Book: Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe



Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

Politics Equals Death

by TS Paul and Nathan Howe

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

BOOK II IN THE SMUGGLE LIFE SERIES

Table of Contents

Title Page

Legal Stuff

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Author Notes - Nathan Howe

Author - Nathan Howe

Author Notes - TS Paul

Author - T S Paul

Legal Stuff

Copyright © Nathan Howe, T.S. Paul, All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any kind is strictly prohibited unless written permission granted by the individual authors.

Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Editing by Diane Velasquez, Dorene Johnson, and Kat Lind

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

Prologue

The room was dark and damp with little in the way to let Taylor know where he was. The worst part for him was that he had no idea how long he had been here. It could have been a week or years. The time had blurred together as had the beatings.

Taylor rolled over on the chilly, hard floor as his stomach rumbled. His one meal a day sat on the floor next to him. It consisted of stale bread and cold soup. Nowhere near enough for a man of Taylor's size. Not that he was large anymore.

This ordeal had taken its toll on his body and his mind. Taylor didn’t know why they wanted him. All they did was question him about random stuff. Never the same thing. One session was on Rea and the next about Parker and so forth. Sometimes, the questions were related to family and not just his. The asked for information on the ship, and the jobs they took. Never in any distinguishable pattern. Taylor wanted to figure it out. Try to learn who they were or why they took him.

What kept him going was that Taylor knew that Captain Dodge and Kane would be looking for him. Both were loyal to every crew members. They wouldn’t rest until Taylor was found.

After taking the bread in his hand, Taylor took a bit. It was dry and rough as it went down. Another bite and another. When it was gone, he was still starving and wanted more. What he would give for a nice drink, a well-aged beverage, one to take the edge off.

The door opened, and the prisoner was blinded by the light. Every time Taylor saw the light, he had trouble focusing. These periods of light were few and far between. His body had adjusted to the darkness that was ever present.

A woman entered the room. When she did, Taylor knew that it was going to be another bad session.

“Hello,” she said. “You sleep well?”

Taylor remained silent and looked away. He learned long ago not to talk to her. She used every word against him.

“I’ll take that as a no,” she purred. “Very well. We shall begin.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter One

Steve stood on the bridge with most of the crew. In the darkness, they waited for Parker to arrive. Rea leaned over to Steve, “What’s taking her so long?”

Steve shrugged, not like the Captain could see it anyway. “I don’t know. She was told to be here by now.”

The young lady might be scared and worried that she was in trouble. They never did reprimand her for the time she violated their trust on the mission with Jack Drake. She had snuck into the secret cargo hold on their ship, the Rossi and opened the box they were smuggling. She did it even though it was against the agreement of the contract and they had never broken a contract before.

In the long run, it worked out for them and made them better prepared. That job for Drake was the one that started Steve and his crew members down a path they couldn’t get off. Just before they took that job, their friend and fellow crewman, Taylor had been ambushed and kidnapped.

The one directly responsible had been taken care of, a pirate, just a young kid really, who had tried to steal from them. They captured him on New Paris and sent him back to Celtica. The pirate’s home planet, to be handled by Kate O’Malley, the current leader of the pirates.

Steve would hate to be in charge of pirates. In his experience, pirates were unpredictable and didn’t follow orders. And the last mission with Drake proved that even further.

The wait for Parker was getting long, and Steve was losing his patience.

Aldis leaned in. “I can’t crouch much longer.”

The hacker who sat at a computer for endless hours wasn’t very good at sitting still. One of the few things about him that annoyed Steve. The feud between Aldis and Nicole was another.

Steve liked the whole crew, but that didn’t mean some of them didn’t annoy him. Nicole, the CATT, might be the most frustrating of them all. That was a thought to be considered at another time.

“She’s almost here,” the robot cat said. She had access to the whole ship. A scary thought especially because she used it to punish people who annoyed her. Steve did his best to purge the memories. Especially, of the time she made his room an icebox for a week, for just making a bad joke

The door opened, and the youngest member opened the door. “Hello?”

The crew jumped. “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” the team screamed.

The lights returned, shining onto a cake for Parker.

“Oh,” was all Parker managed.

Steve walked over to her. “Breathe, kid.”

She smiled. “This is for me?”

The Marine nodded. “It is, kid.”

The kid, who was no longer a kid, punched him playfully on the arm. “I’m not a kid.”

“You’ll always be one to me,” Steve teased.

The bridge was set up with a cake and some presents for Parker. It wasn’t much, but the Captain of the ship wanted her to feel like she belonged. She had talked the whole crew into it, not that it took much talking.

One by one, the crew gave Parker a hug and wished her happy birthday. Parker was eighteen now, an adult, hopefully, ready to take on the world. She had been pestering Steve about her place on the ship and even more than that, her place in life. Parker wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her future. There was a reason she did a little of everything on the ship. Steve tried to help her as best he could.

Rea helped her as well. They both had ever since they saved her from the men who had been chasing her. Slavers or something like that. Steve had wanted to kill them. Nothing bothered him more than slavers. Sure, he was a smuggler, but Rea and the Rossi wouldn’t take part in human trafficking.

But that was the past. Now, Parker had a place with them. She might still be looking for how to help, but she had them. As strange a surrogate family as anyone could ask for. The kid was fed, safe and happy. It didn’t take long for Parker to make her way over to the gifts. “I’ve never been given gifts,” she said with a shaky voice.

Hearing that hurt Steve and made him sad. Even one should have birthdays growing up and a family who loved them. Parker’s life was a mystery to him, and it didn’t seem like she wanted to talk about it. Steve respected her privacy and wasn’t going to push her. Perhaps, one day, she would be ready to talk about her past.

Parker opened each one slowly, and her eyes watered. Steve got her some training equipment and supplies. She had asked Steve the last time they spoke to help her learn self-defense. That made his day, and he wanted to make sure she was ready for it.

The other gifts were a mix of practical and fun stuff that they thought the young woman would like. Lindsey got her a kit to aid in learning some engineering skills and Aldis gave her a book on hacking. Parker appeared to love it all.

This was a pleasant break from the drain of being on the ship and the grind of trying to find Taylor and Drake. Additionally, they sought the mystery woman. The unknown person who had hired Drake to kidnap Taylor, if the young pirate was to be believed. Rea trusted the kid’s information, and that meant Steve did too.

What he didn’t like was not knowing who it was and what they wanted. That was the worst thing for Steve. He loathed not having all the information and knowing someone was pulling their strings.

That needed to be remedied, and fast.

The party continued as the crew bonded. Just for a while, they could forget about all the bad stuff. It was nice to see them happy and relaxed. It was the first time in several months. It hadn’t felt that long to Steve, but it had been over two months since their escape from New Detroit.

Rea walked over to him toward the end of the party. “When this is over, we need to talk.”

Steve nodded. “About?”

“Think I have a job. Nicole said it should help with Taylor and Drake.”

That was good news. Some action was needed and getting off the ship for more than a few hours would be nice. “Did she say how?”

Rea laughed. “You know the answer to that.”

“I do. That damn CATT. Someday, I’d like to meet this boss she absentmindedly mentions.”

“You and me both,” Rea said.

The party continued, and the crew had a blast. Even Steve relaxed as he watched his friends. It was a nice change. As much as he would like it to, he knew it could not last forever.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Two

The crew slowly filed out of the bridge one by one. Parker was the last to leave. Now, only Steve and Rea remained. She wanted to talk to him about the job, needing to see if he knew more about who was contacting her.

The Marine was tall, muscular and had a wide frame. Rea knew that his physique was an imposing one to many people. She had used that to her advantage more than once. He was great at scaring people just by looking at them.

“What’s the job?” Steve asked.

Rea paced back and forth on the bridge before answering. This one might make Steve nervous or angry. From what little she did know, it involved politics or might be. Nicole wasn’t clear and wouldn’t elaborate on it.

“You ever been to New Philly?” Rea finally asked.

Steve folded his arms over his chest and stood stiffly erect. That was never a good sign. Rea knew he was remembering a bad memory.

“Once,” he said, his tone harsh and firm. “Not a great system. Some shady stuff there. Looking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t the Cabal or something.”

Rea didn’t like the sound of that, but Nicole would have mentioned it. Her access to information was unparalleled.

“Nicole didn’t mention the Cabal.”

Steve’s body relaxed. “Good. Then just some ruffians. I can deal with that.”

That was good to hear. Being smugglers, they dealt with all sorts of people. Not all of them were pleasant. Most weren’t when Rea thought about it. Her life was dealing with people who were trying to take advantage of her.

The captain sighed. “You ever hear of an Eric Spacey?”

“Nope. My time there was with a certain crowd.”

Rea couldn’t help but smile when Steve said something like that. It was vague, and it could mean so many things. When Steve was in the Marines, they went to many places. From the stories he told, it had been an interesting time.

It wasn’t that Rea didn’t do some fun missions when she was in the Navy. The captain did, but most of had been from the safety of her ship. The most exciting thing Rea had done was the one incident that told her she wasn’t going to stay forever. When she let Kate O’Malley go.

But this mission wouldn’t be exciting. It reminded Rea of the last job for Drake and how little she’d known going into it. That troubled her. Before, lack of information hadn’t been much of an issue, but now, it was. Not knowing could get her killed or worse, harm her crew.

“Okay,” she said slowly

“You’re worried,” Steve said. “You don’t have all the info. Rea, you won’t. Time to get off the pot.”

He was right. Not every job they took was going to have all of it laid out in front of them. If Nicole said this one might help with Drake, Taylor, and the mystery woman, it was worth taking a risk.

<<<>>>

“Where are we going?” Aldis asked. He was working the helm of the Rossi.

It was the morning after the surprise birthday party for Parker. The crew had slept well last night, and it was time to get back to work.

“New Philly,” Rea said.

Aldis gave her a quizzical look. This was a new one for them. Rea was sure that the only person on the ship who had ever been there before was Steve. Most of her crew had only visited systems that the Rossi had traveled to on jobs.

“Roger that, Captain.”

Aldis went to work and set the coordinates for New Philly. It wouldn’t be a long trip. One of the good things was it was definitely away from any of the fighting and war going on. Not that it didn’t have any dangerous areas. The whole Empire was in conflict. There was no way to entirely avoid hazards.

The Rossi was ready in minutes, with Aldis and Lindsey talking and working together. The crew didn’t ask Rea many questions about the job, and that was a good thing. She wasn’t even sure what it was. Just that it paid decently and might help on the hunt for the missing Taylor.

The Drake’s trail had gone cold, and no one knew where he was. Last Rea heard, the pirate and his minions had fled Celtica in the dark of night and jumped away. No one had seen them leave or had a clue where they had gone.

It frustrated Rea that she lost him and never got to see him. Drake had been so familiar to her and reminded her of someone. When she had learned that he claimed to be her long-dead brother, she’d wanted to talk to him.

Of course, he’d tried to kill her, and that hadn’t made any sense. She had gotten along well with her brother. Back then he was known by his birth name, Quentin. With his new appearance, Jack Drake fit his pirate life.

Steve entered the bridge. “When we leaving? I’m ready for some action.”

Aldis turned to him. “Now.”

He punched the Rossi’s controls, and it hurtled into space and toward their destination.

As they flew, Aldis turned to Rea and Steve. “What is the job? Are we smuggling something good?”

Rea shrugged. “No clue. Just that it might help.”

Aldis jumped from his seat. “You don’t know?”

“It’s okay,” Rea said. “Nicole said it—”

“Nicole.” Aldis threw his arms into the air. “Not her. We can’t be doing this based on her.”

Aldis didn’t like the CATT, not even a little bit. The robot had taken over many of his duties and made him look bad all the time. Because of that, he had grown to not trust her.

“She said it will help with Drake and Taylor,” Steve said. “If that is enough for Dodge and me, it’s enough for you.”

Aldis gritted his teeth, clearly not pleased. His frustration bled through. “Fine, but I’m not happy.”

He returned to the helm and went back to work. Rea had hoped he would get over it all, but the Drake job had been rough. He had been against it from the start, but that had been entirely different. That had more to do with him hating pirates, more than even Rea did, which was saying a lot.

Rea had served on an anti-pirate ship in the Navy. She had learned to despise pirates from her time. That many pirates tried to raid them, and the Rossi just made her have an extreme dislike for them.

This time, Aldis disagreed just to disagree with Nicole, and that was something that angered Rea.

“Aldis, I get you don’t like Nicole, and the Drake job went poorly, but this will be different.”

Aldis turned to face her. “If you say so.”

It was clear he wasn’t going to like it until it was over. Rea inhaled deeply. Time to let it go and prep for the job at hand.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Three

Rea looked out as the ship approached New Philly after two short jumps. New Philly wasn’t any different than most of the planets she had visited. From space, most planets looked similar.

Taking in New Philly for the first time was nice but not something that Rea would remember for the rest of her life. It just didn’t stand out like New Paris or some other planets that she visited.

Aldis sat at the helm, waiting for contact from the planet. Rea wasn’t sure about the docking at the planet. It was big enough that landing on the planet was possible, but Steve wasn’t sure with a civilian ship.

New Philly was part of the Empire but not a hub for much of anything. It wasn’t that it was forgotten, just not important. The planet had no major exports or products to offer the rest of the Empire.

Aldis worked the communications with the planet. Rea was thankful for that. She hated having to do that. Not that she wasn’t capable of doing it. She was. She just was not as talkative as Aldis or Taylor. That really helped when dealing with people. Rea was blunter, and that might not be the best approach when dealing with security people.

A few minutes later, Aldis turned to Rea. “Cleared to land in the city we want. Bay sixteen.”

“Good,” Rea said. “Get us there.”

They had arrived a few days early for the job, and Rea was sure that the crew would be thankful for a chance to get off the ship and explore the planet. She just had to make sure that they didn’t get into any trouble.

Not that anyone on the Rossi ever got into many conflicts. They were a straight-laced group of smugglers. That might be why they were so good at what they did. Rea’s people didn’t mess around and kept a low profile. At least for the most part. Sure, a few liked to drink an adult beverage now and again but generally not excessive.

But ever since Taylor’s kidnapping, the crew has been relatively dry. Not that Rea had asked them to, but she understood. When a member of the team was taken from a bar, it really puts a damper on the activity.

<<<>>>

Parker ventured off the ship with Aldis in tow. They wouldn’t let her go into the city alone, and Steve was going to spend time with Lindsey. Gross, Parker thought. It wasn’t that she was opposed to the idea of dating. Just those two.

The whole thing perplexed Parker. It just didn’t make any sense to her. Steve had never appeared to be the kind of guy who was into dating. He seemed more of a “wham bam thank you ma’am” type. At least to Parker. Clearly, she was wrong and needed to adjust her opinion.

The young girl looked up to Steve. He was smart, worldly, and imposing. When he needed to be, he could be blunt, but if the time called for it, he could be caring. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that he was exactly the type who would swoop a girl off her feet.

“Where to?” Aldis asked. His hair was long and blond, just a different shade than her own. Parker never let her hair get as long as he did.

Back on New Detroit, she just couldn’t, since cleaning it would have been a nightmare. Maybe now, she would think about letting it grow out some. It might get her a guy, not that she had time on the ship to play around.

“I don’t know,” she said. All she knew was she was ready to explore a new planet and city. It didn’t matter where they went. “You have any places you want to go?”

The hacker nodded and smiled. Aldis enjoyed this too much in Parker’s eyes. This was going to be an amusing day.

“I do, but I’m not sure it is the best places for a child.”

Parker cleared her throat. “I’m not a child, remember. Birthday.”

Aldis titled his head. “Steve would kill me.”

The young woman laughed. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“Ugh.” Aldis stood and debated with himself silently. “Very well.”

The lanky man led the way into the city with Parker following him. With the tablet in hand, Aldis guided Parker through the town. It wasn’t the biggest one she had been in nor the smallest. However, it was larger than she expected since she wasn’t used to walking this much.

“Why didn’t we get a taxi?”

“Walking is good for you,” Aldis said. “After that cake for your birthday, you need to burn a few extra calories.” Aldis tapped his belly as if it was something he needed to work on.

Parker groaned. None of the crew was what she would call overweight, especially Aldis. For a guy who sat a lot, he was rail thin.

“We don’t need the exercise,” Parker said.

“Could have fooled me. You’re completely out of breath. Definitely, you need some more activity.”

Parker rolled her eyes. “You know that I’m going to start training with Steve.”

“I do, and this will help.”

Aldis continued on with Parker huffing behind him. She hadn’t realized how out of shape she had gotten on the Rossi. The hacker was right, and the young girl needed to be more active. Parker would talk to Steve about that when she got back to the ship.

“Here we go,” Aldis said. He stopped in front of a nondescript building. “Just the place I was looking for.”

“Uh. This doesn’t look like anything.” Parker wasn’t sure why Aldis didn’t want her to come here or why Steve would be angry with him for it. It was just some random place in the city among a bunch of boring buildings.

“Looks can be deceiving.” Aldis entered the building with Parker on his six.

What greeted her was a computer tech store. Again, she was lost as to why this was a bad place for her to be. What she did know was that this had to be a heaven for Aldis with all of the technology around him. He was in his domain and clearly loving it.

Parker, on the other hand, was disoriented. She started to read the book that Aldis got her, and it was helpful. The young girl wanted to learn more about computers and technology in general. Parker wasn’t sure she’d ever learn to be as good as someone like Aldis. At least not before she died, which she hoped was a long, long time away. It was all so confusing to her.

“Still don’t get why I can’t be here,” Parker said.

“You’ll see,” Aldis said.

The hacker went to the back of the store and rang a bell on the counter. A minute later, a short, pudgy man exited the rear of the shop. The man eyed Aldis over and then turned to Parker. “The girl isn’t one of us.”

Aldis shrugged. “She’s on my ship. You can trust her.”

The pudgy man squinted at Parker. It made her uneasy like he was deciding whether she would taste good or not. It brought back some horrible memories of her time on New Detroit and being under Viktor and her encounters with the twins.

“You sure?” the man asked. “She seems squirrely to me.”

Aldis smiled and leaned forward. “I’m a smuggler for crying out loud,” he whispered. “She’s on my ship. What does that tell you?”

“Fine,” Pudgy said relentlessly. “If she takes anything or gets me in trouble, it’s your head.”

Aldis turned to Parker. “Don’t touch anything.”

“I won’t.”

The man, who said he was called Cody, led them into the back of the shop. It was different, lined with even more equipment.

“Nice,” Aldis said. He turned to Parker. “Not that you would notice but most of this stuff is illegal and dangerous.”

“And? Isn’t that what we do?”

Aldis shrugged. “Yes and no.”

Parker was lost. They smuggled stuff, and most of it was stolen. She didn’t see how it was any different. Sometimes, people confused her. “If you say so.”

“I do,” Aldis said.

Eventually, they ended in the basement of the building surrounded by not only illegal and stolen property but an open ring.

“Wait. Is this a fight club?”

The pudgy man groaned. “Not what you are thinking.”

“Steve won’t be pleased.” Parker knew the Marine well, and he wouldn’t appreciate a fight club.

Aldis nodded. “He wouldn’t, but the one who would kill me is Nicole.”

Then it clicked with Parker. All the equipment and the people didn’t look like fighters, plus the tech here was next level stuff, more advanced than some of the stuff on the Rossi. “Robot matches.”

“Not like Nicole.” Aldis didn’t sound convinced, but he was right from what Parker could see. “These ones are controlled by humans, but still, it’s outlawed.”

The part about them not being like Nicole was a relief. Parker would run for the door and forget about this place if she thought it was even remotely like the CATT. It was illegal and frightening to think about. She wanted nothing that might draw the ire of the Empire. Not that smuggling didn’t bring its wrath, but it was more than just the Empire when it came to the CATT and Drones. Anything that might resemble life was protected.

It wasn’t long before more and more people came into the room. Parker was beginning to regret letting Aldis pick where they went, but knew she was about to see something different.

Once the room was packed to the brim, in the center of the ring, if that was the right term, two robots arrived. They were built to fight, to kill. They existed for no other purpose except to commit mayhem.

Watching them, the battle was interesting. The night turned into a blur as Parker sat taking it all in. Each match was bloodier or rather oilier than the previous one. As it went on, Parker understood why Aldis didn’t want Steve to know. This was violent, nasty stuff. Nicole, the CATT, would be furious. She’d make sure it was raided in a heartbeat.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe




Chapter Four

Steve and Lindsey left the ship together, and he wasn’t even sure what was going on. Was it a date or just hanging out? They had been flirting and stuff, but he wasn’t sure what this was, and he didn’t want to ask.

If he did and it was, questioning her was sure to doom it, and if it wasn’t, that might ruin the friendship. This was something new to Steve. It had been so long since he even flirted that he was surprised that Lindsey didn’t run away.

Now that they were off the ship, Steve was lost and worried about it not working. He wanted to enjoy his time with her. He breathed in deeply and let himself relax.

“What is the plan?” Steve asked.

“No plan,” Lindsey said. “Let’s just play it by ear.

Steve’s eyes shot up in surprise. He wasn’t used to that, and it frightened him half to death. Plans were a part of his well-structured life. They made it go smoothly, and Steve thrived on them. “Uh…”

Lindsey tapped him on his bicep and laughed. “Lighten up,” she giggled.

“I’m loose.”

She burst out laughing so hard that she nearly dropped to the ground. They weren’t even ten feet from the Rossi, and this wasn’t going well in Steve’s mind already.

“I’m sorry,” the engineer said. “You just have a look of terror. You see a group of ten men armed, and it’s no problem. A trip into town with no plan and you look like you are about to die.”

“I’m just used to plans is all,” he grumped.

Lindsey turned and took his hands. “I know, but sometimes letting whatever happens, happen, is good.”

The Marine nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Hand in hand, they went into the city and let fate take them for a ride. Clearly, this was a date, and that made Steve happy. This was a new and exciting experience. He was going to enjoy this and see where it went.

Lindsey went around like a honey bee from shop to shop with no purpose other than to be off the ship. Steve could see the appeal of it all, not that he was completely as free as she was. He could not help being aware of the people all around them. It was part of his DNA.

Once lunchtime arrived, they stopped at little café with a pleasant aroma wafting out. Steve’s stomach rumbled. He was ready to eat.

“This place looks good,” Lindsey said.

It was a pleasant day, and they sat outside of the café at a small table. The server was a young, bubbly girl, not much older than Parker. “What can I get you?”

Steve couldn’t remember much about the New Philly, but he did remember one thing about the system. They had this sandwich they had carried over from Earth. “You have the sandwich?”

The waitress laughed. “Of course, we do.”

“I’ll have one of those,” Steve said.

“I guess I will too,” Lindsey said.

“Good,” the waitress said. “Two Phillies coming up.”

After she left, Lindsey leaned over to Steve. “What is a Philly?”

The Marine smirked and leaned toward Lindsey. “You’ll see,” Steve teased. It was nice to be the one who knew what was coming for a change.

Steve and Lindsey talked while they waited for the food. It really was fun for Steve, and he was having a blast. This “no plan” thing just might be something he would let happen occasionally.

Lindsey was definitely making this better, but they also had a mission and a job. Steve wouldn’t forget that. That was the life of a smuggler.

It took a while, but when their sandwiches arrived, a beef steak one covered with onions and peppers with lots of cheese. Both could not help staring, it looked like it was a good one. And the smell alone teased them with its flavor.

Lindsey took a large bite. “Not bad.”

“Nope. Not bad at all.”

Together, they ate and enjoyed each other’s company. It was a great afternoon and one that Steve wouldn’t forget anytime soon.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Five

Rea woke early and readied for the day. They were going to meet the contact for the job. A time and a place had been set up late last night. Aldis did learn a few things about this Eric Spacey. He worked directly for the Governor of New Philly.

His title, Assistant, was vague. That made Rea nervous and worried about the job. Not that Rea was opposed to working for a dirty Governor. She had in the past, but sending an underling was what concerned her and gave her a pause.

She left her quarters to meet the crew. Before she arrived, Nicole arrived and pawed at her legs.

“Yes?” Rea asked.

“Be careful,” the CATT said, “This system isn’t known for anything good.”

Rea sighed. “You going to tell me how this is going to help with Drake and Taylor?”

“I would if I knew,” Nicole said.

The CATT’s face was not its usual teasing one. She might actually not know this time. Typically, Rea figured she did but didn’t want to share. She assumed all of the CATTs knew as they appeared to have access to everything.

That wasn’t what Rea wanted to hear. “What does that even mean?”

“I was told it would help,” Nicole said.

“By?”

Nicole sat and started to lick her rear paw. Rea rolled her eyes and left. Once Nicole went into cat mode, she wasn’t going to answer. The CATT was so damn frustrating at times.

At the rear of the ship, the team was waiting for her. Steve was there, pacing. He had his ‘I’m going to kill anyone that tries to cross me’ look on his face. From what Rea gathered, Steve and Lindsey had gone out on a nice date, and he had relaxed more than normal. That was nice to hear.

What worried her was that Parker didn’t talk much about what she and Aldis had done, but Rea didn’t have time right now to investigate.

“Ready?” Rea asked.

“We are,” Lindsey said.

The whole team nodded and indicated that they had what they needed.

“Good.” Rea went to the haul lever and lowered the ramp to leave the ship. The coordinates weren’t too far from the bay where the Rossi was. It was close enough to walk, which was nice since Rea didn’t like relying on taxis. One of these days, she was going to get a land vehicle for the Rossi.

As per usual, Steve was at the lead of the team and Rea at the rear. Ever since Steve had joined. He had instilled his Marine training. Rea was thankful for that and how it kept them safe.

The meeting was at an office building, and Rea and her team entered and were greeted by a secretary, a young man. When he looked up, he asked, “Ah, Captain Dodge?”

“Yes,” Rea said.

“Good.” The young man smiled. “Mister Spacey is waiting on the tenth floor in the conference room.”

“Thank you.”

They rode up and found the room with ease. When the team entered, Rea saw a tall man with balding hair and a mustache. “Mister Spacey?”

“Yes. Captain Dodge and crew, it is a pleasure.”

Rea couldn’t help but think this man oozed slime and was corrupt. What he wanted to smuggle could be anything. He was the type who might be trying to get them to smuggle out something that belonged to his boss. It wouldn’t surprise Rea.

“Our pleasure,” Rea said, trying her best to sound like she meant it. “What is it you want to smuggle out?”

He smiled. “Right to business. Just as I was told.”

It didn't surprise Rea that he knew of them. That was how they got many of their jobs. The Darknet and the people on it talking to each other would send rumors of a top-notch crew. The gossip would get back to her, either through Aldis or Nicole.

“I don’t like small talk,” Rea said. She could tell he did. She was going to nip that in the bud before it started.

“So, I can see,” Eric said. He pulled out his tablet and handed it to her. “What I want to be smuggled off is secret. The Governor and I have a side business, one that will let us retire early and wealthy.”

Glancing at the tablet, Rea’s jaw dropped. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Is this a list of people?”

“It is,” Eric said.

Steve stepped forward. “Slaves?”

Eric shrugged. “The filth of New Philly. Think of it as making our planet a better place.”

Before Rea should stop him, Steve punched Eric in the face, knocking him to the floor, out cold.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Six

Steve turned and left the man on the floor. “I don’t care. I’m going to let the Governor know what I think.”

The Marine didn’t even bother to check to see if the rest of the team was coming with him. He knew the crew well. They didn’t traffic in people or deal with slaves. That was rule number one. He wouldn’t stand for it and was going to make sure the people here knew what the Governor was up to.

At the reception, Steve stopped and looked at the young man. “Do you know what Mister Spacey was doing?”

“Sir,” the young man said, “what are you talking about? He’s an assistant to the Governor. That’s all I know.”

Steve gritted his teeth. “If I find out are lying to me, I’ll find you and rip you apart limb by limb.”

The man gulped. “What is going on?”

Parker arrived. “Slavery.”

The man’s eyes showed confusion and surprise. “Not here. No way. No how.”

Steve stomped outside, ready to storm the capitol building of the planet. This time, they would need a ride over. It was too far to walk.

Rea reached for him. “Breathe.”

The Marine grunted. “I am. If he is a part of this, I will kill him.”

The rest of the crew was outside with him now. None of them appeared to be happy. That was no surprise to Steve.

Lindsey walked up on his other side and patted him on the arm. “Disgusting.”

“It really is,” Steve said. It was beyond disgusting. It was unforgivable.

It had been a long time since Steve wanted to truly harm someone this bad. It had taken everything he had not to pound Eric to a pulp. Knowing that the leader of the planet was part of it forced him to leave. That alone had saved Eric’s life.

A taxi arrived, and it was just big enough for the team to fit. Steve rode in silence with clenched fists and tight jaw. He was beyond furious and was having trouble focusing. This wasn’t normal for him.

By the time he arrived, his blood was boiling to a new extreme. Steve had to settle down and clear his head. This wasn’t going to go well. He would do his team a disservice by losing control. The Marine was suffering from tunnel vision and had to stop. His reaction went against his training. If he weren’t careful, he could hurt his crew. Now was the time to listen to Rea and her advice. Breathe.

A deep inhale and hold, then he slowly exhaled. Steve exited the taxi and stared at the building. His body still vibrated with the need to hurt the slavers.

Rea appeared next to him. “You okay?”

“I am,” Steve said with a look that screamed he wasn’t.

“Good,” Rea said. The Captain appeared on guard and trying to sound calm “We need you clear. Keep us safe,” she reminded him.

“I will,” Steve said. His gaze darted around the whole street looking for threats. “Let’s go.”

They marched up the steps and entered the building. Steve wasn’t sure where he was going, but he figured they were following the slime trail the aid would surely be leaving.

Rea walked next to him. “Let me take the lead.”

“Very well,” Steve said.

It shocked Steve at how little security was in the building. They just let them march through without giving them a second look. The lack of security befuddled Steve. This total absence of any caution was foreign to him.

They arrived at the center of the building, and an elderly woman was sitting at a desk.

Rea approached her. “I’m Captain Dodge. I was meeting a Mister Spacey. I’d like to speak with the Governor now.”

She smiled and said, “He is expecting you.”

That didn’t surprise Steve. A man who was as slimy as this surely had eyes and ears in the city. He had to have been warned about them coming.

They entered the office and saw the man in charge. He was average in build and height, but that meant little to Steve. There was a good chance he would be able to handle himself. It was the way he held himself. His stance was that of a man who had training.

“Good morning,” the Governor said. If push came to shove, Steve would make the man pay. That much he vowed, and he meant it.

“Not so much,” Steve said. “Governor.”

“Please. Call me Todd.”

No way he was going to call him that. This man wasn’t worthy of being called by name.

Rea stepped between Steve and Todd.

“Please tell me,” she said, “you have nothing to do with what Mister Spacey was involved in.”

Todd shrugged. “You aren’t from around him. Many of the systems do things that others might frown upon.”

Steve clenched his teeth. His tight fists made his knuckles white, and his hands vibrated from the tension. This man needed a kick the balls, one fast and hard.

“Look,” Rea said. “I don’t want any trouble, but we don’t deal in human trafficking.”

Todd pursed his lips. “Very well.” He reached over to his desk and picked up a tablet. “How about I pay you to forget about this?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Rea said. “What we want is for you to stop, or we will turn you in.”

“How unfortunate,” Todd calmly replied. “Then I can’t allow you to leave.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Seven

Rea spun and saw Steve go into action. He leaped and punched the Governor as the door to the office opened and a horde of men entered. The Marine was in his element and on top of the situation. Steve had been observing and planning from the moment they had first entered the office.

Even though they were outnumbered and overwhelmed, Rea wasn’t worried. Steve would get them out of this, and they would get to the ship and off this planet. When she did, Rea would have a word with Nicole.

The office was filled with screams as the men tried to take out Steve. It was impressive to watch him fight. A punch here, a kick there and men dropped around him like flies.

It was a whirlwind of motion in front of her. Rea couldn’t keep up with all the movements. Kicks and punches were a blur from both Steve and the other men. Rea couldn’t help but smile with the action. It was truly amazing to see it.

Rea enjoyed watching the fight unfold in front her. The last enforcer she had wasn’t as talented as Steve and lost just as many of fight as he won. Steve never lost a fight. The training in the Marines was a cut above all the rest and Steve was a natural. It showed up every time he put his skills on display.

Parker and Aldis inched their way toward the men in an attempted to help, but they weren’t needed. By the time they got close enough, it was too late.

“Let’s go,” Steve said with a heavy breath. The Governor lay on the ground knocked out with the rest of the men.

They didn’t waste any time and dashed out of the room. The old woman stared at them dumbfounded. She obviously hadn’t expected them to make it out. Thankfully, it wasn’t that hard to get out of the entire building.

The real trick would be getting back to the Rossi.

Rea radioed Nicole. “Coming in hot.”

“Don’t bother,” the CATT responded.

Rea didn’t like hearing that. “What? Why?”

They looked around for a ride.

“They grounded the ship and sent in a crew to damage it. No way I or B113 could stop them. We barely got off.”

“Great, just great. How bad?”

“Not flyable. You’ll need a new ship or a lot of time.”

The captain cursed under her breath. This wasn’t what they needed and really put them in a bind. She needed to think quick and get them out of her. This job was going bad and fast.

Rea relayed the news to the team.

It was Aldis who cursed the loudest. “I told you. I told you.”

He went off with a line of expletives, and Rea let him. The hacker needed to vent, and Rea completely understood. She had too much on her mind to pay him any attention.

What the crew had to do now was get out of dodge and figure out a plan.

She looked around and saw some cars off to the right. Time to live up to being criminals and steal a car. The captain rushed over to the parking lot and searched for one large enough for the whole crew. In the center, a big SUV was parked.

“Come on,” she screamed. “Time to get going.”

Steve was on her six in an instant. The rest joined them.

Rea went to the car. She turned to Aldis. “Can you get us this vehicle?”

Aldis nodded, pulled out a tablet, and went to work. It took the hacker seconds to open the car and have it start. Steve jumped in and claimed the driver's seat, and that was fine with Rea. The rest piled in. Alarms sounded from the capitol building. This was going to be a smashed up job again. It was a miracle that it took so long for the alarms to start. The people inside must have been in shock.

Rea couldn’t believe it was happening again. Inside, the Captain was angry with herself for letting them get into another sticky situation.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Eight

Steve drove through the streets of the city, doing his best not to draw attention to them. It was bad enough that the governor tried to attack them and then had their ship sabotaged. Leaving the vessel unguarded had been a rookie mistake, one they made over and over. Steve was going to have a stern talk with Rea about security, just as soon as they got out of this mess. Nicole and B113 weren’t guards and were not capable of protecting the ship.

All the alarms in the world and protection wasn’t a good substitute for a person. That was going to change going forward. A person who could fly the ship would have to stay back and make sure it was able to get away at a moment’s notice.

They have been too sloppy recently. That needed to change. The Marine was to blame. It was his job to keep them safe, and he had failed more and more recently, and that irritated him. First Taylor. Then Drake and New Detroit. Now, this.

It sure made Steve feel incompetent. There was a reason that Rea recruited him to the Rossi. The Marine was usually in charge of his emotions and thought things through. He made sure the people around him were safe. How he had slipped so much was beyond him.

The streets on New Philly weren’t the best. They were some of the worst he had driven on. In all the Empire, they never had enough money to make roads better. Now, he knew where that money was going. Into the pockets of the Governor. He was truly corrupt.

Weaving in and out of traffic, Steve made his way from the main part of the city. He was in contact with Nicole. She had access to information he didn’t and helped him avoid police and security members of the Governor group.

No matter what Aldis thought of the CATT, she was crucial to their success when she truly wanted to help. The problem with Nicole was that she did what she wanted when she wanted. No one knew what her agenda was. Plus, Nicole was never truly faithful to the Rossi. She was her own CATT.

“Where are we going?” Lindsey asked from the rear of the vehicle.

“An old safe house,” Steve said. “I had one lined up from when I was here before. It should still be there.”

Rea rolled her eyes next to him. “I don’t like that term ‘should.’”

Steve shrugged. “You never know with life. “Should” is the best I can do on such short notice. We didn’t plan this out.”

Risking a glance, Steve saw Lindsey smile. The others in the SUV groaned.

“Never in my life did I wish more that we had your plans,” Parker said. “Apparently, they are worth something after all.”

“They are,” Rea said. “We’ve been sloppy. It’s on me.”

Steve didn’t agree. He was sure it was him. “Me. My job.”

Rea shook her head. “Our job. Going forward, we will both do better.”

Hopefully, that was the case. They needed to be better, more strategic. If they wanted to get off this planet and find out more about Drake and Taylor, they had to be better, a lot better. It was time to live up to the reputation of the Rossi.

An hour later, Steve pulled onto a long winding driveway. They were out in the country, well away from the watchful eye of the city. This was really out of the way.

“I’m a city guy,” Aldis said. “I can’t work out here.”

Steve groaned. “You’ll have to make due.”

Parker jumped out of the SUV as soon as it stopped moving. “I love the rural parts of planets.”

Steve tried to think of just once that she had even visited the countryside. Not since she joined the Rossi, and she never mentioned it of her time on New Detroit.

“Have you ever visited anything but a city?” Steve asked.

Parker glared at him. “Just because I haven’t doesn’t mean I don’t like it.”

Aldis laughed. “Just wait. You’ll hate it.”

Parker smiled. “If you say so.”

The house wasn’t large, but it would do. It had enough space for the entire crew of the Rossi.

It wasn’t long before Nicole arrived. B113 was with her. Steve wasn’t going to ask how she arrived. Since the drone could fly, it was easy for him to come, but the CATT, that was a different story and an unimportant one.

“Any news?” Rea asked Nicole. Rea hoped Nicole would have something, anything to update and help them get out of this.

The CATT was on the ground and licking her paws. Nicole looked up at them when she was done. Her face was stiff. “Governor is furious. He has you on every watch list. He’s blaming you and framing you for the slavery among other things.”

“Just great,” Aldis said. “Just freaking great.”

The hacker was waving his arms around and his face a bright red. He was terrified and enraged. Steve didn’t blame him one bit. With how this had turned out, nothing could be worse. They were being framed for what they hated the most. It made the Marine’s blood boil.

Steve agreed with Aldis. This couldn’t be any worse, and he didn’t see it getting any better. Steve hoped and prayed that it would turn around soon. This bad luck couldn’t last forever.

They entered the house. Dust covered the floor and the limited furniture. The kitchen would be empty of food, except for a few MREs, commonly known as “meals ready to eat.” They should still be good, not that anyone on the Rossi would actually want to eat them. Not the best food and a throwback to Earth.

The crew piled into the house and out of the sight of any watchful eyes, assuming that there were any. Steve was positive and confidently agreed with Nicole that they were safe here, even with all the power that the Governor had.

Lindsey sneezed. “Can we clean this place up?”

Rea nodded. “We can.”

Steve didn’t see why. There were more important things going on and getting rid of some dust wasn’t a top priority.

“We need to figure out a plan,” Steve protested.

Lindsey sneezed again. “As much as I agree. I can’t stay here. Not like this.”

“I know we are in a bind,” Rea said, “One I put us in, but we can spare a few minutes to get settled and then make a plan.”

That wasn’t what Steve wanted to hear, but he relented and joined in the cleaning. It didn’t take long to sweep out all the dust and cobwebs, making the place semi-presentable.

<<<>>>

A half-hour later, Steve sat at the table in the small dining room. The rest of the team was situated around it as well. Rea was at the head of the table. It was time to figure out what their next step would be. It was important and vital to the success of the Rossi.

“Can we even get to the ship and get off the planet?” Aldis asked.

Nicole, who sat on the table, looked at him. “Maybe. Big maybe.”

Rea frowned. “I don’t like fleeing and leaving people in slavery, though I admit leaving is most likely our best option.”

Steve couldn’t believe his ears. “Really? How so?”

“If we leave,” Rea said, leaning forward, and resting her arms on the table, “we can inform the Empire of what is going on here.”

Steve groaned. “Like they have time to do anything. The war, everything else going on. New Philly isn’t that important.”

“They might,” Lindsey said.

“Yeah,” Parker said. “You never know. The Empire might send out a team.”

Steve took a deep breath in and held it, doing his best to calm himself. They were thinking of taking care of themselves and the people. At least, they thought of other people a little bit.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Marine. This was a crew of smugglers and not his former Marines. They had been a different breed of people. Even though the crew of the Rossi had grown on Steve, they could never replace his former team. That much was clear, and it was okay. For the most part.

“Very well,” Steve said.

It was Nicole that spoke next. “You can try to get the ship, but I don’t think it likely. It’s heavily guarded and damaged. I didn’t have time to scan it, but Lindsey and B113 can fix it, I think. It will take time. But first, you will have to get it.”

Rea groaned. “Okay. Steve, you, and Lindsey go check out the ship. If you can get it and fly it without drawing too much attention, do so. Otherwise, leave.”

“Now?” Steve asked.

“Leave in the morning. Early.”

“Very well.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Nine

The sun wasn’t even up when Steve and Lindsey left the safe house. The rest of the Rossi team were still asleep, all except the CATT. Steve wasn’t sure the robotic cat needed to sleep or even shut down. The inner workings of a CATT were something he wasn’t ever going to understand and didn’t care to investigate.

“I checked the video of the bay,” Nicole said. “I don’t think you stand a chance.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Steve said.

It didn’t surprise him that the CATT felt that way, but he wouldn’t mind some support. A positive attitude and encouragement went a long way, at least in his mind. He was a strong believer in mind over matter.

“Go, team,” Nicole said dryly.

Steve smiled and held back a laugh as he continued to walk.

“Not very convincing,” Lindsey said.

The CATT meowed and stalked away without looking back. Steve was lost as what to say. She really didn’t have any faith. In some ways, the man was grateful for it. He wanted to stay and get the corrupt Governor and the rest of guilty people on the planet. He wanted to make them pay for what they were doing to the people underneath them.

But leaving was the smart move, and Steve knew that too. He loathed it since the slaving activities disgusted him to his core.

At the rear of the safe house, was a barn. Steve ventured into it, and sure enough, still parked inside was a vehicle, an old beater that Steve knew would run great. It was designed that way. It would draw no unwanted attention but would still get them to where they needed to go.

Having a different car would be good. Steve moved the SUV they’d driven to the barn out of sight. He grimaced at himself again. This should have been done last night. If it had been spotted, they would have been in deep trouble if the Governor and his lackeys realized they had stolen it. The Marine was sure they would soon if they didn’t already.

“What a hunk of junk,” Lindsey said. She eyed the car Steve brought out to the front. “Will it make it back to the city?”

“It will.” Steve smiled. The engineer was going to be in for a surprise. “Trust me.”

It was too bad that he wouldn’t be able to really show her what it was capable of since it would draw too much attention. The whole point was to not be discovered.

Leaving the house with the sun still down, they made their way back toward the city and the bay where the Rossi was parked. Steve hoped the ship wasn’t too damaged. Only scum would really harm a ship. No real person would damage a vessel on the ground, not in the Marine’s opinion. Out in space fighting for your life, all rules were off. But a ship on the land, that was a holy object not to be messed with.

The car did ride like a piece of garbage, but the motor did its job well. Smoothly entering the city, they arrived back at the port. They parked a block away from the bay after doing a quick drive-by.

The sun was still low in the sky and gave just enough light to make out what was going on. It was the best time to make a move. The people who worked overnight would be tired and ready to go, and the next shift was still waking up. Not everyone was a morning person like Steve. He would use that to his advantage.

They had fresh clothes on, the current style of New Philly, doing their best to blend in. The last thing they wanted to do was attract attention for being outsiders, which was easy to do in the Empire.

All the systems had different styles and enjoyed diverse food and music. Pretty much anything could be different traveling from planet to planet. New Philly was no different, and Steve wasn’t a fan of most of it.

Only a few people walked the streets this early morning. That worked in their favor since it gave them some protection and let him spot everyone out of the ordinary. Just the way Steve liked it. Being able to see all the people around him, Steve wanted to observe anyone coming.

The hulking male walked next to the smaller engineer as they slowly made their way to the bay. His gaze scanned the crowd around him. The few people here avoided him. His rippling arms had a habit of instilling fear. It was nice to see that he still put fear into people.

Yesterday, the minions of the Governor had shown little hesitation when attacking Steve, and that was yet another thing that made the Marine feel uncertain. The actions of the men showed they were trained, not just window dressing. For a moment, it had bothered Steve. This morning, he felt better prepared for the type of men he might face.

“I don’t think we stand a chance,” Lindsey said. She gestured to the bay where the Rossi was parked in.

Steve squinted his eyes and saw the massive number of men and women around the Rossi. It would take a large-scale attack to get to the ship.

“I don’t see much damage,” Steve said.

“No.” Lindsey was taking in the Rossi. “Minimal. Should be able to fly but not leave the planet. To get off the planet, a repair would be required, and that wouldn’t take long.”



Steve liked that at least, and he had gained a little respect, just a little, for the people who had attacked it.

But that didn’t mean they would be able to get to the ship. It was guarded by too many people.

“Can you get us to the ship?” Lindsey asked.

Steve shook his head. There was no way he could, not without drawing too much attention and getting them both captured. That would defeat the whole point of the mission.

“No.”

A loud thunder roared about them, and a ship appeared. It landed in the next bay to the Rossi. It was a massive ship, armed to the teeth. If Steve had to guess, it was a pirate ship, one that fired first and asked questions later.

“Impressive ship,” Lindsey said. She gave it a whistle with how much she liked it.

“Better than me?” Steve asked. He flexed his bicep just to make her smile. The Marine knew that she liked to check out all the ships. It was in the nature of engineers to get all google-eyed at vessels and to see what they could steal to make their own better. Lindsey was no different.

Lindsey laughed. “Tough to compare,” she teased him.

The hatch of the ship opened, and a stream of men exited it. The last to leave was the only one Steve was familiar with, a certain someone he wanted to kill. That list wasn’t very long, but this man was near the top of it. Captain Jack Drake, Rea’s undead brother.

“Is that…”

“It is,” Steve said through his clenched jaw. His fist was turning white with the anger he held for the man. The warrior had to remind himself to breathe, to not rush to the man and fight him then and there.

It really shouldn’t have surprised Steve to see him here. The way things had been going, it wouldn’t be a shock to learn that Drake was the one who had talked to the Governor and his aide about them. Maybe he had set this one up too.

A car pulled into the bay next to the pirate’s ship, and a sleazy man exited. It was none other than Eric, Todd’s aide, a real slimeball. That punk showed no respect for life or those under him. Not that Todd did either. The leadership of New Philly was toxic, and that angered Steve. Nothing was worse than poison at the top of a chain of command.

“That man,” Lindsey said. “We need to get both of them.”

Steve agreed, but it wasn’t the time. Yesterday, Steve had let himself be distracted by his emotions, but that wasn’t going to happen today.

“We have to take this slowly, and we need a solid plan.”

Lindsey smirked. “Fine.”

Steve contacted Nicole and Rea over their private communications channel. The CATT said it was secured and unbreakable. He sure hoped she was right.

“We have a few problems,” Steve said.

“Great,” Rea said. She sounded tired and like she had just awakened. It wouldn’t surprise Steve if she had. The Captain would have had a tough time getting any sleep and most likely had been up late. “What is it?”

Steve relayed the news regarding the ship, about not being able to get to it and the possible damage. Then, he mentioned the real doozy, Drake, and Eric.

“You got to be kidding,” Rea said. “Please tell me that he really isn’t here.”

Steve was silent. This wasn’t what he wanted to tell her.

He glanced at Lindsey for help. She mouthed at him, “All you.”

“It's for real,” Steve finally said. “I don’t know what to say, boss, but he is here. It doesn’t bode well for us.”

The radio was silent for several moments. Steve and Lindsey stood, watching the pirate and the sleazeball talk. They needed to move and get back to the car and soon. The longer they remained here on the street, the more likely they would be spotted, either by Todd’s people or Drake’s.

It really didn’t matter who did see them. They would be in deep trouble either way. Steve didn’t want that to happen. He wasn’t going to lose a team member, especially not Lindsey.

“Dodge,” he said, “what do you want?”

“Follow them,” Rea said. “If they split up, take after Drake. Nicole will join you.”

“Roger that.”

Steve turned to Lindsey, “Watch them. I’m getting the car.”

He walked to the car as fast as he could without sprinting. It was tough, but he made it and jumped in. He arrived back just in time to watch Drake get into Eric’s car and for the vehicle to pull away.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Ten

Following the Governor’s aide and the Captain’s brother was surprisingly easy as they rode through the city. The car did nothing to avoid being tailed. It was somewhat smug of them to do that, but Steve was grateful. He didn’t want to revert to using other methods to tail them.

As it was, he kept his distance and relied on his stealth abilities to follow his targets.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Lindsey asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen you this happy in a while.”

Steve shrugged. He didn’t feel any different, but he probably was happier now than he had been in weeks. This was part of his element. It reminded him of the Marines, being out and tracking people, fighting the enemy. It was the best part of the job, and he missed it. The whole “be intimidating and make people scared of you” thing got old.

“I am.”

“Good,” Lindsey said. “I like happy Steve.”

“Me too. Me too.”

Halfway through the trip, Steve was certain he knew where they were going. Sure enough, they arrived at the capitol building where they had met Todd the day before. This was beginning to become extremely dangerous.

Steve parked the beater vehicle across the street in the parking lot for a diner. It was no surprise that restaurants and bars lined the road by the capital building. He had always imagined a politician doing business at bars and figured they would use a discrete meeting place. If the establishments on the street were any sign, at least here on New Philly he was right. Business was booming. That made the Marine smile even more. He loved the excitement of it all, the way it felt like they might get caught at any moment as if he was the lead in a vid.

A few minutes after he arrived, Nicole jumped into the car and sat on his lap. The CATT stared up at him.

“I don’t even want to know,” Steve said.

Nicole purred, “I hacked into the building's security.”

“Will they notice?” Lindsey asked.

The CATT meowed. “I’m too good. They are clueless.”

She taped the monitor that was on the dash of the car, and a video of the Governor’s office appeared. It had Todd, Eric, and Drake in view. Soon the audio started.

“You can handle that many?” Todd asked.

Drake nodded. “The cargo will be no problem.”

Steve gritted his teeth. It shouldn’t have been any shock what they were talking about. Drake was a man of no morals and would be happy to transport slaves. Talking about that job was to be expected.

“Good,” Todd said. “Very good. We have many, many more shipments. My planet is ripe with filth.”

Drake laughed. “A great many are. They can be used to make their homeworlds richer.”

Todd smiled, and his aide, Eric, did too. The whole thing made Steve sick to his stomach. The Marine couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing.

“I’m going to kill him,” he said.

“You can’t,” Nicole said. “Well, not Drake. The Governor and his aide you can.”

Steve wanted to kill them all. He loathed men like this. They were the real scum of the Empire. They needed to be dealt with and as soon as possible.

For a brief moment, Steve contemplated going into the building and fighting them with no regard to what it meant for his life, but his comm with Rea beeped.

“Marine,” Rea said. “Do not, I repeat, do not enter that building.”

“Captain,” Steve said, “they need to be dealt with.”

“They will be,” the Captain said, “but return to us now. We have to plan our next steps.”

“Roger.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Eleven

Rea paced in the tiny kitchen and dining room of the safe house as she waited for Steve, Lindsey, and Nicole to return. This was tough for her, hearing that Drake was here or, rather, her brother.

The more she thought about it, the more she tried to fight it, even though it was most likely true. Drake was her brother. He looked so much like her. He had reminded her of someone, someone she just couldn’t place. Now, it made all the sense in the world who he was. George had died and had been replaced with Jack Drake.

Aldis walked into the room. They had all slept in their clothes. Clearly, Aldis didn’t think that was necessary. The hacker wore nothing but his boxers, and the flap was open. Not what Rea wanted to see. She wasn’t that close to her crew.

She shielded her eyes. “Go put some pants on.”

The lanky man looked down. “Whoops.” He quickly covered up and blushed. “Sorry,” he said as he dashed out of the room.

Parker entered at the same time and glanced at him. “What up with him?”

“Trust me,” Rea said. “You don’t want to know. It’s going to haunt me for days.”

Parker shrugged. “If you say so. Any food here?”

“Nope. We’ll get some soon.”

“I take it that the mission didn’t go well,” the young woman said. Parker sat at the table with her arms crossed.

“Not even a little bit.” Rea didn’t elaborate on it. She was only going to talk about this once. The less Rea had to talk about Drake being here, the better.

She paced in the room as she waited for her team to return. It wasn’t long before Aldis came back, this time dressed. As he sat, he apologized profusely. It wasn’t enough to erase the image that had seared itself into her mind. The captain hoped to never see that again, especially in her nightmares.

It was close to an hour before the others returned. Rea heard the car arrive, and she marched outside in a huff. It had taken them forever to get back, and they had ignored her attempts at contacting them. The group needed to plan a course of action.

She threw the door open. “What took so long?”

As they stepped out, both Steve and Lindsey carried bags.

Nicole walked over to Rea. “Lindsey insisted on getting food,” the CATT said.

The captain was about to really lay into them, but her stomach rumbled, and she wasn’t the only one who was hungry. Parker and Aldis had both complained about it more than once as they had waited.

“My fault,” Lindsey said. “We passed so many places to eat that I had to get something. I made Steve stop.”

“It’s fine,” Rea said, “but the delay made me worry that had you gotten caught or killed.”

“Again, my fault,” Lindsey said. “I wanted to surprise you.”

Steve carried several bags that were stuffed to the rim. “I did try to contact you. She stopped me. I even had Nicole help.”

The CATT looked up in shock. She didn’t like being thrown under the bus, and it showed. Steve was going to regret saying that with the way Nicole could hold a grudge. She was going to make his life miserable for at least a week. She could do so many things to make him hate her more.

“I did no such thing,” Nicole said. She rolled her eyes. At least that was what it looked like to Rea. “I was no part of this.”

Steve groaned. It was obvious he wanted to say something but held his tongue out of fear of making Nicole even more annoyed. She was the only member that could take out their revenge with no consequences. She was the one everyone on the ship feared, even Rea.

“Guess my comm device just suddenly went on the frizz and started to work right again after I stopped trying to contact the captain,” Steve said.

“Must be a glitch,” Rea said.

Both laughed. Everyone did.

Once inside, they settled down to eat. They got enough food for the day but not much more.

After eating, everyone looked at Steve and Lindsey. The Marine shrugged and stood up. “The ship can be flown but getting to it is going to be next to impossible.”

“Figured as much,” Aldis said. “This better not be our last mission.”

The table was tense. Many of the crew had a look of despair and were clearly terrified that this might be the last thing they would do together.

“It won’t be,” Rea said. “I have faith. Tell them the rest.”

Parker and Aldis stared at Steve, eager to hear. They weren’t going to like it, not one bit. Both hated the last job for different reasons, but still, they had truly despised it.

“We saw a ship arrive. It was Drake’s. He’s here and working with Todd and Eric. He is going to do the job.” Steve informed the team.

Aldis crinkled his nose. “That pirate. I want him dead.” He looked at Rea. “Sorry.”

“No worries. I want him taken care of. Brother or not, he tried to kill us. He needs to pay for that.”

“He does,” Parker said. Her face was flush, and she balled her hands into fists. She was angry, ready to kill. “It is no surprise that he is willing to deal in slavery. Just makes me want to kill him more.”

She had a personal rage against slavers, just like the rest of the crew.

“They will get what they deserve,” Rea said.

“That is the real question. Well, I have a few,” Lindsey said. “How did he get here so fast?”

“I wouldn’t be shocked,” Rea said, “if he lined this up for us and expected us to get caught, he had to be here to reel us in.”

Steve nodded. “That’s my theory. He is doing two jobs. We’ll have both him and the Governor to deal with.”

“Not good,” Parker said. She again appeared distressed by that news. “What is the other question?”

“What do we do?” Lindsey asked. “Take out the Governor? Drake? Risk getting the ship?”

The table was silent. Rea knew what she thought they should do. It was easy to her, but she was the type of leader that would let her crew figure it out. She might guide them, but she would not dictate them.

“The Governor,” Steve finally said. “We take him out. That gets us off the planet. Gets Drake running, and we can track him after that.”

The crew looked at both him and Rea. She nodded. That had been what she wanted to do. She wanted to deal with Drake, but she figured he’d be part of their lives for the near future, and that meant they would have several opportunities to deal with him.

On the other hand, Todd was an immediate problem and issue for many people. That meant dealing with him right now.

“Agreed,” she said.

“Good,” Steve said. “I want to kill him.”

“Me too,” Parker said.

Rea didn’t like hearing that, and she’d try to make sure neither of them killed him, but if that were the end result, she wouldn’t get in the way.

“Sounds good to me,” Aldis said. “Let’s get the ball rolling.”

“Okay. We need to find if anyone on New Philly is already trying to get rid of Todd,” Rea said. “And we need to find out more about him.”

“We do,” Steve said. “I can kidnap that aide of his.”

“Roger,” Rea said.

“I can reach out to some underground contacts,” Aldis said. He glanced at Parker, who smiled.

“He sure can,” the young girl said.

Rea thought there was something to that, but let it go. “If you say so, you go with him.”

“Okay,” Parker said.

“Settled. Steve, Lindsey, and I will get someone on the inside. You two try to see if anyone is working against him. We need support if we are going to really remove him.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Twelve

Parker and Aldis went back to the shop where they watched the illegal robot fights. The hacker was sure he’d be able to learn more here. At least, he kept saying that to Parker. She wasn’t as sure. They didn’t seem like the rebellion type to her.

“I mean, Parker said. She hesitated and pondered the people at the match. “Will they even care if he is corrupt? They are criminals.”

“They’re hackers. We hackers care,” Aldis said. “Trust me. They will care, and they will know.”

“Okay.”

The shop looked just as boring and dull as it did the first day. Aldis stepped in first with Parker right behind him. It didn’t take long for the same pudgy man to appear.

“I thought I might be seeing you again,” Cody said.

“Really?” Aldis asked. “I should be gone.”

“You’re all over the news,” Cody said. “One of New Philly’s most wanted.”

That was to be expected, from what Nicole told them. The Governor had posted them all over the planet. He had put any crime he could on them, including murder, and slavery. That would upset anyone. Parker wanted more than anything to make sure that they turned the tables on him.

“I don’t see you rushing to turn me in,” Aldis said.

Cody shrugged. “You’re a hacker. I don’t see you doing that.”

“Good. We didn’t. The Governor is dirty.”

Cody laughed. “You don’t say. Tell me something I don’t know.”

Parker leaned toward him. She wasn’t sure what they were supposed to do, but she didn’t want to waste time. “I’ll tell you something you don’t. We are going to take him out.”

Cody snorted. “Many have tried.”

“We are different,” Parker said. “Just need help.”

Aldis nodded and gestured to the rear. “Talk in private.”

“Very well,” Cody said.

He led them back and into a small office. It was musty and had several computers running, making it hot as hell. Cody sat behind the desk. The monitors had the shop in full view. He could see the whole building.

“You wanted to talk in private,” Cody said. “Talk.”

“Todd framed us,” Aldis said.

“On a first name basis,” Cody said. He didn’t appear pleased by that. Calling the Governor by name had dismayed Cody. It wasn’t the best way to talk about Todd.

“Not really, but he doesn’t deserve the title of Governor,” Aldis said, clearly trying to make it not seem as bad.

The pudgy man laughed. Aldis smiled, visibly glad that he had been able to ease the tension. That was good. Parker approved. They had to make Cody relax and feel comfortable with them. It was one thing to watch some robots killing each other. It was another to talk about taking out the Governor of a planet.

“He doesn’t,” Cody agreed.

Aldis laid it out for him how they wanted to remove Todd and try to let a better person take his place. They needed help to do this since they had no local contacts.

Cody took it all in. “You are really going to kidnap someone?”

“Should be happening right about now,” Parker said.

“Nice,” Cody said. “I can reach out. No guarantees.”

“That’s fine,” Aldis said. He handed Cody a card. “You can reach me there. Let me know.”

“I will,” Cody said.

With that, the pair left and made their way back the safe house. Parker was sure that they would have support. Cody appeared to be just as connected as Aldis said he would be. She couldn’t believe it.

“That went well,” she said.

“We shall see,” Aldis said. “Criminals can be a tricky group, but he didn’t like Todd. That will work in our favor.”


Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Thirteen

Steve stopped the car in roughly the same place as earlier in the morning. Again, they were going with only a rough plan. It wasn’t great, but they didn’t have time to waste. Not with the crew on the planet’s most wanted list.

According to Nicole, their faces haven’t been sent off planet yet. That was at least a small blessing, but one none of them thought that situation would last. They needed to get Todd taken care of and fast, which was why Steve was going without a detailed plan yet again. He couldn’t believe he was doing this, but it was needed.

Before they had left, Nicole had found a list of people who were in the inner circle. It wasn’t big.

“Why not just get Todd?” Lindsey asked.

“Eric would step in. We need to find his team and the rest. Find all the people they are enslaving. Then let everyone see that Todd was part of it. Not just kill him,” Rea said.

“Oh, I just want to kill him,” Steve said.

He really did, but he knew she was right. They needed to remove him and find the slaves. They needed to have someone in the building, in the chain of command in place to run the system. A person who isn’t corrupt.

None of that would be easy and typically took time. Unfortunately, time was a luxury they didn’t have, and that meant taking a risk, one Steve wasn't pleased about.

“I’m hoping Eric is the first one out,” Steve said. “I want to kidnap him.”

Steve couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth. The worst part was that he meant them. This planet and job were hurting him, so much so that he truly fitted the mold of a smuggler enforcer. That scared Steve more than anything. For most of his time, he had envisioned himself better than most of the other crews out there and their enforcers.

Now, he was stooping to their level, and that infuriated him even more. The Marine vowed that after this job, he would revert back to his normal self. That had to happen since the Rossi needed him to help keep their heads on straight. Or was it the other way around? Either way, it didn’t matter.

They sat and watched the exit, waiting for someone on their list of men to exit. Nicole couldn’t say for certain if they were there or not. The building had blind spots as did other parts of the city. Her access was still amazing to Steve.

An hour passed, and the stream of people leaving the building were all low-level politicians or workers. One of them might well get a big promotion soon, but none were ones that they needed.

“There,” Rea said. She pointed, and sure enough, the slimeball Eric had left the building.

Steve couldn’t help but smile. It made his day that it was Eric that he would get to have some fun with him. “Nice.”

Eric walked to the parking lot, climbed into a sports car, and drove away. With care, Steve tailed him. They didn’t know his habits well. What they did have was a list of his properties, and it was a long one. He owned several buildings in the city and surrounding areas. So did Todd and several other people. There were far too many to search. They needed to find out the location of their slaves.

Staying with Eric was easy. It amazed Steve that they hadn’t been tracked before. It might be because they were the top of the food chain here, they didn’t have to worry about being followed. And they now had another powerful ally in Drake, one who had a mysterious backer, this woman who wanted the Rossi removed.

That still troubled Steve. He wanted to know who this person was. He also wanted to know if she was real or a figment of the young pirate’s imagination. Maybe Drake was behind it all. That was easy enough to believe, a dead family member who felt betrayed coming back and making the life of the Rossi’s leader miserable.

“Any guesses about where he is going?” Steve asked. He hadn’t memorized them all.

Rea and Lindsey had a map with them on a tablet that was disconnected from the internet. Better safe than sorry. Even though Nicole said it was safe, Steve was still paranoid.

“What I think is his apartment,” Rea said. She sat in the passenger seat with Lindsey in the rear.

“Good,” Steve said. That would make it fun and doable. Most people didn’t think they would need the best protection at home. Sure, an alarm, maybe a gun, but not too many people had guards at their place. If he had been going to the slave’s location, that would inevitably mean guards. Though, that would be good too. They’d have one more part of the puzzle in place.

The Captain was right on the mark with where Eric was going. He parked in the lot next to a large apartment building.

“If we want him, it must be before he goes in,” Steve said.

“Okay,” Rea said.

“Stay here. Have it ready to go.”

Steve parked, jumped out of the car, and dashed over to Eric. This wasn’t going to be a clandestine operation, more of a smash and grab. The Marine hoped he would have him and be driving away before anyone realized he was gone.

Steve moved with a grace and quickness of a man half his size. His life of training and fighting taught him to walk without making a sound. His ability to run noiselessly allowed him to sneak up on Eric. He had no idea what was going on before it was too late.

The Marine moved between the cars and to Eric, seemed to appear out of nowhere.

“No,” Eric said. He started to reach for his arm and what Steve figured was an alarm.

With the speed of a trained fighter, Steve punched him and had Eric on the ground, bleeding. The second time in two days and that felt nice to the Marine. With ease, Steve lifted him in the over his shoulder and jogged to the car. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching. So far, so good.

It wasn’t until Steve got to the car that the sirens started.

“Ugh,” Steve said. He threw the man in the back seat and jumped in.

Both women had moved to the front, letting Steve sit in the cramped back with Eric.

“Get us out of here,” he said.

Rea, who sat behind the wheel, floored the car, and it sped out of the lot. “Wow,” Rea said. “Hadn’t expected that power from the car.”

Lindsey grinned from ear to ear. “Nice. Made to look old but isn’t.”

“Nope,” Steve said.

Eric groaned next to him. A quick knock on the head shut him up.

“Be careful,” Steve warned.

Rea slowed the car to a more reasonable speed. It blended into the traffic, and she proceeded to follow the directions Nicole was feeding them. The local law enforcement officers drove by with sirens blaring, not giving them a second look.

Another car drove past that held a passenger they all recognized. Drake. Rea stared straight ahead, not looking or even acknowledging him. Lindsey shrank in her seat, trying to appear as small as possible.

“Oh my,” Lindsey said. “That was so close.”

The engineer was breathing heavily and panting from nerves. That didn’t surprise Steve at all since this was an intense mission, and the police had been alerted within seconds. That worried Steve since he was sure he had stopped Eric from sending out the alarm.

It sure had been close. If Drake had looked in their direction, they would have been goners. He would have alerted the police, and there would have been a high-speed chase. Steve didn’t want that. It would have been dangerous on so many levels.

Nicole assured them that no one had seen them get in the car. They sped away, yet Steve didn’t feel comfortable. They rode in silence.

Back at the safe house, Steve exited the car and hauled Eric with him. The barn would be a great place for interrogation. Steve carried the unconscious man to it without stopping. He overheard Rea telling Lindsey to go pick up Parker and Aldis. They would need a ride back.

The barn was dark and damp. It would be a perfect place to talk to Eric about Todd and all they did. This would be something that Eric would never forget, something that Steve wouldn’t either.

This wasn’t the Marine’s forte, but he would get what he needed out of the man. That was a foregone conclusion with how Steve felt. Eric deserved to be put through as much pain as possible.

After dropping the dirtbag onto the ground, Steve looked around for some useful tools. He was going to make sure he learned everything. This was a time to hold nothing back. Eric was close to the problem and would have lots of useful tidbits for them. He’d have the location and who knew what else.

With that, they would be able to get rid of the Governor and let better people run New Philly. Then they would be able to leave the planet and get back on task to finding Taylor and stopping Drake.

That was what was really important. This was just a distraction, one that was eating away at Steve. It needed to be stopped before it festered so deep into the Marine that he wouldn’t be able to turn back. That much he knew.

Rea entered the barn before Steve started to interrogate Eric.

“Steve,” she said. “Come here.”

The Marine looked at her. “What?” he asked.

“Breathe,” she said in a calming voice.

The Marine knew what she was doing and understood, but it wasn’t needed. What needed to be done would be, and it didn’t matter if he scared her or not.

Steve snarled. “I am. Trust me I am.”

He walked to the man. Steve woke him with a shake. Eric stared up at him, wide-eyed with disbelief on his face.

“You won’t get away with this,” Eric said.

“I already have,” Steve said. “Nothing you can do.”

Eric grinned from ear to ear. “You think they won’t find me.”

Steve knew Todd and his minions wouldn’t. Nicole made sure of it with her ability to get into any and all technology. Eric’s backup was never going to arrive since she had sent the data to have them on the other side of the city. They’d never venture this far out and in this direction.

The CATT showed her worth on this once again. Steve was going to regret the comment earlier, but for now, Nicole was doing her job.

“Trust me,” Steve said. He leaned down right next to Eric. “They aren’t coming.”

Steve was so close that he could feel the heat from Eric. The Marine could see the fear growing in the man. Eric now realized what Steve could do and would do and that no one was going to rescue him.

“Please don’t,” Eric begged.

Rea left, and Steve went to work extracting the information.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Fourteen

Rea paced in the dining room again. The second time today and she didn’t like it how Steve acted. The look on his face frightened Rea more than the captain cared to admit. Rea didn’t want to watch him and had left. Now, Rea was beginning to wish she had stayed to make sure that Steve didn’t cross a line.

Lindsey returned with Aldis and Parker. Both were pleased. That made Rea happy. She needed something to distract herself from what Steve was doing. Anything to make it right so they could get off this planet and back to the regular missions. Rea couldn’t wait to get down with Drake as well.

“We might have a contact,” Aldis said.

Rea didn’t like the word might. She wanted a definite. “Might?”

“Yeah,” Aldis said. He shifted nervously, looking over in the direction of Nicole who just walked into the room. Rea wasn’t sure what to make of it. “When dealing with the underground, it’s tough to have sure things.”

That was usually the case in general for Rea these days. Her time since leaving the Navy had been with dealing with the underground, and she still hadn’t gotten used to dealing with shady people.

“Great,” Rea said. “When will you know?”

Parker shrugged. “Soon.”

“Soonish,” Aldis said.

That was the best Rea could really expect from this type of operation and this quickly. They needed to move at light speed, and that meant dealing with uncertainties. “Very well.”

“Steve? He learn anything?” Lindsey asked.

Rea shrugged. “He’s still talking to Eric. I couldn’t stay for it.”

Lindsey hung her head. “I understand. This one is getting to him.”

It really was, and Rea didn’t like it. She could see how this was twisting Steve up inside.

<<<>>>

Another twenty minutes had passed as Rea and her crew waited for Steve. When he entered the room, he was covered in blood and sweat.

“Keys,” was all he said.

Lindsey handed them to him. “Steve?”

He didn’t say a word and walked out.

Lindsey started to follow him.

Rea held out an arm and stopped her. “Don’t,” she said, “he needs to breathe. To get this out.”

“What is wrong with him?” Parker asked.

“Tunnel vision,” Aldis said, “and extreme hate of men like Eric and Todd.”

Rea nodded. “He’s on edge. Let him deal with this, and then we can help.”

Rea walked to the window and saw Steve carrying Eric. From this distance, it was tough to make out the man, but she was certain he was still alive. Just barely. Steve tossed him into the car and drove away.

“I just…” Lindsey said.

The engineer obviously had trouble speaking at that moment and was having difficulty in handling the situation. She had fallen for Steve and seeing him this way was clearly changing her view of him. Rea hoped it that didn’t end the relationship between the two of them. She did not want her crew members personally involved, but even she could tell that they were good together.

“Don’t worry,” Rea said.

Aldis’s comm device rang, and he smiled. “My contact.”

He held up a hand and left the room.

He was gone for several moments before returning. “Good news.”

Rea liked the sound of that. “We have an in at the underground. People are rising up against the Governor?”

“We do, and they are,” Aldis said, “but they are small. Only a few hundred people.”

That wasn’t a lot, but it was better than nothing. They would be able to use that for information and a distraction. “Good,” Rea said.

“They’ll want to meet us tonight. All of us.”

That was fine with Rea. They just needed Steve to return and see what he had learned. Rea hoped beyond hope that he had not really crossed the line, that he had just used words and such to get the information they needed. The captain didn’t want to act as horribly as the Governor.

When the car pulled back in, she walked out to greet Steve alone. He looked up at her.

“We need to talk,” she said.

“I’m sorry I scared you. I am. But it was needed.”

“How so?”

“If Eric thought I wouldn’t harm him, he wouldn’t talk. The threats needed to be real.” Steve was still covered in blood and sweat.

“The blood,” she said slowly.

“Mine.”

Rea was utterly lost and confused. “Yours?”

“Yes. Mine. I’ll tell you inside.”

“Okay.”

In the safehouse, Steve washed at the kitchen sink. “I cut myself to show him how crazy I was. I needed to get into his head. He had to think I was crazy. Like super insane.”

From the way the others stared at him, it worked. Rea wasn’t sure what to make of it what he was saying. It was beyond nuts. So far past the edge of insanity that she had trouble understanding all that he did, but it must have succeeded.

“He spilled the beans,” Steve said. “The slaves are at four different camps outside the city. They get them from the rural areas of the planet and ship them to the highest bidder.”

None of that really surprised Rea, but they had the exact locations. That was good and meant they could set up a real plan and make a move against Todd.

“Most of the people in the government are under his thumb. Only a few don’t want anything to do with it.”

Steve wrote those names down on a piece of paper, and Nicole and Aldis went to work looking into them to verify what Steve had found out.

“Okay,” Rea said. “I don’t like what you did, but you got results. Don’t scare us like that again, please!”

The team nodded. None of them appeared to be pleased with Steve’s approach. Rea didn’t blame them. They had seen a crazy man walk in and ask for the keys. He could have been normal by then, but he had appeared to be over the edge. He had been too far gone to help, and it had been just a show.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said. “I really am, but it was worth it.”

Rea detested agreeing with him, but she did. “It was.”

<<<>>>

That evening, they followed Aldis’s direction to a meeting in the city that wasn’t far from the capitol building. Having the base of their enemy so close was a little nerve-wracking for Rea. She just couldn’t get over feeling this exposed. Doubts and worries kept creeping into her mind, and the main one was the thought that perhaps this was just a setup. She had seen too many of those in her time, both in the Navy and as a smuggler.

Steve was also on edge, his body tense and his gaze constantly looking in every direction. Overall, the remainder of the team appeared to be relaxed. That was good at least.

The meeting place was in the basement of one of many restaurants on the main strip. A short, pudgy man greeted Aldis. “Hello, friend.”

Aldis nodded. “Hi, Cody. This is my Captain, Rea Dodge.” He pointed to Rea.

“I know. We’ve seen all your photos. Rea, Steve, and Lindsey.”

Rea smiled and nodded. The news had them all over it and not just on the monitors, but flyers and anywhere else a person could think of. One of the many worries that Rea was facing.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Rea said.

“The pleasure is mine,” Cody said. “We have had been waiting for a chance to make a move.”

“I hope we can help. It will be tough if this is all you have.” Rea didn’t like their odds if they could only muster a few hundred. From what Eric said, each compound had many armed men. That was too much for them to handle.

Another person approached them. She was tall and beefy.

Cody stepped to the side. “This is Major McGee.”

Not many other females compared in size to Rea, but this woman did. She was bigger and wider than the Captain, and just slightly shorter.

“Hello,” Rea said.

“Nice to meet you,” McGee said. “I’m in charge of this group.”

Steve reached out to shake her hand. “Then you’re the person we need to talk to.”

The Major smiled and brushed back her deep black hair. “I am. We have been hoping to make a move against the Governor but just don’t have enough intel.”

“That we have,” Rea said. They at least had managed that much.

They went over all they had learned with McGee and Cody. Both were very impressed.

McGee turned to Cody. “How did you not find any of this?”

“It’s not like they hacked in to find it,” Cody said. “They kidnapped a man. I’m a hacker. Not a mercenary.” He turned to Steve. “No offense.”

“None taken.”

The rest of the crew remained silent as they talked. It wasn’t until the discussion was starting to die down that any of them spoke.

“Is this all we have?” Lindsey asked.

Cody nodded. “Unfortunately. Not many are willing to stand up against the Governor. Most don’t believe the rumors.”

It wasn’t a big surprise that many wouldn’t risk their lives fighting him. Todd had his hand on the pulse of the planet. He had the most important people under his thumb, and nothing could happen without him knowing about it. If people did something, they would pay the price.

It was clear now to the crew of the Rossi. They were feeling the push of that controlling presence and needed to get out from under it. Rea wasn’t sure what to do now. Hopefully, they would figure that out tonight.

“I know this isn’t ideal,” Steve said, “but what if we attack one of the compounds and attempt to take the Governor?”

Rea wasn’t sure what to think. It started a big debate among those at the meeting. It went on for several hours, but eventually, everyone agreed. It gave those who knew it was happening a chance to cover their tracks.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Fifteen

The next morning, Steve rose early to prep for the attack on the Governor. He needed to get a few supplies. They would be assaulting the Governor at his home late tonight. The one thing the group had was that he was at his home every night and its location. That would be useful. It wasn’t the most guarded either.

Steve walked out the safe house, but before he reached the car, Lindsey rushed out to him. “I’m going with you.”

“If you wish,” Steve said.

“I do,” Lindsey.

The pair got into the car together and drove back into the city. One of their goals was to scout out the house to make sure they would be able to attack it. The plan was for the crew of the Rossi to take the Governor and the rebels to lead the fight for the slave compound.

For the first part of the trip, they rode in silence as Steve tried to concentrate on the task at hand. Every time he glanced at Lindsey, she appeared on the verge of speaking but held her tongue. It was driving Steve crazy. If she had something to say, she should just come out and say it. This silence was annoying, and it was distracting Steve.

The man wasn’t going to relent. If Lindsey wanted to talk, he would force her to be the one to bring it up. Clearly, she wanted to say something, and it wouldn’t be good for him. That much was certain.

Around them, the landscape shifted from the county to the city and back to a more residential area. It was a nice part of the town, located on the opposite side as one of the slave compounds.

Freeing the slaves at the compound would show the rest of the people here what Todd had been doing, and how he had treated people on the planet. At least that was the plan.

“Steve,” Lindsey said. Her voice was hesitant. “We need to talk.”

“Okay,” Steve said. He held back a groan and kept his gaze on the road. The old warrior wasn’t sure what this was going to be about. It wasn’t like he had a lot of experience with relationships. Even the concept of romance was new to him. What the Marine understood was fighting and planning missions.

“About?”

“You.”

That got his attention and surprised him. Steve wasn’t sure what she would want to talk about. He had done nothing to her or anyone else. Yesterday, he had been driven, focused on the mission and getting what they needed. That was all he did, nothing too extreme.

“Me? I don’t understand.” He continued to drive and scout out the area, doing his best to multitask. “What did I do?” Now the poor man was totally confused.

Lindsey sighed. “What did you do? Have you forgotten about yesterday?”

“No.”

“Are you kidding me?” Lindsey sounded annoyed and frustrated with him.

This was going badly for him, and he didn’t even know why. All Steve had done was follow through on his mission.

“I’m sorry,” Steve said. He hoped that might help with whatever he did wrong.

“You really have no idea what you did wrong yesterday.”

“I don’t.”

“You scared me. The team. It looked like you beat Eric to death.”

“But I didn’t.”

“I know, but the way you acted after, the whole thing, it was frightening. We were all scared, and then you act like nothing happened.”

“It was nothing,” Steve said. “Just my job.”

“We aren’t Marines. The rest of us don’t have your training.”

She was right, they weren’t, and he had acted like they were. That had been a mistake. Steve felt like he was making too many of those.

“I’m sorry. I really am. You’re right. You don’t, and I have to be better.”

“Thank you.”

The rest of the trip was easy and friendly for Steve. Lindsey didn’t grill him anymore about his behavior, and that was a relief. Right now, he needed to focus on the mission and the plan.

Ten minutes later, they arrived in the Governor’s neighborhood.

“This car is going to stand out,” Lindsey said.

Again, she was right. Driving a beater in most of the city helped to blend in or at least not draw attention. But in this upscale part of town, it would be noticed.

Steve crinkled his nose and thought for a moment. “Let’s do one drive by,” he said. “If we need a second pass, we’ll have to either walk or get another car.”

“You mean to steal a car.”

Steve shrugged. It wasn't beneath them. They stole plenty when they needed to. It wasn’t like what they did was strictly legal. Breaking the law was part of the job description. Adding a second grand theft auto to the list of crimes on New Philly was no big deal in Steve’s mind.

“I do.”

“Joy,” Lindsey said. “I do like the life we lead.”

Steve smiled. “As do I.”

Since he didn’t want to stand out, Steve went just over the speed limit as he drove through the neighborhood. He turned to Lindsey. “Use the tablet and discreetly take pics of the house.”

She nodded. “Okay.”

Governor Todd lived in what Steve would call a mansion. The large estate covered more land than most buildings did in the city. It had to have cost a vast sum of money, more than Steve had ever seen and more than most people would make in their lifetimes. The large fence surrounding the property stood over ten feet tall. At least it didn’t have barbwire around the top, Steve thought. Lining the top of the wall and the house were numerous security cameras. Nicole or Aldis should be able to handle those. Getting over the fence shouldn’t be too tough.

“How many guards do you see?” Steve asked. He counted at least a dozen but wanted to know what she saw.

“I lost track at ten,” Lindsey said.

That was a lot of men for Steve to deal with, not that it wasn’t possible if he had surprise on his side. A good ambush was always the key to taking out men when you were outnumbered. In his experience, if he could sneak up and take out a few before they realized he was there, he would be golden. He also understood that more men would be here when Todd was actually home.

Lindsey snapped several photos as he drove past. Those would be useful later in the planning and prep this afternoon. He wanted a chance to study the property for weaknesses.

After leaving the neighborhood, Steve decided they wouldn’t need to go back. He had what he needed, the location and the basic layout of the outside. One of the team members should be able to hack and get the layout of the inside. As much as Steve would like to get in, that would have to suffice.

“We need to stop and get some supplies,” Steve said.

“Okay.”

Over the next several hours, Steve took them around the city getting different things, like climbing supplies to scale the fence and other weapons. The weapons were items that Major McGee would help supply. In fact, the Major had given Steve a location to pick up the guns. Obtaining weapons was not hard here on New Philly, but having an inside source helped.

Inside the illegal gun shop, Steve walked around, checking out the weapons. The man who ran it followed Steve and Lindsey. The owner refused to give his name, which really wasn’t a big deal to Steve but confused Lindsey. It left her concerned about dealing with a man whose name they did not know.

It wasn't like the last time they dealt with people and knew their names. Steve lost track of the number of John Smiths, they did business with. Knowing the name of a source did not guarantee they were truthful. This was just a more honest approach to it, and Steve approved.

The man was the typical underground dealer of illegal goods. His attitude said, I don’t trust you, and you shouldn’t trust me. Both the Marine and the dealer kept watchful eyes on each other.

“McGee told me to give you whatever you wanted,” the dealer said. “To put it on her tab.”

“Good,” Steve said.

He needed weapons that wouldn’t kill but would take his targets down for the count. McGee and Rea both said they both wanted to limit any public outcry over the operation. It was understandable, and killing would be a last resort.

The Rossi crew had always done its best to avoid killing people. Steve had complied with their standards since he’d joined. In some cases, he had men near death, and they most likely didn’t get saved in time, but they had been given a chance. He thought that was fair.

Steve chose an assortment of weapons, and they left the supplier. He was glad someone else was paying because otherwise, it would have cost him a fortune. Hopefully, this was the first of many things to go their way today and on New Philly. If everything went according to plan, they would get Todd tonight. Then the group would free some slaves and tomorrow show the planet what the Governor had been doing to his people.

In the car, Lindsey turned to Steve. “That man gave me the creeps.”

“Most men in that business are on the creepy side.”

Lindsey groaned. “At least we are done.”

“For now,” Steve said. “Tonight, the real fun starts.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Sixteen

Rea stood outside of the safe house after a day of planning and talking. Major McGee and her people would be attacking the compound on the west side of town. They were now waiting for a large transport to arrive.

Aldis exited the house and walked over to Rea. “Should be here any minute.”

Steve was furious with Rea for letting someone not part of their crew learn the location of the safe house. He had gone over and over about it being a breach of protocol. It had to be done, they needed the help with transport. No matter what Steve believed. Rea told him.

Without looking at the hacker, she said, “Good.”

It was the pudgy man they had to meet the night before. Cody would be joining their team for this mission. It amazed Rea that they had moved this fast. While it was necessary for the Rossi crew, that wasn’t the case for the rest of the people involved. They could afford to take time and plan, yet they moved now swiftly and efficiently.

It was a testament to how bad Todd was and the damage he had done to New Philly. No one wanted to wait, not even a day. The horrible situation broke Rea’s heart a little. She knew that many planets in the Empire were under control of inept or bad people, but that didn’t make seeing it firsthand any easier.

A large panel van pulled into the driveway, and Cody stepped out.

“Right on time,” Aldis said.

Rea, on the other hand, felt he was a few minutes late, but that was her military training. To be late was unacceptable. To be on time is to be late, and to be early is to be on time. It made perfect sense to anyone with a military background.

“Hey, hey,” Cody said. “Ready to kick some Governor butt?”

As if on cue, Steve and the rest of the team exited the house. All were ready to go, dressed for combat and stealth. Steve was armed to the teeth and had a look of ‘don’t mess with me or I’ll kill you for just sneezing.’

Rea wasn’t going to get in his way, and everyone on her crew knew to not mess with him. These were the tense moments of any mission, the calm before the storm, and Steve was getting himself ready to be the storm.

For him, it would be a crazy one, and Rea needed him at his best. It would be ideal to let him get into his battle zone. The crew knew to give him a wide berth, even Lindsey.

Rea learned that the engineer had talked to Steve today about what he had done yesterday. Lindsey was braver than she appeared, or stupider. Since she survived, Rea was leaning toward brave. She must really care for the man and wanted to make sure he was in the right place. It had been a good plan on Steve’s part, but Rea just wished he had let her in on it.

The crew loaded up the supplies they needed for the mission into the van and drove off. It was the do or die time.

<<<>>>

The trip was mostly made in silence as everyone got into the right mindset. Even for smugglers, this wasn’t a typical job. Sure, the Rossi crew had done tense things before like getting cargo on or off planets that were said to be impossible. They had even been chased across space by pirates and the Navy.

Even kidnapping. Twice in a short relativity period of time. Now, they were doing it again, although this time it was more of a coup d'état. This wasn’t something Rea had ever thought she would be a part of. Not in a million years. Displacing a bad ruler was not a course she had taken at the academy.

The van stopped, and the passengers became visibly tense. Rea breathed in deeply and held it while she said a silent prayer to no god in particular, but any who would listen. She wasn’t sure what the people here believed in, but it couldn’t be worse than some of the other planets. Some worshiped “pasta” or something like that. Rea tried not to listen when told about it since it hurt her head.

Steve stood. “Ready?”

A chorus of “yes” answered him as he exited the van. Parker and Aldis were on his tail, carrying the ladder. Nicole was back at the safe house, hacking in through Aldis’ laptop that remained in the van. It would automatically connect to the house and its security system, or something like that. It was all over Rea’s head, but Aldis and Nicole seemed to be getting along and on the same page for once. Just that much cooperation made Rea a little happier. Maybe it would last past tonight, but the captain didn’t have high hopes for that.

Rea was the last to exit. Steve was already up and over the fence, making his way toward the closest guard. Aldis and Cody weren’t far behind. Rea was the last to climb over. By the time she made it to the edge of the mansion, it already was done.

Her heart raced, and her palms were sweaty. The captain wasn’t cut out for this type of work. She liked the comfort of her ship, the feel of her chair as she did the tough work, and the pattern of dealing with men and their paperwork. This was different and not nearly as enjoyable.

On the ground, a man lay unconscious. Steve’s handiwork. They would have to separate and take the Governor as Steve swept the grounds taking out the guards. It wasn’t ideal, but it would work.

The captain entered the house and paused before letting out a sigh of relief. The alarms had been disabled. That was a good sign and let Rea relax a bit. She followed the map that the CATT had acquired. Todd had an office and a bedroom. They hoped to find him in one of those spaces.

So far, no gunfire was sounding as Rea moved with her crew following closely behind. Each member walked in silence, following her lead. She maneuvered through the house quickly checking each area. Rea did her best to remember each and every hallway.

She took them to the office first and held up her hand. They stopped and waited. Turning to them, she mouthed, “office,” and they all nodded. Parker and Lindsey’s faces were covered in fear and terror. They would be the lookouts in the hall for Rea, Aldis, and Cody.

She checked the handle. The door was open. With a quick turn and push, Rea entered the room. It was dark inside and didn’t appear to have a person in it, but she and the others still did a sweep of it, moving with ease through it. His office was nearly as big as the Rossi’s bridge. Satisfied Todd wasn’t here, Rea closed the door behind them, and the group moved on to their next objective.

They moved next to the master bedroom. It wasn’t too far away, though in a house this size that still meant a little bit of a walk. By the time they arrived, Steve had joined them. He was panting and had some blood on him but not too much.

“All clear,” the Marine whispered.

How he did it, Rea didn’t know, but he was truly a machine when it came to combat and taking care of business. The captain was thankful for Steve and what he did. She knew he took care of the guards without killing them.

“Good,” Rea said.

Steve took the lead here and opened the door to the bedroom.

Phase One down. Time for Phase Two.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Seventeen

The Marine entered the room and was greeted with a bright light. It was so intense that Steve couldn’t see. Before he knew it, he was surrounded by several men, and the team was screaming.

“Move!” Steve screamed.

“Run,” Rea said.

It was tough to make it out anything in the blinding light. Arms flailed around Steve. He did his best to stave off the attack. Grabbing the closest man, he pulled him in and kneed him in the groin. The man toppled down to the ground.

There were still several arms around him, and all he could hear was shouting. Steve punched another body. The man groaned and stepped back.

His vision was starting to return, and Steve was able to take in what was happening better. He was surrounded by four men, and several more were attacking the crew of the Rossi. The Governor was nowhere in sight.

Damn, the Marine thought.

“Help!” Parker screamed.

Two men were dragging her down the hall. Steve elbowed the closest man to him in the jaw and then kneed him as he fell. He made quick work of the other men and then went to help the crew. He closed the gap between him and the men. They saw him and ran.

Steve suddenly dropped to the ground, weakened and bleeding. He looked to his side, where a knife protruded. He had no idea when or how it happened.

Staggering back up, the Marine took two steps down the hallway to try to get Parker but collapsed again to his knees. They had failed. All they had managed to do was to walk right into a trap. Steve hoped the other part of their plan had fared better.

Aldis and Cody walked over to him and helped him to his feet. With their support, he left the mansion. Together, they all made their way back to the safe house, Steve again lamenting his failure and his pain. It burned his soul.

<<<>>>

Parker thrashed against the men as they dragged her out of the mansion. She wasn’t nearly strong enough to break free. Flashbacks rose in her from her last day on New Detroit, the day she had joined the Rossi and when she had almost been sold into slavery.

This terrified Parker more than anything. She knew what the Governor dealt in, and that meant she might end up just as the twins had expected of her. Her body grew tired from all the fighting. The men took great delight in throwing the small struggling woman into the back of a van.

A moment later, she was knocked out cold.

<<<>>>

Parker came to in a dark, overheated room. The young woman was sweating from head to toe. She tried to move, but someone had bound her tightly to a chair. Her body hurt as if she had been used as a punching bag.

“She’s awake,” a male said.

Parker looked up to see the governor’s aid Eric, who didn’t appear to have a scratch on him, and the Governor, who bent down to her. Todd was a repulsive man to Parker. No way around that. She wanted to kill him.

“Where are they hiding?” Todd was inches from her face. She could feel his hot, disgusting breath on her cheek. “Tell me, and I won’t sell you away.”

Parker spat on the man. “I’ll never tell you.”

“You little bitch.” The Governor backhanded her across the face and causing her chair to rock back. “I’m going to make you pay for that.”

Parker latched onto one thought, Steve would come for her. Rea won’t stop until they saved her. There was no way that anyone on the ship would rest until she was found. They would move heaven and earth to locate her. No matter what they said, that much Parker knew deep in her heart.

“If you’re waiting for your little bodyguard,” Todd said, “you’ll be waiting for a while. I have it on good authority that he was hurt. He might not even pull through.”

Parker didn’t believe a word he regurgitated. Steve was too good to be hurt. No way the men here had harmed him. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be, couldn’t be, life-threatening. Steve had promised to train her, and he was going too. Steve kept his word.

The young girl held on to his promise while she was held a prisoner in the room that stank of fear and pain. She was still fearful that they would sell her on the next shipment before she could be rescued.

The door opened, and the man who was behind so much of the problems that Parker and her friends faced walked in. Captain Jack Drake smiled when his gaze wandered over the young girl.

“I see you got one of them.” The pirate walked over to Parker and patted her on the shoulder. “If you get cornered, don’t threaten her life. The brute will make you pay.”

“He is just brawn with no brains,” Todd said. “Nothing to worry about.”

Parker knew that Steve was much more than that, and the Governor would regret underestimating him.

Drake’s eyebrows shot up. He too knew that Todd was foolish. “If you say so.”

“I’ve heard the news. One of your compounds was raided.” Drake spoke with disgust and disappointment.

To Parker, it appeared he’d expected the Governor to do a better job of securing his facilities. Why did it seem as if all this was a set-up for the Rossi crew? What did Drake really want with them? It had to be more than just his being related to Rea.

“It was,” Todd said. “It means little. You can get your slaves in two days. They are to go to the coordinates I sent you.”

“With the attention that this now has,” Drake said with a steady yet aggressive voice, “the transportation price has doubled.”

Eric and the Governor both froze in place at that news, completely shocked by it. To Parker, it made sense. Why do a job this hot now? It would draw the attention of many people off the planet. Getting caught was twice as likely.

“Can we talk about that later?” Todd asked. “Now isn’t the time. I have to remove this crew. They have proven difficult to handle.”

The pirate smirked. “It’s a feisty team. I’ve dealt with them in the past. If you would like my assistance, please let me know.”

“It won’t be necessary.” Todd stared at Parker, making the young girl nervous.

“Very well,” Drake said. “Just let me know when to get the cargo. I will pick it up and make sure it gets to the proper location.”

“Good.”

Drake left, and Todd returned to Parker grinning. “I hope your team arrives to save you. I’ll make them regret ever stepping foot on this planet. And you, I’ll make sure you go to someplace special.”

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Eighteen

The night was rough on Rea, and the rest of the crew, especially with Parker kidnapped. It pained Rea to not be able to help the girl, but she just wasn’t a fighter, and they had been overwhelmed from the start.

It had been a well-laid ambush, and they had walked right into it. Rea wasn’t sure who or how it happened, but it had. Maybe letting Eric go hadn’t been the best. It had to have been him, telling them and waiting for the attack. They knew that at some point the team would strike.

At least they had heard from Major McGee, and the attack on the compound had gone better. They had lost a half-dozen men in the assault, and that upset both Rea and the Major. Otherwise, it had been a success.

Nicole and Aldis were spreading the news over the planet as best they could, but it was hard with the Governor being free. He kept blocking their articles. He wasn’t as good as Nicole or Aldis, but he slowed them down. At least, his people did.

It was frustrating, and Rea wasn’t sure what to do. The people who had been enslaved would be marching in the street soon, and that would help, but that wasn’t going to free Parker or make Steve heal faster.

Rea walked into the back bedroom where they had laid Steve down the night before. Lindsey had spent the whole night with him. They didn’t have any of the advanced medical supplies they did on the Rossi. Here, they were roughing it and using some old fashion first aid techniques. Rea hoped it would be enough.

“How is he?” she asked.

Lindsey looked up. “Better. He should be fine, but he won’t be much use if we have to move tonight.”

That was what Rea wanted to do so the Governor wouldn’t be able to harm Parker. McGee said they should be able to liberate another compound, but Rea wasn’t as sure. Since Todd had evaded them, he would surely either move the slaves around or up the protection on them.

Either way, the relocation or the toughening of security would make further action tougher, and they had already lost people. Any life lost was too much in Rea’s eyes. That might be why she had never been destined to be an Admiral in the Navy. She just wasn’t able to sacrifice a life for the greater good, no matter how much it made sense.

Rea left the room and went to find Nicole and Aldis. They had been working most of the night in vain to find Parker. The last time she had checked, which was only ten minutes ago, they had no luck whatsoever.

They had converted the dining room into a makeshift command center. After they had returned, Aldis and Cody had run out and returned with several computers and other electronics. Cords and wires ran all over the place.

Cody had disappeared at some point. Rea had lost track of the pudgy man. He had been coming and going the whole night. Rea didn’t like it at all after what happened. Though, if he had been the problem, the Governor would already be here, and that hadn’t happened. At least that was a good sign.

“Any luck?” Rea asked.

Nicole looked up at Rea and had her annoyed look on her face. “The answer is the same as it was ten minutes ago.”

“Okay,” Rea said.

She worried they would never find her, and Parker would be sold off. They needed to move fast.

<<<>>>

Hours passed with little in the way of news. All that Rea had achieved was driving her team crazy. The captain didn’t have a way to help any of them.

Late in the afternoon, Steve woke and exited the room.

“You should be in bed,” Rea said. She was still in the dining room.

“Thank you,” Lindsey said from behind Steve, following him out of the room.

“I’m fine,” Steve said, his hand pressed against his side. “We live in a great day and age. I’ll be fine before tonight. We have to get the kid.”

“You are not going.”

“Try to stop me.”

Steve stepped forward and let Rea see him at full height. He removed his hand. It was healing well, and the man was as stubborn as a mule. She wouldn’t be able to stop him, at least not easily.

Cody returned and saw Steve. “Wow. You’re one tough guy.”

Steve grunted.

“Eureka,” Aldis exclaimed and jumped to his feet. “I think I found her.”

“No way,” Nicole said. She appeared disappointed that Aldis beat her in finding Parker.

“It’s more of what I haven’t found.”

Steve hobbled over to the table and sat. “What do you mean?”

Aldis smiled. “Look, Todd has more cameras and surveillance equipment than the average person. It’s insane. But we haven’t seen him or Parker. None of his people.”

“Correct,” Nicole said.

“Nicole hacked into the capitol building. Now, we have no cameras. Nothing. There, all of his other cameras work. We’ve searched each and every one and no sign. None of the compounds. Mind you, I want to kill the man after what I’ve seen today. It’s disgusting. But that is nothing…”

“Process of elimination,” Rea said.

Aldis nodded.

It wasn’t the best, but it made sense to her. And the rest of the team agreed.

“Is he moving the slaves,” she asked.

“No,” Nicole said.

“Good,” Cody said. “I’ll tell McGee, and we can get Parker.”

It surprised Rea how much he seemed to want to help them. Cody was turning out to be a good guy. Rea was ashamed of herself for believing for a moment that he might have been the reason they had failed.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Nineteen

They planned for a few hours before departing. It was just past dark when they left for the rescue attempt. Again, it was going to be a multi-targeted attack both on the Governor and one of his slave compounds.

Steve’s body ached, but he managed. This evening, he wasn’t going to fail again. Parker needed him to be strong and to free her from the savage who was in charge. It didn’t matter that he had been stabbed the night before.

Enduring pain and suffering was part of the job, part of being a Marine. He would make do. They needed him to do this job.

Tonight, it wasn’t about Steve and his pain, nor was it about being stealthy or anything like it. Rushing in and causing as much havoc and chaos was the goal.

Cody had brought many different prototype robots that didn’t have any AI in them. Nicole didn’t look pleased, but she understood the use of them. Cody would control the quasi-robots to cause a diversion to give them a small advantage.

They parked out front with both the car and the van. Steve exited and slowly walked up the stairs. The crew joined him, all but Nicole who remained back at the safe house and Cody in the van.

Before they even reached the top of the steps, the robots left the van and rushed the building. Screams and shouts sounded from inside, and people rushed out. One of the first was Eric.

Steve smiled seeing the slimeball. Unable to move with the speed that he was used to, Steve made his way to the man. Eric saw him and turned to run but was trapped between the Marine and a robot with a spinning blade.

“No place to go.” Steve stood there imposing and made sure that Eric knew he was stuck.

Eric turned to him, whimpering. “Please don’t hurt me.”

“You deserve so much more than death. Pain. Suffering.”

Lindsey arrived next to Steve. Panting, she said, “He does, but we aren’t the ones to make that choice.”

Steve crinkled his nose. “I won’t make an example of him, but the Governor is a different matter.”

The engineer remained silent as Steve punched Eric in the face, knocking the man out again.

The streets behind them began to fill. The word had been sent out that they were attacking. None of the people appeared to be joining them, but they also weren’t fighting against them. Tonight, they wanted to see who would end up on top. That was completely fine with Steve. For him, it was a done deal. He was going to make the Governor pay. No, if, and, or buts about it.

Inside the building, it was just what Steve hoped for, complete and total chaos. It was noisy, people screaming and running everywhere. Steve couldn’t help but enjoy the scene. He did his best to avoid the robots and people scrambling around.

The crew of the Rossi walked with him and did their best to avoid the people.

Aldis was smiling from ear to ear. “Cody must be having a blast. Not an easy task to control all of these.”

What Steve knew about these devices was small, save they weren’t truly robots, just machinery to be used. At least, that was what he thought.

Before leaving, they had decided the most logical place for Parker to be was the Governor’s office. They made their way to it with minimal resistance. Steve was thankful for that since he wasn’t at one-hundred percent.

The door to the room was ajar, and inside, Steve could see Parker sitting in a chair. Behind her, Todd stood with a knife pressed against her throat.

“One step closer and I’ll kill her,” Todd hissed. He spat as he talked. To Steve, he looked like a rabid animal, one that needed to be put down.

“You do,” Steve replied calmly and took a step closer, “and I’ll kill you.”

Parker had been crying and had been hit more than once. The sight sickened Steve. The Governor would pay for all his crimes.

“You are filth,” Lindsey yelled from behind Steve.

“Me?” Todd laughed. His eyes were wild, and he looked like he was about to go over the edge.

“Yes, you.”

Steve darted across the with a speed of a cat and landed a punch on the Governor. Todd’s eye went wide in shock. Before anyone could react, Steve had the man on the ground.

Rea and Lindsey rushed to free Parker.

“Thank you. Thank you,” Parker sobbed over and over.

Aldis joined Steve in securing the Governor.

Todd stared up at him, giving Steve a nasty look. “Let me go. I’m in charge here.”

“Not anymore.” Steve backhanded him. The Marine wanted to do more but held back. He had to be better than the scum on this planet. He needed to show everyone that he hadn’t stooped to their level and still had his pride.

Once Parker was completely free of her bindings and safely crying in Lindsey’s arms, the discarded restraints were used to tie up Todd. The crew carried the struggling man out of the building.

Most of the chaos in the building had died down, leaving only a few small skirmishes. Most of the people had fled already outside or were hiding.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Twenty

Rea and the team dragged the Governor out of the building. They stopped at the top of the steps to a huge roar from the watching crowd. The streets were filled with people cheering, screams of joy and excitement.

Walking up the steps was Major McGee. She was all smiles. At the top of the steps, she gave Rea a hug and eyed the Governor.

“Good,” the Major said. “We can take him from here. The planet is filled with the news of all that he has done. Your people have spread the word, and it is starting to get off the planet.”

That was great news to hear. Rea figured that Nicole was working in overdrive to spread the word so that the Empire learned of it all. They wanted no one to doubt what had happened here. They also wanted to make sure no one tried to free the Governor once he was in prison.

“Great.” Rea gestured to the man. “You can take him in. Just make sure our ship is free of his men.”

“It will be done,” McGee said. “They won’t trouble you.”

“Good,” Lindsey said. It was clear that she wanted to get back to the ship and fix it up. From her slightly abstract look, it was apparent that the engineer was already planning the work to get the ship operational. Then they could kick the dust from New Philly off their shoes and get moving.

The two men who held Todd walked forward. It was clear that Steve wanted to kill the man. Before they could hand him off to McGee’s men, a loud band sounded, and the Governor's head exploded. The shower of blood splashed everyone around, covering Steve and Aldis.

Aldis screamed in reactive terror while Steve just stood there, staring at the shooter. Rea followed his gaze.

The Captain caught her breath and exclaimed, “Drake!”

“I’m going to kill him,” Steve said. The Marine was furious and ready to fight, but there just wasn’t a way for him to do that, not in his current condition and not with Drake so far away.

“No.” Rea held up her arm.

Sure, they wanted Drake, but this wasn’t the time or place. Rea needed to talk to him. Why he killed the Governor, she didn’t know, but it wasn’t important.

Next to him was a tall woman, someone that Rea didn’t recognize. That must be the mysterious backer.

“We will get him later,” she said firmly.

Drake nodded his head in acknowledgment and walked away. It grated Rea to let him go, but they didn’t stand a chance to get to him. The streets were filled with people, and he was on the other side of the crowd. He and his companion had been standing on the steps of the restaurant there, about the same level as the Rossi crew.

The shot had been perfect, something to be envied and admired. The pirate had planned his attack well.

It confused Rea as to why he didn’t kill her or her crew. He could have at least tried. The man was an enigma. What was he up to? Rea couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

And the female with him, she was not even vaguely familiar to Rea. The Captain didn’t have a clue as to why she wanted to harm the Rossi and its crew. They needed to learn more about her. Perhaps Nicole or Aldis could find more on her if they could get a good photo of her. That wasn’t going to be easy.

“What just happened?” McGee asked.

Rea shrugged. “You saved some money.”

<<<>>>

The rest of the night was tough on Parker. They took her back to the ship and let her rest while they prepared to leave. It amazed the girl that the ship wasn’t guarded anymore. The news of the Governor being killed traveled fast, and many people flipped sides in a heartbeat.

Steve, who was actually hurt, kneeled next to her in her quarters as she laid on her bed. “You okay?”

She nodded. “For the most part. I knew you would save me.”

“I did. We did. I’m sorry you had to deal with that, kid.”

Parker smiled. For once, she was happy to hear him call her “kid.” She needed his protection and support. It was what got her through the ordeal with Todd and Eric.

“I saw Drake while I was there,” she said.

“Really?”

Parker told the Marine about what happened, all of it, not just the talk with Drake. She wanted to tell someone to get it off her chest, so she could then forget it all. Maybe talking would help her heal. She knew if she bottled it up, she wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“I was so scared,” she said. Before she knew it, she was crying.

“It’s okay.”

He held her and let her deal with the pain, let it out. She appreciated it. His hug said he wouldn’t allow it to happen again, that she would live forever if he had anything to do with it.

“Thank you.”

Steve bent over her and kissed her on the forehead, “You’re welcome. Sleep.”

Parker closed her eyes and fell asleep. She was greeted with nightmares and hope. She knew that soon she would be off the planet and back to normal, but it was impossible to not relive the kidnapping in her dreams.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Chapter Twenty-One

Steve sat healing on the Rossi as Lindsey and B113 repaired the ship. It was amazing how fast the city and planet had shifted. It was like night and day on one level, and yet in some ways just the same. Major McGee was now second in command to a former low-level politician.

They arrested anyone who remained loyal to Todd. Not many did, but Steve feared it would take a while for New Philly to be rid of the vermin that Todd allowed to grow. The little rodents would linger, biding their time in the darkness.

But that didn’t mean much to Steve since they would be gone soon. The ship would be ready to depart as quickly as they could get it repaired. As crazy as it sounded, Steve was prepared to get back on board and continue the search. The time here wasn’t close to what he had expected, and he hoped the next job would actually be a simple one. Though with how this one had gone, Steve had better be prepared for anything. That was becoming more and more clear. The Rossi wasn’t going to have an easy job anytime soon.

It grated on Steve that Drake had slipped through their hands again. Worse, he had killed Todd when Steve had wanted to. He had held back and let the Governor live, and now, the Marine regretted that. It irritated him to no end that Drake did what he wanted to do. For so many reasons, it got under Steve’s skin.

He felt like he was slipping down a deep, dark hole. Wanting revenge was not an honorable reason to kill a man. Maybe he was no longer the upright protector of his crew that he saw himself being. It made him question his own self-worth. It was time to get back to his old self. Back to being secure in who he was.

Steve stood and left his room to venture onto the bridge. They would be looking for Drake and the woman. At least they had a visual of her. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

It was a slow walk to the bridge, and Steve thought about it all, how it was all connected. Clearly, it had to be since Drake showed up. Why or how it was related to Taylor, Steve didn’t know.

As he walked, he thought about the job here. It had been bad and went downhill to even worse. It wasn’t until earlier today that they had learned that one of the people under McGee who had attended the meeting had been a spy for the Governor. None of the resistance had even known that Todd knew about them, let alone that they had a spy amongst them.

Apparently, the Governor didn’t care too much about the slaves being liberated. At least, not one of the compounds, since he felt like he had a large supply of people to pick from. Losing a few hundred was no big deal. But getting kidnapped himself, that wasn’t going to happen. The trap he had set was brilliant. Even the Marine could admit that, though it pained him to do so.

On the bridge, Rea stood with Aldis and an unexpected person, Cody.

“Steve,” Rea said.

“When we are leaving?” he asked.

“A few hours. Parker should be back with the last of the supplies by then. Lindsey and B113 should be done any minute.”

Parker needed some space, so they let her go alone, the city was safer than it had ever been. It also let Parker feel like she helped more.

“Great. We get a new crew member?” Steve gestured to Cody.

“We did.”

That was a surprise but welcome. The ship wasn’t easy to fly and having more crew on it would be useful.

“That works,” Steve said. “What’s our destination?”

“Nicole got a job lined up for us.”

“Nice,” Steve said. He was ready to get out of this place. “Where at?”

“You’ll love this.”

Rea looked pleased and happy, more so than she had in a long time. This must be a good one. There were a few planets or systems that Steve would love to visit.

“Stop toying with me.” Steve did his best not to appear annoyed, but it was tough. With how he felt, he just wasn’t in the mood to play games or guess.

“Fine. Mars.”

“Is that even safe, being that close to Earth?”

The war was raging, and while he hadn’t heard much of it in relation to Mars, that didn’t necessarily mean that it was safe or not a part of the conflict. The Marine swore he had heard about the first failed attack on Mars.

“Sure is.”

“Okay.” Steve wasn’t as sure, but he wasn’t going to argue. Going to Mars would be an interesting trip. Not many people, even smugglers, traveled to it. It was its own planet and separate from the Empire. It was also the most powerful planet around.

That was going to a fun job, one that Steve was going to enjoy.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


Author Notes – Nathan Howe

Politics Equals Death was an interesting story to write. If I'm honest, I find book two in any series to be one of the hardest to write. I’m not sure why, but I never find it easy. This one was both different and the same. I enjoyed writing about the crew of the Rossi. They are an interesting cast of characters.

Learning more about them is fun and seeing where the adventure takes them is a blast. I do hope you enjoyed it as well. More will be learned in the next about Drake, and the mystery woman, along with Taylor.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank my writing group Phoenix Prime. Without them, this story wouldn’t be possible. Especially Scott, Kat, Diane, Dorene, and Ni-cole. Their help and encouragement make each story better.

My stories wouldn’t be possible without my family and friends. They give me the support I need to write each and every day. You, the reader, are a big reason why I write too. Without you, this story wouldn’t exist. Thank you.

I’m already working on getting the next book in Smuggle Life ready for you. It shouldn’t take too long. The crew of the Rossi has many adventures in front of them.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

Author Introduction – Nathan Howe

Nathan is a writer of science fiction and fantasy. He has superhero stories as well as dystopian, apocalyptic. time travel, and YA fantasy. Nathan loves writing across many genres as they allow him to create varied and interesting stories.

His hobbies are vast but include reading, exercising, video games, Netflix, and going to movies. Outside of writing, Nathan is proud of his time in the Military. Nathan also loves his cat, Luna. She spends her days plotting to distract him and is usually successful.

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Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

The Ardent Saga

Not all heroes are equal

Djinn Park

Burning Out

Power Sink

The Gadget King

Frozen Aura

The Ardent Saga Volume One (1-5)

The Stone of Azuria

The Butcher of Djinn Park

The Ascension of Natalia

Remy’s Aghast

Enter Assassin

Assault of the Mechajunks

Even Superheroes Fall in Love

Collab with Kris Endicott - Mysterious Hearts

Rise of Lacerate – Coming Soon

Emerge

Origin. Superheroes. Apocalyptic.

Emerge: Cataclysm

The Cretun Chronicles

Young Adult. Survival. Adventure.

Phoenix Galactic (Harper)

Jeremiah

Miles

Aiden

Philip

Mason – Coming Soon

The Elementalist

Young Adult Elemental Magic

The Prophecy - Phoenix Prime FO Anthology

Flight of the Phoenix (Scheme of the Wind)

The Goblin and the Grocer (The Draft and Her Mother)

An Absent Gale

Time Marshal

Time Travel. Cops. Protection.

Time Marshal

First Trip - Ticking of the Phoenix Clock - Coming Soon

Urban Fantasy Series

Supernaturals running for their lives

The Shattered Veil

First Dawn – Coming Soon

Alastair – Badger Hole Bar – Coming Soon

Boxed Sets/Collections

The Ardent Saga Volume One

The Ardent Saga Volume Two

Anthologies

Phoenix Galactic

Flight of the Phoenix

The Goblin and the Grocer

Snapshots of Life I

Haunted Hearts I

Phoenix Fantasy II

Phoenix Galactic II

Prime Fiction II

Primed for Action: Defending Home

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

Author Notes - T. S. Paul

Thanks for giving Book Two of Smuggle Life a try. The Athena Lee Universe is growing with leaps and bounds this year. Nathan is expanding it like I never would have imagined. This is just the beginning for the series, we have six books total mapped out. Next up will be Book Three, Cut and Run.

Nathan isn’t the only one writing in the Universe this year. Author Freddie Kim is joining us soon with Athena Lee Books Eleven and Twelve. When we last saw Athena she was basking in a victory that could have been a defeat. The new Earth Empire is coming, and nothing she or her friends can do will stop them.

Over in my other Universe, Agatha Blackmore is returning soon in Book Eight, Child of Darkness. What she confronts will shock her and her team. A long-awaited plot will be exposed, and the events that follow will set the tone for the rest of the series to come. But that is what happens after. First members of A.R.C.A.N.E. must do battle with the Demonic threat left by the Strega and the Missionaries of Death. False Gods is coming soon.

Be sure to take a step back in time, as well. The new Jack Dalton, Monster Hunter series is now available monthly. Who knows what evil he will find next? Get yours today or read it for free on the third Wednesday of every month.

As always follow me on Facebook, Amazon, and my author page for updates and more. Book Bub and Goodreads fans will be pleased to find me on those sites as well.

<<<>>>

Writing is hard. But it has become the driving force in my life, and I cannot think of my life without it. The book you have just completed was my sole focus for many months just to be able to place it in your hand and on your reader. I hope you enjoyed it.

The many worlds of TS Paul have grown over the past two years. On the Science Fiction side, empires have risen, and tyrants have fallen. Zombies rule the skies as clones do battle on strange worlds. Here on Earth, the FBI uses Witchcraft to fight crime and bring justice to the oppressed. Alternate or History? The books abound. And the worlds grow.

Expect many new books this year. For 2018 I have more than two dozen planned that will delight and surprise even my most die-hard fan. Follow me on Facebook, my website, author page, and Goodreads to learn more.

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

Author Introduction – T S Paul

I’m now into my second year as a published author. With over 25 works under my belt already my pace is relentless. Writing was never a goal of mine growing up. I really did fall into this accidentally. My wife and family knew of my love of books and urged me to try writing. It wasn’t until an author i befriended gave me a short push off a long pier that i really gave it a go. And what a go that was!

Athena Lee and Agatha Blackmore have given way to over 50 short stories. I write a lot. The future is in books and I’m in it for the long haul. Keep your eyes peeled for new and exciting things coming from me this year. Don’t forget to check the Blog every week for a new Wilson or Fergus story.

I welcome comments and questions on my blog. Follow me on Facebook or visit my Amazon author page. I have an author page with BookBub too.

I’m excited, are you?

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe

The Federal Witch

Born a Witch Drafted by the FBI! - Now Available in Audio!

Conjuring Quantico - Now Available in Audio!

Magical Probi - Now Available in Audio!

Special Agent in Charge - Now Available in Audio!

Witness Enchantment

Night of the Unicorn

Invisible Elder - TBD

Blood on the Moon - TBD

Child of Darkness - TBD

A Draft of Dragons - TBD

Cat’s Night Out, Tails from the Federal Witch - Audio Available

Serpent Con

Darkness Revealed

The Standard of Honor

Shade of Honor

Familiar Trials - Fledgling

Coven Codex -October 2017

A Confluence of Covens -TBD

Conflict of Commitments -TBD

Standard of Honor -TBD

The Mongo Files

The Case of the Jamaican Karma -TBD

The Case of the Lazy Magnolia - TBD

The Case of the Rugrat Exorcist -TBD

Cookbooks From the Federal Witch Universe

Marcella’s Garden Cookbook

Fergus Favorites Cookbook

Marcella’s Summer Bounty Cookbook

Marcella’s Autumn Harvest - Coming Soon!

Read and Eat Cookbooks

Badger Hole Bar Food Cookbook

Athena Lee Chronicles

The Forgotten Engineer

Engineering Murder

Ghost Ships of Terra

Revolutionary

Insurrection

Imperial Subversion

The Martian Inheritance - Audio Now Available

Infiltration

Prelude to War

War to the Knife

Ghosts of Noodlemass Past

Athena Lee Universe

Shades of Learning

Space Cadets - Coming Soon Late 2017

Short Story Collections

Wilson’s War

A Colony of CATTs

Unicorns are Short

Box Sets

The Federal Witch: The Collected Works, Book 1

Chronicles of Athena Lee Book 1-3

Chronicles of Athena Lee Book 4-6

Chronicles of Athena Lee Book 7-9 plus the prequel

Athena Lee Chronicles (10 Book Series)

Standalone or tie-ins

The Tide: The Multiverse Wave

The Lost Pilot

Uncommon Life

Kurtherian Gambit

Alpha Class. The Etheric Academy book 1

Alpha Class - Engineering. The Etheric Academy Book 2

The Etheric Academy (2 Book Series)

Holiday Tales

Tales from the Pumpkin Patch

Night of the Living Turkeys

Anthologies

Phoenix Galactic

The Expanding Universe Book 2

Cupid’s Bow

Mysterious Hearts

Journal with a View: July - August - September

Prime Peek I

Snapshots of Life I

Haunted Hearts I

Taking it in the Road

Silent Thanks

Non-Fiction

Get that [email protected] off your Cover!: The so-called Miracle Man speaks out

Study Guide and Timeline: The Athena Lee Chronicles

Politics Equals Death: From the Athena Lee Universe


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