Authors: Gun Brooke
Three stories of courageous women who dare to love as they fight to claim a future in a hostile universe.
, Chief Medical Officer Gemma Meyers works to rebuild the Gantharat home world. When forced to collaborate with druid and herbalist Ciel O’Diarda, Gemma struggles with her bias over Ciel’s profession and her attraction.
The Queen and the Captain
, Captain Dana Rhoridan fully expects her assignment to transport the infamous former Queen EiLeen of Immidestria to Gantharat to be pure hell. She realizes the queen hides behind a façade, harboring dangerous secrets that place lives in the balance. But is the queen friend or foe?
, Chief Engineer Korrian Heigel is in charge of designing a fleet of ships able to transport millions from an endangered planet. Working with Chief Psychologist-Anthropologist Meija Solimar, the two clash over every aspect of the project. But an unknown enemy is at work forcing them to unite or all will be lost.
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© 2013 By Gun Brooke. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-920-6
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First Edition: June 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Editors: Shelley Thrasher and Stacia Seaman
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Art by Gun Brooke
Cover Design By Sheri ([email protected])
Course of Action
The Supreme Constellations Series:
Protector of the Realm
Change Horizons: Three Novellas
Writing these novellas was something new for me—at least doing it like this, planned, prepared, and so on. I learned a lot while sticking to the slightly shorter format for each story, but it was tremendous fun. I loved revisiting old friends from the Supreme Constellations universe—and introducing some new ones.
Thank you Len Barot, aka Radclyffe, for your continued faith in me. I am so glad to belong to the BSB family. It’s my professional home.
Dr. Shelley Thrasher, my wonderful editor, you are my rock. You are also a very good friend and I’m proud to be the writer you were first assigned to at BSB. We work very well together, and you know my writing better than anyone.
Stacia—Eagle Eyes—you are a miraculously meticulous copy editor who spots what Shelley and I missed despite a gazillion read-throughs. Your talent is nothing short of amazing.
Sheri, graphic artist—as always a pleasure to work with you. You’re gracious with your praise regarding my artwork, and I love how you put it all together and make it look sharp.
Connie, Lori, Cindy, Sandy, Toni, and all the others working with and for BSB—and my colleagues as well, of course, I’m so happy and thankful for the work you do to help, promote, and support us writers.
My first readers, Laura, USA; Maggie, Sweden; and Sam, South Africa—thank you for all the hours you dedicate to reading and commenting. It’s been rewarding, informative, helpful, and fun. The fact that you’re all among my very best friends in the world is humbling.
No matter what anyone thinks, as solitary as writing can be, no one lives in a vacuum. I would starve and be miserable without Elon. I have the constant support from Malin, Henrik, Pentti, the grandkids, Ove and Monica, and even my dogs. Another constant source of love and friendship is Joanne, with whom I just celebrated 12-12-12-12.
I have the most amazing readers and followers. I want to acknowledge the readers, the MirAndy community, my faithful Advent Calendar readers, and anyone who has expressed how much reading my books and other BSB books has meant to them. Authors write to express themselves and be read—and you, the readers, make every hour of hard work that goes into writing our books totally worth it.
For giving me what I value most.
For 32 more years—at least.
And…for all the breakfasts.
“Oh, for stars and skies, it had to be
.” Chief Medical Officer Gemma Meyer groaned at the sight of the tall Gantharian woman striding toward her.
Dr. Ciel O’Diarda, Gantharian druid and herbal healer, moved with self-assured grace. Her black-white-silver striped hair was tied back in a low, tight braid, and startlingly blue eyes emphasized her chiseled face. All Gantharians were blue-blooded in the truest sense of the word. Their “red” blood cells were in fact the color of sapphire, which made Ciel’s skin tone faintly blue, as well as her lips.
Gemma couldn’t help but compare this woman to her other Gantharian friends, especially Kellen O’Dal, Protector of the Realm. Kellen had invited her to Gantharat and was grateful to have her help restore and update Gantharat’s health-care system now that the Onotharian occupation had ended. But Ciel O’Diarda had not been coy about her disdain for Supreme Constellation medicine. Gemma found this attitude infuriating since the SC had just made Gantharat a free world again. On top of that, Gemma finally had a chance to visit some of the places where her plans had been implemented, and her Gantharian guide had to be Ciel. Wonderful.
“Dr. Meyer.” Ciel pursed her lips and bowed slightly. “The convoy is ready.”
O’Diarda,” Gemma replied. Ciel clenched her jaws. Good, Gemma thought. Her scornful emphasis of her title had hit home. “What a surprise.” She wished Kellen had chosen someone else. To begin with, a real doctor would’ve been nice.
“I’m sure you’re as…astonished as I was when Protector O’Dal contacted me.”
“Astonished doesn’t even begin to describe it.” Gemma hoisted her sling-bag and walked up to the closest hovercraft. An SC soldier stood by the door leading into the passenger section.
“I’m Dr. Gemma Meyer. Which vehicle am I supposed to ride in?”
“In the second one together with Dr. O’Diarda, ma’am.” The soldier saluted. “We’re hauling your equipment into the cargo-craft and expect to head out in an hour.”
“Fantastic. Thank you, Sergeant.” Placing her hands on her hips, Gemma slowly turned to Ciel. “Looks like we’re going to muddle through this together.”
“I heard.” Ciel’s expression was stoic, but she looked like she wanted to sigh just as deeply. “According to our route, we should reach Paustenja by nightfall. We’ll set up camp—”
“I know. I know. We’re roughing it. I may have been a space rat most of my professional life, but I can still read an itinerary and retain the information.”
“Roughing it.” Ciel snorted, her eyes turning into slits of contempt. “Our definitions of what constitutes rough might differ. Staying in environmentally controlled habitats is hardly rough.”
“You’re right.” Gemma made her voice sugary and her smile cold. “The habitats are not all that bad. That said, I can tell you haven’t been to my office in the former Onotharian bunker next to the exercise fields.”
“Nor do I ever intend to set foot where they conducted interrogations and conjured up all sorts of ways to torment my people.”
“Interrogations?” Gemma pressed her lips together at the thought of her offices having been the place of such atrocities. “In Bunker Twelve?”
“In all of them.” Ciel sneered. “Ah, please, Doctor, don’t tell me you didn’t know?”
Swallowing, Gemma forced the images of what had gone on in Bunker 12 and others from her mind. “Actually, no. I didn’t.” She turned and entered the hovercraft. When Gemma arrived on Gantharat, she’d thrown herself into the medical issues that needed her attention around the clock. Some of her peers went through a more thorough orientation, but Gemma saw the urgent need for her particular expertise. The first two weeks she had joined the trauma surgeons, and during the following two weeks, she monitored the work of some internal-medicine physicians. Long before her introduction was over, Gemma knew she would have to remain on Gantharat much longer than the six months originally in her orders.
The hovercraft she and Ciel now boarded was divided into two small quarters. It was clearly one of the bigger vehicles, as it was luxurious by Gantharian standards. Gemma put her bag on the bunk in one of the spaces and sat down. She would have to wrap her head around the fact that the one person she clearly detested would be her guide. The fact that Ciel seemed to walk around with even bigger personal issues than Gemma would make for an interesting, putting it diplomatically, journey.
Another voice called out. “Ma’am? Commander Meyer? We made good time getting ready. If you are all set, we can move out within ten minutes.”
“Excellent. Find Dr. O’Diarda and let’s be on our way.” She poked her head out. “Is my communication panel online?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The young SC soldier stood at attention, her eyes covered by sunshades. “You’ll have audio and video in the more densely populated areas and, later, audio only.”
“Very good, Corporal.” Gemma nodded and ducked back into her quarters. She sat on the stool by the narrow desk and let the equipment scan her retina. “Chief Medical Officer Gemma Meyer to Admiral Rae Jacelon.”
A low hum echoed through the hovercraft and then a throaty, clipped voice answered. “Dr. Meyer. How are you doing, Commander?” The admiral’s pale features appeared on the screen. Blue-gray eyes and fiery red hair emphasized the commanding presence she projected. Gemma had known and served with the admiral for the last fifteen years and respected her highly. The fact that Rae Jacelon had married Kellen O’Dal and become an esteemed protector as well only added to her legend.
“I’m fine, thank you, Admiral. We’re heading out in a few minutes and I expect to reach the first small city, Rihoa, by noon tomorrow. We’re building a set of clinics in the residential areas, and I need to check up on the progress of the staff’s education. They’re the first to use the advanced module.”
“Yes, that’s quite exciting.” The admiral smiled. “I saw a summary of the initial reports.”
“Thank you, Admiral. I’m carefully optimistic, but—” Gemma stopped herself. “Speaking of this mission, any particular reason why I need an entire SC unit? I could travel faster if I had just a shuttle and a handful of soldiers.”
“No. Part of your mission takes you to areas where shuttles can’t navigate, let alone land. The radiation is harmless for humanoids and wildlife, but any high-altitude technology is useless there. The hovercraft are outfitted with protection.”
“What about the sensitive medical instruments the SC is donating?” Gemma asked, alarmed.
“They’re stored in protective containers. The Gantharians have been most informative and helpful. Dr. O’Diarda knows this vast area like the back of her hand. She’ll be able to guide you and offer advice.” Rae tilted her head. “Something tells me you’re not entirely pleased regarding that.”
“I’m hesitant. Dr. O’Diarda isn’t a physician. We don’t speak the same language, professionally. She’s some sort of shaman and herbal expert. How can she know what I need to prioritize?”
“You’ll find that Dr. O’Diarda knows more than most Gantharians. She’s a druid and, yes, an expert on medicinal plants. This made it possible for her to keep people alive during the occupation.”
“All very admirable and something I normally would find interesting, but she—”
“You’re stuck with her, Gemma. When I asked the former leader of the resistance, Andreia M’Aldovar, whom to send with you, Ciel O’Diarda was the obvious choice. I even made Kellen double-check, but she claimed she didn’t have to. Even she had heard of Dr. O’Diarda while she was in the resistance.”
“All right.” When Rae had made up her mind and issued an order, that was it. “I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Again.”
“I know you two butted heads over planning during your last encounter. Try to ignore that and learn from her as much as you teach others. That’s the best advice I can give you.”
“Will do my best.” Gemma felt more like thudding her forehead against the screen. “Please, tell Kellen I said hello. Being a protector dealing with an interim government can’t be easy. I hope you get to see her once in a while.”
“Once in a while,” Rae said, and nodded wistfully. “We know it’ll calm down little by little. At least we’re both planet-side and under the same roof.”
The hovercraft began to hum louder. “We’re moving out. I should let you go, Rae. I’ll connect to the base in twenty-four hours and deliver my report.”
“Remain safe. Jacelon out.” The SC logo appeared as Rae disconnected.
Gemma had moved to sit on the bed when she heard a knock on her door. “Enter.”
The door hissed open and revealed Ciel. Leaning against the door frame, ankles crossed and arms folded, she looked at Gemma and smiled faintly. “Getting comfortable?”
“Yes. I checked in with Jacelon. Next report tomorrow this time.” She was oddly uncomfortable and thought it might be because Ciel’s devastatingly blue eyes rarely blinked as she gazed at her.
“You hungry? There’s a small kitchenette in the back with a table for four. I brought fresh vegetables and some food I prepared to last a few weeks. I can’t stand the synthetic stuff.”
“At least one thing we agree on.” Gemma pursed her lips. “Yes. Thank you. I’m quite hungry. Can I help?”
“I’m sure you can, but right now it’s not necessary. I thought I’d heat some g’benka soup. I have bread to go with it.”
Things might be looking up. Fresh food and real bread? Gemma navigated a narrow bulkhead and found the kitchenette more spacious than she’d thought. Granted, Ciel was at least ten centimeters taller and, um, curvier than she was. Gemma’s cheeks warmed at the too-personal observation. This was so unlike her. Her shoulders tensed into the usual square shape as she sat down on one of the stools at the small counter. Squinting, she followed Ciel’s easily flowing movements as she prepared their food.
Ciel didn’t believe in certainties. In her experience, the only inevitabilities in life were that she would die one day and that life in general was unpredictable. Now she would have to add a third to this very short list. She was sure, beyond any doubt, that she’d never met a woman like Gemma Meyer. The woman was clearly a brilliant doctor, but she was annoying, disdainful, opinionated, and had obviously worked relentlessly without much rest ever since she reached Gantharat.
“Here you go.” She placed the steaming-hot mug of soup in front of Gemma and watched her grab it with pale fingers. Her hands seemed frail, too slender and elegant to belong to an esteemed trauma surgeon from the Supreme Constellation. She knew, of course, that Gemma was also a commander in the SC fleet, which was a testament to how looks could deceive. No doubt the good doctor was as lethal as she was able to heal. Ciel’s thoughts visited her own past, but as quick as a Mirisian butterfly, they skipped ahead to present time. No good ever came from dwelling on those years.
“Soup all right?” Ciel sipped from her own mug and sat down.
“It’s amazing, actually.” Gemma sounded surprised. “I can’t even describe the taste other than it’s…delicious.”
“I’m glad you think so. It’s also very healthy. The main ingredient is a root that only grows in the wild. So far it has foiled any attempt by farmers to grow it, for hundreds of years.”
“Really?” Gemma looked into her bowl as if the root were readily visible. “Sort of like a farmer’s holy grail, then.”
“Holy grail? I suppose.” Ciel wasn’t familiar with the expression but thought she understood the meaning. “The legend says that whoever tames this root will obtain eternal bliss.”
“Sounds like a dream for many poor farmers. Can it be synthesized?”
“I don’t know.” Ciel shrugged. “I’ve never heard of anyone trying. I doubt you’d get the same healing qualities if you did. There are more to things than molecular structures.”
“I don’t entirely agree, but I can understand, in this case at least, what you mean.” Gemma finished the contents of her mug. “I don’t think it’d taste the same way if you dissolved powder in hot water. The taste and the fibers are probably part of its qualities.”
Ciel stared at Gemma, wondering if this was the same woman who had practically flogged her in front of some student physicians at Ganath’s largest hospital. Ciel didn’t visit the capital very often, and she remembered vividly how much she’d regretted going that particular time, a month ago.
“Don’t look at me like I sprouted another head,” Gemma said irritably. “I may be a stickler for traditional medicine and science, but even I know that a lot of it has roots in the knowledge of herbs and plants.”
“I wish you could’ve mentioned that to the students when we met last time.”
“We were discussing post-surgery routines. Hardly enigmatic roots or teaching history.” Gemma pressed her lips together, the tension around her eyes back now.
Ciel wanted to pinch herself for disrupting Gemma’s reasonable mood. They would be traveling for hours at a time in the hovercraft, just the two of them. Someone had to act mature and make sure this frustrating woman could do her job unhindered.
“I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Ciel said, shaking her head. “We don’t see eye to eye on this and we never will. I don’t want to keep arguing while we’re on this mission.”
Gemma studied her through narrow slits. It was amazing how stunning she was. Ciel was used to being suspicious of anyone who wasn’t blue-blooded like herself. She realized that a lot of Onotharians still lived on Gantharat, and most of them had lived there before the Onotharian Empire had occupied her home world. These Onotharians had either joined the occupants or remained loyal to Gantharat, but either way, it was hard to tell the difference just by looking at them. Watching Gemma now, who wasn’t blue-blooded or as warm-colored as the Onotharians, Ciel didn’t know how to respond.
Gemma wasn’t very tall and was quite slender, her skin transparent and pale. The only thing about her that looked Onotharian was the dark-brown, slightly tousled hair that reached her earlobes. Long and slender, her neck rose from the collar of her coverall uniform, which hid the rest of her very effectively. Ciel wasn’t sure why she paid such attention to detail when it came to Gemma. It had been the same the last time they met. Remembering how Gemma had lectured her in front of everybody, Ciel found herself reflecting more about how Gemma must have lost weight in the last month rather than how incensed she had been that time.