Sunday, March 03, 2013

First chapter of ENFORCER

My new book, "ENFORCER," will be published in UNBOUND on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.

Here's the first chapter of it.  In Enforcer, Chief Enforcer Alerio Dyami and Enforcer Dona Astryr try to defeat the murderous Xerans in the climax of the TIME HUNTERS trilogy. At the same time, Alerio and Dona try to find their way to love despite all the forces working against them.

The dark, narrow stairway stank of murder. The reek seemed to coat her tongue with rot and terror, turning each breath into a bloody assault. Dona Astryr ignored the nauseating taste. She was too busy listening for the killers who’d butchered everyone in the house.

In the crowded town square beyond the house’s neat white shutters, a crier read the American Declaration of Independence in a rolling baritone. The Philadelphia crowd hooted and stomped for the more inflammatory lines, bellowing support for the Continental Congress. If there were any Tories among them, they had the good sense to keep their snarls to themselves.

A fist-sized evidence ’bot zipped past Dona, riding the blue glow of an anti-grav cushion as it searched for murder victims. She snatched the ’bot out  of the air in a blur of cyborg speed. If there was a killer on the second floor, she didn’t want the device giving her away. The ’bot lit up, about to beep a protest, but Dona thumbed a button to mute it. ’Bot in one hand, shard pistol in the other, she cocked her head and scanned with every sensor implant she had.

Just below the roar of the crowd, a female voice whimpered pitifully in despair and pain.

Somebody’s still alive. Dona thumbed off the shard pistol’s safety. And they’re damned well going to stay that way.
Had to be Lolai Hardin. According to her dossier, the temporal guide owned this house, using it as a hostel for the time-traveling tourists who hired her to show them life at the time the Declaration was signed. The United States was considered the direct ancestor of the Galactic Union, and its historical milestones were major tourist attractions.

Hardin’s latest tour group had gotten a hell of a lot more than they bargained for. A vicious attack by forces unknown had left thirteen people dead or injured. Hardin’s two twenty-third-century employees were among them. Only Lolai herself was unaccounted for – a bit surprising, since she’d been the one to send the courier bot that had alerted the Enforcers that her tour group was under attack. She’d suffered at least one minor wound before she sent the bot; a bloody thumbprint had marred its smooth, white surface. Hardin's fingerprint.

Damn, I wish we could have gotten here before the bastards attacked. Unfortunately, nobody had ever managed to prevent this kind of massacre – and plenty of people had tried. You just couldn’t change history no matter what you did.

Of course, Lolai could have been working with the attackers. Could have been bought off or intimidated into cooperating. She could have been the killer. That whimper suggested otherwise.

But maybe Dona could save her. Victim’s condition? Dona started up the stairs in a padding rush, soundless as a ghost.

Extremely serious, replied the computer implanted in her brain. Sensors detect multiple stab wounds and extensive blood loss. She must have medical attention in the next 3.2 minutes, or she will die.

Which wouldn’t necessarily end the poor woman’s life. If Dona could get Lolai into regen at the Outpost infirmary within seven minutes of the time her heart stopped beating, she could be brought back. After that, brain death would be too extensive for regeneration, and she really would be dead.

Victim’s location? Reaching the top step, Dona paused for another scan.

First bedroom on the left.

Any sign of the attackers?


That meant nothing. The killer or killers could be sensor-shielded, invisible to both Dona’s eyes and implants.

The evidence ’bot jerked in her hand, trying to escape. She stuffed it into one of the pouches on her armored belt and padded silently toward the bedroom door.  

Damn, I wish I had backup.

Unfortunately, every other Enforcer on the ten-agent team was either busy searching the house’s first floor or dealing with the two critically injured victims.

So I go in hard and pray I won’t find some bastard waiting to play “Let’s Kill the Time Cop.” Dona braced a meter from the bedroom’s locked entrance, lifted her shard pistol, and slammed an armored boot against the thick oak door. Propelled by cyborg muscle, the door crashed open and banged against the wall. “Temporal Enforcer!” She shot through the opening, crouched low, weapon ready.

Oh, fuck.

An arc of bright scarlet splatter marked the wall on her right. A small round rug squelched under her boots, bleeding streams of red across the polished wooden floor.

To her left, a naked woman lay spread-eagle on a canopied bed, wrists and ankles bound to its tall cherry posts. Dozens of wounds marked her breasts, belly, and thighs, drooling blood like witless red mouths. Her attacker had been particularly vicious with her face, cutting off her nose, slashing her cheeks and lips. It would take a DNA scan to identify her with any certainty, but Dona was willing to bet it was Hardin. Weight and height were right, anyway.

Send a message to Doctor Chogan, Dona told her implant as she padded toward the bed. Her feet left bloody footprints across the polished pine. We’ve got another survivor confirmed, condition critical.

One of Lolai’s eyes opened, rolling with terror until it fixed on Dona. The other appeared glued shut by dried blood. A tear spilled as her crusted lips moved soundlessly.

“I’m Temporal Enforcement agent Dona Astryr,” Dona told her, giving the room another quick, wary scan. Bed, armoire, washstand with china bowl and pitcher wreathed in painted roses. No attacker – or at least, none visible. “I’m going to get you into regen.” Bad as her injuries were, a few hours of regeneration would heal everything but Lolai’s memories.

The woman’s lips moved again, but the only sound she made was a low wheeze.

Where the fuck is Dr. Chogan? Dona wondered as her eyes flicked over the room again. Maybe I should just pick her up and Jump back to the Outpost. Comp, would she survive a temporal warp in her current condition?

Negative, the neurocomp replied. Given her wounds, an unprotected Jump would probably cause systemic organ failure and brain death. It would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan to bring a regeneration tube.

Frowning, Dona watched the woman’s bloody lips move. Her single open eye looked desperate. Leaning closer, Dona told her comp to amplify audio. “What did you say?”

The words emerged in a painful, wheezing hiss of superhuman effort. “He’s . . . still . . . here!”

Dona spun, bringing her shard pistol up as a figure in red and black temporal armor melted into view like a ghost. I knew it. Botfucker was hiding behind a sensor shield. She fired before he finished his big reveal.

A spray of needle-sharp tritium  shards hissed across the room to hit the killer’s chest. Instead of carving him into hash, the metal flechettes bounced off the suit’s armored scales in a chorus of musical pings.

She knew that red and black armor. A Xeran. Figures. Jolting aside,  Dona barely avoided the spray of flechettes he fired back at her. The bastards did a major upgrade of their tech a month ago. Their armor’s probably better than ours. 

Ducking, she listened to a second spray of flechettes hiss overhead.

It was a diversion. The Xeran charged in a blur of red and black and muscle. The impact of his powerful body knocked her breathless as they reeled backward, hit the bed, and tumbled across the victim’s bound and helpless body. Lolai wheezed in pain. Crashing to the floor, the two cyborgs rolled, each fighting to aim a shard pistol somewhere vital.

Bastard!” Dona snarled into the Xeran’s black faceplate as she managed to jam the muzzle of her weapon against the underside of his jaw. The armor’s scales were thinnest there to avoid interfering with turning the head. He grabbed her gun hand with crushing strength and wrenched it away.

Fuckit , I’ll go for a head shot. Ignoring the fragile fingers threatening to snap in his crushing grip, she twisted her wrist until the weapon scraped over his faceplate. Backup! Dona snapped to her neurocomp. Dammit, get me some backup!

Requesting backup . . . Chief Dyami says the agents downstairs are also under attack. He will have to fight his way free before he can assist.

The comp was right. Shard fire hissed and whined downstairs, along with the thump of colliding armored bodies. A familiar Vardonese war cry rang out over the shouts, followed by a deafening crash. The Xerans responded with a chorus of curses. They sounded pained.

Chief Dyami really didn’t like people who murdered unarmed tourists.

That’s why you don’t piss off time cops. Dona peeled her lips off her teeth in something that definitely wasn’t a smile. Especially me. Despite the Xeran’s attempts to force the weapon away, she braced the shard pistol’s muzzle against his visor.

But before she could pull the trigger, her foe’s polarized plastium faceplate went transparent, revealing a twisted smirk she knew all too well. “Hello, baby. Miss me?”

Ivar Terje.

Dona stared at him for one suspended instant of disbelief that promptly dissolved into howling rage. “You ’bot-buggering traitor!” She slammed her left fist into his throat, aiming for the larynx, meaning to crush it right through his armor. A killing blow, especially propelled by genetically engineered strength amplified even more by the nanotech implants woven among muscle fibers to reinforce and strengthen them.

Ivar gagged, losing his crushing grip on her weapon hand. He didn’t die though.  

Dona wrenched free to slam the pistol into his faceplate so hard, the tough plastium cracked into a spider web of jagged shards. Good. She couldn’t shoot him through it. Once it was gone…“You almost killed me, you son of a bitch. You ruined my life, my reputation, my career. They thought I was a traitor because of you!” Another furious swing sent more cracks radiating across the reinforced plastium, but the visor still protected her enemy’s hated face.

The third blow had every last superhuman erg of Dona’s cyborg strength behind it. Her ex-lover’s faceplate finally shattered in a spray of jagged, glittering fragments. “I can’t believe I was ever stupid enough to love you!” She aimed the pistol between his eyes, her finger tightening on the trigger…

Ivar slapped the muzzle away from his face. The blow looked casual, but it sent her heavy pistol sailing across the room as her arm went numb from hand to shoulder. Now, there was a data point she could have done without. Oh, seven hells, he’s been playing with me. He’s easily three, four times as strong as I am. Maybe more.

That must have been some tech upgrade.

“You’re worse than a traitor. You’re a fucking fool.” Thrusting one booted foot against her belly, Ivar kicked her airborne. She sailed over the bed and crashed down into the midst of the washstand, pottery exploding, wood splintering into tinder from the impact of her armored body. Her helmeted head hit hard enough to dent the wooden floor. She tasted blood.

The battleborg rolled to his feet with a grace astonishing in a man so massive. “Every lie I told you, you believed. Love you? Why in all the hells would I love you?” The contemptuous jerk of his head made light glint off something inside the dark confines of his shattered helmet.

She squinted. A pair of objects glinted bright and sharp among the disordered, sweat-darkened tufts of his red hair. Something that looked almost like…
…A priest’s horns.

Xeran religious orders marked rank by the size, number and length of their surgical horn implants. He’s a Xeran priest now? They accepted him into their priesthood? A traitor? Dona rose from the wreckage of the washstand, though her back howled in bruised protest. Sinking into a crouch, she drew a knife from her boot. The blade chimed, a pure, high note that somehow sounded menacing. Well, not for long, you treasonous son of a bot.

Temporal Enforcement’s techs had improved the quantum weapons they’d invented six months before. The originals had been battle axes even Dona could barely swing, but the new blades were far lighter. And just as capable of cutting through heavy combat armor.

Another deep male roar sounded downstairs. For a split second, Dona felt comforted. Somewhere the Chief’s kicking ass. Just like I’m about to. Tech or no tech.  

Her quantum dagger hummed a higher note as she circled Ivar, boots crunching through broken crockery. “You’ve had this coming for a long, long time, you son of a bitch.”

“No, you’re the one who’s about to get a taste of what you’ve had coming.” He bared his teeth. They flashed at her from the darkness of his broken helmet. “So, are you still fucking Dyami?” Misinterpreting her shocked expression for surprise, he curled a lip. “Did you really think I didn’t know you were betraying me with that sanctimonious Warlord prick?”

“I never…” she began, before she realized she didn’t owe him explanations anymore.

“Don’t waste the oxygen.” Ivar lunged, crossing the distance between them in a blur of battleborg speed. “I always knew you rutted with him, you little bitch-whore.” His fist flew at her face.

Dona twisted, avoiding the blow by millimeters as she drove the quantum blade at his armored belly. He knocked her wrist aside, and she went with the blow, spinning aside before his backhanded blow could hit her head. “I never betrayed you, Ivar,” she gritted, knowing she was wasting her breath. “You were the one who spat on everything you ever claimed to believe in. Me. Chief Dyami. Your Enforcer’s oath.”

“My oath? Only an idiot would buy that beefershit.” He curled a lip and paced to his right, circling. Looking for an opening. “Unlike you, I’m not that stupid.”

He’s so busy sneering, he forgot to keep his guard up. Dona’s eyes narrowed, focusing on the left hand he’d dropped out of a proper defensive position. The only chance she had was to hit him hard and hit him fast.

Even before the Xerans upgraded his nanotech, Ivar was a combat class battleborg, easily a foot taller and fifty kilos heavier than Dona, every gram genetically engineered and nanofiber-reinforced.

But she was faster. Dona drove the quantum dagger at her foe’s massive chest in a blur of merciless strength.

He hit her with such staggering speed, she didn’t even see the blow coming. The stiletto cartwheeled from her hand as Ivar slammed a punch into the side of her head, knocking her off her feet and sending her skidding into a corner.

If not for her helmet, the blow would have shattered her skull.

The battleborg was on her before she could scramble up and away. Dona threw up a forearm block, but his fist still hit her right in the center of her visor. It cracked as her head bounced against the floor. Flat on her back, she counterpunched anyway, a diversion for the kick she planted right between his legs. He only snarled and started pounding her as she tried to twist aside and rise. Punch  after punch thudded into her head and torso, smashing her back against the floor.

Starbursts of pain thundered through Dona’s skull, but she ignored them as she fought to scramble to her feet. Managed it somehow, reeling upright, slamming punches and kicks into Ivar’s big body. He didn’t react to the blows at all. Seven hells, it’s as though he doesn’t even feel them.

And it was possible he didn’t, if his implant had blocked the pain. Yeah, I’m fucked.

A blur of red hit her face so hard, her skull seemed to detonate. The world seemed to blink.

Lifting her head, she realized she was flat on her back in the middle of the room. And she had no idea how she’d gotten there.

Ivar stepped into view and loomed over her, a savage grin on his face.

Oh, fuck. Frantic, desperate, Dona drove both feet into his gut in an effort to kick him the hell away from her. He didn’t even try to block the double kick. Barely even rocked on his heels.

“You’re dead, bitch.” His eyes glittered with a rage that was not entirely sane.

He’s going to kill me. He’d already made far too much progress toward that goal. The room revolved around her, and her head throbbed with a relentless kettledrum pounding.

Warning! her neurocomp blared. You have sustained a severe concussion. You cannot continue to take blows to the head without suffering traumatic brain injury.

And what the hell do you suggest I do about it? Terror spiced her rage like sawpeppers, tongue-searing and bitter. A punch she never even saw exploded against her faceplate, snapping her head back as the plastium shattered. Shards peppered her face, but she barely felt the sting as she staggered. Even with the helmet’s protection, Ivar was bouncing her brain around inside her skull like a grav-ball.

The comp’s right. He’s beating me to death.

Ivar rose to his feet, hauling Dona upright with a hand around her throat. He rammed her into the wall with such force, white flakes rained around her shoulders as the plaster cracked like dried mud. Stunned, disoriented, she hung in his grip as he reached up and did something to the underside of her jaw. Her helmet lost its grip on her skull. He pulled it off her head and tossed it aside to hit the floor in a series of rolling thumps.

Oh, fuck. Blearily, she peered at him, hanging limp in his hold, barely able to focus on his face as the world swung around her.

Grinning like a skyshark, Ivar drew back one huge fist for the blow that would likely shatter her skull.

Red alert! her comp squealed. Take defensive action immediately or
Gods curse him, I am not going to let this bastard butcher me. I will fight him to my last breath.

Drawing on the last dregs of her strength, she swung a clumsy fist toward that hated smirk. He merely swatted the blow aside.

“Is that the best you can do, cunt?” Ivar laughed, eyes glittering hot with knife-edged pleasure. “Then I guess you’ll die.” He cocked his fist back for one final blow…

And vanished.

Deprived of his support, Dona fell, tried to catch herself. Hit the ground anyway in a heap of knees and elbows. Dazed, barely conscious, she lifted her aching head.

A couple of meters sway, Alerio Dyami hammered punches into Ivar, relentless as a metronome. The traitor reeled as he fought to protect himself, arms jerking in a futile effort to ward off crunching blows. He’d lost his helmet, and his face was almost as bloody and bruised as Dona’s. Each blow tore a grunt of pain from his lips. Battleborg tech notwithstanding, Ivar was no Vardonese Warlord.

Alerio was a Warlord, however, and he was pissed.

Safe, Dona thought in dazed relief. I’m safe. The Chief won’t let him kill me.
Darkness rolled over her in a black flood. She didn’t feel her head hit the floor.

Chief Alerio Dyami stalked Ivar Terje around the scene of the fucker’s latest crime, the instinct to murder growling in his heart.

The bastard needed killing. Deserved it. Alerio fully intended to give him those just deserts.

A nude woman lay bound to the bed, blood smearing her body from multiple stab wounds. Alerio’s sensors told him the slick gleam on her spread legs was Ivar’s sperm.

But even as that crime filled him with a cold, righteous fury, what really drove Alerio insane was the sight of Dona Astryr lying in a bloody heap. If he hadn’t been forced to fight his way through all those Xeran priests downstairs, he could have spared her the savage beating Ivar had so obviously dished out.

The minute his neurocomp received Dona’s call for help, Alerio ordered the implant to send him into riaat. The stew of biochemicals the computer pumped into his bloodstream had instantly thrown him into the berserker state that made Warlords so feared.

Ivar certainly should fear him, because riaat increased Alerio’s already considerable strength by a factor of ten, while making him almost impervious to pain. All of which made it easy to beat the blood out of a traitor who richly deserved it.

One of Ivar’s eyes was already swollen shut, but the other glittered feverishly at him. “You’re such a fucking hero, aren’t you?” The battleborg’s bloody lip curled in a sneer. “But you didn’t save the bitch on the bed, did you? Or the ones downstairs. Even the kid. We butchered them all, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it. You can’t change history. No matter what you do, no matter when you Jump, they’ll die because we killed them. You failed, Chief.” He laughed. “Big hero. Big, noble Warlord. Utter fucking failure.”

Alerio ground his teeth against the need to kill. Get control, dammit. He wants me blind stupid with rage. He wants me to make mistakes. “You’re right.” He forced himself to retreat one step. Then another. Getting room to fight like the calculating warrior he was instead of a berserk killer. “I didn’t save the fourteen people you raped and murdered.”

But despite his battle for control, his murderous fury must have shown, Ivar’s gaze flickered, and for an instant, Alerio saw fear flash through his enemy’s eyes.

And that was the opening he needed. Oh,’botfucker, you’d better be scared. Alerio whipped into a spinning kick.

Ivar ducked, throwing up a forearm in an attempted block. Neither effort kept the Chief’s boot from slamming into his jaw. The battleborg crashed into the wall behind him, almost went down. Alerio, still balancing effortlessly on one leg, reversed the kick and snapped the toe of his armored boot into Ivar’s jaw.

The battleborg crashed backward, shattering the wall’s plaster but somehow managing to keep his feet.

Alerio took a gliding step forward and punched him squarely in the face with a left-right combination that rocked Ivar’s head on his shoulders. “You’re finished,” the chief growled. “You’ll spend the rest of your life in a penal colony, thinking of all the women you’ll never fuck.”

Ivar steadied himself, one corner of his bleeding mouth lifting in a smirk. “It’s not going to be that easy, Chief.” A punch blurred out of nowhere, blooding Alerio’s mouth and making his skull ring.

Huh, Alerio eyed his opponent’s vicious grin. Guess he’s got a little more left than I thought. He’s definitely stronger and faster than he was the last time we 

“The Xerans gave me an upgrade,” Ivar told him smugly.

Alerio curled a lip. “It’s not going to save you, asshole.”

“Yeah, well, yours definitely won’t save you, Chief. You, or any of those fucking tourists you’re so determined to protect. We’ve got T-suits, motherfucker.” He grinned, smug confidence in the bloody curve of his split lip. “The whole temporal plane is our little playground. We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will.” His glinting eyes narrowed and went cool. Almost sane. 
“Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s . . . justice. You. Your little whore Dona. Those abominations, Nick Wyatt, his Warfem bitch Riane. Jessica and Galar Arvid. All of them.” Now that eye went damned icy. “And most of all, we want the T’Lir. So be a hero, Chief. Or watch me kill everything that moves.” Energy began to swirl around him, preparing to coil into a temporal warp that would shoot him across time and space.

Fuck, he’s getting ready to Jump. Alerio lunged toward his foe. Too late. A deafening sonic boom and a flash of light blinded him as Ivar’s T-Suit armor warped space and time, catapulting the traitor far from the Warlord’s reaching hands.

When Alerio could see again, Ivar Terje was gone.

Jumped. Goddess knows where. He glared at the empty space where Ivar had been. Yeah, run now, cocksucker. Sooner or later, I’ll hunt you down.

In the meantime, Alerio had more important things to worry about. Starting with Dona Astryr. One long pace took him to his agent’s sprawled, unconscious body.

But before he could begin a sensor scan to determine the extent of her injuries, a sonic boom thundered from the floor below. Another sounded, and then another and another, until Alerio felt the whole house sway in the grip of temporal forces like a tree in a storm. The priests were following Ivar’s lead and Jumping for 

And there wasn’t a damn thing Alerio or his agents could do about it.

“Chief,”commed Galar Arvid, his second-in-command, “the Xerans have all Jumped, presumably for Xer. Do you want us to pursue or…?”

“What, chase them all the way back to the Crystal Fortress, where ten thousand just like them wait to kick your ass? Fuck no. Start getting the wounded to the Outpost and the dead into Stasis. We’ll figure out what to do about the hornheads later.”

“Understood, Chief.”

Wearily, Alerio sank to his knees by Dona’s side. She looked like he felt. The Enforcer’s pretty face was battered, both eyes blackened, her lips cut and swollen. Bruises distorted the clean lines of her high cheekbones and delicate jaw. He was almost afraid to scan for internal injuries. He was pretty sure he didn’t want to know. He scanned anyway. And swore.

Com Dr. Chogan, Alerio told his neurocomp.

The doctor answered a heartbeat later. Evidently someone had already fetched her from the Outpost. Good. “What is it, Chief? I’ve got my hands full with Riane. She took a gut wound.”

“Astryr got the worst of it in a fight with Terje,” Alerio said shortly. “She has a pretty serious concussion. My sensors say her brain is swelling.”

“Let me get Riane into regen, and I’ll head up there.”

Dona moaned, a breathy sound of pain that made the muscles in Alerio’s chest clench. It was more than the ache he’d normally feel over an injured agent. Her remarkable violet eyes opened to slits in her swollen lids. Registered him. Tried to widen. “Terje,” she gasped, apparently trying to warn him. “The traitor’s . . .”

“Already Jumped for home,” Alerio told her roughly. “Along with the rest of the Victor’s priests.”

“What about . . . woman . . . temporal guide. . . owns …house. She’s . . .” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody occupant. 
 “Alive when I . . . came in. Is she . . . ?”

He frowned at the still form. “That’s Lolai Hardin?” only to ask himself an instant later, Well, who the hell else could it be? According to the Temporal Jump plan Hardin had logged with the Outpost, she was the only one unaccounted for.  It had not even occurred to him that the woman on the bed could still be alive, considering the extent of her injuries. Scan her, he told his comp.

No cellular activity, the implant reported. Based on decay, she has been dead too long for successful revival. At least ten minutes.

Alerio cursed himself and Ivar with equal venom. “She’s gone,” he told Dona’s swollen violet eyes.

“Dammit.” A tear slipped down a bruised cheek. “I was hoping I could save her.” Her delicate jaw worked as if she ground her teeth. “Fucking… Ivar . . . wouldn’t let me Jump her… out.” She stopped to pant. “They all died… didn’t they? Ivar and the priests… killed everybody.”

He had no idea, so he commed Galar to ask about the two survivors. When the answer came, Alerio ground his teeth. Devils drag Ivar right to the seven hells. “Chogan did her best, but…no.  Couldn’t even save Hardin’s coachman, much less the boy. Both died in regen.” Which said everything that needed to be said about the savagery of the attack on them, since regen could heal damn near anything.
Alerio leaned over to give her his most determined stare. “The Xerans are going to pay for what they did to these people.” Lifting one delicate, chilly hand, he wrapped his big fingers around it. “We’ll make sure of that.”

“I know. You always get justice for the . . . victims.” Her bruised eyes slipped closed.

“Dona!” Stiffening in alarm, Alerio ordered another scan.

She has a concussion, his neurocomp reported. There is swelling in a bruised area of her cerebral cortex that must be addressed before it becomes serious. Fortunately, her neural computer is compensating, and her other injuries are not life-threatening. She will heal quickly once in regeneration.

Alerio sighed in relief and sat back on his heels, studying Astryr’s battered face. Like most Enforcers—and the Warlord himself—she was a cyborg. A network of biocrystal grew through her brain like a second nervous system, feeding her brain sensor data even as it gave her control of most bodily functions. A lacy sensor network lay beneath her skin, designed to detect everything from the DNA of a murder victim to the temporal warp fields produced by T-suits during a Jump.

The tech didn’t stop there. Nanotech filaments reinforced her bones and strengthened her muscles, making her far stronger than any ordinary human, male or female. Yet even given  all that, Dona was no match for a battleborg like Ivar Terje. His implants were even more extensive, and his muscles were reinforced with nanofibers three times as thick as hers, giving him far greater strength. She’d known that, yet she’d still gone after Terje, determined to save a dying woman even if it meant her own life.

“Chogan!” he bellowed.

“Gods, Alerio, I’m here already.” Dr. Sakari Chogan stalked into the room, trailed by a seven-foot regeneration tube that wafted like a leaf on a streaming blue anti-grav field. The doctor looked pale and grim despite her ethereal good looks, and she’d gathered her iridescent green hair into an untidy topknot that looked as if she’d been dragging her hands through it. As usual during temporal missions, she wore a bright red T-suit marked with a prominent white M for “Medical.” To most opposing forces, no matter how brutal, that would have made her a non-combatant.

The Xerans had proven time and again that they didn’t give a damn whether medical personnel were off-limits or not. If they’d gotten their hands on the doctor, they’d have shown her no more mercy than they had Lolai Hardin. Yet that hadn’t stopped Chogan from doing her best to save the injured and obtain justice for the dead.

“Chief?” she prompted him gently. “Mind giving me a hand?”

“Oh. Sorry.” Alerio rose hastily to help Chogan guide the unwieldy regeneration tube over Dona’s unconscious body. When they had it positioned to her satisfaction, the doctor flicked her fingers over a series of controls. The device obediently lowered to engulf the injured Enforcer. Seconds later, a pink healing mist flooded the tube, obscuring Dona’s unconscious face.

Chogan leaned over the huge device, her hands sweeping through its control field in graceful arcs that triggered a series of medical scans. Within seconds, the results flashed into view, scrolling over the three-dimensional schematic of Dona’s body. Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, cerebral activity, others Dyami didn’t recognize. Some readings appeared in shades of healthy green, but others  pulsed a warning crimson.

“Looks like the ’botfucker banged her brain around pretty hard,” Chogan told Alerio, a frown forming between her swooping green brows as she studied the readouts. “I never did like that bastard. There was just something so bloody mean about him. He hurt people and enjoyed it. Including Dona, lover or not.”

“Yeah, he’s a bastard.” Brooding, Alerio gazed through the tube’s transparent lid, studying Dona’s unconscious face. Her battered features were already healing, bruises fading, cuts vanishing under a tide of pink, healthy skin.

Alerio felt knotted muscles begin to relax between his shoulders. “Terje needs a fatal ass-kicking,”
 he told the doctor absently as he braced his palms on the regenerator’s lid and stared into Dona’s sleeping face. Her closed eyelashes looked incredibly thick and dark as they fanned over her cheeks. “Too bad he got away before I could give it to him.”

Chogan sighed. “At least now we know what lies under that slick smile. That’s preferable to being blindsided the way we were when he tried to kill Jessica.”
None of them had known Terje was a hornhead double agent until the Enforcer had damn near strangled Jessica Kelly to death. The pretty redhead’s only crime had been her choice of roommate, a woman named Charlotte Holt, who turned out to be Xeran herself. Charlotte had managed to piss off the Xerans’ so-called “god,” the Victor, by trying to protect an alien race he wanted dead. The Victor had apparently decided to have her killed, along with anyone she might have talked to. Including Jessica.

So what the hell did Holt know that the Victor wanted squashed?

Then there were Holt’s alien friends, the Sela. Big-eyed, six-legged, cuddly little creatures -- with one fuck of a lot of power. The Victor considered them abominations, and he intended to exterminate every damned one of them. Now the Xeran “god” had apparently decided to expand his hit list to include every temporal tourist he could get his hands on, along with Alerio and his Enforcers.

Question is, how the hell do I stop him?

Minutes later, Dr. Chogan, Lolai Hardin’s body tube, and the regenerator containing Dona made the Jump back to the Outpost Infirmary in the usual showy explosion of light and sound.  With them safely away, Alerio rolled his knotted shoulders and headed back downstairs to check on the rest of his team.

He found the nine of them hard at work bustling around the bloody murder scene. To his relief, no one else had been as badly injured as Riane Wyatt, who was already in the infirmary.

We got lucky.

When he was satisfied they’d gathered all the evidence they’d need if this mess ever went to trial, Alerio gave the order to begin the Jump for home. His eight remaining agents began warping out from the wrecked parlor in teams of two, accompanied by evidence ’bots and body tubes loaded with the tourists they’d failed to save.

As was his habit, Alerio was the last to leave in order to cover his team’s retreat. Which, as usual, left him half-blind and completely deafened from the flash and boom of temporal warps. Luckily the T-suits’ dampening field kept anyone more than ten meters away from sensing the effects. No Philadelphia natives would wonder why there was a thunderstorm raging inside the house next door.

By the time it was his turn to Jump, the chief’s ears were ringing so loudly, it was all he could hear. Until the androgynous mental voice of his neurocomp began reciting the familiar string of coordinates that was the Outpost’s space-time address. Outpost coordinates confirmed, he told the implant. Engage temporal warp.

Engaging temporal warp in three . . . two . . . one . . .

It felt like being hit by lightning, a teeth-rattling electrical assault that shook his body until his consciousness blinked out . . .

. . . And . . . he was back again.

Temporal warp to the Outpost successful, the neurocomp announced.

Alerio made no answer, blind, deaf, stomach knotting in violent rebellion, muscles jerking from the electrical assault that was a side effect of the Jump. Bracing his knees, he stayed upright by will alone and waited for his implant to compensate. My team?

All members of the investigation team present and accounted for.

The chief  breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Vardonese goddess happened to be listening.

He’d lost a Jumper once. Riane Arvid’s sabotaged T-suit had bounced her back and forth across Terran temporal space before finally dumping her in the twentieth century. Her suit was dead as a stone by then, unable to generate even the weakest warp field.

To make a bad situation truly gods-awful, a team of Xeran assassins appeared minutes later. They’d have butchered her with their usual viciousness if not for a timely rescue by Nick Wyatt, half-breed Xeran and superhuman guardian of an alien race called the Sela.

The two had bonded as they struggled to elude the Victor’s assassins. By the time Nick helped Riane return to the Outpost, the couple was desperately in love.

Still, almost losing an Enforcer was an experience Alerio had no desire to repeat. Especially considering Ivar’s threats. We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s . . . justice.
Like hell, botfucker.

Blinking the lingering Jump spots from his eyes, Alerio glanced around the cavernous room called Mission Staging. Heavily shielded to control the raging forces of temporal warp, it was lined floor to ceiling with evidence and equipment lockers, as well as regeneration tubes for the injured. Most temporal missions began and ended here, especially those featuring a large Jump team.

Though the chief longed to head for the Infirmary to check on Dona, he controlled the impulse. If his Enforcers managed to bring the Xerans to justice, he was damned if the killers would go free because somebody broke the chain of evidence.

“All right, let’s get the physical evidence stowed,” Alerio said in a command bark that had every Enforcer jumping.

Apparently inured to his growls, Chogan’s medical techs strode out, accompanied by a pitiful parade of body tubes. He ignored them as he rapped out instructions. 

“The evidence ’bots are to be logged in and their contents transferred into evi-stasis. And make damned sure they’re all our ’bots. Last thing we need is to give the Xerans another shot at sabotaging our central computer.”

The last time a spy had attempted such sabotage, the virus he unleashed almost killed every senior agent on the Outpost—including Alerio himself. The horrendous delusions the virus created had almost fragged his consciousness and stopped his heart. Not an experience he wanted to repeat.

Especially with the Xerans playing for keeps.