Shahara took a seat on the soft, purple cushion and breathed a sigh of relief once the door closed behind them and she was certain the enforcers could no longer see them.
He looked at her. “You got any money?”
“A couple of credits . . .” She cringed as she realized that in their hurry, she’d left her wallet. “In my house.”
His impatience was almost tangible. With a glare that welded her to the seat, he used his fingernails to pry out the payment panel, exposing the circuitry. He began twisting wires together.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m a thief. Remember?” he said with enough venom to bring down a thirty-ton vorna. “I’m rewiring the data receiver to make it think we’ve paid.”
“Can you do that?”
In answer to her question, the shuttle took off with a jerk. The speed with which he’d done it was faster than if they’d used an actual card. “I guess you can.”
He punched in an address, then retreated to the far corner of the car.
As she watched him, she realized how much toll their little trip was taking on his already weakened condition. “Maybe we should get you to a doctor?”
His answer was a derisive snort.
“You need someone to look at your injuries.”
“I need someone to look at my head,” he said sarcastically. “I should have tied you up and left you there for the Rits to torture. Lucky for you, I’m more humane than that.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“Well, sorry don’t cut it, baby. Not in my neighborhood.”
Anger scorched her. “Don’t call me baby,” she snarled. It made her skin crawl. “Now why don’t you stop this thing and let me out. I’m sure I can take care of myself.”
His mocking laugh echoed in her ears. “You wouldn’t last ten minutes against a Ritadarion tracker or even one of your run-of-the-mill tracer friends.”
Her mouth dropped open with indignation. “Excuse me, but I’ve been to some of the toughest zones in the galaxy to claim my targets. And I have never once gone after a target and failed. Ever.”
“Yeah, but you’ve never been chased before. It’s a lot harder to be the prey than it is to be the predator. Hiding from the authorities takes an entire set of skills you lack. One mistake and you’re dead or captured.”
He nodded toward the street. “Any idea how many monitors just tracked us from your condo to this transport? You think they’re not going to check them in a few minutes and figure out where we went? The only thing that saves us is the address I entered just now won’t show up on their end if they check—a fake one will. Because, yeah, I am that good. And we’re lucky they don’t have sats trained on this area or we would be seriously screwed right now. But you don’t know about tracking satellites or deja vu loops and ghost codes because you don’t ever have to use them. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to sit over here with my throbbing feet and bleed in silence until we get to our destination.”
Damn him, he was right. She’d always acted in the open—like using her real name on his transfer orders. She’d never been one for subterfuge. Sneaking maybe, but never any long-term incognito operations. She didn’t know the first thing about hiding, or places to go for shelter.
What was she going to do?
How was she ever going to get through this mission intact? If the imbecile enforcers didn’t kill her by mistake, Syn more than likely would. Especially if he ever found out the truth and whose side she was really on.
Oh God, I’m a wanted criminal . . .
She wouldn’t be able to go home until after all this was over and she had that chip in the right hands. She couldn’t even be around her family without endangering them.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t known it going in, but the reality of it was a whole other matter.
If she was caught, she would go to jail.
With the criminals I put there.
For a full minute, she couldn’t breathe as that sank in. Damn her stupid sense of justice. She should never have allowed Traysen to talk her into doing this. There was no amount of money worth her freedom or her life.
What would happen to her family without her?
How was she going to survive?
She looked over at her churlish companion. Syn knew. He’d been running since he was a kid.
But would he continue to help her?
Not if he suspects you in any way . . .
Maybe he wasn’t quite the beast his bounty sheet claimed. Maybe he liked Caillen enough to keep her safe in the name of their friendship. Grasping that small hope, she turned to face him. “Since we’re in this mess together, care to tell me why you’re so important to the Rits?”
He opened his eyes and cocked a questioning brow.
When he didn’t answer, she tried again. “Come on, Syn. I’m not green. I know governments don’t expend this kind of energy to go after a run-of-the-mill filch or even a murderer. Nor do they routinely beat their prisoners to a pulp. You were seriously interrogated by someone who knew exactly how to wring the most pain out of you while keeping you alive and able to speak. There’s a lot more to this than what’s on the surface and they want you for something significant. What is it?”
He let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, there’s a lot more to this.”
When he refused to say more, she gently poked him in the ribs.
He hissed and smacked at her hand, but not hard enough to hurt her. Then he winced as if his own actions had caused him pain. He glared at her before he spoke again. “Do you really care to know?”
With another deep sigh, he ran his hand over his whiskers and she watched the play of lean tendons under the bruised skin. “When I was fourteen, I was doing a filch for a certain political candidate on Ritadaria. The information he wanted was pretty routine, just dirt about his opponent and their party. I was going along my merry way, recording and scanning secure chips in their offices, when I accidentally came across Merjack’s personal diary.”
“Chief Minister of Justice?”
“No, his son, who later became president.” He paused. “What I discovered was that the Minister and his son were responsible for President Fretaugh’s death.”
She gaped at his disclosure. “They killed him?”
“In a manner of speaking. Back in the day, the Minister was only a vice warden in our fun little prison. He released one of the assassins for the hit and, once the assassin killed the president, Merjack’s son killed him to keep the man from talking.”
She scowled at his far-fetched story. “That seems like a lot of effort to go to. Why not kill the president themselves?”
“They needed an airtight alibi. What better one than being directly beside the man when he’s executed and the whole thing is being covered by every major news organization in existence? All the assassin had to do was shout out a political statement against the president as he killed him and everyone assumed our friends had nothing to do with it. And no investigation was held since everyone plainly saw it was a psycho zealot who took the president out. Likewise, no one thought twice about the hero who ended up killing the zealot while trying to apprehend him. Ironic really, by killing the man they’d hired to murder the president and covering their tracks, Jonas Merjack was able to secure the presidency for himself. Living proof that there really is no justice in the world.”
Shahara digested that slowly. Now this was an interesting snippet and it went a long way in explaining why Merjack wanted Syn so badly.
Then again, Syn could be lying. Filches had a nasty habit of doing that sort of thing when it suited their purposes. “And you have the chip to prove all of this?”
She looked at him in disbelief. “What do you mean you had it? How could you let something like that out of your sight?”
He gave her a droll stare. “It was a long time ago and I was a scared kid. Merjack had a separate security feed on the diary which I didn’t discover until it was too late. They were bearing down on me and I stashed the chip barely a heartbeat before they caught me.”
“Why would they go to such extremes to hide their actions only to put it down as hard evidence for someone to find?”
Syn shrugged. “Why do people do anything they do? I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out the stupidity or arrogance of the average person. Maybe he was so proud of it that he had to let it out and since he didn’t dare tell a real person, he told his recorder. I don’t know. All I know is it’s his voice and his confession.”
She wasn’t so sure. This was just a little too much to believe. “How old did you say you were? Fourteen?”
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that a serious political candidate would entrust something as important as gathering campaign secrets to a mere child?”
His features turned to stone. “I don’t give a damn what you believe.”
She scoffed at him. “You really are a piece of work. I almost believed you.”
“You should. It’s the truth.”
Yeah, right. “I doubt you’d know the truth if it came up and slapped you down.”
He glared at her. “And what makes you so sure that I’m lying?”
“Because I was orphaned at sixteen and I know people don’t hire children to do much of anything. The best job I had at that age was scrubbing floors.”
He snorted. “They do when it’s something highly illegal and they know you were trained by the absolute best.”
“And just who trained you? Idirian Wade?” she asked sarcastically, using the name of the most notorious criminal who’d ever lived.
His look was as cold as steel. “Yes.”
Shocked, she stared at him. Now that was one fact omitted by both his sheet and her contact.
Could it be true?
Surely he was lying.
But if he wasn’t, that made him even more dangerous. Because anyone spending time with Wade had been spending time with the devil himself.
Syn looked so serious that he was either a consummate liar or he was telling the truth.
Which one was it? Honestly, his story was way too much to be believed.
“Why would Wade train you? Especially as a kid? He wasn’t exactly known for having partners or letting them live once someone made the mistake of thinking he wouldn’t skin them. Literally.”
His look was completely cold. “Why do you think?”
She shrugged. “I can’t imagine how a criminal like him would have any interest in a snot-nosed kid.”
He rolled his eyes. “C’mon, seax. You’re not this dense or that stupid. Your father was one of the greatest smugglers ever born and what was the first lesson he taught your brother?”
“How to . . .” her words broke off as she finally understood. “You’re telling me Wade was your father?”
He gave her a sarcastic salute. “Give the woman a hero cookie.”
Shahara couldn’t breathe as those words sank in. Dear God, she was sitting next to a man descended from the most psychotic killer ever known? Someone who was notorious for killing hundreds, if not thousands of people—men, women, and children. And he didn’t just kill his victims, partners, and friends, he tortured and mutilated them.
He’d even cannibalized some of the bodies.
Wade was a man so evil, that even decades after his death, decades after his ashes had been scattered in space and every possible trace of anything that might contain even a micro hair or skin cell from him had been seized and destroyed, governments were still terrified someone would use his DNA to bring him back.
And she sat next to the son he’d trained . . .
For a moment, she thought she’d be ill.
Syn tensed as he saw the look in her eyes that he despised most. It was the one that said he contaminated her air with the filth of his past. That if the car wasn’t in motion, she’d be running out through the street to get away from him. Not for anything he’d ever done.
But because he’d been unlucky enough to be fathered by a psychotic animal.
Just once couldn’t someone surprise him and separate the truth from their fears? Only Nykyrian had ever really accepted the fact that his genetic link to a madman hadn’t corrupted him, too.
What did you expect?
Nothing, really. It was the same reaction Kiara Zamir had given him. But what killed him most was the knowledge that if he really were his father, he’d have butchered them over those looks and then kept their eyes as trophies.
Provided he didn’t eat them.
Disgusted, he looked away.
Shahara sat perfectly still as she came to terms with the fact that she was sitting next to the devil’s spawn. No wonder he was so good at what he did. His father had eluded custody for decades. Those who’d come close to finding Wade had been gutted, skinned, and pinned to walls as a warning to anyone else who had dreams of bringing him in.