Flynn glanced at Lilith. “You bitch. You set me up.”
“Men can be so dense,” she said. Then she leaped across the space between her and the two men with knives, moving so fast that it took Flynn a full second-and-a-half to realize she had moved. She would have landed right on top of them if they hadn’t started backing up. She hit the ground and went into a crouch, followed by a spinning leg sweep that upended them both.
She glanced toward Flynn and said, “Feel free to jump in anytime you want.”
An amazing flying handstand put her behind the man with a gun. He was turning to get a bead on her, but might as well have been moving in slow motion. Flynn decided it was a good time to take on the woman, who happened to be closest. She caught him out of the corner of her eye and started to bring her gun back around, but by that time he had hit her with a full tackle. He was a big man, and she went down with an “oomph,” the wind knocked out of her, and the gun skittered across the room. He grabbed two handfuls of hair and pounded her head onto the floor three times, then once more, just to make sure she wouldn’t be getting up again.
He looked up to see that Lilith had engaged the remaining man, coming in under his arm and getting up close and personal. He did what came naturally in a situation like that, which was to back up to get some distance. It was the wrong thing to do. As one foot left the ground to step back, she delivered a snap-kick to the other leg’s kneecap. He went down with a shried and grabbed hold of his knee. She kicked him in the face and he collapsed in a pile, looking like he planned to sit out the rest of the fight. She faced the two knife men, who were on their feet by now. They ran.
“Damn, woman,” Flynn said, still trying to make sense of what he had just witnessed. “Remind me never to get on your bad side.”
She looked him in the eye, not winded in the slightest, her voice like cold steel. “Don’t ever call me a bitch again.”
A man behind him said, “I’d listen to the lady if I was you, Flynn. You don’t want to see her when she gets mad.”
He spun around to face a man even bigger than himself, dressed entirely in black, pointing a sawed-off shotgun at his midsection.
“Dylan,” he said. “Nice of you to join us . . . now that the fight’s over.”
He was not used to tilting his head up to look someone in the face. In this case, the face was distinguished by a mean looking scar running from the left ear to the chin, and dark eyes that looked as mean as the scar. He figured Matthew Dylan must have had a terrible childhood and just never got over it. Whatever the cause, nobody would ever mistake him for a nice guy.
Dylan offered him a twisted smile. “I thought about gettin’ into the action, but it was such a joy watching the two of you at work that I decided to sit it out.”
A short time later they were in Dylan’s office looking down on one of his casinos.
“So,” Flynn said after they had exhausted their limited supply of small talk, which took all of two minutes. “A dead guy ran into our freighter as we were coming in yesterday. Trinity nearly peed her pants.”
Dylan raised one eyebrow and somehow managed to look innocent; a look comically incongruous with the rest of the man’s appearance, not to mention his reputation.
Flynn continued. “I thought maybe you might know something about it.”
Dylan snorted, which Flynn decided was his attempt at a laugh. “I just wanted to get your attention,” he said. “Figured seein’ Knute splat up against the front window would bring you to me.”
Lilith set her brandy down. “You killed a man just to get Flynn’s attention?”
“Nah. We was gonna kill him anyway. In fact, he was more than happy to cooperate, seein’s how he’d become disenchanted with our hospitality.
Now it was Lilith’s turn to snort.
Dylan grinned. “I think he was particularly offended when we started ripping out fingernails. But hey, it got him talking, so I’d call it a win.”
Flynn wasn’t squeamish. The life of a freelance trader was not for the faint of heart. But he had always found Dylan’s complete lack of moral compunction disturbing. Frightening, really. Nonetheless, he had to work with the man from time to time; or at least his organization.
He put his drink down. “What’s so important that you sent a corpse to invite me here?”
Dylan leaned back in his chair. “Cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon?” Flynn let the word bounce around the inside of his head for a few moments to see if it would attach itself to something meaningful. It didn’t.
“Um … you have a shipment of cinnamon you want me to move for you?”
Dylan produced a real laugh this time. “No. Not that kind of cinnamon.”
He poured Flynn and himself another drink. When he came to Lilith’s glass he put the bottle on the desk and said, “Lilith dear, please excuse us, but this is a private conversation between me and Flynn.”
Her seductively beautiful smile morphed into a seductively ugly one, something Flynn would not have thought possible. Without taking her eyes off Dylan, she finished her drink and slammed the glass down on the desk with enough vehemence to make him flinch.
She turned her smile—the seductively beautiful one—toward Flynn. “It’s been fun as always Flynnie. Maybe we can pick up where we left off some other time.”
Since he wasn’t sure where she thought they had left off, he wasn’t sure he wanted to pick it up again.
“Hold on. I think you owe me an explanation about that little ballet act you put on back there; the one where you single-handedly disarmed three armed people.”
“Another time, lover.” She slid out of her chair and glided out of the room.
Damn, she was hot. Flynn took a drink to cool down his libido. Or at least dull it some.
Dylan cleared his throat. “Trinity doesn’t know it yet, but she will soon enough. Her sister Serenity was murdered in the Asteroid Belt. Got caught up in a power struggle for leadership of the Leyton Family. Vrendel, Bront’s uncle, is angling to take over, and he’s looking for leverage anywhere he can find it. With Serenity gone, he’s turned his attention to a nine-year-old girl named Cinnamon. Serenity was her mother. Bront is her father.”
Flynn stared at the local Leyton Family lieutenant, trying to process the information dump.
Dylan continued. “She’s on Terra One. I need you to get her off station.”
“And take her where?” There wasn’t any place in the system beyond the reach of the Leyton family.
“She needs to go into hiding.”
“Why me? I kinda like living.”
“What do you think Trinity would do if someone else took her sister’s daughter? Say, someone like me?”
Flynn didn’t have to think about that for very long. “I see what you mean.”
* * *
It was late when Flynn got back to the train station. He took the train to the Moroccan District and walked to Café Casablanca.
The Moroccan District was no more Moroccan than the French District was French, but he liked the atmosphere and the food. He ordered the Veal Marsala, which came on a bed of pasta with a side of asparagus. He savored a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon and was about to dig into his meal when Lilith slid into the chair opposite him.
“Huh,” he said. “Didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
She flashed him a smile. “Oh Flynn, you know I can’t resist your manly presence.”
He raised a single eyebrow and continued watching her, waiting. She was a beautiful woman, and he was powerfully attracted to her, even without her seductive talents. But he was also a bit frightened by her, especially after her earlier display of martial skill. He had no doubt she could kill him if she wanted to. He had to resist the temptation to look around for an escape route.
Her carmine lips produced a pout. “Fine,” she said. “I need your help.”
He felt both eyebrows trying to climb up onto his forehead. “Really?”
She squirmed in her chair and her pout reshaped itself into a scowl. “Two bounty hunters are following me. I thought I’d lost them in the Rathole, but they’re good at what they do and I’m sure they will reacquire me soon enough. I need a place to hide.”
‘Reacquire’ seemed like an odd word to use, but no more odd than her being afraid of two men, even if they were bounty hunters.
“They are professionals. They are good. And they have . . . things they can use against me. I need to disappear until I can get passage on a ship going somewhere else. Anywhere else.”
A small tremor appeared at the end of her sentence. She was scared.
“Let’s go,” he said, paying for his untouched meal with a swipe of his wrist.
They caught the train to the docks and headed to Therion’s bay. It was empty.
Behind him came the hum of a stunner.
“Are you the fortune teller?”
It was a demanding voice, an impatient voice, the voice of youth. Anselm opened his eyes and peered out from under the gray hood that covered his bald head and shadowed his ancient, gray-bearded face. His interlocutor was a tall, thin man wearing loose-fitting silk pants and a frilly white shirt. A black beret was perched on a head of immaculately groomed, long, flowing brown hair that reached just below his shoulders. The man rested a silver-handled walking stick against the table and sat on the only other chair in the tent, looking expectantly at the old man across the table.
This was a man who expected to be treated with respect. A man of wealth. A man who was used to getting what he wanted. A man who smiled pleasantly but could be swiftly cruel. All this Anselm read in a glance. It was his gift. But what was a man of his standing doing in the Cambodian District talking to a fortune teller?
“I am a fortune teller,” Anselm answered.
“Good.” The man waved his wrist over Anselm’s credit reader, transferring the requisite amount to Anselm’s account. “I want you to tell me whether my upcoming marriage to a certain young woman will be profitable.”
“No,” Anselm said.
“What?” The young man’s smug expression collapsed into confusion. “You won’t tell me my fortune? Why not?”
“I mean ‘No’ your marriage to a certain young woman will not profit you anything of value.”
The young man’s expression turned from confusion to consternation. “How do you know that? Don’t you have to cast sticks or roll dice or consult chicken innards or something?”
“Why would I do that?”
The young man’s expression turned from consternation to anger. “What kind of bullshit are you giving me?”
“I avoid handling bullshit whenever possible,” he said congenially. “In your case, simply observing your demeanor and listening to your words tells me everything I need to know. You may or may not achieve financial gain from this marriage. That I cannot predict. But I am quite certain that you will not gain anything of value from it.”
“Listen, old man. I paid to have my fortune told, not to get a bunch of psychobabble mumble jumble. Don’t mess with me or you will regret it.”
Anselm sighed. “As you wish. I will do the appropriate hocus-pocus for you.”
Reaching under his cloak, he withdrew a small cloth bag tied with a leather cord. He carefully untied it and poured its contents into his right hand, which he held out so that the young man could see what he had. What he had were eighteen tiny carved bones with complex designs etched into them. He thrust out his left hand and grabbed hold of the man’s wrist, at the same time turning his right hand so that the bones fell on to the table with a clatter.
The old man let go of the young man’s wrist and studied the stones for half a minute, doing the mental calculation that would allow him to select the correct oracle from among the sixty-four oracles his master had taught him. Then he solemnly intoned the words of the oracle:
Above is thunder, below is fire;
This is the arrival of both thunder and lightning.
Thunder shakes, lightning illumines;
Thunder and lightning complement each other,
Power and illumination act together.
This is the image of abundance.
He looked up at the young man, who was staring back at him with a look somewhere between astonishment and incredulity.
“What the hell does that mean? That’s your prediction of my future?”
Anselm produced a surprised look. “Who told you I would show you your future? I’m not a future teller. I’m a fortune teller. If you want to know the future, you should consult the gods, although I doubt you will get much out of them. They have a habit of speaking in riddles.” He gathered up the stones as he spoke, carefully putting them back into the bag.
“I, on the other hand, show you something of much greater value than the future. I show what is in your soul.”
The young man took hold of his walking stick and pushed his chair back. “I don’t need an old fool to tell me what’s in my soul.”
“Ah,” said Anselm. “Perhaps you prefer a young fool.”
The man blinked several times. “Are you mocking me, sir?”
“No. You are doing a fine job without any help from me.”
Seconds passed before the man said, “What do the stones tell you?”
Anselm leaned forward as if to whisper something secret. “They tell me that you seek happiness in riches, knowing full well that you will not find it there. This is illumination. Hold on to it, nurture it, for it is a precious thing. Bring your bride-to-be to me tomorrow at this same time. I wish to meet her.”
Then he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. After several awkward seconds, the young man said, “Is that all you have to say to me?”
The fortune teller said nothing. After a while, the man got up and walked away. Anselm watched him leave and wondered if he would return the next day.
Cin watched from the window overlooking the docking bay as the tug pilot lined up the freighter and let its momentum carry it serenely into the bay, where it came to a stop when the bay’s magnetic clamps grabbed hold of it. Having grown up on spaceships, Cin could appreciate the skill and artistry of the tug pilot. Zero-gee meant zero weight, but that didn’t mean zero mass, and mass had inertia. One slip, and even a small freighter like the Therion would wreak havoc in a cramped and crowded docking port. Not that the zeegee port was crowded. There were only three docking bays, and the other two were empty. Terra One didn’t get many visitors from the zeegee colonies.
She waited, listening to the sounds of cycling airlocks, as the woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t, pulled herself through the ship’s airlock, then the connecting tunnel, and then the station’s airlock. It would be their second meeting. The first had taken place the night before. Just her, the case worker, and the woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t.
The woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t had been waiting in the room when Cin and the case worker arrived. She wasn’t sitting, because there wasn’t any place to sit, chairs having no practical use in zero gee. Instead, she had hooked her foot to a handle attached to the round table that was the only furniture.
Cin had glared at her, trying to project the loathing she felt toward this imposter.
The case worker introduced them. “Cinnamon, this is Trinity. She is your mother’s twin sister, which is why she looks just like her. We talked about that, remember?”
Without looking away from the woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t, Cin said, “There’s nothing wrong with my memory.”
The case worker continued, unfazed. “Trinity, this Cinnamon, your niece.”
“Hello Cinnamon.” The voice was different from her mother’s. Lower, more gravelly.
“I hate you,” she said, putting as much venom into the words as she could. Then she turned to the case worker. “I want to go back now.”
The case worker and the woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t, tried to engage her in conversation, but she maintained a steely silence. After a while the woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t left. She and the case worker had an unpleasant chat in which it was explained to her that she had to go with the imposter because she had no other kin. Bront Leyton was her father, but apparently he didn’t count. That was okay. She would find him herself.
Now she waited, despondent, resigned, one hand resting lightly on a floor-to-ceiling pole. The airlock door swung open and the woman-she-would-be-living-with, sailed through the opening, slipped one foot into a foot hold on the wall just outside the airlock, and used the leverage to push the door shut behind her. It automatically sealed itself. It was a surprisingly graceful maneuver for a gravity walker. She turned to Cin.
“Hello again, Cinnamon.”
Cin held up her single, small bag and said, “I’m ready.”
* * *
“The Common area and galley,” the woman explained as they passed through the airlock and into the interior of Therion. Cin floated along behind her, resigned to her fate. She felt empty and sad and angry all at the same time. Mostly angry; angry that her mother was dead; angry that she had been taken from her home and dumped on Terra One like a bag of barley; angry that this woman who looked exactly like her mother was suddenly in her face, making her remember, making her feel things she didn’t want to feel.
She wanted to throw things, hit people, scream at someone. The woman-who-looked-like-her-mother-but-wasn’t had somehow become the woman-she-lived-with. She hated her for that.
“Bridge,” the imposter said, waving a hand toward a closed door on the left. She didn’t offer to show Cin the command deck, but Cin knew what it looked like: Four seats, two forward and close, two back and apart. She had been on Wanderer Class freighters before. The ship was built for a crew of four, but two could handle it easily enough. She didn’t know how many crew this ship had. If it was four, it would be cramped. But she was used to that, too. There was little privacy on spaceships.
Trinity propelled herself down the main passageway to the right, heading aft from the common area, identifying cabins as they went.
“Head left, sleep pods right. Flynn and my room left, spare room right. You can have that one if you want.”
Cin took a quick look. Single bed, small closet, tiny desk with access to the ship’s computer. Standard fare. What more could a girl want? She shoved her bag into the room and left it to decide where to settle.
Trinity continued down the passageway. “Storage right, another spare room left.”
So it was just Trinity and Flynn. Whoever he was. God, that meant waking up in the middle of the night to sounds of sex. She hoped Trinity wasn’t a screamer like her mother had been. Her chest tightened as a flood of memories poured into her head. She pushed them away. They would make her weak. She needed to be strong. She was on her own now.
The passageway ended in two sets of stairs, one going up and the other going down. Trinity pointed. “Up there is the hydroponic garden. Down there is engineering and access to the cargo holds. Don’t go down there alone. It’s not safe.”
Cin said with as much sarcasm as she could muster, “I know my way around a freighter.”
Trinity froze, looked at her curiously. “Yeah, I imagine you do.”
Cin was suddenly afraid. She had revealed too much. She launched herself into the hydroponic garden, and then to the observation dome she knew would be above it. When she looked back, her aunt was still at the bottom of the stairs, watching her.
A male voice sounded. “Trin? You here? Why did you move the ship?”
Cin waited a few moments after Trinity disappeared, then floated down to the main deck and let herself drift along the passageway until she was close enough to the common room to hear them talking.
“Ouch,” the man said.
“Don’t be such a wimp. That’s an ugly gash. You don’t want it to get infected.”
“Stop fidgeting. What happened anyway?”
“Lilith and I went back to the ship, and it was gone. Two men with stunners surprised us. Next thing I know, I wake up with a splitting headache in a utility passageway.”
Cin moved closer until she could see them. The imposter was wrapping gauze around the man’s head. He was a big man, with scars and a crooked nose, and long dark hair.
“Hell if I know. It was her they were after. Bounty hunters. That’s why I was bringing her here. So she could lie low until she could book passage out of here.”
Trinity finished tucking the gauze in and sat back.
“Why are bounty hunters after her?”
Flynn’s hands followed the gauze around his head. “Thanks.” He got a pouch of water from the dispenser in the galley.
“I don’t know. She never got around to explaining that part. But it was obvious she was scared.”
“Huh,” said Trinity. “I didn’t think anything scared Lilith Cytherea.”
“Yeah, I didn’t either. There’s something else I need to tell you.”
Trinity tilted her head to one side. “Oh?”
“Yeah. It’s about your sister. I talked with Matthew Dylan, and he says—”
“He says Serenity’s dead. I know.”
Flynn stared blankly at her for a moment. “Oh, you already heard.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m really sorry, Trin.”
“Yeah,” she said. They sat in silence for a while. It was obvious even to Cin that they were comfortable with silence. At least with each other.
Flynn said, “There’s something else.”
Trinity looked at him expectantly.
“She had a child. A girl named Cinnamon. Dylan says she’s in danger, and asked me to get her off the station and keep her safe.”
Cin inhaled sharply, and something caught in her throat, making her cough. Trinity and Flynn both turned and looked at her. Another silence settled into the space between them. She knew who Matt Dylan was, and if he thought she was in danger, then she must really be in danger. For the first time in a long time, she was afraid. But if he had entrusted her to Flynn, then Flynn was a man she could trust. At least a little.
Trinity finally broke the silence. “Flynn, this is Cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon, this is Flynn.”
Cin stared at the man for several moments, then looked at Trinity. “I go by Cin.”