A love beyond time -- and space.
When the woman known as the Black Star Princess falls into the hands of enemy ship captain Mikiel, they discover a love that brings them together, along with the crews of their cyborg vessels. And they uncover the long-ago betrayal that condemned lovers Nani and Darian to endless servitude as the heart of those vessels.
The events that condemned Nani and Darian to a living hell have inextricably bound together everyone they hold dear. They'll do whatever it takes to find one another in the vast reaches of space -- and to unite their peoples. But as more and more trusted friends are revealed complicit in their long-ago betrayal, it seems there's no one they can trust -- but each other. Is what they had so long ago still strong enough to heal the rift that threatens to tear their home worlds apart?
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"I need more power to the maneuvering drive!" Sweat streamed down Nadira's face and neck as she gripped the forward and lateral control sticks with a firm but gentle hand. If she gripped too hard, she might miss one of the many fine vibrations running through this great ship, and that might mean the end of freedom as they knew it. This was definitely not the way she had envisioned a battle to be. Just one more thing to prove how green she was at her job.
"There is no more power! You're going to have to do the best you can with what you've got."
"Take it from life support if you have to, Captain. They're smaller and more maneuverable than we are, and I promise you they will kick our asses if I can't turn her."
An explosion rocked the Black Star, and Nadira had to hang on to her control panel to keep from losing her seat.
"Three more ships bearing 10830 by 424, closing fast, sir," Damon, the grizzled second in command, announced in his gruff, harsh voice. "That's a total of seven Asalian War Slavers."
"I have faith our --" His sarcastic pause grated on Nadira's nerves. "-- legendary pilot will get us out of this." Captain Barnus sat back in the captain's seat and crossed his arms. The pompous windbag had made it his personal mission to see her fail and removed as pilot of the Empire's newest -- and most advanced -- cyborg space ship, Black Star. If he refused to give her what she needed to get them out of this, he might do more than that. He might get them all captured and enslaved.
Nadira glanced at Damon before turning her eyes back to her console. The various viewscreens showed the space surrounding the Black Star and where their enemies were positioned. "I can't do it with what you're giving me to work with," she bit out.
Before anyone could say anything else, the Black Star shuddered and pitched as one of the Slavers fired on them.
"Direct hit! Aft starboard quarter!"
Nadira blocked out everything possible at this point. They were sitting ducks. Asalian War Slavers were the most maneuverable, heavily armed ships in the known galaxy. The Black Star might be the most feared ship in the Vok'nair Empire, but there was a limit to what she could do, especially since she hadn't bonded with her pilot.
That was the whole point of being a cyborg war ship. The Black Star was supposed to use the enhanced telepathic stimulators given her by the makers to bond with the pilot, captain, or second in command -- most usually the pilot. Unfortunately, Black Star hadn't bonded with any of them.
Nadira guided the ship as it swerved and danced around the Slavers, putting herself in the middle. Yes, the Black Star was a very large ship, but the Asalians were notoriously careful with their people. She was betting they wouldn't risk their own ships being caught in the line of fire.
"Target lasers and missiles. Shoot to kill."
"Asalians aren't a mortal threat, Captain," Damon said, his voice matter-of-fact. "There's no reason to do more than disable --"
"I said," Captain Barnus snarled angrily over the top of Damon, "shoot to kill."
Nadira knew she could do anything it took to prevent her ship from being destroyed, but she refused to kill others to ensure the safety of her ship unless it was a last resort. Asalians took slaves. They did not kill. Given what she needed, she was confident she could outfly them.
She readjusted her hold on the stick and braced herself to react the moment weapons control fired. The Black Star would let her know when to move -- whether or not they had bonded -- if she just paid attention to the vibrations flowing through the ship. If Captain Dumbass wouldn't do this the easy way, she'd have to do it the hard way.
The Slavers surrounded them now. She could almost feel them bracing themselves for an attack. Nadira was certain she had puzzled them by putting herself in such a vulnerable situation.
There! A minute loss of vibration in the controls. Power being diverted from all systems save life support to fire the massive guns of the Black Star. Her plan was to bank hard to port, but before the signal got from her brain to her hands, the ship lurched in the exact maneuver she'd planned. Fortunately, the laser shot went wide, striking its target, but not destroying it as intended.
Captain Barnus bellowed angrily at her, but she blocked him out. Nadira didn't have time to contemplate what had just happened because firing at the Asalians would definitely bring retaliation. She had to keep at least one Slaver in their line of fire or they were as good as captured.
A volley of laser fire from three of the Slavers narrowly missed them as she swerved and swooped from one Slaver ship to the next, finally settling on the one she figured to be the command ship. It was slightly larger than the others, though no other markings indicated it to be any different. Having studied every scrap of information the Empire had on the Asalians, she knew Slavers didn't travel in groups without having one ship in command of the others.
She put herself behind the larger ship, effectively shadowing it. Nadira matched the Slaver move for move -- no matter how extreme. She wasn't sure how the Black Star managed several of the sharp turns and climbs and dives. The creaking metal was a testament to the stress, but the ship obeyed her commands perfectly. Pride swelled within her. If it was possible for a cyborg ship to have a consciousness -- something she had begun to doubt when she hadn't been able to link to the Black Star -- this one recognized her as a friend. Finally! The ship might not have formed a bond with her yet, but she was very close. Trust was building between them, and that was the key.
Renewed hope that she might get them out of this brought an adrenaline surge through her veins. The Slaver she was using to shield the Black Star couldn't shake her. If she could force him into leading her toward open space, she might be able to use the jump engines to get them into hyperspace. It would seriously strain their resources, and they would be helpless once they exited to normal space until they'd had a chance to generate more power, but it would secure their escape from the Slavers. She just had to calculate their jump to be as close to a Vok'nair base as possible.
The Slaver tried a banking maneuver to rejoin its comrades, but Nadira anticipated and effectively cut the ship off. The move left the Black Star exposed to the other Slavers for a short time, and several volleys of laser and missile fire streamed toward them. One missile struck the port aft quarter shield, and there was an enormous whoosh as the shields on the Black Star buckled without even a moment's resistance. Nadira lost her breath as the equivalent of an anguished, terror filled scream engulfed her mind. Black Star!
Unfortunately for the Slaver, a shield-crippling missile -- shot by its comrade -- glanced off the smaller ship, effectively neutralizing its shields, as well. In that moment, Nadira knew she'd lost this game of cat and mouse.
She had two choices. She could duck back behind the Slaver, or she could make a run for empty space. The problem was the missiles. Asalian missiles were programmed to seek out specific generic parts of any ship they came into contact with. Engines, primary hull, even shield resonance, all had a specific energy signature. The Asalians had refined the detection of these signatures to a fine art. Unfortunately, Nadira had no idea what the Slavers would do next. If they were only looking to disable Black Star's engines, moving behind the command Slaver wouldn't hurt anyone. On the other hand, if they were good and pissed off, looking to breach the Black Star's hull, putting the Slaver between herself and the missiles might be a death sentence for everyone aboard the Slaver if someone decided taking out the Black Star was worth the sacrifice. It wasn't like the Asalians to risk their own ships -- quite the opposite -- but it wasn't like them to shoot a shield missile so close to one of their own, either. One more indecision in the heat of battle. Perhaps she wasn't as good as everyone thought.
While she had no qualms about disabling a ship to secure the escape of her own, she didn't know if she was ready to sacrifice a ship whose government the Empire wasn't officially at war with. Asalians captured. They didn't destroy. Usually.
But was she willing to take that chance?