“We would be captured and infected, too,” Andi said, understanding his point.
“Not we,” Lon said, eyeing them both. Andi and Dex had both been shot with the virus during the Ucatoria Ball. They hadn’t been affected the way the others were, which they all hoped meant Dex and Andi were somehow immune. Lon, on the other hand, had never been exposed to it, and Andi wasn’t willing to risk his freedom on the vague hope that he might be resistant to the virus, as well.
Besides, since Lira wasn’t immune, then it was unlikely Lon was, either. He was Lira’s twin, her counterpart, half of Lira’s heart.
And if Andi saw him fall, some part of her knew it would be like losing Lira all over again. He was part of her crew now—and he was the only one who could feed Havoc without risking dismemberment. The hideous creature had grown to love Lon, in its own demented way, and didn’t claw Lon’s arms to ribbons nearly as much as it did her and Dex.
Andi could hear Havoc purring from beneath the couch, ready to strike again.
It was a cunning move, those silver veins—something Andi had to grudgingly admire, as much as it complicated things for them. Still, there had to be some holes in Nor’s master plan, and Andi relished the thought of blasting them wide open.
Dex rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Stubble had started to shadow his face, and Andi tried not to dwell on how attractive she found it. He’d had a beard during the year they’d spent together, after she fled Arcardius the first time, and Andi couldn’t help being reminded of the happier times in their relationship when she looked at him now.
He pulled up their brainstorming sheet with a tap of two fingers. “Well, I think out of these three ideas...none of them will work in the current climate.”
Then Dex wiped the screen clean, erasing the mission plans they’d so carefully drafted together during countless hours of work over the past three weeks.
“Dex, you’re as bad as Alfie sometimes!” Andi snapped, all feelings of nostalgia disappearing in the wake of her aggravation at him.
“Well, seeing as he’s not here,” Dex said, eyeing the silver holoband encircling his wrist, “someone has to fill in for the time being.”
The AI had been dismembered during their short stay at Averia, where General Cortas and his family had once lived. Andi had managed to save his memory chip, knowing that Alfie had gathered vital information about Valen’s blood and DNA when he’d tested him on their ship after leaving Lunamere.
And though Alfie’s chip was now tucked away in Dex’s holoband, they hadn’t yet been able to resurrect the AI by connecting him to the galactic feeds. He’d remained as useless as ever, and likely would until they left the nebula, when he was able to get a real connection.
Andi snatched the holoscreen away and undid Dex’s action, saving the document. But even as she did so, Andi couldn’t help feeling that Dex was right—the more she looked at their ideas, the more she wondered if any of them could actually work.
1. Dress up as Xen Pterran soldiers, sneak onto Arcardius and kidnap the girls.
Andi thought this plan of Dex’s could potentially work—if they had clearance, which they did not. Plus, she had a faint inkling that he just wanted to don a disguise, like the top shows on the social feeds. Those were all gone now, Nor having erased the social aspects of the feeds, replacing them with her propaganda.
Dex was always one for theatrics. But she knew better than ever now that theatrics rarely worked in real life.
After all, playing the part of the Bloody Baroness only ever got people killed.
Then there was Lon’s all too reasonable idea.
If they had something to bargain with, it could work...but all they had were a few guns and her ship, which was not up for negotiation. She would even go as far as to offer Nor her life for those of her crew, but she doubted Nor wanted her dead that badly. Andi was no one. Just a ghost lost to the stars, as far as the galaxy was concerned. Valen, on the other hand...
Andi didn’t think the method she’d proposed was too bad. It had always worked for her in the past.
3.Go in guns blazing
Then again, they were just three people against the whole galaxy. Maybe shooting their way onto Arcardius was a bit too unrealistic, especially without her crew. Lon wasn’t exactly one for violence, either. She doubted he’d be of much help.
Havoc, though... Perhaps she could use the creature as a weapon.
Even Nor would run from those claws.
Andi looked down, but Havoc had mysteriously disappeared. She made a mental note to make sure she stuck close to Dex for the time being—he was usually Havoc’s favorite target, which meant she might be able to avoid becoming his next scratching post.
“We’re only three people, with a ship on the verge of collapse,” Dex said, uncannily echoing her earlier thoughts. It was true—the Marauder needed fuel and supplies, and the thrusters desperately needed a tune-up. With the way things were going, they wouldn’t be able to hide out in this nebula much longer.
Andi looked out the window to the dusty expanse beyond. She missed seeing the stars.
Dex continued. “We all want a solid plan that will allow us to rescue the girls without dying or becoming enslaved to Queen Nor in the process. But before we even think about going back to Arcardius, we need to figure out a way to refuel and gather supplies. We’re no good to anyone stranded in a nebula.”
“Or dead,” Lon added.
Dex nodded. “Exactly. We need to get the ship back into shape first. Then we can tackle the rest.”
“As much as I hate admitting this, you’re right,” Andi said with a sigh, glancing at Gilly’s drawings again.
Dex’s jaw dropped. He grabbed the holoscreen and aimed its camera at her. “Can you say that again? I want to document this moment.”
Andi pushed the screen away, rolling her eyes. “Is your brain so addled that you have to document things externally because you can’t store the information up there?” She flicked his forehead.
“If you want to know what I’m thinking, just ask.” He winked. “Just try not to combust when I describe the dirty—”
Andi was saved from hearing the details of Dex’s explicit thoughts when Havoc pounced over the back of the couch, landing on his shoulders with claws extended.
Dex cursed, fighting the creature off and handing it to Lon instead, who allowed Havoc to curl into his arms, its horns poking out from beneath Lon’s thin black shirt.
“I swear to the stars, I’m going to skin you and use you for a pair of boots,” Dex said with a growl as Havoc yawned innocently.
“Fuzzy orange boots?” Andi said, brows raised. “That does sound like just your style.”
Dex was about to backpedal when the holoscreen dinged and the feed projected a new video stream into the room. The face of Nor Solis filled the space, and Andi groaned at the thought of yet another propaganda vid.
The queen smiled down at them, looking every bit like the benevolent ruler she definitely wasn’t. “I hate her,” Andi mumbled.
Memory’s voice cut through the room, pausing the video before it could start. “Fuel supply at thirty percent.”
“Damn,” Dex whispered as Andi’s eyes bulged.
“Preserve energy use wherever you can, Memory,” Andi commanded.
The room went dark, the only light coming from the holoscreen. Andi tapped on the holoscreen to resume the feed. She might hate listening to Nor address her mindless followers, but they needed all the intel they could get.
“People of Mirabel,” Nor said in greeting. “I come to you as your queen, asking you to join me in working even harder to build the future we all wish to attain. We must be vigilant in our efforts to complete Nexus, and to root out all those who wish to defy our cause. With your help, by moon’s end, we will finish the construction of Nexus, and a new era will rise.”
“Talking about that damned Nexus again,” Andi complained, but before the boys could answer, the feed started to glitch and Nor’s face disappeared, soon replaced by another’s. Andi jolted upright, transfixed by the image before them.
The newcomer on the feed was a veritable giant, clad in bloodred armor marred with battle scars and strange black markings. “This message is for those whose minds still belong to them,” the figure said, its voice sounding distant and strangely mechanical. “You are not alone.”