Pushed To The Limit
By: Nico Rosso | Other books by Nico Rosso
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Jun 06, 2011
ISBN # 9781595788368
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
Published: Jun 06, 2011
ISBN # 9781595788368
Word Count: 42,750
Available in: Epub, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc), Rocket
DescriptionTeryn Pilander lives in a world of secrets. She is a Shadow Corps operative for the Core Army in the Limit War, trained in espionage. Her latest mission takes her to the planet Viela, drawn by a communication that the local government captured a Dusk Warrior Officer for questioning. More interesting than the message, though, is the voice delivering it. A little shy, but deep and strong, the masculine voice sparks dormant fires in Teryn. She tells herself that once the mission is over, she might put her spy self away for a bit and live a little as a woman.
Drel Kol has secrets of his own. He is the one who sent the message drawing Teryn and her team to his planet. But he was just following orders and led her into a trap. Now, the woman he spoke with could be in grave danger. Her voice alone is enough to ignite a passion he has never known. Yet he's only a technician. Can he fight against his own government and the Dusk to save her? And will the new bond between Teryn and Drel be torn apart when she learns his secret?
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
The sexy male voice came through the comm, resonating through Teryn Pilander’s body. “Welcome, Core rakeship. We have you in approach five and have prepped landing zone one.”
Somehow the voice made the most ordinary radio chatter seem like a seduction. He was saying one thing, but it was as if something else was on his mind. Something private and intimate.
She remembered the deep voice from an earlier message and had to steady herself before responding. “Received. Throttling down for atmosphere breach.”
He spoke again, “Glad to have you with us.” Low and serious, with a rumble as if it was his intimate, first-thing-in-the-morning voice. All this came through the speakers in the circular main deck of Teryn’s ship and she tried to ignore that the rest of her team was listening to her communication with the man on the other end of the comm. What must he be like in person?
Teryn remained on task. “We’re coming in, protocol Easy, and have the landing coordinates.” Her words were supposed to be routine, but she almost sounded breathless. Teryn released the talk button on the comm and collected herself. There was business on this planet.
But she had to find some pleasure later. Teryn needed time away from the Limit War. From one mission to the next, she’d been planet hopping for over a cycle and a half. After the interrogations and negotiations on Viela, maybe she could find the man behind the radio voice and let herself go on a shore-leave fling.
“Protocol Easy is right,” O’ores Tau snickered behind Teryn. “Maybe we should just do a fly-by and you can shadow drop directly into his bed.”
Teryn flushed a bit with embarrassed heat. She normally didn’t let her physical needs burn so close to the surface.
Rittor and Mep laughed, too, until Teryn turned in her chair and shot the Shadow Core operatives a razor-sharp look. She was team leader and wouldn’t let them forget her authority.
But her teammates were also her friends and they were all expert interrogators. There were few secrets between them. “I like his voice.” Teryn singled out O’ores Tau, the other female operative on the team. “Can’t deny it’s sexy.”
Hints of violet colored O’ores Tau’s light green cheeks. “It does have a certain … timbre.”
The raker-class ship adjusted its approach toward the planet, auto-pilot taking care of the calculations. The real job would start when Teryn and her team landed. Core had received an initial message indicating that Viela had captured a Dusk Warrior officer who was on a recon mission to their world. All the proper coding conventions were followed and the message felt legitimate. The mission was important and dangerous and exciting, but it was the voice that got Teryn’s blood pumping. She would’ve been curious to visit Viela even if the voice was sending instructions for poaching leadfish with prickly greens.
She keyed the mic and leaned close, putting a little heat into her voice. “We should be coming into eyeshot soon.”
“Affirmative.” Did he sound a little breathless now?
She knew how to interrogate. “I never got your name.”
She also knew how to flirt. “Hi, Drel. I’m Teryn.” Now she had a name to associate with the voice. Drel. He had been the one who sent the earlier message to Core. It had been important enough for Command to send Teryn and her Shadow Corps team across the galaxy to his planet, Viela. The only populated world in this crowded system.
Teryn scanned the data flow on her tablet for the name Drel, but there was no image associated with him. She had the name, but wanted the face as well. Perhaps after they landed, because video links were not allowed in the highly-classified Shadow Corps ships.
She continued, hoping to draw him out. “Maybe you could help me out when the mission is complete.”
“Do what I can.” There was a small quake of shyness in his voice, like he didn’t know how sexy he sounded. That got her. Brazen guys who swaggered, balls out, only had limited appeal. Their passion was learned from pleasure vids and sweaty gym sessions. Grunting and flexing. But no surprises. And that type was too vain to lose himself completely to the sex. The voice, however, seemed like he would really appreciate an adventure with her body. A glow of warmth flushed through Teryn.
“I never like the restaurants the ambassadors recommend,” she said. “Too political. Too many kickbacks. Maybe you could show me a couple places. It’s always nice to have a real local man’s help.”
“Well … if the places Key Ambassador Efflan recommends aren’t satisfactory, I can point you in other directions. I’ll personally find whatever it is you’re looking for.” Sure he was a bit shy, but he picked up on the flirt and gave some heat back.
“Thanks, Drel. I’ll make sure to find you as soon as I get a spare second.”
“Looking forward to it.”
She clicked off the mic and the comm was silent. The warmth Drel’s voice inspired in Teryn’s body lingered.
Rittor leaned back in his chair, stretching his long legs. “We know what Teryn’s gonna be doing once we finish interrogating the delta officer.” The deception expert rolled a coin he’d stolen from the last planet along the ridges of his nimble fingers.
“If she doesn’t scare him off.” Mep lazily scanned images of the capital city where they were going to land. “Coming on a bit strong.”
Teryn stood and stepped over Rittor’s legs on her way to the observation window along the bulkhead. Green and amber, with bright blue veins of water, the planet Viela approached. “That’s the problem with male operatives: one-track mind. I was gathering intel. His name is Drel.” He was somewhere on that planet. There was no promise with him, but there were possibilities. Teryn needed to hold on to that: the possibility of pleasure. Obfuscations and interrogations had taken over her life. She lived in the shadows and didn’t want the cold of night to creep too deeply into her body. “And Key Ambassador Efflan was in the room with him or at least listening in. Otherwise he wouldn’t have named him in that deferential way.”
Rittor flipped the coin, called a quarter by the local inhabitants, into the air. “So old and so wise.”
Teryn spun from the window and snatched the coin away as it reached its apex. “Old enough to be a veteran in Shadow Corps.”
O’ores Tau added, “Which means she’s too dangerous for you to make jokes about her age.”
Teryn flipped the coin to O’ores Tau. The Hexalien rubbed the metal between her fingers, absorbing the psychic traces from the previous owners.
“Unless you want to wake up with key parts of your memory missing.” Mep didn’t look up from his scrolling images.
O’ores Tau tossed the coin to Mep, who caught it without taking his eyes off the tablet.
Rittor snapped his fingers for the coin. “I like knowing how to tie my shoes and chew my food, thanks.” He extended his broad palm. Mep held out the coin, then levitated it with his telekinesis. It hovered across the table and landed gently in Rittor’s hand.
Teryn turned back to the observation window. Twenty-nine cycles. Was that old? On her home world, a woman that age would be ensconced in her career and thinking about building a family. A husband, children. The path Teryn could’ve taken. Predictable, safe, boring. Instead she’d joined the Core Army. And when she thought about all the objectives and worlds and fights and secrets, Teryn did feel old beyond her cycles. Would time off be enough to alleviate that? Or was there something more that she needed? She could pry the most prized piece of information from the most feared Dusk Warrior in their army, but she wasn’t ready to dive into her own shadows to answer that question.
She moved to a display panel and typed on the holographic keyboard. Images from their last mission slid across the screen. “Ninety-nine point nine percent containment of data on the planet Earth. Besides fringe conspiracy voices that no one listens to, all sites are sealed to any information leak.” A picture appeared of a trauma center with a wrecked truck outside. Teryn remembered rigging the vehicle to explode with enough force to justify the hole in the building’s wall while not hurting anyone in the process. She had watched with the rest of her team from a rooftop as emergency services dealt with the “accident” without questioning what had really happened.
Teryn continued, “Good research, Mep.” Another video image appeared: a public park, scorched by a quick battle between Dawn Soldiers and Dusk Warriors. “Local authorities fell directly into your concept. The way you made the battle scars look like vandals damaging the park was air-tight.”
O’ores Tau watched the video images shift. “And the hillside? That seemed like the biggest stretch.”
Rittor shook his head. “All you need is to suggest a reasonable explanation. Locals fill in the rest.”
The video showed a smoldering crater in the side of a low hill amidst a city. Teryn tapped the display and an Earthling news broadcast started. A polished woman spoke: “Long buried barrels of fuel oil had leaked and came in contact with an accelerant that sparked the explosion. Luckily no one was injured and authorities say there is no further threat.”
“No further threat?” Mep chuckled to himself. “Thanks to a Nightfighter and the Dawn Soldiers in their trenches.”
Rittor resumed rolling the coin on his fingers. “And the Earthlings will never know.”
“One Earthling knows,” O’ores Tau corrected him. “The Nightfighter was aided by local resistance. She even joined Core once her planet was secured.”
“They fell in love,” said Teryn. It wasn’t on any status report she had read. That fact didn’t need to be logged into Core’s official database. Yet Teryn knew it. Years of observing and reading people and their actions led to that simple conclusion. And it was amazing. The most feared solitary soldier in the Core army, a Nightfighter, found an ally and a soul mate.
A low whistle from Rittor. “Thought Nightfighters killed everyone they met. Chances of one falling in love… One in a million.”
Instead of giving Teryn a glimmer of hope, it shook the cold deeper toward her bones. One in a million for a Nightfighter. Didn’t leave a lot of chances for anyone else in the Limit War. Those odds were even steeper for Shadow Core operatives.
The ship continued its auto-pilot landing pattern. It swung in space and the planet Viela disappeared from the observation window view. Soon Teryn and her team would be on the surface of that world. It was an important mission for Core. There was a Dusk Warrior officer to be interrogated. Never an easy task. But she would get through it. She always did. The thrill of danger rushed through her like an electrical charge. She had worked for Shadow Corps for over seven cycles, but still wasn’t numb to the job. Sitting across a table from a Dusk Warrior officer was serious. It made or broke careers. It could shatter someone’s psyche. It could save millions, billions of lives. Whatever mental battle Teryn was rushing toward, she knew she had to win it.
What came after that, though, made Teryn’s confidence waver. With the objective complete, would she just ripple-jump to another system, another mission? No, she told herself. She would find a way to live a little on this planet. So what if the odds of love were against her. It didn’t mean she couldn’t find some fun. There was more to her than a Shadow Core operative. She would find the sexy voice named Drel and take him up on his word. Dinner. And then who knows what? The man on the other side of the comm had no idea, but he was about to get the interstellar date of his life.
* * * *
He missed her voice.
To anyone else, it would sound as if the comm was silent. But Drel heard the tiny pops and whirs of the long-range receiver’s electrons as they calmed from their excited state. His own body and mind would not calm. It felt as if his bones were filled with tuned receptors, still reading her signal and resonating it to his muscles, his blood. Drel’s heart pounded faster, like a primitive coded message. He knew the meaning of the cipher. The woman, Teryn, touched him. Even from thousands of kilometers away. It took only her voice, confident and capable, a little husky, to charge him with energy.
He wanted to move. Even though she was a stranger he needed to find her, to touch her and make her more than a voice. This was new to Drel. His friends and co-workers in Capital City didn’t know him as a passionate guy. He was the tech you brought in when things were cross-wired and shorting toward disaster. Everyone else panicked. His calm demeanor and logical mind sorted out the problem.
Drel’s hands were shaking a bit now. The electricity from Teryn’s voice resonated. Sure she was just flirting, but how often did that happen to him? It was one of his earliest fantasies come to life. Contact from another world, talking directly to him. He had communicated off-world before, but it never felt so personal, almost intimate. It wasn’t the words over the comm, but the woman speaking them. He had never imagined the sexual charge from the contact. Drel had also never conceived his fantasy would come to life under such dangerous circumstances.
“Not a hitch.” Key Ambassador Efflan patted Drel on the shoulder. The ambassador had been standing behind him during the communication, looming like one of the Vielan spirit gods. “Well done.”
Drel stood from the communication array, breaking away from Efflan’s hand. It was just the two of them in the room. Drel was larger and more fit than the ambassador, but there was no doubt who held the authority.
“Director General Bolant will hear about your good work, Drel.”
Was this good work? Drel always felt his legacy to Viela would be the translator chips he designed for communicating with alien cultures. The circuitry he designed allowed him to have the brief conversation with Teryn on the Core ship. Even though the translator filtered her words and made them understandable to him, it didn’t remove her personality or change her voice. Confident enough to flirt, but with a real heat and strength beneath it all. But had she been able to detect the growing unease in his voice?
“Director General Bolant is the only one, right?” asked Drel. “No one else knows.” The room felt airless. Climate control kept all the tech at perfect operational levels, but Drel longed for some windows to let in the golden light of their star.
“No one.” Efflan would benefit from daylight as well. His skin was pale, more yellow than the bronze hue that covered Drel. “I know you’re the communication expert, Drel, my friend, but there are times when the fewer words used the better.”
They weren’t friends. And Drel wasn’t only about communication. The short knife clipped to the inside of his boot served to remind Drel that as advanced as he was technologically, he was still subject to the natural rules of Viela. His father would be proud he still carried the knife. Drel also knew how his father would feel about the work his son was doing for Key Ambassador Efflan and Director General Bolant. A burn of guilt cut through Drel.
He had sent countless messages across his planet and to other worlds. When he sent the message that began this operation with the Shadow Corps operatives, Drel kept his doubts to himself. But now that the plan was actualizing and he had heard Teryn’s voice, making her a real person, he had to say something. It was the first time he outwardly questioned the diplomats. “And this is the best way to protect Viela?”
“Absolutely.” Efflan grinned like he was leading Drel to the center table at a state dinner. “The DG and I weighed many options until we came to this conclusion. It is all very calculated and minimizes the danger to all those involved.”
The words had more refined redfly nectar than any dessert from one of those state dinners. It didn’t taste sweet to Drel. He had no choice. He had to go along. It was for the good of everyone on Viela. But Efflan’s deliberate words weren’t as soothing as intended. Instead of the excitement of possibilities that approached with Teryn, Drel felt a coming menace. And he hated that there was nothing he could do to stop it.
* * * *
The voice wasn’t there.
One man greeted Teryn and her team. Before he spoke she knew he wasn’t Drel. Following the customs Mep had researched, Teryn gave the appropriate half bow to the man, maintaining eye contact.
He introduced himself as Key Ambassador Efflan. His frame was too small for the sexy voice Teryn had heard over the comm. Drel would be a bigger man than Efflan, with a broader chest to create deeper tones. Instead, Efflan spoke with an official whine, “Welcome to Viela. We are grateful to Core for sending you.”
The local translator technology worked perfectly with the Core multi-lingual implants fitted in Teryn and her team. She gave Efflan a small smile while maintaining her military bearing. “Anything we can do to save lives.”
Teryn didn’t need a translator to catch the quick, secret smirk on Efflan’s face. Something was wrong. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled. She shifted her right foot to a predetermined angle that signaled her distrust to the rest of her team. Teryn felt the Shadow Corps operatives fanning out behind her.
“This way.” Efflan motioned toward a wide portal at the side of the circular landing pad. “Director General Bolant is looking forward to meeting you.”
The Key Ambassador stepped first through the doorway and Teryn followed with her team. She was glad their bodies were compatible with the atmosphere. Sealed visors and rebreathers were well designed, but took away just enough peripheral vision to make her extra nervous.
Teryn was edgy enough as it was. Things were supposed to be straight forward here. Interrogate the Dusk Warrior officer, take him into captivity, then let the Core diplomats decide how to proceed with him. Walking through the maze-like hallways of the space port, Teryn felt the mission growing complicated.
Efflan led them to a large round room, three stories high with a ceiling open to the gold sky. Circular balconies lined the walls above them. Another man stepped from a darkened doorway on the other side of the room. For a split second, Teryn thought it might be Drel. This man was larger than Efflan, with wide shoulders and a muscular frame. Then she saw his face and knew this wasn’t the man with the voice. He looked her up and down, openly assessing her. The shyness she had heard in Drel wouldn’t have allowed for such bold eyes. This man took without asking.
Efflan piped, “It is my honor to introduce Director General Bolant.” He made a bow and swung a hand toward the new man who swaggered further out of the doorway.
As team leader, Teryn did all the talking. She made the appropriate gestures and introductions. Her eyes flicked to the dark doorways of the balconies above and around her. No visible movement up there. But she still wanted to move the group out of this room and into the capital city.
Director General Bolant stayed rooted to the floor. His smile was practiced and polished. A politician. “I know our planet is a bit outside your usual circuit, but I assure you that Capital City is very up to date and will be a comfortable place to stay.”
“We look forward to seeing what it has to offer.” Teryn’s plan to find Drel and make him more than just a voice seemed a distant possibility now. The sense of danger crawled over her skin. “As soon as the mission is complete.”
“Of course,” Bolant was quick to reply, but he stayed in the middle of the room. “We do appreciate you coming. And while you’re here,” he gave Teryn another looking over, “perhaps you could satisfy my curiosity. Don’t often get opportunities to meet with people from other governmental systems and I’d love the chance to pick your brain.”
Teryn wasn’t worried by the satisfied leer in Bolant’s face. Her attention was grabbed by a completely different expression that suddenly flashed in Ambassador Efflan’s eyes. Fear. Something was about to change.
Then she heard the voice. Drel. Electronic translators took a split second to process his word, but she knew it was him. Deep and resounding, Drel’s voice echoed down from the highest balcony of the room.
He shouted, “Run.”
She pulled the energy pistol from the holster at the back of her waistband and followed the sound of Drel’s voice. She saw him at the balcony, hands on the railing as if he was going to haul himself over the edge and jump the ten meters to the ground. Despite the crisp lines of his blue technician’s uniform, she saw his body was indeed strong and shaped for purpose. Slightly wild black hair framed an intense, angular face.
He called out again in a desperate warning. “Run.”
Dark shapes emerged from the doorways of the balconies. Dusk Warriors. Over a dozen of them. Their cutters were charged and aimed at Teryn and her team.
O’ores Tau, Mep and Rittor all had their pistols drawn and stood back to back with Teryn in a defensive ring. They were outnumbered. The standoff would not last.
The bad feeling Teryn had was right all along. No time to congratulate herself. She stared along the sights of her short pistol to the deltas around her. Their dark green armor was dull, even in the light from the open ceiling. Indigo skin covered their skull-like, snarling faces. They were ready to kill. She might be able to drop two deltas before the rest tore her body apart with their energy cells. Not a strategic death on her part.
A new voice filled the tall room. A Dusk Warrior officer called out to Teryn and her team. “Do not fight.”
Rittor whispered over his shoulder to Teryn. “You felt this coming.”
“By then it was already too late.” Teryn glanced up at Drel, who still stood at the high balcony. His body was taut; amber eyes focused like lasers on her. The muscles of his arms threatened to tear the seams of his technician’s coat. His bronze skin was flushed. Every part of him, each muscle, each fiber of his mind was focused on Teryn. He had tried to warn her. As far as she was concerned, he was the only good man on this planet.
Mep moved his aim from delta to delta. “What’s the word, boss?”
The delta officer revealed himself on the ground floor. She knew him from intelligence images and videos. He was large, with dark purple armor and gold insignia. Light blue scars from an old battle lined one side of his indigo head. Krinn the Wheel-Axe. As his name suggested, he didn’t take worlds by force; he sliced them up and bled them dry.
With the hissing growl typical of Dusk Warriors, he repeated his command to the Shadow Corps operatives.
Besides a fighting death, Teryn didn’t see an immediate way out. “We played into their hand. But it got them to reveal the game they’re playing. Now we know the protocol. They try to pick our brains, we scramble theirs. We stay alive, see where it takes us and wait for our opportunity.”
O’ores Tau spoke with unusual venom. “Then we smoke all these deltas.”
“Agreed.” Teryn liked the idea and hoped she and her team wouldn’t have to wait long to turn against their captors. She glared at Krinn. “Don’t worry, Dusk, you’re safe from us.” She tipped the pistol in her hand, taking her finger from the trigger, and lowered it to the ground.
Drel released his body. He leapt from one balcony to another, one floor down. She saw that he wasn’t a soldier, but he moved with an assured grace. If he was a soldier, he would’ve understood the tactical advantage of living to fight another day. Instead he jumped onto a balcony with two Dusk Warriors and tried to pull the cutter from one of their hands.
Teryn expected it to be a quick fight that the delta would win easily. But Drel surprised her. With a deft move, he managed to flip the delta over and rip the cutter from his hands. He aimed the weapon at the other delta and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
Dusk Warrior cutters were all printed with their bio-signatures. Unless it was hacked, the weapon would only fire for a delta. Teryn sighed. Drel wasn’t a soldier, but he’d tried to save her.
And now the other delta on the balcony was going to open up a spray of energy from his cutter.
“Please don’t kill him.” Director General Bolant held his hands up in a peace-making gesture.
The delta holding the weapon glanced to Krinn. The officer narrowed his yellow eyes on Bolant. “Your man fights against us. There must be a good reason for him to live.”
Bolant spoke slowly, aware that the weapons could easily be turned on him. “We need him. He’s the only one who can send Core messages using the proper coding. This is the communications expert I told you about.”
“Control him.” Krinn smiled his sharp teeth. “Or I will kill him.”
The Dusk Warrior whom Drel had thrown pulled himself off the ground and tore the weapon from Drel’s hands. Drel stared defiantly back at the deltas, and barely held himself back in the face of the weapons trained on him.
Teryn saw that he learned the same strategic lesson she had. To fight now was to die. So he waited, just as she did. And he might die anyway. They all might.
Krinn called on his second in command, “Pell Tasker, move the Shadow Corps to a setting they are more than familiar with. Interrogation rooms.”
The other officer stood on a second floor balcony, his gilded armor marked with emblems of authority. He shouted orders to the deltas on the ground level and they surrounded Teryn and her team. The Shadow Corps operatives’ weapons were collected and their wrists were bound. Even an electronic limiter was slapped onto Mep’s head to keep his telekinesis in check.
The deltas separated Teryn’s team. She memorized which doorways the others were led out of. Every detail was analyzed and stored for future use. The deltas would slip up, and she would take advantage of it.
As she was prodded from the circular room, she overheard Bolant hissing at Efflan, “You keep Drel under control. He is out of chances.”
Shoved forward by a stoic delta, Teryn had only a moment to glance up at Drel. His eyes met hers. She felt his intensity, the heat of his anger, the need to do something. The realization hit her. It was his broadcast that set her and her team up for the trap. It was clear that he wasn’t the mastermind. Efflan and Bolant were the conniving ones, but Drel was still in on it. Unlike the others, though, his conscience wouldn’t let him stand by and watch as the deltas took her. When it came down to it, Drel risked his life for her, a stranger. His attempted heroics came too late, and weren’t enough to undo what he started. At least he tried. It might be the last good gesture she ever saw.
But he gave her one more. A nod. It told her everything. She was alive. He wasn’t dead yet. And she wasn’t alone on this foreign planet.
Teryn nodded back, just enough for him to see it. Then she was out of the room and her vision was filled with the dim hallway and the armor from the surrounding Dusk Warriors. It might be darkness from that point forward. The deltas would try and break her. But they wouldn’t be able to take that last glance with Drel away. She had traveled across galaxies and never found a pair of eyes with so much intensity. His eyes were deep amber, like a hunting animal. There was a lot to be learned there. Was he really willing to risk it all to undo his betrayal? She might never know. Her nascent connection with Drel happened with a squad of deltas pointing cutters at her.
Damn the deltas. Even if it was her last chance, it was still a chance. No matter what was coming, Teryn would hold on to Drel’s look until the end.