“Shots.” A voice over the intercom wrenched Brody from sleep. Jax this time. “The meeting’s in ten. You’ve got a message from the palace.”
Brody didn’t bother responding and bit back a groan as he sat up. He’d done a good job drinking himself into a stupor the previous night, but somehow he’d found his way back to his bunk. He fumbled for the drawer beneath his bed and rummaged around for a bottle of aspirin. He popped an indiscriminate amount in his mouth and chewed before stumbling to the bathroom for a few gulps of water.
He splashed his face, brushed his teeth, and changed his clothes. Then he pressed the heel of his hand hard against his throbbing temple.
A letter from the palace. The auction. Had he won or lost? Which did he want?
He stretched his neck from side to side, swung his shoulders back, and headed for the mess area. The others were already seated, eating cereal, twice-baked bread, dry meat, and easy-heat meals. A bowl of fresh apples kept from a job the previous week sat in the middle of the table.
It gave the place a homey feel, and it stung. It was something Jill might do. Brody scowled and downed a protein shake while he waited for his frozen eggs and biscuits to thaw in the quick oven.
Jax held up the official, wax-sealed note from King Ekon between his fingers without looking up from his reader. Leroy’s interest was obvious, but he wouldn’t be willing to engage the shooter in conversation any time soon.
Brody leaned against the counter while his breakfast spun in the heat and ripped open the letter.
Congratulations! You’ve won an evening with a lady of Mars. I can promise you your money has been well spent. The Prize has been trained in the art of seduction and its various forms. Her natural sensuality and flawless physique make a pleasurable evening inevitable.
A blood test and physical evaluation will be administered at your convenience, between the hours of eight o’clock and noon today. Pending favorable results, you will be asked to sign a contract and have the opportunity to fill out a form, which will be passed on to the Prize, stating your preferences and expectations.
Thank you for bidding in the King’s Auction. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this night as much as I enjoy mine.
King Ekon of Mars
He shoved the note into his pocket, grabbed his meal, and sat with the others. Colin glanced up briefly from his own reader, curious but unwilling to delve into his gunman’s personal business. Brody dug into his food, ravenous now that he was up and moving. Colin set down his reader and took a sip of coffee from a tumbler before speaking.
“King Ekon’s advisor has work for us.”
Brody’s eyebrow twitched, his only outward sign of interest as he chewed. It was unusual for a job to come directly from Alexander.
“It’s different from the jobs we usually take, but considering our good relationship with Mars, he thought we might make an exception. Anyone who wants in gets a cut. Anyone who doesn’t won’t be penalized.”
Brody stopped chewing, his interest fully piqued.
“Alexander thinks the king is in danger. He wants extra security for an event three nights from now. One of the new girls was brought to the king under…suspicious circumstances. Some person, maybe the father, has threatened to come and take her back by force. Ekon isn’t taking these threats seriously, but Alexander has concerns. He’s talked the King into inviting us to dinner. Good food, beautiful women that you cannot touch”—he looked pointedly at Leroy as he said this—“and maybe some gun slinging. If you take moral issue, just want to stick to the usual gigs, whatever, that’s fine.”
He glanced at Jax, who poked his oatmeal with a spoon, lips pursed. He clearly disapproved, for one of the aforementioned reasons, but he’d go where the captain went. Leroy wouldn’t want to be left out of the fun, and Brody…killing had never bothered him any. The captain gave them the day to think it over, but none of them needed it. They were all in.
Brody pushed away from the table and tossed his tray and utensils down the garbage chute. It was all biodegradable, to be collected whenever they landed back on New Earth.
“I got somewhere to be,” Brody announced. “I’ll be back in time for the job.”
Colin nodded, acknowledgement and dismissal. Brody went to his room to piss and grab his gun. He looked in the mirror and clenched and unclenched his fists.
There was no coming back from this. The money he’d saved for his family’s future spent on a high-class whore. It was the final chapter in his old life, the first chapter in a new one—one where there was no evidence left of his past and nothing to prevent him from giving himself wholeheartedly to the kind of darkness in which he was always meant to live.