Chapter One

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Supply Run

The Gryphon settled into position facing the Honorless, the most infamous pirate ship in the Collective.

Throttle powered down the navigational engines. "We're locked in and ready to play."

"Good work," Reyne said. He couldn't get a visual on Critch's ship—it was painted in a light-absorbing black and had no external lights on—but he knew the deadly craft stood fewer than fifty clicks off his bow.

He pulled up the scalar grid on his panel. The Honorless' position was clearly marked by the largest blip. The Gryphon was a small blip directly across from it. Behind each of them, a line of seven ships branched outward—Critch's entire pirate fleet, known as the specters. Sixteen red blips in all formed a deadly funnel for anyone who made the mistake of entering it.

Reyne tapped each of the sixteen blips on his panel to manually mark each one's current position with a yellow halo.

The specters' private message channel lit up, and he read a broadcast from Critch:

Honorless: All ships are indicated in position. Hold position until tango passes you, then lock on to assigned coordinates. Tango will be on grid in five. Go silent NOW.

"It's time. Power down all external lights," Reyne ordered.

"Powering down now."

As she took care of the hull, he dimmed his instrument panel and the lights on the bridge. Throttle's pale white skin reflected the glow from her bright panel, while his dark skin and clothes blended into his black panel.

He turned off the ship's transponder and his craft's blip disappeared from the grid. One by one, the other fifteen red blips disappeared, leaving only the yellow circles he'd marked to indicate each ship's location.

He grabbed the comm and broadcast to the remaining two crew members on board. "Heads up. We're holding in position. The party starts in fifteen and should reach our doorstep in eighty minutes, so be ready. Sixx, wrap up whatever you're working on and make your way to the bridge. Comm silence for everyone from here on out."

Barely two minutes had passed before Throttle gave a drawn-out sigh. "I hate waiting."

Sixx stepped onto the bridge, chuckling. "That's because you were born without a milligram of patience. Remember that time you cut off a CUF patrol ship because you got tired of waiting for them to launch from Ice Port's docks?"

She rolled her eyes. "In my defense, he was flying like a ninety-year old grandpa. Plus, I was coming down with the flu and was feeling fidgety."

Sixx smiled as he strapped himself into his seat. "Fidgety? Sure, that must've been it."

"Run system checks, Throttle," Reyne said. "That should keep you busy for a couple more minutes at least."

"Already ran them."

"Run them again."

"Throttle's right," Sixx said. "Waiting sucks. We could all use some action."

"Be careful what you ask for." Reyne glanced over his shoulder. "Why don't you run weapons checks?"

"Already did, boss."

Reyne shot him a wry look.

Sixx held up his hands. "I know, I know. Run them again."

With his crew busy, Reyne found his attention drawn to the grid displayed on his panel, the only reminder that sixteen pirate ships waited, about to spring the biggest trap ever laid in the history of the fringe. Where most pirates were loners and outcasts, the specters were famed as the only organized pirate fleet. What no one outside that pirate fleet knew was that the specters only wore the guise of pirates to accumulate resources and wealth for what they truly were...

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