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Cover and Text Copyright © 2020 by Clarissa Lake
Becca Clayton could hardly believe that she was finally at the beach, spending the week at her boss’s cottage on the ocean. The dead of winter in the middle of Pennsylvania brought too much snow with short gloomy days and long cold nights. She was glad to exchange that for blue sky and sunshine. The last few weeks at work had been stressful, mainly because they were short-handed for nurses due to illness. It was the middle of the flu season, so Becca had worked more double shifts than she ever wanted.
Becca loved being a nurse. It was all she had ever dreamed of as a child, and she was good at it. It was also hard work. But now she was at the beach, and she had it all to herself. She had carried the old wooden chaise lounge out to the beach facing the ocean. Although it was a bit heavy, she managed. Becca went back for the umbrella and her beach bag with the book that she had been reading. Setting up the umbrella, she decided to keep on her white beach shirt over her blue bikini.
She was a little leery about swimming in the ocean alone, and it probably wasn’t warm enough for swimming. Just sitting at the beach, watching the waves roll in with blue sky and sunshine, inhaling the salty sea air was cathartic.
Becca didn’t mind coming here all by herself. In truth, she had been getting burned out from working so many hours. She needed time alone to regroup. Her friend and boss, Nancy Peters, could see what was happening to her and suggested that she take her upcoming vacation at Nancy’s family cottage.
The fact that it was relatively isolated, and Becca would have it all to herself was too enticing to pass up. Nancy assured her that it would be completely safe.
No call lights or buzzers, or monitor alarms, or patients were calling from their rooms… Just sitting in the sunshine with a good book all by herself was what she was needed. Watching the waves come in and in recede, Becca felt a sense of calm stealing through her. With a blissful sigh, she picked up her book and started to read the romance adventure she had picked for her vacation.
She had started reading it on the plane, turning back the corner of the thick paperback where she had left off. She opened the book and started to read the story that took her to the Amazon jungles of South America.
It wasn’t that the book was so dull. It was more the overwork of the past few weeks that caused Becca’s eyes to droop, and soon she fell asleep.
Becca Clayton gasped and blinked against the blinding white light shining in her eyes. Tremors shook her body in waves. Her head was throbbing with every beat of her heart. What the hell? Still trying to focus against the bright light overhead, she felt a sting against her neck preceded by a soft hiss.
“Try to stay calm,” someone said in a gravelly voice. “You will feel better in a few micro spans.”
“The light hurts my eyes,” she murmured shakily.
“We’re almost done here,” the same gravelly voice said, but she couldn’t see his face against the bright light. A hand slid behind her head, lifting it, while the other hand slid something behind her neck. Then it closed around her neck, pressing a little too tightly against her throat.
“Too tight,” she rasped.
Becca did, and after a moment, it seemed to expand. There came a whoosh sound and soft footfalls.
“The attendants will take you to the holding chamber.”
As he helped her sit up, she realized she was naked. The attendants were doe-eyed creatures with budding horns sticking up from the top of their foreheads. Becca shook her head and blinked, making a whimpering sound as two four-fingered hands closed around her upper arms.
“No, wait! Who are you? Where are you taking me?”
“Do not resist, and we will not hurt you. You are now a slave of the Sargus Empire on the planet Ideshan.”
“No, no, no, no, no, I’m not. Slavery is illegal.”
“Not here.” One of the horned “men” said.
Becca started to struggle, trying to wrench her arms free from their grip. This couldn’t be real. It had to be a nightmare; she just needed to wake up. Aliens weren’t real. Those stories about them coming to Earth and stealing people weren’t real. None of it was real. She continued to fight them and crying hysterically.
excruciating pain surged up and down her spine and through her skull. Her
muscles seized, and her body shook. Becca couldn’t breathe or even make a
sound. When the pain stopped, she gasped several times but made no resistance
as the two aliens urged her to stand. She didn’t remember anything, unable to
string two thoughts together for a long time after that.
Roran Sovaktu stopped in the corridor outside Deeto Brantu’s office on Bakket Space Station. He already had the bad news that his boyhood friend was dead. He was murdered less than a rotation before Roran got back.
He found Deeto sitting at his desk in the superintendent’s office of the space station. Deeto sat, rubbing his temples as though his head ached. He looked up as Roran entered.
“I didn’t even want to tell you this let alone spring it on you the moment you dock your spaceship here.” Deeto paused and sighed ruefully. “The security cameras outside Haemeg flat didn’t record their faces. However, the hidden cameras within Haemeg’s flat did. It showed everything, and it was awful. Are you sure you want to see this?”
“Of course, I don’t want to see it, but I think I have to if I’m going to figure out who and why they did this.” Roran gritted out.
Deeto gestured to the chair in front of his desk, and Roran dropped his tall, muscular body into it. He turned the chair slightly so that he could see the virtual screen at his handler called up.
Three powerfully built humanoid males arrived at the door to Haemag’s flat. As Deeto had said, they turned their heads so that the security camera could not show their faces. The door opened, and Haemeg gestured for them to enter and appeared to have a welcoming smile. It seemed clear that he knew them and apparently did not fear them.
Haemeg was dressed in his bathrobe as he went to the bar, turning his back on the three men.
Their visit seemed friendly at first as Haemeg took out glasses to pour drinks. His attention had waned for just a micro span. Somehow, it seemed that Haemeg’s sixth sense alerted him that he was about to be attacked. As the three converged on him, he whirled with a bottle he’d brought out to pour from and smashed it into the head of the first attacker.
Haemeg fought them valiantly holding his own for quite some time before one of them hit him in the head with a piece of furniture. That’s when the other two grabbed him. The third man beat Haemeg with his fists up and down his body and in his face.
When the puncher grew tired, he took the other man’s place to hold Haemeg up for their abuse. The other man took out a small dagger and started stabbing Haemeg. After the dagger man got tired the other two men let him fall to the floor where they kicked him and stomped on his back then let dagger man stabbed him some more.
Roran swore under his breath. He could hardly believe his eyes as they continued to abuse Haemeg’s lifeless body. “Thank the Maker; he was unconscious for all this. What the fuck did he ever do to them? They are just playing with him when he is probably already dead.”
Deeto said, “they clearly came to kill Haemeg, and they didn’t waste any time getting down to it. I’ve been running facial recognition since this happened. Why don’t you go look at the scene and see if anything jumps out at you?”
“I wonder who Haemeg pissed off for them to go at him like that. Haemeg is a nice guy—was a nice guy. People you usually liked him.”
“I can’t imagine. It’s going to be hard to identify them because they closely resemble each other. It almost looks like a hate crime. I doubt that the computer will find them even if it can determine their species, but I will give it a try.”
“I don’t recognize the species,” said Roran. “They were probably paid assassins. Even if I find the three of them, I don’t know if I can trace them back to whoever all ordered them to kill Haemeg. But, if I do, I will end them.”
Roran and Haemeg not only went back to their rookie days with Consortium Intelligence, they went further back than that because they had both served in the Farseek Brigade fighting against the Sargus Empire. They were from the same town on Farseek and played together as children. He considered Haemeg, his best friend.
Haemeg Posar’s flat. The door was open and could see a couple of station security officers walking around. He stood watching them, hands on his hips, as they recorded their findings. Nothing had been cleaned up yet because he could smell Haemag’s blood. He had clearance to enter, but he needed a moment to prepare himself to see what he expected to see. There was blood spatter on the wall, the sofa, and small puddles dispersed over the floor. He knew seeing the body would drive home the fact that Haemeg was dead.
Roran finally stepped inside the flat. The security officers nodded, and one of them gestured at the blood-spattered sofa. Haemeg’s body lay face down behind it, his bloody feet visible at the end. They hadn’t covered the body yet, leaving it for Roran to examine it just as they found it. He already knew what he would see.
Haemeg was tortured and murdered. Roran drew in a long breath and let it out, preparing himself to look at the body of his friend and fellow covert agent of the Transtellar Consortium. Together, they had run a smuggling operation out of the space station as cover for spying on the Sargan Empire. Something big was going down, but Roran didn’t figure it out until he got the news that Sargus Empire battleships bombed Farseek to ruin.
That made no more sense than Haemeg lying dead across the room in a pool of his own blood. The Sargans had just signed the peace treaty after ten star-spans of war. Border skirmishes were expected, but Farseek was deep inside the Consortium sectors, a five-hundred-year-old agricultural colony. But it made sense to someone, and he could only guess that was why Haemeg was murdered.
With a rueful sigh, Roran crossed the few steps to the sofa. If he didn’t know this was Haemeg, he might not have recognized him. He had been beaten almost beyond recognition. Assessing the many cuts and stab wounds on top of the beating, Roran guessed they were trying to get something out of him. It was more than a simple assassination. It looked more like revenge.
Roran shook his head. He and Haemeg had made lots of enemies along the way. For all he knew, whoever killed Haemeg would come after him next. Pulling on a pair of exam gloves, he hunkered down to examine his friend’s body only to see if there were any clues as to who killed him.
He turned over the body, and it was a mass of cuts and bruises, and his face so swollen and bloody he could barely see the resemblance to his friend. But there was no real evidence to help determine who did this. Deeto Brantu said the security vids show that Haemeg let them in, but they knew how to avoid the camera from seeing their faces.
Roran could hardly reconcile the body in front of him with his memory of his friend. For a moment, he felt a blinding stab of grief, and it almost took his breath away as memories flash through his mind of all the things they had done together. It would be clichéd to say they were like brothers, but their friendship was all that and more.
Haemeg had pulled his ass out of danger more times than he could remember. He only wished that he had been there when Haemeg needed his help. Roran couldn’t let himself feel the pain of loss now, or he wouldn’t be able to do his job.
Finally, Roran stood and stalked out of Haemeg’s flat, heading back to the Ditto’s office to see the computer dump from his friend’s ship computer. He would look at Haemeg’s itinerary from when he left Bakket’s Station, which was the last time Roran had seen him.
had been in good spirits at the time.
There was no indication that he might have been heading into
danger. They had had a few drinks at the
cantina, laughing and joking while they played a kind of dart game. Now, it would never happen again.
The computer dump from Haemeg’s ship included the data from his com tablet. That would give Roran his itinerary everywhere Haemeg had stopped. Nothing in his spaceship had been touched, so Roran figured the thugs who killed him weren’t looking for anything. They simply came to kill Haemeg. It also seemed pretty clear someone probably paid them to do it.
Even so, Roran decided to examine his friend’s ship for any clues, and partly just to feel Haemeg’s essence one more time. Deeto would have notified the next of kin, but Farseek had been plundered of most of its population, which was where Haemeg’s next of kin lived. His parents and siblings were likely slaves on some planet in the Sargus Empire. So were Roran’s parents.
That was another grief that he put away in the back of his mind to let himself feel it when he finally had the time. Compounded with the heartache for the attack on his planet, it was just too much to bear. Until the news of the Farseek attack and the death of his friend, Roran had kicked around the idea that he might find a mate and go back to Farseek to make a family.
But that no longer seemed possible. Just sharing sex with a willing woman was hardly better than his own hand. Although it was a long shot, he had fantasized finding his soul mate, solmatu in his language. Those he knew that were solmatu enjoyed a level of passion that others would never experience, at least according to Uatu legend.
There was a time that it all seemed possible, even the years that he spent fighting the wars. Farseek was that safe haven where nothing bad should ever happen, where people lived in peace in harmony with each other and with their world. Now, the Sargans had taken that away; they had taken everything away, his home, his family, and his best friend.
Now his only reason to go on was to exact revenge. Alone in Haemeg’s ship, Roran roared his pain long and hard. That indulgence left him hoarse. No one could hear him there in the moments of his darkest despair. Finally, he wept. He would grieve for a long time to come, for Haemeg and his family, and the destruction of his world.
Once he left his friend’s ship, there was no longer any reason for him to stay on the space station. He headed back to his ship to go out and find those who had wronged him, his friends, and his people.
Roran’s first stop was a planet called Ideshan in Sargus Empire territory. It was a prime sparsely settled agricultural world, but they also did considerable slave trade with two major auction houses. There was also a typical spaceport seedy tavern that Haemeg liked to frequent. But it was more for the company rather than the second-rate alcoholic beverages, and simple foods served there.
His friend made it a point of stopping there whenever his travels took them near that system. A woman named Kasra Margon was the owner and served as one of Haemeg’s confidential informants. She was also his lover.
Roran’s hoped Kasra could shed some light on what Haemeg was doing and who he talked to while he was there. He would also take the opportunity to visit the slave auction houses to see if they were selling any slaves from Farseek. Although he knew the Farseek Brigade was also searching, their small fleet could only cover a few planets at a time.
He only wished he didn’t have to tell Kasra that Haemeg was dead. Their relationship began as a casual one, and their bond grew over time. Despite the fact they saw each other infrequently, they loved each other.
had only seen her a few times in person, but he was sure that Haemeg mentioned
him frequently. He already knew how it
felt never to see his friend again alive; he didn’t relish inflicting that pain
During the few days before reaching, Ideshan Roran spent the time reviewing Haemeg’s ship’s logs, specifically the coded parts. Those were the entries that might give Roran clues to whatever Haemeg did that got him killed. This was more than a simple assassination. It looked like payback. Although the murder could be staged that way. Even though the cameras in Haemeg’s quarters showed their faces, Deeto had not yet gotten identification on who these men were, or where Roran might find them.
Roran had good copies of their faces, loaded into his com tablet, in hopes that he could get an ID from someone in his travels. He had no trouble getting landing clearance on Ideshan due to his reputation for bringing contraband into the Sargus Empire from the Consortium.
The Consortium banned selling all tech to any planet in the Sargus Empire for their perpetuation of slavery. The Consortium prohibited the sale of most products to the world’s that comprised the Sargus Empire.
Ironically, battleships from the Sargus Empire were bombing Farseek while their diplomats were signing the peace accords to end the war between the Transtellar Consortium and the Sargus Empire. In that agreement, the Sargus Empire would end slavery throughout the empire in return for the Consortium resuming trade with the Empire.
Roran had received information from his superiors regarding a new alliance with the United Galactic Alliance of Worlds that governed the sectors on the far side of the Sargus Empire. The Sargus Empire was also sending slavers to their worlds abducting sentient humanoids to work their farms and factories that were never automated. The Empire based their whole economy on goods and services provided by slaves. That is people they stole from other worlds like Farseek and faraway worlds in the United Galactic Alliance.
The two entities put the squeeze on the Sargus Empire. They sent a combined strike force to Sargus Four to assassinate Arbentine Sargus and defeat any resistance of his military. The Consortium immediately outlawed slavery in all sectors of the Sargus Empire. However, simply declaring it wouldn’t make it so.
The Consortium and the Alliance split the former Sargus Empire, each taking half the sectors to govern. They still had to convince the Sargus Empire military to stand down and surrender so they could concentrate on ending slavery on the individual worlds.
The Farseek Brigade tried to do that on their own. As good as they were, the Sargus Empire forces nearly overwhelmed them by their sheer numbers. The Consortium and the Alliance asked the Farseekans to stand down.
That didn’t sit well with the Farseekans, who negotiated a compromise. So, they joined join the Consortium Defense Force with their dreadnaughts under the Consortium command as they had been during the war.
Roran would always think of himself as a Farseek Warrior. He was proud of his Uatu heritage.
Roran found Haemeg’s lover attending the bar at her tavern in Port Ideshan city. Second meal was over, and third or evening meal was still a few hours away. A lone male was nursing a large mug of ale and doing something with his com tablet at a table at the back of the room.
“Roran, what brings you here. It’s been a long time.” Kasra gave him a welcome smile as he approached. She frowned at his grim expression when he didn’t return her smile. She knew from the look on his face; she didn’t want to hear the next words he said.
His eyes began to water. “I am so sorry, Kasra,” he said with a catch in his throat. “Haemeg is dead.”
“Oh, no! No,” she began to cry. “How, when?” she said at the end of a sob.
“Murdered, by a trio of thugs, he let into his flat at Bekket Station. We have their faces on the vid, but we haven’t been able to identify them.”
Kasra took a moment to force back her sobs and wiped the tears from her face with her hands. “Show me.”
Roran drew a shaky breath, and took out his tablet, unfolding it to make the screen bigger. He touched something on it then turned it to Kasra.
“Yes, they’ve been here before, but I don’t know who they are. They met Haemeg here a couple of times, but they sat at one of the back tables. He never introduced them to me. I just figured they had a job for him.”
“That’s my guess. The vids from outside his flat showed that Haemeg let them in willingly, like maybe he was expecting them. They jumped him when he turned his back to pour them drinks. Haemeg put up a helluva fight because all three of them were hard-pressed to take him down.” Roran shook his head. “Then, they made him pay for it.”
“Gods of the Light!” Kasra started to cry again. “We were going to be legally bonded and make a family when his service contract finished.”
“I know this will bring you little comfort, but I’m going to find them and kill them.”
“You do that,” Kasra murmured vehemently. “And make them suffer. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to be alone.”
Roran nodded grimly and left the tavern without looking back. He sympathized with her grief, but he had little comfort to offer when his sense of loss was still so painfully acute. As he headed to Port City Auction House, he knew he would find little comfort there.
He checked in with his merchant’s ID and headed for the holding chambers. There were two for females and two for males. He strolled through the two that held males first. He found no Farseekans in either group, so he went to the Chambers containing the females. They were sitting on benches wearing only collars with leashes fastened to the wall. Roran counted more than a dozen different species of humanoids. No Uatu Farseekans there.