Sneak Peek at Checkmate

Here’s a sneak peek from the middle of CHECKMATE, (coming August 1) when the real fun begins:

When the door opened again, two Sangari flanked a much smaller human man. By then, the sight of her lawyer sent a wave of relief through her. The sheer scale of the room, geared for the larger Sangaris, was starting to intimidate her. The lack of communication other than the formal charging process also worked on her nerves.

“You’ve gotten yourself into a bit of a fix this time, haven’t you?” Grayson Whetlock, her attorney, asked as he took the only other seat in the room. “Not exactly what I expected, though. I had to do some fast research on Sangari codexes on the way here. Couldn’t you have picked a fight with a Mascrind or a Johnsonian? Some race with a more straightforward and simple set of laws?”

She shrugged. “More billable hours for you, no doubt.”

Whetlock sighed. “Yes, well. This is a bit of a mess. Technically, under their laws, you are guilty of assault, and they’re not amused by it. There are a few options we’re looking at right now. I’ve talked to the lawyer for the other guy they’ve charged and we’re working on some things. He’s such a political hot chip that even the Sangari are a bit intimidated. “

“The other guy? Raje? They captured Raje, too?”

“Raje? Is that what they call him? Reginald Jernigan? Exiled prince and second heir of the Gambrians?”

“That’s him.”

“You picked up an interesting one there. It should help you, though. Like everyone else in this quadrant, the Sangari have an uneasy truce with the Gambrians and they don’t want to risk it. Of course, even they’re trying to figure out just what the Gambrians would actually want them to do with Prince Reg. He’s been so openly outspoken against the current regime and most of its policies that there’s some feeling they’d be just as happy to be rid of him. On the other hand, he’s still the second heir, and there is no clear-cut third. He’s also exceptionally popular among his own people, where the current emperor is not. They’ve come close to civil war more than once. The current Gambrian government might not mourn if he had an accident, but they can’t afford to let him be imprisoned or executed.”

“And how does that help me?”

“Just a moment,” he said, and looked at his p-comm. “Yes.” He pressed a couple of flat buttons on the device. “Good.”

“What?”

He turned to her. “We’ve worked out a deal. Prince Reg has agreed to it, if you will. I really think this is the best we can do here, and it should work out just fine.”

Her stomach twisted a bit. “Tell me.”

“Okay.” He drew a breath. “If you’re convicted of all the charges the Sangari have laid on you, it could mean up to twenty years in their labor prisons.” He paused briefly. “You really don’t want to go there.” Another pause. “There is an alternative, though. The Sangari love games and entertainment.”

“As in?”

“Just about anything and everything you can think of.”

“They like fighting,” Devonne added.

“Yes, that certainly. But also contests of strength and will and perseverance. And, well, almost anything.”

“So how does this affect me?” She fought to control her impatience and nervousness.

“If you’ll agree to enter a challenge match, the Sangari will dismiss all charges against you.”

“Wait a minute. This presupposes that I think I would lose my case at the Tribunal. The damn Sangari started the whole thing. He knocked my arm, and then he tried to hit me. I was defending myself, damn it!”

Whetlock looked lugubrious. “I know, but it doesn’t matter. Under the terms of their judicial code you’ll almost certainly be found guilty.”

“I will.” She felt like grabbing a weapon and doing something worth being found guilty of. “Blackmailing SOBs. This whole business is really about getting new meat for their ‘challenges’, whatever those involve. Isn’t it?”

The lawyer shrugged. “Perhaps. But the fact remains, you face the possibility—“

“I get it.” She stood up and paced across the room and back a couple of times. “But my choices are fairly—wait a minute. Why did I have to agree before Raje would? What’s he got to do with it?”

The lawyer licked his lips. “Um…well, you see, they want a pair of humans in this particular challenge match.”

“What? Why? What does ‘this particular’ challenge match involve?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea. I just know they specified that the two of you would have to agree to enter as a team.”

“A team. Raje and I. Oh, that’s rich.” She made no attempt to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“I gather you and he didn’t part on the best of terms after your last meeting?”

“You could say that.” She sighed deeply. “I don’t suppose I have much choice here, though.”

“Not much,” the lawyer agreed. “I really can’t recommend trying your luck with the Tribunal. They don’t have much regard for aliens.”

“No shit. I really would like to know more about what this ‘challenge’ would involve.”

“So would I,” the lawyer answered. “But they refuse to tell me anything specific. I’ve looked over the previous cycle’s schedule of challenges, and they seem to encompass everything from foot races to knife-fights to the death.”

Devonne swung sharply to look at him. “To the death? Raje and I might have to try to kill each other?”

“It’s not all that common. More often they have you fight to first blood. Or fight other things. They’re um… also quite fascinated by… sexual matters, including some rather… how shall I say this? Some rather kinky human proclivities.”

“Things? How many ‘challenges’ are we required to do? I thought it was just one?”

“Just one challenge. It’s ten rounds. One a day for ten days is their usual procedure.”

“Ten rounds.” She sighed. “Would I be fighting Raje through all of them?”

Whetlock shrugged. “Or having sex with him? I don’t know. I doubt it. Sometimes they have people fight animals or machines, sometimes they’re contests of throwing or hitting things or eating things that… Well, you can guess.”

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