Outrageous Fortune: Chapter 1

A note to the reader,

Outrageous Fortune, the first Errant Freight novel, takes place over the same few days as Soldier of Fortune, the first Gideon Quinn Adventure.  In addition to sharing a timeline, characters from both series will bump into each other on occasion.

If you enjoy Outrageous Fortune, I hope you’ll pop over to see how Gideon, Mia, and Elvis the draco are faring in Soldier of Fortune.

For now, thanks for visiting, and welcome to the planet Fortune, where tech is low, tensions high, and heroes unlikely.

EPIGRAPH
I’ve never known anyone who was what he or she seemed; or at least, was only what he or she seemed. People carry worlds within them.”
-Neil Gaiman

Dyar’s Canyon
Eastern Allianz Territories
February 9, 1449 AL

 


JOHN PITTE DUCKED a sizzling bolt of plasma, straightened, looked at the acrid, smoking hole the bolt left in the canyon wall and experienced an immediate surge of anger. Less for almost being killed than for the damage done the multihued strata for which Dyar’s Canyon was renowned. 

Admittedly, Dyar’s Canyon was also renowned for its inhospitable fauna, alkali lakes and pernicious electrical storms, but John had always felt a perverse fondness for the place. It was dangerous and beautiful and defiant and didn’t give a lick for the humans who’d created it. 

“What the fecking comb are you waiting for?” Jagati O’Bannion asked, slapping him upside the head as she ran past. 

“Sorry,” he said, racing after her, “but these people have no respect for nature.” 

“Report it to the Keepers,” she called over her shoulder, fogging the desert’s icy air with her breath. 

John assumed she was being facetious, and might have said so, but a series of shouts, followed by more plasma bursts and a smattering of crossbow bolts had both turning to lay a quick burst of suppressive fire and, in Jagati’s case, a blistering stream of curses. 

Thankfully they’d reached a narrower section of the canyon, preventing their pursuers from spreading out to surround them. In addition, the thickening smoke raised by both sides of the fight provided cover, and as soon as it reached sufficient density the two, in silent agreement, held their fire and began their retreat. 

Several paces later, the enemy were still shooting at their previous position, so they took off running, weaving single file through the jagged fissure. 

As the pair were close in height, the six foot tall John topping Jagati by a mere two inches, and both in fighting trim, they covered a good distance.  

“Come on, come on, come on!” Jagati hissed as she clambered over a tumble of fallen stone, her long legs finding purchase with the speed and agility of a mountain goat.

“I’m come onning,” he replied, one hand on the satchel he wore cross-wise over his jacket. 

He’d almost reached the top of the rock pile when another shot had him diving the rest of the way over, resulting in an awkward rolling-falling-bruising affair. He continued to roll to his feet with a fresh spate of twinges. “It’s entirely possible,” he said, running after his partner, “that  taking this job was a mistake.” 

From the steady stream of epithets drifting back his way, he could only assume Jagati shared his opinion. 

“—ing, smog-eating, spawn of a hornet,” she finished as he came even with her. 

A sideways glance showed her umber skin matted with the same violet grime which coated their clothes and dusted the spiraling mass of her brown-black curls. Combined with her fierce expression, the end result was rather demonic. 

At least she looked threatening. If the back of his hand was any indication, John figured he came off like a victim of some unnamed, wasting disease. 

“We’re close to the LZ, right?” she asked, slowing as the canyon they traversed narrowed to a few inches less than the width of an airship’s crawlspace. 

“Almost certainly,” he agreed, nudging her onward while he removed the satchel and held it at his side so he could fit through the cramped fissure. 

“Almost?” Stuck sideways with her head turned forward, he could only imagine her glare. “Pitte. 

“Keep moving,” he prompted, not liking to think what would happen if their pursuers caught up with them. 

Even more, he didn’t want what he thought would happen to actually happen. 

She hissed, but she kept moving and in minutes that passed like only a few years they squeezed through the other side where Jagati came to a halt and scanned the wider space, her expression uncertain.  

“Pitte,” she said again which, in Jagati shorthand meant, Tell me we’re not lost. And if you can’t tell me we’re not lost, at least tell me we have a plan to become unlost. And if we don’t have a plan to become unlost, feel free to present your ass for me to kick all the way back to the shadow traders’ camp.

Jagati’s shorthand was an incredible time saver. 

“We’re not lost,” he told her. 

“Good.” 

“Except I think we should already have passed the column that looks like a mastodon’s—“

Pitte! 

“Oh wait,” he said before her shorthand became punching-hand. “There it is,” he pointed to the right where the cold blaze of the noontime suns had flattened the distinctive geographic feature. 

Jagati grit her teeth and followed John. As she ran, her eyes locked onto the rock formation in question. “Overcompensation,” she muttered to herself.

As if their pursuers agreed with her observation, a rapid-fire series of plasma bursts cut the suggestive formation down to size. 

Jagati ducked, glanced back and cursed anew as a shadow trader emerged from the crevice. 

  “Almost there,” he called, his voice muffled. 

“Can’t be soon enough.” She jogged past him as he kept watch over their seven, then noticed his normally fair complexion had gone bone white under the dust. A second glance showed smoke curling up from a fresh plasma score on his right thigh. “Smog it, Pitte, you’re—”

“Heads!” he warned. 

She ducked. Another burst burned through the air where her head had been a half-second before. She rose and fired on the foremost outlaw. When the distant shape let out a short squeal and dropped, she backed up and tucked herself under John’s shoulder. 

Thus linked they turned and ran for it, with John adding the occasional backward shot to keep things interesting. 

“That’s the last tunnel,” he jerked his chin forward, towards an inverted V of a passage which connected to the canyon where they’d left their airship moored.  

An airship their crew mates should have fired up and ready to fly the second John and Jagati hit the gangplank.

She nodded and urged him faster. “This is more resistance than I expected. Do we even know what it is we’re retrieving?” 

“The client chose not to disclose that information.” He disengaged his arm from her shoulder and limped into the tunnel. “When I asked she said it was sensitive and started to cry.” 

“I hate when they cry,” she followed him into the passage. “Wait! I mean, don’t wait, but, the client’s a she? 

“Of course. Didn’t I say?” 

“Nooo…” The single word seemed to stretch through the darkness ahead of her before looping back in an echo. 

“Ah. Well, then, yes — the client is a woman,” he said. “Typical spoiled risto with more money than sense. I’ve no doubt we’re risking life and limb for her great-grandmother’s 7-Up reliquary.” 

“Could be worse,” Jagati said. “Could be another one of those ancient torture devices.” 

“That was a shoe. An original Louboutin, as I recall.” 

“You say shoe, I say spiky pain delivery device.” 

“At any rate,” he said, “whatever is in this satchel meant enough for the client to offer treble the usual fee for a recovery.” 

“It’s not enough.” 

“At the time, I thought she overestimated its value.” 

“Seems more like she underestimated it, from the way these guys don’t want to let it go,” Jagati said, following.  

An understatement, if ever he heard one. “I can see light ahead.” 

“Just fifteen minutes,” she whispered.

He didn’t answer, but limped faster, bracing a hand against the side of the cavern until he stepped out into the bright light of day—and froze in his tracks. 

Behind him, Jagati came rushing out, only stopping when she ran into his back. 

“What’s wrong?” she asked, squeezing past him. “Shouldn’t we be boarding, about now?” 

“It was here,” he said, staring at the wide, flat and (most importantly) empty, space before them. “It was right here.” He peered up, shielding his eyes from the suns and she followed suit. 

What she saw was nothing. No sign of the Errant, anywhere. 

“Smogging son of a drone!” Jagati’s shooter raised and her boot stomped. “This! Isn’t! Funny!” She paused and looked up again, as if her shouts would bring the ‘ship crawling back like a recalcitrant child, seeking momma’s forgiveness. 

Leaving John behind she ran forward into the empty place once occupied by their vessel, hoping it would offer a better vantage, but all it gave her was room to stomp more vigorously, raising a veritable purple fog. Then she—yes—cursed some more. 

“Feel better?” John asked, limping up to join her. 

Her lip curled in a snarl. “What do you think?” 

“Just asking,” he said, giving the tunnel they’d emerged from a meaningful glance. 

She growled, then gave him a punch on the shoulder, then led the way to a craggy outcropping at the base of the canyon’s northern wall. Not ideal, but it offered higher ground and some cover. “I will kill them,” she said matter-of-factly as she began to climb.  

“Duly noted.” John holstered his shooter and prepared to follow, apologizing to his leg as he did.

“Here,” she called down, “toss me the case.”  

He unslung the leather carryall and heaved it up. 

Jagati caught the strap and slung the bag the over the top edge of the ridge, leaving John hoping whatever was in that satchel survived the trip in one piece. 

She must have sensed his concern. “There’s level ground up here,” she offered by way of reassurance. “And it’s defensible. Sort of.”   

 He nodded and started to climb, but a sudden rattling of stone from the canyon wall to his right had him stopping cold. Turning, he clung to the face with one hand and shaded his eyes with the other as he searched for the sound’s origin. 

What he saw had him releasing his grip on the outcropping and dropping back to the canyon floor, where his leg almost buckled under him.  

“What the hell are you doing?” Jagati asked from on high. 

John, in the act of raising his hands, jerked his chin upwards. 

As he had, she shielded her eyes from the suns and stared in the indicated direction. 

There was a telling silence from above. It told him Jagati had also spied the sniper perched at the canyon’s upper edge. 

And in case there were any doubts, a splat of plasma seared the rock less than a meter from her shoulder. 

“It keeps getting better,” she said, slithering to the ground at his side. “Remind me, what made us think this was a good career choice?” 

“Funny, I was just thinking the same thing,” John said, “except without the us.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked as the first of their pursuers emerged from the triangular tunnel.

“Nothing.”

“Don’t say nothing when you mean something!”

“Fine,” he shrugged, then went still as a warning shot from the sniper sizzled to his left. “What I mean is I was doing fine before you came hunting me down in Nike.”

“I did not hunt you down.”

He looked at her.

“Okay, maybe I hunted you down, but you were not doing fine.” 

“I had a decent job.”

“You were smelting scrap allusteel.“

“It was good, honest labor,” he insisted, staring at the oncoming shadow traders a moment. “I was doing fine.”

“Sure you were,” she squinted, trying to make out individual shapes in the approaching group, “if by ‘fine’ you mean ready to drink yourself into an early grave.” 

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