Here is a preview of the first chapter of the book. I hope you enjoy!
Gert stared at the checkout machine nervously. It beeped, showing that the transaction had gone through. She sighed in relief. She grabbed her packet of groceries, but she was still worried. She was quickly running out of money, and no one seemed to want to offer a paid job here on the Genesis Noctae Space Station.
The workforce of the station was mostly made up of slaves. Gert abhorred slavery, even more so since she had nearly been sold as a slave herself. Fortunately, she had been rescued just before that had happened, but those memories would stay with her for a long time.
She had applied for countless jobs over the past few weeks, but none of them had panned out. The ultra-wealthy were never content. Not only did they have more money than they could ever spend, but they insisted on getting free labor from slaves instead of paying respectable working people.
With her groceries in tow, Gert headed back to the small apartment she was renting. It wasn’t the nicest or the cleanest place, but it was all she could afford right now. She was hoping to get a job that included food and a room, as well as a modest salary.
She didn’t need much. All Gert had ever wanted was a respectable job and a roof over her head. Ever since her parents had died and her father’s debts had come to light, Gert had been struggling to make ends meet. Her father had owed a lot of money to a group of unscrupulous mercenaries, and Gert had been desperate to pay them off.
So desperate that she hadn’t thought twice about accepting a job offer from a wealthy businessman named Victor Ardarman. Even the thought of his name still brought a bitter taste in Gert’s mouth.
The whole thing had been a scam. Gert had been taken from her home station, stripped of her possessions, and nearly sold at a slave auction. She had been freed by another band of mercenaries trying to steal from people. They’d let her walk free, but she had been glad to rid herself of them. She now knew better how the universe worked and she knew she couldn’t trust anyone.
Arriving at her apartment, she put away the groceries and sat down on the bed, since there was no desk in the room. Immediately, she started scrolling through her tablet, looking for job advertisements.
Perhaps she would have better luck somewhere else, which wasn’t ruled by slave owners, but Gert couldn’t afford passage off the space station. Genesis Noctae had seemed like a good option initially, since it was one of the largest stations in the system, but that was before she’d known of the slave activity here.
Rent was due at the end of this month, and Gert knew she wouldn’t be able to pay it. If she didn’t get a job soon, she would be out on the streets of the space station, which was not a safe place to be.
She supposed she couldn’t complain. By all rights, she should have been on the streets from the start. She only had money because the mercenaries had given it to her.
Even the thought of mercenaries made her skin crawl, knowing how they’d conned her father. But she couldn’t deny that Kreg and his crew had rescued her and a number of other women from Victor Ardarman – and certain slavery.
She still recalled the moment one of the mercenaries – Zeik – had handed her the funds card with the money. With a grin on his face, he had told her he’d added a bonus on the card for scrubbing all the toilets on the ship.
The arrogant bastard.
Gert had gotten off their ship as soon as possible. She didn’t like to be around mercenaries, even the ones who supposedly made it their mission to rob the rich and redistribute the wealth. A mercenary’s word could never be trusted, after all. They may say one thing and stab you in the back the very next second.
She couldn’t believe that some of the women they had rescued had chosen to stay with the mercenaries on their ship. Ava, Joss, and of course, Victor Ardarman’s daughter, Brazen. Somehow, she had actually ended up mated to the mercenary ship’s captain. And Joss to the navigator!
Gert shook her head. It was all so unbelievable she wouldn’t have believed it unless she’d lived it. And although Gert had grown close to the other women, the crew of the Zalke were nothing more than criminals, and what they did was illegal and wrong.
Gert didn’t want to be involved in any of that nonsense. She wanted to be a good, law-abiding citizen. The money she had was dirty, stolen money – money like the mercenaries had conned from her father. Gert would have preferred not to use it at all, but she’d had little choice. It was this or live on the street and beg for food.
She had reluctantly decided to use the money rather than resign herself to being the victim of violent assault as she surely would be if she stayed out on the streets at night. The Genesis Noctae Space Station wasn’t known for its peace and tranquility. And it wasn’t like the money would never be returned to its rightful owner. It had been stolen already.
Maybe if she got a job, she could earn some money and get passage out of here, but Gert had to admit to herself that it probably wouldn’t help. The rich owned everything, and their corruption seeped through the cracks of society. They didn’t care about destitute people being robbed by others who were equally desperate, so the crime continued.
There was law enforcement, of course, but they served the needs of the rich rather than the people at large.
Gert’s tablet pinged. She opened the message, and her heart leaped. It was from J’Zarboa, an Olgdean woman who Gert had applied to for a job just a few days ago.
Gert read the message through several times before leaping into the air and letting out a whoop. She’d gotten the job!
It didn’t pay much, but it included meals and a place to stay, so Gert wouldn’t need a high salary to buy the other essentials.
She dashed to her wardrobe and picked out the nicer of the two outfits she owned – clothes that the mercenaries had bought for her – and laid them out on the bed. She hopped into the shower and scrubbed herself thoroughly, wishing she had a nice perfume or some makeup to look her best.
She would have to settle for being clean and relatively well-dressed. Once Gert was done, she packed up her stuff quickly and left, stopping by the office to terminate her rental agreement. She used what was left of her money to pay for the part of this month she had stayed here. It was barely enough, leaving just a few credits on the card. She didn’t have anything more, but now that she had a job, she wouldn’t need it.
She had a room to stay in her employer’s house, and once she had her salary, she could work on buying some new clothes. She probably wouldn’t even need to worry about toiletries, as she was sure the bathrooms in J’Zarboa’s house would be well-stocked. J’Zarboa was extremely wealthy, with plenty of money to hire a paid servant.
Once she had her wardrobe sorted out, Gert could get some luxury items like books and makeup. She had lost everything her family owned to the mercenaries, and even the clothes off her back when Victor Ardarman had taken her. Finally, she could have something of her own again!
Gert was practically vibrating with excitement as she walked through the streets. It was a long way to the outskirts of the station, but she didn’t have the money to take the shuttle.
Gert wasn’t discouraged. She finally had a job. That was all that mattered to her. It wasn’t very glamorous, serving food and cleaning toilets, but Gert had never wanted glamorous. She wanted a simple, honest life.
She arrived at J’Zarboa’s house an hour and a half later. She had deliberately walked slowly so that she wouldn’t show up at the doorstep all sweaty and gross.
The estate was even more magnificent than she could have imagined for a place inside a space station. Gert had been interviewed via her tablet, so she hadn’t actually been to the house before, but she was taken aback by how beautiful it was. Large gardens spanned the back of the house, with real vegetation. Various flowers bloomed and climbed up the glass and metal façade of the house.
Of course, the Genesis Noctae space station was already beautiful. Build inside a biodome with artificial sunlight, the station resembled a planet more than a space station. But out here, away from the center where buildings had been built on top of each other and people bustled around, it was peaceful and serene. Trees and plants could grow wild and purify the air, with the station’s water system creating artificial lakes and waterfalls.
It was truly stunning, and although Gert had known that J’Zarboa was rich, it was still more than she could’ve ever imagined. She could really see herself building a life here, serving J’Zarboa in this great house.
Gert knocked on the door. A blue-skinned female in a servant’s uniform answered. “Hello. You must be Gertrix.”
“Yes. Lady J’Zarboa was kind enough to offer me a job here.”
“I’m Elin, the head of the servants here. Come in, Gertrix. I’ll help you get settled in.”
“Please, call me Gert.” She smiled at the elderly servant.
Elin nodded with a slight smile and showed Gert to a small room with a bed, a cupboard, a desk, and an attached bathroom. The bathroom was tiny, but it had a shower, a toilet, and a basin, which was all Gert needed. It was already much better than the room she had stayed in.
“You can put your stuff down here,” Elin said. “Uniforms are in the cupboard. You go ahead and get changed. I’ll meet you in the servants’ dining room just down the hall and to your left.”
Having a uniform would help, since Gert’s wardrobe was limited at the moment. She got changed into a simple black dress with a crest stamped onto it, which Gert assumed must be J’Zarboa’s family crest.
She found the servants’ dining room easily enough. Elin was waiting for her.
“Right, let me give you the tour. You’ll be on cleaning duty for now. You’re free to switch around shifts with any of the others, as long as you notify me so that I can keep track of everything. Pay is at the end of the month. You’ll be getting every fifth day off, but you can also change those around with the others if you prefer.”
It was more than Gert could have hoped for. The terms of her employment seemed more than fair. She was quiet for most of the tour, concentrating hard, trying to remember everything. She paid particular attention to cleaning supplies, equipment closets, and cupboards as that was where she would be focusing her energy for now.
Once the tour was done, Elin took her to J’Zarboa’s room. J’Zarboa was sitting in an armchair, reading. Her purple body was covered in fine silk and expensive jewelry, and her face was painted in the traditional way of her people. She looked up when they came in.
“Gertrix, welcome. I trust Elin has shown you everything?”
“Please, call me J’Zar. Everyone does. If there’s anything you need, just let me know. I want you to be happy here.”
Gert’s heart swelled. She would have taken any respectable job, regardless of how nice or otherwise her employer was. J’Zar seemed wonderful, which was a huge bonus. Gert’s heart was so light that she thought it might levitate her off the floor.
She couldn’t believe she had lucked out like this. This job was everything she wanted.
“Thank you, J’Zar. I’m sure I will be. Please, call me Gert.”
J’Zar smiled. “Gert it is then. I trust that Elin has filled you in on your tasks and the rules of employment, but I’d like to add one more rule to that. Perhaps the most important one.”
Gert nodded to show that she was listening and understood.
“I often have business partners coming over, and when I am working, I am not to be disturbed,” J’Zar said. “I want you to be happy here, and you will have plenty of freedom in your duties and your life – within your sphere. Otherwise, servants are not to be seen or heard in this house. Do you understand?”
It was fair, and Gert believed that was how it was in most houses. Servants were meant to be invisible, working in the back of the house to keep it running, but not disturbing its inhabitants.
“I understand.” Gert nodded.
“Good.” J’Zar smiled. “I’m sure we will get along just fabulously, Gert.”
* * *
Over the next week, Gert became accustomed to her duties. J’Zar lived in a big house and frequently had guests staying over, so there was plenty of cleaning for Gert to do. The days were long and tiring, but satisfying. Every night, Gert went to bed knowing that J’Zar had clean sheets and a spotless house.
She started to make friends with some of the other servants. They all seemed to get along alright, for the most part. There was the occasional tiff, but those were the exception rather than the norm. Elin did a good job at managing relationships between the staff.
When she got paid, Gert went out and bought a nice dress to wear on her days off. It was certainly better than the clothes the mercenaries had bought for her, because it had been bought with her own money. Gert would get rid of her other clothing as soon as she had enough new clothes. She didn’t want anything that had been given to her by criminals or bought with dirty money now that she had another choice.
Gert hurried along the hall with a cleaning rag when something caught her attention. J’Zar was having a meeting with some of her guests, and the door was slightly ajar. Gert wouldn’t be able to get past without being seen.
She was about to turn around and take a different route to the closet with cleaning supplies, but one word caught her attention.
Even more to Gert’s shock, it hadn’t been her translator picking it up, but her ears. The speaker had said it in English.
Even though she knew she shouldn’t, Gert found her feet slowing. She supposed it was possible that J’Zar was auctioning some of her stuff, but Gert knew all too well that when the rich talked about auctions, they were almost always referring to slaves.
She crept closer to the door and peered through the glass panel.
“…the Terran female… disguised…”
Another voice entered the conversation. “So… a trap?”
Nausea built inside Gert. They were definitely talking about a slave auction. But a trap? A trap for what? Or whom?
She took another step closer to the door – and gasped as a wave of shock went through her. One of the men in the room was no other than Victor Ardarman, the very slaver who had sold Gert before she was rescued by the Kreg and the other mercenaries.
Victor looked up. His eyes found Gert.
Gert clutched the rag in her hands as she dashed away.
The door opened a few moments later. “Gert!”
Gert came to a halt and turned reluctantly to face J’Zar.
“What are you doing? What did you hear?”
Gert couldn’t lose this job. Not only did she need it, but she liked it here. “I don’t understand, ma’am. I mean, I heard speaking, but I wasn’t close enough for my translator to pick it up. I’m sorry if I disturbed your meeting. I was just getting more cleaning supplies from the closet across the hall.”
J’Zar looked at her through narrowed eyes, then shifted her gaze to the rag she was holding. For a few moments, she stood there quietly before finally nodding. “Alright, Gert, but I’m watching you. I expect my servants to stay well away from my meetings.”
“Of course, ma’am. I’m sorry. I will take a different route next time.”
“That would probably be best.” J’Zar smiled. “And I told you to call me J’Zar.”
“I’m sorry, J’Zar. I forgot.”
“Do not worry over it, Gert. It will take some time. Now, I’d like you to go to the market and see if you can find some allar fruit. I heard that they were getting a shipment today.”
“Of course, J’Zar. If there is any to be had, I will find it for you.”
She bowed quickly and scurried off to accomplish her new task. Gert hadn’t been sent to the market before. That wasn’t part of her normal detail, but she didn’t mind. It would be a nice excursion. She also had the feeling that J’Zar was trying to get her out of the house, away from the meeting, but Gert told herself she was just being paranoid.
Still, her mind was buzzing with troubled thoughts as she headed out to the market.
Surely, a woman as sweet and kind as J’Zar couldn’t be involved in slavery? It was illegal, even though those laws weren’t often enforced. J’Zar had a whole household of paid servants. What would she want to get involved in the slave trade for?
As much as she wanted to, Gert couldn’t forget what she had seen. Victor was a slave trader. Why else would J’Zar be meeting with him? And she had heard them talking about an auction. J’Zar had no need to auction off any of her belongings. What else could they possibly be auctioning, other than people?
They had also mentioned a Terran female… and a trap. Could J’Zar still be one of the good guys? Were they setting a trap for the slavers? But what did Victor Ardarman have to do with it? He was definitely not a good guy.
Gert didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to work for someone involved in the slave trade. Quite apart from fearing for her personal safety, she didn’t want to be associated with criminals. That was why she had left the Zalke, looking for a legal, respectable job.
Should she try to investigate more or leave it well enough alone? If she was smart, she would forget what she had seen and heard.
The only problem was that she wasn’t sure that she could…