Endgame

Endgame Publisher: Ace
(August 28, 2012)

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Blurb

REGRET NOTHING.
Sirantha Jax has the J-gene, which permits her to “jump” faster-than-light ships through grimspace. She loves nothing more than that rush, but the star roads have to wait…

Her final mission takes her to La’heng, a planet subjugated during first contact. Since then, the La’hengrin homeworld has been occupied by foreign conquerors.

All that’s about to change.

Now, as part of a grass-roots resistance, Jax means to liberate the La’hengrin. Political intrigue and guerrilla warfare are new to her; this will be the most dangerous game she’s ever played—spies and conspiracies, a war of weapons and hearts, and everyone might not make it out alive…

Excerpt: Endgame

The first taste is free.

One

This is not a love story.

It is my life, and as such, there is love, loss, war, death, and sacrifice. It’s about things that needed to be done and choices made. I regret nothing.

It’s easy to say that. Harder to mean it. Sometimes I look back on the branching paths I took to wind up here, and I wonder if there was another road, an easier road, that ends somewhere else. Yet it all boils down to a promise.

That’s why I’m on La’heng, after all.

After six months of appointments and following procedure, I’m ready to tear my hair out. Instead, I sit obediently outside the legate’s office, as if this meeting will turn out any different. The Pretty Robotics assistant monitors me with discreet glances, as if the VI has been programmed to see how long people will wait before storming off in a fit of rage. So far, I’ve been here for four hours. I hear a door open and close down the hall, and I recognize the legate as he tries to slide by me.

It is around lunchtime, so I push to my feet. “How lovely of you to make it a social occasion,” I purr, falling into step with Legate Flavius.

He’s caught the assignment to deal with all of our appeals, which makes me think he pissed somebody off. His favorite tactic is avoidance, but since I’ve caught him, he can’t dismiss me without calling for a centurion to eject me from the premises, and I have a legal right to be here. In fact, I have some grounds for a discrimination suit since he made an appointment and then refused to honor it, as he wouldn’t do to a Nicuan citizen.

“Come along then,” he says with weary resignation.

“Where are we going?”

“There’s a place nearby that does an excellent salad and they have truly superior wine. None of the local shite.”

Fantastic, so he’s a snob, and he thinks nothing on La’heng could be as good as what they import from elsewhere. I make a note of that and walk beside him, mentally lining up my arguments. He makes polite, strained small talk on the way to the restaurant, which is atop one of the towering structures nearby. The floor rotates slowly, granting a luxurious view first of the harbor and then the governor’s palace in the distance. Jineba, which is the capital city, shows no trace at all of La’heng influence or architecture. Rather, the buildings are like Terran trees, where the rings reveal its age. Jineba is like that; only you can tell how old a building is by the architectural style and which conquerors designed it. The Nicuan occupation results in a series of colonial buildings, where pillars and columns mask the modern heart.

The penthouse dining room shares that quality, and there are La’hengrin servants instead of bots. They take our orders with quiet humility, and I loathe their subservience because someone has sent them to work here. It wasn’t a choice, and they don’t receive wages. Whatever the nobles call it, this is slavery.

Legate Flavius orders for us without asking what I want. To a man like him, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Once the niceties are attended, he steeples his hands and regards me across the white-linen covered table.

“Make your case, Ms. Jax.”

“Under the Homeland Health Care Act, ratified by the human board of directors in 4867, the natives of La’heng have the right to the best possible treatments, including and not limited to experimental medications. Carvati’s Cure ameliorates damage created by widespread exposure to RC-17.” When we seeded the atmosphere with a chemical that was meant to keep the La’hengrin compliant, we didn’t factor for their adaptive physiology. It’s been centuries now, and the effects linger still. “Therefore, the Nicuan council actively prohibits a treatment that will improve quality of life for the La’hengrin, which is unlawful according to article thirty-seven, codicil—”

The legate sighs faintly. “Yes, you’ve inundated my office with claims about your miracle drug. Unfortunately, you haven’t passed licensing through the drug administration. As I recall, there have been no trials. What kind of monsters would we be if we permitted you to use the La’heng to test your product?”

The kind who makes the La’hengrin your slaves, like the ones you have at home.

I grind my teeth, holding the retort. “We applied for permits to begin trials three months ago. They were denied due to lack of residency requirements.”

He smiles. “Ah, yes. You must achieve residency on La’heng before you can expect to receive rights that come with citizenship.”

I want to come across the table and punch him in the face. Instead, I bite my inner lip until I taste copper. The pain focuses my anger into a laser.

“I applied for citizenship,” I say carefully. “And my request was denied.”

The unctuous smile widens. “I did see that. Your unfortunate past makes you rather… undesirable, Ms. Jax.”

“Excuse me?” I bite out.

“First, Farwan Corporation charged you with terrorism—”

“Those accusations were entirely baseless,” I snap.

“As if the business with Farwan wasn’t questionable enough, your military career ended in a rather colorful fashion, did it not? To whit, charges of mass murder, dereliction of duty, and high treason.”

“I was acquitted. It’s illegal to deny me services due to crimes the court judged I did not commit.”

“Hm,” he says, feigning concern. “Well, feel free to appeal within the Conglomerate courts. Since we are, at least in the tertiary sense, subject to their laws and jurisdictions, if they deem our denial to violate your rights as a Conglomerate citizen in good standing, then we will certainly reconsider the decision.”

He knows that will take turns, damn him. Turns to appeal the rejection. Turns to get another application approved. Then I’ll have to start over with the permissions to initiate drug trials. They’re trying to kill the resistance with blocks and delays.

Assholes.

Holding my temper with sheer willpower, I say, “So you allege that you’re denying progress with the cure for the good of the La’heng.”

There’s that awful, hateful smile again. “Certainly. We take our duty as their protectors very seriously.”

“Sure you do.” I shove back from the table and stalk away. There’s no way I’m spending another minute with this jackass, now that I know it’s another dead end. In the past six months, I’ve met countless petty bureaucrats who get off on jerking people around. Nicuan is full of stunted dictators who have secret dreams of being the emperor, and so they rule their tiny department with an iron fist.

Vel’s waiting for me at home. I take public transport to get there, and then walk some distance as well. We’re off the beaten track for obvious reasons. As I trudge the last kilometer, I reflect that Vel can try. His record might prove harder to block, as he doesn’t have my tarnished reputation. He was a bounty hunter known for his compliance with all regulations, and then he commanded the Ithtorian fleet to great personal acclaim. But it’s so fragging disheartening to think of starting over.

And maybe there’s no point.

Loras thinks this is a monumental waste of time, but he let me do it while he puts other plans in place. Rebellions aren’t born overnight. They foment over time with careful nurturing, and while I waste my time with Nicuan officials, he’s working other angles. By the time I give up the whole thing as untenable, he’ll be ready to move. In a way, I’m his stalking horse. While they’re screwing with me, the nobles won’t expect problems from any other quarter.

“How did it go?” Vel asks when I walk in. He gets back from flight school before I finish up my work in the city, and it’s nice to have him waiting. He’s over two meters tall, covered in chitin, with hinged legs, and my mark on his thorax, a character that means grimspace in Ithtorian. His side-set eyes and expressive mandible no longer seem strange to me, though people on La’heng sometimes stare if he’s out of faux-skin.

“For shit,” I mutter. “Who I am is actually working against us. Or at least, they’re using my past to block my petitions.”

“I am sorry, Sirantha.”

When we first met on Gehenna, Vel had taken a job to retrieve me for Farwan Corporation. He slid into a friend’s skin, and figured out a way to get me to go to New Terra with him willingly. That could’ve end badly for me. Fortunately, Vel was as honorable a bounty hunter as he is in every other regard, and once he realized the Corp was using me as a scapegoat, he became my biggest ally. Now, he’s my dearest friend… with nuances of something else, maybe, someday. But he doesn’t look for promises anymore than I’m looking to make our relationship more complicated. His mere presence defuses some of the tension and frustration that comes with the territory. He’s always supported me, believing the best of me even when I screw up, even when I don’t deserve it.

I shrug. “Loras warned us it would be like this, but… I’m not used to such abject, consistent failure. I keep thinking I’ll stumble on the magic handshake and get somewhere with these assholes.”

He crosses to me and runs his claws down my back, more comforting than it sounds. “It is unlikely.”

“I know.

My mouth sets into a firm line. “They’ll regret it. Someday.”

“You gave them a chance to do the right thing. They are more interested in maintaining their own luxurious lifestyles. I shall not care when we raze them to the ground.”

His quiet assessment of their prospects makes me laugh, partly his calm tone, and partly because that day seems so far off. But I’m capable of playing the long game, as Nicuan will discover.

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