>But the dog DID eat my homework

>This is not exactly a post to say there is no post. Not exactly, because of course I am posting. It is however very close to that.

I have been battling a horrible cold and the final phase of a novel at the same time — children don’t try this at home — it is neither a pleasant experience nor a particularly fruitful one. I’m averaging nailing down about twenty pages of “final” text (pre-last pass, of course) before I have to nap. Throw Holiday shopping trips on top of this, and you have a very exhausted writer who feels like she’s using her last ounce of strength and really doesn’t have much more to give.

I hope as a compensation it is all right if I post the opening of this novel I’m working on finishing beneath. It’s called DarkShip Thieves and it is — sigh — currently overdue at Baen. I have hopes of having it sent in next week, at least if I can get over the very stupid cold in the next couple of days.

One

I never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for.

Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.

Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin. Not rationally. There was no rationality to it. The air smelled as it always did on shipboard, as it had for the week I’d spent here – stale, with the odd tang given by the recycling.

The engines, below me, hummed steadily. We were departing Circum Terra – a maneuver that involved some effort, to avoid accidentally ramming the station or the ship. Shortly we’d be Earth bound, though slowing down and reentry let alone landing, for a ship this size, would take close to a week.

My head felt a little light, my stomach a little queasy, from the artificial grav. Yes, I know. Scientists say that’s impossible. They say artificial gravity is just like true gravity to the senses. You don’t feel a thing. They are wrong. Artificial grav always made me feel a little out of balance, like a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach.

Even before waking fully, I’d tallied all this. There was nothing out of the ordinary. And yet there was a stranger in my cabin.

It never occurred to me to doubt it. Years in reformatories, boarding schools and mental hospitals, had taught me that the feeling I woke up with was often the right one. I assumed I’d heard something while asleep – a door closing, a step on the polished floor.

It didn’t matter. There was someone in my cabin. Now, why? Knowing the why determined how I dealt with it.

There were three reasons that came to mind immediately. Theft, rape, murder. But all of them were impossible. The space cruiser belonged to Daddy dearest and there was no one aboard save Daddy dearest, my charming self – his only daughter – and his handpicked crew of about twenty, half of whom were his bodyguard goons and half maintenance-crew of one description or another. Far more than I thought it would take to run a ship this size, but then what did I know about ships?

Now, whatever I thought of my father, the Honorable Patrician Alexander Milton Sinistra of the ruling council of Earth, I neither thought him stupid nor stupidly inclined to think the best of people. His goons were the scum of the Earth – only because there were no real populations on any other planet – but they were picked, trained, conditioned and, for all I knew, mind-controlled for loyalty. Hulking giants, they would, each one of them, have laid down his life for my father. Not the least because without Father they’d only be wanted men with no place to hide. And Father took good care of the families of those who bought it in the line of duty.
As for his other servants and employees, they were the best Father could command, in any specialty he needed.

None of them, nor anyone who had ever seen Father in a white hot rage would ever do anything against Father or his family. Well… except me. I defied Father all the time. But I was the sole exception.

There were no crimes at our home in Syracuse Seacity. There weren’t even any misdemeanors. No servant had ever been caught stealing so much as a rag from the house stores. Hell, no servant even broke a plate without apologizing immediately and profusely.

So the three reasons I could come up with for an intruder in my room made no sense. No one would dare steal from me, rape me or murder me under Father’s roof. And no one – no one – who had ever dealt with me or heard rumors about me would do it even away from Father.
And yet, I was as sure that there was a stranger in my cabin as I was of being female, or nineteen or named Athena Hera Sinistra.

Without opening my eyes I looked through my eyelashes – an art I’d learned at several sojourns at various institutions – and turned in bed. No more than the aimless flailing of a sleeper seeking a better position. The cabin was dark. For a moment I could see nothing. I could turn the lights on by calling out, or by reaching. But either of those would give away that I wasn’t asleep.
And then, my eyes adjusting, I saw him standing out of the deeper darkness,. It was a him. It had to be a him. Broad shoulders and tall though not as tall as most of Father’s bodyguards. Nor as broad. He stood by my bed, very still.

My heart sped up. I tensed. I didn’t know who he was, nor what he was about to do, but it couldn’t be good. No one with good intentions would come in like that, while I was asleep and then stand there, quietly waiting.

Then I thought it might not be one of Father’s people at all. Look, our security was good. Really good. But we’d just been on a four-day-long state-visit to Circum Terra, where the population was the top scientists in their field. Smart people. Smart people who were halfway through duty rotations a couple of years long. Smart people who had stared and sighed when I walked around and attended parties and been my most flirty self in the clothes that were one of the few perks of being Father’s daughter.

If one of those people had sneaked abroad…

Moving slowly, in the same seemingly aimless movements, I clenched my hands on the blanket about an arm’s length apart, and made fists, grabbing handfuls of the stuff. I’d have preferred to twist it around my wrists, so it wouldn’t come loose, but that would be way too obvious.
The man in the dark took a step towards me. He was good. If he was a scientist, he must have been a cat burglar in a previous life. He moved silently. If I hadn’t been awake, he surely wouldn’t have awakened me now.

I sprang. I hopped up to the edge of the bed. The ceramite bed-side gave a better surface for bouncing. I bounced, on my tiptoes and flew up, blanket stretched between my hands.

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