Avamie paced behind the curtain that shielded her from the wall of chattering alien voices beyond the thin veil that protected her from their clawing eyes.. The steel of the knife in her boot cooled her leg and calmed her nerves. Over the years she fended off advances from being two and three times her size. If they demanded too much from her, she would be fine.
The dance mattered above all else. The movement offered life and freedom to her. She controlled their gaze, their desire, their wallets. As she moved her body through the subtle energies of the world, they caressed her skin like a gentle lover. One day she would run away and join them as they pirouetted in their endless spirals through the galaxy.
Despite her misgivings, her orders were simple: dance and distract the crowd. The people beyond the curtain appreciated nothing save money and pride. If she spoke out about her concerns, her master would listen, then tell her he understood what was best for them. He didn’t. She was little more than a prize he could dangle before his business partners.
Yangar Kelm imagined himself to be a brilliant businessman and ruthless gangster. In reality, he was a slaver whose enforcers often kept his enemies at bay and the locals too scared to stop him or even curtail his activities.
Kel Typodan and his gang, The Endless Eclipse, were different, dangerous. How pretentious must they be to call themselves the Endless Eclipse. They weren’t even bright enough to shorthand their name as The Endless, instead calling themselves the Eclipse or Clips for short. Pompous, greedy, and unimaginative, those never added up to anything good.
Who was she to speak her mind to Kelm about how he conducted his business? Whenever she did, he pointed out to her how he bought her as a child from the Unmei. They would have plugged her into one of their machines and sapped the soul from her. What did he think he’d done to her? Making her into a slave, then a dancer, and when he considered her old enough, a prostitute. How could he think she would be grateful for this life? He owned her body and reminded her often that with the press of a button she would be dead. What a wonderful life Kelm gave her, living to entertain others no matter what she thought about them.
Avamie spat her anger onto the stage’s old wooden floor. She pulled in a deep breath, like a drowning person breaking the surface of a frozen lake. As long as he had the power to kill her, she had to do what he asked. He required her to dance for the Clips. She couldn’t fathom why. They wouldn’t pay any attention to the stage. There was no profit in it. If he wanted her to dance, so she would entertain them all.
Ice filled her veins as she suppressed her better judgment and personal wishes. She welcomed the cold. It would encourage her to move so she could stay warm. She would take any help she could to motivate her into action.
The tentacled, Klamar dancer slipped through the curtain, dragging the sheets of fabric she wore behind her.
Ava donned the seductive smile she put on as a mask and slid between the sheaths of silken cloth onto the stage. Music thumped slowly with a deep bass and steady drum to guide her movements. The multicolored lights gleamed off her polished hematite skin.
With each step, she surveyed the room. Only a few ranine Sapun watched her from tables a few meters from the dais. Their bulbous eyes leered at her from atop their squat heads, and their oversized mouths, which made up the vast majority of their heads, gaped hungrily. Their slimy skin glistens a sickly rainbow in the reflected theater lights.
Kelm and Typodan sat on opposite sides of a long table with their lieutenants lined up on their lefts and rights in order of seniority.
Closer to the stage, several groups of musteline Lontra divided their attention between her and the long table. The lengthy whiskers twitched at the end of their small pointed faces. So much of their furry, elongated, lithe bodies were exposed, every twitch of their muscles revealed itself. Their nerves were on display for everyone to see.
Ava pulled her awareness back to the dance. The lines of force emanating from the planet curling over her skin and through body, resonating in her bones.
Twirling her long white dreadlocks in front of her tattooed face, Ava kept one eye on the talks and the other on the few who watched her every movement.
Something told her she shouldn’t strip off her clothes, just dance. She guided their lured gazes across her smooth skin. With the right angles and steps, she made them believe they saw more than she revealed. Every muscle moved through the choreography she memorized ages ago. Their minds distracted them with fantasies. All she had to do was fuel their imaginations.
A hand slapped on the long table.
One of Kelm’s men, a monstrous Masakh, towered over them, muttering quiet threats between his upturned tusks while scowling at Typodan.
Ava slunk over to the farthest side of the stage.
Typodan stood and marched toward the door.
“If that is your way of negotiating,” Kelm shouted over the music. “It isn’t going to work. I am not afraid of losing your business.”
Typodan made a subtle gesture with his left hand.
His men rose in unison and pulled their weapons.
Kelm flipped the long table onto its side.
Ava dove for the floor.
The wounded howled in pain.
Ava pressed herself as flat as she could. Terror tugged on her muscles, urging her to run, escape, get as far from this hell hole as she could. Heat singed her back as the plasma bolts flew over her. If she rose even a centimeter, one will strike her. No. She played dead. If they saw no signs of life, they might leave her alone.
With every ounce of her strength, she slowed her breath and let her body lay limp on the stage. Each scream, shout, and explosion caused her to tense her shoulders and back. She had to stop that. She was Kelm’s property. They might kill her to punish him.
The tumult subsided like a raging storm. Either Typodan won and his men fled the scene, everyone died, or Kelm would shout in victory. This wasn’t the first gunfight she found herself in the middle of. Kelm was many things, but easy to kill wasn’t one of them.
Afraid to move, Ava listened for footsteps. Any sign of life or danger beyond the gurgling cries of the injured. Something to let her know which side won and if it was safe to stand up or escape.
The acrid sent of singed fur and burned flesh filled the room. Smoke seeped between the other nauseating scents.
Maybe that thud was the sound of the door closing.
She opened her eyes.
Hazy soot floated through the air, perhaps from the plasma damage. It didn’t billow enough for the room to be on fire.
Ava pushed herself to her knees and took in the wrecked tables.
Scorch marks dotted the walls with a peculiar polka-dot pattern. Dead and dying people littered the floor. Typodan was no where to be seen.
A feint voice called for help behind the long table.
Standing, Ava glanced around for any sign of movement.
She jumped off the stage. A couple steps into the carnage, she picked up a blaster pistol discarded by one of the dead hands.
When she reached the table, she steadied herself for what she might see on the other side.
Kelm lay on his back, his soft Kauntaran features burned away by the plasma burns on his face. His once supple, glistening skin flaked like charred bark.
“Ava,” Kelm called to her. “Get me out.”
Purple blood soaked the ceramic tiles from a shrapnel wound in his leg. As he lay broken on the floor, Avamie studied him like an experiment under glass. How such a fragile being once frightened her, intimidated her, and forced her to do such horrible things after all these years. He resembled a marionette with its strings cut, so it collapsed helplessly onto the ground.
A lifetime of hatred burned in her chest. Her face warmed for each time he had hit her. Cold steel ached in her bones for each man he offered her to that was too rough, too violent.
This pathetic creature tortured, abused, and used her for so long. Now, he wanted, no... he needed her help.
The weight of the pistol pressed into her hand.
“Get me out of here,” he rage with what little energy he had left.
Ava smiled. “Yes, master. I will free you.”
She fired the pistol into his face.
Purple blood, fragments of tissue and bone splattered away from the burning hole where his face had been.
“I hope that was fast enough for you.”
Ava dropped the gun and stared at her palms. They didn’t shake. She killed Kelm and felt nothing. No relief, no satisfaction, nothing but the aching emptiness she knew all too well.
The smoke thickened in the air.
Why didn’t she feel something? For the first time in her life, she was free. Her master lay dead in a burning bar on a backwater planet no one in this sector gave a second thought, or even a first one. Besides, whatever caught fire and would render all these people into ash.
Maybe she should lie down and join them. Let the fire eat the pain from her and leave nothing behind.
She shook her head. Her first act as a free person wouldn’t be to die. She grabbed the pistol, a couple rifles, and every credit chit she came across before the smoke grew too thick.
One of the dead Lontra had a ship key in his pocket. She smiled and rushed out of the bar.
Cold air wrapped itself around her with the sweet smell of wild flowers and the acrid stench of the smoke.
One of the ships in the yard had to belong to the Lontra she took the key from. It wasn’t the dingy gray, circular craft closest to her, or the sleek Inaran fighter next to it. She skipped Kelm’s gun ship. Either the black standing wing ship or the gaudy golden pleasure craft now belonged to her, so long as the Lontra didn’t add an access code to the lock.
Afraid she stole the key to a Raylian pleasure craft, she ran to the black Shinari freighter. She slotted the key into console with a sigh and laughed when the hatch opened.
She glanced back at the bar she used to call home. The flames lick through the roof. With any luck, if anyone comes to sift through the cinders, they would assume she died with the others.
Running her fingers across her face, she stroked one of the horns on the top of her head. They wouldn’t burn in the fire... With Kelm dead, the odds anyone would come looking for her were slim. She was free.