Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime station, 2398 TST
The door at her back opened with a swoosh and Lima turned around sharply, her hands scrambling to catch the sagging towel wrapped around her body. “What the h—” The outrage left her as she locked eyes with Zale.
Blinking slowly, she tried to kick-start her brain. After the crushing CC meeting, where Zale had denied her demands again, rendering her useless in front of her colleagues, Lima had come straight to her room and jumped in the shower. There, under the stream of nearly scalding water, was where Lima felt safe to release the angry tears. Where she could vent her feelings and crumble, then come out cleansed.
“Your Correslink is turned off,” he growled. He looked so angry his chest heaved. His hands trembled as he clenched and unclenched his fists.
She wouldn’t do this. Not now, with nothing but the flimsy towel as armor. “Get out!” Her stomach pitched, but she hoped the force of her glare never wavered and it hid her fear. She’d never seen him so angry. She almost hoped his normal mask of disinterest would slam down over his features. She didn’t know how to deal with this version of Zale, the one unhinged and out of control. Taking a step back, she stammered, “How did you enter my room without permission?”
“Commander privileges,” he explained, voice still angry, words just as biting. “And you didn’t answer my question.”
Question? What question? That was an accusation. As if she had to be available whenever he fancied issuing another order. With every step back, he advanced, his movements sure and predatory, until Lima felt the coldness of the wall pressing against her spine. “That doesn’t give you the right to storm into my room, invade my privacy. This is completely inappropriate, Commander Corvald,” she sneered the last words. With a shiver, she pressed into the wall even more. She almost regretted her words as Zale’s golden eyes darkened even more. She shouldn’t be baiting him.
“Poor rich girl,” he mocked, caging her in as he braced both arms against the wall on either side of her head and leaned forward. Their noses almost touched. “Daddy’s baby girl has come out to play with the big bad wolves. How’s the Red City these days?” he asked, referring to the city of her birth, Rubrum, on Cordus Prata.
Lima’s eyes narrowed, and she clenched her teeth against the sudden need to spit in his face. That may be completely unladylike, but it was appropriate for a prison planet runt like him. She brought her hands up to his chest, trying to push him away, but he seemed made of stone. “Move,” she gritted when he didn’t budge. Why was he doing this to her?
“Still trying to please your father, I bet. Did he choose a pompous asshole for you to marry yet? Or is he still grooming you to take over the family’s empire, keep the Harris-Pratt legacy intact? With your brother playing for the other team, dear old dad can’t do much but turn to his spare—”
The stream of cruel words ended as Lima cracked her palm against his cheek. The slap resonated in the empty room and left a red mark on his skin. And the bastard laughed. He just laughed, before turning back his head to look at her with hate-filled eyes.
“You know nothing, Zale Corvald. I’m no longer a lost girl. You could never draw me as easily into your web again, nor manipulate me as you see fit. I am a Harris-Pratt and I can make you bow—”
His lips crashed down upon hers in a bruising kiss. He forced his tongue inside, and she felt his fingers tangling in her hair, tilting her head to a sharp angle. One where he could continue to take, and plunder, and dictate.
He’d never kissed her like that before. No, his kisses used to be gentle. So gentle, they were almost teasing. His taste was almost the same, but tinged with more darkness. A spicy sample of danger.
Lima felt disgusted at the sharp thrill of excitement Zale’s lips conjured, and before she knew it, she was returning the kiss, losing herself in the challenge he presented. Zale groaned and placed his hands under her ass, pushing her up and encouraging her to wrap her legs around him. Their kiss was messy, nothing but pure animal need. And still, Lima found out it was exactly what she needed. Zale’s fingers curled, digging into her flesh, and Lima moaned, demanding more.
“Commander Corvald, please respond. The Chief Security Officer has issued a black alert. Commander Corvald, please confirm.”
Lima could hear the voice but couldn’t comprehend the words. Zale leaned back, breaking their kiss, and Lima chased his lips for a second before she blinked stupidly up at him.
“Fuck!” he swore, shaking his head. He put her down gently, then turned around, rubbing his hands over his face. Checking his Correslink, he swore again. “I have to go. Stay here. Don’t leave this room.” Then, before she could respond, he continued, “VALID, confirm the black alert. Track Brayden’s location and send it to me. I’ll be in CC shortly.”
“What’s a black alert?” Lima asked, refastening the towel around her body. “What’s happening?” And how can you leave me like this? She never voiced that question, though. He’d made her plenty vulnerable already.
Zale shook his head and strode to the door. “It’s bad. Stay here. And turn on your damn Correslink,” he said before disappearing into the corridor.
“Jerk!” she called at his retreating form, glaring at the metal door that closed a second later. Angry and confused, Lima turned to the closet and dropped her towel.
After she dressed, she turned on the Correslink she’d silenced because she just needed a freaking moment. And saw the alert issued because someone was trapped in the section scheduled for dismantling. The section owned by Leeweather Holdings. Her section.
So, that’s what made Zale lose control. He must have thought she was the one trapped. Aww, the jerk cared. Not that it warmed her jaded heart. Nope. Not one bit.
Zale was not the only one who could go hot and cold from one second to the next.
Snap out of it, Starr. Closing her eyes, Tessa tried to slow down her breathing. She was almost hyperventilating.
Despite what others thought, space was never silent. There was always the hum and the clangs of the consoles, the whoosh of the life-support system, the thrum of the engines, the murmur of countless others trapped inside the small spaces. But now, with the power in the entire section gone (something that never happened, not with the failsafe technology nowadays), the silence was deafening. Tessa could feel the hairs on her arms stand on end. And that prickle of unease gnawing at her insides.
Gaining control over her breathing, even if her heartbeat was a lost cause, Tessa opened her eyes and squinted against the hazy glare of the emergency lighting. She had to find a way out. Think, Starr. She was a frontier girl, after all. She’d been in tight places before and came out fine. This was no different.
Her Correslink, of course. No one could really be stranded with the high-tech available in this part of space. But, weirdly, it wasn’t around her wrist. Dropping to her knees, she patted the area around, and her fingers brushed against the work tablet she carried everywhere. Trying to power it up proved futile. The device was dead.
Fine. No Correslink, no tablet, no way to contact the outside world. Or the station behind the sealed doors. Whatever.
The mystery person, who she was almost sure was a man, must have grabbed her Correslink when he pushed her inside the module. And then trapped her inside. Asshole.
Inhaling, she pushed against the fuzzy panic testing the limits of her logic. She forgot about the automatic warning from before; she forgot about the triggering of the dismantling process; she forgot about the man trying to kill her (why her?); she forgot about the wits she was scrambling to keep.
Her eyes fell on the control pad beside the sealed door. Of course. She just needed to open the door and step into the station. The pad’s screen was as black as her tablet’s. Luckily, it didn’t deter Tessa.
Despite her cluelessness where technology was involved, a door’s control pad was pretty basic, and it wasn’t the first time she’d forced open a door because the automatic control had failed.
She took the bobby pins out of her bun and placed them in her pocket. With a gulp, she vied for patience and started the slow process of removing the pad’s screen to access the wiring behind. She had to use almost all of her pins because they bent too easily, but she finally succeeded.
With a cry of victory, she grabbed the red-blue wire that she knew would open the door, and pulled. Nothing. Putting more strength into the move, she pulled until the wire broke out completely. And still, the door didn’t budge.
“Hello?” came a muffled voice from behind the thick door.
“God. Yes! I’m in here!” she yelled back, pounding her fists on the metal for good measure. “Help! I can’t open the door!”
“Tessa? Shit, baby girl. Is that you?”
Groaning, Tessa hung her head. Of course, he would be the one to find her. “Yes,” she replied, much more quietly. “It’s me.”
“What the fuck are you doing in there?”
“Just get me out, please,” she replied, and she hated how weak her voice sounded. She hated the sobs clogging her throat, or the sniffles that escaped.
“Shit. Okay, baby girl. It’s going to be all right. Are you hurt? Can you open the door?”
“I’m fine. But I can’t open the door, and I tried… I-I removed the screen and pulled the wires from behind, and it still didn’t open.” She sounded more frantic with each word she uttered.
“Okay. Let me see if I can open the door from this side…”
Brayden was the Chief Security Officer, a position that matched his brawny looks, but Tessa knew he’d earned it because of his cybersecurity skills. The knowledge comforted Tessa, and she allowed a modicum of hope to flare inside her chest. She had to tell him everything, if worst were to happen. “Brayden, listen to me. I thought Lima Harris-Pratt was coming this way, and I came inside the section to check. But when I tried to leave, there was someone else here, waiting by the door. I couldn’t see his features because he was wearing a mask. He pushed me inside and then locked the door, Brayden. And I’m pretty sure he started the disengaging process. Do you understand? This was deliberate. There’s a saboteur on our station.”
“Shit, Tessa.” Then, after a pause, “I hear you. How do you know it was a man?”
“His physique. He was of average height but with wide shoulders.” She breathed in slowly through her nose, then asked, “Any luck?”
Based on the mumbled curses she could barely hear through the thick slab of metal, she supposed the answer was negative. After a second, she heard Brayden issue the black alert and comming for reinforcements. Sliding down with her back against the door, Tessa hugged her knees to her chest and dropped her face on top of them.
What a stupid death this would be. Growing up on a frontier planet, Tessa overcame the fear of death early on. The crops domes were old and crumbling, and the life-support failed more often than not. If you didn’t get out in time, you were dead. And if you had no crop, you starved to death.
Not to mention the tremendous risks the asteroid miners faced daily. Her father died that way, deep inside a space rock. The company hadn’t even bothered to retrieve his body; so, they had no one to bury.
“Baby girl? Tessa?” Brayden asked, voice bright, in contrast to the underlining tone of defeat.
“Yeah,” she mumbled, before scrambling to her feet as she realized his voice came from inside the section. “What? From where are you speaking?”
“I couldn’t open the door. But I fixed the intercom. And stopped the dismantling process.” A scratching sound drowned his words. “Also, I commed Maze. He’s on his way with Zale and the rest.” This time, his voice echoed.
“I’m having trouble hearing you, Brayden.”
“That’s because I’m in a maintenance tunnel. Hang tight, baby girl. I’m coming.”
“What? No! Stop, Brayden. There’s no sense in both of us being stuck in here.” Never mind her embarrassment at being the damsel in distress. She would never live it down.
He didn’t answer. She could hear his occasional curses and mumbles, and his breathing over the intercom, which he kept open. A gesture Tessa appreciated, as it made her feel less alone. A few minutes later, there was a clamor coming from deeper into the section, and Tessa ran in that direction, full-speed.
She hated to admit it, but knowing there was someone coming for her made her stupidly happy. She crashed into Brayden just as he was dropping from a maintenance shaft.
“Easy, sweetheart,” he said, chuckling. “You okay?” His arms that came around her dropped, and he pushed her gently a step back to take stock of any injuries.
“I’m fine,” she repeated for the thousandth time, rolling her eyes and hiding a grin. Then she slapped his shoulder. “This was a stupid move, Brayden. I told you not to come.”
Shrugging, he ignored her question as he looked at their surroundings. He let out a low whistle. “This isn’t creepy at all,” he surmised the conditions. “Okay. Come on. Show me the way to that door. We need to see if they made progress on the other side. And how come you don’t have your Correslink?”
Blinking at the rapid pace he switched gears with, Tessa led him down in the requested direction. “He must have taken it off of me.”
“Yeah. When he pushed me back inside.”
“Motherfucker.” Brayden scowled and blew air sharply out through his nose. “If I ever get my hands on him…”
They halted when the section shuddered again, and complete darkness descended. Even the emergency lights went out. After a few seconds, just long enough to worsen the panic she was feeling, the emergency lights came back on.
“Something’s happening. Come on.” Brayden started jogging, and she followed, steering him in the right direction. “What’s going on?” he asked as soon as he reached the intercom.
“I tried to force open the door with one of my con algorithms,” Maze’s voice answered. “Triggered a failsafe in the process. Now the e-screen is dropping. But don’t worry, man. I’ll have you out before you become space steak.”
“Man,” Brayden groaned. “I knew your code was shit.”
“Hey!” Maze retorted, his voice coming out as half-offended and half-amused. “Shut up! Let me work.”
“What’s an e-screen?” she whispered, looking at Brayden.
“It’s the stuff keeping the radiation out, and the inner temperatures… in.”
“And it’s dropping? How can you two joke like that when we’re about to die? Space steak?” Tessa yelled. “Oh, my god! I’m not ready to die!” Her throat constricted until she felt like she couldn’t draw another breath in. Bracing her palms against her knees, Tessa leaned forward and tried to command her body to breathe.
Clearing his throat, Maze said, “That was a joke. You’ll freeze before the radiation will affect your body. So… space popsicle is more accurate. Spasicle?”
“Maze, shut up,” Brayden ordered before kneeling in front of her. “Hey, Tessa, baby girl. Look at me.” Shaking her head, Tessa tried to push him away while wheezing. “No. Look into my eyes. Come on, sweetheart.”
Tessa’s eyes connected with his icy green ones and she held the stare until he coached her out of the panicked state. When she was breathing normally again, she realized she was in his lap, her back to his chest, and his arms were around her, holding tight. “Thanks,” she whispered, swallowing the embarrassment she was now feeling. Some frontier girl she was.
“It’s okay. Hey,” he smoothed one palm over her blushing cheek. “No need to be embarrassed. I’m not the one freaking out right now simply because you did it first. I’m not ready to die either.”
“Why did you come inside, Brayden? Why go to all this trouble for me?” Tessa asked him seriously.
The glints of amusement died from his eyes, and he turned just as serious. “How could I not?”
Grimacing, she pulled away from him. “That’s not an answer. That’s just a question to my own.” Their moment in the corridor from earlier that morning felt like a million years ago. Still, Tessa replayed it, looking for clues that would explain his behavior.
“Come on. We can stay here and wait for Prince Charming to open the door, or we can find the control room and see if we can get out on our own. Either way, we’re running out of time. Get up, Tessa.” It became clear she shouldn’t question him any further, judging from the guarded set of his shoulders.
Traipsing around the section was the last thing she wanted to do now, in the last minutes of her life. But she got up and followed him. At the center of the section, they found the control room with its door sealed shut.
Undeterred, or probably needing to vent some of his anger, Brayden bashed it open. Stepping inside, they found it completely trashed, every console and piece of equipment destroyed.
“Well, there goes our small hope,” Tessa sighed. They now relied solely on Maze and the others to get them out of this situation.
“This is weird. I was present for the official inventory of the entire section before you guys arrived and everything was fine. Who would do this? And why?” Brayden asked, looking around.
“And why targeting me?” she added, raising an eyebrow. “Was I a victim of opportunity or…”
“Marco!” Maze’s voice sounded from down the corridor.
Tessa exhaled a huge breath as Brayden scrambled to yell back, “Polo!”. Then, stepping closer to Tessa, he picked her up and whirled her in his arms. “We’re saved!”
Chuckling, Tessa nodded. Pressing a palm to his cheek, she looked him dead in the eyes. “Thank you, Brayden Connaway.”
After a breath, he gave her a blinding smile. “Not too bad for a jerk, right?” Then, more serious, he whispered, “And don’t worry, Tessa-Theresa Starr. We’ll find whoever is responsible for the attempt on your life. And when we do, I’ll destroy him. That’s a promise.”
And that’s how Tessa’s stupid little heart began beating only for him. Which, knowing his tendencies, was a terrible idea. One that would lead to nothing but heartbreak and tears.
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