Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.
Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.
Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.
Stacking heavy boxes in the launch bay, Fiona heard a ship come through the gel wall. Hard.
There was a harsh grinding of metal on metal.
The smell of burning, the hot scent of friction, blew over her a moment before the smoke. Black and choking, it engulfed her before being sucked out through the air filters.
She crouched down behind the crates, grateful for the first time for the hood Captain Tak had forced her to wear for the last four weeks. It fitted tightly over her head, with strange, protruding ears, like a child’s whimsical winter hat, and the bottom half covered her mouth, ending just below her nose. It helped filter out the noxious fumes.
The loud grating sound ended with a shrieking crash that cut off abruptly, and in the sudden silence she heard a loud clang. She guessed the ship’s ramp had just hit the launch bay floor.
She’d never been allowed in the bay when one of the smaller merchant vessels entered to do business with the Garmman trading ship she was on. Hury always came and dragged her back to her cell long before they arrived, only letting her out when they were gone.
So, this wasn’t a scheduled arrival. And she didn’t think every landing was quite so hard, or the launch bay would look a little worse for wear.
She peered around the high stack of containers and froze.
The ship that had come through was badly damaged, but she hardly noticed that.
It was the occupants who had her unwavering attention.
They came cautiously down the ramp, shockguns raised. They were slender, almost willowy, with hair that grew long and thick. Some had grown it to their shoulders or lower, others had cut it level with their ears. The pearl white of it contrasted with the delicate peach of their skin.
They moved like a slick, welltrained team, and there was something predatory about them. They were in a sort of uniform, not identical, but close enough. Dark pants and shirt, boots that ended well above their ankles. The contrast of the dark color with their pastel skin and hair made them all the more astonishing.
The launch bay door opened to her left and she turned to see Hecta and Nark stop dead in the doorway, mouths open at the smoldering ship, the damage to the bay.
Without any sign of hesitation, two of the peach people lifted their shockguns and fired.
Hecta and Nark went down, and two other interlopers ran over to them, pushed them clear of the doors and hit the button to close them again.
One signaled to another of the group, and he ran over, took out a tiny silver rectangle and pressed it to the keypad next to the door. She heard the locks engage, locking the Garmman crew on the other side of the launch bay.
Fiona bent her head for a moment, sucking in a breath through the thick fabric of her hood.
They could kill her.
But she was going to die here anyway.
It would be drawn out for a little longer, as some of the crew got up their courage to follow Captain Tak’s unspoken request, but they would beat her to death sooner or later.
She rubbed her hip where Hury had kicked her yesterday, and knew it was true.
These people might kill her right now, but it was well worth the risk.
She started to rise, and felt the hard plasticlike ears built into her hood wobble. She crouched back down.
Captain Tak wanted her to wear the hood to hide what she was, and also to make her look like something she wasn’t. It had become really important to him that she not be seen without it.
And anything that Tak wanted, she was determined to do the opposite.
She wasn’t sure who the aliens in front of her were, but for all she knew, people who wore hoods like hers were their worst enemy. Whereas they couldn’t have any negative history with a human.
She got a good grip and pulled the hood off her head, and just to make sure, slid it between two of the containers, completely out of sight.
The lingering smoke caught immediately at her throat, and as she stood and took a step out from behind the stack, she couldn’t help coughing a little.
Ten shockguns turned in her direction, and her heart gave a jump as they bared their teeth.
They had incisors, their lips pulling back over their gums to expose them fully.
It brought baboons from nature documentaries to mind.
She slowly raised her hands to show she was unarmed. Then held her breath as they watched her, and she watched them right back.
The pupils of their eyes were red, and she pushed down her rising panic at their very interested gaze.
She may have made a mistake.
One of them cocked his head to the side, and gestured for her to come closer.
Before she’d seen the teeth, the eyes, she’d been willing enough to take the chance. Now she had to force herself to step slowly out of the shadows and into the harsh light of the landing area.
“Grih?” The one who’d motioned her forward asked.
She nodded, relieved. “I do speak Grih. And Garmman. And a little Bukari.” Fitali was too strange for her, she hadn’t come close to working it out yet, and Tecran made her uneasy, made her heart beat faster and her hands shake. She had skipped over all the Tecran language lessons.
“I mean, are you Grihan?” He spoke Garmman, his voice sibilant, his sharp incisors peeking out as he spoke.
She frowned. He thought she looked Grihan? “No.”
One of the team circled behind her, and she turned her head to keep him in sight.
She flinched when he suddenly moved right in front of her.
“Too short. And the ears.” The finger he reached out had too many joints and he touched the tip of her ear, shockgun resting directly against her chest as he did it.
She shuddered, forcing herself to keep still.
They weren’t that much taller than she was, although close up she saw that while their limbs were slender, every muscle was defined.
“Pity. We have a Grihan battleship chasing us and it would have been good to use you as a hostage.” The leader stared at her, and she saw there was a sly and calculating look in his eye. “What are you, then?”
“I’m a prisoner.” She took a breath when the gun lifted slightly off her chest. “I wanted to ask if you’d take me with you? Help me escape?”
The leader barked out a laugh. “No.” He looked back at his stillsmoking ship. “How can we get out of here?”
Suddenly, the shockgun was back on her chest, and she could hear the whine as it got to full strength.
If a Grihan battleship was chasing them, then the Grih would come here to look for them, surely? That meant another group to appeal to for help.
All wasn’t lost.