Author : John Murray Lewis

Ours is an age of many problems and few solutions, brother, but when it’s solutions you need, I’m your man. For a modest sum of credits I shall track your problem down and haul it—kicking and screaming, shouting and shooting—past asteroid belts perilous and raider dens deadly to a system far away…

…To Karma-IX, that wrecked red rock, bitter and barren as a widow. She’s a merciless mistress, Karma-IX. On a bad day—and they are mostly bad days—her suns will boil the blood in your veins and her silica storms will flay the flesh fleck by fleck from your bones. And as for her wildlife…

There are precious few guarantees these days, brother, but on one thing I have always depended: there is no coming back from Karma-IX.

Hence my dismay, my disbelief, my utter devastating despair as my hood is lifted and I find myself confronted by Carlotta Cagliostro, queen of smugglers, aboard her frigate Fatale.

“You escaped!” I cry.

“You’re surprised, darling?”

“Carlotta, dearest Carlotta, I was sick with worry!”

“How thoughtful.”

“Oh, but what has become of you, Carlotta? Your skin has lost its lustrous womanly glow—and those scars!”

“Karma will do that to a lady’s complexion, darling. I wonder what she would do to those charming blue eyes?”

Her henchmen seize me, drag me backwards to the sound of an angry wind battering a metal hatch.

“Wait! Remember, won’t you, that tender night we shared upon the Daedalus: our faces, framed by Saturn’s rings; our eyes meeting, our lips parting—”

“The night I disappeared.”

“Mercy, Carlotta! It was only a job. I’m your man, you know that!”

“I know, darling. You always were true to me.”

She caresses my cheek. That soothing smile, brother, that forgiving heart!

“Oh, Carlotta, it killed me to betray you!”

“We shall see,” she says.

The hatch whirrs open behind me and I feel a gust of air, the bite of silica crystals, the scorching heat of two suns on my back—

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