I touch the cold crystal of the glass tumbler to my lips, but only half-melted ice meets my mouth. Empty. My glass is empty.

I raise the glass and shake it once, just enough to rattle the ice.

No response from the bed.

I clench my teeth. “My glass is empty.”

Nothing.

I lean forward in my chair, just enough to glimpse the whore, tangled in a heap of arms and legs in the dark corner of my quarters. If she were conscious, she’d have refilled my bourbon twice by now. I’m certain I’ve taught her that much. If I haven’t, maybe we need to have another lesson.

I push out of my chair and move toward the bar beside the holographic flames flickering on the hearth.

Let her sleep. I won’t allow it again for a while. Then, she’ll wish she’d been more accommodating.

She’s just a cheap whore I picked up on Phobos. Her house won’t even miss her, which is good because I doubt she’ll make it back to them. The cheap ones never last long enough.

I select my favorite bourbon from the shelf and pour the amber-colored liquid into my glass, replacing the decanter when I’m done. The carpet is warm beneath my feet, and the soft strains of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor filter gently through the room, just loud enough to conceal the rumbling hyperdrive.

I hate space travel. I hate space. Everything is such a damned inconvenience.

I move to the porthole on the far wall and lift the shade. The blue-green tunnel of light outside the ship shifts and shimmers like a scarf in the wind, an opaque barrier between the pseudospace of hyperdrive and the star-speckled void of real space on the other side.

I let the dark shade fall, obscuring the unnatural light, and sit at my desk against the wall. The datapad on the surface blinks to life at my proximity, displaying a photo of a beady-eyed pusher.

Zen Mitchem. Fantasy dealer. Classless scumbag.

No idea who he is or how he got involved with us, but nobody short changes Knightshade. And certainly not on my watch. I sink back into my leather desk chair and swipe a finger across the screen.

Renkin Kiyoi. A Chung chemist. Why the hell are they sending me after a chemist?

I swipe the screen again, and the next image makes me stop. The man in the image has to be 90 years old. With his gnarled features, he could be a dead tree trunk. The only spark is his hazel eyes, which seem a bit too lively to belong in such a weathered old face.

No name listed either. Who the hell is he?

Fantasy-running deadbeats like Mitchem are one thing. A Chung chemist is something else. But sending me after an old man? What could he have done for Braedon Knight to want him dead? Hell, Knightshade probably wasn’t even around when this son of a bitch was actually walking upright.

I guess that’s a perk of owning a syndicate. You can knock off whoever the hell you want. I mean, this guy could have given Bradeon Knight a bad grade in school for all I know. I’ve killed people for Knight for stupider reasons than that.

I sip my bourbon.

It won’t always be like this. Me skipping around the solar system knocking off old men and chemists and deadbeats. No. I’ll be top dog one day. I’ll be the one giving the orders.

But for now, I’m here.

I stand up and start toward the corner, but the door chime rings.

“Come in.” I sip my bourbon and turn to face the door.

A low-ranking operative steps inside and salutes. “Sir.”

“What?”

“Reported sighting on Zen Mitchem.”

I sip my bourbon and gesture for him to continue. He clenches and unclenches his fists and clears his throat.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” He salutes again. “Zen Mitchem was identified boarding the Acheron, a freighter bound for NUSaxony.”

“NUSaxony?”

“Yes, sir.”

What the hell does a pusher like Zen Mitchem want in NUSaxony? Nobody can squeeze a drop of anything past their scanners.

“What port is she out of?”

“Callisto, sir.”

I sip my bourbon. Callisto? Ah, Callisto. It’s been a while since I’ve paid a visit to that wretched cesspit. That was a legendary evening.

“Sir?”

I scowl at him, and the operative shrinks away.

Another reason why someday I’ll be on top. Because Braedon Knight attracts weaklings. They’re better than Chimeras, but put a Knightshade operative in a room with a Black Dragon, and I’ll tell you who’ll be the first to die.

“Set an intercept course for the freighter,” I say.

“Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Stone, sir.” The operative salutes and backs out of the door.

I look down at the tablet on my desktop, and I swipe the dossiers back to Mitchem’s. Beady-eyed snake. He shouldn’t be hard to bring down, but I’d almost pay him to run. I haven’t had a decent workout in years.

Knightshades are pansies. So all their debtors are pansies too. What I wouldn’t give for a decent fight!

The pseudospace light outside the porthole fades as the hyperspace engines wind down. We must have been next door to the freighter.

Fine by me.

“Callisto, huh?”

I glance at the whore, stirring on the carpet.

I have a knife on my desk, displayed on a stand. It’s not a beautiful knife. It’s not even very sharp. But the handle is bone, and the blade is sturdy. And I won it from the strongest man I know.

Kale Ravenwood. I still remember. The son of a bitch punched my front teeth out in that fight, but I broke his ribs. I landed him in the hospital. I did that.

It was the only time I ever beat him, and that was 20 years ago. Maybe more. But I still have the knife. I’m saving it for him, because someday I’m going to come across his smug face again. The universe isn’t big enough that he can hide from me forever. And on that day, I’ll show him just how strong I’ve gotten, and I’ll take him apart piece by piece with his own knife.

Yeah. That’ll be a great day.

I grab the knife and walk to the bed, where I set my glass of bourbon on the nightstand. The whore shrieks as I grab her hair.

Her screams choke off when I slit her throat, but I don’t drop her yet. I didn’t go so deep that she’d bleed out too fast. Something about those breathy gasps, the futile struggle to breathe, to stay alive—yes, that’s the sound I’ll wring out of Kale Ravenwood the next time I see him. I’ll watch him bleed out, and he’ll know it was me who ended his life. And I’ll win, because I’ll still be alive.

The whore slumps to the carpet, naked and blood-stained, and I use her shredded blouse to wipe her blood off my knife. No need to leave it dirty.

I take my glass of bourbon and ring for the operative down the hall. He appears in moments, and if he is surprised by the dead whore on my rug, he does well not to show it.

“Sir?”

“Status?” I swallow the last of my bourbon and tuck Kale’s knife into the sheath on my belt.

“We have the Acheron on scanners, sir,” the operative says. “We’ll be closing in within the next 20 minutes.”

“Excellent.” I set the empty glass down and slide into my long black coat. “Clean up this mess.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And since we’re in the neighborhood,” I glance over my shoulder at him as I pass, “inquire after a reputable whorehouse on Callisto. I’ll expect a visitor when I return.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

I start down the hall to the shuttle bay while the operative gets to work in my quarters. Whoever he finds will likely last longer than the other one. Callisto girls usually do.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky, and he’ll find a redhead.


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