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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“Officer Kamal… Gideon.”
Gideon, leaning heavily on the CO, watched Doc rise from his handkerchief-sized desk and gesture to one of the empty cots.
While Doc retrieved a rolling stool and instrument tray, Kamal—a hard-eyed, lean-muscled guard from Fuji—led Gideon to the indicated bed, keeping a bone-crushing grip on Gideon’s arm all the way.
“Thanks, Boss,” Doc said to the gender fluid guard as they shoved Gideon onto the cot.
Gideon managed to squelch the yelp of pain.
CO Kamal’s lips quirked before they removed themselves to the end of the cot, crossed their arms over their chest, and proceeded to loom.
Kamal was a champion loomer.
“May I?” Doc asked, indicating the hand Gideon had pressed against his side.
Gideon lowered his hand so the physician could peel back his bloodstained shirt.
“Nasty,” Doc murmured. “From the looks of this wound, he’ll be here at least a day. Possibly two,” he said, glancing up at Kamal.
“Work boss’ll be thrilled,” the CO said, sending Gideon a fulminating glare before they stalked out of the infirmary.
“You have such a way with people,” Doc observed as Kamal’s footsteps faded away.
“It’s a gift.”
“Mmm,” Doc murmured. “Lie back if you please.”
Gideon stretched out on the cot while Doc snapped on a pair of the bio-plastic gloves Gideon recognized from numerous visits to the triage tent.
“I confess myself surprised,” the doctor said as he cracked open a clean-and-suture kit. “I was beginning to think I’d never see you in here.”
“Why’s that?” Gideon asked as he stared up at the ceiling, where he discovered Doc had pinned a series of drawings—some artistic, some comical, and some out and out bawdy—above the cots. One even featured a detailed portrait of Elvis Presley, in full royal regalia.
Dani would have been thrilled.
“I had Mama, Pavel, and Lonnie in here a few weeks ago,” Doc explained, drawing Gideon’s thoughts back to the present, while separating forceps, sutures, and cleansing solutions, “all claiming to have been thoroughly trounced by the Shovel of Hesitation—”
“Spade,” Gideon corrected on an exhale. “Spade of Hesitation. A shovel has a different shape.”
“I stand corrected,” Doc replied, turning to move Gideon’s shirt out of the way. “Keepers,” he added, on an exhale of his own.
Gideon, confused, looked down to see Doc glaring at a series of scars decorating his torso.
“War is hell.” Gideon offered the blanket explanation. Better, he thought, than entertaining memories of the Midasian interrogator who’d caused the damage.
“Of course,” Doc replied, and while his expression indicated he could tell the difference between a wound taken in battle and one received from a specialist in the field, he let the partial-lie lie. “Where was I?” he asked, leaning close to assess the stab wound.
“Spade of hesitation,” Gideon told him, fixing his gaze on the drawing above his cot, which appeared to be a replica of the Earth masterpiece, Dogs Playing Five-Card Apiary.
“Of course,” Doc said, taking up the pair of forceps and probing the wound in search of debris. “A few days after the spade incident, two other inmates came in with lacerations about the face and neck from the, ah, Dinner Tray of Reason?” He glanced up.
“Reason being Sayyed and Jimmy wanted to stick a fork in me to see if I was done,” Gideon explained.
“Of course.” Doc’s lips twitched as he removed an errant piece of thread from the wound. “And yesterday it was Suleiman DeGuerre, still wet from the showers and suffering from an encounter with the Soapstone of Back the Smog Off.”
“I don’t think that one needs explanation,” Gideon replied.
“No,” Doc agreed, popping open a tube of anti-bac liquid. “But the fact is, after such a lengthy string of successes, I can’t help but wonder how someone got past your guard to do this.” As he spoke, he poured the liquid directly into the wound.
“Ouch,” Gideon said as foam erupted over his side. “Sadly, the Weighted Sock of Contemplation was no match for Renny’s shard,” Gideon admitted through gritted teeth.
The doctor looked up. “You lost me.”
Gideon withdrew a sock from its hiding place in his sleeve and displayed the gaping hole in that garment’s heel. “It blocked Renny’s first stab, but all the gravel leaked out before I got the chance to teach him the value of meditation.”
Doc’s eyes narrowed at the sight of the abused sock. “I’m sorry to say I’ll have to pronounce the hosiery dead on arrival,” he said. “Still, better a pierced sock than your heart.”
“Renny would probably disagree,” Gideon said. “Especially since his shard got tangled in the heel.”
“Oh?” Doc said.
Gideon held up a finger, then, from behind his back, drew the gleaming length of Renny’s shard.
“Ah,” Doc said.
“Yeah.” Gideon grinned and snugged the shard into his right sleeve, next to the sock.
“And do you plan on doing unto Renny as he is so desperately trying to do unto you?” Doc asked.
Gideon’s lips twisted as Doc rinsed the wound a second time. “No.”
“Really?” Doc ripped open the suture pack. “Why not, if you don’t mind my asking? Given your past as a soldier, killing would hardly be outside your skill set.”
“It isn’t,” Gideon agreed. “But knowing how to kill—knowing you can—doesn’t mean it should be the default.”
Doc’s brows rose, but he kept his eyes on the work. “An interesting point of view, for a man in the Barrens.”
“Maybe I’m reforming,” Gideon muttered.
“And only a month into your sentence,” Doc observed. “But if you don’t mean to end Renny with that little toy, why risk hanging on to it?”
“Mostly to keep it out of Renny’s hands, and therefore my back,” Gideon said. “And…” he paused, hissing, as Doc inserted the first suture, “… I have a sort of side project that could use it.”
“Ah,” Doc said with a nod. “The list.”
Gideon started. “You know about that?”
“I work housekeeping in addition to running the infirmary,” Doc explained. “I’ve been in your cell a few times, so I’ve seen the list. Or the start of it. It appears to be slow going.”
“It was,” Gideon agreed. “But now I’ve got myself a better chisel, it’ll move along quicker.”
“I suppose that’s so,” Doc agreed. “Though I wonder…” But he stopped himself and seemed to focus intensely on getting the exact right angle for the next suture.
“What do you wonder?” Gideon asked.
Doc inserted the suture before he replied. “I wonder why a man serving a life sentence would be in a rush to finish anything.”
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