Her father’s mocking voice echoed in her mind. No man wants a woman like you. Hell, you’re more man than most of us with a penis. And look at yourself… all grimy and greasy. What man wants that? You’re lucky the crew gets desperate enough to use you, though to be honest, I’d rather masturbate.
She flinched and toughened her resolve. What did she care, anyway? She had no interest whatsoever in men. Love was give and take—the more you gave, the more people took. Just look at her parents. Her father could have freed her mother at any time, but no…he’d kept them all as slaves so that they had no choice except to put up with him. Now that he was dead, they were subject to the whims of their next owner.
She didn’t have any use for men or love—both were selfish to the end. Or even people, for that matter. Life was hard enough without their drama.
Putting her thoughts on her task at hand, she ignored everything else.
It didn’t take long to unpack her two pairs of pants, three shirts, shorts, two tanks tops, and two pantsuits from her backpack and place them in her closet. She folded her backpack up, stored it in the closet next to her clothes, then decided to join the men for the launch.
Slowly, she made her way down the corridor, dragging her finger along the sleek, cool titanium wall. Everything was so clean and new. This was such an impressive ship…
A soft tilt told her they were leaving the station, but the smoothness of the ride astounded her. On her old freighter, no one could stand, let alone walk, during a launch.
As she neared the bridge, she heard …
Was that …
It thrummed into the corridor at a pitch she knew must be deafening from the interior. The beat was heavy and the lyrics in- your-face. Not the kind of music she listened to, but it seemed to fit with what the captain was doing.
Frowning, she pushed the control to open the door and was almost thrown back by the force of the beat. Devyn glanced at her over his shoulder. “Hope you don’t mind my taste in music. I like a little backbeat when I launch.”
Sway scoffed at her. “Just wait until you’re in battle with him. That shit’ll make your ears bleed.”
Devyn rolled his eyes. “I swear you’re a woman.”
“I would respond to that, but I don’t want to distract you while you’re attempting to drive and I’m dependent on you for my life.”
Alix hesitated. “Do you guys want me to go back to my room?”
Devyn shook his head. “You might as well get used to us. Better to find out on a short trip if we’re going to get on each other’s nerves. I hate taking long trips with people who annoy me.” He passed a pointed stare to Sway.
Sway made an obscene gesture at him.
Devyn ignored it.
What a strange crew. Her father would have had Sway beaten for that. But it was obvious Sway was more friend than employee. Or maybe “friendly enemy” might be a better term for their relationship.
She leaned back in the cushy, plush engineer’s chair that molded to her body. Oh, yeah, she could get used to this.
But she did notice someone was missing. “Where’s Vik?”
Sway answered. “He’s top deck. He likes to watch the colors as we shoot down the launch tube.”
Alix ran over the ship’s settings, amazed at the updated equipment. The Talia had the latest of everything. She’d never even dreamed of being in something this nice. “You’ve got a great ship, Captain. I know you’re proud of her.”
Sway grinned. “If you’re going to fly, only fly the best.”
The ship leveled out as they entered the shipping route through the system.
Devyn flipped on his autopilot and stood. “C’mon, Alix. I’ll show you around the ship.”
“Ooooh,” Sway breathed. “Mark the date, Vik. Dev’s trusting me to Devyn made a rude sound. “No offense, but I want to live. Vik, take the helm.”
Vik’s insidious laugh came through an intercom over their heads. “See, Sway, that’s what you get for flunking your pilot’s test six times… which I’m pretty sure is a record of some sort. If not for the actual flunking, definitely for the persistence in pursuing that which you obviously have no talent for. Personally, I wouldn’t let you fly a remote-control kid’s plane.”
Sway curled his lip. “Shut up before I find a can opener.”
Stifling a laugh at his sullen threat, Alix left her chair to follow after Devyn. He led her around the ship, explaining various engine specifics and the location of gauges she’d be responsible for checking and maintaining.
As he ran over the logs, she frowned at their final destination for this trip. “We’re flying into Paradise City?” A tremor of nervousness ran through her.
“Yeah, we’ll stop on Nera VII in four days, then head out to PC. Something wrong with that?”
Well, yes. She, too, wanted to live. “I’ve heard it’s a rough place since the rebellion broke out. Not even runners or assassins are safe there. The rebels have been rounding them up and executing anyone they deem a threat.”
Devyn shrugged. “No worries. They don’t scare me.”
Alix cocked a brow at him, doubting his mental abilities. He’d seemed sane enough at first, but now she had to wonder. “All right, but if my brain matter ends up smeared against a wall, I’ll never forgive you.”
Devyn leaned across the panel in front of her, his head less than three inches from her own, and pressed a couple of switches. The fresh, manly scent of his skin and hair filled her senses. She stared at the planes of his face, wondering how it would feel to touch the sun-darkened skin with her fingertips and feel that jaw flex…
How his lips would taste …
He glanced up at her and she looked away, embarrassed by her thoughts.
“I don’t let my people get hurt,” he said with a tough sincerity.
“What about your last engineer?”
Laughing, he dropped his gaze back to the panel. “I lied about that. He ended up in a fight and was arrested by the yokels. I tried to get him out, but they refused bail. Poor bastard. There was nothing I could do for him.”
She raised her brows, shocked by his confession. “Why’d you lie about it?”
He continued to program coordinates into the computer log. “I thought you were a kid trying to leave the station because you were mad at your parents. I figured my words would make you think twice about signing on to a ship, especially with a crew of men you don’t know.”
Alix smiled at his kindness, but before she could say anything, a whistle rent the air.
“Devyn!” Sway’s anxious voice broke in. “I’ve got League ships asking for the captain. Get your ass up here. Now!”
Devyn pushed himself away from the panel. “Better get strapped in. Looks like we’re going to have a bit of trouble.”
Alix went rigid, knowing all too well the type of trouble he meant. “You want me to take the guns?”
He shook his head. “No. We’re runners, not smugglers.”
“Is there a difference?”
He gave her a strange look that she couldn’t define. “Runners are motivated by a lot more than money.” He dashed down the corridor.
She followed after him.
As they took the bridge, the hailing channel buzzed in her ears. The captain of the lead ship demanded their call letters and manifests. Devyn disregarded the strident tone and strapped himself in while Vik started playing another heavy song.
Alix looked at Sway. “How much questionable cargo are we carrying?”
“Enough to put all of us in jail until we’re bent double with old age.” Sway turned around in his chair and tossed her a bag. “Keep that handy.”
Before he could answer, Devyn took the controls, and the ship lurched to the right at an angle she hadn’t thought possible for a craft of this size. Grateful she hadn’t eaten a large lunch, she gripped the arms of her seat.
Laser canons exploded as League ships opened fire on them. For close to ten minutes, the ship bucked and dipped like some crazed beast trying to sling off a rider. Sweat covered her face as she struggled not to undignify herself with her heaving stomach.
All of a sudden, Devyn fired the retrorockets and the ship jerked to a crawl. Alix looked up with a frown, only to wish she hadn’t.
Before them, three battleships waited with a tractor net spread out in two directions. The other tracers were closing in behind them.
A trickle of sweat ran down her cheek. She swallowed the lump in her throat and tightened her grip on the armrests.
They were about to be caught and jailed.
“Surrender your ship, crew, and cargo,” a gruff voice demanded over the hailing channel.
Devyn’s response was curt and to the point. “Bite my ass.”
The ship fired a warning blast across the bow. “This is your last chance. The next one will be through your bridge.”
Devyn didn’t even flinch as he laughed at their threat. “Come get some.”
“Shall I concentrate extra power to the shields?” Vik asked.
“Yes!” Alix and Sway shouted in unison.
Devyn shook his head like they were pansies.
Sway pulled his legs up to his chest, laid his head on his knees, and covered it with his arms. “Dev, I really hate it when you do this.”
Alix swallowed in fear. By now she’d learned enough about the captain to realize he wasn’t going to surrender. In fact, he stared at the surrounding ships with a look on his face that told her how much he was enjoying the threat. Though to be honest, she had no idea how they were going to get out of this. The League ships had their hyperdrive blocked, so they had no hope of outrunning them.
They couldn’t escape.
And they were seriously outgunned.
But none of that seemed to stop Devyn from trying.
“Alix,” Devyn said. “Put your head down and take a deep breath.”
He didn’t look at her, but from the tone of his voice she could just imagine the gleam in his eyes. Quickly, she duplicated Sway’s position.
Devyn’s hands flew over the control panel, making adjustments to the ship’s settings. “Vik? You ready?”
A dry, arrogant tone came through the ship’s intercom. “Your stupidity is what I live for, Captain. Shall I make calculations on the usual?”
“If you want to live, yes.”
“Done. Releasing safeties in three… two… one.”
Devyn took control from the computer as all electronic controls and safeguards were dropped and the ship switched to complete manual control.
Ah, God, we’re going to die…
Nothing would keep them from slamming into something or banking too hard or…
Don’t think about it.
Through a miracle of his piloting abilities, the ship dropped straight down at the same instant The League opened fire on them. Alix’s stomach lurched straight up. The ship’s gravity field switched off automatically, and the unexpected weightlessness hit her like an asteroid.
She gripped her legs, her body rigid in expectation.
Fighters moved in to shoot and cut them off. Devyn banked as two shots impacted against their side. A battle cruiser launched its tractor net. Devyn hit the retrockets, allowing it to shoot past their prow, narrowly missing them.
Two more ships moved in.
Devyn plunged them straight down, spinning the ship to avoid the blasts aimed at them.
Then, just as she thought she’d definitely be sick, they stopped descending. They drifted for half a heartbeat before Devyn fired the rear engines. The sudden force lurched her back against the seat with an impact she was certain would leave a long bruise down her spine.
Shots fired all around them, some hitting the ship dead-on. Luckily, the shields held and all it did was cause them to rock and spin.
Within a minute, they hit a natural hyperspace opening and were slung out of the sector.
Alix held her breath until she was sure their pursuers hadn’t followed them in. She checked the gauges, which confirmed her relief. It appeared they were safe.
“Everyone all right?” Devyn asked as he flipped the gravity back on.
Sway growled irritably as he unwrapped himself. “I think I just gave birth. Damn. And I’m the one who flunked the pilot’s test?”
Vik let out his own noise of agitation. “If you really want to get him into trouble, capture one of his stunts and email it to his mother. She’d have his ass in traction over it.”
Devyn shook his head. “Any more bitching from the geriatric crew? What a bunch of old women. Should I hire another crewmate to change your bed diapers while I’m at it? Next time I’ll let The League have you.” He clicked the sublight panel on. “Vik, I’m relinquishing control back to you.”
“It’s what I live for. By the way, ye organic life forms aren’t the only ones who’ve soiled themselves. Can I have a minute to attend my needs, Captain Asshole?”