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Zenith (The Androma Saga #1)
Author:Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

Zenith (The Androma Saga #1)

Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings




Cell 306

The Past

ENDLESS DARKNESS.

It surrounded him in Cell 306, twisting and turning itself into his bones until he and the darkness became one.

His thoughts had long since stopped running wild with every groan and creak of the prison walls. A thinning blanket, his only companion, was wrapped tightly around his shoulders, but it failed to block out the cold kiss of air that snuck through the threads.

I am Valen Cortas, he thought, rolling the words over and over in his mind. It was the only thing that kept him going, leashing a sharp coil of courage around his veins. Vengeance will be mine.

What he would do, what he would give, to have a single moment of time in the light. To feel the touch of a warm midday breeze on his skin, to hear the rustle of leaves on the trees of his home planet, Arcardius.

He had lived on Arcardius all his life, and yet in Cell 306 the memories of his home had begun to grow dim. Valen had always looked at the world and seen it in a thousand colors, his fingers itching to paint each turn of the light, each curl of the wind sweeping through the silver streets.

Every shade was unique in his eyes.

And yet...he was losing the colors.

Try as he might, Valen couldn’t remember the precise shade of purple that spiraled across the Revina Mountains. He couldn’t recall the exact hue of the blue and red moons that mingled together in the sky. The sparkle of starlight when true night fell, a constant, glowing guide through the sky. As each moment in this abyss passed, the colors all melted into a single shade of black.

He shivered and pulled the blanket tighter around his emaciated frame.

The pain of remembering things loved and lost had sunk its claws into him, threatening to crush his bones.

Somewhere in the dank prison, a scream rang out, razor-sharp, like the tip of a blade scratching its way down Valen’s spine.

He rolled over, pressing his hands to his ears.

“I am Valen Cortas,” he whispered through cracked lips. “Vengeance will be mine.”

Another scream. The sizzle and pop of an electric whip, a flash of blue light that ghosted across the bars. Valen gasped, his eyes aching, head throbbing, memories churning. Color. A blue like the powerful sea, a blue like the open, cloudless sky. And then...darkness again, and silence.

The new prisoners always screamed for days, until their throats went ragged. They cried out the names of loved ones and tried to hang on to who they were.

But on Lunamere, everyone became a number in the end.

Valen was 306. Deep in the belly of hell incarnate.

The cold was endless. The food was enough to keep skin hanging on bones, but muscles atrophied and hearts slowed. The stink of bodies rose up like a wave, a scent that had long since sunk into the obsidinite walls and bars.

Those walls of obsidinite were the only thing separating Valen and the other prisoners from the void of space and their untimely deaths. He’d thought of escape, as every other prisoner had. He imagined leaping through the wall, diving out into the airless abyss.

Death had once scared Valen, but with each day that passed, it grew closer and closer to becoming his greatest wish.

Still, deep within his tormented soul, he knew he had to survive.

He had to bide his time and hope that the Godstars had not forgotten him.

And so he sat, dreaming of darkness, wrapped up in its cold arms.

I am Valen Cortas.

Vengeance will be mine.





Chapter One



* * *





ANDROMA


HER NIGHTMARES WERE like bloodstains.

They were impossible to get rid of, no matter how hard Androma Racella tried to scrub them from her mind. On the darkest nights they clung to her like a second skin. In them, she could hear the whispers of the dead threatening to drag her down to hell, where she belonged.

But Andi had decided, long ago, that the nightmares were her punishment.

She was the Bloody Baroness, after all. And if surviving meant giving up sleep, then she would bear the exhaustion.

Tonight the nightmares had come as they always did, and now Andi sat on the bridge of her ship, the Marauder, scratching a fresh set of tallies into her twin swords.

The glowing compression cuffs on her wrists, which protected skin burned in an accident years before, were the only light in the otherwise dark space. The press of a button was all it took to power them up.

Her fingertips were white beneath red-painted nails as she gouged a piece of steel against the flat of one blade, creating a thin tally the length of her smallest finger. Without its spirals of electricity, the sword looked like any other weapon; the tallies, any other soldier’s lucky mark. But Andi knew better. Each line she etched into the metal was another life cut off, another heart stopped with a slice of her blades.

A hundred lives to cover up the pain of the very first. A hundred more, to shovel away the hurt into a place that was dark and deep.

Andi glanced up as an object in the sky caught her eye.

A piece of space trash, hurtling away among thousands of stars.

Andi yawned. She had always loved the stars. Even as a child, she’d dreamed of dancing among them. But tonight she felt as if they were watching her, waiting for her to fail. Mocking little bastards. Well, they’d be sorely disappointed.

The Marauder, a glimmering starship made from the rare impenetrable glass varillium, was known for its devilish speed and agility. And Andi’s crew, a group of girls hailing from every hellish corner of the galaxy, were as sharp as Andi’s blades. They were the heart of the ship, and the three reasons why Andi had survived this long so far from home.

Five days ago, the girls had taken on a job to steal a starload of sealed BioDrugs from Solera, the capital planet of the Tavina System, and deliver them to a satellite station just outside the planet Tenebris in the neighboring system.

It wasn’t an abnormal request. BioDrugs were one of Andi’s most requested transports since these particular drugs could burn someone’s brain to bits or—if used correctly—carry one into a blissful oblivion.

Which, Andi thought, as she resumed her death-mark scratching, I wouldn’t mind experiencing right now.

She could still feel the hot blood on her hands from the man she’d slayed on the Tenebris station. The way his eyes had locked on to hers before she’d run him through with her blades, silent as a whisper. The sorry fool never should have tried to double-cross Andi and her crew.