Atrophy
the woman distract him, no matter how captivating she might be.
    His fingers closed tightly around the commpad in his pocket, that small, ordinary unit which held the key to his freedom. He moved farther around the locker, reaching in to tug out a pair of grey overalls and pull them over his clothes. With one more long breath, which didn’t alleviate the hard pound of adrenaline through his veins, he took the commpad out of his pocket and crossed the open floor.
    There were two guards sitting on a raised platform, right where he’d expected them be. One of them glanced at him, away from the program they were watching on the viewer—some sort of sports from the sound of it. But, Tannin didn’t react or hesitate at the guard’s gaze. He reached the Imojenna’s cargo hatch, waiting for one of the guards to ask him what he was doing, but one quick glimpse revealed they’d turned their attention back to the game. Not quite able to believe he’d gotten away with the brazen bluff so far, he spliced his commpad into the hatch’s control panel and ran the security code sequence. Three short beeps told him the cipher had been accepted.
    He instructed the smaller, person-sized door to open, and disengaged his commpad as the panel slid away, revealing the dark interior of the cargo bay. Two steps took him inside and one swipe of his hand over the inner access board shut out the docking bay. Standing for a moment in the darkness, he listened to his breathing, coming harsh and ragged in the silence. Leaning forward, he rested his forehead against the cool, hard surface of the bulkhead and waited for a shot of disorienting dizziness to pass.
    Made it .
    Opening his eyes, his vision gradually adjusted to the shadows and he turned to survey the cargo hold. In the middle of the large space, a stack of creates were strapped down to the floor. Beyond that, dim light shone down from stairs disappearing up into the next level. With measured steps, he crossed the metal-grate floor, the hard soles of his boots ringing softly against the steel mesh.
    At the bottom of the steps he paused and looked upwards, the pungent scent of coffee reaching him. Real coffee , not the repli-coffee the officers on Erebus drank. A long forgotten swell of sensory memory flooded him and the burning, loathing recollections of a different time suffused his very cells. His lungs stalled and for a long moment, he couldn’t find any air. But the fresh blaze of old pain rallied his determination. He wrapped a hand around the stair rail, anchoring himself in reality, to now and what he needed to do.
    The scent indicated someone was awake and moving around up there. He needed somewhere to hide, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere in the open space of the cargo hold. He carefully climbed up the stairs, opening into a long passageway with doors running the length of it. Crew’s lodgings, if he had to guess. Just as he started moving deeper into the ship, the lights along the ceiling flickered to life with eye-aching intensity.
    Tannin edged closer to the nearest bulkhead with a sharp movement. To his left, a door slid open with the slight tinkle of bells. His pulse thrummed harder through his body. Damn it . He had nowhere to go, leaving him exposed in the passageway. If he didn’t deal with this, his escape attempt would be over before it’d even begun.
    A few short steps took him into the hatchway. He recognized her as he dropped a hand over her mouth and wrapped an arm around her middle, forcing her backward and then spinning them to shove her up against the wall next to the door. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist and tugged against his hold. Indigo eyes went wide, her terrified cry muffled by his hand.
    Her fear lanced his chest, guilt over doing this to her after what she’d endured last evening scraping his insides like rusted nails. He couldn’t stand her looking at him like that, gaze filled with horror as if he were the devil incarnate. Keeping his

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