The time-graft glowed against my wrist, spilling its gleaming numbers into the darkness.
Seconds counted down. Fast. I frowned. Shit. I’d wasted too much time hunting down this dive.
The Last Stand —its garish front a burn to my retinas—burst from the gloom. I caught my fingers in my loose hair. Fuck, fuck. Why this dive? One famous for its…debauchery.
I fought the panicked thud in my veins—I could do this, I could—and drew in the filtered air that escaped from the bar’s vents in a white, steaming mist. It calmed me. Just.
At least the vented air was better than the stink of the tunnels or the chill from the ice bleeding down from the surface… Fuck, I hated being cold. What I was wearing was absolutely no help either.
I rolled my neck and the strap of leather tied at my nape creaked. I swore. In three languages. The skimpy halter-neck barely covered my tits and left the rest of me…naked. Practically. Only a pair of tight and revealing shorts saved any part of my dignity.
I had to look the part. It was compulsory.
Stupid, arsing Festival of Chiaran. It gripped the underground city of Oire and any who ignored the festivities were forcibly shipped off planet. No questions, no pleas. The Lisalans took participation very seriously.
And because of it, the tunnels were empty, the miners and every level in the administration of Lisala-7 finding their fucks in the Oire’s many dives. Only the whir of the air filters and the dulled throb of music cut the silence.
I snorted. Of course, five days of licensed debauchery would be popular on any planet, but the Lisalans had made it mandatory.
The time-graft chimed. Twenty minutes left.
At this rate, I would forfeit the hunt. I pressed my lips together. No, I wouldn’t forfeit. I couldn’t lose.