New from Turtleduck Press

Even the Score TDP Slide

Coming soon: Grave Touched by Erin Zarro

The best web hosting reviews updated with new hosting providers. HostGator Reviews ratings and coupon codes.

A Debt Reclaimed (Dream'verse)

Written by KD Sarge

 

This is an excerpt from In Shining Armor, not yet published. It takes place a few years before the events of Knight Errant.There's a handy chronology post over here on kdsarge.com.

 

*

 

If she didn't know where she was by the coordinates, Eve would have known by the smell. It hit her the second the airlock opened. Only Kari's Port smelled like gas smoke and wood smoke and burning dead people smoke all at once.

 

Hell if it didn't smell like home. The sky was the same blank grey as ever, but right then it looked good to Eve. At the bottom of the ramp she stopped for a stretch. Mikey looked down at her; she grinned back.

 

"Damn doc's been fussing since we broke out of h-space," she said. "Makes this seem peaceful."

 

"Next time lock him in a locker," Mikey rumbled. "So. Ye Captain Marcori here, or the Bitch?"

 

"Bitch," Eve said, rolling her shoulders to loosen her back. "Place is hostile as hell. Old ladies got bombs in their bags, and kids pack pistols."

 

"Yeah, ye look ready for hostile." He paused. "Captain."

 

"I'll look more hostile when you're on your ass in the dirt, Marine."

 

"Bitch it is. Where do the kids pack?"

 

"Leg, usually." Loose enough to move when she had to, Eve quit the contortions. She stepped forward and Mikey moved with her.

 

"Fun," he grumbled. "These clothes gonna keep us from getting shot?" Idiot was too used to uniforms, kept acting like civvies gave him an itch. Or maybe the used stuff had bugs. Wouldn't surprise her.

 

"That's your brain's job," Eve told him. "Clothes'll just help us blend in." Though she still wasn’t sure about the hat. Blue hair stood out anywhere, and hiding it might keep Assad from figuring out she was there—but it might also keep the help she needed to find him from finding her. Really needed to find him before he found her...

 

"Shit." They'd rounded the ship; Mikey stopped in his tracks. "War still on here?"

 

The Pendragon's Dream was twice as big as any ship on the field, and looked twenty years newer though she wasn't. Beyond the tramp freighters was the tramp city: buildings falling in drifts and smoke rising in columns and far-off sirens keening. Eve wondered if they'd put together a fire brigade or if it was some gang playing at policing.

 

"Religion," Eve told Mikey. "Been killing each other in the name of God and money for thirty years. Watch your ass, watch mine, and don't get involved in nothing that don't concern you. Locals call that a cake trap."

 

He snorted. Mikey knew what he'd be worth to these people, and what Eve would do to him if he found trouble. She didn't have to worry about Mikey.

 

Eve moved, her hand near her sidearm. Mikey moved behind and to her left, close enough to support, far enough to stay out of the way. Eve fought a grin. Could never explain to the doc how it felt to walk into a fight, head up and eyes open, against real live enemies. Good weapon on her hip, good mate at her side–damn. She could take the galaxy. Not a problem.

 

Getting cocky could get her dead, Eve reminded herself in echo of a long-dead sergeant. Hell, she'd said it to ten thousand newbs herself.

 

Looking around would bring down any high. They'd come to the edge of town, but the street was just a path through rubble. All but one of the buildings lay in various-size pieces, and that one was a burned-out shell. Mikey swore. Eve saved her breath.

 

"See anybody ye know?" Mikey asked.

 

Maybe they all finally killed each other." No, a shadow–

 

"Sixty degrees, eight meters, upright block," he muttered.

 

"Got him, leave him, watch him. Too much of a lead."

 

"Aye."

 

They walked. The street improved until only one in five buildings was rubble. Some foot-traffic appeared, but the locals cleared out when Eve and Mikey got close enough to be identified as spacers. Other spacers moved in tight, nervous groups. The shops were all spacer-goods, and hawkers shouted desperately, trying to sell their stuff and get the hell out of danger. Mikey signed he was hungry. Eve scowled him down. Gods only knew what meat was in those pies.

 

"Effing hell, Bitch," Mikey muttered. "Can we clean this shit up?"

 

"The whole stupid-ass planet? No time." Eve followed Mikey's eyes to a doorway across the street where kids in ragged clothes slept in a pile. Counting limbs, she guessed three. Maybe four. "Go get a couple of those pies," she ordered, stepping into the street.

 

At a guess they hadn't been on their own long--only the oldest woke when Eve sat on her heels in front of them. He stared suspiciously, but he didn't wake the others.

 

"You know Murgoty?" Eve asked.

 

"She's the thief," the boy said with a sneer. Mikey approached, six pies in hand. Eve scowled at him.

 

"Couple means two, Marine."

 

"They're small."

 

Eve turned back to the kid, who had been hungry long enough his eyes were glued to the pies. The smell drifted into the pile and the others stirred. "Yeah, she's a thief," Eve said. "And she'll feed you for stealing. Know where she is?"

 

"No."

 

Eve took a pie and waved it in the boy's face. His head swung after it. One of the others sat up; her eyes clicked to the pie too.

 

"Know where I can find any of her kids?" Eve asked.

 

"Market three blocks that way," the boy pointed without looking. "Look like you got money and he'll find you."

 

"Thanks, kid." Eve handed over the pie and Mikey set the rest down. All of them, didn't even keep one. Idiot. Eve stood and led off.

 

A few more minutes brought them to a local market. The crowd was sparse for a weekday morning, but big enough that people didn't avoid them. Eve wandered around fingering expensive stuff until she caught a flicker from the side and grabbed the kid's collar before he slammed into her.

 

"Something you wanted?"

 

Big brown eyes stared from a dirty face. "I–you–I can help."

 

"Help what?" Eve asked, to see what he'd offer. Boy was quick.

 

The kid swallowed and his face firmed. Eight, nine years old, maybe. She'd surprised him, but he was a pro. "Help find what—" His eyes widened farther. “You!” he spat, and kicked her shin. Eve held on as he tried to twist away. So Murgoty still told stories about—wait. She grabbed a handful of shirt to lift the struggling boy.

 

Black. Under the brown dust, his hair was black. But it was the eyes gave him away.

 

Kentaro?”

 

The boy swore and kicked at her. Without thinking she shook.

 

What the fuck are you still doing here?”

 

No, ye don’t,” Mikey said, catching another thief as she lunged at Eve. That one Eve knew instantly.

 

Cassie!”

 

Eve!”

 

Fuck!” Middle of the road was not the place to be talking. Eve tossed Kentaro over her shoulder where he kept trying to kill her. Mikey took Cassie's knife and tossed her over his shoulder. Nice that it was the one port in the Union you could grab a boy and a woman off the street and nobody’d even blink.

 

In the shell of another bombed-out building, Eve shoved Kentaro at Mikey. “Trade me. And don’t hurt him.”

 

Gotcha.” Mikey shoved the redhead, slung the boy over his own shoulder. Kid couldn’t even reach anything vulnerable, let alone get the power to make Mikey flinch.

 

Kentaro thrashed, swearing so loud and long that Mikey looked impressed.

 

Twelve, Eve realized. He was twelve, not eight, and how the hell many times had he gone hungry to look so much younger than he was?

 

You look surprised,” Cassie growled, straightening her clothes. “Did you think we would welcome you?”

 

Eve snatched her coat, yanked her off her feet. “What the hell,” she snarled in that freckled face, “is he still doing here?”

 

Where did you expect him to be?” Cassie never had been scared of her. “Keep him safe, you begged me. Like I wouldn’t have done it anyway. Like you had more claim to her memory than I did. But I said I’d do it, and I kept my word. Unlike you.”

 

Ditching the Marines wasn’t as easy as I thought,” Eve half-explained. No, damn it, don’t let even Cassie get her on the defensive— “Why the hell didn’t you take the money and go?”

 

Was I supposed to be saving for space-fare too?”

 

Eve set her down slowly. Eight years. Katana’s boy, living here for—ten years, counting the two she’d been with him. Eight of those years she’d been sending him money, and he’d never seen a credit.

 

Somebody needed to die.

 

The redhead who was her oldest living friend tugged at her hands. Eve let go and grabbed her shoulders. She’d got taller, prettier, the freckles had backed off some, but she was still—

 

Specklehead. I sent money. You know I wouldn’t forget you!”

 

I had thought,” Cassie admitted, “you would not abandon him.”

 

Cass—“

 

Hate t’ interrupt the mushy shit,” Mikey grumbled, “but he’s biting me, Bitch. Can I whack him just a little ‘un?”

 

If you want your arm broke,” Eve snarled. “Told you to wear a jacket.”

 

Can ye mebbe pry him loose, then?”

 

Taro, quit!” Cassie snapped. “What did I tell you about people bigger than you?”

 

The kid spat out a mouthful of Mikey to answer. “Outsmart them,” he growled. “I don’t see you doing it, though!”

 

You were also told not to piss them off if you don’t have an escape route.”

 

So make one!”

 

He was Katana Marcori’s son, that was damn sure! Eve wanted to see him. “Put him down, Mikey.”

 

Damn fool let go when the boy bit his hand, grabbed jacket instead. Kentaro slipped out of the jacket and darted between Eve and Cassie, reaching into his shirt. Eve grinned. What did he have? Knife? Gun?

 

Palm-beam. Eve knocked it away before he got it aimed and stared some more while Mikey picked it up.

 

He had her eyes. He damn sure had Katana’s eyes, and her nose, and her attitude. His first weapon gone, the boy was looking for another.

 

Eve was astonished by the urge to hug him. Damn doc, getting her all emotional!

 

What the hell are you staring at?” the boy demanded. Eve shook her head.

 

Kentaro. I haven’t seen you since you were—going on four.” He had Hiroshi in him too, that was sure. Pure mischief the man had been, and it came through in his son.

 

Yeah, well, it’s been a lovely reunion. Now go away. We don’t need you.”

 

Shit. She couldn't leave him. Never should have left him the first time; damn sure she couldn't do it again. But kidnap him and he'd be hard as hell to manage, what with Katana's temper and Hiroshi's sneakiness and Eve not wanting to knock him into a wall like she would a mouthy boot Marine.

 

Cassie could make him behave. Maybe. Eve turned her eyes to the redhead.

 

Cass, I thought you and Kentaro were safe on Haven," she blurted. "Swear to gods I never abandoned you! I’ll find out where the money went and somebody’ll die, but you know this port and you know I don’t got time to argue. I got a ship. I got a price on my head too, but I can still keep you safer than here.” Eve tugged her sleeve around to show the patch on her shoulder. “I’m a Leopard, Cassie. Eight years a Marine and then I went Leopard. It’s my ship--I’m captain. Even got a doctor on crew. I can keep you safe. Will you come with me?” She couldn’t kidnap Cassie. She was twenty-two, old enough to choose. And if the redhead chose the wrong way, Kentaro would want to stay too.

 

And then she’d have to take the boy from her oldest friend and lock him in a cabin till she had time to deal with him. Boy'd probably try to gnaw his way out, too.

 

Go to hell,” Kentaro snarled. Cassie caught his shoulder, cocked her head at Eve.

 

Why did you come back?” she asked. “If you thought we weren’t here, why in the High Hells would you come back? Why didn’t you ever check if we got off-planet?”

 

Because I’m a damned fool, on the last one. On the first, there’s some bastard looking for my roots. I’m looking for him, to deal with the price on my head. I know he’s here. I figured Murgoty would know exactly where.”

 

There is more than one price on your head,” Cassie said softly. “Murgoty banned you after you vanished. We should have killed you the second we recognized you.”

 

Settle for taking me to her.” If Murgoty was the bitch that stole Kentaro’s money... Cassie’s eyes widened.

 

Murgoty will kill you, Eve. You know she will. You swore, just as we did.”

 

Why are you arguing?” Kentaro demanded. “The lady will kill her; our problem’s solved. Let’s get it over with.”

 

"Because she's my friend," Cassie snapped. "Because I owe her my life. Because some promises go deeper than others."

 

"I can fix this, Specklehead," Eve promised. Cassie nodded.

 

"We'll take you," she said. "Welcome back, Eve."

 

"Thanks, Specklehead." Eve grinned and reached out to tousle the kid's hair.

 

Good thing she was wearing gloves. The boy was quick with his mouth.

 

Katana would have been proud.