Authors: Nobilis Reed
Digital (eBook) version
© 2010 Nobilis Reed
Published by Logical-Lust Publications
57 Blair Avenue
Edited by Rachel McIntyre
Book layout and typesetting by jimandzetta.com
Cover art & design © 2010 Gypsy Thornton
Published in the UK and the USA
Print ISBN 9781905091683. Paperback available from www.logical-lust.com and good online retailers
is a work of fiction. The names, characters, and incidents are entirely the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, transmitted, or recorded by any means whatsoever, including printing, photocopying, file transfer, or any form of data storage, mechanical or electronic, without the express written consent of the publisher. In addition, no part of this publication may be lent, re-sold, hired, or otherwise circulated or distributed, in any form whatsoever, without the express written consent of the publisher.
I stepped off the lift and froze. Two huge men sat at one of the tables across the mess deck, scanning the small crowd. They weren’t wearing space armor, but I knew who they were. Marines. One had a long scar running from his temple down to the corner of his mouth, pulling it into a permanent sneer. The other had a nose crushed flat to his face, and lacked one finger on his left hand. Long, bulky weapons hung from straps on their shoulders, ready for use at a moment’s notice.
Steaming cups of tea sat between them, but they weren’t drinking. They were watching.
Valka squeezed my hand. “Challers . . .”
“Yes, I see them,” I whispered. “Just act casual. Don’t raise their suspicions. We don’t know what they’re here for.”
“Nonsense. You know exactly what they’re here for.”
We walked slowly to the counter to pick up our trays of vedgepacks, teabulbs, and bean-curd cubes. I tried not to look at them, but my eyes kept darting in their direction. They were watching
I led Valka over to a table on the opposite side of the room. They were still watching with half-amused interest.
“They know,” she whispered.
“Of course they do. The station’s personnel roster is available to anyone.” I growled and bit off the end of the teabulb. “Why don’t they just do it? Why are they stretching it out?”
“Maybe they don’t need anyone right now.”
“They always need people. They’re Marines.” I munched on the sticks of carrots and celery, saving the bland bean curd for last. I knew from experience that I would feel fuller if I left it. “Valka, I can’t live like this anymore—hiding whenever there are Marines around, or Merchants? Stakroya Station is a trade hub. There’s a ship here more often than not, and with the station overpop, they can take one of us any time they want.”
“What are you going to do, just throw yourself at them? Demand they take you, make you into one of them?” There was an edge of sarcasm in her voice, but I deserved it.
“Sometimes I think it would be better than this terrible waiting, and it would keep you from getting taken by the Merchants. Why did the Jacksons have to go and have twins?”
“It doesn’t matter why.” She reached across the table and gripped my hand. “They did and we’re the ones who’ll pay for it if we can’t get off the station by joining the Scouts. We can get away. We can do it.”
I nodded. “We have to.”
The Fleet and the Merchants transformed their recruits, shaping their bodies to be more useful to the service. Marines became hugely muscled, thick-skinned giants, built for perpetual combat. Rumors held that they engaged in gladiatorial games on their ships. Merchant crews were clumsy blobs of flesh, fat on the profits of interstellar trade. I shuddered to think of what Valka would look like if they got her, but worse would be the separation from the only woman I had ever loved.
I picked up the lettuce-leaf full of bean curd and crammed it into my mouth. It was more than a mouthful, but I wanted this meal to be over as soon as possible. Once I choked it down, I glanced at Valka’s tray. She had finished her meal quickly as well.
I held out my hand. “Come on. Let’s get back to work.”