art by Erin Cardwell
Procyon stifled a gag and looked away as the finger came loose and blood spurted from the remaining stub. He lowered the knife and turned away, leaving behind the screaming Kinch.
He ground his teeth in frustration, folding the nanoblade closed. He’d had such a good week, up to till now. But this was one of the Mirx’s big punters, and he would not be happy about a default. And if Mirx wasn’t happy, Sirius wouldn’t be either.
But it was better than coming back without punishing those who didn’t pay up. If he did that, it would take him years to climb back up to his current status.
He waved for Vairy and Jaims to follow him as he strode away from the airlock, trying to shake visions of the blood from his mind.
“Where are we going?” Jaims asked.
“Back to Mirx. We hurry, and we can catch him at the gala.”
“Should we make sure he wasn’t lying?” Jaims asked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
“About what?” Vairy asked.
“Don’t be a Holt,” Procyon said. “About owing Arich.” Why hadn’t he thought of following Kinch first? It wouldn’t matter, probably. He would claim it was his idea, and Jaims was slow — he wouldn’t call the bluff.
“This way,” Procyon said. He began hurrying back in the direction of the ambrosia den. “Jaims, go at the far door. You see him, call us.”
Jaims took off ahead, running with the grace of an athlete.
Procyon and Vairy headed back toward the airlock where they left Kinch. When they got there, it was empty. They went into the building, going downstairs to the reception desk to ask if Kinch had come back this way. The woman at the desk shook her head.
Procyon’s pax, PW spoke up. “Jaims: This girl’s a Venus.”
“Jaims sees him,” Procyon said to Vairy, taking off, back up the stairs. “Go talk to her,” he sent back to Jaims.
They dashed to the far airlock. Procyon turned the nanoblade over in his hands nervously, anxious to get out and catch up with Jaims. “Where you at?” he sent to Jaims.
“On Virgo. Headed earthward.”
Procyon swore. Kinch was moving away from the gala.
“Run. Don’t wait on us.”
If word got around that Procyon had been duped into letting Kinch get away, he would never earn Sirius’ approval.
The airlock doors opened, and they took off to the left.
After a block, Vairy began to puff. Procyon had pulled ahead of him by nearly twenty meters by the time he reached Virgo Avenue. He saw Jaims disappearing down an alley, then glanced back at the stout man running after him. After a moment’s hesitation, he took off down Virgo without waiting for him to catch up.
He veered into the alley. Jaims was wrestling Kinch to the ground. He slowed and tried to catch his breath.
“Didn’t think we’d tail ya?”
“I wasn’t lying,” Kinch said through gritted teeth.
Jaims wrestled Kinch’s right hand up and looked at the stub. Procyon felt sick. He crouched close to Kinch’s face to remove the wounded hand from view.
“Then where was you headed?”
“Toward Dirty Picies’.”
Procyon cursed. Arich did frequent the place, even though he wasn’t there now. It was a plausible story. “And why’d you bolt?”
“You guys are burning scary!”
“Look,” Jaims said, holding up the severed finger.
Vomit crept up the back of Procyon’s throat, but he forced it down.
“It’s fake,” Jaims continued. “See?”
“Oh, you has it coming now.” Procyon said.
“The sooner you let me go, the sooner I can settle things with Arich, and the sooner your boss gets paid.”
“Let’s see him now, then.”
Vairy came up beside him, resting his hands on his knees, chest heaving. Procyon motioned for Jaims and Vairy to raise up the miserable ambrosic.
“You’ll stay in line on the way there.” Procyon flipped open the nanoblade and tossed it up, snagging it deftly as it spun. “Catch my ring?”
Kinch swallowed and nodded.
They formed up, Vairy and Jaims on either side of Kinch, with Procyon following a few steps behind.
Kinch started talking to someone via his pax. Procyon couldn’t make out what he was saying. He hesitated, thinking that Jaims would be smart enough to stop him without needing to be told. Kinch spoke again, and Procyon stopped waiting.
“Shut him up!” he called.
Vairy turned and gave him a punch to the stomach.
Procyon stared at the back of Jaims’ head, wondering why he hadn’t shown his usual initiative.
They took alleys as much as possible. There, they could escort Kinch by the arms without arousing the suspicion of stripes. But when they crossed Virgo Avenue, they released him and counted on fear of a nanoblade in the back to keep him in line.
In a few minutes they entered through an airlock to the loading dock of a grocery store that acted as a front for a Canis lair. They wove through the warehouse and down a flight of stairs, passing several bodyguards who nodded at them as they passed.
He pushed open a door, entering into a make-shift ballroom. In the center of the room was a performing area — currently a bunch of skinners were executing some sensual and acrobatic choreography. Vairy stared at them. At the far end of the room, up on a short platform, was a long dining table where Sirius and the highest-ranked canids were watching the performance.
That was where Procyon belonged. He was one of Sirius’ own sons, after all.
Mirx’s eyes grew wide at seeing Procyon enter with his lackeys and their captive. He stood and gestured fiercely for them to move off to the side of the room. They obliged, and Mirx stood, waddling over to them on stout legs. His beady black eyes shone with rage.
A skinner followed him down from the stage, carrying his plate.
“What do you think you’re doing here?” he hissed.
“Transfer donations,” Procyon said to PW. He saw Sirius beckoning one of the skinner girls up onto the stage with him. She would leave with him tonight, like Procyon’s mother had, years ago.
“5902 dunnets received.” Mirx’s pax was audible via his open helmet. Her voice was seductive in spite of the dull subject matter.
The skinner stood next to him so his plate was at his elbow. He grabbed his fork, stabbing a large bite of cultured beef and asparagus, and stuffed both in his mouth. “You still shouldn’t have brought him here,” he said around the food.
“Who do you have over there, Mirx?” Sirius’ deep voice rang across the room, bringing a hush.
All eyes turned toward the little group, including those of the skinners, who stopped their performance and stood watching them.
“Just a punter who’s making excuses instead of paying up,” Mirx called back.
“Deal with him.” He turned back to the skinners in the performing area. “Continue.”
Just as they began, Procyon called up to the stage. “This one claims he owes Arich a load of dunnets.”
Sirius eyes locked on him, fiery.
Procyon’s heart nearly stopped. Mirx stared at his underling in disbelief. Then, seeing Sirius’ expression, punched him hard in the thigh. When he went down on one knee, Mirx backhanded him across the face.
Procyon stayed where he was, terrified of breaking the silence. He silently begged Sirius to turn his attention away and resume the show again. This time, however, he didn’t turn away.
“I’ve never seen him before,” said Arich, who was at Sirius’s left hand.
“I–” Kinch started.
“Don’t you think he would have told you anything just to get away from you?” Mirx hissed at Procyon.
“Well, I… If he did owe Arich…”
“Of course he would say anything,” Jaims said. “That’s why–“
Procyon interrupted him “That’s why we followed him.”
“You took him at his word, didn’t you?” Mirx asked.
“I… Not really. I cut off his finger… to send a message.”
Jaims held up the severed finger. “It’s a prosthetic.”
Sirius laughed, and the others at the banquet table joined in.
“And you let him go after that?” Mirx accused.
“We tailed him, I said.”
Vairy spoke up for the first time since they’d entered. “Not at first.”
Procyon shot him a vicious glare.
“What do you mean?” Mirx pressed.
Procyon shook his head at Vairy, but he was staring at Sirius like a punter who’s losing when he’s all in.
“We were coming here. Then Jaims said we oughta follow him.”
“Jaims, you’re in charge of this pack now,” Mirx said.
“Wait!” Procyon begged. “One more chance, please.”
Mirx glanced over his shoulder to Sirius, who made no indication of approval or disapproval. “Fine. Chip him.” He pointed at Kinch.
Procyon turned toward him, raising the nanoblade and flipping it open. The ambrosic shied away from him as he approached.
“Transfer it, or you lose a real finger.”
“You’ve got me, okay?” Kinch said, looking past him at Mirx. “I don’t have it. Not all of it anyway. I’ll give you as much as I have, and get you the rest in a couple days.”
“Send it,” Procyon said, halting his approach as though this would satisfy him, when it wouldn’t. Not this time. Not when he had something to prove. And especially not after all the other lies.
“923 out of 1577,” Mirx said from behind him.
“Can I go now?” Kinch asked, once again addressing Mirx, and not Procyon. “If I don’t make it to work on time, I’ll get fired and won’t be able to pay you.”
“It’s a bluff,” Procyon said. “Vairy, wedge him.”
Kinch bolted suddenly, headed for the door where they had entered. Vairy chased him, but it was obvious that the stocky man was too slow. Procyon turned instinctively toward Jaims. But now was not the time. He had to do this himself.
Procyon lifted the nanoblade, took a deep breath, and wished frantically that his practice would pay off. Then he let the knife fly.
He was on mark. It sunk into Kinch’s calf. He went down with a scream. Vairy caught up to him now, hauling him to his feet and holding him in a bodylock that pinned his arms to his sides. The nanoblade fell free of the muscle, clattering to the painted steel floor in a growing pool of blood.
Procyon stepped toward him, shaking his head.
“I have 400 more, but that’s it!”
Procyon shook his head. “Every dunnet.”
Kinch reached up with a shaking hand to the glass of his helmet. His tremors were so bad that he had a hard time pushing it back from his face. “KL, send Mirx every dunnet I have.”
Procyon could hear Kinch’s pax respond. “400 dunnets transferred.”
“1323 of 1577.” Mirx’s voice was distorted by talking around a mouthful of food.
“More,” Procyon demanded.
Kinch’s shakes were making it hard for even Vairy to hold him steady. “That’s all of it, I swear.”
“That’s cack for you, then.”
Procyon reached down to get the knife. He hesitated, his stomach revolting at the pool of blood. He tried to convince himself that it wasn’t blood. No, it was ichor. Someone had spilled their glass of ichor.
His hand closed around the knife and he stood up quickly. He was lightheaded, suddenly, but glared at Kinch until the black receded from his vision.
Then he moved to Kinch’s side and placed the knife next to the stub of finger which he had taped over. He did his best to look away from what he was doing. Not only because of anticipation, but also because of the blood — no, ichor — that covered his hand.
Kinch’s pax spoke again. “You have a message from Dema,” she said.
“Read it!” Kinch said.
“Shut up!” Procyon growled.
“How much do you need?” KL read.
“My daughter will give you the money,” Kinch said. “How much do I still owe?”
“254,” Mirx said.
“Dema, would you lend me 254?”
The room waited.
“254 dunnets received from Dema.”
“That’ll teach you,” Mirx said.
Procyon turned toward the stage, triumphant. With a demonstration like that, Sirius might even promote him.
Arich glanced at the other canids. “Does he remind you of anyone?”
Sirius began to laugh again. “He’s the new Holt!”
The whole table erupted into laughter. Even some of the skinner performers got the joke and joined in.
A few feet away, Jaims and Mirx were also snickering, facing away from him. Procyon’s vision narrowed on Jaims, and he raised the nanoblade, walking forward. There was a shout, and Jaims spun. The laughter drained from his face, replaced by a mixture of fear and anger.
Procyon leapt at him. Jaims lunged forward, inside his reach, bringing his fist up under Procyon’s chin.
Stars exploded in his vision, and he hit the floor.
Read the next chapter: Gossamer