The Queen’s Gambit: Chapter 13, Part 2

Part of the serial story The Queen’s Gambit

Ari was waiting for me when I stepped out of the bathroom. “I see Stella wasn’t joking about assigning you as my babysitter,” I said without heat. I smiled and pulled her into a hug. “I’m just glad I’m here for you to babysit.”

She squeezed me tight. “Thanks for coming back for me. It was stupid and reckless, but I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. I let her go and stepped back to eye her leg. “How’s the calf?” I asked.

“It’s healed. Luckily, Asray has multiple med chambers. We made use of them, though you were the worst, by far.”

“I know you’ve been holding back on me. Catch me up while we walk,” I said. “I need to stretch my legs.”

We left medical and turned right towards the heart of the ship. In a few minutes, we’d pass the mess hall. I wasn’t sure about our supplies, but hopefully I could scrounge up something to eat.

“As you know, we got everyone out,” Ari said. “We had more than a dozen injured, but no casualties. You were the last person in medical.” She shook her head. “It could have been so much worse.”

I’d heard this before in her brief updates, but I still had trouble believing it. “How did we get everyone out? Kos didn’t pursue us from the secondary launch point?” I asked.

Five kilometers was enough to give us a few seconds of surprise but we still couldn’t have competed with several squadrons of Kos fighters. And to get everyone out, multiple ships would’ve had to drop people at a nearby settlement and then return for more passengers.

A strange look passed over her face. “By the time we made it to the ships, there wasn’t a single Kos fighter in the air. We thought it might be a trick because their battle fleet was still there. We launched a squadron of fighters as protection and a small ship of volunteers to be a decoy.”

“That was smart,” I said.

“I try,” she said with a fleeting smile. “Kos didn’t attack. They didn’t do anything. We launched more ships with the same result, until we finally launched Asray. Still nothing.”

“Did they ever break radio silence?”

“They did,” Ari said slowly.

Now we were finally getting somewhere. “And?” I asked impatiently. A potent mix of anger and betrayal made my voice sharper than I intended.

“I spoke to Valentin directly,” she said. “He apologized and said he didn’t order the attack.”

“Bullshit,” I said. “Please tell me you didn’t believe him.”

“He asked about you,” she continued. “He seemed genuinely furious when he found out you’d been shot, even though I didn’t tell him how bad it was. The battle fleet stayed for twenty-four hours then left. We’re still picking up flickers on our sensors—they seem to be quietly patrolling the area.”

“Or waiting for us to return so they can kill us in one shot,” I predicted darkly.

Ari pulled me to a stop. “We returned to Arx three days ago,” she said. “You were too unstable to move, so Stella and I stayed here with you. Asray is berthed in the emergency hangar.”

With that, the growing sense of wrongness I’d felt crystalized—the halls were empty and silent. On a city-ship, people were always underfoot, but Ari and I hadn’t met a single person.

“I went in with four platoons of combat veterans,” she said. “Like you, I expected a trap. We swept the entire compound with thermal imaging—every nook and cranny, every maintenance tunnel, everything. There were no traps. In fact, there was no indication the Kos soldiers had been there at all. They repaired the damage they caused.”

“They fixed the turrets? In a day?” I asked. Even with new turrets standing by and emergency work shifts, the job would take us at least a week.

“They repaired the inside damage,” she clarified, “but they did leave us replacement turrets. Upgrades, too. We’ve got crews working around the clock to get them up and running. We’ve also got crews combing through our security systems to make sure Kos didn’t leave us any surprises. So far, nothing.”

What game was Emperor Kos playing? I shook my head, unable to puzzle it out. My brain felt mired in mud.

“There’s more,” she said.

“Of course there is,” I muttered.

“We found two huge shipping containers of food when we returned, just sitting out in front of the main door, like they’d been there all along. Every day since then, new shipments of food and supplies show up. None of the ships’ captains know, or will say, who is sending them, but it has to be Valentin.”

It took every bit of my self-control not to immediately order it all sent back. Pride would not feed my people, and charity food—or worse, pity food—was still food.

“Did the Emperor say why his soldiers attacked?” I asked.

“No,” Ari said. “He wanted to talk to you, but we were trying to keep your condition under wraps, so we stonewalled him until he stopped asking,” Ari said.

Betrayal, fury, and disappointment roiled through my system. I needed to work off some energy before I made decisions I would regret. As much as I wanted to hunt Emperor Kos down, it would be incredibly stupid with him safe in his Empire. I started walking again. Ari kept pace beside me.

I turned left at the next hallway and headed for the ship’s forward port exit. I needed to see Arx for myself. “What’s the general sentiment?” I asked.

“The civilians think you’re a hero for getting us food,” she said. “The soldiers think you’re a hero for refusing to hide in safety when we were under attack. Spirits are generally very high.”

My people were safe. No one had died in the attack and they wouldn’t starve this month, maybe not this year if we were careful with rations. I had achieved what I set out to achieve, so why did it seem like a hollow victory?

Part 3 later this week.

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32 Replies to “The Queen’s Gambit: Chapter 13, Part 2”

  1. Good gosh, I really don’t want this story to end. I can’t decide which is worse; that this is a ‘novella’ or that we have no news of the next Samara-Valentin novella!

      1. Speaking of which, start posting random PR snippets so we can start preordering and buying when it’s out.

        Or just drop general hints about how good it is. 👻

          1. Wait a minute, come back here! Cliffhangers that last into the next week are bad enough, but ones lasting a year? Give us a break, Jessie, you’re killing us!

  2. Thank you!
    I love where this seems to be going, and look forward to more about the Emperor and the Queen. I can see them working together, for many stories to come. (Hint hint!)

  3. The heck with PR2 – we want more of Queen’s Gambit!! Great story line and protagonists. Of course, I can see Samara carefully saving one of each pair of containers for outlying times, while she works on getting Valentin lined up. On another note, if these containers are “magically” showing up, they OBVIOUSLY have a bug in their IFF and display software that allows someone to come and go without Samara’s people being notified. The question is, what else can or has been sneaked in? With or without Valentin’s awareness? All sorts of plot opportunities, here!

    1. The way I read this is the food isn’t just appearing, it’s being delivered, there’s just no “sender information” coming with it.

  4. I really, REALLY needed this, today. My minion was diagnosed with influenza, my bestie just found out her position was being eliminated at her job, and we had to cancel a girl’s trip for this next weekend for both reasons. Mondays are just evil, except for the ray of sunshine that is this wonderful story. Now I am going to try to find some chocolate…

      1. Thank you :-)
        The minion is now feeling well enough to complain about being bored, and I found a stash of dark chocolate, lol. Everything else will sort itself out.
        **crosses fingers**

  5. I’m a pretty new fan of yours, but a solid one from first post! Your writing is vivid & I find myself rereading all of the previous chapters again & again. Well done & happy writing!

  6. Aww…the ending makes me want to read more without stopping until I know what would happen next. I have to say- I didn’t expect what what revealed in this chapter. He says he didn’t order his rescue,sends food… still if not him then who? are there people working in shadows in his government that are pro him and want the conflict with his brother to end or is it something else?
    Thank you for this chapter!

  7. I was really hoping PR1 would be out this year. Loved the snippets and was looking forward to the whole story. Publishers; can’t live without them, but can’t get books any faster. I’m so happy I live in the “paperless age”, so books are published faster. lol

  8. I think you can do better than a cliche here of ‘why does it feel like a hollow victory’ especially since that cliché doesn’t really fit this situation. A hollow victory is where you get everything you said you wanted, but it turns out that you actually wanted something else. Here, she only got a part of what she wanted, and she is still not sure at what cost she won it.

    Everything else has been so spot on so far that the this one mistake was jarring. Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

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