Home Front (Star Kingdom #7) - Lindsay Buroker
As the Kingdom warship the Osprey sped toward Stardust Palace Station, Casmir paced in sickbay, contemplating how he was going to get his friends Bonita and Qin out of the brig on the Chivalrous.
He would have the help of his stalwart troops—Zee and a dozen other six-and-a-half-feet-tall tarry black crushers were in sickbay with him, alarming the crewmen with their presence. But Jorg also had crushers on board the Chivalrous, maybe more than Casmir had. All he knew for certain was that ten of Jorg’s crushers had raided Bonita’s ship to capture her and Qin.
For now, troop numbers were moot since Prince Jorg’s ship was several hours ahead of the Osprey. Maybe a day ahead. The warship was towing Bonita’s freighter, so it had taken them longer to get up to speed.
Even if the Osprey and the Chivalrous had been flying side by side, Casmir wouldn’t have been able to convince Captain Ishii to force board the other vessel, not when it was commanded by Prince Jorg and they were all part of one big happy fleet. One big happy fleet that kidnapped each other’s friends.
“Does anybody else have a headache?” Casmir muttered.
“Crushers do not get headaches,” Zee informed him.
“I knew you were superior beings.”
“Do you feel that a seizure is incipient? I am attempting to determine how to accurately predict episodes of your health condition. My medical files inform me that ictal headaches are associated with seizure activity and may occur before or after the event.” Zee peered down at him. “Do you feel confused or forgetful? Are any parts of your body experiencing numbness or tingling?” Zee picked up Casmir’s hand in his cool metal fingers and examined it, as if such numbness might be visible on the outside.
“No. Thank you for asking. I believe this is a royalty-induced headache.”
“My medical files do not mention such things.”
“Uhm, is your robot holding your hand, Professor?” A nurse carrying tubes of SkinFill paused to look over at them.
“Zee is trying to learn how to predict my seizures,” Casmir said. “It disturbs him that canines can do this but that crushers—so far—cannot.”
Judging by the look the nurse gave them as he continued past, he didn’t find that any less weird.
As Casmir extricated his hand from Zee’s examination, the coffee grinder in Kim’s borrowed lab whirred.
“Shall we continue to discuss Incursion Plan B?” Zee stepped back and lifted an arm to include all of the crushers.
Casmir had been brainstorming with them on the private network that Zee had set up. The crushers were doing most of the brainstorming, since they’d been programmed to be experts on battle tactics, while he observed and worried.
“I’m concerned,” Casmir said, “that any incursion would result in crusher deaths if you had to face your doppelgängers.”
He also worried that taking action against Jorg would seal his fate and that he’d never be allowed to go home. But how could he do nothing when the prince had his friends? Jorg had said he was using Bonita and Qin to ensure compliance from Casmir, Sir Bjarke, and Asger. He’d also implied that he would kill Bonita and Qin if Casmir didn’t capture Prince Dubashi and his lethal bioweapons before he escaped System Stymphalia and threatened the Kingdom.
“They are not doppelgängers,” Zee said. “They are early-model crushers, smaller and inferior to a Z-6000.”
Casmir decided not to point out that he’d built Zee in one night on a space station, kludging him together from the metals and existing medical nanites he’d been able to find. “They are smaller, but as diminutive guys around the cosmos tell the ladies, size isn’t everything.”
Maybe he should point that out in a video to Princess Oku. He hadn’t sent her a message since he’d received that startling video from her with her father at her side. King Jager had been prompting her to speak in between promising Casmir her hand in marriage if he became an obedient slave and stopped working at cross-purposes with the crown.
Casmir wanted to let her know that he liked her but that he would never accept an arranged marriage in which she was a prize to be won, dangled by her father with blatant manipulation. But how could he do that when that message had made it clear that Royal Intelligence was monitoring their exchanges? He wasn’t sure how, since he’d encrypted everything he’d sent, and his encryptions were known to flummox entire classes of graduate students, but he had to accept that they had no privacy.
“It is true that they