as it had been on the bridge. Either that or the air on the bridge had been drawn away and deliberately sent to those in the cargo bay. His nemesis was a wiz at controlling ship systems that belonged to someone else.
Someday he was going to have to figure out how Jack did that.
Jack swept a hand inside and the light came on. Denn blinked as the interior grew as light as day. Inside the room three dozen pairs of eyes blinked back. Eighteen people crowded into the small space, lying or sitting on the dozen narrow cots built into the wall or making do on the floor. His cargo was future slaves headed for ports where the trade wasn't as illegal as it should be. Once more Denn inwardly cursed the men who insisted on this profitable but dangerous cargo. It was only profitable if you didn't consistently get caught.
The room held men, women, and children, their faces showing a mixture of expressions--fear, defeat, and a few even anger. But at the sight of Jack and his companion, a grin broke out on the face of one of the older men. "Well if it isn't Black Jack himself!"
The small blonde woman stuck her gun into her belt and swept past Denn into the room. She spoke quietly to those inside while Jack pulled Denn further down the corridor. A few moments later she was back and the faces of those inside showed delight and hope.
"Eighteen, including the children, plus one infant," she said quietly. "And one of the women is pregnant. Two Traveler families, but there are some others, as well. Also about eight are young women of an age ... you know what they wanted with them."
Jack's face momentarily registered something beyond anger and his face hardened in a way Denn hadn't seen before. He didn't like that look at all.
After a moment Jack spoke. "Make all them the same offer, even the non-Travelers. I'll not willingly leave anyone here unless they want to stay."
She disappeared back into the room and Jack turned to Denn. "Worse than usual, Captain. A few of these people aren't even on the allowed slaves list."
"They aren't slaves. Indentured servants only." Denn inserted quickly. "I've got contracts on all of them and they signed them willingly."
Sonja reappeared with a two-year-old girl in her arms, the child's arms wrapped so tight around the woman's neck it was a wonder she could still breathe. Jack's jaw clinched as he took in the child's face and her wide-eyed fear. She buried her face in Sonja's shoulder.
"Yeah, I can tell. That one surely must have willingly signed her life away into servitude."
Denn decided the better part of wisdom would be to keep his mouth shut, particularly with the look the blonde was giving him. He breathed a sigh of relief as Sonja continued down the corridor with the child.
As the people quietly slipped out of the hold and past them, some turned to stare at him before following Sonja to the airlock. Their looks were definitely not friendly.
Jack watched them grimly then pushed Denn against the wall. "This is the third time, Fuller. Don't let me catch you a fourth, or--"
"But what can I do, Jack?" he quailed under the other man's quiet fury. "You know I don't have a choice of cargo. I owe too much to Wilcox and Harris ... they decide what goes into my hold."
Jack's face didn't change. "You have the choice of continuing to work with them then, don't you? You could take yourself to where they won't be able to find you, much less hurt you. If you aren't here to carry their cargo you can't load it. Otherwise--"
"Otherwise what?" he cried.
Jack leaned back and smiled. "Otherwise, next time maybe I'll let Sonja come over by herself to deal with you."
Denn blanched but said nothing more as he followed Jack back down the corridor. He waited outside the airlock until he saw through the viewport. There was a slight jerk as the pirate vessel disengaged and moved away.
When he was sure they were gone, Denn made his way back to the bridge. By the time he arrived Kwam was busy at work, loading the anti-virus into the computer system. "They sent it over just after their ship disengaged," he said.
Denn lowered himself into his chair and watched his crewman. He rubbed his jaw with a contemplative hand. "You know, Kwam, I've been thinking."
"Yes, boss?" the other man said hopefully, momentarily taking his attention from loading the anti-virus.