Stolen by the Zandian - Renee Rose

Chapter 1

Kailani

If I don’t escape my jailers before tomorrow’s auction, I’m dead.

“We’ll get a fortune for her. I can feel the stein.” The Caretaker’s gruff laugh makes my muscles tense. He waves his six-fingered hands as if ushering in the glittering coins.

My stomach churns.

“We can charge anything. The Ocretions are desperate to reverse engineer her for her antiviral properties to eliminate disease in their human slaves.” The Overseer giggles, a sound that doesn’t match his thick, warty body. “We can retire.”

“We have the most valuable commodity in the galaxy.”

The two Kraa eye each other across the battered table; despite their boastful banter and their matching green skin, it’s obvious they have zero trust. Their alliance is forged on greed and desperation–and I’m the unfortunate item they plan to sell at auction.

I pull back from the peephole high in the wall of my holding cell and spider-walk down the cement walls by digging my bare fingers and toes against cracks in the rough texture. My bio-enhanced muscles and tendons allow me to climb surfaces that are unscalable by normal humans.

When I’m three feet from the ground, I twist and leap silently to the packed earth floor, landing without effort, fingertips of my left hand just skimming the dirt. My curls swing and sway around my shoulders.

My cell is pitch black, but my eyes were enhanced through a particularly painful procedure several sun cycles ago, so my new rods and cones can pick out the faintest traces of light. “Just like a wild animal,” the Medical Manager described me with pride as I was displayed to a secret group of Kraa politicians.

I pace the room on soundless feet. The Ocretions are known to be brutal to their human slaves and are eager for ways to make them work harder, longer, faster. What the Overseer meant by the euphemism of reverse engineering: The Ocretions will perform experiments on me to assess my enhanced human functionality then dissect me.

If I enter their custody, the rest of my short life won’t be good. Not that it’s amazing right now–

I breathe deeply to force back panic, in and out, until my heartbeat is slow and even.

“You can do this,” I recite the mantra inside my head. “There is nothing unreachable to those who have courage.”

Another female human slave, an early prototype of me, whispered it to me one day during a lesson. That was prior to her death on the Kraa operating table.

She said it was an ancient human phrase uttered by a wild and victorious king, and that from the earliest of origins, we had powerful ancestors who never gave up. She urged me to tell any and every human I ever found.

I hear the rumble of continued conversation, so I clamber back up the wall to peek through the small gap between the metal beams.

My owners stand together at the door, the yellow light making their skin sallow and accentuating the pocked eruptions on their faces. They may be the last few Kraa alive in this galaxy, but right now, it doesn’t matter if there are two of them or two million: While I’m locked up in their custody, I have no future.

“Do you have the stash of her medicine?” The Overseer’s eyes dart around the room. “Without it, the buyers won’t pay top prices.”

“Of course I have it.” The Caretaker is testy. “But you don’t need to know where.” He chuckles. “Don’t bother looking for it. You won’t find it.” He puffs up his chest, a typical Kraa display of power.

“Withhold the drug for sundown.” The Overseer’s face goes from frustrated to neutral. “Without it, she’ll be incapacitated. We’ll give it to her while she’s in cuffs at the auction, so buyers can see that she’s functional.”

“I concur.” The Caretaker laughs. “Let her suffer tonight. It will make her more pliable.” They leave the room, and the door clicks shut behind them.

I suspected they were going to do this, and yet the burst of anxiety that floods my body is nearly unbearable. I barely make it to the floor this time and curl up on the hard cot.

This cell may be imperfect, but it’s hardy enough to keep me captive, even with my enhanced strength. There’s no way I can tunnel or break through the thick walls, especially not once the crippling migraine headache begins.

Already it’s starting to pulse behind my eyes, trickles of sensation flowing like ice water through my skull. Soon I’ll be writhing in pain, blind from the agony. They designed

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