Excerpt: Rescues and the Rhyssa

Pan Sophi, Captain of the Rhyssa, was right where Cadan would have expected to find her—with her crew in the back of the seediest pub on Arvum Moon. Sophi had gathered people from all over the system for her crew of smugglers, and humans were the minority. Most of them would be down here with her.

Cadan ignored everyone else and fixed her eyes on Sophi. She was lounged across two of her huge dust-gray anoloid bruisers like they were a throne, serving them as both companion and supplementary heat source. There were few the lizard-like aliens would welcome that way, but that was Sophi. She found a space for herself anywhere she didn’t belong. Her smooth black hair was overdyed with a faint blue iridescence today, braided into a long rope over her shoulder. Her heavy-lidded black eyes laughed above high cheekbones. Despite the earliness of the day she was sipping on a glass of something that, by the smell, could only be the local whiskey—and Cadan had been dirtside far too long if she was starting to think local planetary time meant anything.

“Well, look who it is.” Sophi tipped her glass to Cadan, a sharp smile playing on her lips. Her pebbly-skinned anoloid bruisers vibrated in the low frequencies of amusement. Human crew members elbowed each other and smirked. Cadan most definitely did not hear a few murmurs of “captain’s girlfriend,” or she’d have had to break people’s faces. A glare was all it took to shut them up.

Blattas Cadan couldn’t see in the dim light chittered and rustled from hiding spots in the corners and beneath the furniture, the sound familiar and comforting. Simple as the black-chitined aliens were individually, they were still the only species who had mastered the blink that made interplanetary—and even interstellar—travel reasonable. They were everywhere, starside, and after three months stuck on this agrarian moon, breathing muddy planetary air, Cadan was more than ready to be off it.

“What can I do for you, Cadan?” Sophi asked. Her tone turned it into far too much of a flirtation. Her light, silky shirt was unbuttoned clear down to her belly button, showing off the fact that she had nothing under it except rich golden-brown skin. She idly stroked her long braid over her narrow chest, making her shirt fall open farther.

Damn her for knowing how she affected Cadan. Cadan felt unwanted heat pounding in her cheeks, and knew that even those who could not pick out human arousal by scent would be able to see the red of it on her face. She grabbed a nearby empty chair and pulled it up, careful not to accidentally place it on an anoloid’s tail. A family of angry anoloids was the last thing she needed right now.

Cadan kept it simple and formal. “Captain Pan, I need starside.”

“I knew you’d come with me when you wanted off Arvum.” The smile teasing at Sophi’s lips suggested the double entendre was absolutely intentional. “Unfortunately, there’s been a blockade on since your stunt with the harvest. We’re all stuck here entertaining ourselves however we can.” Sophi raised her glass to Cadan and took a sip while her crew laughed around her. There were a couple cheers for “entertainment” and several demonstrations as crew members drank or mimed sexual acts.

Three tiny anoloid males—each no longer than Cadan’s arm—squirmed out of the pile beneath Sophi to perch on top of the bruisers and join in, doing pushups and flicking their brightly colored dewflaps in display. Sophi fanned her hand before her throat in imitation and one of the bruisers stroked her deadly claws down Sophi’s body just as affectionately as it touched the purring males. Sophi’s eyes fluttered nearly shut, and she arched into the contact with a moan that sent a sympathetic shiver all the way down Cadan’s body.

Cadan had never considered herself a xenophile. She shouldn’t have wanted to climb up the pile of anoloids and join in, be wrapped up with Sophi in cool, scaled bodies so much bigger and stronger even than her own. But that was Sophi for you. It was like she had a short circuit in Cadan’s brain. Anything she implied or suggested sounded like a fine idea.

“Don’t give me that,” Cadan answered gruffly. “I know you can get out.” The Imperium likely thought their blockade on Arvum was impenetrable, but Cadan knew the Rhyssa had delivered, and smuggled out, at least three full-to bursting shipments since it had begun. Sophi specialized in the impossible—a different impossible than Cadan did.

“Maybe,” Sophi granted. “What’s in it for me?”

If Sophi were a true loyalist, Cadan would only have to show Magnus’s communication calling her home to get where she needed to go. That wouldn’t work with Sophi. Cadan knew she’d laugh at the idea she should serve the king because she was a descendant of the same colonization wave and had been born in the orbit of the star system he ruled. Mention of the king would only end in one of their old arguments. As much as Cadan might physically want Sophi, her callous disrespect was grating. The only thing Sophi truly cared about was money, so money was what Cadan would offer her.

“Royal credit or antimatter bullion. Your choice.” Royal credit should have been good enough. It should be good enough for any citizen of Nidum, but Cadan already knew Sophi wouldn’t take it. Unlike royal credit, antimatter could be traded anywhere.

Sophi named her price. “Six grams.”

“Six?” Cadan growled. “That’s…”

Sophi cut her off. “The only way off this dirtball with the Imperium’s blockade in place.” She had the monopoly and she knew it, damn her. No one else had her crew’s skills. The blattas hidden in the shadows chittered in approval of the hard bargain.

“Six grams antimatter, to be paid upon safe arrival at Vagari Station.” From Vagari Station, there were well-established blink routes to everywhere in the system. From there, she could get home. “With half a gram subtracted for every standard day past three it takes to get there.” That was some incentive for Sophi not to get sidetracked on the way; she was famous for it if she thought she could make a little extra profit. She always got the job done, but she didn’t always do it fast.

“Can’t do it.” Sophi shook her head, taking another sip of her whiskey. “Take us at least five if we’re slipping the blockade.”

“Five days then,” Cadan agreed.

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