About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Giles Sans Pitié is a spinning wheel,
With the eye of a hawk and a fist made of steel.
He'll drink a whole gallon while holding his breath,
And wherever he goes his companion is Death.
There never was a history written about the Inner Frontier, so Black Orpheus took it upon himself to set one to music. His name wasn't really Orpheus (though he was black). In fact, rumor had it that he had been an aquaculturist back in the Deluros system before he fell in love. The girl's name was Eurydice, and he followed her out to the stars, and since he had left all his property behind, he had nothing to give her but his music, so he took the name of Black Orpheus and spent most of his days composing love songs and sonnets to her. Then she died, and he decided to stay on the Inner Frontier, and he began writing an epic balled about the traders and hunters and outlaws and misfits that he came across. In fact, you didn't officially stop being a tenderfoot or a tourist until the day he added a stanza or two about you to the song.
Anyway, Giles Sans Pitié made quite an impression on him, because he appears in nine different verses, which is an awful lot when you're being the Homer for five hundred worlds. Probably it was the steel hand that did it. No one knew how he'd lost his real one, but he showed up on the Frontier one day with a polished steel fist at the end of his left arm, announced that he was the best bounty hunter ever born, foaled, whelped, or hatched, and proceeded to prove that he wasn't too far from wrong. Like most bounty hunters, he only touched down on outpost worlds when he wasn't working and like most bounty hunters, he had a pretty regular route that he followed. Which was how he came to be on Keepsake, in the Tradertown of Moritat, in Gentry's Emporium, pounding on the long wooden bar with his steel fist and demanding service.
Old Geronimo Gentry, who had spent thirty years prospecting the worlds of the Inner Frontier before he chucked it all and opened a tavern and whorehouse on Moritat, where he carefully sampled every product before offering, it to the public, walked over with a fresh bottle of Altairian rum, then held it back as Giles Sans Pitié reached for it.
"Tab's gettin' pretty high," he commented meaningfully.
The bounty hunter slapped a wad of bills down on the bar.
"Maria Theresa dollars," noted Gentry, examining them approvingly and relinquishing the bottle. "Wherever'd you pick 'em up?"
"The Corvus system."
"Took care of a little business there, did you?" said Gentry, amused.
Giles Sans Pitié smiled humorlessly. "A little."
He reached inside his shirt and withdrew three Wanted posters of the Suliman brothers, which until that morning had been on the post office wall. Each poster had a large red X scratched across it.
"All three of 'em?"
The bounty hunter nodded.
"You shoot 'em, or did you use that?" asked Gentry, pointing toward Giles Sans Pitié's steel fist.
Giles Sans Pitié help up his metal hand. "Yes, I shot them of I used this."
Gentry shrugged. "Goin' out again soon?"
"In the next few days."
"Where to this time?"
"That's nobody's business but mine," said the bounty hunter.
"Just thought I might offer some friendly advice," said Gentry.
"If you're thinking of going of to Praeteep Four, forget it. The Songbird just got back from there."
"You mean Cain?"
Gentry nodded. "Had a lot of money, so I'd have to guess that he found what he went looking for."
The bounty hunter frowned. "I'm going to have to have a little talk with him," he said. "The Praeteep system's got a Keep Out sign posted on it."
"Oh?" said Gentry. "Since when?"
"Since I put it up," said Giles Sans Pitié firmly. "And I won't have some rival headhunter doing his poaching there and picking it clean." He paused. "Where can I find him?"
Giles Sans Pitié looked around the room. A silver-haired gambler on a winning streak, decked out in bring new clothes made from some glittering metallic fabric, stood at the far end of the bar; a young woman with melancholy eyes sat alone at a table in the corner; and scattered around the large, dimly lit tavern were some two dozen other men and women, in pairs and groups, some conversing in low tones, others sitting in silence.
"I don't see him." announced the bounty hunter.
"It's early yet," replied Gentry. "He'll be along."
"What makes you think so?"
"I've got the only booze and the only sportin' ladies in Moritat. Where do you think he's gonna go?"
"There are a lot of worlds out there."
"True," admitted Gentry. "But people get tired of worlds after a while. Ask me--I know."
"Then what are you doing on the Frontier?"
"People get tired of people, too. There's a lot less of 'em out here-and I got me my fancy ladies to cheer me up if ever I get to feelin' lonely." He paused. "'Course, if you want to hear the story of my life, you're gonna have a buy a couple of bottles of my best drinkin' stuff. Then you and me, we'll mosey on out to one of the back rooms and I'll start with chapter one."
The bounty hunter reached out for the bottle. "I think I can live without it," he said.
"You'll be missing gout on one helluva good story," said Gentry. "I done a lot of interesting things. Seen sights even a killer like you ain't likely ever to see." "Some other time."
"Your loss," said Gentry with a shrug. "You gonna want a glass with that?"
"Not necessary," said Giles Sans Pitié lifting the bottle and taking a long swallow. When he was through, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "How long before he gets here?"
"You got time for a quick one, if that's what you mean," said Gentry. "Just give me a minute to check and see which of my frail flowers ain't working this minute." Suddenly he turned to the doorway. "Whoops! Here he sis now. Guess you'll have to go loveless a little longer." He waved his hand. "How're you doin', Songbird?"
The tall, lean man, his face angular and almost gaunt, his eyes dark and work-weary, approached the bar. His jacket and pants were a nondescript brown, their many pockets filled with shapeless bulges that could mean almost anything on the Frontier. Only his boots stood out, not because they were new, but rather because they were so demonstrably old, obviously carefully tended yet unable to hold a polish.
"My name's Cain," said the newcomer. "You know that."
"Well, it ain't what they call you these days."
"It's what you'll call me if you want my business," replied Cain.
"But Black Orpheus, now, he's got you all written up as the Songbird," persisted Gentry.
"I don't sing, I'm not a bird, and I don't much care what some half-baked folksinger writes about me."
Gentry shrugged. "Have it your way--and while we're on the subject, what else'll you have?"
"He'll have Altairian rum, like me," interjected Giles Sans Pitié.
"I will?" asked Cain, turning to him.
"My treat." The bounty hunter held up his bottle. "Come on over to a table and join me, Sebastian Cain."
Cain watched him walk across the room for a moment, then shrugged and followed him.
"I hear you had pretty good luck on Praeteep Four," said Giles Sans Pitié when both men had seated themselves.
"Luck had nothing to do with it," replied Cain, leaning back comfortably on his chair. "I understand you didm't do too badly yourself."
"Not so. I had to cheat."
"I don't think I follow you."
I had to shoot the third one." Giles Sans Pitié up his steel fist. "I like to take them with this." He paused. "Did your man give you much trouble?"
"Some," said Cain noncommittally.
"Have to chase him far?"
"You're sure not the most expansive raconteur I've ever run across," chuckled giles Sans Pitié.
Cain shrugged. "Talk is cheap."
"Not always. Suliman Hari offered me thirty thousand credits to let him live."
"I thanked him for his offer, explained that the price on his head was up to fifty thousand, and gave him a faceful of metal."
"And of course you didn't then take thirty thousand credits off his body without reporting it," said Cain sardonically.
Giles Sans Pitié frowned. "The son of a bitch only had two thousand on him," he growled righteously.
"I guess there's just no honor among thieves."
"None. I can't get over the bastarde lying to me!" He paused. "So tell me, Cain--who will you be going out after next?"
Cain smiled. "Professional secret. You know better than to ask."
"True," agreed Giles Sans Pitié. "But everyone's allowed a breach of etiquette now and then. For example, you know better than to make a kill in the Prateep system, but you did it anyway."
"The man I was hunting went there," replied Cain calmly. "No disrespect intended, but I wasn't going to let four months' work go down the drain just because you think you own the deed to an entire solar system."
"I opened that system," said Giles Sans Pitié. "Named every planet in it." He paused. "Still, it's an acceptable answer. I forgive you your trespass."
"I don't recall asking for absolution," said Cain.
"Just the same, it't freely given. This time," he added ominously. "But it would be a good idea for you to remember that there are rules out here on the Frontier."
"Oh? I hadn't noticed any."
"Nevertheless, they exist--and they're made by the people who can enforce them."
"I'll keep it in mind."
"See that you do."
"Or you'll brain me with your metal hand?" asked Cain
"It'll a possibility."
"What's so funny?" demanded Giles Sans Pitié.
"You're a bounty hunter."
"Bounty hunters don't kill people for free. Who's going to pay you to kill me?" "I've got to protect what's mine," replied Giles Sans Pitié seriously. "I just want to be sure that we understand each other: if you go poaching on my territory again, we're going to come to blows." He slammed his metal hand down on the table, putting a...