The Queen’s Gambit: Chapter 11, Part 1

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Gambit

I waved Malcolm and the other soldier away from Valentin’s cell. This wasn’t a conversation I wanted overheard. Once they were far enough away that even with augments they couldn’t hear us, I faced Valentin.

I pressed my fingers to the cool wall separating us. This close, I could see the fine wires running through the clear thermoplastic. After a moment, I said, “Your advisors offered me the ten million credits I asked for.”

His expression turned guarded. “Did they?”

“Yes. Ten million credits—enough to feed my people for years,” I said. Emotion made my voice huskier than I’d intended. I paused and took a steadying breath before I continued, “All I have to do is kill you.”

It was the highest paying job I’d ever been offered. The easiest, too, considering Valentin was locked in a cell right in front of me.

“Are you going to accept?”

I stared at him for so long that he started pacing. I tried to see it as just another job, one death for thousands of lives saved. But I couldn’t. This one would be personal and the choice, either way, would haunt me.

Some people would argue I had no soul, that I’d forfeited it the first day I accepted a kill contract. But while my soul might be warped or missing, I still had a personal code of honor and a set of morals that, while not entirely lawful, were mine nonetheless.

And it had been a very long time since I’d killed someone under contract that I later regretted. That stain would never wash away, but it had forced me to do my research meticulously and to ensure each target would get exactly what I thought they deserved. If I had doubts, I walked away.

“I don’t know,” I said at last. “I’d rather not.”

He stopped pacing and turned towards me. He stepped close and pressed his hand against the other side of the wall from mine. “You could let me go,” he said. He was close enough that I could see the dark flecks in his gray eyes. He continued, “I’ll send you supplies, no strings attached.”

I sighed. “You don’t even know if you have an Empire to return to. Maybe your brother decided to take over while you were gone. Why else would they ask me to kill you?”

Valentin’s expression changed again and I caught a glimpse of the cunning wolf he tried so hard to hide. “If Nikolas truly has tried a coup, I have enough loyal troops to take back the crown. I am Emperor by right of law and lineage.”

“And your older brother isn’t?”

“My older half-brother,” he said succinctly.

The ramifications of that statement took a few seconds to sink in, but when they did, my eyes widened. With three little words, he’d alleged his older brother was a bastard in the original sense. “You have proof?”

“After Father changed the line of succession, I had suspicions. I searched Father’s old files and found enough vague references to confront Mother. She confessed. A DNA test would prove it.”

He shrugged and continued, “Father claimed Nikolas because he truly loved Mother and didn’t want to see her shamed, but on his deathbed, Father must’ve decided he wouldn’t put an illegitimate son on the throne. I haven’t announced it because I love my mother and stars know Father was no saint.”

“Does anyone else know? Does Nikolas?”

“Mother told Nikolas after Father’s death. She thought it would help him understand Father’s decision. Nikolas did not take it well,” Valentin said, his voice dry.

If you spent your whole life thinking you were the Emperor’s son, destined to be the next Emperor, and then it turned out you were secretly illegitimate, I could see how that would be a tough blow. No wonder Nikolas wanted Valentin dead.

Valentin sighed and seemed to come to a decision. “I’ve spent eleven months dodging assassins and attempting to keep a fractured Empire functioning while trying to ferret out who is loyal and who is not. I was following up on a lead on one of my top-level advisors when I ran into Commander Adams.”

If Valentin had been dodging paid hitmen, then the fact that he wasn’t dead was a testament to both his skill and luck. Elite assassins very rarely failed and unless his advisors were total morons, they’d hire only the best.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening here,” he said. “I knew my advisors were feeding me false information, but it never occurred to me that they would lie about the Rogue Coalition. Why would they? Maybe they hoped you’d take me out for them.”

So he’d known his advisors were lying to him. “You knew you were losing the war?”

He grimaced guiltily. “Yes, but at the time I didn’t know where you fit into the puzzle. If you were actually sent by one of my advisors and just playing at ransoming me, telling you what I knew would prove I knew the advisors were traitors. I have loyal people that I needed to protect.”

“You let me send off a ransom note without a peep about any of this,” I said slowly, “because you wanted to see how they would respond.”

He nodded. “I would like to see the response itself, assuming you don’t end up killing me.”

Two paths opened up before me. Throw in with the charming lion masquerading as a sheep for the indefinite promise of future help, or kill the lion, a man I actually liked, for the security of cold, hard credits handed over by traitors.

Could I kill a man who didn’t deserve it in cold blood? I wasn’t entirely sure I could, not and live with myself afterwards. The little piece of soul I had left didn’t need any more stains.

I shook my head. I needed to talk to Ari. This was not a decision I could make alone, nor one I could make in haste. I needed to sleep on it, at least for tonight.

“Would you truly kill me to save your people?” Valentin asked.

“If the situation were reversed, would you? If your people were starving and you knew my death could feed your entire Empire for two years or longer, would you pull the trigger?”

He stared at me for a long time. “No,” he said softly, “I don’t think I could kill you, even for my Empire. Some random stranger, maybe, if it was the only option. I would hate myself, but I would do it for the good of my people. But you?” He shook his head.

Warmth blossomed in my chest, no matter how hard I tried to suppress it, and I inclined my head in agreement. I might be able to kill someone, but I didn’t think I could kill Valentin.

“If you decide to go through with it,” he said with a gallows grin, “make sure you get the money up front. I’d hate to die for nothing.”

“I can’t promise anything other than this: I won’t kill you like a thief in the night,” I said. “You have my word that you’ll be safe until morning, at the very least. I suggest you come up with a very compelling case for letting you go.”

He nodded. “Until morning, then,” he said.

“Until morning,” I echoed.

It was going to be a long, long night.

Part 2 will be out later this week. :)

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30 Replies to “The Queen’s Gambit: Chapter 11, Part 1”

    1. No, Valentin must die. He’s the legitimate heir. His children would also be legitimate heirs. His step brother must kill him to end the legitimate line. No one will know except him and mother. Depending on how much this means to him, his mother might have a fatal accident, etc…

  1. Another cliffhanger…. Also explains what his brother’s up to, and why Valentin has been letting the war simmer while he tried to stick the empire back together at the top. Has he considered hiring Samara to simply kidnap or kill his brother?

  2. Ooh nice twist. Wasn’t surprised by the kill request but was surprised Valentin knew more than he’d let on. Wonderful intrigue and I’m glad she’s struggling with the request in line w her background. Is this chapter the last one?? So been enjoying these characters!

      1. Wonderful story line…the plot thickens and there is more lovely chapters to come, Yaaaaaay! Your story comes to me at a very difficult time in my life. I so look forward to each section and can disappear into another world for a bit. Thank you.

  3. Samara should salve her soul by earning the 10 million as his body guard, not his executioner. Of course, she does have a kingdom of her own to rule. He needs someone, someone loyal and skilled. I hate that there are only 14 chapters. I want to see how he clears his house of the traitors.

  4. Thank you for another great chapter. I’m going back to bed to sleep off this fever..I hope I dream about Samara’s adventures.

  5. You’re killing me. Would it be bad to say I’m looking forward to TQG than PR? Not that I love both but I’m beginning to love Valentin already. Too late to apply as Beta but did some work for Ilona Andrews before. Am an Emergency Medicine physician so anytime you need help with some medical stuff just holler. :)

    1. The good news is that if you like TQG, you’re (most likely) going to like PR. Loch and Ada are my first love and even after a billion edits, I’m still not sick of them. And you won’t have to wait for weeks and weeks to finish PR once it releases, so that’s a definite win. :)

      Thanks for the offer—I’ll keep you in mind!

  6. Keeps getting better and better!! Will the novellas be published in hard copy? I like holding a book. Thanks for a great story!!!

    1. I think they’ll be available in print as print-on-demand. Unfortunately, even short POD books tend to be crazy expensive (think $10+). :(

      1. OK by me!! Worth paying more for something you really enjoy! All of the Innkeeper books by Ilona Andrews are independently published and, consequently, a bit more expensive but WELL worth it.

  7. just stumbled over this serial and – DAMN, where was it hiding all the time?! Great story!

    Love how balanced is Sam’s character. Even if she is sometimes too “trusting”. Maybe I am just not so happy about her too quick connection she made with Valentine. (I usually don’t like the “insta-love” scenarios and it’s testimnony to your great writing that I love the story anyway. And I hope that just didn’t sound as snotty as I am afraid it sounds. :D) I would expect her being more suspicious and do lots of double double checks. :D
    The different aspects of Valentine’s character are awesome. I love how you are introducing him bit by bit and we have something to learn all the time.

    One thing which irked me was the scene where Sam checked her vid’s of outside of ship during confrontation – if you are deep in space, there usually isn’t enough light to see anything and ships use other detection systems. Especially with stealth or battle ships – they are planning on being practically invisible – some kind of paint, usually with something which absorbs light so they just blend in.

    Also, Rogue Coalition is full of… shady characters, I am a little surprised there aren’t more people trying to bring money or other esencials. It’s just, a lot of them should be really good at theirs professions and people like them ought to find a lot of peculiar jobs, especially during war. Is there some reason for which they abandoned theirs home? Or has Sam another enemies, anothe pirate organisation or “Thieves Guild” (exaggeration, I love medieval fantasy. :D) who are trying to sabotage her?

    Neural link sounds kick ass too. I was just wondering, what about hijacking them? I would expecting, with people who made home in Coalition, there will be this problem with them scheming, playing and sometimes just being arrogant, mean pricks. Not mentioning some rivalties between.. personels in similar job lines. :D

    Okey, I stop here or you start to hate me. (If you haven’t already. *laugh* And I am sorry for my “writing-vomiting”. I just wanna help and constructive critique is usually better than “Great story, where will be another part?”.
    Or I hope you will take it like that.
    Happy writing! ^^

    ps: sorry if some of the text is incomprehensible. English is my second lang and I am not as good at it as I wanna be. ^^

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying the story and thank you for the feedback. You may want to check out the ebook when it is available because it will be fully edited—the serial as I’m posting it is more first-draft quality. :)

  8. Maia’s post reminded me that there is still a hanging thread about Samara’s backup/traitor and the tracking device/virus he installed on her ship. Apparently she can’t trust her software, hardware, or support staff.

    Hopefully Samara is up to the challenge of maintaining confidentiality (secrets), integrity (trust), and availability (life). CIA is like good, fast, and cheap – most solutions force you to pick 2.

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