Home > Only Bad Options (Galactic Truebond #1)

Only Bad Options (Galactic Truebond #1)
Author: Jennifer Estep














Sometimes in life, you have only bad options.

Like planning to commit corporate espionage in the morning, becoming a whistleblower by noon, and trying not to be murdered by midnight.

Those thoughts—and a dozen disturbing visions of my own potential murder—zipped through my mind as I perched on the sofa and stared out over the low table in front of me.

Screwdrivers, laser cutters, and other handheld tools covered the scarred faux wood surface, along with colorful gelpens and clear plastipapers boasting sketches and schematics of everything from household appliances to shock batons to a pair of gloves designed to mimic the look and feel of human skin. Squiggles and doodles of blue eyes and black arrows adorned the edges of the thin, reusable plastipapers, since those odd symbols had haunted my dreams for as long as I could remember. Wires snaked out from underneath the papers, while a cup squatting on the corner of the table held the remains of a raspberry protein shake that had stained the clear plastic a dull, sickly pink.

I leaned forward, picked up the miniature spaceship in the middle of the mess, and turned it around in my hands. The cheap plastic model was a little larger than my palm and had been spewed out by one of the multidimensional printers at Kent Corp, where I worked in the research and development lab. Yep, I was a lab rat, responsible for fixing flaws in Kent Corp designs, as well as dreaming up new products for the Regal-family-owned company to sell to further increase House Kent’s already hefty coffers.

Velorum was grooved into the side of the model, in the same place it had been on the actual ship, and I traced my fingers over the letters, my skin sinking into the tiny dips and empty curls. Kent Corp products always had boastful, grandiose names, whether it was a new space cruiser, a solar-powered blaster, or a can opener.

I snorted. Hubris would have been a much more appropriate moniker, especially given the small but deadly flaw in the cruiser’s design.

Footsteps clacked along the floor, and a woman shuffled into the room where I was sitting and clutching the model ship like a recalcitrant child who refused to give up her favorite toy.

The thirty-something woman was dressed in a light beige pantsuit that outlined her trim body, while black stilettos added a couple of inches to her already-tall frame. Gold shadow and liner brought out her dark brown eyes, while plum lipstick did the same for her ebony skin. Her dark brown hair was slicked back into a low bun, and a gold chain made of square links hung from her neck.

Her sleek, tailored look was a direct contrast to the shapeless white lab coat I wore over a long-sleeved light gray shirt, matching cargo pants, and work boots.

The woman yawned, her eyes still a bit bleary with sleep. “Why are you messing with that model? I thought you finished your report on the Velorum crash last week.”

“Good morning to you too, Tivona,” I drawled, ignoring her question.

She shuddered and stepped into the tiny kitchen. “There is no such thing as a good morning, especially not a good Monday morning.”

Tivona Winslow might be a brilliant negotiator, but she was most definitely not a morning person. Still, her love of late nights meshed well with my get-up-and-get-things-done mentality. The two of us were rarely home at the same time, which made sharing our small two-bedroom apartment—and especially the single bathroom—much more manageable.

A grin split Tivona’s face, and she gave me a saucy wink. “Although the weekend was very enjoyable, especially Saturday night.”

I laughed, despite the tension simmering in my body. “Let me guess. True love lost and found on the dance floor thanks to a chembond cocktail.”

“Something like that.” Tivona scrunched up her nose. “Although she wasn’t nearly as cute and charming the next morning.”

“They never are when chembonds are involved—”

Tivona waved her hand, cutting off my lecture. “I know, I know. A chembond isn’t real.” She sighed with longing. “But it was fun while it lasted. You should try it sometime, Vesper.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, thanks. I’ve sworn off relationships, remember? Especially chemically induced ones. They burn out even faster than regular ones do.”

Tivona arched an eyebrow at the bitterness in my voice. “What was it you said after your breakup with Conrad? Oh, yes. That attraction, desire, and love are nothing more than chemicals in the brain. Dopamine and pleasure centers and all that other technical stuff you spout all the time.”

I lifted my chin. “And I stand behind every single word.”

This time, I sighed, the sound full of the melancholy that haunted me like a bad dream. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should go clubbing with you, down a cocktail with someone, and see what happens. At least you know what you’re getting into with a chembond—and that it will wear off in a few hours.”

Unlike my current heartache, which had been dragging on for months.

Sympathy filled Tivona’s face. “This thing with Conrad will wear off too. Especially when you get out there and meet someone new. You’ll see, Vesper. Soon you won’t be thinking about Conrad at all.”

Her cheerful words were completely innocent, but they blared in my mind like an alarm warning that something bad was about to happen. I held back a shudder, trying to ignore the magic suddenly pricking my skin like needles on a medtable.

Tivona hit a button on the brewmaker on the kitchen counter, which let out a series of high-pitched beep-beep-beeps, almost as if it was talking to her. Liquid streamed down into the chrome pot, and the rich, dark scent of chocolate espresso filled the air. It looked and smelled far more appetizing than my chalky raspberry shake.

Brewmaker was a misnomer, since the appliance was actually a food fabricator that could produce everything from scrambled eggs to almond oatmeal to a serviceable steak, depending on which protein pods were loaded into it. But people called them brewmakers because most folks used them to whip up drinks—coffees, teas, protein shakes. No matter how advanced technology got, folks still loved to gulp down caffeine, ginseng, and other stimulants, along with massive amounts of processed sugar.

Tivona drew in a deep breath. “Ahh. I’ll never admit it, since I am legally obligated to claim that Kent products are perfect as is and defend them vigorously against all lawsuits, but those tweaks you made to this brewmaker last week really worked. Espresso in less than ten seconds that is the perfect temperature and won’t scald your mouth? That’s genius, Vesper.”

“You know I like tinkering with things.”

Tivona’s dark gaze darted over to the mess of tools, plastipapers, and wires on the table in front of me, and her lips turned down into a disapproving frown. “That’s one way of putting it.”

When we’d first moved in together about three years ago, Tivona and I had divided the common room into two sections. Her side, which included the kitchen, was spotless, and everything was either neatly stowed away, like her plethora of mugs in the cabinets, or stacked in precise piles, like the latest contracts she was working on that covered the dining table.

My side of the room, which included the sofa and the low table, was far less organized. Like Tivona, I preferred the pile method of storage, but mine were haphazard mountains that contained everything from old technical manuals to appliance parts. I found the clutter cozy and comforting, but it supremely annoyed Tivona. More than once, she had challenged me to find a particular plastipaper or tool to get me to clean up the mess, but I always located the requested item within a matter of seconds, like an old-timey magician pulling a rabbit out of her proverbial hat. Always knowing where things were was one of the few advantages to having seer magic.

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