“I had this, you know.”
Gideon looked at Jinna, mustard dispenser in one hand and fork in the other. “Would you like to take over?” he asked politely.
She sighed and lowered the fork. “Carry on, soldier.”
Gideon carried on.
It wasn’t a stretch to say he hadn’t been in a particularly good mood when a scratching at the bathroom door pulled him from contemplation of his last day of command.
When he’d opened the door to the annoyed draco, and heard some ponce threatening Mia’s friend, his mood shot from not particularly good to toweringly angry.
When he eased around the corner of the bathroom hall to see the ponce had brought along some serious muscle, he felt…
… actually, he felt pretty good.
Because muscle he could deal with.
Now, with the remains of the chair in his hand, he clambered over the fallen one-third of the muscle, and rushed for the guy Elvis was harassing.
Mia, he was pleased to see, had already beat a retreat to relative safety on the kitchen side of the counter.
A click of the tongue sent Elvis leaping to safety on a pendant lamp, so there was no one in the way when Gideon, who’d added some much-needed momentum by leaping on a table, came flying at Rolf, half a chair swinging as he jumped.
From where he stood watching the stranger in action, Killian Del began to wonder if there had been a decline in hired-drone standards as, despite the Ohmdahls coming highly recommended, not a one seemed able to stand before this lone, underfed soldier.
Even as Killian thought this, he watched Rolf crumple from a chair leg to the groin while the stranger spun, swiping with said chair leg (the rest of the chair having been lost to Rolf’s back) to crack open the approaching Ulf’s cheek.
A quick reversal of swing and the leg numbed Freya’s arm as she entered the fight. Rebounding from the arm strike, the chair leg struck Ulf behind the ear as he started to turn back towards the enemy.
And so it continued.
Though the Ohmdahls had numbers, size, strength, and an incredible ability to take a beating, the tall, lanky soldier was methodically, brutally, decimating them.
At last Ulf sank to the floor next to his brother, and the soldier turned to Freya, who was holding her right arm and wiping a bloodied nose on her shoulder.
“Quit,” the soldier said. “Now. Please.”
“Wid pleasure,” Freya said with a glimmer in her one un-blackened eye that Killian could only take for admiration, then sat down next to her brothers.
“Cor, Gideon! That was completely badass,” the little urchin said as she peeked over the counter. “I could’a sold tickets.”
Killian remained where he was until the soldier looked his way. “I shouldn’t, if I were you,” Killian said, glancing at the diminished stick of wood. “Unlike these lunks you’ve put down, I have friends—powerful friends—who would certainly look into any unfortunate accidents which might befall me.”
The soldier, Gideon, didn’t move, but his eyes on Killian’s went flat, and Killian felt the first skitterings of fear before those eyes turned from him to look at Jinna.
She was still in the middle of the dining room, and was also staring at the soldier.
“So this is what you’ve found to replace my son?” Killian asked her and almost—almost—stepped back when both pairs of eyes turned on him.
“Hey, watch who you’re calling a replacement,” Gideon said. “Besides, she doesn’t like me. Unless you’ve changed your mind?” he asked over his shoulder.
“I never said I didn’t—” Jinna began, then eased back on her heels with a hiss. “No, I haven’t changed my mind.”
“Believe me when I tell you, I couldn’t be less interested in whatever liaisons you do or do not engage in,” Killian told her, though he kept his eyes on Gideon. “All I care about is my grandchild. And lest you think this,” he glanced down at the lumps of Ohmdahls on the floor, “will dissuade me from protecting my heir, you are much mistaken.” He smiled, first at the soldier, then at Jinna. “Until next time,” he told her. “And really, my dear, do try to get more rest. It wouldn’t do for the mother of my sole heir to take ill.”
With which he spun on one heel and took himself out of the diner.
“I should be feeling bad about dis job goig swarb,” Freya said through her broken nose as Ulf groaned at her side, “but I really ab dot liking that mad.”
“You and me both, sister,” Gideon said.
Behind them, Jinna kicked a fallen plate.
“Tell me about Del,” Gideon said.
A half hour later, with the triplets triaged and sent limping to their favorite pub (with a few of Gideon’s rapidly diminishing starbucks, and the advice to choose their jobs with more care), Gideon locked the door and turned to where Mia was feeding Elvis some cold bacon, and Jinna was sweeping up broken crockery.
“It’s complicated,” Jinna said, blowing a strand of hair from her face.
He looked at Mia.
“Jinna an’ Del’s son, Liam, had a thing, and then their thing turned into that thing.” Mia nodded to the bulge under Jinna’s apron. “And Del thinks ‘cause his son’s bits are involved, he should get the baby.”
Gideon looked at Jinna.
“Okay, so maybe not that complicated,” she said,
“I don’t think it’s safe for you to stay here,” he told her.
Jinna kept sweeping, but she did let out a laugh that sounded suspiciously wet. “Safe or not,” she said, “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“No family back in Ford?”
“All gone, in the ‘forty-seven push.” She sniffed, looked up with a defiant toss of her hair. “I’d already joined up, so I was in Basic when Macintosh fell.”
“Seventy-Second Airborne Infantry,” she said, resuming her sweeping.
“Cool,” Gideon said, impressed. “So how’d you end up in a diner in Nike?”
“Peace happened,” she said, looking up briefly. “And peace meant celebrating. Lots and lots of celebrating. In my case some of the celebrating happened with Liam. He was a friend of Rory’s and mine, and the York’s third officer, but Liam never gave a comb about rank.”
Gideon suspected Killian Del gave a comb, if not the whole hive.
“Anyway,” Jinna continued, chasing down a bit of teapot with the broom, “there we were, sharing the happy, and some of the sadness, and one thing led to another, and then another.” She nodded down to her swollen belly.
“But the father—Liam—died,” Gideon guessed, and she nodded. “How?”
“The York flew a research team into the Amazons and never came back.” She added the last bits of Gideon’s broken chair into the pile of crockery. “The brass figured the ‘ship ran into a storm, or a mountain. Either way, no one on the York got to enjoy the peace for very long.
“He was a good man,” she added, not looking at Gideon. “And even though neither of us considered a permanent bond, he must have told his father about the baby, because only one day after I learned Liam was gone, there was Mr. Del at my door, demanding his heir.”
“And he’s not the type to take no for an answer,” Gideon surmised.
“I don’t believe the word exists in his vocabulary.”
“I’m familiar with the type,” Gideon said. “What about the law? Have you tried swearing out a complaint?”
At this both Mia and Jinna laughed, but not the ha-ha, funny kind of laugh.
Gideon looked from one to the other. “I can see I’m missing something.”
“You’re not from Nike,” Mia said.
“So you probably don’t have much idea how things work here,” Jinna told him, reaching for the dustpan she’d set on a nearby table.
“No, I don’t.” Gideon stepped forward, took the dustpan from her, and knelt down to hold it in front of the pile of broken bits. “Why don’t you enlighten me?”
She quirked a little smile at him, then began to sweep the mess into the pan he held. “It’s not the cops’ fault,” she began. “Most of them are like us, working people who want to keep peace in the city. The problem has more to do with a city parliament that has a completely different idea of whose peace is being kept.”
“You’re saying they’re on the take,” Gideon said, looking up at Jinna.
“Some,” Jinna said.
Mia, now spinning back and forth on her stool, snorted.
“More than some,” Jinna amended, stepping back from the filled dustpan. “And they’re open to all kinds of offers. That one?” She jerked her head at the door as she continued, “Killian Del is a district minister in the city parliament, and he sits on a number of committees, including transportation, law enforcement, and budgeting, which means—”
“He’s got the police force, or at least the police force’s cash, in his pocket,” Gideon concluded, rising with the filled dustpan in his hand.
“Not just his, but they’re all great mates in parliament, all working together to line their pockets,” Mia said, ceasing her spinning to fetch a rubbish bin over to Gideon. “You’d know one of ‘em,” she told him as he dumped the breakages into the trash. “The Rand family have fingers in most every branch of city government.”
“You’re friends with the Rands?” Jinna asked.
“Not,” Mia began.
“Not friends,” Gideon said at the same time.
Jinna looked at him.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “And not germane to the problem at hand.” He saw Mia opening her mouth. “It has nothing to do with Jinna’s issue,” he explained, before she could ask. He looked back at Jinna. “You know you can’t stay here.”
Jinna looked over the damage and as he watched, the anger that had been sustaining her seemed to drain, leaving in its wake a sort of exhausted sadness. “I doubt I’d be allowed to stay after this.” She looked at Mia. “Guess we won’t have the chance to be flatmates after all.”
So she’ll be out of a job on top of everything. Gideon thought. Swell.
“But the real problem is getting out of Nike,” Jinna continued, letting herself, at long last, drop into a chair. “I can guarantee my travel visa’s been flagged by now—he’s on the transportation committee, remember?” she reminded Gideon when he glanced up, startled.
Frustrated, Gideon set the dustpan aside, shoved his hands in his pockets, and let his thoughts go to town.
Most of the thoughts—the sort that said this affair was none of his business—he let float along past.
A few, regarding potential exit strategies for the young mother, he discarded as being too risky, too expensive, and, given the long-armed Del, too likely to fail.
What she needs, one thought said, clearing its throat enough to set the other thoughts to a dull mumble, is a friend in high places.
No shit, he thought back. Got a contact in the city parliament?
Not politically higher, the thought felt disappointed. Literally higher. Then, as it seemed Gideon was unable to keep up with himself, added, Remember Rory?
Rory the gawky airman? Rory who’s half in love with the girl? Rory who works on an independent—
“Freighter!” he said aloud, and was rewarded by two pairs—three counting Elvis—of eyes looking at him like he was talking to himself.
Which—no, no reason to let them know that.
“Rory might be able to help,” he said to Jinna. “We need to talk to him.”
Which also meant talking to Rory’s captain.
And at that thought, all the others fell silent.
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