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About the author:
At first I started writing to support my reading habit. Now I don’t have enough time in the day to get all the reading done that I want. I have so much living to do. And being an adventurous mom, and loving wife. And writing.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The dungeons on the spaceship, the Remora, were not built for comfort, Lia decided. Each cell was only about five feet long by five feet wide, since she couldn’t comfortably fit her five feet, four inches flat on the floor. Instead of fresh air, the vents only recycled stale air that smelled of all the unwashed bodies and hopelessness of the other prisoners.
She hadn’t had a bath in over seven months and her greasy hair lay in tangles down her back. A metal collar was locked around her neck and attached to the wall with a chain. The main purpose for it, she realized, was demoralization, since there was no escape. Meals, if they could be called that, were strips of dehydrated meat and dirty water. Many prisoners became diseased, vomited, and died, adding to the smell. The odor was so rank, she could taste it on her tongue.
This was a completely different experience from the last time she had entered zero gravity, Lia couldn’t help comparing, as a prominent passenger on a planet-escape pleasure ship. Then, her every want had been anticipated and taken care of. Now, her basic needs were denied. However, it wasn’t the white fruit aperitifs and hour-long massages she missed the most. The worst part was the lack of privacy.
Each cell was made of shatterproof cristiline. If she turned her head, she could look through her wall, down the row of prisoners, each a smaller block of misery as far as the eye could see. However, most of the slaves avoided looking at each other, each wrapped up in their own world of wretchedness.
Some of the slaves were prisoners of war, some were space slaves to sell. They were from all the planets of the inner galaxies and beyond. In big jagged letters, on the other side of the hallway, was written As long as you’re alive, it can always get worse. It had been scratched into the metal wall, and translated into many different languages. And for those who couldn’t read, there were the daily tangible reminders.
The only break from the monotony had been a month of forced slave labor digging marble from the quarries of Cordovia, a desert planet in the Streicloid galaxy. Every slave that could swing a hammer had been sent to the vanquished planet to plunder the famous marble.
It wasn’t the backbreaking work and gritty desert wind that made Lia long to return to her cell on the Remora. It was the faces of the natives of Cordovia, who were forced to watch someone else despoil their natural source of livelihood, while they were round up like chattel and bound for some outer galaxy slave market. And so it was with relief, mixed with regret, that she was returned to her prison on the Remora.
She was one of the lucky ones.
The woman in the cell on the left of Lia, started off a healthy green skin color with lush vines and leaves growing in her hair. Lia had heard of the reclusive Llioroid, but had never met one. They were said to be able to grow anything on any planet, hospitable or not, and Lia would have loved to talk with her.
She watched the Llioroid woman take her daily ration of water and pour it over herself instead of drinking it. But it wasn’t enough. Her skin gradually turned brown and the vegetation dried up and died the longer she was in captivity. Communication proved fruitless, as the unfortunate woman curled up in the corner of her cell, as desolate as the shriveled up leaves that littered the floor. The Llioroid was too scared to even look Lia in the eyes.
Surprisingly, she had got a response from the man on the other side of her cell. He had been captured only about a month ago and had copper colored skin with dark blue tattoos covering his body, most of which could be seen, since he only wore a leather loincloth for clothing. The most dominant tattoo was a giant jaguar right across his chiseled chest. Even though he was badly damaged from a brutal beating when he was thrown into his cell, there was a quiet dignity and intelligent light in his dark brown eyes. They had even managed to communicate using a made up form of hand signals. Slavery had not defeated him. Yet.
However, the guards watched everything. Lia had learned to use the bucket in the corner of her cell quickly to relieve herself and not care about the leering faces watching. That was something she hadn’t been prepared for. Since this was her first experience being a prisoner, she wasn’t really qualified to compare these dungeons. But she was fairly certain it was not normal to have transparent cells placed right in the middle of the ship, lining one of the most used outer hallways. She couldn’t help feeling they were all on display, not surprising considering the sadistic nature of the captain of the ship, General Oort.
He never glanced at his prisoners, as he led other visiting commanders and captains to the entertaining areas of the ship, but it amused him to make others uncomfortable. His visitors quickly hid their first reactions of shock and disgust, and then some would sneak curious glances at the prisoners on display. Others enjoyed the twisted interior decorations, and once or twice, the General had even given away a prisoner that caught the eye of an important friend as a gift.
It was only at night that the General would return. His cold gray eyes would inspect the prisoners, and some nights he would choose one, typically a young female. Some of the slaves would freeze or try to make themselves as small as possible, so as not to attract the General’s attention. Lia had seen small creatures do the same thing when a carnivorous predator was stalking its prey. The slaves were forced to use this survival tactic. They had nowhere to run. Lia didn’t want to watch, but she couldn’t turn her eyes away when the chosen slave fought the guards out of fear and doomed panic.
They never went willingly and they never returned.
Each time the General would run his eyes over her, Lia would look down, because he liked them frightened and timid. She would repeat to herself, ‘I am nobody. I am a space slave prisoner. I have no name.’
But, to her disappointment, he never chose her.
Sometimes, General Oort sent his second in command to do his dirty work. Lia didn’t know his name, but she could tell the man was a mixed creature. Half human and half some other species. He had pebbled brown skin and a heavy brow, with completely black eyes. From their body language, Lia could tell the General relied on this man above all others. And that made her instantly distrust him. While General Oort looked like the picture of health, with a robust body, perversely, his second in command looked sickly and twisted, as if all the evil deeds of the General had leached into his body.
The prisoners could always tell when the General would entertain. Today, the activity in the hall had picked up. Servants ran by on errands and clean-bots came to scrub the floors and polish the cristiline cell walls.
Lia watched the activity dispassionately. She was settled in her usual position, sitting on the floor, her back against the side wall, knees drawn up and arms resting on her knees. In this position she could fake disinterest while watching everything, and at night she could get moments of sleep and still look alert.
From her cell, she watched General Oort march down the hall to greet his visitor. Heavily armed members of his crew followed, all to impress the new visitor. It would be another corrupt ruler looking to expand his empire the dirty way, Lia thought.
Lia didn’t know why she looked at him. Space slaves never looked anyone in the eye, and she had mastered the dull face and slumped shoulders she saw in the other prisoners. Space slaves were not curious or interested in their surroundings, but it must have been curiosity that made her look up.
He was younger than any of the other visitors, for one thing. And he didn’t pretend he couldn’t see the garish display lining the hallway, or sneak greedy glances at the choices before him. He was angry. So, this was not a friend of the General’s, Lia mused. Besides, she thought with a smirk, he was too pretty for the General’s taste.
Despite herself, Lia watched fascinated. He walked slightly behind General Oort, and from the stiffness of his shoulders to the scowl on his face, he radiated displeasure. A man and a woman closely followed him and they didn’t look happy to be there either. They were dressed in the same one-piece pewter gray and black uniform that belted at the waist, and all carried weapons clipped onto their belts. Why the General allowed them to board the Remora armed was a mystery to Lia.
The General was making calming gestures with his hands, and his mouth was smiling, but nobody was at ease. Halfway down the hall, the visitor stopped walking, forcing everyone else to stop. For a second, General Oort dropped the pleasant look on his face and pure malice made his crew take a step away from him. But the smile was back when he turned around to face his visitor.
Lia couldn’t hear what was said, but the visitor pointed at the slaves and said something to the General. General Oort said something back. The visitor shook his head boldly against the General’s response. General Oort replied, saying something soothing with an oily look on his face, then made a sweeping gesture the way they were going.
The whole party continued on down the hallway. All accept the man. He turned to look back at the cells full of slaves, and Lia didn’t look away fast enough. Their eyes locked.
Lia knew the power in a look. As a woman, she had learned at a young age how to control a situation, convey certain thoughts and feelings, and change someone’s decision, all without saying a word. She was caught in his stare, and he seemed just as surprised as her.
Lia caught the impression of startlingly light eyes, she couldn’t tell if they were gray or blue from so far away, for such dark hair and features. A moment passed, and one of the people he was with called his attention away. Lia looked away, shaken, until they all walked down the hall and disappeared from her sight. What just happened? Who was this man? And what did he see in that unguarded moment when their eyes met? Too much, for certain.
She had been distracted, but she couldn’t afford complications. Seven months ago, her world had shattered and then fixed on one narrow purpose. Nothing else mattered. She wrapped her blanket around herself and lay with her back to the hall, so she wouldn’t see the visitors leave. Nothing else mattered.
Lia must have fallen asleep, because the hiss of her cell door sliding open woke her with a start. She sat up to face two of General Oort’s guards. Was this it? Was this her chance? Had General Oort finally chosen her?
Remembering the panic the other slaves showed, she tried to evade the guards’ hands, and struggled when they caught her. One of the guards pulled out a sleep patch and slapped it on her neck. She fell into blackness.