Authors: Kiersten Fay
Copyright 2010 byKiersten Fay
Al rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Al of the characters, names, and events portrayed in this novel are productions of the author’s imagination.
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Analia crouched in the shadows of the docking bay—shaking with fear, anticipation—hidden behind a large pile of cargo. Heavy adrenaline coursed through her body. Damp blond curls tangled around her face, hanging toward her ragged excuse for clothing and dirty bare feet. She struggled to steady her breathing, afraid someone would hear her. Her body threatened to col apse under the weight of the ship’s artificial gravity, as fatigue began to set in.
The sounds of the ship, like a living thing, enveloped her, embracingher both as an old friend andhated foe.
Soon she would be free.She hoped. It was the only thing that drove her on.
Analia had known that a merchant ship would be docking today. Two or three ships were scheduled every few days, in order to maintain a variety of stock.
In space, no two ships offered the same supplies, which meant many ships were often commissioned simultaneously.She watched the blond guard with frustration as she retraced her steps, hoping she hadn’t left traces of her spontaneous and unplanned escape.
As usual, she’d been in the middle of a punishment. Locked in a room for two weeks—no food, and little water—with another week of the same to look forward to. The punishment had been the result of trying, and failing, again, to refuse Darius’s advances—Captain Darius of theExtarga, a.k.a The Hel Ship. He’d become ful of rage at her continued resistance and ordered her locked away until she couldaccept her lot… accept him. Something she would never do.
She could never give herself—heart, body, and soul—to someone like Darius. He was heartless and brutal.
A man had entered her cel , she’d seen him before, he’d tended to her many times, each time she’d attempted a conversation with no reciprocation.
Darius strove to keep her isolated onExtarga, hidden away from most of the crew. Those who had come into her presence—to bring her food or a fresh change of clothes, or perform a variety of tedious tasks—were ordered not to speak with her, or bedisciplined. None had risked themselves for her conversation, not that she didn’t try. She’d always been desperate for communication; speaking to anyone who entered her room, babbling about nothing if she had to.“How is your day”she would say as they performed whichever task they were meant for. It was a phrase she’d heard spoken before, through stolen moments from the ship’s surveil ance.“What is your name?”She would ask, hopeful for a response. When they ignored her she would only continue as if the conversation were two-sided instead of one, tel ing them anything that popped into her head. Her thoughts of whatever room she was in at the time. How she missed the view of space, she hadn’t been al owed to see it in decades. She drewsomesatisfaction from the one-sided conversation, if only a little. It always meant something to her when they lingered slightly, as though they were listening.
But at that moment she wasn’t interested in conversation, eyeing the scraps of foodthe man hadbrought for her. Scraps of food not even fit for an animal, but she’d take it. She was growing thin from hunger.
Though he hadn’t said a word, he had watched her as she ravaged the scraps. The first bit of food she’d eaten in a week and it was not enough to fil her bel y. She’d barely tasted it, which, by the looks of itwasn’t a bad thing.
When she finished she looked up at the man, expecting him to walk away as quickly as he had come, but he remained. There was something in his expression she had never seen before. Was it sorrow? Shame?Did he pity her? Probably. Who wouldn’t?
Analia wondered what she must look like in her tattered dress, and unwashed state. Her feet were bare, her nails were dirty and bitten, and her lengthy blond hair hadn’t been brushed in a week.
Whenthe man turned to leavethe room he hadn’t left as normal, by closing the door tight and double-checking that it was locked. Instead, he opened the door wide, and withdrew in a rush, without a backward glance, al owing the heavy door to fal closed from its own weight.
Analiadidn’t know what had compel ed her to act in that moment, just that she did. Rushing forward Analia inserted her fingers in the doorframe, just before it shut her in for another lonely week or more.
Stifling a scream when the hard door came crashing down on her, she had to resist the strong urge to remove her hand and cradle it to her chest.
Grinding her teeth she waited.
One heartbeat. Two. Three. Her breathing was labored. The first rush of adrenaline entered her system, and the spark of an idea. Her heart began to race at the possibilities. The man hadn’t returned to make sure the door was ful y closed and locked behind him. She was alone.
Think. What do I do now?
Then she’d remembered that several merchant ships were scheduled to dock. Perhaps … if she were lucky. If she could only make it to the docking bay. If a ship was even there, it was possible she could escapeExtarga.
That’s a lot of ifs.
She thought of the consequences if she went through with this. A stream of horrific images entered her mind. She would suffer for days, weeks, maybe longer this time if she were caught. Never had she done anything so bold as to try to escape. But if she didn’t at least try, she knew she would regret it for the rest of her life, no matter the consequences. There may never be an opportunity like this again.
Hope flooded her, made her feel light. The idea of freedom, a better life, possibly being within her reach, was a heady thought.
What if I do get free and it’s worse out there?
The idea spread through her like a poison. If she did escape,and found herself ona merchant ship, what if the people on board were worse than Darius?
She pushed the thought from her mind. It couldn’t be possible. Could it? Dark images swirled in her mind picking at her resolve.Or, what if they found out about her gift? Perhaps her unusual pointed ears were a clear sign of what she was.
Maybe under different circumstances she would have embraced her ability, but for so long she had suffered because of it and only wished it gone.
Unfortunately, as far as she knew, that was impossible. It was a part of her, through and through, blood and bone.And it was the reason Darius kept her as isolated as he did.To him she was just an object, a piece of machinery.
Perhapsher giftwas a normal trait of her people. If so, it was the only connection she had to them. She had no ideawhat she was or where she came from.
No memory of her people.Analia had been a child when Darius had claimed her.
Analiaknew what awaited her hereon The Hel Ship—a lifetime of suffering until Darius had siphoned every last drop of her wil in his attempt to break her.
Eventual y he would succeed.
WhenAnaliawas sure that the man had truly gone, she braved a peek.
The hal way was empty, almost void of al sound. It wasn’t unusual, the ship was a huge beast.Some hal ways less traveled were left abandoned for days at a time. Hopeful y this was one of those days.
Before Analia moved through the door, and al owed it to close behind her, she prayed for the luck of the gods. Easing the door shut she heard the soft click of the lock move into place. Any decision she might have made to turn back was destroyed in that moment.
Analia easily glided through the corridors, toward the docking bay.Her bare feet made little to no noise as she went.She knew this ship better than anyone. She knew it better than Darius himself—a benefit of her gift.
When Darius had her hooked up to the ship, Analia had the ability totap into the ship’s heavy surveil ance system. It was as though the imagesfrom the cameraswere displayed directly into her mind and she could see everything al at once.
The pain of being hooked up to the ship was nearly blinding. The feel of her energy being drawn out of her and into the ships power storage system was agony. To take her mind off thepain she distracted herself bywatchingthe crew through the cameras, envying them their freedom. It was her only joy, but right now it was her greatest enemy. The surveil ance systemwould need to be taken care of.
Making her way to a smal control panel—for once her ability would benefit her—she went to work, using it to infiltrate the surveil ance system.
Being hooked up to the ship, it was as if she were part of it, like one colossal machine working in unison.
Analia shook her head and frowned in disgust. She real y was a piece of equipment.
Everything that was in the ships database was her playground. Every piece of information, every secret, and every code belonged to her.If Darius ever found out about the extent of her gift he wouldsurelyuse her to spy on his crew.There were not many under Darius’s command who spoke highly of him in tete-a-tete.
With the ship at her command she proceeded first to clear an easy path to the docking bay,by unlocking any door that might be locked, and checking to see if any crew members would be in her way. After ensuring she had astraight path, Analia erased two solid weeks of recorded surveil ance. Then she shut it down completely and locked the system, changing the codes before continuingtoward the docking bay.
The system was only checked once every few months, and anything recorded was only viewed when there was a discrepancy. No one would think to check it until long after she’d gone and if they wanted,in they were going to have to hack the system in order to gain access. And because shewasthe system she knew they would have a hel of a time of it.
Only once, as she careful y traversed the maze of passageways, did she come across trouble—a couple of crew members, advancing toward her. She heard them before she saw them. Their footsteps were not intended to be hidden like hers. They walked confident and loud, boots thudding on the hard shiny floor.
Dread engulfed her, almost overtaking her senses. After a moment of pure panic she was able to calm her emotions, knowing she needed to find a place to hide. The voices were close, laughing and talking with ease. Just before they entered the corridor she dove for a door to her right, propel ing her body through it. Inside, the room was smal and dark like a closet, but empty and unused. Her body had begun to tremble with worry; her hands were the worst, shaking uncontrol ably. Opening, closing, and rubbing them she tried to relieve the tremors.
The voices became loud, just outside the door. She froze, her breathing stopped. Only when the voices and footsteps continued past the door did her body relax. She was tired, so tired. The couple of weeks without food had greatly weakened her. And with nothing soft to sleep on or cover her chil ed body, she had slept badly on the cold iron floor, sometimes only fal ing asleep when exhaustion overruled the chil in her bones.
She pushed into the now emptycorridorand continuedwith caution. The hal ways remained absent of life. The path she had hacked al owed doors to open at her approach. With each threshold her anxiety was reborn. Her feet, numb from cold, were quiet against the hard floor. Each hal way was like a repetition of the first, there was nothing distinguishing, nothing but gray wal s il uminated by dim overhead lights.
With her nerves grated she had final y made it to the docking bay.
Yes!A merchant ship was indeed docked, both ships connected and open to each other. She’d almost cried out with a surge of an unfamiliar mixture of emotions.
Joy. Relief. Anticipation.
That is, until she spotted the guard blocking her path. A large, strong looking male, a boredscowl etched in his features. Spiky blond hair framed his face and a black short-sleeved shirt revealed his muscular arms and chest. Black pants and a pair of black boots covered his lower half. Watchful, he leaned against the wal of the ship, wearing an aura of danger. Like he could rip you apart with his bare hands, while maintaining that look of boredom.
Luckily he hadn’t seen her. She was already halfway hidden behind large piles of cargo. The stack of boxes was large enough to hide a body three times her size. She had to hold her nose to contain a building sneeze as she caught a whiff of spices.
Analia didn’t know how much time had passed in her semi-hiddenposition. Any minute now the docking bay would be flooded with workers, sent to gather the goods. She could only wait and hope for an opportunity, the perfect moment when no one was watching so she could hide herself away on the merchant ship. She prayed for a distraction.
The docking bay was huge. The ceiling stretched far above Analia’s head, the wal s covered in white. Three floors tiered around the great round room.