In a star-spanning union after a long and bloody war, survival comes hard for many. Aboard the freighter Pendragon's Dream, though, it's a team effort. Captain Eve Marcori, former Marine, rescues as needed—a war-torn doctor here, an abused rentboy there, next a pre-teen pickpocket with a big mouth and bigger ego. All she asks of her rescuees is the same promise she gave—to pass it on.
Sometimes, though, she just sits around, having a quiet drink.
In the dim bar, Selene came back to the booth and cursed. Eve snorted.
"Won't hurt to let go of him once in a while, girl. He comes home to you."
The girl's eyes scanned till she located Donte by the doc at one of the flat-screen video games. She cursed again.
"He is just being polite," she said. "He does not want—"
"No, but he's not hating it, either." Eve took the beers from her hands. "Decided to be a barmaid?"
The girl's eyes sparked, but this time she didn't respond. Give her marks for brains.
She got her thinking look again. Eve sipped her beer and wondered what the next challenge would be. Girl never seemed to get enough of losing to Eve.
The challenge didn't come yet. Selene sat and pulled Donte's mug in front of her, raising an eyebrow to dare Eve to say anything. Most people would have bitched, but a drink wouldn't kill the girl. Though if she pushed, Selene might wish it had. Drinking didn't make you seem older. It just made you stupid. And then it made you sick.
Over by the games, the doc handed Donte off to Kentaro. It was so smooth it looked like they'd rehearsed, though the doc was the only one in on the plan. Kentaro pointed Donte at the pool table. That might be worth watching. Unlike the rest of the crew, Kentaro wouldn't just let Donte win. And he'd been a fine pickpocket, then translated the skill into being handy at lots of stuff. But Donte had good hands, too, and the spatial sense of an engineer.
She'd go watch, but the doc said Donte saw her as safety. Her standing behind him all night wouldn't help him get braver. Besides, she could see most of the game from the table.
"You planned this," Selene hissed as Kentaro accepted the challenge of a stranger to play the winner though Donte was winning. Eve sipped her beer.
"Doc did," Eve said. "Thinks your man needs to talk to somebody 'sides us once in a while. You like it that he won't leave the ship unless we drag him?"
Selene tossed her hair. She probably did like it that way. Girl had as much energy as Kentaro, and only PT, racquetball, and jumping Donte nightly kept her from taking on anybody who breathed wrong just for something to do.
Eventually, though, Selene'd need to use her brain, too. Then she'd want to go exploring. And if Donte wasn't ready to go with her, she'd leave him behind.
That's what the doc thought, anyway. Eve figured he was usually right.
Besides, the "social evening" was annoying Selene. That was always worth doing.
The girl waved down a waitress, ordered two more beers. Eve nodded confirmation when the server looked. Fine with her if Selene was ready for a lesson. Donte could carry her home. She'd carried him enough. And losing out on the night's recreation might teach Selene to pace herself. Though if she wasn't too hungover to make PT in the morning, she'd need the shit kicked out of her extra hard to keep her out of fights the rest of the day.
That wasn't a problem. Selene pushed buttons right and left; someone was always ready to deck her.
The doc'd joined other crew, watching some sport in the tri-d bay instead of coming back to the table. That was part of his plan, too. If he stayed at the table, the doc figured, so would Donte. The two of them were a lot alike.
Eve snorted. That was one sure way to piss off Selene. Suggest Donte was like the doc, and she'd hear the other half of it–that she was like Eve. That'd detonate her for sure.
'Cause she was a hell of a lot like Eve.
Which made Eve wonder why the girl'd been quiet so long.
Selene was watching her with satisfaction. That meant she was up to something, but Eve didn't bother to wonder what. Letting the girl ambush her was half the fun of training her.
The other half was kicking her arrogant ass every day. Of course.
"How did you meet Donte, anyway?" the girl asked. Eve shook her head.
"Ask him. Some other time," she growled as Selene made to stand. "Sit your ass down, and tell me how you met him. In a strip club?"
That distracted her, set the sparks off again. Then Selene grinned.
"Yes, but not the first time."
Eve grinned back. "I knew you were a stripper!"
Selene flipped her hair and snarled. Eve snorted into her beer.
"Girl, I joined the Marines the day I turned sixteen 'cause they'd feed me. 'Fore that I was a better pickpocket than Kentaro. You do what you gotta to survive."
Understanding pissed her off more, so she attacked.
"If you were so good, why did you enlist to be fed?"
"Slim pickings," Eve explained, half her attention on Kentaro. Boy hadn't pulled anything in hours, so any minute... "And I got too tall to be overlooked." And grew something worth noticing.
At the pool table Donte won against the challenger. Kentaro accepted another game for him. And started hustling bets, looked like. Damn him, if he started a fight—
If he started a fight, Donte'd kick some ass and enjoy it. The kid could handle that. It was everywhere between "carpet" and "killer" the boy had trouble with.
Well, Selene had taught him "lover." Eve still grinned when she saw him thinking about that role. It showed in his face. Everything showed in his face. Why the whole crew bent over backward to make him smile.
Selene caught the waitress again. Eve snorted. Think a stripper'd know better.
After the waitress came some damn fool, thinking Selene needed yet another beer. She got that thinking look as she examined him. Damn her. Eve could just see the tease flirting till he touched her, then breaking his fingers. That was no problem, but Selene in a fight would draw Donte back to the table. Eve bounced around the booth to put an arm around Selene. "Thanks," she told the idiot, "but three's a crowd."
Selene stared. The idiot moved off. Selene elbowed; Eve blocked it and slid away.
"What the hell–"
"If you wore clothes, that wouldn't happen so much."
"It is none–"
"No, it's not my business, most of the time. Just a bit of advice. You dress like a party waiting to happen. Donte's got a good memory, so why you showing it off?"
She flipped her hair and didn't answer. Eve shrugged and went back to her beer.
Donte'd lost a game. Kentaro didn't look bugged, must've hedged his bets. He challenged Donte to a flying simulation. Think Donte'd know better—
"Where did you meet the doctor?" Selene asked. Eve snorted.
"Not in a strip club. I don't dance."
The girl got that thinking look again. Debating offering to teach? Girl'd like that, being able to call Eve names for being stupid. Wouldn't she be shocked as hell, if Eve agreed.
Wouldn't the doc be shocked if she actually learned.
The girl didn't offer. Eve was almost disappointed.
Damn, had she really just thought—Eve bit back a groan. Too late, she saw the girl's game. Three empty glasses—her limit for a whole night—stood in front of her, while she worked on a fourth. She'd let herself be tricked into a contest Selene was sure to win.
Eve sipped again. Too late to worry about it now. If she was going to be drunk, she was damn well going to be drunk.
So the girl thought she wanted to drink with a Marine? Eve huddled over her drink and crooked a finger at Selene, who hid the triumph in her eyes and leaned to listen.
"Tell me," Eve muttered, "that boy's hands half as much fun as they look?"
The girl gaped. And gulped her own drink. Eve chuckled. "Hell, girl, he's not that much younger'n me. Wasn't for the doc..." she let it trail off. She couldn't lie when she was drunk. Messing with Donte'd be like messing with Kentaro, but it'd ruin the fun to tell Selene that.
And she had always wondered about his hands. Any woman would.
"More," Selene finally answered, choosing to be smug rather than pissed. "You cannot imagine how much fun those hands are."
Eve snorted. "Think he's better'n the doc? Doc's got damn fine hands."
"He is better," Selene answered with certainty. Making Eve wonder. The girl had experience with the doc's hands; she got her ass kicked into sickbay at least once a week.
And she wasn't just saying it. She was sure Donte was better.
"Does he use his imagination?" Some men just went straight for the important parts. But Donte was like the doc, and the doc never forgot there was a woman attached to the obvious targets.
Selene rolled her eyes and shivered. And gulped again. "Does he!"
Eve hunkered further. "What's your favorite thing?" She shook her head; she didn't want to hear about body parts. "What's he do?"
Selene gulped beer then described exactly the way Donte moved her hair to kiss her neck a certain way. Eve grinned as she listened.
Was like she'd hoped. Selene was an adventurer, and if anybody in the crew'd been jerk enough, there'd be bets going about when she'd get bored with Donte. But this girl was not bored. No way were those awesome hands enough to account for her joy in the way he touched her hair.
"What does the doctor do?"
Eve snorted and described the game of Name That Scar. Selene blushed under the brown skin. And drank.
Tomorrow the contest would be who could be bitchier. Tonight it was fast becoming who could be raunchier. Eve hadn't played that game since leaving the Corps.
It wasn't fair to play it now, but Selene had asked for it.
They discussed body parts. And what could be done with them. And who they'd done, and when, and why. Who they wouldn't mind doing, if they weren't attached. Eve was deep in the story of the bet she'd lost to Birdie when someone called her name. Her eyes wandered upwards.
"Captain," the doc said again. Donte stood next to him. "I need my kit." He frowned as he counted glasses. "Donte cut his hand on something."
Eve looked from Donte's injury to the doc's hand, held out for his kit. She looked at Selene. Smirked.
Donte's jaw dropped. The doc sighed and leaned to reach for his kit, between Eve and Selene. Eve blew in his ear. He shivered. Selene snorted beer, setting Eve off again.
"What is so funny?" Donte asked. The doc shook his head as he straightened.
"Don't ask," he said, pulling the kid away. "Trust me, Donte. Never ask."
Eve thumped the table, fighting for air. Selene gasped out that she had to pee. They held each other up on the way to the little Marines' room.
Eve honestly never remembered who goosed the waiter that spilled the beer that started the fight. If Selene did, she never told.