Kris Longknife: Furious
Having used unorthodox methods to save a world—and every sentient being on it—Lieutenant Commander Kris Longknife is wanted across the galaxy for crimes against humanity. For her own safety, she’s been assigned to a backwater planet where her Fast Patrol Squadron 127 enforces immigration control and smuggler interdiction.
But Kris is a Longknife, and nothing can stop her from getting back to the center of things—not when all hell is breaking loose. Now she’s on the run, hunted by both military and civilian authorities—and since the civilian authorities happen to be her immediate family, Kris soon finds herself homeless, broke, and on trial for her life on an alien world…
Princess Kristine Longknife studied herself in the mirror above the bar. She didn’t look any different. Her Navy blues still sported the two and a half stripes of a lieutenant commander. Why did she feel so different?
She sat in her usual chair at the far end of the bar. The next eight chairs were empty, by mutual consent of both her and the small crowd at the other end. A few misinformed men had entered her space.
One look from Kris, and they fled.
At the other end of the bar, quiet chatter rose and fell. An occasional joke brought forth bleary laughter. A deathly hush resided at Kris’s end.
The emphasis was on death.
Kris lifted her nightly liter of Scotch and swirled the liquid around, studying it in the faint light. This faithful soldier was about half–gone.
Kris poured herself another shot of the fiery liquid. There was no tremble in her hands. No sign at all that she had polished off the first half of her nightly allotment in the three hours since she had come off duty.
She downed the shot without tasting it. Some people waxed lyrical about the warmth of good Scottish whiskey as it passed from lips to stomach.
Kris hated the stuff.
To her it tasted more like something for cleaning paint–encrusted brushes, something you’d punish yourself by imbibing.
“Punish.” There was that word again. It seemed to come up a lot in Kris’s thoughts.
“Punish,” as in they’re dead, and you’re alive, and you ought to be punished for that state of affairs.
Kris poured herself more poison and drank it down. The last time she had crawled into a bottle, after little Eddy died, and she survived the kidnapping, the liquor at least did its job. It wrapped her in cotton candy and made the days easy to forget and deadened the terrors of the nights.
Now her nightly self–medication did nothing to tame the nightmares.
Well, she’d managed to show up at the squadron with nothing worse than a dull headache from the night before. And no, so far, she hadn’t let herself partake of the hair of the dog that bit her the night before. The fast patrol boats were puny, but any warship, no matter how tiny, could easily turn and kill a handler who did not treat her with respect.
Kris had killed enough already. She would not add more to her list of slaughtered subordinates.
Kris poured another shot and eyed it like she might some hostile alien cruiser. She’d had quite a few of them in the crosshairs of her 24–inch pulse lasers. Those she knew how to handle.
It was what you did after you’d won the fight that had Kris defeated.
She reached for her punishment.
“Auntie Kris, please come home,” left Kris clenching an empty fist.
A glance in the mirror above her head showed a thirteen–year–old girl in a tee that shimmered through the faces of some popular band. Her swirling floor–length skirt showed every color of the rainbow, and sparkled as well.
Kris closed her eyes against the glare; teenagers were going to go blind before they reached twenty if all those riotous colors stayed in fashion. The Navy officer turned to face her latest truant officer. “You can’t come in here. You’re under age.”
Cara, one of the few survivors of Kris’s company, gave her a short teen shrug . . . whatever . . . and shot the barkeep a quick, easy grin. He went on doing what he was doing at the other end of the bar, and Cara flounced over to sit next to Kris.
“It doesn’t seem that anything is really illegal on Madigan’s Rainbow so long as it doesn’t mess with one of the shareholders.”
The thirteen–year–old had gotten that right. The hired help could do just about anything on this benighted planet. Anything but upset one of the old farts who owned a share in the place. Inconvenience one of them, and you’d be on the next ship out.
Maybe inside with oxygen to breathe if you didn’t piss them off too much. Otherwise, maybe outside with not so much to breathe.
“You know, the day after I arrived, I tried to buy a share in this . . . place,” Kris settled for. Cussing in front of a thirteen–year–old girl seemed undignified. Besides, considering Cara’s background on New Eden, she likely knew far worse than Kris had picked up in her sheltered upbringing and years in the Navy.
“You did?” Cara answered, wide–eyed. “What happened?”
Warming to a conversation with someone who would let Kris ramble where she chose, the princess and major shareholder in Nuu Enterprises went on.
“I plunked down a credit chit worth two shares, dared them to say I wasn’t rich enough to buy into their little hideaway.”
“Wow,” was Cara’s innocent reaction.
“Then the planet manager let me in on a little secret. You don’t just have to have money; you got to be liked.”
“Oh,” Cara said. Even a teenager from New Eden knew the reputation Longknifes had in human space.
“Yep, any shareholder could veto any new applicant.”
“What happened?” was more a space holder than a question.
“An hour after the general manager sent out my application, she had a list of vetoes that was longer than her stockholders list.”
“How’d that happen?” Now there was honest puzzlement, rare in a teenager.
“Some people vetoed me twice. Didn’t want to risk their first veto getting lost on the net.”
“Oh,” Cara said. “I see.”
“Yeah,” Kris said, downing the drink she’d poured before Cara arrived. “I may have billions of good Wardhaven dollars in my portfolio, but I’m just a scat–lugging hireling on Madigan’s Rainbow.”
Kris considered that as she poured her next drink. After surveying the smooth flow of liquid from bottle to shot glass, she made a command decision.
“Barkeep, a drink for my short friend here.”
“I’m not that much shorter than you,” Cara snorted under her breath. And she spoke the truth. Her last growth spurt, fueled by good food on the Wasp, was carrying her close to Kris’s own six feet.
Further discussions of altitude and attitude was cut short by the bartender’s curt, “What will you have?”
“A Shirley Temple,” Cara beamed proudly, “with three cherries.”
The bartender set to work at his end of the bar.
“Where’d you learn about a Shirley Temple?” Kris demanded after downing her own poison and refilling her glass.
“Auntie Abby told me to order one if you insisted I drink something.”
Unlike “Auntie Kris,” Abby really was Cara’s aunt, and only living relative in human space. Not that following a Longknife around both in and out of human space made it all that easy to stay a living person, relative or otherwise.
Abby was nominally Kris’s maid. She was also a whole lot more, some of which helped Kris stay alive.
At the moment, no one could help Kris stay alive but Kris.
“So,” Kris said, belting down another shot, “why’d Abby send you to get me?”
“Because she already had one black eye and doesn’t want another,” had the kind of innocent truth that one mumbled under one’s breath, not expecting a teenager to pick up on it and pass it along.
It was also true.
Last night, Kris had objected to being dragged off to bed before her liter was a truly dead soldier. Surprises of surprises, Kris had caught Abby off guard and landed a good one. Shocked, whether at what she’d done or that Abby had actually dropped her guard for a second, Kris went docilely to bed.
And had to suffer through today with more attention and less of a headache.
Sending a kid, and a girl at that. Abby was really playing dirty.
Kris managed to get three more shots in while Cara polished off her drink and openly relished the taste of each bright red cherry.
Last cherry gone, Cara hopped off her chair and grinned at Kris. “Time to go.”
“Why?” Kris answered belligerently.
“I got a surprise for you.”
“What kind of surprise?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise,” had the kind of logic even a three–year–old could understand. A three–year–old or a drunk.
Kris was neither. At least the lack of the trembles seemed to say so. After weighing her options only slightly less carefully than Kris weighed starting a war between the entire human race and some really nasty aliens, Kris decided to follow Cara.
The young woman led: out of the bar, out of the hotel, and out into the streets of Elysian Fields. It was late, and the streetlights had already been dimmed. It was an obvious encouragement to all the worker bees that management expected you to be early to bed and early to rise.
Few here held out any hope of being healthy, wealthy, or wise. You either made it before you got here, or you did what you were told and were grateful for the chance.
There were a few exceptions to that policy. Do something that really won the approval of management, and you might be rewarded with a significant bounty.
Kris suspected that catching one Kris Longknife in an escape attempt had a very high bounty on it. No one had told her, but the looks she got, the questions she was asked whenever she varied one millimeter from her normal schedule fairly shouted a bounty with a lot of zeros and commas. Kris might be wanted for crimes against humanity on 150 planets, but she wasn’t dumb, or any less observant than she’d been when she got herself into this mess.
Tonight, as they made their way back to Kris’s nearly palatial quarters . . . after all, she was a Longknife and she did command FastPatRon 127, the main defense Madigan’s Rainbow had against smugglers and the odd alien scow that might wander by . . . Cara gabbed up a blue streak. She talked about how this or that reminded her of that place or the other on New Eden.
Kris hadn’t spent that much time on New Eden before the government invited her to go elsewhere in a hurry. But Elysian Fields did not look at all like Eden’s main city. New Eden was run–down and shabby, in need of urban renewal or at least several new coats of paint. Fields was washed and scrubbed, planted and flowering . . . or else.
Kris let the teenager babble while walking a straight line to prove she could.
Then Cara took a turn that Kris normally didn’t take on her walk home. It wasn’t a turn that would make her miss Kris’s quarters, it was just that Kris had fallen into a habit of always taking the more scenic route. The one next to the park. It left her in easy reach of a bush if the Scotch suddenly demanded to vacate the premises.
Cara turned away from the park and onto a road lined with four–to–eight–story walk–ups.
Pickled brain or no, Kris checked for her service–issue automatic. It was in its usual place in the small of her back. This could just be a new kid in town taking a shortcut through a bad part of town.
Officially, Fields had no “bad” part of town. Still, there were places that fell well below the medium income. Some of the old codgers living here had reputations. There were whispered stories of how they’d made their billions without benefit of law and in ways the courts would have frowned upon if they’d come to their attention. Kris had picked up hints that things were not always as calm as they seemed among the owners.
There had to be someplace on the planet where one could procure that which wasn’t displayed in the gleaming windows of the stores.
Cara made another turn, still talking like a magpie. The alcoholic buzz was gone. Kris was on full alert. Cara was now walking away from their quarters.
Inconspicuously, Kris’s eyes roved, looking for a friendly cop, who would most solicitously tell Kris she was not going the way she should and ask why.
Or a thug looking for a big payday and finding a spectacular one. Just the value of the raw components of the computer at Kris’s neck would make the thief a billionaire.
Not that Nelly had said a word to Kris in over three weeks.
There was, of course, always the risk of an assassin. Kris had dodged plenty of them. Some genius had cut her security detail here to zero . . . well, Abby . . . insisting that Madigan’s Rainbow was a totally benign planet.
Like there would ever be one where Kris was concerned.
There was a reason Kris was wanted on 150 planets. And a lot of people going through worse stages of grief than she was would gladly see her dead.
Fear blew a cold wind through Kris’s brain, driving the final wisps of whiskey’s self–induced fog before it. Still yapping, Cara stooped to check her shoe. “I got this huge rock in it,” she insisted.
Kris ground her teeth. They had stopped in front of a narrow alley. The smell of garbage and urine assailed the air. More proof that these Elysian fields had an ugly underbelly. Kris peered into the dark of the alley but could see nothing.
Cara stood up and huffed “I’m glad that’s taken care of.”
THE DECEPTION IS GOING FINE, Nelly said, speaking in Kris’s head for the first time in almost a month. NOW GET YOUR DRUNK ASS UP THAT ALLEY, YOUR STUPID HIGHNESS.
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