a hard science fiction adventure novella
#1 of 3
#1 of 3
preorder now at Amazon!
on sale March 15, 2016
on sale March 15, 2016
only through Amazon & Kindle Unlimited
Shen took the long way home to Jupiter's moons. He got lost in a dark world of slavery for years and it left scars on his soul. In earning his freedom, he picked up an assortment skills useful in certain parts of society and became a ghost in the machine. Shen gave his loyalty to those who showed him kindness and now he has to take on his toughest job yet to keep them safe: breaking into the powerful surveillance corporation that’s already looking for him.
Lena cut a deal with that same corporation to escape court-ordered mental reprogramming. The deal brought her out to Jupiter’s Callisto colony and put her to work tracking ghosts, but no hacker fits into cubicle life well. As she's chafing under the terms, she's handed a new hunt: someone who’s been eluding them for years.
But he’s worth more to her as an escape from slavery — if they both survive.
Shen didn’t mind Jezebel’s fetish parties, so long as he was only part of the scenery. The favorite band for the Victorian-costume bondage ones was a local dark-ambient trio whose stage costumes blended right in with the bustled skirts and leather. Half the audience was local to Callisto Station and the other half was tele-presence holograms from across the colonized system.
The black, blood-red, and indigo costumes all ran together, if one’s eyes lost focus from boredom.
Jezebel herself held court from a regal chair on a low dais, two steps above the dance floor. A Victorian corset tightly laced with silver cords dished up her generous cleavage and left her shoulders bare. Her hair, swept into a rising spiral, made a wooly nest for a small top hat and a starched, glittering veil. Her newest submissive, Charles, knelt by her feet in a collar and tight shorts. He leaned against the piled yards of her black vinyl skirt and kept his cheek glued to her thigh in devotion. Jez stroked his hair with one hand as she watched the slow waltz below.
Shen stood on her other side, hands clasped behind his back. Latecomers, whether real or hologram, were escorted to the dais by Estevan and announced in singles or couples. Familiar faces, all. Jez only dealt in well-established fetish societies with a taste for costumes — she had established several of them herself.
“Your fans are out tonight,” Jezebel told Shen, sidelong. She wore an earpiece with a retina projector on a slender wire, though it was half lost in the veil. “They want you here more often, with more harness.”
In the attendance list, he was tagged only as Indenture #23. Which was his official designation at Jezebel’s club, even though he’d paid off his indenture last year. Estevan had dressed him in a snug, long-sleeved shirt with a tall Victorian collar and dark, pleated pants. He knew better than to try putting shoes on Shen. Jezebel had roped him up with dark blue silk to match his hair, in a tight array of knots and cross-lacing that looked like some beaded breastplate the native chucks back on the blue mudball used to wear. Nice weight, but it didn’t even have a crotch line to secure it. This was only a party, though. Easy.
Movement in the upper corner of the room caught Shen’s eye. The small status window that Colin kept open flashed white and red: TROUBLE. Jez straightened in her chair, ear cocking as Colin told her details. The status window changed to: MEI-XING.
Holograms winked out, on the dance floor. The band faltered and so did the remaining waltzers.
The double doors opened, as the bouncers knew better than to get in the way of Mr. Chen’s daughter. Estevan took one look at her and moved to gather up the guests. Mei-xing plowed across the dance floor with arms crossed, scattering genteel doms and subs as much with her slouchy neon shirt as with her frown. Wasn’t wearing even one of the frilly, modern corsets that were in fashion now. Her bodyguard kept pace.
“You broke the deal,” Mei-xing fired off in Chinese. “He broke the deal.” She pointed at Shen.
His teeth clenched on reflex. “You got what you wanted.”
Mei-xing took the first step up to the dais and Shen slid in front of Jez. He’d never sparred with Mei but Chen must’ve had her taught something. The bodyguard behind her was low-gee, a Chinese booter. Lower gee than Shen, by his light build.
He’d be fast. She’d hit hard. Radovan better be ready as backup.
Jezebel, working from Colin’s translation in her ear, answered in calm English. “My indenture acted honorably within the bounds of the agreement.”
“He defied me,” Mei stated flatly, pointing at Shen. “Your indenture. Defied me.”
He clenched his fists tight, lip curling, but felt his harness on the first deep breath he took.
“I offered clearly defined services,” Jez replied. “My indenture acted on discretion to best fulfill them.”
“My father faces a court. He will remember forever who acted on his behalf and whose underlings let a chance to aid him slip by. And so will I.” She fixed Jez with a hard stare. “You run this whorehouse too lax to turn the profit you could. It hasn’t been the investment we hoped for. All we need to do is say we’re withdrawing our support. Think the Russians you jilted would take you back?”
Shen shot a glance at Jez. The switch from Russian affiliation to the triad had left a body count.
“You will do no such thing,” Jezebel replied, raising her chin.
“Free job, my choosing,” Mei said.
“Your father had more honor than to complain about a job well done.”
That curled Mei’s lip back into a snarl. “My father will walk out of that court free or this place will be gutted in an hour.” Mei gestured sketchily around herself. Then she fixed her gaze on Shen. “I can offer Station Security one of the chucks at the top of their wanted list.”
That plunged his temper into a deep freeze. Jezebel straightened in her ornate chair and shot him a sidelong glare. He felt the shame burn on his face. Shen had sworn to never keep secrets from her. Didn’t know that Mei knew he’d been involved in the brief booter uprising, though. A dozen old arguments from three years ago flooded back into his chest, flailing against his ribs in panic. A decorative little harness was barely enough to hold them. Which made his fists clench, nails digging into his palms. Containment. Focus.
Jez’s voice was spring-steel tight when she answered Mei. “Name your job.”
Mei smiled. “Oh, I will. Sorry, was that a surprise?”
“It’s a matter between me and my indenture. He’ll be chastised.”
That got a laugh. Shen swallowed hard to be sure his throat was clear. He could barely breathe. Needed to punch that smirk off Mei’s face. Fuck that booter beside her, he was a fly at worst. Shen could feel the attack in his muscles, itching to be unleashed.
“No wonder Shen didn’t have the balls to fuck me. You keep them tied up?” Mei’s head tipped and her voice turned syrupy-sweet. “Jezebel, don’t you share your toys?”
Jez took a bored sigh. “I collar my toys, dear girl.” At a nudge, Charles ventured out of hiding behind her skirts far enough to show his badge of ownership. “And don’t mock Shen’s harness — it’s what’s keeping him from killing you.”
Jez set her chin on one hand and waited as that stole Mei’s smirk away. Her bodyguard shifted closer, tensed to defend her. That took the edge off Shen’s anger. He almost smiled, but he was clenched too tight.
After a long minute, Mei-xing said, “We’ll be in touch.” She turned and walked away, bodyguard in tow. When the doors opened for her, Radovan stood outside to see her out.
Estevan had herded the guests close to the stage, and the band had taken up a surprisingly gentle and romantic tune to distract them. He tracked Mei’s leaving and looked to Jez for the nod. She gave it. He invited the guests to spread out for a slow dance.
“I’m sorry,” Shen said quietly.
Jez raised one finger. “No.”
He pressed his mouth shut. Silence followed. After a moment, Charles sat up to rest his chin on Jez’s thigh. “Mistress? How can I help?”
She considered and gestured toward a side door. “Fetch whatever toys you’d like.” When Charles had trotted off eagerly, Jez turned to Shen.
“Chen’s lackeys turned us away,” he said. Had to. It burst out of him. “Never knew word got higher than that.”
Jez gave his apology a slight nod. “Do what they ask. Don’t let her goad you past your boundaries. There was a time what that wouldn’t’ve stopped you.” She indicated the brief harness. “You’ve come too far to slip now.”
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