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Underfoot, I saw myself reflected as nothing but a vague black shape in the polished marble—but that wasn't right. My vision had blurred.

I hadn't felt the puncture, but I knew it was there. And even if I hadn't noticed the delivery, I could feel the poison in my bloodstream. It was acting fast. There was a subtle wrongness—about what I'd expected. I took out a physical holo and touched the screen, bringing up my contact list. There was only one entry. I touched it, sending a prepared message.

I tried not to give myself away by speeding up, but it was hard not to feel a certain sense of urgency. Evagardian poison wouldn't take long to kill me; this wasn't the time to drag my feet.

There was a flight schedule on the wall nearby. I had a shuttle to catch, but death wouldn't wait.

My heart gave a twitch that was difficult to ignore. To make matters worse, a Prince Dalton song was playing over the station's audio feed. A real Dalton song, not one of mine. In fact, it was one of the last ones the real prince had written and performed before I killed him.

I stumbled and caught myself, making my way to a bench and collapsing onto it.

People were looking at me curiously as they passed. Maybe it was my behavior. Maybe it was my outfit. The sounds of the tunnel came and went.

I listened to Prince Dalton singing about broken hearts.

A second twitch. I silently chided my heart. It had never gotten what it wanted before; why would things be different now? At the very least my heart could take this like a man and not be a whiner. Did it hear 'me 'complaining, after all? No. Death was just a part of life. Plenty of people had done it before, including me. It was an inevitability.

Now, later, or probably both.

But it wouldn't do to let it happen here. Not where people could see.

I forced myself to my feet, faltering. For most of my life I'd taken good health for granted. That was an easy trap to fall into, particularly on Evagardian worlds. Withdrawal and poison had taught me the truth: if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything.

The holo in my wrist sensed my condition and asked if I wanted to signal for medical attention. I ignored it. There was an emergency station ahead, but that wasn't where I was going.

I staggered to the side of the tunnel, and several people had to dodge me. I wasn't at my most considerate.

I hit the wall and leaned against a feed advertising holo software promising to streamline day-to-day life for the busy galactic. Ahead was a hologram indicating the presence of a restroom. It wasn't ideal, but privacy was privacy. I staggered to it and got inside, falling on the taps and wondering if my heart was going to literally explode. That was the sort of thing that sounded terribly romantic, but in practice it would just be messy. There were a lot of things in my life like that.

I would have liked to get a little cold water and throw it on my face, which was very hot, but I didn't get the chance.

I tried to look at my chrono. Death notwithstanding, I had an appointment to keep.

CHAPTER ONE

The shuttle rocked gently, and I reached up for a safety handle. The carpet was blue; the seats were blue. Even the viewports were tinted blue. Like, if you didn't have the color blue burned into your retinas, you might fly with another service next time. Galactic branding sensibilities. Subtlety was an alien concept to these people. Primitive, really.

A serving android was making her way down the aisle, a tray of glasses in her hands. I stepped aside to let her pass, and moved up to take the seat beside Salmagard.

From the way she looked up so quickly, it was clear she was full of nerves. The smile she offered was a reflexive one, one she'd used a million times before. There was nothing real about it.

After that automatic smile, she looked back down at her hands in her lap for a moment, then slowly looked up at me a second time. I didn't look 'that' different. If she hadn't recognized me, she was even more preoccupied than she looked.

"It's me," I said, settling in. The last time I'd seen Tessa Salmagard, she'd been dead and I'd been trying to get her body into stasis so she could be revived. That had been almost three weeks ago. A part of me expected her to be different here in civilization—and she was. Back on that planet, with things like oxygen and hostile xenos to think about, Salmagard had had use only for the soldierly parts of herself.

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