No one escapes their past as the crew of the You Sexy Thing attempts to navigate the hazards of opening a pop-up restaurant and the dangers of a wrathful pirate-king seeking vengeance in Cat Rambo’s Devil’s Gun.
Life’s hard when you’re on the run from a vengeful pirate-king…
When Niko and her crew find that the intergalactic Gate they’re planning on escaping through is out of commission, they make the most of things, creating a pop-up restaurant to serve the dozens of other stranded ships.
But when an archaeologist shows up claiming to be able to fix the problem, Niko smells something suspicious cooking. Nonetheless, they allow Farren to take them to an ancient site where they may be able to find the weapon that could stop Tubal Last before he can take his revenge.
There, in one of the most dangerous places in the Known Universe, each of them will face ghosts from their past: Thorn attempts something desperate and highly illegal to regain his lost twin, Atlanta will have to cast aside her old role and find her new one, Dabry must confront memories of his lost daughter, and Niko is forced to find Petalia again, despite a promise not to seek them out.
Meanwhile, You Sexy Thing continues to figure out what it wants from life—which may not be the same desire as Niko and the rest of the crew.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of Devil’s Gun by Cat Rambo, on sale 8/29/23
Over the course of her military career, Niko Larsen had awoken to all sorts of conditions, including firefights, battlestorms, unexpected evacuations, and last-minute musters. This was, however, the first time she had awoken to the cries of a panicked bios.
“Captain Captain CAPTAIN!”
The words came from all around her, nearly blasting her out of her bunk. You Sexy Thing might have been a supra-intelligent being, but right now, it seemed reduced to far below that by panic. “They’re INSIDE me!”
Niko rolled out of her bed in one easy motion and didn’t bother with anything other than a gun and its belt. Still strapping it on, she raced down the corridor toward the central control room. The other members of the crew were less awake, startled faces appearing in doorways as she flashed past.
Her mind flipped through possibilities as fast as her footsteps. How could someone have gotten aboard? The ship was docked, but still double-locked. Surely the ship would have alerted them the moment someone tried to cut their way in. Was this the blow from Tubal Last she’d been expecting, or some other entirely new threat?
She hit the doorway running, prepared for anything except what she saw . . .
A perfectly normal control room, in its usual status. The bumps and bubbles of indicator lights played in their familiar flickering patterns, one of the Derloen ghosts nosing along the surface of a bank of controls, another following after it.
“What . . .” Niko said, looking around. She took a breath and holstered the gun in her hand. “What exactly is the problem, Thing?”
“I can’t see them but I can feel them! There’s one on the main panel!”
“The ghosts?” Niko said with sudden interest, watching the worm of light crawl along the panel. “They’re magic, Thing. You shouldn’t be able to sense them. You couldn’t before.”
The ghosts had not come with the original ship, nor had their installation been Niko’s idea. One of her crew members, the prophet Lassite, had insisted on bringing them along from the space station TwiceFar when they had vacated it in a hurried confusion of explosions. But mechanical beings had the disadvantage of not being able to perceive magic, and so far, the ship had in fact refused to believe that the ghosts existed or that Lassite had any power whatsoever to perceive the future.
Niko’s second-in-command, Dabry Jen, appeared in the doorway, looking calm and unflustered. He had, Niko noted, taken the time to dress, although he also had made his gun, currently held in an upper hand, a priority, just as Milly, behind him, had. “Captain?” he said.
“Stand down, Sergeant,” she said. “The ship seems to be able to perceive the ghosts for the first time.”
Dabry’s eyebrows rose, but he made no comment.
“They feel wrong,” the ship said with certainty.
“What changed? When did you notice feeling them?” Niko said. “And what happened to cause all the screaming?”
“I was learning to imagine,” the ship said apologetically. “Gio and Atlanta were explaining it to me, and then I started trying to imagine things, and I did that for a while and I couldn’t stop anymore and then I felt it and I knew I wasn’t imagining.”
Niko knuckled her forehead. “What time is it?”
“The fifth hour.”
“Goodness,” she said. “I had a whole three hours of sleep that time.”
“Do something!” the ship demanded. “I want to stop feeling this wrongness.”
“I’m not sure I can,” Niko said. “Dabry, go roust Lassite.” Sessiles slept deeply and it was no surprise that the little priest hadn’t appeared yet. Niko reflected with a touch of sourness that despite claiming to be a prophet, he seemed to be absolutely oblivious to what was going on. Perhaps he considered it too insignificant to note.
When Lassite appeared, the ghosts abandoned their exploration of the console and began to curl around his arms. Derloen ghosts were all that was left of a Derloen when they perished, and they were not particularly intelligent, but they did seem drawn to the person that had brought them on the ship.
Lassite, if pressed, could not have said why he brought them in the mad rush that had been their evacuation of the exploding space station. He had never envisioned the ghosts when seeing the Golden Path, the vision that had driven him through all his early years, the insistent prescience that had brought him to Niko, the individual destined to walk that path and change the universe as a result. But he liked them.
He said, “What is the problem?”
“Your ghosts are bothering the ship.”
He shook his narrow, snakelike head, the motion barely visible under the red hood he habitually wore over his plain black robe. “That is not possible.”
“I feel something,” the ship said. This emotion, it thought, might be sullenness. It was a mix of anger and stubbornness. It found dealing with the Sessile the least pleasurable of any of its crew, and sometimes actually unpleasant. But Niko would have objected to the disposal of any of her crew.
Lassite said to Niko, “I will keep them in their bag for now. I do not believe they find that space unwelcome. Is that acceptable?”
“Very well,” Niko said before the ship could reply. “I don’t see where anyone can object to that.” She looked around herself; the problem with being inside the individual at which you wanted to quirk an eyebrow was that you had no specific direction in which to quirk.
━━ ˖°˖ ☾☆☽ ˖°˖ ━━━━━━━
As long as they were all up, Niko thought, she might as well break her recent news to them. Coming on the heels of the warning that pirate king Tubal Last was still alive and would be pursuing them, it might not be the worst, but they had all loved the restaurant that united them, the Last Chance, up until the point things had started to blow up on the space station housing it and they’d been forced to steal the ship and escape.
“Come into the eating chamber,” she said. “Someone go and rouse Talon, if they can, and let Atlanta and Gio know to come as well. We need to be discussing some matters of our course.”
Dabry raised an eyebrow at her but disappeared to find the other crew members.
By now the ship knew that any meeting required caffeine, and it had produced plenty, along with protein bars that it had hoped would prove delicious and which seemed to be much less so, judging by their reception. Niko took one bite and left hers on the plate, while Lassite simply sniffed the deep purplish bar and declined to even taste it.
Niko spun up star charts on a console while they waited on the others. Though she scowled at the screen as she did so, she could feel herself trying not to smile. Much as she hated to admit it, life was more interesting now than it had been back on TwiceFar, where the day-to-day business had involved things like ordering cleaning supplies or wrangling with petty bureaucrats about licenses and how total working space should be reckoned when calculating monthly licensing and taxes.
Now the universe was full of danger again. Tubal Last lurked out there in the stars. And there were other people to outthink as well, all opponents in what was not a game, surely not just a game, something much more than that. But still something to be played with skill and heart and sometimes simply fierce determination to make things go the way you willed them to.
“We have to find Petalia,” she said once Dabry had returned with Atlanta and Gio, shaking his head at the mention of Talon. She saw his frown. Both of them knew she had promised the Florian that she would not pursue them.
It didn’t matter. What mattered was this new threat and keeping all of them—including Petalia—safe from it.
The Thing was displaying several charts, each a vast black balloon hanging in the air, its depths rippling with lines of light and the silver rings representing Gates. It lowered the lights so they could see the charts more clearly. Atlanta leaned into Skidoo, yawning sleepily and trying to blink herself awake.
“What about returning to the Last Chance?” Milly asked. “I thought that was what we were doing.”
Niko hesitated. Best to just let them know the news straight out. “There’s been word from TwiceFar,” she said. “It’s changed hands again, and all of the property has been claimed.”
“What?!” The exclamations came from all around her.
“Taken over by the bRinti.”
Her eyes met Dabry’s.
“The bRinti,” he said slowly. The bRinti, against whom Niko and he had fought when they first entered the Holy Hive Mind, and since then, who had been absorbed and released by the Holy Hive Mind.
“There was a rebellion on the station, taking advantage of the chaos,” she said. “The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems, sometimes. But, yes, what you’re thinking is correct. If they’re moving, then the Holy Hive Mind will have to react, or lose face, because their former conquest is out there making trouble. At least if they take the station back, we’ll have some claim again to anything of ours that hasn’t been totally destroyed, but what there is of that seems less and less likely every day.”
“What will we do, then?” Gio signed. His eyes held infinite trust that Niko would have a plan.
“Our best chance of figuring out what Tubal Last might be planning is Petalia.” She didn’t look at Dabry. Circumstances had changed since then, and she could not afford to give her former lover the luxury of anonymity. Petalia was in as much danger as the rest of them. Perhaps more. Tubal Last had never liked giving up any of his possessions.
She leaned forward and tapped a violet light, which brightened at the touch. “We left them here, on Montmurray, and there are only so many directions they could have gone in.” A spray of lines spiderwebbed outward to connect to other Gates.
Everyone nodded, including Lassite. Niko looked at him curiously. “No words to the contrary?” she said. She was used to his objections, his predictions that they were wandering from the appointed path.
But he only smiled at her. Ever since they’d made it through the pirates, he’d seemed more relaxed, even with the recent news.
Dabry’s chin was propped on his folded upper hands; the lower pair was clasped across his belly, a thumb rubbing over knuckles absently as he considered the column of stars and lines.
“Only so many ships, but it gets harder to trace with every hour. Starting at Montmurray is the best strategy—unless you know something I don’t, sir?”
She shook her head, scowling, then glanced out the port to the nearby station. They’d been here two days, scouting for prospective trade with little luck. Milly had made that absurd trade for Velcoran supplies, which, irritatingly enough, Dabry had applauded. Not that they’d be able to use them anytime soon. Staying any longer was foolish.
“Let’s prep for travel, then. The Gate’s a week away; wings out in three hours. That give you all enough time to wrap up any business? Gio, will you take charge of parting meal?”
There were no objections.
Atlanta sat listening quietly, although her mind was not quiet at all. She had no role and if she didn’t find one soon, she didn’t know what to do.
She woke every day at a loss as to what she should expect. When she opened her eyes, she was used to knowing what every moment would be, as dictated by her role as an Imperial heir.
She didn’t want to assume that they would keep her. She knew now that she could be played by false assumptions. She had demanded things in the pirate haven, only to find herself stripped of her bioweapons. The teeth and fingers had regrown by now, although sometimes those little fingers and back molars throbbed as through remembering their predecessors. She had mistaken her importance because she hadn’t realized the pirates didn’t care who she was, and now she didn’t even have that anymore.
It was particularly important to find that role here, as part of her new existence with Niko and her crew. Those around her were a team, twice over, and a team depended on its members knowing what they were supposed to do at any moment. A team worked together, and it was composed of people who each knew their place in it.
Most of them had been part of the military unit that Niko had commanded for the Holy Hive Mind, and there, they had roles: Skidoo for communications, Dabry as sergeant, Gio as quartermaster, Lassite specializing in magic, Talon and his lost brother as warrior scouts.
White-feathered Milly, yawning now as she listened, had not been part of that, but she had been part of their second manifestation as the restaurant’s staff, where Dabry served as chef, Niko as manager, Gio as sous chef, Milly as pastry chef, Skidoo again in communications, Lassite as maître d’, Talon and Thorn to bus and do the cleanup. The Thing had not been part of either of those crews, but it was the ship, and they would always need a ship.
Niko and Dabry were comparing potential routes to Montmurray now and going through trade possibilities along each route. She stifled a sigh.
Which team should she try to find a part with? But it would be best to find a role with both. While the group no longer served the Holy Hive Mind, they still had a foe in Tubal Last. They might still have to fight.
She had been thinking about this for a while now and had finally come to a decision. She would try cooking, first and foremost. That couldn’t be too hard.
They would surely need more people to do that. There were always tasks in a kitchen; she had seen that while watching Dabry working in it. Always things to chop or froth or heat or any of the never-ending multitude of ways to serve food that there seemed to be. Nothing went out from under Dabry’s attention in the same form that it had entered, and it was never worse for that attention.
She nodded to herself. Plenty to do in the kitchen. And how hard could that sort of thing be?
Copyright © 2023 from Cat Rambo
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