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Authors: Aeon Igni

Salvation

BOOK: Salvation
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Salvation

All rights reserved.

Published by
Fantasia Press, Ltd.

Copyright © 2013

 

This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of
America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

Printed in the United States of America.

ISBN 978-0-9911417-0-8

For Chris

Chapter 1

 

My breaths were still burning in my lungs as I slid the hidden door shut behind me in the darkness. I inhaled the cold, damp air, my exhales fogging up the space in front of me. My hands were shaking as I lit a candle. I had barely escaped this time...and I was tired of running.

The glow
lit the tiny space, which was barely large enough for me to stretch out when I slept. Mildew crisscrossed the aging concrete in spiderweb designs. I sat down and wrapped several of the rough blankets around me to keep warm as the sweat cooled from my body.

I had been living in the sewer for the last two years,
hiding from Raz and his low-paid mafia wannabes. My parents died four years ago, and unfortunately they left me little money and no protection from the harsh realities of life on Ione Prime - also known as Government Planet to the rest of the alliance.

I stayed with friends at first
, as a young woman living alone in a spaceport city could easily become prey for criminals or slavers who made their money by capturing women and selling them to the outer colonies where women were scarce. I was welcome as long as I could pay my way, but when my funds ran out, so did my place to live.

I tried
every means I could think of to find a job. But the planet I was on was largely home to the alliance government, and no one could get jobs without the right connections. My parents' work was well-known and, unfortunately, quite unpopular due to their work on outreach programs to planets that many in the government considered 'uncivilized', so getting hired had been impossible.

Next
, I tried the spaceports, going from ship to ship in search of work. But no captain of a legitimate vessel would hire a woman alone, especially not to work in space, and the captains who had offered me a job had, quite frankly, given me the creeps. So, I began living in alleys and parks, trying to stay clean using public washrooms.

But one night as I was scroung
ing around in an alley behind a bakery, looking for day-old bread that had been tossed out, Raz had seen me for the first time and decided I would be the perfect mate to help him preside over his gang of thugs. I had barely escaped his generous offer, pretending to go along with him and then sneaking off when they were distracted by a rival gang.

But
from that day forward, my life had become a living hell. I stopped wearing skirts and changed to trousers and sneakers because they were easier to run in. I never carried a flashlight or anything else to give me away, and managed to avoid being captured by spending my time in the sewers except to find food.

Then
, in a stroke of luck, I stumbled upon this hole in the sewer one night as I was trying to escape two of his cronies. This small, underground cell provided me the protection I needed to at least sleep without listening to every noise, worried that I was going to have to run into deeper parts of the sewer system.

I
now knew at least two dozen entrances and exits to the topside up to three standard miles away by feel and counting my steps.

But I knew they were
finally closing in on me, coming ever closer to my underground location through a process of elimination. I'd seen more of his gang recently underground and monitoring the sewer entrances and exits.

So
two days ago I hatched a desperate plan, which was coming to fruition in less than an hour. I had cut off my hair, bound my small breasts to flatten my chest, and in jeans with several T-shirt layers under my sweatshirt, passed myself off as a man.

I rolled
up my other pair of jeans, sweatpants, and three other T-shirts and put them into my backpack. The two extra bindings for my chest, as well as undergarments, socks, and the few things I wanted to take with me all fit in easily. One of the benefits of being poor; your belongings weren't heavy.

I slung my
pack onto my back, blew out the candle, and started making my way back to the surface. I had made the first cut for service as a translator aboard the
Exteris
, and all that was left was to meet the captain. If I passed this interview, I would be leaving this hellhole tonight.

 

And, I promised myself fervently, I would never be back.

Chapter 2

 

I prayed that I would make it
to the ship unseen, but in the end I wasn't that lucky. I walked casually, yet with purpose, practicing what I thought was a manly stride. But when I got to the entrance of the spaceship docks, someone shouted and pointed at me.

"Hey,
that bag—it's her!"

I cursed my
stupidity as I started running. Those two idiots of Raz's would never have recognized me except for my pack, which was rare on this planet as it was real leather rather than the more fashionable synthetic imitation - but it had been a gift from my father and I hadn't wanted to leave it behind. At least I had hoped they wouldn't have recognized me. Actually, if I'd had more time to think about it, it probably would have put some serious doubts in my mind about whether my plan would work. But, lucky for me, running from immediate danger kept the fears about my upcoming interview at bay.

I ran for all I was worth, my small size allowing me to
duck under and brush by all the bystanders waiting for their own transports. Raz's thugs were huge, and I could only assume that their large sizes would slow down their pursuit.

However, I have to admit, I didn't once
look back. It didn't matter how far behind me they were as long as they were behind me. Once I saw the ship, I felt an extra burst of adrenaline. I could feel my heart pounding, my chest burning, and my arms and legs pumping as fast as they could. I knew if I could make it, I would be free.

I ran up the walkway to the cargo bay
door, where I ran smack into an enormous chest, blocking me from entering. It felt like I had run into a brick wall, and for a second I just stood there, stunned. Just then two hands grabbed me by the shoulders and tried to drag me back.

I grabbed on to the man in front of me
in reflex, who surprisingly didn't even budge as I held on for dear life. He grabbed my arm in turn and stepped out; and with one falling smack of his huge hand he severed the hold the thug had on my shoulders as if he were swatting a fly.

I glanced up and saw his
brow furrowed in irritation. When his voice boomed, I jumped. "May I help you?"

I looked back and saw
my pursuer standing behind me in obvious confusion. Two more were at the bottom of the walkway, one still panting and the other grinning evilly.

My chest was
still heaving, but I managed to get out between breaths, "I have…an interview…with Captain Morse…for...a translator job."

The enormous man looked me up and down
for several moments, and for a minute I was afraid that he would just turn me away right there. Then he looked down and spoke into his collar. "I have a homeless child here who is mumbling something about being a translator."

I wanted to glare at him for that, but I didn't think it would improve my chances of meeting the captain
, so I meekly kept my head down.

After a few
tense moments, he nodded down at me and stepped out of the way. I could see the vast expanse of the cargo bay behind him. I looked back over my shoulder once more at the three goons, who all had confused looks on their faces. I felt like waving good-bye, but thought I'd better not get too cocky. I might be heading back that way shortly if this didn't work.

For some, it might have been scary to take their first steps into the unknown. But for me, it was the
joyous answer to four years of prayers.

I squared my shoulders and walked purposefully into
the cargo bay, where I saw him for the first time.

 

I knew immediately that he was the captain. He must have been well over six standard feet tall, but it wasn't so much his height as his stature. He exuded confidence and power, and the set of his broad shoulders and his wide stance as he surveyed the vast expanse of the cargo hold made him seem larger than life. His muscles bulged as he gestured or pointed, and the other huge men scurried around like ants, working quickly as he shouted orders.

He wore a cream-colored
shirt and cotton pants which were tucked into knee length boots. There was a leather holster casually slung about his waist with a large gun on one side and an equally large knife on the other. Even from the back he looked dangerous, but maybe that was only because, due to my own short size, I was standing about eye level with the gun and knife.

A
nother tall man with blond hair and a confident stride walked over and handed him a scanner. "Sir, we've got a last-minute request from the Empress to transport medical supplies to her daughter on Galileo."

The captain
frowned and looked down at the scanner. "Damn! We don't have room for all that cargo. But if we don't take it, we'll probably never be allowed to land here again."

He thought for a moment, then called out
to a man directing a forklift, "Riggs, we need to unload those torches from Antares. Call Beck and see if he can use them."

"Yes, sir," The other man nodded and pulled out a communicator.

Handing back the scanner, the captain commented, "Nice catch, Jeremiah. Once those torches are unloaded we can load up the medical supplies. If Riggs can't get Beck to take them, just find someone to give them to so they're off the ship in thirty minutes. We'll have to take the loss."

"Consider it done, sir."

Riggs walked off, so I figured now was as good a chance as any to make my move. If I had been any less desperate, I might have reconsidered. I had the feeling that if he didn't like me, he would probably squash me with one heavily booted foot. But thinking about what awaited me outside the doors behind me strengthened my resolve, so I squared my shoulders again and walked forward until I was standing just behind him.

He must have had a sixth sense, because
he turned around quickly and I came to an abrupt halt. I was struck by the handsomeness of his face. He had sharp, well-defined features and thick brown hair that was a bit too long. His piercing green eyes felt like two headlights, and I froze, feeling as if I were a Palonian deer. It didn't help that he looked twice as large up close as he had from afar, his muscular frame dwarfing my smaller one.

"Who are you?"
The question thundered at me in the same tone he used when giving orders. I was still gaping at him and he started to look impatient. "Spit it out," he ordered.

"I-I'm the new recruit
for translator, sir," I stuttered, trying to sound confident.

"You're the new recruit." He said flatly, raising one eyebrow.

"Yes, sir."

He looked me up and down
, his gaze as sharp as a hawk's. I tried not to fidget but I knew what he was seeing. My tiny figure made me look like a child next to the rest of the crew, even with the sweatshirt. I had closely cropped my brown hair and subtly added some shoulder padding, which with my layered T-shirts usually allowed me to pass as a boy if people didn't look too closely. But the captain's gaze was astute and I had a feeling not much would get past him.

After a quick once
-over, he started barking out questions. "What is your name?"

"Simmons, sir."

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen, sir." Although
I was really twenty-one, I knew that I would never pass for a man that age.

He bent down slightly and his eyes bore into me.
"Seventeen? You look twelve. Do you even have any whiskers yet?"

"Um, no
, sir."

"Have you ever worked on a transport ship before?"

"No, sir."

"Have you ever been off-planet before?"

"No, sir." I was getting a bad feeling about the way this interview was going. A couple more 'No sirs' and I'd be watching my only hope to get off this planet from the ground. I had no doubt that Raz and his thugs would be waiting happily for me.

"Have you ever
worked as a translator before?"

"
I can understand over fifty languages and speak twenty-eight, sir." My voice held a note of confidence I didn't feel, but I had to do something. My heart pounded hard in my chest, and as he considered my words I knew this was the deciding moment.

"Really." It was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes, sir."

He
bent down to my eye level and held my gaze with his, but I knew I spoke the truth and I didn't look away. Finally, he stood up and ran a hand through his shaggy hair.

"
Look, Simmons. This is against my better judgment. This is not the alliance. We are a private cargo ship and some of the characters we deal with are...less than savory. However, I badly need a translator since Fitts was...retired...and our docking rights expire in..." He checked his watch. "…fifty-three standard minutes."

He pointed back to the cargo bay entrance and my heart sank. But then he
barked, "Grab your things and report to Jeremiah over there. He'll see that someone gets you settled in."

"Yes, sir." I turned around
to escape before he could change his mind. I also didn't want him to see my face, because I could not contain my happiness. My heart was jumping for joy, and I knew that once in the air, I would be safe.

I tried not to run, but
as everything I owned was already on my back, I walked straight to Jeremiah as quickly as I could.

BOOK: Salvation
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