Authors: Michelle Howard
A World Beyond Novel
By Michelle Howard
Published by Michelle Howard
Copyright © 2015 by Michelle Howard
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This is a work of fiction and is not a reflection or representation of any person living or dead. Any similarity is of pure coincidence.
Books by Michelle
* Honor Bound (Book 1 Warlord Series)
* The Overlord’s Heir (Book 1.5 Warlord Series)
* A King’s Revenge (Book 2 Warlord Series)
* Rise of the Shadow Warriors (Book 3 Warlord Series)
* A Warlord’s Heart (Book 3.5 Warlord Series)
* Project Genesis (Alpha Squad)
* No Reason to Run (A Harmony Novel)
* Mating Urge (Love Without Boundaries anthology)
*Torkel’s Chosen (A World Beyond Book 1)
* Arak’s Love (A World Beyond Book 2)
Sylvia Forrester. Sylvia Forrester. If she said her name over and over she wouldn’t freak. Wouldn’t lose her thin thread of composure. Even as the mantra ran through her head, Sylvie wanted to scream. Cry. Hide. But she didn’t. Instead she kept her eyes on the alien pacing in front of the row of cells, cages more like, where she and the others had been thrown. He was in deep conversation with his partner but she couldn’t understand a word of the garbled language.
Sylvie couldn’t distinguish between the two aliens despite her efforts during the three days of her imprisonment. Both men were bald with bushy, brown eyebrows. Round orbs of gold protruded from sunken eye sockets and pudgy faces made ugly by the slender tubes extending from their ears to their noses.
They wore clothes reminiscent of sci-fi serials. The long sleeve one-piece, blue jumper appeared innocuous, something a maintenance person would wear save for the multitude of gadgets and buttons on the bulky belt around their waist. The brown leather held what appeared to be weapons and her recent experience warned that she didn’t want to be on the other end of the deadly devices.
During their conversation, the first alien kicked at the body lying on the floor. Sylvie swallowed and shifted her gaze further to the right to avoid the sight. The crumpled form of the shuttle pilot remained where he’d fallen after he’d been shot by a blaster as he made the foolish attempt to fight back against their captors. Yulee, as he’d told her to call him, had paid for the effort with his life. Poor man. He’d been an alien as well but one assigned to pilot the shuttle craft when it launched from the belly of the ship carrying them all to a new life.
Sylvie held in her snort. New life. The tiny five-by-five cell she’d been shoved in didn’t resemble in anyway the new life she’d wishfully planned for herself.
The aliens argued in a louder tone, drawing her gaze reluctantly back in their direction. They had the attention of the nine other women in her neighboring cages. Women who’d also signed up for the Singles Program with plans and dreams of a family. Finding that on Earth was no longer as easy as it used to be after a virus killed off most of the male population, leaving ten women to every one man in most countries around the planet.
For years, the news and results had a devastating effect on the very basic culture and civilization of their world. Many women accepted the new way of life, grateful if a man looked at them twice because choices were limited. Others refused to accept this was all they had left, refused to accept the new normal.
Sylvie was among the latter group until the government had released the results of a hidden study. It seemed humans on Earth were compatible with ninety percent of the known alien species on other planets. The public notice had given her hope and caused wide-spread media coverage so fast that Earth enacted protocols to prevent a mass exodus from taking place by all the of age women eager to jump at the opportunity to leave.
As a result, the Singles Program had been developed. Sylvie had signed up as soon as she could and qualified. The program was a blessing to those who could pass the application process. SP also required women to pay a small fee for the service.
. Sylvie spent twenty-thousand dollars to chase a dream that looked like it might never come true now. Not small by any means in her books.
She and the others had been heading for the world Langora and its medieval-looking country, Bristo. They would have been granted automatic citizenship and a tentative job in hopes of finding love in their new home but mere hours into the journey the shuttle had developed electronic trouble. Something about power cells, she vaguely recalled. Yulee had hailed the SP mother ship they’d launched from and the captain had promised to send assistance. Assistance which never arrived. Instead space pirates of some sort in the form of these alien men boarded their ship.
Part of Sylvie’s horrified fascination stemmed from their appearance. These aliens wouldn’t be passing out colored candy and hoping to befriend any of them.
The door to the cargo room slid open and another alien entered. Sylvie stepped further back in her cage until her back bumped the bars. The air pulsed with violence from his arrival and her fellow prisoners obviously sensed the same because a few of the women began to cry. Sylvie shoved her trembling hands beneath her armpits, refusing to join them.
The large male wore navy pants that clung to massive thighs and a black collarless shirt that struggled to contain his broad chest. What unnerved her most were the black curved horns that extended from his temples. Horns! Like many on Earth she accepted the fact that life existed on other worlds. She’d studied her SP packet with the species who were compatible with Earth women and some of them met humanoid standards and some didn’t but none of them…none of them resonated evil like this beast of a man.
The newcomer grunted something to the two tube-faced men, which caused one to jump and run to Yulee. He grabbed the body by the pants legs and dragged the dead weight toward a cylinder connected to the side of the ship. Tube Face hauled Yulee’s limp body and tossed him in the clear container then slapped a red button on the wall near the panel. The lid closed and locked in place. A woosh and rustle filled the cargo area as Yulee’s lifeless body was sucked out and away.
Someone cried out to her left. Sylvie slapped a hand across her mouth to hold in her own dismay as terror slammed her heart into a double rhythm. When the horned alien turned toward her, she fell back against the bars
She lost her breath while in her head she chanted.
. Full lips twisted upward in his tanned face. Black hair fell in disarray about his shoulders.
No. No. No
. Heavy footsteps caused by his thick boots pounded in her direction. Sylvie gripped a single metallic bar behind her as a ball of dread knotted in the pit of her stomach. Sweat broke out on the flesh of her bare arms.
Curved Horns pointed at her when he spoke and the tube faces nodded as pleased grins stretched across their thick lips. All three aliens gathered in a circle mere feet away from her cage and fiddled with thick black watches on their wrists. The horned alien smacked one of the tube faces on the shoulder afterward and they laughed. The laughter was the last thing Sylvie remembered as Curved Horns aimed his weapon in her direction and everything faded in a haze of blurry images.
3 Months Later
“In position.” The words murmured in the communicator at Arak’s ear sent a fresh wave of excitement through him.
The Jutak warriors unit he belonged to had received intel about the Marenians’ plan to eliminate a group of sex slaves they’d been unable to sell. More than likely the bastards wanted to unload what they considered useless cargo before Arak and his fellow Jutak warriors caught up to them.
Over the last few months his three team unit had managed to close down more and more of these illegal sex auctions. Auctions that featured men and women who’d been snatched from their families and home worlds to be sold as exotic toys to others who thought nothing of enslaving innocent people.
“Arak, your point of entry will put you on the top level where we’ve confirmed the slaves are kept. Kyele can circle around and come up from the rear in case you meet any opposition. Faruk and I will provide cover for rapid exit if detected.” Jaron, his team leader, gave the orders in a calm voice.
The calm on a mission was directly opposite the man’s personality when they weren’t working. Jaron had a practical-joker side to him that often got the Enotian into trouble with the others.
“Affirmative.” Arak eased back from the crevice where he and Kyele, who’d also been selected for the rescue, hid. The tiled roof provided the perfect access point to the rickety building.
Kyele hefted his laser blaster in hand and nodded to Arak before fading away into the darkness. Now that was freaky but Arak could hardly complain. Kyele’s silence and love of knives scared any who ran into the Jutak warrior. A plus on these types of missions. Arak was sure the man would reappear right when needed during the op and that was all that mattered. Kyele was one of the best on any of their teams because of his nature. Dangerous and deadly.
The four of them were here on Aultare to rescue Lindsey Ferra, an Earth woman, assumed to be held prisoner in the dilapidated structure. Saving any other sex slaves present would be a bonus. The Marenians were spreading their home practice of keeping and abusing slaves beyond Marenia.
Thankfully, his Unit leader, Torkel, had received information from carefully placed, alliance spies. Critical information which pointed to Lindsey, wife of two important Senate Leaders from Garulax, being held here.
“Sixty seconds until rooftop sensors re-engage. Move it, Arak,” Jaron reminded.
Arak worked quietly but efficiently as he unscrewed the bolts in the steel panel mounted to the roof then slid the heavy weight to the side and eased through the narrow opening. He hooked his ankles for support on an overhead rail pipe mounted to the ceiling. A slight adjustment as he bent from the waist and Arak slid the panel back in place before flipping to land several feet below then crept down the hall, keeping his back to the wall.
According to the detailed plans they’d managed to steal, the building only had two floors and a sub terrain basement. There were four rooms in use on the top floor where the slaves were allegedly housed and an open concept room on the second floor for potential buyers to eye the merchandise. Arak and the others didn’t know what occurred in the basement but he wasn’t eager to find out. The Marenians weren’t known for their compassion or care.
Lights flickered above, adding a hazy gold to the world around him. Arak pulled on his animal senses and his vision heightened instantly. Sticking close to the walls in shadow, he eased down the corridor toward the first doorway. Enhanced vision, thanks to his Argoran half proved to be his advantage when the lights completely winked out seconds later, leaving him in total darkness.
Arak reached the first door and twisted the handle. His gloved hand smothered the slight creak when the jam separated from the wood frame. A muffled thump from the room had him stiffening. He dropped to a crouch, pushed the door open further and rolled inside, aiming for the wall to his left. A laser blast hit where his head had been seconds before, spewing chunks of rock over him.
The low order came from his right. Arak leaped to his feet, weapon aimed and only his core reflexes kept him from firing off a return shot at the two women across the room. He jerked the barrel of his laser toward the ceiling.
“I’m Jutak. I won’t harm you.” He knew he looked a sight in his all black combat gear with multiple weapons strapped to his body.
His nose twitched as the scent of their fear assaulted him. Heavy and cloying, the aroma masked any other details. They stood inches apart dressed in clothing meant to entice, matching blue sheaths of silk held up by a single strap across the shoulder. The garment skimmed their thighs leaving the length of their legs bare. Toes curled into the dirty floor to emphasize the lack of shoes. At the visible evidence of their status as Marenian slaves, Arak growled low in his throat. Anger surged fast and hard.
The woman with the laser glared at him. He thought her hair was brown or something close but it was hard to tell in its matted state. Arak ignored her for the moment. The woman next to her was the one to watch. Her eyes held a spark he’d seen before. A lit fuse waiting to blow. She held an elite Marenian hunting knife in each hand, the handles made of custom carved dark wood fitting her grip with ease. Blood coated the jagged teeth of the blades. At their feet lay the crumpled form of a Marenian, his distinctive black horns jutted from his brows. A pool of blood formed beneath the body. Clearly they’d managed to attack and kill their guard.
“We’re fine. We can rescue ourselves, Mr. Jutak.” The one with the knives made the declaration as she tossed stringy hair over her shoulders, its color indiscernible.
Arak grunted. There wasn’t time to argue the details of who rescued whom. Normally, he would admire the fire flashing in both of their gazes. It meant the Marenians hadn’t broken their spirits. But not in this instance. Right now, he had a time table to fit. He pushed back the hooded mask he wore, hoping that seeing his face would ease them a little. “I’m a Jutak warrior. Jutak’s not my name. Are either of you Lindsey Ferra?”
His team’s top concern on these rescue and run hits was to search for the missing Earth woman who’d been stolen from her husbands.
“No,” the knife wielder snapped before turning to her friend. “Let’s go Sylvie, we don’t need him.”
The brown-haired woman with the laser didn’t hesitate. Her thin shoulders braced as she nodded. “Right, Joni.”
Joni and Sylvie.
Keeping wary eyes on Arak, they walked in his direction and he realized he stood between them and the door. The only exit.
Again, pride at their courage in the face of their circumstances stirred within him. Unwilling to force the matter, Arak stepped to the side to clear the way. He had three more rooms to check and Jaron would take care of these women the moment they crossed the threshold to outside. “Use the stairs. My teammates are around so head straight out and they’ll help you both.”
They were almost passed him. Joni’s lips pinched tight. “We don’t need help.”
They crossed over to the doorway and the brown-haired woman tucked the snub nose mini-blaster behind her back as if he’d attempt to snatch it. She glanced over her shoulders and her gaze narrowed. Arak’s lips curved up—maybe not as vocal as her friend but prepared to back the other woman if needed. He followed them out to the hallway but before they could get too far, he asked, “Where are you from?”
The team would need to know in order to make arrangements for their return home.
Joni held the knives down at her side and didn’t bother to answer. Sylvie glared. “Earth.”
Arak bit back his chuckle. It figured.
Sylvie scuttled after Joni, conscious of the laser she carried in her grip. A laser she had no idea how to use but when she and Joni had attacked their guard it made sense to grab the weapons from him. Her fingers still trembled from almost shooting their potential rescuer when he’d rushed into the room startling her.
“Joni, do you know where we’re going?” Sylvie kept her voice soft as she stayed on the heels of the woman who’d fast become her best friend in this hell hole.
“N-no.” Though brave in front of the soldier who’d confronted them, Joni’s answer wobbled.
Shadows danced all around them, the eerie glow adding to the feeling of menace. The lights flickered on then off and repeated the pattern making it difficult to see. But Sylvie didn’t need to see. She’d traveled this path numerous times in the last few weeks she’d been held here. Weeks that blended together as she bounced from one auction to another.
She’d been sold twice. Sold. Even thinking the word raised the hair on her arms. Sylvie wished she could block those two times from her memory. Or the events which preceded it when her shuttle was taken and she’d been sold to a Marenian. Marenians, she’d later learned after an ear translator implant, were aliens who supported slavery on their planet Marenia and had taken to holding illegal auctions by selling living beings as sex toys to others who wanted rare alien companionship.
The last three months gave new meaning to the word eye-opener. As Sylvie stayed close to Joni’s back, she remembered the euphoria of the moment when she’d received her SP approval letter. Her dreams of family a reality at last. Dreams which were now put on hold thanks to alien lowlifes. Sylvie’s eyes burned with the need for revenge but she swallowed back the negative emotion and continued moving. No time for anger. Anger wouldn’t get her anywhere.
Joni’s words pulled her from her distracted thoughts and Sylvie realized they’d reached one set of stairs. How many times had she and Joni been dragged down these wooden steps to be presented on a stage for sale? Her stomach rolled with the memories. Too many times to count. Men bartering over living beings. She stumbled and had to grab onto the railing for balance.
“Sylvie?” Joni hesitated, concern darkening her amber eyes to sheets of gold as she paused beside her.
“I’m okay,” Sylvie mumbled as she pressed a hand to her middle. “Fine.”
Or would be as soon as they got the hell out of here.
“Are you sure?” Joni’s tone invited confession and highlighted why Sylvie got along so well with her. Joni was the most supportive person she knew. All they’d been through and Joni pushed them to hold on, promising over and over they’d find freedom. Now here they were. Sylvie leaned her weight into the banister and lowered the hand holding the laser.
Anger. Disappointment. Relief. She felt all of it. The Marenians had ruined everything for her. She’d never get back that hope. With no money and no idea how to return home to Earth, Sylvie was at a lost and released the railing to shove her dirt crusted fist into her mouth to stifle the scream of rage bubbling inside. The butt of the laser banged her chin as she choked back the animalistic sound wanting to escape. It wasn’t fair. Wasn’t fair. Sylvie fought back the urge to slide to her knees as all she’d gone through hit her at once.
Soft arms came around her back. Gentle hands pressed her face into the silk of the gowns they’d both been forced to wear. Tears rolled down her cheeks as Joni held her. The storm lasted a minute tops. They didn’t have time for her to lose it. Not if they wanted to get out of here.
Forcing back the horror that their freedom would be snatched away again, Sylvie tried to step away. Joni’s hold tightened around her. When Sylvie glanced up, she caught the sheen of tears glistening in the woman’s eyes as well. She wrapped her arms around her friend. “We’re going to make it. We’ll be fine.”
And they would be. Sylvie had to believe that. This was the closest they’d ever been to escaping and the tears represented relief.
Joni exhaled heavily. “Right. Earth girls one and sucky Marenians five.”
Sylvie snickered. “At least we’re on the score board.”
A small smile curved Joni’s lips as she tossed her matted hair over her shoulder. “Right. Let’s blow this joint.”
They turned, gazes going to the stairway, which led down to the second floor where they’d been paraded in front of buyers time and time again. Sylvie had been bought twice and returned twice. Once by a chamele, a lizard-like alien that changed colors with his mood. The first time he’d tried to have sex with her, Sylvie had kneed him in his exposed genitals as soon as it slid from the pouch below his groin area. He’d turned bright red, pale yellow then sickly green before collapsing on the floor with a groan.
When he’d recovered, Foro the Chamele had immediately taken her to the nearest Marenian base for a refund of the credits he’d paid. For her defiance, Sylvie had received twenty lashes on the bottom of her feet before a guard shoved her into a cell without food for several days.
Her second purchase had mirrored the first. Sylvie had no plans on making it easy for him either. That time, she’d been returned in less than three days and landed in the Marenians’ version of a hospital after being lashed on her feet so bad the split skin swelled and bled.
“That guy said he had people waiting outside.” Sylvie shivered but not in fear when she thought of the dark-haired man who’d burst into their room after they’d managed to kill the guard. Some things couldn’t be ignored despite the circumstances and her flare of attraction toward him was one of those things.