Chapter One: Aeden

“The funny thing is, if they had bothered cutting Granny Z in on the deal, she probably would’ve given them her blessing.” Kara’s eyes gleamed as she reviewed the piles of merchandise scattered before us.

“That’s a terrible idea,” I muttered. “We’re supposed to be a force for good in the Fringe, legitimacy, something like that, right?”

“I think we’ve got a ways to go before we have to worry about being too much of a glittering beacon of civilization, Aeden,” she waved her arm at the station deck below us.

Since Lorcan had arrived back with Cintha, the Pack had made a steady push to clear out the last of the human traffickers, criminal gangs, and other assorted scum from Orem Station. Cintha’s connections with the kid gangs had been invaluable, leading right to the arms smuggling ring we’d shut down tonight.

Despite myself, I shuddered. Too much punch in a laser on a space station was a bad idea. And these idiots had been moving high-frequency cannons to the highest bidder.

“Humans. What the hell were they thinking?”

Kara shot me an odd look over the tablet she was using. “You know Doc is fully human, right?”

“Are you sure?” I shot back.

“Yes,” she answered. “You’re just grumpy because that big bald guy bled all over you when you took him down.” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you getting soft?”

“I can get as rough as any of the others,” I growled. “But this was my favorite shirt.”

Kara laughed. “You know the replicator can make you a dozen more just like it, right?”

“Of course. But that’s not the point.”

And it wasn’t. This shirt was broken into just the right softness. I liked it.

After years of missions in every hellhole of the Fringe, a little softness was nice.

Nothing wrong with having a favorite shirt.

“Well,” Kara tilted her chin back to where the station guards were processing the prisoners. “Maybe one of those fellows can tell you where to find another shirt that has whatever mystical qualities they ruined in this one.”

Whatever. 

We were done here. The station guards could wrap it up. They didn’t need me anymore, and I couldn’t wait to get some dinner and a shower.

I pulled off the ruined shirt, leaving the vest to cover my chest, and stomped ahead.

Not too fast, though.

Kara didn’t even bother to try to match my pace. “You need to learn how to take a little teasing, Aeden.”

“No, I don’t.” But I stopped, waited for her to catch up.

She patted my arms. “I’m fine down here you know, sort of reminds me of home.” 

Kara looked around at the dark warren before us, the muted reds and orange of the pleasure district far away from this corner of the Under.

Here there was nothing but grime and corruption.

“Davien would skin me alive if I left you by yourself in the Unders,” I muttered.

“Ah, well…” a bit of pink came to her copper cheeks. “How about we don’t mention that I was with you this time?”

“What?”

 She kept walking with barely a shrug. “He gets worried too easily. I’m not really built to stay safe.”

Kara spat out the word as if she tasted something foul. “Honestly, ever since we came here, he’s been getting all… official. It’s not really my scene.”

“I can believe that,” I said quickly running through my options. “But could that issue be settled between you and Davien, and leave me out of it?”

“That’s why I gave you a heads up,” she nudged my shoulder. “We’re family; I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble unnecessarily.”

Family.

I thought about it as we climbed through the layers of Orem station until we emerged at one of the residential zones of the Lowers.

“I’m going to pop out here, check on Eris.” Kara announced, her voice tight. “If this doesn’t work out…”

I put a hand on her shoulder. “Doc says everything is fine. We’ve got to trust her.”

She snorted. “Trust Doc? Because she knows so much about how babies are usually made. Sure”

Her face softened and for a moment I could see how worried she really was under that tough veneer. 

About Eris, about the baby that still hadn’t arrived yet. 

About everything.

“Anyhow. Not a word to Davien about this, okay? Think of it as a favor to a sister.”

She disappeared, and I wandered out of the residential zone and into the Bazaar, looking for food.

Residents of Orem nodded, stepped out of my way. People who lived here knew enough not to be worried about my presence, but they knew I wasn’t the most talkative of my brothers.

My brothers.

Sisters now, apparently.

Our family.

Was that really what we were?

We’ve been bred this way,  trained together, formed into a fighting force stronger than permisteel, but did that actually make us a family?

My order came up, a trio of pale fluffy balls, still moist from the steamer, hiding shredded spicy veg and protein inside.

And then my comm pinged, louder than the grumbling of my stomach.

“Aeden, report to Command.”  Davien’s voice sounded in my ear, sounding just as curt as usual.

Void take it.

Maybe one of the human guards had already said something about Kara being on that mission.

Family indeed.

Not sure if any of it was worth it.

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