Pilon looked better from the outside than it did on the inside. At least where we came in. The buildings weren't very tall, and wind driven sand had worn them down. There were pieces of wood nailed into the window frames. Sand gathered in the doorways and blew down the empty street. Somewhere, a tin can rattled across broken asphalt. The wind howled. It was early afternoon, but it felt like midnight and was almost as dark.
"Daddy, this is creepy," Regan said. Her arms clenched my neck a little tighter.
"I know. We won't be here long."
"She likes to dance."
"Where does she dance?"
"On a stage."
"On a stage? You can't be any more specific than that?"
I felt Regan shake her head.
"You know anyone named Cherry who likes to dance on a stage?" I asked Anala.
"I've never been inside the city before," Anala said. "But there are a lot of dance clubs here. Strip joints, really. Not the kind of place to take your daughter or a woman of the cloth."
We kept walking. Within ten or fifteen minutes, the city started to look livelier. Humans and aliens of all kinds scurried along the streets. Vehicles buzzed by. Neon sings blinked and fizzled. It smelled like food and beery vomit and rubber. Girls in skimpy leather outfits stood on the corners, smoking cigarettes and taking swings from bottles or flasks. Anala looked nervous and walked as close to me as she could. But this was what I was used to. Red light districts around the universe were full of bartenders, pickpockets, prostitutes and thugs whom I called my friends.
Still, it was too dark for the time of day I knew it was, and I hadn't been able to shake the feeling of being followed. But every time I looked around, I couldn't see anyone. Not even in the open desert had I seen anyone.
"Talon, I don't want to be here," Anala said.
"Relax," I said. "They smell fear, just like any other animal. If you let them know you're scared, they will do something."
"But it's -- "
"Okay, let me find a nice clean place for you to stay."
We came to a bar called the Wheel. It was a place I'd been to thousands of times on thousands of different planets. There was always a bar called the Wheel because there were always pilots.
"A Wheel!" Regan said as we walked through the door.
Anala hesitated. I grabbed her wrist and pulled her inside.
Instantly, there was a familiar face. "TK! RK!" a rotund little man shouted.
Regan perked up and waved. "Hiram!"
"What are you two doing here?"
"It's a long story, Hiram," I said.
Hiram Shoals had been the pilot of a famous adventuring ship called The Violet Nova, a ship captained by Baron Dominguez Jorge Isidore Wallace. Wally was credited with the discovery of several small planets on the fringe of the known universe, a few of which proved to have valuable resources. This made the Wallace house of nobles ridiculously wealthy and the rest of the noble houses jealous. Wally was a great ambassador to alien races everywhere. Everyone in his employ was the best at what they did. Hiram retired from Wally's service after thirty years and made his living leisurely ferrying nobles from planet to planet on a four-passenger shuttle called Lizzy's Light. And he had the annoying (or endearing, depending on your point of view) habit of calling everyone by their initials.
"You look a little sunburned, TK. You been playing on a beach somewhere?" Hiram asked.
"I've been walking through a desert for the last three and a half days," I said.
"You came in through the desert? Damn, boy, you're lucky to be alive! There are monsters out there!"
Regan squirmed down off my back. "He's a good monster," she said, and she climbed into a chair at Hiram's table. "Can I have ice cream, Daddy?"
"Sure, why not?"
Hiram waved to a lumpy waitress who lumbered over and took an order for chocolate ice cream, two beers and a glass of water. Hiram was at a loss when I introduced Anala. He'd never met a healer witch, and she had no last name. He was stuck calling her Anala.
I had taken half a sip of my beer and gotten the name of a decent hotel nearby when two suspicious looking men walked in. They stood at the door, looked around then stalked to the bar. One of them looked over at me.
"Fuck," I said.
"What is it?" Hiram asked.
"Bounty hunters again."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing. Well, not nothing. But not enough for bounty hunters. Well, maybe stealing a Republic ship was a bad idea, but I had to go."
"So the rumors are true."
"No, not all of them."
"Right. Well, you need to get yourself out of here."
"What do you want me to do? Walk out the front door?"
"Go out the back way. I'll take your women to the hotel and wait for you."
"You're assuming I'll make it there."
"I know you. You'll be fine."
I kissed my daughter, gulped down half of my beer and stood up. There was no inconspicuous way to get to the backdoor. It wasn't conveniently located near the bathroom or any other innocuous room a bar patron may want to enter. The bounty hunters would know that I was running away. All I could do was hope that they weren't smart enough to go after Regan instead.
As soon as I stepped into the dark alleyway, I heard the click of an old fashioned revolver. A few seconds later, the two from inside came through the back door. "So you really thought you could escape through the back door?" the one with the revolver asked.
"Since when was a team of two incompetent bounty hunters not enough? Are three idiots really necessary?" I asked.
"What did you do to Weekes and Francis?"
"The desert swallowed them. There are monsters out there, you know."
"That's two murders to add to the list."
"Are you gonna take me in or just talk about me all night?"
One of the men at the door took a swing at me. I ducked and shoved him back towards the man with the revolver. I clocked the other doorman across the jaw and ran out of the alley. I wasn't much for hand-to-hand combat. I could hold my own, but I was better with my guns. This time, the odds were against me, and it just felt like a bad place for a gunfight. Running put me at just as big a disadvantage. I didn't know the city. They probably did.
But I did have a head start. I took the next left because when in doubt, go left. Works every time. It worked better than I could have imagined.
The street was empty. And the reason the street was empty was standing right in my path. I'd never seen one in real life, and this one wasn't as big as I would have expected. It was a little over seven feet tall and covered in thick black fur. Two of its four arms were stunted, but the claws were sharp. Its eyes were a greenish gold, and it was smiling at me. I skidded to a stop in front of it. I could hear the bounty hunters not far behind. "Keep running," the creature said. "I'll find you again."
I ran. I heard the bounty hunters scream when they rounded the corner after me. I heard the gun go off.
I ended up somewhere much quieter than where I'd begun. I slowed to a walk. I saw pawnshops, clothing boutiques, toy stores and a gunsmith, all with steel cages pulled down behind the glass. I had found the nice downtown section. Quaint shops and cafes lined each side of the street. A bank with a facade larger than the actual building was in the process of being robbed. I walked past the nervous getaway driver, giving him a raised eyebrow look of suspicion. I lingered at a corner not far away. The driver cracked and took off. I waited outside the bank. The robber was quite shocked to find his getaway gone. He was even more shocked when I put my laser pistol to his head. "I need that more than you do," I told him. He didn't argue.
I wandered a little further and found myself in a warehouse district. I found an empty warehouse and tried to make myself comfortable. I counted the money I'd stolen from the robber. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.
I couldn't go to the hotel. Even if those three were dead, I knew there were more waiting. Eventually, maybe Dylan and I could kill them all. But then how many murders would that be? And it was all Shane's fault.
I needed a nap. I wanted a drink. I wished I could go back and just tell them that Shane was insane, that I had nothing to do with his plots. But that wasn't even true. Not entirely. Maybe there was still a way to turn this mess around.
Cold spiders rushed over my skin. I couldn't tell if I passed out or not. I saw a girl with cherry red hair. Her skin was a shade of pale pink that I'd only ever seen on horses and other red heads. Tears spilled down her cheeks, and she pointed a gun at a man whose face I couldn't see. But I didn't need to see his face to know it was Shane. I could see his left hand and the tattoo on the back of it of a stiletto knife through the eye of a carnival mask.
When I woke up, it was light outside, and a large beast was curled up near the door.
Dylan lifted his head. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"I don't know. Not really. I left my daughter with Hiram Shoals and a healer witch. That doesn't make me real happy."
"They'll be fine."
"But Regan's sick."
"Anala will take care of her. I got a message to Hiram last night. They'll stay at the hotel today. In the morning, he'll take them to Valewind."
"Valewind? That's halfway across the fucking universe! Regan's never been anywhere without me. And she sure as hell has never been that far away."
"Talon, if she stays here, she's in danger."
"But -- "
"If I had thought she wasn't safe with Hiram and Anala, I wouldn't have left her there."
"I trusted you when you were human. I guess I can trust you now."
"I was never human."
"Should I even ask what happened to you?"
"I'll just say that all the pain I was in when I left is a thing of the past."
"We wait. You need to rest more. Tonight we'll find some way off this planet. I see you already robbed the bank."
"No. I robbed the robber who robbed the bank. It's easier that way."
"You haven't changed a bit."
"Wish I could say the same for you."
It was hard to say if he smiled or snarled, but then again, those two expressions were virtually the same for him anyway.
Dylan had always been strange. He was quiet and rather shy, a perfect fit for Shane's boisterous nature. But I had always noticed things about him that were unnerving. He seemed too strong for his size, even if he was a bit taller than everyone else. All his senses seemed more acute, to a frightening degree. He and Shane were inseparable. They claimed they were born at the exact same moment and conceived at the exact same moment. I could have done a little research and found out for sure, at least about their births, but I never did. If it wasn't true of their bodies, it was true of their souls.
Three or four years ago, I found out why Dylan was the way he was. He was conceived in a test tube from a human egg and the sperm of a creature called a shavor or wendigo or yetti, depending on what planet you asked. The shavor were not naturally bellicose, but when threatened, they got nasty. But they were also very intelligent creatures. They had their own cultures and religions and languages. About 150 years ago, the last shavor died.
Genetic experimentation was common centuries ago, but it never came to anything. Or so we thought. After Dylan was successfully conceived, his genetic make up was manipulated to give him the strength and highly acute senses of the shavor in a human body.
He never seemed to suffer any ill effects from it when he was younger. The older he got, the less stable the mutations became. Something to do with incompatible hormones. Certain human chemicals were deadly poison in the shavor system. No one, not even Shane, knew what kind of pain Dylan was in. The last time I saw him, he told me all of this, but he seemed oddly content. I figured he was going somewhere to die without letting Shane know. After all, Shane would have either tried to stop him or insisted on dying with him. I was glad to see that I had been wrong in that assumption.
I must have slept for about twelve hours. When I woke up weak pools of light were spilling through the windows. Dylan was standing near the door stretching all four arms.
"What time is it?" I asked.
"About noon," Dylan said.
"What's wrong with this planet? The light's all fucked up. There's a desert where there used to be grasslands. It's not right."
"The sun is dying. No one knows it yet. In a few years, it'll be dark all the time. Gehgal will be too cold to live on. The desert will swallow everything. Life will be a distant memory."
"Then how do you know?"
"I know why it's dying."
"We have more important things to worry about right now. Like getting you off this planet alive."
"Right. Do you know a dancer named Cherry?"
"No, but I know where you can find her."
"Good. That's where we'll start."
We waited until it got dark, which was about fifteen minutes. But since it wasn't too late, the streets were pretty quiet. We stopped at a club called Boom. It was loud and smoky inside. The lights were dim. I didn't notice any bounty hunters, so we sat in a corner and waited.
Red and white lights came up around the stage. The crowd was silent for just a second. A skinny man in a purple suit came out from behind a silver lamé curtain. The crowd booed and threw things at him.
"I have an announcement to make," the man said. "There's been a change in the line up. Ruby Lords broke her ankle last night."
The crowd cheered loudly. "Ruby isn't very friendly, if you know what I mean," Dylan explained.
I nodded. I wasn't paying much attention. A man on the other side of the room had caught my eye. He was too well dressed and well groomed, though what he wore seemed a far cry from his usual outfit. I asked Dylan if he knew the man.
Dylan stared at him, wrinkled his nose then shook his head. "He smells like a senator's pet," he said.
The man pulled something from his pocket, pressed a few buttons and waited. I watched him mouth the words, "I found him," and the cold spiders started to creep across my flesh.
On the stage, the guy in the purple suit was still enduring the jeers of the crowd. "Allow me to introduce Ruby's replacement for the evening. Everyone's favorite, Cherry Pop!" He stepped aside, sweeping his arms at the curtain.
The crowd went into a frenzy. Cherry Pop burst through the curtain with a playful smile on her glittering red lips. She stalked down to the end of the stage with her hands on her hips, glancing at the men seated on each side of her. She took hold of the pole at the end of the walkway and spun around it, back arched, head thrown back like a woman having an orgasm. She stopped. The crowd got louder. Her music started, and I passed out.
I saw a face. A man's face. Dark hair, blue eyes, sharp, hawk-like features. I saw his hands. They were manicured and perfect with shiny, trim nails and no calluses or scars. But they looked familiar. I saw my own hands, and they were just like the hawk-faced man's except for all their rough edges and dirt and grease.
The visions went away. I felt myself in an airlock again with stale air rushing around my head. Voices swirled. I couldn't make any of them out. I strained to hear them and was rewarded by a tiny, raspy voice. "The locket," it said. Then I heard my daughter's voice. "She's Cherry Pop 'cause she's bubbly like a soda pop!" And to think my mind was in the gutter on that one.
I was only out for maybe a few seconds. Cherry's performance had barely begun. Dylan had kept me upright, and no one seemed to notice, except for the out of place guy. He was looking at me with a lot more interest than he had before. And so was Cherry, though she didn't miss a beat of her saucy song.
"Are you all right?" Dylan asked.
"Yeah, fine," I said.
"I knew there was more in there than metal."
Five minutes later, Cherry pranced back through the curtain in nothing but high heels. The man in the purple suit came back out. "And now Cherry will select one audience member for an unforgettable evening!"
A hush fell over the crowd.
"Cherry wants to see the man who pilots a ship called Blue Ava's Angel."
I felt the chills dimly. My stomach turned into a knot of dry ice. I didn't pilot a ship with that name, but if I ever had enough money to buy the ship I really wanted, that was what I was going to name it, after Regan's mother.
A few men stood up. "Remember, Cherry will know if you're lying," the emcee said. They sat down.
"Are you going?" Dylan asked.
"Is it really a good idea?"
"You'll get laid either way. I'll keep an eye on the pretty boy over there. Take your time."
I didn't know what to expect, other than sex. She had to be a psychic. There was no way she could have known about the name of my future ship. Unless someone told her.
The emcee led me down some stairs and into a long hallway with several doors on each side. Each door had a name on it. Ruby Lords, Pixie Wing, Goldie Bun, Julie Waters and others. Cherry Pop was at the end of the corridor on the left side. The emcee knocked once and opened the door. I stepped inside. Strips of gauzy red cloth hung from the ceiling and blew around on a cool breeze that smelled like the park my dad used to take me to back on Lore. Grassy and fruity with an undertone of something musky and animalistic. It left a thick taste in my mouth and made me want to sneeze. The door closed behind me.
I fought my way through the gauze until I saw Cherry's silhouette in a chair. A candle burned behind her, and I could see the outline of a bed. When I actually got to Cherry in the flesh, she was wearing a black robe of the same gauzy stuff that shrouded the room. She had one leg slung over the arm of the chair and one hand between her legs.
"Don't be shy," she said.
So I wasn't.
Later, she asked me about my scars; the burns and gashes on my left arm and along my side and the autopsy-style y-shaped incision on my chest. I told her about the accident. Not everything about it but enough. I didn't tell her that I had crashed that ship on purpose or that I died as a result.
She asked me about my powers. There wasn't a lot I could tell her. I didn't use it. It used me. I had never been able to make it work. I wasn't even sure what brought on the visions. She tried to teach me how to bring on the visions, but even then, I had no control over what I saw.
Besides, how useful was it to me to learn how to make myself pass out? I could do that easily enough with alcohol if I really wanted to pass out.
"How did you know about Blue Ava's Angel?" I asked her as I got ready to leave.
"Petrine was my sister," Cherry said.
"I think she really did love you."
"I'm -- "
"It doesn't matter any more. She's gone."
For a while, I couldn't think of anything to say. Petrine had been a prostitute going by the name of Blue Ava. I don't know that I ever loved her, but I couldn't stay away from her. I felt something that I'd never felt before and haven't felt since. When she was killed, I blamed myself, and I hadn't yet figured out how I was ever going to tell Regan the truth.
"One more thing before I leave," I said.
"The first one's free. After that, it'll cost you," Cherry said.
"When was the last time you saw Shane Decker?"
"Whoa, okay. That's the last thing I expected to hear. I didn't know you knew Shane."
"Yeah, we go a long way back. So when did you last see him?"
"Two nights ago. He wasn't alone. He seemed ...busy."
"Who was he with?"
"I don't know. Some guy. They were asking me if I'd ever met a guy named Riggs."
"Well, you wouldn't have. What did this other guy look like?"
"Dark hair, blue eyes. Not bad looking. Real sharp features. And nice hands. Kinda like yours without the rough spots and all."
"And you have no idea what this guy's name was?"
"Sorry, no clue."
"Thanks. For everything."
"Come back some time."
"Is there a back way out of here?"
"Go back the way you came and under the stairs."
It was a long walk through the tunnel I found under the stairs. I was sure I wasn't going to end up anywhere near where I wanted to be. Then again, I didn't know the city well enough to know where I wanted to be in the first place. But at least I had time to think about it.
I came out of the tunnel twenty minutes after I'd entered it. I looked around. None of what I saw looked familiar at all. The buildings were tall. They almost blocked out my view of the sky. It was too bright to see many stars, but all I needed was one star to guide me. It was always there, always directly above me no matter where I was. The funny thing about that star was that no one seemed to be able to see it but me. Even Regan thought I was crazy when I pointed out to her a star that didn't exist. It was on no star map, in no astronomy book and not even the most knowledgeable pilot knew about it. It was my star. I named it Shaman, and I followed it without questioning it.
Shaman led me through the tall buildings down straight narrow streets that intersected each other only at right angles. There were no people anywhere. Eventually, I found myself in the dead center of the grid, standing in front of a low, octagonal shaped building. Before I had a chance to wonder what the building was, two men came through a door about fifty feet to my right. I pressed myself against the building and waited.
One of the men was Shane. The other was the hawk-faced man I'd seen in my vision and whom Cherry had said was with Shane when they asked her about Dylan.
"He's got to be here somewhere," Shane said. "It doesn't make sense. We found the ship. We know Hiram left with Regan and that other woman. He hasn't left."
"Maybe he has," the hawk-faced man said. "He could have been on Hiram's ship. Just because no one saw him get on board doesn't mean he didn't."
"Well, we need to find him. I'm running out of time."
"You're still going to serve time for your attempt on Blackstone's life. Finding Konstantine won't make you any less guilty."
"Have you heard anything from Kaylan?"
"Three more bounty hunters are dead, shredded to ribbons. A bank robber claims to have been held up at gunpoint as he left the scene of his crime. Is it very likely that Talon turned into a monster and robs robbers?"
"That's why Dylan has to be involved."
"So the conspiracy grows."
"Talon has a way of convincing people."
"If you're running out of time, I suggest you make use of what you have left. Irial has lost patience with you."
Shane grumbled and walked away.
It took an awful lot of willpower for me to not go after him and beat the shit out of him. But I figured he would get what he deserved in the end. That didn't mean much unless I had some way to prove I didn't put him up to it; that it was the other way around.
As soon as Shane was out of sight, the hawk-faced man said, "Are you going to lurk in the shadows all night or come out to get your answers?"
"How the hell did you know I was here?" I asked.
"There are some forms of sight that even someone who sneaks as well as you can't hide from."
"So you're another psychic."
"My name is Danel Remmington Falkenberg."
I knew the name Falkenberg, of course. The Falkenberg family was as famous for their bad tempers and tendency to get into duels as the Wallace family was for their diplomacy. Irial Remmington Falkenberg was the first Falkenberg to hold a senate seat for more than six months. He had a temper, but he understood politics. He'd been in his seat for ten years and would probably be there until he died. Danel was one of the younger brothers and had always been somewhat of an adventurer. The family had been expected to fall apart twenty-five years ago when the youngest one, at six months old, was kidnapped and never found. If anyone knew who was responsible, they weren't making it public. Chances were that the kid was dead anyway.
I felt the chills of a coming vision. I shut my eyes and sucked air through my teeth. The chills subsided, and no vision came.
"Please, come inside," Danel said. "There are far more comfortable places to pass out in there than out here."
"You have a point."
I followed Danel inside. I wasn't surprised to find corridors with polished floors and dark, heavy wooden doors on each side. A gold nameplate was screwed onto each door. I recognized the names of senators and other important politicians. We entered a door with the name Irial Remmington Falkenberg on it. Danel sat down behind the large desk in the center of the room. "Please sit," he said.
But a family photograph had caught my eye. I walked over to the shelf it sat on and picked it up. There were six children in fancy clothes seated around a man and a woman in even fancier clothes. Irial looked to be about fifteen. There was another brother maybe ten. Danel was seven or so. The girls were five and two. And on the mother's lap was a six-month-old boy with thick reddish hair and wide-open blue grey eyes. "That's the one that was stolen," I said.
"I've seen this picture before. Or part of it. His name was Rowen, right?"
"You've seen that in a vision?"
"No." I pulled the locket out from under my shirt and slipped the chain over my head. It was gold with inlays of mother-of-pearl and red jasper in intricate designs. Inside was a snapshot of a man, a woman and a baby. The name Rowen was engraved on the back. Danel seemed to recognize the locket right away. I put the picture down and handed it to him.
"Where did you get this?" he asked.
"Someone gave it to me. I never saw a face or got a name. It may not have been human."
"It was stolen when Rowen was taken." Danel opened the locket. The picture inside was torn and half burnt. "What happened to it?"
"I was in an accident when I was eighteen. The picture got messed up, but the locket didn't even get a scratch."
"I suppose we should count our blessings."
"I'm up to four."
"Don't make me get maudlin. I'd rather talk about Shane."
"Of course. Rowen's gone. There's no reason to dwell on it."
"Maybe you'll find him one day."
Danel smiled. "No. He's gone. He's not the man he would have been had he been kept safe."
"At least he's alive, right?"
"At least. So you want the whole story, do you?"
"No, not the whole story. That might be too long. Keep it novella sized. Just give me what I need to know."
"Senator Blackstone took pity on your friend when he got caught and gave him a year and seven days to find you and bring you in. To that end, she's given him the authority to hire bounty hunters and go anywhere he wants, no questions asked. He has three days left."
"And then what?"
"A life sentence in a prison on Boil."
I had to cringe at that. Boil lived up to its name. It got so hot there that rocks melted. The prisons were built underground, but that did little to keep things cool. Only the worst criminals were sent there. Death was a much kinder sentence.
"Irial was against this from the beginning. He didn't believe you had anything to do with it, but you did steal a Republic ship to make your get away. He asked me to keep an eye on Shane. In the process, we discovered our missing brother was closer to us than we had ever thought. So we decided to keep an eye on him as well, which has proven difficult."
"What does your brother have to do with this?"
"Quite a bit."
"Do I know him?"
As soon as I asked, I knew what Danel's answer was going to be. I heard his exact words in my head before he said them.
"Yes, but not by the name Rowen. A man named Chandler Rosewood adopted him on a slave ship and named him Talon."
I wanted to walk out. I just wasn't sure where I would have gone if I had.
"We haven't told anyone, and we don't intend to," Danel said. "It's too late for you to become someone else. All we want now is to make sure this mess gets resolved properly."
"Which means I get cleared of all charges."
"I have a five-year-old daughter to take care of. You wanna throw me in jail for a few stupid pranks and stealing a piece of junk? What's gonna happen to Regan then?"
"She's not with you now. I suspect that whoever you've left her with would continue to take care of her until you were released."
"That's not good enough."
"Talon, it's not up to me. Believe me, if it were, no one would be aware that you ever knew Shane."
"Why was he asking Cherry about Dylan?"
"I'm not sure. He thinks Dylan's been helping you. But I was under the impression that Dylan died a few years ago."
"That's one way to look at it, I guess."
"I can arrange to get you off Gehgal, but I need time. And I need for Shane's time to run out."
"I can hide for a few more days. But he's gonna bring some nasty reinforcements. If he does run out of time, he won't go quietly. You could end up taking away a corpse. Which I don't want. He's still my friend."
"Even though he betrayed you?"
"Who's to say I wouldn't have done the same thing? He was scared. So was I. That's why I ran."
"All right. Just be careful. And try not to rob any more banks."
"I didn't. I robbed the robber."
Danel shook his head. "Like I said, be careful."
What I really wanted to do when I left Danel was hunt down Shane and set a few things straight. But I didn't think that Danel and Irial would appreciate it if I handed Shane to them in pieces. At that point, it wasn't that I was even mad at Shane.
I had always known that the people I called Mom and Dad weren't my real parent. I knew I had been on a slave ship, picked up out of the wreckage of a crash in which I was the only survivor. Apparently, I did nothing but cry. I was probably a spoiled little brat even at six months. At that age, crying is the best way to get lots of attention. How was I supposed to know I didn't want their attention? The slavers would have killed me if Chandler Rosewood hadn't decided to intervene on my behalf. He picked me up and told me to shut up. I did and grabbed his nose hard enough to break it, hence the name Talon.
The slavers let us stay together. I cried any time Chandler was away from me, and he was the only one who could get me to be quiet. But the slavers found it difficult to sell a set, so they kept us for themselves. Chandler cooked and cleaned and made small repairs to their ships. I was a general nuisance. I had a tendency to wander around exploring, a habit which I have yet to break.
When I was five, Dad and I were bought by a pilot named Alyssa Konstantine. She was one of the best pilots in the universe. They were married a while later. None of that meant a whole lot to me. I just knew we weren't slaves any more, which meant that all the things I had wanted to be when I grew up were possible. And only one thing really spoke to me. I wanted to be a pilot.
I loved space. I loved the stars and the planets. I loved all the different races I saw. From the time I could speak, I had pestered the slaver pilots. Most of them hated all the questions, but when they realized I wasn't going to go away, they answered me. I did the same thing to Alyssa, and she took me with her on almost every trip she made. She was teaching me how to pilot a ship by the time I was seven. When I actually enrolled at the pilot school when I was thirteen, there wasn't a lot for me to learn.
I guess I could have done better, tried harder, lived up to my potential and taken all the fun out of flying. But I had no ambition to go along with my talent. All I wanted to do was fly. Mom tried to push me to do better. My brothers, Benjamin and Wesley, didn't even want to be pilots. It caused a few fights and ended when I left home for good when I was nineteen after nearly a year of recovering from my injuries.
I had suspected for a while that I was the stolen Falkenberg kid. I didn't try to find out the truth. I didn't want to know. I didn't want to be forced to give up what I had for a life I knew I'd hate. I was the youngest of six children. There would have been nothing for me. I knew they'd find me eventually. They'd never stopped looking. At least they realized that I didn't want anything to change. Still, it was a useful connection to have, and I had a feeling I'd need it. Irial and Danel didn’t know who had kidnapped me or why. I was curious about that myself. But that's another story.
I found my way back to the warehouse where Dylan and I had spent the night, and I waited.