Read Unbound Online

Authors: Kay Danella


Table of Contents
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2010 by Kay Danella.
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Heat trade paperback edition / October 2010
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Danella, Kay.
Unbound / Kay Danella.—Heat trade pbk. ed. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-44417-7
I. Title.

For my family—for ignoring my crazy hours,
for your uncomplaining bemusement at my writing music,
for your continued support.
I couldn’t have finished
without you.
And especially for Zia Veronica,
for not killing my laptop during this period.
Also, for the members of the writers_warren Yahoo! group
for all the smiles.
Pink sky parted
at her approach, glowing banks of clouds fleeing her fiery descent, giving way to a view of dark blue water and the leading edge of brown land—the main continent on this side of the planet coming up fast. A beautiful sight that didn’t pall, no matter how many times she’d seen its like. Too bad she didn’t have time to appreciate it.
Asrial tapped the retros, adrenaline setting her heart racing. She really needed to slow down before the plasma shields overloaded—the last near miss was proof she couldn’t ride her entries down, shields flaring, the way she used to. She’d kept putting off repairs; this was the price for the delays. The shock harness snapped tight around her, its straps biting into her shoulders with each jolt. By the time she’d shed enough speed to be safe, she’d left the ocean behind.
The planet Maj—WNX362948 in the Astrographic Record—was even eerier than she remembered. It spun beneath the
, its desolate terrain scarred with large glass plains—flat, fused glass, not obsidian flow—where nothing grew, their borders dismayingly circular. She’d worried about them on her first visit to Maj, but the instruments hadn’t reported any unusual radioactivity.
Now she just ignored them, intent on reaching the mountains with their ruins. The planetary coordinates were already punched into the navputer.
A shudder rocked the
, several lights on her board turning amber as one of the thrusters lost power. The shock harness tightened as her ship veered off course with a stomach-rolling shimmy.
“Frigging crap.” She ignored a twinge of old guilt at her language—language inappropriate for a sovreine, her mother would have chided her had she been alive. But then Asrial hadn’t been a sovreine since before she learned to walk, not since Jamyl Kharym Rashad of House Dilaryn was forced to abdicate and take his family from Lomida. These days she was a Rim rat scurrying along the space lanes in search of treasure, not some pampered princess navigating Inner World halls of diplomacy.
Her hands flew across the board, tweaking power loads, jigging the secondaries, dumping speed. She coaxed the
back to stable flight, a grin on her face and her heart in her throat. Her ship was old, past its prime even when her parents bought it, so old it came with a hydroponics suite, but she knew its quirks better than she knew her own backside. Hopefully, the problem with the thruster wasn’t anything major—nothing she couldn’t fix with spit and a promise.
Come on,
, work with me!
Amber turned back to green, though the lights continued to blink warning.
She could live with that. Power stuttered back to acceptable levels, and none too soon.
The board flashed the coordinates of her destination coming up. Shortly after, mountains filled her primary display.
Not all of those peaks were natural. The ruins she was aiming for were rife with structures nearly as tall as the windswept summits. The city was perched on the lip of an upper valley above a broader, river-carved valley. Its long-vanished builders apparently attached much importance to panoramic views.
Typical grounders.
Switching to antigrav, she silenced the roaring thrusters, glided in the rest of the way, and came down in a small clearing tucked in the shoulder of a mountain beyond the city—right where the Astrographic Record’s map said it would be. Downloading that old memory cube had been a good decision.
landed as though it were a feather, belying the earlier technical difficulty. Its arrival sent hundreds of flying creatures into the air, screeching in protest.
Asrial tilted her seat back as her ship whined to rest around her. Her body hummed, adrenaline and exhilaration mixing in a potent fizz in her blood. She squirmed, pressing her legs together as the throbbing homed in on her breasts and between her thighs. Spirit of space, that felt so good. There were times when she suspected she lived for these heart-racing moments. Sighing, she lay for a while longer to savor the decadent sensations.
Before she could take it any further, her upbringing caught up with her, and guilt raised its head.
She really ought to be more careful. Amin relied on her. Her mother’s cousin had been badly injured when a cargo ship crashed into Lyrel 9, and the miserly disability pay the credit crunchers of the Paxis conglomerate granted him barely supported his family. He now acted as her agent, a polite fiction that let him keep his pride.
Asrial didn’t regret her decision. Helping him out was only right, as he’d helped her parents when she was younger.
But something in her craved excitement. She didn’t feel alive without it—probably one reason why she remained a Rim rat instead of selling off the
and going grounder in one of the Inner Worlds. Sure there were easier ways to make a living, but none of the alternatives appealed.
These days the galaxy, particularly the Inner Worlds, was dominated by corporations—huge conglomerates like Dareh and Paxis—whose reach spanned multiple star systems. They controlled much of interstellar trade through the rings that connected the various galactic sectors. The obvious resort for a former sovreine turned grounder in the Inner Worlds was a corporate job, trading on the Dilaryn name to get ahead in a narcissistic world.
Not for her. Not in this lifetime.
Space was in her blood, and the Rim was perfect for nomads like her who couldn’t stand the corporations. No planet drew her so strongly that she was willing to set down roots and give up the stars. Perhaps she would have felt differently if she’d grown up on Lomida, sovreine in more than name, but even her parents’ home world was just another planet.
Of course, if she wanted the stars, she needed funds, and just sitting here accomplished nothing.
Asrial pressed the release for the shock harness and bounced to her feet. Time to get to work. Relics needed hunting.
Gray fog surrounded
him, thick and silent, roiling yet constant. An eternal death that was not death. The fate of all weavers with the misfortune to survive capture: to become djinn.
Betimes he had thought he had gone mad, seeing the faces of family and friends in the shifting mist—but not his betrothed. He could not recall her features anymore, the lips he had kissed, her eyes, her smooth brow, all blurred, her memory replaced by scenes of battle after battle, of carnage and slaughter, of genocide. By his hands.
Forced to weave attacks for his enemies.
Condemned to utter wretched betrayal.
No matter
how many times Asrial had been to Maj, its structures still filled her with awe. Despite thousands of years—Standard—the towering stone spires continued to rake the skies, the tallest disappearing into the clouds. How its inhabitants had managed without lift tubes, she couldn’t imagine.
The walls were beginning to show the effects of weathering, but the forest kept its distance. Not a blade of the local analogue of weeds marred the abandoned streets, just like the other sites she’d worked. As was usual with Majian ruins, there was no sign of anyone having lived in the city—as if the people had run away. Simply abandoned everything they owned.
Even the planet?
Uncanny—and part of the mystique of Maj that made its relics popular with a certain class of collectors. Plump on the credits of interstellar conglomerates, the dozens of races that filled the galaxy shared a fascination for the Rim Worlds that provided the raw materials for many industries. A sophisticated fascination, enjoyed from one remove. They wouldn’t think of going themselves. Her buyers had a preference for the beautiful and the bizarre—novel artifacts that made for good boasting. She didn’t mind their reasons, as long as their credits were good.
Flying low to avoid the gusts, Asrial guided the grav sled along the edge of the city. Exploring the center would just be a waste of time. The Astrographic Record had mapped Maj more than a hundred years back. Other Rim rats had scavenged these ruins long ago, ransacking sealed chambers for their secrets. But the last time she was on the planet, a powerful ground quake had rocked this area. She hadn’t explored then, not wanting to risk venturing into unstable ground, but if she was lucky, it could have uncovered new sites.

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