Home > Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)

Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
Author: Amanda Bouchet

Chapter 1

I sat back in my captain’s chair and breathed, slowly and deeply, letting my body adjust to traveling at a normal velocity again. It was risky to come here, but maybe we’d finally get a break. We needed one. So did the ship.

Outside the bridge’s large window panels, stars winked back at me from the endless Dark. The view didn’t look much different from anywhere else we’d been in the galaxy lately, but no one in their right mind would be here. I was counting on it.

It never ceased to amaze me how vast space was—and yet not a single corner of it was free. No technology existed that could get us beyond the Overseer’s reach.

A red light sputtered to life on my console, and I shot forward in my chair and stared. Communication open/outside channel blinked back at me.

My heart rate went from normal to warp speed so fast it hurt. “Who the hell is in Sector 14 with us?” I demanded, turning to my first mate.

Jaxon’s space-pale complexion whitened even more as his eyes jumped between me and the flashing button. I figured I looked just as ghostly, and not only because we hadn’t seen direct sunlight in weeks.

“No one’s ever in Sector 14,” he said, sounding worried and pissed off. “Half of it’s the Black Widow.”

“Well, someone’s here now,” I answered sharply, days of high stress and almost no sleep adding extra bite to my voice.

We both eyed the blinking red com button again. This part of the galaxy was off-limits. Usually, I was the only one not following the rules.

I scanned the views outside the multiple windows again, not seeing the ship that was reaching out to us. I did see a portion of the gigantic ring of darkness everyone tried very hard to avoid and felt a little queasy, only part of which I could blame on the long jump we’d just made through hyperspace.

The Black Widow was the reason we’d come to Sector 14. Choosing the dicey location was a last-ditch effort to lie low and recharge after three days and seven Sectors of hot-on-our-tail leapfrog with hostile Dark Watch vessels.

I wasn’t an instant pessimist, but this couldn’t be good. The Endeavor was almost out of juice, and the Sectors were crawling with government spacecraft out looking for the vaccines we’d stolen. Only the elite and the military were given access to cure-alls. Someone needed to redistribute more fairly. But when patrol ships had started popping up all around us, instead of emptying the contents of the floating lab we’d found into our own cargo hold as usual, I’d nabbed the entire thing with a vacuum attachment. Now, the extra hunk of ship was sticking out like a sore thumb, weighing us down, and about to get us all sent back to jail. Or worse.

I even had an enormous, leather-clad, bearded man who’d accidentally come with the floating lab. Shit!

My fingers tensed around my armrests. There was no way I was reaching for that com button. Whoever was hanging around Sector 14 and a freaking black hole was going to have to talk first.

Or maybe they would fly right on by…

“Cargo Cruiser model 419, please identify yourself.”

Damn it! They talked.

I stared at the panel in front of me as if it were a poisonous snake from one of the green planets. They had water and pretty plants, but they also had all the nasties I didn’t like to think about. That was what happened when you grew up in a metal box—nature scared the crap out of you.

“I repeat, Cargo Cruiser model 419, please identify yourself.”

I almost recoiled at the tinny, no-nonsense male voice that burst out of my console again. Interference from the Black Widow made the communication shriek like the five o’clock wake-up whistle in prison. I’d hated that whistle. It’d made my stomach hurt.

“Answer him, Tess,” Jax hissed, nodding to the flashing button. “The longer you wait, the more suspicious they’ll get.”

“They’re already suspicious.” Only a ship up to no good would be anywhere near here.

I looked from Jax to Miko. Miko’s good hand still hovered over the navigation panel, her dark-brown eyes bigger than I’d ever seen them. She looked like she hadn’t moved a muscle since typing out the coordinates for Sector 14—where no one was supposed to be.

Swallowing a curse, I turned back to my controls and pressed down on the blinking red com button only long enough to transmit a response. “This is Cargo Cruiser model 419. It’s only polite to identify yourself first.” Even space had etiquette. Granted, I usually ignored protocol, but I could still cite it when necessary.

Jax groaned softly. Miko looked like she was about to pee her pants, which was odd, because I knew just how hard-core she could get when push came to shove.

The same sharp voice came through in immediate response. “This is Dark Watch 12. Captain Bridgebane speaking.”

Shock jolted me. So did fear. Battleship 12? And Bridgebane? He was a high-ranking galactic general and part of the Overseer’s band of science freaks who had come close to carving me up when I was a kid. All the higher-ups had wanted to know what made me tick differently from everyone else.

Maybe it was having a freaking heart.

I shot a look at Jax, who shot me one back. This whole mess had just gotten exponentially worse.

There was no doubt in my mind that Bridgebane would recognize me. I’d grown up, but I hadn’t changed that much. I still had the same straight reddish-brown hair, wispy bangs, unusual height—which now put me eye to eye with most men—and blue eyes that stood out from a mile away. Before she died, Mom used to tell me that my eyes made her dream of the great oceans and blue skies she’d never see. And she never did. Dad kept us both under lock and key.

And now ancient history was coming to bite me in the neck and shake me hard. Dark Watch 12 was one of the Galactic Overseer’s premier warships and could blow my faithful little Endeavor to pieces with only two or three direct hits. It was a fully armored beast. And I knew my way around it. If not for my oddities—and my conscience—DW 12 might one day have been mine.

“Please identify yourself,” Captain Bridgebane ordered, “or we will be compelled to board your ship and ascertain your identity ourselves.”

And there was the galactic military in all its glory—polite, even while putting a gun to your head.

Boarding us was out of the question. There was nothing on my ship that wasn’t stolen. Hell, even the ship was stolen. Even the crew was stolen because, well, jailbreak.

I reached out and pushed the communications button without letting my hand shake. “This is Captain T. Bailey. You’re looking at the Endeavor,” I answered in the flattest voice I could muster.

“Captain Bailey, Sector 14 is a no-fly zone. What are you doing in this area of the galaxy?” Bridgebane asked.

I wanted to ask him the same question but managed to refrain. I pressed the com button again and calmly said, “Taking in the view. The crew wanted a peek at the Widow.”

I lifted my hand, cutting off all sound from our end, and the longest few heartbeats of my life passed in total silence as the bridge crew stared at me, waiting for their orders.

My mind bounced from one possibility to the next. I’d given my usual false name—any Bailey, especially with only a first initial, was extremely hard to pin down since it was one of the most common surnames in the galaxy—and the Endeavor had fake ID numbers stickered on both sides. I could peel them off and get new numbers up in less than forty-five minutes, even with the necessary spacewalk. But I couldn’t do it with Bridgebane watching.

“Power up, Jax. Time to jump us out of here.” The only problem was, we hadn’t found a safe Sector in days. “Miko, move us closer to the Outer Zones.”

“We can’t, Tess.” Jax shook his head as he examined the data readings on our current energy levels. “We don’t have enough power left to get us out of 14. And they’ve locked on to our com channel now and can follow short-range leaps, even if we use warp speed to stay out of sight and jump around the Sector.”

I stared at my first mate. I’d known we were low on juice, but that was very bad news.

He pivoted the screen portion of his console in my direction, showing me just how fucked we were. Repeatedly hauling the lab at warp speed had put a huge strain on the ship’s energy reserves, and that last, big jump had drained even more power than I’d anticipated. We’d come here to try to fix our power problem, not make it worse.

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