By J. J. Lore
11 November 2015
Is love possible between sworn enemies when the universe seems determined to tear them apart?
Sagiv, a genetically modified Atavaq fighter, is captured when his master’s raid on a Domidian ship goes wrong. Daran, a young Domidian science officer, claims the warrior for ransom and as a subject for study. As they spend time together in the close confines of the shipboard cabin, both learn more about the other’s culture, and against all odds, a fragile trust begins to form. But the ship is approaching a frontier outpost, where Daran will be expected to ransom Sagiv—even though it means condemning Sagiv to die for the dishonor of his defeat or suffer in the fighting pits. That’s if bounty hunters don’t find them first. Daran’s risen up the ranks through hard work and always following protocol, but he sees something in Sagiv that might be worth breaking the rules for the first time in his life—maybe even something worth sacrificing everything to keep.
J. J. Lore bio:
J. J. Lore has been interested in the dashing men who roam outer space since she was transfixed by Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon a long time ago in a theatre far, far away. Sadly, there is no way for her to join in the fun of intergalactic adventures unless she writes them, so that’s what she does whenever she isn’t taking care of the business of life. If you can’t find her typing madly on her sluggish keyboard, she’s probably poking around in a thrift store searching for the perfect pair of worn jeans or a vintage kachina bolo tie. These days she puts her anthropology degree to work when she whips up dishes from many different cultures, most of which benefit from a liberal dose of sriracha or a smear of green curry paste. Her favorite reading topics are costume history, epidemiology, and permaculture, all of which she’d like to work into a story if she’s suddenly overcome with a brilliant idea someday.
His cheek was pressed to the soft rug on the floor. The material smelled faintly of perfumed wood, and he wrinkled his nose, unhappy something pleasant was intruding on his misery. To be the leader of the finest Creig raiding party one day and reduced to a worthless prisoner the next was a fate he’d never envisioned for himself. Sadness at his lost fellows settled over him in a cold wave, and he closed his eyes tightly until the sensation passed.
A sudden awareness of warm moisture on his body roused him, and he jerked upright as far as his immobilized arms would allow. Was the Domidian urinating on him? With a growl he sought the source of the sensation and was shocked to silence when he saw the young officer trying to apply a wet cloth to the phase wound on his hip.
“What are you doing?”
“Cleaning this up. It might become infected if I don’t.” The pretty boy gave him a measured glance, then concentrated on the rent in his skin. Sagiv took a breath and tried to hitch away but was brought up short by the manacles yet again. The Domidian’s vigorous application of the cleaning cloth hurt, but Sagiv was determined not to react. He might have fallen from his hard-fought stature as a skilled warrior, but at least he wouldn’t flinch like a weakling when someone washed his body.
“It looks as though you endured blade cuts, blunt instrument strikes, and some sort of percussion volley,” the Domidian said in a conversational tone. Sagiv gave him a glare that would have sent one of his minions cowering to the floor. At least it would have worked yesterday, when he still had underlings. Now his brother Creig were dead, wasted in this futile raid made at the whim of an impulsive master or three. His current condition didn’t matter; he was bred and trained to serve and fight, not to think of his fate or wish for any different life. The Domidian, for his part, merely absorbed the scowl with a slight smile. Superior bastard. “I’m going to work on the most severe injuries first. Basic triage. I have several accreditations in first aid and battlefield medical treatment, so don’t worry for your health.”
The young man moved on to the welts that covered his back, and Sagiv endured the ministrations with teeth clenched, both to stop himself from making a pained sound and to prevent the conversation this bare-chinned youth seemed to desire. As the Domidian’s words sank in, he couldn’t help the question that sprang to mind.
“Heal me for the execution?” Sagiv shook his head once. These damned Domidians had such perverse notions. If only he’d been lucky and taken a phase bolt to the forehead yesterday. The young officer stopped touching him, and his skin twitched.
“Death to pirates, that’s the code in the cold reaches of space.”
The Domidian laughed. Sagiv craned his head to observe him. Even though he was brought low by his defeat and loss of his collar, there was no way he was going to be mocked by a spoiled boy.
“I follow a different code. The Domidian code.” The young man moved closer and pressed his fingers around the edge of the throbbing injury on Sagiv’s head.
Sagiv refused to flinch and instead decided to scoff. “Oh, yes, the code whereby you decide everything you do is correct and expect every other race you encounter to bow down before your magnificence.”
The Domidian’s full lips tightened and a spark lit up his eyes. “We cannot be other than what we are.”
“Arrogant whelp.” Sagiv’s stomach dropped when the young man smiled broadly. What was he doing engaging in conversation with the enemy? He was behaving as if they were at a rim world tavern sharing a flagon, far from the concerns of Domid and Atavaq politics. “Why are you treating me?”
He wanted to bite back the words, especially when he saw the intent expression of the other man.
“It is my duty to care for you. I have taken you as hostage proxy, and any ransom paid for your return will be mine.”
“Then you will be sorely disappointed.” Knowing that this boy would be deprived of even a small sum was the only achievement he could muster at this point. A Creig was worth nothing without the recommendation of a pleased master, without victories to bolster his reputation. The Domidian shrugged and pulled out a small case. He flicked it open, and Sagiv couldn’t help but look inside, sure he was going to see implements of torture. Instead, there were bandages and creams. The Domidian was going to help him. Pulling together the last shards of his dignity and rage, Sagiv decided to remain silent. No need to treat the youngster as if they were equals.
“You have a lot of bruising and contusions. Did all of these wounds occur in the altercation yesterday?”
Sagiv stared at the red carpet. Altercation. What a fine word for a muddled mess that had cost him so much. No, the majority of his injuries had been administered by his former masters as they’d assaulted him in the brig after their humiliating capture. No need to reveal that, or anything, to the Domidian. The young man waited a polite interval, then continued to speak as if there was a normal conversation to be had, all while he administered first aid.
“My name is Daran, of the Eridia clan. If you tell me your name, I’ll be able to initiate contact with your people and set up an exchange.” Daran waited for a response, but Sagiv pressed his lips together. He didn’t have a people, only assignments. Creig fighters existed on a different plane than civilian Atavaq, housed in exclusive barracks and given the finest in weapons, nutrition, and training. He jumped at the sensation of a warm ointment being carefully applied to the edges of one of the throbbing welts on his back. The wounds felt ugly, but he hadn’t been able to inspect them. Exactly what he deserved.
“I’m in service as a science specialist. I’m hoping you can teach me more about your kind. I’m very curious about you.”
Teach his enemy about Creig ways? Betray Atavaq? He’d die first. As the Domidian continued his treatment, Sagiv’s stomach boiled with regret and frustration. He slanted his eye toward the officer to detect what he was about and saw the other man frowning. Daran of the Eridia glanced up and hurriedly put a smile on his face.
“Your wounds, though painful I’m sure, are going to heal well now that you are under care. I was merely thinking about something else.”
The urge to ask what was strong. Sagiv wasn’t sure if he was interested in gaining more information about the enemy or genuinely intrigued by his unusual captor. The other man was treating his wounds and speaking to him as if they were partners. Equals. As if Sagiv wasn’t merely a tool to be repaired and sent back into service.