Today's Reading

"I wish Off-Earth would hurry it up with those new prototypes. I'm tired of lugging this thing around." Jenks set her helmet next to his and tugged her skullcap off, revealing the bright shock of orange hair running down the center of her head.

"I'm as excited about a helmet that folds into our suits as you are, but I saw those failure tests," Nik replied. "I'd rather they take their time and make sure they figure out what the heck happened with the seals so we don't die out there. Speaking of not dying..." He jabbed a finger at the door behind them.

"Come on, Nik, live a little." She winked her blue eye at him and reached over her shoulder. The magnetic clamps released the moment Jenks's palm touched the sensor, the microsheath flowing away from the tip and down into the hilt.

Guns on spaceships were bad news, and no one yet had the lock on a reliable handheld laser weapon, a fact that Jenks regularly bemoaned even though she was more likely to settle something with fists than with her sword anyway.

The matte black blades of the NeoG weapons were ten centimeters at the widest point and thirty-five centimeters long, with the handle making it an even fifty. A wicked-looking hook curved back toward the hilt a handful of centimeters from the end point.

Nika's favorite trick with that during the competition fights was to hook his opponent's sword and send it flying. In real combat, though, it was equally effective in making folks more concerned about keeping their guts in than fighting him.

Jenks preferred to slap people with the flat of her blade, which Nika felt was an accurate representation of how each of them approached the world. Jenks would kill if there was a need, but she didn't like it and avoided it right up to the line of endangering her own life.

He hoped neither one of them had to put their philosophies to the test today.

"Tamago and I are on board," Rosa said.

"Copy that, we are proceeding forward," Nika replied, and then turned off his com with a thought. "Jenks?"

She paused at his call, hand hovering over the entrance panel. "What's up?"

"Be careful in there."

"You think it's going to turn into a muck?"

Nika shrugged and reached back to pull his own sword. "It might."

"Can do, then." She blinked twice. "Readings inside are showing three life signs in the front section, two more in the back end by the commander." She highlighted their locations on the shared map. "Front two are just off the engine room and one up on the bridge. The ones in the back are with the pop—uh—people."

"I see them, Jenks," Rosa said. "We'll deal with these two, you and Nika take the trio."

Jenks looked at Nika, one eyebrow raised. The question—How do you want to do this?—was floating unsaid on the air. Nika gestured at the door and Jenks opened it.

It was a risk either way, because the commander would kill him if they split up. He'd put either of them in a two-on-one fight, but he also knew it was dangerous odds. Anything could go wrong. But if he and Jenks stayed together and went for engineering first, the one on the bridge could vent the ship if they heard a commotion.

Or engineering could blow the ship if they thought something was up.

He hated this. Snap decisions weren't his forte. Too many things to sort through, too many things that could go wrong. It paralyzed him every damn time, no matter how hard he worked on it. You are a hell of an officer, Vagin, he thought bitterly.

"You want an opinion?" There was no sympathy in Jenks's question, something he was always grateful for from her. She continued at his nod. "Let's do the bridge first. We'll take whoever it is out, and I can convince them to call one or both up from engineering. We'll just ambush them on the way. The odds that engineering will blow the ship are only slightly greater than zero. Survival instinct is strong no matter what is going on here."

"You really should have gone to the academy, Jenks."

"Pfft." She rolled her eyes. "I'd be trash as an officer and we both know it. You're the smarter one. I just know how to sneak up on people." Jenks tapped the panel and slipped through the door as it opened.

Nika knew it was more than that, but Jenks was right about the sneaking up on people.

That's how he'd met his adopted sister, when he'd been twenty-three, home on leave to deal with the remnants of his grandmother's life. Jenks had been a fifteen-year-old street dweller his dear grandmother had taken in and neglected to tell him about. Which meant their first meeting had been her thinking he'd broken into his late grandmother's house and trying to brain him with a frying pan.
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