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Bought: Chapter One

Jenke

“Hey Mister.”

I turned around, searching for the source of the voice.

This particular back alleyway of the Under was dimly lit.

Void. They were all dimly lit, apparently it added to the mystique of the place.

But the more trafficked areas of the Under held shops, food stalls, red flickering curtains separating off theaters of the absurd.

Crowds of people laughing, on their way to whatever indulgence they had in mind.

But this section was fairly empty.

Little more than a maintenance path, winding behind the makeshift stalls and stands that were the beating heart of this chaotic body.

There. 

That patch of darkness moved.

“Hey Mister!”

I snapped my arm out, hauling forward a small wriggling bundle of clothes.

My nose wrinkled.

Girl, boy, whatever it was needed a bath.

“Whispering at people in the dark isn’t best manners,” I growled.

The child’s eyes widened until I could see an entire circle of white.

“I didn’t mean any harm. Never mind. Let me go.”

Dammit.

“You wanted to find me for a reason. What was it?

I wasn’t any good at this. Probably should have partnered with one of the other members of the Pack that had been here longer.

Knew this space station called Orem that seemed to be our home now.

Knew these people that lived here. 

With us.

Like it was normal or something.

But I wasn’t going to be out on patrol with anyone. 

Not anymore.

“I’m sorry, I thought you were one of the others. Are you? I thought you were. You moved like it. But…”

“But the others are nicer,” I finished with a sigh and then dropped down to a crouch.

“Even if I am not nice, I am not going to eat you. What did you want to tell me?”

“There’s something going on, down at Dock 45.” He swallowed hard. “Something bad I think. There’s a bunch of women. Some of them are crying, some of them just look well, not really awake.”

Dock 45. 

I didn’t know this place well, didn’t know its people.

But a map. That was something I could study.

Had learned, refusing to be trapped by my ignorance.

I slipped a credit chip from my pouch, handed it to the child.

“Good job telling me,” I said as its grimy paw grasped the chip. “You should go, get something to eat.”

I released the child and rose to my feet.

“And for the next little while you should stay far away from Dock 45.”

The child’s serious nod had only half finished when I began to run.

My path winding between the revelers, the working people of the Under. Through the flickering lights and the darker corners.

My hand reached towards the comm unit.

I should call for backup.

I knew that.

This was probably some sort of trap. It usually was.

An old man, trundling past me with a cart of limp looking green vegetables yelped as I leapt over him,

I didn’t bother glancing back.

My brothers had been in control of the space station for long enough that all of the denizens, whether in the rarefied heights of the Uppers, the bazaar of the Lowers or the flickering world of the Under were all aware of who, and what patrolled the streets.

All except for a reckless few who insisted on not understanding that Orem wasn’t their hunting ground anymore.

Once upon a time docks were wooden structures, jutting out into the ocean, granting the mariners of old, long forgotten earth, access to their fragile ships.

Here wood was too precious to be used for flooring. Water, a valuable commodity to be recycled over and over again.

Here in the Under of Orem the docks were sections of a vast circle, stacked above and below each other at the periphery of the station.

Despite the vast differences in their operations, I can only assume that the docks of the ancient days were just as busy as ours were.

People coming and going, hauling goods from one land to the next.

At least as busy as ours should be.

Except this section was far quieter, far emptier than expected.

I glanced at the berth number.

40.

Slipping into the shadows I realized it was time to make a decision.

With a sigh I triggered my column.

“I’ve been told something’s going down at Dock 45,” I murmured. “I’m going to go check it out.”

“The hell you are,” Ronan snapped at the other end of the comm. “You’ll wait for backup.”

“There’s no time to wait,” I said flatly as I flitted to the next dock.

“Then maybe you should have considered patrolling with a partner,” Ronan snapped back.

Maybe. I admitted, if only to myself. But it still wasn’t going to happen.

“Get eyes on the situation, but do not, I repeat do not engage until Quinn and Xander are there. Five minutes ETA.”

It doesn’t count as lying if I don’t actually agree to the plan, right?

I didn’t say anything.

“I mean it, Jenke,” Ronan growled.

I snapped my comm off.

Because here was Dock 45. And the kid had been right.

There was something going on. And nothing good.

A battered shuttle filled the dock, laser scorched sides giving interesting hints to its history.

Approximately thirty women and girls were huddled together, forced into a tight knot by the gang of men who kept their blasters pointed at them.

“Getting ready to board!” A man checking a tablet in his hands called out. With a slow hiss the side of the shuttle retracted and a boarding ramp unfolded.

The women who were awake enough tried to back away, but were prodded forward by the barrels of the lasers pointed against them.

“We’ve got a quota to meet,” the man with the tablet said flatly. “Which is why we grabbed a few extras. It’s not gonna mess with my numbers if we leave a few of you bleeding out on the deck.”

The women fell silent.

I counted the men. 

Thirty five. Maybe closer to forty.

Two more appeared at the top of the gangway.

Workable. Probably.

I rolled my shoulders, preparing to spring when a ripple of the movement from the center of the women began to spiral out.

“Fuck you and your quota!”

A dark-haired woman dashed to the edge of the crowd, and from the tiniest blaster I had ever seen began picking off the guards.

With a shout of panic the remaining women began to scatter, some stumbling, still under the effects of whatever drugs they’d been given, the others helping them to their feet, searching desperately for cover.

The woman dove and rolled, then popped up behind a pillar to pick off another one of the abductors.

I tapped my comm once.

“Going in.”

Then cut it off before I could hear Ronan’s bellow.

I rose from my hiding place, picking off the men.

Three, four, five.

The woman took down another one.

The guards at the top of the landing ramp boarding ramp withdrew, to the safety of their ship, triggering the retraction of the ramp.

Good.

Two less to worry about.

Eight, nine, 10.

“Shit!”

It was the woman’s voice, and if anything, she sounded angrier.

I glanced over and snarled.

One of the bastards had gotten the drop on her, the muzzle of his blaster pressed against her head.

“Bring her to me please,” the man with the tablet called out. “She’s just earned some extra payments to work off.”

Her captor knocked the blaster from her hands, marched her forwards.

“You should come out too,” the ringleader shouted in my direction. “Unless you want to watch your partner die.”

Void.

I’ve never seen this stupid woman before.

Not stupid, I corrected myself. Just human.

Slow.

Careless.

With a sigh I rose from behind the pillar, hands over my head.

“Hand your blaster to my man,” the leader of the kidnappers instructed me.

I did so.

“Thought you’d be so clever,” the idiot who took the blaster from me smirked. “Thought you could take us on by yourself and one woman?”

It wasn’t worth answering.

I walked over to stand next to the woman.

“You’ve made a mistake,” I told the man with the tablet. “Actually, a couple of them.”

“Oh?” Half the remaining guards were regathering the escaping women, while the others circled us.

“She’s not my partner. Never met her before in my life.”

The man’s lips flickered up in something almost like a smile. “So you just happened to be here, and she just happened to be armed?”

“Crazy universe,” I shrugged. “Weird shit happens all the time.”

“Do you have anything to say about this?” he turned to the woman.

She stayed silent, her chin high, but if her eyes were weapons, he would have been sliced into a thousand pieces.

“Nevermind, she’ll be screaming soon enough. I don’t usually deal in fighters,” the man said as he tapped his screen. “But there’s always a market for gladiatorial pits. Never goes out of style.”

“Never going to happen,” I said. “You forgot about your other mistake.”

He looked up, almost bored. “Like what?” His gaze swept over the circle of guards surrounding us. “You have no weapons. You’re surrounded. What do you think you’re going to do about it?”

I grinned.

“This.”

And I reached out, my claws ripping his throat out.

By the time his body hit the deck I’d spun to the closest guard, snapping his neck and taking his blaster.

After a fraction of a second of hesitation I tossed it to the woman, dispatching the next guard and taking his weapon for myself.

We’d almost finished by the time Xander and Quinn caught up.

In seconds it was over.

Quinn looked at the blood streaked room, shaking his head slowly.

“Is there a reason that you constantly want to keep Ronan pissed off?” 

I shrugged. “Seems to come natural.” 

I turned to check on the woman, but she’d already returned to the group of women, talking to them softly.

“You need anything?” I called over to her.

The annoyance in her eyes was slightly less lethal than what she turned onto the slaver. But only slightly.

“It would be nice if you did a better job keeping our people from being abducted,” she snapped. “If you can’t manage that, leave us alone.”

She turned her back.

“You’re just not very good with people, are you?” Xander sighed, then went over to try to get some more information from her.

I wiped my bloodied hands on my pants, handed the acquired blaster to Quinn.

“You may as well take care of the rest of this. I suspect Ronan’s gonna want to have a few words with me.”

He raised one eyebrow, surveying the chaos surrounding us.

“Thanks. I’ll return the favor someday.”

As I headed to the control room, the same questions that plagued me every day bounced through my skull.

What was I doing here? Was the wall between me and my brothers ever going to fall?

Could I let it? 

Did I even want to?

Entering the control room I should have been paying more attention to Ronan’s glower, but someone else demanded my attention first.

“What on earth happened to you?” Yasmin blurted, springing up from the low grey chair to rush over towards me.

“Are you injured? I mean I know not for long, but still, should somebody see to this?” 

Okay. I didn’t dislike Yasmin.

Maybe I should have at least washed my hands before coming in, so she wasn’t worried.

I’m fine,” I told her brusquely. “Everybody’s fine. Well, everyone who should be fine is fine. Everyone else is dead.”

She put a hand over her eyes. “It would make sense if Torik was feral. He was stuck in an ice cave, slaughtering those snow beasts for three years.” She lowered her hands, shaking her head. “You are just getting worse every day.”

I shrugged. “Remember, I spent those years dealing with the corps and their games.” I flashed a grin at her. “Tell me again how they’re different from wild beasts?”

“If I did not have more pressing business, we would have this out,” Ronan growled. “I can’t have you disobeying orders.  I can’t have anyone doing that.”

I should shut up. 

Arguing with Ronan when he was like this never ended well.

But somehow, ever since I’d been back in the welcoming arms of the Pack, my better sense had been on vacation.

Instead I shrugged. “Take it up with Doc. She’s the one who made us like this.”

Ronan twitched, visibly fighting to control the lunge that would take him over the desk.

Yasmin stood her ground next to me.

Smart lady.

Even if Ronan and I had it out one day, it would never be where she could potentially be injured.

She knew that. And I knew that too.

“So what’s more important?” I asked, heading towards one of the chairs.

“Don’t you dare sit down in that right now?” Yasmin snapped. “Lean against something that’s easier to clean.”

She walked over to Ronan’s desk while I took up a station by the wall.

“May I?”

“Maybe you should,” Ronan growled, then took his own chair, arms crossed over his chest.

“I’ve asked my brother to do some digging. Every corp he has contact with, everyone he talks to. The rest of your squad has to be out there somewhere.”

Her words fell like blows on my chest.

“Did he…” I swallowed hard. “What did he find?”

She shrugged, then threw a projection upon the wall, looked like personal notes, in a hand I didn’t recognize.

“I’m not sure. But I think it’s something. He’s been going back through Uncle’s,” she stopped herself, her face turning to a mask of ice. “Ran Denau’s records.”

I didn’t blame her for catching herself, for deciding not to claim family ties with that mad asshole. Her uncle had raised her and her twin, but only after killing her father to take control of the corporation. 

And then had nearly killed her.

He was a manipulative, overbearing, egocentric bastard.

I should know. I had a contract with him for two years.

Yasmin regained control of her voice.

There was a corp. that Denau did business with occasionally, very occasionally,” she clarified. 

“The main reason he logged anything in his personal notes was that the woman who ran it had a group of guards under contract.” She met my eyes. “He wanted them badly, but she wouldn’t sell the contract. Not for any price.

“And you think it’s the rest of them?” I asked.

She threw her hands up, walked away and back again.

“I don’t know! I don’t know what else would make sense.” 

She narrowed her eyes, tapping the screen.

“But whatever else he was, Denau wasn’t stupid. If you were already working with him, he would’ve recognized your brothers. I’m sure of it. And he would’ve wanted them.”

I pushed away from the wall.

“Where is this corp? Who do I talk to?”

“Hold up,” Ronan said. “You know the most about the Atretis system than any of us. But I don’t know if I can trust you.”

The words stung, more than they should have.

“Since you’ve been back you’ve changed,” Ronan said, eyes narrowed. “We’re a pack. You are insisting on being a lone wolf.

His jaw tensed. “Trust me. We’re not built for it.”

“I need to go and see if it is them.” I argued.

And,” I took a deep breath. “When I come back, I’ll see Doc. See if there’s something wrong with me.”

Ronan’s eyes didn’t leave mine for long minutes.

“Go. Get information.” His face softened and he stood. “The last few years have taken a toll. We can’t afford to lose any more of us. And we can’t afford to fracture from within.”

I nodded sharply. He was right. I just wasn’t sure what I could do about it.

Yasmin came to my side.

“Since you’re going to be heading out, I was wondering if you’d like to take on another errand on the way?” 

I smiled at her. “Need something picked up from back home?”

She shook her head, eyes bright.

“No, but Hakon and I have been working on a little project.”

***

 We took the lift down to the hanger level where The Queen was berthed.

“Don’t tell me you’ve made any modifications to Granny Z’s ship?” I wondered.

Yasmin’s eyes widened. “Do I look stupid? Because messing with the favorite toy of a legendary pirate queen would be pretty stupid.”

She glanced up at me from the corner of her eye. “But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been taking some notes.”

We passed that hanger, moved to the next.

Yasmin placed her hand against the panel, leaned closer for an iris scan. With a soft beep the door slid open.

“This looks like more than taking notes,” I said quietly as I followed her into the room.

Not as sleek as The Queen. Not as curved and slender, a silver needle ready to dart through the stars.

Which honestly was a fine thing.

I’ve been out on her for a single mission in that thing and had to hold my breath the entire way.

Too small for someone my size.

The craft in front of me was blocky, nothing in particular to write home about, I would’ve guessed.

That is, only if you ignored Yasmin bouncing up and down on her toes, her grin getting only broader as we approached it.

“I think, I really think we’ve figured out The Queen’s engines,” she breathed. “Possibly made a few other modifications, using that fuel from Alcyon.”

I snorted. “Since when have you started working with Desyk?”

She shrugged. “As soon as I realized they weren’t really the enemy it got a lot easier. Besides, I really wanted to play with that fuel.”

“Honey, we’re home!”

After a moment Haakon leaned out of the hatch. “Good. You found a victim. Volunteer. Whatever.”

I could feel my face freeze into a mask and cursed myself.

I liked Hakon. At least, as much as I liked anyone these days.

And yet…

“That sounds exciting,” I answered. “Do I get more details or should I just randomly push buttons and tell you what happens?”

The Vixen isn’t going to blow up,” Yasmin protested as Hakon swung her up into the hatch. “At least, she hasn’t blown up yet.”

I jumped inside the ship. “This fills me with confidence. Please, tell me more.”

The Queen is all well and good for stealth missions,” Haakon said. “But really, what we need is that engine in more ships.”

“Or at least, something that can fold almost as fast, without attracting as much attention when you arrive.” Yasmin explained. “Let me show you the engines.”

“You can,” I shrugged. “But it’s not gonna do any of us any good,” I said. “Unlike your mate, fixing things isn’t one of my skills. Flying them however…”

“Which is why you’re perfect for this,” Hakon slapped my shoulder. “Fly her, tell us how it goes when you get back. Don’t try to mess with the engines.”

Before long I had as much of the tour I needed.

Supplies were on board, coordinates laid in.

Yasmin looked over her shoulder as she jumped out the hatch back into the dock.

“Either my new engine will get you back to the Areitis Sector almost as fast as The Queen would, or you’ll go the long way, under conventional power.”

Haakon wrapped an arm around her.

“There’s a third  option, but I don’t think it’s very likely,” he said.

I hit the switch to close the hatch. “Option three is that it goes boom, isn’t it?”

His teeth flashed as he grinned. “So many things in our lives do, don’t they?”

I couldn’t argue with that.

I made my way back to the cockpit, made sure they were well past the fire line before I powered up and headed out past the force screen, into the Black.

It was good to be alone. By myself. No one but me to fall back on, no pesky issues of trust to have to endlessly sort out.

Whatever Ronan had said about whether or not we were built to be alone, I knew differently.

Apparently some things could change beyond our original manufacturing specs.

Change irrevocably.

Carefully I guided The Vixen well past Orem’s space, getting used to the feel of the controls, how she responded under my fingers.

For the third time I checked the coordinates.

A small moon deep in the Aretis Sector, the home of Transaman Corp.

I didn’t remember ever hearing of it before.

My hand hovered over the button that would trigger the new experimental engine.

Be there in the blink of an eye or take days of travel.

Or, the ever present option three.

Boom.

I hit the button.

Time to find out.

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