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For those who’ve read my other stories, this universe is a lot like Anna’s. The setting is sci fi, but it’s a love story at heart. I hope you enjoy it.
“Rise and shine, darling,” a sultry voice purred over the speaker. It was set into the wall right next to Wyl Leyton’s pillow, and he groaned as the noise blasted him out of a sound sleep.
“Get thee behind me, Satan,” he growled and rolled over, pushing his face into the pillow.
“Religion. How quaint.” The voice was quietly amused. “I hope you’re not in an insolent mood this morning, Wyl. You know what a chore it is for me to come up with appropriate punishments when you’re being insolent.”
“Not insolent, just honest,” Wyl mumbled from his pillow. There was a long pause from the speaker.
“Are you insulting me?” The voice held none of its earlier amusement now.
“Why would I insult you?” Wyl replied. “You’d just withhold payment on my bond again.”
“True.” Confidence came back to the voice. “And that’s the last thing you want, isn’t it dearest? Especially since you’re still paying for your last little bout of arrogance. Hmmm…is today the last cold shower?”
“Yes.” Wyl sighed and rolled out of bed, wincing as his bare feet hit the icy flooring. “And the last day without socks, either.”
“You lucky thing you. If I were you I’d be especially nice to me. You wouldn’t want to jeopardize the chance to return to normal living, now would you?”
“Oh no.” No, I wouldn’t want to jeopardize this fucking hellhole of an existence, Wyl thought angrily as he pulled on his graying cargo pants. He stuck his feet into the boots by the bed and grabbed his fraying shirt, then left his tiny room and headed for the communal shower.
Only one other person got woken up this early, and that was Taylor Paulsen, the bonder who worked as a cook for the rest of the crew. He was already under the warm water, lathered with soap. He saw Wyl enter and cast a sympathetic look his way. “Last day, man.”
“Yeah.” Wyl sighed. He shook off his boots and pants, placed all his clothes on a nearby bench and stepped up to a nozzle. The scanner attached to the end of the shower identified him and immediately began spraying icy cold water on his chest. Wyl gasped and shuddered for a moment, then grabbed the soap and began scrubbing as fast as he could. “Shit, that’s cold.”
“It’s been three weeks, I think you’d be used to it by now,” Taylor observed as he rinsed soap off. “Then again, a skinny thing like you, you don’t have any padding to blunt the shock.”
“Not like you, you mean.” Taylor was an excellent cook, and he had the body of someone who worked out regularly but also loved food. Wyl, on the other hand, ate until he was stuffed but never seemed to gain an ounce. His body was whipcord lean and muscled, and his face was thin to the point of gauntness. He had large brown eyes, constantly ringed these days with dark circles, and his black hair hadn’t been cut for months. It fell raggedly around his shoulders, the ends split from continual freezing and thawing on this icy world. He was attractive, or would have been if he didn’t look so miserable. Wyl finished his shower as fast as he could and stepped back from the tiles. Fast currents of air assailed him from all directions, air that unfortunately was also cold. After a few more miserable moments of shivering, he was dry. Numb, but dry. He walked gingerly over to where he had set his clothes and sat down. Taylor, sitting a few benches down, cast a concerned eye at the young man.
“Seriously, Wyl, you should just give her what she wants,” he advised him. “You know she’d ease up on you if she did.”
“Can I help it if I don’t like ice cold bitch first thing in the morning?” Wyl growled.
“Well you’d better learn to like it. Or at least fake that you do. Otherwise she’ll make your life a living hell until your bond is paid off.”
“The last thing I’m going to give that fucking wench is satisfaction.” Wyl shook his head. “Not if I can help it. And certainly not in bed.”
“Why not? It isn’t as though she’s hard to look at.” Taylor glanced at him more closely. “Or do you prefer boys?”
“Men, T. I prefer men.”
“Damn. And she knows it.” Taylor couldn’t help it; he burst out laughing. Wyl glared at him.
“What the fuck is so funny?”
“Thank the stars I was married before I got shipped to this wasteland. You’re the biggest challenge to come along for our little miss wonderbitch in years.” His laughter slowly died. “She’s never going to give up, Wyl, not until she catches you or breaks you. That’s the way she is.”
“I’ll have my bond paid off in a year. I can wait that long.”
“A year of freezing showers, bad clothes and worse weather. It would be easier just to fuck her.”
“Yeah, well…” Wyl let his voice trail off. It wasn’t that he had something against women in general. He had been with women before, and even though he liked men better, there was something appealing about the smooth lines and softness of a woman’s curves pressed against him. But there was nothing appealing about poker oyna the woman who held his bond.
Danica Jessom was the owner of nearly half of the planet Hazard, which was aptly named. It was a small ball of ice and rock with a barely habitable surface during the warm season, which was to say merely twenty below zero, and an entirely uninhabitable surface during the cold season, which dipped into the negative hundreds. It was also extremely rich in precious stones. The problem was getting at them. There were machines to do the digging, but they broke down all the time in the cold weather and Danica was too cheap to think of replacing them with more weather-suitable versions. She preferred manpower to mechanization anyway, and kept a large workforce on hand to repair machines, sort stones and do the cuttings before sending the shipments off to buyers. Rather than employ regular workers, Danica bought bonds.
People racked up debts to society in many different ways, and if they had no method of paying them off, they became bonders. The bond was owned by the government of whatever society the person lived in and until it was paid off, they worked the worst jobs the government couldn’t get technology to do. This process took a long time, but at least bonders in government service were taken fairly good care of, provided with food, lodging and healthcare. The other option was having the bond bought by a hawk. Hawks were legal slavers of the modern era, buying and trading bonds, providing skilled and unskilled workers to locations all over the universe. Hawks ran the illicit sex trade, the underground fighting tournaments and provided warm bodies for numerous types of cybernetic experimentation.
The various planetary federations tried to control the bond buying trade, taxing all sales severely and installing monitoring chips into each bonder, designed to keep track of sales and bonder location. The databases were flawed, though, updated irregularly and not accurately synched to each other. Bonders went missing, were lost, were forgotten. If a bonder was lucky, the government who sold his bond would check up on the buyer and supervise the repayment of the debt, usually in the interest of bringing a skilled laborer back to the home planet after they’d paid their bill.
Wyl had no idea if his home planet was keeping tabs on his bond, and Danica certainly wasn’t about to tell him. She liked to keep her people in the dark. Danica Jessom wasn’t traditionally cruel to her bonders. Some people thought she was all right to work for, as long as you kept on her good side. Wyl’s trouble was, there was no way for him to keep on her good side. She bought not just the bonds she needed, but also those she simply fancied, and she loved pretty, slender young men. When Wyl had first arrived six months ago she’d been very accommodating, even offering him a room in her own mansion. After he’d found out it was her room she had in mind, he’d declined. She had punished him for that. She had been punishing him ever since.
Something soft hit him in the face, startling Will out of his reverie. He looked down into his lap. It was a pair of socks, rolled into a ball. He glanced over at Taylor, but he was preoccupied with buttoning up his shirt. “Thanks, T.”
“Can’t have the only mechanic here worth a damn losing his toes to frostbite,” Taylor said with a smile. “Get dressed and head to the mess hall. Leesie’s started the ovens early today.”
“Seriously, is Leesie an insomniac?” Wyl asked.
“She’s got a full day and can’t stand to cut my meals short.” Taylor said with perfect immodesty. He finished pulling his boots on and walked out of the room.
Wyl put on the coarse socks. They were a little big on him, but they were dry and warm. He hastily stepped into the pants, pulled on the shirt and then back into his boots. He flexed his toes and grinned. It was the first time he’d had a layer of padding between his skin and the boots for close to a month. He ran a callused hand through his ragged hair, then sighed and followed Taylor to breakfast.
Taylor had disappeared into the kitchen, but Leesie was there in the mess hall, sitting at one of the long tables sipping a cup of tea. She saw Wyl enter and smiled at him. “Good morning.”
“How can you drink that stuff?” Wyl shook his head.
“Just because it isn’t coffee,” Leesie mocked him. “Some of us like something with a more delicate flavor, you know. It doesn’t have to take the enamel off my teeth to wake me up.”
“How you cut gems in a semi-comatose state is beyond me,” Wyl replied. Leesie was the best jeweler working for Danica. Taylor had never explained to him how he had Leesie had ended up in debt and Wyl hadn’t asked; it was considered an impertinent question among bonders. All he knew was that because of their skills, they were allowed to stay together as a couple. He envied them.
Taylor brought Wyl a large cup of oily blackness that smelled divine. “That’s almost pure caffeine, I’ll have you know.”
“Yum.” He sipped the hot drink and felt his sinuses get blasted clear. “Gah…perfect.”
“Disgusting.” canlı poker oyna Leesie shook her head. “What’s for breakfast, honey?”
“For you two, fried ham and real eggs. Everyone else gets scrambled protein spread, thanks to our lady of cheapness cutting my fucking budget again.”
“Tell us how you really feel, T.”
The big man shook his head. “I’m serious. It’s all I can do to give that junk enough taste to be edible. If Danica isn’t careful she’ll start losing workers to malnutrition.”
“Nah, its chock full o’vitaminy goodness.” Wyl bared his teeth in a sarcastic grin.
“True.” Leesie sighed, then smiled. “And nothing you make would ever be inedible, honey. You could spice shit up to taste good.”
“That’s an idea. Maybe I’ll serve some to the center of the universe the next time she decides to grace us with her presence,” Taylor said disgustedly. “The food’ll be ready soon.” He went back into the kitchen.
Leesie turned back to Wyl. “What are you working on today?”
“She wants me to finish repairing the number two grinder.” He shook his head. “They just don’t hold the oil in that cold, it gets sloughed off. The damn thing overheated three times during the last harvesting season.” It was too cold aboveground to continue operations presently, and the gem cutters had their hands full readying stock for shipments. “I’ll never talk her into replacing it, though, so it’s another dirty fix and hoping it lasts long enough.”
“Where is she keeping it right now?”
“Where else? The bloody warehouse.” Wyl shivered involuntarily. The warehouse was the main storage facility for mining equipment not in use, and while it was underground and indoors, it was also unheated. Every time Wyl went in there, it felt like he was entering a tomb. “Can’t convince her to move it to the damn shop where I could actually use all my tools.”
“Reason isn’t her strong suit,” Leesie agreed.
Wyl grimaced. “Maybe Taylor is right. Maybe I should just sleep with her and get it over with.”
“No.” Leesie was unusually adamant. “You can’t go to her. Letting her use you now would be tantamount to rape. You’d never forgive yourself if you caved.”
Wyl blinked. “How is it that you can read my mind?”
“Not your mind, sweetie, your face.” Leesie placed her free hand on top of his. “I know it’s hard to believe, but people like her do get their comeuppance in time.”
“You’re right. It is hard to believe.” Wyl was spared further uncomfortable conversation by Taylor’s return. He was carrying three plates heaped with what smelled like nirvana, and they wasted no time in tucking in to the feast. All too soon it was over, though, and Taylor had to leave to start cooking for the masses, Leesie had to go cut the finest gems, and Wyl had to gather his tools and head into the warehouse. Five frickin’ mechanics and he was the only one who had to work in that icebox of a warehouse. He grabbed the long, unwieldy overalls he wore for the work off a hook next to the shop, a pair of goggles and a hood, then the lifter that contained the tools he thought he would need. Thus armed, he trudged to the small metal door that was his own personal entrance to Hell and wearily walked inside.
Marshal Robbie Sinclair stared hard at the small, transparent bag in front of him.
It was filled with glittering white crystals, ground so fine they had the consistency of dust, yet so sharp that each mote sparkled like a tiny diamond. “Mother fucker.”
The woman behind him whistled low. “Whoa, that’s a lot of angel dust. There’s probably ten thousand credits worth in that bag.” She flicked a short black dreadlock behind her left ear. “Talk about contraband.”
“And he left it in his official fucking locker. Idiot.”
“It makes confronting him about it easier,” Marshal Jane Freeman shrugged. She and Robbie were both new to Space Station 17, basically a floating city out in the backwater frontier. They had never met before this assignment, but both were retired marines from the nearest planetary federation, both had seen a lot of combat and neither were prepared to let the status quo of bribery and corruption among the station’s personnel go unnoticed. They had become friends almost immediately. “Although busting Greene for this isn’t going to increase your popularity any among the other officers.”
“They’re free to think whatever they want of me as long as they don’t cross me.” Robbie rubbed a hand across his eyes. “Not exactly like being in the marines.”
“What, you mean disciplined, orderly and generally law abiding? Nope!” Jane smiled happily. “Still, it has the advantage of us not being shot at.”
“So far. Where’s Greene right now?”
“Overseeing the docking bay.”
“Do me a favor and haul his ass in here.”
“Will do, sir.” Jane gave an easy salute and walked out of the locker bay. Robbie took advantage of her absence to let a little more of his weariness show. One month, just one month on this piddling little station that catered to nothing but mining colonies and independents internet casino and he was already wishing he’d never come. He had been appointed to the post of commander for the marshals stationed here upon his forced retirement from the marines. Laziness, he’s been expecting. A certain amount of thievery, absolutely. A total anarchy of order…no. It would be difficult to get people to change after so long of having no accountability, he knew, but the station master was on his side, and so was the federation that owned the station and paid all their salaries. If they didn’t change, he’d get their asses replaced.
Except in cases like this. Angel dust was a cocktail of narcotic compounds, liquefied, distilled, crystallized and powdered. It was lethal in anything other than the tiniest amount and even then the odds of coming out of a trip with a whole brain weren’t great. Still, angel dust had a reputation as providing one of the most amazing experiences a person could have, and the market for it was huge. It was highly illegal and therefore highly valuable, and the fact that Greene was still breathing and conscious meant that he wasn’t using the drug himself, but selling it or planning on selling it to others. That couldn’t be tolerated.
Jane pushed Joseph Greene into the room. He caught sight of the little bag on the bench and his face paled. “That ain’t mine.”
“I found it in your locker.”
“You can’t do that!” Greene exclaimed.
“I couldn’t if you were a civilian. But you’re a marshal, and under my jurisdiction. Your locker is my property.” Robbie’s voice was mild, totally calm. He wasn’t a huge man, and while he was taller than average and fit, he knew there was nothing really intimidating about him. His close-cut hair was light brown and graying at the temples, his eyes were an innocuous blue, and his features were regular and pleasant. He could see the wariness in Greene’s stance relaxing as he decided Robbie wasn’t a real threat.
“You can’t prove it was me who put it there.”
“The bag’s covered with you. Surface scan for DNA shows nothing but Joe.”
“What’s the point?” Greene scowled.
“The point is it’s an illegal substance, Marshal. What is it doing in your locker?”
Greene sighed. “This is your way of entering the game, right man? Look, I’ll cut you in ten percent, that’s what I was giving Commander Briggs.”
“Congratulations, you’ve just added bribery to your list of crimes,” Robbie said grimly. Greene looked at him as if he’d sprouted another eyeball.
“Look, you’re kidding, right? You gotta be kidding me. Ain’t no smart-ass soldier gonna come here and start telling me how to run my business. Fifteen percent, no higher.”
“Lord, you’re thick,” Robbie sighed. “This is beyond business, Marshal. I don’t want credits, I don’t want dust, I don’t want any part of your little business. I want it to stop, but I doubt you’re ready to be reformed.”
Greene stilled all his movements. “You ain’t serious.”
“Marshal Joseph Greene, you are hereby under arrest for the crimes of possession, intent to distribute and attempting to bribe a fellow marshal. You have the right-“
“To hell with this!” Greene roared. He took a lunging step at Robbie, swinging his right hand in a wide, punishing hook. Robbie weaved under the punch, thrust a knee into Greene’s gut to bend him over, then threw an elbow to the back of his head. Greene crashed to the ground on his stomach and Jane was on top of him immediately, twisting his left arm back behind him until his shoulder blade was protruding like a chicken wing and he was grunting in pain. Robbie crouched down next to him.
“A lot of you boys and girls got used to slacking under Commander Briggs. You could do anything you wanted and not have to look over your shoulder.” His tone was cold and hard. “Well, that time has passed and there’ll be no going back. I don’t know what the fuck you thought you could accomplish by trying to deck me, but it proves my initial assumption about you right, Greene. You’re just too dumb to be given a second chance by me.” He stood up straight. “Marshal Freeman, remind Marshal Greene of the rest of his rights, then escort him to the brig. When you’re finished, meet me outside the station master’s office. I’ll be there shortly.”
“Yes sir!” Jane said cheerfully as she pressed one hard knee into the center of Greene’s spine. The man let out a piteous moan. White teeth split the ebony darkness of her face in a wide smile. “You have the right to remain silent.” She tugged his left wrist even higher as she slapped a restraint on it. “A right I recommend you exercise, since anything you say will almost certainly be of no help to you. You have the right to an attorney…”
Robbie left her reciting the age-old chant as he walked down the hall to the docks. It was childish, but he felt a little better for having had a confrontation. Like he was doing something. It got his blood pumping and reminded him that he still had a lot of his combat training ingrained in his muscle memory. He should, after the hundreds of hours he’d spent training, with people and in sim, and then in his live altercations. Damn it all. He was almost sorry the war was over. By the time Robbie reached the docks his mood had reverted back to somewhere between exasperated and annoyed.
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