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​Start reading Ruwen

Chapter One

The planet was called Polai and it sucked.

When Lis Janyx was eight years old, the idea of traversing the universe and seeing everything it had to offer had sounded great. But now, at twenty-five, Lis hadn’t chosen to come here. Nor had she chosen to leave Earth. They said living in the Wastes, a slum near the hollowed out husk of Old Cleveland, lead to death, dismemberment, or disappearance. Lis had never believed that.

Not then.

She’d been coming home from a late night of busting heads and tracking cheating husbands when a mountain of a man had literally appeared in front of her and knocked her out with one blow. At the time, she hadn’t realized they were aliens. Aliens didn’t come to Cleveland—no one did if they could help it.

But the next thing she knew, she was coming to aboard a spaceship, being examined by the most threatening medical bot she’d ever seen. They’d done tests and… stuff. She didn’t want to dwell on the stuff. It had been bad, some of it really bad, but it could have been a lot worse.

In the weeks she’d been aboard, she’d only seen the inside of her windowless cell and the little med bay. Day by day, she could feel her sanity and her belief that she’d make it out alive start to fade. She didn’t know what they wanted to do with her, whether they’d make her a slave, eat her, or worse.

And then one day when she’d lost count of how long she’d been a prisoner, she woke up on Polai with a small pack of supplies and a note written in English.

Apologies. Wrong girl. Humans can survive on Polai.

That was it. No explanation, no directions on how to get home. Just five energy bars, a canteen filled with water, and a thin jacket that didn’t do much to guard against the cold nights. Lis had taken to wearing it at all hours despite the lack of warmth. Polai’s sun did something strange to her skin, leaving painful bruises on every inch that she left exposed.

On her second night it had begun to rain and Lis found shelter under the broad brown leaves of the squat trees that dotted the land. For a few moments, it seemed like the foliage would be strong enough to protect her from the worst of the rain, but then the large leaf directly over her head collapsed in the center and poured all the collected water down over her arms, like a spout.

Since then her left forearm had been covered in small welts. They were getting better, but Lis refused to risk drinking from the small stream that ran near the woods where she’d been camping.

Humans in general may have been able to survive on Polai, but she wouldn’t last for long.

Lis didn’t want to live here. She just wanted to find a ship and get on the first freighter or cruiser headed back toward Earth. And that was going to be harder than she’d first thought.

Her ever-benevolent kidnappers hadn’t fitted her with a translator, and nothing indicated that Polans could understand English. She’d scoffed at learning Interstellar Common, the language of trade in space, in school, but she’d memorize a freaking dictionary of it if it meant she could get home.

And the Polans weren’t friendly. Lis had taken shelter in a small swath of woods about two miles north of a small town. She’d tried to approach a pair of Polans once she’d gotten her bearings on that first day. They looked almost human in shape, though they were smaller, shorter than five feet tall. Their skin was a dark green and none of them seemed to have any hair.

She’d hoped that raising her arms and looking pathetic would give them pause. Instead, both of the aliens had shrieked and charged at her, chasing her out of town and up a tree. Once they’d lost interest in her, Lis had decided to steer clear of the town during daylight. She wasn’t going to risk getting hurt by a lucky hit.

One night she’d stolen back into town, trying to find food. Nothing looked familiar in the small shop off the main street. It could all be completely harmless or extremely deadly. More out of spite than survival, she’d swiped a small bottle of a bright green liquid. There was an advert on the wall that showed two Polans drinking the stuff.

It wasn’t poison to them, but she hadn’t been brave enough to try it herself.

So here she was, nearly a week on the planet, her stomach tied in knots of hunger and her mouth as parched as the desert.

She clutched her jacket closed across her chest and kept her head down as she walked through the woods. Before, she’d been afraid that if she walked in too deep, she would get lost. Now, she needed to get anywhere. The day before, she thought that she had heard a vehicle coming from somewhere within the forest.

There could be people, or a house, or a conveniently abandoned spaceship. She didn’t expect the last one, but a girl could dream. While the leaves on all the trees were brown, the trunks themselves were a yellowish-orange. When the sun was up, they soaked up the light, and at night, they glowed faintly.

It was night now, but those trees gave her just enough light to see by. Lis hadn’t seen any Polans out after dark, and she was fairly certain they were a diurnal people. All the better for her. She’d always been a bit of a night owl.

After a bit of walking, the woods came to an abrupt stop. The trees had been cleared for a hundred or so yards up to a large gray building in the middle of a field. But the vegetation around the building was overgrown, with yellow grass as high as her knees, weeds, and vines crawling up one of the walls.

Abandoned. Perfect.

Lis spared a quick look around, but she didn’t hear or see anything. As far as she could tell, she was completely alone.

She made her way through the high grass, stumbling over the uneven ground underfoot. Her head spun, but she regained her balance without falling over. There had to be food in there. Hopefully energy bars that she knew were safe to eat.

Lis made it across the clearing and found a door. Of course, it was locked, but she wasn’t going to let a thing like that stop her. She just needed a crowbar or something like it and then she was in.

The hairs on the back of Lis’s neck stood up and she froze where she stood. She looked back around to check that she was still alone, as if some primal instinct had sensed danger. Lis looked around again, but it was still quiet and she saw no one.

But when she looked around for something to pry the door open, she moved with extra care. It felt like something was out there, coming for her. Something big and dangerous that could end her in an instant.

The apprehension she now felt was different than what the Polans had brought up. Lis felt exposed, and she needed to get inside quickly. In her gut she just knew that whatever was coming was coming for her.

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