Authors: Tracy Cooper-Posey
Tags: #science fiction romance, #scifi romance, #sf romance, #space opera romance, #spaceship romance, #futuristic action adventure romance, #futuristic romance novels, #galaxy romance, #science fiction romance novels, #space opera romance novels
Copyright © Tracy
Rumors emerge that Catherine Shahrazad,
possibly the oldest person in the galaxy, has returned from the
fringes and has been seen in Federation space. Wherever she goes,
her name and her history cause civil unrest, riots and worse. The
Federation Board doesn’t want her there. Neither do the leaders of
Cadfael College, the educators and moralists of the galaxy. No one
pays any attention to the reticent navigator called Bedivere X, who
pilots her ship better than she does.
The truth about Bedivere threatens the entire Federation.
His feelings for Cat might just save everyone.
This book is part of the Interspace Origins space opera romance
Cat and Company
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Shanterry, Shanta II. Fringe
Territories. Federation Year 10.066
The cavernous hall held about five
hundred men with skin the color of a really good rose wine and not
a single one of them so much as noticed her. Loud chatter filled
the air. The local language was a throat-ripper, but the laughter
and smiles that punctuated it said they were having a great time.
They might not be looking at her but Catherine knew that every man
at this end of the hall was watching her, just the same.
“Bedivere?” she said softly, barely
letting her lips form the word.
“I’m right here, Cat,” he said in her
ear, the slight burr in his voice more distinct across the
He chuckled. “You should feel right at
“I’m serious. I’m the only woman, the
only red-head, the only one with white skin. I’m the only stranger.
I’m standing out like a black hole in a star field.”
“Then you won’t have to announce you’re
Despite her being so obviously out of
place, she couldn’t catch anyone’s eye to ask where to find Neweds
Friday. “Easy for you to say,” she shot back, not trying to hide
her speech anymore. If they were going to pretend she was
invisible, she’d pretend they weren’t there, too. “You’re sitting
on a cruiser, parked on a deserted tidal plain ten klicks away from
“Tap someone on the shoulder, ask for
Friday and go from there.” She could almost hear his shrug. “He
wouldn’t have set up the meeting here if he thought you would be in
any sort of danger. They want their money.”
His nonchalance steadied her and she
was annoyed at her momentary doubt.
, she reminded
herself. She had been in far worse situations.
Most of the people in the room were
talking among themselves, many of them moving from group to group.
She couldn’t see to the far end of the cavernous room, because
there were too many men.
So she stepped over to the nearest man
and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me.” She used Standard, for
the local dialect took vocal inflexions she couldn’t manage and to
get them wrong was considered insulting.
The man took his time turning. He was
as tall as most of the fully mature men in the room seemed to be,
which meant he was taller than Catherine and close to Bedivere’s
height. She looked at the man. His eyes, like most Shantans’, were
a reddish brown. Shanta was a closed-off little fringe world,
although Friday was trying to change that by any means necessary.
Their gene pool had thrown up some interesting mutations that
in-breeding had stabilized. Which was a pity, Catherine thought,
because unlike the vast majority of the settled galaxy that
displayed only mild variations after millennia of racial
cross-breeding, Shantans would stand out anywhere else, just like
she was conspicuous here in this room.
If Neweds Friday achieved his ambition
of a Shantan seat on the Federation Board, the interstellar traffic
to and from Shanta would change that and much more.
“I’m looking for Neweds Friday,”
Catherine said. “I have an appointment with him. He said to meet
him here. Do you know where I can find him?”
The man turned and pointed toward the
other end of the room.
Catherine smiled at him. “Thanks.” She
hitched the bag over her shoulder to a more comfortable position
and moved around him, for he continued to stare at her with an
expressionless face, apparently happy to stand unmoving in front of
her forever. She sidled around the knots of men, heading in the
general direction the first one had indicated. As she passed each
group, they fell silent and turned to watch her move forward, their
soft flowing robes settling back around their knees as they all
Her heart picked up speed.
“You’ve gone quiet,” Bedivere said.
She tapped out “yes” against her ear.
In a room that was heading for silence, she wasn’t willing to speak
aloud and let them know she had backup parked on the outskirts of
No one got out of her way so Catherine
twisted and turned and moved sideways until she reached the other
side of the room. There, she spotted the man who had to be Neweds
Friday. Because Shanta was a fringe world, they weren’t plugged
into the fedcore. Digging up images of Friday had been impossible,
even with Bedivere’s advanced hunting skills. But Catherine knew it
was him. Neweds Friday was the leader of this world and there was a
single man sitting in a big chair surrounded by six or seven
attentive men, looking more like a king than any leader had a right
to. This had to be Friday.
Unlike everyone else, Friday looked at
her directly as soon as she spotted him. His face was unreadable,
but there was intelligence in his eyes.
Catherine approached him and everyone
turned to follow her progress. Now the room was completely and
“Neweds Friday,” she acknowledged when
she reached him.
“Caitlyn Azad,” Friday returned.
He didn’t get to his feet. But
Catherine didn’t bow, either, so she figured they were even. “We
have business to transact,” she told him. “Perhaps you would like
to step away from all the attention and conclude our business in
“I trust these men completely,” Friday
said. He had a strong accent that made it difficult to understand
his Standard. “They are my right arm and they are the reason this
great world will win its place at the Federation table. You may
speak freely in front of them.”
“He’s campaigning,” Bedivere said,
“Mmm,” Catherine replied. If Friday
found it necessary to promote himself within the confines of a
private business deal, then his position as the leader of Shanta
wasn’t secure. There had to be challengers. Were those challengers
opposed to this deal?
The back of her neck prickled hard and
Catherine suddenly wished she had a pair of eyes in the back of her
head. She forced herself to smile brightly at Friday. “Very well.
Let’s finish the deal.”
The men shifted around her and she
realized with growing unease that they were standing very close to
her back and all around her. She was effectively surrounded. There
was space behind Friday’s chair. Everyone wanted to be in front of
the chair where the king could see them. But the chair itself was
blocking her and any move she made toward the chair would alarm
everyone around her and bring an instant reaction.
She kept her feet still even though she
really wanted to edge her way out of the enclosure. Instead, she
gripped the straps of the bag on her shoulder, turning her hand
inward so no one would spot how white her knuckles were.
The shifting of the men morphed into a
parting, so that a narrow corridor was formed. Through the
corridor, two men walked carrying a table between them. It looked
like real wood and glowed with polish and care. It was placed
reverently down in front of the chair, between Catherine and
The crowd moved back in around
Catherine frowned. To her mind, this
was a simple exchange of goods for money, a transaction she had
conducted thousands of times. But the assembly, the chair, the
grand table…it had the trappings of ceremony. Friday was trying to
impress his people. It was important that they see a successful
deal take place. Which meant there was far more riding on this deal
than she had properly understood.
She and Bedivere had deconstructed the
deal down to the cellular level. What had they missed?
Her heartbeat lifted and she
The corridor formed once more and
through the newly formed space came three men. The one in front was
carrying a rattler—an older model, but still far more powerful than
any non-Federation weapon ever built. He wore full body armor so
that even his face was covered.
A guard, Catherine realized.
There was a second guard at the end of
the short train. The man in the middle was carrying a hard-shell
case, about twenty centimeters across and fifteen deep. He carried
it on both hands, as though it was fragile or valuable or both. He
laid the case down carefully in the middle of the gleaming surface
of the table. The workmanlike hard sides of the case looked prosaic
against the wood.
Friday waved toward the case. “You may
inspect the goods,” he said, as the two guards took up stances, one
on each end of the table, and both turned to watch her.
Catherine swung the bag so it was
resting against her back and leaned over the table. She carefully
lifted the case over to her side of the table, as if it was just as
treasured by her. In a way, it was. This deal would bring her one
step closer to a long-held ambition, one of the most ambitious
achievements she had ever reached for.
She rested her hand on the top of the
case. “The environment inside is sterile?”
“There is an independent sterility
bubble. You can open the case without harm to the device.”
Catherine believed him. Despite being a
fringe world, the Shantans were techno-freaks. They had a knack for
developing unexpected combinations of old and new, obscure and
obvious. The resulting tech often provided solutions to problems
people weren’t even aware needed addressing. The Shantans were also
amenable to one-off tailored orders…for a price.
Technology development was their forte
and the backbone of their economy. It had put Shanta within reach
of qualifying for Federation membership. Friday was pushing to
close the gap.
If they said the inside of the case was
sterile and protected, she had no reason to doubt them. She opened
The device was nestled in a cradle of
protective fibers. A slight sheen in the air over the top of the
device proved the sterile bubble was in place. Catherine studied
the device. It was about five centimeters square, with odd
projections and bumps, enclosed in a silky smooth hard white shell,
except for four protruding wires that had been wound up into neat