Chapter One

The Shop

Genovesa slumped down onto her stool and grabbed the nearest rag. She'd been working on the rig for the better part of the morning and it still had hours of work to go. She could at least say she'd managed to find the problem with the beast, which was more then Joe could truthfully claim. Not that anyone could accuse him of being honest, the male was a swindler of the worst kind. He also had a family name which was far more then she could claim. So, no matter her feels, she had to keep her mouth shut.

Reaching for the water, one of Joe's tentacles smacked her hand away. She looked up at him not sure if she wanted to argue or plead, but the look on his face advised her of caution so she snapped her mouth shut instead. "Get in the back," he ordered. "Customers are coming."

Doing as she was told, Genovesa stood and snatched the water bottle before Joe could smack her hand again. Darting into the back, she felt a little thrill of victory. She knew it wouldn't last long. No doubt he'd beat her once he was sure no one was watching. That had always been his way.

Settling down cross-legged on the floor, she took only a sip of her precious hoard and leaned against the door. Living in the desert, you learned to conserve your water. One stipend a day for those with no families and more for those with. You either learned to make due or you found anyway you could to get more. Some became whores. Some turned to theft or worse. Most simply died. She refused to do any of it.

Closing her eyes, the young woman allowed her mind to drift towards nothing. Moments like this were as close as she got to sleep sometimes. Joe worked her hard. She supposed that she should just be grateful that she had somewhere to take her in at all. Not everyone was that fortunate.

Sleep, as well, was a luxury. Like water, it was given first to those of privilege then to those who took it. She was at the bottom of the barrel, but at least she had a roof over her hand. She had food. She had water. She had work to keep her busy. She had a good life. Most wouldn't see it that way. But most were at a far greater advantage then she could ever hope for.

She wasn't sure when she drifted off. She certainly wasn't sure how much time had passed, but it had to have been far longer then she would have liked and longer then Joe would ever have allowed. In the main part of the shop, something crashed against her door. Genovesa jumped, her hand slamming into the water bottle sending its metal bottle clattering and rolling around before she could snatch it up, pulling it tight against her chest.

Straining to listen, the whole shop seemed silent beyond those doors. She couldn't even hear the soft murmur of voices, it was as if there was nothing there. Slowly, she started to lean towards the door, every fiber of her being tense and ready to move. Fight or flight. She'd heard that once from one of the children telling their mother or father what they'd learned that day. That was the only way that she learned. The only way that she was really allowed to learn. After all, she had no one to pay for her education or to support her through it. So she'd listened as best she could. Strange that the thought would come to her now. What had the child said?

It's like a rush through your whole body. Everything outside slows down around you and you have to make a choice to run or to fight. There's no other choice.

What choice was she going to make. Genovesa didn't actually have an answer for that. And she knew that she wouldn't unless something very bad happened. Swallowing, her hand reached for the handle, shaking beyond what she could dare to control. She wanted the strength to breath, the assurance not to be afraid. She didn't have any of it. Instead she let her hand rest on the doorknob as she told herself to do something, anything at all. She just couldn't seem to bring herself to actually follow through with any of those thoughts.

The door was yanked open, her hand still attached to to the knob. She stumbled forward, dragged by the force and straight into the a woman who had at least a foot on her forcing her face firmly between a pair of breasts. An arm wrapped around her anchoring her in place as the woman swung around to ace the shop, dragging Genovesa with her. Though she couldn't see the woman's face or much of anything else, she could hear the grin, feel the laughter as it rippled from the woman's chest and into her body. "I didn't know Joe kept pets!"

"Put that down you shifty she-whore," Joe's voice growled from towards the front of the shop. "As I told your captain, no one that matters is here. And I won't be doing any business with you or your like." In all of her time with the merchant, she'd never heard him turn anyone down before. It made her wonder just who had come into the shop and left him so infuriated. Part of her wanted to be able to see exactly what was going on, but another part of her was too afraid of what could have him this off-kilter.

In the end, she wasn't given a choice. A hand gripped her shoulder, ignoring the sound of Joe's protest and turned her. The woman reluctantly relinquished her grip on Genovesa and took a step back leaving her to the mercy of someone new.

She was staring straight at the lower half of a chest, wrapped in dark clothe that wasn't quite black but seemed too dark to exactly define a color. At the corner of her vision she could see weapons strapped to his hips. Her eyes trailed upward slowly crossing a broad chest with more of the same dark clothe wrapped over it, only an insignia of deep red in a language she'd never seen before marking the place where a humanoid heart might reside. The dark mesh-like fabric stopped high on his throat, the trim of it hidden by a neatly trimmed beard threaded with blonde and shades of brown. Her eyes stopped about there, too afraid to go any higher... and because she was afraid of how much more strain her neck could actually take.

"I have eyes," the man said, his voice quiet. There was something rich to its darkness, alluring and yet the stuff of nightmares at the same time. She could feel her knees wanting to tremble, her heart pounding as she continued to stare at his beard. "Never thought Joe would find someone so... soft to share his bed."

That threw her back into reality. Jerking back, she stepped straight back into the woman that she'd completely forgotten about an looked up into eyes dark with amusement. "I don't share anyone's bed," she snapped through gritted teeth. "And I'm certainly no soft family-born tula like you."

She regretted the words almost as soon as they came out. You didn't insult someone family-born. It simply wasn't done and it certainly wasn't allowed. She would have taken the words back if she had been able but it was far too late for that and to try it now would have only destroyed what she had just said and she refused to be anyone's whore, even if it was just in rumor.

"She's got fire Joe," the man chuckled shaking his head. "What d'you keep her around for? Everyone knows you don't like fire unless its in your drink."

Joe gave her a look that told her to keep her mouth shut. She wanted to defy him more then she knew how to say. She just didn't know how. Instead, she kept her jaw clamped shut and bowed her head, her hands clenched into tight fists at her side.

"Now, I won't tell you again, get out of my shop and leave the little bitch where she is and fuck off," he growled jerking his thumb towards the entrance.

She wanted to ask them, any of them, why they were here. What had Joe so desperately wanting them to leave. What the insignia over the man's chest meant. She had so many questions, but she kept her head bowed, body still as she could waiting for the pair to leave the shop just as Joe had wanted. She waited for this short little disturbance to end and the world to go on spinning as it had before.

"Joresh li-Forindel, you're going to give us your services at a discounted rate. You're going to have your mechanic come with us when we wish it. And you're going to do it without another complaint. Do you know why?"

Genovesa found herself looking up at the man again, surprised that he seemed to be so calm, still smiling as if he didn't have a care in the world. No one ever talked back to Joe like this. No one told him what he was going to do or not do in a deal or with a contract. Not until this moment.

The look on Joe's face showed something between disbelief and disdainful amusement. "Oh I'd like to hear this one Captain. Please... tell me why in all the Gods' names I should ever agree to this?" he demanded.

She didn't hear him and from the pale look that came over his features, Joe hadn't heard him approach either. The second man was simply there behind him, features eerily similar to the man in front of him. "Hello little brother. Did you miss me?"