Lieutenant Marcus Kildud and his men are rangers for hire. They specialize in insertion, extraction, escape, and evasion. He answers an urgent request from the Planet Terrus’ Prelate, the Lord Fulsam, whose son has disappeared and is presumed dead.
Their task is to find the ring the Prelate’s son wore. The promised compensation and bonus offered are enough to make this their team’s final mission.
What they meet in the forest is something none of them have ever encountered before. Marcus now faces the unimaginable. He realizes too late that sometimes, running away may be the only option left to stay alive.
“Marcus?” Bruga’s voice cut through the clanging of furious hammering of metal meeting metal as he yelled up into the shaft.
“Yeah? What is it?” Marcus Kildud glared at the offending crankshaft.
“You got a priority one subspace message—”
“Not now, Bruga.” Marcus slowly raised his hammer, counted to five, then dropped his arm. The resulting clang echoed within the closed confines, making him wince involuntarily.
“What are you banging at?” There was a scrambling up the ladder before Bruga’s head popped through the opening.
“Marcus, you can’t fix The Ultor’s engine by hitting it. That’s just not done—plus, you’re no mechanical engineer.”
Marcus threw a glare at his friend, raised his arm once more and gave the shaft a final blow before throwing the hammer away somewhere behind him. When he heard silence instead of the expected clang of metal hitting the floor, he looked up just in time to see the tool fly through one of the barrier rails. He hung his head in defeat and began to count under his breath. At five, someone cursed out loudly from somewhere below, and he couldn’t help flinching once more. He didn’t want to know who got hit.
“Now you’ve gone and hurt someone. Why don’t we just hire someone from engineering?”
Marcus let out an exasperated sigh. “I guess you’re right.” He looked up to see Bruga heave up into the cramped space.
“It’s not the end of the world, Marcus,” Bruga said, then met Marcus’ gaze when he knelt on one knee before him. “We’ve more than enough funds. Hiring someone professional is not going to break us.”
“We barely have enough to retire on.” Marcus started picking up the tools scattered around and placed them in the toolbox.
“True.” Bruga stood up and grinned down at Marcus. “However, if my calculations are correct—and they usually are—all we need to do is get more clients, get them to pay us the maximum fees we can charge them, and we should be in the clear in about five years. Give or take a year or two. Also, there’s that subspace communication waiting for you in your quarters I was telling you about. Guess who it’s from.” Bruga had the tendency to smile too broadly, giving people the unnerving impression that he was about to go for their neck. Now though, despite Bruga’s broad grin, Marcus didn’t miss the worry behind it.
Marcus knew Bruga Meyer all too well, and he was more than familiar with his retirement dreams. The tall and lean pathfinder was his best friend and served as his second in command. He was considered one of the deadlier fighters in his group. Bruga was also a newly married man, so Marcus knew Bruga was in just in a big of a hurry to retire as he was.
“Yeah? Who’s it from?” Marcus took the hand Bruga held out to him and pulled himself off the deck.
“You’ll never believe me if I told you.”
“I’m not in the mood, Bruga. Who’s it from?” Marcus began to turn away.
“The Prelate of Terrus.”
Marcus stopped in his tracks and turned to stare at his friend.
“Terrus? Like, sarit Terrus.”
“The one and only.” Bruga’s smile was so wide it looked as if his face would crack.
“But what do they need us for?”
“Only one way to find out.” Bruga grunted in amusement before he pulled Marcus down the shaft and onto the deck below.
“What do we need to know about Terrus? Other than it’s really green and is the sole source of sarit?”
Marcus met Bruga’s gaze but didn’t respond to his question immediately. He widened his stance and placed his hands behind him as he thought over what he was going to say to his men.
The Rogue Crew, as they called themselves, were made up of twelve men. There was Marcus as the Commanding Officer and Bruga who acted as his First Officer. And then there was Malik Abadi, a scout and a dabbler in botany. Davos Ambrose was their lead scout and navigator. There was their doctor, Franco DeMarti and his assistant medic, Quad Pendergrass. The rest of the crew was composed of their technician, Stefan DiGoia and their communications expert, Daniel Robarn. The last four were the gunnery specialists—Darius Yang, Bobby Minkowski, Forten Govender, and Cody Arriago.
Other than Malik, they had been with him since he and Bruga started the business. Not only were they loyal men, but they also depended on him and Bruga to take care of the business end of their operation. As part of their contract, he and Bruga promised to get them the best and most profitable jobs.
The Crew had become known in the entire quadrant as not only deadly in skill and negotiations but also highly successful in the operations they signed up for. Because of their reputation, many waited in line, wanting to join the crew and benefit from their successes. For Marcus, they could grow old waiting on the sidelines. He wasn’t about to expand his crew for the sake of it. Only those who proved their worth and skills could join in. As for now, there was no opening.