Authors: Gini Koch
The Royal Scam
The Martian Alliance 1
An imprint of
The Royal Scam, The Martian Alliance Book One, Copyright © 2011 by Gini Koch
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This e-Book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
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Published by Musa Publishing, October 2011
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Editor: Celina Summers
Cover Design: Kelly Shorten
Interior Book Design: Coreen Montagna
The Royal Scam
sure this will work?” my lady-in-waiting gasped out as we hurried along the walkway by the docking bays. I was looking for a specific ship, one that could get into space fast and jump to hyperspace even faster.
I took her hand and pulled her along. “Positive. You have the wedding dowry from Prince Ignatius?”
She shoved the bag of galaxy-wide gemstones into my hand. “I double-checked. They’re all in there.”
The Captain of the Guard was on her other side. He held her other hand. “You’re still set on going alone, not taking us with you, my princess?”
“Positive, yes.” I looked around. We were definitely not alone, and even though I had a long cloak on and the hood up, covering most of my face, we hadn’t been speaking softly. I knew at least some of the space folk in this area had heard us.
“You’ve cut it close,” the Captain said. “The wedding is tomorrow.”
“Whatever.” I spotted what I was looking for—a small, sleek spaceship. It was more elegant than most of the other ships in the bays. It reminded me of a little silver bird. I recognized this class of ship—Strikers.
Strikers had been created during the Purge. They were still among the fastest and most nimble spaceships flying these days, difficult to trap, harder to catch. Best of all, the ship appeared ready to depart. A human male and what looked like a walking toad were fiddling around in the way all spacers seemed to right before liftoff.
I walked quickly to them; the others followed.
The man turned, and my throat tightened. He was tall, handsome, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He was in tight pants and shirt, and was clearly all wiry muscle. He also had on a double laser belt and high boots, common to spacers from Mars. Just standing there he radiated masculinity. His eyes narrowed as we reached him.
“I need your help,” I said without preamble. “I need to get off-planet immediately. I’ll pay you well.”
He looked us up and down. “Where are you headed?”
He snorted. “That’s a long way away…Princess. I know why you want to go there—no extradition to Galaxy Core planets. But it’ll cost you. A lot.”
“How do you know who I am?”
“Like the rest of the Andromeda Royal Family, Princess Olivia is tall, fair, and beautiful. And, like her three sisters before her, about to be married to a Prince from Diamante, where they grow them rich and ugly.”
“There are plenty of attractive women on Andromeda.”
“Yes, two of them are here before me.” He nodded at my lady-in-waiting. “They make sure the closest retainers resemble their assigned royal here, too. And who else would have the captain of the guard along? You’re incognito, somewhat, but he’s not.” This was true. The Captain was in his full uniform. “Price of flying with us is high, especially under the circumstances.”
I handed the bag to him. “This should cover it.”
He looked inside and raised an eyebrow. Then he handed the bag to the big, walking toad, who’d joined us. “Take a look.” He looked back to me. “I’m the captain, so if this checks out, fine, we’ll do business with you.”
More spacers and dock workers were nearby. I was certain most had marked what we were doing and some had heard what we were saying as well.
The toad emptied the contents into his large, webbed hand. He closed his eyes for a few long moments. “Real.”
The captain nodded. “All three of you—get on board. Now. I think we have company.”
I didn’t turn around. It was likely the Royal Guard.
“Just me.” I turned to my lady-in-waiting and hugged her. “You stay here. Try to comfort my parents as best you can.”
She hugged me tightly. “You’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had—”
“Hush.” I let her go and hugged the Captain as well. “Take care of each other.”
“We will. Godspeed, Princess.” He stepped back and gave me the Royal Salute only given to the Andromeda Royal Family. I curtseyed as appropriate to the Captain of the Guard, then the ship’s captain and the toad hurried me on board.
“Places everyone, now!” the ship’s captain snapped. “You come up to the cockpit,” he added to me.
“Of course.” I tossed my cloak off and followed him. I was in a one-piece fighting suit, so it wasn’t like I was stripping.
We passed a dreamy-looking woman. Her hair was almost white-blond and floated around her head. She smiled serenely. “All is in readiness.”
She followed us to the cockpit. The captain went to his seat, and I sat behind him. A humanoid man sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Well, humanoid if you didn’t count that he had wings as well as arms and legs, and that his head was more bird-like than human.
The birdman turned to me and blinked slowly. “Good to see you.” A traditional greeting between strangers from his home world.
I gave the traditional response. “And to see you.”
“Strap in, all crew,” the captain said over the intercom. “We have military company.”
“Right on schedule,” I murmured.
“Cut the chatter,” the captain said. “We’re lifting off.” He didn’t ask for clearance, which was wise.
The ship blasted off amid a lot of shouting from the flight controllers. Their concerns and orders were ignored. We had to avoid several small, planet flyers, but we did so with ease.
“We’ve hit escape velocity,” the birdman said. The ship shuddered as it shoved its way through Andromeda’s atmosphere.
“And here’s the Royal Armada, right on cue,” the captain muttered.
The captain tuned the radio to the universal communicator link so we could hear what was being said from the command decks of the other ships. Ships from Andromeda and Diamante were trying to surround us without harming the ship, because I was on board.
“Don’t hurt them,” I said urgently. “They’re only doing their jobs.”
The captain shot me a dirty look over his shoulder. “Oh, of course not.” He turned back, muttering under his breath, while he calibrated coordinates, flipped switches, and pushed buttons to ready us for the leap into hyperspace.
Good spacers were part engineer, part astrophysicist, part pilot, with speed, dexterity, and good reflexes. Great ones knew how to pull it all together and go with their gut reactions. They also made it look simple. I knew the calculations were complex, and if the wrong switch was flipped or the right button pushed too early or late, we’d all be space dust. The captain was barely looking at what he was doing, other than the computer calibrations.
He grunted with satisfaction. “Maneuvering into position to jump.”
“Almost ready,” the serene woman said.
“Need to wait,” the birdman said. “We need the right option.”
“Running out of time,” the captain said calmly, as he locked coordinates.
“Unidentified ship, we demand you return Princess Olivia to Andromeda immediately, by decree of King Oliver of Andromeda and Prince Ignatius of Diamante.” King Oliver was speaking from the planet.
I leaned over and hit the communications button. “I’m sorry, father. I love you and mother very much but—”
“Now,” the serene woman whispered.
“Agreed and ready,” the birdman said, just as softly.
A shot headed straight toward us from a Diamante ship. There was no way any ship would escape this direct a hit. I screamed, as loudly as I could, but I could still hear people shouting on the other ships. The captain hit a button, and everything went quiet.
Time slowed down.
When I looked straight ahead, all I saw was the laser beam heading for us, the armada, and the real outline of this ship.
But when I looked out of the sides of my eyes, I could see something else, superimposed over us. A duplicate of this ship, only a little bit larger. As the beam reached this image, the image shattered and exploded.
Our ship, the real ship we were inside, shimmered and jumped to hyperspace right as the shot “hit” the counterfeit ship. Myriad pieces of destroyed spaceship were my last visions of Andromeda’s solar space.
The next few moments were spent feeling compressed. There was nothing to see but blackness. If the calibrations were wrong, this would be the last thing any of us would know—suffocating blackness.
A few moments more of the feeling of suspended death, then my stomach turned inside out and back again, proving we’d made a successful jump.
The windshield blacked out to prevent anyone from being able to see what we were flying past. In the olden days they’d lost many a spacer to blindness or madness, before some unsung genius thought to ensure the “no peeking” rule be built in automatically for every space-worthy ship.
We were all quiet for a few long moments. The serene woman opened her eyes. “All clear. It’s a sad day on Andromeda—Princess Olivia is dead.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “So, can I relax?”
“Yes.” Ciarissa smiled at me. “You can go back to being you.”
“In a second,” Roy said as he hit some more buttons, flipped switches back, spun dials, and checked calibrations. My stomach did another set of flips, meaning we were out of hyperspace. The windshield becoming clear again was also a clue.
“Ciarissa, are we still clear?” Roy asked as he took the ship off of the hyperspace automatics and put it fully under his and Doven’s control again.
She closed her eyes again. “Yes. Doven made us disappear at the perfect moment. All witnesses believe that our ship moved erratically into the line of fire and so was destroyed by a Diamante shot. I find no doubting minds. No one on Andromeda or Diamante doubts that Princess Olivia and the crew who were trying to help her escape are dead.”
“Are any more mind readers searching for Princess Olivia?” I asked.
“No.” Ciarissa smiled at me as she opened her eyes. “Welcome back, DeeDee. Nice job. No one seems clear on who the captain and crew were, Roy.”
He nodded. “I have the best crew in any galaxy. Doven, can you handle flying solo for a bit?”
Doven ruffled his feathers. “Of course.”
“I’ll keep him company,” Ciarissa said. Doven looked pleased.
Roy and I left the cockpit and I heaved a sigh. “What’s your pleasure?”
He grinned. “I like the real you.”
I raised my eyebrow. “You’re sure?”
“Well, if the real you is my little voluptuous redhead, yeah.”
“Not so sure about the voluptuous part, but the little and redheaded is indeed me.”
Roy grinned. “Trust me on the voluptuous.”
I shifted and heaved a sigh of relief. I’d been Princess Olivia for three months, which was a long time to play pretend. It was an even longer time to be away from Roy.
He put his arm around me. “So, want to tell me about it?”
“Not yet.” I still had to rearrange my mind back to my own. I’d liked Princess Olivia a lot, meaning it was harder than normal to leave her behind. Almost as hard as pretending I didn’t know who Roy and the others were when I was in character.
Good shape shifters were, at our cores, the best method actors in the galaxy. We not only shifted mind and body, but the best of us could, once shifted, maintain that indefinitely, even while sleeping. Basically, if we believed we were whoever, or whatever, we were imitating, so did the rest of the galaxy.