Gertrude awoke, and screamed.
A stranger, a doctor, she guessed by his old-fashioned white coat, slapped her twice across the face.
“Keep your damned mouth shut,” he told her.
Heavy leather restraints around her wrists and ankles prevented her retaliating, but her neck was free and she could make out the fact that she was almost entirely naked. Thankfully her slightly singed underwear had been left on, though precious little was left to the imagination. Blazing fire had twisted and corrupted much of her flawless skin into a ruin of burns. Strangely, the tortured skin on the left side of her body did not hurt at all. In fact, she couldn’t feel a damned thing, unlike the right, which a draught had caused to come out in goosebumps. There was, however, a persistent stabbing pain inside her chest, and she felt short of breath.
“What’s my prognosis?” she asked the doctor, trying to keep calm.
“That pain you’ve got is because half your internal organs are compromised. If I hadn’t injected a gallon of drugs into you before waking you up the spasms of pain would’ve broken your spine. The scar tissue is almost entirely half and half,” he continued, gesturing along the length of her body, “but that’s not the problem. Your heart, one, maybe both, of your lungs, your stomach, they’re all shot to hell. It would’ve been kinder to just shoot you between your eyes.”
She spat in his face, regretful that he wasn’t near enough for her to try biting him. The doctor, with the calm of an old hand, wiped away phlegm and then slapped her again.
“Spirit’s fine, but don’t be a silly bitch. I think we should’ve left you for dead, but the captain wanted you brought around. He’s probably going to try and recruit you.” The doctor checked himself in a mirror hung above a small metal sink to make sure he’d got all the spit and ran a hand through his long silver locks.
The thought surprised her. Captain Brasidas took all sorts, from the upper echelons of the Murovian Empire to escaped robots, but she had never heard of him making a crewman of a failed bounty hunter. Of course, she’d need massive surgery and might not survive, but if she did the contract remained in effect…
Footsteps on metal, two pairs, strode towards the little clinic. Two very different men emerged through the open doorway. The first was tall and had his hair cut very short, in the Murovian style. Scars decorated his face and he wore plain clothing; black boots, black gloves and a brown trench coat that almost brushed the floor. He was followed by Captain Brasidas, whose body had to be squeezed through the narrow doorway. The top of his head was bald but the lower half was hidden by a long grey beard. His mottled green leather coat did nothing to disguise his middle-aged spread. He puffed on the pipe in his mouth and eyed her with interest.
“She’s screwed,” the doctor helpfully explained.
Brasidas removed the pipe from his mouth and waved the mouthpiece in her direction. “Would she survive surgery?”
“Likely, yes. It would cost a fortune though. A new leg, a new arm, new heart, stomach, one or both lungs. You might as well build a bloody android instead of rebuilding that ruined sack of–”
“Do it,” he ordered.
The doctor shrugged. “Fine, but we’ll need to swing by the Delaxus System to replenish our medical stock. And if you want to say something to her, do it now. It’ll take half a dozen operations and I’m not delaying so you can chinwag with the woman who tried to kill you.”
Brasidas strode over to her, followed by his taller companion, and ran an eye over her burnt body. The lofty man raised an eyebrow at her injuries, but said nothing.
“You recognise me?” the bald man enquired.
Gertrude almost laughed. There were few faces more recognisable than Captain Brasidas, master of The Sun Dancer. The pirate ship boasted three centuries of buccaneering adventures or theft and extortion, depending on one’s perspective. Brasidas had been its captain for over two decades, and had earned a bounty on his head big enough to buy a planet. He was leaning over her, face only inches away, and if she hadn’t been restrained a swift punch to the throat would have been enough to end his piratical escapades forever.
“I know you, cur.”
Brasidas smiled at the insult. “Good girl. I know you, too. And Sabine as well,” he added.
Her niece’s name shocked Gertrude, but not as much as the captain’s next words.
“The Murovian Inquisition tracked your brother down fifteen hours ago, and broke into his house ten hours after that.”
“An impressive length of time to hold out under torture,” the stranger with the Murovian haircut commented.
“Just so, Drusus. That time was enough for a friend of mine to rescue Sabine. She’s safe,” Brasidas told her.
Relief flooded into Gertrude, and then guilt she could feel relief while her brother was captive or dead at the Inquisition’s hands. “Where is she?”
“In the palm of my hand,” the captain told her. “The Inquisition would pay a pretty penny for her, and my first officer here seems to think I should toss you out of the nearest airlock. Or, I could spend a fortune on cybernetics to rebuild you, Sabine can stay safe and you can join my crew. What do you say?”
“You know there’s still a bounty on your head,” she replied. “What’s to stop me nodding now and killing you later?”
“The last attempt did not end well for you. Your answer?”
I’ll do better next time.