Some soldiers are the shields of innocent souls
Others are the fanatics of their cause
And for them…no war is ever truly over!
Tempered on the anvil of the war against the secessionist UnArcana Worlds and tested against the evil of Project Orpheus, Mage-Commander Roslyn Chambers has risen through the ranks of the Royal Martian Navy to serve as second-in-command of one of their most prestigious battlecruisers, Duke of Magnificence.
A desperate call for help sends Roslyn and her new ship deep into the frontiers of Protectorate space, where they discover that hold-outs of the UnArcana Worlds’ fleets have returned to plunder innocent ships across the Fringe.
To protect the innocent and serve her Queen, Roslyn Chambers must rise to the task before her. She must learn to command—both herself and a warship of the Mage-Queen of Mars!
Roslyn Chambers was feeling very pleased with herself.
The slim Mage-Commander of the Royal Martian Navy lay naked on her bed, watching the tanned form of her lover as Jalil Abdulrashid dressed in his sharp black uniform. The Lieutenant Commander’s insignia the Earth-native man wore sent a twinge of something resembling worry through her, but she was still mostly basking in her post-orgasmic glow.
As Abdulrashid glanced back at her with a smile of his own, she carefully adjusted to let the sheet fall away from her body. He chuckled throatily but shook his head and tapped at the computer strapped to his wrist.
“The corridor is clear right now and might not be later,” he murmured. “I should go.”
As the blue armband on his uniform declared, Lieutenant Commander Jalil Abdulrashid was Military Police. He was, in fact, Ship’s Marshal of Her Royal Majesty’s cruiser Duke of Magnificence—the senior MP aboard, which gave him full access to the warship’s surveillance systems.
“Fair,” Roslyn sighed, the last of her glow fading. “Kiss before you go?”
The redhead—though she still had blond tips from when she’d had time to manage an artificial hair color—was the battlecruiser’s executive officer. Which made her Abdulrashid’s arguable boss…and made them two of the three people on the ship responsible for discovering and discouraging fraternization up and down the chain of command.
So long as no one else knew, Captain Cemal Hesenov wouldn’t find out and wouldn’t bring the hammer down. Roslyn had no illusions that Hesenov wouldn’t find out if anyone else knew.
Abdulrashid pressed a quick kiss to her lips, his eyes dancing with amusement at her naked brazenness.
“I’m on shift in an hour, and everyone needs to see me coming from my quarters,” he noted. “We’ll talk later. Work talk, at least.”
“I know.” Roslyn concealed a sigh and waved him on his way. She was on duty soon as well. As one of the five trained Jump Mages on the battlecruiser, she was one of the people responsible for flinging Duke of Magnificence across the stars.
The door silently slid shut behind her lover, and Roslyn took a moment more to enjoy the fleeting remnants of her post-sex glow. It was, if nothing else, better than the almost two years of celibacy she’d suffered as first an Admiral’s Flag Lieutenant and then as a destroyer’s tactical officer.
She’d been posted to Duke of Magnificence for a year now, since about six months after she’d been promoted to Mage-Commander in the aftermath of the Sorprendidas Incident. She was good at her job…but most of that was by being completely and utterly diligent.
Her wrist-comp was on the table by her bed and she grabbed it, running through her messages while she stretched. She’d been off shift for six hours and had received no less than forty-five messages. Her quick skim said fifteen of them weren’t immediately relevant to her.
The other thirty would require her attention, though she already eyeballed five as having to be elevated to Captain Hesenov for the final decision. She’d have to send them with a recommendation, though, which meant even those required work.
Those five and three others were going to require immediate work, before her official shift began—but after her shower.
Running through the critically important email, Roslyn started going through one of the mental not-quite-distraction games she used to stay focused. As each name came across her screen, she quickly checked whether that NCO or spacer had been aboard Duke of Magnificence when she’d served as the personal transport and immediate backup of Hand Damien Montgomery.
The answer was almost universally no. It had been four years since the then–First Hand had left Duke of Magnificence to assume command of the Royal Martian Navy force at the Battle of Ardennes. He’d never returned, swept away on the currents of duty.
Now, the Prince-Chancellor sat at the Mage-Queen’s right hand. And if being the Chancellor of the Protectorate was anything like being executive officer of a cruiser, Montgomery barely had time to see the twin daughters he was raising, let alone consider jumping back on a starship to deal with trouble personally.
And from her twice-monthly Link conversations with the Prince-Chancellor, Roslyn figured that was an underestimate of his workload. Despite her junior rank, she’d found herself at the heart of several of Montgomery’s problems over the years, and he clearly regarded her as a protégée.
Roslyn wasn’t entirely sure how Kiera Alexander, the Mage-Queen of Mars, regarded her—but they spoke regularly, both a remnant of Roslyn’s service as the Mage-Queen’s Voice in the Sorprendidas Incident and…something else.
The executive officer of one of the many cruisers in Mage-Queen Kiera the First’s navy hesitated to call her Queen her friend, but it was closer to that than many other things.
She dashed off her recommendation on the fifth of the five items that needed to go to the Captain—one of the winked-at stills on the ship had malfunctioned and the product had sent four ratings to the infirmary. The only reason it hadn’t been worse was because the petty officer running it had realized the problem and personally retrieved every other drop of that batch.
Still, the semi-written rule with the stills was that they were allowed so long as no one got hurt. That rule had been broken, so Roslyn felt they had to hold a Captain’s Mast and put the noncom through administrative punishment.
Her recommendation, on the other hand, was for the Captain to basically apply a slap on the wrist because the woman had made sure the contaminated batch didn’t hurt anyone—and reported the whole affair herself.
The second message wasn’t one that required immediate action but did require immediate attention. The jump schedule and charting for the next few days were already nearly set in stone, though now that RMN warships carried the Link FTL communicators invented by their once-enemies on Legatus, missions could change unexpectedly.
Roslyn was due to jump the ship in ninety minutes and to be on the bridge in sixty. She wanted to know what the exact coordinates involved would be. She’d review everything when she actually jumped, but Duke of Magnificence was in deep space, two days out from Eridani on a course for New Berlin.
She had barely brought up the data when her wrist-comp chimed with a priority alert. Looking down at the device in surprise, she tapped Accept and looked at the new message.
The Captain had just called a senior officers’ meeting—in ten minutes. Without talking to the XO first.
Roslyn was supposed to be sleeping at that moment, but that was still a bad sign. That meeting was not going to be normal.
She suspected her review of the jump plan had just become obsolete.