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Introduction:

This contains all the chapters
Chapter one

Landing

The insystem liner released the shuttle with a jarring thud that shook the entire ship. I glanced over my readout one more time, “How does it look Tinker?”

My engineer growled, “She is an ancient bitch but we are still in the green. Just stay away from that damn brat.”

I grinned as I keyed the comm, “Beta Seven control, this is Green Two. Free of Sister’s Delight.”

“Copy Green Two. Your course is clear for decal and entry.”

I grinned and glanced at Tinker, “My engineer requests I avoid the brat since we have had two prior encounters. We request you check her location.”

There was a long pause, “Green Two, Beta Seven Major says to just stay your course.”

I laughed and then a flash of yellow on my course scan caught my eye. I flipped to another check and the flight scanner screamed and flashed red. There was an unpowered ship in front of us and we had no chance to miss it! I spun the ship upside down and jerked down towards the planet, “Divert power to shields!”

I could hear Tinker cussing and the comm came alive with demands I ignored. “Breaking atmosphere Tinker we will need the fins half open.”

The shuttle was shaking and being tossed around as the shield glowed red. I flicked open the comm as I righted the ship and tried to bring the nose up, “Beta Seven control, Green Two. Declaring an emergency, an unpowered ship registered to the Ducal family was in our fight path.”

I glanced at Tinker as he cursed and spun to the shield panels. I looked at my readout to see it jumping from past redline to dead, “Shit Tinker, divert the generators!”

He glared at me as his hands flew over the panels, “Just fly the damn ship!”

I shook my head and spun the ship with auxiliary jets until we were actually flying backwards. I shoved the throttles forward and the whole ship screamed as it began shaking even worse and red lights began to pop up on my readouts.

Tinker turned to say something but I was already bringing the ship back around and killing the thrust, “Breakthrough in one minute Tinker just hold the shield together.”

I checked my readout and shook my head, “The anti grav is in the yellow Tinker.”

“Shut the hell up and get us down!”

I grinned, “Maybe you should ask the duke if the brat can fly second seat. At least we would know where she was.”

He grinned, “You do know the comm is open right?”

I glanced down and shook my head as another readout flashed from yellow to red. “They can yell at me if we live.”

The shield flared and changed color, “Breakthrough Tinker. Open the fin vents completely and start generator checks. Beta Seven control, Green two. In atmosphere and flying hot.”

I ignored their answer as I inverted the ship and rotated again and then fired the main engines for a short burst that almost made me think the ship was going to shake apart. Tinker spun to the generator panels, “Anti grav in the red!”

I cursed and checked my speed before bringing the ship back around killing the thrust again. “Alright Tinker, shields are holding and our speed is down to twenty five thousand. Beta Seven control, this is Green Two. Course change to two seventy dropping to forty thousand.”

“Green Two you are still trailing flame, brake to two thousand.”

I glanced at Tinker and he grumped, “Morons.”

I grinned, “Beta Seven control could you tell us how to do that?”

Tinker laughed as he moved to the anti grav panels, “The anti grav is not going to hold for long Skip.”

I nodded as the comm channel remained silent, “I will use S turns to help brake the ship.”

Tinker glanced at his panels, “Just do not take to long.”

The shaking of the ship was starting to smooth out as I made a long turn. “We are down to Twenty thousand Tinker. We have a second, check our passengers and see how their doing.”

Tinker turned to open his display, “Does not look like anyone is too sick.”

I smiled as I made another slow turn, “George has them watching the displays?”

Tinker had turned back to his panels, “Looks like it. Good thing he needed a ride home.”

I nodded as I checked our speed and distance to Beta Seven. “Okay Tinker, time to get things moving towards the barn. Beta Seven control, Green Two. Taking a heading of nine zero and dropping to twenty thousand. Clear a pad and have EM standing by.”

“You are still hot Green Two.”

I shook my head, “You let me worry about that Beta Seven.”

As fast as we were moving I still had time to do a couple of checks. “Tinker, check the generators again. I have a fluctuation in the second generator readout.”

He spun and his hand flicked over the panel, “Shit! Shutting down the secondary generator!”

I shook my head, “That did not help Tinker. The main engines are only at half power.”

He grunted, “Better half power than blowing up from a runaway.”

I nodded and started another wide slow turn that brought our speed down to almost ten thousand. I brought up an external mapping display and did some calculations of speed, distance and altitude. It was going to be close as I made another turn, “Beta Seven control, Green Two. Dropping to ten thousand and heading to one eighty.”

Tinker glanced at me, “Did you want to punch the passengers out before we reach Beta Seven?”

I shook my head, “Not unless something else falls off.”

He grinned, “You could teach the brat how to fly without anti gravs and only half power for engines. Why the hell did she park outside the atmosphere and shut everything off anyway?”

I shrugged and made another turn to approach Beta Seven, “I do not know Tinker; maybe she forgot how to fly.”

He nodded and fine tuned the panels as I did another check on the distance. Another long slow turn and we were down to just over two thousand. “Beta Seven control, Green Two. Taking a heading of one hundred and dropping to five thousand for a straight in approach.”

“You are still hot Green Two.”

I just looked at Tinker and he shook his head. I opened the ship comm, “We are on final to Beta Seven. The hard part is coming up so relax and do not bump my elbow.”

I shut the internal comm off and took a breath. We were approaching the outer marker as I started another turn, “Put the anti gravs on standby Tinker and prep the main engines for a short burst. Beta Seven control, this is Green Two. Passing outer marker.”

“Green Two abort, abort, abort…”

We could hear sirens behind his voice as we approached the inner marker at over a thousand knots. I made a course change and looked at the map display as it zoomed in. I picked out an empty pad and dropped to a thousand feet. I took a breath and counted down before rotating and flipping the ship end for end.

Using jets I brought the anti gravs up with the main engines. The ship shook violently as the main engines roared, “Drop the landing legs Tinker!”

I watched the speed drop and then killed the engines and powered back the anti gravs. The shuttle bounced as the anti gravs gave out a couple of feet above the pad. I was busy shutting everything down as Tinker was shutting down the shield and grumbling, “Beta Seven control, this is Green Two. We are down on pad five. Thank you for your assistance during this drill.”

I closed the comm as it squealed and turned the seat, “Have George open the outer doors.”

While he spoke to George I started a check on the damage. A blue suited security officer started pounding on the bridge door an hour later. I glanced up and Tinker looked at me, “Time to face the music.”

I smiled, “Finish the evaluation and lock up. I will see you tomorrow.”

I walked to the door and opened it. The officer shrugged, “Sorry sir but the general wants you to report immediately.”

I smiled again, “At least he waited until they unloaded my cargo.”

He grinned, “I hear he was screaming so much no one could understand him.”

I grinned and headed past him. I guess my life has brought a certain amount of sarcasm my way. I walked into the large control room and headed for the far doors. I knocked and thumbed the entry pad. The door opened and I walked into the office to see General White and another man my mental file said was the Duke’s Concierge.

I nodded, “You wanted to see me General?”

He glared, “You can salute Captain Drake!”

I smiled and wiggled my fingers, “You forget, I am a civilian General.”

He glared and the Duke’s Concierge cleared his throat. The General looked at him and then sat back, “You are short a pilot Captain.”

I waited and he nodded, “Your engineer’s request has been granted. The Duke’s daughter, Michelle Grey will be reporting to you as your second seat.”

He looked at the Duke’s Concierge and he walked out. The general looked back at me, “Since your ship is not operating, I have taken the opportunity to assign you a new one.”

I straighten, “I am not buying a new shuttle!”

He smiled an evil smile, “According to the system contract you signed, you have an obligation to complete assigned flights but I was not thinking of another ship. I assigned you a fleet Omega insystem cargo transport ship from our list of decommissioned fleet vessels.”

I looked at him tempted to just walk out. I glanced at the memo board open on his desk and picked it up. I almost grinned but finally nodded, “Fine, what bay is it in and did you arrange for the sale of my shuttle?”

He looked at me with his eyes narrowed, “Hanger bay nine and I am sorry to say the price for your ship was very low.”

I nodded, “It happens.”

I turned for the door and he cleared her throat, “You are scheduled for a flight to Asteria tomorrow night.”

I walked out remembering another time when I was rushed…
Chapter two

First Mission with the Royal Marines

The sergeant leaned in my door, “Gear up private.”

I shifted things around and settled the long bladed mono knife on my left thigh. I made another check of my gear and picked up the new assault rifle. I grabbed my pack and slung it over my other shoulder before heading for the door. Lt Peters was at the ramp into the drop shuttle and the platoon sergeant was making a check of every soldier before they reached him.

My own squad leader had already checked and rechecked my gear. I had only just graduated from advanced training and this was my first permanent assignment. The mission was simple, drop onto Protus and move to the Senior Hive. Make a show of force and then pull back to the pick up site. It was a mission straight from the Emperor’s counsel.

The entire mission intel came from Duke Tonis and said we only needed light weapons because the warriors armor was fragile. Whatever the mission was supposed to do, I felt uneasy about it. The shuttle dropped free from the insystem transport and began decal. To keep the Hive government from expecting us we had used an unarmed civilian transport.

Two orbits in constant decal were enough to start our entry into atmosphere. Everything was going as planned but I was still nervous. The Lt was new; we all knew he was rich just from looking at the jeweled mono knife he carried. The shuttle was down only long enough to drops us and then it was heading skyward.

We had started our walk to the Senior Hive when they attacked. The penetrators from our assault rifles had little effect. As the warriors hit our line, I dropped the rifle and pulled my mono knife. After that it was a nightmare of slicing pincers and stabbing stingers. Our withdrawal to the pick up site was marred by the jamming of our comms.

When we pulled our dead and wounded into the pick up zone only twelve marines were still on their feet and uninjured. I took a second mono knife from a fallen comrade and moved to the perimeter. It was good that the warriors seem to be very short sighted. The rush of warriors was loud over the quiet of the jungle.

I blocked a slashing pincher ignoring the scream of pain from the warrior as it was cut off. I slid forward stabbing into the thorax and then spinning to avoid a stinger and slicing through it with my other knife. I spun, cutting through the legs of a warrior as it lunged for the Lt. I followed it with a stab into its head before moving back into position.

I lopped off a slicing pincer and then slid in and cut the head from the body. The warriors were suddenly retreating and I looked around to see four of my comrades down. We moved everyone closer together and drank water. We all thought we knew how this was going to turn out and rested while we could. The rush of warriors was loud enough to bring us to our feet and into place. I was resigned and just let my training take over.

I ducked and slid in to stab into the thorax and then danced back to turn aside at a thrust of a stinger. I stabbed back into the head and leaped forward and half onto another warrior. I stabbed through the neck as it struck at the Lt. I rolled off as another warrior’s stinger thrust over my head.

I lunged up and stabbed into the head twisting as I pulled out and slicing through another pincher headed for the Lt. I slid the other way as he killed the warrior and faced a huge warrior as it climbed over other fallen warriors. It was almost as if it was covered in sparkling jewels. I dropped and rolled as it stabbed with a stinger and sliced above me with an open pincher.

I came to my feet and lunged forward to slice down. It screamed in a high pitch voice as my knife sliced off the pincher. I cut across my body in an almost unconscious move that brought another scream as the stinger was cut off. I lunged as it rose up to drop down onto me. One knife slid into the thorax and the other slammed through the bottom of its head.

As I staggered back the warriors pulled back again leaving four of us still on our feet and several wound dead. Some of the wounded had managed to treat others and threw up a barbed barrier to one side. I wiped the blood and gore from my hands and the handles of the two knives I was using.

I sipped water and scanned the area in front of us. Only the Lt., the Platoon sergeant, a corporal from third squad and I were left. While the able wounded made spears tipped with mono knives, the platoon sergeant did something that punched a signal through to our orbital shuttle. The clacking rush of warriors brought me to my feet.

I slid forward and onto the dead body of the huge warrior I had faced. As the warriors struck they parted around the warrior I was standing on and I lunged off the side in a dive. One of my knives cut through the middle thorax of a second warrior facing the corporal. Its front turned towards me and I swung out and across my body, taking the head.

I shifted across the perimeter and cut down, taking a stabbing stinger headed toward the Lt. as he fought a second warrior. My second knife swept back taking half the head with it. I spun, moving a little forward of the perimeter to meet another huge warrior. I dove and rolled, coming up under it as it reared up shuffling back.

I lunged up with both knives sweeping back and forth cutting through the thorax spilling guts down onto me. I twisted sideways cutting back and through two legs as I broke free. I spun back swinging a knife up to block a back swing from a pincher. I lunged into the warrior as the pincher was cut through and stabbed into a glowing eye.

I rolled away and came to my feet with the Lt. pulling me back as the warrior crashed to the ground. I took a couple of steps towards the falling body of the corporal and another huge warrior was suddenly in the opening swinging back towards the platoon sergeant. I vaulted up onto its back, stabbing down and through the body.

The sergeant grunted and stabbed it in the head before falling back. I rolled off the warrior and crouched. The rush was over and I saw the warriors moving away. I pulled the body of the corporal back as the sergeant knelt. I went back to him and saw the blood on his side. I pushed him towards the other wounded, “Move back sergeant.”

I moved forward and started grabbing the huge warrior remembering the way they had avoided touching the first one I killed. After positioning the three huge warriors so that the Lt was still beside me, I wiped everything off again. The clacking started again and then the loud sounds of the warriors rushing.

The first warrior that rushed into the gap sliced across with a pincer and would have killed me if I had been standing. I had dropped down to knell and ducked under the swing, coming up behind it in a lunge that stabbed one knife through the lower part of the head. I slice away and the head bounced as the body dropped and twitched.

Before it was completely on the ground a second warrior was rushing over it. Its stinger stabbed towards me and I turned sideways and half stepped back avoiding it. I cut out and up and a spray of gore almost blinded me as the stinger spun away.

I back handed a slice at the warrior and was rewarded with a jerk as the head fell forward past me and its pincher barely missed my arm. I lunged sideways, stabbing into the pincer of another warrior as it held the Lt. suspended with its stinger through his shoulder.

My other knife was already moving as it spun to face me tossing the Lt into the gap behind it. My knife sliced off the top of its head and then I was moving to vault over its falling body to get to the Lt. A warrior that had been following the other had struck down with its stinger and stabbed through the Lt’s leg.

I came down and brought one knife across as my other stabbed straight into the tiny throat. My first knife had cut the stinger off that was still in the Lt. I moved forward as the warrior fell, to stand over the Lt as another warrior rushed us. I stabbed out and then sliced across to block a pincer.

I used my other knife to cut the tip off the stinger striking at the Lt. I shifted as the warrior fell back and another warrior took its place. It rushed in slicing across at my head with a pincer as I squatted and struck back. I stood and turned sideways to cut off its stabbing stinger and back sliced half the head away.

A huge warrior started over it before it had even finished falling. I sliced off a foot and then half a pincer before it sprang at me. I parried the striking stinger and turned, swaying back as its heavier body crashed into me. I stabbed up with one knife and down and across with the other.

As the large body jerked and dropped twitching, I turned to face any other warriors that could be coming. They were not though, they were pulling back and I shifted both knives to one hand and squatted to reach under the huge warrior to grab the Lt. I tugged and pulled and finally managed to drag him out.

I pulled him back to the few wounded still alive and returned to move the huge warrior. The sound of clacking and rushing warriors was almost drowned out in the roar of the approaching shuttle. I met the rushing warriors in the narrow gap. I lunged into the first, cutting across and stabbing at the same time.

As it dropped a second was climbing over it and stabbing with its stinger. I turned and cut down as I knelt under a slicing pincher. I stabbed up into the thorax and cut up all the way to the head. As the gore spilled out and it staggered back a heavy explosion rocked the clearing. I lunged forward and sliced across.

The warriors seemed disoriented from the shock of the explosion. As the head of the warrior fell, I was spinning and lunging to stab into the head of a huge warrior as it wobbled around. The warriors were falling back and I got a glimpse of the shuttle drifting down. I sprinted back into the perimeter putting my knife away and slinging the Lt over my shoulder.

I shifted the other knife and grabbed a struggling corporal by his gear. I started dragging him as I moved quickly to the shuttle ramp as it dropped. I set them down and went back for someone else as another explosion rocked the clearing. It took a lot of trips even with the ship crewmen that helped.

When the shuttle lifted, I sagged into the seat in relief and then got up to start moving through my comrades that were still alive. Out of sixty that went down only four lived to make it back to the transport; the Lt, the platoon sergeant, a corporal and me. As the insystem ship accelerated for the heliopause and our starship, messages flashed out.

It took two weeks to reach the waiting starship and it had five others floating alongside with a swarm of insystem assault transports drifting close by. Our docking was given priority and men swiftly moved aboard ship to bring the wounded and dead into the waiting starship. Doctors were moving competently around the Lt, the Platoon sergeant and the corporal and a tall well dressed admiral was waiting for me.

I was led straight into a debriefing room with two other men in coveralls. The questions began and it almost seemed as if they were trying to make me say it was my fault. I got tired of saying I do not know and when one of the men grabbed me, I reacted. Before anyone could say or do anything I had slammed him against the bulkhead.

My fist was moving in a strike that would have killed him, “PRIVATE!”

I froze and my fist stopped barely in time. I took one step back and turned to the admiral and snapped to attention, “Sir, if I am being charged with something I want to know.”

He was looking at the man behind me and looked into my face, “These… men, are from the Nobles Council private. Duke Tonis is being questioned about the information he provided.”

My jaws clenched, “Permission to speak sir?”

He nodded, “Go ahead.”

I cleared my throat, “We were told they were passive. They were not! We were told the warriors had fragile armor and our light penetrators were more than we would need. The damn penetrators bounced off sir! We were told they did not have comm capability to jam us. As soon as it hit the fan they did! Every damn thing we were told was wrong sir. They were waiting for us, sir. That was not a mistake. Once is an accident. Twice is a coincident. But three times is enemy action sir.”

He nodded, “So we believe private.”

He sighed, “You can go check your people private.”

I saluted and walked out. I walked into the sick bay and found the corporal glaring at a civilian shouting at the LT. The platoon sergeant must have still been in surgery. I started walking towards the Lt and two men in uniforms stepped in my way. One reached out to put his hand on my chest.

I was done being nice. My hand slid up over the arm and wrapped before locking as my other hand struck across. I hit just below the throat as I kicked straight out into the groin of the second man. The first man landed hard on his back with no breath and the second folded over as I continued moving.

The well dressed civilian yelling at the Lt spun as I reached him and my hand wrapped around his throat, “Shut the fuck up! If you want to speak to him you will damn well show some respect!”

His eyes were wide and the Lt was struggling to sit up, “Let him go private!”

I keep looking at the civilian and then shoved him away, “Yes sir.”

The room was filling with men I recognized as part of Gold and Silver regiment called Dragons. I looked at the Lt, “Are you okay sir?”

He shook his head and then laughed and lay back. He waved towards the civilian, “Private Drake, meet my father, his imperial majesty Emperor Tenison.”

I looked from the Lt to the emperor and back, “he is a little rude.”

The emperor laughed and walked to the bed waving the Dragons away, “My own fault, never threaten momma when her chicks are near.”

I looked at him and then looked back at the Lt, “A bunch of suits were trying to pen this on us sir.”

The Lt looked at me and then his father. The Lt shook his head and reached to his bedside table, “Never mind private.”

He held out the jeweled mono knife he had carried, “I want you to have this. My… service, is required elsewhere. Carry it in my place.”

I looked at the knife and up at the Lt before reaching out to take it from his hand…




Chapter three

Putting a Ship Together

As soon as I was out of the office I opened a private comm to Tinker. To say he was not happy was an understatement. I walked into hanger bay nine to see fleet chief engineer Paulson waiting, “Captain Drake?”

I nodded and he held out a memo broad, “If you will sign the ship receipt?”

I shook my head, “I do not think so Chief.”

He frowned and I smiled, “Tell me Chief, how well do you like the general?”

He looked at me and then looked around. He looked back and his eyes narrowed, “What did you have in mind sir?”

I waved, “Forget the sir, call me Jason or skipper. I was noticing that the general seems to have forgotten to sign the decommissioning sign off sheet.”

He blinked and looked down at his memo board. He scrolled through it and then looked back at me with a nasty grin, “What did you need fixed skipper?”

I laughed and started walking, clapping him on the shoulder and bringing him along with me, “Well, now that you mentioned it, the ship does seem... incomplete. I was thinking of throwing in four Atom class engines and I think we can fit…”

When Tinker stomped into the bay there were three full engineer crews swarming over the huge ship. A line of tables beside the door held cases of cold ale and food. Maintenance sleds moved around the huge hanger and Tinker stood and stared. I cleared my throat, “Did you get my things?”

Tinker looked at me and waved, “What the hell is going on with my ship?”

I grinned, “Well, the general forgot to sign the decommissioning sign off sheet. I pointed it out to the Chief engineer and requested certain… replacements and repairs be made.”

Tinker just looked at me and then pulled the hover sled behind him as he walked closer, “And just what did your feeble mind think of?”

I turned to the table and the memo board, “I was thinking of replacing the four missing engines with four Atom class engines.”

Tinker was looking over my shoulder as I scrolled down, “We can cut the static bulkhead between the generators and put in three Sierra Two’s. I also want to replace all the shield generators with Tobias six’s. For the anti grav units I was thinking of…”

A slim blonde with nice curves cleared her throat behind me, “Excuse me, I am looking for Captain Drake.”

I looked back and slowly turned, “Tinker, you asked for the brat and in the Duke’s wisdom here she is. Meet our new second seat, Michelle Elizabeth Grey.”

Tinker turned to look at her and shook his head, “Just great. What other monkey wrenches did they throw in?”

She was looking back and forth as I grinned at Tinker, “We have to complete refitting before 1900 hundred tomorrow night.”

He looked at me, “You are kidding right?”

I shook my head, “We lift or I get fined.”

He muttered and reached out the grab Michelle’s coverall, “Come with me you.”

She went wide eyed as he pulled her after him headed towards a knot of engineers. I grinned, “I called your wife and offered her the second engineer position.”

Tinker turned to look at me and I shrugged, “Insystem transports spend a lot of time away from home. Beside she is better than you.”

Tinker grinned, “You just want to steal her recipes.”

He turned away and pulled Michelle after him. I sighed and took her hover bag and the float sled with all my stuff that Tinker had brought. I pulled it into a corner and then went for cots and bedding. Most of the first few hours were spent tearing the ship apart and trying to find the parts I wanted to put in.

Tinker, with a tired looking Michelle struggled up to the table where I was talking to Tinker’s wife, Silvia. Tinker kissed her cheek absently and reached for a bottle of ale, “The chief told me about the launchers and rail guns.”

I nodded, “There are reports of ships disappearing while bringing supplies to the outer stations.”

He took a drink and elbowed Michelle, “Eat Cadet.”

Michelle sighed and put her head on the table, “Do I have to?”

I grinned at Tinker as he grinned at his wife, “We have a lot to get done Cadet you can not stop now.”

She struggled up and reached for one of the class one ration boxes. Silvia smiled, “It could be worse; you could still be floating in orbit.”

Michelle frowned and turned to me, “You would not believe me if I told you what happened.”

I sat back and put the memo board down, “Cadet, if there is one person that would believe you it would be me. But, I will know if you lie, make excuses or make something up.”

She straightened, “I do not lie and I do not need to make something up.”

I nodded as both Tinker and Silvia sat back waiting. Michelle took a breath, “Two weeks ago I was scheduled for a practice flight to Durango from Alpha Central. As soon as I reached cruising altitude the computer went crazy and sent me out atmosphere. I do not know how the shuttle missed me but it did. One week ago I was letting Jacob, my mentor in flight school talk me through a high atmosphere reentry practice flight when it did it again.”

She looked around, “Today I was testing for my atmosphere reentry solo when it diverted me and then everything shut down.”

I looked at Tinker and he shrugged, “Once is an accident. Twice is a coincident. But three times is enemy action.”

I nodded and sighed, “Gold six Tinker.”

He nodded, “I will watch her.”

I picked up the memo board, “Eat Cadet.”

I looked at Tinker, “Silvia had an idea. If we put four micro hydrogen plants amidships and tie them into the ships power systems…”

“You can put together a Nelson’s shifter if you add another two plants.”

I looked at Michelle as Tinker sat back warily, “Where did you hear about a Nelson shifter?”

She looked from me to Tinker, “In the imperial theological archive.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. I looked at Tinker, “She is right. Add two more plants and put the Nelson between them. Make sure you add secure bulkheads.”

Tinker smiled wryly, “anything else skipper?”

I grinned, “The hard you do right away. The impossible will take until tomorrow afternoon.”
He grinned and Silvia laughed. After they finished and headed back towards the huge ship, I headed towards my stuff and an old beat up trunk. I sat on my cot as I held a blue crystal box and closed the lid of my trunk. “Wake up Peaches.”

“You know I do not sleep Jason.”

I smiled as I set the AI on top of the trunk, “I need to send a message to Albert.”

“Priority?”

I had thought about it already, “Use Crimson Dragon protocols and ghost it.”

“Understood.”

I looked at Michelle as Silvia and Tinker pulled her to a work bench. “Albert, Molly, sorry it has been so long but I have been unusually stupid. I miss you both, well, Molly more then you Albert, she has more sense. I am sure your spies have been keeping you up to date anyway but I thought I would tell you myself. Since the last time I have had a couple of… interesting things happen.”

“I have a Cadet riding second seat. She is Michelle Elizabeth Grey, Duke Grey’s heir. There is something about her that… keeps my attention. She reminds me of my first mission and a Lieutenant I had. She has had three accidents and it looks like she will need a dragon’s tear of luck to avoid anymore. She did tell me about finding Nelson in the imperial theological archive. The general of civilian supply has decided to gift me with a new ship, a decommissioned Omega assault transport. I have one day to get her ready for a trip out to the asteroid belt.”

“I was thinking about young Samuel. You know how he likes to take things apart and get dirty, by the way, tell him I am not happy about his last stunt. I read all about it in one of the gossip rags. Tell Constance I am proud of her, her grades have come up and it looks like her extra study time is paying off.”

I glanced around, “Do me a favor Albert, I left a bag in your care. Send it out when you can. I might need one or two things out of it. Well, I have to go, I have a little work to do. I love you two so you be careful. And Albert? The next time I see you away from Blade or Sister Shadow I will come home and kick your ass.”

I took a breath, “Send it Peaches.”

“On its way.”

I moved her onto my bunk and pulled an old belt with a large framed Mark V rail gun out of the trunk. I put her back and stood to buckle the belt around my waist, “Lock out all programming access and monitor the immediate area for threats.”

“Level?”

I looked around the hanger, “Crimson Dragon. Primary is Michelle Elizabeth Grey.”

“Copy.”

I left and went back to helping where I could. I kept an eye on Michelle and knew when Tinker finally sent her to bed. Tinker and Silvia took a nap early in the morning as the crews switched out. They were up four hours later and back at work. I kept the crews supplied with class one rations and ale, which they really appreciated.

The general was screaming but I had already put everything before the Duke’s Contract board. One thing I had added since we began was a 20MM rail caltrop at the back of the ship. George showed up after first shift started working, he said he was there for the cargo master job. He had a tall short haired woman named Brit with him and she screamed marine recon just by the way she walked, talked and moved.

Before long, large crates and pallets rolled in and they began loading the empty cargo decks while staying out of the engineers way. Everything was finished two hours before the deadline and I signed off on the ship receipt. Tinker and Silvia were running checks when I pulled a tired Michelle into the spacious command deck.

I opened the last crew birth and pointed to her bag, “This is your quarters.”

I led her to the two pilot chairs with Silvia and Tinker working on the command panels behind them. I sat and the seat slid into place smoothly. I glanced at Michelle as her chair locked into place, “Start a lift off checklist.”

I brought my readout alive and glanced back at Peaches in her blue crystal box in the bracket Silvia had made. “How is she looking Peaches?”

“The system is free of tampering.”

Tinker grumped as Silvia grinned. I glanced through my checklist and opened the control net comm, “Beta Seven control, this is Cowboy’s Dream. Requesting clearance to exit the hanger and move onto the pad.”

It was only a moment before, “Cowboy’s Dream, you are cleared to the pad.”

I did one last check of my readout and then moved the anti grav power up to lift ship. I brought up external displays and started moving the ship. We backed slowly through the open doors almost silently. The night was alight with the glow coming from the station.

I moved the controls to stop and opened the comm again, “Beta Seven control, this is Cowboy’s Dream on the pad. Request clearance on a two seven zero course out atmosphere.”

“Copy Cowboy’s Dream, you are cleared to out orbit.”
I looked at Michelle, “Well?”

She nodded, “Everything is green.”

I pulled back on the anit grav and spun the ship before throwing power to the engines. As we began to pick up speed, I flick the rear gun targeting system to Michelle, “Keep a scan on our back trail and man the defensive weapons.”

She nodded and her hands drifted over her readout. I made another check of my readout, “Bring the shields up Tinker and set the internal gravity.”

I glanced at our speed and shut the anti gravs down, “Anti grav off line.”

Michelle kept the scan going as we approached black sky. I glanced back at Tinker a moment later, “Black sky.”

I opened the comm, “Saras Orbital control, this is Cowboy’s Dream. Starting accel orbit to Asteria.”

This reminded me of taking Albert to Wayne, somehow it just had that feeling…

Chapter four

Becoming a Bodyguard

I stepped out of the shuttle’s door and nodded to the two officers that saluted me before returning it and shouldering my bag. The junior sergeant that met me only glanced up and down at me, pausing at the black leather hilt of the mono knife on my left thigh and the new Mark VI rail gun on my right thigh.

He looked into my face, “That leather is not going to hide what is under it.”

I shrugged, “I did not put the leather on it to hide it.”

He nodded and turned to lead the way through the busy terminal, “Dragon’s… even Silver Dragon’s do not normally accept anyone as fresh as you.”

He glanced at me when I did not say anything. He went back to walking, “Albert... the heir requested you when your name appeared as requesting to join us.”

He glanced at me and finally stopped and turned to face me, “Listen up corporal, the only reason you got in was because Albert said to give you a chance. We did and we did not give you any slack so you made it through the grinder on your own. Now that you are here we do not care about what you did in some jungle on a planet far away. We only care about what you do here and now. Since Albert said to give you a chance you are going to be his body man so do not fuck up.”

I smiled, “I have no intention of fucking up sergeant.”

He turned and led the way to an unmarked hover car. I looked at the other junior sergeant behind the wheel as he opened the door for us. I moved into the back seat and he sat beside the driver. I watched as we moved through the city, “Why is the heir going to Wayne?”

They looked at each other and the driver turned back to watch where he was driving. The other sergeant turned in his seat, “The emperor received a request from Admiral Harris to attend and address the advanced Command officers school as well as christen a new Phoenix Starship. Since it came at such a late date, he could not accommodate the Admiral. Albert decided he would accept in his father’s place.”

I was thoughtful and sat back, “What is our strength?”

He just looked at me and I looked back, “I am his body man remember?”

He sighed, “The entire Crimson Dragon company is going.”

I nodded and relaxed for the rest of the trip. Somehow I felt uneasy about going to Wayne. The hover car slowed and pulled into a large gateway. It stopped and several marines looked at us and then gestured through the gate. When I walked through the large doors with the sergeants leading the way, two senior sergeants were standing in front of the inner door.

They looked at me and I recognized both as the ones in the sickbay. I stopped as the two junior sergeants continued through the door. I looked at each man, “No hard feelings?”

They looked at each other and grinned, “Not yet.”

I shook my head and continued into the room. Two senior sergeants stood beside the emperor at a large armored window and the Lt turned to look at me. Around the edge of the room were officers and top sergeants. The Lt grinned, “You have no idea how many cases of ale you won for me.”

I came to attention and grinned, “Glad to help sir.”

He grinned again and the emperor snorted, “You cost me a bottle of Rainbow Brandy corporal.”

I shrugged, “You have to know how to bet sir. Sometimes the odds are on the underdog.”

He laughed and looked at his two Dragons as they snorted. He looked back to me and gestured for me to approach. I knelt in front of him and raised my hand and he accepted my oath of fealty. When I stood, he clasped my shoulder and then looked at the Lt and a full Colonel that approached.

He looked back at me, “I am glad I was wrong corporal. I think you are going to wake the dragon and give it a good shake.”

He nodded to Albert and walked out with the two senior sergeants at his shoulders. The Colonel held out his hand, “Welcome to the Gold Dragon’s corporal.”

I took his hand and we shook. He nodded to a Captain and Top Sergeant that approached, “You will be assigned to Crimson Company. This is Captain Anderson and your Top Sergeant; Sergeant Choi.”

I shook their hands and Top Sergeant Choi nodded to Albert, “It is Crimson Company’s job to protect the heir.”

I looked at the Lt, “He slipped out to join the marines?”

They snorted, “You have no idea of the trouble that caused.”

I smiled as the Lt grinned, “I have an idea.”

The Captain gestured to my bag, “Leave that, I have had your new uniforms and equipment sent to the shuttle.”

I glanced at the Lt, “Moving quickly sir?”

He shrugged, “I had them wait on your arrival otherwise I would already be boarding the transport in orbit.”

He gestured and I fell in at his shoulder, “I have kept a check on Senior Sergeant Harris and he has fully recovered. In fact he was just sent to the Top Sergeant Academy. Corporal Smith was promoted to junior sergeant and has his own squad in a recon company.”

He glanced at me, “I was surprised when you applied to join the Dragons.”

My eyes had kept scanning around as we walked and I glanced at him, “I thought about it sir. It seemed that if you could manage to sneak away once you might need a better keeper.”

He grinned and then laughed with the other Dragons walking with us as they laughed out loud. “Good luck with that.”

I looked at him, “I do not need luck sir.”

After a fast hover car ride and a short shuttle flight we boarded an insystem destroyer. While the Lt slept and another Dragon stood guard at his door, I went to find my new gear. I checked everything and laid it out before laying back to sleep in the room across from the Lt’s. I was up four hours later, I showered and started dressing.

The light mesh like body screen felt different and it was because this one had been made to fit my body. I rubbed the golden dragon on my flash with blood red rubies for eyes indicating I was in Crimson Company. I checked my rail gun and the spare magazines at the back. I undid the stitching and removed the leather around the handle of the mono knife.

I settled everything and glanced at a display that showed movement in the Lt’s room. I opened my door and nodded to the sergeant guarding the door and then knocked before entering. The Lt glanced at the door as I came through it and nodded. I stood behind his shoulder while he started reviewing something.

Captain Anderson knocked and opened the door. A senior sergeant came in with him and the Captain gestured to me, “I need to steal him for an ops briefing sir.”

The Lt waved and I nodded to the sergeant and headed around the desk to follow the captain out. The next eight hours was spent in a white noise room with a blue crystal box that was home to Crimson company’s AI. Her name was Peaches; she drilled me on the company procedures and policies as well as quite a bit more.

I spent everyday with Peaches after the Lt went to sleep. The Dragon transport passed us a day out and docked with the waiting starship twelve hours before we did. The next week was spent in intensive physical training when I was not with the Lt. One thing I made clear as I spared and threw the other Dragons around was that I was more than capable of handling myself.

When the starship worm holed out on the edge of Wayne, two insystem ships were waiting. One was a marine fast assault transport and the other was a light cruiser. Only my squad went on the cruiser, everyone else left in the fast assault transport. From the start the fleet officers onboard the cruiser were rude and insolent. The Lt mostly ignored them as he worked on reports his father sent him.

We were a day out from orbit when things came to a head. A lieutenant commander from the comm section had come into the Lt’s room. He tossed the data disks onto the desk and looked straight at me, “Leave us corporal.”

I ignored him and continued to stand beside the Lt. The lieutenant commander’s face went livid and he took a step as if to come around the desk. That broke protocol, my Mark VI was pointed into his face before he had taken a second step, “If you move I will kill you.”

I had grabbed the Lt and pulled him out of the chair and back behind me. As the lieutenant commander’s face went white I opened my comm, “Crimson Dragon primary has a breach.”

I gestured with the pistol, “Step back and put your hands on your head.”

The door was opening as the door guards started to come in. The lieutenant commander drew himself up, “I will have you court marshaled for this!”

I smiled, “You have an illusion that you have rank in the presence of the royal family, you do not. Now leave.”

The door guard and two other Dragon sergeants took his arms and pulled him out of the room. When the door closed, I nodded to the Lt as he moved back to the desk to sit and opened a comm to the bridge. My conversation was brief and not satisfactory. The captain was almost as belligerent as the lieutenant commander had been.

The next day before we left the ship I entered a Dragon protocol into the ships computers that locked the weapons down. From the moment we exited the shuttle I knew something was wrong. The marine honor party was missing and the fleet welcoming committee was not who it was supposed to be.

The welcoming party was a Rear Admiral Hepcock and a Captain JG Dongel. They were both arrogant and insolent. I was tempted to take the Lt straight back to the shuttle and lift. When we reached fleet headquarters it was strangely quiet with almost no one around. Captain Anderson called as we were headed into the emperor’s wing.

The Marine commandant was less than helpful and they had a lot civilian contractors wearing weapons. I glanced at my squad leader and the senior sergeant made a gesture to guard the Lt closely. When we cleared the last door into the emperor’s suite I was grateful. I knew no one could have entered without setting off alarms.

The squad broke up further as they headed out to take up positions, leaving Sergeant Henry and myself. The Lt looked at me, “Whatever is going on, I do not like it.”

I nodded and after thinking about it accessed Peaches on the transport, “Crimson Dragon situation warning to Gold Dragon command. Fleet officers and the Marine Commandant are behaving in a suspicious manner. Elevating security levels at this time.”

I looked at the door as it opened and Admiral Hepcock walked in with two armed civilians. Sergeant Henry shifted and the two armed civilians focused on him as the Admiral stopped, “I am placing you under arrest…”

I drew and fired in one motion. The civilian’s head on the left exploded and then I was pulling the trigger again. Sergeant Henry’s pistol was out and tracking when I fired. Two shots sounded almost together and the second civilian lurched backwards. His head had jerked back as it exploded but what I noticed was Sergeant Henry’s shot in his chest.

It had not penetrated which told me he had been wearing a body screen. Everything I noticed was secondary as I shot a wide eyed Admiral Hepcock through the head. I keyed the comm, “Dragon Scales to all Dragon’s, Crimson Dragon’s treasure is under attack! Peaches, Gold Dragon has a Crimson heart!”

I looked at Albert and gestured to the big desk, “Get behind that sir!”

I walked to the door and cracked it as the company comm came alive. Four men in combat armor were moving down the hall and I ducked back, keying a dragon lock code into the door. I pulled a small pendulum mine from my belt pack and pulled the arming wire out. I attached it to the top of the door frame and tossed it up to stick on the ceiling.

I moved back to one of the dead civilian’s and knelt to remove his gun belt. It held an older Mark V which was heavier than my pistol. There were four extra magazines on the back of the belt. I slung it over my shoulder and moved to the other man as the company comm was filled with sounds of combat.

I stripped the other man of his weapon and moved to Albert. When I checked the magazines I was not surprised to see static penetrators. I handed the last belted weapon to Albert, “Strip to your body screen sir.”

Sergeant Henry looked at me from the position he had taken up. I began to quickly strip out of my shirt, “I am giving my body screen to the heir. The are using static penetrators.”

He nodded and went back to watching the door. I was stripping out of my body screen when the amplified voice came through the door. “Send out the emperor’s bastard and we will not kill you!”

It did not take long after we did not answer for them to test the door. The Captain had gone off the comm after they had been hit with heavy weapons on the landing pad. Our sting ships were all down as well and the reaction platoon was cornered on the other side of the huge building under heavy fire with major causalities.

I finished dressing by throwing the belt with the Mark V over my shoulder and under my arm. I heard the tell tale scratching at the door, “Their placing a charge.”

Sergeant Henry nodded as he fished in his belt pack, “Ice and Fire kid.”

I grinned as I fished out a small round grenade and primed it. I held my pistol in my left hand and the grenade in my right, “Stay down sir.”

I threw the grenade as the large armored door blew in. Henry’s grenade followed mine a fraction of a second later. The armored suits were just raising weapons as my grenade exploded sending out waves of cold that froze the suits and killed the men not in armor. Sergeant Henry’s grenade exploded and the armored suits shattered as the frozen corpses burst into flame.

The pendulum mine reached its arc and detonated. The men that were still alive did not even have time to scream as the compression wave hit. I glanced at Henry, “We can not stay here.”

He shook his head as he headed for the door. I gestured to Albert who came to his feet with the extra pistol in his hand. Henry stepped into the hall opening our comm link to tracker mode, “Dragon’s Treasure on the move.”

I followed with Albert beside me. We were halfway down the hall when a large group of armed men came through the far door. I shoved Albert in a side door with the sergeant following and moved to the center of the hall drawing the other pistol. I ignored everything and began firing.

A few bullets sang as they passed me but a minute later I was moving through the door changing magazines. Henry had Albert by another door and nodded before standing and stepping through. I caught up as he crossed to a half door on the other side of the room. He nodded to me and gestured before pulling the lower door open.

The first thing I saw was the body of a dead marine. I realized we were behind the marine info desk in the center foyer. I keyed my secondary comm on the emergency all hands freq, “To all military personal, this is Corporal Jason Drake, Crimson Dragon Primary. The Fleet command and Marine commandant are attempting a coup. Any assistance will be appreciated.”

I ducked under the top half of the door and moved closer to the counter as Albert slipped through behind me. Henry came through and closed the door as I scanned the monitors on the counter. They showed the foyer full of civilians that were armed. I glanced at Henry, “We need to get across the foyer and try to get to the admiral’s shuttle.”

He grinned and nodded and we stood up. I took the left and started firing with both pistols while he started on the right. A minute later I heard him grunt in a way that brought back memories of wounded comrades on Protus. I shifted as bullets started tearing up the front of the info desk and a burning stabbing pain lashed my side.

I fired into a small group rushing from a hallway and a moment later it was silent. I quickly changed magazines and glanced at a white faced Henry. He gestured, “Get him out of here kid!”

I nodded as Albert looked up from putting pressure on his bleeding chest. I touched his shoulder, “Time to go sir.”

He hesitated and then nodded and came to his feet as I started around the desk. We were halfway across the foyer when three armed civilians stepped out. The big Mark V fired and then the other two men jerked and were thrown forward as they were shot from behind. A female voice that was vaguely familiar called out, “This is Sergeant Drake I am on your side.”

I grinned, “Is that you Molly?”

A blonde head poked around the corner, “Jason?”

I started walking as she came out and began walking to meet us. She was carrying a marine assault riffle and I knew she knew how to use it, “Sir, meet my cousin Molly.”

The Lt. chuckled, “I just had to be saved by two Drakes.”

Molly grinned as she scanned the foyer one last time, “Since we are a marine family you might meet one or two more.”

I started down the new hallway with Molly following behind. “How did you manage to be here Molly?”

She snorted, “A stupid training accident. I was in the sickbay with a new private when all hell broke loose. One of those civilian assholes tried to keep us there.”

My comm came alive, “Crimson Dragon Primary this is Second Dragon, say location.”

I knew better than answer, the first thing wrong was the voice did not sound right. Second thing was Second Dragon died in one of the sting ships. Third thing was every Dragon had an implant that homed on the primary. Molly looked at me and I smiled, “Not one of ours.”

She nodded and I turned in a doorway. The complete plans for this building were in my mind and I was thinking of using another way out of the building. The marine dragon comm came to life, “Crimson Dragon Primary this is fire Drake coming in hot on the admiral’s pad.”

I almost laughed as I grinned back at Molly, “Uncle Blaze is coming for a visit.”

She grinned back and Albert chuckled. I slipped through a side door and across the elegant office. I was at the door leading to a side exit when the Crimson Dragon comm came alive, “Crimson Dragon Primary we have an insystem Carrier closing with the planet.”

The voice had been Peaches. I stopped moving, “Status of the transport?”

“We have deployed decoys and electronic scramblers and engaged assault shuttles.”

I thought quickly, “Known threat of the Carrier?”

“It has demanded our surrender and is identified as a positive threat.”

I looked at Albert. What I was about to do would kill a lot of people, some innocent. “Open a direct comm link and issue Heart’s Death.”

Molly was looking curious but Albert nodded. Heart’s Death was a deep code each ship had that did several things that would result in the death of the ship and everyone aboard her. I waited a moment and opened the door. I moved out and along the side of the building with Albert following me.

We had only moved a couple of dozen feet along the wall when Molly cussed and I spun. Molly was knelling and the assault rifle started firing at a dozen armed men rushing us from a hover van. I pushed Albert down and picked three off that had dropped to the ground and what they thought was safety.

I turned back to the front pulling the Mark V just as three men in light body armor came around the corner. The big bullets from the Mark V exploded through the first two and the third tried to dive to safety. He died with a smaller bullet through the head from Albert’s pistol. I glanced around, “Time to go.”

I was moving quickly as we left the side of the building heading for the shuttle on the edge of the pad. A large marine assault shuttle flashed overhead in a hot landing on the pad and Molly yelled. I spun yanking Albert behind me. I was only half aware as the pistols in each hand fired and then I was hit several times in the chest.

It felt like a sledge hammer was burning through my chest but I stood and took out the two remaining gunmen. I went to my knee trying to breathe as Molly grabbed me. I pushed her, “Get him to the transport! Use the code phrase Dragon’s blood!”

She hesitated and then grabbed Albert who was trying to open my shirt. She yanked him away, “Damn you come on!”

I sat back on my heels slowly and then a marine was there pushing me onto my back and ripping my shirt open. I could hear the shuttle as it did a hot lift from the pad and then I looked into my uncle’s eyes.

Both of Albert’s brothers and his sister were killed in the attempted coup…





Chapter five

Our Flight to Asteria and back

As we broke orbit and I put us in the grove, I sighed. “Keep the shields at full power.”

Silvia chuckled, “Not taking chances.”

I glanced at Michelle, “No, go get some sleep Cadet.”

I glanced back at Tinker, “One of you can crash and as soon as George and Brit give us the word you are both off.”

I checked my readout and brought up the ships long range scan display. Michelle hesitated behind my seat, “You are not just a pilot are you?”

I grinned to myself as Tinker chuckled. I glanced back, “One day I may tell you about it but not now. Go eat and get some sleep.”

She was in the back of the command deck with Silvia when Peaches cleared her throat. I shivered, “Peaches, how many times do I have to tell you to just talk.”

“It is polite to let someone know before you begin speaking.”

Tinker laughed and I smiled, “Okay you want to talk to me. What is up?”

“Albert sent a reply.”

I glanced back to see Tinker with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged, “Go ahead and play it.”

“Glad you finally remember us Jason. Molly said next time you take this long she is going to kick your ass around the salle…”

“That is the Emperor’s voice!”

I glanced back at the shocked face of Michelle and smiled, “Keep going Peaches.”

“I believe Samuel has been impressed with the need to remain with his bodyguard and not race in one of his modified hover cars. Molly did a good job of soothing the bruises after Sister Shadow was done going over those points with him…”

I laughed and heard Tinker chuckle. “As for Constance, she was really proud you noticed and wanted to send you a private message so Peaches should have it for later. As for the Nelson… Dragon Intel is going crazy trying to find out how they missed it in the archives. If you have to use it, let us know how it works.”

Albert chuckled and I heard Molly from what sounded like across the room, “Ask him if his Cadet is pretty? Molly wants to know if your Cadet is pretty…”

I turned to look at Michelle, “What do you think Tinker?”

He looked back at a blushing Michelle and Silvia shook her head, “Be nice Jason.”

I grinned checked my readout, “Keep going Peaches.”

“I heard about your fun with the general by the way. It sounds like you took him to the cleaners and if half the things you got work as well as I think they will; I would not mind a ride some day. On a more serious note, Dragon Intel have been hearing whispers from Saras. They think someone is going to try breaking away from the Empire. If you hear or see anything let us know.”

“As for your bag… I had Top Sergeant Henry check and repack it for you. I sent it on a dispatch courier so you should get it in two or three weeks at the latest. Molly said to tell you Cousin George is at Alpha Central. I believe she was the one that got the field commission and took over a recon platoon, it is hard to keep track of your family.”

“Oh, we had dinner with your mother last week. She was insystem for a short rest break. She said your brother made first officer and the Marines have your sister on some covert mission…”

“I am sending you a platoon of Silver Dragon’s. They are from Griffin Company so that should shake things up. I also sent a private note to Duke Grey but I will leave the military command up to you. You probably remember Wayne much clearer than I do so you know what to look for…”

“Jason, be carefully. Molly and I expect to stand for your wedding if a woman ever manages to catch you.”

“End of message Jason. Do you want to hear the massage from Constance.”

I smiled to myself, “Sure.”

“Cousin Jason thanks for remembering me. Mom said you would not forget. I… This is private only for you, top secret Dragon Scales and everything…”

I looked at Peaches, “Pause message Peaches.”

I looked at everybody, “Disappear.”

Tinker grinned as he slid out of his seat. Silvia took his hand, “Do I need to leave out a do not disturb sign?”

I waved, “Take him to bed Silvia.”

I looked at Michelle and she kept looking at me. She glanced at the door as Silvia and Tinker closed it and then she looked back, “Constance is the Emperor’s daughter.”

I nodded and she frowned, “She called you her cousin but he… the Emperor did not sound… well, not completely…”

She took a breath, “Who are you?”

I smiled, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason.”

I looked at Michelle, “Give Ms Grey my full Identity.”

“Ms Grey, Jason is Colonel Jason Drake. Imperial Dragon, code name Crimson Dragon and Emperor’s champion.”

Michelle was looking at me with wide eyes, “but… but you are…”

I nodded, “Disappointing.”

She grinned and then shook her head, “No.”

I nodded towards her quarters, “I need to listen to Constance’s message.”

She grinned and headed into her quarters. I waited and then checked my readouts, “Okay Peaches, play the messages.”

“Jason I met a boy… he is Duke Thomas’s second son. He is like, really cute and I really like him. I… do you think it would be okay if we… you know, had sex?”

“I did some checking… you remember Uncle Felix? He did some checking for me and he said Joey looks like a keeper. Let me know as soon as you can please.”

“End message Jason.”

I sat there thinking and finally looked at Peaches, “When was the message sent.”

“Twelve hours ago.”

I nodded, “Fire up the star comm Peaches. Crimson Dragon priority, Emperor’s ears only.”

A minute later, “Go ahead Jason.”

I took a breath, “Albert, I need to speak to Molly alone without anyone’s ears, even yours.”

There was a pause and then Albert’s voice came through, “Give me a moment Jason.”

I waited thinking about what I needed to say, “Go ahead Jason, I am alone.”

I sighed, “Just listen Molly. Constance is thinking about a boy.”

I waited for the reply and heard Molly laugh, “We know that. She has been trying to be sneaky but you know how hard that is.”

I nodded, “We talked about this when she was younger. It is time you had the talk with her and changed her primary guard to Mother Steel.”

There was a longer then normal pause and then, “Are you sure Jason?”

I nodded to myself, “She asked Molly. You need to be her friend and confidant now and help her prepare.”

After the pause I heard Molly sigh, “Now I know how my mother felt. Okay Jason.”

I glanced back, “Discomm and prepare another message to Constance. Crimson Dragon channel, top priority.”

“Go ahead Jason.”

I took a breath, “Constance my little angel, I have waited a long time for you to ask me something like that. To ask that question means you have asked it of yourself. This time I can not stay silent. I have talked to your mother in private because we have prepared for this. You are a beautiful young woman and your mother is going to help you. Think of her as your special confidant. She is going to help you prepare to have sex and she will have your primary guard changed to a woman called Mother Steel. Do not even think of sneaking off to be with your young man. Talk to your mother and Mother Steel, they will arrange it so the two of you can be together and if you… You angel. If you decide to do it, they will protect your secret. This is a Drake family secret Constance, trust me and trust your mom. I can not begin to tell you how much I wish I were there for you, but you have made me very proud. I love you Constance.”

I sighed, “End message Peaches.”

“Message ended and… sent.”

I sat back and just scanned the readout. It was eight hours before George poked his head onto the command deck. He came in and sat in the jump seat behind me, “How is it look skipper?”

I glanced back and grinned, “Everything is still in the green.”

He smiled, “About Brit.”

I grinned, “She seemed competent.”

He laughed, “She is that. It is personal with us though.”

I looked at his red face and smiled, “It is about time Top.”

He relaxed with a sigh, “I think she is the one Skipper.”

I glanced at him, “How much does she know?”

He grinned, “She was recon, what she does not know, she guesses.”

I nodded, “Than sit her down and tell her.”

He sighed, “Sometimes that either scares them or makes them change the way they…”

I laughed, “George, if she was recon long enough that it sticks. She is not going to be scared or get a case of hero worship.”

He was quiet and then he stood, “I think I will go wake her up and have a talk.”

I cleared my throat and he looked at me. I grinned, “Be carefully waking her. Recon have nasty habits if you wake them up the wrong way.”

He grinned and a moment later it was quiet again. Not surprisingly Michelle was the first one up. She came out yawning and stretching. I grinned and sipped the fresh cup of tea I had made. She sat in the seat behind me with a cup of coffee. It was a quiet half hour before Silvia and Tinker appeared.

Silvia looked wide awake and Tinker… well, he looked rested but had a pleased expression that he seldom wore. I had to smile at Silvia and shake my head as she slipped into her seat. I looked at Michelle, “Time for a test Cadet. Climb into your seat. You will be flying a sim of a shuttle flight gone wrong.”

I glanced at Silvia, “Would you mind being her engineer?”

She smiled and turned to flip a couple of switches, “Okay Michelle it is you and me against Jason’s sim.”

Michelle had slipped into her seat and was waiting, she grinned back at Silvia. I had already downloaded the flight data to do the sim and paused, “Your call sign is Green Two. You have a logged flight path to Beta Seven from an insystem personal transport.”

Michelle nodded as she slipped the sim helmet on. I started the sim and slid my seat back and stood to stretch. “Ship is your Tinker.”

He grinned, “How many times do you think she will do it?”

I grinned, “Until she gets to tired to think clearly. When she stops, have her eat and then run her through some sims with the 20MM.”

He nodded and I headed to my tiny quarters and bed. My eyes snapped open at the light tap on my door, “come in.”

The door slid aside as my feet hit the deck. Tinker smiled from the doorway, “You are getting old, you have slept for eight hours.”

I glanced at my wall clock and sighed as I stood and reached out to open the tiny shower, “How did she do?”

While I showered Tinker laughed and told me about each run Michelle and Silvia made trying to repeat our landing in the shuttle. When I came out Silvia looked thoughtful and Michelle looked a little worn around the edges. I ate and Michelle kept looking at me. She finally shifted and cleared her throat.

I glanced at her and she looked back, “Tinker said it could be done but I do not see how.”

I grinned, “The proof is that you are here and Tinker and I are here and our old shuttle is probably still sitting on the pad I left her on.”

She blinked and looked at Silvia, “So this was a real flight and not a sim you made up.”

I headed for my seat, “It was real. You will not like the ones I make up either.”

I glanced back, “think about the five directions available in space and everything the ship is capable of doing. Do not think in terms of a ship or flying but what they can do and what systems they use to do it with.”

It was a week before Michelle final landed the shuttle. She and Silvia were both ecstatic and Tinker pulled Silvia into her quarters to… celebrate. Michelle was sitting in the second seat happily checking the readout. For the last four days I had watched a shadow on the very edge on our scan. I thought it was a low powered recon drone that was trying to keep us marked.

We were a day out from Asteria, the long range scan display flashed as an update was added. One look was enough for me to start adjusting my controls, “Cadet sound GQ!”

She looked at me for a second and then quickly slapped the red button on her console. I glanced at Peaches as Tinker scrambled out the door and into his seat, “Run the scan ID Peaches.”

I looked at Tinker as Silvia slid into her seat reaching for her panels. “We have a destroyer closing from the stern. It is running without a transponder and…”

I glanced at my readout, “And it just started jamming us.”

“It is not registered with the fleet Jason.”

I looked at Tinker as his hands adjusted the shields. I took a breath, “It looks like the weapons were a good idea.”

I did a quick check as Silvia gasped, “I have active targeting scans.”

I flipped the ship and opened the rail gun bay. The twin turret lock as it was extended into place. I had been adjusting the passive targeting and went active. It took a few long seconds for the system to lock and I fired. “Time to impact?”

Tinker grunted, “twenty seconds. I am still running the scan jammer and the counter measures seem to be working.”

Michelle was white faced and I was ready to fire again when suddenly the whole area where the destroyer had been because a chaotic mass of tiny debris from an expanding ball of a double anti matter explosion. I checked my scan display and flipped the ship, “Clear from GQ.”

I checked the shadow on my display and it still ghosted along. I looked at Michelle, “Do you see the ghost on the scan display?”

She nodded jerkily, “Yes.”

I smiled thinly, “The ship is yours. Destroy the ghost using the 20MM.”

She looked at me wide eyed, “But…”

I looked at her, “It is an unmanned recon drone.”

She swallowed and took a second and then she was confident as her hand flicked over the controls. She glanced at Tinker, “Keep the counter measures going.”

He only nodded but she had already turned back and spun the ship sideways. I watched her adjust the targeting system before going active and then she fired. She looked like she was going to fire again but her hand stilled before she did, “Time to impact Tinker?”

Tinker grunted, “thirty seconds.”

Right on time the ghost seemed to flicker and then disappeared. I nodded as Michelle spun the ship and retracted the large rail guns back into their bay. She readjusted the controls back to what they should be and sat back. I nodded and leaned back, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason?”

I glanced at Tinker, “time to send some messages. Use the standard Dragon information channel. First one goes to Dragon command intel unit. Let them know we encounter and were targeted by an unregistered destroyer and we destroyed it. Second one to Fleet Command, same message. Third to System fleet command, Admiral’s attention needed. An unregistered destroyer has targeted an insystem cargo transport and has been destroyed. Fourth to Gamma station, an unregistered destroyer has been destroyed insystem. It is unknown if there are any others. Last one is to Albert’s desk, I was forced to destroy an unregistered destroyer targeting us a day out from Asteria. Have Dragon inspectors check the fleet yards. Send them Peaches.”

“Sending them now.”

I relaxed and looked at Michelle, “I have her, you can take a break.”

I began our deceleration and even though it was over, everyone was still tense. I checked our supply list and opened the ships comm to the Cargo office, “George?”

Brit laughed as she opened the comm, “He is busy.”

I laughed and glanced at Tinker and Silvia. They were grinning and looking at each other. “You will do Brit. Make a note to fill our water tanks when we finish unloading on Asteria.”

She laughed, “Will do.”

I closed the comm and looked at Michelle who was a little red faced. I grinned, “Not much else to do on long hauls like these.”

She blushed even more and started running more checks. The Asteria control dispatcher seemed abrupt and even rude as he directed us into our docking area. After shutting everything down while George and Brit sealed the cargo transport tubes I nodded to Tinker, “I will go speak with Admiral Jones.”

He nodded and glanced at Michelle. I shook my head, “She is coming with me.”

I looked at Michelle and used the nick name Silvia had given her, “Come along Kitten.”

She looked up and then grinned as she stood to follow me. When I walked into the large cargo bay the cargo handlers scowled at us. It was almost like they were angry at us for something. I led Michelle across the huge bay and through an air lock. The hallway beyond was packed with workers that shut up as soon as they saw us.

When I asked for directions to an express elevator it was ignored and the guy just walked away. I watched him and finally nodded and turned to head down the hallway. When I stepped into the station control room a large man wearing a low slung pistol stepped in front of me. “This is a restricted area and you are not authorized to wear a weapon on the station.”

He was holding his hand out as if he expected me to just hand my pistol over. My left hand came across and grabbed. I pulled, twisted and jerked as I pulled my Mark V and put it again his forehead, “My Name is Jason Drake. You can call me Colonel Drake.”

I looked around the room as everyone looked back even Admiral Jones. “Not only am I authorized to wear this weapon anywhere I want, but I am authorized to go wherever I want. Now, Fleet regulations prohibit civilians from wearing weapons in any control room. So tell me, who let you wear your weapon in here?”

Admiral Jones was walking towards me looking angry, “I did!”

I released his hand and reached down to pull his pistol and dropped it on the floor. I stepped back and faced the Admiral, “In that case Admiral you are relieved of all duties as of right now.”

His face went white, “You do not…”

A young looking Lieutenant stood up, “He out ranks you!”

I smiled but kept looking at the Admiral, “Asteria AI, this is Crimson Dragon do you recognize me?”

The room was quiet as the AI spoke, “I recognize you Colonel.”

I stepped closer to the Admiral, “On my authority you are to execute Dragon override, Imperial code Dragon Claws.”

“I understand Colonel.”

I looked around, “Just so you all understand what that means, I will explain. Every record, every recording, every detail of this station is now frozen. A platoon of Silver Dragons are on their way to this system. You are Imperial citizens and the Emperor has no intention of allowing a revolt…”

The Lieutenant snorted, “We have something for the emperor!”

I pointed my Mark V straight at his head, “Did you just threaten the Emperor in my presence?”

He went pale but did not answer. I nodded, “Asteria AI you are to strip this Lieutenant of all rank and privileges.”

“Cause?”

I smiled, “Violating his oath to the empire and emperor and threatening the emperor.”

“Confirmed.”

I gestured to the door, “Get out.”

I looked at the Admiral, “I should just shoot you now. You will report to the dispatch ship and proceed to system command. When you arrive you will present yourself to the Emperor’s Fleet counsel to face charges of violating control room security and possibly treason.”

He hesitated and I gestured to the door, “Do not stop along the way, no comm will except your signal.”

He turned on his heel and marched out without saying anything. I looked around the room, “Asteria AI you will assume control of all traffic to and from the station. Send all reports from, to or about Admiral Jones to the Fleet Adjutant along with my charge sheet.”

I turned and walked out, “So much for being discreet.”

Michelle snorted, “You should just wear your uniform.”

I glanced at her, “Now that was mean.”

She grinned and followed close behind me. At the air lock were a couple of dozen arguing miners. When they saw us they went silent. I shook my head, “Let me get this straight, you miners want to break away from the empire.”

There was a growl of consent. I looked into their faces, “You know it means everything you get from the empire stops. The food, the liquor, the spare parts and even the specialty items. Even the broadcast shows. It all stops and the only thing you get is what is in the system already.”

They were looking at each other and one cleared his throat, “What about all the taxes we pay!”

I grinned, “You mean the same ones I have to pay?”

They looked at each other and I gestured to the air lock, “How long before the cargo ships stop running because they do not have parts to fix something? Who are you going to blame then?”

They looked at each other and then at the floor. I sighed, “Men, the emperor listens to every grip you make. I know because I stood at his shoulder for sixteen years watching him do it. Go home or go back to work and stay out of this mess. Right here, right now, I am giving you a chance to go back to being just a working man.”

They looked at each other and slowly started breaking up. When I got back onboard the ship, George and Brit were pissed. Brit glanced at George before looking at me, “They said they do not have any water to spare or rations.”

I nodded, “We should have enough of both to get us back. Just keep an eye on the water level. Let me know when they finish unloading.”

George laughed, “As much bitching as they did, they were more than willing to unload their supplies.”

I nodded, “Let Tinker or Silvia know when each cargo bay is emptied and open it to vacuum.”

George and Brit both grinned. It was two days before they were finished unloading and we had been informed coldly that they did not have anything for us to take back. I drifted away from the docks on jets after Tinker and Silvia had scanned the hull for mines or anything else someone might have attached. “Asreia AI this is Cowboy’s Dream leaving dock.”

“Copy Cowboy’s Dream.”

I glanced at Michelle, “The ship is yours Kitten.”

She looked at me suddenly as I just sat back and crossed my arms. She looked at her readout and started a slow spin before opening the engines up. A small correction a minute later and she was on course, “Asteria AI this is Cowboy’s Dream, passing your guide markers on a course for Saras.”

“Copy Cowboy’s Dream.”

It was a full day before we reached cruising speed and Tinker and Silvia disappeared into her quarters. Michelle looked at me and bit her lip, “Can I ask you something Jason?”

I smiled as I checked everything, “You can ask Kitten.”

She grinned, “That does not mean you will answer, I know.”

She took a breath and turned in her seat, “Do you like me?”

I looked at her, “In what way Kitten?”

She blushed, “As a woman.”

I laughed, “Kitten, I would have to be blind and dead not to like looking at you.”

She blushed even more, “I meant…”

She took a breath, “Would you have sex with me?”

I smiled as I absently checked the scan display, “Well, now that is a question that deserves thought.”

I looked at her, “I made a promise Kitten, a long time ago. Basically it means I would have to be intimate with a woman for a little while before we ever had sex. It is a way to keep from being hurt by women that only want the hero or legend.”

She looked back at me and frowned before nodding, “That makes sense but what do you mean by intimate?”

I smiled and relaxed, “Sleeping together. Showering, eating, things like that. I think Tinker called it country courting.”

Michelle grinned, “Tinker has never been in the country.”

I grinned back and glanced back at Silvia’s closed door, “Tinker was born and raised on a mining platform.”

George stuck his head in the door, “Any chance I can get some left seat time in?”

I smiled, “What about Brit?”

He opened the door wider to show her standing beside him. I slid the seat back, “In that case the ship is yours.”

I looked at Michelle, “Come with me Kitten.”

I led her into my tiny room and closed the door. I took the weapon belt off and hung it up before pulling her onto the bed and against my side. “Now Kitten, tell me why you want sex with an old man like me…”

It was almost eight hours before Tinker tapped on the door and peeked in. He looked at me with one of his silly grins, “Silvia is making dinner if you and Kitten are finished.”

I looked at Michelle’s sleepy eyes as she blinked and looked back at him, “We will be out in a couple of minutes.”

I smiled and caressed Michelle’s cheek, “Feel better now that you got all that out?”

She grinned, “Yeah, but now I am frustrated in another way.”

I looked into her eyes and kissed her softly before moving over her and getting out of bed. It was a long week filled with tempting thoughts. A half day out I settled down in the command seat with Michelle already running a sim. Silvia cleared her throat and I noticed the power to the sim shut down.

I glanced at Silvia and she just ignored me as Michelle lifted the helmet off her head. She glanced at Silvia as she got up and headed into Tinker’s quarters. I smiled, “Conspiring Kitten?”

She grinned as she reached for my hand. “I think it is time we move to the taking shower stage.”

I grinned, “George and Brit say we have enough water but the showers are kind of small.”

She shook her head, “We can take a shuttle down and get a proper one.”

She looked at me and then laughed kind of throatily, “I intend to marry you Jason Drake.”

I looked at her and then laughed, “I knew that Kitten.”

I glanced back, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason?”

I looked at Michelle, “I need a star comm link to Albert and Molly full audio and visual. Priority is Crimson Dragon personal.”

“One second Jason”

A few moments later, “Link is up now Jason”

Between Michelle and me a holograph appeared. I smiled at the image of Albert and another of Molly from what looked like another room. I gestured to Michelle, “I want you to met Michelle Elizabeth Grey or Kitten as we have taken to calling her. She has just informed me in no uncertain terms that she intends to marry me.”

Molly’s eyes widened as Albert grinned. Molly leaned forward, “We will contact your mom and the others. We should be able to be there in three weeks…”

I leaned forward, “No!”

Molly blinked and looked at me, “But…”

I shook my head, “This system is not safe. If Gold Dragon has not labeled it a Dragon Hazard tell her I said to do it now.”

Albert glanced aside as a slim platinum haired woman that I recognized as Sister Shadow leaned into the holo pickup, “She had it on the tenetive side. What are your recommendations?”

I looked at Albert, “Reassign all senior Fleet and Marine officers and give them a truth scan. Send in the Fleet SAS and a fresh Brigade of Battle Marines. Albert, pick out a few of the complaint letters and send them a personal note in reply. Use the Dragon starship and bring in the entire Silver regiment with a Dragon carrier and battleship. Then you send Samuel… or Constance, for a public meet and greet.”

Albert was looking at Molly who was looking thoughtful. She glanced aside, “What do you think Tony?”

I could not see him but had to smile. Tony was the shortest marine to ever make Dragon and he was fiercely loyal to Molly, “Not Samuel, even with everything he wants in the system that would be tempting fate…”

Molly nodded and looked at Albert, “That means Constance.”

Albert frowned, “She has never been out on her own…”

Molly laughed, “She travels with a whole company of trained killers that she has twisted around her little finger and the whole regiment of silver demons is going to be there not to mention Jason and the Tinker.”

Molly looked at me, “You are not going to distract me Jason. You made me wear that damn white virginal gown for our wedding…”

I grinned and held up my hand, “Okay Molly, but wait until the dust settles.”

She nodded and then looked at Michelle, “Kitten, I am impressed. You have no idea how many women have tried to…”

The flash of our scan display made me glance away. “GQ Now Kitten!”

I glanced back as my fingers danced over my display, “Peaches, I need an ID check on the three ships that lit us up.”

I turned back as Tinker and Silvia scramble out their door and slid into their seats. I was opening the weapon bays and bringing them on line as Michelle brought all the plants online. “I need counter measures Tinker. Silvia, prep the Nelson.”

I looked at Michelle, “Target the cruiser. Use the hyper missiles.”

I checked my readout ignoring Albert and Molly’s tense bodies, “Going active on the scans.”

“All three ships are unregistered Jason.”

Michelle absently fired and I grinned as I fired several times at one of the destroyers, “They have their combat shields up Kitten, fire a second missile.”

I fired again and switched to the last Destroyer and fired three times rapidly, “We need the Nelson Silvia.”

Tinker cussed, “They burned through. The cruiser just launched.”

I shook my head as Michelle glanced at me after firing again, “Switch to the 20MM Kitten.”

I started flipping the ship as the Nelson came online, “Decoys Tinker.”

It was a moment before the warships began exploding and Michelle fired one long burst from the caltrop. I blinked and looked at a surprised Michelle and Tinker laughed, “Damn Kitten.”

I glanced in the display to see no ships. “Status?”

Silvia cleared her throat, “The Nelson sucks power like a bitch in heat, but its plants are holding. The power grid is down forty percent but still green and already recharging slowly.”

Tinker snorted, “Shields at full power. We lost the two decoys of course, but I have the backups coming online.”

Michelle was flipping through her displays quickly, “Launchers are coming back to full charge and have been reloaded. The secondary magazine for the caltrop just locked into place.”

I flipped the ship, “The main rails are still reloading their magazines and the scans are clear. Shut down the GQ Kitten.”

I glanced back at Silvia, “You can shut the Nelson down.”

I looked into the holograph with a white faced Albert and Molly now holding each other. “Albert, I can see one destroyer slipping through the cracks. Three Tiger class destroyers and an Anderson class Light Cruiser are not acceptable. I would recommend Alex take a look with a company of Force Recon to back him.”

He nodded, “If four managed to make it there, it means at least one starship is involved.”

I nodded and took a breath as the deck hatch opened and George stepped in, “What the hell was that about?”

I looked at Albert, “They are not aiming at Kitten anymore, they are hunting Dragons.”

Everyone was quiet as I continued to look at Albert, “You know how I feel about someone hunting Dragons.”

He nodded and looked aside, “Blade, tell Nightshade to start planning an Imperial Family trip to Saras. Tell her I said every Dragon goes. I want Silver there in two weeks to prep our arrival and I want Fleet Security and the Adjutant investigators with them. I want the Imperial Force Recon Battalion and Third Battle Brigade and Fleet SAS there within three weeks. First and Fifth Battle Brigade will travel with Gold. I want the entire Dragon Fleet there by the time we arrive. Have her tell Admiral Tiao to have the shipyards frozen, no one in, no one out. Send him Alex and that young woman he has been grooming to find out who has been making warship to kill my people.”

Albert looked at me, “We will be arriving in one month.”

I nodded and glanced at Kitten, “It looks like you get that shower after all Kitten.”

Molly grinned and Albert snorted, “Just do not drown him Kitten.”

Everyone laughed especially Tinker. Albert glanced around at all of us, “You watch yourselves.”

The holograph shut down and there was almost a sigh that went around the room. I glanced around, “George, you and Brit make a list of supplies including replacement decoys, missiles, 100MM anti matter rail rounds and 20MM caltrop ammo. Silvia, I need a complete report on the Nelson and the two plants that fed it. Tinker, run a diagnostic check on the four fusion plants and check the ship power plants and the shield generators. Kitten, do a diagnostic check on the launcher and both the rail guns.”

I turned and checked the scan and then began my own diagnostics. When I finished, I flipped the ship and began the deceleration for orbit. I relaxed and finally turned my seat to listen to everyones report. We were approaching the outer orbital marker when I opened the comm, “Saras orbital control, this is Cowboy’s dream.”

There was a slight pause, “Cowboy’s Dream, this is Saras orbital control. Beta Seven Command has issued a Fleet Command for your ship to land at Beta Seven.”

I sat back thinking and Tinker cleared his throat; “If we are on the surface it will make things a lot easier.”

I glanced at him, “No, it makes us a lot easier to kill.”

I shook my head, “I guess it is time General White and I had a talk.”

I opened the comm as I started plotting a decel course, “Saras orbital control, this is Cowboy’s Dream. I am sending an updated decel plot for entry.”

Tinker laughed and I looked back to see him grinning, “At least we have Kitten on board this time.”

I shook my head, “and Dragon hunters in the grass.”

Tinker growled, “How many times do I have to tell you not to curse us.”

I changed course and settled firmly in the seat, “Silvia, start running checks on the anti grav. Tinker, keep the shield at full power. Kitten, man the caltrop and watch our back trail.”

I opened the ship intercom, “George, you and Brit come to the command deck and take the jump seats.”

I fed more power to the main engines and began the braking to slow us before we hit atmosphere. It was an hour before I changed course and opened the comm, “Beta Seven control, this is Cowboy’s Dream. We are making atmosphere entry on an eastern approach.”

“Copy Cowboy’s Dream, recontact after breakthrough.”

I did another check of my readouts as we began entry and the shield flared. Silvia shifted and adjusted some controls while Tinker adjusted power feeds to the shield. A couple of minutes later the flare on the shield disappeared, “Breakthrough.”

I opened the comm, “Beta Seven control, this is Cowboy’s Dream. We have breakthrough. Descending to thirty thousand, changing course to zero nine zero and slowing to one thousand.”

“Cowboy’s Dream, this is Beta Seven control. Copy the descent and speed, change course to zero four five.”

I glanced back at Tinker and then looked at Michelle, “Bring the caltrop online.”

I continued down and changed course. I brought the anti grav up to help slow us and leveled out. “Tinker, this is not good. Keep the shield at full power.”

I kept watching the Beta Seven’s coordinates and nodded to myself, “It looks like someone wants us coming in from the north.”

Tinker snorted, “If you have to, just put us down in the trees.”

I glanced back and then looked at Michelle, “Kitten will protect you Tinker.”

Everyone laughed and seemed to relax before the comm came to life, “Cowboy’s Dream, this is Beta Seven control. Change course to one eight zero and descend to five thousand.”

I started turning the big ship and began a slow descent. I leveled out as the forward display picked up the outer marker, “Beta Seven control this is Cowboy’s Dream, approaching the outer marker.”

Michelle jerked and slammed her hand down on the GQ, “Three sting ships behind us just went to active targeting.”

I opened the comm, “Cowboy’s Dream under attack by three unknown sting ships!”

“Cowboy’s Dream we do not have the sting ships on scan.”

Tinker was working on his panels, “Tie the two Nelson plants into the power grid.”

I ignored the comm and watched the display as Michelle fired and switched target. The first sting ship exploded but the other two fired missiles. Michelle was calm as she fired a tiny burst and one of the missiles disappeared in a huge anti matter explosion. The second exploded on our shield.

The ship shuddered and shook violently and I watched the shield drop to forty percent, “Tinker…”

Tinker growled, “Shut up and fly.”

Michelle fired at another sting ship and it exploded in a huge ball of flame, but the third ship fired another missile. A glance showed the shields already back to seventy percent. Michelle fired and the missile exploded ten kilometers short of our shield. We were still rocked and tossed around by the explosion.

Michelle had already turned to the last ship and fired almost absently. It exploded and the command deck was silent until Brit leaned forward, “I think you gave Kitten the wrong nick name.”

Everyone chuckled and I glanced at Michelle, “She does seem to have the knack.”

Michelle grinned but kept working on her readout. I looked back at Tinker and Silvia, “Status?”

Silvia grinned, “Those extra plants worked really well. We are only down thirty five percent but the system should be back to full power in a minute.”

Tinker shook his head, “Stealing all those newer parts paid off. The shields are back to full power and holding. Initial diagnostics show no damage.”

I glanced at Michelle as we approached the inner marker. I opened the comm, “Beta Seven, this is Cowboy’s Dream at the inner marker. The three sting ships are down.”

“You son of a bitch! Those were marines on a training flight!”

I shook my head and started to answer when the scan flared red and Michelle jerked. Her hands flicked and then she fire and then fired again. I stared into the scan display as the ship was rocked and tossed around by the explosion of two anti matter missiles. Everything was silent and I adjusted course, “Tinker I think you owe Kitten an apology.”

George laughed and Silvia chuckled. Tinker grumbled and then laughed, “This time she was our good luck piece skipper.”

I slowed for our final approach, putting more on the ships anti grav. I picked out an insystem pad before bringing the anti grav to full power and lowering the ship. I extended the ship legs and glanced at Tinker, “Drop the shield.”

The ship settled slowly and then I shut down everything and turned to nod to Tinker, “Keep everything warm, we are not staying.”

I slid the seat back, “Come on Kitten, we have an appointment with General White…”





Chapter six

Long Live Emperor Albert

I glanced at Sergeant Tao and Senior Sergeant Davis beside the door as I tapped and opened it. Albert looked up from tickling the baby while Molly only wiggled her fingers as she focused on the chest board in front of her. I closed the door and crossed the room to reach down and move a piece on the board. She glared at me, “Wait your turn.”

I grinned and looked at Albert, “Your father has requested you and Molly have lunch with him and your mother.”

Albert looked up, “Did he apologize to Molly?”

I shook my head, “Albert, you know I stay out of your arguments.”

He shrugged and looked at Molly, “Do you feel like having lunch with him?”

Molly moved a rook and turned to smile at Albert, “I would not mind. Of course I have a sparing match with Senior Sergeant Henry so…”

Albert grinned as I snorted and reached down to move a bishop, “Check.”

Molly glared as Albert laughed. I shrugged, “Off the record, I think he wants the chance to make up.”

Albert looked thoughtful, “It was his own fault. I did warn him not to try to order Molly around.”

I looked at the door as it chimed. I took two steps to be between Albert and the door, “Open.”

Top Sergeant Constance stepped into the room, “The Colonel would like to see you Lieutenant.”

I smiled, “More paperwork Top?”

He grinned, “Not this time. It seems the Emperor decided to endorse the Colonel’s recommendation to promote your sorry butt.”

I grinned, “You were not saying that last week when we had our match.”

He snorted as he continued into the room, “That only proves the only good officers started off as enlisted men.”

Molly cleared her throat and Albert grinned, “Men?”

Top laughed, “Okay… person.”

I laughed and headed towards the door. I walked into Dragon command and smiled to see Senior Sergeant Samson with a small crowd around him. He was blindfolded and had an assault rifle disassembled on the table in front of him. I knocked on the Colonel’s door and pushed it open.

Colonel Beal turned from talking to Captain Harris and Captain Johns, “Lieutenant Drake, Emperor Tenison has approved your promotion to Captain.”

I stopped in front of him, “It would have made things simpler to just fill Crimson company sir or reassign me to another company.”

He snorted, “Tell that to the Emperor. He wants you, Senior Sergeant Henry and Top Sergeant Choi to be examples. That was why he had Albert talk you into accepting the commission and why he started Amber Company instead of just filling Crimson.”

I shrugged as both the Captains grinned and the Colonel tossed a pairs of Captain’s bars. “Speaking of the Emperor, he is being secretive about something. Captain Perry is thinking he might be about to step down.”

I looked at the Colonel and he nodded, “We have brought people over from Silver to finish filling Gold. Silver’s Raptor Company is down to just a skeleton so their filling slowly. You know how hard it is for anyone to get through the training, let alone the security checks.”

He sighed, “Captain Paul has requested retirement. I am moving things around, but if the Emperor steps down you will take over Gold Company.”

I nodded and he shook his head, “You will also still be listed as the Company commander of Crimson and that is not going to change no matter what rank you hold.”

I shook my head and he grinned, “Do you know what creating three quarters in each Dragon country is doing to Dragon Security or Intel?”

I grinned, “Like Choi, Henry or me are going to take a trip to far off systems just to sleep in them.”

I looked at the Colonel, “Have we gotten anymore information about the data net breach last week?”

He shook his head, “Whatever they were after it was not the schedules.”

I nodded and turned towards the door, “I will be with Albert, he has a meeting later for the Baron’s armed forces council and then wanted to meet with Admiral Adams and General Harold.”

I stopped outside the door to remove my first lieutenant bars and put the captain’s bars on. I glanced at Senior Sergeant Sampson, “Tinker? Did you have a chance to look over Albert’s car?”

He looked up from scraping in the credit chits in, “Yeah, someone was messing with the fuel feed.”

I waved and started back to the heir’s wing. I had just passed through the security arch when the servant in the hall ahead of me drew my attention. I suddenly had a bad feeling and let my right hand drop to the butt of the Mark V I wore, “Hold it!”

The servant kept walking and I saw him shift in a manner that screamed ‘weapon!’

I started to pull my pistol, “I said stop!”

Suddenly he was spinning and bringing a mini caltrop up. I shifted, turned and back stepped as my arm extended and I fired. The caltrop spat down the hall where I had been standing as the servant’s head snapped back. I saw what looked like wires at the base of his throat and spun to duck into a doorway.

I opened the emergency all frequency comm, “Dragon threat! Secure all primaries now!”

The hallway where the servant had been, exploded in shock, fire and heat. I shook myself and started running toward the heir’s suite around next the corner, “Check all servants!”

I came around the corner as Senior Sergeant Davis was reaching for the door, “A servant is in with Albert!”

I did not waste my breath cussing as I came through the door right behind him. The servant was at the table with Albert who was holding Samuel. Top Sergeant Constance was pulling his pistol and the servant was reaching towards his body. Senior Sergeant Davis fired twice knocking the servant sideways.

Top Sergeant Constance grabbed Albert and yanked him up and threw him towards us as he spun and dove on the servant. Senior Sergeant Davis pulled him past us but I pushed him down and covered him and the baby with my body. The room exploded, tossing the sergeant into the wall beside the door.

I looked around and uncovered Albert and the baby. The baby was crying and even though my ears were still ringing I heard the comm demanding a situation report. I keyed the comm as I pulled Albert to his feet, “This is Crimson Primary, one Dragon down and one Dragon needs medical in the heir’s suite. The primary is green and Crimson Dragon is moving to the Dragon salle.”

Albert was cussing as I pulled him after me. Senior Sergeant Davis was groaning and I could see he had broken both legs and possible his right arm. Sergeant Tao was halfway in the door trying to scan the hall and watch us. I pushed Albert and the baby to Tao, “Take the back way and do not stop for anyone.”

I kept my left hand on Albert’s shoulder as Tao led the way to a small door down the hall. We went down and then along a narrow hallway before Tao glanced back and opened another door. The wide hallway we stepped into had two Dragons guarding a door a few steps away.

As we started across a movement in the corner of my eye had me yanking Albert behind me as I brought my pistol up. I grunted with the impact of several light rail bullets as I fired into the man that had stepped into the hall. The pain of broken ribs had me knelling, “Get him into the salle!”

The assassin had been hit by my bullets as well as the bullets from the two door guards, luckily he did not explode. Tao grabbed Albert and the guards moved to cover them as they rushed into the salle. I checked myself; my body screen had kept the bullets from penetrating and limited the force of the impact.

As I stood, I heard Senior Sergeant Henry reporting Albert safe with Molly. I winced and carefully moved towards the door, “Gold Dragon command this is Crimson Dragon. We need a sweep of the entire palace. The hall sensors are to be considered suspect and are not to be trusted. Deploy the portable explosive scanners and treat all servants as possible hostiles.”

“Dragon’s this is Black Dragon. We have locked down the palace and Bronze is starting their sweep now. Gold Dragon primary is green and secure. Crimson Dragon primary is now green and secure. You are to hold position until Bronze reaches you. Amber is preparing to move all primaries to the alternate and has secured the vault.”

I opened the door to see a dozen Dragons between Albert and the door. Molly was holding Samuel and Albert was in front of them. I was thinking about the data net breach and Tinker’s word about someone messing with the fuel feed.

I opened the comm, “This is Crimson Dragon, all back up vehicles are to be checked for explosives. Someone tampered with Crimson Dragon primaries vehicle.”

I moved to Albert and he looked at my chest. I glanced down to see the rips in my uniform. I nodded, “Broken ribs are better than dead. If we have to run you do not wait for me.”

I could see Molly’s grim look as I turned to Senior Sergeant Henry, “You take over on primary and let Sergeant Tao take Molly and Samuel. Have one of the others back them up on close support and everyone else takes position as blockers.”

He nodded and grinned, “At least this time it is not just us.”

“Crimson Dragon this is Amber Dragon. You were right, the back ups are compromised. We are putting Dragon Nest into operation.”

I looked at Henry and then at Albert and Molly, “It looks like your lunch will be rations in the vault.”

Albert shrugged, “At least you replaced those old ones with first class ones.”

There was a knock on the door and suddenly everyone was pointing a weapon at it. “Bronze is here!”

I nodded and moved forward to open the door while standing to the side. Twenty Dragons were standing on each side and nodded to me. I nodded to Senior Sergeant Peters and gestured to Henry, “Lets go.”

A group of ten Dragons led the way while another ten followed and Henry and the other Dragons surrounded Albert and Molly. We passed through the solid ten meter thick screw doors and the crowd of Dragons that protected it. In the common room of the vault the Dragons stopped and withdrew leaving me, Henry and Sergeant Tao.

Emperor Tenison was sitting with his wife Angelina. They stood up as we came in and after the other Dragons left, I gestured to Tao and Henry and they took up positions against the wall. I nodded to the Emperor, “If you will excuse me sir, I need to see the medic and then check security.”

Emperor Tenison was looking at my chest, “You were shot again?”

I gestured in a throw away manner, “The force screen helped but even it can not bleed all the force. I think I just broke or cracked a couple of ribs.”

He looked at me and then nodded, “Thank you Jason.”

I nodded to Albert, “If anything happens you do not move without Henry.”

He nodded and led Molly towards his father and mother. I walked to a door that would have been hard to find unless you knew it was there. As I walked into the other room Colonel Beal looked up and froze before gesturing to a civilian relaxing in a cushioned chair. Captain Paul stood and tucked his arm into a sling, “Does not look like I retired soon enough.”

I grinned and sat on the stood he had vacated and the Civilian leaned forward as I struggled out of my shirt and upper body screen. I tried to ignore the pain as the doctor tapped my ribs and then turned to pick up a small medical scanner. He grunted as he looked at it, “You are lucky. One broken, one cracked and two fractured.”

He looked up, “I suppose you will not accept pain meds?”

I shook my head and he nodded before beginning to tape my ribs. When he finished, I carefully pulled my upper body screen back on and then my torn shirt. I had to undo my gun belt to straighten the shirt and then I stood and walked across to Colonel Beal and Captain Paul.

The Colonel looked at me, “We are filtering every servant and guest out through scanners. Lieutenant Balistia has shut the palace data net down and we have a couple of techs going through it. As of right now, sixty percent of the palace has been cleared.”

I nodded, “Any scan data on who planted the explosions in the back up vehicles?”

He shook his head, “Someone used a jammer to override our scan and detection protocols.”

I thought about it and then grinned, “Have you tried looking at Tinker’s scans?”

He looked at me and Captain Paul snorted, “What does Tinker’s scan have to do with anything?”

I smiled, “He set it up off the grid to catch whoever it was that was tampering with his modified hover car.”

They looked at each other and I opened a comm channel, “Amber Dragon this is Crimson Dragon.”

“Go Crimson.”

“I have a top priority mission.”

“What do you need?”

I looked at the Colonel and Captain, “Gold Dragon and Dragon Leader need the Tinker to retrieve his scan data from the reserve vehicle park. Consider this a Dragon’s Tear.”

“Copy.”

I closed the comm and looked at the Colonel as I got a bad feeling, “Something stinks. I can see the data net breach causing the explosive scans from not sounding but someone let them in with weapons. Send Huntress to watch the vehicle park and the scan.”

He looked at Captain Paul as I turned towards the door. I stepped into the room that seemed tense. Everyone except Henry and Tao were around a table looking at little Samuel. I moved towards the far door and nodded to Senior Sergeant Jones on the other side, “I need a portable explosive scanner and the vault jammers need to be checked. In the mean time, deploy a portable and treat all backups as suspect.”

She raised her eyebrow, “The only one with access to the vault is Dragons.”

I just looked at her and she nodded, “Understood sir.”

She turned to another sergeant as he held out a small scan device. I took the scanner and headed back into the vault. I gestured to Henry and Tao as I walked towards the table. Everyone looked up as I approached. I held a hand up and started a slow walk around the table. I made it as far as the duplicate cushion chair for the Emperor.

The small scan display flashed red in warning and I grabbed the Emperor. Henry and Tao were moving at the same time and started moving everyone away from the table and towards the Dragon command room. I glanced back at Henry, “Do not broadcast anything.”

I pulled a quiet white faced emperor into the command room and the Colonel turned as Henry and Tao pulled everyone else in behind us. I gestured to the chairs along the back wall and pulled my pistol, “The Vault is compromised.”

They both looked back towards the door before the Colonel’s comm whispered to life. He nodded and his eyes narrowed, “Bring him in.”

He looked at me, “Captain Perry was trying to destroy the scan.”

I thought about it and nodded, “We need to truth scan everyone including Dragons.”

He nodded and I positioned Tao and Henry. I looked into his eyes, “Right now I assume command of the Dragon until you have been scanned. By Dragon’s Honor.”

He smiled and bowed slightly before opening his comm, “Attention all Dragons. Crimson Dragon has claimed Dragon’s Honor. You will report to him.”

I nodded and opened my comm, “All Dragons this is Crimson Dragon. You will hold positions until relieved. Tinker, Huntress, Shade, Dancer, come to command and bring a truth scan. Huntress bring your prey in.”

I opened the command net and switched channels, “Silver Dragon this is Crimson Dragon.”

“I have been listening Jason.”

I smiled, “We have a breach in Gold, the vault as been compromised. Huntress caught Captain Perry trying to destroy a scan. Secure the outer perimeter and send Sergeant Alex to Dragon command.”

“Let me know when things calm down.”

I closed the comm and looked at the Emperor, “Sir, I have assumed command of your guards until I can be sure you will be safe. The only people allowed in the vault are Dragons and the scan picked up explosives in your chair. A truth scan will clear each and every Dragon.”

He nodded, “How long before you know who else is involved?”

I shrugged, “My job right now is to keep you and your family safe.”

The door opened slowly and I turned and brought my pistol up. Tinker poked his head around the door, “Jason?”

I waved and he came in followed by a tall pale looking man and a stunning beautiful woman. Behind them was a lethal brunette who pushed a bound Captain Perry in with a mono knife against his throat. I nodded to Tinker, “hook the CO up.”

It took less then ten minutes to clear everyone in the room except Captain Perry. I opened my comm on all channels, “This is Crimson Dragon. The vault is compromised. At least one explosive has been found. Dragon Leader is back is in command.”

I looked at the Colonel and he nodded before starting to issue commands. After three days of investigations and truth scans as well as changing all palace scanners to stand alones the Emperor announced he was stepping down and Albert became the new Emperor. Overnight my workload quadrupled.

I had kept Huntress, Dancer and Shade investigating what had happened though. Captain Perry had been programmed which meant someone was still out there. I had Tinker take over checking every piece of equipment we used or thought we might use. The day of Albert’s confirmation before the baron’s court and the high lord’s council, I had the entire Gold Company out. I even wore two body screens and made both Albert and Molly do the same.

Little Samuel had both Bronze and Amber protecting him while he stayed with Empress Angelina. Black Company was on perimeter security and the complete Silver Dragon Regiment knelt while Albert began his oath. I had been feeling edgy all morning and it only got worse when we moved to stand before the gathered nobles.

I was supposed to be several steps away but because of how I felt, that was not what I did. Albert was accepting the nobles oaths of allegiance as I was scanning the area, when I felt the moment and lurched to throw myself in front of Albert. There were yells and screams as I was hit in the chest by a large rail bullet that felt like a Mag train.

Henry and Tinker yanked both Albert and Molly down as Tao did the same thing to Emperor Tenison. There was no way I was getting up and I was already tasting blood. I heard Henry and Tao as well as the dozen Dragons that were suddenly shielding them. There were shots and a couple of explosions before they were rushed away.

In the confusion Dancer knelt beside me, “hold on Jason.”

She applied a med scanner to my throat as two other Dragons appeared, “Their away and safe.”

I relaxed and croaked, “Get me out of here.”

I was lifted and carried towards a waiting hover car. That night I carefully walked into Albert’s new residence with Colonel Beal’s report of the attack. He glanced up from reading a report with Samuel against his chest. Molly was talking with Angelina and Tenison. I glanced at Senior Sergeant Jones and Lieutenant Franks, the first section leader.

Albert cleared his throat, “Should you be walking?”

I sat down very carefully, “Probably not. One of the ribs punctured a lung but Doc has everything set now. I just received Colonel Beal’s debrief.”

Everyone was quiet as I looked at Albert, “It looks like another programmed zombie was the trigger man. Huntress has a couple of leads she is following with Shade.”

Albert started to slam his fist on the arm of his chair and remembered Samuel. He glared, “We can not even find out why until we know the who.”

I nodded, “And, there are going to be more attempts.”

Albert looked around the room as Lieutenant Franks cleared his throat, “We can just stay here in the palace.”

I shook my head, “We can not…”

Albert was shaking his head with me. I looked at Molly, “Molly and Samuel will be staying here though.”

She growled and Tenison actually grinned, “Angelina and I can baby sit while she takes her frustrations out in the salle.”

Jones groaned and everyone laughed. I sighed, “As of this morning, I have the security on full alert. Silver is handling all perimeter and advance checks. Amber is supporting Gold. Bronze and Black are maintaining inner palace security manually.”

I looked at Albert, “We need to start filling Crimson.”

He shook his head, “No. Father and I both agree on that.”

I nodded, “Okay, then reactivate Ivory.”

He blinked and then grinned, “That, we can do.”

We talked a little before I left. The next afternoon I was standing to Albert’s right with Henry as his primary on the left. Albert was talking before several high nobles and rich merchants. I was watching the faces and had another bad feeling. Albert was wearing two body screens like yesterday.

I was looking straight at Duke Winston as he glanced back with a satisfied look and turned to an alcove at the side of the hall. I followed his look, my pistol coming up on its own as a rich merchant extended a portable launcher. “WEAPON!”

My Dragons were already moving Albert, but that launcher could kill him easily. My first shot went through the launcher and the second went through the merchants shoulder, “Take him alive!”

As the crowd scrambled to get out of the way, I shot him through the upper chest on his other shoulder. I did not even bother trying to move since my ribs could not take it. Several Dragons hit the merchant as they took him down hard. I listened to Henry coordinating Albert’s convoy back to the palace. Huntress stepped beside me, “Good catch.”

I nodded and turned to face away from the crowd as I holstered my pistol, “I want you to check out Duke Winston. Have Shade help you.”

She nodded and walked away as lieutenant Franks stopped beside me, “Progammed.”

I nodded and turned to slowly walk off the stage, “I need to speak to Albert. Have Alex probe the merchant for anything he can get.”

Franks looked towards the crowd of Dragons around the merchant, “We will get him to Dragon country as…”

I shook my head, “Just get him into a room nearby and let Doc and Alex go to work. Secure it Bill, we need to know what he can tell us and we need it now.”

My ride back to the palace was quiet as I thought about the implication of Duke Winston. I was making my slow way to Albert’s rooms when Huntress called. When I walked into the residence I took one look at Henry, Tao and Top Sergeant Choi, “Leave. I need to speak privately with Albert.”

They glanced at each other but I had already pulled my pistol and spun it butt forward. I pulled my mono knife and reversed it as well. When they were gone and it was just Albert and me, I walked to the mantle where he kept a small bottle of Rainbow Brandy, “It is Duke Winston.”

Albert hissed and walked over to stand beside me, “I can not afford to accuse my cousin. He is powerful enough to tear the nobles in half and start a civil war.”

I nodded, “I will take care of it.”

I turned to walk out and Albert stopped me, “Be careful Jason.”

I was silent as I found Tinker and slipped out of the Palace. The plans Tinker gave me were more than enough. I took pain blockers and slipped into Duke Winston’s estate through a little known servants door. I waited a long time in a hall closet and finally moved through the darkened manor.

It took a couple of brief moments to bypass the bedroom alarms and then I walked to the bed. The gentle puff of gas from the bulb in my hand caused him to gasp and begin to spasm. I slipped out quietly and made my way out of the manor and the estate…







Chapter seven

Alpha Central

I led Michelle across the huge pad and into a station door. An elevator left us on the command level and I led Michelle to the control room door. When I stepped into the large control room everyone was looking at me. Two angry Marines stood beside the door and their hands dropped to the pistols they wore.

I looked at them, “I am Colonel Jason Drake. Those sting ships were not using transponders and locked us before firing. I doubt they were Marine sting ships and if you do not remove your hands from those weapons I will kill you.”

They looked at each other and their hands moved away from their weapons. I nodded, “Find the dispatcher that brought me down and detain him. Notify the Fleet Adjutant that he is to be charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit treason. He is to be held in close confinement until Dragon Intel can arrive and question him.”

They nodded and started moving towards the dispatcher’s desk as I led Michelle towards the far doors and walked through them. General White looked up and his face went red, “You were to be arrested!”

I smiled and opened my comm, “Peaches, connect to the system AI and have Dragon’s Claw relayed to every base.”

“Accessing now Jason.”

I shut the comm off, “General White you are an incompetent ass. By my authority as Crimson Dragon you are relieved. Report to the Fleet Adjutant for assignment to Sigma.”

His mouth had dropped open from the moment I had told Peaches to have Dragon Claw relayed. I turned and stopped with the door open, “Colonel Parker is to be notified to replace you.”

I walked out with Michelle on my heels. I opened my comm again, “Peaches, notify system command that Crimson Dragon is in system and may be relieving officers.”

I saw the two Marines across the room securing a struggling rating. I led Michelle back to the ship and grinned at the four Marines standing at parade rest at the edge of the pad. I stopped in front of them, “How can I help you Marines?”

A Lance Corporal cleared his throat, “Top Sergeant Glendal and Top Sergeant Sampson ordered us to wait for you to return.”

I nodded, “And did those fine gentlemen tell you who I was?”

The corporal shook his head, “No sir, but Major Van Dyke said if a Dragon orders us to stand here we damn well stand here until relieved.”

I looked at each of them, “There is a change coming gentlemen. It is time for the Marines on this ball of mud to shine. You pass it along, Crimson Dragon is here and the shit is about to get deep.”

They straightened and snapped to attention, “Sir!”

I nodded to the station, “Dismissed.”

I spun and led Michelle into the ship. She was laughing as I closed the hatch. I smiled as I headed up to the command deck, “You think that was funny?”

She grinned at me, “As a matter of fact I do.”

I shook my head and opened the door. Everyone was relaxing except Tinker. He was scowling, “Do you know what that asshole wanted to do?”

I nodded, “I relieved him and told him to report for reassignment to Sigma.”

George, Tinker and Brit howled with laughter as I slid into my seat. Michelle was looking at Silvia as she hurried to take her own seat, “What is so funny?”

Brit snickered, “Sigma is a frozen wasteland with a tiny station on the south pole. The average temperature is around minus two hundred.”

Michelle grinned as Silvia laughed. I finished my checks and opened the comm, “Beta Seven control this is Cowboy’s Dream. We are lifting for transit to Alpha Central on an Imperial warrant.”

“Copy Cowboy’s Dream, traffic is clear for a least time flight.”

I glanced at Michelle, “It is your ship Kitten.”

She grinned at me and Tinker laughed, “Bringing the countermeasures to standby and bringing up the shield after we lift.”

I glanced back, “Do not jinks us Tinker.”

He grinned, “Man the caltrop boss.”

I smiled as I watched Michelle flick through her readout and begin to lift the ship on anti gravs. The power shifted on my readout as Silvia brought all the plants into the power grid. We turned and Michelle touched the main engines and we started gaining speed. I shifted the displays and focused on irregular signs.

George cleared his throat, “Marine Intel dropped your EQ bag and a note from Molly. There was a Dragon code telling us Silver Griffin’s were insystem and headed in on a fast packet ship.”

The sound of his voice made me glance back, “and?”

He looked into my eyes, “Molly sent a note in a burn slip from a courier doing a private speed run.”

I nodded and turned back to the display as Michelle reached ten thousand feet and opened the comm, “Alpha Central this is Cowboy’s Dream.”

“Go ahead Cowboy’s dream.”

Michelle changed a setting and changed course, “Alpha Central this is Cowboy’s Dream on approach at ten thousand bearing zero nine zero.”

“Cowboy’s Dream this is a military base and access is restricted. Redirect to Beta Seven.”

I opened the comm, “Alpha Central, check your Imperial Warrant list.”

There was a pause before, “Copy Cowboy’s Dream, maintain course and speed.”

I glanced at George, “Worried Molly and I are planning to run off with the silverware?”

Tinker snorted and everyone else was quiet. George half nodded, “Something like that.”

I thought about it and sighed, “Fair enough.”

I looked back, “This is something private, it does not leave this ship. It is about Constance. Molly and I planned for her growth into a woman. Albert can not officially acknowledge Constance learning about sex or any private liaisons she may have.”

“Cowboy’s Dream, descend to five thousand.”

Michelle absently slowed, “Thank you Alpha Central, descending to five thousand now.”

I adjusted my scans, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason?”

I smiled at Michelle as she started descending, “Can you access the burn slip?”

“Give me a second.”

“It is encrypted.”

I grinned, “Try, Drake as the key.”

“It is unfolding.”

“Jason, we used your old room since it was as close to a vault as we could get. Sorry, but I gave Constance some of your Rainbow Brandy. She said she forgives you by the way, of course she said that after she drank half the bottle. Jennifer and I sat down with her and made a few plans. She knows to talk to Jennifer to arrange any private time with her… boyfriends. I know how embarrassing this is for you but you have always been her confidant and friend. Hopefully we can arrange to come out for a visit and she can talk to you herself. Well, I need to get this off on a courier to catch up with your EQ bag. Watch yourself.”

I sighed and relaxed, I checked the scan again in the silence. Michelle opened the comm, “Alpha Central we are passing the outer marker.”

“Copy Cowboy’s Dream, slow and drop to one thousand.”

An irregularity caught my attention and I brought the scans to active and locked onto the irregularity. “Passive targeting scan, change countermeasures Tinker.”

When it flashed a missile lock warning, I fired, “Missile lock!”

Tinker cussed, “their using our countermeasures to lock us!”

I switched targeting to a new irregularity as Michelle opened the comm, “Alpha Central, we are being targeted.”

Michelle opened the comm again, “Passing the inner marker.”

I sat back as six Marine ready sting ships lifted ahead of us and went active as they sped towards us on max acceleration. “Cowboy’s Dream this is Marine Dog one. Maintain landing profile, we will take care of the natives.”

I smiled and opened my comm, “Watch your six Marine.”

I continued to watch my display as Michelle slowed and opened her comm, “Alpha Central this is Cowboy’s Dream. Do you have an insystem pad?”

“Take pad one Cowboy’s Dream.”

I changed the magazine for the caltrop as Michelle turned the ship and slowed to a crawl, her hands danced over the readout and fed more power to the anti gravs. As we lowered towards the pad she glanced at Tinker, “Drop the shield.”

She absently lowered the legs just before we began to settle onto the pad. She moved through the shut down sequence smoothly and I shut my readout down before turning to face the rear. “Well?”

Silvia was grinning and Tinker nodded, “It was only a station departure and one short atmosphere flight but I will sign off on a class three.”

I looked at George and he smiled, “You did great Kitten. I will cosign your ticket.”

Brit nodded, “I am not a pilot Kitten but you did good.”

Michelle was blushing and had a radiant smile. I release my seat and stood, “Okay. Tinker, you and Silvia have two days to find some engineer crews and place four more plants in cargo bay three. Tie them into the power grid. George, you and Brit find some cargo personal quarters and lock them down in the cargo bays. Make sure you get two reox generators and two sanitation units. Add a couple of extra water tanks and I guess you can look for class one rations, probable for seventy. I will need the charts beyond the belt out to Gamma Station.”

I looked at Michelle, “You might want to get a change of clothes Kitten.”

She grinned and Silvia and Brit both laughed as I headed towards my quarters. I stopped at the door and looked at Tinker, “See if you can, talk Dancer and Huntress into joining our party.”

Tinker grinned, “You know they are going to give you hell.”

I grinned, “I know, they are going to try to temp Kitten into bed too.”

Tinker and George laughed and Michelle blushed as she opened her door. I looked at the large duffle on my bed and pulled a smaller bag from a storage cabinet. It only took a minute to sort through what I needed. I stepped back out to see Michelle waiting. When we climbed out of the ship, a small group of what looked like senior engineers were talking to Tinker and Silvia at the edge of the pad.

I led Michelle across the huge pad to Tinker, “give Marine Intel a buz and a brief on our… Dragon Hunters.”

Tinker nodded and I continued to a base door with a young Marine guarding it. He came to parade rest with his assault rifle across his chest, “This is a restricted area sir.”

I checked his uniform and nodded at the neat precise fit, “Input ID Crimson Dragon, Private.”

He blinked and then turned to the pad on the wall. When he looked back it was with a relaxed look, “Thank you sir.”

I nodded, “Stay alert Marine.”

I led a smiling Michelle in and she cleared her throat, “Normally I go in the Cadet wing not the entrance to Marine country.”

I smiled as I led her deeper into the Marines assigned areas. I was watching the Marine emblems and turned in at the recon one. I headed straight for the company showers and Michelle only hesitated before followed me in. I grinned at her, “We will have a private shower next time.”

I set my bag on the bench and began undressing. Michelle was blushing but she undressed and finally stood up straight, “Well?”

I smiled, “You are as beautiful as a dream.”

She grinned and stepped close to caress my chest and then the scars that marred it, “So are you.”

I smiled and grabbed the belt with my Mark V and mono knife. I picked up the small shower bag and headed into the shower. Michelle followed me to a corner where I hung the big pistol on a nearby shower head. I turned the showers on and pulled Michelle under the warm water. Michelle almost purred as I held her and softly caressed her bare back.

We had just finished shampooing our hair when the small group of Marines came in. I shifted closer to the pistol and then relaxed as a Marine came into the showers. He was a little older and almost shouted Senior Sergeant. The rest of them came in and just by the way they moved I knew they were new soldiers or chicks as older soldiers called them.

Michelle was red faced and I was going to ignore them when a loud belligerent one walked towards me, “These are Marine showers civy.”

I glanced from him to the sergeant, “Do not push it chick.”

He growled and reached for my shoulder, “No civy is going…”

I shifted and half turned. My left arm came up inside his and wrapped around before locking. I spun and released him, sliding in as he slammed into the wall. My left hand wrapped around the back of his neck as he staggered back. I slammed him back into the wall and looked at the other Marines as they started moving towards us, “Freeze!”

I slid to his other shoulder, “I was doing this when you were playing in a sand box chick. You fuck with me again and I will teach you all about pain.”

The Senior Sergeant cleared his throat, “Take your showers chicks, you do not have all morning.”

They glared at me as I released the Marine I held, but moved to the far end of the showers. I turned back to a white faced Michelle. I smiled and reached out to gently wash her and after a few moments she calmed down. I finished and let Michelle wash me before we headed out to our bags.

The Marines had already finished and were half dressed as we toweled off. Michelle started to get dressed and I reached in the bag for the soft but tuff under clothing and then the body screen. The Marines had been close to leaving. When they saw the body screen they stopped what they were doing to look at me.

My pants and supple boots were next and then I unrolled the shirt and frowned as two ribbons fell out, “He knows I do not like wearing these.”

The front of the shirt held rows of small medals and ribbons and I sighed as Michelle looked around me, “He probable meant it as a message.”

I grumped as I slipped it on, “I know that Kitten. It is his way of telling me… never mind Kitten.”

I put the two ribbons on and adjusted the one in the hallow of my throat before carefully placing the second in the center of my chest. I glanced at the shocked faces of the Marines and they snapped to attention. I put my weapon belt on and fastened the legs straps before picking up my beret, “Ready Kitten?”

She smiled, “Waiting for you.”

I slipped on the beret and grabbed the bag, “Carry on Marines.”

It was worse then I remembered, they were not just saluting they were falling all over themselves to come to attention even while walking. I walked into the huge company bay and smiled as I headed straight for first platoon standing in formation. As soon as I walked up they locked to attention and the lieutenant in front turned to see who it was.

Her eyes widen and then she leaped forward and embraced me, “Jason!”

I hugged her and glanced back to see Michelle frowning, “We are on display here George.”

She released me and grinned, “Tuff.”

She glanced at Michelle and then turned to her platoon, “Stand easy!”

She grinned, “Marines, this flashy piece of Dragon is my cousin. I call him Jason, you will address him as sir. If you are smart enough to look, you will see several things different about his uniform. Ignore the Imperial Cross and the Dragon’s Heart. Someone give me an example that might make a chick think it was fake.”

A fair skinned corporal leaned forward, “The flash! It has two borders and one is red.”

I shook my head, “I really do not have time George.”

She glanced at me and raised her eyebrow. I looked around, “Michelle is my primary and we have Indians hunting Dragons.”

She straightened, “What do you need?”

I looked at her platoon, “Your Company. If you would comm your Company Commander and have him join us.”

I grinned as I looked at the corporal that mentioned my flash and then I looked at the whole platoon. “While we wait... I am Jason Drake, Colonel Jason Drake. As for my flash… There are only three Dragons alive authorized to wear Crimson on their flash. What else?”

One Marine in second squad cleared her throat, “The color of your drop strips. One is right but the others…”

I smiled as my eyes flicked around the area, “The drop stripes of Dragons differ depending on the company we drop in or engage an enemy in.”

“But…”

I grinned, “The first stripe was as a chick in what was supposed to be a show of force. The blood red one was my first engagement in Crimson Company. As you know drop strips are displayed only by enlisted unless the officer first served as enlisted. The rest differ slightly because I was directed by Emperor Tenison to accept a field commission and became an officer. I dropped or engage with both gold and silver regiments after that, in many companies.”

A short private in first squad leaned forward, “The color on the Dragon’s Heart ribbon is wrong.”

I touched the ribbon in question, turning as a Captain and Lieutenant approached, “The blue speckled ribbon is called Dragon’s Honor. I am a living holder of the Dragon’s Honor which means at some point I took command of the Dragon regiments without being the commander.”

The Captain stopped and George saluted him, “Sir, this is Colonel Drake.”

She glanced at me, “Jason, this is Captain Olivia.”

I smiled, “I have a mission for Recon, Captain. First, I need a squad for a couple of days doing close support. Second, I need you to deploy your Company to protect Duke Grey and his family. This is now a Dragon priority. This system is about to get crowded. You and your Company will protect the Duke until relieved by Silver Dragons. I will be relieving some of the senior officers in this system as a precaution. You are now an independent command until relieved and report only to me. Any questions?”

He had been listening closely, “If you want us, then you expect trouble.”

I nodded and glanced at Michelle, “The heir has had three covert attempts made and since she has been with me there have been several straight out attacks. Do not under estimate them. On our approach to Saras we had three warships make an attempt.”

He nodded, “Support?”

I thought about it, “Take it with you and anyone you even think is acting wrong you truth scan.”

He nodded and looked at the Lieutenant that had come with him, “Put the Company on alert. Tell the Top Sergeant we need immediate supplies for thirty days including our sting ships out of storage. We will need transport for the rest of the Company as well support staff. I will brief the platoon leaders in ten.”

He looked at George, “Give him one of your squads and then have your people start packing.”

He nodded to me and turned to walk calmly toward the Company CQ. I embraced George, “You be careful, trust your people and suspect everyone else.”

I let her go and looked at her platoon, “Which is your best.”

George grinned, “Third squad fall out and go with Jason.”

I nodded, “Watch your backs Marines and do not take any shit.”

I nodded to George and looked at the Junior Sergeant leading third squad, “Right now I just need your alpha team but everyone needs their weapons. Do not worry about packs, just combat gear. Have them stand to outside the Fleet Commanders office in five.”

I turned a smile on Michelle before looking back at George, “By the way. Kitten here has told me that I am going to marry her.”

My cousin looked at me and then at a blushing Michelle with a grin, “Good for her. Do not take any guff Kitten.”

I led Michelle away and down a busy corridor. I almost decided to use an express elevator but moved past it to a freight slide instead. Michelle moved close, “She looked… competent.”

I laughed, “She does not know it but if Albert knows about her field promotion she is being looked at for recruitment into the Dragons.”

Michelle grinned, “She did not look like she was in awe of you.”

I grinned as I steered her off the slide, “That is because she lived in base housing on Prime and saw me enough to know me as well as Molly and her children.”

I turned into the wide hallway heading to the Fleet command center. There were two Petty Officers with sidearms beside the door as we approached. They actually looked at each other and stepped out to stop me. “This is a restricted area, Fleet personal only.”

I looked at both of them, “Do you recognize my uniform Petty Officers?”

They looked at each other and I shook my head, “I am Colonel Drake of the Imperial Dragons.”

Their expression was humorous and Michelle stifled a laugh from behind me. I sighed, “Input ID Crimson Dragon.”

The older looking of the two turned to put it in and blinked, “You are cleared to go in sir.”

I nodded as the other Petty Officer opened the door. We walked in to organized chaos. I looked around and headed around to a wood paneled corner. A Senior Chief Petty officer sat at a desk beside a wood panel door. I did not even pause as I headed towards the door. He stood at my approach, “Colonel Drake?”

I looked at him surprised, “You know me Senior Chief?”

He grinned, “I was on your mother’s ship for a year as an auxiliary.”

I smiled, “How long have you been stuck on the ground?”

He grimaced, “To long sir.”

I nodded to the door, “What do you think of Admiral Thomas?”

He looked at the door, “He is good. He has been going crazy for the last couple of months. Someone has been diverting supplies and your reports of unregistered warships has him ready to shoot someone.”

I smiled and glanced at Michelle, “Senior Chief this is Ms Grey.”

He grinned, “I know. Scuttlebutt says she is going to marry you.”

I shook my head as Michelle laughed. “You must have a bug on my ship.”

He laughed, “You know how scuttlebutt works sir.”

He glanced at the door, “If you are looking for termites look a little lower. Admiral Jones is a good reminder. A lot of the officers Fleet had doubts about but passed truth scans got sent here.”

My eyes narrowed as I thought of the recent system revolt by fleet officers, “Scandia?”

He nodded, “We are also getting a lot of suddenly blank areas in the system scans.”

I nodded and looked at Michelle before looking at the Senior Chief and setting my bag down, “Notify your door sentries that a recon fire team will be arriving and is to stand by and post themselves outside the doors. Keep an eye on my bag would you?”

He nodded and reached for the secure comm, “I am on it sir.”

I reached out and opened the door into Admiral Thomas’s office and walked in. He looked up from reports on his desk, “Finished getting all the gossip from the Senior Chief, Dragon?”

I smiled, “Including the scuttlebutt about Ms Grey and myself.”

He grinned and waved to chairs, “I have already had fleet officers screaming from Asteria and General White from Beta Seven.”

He sat down and I waited for Michelle to sit. I pulled out two small scan devices. One I slid across the desk and the other I activated. I watched the small screen and finally nodded to myself before putting it away. I looked at the Admiral as he frowned at the tiny truth scan, “You dragons did not believe me last time.”

I smiled again as I sat, “If we were the ones that had doubts, you would be dead or retired.”

He looked at me and I shrugged, “Fleet command is the one that made those decisions not the Emperors guards. The ones we caught, you know what we did to them. Now, tell me you are still loyal to the emperor and the empire.”

He smiled and placed his thumb on the small screen and swore his imperial oath. I nodded and relaxed, “The Silver Dragons will be here within two weeks. One platoon will be here in less then a day. I just alerted Recon to protect the Duke and his family until Silver relieves them. I will bring this system under control one way or another. Now, under my orders, all officers from commander up are to be relieved and truth scanned in your presence. If any refuse or refuse to report, they will be place under close arrest.”

I opened my comm, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason.”

I looked at the admiral, “Begin Dragon Scales.”

“Copy. Fleet AI is Davey and I have already locked Dragon Scales into his active memory.”

I closed my comm and cleared my throat, “Davey?”

The voice that came out of the room speakers was a deep male voice. “Yes Dragon?”

I kept looking at the Admiral, “Admiral Thomas is clear to add but not remove personal under Dragon Scales.”

“Copy Dragon.”

There was the sound of firing and I came to my feet. I spun towards the door with my pistol already in my hand. I was just coming through the door when the Marine Dragon channel opened, “Crimson Dragon this is Marine recon three one.”

I started for the far door with Michelle behind me, “Go.”

“We have a problem, one down with what looks like an antimatter warhead that has been over wired.”

I shoved several people out of my way, “Do not touch anything!”

I changed comm channels, “Tinker!”

It was a moment before he responded, “Yeah boss.”

I opened the hall door and scanned the scene before stepping out. “I need George with his demo tools. I am outside Fleet Command with a rigged antimatter warhead.”

There was only a slight pause, “On his way Jason.”

I glanced back, “Dragon rules Tinker. Put Brit on his wing.”

“Copy.”

I glanced at Michelle and shook my head, “If you keep tagging along into danger you need a weapon.”

She grinned, “I have you.”

I smiled as I kept scanning and moved down the hall. The corporal and one other marine were further down the hall while the other three stood by the doorway. I stopped next to the corporal and looked down at the body of a service tech. I looked at the warhead spilled out of a case beside him.

I nodded to the corporal, “Good job. I have a Dragon coming to take a look and disarm it.”

She nodded and looked at Michelle as she knelt to pick up a new Mark VII. I smiled, “You might as well take the holster and put it on.”

Michelle nodded and did as I asked. When she stood up, I led her back towards the Fleet Command door. The two petty officers were white faced as they opened the door. There was a small crowd around the doorway. I broke it up before crossing to Admiral Thomas who was talking to another Admiral.

He glanced at me, “This is Admiral George. I heard his oath under truth scan. He is the system Adjutant. Your Admiral Jones tried to escape and was shot.”

I looked at Admiral George, “Dead?”

He shook his head, “He was shot through the shoulder. I had him put in close confinement.”

I looked at the door, “Davey?”

“Yes Dragon.”

I looked at Admiral Thomas, “Intruders are in the station begin constant explosive and intruder scans.”

“Copy.”

I checked around us and opened my comm, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason.”

“Check Silver’s comm to see how far out the Silver Griffin’s are.”

“Copy”

The Marine dragon channel clicked open, “Crimson Dragon this is marine recon three one.”

I smiled, “Go recon three one.”

“We have a dragon here, code named Boomer.”

I nodded, “Stay out of his way and do what he tells you.”

“Copy.”

There was a throat clearing sound and I shook my head as Michelle grinned. “Jason?”

“How far out Peaches?”

“Lt Carr said ten hours.”

I nodded and looked at Michelle, “Priority Crimson Dragon Three. One squad is to relieve the recon company protecting the Duke and his family. One squad is to stay active in orbit for quick response. The other three squads are to split up and start checks of Dragon Scales. I need the lunar base checked for unregistered warships in their database.”

“Copy.”

I nodded to Michelle as I closed my comm and then looked at Admiral Thomas, “Start checking your senior officers and also senior noncoms. Start your checks on planet and then work your way out.”

He nodded and looked at Admiral George, “I will need a security detail.”

I stretched and turned to Admiral Thomas’s office and my bag. I led Michelle to the door after grabbing my bag and opened it to see the team of marines near the door. Down the hall was George and Brit. Brit smiled as we came out and whispered something to George. He looked towards me and grinned and I knew he had already disarmed the warhead.

I led Michelle out and George stood, “Standard warhead. It was over wired but no remote detonator or timer.”

I nodded, “He must have planned to just shoot it then.”

George nodded and laughed before covering his mouth. I frowned, I knew he thought the formal uniform shirt was hilarious, “Albert sent it. You know how he likes to rub my nose in the past.”

Brit was grinning and George tried to look away so he would not laugh. I looked back at Michelle and she was grinning too. I shook my head, “Alright, I have the base AI doing random scans and checks. Put the Marines on alert and have them report through Brit if they find anything. I am going to get a little sleep before the Griffin’s get here. I will be in my quarters in dragon country.”

George grinned again, “Enjoy your suite.”

I shook my head as I gestured to the marines, “An office, bathroom and sleeping room is not a suite.”

I nodded to the corporal, “Two men in front, the rest to the rear. We are going to Dragon country.”

He nodded and put three men behind us and took point with a young looking private. He was a smart one and led the way using stairs and back hallways. Dragon country was always set up in the middle of the marine country. We stopped at the double doors edged with gold and silver. I moved forward and opened the doors with Michelle close behind me.

The voice of the AI followed the appearance of a full body holograph. It looked like an armed Dragon pointing a rifle at me. “This is a restricted area!”

I smiled, “I am Colonel Jason Drake. Code name Crimson Dragon. Confirm and go active on Dragon security.”

There was a small flash of red light and the holo was gone. “Welcome Jason. I am Samantha, starting full Dragon security protocols now.”

I nodded and gestured to Michelle, “This is my primary Michelle Grey. She is to be given full access to my quarters. The five marines with me are to be granted guard status as well as their relief when they arrive. The corporal will verify the relieving team.”

I glanced back to see him nod and looked down the empty hall to see lights coming on. A doorway on the left lit up, “I have brought the guard quarters on line.”

I nodded and started walking as I looked back, “use the monitors in the guard room. I have been up awhile and plan to get some sleep.”

I led Michelle down the hall; the doors all had silver edges framing them. We came into a huge open area with three hallways leading away. Inside the huge area were half silver edged doors and half gold. There was a single large double door that was edged in crimson and I headed for it.

I pushed one side open and turned right to open a door with my name on it. Michelle had followed along quietly and only spoke after my door was closed. “This is a little intimidating.”

I grinned as I tossed my bag on the wooden desk and headed towards the door to the right. Michelle stretched when she saw the bed and then grinned, “It is nice and wide…”

I looked at her quickly and shook my head, “Not yet Kitten.”

She sighed, “Are you going to make me beg?”

I grinned, “You will live. Wait until I am sure we have time and you will be safe if I get… distracted.”

She grinned, “Well, I do plan to try to distract you.”

I smiled and pulled her against me, “I know you do Kitten.”

She laughed and pushed me back, “Take your precautions and let me get undressed.”

I grinned and went back to my desk. The top flickered to life quickly and I scanned several items before putting it on standby. I went back to the bed and took my weapons belt off and then my shirt. I put my belt on the small stand beside the bed before removing my boots. I slid under the covers and next to Michelle with a sigh.

She laughed as she put a leg over mine and snuggled against me with her head on my chest. For the first time in my career as a bodyguard I fell asleep and slept soundly. I snapped awake to the hiss of the door opening. I snatched my pistol from the holster desperately and pointed it at the shadowy figure as it touched the dim light panel.

The room brightened slightly and I grinned at the stunningly beautiful women in the doorway, “How is ranch life?”

Huntress laughed softly as she crossed to sit on the edge of the bed. Dancer followed and put her hands on her mates shoulders, “Relaxing. Your daughter is getting to be a handful though.”

I glanced at Michelle as she shifted at that, “Awake Kitten?”

She hesitated and then lifted her head, “Yes.”

I could tell she felt hurt and guessed why. I gestured to the two women, “These two are retired dragons. Their mates but be careful. They are not above talking you into bed with them.”

I could see them raising their eyebrows and shook my head slightly, “They asked me to give them a child when they decided to retired. Well, provide the sperm. I was not brave enough to try doing it the old fashion way.”

Huntress and Dancer both grinned and Dancer held her hand out to Michelle, “It is about time a real woman captured him, I am Dancer.”

Michelle was grinning as she took Dancer’s hand. She was shocked when she was suddenly pulled over me and Dancer embraced her to give her a deep kiss. I shook my head as Michelle gasped and then laughed, “Well, that is better than a handshake.”

Dancer and Huntress laughed and Huntress came around and bent to kiss Michelle. I waited and she let a breathless Michelle go. I reached out to touch Huntress on the hand, “Thanks for coming.”

She grinned, “What else is there to do on this mud ball?”

Dancer nodded and I looked at her and shook my head, “I know better. Samantha is your life and I am putting you in danger.”

I sat up and looked at Michelle before looking back at them, “What I need is someone to snoop into everyone around Duke Grey. Their trying to break away and have made it plain Kitten needs to be out of their picture. They have not done anything to the Duke or any of the family. They may be waiting until Kitten is out of the way but do not bet on it. Someone in or near the Duke’s family is giving the orders. They have decided that Dragons are fair game so do not get cocky.”

Huntress nodded, “Got it boss.”

Dancer smiled, “a favor for a favor?”

I grinned, “another girl?”

They laughed and seemed to move closer to each other. Huntress touched Michelle’s hand, “a boy?”

They looked at me and I turned to look into Michelle’s face. She smiled, “Do I get to extract the sample?”

Huntress and Dancer both laughed and I shook my head. I gestured to the door, “Go. I have a company of Marine Recons guarding the Duke right now.”

Huntress nodded and Dancer pulled her out before closing the door. I slid out of bed and pulled Michelle with me. I grabbed my weapons belt and headed out of the room. I thumbed the lock on my outer door and pulled a change out of the bag before heading towards my private shower. Michelle followed along grinning, “Now this is a private shower.”

I grinned, “I do not know why they made them this big either.”

After we finished and were dressed, I checked the team of Marines and we headed out. I checked with Peaches and Davey while we ate in a Marine mess hall. We had just finished when a tall elegant woman in a Dragon uniform walked in and looked around. I smiled and waited while she crossed the room in silence. She grinned, “Hey boss.”

I nodded to Michelle, “This is Michelle Grey.”

She grinned again and nodded, “I know. Molly sent me a brief.”

I shook my head and glanced at Michelle, “Kitten this is Lieutenant Carr, codename Sharpshooter.”

Michelle smiled and nodded and I looked at Carr, “You got my message from Peaches?”

She nodded and did not look happy, “Minus the four ships you reported we have two more destroyers, three cruisers and maybe even a battleship.”

I shook my head, “How the hell did someone get a battleship?”

She shrugged, “a system scan did not bring them up so they are ghosting.”

I nodded, “Keep the Duke and his family safe. That is your primary mission. Admiral Thomas checks out and is running his own truth scans. The fleet AI is called Davey and is monitoring for intruders. I am heading out to Gamma station to meet Albert and Molly. Huntress and Dancer are loose and on the hunt. Watch your back, someone is hunting dragons.”

She grinned a feral grin, “We may not be Gold but we are Silver Griffin’s.”

I grinned back, “Just watch your back.”

She nodded and I gestured to the sergeant and grabbed my bag, “Pad one sergeant.”

He nodded and made a gesture before taking point. We barely made the common passages before something triggered my senses. I touched my pistol, “On your toes!”

They came out of the offices and rooms along the passage. One minute we were walking and the next we were under fire. I shot two men as I pushed Michelle behind me. “Clear the room on the right flank!”

The six marines were kneeling as they returned fire and one absently shifted and fire a shaped shrapnel round through the door. Michelle had her pistol out as I pulled her towards and through the doorway that should have been clear. I stepped through the door and reactions took over as I shot the three men that appeared. I pulled Michelle into the room, “Clear!”

The Marines rushed in but two were down in the hall. I knew better then to stay in the room and moved to the back. I kicked a body out of my way and then kicked the access panel for the service tunnels. It took a couple more kicks and then I pulled the broken panel out. I used a shadow remote mirror from my sleeve to check inside the tunnel as I opened my comm.

I used the dragon override freq, “This is Crimson dragon. We are being attacked in Marine country by the common corridor through supply and logistics. I am taking the service tunnel heading towards the pads. Tinker, go to alert status, Sharpshooter, get clear and secure the Duke.”

I nodded to the sergeant, “One in front and the rest behind.”

He nodded and gestured to a corporal. She spun and crossed quickly to duck into the tunnel and turned left, I waited a few seconds and then followed with Michelle behind me. The rest of the marines were quick to follow. I signaled to the corporal at the first intersection and she nodded before crossing.

At the next she glanced back and I signaled for a turn. It was a longer section of tunnel before we came to another intersection. At this one we turned and found ourselves at the back of a panel. The corporal did not pause and kicked the panel out. She rolled out and then a moment later she signaled for me to follow.

The room was not that big and we filled it when the rest of the team came into it. I used the shadow remote mirror as she cracked the door. I checked both ways before nodding to the corporal and she stepped out. The sergeant followed and they faced away from each other. I stepped out with Michelle and then the rest of the Marines.

I gestured and the corporal nodded before taking point. I glanced at the sergeant, “Any word on your two that went down?”

He nodded, “Wounded. As soon as we went into the room whoever it was broke contact.”

I frowned and keyed my comm, “Tinker?”

The response was instant, “go boss.”

I looked at Michelle as we walked towards the pads, “They broke contact to easily. Move to another pad.”

“Copy, moving to pad five.”

I kept checking around us, “Boomer?”

“Skipper?”

The corporal stopped at a corner and I touched her shoulder, “Pad five.”

I looked back, “Did you check everything coming into the ship?”

There was a pause, “Yes, but we had a lot of people working inside the ship.”

I shook my head, “Get Brit to help and start running an explosive scan.”

“I am on it.”

I nodded to the corporal and she slipped around the corner. The sergeant moved up, “Pad five?”

I nodded and started to follow the corporal. The sergeant touched my sleeve, “My other team is not far from five.”

I looked at him and smiled, “Have them set up a perimeter and direct the corporal to it.”

He nodded and I moved around the corner with Michelle behind me. It was not long before we met up with the other fire team. I had the fresh team lead and the sergeant’s other team bring up the rear. At the door to the pad the team leader cracked it open and looked out. I moved up and opened my comm, “Tinker.”

“Yeah boss.”

I looked around the pad carefully, “Did George find anything?”

Tinker cussed, “Yeah, one of those bastards slipped a warhead in. It was set for remote detonation. He did a second scan and we are clean now.”

I looked back and nodded to the sergeant. “Alright, I will risk it. Land and drop the shield.”

The ship had been hovering and dropped quickly. An instant before touching down, the shimmer of the shield being shut down flared around the ship. I nodded to the corporal, “On the double”

The five marines headed through the door prepared to kill anything that came their way. I grabbed Michelle as I started after them with my pistol drawn. I glanced at her to see her with hers out and shook my head. The team following us ran backwards to keep covering us. The ten Sting ships that screamed down to hover over the ship lit everything up with active targeting scans and a voice opened on the dragon channel, “Get your ass out of there Jason!”

I smiled as I kept going, “I am trying Sharpshooter. Keep the bastards off me so I can get off this rock.”

George had the personal hatch open and stood on one side with a large bore rail assault rifle aimed behind us. The leading team spun as they reached the ship and knelt facing back to cover us. I pushed Michelle through and followed her. Brit was at the inner hatch with another assault rifle and dropped the barrel, “The bridge sir!”

I nodded on my way past, “Put the marines someplace and do not call me sir.”

I went straight to the bridge with Michelle in front of me. The intership comm crackled as George reported, “Hatch closed. Get us the hell out of here!”

I grinned as I came through the door behind Michelle. Tinker was sliding out of the pilot seat as it locked back and then Michelle slid into hers, “Bringing the anti gravs online.”

Her fingers were dancing across her readout even before her seat was locked in place. I slid past Tinker to bring my readout online. “Full power to all generators Silvia.”

I key my dragon comm, “Get clear dragons.”

The ship surged straight up and spun as my seat locked before it suddenly jumped to full power on the main engines. “Take the caltrop Kitten.”

I glanced at the sting ships as five flashed past to lead and the other five dropped back. I locked the main engines fully open and glanced at Tinker, “Shield status?”

He grinned as he looked at a grinning Silvia, “Green and holding at full power.”

I smiled and glanced at Michelle as she kept jumping from scan to scan. I was ignoring the chatter between the silver Griffin’s and the controllers. I pulled back on the power and started a wide twisting turn, “Black sky! Tinker? Did you get the charts to Gamma?”

I glanced back as he adjusted his readout, “”It should be on the nav comp. I checked and triple checked everything.”

I flipped a couple of controls and nodded before making a last minute correction, “All right, on course.”

I looked back at Tinker and Silvia, “Take the generators to half power and keep the shields up.”





Chapter eight

The Birth of Constance

I walked into Albert’s private suite and nodded to Sergeant Harrison before crossing to snatch my cousin off the floor and toss him into the air screaming and laughing. I caught him and handed him back to Molly who grinned at her son squirming in my hands. Albert looked up from some reports he had been reading and grinned, “How did it go?”

I smiled, “Like clockwork. You should not have any more trouble from that quadrant.”

He nodded and tapped his reader screen, “This is my new headache, Reverts trying to get control of the common seats.”

I grinned, “Not my business.”

He shook his head, “Maybe they are. Dragon Intel is sketchy but something is stirring them up.”

He looked at Molly and frowned, “Molly’s pregnancy is different this time, harder.”

I crossed to the desk, “The doctors at the imperial hospital can…”

He waved that away, “I know that.”

He looked at the screen again, “The one thing Intel does know is that it is something to do with a birth.”

I looked at Molly, “Molly?”

He looked at Molly as she glanced at us. “They do not know. They report the context as the birth of something…”

I sighed and looked at Sergeant Harrison, “Smoky, tell Dragon Leader to send me everything I need to catch up.”

She grinned, “Does that include Samuel’s escape attempt during the annual Dukes counsel meeting?”

I grinned as Molly laughed, “Perhaps he can throw that in last.”

I nodded to Albert, “Let me change and catch up.”

I walked out and could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. I opened a private comm channel to Tinker. “Tinker?”

There was a long pause and then the sleepy sound of his voice came on, “Who?”

I chuckled, “Your sleeping to soundly again. It is Jason.”

“Hey Captain wonder.”

I grinned as I walked through the halls, “I need an updated check on palace weapon and explosive scanners.”

I hesitated, “Have new remote scanners been placed in the Imperial Hospital?”

There was a sigh, “No, the scanner units kept getting delayed.”

I shook my head, “Get with the boss. I want those scanners in place before Molly goes into labor. Ask for some of Silver to help. Also tell Huntress I want to see her.”

He groaned, “I just went to sleep.”

I grinned, “You can sleep when you are dead or retired.”

He laughed, “Pretty much the same thing.”

I closed the comm as I pressed my palm to the sealed door pad. A moment later the thick door slowly opened. I walked into the large room stripping before the door even closed. I showered and dressed before sitting at my desk. The updated packet was ready and I opened it. A tiny window opened in one corner and I saw Colonel Beal.

He looked up and grinned, “Welcome back Jason. Nice work with the Silver’s.”

I nodded as I started scanning the material, “What is the word on the Reverts?”

He looked at something, “Nothing we can pin down. They are definitely planning some action they think will change the empire. We have both Dragon and Fleet intel working on finding out what their plan is.”

I looked at his image, “Albert is distracted by whatever this is. He also… absently mentioned Molly’s pregnancy not being normal.”

He nodded, “She feels the baby kicking more this time, nothing more than spousal worry.”

I sat back, “You know about my feelings. If he is mentioning this then we should be prepared. We can bring in our fleet surgeon as back up and have him studying birthing complications. Another thing, we need the scanners in place now not when we are rushing Molly in with Albert by her side.”

He nodded and chuckled, “Tinker already read me the riot act and volunteered two Silver Viper’s to help him.”

He looked up and sigh, “Anyway, welcome back. Albert has a lunch meeting with Baron Newcomb in an hour.”

The window shut down and I went back to flash reading everything before stopping and standing up. Huntress and Dancer were leaning against the wall when I walked out and started down the hall. I glanced at Huntress as they fell in, “I want a detailed check of everyone at or near the maternity ward. Use what you need.”

She nodded and they turned to head down another hall. I stopped and looked after them, “Huntress?”

She stopped and looked back with an eyebrow raised, “I have a bad feeling. Do it right and take Dancer to watch your… back.”

She grinned at Dancer and nodded before turning to walk away. I walked into Albert’s suite as he was standing up looking at his time keeper. I smiled and glanced at Sergeant Harrison, “Put Molly’s detail on alert and tell the Lieutenant I said to go to plan Nestling.”

She nodded as her eyes flicked to Molly. I looked at Molly as she stood and lifted Samuel to her hip, “And what is plan Nestling?”

I smiled, “The salle is off limits until after your daughter is born. You will have a three man detail any time you leave the suite. You will wear the trackers all the time, regardless of where you are. Samuel will have his two man team at all times.”

Her eyes narrowed, “Jason…”

I shook my head, “You accepted Albert as your husband. You knew what that meant. Something does not feel right and I have no intention of putting you or Samuel at risk when I am not there.”

I looked at Albert and he grinned smugly at Molly, “I told you.”

She stuck her tongue out and looked at the sergeant, “Sarah? Tell the… army, we are going to swim.”

She turned to head through the far door and Smoky chuckled as she followed her. I led Albert out the door and his six men travel team fell in. Albert glanced at me, “Did you get a chance to look over the Reverts?”

I nodded as I continued to scan the hall, “They seem radical but without resources. The intel is sketchy at best, but they seem to think they are going to take over the empire.”

He nodded, “I agree. There is something I am missing. As far as I can tell I have never received a letter of complaint from any of them. We have three planets in the tiger quadrant that reverted. They only went so far before they realized what they were doing and changed directions.”

I chuckled and then stopped Albert at the door to let the two led men step out. When I got their all clear signal, I led Albert out and across to his waiting vehicle. The ride to Baron’s Hall was quiet with Albert looking over notes. While they had lunch and talked over budget matters I used my screen to finish updating myself.

I got Tinker’s comm as we were walking into Albert’s office back at the palace, “Jason?”

I glanced around making my checks, “Yeah?”

I heard Tinker sigh, “You were right. The company sent the new scanners twice and someone stole them before removing it from inventory.”

I looked at Senior Sergeant Muldive, “Stay with him and go to condition Amber.”

Albert looked up from his desk as I turned to the side door and opened the Gold Company comm net, “This is Crimson Dragon, as of right now we are moving to condition Amber. All teams go to fifty percent. Boomer, contact Bronze and Frost for our back ups. Get Amber and Black on the perimeter and contact the Silver’s.”

I switched to the Dragon command comm net, “Dragon leader this is Crimson. I have taken us to Amber status. Request a meeting with you and Silver Dragon.”

I heard Colonel Beal’s calm voice, “I am with Silver now. We will meet you in Albert’s side office.”

I looked back, “Stay here sir.”

I used the palm lock before opening the door. I opened a private comm to Sergeant Harrison, “Smoky?”

“I heard boss.”

I smiled as I stood in front of the bank of displays, “Keep an eye on her Smoky.”

I started doing checks on some of my hunches and worries and the screens flickered as I went through everything rapidly. I glanced at the door as the Colonel and Major came through. I opened a private comm to Tinker, “Tinker?”

The reply was instant as if he had been waiting, “Boss.”

The Colonel and Major stopped beside me, “Have a team of Silver’s bring the backup scanners from the palace and get them in place today.”

He sighed, “Will do.”

I looked at the Colonel, “someone hijacked the scanners and deleted the inventory logs.”

He frowned and looked at Major Hibson, “Someone is inside. Have our fleet surgeon brush up on birth complications and send a team to the hospital to secure one room now.”

She nodded, “I will put Raptor around the ward and all routes in.”

The Colonel nodded and looked me, “Start using the combat transports for any movements.”

I nodded and looked at the Major, “I would like to use Griffin for support, one platoon in stings ships doing patrols and the rest around the hospital in covert hides.”

She looked at the Colonel, “You think it will be that bad?”

I looked at the Colonel, “I have a feeling and I do not want another Wayne. I would also move the insystem ship limit out to the ten light minute mark and bring the planetary shield to standby.”

Colonel Beal looked at me for a minute while Major Hibson was silent. He finally nodded and looked at the Major, “Fine, but use Raptor for the sting ships. I want Silver in covert positions before nightfall. You are to go silent unless myself or Jason contact you. Make sure you have a complete weapons loadout.”

The Major nodded and turned to leave. I looked at the Colonel and he sighed, “I am getting to old for this Jason.”

I grinned as I headed back into Albert’s office. It was the next day that I got a warning of what was to come. The transport had just left the palace, headed for the nobles monthly counsel meeting. The missiles fired at the transport had barely left the launcher when reactions started. Three stings ships fired on the launcher within the first second.

The transport dumped its load of counter measures. The decoy ship flashed between the seeking missile and the transport. I grabbed Albert and threw him into the sealed shock pod as the transport went to emergency acceleration. The launch site exploded in a storm of plasma. The decoy transport lurched as the countermeasures failed to distract the missiles and they exploded against its side.

In the screen I watched as the decoy transport seemed to hang in the air before starting to fall. We swept into the counsel with a full platoon of dragons around Albert. I was still getting intel up dates when the counsel ended. At first the huge chamber had stirred with all of us around Albert until he briefed them on what had just happened.

I had Alex running facial response checks on every one of the nobles. So far they all showed no foreknowledge of the attempt on Albert’s life.I scheduled a return transport but surprised Albert at the last minute by pulling him out of line and towards two dragon sting ships sitting beside the transport.

I stopped him beside his bird, “You fly forward on the starboard side. If I see you so much as wiggle in the wrong way our evening sparing match will be very painful.”

He grinned, “For a ride in a dragon sting ship, I will behave.”

I nodded and headed towards the other ship. We had just taken off when the next action occurred. Whoever was directing the attempt was very good. The launch site that targeted the transport exploded before it could launch and we went to full acceleration. When a dozen launch signatures appeared I cursed and opened my comm, “Go to Dragon Flight, full power LT.”

I slammed my throttle back as the back up stings ships swept down and started firing. The rest of the sting ships began a wild dance around Albert’s ship as we flashed over the city at mach 10. The shields of all the sting ships glowed and our trails were streaked with fire. Albert did an emergency landing at the palace field with four of us around him.

The other six ships hanging overhead with active scans screaming a warning to anyone foolish enough to try targeting him. I ignored shut down protocol and vaulted out of the ship to run towards Albert. I had already opened my comm, “Black Dragon this is Crimson. We are down and proceeding to the field entrance.”

“We have you. Gunslinger is enroute with his platoon.”

Albert popped the canopy as the rest of my dragons converged. I took his shoulder and started guiding him towards the far doors and the platoon of running men. We had barely started when I felt a tingling and glanced back toward the far side of the field. I shoved Albert down and covered him with my body, “Missile!”

The field was suddenly laced with fire and the edge of the field exploded in a ball of plasma. A second explosion threw everyone to the ground as one of the sting ships flew into the oncoming missile. I yanked Albert up and pushed him in front of me as I started running. Before we reached the door the platoon of Black Dragons was behind us covering our back trail.

Once we were into the safety of the palace I opened a private comm, “Dragon Leader this is Crimson. We are moving through the palace now.”

“I have you on the scans Jason.”

I glanced at a grim faced Albert, “Send out an imperial arrest warrant for the Reverts.”

“Already done.”

I closed the comm, “I hate assholes that hunt dragons.”

Albert glanced at me and I kept hurrying him through the halls. When we entered the Albert’s suite Molly was waiting. Little Samuel was in his play pen and Dragons where standing against every wall. Molly holstered the pistol she was carrying and I looked at Sergeant Harrison, “Why does she have a weapon Smoky?”

She did not even glance at Molly, “If you want to take it away, go ahead.”

The Dragons around the room chuckled as Albert embraced Molly. I shook my head and opened my comm as colonel Beal called, “Jason?”

I looked at Albert and Molly, “Yeah boss.”

“The missiles they are using are ancient. Our countermeasures are not designed to counter them.”

I spun as I heard Molly gasp; she was bent and holding her pelvis. Albert was bent over trying to find out what was wrong. “Smoky!”

She was already moving as I opened the all Dragon comm channel. I could see fluid running down Molly’s legs, “This is an all Dragon alert! Go to condition red! Move to start Dragon Hatching now! Tinker secure the damn room!”

Two Dragons were already moving Albert back and another was running from a door with a stretcher. I nodded to the play pen as Samuel started to cry, “Get Samuel to his grandparents.”

I was not risking an air transport, “Bronze this is Crimson Dragon, we are moving to the south entrance. I want a full convoy waiting and get every sting ship up for air cover. Frost, move now to secure the alternate route to the hospital! Amber, we are going to need a rolling perimeter!”

I was running with all the other Dragons as we surrounded Molly and Albert. Five minutes later they were helping Molly into a fast armored car and then all twelve vehicles sped off. Every intersection between the palace and the hospital was blocked. Over fifty sting ships hovered above us and another fifty was circling around them.

I was tense the whole way but we pulled into the hospital safely. We were almost to the birthing room when Huntress and Dancer appeared from a doorway and screamed. Reactions took over as I tackled Albert and covered his body with mine. Smoky and two other Dragons were doing the same with Molly when the world went crazy.

The explosion threw us up and slammed us back to the ground. Many of the Dragons were down, either dead or wounded. I screamed into my comm, “This is Crimson! Dragon Heart! Silver Dragons move in now!”

I went to my knees with blood coming from my nose, eyes and ears. The group of men and women rushing into the hallway were carrying weapons and I started firing. One or two other Dragons joined me but they just kept coming. I was hit in the chest twice and slammed back.

I grabbed the body of a dead dragon and yanked it over Albert as he tried to crawl toward Molly. I had to smile to myself because Molly was lying on her side screaming as she fired the Mark VI into the group of fanatics. The explosions that rocked the whole hospital made me grab Albert, “Evac now!”

I yanked him up as Huntress and Dancer appeared to grab Molly. Two other Dragons stood on shaky legs and started firing to cover us as we pulled back towards the vehicles. At the next intersection Tinker and two more Dragons were covering the other hallways and fell in behind us. Huntress was half carrying Molly by the time we came out the doors.

It was chaos outside but from the look, I knew we were winning. Silver Dragons were surrounding the drive and it looked like a full scale battle. I pushed Albert into the vehicle while Tinker pushed the body of the dead Dragon away and climbed in behind the wheel. As soon as we had Molly in, I nodded to Tinker, “Go! The palace!”

I opened the comm, “This is Crimson. We are breaking away from the hospital enroute to the palace. If we have him, get the fleet surgeon to the vault. We need the Marines boss.”

“I have two battle brigades on the way from the other continent.”

I sat back as the adrenaline started wearing off. The pain in my chest was familiar and I knew I had more broken ribs. I looked at Molly and Albert before looking at Dancer, “I am hit. Take over as Albert’s primary.”

She nodded and Huntress looked up from checking Molly, “If we do not get her to the vault soon she is going to have the baby right here.”

I nodded and looked towards Tinker, “Do not lollygag, Tinker.”

He grumbled, “Suck eggs boss. You just watch the rear.”

Huntress and Dancer both grinned and Molly actually laughed. We sped through the palace gates and stopped at the platoon of Black dragons waiting by the door. Huntress handed Molly out and followed her before Albert could get between them. I moved slowly as they took off running. I looked around slowly before followed after everyone.

It took the Marines two months to sweep the city for the last revert. Constance Teresa Amanda was born kicking and screaming almost as soon as she was out of her mother. Molly had chuckled to the doctor, “She is a Drake Marine.”

Chapter nine

Gamma Station

The first few hours were tense as we accelerated quickly. We received updates on the Duke and Michelle’s family. We were two days out and I had just gotten to sleep when Michelle had Silvia wake me up. I walked out of my cabin blinking and Brit handed me a cup of her coffee. I looked at the coffee and Silvia laughed.

I took a sip as I walked toward my seat, “What do you have Kitten?”

She gestured to Peaches, “A Major Alterson wants to speak with you?”

I looked at Peaches before taking my seat, “He could have used my comm.”

Michelle only smiled and I sighed, “Peaches? Put Sweet John through.”

Michelle laughed and mouthed, “Sweet John?”

“Jason?”

I smiled, “Still above ground John.”

“We are off loading now. The Marines and Fleet SAS are a few hours behind, but within twelve hours they should be ready.”

I nodded, “Leave someone at Gamma Station and start a full system shut down. Watch your ass John; I have had enough assholes shooting at me to start holding a grudge.”

I heard him laugh, “The last time you held a grudge a lot of people died.”

I glanced at Tinker, “On both sides.”

John went quiet, “We will lock it down Jason.”

I nodded and he laughed, “By the way, My girls all want to throw a party for your wife to be.”

I looked at Michelle as she blushed, “You can tell them her bachelorette party will be open to all of them.”

Michelle choked and then laughed, “Should I wear a chastity belt?”

Everyone laughed and John sighed, “I will see you on the planet.”

I glanced at Peaches, “End comm.”

I glanced at the system clock, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason?”

I looked at Michelle, “I need a secure private full holo comm to the Duke and Duchess.”

“One minute Jason.”

Michelle shifted in her seat and then Peaches cleared her throat, “Go ahead Jason.”

I looked at the small holo display on the console between Michelle and me, “Your grace.”

The man looking back was slim and fit looking. His wife looked a lot like Michelle. The Duke cleared his throat, “I have been hearing many things about you Colonel.”

I smiled at Michelle, “Only half are true.”

I took a breath, “Before I get into other matters I would like to speak to you about your daughter.”

He grinned, “From the marine scuttle butt, I take it Michelle has marked you as her consort.”

I looked at Michelle and saw both his eyes and Michelle’s mother’s shift to look at Michelle. I sighed, “I am not a noble and have no intention of ever playing that game. I am sure you are well aware of what I am.”

I looked at the Duke, “I formally request your permission to begin relations with your daughter.”

I saw Michelle’s eyebrows raise but the duke only smiled as he looked at his wife, “You are the first to ever ask.”

I chuckled as I looked at Michelle, “I plan to marry your daughter.”

I took a breath, “I have made her wait long enough. If our… if she has an accident and conceives…”

I was blushing as Michelle grinned and Silvia snickered behind me, “the child will still be legitimate.”

Michelle’s father looked at her grinning mother, “You have our blessing then.”

I nodded, “Thank you. Now, on to other concerns, you know by now that someone has been trying to kill your daughter. I imagine that was why you sent her to me?”

He actually grinned, “I recognized you and like Albert told me once. Once is accident, twice is coincident but three times is enemy action. I think he was probable quoting someone.”

I smiled, “I think you might be right.”

I sighed, “They are all over the system and you are now targets. Silver Dragon regiment is in system with Fleet SAS and Battle Marines. Under my Imperial patient, I am suspending all movements off planet and am assuming control of this system.”

His eyes narrowed and then widened as he whispered, “The Emperor…”

I returned his look and he bowed, “I bow to the Emperor’s Champion.”

I smiled, “Thank you for understanding. I am looking forward to speaking to you and your wife in person.”

He looked at his angry looking wife, “We will be looking forward to your visit.”

I looked back at Peaches, “Discomm Peaches.”

I glanced back at Silvia, “ask George if he wants left seat time.”

Michelle was grinning broadly as Silvia smiled and called George. A minute later he opened the hatch, “you are saving me from getting beat at star chess.”

I grinned and I slid my seat back, “I warned you about recon marines.”

He laughed, “I think she could even beat you.”

I stood and looked at Michelle as she slid out of her seat. I took her hand and looked at Silvia, “If anything happens bring up the Nelson and do not disturb us.”

Silvia was grinning as I pulled a grinning Michelle to my room. It was almost ten hours before Michelle let me shower and leave. Tinker and Silvia looked up when I opened the door and came out. Tinker grinned and looked at his wife, “I think he actually looks human now.”

She laughed as I opened the ration pack Tinker tossed me. I slid into the pilot seat and glanced at the readout as it moved forward and locked into place. I glanced back at Tinker as he took Silvia’s hand and pulled her up, “Any word from Silver?”

He shrugged, “Their on the way in. SAS and the Marines just started a half hour ago, so they are ahead of schedule.”

I nodded and waved, “Go do something.”

I relaxed as my mind went over everything I knew. It was a quiet relaxing two weeks and Michelle seemed to have an almost permanent smile on her face. We passed the Silver Dragons a week out and the rest a half day later. I had originally planned to dock at Gamma Station but decided to anchor instead and use a space tether to check it out.

The huge star ships floated in the distance as I let Michelle make the approach. The squad of Marines seemed to have taken their unintended trip well. Brit had grinned at George more than once and put them to work or had them do some sim she created. I was checking the scans as Michelle slowed and detached the two gravity anchors.

She started through the shut down sequence when I cleared my throat, “Do not shut down Kitten. Put everything into standby.”

She nodded and her hands quickly danced over her readout. I slid back and looked at Tinker as he relaxed, “I will be going to the station. Kitten will stay here. You will be her primary.”

He nodded, “See if you can get some new vids sent out.”

I looked at Michelle and she looked stubborn, “Not this time Kitten. I need to check the station before Albert and Molly get here and I do not need to worry about you while doing it.”

She blinked in surprised and then nodded. I had already told Brit the Marines would be staying on board for the trip back. I stood and headed to my cabin to… dress appropriately. I suited up in an airlock and cycled it open. I pushed away from the ship hard and flew towards the distant station. The closer I got to the station the worse the bad feelings were.

After landing on the station and walking down to an airlock, I used a special override and slipped in without setting off any alarms. I was not surprised to step out of the inner lock and find myself at gunpoint. I grinned, “You were expecting me.”

The young sergeant grinned, “We all know how you work Jason.”

I grinned as she holstered her pistol, “How many are on Station?”

She shook her head, “two squads but something is not right.”

I glanced at her quickly, “Bad vibes or uncooperative station personal?”

She shrugged, “Bad vibes mostly.”

I nodded as she led me deeper into the station. We passed several Marines and I glanced at her, “How many Marines are on station?”

She glanced at a lance corporal we were passing, “One platoon.”

From the moment I stepped into the control room of the station I knew I would never let any of the emperor’s family enter the station. It was the few quick angry glances from junior ratings. The station master was a retired Fleet admiral. He held out his hand as we approach, “Colonel Drake, Station Master Haralson.”

I smiled and shook his hand, “Sorry we are disrupting your station.”

He waved it away, “More excitement then we have had in a long time.”

I nodded and glanced around, “Have you had any unscheduled traffic?”

He shook his head, “No. Your people already went over my records.”

I glanced at the tight lipped sergeant beside me. I looked around the room again and then nodded, “Thank you for your time.”

I led the Sergeant out, “Do you have transport?”

She nodded and I stopped her, “Locked the station down. Activate our dragon remotes and move to your transports. Get the marines off the station too.”

She nodded, “We have not been able to get our explosive scanners to work and I was…”

I shook my head, “Do not tell the station personnel anything just get off the station.”

She took a breath and then relaxed, “Thank you sir.”

I smiled as I headed for the airlock, “Do not call me sir.”

I suited up and dove into space heading back towards my ship as I opened a comm channel, “Tinker?”

“Here boss.”

I glanced back, “As soon as I am aboard, move us to ten light minutes.”

There was a silent pause, “We have several ships closer.”

“Use a whisker laser and once Silver and Marines are off the station they are to move away. When the first Battle Brigade gets here I want that station taken apart and everyone on it put under a truth scan.”

I landed easily and carefully moved to the airlock. As I closed the outer doors I felt the ship come to life. I stripped out of the suit and headed up to the bridge. Michelle was in her seat moving the ship and Tinker and Silvia were quietly working the engineer displays. I watched Michelle from the hatch and Tinker grinned at me before nudging his wife.

After the ship came to a stop and the gravity anchors were deployed, I moved to my seat. As it locked in place I glanced back at Peaches, “Star comm Nightshade and request an updated arrival time. Warn her that under no circumstance is she to allow the royal family to enter or go near Gamma Station.”

I smiled at Michelle, “Miss me Kitten?”

She grinned, “Tinker and George were telling me stories to keep my mind off you.”

I grinned as my hands flicked over the readout, “I hope they do not give you nightmares.”

Everyone laughed and Silvia cleared her throat. I glanced back, “You are not Peaches.”

She grinned, “I am not military either and consider it a polite request for your attention.”

I grinned as Michelle and Tinker snickered at me. I waved and she nodded, “You have not told us what you are planning.”

I glanced at Tinker and he sighed, “Jason is planning to bring Albert, Molly and the kids aboard and use the Nelson all the way back to the planet.”

Silvia looked at me with big eyes, “But…”

I shrugged, “Whoever these people are, they will be looking for biggest ships. If Albert is here and we use the Nelson they can not target us and it leaves the Dragon fleet free to do what they need to.”

Silvia looked at Tinker, “The Emperor?”

Tinker smiled softly, “Don not worry, Molly keeps him inline.”

I grinned as I finished my checks and turned to Peaches as she cleared her throat. “Go ahead.”

“Colonel McCartney requests a star comm link.”

I nodded, “Open it.”

I turned as the holo appeared between the pilot consoles, “Long time Brittney.”

She smiled as she looked up from her cluttered desk, “Not since you dumped his ass in my lap.”

I grinned, “At least you got him after Molly and I broke him in.”

She laughed and sat back, “True.”

She sighed, “What do you have at Gamma station?”

I shrugged, “More a feeling then anything else. Junior Sergeant Tunnis was also getting something. I caught a couple of enlisted giving looks that made me think they are part of this conspiracy.”

She nodded, “Plans?”

I grinned, “When you wormhole out, I intend to shut down the station and lock out all systems. You can send a company from first to scan everyone and strip the station to the bones.”

She grinned, “That sounds good, what else?”

I knew what she was waiting for, “I want Albert, Molly and the kids aboard my ship for the ride in.”

She shook her head, “Not this time Jason.”

I glanced back as George opened the hatch and then looked at Brittney, “Do you have a complete list of ships they made and shipped?”

She sighed, “Not yet.”

I nodded, “I have a working Nelson and can run it all the way to Saras. You do not know they do not have a Battleship or Carrier and if they built them off books you know they are not coded.”

She nodded and rubbed her temples, “If I could force him…”

I grinned, “Good luck with that.”

She smiled and then sighed, “Okay, but I am sending…”

I held a hand up, “We have room for about fifty more.”

She grinned, “Than you get Gold’s first platoon.”

I nodded again, “What is your arrival time?”

She glanced aside, “In ten hours and forty one minutes.”

I glanced at Tinker and he nodded, “Set.”

I looked at Brittney and she grinned as she looked at Michelle, “I will personal deliver them so I can met Ms Grey.”

I grinned, “We will meet you at the boarding hatch.”

Michelle blushed and then grinned, “You are invited to the bachelorette party.”

Brittney laughed, “I will get with your maid of honor.”

Michelle’s eyes widened and she turned quickly, “Silvia?”

Silvia grinned, “Let me guess…”

Michelle was still blushing, “Will you be my maid of honor?”

I shuddered and glanced at Tinker, “I think I will put a guard around wherever they have the party with orders to detain any men trying to enter.”

Silvia and Britney laughed while Michelle grinned. I nodded and glanced at Tinker, “I want a full system check completed before they get here.”

He nodded absently while his fingers danced on his readout. I looked at Britney, “See you when you arrive.”

I glanced back at Peaches, “End comm.”

I turned in my seat to face George, “Do a complete check and scan of each set of quarters and lock downs. Have Brit use the marines to do a check of the rations and the water supply.”

George sighed, “Copy.”

I smiled, “complain to Albert when he comes aboard.”

George grinned, “I will just whisper in Molly’s ear that he is getting soft and needs a workout.”

I laughed with Tinker and stood, “Come to bed Kitten. We are not going to get much sleep after everyone gets here.”

Everyone laughed as Michelle grinned and stood up. I woke quickly as usual and glanced at Michelle in my arms. I caressed her face and she shifted in her sleep. I bent to kiss her softly before turning to slip her onto the narrow bunk by herself. I showered and stopped to shake her awake.

Michelle stretched and reached for me and I smiled and stepped back, “Shower and dress Kitten. We will have company in twenty one minutes.”

I walked onto the bridge to see Brit and George in jump seats with Tinker moving out of my seat. Silvia grinned and turned back to her readout. “All checks and preparations complete.”

I nodded and took my seat. I had turned to face the rear when Michelle came out. I grinned at her choice of clothing and Silvia laughed. Michelle was wearing an old uniform shirt of mine with slim dark pants. She had removed all rank insignia and rolled up the sleeves. She smiled at Brit and George before moving to sit in her seat.

The opening of a wormhole is an amazing thing to watch as space is twisted to bring two points together. The huge swirling mass of colors marked the coming arrival. I looked at Peaches, “Peaches log into Gamma and shut everything down. I do not want anything but life support to work.”

“Accessing the station now.”

Suddenly the starships were here. Twelve huge looming shapes that spilled minnows into space as I watched. I turned to my readout and turned on the beacon. Tinker had reset it to display the Crimson Dragon code to anyone that read it. It was five minutes later that the shuttle separated and a small swarm of sting ships surrounded it.

I locked the controls and slid my seat back before standing. Tinker nodded but stayed where he was as Silvia stood. I took Michelle’s hand and for the first time I was nervous about something that did not have to do with combat. I led and everyone except Tinker followed. Brit must have impressed the marines to shine because they were lined up beyond the hatch looking professional.

I glanced at the sergeant, “A squad of Dragons will enter before the emperor.”

He nodded and glanced at his squad proudly. I smiled, “Be prepared for him and the empress to inspect you and talk to each of you.”

He grinned and nodded as I turned to a nervous Michelle, “Relax Kitten.”

She grinned, “Easy for you to say.”

The clang of the shuttle preceded a red light over the hatch. It blinked to Green and then opened without my command. A slim grey haired Dragon stepped through with a drawn pistol. I smiled, “Still leading the troops Henry?”

He grinned and holstered the pistol as a squad slid around him and quickly moved into the ship. They ignored my party and the marines as they quickly moved to check and scan the ship. Henry crossed to hold his hand out, “Still finding trouble boss?”

I grinned as his glance flickered over the marines and back to Michelle. He smiled, “Howdy Kitten. Tinker said you were dragon material.”

I shook my head, “No recruiting Top.”

He grinned again and then absently nodded and turned to the hatch. “Clear.”

He turned to head into the ship, “We will talk later Jason.”

I smiled as Colonel Britney McCartney stepped through and looked around. She glanced back, “You have a party of Marines to inspect.”

She walked to me and shook my hand as Albert and Molly came through behind her, “You almost look like a real dragon.”

I grinned and turned to Michelle, “Colonel McCartney, this is Ms Grey.”

Britney smiled and took her hand, “Congratulations Kitten.”

I looked at Albert as he stepped in front of the Marine Sergeant. I tuned out Britney to watch Albert as he did a professional job before quietly talking to him and then moving to the next man. It reminded me of a certain lieutenant I had once. Molly was smiling as she spoke to the marine and he suddenly grinned and Molly laughed.

I glanced at the hatch as Samuel stepped through with a very large Dragon following him closely. He blushed as he walked closer, “Hey Jason.”

I smiled, “You have not given me cause to put you over my knee cousin, relax.”

He grinned, “Mom gave me your lumps anyway.”

I turned, “This is Ms Grey, Samuel.”

Michelle swallowed and started to bow and Samuel cleared his throat, “do not bow. It makes me nervous when people do that.”

Michelle looked at him and he grinned while looking at me, “It is nice to know my cousin is human after all.”

Michelle grinned and Samuel took her hand, “Welcome to the family… Kitten.”

He looked at me quickly and blushed as the dragon behind him cleared his throat. I smiled, “Why do not you talk George into showing you around?”

He grinned and whispered, “Can I see the Nelson?”

I looked at him calmly and finally nodded as I looked at the dragon at his shoulder, “As long as you do not touch anything.”

A stunning woman with blue grey hair stepped through the hatch and smiled before glancing back. Constance stepped through with a young man beside her. Michelle whispered, “Who is the boy?”

I waited for Constance to come closer and she finally flung herself into my arms, “Jason!”

I held her, “Hey dragon’s pet.”

She grinned as she looked up into my face. She glanced at the young man, “This is Joey.”

I nodded to him and turned Constance to face Michelle, “This is Michelle Grey.”

Constance looked at Michael for a moment and then smiled, “Nice shirt.”

Michelle grinned, “I stole it.”

Constance laughed and the dragon cleared her throat. Constance looked back and nodded, “Okay Jen.”

She looked at me, “We will talk later.”

I tossed my head and she grinned as she reached back absently and took the young man’s hand and pulled him after her. Michelle was grinning as the three headed into the ship. Albert and Molly were almost finished when three more dragons came through the hatch. They moved passed us and stopped at the end of the short hallway.

Albert was smiling when he walked to me, “I have not done that in awhile.”

I smiled and took his hand as he looked at a nervous Michael. “Kitten, perhaps later you and I can speak about the… disturbing habit that attracted you to my… watchdog.”

Michael grinned, “Perhaps it was his inability to be impressed with rank of any kind.”

Molly laughed as she came up behind Albert, “Annoying isn’t it?”

Michelle blushed and Albert nodded as a whisper escaped his comm, “We can finish this later.”

I nodded, “Before Nightshade starts pulling your short and curly’s.”

Molly grinned and pushed him towards the other end of the passageway. Almost before they had passed us the line of dragons carrying bags and pulling trunks began. After the last one passed, Britney was back and clapped her hand on my shoulder, “Nice ship. Okay, here is the brief. We just got word the yard made four battleships, three more cruisers and two more destroyers. I want you to use the Nelson all the way in. I know it is a power hungry bitch but use some of the power from your main power grid if you have to. Remain off comm unless I contact you and stay at least an hour behind us.”

I nodded, “Sounds good. How long before you get your circus on the road?”

She grinned, “twelve hours at least. We are off loading the Dragon fleet now as well as the first and fifth battle regiments.”

She smiled at Michelle, “See you on the planet for the party.”

She walked out and I moved to close and secure the hatch before turning to Michelle, Silvia and Brit. “Now the fun starts.”

I glanced at the marines, “Sergeant? Get with Top Sergeant Henry. He will find something for you and your men to do.”

He nodded, “Yes sir.”

I led the way back to the bridge where I found Molly and Albert sitting with Tinker. Silvia hesitated until I nodded for her sit. Molly turned and grinned, “It is good to see you again Silvia. I hope you got my wedding present?”

Silvia grinned as she sat, “I got it.”

I smiled as I moved to my seat, “You are starting to get grey hair Albert.”

He laughed, “You try running this mad house.”

I began checking my readout, “It looks like first is swamping Gamma.”

Albert nodded, “I am not playing anymore.”

I grinned as I glanced back and then turned as my checks were complete. I frowned as a source flared on Gamma. I opened the Dragon Marine comm, “This is Crimson Dragon! Evacuate Gamma now!”

I glanced at Tinker as I opened the Dragon channel, “Dragon threat!”

I nodded as Tinker brought up the shields and brought the ship to life. I spun the ship and dumped everything into the engines as Michelle hit the GQ alarm. Three dragons spun onto the bridge as Albert and Molly quickly sat in jump seats. Michelle glanced at Silvia, “Put everything into the energy grid.”

Sting ships wove around us as shields began appearing around ships and they began pulling further away from the station. I glanced at the rear display as marine transports separated from the station and accelerated away. It was a minute later that the station looked like it began to swell and then it exploded in a ball of expanding plasma.

Albert was cursing as I finally brought the ship to a stop. I was tight lipped as I watched the ships closest to the station being tossed around. I kept count as all but two escaped with shields up. The two transport ships had their shields fail as they limped away from the destroyed station. I glanced back at Tinker and Silvia, “Status?”

Tinker nodded, “Shields and life support systems green.”

Silvia was checking her readout, “Everything green.”

I nodded and turned to Albert, “Now we wait for causality reports.”

He looked grim as he nodded back. I looked at the three extra Dragons and had to grin when I saw Tony leaning back with his eyes closed. Tinker snorted when he saw where I was looking. After almost twenty minutes all the reports were in. Surprisingly, everyone on the station had been evacuated by the marines.

The five enlisted men that had been part of the conspiracy had been detained and sedated. There had only been a few light injuries and minimal damage. Fifteen hours later I watched the dragon fleet icons in my readouts. I nodded to Michelle and she brought the ship alive and we began to accelerate.

I checked everything and turned to nod to Silvia. She was grinning as she brought the Nelson online. I heard Molly chuckle and glanced back at her and Samuel in the jump seats. Samuel had talked Tinker into rigging an echo readout console so he could watch the engineer readout.

Silvia sat back and grinned at me, “It drained ten percent before the power grid caught up and now everything is back to a hundred percent.”

I nodded and smiled at Michelle, “Your ship Kitten.”

I slid my seat back and looked at Samuel, “Want to run a sim cousin?”

Samuel groaned, “You always give me impossible ones.”

I grinned, “This time it is a real flight.”

He stood as I glanced at Michelle, “Run the shuttle sim for him.”

She grinned and then laughed. I watched as Samuel sat in my seat and it slid forward to lock in place. I sat beside Molly, “Remember the first time he begged me to do a flight sim?”

Molly grinned, “You gave him a simple take off and landing and he still crashed.”

I smiled and then looked at her, “what story did you use for the boy?”

Molly smiled, “He is visiting friends.”

I nodded and stood, “Time for my talk with Constance.”

I found Constance in a cleared area facing two dragons. The boy sat to one side with several other dragons. George was grinning with Brit beside him, “Want to place a bet?”

I smiled, “Do not tell me, they are new.”

He nodded and I shook my head, “Where is Henry?”

Brit grinned, “Getting schooled by the Marines.”

I watched as Constance slid into the two dragons and the match began. A few minutes later they were on the mat shaking their heads and Constance snorted, “Come on, you have to make me work for it.”

They looked at each other and groaned before rolling to their feet. I walked onto the mat, “Enough Constance.”

She grinned at me, “Want a match?”

I smiled, “maybe later. Come walk with me.”

She glanced at the boy and then nodded before bowing slightly to the two dragons, “Perhaps a rematch later?”

They returned her bow and she stood to follow me. She slipped her arm through mine, “I was mad at you when you told mom but after we talked I understood.”

I smiled at her as we went down to the next deck and followed the hallway, “I wish I could have explained in person before your mother talked to you. You are a Drake, Pet. You are also your father’s daughter and he can not officially acknowledge you having sex. Make no mistake, he knows what you do. Now that you are in this ship, you need to find time to speak to him. Do it when he is alone and in private.”

Constance looked at me and bit her lip, “I am not sure.”

I grinned, “Constance, you are as much your father’s daughter as you are your mother’s. Do you think all your rebellion is only from your mother?”

She looked at me in surprise, “But daddy is…”

I laughed, “I will tell you a story about your father and the first time I saved his life.”

Constance leaned against me, “You never talk about that.”

I put my arm around her as we headed down again, “Your father snuck away from his guards and used a false name to become a marine officer named Peters.”

Constance looked at me quickly and I grinned, “I was a wet behind the ears chick on my first deployment.”

She grinned, “You have never been a wet behind the ears chick.”

I smiled, “We were on a mission of displayed force to the Clickeren. The information we were given was false and the shit hit the fan. Out of a full platoon of battle marines only four lived to return and three of those were wounded.”

Constance looked at me, “Daddy?”

I nodded, “He was wounded in the leg and shoulder.”

She looked down, “I never knew.”

I snorted, “Very few do. Now, you need to sit down and talk to him as a grown up woman. Understand something Pet, your father will always think of you as his little girl. You were born in the middle of a siege with your mother firing a blaster only minutes before. You are a child of war and the only way you will get to fight would be with your father’s blessing. You will never be allowed to become a Marine, the royal counsel would not allow it. What you can become is a battle piece for your father and brother.”

Constance looked at me and then grinned, “Battle piece as in chess?”

I nodded, “exactly. Visiting systems like this with a company or regiment of dragons and one or two Battle Brigades of Marines. Speaking to the people and bringing them back into the Empire.”

Constance was quiet as we headed up, “Is that what my life is going to be?”

I laughed and squeezed her, “Pet, your life is going to be one of intrigue and strife. Why do you think I made you take those classes on intelligence operations? Or taught you how to fight? You are surrounded by Dragons, why learn to fight?”

She looked at me and then grinned, “So I get to be what I wanted all along?”

I nodded, “The next step will start when you return home. Besides your normal classes, Dragon instructors will begin giving you private lessons.”

Constance groaned and I grinned, “Life is a bitch, suck it up before it eats you.”

She laughed as we came out by the bridge and heard Samuel swearing. She grinned, “Giving Sam lessons again?”

I smiled as we entered the bridge, “It was the shuttle flight that almost killed Kitten.”

Michelle glanced back as Samuel jerked at the controls and cussed and Tinker began reading off damage. She grinned and went back to checking her readout. Constance looked at me and whispered, “Do you really like her?”

I smiled and nodded, “She is a cool one Pet. She did not push or get a case of hero worship. She is not really a fighter but she can fight.”

Constance smiled and leaned against me as her mother stood. “Then I will be nice.”

Michelle suddenly hit the GQ and looked back, “the fleet repeater has battleships, three cruisers and two destroyers on long distance scanners.”

I nodded as I moved forward to replace Samuel as he hastily moved out of my seat. I was checking the readout as Albert stepped onto the bridge. I glanced at Silvia, “How is the Nelson?”

She smiled as she absenting changed a setting, “Green. The grid is at a hundred percent with two plants off line.”

I nodded and looked at Tinker, “Put the shields on standby.”

I started checking the flanks with our passives as Michelle silenced the alarm. One small blink brought my hands dancing along the readout, “confirm a ship on a ballistic course thirty degrees to our starboard and closing Peaches.”

“Confirmed, mass readings indicate a possible battleship.”

I checked light speed time to the ship as I brought the main rail guns alive and opened the bay, “Use passive targeting Kitten. Lock the hyper missiles and fire when I tell you and do not stop until it is destroyed. Shields Tinker.”

I checked my targeting and fired and then fired again and again before nodding to Michelle, “Now!”

I fired again and then there was the huge bright flash of an explosion and the battleships active scanner came alive. Tinker cussed, “Thirty seconds before burn through.”

Michelle fired again as the anti matter explosions started ripping the distant ship apart. I heard Albert, “They did not have shields up.”

I nodded but fired again before Michelle got off another missile. I sat back as the ship exploded, “Stop firing Kitten.”

I started reloading the rail gun as Michelle did the same thing with the launcher. I glanced back at Tinker, “Drop the shield Tinker.”

He nodded and Silvia grinned, “The power grid barely dropped and the Nelson is green.”

I nodded as my comm came to life, “What the hell are you doing Jason!”

I smiled faintly as I relaxed and answered, “You had a battleship coming in ballistic. Unfortunately it was closing on my ship so I destroyed it before it became a valid threat. Now if you will kindly get off the comm.”

It went silent as Nightshade cut the communication. I glanced at a grinning Michelle, “You can inform our passengers the fun is over.”

She turned to do as I told her and I looked at Albert and Molly, “That was a fleet maneuver.”

Albert shrugged but Molly nodded. Samuel cleared his throat, “This is just a transport right?”

Tinker laughed, “I have a broken down hover sled. Want to race your shiny new sled against it?”

Samuel grinned as Albert and Molly laughed, “I lost my last one to that trick Tinker.”

I smiled as I glanced back, “I added a few newer additions.”

Albert laughed again, “To hear General White, you stole everything except the kitchen disposal.”

Tinker laughed and glanced back, “We took that too. It is in the passenger cabin.”

They laughed and sat in the jump seats as I watched the plots on the enemy ships drawing slowly closer to the dragon fleet. Henry entered the bridge and looked around, “This is a nice tub boss.”

I grinned but did not look back, “Glad you like it Top.”

He cleared his throat, “George said to tell you he is trying something.”

I glanced back, “what?”

He grinned, “This will send shivers down your spine. He thinks he can put a micro Nelson in a hyper missile with a warhead shot load of anti matter rail rounds.”

I blinked and looked at Tinker, “Do you think it would work?”

Tinker was sitting back stunned and Silvia’s hand flickered over a side display. She looked at me with wide eyes and nodded as Tinker looked at her. I smiled at Henry, “I just hope it is not like Tinker’s modified engine on Albert’s car.”

Henry grinned and Tinker’s face went red. “It should have worked.”

I shook my head, “We had to wait for thirty minutes for the back up teams to cut us out.”

I glanced at Henry, “Tell George to load it into the launcher when he finishes.”

Samuel cleared his throat and Albert laughed, “No you can not go watch.”

I grinned and glanced at Peaches, “Peaches, get the specs from George on his improved missile and run an analysis.”

I looked at the readout, “Time to engagement is down to forty minutes.”

Peaches cleared her throat, “Everything checks out.”

I smiled, “Open a tight beam comm to the Dragon Carrier and relay it.”

George opened a comm link, “Ready to try it?”

I grinned and brought the launcher to life. I used passive remote targeting with a seeker command before firing at a destroyer.”

There was the flash as the missile launched and then the missile was gone. I grinned back at Albert, “Put a Nelson on a ghost probe and…”

There was a flare and then the distant destroyer exploded. I grinned at Michelle and opened the comm to George, “That is one less destroyer. You have anymore ready?”

“Give me a minute to load it into the magazine.”

I watched the distant scan display and shook my head to see the enemy warships not altering course to stay ahead of the dragon fleet. I glanced back at Albert, “Whoever is in charge must want to wait to reach Saras before facing the fleet.”

Albert nodded, “Dumb. Silver will be heading out to intercept by now.”

I smiled and glanced at Michelle, “Where are you thinking of having your party Kitten?”

She blushed and glanced towards Silvia who laughed, “None of your business.”

I grinned as Molly and Albert both laughed. George came on the intercom, “Missile loaded.”

I nodded and watched the enemy fleet for a shot at the other destroyer. Suddenly the three enemy battleships blinked as multiple explosions rip them apart. The cruisers and destroyer tried to accelerate away but a moment later they were gone. I relaxed and looked back at Albert, “I would recommend the specs for those missiles be locked away in the dragon fleet secure data net.”

He nodded and then grinned as he looked at Samuel, “That reminds me. Nightshade went a little crazy when she found out Samuel was trying to fit a sting ship engine into his new hover car”

Tinker twisted around and grinned, “Had trouble with the plasma generator?”

Molly laughed as she stood up, “No. The specs showed it was probably fifty percent faster then a sting ship and she did not have anything to keep up with it.”

I grinned and nodded to Michelle, “Take a break Kitten.”

Molly stopped and looked back, “Come walk with me.”

Michelle blushed and slid her seat back. She followed Molly out with Constance and Tony following behind. I grinned as Albert took Michelle’s seat, “changing careers?”

He laughed as he checked everything and sat back. He glanced at Silvia, “Could you give us a few minutes alone?”

She nodded and reset her readout before standing, “I will just go find Kitten and start planning a party.”

I looked at her sharply and Albert and Tinker both snickered. Blade closed the hatch behind her and Albert sighed before looking at me, “Constance.”

I did not say anything and he smiled, “If my daughter is… intimate with her… friend, there may be consequences.”

I smiled, “The young lady knows who to trust in those matters. The only… unknown is always the boy.”

Albert nodded, “That was why you had Molly change her primary.”

I shrugged, “Mother Steel will teach Constance what she needs to know in a way she needs to know it. Just as Soft Foot has been teaching Samuel.”

Albert jerked, “Samuel!”

I grinned, “He is a young man Lt. If you have not heard anything about his few… assignations, then I seriously doubt if anyone else has.”

He looked at me and then grinned, “You are sneaky, you know that.”

Tinker and the others laughed and Albert grinned. He glanced at Tinker and then back at me, “Constance is…”

I held up my hand, “Constance is heir secondus. Her life will always be under the eyes of the other royals. Give her a few minutes of private time while you are on my ship.”

Albert smiled, “You retire and you still manage to run my life.”

I grinned, “Suck it up sir.”

Everyone laughed and Albert sat back, “How bad do you think it is.”

I glanced at him and knew we were back to Saras, “Not the Duke and not the system Admiral. There is no way this system could have snuck enough money out to buy four battleships. Besides everything else, it looks like a set up to draw Dragons.”

Albert sighed, “Damn traitors.”

I smiled and glanced towards the jump seats and Henry, “What do you think Top?”

Henry nodded, “Dragon trap, Brittney thinks so too.”

I glanced at the others, “Sister Shadow?”

She nodded, “We have been seeing a few of the wealthier merchants acting as if they were running things.”

I looked at Albert who looked thoughtful, “I had a meeting before we left with the baron’s counsel and a few of the more… wealth merchants were there. I did not think anything of it but they acted very… rude, almost snide.”

I sat back and then grinned, “Peaches?”

“Yes Jason?”

I looked at Albert, “Open a star comm to Alex.”

Albert look interested and Henry chuckled with Tinker. Peaches cleared her throat, “What about Nightshade’s request to maintain comm silence?”

I smiled, “Echo the comm with Nightshade.”

A moment later she cleared her throat, “Alex is on.”

I looked at Albert as the holo appeared between us, “Alex, have the merchants that own the yards arrested. Place them in separate cells and interrogate them under a truth scan. If they want to know why, tell them it is because they have committed treason.”

“Damn it Jason, I do not have anything to prove that.”

I smiled, “They own the yards and are responsible for every ship that is built.”

“True. Any word on the battleships?”

I laughed, “Well, I had to destroy one and the Dragon fleet took care of the others.”

“How many did we lose?”

Tinker laughed, “None. Not even got scratched. I will send you a private word later.”

Alex looked at me, “You think the Merchants here are responsible?”

I nodded, “This feels like a draw for a Dragon trap.”

Alex bared his teeth, “Dragons have teeth and we really do not like Dragon hunters.”

I nodded, “Find out who else is in on it.”

I glanced at Peaches, “End comm.”

Albert slid the seat back, “I think I will go do some planning.”

I smiled and watched him leave before looking at Top Henry. He smiled, “He reminds me of his father before he stepped down.”

I nodded, “Speaking of stepping down.”

He grinned, “Scheduled for our return to the palace.”

Tinker snickered, “Got a nice cushy job lined up?”

Henry grinned, “Yeah, fishing on a nice sandy beach.”

The rest of our trip was quiet. The only excitement was Constance and Molly when they practiced. I consented to one match and Constance was very good. She had grinned at me after the match as I stretched and everyone heard the popping of my joints. The Dragon fleet was in slow orbit when we approached and I nodded to Silvia to shut down the Nelson.





Chapter ten

The passing of an Emperor

I watched young Constance as she slowly circled me. She had a serious look on her face and the other Dragons in the Salle knew better than smile. Molly was mopping the sweat from her face as she stood with Samuel, Huntress and Dancer. Constance suddenly kicked and I turned and brushed it up.

She was already turning as her other foot left the ground, her body rolling and then her other foot lashed out. I slid back, grasping her foot and twisting before releasing it. Constance hit the mat hard and rolled to her feet. She slid straight in and did a front kick that was a faint and then spun.

Her back fist came at me and I swayed back dropping to the mat to kick her feet out from under her before rolling back to my own feet. Constance came off the ground angrily and I slid in. The fist she punched at me was grabbed twisted and turned to lock her arm. “Stop!”

Constance stopped moving and I released her, “How many times do I have to tell you. If you get angry or let emotion take control, you lose. You are to aggressive. Look at your size. Use your opponent’s force to beat him. Patient’s Pet, if you wait they will move and you will have them.”

She nodded and moved into her stance. I kicked out suddenly and her hand swept up. My foot went up and then she kicked into the thigh of my other leg. I hit the mat and continued to roll. I came to my feet as Constance drifted closer. A chime sounded and I stepped back. I looked at the door and Captain David stepped in.

He looked grim and I straightened, “What is it?”

He glanced at Molly and I nodded before looking at Constance, “Get cleaned up.”

She grinned and bowed before turning to Molly. Molly smiled, “You two have classes, go wash.”

She waited until the small crowd disappeared with her two children. She looked at Captain David, “What is it?”

He smiled sadly, “Albert was just informed by his father’s doctor that he does not have long.”

Molly sighed, “Damn wasting disease. Has he started the pain meds?”

The captain nodded, “Albert will be beginning the vigil.”

Molly nodded, “I will bring the children.”

She looked at me as I started for the door, “Jason?”

I stopped and looked at her, “They are not Drakes Molly. We expect death, Albert pretends he is not close to his father but he is. Prepare Samuel and Constance.”

I left and walked swiftly to my quarter’s opening my comm to Colonel Hibson, “How long do we have Helen.”

She sighed over the comm, “The doc thinks maybe hours.”

I turned at my room and palmed the lock. “Have you alerted Silver?”

“Of course.”

I began stripping as I crossed the room, “I will get with Captain Michael and go over the viewing schedule.”

“I have the fleet commander and the Marine Commandant on their way.”

I nodded as I stepped into the shower, “Give me ten minutes.”

The comm was disconnected as I began washing. Ten minutes later I was walking into Emperor Tenison’s hospital room here in the palace. Angelina was sitting beside his bed holding his hand and Albert was on the other side. Albert looked at me and then nodded to the other Dragons in the room. I gestured and all four quietly left as I took up position beside the door.

It was a few minutes before Molly, Samuel and Constance came in. Their guards looked at me and quietly left. Ten minutes later Molly stood and took the children with her. I had Colonel Hibson whispering in my ear and cleared my throat. Angelina and Albert both looked at me, “The Dragons wish to say goodbye.”

Albert nodded as Angelina smiled sadly. I keyed my comm, “Albert said it would be okay.”

The next couple of hours were spent with one Dragon after another stepping in and going to the bedside to whisper their goodbyes. I was able to speak quietly with Captain Michael, the Gold dragon commander about the viewing schedule. After the last Dragon left and it was just Albert, Angelina and I.

Tenison whispered quietly and Albert looked at me, “He wants to speak with you.”

I moved to the bed and leaned down, “Sir?”

Tenison’s voice was strained, “I want to thank you Jason. You are a good and loyal man to the Empire. Protect my family when I am gone.”

I smiled, “I will sire.”

He smiled and looked at Albert, “Your chick still watches out for you.”

I moved back as Albert smiled at his father. I glanced at the readout above the bed and opened my comm, “Bring Molly and the kids back in.”

It was quiet but Albert looked up at me and then at the display. He bit his lip but did not say anything. A minute later Molly, Samuel and Constance came in with the fleet doctor. He took one glance and moved to the side of the bed. He looked at Tenison and shook his head before stepping back. Ten minutes later Emperor Tenison died.

I finally moved forward and began moving everyone but the doctor out of the room. I called the six Dragons that had volunteered to stand watch over Tenison’s body. I walked out and headed to Colonel Hibson’s office. I walked in to see both the Fleet Commander and the Marine Commandant.

I nodded to the Colonel and she sighed as she reached to the intercom, “David? Notify the news agencies that Emperor Tenison has died.”

She closed the intercom and looked at the two men, “Operation Grieving is in affect. We only have five days.”

They nodded and stood. They both nodded to me on their way out and Striker sat back with a sigh, “We still have those damn rumors Jason.”

I moved to sit across from her, “Has Dragon Intel found anything?”

She nodded, “They confirmed the breach and two of Tenison’s guards have come down with symptoms.”

I shook my head, “I can not believe our bio sensors were not programmed for this disease.”

She grimaced, “it is now, but what worries me is that they did a test run using Tenison.”

I nodded, “They were confident that they could do it again.”

Colonel Hibson frowned and nodded. “Any idea when they will try again?”

I thought about it and sighed, “During the four days of review.”

She nodded and sat back, “We need oxy tanks and full spectrum bio sensors.”

I nodded, “Minimize Molly and the children’s exposure times as well.”

The Colonel nodded, “I scheduled dual shifts with Silver. The fleet Commander and the Marine Commandant are also putting their best men on the watch list.”

I stood and turned towards the door, “Add extra cameras in the approach and viewing area too.”

I left and headed towards the Imperial suite. I knocked and stepped in to see Molly holding Albert. I gestured to Henry and he nodded before slipping out. I settled back against the side of the door and finally Albert stepped back. He was a little red in the face but I waved it off with my hand, “We need to talk.”

He nodded and straightened as Molly turned to leave. I cleared my throat, “Stay Molly.”

I looked at Albert, “It was confirmed. Your father was poisoned.”

His eyes narrowed and I nodded, “Two of his guards have the same disease and we confirmed the breach of the council’s schedule. What worries us is they did not care if we found out.”

Albert glanced at Molly and then looked at me, “Do we know who yet?”

I shook my head, “No. I believe they will try something during the review. I want to limit Molly and the children’s time in the audience chamber. We can have them wear nose filters when they are in the room. We have also doubled the guard standing watch. Both Fleet and Marines are going to do the same.”

He nodded as he took Molly’s hand, “What about air masks or…”

I shook my head, “We can not. We will have oxy tanks and full spectrum bio sensors everywhere.”

Albert frowned, “I want a bio sensor on each of the children.”

I nodded, “Done.”

I looked at Molly, “Your exposure will be when it is less busy.”

She nodded and I turned to the door and opened it slightly, “Henry.”

He stepped in and I left to make arraignments. The next several hours were busy as the large central throne room was opened and readied. Albert and Molly were left alone in their suite for the night while I ended up spending most of the night comforting Samuel and Constance. The six man honor guard was waiting when I picked up Albert in the morning.

I had already checked the review route from the gate to the throne room and each man along the way. I stood beside Albert as the people began arriving. The line came in the door and down to the pedestal where the casket sat. The six Dragons that stood as an honor guard were around the casket.

The line went around the casket and they passed in front of Albert before going back out the door. A single servant would occasionally move to the casket to collect flowers or other items left by people. Colonel Hibson stepped up beside Albert, “We just had someone attempt to breach the Palace database.”

Albert looked at her, “Take Molly and the Children to the vault.”

She nodded, “Their already on the way.”

My eyes slowly scanned the moving line of people and stopped on a man that had already been by the casket a couple of hours before. I stepped in front of Albert as I opened my comm, “Dragon threat! Young male just inside the main doors in a dark green suit!”

I started backing away as everyone started reacted. Colonel Hibson had turned to pulled Albert towards the nearest door. Dragons, Fleet and Marines drew weapons and moved towards the man. The cloud that suddenly exploded from him caused a panic and people were screaming and running as we left the room.

That was when it hit me. I opened my comm, “Do not put Molly or the children in the vault! Tinker!”

There was a slight hesitation, “Boss?”

I pushed Alert as the Colonel continued to pull him, “I want a complete system check of the vault air recycle system.”

The Colonel cursed as Tinker came back quickly, “I am on it!”

“What do we do with Molly?”

I glanced back as more Dragons fell in with us, “Keep them in the outer vault entrance Tony and use the air masks with oxy tanks.”

The comm came to life, “This is Silver. We have a major attack on the main gates.”

The Colonel cursed and looked at me as we came into the outer entrance. Albert headed towards Molly and the children. I grinned and opened the Marine Dragon channel, “This is Crimson Dragon. We have a major attack at the palace main gates. Do any of you mud dogs want a piece of the men that killed emperor Tenison?”

There was a roar as more and more Marines opened their comm I grinned at the Colonel and took the assault rifle that was tossed to me. Tinker stepped out of a door just down from the vault looking pale. He shook his head, “Someone tampered with it.”

I nodded and looked around, “You would think we could keep palace servants loyal.”

The other Dragons chuckled and I moved to Albert, “Time for plan B.”

He grinned, “And which plan B is that?”

I grinned, “My quarters. You were wondering why I had all that work done; now you know.”

He looked at Molly as she laughed and gestured to Samuel and Constance. I gestured to Tinker, “Take point.”

A dozen dragons followed Tinker and the rest fell in behind us. The servant that stepped out seemed harmless but Tinker growled and gestured for him to move back into the hallway he came out of. He suddenly jerked and drew his weapon before firing.

The servant was thrown back as Tinker looked around, “Bio Poison boys and girls so you better be wearing your air filters.”

We moved past the body and headed up a back stairway. Colonel Hibson growled, “The Marines just joined the party at the gate.”

Albert chuckled, “They love a good fight.”

Molly laughed with all the Dragons around them, “You have no idea how they love the thought of saving your ass.”

Tony chuckled, “Maybe we should invite them to dinner one night.”

Everyone laughed again and Tinker stopped at my door. I moved up to use the palm lock, “Inside on the left is the door into the air filtration unit. Check it before we enter.”

I glanced at another Dragon name Smooth, “Smooth, run an explosive scan on everything before we go in.”

I looked at a third Dragon that was new, “Hatchling, scan for contact poison and toxins.”

They all nodded and as soon as the door was open, headed in. I waited and watched the hallway with everyone else. Colonel Hibson was constantly on the comm and finally nodded and looked at Albert, “The attack on the main gate is over. Silver has a man they are interrogating. Right now it looks like a group that is trying to remove all royalty from ruling.”

Albert snorted, “Good luck with that.”

Tinker was back and gestured. I let Albert, Molly, Samuel and Constance enter before nodding to the Colonel and sending dragons further out to block the hall at the cross intersections. She was talking to Albert when I walked into my room and saw Constance and Samuel by the dimensional combat board with Tinker.

I grinned as I headed towards Albert, “Do not bet with Tinker cousins.”

It was a long trying week before the long procession moved through the streets to the port. We loaded Tenison’s remains into a ship. His remains would be taken throughout the Empire to be honored before returning to be buried.





Chapter eleven

End Game

Almost as soon as the Nelson shut down the comm came to life. I ignored everyone and opened the Dragon comm, “This is Crimson Dragon. I am making an approach to Saras Duchy. Nightshade, I need an escort.”

“On its way Jason.”

My alarms went off and suddenly the Dragon fleet flared with shields, “Shields Tinker!”

I was busy changing course, “Going to emergency reentry Kitten.”

Albert and Molly burst through the back hatch as our shield flared white with plasma fire, “Sit the fuck down Lt!”

The ship shook and groaned as we entered atmosphere in a huge ball of flame. The Dragon channel was chattering as they were suddenly fighting orbital platforms that were coming alive. I was not really to worried about them since both Gold and Silver fleet were engaged.

I opened the Marine Dragon comm, “This is Crimson Dragon. We are coming in hot with a Dragon’s Egg. Recon, clear the pad at Saras Duchy and secure the outer perimeter.”

I dumped power into the anti gravity and shoved it to the max to slow us down. Tinker and Silvia murmured back and forth and Michelle’s hands danced over the secondary controls. The ball of plasma around us disappeared and was replaced with a white glowing shield. I glanced at Michelle, “Man the caltrop.”

I turned the ship as we continued to slow and descend until Tinker sighed, “You are green boss.”

I growled as ten slim fast moving sting ships appeared beside the ship, “About time Griffin. Some of you go clear the way.”

“Got it Jason.”

Five of the sting ships surged ahead and the rest began a dance around the ship. I pulled back on the anti gravity and the ship smoothed out. Tinker cleared his throat, “By the way, Nightshade just gave the all clear. She said it was powered down weapon platforms.”

I nodded as I leveled out at two thousand feet, “We are crossing the outer marker.”

Albert cleared his throat, “Still think its merchants?”

I cursed and opened a private comm to Huntress, “Huntress?”

“Yeah?”

Do you have a merchant close to the Duke?”

Michelle gasped, “Uncle Peter!”

I glanced at her as Huntress answered, “The Chamberlain, Peter Ellis.”

I nodded, “Secure him and run checks on everything he has touched.”

I looked back at Albert, “Two minutes if you want to put on one of your suits.”

He grinned, “I will wear this since this is just a visit for a family members wedding.”

I grumped as Tinker snickered. I opened the Marine Dragon channel, “Status Recon?”

George’s clear voice came through, “You are green.”

I slowed and dropped to a thousand feet. I glanced at Tinker, “Let George know he only has a minute.”

Michelle jerked, “Contact!”

The sting ships caught it at the same time and two rolled and flipped but Michelle had already fired a long burst. Tinker cursed, “They launched!”

The two sting ships fired and the missile exploded. An explosion ahead of us had my comm come alive, “Crimson Dragon this is Recon six, we have multiple…”

The whole area was suddenly ripped apart and a hundred more sting ships flashed passed us. They were followed by six assault shuttles that lit everything within a hundred kilometer with a battlescan that would have fried any seeking scans. I dropped lower and opened the Dragon channel, “About damn time.”

Nightshade laughed, “Welcome back to the front lines.”

I looked back at Albert, “The boss is not supposed to Be on the front lines Nightshade.”

I turned towards the ground beacon and opened a comm to Huntress, “Status Huntress?”

She was quick to come back, “We have him and two others.”

I sighed and slowed to a stop over the smaller shuttle pad and started lowering the ship. I extended the legs as Tinker killed the countermeasures and Silvia dropped the shield. The ship settled to the ground and I sat back, “Time to end this.”

I slid the seat back as Michelle stood to join me. I turned to look at Blade and Sister Shadow in the hatchway, “Ready?”

They nodded and Sister Shadow cleared her throat, “The platoon is spreading out now and the rest of Gold is moving in.”

I headed out and down to the entry hatch. The marines were already outside waiting and I smiled at the Sergeant, “Your squad is relieved Sergeant.”

He went to attention, “If you ever need us again.”

Michelle grinned, “I will call. You and your squad have my thanks. I will be putting that in writing too.”

He grinned and the squad stood straighter. I moved forward and Albert stepped out with Molly. I headed towards the distant buildings and Michelle reached out to take my hand. I glanced at her, “Nervous?”

She grinned, “Yeah.”

I grinned and squeezed her hand as I heard Molly behind us say something to Albert who laughed. I ignored the platoon of Dragons around us as Nightshade and even more Dragons appeared. Dancer met us as we came through the side door. She grinned, “Still putting on a show.”

I smiled, “Where are your prisoners?”

She fell in with us, “It was like you thought. The merchant Peter Ellis was part of a merchant cartel that wanted to take over the empire and believed we could not do anything without them.”

I nodded, “Typical rich merchant attitude.”

She nodded, “Lieutenant Carr has him talking and Alex sent us a list of merchants involved on that end. They wanted to break Dragon security around Albert.”

I glanced back and then turned into the great hall. I headed straight for the man being held by Marines and talking to Lieutenant Carr. When I stopped, he shut up and glared. I glanced at Carr and then looked at the merchant, “Why here?”

That made everyone shift because no one had asked that and the merchant looked away. The two Marines shook him and he ignored them. I nodded and held out my hand, “I need a knife to kill this traitor.”

The merchant jerked as George was suddenly there placing a knife in my hand. I stepped closer and reached out to grab his hair and moved the blade to his throat before he cried out, “Wait!”

I paused and he licked his lips, “They knew you were here and… they wanted to disgrace you and the Dragons by having you kill the Duke’s heir.”

Around me people sucked in their breath but I did not even stir, “That would not have brought the Dragons here.”

He looked around as if pleadingly and I moved the knife back to his throat. “We were going to kill you!”

I smiled and pulled the knife back, “And how would that bring Dragons?”

He licked his lips, “The honor guards were to be attacked and killed.”

I sighed, “And the Duke and the rest of his family?”

He looked past me, “Executed.”

I looked at him for a long time, “You will tell Lieutenant Carr who else in this system was involved. If you pause or stop talking you will be execute. For conspiring to commit treason, attempted assassination of a noble and the attempt on the Emperor you will be sentenced to a slow death. If you tell us everything and I do mean everything, you will be placed on a max security prison planet to spend the rest of your life.”

I turned and handed George her knife back before heading across the room where Albert and Molly were already talking to the Duke and Duchess. Michelle slipped her hand in mine, “Why did you ask for a knife? You have one.”

I grinned and glanced at George who was following us, “For effect, besides I did not want to soil My knife with that traitor’s blood.”

Michelle laughed as George snorted. I stopped in front of the Duke and bowed my head, “My lord.”

He glanced past me at Peter Ellis, “I never thought Peter would do this.”

I glanced at Albert, “It happens.”

I looked at Michelle and smiled, “I think it is over now. Anyone we do not have will be looking for a rock to hide under.”

The Duchess came forward and embraced Michelle. She looked at me, “I was upset when you took my husbands…”

The Duke cleared his throat and she smiled, “Until he explained in private what it meant.”

I nodded and Molly laughed, “Our family has been waiting for Jason to find someone. Kitten seems to have stopped waiting and captured him instead.”

The Duchess looked at Molly, “Kitten?”

Albert snorted, “Your daughter has a knack and Dragons and Marines tend to give them names.”

The Duchess grinned, “Kitten?”

I sighed and turned when four large Dragons walked in with a slim woman between them. Albert and Molly stayed silent as I nodded my head, “Hello Striker.”

She smiled calmly and glanced at Michelle before looking at me, “Still butting into dragon business?”

I smiled, “Once a Dragon, always a Dragon.”

Colonel Hibson nodded, “True and so far your loyalties have not strayed.”

I grinned, “I told you once before you left, I am not loyal to the Emperor.”

She shook her head, “The truth scans told me that but you have never…”

She waved her hand, “It does not matter.”

I sighed, “I am loyal to my lieutenant. I know very well the record was erased and many Dragons do not know the truth.”

I looked at Molly, “The Drake family is Marine, blood, bone and hide.”

Striker actually grinned, “Now, I never thought of that.”

She looked at Albert, “Your majesty, the baron’s council is ready to meet using a holo sim.”

He nodded, “Thank you Helen.”

I watched her leave and looked at Albert, “She still runs everything?”

Molly laughed, “She tries not to but we hold her feet to the fire.”

I smiled and looked at Michelle, “That was Retired Colonel Helen Hibson. Former Commander of the Emperor’s Dragons and now his appointment secretary.”

Michelle looked at the door, “and the four Dragons?”

I grinned, “Silver’s assigned to protect her.”

Michelle grinned and looked at Molly, “I will bet she does not like that.”

Molly laughed, “She threatened to beat the first two until Albert told her to behave. Now she just ignores them.”

Swordbreaker walked across the room and nodded to Albert, “We have them all sir.”

Molly grinned, “Good, we have a bridal shower to plan.”





Chapter twelve

A Wedding

The whole planet seemed more relaxed and alive with plans. It was a week before Michelle disappeared on Dancer and Huntress’s arms for her bridal shower. Even Striker had been invited, along with a few hundred other women. Tinker wanted to throw me a bachelor party but I had shot that down and spent the day in a garage with Albert and Samuel.

My mother had arrived just in time to shuttle down to Michelle’s party before even stopping to see me. I retired early to my quarters in the Dragon wing attached to the Duchy. I came awake and was reaching for my weapon as the door slid open. Michelle slipped in and undressed before moving onto the bed, “That was fun.”

I smiled and let my pistol go before pulling her against me, “Not for me.”

She laughed, “Dragons are so naughty. I think mom had a red face the whole time.”

I shook my head, “I did not need to hear that.”

Michelle sighed and put her head on my shoulder, “Mom and Molly are putting guards on me until the wedding is over. Molly said to tell you, you have to wear your formal uniform and not the Dragon dress up.”

I sighed and caressed her, “She is getting even for me making her wear a white wedding dress.”

Michelle laughed, “Silvia is going to make Tinker wear his formal uniform too.”

The next three weeks were filled with planning. Even Albert managed to slip away. Of course Blade went with him even if he would not say where they had gone. Molly pulled Michelle away and had her sleeping with Constance. I was really out of the loop and saw her only once or twice a day and that was with a hundred people around us.

Tents sprang up a week before the wedding and people began to arrive. My mother had a standing appointment with me every afternoon for tea. (I think she did it to watch me squirm). The night before the wedding was a large dinner. Michelle was there, Dancer and Huntress sat with her at the other end of the table.

Everyone seemed to take delight in making this difficult. One sip of my water had me looking around. I quietly switched it with Albert’s only to spit it out. He grinned and I sighed, “If you are going to get me drunk at least use the good stuff.”

Everyone that heard that laughed and Tinker leaned back, “Boss?”

I looked at him and my hand shot up to catch the thrown flask, it was not a small one either. I nodded and opened it and took a sniff before taking a drink. I closed it and nodded to Tinker, “Much better.”

After that one dragon or another stood to tell a tale about me. Finally Albert stood and everyone quieted as he cleared his throat, “I met Jason when he was as wet behind the ears as I was. I would like to say he did something I could laugh at but he did not, at least not at first. It was not that he stood between me and danger as he has done many, many times. He stood before his comrades then and for the first time in my privileged life I saw a man stand against what should have been his death. He knew we were doomed, just as I did but he did not show it. Even after the unexpected rescue came he continued to protect those of us no longer able to do it for ourselves.”

He looked at me, “For those that do not know. He is also the only man to ever take an emperor by the throat after tossing his guards aside.”

Albert grinned as he faced the room, “My father was surprised and never raised his voice to me after that, at least not with him present.”

The room laughed and Albert smiled before looking at me and raising his glass, “To First Platoon of Able Company, 1st Regiment of the Third Battle Brigade. May their names never be forgotten.”

I stood and held out my glass, “To the fallen.”

He nodded as the room surged to its feet. After drinking the toast, I put my glass down and looked out over my friends and companions. I nodded and turned to walk to Michelle, “Walk with me Kitten.”

Mom and Molly both cleared their throat and I ignored them, “Walk with me.”

Michelle smiled and stood to take my hand. As we walked, I just held her hand and finally I stopped and looked at her, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

She smiled, “Getting cold feet?”

I caressed her face, “No. The moment we are wed my life as a Dragon is over. I love you Kitten but I am older than you…”

Michelle touched my lips, “You and I both know that does not matter and as for not being a Dragon that will not change. Being a Dragon is not what you did or do, it is what you are. Marrying me will not change that and I do not expect it too. You are retired Jason but you will always be what you are. Now, when we have children you get to be the stay at home dad while I have to govern. Molly said that would not be hard for you to understand.”

I smiled and kissed her fingers, “No.”

Michelle nodded, “Good, now for our honeymoon…”

I laughed and hugged her and she grinned, “How about a trip around the system in your ship?”

I smiled and took her hand, “I will be giving the ship to Tinker and Silvia.”

She grinned, “And George and Brit?”

I started walking again, “And George and Brit.”

Michelle sighed, “I feel like something is ending.”

I looked at her and laughed, “Not quit Kitten, it is just starting.”

She grinned, “By the way, I promised Huntress and Dancer to get a sample for them.”

I smiled, “You have to wait until our honeymoon.”

The sudden appearance of the young man had me reacting automatically. He had just stepped around a corner and I moved in front of Michelle. Just one look had me drawing my pistol as he was fumbling with something under his shirt. He froze and looked at me angrily. Michelle moved a tiny bit, “Elwin?”

I looked at her and she shrugged, “He went to school with me.”

I moved closer and reached under his shirt to remove the weapon. He glared at me, “She should be marrying me!”

Michelle sucked in her breath before stepping around me, “What do you mean marry you? You were always running around with other girls. There is no way I would marry you.”

I gestured to the two Dragons that appeared and they stopped as Elwin licked his lips, “I am the best man on the planet.”

Michelle laughed, “You are a puffed up peacock with no backbone. I would not touch you if you were the last man on the planet.”

He looked at me, “But I am a noble.”

Michelle snorted, “Jason may not have a title but he knows more about being a noble and doing your duty then you ever will.”

Elwin straightened, “I have the right to bring the question before the other Barons in the system.”

I shook my head, “Actually you do not. Your father or mother might but not an heir.”

He glared, “Then I will challenge.”

I laughed and stepped closer to cuff him, “I would kill you. I will tell you what you are going to do though. You will be escorted to the Marine officer recruitment office. You will volunteer for a four year tour. Now you might not want to do that so your other option is to spend the next ten years in a penal detachment and have your nobles patient stripped from you.”

He snarled, “You can not…”

I slapped him, “You used your rank to enter into the inner security of the Emperor while carrying a weapon. I could shoot you now without anything happening.”

He swallowed, “I am loyal to the Emperor.”

I smiled coldly, “That is the only reason I am giving you a choice.”

He looked at Michelle pleadingly and she shook her head, “do not look at me, you did this to yourself.”

He whispered, “But you should be marrying me.”

Michelle shook her head as I gestured to the Dragons who came to take him away. I glanced at Michelle as we started walking, “An admirer you did not know you had?”

She shook her head, “He always thought he was better than he was.”

I smiled and turned into the next hallway leading back to the banquet area, “Now about us and children.”

Michelle snorted and then laughed, “I have to produce an heir within…”

She looked at me as I chuckled, “I know how long you have Kitten.”

She grinned, “I prefer the old fashion way to get pregnant.”

I smiled, “As long as you get a bio scan to make sure the child is going to be healthy.”

Michelle grinned, “I am going to time it so the baby is born around the same time as Huntress’s.”

I grinned, “Did Dancer show you the pictures of Samantha?”

She grinned again, “Yes, she is a pretty girl.”

I nodded as we turned into the dinning hall, “She will be here tomorrow.”

Michelle looked at me, “Dancer said you have never seen her.”

I shook my head as I turned her and the hall fell silent. I opened my tunic and pulled out a flat case. I hesitated before handing it to Michelle, “These were once part of the armor on a royal Clicken warrior. They are grown on the senior royal warriors and only found on Protus and only found in the Prime Hive. These were sent to me by the Clicken Prime Queen in tribute for my skill and bravery. They came from the fallen warriors we killed.”

Michelle opened the case and gasped at the sparkling necklace that lay inside the case. She looked up and I smiled, “I would very much like you to wear it tomorrow.”

She smiled and kissed me and then Dancer and Huntress were both there laughing and pulling her back, “No more until after the wedding.”

I smiled as they pulled Michelle away and turned to bow to the room before leaving. When I walked out the side door the next morning it was to see thousands of people. I stopped in surprise and the Dragon by the door chuckled, “Get used to it boss.”

I glanced at her and shook my head, “Everyone is having way to much fun.”

She grinned and I started for the large raised stage like platform. The marines and fleet units I passed snapped to attention and saluted. Even the nobles and other civilians stood. I was consoled after reaching the platform when I looked back and saw Tinker being treated the same way. Slowly the wedding party arrived and sat below the platform.

Molly, Constance and Samuel were grinning as they took their seats and I looked around for Albert. When the Marine lieutenant climbed the stairs I looked at him and then turned to look around quickly. I hissed at Tinker and he turned before cursing under his breath. I glared at Albert when he stopped beside Tinker, “What are you doing?”

He smiled, “Joining the groom’s party.”

I started to say something when the wedding march started and I turned to see Michelle. I blinked and forgot about almost everything as she was proceeded by Silvia and Brit. Silvia was wearing a formal gown but Brit was wearing her formal marine uniform. As for Michelle, she was wearing a stunning white formal gown that clung to her.

At her throat was the sparkling display of the necklace I had given her. I barely even took note of her father walking beside her and Tinker nudged me, “Breathe.”

I glanced at him and grinned before turning back to watch Michelle approach. I would like to detail the wedding, but to tell the truth I do not remember much accept the part where I put the plain gold wedding band on Michelle’s finger. The huge roar as everyone cheered shocked me awake and I glanced at Albert before turning back to Michelle and taking her hand.

The walk out was almost as uncomfortable as the one in, accept this time everyone was throwing flower petals. The room we walked into was small and private. Michelle grinned and let me help her change into her next gown, one that hugged her figure. I changed into a soft set of civilian clothes and my weapons and took her hand. We left and walked out to the huge tent that held thousands.

Everyone cheered as we walked to the center table. This was the reception and would go on through the night. Molly, Albert and Samuel were sitting at the table but Constance was missing. I looked around for her and her young man and saw the group of Marines out on the edge of the tent.

Albert grinned as he stood and gestured. Michelle and Molly walked with us and the marines parted so we could see the center of the group. George had stripped her dress blouse off and Constance had removed her boots and fancy jacket.

They were both stretching and I shook my head before looking for Tinker. He was on one side taking bets with Boomer and Albert leaned close, “does your cousin know how good Constance is?”

I grinned, “Want to wager?”

He grinned, “So far she always wins.”

Michelle laughed and said something to Molly who looked across the cleared space, “Tinker!”

He turned to look and grinned, “Yes?”

Molly gestured, “I bet a bottle of rainbow brandy on Cousin George”

He frowned and looked around before sighing and nodding. I grinned and squeezed Michelle’s hand as Constance frowned at her mother. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at George and then she moved to the center of the open space. George barely even acknowledged what Molly had said and moved to face Constance. She slipped into her stance and waited.

After awhile Constance frowned and shifted to strike. George shifted slightly and Constance froze before shifting back. She fainted and George ignored it and slipped sideways before Constance had even started her real attack. She swept Constance’s striking foot up and moved into her as she went down.

Constance was already trying to roll away before she struck the ground but George struck swiftly. Constance grunted as she scissored her feet and swept George onto her side. Before she could follow up George had rolled away and came to her feet. Constance came to her feet grinning and they slowly circled. Albert leaned closer, “She reminds me of myself but better.”

Molly chuckled, “You have not seen her practice much.”

Albert nodded and I glanced at Sister Shadow as she jerked and reached for Albert. I looked around as she whispered into his ear and his face went pale. He looked past me to the duke and then into my eyes, “We have a spike inbound.”

I stiffened as my mind spun. I looked at Michelle and then at Albert, “The planet?”

He nodded, “We have two days, maybe.”

I shook my head and walked forward into the circle, “George, Constance.”

They stepped away from each other and I gestured to Constance’s guard, “Get her aboard the carrier.”

I looked around before facing the Duke, Michelle’s father, “Someone sent a spike towards the planet. You need to evacuate as many people as you can.”

I looked at Tinker, “We need as much anti matter as you can stuff into the ship. Put Silvia on another ship and once we are loaded follow her.”

He opened his mouth but I looked at Albert, “If you can, I would appreciate it if you let the Dragon fleet help evacuate the planet. Huntress and Dancer need to get their daughter off and…”

He nodded and I turned to grab Michelle’s hand, “Come with me.”

I ignored everyone as they panicked and pushed through them pulling Michelle behind me. I closed the door as I pulled her into the residence. She pulled back, “If you think you are going to…”

I turned and pulled her against me, “I want you to walk with me and just listen.”

She looked into my face and finally nodded. I started walking fast headed towards the other side of the building, “I want you to get to Beta Seven and see if they have repaired my old shuttle. Get someone to give you a priority ride. I am giving you Peaches; get an engineer to hook her into the nav console. When she is hooked up tell her Crimson Dragon is in a cocoon and needs her wings.”

I looked back, “Can you remember that?”

She was looking grim, “I will remember.”

I nodded and opened the other door and headed for the far pads, “She will begin reading off distance and directions, whatever you do, please do not run into me. I am taking the transport out with full shields. The spike will break through but it should be enough for the antimatter to detonate and detour it or destroy it. Just before it hits I plan to use the pilot’s ejection pod.”

Michelle gasped as I swung up into the ship and headed towards the command deck. I went straight to Peaches once I reached the bridge, “Shut down Peaches and go to back ups.”

I quickly went through disconnecting her and ignored Michelle. While I was working Michelle finally bleated out, “What is a spike?”

I glanced back, “A spike is a very large missile released by a starship at the exact moment it exits jump. The starship is almost always destroyed. The spike is usually moving at over light speed so if it impacts a planet…”

Michelle nodded, “it would shatter it.”

I turned and held Peaches out but Michelle came into my arms, “Don’t you dare die.”

I kissed her and pushed her towards the hatch, “I have plans Kitten, now get going.”

She sprinted out as I headed out to dump everything. Boomer and Brit appeared and I ignored them as pallets of anti matter began appearing from Imperial Dragon shuttles. I finally turned and sent George and Brit out on the last shuttle that was moving to pick people up before heading back into orbit. I found Tinker on the bridge and jerked my thumb, “Out Tinker.”

He stood straight, “You can not do it alone.”

I smiled, “You know I can, now get going.”

He spun and strode out without saying another word. I watched the hatch monitor until he was off the ship and brought everything alive. I did not bother contacting control as I turned the big ship and began to move slowly. All I could think of as I headed up towards the atmosphere was Michelle. I knew the shuttle would not be repaired but it got her to safety.

As soon as the ship went black sky I moved back and brought all reactors on line and then sat back in the pilot seat and began accelerating out to meet the spike. I was getting constant scan updates from fleet and the dragon fleet. They were wrong about how long they had; it was only a day away. Twelve hours before impact the comm chimed, “Jason this is Kitten.”

I smiled, “Go ahead Kitten.”

“You are a stinker Jason. I got it fixed anyway, Silvia and Tinker helped us. We are black sky and following.”

I shook my head, “You are to late Kitten. You are over fourteen hours behind and the pod only…”

“You listen to me Jason Drake! You will bloody well find extra oxy tanks and make them work!”

I sighed, “I am sorry Kitten…”

The clearing of a throat made me look back and shake my head, “Great.”

I opened the comm, “I will be aborting my run…”

“No you will not.”

Samuel strode forward and bent to open the comm in the engineering station, “Tinker? Where is the extra oxy tanks.”

There was silence and then Albert came on, “Samuel? When I…”

A moment later Molly’s calm voice came through, “Tell him Tinker. Bring my boy home Jason.”

Tinker chuckled, “Okay kid. Look in the secondary engineering cabin. There is a bottle and a small oxy generator, also…”

I tuned them out and tried to decide what to do. Samuel put his hand on my shoulder, “We will make it.”

I almost snarled at him and took a deep breath, “When this is over…”

He laughed as he headed towards the hatch, “I think this time you are going to have to wait your turn.”

Two hours before impact we had bottles strapped everywhere around the two pilot’s seats and two small oxy generators waiting to start up. I made sure Samuel was wearing an evac suit as well as strapped into the other seat. I watched the holo clock Samuel kept updating with a running count down.

Ten minutes until impact I brought the shields to full power and put the pilot ejection pod in sync with the shields. I programmed the trajectory away from the ship and opened the comm, “Kitten?”

“I am here.”

I sighed, “It is almost time.”

She was quiet for a moment, “I will be there Jason.”

I smiled, “tell Tinker, Samuel is a better than him too.”

She laughed and was silent. I looked at Samuel, “Want to say anything to your mom or dad?”

He shook his head and closed the visor. I had everything locked one minute before impact and took a breath before hitting the ejection button. Nothing happened for a micro second and then a solid bulkhead slammed down behind the seats and I was pinned to the seat as we were kicked away from the ship. We were held in the seats as the pod streaked away but my eyes were glued to the scan display I had preprogrammed.

When the explosion came, it was massive and I knew were in trouble, it seemed to reach out for us. The pod was thrown around like it was nothing and I heard the hiss of escaping air. I struggled up out of the seat and fought my way towards sound. I pulled patches from a thigh pocket and released one.

The suction pulled it to the leak and it exploded in foam that sealed the leak. The pod steadied and slowed leaving us in dim light as I moved carefully to the two oxy generators. I brought them online and open one bottle. I moved to Samuel and tapped on his helmet, “Still with me?”

Samuel slowly raised the visor and smiled weakly, “Do not tell dad but I think I am finished making fast racers.”

I grinned, “It was a ride to remember.”

I sat in my seat trying to stay calm and hoping what we had done worked. Twenty hours later there was a banging on the pod hull and I put a mask on and gestured to Samuel who closed his visor. Several minutes later a laser torch was cutting through the rear bulkhead. When the opening fell in Tinker peeked through, “What a lift?”

Samuel was grinning as he struggle out of his seat and headed towards the hole. I yanked him back, “Careful or you will melt a hole in the suit.”

He nodded as I moved to join him and Tinker grinned as he sprayed what had to be liquid oxygen around the melted edge. I nodded and helped Samuel through before following. We were in a thin cold temporary chamber and Tinker backed up and turned to open the air lock into the shuttle.

Once through he closed it behind us and opened the oxygen in the airlock before blowing the outer chamber away from the ship. Silvia was waiting on the inside and took Samuel by the shoulder, “I have orders from your mother Samuel.”

I pulled the mask off, “His beating can wait until he has a warm meal and a few hours of sleep.”

I looked at Tinker, “Tell me it worked.”

He grinned, “It worked. There was still some debris but not enough the cause much damage.”

Tinker pushed me towards the bridge, “I think the Captain wants a few private words.”

I grinned, “I am sure she does”

I headed up quickly and ducked through to see Boomer sitting down and Michelle turning to face me. I ignored Boomer and Brit in the other seat as I strode to Michelle and swept her into my arms, “hey Kitten, this tub have a shower and bed?”

She grinned and hugged me, “How about just a bed?”

I turned to the hatch and Peaches made her throat clearing sound. I sighed, “Yes Peaches.”

“Albert said good job and asked if you wanted another medal?”

I groaned as Boomer and Brit both snickered. Michelle shook me and looked back, “Tell his Majesty I am giving him his punishment and he is not to spoil it.”

Brit and Boomer both bellowed as they laughed and I grinned as I let my wife pull me out to find a bed to consummate our marriage.

The End
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