“Now that’s what I call a severance package!”
Kyndi Jane McCaskil, part-time companion and full-time smuggler, inhaled her onionhead joint and triumphantly raised the data drive in the air. In it were thousands of Sirius Corporation account numbers, hard-encoded so thoroughly that the only way for anyone to access them was to possess the actual hardware on which they were stored.
Which we did.
The Inevitable Betrayal glided through Shajin Market’s blue-tinted mailslot, entering the massive, cavernous main docking bay. All around us, ships came and went, ground crews above and below the low-g surface bustling around the landed vessels. The familiar green tint of the bay flooded the bridge, stacks of massive hydroponic farms and agricultural machinery moving past our canopy view.
Near the central administrative district was the headquarters of the Chapterhouse of Inquisition. In the time since Arissa’s ascension to the throne, the Chapterhouse’s mandate had been expanded from monitoring the entire Empire to keeping tabs on anyone and anything of note. That included the Sirius megacorporation, which meant obtaining inside information about their dealings however possible.
And for that, you need a smuggler.
I glanced at my giddy partner in crime and smiled, patting my ship’s dash and gesturing forward.
“And I finally scored me some of them Packhounds I’ve always wanted. Thanks again for that authorization hack, by the way. I owe you one!”
Kyndi playfully rolled her eyes at my gratitude. “Silly boys with their silly toys. You don’t even like using missiles. You’ve said so yourself.”
I screwed up my face as the Imperial city slowly grew in the canopy windows. “Yeah, but these are Packhounds. They’re like-” I struggled to find the words. “- a swarm of piranhas, but in space. And instead of nibbling, they explode.”
Kyndi’s eyes narrowed, taking another drag of her joint. “What are piranhas?”
My mouth dropped as I shook my head. “Toothy little fish that-” I looked over at her. “- I’m just happy to have ‘em, okay?”
Kyndi flattened her hand and blew me a kiss, her other hand patting the data drive. “And I’ll be happy to have ten mil of the Chapterhouse’s money. Remind your man Gideon that that’s a ten with six zeroes, not five.”
I grinned at her while closing in in our landing pad. At first glance, it had seemed odd that the Inquisition would stoop to common credit hacking, but it made the hardest kind of sense in this case.
For starters, credits that came from somewhere other the Imperial budget couldn’t be tracked or accounted for. That made certain of the Chapterhouse’s more questionable projects easier to pull off. And it wasn’t like Sirius Corporation would ever, ever report the theft to its insurer- its loss was a tremendous loss of face, and a blow to their credibility of word ever reached the public’s ears. No, they would just have to live with the fact that a freebooting pair of nobodies had just hacked and smuggled Old Man Rui’s untraceable retirement fund from under their noses. That was the first reason why the Inquisition wanted the accounts.
Secondly, it was a shit-ton of cash.
The Betrayal gracefully halted in place over the green-lit landing pad, deploying her landing gear and slowly settling into place. We felt the familiar bump of a successful touchdown as I hit the controls to descend into the hangar. I turned to Kyndi, who was just finishing her o-head joint.
“Well, c’mon. They ain’t gonna wait all day for us.”
A sour expression crossed her face as she took her boots off the dash and reluctantly stood up.
“I hate visiting any Imperial city when booze and room service isn’t part of the deal. You know how I feel about these people.”
I gestured for her to follow, slipping my jacket on and heading to the Betrayal’s entry ramp.
“My people, you mean. You just forget because apparently I’ve got a ridiculous backwater accent.”
Kyndi cocked her hip to the side and looked up at me, grinning like a smartass. “Your words, not mine. Now let’s get paid. I’m hungry.”
Jesus. I always forget how dark Gideon’s office is.
Most of the illumination in the inquisitor’s office came from the wall-sized picture window behind his chair. The high-backed chair was facing away from us, silhouetted against the vibrant light coming from the central courtyard. Leaning against the wall was a man I hadn’t seen before, dressed in the simple dark grey Imperial style but with an old-Earth katana at his side.
“Welcome back, commander.”
I nodded, still standing. Kyndi was next to me, looking bored. Gesturing to the strange man in the corner, I cocked my head to the side.
“Howdy, Gideon. Got us some company for this little pow-wow?”
The chair slowly spun around until the the man was facing both of us. His expression was the same one of placid amusement as I’d always known- with an eyebrow raise at the sight of my purple-haired companion. The man to the side didn’t speak or acknowledge us in any way except to nod at us.
“This is Agent Himura. He has taken a special interest in this mission to ensure that nothing unseemly happens with the data cache. A tremendous amount of Sirius Corporation’s money is about to become ours, and he is present to insure that it goes into the proper coffers.”
Kyndi looked up, a sly smile curling her lips.
“Minus my ten mil, you mean.”
Gideon regarded her coolly, his amused gaze never wavering.
“Minus your ten million. Am I correct in assuming that you did most of the legwork for this job?”
Now it was my turn to raise eyebrows.
Did Gideon just make a joke?
I was just starting to retort when Kyndi cut me off, cocking her hip to the side and flipping up her visor. “You can assume all you want as long as I walk out with my ten mil.”
The inquisitor didn’t reply, instead producing a trio of crystal glasses and pouring a small amount of amber liquid into them. He was in an unusually jovial mood, glancing derisively at the dour-faced Himura still leaning against his office wall.
“Agent Himura here seems to think that your entire mission was contrary to the spirit of the Inquisition. He believes that a credit heist is beneath the dignity of the office.”
I glanced at the man. He didn’t say anything, only looking sternly at the data drive in Kyndi’s hand. She leaned forward and lifted her shades as she took her glass before Gideon could propose a toast and downed the liquor in one gulp.
“Good to know that something is beneath the Inquisition.”
Gideon’s expression deepened, regarding her with amusement. Extending the decanter, he wordlessly refilled Kyndi’s empty glass. His free hand unconsciously traced along the small circular scar on his neck.
“Of course, what my esteemed colleague fails to see is that not everything that the Chapterhouse does can ever fit into his tidy little moral code. Having a pool of funds free of senatorial oversight will open quite a few doors that might otherwise have remained shut. Surely my scrupulous friend can see the value in that!”
The man drew himself up, his hand resting on the hilt of the katana.
“I believe in doing that which is right.”
Casting a superior glance to Himura, Gideon smiled dangerously.
“And I believe in doing what is necessary.”
Kyndi rolled her eyes and gestured at herself with her drink.
“Yeah, great. I believe in getting paid.”
The dour-faced man with the thin beard allowed himself a subtle smile at Kyndi’s remark. Nodding at us, Gideon held out his hand in a conciliatory gesture. “Of course. Agent Himura, would you kindly?”
The dour-faced man took a step forward, producing a neat stack of credit chips from his jacket at the same time Kyndi slid the data drive across Gideon’s polished desk.
Kyndi accepted the chips from the man, who handed them to her with both hands and a short bow. Gideon picked up the data cache and inspected it, his eyes filled with a suppressed look of greed. After a moment, he set the drive down and amusedly looked at Kyndi.
“A pleasure doing business. Do try not to spend it all in one place.”
Kyndi finished her glass of liquor and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, glancing at the data drive one last time.
“Same to you, pal. Same to you”
“Look- all I’m saying is that we’re in Shajin Market. Even if I am in with the locals, you can’t just mock the Chapterhouse in a room full of inquisitors!”
Kyndi and I were walking down the corridor to the upper commons, mixing it up with the crowded foot traffic and making our way towards Elevation, a fancy stationside restaurant. It had become a habit of ours: wining and dining at the end of a successful job. And with ten million credits jingling around in Kyndi’s jacket, it had been a very good day.
My partner rolled her eyes and hooked her elbow around mine.
“Relax. People forgive damn near anything as long as you have something that they want.”
I screwed up my face as we rounded a corner, narrowly missing oncoming foot traffic.
“That ain’t how it works, darlin’. Not in my experience.”
Kyndi glanced up, amusement in her eyes. “I seem to recall this one guy who was electro-paralyzed by some backstabbing smuggler chick. Stole the loot, shot out his engines- and left him naked and drooling in his own bunk, too. He tracked her down, stuck a gun in her face, and still ended up working with her.”
I poked her in the ribs, feeling the tug on my arms as she squirmed away. “Yeah? And what could she possibly have that made it worth his while?”
My partner giggled, and bumped into me as approached the restaurant. “A great ass, apparently.”
I looked over behind her, watching her perfect twin lumps that filled her jeans shift as she walked. I gave her a light pat and shrugged.
“Can’t say I blame him.”
A slave clad in Imperial grey held the door for us, giving a slight bow as we walked by. We strolled in and were surrounded by the simple yet refined decor that we’d come to expect in Imperial space. Waterfalls, plant life, smooth white composites- the place was a fusion of the natural and the man-made, all in an orbital space station the size of a city. All around us were the cream of the Shajin crop- elegantly dressed men and women, with their attendant slaves and plastic smiles.
I felt a tug on my sleeve, and I leaned in. Looking up me was Kyndi, smiling her Kyndi smile.
“By the way: you’re paying.”
My jaw fell open as I looked around. Magnetically suspended table platforms, artificial waterfalls, three story-tall wraparound viewing glass-
I shook my head. “I’m gonna have sell the Betrayal just to order appetizers! Besides, ain’t you the one with ten mil in her pocket?”
Kyndi giggled and pulled me further inside. Already, an impossibly attractive greeter was making his way towards us, a convincing smile on his face. Before he was in earshot, she pulled me down to whisper in my ear.
“You owe me one, remember? And who knows? Maybe they’ll accept one of those fancy missile launchers as payment!”
I shook my head as she released me and smiled sweetly for the greeter.
Well, there she goes. Off to do God knows what, with God knows who.
Kyndi’s Cobra lifted from the landing pad inside Shajin’s cavernous hanger. I raised my arm to shield my eyes from the blinding blast of her thrusters, looking up just in time to watch the two glowing blue rectangles shrink in the distance. Soon, hers was only one ship among many, disappearing through the mailslot and into the blackness of space.
I turned to leave, walking into the bay access and into the crowded corridors of the hangar level. Soon, the Betrayal would be prepped and I’d have to decide what my next move was. The Chapterhouse always had something lined up- but my enthusiasm for them had waned since the Sharwit Incident, as Gideon’s covered-up near-death shooting was known. I understood why the inquisitor wanted her dead, but I also understood why “Sharwit” had cornered him in his own office and pulled the trigger.
The man hadn’t been exaggerating when he spoke of the ends justifying the means. In order to get what he wanted, he’d lied to both Nova and myself about killing innocent civilians- and then compelled me to lie to her. After that, I started accepting less and less work from the Chapterhouse, travelling all over the bubble- and out of it. I drifted from system to system, making contacts and slowly modifying the Inevitable Betrayal to be a highly tuned killing machine. With every black market upgrade, scoring bounties became easier. The extra credits, in turn, helped me grease the right palms to further modify my ship. It should have been a self-sustaining cycle of bounty hunting bliss.
But it wasn’t.
My thoughts drifted to the Betrayal… not to her gear or her performance, but the still-destroyed bed in the stateroom. I enjoyed my line of work. I was good at it. I liked the deals, the scene, the danger, the payout, and the freedom. I liked taking different kinds of jobs and the challenge that went into doing them.
But I really only felt alive when Kyndi was around.
Wallowing in my thoughts, I punched the hangar access and strode in. I paused for a moment to look up at my pride and joy.
She was a fine ship, to be sure- but all the engineering and modules and fancy custom toys didn’t make me nearly as happy as when that smartassed purple-haired smuggler chick was sat next to me in the co-pilot’s seat.
I looked down at my boots, collecting my thoughts.
Is this how it starts? Is this why veteran reapers hang up their spurs at the top of their game? Because they get lonely? Introspective? Both?
Walking up to the entry ramp, I ran my hand along the smooth composite siderail.
Yeah. I reckon that’s it. You can only do so many solo jobs before you wonder what it’s all about.
I arrived at the door and punched in the code to open it.
Either way, it’s time to be-
“Going somewhere, mon ami?”
I spun around, startled at the sudden voice. It was a woman, with a thick Gallic accent and haughty tone. She was clad in a dark leather halter top and skirt, contrasting against her red lips and pale skin . I took a step back, my hand dropping automatically to where my pistol was normally holstered.
“Who the hell are you?”
The woman stepped forward, silently looking up at me. Her features were feminine and delicate, an almost vampiric air about her. Platinum blonde hair was sculpted in a tight bob around her head, framing her thin face with dyed black tips. She gestured towards herself with limbs that looked like they would snap if I squeezed them, but her movement betrayed a hidden danger.
“You do not remember me? A pity.”
She smirked and let out a devious giggle, looking at me with eyes that hinted at long-suppressed madness.
“Or perhaps you were too focused on my mistress, yes? Hoping to turn that sham of a warrior mating into a real one?”
I took an involuntary step back, remembering.
Oh, hell- it’s that psycho pet waif of Marra’s.
I screwed up my face, descending the ramp to meet her halfway. “Yeah, I remember. Alice, was it? Anna-?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Apollonia.”
I snapped my finger sardonically. “Right. Apollonia.”
Crossing my arms, I looked down at her. “So what brings you out here to Shajin? Azalea run out Imperial-logo’ed thongs?”
A look of sour amusement crossed her face. “Azalea Constantinustu can eat Imperial cock. Once she ascended to the counsel, I was thrown out like an old shoe. Marrakech Morgan is my mistress now.”
I shrugged. “An old shoe, huh? Well, that was sweet of ol’ Marra to stick her foot up the empty space that Azalea left. Now if you’ll excuse me-”
“She wishes for you to return to Pegasi. Now.”
I stopped, not knowing quite what to say. Apollonia and I locked eyes for a second, the dangerous smolder never leaving her face.
“What, like she’s in trouble or something?”
A look of contemptuous amusement spread across the waif’s face. “Trouble? She sits on the Black Omega high counsel, answering to Degginal DeVierre himself. My mistress is one of the most powerful women in the sector!”
I rolled my eyes and turned to ascend the ramp. “So what’s she need me for? Sounds like she’s doin’ just fine.”
A bony hand grabbed my arm, spinning me around with surprising boldness.
“-and her wish is not a request.”
Her hand remained clenched around my arm, her eyes boring into mine. I took a step closer to her and moved my face within inches of her. Apollonia didn’t flinch, but she swallowed even as her mouth hardened. I held up a warning finger between us, hoping to get her the hell out of my way.
“Let’s get this straight, darlin’- I take jobs, not orders. I ain’t one of Marra’s blackcoats, and I for damn sure don’t answer to you. So why don’t you head back to Clair Dock and tell her to ask nicely next time?”
The petite woman pivoted around me, blocking my access to the door. Even with her up a step, she was still shorter than me.
“Of course I could return to Tjakiri! And I could also leave an anonymous data package around that tells everything on my way out.”
She took a step closer, her fingers curling around the opening of my jacket, her voice dropping to almost a whisper.
“What would your masters think of the news that the daughter of Rabat Morgan has ascended to power because of you?”
My hand shot up, closing around her throat, holding her in place. I squeezed tightly her neck, feeling the cartilage start to give.
“And what makes you think I wouldn’t just snap your neck and dump your skinny ass into orbit?”
Apollonia didn’t fight, didn’t panic at not being able to breathe. Instead, her gaze intensified as she dug into her coat, a masochistically gleeful look in her eye. Wheezing through her throat, she pushed the last of the air through her lungs to deliver the core of her message:
“You’re a fool if you think that killing me makes you safe. Or-”
She produced a holo-projector, switching it on. Displayed in three dimensional space was a snapshot of two people at a fancy restaurant, zoomed in on-
No. It can’t be.
“- or if you think that she’d be safe.”
I looked at the waif in my grasp, my heart pounding.
I released my grip, Apollonia stumbling backwards. My heart pounding, I leaned over the ramp rail, my world spinning and acid churning in my gut.
It’s finally happened. Kyndi’s in danger because of me. I’ve got to warn her. There’s got to be a way to-
Slow, sultry laughter echoed in the hanger. Behind me, Apollonia was still wheezing air but sadistically relishing her newfound leverage.
“So she does mean something to you, oui?”
“Go to hell.”
The pout on her lips became more pronounced as she again grasped my jacket. The madness in her eyes intensified as she leaned in-
“I once had someone who meant everything to me, you know. She bought me, groomed me, fed me, fucked me. My body was hers. My soul was hers. She possessed me, and I loved her for it. I loved her so much that I wanted to be her.”
I screwed up my face, shaking my head. “You’re fucking insane.”
A wave of manic intensity passed over her face. “I know. I know-”
Apollonia giggled, her white teeth bared. “- but I don’t think that you’d let this one suffer just to prove how sane you are.”
“Get away from me.”
The waif held up the hologram, focusing on Kyndi’s face.
“The team wouldn’t kill her, mon ami. A shame to snuff out such a specimen!”
I held out my arm, shaking my head. “Quit fucking around. I mean it.”
Another step forward, the giddy madness intensifying. “No- they would break her. Take turns with her. Carve her with their blades. Crack her bones, stimming her on the spot to leave her body twisted and bent. Every limb. Every rib. All over her body.”
I shook my head angrily. “I’ve heard about enough of this sh-”
Apollonia giggled, and pressed on: “Except for the face. That they would leave unblemished…”
She zoomed the hologram in further. “She has a very pretty face, yes? When the men are finished and she is finally sold to Exotica, my mistress will hold a public auction. For her. And the winner…”
A look of lust and sadism spread across her face.“ …the winner will have the honor of being the first to break that…”
“You fucking bitch!”
With one savage motion, I swung. The impact from my fist knocked Apollonia to the base of the Betrayal’s ramp. She hit the deck hard, rolling and skidding. But she didn’t cry out, and she didn’t beg for me to stop. Instead, she spit out a gob of blood and wiped her mouth, feeling along her her split lip and bruised face.
And grinned, even as she winced in pain.
“Just think: you have the power to stop it before it even begins!”
My heart was pounding, my head throbbing.
This can’t be real. This can’t be happening.
Slowly, I descended the ramp. Apollonia was still on her knees, hunched over like a feral animal. Memories of my time in Pagasi began to rush back, hard-forgotten faces and names parading through my vision.
Is this what Kat von Steuben was talking about? How no one ever really gets out of Pegasi?
The feral look in Apollonia’s eye intensified as I approached her, my fists balled. Her eyes became eerily compassionate as I stood over her. A look of submissive acceptance settled over her features as she looked up, a disturbing clarity in her eyes.
“After all,” she whispered. “What will a man not do for love?”
I gripped her by the jaw, tilting her head back to face me, raising my fist-
Kyndi… I won’t let this happen…
A trickle of Apollonia’s blood seeped from her lip, to her chin, and onto my hand. It travelled across my skin, approaching the sleeve of the jacket that Kyndi had bought for me.
I released the waif, her blood stopping just short of the leather. Spitting onto the deck, I gazed down at her in contempt.
“Tell that little pirate bitch to not keep me waiting.”
I promised myself. I promised myself that I’d never come back here…
The Inevitable Betrayal cut through Nijkas like a stiletto, speeding to its destination. System traffic was sparse, and law enforcement even more so. A commander in trouble out here wouldn’t have a hope in hell company until a team of scavvers stumbled upon the remains of their ship…
But that wouldn’t be the first promise you’ve ever broken, would it?
Gunn Dock was a shithole even by Pegasi standards. No one lived there unless there was no where else to go, and even the sector bigshots left it alone. When there was nothing worth pirating, the pirates stayed away. Even so, it wasn’t exactly a friendly place. I scowled as I set course, wishing to god that I could bring a sidearm in with me.
Guess I’ll just have to rely on my good looks and charm.
Scoffing, I took in the sight of the station. It was even worse than the rumors made it out to be.
Or maybe I’ll have to rely on my shots being up to date…
No matter how scarce resources were, flesh remained a cheap commodity. All around me, stimmed-up young bodies gyrated on gaudily-lit platforms, the pungent smell of rotgut, smoke, and unwashed patrons mixing to create a truly rancid odor. I waded into the crowd, alternately ignored by the other patrons and felt up by sleepy-looking-
Nah. They ain’t even dock knockers. These ladies’r so drugged up that they don’t even know what’s going on.
I made my way through the teeming mass, keeping my head on a swivel for anything that might have looked like a clue as to Marra’s whereabouts. Along the graffiti’ed wall was the usual collection of strung-out cyberpunks, smoking and drinking and jacking into their virtual reality worlds. Other patrons milled around, stumbling up and down the bare-metal stairs, rented company hanging off their arms and steering them to the bar.
I felt a heavy clap on my shoulder, spinning me around and holding me in place. Out of instinct, I raised my fists and tensed up- but found myself looking square at the top of a black armored chestplate. To see who was holding me, I had to look up.
Standing before me was the largest man I’d ever seen, holding me in place with a gauntleted hand and sternly looking down. Surrounding the unsmiling mouth was a solid black tactical helmet and reflective visor. With his (its?) other hand, a wrist computer was keyed into and a portable holo-projector activated. A holographic image shimmered into view next to my face. Glancing at the projection, I saw that it was-
I gulped. Me. From the same picture that Apollonia had used, but zoomed in to my face.
The monstrosity of a man released me, shutting off the hologram and shifting his mouth around.
“Come. You are expected.”
I raised my eyebrows. The hulk had the same peculiar accent as Marra, one that sounded vaguely familiar yet unique to Pegasi. He turned to stride away, the sound of his heavy boots against the deck ringing in my ears.
God help whatever poor bastard makes a move on Marra.
The man paused, and then looked over his shoulder. I could see myself in the glass, from a downward angle for once.
The heavy metal door buzzed, the sounds of various locking mechanisms moving and shifting within. I heard what sounded like a final bit of machine noise, and the armored brute effortlessly swung open the door and shoved me inside.
The door closed behind me as my eyes adjusted to the low light. All around me, dim neon lights outlined the wall, illuminating what looked like a table with a bottle and two glasses. I was in what looked to be a private room- windowless, poorly maintained, and cleared of furniture. Above the table was a simple light suspended by a sting. Not knowing what else to do, I cautiously walked to the table and picked up the bottle, taking a careful sniff.
Yuck. Is that for drinking, or degreasing T-7 engines?
“Genuine Pegasi rotgut. It’s not poisoned, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
I snapped my head up, the voice startling me. It was feminine, sultry, dangerous–
A familiar figure stepped out of the shadows. Despite myself, I felt a shiver run down my spine and an uneasy feeling in my gut. The leathers, the tats, the dreads- nothing about her had changed.
And yet, everything had changed.
Gone was the insecure little druggie chick who’d been reluctantly bound to me the first time we’d met. Her eyes still blazed with the same inner fire- but it was her fire, not some legacy that had haunted her throughout her youth. I hooked my thumbs into my jeans and tried my best roguish smile.
Still looking intensely at me, the pirate queen took a step closer.
She hissingly enunciated the last word, making it hard for me to stand before her. I kept the remnants of the smile on my face, the feeling that I’d best choose my words carefully sinking in.
“Heard you’d been missing me.”
The black-clad woman took another step closer, never breaking her gaze.
I lifted my chin, slowly gesturing around the empty room.
No sudden moves, Matt.
“But here we are.”
Marra curled a hand around one of the chairs, shifting her weight to rest upon it..
“Here we are.”
She gestured for me to sit, and I cautiously accepted, pulling out the chair and carefully settling on it. Marra flipped hers around and straddled it from behind, resting her chin on her folded arms. Glancing at the booze and then at me, I took the hint and poured two half-glasses.
Without hesitation, she picked up her glass and downed it in one quick gulp. I raised my own glass to my lips, taking a sip-
-and almost gagged.
Yep. Degreasing T-7 engines.
I looked up to see Marra’s gaze of dark amusement waiting for me. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve, holding up the glass of clear liquid and gesturing around the room with it.
“I’ve got to say, I was expecting a little better from a member of the Black Omega counsel.”
The edge of Marra’s mouth curled into a smirk.
“The location is for me, not you. It reminds me of where I came from. And it points to where I’m going.”
She leaned in closer, her leathers creaking. “-which is really why you’re here.”
I cocked my head to the side, not at all trusting her. “Yeah? And why’s that?”
Marra poured herself another fingerfull of the vile liquid. “Same reason as last time- we need each other.”
My eyes narrowed. “I don’t reckon that we do, darlin’.”
A sinister pout spread across Marra’s face as her voice dropped into a menacing tone.
“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. I need you to do some work for me. And you-”
Marra produced a palmheld holo-projector, much like the one that Apollonia had. She flipped it on, and the same zoomed-in picture of Kyndi illuminated the area around it.
“-you need me to not make whoever this is into Exotica’s main attraction.”
I felt my heart start to pound, adrenaline rushing through my veins. Play it cool. Don’t let her see you sweat.
Glancing at the hologram, I looked hard at Marra. “You won’t find a smuggler who doesn’t want to be found.”
Marra’s mouth opened, a disbelieving look in her eyes. “And you’re willing to gamble her life on that boast?”
Mother fuck the day that Gideon bribed me to ever come to Pegasi….
“Depends. If I do this, I need your reassurance that she won’t be harmed.”
The fire in the pirate queen’s eyes intensified. “Or else what? One word from me and Idris will push his thumbs through your eye sockets.”
I glanced behind me at the still-shut door. “Yeah, he looks real handy in a scrap. But then you wouldn’t get any of that precious work out of me, would you?”
Marra leaned over her chair, standing over me. “There are no reassurances. Do the job, and nothing happens to either of you. Fail me, and the next jacket she gives you will be made from her own skin.”
I felt my face harden even as she continued, mockery in her voice:
“Oh, yes- I remember that. I remember everything. ”
Trying to suppress any trembling, I reached for my glass and took another drink. This time, I held my composure. I looked at the clear liquid for a moment, and then met the pirate queen’s gaze.
“One day, I’m going to squeeze the air from that pretty little neck of yours.”
Marra inhaled slightly, her eyes intensifying in carnal satisfaction. She’d won.
“So we have a deal.”
It was a statement, not a question. I leaned forward, my old sarcasm returning despite myself.
Marra sauntered around the table, leathers creaking as her hips shifted. I stood up to my full height, looking hard at her. She wrapped both her hands around mine and pulled it to her mouth. Lightly sucking the tip of my finger before pressing my palm against her clan-tattooed cheek, Marrakech Morgan looked up to me, her eyes shining with dominance and fire and ambition.
“Then welcome back to Pegasi.”
Smith Port. A dreary reminder of better times.
The massive Coriolis starport loomed before me, streaks of black weapons damage marring its once-smooth hull. The habitation rings were intact, but the entire system was in high alert. A week ago, Black Omega had accepted the final surrender of the Silver Family, formalizing its control over the system. All around me, ships were coming and going, trade and commerce slowly returning to normal. The Kumos had a presence here, too- the presence of their ships made my trigger finger itch- but I wasn’t here to start any fights.
According to Marra, I was here to help end them.
Even if the daughter and sole heir of Rabat had a seat at the Black Omega council, she still had her homework like anyone else. Apparently, Degginal Devierre had assigned her the task of purging the remaining holdouts from the system. That likely meant that they were holed up in the planetary rings- dense, inhospitable fields of asteroids. It was a pain in the ass to send in ships to root them out, and it was the last refuge that the defeated factions had to regroup and counter-attack against Black Omega.
And naturally, Marra wanted me to pinpoint where they were clustered.
I didn’t ask why. I didn’t need to. When it came to reconnoitering an asteroid ring, it was all too easy to lose time and ships to guerrilla-style ambushes. From what I’d gathered, Black Omega moved fast and didn’t like to leave their strikes to chance. What’s more, they hated losing ships when they didn’t have to. Their modus operandi for situations like this was to locate, destroy, and consolidate.
The sooner I located them, the better Marra looked. Or so I suspected.
Swinging to my left, I brought up a scan of every planetary ring that the resistance could have possibly been holed in. After magnifying and enhancing, I shook my head.
Goddamn needle in a haystack. They could be anywhere.
There was no sense shining a flashlight over every floating rock in the system. I needed leads. These asteroids contained ore, and ore attracted miners. To get anything done, I would have to sniff around and make some friends. If there was anything that the leftover resistance could do to make Black Omega look bad, it was harass miners and disrupt the local economy. That meant finding out exactly which mining sites were being attacked. If I had that, I’d have a starting point.
I toggled the comms, requesting landing permission. Miners were typically about as dull as the ore they processed, but they were always up for bitching about pirates. It would only be too easy to gather the information. The only downside was that I had to talk to them. I let out a long, ragged exhale as the mailslot came closer and closer into view.
Let’s get this the hell over with.