Once upon a time, before the Victorious Star, there were a prince and a prisoner…
WARNING: BDSM, Explicit!
Aubrey was a tech engineer with a dirty little secret that the Moribund Company was willing to destroy everyone and everything to get their hands on. When Deshryt Seht, blood-prince of Skeldhor, saved the dying boy’s life, it set off a contest of wills as strong as the call of their blood.
Unfortunately, Aubrey has one more secret that severs their relationship before it can truly begin.
Though years and an ocean of stars separate the prince from the prisoner he saved, neither the prince nor the Moribund Company will let him escape. What was Lost will be found, winner take all.
WARNING! This is a BDSM Fantasy!
This is a work of fiction intended to stimulate the imagination and the body. While my stories sometimes depict humiliation and/or coercion they are not meant to be anything thing more than pure sado-masachistic make-believe.
Remember there are Rules for BDSM Play.
They begin & end with: Safe – Sane & Consensual.
Hit your Back button to return.
Praise for Lost Star
5 Stars! – Just Erotic Romance Reviews
“…Ms. Hawke skillfully wove together some unanswered questions from other stories and gave a very satisfying explanation of how things all got started. The sex was hot despite being primarily M/M. The love these two felt for each other and the dominance play made them very arousing. Fans of the Interstellar Service & Discipline series will not want to miss this one and new readers will also find themselves hooked on Ms. Hawke’s work.”
Five Stars – Back story YES!!!
Having read both Victorious Star and Fallen Star I had to read Lost Star. I loved reading Seht and Aubrey’s back story. How they met, where their twisted version of love comes from. How Aubrey is now the master of Seht and not the other way around. This book answered all those questions that where asked when reading Victorious Star.
These are futuristic BDSM books to the max that in my opinion are a bit on the Sadistic side with all of the anal sex, rough play and just using sex as a weapon against someone literally! Not for the feint at heart. The other two books where m/m/f or m/f/m and some m/m and f/f. This book Lost Star was just m/m so again be aware. If its not your thing don’t go there.
Five Stars – Very satisfying prequel to Interstellar Service & Discipline – Victorious Star
I loved Victorious Star, so I was thrilled Ms. Hawke filled in the backstory on Ravnos and Seht in Lost Star. I’ve read this book three times, I must like it. If you enjoyed Victorious Star you will too. If you haven’t read either, I’m struggling to tell you which to read first. This is a prequel, but Victorious Star was written first, and is a longer, more complex book, which allows a bit more depth in explaining the worldbuilding. I’d have to say read Victorious Star first.
None of the Interstellar Service and Discipline books are for the even slightly faint of heart. Read the publisher’s warning. Note the word “discipline” in the series title. Note the M/M. (Or M/M/F in Victorious Star’s case.) If any of this gives you pause, don’t read ’em. If you are sick of the “gee, there’s this BDSM club” mechanic same as the last one titles, and you enjoy SciFi romance, this is a great series. (Fallen Star is actually my favorite.)
— C.L. —
“Look, you rusting pile of antique junk! I’m trying to save your ass here! Let me in!” Aubrey grabbed his throat, gasping for breath, and choked. The air on the freighter’s subengineering deck was thick and foul with smoke from melted metal and fused wiring. “Morris! Are you listening to me?” He slammed his bruised fist against the control console, nearly knocking over the small light he’d rigged. Most of the lights had gone out in the first hit from the marauders. He didn’t want to think about how close they had come to losing all life support too.
“I hear you, tech-engineer.” The ship’s tired and masculine mind-voice shimmered with a touch of annoyance across the wire jacked into the back of Aubrey’s skull. “You do not have clearance for access. You are not the nav-pilot.”
Aubrey fought to calm his beating heart, not that his heart was listening. “Morris, your nav-pilot is dead. He’s dead with everyone else that was on your bridge during that first volley. If you don’t let me in, we’ll be boarded, and you’ll be torn apart for scrap!”
“I am already…scrap.” Crushing depression and electronic interference colored the electronic mind-voice.
“I know you’re old, Fate, damn you! But you’re not dead yet!” Aubrey scrubbed a hand through what little hair he had left, nearly dislodging the jack in the back of his skull. Damned military-issue buzz cut freaking itched. He leaned over the panel. “Morris, please! Let me in! There isn’t anybody else with an array to talk to you, and I’m not fucking ready to die!” His breath hitched. Fate, he hadn’t even reached the legal age to drink. He closed his stinging eyes and took a deep breath. “And neither are the rest of the men on this ship. If you want to die, then fine, die! But let me save the ones who want to live first!”
Anger flickered deep in the ship’s sentience.
Aubrey held his breath. Apparently, his comment about letting the crew die had pissed the ship off. That was good, very good. There was still a chance. If he could get access to the ship’s controls, he could use the freighter’s fully functional pulse cannons to clear a hole and try for a jump. If the ship didn’t kill him with a power burst instead.
Information slammed into his skull to become sight, sound, taste, smell…and pain, hideous wrenching pain. Aubrey gasped and dropped to his knees. The ship was in agony. There were gaping holes all over the hull. Wounds that bled air, water, and bodies… Bodies of people he knew.
Sheer stubborn will and deep terror forced him back up onto his feet. He ignored the itch of tears streaking down his smoke-smeared face and threw every code he had into the ship’s controls, grabbing for anything that still worked.
He found every body still breathing and began opening doors, making safe passages for the crew to get deeper into the ship where he could do something about maintaining life support.
At the same time, he activated the pulse cannons and aimed them at the corsair closing in on the starboard side. He knew that at this close range, he was going to damage the freighter more, but he could not afford to let the marauders board. They were only a small freighter with no military personnel capable of defending them, none still alive anyway. Once the marauders got in, the game was over. They were utterly defenseless.
Aubrey smiled grimly and opened fire.
The pulse cannons burned a surgically precise hole right through the attacking ship’s engineering core. The sensors delivered a low casualty rating from the other ship, but all maneuver controls were offline.
The attacking ship veered off course, diving right under them.
Aubrey shouted in triumph. “That’s right, you stupid-assed shit-heels! The body manning these cannons actually knows what to fucking hit!” Abruptly, he lost clear sight of the second corsair. The ship’s sensors were going out on the keel. They were in deep trouble if he didn’t get them back in view.
Information trickled in from the remaining corsair. It was a sentience-to-sentience communication. It was meant to be hidden from the nav-pilot.
Aubrey smiled grimly. If he’d had a piloting array he would have missed it, but he didn’t. He had a programming array. His ability to interpret the ship’s complete interior and exterior data was somewhat limited, nothing compared to the near physical connection a nav-pilot had. On the other hand, what he did have was one of the most complete mind to mind connections one could get with a ship.
And he’d been a very bad boy before the Agency had caught up with him.
He intercepted the communication without even trying. At the same time he worked feverishly to reroute power to the sensors so he could see well enough to get a nice clean shot on the corsair dangerously close to his keel.
His personally doctored programs read the encrypted communications with pathetic ease. Those same programs were the reason he had been arrested and penal chipped, but they continued to prove useful every now and again.
The only reason the Agency hadn’t fried his ass when they finally caught him was because he’d been underage, a minor, with no fatalities to his name. Instead, the Agency had offered him the chance to work off his sentence using his programming tech talents on whatever ship they posted him to.
It was that or a memory wipe.
He’d been grateful for the chance to keep all his hard-won codes and skills, and it had gotten him off-planet. As far as he was concerned, getting off that industrial waste of a planet had been worth being penal chipped.
The past two and a half Imperial standard years of being passed from ship to ship as a programming tech-engineer hadn’t been all that hard. The food sucked, but the work was simplistic compared to the programming stuff he’d done for sheer entertainment. The bulk of it was system updates. His mouth occasionally got him into trouble, but his rating as a minor had saved his ass from more than one disciplinary reaming. He smiled sourly. Thank the Fates for a scrawny graceless build that made him look years younger than he actually was.
He only had six more months to the end of his sentence…and his legal majority. Once he was free of the penal chip in the back of his skull, he had a nice, long well paying career ahead of him. He planned to get thoroughly drunk and thoroughly laid to celebrate his new life as a free man. If he lived that long. He sighed and focused on the coded communications being relayed.
The corsair was inquiring about damages.
Morris offered his external damage report and the fact that his nav-pilot was dead, without mentioning that they were still jump capable.
Aubrey grinned. Apparently Morris wasn’t ready to give up yet.
“Surrender. Will relocate sentience.”
He nodded. The other ship was trying to make some kind of a deal. That was pretty much expected. Obviously, they were after the ship’s experienced sentience. There wasn’t a damned thing on this old freighter that would interest marauders. They weren’t carrying weapons.
No survivors? Aubrey sucked in a breath. But there were some seventy-odd people still breathing on this ship? He shot a line of data toward the other ship describing his survivors.
“Cut life support.”
What? Aubrey frowned. That had to have been a misinterpretation of the coded transmission. He inserted a message into the encrypted communication. “Please repeat last transmission.”
“No survivors. Disengage all life support.”
Aubrey gasped. Son of a fucking bitch! They wanted Morris to kill every living person on this ship? He ground his teeth. Fuck that shit! Out of sheer temper, he slammed a hijack code he’d made to catch small yachts for joyrides into the ships’ connecting data stream. To get it past the preliminary firewalls, he added a doctored breaker-code and aimed the whole mess straight for their engineering console, bypassing their nav-pilot.
He’d been a very, very bad boy before the Agency nailed him.
Aubrey figured that the breaker code wouldn’t make it very far. The other craft was far more sophisticated than the yachts the code was designed for, but he figured he’d at least cause enough trouble to make a limping escape.
The other ship’s data poured into his skull. Suddenly his vision of Morris and both corsairs was crystal clear. Aubrey gasped. Holy shit! He’d actually made connection.
A stream of bitching howled across the data stream.
Aubrey choked out a laugh. There was a very pissed-off nav-pilot at the far end who had somehow found himself locked out of his own ship. Aubrey licked his dry lips and grabbed for control, telling the other ship to turn its ass around and make for jump. It was the only thing he could think of.
The ship fought his control. He wasn’t giving it the right directives.
Grim humor colored Morris’s sentience. “Like this, boy…” Data streamed toward the other ship, bolstering Aubrey’s commands.
The other ship turned away, and their jump engines came online.
It was working? Aubrey rubbed sweat from his brow with his arm and checked his connection. It was solid. The other ship was taking his orders. Fate be damned, it was working! He threw back his head and shouted, “Take that, you rat bastards!” He hooted and punched the air, nearly knocking the cord from his skull jack. If there had been room to jump up and down, he would have done it.
Energy pulsed as folds of space unraveled and a third corsair wavered into local space nearly on their nose.
Every sensor on the ship burned white-hot, scoured by the energy backwash as space snapped back into place around the corsair catching Morris in the rebound.
Morris screamed in sensory overload.
Aubrey screamed with him. His array slammed all channels closed to protect the biological mind attached to it. The world receded to a pinprick of light at the very far end of a long black tunnel. He didn’t even feel his chin smack hard on the engineering panel or his cheek hit the crash-littered deck plates.
Aubrey gasped awake strapped on his back to a table with the smell of antiseptic in his nose. He groaned. His entire body was one big mass of hurt. He tried to open his eyes and realized that they were already open. He’d been blinded. Someone had gotten into his internal array and turned off his eyes.
“Good morning, tech-engineer.” The voice was masculine, richly cultured, cool, and amused.
Aubrey blinked, but the blackness remained. “Where am I?”
“You are on my ship. I am Moribund. I’m sure you will prove a very valuable addition to my company.”
“Huh?” Aubrey jerked. He couldn’t move an inch. “I can’t be in your company. I’m penal indentured.” He scowled. He was a convict, a legal slave until he finished his sentence. The tattoo marking the data-chip in the back of his neck said so. “You have to go through the Agency penal board.”
“The chip has already been removed.”
Aubrey froze. No way! They exploded when tampered with. “Then how come I’m not dead?”
“Because I have very talented staff.” Moribund chuckled right next to his ear. “Of which you may count yourself a member.”
Aubrey flinched, and every hair on his body rose. There was something very wrong with this man. He had no clue what, but he’d learned long ago to listen to those small hairs.
Moribund’s boot heels thumped as he walked around Aubrey’s feet to the other side of the table. Fabric rustled right next to Aubrey’s left elbow. “Shall we discuss the terms of your service?”
Aubrey sighed and relaxed on the table. There wasn’t a whole lot else he could do. “Sure. What do you want from me?”
“I want you to steal ships, the same way you took mine.”
Aubrey’s blood turned to ice. He was in the enemy’s hands. He’d known he couldn’t be anywhere else, but… But the last transmission he’d intercepted had said “no survivors”. Aubrey turned his sightless eyes toward Moribund. “How many survivors from my ship?”
Moribund drew in a slow breath and released it. “You.”
Aubrey struggled to interpret that another way and failed miserably. Him. He was the only survivor. His chest clenched, and he drew in a shuddering breath. “You killed them.”
“Your ship did.”
Aubrey closed his eyes to keep in the fierce ache that threatened to spill. “Damn it, Morris…” He failed. Tears leaked from his eyes.
“I’m afraid that the ship’s sentience did not survive the act. My nav-pilot tells me that it was deliberate.”
Aubrey stilled. Morris had committed suicide? Then the ship had remained true… but everyone that had been on him was still dead. He gasped for breath and shuddered with the sobs he refused to release. All of them…gone forever, except him.
“Some ships are that way. You make a capture only to lose the ship in the process. Very wasteful.” Moribund paced at Aubrey’s side. “The best way would be to erase the crews without the ship having to do it. That way I can keep the ship-mind intact.” Moribund leaned close to Aubrey. “And that’s why I want you. Somehow, you succeeded in usurping not only the nav-pilot but the sentience as well, taking complete control of my ship. With your talents, I could keep the ships I capture.”
Aubrey jerked at whatever held him to the table. “I am not killing people for you!”
“How old are you, boy?”
Aubrey stilled. “Why?”
“My medic says you’re below legal age.”
Aubrey clenched his jaw. “So?”
“So?” Moribund’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You cannot legally walk into a bar or a brothel. I doubt you’ve even had sex yet. Are you sure you want to die before you’ve even lived?”
Aubrey drew in a deep breath. “I will not kill people.”
“Are you quite sure?”
Aubrey turned to face Moribund with blind eyes. “Fuck you.” His voice vibrated with the hate that burned in his heart. “Go ahead and kill me. I belong with my murdered ship and crewmates.”
“Very well then.” He stepped back.
Aubrey was unbuckled and hauled from the table. He hit the deck hard and groaned. Painfully tight hands jerked him up onto his knees. His wrists were pulled behind his back and cuffed. They lifted him onto his feet and practically dragged him out of medical. After a fast walk down a long hall, he was yanked to a halt.
The mechanical sound of an airlock door opening crashed in his ears. He nearly dropped to his knees in shock. They really were going to kill him.
He was brutally shoved sideways and fell onto a very cold floor. The bare skin of his hands tried to stick to the metal. He fisted his hands and came up on his knees listening as the airlock door closed.
The air hissed, thinned, and chilled to razor sharpness with incredible speed. He sucked in one last breath and tried not to scream. He didn’t succeed.
* * * * *
Aubrey awoke curled on his side shaking on a bare but warm deck. His mouth was full of thick copper flavored liquid. Blood.
A booted foot pushed him onto his back and his cuffed hands. “Alas for your suicidal wishes, I am not inclined to let you die.” Moribund’s voice was politely regretful, but the humor behind it was blatantly obvious. “You may visit the airlock again if you wish?”
Aubrey couldn’t draw a full breath. His lungs were too full of liquid. He suspected that they were bleeding. He had to whisper. “Fine, put me back in, asshole.”
Determined to kill himself outright, Aubrey tried to suck in the blade cold air and screamed it right back out.
* * * * *
He woke up on the deck again. He coughed, spewing hot wet liquid that tasted strongly of copper and other things. He winced. Lung damage. He wasn’t dead, but he would be soon.
“There are faster ways to gain compliance. Pity I need your mind intact.”
“Fuck…you.” Aubrey barely got the words out.
Another trip to the airlock.
This time, he couldn’t scream. His lungs were too full of ice for breath.
* * * * *
Aubrey awoke blind and floating in the warm heavy liquid of what could only be a medical tank. He’d been in one once before after a nasty glider spill. The thick fluid labored in and then out of his lungs. He couldn’t move and his mind didn’t want to process properly. He could barely think. He was still alive. Damn it.
Sleep crushed him under. He didn’t fight it. Awareness was something he was not interested in having.
* * * * *
He dreamed, of sweeping starscapes and a gentle female presence. “Stay with me,” she whispered. “Don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.”
Out of sheer reflex, he reached out. He didn’t want to be alone either.
She folded around him with lithe grace and warmth.
His body responded to the comfort she offered. He reached for more, knowing it was a dream and wanting it to be more. He reached until he could almost feel softness under his hands and against his skin. The dream shifted becoming a body intimately entwined with his. He could almost taste her mouth against his. His cock hardened.
She responded with shuddering delight and opened, offering herself.
He held her tight and arched into her. The impression of tight wet warmth blazed hot down his spine and concentrated around his cock. He clutched her to him, relishing the feeling of physical delight with another, something he had yet to have.
She moved against him, delivering the most riveting and delightful sensation he’d ever felt.
The sensation was so strong, he could feel his sleeping body bucking in response. He moved against her begging for more.
She complied with enthusiasm and reached for him. Abruptly part of her entered him.
Delight speared through him and urgency tightened within him. Somewhere in the back of his mind an alarm went off, but the pleasure of her touch was so intense he didn’t care. She was going to make him cum.
She touched him deeper.
Delight crested and release took him violently. The feeling of his balls emptying in something warm burned up his spine. His howl of release was muffled by the liquid in his lungs.
Then she took him again.
* * * * *
Aubrey awoke, still in the liquid tank and still blind, but he wasn’t alone. Someone was in his head with him. “Hello?”
“Hello, Aubrey.” It was the female presence that had been in his dreams. “I am Niobe.”
Awake and aware, Aubrey suddenly recognized the presence for what it was. He reeled in shock. It was the ship. He had made love to the ship. And it had been incredible.
A second presence, dark and sharp-edged, pressed against the edges of his mind.
Aubrey flinched away, but it remained at the limit of his thoughts. “What is that?”
“Don’t look there.” Niobe radiated sharp fear. “It’s the nav-pilot. She will hurt you if she finds you looking.”
“What?” He writhed away but couldn’t gain any distance. “What is the nav-pilot doing inside my head?” He shook his head in the tank and felt the pull of a data jack plugged into the back of his head. Fuck. They had jacked into his mind and somehow gotten in past his firewalls and alarms. Anger burned. The firewalls weren’t his only defense. He had other ways of dealing with intruders.
“No, you can’t fight her.”
“Oh yes I can.”
“No, you can’t. You’ve been mapped. If you try to fight her, she will use your own programs against you.”
“Mapped? I don’t remember…”
“Yes, while you slept. You seemed to find the experience pleasurable.”
“Pleasurable?” He flinched in shock. The dream… His mind had been mapped by a wet dream, giving Moribund access to his programs.
Fury seared through him. “Anything else I should know about?”
“You’ve been slave-drived and configured as an executable.”
“What?” He sucked in a hard breath and his lungs labored with the additional liquid. “I’m an executable program? I’m something to turn on and shut down when you feel like it?”
She pulled back from him. “To the nav-pilot you are.”
“No! I’m not a fucking program!” Something shifted in the back of his mind. He scanned the data being accessed. It was the hijack code and the breaker code. Bleeding Fate! “Niobe, are we attacking a ship?”
“No. I won’t kill people!”
“Aubrey, you are not killing anyone, the nav-pilot is.”
“It’s my program–”
“You’re not executing it, the nav-pilot is.”
“It’s still my program, and it’s being used to kill people!” Aubrey gathered himself for a hard shove. “I will not do this!”
“No, don’t! You don’t want to touch her mind!”
“Why the hell not?”
“Aubrey, she’s insane. She could kill you.”
He grabbed for the stream of data. “Then I die. I’m supposed to be dead anyway.”
The stream was pried out of his hold.
No! He used every trick he had to stop the data flow…and couldn’t. He tried to erase the code. It was one of his favorites and he hated the idea of killing it, but he would not let his code be used in this way…and couldn’t. Despite the fact that his programs were in his own encoding language, somehow a passcode had been tacked on sealing it off. He didn’t have access to his own data.
“No! I won’t do this!” Aubrey fought the restraints that held him, jerking hard and twisting to dislodge the jack in his head. Something rushed into his veins, numbing his brain and slowing his thoughts. Sleep began to press hard against his mind. He was being drugged.
“Yes,” Niobe whispered. “You’re being given a sedative.”
“It’s to keep me from fighting them.”
“You cannot fight them. It’s to keep you from hurting yourself.”
The data stream stopped. They had gained access. Somewhere out there, a ship was killing her crew. And it was his fault. Thick black guilt squeezed his heart even as his body stilled in response to the drugs in his blood. “Niobe, if I can’t keep them out, I need to die. I won’t be used to kill people.”
“You will not die.”
Aubrey fought to hold onto consciousness. “Niobe, I can’t live this way, as a program to be used.”
“You will live.”
“I can’t –”
Sleep crushed him under.
* * * * *
Aubrey awoke, still blind, still in the tank, with someone rummaging around in his head. He slammed doors closed only to have them pried open. He changed passcodes and rearranged his files only to have them changed on him. He pulled every firewall and blocking trick he could think of…and they still got in.
He howled in fury and slammed a thick wall of anger at whoever was digging in his head.
A fist of moldering acidic rot closed around his mind. “Bad boy,” it hissed. “Give me!” Barbed burning things squirmed through his wall of anger and burrowed deep into his mind, eating their way into his thoughts.
He screamed and shoved away from it. “Get out! Get out of my head!”
It didn’t let him go. “Give me, now!”
“No!” He writhed in an acid bath that tore his thoughts to shreds and ate the pieces. He thrashed in the tank and tried to scream.
Hands grasped the acid things and pulled them away. “Nav-pilot, stop!” Niobe’s mental voice vibrated with anger and terror. “You’re causing damage!”
Aubrey gasped in shuddering relief. The liquid in the tank hid his tears.
“Bad boy! Give me what I want!”
“Nav-pilot, not this way!” Niobe moved between them, pushing the acidic touch from his mind. “Give me access, and I’ll get it for you.”
Comfort spilled across Aubrey’s mind. Erotic pleasure spilled down his spine and poured into his cock. He froze in shock. “Niobe? What are you doing?” Her presence filled his mind and molded around him with the powerful sensation of flesh against flesh. His body responded. He couldn’t stop it. “Niobe!”
“Oh.” The nav-pilot purred. “Seduction.”
Sensation raced through his body. Phantom kisses and caresses that he could feel, but weren’t there. He fought the drugging pull of rising climax but his body wanted the pleasure of release she was offering. “Niobe, please! Don’t do this to me.” His balls tightened with urgency. He was going to cum, and when he did, she would take what ever it was the nav-pilot was after. “Niobe! This is rape.”
“I know.” Her mental voice echoed with regret and entered him.
He came, bucking hard. His mind opened under the whitewash of blinding pleasure.
She speared deeper into him, burning him with searing delight.
He shuddered and felt climax rise again. “Niobe, don’t!” He fought his body’s animalistic reactions and couldn’t. “Niobe, please!”
“I’m sorry, Aubrey, but they will have your compliance, or they will kill you. I will not let you die.”
He came again, screaming into the liquid.
* * * * *
Time passed marked by dreams of swimming through an ocean of stars punctuated by stronger dreams of sex. Aubrey fought against the visceral pleasure pouring into his body, knowing that his mind was being taken while he cried out in release.
Niobe’s sweet nature made it difficult to fight her. She had to be the gentlest ship-mind he’d ever had contact with. Her affection and desperate sorrow throbbed against his mind every time she brought him to unwilling release, but her conviction that she was saving him from certain death made her continue.
He pleaded with her to let him go, to let him die.
She wouldn’t. He was the only thing she had, and she would not let him go. She pleaded with him to forget them, to just let go, and let them take what they wanted.
He would not stop fighting. What they were using him for was wrong.
She knew and regretted it deeply. He could feel how she ached with every death her ship caused. But she took him anyway.
Aubrey awoke feeling the liquid bubbling around him. They were draining the tank. His head cleared the fluid, but his eyes still refused to function. He could hear voices, but his ears were too full to make out what they were saying. He sucked in a breath to ask what was going on.
His body revolted, and he spewed viscous gunk from his mouth and nose. His head, lungs, and stomach ached long before he was done. The air was ice-cold compared to the warm bath of the tank.
He was released from the harness and pulled from the tank naked. Aubrey counted four hands, so two people. He collapsed into their hands, too weak to lift his head.
He was lifted onto an antigrav table and floated somewhere. Moments later, the table stopped and hot water sprayed down on him.
He jerked in alarm.
Hands held him down on the table. They washed every inch of him in the most impersonal manner possible. After a humiliating eternity, the bath finally ended, and Aubrey was helped upright then onto his feet.
He wavered off balance between them. His ears abruptly cleared.
“There that wasn’t so bad.” The voice was deep, an older male.
“At least this one isn’t augmented to hell and gone.” The second voice seemed even older and also male.
“According to medical, he’s not augmented at all. If he was augmented we could have used force-cuffs to hold him upright.”
Aubrey smiled sourly. “Sorry to disappoint you.” It felt strange to use his mouth to talk.
The first man snorted. “Oh, so your ears are working after all?”
“Yeah.” He shivered. “But my eyes are all messed up.”
“Tank liquid.” Fingers dug into his left upper arm to keep him balanced on his feet and turned Aubrey to the side. “You look wasted but your muscles appear to be working just fine.”
Aubrey rolled his eyes. “My muscles are not working fine. I can barely stand.”
One of the men snorted. “You’ve been getting some kind of exercise in there, or you wouldn’t be able to stand at all.”
Aubrey frowned. All those dreams of swimming through stars… Had he been exercised while he slept?
The water collector went on with a loud howl, sucking all the moisture from the air in seconds.
Aubrey shivered. It was cold in the room. He was shoved forward between the men. The tile under his bare feet became metal plate, and he was stopped.
Hands cupped his elbows. “Lift your foot.”
Aubrey lifted his foot and was helped into what felt like, a full-body ship-suit. The fabric was thickly padded, warm and very welcome. He sealed it closed with fumbling fingers. “How long?”
Socks were tugged onto his feet. “’How long’ what, kid?”
“How long have I been in the tank?” Aubrey lifted his feet for a pair of boots.
“Um, let’s see…”
The boots were fastened closed. The damned things actually fit better than his last pair he’d worn. Aubrey felt something itching on his neck. He scratched at it and discovered that it was his own hair. It was past his shoulders. He froze. He’d been in the tank long enough for his hair to grow that long from a buzz cut?
“I’m not sure. You’ve been in that tank since I got onboard three cycles ago.
Aubrey lifted his head. “Three thirty-day cycles?”
“Oh, longer than that.” The other man chuckled. “I’m thinking at least two more.”
Aubrey felt his knees shake beneath him. “Five cycles?” He was tugged forward and out into a carpeted hallway.
“Let’s see, I think the limit is nine cycles, and they told us to pull you because you’d reached limit.”
Aubrey tripped on the carpet. “Are you saying I’ve been in that tank for nine cycles?” He couldn’t grasp being in the tank that amount of time. It hadn’t seemed that long at all. “So now where am I going?”
“Right now? Where they told us to put you.”
Aubrey dug in his heels. “You’re not putting me in that tank again!”
The older man laughed. “Oh hell no, you can’t go back in there. Stay in there too long and you won’t be able to function outside it.” They tugged him forward.
Aubrey walked. It was that or be dragged. “Then what?”
“What were you in it for?”
Aubrey stiffened. They didn’t know? “I was in it, I think, for lung damage.”
“That must have been some damage to need breathing liquid.”
Aubrey clenched his jaw. “I suppose one too many visits to the airlock would do that.”
“The airlock? Who’d you kill?”
“Who did I kill?” Aubrey chuckled, and the chuckle became outright laughter. He threw back his head, laughing as the tears burned down his cheeks. He finally stopped, gasping for breath. “How many ships in the past nine months?”
“Are you okay, kid?”
Aubrey looked up with his sightless eyes and screamed. “How many ships did this fucking ship take in the past nine months?”
“Uh, forty-seven, I think.”
Aubrey’s knees gave out and he dropped to his hands and knees. “Bleeding Fate…” There were hundreds of lives on some of those ships and thousands on others.
“Come on, get up.” They worked to pull him upright.
Aubrey climbed unsteadily onto his feet. “You want to know who I killed?” The hurt was so large he couldn’t quite feel it. “I killed every bloody man aboard every bloody ship you took.”
“The kid’s hysterical…”
Aubrey allowed them to tug him forward. He’d killed forty-seven ships. And he was going to kill more if they jacked him back in to the ship. He couldn’t physically fight them. He was completely blind and without a drop of physical augmentation. He couldn’t mentally fight them. The ship was too strong, and the nav-pilot was too crazy.
He had to die. It was the only way to stop the killing.
A vibration raced under Aubrey’s feet. There was a distant howl of metal.
“What the hell was that?”
Aubrey smiled. He knew exactly what that was. He remembered it from his own ship. “We’re under attack.”
The man on Aubrey’s right jerked. “We can’t be…?”
The man on his left released Aubrey’s arm. “Yes we can, I heard that we’ve been in Skeldhi space for two days now.”
Aubrey blinked his blind eyes. Skeldhi space? That species had a particular hate for humans. A smile stretched his mouth. He didn’t have one drop of code to get into their craft. He didn’t have their coding language. He wouldn’t be killing any ships today.
“What in bleeding fury are we doing in Skeldhi space?”
Aubrey released a chuckle. “Getting your asses blown away, I’d say.”
“Who the hell gave clearance to pull that kid from his tank?” The voice bellowed right in front of them.
Both men at Aubrey’s elbows released him.
“Captain! Uh, it came from medical, sir!”
Aubrey frowned. That captain sounded nothing like Moribund.
“Yes, sir, Captain, sir! We got notification to pull him, clean him, get him dressed then take him to–” There was a pause. “Dock port seventy-nine, sir!”
“That’s a shuttle bay. Why the hell would someone send him there?”
A strong vibration shook the deck.
Aubrey fell to his knees and laughed. Because someone wanted him to live at all costs. The only person who had known that there was no way in hell he could tap a Skeldhi ship.
He groaned. Bleeding Fate… What were they doing in Skeldhi space? Committing suicide. Niobe must have finally had enough ship-killings and decided to take herself out of the game.
“Son of a fucking bitch!” The captain’s shout came from dead ahead. “Give me the damned kid. You two get to battle stations!”
Aubrey felt his upper arm grabbed by a hand that had serious power in it. He was dragged to his feet and winced.
Aubrey went. There was no way he could fight the strength in that hand. It would only get his arm broken. “I can’t tap a Skeldhi craft. I don’t have the programs.”
“I know. The nav-pilot already told me.”
Aubrey’s brows shot up. “Then where are we going?”
“To your escape shuttle. Moribund will fry my ass if his most prized possession gets lost.”
Aubrey licked his lips. “This would be a hell of a lot easier for both of us if I could see.”
“Shit.” The captain came to a halt. “Turn around.”
Aubrey turned around. Something was jammed into his data port on the back of his skull, then yanked back out. The darkness brightened.
“Come on.” The hand on Aubrey’s arm jerked him back around and started hauling him down the hallway.
Aubrey squinted. “My sight is still offline.”
“It’ll get better. You’re sight has been offline a while.”
Aubrey clenched his jaw. “How long a while?”
The captain snorted. “Long enough to make you nothing but a scrawny bag of bones. I’m afraid if I sneeze too hard, I’ll break you.”
Aubrey was jerked to a halt. The hiss of an opening lift door came from right in front. Bodies moved past them. The captain pushed him into the lift.
Aubrey let himself be jerked around to face the front. “Captain, how long a while have I been playing executable program floating in a liquid tank?”
The captain sighed. “Kid, you really, really don’t want to know the answer to that one.”
Aubrey clenched his jaw. “The men said nine cycles.”
The captain chuckled. “It’s been a little longer than that.”
The lift doors opened. Smoke drifted into the lift with the sounds of screaming metal and shouting men.
Aubrey was shoved forward and angled to the left. His eyes watered in the acidic air.
The captain leaned down to talk in his ear. “Just so you know, most of the docks have already been holed. I don’t know how anyone knew to pull you from the tank and send you here, but this dock holds the one hidden shuttle on this ship. The first officer doesn’t even know about it.”
Aubrey choked. “You’re abandoning your first officer?”
“Fuck yeah. It’s a two-man craft. I’m taking the only thing Moribund wants to keep — you.”
Aubrey shivered. “What the hell kind of people are you? Killing whole crews, even your own?”
Aubrey scowled. “That’s crap! My dad was a merc, and his company didn’t do shit like that!”
The captain tugged Aubrey to a halt. “Yeah, well, he didn’t work for the Moribund Company, did he?”
Aubrey’s eyes saw a colored blur right in front of him. He heard a door open. A hand at his back shoved him up some steps and through a door.
The captain followed right on his heels and grabbed his collar. “You know what Moribund means, don’t you?”
Aubrey grabbed for the hand at his collar. “No, I don’t.” He was propelled forward.
The captain chuckled. “It’s an old Terran term for a dead or abandoned house.”
Aubrey banged his shin on what he suspected was a chair. He hissed. “Appropriate since that’s what you guys do, kill everybody on the ships to empty them.”
“Pretty much.” The captain shoved him into a chair. “Hold still.” His hands closed around Aubrey’s throat and squeezed.
Aubrey gasped and grabbed for his wrists.
The captain released him. “Relax, it’s just a collar.”
“What?” Aubrey grabbed for his throat and felt a metal ring around it. “What the fuck…?” The ring went all the way around. He couldn’t find a seam or an opening of any kind.
“Like I said, we can’t afford to lose you. You’ve tripled our take since we jacked you in.” The captain stepped away and a chair creaked to Aubrey’s left. “Buckle in. This is going to be a bumpy ride.”
Aubrey fastened the seat harness over him out of sheer reflex. “What the fuck did you put on me?”
“Oh, that’s an old-style penal collar. It has a homing beacon in it. This way if we crash and you slip out of my hands, the ground party can find you anywhere on the planet.”
“Wait a minute, we’re over a planet?”
“Yep, but not much of one. The air’s a little corrosive, and you have bad lungs so I’d stay on the ship if I were you.”
The craft jerked hard under them.
“And we’re away.” The captain sighed. “Good-bye, Interceptor, hello, raise.”
Aubrey frowned. “Interceptor?”
“Oh, you didn’t know? That’s the ship’s name.”
“I thought it was Niobe?”
“That was its name when we got it. Sweet craft but a little unstable in places.”
“Compared to what? Your nav-pilot is completely insane!”
“Yeah, well, for a twisted little fuck, she could pull off miracles, and that’s all that counted. We lost the occasional sub-pilot to her, but they were pretty easy to replace considering all the ships we took.
Aubrey gripped the armrests. “Do you even hear what you’re saying? You are deliberately destroying people’s lives!”
“So? What do I care? It’s making me rich.” The captain shifted next to him, flipping switches. “It’s just the way the universe works, kid, either you’re predator or prey.”
Aubrey folded his arms. “That’s a total pile of shit.”
“Hey, I’m not the one going back into a liquid tank at the end of this trip to play subroutine to another ship.”
Aubrey’s temper flared hot. He shook with anger. “No, you’re the one whose ship got blown all to hell because you wandered into the wrong territory.”
“That was not my idea. The reason our asses got blown all to hell is because that damned ship shut down all external sensors and decided to pick a fight with the pilot. We didn’t even know we were in Skeldhi territory and under attack until damage reports started coming in.”
“Good for Niobe.” Aubrey blinked and realized that he was seeing shapes. He could almost make out the dashboard right in front of him. He looked to his left and could just make out the hulking shape of a man next to him.
“You know, if I thought I could beat you without killing you, I’d do it.”
“Like I’d care if you killed me. I’m going back into a liquid tank at the end of this trip, remember?”
“Keep it up with the mouth, kid.” The captain scowled, not a good look on his scarred and grizzled face. “I’m sure I can do something to make this trip really uncomfortable without breaking something.”
Aubrey almost smiled. The captain’s face might not be a pretty sight but his ability to even see it meant that escape was actually possible. If it weren’t for the fucking beacon collar. Even if he did escape, he wouldn’t get far. He licked his lips. But maybe he could get far enough to kill himself. “How long do we have until rescue?”
“What, change your mind about dying?”
Aubrey winced. Shit.
The captain grinned at him. “Ha, you did, didn’t you?” He turned back to his controls. “Don’t worry. It’ll only be a matter of hours.”
Hours? Aubrey sucked in a breath and choked. He only had hours to get far enough to die? The choke became a cough. The cough became a spot of blood on his palm. He stared at in shock.
The captain nodded at him. “Oh yeah, there’s a reason you were living in a tank kid. Without the nanites in the liquid to process oxygen for you, your lung problem is terminal.” His smile was full of blackened teeth. “You can’t breathe real air for more than a week or so. Your lungs were pretty much destroyed on your third trip to the airlock.”
Aubrey turned to him in shock. “You knew about my being in the airlock?”
The captain shrugged. “Who do you think put you in it?”
Ice water filled Aubrey’s veins, then his temper boiled white-hot. He fisted his cupped hand. For the first time in his life he really wanted to kill someone, and he wanted to do it with his bare hands.
Unfortunately, it was pretty damned obvious that the captain had marine-class robotic augmentation in his limbs. There was no way in hell that he could outfight or even outrun the bastard. He would have to find another way to kill him.
The captain leaned back in the pilot’s chair. “Moribund Company ships travel in threes; two next to each other, and the third, one jump behind, to pick up the pieces, if necessary. We had a terminal hit, and the Ravenous was already dead by the time we regained outside sensors. The homing beacon on this baby will send the third ship, the Ferocious, straight for us.” The captain grinned. “You should be back in your tank by this time tomorrow.”
“Great.” Aubrey narrowed his eyes at the captain and then examined the blinking piloting controls. This craft was simplistic compared to the yachts he’d joyridden in. Maybe he didn’t have to escape. Maybe he could kill the bastard in a crash.
And take himself out with him.
All he needed was some way into the ship’s controls. Aubrey turned to look behind him. The craft was very small. The exit was directly behind them. The sleeping bays took up either wall with food service beyond the right bed and the facility beyond the left. He raised a brow. If this craft was like a few of the other small-hoppers he’d borrowed, there was an engineering access panel in the floor of the facility. But how the fuck was he going to access it without a data-cable?
Aubrey turned to look at the captain. “What?”
The captain raised a brow at him. “You know how to fly one of these things?”
Aubrey blinked. It couldn’t be that easy. “Well, yeah. I have limited piloting capability. Why do you think I was in that tank?”
The captain sneered. “Because you know how to break into them. The real question is, can you fly this one?”
Aubrey rolled his eyes. “Yes, I can fly this one. Why?”
The captain unbuckled his harness. “I have got to take a piss, and if you don’t mind, I could use some sleep.” He rose from the pilot’s couch. “Once we get on the surface, we may have to deal with a Skeldhi hunting party or two. Not to put too fine a point on it, if you want to keep breathing, you’re going to need me awake and aware to fight them off long enough for rescue to get to us.”
Aubrey blinked. Fuck… It was going to be that easy. He smiled. “Sure, no problem.”
The captain hesitated. His eyes narrowed. “Don’t try anything funny, kid.”
Aubrey set his chin on his hand and raised one brow. “What could I possibly do that you can’t stop me from doing?”
The captain frowned.
Aubrey almost laughed. Don’t strain your brain, Captain. “I’m not augmented, remember?” His smile soured. “And I can’t live outside a tank. If I don’t go back in, I die in a week.”
The captain smiled. “Actually, if you leave the ship, you’ll be dead in a day or so. The atmosphere is slightly corrosive. No big deal for me, very big deal for you.”
“Fine, you made your point.” Aubrey unbuckled his harness. “Go take your piss and your nap.” He climbed out of his chair.
The captain stood there frowning.
Aubrey set his hands on his hips. “I only get to be outside a tank for a small amount of time. You have a problem with me enjoying what little time I get?”
The captain’s expression eased into something almost like regret. “Look, I’m sorry, kid, but it’s your own fault you have to breathe water. If you’d agreed to the boss’s deal when we pulled you out of the airlock the first time, you’d be sleeping in a captain’s suite, not a tank. You’re that valuable. Seriously, if I survive this without you, I’m a dead man.”
Aubrey looked away and crossed his arms. You just don’t get it, asshole.
“Tell you what, I’ll see that you get out of the tank every once in a while so you can at least get laid.”
Aubrey tilted his head and faced the planetary horizon line visible on the forward view-screen, turning his back on the hulking captain. “Sure, fine, whatever.”
The captain sighed and turned away.
Aubrey dropped into the pilot’s chair and activated the nav-pilot access. The mechanical feed at the back of the chair interlinked with his data-jack. Raw information poured into his skull. His imagination translated the data into stars and a slowly turning planet. It wasn’t nearly as extensive as what a nav-pilot would see, but it was more control than the captain had driving cold mechanics with his hands.
He crossed his arms and proceeded to plot his demise. He didn’t bother to buckle in. The point was to ensure that he didn’t survive the crash.
* * * * *
The small shuttle dipped below the planet’s cloud level with the captain snoring up a storm in the bed directly behind Aubrey. Uneven rock-tumbled terrain spread beneath the ship. Patches of twisted trees and scattered hardscrabble brush seemed to be the only signs of life.
Aubrey tapped his finger on the armrest while piloting the ship closer to the surface. Death had to be really fast, or the captain would awaken and possibly stop the crash. He needed something to crash into, like…a mountain, if he could find one.
His sensors picked up a small craft unfamiliar in conformation following his trail. It was not a Moribund ship, or an Imperium craft. It had to be Skeldhi.
Aubrey’s brows rose. Who needed a mountain when he could just get his ass blasted by an enemy ship? Oddly, something his father said a very long time ago came to mind. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
He smiled and shifted the trajectory to make it easier for the other ship to catch him and shut down all the proximity alarms. The last thing he needed was the captain waking up and stopping him. He leaned back and set his hands behind his head, while listening to the captain’s loud snores. A smile played on his lips. Finally, all his misery was going to end, nice and fast.
The ship shuddered hard and whirled into a spinning curve that flung it from the other ship’s path.
Aubrey grabbed for control. He needed to get back into that ship’s path if he was going to make sure he didn’t survive.
The captain rolled — or rather fell — from the bed. “What the fuck is going on?”
Aubrey rolled his eyes. “We have been hit by enemy fire, and we are currently spinning out of control.”
“Give me that!”
Aubrey was hauled from the pilot’s chair and practically thrown onto the other chair.
“Go!” The captain dropped into the pilot seat. “Strap yourself in! I’ll get us down in one piece.”
Aubrey rose from the chair. No, damn it! He was going to crash this damned ship if he had to pry the engineering panel up from the floorboards with his bare hands.
The ship bucked hard.
Aubrey fell to the deck.
The captain choked. “Bloody fucking Fate! Where the hell did that come from?”
Aubrey grinned. Hot damn! They were under fire again. The other ship had found them. Fate was finally smiling!
“What the fuck? The proximities are off! Kid, what did you do?”
“Who me?” Aubrey rolled onto his back, tucked his hands behind his head and folded one knee over the other, kicking his foot absently. “Not a damned thing.”
“Get your ass back in the chair! We’re about to crash and crash hard!”
Aubrey smiled. “No, thanks, I’m good.”
“Are you trying to die?”
Aubrey rolled over onto his stomach and smiled at the captain. “Why, yes I am, you fucking moron.”
The captain howled and climbed out of his chair. “Get in this chair, you stubborn little shit!”
Aubrey rolled up onto his feet and set his back against the door. He bared his teeth. “Fuck you!”
The captain grabbed the front of his ship-suit. “You will get in the fucking chair and strap in!”
In the forward viewscreen, the mountain came out of nowhere.
Aubrey could not believe his good luck. “Um, Captain, shouldn’t you be paying attention to that?”
Aubrey ginned. “The mountain dead ahead?”
The captain looked over his shoulder. His mouth fell open, and his eyes bulged.
Aubrey laughed. It was so perfect. Better than any comedy vid he’d ever seen.
The crash came blindingly fast. One second Aubrey was laughing in the captain’s face and the next, he was being tossed around like a marble in a cup. The sound of ripping metal was horrendously loud.
* * * * *
Aubrey groaned. He was still alive. Damn it! He opened his eyes and discovered that he was lying on top of the captain’s rather large stomach. Thanks for the soft landing, asshole. And the captain was still breathing. He scowled. Great…
The air smelled bitter.
He looked up. A dark cloudy night sky was clearly visible over his head. The ship was a shredded mess all around them. He couldn’t even tell what was supposed to be the deck and what was supposed to be the ceiling, especially the front. In fact, the entire nose, along with both chairs, was missing.
Aubrey smacked the closest surface with his palm. He should have stayed in the chair! He rolled off the captain’s belly and climbed to his feet. He had a few small cuts and bunches of assorted bruises, but other than that, he was intact. Damn it. He eyed the litter lying about. There had to be something sharp enough to open his wrists or shove into his heart. He got down on his knees and started hunting.
Close to where the pilot’s chair used to be, Aubrey found a fairly interesting and serrated shard of metal about as long as his forearm. Sitting back on his heels he checked the edge. It felt sharp. He nodded. That ought to do the job pretty quick.
He turned the point to just below his breastbone and tilted it upward toward his heart.
An arm reached over his shoulder, and a hand closed around Aubrey’s wrists. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” The captain’s voice was right in his ear.
Aubrey ground his teeth and fought to hold onto the blade of metal. “I should think it‘s pretty damned obvious.”
“You are not committing suicide.” The captain lifted the blade.
Aubrey came with it, hanging on with every drop of stubborn strength he had. “Yes, I am!”
The captain grabbed his shoulder with crushing force. “Let go!”
“You let go!” Aubrey jammed a foot between them, his boot heel catching on the larger man’s upper thigh.
The captain gasped and suddenly toppled backward.
Aubrey fell on top of him. Somehow in the fall, the point of the metal shard ended up in the side of the captain’s neck. Blood welled, and the scent of copper flooded Aubrey’s nose. Rage bloomed out of nowhere. Aubrey pulled the blade from the captain’s nerveless fingers, raised it, and plunged it down into meat and bone. Liquid rubies sprayed the air. He lifted the blade and plunged it down again, and again…
* * * * *
Aubrey sucked in a breath and tried not to cough. The chill air burned in his nose and seared every breath. The rocky ground was uneven under his unsteady feet. He was dead tired. The terrain was not exactly the most pleasant, just big towering rocks and twisted needle-leafed brush. He blinked watery eyes. He wasn’t quite sure, but it looked like it was getting lighter. Was that dawn?
He dropped to the ground and leaned back against a large rock, staring at the dirty blade of metal that felt fused to his hand. The captain was dead. Very, very dead. Two hours walk away, dead. And it had felt so damned good to do it that he’d taken a nice little walk up the brush-covered mountain reveling in the feeling of finally defeating an enemy. He drew in another breath and coughed, and coughed, then spat a mouthful of blood.
His walk was finally over. It was his turn to die. He lifted the edged metal to his throat.
It clanged against the collar.
He winced. He needed to get that thing off or they would find him. He tilted his head to the side and pushed the metal sliver between his throat and the collar. He pulled. He pushed. He twisted. Warmth tricked down his throat. The sky turned an alarming shade of puke orange and rancid pink.
The collar stayed firmly around his throat.
Masculine voices spoke softly very nearby.
Aubrey pulled the metal blade from his throat and climbed to his feet. He backed away from the voices.
Three grizzled men in ratty black and gold Moribund Company uniforms came around the edge of the rock carrying bolt rifles.
One of them frowned. “That him?”
Another looked at his hand. “That’s what the beeper says.”
The third held out his hand. “Come on, kid, time to go home.”
Aubrey backed away and raised his hunk of metal. “Fuck you. I’m not going anywhere.”
The third man took a step closer. “Kid, you’re going to be dead in two days.”
Aubrey grinned. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
The second lifted his head. “What? Do you want to die?”
Aubrey bared his teeth. “Ask me if I want to live in a tank, asshole! Ask me if I like killing whole shiploads of people with the codes being raped out of my head!” He fisted his hands and screamed. “Yes! I want to die, you stupid son of a bitch!” He drew in a breath and choked. He grabbed his throat and started coughing…and couldn’t stop.
“Stupid kid! This air is killing you!”
Aubrey caught a small breath and backed away, raising the blade. “Go away!”
“We should let him die.”
“Moribund will kill us if we come back without him!”
The three men came toward him.
Aubrey turned and skidded down a small slope. There was no place he could hide. No matter where he went, they would find him. But maybe he could stay out of range long enough to die.
“Don’t let him get away!”
“He has a collar. He’s not going far.”
“Yeah, but we need to get him back in one piece and still breathing!”
Aubrey crashed through the low brush and collapsed to his hands in a small clearing. His chest felt like someone was driving a knife into it, and he couldn’t catch his breath.
A youth in an iridescent black suit stepped out of the brush carrying a bolt rifle over his shoulder. His long ghost-pale hair was bound back in a tight braid that fell to his hips. The youth stopped and stared down at Aubrey.
Aubrey sat back on his heels stared right back.
The youth was obviously Skeldhi. He had the sharply pointed ears and a sculpted face commanded by enormous blue eyes. He looked about half a head taller with broad shoulders on a sleek build. There was no way in hell Aubrey stood a chance against him, even without the bolt rifle in his hands.
The youth tilted his head to the side and frowned.
Aubrey scowled at him. “Well, what are you waiting for? Shoot me!”
The youth’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open. His gaze darted past Aubrey’s shoulder.
“There he is!”
”I’ll get the brat.”
Aubrey turned sharply to look behind him. “Shit!” He lost his balance and fell onto his back.
The Moribund goon came straight for him.
Aubrey raised the hunk of metal with both hands. “Go away! Stay back!”
The man held out his hand. “Kid, come on, you’ll be dead if you don’t.”
Aubrey lifted his blade and aimed for his own heart. “I know, leave me alone!”
The man took a step closer. “I can’t do that. You’re worth too much money.”
“Oh, but you can.” The voice was young, and gorgeously, inhumanly accented. A bolt shot echoed.
The Moribund goon gasped and fell back as though kicked in the head.
Huh? Aubrey looked behind him.
The white-haired youth lifted the nose of his smoking rifle and arched a brow. “You wanted him to go away, did you not?”
Aubrey felt a smile lift his mouth. “Yeah, I did. Thanks.”
The youth grinned, showing long white predator’s teeth. “It was my pleasure, truly.”
The other two Moribund men shouted and came running.
The youth pointed his rifle and took them both out without even flinching. He walked over to Aubrey and held out a hand.
Aubrey stared at the bone-pale hand. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. He reached up and grasped his hand.
The youth lifted him onto his feet with hardly any effort. “I am Seht. And you?”
Aubrey took a small shallow breath to keep from coughing. “Aubrey.”
Seht nodded and smiled. “Well then, Aubrey, shall we find somewhere else to be?”
Aubrey wrapped a finger around his collar. “They’re tracking me with this. I can’t get it off!”
Seht frowned. “I believe I can help.” His gaze darted about. “But let us leave this exposed area first.” He turned and started walking into the rocky scrub.
Aubrey stared after him bemused. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Dad had it right on the money.
Seht turned back. “Coming?”
Aubrey nodded and strode after him.