Quinn of Cygnus–Chapter Seven

This is an unedited draft. While the main story won’t change, you may find some awkward phrasing, typos, and some fine details will be missing. I’ll also be adding additional background for people who haven’t read the Folding Space Series.  I’ll publish a new chapter every week. Enjoy!

See Chapter One here.

Chapter Seven

 

“Student Quinn, you’ve made good progress. Keep it up.” Instructor Stefano walked to the next desk.

She sighed, feeling ten times lighter. Praise from Stefano was hard to come by, but she’d worked so hard on her first-year capstone project. At least all her efforts to learn every bit of net expertise she could and the extreme fitness program kept her too busy and tired to brood.

Despite that, with every class and project she completed, the confines of Adzari Academy seemed to grow smaller, like someone was watching, waiting to pounce and she had nowhere to run. Which was unfortunately true. There wasn’t anywhere for her to run. Vehicles were restricted to instructors and administration, messages went through the central hub, and after the efforts to arrange everything, she’d heard nothing more on her secret message system. The Academy was physically isolated, so even if she managed to escape the grounds, her chances of making it to a spaceport were just about zero. The Sisters should know there was something wrong—Quinn used the right codes and phrases to tell them—but that wouldn’t help her. It only kept them from sending anyone else to Adzari.

Selena kept sending them gifts full of delicious food, little games, and pictures of her high-society events, but after the initial joy, it just reminded all of them that an entirely different life existed outside Adzari. That life felt very far away.

They were starting their second-year studies soon, but the feeling of entrapment grew faster than the feeling of accomplishment. Especially when Quinn knew their class wasn’t being taught some critical net skills. She’d asked for clarification and additional information on several net techniques and was told those were advanced-year concepts. But they weren’t. Some of the friendlier second-year students confirmed it in casual conversation. Quinn watched and learned what she could from them, but she couldn’t just come out and ask without those students getting in trouble. She did receive extra tutorials from Instructor Stefano, but they stuck to the same subjects they were being taught now. Good thing she had excellent spying skills; Sister Ani had taught her well.

After Selena left, her class was no longer allowed to do group projects either. All their work was done alone. Sure, they all helped each other, but that wasn’t the same as learning how to work as a team. They didn’t even present their projects in class—the instructors graded them and gave them written feedback. The leadership and management courses the second- and third-year students got weren’t taught to them either. Quinn overheard enough conversations to know that.

Someone was keeping them in the dark, trying to deliberately limit their skill sets. From the little she knew about Familia, it made sense. They didn’t want their net techs able to stage an effective rebellion or takeover. No, they would compartmentalize their skills and permissions, confining them to a subset of abilities to keep them under control.

Well, they could try. Quinn sniffed. She’d learned more than most of the Academy instructors intended and once she got out of here, she would learn more still. The one thing they couldn’t keep from teaching was how to learn. And even though they weren’t taught leadership and management, she’d learned the basics at the Sisters and had plenty of good and bad examples of both in front of her. She’d keep watching and learning. Quinn smiled. And spying. She was good at that—people underestimated her all the time.

Instructor Stefano returned to the front of the room. “Students, you have all done very well. I’m pleased with your projects. The other instructors agree: all of you are ready to move on to your second year.” He scanned the room but didn’t meet Quinn’s eyes. “It’s been a pleasure working with all of you. You have been excellent students. Thank you for the opportunity to teach you. I wish you all luck in the coming year.” He cleared his throat. “However, many of you must speak to the administrative staff about the state of your accounts before continuing your studies. I don’t know the particulars, but it seems there are some payment issues. Stay here, you’ll be called out individually.” He whirled and stomped out of the room.

And there it was, dropping like a rock into a Secundus mud puddle, splashing nasty muck everywhere. After House Mistress Vormer told her about the new contract for studying here, Quinn looked for that contract in every single one of her student files and official messages from the administration. She found nothing. But she’d expected the Academy to spring it on them at graduation, not at the end of their first year.

Quinn bit her lip. This couldn’t be good. She sat and listened as name after name was called. All her friends except Issa and Zara left and didn’t return.

“Quinn Cygnus, report to Conference Room Ten,” a voice said over her e-torc. Conference Ten was on the third floor; they were on the second.

She sighed and rose slowly. Turning slightly as she walked from the room, she waved to her friends and they waved back. Trudging up the stairs, she wondered how she could get out of this. Exiting the stairwell, she jumped at the presence of personnel in soft armor. She hadn’t seen someone armed and armored like that since the evacuation of Cygnus Gliese. What was the Academy expecting?

Taking in a deep breath, she walked down the hall to the right room and entered.

“Ah, Quinn Cygnus. Have a seat.”

A woman with the too-familiar Familia “look” sat at the end of the table. She was pretty, but Quinn was fairly certain she was older than she looked. She wore expensive-looking, fashionable clothing and a sweetly flowered scent drifted through the room. A huge person in soft armor stood just behind her, clearly a guard. So, this was someone important. Quinn sat, leaving a chair between the two of them.

“I am Trevi, an investigator for the organization that owns Adzari Academy. We have recently completed a review of the accounts here at the Academy and found several serious issues.” She smiled, but it was a threat, not happiness. “Your account is in arrears. The few payments that have been made are completely inadequate.”

Quinn had to object, even knowing it would do little good. “Investigator Trevi, that isn’t correct. I have the receipt from Adzari Academy, sent to the Sisters of Cygnus before I left, showing my schooling paid in full after the scholarship was applied.”

Trevi sniffed. “Unfortunately for you, all scholarships were canceled when the Academy was purchased. Not only that, but it was only an academic scholarship. It did not pay for your uniforms, food, or athletic training. You also have a significant medico bill.”

“The medico bill is the Academy’s fault. That is not my bill to pay!”

The woman smirked. “You’d think so, but unfortunately for you, it’s not so. No, you owe a significant number of credits and your Sisters have refused to pay. Therefore, you will be working off your debt. You have a term of three years. You will accompany me now to Indomito, your new home for the foreseeable future.”

“But—”

“Quinn Cygnus, do not fight me on this. You are going. You can go on your own two feet or I’ll have Nunzi here stun you.” Trevi tossed her head back toward the armored figure and smirked. “I don’t care about you or your little friends here. No one is coming to your rescue.” She got up and sauntered to the door. “Come. Now.”

Quinn swallowed hard and followed the woman out. She had no choice. In the hall, the second and third students stared, eyes wide, and jumped out of their way. Her friend Amaya, pushed back against the wall, mouthed, “good luck” and waved, but it was clear there was nothing she could do. If only Quinn could say goodbye to her friends…but it wasn’t going to happen. At least Amaya could tell them she was being forced to leave. Quinn waved back, but couldn’t smile.

They walked down the stairs, Trevi muttering about backwater planets without proper grav lifts, out of the building, and into one of the administration’s small lift vehicles. Quinn was pushed into the back seat, squeezed in next to the huge guard.

They practically flew down the roads to the farthest reaches of the Academy grounds. A shuttle waited there, hatch open and ramp down. Trevi left the lift vehicle without a word and Quinn followed, Nunzi the guard hulking behind her. They entered the main cabin of the shuttle, a pilot and co-pilot already strapped in. Trevi sat in a seat right behind the pilot and pointed at the seat next to her. Quinn sat and strapped in. Nunzi sat behind them.

“Ready for takeoff, Enforcer Trevi,” the pilot said over her shoulder. “Just need final clearance from Omicron control.” He swept what appeared to be their flight path up to the display screen in the shuttle.

“Let’s go,” Trevi replied. She glanced at Quinn’s body, checking the harness. “We’re ready.”

Guess Nunzi was expected to take care of himself. Quinn’s mouth twisted. What was an “enforcer?” She almost heard the pilot capitalize the title.

Some muttering from the pilot and co-pilot, then a muted roaring, and Quinn’s body grew heavy for a second until the grav generators kicked in. Quinn sat in silence, watching them fly and glancing around the shuttle. This wasn’t cheap plas and cerimetal like the Grus shuttle or her faded memories of Lightwave’s shuttles. This was a luxury transport. The cocoa-colored cover on her seat was soft and smooth and the padding cradled her in a firm cloud. The tan floor was soft and springy, but smooth. The walls of the shuttle were slightly textured and colored a warm beige. The kitchen was outfitted with expensive automated appliances. Even the hardware on the emergency hatches looked expensive and the labels were understated, in an elegant script. It even smelled expensive—a combination of coffee, warm spices, and citrus. On the big screen in front of them, a representation of their shuttle crossed into orbit.

The co-pilot, an older man, turned to them. “You may now walk about the cabin, but we prefer you stay strapped in when possible. We’re not anticipating trouble, but you never know. The cabins, sani-mods, and galley are available for your use. We’ll prepare a meal in a few hours. Your seats recline fully if you’d like to sleep here. We will arrive at Indomito in nine hours and ten minutes.”

Trevi’s lip curled. “That long?”

“Sorry, Enforcer.” He shrugged. “We were instructed not to draw attention to ourselves. Omicron is crowded. Outgoing is always slower.”

Trevi sighed. “I need to speak with Quinn in private. I’ll use Cabin One.”

“Of course, Enforcer.” The co-pilot pointed the opposite direction of the sani-mod and kitchen.

“Yes, thank you.” She unbuckled. “Come, Quinn, let’s go.”

Quinn unfasted the straps and followed Trevi to the hatch marked Cabin One. She noticed hatches to the right marked Cabin Two and Crew Quarters. Once inside Cabin One, Trevi shut and locked the hatch, and pointed at the bed on the right. The room was long and narrow, with two beds, a narrow aisle separating them, and a hatch marked sani-mod beyond. Quinn sat down, and scooted back, leaning against the wall. No reason not to get comfortable.

Trevi did something with her holo and then exhaled with a little “ah” sound. She sat on the bed opposite Quinn’s, also so the wall supported her. “Isn’t this cozy.” She sneered at the space, which seemed rather large for a shuttle to Quinn. “Ah well, in nine hours it won’t matter.” Trevi frowned at her. “From your records, it’s clear you aren’t stupid. I don’t think you’re very attractive, but nobody cares what I think. Pay attention, Quinn, because this is your only chance to get some real information. Don’t waste my time with useless protests, or I’ll stop talking. Capisce?”

“What?” Quinn swallowed. She didn’t understand any of this.

A heavy sigh. “Capisce is a question. It means, ‘do you understand?’”

“Oh. Yes.” Quinn understood Trevi’s words, but the real meaning? No, she didn’t understand anything. But Quinn knew she was lying to herself—she understood far too much.

Eyebrows raised. “Yes, Enforcer.”

“Sorry. Yes, Enforcer.” Now the Academy’s emphasis on calling everyone by a title made a lot more sense.

“Good. So, here’s the bottom line. You’re in debt to Familia. Not only that, but Head Enforcer Enzo has taken a personal interest in you.” Trevi scanned her from head to toe. “I don’t know why, but he has. You are fourteen standards now, correct?”

“Yes, Enforcer.” Quinn’s breathing sped up and she bit her lip.

“Your medical records show you are generally in good health, but you might be older. Why is that?”

“Because I was abandoned as a small child, Enforcer. No one knows exactly how old I am.” Quinn shrugged. “No one cares.” She tried to regulate her breathing. Panic did no good.

“Ah. Well, either way, Head Enforcer Enzo has no interest in children, but he is waiting to see what you look like when you are older.” Trevi smirked.

Quinn mashed her lips together to keep from screaming and clenched her fists.

“Ah, I see you guess what this could mean. Let me tell you how to make this as easy as possible, for us and for you.” Her mouth turned up on one end and she shrugged. “Not that any of us care about you, particularly. Do your job and do it well, no matter what they tell you to do. Don’t complain. You can make friends, but any hint that any of them, male or female, might become a lover will end in their death. And your life will become significantly worse. No sex for you.” Trevi held up a finger and wagged it at her.

“Do whatever Enzo requires and do it quietly. And as you’ve probably guessed, those three years of repayment for your Academy schooling are only the beginning.” Trevi jabbed a finger at her. “You’re Enzo’s until he says otherwise. If anyone on the ship ever touches you with sexual intent or intent to harm, report it to me or another enforcer immediately. If it’s an enforcer, go straight to Head Enforcer Enzo. Everyone should be smart enough not to mess with you, but there’s always a few who think they can get away with stupidity. Even on the head Justice’s ship.” Trevi tilted her head. “Capisce?”

“Yes, Enforcer.” Quinn’s forehead hurt and her mouth and eyes were dry. She blinked and rolled her shoulders, trying to relax. Fight or flight were both useless here and now.

“Good. Now, a little background. Indomito is Justice Fatima’s ship. The Justice mediates disputes between Familia. Enzo is her Head Enforcer and my boss. Enforcers carry out the Justice’s orders, which are quite often fatal, for people and businesses.” An ironic smile flashed. “In other words, you’re on a ship of killers. Capisce?”

“Yes, Enforcer.” She couldn’t escape the Academy; her chances of escaping Indomito were even worse. Quinn gulped.

“I’m sure you’ll be put to work as a net tech. Don’t snoop. You’ll be caught. Do your assigned work and nothing more. There is a fitness facility on Indomito. You’ll be assigned a time slot. Continue your current training. Fitness Instructor Switz will send you training plans. Vid from the fitness facility will be sent to her. It’s not ideal, but the best we can do.” Trevi snort-chuckled. “We all train, but not for those skills. Do not ask to learn our skills.” She sneered. “Don’t try it on your own, either. You’ll fail, spectacularly.”

“Yes, Enforcer.” At least she’d have that outlet to burn off stress.

“Anyone who says they want to help you is lying. Don’t believe them. They’re only out to help themselves. Familia works on favors. Do someone a favor, they owe you one.” Trevi snickered. “But anyone who asks you for a favor is really asking for a favor from Enzo. Do not put him in debt. Likewise, anyone saying they’ll do a favor for you is actually doing one for Enzo. Again, don’t put him in debt. Every time you do something he doesn’t like, life will get worse for you. It gets worse for the rest of us too. So just don’t do it. And anyone who says they can help you escape is lying. No one escapes Familia, except through death. Capisce?”

“Yes, Enforcer.”

“Good. Now, I’ve done what I can for you. Behave. Do not make me punish you. You will not like the results.” Trevi stood and again did something to her holo. “I suggest you get some sleep. The Indomito is on a different schedule from the planet, so you’ll have to adjust.” Trevi shrugged. “I have no idea what schedule you’ll be assigned to either. It’s not my problem.” She glared down. “But misbehave and you become my problem. Don’t. You will not like the results.” Trevi turned on her heel and left the room.

Quinn slid down the bedpost to lie flat on the bed. The covering was slightly fuzzy, warm, and soft. The mattress was heavenly. A message flashed above her bed: “Strap in before sleeping,” with a diagram. She felt along the edge of the bed with her left hand and found a bar. She lifted it across her body and it snapped into place on the right side of the bed near the aisle. The straps were a slightly stretchy net, loose now, meant to hold her in place in case they lost gravity or some other emergency. Quinn released the bar, letting it retract, sat up, and took off her shoes. Then she wriggled under the covers and put the net back over her.

She brought up her e-torc interface, but it wouldn’t connect to the shuttle’s net. Quinn bit her lip. She couldn’t get it to connect manually either. She could dig further, but Trina just warned her not to snoop. Well, sand fleas. With nothing else to do, she may as well nap.

Composing herself, she monitored her breathing and relaxed, knowing she’d feel better if she slept or at least meditated. She’d still have plenty of time to process all this information when she woke, and the meditation would calm her panic.

#

The pilot and co-pilot talked softly as they neared Indomito, then both put their hands on their armrests. Quinn watched as the shuttle docked, the almost imperceptible thunk of the shuttle clamps not as loud as the thunk of doom in her heart. On the planet, she had a hope of escape. In space? On this ship? None. She swallowed hard.

The pilot turned. “Enforcer Trevi, we’re securely docked. Medico staff are waiting for the girl.”

“Excellent.” Trevi turned to her. “Let’s go, Quinn.” She walked away, obviously sure Quinn would follow her. If she didn’t, Nunzi loomed over her, ready to pick her up and carry her away. She’d managed to ignore the man until now, but it was no longer possible.

Quinn unbuckled and stood. “Thank you, pilot, co-pilot, for the meal and the flight. Safe folds.” They both seemed rather startled but nodded in return. Quinn followed Trevi into the airlock, which opened into another airlock. Nunzi at her back, the hatch closed with a thunk, and the final hatch slid aside. Biting her lip, Quinn stepped into Indomito.

Trevi faced two people in medico green shipsuits. “Medico Marcello, this is Quinn Cygnus. Did the Academy send her medical records?”

The man, with the now-familiar espresso-dark hair and eyes and olive-toned skin, said, “Yes. I will give her a thorough examination immediately.”

Trevi raised a brow. “And the other matter?”

Marcello grimaced just slightly, but said, “Of course, Enforcer Trevi. As Head Enforcer Enzo specified. Technician Natali will take care of that.” He nodded sideways at the woman who stood slightly behind him. She had the same hair, eye, and skin color as the man, but her smile seemed genuine. Like most people, both were taller than she was.

“You don’t approve.”

“It’s not my place to approve or not, Enforcer. I will do as I am required to do. But such things can cause health problems in some people.”

“I’m sure Head Enforcer Enzo understands that.”

“I’m sure he does. Do you have any further instructions, Enforcer?”

“No.” Trevi turned and walked away without saying anything else. Medico Marcello walked the opposite direction. Before Quinn could wonder, Medico Natali said, “Follow me, please.” She turned to follow Marcello, walking quickly until she was right behind him. Quinn trailed along, aware Nunzi was still shadowing her.

They trod a long corridor with dark wood-look plas flooring and roughly textured beige walls, art hanging on the walls. The pictures appeared to be real paintings, not simple prints or screens—pretentious still-life and fancily-dressed humans. Eventually, they reached a lift tube and went up three levels, stepping off into another luxuriously appointed corridor. They immediately turned and entered a room with a few chairs and a small beverage station. They didn’t stop there but kept walking through a hatchway and stopping a closed hatch.

Marcello said, “Let me know when she’s ready.” He walked away.

Natali motioned to the hatch. “This is a changing room. Take everything off and put the gown on, opening in the front, then come out here.”

Quinn nodded, put her hand on the hatch, and walked in after it slid aside. As the hatch closed, she heard Natali say, “I’m sure we can handle her from here if you have other duties.”

Hopefully, Nunzi did, because Quinn didn’t like the thought of being practically naked around the thuggish guard. Or anyone, but she didn’t have much of a choice. She peeled off her school uniform and put on the gown. The gown wasn’t horrible. The material was substantial cloth, not cheap veg plas, and it overlapped and tied securely. She left her clothes behind in the tiny room.

“Good,” Natali said. “Follow me.”

Quinn did, happy Nunzi had found something else to do. His lack of expression made her shiver. They trod down the hall and entered a room marked “Exam One” with a large, white medico bed. Usually, these beds had mechanical arms hanging all around them, but this one didn’t. They must be stored away until they were needed, so they didn’t freak out the high-status patients. Although, with a ship this large, Quinn wouldn’t be surprised if they had separate medico beds for crew and passengers. Maybe she wasn’t entirely considered staff? She bit her lip. She’d rather be a nobody.

Natali poked something in her holo, and privacy shields popped into place between the door and the medico bed. “Take the gown off and lay down on the bed, face up. The medico will take your vital signs and do blood analysis.” She tilted her head with a wry smile. “It’s also going to do a full pelvic exam, so when it tells you to put your legs in the stirrups and hold still, please do so. This medico is top-of-the-line and very gentle, so don’t worry. It will be over before you know it.” Natali sniffed. “Trust me when I tell you it’s much better than a person doing it. Just hop on, I’ll be just beyond the privacy screen. If you have questions or need something, let me know.”

“Okay.” Quinn did as she was told. As soon as she was settled, a holo appeared above her face, asking if she wanted no information, normal patient information, or full medico information. Quinn selected the medico version, figuring she could always ask for clarification of things she didn’t understand. She also assumed the programming was smart enough to start with the simple patient version and then give more details as the patient wanted. Once she made the choice, various arms came out of the machine, doing all the things she expected. Medico Natali was right—the pelvic exam was gentle—Quinn hardly felt anything. She lowered her legs back to the bed, relieved that part was so easy.

Then straps snapped around her waist, thighs, ankles, and wrists. “By the Mother, what’s going on?”

Natali came through the privacy screens and sighed. “I’m sorry, Quinn, but this is part of our instructions. You’re to be marked and tagged. Please don’t fight the machine. It will be far more painful if it has to be redone.” She poked at her holo and retreated.

Quinn squeezed her eyes shut. Marked and tagged like a herd animal? Sand fleas, every one of them. A stunner buzzed and a spot just above her left buttock went numb. Then something stabbed her, hard enough to jolt her against the straps. It wasn’t painful, exactly, because the area was numb, but she felt the force and the size of the thing. It wasn’t small. The probe retracted and she heard a hiss—probably sealant. That was going to hurt later.

Another stunner buzzed across the stretch of skin below her belly button, covering the area between her pelvic bones. An arm came out and a fine needle stabbed her, over and over, leaving a line of black across her skin. Quinn watched in horror as an elaborate scroll pattern appeared, the name “Enzo” emblazoned in a fancy script in the middle, all in thick, black lines. It was ugly.

Quinn sniffed but blinked back her tears. She was not going to let these people see her cry. Then she remembered what Instructor Stefano said, the only person who had treated her kindly at the Academy. “You’ll do much better if you whine and cry and carry on. He hates crying women. If he sees you like that, he’ll leave you alone.”

She sobbed, letting all her fear and terror come out. She cried during the rest of the tattoo, not even looking at the finished product, and continued to bawl as the machine cleaned the blood and excess ink from her skin. A sprayer hissed and she glanced down to see some sort of shiny medical sealant being applied. She kept crying even after all the medico equipment and straps released.

Natali appeared again, frowning. “Stop crying. You’ll dehydrate yourself and have to stay here longer. Get the robe on.” She spun on her heel and walked back through the screens.

Quinn did as she was told, putting the robe back on. The privacy screens disappeared. Natali handed her tissues and she blew her nose and wiped her eyes. She kept one, intending to keep sniveling wherever they were going next.

“Sit there. Medico Marcello will be in shortly.”

Quinn plopped down in the chair, acting like the sulky teen she wasn’t. The younger she could make herself seem the longer she’d be left alone and underestimated. Hopefully, she’d learn more too. Enough to escape this place—a folder. Now, she had to learn piloting along with net skills. Suddenly, she wasn’t acting anymore. How was she going to do all that without any help at all? Because she couldn’t trust anyone.

Medico Marcello entered and sat. “Net Technician Trainee Quinn. I see in your records that you are an extreme athlete, and you were treated for malnutrition due to mistreatment by staff last year. Your recovery seems adequate, but I do not approve of your previous medico’s treatment. The return to intense athletic training was far too fast for someone of your stated age. I am ordering strict limits on your training and ordering time for sedentary recreation, such as net games. This should allow your body sufficient time to recover while you are maturing. Young humans should not be over-trained. This can delay maturation and cause medical issues later in life. Do you understand?”

Quinn swallowed hard and allowed her lower lip to pout. “But training is the only time I had any fun. You’re mean!”

Marcello sighed. “Didn’t you hear me? I’m prescribing fun for you. You will have at least two hours a day when you can participate in non-physical fun. Games, net simulations, and no work of any kind. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Medico.” Quinn lowered her eyes and stared at her lap, wiping her nose. “Is there anyone else on board my age?”

“Not as young as you. You will be allowed to participate in some net simulations and games with the adults on board, and if we’re near an approved station or planet, on the net there. Only approved games, Trainee Quinn. Nothing for adults only, capisce?”

“Yes, Medico.” She kept her eyes down, carefully remaining meek, and sniffled.

“Technician Natali will take you to your assigned compartment. You will remain there until tomorrow. I suggest you read the care instructions for the tattoo you just received. Failure to follow these could result in infection and scarring. When you are done with that, study the folder’s layout, so you understand where you are allowed to go and what levels you should avoid. Pain meds will be dispensed for you and food brought to you. You will meet your supervisor tomorrow morning; they will escort you to breakfast. Do you understand all this?”

“Yes, Medico.”

“Good. Pay attention and obey your orders. I do not want to see you here again.” Marcello stood and left the room, Natali coming in before the door shut.

“Let’s go.”

“But what about my clothes?” Quinn whined.

“You’ll be issued new ones, they’ll be in your compartment. Come.”

Quinn followed Natali out of the Medico area, down one level on the float tube and into another corridor with the same dark wood-like plas flooring and sand-textured walls, a shade lighter than the first corridor they’d entered. The artwork here seemed more amateurish, but it was displayed in pretty frames, similar to the ones she’d seen before.

At the very end of the corridor, Natali stopped. “Put your hand on the sensor and stare at the eye sensor. You’ll get an e-torc from your supervisor tomorrow. Follow Medico Marcello’s directions and you’ll be fine.” Natali grimaced. “Good luck.”

Quinn followed the directions and the door slid to the right. Fancy. She entered the room and stopped, surprised. She’d been expecting a dorm room with bunk beds and a tiny closet, but that wasn’t what she saw here. It wasn’t a big room, maybe four meters by three, and the bed took up most of the space. But there was also a comfortable-looking velvety green plush chair near a fold-down desk and a sani-mod at the back. She walked in and the door slid shut behind her. She sank into the dark brown carpet under her feet, so she kicked off the flimsy slippers. Soft and plush, it cradled her slightly swollen toes. Too much sitting on the shuttle she guessed.

She sat on the edge of the bed. Somehow firm and cushy, the sage green cover was soft, poufy, and light. It was probably nice and warm. Quinn was tempted to just curl up and sleep, but she needed to check out the rest of her cage. As she put her hand to the sani-mod door, it slid aside. Very fancy. Inside, the floor looked like some sort of natural stone tiles in swirls of beige and brown. She stepped in. Warm underfoot, it was probably plas, but expensive plas, and heated too. The sink was set in a meter-long cabinet, with storage underneath. She opened the main doors to find plush brown towels, with shampoo and other toiletries that looked expensive. Above the sink, there was a mirror and a cabinet. The cabinet contained something called a “Beauty in a Box” and a “Style-Net 2500.” Neither one seemed to have a control interface, so she’d need an e-torc to use them. A large shower enclosure stood next to the sink. Quinn opened the frosted plas door to find multiple showerheads and an option for a sonic shower. A small door beyond the shower revealed the toilet. Her brows raised—super fancy and super pricey.

Behind her, the wall was covered with more cabinets. Opening them, many were empty. But there was one with plain, dark gray shipsuits, another with workout clothes, including the kind she needed for the extreme challenge, a smaller one with underthings and sleepwear, and a lower cabinet filled with various boots and shoes.

The last cabinet contained a bewildering variety of fabrics and colors. Biting her lip, she pulled a hanger with something pink and sparkly. It seemed to be a dress, but it wasn’t like any dress she’d ever seen. The top was sheer and long but had a bra-type thing built-in that wasn’t see-through. The skirt was short and fluffy, with lots of layers—it looked a little like a flower. Eww. Quinn’s lip curled. She wasn’t wearing that. She pulled out hanger after hanger, seeing fancy clothing that covered very little of her body, but in a very childish style.

These outfits were a huge danger sign.

The Sisters taught them about the various kinds of human predators across the universe. Some of the worst went after children, girls, and boys who should be too young for any kind of sexual relations, but those horrible beings didn’t care—they only cared about themselves. The Sisters warned them about people who gave extravagant gifts, especially gifts that were too mature for their age. Quinn took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She shouldn’t show her revulsion—there might be vids in here. Too bad she hadn’t considered that earlier. She carefully hung the clothes back in the cabinet and closed it firmly.

If there were vids in here, where could she change? Maybe the toilet? Quinn sighed. If someone was absolutely determined to watch her, there was little she could do about it right now. She’d be patient, learn the net, then figure out how to fool the vids in her rooms. Until then, she’d change her underwear in the toilet, and do her best to believe no one wanted to watch her pee. She didn’t have any other options that wouldn’t give her away.

The safest thing she could do was make them believe she was ignorant and naïve. Otherwise, they’d start wondering if she was trying to escape. She couldn’t take any stupid chances at escape either. She had to lull them into complacency, make them believe she was compliant, and grateful for the opportunity to live like this.

It was luxurious and far better than anything she’d expected. But a gilded cage was still a cage. Quinn wondered exactly what songs she’d be expected to sing. Especially for Head Enforcer Enzo.

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Quinn of Cygnus Copyright © 2020 by AM Scott. All Rights Reserved.

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