Chapter One: Aryn

For the first time in my life, I had a room to myself.

Maris still kept most of her things here but she hadn’t slept here since she and Orrin made things official or whatever.

Sleeping alone was weird for the first few nights. I was so used to the sounds of another person in the room that I’d been half tempted to ask Shenna if I could keep one of her pets in my room. The cat and I got along fine, except for the fact that she made me sneeze.

Tonight, however, I couldn’t sleep not because I was alone but because I was angry. Ever since that demented bounty hunter and his alien princess sidekick nearly killed us all, sleep evaded me. Deep down, I knew what happened wasn’t my fault but I couldn’t help but feel like I could’ve done something.

The bounty hunter, I could understand. He was paid to go after me and the other human women. Quite black and white, really. Tiatra the princess? I couldn’t figure out why she would’ve wanted a part in it.

I tried to put it out of my mind. Tiatra and the bounty hunter were dead now. The other alien girls were, hopefully, on their way back to their respective home planets.

However, there were two tiny scraps of information that I couldn’t let go of.

The bounty hunter had a brand on his wrist, and no one knew what it signified. Not a big deal, except a similar mark had been on the sheet that listed the women.

And that was worse. Not just that there was some group running auction selling rare women from newly accepted planets to the wealthy as playthings.

But that group used a symbol that was so close to the official sigil of the Dominion that my skin crawled.

Either they were part of the Dominion, or hoping that recently contacted planets wouldn’t know the difference, and think their depraved demands were par for the course.

Neither option was fantastic.

What made it twenty times worse was that this bounty hunter was part of that group.

And he’d managed to find us.

There was no reason to think another wouldn’t follow in his footsteps. And what were we, the crew of the Rogue Star, doing about it? Nothing. We returned to the same port, nearly the same spot on the dock, simply because we had nowhere else to go.

It’s not that I didn’t like Captain Dejar. He saved my life, after all. If our roles were reversed and he was the one launched into space to freeze to death, I probably wouldn’t have risked my life to save him. Then again, I’d never claimed to be a hero. My main goal was to survive.

Anything else was an added bonus.

Whether I liked it or not, my survival depended on Captain Dejar.

But if sitting in the port of Qasar Station waiting to be picked off like flies was his idea of ensuring my survival, then I needed to take matters into my own hands.

Luckily, I’d found a way to do exactly that.

Maris and Orrin created the most sophisticated security system the Rogue Star had ever seen and I knew a way around it.

The rewards of a misspent youth, I supposed.

The infrared system didn’t closely monitor the service vents. Why would it? The vents were too small for a serious threat to get through.

However, they weren’t too small for me.

Knowing sleep was not going to be an option for me tonight, I stood up from my sleeping mat and peeked out of the room.

It was late. The hallways were deserted.

Captain Dejar liked to have some crew members awake at all times, though the night shifts tended to be more relaxed and people tended to stay at their stations than doing business that had them walking the halls.

There wasn’t much reason to roam the halls.

Before I left my room, I grabbed my leather jacket and boots. My jacket was older than I was. It would’ve been destroyed if I hadn’t been wearing it the day the Persephone station exploded. I wasn’t materialistic in any way, but I would’ve been sad to lose that jacket.

Clutching my boots in one hand, I padded into the hallway, moving swiftly and quietly. I reached the storage room that the other human women had affectionately named The Makeover Room.

Inside were rows and rows of cosmetics purchased for us, and a tablet that showed a variety of aliens we humans were close enough to that we could alter our appearance enough to walk safely through the cities.

I selected a mint colored skin dye and rubbed it across my face and hands. The long sleeves of my black shirt would cover the rest of my skin. I didn’t like using too much of the cosmetics at once, since I didn’t want anyone to know I’d been here. I popped in red contacts, to match my hair and added a small pattern of false tattoos across my cheekbones. It wasn’t much but it would be enough to fool anyone who looked my way.

I’d already grabbed some cleaning solvent for later, stashed it in my room. I didn’t want to have to come back to The Makeover Room to get the necessary ingredients to clean myself off. The new dye was so strong that it stayed on your skin for over a day  – well, and old earth day, that I still couldn’t shake myself from thinking of as the default unit.

Two days was pushing it. But if you needed to get it off before a day, you’d need a cleaning agent that Kalyn had secured.

And anyone would have questions if they saw me made up like this.

I waited until I was at the entrance of the service vent before putting my boots on. This was the trickiest part. Once my upper body was in the vent, I wouldn’t be able to see if anyone was coming my way. I carefully lifted the vent cover and set it down on the floor.

The first time I planned this out, I’d immediately run into the issue of putting the vent cover back in place. My solution was to attach a length of thin rope to the gate and secure it inside the vent. As of right now, the rope was wedged between two loose slats of metal. As long as the slats didn’t move too far away from each other, the rope would stay in place. I didn’t expect that to last forever. I could probably weld a ring or something to the inside of the vent if I needed to keep using my escape hatch, but I’d cross that bridge when I got to it.

I hauled myself into the vent and shimmed in as fast as I could. As soon as my legs were in, I grabbed the rope and pulled the vent cover up. It always took a little maneuvering to get it to slide back into its proper place, but I managed it.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. I’d been doing this sort of thing since almost before I could speak, yet the chance of getting caught always put a knot of anxiety in my belly.

If someone walked by now, there was no way they’d be able to see me. Taking comfort in that fact, I started crawling through the vent.

It wasn’t fun. There were points where the vent was so narrow, I had to roll onto one side and flop like a fish to get through. Thankfully, the vent wasn’t long. I soon reached my exit point. I didn’t need a fancy rope mechanism for the vent cover. It was on the part of the ship that was constantly kept in shadow. If someone were to look at this side of the Rogue Star, they wouldn’t be able to see the vent opening.

I popped the cover off and placed it inside the vent, far enough away from the opening so that it had no chance of falling out. Climbing out head first was never enjoyable, especially since it was a seven-foot drop to the dock below.

Once my head and shoulders were out of the vent, I reached up to grab a natural handhold in the side of the ship. I hoisted myself up until I could slide my legs out of the vent. From there, it was a simple drop down to the dock. I had to push myself out from the ship’s side far enough so that I wouldn’t hit the railing of the dock, which I would climb to get back into the vent.

I landed silently. Years of practice trained me to make as little noise as possible as I moved about.

I’m sure the Space Force could’ve put a girl like me to work if I ever bothered to sign up.

And if they’d been willing to look over a few small things in my record.

Mostly small.

I knew that it was a glaring security risk that the vents weren’t monitored. Maris and Orrin had deemed them too small to be of any threat. They hadn’t thought that someone as diminutive as me would be able to access them. At first I had thought to tell Maris about this security flaw. But then I realized that it would effectively seal me onto the ship. In the end I decided it was worth the risk for now – I could inform Maris and Orrin once I had gotten what I needed.

I waited a moment, just to make sure no one on the Rogue Star caught on to what I was doing. At this hour, the docks were all but deserted. Satisfied that I’d made it out undetected, I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket and strode off toward the center of the Space Station.

Qasar Station wasn’t a glittering metropolis like Katzul. It was built for function but it still had an elegance to it. Sections of the Station were built within amber colored domes. I wasn’t sure what their primary function was.

Probably some kind of environmental stabilizing system.

Sort of interesting, maybe. Maris would be all over it.

But not useful to me, so I didn’t really care. I’d always been a practical girl. Why stop now?

The buildings in the dome closest to the dock were mostly repair shops. When ships took damage in deep space, Qasar was the only place they could go to get patched up.

Beyond that dome was the heart of the station. The markets, the restaurants, the lodgings, and every other comfort of a regular city could be found in the center dome. While the dome containing the repair shops had an expected grittiness to it, the center dome was pristine.

The buildings in the center were all constructed by a gleaming white material I didn’t recognize. It gave everything a uniform appearance. Looking at the city center, it was hard to believe that evil lurked beneath the surface.

Somewhere on this space station was a group prepared to do anything, even commit murder, to find the Persephone Station women.

I knew their sigil.

I knew where underground groups like this one liked to hide.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I found them but one thing was certain.

I sure as hell was going to stop them.

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