I always wondered what aliens got out of seeing a human strip.
When I first started dancing, I expected that the audience would be mostly other humans who’d scraped enough together for an evening without their owners. Maybe there’d be an old, weirdo alien here and there. But it wasn’t like that. Every night when I went out, the club was full of nearly every species except humans.
And they didn’t only come for the novelty of it, either. I had regular customers, people who watched me and only me. Even some who could afford to pay for a higher-class species.
I took a few swings on the pole and surveyed the audience. It was dark and a little bit smoky, but I made out a few regulars, as well as some new members. All of them seemed more transfixed than usual. I hadn’t even taken anything off yet, and it already seemed like everybody in the room held their breath.
It could be a good night for tips if this keeps up, I thought before working one of my stockings off.
So why did they watch me like that? I mean, sure, most of them had limbs and heads and basic equipment like humans did. Some of us could even spend a pleasurable night together without much creativity.
But I was a human at the end of the day, and they weren’t. That should have been a problem, but the way they watched me, I got the feeling they thought my being a human was a bonus.
Of course, some of them were just scumbags. They thought because the dancers at the Modzrabe were human, they could take liberties. What would a human do if a drunk Ewani said something creepy or touched us when they weren’t supposed to?
It was about that moment that one of the front-row customers reminded me what they could be like.
“Hey there, gorgeous,” a Maeux slurred.
His blue, scaly hand grabbed the other stocking, and the foot it was still on as I slipped my left one off. His grip totally threw off my balance right as I spun. The stocking slipped off, and I turned clumsily, barely keeping from falling flat on my face.
So much for good tips.
“Watch it, asshole!”
He grabbed me again, and I lost it, flying at him with the hardest slap I could muster.
He stumbled back into a group of Voleks who immediately took offence.
The music stopped as yells filled the club, and everyone leaped to their feet, running around and bumping into each other. I heard at least one glass shatter, and that was besides the three that were on top of the table the blue creep sat at.
My boss was going to kill me.
Better be sure it’s worth it, then, I thought, punching the closest part of the pervert’s body.
Suddenly, two strong arms gripped mine and pulled me back. It was security. I felt a little proud knowing that they protected him from me rather than me from him.
The Maeux stumbled to his feet and wiped his large, toothy mouth with a small hand. I noticed places where his skin turned a darker, bruised violet. I wondered what story he would come up with to explain where he got the marks whenever he got home.
“You… you animal!” he cried. “All I did was touch your stocking!”
My boss, the largest Nazok I’d ever seen, stepped in between the two of us. “I’m very sorry for your bad experience, sir,” Kogam almost purred. “If you’d like a complimentary drink on the house before you go–”
“A complimentary drink?” the man shrieked. “I want to see you punish that rabid creature you call a dancer!”
Kogam looked at me, and I could see he didn’t exactly disagree with the customer’s portrait of me. It wasn’t exactly the first time I’d gotten into trouble under his watch. To be fair, when I wasn’t assaulting customers, I also made him quite a bit of money.
“Don’t worry,” he said, turning back to the customer. “I’ll deal with her. But, sir, it is against the rules to grab the dancers while they’re on stage.”
“Against the rules?” the blue man spat back. “Did you see what she did to me? Why, if your bumbling security oafs hadn’t finally arrived when they did, she might have ripped me to shreds!”
Unfortunately, I didn’t think my nails were strong enough to really make that true. Also, Tilx and Novar, who worked security at the club, were both great. No one would get torn to shreds on their watch. Usually, I appreciated them, but at that moment, I wished whichever one of them was holding my left arm would stop twisting it so much.
“Like I said, we’ll deal with her,” Kogam said, obviously intending to worry me. It worked. “But we also are going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Well, see if you ever get my business again!” the customer said. He walked off, limping slightly from the fall. I don’t know why he did, but he continued speaking while exiting the club. “Imagine kicking someone out for getting attacked by one of your own dancers! It’s an outrage! Why, when others hear about this–”
He kept on going in more or less the same tone the whole way out the door.
That was when Kogam turned his attention to me. “My office. Now.”
Kogam stalked off, and Tilx and Novar finally let me go. I sighed and walked after Kogam, running over in my head everything awful that he might do or say. Meanwhile, the conductor started up a new song, and the next dancer poked her leg out onto the stage to dance for the remaining audience.
Kogam’s office was a small thing. It was located behind the stage, with most of the space taken up by some chairs, a desk, and a personal computer that had about every modification possible to ensure that no one who wasn’t Kogam would know what was inside it.
Kogam paced back and forth behind the desk. I sat down, feeling extremely nervous about the consequences I was about to face.
“Okay,” I said after a nearly ten-second silence. “I understand there might have been better ways to deal with that.”
“You assaulted a customer!” Kogam snapped. “Do you think that’s good for business? Come to Modzrabe! Get a wallop from a crazed human?”
“I’m sorry,” I said automatically, not making eye contact.
“Of course you’re sorry,” he said. “You’re always sorry every time you do something. But you keep doing things like that! Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Not good enough! I want an answer!”
But before he got one, the door crept open. It was Tilx.
“Hey, boss. Sophia’s in there with you, right?”
Kogam sighed. “What is it now?”
“Someone’s requested her for a private dance,” Tilx said nervously.
“Well, too bad,” said Kogam. “She’s in trouble.” He scoffed. “I don’t even know if she’s housebroken right now.”
“Uh, right.” Tilx cleared his throat. “Only, the floor manager said to mention to you that he’s one of them.” He leaned forward to whisper in Kogam’s ear, a single word I couldn’t hear.
Kogam’s whole face changed. He immediately became pale and twitchy. “Well, why didn’t you tell me that at the start? Sophia, let’s go. And whatever you do, absolutely, positively, do not blow this one for me.”
“Um, okay.” I stood up. “The private champagne room, right?”
“Obviously,” scoffed Kogam. “Where else would we put such a valued customer?” He leaned close and whispered into my ear. “Look, I don’t care what he says. I don’t care how he acts. Do whatever it takes to make this customer happy. If you do, everything’s forgiven, all right?”
“All right,” I answered, still unsure what was happening. I heard rumors that Kogam had some fingers in organized crime around the station, but I didn’t think it went that deep. What kind of person was I about to meet up with?
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” Kogam repeated, shooing me out the door. “We don’t want him waiting too long and starting off in a bad mood.”
That sounded like a warning for my safety as much as for the bar’s profit. Was I about to deal with some kind of murderous psycho who was just as likely to shoot a girl as he was to ask her for a lap dance?
I made my way quickly down the hall to the door of the champagne room. There, I paused to finger-comb my hair and straighten what little there was of my clothes. I was pissed I only had one stocking on.
Maybe the customer would think it was edgy. I hoped so. I took a deep breath and laid my hand on the door panel. I was as ready as I ever would be.
The door slid open, and I stepped inside, doing my best slow, sultry walk. Even if the being wasn’t some maniac, I decided I might as well pull out the stops. I didn’t feel bad about the blue alien, but anything would be worth it to get back in my boss’s good graces.
One of them.
Tilx could have been a little clearer.
This wasn’t just any member of one of the criminal syndicates that ran Thodos III.
This was one of the Vinduthi.
Tall and broad, green marking lighting up the left side of his face and neck, almost shimmering against his dark gray skin.
His lips curled up into a seductive smile, and I couldn’t quite tell if the shiver running up my back was because I was terrified or aroused.
Or maybe it was both.
“Bring me that girl.”
Getting a girl hadn’t been part of the plan for that night. The moment I walked in and saw her, all my other plans took a backseat.
Or rather, they all rearranged to include her for a good hour or so.
A lot of people in my line of work hated surprises, but not me. Surprises kept me on my toes, both professionally and personally.
For me, the worst thing was being bored.
I liked things that messed up my little plans. I guess I could say that’s what my job was, even. Dealing with little surprises. Chatty exes, greedy employees, nosy officers of the law. Hyperspace hiccups, my boss liked to call them. When they threw him off route, he called me in to smooth things over.
For those who preferred the technical term, I was an assassin.
A good one, too, but I had to be. Bad assassins didn’t last very long.
I also made a pretty good Vinduthi folding cake, but I wasn’t in Modzrabe to bake sweet treats. At least, not that night.
I wasn’t there that night to kill anyone, either. Not unless I got lucky. There were rumors for the past few months about our ‘family’ having a spy for the Nazoks in it.
At first, it was just little things. A few jobs we had planned that Conii and her boys got to first. Extra security getting posted at the last minute. But over time, it got worse. There had even been a raid on one of our stashes; one nobody should have known about.
So now, Alkard sent everyone he trusted out after any lead to try and figure out who the mole was. This club was rumored to have tight ties with Conii’s crowd, so it was worth watching.
I didn’t expect much, but I at least thought I’d get a nice drink out of the situation.
And then, one of the most beautiful women I ever saw jumped straight off the stage and into the face of a paying customer.
I’d already been watching her instead of the room. She was beautiful, but more than beautiful, she had a certain energy to her, one I couldn’t quite identify. Not until I saw her eyes right when she jumped off the stage.
It was ferocity that attracted me to her. The power of someone who knew just what they were worth and wouldn’t let another get away with treating them as anything less. She had the willingness to fight, even if it meant losing. Nothing attracted me more than that.
I saw a lot of beings die. Not all at my own hand. And I saw others take the grief in lots of ways. I saw strong men blubber and beg for their life. I saw cowards take death nobly with a few calm words. I saw a lot of people who just looked surprised like they never thought death was something that could happen to them.
Ferocity was my favorite quality. I respected those who died angry and fighting. It was the way I lived, and I hoped it would be the way I died.
Maybe I particularly respected it in a human. After all, how much easier was it for a Vinduthi like me to know what I was worth compared to some human who was bought by a seedy strip joint?
Of course, I told myself, it was still really part of the job. As soon as the two of us were in a room together, I’d pump her with questions about the mole and the Nazoks or whatever.
Actually, that was a clever way to do it since she might have shared information with me in private that she wouldn’t have in public.
The fact was that I really wanted to get up close with that girl, and I wasn’t above finding a reason to do it.
The whole thing only took a few words to set up once I scared one of the workers into fetching her. Even her name struck me: Sophia Delgado.
“Sophia Delgado,” I said, if for no other reason than to just feel the words fall off my tongue once I was alone in the champagne room.
It sounded strange, the way all human words do, but also nice in its own funny little way.
Sophia Delgado. Sophia Delgado.
I was still thinking of her name when the door opened, and there she stood. She was every bit as beautiful up close as she was on the stage. Long, black hair, sharp eyes, and a tall, graceful frame. She danced as she entered, and while I knew it was all an act to get me excited, the knowledge didn’t stop it from working.
As she got closer and closer, the mole I was searching for slipped further and further from my mind until she finally stood over me, and it disappeared entirely.
All that mattered then was her, and that moment.
I wasn’t even into human girls.
She turned around and brushed carelessly against my legs. No, not carelessly. That was a practiced gesture. The whole thing was perfectly practiced.
I wanted to talk to her, to say anything, but I was afraid I’d come off like a fool. Normally, I prided myself on being able to keep calm in any circumstances, but I felt everything but calm right then.
“Do you happen to know who I am?” I asked finally.
She turned around and laid her arm on my shoulder. Everything she did was intoxicating.
“Not really,” she said, without any attempt to fake interest. “I know my boss thinks you’re important.”
“That’s good,” I replied. “It’s fun when I don’t get to rely on reputation.”
She leaned over me, and I was close enough to smell her scent. I shouldn’t have let myself get distracted, especially on a job, but all I wanted was to give in to it.
“I like that,” she said. “I’ve found the more a man cares about his reputation, the less he deserves it.”
For a moment, between the way she said those words and the look on her face, I let myself imagine she was really interested in me. A silly fantasy and an embarrassing one. I had paid for her to act like she liked me.
She was just good at her job.
“Reputation’s a curse,” I said. “Once you have one, you have to keep it up all the time. Especially when you don’t want to.”
“It’s okay,” she whispered, leaning in close to my face. “You don’t have to keep up anything here.” Her hand trailed down my chest, down to my waist before lifting off again, light as down. “Well, anything you don’t want to keep up.”
“Really,” I purred, reaching forward, just enough to brush against her fall of hair. “But what if I want to know what you would like?”
Before she could answer, the door banged open, and four rough-looking Maeux walked in, their blue faces set, flat black eyes narrowed.
With her on my lap, they might have had a clear shot at me before I had time to reach for the knife at my belt.
But the universe had a way of teaching lessons sometimes.
“All right, I’ll bite,” I said, trying to recover as much dignity as I could in the situation. “What’s made life so painful for you that you’ve resorted to bursting in on me during a private moment?”
The tallest of the group stepped forward. “We’re not here for you. We’re here for the girl. She’s ours now.”
I looked up at Sophia. She was tense but remained still. I could see that fierceness bubbling just under her skin. She knew those beings were enemies, and she looked like she was still calculating how to deal with them.
She just became much, much more interesting.
“I booked her for an hour,” I said. “By my count, there’s still a good fifty minutes before she’s anyone else’s but mine.”
“Wrong!” the tallest one, I assumed the leader, snapped. “You did your booking with the club’s owner. But he just sold us her contract. That makes any agreement he made with you invalid.”
“You thought some human dancer could attack the Scion of our house without any consequences?” one of the others jeered. “Well, she’s ours now. And we’re giving her to him as a gift.” He turned to sneer at Sophia. “I bet he’ll have lots of fun making you regret your little outburst, human.”
Sophia’s eyes widened. She understood the situation now, and so did I.
Frankly, if the four punks had been smart enough to let me have my hour, I might not have cared.
If they’d been smart, I wouldn’t have even known about the problem.
Anyone who had followers calling him a scion had to be rich enough to leave alone and had probably gotten his fortune by unsavory methods.
Maybe a human who attacked a scion in a club where half the galaxy could watch wasn’t very smart. I gave them that, but I still couldn’t help liking her for it.
But those little jerks had let their petty squabble over some grabby leader get in the way of my evening.
It was too late, I was involved.
“Well, if it’s just a matter of money, that’s easy enough to deal with,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “I’ll pay you whatever you paid for her contract. No, you’ll want a profit. I’ll give you twice whatever you paid. You walk home with one hundred percent profit, and I keep the girl.”
She looked at me, startled. Clearly, she didn’t understand why I did that. If I was honest, I wasn’t totally sure, either.
“It’s not just money,” the group’s leader spat. “It’s a matter of honor!”
“I think twice her contract’s value is a pretty good price for honor,” I replied. “But fine, I’ll hear you out. How much money do you think your precious honor is worth?”
“She’s not for sale!” the leader hissed. “And that’s final!”
I lifted Sophia up, then stood, setting her back down in the chair.
“Would you mind waiting a moment while I do some quick negotiating?”
She nodded, eyes wide, small white teeth gnawing at her lower lip.
“All right then,” I said to the four punks, who were still nervously sizing me up. “Let’s get this over with quickly, shall we?”