Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers.
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Gideon couldn’t say what drove him to do it.
Maybe it was the uncertainty of how the interlude with Cassandra had ended.
Maybe it was the bitter taste the confrontation with Simkins had left in his mouth.
Or maybe, just maybe, he needed something solid to push against—something more predictable and less ambiguous than crystal madness or a flawed justice system.
Whatever the reason, nearly a month after failing to help Cassandra (Who, his self reminded him, hadn’t asked for his help), Gideon took Renny’s shard from its latest hiding place (a hollow under the compost heap) and made his move.
He waited until free time was nearing an end before approaching Renny, who’d just lost a game of Tesla Hold ‘Em to Doc.
“I know you’re cheating,” Renny said with disgust as the older man scooped up the loose pages from various newspapers that had made up the pot.
“I never cheat,” Doc promised. “But to ease your mind, I’ll return the papers after I’ve read them.” As he spoke, he patted the sheets into a neat pile and looked at Gideon. “Fancy a game?”
“Sorry,” Gideon said, “I don’t have anything left to lose at this point.”
“I beg to differ,” Renny said, rising from the stone slab Doc used as his table. “I believe you have about five liters of blood to spare.”
“Less than two,” Doc said, already perusing the top news sheet. “Any more would prove fatal.”
“Yes,” Renny said, rolling his eyes, “that would be the point.”
“Hmm,” Doc said, but Gideon could see he was engrossed in his newly won reading material. A quick peek over Doc’s shoulder showed an advert for pineapple leather wellies, and an article about the expansion of the Tenjin Corporation’s Research and Development division.
Since Doc was already deep into the article, Gideon looked at Renny and jerked his chin towards the northwest wall, which was the darkest of the yard. “A word?”
Renny’s eyes narrowed, but then he shrugged. “Why not?” But as he rose, he turned back to Doc. “I hope you like the story about the Dionysus Festival. Looks like the Upanishads won.”
“As long as it’s not Hamlet,” Doc said with equanimity
“Does nothing rile the man?” Renny complained as he followed Gideon across the yard.
Gideon glanced back to where Doc continued to devour the newspapers. “Do you think he did it?” he asked, in lieu of an answer.
“Kill his wife?” Renny also spared Doc a glance. “Doesn’t seem the type, but it only takes a moment, doesn’t it, to make a choice that can’t be unchosen.”
“So I’ve heard.” Since they’d reached their destination, Gideon came to a halt. “Don’t suppose you’ll finally share which of my choices has you wanting my head on a platter?”
“Don’t suppose I will,” Renny replied. “And if that’s all you wanted to talk about, I’ve got better things to do than share oxygen with you.”
“It isn’t,” Gideon said, holding out his hand in a “wait a minute” gesture while he took another look around, and then up at the walls to make sure no guards were looking their way.
“What are you at, Gideon?”
Convinced they were, for the moment, unwatched, Gideon looked at Renny. “This,” he said, and produced Renny’s shard from under his shirt.
“Careful,” Renny murmured, his body shifting to a ready stance. “Simkins doesn’t take kindly to murder among the inmates.”
“That’s never stopped you from trying,” Gideon pointed out.
“But I’m a stone killer,” Renny observed. “You said so yourself.”
“And you called me a thief,” Gideon said, recalling one of their more contentious conversations.
“Because you are,” Renny said, pointing to the shard, “as the evidence suggests.”
“Again, I didn’t steal it,” Gideon reiterated the old argument. “You left it in my sock.”
“And I suppose you now plan to leave it in my liver?”
“That would be the smart thing, wouldn’t it?” Gideon replied, before flipping the shard in his hand and presenting it, hilt first, to Renny.
Renny gaped, an expression Gideon found oddly refreshing. “You truly are insane, aren’t you?”
“I’m starting to think so,” Gideon admitted, then dropped his voice to add a low, “incoming.”
Renny might not have trusted Gideon, but he took the shard, disappearing it even as the footsteps above came to a halt.
“Everything good down there?”
Gideon recognized the voice as belonging to the newest CO, an Avonian named Finch, brought in to replace the terminated Kozinski.
“All good,” he called up, eying Renny. “Isn’t it?”
“Everything’s honey in the comb,” Renny said, but once Finch continued on his rounds, the Adidan fixed his dark gaze on Gideon. “This doesn’t make us friends.”
“Color me shocked,” Gideon said dryly, then asked, “did you want to take a stab at me now?”
“Every minute of every day,” Renny said with his thin smile. “But as neither of us is going anywhere—for possibly ever—I don’t imagine there’s any rush.”
“Okay.” Gideon remained where he stood, watching Renny, who was watching him.
“You’re not leaving?” Renny asked.
“After you,” Gideon said, gesturing grandly towards the yard.
Renny grimaced. “I just said I wasn’t going to stab you.”
“So you did,” Gideon agreed, and remained where he was.
Renny stared at Gideon.
Gideon stared at Renny.
“Someone has to move,” Renny said.
“You’re right.” Gideon nodded. “Someone does.”
Finally the evening bells rang, summoning the inmates back to their cells.
Gideon and Renny continued to stare, until Renny heaved a sigh heavy with disgust. “Together, then?”
“In five, four, three, two,” Gideon counted down, and on one, both men spun on their heels and strode across the yard, side by side.
As they moved, their steps were in synch, and their postures so relaxed, anyone who didn’t know the pair might have thought them friends.
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