The Varangian Chronicles 2
Charlie Smith has been hiding from her enemies for most of her life. What better way to finally escape them than join her friends and go to the stars with the Varangians? The stars have a few more surprises than she anticipated, however.
Archer Bystrom is determined to claim the fascinating Earthling as his own. She’s beautiful, talented, and strong. The perfect mate for a Viking warrior. But with a galaxy wide war brewing will he have time to convince her they belong together? Or will death steal away his chance?
The roar of shuttle engines cut through the still night air as she was finally dozing off. Of course. No point in the aliens being convenient, was there? Charlie rolled out of bed, pulled on her boots, and slid her knives inside. Her apartment building sat inside a smuggler’s compound, and her unit looked out over the surrounding wall. When she walked to the window, she wasn’t surprised to see a Delroi war party landing just outside the gate. They couldn’t be sure what kind of welcome they’d receive and would have to be stupid to assume it was friendly. From what she’d discovered, the Delroi were sure as hell not imbeciles.
She tucked a compact pistol in a holster and clipped it to the back of her waistband, then pulled on a long sleeved shirt and left her apartment. She knocked on a door a couple down from hers.
“You were right,” Verity said, stepping aside to let her enter. “Didn’t waste a lot of time, did they?”
“We expected that.”
Anxiety was a bitch burning in her veins. It was a familiar spectre, though it had been years since she’d felt it this deeply. It reminded her of the night so long ago when her life had been ripped away from her. The night she lost her mother. As far as anyone else knew she’d died in the explosion and resulting fire too. It was the end of Charlotte Johnson and the beginning of Charissa Smith.
“Would do we do now?” Verity asked, interrupting her thoughts. Charlie was glad for the distraction.
They’d known something was up a few of days ago, when Clark Hall, the leader of the group, suddenly gave Verity permission to visit friends in the city and insisted Charlie go along as her bodyguard. When they’d returned the previous evening, the compound had been in a frenzy, and their friend Jolie Hall was gone. Clark had given his daughter to an alien smuggler to pay off a debt. He may have believed it was that simple, but Charlie was certain he’d been maneuvered into that demand. Unfortunately, she hadn’t had a vision, just the certainty her precognition sometimes gave her.
Her lack of information worried her a little, though. Despite where she’d grown up, Jolie was an innocent and rumors about the Delroi warriors had flown since the invasion. Stories about insatiable sex drives and unbreakable mental bonds. Charlie had chased those tales and come up with nothing but more stories. And suddenly one of her best friends, a woman she’d known since they were teenagers, was gone with one of the invaders? Well, the Varangians were some kind of Delroi off-shoot, but whatever. Same thing really.
Apparently as soon as the space Vikings left, Clark had ordered the entire compound packed up, hoping to be gone before the Delroi, who’d occupied Earth for a couple of years, arrived to take them all into custody. She hadn’t been able to discover what grounds they were using to do it. Till this point the aliens had ignored his illegal activities so she doubted that was it, but it was the first time she’d ever seen the smuggler afraid. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t take a little pleasure in it. He was an ass and a bully. She felt no guilt. Unfortunately, the coward had taken his lieutenants and fled early that morning.
“Are we going out?” Verity prodded when she didn’t respond.
“No.” She shook her head. “If the men Clark left behind are stupid enough to take on the Delroi they can have at it. As long as we stay here and out of the fight, we’ll be safe.”
“You seem very sure of that,” Verity said, twisting her long blond hair into a messy knot and securing it with two sharp sticks.
Verity’s apartment was on the front inside corner of the building, giving them a view over the gates and inside the walls, too. They watched as the Delroi moved some kind of battering ram to the reinforced front gate.
“I’ve been gathering as much intel about them as I can since they showed up.”
Charlie was fascinated, okay maybe obsessed, by the alien invaders. The Delroi allowed her the fantasy of escape or more to the point, all of them escaping. She could get out of the compound easily enough. Taking Jolie, Verity, and her daughter Marielle was something she’d been working on a long time, however. They needed money, and the means to get out of the region fast so they could disappear into the Alliance before Clark could mobilize to find them. Which would have been much more dangerous for her than her friends. Tel had been searching for her for years. They suspected she hadn’t died that long ago night, at least. She lived on Alliance borders here, unlikely to attract unwanted attention, and Tel wouldn’t expect to find her so close. To risk going into the interior, she had to hope her appearance had changed enough she wouldn’t be recognized.
She’d made a few forays to test that theory. Clark didn’t know about her abilities or her real identity so he didn’t bother to confine her to the compound. He needed her fighting skills on runs, and he knew she would always come back for Verity and Jolie. Since she’d already been places she shouldn’t have, she’d sought out the aliens when she had the chance. She hadn’t met any of their women but the warriors she’d met were impressive. Fierce, loyal, protective, mostly reserved. Quiet in a still waters kind of way. Several Earth women had already left the planet with a warrior, and from what she’d heard, they’d been allowed to take their female friends. She’d wondered if she could find one for Verity or Jolie. Looked like that happened without her interference. Would the one she waited for ever show up and take her to the stars?
“You’ve met some of them, right? What did you find out?” Verity asked.
Not nearly enough, but she was sure of one thing. “They don’t hurt women. Even in battle they avoid it as much as possible.”
She’d heard they were shocked to find women fighting in the war, but that had to have worn off some by now. The gate crashed open before she could explain further, and some of Clark’s men stepped out of cover and fired at the warriors pouring through. They didn’t last long. The survivors in the open area in the center of the compound dropped their weapons and surrendered. Several squads of Delroi separated and began searching the various buildings. As she watched, a group of warriors entered the community building across the way. She hoped like hell Clark had been smart enough to not plant explosives in it, though she wouldn’t put it past the fool. After several moments went by with no boom, she relaxed.
They heard the occasional shout on floors below them and then finally the sound of boots in their hallway. When a knock came on the door, she motioned Verity behind her and answered it. Two tall warriors with tattoos down the right side of their faces and right arms waited on the threshold. She hadn’t seen many like these before, but she stepped aside to let them enter. The shorter one looked her over then Verity, before focusing on the only closed door inside the apartment. He signaled his partner to check it out, and Verity spoke up.
“Please don’t turn on the light. My daughter has managed to sleep through all of this.”
“Of course, my lady,” he said softly.
They exchanged an amused look at the honorific. Neither of them fit the sheltered image it evoked.
“I’m Falkor, I represent Delroi’s southern clans on Earth,” he said. “That’s Olin, my second-in-command.”
“Charlie,” she said. “That’s Verity.”
He grinned. “I know. The Varangians will be back for you early tomorrow morning probably. Lady Ulfson–Jolie–vouched for the two of you. Unless you’d prefer to be relocated somewhere on Earth?”
Just like that? He wasn’t even going to ask if she and Verity were active participants in the smuggling going on here? Was that because they were women or because of Jolie? Whatever the case, her stomach started to unknot as she began to truly relax.
“I’d rather go with Jolie,” Verity said, looking at her with an eyebrow raised in question.
“Yeah. Me too.” Like she’d do anything else before making sure her friends were safe?
Falkor nodded. “Very well. I’d suggest you be ready to leave in a hurry.”
He and Olin turned to leave, but Charlie stopped them.
“What’s going to happen to everyone else here?”
“We caught Clark earlier. He’s violated a Delroi law he will have to answer for. I haven’t decided about the others yet.” He held her gaze, his expression measuring. “We’ll question them in a more secure location. Most will probably be turned over the civilian authorities, depending on their crimes. Should any be spared?”
She and Verity exchanged a long look. They didn’t need words, had discussed with Jolie many times who’d they’d keep and more important, who they’d kick out if it was up to them. Starting with the two men who’d killed Verity’s mother. Well, Charlie preferred a more final ending, but it wasn’t up to her. She considered suggesting it, and while she hesitated Verity gave Falkor the names of the more benign smugglers in the compound, the men and women they would have kept around. Let the Delroi do what they would with the rest. The warriors left.
“I guess we should talk to the others and start packing,” Verity said.
Charlie shook her head. “Let’s hold off on telling anyone where we’re going. I doubt Jolie will want to take them, or all of them, and we don’t even know if the Varangians would agree to it.”
“You’re right. I should have thought of that.”
They went back to the window and watched Falkor release the prisoners Verity had told him about. The others were loaded on the shuttle and taken away. Only a few guards were left behind, and the remaining residents began gathering in the commons.
“We should go down.”
“I’ll go. No point in waking up Marielle,” Charlie said.
Verity caught her wrist before she could leave. “You’re sure about this?” she asked somberly.
“It’s what my gut’s telling me to do.” She’d never been able to explain it to her friends, but she’d learned the hard way to never ignore her instincts.
“Alrighty then.” Verity flashed a grin. “Guess we’re going to be space pirates.”