“He’s awake,” the Llivori nurse said, giving the human a curious look. Whiskers flared from her snout as she considered him with beady black eyes. “You don’t look like family.”
“Oh, I’m not, but I am looking into this incident,” the stranger replied with an easy smile. He had curly black hair and stood about five-foot-eight. His friendly demeanor seemed to go a long way with her.
“An investigator, then, with the Vor Law Enforcement Agency?” she asked.
“I do have some questions, yes,” he hedged.
She returned his smile. “All right. Just a few minutes, though. His injuries are serious. We don’t want to overwhelm him.”
“As you say,” he agreed.
They found the patient in room 342. The name on the chart hanging on the wall: RIBAS SALEK. “No guard detail?” the human asked.
“Not since yesterday,” the nurse said. She then waddled off to see to another patient, leaving him to visit briefly with Salek.
The human frowned, then stepped into the room to find Ribas sitting up in bed, propped up by a pile of blue pillows. “Good to see you’re still among the living, Mr. Salek.”
“Have we met?” the wounded Llivori grumbled.
A smile from the human now. He plucked a small flexplas card from the pocket of his suit jacket and offered it to Ribas. “Jacob Gettleman, attorney. I’m available for retainer if you want to recover damages for what happened to you.”
“Are you even licensed to practice on Kamsho?” Ribas asked.
Gettleman grinned. “In Vor *and* Ope’mot. Outverser lawyers are in growing demand, oddly enough. Seems to put people at ease who might otherwise be worried about prejudice and political agendas.”
“Right,” the Llivori freighter captain growled. “Because everyone knows Outversers never get political or prejudiced.”
The lawyer shrugged. “I’m available if you need me, Mr. Salek. Keep the card. Call me if you want to get rich.”
The massive flagship burned in a decaying orbit over a green-blue gas giant, making a slow death spiral toward the crushing gravity below.
Vard Bokren had imagined an end much like this. He just hadn’t expected it to come now at the hands of the little temperamental lizards that the late Zar’s loyalists had scraped up as allies.
The Star Stalker groaned in protest as the Medilidikke navigator tried to level off, to no avail.
Nall warships packed a stronger punch than Bokren had expected. He wouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating them again. Assuming he survived.
“Controls aren’t responding!” growled the panicked navigator.
Bokren gave a slow nod. “I’ll look into it.” He used his good hand to clutch a railing until he could pass through the bridge hatchway into the main corridor. Then he slammed a fist against an escape pod hatch access button. “From outside.”
He was about to duck into the pod when he heard a furious roar from the grizzled old orange-yellow Demarian: “Abandoning us?” Several felinoid refugees followed behind Imperator Stumppaw Sandwalker.
Bokren frowned. He wanted to simply say yes and disappear into the pod, shutting the hatch behind him before launching the pod and taking his chances beyond the reach of the gravity well. But they had made a deal. Like it or not, he might actually need Sandwalker to succeed with his own plans.
“Get in,” Bokren snarled.
“Please deactivate all electronic devices as we make our final descent into Seattle, Washington,” came the female flight attendant’s voice over the jet’s public address system.
Teena Fields, caught in mid-sentence in her latest dissertation on World War II battles in the Pacific Theater, sighed in disappointment. She had hoped to finish that section before landing. Now she probably wouldn’t get back to it until after meeting the town car at SeaTac, having dinner with her colleagues from the university, and checking in with Tommy and the kids back home in Atlanta.
“Going to be a late night,” she muttered, powering down the laptop and closing the lid.
The salesman to her right, who had introduced himself as Morris before Teena had hurtled herself headlong into the mid-20th Century Phillipines, was still poking away at a video game on his smartphone.
She leaned over and said, “We’re supposed to shut everything down.”
Morris huffed. “I’ve almost beaten this level,” he growled. Thumbs tapped on the screen.
Teena watched as a male flight attendant walked up the aisle, checking to make sure the instruction had been followed. “Better switch it off,” she whispered.
“Almost!” he hissed.
The historian rolled her eyes and just shook her head when she heard the inevitable: “Sir, you really need to turn that off. Now.”
“Goddammit!” Morris snapped, shaking the phone at the flight attendant. “You made me mess up! Now I have to start all–” The plane lurched. He didn’t have a very good grip on the phone. It went spiraling through the air, smacked against the back of Teena’s seat, and then slid down the aisle as the jet went into a screeching plunge.
Game over, she thought, before the blue glow engulfed her.
He’d been a colonel. A crimelord. A king. A clone. Well, a bunch of clones, actually.
Now what was he? Colin Frederick Neidermeyer, a gray-bearded relic gathering dust and wrinkles in the bowels of some living starship in a galaxy crawling with aliens that he had been taught from childhood to mistrust; to hate.
Here, he was nothing. No one. In Hiverspace, aboard Comorro Station, he was so much wasted potential.
For the past few years, ever since the crossover from the multiverse nexus, Neidermeyer had been biding his time, scraping just enough together to get by while he watched, waited, and listened for the right moment to arrive.
“I’ll do the job,” he had agreed when the contract was offered. “But I don’t want to be paid in any stinking Hekayti credits.”
“No?” Lord Akazar inquired, inching forward on his rusty iron throne in the region of Comorro known as the Forgotten Quarter. “What do you want inzzztead?”
“Riftdrive passage to the reality of my choosing,” Neidermeyer answered.
The Lotorian underworld kingpin grinned, whiskers flaring on either side of his snout as the glow of plasma lanterns glimmered in his dark eyes. “Done.” He nodded to a Lyiri to his left, the one carrying a sword in one hand and a hooded robe in the other. “Try not to get caught, outverser.”
The ex-soldier responded with a mordant grin of his own. “Don’t worry about me, space weasel. I can handle a little wet work.”
He should have known better.
It had been careless, following McGill into the blind alley off 52nd Street without having another set of eyes with him. But Vito Altasinno didn’t credit his quarry with an abundance of cunning. He didn’t expect the ambush.
He had just turned around the corner, bringing the pistol up to fire at the back of McGill’s head when someone slammed his wrist and sent the gun whirling through the air. A gunshot cracked through the night, quite audible despite the honking of horns and the passage of traffic on the street. Glass shattered as the bullet wrecked a window on the upper floor of the apartment building on the left.
Someone shouted down: “People LIVE here! Watch it!”
People die here too, Vito thought, just before McGill’s backup drove a fist into the Mafioso’s jaw. Might be my night. Mama might lose her last son.
He staggered sideways, banging against the brick wall, and then spun to grapple his attacker as the man tried to tackle him. Vito managed a couple of solid blows to the abdomen before throwing an elbow up into the McGill man’s chin.
Unfortunately, that just bought McGill time to get the drop on Vito. He had snatched up the dropped pistol and now aimed it at Vito’s head while his bodyguard brushed himself off and waited for orders like a good dog.
McGill shook his head at his minion. “Vito ain’t goin’ anywhere.” A wry smile. “Except maybe hell. Gonna miss you, boyo.” He squeezed his finger on the trigger.
Vito heard the gun crack a second time. He could have sworn he saw the flash of light in the corner of his left eye. He thought he smelled burning gunpowder. But he never felt the impact of the bullet. Instead, he felt a head-to-toe tingling as the world went swimmy with blue light.
Emerson Mauthus sat on a couch across from Darian Ellesmere and frowned at the wreck his friend’s life had become.
“I don’t know how many more times I can bail you out of these little self-destructions,” Mauthus said. They were in the lobby of the Hesperia Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Center, the city spreading out behind them against a salmon pink sky. The First Consul of Mars had been here far too often for his liking.
Ellesmere looked tired, but at least he didn’t look drunk. At least he wasn’t raging nonsense. How long this lull would last was anybody’s guess, but Mauthus was almost certain that it would happen soon after Ellesmere checked out.
“I disappoint you, I know,” Ellesmere said. “I try. I do. I do try. It’s hard, though. I miss her.”
Mauthus nodded. “Eudora would be disappointed too.” That struck his friend where it hurt. He could see that in his sunken eyes. Good. “You keep this up, Darian, you’re going to kill yourself. You’ll meet her in the next life. Then what will she say to you? How will she react?”
“Not well,” Ellesmere ventured.
“No,” the First Consul agreed. “Not well. So, pull it together. This is your last chance.”
Dangling upside down from the branch of a sprawling dorblen tree, the zookeeper suspected he looked like unusual and potentially tasty fruit to the grullub prowling in the rocky pen.
Their triad eyes glowed greenish-yellow in the Castori moonlight as they moved toward him, peering up and licking their chops. One snarled, baring its fangs. Adrikan was pretty sure that was the one he had named Veldi.
“Not to eat,” Adrikan warbled, waggling a stubby furred finger at the animals.
He now wished that he had listened to Bolbikan’s warning that he should use a rope and harness in addition to the antigrav slate during the zoo inspection. He was grateful the zoo was closed, though. Not much worse then having a cluster of younglings on a field trip traumatized for life seeing the animals gnawing on the innards of a zookeeper.
The rope smacked him in the side of the snout.
“Told you,” Bolbikan muttered from a higher branch, holding the rope for his colleague.
Perhaps that last nibby biscuit had been a bad idea. The branch cracked beneath Bolbikan’s boots and dropped him so that his crotch crashed against the limb holding Adrikan. His eyes went wide. He made muffled whimpering noises. The rope fell and draped over the back of the closest grullub.
“Good thing they can’t climb,” Adrikan said.