That’s how long I’ve been on this godforsaken island.
Six months of handing out drab fatigues, bulletproof helmets, toothbrushes, and razors. Six months of saluting lazy officers. Half a year buffing steel-capped boots until my fingers were stained with polish.
If it wasn’t for Bora Dushku—the insipid, mediocre commander of this island—I would have died of boredom.
Well, I still might succumb to boredom. Dushku isn’t quite that exciting.
Bora Dushku. Since I arrived here, he’s been having his fun with me, mostly in his dreary quarters. And sometimes in his even bleaker office. He’s three years off retirement, which means he’ll still be here when I’m gone.
But he’s got me for company for now, so he should be grateful. I’m his plaything. Aren’t I the lucky one? Nobody else gets to entertain him, and in return, nobody gets to touch me, either. It’s a relief, because sex is the best currency in a place where money is meaningless. And if you want a fuck, you have to barter, trade yourself in at the crudely named ‘sex shop’—and hope you earn it back with somebody worthwhile.
I gather it’s rather hit or miss. Thankfully, I don’t have to go there.
So how long will I have to keep Dushku happy?
I’m here for the duration of my Sentence. That’s what everyone calls this time of their life, a sentence, as if we’re locked in a prison. Once upon a time, Savra Island actually was a prison, but now it’s a military base. Nearly every soldier, including myself, sent here is a conscript, except Dushku and his minion officers who are all career soldiers and are stuck here for years. The conscripts serve two years of mind-numbing routine, guarding this outpost in the middle of the Straits of Hell, praying the enemy doesn’t dispatch its navy to invade our cities and despoil our beloved mainland. Our home is an idyllic country of sun-bleached beaches, shady olive groves and… concrete tower blocks. Twenty years we’ve been waiting for them to arrive, and so far, they’ve stayed in their harbor.
It’s right there, across the Straits, just five miles away. If you look closely through high-powered binoculars, they say you can see the whites of their eyes. I haven’t, but then I’m not a sentry. I’m just an ancillary. I work for the Logistics Corp in the quartermaster’s warehouse.
I count things.
I’m counting today because we’ve a new batch of conscripts arriving. A ferry docked two hours ago and the hundred odd newcomers are disembarking. It’s going to be a busy morning. There’s linen, towels, and uniforms, all starched and flattened by industrial-size presses. The room stinks like a laundry, too. Then there’s everything else that goes into a kit. It’s not just the soap and toothpaste. There’s the other personal stuff, too—razors, combs, even tampons. Conscription doesn’t differentiate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, woman, or alien from out of space: if you live in our country, you spend two years of it conscripted.
And what you end up doing on Savra is something of a lottery.
Six months ago, Dushku spotted me disembarking. Just like that, I was in his office, and he was lining me up with the logistics job because it’s less arduous than manning the turrets, or underground bunkers. There’s aircon for one thing, and regular daytime hours—which means he can fuck me in the evenings.
I remember how he held my personnel file in his hand, his reading glasses stuck on the end of his nose, telling me that if I want it easy, he can make problems go away. That all I have to do is come by now and again and share ‘a drink’ with him. Give him a kiss. Take off my clothes.
I quickly worked out the rest.
I should have said no. But he had my file in his hand, and I could guess what it said about me: orphan, raised by docile grandparents in a sleepy village, educated at the state university, under the tutelage of one Leondra Grande, professor of sociology.
Grande, the darling of the elite, the man who threw the best parties, then disappeared into his office to work—and sometimes he liked to hide himself away in other places, too. Did Dushku know where Grande went in the evenings? I’m still not sure he does. From day one, he’s never once mentioned Leondra to me, but I can’t take the chance of my grandparents finding out what I did.
I’d said yes to his offer then—and I’ll keep saying it while he has the decency to even ask.
The door into the stores open and the searing heat of the sun floods the building. In response to the rise in temperature, the aircon unit above my head goes into overdrive and starts to rattle. Men and women march in and form a line, then slowly they shuffle along the counter, picking up this and that, signing for this and that. Castella, the other guy on duty, and I say the same things over and over, checking off names, warning them that if they lose or damage anything, their pay will be docked. They’re not going to see a cent of it while they complete their Sentence anyway, as much of it is lost to fines, penalties, and bribes. By the end, most conscripts find nothing is left in their accounts.
Of course, the quite believable joke is that the army never intended to pay us in the first place.
I don’t look up much from my list. I just run my finger down it and tick things off while Castella brings things over from the racks and lays them out. We move quickly, for time is pressing. A hundred disgruntled people in a confined space never fail to raise the temperature—and raise tempers, too.
Perhaps a handful of them want to be here. They’re the ones who should probably be in a real prison and for them, this is a better alternative. A few I suppose are escaping poverty or violence. Maybe more than a few. I’d guess they don’t mind being here, either. The rest, like me, resent the drafting of our lives into the army. Unless you’ve got connections—and heaps of money—you’re not going to get out of the service. Deferments are only allowed for extenuating circumstances, like sickness or bereavement. Or being in jail.
And once you’re here it really does feel like a prison—no vacations allowed, not even family visits. If you have a lover, you leave them behind. Consequently, young people have a tendency to put off marriage until they’ve finished their Sentence.
Once the newbies have got their kit, they heave the bags over their shoulders and start to march out, breathing heavily. There are a few stragglers, those who don’t care if they’re at the back of the line. One is smoking. Another is chewing. I smile to myself. Once they find out the penalties for both of those vices, they’ll learn not to be quite so careless about displaying their indulgences in them.
The last man approaches the counter without stomping his heavy boots. I jump at his stealth but keep my head down.
“Name?” I ask.
“Demiri,” he says. A low voice. It rumbles slightly, like distant thunder.
I spot his name and cross it out. “Zayne Demiri?”
The name rings some kind of faint warning in my mind. But many names do. In the world I grew up in you learn to be careful about names. Some more than others. I can’t think why this one is a trigger though.
I look up, straightening—and my jaw drops.
He’s a silhouette against the bright illumination pouring into the room, but what I can see of him is staring back at me, paying no attention to the pile Castella has dumped in front of him.
Demiri casts a stupendous shadow, amplified by the window and the brilliant sunlight right behind him. I squint, trying to see something other than the whites of his eyes. But all I can make out are the outlines of shoulders—squared off, broad—and two bulging biceps.
“And you are?” he asks.
“What?” Nobody ever asks my name.
He taps the piece of paper. “If you get to know my name, I should know yours.”
“Just take your things, Private Demiri,” I say officiously.
“You’re a private, too.” He hasn’t budged.
“If you don’t hurry up, you’ll fall out of line, then the sarge will chew your ears.” I grin. “He likes barking at newbies.”
“You’re scaring me,” he says dryly.
I push the bag toward him. “If you want the best bunk in the dorm, you’ll have to run.”
“I’ll get it anyway.”
I believe him. “Good at bribing, are you?”
“Don’t need to. If I want something, I generally get it.”
I scoff. “Maybe that’s true where you come from. But here, you’ll learn—the hard way.”
I know about the floggings dished out by Dushku’s henchmen. The pecking order will quickly be established once the new batch meets the more ‘veteran’ soldiers. After a year, this lot might find themselves moving up the ranks. A few promotions, better treatment.
But for the next few months, they’ll lurk at the bottom of the pile.
“So, you’re not going to tell me?”
He reaches out and pinches my lapel, drawing me closer. “Your name, baby.”
I swallow a lump in my throat. Dushku doesn’t even call me that. I can’t think what to say. I don’t even shout at the guy to get off me. I’m frozen, except for my thumping heart.
Castella clears his throat. “Just tell him. He’s going to forget it soon, once he’s been to the shop.”
The sex shop, where the bartering happens. Where I don’t have to go.
“Okay,” I say. “It’s Gabrielle Laska.”
“Gabrielle Laska,” Demiri says with relish.
Now I can see white teeth, too.
I’m up on my tiptoes, nearly nose to nose with him. His breath is minty, fresh. Not a hint of the nefarious weed.
“I’ll be seeing you, Gabby. I don’t forget.” He releases my shirt, and I land back on my heels with a clunk.
He scoops up his bag and lifts it onto his shoulders, like it weighs nothing. Turning on his heel, he saunters out into the bright light. The door swings shut behind him.
“Zayne Demiri,” I mutter to myself. “Who the fuck are you?”
Later, I’m in my room, which I share with my friend Anita. It’s a safe place for us. The block that once housed prison guards is for females only. It’s mostly the non-combatants, like me, who work as administrators, caterers, nurses, and cleaners. We provide whatever is needed to keep Savra Base ticking over.
I kick off my boots and lie on my narrow cot. I stare at a blot on the ceiling.
Anita sighs. “A new batch of troops. They’re going to make trouble, like we did, I suppose.”
“Speak for yourself, I never made trouble.”
“You didn’t have to, darling. You were Dushku’s choice from the start. The rest of us aren’t in the same circle as you.” Anita starts to apply a thin layer of lipstick. She’s in her PTs, the off-duty uniform that at least allows some freedom of expression, an odd adjustment to the unimaginative design. She’s taken the pants in around the hips and waist and tidied up the hems. She’s just as good a seamstress as she is a nurse.
I’m lounging in my ancillary green, a one-piece coverall that I loathe with a passion. It’s okay for men, of course, but it’s a right pain in the ass for women to wear. As for the sentries, their combat fatigues, an inky black from helmet to boots, help them hide even more effectively in the shadows of the bunkers.
Officers prefer the tailored service uniform of a buttoned jacket, which comes in a kind of dirty brown. Which suits them.
Anita tucks her pale shirt into the equally faded pants and leaves two shirt buttons undone. When in PTs, you can get away with that.
“You’re going to score, tonight,” I say. “You look hot.”
She smiles and flicks a salute at me with a finger. “Thanks.”
I sit up. “Anita, do you know anyone called Demiri?”
She turns slowly and shrugs. “Nope. Why?”
“A newbie. He came on all… well, he’s hot, too.” I can’t think how else to describe the man, how he made me feel for those few seconds.
“Be careful, darling,” Anita says. She opens the door. “Dushku doesn’t like competition.”
“He asked for my name.”
“Audacious.” She winks at me. “You’re a danger zone. They should keep a lock on you.”
I laugh. Then she’s gone.
Abruptly I stop giggling. I did give him my name.
You’re an idiot for doing it.
My pager goes off. It’s another perk, Dushku’s direct line to me. When it beeps, I have to call him. I rush to the end of the corridor to a disused communication room. There’s a couple of ancient computers and an old-style corded phone. I dial his office number.
“Commander?” I ask quietly.
“Gabrielle,” he booms.
I instinctively snap my back straight. “Sir. Do you need me?”
He snorts. “Can’t make time. Already got two absconders and a fight to address. Going to have to go hard on them. A necessity for the first few days, as you know.”
‘Hard’ means something along the lines of the hell hole—a blacked-out cell. Or a forced march on the southern side of the island, where the heat is unbearable. If that doesn’t work, then Dushku orders a flogging.
That’s rare enough, but he isn’t afraid to flex his powers when needed.
“I’ll be patient.” I coil the telephone line around my forefinger.
“Talk dirty to me, Gabrielle,” he says abruptly. “I’ve got a moment to spare.”
I close my eyes. I think not of Bora Dushku in bed with me, but Zayne Demiri. I’ve not much to go on. I use Demiri’s deep voice to guide me and imagine him ordering me to strip.
“Okay… you’re telling me to undress. So I slip out of my uniform and pull down my panties.”
“Real slow, sir. And I bend…”
Demiri is right behind me, he touches me, fingers my ass, my pussy. I tilt my bottom up higher.
I jump. “Sorry. Did I stop?” The words never left my head. I try harder, pushing Demiri out.
He’s not helping at the moment.
After a few minutes of describing my imaginary orgasm, Dushku suddenly hangs up. That happens sometimes, too. I toss the handset between my hands. I wait for a ring back, but when one never comes, I go back to my room.
I lie there, and after a few minutes, decide to enjoy a real orgasm. This time, I let Demiri tear off my clothes. He rips through the uniform, shredding my panties. I permit him to do things I wouldn’t allow other men. He gets to shove me over a table, smack my ass hard several times, sink his enormous cock in my tight little hole and fuck the hell out of me.
Yeah, fantasy Zayne is granted access to what I’ve never dared offer up to anyone else. And though I’ve not seen much of him other than those dark broody eyes, I can build his features up from there: his cock belongs on a giant, his stamina endless, and my body is pinned down by a multitude of invisible arms that sprout out of his body.
The wonders of a fertile imagination. Where would you be without it?
I rub my clitoris frantically, wishing there was aircon in the room. The climax is sweet, but not earth shattering. When the heat becomes suffocating, I grab a towel and head into the shower room. There are things I have to do to keep myself prepped for Dushku; things that make me think of somebody else. Somebody who once said I had the ability to be anything I wanted to be.
I miss him.
The island is white. White sand, white cliffs, white stone. There’s a few shrubs and birds, but mostly it’s sun-bleached and parched. A heat haze hovers above the ground, and the mirage slithers across the surface of the water. The ship takes forever to dock, and sweltering, we wait on the deck for the order to disembark.
I keep to the back of the column; I prefer to shelter in the shadows. The ferry is creaking, the metal rusting away, and if this is what our navy relies upon, then we’re in trouble. I march, like we were taught during basic training, swinging my arms, lifting my knees, following the line down the pier and along the harbor wall. The sweat drips off my chin.
The first thing we have to do is pick up our kit. Again, I hold back because there’s a bit of shade under an embankment. The sergeant, an angry, red-faced, one-eyed man, sends us inside in batches of twenty. I take note of the surroundings, how all the buildings are cut into the hillsides. Where wall meets rock, gray concrete and natural stone blurring into one. The barrack blocks, where we’ll sleep, are dotted along the tarmac road. None of them are fully exposed, which means some rooms will be windowless. Airless.
Fuck, what a place to live.
Further up, on top of the hills, are the turrets with their guns mounted on swivel bases. I wonder how many are in actual working order, how many can fire missiles that will reach the enemy. It’s hard to tell, as I’m no expert on ordnance. My firearms skillset doesn’t extend beyond handguns.
The sun reaches the midday spot. I shade my eyes with an arm. Finally, we’re called into the supply warehouse for our kit. I bring up the rear. I linger, waiting for the man in front of me to move forward. I’m in no hurry.
The sun streams through the door and lights up the long counter. The beams illuminate one solitary figure, like she’s been shoved into the limelight of a theater stage. I walk up to her; she says my name.
“That’s me,” I say back.
There’s a fire in her gaze, and it’s more than the sun reflecting off her eyes. She’s so alive, so vivacious. Electricity crackles off her, burrowing into my skin. I prickle with energy—her energy. I have the advantage, as I can see her clearly while she’s partially blinded by the sun. Her hair is such a dazzling fusion of reds and mocha brown that I wonder if the light is playing tricks on my perception. But her eyes are definitely green. Such a rarity. As for her lips, they are curvaceous, rising to a point below her nose, dipping down into the creases of her mouth. The lower lip is pouty, as if I’ve annoyed her by asking for her name.
She’s breathing fast. I can’t resist reaching out and touching her shirt. She springs up onto her toes, so I draw her closer to me, using her lapel as a hook. She moves with me, not away, and I thrill at that subtle gesture of compliance.
I know what it means.
“Gabrielle Laska,” I say.
She smells sweet. I need a shower, and not just to clean myself. I want to handle my cock, and feel its hardness, the very way she is affecting me in the flesh.
“I’ll be seeing you, Gabby. I don’t forget.” I let go of her.
The only thing on my mind is getting inside her panties. I don’t even care what the sergeant is shouting, the abuse he’s hurling at us as we march in formation to our barracks.
I’m fully occupied with my planning of something else entirely.
My dorm in the barracks has a window, and the chance of fresh air, but the bed next to the window is taken by the time I get there. While others unpack their bags, and familiarize themselves with the dormitory, I ignore the last available bunk and amble over to the one I want. There’s ten of us assigned to this dorm. Nine souls who will be sharing my life for the next two years.
Father arranged my deferments for four years until I told him I wasn’t going to be one of those dodgers that shirk on their duty to country. He argued with me, but I won. I usually do. Because of those four years, I’m older than most of the new conscripts. The women, they’re kittens in the bodies of lionesses, but none of these men seem quite so mature, as if they are waiting for some last growth spurt or for their bodies to pile on the muscles. By the time they leave here, they’ll be fully men, hardened and yet bored out of their minds.
But I have no intention of succumbing to boredom.
The youth in the bed by the window is gangly and spotty. “Hi, I’m Alban.” He holds out his hand.
I ignore it. “You’re sitting on my bunk.”
He frowns. “No, this is mine.”
I peer around the bed. “I don’t recall seeing a label with your name on it.”
“I got here first.”
“Then thanks for holding it for me.” I step back. “Now kindly hand it over.”
Everyone else in the room has frozen, watching us.
Alban rises to his feet. We’re the same height, but I’m twice his weight—and that mass is all muscle.
He blinks. “You’re not going to bully me.”
I actually like the boy. He’s the kind I would use for buttering up to use as a snitch. Give him a friendly face, and Alban would probably find something to talk about. Sadly, I can’t be that friendly face.
“No. I don’t need to. You’re going to move to the bunk over there, by the door and the bathroom.” I point, and as he looks, I drop my bag on the bed behind him. “And now it’s mine. See? Easily done. If you get distracted, stuff happens.”
He forms a fist with his right hand.
I don’t blink. “Think about it, Alban. Think hard. Do you really want to throw a punch in my direction, or do you want to be over there, comfortable on a bed?” I keep my hands loose. If I have to, I’ll use my knee and double him over in agony.
Alban flinches, then turns crimson with defeat. “I’ll get my things off your bed.”
I pat his shoulder. “Thanks. I’ll remember this. I’ve got a good memory.”
The others watch as the deflated Alban collects his stuff and moves to the other end of the dorm. Nobody says a thing, which is good. I won’t tolerate teasing. Alban’s not a coward; he made the right call and saved himself the embarrassment of losing to me.
I stretch out on the bed and close my eyes.
“Who are you?” The voice comes from my next-door neighbor.
I don’t open my eyes. “My name is Zayne Demiri.”
That’s all I say. I’m certainly not mentioning that the Demiri name is linked to the Rassi. Eventually, they’ll find out, and by then, my name will be all over the base, and it will be the end of any anonymity. I wonder how long I have before that temporary privilege is lost.
The evening comes, and we dine in the mess hall, which is chaotic. We’re herded in our cohorts by older conscripts, the know-it-alls, who have a point to make that they are nearing the end of their Sentences, while we’ve just started ours. I ignore their ribbing, eat what is thrown on my tray, and leave.
Instead of going back to my dorm, I hang out around the entrance to another dorm in our barrack block where the older conscripts sleep. Eventually, a soldier walks out of the room and I intercept him.
“What do you want?” he asks.
“The girls. Where do they sleep?”
He chuckles. “You’re eager. You can’t get into their barracks. Access is controlled by facial recognition system. But if you want sex, then head over to the shop.”
“The sex shop. You can buy and sell sex.”
“I don’t have money.” Before we departed port on the mainland, they confiscated any money, alcohol, or drugs. We’re supposed to use ration books for anything extra we need. Two vouchers for a haircut, one voucher for a drink or cigar. Each week a new book of vouchers is issued. If you run out before then, hard luck. You would think it’s an active war zone, not a twenty-year stalemate.
“You don’t need money. You offer her something, and if she likes it, she accepts. It’s like a… bidding game. The best girls look out for the hotshots.” He pauses, looking me up and down. “You’ll do well.”
“What if I want a particular girl? Somebody specific.”
“You’ve only been here a day.” He shakes his head in disbelief. “Was she on your ship?”
“No. She’s already here. She’s in the warehouse.”
Now, I know what makes a man nervous, and I can see it isn’t me. But the mention of the girl in the warehouse turns him stiff as a board. I raise a curious eyebrow.
“You mean Gabrielle Laska.”
He steps back. “Man, you don’t want her. Keep away from her.”
“Oh? Why?” I fold my arms across my chest. Forbidden fruit is much more pleasing than a fallen apple on the ground.
“She’s Dushku’s girl.”
He rolls his eyes. “Commander Dushku. He’s in charge of this fucking island. She’s his.”
“Lucky man.” I frown. I hadn’t anticipated this scenario. “Commander? So he’s a career soldier, not a conscript.”
“Sure. He’s been here ten years. I reckon he gets what he wants.”
“Is that all he wants?” I ask.
“Who doesn’t want off this hell hole? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s counting his days, but he’s got another three years to retirement.”
An old soldier. Well, there’s my way in.
“Thanks for the info. I guess I’ll have to try the sex shop.”
He nods and walks off.
I’ve no intention of using the sex shop though. I’m not available for bartered sex; I dictate the terms.
I sleep well enough, unlike most of the other occupants of my dorm. They snore, fidget, cry out in their dreams. One pitiful boy calls for his mom. Poor bastard.
Upon rising in the morning, I put on the dark combat fatigues, which I fill to the seams. Thankfully, the material is elastic, unlike the lighter versions that stick to the skin. I join my platoon for breakfast. I try to be sociable, and not alienate them any further. Alban seems not to have forgiven me yet, but he hasn’t spit in my food, either. That would cost him if he had.
The first assignment consists of familiarizing ourselves with the surrounding terrain, a reconnaissance of sorts. We’re given a map, and told to find various locations, specifically battlements that line the perimeter of the island. Each one is reached by a series of subterranean tunnels dug long ago into the ground by convicts. The younger guys treat the mission like a silly adventure game. I let them run ahead, my long strides allowing me to keep up with them easily. Eventually the heat slows them down, as does the scale of the island’s underground network. To prove they’ve visited all the turrets, they have to write the gun numbers down. There’s no way to cheat, since the numbering system isn’t logical or predictable.
Along the way, we spy other passages that lead into bunkers without gun turrets. A few of these corridors aren’t lit.
“They’re part of the old prison,” says one of the other conscripts, a young lad. “When it was used to house political prisoners. The cells were spread across the hills, deep below ground, so nobody could hear the prisoners… scream.”
Somebody else gasps. “I didn’t think those stories were real.”
“Oh, they are. My granddad was held here.” The youth steps under a light. He’s pale and grim faced. “He was kept in one of these remote cells for a year. No contact with anyone but his guard. It’s how they broke them. The army added guns to the lookout turrets, built the barracks, and everything else. But the prison was always underground.”
“Fuck,” mutters another.
I peer down one dark tunnel. I expect to smell something foul, but there isn’t anything nasty in the air. I get the impression the old prison cells are still in use. I wonder why.
By the time we’ve finished the trivial mission, we’re weary and eager for food. The afternoon is free to allow us the chance to explore the other facilities: the gym, pool hall, bowling alley, alcohol-free bar, and the sex shop.
Where the girls hang out is something of a mystery though since they’re assigned different tasks.
I have another plan. I comb my hair, straighten the dark sleeves of the uniform, and walk under the oppressive sun to a fortress-type building—the command center. It sits on the brow of a hill, looking down on the barrack blocks and the main plaza, which acts as a meeting point. At the reception desk, I ask the commander’s adjutant, a woman with freckles, for a meeting with him.
“He’s not available,” the young adjutant says. She flutters her eyes at me. “Why do you want to see him?”
“Could I have a piece of paper?” I ask.
She hesitates, then hands me paper and pen.
I write my note to Dushku. I find notes are often the best way to initiate conversations. It’s amazing what a few words can do.
“Please be so kind as to hand this to the commander. I’ll wait over there.” I choose a chair and settle into it, crossing my ankles, and there with my head resting against the cool wall, I close my eyes.
A half hour passes. I’m a patient man, fortunately.
The adjutant comes and goes, answers the phone, generally keeping herself occupied, but occasionally, she taps her pen on the table. My presence disturbs her.
The phone rings. “Sir. Yes, he’s still here. I’ll send him in.”
My little note has done the trick. I shake out my sleeves, adjust my cap, and follow the woman down a corridor to the end door. She knocks, and I enter.
Commander Dushku remains behind his desk. I offer him the courtesy of a perfunctory salute. He doesn’t return it.
“Who the hell are you?” he asks. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing writing me this goddamn note?” His beefy hands are flat on the table. My note is underneath them.
He’s not that old. Perhaps forty something, but he needs glasses to read, and the sun has baked his skin into a leathery casing. Every wrinkle shows, etching his face into lines that add to that premature aging effect. Hidden out of sight is a much more youthful man. He tosses his spectacles onto his well-ordered desk, and two bright eyes stare at me without flinching. Unlike the boys in the dormitory, this isn’t a man who I can easily manipulate. I have to keep my wits about me.
“Zayne Demiri. As signed on my note.” I clasp my hands behind my back. “I’m sorry I offended you. The offer is genuine. I believe I can be of assistance to you.”
Dushku puts the glasses back on, examining the message again. “The only people who can offer me this kind of bribe are those with excellent contacts.”
I silently agree. “It interests you then, sir?”
He laughs. “Cut out the bullshit formality, Demiri. We both know that you probably have more power here than even me.”
Of course he is correct, and it rather pleases me that he’s worked that out so quickly.
“Which syndicate?” he asks.
I smile. “The Rassi.”
He doesn’t so much as blink. I have to give him credit for that. But I can see his mind ticking over the fact I’m with one of the most powerful syndicates, the one with the best connections—especially with the military and its allied industries. It makes my offer more believable.
He removes his glasses. “Early retirement. Two years reduction. You can really do this?”
“For what price?”
Now we get to the heart of the matter.
“Gabrielle Laska. I want her.”
He tosses his head back and laughs. “All this for a girl?”
I smile knowingly. “If I had asked for her, without you seeing this note—or hearing the name of my syndicate—would you have just given her to me?”
“No,” he says, his mirth fading rapidly. “I’d have you thrown in the hell hole for even thinking about her.”
“But two years is worth relinquishing her to me?”
He shifts uneasily in his seat. “She’s one of many girls I’ve fucked since I came to this shithole. I prefer exclusivity. It keeps things… simple.”
“What hold do you have over her?” There’s always a hook, whether it’s a bribe or blackmail.
“Nothing specific. She’s got elderly, frail grandparents. No money. Well educated, though, by way of a scholarship. And she’s connected to… interesting people.”
Dushku, having made his decision, offers me a chair with a wave of his hand. I sit and relax. Things are going well.
“Ever heard of Leondra Grande?”
I can’t help letting out a gasp of surprise. “Seriously? She’s one of his?” I’m not sure how I feel about Leondra Grande having touched her in some way, and what kind of influence he might have had over her life.
“Historically, yes. Then she obviously got sent here after graduating. She’s twenty-one. Most of the recruits are younger, but a few are college educated. A bit like yourself.”
I ignore the remark. “And you took her under your wing. You knew who she was before she got here?”
“Actually, no. I took a fancy to her, right from the moment she stepped off the boat. It was only when I inquired that I discovered she was with Grande previously. I offered her decent quarters, a good safe job. She’s been quite well behaved ever since. Frankly, I don’t have the time I would like to spend with her, so we have to make the most of brief spells. She’s able. Beautiful.”
I nod. “And you’ll give her to me?”
Dushku sighs, his fingers turning over the note in his hand. The offer is too tempting. “I’ll find another to replace her. But since I will need proof this can be guaranteed, tell me, Demiri, how will you manage to get me out early?”
I lean forward. “This is just between us. For now, I expect eventually I will have to deal with others finding out. Somebody is bound to make the connection. My father is the head of the Rassi syndicate.”
I love watching the skin tone change when I reveal who exactly I am. Dushku, on cue, goes pink, then pale. He swallows a mouthful of water from a glass. “You’re a prince?”
It goes without saying that I am. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m royalty; our nation is a republic. But when the syndicates formed years ago to help run the country, they developed out of the defunct aristocracy. The titles were lost, but the status remained intact. Nobody actually calls me Prince Zayne, but as the heir apparent to my father’s syndicate, I am a prince of sorts. It simply means I have power.
The kind of power to arrange an early retirement for a disenchanted army officer.
“My proof will come when I have made contact with my father. In exchange for written confirmation of your impending retirement, I want access to the girl, when I want, for however long. And I want somewhere private. Like one of those old prison cells deep underground.”
He smirks. “You’ve heard about them? Well, they are in use. I usually hire them out to other officers. One of the senior doctors uses one, and we have a captain who provides a range of services. She’s popular with the sergeants when they need relaxation—and some measured discipline.”
Dushku keeps his officers well provided for—and safely away from the sex shop. Privacy matters to some, especially me.
“Your successor—when they arrive on the island—will hopefully be equally magnanimous.”
“If he, or she, wants to keep the officers content, then yes, I’m sure there will be plenty of cells available for use. I only charge a small fee, one deducted from your outstanding pay.”
“Ah, but I’ll want mine for nothing.”
“Naturally, since your family is already loaded you could walk off this island in debt if you wanted to. Just don’t go advertising the favor. I shall have to award you a promotion soon to give you the freedom to arrange your own time effectively. A corporal is allowed separate quarters.” His grin deepens. “Try to excel at something other than fucking.”
Dushku and I understand each other well.
“Will you tell the girl?” I ask.
“Probably best if I do. She’s not attached to me. I don’t think she’s ever been attached to anyone, save perhaps Grande.”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” I’m delighted at the progress. “For now, I need to arrange our first proper meeting.”
The commander’s expression turns somber. “I won’t condone forcing her. If she doesn’t want to go with you, you’ll have to accept it. But, because I’m honoring your request, our agreement will remain intact regardless. Yes?”
I rub my chin and think back to the one and only encounter I’ve had with Gabrielle. “She’s not going to refuse me.” We shake on it.
I will write her a note, and Dushku can deliver it.