Today's Reading

The ventilation system kicked on. The cold, stale air deeper inside the hull came rushing out the passageway, pushed from behind by a blast of hot air.

"Christ, that's nasty," Miles O'Garran muttered as he hustled past.

"Won't be once you get your liner in your duty suit, Miles. Hey, on your way aft, check the armory."

"Heading there now," replied the short, broad SEAL.

From much deeper in the ship, Dora's voice was shrill with amused amazement. "The armory? I heard our job was to intercept something in space."

"That's correct," Riordan shouted into the ship.

Her head poked around the nearest bulkhead. "Mierda, Caine, are you planning on plinking at the bad guys from the airlock?"

"No, but do you remember what happened on Disparity because we didn't have all the necessary gear on all of our ships?"

For the first time in Riordan's memory of her, Dora's face blanched. "I'll go help Little Guy check the armory," she muttered as she went aft.
"No need," O'Garran shouted. "Armory is full up. And don't call me Little Guy."

"Sure thing, Little Guy," Dora replied as Caine turned to face back down the boarding tube—

And discovered that the next person approaching was a stranger: a man in his thirties, maybe six centimeters shorter than Caine. "I'm guessing you're the official helping hand sent along by Richard Downing." It took more than a little effort not to sound sardonic; any person assigned by Downing was likely to be more of a monitor and a snitch.

"Guilty as charged. Hey, I couldn't help overhearing: what did happen to you guys on Disparity?"

"We didn't have the time to sort out our gear. So some of us had to kill alien monsters and enemy soldiers with survival rifles chambered for old-fashioned pistol rounds."

The man's eyes widened. "Well, I'm guessing 'that' didn't work too well."

"Didn't work at all, half of the time."

The newcomer put out his hand. "Duncan Solsohn. And I know who you are."

So much for keeping a low profile. "Caine Riordan," he said anyway, offering his hand in return. But Solsohn was already shrugging into a navy-issue duty suit, fitted with an EVA liner. "Mr. Solsohn, exactly what do you think you're doing?"

"I'm coming with you."

"No. You are staying here."

Solsohn paused, his right arm halfway into the suit's sleeve. "Er, Mr. Downing gave me explicit instructions—"

"Unfortunately, Mr. Downing relayed no such explicit instructions to me. And if they are buried somewhere in a special orders packet, I haven't had time to catch up on my reading since I was awakened. So you stay here."

"But, Commodore, I—"

"You just uttered the magic word, Mr. Solsohn: 'Commodore.' Which is what I am. Are you?"

"Er, no."

"Then you follow orders and keep your head down." Caine leaned closer and lowered his voice as tall Tygg Robin and diminutive Melissa Sleeman slipped around and past them. "Listen, Duncan. Unlike me, you clearly know the updated operation orders for this mission, and have reviewed the other assets Downing sent along with us. Which means, at this point, you're more essential to the success of this operation than I am. So, for now, 'this 'is your post." Besides, I don't know you from Adam, and if you were sent by Downing, your first loyalty is to him, not us. So until I sort you out— "I want you to stand by on the radio, though. I need another barbarous human interpreting our encounters and reactions for the Slaasriithi. They don't perceive confrontation the Same way we do."

Duncan grinned ruefully, may have been on the verge of rolling his eyes. "Yes, I've noticed that, sir. Anything else I can do to help?"

Riordan thought. "One thing: do you believe the Slaasriithi are overreacting, or is there a genuine threat out there?"

Duncan's steady gaze faltered a moment. "Wish I could say they were just starting at shadows, but no, sir, there's reason for them to be concerned. And for you to be careful."

"Thank you, Mr. Solsohn. Now, one more thing, if you please." "What's that, sir?"

"Step back. We're casting off."

This excerpt is from the paperback edition.

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