She'd survived the streets of Krasnodar for eight years, and according to the letter written in his grandmother's shaky hand, she'd been living with her for close to three months.
That day, standing in his baba's kitchen staring down into the girl's wide eyes—one blue, one brown—Nika could hear his grandmother's voice. '"We take in the strays, Nika, and there's nothing wrong with it as long as you open your heart to the hurt that will come. Because you can't save them all—but some is better than none. Just don't lose yourself in the process like your mother did, you understand?"'
And that was how a brand-new ensign in the Near-Earth Orbital Guard had offered a fifteen-year-old girl a permanent place in his family and somehow managed to raise her through his first years in the NeoG without killing both of them.
He'd done something right in the end. Jenks could have split at any point, but not only had she decided to stay, she also fell in love with NeoG and enlisted the morning of her seventeenth birthday.
Nika jumped when Jenks tapped him on the chest, blinking dry eyes and swearing under his breath. "Sorry, took a trip."
"And Commander tells me to focus." She grinned at him. "Let's move."
The interior of the ship was as dingy as the outside and looked like it had been out in space for a hundred years without anyone tending to it. But there were a few signs of recent repairs, opened panels and up-to-date wiring Nika had to prod Jenks past so she didn't stop to inspect it.
"Sapphi, can we get some schematics?" Nika asked. He could practically hear Jenks roll her eyes from in front of him.
"The bridge is this way, I could see it as we came in," she protested.
"Here you go, Nika," Sapphi replied, and the layout of the tiny ship came to life in front of his eyes. The HUD in their helmets was excellent tech, but there was still that image-on-screen bit that couldn't quite beat how the DD chip displayed the images directly onto your retinas, making everything meld seamlessly with the world around you.
Dànao Dynamics, the consolidation of the shattered tech companies of the east and west, had developed the DD chip as a way to circumvent the wastefulness of their predecessors. The unprecedented organic cybernetics were the first of their kind post-Collapse and still unmatched in their simplicity hundreds of years later.
Nika had a hard time imagining life without it.
"One time. I take one wrong turn and you all never let me hear the end of it," Jenks was muttering to herself as she crept down the hallway. "Besides, we were on solid ground. Have I ever gotten lost on a ship?"
"You have not." Master Chief Ma Léi's deadpan voice came over the coms. "However, that one time on ground you nearly killed us all so, yes, you'll keep hearing about it."
Jenks said something under her breath too fast for the translation software to catch, but Nika had put enough effort into learning her native Khalkha Mongolian to be sure it didn't need to be repeated for the master chief's benefit.
"Jenks, up and to the left," he said, before anyone else could ask.
They followed the corridor to the open bridge door. Jenks peeked in, looked back at Nika, and held up a single finger that she pointed to the left before pointing at herself.
One man. On the left. I'll take him.
Nika nodded and Jenks slipped in through the door. He shifted his grip on his sword and scanned the corridor as a voice echoed from inside, then he followed her in.
"Boson, are you and Hobbs about done with the engine? The longer we hang out here the better the odds get that the cops are going to show."
"Those odds just went through the roof," Jenks said. She had her sword up and under the man's chin before he could even twitch toward the console. "Hi. I wouldn't. Prison's not great, but it's better than being dead."
The man swallowed.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, June 15, we begin the book Providence by Max Barry.