Excerpt Reveal: Rumor Has It by Cat Rambo

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Excerpt Reveal: Rumor Has It by Cat Rambo

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9781250269393

The crew of the You Sexy Thing navigates the aftermath of facing down a pirate king and the relationships that they have created with one another in Cat Rambo’s action adventure science fiction Rumor Has It, the third book in the Disco Space Opera.

The crew of the You Sexy Thing have laid a course for Coralind Station, hoping the station’s famed gardens will provide an opportunity to regroup, recoup, and mourn their losses while while finding a way to track down their enemy, pirate king Tubal Last.

All Niko wants to do is pry their insurance money from the bank and see if an old friend might be able to help them find Last. Unfortunately, old friends and enemies aren’t the only unreliable elements awaiting her and the crew at Coralind.

Each will have to face themselves—the good and the bad—in order to come together before they lose everything.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of  Rumor Has It by Cat Rambo, on sale 9/24/24


CHAPTER 1

Chaos brews in the space between the stars, where one might expect a vacuum and chill wastes. However, plunging through Q-space, plowing through a section of the distance hidden from most voyagers, you see the loops and snarls in reality, the unnecessary curlicues and furbelows and gimcracks that the universe has chosen to add—weirdly and bizarrely, here and here alone—which is why most people find it unsettling.

Q-space is where probabilities slide and skew like missiles skidding on ice, where logic steps out the door to pause for a smoke break, briefly replaced by its much less sane cousin wearing torn fishnets and an inverted beret that might have once been raspberry velvet. Q-space is where strange discoveries are made, unlikely coincidences are forged, and the unimaginable shows up on every side.

You Sexy Thing loved Q-space. It moved with a grace that it really wished someone had noticed but had resigned itself to no one doing so. It eased through it like a watermelon seed squirted between thumb and forefinger, moving unimaginable distances, and at such a speed that the ship had little time to examine its surroundings, catching only glimpses as it hurtled on.

In Q-space, mathematics can do odd things, can balloon and shrink in unexpected ways. Numbers are more whimsical there, or at least more prone to strange, inexplicable convulsions. But in the here and now, math behaved more predictably. And sometimes disappointingly.

Captain Niko Larsen added up the figures by hand, and then had the ship double-check them. They remained the same. She leaned back in her chair and knuckled at the back of her neck, trying to smooth out the knotted tension there.

On the asset side: the handful of credits left from their last pop-up venture, most of that profit gone to refueling costs and Gate charges.

On the debit side: the fact of those ongoing fuel costs, Gate charges, and other ways the Known Universe charged for existence within it, such as taxes, tariffs, surcharges, delivery charges, fees, tips, gratuities. Etc.

The debit side was so much larger than the asset side. She leaned forward to stare at it for a long moment before pushing the datapad away.

There was a touch of hope. If she could get at the money from their insurance claim, the money for the destruction of their first restaurant, the Last Chance, back on TwiceFar Station. But doing that meant going someplace expensive. Very expensive.

So expensive that if they went there, they might end up stranded. With only that handful of credits to satisfy a host of necessities.

But that chance was their only one, as far as she could see. So the only other question was, in telling the rest of the crew about her plans, how much she would reveal of the direness of their resources. It would encourage a small measure of conservation of those resources, but at the cost of a drop in morale and rise in anxiety. No, that wasn’t worth it.

“Coralind,” Dabry breathed in a reverential tone that delighted Niko’s heart in a way it hadn’t been delighted for a while. In front of him was a bowl of spiced bits of protein, smelling of cumin and iron, beside another of soupy yellow sauce. He was filling rounds of dough with both, pinching them closed with expert ease before arranging them on a nearby platter.

The others in the kitchen had mixed reactions. Lassite simply nodded as though in confirmation. Atlanta blinked and made a mental note to look up the destination as soon as possible. Talon shrugged while Rebbe, leaning against the wall, continued to watch the room as though it was full of dangers, without paying much attention to what Niko actually said.

Skidoo squealed. “Is being a garden there from Tlella and some of its people.” She undulated in delight. “Is being places to swim, is being places that is being only water.”

Gio, sorting through peppery corms and picking off the odd scaly leaf or two, gave a soft hoot of appreciation, eyes bright. Trade, he thought. Good trade at Coralind, some of the best in the Known Universe. And Festival time! Who wouldn’t want to be on Coralind at Festival time? This was an excellent choice.

Milly’s shoulders stiffened for a moment, then relaxed as she watched the others. They’d be happier, at least, and happier meant more ready to respond to her advances. She’d been trying to win back their trust for a while now, but the ship’s atmosphere hadn’t really been conducive. She put down the pastry knife she’d been polishing and asked, “That’s where the gardens are, eh?”

Gio nodded, signing, “Hundreds of them. Almost as good as planet-grown. Sometimes better, they say. They’ve been growing for centuries now, inside that planetoid. Food you can get there that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Dabry gave off shaping dumplings, putting a lower hand to the counter as if to catch his balance at the thought.

“I’ll have to tell Skidoo to put together a list of the restaurants there,” he said thoughtfully. “So we can go over it, look for gaps.”

“That is certainly one way of looking at it,” Niko said dryly.

He raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with that approach?”

“You will be in a place with ingredients that you may never find in their prime again,” she explained. “Cook the meal of your heart, cook something that you love.”

She had thought him motionless already, but at her words, he became utterly still, as though holding his breath. Then he let it out and said, his voice tight, “I’ll have to think about that.”

She had not thought to touch old wounds, but she had. And realized, just as quickly, that to say anything drawing attention to her blunder would be to offend even further. She cast about for words, glancing around the kitchen, and was grateful when Milly rescued her. “Will you tell everyone the full details at the meal? Neither Jezli or Petalia is here.”

“I could tell them right now,” the ship offered.

“No, that’s my job,” Niko said.

“Technically, I am the communications systems.”

“Technically, you should wait to be ordered before acting on that order,” she snapped.

“Very well.” The ship was currently thinking about ways to express irritation, and everyone jumped when eyes suddenly manifested in the upper walls and ceiling, rolling in their sockets. They were then absorbed in a process that took considerably longer than their appearance, which everyone watched with horrified fascination, including the imperturbable Lassite.

“I grasp your meaning,” Niko said when the process seemed complete and no further eyes were in evidence, “and would prefer you not express yourself in that way again.”

“In what way?” the ship said suspiciously, worried about the boundaries of this particular order. “With eyes?”

Niko paused, working through the wording, and decided upon, “By manifesting organs specifically for the sake of a gesture.”

“Mmm.” The ship filed the definition away to examine later for possible loopholes, including the precise definition of “organs,” but refrained from more “gestures.” There were plenty of other possibilities. What, for example, if it created a servitor and then had the servitor perform the gestures? It would attempt that experiment later.

Niko found Jezli in the lounge, reading. Jezli set down her reader and gave Niko her unfailing, maddeningly courteous attention.

“We are bound for Coralind next,” Niko informed her. “That will be a suitable place for you to leave the ship and find some other berth.”

“Admit it, Captain,” Jezli Farren said with an easy grin that might have had an edge of mockery to it. It was a tone familiar to everyone on the days when Jezli was feeling particularly brittle and missing her former companion, Roxana, and seeking to divert herself. “Rumor has it you’d miss me if I were gone.”

“You are a scoundrel and a con artist and the only reason you are still on this ship is because you are the sole person who understands how to operate that thing,” Niko snapped. Jezli had, as ever, managed to get under her skin with only a few words. “But how complicated can it be, telling Petalia to pull the trigger?”

Around them, the ship listened without commentary. It had found that the conversations between Jezli and Niko were highly entertaining, and even more so when they forgot that it was listening.

The “thing” in question was, for once, not the ship itself, You Sexy Thing, but the ancient alien artifact currently resting in one of the aforementioned ship’s holds. Nicknamed the “Devil’s Gun,” it was an implement of assassination.

Unfortunately, not one that could assassinate the only person they needed to kill before he could kill them.

Jezli poked at her pad. “Three days to Coralind,” Jezli said, looking at it. She was about to say something else, but there was a rustle at the doorway. She looked up; Niko turned, uncrossing her arms.

Petalia, the Florian who was both Niko’s ex-lover and current constant antagonist, as well as the only person who could fire the Devil’s Gun, stood there. They were tall and female in form, their skin and hair white and fine, the latter strewn with tiny blossoms. They smelled of ice with an edge of sweetness, and as always, their eyes were fixed only on Niko.

“Coralind?” they demanded, stepping into the room. “Why there?”

“You mentioned yourself that it’s tied into Last’s net of contacts. We may be able to backtrace from there. And I’m going to visit an old friend who may have other thoughts on how to find word of Tubal Last,” Niko said.

She returned Petalia’s stare. The notion flickered through Jezli’s head that they looked like an artistic tableau embodying complexities of emotion, and she framed it from several angles to amuse herself. She had stood as though to leave, but had failed to exit. She thought they had forgotten her presence, which they had.

“Coralind.” Petalia loaded the word with scorn. “Who do you know in that tawdry place?”

Niko refrained from taking offense, leaving her tone mild and emotionless as pudding. “Someone I knew during some of my final years with the Holy Hive Mind.”

Petalia frowned. Niko thought about the years Tubal Last had spent monitoring Niko while whispering lies about her into Petalia’s ear, and wondered how close the monitoring had been. Very close at times, it seemed. Leaving off that angle of questioning, Petalia pursued others.

“How long will we be there? Are you planning some other ridiculous restauranting enterprise?”

“That is how we make our living, with ridiculous restauranting.” Niko’s even tone faltered toward the end of the sentence, so slightly it would have been imperceptible to anyone who didn’t know her well.

Jezli continued to amuse herself, imagining a camera at different vantage points around the room, thinking about how she would have blocked the ongoing scene if she were a theatrical director, detailing it with careful precision.

Petalia’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not Festival time there, is it?” they demanded. “That would be insane.”

This time, Niko’s eyes wandered, seeking Jezli’s. Her lips quirked. “Well,” she said, and Jezli held her breath. “Certainly it would be, and certainly it is, but that is exactly what we are doing.”

“Just when I thought it was impossible to like you much better,” Jezli said. “You are a daring woman.”

“Desperate, perhaps, rather than daring,” Niko said, her tone softer than it had been.

Petalia glanced between the two, and their eyes filled with an emotion Niko had not seen in their pale depths for a long, long
time. The moment hung in the air, and who knows what might have happened if Skidoo had not entered just then.

“Is being interrupting?” Skidoo’s three turquoise eyes swiveled independently, regarding each of them simultaneously.

Petalia drew themself up to glance down at Skidoo. “You are interrupting nothing,” they said with icy hauteur.

“Well, scan you being all Ruler of Known Space,” Jezli said admiringly and over-sincerely, folding her arms as she leaned against the wall.

Petalia huffed out derision, dropped a nod at Niko, and stalked out. Skidoo’s unoccupied eye chose Niko as its new target.

“You are terribly good at getting under their skin.” Niko turned to Jezli, pointing a finger at her. “I’ll thank you not to exercise your talents on those on board under my protection.”

“And the ship,” she added, glancing upward.

“Thank you, Captain.” You Sexy Thing considered this permission to enter the conversation. It had been desperately trying to understand the nuances of the last few minims, which had seemed very significant in all sorts of ways it could not comprehend.

For example, each of the three participants had experienced an elevated heart rate—but why? Had there been subtle threat displays it had failed to decode? It played its memories over several hundred times while waiting for the conversation to go on.

“I apologize.” Jezli spread her hands in an expansive gesture of helplessness. “I don’t mean to. It just slips out sometimes.”

“Rein it in.”

Jezli dropped Niko a salute that somehow managed to be sardonic. How did the woman get that into the gesture? Niko couldn’t quite figure it out, but it was definitely there. She decided, with an effort, to let the matter go.

One of Gnarl Grusson’s main traits was that he had never, ever, been able to let something go, and that particularly held true of grudges. And while over the course of his existence, he had accumulated a freighter hold’s worth of such grudges, the one that currently burned in his burly chest, so hotly that no other could contend with it, was one involving Niko Larsen.

“Thought she was done with me, leaving me there to die,” he muttered to himself once again. The words elicited a sidelong look from his second-in-command, but they knew better than challenge him. He had been poring over star charts, figuring fuel costs and times, and had narrowed the possibilities down to three. She could only go so far, so fast, and her resources were limited. The first possibility was Broohaven. Tempting, with all its information networks, but the Broons didn’t go in much for culinary pleasures. They were all about efficiency and delivering maximal nutrition in minimal time.

The second possibility was Droon. Plenty of tourists there, plenty of places to play at feeding people for coin. But Droon was on the outskirts, and close to a single transit point, as opposed to the third possibility.

That third possibility . . . well, how could anyone who’d checked their calendar want to avoid such potentially profitable chaos and hubbub?

And from there, there were plenty of other port possibilities for the next stop.

He muttered to himself, and his second-in-command kept pretending not to notice. The captain had been given to this ever since they’d rescued him from where he’d been stranded on the space moth.

Personally, the second had mixed opinions about the necessity of that rescue. This, too, he kept to himself, his attention on the captain.

Lips pursed in deep consideration, Gnarl passed gas, paying deep attention to the act, then spoke to the second.

“Set course for Coralind.”

Copyright © 2024 from Cat Rambo

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