End Transmission is the conclusion of the Galactic Cold War series, a science fiction romance that blends galaxy-wide conspiracies with strong, complicated characters. This book revolves around the doctor and engineer whose antagonistic relationship has been a source of frustration and amusement for the rest of the crew since the series began. I read the previous books back in 2017 and yet, though there isn’t much of a detailed summary, I recognized characters and remembered circumstances with ease.
Tomas and Maria end up isolated from the Mombasa after the Soviet Navy rains terror down on their supposedly impenetrable hideout. Rather than focus on returning to the rest, Tomas drags the engineer on a dangerous plan to get his ex-wife’s help in uncovering how the stolen Soviet prototype will live up to its scheme of ensuring compliance.
Besides getting too close a look at the hell Tomas had sunk into before joining his sister, captain of the Mombasa, Maria gains more insight into the doctor himself. She finds herself less able to dismiss his sincere, if scrambled, caring side when she experiences it. Whether suffering abuse from his wife or coaching Maria through her own PTSD after the events earlier in the series, he is far from the arrogant, obnoxious playboy she’d taken him for. Not that he doesn’t have all those characteristics still, along with a firm disrespect for her skills, but rather they form only a part of the picture.
Similarly, Tomas has to confront his own issues with Maria’s competence, or excellence depending on your perspective, in her own arena and how he has no view into her world. With them both separated from their domains, they have to work together not just for the mission but for their very survival.
It’s when they work together a little too well that things get complicated. Maria’s plan to relieve the sexual tension between them so they can get on with their lives goes wrong in all the right ways. The transition of their relationship from antagonistic to loving happens on the page in the mix of their desperate mission. Even their attempts to needle each other with more and more creative pet names eases from trying to get a rise out of the other to true affection. They don’t have the chance to grow closer in a slow, controlled environment. Instead, they trip and tumble their way to each other while dodging both Alliance and Soviet attacks and saving the world, battering through defensive walls as much by accident as intent.
Like the second book, I found the emotional and physical relationship well integrated with the overall plot and the characters themselves, helping them grow as people separately and together as a solid couple. There is detailed, on-screen sex to match the rest of the series that neither interferes with nor distracts from the save the world plot except to complicate Maria and Tomas’s pieces of the puzzle with interpersonal conflict.
How they snark at each other is cute and had me see them as a couple-to-be from the first novel under the “fear you doth protest too much” angle. Apparently, neither of them recognized anything more than annoyance beneath their antagonism though. It took working together and recognizing each other’s strengths to open their eyes to the possibility.
While Tomas ended up patched up as much as doing the patching, Maria’s talents shine in this story. I appreciated both the plausibility of her contributions and the creativity with which she undertook to both defend and attack. The twisted and inspired thought necessary to program a carmaggedon script, which activates all nearby vehicles into auto-drive, is just beautiful.
The characters are complicated and struggling with their own issues, the crises are both big and easy to take sides on, and the story has fun and tense twists whether you’re talking about the conspiracy or their love story. It’s a fast-moving adventure that doesn’t skimp on emotional development even after Maria and Tomas fall into bed in a misguided attempt to clear their systems. I found both the adventure and romance came to a satisfying conclusion. The queen of the engine room has to win love, but it’s on the wings of grand explosions and desperate moments.
P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.