Polaris Rising - Jessie Mihalik

Chapter 1

The steel toe of my boot slammed into the blond merc’s knee with a satisfying crunch. He went down with a curse, but the two men holding my arms didn’t release me, even as I struggled in their grasp. The blow had been more luck than skill, but it was enough to make the fourth mercenary pause before trying to grab my legs again.

I planted my feet and pushed back as hard as I could. The men behind me barely budged. I was a decently strong woman, but they each outweighed me by fifty or more pounds and the physics just weren’t on my side. My self-defense tutor had warned me that one day I would regret slacking off in lessons—turns out, she was right.

“Stop fighting, you little bitch, or I’ll stun you again,” the blond warned. He climbed to his feet and waved his stunstick as if I needed a visual reminder. He wasn’t the ship’s captain, so he must be the mercenary commander. He was young for commander, but mercs weren’t known to have long lives.

The ship’s captain stood back while the merc crew tried to wrestle me farther into the ship. The skin around his left eye was fiercely red. He’d have a shiner by tomorrow, thanks to me. That blow had been more skill than luck, but not enough to save me.

The captain was a handsome man, older, with dark hair that was gray at the temples. He looked like a gentleman, not a bounty hunter, and that had allowed him to get close enough to grab me. The rest of his crew was standard-issue mercenary: big, mean, and calculating. As soon as I’d caught sight of them, I’d known that I’d made a mistake.

I hoped it wouldn’t be my last.

I fought on, determined. As long as the ship was still docked, I had a chance. I could escape and disappear into the crowds of the space station until I could find another ship. I was good at hiding.

The blond lost his patience. Before I could kick him away, he hit me with the stunstick. I screamed as my body lit up in agony. The mercs dropped me. My head hit the metal deck and pain blazed bright before dulling to a low throb. The world went dark and floaty.

“John, what are you doing? Don’t hurt her!” the captain shouted. “If she shows up with so much as a bruise, von Hasenberg will kill the lot of us.”

“Where do ya want her?” one of the other men asked.

“She can stay in my—” the captain started, but the blond, presumably John, cut him off.

“Put her in with Loch. That’ll teach the little hellion a lesson. It’s not like he’s using the space anyway.”

The crew laughed uneasily. Whoever Loch was, he made them nervous, and it took a lot to rattle a merc crew. Yay for me.

I tried to struggle as they picked me up by my arms and legs, but my muscles weren’t responding, thanks to the blow to the head. And the nanobots in my blood that should have been repairing any tissue damage were also susceptible to the stunstick. They’d recover in a few minutes, but until then I had to wait for natural healing.

Nanobots, or nanos, were available to anyone who could afford the exorbitant price tag. I’d been injected with them as a newborn.

A door squeaked open and the men cursed quietly as they tried to maneuver me through the opening.

“Put her on the bed,” the captain said. “Carefully.”

“Why, Gerald, you shouldn’t have,” a deep voice rumbled from within the room.

“I didn’t,” the captain snapped. “She’s worth three times what you are, Loch, so you don’t want to make me choose which of you to keep,” he continued. “Keep your comments to yourself or I’ll purge you. Same thing happens if you even look at her sideways.”

One of the men grumbled something too low to catch.

“She give you that eye?” Loch asked. “Did you try to get some on the side and she took offense?”

“Stun him,” the captain said flatly.

The electric hiss of a stunstick was followed by a grunt. I’d never heard anyone get stunned without screaming; it didn’t seem possible.

I cracked my eyes open a tiny bit. The light panel on the ceiling glowed softly. Were there supposed to be two of them?

“She’s coming to,” one of the men warned.

I squinted, trying to get my vision to clear, and when that didn’t work, I closed my eyes and willed the nanos