Captive - Cheryl Brooks

Chapter 1

Moriconthan “Moe” Tshevnoe sat alone at a table in a dusty bar on Haedus Nine choking down beer that smelled more like vrelnot piss than lager. He truly hated Haedus Nine. The climate was hot, dry, and oppressive, and its natives were ugly, devious, and inherently dishonest, which made it as good a place as any to pick a fight.

He’d been spoiling for a fight for months, an irritation of mood he couldn’t explain. But whatever it was, it made him want to beat the shit out of some deserving lowlife scumbag—or at least bite something. Hard. He was not a fighter by nature; nonetheless, his jaws clenched in anger for no other reason than the disgusting smell emanating from the occupants of the nearest table.

This much anger wasn’t normal for him. He’d always been considered the most sensible of his littermates, the lone voice of reason on many of his brothers’ escapades. He was cautious and methodical—traits that made him an excellent navigator—but his gut instincts were usually spot-on. Not that anyone ever actually listened to him. Over the years, he’d become quite adept at choking back the words I told you so to anyone foolish enough not to follow his suggestions.

Perhaps that was his problem. He’d just come from a run to Alpha Marcos where his current pilot, a Vessonian named Nevid Kairn, had ignored Moe’s reminder that the ship had a rather large communications dish on its forward hull. Having been scraped off by a low hangar bay door, that dish was now a crumpled mass of steel, useful only as scrap metal rather than a salvageable component.

Moe could easily fly the ship himself—having grown up on a starship, he’d been capable of manning every duty station by the age of seven—but being alone in space was, well, lonely. Unfortunately, Nevid wasn’t terribly good company. Maybe he was to blame for Moe’s current mood.

No. I felt like this even before he signed on.

The conversation at the next table had reached the ear-splitting level. A fistfight was imminent. Perhaps he could find an excuse to get into the fight. That’s what he needed. A good old-fashioned barroom brawl. It wouldn’t take much. One more tiny little annoyance and his anger would explode.

The lone Herpatronian in a group that boasted no less than three Haedusians, two Kitnocks, and a Vetla took a swing at one of the Haedusians and missed, inertia causing his ape-like body to spin out of his chair, the fist on the end of his long, simian arm connecting with Moe’s shoulder.

Thank the gods.

Moe pushed back his chair and tore into the Herp like a fiend: fangs bared and hands balled into fists. Rather than join in the fray, the Haedusians actually started cheering. As Moe pummeled the momentarily astonished Herp, his companions tossed handfuls of credits on the table and began taking bets.

He couldn’t blame the others for leaving the Herp to face him alone. With tall, cylindrical heads and limbs like toothpicks, Kitnocks tended to avoid altercations with species more sturdily built than they were. Vetlas were humpbacked with short arms that gave them virtually no reach whatsoever. The Haedusians themselves reminded him of birds, even to the extent that the males’ clothing—if such tattered rags could be called that—was more colorful than the robes worn by the females. Overall, they were quite scrawny with long, spidery fingers, huge hooked noses, and beady little eyes. They seldom engaged in fisticuffs, evidently preferring to profit from the outcome rather than participate.

Moe didn’t give a damn. After a brief protest that he had no bone to pick with Moe—a highly unusual statement for a Herp—the creature was finally fighting back. Moe took a punch to the jaw that should’ve at least broken a fang. He tasted blood and renewed his attack. He knew if he didn’t knock him out soon, the Herp would eventually overpower him. Getting in close was the best way to deal with a Herp, canceling their longer reach, but putting Moe’s sensitive Zetithian nose much too close to his opponent’s stinking brown pelt.

Pouring months of pent-up rage into his fists, Moe didn’t bother pulling a knife or a pulse pistol. The Herp wasn’t unarmed, but that didn’t matter. Yet.

“Take it out in the street!” the bartender roared as the Herp snatched a bottle from a nearby table and attempted to smash it over Moe’s head. With his catlike reflexes, Moe easily dodged the bottle, which went smashing into a row of bottles

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