It was supposed to be a delivery run… How did it turn into a prison break?
All Mercy had to do was deliver her cargo and go. Now she’s got a bunch of irate aliens on her tail and a hot-as-Helios escaped prisoner in her cargo bay who insists she is his. She’s too old for this crap, and she keeps telling herself she’s too old for him, too. But his arguments and his… assets are very convincing.
If they’re going to survive this intergalactic crisis, she’s going to need a plan… and her hot, horned, and handsome alien passenger is going to need some clothes.
**Buckle up. This sci-fi romance contains an alien with fur, fangs, horns, and a very possessive attitude when it comes to the woman he’s claimed for his own.
Chapter One – Rage
The guards tossed Rage through the door with no care for how he landed, which meant his head slammed into the floor so hard he saw stars. By the time his vision cleared, the door to his cell had slammed shut, leaving him in total darkness. Not that he needed to see to know his surroundings intimately. He’d been here many times.
The isolation wing. Again.
He didn’t try to get up. The effect of the stun weapons they’d hit him with hadn’t worn off yet. If he attempted to move before they were gone, he’d only make the recovery time longer, and it was painful enough as it was.
The cell was barely long enough for him to lie flat on the floor and high enough that he could reach the ceiling by stretching out his hands while standing. One long wall had a narrow platform built into it that could be used as either a bench or a bed. He only fit on it if he slept on his side and didn’t move much, so he normally slept on the floor. He’d been here often enough to know the routine, and so did the vermin that lived in this part of the complex. They’d learned long since that if they didn’t disturb him, he’d refrain from tearing their heads off and leaving their corpses as a warning to the others.
A small sink and sanitation area sat on the back wall but nothing else of note. Certainly nothing that could be used as a weapon. The verexi had learned that lesson years ago. Rage and the rest of his clan were dangerous all on their own. If given access to anything that could be used as a weapon, the results were… messy.
He grinned a little, knowing that no one could see him right now. His captors would turn on the light once he was on his feet. Until then, he enjoyed the respite from constant surveillance. He’d only allow himself this short time to acknowledge pain while he was hidden, shielded by darkness with no chance they could see his expression. He would never give the scrawnies that satisfaction. Never. It was the only win he could claim in a lifetime of losses.
As he basked in the anonymous darkness, he reflected on his current situation. The escape attempt had failed, but he’d managed to spend some time exploring and adding to his knowledge of the area beyond their cells. They’d brought him down, eventually. They always did, but that’s when things had changed. This time, the beating they gave him had been almost perfunctory. Almost. He was still going to feel like a tenderized piece of meat when the stun wore off and he could feel his limbs again. They usually focused their blows on areas where he was temporarily numb, leaving him in anticipation of the pain even before it began. It was one of their favorite petty torments, but they’d barely bothered this time. If he didn’t know better, he might suspect they’d grown tired of punishing him, but years of abuse had torn away any hope he had of finding sympathy or mercy from his captors. Something else was going on, and change was never good. Not in this place. Still, he’d be more concerned if they hadn’t beaten him at all. Kindness always came at a high price.
When the pain started, he rolled onto his stomach and pressed his face against the cold metal floor. His muscles twisted and writhed beneath his skin as neurons fired and nerve endings sang an aria of agony. He managed to shove a fist into his mouth to muffle any sound that might escape from between his gritted teeth. This cycle of pain—and then rebellion followed by more pain—was all he knew. And it would continue until the day he escaped from this hellish place or died trying.
He didn’t want to die, though. Death would be an escape for him, but only for him. If he was killed, his brothers would still be imprisoned. Worse, one of them would have to take his place as the lead troublemaker. He suspected Mayhem would take over the job of pushing boundaries and making himself the target of any punishments as he continued to search for a way out.
He didn’t want that role to fall to anyone else. Mayhem was strong and a good friend—one of the few he’d been allowed to see from time to time.
Once the fire in his muscles stopped, Rage rose to his feet, keeping his eyes half-closed to protect them from what came next. The lights came on, flooding the space with stark white light so bright it hurt his eyes. The scrawnies did it on purpose, the petty bastards.
He rose to his feet with a snarl of anger, flicking up two fingers on each hand in an obscene gesture he’d seen some of the low-level staff make when their superiors’ backs were turned. Then he stretched out his aching muscles, making every motion fluid and easy despite the lingering pain of his beating. He would never show weakness when they were watching.
Once he’d finished his stretching routine, he moved over to the sink, letting the tepid water trickle into his cupped hands. He splashed it on his face to wash away any traces of blood. No glass was in the cell, but someone had bolted a plate of well-polished metal to the wall above the sink. He could see his reflection well enough to note the swelling of his cheek and the cut above one eyebrow that ran parallel to one of his brow markings. It would heal quickly. They always did.
Then he saw it. The real damage. Fuck. One of his horns was cracked. The part that curled around his ear and framed his jaw sported a new, ragged line longer than his thumb. He gathered more water into his hand and poured it over the damaged area. It was an instinctive action, one they all seemed to share. Each time one of them broke a horn or had one mutilated by their verexi captors, they all sought to soak the area in water. It worked too. Given enough moisture and time, the horn would heal itself. If there was another way to fix the damage, none of them knew what it was. Most of what they knew came from their captors, either through their instructional sessions or by watching the inane entertainment programs broadcast to their cells as a reward for good behavior. The rest was provided, in secret, by the single friend he had found in this hellish place—an android named Bysshe.
Bysshe was the unofficial liaison between the fa’rel and their captors. The android did what he could to help them, somehow managing to keep that help a secret from the verexi while also finding ways to circumvent his programming. Rage didn’t understand how that worked, really. Programs, machines, and technology were beyond him. It was enough to know that Bysshe existed. The how didn’t matter.
Bysshe was an ally. He relayed messages between prisoners, helped in small ways, and tried to hide any transgressions to prevent or delay punishment from the verexi. He’d helped guide them when they were younger and still allowed to be together. Now that they were separated, Bysshe was the only connection they had to each other.
Rage’s musings were interrupted by the soft tread of footsteps outside his cell door. The wall was solid, but he didn’t need to see to know who was there. No one else moved like Bysshe. He was built to mimic a different species than the verexi. Shorter, stockier, and far less delicate, he’d taken blows that would have crippled or killed even the hardiest of the scrawnies.
“You are awake,” Bysshe said in his flat, neutral voice.
They fell into the familiar pattern. Bysshe recited his latest infractions in the stiff, formal language the verexi loved while Rage grunted at all the right times. While that went on, they had a very different conversation in the soft, subvocal undertones their jailors couldn’t detect.
“How long will I be here this time?” Rage asked.
Bysshe answered after a long pause. “The rest of your life.”
Rage felt a stab of foreboding, like an icy blade burrowing deep into his skin. “And how long will that be?”
Another silence followed, this one longer. Rage prowled the boundaries of his tiny cell as he waited for an answer.
“You are scheduled for termination.”
The words hit him like another stun ray, numbing his limbs the same way they had during his failed escape attempt this morning. Rage went still, his hands flexing and claws extending without conscious thought.
Why now? He had been doing this for years—testing every part of this prison and looking for a way out. It was the only recreation he had. It was the focus of his life. Why were they punishing him now?
Bysshe’s voice went as dry as dust as he subvocalized, “I was not given that information.”
In his normal voice, clipped and flat, he said, “Subject One. I have been instructed to inform you of your coming termination. You are advised to reflect on your life so far in order to prepare you for the next one. May the All-Seeing Ones have mercy on your soul.”
With his next breath Bysshe added another message, this one spoken so softly Rage almost missed it. “I am sorry.”
Rage froze, only a lifetime of practice keeping his expression neutral as he heard his fate. He wanted to throw back his head and howl in defiance. The dark fury that had led to his naming boiled up inside him, tinting his world red and urging him to tear this place down around the verexi’s pointy ears. If he did that, though, he’d give away too much. They would be watching right now, observing everything he did, every breath, every motion. If he gave them what they wanted, they would know. If the verexi ever learned just how dangerous their experiments were, they’d kill him and all his brothers. He wouldn’t let that happen.
He sheathed his claws and pushed out a breath through a throat that felt too tight. Then he drew himself up to his full height and nodded once before raising his eyes to the nearest camera. When he spoke, his words were twisted by a low snarl of pure fury. “I will be ready.”
Bysshe scuffed his boot across the floor outside. To those listening, it would not mean anything, but to Rage, it was a warning. It meant be careful. Be ready.
Ready for what? He didn’t know.
In his normal voice, he asked, “And the others? Do the scrawnies intend to punish them as well? They have done nothing wrong.”
“You are the only one to be terminated.” Bysshe’s voice dropped into the subvocal tones no one else could hear. “For now.”
Rage’s anger rose up again, bitter and seething. They were all running out of time. The fa’rel had been created for a singular purpose—to become the verexi’s army. Too frail to fight on their own, the scrawnies had been subjugated by most of the other races at one time or another. They were too weak to survive, yet somehow they had. It was more proof that the universe was a place of cruelty and fucking chaos.
He and his brothers were lab-born test subjects, and the tests had all resulted in failure. Despite the torturous training, experimental surgeries, and other hellish alterations to their physical and mental health, all the fa’rel still had free will. They would not obey orders blindly nor risk their lives because they were instructed to. They would never be the mindless killing machines their creators had envisioned… and that meant they were a liability. The day the risks outweighed the rewards, the scrawnies would terminate the project… and the fa’rel.
“I appreciate the information. I will be ready.” Rage spoke the words aloud, but he knew Bysshe would understand the double meaning. He wasn’t ready to die. He was ready to do whatever it took to escape this place… and somehow find a way to rescue the others.
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