Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Shapeshifter, #Space Opera
Born to master mechanics, she fights her way into the Guardians and finds a path to glory when she gears up.
Niad has controlled herself since returning from the Citadel. She has kept out of the public eye and kept off the Guardians’ radar. Her talent is not encouraged by her people, and she is not legally allowed to participate in a rescue, a natural disaster or any law-enforcement actions.
She keeps her head down and continues her work as a vehicle repair specialist until the day that her careful actions mix with a disaster. She finds a fire
where a repair job is supposed to be and takes steps to do the best she can for those trapped inside.
That one act is observed by one of the Guardians and evolves into an arrest, a charge, freedom and a change in position. She is ready to gear up.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 Viola Grace
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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Tales of the Citadel Book 54
Niad Wyfirth could feel the heat beating against her skin. Only a thin layer of metal was situated between her and the cascade of fire below. The smelting plant was under siege by fire, and she was their only chance.
Niad crept forward inch by inch; her yellow and red thermal suit protected her skin from the glowing metal of the crawlspace. Breathing was accomplished via the pack on her back and the mask over her mouth.
She wanted to mutter to herself as she positioned herself over the hatch above the slipped gearing system. One lost connection and the heavy, metal transport cauldrons dislodged and the plant caught fire.
Getting the conveyer arm into working order was the only way to get the fire-suppression systems online. It was currently blocking the vents that would cool the molten metal.
Niad wasn’t a climber by nature, but the necessity for her to learn was there. She descended out of the vent and used clips and cables to keep herself above the chaos below.
This was not really what she was good at, but she lined up facing the broken mechanism and reached out to begin tucking it back into working order.
was the best description of her talent, and she lived up to it in the minutes while she swung above the molten metal and fire. When she got the pieces back together, she had to winch the cauldron back into alignment. Sweat made her hands slip as she ratcheted the unit into the track. She prepared to swing free.
She activated her com. “Try to retract the unit.”
“Got it. Swing clear.”
Niad pulled herself back on her cables and held on while the machine shuddered back to life and the mechanism tilted the cauldron back into an upright position. The moment it was up and out of the way, the sprinkler system came to life and rain pelted down at a furious pace, bringing the conflagration under control.
Niad hung onto the cable and watched the fire dwindle and the ash begin to run in the gutters.
She looked up, into the water streaming from the suppression system. “Can someone get me down now?”
Laughter ran through the com system, and the exercise was complete.
“Niad Wyfirth, you are now a qualified Specialist.”
She grinned into the artificial rain.
* * * *
Niad wiped her hands on a greasy rag and headed into the main office. “Mom, the Diniaric skimmer is fixed.”
Her mom looked up from the monitor and smiled. “Good. I will let them know. Do you have time to do that coolant change?”
Niad wrinkled her nose. “I promised to check out the cooling system at the school. Can it wait until I get back?”
“Yes. They just brought it in, and I told them it wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow.” Mlina Skarrow smiled. “Where is your father?”
“Under the riot runner. He can’t get the propulsion system to stop belching, and he doesn’t want help.”
Her mother grinned. “I will get his meal ready.”
Niad chuckled and grabbed her tool kit. “See you in a few hours. I will get lunch before I come back.”
“Great. Take care out there. I have heard alarms going off all morning.”
“I will be careful.”
Niad slipped the strap of her bag over her shoulder and left the shop.
The lights and sirens were blocks away. She could see the riot runners and flying forms of the local Guardians. Whatever was going on was none of her business.
She headed for the school, and when she rounded the corner, horror filled her. The school was engulfed in flames.
The Guardians were clustered at the edge of the safe zone, but there were children’s faces in the window on the second floor, trapped by the approaching flames.
Niad didn’t try to argue or convince the officers; she ran to the underground access and dropped through, with her tools with her. She caught the gaze of one of the masked Guardians as she disappeared, but he didn’t shout at her to stop.
Underground, she grabbed for her flashlight, and then, she ran.
The fire-suppression system was based on the coolant lines that she was just called in to fix. The main lines were underground, so she sprinted to the school feeds.
She grimaced when she finally arrived at the panels. They hadn’t been properly maintained, and if they had called her one day earlier, this wouldn’t have been a thing.
There wasn’t time for fine-tuning, so she slapped her hand to the panel and she moved everything to their proper places.
It took precious seconds, but when she felt the final piece in place, she threw the switch and the compressor flared to life.
“What are you doing?” The low voice challenged her from back down the tunnel.
She kept her face toward the panel and increased the pressure to blow the sprinkler heads. “Fixing the suppression system. I was just called in this morning to do an overhaul of the coolant system this afternoon. This is the basic access.”
A second voice came through a com unit. “Tauron, the fire is going out. We are getting them out; where are you?”
“How can I get into the school?”
She pointed down the hall as she kept her other hand on the panel. “Down the tunnel and to the right. Go up the stairs and take the ladder. You will come out in the machine room. The classes in danger will be a thousand feet to the left and up a second set of stairs.”
He grunted, and there was the wave of the power that came with his burst of energy and speed. She heard the thudding of the doors as he made his way into the school and up the steps.
Niad finished her work, keeping the system online as long as the heat level was above ambient temperature.
She got herself together and walked back the way she had come, making her way up and out of the tunnels and sliding the grate back over her entryway.
The students with tears on their faces were huddled together, others were being treated for burns, and the Guardians were standing in the light of the news crews, giving an interview about the survival of all of the students and teachers while the fire was still being crushed behind them.
Tauron was standing at the edge of the Guardian gathering, his hands on his hips. He gave her the slightest nod, and she disappeared into the shadows.
Mechanical talents were the lowest of the low. It was better to have no talent at all than to be a mechanical manipulator. Her parents had saved up and sent her to the Citadel for training. She had come home as a Citadel Specialist and Metal Manipulation Master. Now, she fixed vehicles because the Guardians didn’t want a mechanic on their books.
Niad headed back to the shop and waved at her parents. “Sorry about that. The school was on fire. I couldn’t get near it.”
Her dad extended his plate to her. “I am guessing you didn’t stop for food.”
She chuckled. “I will scrub up. Back in a minute.”
* * * *
Mlina watched the news and the Guardians being interviewed about the fire. When Guardian Tauron was finally questioned, he gave a surprising answer.
Guardian Tauron, what do you think helped you get everyone out safely?
” The reporter leaned in with the lens, and Tauron’s masked face filled the screen.
The Guardian turned toward the vid recorder fully and said. “
Our skills were useless to help the children. Anything that we could do would have let air rush in to feed the fire. The children were saved by a mechanical talent who managed to get the fire-suppression system on in time to save lives. I don’t know who she is, but she saw the problem and stepped into action to save them. We are not the heroes today, she is.
He stopped the interview, and the rest of the Guardians alternated between staring at him and waving at their fans.
Mlina glanced at her husband, who was watching over her shoulder. “So, what do you think? Good or bad?”
He placed his hands on her shoulders. “Niad can handle it, but we had better buckle in. This is a change in policy that can rock the world we live in.”
“So, good but scary?” She gripped one of his hands.
“Yeah, but, at least, this time, we don’t have to send her off world. We can be here to help if she needs it.”
Mlina thought about calling her family to intervene if Niad ran into trouble. They hadn’t spoken to her since she ran off with Nmir, but her father had sent messages via a third party over the last few years. He wanted contact with her but not her husband or child. That was the only reason they hadn’t spent the last three city festivals together.
Her family had kept her from entering a permanent spouse contract with the man she loved, so she was not happy at the thought of rejoining them and pretending that Nmir wasn’t the best thing that had ever happened to her. She had determined to hold out until they accepted all of her family and let them formalize it or live her life with her convenience-contract husband and their daughter.
That plan might need to be chucked out if her daughter needed family help. They could and would help her. She was their only granddaughter, even if she was a mechanical talent.
Niad was working on the riot runner that her dad hadn’t managed to put together when she heard her name being called.
“Niad Wyfirth? Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me where I can find Niad Wyfirth?”
Niad rolled out from under the suspended vehicle and looked at the three officers and the bureaucrat that were ridiculously out of place in the repair shop.
“I am Niad.”
The first officer took out a pair of restraint cuffs. “We need you to come with us.”
The woman in the suit nodded nervously. “Please come peacefully. We are here to arrest you for interfering in a Guardian mission to rescue the children at the Markwith Skarrow School.”
Niad nodded. “I guessed as much. Please, allow me to scrub my hands, and I will come with you.”
“Of course, miss.”
She got to her feet and turned off the air cushion that had held her off the floor but let her slide. Her father told her stories about the rollers that he used to use, but this was better by far.
Niad watched them observe her as she crossed the room. It was as if they thought she was a criminal, but in their estimation, she was.
She scrubbed under her nails, dried her hands and held them out for the dampening cuffs.
Her parents were in the office, but they had already had a conversation. If someone came for her, she would go. If this was going to work, she had to cooperate fully.
She let them march her out the front door like a criminal. Neighbours from nearby businesses came out to watch as she was tucked into the government vehicle with her hands cuffed. She went without a word.
They pulled up at the courthouse instead of the jail. That was something at least.