by Lise MacTague
Torrin Ivanov’s homecoming wasn’t the smooth, triumphant process she’d imagined. She almost killed her girlfriend Jak Stowell in their escape and now that they’re planetside, the intrigue of her business occupies all of her time.
Jak believed all of the lies that Torrin told her—that things would be better when they got home. But then she walked in to find Torrin in a lip-lock with one of her exes, and that was more than she could stand.
Shocked and betrayed, Jak dedicates herself to training militia-women, spending her days as far away from Torrin as possible. But Jak’s new friends have their own agendas and now her internal compass has gone haywire, severely compromising her safety in the field.
When a militia member dies and Jak disappears, Torrin begins a desperate race against time. This time around, Jak’s life depends on her.
Rainbow Book Reviews
What a rip-roaring sequel this is to ‘Depths of Blue'! There are layers within layers in this book, and the subtle ways they are revealed is brilliant in its execution. It's clear something is going on, but MacTague teases this out, strand by strand, and brings it all to a stunning ending. There's politics, intrigue, action, and lots of emotion. Both Jak and Torrin's actions and reactions are explored in just the right amount of detail alongside the story itself, and it's a fantastic blend. The book finishes on a great cliffhanger, ready for book three, and I can't wait to get started on that.
The Lesbian Review
The ending had me standing on my feet. Reading it had me pumped and the teaser at the end did nothing to slow my heart rate down. The way Jak's and Torrin's journeys split apart and then come back together had me turning pages so fast I got a digital paper cut and those SOBs hurt! But it was worth it.
Torrin shook her head sharply and regretted it immediately. An insistent whine bored into her skull, rousing her from a deep, dreamless sleep. She tried to burrow into its embrace for a tiny bit longer, but the noise made further sleep nearly impossible. At the edge of her memory she had the impression of warmth and arms holding her close as she rested from…something. Something really nice. Her mind snatched at the elusive memory. Her fingers closed around it, and it disappeared, pricked out of existence like a soap bubble. The whine persisted, deepening its tone until her teeth vibrated against each other.
“Torrin. Torrin. Torrin.” Dimly she became aware of her name being repeated over and over. The repetition quickly became as irritating as the incessant tone. Both became impossible to ignore any longer and she pried her eyes open.
White light stabbed into her retinas, sending pain shooting like lightning through her synapses. She clamped her teeth down on a whimper and forced her eyes open again. Slowly, the room around her swam into focus.
The view from the pod looked out into a brightly lit, white room. On the underside of the pod’s lid was a monitor. The Asian woman on the screen smiled at her and stopped chanting the mantra of her name.
“Hello, Torrin!” Tien said, a little too cheerfully.
“Tien,” Torrin acknowledged her. She smacked dry lips and probed them with a tongue that tasted like the inside of an old boot. Her memory trickled back as cryosleep was reversed. This was her least favorite part of the process. She sneezed at the sharp smell in her nostrils and moaned quietly at the stabbing pain behind her eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut and breathed through her mouth, waiting for the chemicals to clear out of her sinuses. It almost always took her some time to recover from being frozen and the cocktail of chemicals that went with it. In her life, she’d met exactly two people who could bounce back from cryosleep without any ill effects. Sadly, she didn’t have that talent, and every time she thawed out, she resented it.
She sniffed experimentally. The acrid odor was almost gone, leaving the blessed smell of nothingness. The ship’s filters scrubbed the air so well that the ship was almost odorless. Torrin swallowed to work some moisture back into her throat.
“What’s our status?”
“We have arrived in the Nadierzda system, Torrin,” the AI informed her. “I have queried the buoys outside the asteroid field and have received the safe route through the field.”
“Good,” Torrin grunted, her voice cracking from disuse. “What about—”
“The League of Solaran Planets ship, the Icarus?” Tien waited patiently until Torrin nodded. “There has been no sign of them, Torrin. They still had not emerged from the nebula when we made our jump into peripheral space. The sensors revealed no other ships along our same course in the periphery.”
Sourly, Torrin nodded. She’d always believed that Tien was highly entertained by her need for recovery time. The AI was always so inordinately pleased with herself when Torrin was thawing out. Eyes opening wide as another memory surfaced, she tried to sit up and knocked her forehead on the underside of the lid.
“Dammit, Tien, open this thing!” With one hand to her forehead, she started disengaging the needles and tubing from her legs with the other. “How is Jak doing?”
The lid hissed as the seal was broken and residual gases leaked out. “As can be expected, Torrin, there has been no change to her status. I have not yet brought her out of stasis.”
Torrin went limp with relief. Problems in cryosleep were extremely rare but not unheard of. With the run of bad luck she and the sniper had experienced, it wouldn’t have surprised her to find out that something had gone terribly wrong with Jak.
“Good. Let’s keep her frozen until we land so she can be brought out of stasis with a real doctor present. No offense.” She hastened to reassure the AI.
“None taken, Torrin,” Tien replied.
By now the lid was fully open and Torrin’s eyes had adjusted to the light. It really wasn’t that bright, but her eyes were so sensitive from her time in stasis that even dim light caused pain.
“How long were we in?” Torrin asked. She climbed shakily out of the pod, pulling the last of the tubes from where they inserted into the veins of her arms. She cast about until she saw a white robe draped over a nearby bench.
“A little less than two months, Torrin.”
That was longer than normal. The smuggler tottered over to the bench on muscles stiff from forced confinement and sat down heavily before pulling on the robe.
“Why so long?” she finally asked when the AI was less than forthcoming.
“A star in our trajectory had gone supernova, Torrin. Even in peripheral space, the ripples rendered that area impassable. I had to reroute our FTL jumps to recalculate a safe trajectory around the spot.”
Now that was more like her luck lately. Stars didn’t go supernova every day, at least not the ones between her and her destination. It did account for the delay in their journey. The supernova had likely required Tien to make at least two extra jumps, possibly more. Jumping into peripheral space didn’t take long, but dropping back into normal space was a longer process. The ship had to slow down enough that it didn’t tear itself apart upon reentry. Running through the process more times than she’d planned for would significantly delay them. In this case it had added a few weeks onto their trip.
Torrin worked her legs and arms as she sat, working blood back into limbs that had been blood-deprived for two months. In the cryo process, after the sedative was administered, the sleeper’s blood was removed from the body and stored in tanks attached to the pod. Chemicals were then introduced into the body so that the body’s tissues didn’t freeze solid. It kept pesky things like frostbite from taking fingers, toes, arms or legs. It also took some getting used to when the blood returned. Her tissues weren’t exactly oxygen-deprived, but they were no longer used to moving or having blood flowing through them.
Pushing herself up from the bench, Torrin tottered over to the chamber’s only other occupied stasis pod. She wiped away the frost rimming the outside of the pod’s window and gazed tenderly down on her lover’s face. Jak’s face was at peace in a way she’d never seen while they were on the sniper’s home planet. With any luck, it was a look she would be seeing more often now that they were almost to Torrin’s home.
The civil war-torn planet of Haefen was about as different from Nadierzda as two planets could be and still be habitable. Haefen was all shades of blue and full of soaring trees, craggy mountains and hills. Nadi was sandy browns and yellows shot through with verdant greens. What trees they had were stunted by comparison as a result of sandy soil and nearly constant wind. Still, Torrin loved her planet as only someone who had grown up there could understand. The mere thought of rolling plains and meadows topped by tall cliffs sent a wave of homesickness washing over her. She wasn’t often homesick, preferring instead to roam the outer reaches of the galaxy, known as the Fringes. She loved her planet, but for years a severe case of wanderlust had kept her unable to put down roots for long.
Slowly, she traced a fingertip over the glass, around what would have been the contour of Jak’s face had she been able to touch her.
“Soon, babe. We’ll be home soon,” Torrin promised quietly.
She stopped in her cabin quickly on the way to the bridge but only to throw on a set of real clothing. She would be damned if she would come home wearing nothing but a flimsy robe. A quick change and brushing of teeth later and she was ensconced in her seat on the bridge.
The monitor in front of her was lit up with the best route to Nadierzda, which lay on the other side of a large asteroid field. The ever-shifting mass of space debris was the planet’s first line of defense. The field was dense enough that it was difficult to scan through. Torrin knew for a fact that the planet didn’t exist on any League star charts. Everyone who lived there did their best to make sure the League stayed blissfully unaware of their existence.
Because there were so many asteroids in the field, a sophisticated network of buoys and markers had been liberally seeded amongst the floating rocks. When properly queried, the marker buoys would provide a constantly updated map of the best paths through the field. If the buoys were queried without the password, the only output would be a line of gibberish that looked for all the world like the last gasps of some antiquated computer system. Even the buoys had been painstakingly crafted to look like just so much space junk.
Torrin scrutinized the path carefully. She could have let Tien bring them in. With the current map, the AI was perfectly capable of taking them through the asteroid field. It was a point of pride for Torrin to bring them through herself. Truth be told, it was mostly that she really didn’t like someone else controlling her ship. While she was in stasis, there was nothing for it. Since she didn’t have a way around that, she made up for it by piloting the ship herself whenever possible. Plus, she told herself, if the AI was down, she knew she’d be able to bring them home regardless.
The flight in was as tortuous and winding as ever. It was impractical and dangerous to speed through it, but Torrin was able to take some solace in the fact that she had the record for the fastest time through the field…unless someone had broken it while she was gone. She doubted it, but stranger things had happened. She bumped up their speed a little more. They weren’t redlining it by any stretch, but they were definitely pushing the edges of sanity, especially given the way the asteroids drifted around her. The urgency of Jak’s situation drove her, desperate, before it. Nothing could happen while Jak was in cryostasis, which should have reassured Torrin. Logic had nothing to do with it, though. She could no more take her time than she could stop breathing.
When they were three-quarters of the way through the field, Torrin switched on her comm system to scan the bands. Communications with the surface were on a variable frequency, another practice designed to hide the planet. If she’d been home remotely close to on schedule, she would have known which frequency to tune in to, but as it was she’d have to scan for it. There had been no point in looking for the frequency outside the asteroid belt; the moving masses of rock broke up most communication unless it was hooked into the buoy network. One frequency in particular seemed clearer than most of the others.
“Control, this is the Calamity Jane. Come back.”
A burst of static met her words, then the comm crackled to life.
“Torrin! Is that you? You’re late as hell!”
The smuggler grinned to hear a voice she recognized. “Nat, is that you?”
“Damn right, it’s me. You gone so long you don’t recognize your own sister’s voice anymore?” Nat sounded like she was having a hard time deciding whether to be annoyed or amused. “You know there were people who were ready to give you up for dead.”
“I can guess who,” Torrin replied dryly.
“Well, yeah. Nothing ever changes around here. You should know that better than any of us.”
“True enough.” Torrin’s voice turned serious. “Look, I need you to do me a huge favor. We’ll be landing in about twenty minutes and I need you to get a doctor to meet us.”
Nat’s voice sobered immediately. “No problem. I’ll get Kiera in. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. I don’t need her for me.”
“You becoming a passenger service?” Torrin loved her sister, but she could be overly curious. She’d been on the verge of telling her about Jak, but something held her back. Everyone would know about her soon enough and she wanted to keep Jak to herself a little bit longer. Things were going to get complicated quickly, and she needed a light touch. Besides, the other women on the planet, especially those who’d been born and were living their lives there, viewed new arrivals as fresh meat. Jak would have so many women vying for her interest that she wouldn’t know what to do with herself.
Seething jealousy broke her focus for a moment, surprising her. She knew she liked the sniper, liked her a lot in fact. The idea of Jak with another woman made her want to break something. That was new. She’d never felt strongly enough about any of her previous lovers to bother with jealousy. Usually, when they found someone else the separation came as a relief. It meant she didn’t have to hurt them by breaking things off. This was something different. She wasn’t the jealous one in her relationships. Not her. Not ever!
Torrin took a deep breath. The Ruling Council would want to get its mitts all over her business on this one. The beginnings of the plan that were still percolating in her brain were audacious, to say the least. The less the council knew, the better. There were strong isolationist forces on the council and among the planet’s inhabitants. Everything would have to be prepared and presented just so to get the council’s approval. Her plan wasn’t ready for that, and it wouldn’t be until she’d had the chance to go over it with her business partners. It would soon be all over Landing that she had requested a doctor for someone. She would decide later how they would spin the entire situation. Now, though, she had to give Nat something to keep her off her case. All that mattered was getting Jak well and pushing through the deal.
“Hello, Nadierzda to Torrin,” Nat prompted her when the silence went on too long. “You there?”
Torrin shook her head. “Yeah, I’m here.” She paused again, trying to figure out how she was going to explain Jak to Nat. “I ran into someone who needed my help. The doctor’s for her.”
Now it was her turn to wait as a long silence fell over the comm.
“I…see,” Nat said. Torrin could hear the shit-eating grin in the warmth of her voice and she colored in response. It was a good thing their connection was audio only. The blush would have given her away for sure.
“It’s complicated. Just have Kiera meet us when we land,” Torrin instructed. “Jane out.” She terminated the transmission abruptly. She never liked to explain herself to her sister, but for some reason Nat’s amusement offended her. A few moments later instructions popped up on her screen, directing her to land in the small spaceport’s rarely used emergency services area.
Kiera was a great doctor and she would be able to handle Jak’s needs without any problems. Torrin knew they would take the callout seriously. A ship’s AI could handle all but the most severe cases through its onboard medbays. So when someone came in requesting a doctor to meet the ship, it was because something had come up that was more than the AIs could handle.
A few minutes later she cleared the asteroid field. She could see Nadi in the distance, increasing rapidly in size as she barreled toward it. The planet was mostly bands of sandy brown, pocked by interlocking craters of brilliant green. Many centuries before, some hotel company had claimed the planet and had started terraforming it to turn into a luxury resort destination for rich people. The planet’s orbit around the solar system’s young sun had been altered, warming it up, but more importantly, moving it away from the asteroid belt. Unfortunately, before the terraforming process was completed, the company had gone bankrupt and the planet had been left as is. Torrin had heard it estimated that when the company pulled out, the planet had been halfway to completion. As it was right now, maybe a quarter of the surface was habitable.
Since Nadierzda had seen many collisions with asteroids as a result of its proximity to the field, it had plenty of impact craters. Only the sunken places escaped the constant dust-laden winds that scoured the planet’s surface. These provided shelter from the wind which had wiped out the other verdant areas. Even so, every year they lost a little more arable land to the wind. One of the reasons Torrin was so set on making money was so they could finish terraforming the planet before the remaining habitable areas became choked by dust and sand.
“Tien, are we cleared for landing?” Torrin asked the AI as the planet’s surface filled her main viewscreen. They were going to enter the upper level of the atmosphere soon and she wanted to make sure she had a clear shot. She was going to bring the Jane in hot. The faster they got to the surface, the faster Jak would be taken care of.