Peregrine - Arc 1

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Chapter 1 - The Maelstrom

The maelstrom churned beneath Manu's feet, enticing him to take a closer look. His two friends beside him were restless, tired of waiting for the mining drones to emerge from the chaos below. Manu was content to stare and wonder what treasures awaited him in that sea of debris.

"They're late," said Ingrid, leaning against the floating beacon. Even fully collapsed, her wingsuit dwarfed her tiny frame and jutted just over the edge of the platform.

"This is a waste of time," said Nyota, her suit resting gently beside her. She drooped her feet off the edge of the beacon's platform, kicking at the air.

"Hektor said they'd be here," said Manu. "Just wait a little longer."

Nyota sighed and turned to the two women on the other side of the beacon.

"Aren't you bored?" she asked.

The two women, Bai and Svitlana, whispered to each other. Nyota asked again and they repeated what Many had said: Hektor said they'd be here.

Manu couldn't blame Nyota; after all, this haul would barely cover the fuel used to return to Haven. This was a training exercise, just like the run before this one. Hektor might call them peregrines, but he still thought of them as children, unable to venture into the madness that was the Maelstrom.

A few conspicuously shaped objects neared the edge of the Maelstrom and Manu shot up. A dozen mining drones emerged from the swirling chaos, laden with ores and deposits and who knew what else.

"They're here," said Manu, double-checking all the straps and restraints on his suit.

Ingrid told Nyota to hurry up with her suit or else their prey would escape. Manu quickly scanned the sky for Hunters, but he saw nothing except the Maelstrom and the pinkish-orange sky. Once all three were ready, they stepped off the floating platform.

Manu felt the same rush that he always did; it never diminished, not even after one hundred jumps. In the few seconds of freefall, he could only focus on the sky, himself, and his prey.

The mining drones detected them and scattered in different directions. Manu peeled to the right, Nyota to the left, and Ingrid remained in the center, pursuing the lead mining drone.

Slowing his descent, Manu came alongside one of the mining drones. These Harvesters weren't built for acrobatics so he had little trouble boarding the insect-like craft. Some of the larger Harvesters came equipped with defenses, but little ones like this weren't worth the money.

Manu sliced open the hull with a laser cutter and peeked inside. Unrefined Kelium lay in several stores, but he had his eye on a different prize. He hopped inside the craft, crawling on his hands and knees as he looked for something more worthwhile. Manu found what he was looking for all the way at the back of the cargo compartment.

Suddenly, his comms lit up.

"Manu, get out of there," said a crackly imitation of Ingrid's voice.

"What? Why?"

"That Harvester is going back into the Maelstrom."

Back into the Maelstrom? What was she…

An impact on the right side of drone knocked Manu flat on his face. He wouldn't have much time to work.

Back at Haven, they called it liquid gold, but Manu called it payday. The proper term for the material was Fillestrium. It could be used for anything from patching hulls to designing to circuit boards. In other words, Manu had hit the jackpot.

The only difficulty lay in removing the Fillestrium. As soon as it made contact with the atmosphere, it would harden, rendering it useless.

Another impact knocked Manu onto his back.

"Get out of there now!" shouted Ingrid, her voice even more distorted and faint.

Manu didn't have time to argue. Unfortunately, fillestrium was insanely heavy, so he couldn't use the same entrance that he had carved before. Instead, Manu used his laser cutter to carve a second path on the side of the mining drone. A few more minor impacts interfered with his cutting, but eventually a very haphazard door had been formed. Manu peeked outside, nearly losing his head as a meteoroid rocketed past.

So, this was the Maelstrom.

Meteoroids collided with each other until all that was left was clouds of dust. The meteoroids ranged in size from an apple to a wing suit, but the real problem was the asteroids. Several larger asteroids battled in the distance, crashing and splintering into thousands of meteoroids that rocketed in different directions. He had heard tales of the Maelstrom from older peregrines, but the real thing defied all his expectations.

Of course, even the best peregrines wouldn't dare to venture as far down as he had.

Manu was surrounded on all sides with no sign of the beacon or his friends. He tried hailing the rest of the peregrines, but the interference was too strong. The mining drone continued on a straight path, completely oblivious to the barrage of meteoroids that pelted its hull. No doubt the Harvester had malfunctioned, but perhaps Manu could use that to his advantage.

These mining drones were fairly obsolete, but they still used standard data ports. Using a data cable, Manu plugged into the Harvester, and readings appeared on the right-hand side of his HUD. The beacon was at 32.450, 21.403, 1.140. He and the Harvester were at 32.443, 21.303, -25.341. In other words, Manu was 25 kilometers inside the Maelstrom and still descending.

Fritz, the local tech genius, had shown Manu a few tricks, but the best that he could do was to search for a set of coordinates. If the mining drone had a homing command, it would have home coordinates. Sweat beaded on Manu's forehead as another meteoroid struck the cargo chamber, tearing a gaping hole in the hull. There, he had found it.

Replacing the home coordinates with the beacon's, Manu held his breath until the mining drone abruptly changed course. Now, he just had to hope the drone would reach the beacon in one piece.

While the drone made its way toward the beacon, Manu set about freeing the cylinder of Fillestrium. He attached a tether to the cylinder, but the cylinder was still mounted to the mining drone by four brackets. Carefully, Manu began cutting the first bracket when the entire mining drone shuddered for a few moments. The engines had been hit.

Manu didn't have time for finesse; he cut the three other brackets, hoping that the concentrated laser beam wouldn't sever anything important other than the brackets. Once the canister was free, Manu hopped back into the drone's interface. He only needed to go another 5 km.

Manu's comms suddenly lit up again.

"...ready to leave. I repeat, we're ready to leave."

"Wait!" shouted Manu. "I'm on my way."

"Manu?" asked Ingrid.

"He's alive!" shouted Nyota.

At least the two peregrines were happy to hear his voice, but a more troubling sound caught Manu's attention: the engines had almost completely failed, and he was still inside the Maelstrom. The rate of ascent slowed to a crawl; only another 1.5 km to the edge of the Maelstrom.

"Manu, if you can hear me, get out now!"

Without question, Manu leapt out of the mining drone and set his thrusters to half as the tether went taught. Below him, a massive asteroid collided with the Harvester, ripping straight through the hull. Fortunately, the Fillestrium was still intact, swinging like a pendulum from his wingsuit. Unfortunately, the beacon was still a few kilometers away.

The wingsuit would protect Manu from any smaller meteoroids, and he would be able to spot any of the larger asteroids before it was too late. All that was left was the thousands upon thousands of larger meteoroids that bounced into each other like pinballs. One of these larger meteoroids clipped his left wing, destroying an aileron. His maneuverability had been reduced even further.

Thrusters at half, Manu realized that his best chance of survival was to leave the Maelstrom as quickly as possible. He didn't have time to be careful; he would have to trust his instincts and reflexes or he would die in the Maelstrom like his father. Manu grit his teeth and set his thrusters to max.

As Manu weaved his way through the last hundred meters of the Maelstrom, he did his best to make sure the cylindrical canister was intact. He breathed a sigh of relief when he and the canister emerged relatively unscathed. His relief was short-lived.

On the horizon, a group of Hunter drones careened toward the peregrines. Manu hoped that Bai and Svitlana were ready.


Chapter 2 - Hunters

"He did it!" shouted Nyota over the comms. "I can't believe it, but he actually did it."

"Let's save the celebration," replied Ingrid. "Manu, get your ass back here now."

Manu looked down at the swirling chaos beneath his feet. He had conquered the Maelstrom and gone further than any Peregrine before, but Ingrid was right: this wasn't the time to celebrate. Four Hunter drones approached quickly, and with the Fillestrium tethered to him, he was at 80% of his typical speed.

He glanced up at the floating beacon a few kilometers away, hoping that Svitlana and Bai were ready.

Once Manu had rejoined the other two Peregrines, they set off at top speed. As Manu lagged behind, Ingrid took notice, asked Manu what about the cargo. He couldn't lie. Kelium weighed less than a quarter of Fillestrium's weight.

"Fillestrium?" Nyota couldn't believe it.

"Drop the cargo," commanded Ingrid. "Now."

Manu continued to lag behind as the Peregrines made their approach to the beacon. He ignored Ingrid as she repeated her command. He had almost lost his life acquiring this prize; nobody, not even Ingrid would make him give it up.

She wanted to keep up this dance with GIGA Corporaton forever, but Manu wanted to hurt them. He wanted to do everything in his power to make them rue the day they stole Nisi from the colonists. The day that they killed his father.

Ingrid looped around and made a pass at Manu as Nyota shrieked at them both. The Hunters were almost within firing range, but the beacon was still about a kilometer away. Using her wing, Ingrid tried to clip the tether, but Manu anticipated her move and corkscrewed down toward the Maelstrom.

"Fine!" shouted Ingrid. "You're on your own, Manu."

She and Nyota maxed their thrusters and shot up toward the beacon while Manu descended. He would not give up the Fillestrium. Of that, he was certain.

#

"Hunters," said Bai. "Four of them. That's three for me and one for you."

Svitlana chuckled, cradling her proton cannon that was twice as long as her arm. "I think you mean four for me."

Bai watched as the three young Peregrines passed beneath the beacon. One of them appeared to be splitting from the others. She recognized the wing patterns and sighed.

"Manu's done something stupid," said Bai.

"You'll have to be more specific."

Bai cocked her eyebrow. "He's done something really stupid."

"I guess it's up to us then. I'll take care of Manu."

Bai gave Svitlana a kiss for good luck then swooped to intercept the two Hunters pursuing Nyota and Ingrid. Svitlana shot past her to handle the other two Hunters chasing Manu.

The Hunters immediately noticed the unwanted tail, and one peeled off to confront Bai. These were the older models, so they had fewer weaknesses, but they also packed less firepower: four proton cannons in the front and two in the rear.

While Svitlana preferred the direct approach, Bai appreciated finesse. She wouldn't haphazardly fire a proton cannon until she hit her mark. First, she would take out the Hunter's sensors, blinding it. Then, she would cripple comms and navigation. Finally, she would inject a virus of her own design to render it a useless hunk of metal.

"Bai, what's taking so long!" Ingrid sounded frantic.

That was the problem with finesse; it usually took much longer than the direct approach. Bai would have to alter her strategy slightly; she would skip straight to the killing blow.

#

The sky erupted with blue streaks.

Using her HUD, Ingrid brought up the rear camera on her wingsuits and saw Bai engaging with one of the Hunters. Where was Svitlana?

Dodging a blast that almost singed her right wingtip, Ingrid looked down at a Peregrine rocketing toward two Hunters.

"Svitlana, abandon pursuit," she called over the comms.

The peregrine still descended with wings fully swept back.

"Repeat. Abandon pursuit."

Nyota looked at Ingrid, tears in her eyes. "No," she whispered.

Ingrid didn't need to explain herself to Nyota. She knew that the girl had feelings for Manu, but his recklessness put them all at risk. She had made every excuse for his behavior. If he weren't so talented at scavenging, he would have lost his wings long ago.

Svitlana started to level, abandoning her pursuit. The two Hunters began opening fire on Manu.

"No!" shouted Nyota. She jettisoned her cargo and dropped without warning.

For an instant, Ingrid wanted to shoot Nyota, but what good would that do? She had already lost one Peregrine today. No need to lose another one.

#

Manu had two choices: drop the cargo or die. The Hunters were only a few hundred meters away and their aim was getting more and more precise. More importantly, Manu had run out of flares, countermeasures, and mines. He gritted his teeth as his hand hovered over the tether release. The canister hovered a few hundred meters over the Maelstrom, ready to return to its home.

A thought struck him and Manu took his hand off the release.

A pair of blue streaks lit the sky where Manu had been seconds ago. He was not there. He was heading straight toward the Maelstrom, tether and canister intact.

The Maelstrom was a third choice, one that he wouldn't have considered before today. The Hunters could either abandon their pursuit or take their chances. In the Maelstrom, his smaller wingsuit would have better odds than their bulky hulls.

Manu braced himself as he re-entered the Maelstrom.

#

Nyota called out to Manu as he entered the Maelstrom, but there was no response. She had been too late. Two Hunters dropped into the Maelstrom, but she still could fire a few shots in their direction and hopefully pull their attention. She drew her pistols, and fired above the Hunters, but they kept up their dogged pursuit of Manu. She would have to think of another way to help Manu.

"He's mad," she whispered to herself.

Ingrid barked at Nyota to return, but she would not leave Manu to die on his own. He might be a pain in the ass, but he was the only real friend she ever had.

Nyota dropped even lower, only a few dozen meters from the Maelstrom. This was as close as she would get. At this distance, a stray meteoroid could still destroy her so she had to keep her eyes on three things now: Manu, the Hunters, and the Maelstrom.

Fortunately for Manu, the Hunters had stopped firing once they entered the Maelstrom. If they hit a gas pocket or the wrong meteoroid, it could cause a chain reaction that would destroy them all. Unfortunately, Nyota was in the same situation. She had no way of distracting the Hunters other than firing on them, and who knew how long Manu would last in the Maelstrom.

"Nyota." That was Manu's voice.

"Yes!" she shouted. "I'm here. Twelve o'clock and fifty meters up."

"You have your pistols?" he asked. "I have an idea."

Nyota listened carefully as Manu explained his plan. It was suicide. It was madness. It was Manu, through and through.

Her heart fell into her stomach as she watched Manu disappear into the Maelstrom. The Hunters followed, just as he predicted they would. She continued on her current trajectory, hovering just over the Maelstrom. She would have to be quick and her eyes would have to be sharp. As soon as Manu appeared...

A speck rocketed toward her, and she brought her pistols to bear.

"Now!" shouted Manu.

Nyota clenched her teeth and started firing. She was a fair shot, but at this range she had a decent chance of killing Manu. The Hunter drones emerged from the swirling chaos, their armor impervious to her pistols. No doubt they found the futile display amusing.

The pistols weren't meant for the Hunters. They were meant for the various asteroids, meteoroids, and mineral deposits that surrounded the Hunters and Manu. A few meteoroids shattered after some well-placed blaster bolts. One Hunter drone couldn't change direction in time and collided head-on with the debris. The dust cloud wouldn't damage the Hunter's thick hull, but it would make mincemeat of the air intakes. The Hunter exploded in a dazzling display of red, yellow, and orange. That left one other Hunter.

Manu had passed out of the Maelstrom, but so had the other Hunter. Clear of the Maelstrom, the Hunter resumed firing at Manu.

"Drop the cargo!" shouted Nyota. "It's not worth your life!"

"Not a chance," said Manu.

Nyota approached the Hunter, trying to get a clear shot on the fuel pods, but Manu warned her off.

"Stay back!" he shouted.

"What? Why?"

Two cargo pods fell from Manu's wingsuit. Empty cargo pods wouldn't do much good against a fully-armored Hunter drone, but the cargo pods weren't empty--they were full of fuel. Nyota gasped as the cargo pods exploded, destroying the Hunters right wing and left engine. The drone split into three chunks that quickly rejoined the other debris in the Maelstrom.

Manu laughed. Nyota wanted to scream at him, hug him, and kiss him at the same time.

"Ingrid, we're coming back," informed Manu.

There was no response, but Nyota could see three Peregrines soaring above them. She was about to join Manu when a blur streaked past the two of them, clipping the tether that held the Fillestrium.

"No!" shouted Manu.

Nyota watched as the blur leveled, recognizing the wing patterns of Hektor Kavvadias. The Peregrine called out over the comms and instructed everyone to return to Haven. There were no responses from anyone.

It would have been better if the Hunter drones had killed them all. Better a quick and painless death than a lecture from Hektor.


Chapter 3 - A Gentleman

A gentleman must not lose his temper.

Dalton Garrick wanted drive his fist through his flexi-screen desk that swarmed with numbers, figures, and feeds. He wanted to scream, he wanted to curse, he wanted to break every piece of exquisite art that he had smuggled to this forsaken place.

The silence overwhelmed him in his large, austere office that overlooked the floating factories of GIGA Corporation.

A gentleman must not lose his temper.

His father's voice echoed in his mind as Dalton grit his teeth and whispered, "Explain."

Gaejo, the bounty hunter, hesitated for a moment before answering. She was a difficult creature to read, having replaced so much of herself with various augmentations, upgrades, and weaponry. Dalton always felt as though he were staring at a blank screen when he looked at her.

"We lost the tracking signal embedded in the Fillestrium. It must have fallen into the Maelstrom."

For two years, the Peregrines had outwitted GIGA Corporation, stealing supplies and refined ores. At first, Dalton tried to buy them out. He offered each one of them a fortune to simply abandon the colony and find new lives elsewhere. Many of them took him up on the offer, but not all of them.

When the remaining Peregrines refused to see reason, Dalton hired bounty hunters from across the galaxy to hunt them down. All but Gaejo had given up, confounded by the abnormal energy patterns on Nisi.

Furthermore, it was almost impossible to predict where the rabble would strike next. Haven, the hidden city of the Peregrines and the few remaining colonists, was out of Dalton's reach as well. These people knew the planet better than anyone. They could spend a lifetime hiding from him if they wanted to.

In a way, Dalton admired the Peregrines. Any sane person would have left this place ages ago. Sometimes Dalton wondered why he was stuck overseeing production, but the answer was in the name of the company that he served—Garrick Ingalls Galactic Alliance aka GIGA.

"So they never took the bait?"

Gaejo blinked, her bright yellow eyes gleaming in the soft blue lighting of his office. "I never said that. One of the Peregrines took the bait. The Hunters pursued and fired without intention to kill, as programmed. The Hunters were destroyed, and the Peregrines were about to leave when the Fillestrium was dropped. According to one of the Harvester feeds, it was another Peregrine that caused the drop."

No doubt that Peregrine was Hektor Kavvadias.

"So they knew?"

Gaejo shifted uncomfortably. "It's possible."

Not only had his trap failed, Dalton had just lost two hundred kilos of Fillestrium, with a market price of 650,000 credits. Between the mining operations, the damaged Harvesters, Gaejo's retainer, and the lost Fillestrium, this would put the quarter in the red.

A gentleman must not swear.

As much as Dalton wanted to blame the bounty hunter, the fault was not hers. She had orchestrated everything perfectly, planting canisters of Fillestrium in no less than two dozen Harvesters across the planet. It wasn't her fault that the Peregrines had caught word of their plan.

"Thank you Gaejo. I'll be in touch."

The bounty hunter nodded and turned, her thick steel tendrils that she called hair twitching as she left. She might be attractive if she weren't so damn augmented.

A gentleman must not swear.

Dalton would need a few minutes in the studio before his conversation with Governor Eriksen. He called for one of his android attendants to bring his tools, but he was interrupted by a transmission flickering on his holo-feed. He accepted the transmission.

The familiar face of Governor Eriksen hovered above his desk. For a man in power, he looked unreasonably healthy with bright eyes, a dark beard, and a smile that could melt the Ice Caverns of Krystos. Under his desk, Dalton clenched his fists until they bled.

"Governor," he said, trying to sound as calm as possible. "I was just about to call you."

"What a coincidence," replied the governor. "You must have sensed the good news that I was about to share."

Good news? Dalton almost choked at the thought.

"Do tell."

The governor smiled, and if Dalton weren't halfway across the planet, he would have gutted the man where he stood.

"We've caught them. The Peregrines."

Of all the emotions that Dalton detested, happiness was the worst.

"You've caught the Peregrines?"

"Well," explained the governor, "Not all of them. Four of them to be exact."

Even if Dalton believed the governor, which he didn't, why had the governor captured Peregrines? The security forces of Nisi belonged to GIGA Corporation, so how had the governor caught Peregrines?

"I was not aware that you were attempting to capture the Peregrines."

"Well," said the governor. "I had hoped to keep this hush-hush until we had some results. You see, there are several retired Peregrines in my employ. I simply tasked them with identifying the most likely targets for a Peregrine, and then we set a trap."

How convenient that the governor's trap had succeeded where his trap had failed.

"And where are the Peregrines now?"

"They're being transported to you now. Consider it a gift from the government of Nisi."

A gentleman must not lose his temper.

Dalton would need to spend an hour in the studio after this conversation. No, make that two hours.

The governor continued smiling. "Was there something that you wanted to speak about?"

Dalton wanted to talk about how many cuts it would take to dismember Governor Eriksen. He wanted to see if the governor would still be smiling when his guts were hanging from the ceiling. He wanted to hear the man's cries as the flesh was ripped from his body.

"No," replied Dalton. "It's not important. I look forward to receiving the prisoners."

The governor bowed. "Always a pleasure, Mr. Garrick."

Dalton wished he could say the same.


Chapter 4 - The Unlikely Prince

Hektor knew that he should grounded Manu a long time ago, but he had a soft spot for the kid. When Tai died, Hektor hoped that Manu might give up being a Peregrine, but instead, he trained harder than ever. For most Peregrines, this was a way of life. For Manu, it was a vendetta; he wanted GIGA to pay for his father's death, and his recklessness only grew as he become a more confident Peregrine. Now, they were paying their price for Hektor's mistake.

Bai had been wounded by a Hunter drone, Svitlana's suit had been thrashed, and Nyota dropped her cargo. All because of Manu. When they returned to Haven, after this meeting with Drexel, Manu would lose his wings permanently.

Hektor guided the Peregrines to the drop-off point, checking the coral-colored sky for any threats, both from GIGA and Nisi. Some of the older Peregrines had tried taming the local wildlife, but none of them survived for very long. Nisi was untamable; this was something that GIGA did not understand. For that matter, most of the Peregrines probably didn't understand either, but at least they respected the planet, taking only what they needed to survive.

When GIGA arrived, swarms of Shrikes and other creatures would take on mining drones, Hunters, and even Peregrines. It was if the planet knew what was going to happen and wanted to make a last stand. Unfortunately, GIGA had won, for now.

Scanners were practically useless on Nisi, but Hektor still checked his periodically. The five Peregrines all appeared as faint, intermittent blips on his HUD. Of course, voice signals weren't impeded by the planetary interference, which meant that Hektor maintained strict radio silence whenever possible. A GIGA tail was the last thing they needed when they made their rendezvous with Drexel.

A small island appeared on the horizon, exactly where Hektor expected it to be. Generally speaking, the smaller islands made better meeting places as they were higher in the atmosphere. From this height, the Maelstrom wasn't even visible, much less a concern.

Hektor didn't know this particular island all too well, but it bore much of the same features as the rest of the floating islands of Nisi. No one quite understood how the floating islands came into existence. Some believed they were part of the planet once, torn asunder by some ancient cataclysm. Others believed islands were held aloft by the planet's strange and unpredictable energy fields. Children believed that ancient giants tore chunks from the planet and hurled them into the sky. Hektor didn't much care how the islands were created; he only knew that they made perfect hiding places for him and his Peregrines.

As they crested the edge of the small island, a breeze brought the sweet scent of exotic flowers, and small mountains peeked through the lush tropical foliage. Azure lakes dotted the landscape and the distant cries of a hundred creatures called out to them. They might be the first people to ever step foot here, aside from Drexel of course.

These islands were some of the most unique places in the cosmos for each had their own evolutionary history. Nisi was a treasure trove for biologists, geologists, and cosmologists, and before GIGA arrived, scientific research was the primary source of income for the planet. Back then, Peregrines would guide these intrepid explorers to discover new species among the floating islands. GIGA still allowed researchers on the planet, but they kept them on a tight leash. No doubt they had many secrets to protect.

If Hektor knew Drexel, which he did, the smuggler would be perched somewhere among the mountains at the center of the island. This would afford the best vantage point to search for any unwelcome guests. Hektor wasn't surprised when a pair of recon drones emerged from the jungle below and hovered beside the Peregrines. Drexel was being more careful than usual.

Hektor smiled and waved at one the drones before it disappeared back into the jungle below.

As they neared the mountain range, Hektor spotted Drexel's ship, the Unlikely Prince. Like most creatures of subterfuge, the Unlikely Prince relied on camouflage. From the outside, the ship looked as though it might fall out of the sky at any moment. A step inside the ship would dispel any such notion.

The Peregrines made a quick, clean landing and caught their breath while Hektor went to speak with Drexel. Svitlana started tinkering with her wingsuit while Bai tended to a few nasty-looking burn marks. Ingrid berated Manu and Nyota for endangering the mission; Hektor would speak with all three of them later. For now, he simply removed his wingsuit and entered the Unlikely Prince.

A strong antiseptic smell overwhelmed Hektor as he strode the short corridor leading to the cockpit. The main cabin was littered with dozens of antique displays from a variety of cultures. There wasn't a single speck of dust or smudge on any of the clear cases. Hektor stopped for a moment and looked sheepishly at the tracks he was making with his boots.

A familiar sigh greeted him.

"I just finished cleaning," said Drexel. He was a whisp of a man with sunken eyes who looked more at home in a museum or a perhaps even a casket than a spaceship.

"You added to the collection," remarked Hektor.

"Yes, yes," said Drexel, waving a dismissive hand as he skirted around Hektor to inspect the cargo being loaded onto the ship. "Borean. Very rare. Cost me a fortune. Now, tell me, why do I only see two cargo containers?"

Hektor didn't know who to blame: GIGA or Manu.

"We ran into some trouble."

"GIGA?" asked Drexel, his eyes blinking rapidly.

"We handled it, but it cost us some of the ore."

Drexel's jaw clicked and his nostrils flared.

"You promised me six. Can't you go back and get four more?"

Hektor laughed. "Not likely. We've got our own problems."

"Yes," remarked Drexel. "I heard about that..."

Hektor knew that Drexel had contacts within GIGA, but the ore had only been stolen less than an hour ago. Unless...

"What do you mean? You heard about us stealing the ore?"

Drexel shook his head.

"Not at all. I meant the four Peregrines captured by the Governor. Last I heard, they were being transported to Nexus."

Four Peregrines?

That fool Ben. Hektor had told him not pull the refinery job.

"Listen, you have my sympathies, but I'm a business man. This can't happen again."

Hektor nodded, but he was already heading out of the Unlikely Prince. If the Peregrines hurried, they might be able to intercept them before they reached Nexus.

"What about payment?" called out Drexel.

"Keep the payment," replied Hektor. "Consider it our apology."

Stepping through the circular hatch, Hektor caught everyone by surprise. They knew something was wrong immediately.

"We have to go," explained Hektor. "Now."


Chapter 5 - The Rescue

Ben Hastings had made a lot of mistakes in forty years, but this had been one of his biggest. The refinery seemed like an easy target. Stow aboard a few mining drones, infiltrate the floating facility, and steal as much as you can: easy. When two dozen Hunter and Scimitar drones arrived, Ben realized that nothing about the job was going to be easy. Hektor had been right, which hurt almost as much as the clamps around his ankles, his wrists, and his neck.

In his prime, Ben might have been able to pull this off, but he was old and slow. Most Peregrines retired at thirty, but then again, Ben wasn't like most Peregrines.

He hadn't turned tail and fled like the others when GIGA arrived. He hadn't quit when Tau died, when his wife left him, or when he got lost in the Maelstrom. Ben kept going, no matter what.

That stubbornness had kept him alive, but it was starting to become a problem. He knew that Ethan was talking sense when he spotted those first two Hunters, but he wouldn't listen. Good leaders listen, or so Hektor always said, but Ben ignored him most of the time too. The old vet had come out here to the edge of the galaxy to make his own rules, to make his own destiny. Currently, that destiny seemed to be an early grave.

"Hey!" shouted Saul. "Can we get some room service?" The scraggly treasure hunter perpetually looked like he had just washed up on some spaceport. Ben admired his spirit if nothing else.

Saul failed to get the attention of two armored guards just outside their cramped cells; these guys were professionals. They hadn't said a word for the five hours they'd been in-flight.

The guards were like this ship, shiny and new. Most of the GIGA fleet were decades old, but this craft was state-of-the-art which told Ben one of two things: it was someone's personal craft or the Peregrines were more important than anyone realized.

"Hey!" continued Saul.

"You're giving me a headache," muttered Ethan, constrained beside Saul. Hunched over, the lean vet looked ready for a fight. He had been eyeing the guards ever since they were thrown in this cell together. Of course, he would have to fight his way through steel bars before he could even reach them. Still, Ben wouldn't put it past the vet to try if not for the constraints.

As always, Lobo said nothing. In fact, he looked quite peaceful for a man who was facing probably death. Some of the other Peregrines found him unnerving, but Ben thought he was a gentle soul. What the hell he was doing on Nisi was anyone's guess.

"So, what's the plan?" asked Saul. "How are we getting out of here?"

"We aren't," replied Ben. All hopes of rescue or escape died a long time ago. Escape was impossible, and rescue was unlikely. By the time that Haven learned they were missing, it would be too late.

"The plan is for you to shut up," replied Ethan.

There was a plan that would never work.

"What about you, freak? Any ideas?"

"Actually, yes," replied Lobo.

There was a surprise.

"Excuse me," said the slender young man, addressing one of the guards. He sounded like a bored aristocrat about to order dinner. "Your friend Micah here has been thinking about all sorts of things he's done with your wife. Most of them I'd rather not repeat. I thought you might want to know."

The guard on the left swiveled to face Lobo then the other guard. While Ben couldn't see the man's face through the heavily shielded visor, he could guess what the man was thinking. The guard on the right, Micah, tried to defend himself, but he hit the ground hard. The two continued scrapping as the others stared at each other.

There was always more to Lobo, then met the eye, but telepathy? It wasn't the most uncommon thing in the galaxy, but it was up there. Ben hoped that Lobo had some other powers, the kind that could break them out of here.

"Well," remarked Saul. "What next?"

Lobo didn't seem to understand. "What do you mean?"

"How do we get out of here?" asked Saul.

"Oh. I just thought we could use some entertainment."

Ben chuckled as Saul swore up and down. The two guards continued fighting while Ethan cheered them on.

From the corner of his eye, Ben could swear that Lobo was smiling. Three years he'd been with the Peregrines. Ben wondered how many secrets were rattling around inside his head.

Lobo's smile quickly faded as the ship shuddered. The two guards stopped fighting and returned to their post as red lights blinked and a siren echoed throughout the ship. They were under attack.

"The cavalry's here, boys," said Saul with a smile.

Ben didn't know how Hektor had caught wind of their capture, but he was damn sure glad that he did. Now, they had a fighting chance of getting out of here. The guards kept their assault rifles trained on the Peregrines, but their attention shifted sporadically to the various scrapes, knocks, and groans coming from the hull. An explosion rocked the ship, knocking the guards to their feet. For once, Ben was glad they were in constraints.

"I give 'em five minutes," said Saul.

Approaching footsteps caught their attention as a cruel-looking man strode into the prison. The two guards stiffened their backs and reported on the prisoners. The man borrowed one of their pistols, then asked to enter the cell.

"Be careful," said Micah. "One of them has mind-powers."

"Telepathy," said the other guard.

"Which one?" asked the cruel-looking man.

They pointed to Lobo. That was smart of the kid. There's no way they would kill him now.

The cruel-looking man knelt in front of Lobo and held the pistol to his temple.

"Tell me. What am I thinking about now?"

Lobo wasted no time at all in responding.

"For starters, you are thinking how close we are to Nexus. You are also thinking about the five Peregrine currently attacking this convoy. In addition, you are thinking about killing yourself if the Peregrines manage to take us. Finally, you are thinking about what my brains would look like scattered across this cell. I've left a few things out, but that's the general gist."

The cruel-looking man laughed.

"He's funny. Very funny."

The sharp crack of metal against bone made Ben's skin crawl, and Lobo slumped into his seat.

"Watch him," said the cruel-looking man. An orb the size of a baseball detached from the wall and hovered a few feet off the floor, its mechanical eyes squinting at the prisoners.

The cruel-looking man now pointed the pistol at Ben; the cold muzzle felt good on his forehead.

"I am speaking to the five Peregrines currently attacking this vessel. This is Senior Director Hess. I have your friends with me as you can see, but they will not be with me for very long unless you call off this attack immediately. I will give you one minute."

This wasn't the first time that Ben Hastings had faced death, and hopefully it wouldn't be the last. The Senior Director was deadly serious, of that, Ben was sure. Of course, the Peregrines were valuable so he couldn't very well kill them all.

"You don't want to do that," said Ethan.

Hess sneered at the vet, "And why not?"

"He's one of the oldest Peregrines. He knows this planet better than any of you that's for sure."

The damn fool. Ben knew exactly what he was doing.

"Very well," said Hess, pointing the pistol at Saul.

"Hey," said Saul. "Why me?"

"He's too eager to die," said Hess. "But you, you look like a man who wants to live."

The treasure hunter wasn't the most trustworthy person, but Saul wouldn't crack or so Ben hoped.

"Now, hold on," said Saul. "I might know something too."

He was stalling, but time was running out.

"Ten."

"What do you want to know?"

"Nine."

"You want to know the location of Haven?"

"Eight."

"Saul, shut up!"

"Seven."

"Please, don't do this!"

"Six."

"Let me live and I'll tell you!"

"Five."

"Shut up, Saul!"

"Four."

"I'll do anything!"

"Three."

"Please!"

A muffled voice interrupted the countdown, and Senior Director Hess nodded then raised his pistol. A strange smile fell over the man's face; Ben felt more at ease when he had a pistol pressed against his forehead.

"It seems your friends have more sense than I thought. We'll be at Nexus within the hour, so don't get any ideas. Oh, and make sure this one stays asleep," said the officer, pointing to Lobo.

The other three Peregrines watched in silence as the senior officer disappeared through the sliding doors. The two guards resumed their post, but the tension between them was enough to light a fire. Blood dripped down Lobo's face and fell onto the steel floor.

"I wasn't really going to tell him," muttered Saul.

"I know," said Ethan.

Ben didn't believe either one of them.


Chapter 6 – The Dinner

All things considered, Dalton Garrick was in a fantastic mood. The Peregrines had been quiet for these past week, and operations were running so smoothly that he might be able to save the quarter. The prisoners were proving to be valuable assets, and before long, they would finally have the location of Haven. The two vets wouldn't crack, of course, but the scruffy-looking one just might. According to Hess, he was ready to spill his guts on the trip to Nexus.

The telepath was an added bonus. In all his travels, Dalton had only met one other person like this Lobo. For a prisoner, he seemed entirely too relaxed so Dalton had placed extra guards on him, until the guards started arguing with each other. It seems the man could implant thoughts, suggestions, even memories so they had reassigned combat drones to guard duty. If Dalton could learn the man's price, he would be an invaluable asset for him getting of this damn planet.

A gentleman must not curse.

A gentleman wouldn't be out here, lightyears away from anything resembling civilization.

Of course, with everything running so smoothly, Dalton had more time than ever for more gentlemanly pursuits. He'd been in the studio every day, sharpening his skills with new projects. In fact, he was becoming something of a virtuoso, able to create art from anything. In addition to painting, he was composing more music than ever, sampling from whatever and whomever he could. He had produced several pieces already, but he'd never share them. These were a part of his soul, and as such, they remained with him.

Yes, things were going so well that he wasn't surprised when he received a call from Governor Ericksen this morning. A cool breeze never lasts, as his father used to say.

"I have some good news," said the governor.

Just hearing the man's voice made Dalton want to scream.

"We might finally have a solution to our Peregrine problem," said the governor.

Dalton had asked for details, but the governor was tight-lipped. He asked for a private meeting this afternoon where he explain everything. Dalton tried to weasel his way out of the meeting, but the governor was insistent. For such a little man, the governor loved to throw his weight around.

Despite his feelings for the governor, Dalton had arranged for a private meal for the two of them. He wanted Eriksen to know just how small he really was. All of the ingredients would be off-planet, and most would cost more than Eriksen had ever seen. Two years ago, Dalton had been entertaining some of the galaxy's most wealthy and elite; now he was wining and dining a governor of a mining colony. Still, a gentleman must treat his guests with respect.

The governor arrived promptly at the pre-ordained time, bringing a young woman with him. As they sat down at the large dining in Dalton's office, he tried to guess at their relationship. The governor and the woman were familiar with each other, but there was a definite tension between them. It wasn't sexual so that ruled out mistress, wife, or whore.

The young woman was stunningly beautiful, even Dalton had to admit that. Her sapphire-blue eyes matched her earrings, and her white dress hugged the natural contours of her body perfectly. Golden blonde hair cascaded on her shoulders like waterfalls. In the right part of the galaxy, should would fetch an enormous price.

"Mr. Garrick, thank you for having us," said the governor. "Allow me to introduce my daughter, Ingrid."

The squat, wrinkled man shared no traits in common with young woman. Maybe she was adopted.

"A pleasure. And please, call me Dalton."

Ingrid said nothing, but her eyes told Dalton volumes.

"So," said Dalton. "Shall we have the first course?"

The governor nodded.

A servant brought out roasted lamb with mince jelly while another servant brought out the wine list. The servant handed the list to Dalton, but he insisted that the governor order first. The governor scanned the list like a child might read a picture book. He picked a white wine to pair with the lamb.

Animal.

Dalton ordered a Chianti while Ingrid ordered water.

"So, you had something to discuss," said Dalton.

The governor took a bite of the lamb before answering. A droplet of grease stained the governor's chartreuse jacket.

"After the meal, perhaps. We so rarely get to talk, you and I. This might be the perfect time for to talk more about GIGA and their plans for Nisi."

Dalton gripped his fork so tightly that he thought he would break it. After he was finished with the Peregrines, he would take care of the governor, one way or another.

"Our plans are to continue to build value for this planet and its inhabitants, yourself included. Once the Peregrines are dealt with, we'll be able to allow tourism again, and naturally that will be a profitable situation for everyone. As for specifics, I'm afraid that GIGA is very strict about discussing corporate strategies with anyone, including local government. In the meantime, let's discuss what brought you here today."

Before the governor could respond, Dalton called for the next course, shaved truffles with a light cheese sauce. Dalton and Ingrid hadn't touched the lamb, but the governor tried to steal one more bite before the servant took his plate away. The truffles smelled amazing, but Dalton wouldn't eat with the governor and his daughter. This entire meal was pretense, and Dalton could only play the part so well. The governor continued to stumble through the wine list, so Dalton chose a lightly oaked Chardonnay for all three of them.

The governor took a huge mouthful of the truffles before responding.

"Well," he said, chewing loudly. "I think it's best if Ingrid explains."

Dalton was starting to wonder if the young woman was mute, but her voice was as beautiful as she was.

"I know the location of Haven," said Ingrid.

That was a claim that Dalton had heard many times from various people—GIGA officials, retired Peregrines, bounty hunters. He'd even said it once or twice, but always the claim had been proven false.

"I'm sorry, Governor," said Dalton. "I don't fully understand. I wasn't even aware that you had a daughter, and now, you bring her before me with this bold claim?"

The governor sighed, casting a painful glance at his daughter.

"She...didn't see eye-to-eye with me when GIGA arrived. She joined the Peregrines, and I'm ashamed to say took up with Hektor Kavvadias and his crew. She's been with them for the past two years."

Dalton chuckled, unable to control himself. This stunning beauty was a Peregrine? If this wasn't an elaborate joke, then he was a Miranian Tiger.

"You expect me to believe this?"

The governor scowled. "I do. I prayed for her safe return every day for the past two years. She is...was a Peregrine, I can assure you of that."

Dalton couldn't very well ask for a demonstration, even in this spacious office at the peak of the Nexus. The servants briefly appeared, but Dalton waved them away. He wanted to hear more about this Ingrid.

"So, why the change of heart? Why betray your friends of two years?"

"It's no secret that I don't like GIGA, but I hate the Peregrines even more. I thought it would be exciting, living in the skies, taking what I wanted, but it's not. I'm tired of taking orders from fools and fanatics. There are good people in Haven to be sure, and if something isn't done soon, they'll pay the price."

The servants returned again, and this time, Dalton allowed them to bring the third course, Noka Chocolate martinis. The governor slurped his down immediately while Dalton and Ingrid engaged in a staring contest.

He wanted to believe what she was saying, but his gut told him that something was off.

"So, you tell me the location of Haven, and what? I pardon you of all charges?"

"You pardon all charges for everyone."

The girl had spirit, if nothing else. She continued.

"This battle can't last forever. The Peregrines will lose eventually. They know that and so do you, but they can cost you a lot of money in the meantime. This way, everyone wins."

Dalton was starting to believe that she was a Peregrine. Very few people would bargain with a Garrick like a Badressi merchant.

"And what about the prisoners?" asked Dalton.

"They would be freed as well."

Dalton sipped his Noka Chocolate martini and let Ingrid count the seconds until he replied. Had she met him yesterday, this conversation would have ended much differently.

"I appreciate your candor, Ms. Eriksen, but I'm afraid that GIGA is not in the business of dealing with terrorists."

Ingrid smiled, but there was no kindness in her eyes.

"I thought you might say that," she said, standing.

In her right hand, she held a clear vial containing a viscous, purple cloud.

"I don't doubt you have automated security procedures, but I would caution you that if a single drop of this is released, you and everyone else in this room will die a terrible and painful death."

Dalton was going to skin the security officer that allowed Ingrid to pass.

"Of course," replied Dalton steadily. "You want to save your friends, and I can understand that. However, I can't allow you or your friends to leave. If you open that vial, you'll die, and so will your friends. Is that really what you want?"

The doors slid open revealing two guards and Lobo. Dalton wasn't sure what unnerved him more: the unwanted intrusion or Ingrid's threat.

"What's the meaning of this? Take this man back to his cell!"

"But, sir," said one of the guards. "You ordered us to bring him to you."

Dalton was about to respond when the telepath stole one of the guard's pistols and pointed it squarely at Dalton. Ingrid took the other guards pistol and herded them to the other side of the table. The governor chattered away, begging Ingrid not to make this mistake, but she ignored him completely.

"This was your plan all along?" asked Dalton.

Ingrid smiled. "Of course not. I had no idea if Lobo would be able to hear my thoughts, but it was worth a shot."

A Peregrine indeed.

"Now, about the other prisoners," said Ingrid.

"Ingrid," said Lobo. "Give me the gun."

The young woman looked confused, but Dalton understood all too well.

"Just give it to me. You won't need it. I can keep an eye on them."

"Where are they?" she repeated.

"I think your friend knows," said Dalton. A part of him was terrified, but another part was exhilarated. The world was not supposed to uncover his art, but he had always wanted to show off his work.

"Give me the gun, Ingrid."

"Where are they!"

"In there," said Dalton, pointing to his studio. "The access code is Albert Fish."

The governor had stopped pleading with his daughter as he waited to see what lie beyond those heavy steel doors. Even the guards stood completely still. They wouldn't survive the day, but Dalton had to keep the governor around...for now.

The steel doors slid open and Ingrid shrieked. Even from halfway across the room, the stench of death was an intoxicating perfume.

"What do you think?" asked Dalton. "Your friend, Ben, was my latest project. He made for quite the exhibit, wouldn't you say."

The young woman wretched, then the governor did. The guards did nothing.

"Ingrid," warned Lobo.

Ingrid wiped her mouth and pointed her pistol at the guards. She now held the vial in her left hand.

"Get them out," she said.

The guards didn't argue. Saul, the treasure hunter, and Ethan, the vet, were sedated. Dalton couldn't very well have them interrupting their early dinner.

"What happened to his arm?" asked the governor.

Ethan's right arm had been skinned down to the bone from the wrist to the forearm. His hand was had been incorporated in Ben's exhibit.

"That's my fault," explained Dalton. "I got overzealous."

His heart raced as Ingrid shoved the pistol under his chin.

"Ingrid, that's not why we came. You know that."

"I can't let him live. Not after that," she said, pointing to his studio.

She was going to do it. Dalton was finally going to know the intoxicating embrace of death, his master, his friend, his lover. He had prepared for this moment over and over, but now that he faced it, he didn't want to die. His career had only just started. He wanted to rise through the ranks of GIGA. He wanted to carve the hearts of a thousand more. He wanted to make himself a God and live forever.

"If I may make a suggestion," said Dalton. "You need a way out. I need to keep my head. Maybe, we can reach a new deal."

Ingrid's finger hesitated on the trigger, but Lobo asked him to continue.

"My personal ship. It won't fit all of us, but the governor can stay behind with the guards."

The pistol shook as Ingrid slowly let her finger off the trigger. She held the vial in front of his face.

"If anything happens..."

"Terrible and painful," said Dalton.


Chapter 7 - Rendezvous

Hektor Kavvadias watched the small speck on the horizon with growing interest.

"Is that a Harvester?" asked Nyota.

"It's too fast for a Harvester or any drone for that matter," replied Manu.

The boy was right. Whatever it was, it probably wasn't friendly.

Perched in the mountains of Charybdys, the remaining Peregrines weren't ready for a battle. Bai had been taken out during the disastrous Harvester haul, and Svitlana had joined her back at Haven after their failed rescue attempt. Ingrid had been gone for two days on her mission, but Hektor had hope. Still, hope didn't count for much when you only had three Peregrines against the whole GIGA Corporation.

If they fled now, they might be able to escape undetected, but what if Ingrid was on her way? Depending on the condition of the prisoners, they might need immediate transport to Haven. If the prisoners had made it to Nexus, that meant they were in the custody of Dalton Garrick.

Hektor had only met Dalton Garrick once, but he seemed the kind of man who would do anything to anyone if it served his purpose. Ben and Ethan were hard men, and Lobo had his wits, but Saul...Saul probably would be the first to talk. Of course, even if the treasure hunter spilled the location of Haven, GIGA would still have to navigate the Shoals that surrounded it. With enough firepower and drones, though, GIGA would have no trouble reaching Haven. Part of Hektor welcomed an open firefight to all this subterfuge and hiding.

While Nyota and Manu had been relaxing on the island for the past two days, enjoying the various wildlife that populated Charybdys, Hektor, had been preparing for every possibility. Haven would have to move soon; they had scouted a few locations, but nothing felt right. Some of the colonists had suggested a mobile base, but many wanted the stability of firm ground and pre-fabricated structures. As he saw it, Haven was an illusion that was going to end whenever GIGA Corporation declared war.

"Should we get our suits?" asked Manu.

The speck had tripled in size and was clearly a personal craft of some kind. From the way it moved, and the few details that Hektor could see, this was no ordinary ship. Nevertheless, the ship was alone. If GIGA knew they were here, why not send a whole fleet?

"No. Stay put."

Hektor heard the familiar sounds of a sniper rifle being assembled.

"Nyota," warned Hektor.

"I just want to be prepared," said Nyota, grinning innocently.

"Prepare by getting a read on that ship, and only a read."

The girl sighed, bringing the scope to her right eye. She brushed aside a stray strand of black hair as she sighted the ship.

"Ok, I've got it. This definitely doesn't like any GIGA ship I've ever seen. Could be a personal craft?"

Who on Nisi could afford a personal craft? The governor? Hess? Dalton? All three options were unpleasant to say the least.

"Do you see any weapons?" asked Hektor.

"None at the moment," replied Nyota.

Manu started assembling a laser cannon while Hektor and Nyota were discussing the ship.

"Haven't you done enough damage?" asked Hektor. The boy recoiled, like a wounded puppy, and Hektor felt his stomach sink. He knew that Manu saw him as a father, and a father shouldn't treat his children like they were a nuisance.

"Just...wait for my signal before you do anything," said Hektor.

Manu continued assembling the laser cannon, mounting it on a tripod while Nyota continued describing the ship. After a while, Hektor told her to stop. At this point, they would see for themselves in a minute or so.

"Suit up," said Hektor.

They had waited long enough. GIGA ship or not, the Peregrines would meet this newcomer on their own terms.

As the ship approached, the Peregrines split up, perching among the natural nooks and crannies of the mountain. They waited for Hektor's signal, then dropped on the passing ship. Manu took the right side, Nyota the left side, and Hektor went straight toward the vehicle. Using their tethers, they attached themselves to the ship and began cutting in with laser torches. Whoever was in the vehicle made no attempt to repel them. Perhaps, it was a drone after all.

Before they could finish cutting, the ship landed in a quiet clearing near a waterfall. A doorway opened, and Manu peered inside, ignoring Hektor's repeated warnings.

"Ingrid!" shouted Manu, rushing in to greet the Peregrine.

Clearly, the boy hadn't considered the possibility that this could be a trap.

"Come on," said Hektor, ducking down to enter the ship. Nyota rolled her eyes as she dismounted from her suit.

The interior of the ship looked even more spectacular than the outside; the owner was either a political figure or an aristocrat. When Hektor laid eyes on Dalton Garrick, he realized the owner was both. The man had been tied to one of the passenger seats, but even restrained, he looked dangerous.

"What is he doing here?" asked Hektor.

Ingrid struggled to leave the pilot seat as Manu excitedly asked her for all the details of her mission. What did her father say? What did Dalton say? How did she steal the ship?

Lobo approached Hektor, giving him a curt not and told him that Ethan was resting in the back of the ship.

"He needs medical attention immediately."

Hektor nodded, but he still wanted to know what Dalton was doing in the ship.

"You were supposed to steal a drone. What happened?" asked Hektor.

Ingrid shot a withering glare at Dalton. "He happened."

Hektor didn't like riddles nor did he like being made to wait. Every second they spent on Charybdys made him increasingly nervous. They hadn't been in contact with Haven for three days now.

"Go see Ethan. Then you'll understand."

As Hektor made his way to the back of the ship, he ignored the various trappings of an aristrocat: used vibro-patches, skellium, etc. Dalton loved to have a good time.

When Hektor reached the back of the ship, he found Ethan asleep on the bed. From what he could tell, the man looked perfectly fine. Upon closer inspection, Hektor noticed that his right arm was tucked too tightly under his chest. He leaned onto the bed to get a closer look, and almost wretched. The hand had been cut clean off, and the forearm had been skinned to the bone.

Before Hektor knew it, his hands were closing around Dalton's throat.

"What did you do to him?" he asked. It had been a long time since he killed a man, but Hektor still felt the same rush of adrenaline. He eased his grip slightly, allowing the man to speak.

"I needed him for an exhibit," said Dalton, looking at Ingrid.

Tears streamed down Ingrid's face as she shuddered. "There was this room...and..."

She couldn't finish.

"He tortured them. Both of them," said Lobo. "I felt it but there was nothing I could do."

Hektor suddenly noticed that Saul had been sitting in the passenger section taking up as little room as he could. Hektor cut off Lobo and approached Saul.

"Where's Ben?"

Saul couldn't look in Hektor's eyes. The treasure hunter didn't have a scratch on him. Not one single scratch.

"Dead?" asked Hektor.

Saul nodded.

"What about you?"

"What?"

"He tortured Ethan, killed Ben. What did he do to you?"

"Nothing," said Saul.

A pistol was in Hektor's hand before he knew it.

"What did you tell him?"

Hektor looked at Lobo. "Do they know?"

Lobo nodded. His gift had been the biggest secret that Hektor had ever had to keep.

"Find out what he told them."

Manu knelt beside Ingrid as she sobbed, her whole body heaving. Nyota stood with her head on a swivel, trying to decipher just what the hell was happening. Dalton was strapped to a passenger chair, smiling like a loon, and Lobo grimaced as he tried to search the man's memories.

"Haven," said Lobo. "There's something in there about Haven."

Hektor's finger slid to the trigger.

"Wait," said Lobo.

"I didn't say anything!" said Saul. "I swear!"

"What about Haven?" asked Hektor.

Lobo shuddered and fell to his knees. Dalton must be keeping some sick and twisted memories trapped in there.

"They found it," muttered Lobo.


Chapter 8 - Haven

Unlike the mechanized metropolises of GIGA corporation, Haven could have grown from its surroundings over centuries. Thick, black electrical cables wound up and down trees like vines, mottled platforms sprouted from the ground like giant mushrooms, and subterranean tunnels stretched for miles like some great anthill. For three years, the original colonists of Nisi had scratched a living from the wilds of Scylla, an island so remote that GIGA had still yet to discover it. Of course, finding Scylla involved navigating a treacherous fields of floating mountains, meteoroids, and asteroids. Food and water were in plenty on the island, but without the Peregrines, the colonists would have to resort to baseline technology: levers, pulleys, and gears.

It was a shame that Haven was so remote. With the right agent and the right pitch, it could be a travel destination. Come see the sights of Nisi and stay at tropical Haven! Watch a blood-orange sunset on the peaks of Mount Aster! Join the chorus of timber cats on a moonless night or explore the depths of Lake Vorr! Haven was both paradise and prison for the colonists. Still, most were happy calling it home.

Occasionally, someone would bring up the city, but the idea would usually be shut down as quickly as it was suggested. They had all that they needed, but for how long? What if the Peregrines were captured? Then, what would they do?

The transport vehicles that had brought them to the island hadn't been used in years. Some doubted they would ever fly again, but when Gaejo attacked with a dozen Hunter drones and Scimitars, the colonists were forced to take to the skies. Some fought and died, others ran and died, still others flew and died. The lumbering colony ships weren't meant to repel a single Venator-class vehicle let alone a dozen GIGA drones.

Once the skies were cleared, and the ground was scorched, Gaejo took to the tunnels and used Bajeeri hounds to sniff out any survivors. She found a few dozen, but the Peregrines weren't among them. Of course, half were at Nexus, so it was likely the other half had been captured as well. At any rate, she had sent a message to the Peregrine, and one they would not soon forget.

When Hektor, Dalton, and the other Peregrines arrived, they received the message loud and clear.

"They want a war," said Hektor.

He hated being right.

END OF ARC 1

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Author's Note: Thanks for reading Peregrine! What you've just read is the first arc of the story, and I plan to add several more arcs in the future.

The series will be on hiatus while I finish the second draft of my first book, Reckoning of the Gods: Heretic. If you want to keep up with the status of Peregrine and my other series, follow me on Twitter at AllenBrasch!