Unexpected Master: Chapter 1

Chapter One
Beware

Elder Irin and Elder Munker had no idea that they were about to die a rather gruesome death. The two doomed men were having a conversation in Elder Irin’s office in the west wing of the reproduction section at Pettemway Hospital when Elder Munker made the fatal error that would eventually cost both men their lives.

We don’t want another one like him walking around. Elder Munker projected the words to Elder Irin’s mind as he leaned back in the swivel chair in front of Elder Irin’s desk. Chollar has been nothing but trouble.

Usually, the Elders avoided even thinking the name Chollar out of fear of catching the fearsome telepath’s attention.

Even hundreds of miles away, Chollar was capable of hearing his name being mentioned. When and if that happened, he sometimes reached out mentally and linked his mind to those conversing telepathically about him.
If they were lucky, all Chollar did was listen in, eavesdrop a little.

Elder Irin’s and Elder Munker’s luck would run out soon, however. Neither male seemed to notice Munker’s careless blunder while their telepathic conversation continued.

Well, we haven’t had any other like him, so it would seem that our little solution is working, projected Elder Irin.

Yes, but not without unintended consequences, Munker added. I’ve double-checked the numbers. There has been a 40% reduction in the birthrate of Elders. If things continue at this rate, our community will be left in the hands of barely functional Cerebrals in less than two generations.

Elder Munker wasn’t aware of the moment when Chollar’s consciousness entered his mind and started sifting through his memories, curious to discover the nature of this solution the men spoke about. Munker didn’t find it all suspicious that his thoughts suddenly drifted back to the previous afternoon when he’d assisted Elder Irin in aborting several fetuses, all of which had been developing at alarming rates within their synthetic wombs.

Elder Munker felt a sudden wetness trickle out of his left nostril. He reached for a tissue just as Irin mentally informed him that his nose was bleeding. Munker dabbed at his upper lip with the tissue before holding it out and verifying for himself that his nose was indeed bleeding.
Neither male thought it too terribly odd. Noses did that sometimes.

Until a stream of red began to trickle from Irin’s nose, as well.

Munker’s eyes went wide. It’s him! He’s heard us!
Suddenly, bright-hot pain burst behind Munker’s eyes, and he fell to his hands and knees, clipping his chin on Irin’s desk in the process.

Irin tried to reach out with his mind to their colleagues just a few feet away in the hallway beyond his office door. However, he couldn’t project his thoughts. It was as if a wall had been thrown up around his mind. Intending to rush out into the hallway and get help, he pushed himself out of his chair. He was not able to take even one step. He wobbled for a moment before collapsing back into his seat. Then pain erupted in his head as if someone had inserted a hot knife into his brain.

Irin opened his mouth and screamed, hoping the sound would alert the Elders within earshot that something very dire was taking place within his office. Unfortunately, his scream was little more than a choked whimper given how long it’d been since he’d actually engaged his vocal cords.

Irin sat frozen in agony, his usually silent world now filled with Munker’s pathetic moaning and his own sobs.

Chapter Two
Mind Palace

Jandy was curled into a ball, stiff, taking shallow breaths.
Locked inside a lifepod so small she couldn’t extend her legs, the deep ache in her hips throbbed. However, she was unable to gain relief due to the lack of space. In addition to the pain, a slow churn of nausea made it difficult to think. The metal grates she lay on kept her cool but did little to ward off the illness.

Jandy had never been this sick before.

She was on a one-way trip to the male who’d bought her. A life of slavery would have been terrifying if she were healthy. But there was no reason to believe she would live long with the poisoned blood in her stomach.

For no reason at all, she flashed on a memory of Jaccy, the male who’d poisoned her. He had been angry that Fynbar had scared off the other buyers so he could pay half the price. In a fit of revenge, Jaccy had cut his hand and fed Jandy his blood.

Then, the bastard had locked her in the miniature traveling pod.

Turning her mind from the memory, Jandy concentrated on the grates and the pod’s simplistic design.

Another memory flashed in her thoughts, this one of her helping Sasha escape the planet.

Jandy hoped that Sasha was okay. Sasha was her best friend. Actually, she was Jandy’s only friend, and she missed the stubborn Terran desperately. Being inside the lifepod, it was impossible to tell time. Needing to see her friend’s face, Jandy slipped out of her conscious mind and her physical body and into her second consciousness. Her mind palace.

As she withdrew, pain lingered in her joints, but the nausea disappeared.

Jandy floated inside her palace where a front door would be. As her body solidified, she grounded herself in the dream living room.

The walls were grey, and a large photo hung on the wall: a picture of the ship Sasha had escaped on.

Immediately to her left was a light grey couch with yellow accent pillows. In front of that was a black wood coffee table with a crystal vase and flowers.

Hanging down from the vaulted ceiling were long, metal poles with thousands of little teardrop lights.

The lights were varied sizes and emitted different shades of illumination.

Leaving the living room, Jandy took the stairs to the second floor. There, she entered a large open-plan bedroom. There was no wall on the far side of the space, it remained open to offer a view into the living room.

The bed was large enough to fit three. The blankets were black, the pillows a dark grey.

Hanging out in the corner, giving off a gentle, yellow glow, were the aura lights of the three people she valued most in life: her mother, her best friend Sasha, and Sasha’s mother.
She really needed to see her friend. With luck, Sasha would be asleep.

Reaching up, Jandy touched the light. Using their connection, Jandy’s body faded to vapor and slipped into the tube. On the other side, Jandy emerged in Sasha’s dreams.

Sasha was inside a small rectangular room with dark grates on the floor and a metal bed. Bars in the middle of the room separated her from the other side as if Sasha were locked in a cell.

“Why are there bars in your room? Are you in trouble?” Jandy asked.

Sasha turned and jumped off the bed. “Jandy? How did you get in here?”

Jandy knew Sasha wasn’t talking about being inside her dream, but she answered honestly nonetheless. “I missed you.”

Sasha’s expression fell. “Are you mad at me for leaving?”
“No, but I’m worried that you’re in trouble and have been thrown in a cell.”

Sasha looked back at the bars. “I’m not in trouble. These bars are to keep Sci from hurting the team.”

Sci…? Who was that? “Is he dangerous?”

Sasha sat back down and faced the bars again. “Not anymore. The doctor on board took away his abnormal abilities so he wouldn’t hurt anyone. But he shouldn’t have done that. Sci’s really nice, and he doesn’t deserve to be in a cell.”

In the corner of the room, Jandy felt something move but she didn’t see it. Whatever it was, it felt real. Like a nightmare waiting for Sasha’s weakest moment.

“Are you mad that I left?” Sasha asked again.

Jandy looked down and shook her head. “I’m not mad. I just miss you.” A part of Jandy wanted to sit down and spend as much time as she could with Sasha, but the shadow in the corner was giving off a very strong I’m-watching-you vibe.

“I hope my mom isn’t mad at me. Did she get in trouble?” Sasha asked, still focused on the other side of the room.

Jandy lied. “Nope, your mom isn’t mad either. She thinks you’re going to be the best pilot in the Federation.”

Sasha looked at her hands. “I don’t know if they will keep me. The captain said it depends on how well I fly.”

Jandy snorted. “Well then, I know you’ll get the job. You are the best pilot I know. Not that I like flying, but you’re still the best.”

Sasha’s lips curled up. “When I come back, I’m going to make you fly with me again.”

Jandy didn’t answer at first. “I don’t think you should come back. Ever. It won’t be safe for you.”

Sasha’s eyes cut to Jandy. “I’m coming back.”

“Don’t.”

Standing, Sasha was a few inches taller. In her dreams, she thought she was a lot taller. “I said, I’m coming back.”

Before Jandy could respond, the shadow in the corner shot out through the bars and directly at her. It felt like two hands pushed her back. But they didn’t knock her down, the shadow thrust her out of Sasha’s dreams.

Inside her mind palace, Jandy was lying on her back, spread out and stunned.

What the hell just happened? Did she just get kicked out of Sasha’s mind?

That had never happened before.

Jandy rolled to her side and pushed off the ground. Confused at what had happened, she walked down the stairs, replaying the scene from Sasha’s mind in her head.

“How do you have a house inside your mind? What is this place?”

Jandy jerked to the side, shocked to see a strikingly handsome male sitting on her couch. With grey skin, faded black clothes, and dark hair, she wondered if the male might have been an unconscious addition to her mind palace.

“Who are you?” At the same time, she wondered if her subconscious was trying to tell her something important. A manifestation of her inner health.

“My name is Chollar, the Examiner.” He lifted his chin, and she felt the devastation of his yellow eyes. If he was a subconscious apparition, she didn’t need to hear his message, she could tell by his predatory manner that she was in danger.

Cold and calculating eyes narrowed in her direction.
Cautiously, she asked, “What are you doing in here?”

Chollar, her apparition, lifted both arms and rested them on the back of the couch. “I would tell you, but you’ve yet to explain where here is.”

“This is my home. My Silk Demon mind palace.”

He tilted his head. “Interesting title for what resembles a dream-like fantasy.”

“How did you get in here?” This time, she spoke firmly.
“I followed you.”

He’d followed her…to her mind palace? Not possible.

“You couldn’t have followed me.” Hearing herself say that, she had a sinking feeling that maybe this was what happened when Silk Demons were dying. Maybe her body was trying to subconsciously tell her that her time was almost up.

“I’m not a hallucination. I’m a Cerebral.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Cerebrals are a race of telepathic and telekinetic people. We live in communities with fluid harmony, every person assigned a lifelong responsibility. I am an Examiner. Meaning, I find the reasons behind things happening.”

Jandy took an extra few moments to process what he said. It was so foreign to her, it was hard to believe.

His head tilted slightly to the side, his tone saturated with contempt. “It’s really not that hard to understand, Jandy. I’m an Outworlder. You know what that means. So, process that, and let’s move on.”

Stepping back, she thought about all the reasons an Outworlder would be in her mind palace. In those few seconds, she couldn’t think of anything, and that worried her.

“What do you want?”

The stranger dropped his arms and leaned forward. “First, I want to know what these are,” he said, pointing to the teardrop lightbulbs.

“Are you talking about the shape or the different shades of illumination?”

Chollar stood and flicked one of the smaller lights, it swung hard towards a larger one. Jandy jumped to keep the delicate object from breaking.

The smaller light was connected to her previous employer, a very fragile woman who was old and dying.

“Don’t touch. Please,” she said as she grabbed the small bulb and settled it. Then she touched the larger one with the tips of her fingers to steal a few hours of sleep. The bigger light was connected to a Roth Demon in his prime.
Pointing a finger at her, Chollar commanded, “Explain what you just did.”

Explain? Didn’t she already explain when she’d confessed to being a Silk Demon? “How about this, I’ll explain what I did, and you tell me how you followed me.”

Chollar folded his arms over his chest. He was taller than she was but lacked the muscles she normally liked. His shirt looked like a long strip of fabric that had been sewn in asymmetrical angles. Now that she took a better look, he wasn’t that attractive.

“I already told you how I followed you. I’m a telepath.”

“You’re saying words, but they don’t mean anything. Explain better.”

His upper lip curled for a moment before he said, “I am a Master Elder. That means I have unlimited access to your mind, your memories, and even your body if I want. How I followed you will never make sense to you because you lack my ability.”

Had she really thought he was attractive before?

Because he was…not. Not only was he unattractive, he was also rude. Jandy put up with people like him in the real world. She wasn’t going to cower to one in her mind.

Chollar’s jaw flexed as if he too were upset.

His voice sounded controlled but still irritated. “I’m a telepath. I was searching your memories when you left your thoughts and came here. I followed the neural pathway.”

The creepy stalker was riffling through her memories and then followed her to her mind palace? And everyone thought Silk Demons were intrusive.

“Your turn. Explain what these lights are and how you use them. I know they are special, and you can pull energy from them, but I don’t know how.”

“These are my hosts,” Jandy said, tapping the large bulb again. This time, she didn’t take any sleep.

Chollar remained silent, and she could tell that he was waiting for her to continue. For some reason, his frustration made him look almost cute.

“I’m a Silk Demon. Or at least my father was. My mother is a Terran. Silk Demons can’t sleep. We don’t have the…whatever everyone else has that shuts our minds down. So, we steal sleep from our hosts.”

Chollar observed the bulbs with shrewd intensity. It was like he was trying to figure out how it all worked without having to ask another question.

While he scrutinized the length of the cables that descended past the second floor’s landing, Jandy took another look at her intruder.

Of all the fantasies she’d ever had…all the dreams she dreamed, this male was physically enchanting. Strongly cut jaw, high cheekbones, wide mouth, and unruly hair that looked desperate for a haircut.

He was breathtaking in an annoying, ugly-personality kind of way.

Chollar’s dark yellow eyes cut to her. “Your thorns, the ones in your fingertips, they give you the ability to connect with your hosts, correct? Regardless of distance?”

“How do you know about the thorns?”

Chollar raised a hand and, instantly, a series of her memories filtered in.

Remembrances of her hiding in corners and closets at night so the men her mother served couldn’t find her.

More memories of crying because she was tired but couldn’t sleep for fear that someone would find her unconscious body and do unspeakable things to it.

“Stop it. You’ve made your point. You can sift through my memories, which is how you found out about the thorns,” Jandy said, feeling embarrassment at the fact that Chollar knew more than anyone else in her life. More than even her best friend, Sasha.

Chollar flicked his fingers, and the memories stopped. “Like I said, I’m a Master Elder. I can control everything.”

Jandy opened her mouth to answer him when she realized that she didn’t know the answer to his question. Not really. Which was why Chollar couldn’t find the answer himself.
If she didn’t know the answer, and he knew that…what was he getting at?

Playing along, she said, “I have microscopic thorns in my fingertips. When I touch someone who I want to use as a host, I inject them by touching any part of their skin. Once the thorn is in their bloodstream, it enters the brain. Once it’s in place there, I see the addition in this form.” She pointed at the lights.

Chollar nodded once as if he was accepting her words. But he wore a look of…superiority. She didn’t like that.

“Once someone is infected, you control the connection,” he said. “You can invade their dreams and force them to lose consciousness, correct?”

“Yes.” But she never abused her hosts. Most didn’t even know they shared their sleep with her. She only took what she needed, and even then, she didn’t take from the same host each time.

“Good to know.”

Good to know?

Jandy didn’t like the uneasy feeling that swamped her. Does he think he’s going to use me to control someone else? Because that isn’t happening.

“That’s exactly what I plan on doing, Jandy.”

Oh, was it?

Jandy lifted her chin and pointed to her left, mentally installing a door. “It’s time you leave. You weren’t welcome to begin with, and now I’m uninviting you and banning you from ever coming back.”

Chollar snorted.

“I’m very serious right now.”

“I know you are, but that doesn’t change the situation. I’m still your master.”

Her master? No. Not ever.

Slicing her hand through the air, Jandy’s furniture broke into splinters. Chollar jumped up, holding out both hands. Memories assaulted her vision.

She saw them but didn’t let them distract her. Jandy no longer cared that Chollar knew what she had survived.
“I don’t want to fight you. You need to stop. You have no idea what I can do to you.”

This wasn’t going to be a fight. This was going to be a smackdown. He thought he could control her from inside her own mind? Not happening.

Reaching out, she grabbed hold of Chollar’s essence and pulled at his sleep, at his energy. It was like drinking scalding-hot water. It burned all the way down. Refusing to let the pain stop her, she drew in as much as she could handle.

“What are you doing? How are you doing that? Stop. STOP,” Chollar bellowed.

She didn’t stop. She drew in more.

“Stop, or we’ll both die.” His voice broke on the last word.

Chapter Three
Not My Master

Jandy stopped stealing his energy, but she didn’t let go of his essence. Chollar’s dream form was breathing heavily. His shoulders sagged as he held a hand to his forehead.
And he thought he was her master?

Pfft. “The next time you invade a Silk Demon’s mind palace, remember this, we don’t like being told what to do.”

Chollar didn’t respond for a moment. His grey skin seemed even paler.

 

Available March 4, 2020 here on Amazon.

Untamed Roommate: Ch 1

Chapter 1

“Is that him?” Gini asked quietly as the massive beast of a male stalked out of her boss’s office.

Her supervisor, who had escorted her to the waiting room, nodded solemnly.

“And you want me to work with him by myself on Occa Lake?” Gini asked, knowing that Occa was a small body of water on top of a mountain ridge about six hours away. Secluded and without modern technology. Not a place to get stuck with a male like that.

Gini winced as the yellow-skinned Krant stalked down the hall as if he were a shark. Two people had stopped and pushed themselves back against the wall. One male saw him and turned all the way around, taking the first hall to get out of the way.

“Well, I’m not a genius or anything,” Gini started, “but he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who works well with others.”

The director stepped out of his office. “You’re Andy?”
“Gini,” she corrected as she stood up.

The director’s dark blue eyes peered down her body. “You’re the swimmer, right?”

That was one way to summarize her race, sure. But still…rude. “Yes.”

He nodded his head, which was a feat considering his short, thick neck. “Good, good. I need you to fly out to Occa Lake. The quantum network connection is gone. Destroyed over a year ago. Deo, your partner, will identify where the cables are bad, drill the lines, and lay the cable. You will uplink the network and notify me the moment it’s up.”

Sounded very routine. It made no sense that it would take a specialized team to fix it. The foreman also didn’t explain why he needed her swimming abilities in this situation.

“And if the lines are not up and complete, our contract terminates, and we will have a massive fine to pay to the Federation—which means lots of people will lose their jobs.”

Gini lifted her eyebrows as if she were interested in the fate of the company. She wasn’t, but it was impolite to say that. “I understand. You need…” She tilted her head towards the hall because they both knew who she was referring to. “To dig the trenches and lay the lines. You need me to check the hub and get the station working.”

The boss’s face crinkled as he smiled. “That’s exactly what I need you to do.”

Again, what did being a swimmer have to do with this? Why her? There were plenty of electrical engineers who knew how to secure a station.

“Great. Is there anything else I should know?”

The boss looked down at Gini’s supervisor. The way their eyebrows moved, Gini felt as if they were having a conversation.

Interestingly, the boss’s lips pulled back in a tight smile. “No, I don’t think there is anything I could say that would help.”

Great.

The jerk was going to let her walk into this job with no preparation.

“Is there a reason you picked me to go?”

“Your…reputation with working with difficult people is why I chose you.”

She had a reputation for working well with difficult people?
That was what she was known for? Wow. That hurt.
She expected at least a: you’re a hard worker, and no matter what, you get things done. Because that was true, too, but apparently, being a hard worker wasn’t a good enough quality.

Internally rolling her eyes, she grabbed her pack from the other chair and swung it over her shoulder.

“Oh, and Andy?”

Good Seth of Stars, he couldn’t even remember her name. “It’s Gini.”

“Right,” he said dismissively. “The thing to remember is, you have exactly one week to complete this job.”

Wait…

One week? It would take two weeks with a team of five people. How the hell did this bastard think she was going to complete it in seven days?

Pick up your copy here

Unexpected Enemy: Ch 1

Chapter One – Unnatural Gifts

“Damn it. I’m going to need another project.”

Lita stood over her nearly complete all-terrain hopper. In two hours, it would purr to life, perfectly polished without anywhere to go. In total, it had taken six months working after hours to build the flying race vehicle from scratch. Hoppers were like motorcycles without the wheels. They could move over the ground at high speeds, but hers was designed to fly anywhere from eight inches off the ground to the far reaches of space.

It should have taken a year to finish…

She was going to need another project.

Being nearly finished didn’t make her blood gush with accomplishment, however. Instead, it felt as if she had eaten the last piece of a secret stash of candy.

Living on a giant Federation spaceship, there wasn’t any entertainment to keep her occupied. Hence the after-hours project. Now that it was done, she had nothing. Worse, it wasn’t like she could go to a local junkyard and cherry-pick an engine to bring back to life.

Being a female born and raised on Earth, she was used to more options.

Lita dropped her tan leather tool bag with a plop. The dark patch that was precariously dangling with one last yellow thread broke and slipped onto the metal floor. Lita bent down and picked up the patch and rubbed a thumb over her father’s name.

Moving, she tucked the patch into a side pocket. The bag was soft and worn with black smudges on the bottom. The strong leather scent was gone, but the comfort it gave lingered.

She plucked out a Nebula green and a wrench. Adjusting her sitting position, she settled next to the back of the hopper’s engine. She remembered the first time she had taken a wrench to a rusted first-series hopper that her father bought at an estate sale. She had been ten, and her father, knowing nothing about raising a child on his own, had brought her into his shop and taught her everything about rebuilding engines, power and torque, boosting performance, body paint, and fabrication.

Lita had brought the frame and parts for the hopper when she moved from Earth to the Garna star carrier, knowing she would need something to occupy her time. Garna was a massive spaceship, miles wide and long. Built to take on a rogue planet or stop a planet-sized war. It was by far the most dangerous ship in the Federation. Which was why Lita had joined the Federation. The best ship had to have the best mechanics, right? Well, she was it. The best.

In the months of living on the ship, she had found a perfect routine. After a fourteen-hour shift, she grabbed a few packets of food, a Nebula green, and moseyed back down to Level 4—the docking bay—to work on her hopper.

Lita reached back into her bag again and scooped up a handful of bolts, stuffing them into her pocket for easy access. Gripping her wrench, she felt the tip of her spine tingle expectantly. Turning, she saw Katie, a fellow mechanic, walking up between two small ships.

Katie had survived a massive, ship-wide disease. She was a little odd and seemed to get lost in her head more often than not, but Lita assumed that was not by choice. It was likely a mental scar of living through the death of her entire crew. Out of six thousand and change, only thirty-six survived. Katie, being one of them.

“Hey.” Katie smiled. “I brought you a Nebula green, but it looks like you already have one.”

Lita took the offered can with a grin. “I don’t turn down Nebulas.”

Katie raked a cursory look over the hopper. “Your hopper’s coming along fast.”

Lita nodded. “I should have paced myself better. In two hours, I’ll be done, and looking for something to do.”

“There’s always work to be done on the ship.”

“Eh, but that stuff’s easy.” And boring.

Katie rubbed the side of her thigh and shifted from foot to foot. “Well, if you get bored…Sands tasked me with fixing 533. He said it has a leak.”

Lita nodded, remembering the spot, a dark blue liquid under 533’s tail-end.

“It will probably take me a month to find the leak…unless you already know where it is?”

Lita grinned. “You’re askin’ for my help, and all you brought was a Nebula? I thought we were better friends than that.”

“You said you were going to be bored. I was just saying, you could help if you wanted.”

“Pass.”

With a sheepish smile, Katie pulled a small box out of her pocket and opened the top, holding it far enough away that Lita couldn’t touch it without reaching. “How about a trade? Tell me where the leak is, and I’ll give you this.”

The box was blue velvet, and Lita assumed the trinket inside was a ring or a necklace charm. “I’m not into trinkets.”

Katie held the box closer. “It’s a micro EMP with the electrical power punch of a nuclear bomb but cuts out at three feet. Super condensed.”

Holy crap. What was sweet Katie doing with an EMP like that? If anyone knew she had one, her butt would be in front of the captain in a hot minute.

At the same time, Lita shivered from the rush of tingles that tickled under her skin. Even though she didn’t know what she would use it for, her fingers itched to press the button.

“You sure it’s condensed to three feet? If I take out a ship by accident, I’m going to be pissed.” And sent to Debsa, the prison planet.

“Trust me, I got it a while back when I had a bad breakup with a cyborg. My sister, Adya, is close with our family doctor. She asked him to make something that I could use as protection.” Katie handed over the box.

Lita took the deadly treasure with both hands. Hello, beautiful. Tucking the EMP into her pocket, she told Katie, “533 has a hyper fluid leak. It’s not a seal, it’s a bolt that got loose and savaged the insides.”

Katie made a disbelieving face but didn’t contradict her. Lita explained in detail where the leak was and how to get to it. “That’s going to be a bigger job than a leak.”

“What else do you have to do?”

“True,” Katie said thoughtfully. “I don’t know how you do it. It’s like you have a telepathic link with the ships.”

“I wish,” Lita said with a sly grin. Although she was damn near omniscient when it came to anything with moving parts.

Getting back to her hopper, Lita leaned back until her spine almost touched the floor, then reached her fingertips out to catch the metal piece to be installed. Gripping the edges, she craned her neck to get a better view of a dark figure walking directly towards her.

“Sands,” Lita whispered as she used her stomach muscles to pull herself back up.

Sands didn’t interact with the crew. He usually sent their job assignments via their Minky pads and left it at that. A few times, she’d caught him working on another ship, but even then, he didn’t make a habit of talking to anyone. Not that he needed to. He did an excellent job of communicating electronically. Still, Lita couldn’t deny that every time she saw him—and his cybernetic arm—she gushed.

His arm was one-of-a-kind, and her fingertips itched to touch the rough and smooth cables. Whoever had done his work was an artful master because she had never seen anything sexier.

Katie sucked in a breath through her teeth. “He’s not happy.” The words were not an assumption, they were fact. Katie was a Hetten, a race that could read emotions.

“Bye. Thank you,” Katie said as she turned on her heel and left like a terrified pet.

Lita debated if she should stand up or stay on the floor. Deciding to stay down, she took a few breaths to remind herself that she had done nothing wrong. Yet. The EMP would go off one day. She didn’t have enough self-control not to push the button. But Sands didn’t know that.

Sands stopped at the front of the hopper, giving it a long glance. Lita’s nose caught a hint of something uniquely Sands. Warm beach, salty air, and sexy surf wax.

Restless from her physical reaction and the seconds of silence, she greeted him. “Hey, everything okay?”

His dark eyes moved from the vehicle to her. There was no expression on his face, just shrewd observance. “This hopper’s all-terrain, right? Does that include high altitudes?”

“Yes,” she answered slowly, wondering why he was asking.

“Space, too? You installed a teardrop canopy, right?”

“Yeah.” Lita did not like where this was going.

“Good. I need to borrow it.”

“It’s not done,” she said reflexively.

“You have a few body parts to put on, and it’s done. I estimate it will take you two hours.”

Lita didn’t give him the confirmation, but he was right. Two hours, and she would have finished.

“Does your silence mean yes?”

Not even close. “I don’t mean to question you, but what do you need it for?”

“A mission.”

She waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t, so she asked, “You need my hopper for a mission? A hopper that goes into space? Won’t any of our other ships work?”

His face tilted. “If anything happens to it, I’ll pay you for it. Plus interest.”

“It’s one-of-a-kind.” He couldn’t just pay her a few thousand keleps and say, “sorry,” if he broke it.

A hiss followed by a loud snap echoed in the docking bay. Sands turned around for a second, and Lita followed his gaze. Like any mechanic worth their salt, she knew the sound of an engine starting. The guttural hum told her that it was a galleon ship, not one of the smaller ones like a transporter or sloop.

“Looks like they’re loading up. I need you and your hopper to come with me. You can finish this on the 817 galleon.” He reached down and gathered the remaining hopper parts.

Wait.

What?

He was taking her on an official mission? “Where are we going?”

He picked up a piece of the hopper and said, “You won’t have time to pack, but you have time to clean out the break room’s supply of Nebula green energy drinks. As far as I know, there isn’t any stocked on the ship.”

Lita’s mouth dropped. He knew her favorite drink?

“Close your mouth and get moving. I’ll come back for the hopper after I drop this off.”

This was really happening? She was going on a mission? Feelings bubbled, and she wasn’t sure if it was excited squiggles or nervous needles in her stomach.

“Lita. The break room. Now.”

Right. The Nebula greens. Half-turned, she paused and asked, “Where are we going? Just wondering if I need to grab anything else from the break room like…a handful of knives.”

Sands grabbed another part from the floor. “Your bolt gun and welding knife will do more damage than a disposable utensil. We’re going to the Outworlds.”

The Outworlds…where nightmares lived and thrived. It was forbidden.

A smile tickled her lips. If they were crossing the lines, this was a bigger mission than he was letting on. “I can do some damage with a disposable knife. You sure you don’t want me to grab some?”

Sands did not look like he appreciated her joke. The cyborg stood there, arms full of metal parts, holding her gaze, his jaw set.

Trying to look properly chastised, she said, “I’m going to the break room.”

“You do that.”

 

Chapter Two – I’ll Show You Mine

Sands was waiting for her near the hopper. Her baby was locked down with magnetic tip-toe tethers.

Lita leaned over and picked up her tool bag and then blew out a breath. “I’m ready.”

Sands scanned her from her feet up and said, “We’ll see.”

She suppressed an eye roll, and Sands unlocked the dolly and pulled it towards the idling ship. The heavy, textured, grey ramp was down. The angle was steep, and Sands pulled the dolly up as easily as if it were a hover dolly instead of one with wheels. It smoothly glided up and into the receiving bay that transitioned into the cargo bay.

Lita wasn’t one to stare because she’d worked alongside males before, but Sands had a presence. Not a bulking maelstrom of testosterone with a cleft chin and hydraulic grease on his cheek, but a quiet, unstoppable ocean current that refused to explain where he went or why.

A male like that hadn’t been born that way. He became that way. And she wondered if she’d ever hear that story.

Maybe in the confines of the mission, he might do more than ask questions or send her work orders. Perhaps…they could have a real conversation.

One could only hope.

Inside 817, she saw the well-organized straps and packs for emergencies. But there was a wall, ten feet directly in front of the ramp, that shouldn’t be there.

“You modified the receiving area.”

“You asking or telling me?” he said, not stopping as he moved forward.

Both. “Why would you build a wall?”

“Because I needed it.”

At that, she rolled her eyes even though he couldn’t see her.

At the far back of the cargo bay, he stopped and locked the wheels of the dolly and then leaned on the tongue, resting his flesh and blood arm on the top handle part. His shirt was black with a Federation logo, but the sleeves were missing. The small frays she saw meant that he’d likely cut or ripped them, and she liked him even more for the bold, rebellious display.

“I assume you have everything you need to complete the hopper, right?” His chin shot out, pointing to her tool bag.

“Yep. And when I finish, I will make sure it’s good. There’s enough room to run the engine.”

Sands scanned the bay and said, “Yeah, it shouldn’t be an issue, considering you put in a belirium core instead of alloric.”

Why was he acting like he knew everything about her personal project?

And why was he insulting her engine core? “Belirium’s better,” she said, looking at the engine and picturing all the hard banks and dives it would be able to do. A mechanical masterpiece.

“Alloric has more power.”

“It does,” she said, agreeing with him as she ran her fingertips over the polished metal. A condescending smirk flashed on her lips before she remembered that she needed to be polite to her boss. “But I built her to have three hundred sixty-degree torque on a dip. Better torque, better agility. Can’t get that kind of responsiveness with an alloric booster.”

Sands stepped next to her, and she saw him nod before adding, “You would’ve had the same control if you’d installed hydraulics in the handles.”

There were hydraulics in the handles. But he was talking about negative-z drive hydraulics. “Yeah z-hydraulics would work for a while, but the pressures would change in higher altitudes, and the hopper would stall.”

“The odds would be minimal if you did it right.”

If she did it right? Did he want to get slapped with her wrench? “Two point five percent chance of a stall, even when I do it right. I’ve built enough hoppers to see it happen.” Lita crossed her arms and waited for Sands’ undoubtedly stupid reply.

Sands held her eyes for a moment too long before saying, “I’ve never built one before. But I’ve been a crank since I was twelve.”

“I’ve been cranking since I was ten.”

“Those two years don’t give you more time as a crank. I’m older.”

Lita had never had this long of a conversation with Sands before, and now, she understood why the male didn’t converse often. He was a condescending prick.

Lita grabbed a piece of the body from the floor, lifted it up, not aligning it to the hopper yet. “I have a young face. I’m older than I look.”

The corners of his lips pulled back in a slow, sexy grin. The way his face lifted, and his eyes brightened, it made her want to blush. Damn him. The boss was hot.

“I checked your file. You’re not older,” he said.

Did he? Was he looking at her age or for something else? “You looked into my file to see how old I am?”

“I noticed your age, but I looked at your work history.”

When he didn’t add anything else, she chuckled. He was impressed. As he should be.

“I looked up your work history, too.” She didn’t think to check his physical section where it listed his age, race, or other things she thought were irrelevant to a person. She wanted to see his experience, to find out how good of a crank he was.

The grin faded to a moderate smile, but his tone was lighter than when he was talking trash about her engine. “You shouldn’t have been able to access those kinds of details.”

She shrugged, thinking about his entry exam. He’d maxed out the test, like she had. But his history said he was a cargo ship crank. That was all. “I noticed you have a lack of experience in planet-side jobs.”

Sands’ lips pressed together for a moment. She didn’t see anger, but withheld amusement.

Her tool bag sang out with a favorite song from Earth, bringing attention to her non-Federation communication device tucked securely in her possession. She called her device Burns because the artificial intelligence—AI—running inside needed a good name.

Sands peered at her bag. “What’s in there?”

Lita didn’t answer as Burns stopped and then started to sing again.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume you were hiding something,” he said with an underlay of warning mixed with relaxed curiosity.

Taking the opportunity, she pointed at her tool bag and said, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours, pretty boy.”

His head came forward. “What did you call me?”

Oops. “Are you going to worry about that? Or do you want to know what’s in my goody bag?”

His eyes narrowed as if he suddenly realized something about her. “You go first.”

She laughed. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m your boss.”

“Yes, you are. But if you want to see my little treasures, then you are going to have to show me what you’re working with.” She zeroed in on his metal arm with her gaze, marveling at the unpolished shades of grey and dark grey.

Sands pursed his lips and then held his cybernetic arm in front of his body. “Crescent wrench,” he said as his metal hand turned unnaturally back inside his arm, and a crescent wrench flipped out. His arm didn’t have a solid casing. Instead, it was cables and rods shaped like an arm, but in a functional and artistic way. She loved it. Needed to touch it.

That part of her that lived and breathed mechanical things woke up and took notice of Sands’ closeness. Lita watched the cogs move, and her inner need came alive. Her blood started to buzz, and she felt a flutter low in her belly. Early on in life, she’d felt like she had two souls. The Terran one and then the other. The other side had an uncontrollable need to possess everything mechanical. If it had moving parts, her dark side wanted to touch it and take it apart.

Sands continued, “Flathead screwdriver, and a ten millimeter. Pretty much…I can rebuild a battleship with these.”

Despite her coiled intensity, she laughed. Stopping shortly after realizing there was more inside that arm. She could do the math. Those four things didn’t take up that much room.

Sneaky male was holding out on her. Which was exactly what she planned to do to him.

Setting the bag down, she took a knee and opened the top. Reaching in, she pulled out Burns and stopped the song by declining the call as she held the black metal ball up with her fingertips. “I call him Burns. He’s like a walkie-talkie in that he can talk to his identical twin back on Earth. This is how my sister and I call each other.”

“Why not use the Minky pad for a quantum face-to-face call?”

Because every call and message was logged by the Federation. There was no such thing as privacy when you signed up for ten years of service. Telling him that wouldn’t go over well, so she said, “I don’t like having to hold or tip up a Minky pad to talk to my sister. This hovers around me while I work.” Lita took out her necklace from under her black t-shirt. “It has a GPS chip in it, with endless range. It’s more functional.”

He nodded then used his chin to point at the bag. “What else did you smuggle in?”

Lita didn’t bother hiding her smile. Reaching in, she said, “Reikett-powered welding knife, multi-purpose crescent wrench, socket mapper, powder adhesive, 3D molder, and a power jack.”

Sands rubbed his bottom lip. “Those aren’t tools to rebuild, those are tools to fix carnage.”

“You could say that.”

 

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Ungrateful Roommate: Ch 1

Chapter One

Ryya was on the plush couch inside her apartment living room watching a video on home improvements. This episode demonstrated how to a covered patio with adjustable walls and a swing bed.

She wanted one.

The house was brand new two years ago when she bought it, but it had absolutely no personality. So, she spent all her free time upgrading and decorating.

Her eyes were heavy, but she needed to finish the episode to figure out the material costs, the directions and possible challenges if she was going to start on it tomorrow.

Putting in a patio by herself wasn’t going to be easy, and she needed to know exactly how to get it done. 
The show paused as her screen chimed, alerting her to an incoming video call from her mother, Meradi.

Rolling on to her back she covered her eyes and groaned, “Accept call.” Her video transitioned to her mother’s face glaring at her with narrowed eyes. “Why are you still up? Don’t you have work in the morning?”

Rubbing her eyes, she sat forward. “Why would you call if you thought I would be asleep? Which I was. Asleep, I mean. Until you woke me up with your call,” she lied.

“You didn’t look like you were sleeping.”

“I’m learning to sleep with my eyes open, Ma.”

Meradi rolled her eyes. “Anyway, your sister called. She said she needed money to cover a new yearly fee. I need to keep things even between you two so I’m sending you a thousand keleps too.”

Ryya’s skin tightened with frustration. Her sister was a liar. Earlier in the day Wrey called with the same sob story. And yet, knowing it was a lie, Ryya still gave her the money. She knew the kind of life her sister lived. Plus the female couldn’t budget to save her life. 
And her piece of crap husband wasn’t any better.

It rubbed her raw to know right after Ryya transferred a thousand keleps to Wrey, her sister went to their mom looking for more. 
Rubbing her mouth, she shook her head. “Don’t you dare send me anything. I have money. I work, and I don’t need you to dip into your savings.”
Her mother lived on the interest of an eight figure savings account. Ryya’s father had saved so he and her mother could travel when he retired. Too bad he didn’t survive the on-the-job accident.
“Ryya… are you sure? I have the money.”

Her mother lived so far away all she could do to show her love by sending money. It both pleased and upset Meradi that Ryya supported herself.

“Ma, I have the money.”

Meradi frowned. “Okay.”

Internally she rolled her eyes at her mother. It was the same argument every time. “And even if I didn’t have plenty of money, Ma, I’m interviewing for a roommate tomorrow, so I will have more than enough.”

“Who are you interviewing?”

Closing her eyes, Ryya honestly couldn’t remember the name. “I don’t know. I forget. I’ve met with two others, but they didn’t like the room. Or maybe they didn’t like me.”

“How can you say that? You are beautiful. Your house has all those new things. What time are they coming over?”

Trap. Big trap.

Her mother would take a Nack Krawler and come for the interview.

Not good.

“I forget. I’ll check my calendar in the morning.” Yawning Ryya added, “Okay, Ma, I’m serious. I need to go to bed.”
“Okay, baby. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Night.”
 The call terminated and Ryya walked around the couch toward the central hall that intersected the kitchen, living room and back bedrooms. The carpet was brand new with a soft spongy texture that her toes gripped as she walked. It was like walking on squishy clouds.

Ryya absolutely loved it. And soon, she’d love her new patio too.

 

Read all about Ryya’s interview, and the crazy arrogant Demon who shows up. It’s a 90-minute Sci-fi romance – perfect for the woman on the go.

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Unstoppable Roommate: Ch 1

Chapter One

Mali was in bed, reclined on three pillows, watching a movie that was on her to-watch list for two years. On her nightstand was an empty six-pack of Niffy drinks and the floor was littered with brown bags of left over greasy and fried diner food that she had yet to pick up.

There was a double knock on her bedroom door before her roommate, Cabute pushed it open and gazed at the littered floor. He had dark grey skin with dark black hair, dark black eyes and a pair of tusks at the bottom of his mouth that stretched past his upper lip. Classic Angny.

“Hey,” Mali said not bothering to apologize for the mess.

“It’s been a week.”

“And?” she said back wondering if he would tell her to suck it up.

His head tilted to the side. Cabute was a massive six-foot-seven beast of a man who fought at The Pit. He beat up other males for money and yet, in their apartment, he was the quiet one who seemed to be a mountain of calm-assertion. The kind of guy who only asks once.

“You going to come out of your room anytime soon? I know you’re not bawling your eyes out, the walls are paper thin and I would have heard you.”

He was a thousand percent correct; she hadn’t been bawling her eyes out. And she never would. Her ex-job was not worth her tears. She didn’t love-love it, and two…they were stupid for letting her go.

With the remote in hand she waved it over her mess and declared, “As you can see, I’m not morning my being fired. I’m literally throwing a weeklong celebration.” Pointing at the far container near her trash can she said, “See that Charlie’s BB-Q bag? I haven’t eaten there in over two years. Two years.

Cabute lifted an eyebrow, as if to say, and your point is?

“Doubtful you’d know this, but Jama Marketing liked their executive females to look a certain way.”

“So stuffing your face is your way of celebrating?”

“Are you really asking me that?”

“Yes,” he said without sarcasm.

Was it cute that he didn’t understand? Yes, she decided, it was cute.

How did she get so lucky to room with Cabute? Oh yeah, by begging him to take her in with the last apartment manager had proposed sleeping with him to cover her rent.

Back then she didn’t have time to find a new one before she had to travel to another planet in the Federation to talk with a client about letting Jama Marketing to do their work for them. She was good at the numbers, the strategy, and the images.

What she failed at was being a poised, soft spoken-dominate personality with a small waist. They wanted the type of marketing assistant that would sit at the table, let the main group talk themselves into circles then come in, clear the air and tell them what they would do, and why it would make all the difference.

So again, she didn’t love the job, but she was good at marketing. So her food fest was… “Celebrating may be a little exaggerated, but yeah, I’m indulging in everything I wasn’t allowed to eat for the past two years.”

Cabute was silent for a moment before asking again, “Okay, but are you going to come out of your room anytime soon?”

“To do what?” she asked not sure if he was asking because he needed her to do something.

He shrugged his massive shoulders as if to say, you’re going to have to come out and see.

Mali powered off her Minky screen and threw off her covers exposing her bare legs and a t-shirt dress she doubled as a sleeping gown because it was soft and comfy. Cabute’s eyes zeroed in on her legs and she watched the hunger in his eye come and go.

His jaw set hard before turning away leaving the door open because he knew she would follow. Or maybe he hoped.

Either way, she got off the bed and checked her purple curly hair in the mirror. It was too wild. She pulled it back into a messy bun and then double checked that her sleeping dress was tight enough to hug her hips, and to dab on a touch of lip gloss.

Her purple eyes were sparkling which meant she was happy. They usually sparked when she was home.

Cabute was in the kitchen, Minky on the counter and he was scrolling through something. “What are your plans today?”

“Hey, you made me get up from my plans. I was fine to lay in my bed for another day,” she said looking around the apartment. No dust, not trash, everything in its place. “I’m assuming you don’t need help cleaning.”

“I didn’t make you do anything. I just asked if you were coming out of that stench you call a room.”

“That stench if called delicious food,” she said jumping up on the counter. “Do you have friends coming over? Is this your way of asking me to clean my room?”

“I don’t have friends,” he said not in a way that said he wanted them, but that he actively made sure not to have them.

“Are we not friends?” she asked teasingly, but deep down she wanted to know.

Cabute didn’t stop what he was doing and peered up. “I wouldn’t consider you a friend.”

“Ouch,” she said playing off the hurt.

Cabute went back to his Minky pad, and she took his silence as his way of saying you’re not that important. Especially after telling her they weren’t friends.

Sliding off the counter his hand shot out and pressed against her stomach. His warm and strong grip pushed her back up to her spot. “Where are you going?” The question sounded like a threat more than a curious statement.

Mali thought he would take his hand away, but he didn’t, and the touch was seeping through her thin fabric and warming her skin. It was the most intimate he had ever been with her and she, was equal parts confused and delighted.

Coming up with a quick answer she said, “Food shopping.”

Cabute looked at his hand on hers and then caught her eyes, as if he was waiting for her to push his hand away. Which she didn’t.  “Wait until I finish and I’ll take you.”

“I know how to shop,” she said not wanting to tell him no, but also not wanting him to think she needed him to go.

A faint expression crossed his face before he said, “Every time you go shopping, you buy crap you never eat and I have to throw it out a week later.”

Mali scoffed at that but stopped when she realized it was true. Cabute must have seen her acceptance and then went back to what he was doing.

“What are you looking at?”

“Houses.”

“Why?” Mali worried that he might leave her. What if he was tired of living with her?

He closed the screen and powered off the Minky pad. Then he wrapped his large hands around her waist, digging his finger into her skin, and dousing her blood with instant lust.

She didn’t know what he wanted, but she hoped his touch said, he was interested, because she was very interested. Had been into him before she even moved in.

“Ready?”

She swallowed.

Cabute’s eyes softened. “You going to answer me?”

“Am I ready for what?”

The way he was in her space, holding her hips, she figured he was asking if she was ready for a blitz. If so, she would like to brush her teeth and get all the food pieces out.

“Mali. We’re going shopping.”

Oh.

“I need to get my shoes,” she said rushing from the kitchen to her room. He followed her to the doorway and watched.

“I’m hurrying.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he said calmly.

But Cabute had a weight to him. A sense of raw animalistic strength that made her want to hurry.

“You didn’t have to,” she didn’t mean to sound snappy.

“What does that mean?”

“Means your very presence says hurry or else.” She finished strapping her shoes and stood up to make sure they felt right. Looking up she saw his unamused expression.

“Or else what? What do you think I’d do to you?”

Walking towards her door she said lightheartedly, “Hopefully not beat me to a pulp.”

His arm shot across the doorway, bending the frame slightly as the echo dinged through her chest. The movement was so fast she didn’t even see him move.

She jumped back.

He leaned in. His voice deceptively quiet. “You think I would hurt you?”

“No,” she blurted.

His arm fell and he closed the space between them. The radiating heat and irritation so thick it made her want to fall to her knees.  A thick and callused finger reached under her chin, forcing her to look up.

“You are the one person who could stab me in the heart, and I’d let you.”

Stab him?

“I won’t hurt you Mali.”

Her knees still felt weak, but at the same time, her stomach fluttered at the declaration.

“You said we’re not even friends.”

He dropped his finger, giving the moment a drawn out pause before answering. “We aren’t. Friends are people you like but let them live their own life. I have no intention of letting you do your own thing – not anymore.”

“What does that mean?”

“My people don’t live with friends, co-workers or strangers. We live with our family.”

She wasn’t family. “I don’t understand. Are you asking me to move out?”

Cabute reached down and grabbed her hand, pulled it up and nipped the fleshy part. Her heart beat harder in her chest at the implications.

“I’m not asking you anything. I’m letting you know that I’m taking you as mine.”

 

 

**If you want to learn more about Mali and Cabute, visit Amaon.com or click here.**

Uninvited Roommate: Chapter One

Read first chapter for free.

Chapter One

Naff’s lids were heavy and his muscles ached as he lurched through the restaurant kitchen’s double doors with a helio-carrier topped with dirty dishes.

Hickory smokers full of ribs and brisket lined the back cooking area. The sweet undertone of Charlie’s barbeque sauce combined with the woodsy odor of cooking salty meat stung Naff’s nostrils.

Steam and smoke haunted the ceiling with an eerie white glow churning on the currents.

Passing the hot grills and fryers, Naff continued to the rear where an android moved to rinse, wash and sanitize the dishes. A second android took the clean plates and bussed them to the front where the cooks could refill them for the Seth-forsaken-filthy-mouthed Terrans that loved their nasty barbeque.

Naff hooked the helio-carrier to the magnetic bar and unloaded the top plate with three uneaten ribs. He glanced around to make sure no one was watching, took the ribs, wrapped them in the extra foil he had carefully folded in his pocket, and wedged them in his pocket. Then finished unloading the plates and utensils.

Removing the red-stained glasses, Naff’s Minky watch trilled. His alarm. Time to clock out.

“Naff,” a male voice called.

Naff turned his head, waiting for the Terran male to speak. He could never remember his name. Terran males all looked the same.

His own race made things easy to distinguish them apart. All Night Demons had distinctive bone formations. Some had claws or spikes along their spine. Others had sharp teeth or horns.

Naff was one of the Night Demons with forehead horns. Black ones. Ten inches long… with spikes.

A hellbeast. That’s what the Terrans call him behind his back.

The male Terran in front of him was short, thin and had baby soft hands. Whatever his name was, this one liked to think he was important. And he liked to tell Naff how to do his job.

If this Terran lived on Lotus Adaamas, Naff’s birth planet, the Demons there would call him a nip. In other words, a nobody.

“Hey, you need to clear off table sixteen.”

Not a chance. “Sixteen’s still full. They haven’t left yet.”

“I know. I have eyes. You need to go over there and start clearing their table, so they get the point. If I go over there, the two lovers will ask for more coffee. And they already drank a pot.”

Naff shrugged. “If they’re paying for it, make another pot.”

The Terran’s eye twitched. “We have other people waiting. You need to pick up the table.”

Last he saw, there wasn’t any line. “Not gonna happen, Chip. My shift’s over.”

“My name is Gage, and it’s not over if you still have tables to clean.”

Naff untied the black stain-free, fire-resistant apron and tossed it in the laundry chute. “You want them gone, Chappy, you do it yourself. I’m off.”

“You do understand that I’m the manager’s nephew, right? If you leave, I’m going to tell him you left with a table full of dirty dishes.”

With a yawn, Naff walked to the back door. On the wall was a hand scanner to clock in and out for each shift. Peering back at the arrogant Terran, Naff held his hand up to the device. “You do that.”

Naff turned back because he enjoyed pissing off the arrogant little nip. Just as predicted, the little Terran glared at him like he could actually do something, but while the Terran stood there sputtering with impotent anger, Naff had years of fighting in the bare-knuckle arenas on his side. Which was why he was tired and his shoulder ached.

Chap or Chip or whatever his name was, curled his upper lip and walked away. Naff would have laughed, but he didn’t have the energy. For the last three years, he worked non-stop just to make rent.

And rent kept increasing.

Outside pushed open the back door the emptied into a small parking alcove.

Adjusting to the dim light of dusk, Naff walked to the side street and used his Minky watch to alert nearby Nack Krawlers he needed a ride.

Several streams of unmanned hover crafts followed a single glowing cable above the buildings. A few seconds later, a Nack Krawler left the yellow-sky line and descended to the street, stopping right in front of him. The passenger door opened and a young Terran jumped out, saw him and slunk back into the Krawler with both arms pulled into his chest.

The idiot was wearing a black t-shirt with a red Charlie’s Barbeque logo on the chest. The same logo that was on several t-shirts in his drawers at home. Not that he wore them, he refused. He had a reputation to maintain.

“If I was going to hurt you, you’d already be on the ground with a broken neck. Now move.”

Amazingly, the kids’ eyes widened further. And he didn’t leave.

“Now,” Naff barked. The half-grown kid zipped forward, running in a wide arc away from him and the open door.

He sneered. Terrans.

Slinking into the seat, he programmed the navigation to his apartment building, then moved to the back bench, laid down and threw his arm over his eyes. A twenty-minute drive meant a twenty-minute nap.

The smell of barbeque sauce wrinkled his nose. After three years working in that Terran slop of restaurant, he still couldn’t stand the stink.

An audible growl resonated from his stomach followed by an acidic burb. He needed to eat, but he didn’t have time to stop.

That’s when he remembered the ribs.

Thrusting his hand into his pocket, he pulled out the foil and sat back up, already feeling nauseous. He needed the food, but this sticky sweet stuff was going to make him sick. He scraped away most of the sauce from the ribs with the foil and forced himself to take a bite.

Naff needed the energy or he would get his ass handed to him in The Pit tonight. Rent was due, and he needed to win to cover the bill.

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