Declan Finn, a three-time Dragon Award Finalist, is the NYC based author of books ranging from thrillers to urban fantasy to SciFi, including the Dragon Award Nominated Novel for Best horror in 2016, Honor at Stake, and the 2017 follow-up, Live and Let Bite. He was also nominated for "Best Apocalypse" novel at the Dragons in 2017. He also won the book of the year award with his novel, Hell Spawn, from CLFA.

Declan is known for being annoyingly Catholic, his action sequences, and writing faster than most readers can keep up with. In less than a decade, he has written 30 novels, and is waiting for all of them to be published. He's been part of multiple anthologies, and will write for anyone.

White Ops by Declan Finn

The Pharmakoi rampaged across dozens of star systems, taking on the toughest races in the Galaxy in their campaign of conquest. But they are only the beginning.

Sean Patrick Ryan sees that another race is behind the Pharmakoi expansion ; a race that wants to test our galaxy for weakness, and who needs to be eliminated from within. To fight the enemy in the shadows, Sean will put together a strike team to light up the darkness— with nukes if necessary.

They will get the job done at any cost. They will be White Ops.


N.R. LaPoint

From the mind that gave us the remarkably fun Saint Tommy, NYPD series is a brand-new space opera. White Ops is what you get when you take the ideas of Babylon 5, John Ringo, and David Weber and toss them into a blender. And the result is wild.

Our story starts with a bar fight between a – get ready – giant Irish telepath and a muscular space velociraptor. It gets crazier from there, believe it or not. The Pharmakoi are invading Earth and the only one who can stop the invasion force is an intelligence analyst who is described as having both clownish features and the build (and hair) of someone who should be on the covers of romance novels. There's also a race of Thomistic space elves.

It becomes apparent rather quickly that the Pharmakoi are not invading Earth on their own. A more powerful force is pulling their strings and it is up to our hero, Sean Ryan, to figure out who they are and how to stop them.

Sean Patrick Ryan is basically a huge, Irish, telepathic, Catholic leprechaun. With guns. And who also likes to break and explode things. Think if Cable had a brogue and decided to put together an elite team of space Templars to stop a malevolent group of very hungry alien monsters ripped from nightmares. You get the idea of where this plot is going.

This is sci-fi adventure the way it should be. It doesn't get bogged down in politics (though there is some notable scheming and intrigue going on) or info dumps. Instead, we get solid exposition and plenty of explosions. It's hard not to cheer when the good guys stop the villains or blow stuff up.

Speaking of the politics: Finn doesn't beat you over the head with anything. Authoritarians are portrayed accurately, and most politicians are portrayed as self-aggrandizing idiots or power-hungry psychopaths. So… a little departure from strict fiction. But amid space raptors, flaming swords, invisible centaur monsters, and telepaths, a virtuous political class would have seemed too outlandish.

Oh, and there are gun fights and stealthy ninja action, too.

If you're looking for an alternative to [CORPORATE BRAND SPACE OPERA] you are going to love this. Buy a copy and I guarantee you'll have a blast. Many blasts. I lost count of how many explosions there are. This is also a great starting point if you are interested in reading Declan Finn's work, but aren't into horror.

When black ops aren't enough…



  • "While some writers of science fiction neglect humor, Declan Finn embraces it."

    – Amazon reviewer
  • "Read White Ops for the unapologetic heroism in the face of cynical politician villains that are all too familiar, and the rich descriptions of alien races and worlds. Also, the action. Lots of action."

    – Amazon reviewer





Space Colony: Invidia 1

June 21, 2338

The first step to an interstellar war that threatened to darken the stars themselves had begun in a grubby little bar, on a backwater planet that no-one had even bothered to terraform. No-one knew exactly what it would lead to, especially not the two characters who wandered into the bar.

They skipped the Zari at the front door who sold tickets—the alien had just let them pass.

Peter Sierra always worried when a bar stopped patrons at the door to buy tickets to enter—he worried even more when everyone had to pay except him, usually meaning that Peter was the floor show.

However, on this occasion, Peter was worried because he was currently traveling with the most dangerous human in the known universe, Sean Patrick Ryan.

"The most dangerous human" wasn't an

exaggerated title, but one bestowed upon him by those who had seen him in action over the course of the previous decades of his life. The owner of "Sean Patrick Ryan & Associates" happened to be two meters tall and one across. True, his electric-blue eyes and his raven black hair were his standout features, but his size was the first thing most people noticed. The second thing they noticed were his eyes, his clothing third—at the moment, an electric blue jumpsuit... then increase the brightness, and you have the idea. This all fed into his nickname, his title, and his ever-growing legend. He was the current link in a centuries-long chain of titanium-plated badasses who all enjoyed danger.

Unfortunately, the reputation meant that every Therese, Dodo, and Dirty Harry wanted a shot to claim Ryan's title as ultimate badass.

Realizing that one of them was going to be the floor show, Ryan and Peter entered the bar and split up, each with their backs to the wall. Peter's chair was next to the door, and Ryan was at the end of the bar, farthest from the entrance and closest to the emergency exit.

They had come for a leisurely drink, and a bit of information. Ryan and Peter were friends from college, and occasional partners in crime. Technically, what they did bordered on illegality, but there was a reason they called Ryan a mercenary. Peter wandered the stars, and they occasionally reconnected by accident.

Today, that same place was the bar called The Scoundrel's Refuge. It was a seedy little bar in an even seedier little spot in a seedier-still little domed colony. The

dome was barely able to keep out the heat from the sun, and the vents rarely kept the air circulating, causing the entire dome to be even hotter year-round. The increased heat made it an eternal summer—and human nature being what it was, summers always saw an increase in homicides. In the case of Invidia 1, when there was wind, it was one of those hot, dry breezes that came down through the ventilation system, making hairs curl, nerves jump, and skin itch. It created an environment where every night, a booze party ended in a fight, and wives felt the edge of the carving knife as they study their husbands' throats.

From time to time, the Refuge would sell tickets to a bar fight, as long as they were announced in advance. One party—sometimes both—declared their intent to the bartender, and within a few hours, most of the furniture was replaced with cheap, easily-replaced knockoffs. The Refuge was aptly named; as long as one gave the bartender enough time to set up for the fight, and take his own cut, one could knock around an adversary in relative peace and quiet without interference from police or patrons. Peter had never been there for a non-sanctioned bar fight, and every time he had asked about one, the other patrons just cringed and turned away.

Peter spent a few minutes getting settled, scanning the bar. Ryan had told him that they were going to get information about a local weapons dealer. Ryan had brought Peter along for backup.

It took five minutes after Peter and Ryan arrived for the floor show to begin. To start with, a little opening teaser before the credits rolled.

Someone approached Ryan, coming at him straight on. It was a Zari—a reptile attempting to mimic a human. Ryan watched him approach with his usual demeanor—which seamlessly blended relaxed and amused with the unspoken attitude of Go ahead, please hit me, I haven't had enough raw meat today.

There were raised voices, which were the usual rituals behind bar fights—You stole my seat; I don't like your face; I don't like you—all of which would have been summarized in the 21st century as "your momma." It was difficult to translate, as the Zari didn't have the concept of mothers.

The "fight" ended in the usual fashion, the Zari tried to hit him, and Ryan leaned forward—still on his bar stool—and delivered a short, sharp shock to his face in the form of a left jab, which sent the Zari sprawling on the floor, unconscious before he even left his feet.

Ryan sighed and returned to his Guinness, joking with the bartender. The barkeep merely smiled and shook his head—which meant that there would be a fracas shortly, and Ryan was indeed the target. The bar was also starting to fill in—certainly, there was to be a brawl anytime now, the only question was, with whom?

And how come everyone always knows about these things but me? Peter thought.

Peter looked over at an Erinal, short, stocky, and feathered up to the quills... and the gills, for that matter.

The Erinal looked up its long, wolf-like snout at Peter. "Yes?" he hissed in Standard.

"You know who the floor show is today?" Peter asked.

The Erinal smiled—or grimaced, Peter could never tell—and glanced at Ryan, at the bar, scanning the area. "You mean neither of you have heard?"

Peter deliberately blinked, and thankfully his deep-blue eyes radiated innocence, and not his 200-point IQ. "No, what?"

"Your friend is going to meet with Fe'eshar Straczyn, the Touri."

Peter said nothing but "Oh nuts." His mind went a few hundred miles an hour, putting together exactly what woutld happen next. He had known where the information was supposed to be, and who had it, but even with a distraction, it would to be hard to get his hands on it.

A Touri was never short. In fact, the shortest adult Touri was noted as being exactly 180 centimeters, or six feet tall, and that made the record books as being the smallest runt of any litter. Some Xenobiologists often claimed Touris had distinctive traits of dinosaurs, while actual paleontologists disagreed firmly, rigorously, and at a level most people would qualify as shrieking.

To a layman's eye, a Touri had a long, graceful neck, armor-hard scales, vertical eye slits, and laser-sharp claws. No, "laser" is not a misprint, but a statement of experience—one Touri was let loose aboard an Allied ship during the last war, and he had shredded bulkheads with nothing but his natural nails... which, fortunately for him, were retractable.

If this is a distraction, Peter thought, it's going to be interesting.

"Here he is now," the Erinal answered.

Peter looked at the bar, and he was right. This Touri was well over 180 centimeters—more like 205 centimeters of brown-scaled fury, but then, Touris looked angry even when they slept.

Ryan spared Peter a look with one electric-blue eye, looked back to Fe'eshar Straczyn, shrugged, and reached back for his pewter mug, raising a finger, saying, "Let me finish this, and I'll be right with you."

The Touri nodded, putting his whole upper body into it. Peter took it upon himself to again appreciate Fe'eshar's size. His legs were like the trunks of small Akarat trees, his skin the color of liver spots, and his face was like that of every Touri, a Velociraptor on steroids, right down to the pointed teeth and triangular snout going down toward a long neck. His clothes were made out of a substance that looked like leather.

Probably the scales of something different... I'm sure it's not processed cloth, but personally skinned and home-sewn.

There wasn't a word exchanged between the two of them, just Ryan grabbing the mug, raising it from the bar, and then—

WHAP, the pewter mug slashed across the Touri's face, leaving a dent in the mug that looked remarkably like the Touri's profile. He then brought it back around, leaving a dent in the other side of the mug. Straczyn merely

blinked, startled, when Ryan revealed where his other hand was—grabbing the base of his bar stool, which he ripped right out of the floor, thrusting straight up into the Touri's chin, snapping its head back with a resounding crack.

The rest of his body didn't even flinch.

Ryan stood and threw his whole mass into a cross-body swing, smacking the Touri with a blow hard enough to make him fall back a step.

Fe'eshar then reached up and slashed through the base of Ryan's bar stool, leaving it on the floor in pieces.


Ryan was sent flying by a single blow, and landed at Peter's feet. "Come on, Sean, stop playing. You can cripple this guy," Peter told him in a stage whisper that the entire bar could hear.

He smiled broadly, and answered in his booming voice, Irish brogue as thick as the bogs. "Peter, this is a bar fight, such things aren't done. There are rules, you know. Tooth and claw and fists, and whatever else is lying around."

"Yeah, but that usually doesn't include the other guy having nine-centimeter talons."


The resulting brawl was worth its weight in coin, and despite the property damage, the bar made a substantial profit on the entire ordeal. True to his word, Ryan used "whatever else was lying around"—he hit Fe'eshar with tabletops, table legs, chairs, monitors, electrical appliances, beer mugs, martini glasses, plates, spoons, and even a toilet

seat when the fracas spent a bit of time in the restroom.

At one point, Ryan even ripped out a part of the bar—not from the bartop, but from the base to the water-stained countertop, torn out from its roots in the floor. This was no mean task, even for Ryan, considering that behind the bar, Levin—the barkeep—had installed what was literally a piece of the hull from a retired top-of-the-line flagship, meant to repel rail gunfire and survive fusion-missile impacts. Ryan slapped Fe'eshar with it twice before the Touri sliced through it with a single swipe of his claws.

Once they moved away from the discarded piece of the bar, Peter had made certain to move next to it, and prop it up in front of him like a makeshift barricade. He made a casual scan of the shelving behind the bar, and took a few items for himself.

Ryan even went toe-to-toe with Fe'eshar in bare-knuckle fashion. One would automatically think he'd be toast—Fe'eshar could move with the speed of the quickest Earth predator, including a human on a skimmer. Ryan moved as though Fe'eshar broadcast every move ahead of time.

Everyone had to get out of the way at one time or another, of course. The fight took the two of them all over the place, and wrecked everything in sight, and several things under the floor. Everyone in the bar needed to scatter, except of course, for old Jeistar. Jeistar was... Jeistar, really; a landmark of The Scoundrel's Refuge. One day he had come in, sat down, ordered a drink, then nursed it for five hours. Ordered another, and kept ordering. Of all

the people in the Refuge, only he didn't fit. He was old, sedentary, pudgy, always smiled, always looking like the Buddha of the Bar, and always in that exact same seat. Everyone else was a crook of some kind or another, and even the police force knew enough not to come in without bringing a small TASK force (Tactical Assault Special-K branch... no-one asked what the K was for, but on this planet, it was assumed that K was for Kill), but Jeistar was... just Jeistar—part confessor, part jester, part landmark. After a while, Levin had just let him stay, on account that people came in and bought drinks just to talk with the Buddha of the Bar.

When Ryan full-body tackled Fe'eshar, they both went down in a crash of over 700 pounds that shook the floor and destroyed Jeistar's table—but the old man had lifted both his mugs out of the way just in time.

The fight ended after Fe'eshar went for a triple-spin aerial kick, mastered by only a small handful of people in the galaxy, taught on an out-of-the-way planet so far off the star charts that just thinking about it made most people's heads ache.

Ryan had managed to be out of range yet again, a bar stool in hand. In a half-twist, Fe'eshar had his back to Ryan, his head already snapped around to aim. Ryan waited for the next full rotation after the kick, and he leaped forward, slamming the bottom of the bar stool into the back of Fe'eshar's head. Fe'eshar went down, his skull crushed against the floor, and it got worse when Ryan sat down on the stool while it was still on top of Fe'eshar.

Ryan smiled and bent down, smiling at Fe'eshar. "You want to give up now?"

No-one could tell if Fe'eshar smiled, snarled, or agreed, so Ryan just sat there, smiled, and said, "Levin, another Guinness, my good man."

* * *

About an hour later, they left, having had their fill of drinks that other people were happy to pay for. Even Fe'eshar had had his fill of the local brew.

After the bar population was done with them, and had turned its vastly limited attention span to the resumption of ruining their bladders, Ryan and Fe'eshar staggered out together, Peter following.

Once they were out of sight of The Scoundrel's Refuge, Peter stepped in front of them—ten feet in front of them, he didn't want to get run over by so many pounds of biped. "Why the hell didn't the two of you tell me you were going to do this?"

Ryan looked at Fe'eshar, who merely smiled.

"Now where would be the fun in that?" Ryan began, his brogue only a faint accent now. "Ya see, Peter, we wanted to keep it a shock, so your reaction would be appropriate to a total surprise."

Peter rolled his eyes. "You're just lucky I'm brighter than both of you put together. I saw Fe'eshar and knew you two were the distraction."

"Fe'eshar," the Touri hissed. He wasn't angry, the

hiss was part of his accent.

"Sorry, we met so briefly, I didn't even catch your name. I heard it from—"

"Did you get what we needed from that bastard Levin?" Ryan cut him off.

Peter sighed. "Of course I did." He raised the info-diamond. "When you hurled that section of the bar at Fe'eshar, I maneuvered next to it, picked up the diamond from the compartment, and replaced it with a blank. Do you know how hard it is to cut up one of these things so it looked like a Touri did it, especially when I have to do it behind my back, in the middle of a crowded bar?"

Ryan chuckled.

Peter continued, "Our friend the barkeep will be quite put out with us, I suspect, when we blow his weapons cache to hell." He pocketed the diamond again. "It'll teach him to sell tickets... and be an arms dealer."

Fe'eshar smiled. "Is good when a plan comes together, yes?"

Ryan laughed. "Come, we have to ruin his day."

"You still should have told me what you two were going to do," Peter insisted. "I used to write scripts for the Interstellar Wrestling Federation."

He trailed after them with a sigh. Peter knew there were three things that made Sean Patrick Ryan, protective agent and sort-of mercenary, so dangerous: he was highly intelligent, creative, and quite insane. Ryan had rejected Peter's previous plans because they weren't "fun."

Which was why Levin was in serious trouble.

Fe'eshar was a friend of Ryan's from years back, during the Interstellar Society for Creative Anachronism meetings at the Holy Order of St. Patrick's headquarters, the Foundation. When the Soivan government started funding and supporting anti-Touri terrorists via Levin's arms dealers, Ryan volunteered to fix the problem.

Now, they had the location on the weapons, a warehouse on the edge of the city, only a half-hour away by casual stroll.

* * *

"I still find it hard to believe that Levin is the one behind the arms smuggling," Peter muttered as they closed in on the storage facility. "Middle-man, yes, he's got the charisma for it. Mastermind? Please, that man needs a cheat sheet to mix drinks."

Peter pondered the problem. If Levin wasn't the ringleader, which made sense, then who was? Peter could only come to one conclusion, but it didn't make any sense. He would need more data to be certain, but no matter how he looked at the problem in his mind, there was only one answer to the whole mess, but... How would it work?

Ryan's eyes stood out in the darkness as he looked back at Peter. He had thankfully taken off his eye-bleeding blue outfit, revealing the dark-green clothing underneath. Both eyes glinted with mischief, which told Peter nothing—Ryan's Irish eyes were always smiling, because he was always up to something.

The entire area radiated an electromagnetic field that played havoc with most modern weapons, particularly the SHP. A Superheated Hydrogen Pistol works by launching said hydrogen within a magnetic field. When the field hits a target, the field collapses, then, bang, you're dead. The facility had a magnetic field up that would collapse all SHP bursts as soon as they left the bubble—unless, of course, the gun's magnetic field had the right frequency, like the SHPs the guards carried.

The facility perimeter was a solid, impenetrable wall. The front gate was protected by more security on a single lock than Peter had ever seen. There were retinal scanners, iris scanners, and a touchscreen that not only took a ten-digit code, it also scanned the fingerprints of the person punching in the code, as well as a sample of DNA, and measured the blood pressure in each fingertip.

It took Peter all of ten seconds to pop the lid off the interface, and tell the internal computer to perform a "scan" on records in its own memory. The sensors thought they were actively reading the touch of a human, but had instead only done a computer search, unlocking itself.

That was easy. I can't imagine what it must be like to have an IQ of 160 like Sean, Peter thought.

The door for the ugly brick building started to open, and Peter smiled. "Open says-a-me."

The gate swung open, and the target building was directly ahead. Fe'eshar moved in first, followed by Ryan. Peter toddled along behind. The building looked like a simple warehouse, but it was more like a small transport-hanger.

The next lock was slightly more complex than on the outer perimeter. Peter looked it over, and was about to get to work when Fe'eshar ripped the door off.

"Well, that was subtle," Peter griped. "If you were going to set off every alarm in the building, why did I even bother picking the last lock?"

Ryan smiled. "You needed to feel useful somehow. Besides, there's security personnel inside anyway."

Peter cocked his head, and narrowed his eyes at Ryan. Even more security guards? That was news to Peter.

Ryan rushed in, and Peter and the Touri charged in after, with no idea what Ryan was doing, or why. They followed him to the central corridor, and the main storage room. There were enough crates to fill the cargo hold of a large shuttle.

The lights went on a few seconds later.

"Gee, Sean," Peter muttered behind him. "You invite me to all the really cool parties, especially when the hosts have automatic weapons."

There were a few armored Soivan, a few scaled Touris like Fe'eshar, and a scattering of other races. The only thing they had in common were their armaments, and the fact that they all had the high ground, a catwalk on the top floor.

Ryan winced. Even a fake fight with a Touri like Fe'eshar was bad enough, but having Soivan among the adversaries would be a problem. These were younger Soivan, under a hundred—they still had their exoskeletons on. If they were older, they could have shucked the shells, looking like humans—sans ears, with six fingers, and pupil-less eyes of unnatural colors.

And there, leading the pack of Soivan and Touri gunmen, was Levin the bartender, smiling down at them.

"I regret to inform you gentlemen," Ryan declared in a crystal-clear brogue, "that you are all under arrest. If you come quietly, there will be no need to kill you."

Levin beamed. "Ah, and what would be the fun in that?"

Ryan leaned up against one of the large crates next to him. "Tell me exactly how you're going to kill us with automatic weapons while standing next to a box of explosives? Or are your people really good sharpshooters?"

The bartender blinked. He looked over Ryan's enormous frame. He said, with a little less cheer this time, "You're not exactly a small target."

Ryan smiled, raising a finger to emphasize that Levin had hit upon an important point. "Ah, 'tis true, yet you have a little problem. I'm not the only target you need to hit."

"The Touri is even bigger, you fool!"

The one that no-one had noticed—Peter—had spent his time moving from behind the larger and wider Sean Ryan, around the other crates in the room. By the time Ryan had finally finished jabbering, Peter had already parked himself underneath the catwalk—and the guys with the assault weapons—with two thermal grenades fresh from a crate. By the time Levin himself had finished jabbering, Peter hurled both grenades up on the overhead catwalk, aiming for none of the people, but for the corners and most of the supports of the structure itself.

The entire catwalk collapsed, taking the gunmen with it. Peter dived out of the way, pondering in retrospect whether or not that had been the best idea he had ever come up with.

Either way, he lived, but the humans on the catwalk hadn't. On top of the pile of rubble and twisted metal, was the bartender Levin. His head was twisted at an unnatural angle, and his eyes were fixed. He was dead.

The Soivan and Touri gunmen had gone down in a tangle of claws and armored limbs. Ryan and Fe'eshar sprang into action the moment the catwalk fell. Ryan had dropped to one knee, pulling out an old-fashioned projectile weapon with armor-piercing bullets, which would penetrate Touri scales and Soivan exoskeletons—though Ryan didn't try to shoot through a Soivan ribcage, just the lower organs. Fe'eshar didn't even bother with a weapon, just slashed and hacked his way through the others before they could fully recover.

Ryan yanked Peter to his feet after the entire fracas was over. Peter brushed himself off and sighed. "Can't you leave anyone alive?"

Ryan smiled. "When they stop trying to kill me, I'll see what I can manage." He looked to the side. "Fe'eshar, you okay?"

Fe'eshar Straczyn rose to his feet, talons retracted. "I am fine, thank you. Do we have all of them?"

"Not quite all, but there aren't any gunmen here, if that's what you mean."

Peter blinked, looking at Ryan's newlyacquired backpack. "What did you do, steal a fusion bomb from their arsenal?"

He laughed. "No, that would be silly. Besides, I couldn't get the crate with the fusion bombs open. They'll have to go as well." He shrugged. "It isn't like I could have smuggled one in my carry-on luggage. Now come on, we should get going before the leader shows up."

Ryan pulled from the backpack a small black box with a keypad on it. "An M22 charge." He smiled at Fe'eshar. "Think of it as a low-grade nuke without the radiation. When this goes off, we should be about a hundred yards away. It'll vaporize all the weapons without setting them —"

Ryan ripped the lid off of another container, and stopped dead. His eyes narrowed, his smile faded, and he seemed more pissed off than at any time that evening.

Peter raised an eyebrow. "Sean, what's the matter?"

"The Soivan bought these weapons secondhand. They're not the primary suppliers."

Peter peeked at the crate's contents. "Okay, I'll bite, what is it?"

"It's Pharmakoi."

"Who?" Peter asked. "I've heard of practically every known alien race, and cataloged a few new ones. Never heard of that one."

"Long story. Come. We need to get out of here."

They made it outside the main building, heading for the perimeter wall at a run. Ryan kicked open the gate. They spilled out past the stone-cut walls.

They ran right into a hoard of gunmen, led by their ringleader: Jeistar, the Buddha of the Bar, his smile ever serene, holding a pistol by his side.

"About time you showed up," Ryan muttered. "I'm surprised you sent Levin to do it."

Jeistar blinked, almost surprised that Ryan had known it was him.

Ryan smiled. "Of course I knew it was you—who else other than Levin practically lives in that bar? You were either in on it, or knew about it—and since Levin wasn't the brightest Dwarf Star in the sky, he needed someone else. You were left."

"Unlike Levin," Jeistar said softly, "I have no urge to gloat. Kill them."

The gunmen raised their SHP rifles and fired without hesitation.

At that point, the hydrogen discharge from their weapons exploded as soon as it left the barrel, destroying hands, burning faces, and setting fire to clothing.

It occurred to Peter and Fe'eshar that a magnetic field disruptor could also have been considered a weapon for sale by Levin and Jeistar—they just didn't know that they were small enough to be carried in the backpack Ryan had stolen.

Jeistar blinked at the suddenness of the explosion. He didn't even have time to react when Ryan shot him in the leg. They ran by him, Ryan scooping up Jeistar's fallen pistol as he passed.

Ryan dropped the backpack as he ran. Calling over his shoulder, he said, "Thanks for the magnetic field disruptor. Nice toy! But you can keep it."

They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, and that was pretty dang fast. Most people of the age were content with medical technology that allowed them to have relatively low body fat with minimal work. The three of them were more interested in being able to run away from trouble.

The Buddha of the Bar lay there, blinking, as the three of them just ran. He didn't try to shoot at them. The magnetic field disruptor was just out of his reach, and he didn't feel like struggling to reach it. It didn't matter if every one of his gunmen were killed that evening; he was still alive. Besides, one warehouse may have been destroyed, but he could get more supplies. There would always be another shipment, as long as he was alive.

Jeistar smiled then, because letting him live was a stupid mistake.

He couldn't have known that they were running because the clock on the M22 was counting down.

The three of them could just hear Jeistar laughing, just before the warehouse and the surrounding hundred-

yard radius went up in a ball of white-hot flame.

The fireball had stopped about twenty meters behind them, but they still ran. The three of them hadn't had an adrenaline spike with guns leveled at them, but a fireball that vaporized solid matter was a little different.

After doing three-minute miles, they finally stopped about two miles away.

"Jeistar," Peter puffed, once they had taken a few minutes to breathe. "Interesting. Logically, he was the only option. Improbable, but not impossible, but who would have guessed?"

Ryan smiled. "After the fight in the bar, you should have learned, Peter, that appearances are deceiving."

Peter nodded slowly. "Speaking of being deceptive, who or what is a Pharmakoi?" He waved back towards the smoldering hole that had been the warehouse. "What were you really doing back there? This wasn't just a favor to Fe'eshar, was it?"

Ryan looked to the Touri. Fe'eshar cocked his head, merely studying him. Ryan sighed and shrugged. "It started out as a favor. Between the Touri and the Soivan empires, I'll take the Touri any day of the week. Though, no offense, Fe'eshar, I'd rather not have your people win. They might get ideas."

The right corner of Fe'eshar's mouth pulled back. Peter barely recognized it as a smile. "No offense. I'm uncertain of what my people would do if they did."

Ryan rubbed his forehead, contemplating all of the ramifications of bringing Peter into his world of insanity.

"The Pharmakoi are bad news. They're really powerful, and it looks like someone is selling some of their technology." He held up a hand. "One second, let me show you." Ryan frowned. His eyes looked off to the side. "Oh darn. Pull up your HUD, Peter. I think you're about to know more about the Pharmakoi than you ever wanted to."

Peter furrowed his brows. He flicked his eyes to activate the Heads-Up Display contact lenses Ryan had given him. The immediate connection to the galactic data web sprang to life. The front page headline declared the latest disaster that fit the tint, "EARTH AT WAR."

"Take a look at the attackers, Peter," Ryan explained. "We're about to get to work."