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.”
Sitting in the bridge of her small sloop, Keya pulled out her diet nutrient bar from her pilot seat’s side pocket. She opened the wrapper and took a bite, hating the synthetic, sugary taste. The provider promised they would curb her appetite, though.
They weren’t wrong. She definitely wasn’t hungry for any more diet bars.
Perched on the navigation console was her pet snarett. Standing on her back legs, the long-bodied rodent sniffed the food from a distance. Her little black nose wiggled in the air, making her look pitiful, as if she had been left out of a feast.
Keya shook her head. “We’ve been through this, Luli.”
The snarett clicked at her, reaching for the food.
“You didn’t like this yesterday or the day before. Or the day before that. It’s the same nasty diet bars. Trust me, I wouldn’t eat this if I didn’t have to.”
The snarett bent down to all fours, moved closer, and motioned for the food again.
“Fine. Here you go.” Keya broke off a piece and handed it over with a smug smile.
Luli grabbed the corner with her itty-bitty paws while Keya took the opportunity to rub a hand down the snarett’s slick maroon skin with its mood-changing stripes. Luli opened her mouth, exposing thin, razor-sharp teeth, and nibbled on the crumb.
Immediately, the snarett’s luminescent stripes turned black, and she threw the morsel on the console, scurrying off the lip and returning to her hammock home.
Keya rolled her eyes, picked up the crumb, and threw it into the ejection shoot. “Considering how clever you are, I can’t understand why you keep wanting the same gross food.” After speaking it out loud, Keya realized that she was doing the same thing. Hmm.
In the hammock, Luli began dry heaving.
Keya snorted. “You nibbled less than a crumb, Luli. And you’re an omnivore.”
Dramatic little thing.
Luli angrily clicked and groused. If the snarett could speak, Keya was sure her pet would be cursing her out. Reaching into the other pack, Keya pulled out a packet of kibble and fish and held it up.
Luli’s stripes changed from black to pink. Happy now, her pet jumped over to retrieve the packaged food. Keya didn’t need to help her open it, the sneaky little thief could get into anything—including the pockets on her chair, which is why she’d installed latches a month ago.
Above her console, next to the navigation screen, her Minky screen trilled. She recognized her boss’s non-Federation ID.
If her boss was calling, maybe she didn’t have to wait a week for her next job. Getting paid meant eating better. Seth of Stars was being merciful.
Accepting the voice call, she smiled. “Hi, Villet.”
“Hello, Keya. Are you still in the east quadrant?”
In the background, Keya could hear a bustling din, and a male shouting something. Wherever her boss was, it wasn’t his office.
“Yeah, I’m still here.”
“Perfect. So, this guy came in and told everyone that he found a Numan lab ship in the east quadrant. He said he broke in and discovered it was mostly empty, but there was something still alive in it.”
Keya didn’t know who was inside that ship, but she instantly felt bad for them. She couldn’t imagine how they must have suffered. “That’s sad. Is the Federation headed out to help them?”
“What? No. I want you to go out there first.”
He wanted her to be the first contact for a Numan experiment?
No, thank you. She enjoyed living. Plus, when did Drifting Treasures become a company that rescued people? Since she could remember the company focused on finding random space objects from ancient time periods.
Her last big find was a broken-down satellite. She was able to trace it back to Terran history. It was called Pioneer 11. For that, she received a generous bonus.
But this was outside her job description. “I’m a spacecraft archeologist. I’m not qualified to rescue Numan experiments.”
“I don’t want you to rescue it. That’s not why I called.”
“What do you want me to do then?” she snapped, practically forgetting that she was talking to her boss. “I don’t mean to be rude; I just wonder how I can help the situation.”
“I want you to get there first to check out the ship. The guy said the thing looked old, and I thought you could go and see if it’s worth our time. Take videos and figure out an estimate of value in case I need to put in a claim to keep it. Plus, if you know what kind of ship it is, you can give me the blueprints for my team to use.”
What was she? The outsourced contractor that didn’t count? Jerk. “Are you sending in a video team?”
“Of course, who else would go in?”
“Uh, a Federation person? Someone in security. That seems like the right person for this job. They train for this stuff. I think.”
“No one is prepared for a Numan experiment. Plus, the experiment might not even be alive.”
Holding her hands up, she was more confused now than before. Her mouth couldn’t even form words.
“You do this, Keya, and you will be a big help in making our ratings go supernova. This is a once in a lifetime chance.”
She wasn’t an idiot. She knew he was talking about getting a fat bonus. If the situation didn’t have to do with a living or possibly non-living person, she would have been ecstatic. But she couldn’t shake the sadness of the unnamed person’s plight.
She heard a roar of voices and the clanking of glasses in the background. The question was out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “Where are you?”
Internally, she shook her head, knowing that Villet wouldn’t appreciate her questioning him in any way. Plus, she needed the job so she wouldn’t starve for the week. Not to mention, she really wanted to check out the ship and, if possible, help the sole survivor before someone else went in, guns at the ready.
“Never mind. The east quadrant is huge. I will need specific coordinates.”
Her boss called for someone and then said, “Here he comes. And I’m at The Pit.” The Pit was a local fight club slash bar on Marnak.
Her boss’s voice was somewhat muffled. Still, she heard him say, “I need you to tell my employee where you found the ship.”
“Yeah, sure,” said another male. He gave her the numbers. “And make sure you have a big phaser. I shot it at least three times, and it didn’t stop the thing from chasing me.”
Keya’s blood drained. The guy had shot the experiment? Did he not understand that he was probably just reacting to an intruder being on the ship? How horrible.
“Great, thanks,” Villet said to the other male. “Now, Keya, get to the ship and make sure you’re first.”
Keya stared at the screen, amazed at how soulless Villet was. Did he not care at all that some random guy had broken into a ship, shot an unarmed person, and then left them to die?
Was she the only one listening?
“Yeah. I heard. I’m going.” She was obviously losing her mind because she needed to know if the experiment was okay.
She wasn’t a doctor or anything, but she had a medical kit on board.
“Keya, one last thing.”
Good Seth of Stars, what now?
“Do not go in the ship. It’s not safe. Also, I’m gonna talk to my guy on Lotus Adaamas. He makes the right guns for every occasion. Don’t worry, you won’t have to use one, but I want the supplies already there for when the team shows up just in case.”
Keya was quiet because guns meant death. “So, if he’s not dead, you’re just going to kill him?”
“Keya,” he said soberly, “I’m sending tranquilizer guns. I don’t want to kill him; I want to record his story. I’ll make him a legend. Everyone will know about the experiment that lived. Then we can use the ship as a Marnak attraction.”
Oh, good…he wanted to exploit the person’s torture and make his ship a tourist stop. How awful.
What kind of person did she work for?
“All right. I’ll figure out what ship it is and get you the current value and the blueprints.”
“Excellent. That’s why I appreciate you, Keya.”
“Yeah,” was all she could say.
“Remember, don’t go in the ship.”
“I won’t,” she lied.
“Good. Talk to you soon, Keya.”
Get your copy here.
Clalls stood on the bridge of the transporter, looking at the derelict spaceport. A wide globe with a transparent shell on top was displayed on the navigation screen. The bottom half of the sphere was metal. So far, it didn’t look too beyond repair.
Six protruding landing zones funneled into the sphere.
It was a clunker, but it had massive potential. He grinned.
Clalls’ Minky pad pinged in his pocket. He pulled out the tablet, expecting it to be the new communications officer on Garna, calling for help. But when he saw that the caller ID was a series of numbers and letters with no name… Clalls narrowed his eyes.
Accepting the call, he said, “Who is this?”
“You broke our contract, you bastard.”
Clalls let his head drop back. He knew that voice, and he really didn’t have time to argue with her. He had a spaceport to claim, and an empire to build.
Nova had the worst timing.
Blandly, he responded, “The last contract we had was when I hired you to deliver a Minky pad to my captain’s mother. Which you did, and were paid for—in full and upfront.” It had cost him much, but the promotion from officer to commander had earned him better retirement pay.
“Not that contract, you double-crossing Demon. The one where you were supposed to rescue Nue from Debsa’s transport and keep her safe on your ship. I did not agree that she would end up married to your captain. She is my sister, and you will return her to me.” Nova’s voice rose as she yelled.
Clalls set the pad on the console as he programmed the autopilot to dock with the open landing pad. When he finished, he told Nova, “They’re mated. Even you should know what that means. There is no separating them.” Plus, Clalls didn’t want the fury of the Federation brought down on him. And that is precisely what would happen if Admiral Rannn lost his new mate-slash-wife.
“She’s a Sennite. We don’t mate,” Nova said sternly.
The transporter he was in had docked, but the outside temperatures were low. Meaning, the port didn’t have power or heat in this area. If he wanted to keep from freezing in the sub-temperatures of space, he would have to layer up.
Picking up the Minky pad, he headed to his cabin to change. As he walked, he replied, “She’s half-Sennite, and half-Terran. Since she’s your sister, I assumed you knew that, but maybe your mummy didn’t tell you. Anyway, Terrans can mate and marry with the same unbreakable bond as other races. But again, you should know that.”
“Don’t you dare talk down to me, Demon. I’m already contemplating killing you for what you did to my family. Don’t tempt me to do worse.”
Clalls stopped and looked down at the black screen and smirked. If she planned to kill him, she wouldn’t have bothered to call him. So, her threat was pointless. She wanted something—something he would naturally say no to. Hence all the theatrics.
“You’re not going to kill me. You want something. What is it?”
Clalls almost laughed at the lack of response as he stepped into his cabin. But then he heard Nova’s voice in front of him, and on the Minky pad. “I want you to suffer.”
He cursed as the female’s evo-suit transitioned to solid black. She held a dart gun in her hand. He didn’t get a chance to run before he was struck in the chest. Clalls pulled out the metal projectile as his legs gave out, and he slumped to the floor. Hitting the back of a cabinet, he was left half-sitting and half-slouched—and utterly out of it.
His body was numb.
Nova removed her helmet and shook out her mane of wine-red hair. He remembered tugging on it so he could introduce himself. He loved the idea of having a Rana—a female assassin—as a contact. However, that relationship had twisted into this. And now he was being punished.
Clalls’ heart thudded heavily in his chest. This was going to be bad.
Nova set down the black hood and grabbed one of the collectible crossword puzzles he had been working on. It was not the most expensive thing he owned, but it was one of his valuable items, considering how old it was.
A true paper crossword puzzle book was priceless. Especially if it hadn’t been used. He’d found it over a hundred years ago.
Nova turned the book over in her hand before she dropped it, then pulled out a Spark and turned to burn it. She eviscerated it in seconds. Black ash wafted into the air, and Clalls took care to breathe slowly.
A year ago, he would have made a black deal with Seth to allow him to get his revenge. To strip Nova of all her prized possessions. But that was before he’d almost died surrounded by his things and had noted their uselessness.
All his worldly goods couldn’t keep him alive. Same as now.
Nova grinned maliciously. “Don’t worry, Demon, I’m just getting started.”
He tried to remain unfazed, but it was impossible given her unpredictable nature.
Nova dug into her pocket and pulled out a mini-grinder. Grabbing his ankle, she yanked him forward until he slammed down on the floor, face-up. Crawling above him, she smiled, “Now, be a good Demon and listen closely. You think that just because you don’t love anyone, that you were being clever. Never making yourself weak to me. But you’re wrong. I notice everything.”
Cold, icy fear coated his skin. She was going too far.
Nova grinned. “And now, I’m going to take away everything you care about.”
She flipped on the grinder, and a high-pitched whine rattled in his ears. Nova’s raspy voice carried over the noise when she said, “Now, open wide.”
His teeth were his Night Demon marks. His identity.
Read full book here.
The meeting had ended, and everyone was now retreating from Captain Rannn’s office. It had been weeks since the battle with Fynbar and his killer bots. They’d won, but all this time had been spent locating the slaves and healing them as best as Ansel could.
Chollar and his new mate were slow to exit the office. Rannn assumed the telepath had something to say, maybe a warning regarding what someone had been thinking. Rannn didn’t care.
He couldn’t care. Mostly because he couldn’t concentrate on anything but the images in his head. Good Seth, he was thankful that no one had noticed how truly lost he felt.
The mission was over, they were headed back to Garna, and he had his own issues to worry about. Namely, whether or not he was still fit to be captain. The vast horrors he’d experienced courtesy of the memories he had gained, knowledge of the crime the sadistic Numan had committed for hundreds of years, tortured him.
The things that Fynbar had done. They horrified and consumed him so much that he didn’t even remember if he had showered today or not.
Even now, he flashed on a memory of Fynbar cutting out a male’s rib cage and installing organs of his own design. The male had bled out within hours. The cybernetic organs were not aligned right when installed. An entire life gone because of a miscalculation.
Another memory from Fynbar slithered across Rannn’s mind. The time he’d unleashed nanites into a prison cell, infecting two families. The nanites had destroyed the part of the brain that controlled the feeling of being sated. Less than a week later, they started to eat each other. That was after they had eaten their clothes.
So much evil.
Rannn had to push those thoughts back. He had a ship to run, a crew to think about. Rannn had to get his crew back to safety. Back to Garna. Deep down, he felt as if his mind were crumbling, and he didn’t know how long he would last.
Rannn gasped and hit a knee.
Searing, white-hot pain clawed into his mind. He had no idea why. He hadn’t done anything, had he?
His whole body shook. Grabbing his head, Rannn couldn’t see anymore, and he wasn’t sure if he had closed his eyes or if the pain had blinded him.
All he could do was survive the burn. Images of death and carnage flashed quickly behind his eyes. Blood, death, bodies, cries, pleas…it was too much.
Rannn could smell the floor and feel the hardness of it as he pushed his forehead against the coolness. Faint groans echoed in his ears. His heart pumped hard in his chest as he kept gasping for breath.
Was he dying? What was happening?
The mental claws receded, and he felt his body being lifted into the air. Floating weightlessly. It took a few extra seconds to open his eyes.
He could breathe easier. His chest was…his whole body no longer felt constricted.
When he felt his feet, Rannn leaned over and grabbed the table, taking a deep breath. It was all he could do, considering that his brain felt like it had been beaten and scrambled. But it didn’t take more than a millisecond to figure out what had happened.
Chollar had removed the evil Numan’s memories.
Rannn couldn’t recall anything. And he tried.
Rannn hadn’t known that Chollar could do that. If he had, he would have asked him to do it seconds after he’d gotten back. Even though his head felt fatigued, and he was still recovering from the onslaught, Rannn tried to voice his genuine gratitude.
His voice was lost, though. His brain lagging.
Chollar didn’t bother waiting for a thank you. Instead, the Master Elder Cerebral said, “And just so you know, Nue didn’t lie to you. She didn’t change or forge her prison transfer paperwork. And the reason she was being sent to Debsa is because the Federation messed up and thinks she’s a contract killer named Nova.”
Rannn was dead-silent. He understood the words but couldn’t process them.
“Also, you’re right to assume she’s going to try and escape the ship the second you get back. Considering how you locked her down, you’ve fed her fear. She thinks the second you go back, you are sending her to Debsa. So, either stop being a coward and do what you really want to do, or let her escape.”
Rannn watched Chollar leave the room, hand-in-hand with his mate. The warning echoed through his mind. Nue didn’t lie to you. It was a crushing blow to his soul.
He remembered being furious when he found out.
Irate that another female had lied to him so convincingly. And to think, she’d thought his anger would force him to send her to a prison planet that would take her life.
Slumping into the nearest chair, Rannn leaned back, closed his eyes, and cursed. By all the power of Seth, he had become his worst nightmare. He had become his father, unable to see past his duty. His responsibilities. Unwilling to see the truth in a female’s eyes.
Rannn remembered the look in his sister’s eyes when she told him about what had happened to her. Rannn had vowed to himself right then never be so heartless.
Seth of Stars, he couldn’t breathe.
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Chivva stepped out of her apartment, feeling a quick vibration on her wrist from her Minky watch. Tapping the screen, she accepted the voice call from her boss. “Hey.”
“Got a new contract this morning. Don’t go to Grand Canal like I told you to yesterday.” Before she could ask where she was going, her boss said, “I’ll call you back, the client’s calling.” He ended the audio call abruptly.
Chivva stood in the middle of the hallway, debating if she should wait for a callback or spend the extra time at the Fast Star, grabbing a quick breakfast. Before she’d made a decision, she saw the building manager, Naff, on his knees, breaking away a section of the wall.
A plethora of basic tools and broken floorboards were scattered around him. Chivva figured that now would be the perfect time to tell him about a recent change in her lease. “Um, Gini moved out about a month ago. I didn’t know if I should just tell you or update the lease.”
The black-horned Night Demon grabbed the broken piece and flung it on top of his growing pile. Answering without looking up, he said, “I don’t care, as long as the rent gets paid.”
“Right,” she said, scratching the side of her head. Demons didn’t care about stuff like that. He probably didn’t even know her name.
Walking around his mess, she tried to stay out of the ring of old, moldy planks.
“You plan on living alone, or are you going to sublet your extra room?” the Demon called out.
Chivva stopped. “I don’t know. I’ve never rented to a stranger before.” Gini was a friend from work at Mete-Net. They were both nuclear engineers.
The Demon broke another part of the floorboard away. “If you want to offer it up, I have people on a waitlist.” Naff peered over at her.
“Better than nice, they have money.”
Chivva didn’t want to pay all the rent by herself. She’d done that this past month, and it had been a hit to her account. Biting her lip, she said, “Okay.”
Chivva hoped he didn’t mean Demon deal. That was a death wish. As her manager, he wouldn’t do that, would he?
Just then, her watch vibrated with another call. She tapped the screen. “Hey, boss.”
“Be at Scape-Goat as soon as you can. Talk to a Red Demon named Roody.”
“What’s broken?” she asked, utterly confused. Scape-Goat didn’t sound like an industrial park, which is where she usually worked.
“His power’s out. He didn’t know how or why.”
“Why didn’t he call the power company? Why am I going?”
“Because he doesn’t pay for power. He uses a transverse cell system.”
She cursed to herself because no one used cell systems anymore—they were death traps. The cores weren’t stable, though using a transverse gave them a longer life span. Her boss was sending her to a job she couldn’t do. Which meant she’d have to think of a way around legally fixing it.
The call ended before she could tell him that she didn’t want to take the job—not that anyone else was a nuclear engineer. Dropping her arm, she simply stood there, seething.
Exhaling, she doubted she’d have enough time to get food. It was going to be an all-day job, especially if it was really bad. Checking the distance between the Scape-Goat and the apartment on her watch, she saw it wasn’t that far away. She could still get Fast Star’s coffee and cookies and arrive at a decent time.
Turning back towards the elevator, she heard Naff call out. “Chivva. Come here.”
He knew her name?
Slowly whirling around, she said, “Yes?”
Naff used two fingers and beckoned her forward.
Feeling like a kid in trouble, she walked slowly and defensively. When she was almost at the edge of his tools, he told her, “Go back to your room and put on the ugliest outfit you have.”
“You heard me.”
“I did. I’m just not sure why you’re telling me to change.” Looking down at herself, she added, “I’m not indecent.”
The male’s eyebrow rose. “Have you ever been to the Scape-Goat?”
She shook her head because it didn’t really matter if she had been there before.
“Exactly. Now, go change. The place is a Red Demon bar-slash-back-room-blitz. Females who go there are only looking for one thing. Demons who go there see only women to blitz. Add to that the fact that you look like…that, and they’re going to think you want to roleplay.”
Scowling, she said, “That’s disgusting. I’m a professional who has an actual contract to fix…to manipulate the power. Not to mention, I’m not dressed in any way that says…’Hey, you want to find a room?’.”
Ignoring everything she said, he asked, “Do you have anything moldy? Or maybe something old that smells like death?”
Honestly, should she be insulted? Did she look like someone who owned things like that? “No. Who the hell keeps moldy, old clothes?”
Kadin’s door swung open, and her neighbor slithered from his room, almost knocking into her. Chivva’s heart sank as the nightmare himself cut his eyes at her as if offended that she was in front of his door.
Stepping back, she waved her hand. “Don’t let me stop you from getting to your important day.”
Kadin’s lip curled. “As if standing in my way could stop me.” The bastard shook his head and acted as if he didn’t have the time to even breathe in her space.
Her jaw flexed. Seth of Stars, she hated him. Loathed how much he thought she was simple. How…beautiful he looked. How much she’d crushed on him when she first moved in.
But how could she not? His hair was perfectly styled with a casual flare, almost messy as if he rolled out of bed looking hot. No one got out of bed looking that way. Maybe they were hair implants that stayed that way. Yeah…that sounded like a Bolark thing to do.
Kadin wasn’t full Bolark, though. His skin wasn’t scaly, but it did have multiple shades of green and a little yellow like a full-blooded Bolark’s did.
She wondered if that was why he was so mean—making up for his lack of proper scales.
Naff pointed at Kadin. “Hey, you. You want to cut half off your rent this month?”
Chivva’s head spun back to the Demon. What? Why was Kadin getting half off his rent? She wanted half off.
Her evil neighbor lifted his chin arrogantly. “I’m listening.”
Naff pointed his crowbar in her direction. “Take her to Scape-Goat. Make sure no one touches her. Stay with her until she finishes her job and then bring her back. This Terran will get blitzed to death if she goes alone.”
What did the Demon just say? That she was going to get sexed to death? That wasn’t even a thing. Was it? Besides, Kadin wouldn’t protect her. With her rotten luck, he’d probably kick her in the door and say, “Have at her, boys.”
No. Hell no. “I don’t need a bodyguard.”
Kadin’s Bolark green eyes widened dramatically as he took her in. His gaze slowly roamed down her body, stopping briefly at her chest. On the scan up, she saw a curl form on his upper lip as if he couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to blitz her.
She should feel violated. Chivva had just told Naff that she wasn’t dressed for a blitz. But Kadin made her…extra-sensitive. She didn’t know why, but he did.
Kadin arrogantly peered over at the Demon on the floor. “Two months of free rent, and I’ll stay with her while she does her job.”
Kadin was actually considering escorting her to a Red Demon bar to keep people from touching her? No, that had to be a lie.
Naff had better not be stupid enough to believe this jerk-face.
Stepping in front of Kadin, she told Naff, “There could be a million Red Demons in that place, and they wouldn’t even compare to Kadin. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
Naff tilted his head slightly. It took another second for her to figure out what she’d said that had made him smirk.
“I meant…Kadin is worse than a million Red Demons.”
Behind her, she heard Kadin’s mouth open with a slight wet click. “I have higher standards. Of course, they’re worse.”
“You don’t have higher standards. Having perfect hair and clothes does not make you better than everyone, despite what you think. You’re mean on purpose. That’s not a virtue,” she said, not looking behind her.
“I’m not mean. I’m honest. That is a virtue…according to Terrans.”
Naff waved his tool absently. “He sounds like a perfect bodyguard, especially if you’re going to see Roody.”
Kadin cursed as if he knew who Roody was. It didn’t matter. She argued, “I’m not having breakfast with the guy, I’m just going to have him point out where the cell system is located.”
“Cell systems are ancient.”
Chivva was surprised that Kadin knew what a cell system was. A little impressed, she turned to him, ignoring how close she was now standing to him. “I know. And I have to fix it or find another way to get the power back up.”
The side of Kadin’s lips turned down, and she could see the perfect straightness of his jaw. Being so close was bad. She should back up.
His words sounded half-annoyed and half-contemplative. “If it’s dead, the core is dead. There’s no preserving that.”
His frown deepened. “Then how are you going to fix it?”
She thought about it. “Depending on how big the place is, I can probably put in a water-fusion refractor. I think I have an extra one.”
Kadin’s jaw dropped, and something that hinted at interest sparked in his expression. “You have one lying around? Where?”
“In my shed.” Duh. Every self-respecting crank had a shed.
“Where is your shed?” His tone was lighter, as if he wanted to see it…or break in and inspect it, laughing arrogantly at how unimpressive it was to his high-grade tastes.
“Where I built it. And it’s legal.” Trying to step around him, she said, “Excuse me.”
“Not a chance,” he said, holding a hand out in front of her. “If I’m going to be your bodyguard today, then I need answers. Lots of them.”
Shoving at his hand, she said, “No, you don’t. Because you’re not going to watch me. You just want to know my private business so you can find a reason to throw it in my face later. The reality is, you couldn’t care less if I ever came back.”
“Is this your Terran way of getting me to confess some feeling towards you?” Kadin said mockingly.
She tried to take a step forward again, but he refused to let her pass. Then he got very close, so close she could smell a subtle hint of crisp early morning rain. Chivva forced herself not to lean in.
His voice was low when he told her, “Three things will happen today, a trio you can’t change. One, you’re going to realize that you have no say in what I do. Two, you’re going to accept that I’m going to watch you work. And three, you’re going to show me your shed.”
Kadin stayed in her space. She didn’t know if he was waiting for confirmation or what. When he finally pulled back, she heard him tell Naff, “I want two months rent-free for this, not one month half-off.”
Naff, who she’d almost forgotten about, chuffed. “Should have taken the first deal, Bolark. Because if you want me to eat two month’s rent, then I’m moving you into Chivva’s extra room.”
“What?” She gasped as Kadin echoed her words.
There was no way she was that unlucky. Seth of Stars didn’t hate her that much…did He?
Naff continued. “You wanted to move into a one-bedroom because, and I quote, you don’t need a second room. Well, there it is. My one-bedroom offer.” Naff didn’t wait for a response. He turned around and shoved the head of the crowbar in between the wall and the floorboard to crack them apart.
“I said I wanted a one-bedroom apartment. I didn’t say anything about sharing.” Kadin moved to her side.
“You’re not sharing a room now. What you wanted to do was pay less rent. This is how business works, Kadin. I figured you knew all about that.”
“I know business, Demon.”
The air was thick with tension, and Chivva didn’t want to add to it, but there was one small thing that needed to be said. “I don’t want to live with Kadin. I literally set my alarm an hour early every day just to avoid him.”
Kadin frowned at her as if that were the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.
Naff didn’t turn around. “Chivva, our deal was for me to find you a roommate. Your opinion has nothing to do with our deal. You already agreed. It’s done.”
Kadin, the bastard, gave her a look that said: sucks for you.
“Don’t look at me like that. You don’t want to live with me either. Not that you could even handle it. You can’t stand me, and I will likely make your life hell. I listen to music nonstop, and I sing all the time. I hate cleaning, and I snore.”
Kadin folded his arms over his chest. He wasn’t pissed like she’d expected him to be. Instead, there was a small smirk on his face. “You’re a horrible liar. I live next door. You listen to music in the shower and when you’re buzzing yourself happy. That’s it. You vacuum every other day, and I can smell cleaner from outside your door every Saturday morning. You snore, that part is true. And for the past month, you’ve binge-watched Drifting Treasures. Sixteen seasons of people scavenging space garbage. If there is anything that would make my life hell, it would be listening to another episode of that.”
Chivva hadn’t known she could feel equal parts murderous and embarrassed at the same time. But here she was, living that nightmare.
Next to her, Naff cleared his throat. “I’m starting to get the feeling that you want the room.”
Kadin scowled. “Knowing what she does wasn’t an indicator that I want any part of it.”
Shaking his head, Naff said, “You really should have taken the first deal. My last one will be you finding your own place to live.”
“You can’t do that,” Kadin said with a growl.
Turning his head back towards Kadin, the tip of his horns swiveled by, and Chivva leaned back to ensure they didn’t catch on her pants.
“Your rent’s been late three times, and I’ve already sent you two warnings. Legally, I can evict you.”
Chivva watched Kadin. His head lowered, along with his threatening voice. “You sent me two warnings. Three years ago. Both times were when my wife at the time emptied my bank accounts. Since I divorced her and kicked her out, I haven’t gotten another warning.”
“Rent was paid an hour late yesterday.”
Kadin’s lips pulled back in a snarl. “Wouldn’t have been late if your mate didn’t let my ex-wife inside my apartment. That female got the numbers to my new bank account. Which, as you can guess, meant she drained every last kelep.”
Chivva had had no idea that Kadin was married. She’d moved in two years ago, and she’d never seen a female leaving his place. When did he get divorced? How long was he married?
Also…Chivva would lose her mind if someone emptied her bank account once, let alone three times. She didn’t want to feel bad for the jerk, but…she couldn’t help it. That was awful. And she thought she had bad luck.
Kadin’s green eyes shot to hers, offering a threatening glare. His look silently told her that she’d better not repeat a word of this.
“She had a marriage certificate and valid Bolark citizenship. Marnak and its business must obey the laws of the race.”
Kadin growled. “The marriage was voided. The certificate was invalid, and if your mate had taken a second to verify it, she would have known.”
Chivva bowed her head and stepped back, needing to leave the conversation. This was too personal. Kadin deserved a modicum of privacy.
A green hand pressed against her stomach, stopping her from leaving. It was the first time he had ever touched her, and it felt too intimate. Kadin’s voice was only a hair above a whisper, but it vibrated with command. “Go put on that ugly mud-colored sweater. It’s the most off-putting thing you have.”
Her skin tightened at his tone and the insult. Pushing back her shoulders, Chivva stood tall and pressed against his hand. “I don’t have that anymore.” Because she’d lost weight and had gotten rid of all her fat clothes.
“The stained red one, then.”
Green-eyed bastard. How did he even remember that one?
Through flattened lips, she told him, “I threw it away eight months ago.” She’d worn it once, a year ago. Kadin had seen it and told her that she looked as if she’d tried to take a bath in grease.
Kadin hummed to himself. “Fine. I guess this vomit-looking thing will have to do.”
She snapped forward and got in his face. “It’s not vomit. They’re pink and green flowers, you jerk!”
Kadin didn’t look the least bit remorseful. “You’re a construction worker. Why are you wearing flowers in the first place?”
“Nuclear electrician.” She wasn’t a builder, not that she looked down upon them, but her designation deserved respect. She’d worked hard through school.
“As if that changes anything. Why dress nice to work in sludge?”
The same reason she always did her hair and makeup—because she liked looking pretty. Was that so bad? And she didn’t work in sludge.
“It wouldn’t matter what I wore, you’d find something nasty to say regardless. Now, I have a job to do, and you are not invited.” Chivva sidestepped the male and stomped all the way to the elevator. Thankfully, Kadin didn’t follow her, which meant that he wasn’t going to take the Demon’s offer. She was thankful. Maybe her luck wasn’t completely gone.
Kadin was an asshole. He knew that about himself. He cultivated and refined it, especially when dealing with people like Naff. “Don’t ever bring up my personal business again,” he said as calmly as he could, considering that his blood was boiling.
Naff tilted his head, not to look at him but down the hall.
Kadin didn’t need to follow his line of sight to know that Chivva was headed to the elevator, stomping and clearly hurt. He’d done that. He knew it, and yet he never liked the aftermath. But it was either that or lose the last shred of self-dignity he had left.
His ex-wife had already destroyed his trust in relationships and females that appeared sweet and helpless. He wasn’t going to let another one trick him.
Chivva had moved in the day after he’d kicked out his ex-wife. One day later, Seth of Stars was clearly trying to destroy his last piece of sanity when he stepped out of his apartment to discover that his neighbor was a sweet, smiling Terran with lush curves and dimples.
Kadin had been rude to her from that moment on, pushing her as far as he could. Now, two years later, he’d started to hate himself more every time he cut her down. Her soft smiles were gone. Long gone. And she walked with her head down, seeming almost…broken.
He did that.
He hated himself for it.
“Chivva won’t survive Scape-Goat,” Naff said as if Kadin cared. Maybe he did, and that pissed him off even more. Naff was a Night Demon. He was supposed to be the scum of the planet, yet even he showed that he cared.
Kadin followed Naff’s line of sight again, making an educated guess that Chivva wouldn’t go straight to Scape-Goat. She’d hit up Fast Star first for some coffee, the black garbage that Terrans drank.
The Demon didn’t bother looking at him when he asked, “Are you taking the deal or not?”
Yes, he was taking the damn deal.
He couldn’t let the manager know how much he liked the idea. Kadin wasn’t an idiot. Dealing with Demons was tricky, and he now had all the legal ammunition he needed after finding out that his ex-wife had conned Naff’s mate.
Now, all he had to do was add a little more leverage to solidify the plan he had already carefully organized. Adding Chivva to the package was like a signing bonus. “5303 is finished. I talked to the head of maintenance last night. I checked with your mate this morning; it’s not assigned.”
Naff turned the top half of his body, eyes narrowed.
“We’ll take that one.”
“It’s a one-bedroom.”
“I’m aware,” Kadin said, and saw a small flash of something in the Demon’s eyes as if he knew more.
He couldn’t know how Kadin truly felt about Chivva. No one could.
“And I know,” Kadin continued, “you got a quote from Emmerson to upgrade the elevators so that everyone has to have a keycard to operate them. That will be happening this month, or I will go to the Federation authorities and tell them you let my ex-wife into my room without my permission. All I have to do is show the voided marriage cards, and security will come to the same conclusion I did. You broke the law.”
Because if his ex-wife took another kelep of his, he was going to hire an assassin and have her murdered. That nasty, soulless brat couldn’t stop making his life hell. He’d already had to get the Federation involved to bring her up on charges.
If they found her, which he knew they would, he was going to push for her to be sent to Debsa, the prison planet. She deserved to be with others of her soulless kind.
Naff typed something into his Minky pad. A few seconds later, he told Kadin, “Have your apartments cleaned and emptied by the end of the day. You can have 5303.”
Kadin would hire a team to move everything. Considering the deal complete, he said, “Leave both sets of keys to the new apartment at the front desk. And pull the rent from my account—in two months.”
Kadin turned on his heel and headed towards the stairs.
Behind him, he heard Naff say, “Careful, hybrid, your Yunkin side is showing.”
Kadin whipped around, then went back and picked up a wall cutter to point at the Demon’s scarred face. “You know who I am and what I do. Nothing I have ever done was honorable.”
Naff looked at the cutting tool, seeming unintimidated. “You’re not the only Yunkin in the building whose honor code is literal and not philosophical.”
Dropping his arm but not the tool, Kadin replied, “That makes no sense.”
“Doesn’t it? Why don’t you keep that with you, you may need it.”
That’s why he picked it up, he wasn’t an idiot.
Stuffing the wall cutter in his pocket he turned back around. With luck, he wouldn’t have to rush to catch her. Then again, if Chivva wasn’t across the street stuffing her face like a starving child, he would have to break open Scape-Goat and search every room. Because there was no way Chivva wouldn’t look like perfect prey to those who frequented the place.
Aside from those dark thoughts, Kadin could still feel the excitement in his blood. He would be sharing a room with Chivva. All those months of pushing her away were over. Living with Chivva would not be like living with his Bolark wife.
The rules weren’t the same.
Seth of Stars, he couldn’t wait.
Chivva was not prepared for the likes of him.
Buy on Amazon here.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.