Asexual, Aromantic, Science Fiction, Adventure
[114 Pages / 39,000 Words]
After seven years working as partners, Kai and Ilsa are the best professional finders in the business. There's nothing they can't track down, no matter how unfamiliar the star system or hazardous the path. When a new client insists on accompanying the search for his daughter, Ilsa and Kai reluctantly agree. How can they refuse when Eleazar Dantes is desperate enough to pay double their usual fee?
But a high-stakes investigation is no time for distractions. Even more troublesome, when Kai realizes his true feelings for Ilsa, his timing couldn't be worse. Never mind that she doesn't seem to reciprocate: heartbreak is the least of their problems as the trail they're following grows dangerous.
With every step forward, Kai and Ilsa are more certain they won't find Eleazar's missing daughter alive.
When her door slid open without warning, Ilsa didn't startle at the sound. Caution made her turn quickly, but a glance only confirmed what she already knew: Kai had arrived right on schedule. Ilsa was well accustomed to him entering her space unannounced. She'd given over her pass codes on day one planet-side, as she did in every new location, and she offered a humoring smile as Kai strode across the threshold into her apartment.
Kai shrugged off his jacket, looking out of place in the tiny room. He stood almost a foot taller than Ilsa, and his broad shoulders took up a comedic amount of space amid the narrow walls and sparse furniture. With his sturdy frame and bulky muscle, he looked very much like he might shatter the impractical little chairs beside what passed for a kitchen table. Ilsa pursed her lips to hide her amusement as Kai strode past the ridiculous chairs, dropping his jacket over one of them on his way. He planted his feet before the enormous window instead. The sun was setting at the edge of a polluted sky, and the result was a horizon painted violently in orange and red and pink. Clouds scattered through the mess like an afterthought. The city below looked garish in the skewed sunlight.
For all its gaudiness, Ilsa found it a beautiful view. It was one of the few things she would miss about Naius V.
"I see you're already packed," Kai said without taking his eyes off the horizon. He stood completely at ease, his posture loose, his hands stuffed carelessly in his pockets. His rust-and-copper hair was cropped particularly short at the moment. Backlit by the setting sun, it looked eerily like a sheen of fire across his scalp.
Ilsa moved to join him, and they stood shoulder to shoulder. She crossed her arms over her chest and considered the disjointed city stretching into the distance below. Despite the view, she wouldn't be at all sorry to go.
"Have you begun a data trace on Abigail?" Kai asked, glancing down at her with green-hazel eyes.
"Yes. As much as I can from here. Nothing I found changes tomorrow's itinerary."
Dantes had given them everything he knew about his daughter's last known physical location. Wherever she'd gone after that, Kai and Ilsa's search could begin in only one place.
Ilsa was familiar with Corriah Mor. An independent space station, it stood brazenly at the intersection of seven different Alliance trade sectors. It was the nearest port of its size, and the largest that was still intact from before the war. It was also the only place within a dozen parsecs that had direct access to all the data streams Ilsa would need to patch into. That it happened to be the only physical clue Dantes could provide toward his daughter's whereabouts was too logical to be coincidence. A journey to disappear had to begin somewhere, and what better place for Abigail to lose herself than Corriah Mor?
"What about Eleazar Dantes?" Kai asked. His posture hadn't changed, but he shifted so that his attention was fully on Ilsa rather than the city below. He needed a shave, but she had no intention of telling him so. He seemed to favor the stubble, especially when they traveled, and he would certainly blend in better if he looked a little rough around the edges.
"Everything I found fits with the information he volunteered." Ilsa paused and added a wry, "More or less. You won't be surprised to learn he took some editorial liberties."
"What kind of liberties?"
"He was right that his wife's death was no accident. The local authorities agreed—they tried to charge Dantes himself with her murder." She ignored Kai gawping at her and continued, "The charges were ultimately dismissed, so I had to break into some sealed court documents to get the full story. From what I can tell, they simply lacked the evidence to convict. Which... of course they did. Can't produce evidence that isn't there. Dantes's defense did implicate Helena Kanne, but it doesn't look like anyone pursued the investigation after his acquittal."
Kai whistled, long and low. "Sounds ugly as hell."
"No kidding." Ilsa shook her head. "It's no wonder he didn't want to give us details. And get this: I tried to track down Helena Kanne? I can't find recent traces of her anywhere. She fell off the map after Dantes's trial. There were some hiccups in the system at first—if I had to guess, I'd say she was traveling and trying to keep a low profile—but nothing since."
"That's a little suspicious."
"A little," Ilsa snorted. "We'll have to move carefully. If she's still watching, we could end up leading her straight to Abigail Dantes.
"We'll stay vigilant." Kai's expression softened into a look of fond familiarity. "There's something else bothering you about all this."
Ilsa breathed a quiet sigh, but she waved a dismissive hand as the tension eased from her shoulders. "I just don't like that he's coming along. We're not babysitters. How the fuck does Dantes expect us to do our job and keep him out of trouble?"
"He doesn't," Kai reminded her. "His safety's on his own head. We'll add a waiver clause to the contract if we have to, but our job begins and ends with the investigation." Then, after a pause, Kai asked, "What do you make of him?"
Ilsa huffed and scrutinized the horizon to keep from rolling her eyes. "I don't know." People weren't exactly her bag of tricks. She preferred computers to flesh-and-blood puzzles. There were reasons she and Kai tended to divide responsibilities the way they did. "What do you think of him?"
Kai shrugged. "I think he genuinely wants to find his daughter. And I think he'll keep his head down, at least. Hopefully he'll stay out of the way, let us do our job without interference." Kai's next words were quiet. "He's desperate. He wouldn't be here otherwise."
"Do we trust him?" Ilsa was confident of the answer, but she wanted to hear Kai say it just the same.
"We're too smart to trust him." Kai spoke with only a trace of worry, the words softened by a teasing smile. "But we can at least rely on him to pay."
"Come on, then." Ilsa nudged Kai with one elbow and turned from the window. "You can book tomorrow's transport while I draft this contract. The sooner we get moving, the better I'll feel."
Cover design by Yolande Kleinn
Ebook ISBN 978-1-946316-14-1