The rollicking sequel to Fortune's Pawn an action packed science fiction novel.
Devi Morris has a lot of problems. And not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either.
After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she's determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi's not actually looking for it trouble keeps finding her. She sees things no one else can, the black stain on her hands is growing, and she is entangled with the cook she's supposed to hate.
But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there's worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead.
About the Author
Rachel Bach grew up wanting to be an author and a super villain. Unfortunately, super villainy proved surprisingly difficult to break into, so she stuck to writing and everything worked out great. She currently lives in Athens, GA with her perpetually energic toddler, extremely understanding husband, overflowing library, and obese wiener dog. You can find out more about Rachel and all her books at rachelbach.net.
Rachel also writes fantasy under the name Rachel Aaron. Learn more about her first series, The Legend of Eli Monpress, and read sample chapters for yourself at rachelaaron.net!
Read an Excerpt
By Rachel Bach
OrbitCopyright © 2014 Rachel Bach
All rights reserved.
Three years later, present day.
If you asked me how I came to be standing in a baking desert on a half-made Terran colony world trying not to get emotional while I buried a skullhead, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you.
I'd be hard-pressed to tell you a lot of things, actually. Like how I'd broken both my arms, or what had given me the huge gut wound Hyrek had only just okayed me to move around on. I didn't know who had attacked our ship on this rock in the middle of nowhere or why they'd done it. I couldn't even say for certain how I'd ended up outside my armor to get the blow on the head that was the cause of all this not knowing. Still, things could have been worse. After all, I was the one doing the grave digging instead of the grave filling. I bet Cotter would have switched places with me in a heartbeat, though he would have bitched about having to use a borrowed pickax. Skullheads could bitch about anything.
But though I knew I was lucky to be alive, all I could think about as I stood out there in the blazing sun and the gritty wind, pounding a hole into the rocky yellow ground, was that this wasn't right. Skullhead or not, Cotter's ruined armor and empty gun showed that he'd gone down like a Paradoxian should, defying his enemy to the very last. He deserved more than an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere dug by a girl who couldn't remember.
Unfortunately, an unmarked grave was all I had to offer him, and I'd had to fight just to get that much. Caldswell was chomping at the bit to get off-world. If it had been up to him, we'd have been in space two days ago. The only reason we weren't was because the Fool was so banged up it had taken Mabel two days just to get us spaceworthy. That delay was how I'd found out the captain had made arrangements to leave Cotter's body with the terraforming office for disposal like a piece of trash.
Needless to say, I blew up at him so hard I almost reopened my wound. The captain didn't usually pay much attention to my opinions, but he must not have wanted to be down two security guards, because he caved in the end. Ten minutes later, I'd walked into the desert with a borrowed pickax on one shoulder and Cotter slung over the other. I found a good spot with a nice view in minutes, but digging the actual grave took longer than it should have. My pickax wasn't made for armor, and Cotter was a big man. By the time I'd made a hole large enough to fit him, I was thirty minutes past Caldswell's time limit.
Not that I cared. I'm no priest, but I've been in armored combat for nine years. I've buried a lot of partners, and I consider it my business to do a proper job. I took my time getting Cotter's grave arranged just right, using my suit's star map to make sure his feet faced Paradox so he would be ready to stand when the king called and tapping a double measure of salt into each of his hands, a tip for the death guide who would ferry Cotter's soul to the warrior's gate of heaven. Finally, I covered him in a white sheet and reached up to the grave's edge to grab the bottle of whiskey I'd snatched from the kitchen on my way out.
I unscrewed the cap and raised my visor, drinking quick before too much of Falcon 34's thin, hot, dusty air could get into my suit. The dry heat was already evaporating the whiskey in the bottle, but I didn't rush as I poured the remaining liquor up and down Cotter's sheet-covered body while I spoke the ancient prayer that would commit his bones to the dirt. I actually teared up a bit when I got to the part about soft green hills and flowing water, but I kept it together by reminding myself that when the terraforming was eventually completed, Falcon 34 would probably have those, and the last words I spoke to Cotter wouldn't be a lie.
When all the whiskey was gone, I set the empty bottle at his feet and climbed out of the grave. The broken-up rocks and dirt went in much faster than they'd come out, forming a tall mound over my dead partner. He'd have liked that, I thought. A big grave for a big man. When the last of the dirt was back in, I weighed the mound down with small boulders so the wind wouldn't undo my work and headed back to the ship.
Caldswell's Fool had never been an impressive piece of machinery, but it was looking especially pathetic now. Whoever had attacked us had done a bang-up job. The Fool's nose was blown almost clean off, damaging the bridge beyond repair. Another even larger blast had taken out the side of the cargo bay, slagging the new door we'd just put in plus several inches of hull. Mabel had covered the holes as best she could, overlapping the plasma patches until the ship looked like a pearly white mud wasp nest, but no amount of layering changed the fact that we would be going into space with hardened plasma where metal should be.
Bad as the outside of the ship was, though, the interior was worse, even by the Fool's normal bullets-in-the-walls standard. The upper hallway was black with blast shadows from grenades, and the floor had so many shots lodged in it that I could feel the bullets under my boots like pebbles. The lounge took the prize, though, with its huge dents and the terrifying man-sized hole that had been ripped through the blast door. I didn't even know what could do something like that, though I should have since it was my blood that had been smeared over on the battered floor. Whatever had happened here, I'd seen it, but I couldn't remember a damn thing, and since there was no footage, I wasn't going to be getting any hints.
You'd think on a ship with so many cameras there would be something, but the explosion that had taken out the bridge had fried all the feeds, and my own cameras hadn't done any better. Whatever had happened during that fight that had gotten me out of my armor had also erased my footage. All of it. Even my Final Word Lock and Mercenary's Bargain had been wiped clean, which was blatantly impossible unless I'd colluded with the enemy for some reason, which was a possibility I wasn't willing to consider.
Just thinking about the fight that had taken all my memories and nearly taken my life put me in a terrible mood, so it was good that I didn't have time to brood. I was forty-five minutes later than I'd promised, and the captain must have been waiting with his hand on the launch button, because the thrusters fired the moment I was inside. I barely had time to get to the safety handles in the cargo bay before we launched into the air and away from Falcon 34. Forever, with any luck.
With the bridge unusable, the captain, Nova, and Basil were reduced to flying the ship from the engine room. It was a horribly cramped setup, so rather than call me in and squish things further, the captain came out to the cargo bay as soon as we entered orbit. "Took your sweet time, Morris."
Since I was safely hidden behind my visor, I rolled my eyes. Good old Caldswell, always sensitive. "I did it right, sir."
The captain nodded, looking me up and down. "You good to go back to work?"
"Yes sir." Hyrek hadn't officially cleared me yet, but if I was fit enough to dig graves, I was fit enough to walk in circles.
"We've got a three-day flight to the jump gate," Caldswell warned. "Might be a little rough."
I shrugged. "What else is new?"
The captain actually laughed at that. "Make yourself useful, then. We've got a long night ahead of us."
"Yes sir," I said, jogging to help Mabel, who was already getting the patcher fired up to repair the bits of the ship that had shaken loose during takeoff.
In hindsight, I shouldn't have been so flippant. I'd done hell shifts before, so I thought I knew what I was in for, but nothing could have prepared me for what I'd later come to remember as the worst three days of my life.
It started with the patches. Hardened plasma is meant to fill small holes temporarily, not to be a replacement for a hull. We'd barely cleared Falcon 34's orbit before the plasma shell that kept us spaceworthy started cracking. Since I was the only one strong enough to haul around the patcher, I was the one who ended up following Mabel around the ship like a talking, walking equipment cart. Under better circumstances, this would have been beneath my dignity, but I was too busy trying not to panic over the cracks growing in the brittle layer of hardened gunk that was the only thing separating us from certain death to fret much over my image.
Cracks weren't our only problem, either. Patched as we were, any idiot with a density scanner could see that the Fool was heavily damaged, and a damaged freighter is to pirates what a wounded seal is to sharks. It wouldn't be so bad if we were flying through more civilized space, but the Falcon Sector wasn't even half terraformed yet. Other than building a jump gate to haul in supplies, the corps developing this sector hadn't done a thing except bring in a bunch of expensive machinery to an undeveloped, undefended area. I couldn't have invented a better hunting ground for pirates if I'd tried, and we were flying right through the middle of it in a busted trade ship with only one working gun and a single security officer. The situation was so ridiculously bad it could have been the punch line of a joke, and if I hadn't been the one getting punched, I probably would have laughed myself sick.
Between maintaining the patches and keeping an eye out for trouble, I didn't catch more than forty-five minutes of sleep altogether in the three days it took us to reach the gate. My only comfort was that I wasn't suffering alone.
I'd never actually appreciated the work it took to be the engineer on an old junker like the Fool until I started following Mabel around. Caldswell's sister-in-law was everywhere at once, applying patches, keeping the engines going, crawling up into the maintenance tunnels with the dexterity of a monkey half her age. Even more impressive was how she stayed cheerful about it. While I was ready to bite off heads by hour two, Mabel never once complained. She just worked, keeping a hundred technical problems in her head so effortlessly I finally broke down and asked.
"Why are you here?"
Mabel looked down at me from where she was perched on a broken beam, spraying down a tangle of blown-out lines that had once gone to the bridge. "Because these wires can't take the exposure," she replied. "The cold will—"
"Not here," I clarified. "Why are you on this ship? I understand the captain's your family, but there's got to be something better. You're a good engineer, you could get work anywhere. Why stay on this rust bucket?"
"I've had offers," Mabel said cheerily. "But there's nothing to do on a shiny new ship. Besides, I'm too old to move on. Brian and I have been together for a long time. He's a good captain and a good man who tries hard to do the right thing. It's an honor to serve under him."
I scowled. I had the funniest feeling someone had said that to me before.
"Anyway," Mabel went on, finishing the patch before dropping down beside me. "You'd all die stranded in deep space without me. Now come on, the seal over the engine should be starting to crack right about ..." She pulled out her battered handset. "Now."
The word had barely crossed her lips before the hull breach alarm started blaring. I jumped at the sound, but Mabel just grinned and started for the stairs, leaving me no choice but to pick up the patcher and stumble after her.
And so it went. The state of constant panic kept my exhaustion at bay for the most part, but whenever I slowed down, the tiredness would kick back in with a vengeance. Still, I was holding together pretty well all things considered, but then, just when I thought I'd found my stride at last, the cook reappeared.
I hadn't seen him since right after I woke up from the attack. Frankly, I was shocked that he was still on board. Considering how the captain had been glaring at him when I saw him last, I wouldn't have been surprised if Cotter's hadn't been the only unmarked grave left in the Falcon 34 desert. But the cook must have only been confined to quarters, because when I came up to scrounge for food while Mabel was refilling the patcher solution, there he was, working in the kitchen like he'd never left.
I was so surprised I actually turned to look at him head-on. Bad decision. The moment my eyes met his, the revulsion hit me so hard I staggered.
It was just as strong now as it had been that first time in the medbay after I'd woken up, an intense mix of nausea, disgust, and revulsion, like realizing your food is rotten only after you've taken a bite. I had no more idea now what caused it than I'd had the first time, but whatever was wrong with me, it clearly wasn't getting better. Anytime I caught so much as a glimpse of the cook, the sickness would hit me like a sucker punch, which was a real bitch when you considered how many times I had to walk through the lounge in a day.
In the end, I just learned not to look. But though I was making a point not to watch him, the cook was constantly watching me. He never leered or did anything I could call him out for, but every time I caught a glimpse of him by accident, he was looking back. I would have confronted him anyway, but there's no law against looking at someone, and he hadn't said anything untoward. He hadn't spoken to me at all.
That actually bugged me more than the staring. The Fool wasn't a big enough ship that you could give your crewmates the silent treatment. I didn't know what I'd done to tick the cook off. I couldn't even remember the man's name, actually, and soon I was too tired to care. After seventy-two hours of near panic and constant work, I barely had the brain left to be happy we'd made it to the Falcon Sector hyperspace gate without dying.
Nova and I were helping Mabel redo all the patches one last time before the jump to hyperspace when the captain's voice sounded over the ship's com, ordering me to his quarters. It's a sign of how exhausted I was that the unexpected summons didn't even unnerve me. I just left the patcher chugging and went down to see what he wanted.
I couldn't remember going into the captain's rooms before, but my tiredness must have been playing tricks on me, because I had the strangest sense of déjà vu when I stepped through the door. The captain's quarters were divided into two bedrooms, a private bathroom, and a sitting area dominated by a large window that looked out the front of the ship. He was sitting there now, leaning on the little table with a tired look on his face.
I stopped just inside the door and stood at attention, locking my suit to be sure I wouldn't wobble. "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes," the captain said. "I wanted to thank you for stepping up these last few days."
I blinked. I couldn't actually remember the last time an officer had thanked me. I especially hadn't expected it of Caldswell.
"You don't have to look so surprised," Caldswell said with a sigh. "I like to think I'm a fair man, Morris. You've been doing the work of five mercs in dangerous territory without complaint. I could hardly let that go without thanks, or compensation."
"Compensation?" The word popped out before I could stop it, and Caldswell shot me a wry smile.
"I've already transferred a week's double pay into your account," he said. "I'm also willing to foot the bill on a new blade to replace the one you lost. Just let me know when you find something you like and I'll buy it for you, within reason. Think of it as a bonus for pushing through hard times."
I stared at him wide-eyed. I had no idea why the captain was suddenly being so nice to me, but I wasn't going to jinx it by asking questions. I needed to replace Phoebe badly, but I'd drained all my cash repairing the Lady after that nasty business on the xith'cal ghost ship. Thinking back, I couldn't actually recall how I'd lost my blade. The whole tribe ship mess was a blur, which was strange considering I'd been under the hyperfocus of the battle drugs. I thought about it a moment before I decided I was just too tired to care. My blade was gone, and if Caldswell was willing to pony up for a new one, I certainly wasn't going to turn him down.
"Thank you sir," I said at last. "I'll be getting a new blade as soon as possible then."
Excerpted from Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach. Copyright © 2014 Rachel Bach. Excerpted by permission of Orbit.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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