(This is the second excerpt from the expanded edition of Vengeance from Ashes, release date scheduled for October 17th. The below excerpt is from the beta readers’ version and the published version may contain minor changes.)
Major Rico Santiago stared at the image on his screen. He couldn’t believe it. There was no way she could be on-planet, much less be just three floors below his office. But, as the ancient adage went, a picture was worth a thousand words. In this case, it was worth a hell of a lot much more and it raised just as many questions.
He leaned back and shook his head. Even after watching the scene in the cell for approximately five minutes, his mind refused to accept what his eyes saw. The prisoner, dressed in the standard issue black jumpsuit that the JAG euphemistically called “persons of interest”, was moving through an increasingly more difficult set of push-ups. First had been five standard push-ups. Then five knuckle push-ups followed by five fingertip push-ups. He’d continued to watch, even after catching the line of her jaw and the tilt of her head. That had been enough to confirm her identity. Even so, he still wondered if it wasn’t all a dream. No other explanation made sense.
His fingers moved over the virtual keyboard as he typed in a series of commands. He paged through the readouts, moving them into order, his eyes quickly scanning the results. Then he leaned back and blew out a breath. There was no doubt about it. Not only was she on-planet but someone had managed to get her there and into the security complex without him getting wind of it.
And that most definitely was not good.
As one of FleetCom’s top intelligence officers, it was his job to know everything before it happened. The fact this had almost slipped by him spoke volumes about who had issued the orders to bring her back to New Kilrain. He had no doubt those orders had come from well above his pay grade. No one else had the pull to not only send a ship for the woman but to get her released to local confinement. Who and why he didn’t know – but he would.
Frowning, he drummed his fingers against the synth-wood of his desktop. Could it be there were others besides himself looking into the circumstances surrounding Ashlyn Shaw’s court-martial and conviction? If so, what was their motivation and why had they brought her back? More important in some ways, who were they and why had they acted on their own instead of through his office?
He hated not having the answers. Any intelligence officer would. Unanswered questions could easily mean death, if not for the “spook” then for others, usually innocents.
Damn it, what the hell was going on?