All Caro wants is to dance and to be with Adam but Masters Cyrus and Marshall have other plans for her. Dark plans that will change the fate of the universe. Can she escape those plans or will she be fed to the Demon’s Well?
In a universe filled with alien races and advanced technology, humanity brought with it the ills of war, slavery and piracy. The League of Stars fights to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Hunter Quirin and his AI Babe are a special pair that do what no one else can.
Escape is the first of the League of Stars novels
When humanity finally burst free of the home world, like spores from a mushroom, they spread out across the galaxy. At first they thought they were alone, but soon they discovered they were not.
Many of the races greeted the humans as interesting new clients or friends, but not all. It took nearly a century for trade to spring up. Out of the earliest meetings grew organizations that worked both to protect the humans and against the worst of humanity.
The Masters started out as groups of like-minded humans who came to rule over their various sectors with iron hands. Where the Masters ruled, the lowest of humankinds’ vices spread. Slavery, drug cartels and various, less seemly occupations became the norm. With the help of a few nonhuman races, special beings were bred. Watchers, Sweepers and other terrifying creatures walked the faces of worlds that the Masters owned. As the Masters’ power grew they moved off those worlds to the various stations that controlled interstellar travel.
The League grew out of a need. Runaway slaves, the traveling folk and those who had no power needed a voice. The League was formed much like the Rangers of the old west on the mother planet. A group of men and women who could be relied on to help those who needed protection and who had the power to make the Masters pay for their crimes. In the thousand years since mankind left Mother Earth, the League has defended and protected humanity, be they dirt-sider, station rat, or ship-born, the League protects and defends. They have kept the depredations of the Masters to a small sector of human controlled worlds, and they continue to do so today.
“History of the League by Coronal Michael Jacobson, League Justicar.”
Black sector, Grail station, outskirts of the Sagittarius cluster. Phoenix Empire.
Caro ran down the corridor ahead of the Sweepers. Throwing a look back at each bend in the way, she managed to stay just out of their view. Dodging between the shoppers, under the long scraps of material that heralded what each tiny hole in the wall shop specialized in, she moved from one tiny space to another with all the agility of a child. The Sweepers were once more rounding up the young and master-less and it was clear they needed new females, women and girls to breed up new warriors and to slave for the Masters. Caro refused to follow in her sister dancers footsteps, refused to be made a slave again. She needed to get off this station, onto a ship headed to a free world. A few more twists and turns down tunnels that echoed with the mix of languages that made up the natives of the station. Cries of warning and of complaint mixed with the patios of commerce. She leapt high over a cart that had spilled in the middle of her path, briefly amazing those watching as she seemed to fly. She flashed a tight grin and waved as she landed, launching into a quick pirouette that she could not stop herself from doing. She rolled her eyes at her action and dashed off once more. A few more twisting turns and she came to the concourse. Slowing, she eeled her way into the crowd. Her size helped her blend into the crowd, but she stood out for her ethnicity. Where most of those who lived and worked on this station were small with black hair and blacker eyes, she had a different shape to her face, her eyes large and round compared to the almond shape of those bred to this station. She was dressed in silks, a bright flash of color among a sea of black tunics and pants. She was a cardinal that stood out as if she was surrounded by crows. She had to find Adam. Only with him did she feel safe from the Sweepers.
Inside Shankman’s Rest a voice swelled and captured the attention of those passing by. Full and masculine, it pulled people in and stirred things deep inside hearts that were locked down. He sang of sex and love and other things that the Masters had done their best to stamp out if not outright outlawed. The listeners paired off and, in smoky corners, broke the laws of the Masters, by touching and caressing those not approved. His song was wild and rhythmic, full of power and need. The audience that wasn’t pairing off was surrounding the stage where the tall, dark-haired man sang. Dressed in black leather and blue silk, he mesmerized and teased. Both men and women looked at him like he was fresh meat and they were starving. His song soared as he made love to the audience, giving them a light to their dark days and release. His eyes jumped from person to person, seeming to stroke them and tease them, but in reality searching for one face in the crowd, just one person. He hid his worry and poured more power into his words.
Dodging to the left, Caro ran faster, her sleek dancer’s body giving her the strength and stamina to stay ahead of her pursuers. The crowds parted as the Sweepers passed by. On Grail station, the Sweepers could take whom they wished and no one wanted to catch their eye. Most would aid the Sweepers for money or for favor, it did not matter, either way they got something they didn’t have before. As they saw the cloak-shrouded forms chasing the young dancer, hands reached out to stop her. Caro slid to the side, avoiding the merchant that stepped in front of her, then dropped down and slid under the arms of another who tried to catch her. She was almost to her destination; just a dash and she could hide. If she could make it to the other side of the concourse, she could hide from them in one of the many cubbies she had found. She spun and leapt and the hands slid away. Just a few hundred feet and she would be free and then she could get word to Adam. She made it to just outside the Shankman’s rest before she was hit with a tangle web. Crashing to the ground, she fought like a wild animal, cursing the men around her. “You damn cowards! Fight them, don’t let them take…” The nearest Sweeper tapped her shoulder with a stun rod causing her to scream in pain.
Just as he finished up his set Adam heard the commotion outside. Grabbing up his kit bag from the side of the stage, he eased his way out of the reach of the fans and onto the concourse in time to hear the scream. His head whipped about as he recognized the voice begging for help. He pushed through the crowd and grabbed the rod before it could hit her again. The Sweeper stared at him for a long minute before reaching for its gun with its other hand. Adam yanked the stun rod from its fingers, spun the rod and rammed it into the belly of the Sweeper. The creature let out a weird high pitched howl and collapsed to the amazement of the crowd. While everyone around them was stunned, Adam quickly scooped up the web-bound woman and shouldered his way past the crowd. For the first time one of the dreaded Sweepers was finding out just how their victims felt as the crowd shook itself free of shock, roared and then tore it apart.
Caro whimpered, lost in the screaming nerve pain from the tangle web and stun rod. Calibrated for the larger heavy-worlders that were the current fad in slaves, they had been known to damage the smaller races beyond repair. Caro was a zero g dancer, tiny, lithe and light. Her heritage was well hidden by makeup and dye, but Adam knew it was said that she was so good because she came from the fabled lost home world. Rumors of those who were born there said they had a grace that the space-born could not copy. Or so the legends went. He wasn’t sure if he believed them, but he had watched her dance and knew that she had something that no one in this part of space had seen before. Ducking into a nearby alley, he juggled her carefully and rapped a triple knock on a door. It swung open and an arm pulled them inside quickly.
“What happened?” A hushed voice started before shaggy brows went up. A near silent curse whispered in the tiny room as the muscular and hairy man looked over the fugitives. “Damn Sweepers,” he growled. “Put her down over there, boy. We need to get the web off her skin.” In the sudden silence there could be heard a very soft sizzling sound as the charge slowly ground out into her skin. Dancer silks were both light and delicate, form fitting and eye catching. They covered the body, but left little to the imagination.
Adam swiftly moved to the bed and gently lay Caro down on a faded quilt. He pulled out a contraband knife and then carefully slit the webbing. The strands were a special substance reminiscent of Terran spider webs, but a hundred times thicker and stronger and made to carry current. Any normal knife would have slid off the filaments, but he carried a blade that could not be bought; only gifted. He slowly peeled the web off the pale skin to find red welts. The stun rod had charged the web and burned through the filmy dancers’ silks. “Damn, kid,” he whispered, his blue eyes troubled.
“Here, boy, this will help.” The old man handed Adam a bottle of solvent and together they slowly removed the webbing. By the time it was fully removed Caro was panting in pain, whimpering and trying to fight them. Adam had to slip behind her and hold her hands, softly singing to her, to get her to stop fighting.
Harold shook his head as he carefully covered the welts with a special cream. Never sure if the human before him would react the way expected when medicine was used made him tense. Humanity had mutated in a lot of different ways since they left the home world. What worked just fine on a heavy-worlder just might cause a light-worlder to go into anaphylactic shock. Allergies to the base of any cream could make the welts turn into something more dangerous than those light burns and welts. He let out a relieved sigh as the marks slowly faded, her body relaxing. This time the cream worked better than he expected and he sent off a silent prayer to the gods of fools and children. “This just isn’t right, boy. She doesn’t belong here. The Sweepers will keep after her, she is a rare prize for the Masters.”
Adam looked up, anger making his eyes glow like sapphires. “You think I don’t know that! We’ve been trying to get off this tin can for months. What am I supposed to do, just let them have her?”
The large, shaggy male shook his head, graying brown hair falling across his face, hiding a smile as he pulled another quilt over the slender form in Adam’s arms. “I know, boy. I have been working on that for you both. You know that I will do what I can. It will be another three shift changes though. I have a freighter docking that is skippered by a friend. He is more than willing to get you two off this place.” When Adam opened his mouth with a skeptical look on his face, Harold chuckled. “You know very well why I am helping you and our little friend here. Now just settle. We can hide both of you here and smuggle you out when my friend docks.”
Looking down at the quivering woman in his arms Adam sighed and nodded. “How much will it cost, Harold?”
A slow grin spread across the hairy features. “Don’t worry about the cost, boy. Cap’n owes me a favor.”
Caro stirred with a soft moan and opened her eyes. “Sorry…” She looked up and into Adam’s concerned blue ones.
Adam placed a gentle finger on her full lips. “No, you have nothing to be sorry for.” She reached up to touch his cheek before her eyes fluttered shut again. He started to slide out from under her when her arms latched about him with a frightened whimper. He paused a moment, looking over to Harold, who shrugged and slid out of the room with a grin.
Caro whispered softly, “Please, hold me.” She shivered as she slowly let him go. “I know I’m nothing more than a burden to you. A child, who isn’t your type, but…”
He shushed her again, slipping out from under her, but not moving away, instead stretching out at her side. He pulled her into his arms again and softly stroked her back. “You are not a burden, love.” He lightly dropped a kiss on her temple. “You are not a child.” He started to say more, but she whispered, interrupting him.
“I wish I was more like the others…those you take to your bed.”
Adam blinked and looked down in surprise. He smiled when he saw her eyes were closed and her breathing was evening out. He continued to stroke her hair softly, watching her sleep. He knew what she had been forced to do before they started traveling together and that was not something he had expected her to say. In all the time they had traveled together they had only a little time to talk about their pasts.
He knew she had been kept as a slave and had only recently won the right to be free. She rarely talked about how, but he expected she saved what little a slave was given in payment and worked out an arrangement. She had been very skittish when he first met her. The fact that he was a singer of songs that made those who listened enthralled and led many to want to share his bed was plain enough to see. She was partially right, he had only taken males to his bed since she had been traveling with him, but she didn’t know why. Like most on this god-forsaken speck of metal in space, she did not know why. Even with all the time they had been together he had not told her of his past before they met.
Over the past year he had learned a lot about the waif whom he had first seen dancing center stage in the Glass Palace. She flew and twirled in her dancer’s silks, drawing every eye to her form and grace. Caro was a wonder to all the heavy-worlders who crowded into her shows. She moved like a legendary fairy, light and impossibly flexible. The people in this sector of space had all adapted to the heavy worlds and many worked in the mines. A woman like Caro seemed like a delicate doll brought to life. She danced to music that was from out of history, said to have been from the ancient peoples of the Home world.
Adam had been contracted by the owners of the Star cruiser Atlantis to headline their new lounge and had been given the task of finding a few other acts to fill the lounges. It had been easy to bring in a couple of his numerous cousins with their drum and whistle act, along with a few other groups he knew of who had lost work when the Glass Palace had decided to change the venue to something more cultured. He had gone in to let them know he had spots for them when they had dragged him in to see Caro as she performed.
While zero-g dancing had been around for centuries, it was usually reserved for ballet and ballroom style dancing. The tiny and frail looking woman, who spun and flowed like she had no bones, stopped all conversation whenever she took to the stage. Adam watched through three complete different dances before he started asking questions. His friends knew that she had just bought her way free of her contract and it was all the talk backstage, but there were whispers of the management trying to find ways to extend her contract against her will. Other darker rumors reached his ears and he had decided that he would approach her.