“Get back here,” he screamed.
Vira ignored him.
She jerked her hand to the left, activating her armor. In a hiss of moving metal and a blast of blue-green energy, it sailed over her.
“Vira,” he bellowed. “Don’t go after him.”
Vira didn’t even bother to answer. She flew up the side of the sheer mineshaft, her black armor almost indistinguishable from the dark night above. Her subspace swords weren’t, though. As she pulsed both hands wide, two swords appeared out of subspace pockets behind her. They leaped into her hands, glowing as brightly as trapped supernovas.
In a flash, she was out of sight.
“Vira,” Park bellowed her name once more.
Sweat slicked his brow as he took a jerked step backward, clamped a hand over his mouth, and thought.
The body of Princess Me’ac was still behind him. As he took a careless step backward, his boot banged up against her lifeless form. Her sticky blue blood now practically covered the bottom of the shaft.
This mission had gone to hell. He should never have accepted this role in the first place.
He didn’t have the skills to control Vira – no one did. She was overpowered and undertrained, and Admiral Forest should never have let her out.
But Vira was out.
And unless Park could pull her back before the Coalition staff on the moon above caught sight of her, then everything would be over.
“Dammit,” he spat.
He whirled on his foot, searching for any way out of here. The assassin had already destroyed the hover elevator that usually serviced this pit, and Park could bet that the backup flotation packs had been removed, too.
Park caught sight of a low gravity rock grinder. They were designed to float along the sides of walls, buffing off preprogrammed stone layers so you could reveal archaeological finds beyond.
Park dashed over to the nearest one, skidding down on his knees, not caring that it aggravated the wound along his leg and up across his hip where the assassin had tried to slice him in half with a rotating electron sword. Blood might have scattered over the rock by his knees, but it didn’t goddamn matter.
Nothing would matter until he found Vira.
Gritting his teeth, ignoring the pain, Park threw himself at the sheer wall to his left, activating the rock grinder.
It kicked into life, shuddering in his hands and jerking forward as it made a mag lock with whatever magnetized ore was in the wall.
The rock grinder was meant to work on its own – following whatever program you keyed into it.
It was definitely not meant to act as an impromptu elevator.
With his thumb, Park activated the swipe control that would dictate the loadbearing on the grinder, shifting it to its maximum setting. It still wouldn’t be enough to carry his weight for long, but all Park had to do was make it up the 50 m to the surface of the moon above.
“Come on,” he spat as the rock grinder powered into life, latching onto the surface of the wall as it began to shift upward. Rocks scattered out everywhere, dust erupting around the grinder but quickly being sucked into the air vents along its side. It meant Park didn’t suck in a lungful of rock dust every time he took a jerked, shuddering breath, but this wasn’t easy, either. As he held onto the grinder for dear life, it shuddered as if it had the trapped force of a tornado. His fingers slicked with sweat and his wrists hurt like hell, but he didn’t let go.
Above, he could hear the sounds of battle.
He had no fear for Vira’s life. She’d already proved she could take on an army if she had to. But that wasn’t the point.
Vira was far too valuable to be used on any old army. No, Vira had to be kept for the Force.
By the time Park was 10 m away from ground level, his shoulders felt like they would be wrenched from his back. But he held on.
Just five more meters, just four.
With a scream, Park’s grip finally failed. Just before he could fall, he scrabbled against the almost completely sheer, smooth rock face, pressing the points of his regulation Coalition boots against the rock as he threw himself up the last meter with every scrap of strength he had.
He just made it. His shuddering, weak fingers latched onto the edge of the pit. Before they too could fail, he shoved his boots against the rock and he pushed with all his might.
A genuine, gut-wrenching scream splitting from his lips, Park rolled onto the dark gray, pockmarked ground.
He lay there for a single second, arms practically convulsing from the beating the rock grinder had put them through.
But Park couldn’t give himself the time he needed to recover.
He shoved up hard and ran.
The assassin had tech Park had never seen. Though it had looked Artaxian, appearances had been misleading. His gut told him it was from the Force.
And though Vira was a lot of things, if that Force technology was strong enough, even she could be overcome.
He didn’t bother bellowing her name or using the constant lock his wrist device had on her – all he needed to do was use his eyes to discern where Vira was.
She was 100 m away and 50 m up, fighting in the sky.
Even from this distance, Park could follow the fight easily. Though both the assassin and Vira wore jet black armor, Vira’s blue swords gave her away.
Park had no weapon. All he had was his goddamn voice, his uniform, and his wrist device.
Oh, and the kill switch.
The one built right into Vira’s brain. The one Admiral Forest had made Park promise he would only ever use in the direst of situations when Vira either went completely off the reservation, or acted in a way brazen enough to reveal her secret to the rest of the galaxy. Because he knew if he used it, it would cost him something he’d spent the last three weeks painstakingly cultivating – Vira’s trust.
Park’s eyes had never been wider as he tilted his head all the way back and stared up at the two fighting figures.
It was like watching a star fight a black hole. The assassin’s pitch black armor made its darting body look like it was nothing more than a shadow against space, while Vira’s bright swords looked like the flashing tails of comets.
As they fought, they got higher and higher.
The surface of this moon – like most moons – was completely pockmarked from space debris impacts. Fortunately, the area they were in was in a low valley. But above the rise to his left and past a small mountain ridge was the primary research facility. Though Vira’s armor was specifically manufactured to be completely undetectable to standard scanners, anyone with a functioning set of eyes would be able to see her. If she got any higher, she would come within view of the research facility, and she would blow everything.
“Goddamn you, Vira,” Park spat through clenched teeth as he tried to make the toughest decision of his life.
His thumb and finger hovered over his right wrist. Not his wrist device – but the implant that had been grafted onto his wrist bone. His wrist device, after all, could be removed. Short of cutting off Park’s arm, the implant couldn’t be.
The implant did one thing. It maintained a continual subspace connection to the kill switch in Vira’s mind.
All Park needed to do was activate it, and Vira would fall unconscious.
She continued to fight the assassin. Her movements were graceful and yet the deadliest he’d ever seen. But whatever armor the assassin possessed was fending her off for now.
Forever? Park doubted it. He knew in his heart of hearts that Vira would succeed. Eventually.
But he couldn’t give her any more time.
“Goddamn you, Vira,” he repeated, voice more bitter than it ever had been before. Once upon a time, Lieutenant Park had thought he had a switch in his own mind. Not a kill switch, mind you, but one that, if he flicked it, made him into a passionless, emotionless, perfect soldier. The kind of man who followed orders and never got involved.
But Park was wrong, wasn’t he?
Because he’d finally met his match – the one person in all of the Milky Way who could press his buttons.
And right then and there, he pressed hers. Without a single moment’s hesitation, Park rammed his thumb and finger against his wrist implant.
Vira fell from the sky. In an instant, she lost consciousness.
The assassin didn’t take the opportunity to try to kill her. He wisely turned tail and ran, flying vertically right up into the atmosphere.
Park threw himself forward.
He didn’t reach Vira before she crashed into the surface of the moon, her two spinning blue subspace blades slicing into the ground by her side.
She struck the ground with such force, he could feel it even 10 m out.
With a burst of speed, completely ignoring the injury to his leg and side, Park finally reached her.
Her head was at an angle, her body limp, the light from the starscape above catching along her glinting, smooth black armor.
Park fell down to one knee by her side. He reached a hand up, propped his elbow on his knee, and pressed his fingers into his sweat-and-grime caked brow.
He didn’t need to use his wrist device to scan her to know she was okay. That didn’t stop him from opening his mouth one last time and spitting, “Goddamn you, Vira.”
The rest of Vira Episode One is available from most ebook retailers.