RATED PG-13 for language and content
Rain Stormcloud hissed as she brushed a squirming duneroach off her shoulder and crushed it into the shaggy orange carpet in the hallway. The apartment complex was crawling with the nasty little bugs.
The filthy building also attracted roaches of the human variety, like Jacob Maxwell, the mark of the day.
Age 35. Six-foot-three inches of bullshit, bad attitude, and beer belly worth eighty thousand large for pissing off his Fantasy suppliers.
Rain blew her breath out slowly, fingers gripping the hilt of her favorite blaster as she pressed her back against the peeling wallpaper in the moldy corridor of the housing complex.
Her in-ear radio hissed. “In position.” Snow’s cold voice always softened when she whispered.
Rain faced the stained wood-fiber door and thrust her right boot into it. The flimsy material splintered and crumbled as Rain stepped through it.
The grimy efficiency compartment on the other side of the door smelled like unwashed bodies and rancid cooking oil. The odor hit her like a sledge. Gagging, she drew her blaster on the bulky figure scrambling toward the single window in the far wall.
Maxwell. His greasy black hair clung to his scalp, and his gray hoodie and sweats only made his body seem flabbier than it actually was.
He hit the window and squealed, reeling backward as Snow appeared behind it.
Maxwell spun, chunky hands raised and jowls quivering.
“I can pay you,” he exclaimed, beady brown eyes welling up with tears. “I can pay you ten times what Wallace is paying you!”
Rain snorted, lining up her shot. “If you know Wallace sent us, you know you can’t pay us off.”
Outside, Snow snapped the window into the upper part of the frame. The sulfuric stink of Venus’s atmosphere crawled into the tiny compartment as Snow slid inside, murky illuminators overhead turning her white hair grayish and dirty.
“How do you swing?” Maxwell glanced toward the closet door on the opposite wall. “If you swing for girls, I can hook you up.” He grinned nervously. “She’s a fine piece of ass, ladies.”
Rain’s stomach clenched, and she lowered her blaster.
“Are you seriously trying to buy us off with some poor bitch you’ve got tied up in this stinky-ass shithole?”
“She’s young too.” Maxwell’s grin turned darker. “Puts out like a dream. I already took her for a spin.”
Behind him, Snow watched with impassive distaste and turned her cold glare on Rain.
“Can you believe our luck, sorella?” Rain laughed.
Maxwell laughed with her.
“Wallace wants you dead, Max.” Rain lifted her blaster again. “And that means I get to kill you.” She squeezed the trigger, and the plasma burst tore through Maxwell’s head, spraying the wall with a trail of cauterized gore.
His lifeless body thumped to the grimy carpet, head half gone and mouth gaping open in shock.
“Bastard.” Rain shoved her blaster into the holster on her hip.
Standing behind the Maxwell-lump, Snow sighed heavily.
“What?” Rain kicked Maxwell’s leg out of her path as she walked toward the closet door he’d indicated. “Did you want to do it?”
“How do you intend to get him back to the Tama, Rain?” Snow pursed her lips, folding her arms across her chest. “It would have been more expedient to escort him to the ship and kill him there.”
“More expedient, yes. But this made me feel better.” Rain flung the closet door open, hand on her blaster, and froze.
Inside, curled up in a pile of filthy rags, a girl—not even a teenager yet—shuddered against the mangy wall. Chained to the floor, the girl wore nothing but a torn, bloody sheet. Her matted black hair shrouded her face in a dirty curtain of dreadlocks.
Rain glanced toward her twin. “Snow.”
Snow strode toward her, peering over Rain’s shoulder into the closet. She uttered a soft grunt.
Rain knelt and grabbed the chain. With a fierce yank, she uprooted it from the duneroach-infested paneling. The girl tightened into a smaller ball, muttering and shivering.
“Hey.” Rain bent over, trying to see the girl’s face. “Hey, you’re free. On your feet.”
The girl rocked back and forth, still whispering, still muttering.
Snorting, Rain stood up and walked back to Maxwell’s fallen form. She kicked his flabby gut.
“Shooting him at the ship would have been easier,” Rain said.
Snow arched an irritated eyebrow at her.
“I’ll get his legs.”
Rain bent to grab Maxwell’s ankles, and Snow popped her earlobe.
“Ow! What the hell was that for, you sadistic bitch?” Rain veered off, rubbing her ear angrily.
“You blew his head off. You get his shoulders. I will get his legs.” Snow bent and grabbed Maxwell’s ankles.
“Aw, geez, Snow.” Rain sagged. “Really? He’ll get all over me.”
“Still feeling better, sorellina?” Snow flashed a feral smirk.
“I hate you.”
Hauling Maxwell to the Tamatebako took the better part of two hours. By the time they dropped him in the ship’s cargo bay, Rain’s back, arms, and legs were slick with blood and other bodily fluids she didn’t want to consider. She’d cursed her sister every step of the way.
Snow didn’t stop smirking.
“Wrap him up and freeze him,” Snow said as Rain stood doubled over in the cargo bay. “We’re meeting Wallace on Thebe tomorrow, and he will smell by the time we arrive.”
“He already smells.”
“He will smell worse.” Snow paused, hand on her sword hilt, one nostril twitching. “We have a timeline to keep, Rain. Deal with this.” Her gaze darted over Rain’s shoulder. “And deal with that. Quickly.”
Rain straightened and glanced back to the ramp where a shivering figured huddled in a bloodstained sheet.
“Shit.” Rain wiped her hands on her thighs and started toward the girl in the sheet.
The pale, trembling figure tried to press herself into the structural bulkhead of the frame, burying her face out of sight.
“Hey,” Rain said, stopping just out of arm’s reach. “I said you were free. I didn’t say you could follow us.”
The girl didn’t budge.
“Kid, get the hell off of our ship.” Rain stepped closer to her and grabbed the girl’s bony shoulder through the thin fabric of the sheet.
The girl clawed at the bulkhead, but Rain pulled her off and dragged her toward the bottom of the ramp.
“I have nowhere to go.” The girl grappled with the leather cuffs on Rain’s wrists. “Please, do not send me back.”
“You’re not coming with us.” Rain pried her fingers away, but the girl redoubled her grip.
“I will pay you for passage.” The girl clung like a leech. “I will pay you whatever you ask.” She pinned Rain with wide black eyes. “Please, help me reach Orbona City.”
Ice lanced down Rain’s spine, and she scowled at the girl. “Orbona City?”
The girl gazed up at her, black eyes pleading, bloody face hopeful. She had skin like polished oak.
“What the hell do you want in Orbona City?” Rain gasped.
Orbona City was Callisto for pedophiles, a lunar township that only marketed underage prostitution. Orbona City’s population was mostly under twelve, and anyone older than that was only there for one reason.
“It’s a city of refuge,” the girl whispered, fingers trembling against Rain’s wrists. “I have to go there to find work.”
Bile rose at the back of Rain’s throat.
“Kid, you don’t know shit.” Rain scoffed. “Orbona City a refuge? It’s more of what you just walked out of. You like being chained to a wall and—”
“I can find good work there,” the girl said, almond-shaped eyes turning glassy. “I am a strong worker.”
Rain wrested out of the girl’s grip. “The only work you’ll find on Orbona City is on your back, kid.”
The girl stared at her, mouth falling open, perfect rows of white teeth shining in the planet light of Jupiter overhead. Black hair, black eyes, strong jawline and proud brow. No wonder Maxwell snapped her up.
“Trust me. I know.” Rain turned. “You don’t want to go to Orbona City.”
“But then I will be sold to Hektor!” The girl flung herself at Rain, throwing her arms around Rain’s waist and choking on her sobs. “I must not go to Hektor! Do not let me go there!”
“Get off me.” Rain pried her off and shoved her away.
The girl tripped on her sheet and stumbled backward. She hit the ramp on her backside and rolled down to the yellow-tinged dirt. Hiccupping in grief, the girl wrapped herself in the sheet again and pressed her face into her knees.
“Hektor.” Rain snorted. “You only go to Hektor if the snatchers grab you.” She started up the ramp. “And if they come for you, you’d be better off to slit your wrists.”
As bad as Orbona City was, the death pits of Hektor were ten times worse. Hektor provided a convenient solution for overpopulated city centers, but not a convenient death by any means. No death on Hektor was ever easy or fast.
Rain paused at the top of the ramp and glanced back at the girl, still huddled in a ball in the yellow dirt.
We’re on a schedule. We have places to go, people to shoot, money to make. She narrowed her eyes at the girl. But we can’t just leave her here.
“Snow’s going to skin me.”
[to be continued]
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