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Roberts Space Industries ®






November 28th 2018

Phantom Bounty: Part Three
By: Autumn Kalquist
Writer’s Note: Phantom Bounty: Part Three was published originally in Jump Point 3.3. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

Mila and Rhys had chased the Phantom for months, had spent nearly every last credit, had put all their hope in finding her and collecting the bounty.

The Phantom stood in front of them at last, cuffed inside their prisoner pod. Mila should have felt elated, but all she felt was shock.

Evony Salinas. Mila had stopped going by Evony a decade ago, yet the Phantom knew her real name. And the Phantom’s face looked just like her former best friend’s — Casey Phan — a girl found murdered ten years ago.

It couldn’t be possible. But it was. The terrorist who had hit all those Phan Pharmaceutical labs was the founder’s own daughter. And she wasn’t dead. She’s alive.

Mila kept her eyes on the Phantom and wavered on her feet. Rhys reached out and grabbed her arm, steadying her.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Mila whispered.

Casey swallowed and averted her eyes, looking at the wall behind them. “And you’re supposed to be on Terra.”

“You . . . you almost killed me.”

Emotions Mila hadn’t expected flashed across Casey’s face. Anxiety. Regret. “I swear I didn’t know it was you. You shouldn’t have followed me.”

Rhys stepped in front of Mila, blocking her view of Casey, and made a move to shut the pod.

“Stop,” Mila commanded.

Rhys sharply responded, “She’s a terrorist, Mila.”

“I need to talk to her.”

Rhys paused and stepped back, working his jaw. “We can’t stay here. We’re sitting ducks.” He looked at the Phantom. “Did you contact anyone to meet you?”

Casey pressed her lips together and didn’t answer.

Mila clenched her hands into fists. “Everyone thinks you’re dead. How could you . . . and now you’re attacking your father’s labs — killing people?”

Casey’s nostrils flared. “It’s not like that. I’ll tell you. But not with him here.” She pointed to Rhys. “I don’t know him.”

Rhys let out an abrupt laugh. “You tried to kill us three times today. That has to be some kind of record. Now you wanna give Mila some sob story, hope she’ll free you? Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

Casey went rigid as Rhys started searching her spacesuit for anything she might be hiding.

Conflicting emotions swirled within Mila, anger warring with relief. How the hell could Casey be alive? She’d seen the reports of her murder, she’d attended the funeral. It was basically a state ceremony, with many ranking Terran officials in attendance.

Mila wore a solid black floor-length dress and a widebrimmed Terran hat. She covered her face, crying the whole time as Casey’s father gave the eulogy. Afterward, her own mother stayed by her side every day, helping her to get through the grief. Her mother had always supported her until the day she’d turned her back on her family to become a bounty hunter.

And it had all started with Casey’s death.

Casey Phan was supposed to be dead.

Mila met Casey’s eyes. This . . . this person in front of her couldn’t be her friend. Was it some kind of trick?

Rhys finished searching Casey, found nothing, and slammed a fist into the button on the pod. The door eased shut, locking Casey away again.

When the door beeped, verifying it was secured, Rhys turned to Mila. He ran a hand through his brown hair, clearly trying to make sense of the situation. He shook his head. “Look. We gotta get out of here and back to Tevistal to hand her over to the Advocacy. We’re too exposed right now if she called for back-up.”

Mila nodded. She cast a glance back at the pod and saw the top of Casey’s head through the glass panel. Her head was hanging low, the expression on her face not visible. How could this be happening?

Mila’s stomach churned as she followed Rhys back to the cockpit. “Please. You fly. I’m no good right now.”

Rhys took the pilot’s seat and fired up the engines. He eased them away from the cargo ship and past Casey’s abandoned Cutlass, through the floating detritus of the junkyard.

Mila pulled up the scanner, searching for signs of powered ships, but she found none. The scans were either blocked by the debris, or they were alone out here.

She and Rhys sat in tense silence until they reached the edge of the junkyard. A few ships popped up on their scanner, but all of them were docked at the nearby platform, Septa. None of them were headed their way.

“The Advocacy will want to go back and search her ship.”

“I logged the coordinates,” Mila said.

They pulled into open space, and the revelations of the last few minutes hung heavy in the air between them.

Mila took a deep breath.

“You asked me back on Tevistal . . . you asked why I couldn’t let this bounty go?”

Rhys nodded, but didn’t speak.

Mila sighed and settled back in her seat, trying not to be so aware of Casey, locked in a pod behind them. “Casey and I were really close. We grew up together. My father owned a components manufacturer, and her father owned a biotech firm, and they did business together. Our families spent a lot of time together. I thought I knew her.” Mila’s voice broke, but she forced herself to continue. “When I was sixteen, Casey went missing. They eventually found her body off-world — she’d been murdered. Her father threw everything he had at finding her, then at trying to track down her killer, but they never figured it out. I thought she was kidnapped or lured off planet. I couldn’t believe she’d just take a transport off-world and not even tell me where she was going.”

“So everyone believed she was dead.”

“Yeah. They did. I did.” Mila turned toward Rhys and gripped the armrest tightly. “Casey’s death ten years ago was the reason I went into bounty hunting. I couldn’t get justice for Casey, but I could for others. My family basically disowned me when I left. And when a terrorist started attacking Phan Pharmaceuticals again a few months ago. . . it brought up all those old feelings.” Mila’s eyes burned, and she tried to keep tears from coming, but failed. “Casey’s murderer had gotten away, but now someone else was hurting the Phan family, and I could actually do something about it this time.”

Rhys stopped the ship and let it drift. He took off his harness and leaned toward her to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“Thank you for telling me.”

Mila unstrapped her harness and got up. Rhys stood with her, wrapping her in a hug, which only made her cry harder. She gave in, letting him hold her for a few moments, then got it together and wiped her eyes.

She stepped away from him and blew out a breath. “I gotta talk to her. I can’t hand her over without finding out the truth. I need to know what happened.”

Rhys narrowed his eyes. “I don’t trust her. She’s dangerous. I need you to remember she’s not the friend you grew up with. She might say anything to gain your sympathy.”

“I know. I know. I just . . .”

“I’ll stay up here. . . I can listen in if you want me to.”

“No. She said she wanted to talk to me alone. Do you trust me?”

Rhys touched her face, wiping away the last of her tears. “You know I do.”

Mila gave him a small smile and went to clean up at the sink to make sure she didn’t look a mess. She couldn’t let Casey see how much of an effect she’d had on her. Rhys was right. Casey was a terrorist now. She’d faked her own death. Those were the actions of a sociopath, at the very least. But she still needed to hear what Casey had to say.

Mila typed in the pod’s code and stepped back as the door swung open. Casey blinked at her blearily and then straightened her shoulders.

“I want to talk,” Mila said.

Casey narrowed her eyes. “Where’s the other guy? I want proof he’s not listening in.”

“He’s not. Take my word for it, or I’m closing this pod. You won’t get another chance to talk.”

The tension hanging in the air was palpable, and a trickle of sweat made its way down Mila’s back.

Finally Casey relented, and she gave a stiff nod.

Mila let out a breath. “Why did you fake your own murder?”

Casey’s eyes softened at something she saw in Mila’s face, which threw Mila off balance again. Could a sociopath show empathy? Or was she faking that, too?

“That’s not what happened,” Casey said. “Trust me . . . it’s eaten away at me that people I loved thought I was dead. But it was better that way. Safer for everyone involved.”


“Are you taking me to the Advocacy now? How far out are we?”

Mila stepped forward and jabbed a finger into Casey’s chest. Casey flinched back. “No. I’m asking the questions. And you’re answering. What happened to you?”

Casey licked her lips. “Right before I . . . before I disappeared . . . I discovered some things. About what my father’s company was doing. Illegal bio testing on Human subjects. The more I dug the worse it got. He was making bioweapons, Evony.”

“Mila. My name is Mila now. And you’re lying. If your father was into any of that, the UEE would have shut him down years ago.”

Casey barked out a laugh. “There’s so much that goes on under the surface. People get paid off along the way to keep things hidden. ‘Law-abiding’ Citizens deal in just as much dirt as the people you hunt. But I guess you wouldn’t see it that way. I mean, you’re a bounty hunter now. How did that happen?”

Rage flooded Mila. I did this for you. She suddenly couldn’t stand to look at Casey any longer. She lifted a hand to shut the pod.

“Wait,” Casey said. “Okay. You don’t have to believe me, but I’ll tell you everything.”

Mila let her hand fall away from the button. “Fine. Talk.”

“I heard my father on a private comm. . . He said things about experiments, getting rid of the evidence. It scared me. So I snooped through his mobi, found what I had hoped I wouldn’t — terrible, cold reports. Then I had proof. But I didn’t know who to go to.”

“We were close.” Mila’s words came out like an accusation. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was terrified you’d go to your parents. Do you know how much stock they have in Phan Pharmaceuticals? They’d want to cover it up just like my dad did. When he caught me poking around, he got so angry I knew he was guilty. I needed to find a way to stop him . . . but how could I turn my own father in to the UEE?”

“You apparently don’t mind blowing up his facilities and employees.”

“I didn’t . . .” Casey shook her head, looking frustrated. “Just listen. I showed up at a few of those anti-pharm meetings. I met a guy who called himself Desh. Said he and some others were secretly working to stop the pharmaceutical corporations that engaged in dirty work. I confessed I had information about a company — and he promised if I provided proof, he and his friends could make it stop. They said that no one else would get hurt.”

“Seriously? You expect me to believe this? Were you really that stupid?”

Casey’s face screwed up with regret. “I was sixteen.”

“And what happened at these meetings? What happened with Desh?”

“He asked me to bring the proof with him to meet the other members. He and I boarded transports separately and met up off-world. But it all went sideways from there. He took me to a ship waiting at the edge of the system, and that’s where I found out he was part of PF.”

“People First. Yeah, I know them. Bunch of conspiracy theory nut jobs. They weren’t mentioned anywhere in your bounty. You work alone. And they were smalltime. They haven’t been active in years.”

“You’re wrong. They’ve just gotten better funding. And got better at covering their tracks.”

“So what happened? You just . . . faked your own death and joined PF?”

Casey shook her head sadly. “Not exactly. Two Advocacy agents infiltrated us. Desh took them both out, but not before they transmitted an image of us back to Terra. We got out of there, but I couldn’t go back to Terra.”

This had to be an elaborate lie, but how else could she explain how her dead friend had disappeared from Terra as a teenager and turned up as a terrorist ten years later?

“PF took me with them,” Casey continued. “They helped me disappear. They had people still on Terra who told me that my dad covered it all up . . . made it look like I was just an innocent bystander who died during the shootout. He made sure my name wouldn’t be connected with PF. He covered it up with your mother’s help, Ev.”

Mila’s pulse sped up, and she shook her head. “No. No, my mother wouldn’t do that.”

“She did.” Casey’s voice turned bitter. “Remember, my dad was making a run for the Terran Senate that year. He couldn’t have it getting out I was seen with terrorists.”

Mila pressed her lips together and laid a hand on the wall to stay standing. Her mother. A cover-up. She felt suddenly dizzy. Nauseous. Her mother had high-level connections as Chair of the Governors Council Budget Committee. If she was part of a cover-up . . .

“PF protected me,” Casey said again, interrupting Mila’s thoughts. “They gave me a new identity. I soon learned they destroyed facilities where illegal experiments were taking place. They freed test subjects who could be saved. We have benefactors in and out of UEE space that help fund our mission. PF seemed to be doing the right thing.”

“You sound proud of yourself.” Mila’s voice rose. “Proud to be a terrorist. How many people have you killed?”

“I didn’t.” Casey pulled against her restraints like she wanted to move her hands, plead with Mila to believe her. A desperate look crossed her face. “Whatever they say about me isn’t true. I get in, get the goods, destroy the labs, and get out. I’m not a murderer.”

“You almost killed us. You planted a bomb in a hostel.”

A rueful smile cracked through Casey’s desperation. “But was it empty when you showed up?”

Mila narrowed her eyes and didn’t respond.

Casey nodded. “It should have been empty. I paid a guy to warn everyone. It wasn’t my fault if they stayed.”

“So that’s how you sleep at night. You just lie to yourself. Explain away everything bad you do.”

Casey got quiet and averted her eyes. “No. I do what I have to do. Doesn’t everyone?”

“Why are you even telling me all this?”

“You wanted to know.”

“If you think it’s going to make me free you . . . it’s not. The Advocacy will try you for your crimes. You have to pay for your choices.”

Casey’s eyes widened. “Look — the things I’ve done probably have saved millions, maybe billions of lives. Do you know what was in the last lab I hit? They were working on a bioweapon that could take out entire worlds. Entire worlds, Ev. My father has been playing with fire for years, and we finally had the funding and information we needed to hit his labs. If I didn’t do these jobs, some other PF agent would have. And they might have left fewer survivors. He’s my father. His crimes were my responsibility. But. . . that job was the last job I was ever going to do for them. You have to believe me.”

“I don’t. Of course you’d say it was your last job.”

“I was giving it all up. PF doesn’t just let people quit the organization . . . once you’re in, you’re in for life. I was on my way to meet someone who was going to smuggle me into Xi’an territory. If you let me go now, you’ll never hear from me again. But I have to go somewhere they can’t find me either.”

Mila stayed silent for a few, long moments, then finally met Casey’s eyes. “You were my best friend. I would have done anything to help you.”

“You can help me now.”

“No. You’re the Advocacy’s problem now.”

Real fear appeared on Casey’s face. “The Advocacy can’t protect me. The second I’m in custody, I’m a liability to PF. I’m a problem to be taken care of. There’s a reason no one knows much about them. And if they don’t get me, my father will.”

Mila’s chest tightened, and she found herself repeating the words Rhys had said to her back on Tevistal. “There’s always a choice. Always. You made the wrong one. I’ll make sure you’re taken to a secure facility.”

“I have to warn you, then. If I do manage to make it to trial . . . I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure my father is exposed. Your mother covered up my death, so I can’t promise she won’t be a casualty. After that . . . if my father doesn’t kill me, PF will. If you hand me in . . . you’ll be responsible for all of that.”

Mila’s anger flared. “Is that a threat? No. You’re responsible for all of that.” Mila slammed a fist on the pod button and the door swung closed on Casey, beeping when it sealed. Breathing hard, Mila stalked back to the cockpit.

Rhys lifted his brows, waiting for her to speak.

“You were right. She’s a liar. Every word out of her mouth was a lie, and she just wants me to free her.”

Rhys narrowed his eyes, searching Mila’s face, worried about her. He ran a hand along her arm. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Mila said, trying to talk around the giant lump in her throat.

“You just gotta keep remembering . . . that’s not your friend in there. It’s someone else.”

“I know. Let’s just get her back to Tevistal.”

Mila and Rhys strapped back in, and she kept the scanner up as they retraced their course back to the planet they’d just left.

“I’m exhausted.” Mila leaned back in the seat. They hadn’t slept in almost twenty hours.

“As soon as we hand her over we’ll crash.”

Mila murmured a noncommittal reply.

“Do you want to sleep while I fly? You do look like you need it.”

“Oh, thanks. No. I don’t think I could, even if I wanted to.”

“Are you really okay?”

Mila released her long brown hair from its tie and ran her fingers through it. “Honestly? No.”

“I’m ready to hear what she said, whenever you’re ready to share it.”

“Just what you said she would. Claimed she wasn’t a bad terrorist, whatever that means. She says her father is into . . . illegal testing. She says she’s working with PF — the People First crazies.” Mila pressed her lips together. She couldn’t bring herself to say the things that could implicate her own mother.

Rhys worked his jaw. “So Casey’s a front for something bigger, and her dad is just as bad as she is, but no one in the entire UEE has caught on to it in more than a decade.” He shook his head. “Well, the Advocacy will know what to do with her. It’s not our job.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Mila thought of the young girl she’d been friends with. Thin and petite, long black hair always hanging in her intelligent eyes. “I don’t get it.”

“People change.”

“Ever since we were children, though . . . When we were twelve, there was this girl at school, Lia. Really wealthy, who held these ridiculous parties at her mansion. They’d bring in games, expensive prizes, the kinds of rides you’d find at fairs. It was crazy. We were all friends with her . . . until I accidentally insulted her one day at Academy. So I was the only one not invited to this party. Casey announced she was done with Lia in front of everyone, then stayed home the night of the party, watching old vids with me in our crash room. She was always doing stuff like that for the people she cared about. Always so . . . loyal. None of this adds up.”

“There’s never a good enough reason to do what she’s done.”

A long silence stretched on between them, and Mila’s mind struggled to come to terms with the Casey she’d known and the Casey locked up in the pod on Devana.

The story Casey had told . . . about finding the illegal research, about deciding to fix it herself . . . it did line up with the old Casey. It made Mila doubt . . . everything. And the fact that she felt doubt scared her. There was no room for doubt in this job.

“What if Casey’s telling the truth?” she blurted out.

Rhys stiffened in his seat. “Then we let the Advocacy determine that,” he said carefully. He looked toward her, studying her face. “We stick to the mission. The right thing to do is hand her over. If they determine she’s telling the truth, the proper authorities can handle it. You and I will get away from all this . . . get some downtime. That was the plan, right?”

“Right,” Mila answered quickly.

After a few awkward minutes, Rhys cleared his throat. “You know, this is the most you’ve ever told me about your past.”

“You’re a bounty hunter.” Mila said, glad to drop the subject of Casey. “Didn’t you research me before we went into business together?”

Rhys smirked, but it had no real mirth behind it. “Yeah. You did a good job wiping yourself off the map. Evony, huh?”

Mila winced. “Yeah. My family kind of disowned me when I joined the guild. This wasn’t the life they had planned for their only child. I decided to start over, use my middle name.”

“We all have histories . . . and a lot of us choose bounty hunting to leave those behind. I followed my gut about you.” Rhys met her eyes, and she could see the open trust displayed there. “And I know I made the right decision.”

Mila smiled, and they lapsed into silence for the rest of the flight back to Tevistal.

Rhys trusted her.

But could she trust herself?

The pit in Mila’s stomach grew worse as Rhys landed back at the Tevistal docks. He commed with maintenance and used up the last of their creds to get the forward screen patched and the maneuvering thruster replaced.

“I have just enough to hire a hover,” he said to Mila, as he brought up the Advocacy office address and a list of the agents who worked there. “We can’t risk broadcasting the Phantom’s whereabouts. I know this Advocacy agent,” he said, pointing to a name. “I’ve worked with him before, and I trust him. I’ll make contact with him personally so we can hand Casey over. Then we get paid, and we get outta here.”

Mila nodded, and Rhys headed back to their quarters to change into planetside clothes and grab his gear. Mila squeezed her hands tight in her lap and watched as the workers began to patch the cockpit from the outside.

I can do this. I can turn Casey over.

Mila stood up as Rhys headed back toward her.

She lowered the forward ramp for him and looked up at him, at the worry on his face, wondering what her own face looked like. His eyes crinkled around the edges and he leaned down to press his lips to hers. She kissed him back, relishing his warmth, willing Rhys and his loyalty and trust to erase her doubt over Casey.

He wrapped her in a tight hug. She listened to the thump of his heart beneath his shirt, and a new feeling of dread bloomed within her.

She didn’t want to let him go, but he finally pulled away. “I should be back soon with agents. Don’t let anyone inside this ship.”

“I won’t.”

“Everything will be fine.” Rhys kissed her gently again, and then she was watching his back as he headed down the ramp to the docks.

Mila retracted the ramp and went back to the co-pilot’s seat, not allowing herself even to look at the pod holding Casey.

She’d never had such a hard time turning in a criminal before. But then, she’d never personally known a criminal like this. It was good Rhys was handling it. She couldn’t.

He had faith in her, and that meant everything. This was her life now. And she needed to do her job.

But . . .

Mila activated her mobiGlas and accessed the local network. She searched a decade back, looking for old news posts about Owen Phan and Casey Phan’s death.

The first image she pulled up was of Owen Phan during his failed Senate run. Owen and Casey’s mother Lynn stood together at a charity event. And next to them: Mila’s parents. Mila’s heart lurched. Her mother stood between her father and Owen. She pulled up another dozen images, and more than half of them showed her parents with the Phans. If Casey was telling the truth, then Casey’s trial would destroy both their families.

And if it was true, it meant her own mother had lied to her, let her mourn when Casey wasn’t even dead. Mila took a deep breath and pushed down her anger at the thought. She searched for articles on Casey’s death.

Phan Pharmaceutical Heir Found Murdered Off-World

Mila had read this statement dozens of times. Casey had taken a trip on her own. Someone had killed her. Wrong place, wrong time. Murderer never found. Family devastated. No new leads. Case closed.

Mila ran a new query.

Phan Pharmaceutical, Illegal Bioweapons

More than a thousand results appeared. Mila raced through them. Most of them were PR releases from Phan Pharmaceutical themselves, promoting all the hard work they’d done to stop the creation of bioweapons. Spectrum wasn’t getting her anywhere. She was going to have to dive deep into the boards. She switched her profile over to a persona she had built up for just such occasions and began pinging threads.

Within seconds messages appeared.

Illegal test subjects.

Proof of bioweapon development.

Suspected facilities.

Heart in her throat, Mila scanned the documents someone named “DarkStar” had uploaded. The list contained all the facilities the Phantom was reputed to have hit in the past few months. Why hadn’t Mila thought to do this research before? She’d been so focused on tracking down the Phantom, she’d ignored any possibility that Phan Pharmaceuticals might have done something to deserve the attacks.

But there was never a good reason for terrorism. There wasn’t.

Another user had posted documents with the claim that Phan’s research facility on Gen was up to its eyes in psychoactive weapons. It was the third facility the Phantom had attacked.

Mila pulled up the documents. Internal memos with the Phan Pharmaceuticals logo on top. Redacted statements recovered. References made to the ILIOS Project. Mila skimmed them, her heart pounding.

100% fatality rate

Spread quickly through physical contact


Buyers from four worlds

This wasn’t proof. Maybe they were working on a cure for something, not a disease. But what disease still existed that had a 100% fatality rate . . . something people would want to buy a cure for? Mila exited her search and got to her feet. Her hands were shaking as she made her way back to Casey’s pod and typed in the code. It beeped back at her and flashed red.

She tried it again. It denied her access. Again.

Rhys had changed the code on it. He hadn’t trusted her.

The realization was a kick in the gut. She assumed things . . . believed things to be true. She’d thought he trusted her. But she’d built her whole life on lies. And now everything she’d taken as truth was falling apart around her.

Mila swallowed hard and held her mobiGlas up to the panel. She activated the hack program she’d used back at the hostel, and the door swung open.

Casey blinked at her. “The Advocacy here?”

“How do I know you’re telling the truth about the bioweapons? Do you have proof?”

Casey’s eyes widened. “I destroy everything when I go in. That’s the point.”

“I can’t —”

“Evony. I knew you. You knew me. Am I lying to you?” Her eyes were wide, pleading. Mila shook her head. “I don’t know . . . I . . .”

She met Casey’s eyes and tried to see the girl she used to know. Mila couldn’t be responsible for her childhood friend’s murder. Not after she’d already grieved once. And she couldn’t risk Casey bringing down the whole Salinas family with her. Because something in her gut told her that her mother might well have done whatever it took to help the Phan family succeed. Her mother was perfectly capable of manipulating reality to fit with her goals.

Mila groaned. “If I let you go, you’ll leave? You’ll leave and never come back?”

A light sprang into Casey’s eyes. “If you can help me get to the meeting with my patron, she’ll get me into Xi’an territory. You’ll never see or hear from me again. I swear it.”

“I don’t want Rhys involved in this . . . I’ll say . . . I’ll say you overpowered me, stole the ship. They can find me later.”

“Yes. We’ll keep him out of it. I promise.”

“You better not make me regret this.” Mila used her mobi to release the cuffs from the interior bar.

Mila clenched her jaw tight as she loosened Casey’s cuffs. If she was wrong about this, Casey could try to overpower her right now and escape. But the blows never came.

Instead, Casey threw her arms around Mila, surprising her with a tight hug. “You won’t regret this.” She stepped back and massaged her red wrists. “Now tell me what I need to do.”

“I’ll fly us out of here,” Mila said. “You navigate us to your meeting point.”

They hurried to the cockpit, and Mila barely breathed, still expecting a betrayal, waiting to see if she’d made a mistake. But Casey didn’t turn on her. Not yet, anyway.

Right after they’d strapped into their seats, the comm crackled. “Mila,” Rhys’s voice came through. “Ten minutes out by hover.”

Mila jabbed a finger into the comm. “Received. Everything’s . . . good.”

“See you soon,” Rhys said.

Dread threatened to engulf Mila, but she tried to ignore the feelings as she took the controls. In the seat beside her, Casey pulled up the comms and requested emergency clearance to take off.

If they made it off-world, Rhys would never, ever forgive her. But it was too late. She’d made her decision, and now Casey Phan, the Phantom, sat beside her, ready to escape UEE space once and for all.

Clearance came in, and Mila fired up the engines.

“Thank you, Ev. I mean it. I don’t deserve your trust after . . .”

Mila just shook her head. “No. You don’t.”

“Mila.” Rhys’s panicked voice came over the comm. “Mila, I have you in sight. Why are the engines fired up? What’s going on?”

Mila activated the comm, and winced against a jolt of pain in her shoulder. The numbing agent was fading, the burn from her pistol wound returning. Casey had shot her, and here she was freeing her. Mila stared at the comm and tried to think of what she could say to Rhys. But there was nothing to say.

She’d have to lie to him if she got out of this alive. Whatever they’d had together . . . it was over now, burned by her decision. And the less he knew, the better off he’d be.

I’m so sorry, Rhys.

She removed her finger from the comm without saying a word and lifted Devana into the sky.


End Transmission



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