UNIFICATION OR TYRANNY. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THE BODY COUNT.
In the aftermath of a system-wide war between the Admin and Corp Loyalists and the non-citizen population of the Algols, everything once resembling order has been leveled. Scattered enclaves of survivors dot the worlds, living, however they can, in snarled lawlessness. Aly Erikson and her crew have carved out a niche of relative peace, doing their best to go on with their lives through salvaging, scavenging, and stealing. But with no force left to keep the lid on the pot, the pressures of chaos and discord soon cause conflicts to boil over. As enemies close in from all directions, even, sometimes, from within, the crew once again must fight—not just for survival, not just for their way of life, but this time for a future that can finally lay to rest the system's bloody and savage past.
To me, the only thing better than starting a new series you love is getting to continue it immediately. When I picked Tammy for the first story in her Spectras Arise Trilogy, I knew I had to at least try to get her to include the second story as well. It expands the story and setting beautifully, giving you more of the same stuff you loved from the first. – Joseph R. Lallo
"From the opening page to the hanging conclusion this book was a romp at many levels. Pace and imagery are the key to moving this kind of suspense fiction forward and she does both with wordcraft that is a joy to read and calls you back. Tammy Salyer is a master storyteller."– Amazon Review
"You know the feeling you get when you're on a rollercoaster and your stomach drops out when you first start heading down a big hill? Well, if you enjoy that sensation, you're going to love reading Contract of Betrayal by Tammy Salyer."– Amazon Review
"Such a fantastic follow-up to the thrilling "Contract of Defiance". "Contract of Betrayal" gave me a little idea of what an outer space community of universe nomads would look like, and while it has its brutal moments of pure survival, it's pretty badass how resourceful they all are. I suppose they would have to be, the universe in Tammy's world is in a right mess. As with the first novel, the writing is marvelous, the descriptions so vivid you feel like you're actually there, and Salyer sucks you so far into her world I felt disoriented looking away from the pages. I'm blown away."– Author Sezín Koehler
I'm rushing over the hot desert skin of the planet, pushing the Rover at top speed just for the fun of it, hitting sandbars and bouncing high off the ground at times. It's good to get out of the mine, and late fall on Spectra 6 has come in with enough of a cool breeze blowing through the brown hills to keep me from sweating rivers every time I step outside. I'm moving too fast to really accomplish what I'm out here for—Bodie asked me to gather some samples of a newly engineered species of brush at the base of these eastern hills—but at the moment, I'm enjoying myself too much to care.
The sand is compacting into hard earth as it rises into the baked hillsides, so I steer the Rover south to flank them and give myself a few more minutes of fast-moving freedom. I come up over a finger of the closest hill, the front tires rising vertically for a moment before falling flat back to the earth—and I see it. A transport ship is sitting on the flat plain two hundred and fifty meters from my position. Immediately, I lay off the accelerator and pray that the sound of the Rover's engine doesn't echo against the hills and give me away. The ship could belong to anybody, including people it would be best to avoid.
A culvert at the base of the nearest hillock provides me plenty of cover to be hidden from the ship's view and I coast into it, kill the engine, and switch on my wrist VDU to contact the control room at Agate Beach, where someone is always listening.
"Beach control, this is Aly. Do you copy?"
"Erikson, it's Mason. What's up?"
"I've got a ship I've never seen before out here by the Torarua Range. Can you get me V?"
Vitruzzi's image comes into focus on my VDU within seconds. "What's going on?"
"I'm about thirty klicks east of the Beach, at the base of the Torarua Range. We've got some company. Looks like a transport ship. Admin manufactured. Did they contact you?"
"We haven't been hailed and"—she turns to confer with Mason—"there's nothing on radar. Have they seen you?"
"Negative, as far as I can tell."
"What's their status? Does it look like a crash? Can you see any registration marks?"
"No, I just got a quick look before I got out of sight. It doesn't look like a crash. No smoke, no burns, no runners. But they're pretty far from Hell's Gate."
"We've been expecting a delivery from an old friend. It could be him. I'm on the way. Do me a favor and just hang tight. Don't let them see you. But if you can keep them from going anywhere, try. We don't want anyone unexpected flying around the Beach."
"We have your grid. Be there in twenty." There's a click as she breaks the link and my VDU screen fades to black.
Cautiously pushing the Rover's clamshell hatch open, I decide to climb to the top of the culvert to keep eyes on the stray. If they decide to launch, I'm not exactly sure how Vitruzzi expects me to keep them from going anywhere, but I'll cross that bridge if I come to it. There's no movement around the ship. From my vantage point, only the stern is visible, and I'm looking straight into the engine outflow chambers. They look clear and operational, and the inner coils have a slight reddish glow. Still hot; they haven't been here long. The fact that our radars at the Beach didn't pick them up indicates that they'd entered the atmosphere from another part of the planet and flown in the direction of the settlement below radar. Whether they intended to use stealth or if it was only coincidence is impossible to know, and it makes me nervous.
Five minutes pass and hot, stagnant air pools in the deep depression, baking my skin as if I were in a convection oven and sending streams of sweat dribbling from my hairline to the tip of my nose. Keeping my movements to a minimum, I switch on my carbine's scope, ratchet up the magnification, and peer through. A light breeze blows a welcome puff of cooler air on my face but also carries the noise of hydraulics. Panning to the left and right helps me pinpoint the cause of the noise, and I finally make out a ramp lowering from the ship's bow, the wind grabbing up a flurry of dust when it hits the ground.
That's all I need to see. Leaping back into the Rover, I yank the hatch shut, slam on the ignition, and jump it out of the culvert at top speed. I don't want whoever is on that ship to get aboard a land trans and head for Agate Beach. It's easier to hold them here than chase them down. Of course, they may be harmless. Maybe lost citizens with broken communication equipment, who knows? Better to find out now, while they're locked down, than after they've reached the settlement.
Pushing the Rover hard, I cover the distance in a few seconds and skid to a stop behind the engines. The smell of super-heated metal and burnt dust fills my nostrils as I run from the Rover to the front of the ship and take a firing position next to the lowered ramp. Raising my carbine barrel, I line up the sight with the center of the opening, ready for anything. Sounds of movement come from inside.
With a raised but steady voice, I order, "Come out slowly. You're covered in every direction."
The movement stops cold and, after a second, a voice carries down the open hatchway. "We're not armed. Coming out. Just keep cool."
That voice . . .
The first thing to emerge from the sloping ramp is a pair of military-issue boots, old and scuffed, made of a dingy pseudo-leather material that's at least five years past a military polish. Their owner jumps to the deck, kicking up wisps of desert dirt. He's about midthirties, close-cropped brown hair, hands exactly where they should be—shoulder height and empty. He's followed by a woman and two more men, all dressed in similar civilian clothing. The last one exits and takes a few short steps forward. Still a couple of meters from the opening, I keep my barrel trained at chest level, but when the man moves forward, I'm dazzled by the sunlight slanting through the ramp struts. My eyes squeeze shut involuntarily at the sudden brightness, and a tiny warning dose of adrenaline shoots into my veins at the realization that I've momentarily given up the advantage.
"I'll be goddamned! Aly Erikson!"
It can't be. The silhouette moves closer, blocking the piercing light, and I'm finally able to focus on him.
"Oh, come on, Aly. You know me better than that! I don't believe what I'm seeing!"
There are hundreds of rocks in this solar system, and the likelihood of running into someone from my past on this one had, until now, seemed like a complete impossibility. It would be like finding a bullet from your own gun tumbling through the floating debris of a long-since-concluded interstellar battle.
Impossible or not, I'm staring at proof that it can happen. Rob Cross. Munitions team platoon leader from the 808th Ground Division. I last saw him a year before the Soldier's Rebellion, when David's and my flight patrol unit stopped dropping troops into hot zones. His detachment was reassigned to another ship. We hadn't kept in touch.
Nearly stuttering with surprise, I ask, "Wh-what are you doing out here?"
"Is that happiness to see me? It's hard to tell." He's standing less than a meter in front of me, smiling in a cavalier way I remember too well. But his eyebrows are raised in a hint of concern—a natural response to the fact that my carbine is still leveled at his heart.
Regardless, it's been eight years since I've seen him, and I'm not that trusting. "I don't believe this is a coincidence."
Before he can respond, the ground around us begins to gyrate as the Sphynx's shuttle descends. No one speaks, the craft's engines too loud to be heard over. I cover my eyes with one hand and let the carbine sag. Vitruzzi's coming in close, not showing the kind of concern she would for someone she doesn't know. Could Cross be the person she's expecting?
When they hit the dirt, the shuttle's door slides open and she steps out, Karl and David following behind. "Cross, it's good to see you. Why didn't you signal us when you got in our orbit? You're three days early."
He turns toward them with a renewed smile, and I finally lower my weapon. "Good to see you again, Eleanor. Her reversals went haywire and caused a wiring issue that sucked all the power from my com system and my engine backups. We were hoping to get a little closer to Agate Beach before we had to set her down, but . . ." He shrugs.
"No backup power? I'm glad you didn't get any closer." Vitruzzi steps aside, letting me get a better look at David, who stares at Cross with a gape-mouthed mixture of shock and disbelief. I can't help but grin at his incredulity, though my own expression moments ago must not have been so different.
"Rob Cross?" David takes a step forward and peers at Rob, as if questioning his own eyesight.
"I don't believe this. This day just gets better and better!"
The two men embrace in a hearty man-hug like brothers, slapping each other on the back. David asks, "What the hell are you doing out here on the fringes? And with your own transport ship? I didn't think the Corps would ever trust you among civilians." I haven't seen him so pleased in quite a while. The three of us had some good times together, back when we all still belonged to the Corps.
"I take it you know each other," Vitruzzi comments, surprised.
"Know each other? Eagle Eye Erikson's the only man in the system who could keep up with me back in the old days." A huge smile spreads across Cross's face, causing a fan of crow's feet to sweep out in a winning arc. He has the kind of smile that makes a person feel like they've just been reunited with a twin brother or best friend after years of being apart. There's no sign of sarcasm or irony in his face; his expression is complete and genuine openness and enthusiasm. All of a sudden, I feel like I did a few years ago when I woke up to that same smile nearly every off-duty morning. My mind summons the mildly sharp smell of his skin, and I remember too clearly how his body felt next to mine. It throws me off balance for a minute, and I realize I'm blushing.
I pull my eyes away from his face and catch Karl looking at me strangely. Blushing twice as hard, I turn back to the ship, which at this moment is the only safe thing to look at.
"Let's get you guys back to Agate Beach. When was the last time you ate anything fresh? We can talk over some lunch," Vitruzzi says.
"Sounds terrific. And can you spare any viridian heat rods? If we can get those in, we'll be able to get the Red Horizon to your mine. I hate leaving her out in the open. You never know what kind of scavengers may find their way out here."
Vitruzzi gets on her com and locates Bodie. A moment later she says, "Bodie and Venus will be here in a few minutes to get you squared away. Were you able to get everything we talked about?"
"Have I ever let you down, Eleanor? Yeah, come on in and check things out. There's at least ninety kilos of scrap steel and enough wire to build yourself a new ship."
"What about the comlink switches? And the seeds?"
"Thanks, Rob. It's good to have someone we can rely on."
He smiles again, not quite gloating but close, and focuses his attention back on me. "So what do you say, Aly? You're too quiet. That's nothing like I remember."
I have to clear my throat before I can speak. I woke up this morning thinking I'd be helping Bodie collect specimens from the local plants. Nothing prepared me to be standing face-to-face with an ex-lover, the first man in my life that ever meant more to me than just a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours. "I'm just really surprised. I never expected to see you again." I'm at such a loss for words that I'm nearly mumbling.
"I know! It's amazing, isn't it? You're as beautiful as I remember." One of his crewmen, a tough-looking hatchet of a man, walks between us to get back on the ship, finally breaking through my paralysis.
Time to escape this awkward situation. "Vitruzzi, I'll take the Rover back to the Beach. It looks like you have things handled here."
She shrugs and I turn to climb aboard. Before I can pull the clamshell cover closed, Karl steps over and motions toward the seat. "Mind if I drive?"
I shrug and push over to the passenger side. Before the hatch closes, I hear Rob ask, presumably speaking to David, "So what's that about? She's not angry with me is she?"
"It's a little . . . uh . . . complicated."