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by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2018 by Cora Buhlert
All rights reserved.
Cover image © Grandfailure, Dreamstime
Pegasus Pulp Publications
In Love and War
For eighty-eight years, the galaxy has been torn apart by the endless war between the Republic of United Planets and the Empire of Worlds.
Anjali Patel and Mikhail Grikov are soldiers on opposing sides of that war. They meet, fall in love and decide to go on the run together.
Pursued by both the Empire and the Republic, they struggle to stay alive and free and prove that their love is stronger than the war…
At a crossroads in the capital of the independent rim world of Metra Litko stood a building of slate grey granite, topped by letters of bright red neon twice the height of a regular human. This was the Ostrowsky Hotel, one of the oldest buildings on the planet and coincidentally, also one of its most famous.
If someone had chanced to look up at the roof of the Ostrowsky Hotel, they might have noticed two figures, outlined in stark black against the red neon letters spelling out the hotel’s name.
If one of the security drones patrolling the city had chanced to zoom in for a closer look, it might have noticed that the two figures on the roof of the Ostrowsky Hotel were a man and a woman, both in their mid-twenties.
The man was tall, with pale skin, striking blue eyes and long dark hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wearing light battle armour, of high quality, but without insignia. In his arms, he cradled a Republican made precision rifle. This was Captain Mikhail Alexeievich Grikov, formerly of the Republican Special Commando Forces, now wanted as a traitor and deserter.
The woman by his side was a good head shorter, with brown skin, dark eyes and glossy black hair she wore tied into a neat braid. Instead of armour, she was wearing plain black utility clothes. She was in the process of assembling a sniper rifle, an Imperial made Marcasona Mark IV. This was Lieutenant Anjali Patel, formerly of the Imperial Shakyri Expeditionary Forces, now wanted as a traitor and deserter.
Anjali and Mikhail had met during a mission and fallen in love against all odds. When the time came where they would be forced to hand the other over to certain death at the hands of their respective regimes, they both found that they could not do it. And so they had decided to leave their lives and careers behind and run away together. They’d headed for Metra Litko and the independent worlds on the galactic rim to offer their specific skills to the highest bidder.
All that had happened two months ago. And because Metra Litko was a hub of legal and illegal trade, they’d never had a problem finding work as mercenaries or freelance security specialists, as Anjali tended to put it, since she did not like the m-word.
It was this work that had brought them to the roof of the Ostrowsky Hotel today, for they had been hired as security detail for one Arkady Grigorian, a local politician and Merchants’ Council hopeful. Grigorian had been receiving threats and was supposed to appear at a charity gala at the Ostrowsky Hotel tonight.
Since Grigorian was wealthy — you had to be to campaign for a seat on the Merchants’ Council — he did what wealthy people commonly did, when they found themselves faced with credible threats. He’d bought himself security. And so twenty mercenaries — or freelance security specialists, to use Anjali’s preferred term — were currently providing security detail for Grigorian.
Anjali and Mikhail had been recruited for Grigorian’s security team by Nestor Duval, a smuggler and broker with whom they sometimes worked. Their job was providing high vantage point security a.k.a. sitting on a rooftop waiting for something to happen. Dull work, for sure, but the money was good. And besides, it gave Anjali the chance to take her brand-new Marcasona Mark IV for a test drive.
“This baby is sweet,” she said, once she’d finished setting up the rifle and was peering through the scope, admiring the earrings of a woman entering the Plasma Café across the road. “The scope is even sharper than before…” Sharp enough that she could watch the man in the synth-leather coat sitting in a window seat dump powdered milk into his coffee and even make out the pastries in the counter display of the café. “…the targeting more precise and the form…” Fits like a lover against your body. “…is even more ergonomic.”
She looked up, glancing at Mikhail and his Republican made precision rifle that looked hopelessly clumsy compared to her Mark IV.
“You should have opted for a Marcasona Mark IV as well,” Anjali said, “Pricey, but so much better than the Republican models. No offence.”
“None taken,” Mikhail replied with a smile, “And for the record, I agree that your Mark IV is a nice piece of hardware, very nice indeed. But I’d still rather stick with the good old VKS-47. After all, that’s what I trained with.”
“Did you do a lot of sniper missions for the Special Commando Forces?” Anjali wanted to know.
“It wasn’t my primary field…” A shadow flitted across Mikhail’s features, as if he were remembering something he’d rather forget, “…but yeah, I did a few. You?”
Anjali smiled. “I was the designated sniper for our squad. Captain Vikram always said that women make the best snipers and so…” She shrugged. “…I wound up with the job. As a result, I spent a lot of time on rainy rooftops and freezing hillsides, waiting for something to happen. Sometimes, something even did.”
Mikhail sighed. “I know this isn’t the most exciting of jobs, but the money is good. And we need money, since we blew most of what I got for selling off the Republican cutter we ‘borrowed’…” He formed air quotes, because the plain truth was that they had stolen the ship. Not that Anjali cared. “…on weapons, ammo and nano booster shots.”
Anjali briefly touched her neck where a gold and garnet pendant dangled on a thin chain. It was a gift from Mikhail and the work of one of Rajipuri’s finest goldsmiths, stunningly beautiful and also incredibly inappropriate for a mere peasant like her.
“And on completely inappropriate gifts,” she muttered under her breath.
Mikhail just smiled. “Now that, my love, is an expense I will never regret.”
A puddle of warmth pooled in Anjali’s stomach, as always when Mikhail called her “my love” or told her that he loved her. He meant it, too. For Anjali had seen what Mikhail was like when he lied and this was not it.
Meanwhile, Anjali still wasn’t quite sure how she felt about him. Oh, she certainly appreciated him as a fighter and as her partner. She also appreciated his body in bed next to hers, his gentle hands on her skin and his lips on hers. But love? She didn’t know if what she felt for Mikhail was love, because love was a damn big word. So for now, she decided to stick with comradery, friendship and lust. Perhaps it wasn’t the most secure foundation for their partnership, but it would have to do for now.