Liquid Gambit

Bonnie Milani

 

 

 

That woman smelled of trouble the first time I saw her. If I’d known just how much trouble that’d be, I probably would’ve cut and run right then. Probably.

 
Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have noticed her at all, except it was eight bells, station day. That was too early for my evening crowd, and too late for the poor sots who’d been in here when Bayliss and his Sec team arrived. The usual run of deckhands and pickpockets hadn’t made it up from Hell yet, because dockside shifts on Bogue Dast Station didn’t change for another hour. So both my bar and the corridor outside it were close to empty when she stopped to read the ‘Rick’s Bar’ sign flashing above my hatch.

 
The in-draft wafted her scent to me clear as good air: worry, tinged with fear. Nothing unusual in that kind of scent, not down here on V Deck. Nothing unusual in her, either. Her graying hair looked home-cropped, her face gray-tired. Not at all the kind of woman who usually starts gin joint blood matches. She was wrapped in one of those big black greatcoats, the kind favored by quacks and faith healers all across the Commonwealth rim. That coat could mean trouble – folks on the wrong end of quackery don’t usually live long enough to finish paying their station fees. And another unexplained death in my vicinity was the last thing I needed just now. Only that wasn’t what got my attention. What perked my ears was that somehow she made me think suddenly of warm kitchens and sweet smells and my wife’s good cooking.

 
“You want help with the clean up?” Calhoun, the younger of my two visiting clansmen, lifted a silver-tipped ear in question. Thanks to Bayliss, my bar was empty except for them. Well, them and a couple of shipless drunks snoring on the counter.
The sound of his voice made the woman squint in at us. Maybe it was the way we all three perked ears at her that put her off. Or maybe it was the amber gleam of our eyes in the dimness of the bar. Lupan night eyes always make human-onlys nervous for some reason.

 
Whatever the cause, she moved on. But I had a feeling she’d be back. I wasn’t sure I liked the feeling. I told myself it didn’t matter. Calhoun was right. I needed to get the place cleaned up before the evening crowd showed. I shook my head and ruffled the mane between his ears to let him know I appreciated the offer.

 
“You sure?” That was Khouros, elder clansman and Exec on the Orpheus, one of the few Lupan ships that still put in here at Bogue Dast Station. Beneath the silver sweep of his ears, his eyes took in the tumble of chairs and glassware littering the floor. The fine mane covering his head and shoulders had thinned since last I’d seen him, and the silver tips of his wolf-ears had dulled to gray, but his amber eyes were still clear and his fangs as sharp as ever.
“Yah, I’m sure. Thanks, but I’ve got it.”

 
“Wasn’t asking about the clean-up.” Khouros’ ears dipped in warning. “Word is that maintenance found another slaver drifting outside one of the locks.” He lifted an ear, questioning. “You sure you don’t want a berth out on Orpheus?”
There was a thought that made the hairs in my under-mane tingle. I shot a glance at the lumps slumped over the counter. They were still snoring, but that didn’t mean they were asleep. Or that they weren’t Bayliss’ spies. In case they were I made a show of studying the ragged scars along the backs of my fingers, mementos of where my captors had ripped my talons out

 

 

 

Liquid Gambit Description:

 

 

Death is never more than an airlock away for the denizens of Hell, the last deck before the Void on the last station in human space. It’s a place where justice is for sale and slavers hawk their human merchandise to the highest bidder. But to Rick, a scarred, bitter Lupan warrior, it’s home – or at least the one place in the known universe where he can ignore all the death warrants on him throughout the rest of the human Commonwealth. It’s someplace where a few drops of the most precious liquid in all of human space just might buy him a berth on the last ship back to his birth world. Until a mysterious, vaguely familiar woman walks into the dive Rick runs. And brings his deadly, ugly past in with her.

 

Somehow Rick must unlock the secrets she carries. Because if he fails, he will lose far more than just his life.

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