BioCybe – Excerpt

"So how do I replace you?" Sandon took another long draw of the ale, hoping it would dull the scratchy sensation that swelled in his chest.

"I heard that the war is over." Secombe cleared his throat and waited a beat.

Sandon jerked up out of the slump he'd dropped into. "What?"

"I heard they're signing an agreement. Not quite a truce, but the two factions are looking for common ground. A way to end this damned war." Secombe relaxed into the red leatherette covering the chair. "If that's so, you won't need me anymore. I hear the best pilots are already looking…"

Sandon shook his head. "Why the hell would I want some dried-up old warrior to pilot my ship? They'll only bring all their own problems and prejudices with them. No. I need you."

"I'm not staying past the first of the month. So, now that we've cleared that up, how about we start the process of looking for my replacement?" Secombe smiled, but it was brittle, as if the emotional distancing had already begun.

Frustration filled Sandon. It was so simple for Secombe to walk away. He had his family, his farm, and a future already mapped out. Sandon only had the ship and the crew; his parents had died a long time ago. The Golden Echo was his home, and those aboard it were his family. Secombe just expected to leave when he wanted, without thought for anyone else.

Anger and sadness welled, but Sandon shunted the emotions. "So, how do you…"

The door to the mess hall opened. Johnson, the cargo superintendent, ducked his head around the corner, his face conveying both confusion and caution. "Secombe? That pilot you invited aboard? Uhhh… The captain…uhh, person is here."

"Excellent." Secombe turned in Sandon's direction without a shadow of embarrassment. "Sandon, this pilot is the best of the best. Take a moment and see for yourself. Send the captain in, Johnson." Secombe smiled, as if pleased to have already found his replacement.

An itch took up residence in the back of Sandon's neck.

Johnson gazed at Secombe owlishly. "Are you sure?"

Sandon frowned at Johnson's uncharacteristic actions. Something's wrong…

Secombe's eyes narrowed. "Send him in."

Johnson gulped, the sound loud in the sudden silence. "O-okay…" His discomfort radiated, and Sandon leaned forward, ready to meet the man Secombe considered an adequate replacement for himself.

When the door opened all the way, silence reigned. A woman stood on the other side of the door, her gaze set. Her body, still and tensed, was arrayed in the combat browns many of the fighter pilots had adopted. Sandon could feel the tension rolling off her from the distance between them.

She has green eyes. He couldn't control the thought. As his eyes scanned her body—toned, taut, and curved in all the right places—the liquid in his mouth dried.

"Captain Daria? I'm…" She blinked, and he wondered if the flash of insecurity he thought he'd seen had actually existed.

Probably not, he told himself. Why would a flyer feel any level of insecurity?

"I'm Levia Endrado. Pilot Secombe requested my presence." She held out a hand, in friendship or entreaty, he wasn't really sure.

Sandon turned in the direction of Secombe. "Well?"

Secombe opened his mouth then closed it again before shrugging. She obviously wasn't what he was expecting either.