Author Feature – from ‘Ideal Insurgent’ by Stephanie Barr

Two top analysts escaped their intellectual enslavement to the Empire, now intent on taking that same government down using any and every method at their disposal, not the least of which were their great analytical minds. Bryder was well-suited for this task, a chaos agent with laser-sharp instincts, a grudge against the Empire, and contacts with rebels throughout the universe. But Nayna was the one they'd really have to watch out for.

Bryder slid the first connector into place with a snap he could feel in his fingers. One down, two to go.

“Why don’t we start again and you explain the situation,” Ralf said. “Go from the beginning, and give me the details.”

“That’s my girl, keep him talking,” Bryder said, then played his tongue over his lips as he tried to force the second connector into its socket, given he couldn’t see it with the controller floating in the way. “Damn leads should have been longer so I didn’t have to do this blind,” he told the controller testily. The controller bobbed in front of his face with no sign of contrition.

“We don’t have time for this!” Nayna insisted over the airways and he could have kissed her because Ralf’s reaction was automatic: slow things down. The irony was that his reaction was training Nayna had likely given him: when someone wants something in a hurry, that’s a red flag to move with caution.

The gel suit had far less resistance to work against than the old inflatables spacemen used to work with, but even so, the fine delicate hand work was exhausting and he could feel it in his fingers, wrist, and shoulder. His face was noticeably getting warmer, thanks to the extra radiation and his nerves weren’t exactly helping to keep him comfortable. When he missed his socket again and the connector slipped off the tool, he had to stop himself from throwing tool out into the emptiness of space in his frustration, something foolish for any number of reasons. Not the least, of course, was that its loss would make a very difficult job impossible, but also that it was tethered and would probably smack him hard when it bounced back, perhaps even compromise the suit.

With a few Rellimarian curses and careful tongue placement, he managed to slide the connector back onto the tool. Maybe if he got a better angle… Using the handhold, he released his foot from the first foot restraint and slid his other foot into it. That left a free-floating foot, but, if he tucked it behind the other, he was unlikely to kick anything and give himself another repair task. Plus, this way, he had a better angle looking into the other side of the hole.

He sighed. No wonder he was having trouble. He was trying to install the connector upside down. Of course, that meant he had to reinstall the connector in the tool.

As he wrestled with hardware, he listened to her give a perfectly credible rendition of their escape story, only in this case, she wasn’t the mastermind with an incapacitated Bryder. Instead, he was a dastardly villain who had tricked her into loaning her room to the pilot because he was going to seduce her in his ship. She had no experience, she said forlornly with a very believable sniffle, and he said he just wanted to sneak out into orbit to give her taste of zero g sex.

Instead, he had kidnapped her, and, as soon as they had launched, knocked her unconscious. She hadn’t come to until they had come out of jump into a storm that had incapacitated the ship. No gravity, a fraction of life support and transmitter power, no engines. He had to hand it to her, variations on the truth sounded far more plausible, however unflattering they were to him, than total fabrications. And, with that, the second connector clicked into place. He glanced to the side at his Heads Up Display. It had taken him over an hour to get here. He’d better get cracking.

He took a long drag on the drink straw that reached a bag nestled between his shoulder blades and nearly choked when Ralf said, “I’m finding some of this hard to believe. I’ve worked with Bryder for years. Let me talk to him.”

Nayna said, without hesitation. “He’s dead. I spaced him.” Bryder spat it out involuntarily, contaminating his front helmet’s optics. Nor could he clean them again until he was back inside and could remove the helmet.

Shit. Shit. Shit. He had to hurry.

Ideal Insurgent by Stephanie Barr is out now.

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