(As always, this work is © Amanda S. Green, 2014. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email me.)
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The building seemed to rock on its very foundations. Dust fell from the ceiling, drifting down like snowflakes. Ashlyn Shaw reached out and steadied herself against the table. The windows, reinforced to prevent anyone from breaking them out – or anyone in an aircar from shooting them out – suddenly sprouted spider web-like cracks. This was no earthquake. No, someone had attacked the building. Terrorism or an all-out attack? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered beyond getting out of there before the building came down around their ears.
“Admiral, we have to get you out of here!”
“Ashlyn, give me your answer. Now!” Tremayne barked.
“Yes. Now let’s get you out of here.”
The door slowly slid open, stopping after only a few inches. Termayne ignored it. Instead, she worked quickly at the terminal on the table. Biting back a curse of frustration as Tremayne told her to read the display, Shaw did as the woman instructed. She quickly scanned the document that appeared on the screen, the pardon she’d prayed for for so long. But she didn’t have time to really register all it said, much less relish the moment. Instead, she picked up the stylus and scrawled her name at the bottom of the document and pressed her right thumb against the gen-lock beside the terminal. Then she turned her attention back to the senator, determined to get her out of there before either of them were hurt — or worse.
“Admiral – Miranda, you’ve got to get out of here. NOW!” she said as the building was rocked yet again.
No matter what had happened over the last two years, this was still the woman who had watched her grow up, who had been her mother’s best friend and her own mentor. She was also one of the sharpest military minds alive. There was no way could they risk her now.
That sense of duty she’d down her best to bury since her court martial kicked in full force. Frustrated because the guards had yet to get the door open, Shaw rushed to the window and looked out. They were too high to see what was going on in the streets below. But she could see the strike ships streaming to and from the spaceport not that far away. Her pulse quickened and she recognized the movement in the sky as a dogfight.
Holy hell, was the capital actually under attack?
For several long moments she stood riveted as she watched the fight in the skies over the city. Then, as two fighters broke away from the pack and bore down on the building, she turned. Her pulse pounded as she raced across the room, upending the table as she did. Before Tremayne could react, much less ask what was happening, she’d shoved the table against the far wall and pulled the woman down behind the meager protection it offered. Then she threw herself on top of the senator, holding her down even as the sounds of rounds striking the side of the building and the window filled the room.
Shaw’s ears rang from the sounds of the window cracking and the fighters veering off just before impact. But she couldn’t think about that right now any more than she could think about how scared she was. She had to get Tremayne out of there before the fighters made another pass. They wouldn’t survive another assault like the last one and she was damned if she’d just lay down and die. Not when she finally had her freedom.
“Come on,” she said as the door finally slid open and the guards rushed inside. Her hand closed around the senator’s arm and dragged her out from behind the table.
Pain exploded as a rifle butt slammed into her side. Her head snapped back as a second blow landed. Darkness swam before her eyes and she fought to remain conscious. She couldn’t black out now, not if she wanted to stay alive.
Moaning, she climbed to her knees, unaware of the fact she’d fallen. Her stomach pitched and she tasted blood. She hurt so badly that she knew they’d broken her nose and probably several ribs. Damn, but she thought she’d left this sort of thing behind her on Tarsus.
“Stand down!” someone ordered. Tremayne? “Goddamn it, stand down!”
This time Tremayne pulled her to her feet instead of the other way around. Fury suffused the senator’s face as she quickly checked to be sure Shaw was all right. Then, to Shaw’s surprise, the woman reached out and grabbed the nearest guard’s sidearm and handed it to her. She took it with her right hand even as she used her left to wipe tears and blood from her face.
“Captain Shaw has received a full pardon from the President. Touch her again and I’ll see you up on charges,” Tremayne said quickly, before the other guard could react. “Now get us the hell out of here.”
That was all the encouragement Shaw needed. By God, she’d get Tremayne out of there somehow. She could ignore the pain and blood. After all, she’d had lots of practice doing just that on Tarsus. Besides, the guards would help, at least until they had to report to their own stations. Once she was sure Tremayne was safe, she’d slip away. She’d make sure her family was all right. She’d make sure her people really were on the way home. Then she’d make those responsible for the last two years of hell pay and pay dearly.
But that had to wait until they were out of this grave just waiting to happen.
For a moment, she thought the guards would protest. Instead, the first one merely nodded. Then he motioned for his companion to take the lead. As they started off down the corridor, the first guard fell in behind the women. Shaw did her best to ignore the unease she felt having him there. Hopefully, he wouldn’t try anything with Tremayne present. She had to trust in that.
But it was hard.
At the end of the corridor, the point guard motioned for them to wait as he checked ahead. Eyes alert, her fingers tightening around the butt of the pistol, Shaw stood ready. She wasn’t even aware of the fact she’d moved forward slightly, positioning herself between the corner and Tremayne, until the senator gently reached out and pulled her back. Before she could protest, Tremayne simply shook her head and lifted the gun she’d produced from somewhere.
A moment later the guard returned, one hand to his ear as he listened to his com-link. He nodded once and turned to face Tremayne. As he did, his discomfort was clear. Stiffening, knowing trouble lay ahead, Shaw waited.
“Senator, I’ve been ordered to make sure you get to safety. My partner will take care of Shaw.”
Fury, cold and hard, raced through her. She had no doubt how the guard was supposed to “take care of” her. She was damned if she just stood there and let them kill her. Not when freedom was so close. Not when she’d believed Tremayne and had finally allowed herself to hope.
Before she could act, Tremayne did. Her pistol was suddenly aimed squarely at the guard’s chest. His partner, caught off-guard, was slow to bring his weapon to bear. Instinct kicked in and Shaw knocked his arm to one side. Her left hand closed over his gun and she quickly disarmed him. Then she waited, her finger tightening on the trigger. She didn’t want to kill him, but she would if she had to.
“Stand easy, kid. I’m not about to leave you. Nor am I about to let anything else happen to you,” Tremayne assured her before addressing the guards. “I’m only going to say this once. President Harper has pardoned Captain Shaw. She is no longer a prisoner and she most certainly is no longer in your custody. So you can either continue to stand in our way and get us all killed or you can help us get out of this hellhole to safety. I will deal with whomever issued your orders to ‘deal’ with Captain Shaw as soon as this is over.”
Shaw waited, knowing how precarious their position was. Time was running out. If they didn’t move soon, before another attack run against the building, they’d be dead. But did the guards realize it or were they so scared of disobeying orders they’d risk everything, even their lives, over this?
“Aye, ma’am,” the first guard replied and then, much to Shaw’s surprise, he snapped to attention and saluted. “Captain Shaw, I’m counting on you to help keep the senator safe.” With that, he turned and started off around the corner, yelling back to them that he’d clear a path and to keep up.
There wasn’t time to think or to feel. It was as though the last two years had never happened. Once more she was fighting for her life and the life of another. One corridor at a time, one corner to be taken carefully to make sure they weren’t running headlong into a trap. All the while they made their way closer to the ground before the building collapsed on top of them.
The sounds of fighting around them were like memories of the nightmares that had plagued her for so long. Weapons firing, people screaming, orders being shouted out even as cries for help filled the air. She’d done everything she could then to save her company but so many had died. More had been injured and she’d been unable to do anything about it. She’d lived with the dying screams of her people for two long years. Would she ever be able to put them behind her?
She couldn’t think about it, couldn’t let herself remember that last battle and what happened after it. Not now. Not until she was sure Tremayne was safe. Then she could begin figuring out how to get vengeance for her people.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, they reached the ground floor. Marines were doing their best to make sure all non-essential personnel were moved out of the fire zone. They couldn’t stay there, not as long as there was fighting going on. But where were they going? Was anywhere safe just then?
Damn it, she wished she knew what was going on.
“Admiral Tremayne,” a marine in light armor slid to a halt before them and sketched a quick salute. Even as he did, he checked to make sure they weren’t in the direct line of fire. “Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Talbot, ma’am. I’ve been assigned by Major Santiago to make sure you and Captain Shaw get to the shuttle waiting for you.”
“What’s the current situation, Gunny?” Tremayne asked. Gone was the senator. This was the admiral and Shaw hoped Talbot realized it.
“Ma’am, I can’t tell you much. A couple of small fighters conducted air strikes against the security compound. Our forces scrambled in response and drove them off. I don’t know if those are all of the enemy fighters in-system or not. As for groundside, we have snipers as well as assault troops trying to breach our defenses here. Don’t know about the rest of the capital.”
“Who’s in command?” Shaw asked.
As she did, she fought down her emotions. Seeing Talbot was just another reminder of all she’d lost and all that had been taken from her. She’d served with the gunnery sergeant before her last assignment. He’d taught her more about battlefield tactics than any of her courses at the Academy and he’d pulled her ass out of the line of fire on more than one occasion. Of course, she’d returned the favor almost as many times. After all, that’s what Marines do.
“Major Santiago, ma’am, and his orders to me were quite clear. I am to make sure you and the admiral — sorry, ma’am, senator — get safely to the shuttle and out of here. The major assured me that he’d have my hide, literally, if I let anything happen to either of you.”
“Then you’d best lead the way, Gunny,” Tremayne said. “But, before you do, make sure these two are secured somewhere safe. I’m going to want to talk with them once this situation is under control.”
Talbot looked from the senator to the guards, concern momentarily clouding his expression. Then, glancing at Shaw, he nodded. Without asking for an explanation, he called another Marine over and suggested he escort the two to a secure location where they were to remain until further notice. Then he turned back to the guards.
“Corporal, you and your companion will hand your weapons over to Captain Shaw and then you’ll go with Corporal Henson.” The look he gave the corporal when the man balked brought a quick smile to Shaw’s lips. If they lived through this, she’d buy the gunny a drink. It was worth it to see the guard’s discomfort. Besides, she had a feeling he’d be more than happy to help her with her other plans. “Captain, I also have these for you,” he added after she’d taken their weapons and checked them. Shaw’s right hand automatically reached out to catch the dogtags he tossed in her direction. Her chest tightened and she swallowed hard as she stared at them. How he’d gotten them, she didn’t know. They’d been taken from her when she’d been processed back into the brig after the court martial panel returned their verdict of guilty “Welcome back, ma’am. You’ve been missed.”
“It’s good to be back, Gunny.” She slid the chain over her head, relishing the sound of the tags hitting against one another. Surprisingly, it was good to be back, at least it would be once she’d dealt with a few matters. “Now let’s get the senator out of here.”
With that, Talbot turned and started toward the rear of the building. As they pushed through the crush of others attempting to get to safety, Shaw thought hard, trying to remember the layout of the building. Unless things had changed since her court martial, there was a small landing area at the rear of the complex. When she’d been on active duty, it had been used for fleet officers and government officials. But was it secure enough to allow for a shuttle to land and take off without becoming easy target practice for the enemy?
They turned another corner and she saw daylight. For a moment she paused. It would be so easy to slip away into the confusion and disappear. But she was free. She had to remember that. She was free, her name cleared. The rest would come.
Assuming any of them lived out the day.
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I hope you’re enjoying the snippets as much as I’ve been enjoying writing the book. I’ll post another snippet next week.