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Rebel Princess

By:Blair Bancroft

Chapter 1


"Captain's on the bridge."

Talryn Rigel scanned his bridge crew as they shot to their feet, their  dark gray uniforms contrasting sharply with the huntership Orion's white  walls and gleaming viewscreens. Today, every bridge station was  double-staffed, one Orion crewman and one Academy cadet at Helm, Nav,  Tactical, Engineering, Comm, and Watch. For the war game about to be  launched, the cadets were in charge.

"As you were." Officers and cadets resumed their battle positions. "Status, Kiolani."

"Alpha and Beta squadrons in position, sir. Archer at Mark 10."

As Tal stalked toward Tactical, Cadet Kass Kiolani's back stiffened.  Even though her gaze remained fixed on the glowing tri-dimensional  hologlobe in front of her, there was no doubt she knew he was there. Tal  Rigel, captain, practically breathing down her neck.

He read the hologlobe's icons at a glance-Orion in the center, the  Tau-20 fighters, four in each squadron, doing lazy circles to port and  starboard, and Orion's scout ship, Archer, hovering near the edge of the  globe, ten marks out. All in position, but he'd let Kiolani sweat a  little. Too full of herself was the little Psyclid. So slight of body he  could snap her neck with one hand, and with the face of a fairy  princess out of some ancient legend. For the hundredth time since the  cadets came aboard for hands-on training, Tal wondered how a Psyclid, a  female Psyclid, made it into the Regulon Space Academy.

Most likely by sheer merit, he conceded grudgingly, answering his own  question. Kass Kiolani was the most outstanding cadet he had ever seen.  Her very first time on Tactical, her cadet squadron had trounced his  battle-hardened crew. His disbelief deepened when she'd done it a second  time. And now, two days before the cadets were due to leave Orion, he  was giving her an opportunity to do it again. Bets were laid, cadet  faces eager, Orion regulars grim. And, by Omni, this time Tal Rigel was  going to figure out how she was doing it.

He took his seat in the captain's chair, for a moment allowing himself  the luxury of enjoying the star-sprinkled black void on the other side  of Orion's broad viewport. Playing war games with children had been a  restful downtime for his crew, but the spice of moments like this one  were few and far between. They all needed to get back into deep space  and set Orion to doing what she did best-exploring the Nebulon Sector  for new worlds to conquer.

Tal activated his own hologlobe, confirmed all the players were still in  their proper places. In today's exercise the armored scout ship Archer  was designated the enemy, the much larger Orion allowed to use only  weapons comparable to Archer's. In addition to its missile array, each  ship would be defended by four Tau fighters. Team Alpha, chosen from the  squadron's most skilled men, was assigned to Archer. Team Beta, cadets  all, were set to defend the massive huntership.

"Kiolani," Tal ordered, "commence exercise."

"Aye, Captain."

Her first time at Tac, the little Psyclid had taken out his four Tau-20s  and the scout ship in twenty minutes. The second time, with the cadets  assigned to Archer, Kiolani's Beta Team had triumphed in eighteen  minutes, thirty seconds. Today . . . ?

A scant nine minutes later, Tal was already glad he'd refused to place a bet.

"Got 'im!" A cadet pilot's triumphant shout echoed from Comm.

"Beta One splashed Alpha Three, Captain," Kass Kiolani reported in  carefully neutral tones. "That's two down for Alpha Squadron."

Tal sat steady in his chair as another red icon winked out. Mallik! She  was doing it again. He had no difficulty detecting the smug satisfaction  beneath the cadet's oh-so-proper military façade. From his bridge crew,  only gloom. Most of them had bet against her. Of course they had. She  was Psyclid.

"Archer starting her run, aft, five o'clock," Cadet Kiolani intoned.  "Aft battery, prepare to fire missiles five and six. On my mark, lock  on. Betas, look sharp. Sting her before she gets to us."

Tal stifled a wince as the four cadet fighters easily eluded his two  remaining pilots and zoomed in on Orion's scout ship. Fortunately, the  light beams raking Archer only looked like lethal lasers, the hits and  misses instantly recorded by Tactical's complex comp system.

"Aft battery, lock on," Kiolani ordered. "Wait for it . . . wait. Fire!"

Pok! Tal swore silently. The girl had the confidence of an officer twice her age.

"Incoming!" At Tac Two, Orion's First Officer, sitting shoulder to  shoulder with a Psyclid cadet, didn't bother to hide his glee as the  Fleet regulars on Archer fired two missiles at point blank range.         

     



 

"Shields up!" Kiolani's command rang clear in the sudden tense quiet,  Orion's crew and cadets caught up in the illusion of imminent disaster.

The missile exchange was going to be close. Would Orion's shields hold?  Tal locked his gaze on the hologlobe and waited for the ship's sensors  to record the hit. Heads lifted from viewscreens . . . puzzled looks as  nothing happened.

Except Archer's icon on the hologlobe exploding in a shower of sparks.

Cadet Kass Kiolani-the only Psyclid in the Regulon Space Academy-let out a small yip of triumph.

Orion's bridge crew groaned. The cadets cheered. Tal Rigel suppressed an audible sigh.

"Captain, do you wish to continue the exercise?"

"Bring 'em in, Kiolani. Well done." But way too easy. Every time Kass  Kiolani took a turn at Tactical, no matter what war game he chose, she  made his crew look like they belonged to a merchant fleet on the outer  rim. Cadet pilots and cadet gunners, some barely old enough to shave,  outmaneuvered and outgunned his best men. Even today, when Archer fired  two sure strikes, Orion continued to sail through space, miraculously  untouched.

"Shield strength, Kiolani?"

"One hundred percent, Captain."

His suspicions, however incredible, were justified. After repulsing two  missiles at point-blank range, Orion's shields should have registered as  down by fifty percent or more. The scout ship missed. But it couldn't  have.

The hologlobe was still spinning at Tactical, showing Alpha and Beta  fighters returning to the ship, closely followed by Archer. One last  look, a tiny smile, and Cadet Kiolani shut down the holo and turned her  attention to the exercise wrap-up on the flat viewscreen in front of  her.

Tal Rigel lowered his voice, speaking to his personal comp unit. "Copy  hologlobe record to Ready Room. Add copies of previous exercises  involving Cadet Kiolani at Tactical." The little cadet was good, but she  wasn't that good. No one was.

But she was Psyclid, and that's what was wrong with this whole batani mess. "Kiolani?"

"Sir?"

"Report to the Ready Room at nineteen-thirty." Maybe that would keep the  cocky little Psyclid quaking in her boots for a few hours. Now all he  had to do was figure out what skill she possessed that made her the  scourge of Regulon's fastest, most successful huntership.

And the Nemesis of Captain Talryn Rigel.

Not possible. Tal had studied the three holos until his eyes crossed.  They all the said the same thing, and he fydding well didn't believe it.  Trajectories did not glitch. Trajectories did not zig, nor did they  zag. Beams of light did not dash off into space like meteors streaking  the sky. And in the last holo, those two missiles from Archer should  have hit dead on. No way could they have missed. And yet they had.

Tal groaned. The little Psyclid was playing with his mind. But isn't  that what Psyclids did? That's why they kept to their own planet and  kept out of Regula's way. During the centuries while Regulons were  developing their bodies and their weapons, Psyclids were developing  their minds, many said to no good end. Some even muttered of witchcraft  and sorcery. Tal had steadfastly ignored the rumors, but now . . .

A soft knock on the Ready Room door. Not so bold now, was she? Scared  she was in for all the "buts" that would inevitably follow his earlier  "well done"? Well, good. Sometimes he wondered if Kass Kiolani  remembered he was captain.

"Come."

Tal swallowed an inadvertent hiss of breath as the Psyclid cadet  entered. Gone was the little warrior who had commanded Beta squadron to  victory. Playing with his mind again, was she? Long hair hung black and  straight well below her shoulders, appearing almost too heavy for her  elfin face and slim body. So slim the smallest Regulon uniform was  several sizes too large, effectively concealing the figure, or lack of  it, beneath. But her face glowed with added color she never wore while  serving on the bridge. Full bright lips, a hint of rose on her cheeks,  and eyes deeply ringed with shadows darker than her silver gray cadet  uniform and emphasizing the sharply intelligent amber eyes of a feline  predator.

Did those usually glowing eyes show a touch of wariness, as if this time  she remembered who was boss? Probably his imagination, and yet her  regal nose managed to appear custom-made for looking down at the rest of  the world.

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