She held a small knife to his throat. His knife, which she must have stolen from his belt.
“Impressive,” Dex said.
Then he shifted his weight and used his momentum to roll them sideways, where he landed on top of her, the knife discarded, twin snarls on both their faces.
His pouch of Krevs sat several feet away, a few of the golden coins loose and glittering under the sun.
“Get off,” the young woman said.
There was no fear in her eyes. Only a burning anger as hot as a flame.
She tried to wriggle away, but she was weak. He could see now how frail she was, how her worn clothing hung from her frame and danced in the wind. Her wrists were wrapped in thick cloth and tied with leather strips. Dark stains, possibly blood, stained the material.
She was too old to be a street rat, and too filthy to be working for a pleasure palace. The palace owners on Uulveca liked to keep their workers clean and enticing.
A nagging in Dex’s brain told him he’d seen her before. But he’d seen hundreds of people in this market today. Perhaps she’d been following him?
Curious, Dex lifted some of his weight from her, but didn’t let her go. “You should learn how to pick your targets more wisely.”
Her eyes narrowed, her gaze raking over his body. “I should say the same to you. You don’t look nearly strong enough to capture that dealer you were going after.”
“You know about him?” Dex asked curiously. If he could get information from her, maybe he wouldn’t have to contact his informant. He could avoid the digs from Raiseth’s other recruits and salvage the mission before it was too late.
The young woman tilted her head, a slight smile pulling at her cracked lips.
“It’s going to cost you.”
Two can play at this game, Dex thought. “How about instead of my turning you over to the Patrolmen, you tell me what I want to know?” He had her there. Or so he thought.
She shrugged her bone-thin shoulders and laughed. An empty one, the kind that came from a person with little hope left in life. “They don’t care about me.”
As Dex stood, pulling her with him, he caught the flicker in her eyes. A hint of fear as she glanced over his shoulder, as if she expected the Patrolmen to come running.
What had she done, Dex wondered, to end up in this stinkhole? Beyond the grime, he could see someone chased by the ghosts of her past. Someone broken, but clever and quick enough to play at his games. Certainly a strong fighter, likely stronger when she was well fed.
He thought for another moment before responding. “If you give me the information I need, I’ll buy you a meal. By the looks of it, you need one.”
She stared at him, eyes squinting as if trying to seek out an ulterior motive. “I’ll choose the place,” she said finally. “And I want a week’s worth of meals. And all the Krevs in your pouch.”
He paused. If it weren’t for his pride, he would happily walk right back to his ship and contact his informant. But he had a reputation to uphold, so this seemed the better option. “Half the Krevs,” he said. “And if I find out you’re lying to me, I’ll kill you.”
“That’s the funny thing.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m already dead.”
Then she turned, fading into the crowd. Dex scooped up his pouch of Krevs and trailed after her, a nagging feeling in his mind as he wondered who she was.
And who she used to be.
Chapter Fourteen (#u2c495123-a205-5bed-8b1b-b7611314f030)
IT WAS STARING at her again.
“Are you incapable of blinking?” Andi asked.
The AI sat across from her in the meeting room of the Marauder, where it had been since the beginning of their meeting.
“Since I am not a living being, I do not require eyelids to block damaging particles from entering my ocular lens. This means that I am incapable of blinking, Androma Racella.”
If the infernal AI hadn’t belonged to General Cortas, Andi would have unscrewed its head and pulled its wiring out through its neck. Instead, she turned to the second most kill-worthy member of her new crew.
“Silence him, Dextro, before I do it myself.”
Dex tsked, shaking his finger. “Now, now, Androma.” He drawled out her name. “You of all people should know how the general likes his little pets to be.”
Andi’s fingertips flinched toward her sheathed blades.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
He held up his gloved hands. “Relax, Andi. I’m just trying to have a conversation. That’s what people do.”
“I don’t want to have a conversation,” Andi said. “Not with you.”
It had only been a day since Dex took up residence on her ship, but it seemed much longer. Not for a single second had Andi been able to escape Dex’s presence. The ship may have been small, but it wasn’t that small. Yet no matter where she went, Dex managed to find her. In her room, where she pored over her photographs of planets, all the places she’d explored, he’d found her. He’d flipped through her classical music collection, then chuckled at the calendar screen flickering on the glass wall. The handsome models from all corners of Mirabel rippled as he flicked through the images, whistling at each one.
“So this is what you like, Androma?” he’d asked, waggling his dark brows suggestively. “I guess I understand why you left me.”
“What do you want, Dextro?” she’d asked.
“We need to talk.” Standing in the doorway of her room, a half smile tugging at his lips, he had looked for a moment exactly as he had long ago, when they’d shared this very space. She’d slammed the door in his face before her memories, and her heart, could unravel her.
How he could make light of their situation, how he could simply come here and want to just talk, after all that they’d been through and all that they had done, she couldn’t fathom.
But she knew that the moment they delivered Valen Cortas back to his father, she’d be rid of Dex forever.
“Your heart rate is increasing dramatically,” Alfie’s soothing voice sounded from across the table. “Do you require a moment to rest?”
She required a lot more than that, but Andi simply shook her head and turned back to the task at hand.
A map of the Olen System filled the air of the room, three glowing orbs rotating slowly around a single sun. To the left of Xen Ptera, the capital planet of Olen, was a mass of gray: the Junkyard, where old ships were cast out into the skies, left for traders to pick over—but more notably, where the last real battle of The Cataclysm was fought, the Battle of Black Sky. It was rumored that Queen Nor’s father, the previous king, had sent hundreds of ships to fight, only to watch them fall from the sky as thousands of Olen soldiers died at the hands of the Unified Systems.
The Junkyard was the perfect place for the Marauder to disappear.
Andi glanced up as the newly repaired door of the meeting room slid open and the rest of her crew walked in. The holographic map flickered as the girls walked through it, then bounced back into place.
Gilly was preoccupied with eating a chunk of bread from dinner. If she had the chance, Andi thought, Gilly would eat all our food stores. Andi often wondered if her stomach was a bottomless pit. The thirteen-year-old was growing fast and had an appetite to match her growth spurt.
The ship’s system, Memory, beeped overhead.