Here is a preview of the first chapter of the book. I hope you enjoy!
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“Stay still, female,” the huge, hideous guard growled as he held Joss in a meaty grip. “If you keep struggling when you are presented to the Ocraxs, they will only have you beaten for it.”
The guard dragged her down a well-lit corridor in a palace-like house that was finer than any Joss had ever seen. If she hadn’t been in her current predicament, Joss might have admired her surroundings.
As it was, she was struggling for her life. The guard holding her was a Teragok – of the same race as the dark slavers who had abducted her only days ago from the Floating City of Ariyn’mag.
The Teragok were gigantic, more than seven feet tall with hands much larger than they should have been. There was no possible way she would ever break free of his hold, no matter how much she continued to kick and scream.
Still, going without a fight felt like giving up, and Joss never gave up. At the same time, a prickling feeling inside her knew that he was right. Struggling would only get her in trouble.
Even if, by some miracle, the Teragok holding her did let her go, the second guard who was following on their heel needed only to reach out to stop her. He could grasp her entire torso in one hand and prevent her from escaping. And they certainly wouldn’t make the same mistake again and let her get away.
Joss gritted her teeth. No, she would have to be smart about this. If she wanted to escape, she had to play her cards right.
She stopped fighting her captors as they pulled her into an expansive living room. She knew there was no point in continuing to resist at the moment. Earning a beating on her first day here wasn’t going to help her situation.
The guard who had ahold of her dropped her into the middle of the room and the pair of them went out again, presumably to guard the doors.
Joss’s curly brown hair wasn’t excessively long, but it was long enough to fall into her eyes as she stood with her head drooping in despair. She was so upset and angry at her current situation that it took a few moments before she even bothered to brush it aside and have a look around.
There was an older Orthanian woman in the room, her deep green hair pinned back behind a pair of small horns to reveal her pale blue face. She was dressed in what looked like a servant’s uniform.
Servants? Yeah, right! The polite word for slaves here on the farming world known as Elrilia.
Joss’s eyes were drawn to the finely dressed man and woman sitting on an elaborately decorated sofa. They were Thruds – humanoid, but with golden, shimmery skin and spikes all down their arms. Based on their fine clothing and the jewelry they wore, they must be the master and mistress here.
“Joss, I’m Cemphri,” the servant introduced herself. “This is Mr. and Mrs. Ocraxs. You won’t be interacting with them much at first. Not until you’ve got a better idea of the rules of the household. But it’s important for you to understand who you are serving.”
Joss didn’t say anything. She glared at the Ocraxs, who vaguely glanced at her under lowered lashes, their noses high up in the air, inspecting her like she was some sort of an insect to be dissected.
She could almost guess what they were going to say, and if the Ocraxs thought she was going to be happy about her capture and enslavement, they had another thing coming.
As an orphan, Joss had never had much in life. Her parents had died in a spaceship accident when she had been young, and she’d been passed on from one orphanage to another until she’d outgrown the system and had her first taste of freedom – as long as that had lasted.
Only weeks ago, she had been nabbed by a wealthy businessman, Victor Ardarman. A band of mercenaries aboard a spaceship known as the Zalke had rescued her, and Ardarman’s daughter, Brazen, had been instrumental in helping her and the other human slaves escape.
For a while, life had been looking up for Joss. The enslaved women had all become something of an unofficial extension of the Zalke crew. And although the group of aliens who had rescued them had been mercenaries – and therefore extremely dangerous – for the first time in her life, she had felt something akin to true freedom.
Joss would have been perfectly content to stay with them forever. Or at least, until she found her own way in life.
They had been saying their goodbyes to some of the other women who had decided to get off the ship at the Floating City of Ariyn’mag, eager to get on with their lives when a group of Teragok slavers had suddenly grabbed Joss and dragged her away before she could so much as scream.
The dark alien men had hoisted her into their ship, and then she had ended up here, on a planet where slavery was perfectly acceptable – at least to the people who owned them.
Joss tsked under her breath. Who was she kidding? Slavery was entirely acceptable everywhere in the universe. It was how she had ended up in the Floating City in the first place. Being a rare, exotic Terran in this vast universe was sometimes a nightmare.
All her life, Joss had been looking out of the window of the orphanage at the stars. She had been learning the constellations, the star charts, and the planets, and dreaming of the day she could go out there and be free. The stars had presented her with a sense of freedom – as unreachable as they had seemed to her at the time.
Now, she had reached them, though not in a way she had hoped.
A sense of bitterness flooded her. They had been the dreams of a silly young girl who hadn’t yet known the world. Clearly, freedom was not in her cards. It was from one captivity straight into another for Joss. Guess that was her lot in life.
Mrs. Ocraxs returned her glare with a haughty look, snapping her back to the present. “You should be grateful, girl, that we saved you from those horrid space pirates. You’ll have a much better life here – a safer life. As long as you do what you’re told, you’ll live in luxury for a girl of your station.”
Joss bit her tongue. It was just as she had thought. She was expected to be grateful. As if.
She longed to tell the Thrud woman to go fuck herself, but the words of the Teragok guard stopped her. She didn’t want to get a beating, not for something as small as speaking her mind. If she was going to receive punishment, she wanted it to be for an escape attempt, not for mouthing off.
Mrs. Ocraxs seemed to notice the defiance in her eyes. She addressed the other servant in the room. “It seems that Joss will have to learn some manners. Cemphri, see to it that she is well prepared to serve in our household.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cemphri curtsied obediently and ushered Joss out.
Joss was all too glad to leave the room. And start planning her escape.
They went past the two Teragok guards and down several flights of stairs. Along the way, Joss saw that there were guards of many other races as well, but the one trait they had in common was their larger size. Most of the slaves there would be no match for them.
But small size could also be an advantage. Joss considered making a run for it just as soon as she and Cemphri were finally alone, but Cemphri cut that plan off before she could even try.
“Don’t think of escaping,” she said in a stern voice. “Trust me, many have tried, and it does no good. Guards cover every inch of the perimeter. No one gets in or out unless the Ocraxs want them to.”
“So, what? We just submit to our slavery?” Joss stared at her incredulously.
“Mrs. Ocraxs was telling the truth, you know. Our lives are much better here than they would be in many places. We have nice quarters. We eat well. We’re safe, as long as we don’t misbehave.”
“It’s still slavery.”
Cemphri sighed. “You’ll learn.”
“Fuck that. I’ll escape.”
Another sigh. “Come with me, Joss, dear. There’s something I think you should see.”
Joss followed Cemphri down several more flights of stairs. They came to a set of cold stone rooms. The air smelled dank and the place was downright depressing, a stark contrast to the upper floors of the house, and it made her feel uneasy. Joss wondered what this place was doing down here in a house that was otherwise opulent and gleaming in every corner.
Then she saw the bars, and she realized what this place was: a dungeon.
Cemphri led her to one of the cells. “Look inside.”
Joss peered through the bars and gasped. A man lay on the hard floor. There was barely an inch of his pale green skin visible. It was all scabbed over or freshly cut or burned. He was a horrifying sight. Joss cried out and staggered back, pressing a hand to her mouth, resisting the urge to throw up.
“That’s what awaits slaves who displease the master and mistress of this house. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with them. Just keep your head down and follow orders. It’ll be easier that way.”
Joss wanted to get out of here, away from the sight of the man that she feared was now burned into her memory.
She followed Cemphri back in a daze. They took the stairs up again and arrived in a simpler part of the house. Not as opulent as the first chambers she had seen, but definitely a far cry from the horrifying dungeon.
Joss took a steadying breath, glad to be away from the lower floors of the house.
“This is your common room,” Cemphri explained. “You’ll share it with three other junior servants, though each of you does have a small bedroom of your own. If you behave well, you might get a promotion and become one of the senior servants, like me. You’ll get a bigger bedroom then, with your own bathroom. For now, you share a bathroom with the others. Meal times are at seven, one, and seven again. Come with me, I’ll show you the way.”
Joss trailed after her, sure that she wouldn’t remember the way they’d taken when she tried to find it the first time. She had been in too much of a daze coming here, her plans of escape long forgotten after the sight of the beaten man.
Servants of various species, all dressed in similar uniforms, hurried back and forth in the long halls, carrying piles of laundry and plates.
“Here’s the cafeteria,” Cemphri said as they reached the end of the corridor. “We eat here unless we’re serving the master and mistress. Servers only eat after Mr. and Mrs. Ocraxs have finished their meals.”
Joss looked over the large room with numerous tables, and the many servants seated there. And, of course, a large number of guards overseeing their meal.
She and Cemphri stepped in line and received trays of food, which they brought with them to one of the tables. Since she was quite hungry after her kidnapping and everything that had followed, Joss made quick work of the gruel and beans, and as soon as she was finished, Cemphri beckoned her to follow again.
“What kind of work will I be doing?” Joss asked quietly as they stepped out into the hall.
“We’ll need to try you with a few different things to see where you fit in. You’ll start with helping to clean the bathrooms, but if you do well there, you could graduate to cleaning the kitchens or doing laundry. Those are the least demanding tasks.”
Cemphri paused. “As you move up, you could apprentice with a seamstress or chef. You could learn to do repairs around the house. If you’re lucky, you’ll be chosen to be one of Mrs. Ocraxs’s personal attendants. They have their own rooms next to hers, and their workload is a lot lighter than the rest of ours.”
Joss didn’t really care what work detail she was assigned, but her hopes of escape were fading fast.
“If I’m caught trying to… trying to escape, is that what’ll happen to me? They’ll hurt me like they hurt that man down there?”
“Him?” Cemphri gave her an odd look. “He’s being punished for stealing food from the Ocraxs’ table. If you try to escape, your fate will be much worse. You’ll be killed on the spot.”
Joss missed a step. Cemphri’s voice was all matter-of-fact business-like. She didn’t wait for Joss as they returned to the servants’ quarters.
“You’ll start off with Yarin,” Cemphri stated. “He’s also new, but he’s been here for a few days already. The two of you will be cleaning bathrooms. Yarin knows what to do. Just stick with him.”
At the sound of his name, a young Cruvan stuck his cerulean head out of the room opposite Cemphri’s. “Did you need something, Cemphri?”
“Joss here is going to be joining you in cleaning the bathrooms. Show her the ropes, Yarin.”
“Yes, Cemphri.” The Cruvan nodded. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Joss.”
Joss could hardly say she felt the same, but she attempted a smile at the man nonetheless.
Hopelessness was closing in fast around her. Did Joss really want to risk getting shot on the slim chance that she might be able to escape? She didn’t want to be a slave, but she also didn’t want to die.
Maybe she would just have to accept her fate, like Cemphri had. Perhaps she simply needed to try to make the most of her new life.
“Yarin, can I ask you something?” Joss asked once Cemphri had bustled off, leaving the two of them alone.
She glanced around her, unsure whether to ask the question or not. Quietly, she said, “Will they hurt me if I don’t do anything wrong?”
Yarin looked at her with something akin to pity. “They’ll punish defiance and carelessness, but apart from that, only open rebellion gets you in trouble. Just do your best, and you’ll be okay. It’s not so bad here, really. We have it much better than many of the slaves in the other houses.”
Joss nodded wanly. A burst of longing shot through her as she thought of where she had been just days ago – aboard the spaceship Zalke with the other human women. She thought of Brazen, Ava, Gert, and the other women – all of whom had become friends to her in the past week.
Were they still on the ship, or had they all gotten off at the Floating City?
She even thought of the crew of the ship: a group of huge, red-skinned Irrod males. She didn’t know all of them, as the crew was large, but she remembered the Captain, Kreg… and of course, the ship’s navigator, Ryz.
A flush crept onto her cheeks as she thought of him. Mrs. Ocraxs may have called them space pirates, but they had treated Joss and the other captive women with nothing but kindness and understanding. She remembered long evenings discussing the stars with Ryz.
They weren’t pirates, at least not in the traditional sense. They were just people fighting against the injustice of the rich ruling over everything and getting whatever they wanted, no matter who it hurt. In a way, that made them the good guys. At least in Joss’s eyes.
Joss smiled sadly as she realized she would probably never see the crew of the Zalke again, all thanks to her kidnappers.
Although many of the captured women had wanted to get off the ship at the Floating City, Joss hadn’t been among them. She had wanted to stay on the Zalke, to enjoy her freedom.
The Irrods lived off the grid, with none of the luxuries Joss would have available to her as a servant in this household, but at least they were free. Some people might choose slavery and a life of relative ease over having to steal to survive, but Joss wasn’t one of them.
Freedom was much more important to her than finery.
Besides, they only stole from the rich, and only those who used their money to hurt others. They stole from people like the Ocraxs, who owned slaves. Joss wished they were here now.
Of course, it was a silly wish. The crew of the Zalke had no way of even knowing where Joss was. Elrilia was an isolated planet with little traffic. It was owned by a small group of wealthy people who all kept a number of slaves, and didn’t see a lot of visitors. Joss hadn’t even known it existed before she’d been brought here.
“Joss? Are you with me?”
Joss blinked. “Sorry, Yarin. What did you say?”
“I said, it’s time to start our rounds.” Yarin looked at her with friendly concern. “We always do the Ocraxs’ bathrooms first, then work down the rest of the household by seniority.”
“Fine,” Joss said dully. This was her life now, it seemed. Cleaning toilets for wealthy slave owners.
She grimaced as she remembered Gert and how she’d complained about cleaning the ‘green shit’ in the toilets aboard the Zalke. Joss definitely hadn’t envied her task! Now, she’d get to do it herself.
“It’s not as bad as you think.” Yarin tried an encouraging smile but it failed to reach his eyes. “Bathroom cleaning duty is usually reserved for newbies. If we do well, we’ll be moved to better duties soon enough.”
“Who will clean the bathrooms then?”
“We get new people in all the time.” Yarin lowered his voice. “We have quite a high turnover here. There’s always someone who displeases the master or the mistress and will get auctioned off or thrown into the dungeons for a time. We’ve even had a few foolish enough to try to escape. We need to replace servants often.”
Joss swallowed. Yeah, escape probably wasn’t her best idea, at least not now. She would wait and watch. She would do what she was told and be a good little slave.
Maybe at some point in the future, a realistic chance of escape would present itself. Until then, she needed to be smart about this. There was no point in getting herself maimed or killed.
“Alright, Yarin. Let’s do this.”