The year is 3032 and mankind has expanded far beyond Earth’s galaxy. Matilda Dulac is a member of the Galactic Mining Guild. With her lover, Marc Slatterly, she works in a small mining ship in deep space.
Their well ordered life if suddenly thrown into chaos when one miner arrives with a load of Trimagnite, a highly toxic liquid ore. Enter the Lone Wolf. Wil VanLipsig, known as the Lone Wolf, arrives to take the Trigmagnite off their hands. Is it a coincidence for him to show up on Marc’s ship years after Marc thought he’d killed Wil? Or is this the beginning of something far more insidious? Lone Wolf is the first book in a new science fiction series by Dellani Oakes.
Lights on the computer console flashed, catching her attention. The bridge was dark since only the bots were supposed to be at work. Matilda checked the instruments carefully.
“Rubee, lights,” she told the ship’s computer.
“Initiating. Welcome, Commander Dulac.”
The lights came up slowly, allowing her eyes to adjust. There was a flicker of movement on one of her screens. Why was a mining unit on approach? Curious, she activated the Tri-D viewer, focusing on an incoming ship. None of the miners were due until 0800. Glancing at the chronometer, she saw it was only 0230.
“Mine Unit One, what is your status?”
Getting only static in reply, Matilda zoomed the viewer trying to get a visual on the pilot. The miner ignored the station’s auto-hails. Her long fingers flew over the keypad as she tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Mine Unit One, do you have an emergency?”
Nothing. Hitting her comlink, she beeped Marc Slatterly’s cabin.
“Hmph?” He answered, still naked in the bed where she’d left him twenty minutes ago. “What? Matilda? Where the hell are you?”
He rubbed his face to wake up. Standing groggily, he loomed over the console. His heavily muscled body was cast into stark shadows and highlights by the Tri-D projection of her face.
“The bridge. We’ve got a problem. Get up here.”
“What?” Suddenly all business, he reached for his pants.
“Unit One. Billy’s coming in hot and erratic. He’s not answering hails.”
“You know Guild protocol, Matilda.” He struggled into his pants, getting tangled as he tried to put his feet through.
She exhaled slowly, wiping her brow. She knew protocol as well as he, but in the ten years of Mining Guild service she’d never had to use Regulation Seventeen—Destruction of a Manned Vessel. Until now.
“Maybe his comlink is borked.”
“Hail him one more time, then initiate protocol.”
“Are you coming?”
“On my way.” He didn’t bother to finish dressing. Grabbing his gun belt, he took off at top speed to the lift.
“Mine Unit One,” Matilda continued. “Slow your approach or I will enact Guild Regulation Seventeen. Do you copy?”
More static. She keyed in the coded sequence necessary to transfer the miner’s load to the cargo hold. Taking a deep breath, she tried once more.
“Mine Unit One, this is your final warning before I implement your self-destruct.” Tapping her comlink, she prayed Marc would answer.
“On my way, baby. I can go only so fast. Damn lift is slow.”
“Shit. I used the transporter.”
“There went my power. You know the drill, Commander.”
She lifted the clear Lucite lid over the red destruct button, hands shaking as she keyed in the final sequence.
“Mine Unit One, Billy? Can you hear me? Slow down!” Still no answer. “You made me do this,” she whispered as her finger pressed the button.
The miner’s craft imploded, folding on itself like a deflated balloon. Biting her lip, blinking back tears, she turned away. Marc walked onto the bridge a second later, eyes glued to the screen. Taking her in his arms, he held her while she cried.
“You had to do it, Matilda. You had no choice. Look at his trajectory. He’d have come right through us.”
“I never had to do it before.” She wiped the tears fiercely away. And to a friend.
Marc checked the console, securing the destruct button without a word. Taking a life was never easy, but he’d grown used to it over time. Years as a Galactic Marine had hardened him. More as a Mining Guild officer had taken the sting out of senseless killing, but the first one was always the worst.
Taking her shoulders, he turned her to face him. “You did your job, Matilda. Sometimes that’s not easy.” Puzzled, he paused, looking around. “Why are you up?”
“Something didn’t feel right. I came up to check it out.” She shrugged, pressing against him as his arms held her.
“You’re like me. Your hunches are rarely wrong.” He secured the console. “How about we go back to bed?”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “I need something to take my mind off….”
Marc slung an arm around her shoulders, kissing the top of her head. “I reckon I can distract you for an hour or two.” He chuckled, white teeth flashing through the confines of his dark red beard.
Back in his cabin, they wiled away the next hour. Afterward, though she was tired, she couldn’t go back to sleep. Something still felt wrong, like an instrument played off key, making her skin crawl. Now that there was nothing to occupy her mind, she focused on her misgivings. She wanted to wake Marc so she’d have some distraction, but one look at his sleeping face told her that was unlikely. He didn’t sleep much, but when it did, it was deep.
Instead, Matilda rose and showered, dressing in a fresh uniform. She intended to go back to her own quarters after kissing him goodnight, but her feet took her to the cargo bay. As she approached, the creeping feeling on her skin grew worse, the hairs on her neck rising. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t determine what. Pulling herself away from the doors, she ran to the bridge, calling up the ship’s manifest.
There was a load of Trimagnite ore collected from the destroyed mine unit. In a panic, she buzzed Marc’s quarters.
“What the hell? Romance, what are you up to now?”
“Get dressed and get up here now! It’s urgent.”
“Again? Dammit! Can’t I get some sleep?”
“Not if you want to live.”
Within five minutes, he joined her. She gave him a cup of joe to clear his befuddlement. Gulping it down, he made a face, but in a few seconds, he was clearheaded as she told him what she’d found, showing him the scan. Trimagnite had a very distinctive pattern.
“Damn! What was he thinking? He didn’t have the equipment or storage capability for this. Digging that shit without proper shielding is lethal!”
“So, what do we do? Trimagnite can make us all go nuts! Why didn’t he tell us?” Her voice held a note of panic.
“We both know the raw ore is not only toxic, it’s a very strong neural stimulant. I’m surprised he lived long enough to get it to the ship. I’m contacting Commandant Riley. We can’t carry this, we’re only minimally shielded. Even if we’d known ahead of time, we’re not prepared to transport it.”
His fingers flew over his keypad as he sat at the console, waiting impatiently to connect. Matilda stood nearby, hugging herself. Knowing it was Trimagnite made her feel worse. Everyone in the galaxy knew the damaging effects of the semi-liquid ore—disorientation, hallucinations, madness and death. Once the process started, there was no halting it. They would die—horribly.
Lost in her thoughts, Matilda hadn’t realized Marc was talking to Commandant Riley. Instead of a uniform, he was dressed in a dull brown business suit, his hair slicked over his skull, looking a lot like a rat in the dim light of the control room.
“That’s what I said, sir. Trimagnite.”
“That’s impossible! I had no prior knowledge of the load, or I’d have sent a bot ship.”
“I sent a data file. You should be getting it in a moment. It shows the Guild Registry of the Trimagnite. Someone knew he had it. Commandant, I can’t expose my crew to this for more than twelve more hours. Otherwise we both know what could happen.”
“I don’t have any bot ships in the vicinity, but there’s a Merchant Marine in the sector. He can be there in a couple of hours. He’s shielded and can transport to us. Dammit, Captain Slatterly, I had no idea. I’d never do this to you and your crew.”
“As long as we get it out of here, consider it forgotten. Who’s picking up?”
“The ship’s called the Loup Garou. It’s registered in Beta Quadrant. Guy’s a gypsy of sorts, no set port of call. VanLipsig is the name. Wilhelm VanLipsig.”
There was a stunned silence. Marc said nothing, staring blankly at the screen.
“You’re sure that’s his name?” He asked distractedly.
Riley’s hands fluttered over his keypad as he verified the information. “Yes, says here Wilhelm VanLipsig. Goes by the handle Lone Wolf. Do you know this guy?”
Marc didn’t reply right away. “Yeah,” he said hesitantly. Suddenly, he was all business again. “Thank you, Commandant. We’ll be ready for VanLipsig. Slatterly out.” Marc sat at the console, not even remembering to disconnect.
Matilda broke the connection, looking at him carefully. “What’s up?”
He jumped at the sound of her voice as if she’d shouted. “Ghost from the past, baby.” He shook his head. “I was sure the bastard died….” He rubbed his eyes with his fists. “We can’t do anything more for now. Let’s go back and get some sleep. Rubee will wake us when the guy gets here.”
They went back to Marc’s quarters. Of course, once they lay down, he didn’t want to sleep. Instead of his usual style, Marc took her roughly with an intense focus as if trying to purge his memory of something highly unpleasant. He had never behaved like this before. Matilda would have been worried, but he urged such intense sensations from her body, she could hardly think.
Exhausted, they curled up together. Marc lay behind her, his arms around her protectively, as if by his presence alone, he could keep her from harm. They slept deeply and Rubee woke them at 0630 when the Merchant Marine hailed them.
Once he was up and dressed, Marc was all business. It seemed odd for him to be so professional when they had just been so intimate, but she knew something was bothering him.
As Matilda followed Marc to the docking bay where the ship was locking on, she noticed he was armed. The energy weapon he wore was hardly standard Guild issue. On the maximum setting, it could take down a 300-pound man, putting a sizable hole in him.
“Expecting an army? You can kill a xar beast with one of those.”
“I wish I had something bigger. If I order you to fire, Commander, you fire. No questions. Is that clear?”
Marc opened the door to the docking bay. The other ship had attached and the airlock was pressurizing. As the door spiraled open, Matilda sensed a shudder pass through Marc. He raised his weapon, covering the entrance.
Slowly, with a casual air, a man entered the airlock. Nearly as tall as Marc, he was leaner of build. His curly, dark brown hair fell to his shoulders. He stood still while Rubee scanned his identification tag before releasing the force shield in front of him.
He wore a black eye patch over his left eye and a scar ran from his left temple to the corner of his lips. It was an old scar, worn and somewhat sunken. A slight stubble of beard shaded the lower half of his face, all but the scar line, leaving a pale crescent in the dark. His uncovered eye glittered, black and dangerous in his ruggedly handsome face. Holding his arms from his sides, he waited as Rubee scanned him for weapons. Finding none, she gave clearance for him to pass.
He stepped forward, lighting a dark, thin object. The pungent odor of a cheroot filled the confined space. Squinting past the smoke, he gazed into Marc’s eyes. Marc’s weapon remained pointed at the other man’s head, his calm expression strangely predatory.
Their visitor sized Matilda up with a glance, dismissing her as non-threatening. He puffed on his cheroot thoughtfully. A crooked grin cracked his face in half, the scar pulling his left lip up at an odd angle.
“Marc, it’s been a long time.” He held out his hand.
Marc remained aloof, not taking his eyes off the visitor, lowering his weapon or acknowledging the proffered hand.
“Kind of a cold reception, isn’t it?” His voice was rasping and low.
The smile was replaced by a slight frown, a hint of sadness in the obsidian eye. Then the same placid expression took its place. Nothing in Marc’s face betrayed what he was thinking or feeling.
Marc spoke calmly. “Commander Dulac, please show Colonel VanLipsig to the lounge.”
“Of course, sir.” Looking puzzled, she did as he asked, feeling his eyes on her.
Marc followed, covering the man from the rear. When they had seated themselves, Matilda ordered three cups of joe from the synthunit. Marc kept his weapon out on his knee with his hand resting upon it. The other fellow leaned back, seemingly unconcerned and at ease. Taking a sip of the joe, he grimaced, glancing down at his cup before matching his gaze with Marc’s.
“I know we parted under difficult circumstances, but is this really necessary? I’m here to do a job, nothing more.” He carefully kept his hands in plain view, moving slowly, talking with deliberate ease.
Marc looked at him blankly. “I thought you were dead, Wil.”
VanLipsig nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “You were sure you killed me.” His voice was flat, toneless, unemotional. He shrugged casually, tilting his head to the left. “I got better.” There was a flash of a chilling smile.
“The reports of my death were greatly exaggerated,” VanLipsig quipped, dark eye glittering mischievously.
Marc’s fist dented the metal table with a furious blow. “Dammit, Wil! Can’t you stay dead?”
VanLipsig threw back his head, laughing caustically. The laugh became a long, high-pitched, chilling howl. Matilda felt a shiver run through her to the very bone. She did her best not to show it, but a subtle shift of her bearing betrayed her. His gaze penetrated her soul, laying it bare, finding it wanting.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to the lady, Marc?”
Marc hid his anger, but Matilda knew he was furious. His attitude toward VanLipsig was puzzling. They seemed to have known one another for years, obviously parting on less than amicable terms. Though VanLipsig seemed to harbor no ill will, Marc certainly did.
“May I present myself, ma’am? I’m Colonel Wilhelm VanLipsig, also known as the Lone Wolf. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?” He attempted to look humble. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” His glance flicked to her nametag and insignia, dark eye lingering hungrily on her chest. “Commander Dulac.” His mouth formed the words, enjoying the feel of the consonants on his tongue.
He waited patiently for a response. Getting none, his eye locked with hers, curious, intrigued. “Do you speak?”
Matilda studied him quizzically, raising an eyebrow. “There seemed little to say.”
Wil chuckled deep in his throat. It was a seductively menacing sound. He put his feet up on the table between them, relaxed, but all business.
“So, what’s this load I’m supposed to pick up?”
Matilda glanced at Marc, his blank face betraying nothing. He gave no indication that he was going to speak, so she took over the conversation.
VanLipsig, who was staring openly at her full breasts, raised an eyebrow. He grinned wolfishly, dragging his gaze to meet hers.
“Really? Nasty stuff.” He sounded almost gleeful. “How pure?”
She met his eyes with a challenge as his smile became predatory. Her personal scanner showed him the basic specs. His brow furrowed slightly as he read, then he handed it back to her, whistling softly in surprise.
“Show me the full scan.” All joking aside, he stood expectantly.
Matilda ushered VanLipsig to a console and typed in the commands. He leaned over her right shoulder, his face mere inches from hers. His scent tantalized her. It was disconcerting, made all the more disturbing because he was dangerously handsome, well built, virile, wickedly seductive and extremely close. Forcing herself to look back at the screen, she felt his warm breath on her neck, tickling her skin in a very sensuous way.
He leaned forward, tapping the console, watching as the view and number readout changed. The very air between them was charged with energy. His shoulder brushed hers from behind, making her shiver
VanLipsig put his hand on her shoulder, brushing her neck slightly with his thumb, leaning in as if to kiss her. He checked himself abruptly, nearly brushing her ear with his lips. His breath stirred wisps of hair, tickling her neck.
“I’m sorry, Commander. Are you cold?” His raspy voice seemed loud, although he whispered.
She ducked out from under his arm, stepping aside. “No, I’m fine. Really. Thank you.”
Marc stood a few feet away, his eyes on the other man, saying nothing. The muscle in his jaw worked rapidly, bulging and relaxing as he fought for control.
Wil seemed unaware of them both as he read the screen, making mental calculations, sensuous lips moving as he spoke to himself. He nodded, clearing the screen, turning to them with a dazzling smile.
“No problem,” his smile broadened, but didn’t reach his eye. “I’ll just get my bots to work, then.”
He made for the door, but Marc stopped him with a powerful arm across his chest. Wil halted, pressing aggressively against Marc’s elbow.
“Old man, you know that’s dangerous.” Wil’s body stiffened defensively.
Marc glared at him, cold fury erupting. “By God, Wil! I killed you, you bastard!” Marc pounded the table next to him, scattering the cups of joe.
Wil didn’t even blink. “I told you, I got better.”
Marc’s huge fist shot out suddenly from shoulder height, all his weight behind it. Wil caught Marc’s fist, twisting up and away from his jaw, forcing Marc’s arm to bend back on itself, elbow by his ear.
“Don’t make me do this, Marc.”
Wil held Marc’s arm, their muscles swelling and knotting as they fought for control. Marc tried to free himself from the other man’s unyielding grasp. Suddenly changing tactics, he swung at Wil with his left hand. With an audible crack, his enormous fist connected with Wil’s face. Neither man seemed to notice. Marc drew back, swinging again from the left.
Wil dropped Marc’s right hand in order to block the blow. He grabbed Marc’s arm in an elbow lock. Using the force of the attack, he spun Marc to face him, slamming his fist into Marc’s abdomen.
Instead of recoiling from the blow, Marc moved in, utilizing Wil’s momentum and his own greater weight, to put his opponent off balance. He threw Wil to the floor, hitting him with a bone grinding body slam.
Wil exhaled sharply as he grappled with one hand in Marc’s hair. Wil forced Marc’s head back at an odd angle. Marc’s face grew dark red as he gasped for breath.
Matilda reacted instinctively, her weapon trained on Wil automatically. Stance defiant, her eyes glittered with dark fire.
“Let him go,” she spoke quietly, teeth clenched.
Wil held Marc’s head, but stopped twisting.
“Why don’t you put the gun down, Ma’am, before you hurt yourself?”
Wil’s face registered momentary surprise when she didn’t immediately comply. Instead, her grip shifted on the weapon, her aim true, right between his eyes. The astonishment was quickly replaced by a placid expression. VanLipsig allowed himself a glance in her direction. Her face held a determination equal to his own. Slowly, he let go of Marc, who straightened up, shaking his head.
“Move away from him.”
VanLipsig stood in one fluid motion, taking two steps back. His hands were shoulder height, out from his body. He made no sudden movements, his demeanor passive.
“Now would one of you testosterone glutted males tell me what the hell is going on?” Her dark eyes flashed dangerously.
Wil smiled slightly, waving his fingers to get her attention. “May I put my hands down, Commander?”
Matilda gave a terse nod. “Where I can see them.”
Slowly, he lowered his hands, keeping them in full view. “Could you maybe?” He gestured to the point of her weapon, motioning down.
Lowering the barrel, she kept her eyes on him. “Colonel VanLipsig, I’m required to quote you Guild Regulation 516 A, which states….”
“I know what the hell it states, Commander. Let’s pretend you quoted to me about unprovoked attacks on a fellow Guild member. Only he started it and I’m not Guild. I just transport stuff.”
“Why?” She demanded.
“‘Cause I’m nice.” His tone was petulant, his stare defiant.
“And damn well paid,” Marc added, his voice harsh and raw.
“Yeah, well that….” Wil said with an offhand shrug.
He moved toward Marc, intending to help him up. Matilda’s weapon followed sharply.
“Geesue, what’s with you people? Has the Trimagnite already fried your brains, or do all guests get this treatment?”
“That’s what I’m waiting to hear from the two of you.”
“Ask him,” Wil replied, jabbing a finger at Marc. “He attacked me, remember?”
Matilda fixed her eyes on Marc. “Talk,” she said, pointing her weapon at him instead.
Marc stood unsteadily, moving toward her, hands spread in a pleading gesture. “Romance, baby, wait….”
She tapped Marc in the chest with her weapon, emphasizing each word. Her eyes flicked over to Wil, who hadn’t moved. An incredulous grin replaced the blank expression.
“That’s what this is about? You didn’t like me coming on to her?” Wil rolled his eye upward, laughing caustically. “Damn!”
Wil looked Matilda over like merchandise, his eyes stopping at her chest. Shaking his head, he licked his full lips. “Oh, baby, we could have had some fun.” He sighed exaggeratedly. “I’m sorry, Commander.”
Finding his act hard to swallow, she kept a wary eye on him, but brought her weapon down.
“Look, I’ve been out deep for awhile. A man gets pretty lonely out there all alone. You’re the first woman I’ve seen since I left Aolani six months ago. Damn, you’re fine! I bet you have men panting after you all the time.”
“Not really,” she lied. This was a trick to get her off guard and she knew it. “I very much doubt Captain Slatterly would react so heatedly just because you were trying to seduce me.” She flashed a cocky grin.
Wil paused, gazing at Marc appraisingly. His expression changed to a stony-edged glare. “I dunno, it was over a woman last time too, wasn’t it, Marc?”
Marc drew himself up to this full height, towering over them both. “Yeah, you killed her,” he said with quiet menace.
“She betrayed us to the enemy, Marc.”
“Only you say so.”
Wil held his hands wide from his body, taking a step toward Marc. “There was a time when my word alone would have been good enough.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “Marc, she was with him when I found her. She betrayed us.” He spun around on his heel, head flung back. “Geesue, Marc! It’s been almost sixty years! How long are you going to carry a grudge?”
“Another sixty if necessary.”
Matilda glanced from one man to the other. “You hate him because he killed your girlfriend, is that it?”
Marc turned an angry eye on her as if he’d forgotten she was there. “No. I hate him because he killed my wife.”
That caught her by surprise, Wil noticed happily. She looked like she’d taken a fist to the gut. She rallied quickly.
“So, he killed your wife and you still want him dead.” She holstered her weapon.
Marc glared at her. “Wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe?”
Tugging at his beard, Marc paced the room. He stopped even with Wil, his face only inches away.
“What proof did you have before you killed her? She could have been there for another reason.”
Wil sighed, running his hands through his dark, bushy hair. “Marc, she was telling him everything! I was so angry, I couldn’t think straight for a few seconds. Then I came to the harsh realization that the only way I was going to keep the team alive was to end her.”
He turned away from Matilda and Marc, his back to them, purposely vulnerable.
“I killed my best friend’s wife.” He spun, facing them, advancing on Marc. “And I saved your sorry ass and the entire unit.” He spoke with very little emotion, as if it was annoying and unimportant to go into details of something so long past.
Marc fought down the urge to spring on Wil, knowing such an action would be deadly this time. Wil waited for him to move or speak. He looked thoughtful, nothing more. The dark, disconcerting eye flickered to the woman. She wasn’t looking directly at him, but she was watching him. Moving slowly, he turned and spoke to her.
“So, Commander, may I set my bots to work? I assume you want the Trimagnite removed as soon as possible?”
Marc said nothing, but Matilda nodded, dismissing him. Turning slowly, alert to attack from behind, Wil strolled through the open airlock back onto his ship. He activated the robot loading crew. As they took little to no monitoring, he went to his cabin and fell asleep.
After VanLipsig left, Matilda and Marc went back to his quarters. He wanted to make love again, so she didn’t argue. VanLipsig had set a fire in her that burned persistently in her belly. Not even making love to Marc put it out. The gnawing, hot sensation dwindled slightly, but came back just as strong later. Forcing herself to rest, she curled up, falling into a troubled sleep. Dreams of wolves with dark fur and black eyes plagued her. She tossed and turned restlessly.
Marc sat up, watching Matilda sleep. He rarely slept more than four hours and he was running in combat mode now. Having Wil around made him nervous, edgy. It was a bit too convenient that Riley sent Wil. Marc had never believed in coincidence and he wasn’t about to start now. Something else bothered him as well, a message sent to him privately by Riley the day before. He had to tell Matilda, knowing it would change the nature of their relationship forever.
Sighing heavily, he went slowly to the control room to monitor the arrival of the miners.
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