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Book Excerpt: The Catch-Huntress of the Star Empire

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The following excerpt is from Episode 8: Heart of Betrayal, found in “The Catch – Huntress of the Star Empire Part 3” box set bundle.

Buy Links at: http://athenagrayson.com/HotSE3

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Micah glanced up at her again, the goggles making his eyes inhumanly big. “If we’re dealing in rumor, I’m not the only one who’s the subject of speculation.”

Her scowl couldn’t get any deeper, so she concentrated on the comm padd. “I wasn’t aware of any rumors about myself,” she lied. “What’s the Restoration saying about me?”

“That you’re the worst kind of opposition to their efforts—you’ve got personal power within the Union, and you truly, completely, and very sincerely believe every word of the propaganda. You can neither be bought, nor coerced.”

She let a small smile stretch her lips. “Your intelligence is right. The Union’s given me everything. I return the favor.”

“I wonder,” he murmured. “If you’d feel the same way were your circumstances a bit different.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If your memories were restored. Do you think your opinion of the Union would change?”

She shook her head. “No. Who I was then and who I am now are two different people. I doubt I’d be able to make anything of myself if I’d gone back to the mid-levels. The Union gave me an education, a life, a purpose. Memories are as dead as the past.” She shrugged off the niggling doubt before the Voice could shout it away and focused on her next pile. “Anyway, why am I talking to you about it? What do you care? Or is this a clever mindsnake plan to subvert me to your cause?”

“You were the one who brought up rumors.” He turned back to the actuator. Her padd displayed the attunement readings as he tinkered, shaving off molecules of crystal to reach tolerances that would tune it to the appropriate harmonics for the Needle’s Eye. She should be worried that he might acquire some proprietary knowledge of the ship’s design, but her own attempts to tune the actuator had nearly cost them the part when she couldn’t seem to steady her hands. More evidence that her enhancements were failing the further her inhib levels dropped. “You never said which rumors had you so interested.”

Her cheeks burned as she remembered. Micah’s Guerran friend’s lewd jokes might be dismissible if Treska hadn’t encountered the rumor in other places. Strange places, from sentients as diverse as a reformed prostitute from the frontier orbits, and a New Morality convert who’d been raised as an honored daughter of one of the Noble Houses. Treska’s belly tightened. Even the convert had softened at the speculation, before turning away and murmuring her mantras with increasing stridency. Maybe she was better off not knowing at all. But she couldn’t resist asking. “It’s been said—that is, Brezeen—she said—that—” she faltered. Putting voice to it made it seem just so ridiculous. “She said that psypaths can pluck out your most secret fantasies and make them come true.” She finished in a rush. “I know it’s stupid. I mean, why would you bother with that kind of thing when you can make people do anything you want them to do.”

“I don’t make people do what I want them to do.” Micah glanced up, his eyes many times magnified by the goggles covering them. “Why do you bother bringing psypaths in alive, when you can bring them in with much less hassle dead?”

“The bounty’s bigger,” she said. “We don’t kill in cold blood. The Union wants to rehabilitate.” All automatic answers she’d not given much thought up to now. She knew psypaths needed to be restricted, quarantined from the population because of their powers over the wills of others. They created disruption. She’d witnessed the abuse of their powers and their devastating effect.

“So you do admit that I could be something other than a dangerous criminal.”

“A vratyx isn’t guilty of being anything but a vratyx, but I wouldn’t want one running around loose in my house. It’s still a dangerous creature.”

“Am I a dangerous creature? After all the work I’ve done reminding myself not to pee on the furniture.”

He was deliberately making light, putting her at ease. She shouldn’t ever forget the danger he could be. If it weren’t for his collar— “You’re a little scary with those goggles on.”

His teeth flashed. “The better to see you with, my dear.” He tilted the goggles up onto his forehead. “You’re a little scary with your friendliness. Why the sudden interest in psypath lore when the propaganda machine worked just fine for you yesterday?”

It didn’t though, did it? She hunched her shoulders. She’d kissed him. Without Jump-dreams, or whatever other hallucinatory influences this moon inflicted upon them. She was afraid to wonder how or why her training and habits—a stunted lifetime in the making—faded so quickly. “My loyalty to the Union stands,” she said. “I’m just curious, is all.”

He set the actuator aside. “You know that I’m your last chance to find out the truth,” he said.

She snorted. “Truth about what?” Her arms crossed over her chest. “Are you avoiding my question?”

He waved his hand. “Any truth about psypaths beyond absolute hearsay. It can’t have escaped your notice that after me, there are no more psypaths for you to hunt.”

She shrugged. “I got that, yes.” There was a stain marring the sealing finish laid over the salvage surface of the tabletop. She pulled a cloth from the pile of tools and supplies spread out before Micah and started working on it. “I’ll visit you in prison if I’m allowed.” She kept her eyes on the table. “Help you with your re-education if it’s safe.”

Micah set the actuator down. “Treska, they’re not re-educating psypaths. They’re eliminating us.” He sounded tired. Resigned. Alone.

The stain wouldn’t budge. She spat on the cloth and rubbed at it with the damp spot. “You’re misinformed. The Union doesn’t kill without trial and conviction. It’s against the law.”

“There’s already a conviction on my record for being who I am.” He set his fingers over hers, stilling her movement. “For being born this way.”

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