For a moment, Andi rested her forehead against the cool metal of the door, which was at such odds with her flaming flesh. She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath, then turned to look at the row of seats where her crew had once sat.
Seats that were now so terribly empty.
Her vision, once murky from the drugs, slowly started to clear as Andi made her way toward the front of the bridge. A groan slipped its way past her lips when she finally sat down in the pilot’s seat. It felt so wrong sitting there, as if she were taking the space that had always belonged to Lira. A space that she had no right to claim, after what had happened to Kalee. But Andi pushed her discomfort aside, replacing it with the fierce need to get her girls back. How she felt about piloting didn’t matter—not when their lives were at risk.
That was, if Queen Nor hadn’t killed them already.
Even as the thought crossed her mind, she vanquished it immediately. They were alive. They had to be. She couldn’t afford to think otherwise; couldn’t deal with that pain. It would hurt more than being skinned alive and slowly burned until her bloody flesh crisped over.
She had to save them, even if she got herself killed in the process.
Trying and dying was better than not trying at all.
With every second counting against her, Andi willed her aching arms up onto the console and slowly, painstakingly entered the coordinates for Arcardius. The navigation holoscreen began to flicker before her eyes, highlighted by the swirling, shimmering clouds outside the varillium walls of the ship.
The dense fog of color obscured Andi’s view of the stars, and the sight of it sent a shiver of dread down her spine. “Memory?” she asked breathlessly.
The soothing female voice of the Marauder’s control system came to life around her. “How may I assist you, Captain?”
“Where exactly are we?”
There was a long pause before Memory responded. “The navigation system is currently off-line. I am unable to determine our precise location at this time.”
Andi stared at the dancing whorls of pink and gold mist, a sudden suspicion dawning. “Memory, what was the destination of the last hyperspace jump?”
“The last coordinates entered were for a location just outside the Xintra Nebula.”
Andi’s hands began to shake with rage. Her ship was inside a damned nebula. A massive pocket of space filled with gases and debris that rendered the Marauder’s tracking and navigation systems utterly useless. A place only the most skilled pilots could hope to fly through without losing their way.
And not just any nebula—the Xintra Nebula. Clear across the galaxy from the Phelexos System, and Arcardius. As far away as she could possibly be from her girls.
Andi choked out a humorless laugh. She was going to murder Dex when he woke up.
The sound of a pounding fist on the bridge’s door made her jump, sending a wave of pain crashing through her body. A muffled shout echoed from the other side. “Andi, please, let me in!”
The unfamiliar voice had Andi rising from her seat and instinctively reaching for her twin swords. She cursed softly when she realized that they were likely still in the med bay, and began scanning the room for another weapon. Surely Gilly or Breck had stashed a gun in here somewhere.
The person outside hammered on the door again, more urgently this time. “Andi, it’s Lon. Open the door! We need to talk.”
Andi’s knees went weak with relief. Lon. She’d forgotten that Lira had arranged for him to be moved onto the Marauder during the Ucatoria Ball, to speed the crew’s departure from Arcardius after they finished their guard duties for General Cortas. He must have already been on the ship when Dex brought her on board after the attack.
And, most important, he was an ally. Surely Lon wanted to rescue his sister just as much as she did. Together, the two of them could convince Dex to pilot them out of here and back to Arcardius.
The anger and adrenaline that had carried her thus far was quickly dissipating, though, and the distance to the access panel suddenly seemed a lot farther than it had earlier. Andi sank back into the pilot’s seat, cursing under her breath at the state her body was in, and said, “Memory, unseal the damn door before Lon pummels it to death.”
The bridge door slid open with a hiss, and Lon entered cautiously, a wary expression on his blue face. Andi raised an eyebrow at him and turned back to the holoscreen, which was flashing with an error message. She swiped it away and brought up a diagram of the Mirabel Galaxy, projecting it into the air around them.
“We’re in the Xintra Nebula,” Lon said, pointing to the dusty pink cloud that hovered in space between the Olen and Tavina systems.
“Yes, I’d gathered that already,” Andi remarked dryly. “And why, exactly, are we here, when my crew—when your sister—is on the other side of the galaxy?”
Lon looked weary as he sank down into the seat that was usually Breck’s. “We’re here because Queen Nor is also on the other side of the galaxy. Along with her army of mind-controlled minions.”
She blinked. “Excuse me? Mind control?” Even saying those two words sounded ridiculous. “What the hell are you talking about?”
He sighed in exasperation. “Seriously, Andi? Didn’t you let Dex explain anything before you knocked him out?”
Andi felt her temper rising as heat flooded her cheeks. “He left my girls behind, Lon. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to listen to anything he had to say.”
“He didn’t have much of a choice. If he’d tried to rescue them, too, we’d probably all be dead or under Nor’s control now.” Lon shook his head and rose to his feet, holding a hand out to Andi. “Come on. Let’s head back to the med bay. You’re bleeding all over the place, and we can try to wake Dex up. He was there—he can tell you what happened much better than I can.”
* * *
For years, Andi hadn’t allowed herself to rely on anyone but herself and her crew. No one else had proved worthy of her trust, and even when it came to Lira, Breck and Gilly, Andi vastly preferred being the one guarding their backs.
So as she and Lon made their slow trek to the med bay, Andi was mortified to find herself leaning on him more and more, unable to stand upright on her own. She gritted her teeth in frustration and tried to will some strength into her legs, but the effort was useless.
“There’s no shame in accepting help, Andi,” Lon said gently. “You nearly died, and you’ve been heavily sedated for almost a week now. I’m surprised you were even able to make it to the bridge in the first place.”
Andi stumbled to a halt as a wave of shock washed over her. She could feel the blood draining from her face as she turned to look up at Lon. “I’ve been out for a week?”
He caught her as she swayed, then guided her the last few steps toward the med bay. “Andi, I don’t think you realize how badly you were hurt, how much blood you lost before Dex managed to get you and General Cortas onto the ship.”
“Wait,” Andi said, her mind reeling with confusion as Lon raised a hand to the access panel beside the med bay door. “The general is here? Cyprian Cortas is on my ship?”
The mere thought of that man here, aboard her ship when her girls were not, made Andi’s blood boil.
“Was,” Lon said. The door slid open, revealing Dex’s muscular frame sprawled out on the floor. Lon entered the med bay swiftly, kneeling down and shaking his shoulder roughly. “He died shortly after we left Arcardius.”
Andi braced herself on the door frame, trying to gauge how she felt about the general’s passing. Cyprian Cortas had been a cruel, ambitious man, but he’d also been one of the greatest generals in the history of Arcardius. And he was the father of the girl she’d once loved like a sister—the girl she’d failed to protect.
The sound of Dex’s groan pulled her away from her dark thoughts. She watched, feeling slightly guilty, as he stirred and raised a hand to his neck, wincing when he touched the spot where she’d stabbed him with the syringe.
As Lon helped him sit up, Dex’s dazed brown eyes slowly rose to meet Andi’s. She held his gaze for a moment, hesitating, wondering what he was thinking. Then his lips quirked up into a half smile, and he said, “I know I needed the sleep, Baroness, but you could have just suggested I take a nap.”
His tone was teasing, but Andi could see the underlying sadness and worry in his eyes. She tried to keep her voice light as she asked, “And would you have actually listened?”
Dex ducked his head, but not quickly enough to mask his pained expression. “Probably not. You know I’ve never been very good at that.”
A pang of remorse filled her chest, adding to the gradually worsening ache from her wound. “Me neither,” Andi admitted.
He looked up at her incredulously, hope filling his face. Andi tried to smile at him, but it turned into a grimace as a stabbing pain coursed through her. She sucked in a breath through her teeth as Lon stood and hurried to her side.
“You both need to rest,” he said sternly, steering her back toward the bed she’d woken up in. “And you likely need some new stitches. But I think you might try to stab us with something worse than a dose of soduum if you don’t get some answers soon.”
“You’re not wrong,” Andi replied weakly, easing herself onto the mattress with Lon’s help. Dex clambered to his feet and made his way to her bedside while Lon peeled away the blood-soaked bandage on her chest. Andi glanced down and hissed at the sight of the angry-looking gash.