Shine stood on the beach in Northend, clutching a handful of white daisies while staring vacantly at the reddish-purple ocean. His shoulders slumped, as was customary on this particular day. He stood in this spot each year and tried to think of something that would have made his mother proud of him.
Today was no different than all the others. There was nothing, not one thing that he had done to make a difference. Nothing that mattered. Another year wasted.
The acidic water tumbled onto the land like a clumsy child. It wasn’t graceful, and it was never-ending, hammering at the sandy shore. Like his guilt. Most of the time, he could push it down and focus on his life, his job, and the myriad things he had to take care of. But on this day, he allowed his emotions to rise, let himself remember how much he’d messed up, and how he couldn’t fix it.
His mother was dead, and he couldn’t bring her back.
She had been a working Terran, holding down two jobs from the time he could remember. Sometimes, she would slip in a third for a month or two. He shouldn’t be able to remember all those years ago, but his guilt didn’t let the memories die. He couldn’t forget that he used to be so angry that his mother spent all her time working instead of spending time with him. He felt she should have been there to watch him play with all the toy ships he created from scraps or look at the drawings he made for her.
The only time she had to spare was Saturday mornings. On those days, they would wake up early, eat breakfast at Tegan’s Diner, and then spend the rest of the morning at the beach.
Then it was back to hours alone, watching documentaries that Mom programmed on the Minky screen and locked so Shine couldn’t watch shows that were too mature for him.
When he was a teenager, he’d finally realized why his mother worked so hard. Their apartment was expensive, he ate constantly, and she owed a monthly allotment to the Demon in apartment 112 to ensure that nothing happened to him while she was away at work.
Shine didn’t know the Demon who had been hired to watch over him. Even after she’d told him about his babysitter, he’d never seen the Demon, not even once. He’d thought his mother was being ripped off and had told her to end the deal.
When he was a little older, he’d found out that she was paying the Demon a premium to leave them alone.
Shine had moved out of the house in his early twenties. He’d figured that his mother would be happy because she didn’t have to pay that much in food, and she could get a better place to live. But she never did.
But life had been starting for him and he didn’t have time for her. He had his own things to worry about.
Shine didn’t help her when something broke in the apartment, nor did he stop by or visit her at the beach on any of the hundreds of Saturdays that he knew she would likely be there.
Less than ten years later, his sweet mother died of a heart attack at the age of forty-seven.
The call from the landlord had nearly crushed his soul. Shine had ten minutes to get the body before they threw her in the acidic ocean. He begged the Demon to wait, but there was no waiting. The landlord said he had things to do and people looking to move in. The only thing Shine could arrange was for the Demon to let Shine dictate where she was thrown in and allow him to watch it on a Minky video.
When he saw what the ocean did to her body, Shine had lost the contents of his stomach. His self-loathing was so keen that he’d taken an entire month off and practically camped out in their spot on the beach, trying to apologize to the water, hoping that she heard it.
From that year forward, he visited her here on her birthday, and on the anniversary of the day she died. From starup to stardown, he thought of her—her smile, her voice, and their times together on the beach.
Terrans were weird about their birthdays. His mother had always made a big deal about it, so he thought it fitting that he continued to make it special.
Shine didn’t think she would be proud of him, though. Knowing that he made weapons that not only killed but also tortured their victims. His mother had always had a straight moral compass. He remembered the late nights when she would sit him down and explain right from wrong.
Shine peered at the horizon. The red star was half gone. Minutes later, he took the handful of flowers, reached back, and threw them into the acidic water as far as he could. The blue ribbon that held them together unraveled, and the happy, white flowers dispersed. The petals curled, sizzled, and turned black. As soon as they were gone, he mumbled, “Happy birthday, Mom.”
Turning around, he trudged through the white sand and rocks back to his Hampton Dwarf, his speedy two-seater hover vehicle. When he stepped onto the blacktop, he saw a red-haired male wearing a dark grey zip-up, leaning against Shine’s car like he owned it.
Shine curled – lip. “What are you doing here?”
Shine cut him off. “No.”
“That’s not very nice,” Karr said with his hands in his pockets, still leaning against the Dwarf.
Shine waved his hand over the door. It registered his fingerprints and slid up. To Karr, he said, “Move.”
Karr’s blue eyes shined with amusement. “You know what I’ve always liked about you, Shine? The fact that you’re so predictable.” Karr’s pale and freckled hand waved between Shine and the ocean. “For example, I know that I can always find you right here on your mother’s birthday.”
Shine was not impressed by Karr’s memory. He was also not stupid enough to actually try and make a move against Karr. In the years since they’d gone their separate ways, the Silk Demon had become a powerhouse on the island. Rumor was that nothing happened that Karr didn’t know about.
Silk Demons didn’t have any unique physical traits. Nothing that made them stand out. Silks looked like Terrans. Shine’s best friend, Zane, was a Silk, and he liked to present himself as a Terran to bring in more business. Terrans trusted each other, and most other races didn’t mind doing business with them. But almost no one trusted Demons.
Hell, he didn’t trust Demons. Z was the only exception.
The fact that Karr wasn’t asking any questions meant that he wasn’t looking for information. “What do you want?” Shine asked.
Karr’s mouth slowly curled before he chuckled. “You know what else I like about you? You’re a smart one.”
Shine was smart. But Karr’s remark was a dig against Z, and Shine wasn’t going to comment on it. Instead, he stood by the open door and waited.
Karr held out a mesh bracelet and smirked wryly. “It starts with this.”
“You want me to have a bracelet?”
“I want you to wear this bracelet.”
Karr looked at him. “Just take it.”
Shine didn’t like or trust Karr. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a gift or some other noble gesture. He knew that without a doubt. Whatever the bracelet did would benefit Karr in some way.
A part of Shine was curious, but that was something he needed to ignore. “And if I don’t?”
Karr pushed the bracelet into Shine’s hands and said, “Put it on. Wear it until I come back for it.”
“No,” Shine argued, letting the bracelet sit in his hand.
A deep rumble caused Shine to turn his head. A Grummer hovered slowly into the parking lot. Shine only glanced at it for a moment, but that was all it took for Karr to grab his hand.
Shine tried to pull free, but Karr slipped the bracelet onto his wrist, and it automatically tightened against his skin. Too tight. Shine shook his arm, but the cuff didn’t give. Cursing, he checked to see if he could take it off. There were no latches. The only thing he saw was the three white dots on the outer rim.
Shine bent his hand to see if it would stretch. Barely. He could see wires under the mesh. It was an interlocking system with remote access. The smooth feel said synthetic carbon not tungsten or iron. More importantly, it was not coming off until he figured out the remote frequency. Which he could do if he were in his lab. Hopefully.
The Grummer hovered three feet next to them without turning off. Shine widened his stance in case someone jumped out of the vehicle, and he needed to defend himself.
The door didn’t automatically open. Karr took four steps to the Grummer, waved his hand, and the door slid up and over the top. Inside sat a Red Demon holding a phaser gun against the temple of a female with short, light blond hair and blue eyes so bright they resembled polished topaz.
Karr snapped his fingers and pointed at the ground while saying, “Out of the Grummer, Alieena. Meet Shine.”
Alieena didn’t get out. She peered over at him and briefly made eye contact as she scanned his body. Shine refused to square his shoulders and preen.
“Shine, the Night Demon? How unoriginal,” she said derisively.
As far as insults went, basically being called boring was nothing. But coming from the beauty inside the car, it was insulting. Peering over at Karr, Shine said, “Your girlfriend’s a nip.”
Karr watched him closely, and Shine wondered if this was all a game. Because for the life of him, he couldn’t think of a reason for the female to be there.
“She’s not my friend. But she is my problem.”
“I’m not the problem,” Alieena snapped. “And it’s Nara. I don’t go by that other name. Ever.” Neither Shine nor Karr acknowledged her comment.
Karr reached up into the floating vehicle and snagged her wrist, pulling her. Nara’s arms shot out to break her fall. Shine’s stomach squeezed with concern. He promptly stepped forward to catch her and stop her from falling face-first onto the blacktop.
Her legs landed hard on the pavement, but at least he’d saved her face. With a scowl, he asked Karr, “Is there a reason you’re pulling females from vehicles now? Seems pretty lame.”
Karr looked to where Shine was holding Nara and smiled. “Sometimes, I need to remind people where they stand.”
Shine wondered if pulling Nara out of the Grummer had been a test of some sort. Dropping the female’s arms, he stepped back. “So, she knows she can be dropped on her face, now what?”
Karr looked inside the Grummer and held out his hand. The Red Demon held out a small, black oval device and clicked the button on the top. Shine’s cuff trilled. He looked down and noticed that the three white indicators were now red and blinking.
Karr gave the device back to the copper-red-skinned Demon. “These are warrior training cuffs from Angny. They’re meant to keep two gladiators together during battle to teach them to be aware of where their partner is. But for Alieena, it’ll keep her from leaving the planet.”
Shine looked down at the female. She was brushing herself off after her tumble out of the hover vehicle, and he noticed two things. One was that he could see down her v-necked silver blouse when she bent over, and her light grey bra had a small amount of lace that looked tempting against her fair skin.
The second thing he realized after moving his eyes from her breasts was that she was wearing an identical cuff.
Nara must have been watching him watch her because she said, “I was about to thank you for catching me…” Her glossy red lips curled slightly. “But I remembered that Night Demons are slimy little creeps, and you just proved that.”
“Excuse me?” Shine was amazed that someone would talk to him that way. She didn’t even know him.
Her blue eyes shifted to his jaw, and she snickered. “Your Night Demon horns, or whatever they are, are pretty small. I’ve heard that the smaller they are…the smaller your”—Nara gazed down at the junction of his legs—“is.”
All Night Demons had a bone abnormality. Most had horns on their head, spine, and face horns. Shine’s longest horn was three inches, and it didn’t even come close to his actual size. Any other Night Demon would have opened his pants to show her how wrong she was, but he wasn’t going to be baited by a snobby, high-class nip. Instead, he gave her a disappointed look.
Karr cleared this throat. He wasn’t even trying to hide his amusement. “I knew you two would hit it off.”
The female cut her eyes to Karr. “I don’t think so—” Holding up his hand, Karr cut her off and said, “Shut up, Alieena.”
Shine noticed the slightly dazed look on her face. He wondered if many people talked to her that way. Inwardly, he wanted to laugh, but he didn’t want Karr to think that he was on his side.
Karr continued, “I’ve made myself very clear to you. You finish the job, and you get to leave. Until you do that job, you’re stuck on Adaamas.”
Shine was about to ask what job the Silk meant, but Karr turned his cold and calculating gaze on him before he could. “She stays with you at night. During the day, she’s to be working on what I hired her to do. You will house her and feed her. After that, I don’t care. But she better be ready to work when my driver picks her up.”
Shine didn’t know what was going on, but he didn’t want to have to watch over a female every night. He had his own life, his own responsibilities. “I don’t babysit,” he announced.
“You do now,” Karr said, pointing at his face. To Nara, he said, “You try to run, that cuff will stop you. You don’t believe me, try it and see what happens.”
“Why aren’t you listening to me? I can’t take—”
Karr got into her face, stopping her from speaking. “Get it through your arrogant, entitled head. This is going to happen. You have no options but to do what I want.”
Nara shut her mouth.
Karr leaned down farther into her face. Shine had seen the male do this before. He knew that the Demon would laugh in her face to prove that he could do whatever he wanted, when he wanted. But he didn’t do that.
Lifting a hand, Karr brought down a heavy finger and flicked her forehead.
Nara’s head jerked back. “What the hell?”
“That’s for being a pain in my ass.”
Shine remembered watching moments like these a long time ago. Back then, he’d believed that Karr was only acting. Later, Shine and Z had learned that Karr was not pretending. The Silk Demon loved to annoy people.
Karr snapped his hand to the driver. “Lower the Grummer.”
The hovering vehicle descended the last three and a half feet to the ground, and Karr stepped in. Without looking back, Karr said out loud, “And just so both of you geniuses don’t do anything stupid, if one of you breaks the link, I will personally find you and rip out your intestines so I can feed them to you.”
Nara gagged. Shine peered over. Her lower lip quivered. “Gross, I got a visual.”
Shine didn’t say anything to that.
Time slowed as he watched the dark grey Grummer rise up into the air and speed out of the parking lot, leaving Nara and him alone.
Shine didn’t move at first. Scanning the parking lot, his eyes found their way back to the beach. He remembered his mother. Recalled that this was her day, and Karr had ruined it. The peace that Shine had hoped to find in the abyss of isolation was gone.
His day was effectively ruined. The memory of his mother’s favorite day was stained.
“Is there a reason you’re staring at nothing?” Nara’s voice cut into his growing exasperation. This was awful. One because he liked being alone, and two because he enjoyed silence. If the past few minutes were any indication, Shine had a sinking feeling in his gut that she was going to ruin both of those things.
Rubbing the cuff that was going to destroy his sanity, he said, “Get in the Hampton Dwarf and try to be quiet.” Shine growled.
Nara turned around and rolled her eyes at his vehicle, but she got in without protest. He programmed the navigator to take them to his apartment.
Minutes into the drive, he heard Nara say, “Just so you know, I already hate you.”
Shine looked over at her, taking in how she filled out her fancy blouse. Her body wasn’t thick or too slim. A perfectly trim size that no doubt left her firm but with softness around her breasts, hips, and thighs. No one looked that perfect unless they had the money to do so.
A simple gold chain with a grey and white inlaid charm hung around her neck. Gold was expensive, but it was the charm that said “money” as he watched the gem change from grey to pink. An Adroiz diamond. Even with the money he made, he would deplete his savings just to buy one half that size.
Nara was beautiful, no one would ever deny that. But her attitude was not endearing. Not that he would turn her down for a blitz, but he would ensure that she kept her mouth shut.
Responding to her rudeness, he said, “Just so you know, I don’t care that you hate me. And I wish I would have let you fall on your face. I’m the one who’s been screwed here. I have things to do, and watching you instead of working is going to ruin my schedule. So, whatever you need to do for Karr, get it done, and get out of my life. I have a couch you can use. But I don’t cook, so you will have to give me a list of things you want to eat or get used to eating takeout.”
Buy the book to read the rest. Click here.