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Engaging The Enemy

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Engaging The Enemy

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Author: Elizabeth Moon
Publisher: Del Rey, 2006
Orbit, 2006
Series: Vatta's War: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Military SF
Space Opera
Galactic Empire
Avg Member Rating:
(35 reads / 13 ratings)


For fans of fast-paced adventure and compelling characters, the military science fiction of Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Moon is the perfect choice.

The brilliantly unorthodox Kylara Vatta, black-sheep scion of Vatta Transport Ltd., one of the galaxy’s wealthiest merchant houses, is a heroine like no other, blessed with a killer instinct for business and for battle. Now, in the aftermath of cold-blooded assassinations that have left her parents dead and the Vatta shipping empire shattered, Kylara faces her greatest challenge yet.

There is a time for grief and a time for revenge. This is decidedly the latter. Placing her cousin Stella in command of the trading vessel Gary Tobai, Ky embarks aboard the captured pirate ship Fair Kaleen on a twofold mission: to salvage the family business and to punish those responsible for the killings . . . before they strike again.

Since the network providing instantaneous communication between star systems has been sabotaged, news is hard to come by and available information impossible to trust. But as she travels from system to system, with Stella a step behind, Ky pieces together the clues and discovers a conspiracy of terrifying scope, breathtaking audacity, and utter ruthlessness.

The only hope the independent systems and merchants have against this powerful enemy is to band together. Unfortunately, because she commands a ship known to belong to a notorious pirate–her own relative Osman Vatta, whom she killed for his part in her parents’ deaths–Ky is met with suspicion, if not outright hostility. Rumors swirl about her intent, her very identity. Soon even Stella begins to question her cousin’s decisions and her authority to make them.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy Ky hunts is hunting her in turn, with agents insinuated into every space station, every planetary government, every arm of the military, and every merchant house–including her own. Before she can take the fight to the enemy, Kylara must survive a deadly minefield of deception and betrayal.


Chapter One

In the afternoon sky, the sound of the approaching aircraft rose above the sea breeze, a steady drone. Nothing to see . . . no, there it was, small to make that much noise . . . and then the sudden flood of data from the implant: not an aircraft, no one aboard, a weapon homing on the airfield’s navigational beacon. Visual data blanked, overloaded by heat and light, auditory data an inchoate mass of noise, swiftly parsed into channels again, stored, analyzed: primary explosion, structural damage, secondary explosion, quick flicker of building plans, primary visual restored . . .

Ky Vatta jerked awake, heart pounding, breath coming in great gasps. She wasn’t there, she was here, in the dark captain’s cabin of Fair Kaleen, darkness pricked with the steady green telltales of major ship functions. All she could hear beyond her own pulse beating in her ears were the normal sounds of a ship in FTL flight. No explosions. No fires. No crashing bricks or shattering glass. No reverberative boom echoing off the hills minutes later.

“Bedlight,” she said to the room, and a soft glow rose behind her, illuminating tangled sheets and her shaking hands. She glared at her hands, willing them to stop. A deep breath. Another.

The chronometer informed her that it was mid-third-shift. She had been asleep two hours and fourteen minutes this time. She went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror: she looked every bit as bad as she felt. A shower might help. She had showered already; she had taken shower after shower, just as she had worked out hour after hour in the ship’s gym, hoping to exhaust or relax herself into a full night’s sleep.

She was the captain. She had to get over this.

This time she dialed the shower cold, and then, chilled, dressed quickly and headed out into the ship. She could always call it a midshift inspection. Her eyes burned. Her stomach cramped, and she headed first for the galley. Maybe hot soup . . .

In the galley, Rafe was ripping open one of the ration packs. “Our dutiful captain,” he said, without looking up. “Midshift rounds again? Don’t you trust us?” His light ironic tone carried an acidic bite.

She did not need this. “It’s not that I don’t trust the crew. I’m still not sure of this ship.”

“Ah. As I’m sure you recall, I’m on third-shift duty right now, and this is my midshift meal. Do you want something?”

She wanted sleep. Real sleep, uninterrupted by dreams or visions or whatever . . . “The first snack you pick up,” she said.

He reached into the cabinet without looking and pulled something out. “Traditional Waskie Custard,” he said, reading the label. “The picture is an odd shade of yellow—sure that’s what you want?”

“I’ll try it,” Ky said. He had put his own meal in the oven; now he handed her a small sealed container and a spoon. She glanced at the garish label; it did look . . . unappetizing. Inside the seal was what looked like a plain egg custard. Ky dug the spoon into it. It should be soothing.

“Excuse my mentioning it to the captain,” Rafe said, sitting across from her at the table. “But you look like someone slugged you in both eyes about ten minutes ago. I promise to perform all my duties impeccably if you’ll go back to bed and look human in the morning.”

Ky started to say something about duty, but she couldn’t get the words out. “I can’t sleep,” she said instead.

“Ah. Reliving the fight? It must’ve been bad—”

That attempt at pop psych therapy almost made her laugh. Almost. “No,” she said. “I had my post-manslaughter nightmare the second night. This is something else.”

“You could tell me,” he said, his voice softening to a purr. When she didn’t respond, he sat up and said, “With the matter of the internal ansibles, you have enough on me that I wouldn’t dare reveal any secrets of yours.”

Maybe it was safe to talk to him; he had been ready to commit suicide rather than let outsiders know he had unknown technology, a personal instantaneous communicator, implanted in his head. “It’s not . . . it’s . . . I’m not sure what it is.” Ky tented her hands above the custard, which was not as soothing as she’d hoped. Something in the texture almost sickened her. “I think . . . somehow . . . I’m seeing what happened back home.”

“What . . . the attack?”

“Yes. I know it’s impossible; I don’t even know if Dad’s implant recorded any of it, and I haven’t tried to access those dates anyway. But I keep dreaming it, or . . . or something.”

“A high-level implant could record it all,” Rafe said. “If your father wanted a record, something for a court. Are you sure it’s not bleeding over? I mean, if he put an Urgent-to-transmit command on it—”

“It couldn’t override my priorities, could it? Everything’s user-defined . . .”

“True, but this implant’s had two users. It may not know you aren’t your father.”

“That’s . . .” Ridiculous, she had been going to say, but maybe it wasn’t. She’d had the implant inserted in an emergency, with no time then for adjustment of implant and brain. She’d gone directly into combat, and then the direct connection to Rafe’s implant had made changes in hers, changes that essentially reconfigured it into some kind of cranial ansible. That might have damaged or changed control functions. And she’d never had someone else’s implant before. Why, she wondered now, hadn’t Aunt Grace downloaded the data into a new one? Unless it couldn’t be done. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said instead. “What do you know about transferred implants?”

“Not much,” Rafe said. “I know it’s possible to use one; I don’t know how much residual control might be involved. That one was your father’s command implant, right? I’d expect it to have special features.”

“It probably does,” Ky said. “It certainly does now, after linking with yours.” She looked at the cup of custard and pushed it away. “I suppose I’d better look into that.”

“If you don’t want to go insane from lack of sleep and nightmares, that would be a yes,” Rafe said, pulling his own mealpak from the microwave. “Real food wouldn’t hurt, either. How about some noodles and chicken? I can make myself another.”

It smelled good. Ky nodded; Rafe pushed the tray across to her, picked up her container of uneaten custard and sniffed at it, then wrinkled his nose and dropped it in the recycler. He pulled out another mealpak and put that in the microwave before sitting down again. Ky took a bite of noodle and sauce; it went down easily.

“See if the implant has a sleep cycle enabler,” Rafe said. “They don’t put those in kids’ implants, but the high-end adult ones often do, along with a timer. It should be in the personal adjustment menu somewhere.”

Ky queried her implant and found it: sleep enhancement mode, maximum duration eight hours, monitored and “regulated” brain-wave activity and damped sensory input. Users were instructed not to use this function more than five sleep cycles in a row without medical advice . . .

An Urgent tag came up: “Authorized user request: review sealed files.” Ky scrolled mentally to check the priorities of sleep enhancement versus Urgent Message, dropped the priority of the message to allow sleep enhancement to override it, and set a condition for waking. Then she finished her noodles and chicken.

“I’m going back to bed,” she said. “Tell first shift I may be late.”

Initiating sleep enhancement mode was like walking off a cliff into oblivion. She woke feeling rested for the first time since before she’d put the implant in . . . languid, comfortable. After a shower and change, she went up to the bridge.

“Good rest, Captain?” Lee asked.

“Very good,” Ky said. “But I’m going to need to spend a lot of time today exploring data stored in this implant. I suspect it’s going to be very intense. So if there’s anything you know you need for this shift, tell me now.”

“We’re doing fine,” Lee said. “All systems green—this is a lovely ship, despite the way she’s been used. Whatever else Osman was up to, he maintained the ship systems perfectly.”

“Call if you need me,” Ky said. “I’ll be in my cabin.”

She puttered around briefly, stripping the bed and sending the linens through the ’fresher cycle, reluctant to face what was coming. When she realized that, she sat down at her desk and activated the secured files.

In the afternoon sky, the sound of the approaching aircraft rose above the sea breeze, a steady drone . . . but this time she was awake, and viewed the audiovisual data as an outsider, not a participant. Her father’s emotions did not flood her awareness; she recognized the silhouettes of the two craft before the implant matched them.

Still, the violence of the explosions was shocking. Her breath came fast. Deliberately, Ky slowed the replay, returning again and again to the same image...

Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Moon


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