Shakiran Sneak Peek

A companion novella in the Tamisan Series (A completed series)

Warning: This novella contains spoilers for the two books in the Tamisan Series, Tamisan and Enigma. I recommend reading those books first.

This sneak peek does not contain spoilers.

Chapter 1

Concentrating on what someone was saying wasn’t usually this hard.

Focus, Larissa.

They’d given each of us a Palm-pad to take notes on, so I thought I’d better take notes, or at least look like I was.

The presenter droned on about the natives of the planet we would be studying, but this wasn’t new information. Everything he’d said so far was in the reports I’d received after being accepted for the job at Voyager Division. But I wouldn’t be studying the natives. My job revolved around the plant life and Althar 3 was teeming with it.

I needed to get up and walk around the room. If I sat here any longer, his monotone voice would put me to sleep.

The only interesting thing in the room was the Shakiran sitting on the opposite side of the table and to my right. It was hard to keep my eyes from drifting back to him. White-blonde hair almost as long as my own, and those piercing dark eyes. With so many people from different planets here on the space station, another Shakiran stood out. Our height difference was one of the main reasons, being head and shoulders above the average race.

The only other person here that was as tall was the Ziflarian sitting to my left. She was amazingly beautiful with her dark skin and long, black, curly hair flowing over her shoulders. Most Shakirans had fair skin and blonde hair, so our races were polar opposites when it came to colour.

I looked around at the other new employees of the Voyager Division and my eyes found the Shakiran’s again. He was looking straight at me, his brown eyes almost black. I quickly looked away and tried to concentrate on the presentation.

My heart rate picked up. He’d been stealing glances at me the whole time. I assumed it was because we were both Shakiran, but maybe there was more to it. I hoped there wasn’t because I was here to work, not socialise, and that meant no relationships.

At all.

I didn’t want all the hassles that came with it.

I tried to see what he was doing by keeping him in my peripheral vision and he was staring at me. Again.

I wanted to look, but I managed to keep my attention on the blue eyes of the presenter, who stopped abruptly and announced that we would be going around the room introducing ourselves to the group. I took a deep breath. I would find out his name.

Stop it.

We were sitting at a long table with three people on each side and one sitting at the end.

The presenter, Fenrick, looked at the woman to his left. She sat on the opposite side of the table from me, but to my left. She was short and had shoulder-length sandy-brown hair and excitement flashing in those blue eyes.

She cleared her throat. “I’m Zhenna Rhodarma and I’m a computer programmer from Earth. I’ve never been off-world so I thought I’d sign up to see the universe and I will do what I can to keep the computers running smoothly at Station Jannali.”

The presenter smiled warmly. “Thank you, Zhenna.” He turned to the man to her right. “Next?”

The man was taller than Zhenna and had a rugged appearance and broad shoulders. “I am Mosuti Kyah. I’m a Linguist from the planet Moftar. I have extensive experience in first-contact liaisons with new races.”

The presenter raised his eyebrows. “You’re the Talent sent to study the Altharian languages, yes?”

“That’s correct.”

“Hmm. Fascinating.” He looked to the Shakiran. “And you are?”

“Janssen Malakua. I’m a botanist from the planet Shakira.” A botanist? I sucked in a breath and his eyes darted to me as he continued. “I aim to study many different plant species in the universe in order to take that information back to Shakira to improve the crops we grow in my family’s business. In the meantime, my priority is to offer my expertise to your company.”

A botanist. What were the chances of two people from Shakira applying for jobs as botanists on a planet out on the edge of the Known Universe at the same time? Especially since Shakirans usually choose careers in the military.

His eyes met mine again and I closed my mouth and looked away. I’d been staring too long.

“Very good. Yes,” Fenrick said. He turned to the portly man at the end of the table. “Yes?”

“The name is Kami Olion. I’m a sociologist from Setlur. I offer my services to you, but I have some questions.”

“Mmm-hmm. Yes?”

“Will we be expected to go out into the jungle? I mean, I have my health to consider. There would be diseases that we aren’t immune to and then there’s the dangers of the wildlife—”

“Don’t worry, Mister Olion. Your position will involve indoor work only. It’s in the job description and in your contract.”

“Hmm. Well. Yes. I was just clarifying this before I fully committed myself. You understand?”

Fenrick nodded. “Yes, I understand. But you do understand that you have already signed the contract, thereby fully committing yourself to this position, yes?” When Kami didn’t answer, he looked to the man next to me. “Now to our next candidate—”

“And there’s also the question of the two week’s travel,” Kami said. “Surely the company can use a better class of ship to get us there faster than that?”

Fenrick pursed his lips. “Voyager Division is paying for your tickets and providing you with accommodation and all meals aboard the ship, sir, so I’m sure you will be—”

“Voyager Division is a large company. Surely they can afford a faster ship.”

He sighed. “Mister Olion, the Acronis is a well-equipped Class IV cruiser and it is the ship the company uses. If you have a problem with it, I suggest you take it up with my superiors. I am merely here to give you the information you will need before you set off for Althar 3.”

Kami grumbled under his breath for a while.

A person who complained about everything and behaved like a child was without honour or integrity.

Fenrick looked again at the man on my right. “I’m sorry. Please continue.”

This man was probably the shortest person in the room, but his eyes were bright and alert. “Hey everyone, I’m Lanu Ricksha. I’m a sociologist from Vanitha. I’m so excited to be joining you all on this journey and to be studying newly-discovered races.”

Fenrick smiled and I could see he was as relieved as I was that he was nothing like Kami. “Thank you, Lanu.” He smiled at me and nodded.

I sat a little straighter. “I’m Larissa Malinya. I’m a botanist, also from Shakira.” Now it was Janssen who sucked in a breath. “I’m interested in the use of plants for their medicinal qualities and look forward to studying the new plant species on Althar 3.”

Kami turned to me. “I thought you Shakirans were all bloodthirsty warriors and here we have two of you who are plant lovers.”

My fists clenched and I glared at him. “We are not bloodthirsty. Do not make assumptions.”

Janssen’s eyes were fire. “You understand that a society cannot function without food, yes? Other professions are needed.”

Fenrick spread his arms wide. “Now, let’s calm down here. Let’s channel peace. I will ask Mister Olion to refrain from making any derogatory comments about fellow workers. It’s part of company policy, which forms part of the contract you have signed.”

Kami mumbled under his breath again, but didn’t say anything more.

I hoped that he decided to cancel his contract so he wouldn’t be going with us.

Fenrick turned to the Ziflarian. “Please go ahead, dear.”

She smiled and looked around the room. “Hi. I am Bazeelia Shamari and I am a scientist from the planet Ziflar. I am looking forward to working with you all. The discoveries we will make together will be awesome.”

A scientist. I smiled. It fit her well.

I looked around the table. We had a mixed bag from across the universe, which would make things interesting.

I tried to imagine us working together as a group. I’d spent my whole life surrounded mostly by Shakirans and the occasional alien, and my grandmother was Taonese, but to see so many diverse races in the same room was different. And exciting.

Most Shakirans had a very narrow view of the universe and our history was marred by many wars with other races on nearby planets, but with my grandmother being from Taon, I had a somewhat wider view than other Shakirans.

I was looking forward to this job. I would be able to observe people from so many places — without getting personally involved with their lives — while learning as much as I could about the flora on the planet.

I had to remind myself that I was here to work, not to make friends.

My heart grew heavy. This wasn’t what I’d originally planned to do after my graduation. Things changed in an instant as soon as the news of my grandmother’s death had come through to the university. I needed to get away from my life for a while and get over losing the last member of my family. I needed to somehow heal my broken heart and move on with Gran’s plan to use plants to heal instead of the usual Shakiran way of war and death.

I tried to smile. This would be a perfect distraction until I had my emotions under control and my head sorted out. Once my contract was up, I would put all my efforts into finding new uses for my plants and healing as many people as I possibly could. I couldn’t get rid of my heartache, but maybe I could prevent someone else’s.

Chapter 2

I waited impatiently near the airlock of the shuttle that had taken us from the Acronis down to the surface of Althar 3. After two long weeks aboard the Acronis, I needed to get out. I wanted fresh air and to see the sun.

Where is everyone? Don’t they want to see this?

The shuttle, the Outrider, had developed a mechanical fault, forcing us to land for immediate repairs before we could reach Station Jannali, the underground base we would be working from. We’d had to land in a tropical jungle.

An actual jungle.

And we were going outside to see it first-hand.

Sure, we had forests near my house on my home planet of Shakira, but this was nature at its wildest.

I could hardly stand still. I’d studied botany for the last two years, so to see the plant life on a newly-discovered planet would be exciting. I’d seen the reports and photos of course, but nothing would compare to the real thing. Up till now I’d only ever had the chance to study plant specimens from my home planet of Shakira and a select few from Earth.

Excitement buzzed through my veins.

Where are they?

I resisted the urge to start pacing.

Of course the rest of the crew wouldn’t be as excited as I was to see the wild flora just outside these doors… But there was one person. The only other botanist on the ship. The only other Shakiran on the ship.

As if fate had heard my thoughts, Janssen rounded the corner and stopped in his tracks as my heart stuttered to a halt.

His dark eyes widened as they found mine. “Larissa. Hi.” He inclined his head.

I returned the nod. “Hello.”

Please don’t ask about last night.

His eyes never left mine. “Can I talk to you?”

No. Not now. I can’t talk to you now. Maybe not ever. “Uh, we don’t have time.” I looked both ways down the corridor. “Everyone will be here shortly…”

He looked around to make sure we were alone and lowered his voice. “Please. I need to know what I did to upset you.”

My chest tightened. “Nothing. You did nothing wrong.”

“Then why did you run off?”

“I—” I can’t tell you. I took a deep breath. “It’s not you. It’s… something I can’t talk about right now.”

“I’m sorry if I was too forward, or if my kiss offended you, but you seemed to be responding…” He looked like he was in pain. “I meant no dishonour.”

“I…”

He ran a hand through his long hair. “Why won’t you talk to me? Is there something you’re not telling me?” His eyes widened. “Are you betrothed?”

I cringed. “No.”

“Are you — have you formed a union with someone? Have you lied to me these past weeks?”

“No!”

“Please don’t dishonour me. If that’s what it is—”

“It’s nothing like that. There’s no one. I—”

Voices and footsteps abruptly ended our conversation and I saw the hurt in his eyes as the room filled with people.

Guilt wrapped itself around my chest and squeezed. “We’ll talk. Later.”

He gave me a sad smile that I could easily see over everyone’s heads. I turned away so I couldn’t see his handsome face. I should never have become close to him. I should have kept my distance during our journey.

No relationships. No entanglements.

Why couldn’t I stick to my plan?

The shuttle’s pilot made his way through the small crowd and stood in front of the airlock doors. He reminded us that the air was breathable and ran through the procedures for exiting through the airlock — and what we were required to do once we were outside.

Once he’d reported that we had no choice but to land, one of the scientists at Station Jannali had suggested we make ourselves useful and collect some plant and soil samples. I’d opted for a plant sample — naturally — and they’d given me the job of finding a type of fungi called Aatrox.

As the pilot spoke, images of the prehistoric wildlife I’d seen in the reports played in my mind on repeat. It had me a little nervous. There were some dangerous creatures here. Even dangerous plants. We needed to be vigilant.

We stepped into the airlock and it sealed itself. Once it had finished depressurising, the outer doors opened with a hiss and sunlight poured in through the gap in the canopy high above. My heart pounded. We’d landed in a small clearing caused by a fallen tree. A few of my fellow crew members filed out ahead of me and I padded down the ramp to the jungle floor. Humidity closed in around me in total contrast to the cool interior of the shuttle.

We stood gaping at the giant trees that formed the canopy. They were covered with moss and had vines intricately woven around their trunks and branches. The small creatures jumping around in the higher branches looked like monkeys. Birds flitted through the treetops and swooped down toward the ground.

The smaller trees boasted many shades of green. The wide variety of fungi growing on rocks and tree trunks displayed so many colours that they rivalled the countless flowers.

Some of the aromas from the flowers were almost familiar and one definitely smelled like an Airlea Blossom. The scent of nutrient-rich soil was hard to ignore and was so welcome after the sterile air we’d breathed for the last two weeks.

The undergrowth was so thick here and I wondered how any of the larger animals could find their way through. It was fascinating to see how plants formed when they were left to their own devices.

I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of birds, crickets, and frogs, but I was startled by the sound of flapping wings high above us. Something scurried amongst the underbrush to my right. This was no time to be closing my eyes. Images of the many carnivorous dinosaurs and huge cat-like predators that inhabited this jungle flashed in my mind again. We were vulnerable out here in the open. We were not armed. If we were attacked, there would be no way to defend ourselves.

Surely our new employer wasn’t stupid enough to send us out of the ship and leave us defenceless.

I looked to the people around me. At how unprepared and clueless they were.

Yes, they were that stupid.

I searched for any possible threats and noticed Janssen was on high alert too. Our combat training had been instilled in us from an early age and was impossible to switch off. Shakirans prided themselves on being a warrior race and all citizens were trained in the art of combat. No exceptions.

Being thrust into the jungle unarmed on the first day didn’t sit well with me.

Our eyes met and Janssen nodded. We’d been thinking the same thing, but guilt over last night had me turning away.

People started to spread out toward the edges of the clearing and I remembered we had a job to do.

I squared my shoulders and headed for the nearest fallen log. The information contained in the PocketPC I’d been given said that the Aatrox was purple and grew on the underside of logs, but I planned to approach each log with a great deal of caution. Any number of creatures could be sheltering underneath.

Bazeelia strode purposefully toward some red flowers, her long black hair swishing back and forth from its ponytail. It seemed she’d found her target already.

She pulled out a sample case and a pair of clippers. She would be finished in no time and I hadn’t even started.

The thunderous sound of flapping wings drew my attention and a huge winged reptile swooped down from the trees. Its screech hurt my ears and I instinctively ducked and screamed.

Bazeelia’s scream was comical and mine was embarrassing. I never screamed.

Eli would’ve scowled at me for being such a coward…

I clenched my jaw. I couldn’t be thinking about him now.

Janssen and Lanu had both given a shout when the reptile swooped, but were now laughing at us.

Bazeelia scowled. “Don’t be laughin’ at me. That thing was a monster! And it scared you too!”

Janssen turned to her, his hair falling fluidly over his shoulder as he moved. “Hey. Take it easy. We’re just messin’ with ya.”

That may have been true, but she was right. Its wing-span was about three metres and its long, pointed beak was full of razor-sharp teeth.

Lanu strode over, smiling as he approached. “You’ve got to admit it was amazing though.”

Bazeelia glared down at him, her mouth hanging open. “Amazing? No. It wasn’t. It was terrifying!”

Lanu kept smiling, and I recognised that look of awe on his face. I had a photo of me back at home, taken after I’d created a new plant species in our nursery, and my face had that same look. That same light shone in my eyes.

He rubbed his chin. “But that thing is so similar to the Pteranodon from Earth’s past and it flew within a few metres of us. It’s like going back to the Cretaceous Period and getting a first-hand look.”

“Well, you can go look at it and admire its beauty if you want. Pat it. Study it. Although I’m not sure being a sociologist will help when it comes to dinosaurs. Me? I’m glad I’ll be working indoors once we get to Jannali.” She flipped her long hair over her shoulder and went back to retrieving the red flower.

The fact that we weren’t going to be interacting with the natives while we were here probably meant this would be our first and only time in the jungle. Maybe that was why they were okay with us being out here now. We were getting a taste of the environment these people lived in.

It was still dangerous out here; we needed to finish quickly and return to the safety of the ship.

I continued to monitor our surroundings.

Kami, who had continued to be a nuisance to us all since our first briefing, called from the doorway of the shuttle, asking Zhenna what the screaming was about. As she explained what had happened, I tried to ignore the conversation so I could get back to my search for the fungi. Kami had refused to come outside, saying the mechanical failure was a bad omen or some such nonsense.

He told her again that we should have stayed in the ship and kept insisting that Zhenna go back inside. What was his reason for only inviting her? That was odd. And it got my attention.

Zhenna and I had become friends on the trip out here, although I’d kept a certain distance between us.

I wandered over, feeling the need to protect her. If she agreed to go back in, I was ready to stop her. I did not trust the man. He was from Setlur, so there was a natural distrust for his whole race — Shakira had been at war with Setlur about two hundred years ago. Kami had shown his dislike for Janssen and I openly from the start, but there was more to my distrust of him than our races’ shared history. His behaviour was suspicious and I wanted to keep Zhenna safe.

“Umm, I can’t,” she told him, the sunlight making her hair look almost blonde. “Jannali wants the samples. It’s going to give a bad impression if we refuse.”

I was relieved that she was staying out here.

His bushy eyebrows drew downward and his mouth became a straight line, but then he turned quickly and went back in the ship.

Good.

“Don’t worry about him,” I said as I reached her side. “He’s just a superstitious old grump.” And a creepy old man.

Old was a bit of a stretch. He was probably about thirty, but he acted like my grandfather.

She laughed at that, then cringed.

I shrugged. “I don’t care if he hears me.”

She giggled.

Zhenna was one of the few people I’d gotten to know on my way out here and although she had no interest in botany, we shared an interest in art and music. She was easy to talk to and it made me forget that I was only out here for work, not to socialise. She made it easy to get distracted from my goal, and so did Janssen. He’d been a big distraction.

I pushed those thoughts aside. I had a job to do.

We turned our attention back to the edge of the clearing so we could get the samples before the pilot finished with the repairs. I didn’t want to turn up to Jannali empty-handed. How would that look? “You’re a botanist and you couldn’t find a plant?”

No. That wouldn’t do. I would not shame myself.

I chose another log over where Zhenna was standing and headed straight to it, but my attention was drawn to Janssen’s voice, as it often was. I couldn’t help myself. He was reaching up to a low-hanging vine, and I tried to guess what his target was — the moss or fungi growing on the vine, or the vine itself?

I scolded myself for watching him and took another step toward the log. Every time he spoke, I looked over. What was wrong with me? I needed to exercise some self-control.

He caught me looking and my cheeks flushed. I needed to stop this and get back to work.

I checked to see if Zhenna had seen me; she was watching me and smiling. Those blue eyes missed nothing.

She pursed her lips as she tried not to laugh. “I saw you looking at him.”

Chapter 3

Dammit. “No, I wasn’t.”

She raised an eyebrow.

My cheeks heated even more. “Okay. I was.”

When I looked back, the vine was hanging down lower and Janssen ducked under it, his long hair falling over his broad shoulder.

“You like him,” she said.

The jungle suddenly seemed a lot warmer. She didn’t know the half of it. “I… Uh… maybe. I don’t know.”

I couldn’t tell her the truth.

“Well, you’ll have plenty of time to find out since you’ll be working together.”

And that was the problem I was trying to ignore. Janssen and I would be studying the flora of this planet together while I tried to pretend I didn’t have feelings for him.

How was I going to do that?

Getting to know him had been a mistake. I wasn’t supposed to get close to anyone out here. Relationships led to heartbreak. I needed to keep away from him.

Somehow.

After checking our surroundings for any movement in the jungle, I watched him pack his sampling gear away and crouch down to look at a lavender flower. “Is he unattached, do you know?”

Why did I ask that? What is wrong with me?

Of course, I knew the answer to that question only too well.

“It has taken you two weeks to even ask that?” Her mouth hung open and she quickly closed it. “I heard him telling Mosuti he doesn’t have a girl. Or boy.”

I sighed and tried to look relieved and she chuckled.

I wasn’t sure why I didn’t want anyone to know how well Janssen and I knew each other. Maybe because I was ashamed at how easily I’d broken my own no-relationship rule. We’d met in the ship’s hydroponics garden every night after everyone else was asleep where we talked about life in general and our interest in plants. And then last night things changed. He’d kissed me. And I’d kissed him back.

And then I’d run out on him.

Mosuti approached us, sweat from the humidity causing his dark curls to stick to his forehead. “Hey, girls.”

“Hey,” we answered in unison.

Mosuti’s head reached my shoulder and Zhenna’s only came to halfway up my upper arm. I was still trying to get used to the fact that most people I’d met since leaving Shakira were so short.

Mosuti smiled. “Found your specimens yet?”

We both said “no” at the same time and laughed. He was the one with the gift of telepathy and Zhenna and I were sounding like we were able to read each other’s minds.

I glanced around the area and into the jungle again.

Zhenna looked toward the shuttle and I followed her gaze. Kami’s stocky frame filled the doorway again. She kept her eyes on him as she whispered, “Mosuti. Kami doesn’t like you, does he?”

Mosuti frowned. “I’m afraid not, Zhenna. Says he doesn’t like my ‘kind.’”

She glared at Kami. “Don’t let it worry you. He’s a douchebag.”

Mosuti remained calm. “He doesn’t worry me.”

Kami called out again in his whiny voice. “Zhenna, dear, why are you talking to him?

She shifted her feet in the leaf litter. “Uh, because he’s my friend.”

“His kind can’t be trusted. He’s probably reading our minds right now.”

Mosuti squared his shoulders. “I would never do that. It is against the Talents’ Code of Conduct to read a being’s mind without consent.”

The Code of Conduct was put in place to protect people from telepathic intrusion and to protect the rights of the Talents themselves. It was a well-known fact. One that Kami would have knowledge of. He was just being difficult.

Why did he have to continually stir up trouble? He was such a bigot. He’d taken every opportunity over the last two weeks to argue with everyone and complain about the food and the conditions aboard the ship. He was disrespectful and self-absorbed.

I stepped toward him, fists clenched at my sides. “You’re a jerk! What would you know about Talents? You’re so narrow-minded!”

He dismissed me with a wave of his hand. “They are nothing but freaks. Mutated beings that taint our genetics.”

Zhenna took a deep breath. “What do you suggest we do with these ‘mutants’?”

He didn’t waver. “We need to keep them under control. They shouldn’t be allowed to wander free where they can manipulate our minds and wreak havoc across the universe.”

“So, we should enslave them?”

“I… wouldn’t use that exact term… but what else can we do? They’re freaks of nature and they are a danger to us all.”

This man had no honour. Someone needed to put him in his place. I looked to Mosuti, who seemed unaffected. He was probably used to such ignorance.

Mosuti’s voice floated into my mind. <It’s okay. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.>

I gave him a nod and thought, As you wish.

On the trip out here, he’d shown me how to hold a telepathic conversation with him without possessing any Talent so I knew that he was able to read my response from my mind.

As long as he was okay, I would try to ignore this insult, not only to Mosuti, but to all Talents throughout the Known Universe.

Zhenna clenched her fists. She wasn’t willing to let it go. “I’m glad I won’t be working with you when we get to Jannali. You’re such an arrogant, narrow-minded, backwards hick!”

I stifled a laugh.

Kami didn’t get the chance to respond before laser fire burst through the jungle. I ducked my head instinctively, confused as to where it could be coming from.

“What was that?” Zhenna squeaked as she looked around wildly.

Mosuti threw us to the ground by way of an answer. “Stay down!” he ordered.

There was more laser fire and screaming. Guilt sliced through me when I realised I hadn’t kept an eye on the jungle.

“Laser fire,” I heard Mosuti whisper between shots. He’d landed facing Zhenna so I couldn’t see their faces.

Another scream. Zhenna popped her head up, but quickly ducked back down, no doubt realising how foolish that move was.

I couldn’t see much from my position, but movement caught my eye. Someone ran through the trees toward the shuttle. I didn’t know who it was, but he didn’t have long blonde hair. Pain sliced through my chest. What if Janssen was hit? What if he—

No. I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t lose another person I cared about. Not so soon after losing Gran.

I squeezed my eyes shut. I would not cry. I would not give in to my emotions right now. That would not help me. I needed to think. Who would be using laser weapons in the middle of a prehistoric jungle out on the edge of the Known Universe? Surely these primitives wouldn’t have enemies who possessed advanced technology. That could only mean we were the target.

Who would want to attack us? We were just a group of scientists. It didn’t make sense. Maybe it was another company that wanted to study these natives or take the planet’s resources for themselves.

Surely they would go about it another way.

Or maybe they were a group of space pirates out for spoils. We had nothing of value besides the ship itself — a small shuttle used to ferry us from the Acronis to the surface. There was nothing on board worth the risks they were taking.

My attention was drawn to my hand, where a large beetle was making its way along my finger. I resisted the urge to flick it away. I needed to stay still.

My eyes darted around. The leaf litter teemed with life. A few more beetles and some ants crawled on me and there was something on Mosuti’s arm. There were more crawling things on my legs and something on my shoulder. They didn’t worry me too much; I’d been working in gardens since I was seven. I tried not to think about them crawling on me. As long as I kept still, I probably wouldn’t get bitten. Maybe.

Another scream.

I tried to calm my breathing, but hearing more shots being fired all around us made it difficult.

All went quiet, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I waited for their next move.

The others lay with me on the ground, waiting, listening. Footsteps came closer and stopped. “These ones are good…”

I sucked in a breath. Slowly. Quietly. Good for what?

“Don’t damage them,” said another.

My blood ran cold thinking about what that could mean. My body tensed, waiting for a blow or the burn of a laser pistol. After all my efforts to avoid joining the armed forces back home, it seemed I was about to die at the hands of a gun anyway. How pathetically ironic.

Pain ripped through me and my body convulsed. The world faded to black.

*******

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