Nightchaser - Amanda Bouchet

Chapter 1

I sat back in my captain’s chair and breathed, slowly and deeply, letting my body adjust to traveling at a normal velocity again. It was risky to come here, but maybe we’d finally get a break. We needed one. So did the ship.

Outside the bridge’s large window panels, stars winked back at me from the endless Dark. The view didn’t look much different from anywhere else we’d been in the galaxy lately, but no one in their right mind would be here. I was counting on it.

It never ceased to amaze me how vast space was—and yet not a single corner of it was free. No technology existed that could get us beyond the Overseer’s reach.

A red light sputtered to life on my console, and I shot forward in my chair and stared. Communication open/outside channel blinked back at me.

My heart rate went from normal to warp speed so fast it hurt. “Who the hell is in Sector 14 with us?” I demanded, turning to my first mate.

Jaxon’s space-pale complexion whitened even more as his eyes jumped between me and the flashing button. I figured I looked just as ghostly, and not only because we hadn’t seen direct sunlight in weeks.

“No one’s ever in Sector 14,” he said, sounding worried and pissed off. “Half of it’s the Black Widow.”

“Well, someone’s here now,” I answered sharply, days of high stress and almost no sleep adding extra bite to my voice.

We both eyed the blinking red com button again. This part of the galaxy was off-limits. Usually, I was the only one not following the rules.

I scanned the views outside the multiple windows again, not seeing the ship that was reaching out to us. I did see a portion of the gigantic ring of darkness everyone tried very hard to avoid and felt a little queasy, only part of which I could blame on the long jump we’d just made through hyperspace.

The Black Widow was the reason we’d come to Sector 14. Choosing the dicey location was a last-ditch effort to lie low and recharge after three days and seven Sectors of hot-on-our-tail leapfrog with hostile Dark Watch vessels.

I wasn’t an instant pessimist, but this couldn’t be good. The Endeavor was almost out of juice, and the Sectors were crawling with government spacecraft out looking for the vaccines we’d stolen. Only the elite and the military were given access to cure-alls. Someone needed to redistribute more fairly. But when patrol ships had started popping up all around us, instead of emptying the contents of the floating lab we’d found into our own cargo hold as usual, I’d nabbed the entire thing with a vacuum attachment. Now, the extra hunk of ship was sticking out like a sore thumb, weighing us down, and about to get us all sent back to jail. Or worse.

I even had an enormous, leather-clad, bearded man who’d accidentally come with the floating lab. Shit!

My fingers tensed around my armrests. There was no way I was reaching for that com button. Whoever was hanging around Sector 14 and a freaking black hole was going to have to talk first.

Or maybe they would fly right on by…

“Cargo Cruiser model 419, please identify yourself.”

Damn it! They talked.

I stared at the panel in front of me as if it were a poisonous snake from one of the green planets. They had water and pretty plants, but they also had all the nasties I didn’t like to think about. That was what happened when you grew up in a metal box—nature scared the crap out of you.

“I repeat, Cargo Cruiser model 419, please identify yourself.”

I almost recoiled at the tinny, no-nonsense male voice that burst out of my console again. Interference from the Black Widow made the communication shriek like the five o’clock wake-up whistle in prison. I’d hated that whistle. It’d made my stomach hurt.

“Answer him, Tess,” Jax hissed, nodding to the flashing button. “The longer you wait, the more suspicious they’ll get.”

“They’re already suspicious.” Only a ship up to no good would be anywhere near here.

I looked from Jax to Miko. Miko’s good hand still hovered over the navigation panel, her dark-brown eyes bigger than I’d ever seen them. She looked like she hadn’t moved a muscle since typing out the coordinates for Sector 14—where no one was supposed to be.

Swallowing a curse, I turned back to my controls and pressed down on the blinking red com button only long enough to transmit a response. “This is Cargo Cruiser model 419.