USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith returns to a not-so-distant future in his acclaimed Seeders Universe series.
Mattie Silks must team up with the most unlikely of partners to save the sector from a ruthless dictator. Her only problem, besides saving the galaxy, comes from the man she must work with. She can't keep her hands off him.
And he can't seem to keep his hands off her either.
But with or without love, the two of them must save the galaxy.
Dean writes a variety of novels in many genres. His Seeders universe books play to his strengths: a wild imagination (on par with Robert Jeschonek's), a science background, and a willingness to play with old science fiction tropes. Sector Justice is part of a series, but like the other series books in this bundle, the novel stands alone. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
MATTIE SILKS SLIPPED through the milling crowd of the Bodie Station shopping mall and put her back against the wall of what looked to be an arcade of games to keep the kids of the shopping adults entertained. She then moved down along the wall to an area between the arcade and a dress shop divided by a small group of strange trees whose leaves seemed to move in an unseen and unfelt breeze.
At five-two, crowds bothered Mattie just about as much as anything bothered her. As a trained enforcer, one of the best in Sector Force Three, she feared almost nothing physical, if she saw it coming. But in crowds, she couldn't see over the top of anything and with all the movement it was hard to sense when something dangerous was about to attack.
She liked having her back against a wall. That way she could see, but often would never be noticed. With her lack of height in a society that thought six foot tall almost short, she was noticeable in a crowd. Against a wall next to some decorative trees, she just looked normal and could blend in.
In fact, her tan slacks, tan vest over a plain blouse almost blended perfectly with the paint of the wall. She had on hard-toed, but comfortable, flat shoes that she could both run and fight in. Over the years she had stopped a few fleeing criminals with a simple kick.
She studied the people going past. Not a one of them seemed to even glance her way. Perfect.
Standing that close to a kids' arcade also helped her blend in since her blouse kept her breasts pressed close and her thin frame made her sometimes seem more like a teenager. She had often used teenage disguises to get close to a target.
The people streaming past were all dressed for vacation in bright colors and flowered patterns, many wearing shorts as if this station was a place in the tropics somewhere. It seemed like a painter had tossed into a flowing river a bunch of bright, primary colors that weren't blending.
Every human on every planet looked the same. The mythical Seeders who planted humans on every habitable planet many thousands of years before made sure of that. But Mattie could see the variations in different planetary cultures in how many were dressed. Clearly this station was a resort for fifty or sixty closest cultures in this edge of this sector. She saw no person who looked to belong outside that small area.
And the noise level of all the people talking and laughing as they went past was a constant background that seemed to be muffled by the high ceilings.
She let herself relax just a little, let some of the tension ease from her shoulders and legs. A wall to her back, blending so that no one was noticing her, this was a perfect place to wait.
She was waiting for Carson Bernard. He was one of the best, if not the best, investigator Sector Force had. Her orders were for them to team up and track down who had been threatening Sector Force and some of the planetary leaders in this area.
Carson had gotten a few weeks head start, telling her to stay at the Sector Force headquarters until he got a lead and he would contact her.
She had only known him for a few years since he joined Sector Force, coming from the private sector, but she liked him. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to find people and missing items, even in areas of space distant from where he started.
Carson could somehow see links that others couldn't see, trace invisible lines through the cultures of hundreds and hundreds of planets without ever leaving a trace himself. He worked like a ghost when tracking and researching and Mattie admired that skill more than she wanted to admit.
It was going to take all of his skills to discover who was trying to bring down Sector Force. Everyone in Sector Force headquarters was worried, since there was enough information to know the threat was real. Just knowing that someone was out there with the resources and desire to bring down an entire Sector Force had everyone on edge.
Sector Forces for all nine sectors of the galaxy had been set up, so it was said, by the Seeders, the race that had planted humans throughout the galaxy. Each area of the galaxy needed a police force that functioned even over the planetary governments, and the Sector Forces were that force.
Trust was a rare thing among enforcers. Now, to Mattie, it seemed nonexistent with this imagined threat coming at them. The people of Sector Force were her family. She had been raised to be an enforcer. When everyone in a family couldn't trust anyone else, things had to be fixed and fixed quickly.
Carson had sent her a message after three weeks to meet him here, on Bodie Station on the distant edge of the Third Sector. He had information on who was behind the threats and they would jump from here to take care of the problem.
It had taken her almost a full week of travel from the Webb System and Sector Force Headquarters just to get to Bodie Station. This place really was on the edge of space, or at least space that she knew. She had never been to another sector. She had no reason to go to one and didn't much like the idea of being stuck on a ship that long. Extremely fast ships were rumored to exist, but she had never seen one or knew anyone who had access to one.
For some reason, she expected the people here to be different after so much distance from her home, but this space station attached to a massive hotel and resort complex, was the same as any hundreds of others she had been in around the sector.
A lot cleaner.
Bodie Station and the hotel complex attached floated in space at an angle to take spectacular advantage of a curtain of blue and gold and red nebula dust cloud from an ancient exploded star nearby. After being here for only a few hours now, she could already understand why people came to this place. Beautiful views, clean surroundings, and everyone seemed relaxed and calm.
Now all she needed to know was if the food was good and this place would be one to remember.
Around her, everything sparkled, from the polished brownstone floors to the high windows overhead that showed the distant nebula. The entire mall was filled with earth-tones and plants of all types and sizes.
If she wasn't on such a dangerous mission, she might have stopped a few days here and enjoyed herself, taken advantage of a few of the advertised special spas.
She loved a good massage, especially when done by someone who knew what he was doing. During a massage was one of the few times she ever felt she relaxed.
She watched the people stream past in their bright colors and summer wear, both looking for Carson and any sort of danger. Near the center of the big mall area she faced was a forest of trees towering a good fifty feet into the air. Benches surrounded the trees and a wide stone path twisted through them.
Through the passing crowd she could see couples in love sitting on those benches. Some were laughing, some just sat holding hands and watching people pass as if waiting for someone to join them.
Because she had been born and brought up as an enforcer, she had never really had any serious relationships. Not that she wasn't slightly open to one, but she had learned early on in life that trusting anyone that closely for that long a time required something really special. So far, she hadn't found it.
She hadn't given up, but she sure wasn't looking either.
Mattie leaned back against the wall, the hardness of the surface giving her some comfort as she watched the crowds of tourists move back and forth and in and out of the stores.
This could be nothing more than a normal day on any shopping space station or any planet-side mall. People were people were people and no matter how many light years of space she crossed, that never seemed to change much.
Somehow the mythical Seeders made sure of that.
She glanced at a big decorative clock on a wall near one store. Carson was late. That worried her a little, but not that much. This was a big station and he said he might be delayed along the way. If he wasn't here today after an hour, she was to rest, enjoy herself, and meet him at the same time tomorrow.
She didn't really want to do that. She wanted to get going, get this mission on the way. After this long a journey, she didn't need to rest much more at all.
Finally, from the far end of the open area of the station mall, she caught a glimpse of Carson. His six-three lanky frame seemed to move more like parts were not connected just right. His long, thin face seemed to stretch just a touch too far between his thinning black hair and his jutting chin, making him look almost skeletal in nature. And he clearly used no tanning or sunning booths since no one had skin as white and sickly-looking as his.
He had on his normal black dress slacks that were too short by any fashion sense, a brown belt that held the pants too high, and a colored plaid shirt that didn't match anything else he had on. That attire was all normal for Carson.
He seemed to have always looked that way and people joked that he had been raised in plaid diapers and baby clothes that didn't match.
Still, Mattie was actually glad to see him, even though she would be responsible for his safety from here on out. He wasn't an enforcer and she doubted he even knew how to fight. His skills were in tracking things that could not be tracked to places no one knew even existed.
And he was stunningly good at that.
As he came toward her with the crowd, his gaze constantly darted around, his head turning side-to-side, looking in both directions as if afraid of something.
That put Mattie on alert at once and she did a quick glance around the mall looking for anything obvious.
Nothing that she could see at a glance.
She looked back at Carson as he strode closer. He hadn't seen her yet and more than likely wouldn't until she said something or appeared in front of him.
But striding beside Carson was a man that had likely already seen her. He seemed to be with Carson and even though his head didn't turn at all, Mattie had little doubt that he was seeing everything around him. He was powerful, very dangerous, and flat-out the best-looking man she had ever laid eyes on.
He was Carson's height, had wide shoulders that moved like an athlete would move, and powerful waist and legs. His brown hair was long and pulled back into a ponytail and he wore similar clothes to hers: tan slacks, a shirt that matched, and a long black coat that reached the floor and swirled behind him as he walked.
He took her breath away and scared her to death at the same time. What was he doing with Carson?
About fifty paces away Carson had yet to see her, but clearly the man in the coat had. He nodded to her just slightly, then tapped Carson on the shoulder and with a nod of his head indicated to Carson where Mattie was.
How in the world did that stranger know what she looked like? Something was very, very wrong here. No one had told her there would be anyone else but her and Carson on this mission.
She eased away from the wall and into a more prepared fighting stance as Carson saw her and broke into a huge smile that took his long, thin skeleton face and turned it almost into a pumpkin-like shape.
As the two approached her, the man in the coat hung back just a half step and was clearly scanning the crowd for danger around them.
She did the same but saw nothing to worry about at all in the flowing colors of tourists.
Except the man in the long dark coat.
She could barely keep her eyes off him and his chiseled features. What was wrong with her? Her stomach had tightened into a knot and she could feel herself starting to sweat. No doubt her reaction time and instincts were going to be slower as well if she didn't watch out.
Just before Carson got close enough to speak, the man in the coat caught her gaze and they stared at each other. God, he had deep green eyes that didn't seem to miss a detail.
She loved green eyes.
Then he glanced away, again scanning the crowd.
Oh, man, was that guy trouble. In more ways than she wanted to think about.
The mall had suddenly gotten ten degrees warmer.
"Mattie!" Carson said, smiling so hard his face truly did look like a badly carved and bleached pumpkin. "Wonderful that you made it. I was worried."
"As was I for you," Mattie said, smiling back at her friend.
Carson stopped just a few feet in front of her and made no move to try to hug her or even shake her hand. He knew the protocol of Sector Force members in the field and followed it perfectly. The other man stopped just to the right of Carson and moved slightly to put his back more toward the wall.
Smooth and trained. That scared Mattie even more since he clearly wasn't trained by Sector Force. She would have known of him and his name. And she had no doubt that if she had met this man, she would have remembered.
Carson turned to his companion. "Red Simms, meet Mattie Silks."
Red bowed just slightly and smiled a light smile that no doubt she would remember in many fond and private fantasies in coming years. When he smiled, he showed a little of his white teeth and his perfectly tanned skin seemed to glow even more.
Again their gaze held each other.
She really, really, really needed to get control of herself here.
She said nothing to him, breaking away from a gaze she really wanted to get lost in.
"Carson, I was told to meet just you here."
He nodded and smiled, again twisting his thin face into something like a twisted child's balloon. "But while you were in transit I discovered that some of my traces had been tracked back to me, so I was given permission from Sector Force to get some more protection."
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Red shift slightly.
"I can protect you," she said.
"I know," Carson said, nodding. "But you just got here. I have been here for almost a week now."
She suddenly felt a great deal of alarm.
He nodded. "A week tomorrow."
She didn't like the sounds of that. If someone had traced back to him, they would have had enough time to get here. He was a sitting target in crowds like this. Meeting here now was becoming the worst thing Carson could do.
"You are from the Sector Force?" Red asked, his voice low and cold.
Carson nodded. "We both are," he said.
"You didn't tell me that," Red said to Carson, clear anger showing in his voice.
"I'll explain it all later," Carson said, shrugging it off.
Mattie stepped forward slightly and turned toward Red to counter his anger. This was not a man she wanted angry with her, but she had no doubt she could take him if she needed to.
"What is your problem with the Sector Force?" she asked him, keeping her voice low and controlled.
"That is my business," he said, staring back at her.
"Fine," she said. "Please keep it that way."
She turned back to Carson. "We need to get you to safety. Red here clearly doesn't understand the level of threats we are facing."
It was as if she had slapped Red. He eased back and scanned the room again quickly.
Carson suddenly looked very worried, again his head turning from side to side looking for threats Mattie was sure he couldn't see even if they were coming at him.
Carson then reached into his pocket and handed her a data stick. "Everything I have learned about the attackers is on that stick. The same data is also hidden in my clothes in my room and I have given Red another copy for safekeeping."
Carson again glanced around, then he went on. "Mattie, we must stop these people. Not only are they a threat to Sector Force, but to entire systems of humans if they are allowed to gain control."
Again Red gave a slight jerk of surprise. Clearly Carson had told him nothing of the threat at all.
She pocketed the stick and nodded. "We'll have time to talk when I get you to a safer location."
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a woman pushing a baby carriage move toward them, but the woman didn't seem right. It took only an instant for Mattie to spot the gun under the blanket in the carriage.
"We have an issue," Red said, staring to the right of Mattie. She glanced in that direction and saw two men in suits, clearly pretending to discuss something, also headed their way. It wasn't hard to see the guns making an imprint on their business suits.
"Woman with baby carriage behind you," she said.
So much for getting Carson to a safe location. There was an arcade full of children to her left, a planter to her right, and a wall behind her.
It had been a good place to stay out of the way for her while waiting, but a horrid place for a firefight. No cover at all.
"Carson," Mattie said, her voice completely under control and firm, "when I say drop, you move instantly and crawl behind this planter. Understood?"
He started to say something but she shook her head.
He gulped and nodded.
"They know we've made them," Red said, pulling out two guns from under his long, flowing coat.
Mattie had two as well, one tucked under her blouse against her back and another strapped under her left pants leg.
"Get down, Carson!" she said as she pulled the gun out of the back of her belt.
Carson did as she said and she moved slightly in front of him and crouched to protect him even more.
Red fired first, taking out one man before he had his gun even halfway out of his holster. The sound of the shot echoed through the large mall and stunned everyone to a moment of silence.
Mattie took out the woman with the baby carriage just as she raised her gun to fire.
Red dropped the other man after he got off one shot.
Two more men ran at them from the direction of the center trees with guns drawn, firing.
A projectile from one of the guns embedded into the wall behind Mattie's head and she took out the shooter with three perfectly placed shots in his chest.
What they were all firing couldn't break through any wall or viewport, but they were still very, very deadly. Maybe more so since they spread on impact.
The other man got off two more shots before both Red and Mattie downed him.
The mall had now turned into a screaming, shouting mess as everyone ducked for cover and the sounds of the shots echoed off the walls and high ceilings and windows.
No one else seemed to be rushing at them.
"You all right?" Red asked.
"I am," she said, giving the screaming crowds close attention as they ran from the bodies and to the safety of the stores. It took only a few moments before the entire mall area was mostly clear except for some people cowering behind benches and trees in the middle of the mall.
Finally she said, "We're clear, Carson. Let's get moving, get you to safety."
No answer, so she spun around. Carson was sitting on the ground, leaning against the planter, a single small hole in his forehead. Mattie knew exactly what that soft shell had done to the inside of his skull.
"Damn it!" Red said softly, staring at Carson. Then Red just stood, his back to the mall, and kept muttering softly, "Damn it, damn it, damn it."
Mattie scanned the big empty mall one more time for danger, then turned to Red. He was still standing over Carson as if he had known him his entire life, as if they had been friends or family.
He hadn't leaned down to touch Carson or anything because there was no doubt Carson was dead.
Clearly Red was a man used to seeing death, just as she was. Carson had been someone she had known at the Sector Force for a few years. She was mad, yes, upset, yes, but not completely devastated as Red seemed to be.
She wanted to say something to him, but she was mad at him as well for letting Carson come to this open and deadly killing field.
A moment later a couple dozen station police in deep blue uniforms and guns drawn stormed in the doors. She put her gun on the ground at her feet and Red did the same with his two guns, never taking his gaze away from Carson.
Then they both raised their hands.
Everything had been filmed, Mattie was sure, and her membership with Sector Force would clear her since it was self-defense. But she wondered how much trouble Red was going to be in, what his background was.
She had no idea and right now she didn't much care. He had put Carson at risk and clearly not known the dangers.
But on the other hand, when pushed, he had risked his life to defend Carson. And that much alone was worth something to her.