Kara was born and raised on the cold mining planet of Reach, and has dreamed her whole life of being somewhere else. Stuck with an abusive mother and a dead end job, she longs to experience the worlds she only sees on the vid-screens.
Then those other worlds come to her by way of a stranger, when she saves his life the night he arrives. From a planet called Haven, Sarit is a breed of human created to survive the unhospitable planet and who are now seen by many as less than human.
Though it causes resentment and brings her new trouble, Kara defends Sarit against abusers and builds a friendship with him that soon becomes the best part of her world. Try as she might though to enjoy the time they have together, even with the danger they face, it's impossible to forget that eventually Sarit will return to traveling the stars and she'll be left more alone than ever.
A large hand curved over Kara’s butt, squeezing it in a bruising, tight grip. “Hey, Kara, darlin’, why don’t ya sit with us a spell? Keep me an’ ma boys company.”
A shudder worked through her body. She was so tired that she couldn’t muster up the energy to be angry, only disgusted. “Cut it out, Yabbo.” She tried to twist away, but the hand on her ass only clamped down harder. Kara winced. Her hands tightened around the tray she held.
Yabbo grinned up at her, flashing a mouth full of dirty, yellowish-green teeth. “If ya friendly, ya get more tips.” The rancid grey-pink of his tongue licked along his lower lip. His hand on Kara’s ass slid lower, until he could curl his fingers beneath the hem of the short skirt that was part of her uniform. “Get friendly wit’ me an’ my boys here, an’ we’ll make it worth yer while.” The tips of his fingers tickled over the curve where buttock met thigh.
Disgust flared into white-hot anger. She smashed the tray into Yabbo’s face, savoring his howl of pain as he clutched at his nose. His two cronies burst into laughter. “There ain’t enough credits in the universe for me to get friendly with you!”
“Ya lil’ bitch!” Yabbo roared. Blood trickled from his nose. He surged unsteadily to his feet, his small eyes burning with anger. His huge fist started to lift.
“Hey! Simmer down!” The bellowed order came from clear across the bar, but the distance didn’t diminish its power.
Yabbo’s fist dropped, but his eyes promised that he would get back at her, and sooner rather than later. His friends swallowed their laughter, but burps of amusement still burst free. “Sure thang,” Yabbo yelled back at Frank, without taking his gaze off Kara. “Jus’ a misunnerstandin’ is all.” He leaned into Kara’s space until it took every scrap of will she had not to recoil. The sour stench of his breath washed over her and she swallowed to keep from gagging. “Uppity bitch,” he hissed. “Yer gonna get yours, an’ I’m gonna be the man that gives it to ya.”
“You ain’t a man, Yabbo,” Kara spat back, letting every last little bit of her loathing show on her face. “You ain’t nuthin’ but a pig.”
She stalked away, her high-heeled boots stomping against the pitted and stained concrete floor. She could feel Yabbo’s eyes following her and didn’t take a proper breath until she was standing on the other side of the bar in front of Frank.
“That were a stupid thang to do,” Frank murmured. He didn’t look up from where he was wiping the bar with a cloth that Kara doubted was doing anything apart from spreading the dirt around.
Leaning against the bar, Kara tried to pretend a calm she didn’t feel. “I weren’t going to let him touch me.”
The corner of Frank’s mouth twitched, the nearest the big man ever got to a real smile. “I can’t exactly blame ya fer that, girl.” The line of his lips flattened. “Watch out fer that Yabbo. He’s a mean sumbitch, and ya can’t spend all yer time in the bar.”
Kara lifted her chin. “I’ll be careful. Swear.” If Yabbo decided to jump her in the streets, she’d split open his fat gut with the plas-knife she kept in her bag.
Frank grunted. It was impossible to tell whether it was a sound of agreement or disbelief. “Anyways, ya get on home now. I’ll keep eyes on him and his goons. Make sure they don’ follow ya.”
Kara beamed at him, her wide smile the brightest thing in the dank bar. “Thanks, Frank.”
“See ya tomorrow, girl.”
Leaving the tray on the bar, Kara slunk away after checking that Yabbo and his friends weren’t looking. Ducking through the door at the back of the bar, she hurried to the little room that served as a place for her and the other waitresses to stash their stuff while they were on shift. Taking off her short skirt, Kara pulled on a thick pair of trousers that would protect her legs from Reach’s deep winter chill. Her spike-heeled boots she switched for a more sensible pair of flat ones with a thick sole. After she put on a couple of long-sleeved tops over her t-shirt, she shrugged on her hooded, ankle-length coat, pulled on a pair of thick gloves and wound a woolly scarf around her neck, and was finally ready to go. Stuffing her discarded clothes into her bag, she fished out the plas-knife tucked into the front pocket to hold in readiness in her right hand, and then left the bar through the back exit.
Even wrapped up, the first few seconds of exposure to Reach’s cold climate was almost enough to send her running back inside. Pain flashed through her as every muscle in her body seized tight in shock, the cold lashing at her like the fist of an angry god. Forcing herself to move, and not just curl up in a corner and shiver herself to death, Kara started the walk home. It wasn’t far, but it might as well have been miles away.
The wind screeched down from the jagged peaks that bordered the mining outpost on two sides. Bitter cold and laden with tiny shards of ice, it managed to find its way through clothes to bite at the flesh beneath. Even houses couldn’t keep it out; not for long anyway, the wind and the cold always finding a way inside.
It wasn’t like it ever snowed on Reach. Kara had seen vids of snowy landscapes, had looked in wonder at the soft-looking flakes that could cover a place in a blanket of pure white. Maybe the cold would be worth it if she could see something like that. On Reach there was only ice, dirt from the mines on the other side of the mountains, and more ice.
Kara hated it. She hated the cold, the constant shriek of the wind, the feeling that it was always trying to hold her back, keep her in place. Head down and shoulders hunched, she had to struggle for every step forward.
A flicker of motion at the corner of her eye caught Kara’s attention. She tensed, her gloved hand firming around the plas-knife. It was late and there weren’t many people who would brave Reach’s cold at this hour, but there were always a few who prowled in the shadows, waiting for prey to come along. Kara had been prey before—she wouldn’t be again.
A man—from their size and the way they moved, Kara was sure the figure was a man—was walking out of the space-dock and with just one glance, Kara knew he was a new arrival on Reach. Even in the dim, mottled streetlights, she could see that his clothes were fine, with what looked like fur lining the hood of his long coat. A big heavy bag was slung over one shoulder, bulging with who knew what, and he carried a large case in one hand as well.
Agitation scurried across the underside of Kara’s skin. The muscles of her stomach tightened.
The man was walking in the same direction as she was, although with his larger size, he was having an easier time of it. Where was he going? Was he a miner or an engineer, come to Reach for work? Or was he just a traveler passing through? Although if he was the latter, where would he be going after this? Reach was the last human colony this side of the galaxy, with nothing beyond the small moon it sat on, apart from the empty black between galaxies.
Kara’s foot slipped on a patch of ice. Her thick scarf muffled her startled yelp. It was as she righted herself that she noticed movement in the shadows just ahead of her. Just behind the man.
Heart thumping in her chest, Kara watched as four misshapen figures detached themselves from the shadows of a deep doorway, and followed the man.
“Fuck,” she hissed and started to gnaw at her bottom lip.
What should she do?
She shouldn’t get involved. There were four of them and one of him. If the man was sensible, he would hand over his belongings without a fight. He wouldn’t be hurt. Maybe.