An Army of One Sample

Please enjoy a sample from Born to Be Mine from Lexa Luthor.

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Chapter 2

The shuttle anchored itself to the hangar’s floor and the overhead canopy hissed as it opened for its weary passengers. For a beat, they remained silent and motionless inside the shuttle.

Charlie sighed and said, “We have to get up.” She and Sumner had remained entangled in each other during the ride back to the Betty May. Neither of them spoke, at least not aloud. For as warm as their connection was, it also held uncertainty about their future. Without the Spirit of Kalatas inside Sumner, the challenge of defeating the Sworne could be next to impossible. Charlie considered whether Sumner had gone through the descension process; the legend defined descension as dying, not a forced separation. Somehow the Sworne’s technology separated Sumner from Kalatas, blocking them from one another. A shiver raced down Charlie’s back, but she refocused on the current problems, including leaving the shuttle and caring for Sumner.

“We have to get up,” she repeated, more for herself than Sumner. Charlie loosened her arms and sensed Sumner stirring too.

Sumner latched onto the back of the bench with one hand, lifted herself, and pulled her body toward the stern of the shuttle.

Charlie sat up and scrubbed her face. From the corner of her eye, she caught Sumner sliding off the aft. There was a distinct thump that charged Charlie to life. She hopped out of the shuttle and raced around to the stern where Sumner was half-slumped against the vessel.

Sumner gripped one of the shuttle’s fins and struggled to remain somewhat upright. Her other hand was pressed flat against the floor while her legs were stretched out in front of her. She was bloody in the face, eye swollen shut, and hair a tangled mess. Her movements were similar to a drunk, and one eye was now glassy compared to earlier. “Ch-Charlie, I…” She hesitated and took a deep breath.

“I’ve never seen you like this.” Charlie had a deepening frown and her heart skidded in her chest. She glanced at the black disc, which had a blue light on it. Earlier in the ship she hadn’t noticed the light illuminating on the disc. Reaching, she fought with the urge to tear it free before she made it worse.

Sumner noticed Charlie’s intent and covered the disc on her neck. Her nails curled into the edge of it and started to pull, but the blue light turned red.

Joh, don’t—” Charlie yelped when white sparks raced out from the disc like a spiderweb and covered Sumner’s body. She latched onto Sumner without thought, then the jolts of electric energy transferred to her. Much to her relief, the Galactic Hammer absorbed the electricity and added it to the suit’s power source, but that didn’t help Sumner, as she collapsed against the shuttle and slid to the floor. Charlie righted her Alpha, who groaned and, thankfully, continued to breathe. “Let’s not do that again,” she whispered in a shaky voice.

Sumner rolled her head, blinked once, and then closed her eyes.

“I need to get you to the med bay.” Charlie snaked her arms around Sumner and pulled her away from the shuttle. She shifted and prepared to lift Sumner bridal style, but Sumner gripped Charlie’s plated arm.

Joh. I will on-only be c-carried upon my death.” Sumner attempted to move her legs, but Charlie halted her. She gave a pathetic growl.

“Oh krafka. Save your Alpha posturing for someone who is affected by it.” Charlie stood with Sumner in her arms. The Galactic Hammer made it simple; Sumner was weightless. She half expected Sumner to argue again, but there was no other protest. Charlie bit her bottom lip in hopes to stave her growing concerns about Sumner’s current state. With fire in her steps, she left the shuttle bay and weaved through the ship toward the medical bay.

“Captain, I will send out Little Betty to retrieve the rest of the pack in five minutes,” Betty May’s voice echoed through the corridor.

Tah, Betty May.” Charlie suspected the shuttle needed a brief recharge before its next journey. “Have you found a remote spot to land?”

Ja, Captain. Should we head there now?”

Charlie considered the request. “Is it far?” She adjusted Sumner in her arms and allowed the conversation to keep her distracted from the major issue of Sumner’s health. Once they made it to the medical bay, the equipment would help.

Joh, it is about ten minutes from our current location.”

Coming to the medical bay, Charlie found the door was already open for them. “Then let’s head there.” She went to the closest bed and helped Sumner onto it.

Ja, Captain.”

Groaning, Sumner settled onto her back and tilted her head to one side. “I have never felt this way.”

Charlie took one step back and ordered the battle suit to disengage from her body, which meant the nanolites would extract themselves from her brain. “Tell me what you’re feeling.” She hoped the information could help her evaluate and handle Sumner’s situation.

“My muscles are extremely sore and my joints throb. My mind is fuzzy.” Sumner closed her eyes. “I am drained of any energy.” Her symptoms were no surprise to Charlie, who was waiting for the nanolites to extract themselves. “I have fought in battles but have never felt this way.”

“You’re being drugged,” Charlie explained and groaned as the nanolites withdrew from the back of her head. “Like Melissa was,” she said and rubbed her brow. Now separated, the Galactic Hammer started to repack itself toward Charlie’s back.

Sumner touched the spot near the disc but refrained from triggering it again. “I pray that Raine will know how to remove it.”

“She’s pretty smart,” Charlie said and took off the pack. She set it aside, then neared Sumner again. “I want to get rid of your jacket and sword.” She wanted to handle the wounds before the others came aboard. “Betty May, can you turn up the heat in the med bay, krafka?” With Sumner’s help, they were able to remove the blood-soaked and dirty jacket, and she dropped it on the floor near the battle suit. Charlie removed the Sword of Kalatas next, mindful to touch only the sheath. After she placed the sword on the jacket, she went to one of the countless drawers along the wall.

“You and Raine met on the Liberator?” Sumner asked. Her voice was rough and carried weariness that Charlie felt in her bones.

Ja.” Charlie grabbed a pair of X-ray glasses. The symptoms that Sumner was facing were far too similar to what happened to Melissa, and it formed a heavy ball in her gut. I swear, if they put a bomb in her, I will go to their galaxy and destroy their planet with all of them on it.

“Why were you and Raine selected for the Liberator?” Sumner stared toward Charlie, but her eye was unfocused despite the conversation. Their discussion seemed necessary to keep Sumner aware and focused.

“I wouldn’t say we were selected,” Charlie replied. She put on the glasses after activating them and waited for the lenses to come to life. Once her view switched to X-ray, she studied Sumner’s stomach and chest area first. With a heavy exhale, she found nothing foreign inside her Alpha. She then began to X-ray Sumner’s entire body from head to toe, checking for fractured or broken bones. “Our parents were selected.”

“Then why were they not on the ship?” Sumner moved her hand and touched Charlie’s hip.

After a sigh, Charlie noted the two cracked ribs on Sumner’s side. She shifted toward Sumner’s lower body and said, “Because they were adults.” Coming around to the other side, she pushed on Sumner’s left side and flinched from Sumner’s low hiss. “Perka gi.” Sumner’s ribs were fine on this side. When she looked down at Sumner’s neck, the glasses revealed the disc’s inner workings, but that was of little help to Charlie. She prayed that Raine could make sense of it.

After removing the glasses, Charlie said, “I’m going to take care of your wounds.” She bit her lip and called, “Betty May, can you perform a few scans on Kal? Make sure she doesn’t have any other internal damage that the X-ray isn’t showing.”

Ja, Captain.” From overhead, a platform with various tools and equipment that Betty May was controlling lowered toward them. “The shuttle has departed.”

Tah,” Charlie responded. She returned the glasses and collected a few items she’d need to take care of Sumner’s wounds. The earlier discussion about her and Raine’s selection for the Liberator sparked a roiling burn in her belly. Those memories were old but never gone. Like her sister, Charlie was not overly fond of her days on the Liberator. There were good moments buried under the ugly days. Coming back, she placed the supplies on a rolling tray and brought everything to Sumner. “Do you want to take off your shirt or should I cut it?” They had a few articles of clothing for Sumner in their quarters.

“I can remove it.” Sumner was slow to sit up, and Charlie helped her. She groaned halfway through when pulling her shirt over her head. Charlie had to peel it away and tossed it aside. Sumner laid back down, revealing the damage to her upper body.

Charlie clenched her teeth and glared at the bruising. There were a few minor burn spots from laser guns, and small bloody patches that dotted her body. Charlie started with the wound along Sumner’s temple. As she worked, she returned to the earlier conversation in hopes it would keep Sumner awake. “After my government captured the starship from the Sworne, they didn’t have a lot of time to put supplies on the ship. Originally, they planned to take several thousand people, but they ran out of time.”

“They made cuts,” Sumner said and closed her eyes.

Ja.” Charlie finished patching the head wound and worked her way lower, checking each injury. With minor relief, she noted the watch she’d given Kal was still ticking. “By the time my mom and I arrived at the base, they had already made the decision to cut the passenger manifest. The government said only children were being taken, making it sound like a noble thing.” She caught Sumner’s low grunt but remained focused on her task. “In reality, kids have smaller mouths to feed, are easier to control, and fit really well into tiny holes.” Bile rose in Charlie’s throat, but she fought it down with a heavy swallow. Her thoughts shifted to her sister, who had a worse experience with the manifest cuts. “They didn’t save every kid, though.”

Sumner turned her head in Charlie’s direction, but with her eye so swollen Charlie knew she couldn’t really see her, yet it didn’t matter. Their connection was full of curiosity to learn more.

With a grouse to Sumner’s intrigue, Charlie caved and then elaborated on the exodus from Earth. “There were some families with more than one child or children under the age of five. I got lucky because I was an only child and had just turned five.” She nibbled on her lip while she applied ointment to several wounds she cleaned a minute ago. “If a family had two or more kids, the government would select the most useful, whether it was age, maturity, intelligence, or skills.” She dragged her fingers through her hair and whispered, “They tried to make Raine’s mother choose between Raine, her sister, and her brother, but Raine’s mother refused to pick and wanted them all to remain on Earth.”

“They chose Raine for her intelligence,” Sumner concluded with a deep rumble.

Ja. Raine tried to convince them to take her siblings over her, but they ignored her pleas.” Charlie wiped her face before the few tears fell too far. “Anyway, the entire manifest was bullshit. The only reason anyone was placed on the manifest was because they were involved with the government. It made it a lot easier to ‘save’ people they knew from a file folder.” She huffed, closed up the tube, and returned it to the tray. “My father was an astronaut and my mother a scientist for the government. Raine’s mother was a senator and a complete badass.”

Sumner released a deep breath and said, “I am unsure what decisions I would make in the heat of such destruction.”

“I hope you don’t have to.” Charlie nudged the tray aside and considered such a fate for Kander. Unlike Earthlings, the Kalmar couldn’t survive long-term without their planet and their gods. Perhaps it was plausible that a fraction of Kalatas could survive through Kal after the planet’s destruction? Several times Kal had told her that Kalatas was Kander.

“Captain, I have completed the scans. I do not detect any signs of internal bleeding or other trauma,” Betty May reported. After a pause, she added, “I am preparing to land the ship.”

Tah for the help, Betty.” Charlie touched her Alpha’s bare shoulder and said, “I’m going to get a device for your eye.” She put away the other items, then collected a handheld piece of medical equipment and powered it on her short walk back to Sumner’s side. “This thing is called a heal-all. It’ll reverse the swelling, but it’ll be a little cold.” She half expected Sumner to refute the help from the medical technology and waited for any protest. “Are you ready?”

Ja.”

Charlie was grateful Sumner was allowing her to use it. The device could heal Sumner’s other minor injuries, but she knew Sumner’s Alpha pride would deny the assistance. At least she would be able to give Sumner back her full vision. “Close your eyes for me.” With a steady hand, Charlie held the flush end of the device against Sumner’s swollen, dark eye and pressed the button. The heal-all hummed low, and the end near Sumner’s eyes started to glow a soft white.

Sumner gritted her teeth and gave a growly sound but otherwise remained still. Within a few minutes, the enflamed skin calmed and retreated. Then the darkness faded until her skin was tan again.

Pulling away the heal-all, Charlie shut it off and waited for Sumner to open both eyes. She blew out a small breath when two green orbs revealed themselves. “How’s your vision?”

“Normal,” Sumner replied in a rough voice.

“Good. I can use this on your other wounds,” Charlie offered, but as she suspected her Alpha denied the assist. She noted the disc’s light was off. “How are you feeling?”

“Better. I’m not as lethargic.”

Charlie nodded and assumed the disc had finished injecting whatever shit into Sumner’s body to sedate her. She held back her thoughts until Raine could confirm or deny it. After returning the heal-all, she put a fresh blanket over Sumner and then grabbed a stool. She wheeled it over, sat on it, folded her arms against the side of the bed, and rested her forehead against her arms. “The shuttle should be here soon,” she muttered and closed her eyes.

Sumner shifted, then threaded her fingers in her human’s hair. “Charlie,” she whispered and combed her fingers through messy strands.

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Charlie sensed her Alpha’s desire to discuss what happened today, but she wasn’t ready. She was holding herself together until she could get Sumner to bed for the night. Tomorrow would be a better day.

“Then tell me what happened to your hair,” Sumner said and raised a few short locks.

Charlie groaned first before sighing and saying, “That dickhead grabbed me by my hair, so I just cut it off to get free.” Sumner ran her fingers through Charlie’s hair, scraping her nails across Charlie’s scalp. “I’ll deal with it later when we get back to Barrik.”

“Captain, the shuttle is entering the hangar,” Betty May announced in the medical bay. “Shall I request Lady Raine to come to the med bay?”

Ja, krafka.” Charlie raised her head and looked at Sumner, who appeared more aware now, but she knew the disc would release another round of drugs into Sumner’s system. When the door opened, Raine and Andren entered, but it was Kaden who barreled across the medical bay and launched into Charlie’s lap. “Hey,” she cooed in English to her locke.

Kaden whined and nuzzled into her neck.

“Freaked you out, too, huh?” Charlie ran her hands all over Kaden and offered her several kisses to the head.

Kaden shifted on Charlie’s lap and placed her paws on Sumner’s side, which triggered Sumner to hiss.

“Gentle,” Charlie said to Kaden and hooked her arm through Kaden’s paws. She sadly smiled when Kaden licked Sumner’s palm once.

Turen, Charlie,” Andren greeted before she moved closer to Sumner. “I’m relieved to see you again, Kal.”

“And I you,” Sumner said with a barest of smiles.

Raine came around to the other side, bent over, and studied the disc attached to Sumner’s neck. She raised a hand but paused when Charlie spoke up.

“Don’t touch it.”

Raine peered over at her sister and frowned. “Rigged, huh?”

Charlie nodded. “It’s pretty nasty.” She shifted on the stool so that Kaden was more comfortable in her lap. “From what I can tell, the little light turns blue when it’s administering a sedative to Kal. It turns to red if you try to remove it.” She swallowed and added, “I think it’s also keeping Kal separated from the Spirit of Kalatas.”

Raine cut her attention to Sumner’s face and frowned before she asked, “How are you feeling?”

“I’m better now, but unsure how long it will last. It comes and goes in waves.”

“Makes sense.” Raine retrieved a stool too, brought it over to her earlier spot, and sat down with her pack in her lap. She retrieved the X-ray glasses from the pack, powered them up, and put them on before placing the pack on the floor.

“How do you think it’s possible for them to separate Kal from the god spirit with that stupid thing?” Charlie asked her sister, needing the distraction.

“I’m not sure.” Raine bent over and tilted Sumner’s head away so she could see better. She hesitated when Sumner gave a soft growl.

Perka gi,” Sumner said and cleared her throat. Her Alpha nature disliked being forced to expose her neck to Raine. It was a submissive posture even though it wasn’t Raine’s intent.

“You’re not going to bite me, right?” Raine asked in a playful tone. She ignored both Sumner and Andren’s soft huffs. “Try to relax.” Leaning in more, she came closer and ignored Sumner’s rumbling.

Charlie stretched out an arm and clasped Sumner’s hand. The gentle stroking of her thumb over Sumner’s knuckles seemed to sooth her Alpha.

“I think even touching it will activate the disc’s defensive response.” Raine sighed, straightened, and removed the X-ray glasses. “But I need to get inside it,” she muttered and stared at it for a minute.

Squeezing hands, Charlie waited for Raine to work through the issue. She prayed to Kalatas that Raine would be able to find a solution.

Jerking her attention to Andren, Raine asked, “Can you run to my shop and collect that nanolite canister? Krafka.”

Andren nodded and hurried out of the medical bay. It would take her a few minutes to grab the item from Raine’s shop, which was attached to the shuttle bay.

Raine winked at her sister and explained her idea. “I have a few ounces of nanolite fluid left. I think I can use them to get inside the disc and hopefully deactivate it.”

“Earlier you stated that touching it will activate its defenses,” Sumner said, then her lips turned downward.

Ja, but I’m talking about going in through the underside.”

Charlie opened her mouth once, closed it for a beat, and traced out the details of Raine’s plan. “You mean you’re going to inject the nanolites into Kal’s body and get them to travel into the disc?”

Ja.” Raine had a devious smile now and rubbed her hands together. “I mean, if the disc is injecting crap into Kal’s body, then that means the nanolites can also enter the disc through that same site. I bet they didn’t think to protect that area.” She tapped the side of her head and chuckled at her sister’s dumbfounded look. “Smart, right?”

“As long as it works,” Charlie replied and offered a hopeful smile.

“Oh, it’ll work.” Raine perked up when Andren returned, having jogged to Raine’s shop. With the canister in hand, Raine went to the wall of medical equipment and supplies. She studied each cupboard until she found what she needed and retrieved a needle. On her casual stroll back to the bed, she extracted the nanolites from the canister and into the syringe.

“So, you’re just going to inject those into Kal, then what?” Charlie needed more details and pinned Raine with a hard look. It was enough to give Raine pause and not inject Kal without consent.

Raine sank onto the stool and placed the needle into the canister for the moment. She looked between Sumner and Charlie while she explained her plan. “Once the nanolites are inside Kal, I can control them with the techbit. I’ll direct them to the disc, get inside, and disable it.”

“Are you certain you can disable it?” Sumner asked and held Raine’s gaze.

Ja.” Raine clutched the canister to her stomach and canted her head. “It’ll take a little time for them to move into the device. They’ll be able to access the disc’s hardware and maybe even the software.” She glared at the dangerous device attached to Sumner’s neck. “I’ll get it off.”

Sumner rumbled low and turned her head toward Charlie. Their connection sparked with concern due to Sumner’s hesitation about using more tech. But Charlie was confident in her sister’s abilities, skills, and intelligence. The Sworne had advanced technology, and Raine had worked with Sworne technology when they lived on the Liberator. Using their bond, Charlie reassured her Alpha that it was safe for Raine to proceed with the nanolites. From the corner of her eye, she saw her sister’s curious expression after Charlie’s unspoken conversation between her and Sumner.

After a soft sound, Sumner returned to Raine and said, “I trust you, Raine.” Her words brought on a beaming smile from Raine.

Tah, Kal.” Raine seemed prepared to say more, but her smile broke. She leaned closer and whispered, “That blue light is on.”

Vuk!” Charlie stood and peered around her Alpha’s chest, glaring at the relit disc. She cut her attention to Sumner’s features, which were going a bit glassy again. “You better hurry, Rae, before our chance getting access to the disc is gone.”

Raine muttered a curse under her breath, hopped off the stool, and brought the needle near Sumner’s neck. “This’ll sting.” Not waiting for confirmation, she pierced the flushed skin with the tip and hastened to inject the few ounces of liquid. She handed the needle to Charlie, who held on to it for the moment. Raine fished out her techbit from her rear pocket and asked, “How long has the blue light stayed on in the past?”

“A few minutes or so,” Charlie replied. “I wasn’t really paying attention.” Shaking her head, she whispered, “Maybe five minutes.”

Sumner groaned and then her grip on Charlie’s hand went slack while her eyes rolled upward. Similar to last time, their connection became hazy and rather unclear as the drug started to take hold. Charlie bottled her initial panic and pleaded with her sister for help.

Biting her lip, Raine moved her fingers faster than the Flash and stared at the techbit’s screen. “I already preprogrammed all the nanolites to work with my techbit because of the Galactic Hammer. Luckily I didn’t need all of the nanolites for the suit.” She nibbled on her lip, went quiet, and shifted her attention to the disc. “They’re moving toward the disc. It should only take a minute.”

“If the light turns off, then we have to wait until the next cycle?” Andren asked and folded her arms.

“Exactly.” Raine glanced at Andren and said, “We’re assuming that when the disc is injecting the sedative there’s an open entrance. There could still be access into the disc once the disc has completed its injection cycle, but I’d rather not take a chance.”

“The Celestial Fates only know what that damn sedative is doing to Kal long-term,” Charlie concluded aloud. Andren squeezed her shoulder in silent support, but Charlie remained focused on Sumner. There were many unanswered questions about the disc and the technology, especially concerning Sumner and the Spirit of Kalatas. But the worst was the bleeding of their connection, as if the disc wanted spiritual control over them. Charlie wiped the moisture from her cheeks and continued to hold on to Sumner’s cool hand.

“Okay, we’re in,” Raine declared and started typing on the techbit again. She switched on a holo screen that showed a program language. It was foreign to Charlie, but to Raine it was nothing more than science and math. “The nanolites are attempting to access the software through the injection mechanism.” After another minute, she was humming and typing on the techbit. “The blue light is off. How are you feeling, Kal?”

Sumner blinked once and continued to stare at the ceiling as if under a spell. She shifted when Charlie stood and touched her shoulder.

Turen,” Charlie whispered and smiled at her Alpha. An ounce of relief settled in Charlie when Sumner focused on her. There was recognition and a stirring in their link. “How are you feeling?”

Sumner groaned and whispered, “Confused.” She tried to sit up but Charlie pushed her down with little effort. After a grunt, she stared at Charlie with knitted eyebrows.

“You have to stay still for me,” Charlie said and squeezed Sumner’s shoulder. She offered a reassuring smile in hopes it would ease Sumner. “I know everything is confusing, but you’re safe here.”

Nodding, Sumner settled into the medical bed and turned her attention to Raine. For a long minute, she stared at Raine as if she were a ghost before asking, “Can you remove the disc?” Her features were less disoriented but her voice was rough.

Ja.” Raine flashed a smile at Sumner and didn’t hesitate with her work on the techbit. “Just relax and let the genius do her magic.” She gave Sumner a wink.

Charlie shook her head and said, “I’m going to get you some water.” She withdrew from Sumner and went to the far wall where there were a few sinks and overhead cupboards. Kaden followed her and remained close by. When she returned with a mug of water, Sumner drank it in two big swallows. Charlie set the cup on the rolling tray that had the medical supplies and reclaimed the stool. “How was everyone when you left Clabonne?” She looked at Andren.

“Many were injured from the battle,” Andren replied and folded her arms. She looked between Charlie and Sumner while she spoke about the situation before she and Raine left in the shuttle. “Gaveston had taken charge. The injured were being gathered and cared for while those well enough were sweeping through Clabonne.”

“Okay, I think I figured it out,” Raine cut into the conversation and smiled big at the group. “So, this line of code here”—she pointed at a long paragraph of strange symbols that were unrecognizable to them—”is telling the disc to inject Kal after a certain amount of time. The next line says how much sedative to inject.” Her finger continued to travel along the coding. She muttered a few times, then said, “Here’s what we need, though. This starts the coding for the tampering response.”

Charlie perked up at the news and asked, “Can you switch off the tampering mode?”

Ja.” Raine was typing again and poking out her bottom lip.

“You can read what that says?” Andren asked after she came to Raine’s side.

“More or less.” Raine remained focused on her task, leaning even closer to the holo screen. “The Sworne are using updated software language compared to what was on the Liberator. It’s like going from C++03 to C++17.”

Andren looked over at Charlie and lifted an eyebrow for help. Charlie shrugged in response.

“It’s software language back on Earth,” Raine muttered and paused between typing. She stared at the holo screen, then tapped one last key and looked at Sumner. After a low yelp from Sumner, Raine cringed and hit a few buttons on her techbit harder than normal. “My mistake!”

“Raine!” Charlie latched onto Sumner, who vibrated against the table after a brief electrical shock from the disc.

Perka gi!” Raine touched Sumner’s bare forearm that poked out from the blanket. “That was a fifty-fifty chance because I didn’t recognize that new symbol.” She sighed and patted Sumner’s arm before she returned to the program. She offered another apology and hit a different key. “There, that should do it.”

“Are you certain?” Andren asked and looked over at her ruler.

Raine grinned at Andren and said, “You can test it by touching the disc for me.”

Andren frowned and crossed her arms. “I have been your test subject a lot lately.”

Raine chuckled but went serious and touched the disc without hesitation. She beamed when it remained passive. “Bingo,” she whispered before going back to her techbit.

“Can we take it off now?” Charlie asked and stretched her arm across Sumner’s body. She was ready to be finished with the stupid, tormenting tech. But Raine’s warning glance made her withdraw and wait.

“I’d rather shut it down. I think that’ll ensure it disengages from Kal’s body rather than us forcing it out of her skin and muscle.” Raine was quiet for a few minutes, peeking at the disc on occasion.

“How did you learn to read their language?” Andren asked after the drawn-out silence.

“It’s not their speaking language,” Raine replied and frowned at something on the holo screen. “I learned their software language while we were kids on the Liberator.”

“Raine was unofficially in charge of one of the stations in the Engineering Department,” Charlie told Andren. “She spent a lot of time learning the hardware and software that operated the engines and fuel system.”

Andren gave a soft rumble and shifted her attention to Sumner. “We are fortunate, then.”

Charlie agreed with her guard’s assessment. She studied Sumner, too, and clenched the larger hand in hers. Through their connection, she sent calming energy to her Alpha and promised that they could rest soon. Today’s events had pushed them to a new limit. A soft, mechanical hiss caught her attention. She gazed over toward Raine and the disc.

Raine’s right arm shot out and caught the disc as it fell from Sumner’s neck. She gave a triumphant cheer and flipped it in her hand. Andren had a proud smile and clasped Raine’s shoulder. She was prepared to congratulate Raine, but was cut off by Sumner’s sharp inhale.

Scrambling to her feet, Charlie pushed away the stool, which startled Kaden. She yelped when a large, black flame swept over Sumner’s entire body, as if a dam’s gate opened. A soft roar followed it, then it faded into Sumner and was gone.

“What the hell was that?” Raine whispered and stood a step back from the medical bed.

“The Spirit of Kalatas,” Andren replied with wonder in her eyes.

That was the Spirit of Kalatas?” Raine looked from Andren to Charlie, who was mirroring Andren’s nod. She blew out a shaky breath and said, “That was totally like Imhotep from The Mummy movies.”

Oh, please it’s not like that,” Charlie argued in English and ignored her sister’s chuckle. She shook her head at Raine’s raised eyebrow and ability to relate everything to science fiction and fantasy movies from Earth. Cupping her Alpha’s cheek, she waited for Sumner to open her eyes, and smiled when two glowing emeralds stared back at her. “Better now?”

“Better.”

Charlie shivered from the power and deepness that returned to her mate’s voice again. It then settled between her thighs, leaving her with a slight throb. Now is not the time to get turned on after such a shitty day. It was obvious that Kal had returned to them. Charlie held her smile. A part of herself was distraught about Sumner receding to the background yet again. “I’m glad,” she said and watched how the color returned to Kal’s skin.

“Welcome back, Kal,” Andren said and smiled.

Tah.” Kal shifted her attention to Raine and revealed a genuine smile. “Tah, Raine, for returning the Spirit of Kalatas to me.”

Raine pocketed her techbit and smiled at Kal. “Motah. That’s what a pack is all about.” They had somehow indeed formed a pack between the five of them, binding them together. Charlie was grateful they had one another, each with their love for the other.

Ja, that is true,” Kal agreed.

“Now I get to figure out this new torture device.” Raine tossed the disc in the air and caught it, turning it over in her hands. “I can’t imagine how they managed to disconnect the Spirit of Kalatas with this little thing.”

“I would love to beat it with a baseball bat after today,” Charlie said in disgust. “But we need it.”

Raine sighed and nodded. She went over to her pack and tucked it in there for later. “I’ll look into what makes it tick.”

Kal began to rise, but Charlie latched onto her shoulder again and slowed her. The blanket fell from her upper body, revealing her bruised skin and wrapped breasts. “Whoa. You have to be careful.”

“I am better,” Kal said and held Charlie’s gaze.

“I know, but you’re not a hundred percent.” Charlie sighed at the revived determination in her Alpha. She was relieved to see it, but she disliked Kal’s sudden burst of effort to move like normal. “Let me get your shirt.”

“What happens now?” Raine asked and reclaimed her stool with the pack between her arms.

“We return to Clabonne,” Kal replied and received her shirt from Charlie.

“But tomorrow,” Charlie cut in and dared Kal to argue with her. “Tonight we are resting here on the Betty May. We’ll fly back tomorrow to Clabonne.”

Ja, Captain,” Raine said in a playful tone.

Kal rumbled low, then pulled the shirt over her body and looked to Raine. “The captain has spoken then.”

Charlie rolled her eyes and glowered at both her sister and her Alpha. “I’m so glad you both have a sense of humor after such a fucked-up day.” She rubbed her brow after noticing a slight ache behind her forehead.

“It was a bad day, but we are okay and safe,” Andren said to the group.

“For now,” Charlie muttered in displeasure, but her shoulders fell when Kal hooked the back of her neck and massaged away the stiffness. Kaden was rubbing against her thigh, so she knelt and picked up her locke, who moved to Kal’s lap.

Kal welcomed Kaden into her space and petted Kaden a few times. “We should eat, then rest.”

Charlie heard the unspoken need in Kal’s words. They had exerted a lot of energy when fighting the Sworne by using the Spirit of Kalatas. Kal needed the nutrition to regenerate her body. Even Charlie was famished once she focused on her own stomach. “I can make something quick. It won’t be Gordon Ramsay–quality, but it’ll be decent.” She ignored the playful light to Kal’s eyes.

“Gordon Ramsay?” Andren asked and placed her hands on her hips.

“Oh, he was like the best chef on Earth,” Raine said with big eyes. “He had this one show called Hells—

“Raine,” Charlie interrupted and chuckled when her sister deflated. “We all need to eat and rest.” They had a long, bad day that had taken a lot from them. Little of it made sense right now, but she hoped after sleeping that they could understand the events and plan their near future. She also needed to curl her body around Kal and allow herself to feel whole again after nearly losing her true mate.

“You’re right.” Raine looked at Andren and said, “We should go clean up and meet them on the mess deck.” Even her exhaustion was starting to show by how she sat slumped on the stool.

“Come on, Kaden.” Charlie picked up her furry friend and placed her back on the floor. She helped Kal get off the bed, then handed her the jacket and sword. “Raine, do you want the suit?”

Ja, I’ll take it.” Raine hopped off the stool and seemed prepared to go, except Andren hooked her shoulder. She flinched and gave a soft hiss.

“I have to take care of your arm, remember?” Andren asked in a soft yet firm voice.

Charlie turned back to the pair and narrowed her eyes at her sister. “You’re hurt?” Back at Clabonne, Raine did have trouble with her arm. She wasn’t about to leave if Raine needed medical attention too.

“I’m fine.” Raine groused when Andren gave her a pointed look. “Okay, I’m not perfect, but I’ll be fine.”

“After I tend to your arm,” Andren said, then turned to Charlie and Kal. “We will meet you on the mess deck.”

“Are you sure, Andren?” Charlie ignored her sister’s grumbles and waited for an honest response from her guard. If she needed to stay and help, she would do so.

“I will handle your sister,” Andren promised and guided Raine back to the stool.

“You can use the heal-all.” Charlie pointed to the device in the transparent cabinet on the back wall. “Don’t be stubborn,” she said to her sister in final warning. Raine’s slight nod was enough for her to let go of the discussion and focus on Kal. “Are you okay to…” She allowed her unfinished question to hang in the air.

Ja.” Kal had slipped on her jacket and kept the sheathed blade in her hand. She moved at a slow pace toward the doors.

Charlie was leery and stayed close to Kal while Kaden trotted ahead of them and waited in the hallway. They passed through the doors, which sealed shut, blocking Andren and Raine’s view of them. Charlie sensed her Alpha’s collapse before Kal hit the floor. She wedged herself under Kal’s left side and snaked her arm around Kal’s waist from behind. “I gotcha.”

Kal was panting and leaned into Charlie for support.

“You’re not that much better, are you?” Charlie asked and peered up into worn features. She noted the sheen of sweat across Kal’s forehead, but it was better than the shivering from being cold.

Joh,” Kal whispered and took a deep breath. “I can still feel the sedative in my body.”

“It will take some time to work out of your system.” Charlie adjusted her position and waited until Kal had her arm across Charlie’s shoulders. “Maybe we should go to our quarters, then I’ll bring you dinner.”

Joh, I do not wish to seem weak in—”

“It’s Raine and Andren. They’ve seen you hurt and without the Spirit of Kalatas a few times. They know what you’ve been through today.” Charlie heard Kaden’s soft whine and click of her nails. She willed her Alpha to listen to her. “They don’t think you’re weak.”

“What we have been through today,” Kal said after a brief silence.

Charlie sighed and refused to discuss what happened today. “Come on. You’re going to our quarters, then I’ll bring you dinner.” She urged Kal forward and hooked Kal’s wrist that hung over Charlie’s shoulder. There was no further protest from Kal on their slow journey through the ship. Both of them were quiet and only the soft tap of Kaden’s nails filled the void. Their bond was a bit uneasy, yet warm and content for the most part. Charlie was in a better mental space for the moment, but it was because she had boxed away what happened to them today. It was enough to keep her going until she could unravel and face the scary truth.

The Sworne knew how to bottle up the Spirit of Kalatas like it was a pesky fly rather than the powerful flame of her great god.


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