The First Time She Lied

I thought I’d share with you all a little sample of Tyche’s Flight ? This is first draft stuff, real rough? Let me know what you think ?

He would always remember the first time she lied to him.

Nate was sitting in a spacer bar — not that it had signs up saying Spacer Bar or Drunk Crew Welcome. It was the way it smelled more than anything, old engine oil overlaid with that unmistakable tang of ozone that came from working heavy machines or plasma cannons. Beer, vat-grown because out here that was the best way to get good results; you never knew what strain of modified soy was being used on-planet for your drink. The smell of sweat, and sometimes, of anger.

That last was typical. Drunk Crew Welcome wasn’t always a good thing.

“Captain Chevell,” said the man across from him, Republic uniform starched so crisp you could shave yourself with the collar. It was a dress uniform, lieutenant’s insignia on the shoulders, wings on the breast, a bunch of other medals Nate was too bored to take in. The name tag said Evans, which was probably even his name. Nate didn’t care about that either, because this man was a piece of a great machine, and the machine didn’t care about names, only results. The uniform went nicely with dress hands, folded in front of the lieutenant. Fingers that hadn’t seen a blaster since basic training, not a callous anywhere. This man was content behind a desk, and probably good at it too. The Navy hat was on the table to the man’s right, almost like a barrier. Possibly a necessary barrier — the other man across from Nate wasn’t an officer, not even close. He had scars, and muscles, and was wearing dress fatigues that said I’m always on duty, even in your Spacer Bar. He wouldn’t have finished that with asshole because Republic Marines were always polite, but he would have meant it. So yeah, that hat was a good barrier between the two: on the same side, but different points of view. “Captain Chevell,” Lieutenant Evans said again, “it would be nice to hear your perspective.”

“My perspective?” said Nate. “I’m not sure it needs a perspective. You’re talking cash money for a milk run.”

“Exactly the kind of perspective I was hoping for,” said Evans. He brightened. “Are you willing to take on the job?”

“Hold up,” said Nate.

Evans looked a little lost. “You said ‘cash money for a milk run.’ I’m not sure—”

“Where there is milk, and it’s cash money, there’s always fly in it,” said Nate. “Always.”

“A fly?” said Evans. The Marine next to him hadn’t even looked sideways at Nate, not once, eyes straight ahead, jaw clenched. Or, Nate thought, perhaps it wasn’t clenched — the man might have had a jaw made of rocks and rubble. It would be nice if Kohl was here, because Kohl spoke that kind of language. But Kohl was off getting drunk or laid or a hundred other things he wasn’t being paid for, which left Nate here, alone, in a Spacer Bar that smelled of anger and Drunk Crew, ass hanging out, trying to negotiate with the Republic. A Republic who didn’t negotiate, which made it fun, and crazy at the same time, and if Nate was being his honest authentic self, like that holo kept telling him he should be, it was why he was pulling the tiger’s tail.

Time to pull harder. “You’ve listed a fee, payable on delivery of an unspecified object, that is frankly astonishing,” said Nate.

“Yes,” said Evans, “that’s—”

“Hold on to your drink,” said Nate, watching as Evans’ eyes went to the empty space in front of him. No drink, because a man like that didn’t drink on duty. “Or, hell, watch me hold mine.” Nate took an exploratory sip of his beer, which the bartender — a cute young thing with braids that glowed green in the dark interior of the bar — had assured him was vat-grown as he’d dropped Republic coins in front of her. It didn’t taste half bad, but the other half wasn’t great. Whatever. At least it didn’t taste like soy beer. Evans was watching him drink, or was watching the metal hand that held it, all shiny gold and precision metal. It was that metal hand that made Nate cautious, especially when dealing with the Republic. “An astonishing fee means astonishing danger,” he said, “or it means you’re going to fuck me. And I don’t mean a nice, cozy fuck, full of gentle whispers and soft kisses. I mean a—”

“I understand what you’re saying,” said Evans, his lips pulling tighter.

Good God damn, but is that Marine smiling? There was something in the way the mound of muscle’s face had twitched that made Nate cautiously proud. “An astonishing fee means you don’t actually mean to pay it. And getting paid is of high importance to me and mine, if you know what I mean. So here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to talk terms.”

“The terms are clear,” said Evans. “Five hundred thousand Republic credits, payable on delivery.”

“Do I,” said Nate, “look like a stupid man to you, Lieutenant?”

Evans paused. “Not … particularly, Captain.”

“Perhaps green, young, unused to the rigors of command?” Nate raised his eyebrows.

“No. I would say not.”

“Then why are you treating me like a gullible child?” said Nate. “I need three things from you.”


“Exactly three,” said Nate, giving the Marine a glance. Nope, the man still wasn’t moving. Like a sphinx, that one, about as readable as a rock. Nate hoped they weren’t going to get into any trouble, because without Kohl, it wasn’t going to be fun business, not for Nate. The Marine would probably have fun. He held up his gold hand, digits clicking as he extended his fingers. “First, you’re going to pay me twenty percent up front. This isn’t a number that horrifies you. It’s a rounding error in your budgets. Not enough for me and mine to run, but enough for us to know there’s a higher chance of you paying the rest rather than spacing us all. Two,” and a second metal digit clicked up, “you’re going to tell us what the cargo is. You’re going to tell us because of what happened two years ago, when I took Republic cargo, and then was raided by the Republic, and your clowns tried to charge me for hauling contraband. Took months to work through that, you assholes tried to stiff me on my completion bonus, and I was in jail. A jail, Lieutenant. Third, you’re going to hand over a load of torpedoes. Nothing fancy, no crust-crackers, just some simple ship to ship nukes, because I’m fresh out, and the only place to get nukes is from the Republic Navy. Sort of.”

“Sort of?” said Evans.

“Sort of,” agreed Nate. “The thing we’re dealing with here is trust, Lieutenant. Trust can be bought. I’m offering to sell you mine, for a twenty percent advance, knowledge of the cargo, and thirty six ship to ship nukes. How’s that sound?”

The lieutenant thought about it. Nate watched the man’s eyes scan the room, the rough crowd giving them a circle of calm because nothing said stupid like picking a fight with the Republic Navy. “You’re aware,” he said, after a suitable period of reflection, “that we could simply seize your ship, kill your crew, and do the job ourselves?”

“Sure,” said Nate, “you could try doing that.”

“We are the Republic Navy,” said Evans.

“Like I said,” said Nate, “you could try. There’s a couple of problems. First, you’re going to have to scare up someone who knows how to fly my baby. Not a common ship, not anymore. Those Endless Drives are a thing of wonder and beauty, and the flight systems behind them take a loving touch, Lieutenant. My crew has a loving touch. The Tyche, she’s our home, our palace, our playground, and our friend. She’ll fly true for us, and she’ll crash and burn for you and yours.”

Evans was watching him. “You said two reasons.”

“I did,” said Nate. “The second reason is because you’re the good guys, Lieutenant. You don’t raid a peaceful freighter, kill the entire crew, and then steal their ship. No. In this instance, you’re trying to pay top dollar because you don’t have an Endless ship on hand, you want a dedicated crew, and you want a package delivered. I’m your man. But with those three stipulations.”

“Also,” said a woman, slipping into the booth next to Nate, “you’re going to surrender right of salvage. Fourth condition. Or stipulation. Call it something that makes you happy, like ‘finder’s fee.’”

Evans, Nate, and even the Marine turned to look at the woman. Casual clothes, lots of black, except for her shirt, which was white. Ruffled collar, making Nate think pirate before he almost laughed at himself — if there was a pirate here, it was him, with his modern version of a hook hand and peg leg. Her arm, from exposed elbow to wrist, was etched in an ancient-style black tattoo, no dynamic colors switching with her mood. Not this one, no sir. She tabled a sword in a scabbard in front of them all with a casual toss, a similar casual toss of her hair — short-cropped, dead straight, black, just long enough to touch her chin, not long enough to get her into trouble — following. White teeth in a smile that made Nate take immediate interest, despite his better judgement, because nothing said trouble in quite the same way as a smile like that — Nate had a similar smile of his own — and nothing said run in quite the same way as a stranger knowing your business.

Because she was a stranger. He’d never seen this woman before in his life, and that made him distinctly uncomfortable. “Hi,” said Nate.

“Hi,” said the woman, a flash of that smile again peeking out from around her hair. “Been looking for you. For hours.”

“Captain,” said Evans, “who is this—”

“Grace Gushiken,” said the woman, “and I’m the Tyche’s Assessor.”

“You are?” said Nate. “I mean, yes, you are.”

This wasn’t when she lied to him. She was lying to them, and Nate could get behind lying to the Republic Navy. It was just more pulling of the tiger’s tail, and that lent a certain air of charm to her right away.

“And,” said Grace, “the Captain shouldn’t have been talking to you without me.”

“He shouldn’t?” said Evans.

“I shouldn’t?” said Nate, but he wasn’t sure if he was asking a question or not.

“Because the Captain,” said Grace, “is not an Assessor. He knows ships, and he knows people, and he knows bars,” and here, a chuckle, too natural to not be rehearsed, “just fine. What he doesn’t know is the value of good salvage. You’re sending him out to a place where there’s a downed transmitter.”

“How did you know—” said Evans.

“The thing about downed transmitters,” said Grace, “is that sometimes they’re downed, and sometimes they’re up because everyone’s dead. In the second instance, there’s salvage, and we want it. It’ll make the trip worthwhile even if you try and stiff us on the other eighty percent.” Grace looked at Nate. “You did go for the standard eighty-twenty we talked about?”

“I … did,” said Nate, thinking well fuck me, but roll with it. He turned back to Evans, turning on his own smile. “I did.”

“How did you know—” said Evans, again.

“Everyone knows,” said Grace. “This bar is full of people who know. They know your precious Bridge is down, and that you don’t have any Endless ships in-system, and that there’s a colony out there ripe for piracy at the other end of that Bridge. We,” and she jerked a thumb at her chest, “have an Endless ship. We have an Endless ship with a cargo bay large enough to hold a new transmitter. We’ve got an Engineer who can bolt that right on the side of your gate, fire it up, and get things working again, even if everyone’s dead.”

“Why would everyone be dead?” said Evans, blinking.

“Pirates,” said Grace. “We were just talking about that.”

“And we need,” said Nate, slipping into the silence like it was made for him, “those ship-to-ship nukes. For the pirates. Who may have killed everyone. Not our first rodeo, Lieutenant. Not our first salvage run either. Grace here will take what’s lawful salvage and leave the rest. You know our records. You know how we work.”

“Yes,” said Evans, looking like he was downing cheap tequila, salt, and lime, except without the salt or lime. “We know your records, which is why there will be no Avenger-class weapons given over. Not only is it illegal to provide these to civilian ships, it would cause me to lose sleep at night.”

Fair enough. Nate frowned, but had to admit he probably wouldn’t put nukes in the hands of the Tyche’s crew either. Not after that incident back on Century Gamma. Unlucky for everyone, kind of a lose-lose, but less lose for the people with the nukes, which had been the Tyche. “So, Lieutenant,” said Nate. “We know what we’re hauling now — transmitter. We can live without the nukes. But we really can’t live without the twenty percent.”

“I could,” said the Marine, speaking for the first time, and astonishing everyone, and not least of which because his voice was gentle in a way not common with the Marines, “rough him up a little.”

“You could,” said October Kohl, coming up behind the Marine, leaning close enough to kiss, and nuzzling a blaster next to the man’s neck, “not live past the next five minutes.” He looked up at Nate. “Captain. I could rough him up a little.” Kohl looked and smelled drunk, which was a pretty standard state of affairs, but his eyes were bright. Like the Marine, he was a solid mound of muscle. Unlike the Marine, he had scars, a bad set of locks in dire need of washing or trimming or just burning, and what Nate was sure was an unhealthy desire to kill people. Which was why he was useful. The Marine’s eyes had gone wide, his posture stiff in a way that suggested he knew exactly the kind of man who had a gun to the side of his head.

“I think we’ve about established how this is going to work,” said Nate to Evans. “Would you agree?”

“I would agree,” said Evans. “I’ll be in touch with the Tyche to arrange the details.”

“Great,” said Nate. “You want to be talking to El. She’s our Helm.” He gave a glance to Kohl. “You could…” He waved his hand, the one still made of flesh and blood.

“Kill this asshole?”

“No,” said Nate. “Let him go.”

Kohl looked like he was thinking about it, really thinking about it, about whether this was the time he would push the limits of his contract. He relaxed, letting the Marine go, and slapped a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Sorry about that. No hard feelings.”

The Marine rubbed the side of his neck where the blaster had been. “Sure,” he said, because there wasn’t much else to say when there was a man right behind you with a blaster in his hand and murder in his heart.

The Marine and the Lieutenant slipped out of the booth, leaving the bar, the Marine glancing over his shoulder, Kohl giving the man a friendly wave before slipping into the booth across from Nate and Grace. He looked at Nate. “Who’s this?”

“I’m Grace,” said Grace, flashing that smile.

“Was I,” said Kohl, “fucking talking to you?” He was slurring a little. He seemed to see the sword on the table for the first time. “Nice sword.”

“Thank you,” said Grace. “I’m—”

“Still not,” said Kohl, “talking to you.” He blinked, coughed, and looked at Nate. “Captain?”

“Kohl raises a good question,” said Nate. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Grace Gushiken,” said Grace, “your new Assessor.”

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