Taken: Chapter One

Chapter One: Cyntha

“Do you have any more of that silver wire, Cyntha?” Talley asked, her little girl voice squeaking at me from the front of the shop.

“Hang on!” I shouted.

The noise from the other booth made it almost impossible to hear. The Hub, down here in the Under, vibrated with all the activity that people create when they are working their asses off to survive.

I reached up to a shelf, sure that there was some dynaflex wire in the shambles I call my storage.

Talley was adorable and precocious, at that age where she still hadn’t found out just how much crent the world had in store for her.

She’d had a few rough bangs for a kid, but was tough.

I rummaged around in the detritus, putting my hand on a glowing tube of phorus.“That’s where you got to, you little crent.” I whispered as I put it in my pocket.

Talley yelled again, but she was just repeating herself.

I really wished she’d call me “Cynth” or indeed anything else. She sounded so formal all the time.

But, then again, she was barely pre-teen, so I supposed I should have been more patient. The girl was always asking me questions about every little thing and I wasn’t so far removed from her age that I couldn’t remember how confusing everything is to you then.

Still aggravating at times, because she hadn’t developed the sense of knowing not to interrupt me when I was deep in thought.

And, I was deep in thought…about Daix, again.

He had disappeared just over a year ago, right after he dropped Talley off ‘for a visit.’

Talley was a good kid, not at all like my dumbass, muscle-head of a brother.

More like her mom…

I could not even imagine what Talley must have gone through, poor girl, to have found her mother like that.

The vidcapts I saw were entirely the worst thing ever.

Whatever Bobby had OD’d on, it didn’t make leave much for a pretty corpse. Talley had the misfortune to have walked in and found her.

Daix told me she screamed so loudly he had heard her all the way down in the Cut, two metros down-flight. He’d run back as fast as he could; the Cutter gang were there, and he shoved through them to get to Bobby.

He’d end up paying for that little show of disrespect later, probably. But right then, he was having a flash of being a good dad.  Talley had been screaming and pushing at Bobby, trying to wake her mother. But there had been nothing left in the woman’s skull at all.


It looked as if her brains had just run out of the holes in her head.

I shuddered.

“Do you have any more of the gold stuff, Cyntha? You know, the little balls?” Talley yelled from the front, pulling me back to the present.

I spied the glimmering wire I sought.

“Gotcha.” I said triumphantly.

I sighed inwardly, trying to work out what happened to Daix, as I retrieved the spool of dynaflex.

Dynaflex is my favorite medium for crafting eschen, designs of special metals that create fractal pattern.

When they mix with aurospheres, just a little UV light, some heat, and a touch of charcoal all blends to create a colorful metallic patina that enhances the holographic gems I use for focusing the light.

I hunted for my squeeze gun that had a phial of auros, but there were only a few tiny bits left in the reservoir.


I was going to grow some more last week, but I’d forgotten to stock up on the raw materials. Not having enough credits wasn’t helping, either.

“Cyntha, hurry up! The crucible is losing heat!” Talley yelled.

I walked back into the kiln room where Talley had her eschen filigree template ready for the addition of the auros.

“Let me do it this time,” she wheedled.

I rolled my eyes. “Talley, you aren’t steady enough yet,” I warned.

“How can I get steady if you won’t let me practice?”

“Auros are…not inexpensive, girl,” I said, trying to not sound like a cheap ass.

“So? You can always get more.” she insisted.

I gave in to her little brown eyes and her cute, charming pout.

I used to do the same thing to people to get my way. It still worked. How could I refuse such an adorable face?

“Ok, okay… Calm down, Talley, or you’ll cause the melt to curl, and then this will all be for nothing,” I instructed.

She nodded impatiently, moving into position to hold the probe, using it to position a small strand of the dynaflex wire, concentrating on forming it properly.

I watched as Talley carefully placed the dynaflex wire into the mold, and the template shifted automatically as it conformed to her probe.

“Look at that, Cyntha. It’s really smooth.” she marveled.

Her pure pleasure from a common metallurgical event made up for all the irritation. Maybe we’d connect over this. Maybe crafting beautiful things together would get us through her teenage years…

Talley added two auros. They bubbled and melted alongside the dynaflex, forming spirals and then helices around the wire. It seemed almost magical.

“Talley, watch the temperature. I’m going to add some UV. Get your eye protection on.”

She reached for her glasses, not paying attention to what she was doing.

And bumped the crucible.

Before I could react, it spilled.

She grabbed at it instinctively but screamed in agony as she touched the molten material, the tips of her fingers burning.

Jolted, the crucible flew across the narrow space between my workshop and the next, onto my asshole neighbor’s counter, where it immediately burst into flame.

Of course.

“What the fuck is going on!” Fontaine yelped. He ran a smoke shop, but earned most of his stash making accessories for consuming some of the more illicit substances. And he just oozed creepiness.

Didn’t like him, didn’t trust him. Besides general principle, I suspected he was the one who had sold Bobby her lethal dose.

Usually we ignored each other. Today that couldn’t happen, more’s the pity.

“Don’t touch it. It’s dynaflex and aurospheres,” I snapped back.

“What the fuck are you doing throwing it around …” he muttered, but I didn’t hear the rest because Talley was screaming in pain at the top of her lungs.

I ran back to the storage for the medkit. Grabbing two stents and a flurospray, I rushed back to Talley and pressed one stent into her arm.

She went quiet almost immediately as the narcotic hit her. Her fingers were burned pretty badly, so I sprayed the flurospray onto them.

The foam bubbled, as the genetic material rebuilt the damaged sections. Talley sat, quietly watching, as skin of her finger pads regrew.

While she was still numb, I used my extinguisher to put out the fire on Fontaine’s bench.

He was seething with anger. “You bitch. What the crent are you doing to my shop!” he yelled.

“Shut up, Fontaine. The girl is hurt. Leave me alone or I’ll let it burn,” I yelled back.

He grunted and made an obscene gesture.

I ignored him, and cleaned the melt from his bench, carefully moving it into a disposal ampule.

Crent. There went a good portion of my credit balance.

Talley’s fingers were almost completely healed, and so I shot her with the other stent.

She came to, wailing, then looked stunned at the disaster before her.

“Are you okay?” I asked.


“Why didn’t you let me do the UV, Cyntha? I could have done it, and we wouldn’t have spilled the melt onto Mr. Fontaine’s bench,” she cried.

Fontaine grinned, more of a leer, at Talley’s use of the word “mister.”


I glared at him and removed Talley into the other room. The last shred of my nerves finally snapped. “You stay away from that crenthead, Talley,” I warned her.

“You can’t tell me what to do, Cyntha. You aren’t my mother!” she shrieked.

I felt a knife in my heart.

Okay, then.

The soft touch wasn’t working.

“Talley, keep away from him, do you understand?” I said.

She pouted, folding her thin arms across her chest. “You can’t make me!”

That was it.

I grabbed her by her arm, pulled her towards the back of the booth. It was time for a chat.

“Let me go, Cyntha.” she screamed, loud enough to attract unwanted attention from a couple of Wheeler gang members walking past our booth.

She tore loose from me, racing into the crowd.

I tried to go after her, but one of the Wheelers pushed between us.

“Sup, lady?” the big bruiser asked. I knew him from seeing him around the Under.

He was trouble.

“Mind your own crent, asshole.” I said, hoping that my disrespect would present to him as power. Slight chance, but hopes were all I had some days.

He grinned, one of his teeth dangling from his mouth.

He licked his lips and moved his tongue around his face, pushing the tooth up and down.

Stupid mods.

Of all the damned things one could spend their credits on, he got himself a tongue that he can lick the back of his head with.

I rolled my eyes.

“Later, eh, bitch?” he said, laughing along with all his buddies.

“Dream on, asshole.” I muttered and shoved past him.

I looked everywhere, peering into the crowd.

But Talley was gone.


I called after her, but in the bustling workspaces there were an endless maze of places to hide.

Damn it.

I walked back inside, hoping she’d just run off to find a squeezer, have some down ime until she cooled off.

Cleaning up the mess, I calculated how much I’d just lost. Not just supplies and creds, but any progress I thought Talley and I had made was nothing more than the rest of my hopes.

I swore under my breath, and then suddenly realized that it had been over an hour since Talley had run off.

Now, I was getting a bit worried.

I called Loree to see if maybe Talley had gone to visit her, go hang out in the Bazaar, but she wasn’t answering her comm.


“Fontaine. Look after my berth. There’s three credits in it for you.” I shouted, as I secured my shop.

I didn’t expect the old bastard to do crent, but at least I knew he’d keep an eye on things, even if he would just creep over to my shop and take something.

He’d been known to steal things from his neighbors, but he always denied it.

“You still owe me for my workbench, and time lost, and also for keeping you out of trouble with the ‘Forcers, not to mention the gangs. Don’t you know how valuable stents are? Let alone the flurospray. You better make this worth my while, bitch, or I will tell Wheelers about your little stash.” he sputtered.

I flipped him a finger – two, actually – and spit through them at him.

He made demon horns back at me, laughing.

Then, he turned back into his shop, no doubt duping some other poor fool, while I went out in search of Talley.




I tried to think of places where I would go, if I were a pissed-off girl-child.

When I was younger, we got into all manner of trouble, like pricking the wheels of the skimmers, or putting lotion on the uprights, so that people would slip, and then we’d gang up on them and take something from them.

But, that was when the kid-packs weren’t as serious as they had become.

Most of the gangs on the Upper and Lower Tiers were just nuisances.

Kids being kids, they only caused some mischief and minor vandalism.

They were bored, not deadly.

Down here, in the Under, the kid gangs were breeding grounds for the thugs that made up the harder gangs.

Recruiting happened all the time, becoming more vicious, the farther out on the rim you went.

Out near the space docks, there usually were not kid gangs, unless they were being used as a diversion by the organized syndicates.

I tried to focus on my mission – finding Talley.

I pinged Loree again, chewing on my lip.

“Cintha, what’s wrong?”

Loree was my best friend. We’d been together through hell, through the the dump we’d been warehoused in as kids, breaking out and making it on our own.

Bit by bit she’d pulled herself out of the Under, made a life with her mad hacking skills. And all the while I’d worried that the disease that keep stealing her health would take her from me all together.

But somehow she met one of the new enforcers hanging around Orem. And somehow, by some miracle, she had her legs back.

She kept promising to explain it all to me, but I noticed the details never quite emerged.

Right now, all I cared about was her contacts.

“Can you have the guys keep an eye out for Talley?” I blurted.

“What’s wrong, do want me to come down?”

She would. She’d drop everything, and I loved her for it. “No, we had a fight. Chances are she’s just sulking… but maybe if you ask your man for a favor.”

Her bright laugh lifted my spirits. “I think he owes me a few. Are you sure you don’t want me to check with one of his brothers?”

My cheeks flamed. Lorcan was the enforcer who’d been patrolling my section of the Under lately. We hadn’t exactly talked much, but there was something about him…I could see why Loree had married into the family.

“Quiet, you,” I growled and she squealed, obviously pleased to have scored a hit. “Just let me know if you hear from the little punk.”

“Sure thing. See ya’ sooner. Keep your heels dry,” she squealed, and signed off.

Well, that was of no use at all, I thought, frowning.

I dreaded my next move, but there really wasn’t any choice. I took the tube heading out to the ‘port. It was a logical assumption.

I used to love to ride on it.  It was fairly safe, or at least it had been. Best of all, it was free.

So, if I were trying to cool down, or just get away, I guess it would be the most logical choice.

Not that Talley had been that logical lately…

But, Daix hadn’t been either.





I rode the tube out to the docks and looked over all the ships floating around Orem. Most freighter or supply ships, a few miner boats coming back from the ‘roids with ore or ice. A couple of sleeker cruisers, and some Imperial vessels.

Why they were way out here? Probably looking for some low-rent excitement, or something that would be illegal in the heart of the Empire.

Not really much of an issue out here.

When the Tube stopped, I headed out, started thinking. There were a lot of places to get lost out here, but I followed my instincts and went straight to the closest squeezer.

“One pink, please,” I said, tossing a credit on the counter.

The bored man behind the tray handed me a bright confection, and I licked it for a minute, trying to get the taste of the Tube out of my mouth.

“Hey. You seen any little girls out here?” I said, munching the coating on the pink.

“I see plenty. Alla time,” he grunted.

“You seen this one?” I asked, and showed him Talley’s picture from my comm.

He looked at it, not really paying attention. Then, he looked startled.

“I neverseenherinmylife…” he stammered.


I looked around, and didn’t see too many customers around us. I walked into his cube, then pressed the button marked “CLOSE.”

Shutters automatically came down, and then we stood in his cube, alone, the dim lights outlining how pissed I was.

“You bastard. Where is she?” I yelled, grabbing him by one of his apron straps, shoving his face into the freezing liquid pink.

Who knew that parenting could rile me up this much?

He shouted, then I pushed his entire head into it, holding it until the bubbles almost stopped.

I yanked him out, and he gasped and sputtered.

“Wheelers. Wheelers took her. I swear. Just a couple minutes after she got off the Tube. She came over here, and they grabbed her. She fought good. But, they must have been on the Tube with her. Please. Let me live.” he wailed.

His eyes were frozen shut, the pink covering his entire face, only his mouth moving.

I wiped off his nostrils, and then shoved him to the ground and kicked him, hard.

“You bastard. You could have called someone. You know what they do? What will happen to a girl like that?” I seethed.

He struggled, trying to avoid my blows until I calmed down, realizing I was wasting precious time.

Frantically looking around the cube, I saw he had a small cutter. I took it, then spun, giving the bastard one last kick in his nuts.

Pushing the button to “OPEN”, I stormed away from the cube. I knew exactly where I was going now.

I ran, avoiding anyone I possibly could.

It wasn’t fear what I’d done to that moron at the squeezer.

It was from my anxiety, my sense of being too late.

I’d wasted too much time already.

Talley was in deep crent, no lie.

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