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Pen Your Pride

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy - Chapter one

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Shernish, Carnessa,main planet of the Qerran Suldanate

Ullnish Space Port, a spectacular confection of multi-colored domes and turrets in the best Ptorix architectural style, glowed a welcome. Allysha traded a look with Sean as the driver guided his taxi around the concourse to join a line of vehicles, all depositing passengers.

“Looks like we made it,” she murmured.

“So far. But they’ll be after us.” Sean stared along the road to Shernish, where lights were starting to hold their own in the gathering dusk. A lingering line of orange still stained the horizon where the sun had disappeared.

Allysha paid the driver and climbed out of the taxi to join Sean on the pavement. He reached out to grasp her arm but she jerked away. “Let’s not make with the happy couple thing, okay? I mean it. When this is over, I want a divorce.”

He grinned that lopsided grin she used to think was cute. “Don’t be like that, Ally. You know you’re the only one I love.”

Time was that might have worked; had worked. Now she was beginning to wonder what she’d ever seen in him. “Me and that blonde bimbo you were screwing in my bed?”

Sean flushed, scratched at his hair. She’d come home early from her trip to Brjyl and caught him at it, stark bollocks naked with her riding him.

They followed the crowd into the cavernous main hall. Most of the passengers were Humans, probably getting out while they could. Just like us. Sean headed toward the flight schedule displayed in the middle of the main hall while Allysha waited, arms folded, foot tapping on inlaid tiles, eyes flicking around the hall. The building glittered around her, all curved walls and ornate embellishment, busy with people and luggage. A Ptorix voice rose above the echoing din and she started, nerves jangling. No. The two conical forms approaching her had pale blue fur and wore elaborately decorated, green robes. High caste business people, she’d guess. The writhing tentacles at the ends of each of four arms betrayed tension, nervousness maybe, but not alarm. They passed her, appearing to glide in their floor-length costumes.

Hard to believe that the sight of a Ptorix would frighten her. Then again, she would never have imagined the violent demonstrations, crowds of Ptorix brandishing placards saying ‘Humans Out’ rampaging through the streets, attacking human businesses, looting, even assaulting passers by. She shuddered at the memory.

Sean returned, weaving his way between people and luggage. “Next shuttle to the space station leaves in ten minutes.” Stale alcohol wafted with his words. He cast a glance toward the entrance doors. “Best to get lost in the crowd. You can bet Bronx’s mashers will come here when they can’t find us.”

He strode off down the corridor toward the lounge, pushing past people as he went. Allysha hurried to catch up with him. Idiot. How he could have been stupid enough to fall foul of the local crime boss was beyond her. Bronx would ensure they’d both suffer. Ptorix law was very direct when it came to debts; Sean’s debt was her debt. Well, this was it. One last job to pay off Bronx and then the divorce court. Bye, bye Sean.

The corridor widened into the departure lounge, little more than rows and rows of seating and a counter beside the closed doors to the ramp. All the seats were occupied; at least an hundred other people huddled together in nervous groups, their belongings stacked around their legs on the floor. At the counter a woman sobbed, pleading, and a man, red faced and belligerent, shouted at a sullen Ptorix attendant. Somewhere in the crowd, a child started to cry. Every now and then a few bars of piped music struggled above the formless din of murmured conversations until it was drowned out again. The place was claustrophobic. Too many people, too much noise, too much fear. Foreboding pressed down on Allysha’s soul.

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