60

The light streamed through the holes in the cave ceiling as it bounced off the pool of water and onto the walls. Past where her toes dabbled, Karma Ilacqua watched gold and white fish nibble larva from the surface.

60

“We’ve been lucky twice already.” She sipped her fizzy beverage and looked sidelong at the mustached detective. “With finding the system taproot, and unearthing the Hoopoe in that tent. Blasted kid, sending us on a goose chase.”

Derringer aimed a level gaze at her from where he sat in his shorts under a ray of sunlight. “What do you expect, he’s from here.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry you didn’t learn that sooner. We got a little worried, but he’s going to hold up his end after all.”

“You think so?”

“Oh yeah, he wouldn’t have boarded the jet at all otherwise.”

“You know – I helped this happen, but I still don’t really know what it was all about.”

“You wouldn’t want to. The clearance levels aren’t worth your trouble.”

Derringer leaned back against the knobbly-smooth cave wall and sipped his liquor. “I guessed that.”

“You’re not bad at doing the dirty work, Derringer.”

“My specialty, madame.” He raised his glass in a toast.

Karma cupped water in a hand and poured it over her legs. The computer projected a message to her right. “Our intrepid backup.” She keyed a sequence to show the incoming images without displaying their own. “Greetings, gentlemen. Do you find the compensation satisfactory?”

“Shit yes, Ms. Ilacqua. Shit yes.” Fred DeWalt’s reply piped in with satisfaction.

“Enjoy your new office. My associates and I may be in touch further down the line.”

Chad Dremel nudged his partner out of the screen space. “We’ll look forward to hearing from you. How’s Derringer down there on Lurin?”

Karma raised her eyebrow at the hint of envy, smirking at the detective. “He’s in tip-top shape, we’ve got it wrapped out here. I’ll let him know you were concerned.”

A suspicious pause from the security team. “Are you two just living the lush Lurin dream, or what?”

Derringer leaned over to speak. “We’re hiding in a dank little hole in the ground, Dremel. I’ll be sure and bring you pictures if we make it out of this trench alive.” He reached over and tapped the call closed.

Karma leaned towards him. “I’ll do my best to make sure that happens.”

“You can do your worst.”

59

From within the two women watched the nearby dogfight between Harper’s Drift 9 and their attacker. There wasn’t much debris nearby, so Harper used the Entropy 8 as a maneuvering focus. Rosh watched shots fire past the hull of her ship with clenching fists. “Where’s that gun of yours. Quit dancing.”

The attacking fighter popped in from a blind angle, straight toward the window of the pod. There was a split second to grab hold before the blow sent them careening.

“I think it fair, perhaps, to discount your trip fee,” Rosh breathed as the pod slowed.

“It’s my rotten luck.” The passenger, a lovely woman though currently disheveled, shot her a fey look. “Listen, if we get through this, I will pay double.” She sighed and muttered.

The window drifted round in time to see the fighter release a beam that stretched into a razor-thin plane. Drift 9 dove out of the way, but Rosh’s ship was helpless in its path. “No stop – why -” She watched the beam fatally interrupt both of her engines. “ENTROPY,” Rosh wailed as her machinery crumbled.

A wide white flash suddenly cut across their field of vision. The fighter wobbled past, now missing part of a scorpion wing. Another gigantic beam flashed out of the Drift 9, making a square hit before anyone could blink. The fighter just drifted now, leaking fuel into space, the rear of it shredded.

The two looked at each other, holding their breaths. Drift 9 popped up in front of them, hatch open, pulling them in.

59

After steadying the pod, Leiv Gruun opened the door. The passenger exited, staggering over to sit on a nearby cargo case. As Rosh stepped out, she clapped Gruun on the shoulder. “SkyFather?”

Leiv nodded and grinned. He was a crack shot with that beast of a thing, from the time they went asteroid shooting. Emira felt the ship beneath her on its way into the next neighborhood.

The green-haired passenger looked up from where she sat. “Where are we headed right now?”

“Out of here, first,” Emira Rosh replied. “After that,” she looked at Gruun, “we’ll talk it over.”

“I’d like to discuss it before we go very much further.” She stood and approached them. “My errand is urgent.”

Leiv and Emira gave each other a look. “We’ll take it to the captain,” he said, gesturing for them to follow.

Toller vacated the copilot’s chair when the three of them entered. Leiv touched Wendel on the shoulder before he took the seat. She unbuckled and embraced Emira. “I’m sorry about your ship.”

Emira began the laughter, but they both carried it for a moment. “Ah. I’ve caught up with you. Now we’ll both have nines.”

“Great number. Badge of pride.” Wendel wiped her eye.

Emira indicated her passenger. “This is Arcta Hydraia. She’s looking to contract a private transport.”

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Hydraia. You’ve found the best ship round these parts.” The two of them enjoyed the joke. “Well, where is it you’re headed?”

She drew herself up, smoothing her hair. “To Alisandre Capital, with haste.”