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Excerpt from

Rescued by Qaiyaan

A blast of air swept past Qaiyaan, rattling the flexi-tube as it sucked into the other ship and out the gaping hole in its hull. His species’ ability to withstand vacuum had made them one of the most sought-after races for Syndicorp marine troopers before the catastrophe had ended their world. Now…

Now they were just pirates.

Concentrating on keeping his feet on the deck, Qaiyaan tapped his temple to activate his cochlear implant. A vestige of his days as a trooper, it came in handy in zero atmo when they couldn’t bother with suits and the attached comms.

The three crewmen pushed themselves along the flexi-tube into the darkness of the other ship. Tovik, ever prepared, pulled a floodlight from his belt and slapped it to the inner wall of the passenger ship. The illumination exposed a passenger cabin surprisingly gutted of anything passenger-related. No nav-grav seats for humanoids, no methane tanks for garan’uks, not even any acceleration webbing for yanipa-nimayu. Instead, cargo containers of all shapes and sizes floated freely within the cabin, some cracked open and spilling their contents in haloes around them.

What the hell is this ship? Qaiyaan wondered. He’d been expecting the gruesome sight of space-bloated passengers. Not that he minded this alternative. He reached out and grabbed a floating package of hypodermic needles. Medical supplies?

He exchanged a glance with Tovik, who shrugged. Whatever this stuff was didn’t matter; he’d much rather deal with salable goods than corpses.

Qaiyaan pushed toward the nearest container until he could get a hand on it and shoved the man-sized box toward the flexi-tube, relying on inertia to carry it most of the way. They had about half the supplies transferred before the tinny voice of his first mate came through his implant.

“We have incoming on long-range, Captain. Can’t yet tell if it’s Syndicorp, but they’ll be in range for ID in eight minutes.”

Anaq. Law enforcement had arrived faster than he’d expected. He raised his arm and caught the other men’s attention, circling two index fingers overhead to tell them to wrap it up. The men dropped what they were doing and moved toward the exit.

As soon as the door sealed, blessed oxygen began to fill the bay, and Qaiyaan began securing the containers against the floor’s mag-locks. He ran through potential buyers for the salvage in his head, feeling quite pleased as Noatak began accelerating away from the derelict ship.

“Captain?” Mek called from behind a stack of containers.

At that same moment, Noatak’s voice crackled through the bay’s comm. “Confirmed Syndicorp ship closing in fast. We need to burn, ASAP.”

“We need five minutes,” Qaiyaan said, assessing the remaining cargo.

“Captain!” Mekoryuk called again. “We have a problem.”

“What?” Qaiyaan leaned around the corner. Tovik and the medic stood over a cargo box, staring down at a portal in its surface. Blinking red light bounced off both their faces.

Tovik rubbed his hand vigorously across the small window. “Is that a girl?”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Qaiyaan slapped a mag clamp against the container he was securing and stood. “A cryo-pod? Who the hell picked that up?”

“You said grab everything,” Tovik said. He looked up to meet Qaiyaan’s gaze. “Can we keep her?”

Noatak came over the com again. “Captain, they’re hailing us.”

Qaiyaan scowled and thrust a finger at the cryo-pod. “She’s not a netorpukpuppy, Tovik. Just secure the damn thing so we can burn. We’ll figure out what to do with it later.”

“That’s the problem,” Mek said. “The cryo’s failing. She won’t survive a burn in this state.”

“Fuuuck.” Qaiyaan stomped over to the pod. He should have known things were going too easy. Looking at the face through the glass, his mouth grew suddenly dry. A young woman with long charcoal hair lay inside, a crescent of dark lashes against her high cheekbones. The blinking red light near her head illuminated her perfectly sculpted features as if coating them with blood.

“Just vent it,” Noatak spoke over the line. “Let Syndicorp pick it up.”

Tovik grabbed the end as if claiming the pod as his own. “You can’t do that. What if they miss her?”

Noatak answered, “Not our problem.”

“You should see what she looks like…” Tovik continued.

Now wasn’t the time to argue over crew shares of the spoils, but Qaiyaan felt a sudden desire to wrestle the pod away from his engineer and claim the contents for himself. He tamped down the feeling. If they didn’t get moving immediately, Syndicorp troopers would shoot first and ask questions later.

Noatak’s voice boomed over his thoughts. “Anaq! They just obliterated the human ship!”

Syndicorp is out for blood today. Clenching his jaw, Qaiyaan shoved Tovik aside and began pushing the box toward the airlock, averting his gaze from the breath-taking face inside. “If we vent her, they’ll have to stop and pick her up, which’ll give us more time to get away.”

“But, Captain—” Tovik started.

“We’re not murderers!” Mek shouted, moving to intercept the box.

The comm filled the bay again. “Captain, you’re not going to like this.” Noatak’s voice had gone from excited panic to deadly quiet. Qaiyaan ceased pushing, turning to face the speaker as if he could read his first mate’s face from here. Noatak only used that voice when something deadly was going on. “They took out the passenger ship, too. There’s nothing left of either vessel but a haze of space dust.”

The breath left Qaiyaan’s body. Syndicorp’d destroyed their own ship? Why would they do that?

Mek moved close to the captain, his voice low. “Venting her is a death sentence.”

Qaiyaan squeezed his eyes shut. Why could nothing ever be easy? This woman was probably some scrawny human female on an exorbitant corporate cryo-vacation or some such nonsense. But he couldn’t just leave her, not to the mercy of space, and definitely not to a ship that was blowing up everything in its path. “How long do you need to wake her?”

“The waking cycle takes twenty minutes.”

He leveled a glare at the medic. “I didn’t ask how long it takes. I asked how long you need.”

Mek shook his head. “I can pull her out now, but she’ll take days to recuperate. And she’ll still be too weak to strap in for burn.”

“Days to recuperate is better than minutes to end up as space dust. Pull her. We can link our ionic shells to protect her during burn.”

Mek’s right eye twitched. “We’re exhausted from scavenging in zero atmo. I’m not sure we can withstand the strain.”

“Do you have a better suggestion? If you do, make it now, because we’re out of time.”

“They’ll be in range in thirty seconds, Captain,” Noatak clipped out, his voice still deadly steady.

Mek’s jaw bulged, but he nodded. “Fine. I think I’ve got enough stims to keep us up and running afterward. But let’s not make a habit of it.”

Popping the pod’s seals, Qaiyaan knelt to lift the frigid human from the padded interior. She was naked, her nipples peaked from the cold. His hand slid beneath her nicely rounded bottom, every ionic sensor in his skin aware of the contact. He tried to remain focused on her face instead of the silky smooth curve of her hip cradled against his chest. Her eyes fluttered but didn’t open.

Laying her on the deck, he stretched out beside her, grounding himself to the metal decking. Enveloping her in his power. Locking his body against hers.

Tovik sat cross-legged at her head and placed both his hands on her shoulders. But his gaze was on her upright nipples. Come to think of it, Qaiyaan’s were, too, so he couldn’t blame the young engineer. Mek spread out along her other side. An unfamiliar twinge made Qaiyaan want to shove them both away.

Hoping he hadn’t just given all four of them a death sentence, Qaiyaan called out, “Engage full burn.”

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