Read Atrophy Online

Authors: Jess Anastasi

Tags: #sci-fi, #sci-fi romance, #forbidden love, #Jess Anastasi, #SFF, #Select Otherworld, #romance, #Entangled, #futuristic


BOOK: Atrophy
2.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

No one on Erebus escapes alive…

Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He’s
. When the ship
lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape…only to find himself face to face with the captain’s undeniably gorgeous sister.

Zahli Sherron isn’t planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually
him. Sure, he’s sexy as every kind of sin, but he’s no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew…even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself.

Table of Contents

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Jess Anastasi. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at

Select Otherworld is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Robin Haseltine

Cover design by Louisa Maggio

Cover art from iStock

ISBN 978-1-63375-444-7

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition December 2015

For Catherine (aka Cafrine)

Thank you, because without Rian, the universe would be a much duller place.

BCIS forever.

Chapter One

Onboard the Imojenna, somewhere in void-space

o, tell me how we’re not going to explode this time?” Zahli Sherron grabbed onto the back of her brother’s chair, the wail of multiple warning alarms and urgent flash of red emergency lights cutting right through her skull until her head throbbed.

If it weren’t for the fact she knew the
was just a ship of mechanical parts, she would have sworn the old girl had a mind of her own. One that occasionally tried to kill them.

Dizzying weightlessness pulled at her as internal gravity failed, and she held tighter to the back of the captain’s chair. That was all they needed—one more malfunction added to the impressive list of utilities already flat-lining. If the heat was anything to go by, environmentals had failed for the fifth time this month.

Rian slammed a fist against his console. “Come on you fat assed, lazy whore!”

“You know she always gets into a mood when you call her names.” Gravity returned and Zahli’s knees jarred when her feet thumped back down to the floor.

“I wouldn’t have to call her names if she’d cooperate once in a while. Why aren’t you belted in?” Rian glanced over his shoulder at her and wiped at the sweat running down the side of his face. Her brother turned his attention back to the display screen across the main viewport as data flashed, warning about the impending depressurization of the cargo bay from a hull breech. “Not the Grigorian liquor, you crotchety bitch!”

Automated full ship lock down and venting of cargo bay in thirty seconds
,” the monotone voice of the

Frecking great
. When the last lockdown had sectioned up the
, the bridge hadn’t opened afterward with the rest of the ship, and it’d taken almost an entire rotation to override the command. She’d thought it kind of funny at the time because she’d been on the
. Next time Rian tried to buy hull sections from a dodgy parts dealer on some backwater moon, a slap upside the head should remind him not to bother.

Not wanting to do any ceiling-surfing if gravs shut off again, Zahli fell into one of the emergency seats and raked the safety straps across her chest while the ship rumbled and shook as though it’d break apart at any second.

“Lianna, do something. That’s two months’ worth of currency about to be vacuumed into void-space.” The glass, wood, and stone beads Rian wore in a thick band around his right wrist clinked against the crystal display as his hand shifted over the screen.

In the co-pilot’s chair, Lianna Mackenzie leaned forward against her seat harness, attention focused on the display in front of her. “The only way I can stop it is to shut off hyper-engines and drop us out of void-space.”

Oh no
. Anxiety roiled through Zahli’s stomach like she’d eaten a plate of bad replicated chicken. She tilted to the side and tried to see around Rian’s big head, but couldn’t quite make out the navigational data. “We can’t just drop out of void-space. Where the hell are we?”

“Twenty seconds to vacuum and counting,” Lianna reported.

“Just do it, pull us out.” Rian swiped the information from his screen and tabbed up an open comm channel to the rest of the ship. “All hands, lock it down. Emergency drop out in fifteen seconds.”

“Have I mentioned today how much I hate you, Rian?” Zahli closed her eyes and started counting down to the last possible second until she could hold her breath.

Last time they’d performed an emergency drop out of void-space, she’d spent half an hour after chucking up her breakfast. Only slightly better than the two hours she’d spent bringing up her dinner the time before that. She hooked her hands around the harness crisscrossing her chest, her breath too short already. She frecking hated this emergency procedure more than just about anything in the universe. Trying to take her mind off it, she focused on the familiar hum of the
engines on hyper-drive, the tinkling of Rian’s beads as he worked to keep the ship together, Lianna tapping a fingernail on her crystal display, and, in the background, the clanking, grating noise that signaled something wasn’t quite right with their old Nirali class ship.

“Six seconds to go. Is everyone locked down?” Lianna’s voice cut through all the other sounds, and Zahli tightened her hold on the straps until her knuckles ached.

“They’ll have to be.” Rian answered. “Take us out, Lianna.”

Zahli blew out a hard breath as hyper-drive engines were shut off cold. The
vibrated and shuddered at a sharp frequency, bucking and clanking like a vessel on an uncontrolled entry. Zahli felt the pulsation aching through every cell in her body, as the inertial-dampeners attempted to cope with the extreme decrease in speed. If the inertial-dampeners failed they’d all end up splattered into nothingness, their bodies torn apart by opposing forces. She’d heard of it happening on ships in better condition than theirs. Gritting her teeth, she waited for normality to kick back in, the pain making it feel like forever when only a second or two passed.

At last she managed to gasp in a breath and everything settled back to where it should have been. The only evidence of their screaming plunge out of void-space was the ringing in her ears, slight burning in her limbs, and the way her brain was spinning inside her skull.

Then came the nausea, tearing up her insides like it always did, just when she’d started to think this time she might not get sick.

She forced her eyes open, hoping if she could see they were floating gently through space, it might help calm her stomach. The ship tilted beneath her in the way it always did when entering a planet’s gravitational pull. The viewport was entirely blocked by the green-gray atmosphere of a world they’d dropped out too close to. The
had been dragged into outer orbit.

Swallowing down the burning sensation at the back of her throat, Zahli unclipped the safety harness with stiff fingers and forced herself to her feet. All she had to do was hold her breath and keep her stomach where is was meant to be until she got down to the medbay for the nausea meds they’d picked up last time they’d visited the Rim.

Although, she had to admit, the sight of her fearless brother slumped over his display screen, forehead resting on his folded arms, perked her right up.

“Rian, you might want to do something about the planet we’re about to crash into.”

He groaned and shook his head.

“You guys are so soft.” With an impertinent grin, Lianna brought up data on the nearby planet, displaying it across the main viewport, blocking out the swirling greenish environment.

Zahli raised an eyebrow and scoffed. “Emergency drop outs might not make you sick, but I seem to remember someone blubbering like a baby when they walked through a spider web last time we visited Auberon.”

“Spiders can kill you. And that wasn’t a web, it was a frecking

Zahli forced her unsteady legs to cooperate and then shook Rian’s shoulder.

“Come on,
. You’re the one who ordered the drop out, now man up and get us out of this planet’s atmosphere before we start free-falling.”

Rian sat up, but only far enough to swivel in his chair and grab the small waste bag Lianna held out.

Zahli took a large step back, both hands on her stomach as if that would help keep it where it was meant to be. “
, Rian, I really do hate you some days.”

Breathing through another wave of nausea, she hurried from the bridge before his gagging started her off. She made her way across the lower half of the upper level where the common room, galley, and captain’s quarters were situated, reaching the short flight of stairs. She clomped down the steps and over the landing as it turned back in a U shape. The lower corridor led to the medbay, almost directly underneath the bridge. Through the open doors, she could see Callan had beaten her there.

As she walked in, Callan knocked back a vial of the anti-nausea serum, blood on the side of his face trickling from a cut above his eye. The ship’s security specialist always walked around strapped and holstered to the hilt with weapons, no matter that there was nowhere in the universe safer than onboard the

“Where’s the doc?” she asked as she helped herself to a dose of the meds.

Callan shrugged as he grabbed a cloth and wiped the blood. “Not sure.”

“You didn’t get strapped in before Lianna hit the brakes?”

Callan coughed over a laugh. “Not quite. That’s the third drop out this year. I’m starting to think he does it just for the shite of it.”

“He was trying to save the cargo, though I’m sure if he’d thought about it for another few seconds, Lianna and he could have come up with a better solution.” She knocked back the meds, relieved when the churning settled right away.

“You know when Rian says he’s going through with something, there’s pretty much nothing in this universe that’ll stop him.” Callan rifled through a few drawers and cabinets, then came up with an antiseptic wipe. “Though the drop outs are a bitch and a half. Makes me wonder what it’s doing to the overall integrity in an old junker of a ship like this.”

She sighed as she put the cap back on the meds. “He knows every inch of the
and what she can take, but he also knows we need to be able to eat this month, not to mention buy those parts. And without the shipment of Grigorian liquor, you know we won’t be doing either.”

, that stings,” Callan muttered after swiping the antiseptic over his cut. “We won’t need to eat if we end up etherealized when the inertial dampeners fail next time we try it. Tell Rian that.”

“Tell me what, Roarke?”

“Nothing I haven’t already told you before, Cap’tin.” The worst of the blood gone, Callan tossed the cloth into the laundry chute.

“Bit late for bothering with the meds, isn’t it Rian?” Since this time she hadn’t been the one reliving her last meal, she couldn’t help but tease him.

“Hilarious.” Rian crossed his arms and retreated to the doorway, leaning against the metal framework. “Lianna says we’ll need to go dirt-side to fix the hull breach and we may need to buy parts. What’s the verdict on credits?”

Zahli ran a few figures through her mind. “I’d planned a supply stop within the next week to buy fresh produce, but there’s not much in the way of extra credits. We might be able to barter some of the liquor for parts, if we need them.”

“I’ll be telling Lianna to repair first, barter as a last resort. We’ve got that buyer waiting for us on the Rim willing to pay good money for the whole shipment of twenty cases.” Rian straightened away from the door, resting a hand on his belt. “Besides, I don’t think we’ll find many customers in the market for liquor on this planet.”

“Why, where are we?” Zahli crossed to the medbay viewport and looked out at the planet, able to see it as a whole now that Rian had set a course to shift them into a safe orbit.


Cold dread bloomed deep in her veins and spread outward as she spun back to face her brother. “The prison planet?”

Rian nodded, but the hard look on his face alone would have confirmed her fear. Besides, there was only one Erebus—the Inter-Planetary Coalition’s answer to justice; an entire world accommodating the universe’s worst criminals. She shivered, every horrific story she’d ever heard rushing into her mind.

Callan swore. “We’re screwed. How were we not blown to tiny pieces as soon as we dropped out of void-space? The only ships allowed in Erebus’s space have to be IPC sanctioned.”

Rian shrugged. “I know people. Called in a few favors. We’ll be clear to land in an hour. So pack up your shite, we’re going dirt-side.” He turned and strode back along the corridor, disappearing up the steps.

“I’d better go do what the captain ordered and
pack up my shite
.” Callan left the medbay, shaking his head as walked out into the passage and over to the freight elevator.

Zahli looked out the viewport again, the planet now listing off to the side a little since they’d moved in orbit.


Were they really going to hit dirt there? Despite the damage to the ship, when compared with landing on the prison planet, surely they’d be safer risking a flight on the slower sub-space engines to the next nearest planet. But her brother was the captain. In order to keep the crew’s confidence, she had to agree with his decisions, even when she didn’t. At least publicly, anyway. Privately, if she wanted to tell him he was a frecking idiot, well that was no one else’s business.

Zahli tidied up before leaving the medbay, palming the doors closed behind her. Instead of returning to the bridge, she went down another level to her quarters. As the door slid open, it tinkled with the light sound of the Shivani fortune-bells hanging just inside. The resonance soothed her and helped chase away some of the chill she’d been feeling since Rian announced they’d be going dirt-side on

She went to her locker and pushed aside all her clothes, feeling for the slightly raised section in the back panel. It clicked open under her fingers and the interior light flickered to life and shone outwards, silver glinting off her pulse pistol and nucleon gun. While the nucleon was an instant kill shot, the pulse pistol had a stun setting. She chose the pistol and shoved it into the back of her pants, and then added the reinforced metium knife Rian had given her after their parents had died.

Being armed only gave her a small measure of comfort. With sweaty palms, she returned to the bridge, wishing she could ignore the terrible stories she’d heard, trying not to remember the rumors that no one ever came back from Erebus.

BOOK: Atrophy
2.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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