Life was never easy out in the Methuselah Cluster, the most remote region humanity ever settled, but when her alcoholic father found her a ‘job’ while he went off-planet to look for work for a ‘few months’, 11-year-old Loralynn Kennakris began to learn just how ugly it could get. Within the year, her employers sold her to a brutal slaver captain, who took from her the last thing she owned: her name.
Most girls in Kris’s position last a year or two. The strong ones might last four. Kris survived for eight. And when her chance at freedom finally came, courtesy of the Nereidian League Navy, she sunk her teeth into it.
Unfortunately, eight years growing up in Hell prepared Kris for nearly everything except being free, and her new life isn’t at all what she imagined. Not only must she find her way in a bewildering society full of bizarre rules, but the very people who rescued her suspect she’s a terrorist plant. Then there’s this beautiful interstellar celebrity who’s stirring up things she’d really rather not deal with at the moment. And now someone’s trying to kill her.
But Kris hasn’t stayed alive by respecting boundaries or obeying rules, and her adopted society is about to find out what it’s like to collide with a someone who has no concept of a no-win scenario. . .
The Alecto Initiative is the gripping story of an extraordinary young woman forced to come of age while looking Death in the eye.
The Alecto Initiative is now available for sale at Amazon! The first book in the Loralynn Kennakris series!
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Parson’s Acre Colony
Eta Karinyena, Methuselah Cluster
When the harvest failed again, her father dismissed the last few workers and sold off the remaining equipment. Returning from Gabriel, where he’d gone to deliver the last of it, he called her into the kitchen as the rusty sun retreated over the low squashed hills, painting the room with a dingy light that aged everything it touched. He sat there at the cheap table – all the nice imported furniture had gone the previous season – the deep creases in his face picked out in harsh detail, the squat glass of amber liquid already in front of him but as yet untouched, colorless eyes hooded and dull.
There was work, he explained – work off-planet. He knew people – had made contacts – it was decent work – would get them back on their feet again. She asked how long. Six – eight months, he said. Maybe a year; maybe more. “I found a place for you,” he went on. “Good people. They’ll give you a job and a place to stay.” He didn’t meet her eyes but stared at the drink, screwing it back and forth on the table.
Why couldn’t she just go back to school, she asked. She’d already missed the beginning of the current term, helping him get the harvest in, but it wasn’t too late. “You can go to school again when we get back on our feet,” he answered. “They’re coming tomorrow. You should get your things together tonight – they’ll be early.”
She asked their names. He took his cel out of his pocket; thumbed up an address. “Blodgett. Down in Gabriel. Own a lot of business down there.” He put the cel back, looked out the window at the gathering dark. “Good people. You’ll be fine.”
What arrived in the morning was the Blodgett’s truck, right after first light – three men in dull green coveralls with a patch on the shoulder. Her father handed the driver an envelope while the other two looked at her quizzically: lanky, raw-boned, angular, awkward and just a few weeks past her eleventh birthday; freshly scrubbed with her long still-damp hair pulled back in a ponytail and a small satchel at her feet.
“That it?” One of the men pointed at the little bag. She nodded, mute. “Good,” he said and bent to pick it up. As he bent, he looked up into her still forming face. “Don’t say a hell of a lot, do ya?”
She shook her head.
“Good.” He handed her into the back of the truck, a big cent-weight rig with a covered back, and she saw five other girls and a skinny boy, all about her age, huddling on the benches. The man tossed her bag onto the truck bed and walked around the side, muttering. Her father stepped into view as the truck engaged thrusters and raised his hand. She waved back as the truck accelerated, staring after him until he was lost in the swirls of red dust. Then, ignoring the others, she crammed herself into a corner, cold at the pit of her stomach. She hadn’t been able to clearly make out what the man had said as he walked to the cab – it had sounded a lot like: “What a fucking waste.”
The Blodgetts were in the hospitality business. They owned a cluster of establishments in Gabriel that catered to travelers – she could tell that from the price lists. Parson’s Acre was a poor colony; it served mainly as a entry point for travelers doing business in the Methuselah Cluster. Gabriel, the site of the one starport and the only real city in the colony, existed to serve their needs.
Those needs were explained to them in a short orientation meeting by uniformed staff overseen by a slightly-built man with graying hair who spoke only briefly, welcoming them with a smile that did not reach his eyes. Rules of conduct were laid out, especially the strict curfew they were sternly warned not to break. Private cels were not allowed and would be confiscated – email and cloud access would be provided to those who performed well. After getting settled they’d be given their work assignments. That was all. She had never been to a city before; if they were all like this, she wondered why anyone stayed.
Afterwards, company men escorted them to their quarters in a subterranean compound: a series of dormitories segregated by sex. The tiny rooms, each housing four bunks, were arranged along bare corridors that had a lavatory and a large communal shower at each end. They showed her and three other girls into a room with their first names on their assigned bunk. Hers was spelled wrong.
The work she got was not hard: helping out in the kitchens mostly, washing fragile items that couldn’t be trusted to the big autoloading sanitizers or fetching things from refrigerated lockers that were many times the size of her room. Sometimes she cleaned the guest suites. She was kept away from guests though, unlike the older girls who were often assigned to take them meals in their suites. She noticed that delivering meals often seemed to take an unusual amount of time.
Each dorm had a terminal where those who’d been granted access could get email and surf in their off-hours. That was the limit of the leisure activities. She got an email from her father saying he was fine, doing well; he hoped things were working out for her. She said they were. It was lie.
For two months, she got emails from him regularly, always much the same. He did say he was on Tolliman (she had vaguely heard of it) and there was plenty of work in asteroid mining. Things were going well – even better than he expected. But he said nothing about coming home. After three months, the emails stopped. She tried sending him a few after that. They bounced.
She got a new roommate every month or so. She made friends with none of them. After she’d been there six months, she awoke in the middle of the night to hear two of her roommates talking in whispers. They noticed her stirring and stopped. That evening, both were gone.
Two months later, she was cleaning up after the lunch period, her arms elbow deep in hot water and detergent froth, when the twinges started. She tried to ignore them but by the end of her shift they couldn’t be ignored and worse, there was a wet sticky oozing in her crotch that frightened her. She crept to a bathroom, stopping to pant when the strong cramps came out of nowhere, and once there stared in horror at the blood on her fingers. She jammed a disposable towel between her legs and wanted to die.
Her boss found her there, curled up on a bench by the showers. “What’s the matter with you?”
She shook her head, but the woman noticed the towel.
“Come on,” her boss said, taking her by the upper arm. “We’re gonna see the nurse.”
The nurse made her take off her clothes and sit on a narrow, thinly padded examination table. It had jointed metal arms at the foot with stirrup-like things on the ends. “Lie back,” the nurse said as she moved some lights into position and laid out an array of instruments. “Put your feet in these.”
She asked why.
“Pelvic exam. You just got your period – nothing to worry about.”
She did as she was told.
In a dimly lit room, devoid of furniture except for three hard chairs and a bulky out-of-place desk, two men and a woman watched the examination on a bank of video monitors. “She’s intact,” the woman said, looking over at the two men with a smile. “Never can tell with these people.”
The older of the two men leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on the desk and waved an index finger at the screens. “What’s the story on this one?”
The second man activated his cell and consulted a file. “Father brought her in six months ago. Alcoholic. Had a big place up country – let it go to hell. Paid the deposit in cash.”
“What happened to him?”
“Shipped out to Tolliman – packet said he was a mining engineer. No current certs but – ”
“Mining engineer? What the hell was he doing here?”
“Couldn’t say. Record says he came out about nine years ago – lots of money, no history and a drinking problem. Says here he married twice – neither lasted more than a couple of seasons.”
“Had a New Caledonian passport. Issued on Skye though, so it don’t mean much.”
The older man grunted. Skye was notoriously lax about issuing passports. “Payments?”
“Nothing for the past four months.”
He scowled at his companions, displeased.
The woman gestured at the image on the screen. “Look at her.”
The scowl became calculating. “Okay. So what about this guy – where is he now?”
“He did show up on Tolliman, but that’s all we know. No taxes filed, no payroll submitted, no new accounts, no major transactions… and no exit visa stamps.”
“How many times has he been off-planet before this?”
“None. No off-world contacts at all. That we know of.”
“Alright.” He took his feet off the desk. “Put her on the list – send a message.”
A week later, she was awakened early by the door to their room opening. As she sat up, a tall man silhouetted in the entry pointed at her. “You, get dressed. Come with me.” She slid out of her bunk in just her underwear, pulled on her pants and a company work shirt, and slipped on her shoes. The man tapped a finger on the doorframe, impatient. As she reached for the little kit with her wallet in it, he leaned over and grabbed her arm. “You won’t be needin’ that.” He glowered around the little room, taking in the frightened eyes in the young faces, grunted and shoved her out into the corridor. Another half-dozen girls were also standing there: most older than her; most looking dazed and still blinking with sleep but one almost terrified, her fists wadding the front of her shirt. The tall man waved to two others dressed like him and she saw they all carried truncheons.
She asked where she was going.
“We got new work for you,” he said and gave her a shove in the middle of the back.
They put her and the others in the back of a crowded cargo lorry without windows. She had to tuck her knees up hard to get them out of the way of the rear doors as they slammed shut and sealed. No one spoke. As far as she could see, they were all girls.
The flight was short and when the rear doors opened, she could see nothing except a row of harsh spotlights illuminating a strip of pavement with a line painted on it. The glare hid all other details but she could tell they were inside a huge building: the space gave back dim hollow echoes as the men pulled them out and pointed to the line.
“Over there – no talking.” They shuffled into place and she saw others being herded to join them, maybe fifty or so: girls and young women, some young boys, even a few adult men, looking shaken and cowed. More company men with truncheons walked up and down the line, a few slapping them suggestively. The people in line with her squirmed and twitched, some muttering, others whimpering – one half-strangled cry that was cut off by the thud of a truncheon. The air was sour in her dry mouth and she felt a throttling panic form behind her diaphragm and start to spread.
Wide double doors off to their right opened and more men stepped out. As they moved into the halo of light she saw they were young, most of them, and not at all like the company men – a gaudy riot of gold hair, jeweled eyes, wildly iridescent tattoos – and they all had guns.
They walked down the line, handling their rifles negligently, and a kind of suffocated hush descended. Two more men followed them out of the doors. The first was tall and heavyset, dressed in black. The second was short, older, trim and graying, and dressed in a conservative suit. She thought she knew him but before she could be sure one of the gaudy men jabbed her in the midriff with his rifle. “You,” he barked, “eyes down.”
She dropped her eyes to her toes as the big man spoke in a strongly-accented voice. “Shit. This it?”
“You saw the manifest,” the graying man replied and Kris recognized his voice: the Blodgett’s general manager. She couldn’t recall his name – think – the lurking panic was twisting her guts – no, don’t panic, think – it was something that began with…
“I ain’t got room for half of these. And I ain’t paying more than lot price for the rest.”
“I can’t send them back – ”
Treecher. Was that it? Treecher? Think…
“Not my problem. Dispose of ‘em the usual way.”
“I’m already taking a loss here.”
“Not my problem.” There was a pause and then Treecher started to say something. The big man cut him off. “You prefer I adjust our agreement?”
Silence. Then Treecher said, “Fine. Take what you want – leave the rest.”
The big man walked towards them, stepping into the light. He had long black hair tied back, and large hands with wiry black hair on them. He walked down the line, followed by one of his men with a drawn flechette pistol and as he passed each person by, his flat voice said with hardly an intervening pause, “Take. Leave. Leave. Take. Leave. Take.” Every time he said ‘leave’ a muffled pistol shot punctuated his monosyllabic sentence.
Then he reached her. He stopped. His wide, thin-lipped mouth opened in a grin. She became fascinated with the gold designs etched into his teeth. His big hands reached out and ripped open the front of her blue work shirt. Air touched coldly on her young, bare, just-budding breasts.
“Gettin’ there,” his lank voice said, pulling out the short vowels. “Yep. Gettin’ there.” He bent down to where she couldn’t avoid his eyes. “What’s your name?”
“Loralynn Kennakris.” To her ears, it sounded almost as if someone else had answered for her.
“Fucked-up sorta name, Kris.”
The man straightened.