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by Cora Buhlert
Copyright © 2016 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…
Djamila was an unremarkable dustball of a planet, notable only for one thing, its strategic location along one of the major trade routes between the Republic of United Planets and the independent worlds on the galactic rim.
Its main trade hub was the city of Demirkan on the North Continent, a sprawling metropolis that had sprung up around the planet’s biggest spaceport, nestled at the foot of a mountain range.
Next to the spaceport, the most important structure in Demirkan was the Red Market, named for the bright red awnings that shielded shoppers and vendors alike from the merciless desert sun.
No matter what the hour, the Red Market was always bustling with activity. Hundreds of vendors were offering goods from a thousand world to crowds of eager buyers. Legend had it that anything in the galaxy could be found at the Red Market, either above or below the counter.
Two figures briskly made their way through the labyrinthine passages of the Red Market. A man and a woman, both in their mid twenties, walking side by side in the perfect synchronicity born of close companionship.
The man was tall and lanky, though he moved with the natural grace of a trained fighter. His hair was dark and fell down to his shoulders. His skin was uncommonly pale, his eyes were a striking blue. He was clad all in black — boots, utility pants, shirt, all topped by a long coat of black synth-leather, that also concealed the blaster he wore in a shoulder holster. This was Captain Mikhail Alexeievich Grikov, formerly of the Republican Special Commando Forces.
The woman by his side was a good head shorter, with brown skin, dark eyes and glossy black hair she wore tied back into a single long braid. Like her companion, she wore utilitarian clothing, though she had opted for a tunic of flowing synth-silk in bright colours with a matching scarf rather than the stark black her companion favoured. She, too, was armed, with a blaster on one hip and a dagger on the other. This was Lieutenant Anjali Patel, formerly of the Imperial Shakyri Expeditionary Corps.
Djamila was a harsh world and Demirkan a harsh city. And while the Red Market might be a place of wonder, it was also a place of danger, its passages prowled by various gangs in search of easy prey.
But even the most hardened criminals of Demirkan knew better than to bother the pair that strolled across the Red Market, preferring to give them a wide berth instead. For Mikhail Grikov and Anjali Patel radiated danger, which was not surprising, considering they were two of the deadliest fighters in the galaxy. They were also on the run.
The Republic of United Planets and the Empire of Worlds had been at war for eighty-eight years now, grinding up generations of soldiers in endless battles. Mikhail and Anjali had been two of those soldiers, the best their respective governments had to offer. They’d met on the battlefield, fought, but failed to kill each other and finally had taken each other prisoner. And somewhere along the way, they’d managed to fall in love and decided to run away together, deserters and traitors to the Republic and the Empire both.
The Republic and the Empire might not be able to agree on anything, but there was one issue in which they were curiously of one mind. The traitors Patel and Grikov had to be found and brought to justice, whatever the cost.
So Mikhail and Anjali had fled to the independent rim worlds, the only place where they could live in relative peace, working as security, mercenaries, muscle-for-hire and hopping from world to world, always trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. And today, their flight had brought them to Djamila, to the Red Market in the city of Demirkan.
Though the exact purpose that had brought them to the Red Market today was not escape or even work — no, the reason was something far more prosaic. Mikhail and Anjali were shopping for groceries. Or rather, Anjali was shopping for groceries, while Mikhail was tagging along.
“What about that one?”
He pointed at a stall that was selling a bewildering variety of powdered spices and dry goods that to his uneducated eyes looked exactly like the sort of thing Anjali was looking for.
“Oh no, that won’t do at all,” Anjali replied, “The quality is bad, the spices are old, preserved by irradiation and quite possibly adulterated as well. They add yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, bran or even sawdust, you know?”
To be honest, Mikhail hadn’t known that. “I bow to your superior knowledge,” he said with a smile, wondering how in the universe Anjali could tell all that without a thorough chemical analysis, for he sure as hell couldn’t. But then, Anjali had some genetic enhancements, courtesy of her former masters, that he lacked.
“That man at the spaceport said there was a Rajipuri spice merchant somewhere here at the Red Market. We only have to find him or her.”