Raven’s Crew 1: Seducing the Captain
Raylin Fabian has loved Captain Sterling Tristam for ten long, lonely years. Unfortunately, he still sees her as the child he rescued so long ago, when her wartorn home world’s barbarity caught up with her once elite family of telepaths.
When Raylin’s injured, her captain makes a decision she can’t accept. She finds herself left behind on a world Tristam thinks is safe. However, there’s no place unreachable enough in the galaxy to escape the captain’s nemesis.
Caught in the crossfire between Tristam and an angry battalion commander’s ire, Raylin has but one avenue of escape — seducing her captain. Can she convince the man she loves it’s all right to love her back?
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Laser blasts hit the steel doors ahead of her. The reverberation made her head feel as if it might explode. Skidding to a halt, Raylin Fabian watched the metal bubble and melt where the coin-sized blasts hit. Each of the numerous deadly projectiles missed her by just inches. Thank God that traitorous bastard is such a bad shot! She couldn’t hear her captain beside her anymore. Together they’d turned down the corridor a moment ago. Raylin paused just long enough to look for Captain Sterling Tristam, the man she’d flown with for the last decade, the only person she truly trusted. Tristam wasn’t behind her. Panic rose like bile in her throat, making it hard to breathe. Her heart pounded painfully. Raylin bit her lip, resisting the urge to scream his name.
Cap wouldn’t just leave her. He was — he was the only noble man she’d ever met in
She turned and climbed back down the spindly metal ladder, leaving the crew quarters. The only sound was her feet against the floor as she raced down the long unlit corridor, turning again, almost making it to her destination. The sound of running brought her up short and she paused to look for some place to hide on the enemy craft. Turning again, off course and further from escape, she rushed down another hallway. Seeing the cargo crates, Raylin rushed towards them and managed to wedge her small body in the shadows between them, obscuring her slight form in the dark place between two large containers standing nestled next to the wall. She held her breath. Three men in Galaxy Battalion uniforms ran past her.
Damn it, Cap! I told you this was a trap.
Fuck. A produce transport out of Battalion-controlled space was too good to be true. The second freedom war had been raging a full two years, and this time it was all or nothing. The rebels would die before they agreed to peace after what the Battalion army had done to them last time. They should have known. Food that good never made it to the refugee camps, even if the majority of those refugees were helpless children. Sterling, why do you have to be the one to answer every time someone needs a hero? She should be glad he was, or she’d have been screwed, but right now, the endearing trait was pissing her off.
The long narrow corridor was quiet now. Two turns and she’d be back at the airlock. She’d press a button and Esta would send the shuttle for her. She’d have to endure running ten feet across the flimsy emergency connector, nothing but two inches of plastic between her delicate flesh and the vacuum of space, but she’d do it to get the hell off this ship.
But she couldn’t leave without her Cap. She’d never leave him behind. Tenuously, she worked herself out of the claustrophobia-inducing hiding nook and scanned the path in both directions. Her way was clear. Now to pick a direction, Raylin closed her eyes a moment and focused. Cap. Where are you?
Nothing. She had no sense of where he was — no connection to him. Not a good sign. She should be able to feel him. He needed her, she was sure of that fact. The urgency she felt told her the powers she’d long suppressed were roaring to life. Survival. The Galinian telepathy she’d pushed away for a decade hadn’t left her as she’d hoped. She could feel the crew’s panic on Raven. Cap wasn’t back. He hadn’t left her behind. Equal measures of relief and terror surged through Raylin. Cap! Her mind sent the call without her conscious thought.
Leave me. Get away…
She gasped. His returned thoughts were so weak. Sterling Tristam was a lot of things — privateer, rebel, freedom fighter — but never weak. Help me find you. What happened back there?
Damn it, Cap, I’m not leaving without you. You wouldn’t leave me. I can’t live – live with myself if you die here. Cap, tell me or I’m just going to go looking.
Fuckin’ telepathy! I’m not getting off this ship alive, Raylin. Bartholomew paid Crandel to set us up. I’m so sorry, Star Shine. Get off this bird!
Oh, it was bad. He hadn’t called her Star Shine in years. Sorrow filled her. No! I’m on the cargo deck and I’m climbing to the crew quarters again now.
Go back. Press your emergency beacon. Esta will get you home.
There is no home for me without you, Cap.
She’s going to be yours, the Raven. Esta knows, she’s your ship now. You deserve her more than anybody I know, even Esta. I’m sorry, Ray.
Don’t you fucking die on me, Cap. We’re a team. I’m at the kitchenette. Should I go right or left?
Stubborn little girl, don’t you do this to me. I won’t let you die for me.
We all die someday. You’re dying for your war. I might as well die for you.
I’m in the corridor ahead of you. Take a right, then a left. Keep your head down, kid.
They’re coming back. I killed the one who shot me, but more are coming. I tried to get them off your tail, Star Shine. I wanted you to escape. I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you about Crandel.
We should’ve left him on that rotting rock Alpha-Nine.
She followed his directions carefully, but still didn’t see him.
“I’m here,” Captain Tristam whispered loudly.
Raylin turned and saw him then, pressed up against the water recycling pipes. He was holding his stomach, blood seeping between his fingers.
“Oh, Cap,” she cried.
“Press your beacon, send the distress signal. What’s going on over there? I know you can feel it.”
We’d better be quiet. Here, sorry, it’s bad isn’t it? Crandel radioed over and told Esta we were staying for a drink. She knew right away that wasn’t right. The idiot has no idea how much you mean to that woman. She put her arm around her captain and pressed the button. Esta already knew they were in danger. Raylin had felt the woman’s fear earlier. Cap was heavy. Slowly they made their way down the corridor. They’d be easy to track — the blood drops were a dead giveaway.
Yeah, it’s bad. Esta is amazing.
You set the pace, whatever you can handle, but we need to hurry.
Bossy woman. She could feel his humor. Thanks for coming for me, but damn it, I’ll kill you if you die. I have a responsibility to you, kid.
She hated it when he called her kid. She’d just turned twenty-six. Then the sound of laser blasts distracted her. Ahead she saw Owen and Zolly. They’d come. Relief filled her. Neither of them was great with a firearm, but they’d die for Cap. He just inspired that in people.
Raylin cried out as pain radiated through her side. Her body crumpled and Cap toppled with her. Glancing down, she saw the massive wound. A rather disturbingly large chunk of her body appeared vaporized. She whimpered, unable to help herself. She’d be good to her word. It was time to die for Cap.
Looking back she saw him struggling to hold his body together. Clearly the blast he’d suffered had sliced him up badly. She didn’t realize she was crying until she felt the cold tickle as tears trailed down her face.
With his free hand, he reached out to her and she took her beloved captain’s hand. Above them laser fire blasted, but now it didn’t matter. The damage was done.
“I’m sorry, Star Shine,” Captain Tristam whispered.
“I love you, Sterling, always have, always will. I wish… I wish you’d seen me as a woman.”
“Damn it, you’re going to tell me this now? I’ve worked so hard to ignore how much of a woman you are. You — you’re special, Star Shine, far too good for the likes of me. You deserve someone who’ll be able to give you a soft life with sweet words.”
“I never wanted that. I only wanted you.” His face was becoming blurry.
Everything was growing dark. She closed her eyes.
“Star Shine!” He squeezed her hand but she couldn’t respond. “Raylin!”
* * *
Ten Years Earlier
Galina Free Space
Just Outside Planetary Atmosphere
She’d never been on a real space shuttle before. Raylin felt terrified. She didn’t want to leave Galina. She just wanted to go home, even if that wouldn’t ever be an option again. She was so hungry, so weak.
The dirty man flying the shuttle glanced back and smiled at her. His rotted teeth made his smile look frightening, sending a shiver through her.
Her hands remained tied, but they hadn’t gagged her. She’d seen them gag other girls at the market, so she’d been smart and kept still. She’d known screaming wouldn’t change her parents’ minds. War had taken their choices. The only option the Fabian clan of Galina had left was to sell their older children, hoping to keep the little ones alive.
She was just glad her family hadn’t fallen into cannibalism as so many others had recently. The planet had fought for freedom, and lost. Now things were even worse than they’d been before the war. She’d never experienced peace, and she definitely couldn’t remember having gone to bed with a full stomach. Sixteen years of hunger… The war had broken out when she was only days old.
“By the way, I’m Virge, but you can call me Lord or Master, whatever you’d prefer.”
She didn’t reply to her captor and he didn’t ask for her name. She’d never give it to him. It was the only thing that was still hers. Her parents had sold every other part of her.
Virge grabbed a lock of her hair. The contrast between his filth and her freshly washed hair made her stomach turn. He’d purchased her purity for so little. How could you do this to me, Mother? Why didn’t you find another way, Father?
Her terrified thoughts were her own. She was away from the buzz of voices in her head she was so accustomed to on her home world. The loneliness of her mind was suffocating, void now of telepathic messages from those she loved.
For Galina, the war would never truly end. She could see it in the eyes of their oppressors as they watched children dying without compassion. She knew the bastard who’d purchased her for almost nothing had no good intentions, but anything had to be better than starving to death.
Just as she thought that, he reached over and she managed to pull back enough in the passenger seat so that only her knee was in his grasp.
Worse — she realized there were worse things. The look in his eyes told her he wanted to do things to her, things she wasn’t ready to endure. Shaking, she bit her lip and managed to keep her tears at bay. Whatever happened, she wouldn’t let the asshole see her cry.
“You’re a pretty thing for a half-starved Galinian. You one of them mind readers?”
“I don’t have to be a mind reader to know I want to go home. I’ll fight you if you try to rape me.”
The filthy man laughed. She focused trying to read the echoes of his thoughts.
Been too long… hard… few meals and she’ll feel good… damn she’s sassy. Should’a gagged her.
Raylin kept quiet. She’d been thrown roughly onto a crude platform, and the auctioneer called out a price. Her pedigree as a Fabian didn’t mean a thing to the offworlders who’d come to buy slaves. Slavery wasn’t legal, but here in what was once Free Space there were no more laws.
The Battalion armies had laid ruin to the once beautiful world. Her people worked too hard just holding onto freedom to address the rapidly decaying social systems of Galina. They’d all lost someone, and the enemy wanted to punish them, civilian or not. Soldiers watched the spectacle, and she’d even seen a few of them buying Galinian girls and boys. Weak and sick, those kids didn’t have a chance to fight back, just as she didn’t. In war the biggest losers were the most vulnerable, the young and old. No one would save her.
Raylin held herself stiffly as the small shuttle navigated into the launch deck of a mid-sized cargo transport. She hadn’t seen a ship of this type since she was a little kid. The age of the craft made her exceedingly nervous. Finding herself dragged to space against her will was bad enough without living on a junker. She’d heard enough tales of ships going cold, losing air and the occupants freezing to death as they suffocated. Raylin wasn’t a fan of space travel. Solid Galina ground was where she’d assumed she’d live and die. The loud sounds of the craft landing made her cringe. She was a Fabian telepath. Once upon a time that would’ve really meant something. Now she was worth less than the price of a crate of healthy naturally grown food, at least according to the bill of sale from the auction.
The filthy man pulled her from the shuttle and she gasped as the strange stale
breath of recycled air made her slightly light-headed. The odor of the unnatural
environment didn’t help her queasy stomach settle and she stumbled. She would have
thrown up if she’d eaten anything, but her last meal had been four days ago.
Virge grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and began ripping it.
“No! Don’t!” Raylin screamed, losing the battle to remain calm.
“What the hell is going on, Virge?” The tallest man she’d ever seen stood on a metal walkway above them. Hands on his hips, he glared down at them. He had piercing grey eyes, and his blond hair was crew cut. She noticed a slight scar on his chin. Something about him was frankly mesmerizing. If a man like that had purchased her, she might not be as ready to fight for her honor.
“Fuck off, Cap,” spat her captor.
“This is my ship. I know you’re new to the crew but I approve every passenger before they board.”
“She ain’t a passenger, she’s my woman.” Virge spoke with a hint of pride in his voice.
The man he’d called Cap made a scoffing noise. “Woman? I see a girl. She agreed to come to the Raven with you?”
“I bought her with my own take from the last cargo we reclaimed for Battalion.
Raylin hated them all. They were helping Battalion’s army. Privateers were no better than pirates, and it was because of “reclaimed” food shipments her people were starving.
“Damn it, Virge! I told you I don’t abide by human trafficking. We’re taking her back.”
Her captor pushed her and she fell forward on the metal grates, skinning her palms. He drew a weapon, an old and likely unstable laser. Before he’d fired one shot there was the single ping of his superior’s weapon and Virge fell back, one of his eye sockets sizzling where the fatal shot hit him.
Raylin pulled herself under the shuttle, panting with fear. This violent place wasn’t somewhere she wanted to be. Tears threatened and she choked them back. The sound of boots on the grating made her cringe. She didn’t know what they’d do to her now that her owner was dead.
“Come out,” the deep voice of the handsome man called Cap commanded her.
She stayed in the darkness of her hiding place. “I won’t hurt you, kid. I don’t abide those who hurt women.”
She could hear the sound of running.
“Are you hurt?”
Multiple voices questioned the man who stood next to the shuttle. She listened.
“Virge bought a kid. When I told him I was taking her back he drew on me,” said the one called Cap.
“I never liked that slimeball.”
“A kid? Really? Perv.”
“Where’s the kid?”
“Under the shuttle. She’s probably half crazy considering the state Galina is in right now. God, I hope she doesn’t have the flesh-eater madness. I’ll put the bullet in her myself if she’s a flesh-eater.”
As weak and afraid as she was, her pride wouldn’t allow her to remain silent. “I
am not a savage! No Fabian would eat human flesh.”
“Good. Now come out here.” The man’s voice held a hint of irritation.
“I’m not going to let you rape me.”
“No one here’s going to hurt you, kid. Come out. Now. Come out.”
Raylin cried out as she felt a hand grasp her ankle, dragging her from the dark sanctuary in one swift motion. She tried to scramble away but strong arms held her tightly. “Don’t worry, kid. We’ll take you home.”
The realization of her pending return didn’t fill her with the joy it should’ve.
Raylin lost her battle and a keening sob broke free. A middle-aged woman rushed over and pulled her from the man called Cap’s arms. The woman cradled her lovingly. “The poor thing weighs nothing. We should at least feed her before we take her back there. Don’t cry, sweetie, we’ll get you home.”
Raylin cried harder. “They… they’ll… they’ll just… just sell… me… again,” she managed to choke out around her sobs.
The woman and the man called Cap exchanged a long quiet look. Raylin was too upset to get any hint of their thoughts.
“Turn this bird around, Zolly.” Zolly, a gawking, spindly, dark-haired man, rushed away.
“Wait!” the woman holding her called out. Zolly paused and turned back. “Just wait,” the woman said, handing her off to a kind-looking man.
“Don’t worry, kid, I won’t hurt you. My name is Owen,” he said as he took her from the woman.
The woman pulled the man called Cap, the obvious leader, aside. They spoke intensely for a moment. He was scowling when he stomped away from the kind woman.
“You know anything about a bird like this, kid?” The man addressed her directly.
“Well, neither did Virge. He was a gunner. You ever shoot a gun?”
“Think you’d be able to?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, that’s a good enough answer for me. We’re hiring. You just inherited anything Virge has in his cabin, and whatever money is left in his pockets. His job is yours. If you don’t want it we’ll rock-drop you at the next stop, or if you want we can take you home. What will it be, kid?”
“I don’t have any papers.”
“I know a guy who can change that.”
Raylin thought for a moment. “All I can promise is to try my best to learn.”
“Honest. I like honest. I’ll try my best to teach. You’ll have your papers in a couple of days. Congratulations, today is your eighteenth birthday.”
“You might not want to thank me yet. This won’t be an easy life for a little girl.”
“I’m Galinian; I haven’t ever been a little girl.”
He gave her a sad but amused smile. “Yeah, well just remember I’m not a nursemaid. This is Esta, she’s my right hand, and she’ll show you to your new quarters.”
“Like I said, hold off on the thanks.” He turned and walked away without another word.