Sofie glanced down at her communicator and couldn’t help but smile.

The empress had summoned her.

She sucked in a deep breath and cinched the last fastening of her gown before checking herself out in the mirror. The delicate beige tunic’s hem nipped at her ankles. The tiny buckles adorning the coppery belt snaked around her waist and up her spine to the back of her neck.

Her lips were crimson and swollen. Her catty eyes over-large. It was disconcerting. It already felt like she was staring into the eyes of a strange, new being. This wouldn’t be the first time but her nervous excitement knew no bounds. She was going to honor the blood contract between human and vampire again.

One more nail in the coffin Sofie’s mother called damnation. A reminder that she’d left her home world without her family’s approval, never to return. Still, Sofie didn’t feel an ounce of regret about abandoning that wretched place.

Capella’s awkward star wobbled along the outer edges of the Magellanic Spiral. Terra-formed several centuries earlier, the tiny planet remained unknown to most. Except the aged ones. The legendary ones.

As a child, Sofie Tenna spent many sleepless nights staring up at the stars. She wanted more than life on Capella offered. She wanted what the stars promised. She wanted to touch and taste the secrets that she was certain were waiting out there.

Space travel was beyond the means of Capella’s denizens. There was only one way off-planet that Sofie knew of. Contracting with one of the vampires who used Capella as a convenient feeding ground. As soon as she turned sixteen, Sofie began training to accept the blood contract. Her efforts bore fruit when she turned twenty-two.

Andromeda Five was legendary, among the oldest of her kind. Her sprawling ship, the Celeste, was a relic of a golden age long dead. The hulking luxury liner, an opulent faerie kingdom flitting from star to star.

Sofie never got a grand tour of the Celeste. She wasn’t even allowed to venture beyond the empress’ quarters. She knew, though, that the ship’s human crew manned the upper levels. She knew that Andromeda Five’s un-dead servants occupied the lowest. The empress’ mid-level quarters an effective barrier between predators and prey.

When Sofie reached the end of the long corridor, the door slid open with a whoosh. She crossed the threshold and entered the ship’s garden.

Chaotic clusters of herbs, fruit trees, and flowers clamored for Sofie’s attention. Their combined scents assaulting her senses. Fat roots nestled in transparent cylinders filled with hydroponic solution. Membranous greenery puffed up out of the tops of the cylinders. They grew so tall they crowded the glittery ceiling. They were beautiful, monstrous, and alien-looking.

“Over here, Sofie.” the empress crooked a finger, beckoning from her far left.

Andromeda Five was barefoot and still stood at least a head taller than Sofie. She wore a simple white gown that seemed to glow against her ebon skin. Thick braids gathered at the top of her head and spilled down her back, a golden ribbon threaded into each braid.

The empress’ serene silver eyes shone brightly, promising a wealth of knowledge and secrets beyond Sofie’s wildest imagination. She was so different. So unlike anyone else Sofie Tenna ever encountered.

Every aspect of this inhuman being embodied the alluring mystery and magic of the stars.

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