This is a rough draft excerpt from Polaris Rising:
The same kid from before was waiting for me outside of the captain’s door. I wondered if he stood there all the time, and if so, was he looking out for the captain’s interests or the mercenaries’?
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Charles, but everyone calls me Chuck.”
“Chuck, I’m Ada. Pleased to meet you.” He ducked his head but didn’t respond.
We returned to my cell by the same path we’d taken earlier. When we arrived, the display next to the door showed Loch still standing in the back section. He had to have been standing for hours, but he wasn’t slumped or fidgeting. I made a quick decision that I hoped I wouldn’t come to regret.
“The captain said to lower the barrier,” I said. “So that if I need to use the facilities, they are available.”
“Umm…” Chuck stole a glance at the control screen, but he clearly had no idea what to do.
I swept past him. “Allow me.”
“I don’t think—”
But I was already tapping on the screen. I lowered the separator, set the lights to stay on all night at a dim setting, and lengthened Loch’s chains. He wouldn’t be able to stretch out, but at least he could sit. And I would remain out of his reach.
“Easy peasy,” I said. “I could teach you, if you’d like.”
The kid eyed the video display with distrust, but it was easy to see that Loch remained chained. I prayed that Loch wouldn’t move and give away the fact that his chains were longer, but he still stood in the same position. I wondered if he was sleeping standing up. Was that even possible?
“I don’t need help from you,” Chuck said. “The crew is teaching me everything I need to know.” He swung the door open. “Now get in there and don’t give me any trouble.”
I entered the dim cell and the door slammed closed behind me. Without the energy field separating us, Loch seemed bigger, more immediate, and vastly more dangerous. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I just had to keep reminding myself that we both wanted the same thing.
I tilted my head slightly towards the door, and Loch barely shook his head. I hadn’t heard the kid leave, either, so I had to assume we had an audience.
“Did you miss me while I was gone?” I asked.
“Ah, that’s too bad. Would you like to hear about the captain’s quarters?”
I couldn’t help the slightly evil edge to my smile as I began to describe, in excruciating detail, the captain’s dining room. Every rug was lovingly described, as was every vase, flower, piece of furniture, and place setting.
After five minutes, Loch stepped away from the wall with a rattle of chains. “He’s gone, but feel free to keep talking. I was nearly asleep.”
“Did they feed you?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I ate.”
I pulled two dinner rolls wrapped in a paper napkin out of one of the pockets on my pants. After all, what was the point of pants with so many pockets if I wasn’t going to use them? And if they failed to pat me down after dinner, then that was hardly my fault.
“Sadly, nothing else would transport well, so it is bread or nothing. But I’m willing to give you these two delicious rolls in exchange for your name. I know the mercs call you Loch, but I don’t know if that’s your first or last name or something they made up.”
“You’re trying to bribe me with bread?”
“Yes. Is it working? I’m Ada.”
“I know who you are,” Loch said.
It was my turn to be surprised. I might be a von Hasenberg, but I’d never been in the spotlight like my four eldest siblings. Those four all looked like younger versions of our father, even poor Francesca and Hannah. I had the golden skin and dark hair of our mother. Only our youngest sister Catarina shared my coloring.
“And so you are…?” I prompted.
“Marcus Loch,” he finally replied.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said. I tossed him the bread, napkin and all. We might be making polite conversation, but I had no doubt that Mr. Marcus Loch would eat me alive if I ventured too close.
Marcus Loch. The name sounded familiar. I mentally sorted through the rosters of important people in all three High Houses, trying to place him. I knew he wasn’t part of House von Hasenberg. He couldn’t be directly part of House Yamado or House Rockhurst, either, because he would have their name. So either he was a distant relation or an in-law, but I couldn’t remember. Where had I heard that name and who had he pissed off to get such a bounty?
“Let me save you some time,” he said as if reading my mind. “I’m Marcus Loch, the so-called Devil of Fornax Zero, and the man with the highest bounty in the ‘verse… at least until you showed up.”
It was only thanks to long practice that I managed to keep my expression perfectly placid. Now the chains made sense, as did the mercs’ wariness. The Royal Consortium claimed that Marcus Loch had killed at least a dozen of his commanding officers and fellow soldiers during the suppression of the Fornax Rebellion. Then he disappeared.
The Consortium put out an ever-increasing bounty, but so far no bounty hunter had been able to bring him in to claim it. Rumor had it that he’d been caught six or seven times, but every time he had escaped and left nothing but a pile of bodies behind.
Marcus Loch was a deserter, a killer, and a traitor to the Consortium. And he was just the man I needed.
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik. All rights reserved. Coming early 2019 from Harper Voyager.