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Branded in Star Crossed

Branded

Sergeant Major Emerlynne Turner watched the Jubliee’s docking clamps secure to Archimedes Station. Thirty years ago, when Archimedes was built, it had been an architectural marvel. Six massive, curved pylons attached by transport tubes and walkways nestled in a nebula. Half a dozen metal prongs stretched towards the stars, reaching to a brighter future. Nestled on the edges of an asteroid belt long depleted of its biggest deposits, a steady but diminishing stream of income came from mining. 

In the name of sectoral unity. The words were written in ten languages on each of the pillars. Emerlynne shook her head. Hollow words lost in the vacuum of space. Endless diplomatic bickering marred the quadrant leading to skirmishes, pirates, and threats of war. 

"We’re cleared to debark,” the comms officer said. 

Emerlynne straightened her dark-grey tunic, the one that took her years of twelve-hour a day training to earn. The docking bay door opened with a hiss. She pinched her nose and blew, but the change in air pressure still popped her ears. 

“Do a sweep of the common areas,” she told her team. “A pair to each pillar. Blend in.” Not that she had to remind her agents. They’d worked as a team for five years, becoming better oiled and maintained than this bucket of bolts station. 

She strode out of the polished corridors of the corvette straight out of space dock. The foul air of the station assaulted her nostrils. Sweaty stevedores manoeuvered heavy equipment, unloading and loading cargo. With both tongues hanging from his mouth and face dark blue from exertion, a Ulian stevedore dragged a metal crate across the bay. 

Engines whirred and metal prongs grated against steel containers. A shower of sparks streamed from the cavernous ceiling. Two construction crews repaired a column damaged from a hovercraft impact. 

Three people in filthy clothes lurked behind a cargo container. Emerlynne caught the eye of a man with platinum blond hair. His associates spotted their exchange and bolted for the exit. 

Two of Emerlynne’s agents moved to intercept them, but Emerlynne stayed them. “It’s a petty drug deal. Don’t chase them down but find out how they’re smuggling goods onto the station.”   

“Ma’am.” Spencer motioned for Dale and Winters to follow. 

Emerlynne pushed her way through a crush of people buying passage off the station. Some wore fine wool clothing of the same fashion from Jenae Prime: striped three-button jackets with solid-coloured vests and matching trousers. Their overuse of cologne did nothing to mask the stench of elitism, dusty air, and desperation. Most wore workers’ clothing, sullen colours with patches at the elbows and knees. 

Emerlynne ignored the glowers from the people in the docking bay. The uniform. No one outside of the Core Sectors liked uniforms. The only time the edges saw them was to collect taxes, enforce the draft, or snap their necks.

**

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