Prologue:

Face to face, after days of careful observation, Ilan’s black hair was slightly wavier than she had remembered, and the deep green of her eyes was colder. Otherwise, excepting the changeful pattern of scars, her commander looked remarkably similar to the figure she recalled, a little taller than she and currently noticeably dusty from some errand that had obviously sent her outside the Base. There was likely little point in asking where she had been: it was a question that her command hadn’t had answered in the last six orbits, and it seemed unlikely that it would be now.

“I want to speak to you,” Taiva said abruptly, tilting her head slightly to meet Khyria’s eyes, as she had always had to do, even when their respective heights had been rather less.

The winged black eyebrows rose sardonically, and Khyria Ilan, Cortu and sole commander of Wildcat Cortia, looked her over with vague irony. “For which I have developed a second shadow. I take it that until I either indulge you or injure you, I will continue to trip over you at every intersection?”

“It’s important,” Taiva said doggedly, despite the chill that the other’s indifferent tone set in her.

Khyria’s expression did not change. “I’m sure it is,” she said soothingly. The mockery in her eyes was disconcerting. “So is what I am doing later. I suppose I might as well kill two birds with one stone, to use an old saying rather literally. Meet me here in two hours … and we will see.”

She swung neatly past Taiva and her door’s locks engaged emphatically. Taiva scowled at the door. The locks were not necessarily a problem: in her state as unofficial and unsanctioned leader of the Cortia, getting at people who had locked her out had always been a vital hobby. Unlike the Cortu, who had access to any of the Cortia’s quarters, she had frequently had to get in the hard way to persuade her colleagues of her logic. On the other hand, it might do no harm to do as she had been told, at least until Khyria failed to appear.

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