Sample of Dragonfly
“What’s the emergency?” I took a seat before the director’s shiny black desk, adjusting my plasma pistol so it wouldn’t dig into my ribs.
Director Renko didn’t look up from her glowing 3D workspace.
I fidgeted, impatient. My reflection gleamed in the sanctum’s polarized black windows, and I tried to smooth the creases from my forehead, wishing I’d tied my hair up more neatly or revitalized my make-up tints to make it look like I wanted to be here. I was frustrated that she’d dragged me in. I needed that vacation.
My most recent mission—bleeding out a rebellion in a backwater star system, a new Imperial conquest whose poor and hungry hadn’t learned to keep their mouths shut yet—had been a quiet but definite success. The rebel leaders died a slow and conspicuous death, the poor and hungry got a tough lesson in Imperial citizenship, and I got a pat on the head and a long-awaited week off. I’d worked without rest for months on end and I was exhausted. I’d booked a swim-out bungalow at the pleasure resorts on Vostok Four: UV-filtered sunshine, cocktails by the pool, an anti-gravity combat gym and twice-daily deep-tissue massages from a blue-eyed underwear model named Antonio.
But you’re never really on vacation from Axis, the Imperial secret intelligence service. Especially not from counter-insurrection division. They know exactly what you’ve done, where and to whom. They could screw you to the wall in an instant. So if they whistle, you jump, and you do it right away, no matter what Antonio’s doing.
At last, Lyudmila Renko, my boss, director of Axis’s counter-insurrection division, flicked her workspace away and reclined in her transparent chair, resting pointed elbows on its arms. Today she wore a black silk flight suit, same as mine, belted around her greyhound-thin waist, her blonde hair pulled tightly back.
“Aragon. You’re late.”
Aragon’s my codename. I doubted she remembered my real one: Carrie Thatcher, ex-lieutenant of marines, one-time military intelligence officer, now Imperial secret agent extraordinaire with a license for mayhem.
“Sorry, ma’am. I got here as fast as I—”
“Three days ago, a rebel colony in sector five surrendered.” No small talk. No apology for interrupting my rest. “In eleven days, that colony is joining our Empire. The negotiation teams are meeting at a neutral space station as usual, but surveillance reports have uncovered an insurrection problem in the area. I want you to stop it before it interferes with Imperial business.”
Translated: before it makes us look weak in front of our new subjects. Weakness breeds rebellion, that’s the Axis motto. Still, I wasn’t sure what it had to do with me.
“Eleven days from now? Doesn’t sound like much of an emergency. What’s their target?”
Director Renko studied her clipped fingernails. “The neutral space station is a casino called Casa de Esperanza. The criminal’s target is the vault, on the day the surrender pact will be signed.”
I swallowed to stop my jaw from dropping. A heist at a glitzy mob-infested gaming palace? She’d dragged me in from vacation to stop a petty thief?
Granted, the Esperanza vault reputedly held enough cash to buy a few minor planets, and to have it whipped out from under our noses in the middle of the surrender negotiations would splat egg on some important Imperial faces—but still.
“With all due respect, ma’am, you’ve got dozens of people for work like this. Why me? I’m on vacation.”
A sly eye-twinkle. “This particular criminal may interest you. Our source agent suggests the thief is Dragonfly.”
I sat up, my pulse leaping, my exhaustion forgotten. Dragonfly. Not just a thief with a grand reputation for audacity and skill, but an insurrectionist with a following. He stole to finance his bloody little wars, and rebels and malcontents all over the galaxy loved him for it.
I’d crossed him before, though I’d never seen his face. My guts heated at the memory.
Three years ago; Urumki City burning, night air filled with smoke, gunfire and dying screams. Our troops under fire, running and hiding like vermin, armor glinting, lasers flashing. My counter-insurrection team, armed to the hilt, searching dark streets and crumbling towers for the enemy cell, the leaders. My point sharpshooter, her rifle arm ripped bare to the muscle by an acid bomb; my comms tech with bioware torn loose from his skull and his shoulder blackening from a poison dart; and sweet Mishka, my second-in-command, his long black braid singed, urban camouflage darkened with sweat, one brown eye seared shut from atomflash. It was fluid, knife-edge work. One moment we were cleaning up a row of tenements with smart plasma rounds. The next, liquid shatterfire descended in burning streams, flames and deadly molten glass fragments erupting like lava. I ducked for cover, and never saw my team alive again.
Dragonfly killed six Axis agents that night. All of them my friends. All my responsibility. And one, the love of my life, the man I was going to marry. Mishka’s codename was Ariel, after the nebula cluster, and maybe the angel too, but in private we’d long gone beyond codenames. I didn’t even get to weep over his body, because nothing was left. I’d returned to base alone, my heart bleeding cold with fury and vengeance.
A hole still festered there, where my friends—and especially Mishka, my silent, loyal soldier—once lived. A tortured, broken Dragonfly would fill it nicely.
This was the assignment I’d dreamed of. I’d done well in my recent mission, but I still needed to prove myself. I always needed to prove myself. If I could pull this off, maybe I’d finally be back on Renko’s go-to list.
I inched forward in my seat. “When can I start?”
Renko smiled thinly, her narrow cheeks creasing. “You will travel to Esperanza station and meet our source. Your mission is to foil Dragonfly’s plan using whatever means necessary—short of termination.” Her red lips tightened even further. “Dragonfly irritates my superiors. He makes them itch, and they want him squashed—but in full view of any disgruntled idiots who might be thinking about emulating him. The further his little expedition gets, the more satisfying and spectacular the squashing will be. Understood?”
My stomach tightened with relish. They wanted an agent provocateur. Someone to whisper in Dragonfly’s ear, guide him softly into the trap, and crunch it closed at the last second, when he’d have no escape. Renko knew this was personal for me. It was part of the test. And I wouldn’t fail. I’d give them Dragonfly with his sticky little fingers on Esperanza’s money, and I’d laugh as our interrogators took him away.
The director returned to her glowing desktop projection, golden datastreams reflecting in her eyes. “I want full reports on schedule. Collect your preliminary briefing from intelligence as usual. You’ll get the rest from our source when you get there.”
I stood, eager to get on with it. Esperanza lay a good two days in slipspace away. “Understood. What’s the rating?”
“The mission is classified omega blue.” Impatience sharpened her tone.
Excitement rippled warmer in my blood. Blue meant a dire security risk. Omega meant no one knew about the mission except me, Renko, and our source. Axis wasn’t messing around on this one. This source had better be someone good, with the proper clearances. Someone who wouldn’t get in my way.
“Who’s the source?”
“Your source is Malachite.”
My heart thudded into my guts, and I flushed, my palms damp.
Renko’s thin blonde brows rose. “Is there a problem?”
Damn right there was a problem.
“No, ma’am, not at all.”
Taking on Dragonfly had just gotten less enticing. And a whole lot more dangerous.
I walked out of Renko’s office, past potted green ferns and into the dim blue lobby, where brightly colored fish cruised up and down in a wall aquarium, among rocks and swaying plants. Swirling lights glowed in columns lining the pale walls. Calmlights are a randomized display designed to soothe savage nerves, and they weren’t outside the director’s sanctum by accident. But tension still ached in my fingers as I touched the silver contact to call the elevator.
The gleaming black door dissolved, and scarlet sunlight poured in through the elevator’s clear plastic walls. I stepped inside, an infuriating wobble in my legs, lemon-scented airborne antivirals making my head ache.
“Thirteen,” I mumbled automatically, and the elevator shot silently down the side of the Axis building toward intelligence division, where I’d get my briefing.
New Moskva, the Empire’s capital city, glittered to the horizon, sharp metal and glass towers shining like needles spiking into the red-stained midday sky. Glinting silver flyers flitted to and fro, and a few bulbous passenger transports cruised by at higher altitude, windows flashing golden as stray electrical storms crackled in the dusty air. But I couldn’t concentrate on the view. Ideas bounced around in my head like shrapnel, and I wanted to duck for cover.
First, if Renko had put Malachite in charge, she was taking the Dragonfly threat very seriously. Malachite was her top agent, and she didn’t waste him on trifles. There was more to this mission than she’d let on.
Second, I was targeting like a smartbomb toward making an abject idiot of myself, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
Malachite had been my mentor when I first transferred to Axis from military intelligence, way before I’d met Mishka or even heard of Dragonfly. Even back then, Malachite was a legend. The perfect operative, skilled, effortless, suave, the one everyone wanted to be. I was young, awe-struck, desperate for his approval. He’d said everything I’d ever dreamed he’d say, and I was starry-eyed enough to believe he meant it. We ended badly, and for the last six years I’d avoided him. If I never saw Malachite again, I’d die a happy woman.
I laughed. I’m an Axis agent. I can’t expect to die happy anyway.
The elevator glided to a halt and the door phased open. I stepped out, and the black floor glared at me, my own reflection sharp in white icelights. The smell of gunfire coated my tongue, hot metal and salt. No white corridor, no laserglass security screen or pale blue orchids. Just a black vault door, silvery shatterbolts gleaming.
My spine prickled. This wasn’t floor thirteen.
The elevator phased shut behind me with a sizzle. Alarm stung my body into action and I lurched backward, my hand flashing upwards for my pistol.
The hard, hot edge of an atomflash barrel jabbed into the base of my spine, and a warm male voice caressed my ear. “Think again.”
I froze, my hair springing tight. But I flushed, angry at myself. All very well to pay attention now. Slowly I eased my hand from my holster, fingers twitching. No need to ask who this was.
“I already told your boss no. What do you want?”
The shatterbolts cranked aside, and the vault eased open in a puff of warm darkness. A hand pressed me forward. I swallowed dryness and did as I was told.
Special price for two weeks only
Carrie Thatcher is a tough Imperial counter-terrorism agent. Her mission: pose as a sexy cyber-thief to entrap the notorious rebel Dragonfly, who’s planning a heist on the space station Casa de Esperanza an orbital casino on the fringe of Imperial space.
And this assignment’s personal: Dragonfly murdered her closest friend, and she’s in no mood to show him mercy. Even getting stuck with the partner from hell Malachite, her sociopathic ex-lover and the Empire’s most dangerous agent can’t dampen her relish for the kill.
With Carrie’s expert weapons skills and penchant for cracking codes, insinuating herself into Dragonfly’s confidence should be easy. But is he the ruthless killer she was led to believe? Or has her precious Empire deceived her? With Malachite watching her every move, the slightest flinch in loyalty means death.
Carrie is soon racing to uncover an audacious treachery that will shock the Empire to its core if she can stay alive for long enough to expose it.
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Erica Hayes was a law student, an air force officer, an editorial assistant and a musician, before finally landing her dream job: fantasy writer. She writes dark paranormal romance, urban fantasy and romantic science fiction, and her books feature tough, smart heroines and colorful heroes with dark secrets. She hails from Australia, where she drifts from city to city, leaving a trail of chaos behind her. Currently, she’s terrorizing the wilds of Northumberland.Find out more