We did one of these already when we were funding the book, but as Daire’s Devils just released on February 1, we thought it was time to do another one. Hope you enjoy!
Kat’s nerves twitched as she hauled the recovery kit. Not the easiest thing to drag around. It kind of resembled one of those shower kits with all the individual zipped compartments that unrolled flat so you could access everything or bundle it up compact for storage… only monster-sized. Bulky as sin and a pain in the ass to maneuver (clearly, the designers had not considered the dimensions of the various hatches it would have to go through), but better than losing several years’ pay replacing tools lost to the vacuum of space.
When she finally managed to exit the transport, Kat had her first eyes-on view of the rock-ship. The rest of the retrieval team, already halfway there, put the shattered mass into perspective. Compared to the vessel she’d just left, it was a toy. The inside had to have had just barely enough room for Ghei to move around, with some storage for necessities. She could not conceive that it was ever meant for manned space travel.
Scotch and Brockmann confirmed her suspicions as they reached the derelict ahead of her. *Damn!* Scotch’s response came drawn out and stunned. *Sarge,* he called over the squad band, *this man was not here willingly.*
Kat came up behind him and grudgingly concurred. It pissed her off, leaving her conflicted in her hatred. A closer look inside the pod revealed two things: the body was restrained, not secured, and the vessel had been welded shut. Whether the remains strapped to the conchair were Ghei or not, whoever it was, he was a victim not a collaborator.
*Get to work on that system, Kittie,* Scotch said as Brockmann grabbed the retrieval gear from Kat and scrambled over the jagged lip. The woman lost no time transferring the remains to the cryobag and scouring the inside of the compartment for anything that would aid them in their pursuit. Kat didn’t know what disturbed her more: the pirates’ ruthlessness or the detached manner in which her squadmate performed her task.
*Come on!* Scotch snapped, drawing Kat out of her thoughts. *You have a job to do, so do it. I’m not too comfortable with our asses hanging out here.*
Kat found no convenient jack-in port this time. Not because the pirates were tricky, but because of their brutality. Her search for the primary systems didn’t turn up much. Literally. No navigation system. No drive computer. Nothing but life support, communications, and some modified gear she couldn’t identify—likely something to do with the composite’s remote operation. This was no ship. It was a coffin. Drop ’em and leave ’em was the catchphrase here. Kat’s stomach turned violently. Even if the real Ghei had been a willing participant, he didn’t deserve this end. No one did. Which kind of robbed her of her focus. Having a face to hate made it easier to get a handle on things. Ghei had been a known quantity. Now, the enemy remained unidentified, which gave them the edge. That really pissed her off.
She turned her mind back to the task at hand. Without any kind of port for infiltration, it would take too long to hack in manually. Her air supply would deplete well before she finished, assuming external forces didn’t interfere first. She powered up the microtorch she’d attached to her gauntlet, physically extracted what computer systems there were, and slid them into her kit.
Crawling out from where she’d completed the extraction, Kat bumped into the conchair. She flinched and turned, her mind still seeing the partial remains. Reality interjected, though. At eye level, she now saw the bottom edge of the conchair arm. The foam padding was shredded. Not clawed or torn, but little bits picked out quite purposefully. In an instant of epiphany, the memory of Ghei’s plucking fingers came to mind. Kat understood now that he’d tried to leave them—or someone, anyway—intel. A name? Hard to say. The letters had been picked out by feel. The first one might be a ‘C,’ or maybe an ‘L,’ and the last was definitely an ‘N,’ but those in between all ran together in haphazard plucks. Maybe someone back on the Cromwell could decipher them using a digital scan.
Using the sensors on her helmet, Kat snapped an image of Ghei’s message and the chair itself direct to her tablet for later review, just in case. Quickly, she scanned the interior of the rock-ship and the remains of the chair from all sides, maneuvering to stay out of her teammates’ way. With her task complete, she pushed off before remembering she was also there to play mule. Kat pivoted back.
*Hey, Scotch…* The rest of her words drifted off as the section of space past his shoulder came into view. *Ah, hell! Company on your six.*
Scotch cursed, and Kat faintly heard him mutter about vipers in the nest. Someone on the inside had to have given them away. Was it someone on the Cromwell? Or one of their own men? Kat mirrored Scotch’s curse. But now was not the time to dwell on betrayal. There were pirates to fight.
Scotch and Brockmann carefully fired their jets for a controlled turn toward the incoming threat. Both of them brought to bear their recoilless rifles, though what good the weapons would be against an attacking frigate, Kat couldn’t imagine. Of course, how pathetic did that make her when she looked down to spy the pulse pistol Scotch had given her in her grip? Remembering her orders, she shoved it back into the pocket she’d drawn it from and turned to secured the gear.
*Leave it and get back to the ship!* Scotch ordered.
*Hell no! I can’t afford the replacement charge.*
*I said get out of here!* he growled. *We’ll grab the gear.*
Kat wanted to argue, but she knew she wouldn’t win and distracting those with the weapons to defend them put everyone at risk. She took mere seconds to secure her tablet and abandoned the rest, as ordered. Then, with a blast of her thrusters, she jetted toward the Teufel’s airlock even before Sarge’s command to retreat came over the band.
Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.
Her published works include seven novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, Daire’s Devils, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman, More Tips from the Handyman, and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.
In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.
Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and four extremely spoiled cats.