by Damon M. Garn
Jeryd climbed into the Captain’s seat for the first time.
“Aren’t you just the man,” Flinn said, admiring Jeryd’s newest medal. “Imperium Order of Loyalty.”
“That’s me,” confirmed Jeryd to his co-pilot. “Brave and loyal.” Loyalty came naturally to those serving the Sovereign family directly.
“Or a buttkisser,” said Flinn.
“Just start pre-flight. Her Highness will be here shortly.”
Outside Jeryd’s viewport, the shuttle’s crew chief waved for his attention and pointed toward the engines. With his right hand he flashed Jeryd the rebel signal for a meeting.
“Chief wants me outside,” he grumbled. “Keep working through the checklist.”
“Will do, boss.”
“That’s Captain to you, Flinn.”
“Will do, Captain boss.”
Jeryd laughed and left the shuttle. The two pilots weren’t friends but had already flown a few missions together. The starship had FTL engines and comfortable living spaces for the Sovereign Princess as she traveled among the planets on her father’s business.
Jeryd met the chief near the engines.
“Yes, Chief?” They kept the conversation as normal as possible, minimizing any chance they might be exposed.
“Just checking to ensure the flight is a go.”
It was natural that the chief would ask about Jeryd’s mission but his real question was whether Jeryd would complete the rebel mission to assassinate the Sovereign Princess.
“Yes,” Jeryd assured his most trusted rebel contact. “It will go as planned.”
“Good luck, my friend.” The rebellion had already provided Jeryd with a full identity change. He’d never see the Chief again.
“You too, Chief.” Jeryd leaned forward and whispered the rebel motto. “Freedom Forever.”
Jeryd had been recruited to the rebellion seven years ago as a young Imperium pilot. His skill had brought him to the High Command’s attention, just as the rebels had hoped. He now had his first command. He’d been allowed to bring his crew chief with him to manage the shuttle.
It was ironic that he’d been given the Princess’s assassination orders at the celebration for his induction to the Imperium Order of Loyalty. He cooly considered the intelligence win it would be for the Imperium for a pilot to expose a rebel assassination attempt. Jeryd could envision the accolades that would come his way.
Jeryd returned to the shuttle. He was both a trusted Imperium officer and a heretical rebel. And to think he was actually living three lives.
Flinn reported the pre-flight checklist was complete and they could depart whenever the Sovereign Princess arrived just as two Imperium Guards moved up the ramp and took their positions. Two more watched everyone suspiciously at the bottom of the ramp.
Minutes later, the Princess’s entourage arrived. She was talking to Consul Teland, her most trusted advisor. More guards and servants followed.
The Consul nodded to Jeryd, acknowledging the shuttle captain. The Sovereign Princess, of course, did not look at him. A mere pilot was not worth her attention.
That will soon change.
Once everyone was on board, Jeryd returned to the cockpit and strapped in.
“Did the Princess notice your shiny new medal?” asked Flinn.
“Of course not. Her Highness has other things on her mind.”
“Still, it would be nice if she’d bat her eyes at us sometimes,” Flinn muttered.
“Watch your tone, Lieutenant! She’s a member of the Sovereign family and due our respect and loyalty.”
“All right, all right. Just sayin’.”
The radio squawked. “We are ready to depart, Captain,” the Guard Commander reported.
“Acknowledged,” Jeryd replied.
Her eyes really are beautiful.
The FTL engines took them far from of the Core Planets and the Imperium Fleet. Jeryd glanced at the chronometer.
Five minutes until I change the galaxy, he thought coldly.
When his chronometer finally chirped, Jeryd moved. Pretending to stretch, he jabbed down hard into Flinn’s neck with the syringe he’d secreted in his flight suit. He gently but firmly held his hand over the co-pilot’s mouth and made himself watch Flinn as he died. Flinn’s eyes searched his, asking why, then flashing hatred as he realized Jeryd must be a rebel, then finally, fear.
Your death is worth it to me, Flinn.
Jeryd entered the commands the crew chief had loaded into the life support computer, releasing poisonous gas into the ship’s atmosphere. He disabled all lights then snapped a breather over his face.
Did it occur to the chief that sabotaging my mask would leave no witnesses to the assassination? He tried not to think about it.
After giving the gas time to work, he drew his laser and unlocked the cockpit door. The gas was already being removed by the atmospheric scrubbers. Moving into the living quarters, he began to find the bodies. Three guards were dead in the galley. The Commander’s body slumped near the door to the Sovereign Princess’s private room. The other guards and servants were sprawled over a table.
The Princess’s door snapped open, cracking the silence.
“Computer, lights,” the Princess ordered. The room’s lights illuminated the death Jeryd had indifferently wrought. She held a laser pistol in one hand and removed the breather that had protected her from the gas with the other. She looked at the dead bodies before staring hard at Jeryd for a long moment. Her eyes drifted to the medal he’d been given for his loyalty.
“Somehow, that medal doesn’t seem appropriate now,” she said ironically.
He tore the medal from his uniform and threw it down.
The Princess raised her pistol until it was level with Jeryd’s head. They never took their eyes off each other, looking across the immense chasm between Sovereign Princess and shuttle captain.
Without a word, she ruthlessly squeezed the trigger.
The blast sizzled passed Jeryd’s ear and burned a hole through Consul Teland’s forehead as he stepped behind Jeryd with a laser in his hand. She pitilessly watched his body collapse before meeting Jeryd’s eyes again.
They rushed together, kissing deeply for the first time in weeks.
“We’re finally alone,” she said pulling at him with psychotic passion.
“Yes,” he hissed, kissing her violently. “Free.”