Book Three, Draax Series
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Kelly
I was very good at not being noticed. When you lived on the street and your life depended on blending in, you got real good at it, real fast. Even when I should have stuck out like a sore thumb on the docking bay, I didn’t. No one noticed me. Sure, the docking bay was busy, there must have been over a dozen Draax ships alone, not to mention the numerous havoc cruisers waiting to take off, but still… I was the only one in the loading area not wearing a uniform.
I zipped up my hoodie to my chin and made sure not a strand of my long blonde hair was showing. I really should have just cut it short, instead of constantly hiding it under hats or hoods, but I was stupidly vain about it. Even when it was stringy and dirty like it was right now.
Not my fault. The homeless shelters had been full the last few days and I’d spent each night huddled in a damn alley under a literal cardboard box wondering if this would be the night I froze to death. Winters in Iowa were no joke. Plenty of us lowers froze to death every winter. Hell, I’d almost frozen to death last winter. If I hadn’t found that land vehicle to break into, I would have been a goner.
I leaned against the towering stack of shipping containers, keeping my head down and studying the Draax ships that lined the bay. Which one was most likely to have some gallberry juice on board? I mean, they would all have a little, but I needed a big score.
I’d found out two days ago that Richie Bulchanini had put a price on my head. A steep one. The only way to avoid being killed was bringing him juice. A lot of it. Even then, I put my odds at survival around fifty/fifty. One did not fuck with Richie. Not if they wanted to avoid being buried in a shallow grave.
So, why did you do it? You knew this would happen and you still gave her the juice instead of bringing it to Richie.
I ignored my inner voice. It knew why I’d done it. I knew why I’d done it. We didn’t need to fucking discuss it.
Maybe you should just forget all of this, grab one of those havoc cruisers and get the fuck out of Iowa. Go somewhere warm like Mexico. Richie would never find you there.
It was tempting. There were plenty of cruisers to choose from. But boosting a cruiser wasn’t a one-woman job. It required at least three people. There was no way in hell I could disable the tracking device, override all six of the passcodes, and pilot the ship before the cruiser’s alarms went off and alerted every single person on the docking bay to what I was attempting to do.
I swiped a hand down my grubby jeans. For a moment, I was overwhelmed by my sorrow for Torra and the rest of the gang. It was almost two years since they’d gone to prison, but they’d been the closest thing I had to family and it was still a kick to the gut to think about them.
I heard voices and shrank into the shadow of the shipping containers. I suppressed my urge to cough. I’d developed a nasty cough in the last week, and it was getting to the point where I’d need to steal juice for myself.
Two dock bay workers walked by, arguing good naturedly about whose turn it was to go on break. I held my breath, keeping my slender body completely still as they passed by the shipping containers without glancing my way.
When they were gone, I released my breath, coughed into the crook of my elbow to muffle the sound, and studied the Draax ships again. The biggest one would be my best bet, I decided. Not only were the odds higher of more gallberry juice being on the bigger ships, but the workers had left the cargo hold open after refueling the ship. I could walk right in, find the juice, and walk out. Easy pickings.
No, not easy pickings. They left the cargo hold open because the Draax are returning soon. Which means the risk of getting caught is higher.
True, but I’d been honing my skills as a thief for years. I was small and skinny and quick. I wouldn’t get caught.
Also true. But considering what the alternative was, I didn’t see how I had much choice. I’d gotten myself into this mess and now I needed to get myself out of it. It’s not like I had anyone else to turn to.
I wanted to feel sorry for myself, but I pushed it aside. Now was not the time for a round of self pity. I had a mess to clean up.
I studied the ship, looking for any movement around the cargo hold. I didn’t know for certain that the Draax hadn’t returned to it. For all I knew, they could be in the ship, preparing it for take off.
Pick another ship, Ellis. This one is too dangerous.
Yeah, it really was. It had the symbol for Draax royalty etched into its shiny metal. Stealing gallberry juice was a serious crime, I could only imagine how many more years would be tacked on to a prison sentence if it was stolen from Draax royalty.
The icy wind brushed across my face, numbing my cheeks and making my eyes water. I blew on my hands to warm them, studying the open space between the shipping containers and the Draax ship.
It was further than I liked, but it looked like I’d gotten lucky and a shift change was happening. In another ten minutes or so, the bay would be much busier. I had to go now or –
A searing pain behind my left ear dropped me to my knees. I threw my arm over my mouth, muffling my groan of agony. The pain swelled, black roses bloomed at the edge of my vision, and everything went blurry. I curled up on my side, my hand pressed against the side of my head, bile rising in my throat, as I waited to either pass out or die.
Slowly, second by agonizing second, the pain diminished. My vision returned and, my stomach churning, I stared at the shipping containers next to my head. My heart was hammering in my chest, sweat slicked my entire body, and the urge to vomit was still powerful.
I swallowed down the bitter bile and slowly sat up, leaning back against the containers as I tried to slow my breathing.
Fuck, that was a bad one.
I rubbed gingerly behind my ear. I could feel the bulge of the translator just below the skin. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t supposed to feel it at all. But that’s what happened when you had Draax translators implanted by a guy named Emilio who worked out of a one room apartment infested with cockroaches and mold growing on the walls.
I took a few more deep breaths. I’d had the ear and throat translators for almost two years, and they’d been instrumental in helping me score gallberry juice to sell on the black market. Sure, the Draax weren’t supposed to sell us the juice but there were plenty of them who did. They loved sex and with no female Draax left to bang, they were all over us human females. Myself, I didn’t understand the risk of going to prison for life just for a few rounds of hide the salami, but to be fair, I was more interested in not starving to death then getting my hump on.
But trying to pantomime a bargain with them for their magical healing juice got real old, real fast. So, I’d had the translators installed inside my skull and my throat. Being able to understand and talk to the Draax made it a hell of a lot easier to bargain with them.
Especially since they never wanted to bargain with me at first. With my hair hidden, my narrow hips, and the way I bound my small tits, I could pass for a boy and often did. I deliberately kept my tits hidden and dressed in baggy men’s clothing. It was safer on the streets if they thought you were a guy. But even if they didn’t mistake me for a boy, the Draax had no interest in bargaining for sex with my skinny ass. They liked the curvy girls who had tits for days. Luckily, I had a partner who the Draax drooled over.
I did the bargaining with my second-rate translators. Bailey did the fucking.
It was a good arrangement, mutually benefiting for both of us. I arranged to get the juice from the Draax, Bailey showed him the time of his life in the bedroom, I sold the juice on the black market, and me and Bailey split the profits.
It was perfect.
Until Bailey decided to make a little extra cash on the side and help Big Steve with a job. A job that went wrong. Horribly wrong.
I closed my eyes, this time the nausea in my belly less to do with the lingering pain in my head and more to do with how Bailey had looked once Big Steve had finished beating the crap out of her.
She’d been close to death when I’d forced the gallberry juice down her throat. I’d spent a few tense nights huddled with her in a dirty motel room, forcing her to swallow sips of juice every half hour until she stopped coughing up blood and screaming every time she moved. By the time our limited funds ran out and we were kicked out of the motel, Bailey could walk again, and I had a price on my head.
I rubbed at the translator again. Bailey had immediately called home. Not even her love for fucking the Draax – and boy, did she love fucking them – was enough to make her stay. Her near-death experience had convinced her that living with her controlling mother was better than trying to survive on the street. She’d told me to do the same. Told me Richie would never find me living in the suburbs and it was my only chance. She was right. But I couldn’t go back. Even if I’d wanted to, they’d never take me back. Not after what I did.
There was another pulse of pain and I steeled myself, clenching my teeth and digging my fingers into my thighs. Thankfully, it didn’t worsen, and I hissed out a breath. Something had gone wrong with the translator and I needed to get it out of my head before it killed me.
Too bad Emilio was dead.
I stood up, my knees shaking and the urge to vomit still lingering despite the pain easing off. I was sweating profusely, and I was pretty sure I had a fever. Still, I had to move. I needed some juice to take back to Richie and with my too-thin body, I’d never convince a Draax to trade some juice for a little playtime in the sack with me. They were desperate for sex but apparently not that desperate.
Stealing it was my only chance.
I tightened the straps of my backpack, straightened my back, and walked briskly across the open area of the docking bay. The key was to look like you belonged here. To act like it was your right to be walking across the docking bay toward a Draax royalty ship with the intention of stealing every last drop of gallberry juice.
Sweat slid down my back despite the cold air and the area behind my left ear was starting to throb dully. Shit. That was new. Normally there was nothing until I got felled by the occasional stabbing pain. I really needed to find someone to get the fucking thing out of my head.
I was almost to the cargo hold now and I resisted the urge to look around to see if anyone was watching. It would only make me look guilty. Instead, I marched right up the ramp like I owned the goddamn thing, not releasing my pent-up breath until I was in the ship.
“Holy shit. It worked,” I said before coughing.
I couldn’t help but be delighted with myself.
Yeah, great, it worked. You still need to find some juice on an alien ship, steal it, and get the fuck out of the docking bay without being caught. Save your self-congratulations for later, idiot.
I studied the cargo area. It was bare with no containers that might hold gallberry juice. I jogged over to the door that led to the interior of the ship and hit the button. The door slid open and I stepped into the medium-sized room. There was a long narrow table bolted to the middle of the floor, a row of three seats bolted to the left wall next to a metal cabinet, and what looked like a storage area with a narrow door against the right wall.
Best of all, a grey shipping container was on the floor next to the table.
“C’mon, lady luck, cut me a break, would you?” I said as I knelt beside the container. I flipped it open and my eyes widened. “Holy shit.”
I froze and looked around. I’d been too loud and even with the doors closed, if there was anyone else on the ship, they might have heard me. I strained to hear even the smallest noise. When there was only silence, I slipped my backpack off and set it on the floor beside me.
I lifted one of the bottles out of the container and stared at it. The pink liquid shone in the bright overhead lights. I’d never tried gallberry juice, but I knew it supposedly tasted a little like strawberries. I’d always wanted to try it, but it was too valuable to waste on me when there was nothing physically wrong.
But this time? This time I was taking a fucking bottle for myself. It would help get rid of my stupid cough and hopefully heal whatever the hell the fucked-up translator was doing to my brain.
“I’m gonna be rich,” I whispered and then stuffed the bottle into my backpack before reaching for a second. There were two dozen bottles in the container. I could probably fit about a dozen into my backpack. Still, even just a dozen would be more than enough to get me the fuck out of Iowa and start a new life. Somewhere hot with a beautiful beach and a crashing blue ocean. I’d never seen the ocean before.
I grabbed another bottle and stuffed it in beside the first. I was reaching for the third when the hollow thud of footsteps in the cargo hold reached my ears. I froze, my brain screaming at me, before I snatched up the lid of the shipping container and notched it back into place.
I scanned the room desperately. I couldn’t go further into the ship. It would just be harder to get out without them seeing me. As the footsteps grew closer, I sprinted toward that narrow door, yanking it open and peering inside. Like I suspected, it was a small storage space that, thank fucking God, was empty.
I squeezed myself into the space and eased the door shut, just as the door to the room slid open. I breathed shallowly as male laughter filled the space.
“Galan, you worry too much. We will be home well before the storm.”
My breath lodged in my throat when a deep voice spoke directly outside of my hiding spot.
“You worry too little, Krey. Does he not, Sigan?”
A little shiver went down my spine. I was in deep fucking trouble, was now really the time to be thinking about how sexy that voice was?
The third Draax’s response was too low to hear. Or maybe I just couldn’t hear it over the pounding of my heartbeat. Fuck, I needed to get off this ship before they left Earth.
Stay cool, Ellis. Stay cool. They’ll go further into the ship. The minute that door closes behind them, you sprint for the cargo hold, lower the door and get the fuck off the ship.
“Sigan,” that low and sexy voice was speaking again, “are you not joining us?”
“No. I will sit back here. It is too crowded with all three of us.”
My heart stopped. It just fucking stopped in the middle of a beat and two seconds later, kicked back in. I was trapped. He wasn’t leaving and I was trapped. What the fuck did I do?
Sit back and enjoy your free trip to Draax?
I groaned inwardly as the doors to the inner ship slid open and then closed. I listened carefully. Maybe the one named Sigan had decided to join them after all. The creak of the seat as he sat quickly killed my hope.
Adrenaline rushed through my body as the throbbing behind my ear grew steadily worse. I’d never even left Iowa before and now I was about to fly to freaking outer space?
I was one hundred percent fucked.