Seso’s fingers released the heavy chain from his right hand. The clinking echoed in his ears as the links fell on top of each other and landed near his naked foot. Thousands of tingles rushed under his skin as blood returned to his limbs. His latest abuser was lying face-up with dead, dull eyes, looking beyond him.
The male was Terran. Not the first of his kind to get sexual gratification from drawing blood, screams, and tears from a body.
Seso stood, waiting for the next master to come in and punish him, but no one opened the door. There was a weakness in his mind, telling him to curl up and hope the punishment wouldn’t hurt too much. Seso pushed that thought away and tried to cut through the pain in his back and the aches in his legs from being chained in the fetal position for so long.
Watching the door, he backed up until he was next to the trash shoot. The shoot was a wooden plank that lay flush under the frilly red rug. The masters used it to shove dead slaves down. Seso had seen it happen seven times over the past five years in the time he’d been imprisoned in the mansion of horrors.
Seso didn’t know where the trash went, but considering that it was a planet and not a spaceship, he figured there was a good chance he’d survive if he used it to escape.
Ripping back the rug, he felt his heart start to pound. The throbbing in his body was nothing compared to the hope surging through his blood.
He needed this.
He had to escape. Or die.
He refused to be a slave any longer.
Pulling back the thin rope, the lid opened, allowing the scent of rotting flesh and death to fill his nostrils. The smell made his stomach wriggle. His determination didn’t wane. In fact, Seso determined that falling on a pile of dead bodies would be better than hitting the hard ground. See, I can still be optimistic.
As quickly as possible, he rounded the opening, stuck his legs down the hole, pushed his butt off the floor, and slipped into the tunnel, falling fast. Seso crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes.
This would be the beginning of his freedom. Either that, or his death…and he welcomed either situation.
“You don’t look very dead,” whispered a female.
Seso inhaled deeply as he opened his eyes to the pitch-black darkness. The smell of rot and death were strong, and he had no idea where he was. Hell, he didn’t even remember hitting the bottom of the trash shoot. But knowing someone else was in the dark with him didn’t sit well.
“I’m not dead. And if you touch me, I’ll break your neck,” he said with absolute honesty.
“Why exactly would I touch you? You’re naked, and you have nothing of value.”
Seso felt his lips curl with coldness. “And yet, my nakedness has brought males and females from all over the galaxies to hurt me so they can get off.”
“I don’t think it was your nakedness,” she said.
True, it wasn’t because he was naked. It was because he was rare. “It’s because I’m dark-skinned. There aren’t many black Terrans anymore. Earth has become one massive breeding ground.”
“No. You’re big. That’s why.”
He knew that too, but he was still rare.
“And you have good, ah, facial features.”
Seso didn’t like that she thought so. But he understood that she wasn’t like the other females that used him that way. At least, he didn’t think so. Regardless, he didn’t comment on it.
“You jumped, didn’t you? No one dropped you in the trash.”
Seso noticed that the sound of her voice had moved—she was slinking away from him.
He had no intention of admitting anything to her, but he also didn’t want her to leave. He couldn’t see in the dark, and she might know the way out of here…wherever he was. “How long have you been in the garbage?”
“You mean this cave?”
Cave? “Yeah, the cave. How long have you been here?”
“What’s today’s date?”
He told her the current Federation month and year.
“Almost three years.”
Seso sat up, feeling a new splinter of pain in his ribs. He pressed his hand to his chest and hoped she didn’t notice. Trying to keep his voice calm, he asked, “If you haven’t left in three years, does that mean there is no way out?”
He heard footsteps, and then her voice was closer. Right in front of him, in fact. “There’s a way out, but you won’t be able to escape with your injuries.”
“You don’t know me. I got this far; I can keep going.”
He heard her snort. “Try if you can to wrap your little brain around this concept. I’ve been here longer, I’ve seen what happens to people who try to escape before they are ready.”
Seso didn’t like anything she’d just said. The way she talked to him as if she were better than him rubbed him the wrong way. All the abusers who called themselves his masters talked to him like that. He didn’t think this female was a master, but she still acted as if he had no choice but to stay, and he felt the remnants of the hell he had been living in.
“Well I’m not waiting.”
“Figured you weren’t. Have a nice life. And, hopefully, a quick death.” Her voice was so close that Seso didn’t hesitate to reach out into the darkness and connect with the body in front of him.
He hit too hard, and the female fell back. He followed to keep her from leaving him, and fell himself. He landed on a body, feeling her naked skin and her long hair beneath him. The female growled. “Get off me or I swear to Seth I will cut you up into little pieces and feed you to the cave bugs myself.”
Seso placed his hand around the back of her throat and used his body weight to keep her down. “Listen closely, cave walker. I am not waiting for your approval to leave this hellhole of a planet. I’m going now, and you are taking me. If you so much as try to trick me or lead me to a group of cannibals, I will not hesitate to kill you.”
“Get. Your. Hand. Off. My. Back.”
Seso didn’t understand why she was worried about her back when his dominant hand was around her neck. Maybe she was hurt, or perhaps she needed him to lift up so she had leverage. Either way, he didn’t give in to her demand.
“You want up, you agree to my terms.”
“No deal, Terran. Now get off and find your own exit.”
Seso pushed down on her back, rubbing in a circle, hoping to inflict just enough pain to make her change her mind. The female didn’t cry out. Instead, she growled, “Fine. Just stop.” It wasn’t a tone of pain, it was one of rage.
Without another thought, he leapt back, releasing her. He didn’t understand why touching her back was so bad, but maybe she was conditioned in some way. In the mansion of hell, he had developed his own triggers.
Specifically, the sound of chains. “I was not trying to rape you. I don’t know what your abusers did to you, but touching your back is not a sexual turn-on for me,” he said firmly but also softly. The naked female was probably a slave like he was and had escaped years before.
“Go to hell.”
“I’m already there,” he spat back.
Seso heard the female take in a long, audible breath, and then everything went silent. Scanning the darkness, he tried to listen closely to discern any sound of footsteps. If he followed her, she might lead him into a trap. Or she could lead him to her hovel—at least he suspected she had a hovel.
“Even if you did escape, it’s winter outside. The air is so cold, it seeps into your bones. And that’s only the first problem. The second is where to go when you get out. I was awake when I was brought from the ship to the mansion. There is nothing else for miles and miles. There is nothing out there, and nothing here but massive cave bugs and furry beasts that love to eat people. So, by all means. I can lead you out, but don’t get your hopes up.”
Seso heard all he needed to hear. She wasn’t a part of the faction of cannibal slaves that escaped into the caves. She wasn’t a master. She wasn’t ignorant of the dangers. And most of all, she wanted out too, but she just didn’t know how, which was why she was going to help him.
He didn’t turn around because he didn’t want her to see how pleased he was by her admission. “Do you know how often the slave ships come?”
“No, but I think they come often.”
He had to agree with that. The new slaves were the ones begging to be let go, to try and reason with the masters. And he heard them every week or two.
“If you get me outside this cave, I can get us a ride on a slave ship.”
She snorted again. “I’m not going back on a slave ship. I’d rather live the rest of my life here than be subject to another mansion.”
He understood that, but there was something she didn’t know. Seso turned around, and he felt a smug grin on his mouth as he told her, “Try if you can to wrap your little head around this concept. I’m a pirate, and I know more about ships than you do. And I know where all the secret spots are and where no one will bother to look. So, here’s my deal: get me out of this cave, and I’ll get you off this planet.”
When she didn’t immediately agree, he lost his grin. She wanted something else, but she wasn’t telling him what that was. “What is it? What’s that nagging little worry in the back of your head saying?”
When she didn’t answer, he prompted, “Are you afraid I’m lying?”
“No. I don’t think you’ll make it.”
“I’ll make it, trust me.”
“If you do make it, and we do get off this planet, I—” She stopped herself. Seso was about to tell her to speak her thoughts, but she quickly amended, “Actually, there is no point in worrying about it until we get out of this cave.”
Seso wouldn’t call himself sensitive. He didn’t go out of his way to be the kind of male a female wanted to share her problems with. Most of that was because he had a hard life and lived with bastards like him that didn’t dare talk about feelings. Even now, he didn’t want to talk about hers, but he did want to address her concerns.
“If you’re afraid of someone looking for you after we escape, don’t.” Immediately after he said those words, he knew the full weight of them. He was, in a bold way, telling a strange female that he’d take care of her. Protect her and ensure death came to anyone who tried to go after her.
The only time in his life he protected anyone was when he worked for Clalls as head of security. And it wasn’t that he protected anyone specific, he just kept the spaceport pirate-free. That job lasted a year before he was knocked out and kidnapped.
Seso wasn’t an idiot. Another would have already filled his position, and Clalls was probably happy to be rid of him. But Seso had money, enough to get him and the female to a safe place. Most likely a moon with small towns. Big cities were dangerous because predators liked to fade into a crowd, picking their prey as they pleased, knowing that no one could find them.
By the time the female responded, Seso had almost forgotten what he’d said. “I always thought Yunkins were arrogant, but they have nothing on you, Terran.”
Seso almost rolled his eyes.
“I am not worried about someone finding me after we escape. If we escape. Right now, we need to worry about getting clothes, because there is no way we will last outside in those temperatures naked.”
That’s right, they were sans-clothes, and she could see every inch of him. It hadn’t bothered him before, but now with his manhood burrowing inside his body for warmth, he reached down and covered his groin.
The female chuckled. “Those were curled up minutes after you landed.”