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Authors: Amie Kaufman

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BOOK: This Shattered World
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He shifts his weight under my scrutiny, then straightens. “Listen,” he says, his voice getting brisker, “let me settle for your drink, and I’ll leave you to your evening.”

Somehow he’s gotten a read on me. He knows I’m suspicious.

“Hang on.” I reach out to lay my hand on his arm. It’s a gentle touch, but firm. He’ll have to jerk away if he wants to leave before I’m ready to let him go. “You’re not a soldier,” I say finally. “And not a local. Quite the little puzzle. You’re not going to leave me so unsatisfied, are you?”

“Unsatisfied?” The guy’s smile doesn’t flicker a millimeter. He’s good. He’s got to be a spy from one of TerraDyn’s competitors. Nova Tech or SpaceCorp, or any one of the neighboring corporations with space staked out on Avon. “That’s unkind, Captain Chase.”

I abandon pretense. “I never told you who I was.”

“Like Stone-faced Chase needs an introduction.”

Though you’d never catch my platoon calling me that, at least to my face, the nickname caught on like wildfire after my first few days here. I don’t reply, scanning his features and trying to figure out why he looks so familiar. If he’s a criminal, maybe I’ve seen his picture in the database.

He makes a small attempt to free his arm to test how badly I want to hold on to him. “Look, I’m just a guy trying to buy a girl a drink. So why don’t you let me do that, and then we can go our separate ways and dream about what might’ve been?”

I clench my jaw. “Listen, Romeo.” My fingers tighten—I can feel the tense muscle beneath my hand. He’s no weakling, but I’m better trained. “How about instead, we go to HQ and chat there?”

The muscle in his forearm under my palm twitches, and I glance at his hand. It’s empty—but then he shifts his weight, and suddenly there’s something digging into my ribs, held in his other hand. He had a gun tucked inside his shirt.
It’s ancient, a tarnished ballistics weapon, not one of the sleek Gleidels I’m used to. No wonder he’s wearing a jacket despite the heat inside the bar. The long sleeves are concealing his genetag tattoo, the spiral design on the forearm that all the locals get at birth.

“Sorry.” He leans close to me to conceal the gun between us. “I really did just want to pay for your drink and get out of here.”

Beyond him I can see my guys, heads together, laughing and occasionally peeking our way. Though half of them are well into their twenties, they still act like a bunch of gossips. Mori, one of my oldest soldiers, meets my eyes for a moment—but she looks away before I can convey anything through my gaze. Alexi’s there too, his pink hair gelled up, looking way too interested in the wall. From their perspective, I’m letting this guy drape himself all over me. Stone-faced Chase, getting a little action for once. Troops cycle in and out of Avon so often that all of those here have only known the past few months’ ceasefire—their senses aren’t battle-sharpened. They’re not suspicious enough.

“Are you kidding me?” My own weapon is on my hip, but we’re close enough that he could easily shoot me before I reach it. “You can’t actually think this is going to work.”

“You haven’t really given me much choice, have you?” He glances down at the holster on my hip. “You seem a little overdressed, Captain. Leave the gun on the stool there.

I roll my eyes toward Molly, but he’s leaning back drying glasses and watching the holovid over the end of the bar. I try to catch someone’s eye—
eye—but they’re all carefully ignoring me, all too eager to tell stories later about how they saw Captain Chase get picked up at Molly’s. My abductor shields me with his body as I reach for my Gleidel and set it down where he indicates. He wraps a hand around my waist, turning me toward the door. “Shall we?”

“You’re an idiot.” I clench my hands, the pink cocktail skewer digging into my palm. Then I turn a little, making a token struggle to test his grip and the distribution of his weight. There—he’s leaning a little too far forward. I tense my muscles and jerk, leaning back and giving my arm a twist. It hurts like hell, but—

He grunts, and the barrel of the gun digs more sharply into my rib cage. But he doesn’t let me go. He’s good.
Damn, damn, DAMN.

“You’re not the first person to say so,” he says, breathing a little faster.

“Fine—ow, I’m going, okay?” I let him steer me toward the door. I could call his bluff, but if he’s stupid enough to bring a gun onto a military base, he might be stupid enough to fire it. And if this blows up into a firefight, my people could get hurt.

Besides, someone will stop us. Alexi, surely—he knows me too well to let this happen. Someone will see the gun—someone will remember that Captain Chase doesn’t leave the bar with strange guys. She doesn’t leave the bar with anyone. Someone will realize something’s wrong.

But no one does. As the door swings closed behind us, I hear a low sound of whistles and catcalls in the bar as my entire platoon starts jeering and gossiping like a bunch of old hens.
I think furiously.
I’m going to make you run so many laps in the morning, you’ll wish YOU had been carried off by a rebel.

Because that’s who this is. I don’t know how he knows Shakespeare, or where he got his training, but he’s got to be one of the swamp rats. They call themselves the Fianna—warriors—but they’re all just bloodthirsty lawbreakers. Who else would dare infiltrate the base with nothing but a pistol that looks like it’s from the dawn of time? At least that means there’s no danger of him snapping into mindless violence, since Avon’s deadly Fury only affects off-worlders. I only have to worry about the average, everyday violence that comes so easily to these swamp-dwellers.

He tugs me off the main path and into the shadows between the bar and the supply shed next door. Then it hits me: I’m not going to be making anyone run laps in the morning. I’m a military officer, being captured by a rebel. I’m probably never going to see my troops again, because I’ll be dead by morning.

With a snarl, I jam my hand back and down, sending the blade of the pink plastic cocktail sword deep into the guy’s thigh. Before he has time to react, I give it a savage twist and snap off the hilt, leaving the hot-pink plastic embedded in the muscle.

At least I won’t go without a fight.

The boys are playing with firecrackers in the alley, stolen from the strings in the temple. The girl watches through a hole in the wall, her face pressed against the crumbling brick. Yesterday it was the Lutheran priest’s turn in the temple, but tomorrow is a wedding, and it’s her mother’s turn to convert the tiny box of a building at the end of the street to match too-distant memories of traditional ceremonies on Earth.

The boys are lighting the firecrackers and seeing who can hold on to the red sticks longest before tossing them away to snap like gunfire in the air. The girl squeezes through a gap in the wall and runs to snatch a lit firecracker from the biggest boy. Her skin crawls with the hiss and heat of the fuse, but she refuses to let go.

, and my grip loosens for an instant. She’s away like a flash.

I have only a split second to act, and if I miss, she’s going to kill me. I leap back as she swings at me, and the night is shattered by the sound of a gunshot.
gun. She goes sprawling into the mud with a gasp of pain, but I don’t have time to consider what damage I might have done. Everybody on the base will have heard the shot, and even with the echo bouncing around the buildings, they’ll find me soon enough.

I start to reach for her, but she’s already moving; she’s not badly hurt, or else adrenaline is holding her together. She kicks out, her foot connecting with my arm and numbing it from the elbow down. The gun goes sliding along the wet ground.

We both lunge after it. Her elbow jabs at my solar plexus, missing it by an inch—I’m left wheezing rather than half dead, dragging in air as I force myself to move. She scrambles ahead of me and I grab at her ankle, scrabbling in the mud to drag her back again before she can grab the gun or shout for backup.

She may be trained, but I’m fighting for my family, my home, my freedom. She’s fighting for a goddamn paycheck.

For a long moment there’s only the harsh staccato of our breathing as we fight to get ahead of one another. Then my hand finds the familiar grip of my grandfather’s pistol. I jab my elbow back at her face; she dodges it easily, but it throws her off enough for me to roll over and end up with the gun pointed between her eyes.

She goes still.

I can only see the dark, furious glitter of her eyes meeting mine. I can’t speak, too winded, too shell-shocked. Slowly, she lifts her hands, palms out. Surrender.

I want nothing more than to collapse in the mud. But I can hear the shouts of soldiers looking for intruders, hunting for the source of the gunshot. I’ve got no time. I need to get her to my currach—if I leave her here she’ll be found too quickly and I won’t have enough time to vanish into the swamp.

I give the gun a jerk, silently ordering the soldier to her feet. I stagger up myself, then grab for her arm to turn her around and twist it behind her back. I rest the barrel of the gun against her lower spine, where she can feel it.

My fingers are wet and sticky with her blood, but it’s too dark to tell how much there is. I know I hit her; I saw her fall. But she’s on her feet, so the wound isn’t slowing her down that much. I must have only grazed her side with the bullet.

I try to calm my breathing, listening for the soldiers. Getting off the base is going to be a hell of a lot harder now; I wish I had time to camouflage myself with the mud at our feet. Her skin’s brown and more difficult to see in the low lighting, but mine’s the pale white that comes from living on a planet with constant cloud cover. I practically glow in the dark.

“Well?” She’s panting. “What’s it going to be? You could at least have the decency to aim for my heart and not my head. I’ll look prettier at my funeral.”

“There’s something very wrong with you, Captain,” I tell her, keeping her close. Her black hair’s escaping her ponytail, tickling my face and getting into my eyes. “You don’t invite a thing like that around here.”

“As if you need an invitation,” she growls, and though she’s completely still, I can almost feel her humming with anger. I can’t let her go. She’d never let
go. She shoves back roughly, sending pain spearing down my leg.

I shift my grip on the gun, letting it press against her a little harder.

It was easy to get the new recruits talking, but their security clearance is way too low to have any useful information. But trying to get close to Captain Chase for information was another matter entirely. What was I thinking? Sean would laugh if he could see me now: the Fianna’s biggest pacifist holding Avon’s most notorious soldier at gunpoint.

“I’ll recognize your pretty face anywhere now, you know that.” There’s a smug satisfaction in her tone, underneath her anger. Like winning the point is what matters, even if it means she ends up dead. “You have to get rid of the problem.”

“Póg mo thóin, trodaire,”
I mutter, tightening my grip.
Kiss my ass, soldier.

Captain Chase lets off a string of what sound like insults in return, though I don’t understand the language. She doesn’t look like she’s got any Irish in her, probably has no idea what I said. But she recognized my tone, as easily as I can tell she’s cursing right back at me, speaking…Chinese, maybe? She looks like she might have that ancestry in her blood somewhere, but with the off-worlders it’s hard to tell. She gives a savage twist and then gasps as the movement wrenches at her wound. It’s lucky I managed to graze her, because I wouldn’t be able to keep hold of her otherwise. She’s even stronger than she looks.

My mind races. This isn’t over yet, and I can still turn it to my advantage if I think quickly. The recruits in the bar may not have known about the hidden facility to the east, but now I have a captain, and one who’s been on Avon longer than any other soldier. Who better to get me that info than the military’s golden child?

That facility scares me too much to ignore. Until I saw it a few hours ago, I’d never clapped eyes on it. I don’t know how they hid the construction. It appeared out of nowhere, surrounded by fences and spotlights. From the outside, there’s no way to tell what’s in there: weapons, new search drone technology, ways to destroy the Fianna we haven’t thought of. Until we know why the facility is there, every minute is danger.

I give her a shove and start moving toward the perimeter of the base, keeping to the shadows and away from the surveillance cameras. “Ever seen the beauty of the outer swamps?”

“I suppose out there they won’t find my body at all. Smart.”

“Does your platoon’s psych attendant know about this obsession with your own death?”

“Just trying to be helpful,” she mutters through gritted teeth. We’re not far from where I snuck in through their fencing. I’m sure on a more high-tech world, the perimeter would light up with lasers and six kinds of alarm bells, but out here beyond the edge of civilization, the soldiers are stuck with wire fences and foot patrols. Central Command spends as little as it can get away with to supply them, and it shows. On top of that, the last few months of ceasefire have made them lazy. Their patrols aren’t what they should be.

BOOK: This Shattered World
13.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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