“We need to fix the ship,” she said. “That’s our top priority right now. Without the Marauder, we can’t do anything.”
“But how will we get the parts we need when we don’t look like Nor’s followers? You know, those silver veins?” Lon wondered.
They were going to have to improvise. Andi had done it before—with Dex, actually.
She turned to him. “Do you remember Ricar?”
Dex smiled wide. “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“What’s Ricar?” Lon asked nervously.
“It’s a small planet in one of the rogue systems. Dex and I had to stop there once for fuel, and it didn’t work out too well.”
“You see,” Dex continued, “Ricar is essentially a terraformed planet made of metal. Most of the people who live there fancy being more machine than human. We didn’t think stopping there would cause any issues, but apparently the locals aren’t too fond of outsiders.”
“So what happened?” Lon pushed.
Even in their current situation, Andi had to laugh as she glanced back at him. “We had to become one of them. So we took wires, metal plates...really anything that might seem mechanical, and we dressed ourselves up.”
Andi could still remember how Dex had wound a metal coil around her neck and arms to hide her skin. He, on the other hand, had glued small aluminum sheets to his face for his disguise. Surprisingly, it had worked. No one batted an eye at them as they refueled. Everything went smoothly, at least until they were back on the ship.
She took off her disguise easily, but Dex... Well, he hadn’t really chosen wisely when he’d adhered the metal to his skin. The glue turned out to be rather permanent, and the tiny sheets of metal were stuck to his face for a full week before they finally managed to pull them off.
“Let’s just say we got the fuel, but it wound up causing more problems in the long run.” Dex rubbed a bare spot on his stubbly cheek.
“Still can’t grow hair there, I see.” Andi smirked.
“Shut up,” Dex mumbled.
“It’s time,” Lon said, pulling them back to the present.
The radar flashed, marking the Tavina System up ahead.
Dex placed his hand on the throttle and eased it back, exiting hyperspace as they approached Solera. The ship shook around them, far too aggressively as it entered the planet’s atmosphere.
They’d made it. The ship was breaking apart around them, but against all odds, they’d made it.
Andi let out a sigh of relief. The Godstars must be liking her today.
Using the last dregs of fuel, Dex directed the ship toward the planet’s icy surface. But as they passed through Solera’s outer rings, Andi realized that they were utterly alone. It was a known fact that Solerans didn’t like mingling any more than necessary with outsiders, but every populated planet had some type of space traffic around it.
It was beyond eerie that this one didn’t.
So when a pulse of light shot through the empty airspace toward them, it caught them unaware. The light encased the Marauder for a moment before resuming its path in their wake.
Dex swore. “What the hell was that?”
“Solar ray?” Lon guessed, but Andi shook her head.
“Let’s just get down there,” she said. “We don’t have much fuel left. Bring her down nice and easy, Dextro. You wreck my ship, you pay for it.”
Dex grunted. “I can’t,” he gritted out as he tried to engage the thrusters.
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“The thrusters aren’t at full power.”
“They’re only giving twenty percent thrust,” Lon said, furiously typing on the holoscreen in his hands. “And the backup system is off-line.”
Of course it is, Andi thought grimly. That light must’ve done something to the ship.
Solera was growing larger and larger by the second.
“Brace for impact,” Memory said calmly from the speakers as fire engulfed the exterior of the ship, so at odds with the icy world they were quickly approaching.
Andi gripped the edges of her seat and watched helplessly as Dex white-knuckled the wheel, trying to keep the ship steady.
She took back what she’d said about the Godstars liking her.
They really must hate her guts.
CHAPTER 9 (#u01e82320-9dc3-59cd-94d1-d05dea2c1138)
There had been plenty of times in Dex’s life when he’d thought he was dead.
When he was a child, he’d been told stories by traveling missionaries of what the afterlife was like. If you were good, and had no sin, you’d go to the Godstars’ palace in the sky. But if you were bad, you would be sent elsewhere, to be tortured for all eternity.
Of course he’d thought about the afterlife, and what lay beyond this existence, but he always thought when he experienced it for himself, it would be unlike anything his mind could’ve conjured up. Now, as his eyes cracked open, he was almost blinded by whiteness. It was the purest color he’d ever seen.
If those missionaries were right, and there was a palace in the sky where the righteous went after death, then he had not a damned clue why he was there. He wasn’t trying to say he deserved to be tortured, but hey, there were far better people than him in this galaxy.
That was how Dex knew he must be alive.
That, and the searing pain that pulsed within his head.
Dex could feel his heart beating inside his skull, like a hatchet against stone, chipping away bit by bit. The acidic smell of burned metal wafted into his nose, and something sharp jabbed his side.
“You with me, Dex?” a voice said from what seemed like a mile away. Then a hand connected with his cheek with a sharp sting, jarring him out of his haze.
The world of white came into focus, and at its center was a pair of stormy gray eyes.
“I’m with you,” he croaked, rubbing his sore cheek. “You didn’t have to smack me, though.”
“It got your attention,” Andi said, looking unabashed as she stood.
“That it did.”