New York Times bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes in almost every genre. Generally, she uses her real name (Rusch) for most of her writing. Under that name, she publishes bestselling science fiction and fantasy, award-winning mysteries, acclaimed mainstream fiction, controversial nonfiction, and the occasional romance. Her novels have made bestseller lists around the world and her short fiction has appeared in eighteen best of the year collections. She has won more than twenty-five awards for her fiction, including the Hugo, Le Prix Imaginales, the Asimov's Readers Choice award, and the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award.

Publications from The Chicago Tribune to Booklist have included her Kris Nelscott mystery novels in their top-ten-best mystery novels of the year. The Nelscott books have received nominations for almost every award in the mystery field, including the best novel Edgar Award, and the Shamus Award.

She writes goofy romance novels as award-winner Kristine Grayson.

She also edits. Beginning with work at the innovative publishing company, Pulphouse, followed by her award-winning tenure at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, she took fifteen years off before returning to editing with the original anthology series Fiction River, published by WMG Publishing. She acts as series editor with her husband, writer Dean Wesley Smith, and edits at least two anthologies in the series per year on her own.

To keep up with everything she does, go to kriswrites.com and sign up for her newsletter. To track her many pen names and series, see their individual websites (krisnelscott.com, kristinegrayson.com, retrievalartist.com, divingintothewreck.com).

Thieves by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

A race against time.

Weeks after Boss' injury from the runabout dive, she continues the mission to salvage Fleet wrecks for the Lost Souls Corporation. But Boss feels like she lost something after that fateful dive.

Until something happens in the Boneyard to catch her attention. Something that sparks her interest with an intensity she thought she lost.

Now, Boss must assemble a team—her old team—to dive this new discovery.

But Boss worries that someone knows her plans. That the Boneyard might prove more sentient than she knows.

She feels the clock ticking—and she worries time will run out once and for all.

A thrilling new adventure, Thieves provides pulse-pounding new developments in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's award-winning Diving series.

 

REVIEWS

  • "By mixing cerebral and investigative elements, emotional character segments, and the adrenaline of action, Rusch tells a complete yet varied tale that will please science fiction readers looking for something different from the usual fare."

    – Publishers Weekly on Searching for the Fleet
  • "Think of the Diving universe as an exciting mystery saga, pitting the drama of ship salvage against the dangers of space."

    – Astroguyz
  • "Kristine Kathryn Rusch is best known for her Retrieval Artist series, so maybe you've missed her Diving Universe series. If so, it's high time to remedy that oversight."

    – Don Sakers, Analog
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

One

I float outside the Sove, staring at the winking lights ahead of me. They look like a starfield, even though they are not. I am deep inside the Boneyard, a graveyard of old Fleet ships.

Three large ships float nearby, with smaller ships beside them. The ships appear to have been placed haphazardly with no real sense of order. They point in different directions, and some are what I would consider upside down, even though "up" and "down" have no real meaning in space.

I am out here alone, at my own insistence, so I can have time to contemplate what's before me. My environmental suit—a new version that Yash Zarlengo has redesigned for the umpteenth time—feels a little too tight. The new compression fabric that she used adheres to my skin, making me uncomfortable, even though I've been wearing this suit, or one of its cousins, for weeks now.

Unlike my older (and less effective, according to Yash) suit, this one aggressively reminds me that it exists. It monitors every part of my body, searching for the smallest physical change. The suit also monitors its own exterior, and—until I figured out how to shut it off—it would also notify me of each and every change.

I nearly died in this Boneyard several weeks ago. My diving companion, Elaine Seager, was badly injured. She's getting better, but the doctors back at the Lost Souls Corporation—and the consultants they've brought in—believe she will never recover completely.

That scared Yash who, as an engineer, believes that tech can and will save us from everything.

Elaine's injuries don't scare me as much. They just make me aware of the fact that my time in the universe is limited, and I need to work both harder and smarter to accomplish all that I want to do.

Such as figure out this silly Boneyard.

We have spent months here, diving vessels, testing them, and removing the viable ones. We take those vessels back to Lost Souls—or rather, someone on my team does.

I have found a haven in the Boneyard. I'm much more suited to diving vessels than I am to running a large corporation filled with diverse and interesting personalities. I prefer to be alone. I used to dive with a small team only after I had found the derelict vessels on my own. My single ship and I traveled everywhere, and I miss that solitude almost daily.

Which is probably why I'm out here by myself. The Sove is a Dignity Vessel or, rather, a DV-Class vessel, as my Fleet friends call these ships. The Sove is built for 500 crew along with their family members.

While we have a team of fifty to sixty depending on how many have gone back to Lost Souls and whether or not I've requested help in a certain area, we barely fill the Sove's tech requirements. We're always behind on personnel and training at Lost Souls, and it shows on missions like this.

The Sove is behind me. I'm aggressively tethered to it—at least three lines are hooked to my suit, two in the usual places that Yash had designed for tethers, and one attached to my old diving belt, along with some of my old equipment. The fact that I insist on that old belt bothers some on my team, but that doesn't stop me.

I do what I want because, no matter how hard I fight it, I am the one in charge.

The crew thinks I don't know that a bunch of them—maybe as many as half—are watching me out of the portals and on screens. Everyone worries about me, particularly after my near-death, but I feel curiously liberated.

I survived that traumatic experience. I'll survive others.

What I'm doing right now is only mildly dangerous. I'm not diving anything alone. I'm wearing the tethers because Mikk, who has been beside me for years, insisted upon it. I knew better than to argue; I would have insisted on it for him if our roles were reversed.

The suit's monitors are attached to all kinds of equipment inside. Every little detail is getting sent back to the Sove, including my physical readings, and the readings from the suit's exterior. The suit has four cameras which record the visuals around me from the front and back of my hood, as well as from the places where my right and left shoulders meet my arms. I can turn on cameras on the bottom of my boots and some underneath my wrists if I want to. Should something go seriously awry, the data stream will give my team clues as to why.

The suit picks up everything, except the one thing that sent me out here:

The music.

In this part of the Boneyard, I hear choral music in twenty-four-part harmony. It rises and falls in half-tones, crescendoing and decrescendoing in irregular, almost unpredictable intervals. I also hear other songs, farther away. Some sound like bells, ringing on a distant hillside. Others sound like old-fashioned piano music. And still others sound like human voices, melding in an atonal pattern.

The music doesn't really exist. It's simply the way that my senses perceive the anacapa energy levels mingling inside the Boneyard itself. If the music becomes too loud or too piercing, I know I'm in an energy field that's too strong for me, a field that might hurt or crush me.

Yash designed this suit to minimize the amount of energy that I can feel in my bones. That internal vibration is what causes these sounds. Not everyone feels these vibrations or "hears" them, as the case may be.

If the suit is actually working as designed, then my sensitivity is much higher than it has ever been. In my old suit, this level of sound would have been almost unbearable.

I haven't told Yash this, not since the incident. Yash is back at Lost Souls, working on finding the Fleet, based on information we have brought back from this Boneyard. I haven't spoken to her in a long time.

I've spoken to Coop a lot, but I rarely tell him anything of substance. Jonathan "Coop" Cooper is the captain of the Ivoire, a DV-Class ship that found itself 5,000 years in its own future. He and I have a relationship that some would call casual, but which is pretty intimate, given who we both are. Or maybe given who I am.

Anyway, Coop isn't here either. He is currently helping Yash find the Fleet that they believe still exists.

I think it a fool's errand: even if they find the Fleet, it will be 5,000 years different. But this errand has focused them for years now, and it seems to give their lives meaning.

I cannot argue with that, any more than I can argue with the joy that I feel every time I enter an abandoned ship for the very first time.

Right now, though, it's not the abandoned ships around me that have caught my attention. It's that starfield which really isn't a starfield. It's something else entirely, and—most interestingly to me—it dims the sound of the music, especially when I get close.

I was close a few days ago, as I came out the rear hatch of an ancient orbiter. The sound was almost muted, which startled me. I have been in the Boneyard every single day for months, and the sound—while different, depending on where I am—has always been overwhelming.

So I've sent out the remaining five members of the Six, those who have the genetic marker that can enable them to survive in this kind of malfunctioning anacapa energy field and who are also familiar with the music. (Fleet members, who also have the gene, don't seem to hear the malfunction as music, which I find odd.)

The five all said that the music sounded different, but only one, Orlando Rea, described the difference as muted. I never prompted any of them by describing the sound, only asked them to get close to the starfield and see what they experienced.

That is what they reported.

We're doing more investigation—necessary investigation—but I wanted to see this for myself, out here, away from the constant barrage of questions from the others on the Sove. I also wanted to be as far as I could from the protection of the DV-class vessel.

I like floating in space, even though I probably shouldn't. I like having only the thin layer of an environmental suit between me and something so vast that I really have few words for it.

It doesn't quite feel like I'm in space, not when I'm floating here. The Boneyard is huge, larger than some planets I've visited. We'll never be able to dive all of the ships, which deeply disappoints me—not because I'm a completist, but because I feel like the history of the Fleet is here or at least part of it, and I adore history.

I want to learn everything I can.

It's as if I'm in an all-you-can-eat buffet, filled with foods I love, and I've been told I must eat my way out. I will never get to everything, and I'm overwhelmed half the time, and I'm still excited, each and every moment of each and every day.

We have worked deep into the Boneyard. We're following a trail that I've devised. I have a wish list of ships from Lost Souls. A variety of people compiled the list. Coop and Yash want certain kinds of Fleet vessels, mostly DV-Class, although Yash has started asking for others that I'd never heard of.

Ilona Blake, who runs Lost Souls because she can handle people oh so much better than I can, and because she actually cares about getting things done, has a completely different wish list. She wants defensive vessels as well as vessels we haven't seen before, because she wants to mine the technology for money.

She's monetized many of our discoveries already, turning them into tech that Lost Souls can develop and resell to various organizations within the Nine Planets Alliance.

I have been told to use my judgement, which apparently everyone still trusts, and I do use it. But I have a wish list of my own. I want to dive ships that have left their history intact, ships that still have information on their computers, ships that tell us as much about the past as they will help us with the future.

I find it ironic that I'm the one obsessed with the past, even as Yash and Coop search for information about what happened to the culture they left behind.

Or, Coop would say, that maybe it's not ironic. It's my love of history that led me to him and the Ivoire, the ship that brought them on that perilous journey from 5,000 years ago to now. They arrived over five years ago, and are still getting their footing.

I'm not sure I ever would.

Mikk pings me.

"What are you seeing?" he asks, and I smile. He knows what I'm seeing. He can see it too.

I've just been silent too long for his tastes. I'm not even sure I've moved.

"I'll tell you when I get back," I say.

This excursion of mine—which isn't a dive, really, although that's what we called it back on the ship—isn't timed. Usually we time any exploration a crew member makes outside the ship. I usually insist on that.

The missions have a duration, one that we adhere to, and we have goals that we have to meet on our journey, whatever it is.

But this isn't a journey. It's just an observation, and I never placed a timeline on it.

I hit the team with this trip so fast that no one thought to suggest a timeline either.

Which is probably making Mikk nervous.

It would have made me nervous, if he had been out here by himself.

I glance at the timer which I have running in the clear part of my hood, beneath my left eye. Running the timer is a force of habit. I start it when I emerge from the airlock, and shut down the timer the moment I return.

I've been here for less than fifteen minutes. But I haven't done anything dramatic, which is probably bothering him.

I have moved to the very edge of the tethers, which places me as close to the starfield as I can get.

There is no atmosphere in the Boneyard, even though there are some energy cross currents. Something—we don't know what, exactly—holds the ships and the ship parts scattered throughout this gigantic place in exact position. Even when we board the smaller ships, our movement makes no difference in that placement.

Which led me to believe, initially anyway, that the starfield was something else entirely—a bit of energy, tiny bits of ships that reflect some of the ambient light in this place. To be honest, I didn't pay much attention to the starfield when I first saw it, because we have seen so many strange things since we started working the Boneyard.

In addition to intact ships that have been stored here, the Fleet also stored ship parts and destroyed bits of ships. Sometimes the parts are scattered around the ships, and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes parts of a certain type congregate together as if someone designed that section of the Boneyard that way.

Perhaps someone had.

But the deeper we've gotten into the Boneyard, the more I think that we're seeing different intelligences at play in the way everything is organized.

The placement of ships along the edge, where we first entered the Boneyard, is haphazard at best. They seem tossed in, left wherever they were placed with no thought of leaving pathways for other ships to get past them. The extra ship parts and remains of damaged ships are tossed in as well, sometimes so close to nearby ships that we can't get between them.

Farther in, ship parts have been placed with similar parts. Smaller ships are lined up in rows, their noses pointing in the same direction. Larger ships are equidistant from each other, and all facing the same direction as well.

Still farther in, undamaged ships rest next to each other, while damaged ships squeeze into a smaller space. In that section of the Boneyard, there are no ship parts at all.

Here, where we're currently working, the ships form necklaces around the starfield. The pattern seems different. Large ship, small ship, ship part, almost like multi-sized beads. The necklaces (as we've started to call them) run up, down, around, and diagonally. They form an actual curtain around this area, one that made the starfield impossible to see as a field when we were not as deep into the Boneyard.

Only in the last week did I even see the field. At that point, I thought it was a starfield, viewed through some kind of barrier. I didn't think much about it. We were focused on the ships we were diving, not on what was ahead of us.

If someone had asked me (and no one had), I would have said that the starfield was a gap in the Boneyard, or we had reached one of the edges earlier than we expected.

But assumptions always bother me. I learned early in my diving career that assumptions lead to mistakes. So I double-checked myself, first with my own scans and then with the help of others on the crew.

Our scans showed we were deep in the Boneyard and had a long way to go in all directions if we wanted to travel out of it on regular power. We weren't even in the center of the Boneyard. In fact, we were so far away from the center that it would take us years at the pace we are currently working to get to the center.

We are moving forward (or what we consider to be forward) into the Boneyard, using the Sove's regular drive. We let ourselves through the security field on the outside of the Boneyard, using ancient codes that still worked.

But for the rest of our work—getting the ships back to Lost Souls, for example—we use the ships' anacapa drives, after one of our engineers ensures that the drives are actually working. The drives travel across a fold in space—at least, that's how Yash explains it—covering a tremendous amount of distance in minutes instead of years.

We have to be very careful when we use anacapa drives inside the Boneyard. Yash worries (and she has gotten me to worry) that the wrong type of anacapa energy might cause some kind of chain reaction in here, something that might send a bunch of ships into foldspace, or worse (or maybe not worse) make the ships explode.

It's the anacapa energy that has me bothered. We can measure it. There is all kinds of what I call rogue anacapa energy throughout the Boneyard, leaking from the ships with working drives. Some of the energy is exactly as we would expect from a dormant drive—just a low-level reading, when we get close enough to the ship to experience it.

But a lot of the energy is spiky and random—filled with power sometimes, and without much at other times. Sometimes the energy seems corrupted, and other times it gives off readings that our sensors make no sense of.

I record all of it—the Sove records all of it—but I don't send much of it back to Lost Souls. Technically, Ilona can't cancel this mission, but she can make it almost impossible for me to run the mission. She can take away supplies or not authorize personnel.

And Yash, in particular, would monitor what happens in the Boneyard and have an opinion about it, one Ilona would listen to.

I'm not giving them the ability to have an opinion.

Not yet, anyway.

But I might, if I can't figure out this starfield.

Because the energy readings around it here, near these carefully placed ships, is different. Not in the types of readings, which vary from day to day and hour to hour in every section of the Boneyard we've traveled through.

But in the level of the readings.

There's less energy here around these carefully placed ships. They seem to have working anacapa drives. Even the small ships have anacapa drives, and that's unusual. The Fleet stopped outfitting small ships with anacapa drives sometime before Yash and Coop were born.

The random anacapa energy, the kind that indicates a deteriorating or damaged drive, is almost nonexistent, at least the closer we get to that starfield.

Then Mikk and I turned our attention to the starfield, and what was behind it. According to our scans, more ships lie behind that starfield curtain, all of them in the same neat rows that are in front of it.

Our scans didn't get the right level of energy readings, though, for that number of ships, at least, depending on what we had seen before in the Boneyard. (And, I know, I can't really depend on that, because each section of the Boneyard has been different so far.)

Still, the differences afforded me the time to study the field. And what I learned shook me. I discovered that I can take the images of those ships outside the starfield, and place them on top of the images of the ships inside the starfield, and they match exactly.

Either the Fleet or its minders got really precise, or they created some kind of ghost scan.

No matter which scanner I use, no matter how I calibrate our instruments on the Sove, I get that ghost scan reading.

And I've started to suspect that the scan will show up on any Fleet equipment.

I want to use a different vessel to scan that starfield, some vessel not made by the Fleet. Unfortunately, we don't have any with us.

And we did that deliberately. This Boneyard has fired on non-Fleet ships in the past.

Even my environmental suit, with its limited scanning capability, was built with Fleet tech. But I brought some non-Fleet tech with me on my old diving belt. Besides my ancient diving knife, which I recovered from one of my old diving partners, Karl, after his tragic death, I carry a few tiny probes and three small scanners of different vintages.

I pluck the one of those old scanners off my belt. This scanner is the "newest" of the three, although I wouldn't exactly call it new. It's also the least sophisticated.

The scanner fits nicely in my hand. I had forgotten how malleable my old tech was. It feels like an old friend, one I haven't given enough thought to over the decades, one I forgot that I loved.

I hold the scanner in front of my belly, out of the view of any of the cameras on my suit. As long as I only move my eyes to look at the scanner, not my entire head.

I don't want someone to yank me back to the Sove in a great panic before I have a chance to use the scanner.

Using the scanner is my biggest risk. If the Boneyard hates all non-Fleet tech, then there is a very good chance the Boneyard will fire on me.

And that will be the end of me.

But I'm gambling that there's lots of small, random, non-Fleet tech in this Boneyard. Some of that non-Fleet tech might be in the cargo holds of the old ships around me; other parts might be grafted onto ships after some emergency on some distant planet.

I'm gambling that the Boneyard only objects to active, working, non-Fleet ships, the kind that might want to steal ships from the Boneyard itself.

Like we are.

A fact I do my best to ignore.

Someone left these ships in the Boneyard. They're protected by a forcefield that we are able to get through because we know the codes and we have a Fleet vessel, apparently of the right vintage.

But that someone might return for these ships.

Coop believes that the Fleet has stored the ships in the Boneyard because it didn't know what else to do with them. Yash agrees with a slight difference; she thinks the ships were stored here so that they could be used by traveling Fleet vessels like Security Class ships that sometimes have to go backwards.

I've even heard a few members of the Ivoire crew say that they believed the ships were here in case some Fleet vessel got stuck in foldspace and needed them, but I think that's more of a reflection on the problems the Ivoire had than it is anything that the Fleet tried to create with this Boneyard.

The Boneyard is a mystery to me, and as I do with all mysteries that I find in space, I'm exploring it.

The fact that I'm removing ships from it at the same time makes me a lot more nervous than I want to admit.

Until this last year, I was never the kind of wreck diver who plundered the abandoned ships that I found. I had some of my divers report the ancient abandoned ships. A few even claimed them, so that they would get the wealth found on the ships. And one tried to get me in trouble with the Enterran Empire (back when I lived there), by claiming that I was trying to co-opt stealth tech (which turns out to be anacapa technology).

But now I have found a literal planet-sized graveyard of abandoned ships, and I am taking some back to my own corporation, for personal use, and I feel guilty about it.

Guilty, and worried, and afraid we'll get caught.

By whom, I have no idea, since everything we've found in this Boneyard so far points to the fact that no one—not outside ships, not the Fleet itself—has been inside this Boneyard in at least a thousand years, maybe more.

We can't be certain, because we can't cover the entire area of the Boneyard. But we've found even more information on the ships we've sent back. Many of the ships had a baseline program running, even though the ships were powered down. That program monitored every contact the ships had, every unusual thing that happened around them while they were powered down. Some even had systems that edited the information into highlights, marked with the year something occurred.

We have real-time video and information about when other ships were added to the Boneyard, and I'm sure that Yash is pulling information from that in her quest to find the Fleet.

What I watched seemed straightforward. I hadn't seen anything that seemed out of the ordinary. The ships arrived, the skeleton team that brought them would leave, usually on a small ship, and then the larger ship would remain powered down. Occasionally it would wake up when other ships or ship parts were placed near it.

And then it would sleep again.

Maybe we just hadn't hit the exciting part of the Boneyard yet.

And every time I have had that thought of late, I find my mind drifting to that starfield. Maybe what's behind it is the exciting part of the Boneyard.

Maybe that's why I'm out here.

I'm ready to find out.

I raise the scanner so it's directly in my line of sight. Images of the scanner have just gone back to the Sove. Right now, a handful of people, staring out those portals or looking at the feed, have gasped, stunned that I'm holding something they don't recognize.

I'm sure a few of them are panicked, worried that I've gone off some kind of deep end.

Where did she get that? Why is she holding it? What the hell is she doing?

I smile at the imagined words, and brace myself for Mikk's voice, but he doesn't say anything.

He doesn't have the right to. He's the one who attached my tethers. He saw the belt. He commented on the knife.

Are you sure you should take Karl's knife? Mikk asked. He's an old spacer like me, and we're both just a bit more superstitious than we probably should be.

The sentence that went unsaid was He died wearing it, you know.

Technically, he didn't, though. Technically, he had unhooked his belt with all of his safety equipment, backup breathers, and his knife—or maybe it had all come undone in the strange time field he had found himself in back at the place the Enterran Empire and the Nine Planets call The Room of Lost Souls, and the Ivoire crew calls Starbase Kappa.

But Mikk is correct about one thing: Karl had the knife with him on the mission that killed him.

I know that. After Karl died, I started carrying the knife on some dangerous missions to honor him, and to help myself remember the risks that we take.

I had stopped doing that over the years.

But I've wanted the knife beside me on my dives since I got injured. I don't have lingering effects—at least I don't have noticeable ones—from that near-death incident, and I don't want to forget it.

The knife is a reminder to me to be careful as much as it is a talisman.

Only I didn't explain that to Mikk. Instead I said, I'm taking it.

He glanced down at my belt and shook his head slightly. There is absolutely no way that he missed the fact that I was carrying other equipment too.

He didn't say anything about it, though. He knows me very well. He knows that I am unorthodox still, despite the corporation, the large operations, the various businesses I run.

He knows I like to take risks.

And, I like to believe, that he understands them.

I take a deep breath of the filtered air, conscious of the fact that my heart rate has increased. I'm sure someone inside the Sove has noted that as well. I'm sure they're having serious conversations about what to do with me right now.

And the moment I have that thought, I shut it down.

I need to concentrate, and I don't need anyone else in the middle of my work.

I squeeze the scanner. Red rays of light reflect off a nearby ship. The scanner is so old that it actually uses light to show which side is the functioning side, just in case someone can't figure it out from the grip.

I move the scanner from the right side of my body to the left. Then I move the scanner up and down.

I'm sending information back to the Sove, but not in the usual way. The information goes to me, to my quarters, to some equipment I set up there.

If he's smart, if he planned for this, then Mikk will be able to piggyback off the signal and get the same information.

But I hadn't instructed him to do that, so I'm not going to expect it of him. Mikk is good, but he can't always read my mind.

I try not to expect him to.

I scan as much of the area before me as I can without letting go of the scanner. I had initially thought of sending some of the old non-Fleet probes to the starfield, and then ruled that out. They were mobile and active; something inside that field or whatever generated that field might consider the probe some type of weapon.

Or might recognize it as non-Fleet tech and therefore consider it hostile.

It might be another way of getting me shot.

I'm not worried about the Boneyard attacking the scanner. My gloved hand covers most of it. Only the front of the scanner is pointed at the starfield, and I am quite far away from it. At least three DV-Class ship lengths away, maybe more.

The scanner vibrates in my hand, a signal that the scanner has gathered all the information it can from the area I pointed it at. I learned a long time ago, with this scanner, that it doesn't handle small differences well. So it really doesn't matter if I hold the scanner up for ten minutes or fifty. If it scans an area at one time, scanning that same area later won't give me any different information.

So, I squeeze the scanner, shutting down the scan function. Then I shut the scanner off, and tuck it back into its place on my belt. Then I grab another scanner, one that's a bit fussier, and turn it on.

I had set the controls back on the Sove, so that I wouldn't have to do any programming out here, and I'm grateful for that now. Because my internal clock tells me I've been out here too long.

If I were running a dive from inside the Sove, I would tell my diver it was time to come back to the ship.

Mikk hasn't said that yet, but that's probably due to the fact that I'm the one on this dive, not some member of our crew.

I have to press my gloved thumb against the side of the scanner to start the scan. I hold the scanner up, like I did with the last one, and press the scanner's side. There's no old-fashioned red light, nothing except a quiet beep inside my hood to tell me that the scanner is working.

And then, in a small square on the lower right of my faceplate, an image shows up. The image is blurry at first, and not at all what I expect.

I had thought I would see reflected light, or the ships that had shown up in the Sove's scans, bizarrely lined up like the ships outside the field.

But I hadn't expected the blur.

I had set this scanner to send me the actual visuals. The telemetry, the readings in every different form, are being sent, as with the last scanner, back to Mikk and to my quarters.

It takes me a moment to remember how this scanner works in the wild. I press my thumb against it again, which sets the scan at maximum. I won't run it at maximum for long, because this scanner has a weird battery glitch that has always irritated me about it. But I want to see that visual one more time.

As the scanner recalibrates, I catch the sound of my own breathing. It's ragged. My heart rate has probably gone up again, and I'm sure Mikk won't like that. Nor will anyone else.

I force myself to breath slower. The filtered air tastes dry, almost flat. I'm pushing this dive to its edges, and I know that.

The visual winks out for a second and then returns, stronger and clearer. What I had taken to be a blur isn't. It's an actual barrier that I can't see past. As I watch it, lights rotate through it.

What I had thought was the winking of a light through atmosphere, the way that starlight seems to wink to someone on a planet below, is actually faint lights appearing at intervals on that barrier. It's some way of letting someone—something—us, maybe—know that the barrier is both there and working.

The visual part of the scanner doesn't show any ships at all. It shows nothing past that barrier.

"That's enough, Boss." Mikk's voice is so loud that it startles me. I jump. I wish I could take back the startle reaction: it means I'm not paying enough attention to everything around me. Only to that scan.

Then he says the words I have been expecting for at least twenty minutes. "I'm calling an end to this dive. Right now."

I open my mouth to protest, then close it. I know he's right. I also know that I set an example for the crew with everything that I do.

And I'm always the one who insists on procedure. I'm the one who tells each diver they have to listen to their monitor. I'm the one who stresses over and over again that failing to follow these rules could lead to death.

But oh, do I understand the temptation to ignore them. Especially right now.

Especially as my eye catches a glimpse of something on that visual. It's a white trail, almost as if some ship were traveling by, venting chemicals against the blackness of space.

That white trail leads into the barrier.

I raise my gaze just enough to look at what still seems like a starfield to me. The white trail looks like the edges of a galaxy, or maybe an asteroid belt, at least from this distance.

I glance at the visual again, and realize that what the scanner shows is something more akin to a comet tail.

A mystery. An enigma. Mysteries and enigmas hook me every time.

"Boss." Mikk sounds fierce.

I haven't answered him, which is probably scaring the heck out of him, even though he can see from my suit readings that I'm still alive.

"Yeah," I say curtly. Then I add, because I can't stop myself, "This is fascinating."

"I don't care," he says. "You're coming back to the ship."

I sigh, probably audibly enough that anyone monitoring this dive can hear me.

"Yeah," I say again. Then I move the scanner right to left, as I did with the previous scanner, only faster than I probably should have. "I'm coming."

I feel like a recalcitrant child. I'm probably acting a bit like one too. I shut off the scanner. That small square image vanishes, and I actually miss it.

I'm learning something, and whenever I do that, I feel alive.

I replace the scanner on my belt, then turn to my left, careful not to get entangled in my tethers.

I grab one of them, and use it to pull myself back to the Sove.

I resist the urge to look over my shoulder. I almost feel as though if I do, I will be tempting fate, preventing myself from traveling back to the ship.

We've found—I've found—yet another mystery inside this Boneyard—and it has me intrigued.