A Wanted Woman

With the release of Tyche’s Flight just around the corner, I thought I’d share the start of the book. You get to meet Grace for the first time, even though you probably already know the cut of jib already. I’d love to know what you think, so face your fears and drop me an email ?

Grace had less than a day to live.

Oh, sure. She might be able to stretch it to a day and a half. But what’s twelve hours against your lifetime?

Not a lot. Her room at the hotel was burned. The only thing she had left was her stash with her sword and a few Republic coins for emergencies. She hadn’t expected to be on this particular crust for this long. She hadn’t expected to be here at all. When Grace got caught, she’d die. Simple as that. Not getting caught? Harder by the minute.

The Republic were getting close to her now. She could almost smell their hounds on her heels.

Grace could certainly feel them. The excitement/chase/hunger of their pursuit; it was all around her. She stood in the warm air of Enia Alpha, a yellow star overhead, an easy 0.9Gs under her feet, and felt the silks under her fingers. The holo said Genuine Earth Silk! This, like much of life, was a lie. Grace was used to lying, except she liked to think she was better at it than the merchant. To make a lie believable, there needed to be at least a hint of truth. The silks didn’t cost anywhere near enough good Republic coin to be from Earth; the price was low enough that it called into question whether it was silk at all. A bigger price and the lie of the silks would, almost naturally, become truth. It didn’t have to be true; it needed to feel true.

The only good thing about the bad lie in front of her was that it was like a disguise. The Republic guard behind her were hunting an esper, not a shopper of silks. An esper would run, not bargain for material by the meter. The Republic soldiers would have been told about the devils they hunted. Espers, they’ll take your kids in the night. Or, espers, they can make you do things. The first was an exaggeration, because espers only took other espers, but the second? That was truth. And because it sounded horrible, they expected the people doing it to look horrible. With a peg leg, or a scar across the face. They didn’t expect them to look … ordinary.

The problem with the Republic — one of them anyway, right Grace? — was that they were used to being on top. A good ten years had passed since the Old Empire had fallen. Ten years was a long time for people to forget about the good, holding on to the bad. Folk remembered the Intelligencers as the first of these devils to walk among them. They wanted them to be the last, so — almost naturally, like the changing of seasons — came the the witch hunts, where anyone with the smell of the gift was fair game. Cheat at cards? An esper. Lucky break in the markets? Esper. Your kid fall in with a bad crowd? Espers, all of ‘em. The reach of the Republic was far, and their boot — made of fear and strength — was heavy. Fear and strength was why she’d chosen the mark she had.

Her mark had known the feel of that boot on his neck. Nathan Chevell, captain of the free trader Tyche. If captain was even the right word for the owner of an aging rust-bucket. He hadn’t been on the winning side of the war. Not to say he was on the losing, either; her research said he was out the door before the real fighting started. Maybe a coward. Even if he wasn’t, he’d be easy to play; either the hero card or the guilt card would work. The important part was that this Nathan Chevell was good at his job; he ran a free starship outside of Guild constraints. She just needed to sign on as crew. Find an empty spot to fill, or make a spot empty if all berths were full. He didn’t have an Assessor, and that was her path in. Assessors lied about little things like they mattered, and Grace had been lying for more than the ten years the Old Empire had been rubble.

She knew — courtesy of last night’s tryst with a talkative Navy officer, proud of his rank and uniform and alcohol choices in equal measure — that Nathan Chevell was going to be sent out to the back of the hard black by the Republic themselves. Because this Nathan Chevell didn’t like the press of the boot on his neck, he would probably argue about it, so she needed to give him a nudge. Make sure he took the job, and her with it. Then she could enjoy the trip, and the irony of being sent away by the very Republic that hunted her.

Grace Gushiken let the silks fall. She needed her sword. It was time to get to work.

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