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Her Instruments, Book 1
“We need to sabotage the engines,” Reese said. “So that it looks real.”
“Are you crazy?” Irine asked. “We won’t be able to run!”
“But they’re coming to the ship,” Kis’eh’t said. “If they arrive and discover our engines aren’t broken, they’ll figure out our real reason for sending the distress call.”
“So it has to be real,” Reese said. “Bryer, can you do it?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Good,” Reese said. “Go make it happen.”
The Phoenix loped out of the room. To the rest of them, Reese said, “We’re going to have boarders. What I’m worried about is that they’ll just shoot us all and haul the cargo away.”
“We’ll have to hide it,” Sascha said.
“Somewhere that’s locked,” Kis’eh’t said. “As locked as we can. Voice, at least.”
“More than voice,” Reese said. “Voice prints can be forced.”
A moment’s tense silence.
Irine said, “There’s a cabin that’s DNA-lockable.”
“There’s what?” Reese asked, incredulous. DNA-locking required voice prints, blood matches and iris checks, all from a conscious individual within a pre-set stress index. “I didn’t install a DNA lock anywhere.”
“I know,” Irine said. “I had it put in.” Her tail swished. “I leave it open almost all the time. But for an hour or two it’s nice to know you won’t run into us.”
Reese stared at her. “You have sex in it?”
“Where you can’t find us by accident,” Irine said. “I did it for you.”
And in a twisted Harat-Shariin way, it was a great gift, one that would have required the twins to float above their own acculturation long enough to realize just how deeply it disturbed Reese to know about typical Harat-Shariin family relationships.
“How big is it?” Reese asked.
“It’s the storage closet across from our room,” Irine said. “It’s big enough.”
“And it’s locked to… ”
“Me or Sascha.”
Reese set her hands on the table. “You or Sascha.”
“What are we waiting for?” Kis’eh’t said, getting to her feet. “We don’t have much time.”
“Go start moving the boxes,” Reese said to her.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Irine said once the door closed on the Glaseah. “You’re worried that I’ll give under pressure. Well, I won’t.”
Reese shook her head, but the Harat-Shar kept talking. “I’m not as soft as I act, I know. I might not be good with other people’s blood, but I’m pretty good with my own, I can handle it—”
“I’m not worried that you can’t handle it,” Reese said quietly. “I’m upset that you might have to. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Irine stopped, glanced at Sascha. They turned two sets of golden eyes to her. “We’re sure.”
Reese nodded. “Let’s get the boxes moved, then. Kis’eh’t was right about not having much time.”
The urgent fear infesting the Earthrise grew so intense Hirianthial could no longer remain asleep. He found himself staring at the cabinet while panicked thoughts careened against him, passing too swiftly for him to assign them to the appropriate person. They were so distracting it took him several minutes to understand that the reason he was staring at the cabinet was that he was on the clinic/lab floor, and the edges of the door weren’t furry, but blurred from tired eyes.
Allacazam didn’t object to him being awake, which was well; there was no way he’d fall back asleep with the ship in such turmoil. It was like closing one’s eyes while a hurricane tried to strip away the bedroom walls and windows. Instead, he tried gaining his feet and making his way to the sink to drink something. Bent over the water stream, Hirianthial wondered how long he’d been out. His entire body throbbed from the effort of remaining upright, and his limbs felt drenched with fatigue, too heavy to lift without tremendous effort. And his mental centers…
He couldn’t block the tumult out. He couldn’t even reliably distinguish between his own thoughts and the feelings rushing outside him, save by the mixed blessing that he was likely to be too tired for such emotional furor. He no longer felt shattered, but his emotional body was in the same state as his physical: too drained to respond to emergencies.
Perhaps it would be better to crawl back into the blankets and trust that no one would need him.
The door slid open for Kis’eh’t, who stopped abruptly at the sight of him.
“Oh… oh-no-no-no-REESE! WE FORGOT ABOUT HIRIANTHIAL!”
Hirianthial wobbled as the shout rang through him on every level, driving the thoughts from his head.
Reese popped up behind the Glaseah, the warm chocolate hue of her skin draining to a grayish brown. He wondered if she would faint. “Blood and death! Where are we going to put him? If they find him—”
‘They’ was accompanied by crisply imagined silhouettes, bulky shoulders, towering weapons, and then white teeth set in menacing grins.
“Can he walk?” Reese asked, then shook herself and said, “Can you walk? No, you have to run. We have to get you… IRINE! CAN YOU FIT SOMEONE IN THAT CLOSET?”
Distantly, “Are you crazy? We’ve barely fit in the boxes!”
Panic in waves now. Kis’eh’t said, “We could leave one of the boxes out and get him in there instead… ”
“No,” Reese said. “If they can get even one of the boxes, why would they bother to keep us alive for the rest?”
“I wish I had a better idea what you were discussing,” Hirianthial managed.
Their minds focused on him, though unfortunately not on the same tangent: Kis’eh’t thought he looked terrifyingly weak, too weak to stand up to pirates and slavers, and Reese was busy being angry that he wasn’t either not there at all or not invisible. She pointed a finger at him. “If I have to rescue you again, I will throw a sack of rooderberries at your queen! Do you have a weapon?”
“I thought you didn’t want us to carry weapons!” Kis’eh’t said.
“I have a knife,” Hirianthial said.
For once, both of them had a unanimous thought: a knife was totally inadequate, ridiculous, insane.
“That’ll have to do,” Reese said. “Kis’eh’t, you stay here with him. Maybe they won’t think to look for him.”
“Don’t leave me here!” Kis’eh’t exclaimed. “I can’t defend him!”
“I’ll stay,” Sascha said, showing up. “If Irine and I stay split up—” They can’t use us against one another.
Did he finish that sentence? Reese acted as if he did. “Good idea. Stay here—”
The ship bucked beneath their feet, tossing Reese against Kis’eh’t's lower back. Anger, adrenaline, panic, distress—he couldn’t sort it out from the feel of the floor moving and slid down next to the cabinet.
“Bryer’s done the engines,” Sascha said. “It won’t be long now. Go on, Boss!”
Reese nodded. “There’s a small chance we’ll be able to bluff our way out of this.”
“Ha,” Sascha said.
“But if not—” Reese eyed them, then said, “Come on, Kis’eh’t. Come be steady for me.”
“Aye, Captain,” Kis’eh’t said, and leaped after the human.
Sascha turned to him and squatted a fair enough distance that Hirianthial almost thought he could tell the difference between their ideas.
“You’re in a bad way,” Sascha said. “Can I help? Or at least not make it worse?”
“Explain what’s going on,” Hirianthial said. “I need to focus.”
“Turns out we accidentally signed up to be drug-runners for mob bosses,” Sascha said, backing away as Hirianthial forced himself to his feet again. “We decided to call Fleet by sending a fake distress call, but guess who answered it first.”
“I’d guess someone on the wrong payroll,” Hirianthial said.
“Worst part, it’s in Sector Andeka,” Sascha said. “We’re kind of thinking it’s all connected… the ring you busted up, this drug business. And they know that we’ve got an Eldritch on board.”
“So they want… the crystals. And me.”
“More,” Hirianthial began and lost his breath. He gathered it again and said, “More excitement than I planned for. This late in my life.”
“I’m just glad you’re alive so far,” Sascha said after his uncertainty solidified around the words. “We really thought you were going to die of whatever those crystals did to you.”
“They didn’t do anything to me,” Hirianthial said. “They merely died where I could feel it.” Water helped. He drank another handful from the tap. Had he even turned it off since staggering here? Probably not.
“Are you… are you going to be okay?”
“Yes,” Hirianthial said. “But I’m not yet.” He sighed and splashed his face.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been this scared,” Sascha said.
Hirianthial glanced at him and could barely see his features for the cold, compressed black lining around him. He recognized it: not the fluorescent spikes of panic or the mindless explosions of adrenaline-fueled terror, but the bitter stillness of facing one’s own mortality.
“I sympathize,” Hirianthial said after a moment. “But we’ll survive this.”
“And if we don’t?” Sascha asked.
“Then we’ll die,” Hirianthial replied.
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
It did, strangely—was that Sascha’s response?—no, truly, it was his own. “Surprisingly, yes.” Hirianthial double-checked, then nodded. “It does.” He laughed haltingly, fighting his ribs for every breath. “I never thought the sun would dawn again on that day.”
“But you’re not afraid,” Sascha said, his own black cold loosening.
“No,” Hirianthial said, and found that as surprising as the first. “No, if I must, I could die here.”
Sascha did not understand, but the puzzle distracted him from his fears. Well enough… the puzzle distracted Hirianthial as well—until the terror on the ship crested, carrying with it a set of new presences, hard, violent and cruel.
“They’ve arrived,” Hirianthial said.
We’re hopping on the roller coaster now, and not getting off until the end of the book! Hang on to your hats!
Mirrored from MCAH Online.