I swing the shotgun on the strap so it’s out in front of me, brace it on my thigh to compensate for my injured shoulder, cycle the next round into the chamber, and then point it straight at his chest. I strain to prevent the wince that really wants to spread across my face. “Look, I don’t know who you are, or why you’re here, but as a Farm Family Representative of Council 3, I’m asking you to leave under Regulation V.1.b – Aliens are not permitted in the Rural Republic under any circumstances.I have the authority to shoot and if you doubt me, I apologize ahead of time for taking your life. You are hereby legally warned.”
I squeeze back and the round blasts out of the chamber but he’s high above me in the air as the shot passes into the trees. The leaves rustle and the birds are wild once again. The recoil pain isn’t as bad from the standing position, but I feel the blood leaking out under the skin on my hip, creating a bruise. I push the pain down. “I’ve been shooting since I could walk, sweetheart, and I’ve had a really shitty day. Do not fuck with me.”
He flies off over the trees about a dozen yards away and I can just barely make him out as he lands in the cover of the brush.
“Is that how ya treat someone who saves yer life? Shoot them?”
I snort. “Saved my life? I must have missed that one while I was sleeping.”
“Except ya weren’t sleeping, Junco. You were unconscious.”
It isn’t often that I get stunned into silence, but an alien knowing my name in the middle of nowhere can do it. “How the hell do you know my name?”
Silence from him now.
The glimmer of light that was previously there is gone, and so is he.
I take stock of the mountaintop meadow. Where are you, where are you?
I pivot on my heel, gun braced one-armed against my stomach to catch the recoil, and do a proper survey of the area. My good arm is tiring quick after all the adrenaline I’ve used up and it begins to shake. I force the bravado. “Guess you decided to take my–”
Then he is behind me, the gun is flying across the field, and he’s twisted my bad shoulder just enough to make me scream out. His lips touch my cheek as he whispers, “Look, I’m not usually the type of person who abuses little girls, but you’ve shot at me two times now and I’m not going to stand for it. I’m here for the moment and yer just gonna to have to deal with it. Ya got it?”
He eases up on my shoulder and pushes me away from him.
I rub the flaming tissue and wince. “Did you just insult me?”
He tilts his head at me. “What? Me? Ya tried ta shoot me – twice!”
“I might be little, but the way you said it implied I’m insignificant. Which I assure you, I am not. And besides, you’re the one who’s trespassing, right? That’s you.” I point my finger up at him. “I have every right to tell you to leave, I’m a fucking representative of Council–”
“3, yeah, I heard ya the first time. Who gives a shit? I’m here. Get over it.”
I stare at him in the dim moonlight and quite frankly, I don’t care for what I see.
“You’re not going to win this game, Lucan.”
“Says the one small girl with no power.”
“I’m just warning you. Don’t be disappointed in the end when I take back every drop of satisfaction you extract from my failures.”
He sighs. It hints at exasperation, boredom even, and I sense I may have miscalculated. “One of these days, Junco, we will have an honest conversation. If it’s Fledge fights you want, girl. Be my guest. Go and kill. But it won’t save Tier. He’s been on his way out for a very long time. Long before he refused orders, long before he waged war on the RR for you, and long before he gave away his genetics to a man who helped him kill more than two dozen Earth leaders.”
I look up at him, too quickly, having misplaced that little secret Tier told me out on the rock. Lucan reads my face and smiles. “Ah, I see some recognition there. Don’t worry, Junco – when you testify the drugs will get it all out in the open.” He stops and stares into my eyes, burns into them. I look away, feeling a little beaten already.
But he continues, “So, just remember, when we are at the end, when I am standing over you as you break in half, and I am forced to leave you with nothing, Junco – don’t say I never tried to help. Don’t tell me I made your life a living hell, because you will have done that all on your own.
“And if – this is a gigantic if, Junco – but if you can take back everything you’ll lose by choosing this path, then please know that my satisfaction will come from that, and not from watching you fail.”
He walks towards the door, palms it, and then turns. “By the way, has anyone ever mentioned that your language is filthy?” His voice is pleasant, like he’s pondering the meaning of something quizzical, but he wrinkles his lip like he has a bad taste in his mouth. “I don’t care for it. Cheapens you, Junco.”
He leaves me standing there, facing the emptiness of space scowling, and feeling rather cheap and filthy, if I do say so myself.
But not minding one bit.
The bitch leaves me waiting, of course. One second it’s critical for the sake of humanity that I clean up, put on a dress, and rush to her quarters for breakfast. The next I’m left sitting in this completely inappropriate and ridiculous gown, so fucking hungry I’m about to eat my fingers.
“Can I get some fucking food here, please!” My patience is over.
I watch a guard leave and then reappear with a tray of pastries. My stomach experiences a futile peristaltic wave and I begin to salivate. He sets the tray down and I grab a sweet roll and take several bites before surfacing for air. Gideon sits across from me with his eyebrows raised. “I was not kidding. I told you I was hungry. Jasus fuck, quit looking at me.”
He puts his hands up and looks away.
“Junco, you don’t have to be so rude. When did you get so unruly?”
My mother’s voice pulls me back to attention and I stare at her with my mouth open, a wad of food sitting on my tongue. I chew a few more times and swallow before talking. “You left when I was six, so don’t pretend you know me. I went through with this little reunion so I could eat, and I don’t eat much, so you’ve got about ten minutes before I’m done here. Start fucking talking.”
“This is a social call, Junco. I’m not here for your business matters. Your father–”
“He’s not my father and you’re not my mother. What world do you guys all live in?” I look over at Gid for help but his face is blank. I squint my eyes at him. “I won’t forget this, Gideon, and I want my armor back today.” I stuff the rest of my roll in my mouth and grab another, then push back from the table and head for the door. “If someone could just point me in the direction of Moju I’ll be going now.”
The guard stops me with a rifle to the temple.
“Sit down now, Junco.” My mother’s words are stern. “The rifles are on stun, but I’m sure you know firsthand how badly that hurts.”