heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 14

“Shots,” the captain’s clipped voice sounded over the intercom in Brody’s room, waking him from an alcohol-induced slumber.

His initial feeling was irritation, and it lingered. Passing out drunk was the best sleep he got. Waking meant remembering, and even a year and a half after the death of his family, the memories were agonizing when they found him. For a man who had been taught to rage against pain, this quiet, simmering anger had become his norm.

In his new life, that anger found plenty of outlet. His place in the crew of Gypsy Lass was never official, but it was indisputable. Colin made him earn his keep, and Brody was happy to look mean and shoot whoever needed to get shot. When the ship docked for supplies he spent his earnings on drinking, guns—sometimes women.

He wouldn’t recognize any of them if he saw them again. They satisfied a need, warmed his bed, and let him pretend he wasn’t such a miserable son of a bitch for an hour or two. When he thought back to the last time he’d felt anything more for someone, he only saw Jill and Maxine.

He tried not to think back too often.

“Shots,” the voice snapped again.

Brody fumbled for the button by his bed. “Yeah,” he grunted.

“We’re about to land on Tycho. Get right.”

Brody grunted his acknowledgement. The dynamic of captain and crewmember seemed to suit them better than that of brothers-in-law. Brody didn’t want to put too much thought into where he went or what he did next, and, with his increasingly risky ventures, Colin had plenty of use for one of the best gunmen in the System.

His self-destructive behavior was an unspoken agreement. Don’t let it interfere with the mission. If he fucked up too badly, he was off the ship.

Brody stumbled to the tiny bathroom, barely big enough to contain a sink, toilet, and shower and splashed water on his face. He ran a toothbrush over his teeth and didn’t think to look in the mirror. He kept his brown hair cropped close to his head and waited too long to shave. Low maintenance. He pulled a clean shirt out of a drawer beneath his unmade bottom bunk. He put it on, selected the best guns for the job from his personal stash in a crate against the wall, and let the door to the main corridor slide open.

He looked far from impressive, but he functioned and did his job, and that was all anyone asked for. It was all he could give.

Today’s job was to pick up a supply of Sector B25 moonshine from the rebel planet and deliver it to Queen Mary of Venus, whose youngest daughter was getting married. The liquor was popular, but few were willing to delve into the dangers that came with getting it. Especially on the lawless rebel planets, suppliers were often just as happy to kill the buyer, keeping the money and the product, as they were to maintain a business relationship. Some of their contacts had a consistent reputation, whether that was good or bad. For others, it depended on the day.

This supplier was new to the crew of Gypsy Lass. They didn’t know what to expect. Better to err on the side of caution and go in with all the protection they could carry.

No one on the ship was a bad shot, not even Leroy. Most of their transactions had been successful so far. Business stayed steady, and everyone had their part to play. Colin had a mind for business. Jax would follow him to the edge of the System—and farther—despite the fact Colin probably couldn’t pay all he deserved for his skill level. And there wasn’t anything on the ship Leroy couldn’t fix except his running mouth.

Brody’s own reputation was gaining traction outside of Ptolemy. He added a certain amount of credibility to the team as far as rebels were concerned, too. The twins were New Earthers, and as far as most of the “businessmen” they dealt with were concerned, Colin might as well have been.

They made a solid team. If their reputations preceded them, it would be unlikely anyone would fuck with them today.

But Brody really hoped they did.

He met Colin and Leroy in the loading bay. The ship had landed, but Jax was still in the cockpit, flipping switches and grabbing his own guns. Tycho was the closest habitable planet to the sun, and Brody braced himself for the heat. He was used to the cold of his home planet, of space, of Mars’s thinly-veiled steel. Dry though it was, the heat always made him feel uncomfortable, suffocated.

“Morning, Shots,” Leroy said brightly.

Most ships, including theirs, opted to follow the time it was in the United Nations district on New Earth. It was the afternoon there.

“Shut up, Leroy,” he growled.

“Enough,” Colin said without looking up from loading his rifle.

Brody glared at the mechanic, who just laughed and pulled on a pair of tactical gloves before slipping a pistol into his holster. In the beginning, when Jillian and Maxine were alive, Leroy had been a nuisance, a fly buzzing around his head.  Now they were stuck in the same metal crate day in and day out, and Leroy had taken to pushing Brody’s buttons for his own amusement. They both knew Brody could kill him faster than he could blink, but they also knew he wouldn’t risk the repercussions.

It wasn’t just his chipper attitude that got to Brody. It was what the chipper attitude meant—that he’d never felt real pain, never known real loss. It just didn’t happen for people born on the rebel planets. They never turned out that way. It was a gift he’d hoped to give Maxine. It was a gift Leroy had that she never would, just because he’d had the good fortune to be born on the right fucking planet.

Every fucking day he took it for granted, and every fucking day Brody hated him a little more.

Jax came from the corridor and nodded to Colin, who turned to Brody. His eyes flickered to the gunman’s chest. Brody knew what he was looking for. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d had this brief exchange, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Are you wearing gear?”

“No.”

“You should.”

“Is that an order?”

Colin’s lips formed a thin line. “You know it’s not.”

Brody shouldered his rifle, placed a linker in his ear, and kept his face impassive. “Then let’s go.”

Colin and Brody took the elevator down. There were no official docks in the sector, so Jax had landed on a flat spot near their destination. He’d sent the coordinates to the people they were doing business with, and once Brody got past the initial blast of hot air, he spotted a truck about five hundred yards away, outfitted for desert driving and waiting for them.

Jax and Leroy hung back in case anything went awry.

The vehicle approached. Brody saw that a gray-haired woman was driving. In the passenger’s seat was a younger man with a gun, pointed down. A machine gun sat on the top of the truck. It was an impressive setup.

A dozen scenarios played out in Brody’s mind, and he noted each one objectively. She could run them over. Shoot them where they stood. They might survive and return fire. There were only three or four of them. Two in the front and one, maybe two, in the back. The suppliers would assume there were more people in the ship. They wouldn’t know how many. The odds weren’t good for a fight.

But it could always go either way.

As the truck stopped, the hairs on the back of Brody’s neck pricked. He was alert, anticipating, hoping. He gripped his rifle tightly, and all feeling slipped away as he achieved the perfect focus that kept his aim true and impartial.

The woman got out to meet Colin with a wary smile. Colin lowered his gun and shook her hand. Brody stayed ready, as did the woman’s guard. She showed them the alcohol, let Colin sniff and taste the clear liquid. Poison? That would be a clever way to overtake them.

But to Brody’s disappointment, the job proved run of the mill. Colin showed her the jewels Queen Mary had offered up. The trade was made. Jax and Leroy lowered the ramp. The job was done, and it had been easy.

Brody scowled.

When they were in the air, he joined the rest of the crew for dinner. They made their own easy-heat meals or sandwiches, but they had to sit and eat one meal together. It was the captain’s version of a meeting, a daily open forum, where they discussed upcoming jobs, plans, ideas that weren’t urgent. Sometimes there wasn’t much to talk about and conversation drifted to more casual topics.

Occasionally, Brody would forget himself and start feeling normal. But then he’d remember and grow restless, moody, waiting for the next move, the next distraction, the next chance to draw blood or have it drawn.

Today there had been no release for his pain, his anger. There had been no killing. There were no women. So after dinner he snagged the open bottle of moonshine from the loading bay and took it back to his room.

If he couldn’t release his demons, he’d just have to drown them.

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