“Newsflash, Lir. We all do,” Breck said from her left. And though it was too dark for Lira to see her crewmate, she could imagine the snarl on Breck’s face. “We need to escape. We should be down there with Andi, setting her free.”
“And how do you propose we do that?” Lira asked.
The words weren’t harsh, but rather, inquisitive.
Knowledge, along with peace, was another trait Adhiran citizens were encouraged to pursue above all else. The desire to learn and grow, questioning the world around them at every given moment.
“I think,” Gilly said across from them, somewhere in the darkness, “that we should shove Breck down the ladder and let her crush those Patrolmen until all that’s left is their awful souls.”
“There’s a minor problem to that solution, Gil,” Breck said. “The cuffs.”
The little girl huffed in response. “We’ve gotten out of cuffs like these before.”
“Not with our captain imprisoned below,” Lira said.
All three of them were bound in electric cuffs, seated with their backs pressed up against the cold steel walls of the hallway that led to the ship’s bridge. Bodies still littered the floor around them from the fight, the smell of death starting to flood the narrow space.
Lira’s stomach quivered with equal parts disgust and frustration.
She didn’t believe in killing, didn’t believe in taking lives senselessly and sending the souls on to their next lives. That was for the Godstars to decide. Killing just wasn’t the way of Adhirans—many times growing up, Lira had heard her aunt recite the words that bound her people to a life of love and harmony. Peace, stretching as deep as the roots of the trees of Aramaeia. As tall as the Mountain of Rhymore.
But that was then, back on her home planet. This was now.
And life on the Marauder was a very, very different sort of thing. It had changed Lira little by little, marking her the way Andi marked death tallies on her swords. Lira doubted her family would even recognize the girl she had become in recent years.
And besides, these fallen Patrolmen around Lira hadn’t been killed by her hands. Andi, Breck and Gilly, sure. Lira aided them in bringing down their opponents. What happened after that was for the other girls to decide.
This was their ship. Their home. The Patrolmen had invaded it, threatening their hard-won freedom.
And as much as Lira’s old self frowned upon her to think it...those Patrolmen had deserved what they got.
“Well?” Breck asked. “What’s the plan, Lira?”
“We wait,” Lira said. Because for once, her mind had drawn a blank. She’d never been separate from her captain on a mission. Never had to actually take up the title of Second-in-Command. Especially not with invaders on their ship. And especially not while in restraints.
“Like hell we wait!” Breck rasped.
Down below, the sound of laughing guards trickled up through the hole in the floor where the ladder stood.
Mountain of Rhymore, Lira thought. How can they actually be laughing at a time like this?
There was no humor in Andi being captured, a prisoner to Dextro Arez somewhere on one of the lower decks, separated from her crew and facing the stars knew what. Even now, Lira could feel the hole in her chest where Andi was missing. Like a stitch had come loose in her heart, and soon she might unravel. The other girls, too.
Blood relation or not, Andi was part of their family. And families were never meant to be torn apart.
Lon would agree with that statement, Lira’s old self whispered from the back of her mind.
She shook that whisper away. This wasn’t about Lon. This wasn’t about the past. This was about here and now.
About getting free.
They would get out of this. Wouldn’t they? Lira racked her brain, searching for a solution, a way out. But she came up empty each time.
Gilly sighed. “I’m losing feeling in my ass, you guys. I need to move.”
“Don’t say ass, Gil,” Breck chided.
“But you called Dex one!”
“That’s because it’s his name. Along with brainless bastard and soulless shite and...”
The girls’ words trailed off as Lira retreated back into her mind. It was a silent place, calm and controlled. Just like her hands guiding a ship’s throttle, nothing but space and stars spread out before her.
With her eyes closed, her head leaning back against the cool metal, Lira cycled through the timeline of today’s events, wondering where she’d gone wrong. Wondering how she could have saved the crew from this fate. If only she’d flown the ship with more finesse. If only she’d figured out a way to enhance the rear thrusters or shed more weight from the cargo bay or...
She clenched her fists. The blue scales scattered across the surface of her arms and neck began to glow a deep purple, shedding light into the cramped space. Steam rose from her skin as the heat intensified.
An emotion that sidled up against the hatred like an old, cherished friend. Lira hadn’t felt anger in months. She’d always worked to control it, because deep emotions like anger led to a reaction in her blood, and that reaction led to Lira burning holes in her clothing as the scaled patches on her skin got hotter.
Lira’s brother’s voice slipped into her mind again. Anger is never your friend, little bug.
Damn the ache in her chest that came with it. Why was it always Lon’s words that accompanied her in her darkest moments? Reminding her of home. Reminding her of another past failure.
She focused back on the issue at hand.
“We need that Soleran ice mare who tried to eat Andi’s throat with her teeth a few months ago,” Gilly said. “These cuffs would be nothing to her.”
“The ice mares eat people, Gilly,” Breck said. “Not metal.”
Lira sighed. If only the cuffs on their wrists were made of rope. Then she could burn her way out of them and tear through the barrier of Patrolmen below with her bare hands.
She winced as her scales heated to a boiling point.
“Lir,” Gilly said, the light from Lira’s scales illuminating her worried face. “It’s okay. We’ll figure this out.”
“She’s right,” Breck added. “Just...calm down, before you exhaust yourself. The last thing we need right now is to lose you, too.” She plastered on a smile. Her teeth glowed a ghostly purple from Lira’s light. “Andi will be fine. She’s smart. And Dex is...”
“An ass,” Gilly said with a wicked little grin.
Despite everything, Lira laughed.
Lon would love this child. If they ever got out of this, maybe someday Lira would introduce the two of them.
“So what now?” Breck asked, drawing Lira’s attention back to her. The gunner’s nose dripped blood from both nostrils. One of the Patrolmen had gotten brave and slammed her face with a rifle butt. He was now unconscious, thanks to Lira’s rapidly bruising fist.
“We wait,” Lira said again, as her skin cooled, as she locked the anger back into herself and buried it deep. “There is no plan other than patience. Because if we move, Dextro’s men will put a bullet in Androma’s brain. And then we will be the cause of our own captain’s death.”