Starline

Imogene Nix
Available from Secret Cravings Publishing

“Sir, you have an encoded message incoming from Admiralty,” Engineer Corbin Jard stated. A young officer, new to Duvall’s team, he looked up expectantly at his Captain. His pretty-boy face showed eagerness, and he looked ready to jump up and grab something, anything his Captain commanded. Jard had joined the crew just as the ship prepared to make its maiden journey. A big promotion for one who had, until recently, served on the Star of Ishtar.

“I’ll take it in my office, Jard,” Duvall said, striding through the automatic doors and heading to his office. The crew of the Elector carefully trained for multi-tasking, and given the size of the crew and the status of a Stealth Ship, if one officer sustained injury, someone else could continue their role, and the crew while new, had started integrating nicely.

Hopefully this lead would take them to the handbook they sought, he thought, something to give them a break in the ongoing hunt for Crick Sur Banden. His neck itched, and while he didn’t consider himself superstitious, he never neglected to listen to what his senses told him, and right now they screamed that he needed a lead and quickly.

Once in his office, he secured the door and opened the secure link. “McCord here.”

“Duvall, I have a lead, or something, for you.” The earnest voice of WO Meredith Gentry came quickly. Much as he looked forward to hearing from her, he did not expect to. Meredith continued her work safely tucked away on Aenna. Wasn’t she? “I don’t have a lot of time,” she hurried on. “I think they know I suspect something. I rigged the handbook with a tracking device. The secure code is—” He could hear the sound of voices behind her. “Quickly, it’s V422J53. That will allow you to access the secure feed,” she said as he jotted down the tracking device’s code. He could hear her taking quick breaths. “It moved through the gate outside Eris on code LX543GH4.” He knew that code. He had just generated one giving a similar time path.

“Meredith, are you in a secure location?” he demanded forcefully. Another hitched breath floated through the secure line. He gripped his table and leaned forward, not that he could do anything. The sounds faltered from thousands of miles away. “Meredith?” His sister was in danger, and here he listened on a ship so far away. Barsha! He should have protected her.

“Duvall, you need to access frequency…” Quickly she rattled off the information he would need to follow the device as he tapped into his unit. “Oh God! They’re here—” Abruptly the line went dead.

“Meredith? Meredith?” Now he leaned over the device. Quickly accessing the Admiralty, he demanded a connection to Gentry. A voice informed that Gentry could not be raised, and the voice asked if someone else could help with his query. His demands to talk to the Admiral met with a similar fate. Frustration welled upward, nearly choking him as he disconnected. He knew he couldn’t go back and didn’t know who else to contact. He had to maintain a chain of silence while investigating, especially when the Admiralty could be breached. Never had those words choked him so much.

His heart thudded as he sat back down. Could more than a single infiltrator exist? He hoped not, but the itching at his neck grew in intensity, and he feared the worst. Tapping the information Meredith had given him into his desk screen, he started toward tracking the handbook, thankful for the foresight of officers such as his sister.

The blip of the machine echoed through the room; an answer bounced back to him. A heading he would never have guessed. Toward the Time Port. Well, thank Eshra, if he couldn’t go back to help Meredith, he could at least work toward retrieving the item she had risked so much to track. Quickly he hailed the bridge. “Full speed toward the Time Port,” he instructed, just in time to see the blip disappear.

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