Shifting Loot: Chapter 2

Cass sat back and watched as Angus tracked their target.  They were in sub-space, which she’d always found a bit trippy.  On the viewscreen, it looked like half the current solar system had exploded, resulting in a kaleidoscope of color and shapes.  It was dangerous and a bitch to navigate, which was why there was no manual controls for sub-space on this ship except during emergencies.

She was sort of glad.  With her lead foot, she could only imagine the hijinks she could get herself into.

Jess hovered over her shoulder, anxious to get started, which wasn’t going to happen until they were well and ready.  They needed to be far enough away from civilization so someone wouldn’t likely stumble upon the ship in distress and try to help.  That meant distance.

They’d been flying for maybe half an hour now, nowhere near enough time, really.  But she couldn’t blame her sister for being impatient.  It was hard waiting and Cass had never been the patient sort.


Kou sat in his quarters, a tiny room on ship that included a foldaway bed too small for his large frame, a desk and monitors built into the opposite wall, and storage cubbies against the back wall.

It was small and utilitarian, and it left him with a desperate urge to move.  He’d been a soldier for years before the military had retired him.  He’d been grateful at the time, but in times like these, he missed the activity.

He sat at his desk, running scans of the surrounding space, making sure they weren’t followed.  He knew pull well there were those who would love to get their hands on the package they’d just collected.

Kou leaned back, rubbing the fuzzy side of his face.  The only side of his face.  He didn’t think of the metal as part of him, even if he could sense everything almost the same as his biological side.  He dropped his hand away and sighed, realizing he was depressing himself again.  

Best not to think about it.

That had been his motto for some time now.  It never seemed to work.  No matter what he did, his mind always seemed to return to that fateful mission and the fact that he’d returned from it less than a man.

Kou crouched behind cover, rifle in hand, waiting out the enemy fire.  Beside him, his superior officer held up a hand, counting down until they would strike.  He’d already given them directions.  Now, they waited.

Surprisingly, his heart didn’t even ramp up at the hacht of a mission.  They were cornered, outmanned, outgunned, and he was pretty sure they were all going to die, but try telling their unit leader that.  He only looked at them with a cheeky grin before giving the signal to strike.

Kou burst from cover, raising his weapon to eyelevel.  Pop, pop, pop.  The weapon jerked in his hand as he laid down cover fire for some of the others.  He fired ceaselessly, trying to keep the enemy from firing back.  Time dragged on, slowing to a crawl as he fought on.  

For a time, they seemed almost to be winning.  As he watched, the enemy fell by their weapons, by their hands, with far fewer of his own falling in kind.  They crept across the desolate landscape, passing gray, cracked rocks and kicking up dust on the barren ground.  The crawled forward like an unstoppable tide.  Hope started to bloom in his chest.  

We’ve got this.

Then the unthinkable happened.  A voice to his left shouted, “Incoming!”  He looked up.  His mind registered the arcing object above their heads, that it started coming down on his left side, but his brain was slow to process the information, to warn him of its significance.


He recognized the familiar design a moment too late.  If he’s reacted faster, he could have tried to dive for cover.  If he’d reacted faster, he could have dragged someone with him.  There’d been a large rock to his right.  He could have made it.  

He didn’t.

The explosive hit the ground, detonating and taking most of himself with it.

Kou shivered and shook his head.  He rubbed his temples, trying to drive the images out.  “No.  Don’t.” Why did he keep doing this to himself?  Why couldn’t he let it go, move on?  He couldn’t have saved anyone, he reminded himself.  Hell, it was a miracle he’d survived that blast. 

Taking a deep breath, he focused back in on the displays.  “Keep your mind on the job,” he reminded himself out loud.  “The job.”

In the upper corner, a warning icon blinked and he clicked it.  It pulled up a message.  “Unknown object detected.”

He tapped it and a details page came up, showing everything the scan had detected.  There was nothing on the standard scans, but the computer systems were receiving a glitch, a flickering signal it couldn’t identify.

Kou frowned.  It might be nothing, might just be signal noise, but better safe than sorry.  He set up an alert to his watch in case the scans could track a more definitive signal.

With a yawn, he stood, stretching his long body.  He’d always been tall and big, bigger than most Ateles. He needed to start a patrol, check that everything was in order.

The crew often laughed at him for his vigilance, but he didn’t think it was unwarranted.  They would laugh, tell him, “We’re in space.  Nobody can get on board without us knowing,” but Kou didn’t trust in that. People could get on board a ship without someone knowing, which was why he was suspicious of the scan glitch.

Better safe than sorry.


Cass cracked her knuckles, leaning back in her seat.  Jess bounced in her seat beside her, ready for the party to start.  On the display before her, a big green button said, “Go.”

“It’s time.”  They left the primary paths from the planet some time ago and she didn’t think anyone would stumble on them out here.  She pressed the button.  “Angus, you know the drill.”

“Aye, lass.  Give it ten minutes for the crew to pass out then drop out of sub-space an initiate the docking procedure.”

“Right you are, you sexy man beast.”  She propped her heels on the console and leaned back, folding her arms behind her head.  “Now, what could we ever do to pass the time?”

“No smut novels,” Jess said, glaring.

Cass rolled her eyes.  “God, you’re no fun.  How did I ever raise such a prude?”

Jess shrugged.  “God only knows.”

Cass sighed.  “Angus, maybe play some music?”

“Aye, lass.”  A moment later, her favorite rock music came through his speakers.

“Thanks, Angus.”  Though, she would have preferred the smut.  She’d always liked the cocky, sexy Chad Sexington.  Sure, the series was a bit of a parody.  His name said it all, but it was fun and it helped pass the time between ports.  

Certainly, that was her least favorite part of being a space pirate—long dry spells while she was out in space with nothing but her sister as company.  And while Angus had a sinfully sexy voice, he didn’t have the body to go with it, which was no fun at all.  God, what she wouldn’t give for a few good rounds of hide the salami right about now. 

It had been too long since they last time they’d stopped at a port for long enough to hit it off with someone.  Cass wasn’t terribly picky.  She liked ‘em big and muscular, but she wasn’t looking for a relationship, so didn’t care about things like personality.  And species didn’t matter either.  Sometimes, weird just made it all the more interesting.  Why have a boring old human when you can have someone with tentacles?  Or two dicks? 

And then some of the types of dicks out there.  It just left a girl wanting to comparison shop.  Often enough, when she found herself in a bar somewhere and she spotted a species she’d never done it with before, she immediately started wondering what he had in his pants and then promptly endeavored to find out.

Sometimes, she was disappointed, but that came with the territory.  Some guys were duds, but that was okay.  There were always more fish in the sea.  And the universe was a damn big sea.

She yawned as she waited to begin.  Unfortunately, this part always sucked.  They needed to wait for the atmospherics to drop low enough for the crew to lose consciousness.  Then, they could dock, use her handy program to bypass the security protocols on the target’s airlock, and board.

All in all, it was a fairly foolproof setup, allowing them to hijack the ship and steal the goods without a single person getting hurt.  Hell, technically, they didn’t even need to bring weapons with them, though she always insisted.  “Come on, Jess,” she said, dropping her feet to the floor.  “Let’s get geared up.”

“Aye, aye, captain,” she said with a sarcastic grin.

They left the cockpit and walked the central hallway to the “cargo bay,” which had become a workspace of sorts.  She’d subdivided the space, creating smuggling holds on the right and gear walls on the left.  Cass moved to the left, stopping in front of a spot midway down the wall.  She grabbed her thigh holsters, strapping them in place, then reached for her armored jacket.  She slipped it on, adjusting it until it fit snugly without impairing range of motion.  Then, she grabbed her bracer and HUD.  The bracer, she put on her left wrist, holding down on the screen to power it on.  It was her connection to the Trojan and Angus.  The HUD wrapped around her head with a holographic display over her right eye.  Lastly, she grabbed the portable rebreather that would keep them conscious on the target’s ship.

She turned to her sister.  Jess didn’t have guns or holsters, only the same armored jacket.  Cass’d never taken Jess on a ship before, so she’d never given her more than that.  The jacket was just a worst-case scenario sort of thing.  She shuddered at the idea of a target boarding their ship with her sister unprotected within. 

“Ready?” Cass asked as she fiddled with Jess’s jacket.

“As ever,” Jess shrugged.

“Angus?  Status?”

“Will initiate docking in two minutes.”

“Thank you, Angus.”  She turned to a door by the back wall.  The airlock was in the cargo bay, a setup she’d always thought was strange.  Why the cargo bay?  But then, remembered how the ship functioned, she supposed it made sense.   In order to simulate gravity, the ship rotated constantly on a central axis.  It would be damned difficult to dock with a moving target like that.   

They stood outside the metal door.  A control panel sat to the right, it’s display showing various options. Leave it to Vicky to make things overly complicated.

“Prepare for cessation of artificial gravity,” Angus said over the intercom.

They both reached out for the wall, grabbing the vertical grab bars that framed the door.  A few moments later, her body’s hold on the floor disappeared and she started to float.


“Airlock secured.  Please wait.  Overriding security protocols.”

She bit down harder on the rebreather, but continued breathing through her nose.

“Protocols overwritten.  Opening airlock doors.  Reestablishing artificial gravity.”  With a gentle pull, her feet dropped to the metal plates once more.

The door slid up, disappearing into its frame.  Cass pushed through.

Hope they have something good.


Kou frowned.  The air felt thinner, his right lung burning a little.  Was life support acting up?  The captain kept the ship in pretty good repair, so he found it doubtful, but still.  He shouldn’t be breathing so hard from just walking down the metal corridors.

Then the artificial gravity gave out and he shot out a hand, grabbing a groove in the wall.  “Hacht.” He floated in the air for a sort spell before gravity reasserted itself.  What the hacht was that?

He didn’t like it.  Acid churned in his gut as he checked his watch, which said, “Cannot Connect.”  Hacht.

“Captain?” he yelled, moving faster down the hall toward the bridge.  He passed empty rooms, ignoring them in favor of getting to the control center of the ship.  He would get his answers there.  But he didn’t get that far.  He turned the corner and skidded to a halt, his shoes squeaking against the floor tiles. 

Kou kneeled down next to the body on the ground, his old insecurities rising once more.  Had he failed?  Was she dead?  He didn’t know the researcher very well.  He couldn’t even say what species she was.    Her teal skin varied in places from blue to green and always looked slick, like she’d just come out of the water.  Her large mouth gaped open, panting, which alarmed him.  Didn’t someone say her species could hold their breath for long periods of time?  Why was she short of breath?

She was paler than usual, probably from lack of oxygen, and suddenly the burning in his right lung made perfect sense.  Life support was acting up, but his cybernetic parts could compensate for the lack.  Hacht.

He stood and broke into a run for the bridge.  He had to solve this now or the whole crew would die.


“So, what now?” Jess asked.

Cass glared at her little sister.  “Keep your rebreather in.  What’s wrong with you?”  Even that short stint with the rebreather in her hand left her breathless.  Damn.

She motioned toward the left, her HUD giving her a red overlay of the ship’s layout.  They couldn’t know where the best goods would be, but certain places tended to be good bets. 

Cass started for the cargo bay first.  People kept sellable goods in cargo bays.  She didn’t pay much attention to the aesthetics, instead searching for trouble.  All the crew should be out cold, but some species had different life support requirements and people weren’t the only things that could turn a job FUBAR.

So far, she hadn’t heard any movement or alarming sounds.  No funky smells that might mean something was about to blow or asphyxiate them.  Granted, most of the ship’s systems were shut down at the moment so that, too, was an unlikely event.

The HUD indicated that the door in front of her led to the cargo bay.  It was plain and black, a smooth brushed metal that did little break up the monotony.  She lifted her left wrist, looking down at her bracer.  It had situational control, meaning its primary options reflected her position.  She tapped, “Open door.”  The door clanged and she bumped it with her shoulder.  She didn’t go any farther, a frown marring her face.  


She’d never seen a cargo bay so empty.  No, that wasn’t true.  When Vicky first gave her the Trojan, it was this empty.  The expanse had seemed daunting, too big.  Probably why she ended up subdividing it the way she did.  She didn’t have a lot of use for a huge open space.

This reminded her of that moment years ago, staring at the abyss before her.  It didn’t even have compartments on the walls, just a manual control on the other end that controlled the bay doors.

She turned, facing the hallways once more.  Where next?  She touched her bracer to scroll available options on the HUD.  Kitchens, private cabins, bridge, wash rooms, maintenance rooms, laboratories.  Laboratories.  Yes, that would do it.  There was always expensive shit in laboratories.  Granted, sometimes selling them on the black market proved difficult, but not impossible.  A narrower pool of buyers, sure, but still…

Cass made a left out of the cargo bay, careful not to make a sound.   Her sister wasn’t so careful, making just as much noise as she did on the Trojan.  Cass glared over her shoulder at her, running a finger across her throat to ask for silence.

Jess ducked her head, shoulders hunched, and nodded.

Cass refocused on getting to the lab.  

I wonder what they’ve got.


Kou had reached the bridge only to find more bodies slumped everywhere.  The captain sat in his seat, head and upper body listing to the side.  The navigator had cracked his head on the console when he passed out.  Another person lay out cold in the middle of the floor.  He didn’t bother with any of them.  It might seem cold, but it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t get life support working right again.

He frowned at the dark consoles.  Almost everything was shut down, which was when he’d realized he couldn’t feel the ship’s engines through the floor.  Usually, that gentle vibration served as a constant backdrop while in space but it was gone. 

Which meant they were in serious trouble.  The viewscreen was black, but it didn’t matter.  Without engines, without propulsion, they had no way of steering or slowing down.  If anything was in their way, they would hit it.

“Why is this happening now?”  Was he still paying for failing his unit so long ago?  Why did his crew have to suffer for it?

Then he heard it, a voice.  He froze, closing his eyes to focus.  A second voice, this one different, deeper, almost husky.  He liked sound of it, soothing.  He could imagine a voice like that whispering in his ear, inviting him to bed.  Hacht.  And with a voice like that, he would probably say yes.  

But he didn’t understand the words.  It was a language he didn’t recognize.  


His hands twitched, going to the weapons in his shoulder holsters.  He pulled them both out and leveled them at the bridge door.  

Time to hunt.


They slipped into the laboratory without issue.  This is more like it.  Her head rotate, taking in the territory.  Lab benches broke up the enormous space with larger equipment lining the walls.  Black countertops commanded attention in contrast to the brightly colored emergency equipment.  Cass walked gingerly through the space, avoiding broken glassware from the artificial gravity reactivating after docking.

The place was a mess now, most of the lab in disarray or broken.  Clearly, no one had expected her.  She smirked, but kept looking.  The equipment on the walls would fetch a pretty price, but they were heavy, hard to move with just the two of them.  She preferred more mobile options.

Walking between the benches, she spotted a safe low on the back wall.   She picked up her pace, glass crackling under her boots.  She stopped and knelt, lifting her bracer, smiling when it said, “Unlock Safe.”  She could kiss the damn thing.

Cass tapped it and the little made the biggest, most horrendous sound, like a thousand bolts sliding against metal at once.   She grimaced, grateful the crew wasn’t awake to hear it.  Inside, paperwork in folders sat on a narrow shelf at the top.  She picked it up, leafing through it.  Promising.  Secrets could sell well, too.  But she didn’t know the language and put it back, hoping for something better.

“Oh, shiny,” Jess said over her shoulder.

“Jess, rebreather, now!” she growled through her teeth.

Jess rolled her eyes, but complied, dramatically putting the device back in place.  She pointed in the safe at an object on the bottom shelf.

Cass looked down and saw why it had drawn Jess’s attention.  It was stunning.  Almost the size of her head, it was blue with black rock still crusted over it.  But more than anything else, the blue glowed.  She reached out her hand, wondering if she was being unendingly stupid by touching the luminescent blue rock without protection.

What was it?  Why did it glow?  She figured it probably had some significance if they were locking it away in a laboratory, but even if not, it would probably sell well for cosmetic reasons alone.  Imagine making jewelry that glowed blue like that?  And she’d never seen anything like it before.

Yes, this was the score they’d been looking for.  She picked it up and handed it to Jess so she could have her hands free.  Just in case.

She motioned with a finger toward the door.  Jess nodded and followed, their feet continuing to crunch over broken glass.  Cass checked both ways at the door and headed back to the airlock.  She smirked.  Another flawless job.  Damn, she was good.

They were just approaching the airlock when the crack of boots on metal halted her.  She glanced over her shoulder, eyes rounding as the giant from planetside ran at full speed toward them, one eye glowing as blue as the rock they’d stolen, reminding her of a train.  “Shit,” she said about her mouthpiece, the word unintelligible.

She grabbed Jess’s arm and ran into the airlock, running at fast as she could.  Her heart pounded in her chest, the thump thump of rushing blood the only sound she could hear.  Shit, shit, shit.  How was he awake?  How was he running?!

But it didn’t matter as she slipped through the space, butting up against the interior door of the Trojan.  She hit the controls with more urgency than grace and the door slid open, spilling them into the hallway.  Jess fell to her knees, her rebreather spilling from her mouth and clacking to the floor.  Cass spit her own out to the side, not noticing where it landed and pulled both guns from their holsters.  They resisted slightly, the stiff material almost entirely unused.  “Don’t move,” she barked as raised the guns, aiming them at the Ateles warrior.

He’s not stopping.  Oh God, he’s not stopping.

Please don’t make me shoot you.

Discover more from Danielle Forrest | Sci-Fi Romance Author

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