heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 9

TW: strong language and violence

He was easy to find. The fact Sledge hadn’t even tried to hide only enraged Brody further. It was no secret the other merc was fucked up in the head, unable to understand why people would interact if they weren’t getting something out of it—if there wasn’t a winner and a loser. Sledge liked to win.

Brody was sure the bastard had no idea what he’d taken. To Sledge, a wife and daughter would be trophies on a mantle.

But he would make him understand.

He and Colin entered the shabby brick building where Sledge lived and ran a humble drug operation. They used a grenade to gain access through the front door, then shot and killed three men between them before closing in on Sledge.

It all happened in five seconds. Sledge was taken unawares, drink in hand, while he played cards at a rickety table. He reached for his gun, but Brody shot it out of his reach. Seeing that he was unarmed and outnumbered, he settled for downing the rest of his drink. He watched the pair with an even gaze.

“You got my message,” he observed.

The scars by his mouth always made him look like he was smiling, even when he wasn’t—like a scarecrow.

“Message?” Brody said through his teeth. “You killed my family!”

“I killed a woman and a child too young to be of any use. You, on the other hand, robbed me of a fair sum. Now you’ve killed two associates and my brother, and you’ve damaged my building. But, in the interest of survival, I’m willing to call it even.”

Brody turned away, searching for a shred of control. He didn’t want this to end quickly, but his trigger finger itched something fierce.

As a boy, he’d been taught all the tricks of his trade, by his father, mostly. His father had been an odd-job man. He’d been willing to do anything, didn’t matter how dirty. Watching a man get flayed alive remained the only thing that had ever made Brody leave a room. He’d gotten his ass whooped for that. Still, he’d never seen a reason to make a job messy when the end result could be achieved quickly and cleanly.

His opinion on the matter had changed drastically in the last two hours.

“You didn’t kill a fucking woman and child,” he growled. “You killed my wife. You killed my daughter. And you killed my unborn babe.”

He met his brother-in-law’s stormy gaze for a moment. Now he had more to grieve, too.

“You killed my future,” Brody continued in a low voice. “I used to see everything. Now there’s nothin’. I’m gonna take what I’m owed from the only thing you really do care about, Sledge.”

The smaller man’s mangled mouth twisted as he turned to Colin, who was slowly circling his chair. “And you? What have I done to incur your wrath?”

“She was my sister,” Colin spoke for the first time.

Then, in a savage move that was very like—and unlike—Colin, he slammed the butt of his rifle into the back of Sledge’s head. The merc slumped over the table. The back of his head was bloody. For a moment, what was left of Brody’s heart dropped. What if he was dead already?

But even in a rage, Colin was nothing if not precise, and the merc’s back continued to rise and fall.

“Help me strap him to the table,” Brody said.

The other man didn’t hesitate. Using the belts of the dead men, they soon had Sledge on his back, secured to the rough wooden slab. Brody pulled a knife from his belt and considered the edge. It wasn’t very sharp, and that would make it hurt more. He turned to Colin.

“I got it from here.”

Colin looked at him for a moment, grief and pain clear in his brown eyes even as his face remained hard as stone. “Are you sure?”

It was a loaded question. Was he sure he didn’t need help? Was he sure he wanted to take it this far?

Didn’t Colin know that right and wrong didn’t matter anymore?

Brody gave a short nod. Colin gazed at his sister and niece’s murderer one last time, and then dragged his eyes back to Brody. He turned and left.

Brody turned back to the table and waited for the bastard to wake up. He needed him conscious. He had to feel everything Brody was feeling in the only place he could feel—his flesh. In the meantime, he downed a shot of Sledge’s whiskey and contemplated where to start.

His feet, he decided. He’d skin him from the bottom up until he was about to lose him, and then he’d castrate him. It would be the last thing he ever felt.

When Sledge did regain consciousness, Brody didn’t speak. Skinning an animal took a certain amount of focus. At first, Sledge reacted the way he would have expected—laughing, cursing, threatening. But by the time Brody reached his upper thigh, he was screaming, and the gunman savored the sound.

He completed his task in a terrible kind of trance, and when he finally came out of it he was covered in blood and panting. The corpse in front of him was almost unrecognizable. But for the first time since the death of his family, he felt a small sense of relief. He’d done one goddamn thing right by them, as little and late as it had come.

He dropped the knife and retrieved his coat from the corner of the room. He reached in a pocket and his thick fingers closed around the trigger of his wife’s revolver.

Rage simmered in his veins, just waiting for an excuse to boil over. It was a part of him now, maybe the only part of him left. It wasn’t much to live for. He could go back to the way things were before Jill and Maxi—killing, money, drinking, whores, and more killing. He could go back to Mars. But either of those things would mean living, and he just couldn’t. Not without them. Not with this impossible load of guilt.

The only viable option was the snub-nosed revolver in his hand.

He raised the barrel and placed it in his mouth. He angled it towards the back of his head. But at the last moment, he came around.

Dying was easy. Living would likely amount to the same kind of torture for him he’d just inflicted on Sledge. That was what he deserved, to live with himself until someone else put him out of his misery. His girls hadn’t gotten a choice about when or how. Why should he?

Brody took the revolver out of his mouth and emptied all six rounds into Sledge’s desecrated body. He left out the back, heading for the nearest bar. He wanted a drink and a fight, release and relief, however temporary or permanent it was.

*

Brody was in the docks. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d killed Sledge. An hour? A day? He couldn’t go home. He had no home. His drink-addled brain knew that much. So he’d wandered, shooting and fighting and drinking and yelling.

Still, he lived. Even in the cold, dark night in the worst part of the worst sector on Ptolemy, he lived.

He had his backpack. His ring. That meant he had his papers and money. He couldn’t say where his motorcycle had ended up, and he didn’t care. His blood-stained hands were bare and freezing, but he could barely feel it through the haze.

There were no dock guards here. Crews guarded their own vessels. He got it in his head that he would fly away. Steal a ship. He didn’t know much about flying. He’d probably crash before breaking atmo.

But as he stumbled around, looking for an easy target, he found instead a familiar ship with a familiar guard. Jax leaned against a stabilizer, bundled so only his keen brown eyes were visible in the faint light of the lanterns. He held a rifle in one arm and nodded to Brody. The gunman stared at him, then up at the ship, trying to focus.

Jax pulled down his scarf. “Do you want on board?”

“Why the hell not?”

Jax pushed a button on the keypad. “Sending up Shots.”

He pressed the numbers to release the elevator. The captain met him in the loading bay. Leroy was probably asleep. Colin glanced at Brody’s coat, taking in the blood and filth. His nose wrinkled slightly, involuntarily, at the stink of blood and booze.

“Shots,” he greeted, eyes returning to the gunman’s face.

He knew he was a sight, probably looked like he’d been on a rampage. Colin was wary. He’d want to know why he was there, and Brody wasn’t sure.

“Do you need passage to Mars?” he asked.

Brody shook his head, stumbled, and caught himself on a nearby shelf.

“Are you hurt?”

He shook his head again.

“Where to, then? We’ll take you wherever you want.”

Where did he want to go? Nowhere. Everywhere. The only response that came to his inebriated mind was a song. That damned song. A chantey. It had been sung over and over the night he and Jill were married, to toasts and cheers and jeers. The ship’s namesake.

He grinned through the pain and memory and goddamn rage, and slurred, “I once knew a pretty gypsy lass, a pretty pirate gypsy lass/She sailed over the sea, the sea; she sailed away with me, with me/I fell in love with the gypsy lass, who took my compass and broke the glass/‘Don’t matter where we go,’ she said—”

“—as long as we go, we go, we go,” Colin finished softly.

They stared at each other for a moment. Colin had hidden the pain of the day away—mostly. Brody could still see it, only because it so clearly matched his own. The captain nodded then and turned away.

“You know where your bunk is.”

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