Excerpt for Dylan's Prize by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Fate. It's a funny word, although it also has sort of an ominous tone to it; our lives being predetermined to some degree. Most people will tell you that they don't believe in it. We stumble through our lives, going from one thing to the next, all the while thinking these are nothing more than a random series of events. What if there's more to it than that? What if underneath all the random chance and coincidence there was something more going on? What if there was actually a very good reason every time you looked around yourself and said, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Fate can lead us on strange journeys that seem to have no real purpose. Many of us reach a point in our lives where we think to ourselves, “how did I get here?” What choices did we make to arrive at our present condition? Was this how we really thought things would turn out for us?

For those of us who experience a question of direction in our lives and a doubt in how things are turning out all at the same time, the effects can be maddening to say the least. We begin to wonder about our place in the universe and life even seems to lose a sense of meaning at times. We watch as everyone around us moves on to bigger and better things while we just sit in the same old rut.

It's the same for everyone, whether you live on Durantilus Prime or Alpheena. All across the Empire, fate keeps an even hand, picking and choosing whom it may, and causing countless millions stress and misery in the process. It's been the same way throughout recorded history, ever since before the founding of the Empire, all the way to the Ikaranite Scourge and beyond into the present day. But that's getting further into the story. We don't want to be getting ahead of ourselves. When telling a proper story, one must always start at the very beginning. In this case, that beginning is over 700 years ago, on a small blue marble in space named Earth.

It seems that people on Earth were having a very hard time getting along with one another. Everyone disagreed about everything. Sometimes, these disagreements led to bloodshed and long wars. Now disagreement by itself is no crime, of course, but when combined with an irrational fear of anyone else who thinks differently, all manner of bad things start to happen. The world started pulling itself into tighter and tighter circles. Nation began distrusting nation and high walls were built across entire borders to further increase the isolation. The Earth became a planet of separatists. Even within a country's borders, the people openly fought among themselves; liberal against conservative, Christian against Muslim. Eventually, society was pushed to the breaking point. The global economy collapsed almost overnight and the world tumbled into the abyss.

All across the planet, governments toppled. Data and power networks were severed, making the planet deaf and dumb. Suddenly gone were all the modern conveniences and the instant gratification of the cyber-world. All of it was gone. Every house was cast in darkness and every business failed. The world quickly became a very different place.

Having been further cut-off from their surroundings, the people drew even more fractured and territorial. For fifteen years the world was thrown into a dark age without power and with little contact from outsiders. Some of the closer groups sometimes banded together to increase their chances of survival. After a time, some of these groups grew into thriving communities, then towns, and after many years, eventually into city-states. The Earth was finding a way to start over.

Unfortunately, though, the populace remained segmented. They hadn't learned the error of their ways and were constantly repeating ancient mistakes. Still, some of the city states were able to put back the pieces of society to some degree. If a city was lucky enough to have an engineer, well then that city might well have power or even a functioning computer network and communication. Better yet, this vital information was passed on to some of the people around so that the skills would continue. If a city had a doctor among its residents, then the people would be even more fortunate.

Thirty years after “The Fall”, as it had become known, the larger and more advanced city-states were extending their influence into the surrounding areas, creating new nations with new borders. The smaller communities were either forced to pledge their allegiance to one city or another or risk being annihilated. Most accepted the rule of one of the regional city-states, the others that tried to resist were generally crushed swiftly and their land taken. Those city-states that couldn't destroy each other generally forged alliances, weaving together a fresh political landscape full of the same corruption as before.

Fifty years after “The Fall”, some of the larger nations started to open their scientific doors once again and the study of forgotten technologies, as well as brand new ones, began in earnest. At first, the advances were modest. A city in the north called Utichlia was able to make contact with an old communications satellite that was still in orbit. Not to be outdone, a city in the east named New Carthage launched a rocket into space and placed into orbit, becoming the first working satellite in over fifty years. Other cities began to compete for the technological edge and before long, the world was gripped in another arms race. Again the nations looked on each other with suspicion. Finally, one hundred years after “The Fall”, one man decided he'd had enough.

In the northwest, a city by the name of Andak grew into the most powerful city in the region. Andak had the best in everything, science, medicine, and the overall quality of life of its citizens. With a significant military, none of the other nearby cities would dare challenge Andak's might. It was as close to a haven as could be found in the altered landscape after “The Fall”.

One of Andak's top scientists was a man by the name of David Arlington. He was a good man who was working on some of Andak's biggest projects. His superiors knew him to be thorough and efficient. He'd never been one to cause any sort of trouble nor was he one to overtly try to buck the system. But this David Arlington had become disillusioned with the way of the world. He knew that mankind would end up living the same mistakes of the past if something didn't change. So when he was in his mid thirties, he came up with a plan.

He knew that he wouldn't be able to change human nature. People are always going to act like they're wired to act, at least until they learn how not to do so. But Arlington didn't have the generations to wait for that event to take place, if it ever did. What if you could gather all the people who were as frustrated with the system as he was and let them start over in a new place, somewhere far away from the reaches of the closed minded? That was the essence of Arlington's plan and it began to grow like a seed planted in his mind. He didn't know where he could bring his chosen people, but it would have to be someplace far away, possibly not even on Earth. He didn't have all the pieces to the puzzle yet, but he knew he was on to something.

Amazingly, at the same time David Arlington was formulating his plan, recent advances in technology and the telescope provided the very first confirmed images of small rocky planets around distant stars. Upon hearing this news, Arlington had an epiphany; perhaps there, deep in space among the twinkling stars, was his answer.

He devised a way for his dream to be realized and built an extensive secret facility. After many years of searching, Arlington found his planet. It was a small and unassuming planet orbiting a star fifty three point seven light years from Earth called Durantilus. From all accounts, it was exactly what he'd been looking for; it had liquid water and was located squarely within its parent star's habitable zone. He knew in his bones this had to be his “new world”.

He then set about the job of devising a way to reach his new far off home. It took another two decades, but Arlington and his team had found the answer they were seeking. They designed a new form of interstellar propulsion which used anti-matter to build an artificial graviton field that was so intense, it was capable of bending space-time itself. A vehicle could be surrounded by a bubble of this warped space and be made to move freely through space at vast speeds without violating any of Einstein's laws. The bubble could move much faster through space than the speed of light, but the passengers inside the protective sphere wouldn't be. Essentially, space would be moving around them.

Taking another decade to perfect his new engine, Arlington's team tirelessly worked toward their goals. But their work was rewarded with success, and on one crisp autumn day, Arlington and three thousand hand picked followers climbed aboard a massive vessel that was headed for the stars. Specifically, they were heading to the small rocky planet, Durantilus II.

Even with the newly found speed the engines allowed the ship to travel, it was still a long and lonely voyage to the far off planet. More than a year went by and they still hadn't reached their destination. Along the way, systems would break down and need repairing. For one particular six month stretch, the engines were only able to operate at seventy eight percent efficiency, slowing the craft substantially and making the trip take even longer. After spending over three years in space, Arlington's ship finally reached Durantilus II.

It was everything he hoped for and more. The atmosphere was rich in oxygen and low in contaminants. There were oceans of liquid water. Small patches of microbial life were detected, but nothing significant. They could be easily avoided and protected from any interference in their evolution. In effect, Durantilus II was a blank slate. It would be here that Arlington would establish his new colony.

The tiny settlement on the far away world thrived. Arlington had left plans for technology back on Earth, knowing that there were many more who would want the means to follow him to his new planet. Soon, more ships started showing up around the planet, filled with more colonists and more dreamers looking for a better way. After years and tens of additional ships, the colony had swelled into a thriving metropolis of more than a hundred thousand people. A new form of government was introduced to keep it all together: The democratic monarchy.

A king was appointed who ruled over the people. This king had great power but was unable to make any laws or edicts that violated civil liberties or personal freedoms and rights. A council was elected by citizens to advise the king and help form policy. Over time, this evolved into the Empire's present form of government.

It is from these humble beginnings that what exists today as the Durantalian Empire came to be. From this one colony; eight planets, several colonies, and various other outposts scattered across ten star systems were eventually settled, adding to the Empire's territory. Each planet a unique kingdom unto itself, governed by a king who answered only to the Emperor.

It has taken nearly six hundred years, but the Empire has become home to more than eleven billion inhabitants, most of whom reside on the first three planets colonized: Durantilus II, which is now called Durantilus Prime, Farlocke, and Heslin. Advancements in knowledge and technology allow the people to freely go from one planet to the next. Interstellar travel has become quite common for nearly everyone. Never could we have achieved so much if we had stayed back on Earth fighting with each other.

That doesn't mean that all is well, however, as things that take centuries to build are often torn apart rather easily. Even now, in the Great Hall of the Imperial Palace on Durantilus Prime the Emperor, Jordan the Third, is listening to a heated debate over the threat of the Ikaranite forces moving closer to Imperial borders.

“This entire argument is ludicrous!” one of the members of the Grand Imperial Council shouted to his colleague across the long, polished table. “The Ikaranites intend to assault our farthest outposts. As I have already stated repeatedly, intelligence suggests they're massing near the Griseum system. That puts them just over five light years from our New Andak outpost.” The man argued before turning to the Emperor, saying, “Your Imperial Majesty, please, we need to start sending our forces to protect the area immediately.”

The Emperor said nothing at first. Instead, he put his hand against his chin and thought for a few moments. Then, after a bit of careful deliberation, the Emperor asked, “What do you think, High Lord Baksta?” to another man sitting near the far end of the table, as if isolated a bit from the rest of the advisers.

Lord Baksta stroked his long white mustache before speaking. When he did talk, it was in smooth, well formed words. “King Laurenitis believes the Ikaranites are planning to move against the new gate. He thinks they're after our new hyperspace technology.” Baksta paused to give his mustache one more long stroke. “I'm inclined to agree with him.” he added.

“Laurenitis is a fool. He always has been.” another of the men scoffed with a sneer. “New Andak sits right by our most lucrative trade routes. It only makes sense that's where the Ikaranites will strike first. Why would they bother to go after something that isn't even finished yet and won't be for at least another major cycle?”

“The gate is close to the testing stages, which means it might not be finished yet but it will be usable to some degree. That either scares the Ikaranites or fascinates them. Either way, they want the technology for themselves.” Baksta countered.

“That may be true, Lord Baksta.” the Emperor said, “But the gate is located in the Visari system, more than a hundred light years from New Andak. We have confirmed reports of Ikaranite ships gathering nearby at Griseum. Why would they mass their forces at Griseum yet attack a target in the very heart of the Empire?”

“I am afraid, Your Imperial Majesty, that I'm unable to answer that question.”

“Then we shall move our ships closer to New Andak.” the Emperor commanded. “Alert Fleet Admiral Keaton and inform him to move with trepidation. We don't want to alarm our Ikaranite friends just yet.”

And so, the peaceful empire seems to be on the brink of war with another race, which brings us back to the topic of fate. The Ikaranites ruled a vast region of space. Their ships outnumbered the Empire's five-to-one. Rumor also says that the Ikaranites are more technologically advanced than the Empire. A war with them could mean total destruction of everything. So why would fate choose such an unassuming man as Dylan Largent, who was busy having his own conflicts about his choices and his place in the universe, to ascend to greatness? Nobody can say for sure. Maybe it just takes extreme circumstances to get some people to realize their potential. Whatever the case, Dylan Largent had just arrived at the next stage of his life, Station Epsilon III, which was located on the very fringes of the Empire's space. Unknown to Dylan, fate had something big in store for him waiting there. The start of the single greatest struggle of his young life was about to begin whether he was ready for it or not.

Chapter 1

The Story Begins

The light above the doors to the airlock and decon chamber finally flashed green, accompanied by a chirp from the computer terminal built into the wall. That meant it was safe for Dylan to proceed into the station. The doors automatically slid open and he was able to step out of the small room and into one of the corridors along the outer ring of the station. He shifted his shoulder to adjust the strap which hung to his one item of luggage, a knapsack that contained all his belongings, and started down the corridor into the unknown of his new life.

Dylan's mother died five major cycles ago, just after the planetary outbreak of the Inanyo Virus killed almost ten percent of the population in just over three Cycles. His mother had gotten sick near the end of the epidemic and was spared the usual quick death most others faced. Instead, she lingered on in agony for weeks while the doctors attempted to treat her. In the end, it was too much for her body to handle and she just shut down. Dylan's father, Moab, was never the same after that. It was as if a piece of him was missing. Moab would put on a brave face and muster through the days, but Dylan could tell that his father missed his mother very much.

With his mother gone, all Dylan had was his father to look up to. Moab was a good man who taught Dylan well. He taught his son the value of hard work and sacrifice. He taught Dylan to treat others well and to show respect. Moab taught the moral lessons and values needed in life to both Dylan and his brothers.

Dylan was the middle of three sons, the eldest of whom was an accomplished attorney who graduated from the Imperial Academy on Farlocke, while Dylan's younger brother was still a student who had just graduated from secondary school at the top of his class, and, like the oldest, had been given a scholarship to attend the Imperial Academy.

Dylan was not like his brothers, though. He never got an invitation to the Academy. Instead, he continued his schooling at one of the local universities on his homeworld of Heslin. Even there, however, he didn't feel like he quite fit in with his peers. After only a few semesters, he left the university and decided he needed to find out who he was really meant to be. To that end, Dylan sold everything he didn't need, combined it with the little money that his father had given him, and set off for distant worlds. Before long, those choices lead him to Epsilon III.

Of the three thousand or so drakes that Dylan started out with, he barely had five hundred left to spend. Traveling was proving to be much more expensive than he figured. He'd spent the better part of the last cycle visiting various planets, taking in the sights and scenery on each one for a while, before moving on to the next. He really didn't have any plan or order to his journey. He merely went wherever he felt like going at the time.

When Dylan heard about Epsilon III from some of the merchants he encountered, he was intrigued by the idea of a space station situated along the lawless borders of the Empire. He had to see the place for himself. It seemed like the perfect destination to resume his ongoing adventure. So far, though, that station wasn't living up to his expectations of it. It was old, dirty, and dimly lit. Some of the lights flickered a bit as he walked down the corridor toward the main facilities.

Epsilon III was a relic that was used in the previous century as a trading outpost before being moved to its current position along the border. It consisted of a large circular wheel section near the top that had two levels. A control tower was positioned on the very top of the station, filled with navigators that choreographed the chaotic traffic into an efficient ballet. Beneath the large wheel was the main docking hub, which consisted of four sections that were able to accommodate the huge ships that often docked with the station. Along the upper control tower and the lower part of the wheel there were many other smaller docking ports positioned on various places, some with cargo shuttles or personal shuttles attached to them.

Inside Epsilon III, thousands of inhabitants mingled with members from nearly every known intelligent species. Most were citizens of the Empire, but some had come from outside the Empire's borders to conduct their business. There were about one hundred and fifty merchants and traders who set up permanent shops around the station, with many other temporary residents loading or offloading cargo before boarding their ships and departing.

While it wasn't much to behold, the station did give the Empire a vital foothold in the area. Two Virgo Class Imperial cruisers were always patrolling in the vicinity and more could be called upon from the neighboring sectors if the need arose. There was even a small garrison of the Imperial Guard on the station at all times. All this activity usually kept the peace, but some smugglers and other less savory merchants were able to use the station for their dark means nonetheless, always right underneath the noses of the Imperial caretakers.

The corridor that Dylan followed led him to the edge of the Central Hub, the heart of the station. The smell of the place was sweaty and metallic and it made his nose feel a bit uncomfortable. He thought to himself that the station was more than likely past its prime when they retired it the first time.

Dylan walked from the end of the hallway and emerged in a large chamber. It was similar to another corridor, albeit a very large one. The ceiling was some ten meters high and it was as least ten meters across as well. Dylan stood at the outer end, or perhaps it was the beginning. Either way, the huge corridor led inward toward the center of the station. A straight, metal-plated walkway lined the center of the giant corridor, following it all the way into the center of the complex a hundred or so meters in the distance. Doorways to shops of various types and sizes butted up against it along the entire length and several catwalks cut across overhead, connecting the upper floors together.

A sign above Dylan's head indicated that he was located in the Central Hub, on Spoke A. A flashing blue arrow told him that straight ahead was the Central Core, where the business and Imperial offices were, as well as the local police post. Still unsure of why he was really here, Dylan started walking with slow steps, not really positive about what he would find at the end.

The walkway was thick with traffic, forcing Dylan to have to weave and sidestep his way through all the hustle and bustle. He was trying his best to take it all in as he went and stared at the sights all around him with the amazement one feels when witnessing a grand spectacle for the very first time. He would have preferred to gawk further, but he was usually jostled this way or that if he tried to remain in one spot for very long.

Signs of nearly every variety blinked and flashed on either side of him, desperately trying to attract the attention of him or any other would-be customer that came strolling by. Most of the signs were accompanied with loud announcements or music in almost every imaginable style and language. Most of the advertisements were in words he didn't understand; either written with symbols that were alien to him, or spoken in tongues originating on distant planets many light-years away. Never before had Dylan seen such a diverse collection of cultures all in one spot. Sure, he'd heard of or read about most of the races that could be encountered throughout the Empire, but he hadn't actually met any of them before. His only experience was with the ones that would visit Heslin on occasion.

It wasn't as if Dylan hadn't seen shops or signs before on Heslin. They were as common there as anywhere else in the galaxy. He'd been to many cities on his homeworld and was quite familiar with them. But this...this was a city in space. That was something Dylan had never seen before. It wasn't long before he'd forgotten all about how dingy and dirty it seemed at first.

This...” he thought to himself, utterly amazed at the feast his eyes and ears were taking in. “was why I came all the way out here.”

People of all types and sizes bumped into him while he meandered down the pathway. Some made obscene gestures or shouted profanities at him, others simply shook their heads at the dumbstruck man and kept on moving.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dylan caught several quick bursts of a small bright light. He snapped his head up to focus on the source of the flashes when his eyes were met with a cold, round camera lens that was aiming right at him. The lens was attached to a small security drone that hovered a meter or so above the heads in the crowd. The drone was nothing special, of course. There were literally thousands of them back on Heslin and they were one of the few things at the station that Dylan was familiar with. Aside from the obvious three dimensional imaging system on the face, it was little more than a simple metallic orb which had several scanners attached in various places and a small control antenna that protruded from out of the top. On the side, it was stamped with the crest of its Imperial unit, and was painted all over in the usual Imperial color-scheme of silver and blood red.

The burst of light was another normal occurrence when in the presence of a security drone. It was used to get the attention of a person being checked and forced them to look up at the drone so the drone could more easily scan the person's face and compare it to the extensive profiles contained within the Imperial database. Satisfied that Dylan wasn't listed as a threat or criminal, the drone gave a few quick beeps, as if to say “I've got my eye on you, newcomer.” before floating off further down the walkway and out of sight.

Closer to the center of the station, Dylan spotted two women who appeared to be lounging rather seductively on one of the many benches that lined the walkway. They didn't really look like any type of woman he'd ever seen before. One looked like a normal human female for the most part. Her hair was light brown, long and straight. Her eyes were brown as well, but there was something about them that was different; something Dylan couldn't quite put his finger on. The other woman was far more odd. She was like something out of the stories he'd heard when he was growing up. The woman's skin was a dark blue that seemed to shimmer in the light while she writhed up against her companion. Dylan figured she was probably part Dyniki, judging by her long, thin tail which she was able to control with great precision, and the yellow tint of her reptile-like eyes. He'd heard about the Dyniki before and it was said that their women were ravenous in bed, having both an active libido and possessing few, if any inhibitions.

“We've never seen your face around here before, cutie.” The brunette said to him with a sweet and luscious tone. “Why don't you come over here and introduce yourself.”

Dylan looked around him to see if she was possibly referring to someone else standing nearby. “Who, me?” he asked sheepishly.

Both ladies giggled at his innocence. Although, Dylan wasn't sure if it was because they thought he was being cute, or if they thought he would make easy prey. Dylan swallowed hard, suddenly frozen in place, eyes wide in his head. The blue-skinned woman gestured with a smile and a wink for Dylan to come closer.

Dylan quickly brushed his hair back a few times with his hand, cupped a palm in front of his face, and gave a quick breath check before proceeding. Being as presentable as he could be, he stepped closer to the two women, who still giggled at his every action.

“Uhm...hi.” Dylan managed to mutter, offering it in unison with a weak wave.

The brunette giggled again before replying. “You're new here, aren't you? Fresh off the boat.” she said.

“I'm Mona and this is my friend Vixen.” the woman informed, gesturing at the woman next to her.

“Hey, Mona...Vixen, I'm Dylan.” Dylan replied, starting to feel a bit more comfortable. The demeanor of the two women appeared to be putting him more at ease. “Yeah, I'm new here.”

“So what brings you to our little slice of heaven?” Vixen asked in return.

Dylan sighed before responding. “You've probably heard it a hundred times before. I'm sure you don't want to hear my sad story.” he said.

“Sure we do. We like to welcome all the new visitors to the station and get to know more about them.” Mona assured. Her eyes slid over to her companion and they both began to snicker as if they shared some great secret.

“That's sort of our job.” Vixen concurred.

“I came here looking for something...I don't know...different. Something new and exciting, you know?” Dylan answered, turning a bit serious.

“Oh, honey, we know exactly what you're talking about.” Mona said with a knowing nod.

“You do?” Dylan inquired, perking up.

“Sure we do.” Mona confirmed. “What you want is some action.”

“Yes! That's it! Action! Exactly!” Dylan agreed.

“Well, honey, have you come to the right place. Action is precisely what we do.” Vixen replied, her voice turning into a low sultry purr.

“It is? What kind of action?”

Both women broke out into hysterical laughter at his naive words. The two women each grabbed one of his hands and started pulling him toward a dark passage between two of the shops. “Come with us, sweetie, and we'll show you.” Mona urged.

Together, they led Dylan by his hands to a dark shadow of the spoke, free from prying eyes and security drones. When they reached what they deemed to be a suitable spot, the women suddenly became more aggressive. They pressed him against the cold steel wall with their bodies and began to rub their hands up and down on him. Vixen even grabbed his crotch, giving his genitals a quick squeeze and a rub before moving up to his stomach, and then his chest.

“So, what'll it be, baby?” Mona asked, cocking her head to the side as she did. “You can have whatever you want, but the more you want, the more it costs. Get me?”

Instantly it finally dawned on him what the ladies meant when they said action. Oh, that kind of action...” was all Dylan was able to utter. “Uhm...that's not quite what I had in mind.”

“What's wrong? I thought you liked us.” Vixen purred in her seductive voice.

“I...I do. It's just that...that..I don't think you're quite my type.” Dylan stammered in reply.

“And what type is that?” Mona asked. “I can be whatever type you want me to be.”

Before Dylan's eyes, Mona's hair changed. It shortened up to about shoulder-length and changed in color, from brown to raven black. Bangs formed across her forehead. Her hair was far from the only change, though, as her eyes were now clear blue pools instead of the brown ones she'd had just a few seconds previous. She grabbed Dylan's hand once again, only this time she placed it against her breast, urging him to feel it. Dylan was shocked at first, but before he could yank his hand away, he felt her breast swelling against his palm. Her top strained and stretched as both her breasts grew in size.

“See?” Mona said while she batted her newly blue eyes at him.

“Get away from him!” another voice shouted from somewhere.

In a blur, something sped in and tore the two woman off of Dylan and tossed them against the back wall. Vixen and Mona looked just as surprised as he did by the sudden interruption. He looked to see a third woman standing with them in the dimly lit passage, but this one was somehow different from the other two.

She was as beautiful as the others, maybe even more so. Her golden blonde hair hung all the way down her back, almost completely covering up her shapely backside, yet leaving enough visible to entice the imagination. The tight, form-fitting uniform she wore seemed to be one of authority. She was possibly a member of the station's patrol. Whatever unit she was with, she wasn't a member of the Imperial forces. The colors on her uniform were wrong, being solid black with yellow trim. Her full breasts were barely hidden underneath her top which had the zipper pulled nearly all the way down. Dylan found his eyes glued to them as they heaved up and down while she drew in heavy breaths from her recent physical exertion.

Maybe, Dylan reasoned, she was some sort of enforcer of sex. A member of the sex police. It was her job to oversee all the sexual activity on the station and make sure everything was in order. It didn't really seem all that far fetched considering everything Dylan had seen in his short while on the station. Why else would a uniformed woman be dressed so provocatively, Dylan wondered to himself. It couldn't be any more unreasonable than any other explanation, given the circumstances.

“Dammit, Nessa!” Mona shouted. “This one's ours. Go get your own.”

“Nothing on this station is yours unless I say it is.” the new woman barked back.

“That's not right. We saw him first.” Vixen argued.

“You say that as though you expected it to matter. Now piss off before I have you both hauled into the EPF station and scanned for viruses.” she commanded in a very authoritarian voice.

“We don't have any viruses! You know that!” Vixen protested loudly. “Whatever happened to 'first come first serve'?”

“Not my problem ladies. You know the rules.” The authoritarian woman proclaimed.

“Yeah...” Mona mumbled. “You get to make the rules.”

The two ladies of the night slinked away with their heads lowered in defeat. Dylan watched as they slowly walked back out the tight passageway and onto the main concourse, turning the corner and disappearing. He scratched his head in confusion wondering if he'd just been saved or not. He wasn't really happy with being coerced into paying for a sexual encounter, but at the same time, the blonde woman made him very nervous. He thought about whether the sex police were able to arrest people or not. He decided he didn't want to take the chance. He wasn't sure of what sort of punishment system they had, but he knew he didn't want to find out.

“Uh...thanks?” Dylan finally said to the woman.

“You have to watch your ass better than that on this station, otherwise you can wind up in a world of hurt.” was the only reply the woman gave.

“They seemed like nice girls to me. Maybe a bit forward...”

“See, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Stupid shit like that will get you in trouble.”

Dylan's face scrunched in confusion. He raised a curious eyebrow at the woman, saying, “I don't understand. What did I say?”

“First of all, those 'women' were nothing of the sort. They were drones, and not even very good ones. I doubt if they're even completely sentient.” the woman informed, staring Dylan down with her icy glare. “If you didn't have your head up your ass you would have known that.”

“They seemed real enough...”

“Did they?” the woman scoffed in return. “How many women do you know that can alter their shape at will? Not many I'd bet.”

“I've never known drones to act like that before. They generally don't have so much...erm...personality.”

“We got a local guy that buys old drones off the scrappers. He makes repairs and any modifications he needs and then uploads his personality programming to them.” the woman explained. “They act like that because they're programmed to, not because they really like you.”

“So what you're telling me is that those drones are somebody's prostitutes?” Dylan asked, amazed at how calmly the blonde woman relayed the information. “If you know who it is, why don't you just go and arrest him? You can arrest him, right?”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“I..I..was just wondering, is all. I've never run into anyone from the sex police before.”

Sex police?!” the woman gasped, hardly believing what she'd just heard. “Where did you get an idea like that from?”

“Isn't that what you are? I mean, I saw how you handled the other two and didn't arrest them like a normal constable would.” Dylan said, attempting to explain. “And the way you're dressed. No offense, but it is pretty revealing.”

“Why would I arrest them? Prostitution isn't illegal out here near the border. Besides, drones don't get arrested, they get deactivated. Everyone knows that.”

“What about your uniform, then? Do all the guards on this station dress like that?”

“Being part of the EPF only pays so much. A girl has to supplement her income somehow.”

“Wait, what are you saying?” Dylan asked, now even more confused than ever.

“I'm saying that if you like what you see, it's all yours for a price. And probably a lot less than those two drones were charging. Plus, I won't knock you out and steal your money like they've been known to do to their 'clients'.”

After he was able to pick his jaw up from the floor, Dylan was able to ask, “so let me get this straight, you're not only a member of the station's security force, you're also a whore?”

“A girl has to do what she can to get by out here. Besides, I'm not just any whore, I'm the best piece of ass in the entire sector.”

Dylan couldn't believe what he was hearing. “Is everyone on this station a hooker?” he asked.

“No, it's just me and the two drones. Sometimes we get a few girls that come in and try to set up shop for a while, but they usually don't last very long, if you know what I mean.” the woman said in a rather ominous sounding tone.

“I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean.”

“Look, we didn't get properly introduced.” The woman said, quickly switching subjects, an indication to Dylan that perhaps he'd better leave well enough alone. “My name's Nessa...which is short for Vanessa.”

“I'm pleased to meet you, Nessa...I guess. My name's...”

“You're Dylan Largent, originally from Heslin. You spent a major cycle and a half studying at Redford University, until recently when you started popping up on different planets all over the Empire.”

“Yeah, but how did you know...?”

“The EPF has access to the Imperial database. I read your file when you first boarded the station. Nobody comes and goes off this heap without us knowing about it. That's how I knew where to find you.”

“Oh.” Dylan muttered, not exactly positive that he liked the thought of being under constant surveillance. “How nice to know that you've been keeping tabs on me.”

“Don't take it personally. Listen, why don't you and me go over to Rax's Hotel on B spoke and get to know each other a little better?” Nessa asked him, suddenly using the same seductive charms the two drones had. She thrust her breasts out at him, inviting him to take a closer look as she trailed her slender finger lightly up her cleavage for good measure. “What do you say?”

“Are you propositioning me for sex?”

“That's one way of putting it, I guess.” Nessa replied very matter-of-factly.

“This is all a bit too much for me...I mean, I only just got here and already all this happened. You people really know how to roll out a welcome, don't you?”

“Is something wrong? Don't you find me attractive?” she asked, staring at him with her large round eyes and batting her eyelashes at him innocently.

“Yes, of course. I find you very attractive. It's just that...”

“Just what? Don't you want me?” Nessa inquired further, lifting her breasts even closer to him. “You do, don't you?”

“It's not that...I very much do...it's a little hard to explain, really.” Dylan continued to nervously stammer.

“You don't need to say another word. Just come with me. I promise I'll make it worth your while and it'll only cost you a hundred drakes. And unlike those other two, I'm one hundred percent real woman.”

“Aw, what the hell.” Dylan finally relented. “You only live once, right?”

“Good answer.” Nessa chirped in approval as she grabbed his hand and began to lead the way.

The pair came out of the dark passageway and back onto the main concourse. With her tugging at his hand, she led him towards the Central Core. Just before they reached the core, Dylan noticed several of the station's residents were staring at them as they whisked by. Most looked disappointed or even jealous. But a few seemed happy by the sight, as if being pulled along by Nessa was some sort of strange honor. One of the residents smiled widely as the duo passed by him.

“Must be something special if Nessa's taken a shine to you.” he hollered out.

“Hey, Nessa!” another shouted. “When is it going to be my turn?”

The blonde-haired woman looked over her shoulder and yelled back “When you have some real money for a change!” causing the man to grumble in disappointment.

They arrived at the Central Core, a wide, circular corridor with offices in the inner portion and connections to all of the Central Hub spokes on the outer edges. The entire area seemed much more subdued than the spokes were. Unlike the riff-raff on the concourse before, here official looking people ran back and forth between the automatic sliding doors which were marked overhead by clear signs indicating which office belonged to whom or in what direction something could be found. It was the perfect model of efficiency and a stark contrast to the rest of the station with its polished floors and well lit sections.

Dylan watched nervously as they went near the headquarters of the Imperial garrison. His eyes caught sight of the large battle drones, outfitted with their heavy weapons and covered in layers of thick armor. A lump began to form in his throat and he tried to duck down a bit so as to be concealed within the crowd. What he was about to do might have been perfectly legal way out here in the border region, but that didn't make him feel any more comfortable about it when in the presence of the Empire's military. For some reason, the very idea made him feel dirty all over.

Once they reached the entrance to B spoke, Nessa gave another yank on his arm and pulled him in the proper direction. Just as before, the wide walkway was lined on either side with bright lights and bustling shops. Above one the shops a large sign hung written in words Dylan was actually able to recognize. It read: Rax's Hotel.

“Here we are.” Nessa confirmed as she pulled him through the sliding doors and inside.

Once past the doors, Dylan and his companion were greeted by a large lobby. Real carpet that was dark blue in color and speckled with white and gold markings covered the floor beneath their feet and several plush leather couches sat against the walls. All around the room, gold-trimmed wood covered nearly everything, from the tables and chairs in the center, to the front desk. An ornate glass chandelier hung from the ceiling, hovering over the center of the lobby, bathing the entire room in a warm yellow light. Standing behind the long front desk stood an overweight man with dark, slicked-back hair. When his eyes spotted Nessa, he beamed a large, wide smile at her.

“Nessa, it's so good to see you again.” he said through his smile. “Will you require your usual services, or maybe perhaps something a bit more special this time?”

“Not this time, Arlin.” she replied. “I think I have everything I need for this one already.”

“As you wish.”

The hotel wasn't large, only about ten available rooms or so spread out on two levels. Dylan figured there were probably other lodgings elsewhere on the station, but doubted that they would be as nice or as clean. If he was about to take part in an awkward sexual tryst, at least he was going to be comfortable.

Nessa pulled a keycard out from a small pocket in her uniform and held it up the the scanner on one of the doors. A faint click was heard and the door popped open. Nessa grabbed the handle and pushed the door the rest of the way, dragging Dylan inside with her.

Lights began to blink on, illuminating the room and revealing its contents. While it wasn't very large, it was rather nice and well laid out. Everything was done in the normal hotel-room-style that could be found countless other places in the galaxy. A bed with a grav-mattress sat against one wall, surrounded on either side by two plush chairs upholstered in what looked like genuine leather. Immediately next to the bed was a small wooden dresser and over on the far wall was the doorway to the bathroom.

As Nessa walked near the bathroom door, it slid open with a whir for her to enter. She turned back long enough to toss the keycard onto one of the tables close by before proceeding through the doorway, saying as she did, “Make yourself comfortable. I'll be right out.”

The walls may have been covered with paint and wallpaper, but there was no disguising how thin they were. Virtually every sound Nessa made while in the bathroom was perfectly audible to Dylan. He heard the distinctive sound of a zipper being pulled open and heavy clothing being tossed onto a tile floor. This was followed by the loud swish and swirl of the toilet recycling it's contents. After that, he heard her filling the bathroom sink with water. He found it odd that she would be so at ease with what she did in the lavatory while entertaining guests, that is, unless she was totally oblivious to the sounds escaping into the other room.

“So, this is your place, huh?” He said aloud as he looked the room over.

Nessa's echoed and muffled reply came through the thin walls between them. “Not really. I prefer to think of this place more like an office. This is where I conduct business.”

“Ah, I guess that makes sense.” he acknowledged while he plopped down onto the bed, the grav-mattress gently holding him just above the surface while his eyes steadily scanned his surroundings.

Once more, the bathroom door slid open and out stepped Nessa, completely and totally nude. His eyes nearly leaped out of their sockets when he saw her. She looked just as good as he hoped she would. Her full breasts bounced and jiggled with each step she took across the floor toward him while she purposefully and suggestively swung her hips from side to side. The slight chill in the room had caused her nipples to stiffen into tight peaks, although Dylan suspected this was done on purpose to achieve that very result. He reasoned that she lowered the temperature just enough to make her breasts more inviting to him, and it was working. He squirmed in his spot as he pictured his hands caressing them and his mouth placing light nibbles on her nipples.

She looked down at him and smiled a wide grin. She placed her hand against his chest and lightly rubbed, squeezing gently a few times before pushing him on his back. Like a predator that had just cornered its prey, Nessa reached out and jerked his pants down, exposing his stiffening member to the cool air all while grinning at him wickedly.

“Just lay back and enjoy. Leave everything to me.” she purred as she wrapped her nimble fingers around his swollen pole and started lightly stroking it up and down.

Dylan could hardly believe the pleasure he was experiencing. He'd had a few experiences with some of the girls back home, especially while he was away at school, but nothing he did before could compare to this. He folded his hands behind his head and allowed himself to relax under Nessa's blissful care. When he finally did return home, he was going to have one helluva story to tell.

A moan escaped his lips when he felt her warm, wet lips sliding down his shaft. In one smooth and fluid motion, she gobbled him up, all the way to the base. She held there for a few seconds, allowing him to feel the back of her throat against his most sensitive spot. He melted from the pleasure, and if not for being held up by the grav-mattress, he would have poured right off the bed and ended up as nothing more than a puddle on the floor. That sensation was the last thing Dylan remembered before everything went dark.

Chapter 2

The Raffle

Finally, the darkness began peeling away and allowed the light to start penetrating the thick fog inside Dylan's skull. Slowly, colors and shapes were starting to become recognizable again. A nerve in the back of his head twitched in sync with a flickering light above him that sent spasms through the center of his brain and right to the back of his left eye. He had a throbbing headache that pulsed in waves through his head, being amplified by the chorus of harsh and sudden sounds around him. He winced in agony every time a person shouted, some computer beeped, or when the loud music of the spoke blended together into a garbled cacophony of noise. His fingers and toes felt as though they were being pricked by a thousand sharp needles and he found he was having great difficulty getting his limbs to obey his commands. They were numb and tingled all over, refusing to cooperate. Underneath his arms ached and his neck hurt. It was as though he'd been dragged out the door and tossed away like yesterday's trash.

There was no denying it, Dylan had been drugged. He cursed himself for his stupidity. He should have known better, he told himself while his body began to regain its form. As his appendages became more useful, all he could do was mull over what a fool he was. He was an idiot for thinking that a hot and attractive woman like Nessa would be attracted to him. He'd been horribly duped. And what's worse, he never even saw it coming. Which, Dylan thought, was perhaps the worst part since she even gave him a hint about it.

His eyes rolled around and he spotted his knapsack laying in a pile of rubbish next to him. He reached out for it as he scanned the area to ascertain his location. He knew he still had to be on one of the spokes, it was entirely too noisy for him not to be. But which one?

He blinked several times as he tried to bring his eyes into clearer focus. As his fingers grasped the cool enlar fabric of the knapsack and pulled it closer to him, he noticed that he was resting in one of the side corridors between shops that might as well have been used alleyways, for all intents and purposes. It wasn't the same one he was in before however, as this corridor seemed to be even more dark and dirty than the last one. In addition there was a smell he wasn't able to put his finger on; it was one of the most horrid smells he'd ever come across.

Still more than a bit groggy, his fingers fumbled around a bit before they were able to release the magnetic clasp holding the knapsack closed. The bag popped open, revealing to Dylan's relief that his possessions were still contained within. He reclined back against the hard wall behind him and let out a sigh. Then he remembered.

Frantically, his hand dove into the bag and pulled apart the seal to the inner pocket that held his identification card, his passport, and all his money. He flipped through each item waiting for the touch of the cold and hard data card with just over five hundred drakes loaded onto it. He flipped the small stack one way, then back, but the data card was missing.

“Oh no!” he exclaimed as he pulled out all the contents of the knapsack onto the floor and dug even deeper inside. He angled the bag to get a better view of the interior, but still the card was missing.

Shit!” he fumed, flinging the knapsack down hard against the floor. “That bitch!”

He sat against the floor in the corridor for a few minutes, rubbing his face and trying to think what to do next.

Then it hit him. He looked up from the floor and mumbled to himself, “I'll go to the police...”

Prostitution might have been legal out near the border, but a far as he knew, theft was still a crime. It wasn't like Nessa was going to be hard to find either. There were only so many people on the station and she seemed to be one of the most well known. All he had to do was alert the authorities and they would take care of the rest. His confidence grew that his money would be back in his hands in just a few short hours, possibly even sooner. Nessa had taken him for a fool and he intended to show her the error of her ways. Dylan packed his belongings back into the knapsack, closed it tight, and stood up with a loud grunt. After a few steps, he emerged from the side corridor and onto the main causeway.

The sign hanging down informed him that he was still on B Spoke, except he was way down near the end by the entrance to the outer ring. That made sense to him, reasoning that Nessa probably dumped him there without any help. She wouldn't have been able to drag him far on her own, which meant that somebody had to have seen her pulling him along. Regardless of the time, there were always people roaming around the station, especially along the Central Hub. A wicked grin of satisfaction crossed Dylan's lips as he fantasized about his retribution.

His pace quickened the closer he got to the end of the spoke, almost becoming a jog by the time he reached the large doorway that led into the Central Core. He followed the rounded hallway around until he found himself standing in front of a door that had the sign 'Epsilon III Police Force Headquarters' above it. He was finding it hard to hold back a cackle as he stepped up to the door, which obligingly slid open for him to allow passage.

“Who do I see to report a theft?” Dylan asked the grizzled and over-worked looking man sitting behind the front desk who was busy sorting through piles of data contained on several computer monitors spread out in front of him.

“Down the hall, last door on the left.” the man replied, pointing without ever bothering to look up to the side corridor that led further into the offices.

Offering a quick wave to say thanks, although the man at the desk never saw it, Dylan started down the long hallway. As he walked, he passed by several offices on either side of the hall and still hadn't come to the end. He could swear that the offices didn't seem nearly this big from the outside. EPF headquarters made great use of the limited space provided at the center of the station. At last, after going much further than he thought was necessary, Dylan came to the final door on the left. As before, it slid open in greeting when he approached it.

Once inside, his eyes darted around, searching for someone important looking that he could speak with about his predicament. There didn't seem to be many candidates to chose from, however, as the only two people in the room with him were a large Etarian male who towered close to two and a half meters, and a disheveled looking man sitting beside the desk with his wrists bound and secured, who was obviously an unwilling visitor here.

The Etarian entered information into a computer, apparently processing the prisoner into the system and grumbling every few minutes while his over-sized fingers fumbled with the much-too-small buttons he was trying to manipulate. Although the Etarian was growing more and more frustrated, Dylan found the sight to be rather amusing. He clenched his jaws together hard and covered his mouth with his hand in order to stifle the giggles that were trying to make their way out. One more loud, exasperated grumble was all it took and Dylan could contain himself no longer. The smallest of snickers escaped his mouth, reaching the freedom of the open air before Dylan was able to catch it and haul it back down his throat. The Etarian's long pointed ears perked up and Dylan found himself staring across the room at two large black orbs looking back at him with an icy anger that sent a chill down his spine. Dylan quickly slapped both of his hands across his face and clamped down tightly to ensure no other unwanted bouts of laughter would ensue. Etarians, while a fierce and noble people, weren't exactly renowned for their sense of humor. Dylan quickly took a seat in a small chair resting up against the near wall, trying to put on a face that would make him seem innocent. The Etarian gave a slight nod to show his approval and turned his attention back to his work.

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