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Charlie Dorsett

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Chapter 1: The Dancer Chapter 2: The Ghost

In the world of Barrens' End

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Chapter 2: The Ghost

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The Shinari freighter launched into orbit as soon as Avamie closed the hatch. The Lontra’s musk lingered in the air. Dim lights shone from small cups embedded in the ceiling. Soft fabric chairs surrounded a metal table just inside the ship. A small metal ladder led further up into the vessel in between two doors.

Ava climbed up to the next deck.

The cockpit opened up on the opposite side of the latter from her. Kelm taught her how to pilot his gunship so he and his men could rest while they traveled. The controls’ configuration were strange, and all the labels were written in some Lontran language she didn’t know.

“You are not Master Saarmas,” A voice echoed from the intercom in her native Scherian. “I suppose he died in the fire.”

Ava’s muscles tensed. “He did. Typodan and his men killed him.” She looked around as her muscles tightened.

Why didn’t she think to make sure she was alone? If someone else was on the ship, they posed a threat. They didn’t have to die, so long as they allowed her to get to a free world and escape. She wasn’t stealing the ship. She sought refuge in here, and it took off without asking.

“What a shame.” The voice continued. “He was a good man. May I ask, what your intentions are with my late master’s ship?”

“I just want to be free.” Ava checked the bedroom off the cockpit. “Like you, I was a slave, but now we are free.” She tiptoed to the next room.

“Slave?” The voice said, confusion in its tone. “I was not Master Saarmas’ slave.”

“Then why do you call him, master?”

In the long pause that followed, Ava opened the door into the cargo hold. Straps held a few crates to the deck. Monitoring for footsteps, she walked around them. What would she do if she found the hidden person? They had done nothing to her. She couldn’t just kill them, and she didn’t want to maroon them out here. Maybe since they were both former slaves, that would be enough of a bond to get them to another world where they could disappear into the galaxy.

“I have always called him master.” The voice finally replied. “I do not know why. Is that wrong?”

“Did Saarmas own you?” Avamie asked as she turned the corner of the last crate.

“Yes.” The voice responded. “Ever since I can remember. He never mistreated me.”

“Did he ask you to call him master?” Ava made her way back to the ladder.

“No. I just called him that. It felt natural. I am going to miss him.”

Since she didn’t hear any rustling below, Ava climbed up to the next deck. “What will you do, now that you are free?”

“I have never thought about a life without Ma... Saarmas. I always thought we would be together.”

The next deck housed the engineering section. Too many nooks for someone to ambush her from any direction.

“I promise not to harm you.” Ava said, feeling the weight of the guns. “Come out. Let’s talk. Where are you?”

“Close to you.”

“Do you have a name? My name is Avamie.”

“My name is KG, or at least that is what people call me for short.”

“Well, KG, why don’t you come out so we can talk face to face?”

A mechanism hissed behind her.

Ava spun around and rested her hand on her blaster.

A panel slid open. Eight gold eyes shown from the dark. Connections sparked away from the metal frame of the bot shell as the machinery awoke. The white skull-like head cocked to one side. The rest of the skeletal body stepped out of the housing.

“Is something wrong, Avamie?” KG asked.

“I didn’t expect you to be a bot.”

KG bobbed their head as if they laughed. “I did not expect Saarmas to die, and I am not just a bot, I am the ship’s avatar.”

“Am I safe with you?” Ava moved her finger closer to the trigger.

“You are safer than I apparently am.” KG pointed at the pistol she had pressed under her belt.

“Sorry.” Ava raised her arms in a calm and deliberate manner to signal her lack of intent to fight. “Why did you take off when I closed the hatch?”

“Saarmas told me to make orbit upon his return. Part of me knew he was dead. I did not want to believe it. You had his key. I presumed he sent you to me. It appears I was mistaken.”

Ava hung her head. “No one expected that slaughter.” Hollowness filled her. “The past is dead. You didn’t answer my question. Am I safe here?”

“You have the key.” KG stated. “Where would you like to go?”

She never chose a destination before, didn’t even know what else was in this sector. They always went wherever Kelm wanted to go. “How are we for supplies? Food, fuel, and the like.”

“We have enough fuel to make it to the other side of the sector, but I am not sure about the food and other provisions. According to my database, Phaeacians eat more than Lontra do, so I doubt we have enough food and fresh water for you to make it there.”

“Where is the closest resupply post?”

KG cocked his head back and forth for a moment. “Stygia is the nearest trade post, it is controlled by the Tsagaan Sarnai, so if the authorities are looking for you they shouldn’t find you there.”

Ava held her breath for a moment. The Sarnai held good relations with both the Coffra Jin who she just escaped and the Firinn. They had no love for the Clips and wouldn’t allow the rival sect into their territory. They styled themselves an escort agency, but they operated more like a gang.

Luckily, Kelm never tattooed or branded his mark on her. He said it would be a shame to mar your skin. So long as they didn’t run into someone who had seen her with him, they should be fine.

“Set a course.” Ava said.

“I suggest you strap yourself in before I initiate the helix. The transition has been a little rough lately.”

Ava nodded and made her way back to the cockpit.

KG followed her.

The chair was softer than she expected. The plush fabric caressed her back, reminding her how little clothing she wore.

KG opened a panel in the wall behind her and reintegrated into the ship.

Each strap on the harness held her close, like the ship itself tried to comfort her.

Outside the viewport, the stars twirled into a kaleidoscopic tunnel as the helix pulled the ship forward.

Her weight pressed her deep into the cushions as the ship jumped beyond light speed. The inertial compensator needed some repair. That would be one of her first priorities. If it failed, this speed would juice her like a lemon in a press, leaving nothing but a fine paste where she used to be.

She pulled the credit chits out of her boot and tallied up her net worth. 4,699 Inari Crowns. That wasn’t bad as long as she didn’t have to convert it into another currency. The Inari Commonwealth controlled this sector’s jump gate, so most of the worlds should accept their money.

What happened after they arrived at Stygia? She couldn’t sell the ship. Without it, she would be stranded there. Was Stygia the destination or a pit stop? Kelm always made decisions look easy. He pronounced their next move, and they carried out his wishes. While he wasn’t always right, he made this part appear so simple. Instinct guided him... right into a trap and his death.

Was there something she wanted to do? Eventually, she would have to find work. She owned a freighter, so she could haul cargo or passengers.


“Yes, Ava, what can I help you with?”

“What did Saarum do to make a living?”

“Odd jobs, he called it. Mostly, he lost money gambling across the sector. He did not like to haul freight or passengers. He said they were too much worry. Often he left the ship for days. When he returned, he told me where our next destination was.”

“Your old master sounds a lot like mine.”

“I do not think so. From the tone of your voice, you resent yours. Saarum was good to me. Unlike you with your master, I will miss him.”

The fading memory of her mother’s face flickered into her mind. She had no idea where Kelm bought her, or where her mother might be now. If she was even alive. Pain crackled in her like a thunderstorm and for a moment she recalled herself as a child reaching out for her mother, crying, and screaming with all her might as the slaver dragged her away to meet Kelm for the first time. Her mask slipped. Tears fell from her golden yellow eyes. The training

“There is only one person I ever missed, but that is far behind me. Is it safe for me to get out of the harness?”

“It is.”

Releasing the harness, Ava suppressed her tears. They served no purpose. She left the cockpit and opened the nearest door.

This obviously had been Saarum’s quarters. It was neater than she expected. A long, thin bed stood in the far right corner. Next to it, a small table had a few metal trinkets she didn’t recognize on it.

“Did Saarum have a family?” Ava asked.

“None that cared for him. He was a loner which was strange for a Lontra.”

Avamie opened the closet and pulled out a red shirt and realized just how different their body proportions were. Lontra were long and thin, and didn’t cover much of their bodies with clothes. She found a matching pair of crimson jeans and a black belt.

When she unfastened her belt, the gauzy dress opened and slid effortlessly off her shoulders. She took off her knee-high boots, then pulled off the jeans. Their bagginess accentuated her hips and extended to just below her knees. The shirt covered her chest and left her midriff bare.

She slid into the soft bed and nestled into the plush sheets. Saarum’s musk was strongest in here. It calmed her. She needed to figure out what she wanted to do when they arrived at Stygia, but just now, she needed rest more.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


Ava stretched out of a sound, dreamless sleep. She almost smiled, but didn’t have enough energy to finish. Emptiness rang within her like the abrupt silence after a prolonged tumult. Neither relief nor worry filled the void left within her.

After so many sleepless nights in her cell dreaming of a life free from the Coffra Jin, she couldn’t remember a single thing she once wanted to do.

A dreamlike haze clung to all her senses, and she wasn’t sure whether it was because she hadn’t woken up fully or if she couldn’t accept the reality that she was free.

Sitting up on the edge of the bed, she told herself that she needed to go have something to eat, but she wasn’t hungry. Her stomach twisted in knots as the weight of what she’d done set in.

She killed Yangar Kelm.

He wasn’t the first life she’d taken, but he was the first she chose. No. That wasn’t right. Every time she killed in the past was to save herself the punishment the Coffra would inflict on her for disobeying. She killed Kelm for the same reason. If he survived, he would come looking for her. She couldn’t risk that. With any luck, they would assume she died in the fire.

She needed to remove her tracker. So long as she had it, they would be able to finder her if anyone bothered to look.

“KG.” Ava said like she was afraid she might wake up a roommate.

“Yes, Ava. We are nearly to Stygia. Did you have a good rest period?”

“It was fine.” She ran her fingers over her left arm. “Do you have any experience performing surgery?”

“I have had to repair Saarmas on many occasions when he couldn’t pay his debts.”

“Please remove my tracker before we arrive in orbit of Stygia and it logs my new location.”

“Very well. Meet me in the galley on the lowest deck.”

Ava stood up and forged her resolve to take this final step. Until now, she was legally lost property. If she removed the tracker chip, she would be a fugitive slave.

“KG. I am also going to need someone to provide me with new identity cards.”

“That could be a problem. If we enter orbit with someone other than my former master aboard and you do not have the proper documents, they could impound us.”

Ava cursed. “Do you have any idea how we can fix our mutual problem?”

“Saarmas dealt with an information broker on Stygia a couple times. I could contact them.”

“See if they will meet us in the outer system so we can get everything done before we have to signal orbital control.”


Ava climbed down to the lowest deck and found KG sterilizing the table and a set of surgical instruments.

“Is there a kill switch in the tracker?” The bot asked.

“No. The tracker was damaged in a fight a couple years ago and almost detonated. Kelm was afraid if it happened again it might endanger his own life, so when they repaired it, he had the explosives removed. He knew I wouldn’t try to run away.” Darkness clouded her words.

“His mistake.”

KG’s matter-of-fact tone made Ava laugh.

“I suppose it is.” She laid her arm palm up on the table. “It is between the bones about halfway down.”

KG sprayed her arm with an anesthetic and she lost all feeling from the elbow down.

Ava turned away as the bot picked up the scalpel. She’d seen her insides too many times over the years. Kelm made her watch the last time they opened her arm up to remind her he was always with her, in her body. There was nowhere she could escape from him.

On that occasion, he instructed the doctor to dilute the numbing agent so she would feel the incision and all the manipulations of her flesh. Phantoms of that past surgery haunted her.

Now she could choose to look away and felt defiant refusing to allow Kelm to inflict this last injury on her. She controlled her own body now. She could even change her gender expression if she chose.

Her people partook of a sacrament that allowed them to change their sex. She had three to choose from, if they hadn’t taken that choice from her. Her species had three adult sexes, one bore children, one provided genetic material, and the other was neither. The cocktail she took made her neither male nor female, but allowed her to present as female in outward appearance.

If she wanted to change, she could. It was the one thing about her formal life she liked about herself. She wasn’t trapped in either gender, but she had the curves and breasts that made her feel like she was herself. She didn’t feel feminine all the time, but she never felt masculine at all. This was the one thing about her former life that she felt was hers.

“I am finished.” KG said.

Ava turned around to see him wipe up the last of her mercurial silver blood from the table. A dark line marked where the chip had been extracted.

“It should not scar, but I will need to check it daily to ensure that it doesn’t.” KG held his hand out and showed her the silver disk he extracted. “What do you want to do with it? I have deactivated it, so we do not have to worry about it logging onto the network when we are in range. I removed its power supply to make sure of it.”

Ava reached for the blaster in her belt before she remembered she left it in the bedroom. She sighed. “If it will be safe, I would like to keep it to remind me where I came from.”

“Why?” KG cocked his head to the side.

“Because I don’t have a home world, or a people to call my own, really. They scatter us throughout the galaxy. It is where I came from.”

Ava struggled to move her arm to take the chip, but she couldn’t get her muscles to respond.

“I will craft you a display for it.”

Ava smiled. “Thank you.”

KG nodded and closed his hand and asked her what she wanted for breakfast.

It took her while to choose. Part of her enjoyed watching the bot cook for her. She didn’t feel like she had a servant, but an equal who cared about her wellbeing.

After she ate, KG informed her that the information broker agreed to meet them in orbit of a moon of a gas giant in the outer system.

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