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Freed by the Alien Bounty Hunter: Chapter One

Tadraa

Downing a shot of energy goop from one of the sub level station vendors, I pushed open the door to the Bounty Hunter Guild and strode inside. From the number of hunters wandering in and around the office, the official meeting had yet to start, but it was only a matter of time.

“Tadraa!” My friend, Yndon hailed me. As I walked up, he noticed my cup of energy goop. “Did you get that from the vendor on sub level three?”

“Yes,” I said. “Why?”

“And you didn’t get a cup for me?” Yndon looked mockingly hurt.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not getting you your morning energy goop. Don’t you have a human mate to do that sort of thing for you?”

“Eh, she left our quarters earlier than I did this morning on some human scavenger emergency so dire that they couldn’t live without her expertise…” He rolled his eyes, but there was an undertone of fondness that he didn’t bother to hide.

I ignored him, looking away. My own feelings were a mix of annoyance and vague jealousy. As a young Mtoain, I felt the need to take a mate. But until I completed my personal mission, that wasn’t going to happen.

One of the senior hunters hailed us from the conference room next door. The meeting was soon to start, and we obediently trooped in.

I let my mind wander as Landri and Khenja, his second in command, went through the usual morning business. Not much of it affected me directly. As one of the newest and youngest hunters, I didn’t have a full buy-in with the Guild, and unlike Yndon, I wasn’t interested in changing my status.

Finally, Landry and Khenja began to talk about assignments.

The most senior hunters — and Yndon — were of course given the choicest, most lucrative missions. I caught a few dark looks from the other younger hunters who were all itching to prove themselves. I didn’t care. None of the offered missions were what I was looking for.

Then, the least wanted assignments began to get handed out. Again, I let my mind wander. None of those fit my requirements, either.

Not until…

“This is mostly recon work,” Khenja said. “The hunter who takes this mission is required to seek out activity within the sector. Once confirmed, the hunter is to submit the evidence here so that the Federation can assign a bounty. The fee is nominal—”

I gestured for attention. Landry, who had been looking just as bored as I had been, nodded for me to ask my question.

“Which sector was this?” I asked.

Khenja checked over his file before he answered. “Omicron.”

“I’ll take it,” I said without hesitation.

There were a few scoffs around the table. Khenja narrowed his eyes at me. “As I said,” he continued. “The fee is nominal — at the low end of this guild’s pay scale, even without your fees.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

One of the other senior hunters snorted. “Let the boy take it. It’s a good job to cut his teeth on.”

I had more than a few jobs under my belt already. There was no need to cut my teeth on anything. But at the same time, I wasn’t in the mood to argue.

Neither was Khenja, it seemed. “Okay Tadraa. It’s yours.”

Then he moved on to the next job.

Yndon leaned over to me. “Why are you taking something like that? That is a trash run. It won’t even pay your fuel costs.”

I flicked him a glance, but ignored him. My business was my own to deal with.

Getting the hint — and hearing Khenja describe a much better paying job — Yndon turned away.

Meanwhile, I scrolled through the information that Landri forwarded to my private account. All of the details of the so-called trash job.

It was perfect.

***

As a Guild member, I had access to their supply of ships to complete a job. Unfortunately, as a new member, not fully bought in yet, I had to pay a steep rental fee. The fuel costs and any damages incurred to the ship would also come out of my final pay.

It didn’t matter. I wasn’t doing this for the money.

I was just about to go over my preflight inspection when I heard the sound of footsteps from behind me. I turned to see Khenja, a personal tablet in his hand, and a frown on his face.

I glanced at Khenja, and when it became obvious the senior hunter wasn’t just passing by, I straightened. “Is there something I can do for you?” I asked, putting as much ice as I could in the words.

“Yes, you can tell me what on Mtoain you are thinking.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“I know you are not actually stupid,” Khenja said, “And you can do basic math, yes?”

I didn’t answer, simply narrowing my eyes at him. Whatever point Khenja was trying to make, he needed to make it quick.

Khenja turned his digital clipboard towards me. I could see that he had opened up a log of my most recent bounty jobs. Before I could focus on any one line, Khenja pulled it away.

“Between the rental and gear fees, you will end up owing the guild money after this job.”

Damn it. The gear fees. I knew the profits would be slim to none, but in my haste to get to the Omicron sector, I had neglected to take the gear fees into account.

Instead of answering, I simply crossed my arms. Khenja still had a point to make and I wasn’t going to help him along with it.

“So, I pulled up your records,” Khenja continued. “Some patterns became immediately clear.”

My jaw clenched and I stayed silent.

Khenja managed to stare me down for the space of ten heart beats before he sighed. “Why are you taking every bounty that goes anywhere near Omicron?”

And… there it was.

“What does it matter?” I asked, turning away. “They’re crap jobs. No one else wants to take them — you should be glad someone is picking up the slack.”

“That is not a good enough answer,” Khenja barked.

“How about this: Guild leader or not, this is none of your business.”

I turned away, but the other Mtoain put his hand on my shoulder and twisted me around again.

“As your guild leader, it is very much my business,” Khenja growled. I could tell that I had pissed him off. “If the next words out of your mouth are not a satisfactory explanation, I will take you off the job for your own financial good.”

My fists clenched and I had to resist the urge to punch my senior guild leader in the jaw. “You would not dare.”

It was his turn to stare at me.

I grimaced, feeling myself folding. “It isn’t… what you’re thinking.”

“Really? Because what I’m thinking is there is a very public, well-known slave auction house in that sector—”

I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t mind if Khenja thought I was an idiot for taking jobs that cost more than they were worth, but if he suspected I was a slaver… that was unbearable.

“I’m searching for my sister,” I admitted, and had to resist the urge to spit to the side. The reminder that I couldn’t take care of my own blood left a bitter taste in my mouth. “We left Mtoain together. We were separated soon after, and I’ve been trying to find her ever since.”

Immediately, Khenja’s posture changed. Became gentler. His eyes lost their hard, accusing look and was instead replaced by pity.

His sympathy felt as burning to my ego as the shame.

“That isn’t as uncommon of a story as you may think,” Khenja sighed. “It’s why it’s so dangerous for female nywosi to leave the planet.”

“You don’t need to remind me,” I growled. “I know that, and I’ve made it my life’s mission to find her.” I couldn’t resist throwing out the last barb. “Are you still determined to kick me off this mission? Give it to someone who has their own ship and who doesn’t care?”

Thankfully, the pity in Khenja’s eyes vanished, replaced with annoyance. “No, I will let you go.”

“Thank you—”

Khenja raised a hand in warning. “However, you must remember that there is no bounty attached to this job. As such, you do not have the law or the guild to shield you from your own actions.” His gaze met mine, once again hard and unflinching. “If you start something, you will be the criminal.” An unhappy smile twitched at his lips. “And then you may very well find yourself being hunted by me.”

“How ironic,” I replied, deadpan. “I will keep that in mind.”

“See that you do.” With a last nod, Khenja left me to finish rigging out my rental ship.

I grimaced and turned back. One thing was for certain: Khenja was correct that I operated at a loss. If I didn’t find my sister soon, I wouldn’t be able to afford to search for Tiyisi for much longer.

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