Chapter One: Aavat

“I don’t think Katzul is the answer to our problems,” I announced to Dejar as I entered the office.

I’d never seen the point in dressing things up. It was a waste of my time and the time of the person I was talking to. If I had something to say, I said it.

“I’m aware,” Dejar nodded and turned his attention back to his pad.

“Aren’t you going to ask me why?”

“I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” he chuckled.

“Don’t be an hurg,” I rolled my eyes. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“It doesn’t suit you either, yet here we are.” He looked up again, and we stared each other down for another moment before he broke away, laughing.

“You almost had me going there,” I chuckled.

“You looked ready to stage a mutiny,” he grinned.

“The thought crossed my mind,” I admitted.

“Have a seat.” He gestured to the chair opposite him.

“You’re inviting me to sit in my own office? How generous.”

“Could’ve fooled me. I’ve never seen you in here for longer than five minutes,” he replied. I strode over to the chair but didn’t sit down.

“Katzul-”

“I know,” Dejar sighed. “It’s dangerous, unpredictable, and we’ll have no allies. You’ve said it all before.”

“Then why doesn’t it concern you?” I asked.

“It does,” he admitted. “But I still believe it’s our best option.”

“Our situation can’t be so dire that Katzul is the best option,” I scoffed. “That place is despicable.”

“I thought it was nice when I last went,” Dejar shrugged.

“That’s because you didn’t really go into Katzul. You vacationed on the glittering surface,” I replied.

“It’s a planet for the ridiculously wealthy,” Dejar objected. “The entire thing is the glittering surface.”

“Tell that to all of the people who live there as servants,” I replied. “Spend a day with them and then tell me how glittering Katzul is.”

“We’re not going to evaluate work conditions.” Dejar threw his hands up. “We’re looking for jobs off the Dominion’s radar. Tell me there’s a better place.”

“Yes, it’s a hub of unofficial trade,” I agreed. “But there’s no enforcement whatsoever.”

“Isn’t that the point?” Dejar asked.

“Without the Dominion backing the contract, chances are high we’ll have people backing out of payment.” I really, really didn’t like this. Even if I didn’t have another option in mind, I didn’t like it.

“We’ll have to go by the honor system,” Dejar said, “And insist on some of the payment up front.”

“You think a planet filled with the wealthiest citizens of Dominion Space use the honor system? Dejar, you strike me as many things but naive isn’t one of them,” I barked a laugh.

“I’ve considered the risks,” he insisted. “Why do you think I’m holed up in the office all the time? I’m in here trying to sort out our futures. Someone has to do it since you can’t be bothered.”

“I’m busy managing the day to day operations of the Rogue Star so you’re able to sit here and fret,” I replied.

“You’re right,” Dejar admitted. “But can I ask you one question?”

“What?”

“You never really minded the shady jobs. In fact, you showed an obvious preference for them. If that’s all that Katzul is, why the sudden hesitation?”

“That should tell you there’s something seriously wrong with Katzul if I’m shying away from it,” I replied.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Dejar pressed.

“Katzul is nothing more than a bunch of wealthy citizens who believe they are above any law. Should we make a wrong move, every single one of them has the power to destroy us. Hell, one of the wealthy could murder us and no one would bat an eye,” I grumbled. “No, they’d just order it done. None of them would get their hands dirty.”

“I doubt it would ever come to that. We aren’t going to Katzul to make trouble,” Dejar replied. 

“Has Kovor even heard my argument?” I asked. “I might just be the Chief Mate to your Captain, but he’s the owner of the Rogue Star, after all. He should know about all possible outcomes regarding the safety of his ship.”

“He knows the risks.” Dejar leaned back in the chair, eyes closed. “We all do.”

“Bring him in,” I insisted. “I want to make sure he knows exactly what he’s sending us into.”

With a sigh, Dejar pushed himself away from his desk slapped a button on his desk.

“Kovor, have you got a moment?” he asked.

“Always,” Kovor’s chipper voice crackled through the intercom speaker. The wires for the comm system would need replacing soon.

Fantastic. Another expense to add to the growing pile.

Kovor swept into the room moments later.

“Is there a problem?” Kovor never looked bothered by anything. In that regard, I was envious of him.

“Aavat is expressing concerns about Katzul that he thinks you should hear,” Dejar explained. I shot him a look.

“I’m listening,” Kovor grinned. I quickly explained the same points I previously discussed with Dejar. Kovor was silent for a few moments, pondering everything.

“Can you think of a better solution that will guarantee income?” Kovor turned to me with an expectant look on his face.

“We can pick up jobs anywhere,” I replied.

“From pirates and smugglers,” Dejar added.

“You say that like we’re law-abiding citizens,” I shot back.

“I don’t want to add anything more to the bounty already on our heads,” Dejar replied.

“I think that’s wise,” Kovor nodded. “Katzul isn’t ideal, but if something goes wrong it won’t be reported to the Dominion. It’s the best course of action for now.”

And that was that.

It wasn’t often that Kovor pulled rank on us. He usually signed off on whatever we thought was best without giving it a second thought.

He trusted us that much.

And as much as I wanted to argue, I knew a direction from the ship’s owner was something you couldn’t oppose.

Under most circumstances, I liked Kovor. He was always good for a laugh and a drink. However, sometimes he behaved like he knew more about the ship and its condition than Dejar or I did. Kovor lacked the experience we did. To his credit, he was learning quickly.

But when he got high and mighty about things, it took restraint on my end to keep my temper under control.

“We’ll be there in a few hours. Taking Aavat’s concerns into consideration, we shouldn’t dock until we have a job set up,” Dejar said.

“It’ll only look suspicious if we take up space at the port and then stay on the ship,” I said.

Kovor nodded, then looked thoughtful. “And what about the women?”

“What about them?”

“Their unusual appearance is bound to attract attention,” he said. “Surely some of the citizens here know about what happened at Outpost Nine.”

“No one on Katzul cares about anything happening off-world,” I scoffed.

“You’re probably right but I don’t want to take that chance. At the moment, we’re quite low on options.”

“I’d actually realized that,” I snapped.

Dejar shot me a warning look and I took a steadying breath.

My temper was my biggest flaw. Years of living in open space made a Shein a little rough around the edges.

Maybe more than a little.

Kovor looked at me with one lifted brow.

“Well, if we’ve reached a decision then you no longer need me.” He nodded to both of us before exiting the office.

“I think you offended him,” Dejar said.

“How could I have? He knows we know how strained we are,” I replied. “He’s likely eager to get back to playing cards and flirting with the females.”

“He did raise a good point,” Dejar admitted. “We can’t have them walking around the way they are. They’ll attract attention as an unknown species, even if no one knows about what happened on Dominion Outpost Nine.”

“There’s no reason for the females to be walking around in public,” I replied. “No one would see them unless they came into the ship and we would stop them before they saw anything.”

“We can’t confine the women to shipboard every time the Rogue Star docks.” Dejar shook his head. “None of the crew would put up with it.”

“If the alternative is drawing attention to our operation, they’ll see they don’t have a choice,” I replied.

“Have you bothered to meet any of them?” Dejar demanded. “If you thought about them as crew members, instead of inconvenient cargo, you’d realize you’re being unreasonable.”

“I speak to Kalyn all the time.”

Dejar rolled his eyes. “Any of the others?”

“I’m going to speak to them when I give them their permanent work assignments.”

Aside from Lynna and Maris, most of the females didn’t have specialized skills. Dejar granted me the ‘honor’ of figuring out what to do with them.

“Directing them isn’t getting to know them,” Dejar laughed. “They’re part of the crew now.”

“Yes. And I’m glad for the extra hands. We’re going to have to do most of the upkeep ourselves now since no shipyard will have us,” I nodded.

“Get to know them,” Dejar repeated. “You might be surprised.”


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