Home Front (Star Kingdom #7) - Lindsay Buroker Page 0,1

have existed longer than we have, and may have more combat experience, but we have been personally shaped by our maker.” Zee pointed a finger at Casmir’s chest, and Casmir forced himself to focus on the more immediate problem. “We have learned to be clever and versatile and to understand human quirks.”

“You think that will help in a battle?”

“We will not be flummoxed by sarcasm or humor, should we encounter human troops on the mission.” Zee lowered his finger. “You have been calling our incursion Plan B. Are you brainstorming a Plan A?”

“I’d like to figure out a way to negotiate with Prince Jorg for Bonita and Qin’s return,” Casmir said.

A bleary-eyed doctor wandered past the group, giving the crushers a wide berth, and walked into Kim’s laboratory. The smell of coffee was now wafting out of it.

Casmir wondered if Kim was, besides making coffee, learning anything more about the virus Dubashi had created. She’d disappeared into the lab earlier, talking about researching the possibility of vaccines in case they couldn’t stop the bioweapon in time. Casmir didn’t want to think about failing at that. They had to find a way to stop Dubashi. Casmir’s to-do list was long and daunting.

The coffee grinder started up again.

“Crusher observations suggest that Prince Jorg is more erratic and delusional than typical for a human,” Zee said. “According to Klinger’s military psychology book on dealing with enemies using non-combat methods, any attempt to negotiate with him should play into his delusions.”

“Probably true,” Casmir said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The doctor walked out, holding a covered mug of coffee. Casmir watched in bemusement as two crewmen strode out with similar mugs.

“I told you she’d make mochas if we found chocolate syrup,” one told the other.

“I didn’t say she wouldn’t, just that it would be hard to find. Do you think Ambassador Romano will miss that bar?”

“His secretary said he doesn’t like chocolate and wouldn’t.”

“He’s weird.”


“One moment, Zee.” Casmir held up a finger, then walked to Kim’s lab, curious as to why his aloof, privacy-preferring best friend had turned into a coffee barista. And also wondering if she could make him a hot chocolate. “Kim?”

When he poked his head in, he found her sipping from a mug and reading the results of some experiment off a wall display.

“Have you opened shop?” Casmir pointed at the portable espresso maker, grinder, and bag of beans she’d brought from Odin.

“Not officially.”


Her lips pressed together in disapproval. “Word got out that I have an espresso machine. The crew finds the coffee bulbs in the ship’s stores as execrable as I do.”

“Can you make me a hot chocolate?”

She frowned at him. “I’m studying outbreaks of the Orthobuliaviricetes virus over the last century and computer modeling the potential spread of the modified and far more deadly version that Scholar Sunflyer made, using estimates of virulence from the notes I found.”

“But you made other people hot chocolates.” Casmir smiled. He wasn’t unconcerned about the virus, but he’d gotten the astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor to close off the wormhole gate leading out of System Stymphalia, so, at least for now, that threat couldn’t get to Odin.

“Those were mochas. Espresso with chocolate syrup in it.”

“Couldn’t you make me the same thing without the espresso? I’m working on possible solutions to our problems, but my brain is tired. I think it needs sugar. Brains operate on sugar, you know.”

“The brain operates on glucose, yes, but the human body can acquire glucose from any carbohydrate and can also, through a process called gluconeogenesis, convert it from protein. You don’t need sugar.”

“My brain is lazy. It doesn’t want to convert anything. It—” A message appeared on Casmir’s chip, and he grimaced. “Never mind. Captain Ishii wants me on the bridge.” As he read on, he grimaced again. “He’s expecting a comm from Prince Jorg.”

“Will you get a chance to implement Plan A?”

He’d told Kim about his options earlier.

“I’ll give it a shot.” Casmir backed out of her lab and sent the rest of his thoughts to her chip. Zee joined him, leaving the rest of the crushers in sickbay. I doubt he’s going to negotiate with me. Regardless, I think we’re going to need autonomy to implement any of our plans. I’ll check on the repair status of Bonita’s ship while I’m on the bridge.

If we take it and leave the Osprey again without permission…

Casmir was flattered that she assumed he would be able to figure out a way to escape a Kingdom warship with a scruffy—and much