What Roman needed more than anything was a quiet night with no conversation of darkspace, demons, or dreams. Which was how he’d ended up in Satsu and Andreas’s apartment, a bowl of popcorn in his hand, a movie on the wall-screen.

The room was too small for a full couch, but there was a loveseat and a number of pillows, and it made for a comfortable arrangement with Andreas and Satsu above and Roman on the floor, in a nest of pillows with the dogs settled all around. Roman was leaned back comfortably against Andrea’s legs. Satsu had curled sideways, her head in Dre’s lap, her hand on Roman’s shoulder. The dogs were a wriggling mass, each one trying to press up against Roman and beg for popcorn when they thought Satsu wasn’t looking. Which was working out for them, because Roman kept slipping them popcorn when he thought Satsu wasn’t looking.

The movie was one he’d seen before—an action epic set during the 50 years war between the Swan and the Griffon—but that, too, was perfect. Comfort viewing that didn’t require too much attention or thought.

Exactly what Roman was after, until the intercom by the door came to life. “Emergency, code red. Andreas, Roman, need you in your fangs. Now.”

Roman scrambled to his feet, twisting aside so Andreas could jump past to get his boots. The dogs jumped up and started barking before Satsu shushed them with a snap.

So much for a relaxing evening. “You ready?” Andreas asked as he yanked up a zipper and stood. Roman nodded, grabbed his sword and opened the door.

“Be safe,” Satsu called after them both.

They raced for the hangar. Roman was already doing calculations in his head. Code red was an active demon event in darkspace, which meant every second counted.

Techs waited next to their Fangs with flight suits in hand to help Roman and Andreas dress. As soon as the cuff closed around his wrist and registered his signature, Lukas’s voice was in his ear. “…all non-essential launches. Bravo squadron, why don’t I see you?”

“We’re other side of Bulwark. Flipping now.” A burst of static meant they’d crossed into darkspace.

Andreas had his own suit on and gave Roman a nod. “Scouts online,” Roman said. “What do we need to know?”

Over the com, Lukas’s voice was calm and smooth. “Passenger ships under heavy attack. Patching their beacon to your Fangs. Echo squadron waiting at the Hub to follow you in.”

Roman slid into his seat. “On you, Dre.” The jump to the Hub would be easy. Roman needed to spend that time figuring out where they were going in darkspace and how fast he could get them there.

These were the moments when the Wolves truly earned their keep. Any person in any clan born with the hikmaic adaptation could cross in and out of darkspace and could find their way around—mostly. Every clan had its pilots. But no one knew darkspace like the Wolves, and no pilot, in the Wolf clan or any other, could fly it like Roman.

Roman launched close enough behind Andreas he had to drop low to avoid launch exhaust. “Flip on my mark,” Andreas said, talking only to Roman. “Three, two, now.”

Roman reached out to the space around him, found the crack, and slid his ship through.

Darkspace existed everywhere. That was the trick those without Roman’s gift never truly grasped. For those who couldn’t feel it with their every breath, it was easy to think of the Hub—of the Breach—as the line between here and there. The Empire on one side and the demons on the other.

But darkspace touched everything. It wove through reality in a twisting, twining fashion that had driven physicists to distraction when it had first been discovered. Real and not real. Fixed and not fixed. The nima-enhanced AIs built into every ship did their best to navigate, but in the end, the only reliable maps were the ones pilots made fresh in their head every time they flipped from realspace to dark.

Roman kept his nose pointed at the glow of Andreas’s engines. On this side, once a ship was out of sight, it took a beacon, a gifted scout, and the grace of the nima to find each other again.

But this was an easy jump, a familiar path, and Roman could reach most of his attention through his ship, out into the void, to feel for the place they were needed.

Everything in darkspace flowed towards the Dark World. During an eclipse, the Dark World was so overwhelming that even the best trained pilot couldn’t help but fly into it. The rest of the time, the Dark World was simply a presence, the one anchor in darkspace, the only reference point they had.

Roman felt the Dark World. He felt the signal from a beacon. He fixed their points relative to each other and started to feel for the fastest path.

“Flipping back to realspace,” Dre called out. “Three, two, now.”

Lukas’s voice crackled back into Roman’s ear. “Echo squadron, form up around scouts.”

“Bravo hasn’t shown up yet.” This from Faust Nari, Echo Squadron’s commander. “We’ll be leaving the Hub undefended.”

“Alpha’s on sleep cycle, but they’re up here,” Lukas responded. “They can scramble if we need them. Hub releasing command. Go.”

Andreas cut in. As senior scout, this was now his show. “All ships form up on Roman. I’ll take rear guard.”

Roman ran his hands over his controls, took a deep breath, and couldn’t hold back a grin as excitement and adrenaline surged through him. He flipped briefly to a private com between him and Andreas. “Don’t fall behind, old man.”

“Don’t slow me down, cub.”

Back to the open channel. “All ships on my mark. Flipping in three, two…”


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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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