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Rated: 13+ · Other · Sci-fi · #1175396
A wanted outlaw finds herself face-to-face with an alien believed to be extinct.
Millennium Potion
by Sara King


(a.k.a. If You Don’t Realize This Is A Work Of Fiction, Please Go Find Something Else To Do)

So you’re about to read about spaceships and aliens and laser pistols and faster-than-light space travel. In case you’re still confused, yes, this book is a complete work of fiction. Nobody contained within these pages actually exists. If there are any similarities between the people or places of Millennium Potion and the people and places of Good Ol’ Planet Earth, you’ve just gotta trust me. It’s not real, people. Really.

Chapter One:
A Cure for Immortality

         If the bar on Terra-9 had a real name, it certainly wasn’t the name posted on the sign outside. About once a month—or whenever the proprietor got twitchy—the whole establishment picked up and moved, taking all of its clandestine wares for the ‘discerning patron’ with it. With each new move came a new name, a new logo, a new décor. Because of this, Athenais and all the other shifty-eyed spacers who patronized the place simply called it ‘The Shop.’
         Due to the nature of its business, The Shop couldn’t afford to own an A.I.—which could be hacked by government spies—so it had a live bartender serving drinks behind a barrier of dirty, energy-resistant glass. Patrons lovingly called the stiff, perpetually-scowling man Giggles because he couldn’t crack a smile without breaking bones.
         Athenais frequented The Shop whenever she could find it. Her crew loved the cheap entertainment offered in the back rooms, but Athenais loved the squalor and the ancient, rough-hewn tables that stank of years of malt and whiskey. She loved the dirty glasses, the weapons on every hip. She loved the battered, crusty-eyed spacers that looked ready to cough up an un-immunized lung or draw steel for an accidental bump.
         She also loved to fight. Her appetite for violence was probably some form of ancient, misplaced rage, but frankly, Athenais didn’t care. She’d told her last shrink to get stuffed and put a pretty little laser hole through his couch for his input.
         …Or had it been his head? She’d shot at him so many times it had become fuzzy.
         Athenais rubbed her head, trying to remember the particulars of her last day with that annoying, no-chin, flat-foreheaded, nasal, bookwormy moron and his ‘clinical experience.’ All she could remember, for sure, was the hole in the couch. She had wanted to put it through his face, but the bastard had ducked.
         Sighing, Athenais wondered where the stuffy prick was buried. While he had been a constant nagging pain in her ass for almost a quarter of a millennia—her self-proclaimed conscience, once he realized just what kind of deviant he had on his hands—the little twit had been more or less a friend, when he wasn’t shrinking her and getting shot at. Their last ‘session’ had been almost four centuries ago, and as much as the prick had annoyed her, she missed him. Things got lonely, over the years.
         Athenais glanced again at the seat Rabbit had recently vacated, wishing she’d taken him up on his offer to tag along that night. Thuggery wasn’t exactly Athenais’s style—she’d rather negotiate with military-grade cannons that could blow a space station apart than her handgun and a set of brass knuckles—but she would have made an exception, in Rabbit’s case. He was always up to something interesting.
         Wistful, Athenais swept a quick look at Rabbit’s establishment. Giggles was over in his glass-enclosed corner, cleaning his pistol. A few void-weary patrons were drinking off the boredom of space with long-unseen friends. Most everyone with any serious business at The Shop, however, had gone once Rabbit had hopped out for the day. She figured he’d probably slip back in that night, after he finished whatever clandestine dealings he had with tonight’s corrupt government official. Tomorrow, he’d probably be bribing the local Port Patrol. Or blackmailing the planetary judicial triumvirate. Or watching the opera.
Athenais took another drink, wishing someone would start a fight.
         The fights at The Shop were not the civilized tea-time spectacles found elsewhere in the universe. They were ruthless, barbaric, sand-flinging, ball-crunching, knee-breaking, eye-gouging brawls with the very scum of the human race, and Athenais thrived on them. It reminded her of simpler days, before her father’s ‘genius.’
         Athenais made a disgusted sound. Genius. Right. She twisted the stein in her hands, wishing it were Marceau Tempest’s neck. He experimented on children… Shaking her head, she looked away before she busted another one of Rabbit’s mugs.
Not for the first time, she longed for some company. Rabbit was gone. Ragnar was watching the ship. Her drinking partners had slumped under the table long before, and she’d let Giggles drag them off with only cursory complaints. Now she was wishing she’d put up more of a fight. Rabbit would have found someone else to keep her entertained, or maybe even taken a moment out of his busy schedule to sit down and reminisce with her about the old days. She needed a good reminiscing. Too many fresh-eyed young ‘brewers’ filling up the spacelines nowadays, living their borrowed time out with yet another shot of her father’s Potion. As far as she had heard, it was getting cheaper every year. Pretty soon, everyone would be living as long as she did.
         Athenais lowered her head, staring down at her beer.
         She didn’t want to leave. She’d just spent the last four months in space, and it was good to feel the bone-tugging pull of natural gravity again. As much as Utopian engineering companies tried to claim differently, human beings just weren’t meant to hurtle through the void at speeds that would rip a photon apart. They needed some slow time, just to think.
         Athenais scanned The Shop tiredly. Three spacers with laser pistols on their belts sat together at a table in the back, talking loudly over their drinks. Near the center, a bored-looking patron flipped a ceramic credit coin in the air in front of him. He didn’t look worried that somebody would take it from him, so the coin was probably fake. Two tables over, a vacant-eyed spacer was smoking tanga-weed, filling the entire room with its hallucinogenic brown smoke. Like the alcohol, Athenais was immune to the stuff, but it still made her eyes water.
         Behind his glass shield, Giggles was yawning and checking his watch. No one had asked for a drink in over an hour.
Athenais had hoped Rabbit would return before she got bored, but the way he’d run out with half a dozen goons in tow, it almost looked as if he was off to put out a fire…
         …or start a war.
         Either way, Athenais doubted he’d be slinking back anytime soon. She sighed and started to stand, leaving her ineffectual beer on the table behind her.
         As she moved, three large men threw open the door and stepped inside.
         Athenais’s hand slid toward her gun. Upon a second look, however, she relaxed back into her chair. The three men had an aura of danger about them, but it was an unmistakable pang of ‘feral’ that filled the bar ahead of them that no Utopian officer could ever fake. With their scruffy haircuts, their heavy workman’s boots that screamed of ‘rough money,’ and their pinched, unfriendly faces, Athenais wouldn’t have been surprised to see prison barcodes under the collars of their heavy black spacers’ jackets. Behind the glass, Giggles had dropped his rag and his hand was hovering closer to his gun.
         Despite the slow muscular atrophy that was common with so many of today’s spacers, all three of the men were big and powerfully built—to expensively-modded proportions. Further, there was something familiar about the three that nagged at Athenais. While she was trying to place it, she realized that the leader’s windburned face had startling, unnatural yellow eyes. Another expensive mod.
         The yellow-eyed thug led the other two over to the bar, where Athenais was able to get a better look at him. Pockmarks riddled his sun-darkened skin. His hair was black, cropped close to his skull in total disrespect of the current style. He was wearing a black spacer outfit with deep pockets and EverWarm lining. As he pulled out a stool and sat at the bar, she realized that he was missing the smallest finger of his left hand.
         That surprised her. Athenais had seen a few Utopis who, like herself, saw their scars as badges of honor. A missing digit, however, wasn’t worth the inconvenience. Athenais had lost the biggest three toes on her right foot when she got them stuck in the air-lock of her ship during a high-speed retreat, but she’d grown them back. Enduring a disfigurement as awkward as a missing finger took a lot of dedication.
         Or it was something else entirely.
         Athenais squinted at the three men and the realization hit her like a fist to the gut. They were colonists.
         Giggles seemed to recognize that fact, too, because he refused to serve them the three beers that they ordered. “Sorry, mates,” the young man said, “Brewers only.” Selling illegal booze to hardened criminals was a fineable offense. Selling it to non-brewers was asking to be sent to an Erriatian death-camp.
         The leader scowled at the barkeep through the inch-thick glass. “We can pay,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a scratched and age-worn credit coin. He slid the coin under the glass.
         “Sorry,” Giggles repeated, sliding the coin back to the colonist. “Citizens only. Owner’s rules.”
         “What the hell you care about the rules?” the yellow-eye demanded. Giggles shrugged and went back to wiping glasses. After giving Giggles a long, dark look, the yellow-eye turned away from the bar and once again scanned the room with a scowl that suggested he was probably looking for someone to pummel for Giggles’ slight.
         The other patrons of The Shop all tactfully ignored the three colonists, with the exception of Athenais and the tanga-weeder. The latter was staring at them with wide, glazed eyes, smiling. He was probably hallucinating.
         The leader caught Athenais’s eye again and gave her a considering look. Then, seemingly making a reluctant decision, he just shook his head and headed for the door. Athenais felt a pang of regret. She’d been looking forward to a fight. Four months of cramped ship quarters and she wasn’t even going to get bloody. She felt robbed.
         Before the trio of colonists could reach the door, she bellowed, “Giggles, I want three more beers.” Her voice was naturally loud from commanding a shipful of selectively deaf space pirates, and it cut through the silence like a knife.
         The three colonists stopped and eyed her. She got up and walked over to the bar. With a flourish, she presented her credit coin.
         Giggles frowned at her, then over her shoulder at the three colonists, who were still standing near the door. He made no move to take her coin. “Whatcha want ‘em for, Attie?”
         “Why, that’s an odd question,” Athenais said. “What do you do with beer, Giggles?”
         Giggles grimaced. “Attie, I ain’t gonna serve them no booze.”
         Athenais gave Giggles a baffled look, then turned to glance at the three men. The leader was watching her with his alien yellow eyes. Like her, he had a scar across his cheek, though it was on his right side instead of his left. She winked at him again.
         Turning back to Giggles, Athenais said, “Them three? Did I ask you to serve them, Giggles? I said I want three beers. Are you gonna tell me I can’t buy three beers? Do I need to take this up with Rabbit?”
         Giggles licked his lips. The fact that Athenais was childhood friends with the owner of The Shop was part of the reason why Rabbit had to relocate his place of business so often. On their own, either of them could—and did—skate under the radar of the law with ease, but together, their combined notoriety often made for unpleasant surprises.
         But it was a price they were more than willing to pay. They’d been lovers, business partners, and even children together, on Millennium, before her father had inflicted his lunacy upon them both. Rabbit had stolen his first kiss from her. Athenais had been the first one to call him Rabbit, and to her delight, it had stuck. Their relationship had morphed and evolved over the years, cycling through all the possible variants until it had settled firmly on ‘good friends,’ and it was that stability that kept Athenais sane.
Too much had changed over the last seven thousand years. Things crumbled, people died, stars imploded. Only beer, sex, and Rabbit remained the same.
         “Naw,” Giggles finally said, “But Rabbit ain’t gonna like it.”
         “What are you talking about?” Athenais said. “Rabbit loves to see me drunk. It’s the only way he can win at dice.” She waited as Giggles reluctantly scanned her credit coin, then grabbed the three tankards of beer he slid under the glass.
         “Sit down, fellahs,” Athenais suggested as she went back to her table. She set the tankards down on the stained wooden table and returned to her seat. “What brings you to T-9?”
         She caught the quick flicker of their eyes, as well as the leader’s slight nod. She pretended not to notice.
         “We’re looking to join the Utopia,” the biggest one said as he sat beside her. Half of his face was smothered in a thick brown beard and his spacer outfit creaked from the strain his huge muscles were putting on it. Despite the roughness of his dress, however, he was clean and did not carry the overpowering stench of most males who worked in space. Not even his breath was very offensive. “I’m Morgan. The guy missing a digit is Paul and the skinny one’s Stuart.”
         ‘Skinny,’ in this case, was relative. As the three of them took seats at her table, Athenais gave them a quick perusal. Whereas the yellow-eye looked like something belonging in an Erriatian Death Squad, the smallest of the three resembled some sort of fishing bird. He had a hooked nose attached to a perfectly spherical head. Combined with his long neck and lean frame, he looked a lot like a stork on steroids. Though he was easily bigger than any other man in the room other than his two companions, he didn’t look like he belonged with the three colonists. He seemed somewhat out of place. Like an observer in someone else’s show.
         Athenais shoved their beers at them. “Even if you were dumb enough to steal a Utopian vessel and joyride off-planet, you’re not that stupid. Colonists can’t join the Utopia. You three can get executed just for being here.”
         “Oh yes.” The big, bearded man beside her gave a rumbling chuckle.
         Of the three of them, Athenais was most intrigued by the man with the stark yellow eyes. She couldn’t shake the feeling she knew him from somewhere, but she’d never forget eyes like that. And, though it was easy for Utopis to change their eye color, colonists usually did not have that luxury.
         “Stealing a ship was necessary,” Paul said. “It was the only way to get free.”
         “So you are colonists. Walking around the Utopia. In broad daylight.” Athenais was impressed. “You three have some brass balls, I’ll give you that. What colony you from?”
         “Penoi,” the bearded man told her.
         Athenais glanced from one to the other, trying to decide if he was serious. She had been born on Millennium, Penoi’s tropical moon. Though she’d never visited Penoi, she had seen its deep blue and green landscape every time she went out of doors in her childhood. What surprised her was that her father was the Overseer of Penoi and he had not let a colonist escape in over seven thousand years at his post.
         She glanced at the yellow-eye. “And you?”
         “Paul’s different,” the storkish one muttered into his beer. Beside her, Morgan stiffened, then covered it up by running a hand through his beard.
         Athenais lifted a brow at the leader. “Different how?”
         “What he means is—” Morgan began.
         “What he means is this,” Paul said, holding up the hand that was missing his pinkie finger. He set it down on the table between them, shielding it from the rest of the tavern with his beer. Both Morgan and Stuart fell into a subdued silence, their eyes locked on the missing finger.
         It took Athenais a moment to realize that the scarred stub was growing, stretching. In less than a minute, the finger was whole again.
         Athenais swore and jumped backwards, her seat crashing to the floor in her haste. All eyes in the bar locked on her. From behind his glass, Giggles touched the pistol strapped to his hip and gave her a questioning look. Athenais ignored him and glanced back at Paul’s hand. The finger was gone again.
         Tearing her eyes up from the stub, Athenais whispered, “You’re a shifter.”
         Paul took a long swig of beer.
         A wash of excitement flooded Athenais’s good sense. Almost all shifters had died in the last war. Three million credits were up for grabs for anyone who could provide information that led to a shifter’s extermination, but the prize had not been claimed for more than four hundred years. By showing her who he was, Paul had put his life into her hands…and potentially a lot of money.
         Athenais picked up her chair and sat back down. “Thought you were all dead.”
         “There’s still a few of us around.” Paul spoke Utopian without a hint of an accent, so perfectly that Athenais still couldn’t believe that the man sitting across from her was an alien.
         “On the colonies?” Why did she get the idea she knew him from somewhere?
         Athenais leaned back. “I take it back, shifter. Coming here, telling me that… You got balls of goddamn titanium. But then again, you probably don’t have balls, do you? Come to think of it, how do you guys…you know…?” She gestured at his crotch.
         “We’re off subject.”
         Athenais frowned at him. “Why? You a male or female? Or are you guys like seahorses and grow your own? Come to think of it, how do seahorses do it?”
         Paul narrowed his eyes at her. “If you’re stalling because you sent a neurogram back to your ship, this conversation is over.”
         Athenais bristled. “It’s just small talk. I want to know.”
         The shifter looked stressed and irritated and ready to leave. The bearded man put a steadying hand on his shoulder, visibly holding him in place. Paul scoffed and looked disgustedly aside, then forcibly relaxed. When he failed to enlighten her on either the breeding habits of shifters or seahorses, however, Athenais sighed and said, “So how’d you meet your friends, here?”
         “Common interest.”
         “Which is?” She had trouble believing that a shifter wanted to get his hands on the Millennium Potion. They already had a natural lifespan longer than anything Marceau could concoct with his pharmaceuticals.
         “Downfall of the Utopia.”
         She felt herself grin. “What a surprise.”
         “Indeed,” Paul said, looking at his mug. He took a deep swig and set it down again, none too gently. “But we have better things to do than discuss the past.” He sounded strained, his words forced.
         Athenais checked her watch. “I’ve got another ten hours until I need to go find out which half of my crew is sober for cast-off. As soon as we get underway, I’m looking at several weeks of playing cards and reading old newsbits. I’d gladly buy you another drink to hear your tale.”
         “That would take all ten hours, plus some,” Paul said. “Besides, you probably know the story already.”
         It struck Athenais that he sounded as if he were acting in a play. His tight, jerky conversation suddenly made the tiny hairs on her neck stand on end and she glanced over her shoulder at Giggles, who was still watching her.
         Steadying herself, Athenais took a long moment to study her drinking companions. She couldn’t find a hint of Utopian on them anywhere. They were too rough, too…poor. Not for the first time, instead of following her gut and ending the conversation, curiosity got the better of her. “I know the gist,” Athenais admitted, “But how’d you survive all this time? They had extermination squads out for years.”
         Paul smiled bitterly, but said nothing. She got the sudden, strong feeling that this man—alien, rather—hated her. Not just hated Utopis, but her. The sheer animosity coming from behind his piercing yellow eyes—alien eyes, now that she thought of it—made her skin prickle uncomfortably. She wondered again if she was walking into a trap.
         She smiled at them, masking her unease. “Two colonists and a shifter and you’re gonna bring down the Utopia. Do you have any idea how many lunatics I’ve heard say the same thing? What kind of stupid stunt are you planning to pull? A planet-killer stored in the hull of some transport? An engineered plague? Exploding Millennium’s star?” She’d heard them all before.
         Paul’s alien eyes glittered with challenge. “A few beers doesn’t buy a tale like that, Attie.”
Athenais flinched at the mention of her nickname, then realized that Giggles had used it when they had first arrived. She relaxed, wondering what was setting her nerves on edge. After all, most of her crew was within earshot in the back rooms and Giggles would gladly shoot all three of her drinking companions if she so much as gave him the nod.
         “Fair enough,” Athenais said. “What does it buy?”
         A malicious smile stretched Paul’s lips. “Spoken like a true pirate.”
         Athenais grinned. “That’s what’s wrong with the Utopia these days,” she said. “A woman can’t keep an eye to her finances without being accused of piracy.”
         “You know what you are just as well as we do.”
         The outright anger, the deep-rooted malevolence in his gaze left Athenais feeling more and more unnerved. She tried to laugh, but failed under the alien’s unwavering yellow gaze. She found herself gripping the beer stein reflexively as she said, “Giggles must have pissed in your drink. I’m no pirate.” Immediately, she regretted the words. They had come out defensive, not at all like the confident space captain that seven thousand years of Hell had shaped her into. Since when had these fools gotten the upper hand in this conversation?
         Paul’s yellow eyes bored right into her with alien intensity, making Athenais nervously wonder if shifters somehow read minds, too. “Yes you are. You’re human scum. Wanted in all four quadrants and have death warrants on sixteen planets. The price on your head is double that of the next three bounties combined.”
         Athenais beamed, showing teeth. “Still half what you’re worth, I’m sure.”
         The shifter gave her a sly grin and raised his tankard.
         Athenais felt herself liking the alien despite his hostility towards her. “Tell me,” she said. “Who are you, really? Why tell me about…that?” She indicated his missing pinkie finger.
         He shrugged. “You bought us a drink.”
         “Your life for a drink? I don’t buy that.”
         Paul bristled. “I didn’t come here to exchange pleasantries with Utopian filth.” He started to stand.
         “Damn it, Paul,” Morgan said, scowling. “Just sit down.” He forced his face into a smile for Athenais. “Ignore him. He’s had a bad time of the trip. We’re grateful for the beer. It was good.”
         “It’s piss. Barely worth drinking.” Athenais had thought Paul was the one in charge, but the sulky manner in which he withstood Morgan’s rebuke led her to believe the bearded man was somehow the leader of the trio.
         Morgan gave her a charming smile. “In such good company, even piss seems glamorous.” He eyed her a moment, making Athenais feel acutely like a monkey in the lush jungles of Millennium, being analyzed by an arbiter of science. “It’s certainly not every day that you get to meet a Utopi with scars,” Morgan said after awhile. “How…refreshing.”
         Unconsciously, Athenais traced the scar over her eye. They were fake, kept there artificially due to her condition, but they had been given to her in good faith. “Got them from my First Mate,” she said automatically. “He almost killed me.”
         “No he didn’t,” Paul growled, almost an accusation.
         Athenais glanced over at Morgan, who was smiling at her, to Stuart, who suddenly seemed intrigued with the foam at the top of his beer. Neither of them had taken much more than a sip. She gave Paul a long look, trying to determine just what the alien was after. “He gouged out my eye and widened my mouth by about six inches when he tried to stab me in the neck. He almost killed me.”
         “We both know he didn’t.”
         Athenais narrowed her eyes, the room suddenly seeming to sharpen around her. Her voice lowered, she said, “What else do you know?”
         Seemingly unaware of the sudden boil to the water he was stepping into, Paul blithely went on, “I know you’re the second oldest human after your insane father on Millennium, having beat out Rabbit, the third oldest, by just six days.”
         At those words, Athenais felt every hair on her body shift in its pore. Suddenly, the stained walls of the bar seemed to be a cage, with the shifter between her and the exit. The old desperation came back, the kind that had been drilled into her from a thousand different escapes from a thousand different hellholes. It was all she could do not to start blowing people away.
         “You do realize I’m not going to let you leave here alive, right?” Athenais managed.
         Paul gave her a spiteful look. “Your original name was Marcella Tempest, after your father Marceau. You changed it to Athenais Owlborne, an obvious reference to the ancient human goddess Pallas-Athene and her rivalry with Mars, whose name your father bears.”
         “Are you trying to blackmail me?” She got to her feet, her fingers shaking with the urge to use her gun. Normally, she would have already taken care of the problem and would be helping Giggles clean up the mess, but the information they were hurling at her was pitching her off-kilter, leaving her scrabbling for control of the situation. “You’re goddamn fools. All of you.”
         “Not fools,” Paul said. “Revolutionaries. Like you.”
         Revolutionaries. The word left a bitter taste in her mouth. Her face darkening in a scowl, Athenais said, “I haven’t flown for rebels since those bastards in the Water Rebellion gave me over to the Utopia to hoe cabbage for thirty years on Tercia.”
         “And you’d do it again in a heartbeat, given the opportunity,” Paul challenged.
         They had her there. Athenais opened her mouth to tell him where he could shove it, then groaned. The itch to wreak havoc on her father’s perfect little plan was already at war with the itch to shove the coppery point of her pistol into Paul’s face and pull the trigger.
She reluctantly lowered herself back into her chair, eying them with irritation. “All right. You’ve got my attention. But you know if this conversation goes south, you’re dead men, right?” Then she cocked her head at the shifter and said, “Well, at least dead.”
         “Knew that before we came in here,” the bearded brute said.
         Athenais ran a finger along the rim of her stein. “So what do you want? Despite the cuteness with Giggles, you can’t make me believe you didn’t do your homework. You intended to have this talk. That means you also knew that Rabbit and I both like our privacy, regardless of who we have to kill to keep it. You’re not suicidal, so there’s something you haven’t told me yet.”
         The three exchanged a glance. Athenais took another drink, pretending not to see.
         “What do you know of the Millennium Potion?” Paul finally asked.
         Athenais suddenly burst out laughing, spraying beer over half the table. Morgan had to pound her on the back before she could stop choking. She wiped her face and said, “You want to steal it? Oh my God, that’s classic.” She slapped the malt-stained tabletop and chortled.
         “What do you know of it?” Paul repeated, his voice dangerously low. He looked like he wanted to crush her face with a single huge fist.
         Athenais gave him a sweet smile, realizing that she might have her fight, after all. “It’s not a potion, for one.”
         “It’s an injection,” Morgan agreed. “The secret remedy that keeps all Utopis young.”
         “It’s a curse,” Athenais snapped, swiveling to face him. “The only person I’d ever wish it on is my father, and he made the damn thing.”
         “You and Rabbit were two of his first test subjects,” Morgan said.
         “Guinea pigs,” Athenais muttered. “And no, I’m not helping you get it. You ask me, we should destroy the Potion.”
         A slow smile spread across Morgan’s lips and he leaned back, giving the other two a satisfied glance. Stuart was watching her with a calculating look, and even Paul had reluctant approval etched into his face.
         It took her a moment to make the connection. When she did, Athenais gaped at them. “You’re kidding.”
         “What better way to stop Marceau in his tracks?” Morgan asked.
         Athenais could only stare at him. Stealing the Millennium Potion was impossible. Destroying it would take an act of God. As much as she’d like to see it—and her father—disappear into a well-placed pulsar, Beetle and her crew of six were impotent against Millennium’s fleet. The little ball of tropical islands had a battalion of ships that could defend it against anything the rest of the universe could throw at it, and then some. Athenais was a damned good pilot, but trying to slip past its defenses would a grueling, thankless project that would doubtless end up with Beetle getting confiscated and her finances seized. Again.
         “Look, I appreciate all the preparation that went into this meeting,” Athenais said, “But you’re just three colonists, even if one of you’s a shifter. You’re out of your league. There’s nothing I’d like more than to blow up that whole damn planet, but Marceau has a hundred people a month try that, and they all end up living out the rest of their Potion on pikes in his front lawn. Go home and have babies, or whatever it is you colonists do. I’ll try to forget I saw you three.” She got up to leave.
         “Please,” Paul said suddenly. His cockiness had vanished and there was real anguish in his face. “Please. We need your help.”
         Athenais snorted and turned toward the door.
         Paul grabbed her wrist. Behind his glass, Giggles stiffened.
         “Please,” Paul repeated, getting up with her, “We spent years tracking you across the Quadrant. We lost two friends trying to find you. You have to help us.”
         “I don’t have to help you do anything,” Athenais said, yanking her arm free. “And if you’d really done your research, you’d know that I’ve already tried what you’re suggesting. Several times. As you can see, I failed.” She brushed past him toward the door.
         “We’ve got a cure for the Potion,” Paul called at her back.
         Athenais froze. A cure… Hand on the latch, she stared at the door in silence, ice trailing cold fingers down her spine. When the shifter didn’t retract his statement, she took an uneven breath.
         “Come to Beetle tomorrow and we’ll talk,” she said, without turning. “Have some sort of payment in mind.”

 Chapter 2 - Shifters  (13+)
How a pirate finds herself in bed with aliens.
#1176711 by Sara King

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-Sara King
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