It’s quiet for a long moment, and I look over at the szzt murderer to my left. A small, slim, pale hand with too many fingers rests on his back. She runs a hand over his shoulders and down his spine. “Are you strong?” Her voice wavers. “Physically fit?”

“Kef off, human,” he tells her in his own language, trying to shrug her hand free.

“He says no,” I lie baldly, glancing over as much as I can to get a look at her.

“I see.” The hand moves off of him and she manages to stay just out of my vision.

My curiosity is killing me, but I don’t show it. I remain still, my tail barely twitching as she pauses behind me. To my surprise, she reaches out and squeezes my side.

“You seem fit,” she says after a moment. “Any injuries I should know about? Everything working as it should?”

“I’ve had no complaints,” I drawl. “But if you want to test for yourself, I’m happy to perform…provided we get some privacy, of course.” Doesn’t matter how fit I am. Once she gets a look at my face, she’ll change her mind.

She’s quiet for a long moment. “I see.” She walks away, and I’m disappointed she didn’t rise to my bait. Little mite’s not as brave as I thought. Shame. I can’t help but pay attention as she heads farther down the line. She avoids the praxiian entirely and pauses at the lizard-man, then walks away. There’s a bit of hushed conversation between her and the peace officers, and then the sound of footsteps walking away.

I wait for the bar to stop its endless hard pull on the cuffs so I can sit down again, but a long moment passes, then another. Something taps my shoulder and I flinch—it’s the cool end of a shock-stick. “You’re our lucky winner,” the guard says. “Behave yourself and you’re coming with me.”

He reaches up and turns off my cuffs.

I’m surprised at this, but I’m not going to overlook the gift I’ve been handed. Either that female human paid a bribe to get me out of here, or she’s buying herself a slave. A female owner’s easy enough to escape, so I just rub my wrists and eye the flicking shock-stick that the guard holds. One wrong move and he’ll use it on me, I have no doubt. I do my best to look charming and trustworthy. “Do I get to find out what this is all about?”

The guard smirks. “No. Follow me.”

He leads me out of the stinking cell, away from the others, and locks the door behind him. I continue to rub my wrists absently, then look around. No one’s at the jail other than us, so that bodes well for me. Risda III can be pretty lax in certain ways, so if this female is buying herself a farm hand—because Risda III is nothing but farms—then I can play the part long enough to get out of here and escape.

I smile broadly as the guard leads me into the main office of the jail itself. His companion sits behind a desk, watching a few monitors, and the female human sits in a chair by herself, waiting. It’s my first chance to get a good look at her and I’m surprised.

She’s more fragile than I thought. There’s an air about her that speaks of delicate things, of birds and gossamer wings and crystal threads that would shatter at a rough touch. She gets to her feet and she only comes up to the middle of my chest, but she lifts her chin and gives me a cool, assessing stare as if she expected this and she’s not afraid. I like that. I like that she doesn’t flinch at my acid-scarred face, either. I know it’s hard to look at, all that too-smooth, shiny skin on one side and how my left eye droops, just a little. How my mouth is too tight in one corner and makes my smile look more like a grimace. She studies all of this and doesn’t seem to care.

I like her.

Even though she’s small and fragile, she seems calm around the much larger mesakkah. There’s no fear in her as she stands in front of me, her hands clasped at her waist. Her dress is simple—a pale beige with a long skirt that’s belted at the waist and shows off the impressive tits that most humans are graced with. Her hair is long and a pale brown color, but instead of pulling it back from her face, she wears a fringe of it completely over her brow and the rest seems to slide forward, as if she uses it to hide her expression. Beyond the hair, her face seems to be all eyes and dark lashes and smooth brow.

She gazes up at me with big brown eyes that are strangely dark and even more strangely appealing. “You’ll do.”

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