Presari Station – Scicia Docking Port, Outer Ring
They were gaining on her.
Fetid breath with the distinct stench of oil and burnt machinery blew down her neck. One footstep more and they’d catch her. She feinted left, then cut right, going under a divider meant to keep out the general public from the loading stations.
She hit the conveyor belt and rolled. Startled port employees jumped out of her way. Luggage tipped and tilted, scattering over the floor. She didn’t stop to see if the station guards had made it through the small opening, or if the port employees were joined in the chase.
Her heart pounded. Blood thrummed behind her eyes, turning her vision into a red plane.
Please, heavenly Mother, not now.
Her prayer went unanswered as the grid rose, closing out most of her frontal vision. The change disoriented her, tripped her.
Traction on the slick flooring was non-existent. She started to go down. Then she spotted it. The Vanden vessel, Guidestar. Help was only a few steps away. Without heed to the repercussions, she hurried up the loading ramp and found herself surrounded in luxury.
The transport was unoccupied.
How was that possible? The loading ramp was down and the ship was in a hold used for pre-flight checks.
She knew this vessel by reputation and by the healthy dose of coverage it got on the vid feeds. It was the flagship of the Vanden ambassadorial fleet, used by the Vanden Regent’s First Advisor, Mallic Telonis.
It was that voice in her head, the one that told her to get to Vanden that made her move deeper into the transport to hide from the guards.
By now, the port security had her likeness on the info-links as she broke through the luggage barricade. She only wondered what lies her government would tell the Presari officials to have her extradited back to Celedon.
Well, she wasn’t going. She didn’t care if it was a matter of national security.
At least that’s what Wulfgrad told her when she’d insisted on freedom. He’d alluded to nothing more than her being a very important part of his life’s work.
She’d be damned to all the hells before she submitted to anyone as their life’s work. She was her own person. Even if she had no idea what that meant.
Movement stalled her in her tracks as she made her way through the shuttle. She fell back behind a pillar, flattening herself against the instrument panel. Adrenaline shot through her body, activating the nanites again.
She closed her eyes until the dizzying effects corrected. It was always like this, since the first time those goddess-forsaken scientists had shot them into her system. Fear or excitement caused the microscopic machines to fire in her blood and begin the transformation. To what, she’d never been allowed to find out. The scientists always kept her under heavy sedation for their heinous experiments.
After a few deep breaths, she realized there was no one coming. She hadn’t been discovered. She peered around the pillar and sighed in relief. What she’d thought was movement was nothing more than her reflection in a shiny metal panel.
The image staring back at her was a near stranger. Her only true memories started the day she’d woken, strapped to that damn hospital bed, the object of some government experiment. But she’d learned quickly to distrust her captors and their needles.
The reflection wasn’t a person she’d known for her nearly twenty-seven common years. She didn’t even know if that was her true age or just something they’d made up. The only things she had to cling to were her name and the fact she was a Celedon. All else was a whirling mist of confusion.
It was as if her life began when she woke.
Her gaze slid away from the stranger in the mirror. She made her way to the living quarters. The ride to Scicia wasn’t a long one. Less than a full twenty-six hour day. Perhaps first advisor Mallic would have no need of his berth.
The idea made her snort. Even tucked away in the remote outpost of Celedon’s science colony of Theta, she’d heard of the first advisor’s voracious appetite for beautiful women. This was her chance. Her prayer had been answered.
And still the voices urged her to go to Vanden.
Thank you, Holy Mother. I knew you’d show me the way.
Jovita hurried to the bed and stripped. Positioning herself in the middle, she waited for the first advisor to arrive. Sex for a ride to Scicia. It was an inspired plan.
Thoughts of sexual satisfaction at the hands of such a practiced lover ignited the nanites. Blood pulsed in her neck and between her legs. She’d not had sex with a man since being transformed. Any gratification she experienced was at her own hands, though she was sure a few of the scientists watched her through the glass.
She remembered no lovers, but knew instinctually the mechanics of the act. Would it be enough? A man such as Mallic Telonis had certain sexual expectation. He had to. He’d not gotten his reputation by being discreet.
Her body hummed in anticipation. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind first advisor Mallic would succumb to her terms. Men had killed in the past to possess her—though how she knew that without the details or particulars she didn’t know.
The memories were as murky as a swamp. Her physical appearance hadn’t changed during her imprisonment. It was the woman within who had undergone a metamorphosis. There were times when bright flashes danced behind her eyes and she wondered if it was her memories returning or the nanites.
Noise from the common room put her on alert.
Her nipples hardened in anticipation. Liquid pooled between her thighs.
“Security believes she may have headed to a transport as a stowaway.” The voice stopped outside of the room. “I ensured them of our cooperation should we see her.”
“Do they know why she was being chased in the first place?” That voice sent the nanites soaring. The deep resonance rippled along her nerve endings, made her breath sheer up short.
“Port security gave no details. Their only concern was that she breached a security checkpoint and it made them look bad. Given the fact there were four men in hot pursuit of her probably had more to do with her scuttling through the hole like a mouse fleeing the cat.”
Jovita took exception to being compared to a rodent.
There was a brief pause in the conversation. “Notify me when we’re ready to depart.”
“Yes, First Advisor.”
The door opened and in walked the Vanden ambassador, First Advisor Mallic Telonis. Jovita swallowed. He was more impressive in person than she’d ever imagined. His vid images had never done him true justice.
“Well, what have we here?” He leaned against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. Muscles rippled under the cut of his uniform sleeves.
“Sex for safe passage.”
Despite her aroused state, color flooded her cheeks. Heat seared her from the inside out. Something about the look in his eyes made her realize she’d made a gross miscalculation as to his susceptibility of her offer.
He pushed off the wall and moved forward. “Why do you believe I’d make such a bargain?”
Jovita grappled for something to say that was clever and sensual. The nanites might give her unimaginable power, but none of it came in the form of speech. That was still all her own. Unfortunately nothing smooth or witty came to mind.
Mallic raised a brow. His expression impatient. “Well?”
She stretched a little. The movement made her breasts rise. Mallic’s gaze never once wavered from hers.
Embarrassment tripled. It was the most humbling moment in her life since waking. Not only had Mallic Telonis not taken her up on her offer of sex for safe passage, he’d dismissed her physically without a second glance. Perhaps he found Celedon women unattractive as a whole. They were pale as captured moonlight and pearls. In contrast, Vanden women ran the spectrum from buttered toffee to rich caramel. They were also known throughout the galaxy for their poise and beauty. Refinement in manners and court etiquette were taught from the cradle.
With a sinking feeling, Jovita decided on something as close to the truth as she dared. “I seek political asylum.”
“That was all you needed to say.” Mallic pointed to her clothes scattered on the floor near his bed “Get dressed and we’ll discuss the matter as we depart for Scicia.”
He gave her a brief nod and closed the door.
Alone the silence grew to unbearable levels. Even the hum of the shuttle engines failed to comfort her. Humiliation soured in her bloodstream. Jovita hadn’t a choice now. As a matter of fact, it was probably better this way. Though why she hadn’t thought of it in the first place she didn’t know. Because she wasn’t so much seeking political asylum as she was trying to outrun the scientists.
She reached down and stepped into the tight leggings. The fabric irritated her skin. There were certain fabrics that sent the nanites into a frenzy. Mellesian wool was one of them. The scientists, particularly Wulfgrad, insisted she wear it so they could monitor her epithelial reactions as irritants filtered through the nanites.
Not even her allergic reactions were her own.
It was no way to live.
She pulled the matching shirt over her head. No wonder Mallic had been repulsed, he probably noticed the spots on her skin from the reaction or where she’d scratched.
By the time she donned her shoes, her cheeks were hot and tears of embarrassment burned her eyes.
Anyone who had outrun the port guards had no business feeling anything but pride. She was moments away from taking off from the space station and finding safety in the country of Vanden on the planet of Scicia. Danger was a thing of the past. Once in Vanden she’d apply for citizenship and find a place to live and a job to afford her income. Maybe she’d fade away like a ghost on the wind and cross the border into Telesia never to be seen again.
She’d have to wait and see.
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Jovita exited the berth and followed the whisper of voices to the small bridge section. The ambassador spoke with the pilot. Off to the side, a woman dressed in black from head to toe with a bright red dragon insignia on her arm held her hand on the butt of a sword. An Ashlin warrior.
A hiccup in the nanites made her weary of the woman. A faint hint of past danger echoed through her blood.
The Ashlin glanced up and gave a discrete cough to let the others know they were no longer alone.
Mallic gestured for Jovita to return to the passenger section. She obliged since at that moment a troupe of guards passed before the front viewer. Too close for comfort by any standards.
“Sit and we’ll begin processing you for asylum status.” Mallic showed her to a table with a communication’s console and seats with harnesses so they could remain in place as they lifted off from the artificial gravity of Presari Station.
The Ashlin followed silently behind and took up a seat adjacent to the table. Close enough to offer aid should Jovita become violent, but far enough to allow them the illusion of privacy.
As far as they knew, Jovita was unarmed. No one knew about the nanites but her and the scientists who placed them. No one asked her if she wanted to host the nasty little bits of technology. Though in all fairness, she didn’t really know if her government had singled her out or if she was a random conscript, abducted and made to serve in some technological war.
Mallic tapped a few commands into the console and the Regent’s Seal of Vanden appeared on the screen. “Name?”
Name. No one had asked for her name in so long, she’d almost forgotten anyone cared about such a thing. She’d been referred to as Subject 07942 the entire time she’d been at Theta. Or the short-speak of plain old sub.
“Look, I can’t very well give you asylum if you aren’t willing to share basic information.” He cut a stern gaze her way. “Odd considering how I found you.”
Twin flames burned up from her neck to her face. The nanites stirred. Jovita made a fist in her lap. “Jovita Rees. I’m a Celedon.”
“I gathered that.” He typed her name into the console. Another screen flashed and Mallic sat back, his brow furrowed. “Try again. Name?”
“That is my name.”
“According to the Celedon records base, Jovita Rees died two common years ago.”
Jovita swallowed hard. “Does it say how?”
Mallic hit a few more commands. “If you are Jovita Rees, you should at least know how you died.”
If that was his stab at sarcasm, he could keep it to himself.
“I didn’t die. I was abducted.”
For the first time since meeting him in the flesh, Mallic Telonis, ambassador and first advisor to the Vanden Regent, looked directly at Jovita rather than through her. “You better start at the beginning.”
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