Once Carlotta Valdez was a mercenary, working for the highest bidder. No job was too dirty or too dangerous as long as she got paid.
But then Carlotta had a change of heart. She joined the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire and met rebel leader Arthur Madden, perhaps the only man in the universe she genuinely admires.
However, the past has a nasty habit of catching up with you when you least expect it. And so, while on a mission for the Rebellion, Carlotta runs into Darius Gilroy, crime lord, all around scumball and her former boss. Gilroy had a job for Carlotta and he won’t take no for an answer. And to emphasise his point, he threatens to hand her over to the Empire, if she doesn’t accept.
So Carlotta finds herself en route to the rimworld of Rothea III to take out a drug lord who has been encroaching on Gilroy’s territory. The drug lord certainly won’t be missed, but how can Carlotta reconcile an assassination job with her newfound rebel convictions? And how can she get Gilroy off her back, lest he threaten her and her comrades again?
Carlotta strolled into the lab, as if she had every right in the world to be there, though she drew her blaster just in case.
The lab complex was pretty much standard, as labs went. Lots of tubes and vats and tanks and mysterious bubbling liquids. Though Bianco’s lab was a lot cleaner and shinier than the norm. Or maybe Carlotta had simply spent too much time with the Rebellion and their battered hardware that everything else seemed shiny by comparison.
She found the lab tech lounging in front of a computer console, keeping half an eye eye on the automated manufacturing process, while focusing the lion’s share of his attention upon a particularly bad piece of alien tentacle porn that was almost certainly illegal in most civilised star systems.
He didn’t become aware of Carlotta until she was almost behind him. Once he did, he hastily attempted to shut down the tentacle porn right in the middle of a scene of an orgasmically moaning woman being ravished by two multi-tentacled aliens at the same time.
The lab tech spun his swivel chair around and almost managed to knock it over in the process. “I… I… I’m sorry, I… — Who the fuck are you?”
In response, Carlotta thrust her blaster into his face, nearly ramming the barrel up his nostrils. “I’m the last thing you’ll ever see in your misbegotten life, unless you cooperate.”
Maybe she should have shot the guy right away. But the truth was that she still needed him to retrieve the formula for the drug from the computer banks. Or maybe she was just getting soft in her not quite so old age.
“But help me and I might just let you live. Do you understand?”
The lab tech nodded. He was skinny and pale and blonde and judging by the wet spot forming on his swivel chair and the floor underneath, he had just pissed himself. Carlotta was grateful that she’d used the scent blocker earlier or this whole job would have gotten even more unpleasant than it already was.
“And now call up the formula for the shit you’re cooking up here,” Carlotta ordered. For emphasis, she rammed her blaster a bit further up the lab tech’s nostrils, careful not to step into the puddle of piss on the floor.
The lab tech got to work, tapping commands into his computer terminal with trembling fingers. He seemed to be taking uncommonly long for what should be a two second operation.
“Don’t try any funny stuff or I might get very annoyed,” Carlotta warned him, “And trust me, you won’t like it when I get annoyed.”
“Yes, Ma… ma’am,” the lab tech stammered, “I just need to… to… bypass the access protocols, so that M… Mr. Bianco won’t know that it was me who helped you.”
“Don’t worry yourself about Mr. Bianco,” Carlotta countered, “Just in case you forgot, I’m the one with the gun here.” For emphasis, she pushed the barrel into the guy’s face again, giving him a ridiculously upturned nose in the process.
“No offense, lady…” the lab tech said, once he managed to stop his teeth from chattering long enough to talk, “…but you’ll only shoot me. But Mr. Bianco, he’ll have me flayed alive and then he’ll sent my head to my family in a box. And unless he’s in a really good mood, he’ll put a bomb in the box as well.”
The statement did much to dispel Carlotta’s lingering doubts about this job. Cause if even half of what the lab tech had said was true, the galaxy would be a much nicer place with Bryan Bianco gone.
Nonetheless, she still needed the guy to cooperate, so she said, “Well, I don’t believe in bothering people’s families, but believe me, I have ways of making your life really miserable, if you don’t cooperate. And now get a move on or I’ll start thinking of some.”
The lab tech got back to work, tapping something into his terminal. Carlotta watched him, when a low, pained moan distracted her.
“What?” she growled, ramming the barrel of her blaster into the guy’s back for emphasis.
“It… it’s not me,” the lab tech said. He looked up, at something behind the terminal. “It’s them. They do that sometimes.”
Carlotta followed his gaze and then she saw it. Cages. Lots of cages. Rows upon rows of cages. And none were empty. So this was the source of the non-human thought patterns she’d picked up earlier.
Tubes full of pulsating liquid ran into the cages, connecting them to the machinery. A creature pressed its face against the cage and looked straight at Carlotta, a silent plea in its eyes, its expression full of pain.
Cora Buhlert was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. Visit her on the web at www.corabuhlert.com or follow her on Twitter under @CoraBuhlert. You can buy her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Kobo, AllRomance e-books, DriveThruFiction and XinXii or borrow them at Scribd.