Ten years ago, a woman on planet Melchi had offered me double my fee to pull an existing contract on her husband. I'd already accepted the contract, so I refused. I was strangling her for the insult when she gasped out the fact that she had been the one who had raised the contract in the first place.
She was carrying the proof of her communication to and from my contact. When I asked her how she could go to such extraordinary lengths only to then change her mind, she wept. 'I hate him with all my heart, but he's my reason for living.'
I couldn't accept her reasoning. I did accept her cancellation. And her money.
As I lay on the table in Partridge's lab, my mind played over that image from ten years ago. Again and again. Her grief-stricken face, body wracked by sobs as she lay huddled on the floor. Luxurious clothing and ragged face. One hand clutching her throat, the other outstretched towards me. The hatred and need at war in her eyes.
I felt that I understood that woman now. A little.
Partridge had just told me that Hrna's infection had saved my life.
She was holding my hand and watching me as I processed the information.
I wouldn't have lived if it wasn't for the thing I hated most. The thing that... it was time to admit it. The thing that terrified me most. The thing that was changing my essential nature. It occurred to me that the true cruelty lay in my awareness of the process.
I longed to kill Hrna for what she had done. And yet my body immediately responded to the image of green fire and ice. My desire for her was thick in my throat. Hatred and need.
Thrusting a knife into her.
Thrusting into her.
"Captain, you are hurting me."
I was crushing Partridge's hand in my trembling grasp. I relaxed my grip and pulled her onto me and kissed her. Washing away the green with the blue.
She responded at first, but then pushed away. "Captain, we need to discuss what happened."
I sat up on the examination table. She was still wearing the uniform. It fitted her remarkably well.
"Captain, focus. This is critical."
I shook my head. I needed time. "Me first. What's with the uniforms?"
She searched my face, my eyes. She nodded and stepped backwards, out of my reach. She leaned against a bench and smoothed her silver hair back into place. "Very well. You may ask four questions and then it will be my turn."
"Why the uniforms?" Pointless, but I was still recovering from her news. Start light.
"Practical. I have armoured them for the whole crew, using my shocksynth material. They provide a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. And they are a visual reminder of your responsibilities to them. To us."
"You've branded everybody with a 'W'. They are not mine to brand." Though I may need to slaughter them like cattle. The thought no longer sat well. The infection, no doubt.
"Not a brand. A commitment. Them to you. You to them."
I didn't buy it. "Speaking of outfits. What were you wearing when you... we... shot the boarders?"
A pink stain on her cheeks. "It is another clothing system I am playing with. I did not know if you were still alive and could offer assistance. And when I saw you lying there, I was certain you were dying. I needed a distraction, an edge. I needed them to focus on something other than my weapon."
YOU ARE READING
Murky WatersScience Fiction
Matthew Waters does the work that no one else will do. But when a client contracts him to terminate the inhabitants of an entire planet, Waters discovers that even he has limits. Maybe.