The Longest Shard: 12

Shard

Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers. 

For those who wish to read the novella all at once, the 99¢ ebook is available for purchase.

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Day  404


It had been a week since the confrontation with Kozinski when Gideon decided to retire to his cell early. 

He wasn’t tired, particularly. Nor was he suffering overmuch from his injuries. 

The truth was, Gideon was feeling more than a little oppressed by the admiration of his fellow convicts who, he’d soon discovered, could be remarkably effusive in their support for one of their own sticking it to the man.

So rather than face another evening in the yard, listening to exaggerated recounts of his confrontation with Kozinski, Gideon opted to spend his free time rereading the first two-thirds of The First Landing: A Tale of Fortune. 

The last third of the book was rumored to be floating around A block, but since Gideon had a pretty good idea how that first landing turned out (Spoiler! The Earthers set up housekeeping on Fortune and got busy), he didn’t much mind being left on a cliffhanger. 

He was just drawing the battered chapters from under his pillow when he sensed the presence of another.

“If you’re after your shard, Renny,” he said wearily, “it’s not in here.” At least, it’s not here today, he thought. 

One of the reasons Renny could never find the shard was that Gideon continually changed the hiding place. 

“I’m not Renny, and I can promise, ‘tisn’t his shard I’m after.” 

Turning, Gideon found himself face-to-face with Cassandra, the new inmate he’d seen playing cards with Doc. “Ah,” he said, then added, “hi.” Then he took a step away because, in Gideon’s experience, most people who snuck up behind a body were inclined to stab that body in the back. 

“Hi,” she said back. “Care for a cuppa?”

He frowned, looked around, as if a kettle would suddenly appear. “I don’t have any tea in here at the moment. Or ever.” 

“Fordians,” she muttered, rolling eyes he now noticed were blue. “’Tis a metaphor, Quinn.”

“For what?” He took another step back as she stepped forward. 

“For this,” she said, grabbing hold of his shirt and hauling him close. 

“Oh,” Gideon said, before getting involved in the kiss. When they both came up for air, he was grinning. “I never metaphor I didn’t like,” he said.

At the pun, she stepped back. “Are you going to keep doing that?” 

“Not if you don’t want me to.” Had he noticed the freckles dotting her golden-brown skin before? He didn’t think so. 

“I don’t,” she said firmly.

“Then, no.” 

“Good.”

“Only,” he held up a cautioning hand as she eased closer, “we’re still a few weeks out from the monthly conjugal allowance.” 

Her head tipped. “Seeing as we’re both of us in the stir, I’d say it follows neither of us are all that keen on following rules.” Even as she was pointing this out, Cassandra was busy unbuttoning his shirt. “You’ve a fine body,” she murmured, running her hands over it. “I like that it’s seen some action.” 

“Some,” Gideon agreed, but as her hands moved south, he grasped her wrists to hold them in place. “Before things get involved, I’d like to know if you’re planning on stabbing me.” 

Her gaze flicked up. “Why on Fortune would I want to be stabbing you?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But people often do.”

“I don’t want to stab you,” she assured him.

“Okay, but—”

“If you don’t want to enjoy a cuppa, you’ve only to say.” Then her lips quirked, bringing out unexpected dimples. “But I’ll know you’re lying.” 

“Ha,” he managed. “And not saying no. But we only have twenty minutes, tops, before Menk makes his next round of the floor.” 

Her lips quirked. “We’d best work quick, then, hadn’t we?” 

Their eyes met, locked, and then they dove at one another with a shared urgency that neither asked, nor gave, any quarter. 

Some minutes later—close to the twenty he’d calculated, given they could hear Menk’s droning whistle from the floor below—Gideon and Cassandra parted.

He looked over her shoulder at the cell door. “We should—”

“You,” she cut him off, “are a fecking idiot.” 

“What?” Gideon tried to sit up, but she was still lodged on top of him. “I’m a—what?” 

“An idiot.” She punched his chest so that he sat up, allowing her to slide off the cot. 

“About what?” he demanded while she set about buttoning her shirt.

She shook her head, then hissed and looked at him before uttering a single word. “Nasa.” 

Gideon let out a pained hiss of his own. “You’re a sensitive,” he deduced as she dropped next to him to slip on her socks.

“A contact reader,” she confirmed. “Takes skin to skin for me to really get a look—and in the throes, as it were, it’s a smogging big window.” She slid a foot into one boot, glanced at him through a coiling explosion of gilded hair. “Fecking idiot.” 

“A sensitive,” he said again.

“Idiot.” She slid on the other boot before popping to her feet.

“Does the prison staff know?” he asked, rolling off the bed to pull on his own clothing. “About your sensitivity, I mean?”

“Of course they know.” She began to tuck in her shirt. “Why do you think I’m in the smogging Barrens in the first place?” 

“I have no idea,” he admitted.

“So much for my dreams of fame,” she huffed. “The short version is that I was a licensed member of the night trade.” 

Gideon, still recovering from the last few minutes, whistled. “You must have been rolling in starbucks.” 

“Flatterer.” Her smile made a brief appearance. “I did well enough, but the competition in Nike’s Red Crystal Alley is fierce. And I wanted… more.” 

“Ah.” 

“Mmm,” she agreed, watching him button his trousers. “And, seeing a way to get more, I used my talent to dig a little deeper than required for the pleasure of my clients. I stole their secrets,” she explained as Gideon looked up. “Some they paid me to keep, some I sold to the highest bidder, and some I passed on to members of the shadow trade, for a cut of the take.” 

“Okay,” he said, then thought about what she’d just learned from him. “Are you planning to use my secret against me?”

At that, she laughed. “And what swarming good would that do me?” she asked, waving a hand at the idea. “Sadly, there’s no profit to be made from spilling the fact that you lied when you confessed to treason. Idiot.” 

“Thank you,” he said, too grateful to mind the insult. Then, as he tucked in his shirt, added, “You know, you shouldn’t be in the Barrens.” 

“The Nike constabulary would disagree,” she said with another bubble of laughter as she eyed him. “I’m not sure how to break this to you, but I am not a nice person.”

“This was nice,” he said. 

“This was for my pleasure, and a pleasure it was,” she told him. “But it’s for certain sure you’d never find me putting meself between me mates and a firing squad the way you did.”

“Still,” he said, clearing his throat, “the Barrens is not a good place for people like you.” 

“Oh, I’ve heard the stories,” she said with a shrug. “But it seems to me that a body would need to have some serious talent for a wee buzzing bit of crystal to be a problem. Being but a touch sensitive, I should be fine.” She leaned in to deliver what he supposed she meant to be a reassuring kiss, then shook her head as she straightened. “Don’t do that.” 

“Do what?” he asked, focusing intently on buttoning his shirt.

“Don’t be adding me to the list of people you think need saving,” she told him, with a poke to the shoulder. 

Ow. 

“I mean, it, Gideon,” she said. “I’ve only to last the three years. And if things go swarm, well,” she shrugged. “Maybe that’s a kind of justice?” 

“I wouldn’t have thought you cared about justice.”

“And so I don’t. Meanwhile, I’ll thank you for your concern. And for this,” she said, glancing at the rumpled cot and back. “Especially as we’ll not be doing it again.” 

“We won’t?”

Her smile flashed. “You’re entirely too honorable for the likes of me, Gideon Quinn.” And with that, and a small sigh, she turned towards the cell door at the same time CO Menk appeared in the open rectangle.

“What’s all this, then?” Menk asked.

“Just enjoying a cuppa,” Cassandra said with a wink. 

Both Menk and Gideon watched with appreciation as she sauntered out of the cell.

As her footsteps faded, Menk turned to Gideon, who braced himself for another round of payback, but was surprised when the guard did nothing more but muster a sneer before turning and continuing on his rounds. 

Maybe Kamal had somehow persuaded their peers to lay the smog off. 

Gideon tried to be grateful for the reprieve, but his entire being was still shaking from the last half hour, and the secrets bared during those desperate minutes of intimacy. 

With a huff of breath, he turned to study the six names he’d just finished carving into the wall of his cell. 

Each name belonged to a member of his company, killed at Nasa.

Each death had been attributed to Gideon Quinn’s treason. 

But, as Cassandra now knew, Gideon was not a traitor.

Cassandra, with her intelligent eyes and wicked grin, who claimed she wasn’t that much of a sensitive. 

Then, for the first time in months, he thought of Manny, who had walked away from the veins without anyone noticing, and never returned.


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