Mated (The Sandaki Book 1), страница 1
Copyright © Gwendolyn Cease
All Rights Reserved.
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The Sandaki, Book One
For my sister, Judith – thank you for always being there for me. You are my best friend, my rock, and my partner in crime.
For my mother, Shirley – even though you’re not physically here, I know you’re always watching out for us. I love you and miss you
The writing process is a solitary deal, but there is no way any writer could really do it alone. We need the people we love and depend on around us so we can get our butts in the chair and do the job.
Thank you to my amazing editors – Chris Allen-Riley and Judith Kirchner. Chris, you are truly a wonder woman and this book would not be half as good without your insight and ideas. Judith, your eagle eyes caught all the mistakes and helped polish this book to a shine.
Thank you so much to my amazing cover artist – Kris Norris. You took my vague thoughts and turned them into something truly beautiful. You rock, eh!
Thank you to my sounding board – Jessica Jarman. No matter what else was going on, you were there to listen to me go over ideas. For that, I am deeply appreciative.
A huge shout-out to the readers who purchase our books. All of you are the reason we do what we do. Thank you for allowing those of us who make up stories to live our dreams.
Leaves rustled and blew across the dark parking lot, as Laira Marshall adjusted her backpack more comfortably and continued the long walk to her car. At twenty-nine, she finally had the chance to go back to school to finish her education. Laira loved the atmosphere of the university campus, and she especially loved her classes. The only thing she hated was going to school in the evening. Unfortunately, working fulltime didn’t allow her to squeeze in anything more during the daylight hours, so she was stuck with what she got. Yawning widely, she paused before entering a section of the dark student parking lot.
Car, have to find the car. It was here. Wasn’t it? Hell she couldn’t remember. She’d been running late and hadn’t really paid much attention to where she’d parked. Fuck, so how to find it? She pulled out her keys and pushed the fob, hoping to see headlights flash. Nothing. Maybe I parked in the other lot. No, that was yesterday. And I didn’t park in the top lot since I was late. Shit, shit, shit. She didn’t want to walk around all night long. She wondered if security could help her. They had to have encountered students who’d lost their cars before. Right?
A light flickered toward the back of the parking lot, and Laira paused. Had she parked back that far? The lot ended near a grouping of overgrown bushes, and she couldn’t remember. She took a few steps forward and pushed the button again. Nothing flashed, but a low humming sounded. Okay, that doesn’t sound like my car. It doesn’t make weird noises, unless something’s wrong with it. I just had it serviced…a month ago? Damn, time was flying. It was already mid-semester, and she had a test to study for and three papers to write.
The humming came again, louder this time, and she backed up. Yeah, I’m not parked out here. A frisson of fear raced down her spine and, she turned and walked quickly toward the security office. She’d just get someone to help her find her car. Wandering around in the dark wasn’t smart, and if nothing else, she prided herself on having a modicum of common sense.
Suddenly a voice—or she thought it was a voice—hissed from the darkness. “Grom ik les tishon.”
At least, that’s what Laira heard. What the hell? Have to get to Security. Security will protect me. Laira found herself sprinting across the parking lot. She wasn’t sure why she thought she needed protection, but she trusted her gut. Even though her head kept saying the whole situation was stupid.
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw something give chase. Odd and shambling it lurched toward her from the dark.
A scream rose in Laira’s throat. Before she could take a breath, a brilliant white light flashed toward her.
Intense beams of light seared her eyes and drilled into her brain. Pain rushed through her body like a river run rampant. Strange voices spoke just out of range. Nothing was understandable. Or possibly, the language was foreign. The pain was too much for her brain to focus on anything else. Laira opened her mouth to scream, but no sound issued forth. The world collapsed around her and went dark.
Laira’s head exploded in agony. She gasped, feeling as if someone had hit her with a baseball bat. Then, just as swiftly as the pain had come, it receded until nothing but a dull ache remained. A low-level headache finally decided to settle near her neck. Slowly, she raised her hand to make sure her head was actually attached. Yep, it was still there. She was somewhat comforted by this thought. Considering …
The thought trailed off. Considering what? She couldn’t remember. Tentatively, she opened her eyes.
The room she lay in was not familiar. Soft gray walls blended into a gray floor. She blinked to clear her eyes, but all around was still gray.
“Where the hell am I?” She’d spoken softly, barely recognizing her own voice.
“You are awake,” a strangely accented voice announced.
“Am I?” Laira turned her head until she could see the speaker.
The woman sitting beside her was like no one Laira had ever seen. The woman was almost naked except for some kind of gauzy material she wore like a sarong. Oh, and the iridescent scales layering her body. Scales? Laira looked closer. Yes, that’s exactly what she was seeing. Small, flexible, faceted scales covered the woman. They shifted from azure to emerald to a combination whenever they caught the light. The Bluescale girl’s eyes were a deep fathomless cerulean and her hair a brilliant shade of emerald. Laira blinked a few times, trying to clear her sight. What the hell…
“My name is Isha. I am sure you are wondering where you are.”
Laira eased to a sitting position. The bed she lay on, if someone was desperate enough to call it that, was a platform that jutted from the wall, covered with a thin mattress. The pain in her head didn’t get worse, for which she was truly thankful. Apparently, that was going to be the only thing that went right this day.
“Where am I? And what happened to my voice?” Laira demanded. Normally, her voice tended toward the squeaky side, but now it was low and husky. She sounded like someone off a phone sex line.
The Bluescale girl leaned toward her. “You are on a Silarin slave trader.”
“A what where?”
“You were kidnapped from your world by the Silarin. I have heard this ship’s profit has not been the best since their stock was somewhat ordinary. So they have been combing the galaxies to find something new to offer. Apparently, you are that something. If you do well at auction, they will go back to collect more women from your planet.”
Laira stared at her. Kidnapped? How could someone kidnap her? She wasn’t a kid. And Silarin slave what? Bluescale girl was ordinary? Then, Laira knew, she’d finally had a nervous breakdown. Her cousin had warned her that’s where she was heading trying to work full time and go to school. She hadn’t listened though. Now it was happening. She was breaking from reality. She didn’t realize someone could be aware when it happened. Apparently, she was lucky that way.
Bluescale girl studied her. “Are you listening to
Laira nodded slowly at her figment. “Sure I hear you. I’m just wondering when they’ll come to medicate me so you’ll go away.”
Bluescale girl cocked her head. “I do not understand you. Though you now have an implant for us to speak to one another, your speech is odd. You have been through all the procedures. The only thing now left for the Silarin to do is find a buyer for us all.”
Laira opened her mouth to respond then closed it. Why argue with a figment? No matter what she said, it didn’t matter. None of this was real.
“It is real,” Bluescale girl answered. Laira realized she had spoken aloud. “Unfortunately, you must come to terms with it.”
“No,” Laira shook her head. “Obviously, I’m really tired. I’ve tried to do too much. So I’ll just stay in the little hospital, take some drugs, and make a couple baskets. In a few days, this will all be finished, and I’ll head back to school. School! Shit, I hope I don’t miss too much. I’ll never catch up. I can’t afford to miss any classes. If I fall behind then I may have to drop. If I drop then I won’t graduate on time. That would so suck. And I can’t afford that. Do you know how much tuition is? Well hell of course you do. You’re a figment of my imagination. It’s expensive, and I can’t take on any more loans. Hell and damnation, this is going to mess me up. I’ll have to redo my whole entire—”
Bluescale girl slapped her across the face, abruptly cutting off Laira’s rambling speech. Her head popped back, hitting the wall behind her. Stars swam for a minute then cleared, but her face clearly burned where the contact had occurred.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“I apologize, you must get a hold of yourself. I understand this situation is strange for you. But it is very real.”
Laira slowly touched her face, feeling the hotness and sting from the slap. Real? This couldn’t be real. She refused for it to be real. Dizziness swamped her as her vision began to swim. No, no way. Not real. Laira closed her eyes and didn’t fight to stay conscious.
“Fainting is not going to make the situation change.”
Laira opened her eyes to find Bluescale Girl leaning over her. Tears gathered in Laira’s eyes and slid down into her hair. All of this was true; it was reality. Her mind kept screaming it wasn’t, but her heart and gut told her it was very genuine. If she was going to make sense of it, she had to get control. Now.
Laira pulled herself to a sitting position again and rubbed her face. She felt strange to her own hands. Not herself. What was happening?
“Please tell me your name again.”
“My name is Isha. I am Relosian and have been on this ship,” she hesitated, “a very long time, I think.”
“I’m Laira. What is Relosian?”
“My planet is Relos, and I am a citizen. Or I was,” she said bitterly, “until the Silarin came. Now I am a slave, just as you are.”
Laira blinked. “I’m a lot of things, but I am not a slave.”
“Yes, you are.” Isha nodded sadly, or at least, it seemed so to Laira. “We all are. And soon we will travel to the slave markets where we will be sold as sex slaves.”
“Excuse me? We’ll be sold as what?”
“Sex slaves. This is a Silarin ship, the Tooreg, and their business is to cultivate and sell sex slaves.”
“That’s bullshit!” Laira burst out.
“That is life.” Isha shrugged, changing the subject. “Are you hungry? You have yet to break your fast after the indoctrination. Your body needs sustenance.”
Isha’s words swam round in Laira’s head like fish on crack. She didn’t know what question to ask first so decided staying quiet was probably best. Maybe if she listened, things would become clear. She certainly hoped so since her head felt, once again, as if it was going to explode.
“Eat something,” Isha said, going to a panel on the wall and tapping some keys. Musical notes sounded, and Isha slid a door open and pulled a tray out. Laira almost smiled at the sight of a real Star Trek replicator. If only she were on the Enterprise instead of wherever the hell she was, life would actually be pretty cool.
Isha settled the tray on a small table and pulled it over in front of Laira. “The brown liquid is hot and very reviving. It has many proteins and nutrients your body needs. The blue liquid is cool and quite refreshing.”
Laira nodded and tried a bit of each. The brown liquid was fairly close to chicken noodle soup, but not quite. She wondered at the idea that the soup might be universal for people who were sick or recovering from an illness. The stuff in the blue cup was a bit sweet and tasted good. She finished both and actually felt better, more alert.
She pushed the table aside and tried to stand, but failed and collapsed. Her legs shook as if she had been bedridden for a very long time. She ached everywhere, down to her very bones. She wondered what they’d done to her while she was out. Not even wanting to contemplate the thought, she shoved it into a dark place in her mind. Better not to think too hard about that right now.
“I’m naked,” Laira said, finally noticing. “Is there something I can wear?”
Isha rose to walk across the room and Laira noted that the girl’s hands and feet were long and elegant…and webbed. She closed her eyes, opened them, and looked again. Yep, the webbing was still there.
Isha opened an almost invisible cabinet in the gray wall to pull out a bit of gray fabric. Laira’s first thought was she hadn’t asked for a handkerchief, the next was she hoped this wasn’t something to wear.
“Put this on.” The girl handed the scrap to her.
Laira burst out laughing as she held it between two fingers. “What, on my head? I need some clothes.”
“It will conform to the shape of your body,” she said. “Here, let me have it, and stand up.”
Laira stood again with Isha’s help, feeling a little steadier as the other woman shook the tissue out and wrapped it around Laira’s body. She looked down to watch and realized her breasts looked bigger. Substantially bigger. And she seemed farther away from the ground, as if she were taller. What the fuck?
“What happened to my body? What happened to my boobs?” she touched them.
“I told you, you have gone through indoctrination,” the patient voice explained.
“I don’t know what the hell that means.”
Isha tilted her head to study Laira with huge eyes. “It is easier to show you.” Turning, she pushed a button in the wall and a mirror slowly lowered so Laira could see herself full length. The person she saw was not Laira Marshall.
The woman in the mirror was tall and lithe with deep, rich, red hair pulled back in a simple tail. Startlingly vivid, violet eyes stared out from a face that a model would envy. The body carried lush breasts and was long, languid, and built for the express purpose of pleasure. It looked nothing like Laira Marshall full-time employee and part time student. Not even if she could pay for all the plastic surgery in the world.
Isha stepped up to stand beside the redhead in the mirror. “The Silarin here on the ship have a process they call indoctrination. It is where the slave is adjusted on the cellular level so the optimum effect can be achieved. They tapped into your DNA and created the best product they could. You are that product.”
“Who gives them the right to play God with my cells? I was born the way I was, and it might not have been perfect, but I was me.”
“The Silarin create a profit. That is what their world revolves around. Their stock must be perfect to bring in the prices they ask.”
“I am not stock!” she yelled. “And neither are you. We are people with rights and feelings and needs. And I feel the need to kick someone’s ass.”
Isha’s lips turned down. “I do not understand your words.”
“Doesn’t anyone here get mad that this happens?”
The girl shrugged. “Why? There is nothing we can do about it. I can never go home, so I must go where the Silarin tell me.”
“Why can’t you go home?” Laira asked.
Tears once again gathered in Laira’s eyes, but not for herself. This girl had gotten far worse treatment. “I am so sorry.” Laira hesitantly took one of Isha’s hands. “If I can figure out a way, I’m gonna make these jerks pay for everything they’ve done to us. They are going to be so sorry they ever kidnapped Laira Marshall.” She huffed out a breath and rubbed the tears from her checks. “So, we’re stuck looking like this? No matter what happens, we’ll never be ourselves again?”
“I am sorry. Come, let us go and you can meet the other people here.”
Laira nodded. No sense sitting alone. Isha was right, there wasn’t anything she could do right now. Ever. The two of them left the room, Isha helping Laira walk. Damn, she ached. She likened the pain to shin splints, but it was bone deep and everywhere. Her body felt unnatural, gangly, and hard to control. The longer she struggled to walk, the angrier she got. It wasn’t like she’d been a raving beauty or anything, but it was her body, her face, and she liked them both the way they’d been. Now, a stranger stared out at her from the mirror, and she hated it.
A few short steps and around a corner was a large room filled with women of every size, color, and style. At least, Laira assumed they were all women. Whatever they were, there were a lot of them.
Isha led her to a small gathering of couches to sit with two other people, one a burnished copper and the other with flowing tentacles for hair. Laira tried not to stare but couldn’t help herself. It was better than the cantina scene from Star Wars.
“Who is this?” copper girl asked, cocking her head in a bird-like way.