THE AKSELI and THE PURVELI were both nominated for Book of the Year!
— AUDIOFILE MAGAZINE
Aldebarian Alliance Book 2
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New York Times bestselling author Dianne Duvall brings readers the second stand-alone novel in a thrilling new sci-fi romance series full of action, humor, and happily-ever-afters.
Eliana's life has never been what one might term ordinary. At least, it hasn't been for a very long time. As a powerful Immortal Guardian, she spends her nights hunting and slaying psychotic vampires that most of humanity doesn't even realize exist. Then an opportunity arises that instantly makes her extraordinary existence seem downright boring. The leader of the Immortal Guardians asks her to guard a group of mortals who are embarking upon a voyage across the galaxy to the planet Lasara. How could she possibly say no?
In no time at all, Eliana is hurtling through space on board a Lasaran battleship and getting to know not one but two alien races. It's the most exciting adventure of her long life... until the ship is unexpectedly attacked. Amid the chaos and destruction that follow, she valiantly helps everyone she can before an explosion renders her unconscious. When Eliana awakens, she finds herself alone, floating in space, clad only in a spacesuit, with no ship in sight. Alone--that is--except for the warm, deep voice that carries over the comm in her helmet.
Commander Dagon and the crew of the Segonian battleship Ranasura respond to a distress call from their Lasaran allies and join a massive Alliance-wide search-and-rescue mission. He quickly achieves communication with a lone Earthling female and races toward her. Every time they speak, his fascination with her grows and he becomes more desperate to reach her before her oxygen supply runs out. Her strength, bravery, and humor entice him, even more so when she defies all odds and they meet in person.
As he and Eliana embark upon a quest to find her missing friends, a bond swiftly grows between them that deepens with every laugh and smile and tender touch they share. But they are not the only ones searching for Earthling survivors. When Eliana herself becomes the hunted and their enemies begin to close in, can the two of them fight their way to victory, or will their enemies take everything?
"Dianne is top notch in creating new life, love, and kick-ass warriors in everything she writes!... GRAB THIS BOOK! You will not be disappointed!"
"An Epic Adventure... Our heroine Eliana steals your heart with her spunk, her joy of adventure, and her love for Commander Dagon."
"I love this series from the ships and technology to the characters, camaraderie, humor and passionate romance."
"I adored this... Dagon and Eliana had terrific synergy. Eliana is a freaking delightful character, and you will laugh and cry with her... And the hero. Woohee!"
—Have Coffee Need Books
"This story was the bomb... I found myself transported to a fascinating world filled with danger, romance, humour and wonderful discoveries."
—Totally Addicted to Reading
"You'll laugh, you'll sniffle, you'll kick ass... no wait. That's Eliana. She'll kick ass while you cheer her on. You'll fall in love with Dagon and his crew. But most of all you will be entertained and ready for more."
—I'm a Voracious Reader
"We meet some amazing new characters aboard the Segonian ship... I am absolutely looking forward to more adventures in the Aldebarian Alliance."
"I was drawn into this story and remained hooked throughout.... Eliana displayed all the traits that I need a protagonist to have: resilience, intelligence and gumption. Plus she had me cracking up with laughter on numerous occasions."
Read the excerpt readers couldn't stop talking about
while they waited for the book to release.
Somewhere in the distance a voice spoke, dragging Eliana toward consciousness. She moaned as pain inundated her. The left side of her face and body burned as though flames seared it. Every time she drew in a breath, sharp spikes seemed to drive themselves into her rib cage.
Clenching her teeth, she kept her eyelids squeezed shut and hoped the agony would pass.
The voice spoke again. Male. His words incomprehensible.
"What?" she whispered, trying to make sense of his speech.
He addressed her once more, but she had no more luck deciphering his words.
"What?" she muttered again. "I don't . . ." Her thoughts remained muddled. "I don't understand. Do you speak English? I can't understand you."
A pause ensued. Then another male spoke, his voice deep and resonant. "This is Commander Dagon of the Ranasura. Our allies the Lasarans lost contact with the Kandovar and have enlisted our aid in searching for it. Are you from Earth?"
"From Earth?" she repeated. "Earth as opposed to where?" Her mind and body finally adjusted to the pain enough for her to open her eyes. When she did, her heart slammed against her broken ribs and sheer terror swept through her. "Oh shit."
Endless dark space stretched before her, stars twinkling in the distance. She glanced down.
"Oh shit!" And she was free floating through it in nothing but a baggy spacesuit and helmet. No ship. No escape pod. Just a freaking suit!
Her breath quickened. "Where . . . ?" She frantically looked around as much as she could and saw only a few jagged pieces of metal. "What the hell? What happened?"
"You are one of the Earthlings who was on board the Kandovar? You are from Earth?"
"Yes. I'm from Earth. What happened? Where the hell is the ship?"
Memory slowly returned. She remembered being on the Lasaran ship. She had been serving as one of the guards for the gifted ones who were traveling to Lasara. The journey was supposed to take thirteen months or thereabouts. She'd spent the first four immersing herself in Lasaran culture. It had been amazing. Then alarms had suddenly blared and the ship had begun to shake.
"Can you tell me where you are?" the man asked.
"No. Where's the ship? What happened? Are you Lasaran or Yona?"
"I am Segonian. We are allies of the Lasarans and received a distress call indicating one of their ships was attacked while passing through a qhov'rum."
A qhov'rum. Right. That was the wormhole-like tunnel that had been propelling them toward Lasara. "Where are they? Are they okay?" And how the hell had she gotten separated from everyone else?
"The Lasaran sovereign fears the ship was destroyed. The last data it transmitted indicated that escape pods were being deployed. But none have yet been recovered because they were flung out of the qhov'rum at different increments, scattering them across vast sectors of space. All allies of the Lasarans are currently searching for survivors."
Eliana stared through her clear visor. No escape pods surrounded her. "I don't see anything."
"We can lock onto your location if you activate the beacon in your escape pod."
"What escape pod?" she cried. "There is no escape pod. It's just me, floating here in a suit!" She didn't care for the strident note that entered her voice but couldn't help it. Panic was riding her hard.
A heavy pause ensued.
"You aren't in an escape pod?" he asked, his voice grim.
Rapid speech erupted, multiple males, conversing in another language.
The Lasarans had given each of the gifted ones and Immortal Guardians from Earth a universal translator implant that would enable them to decipher most alien languages. But Eliana's body had rejected it, so she'd had to wear one in her ear like an earbud.
She must have lost it in the chaos of the attack, because she couldn't understand a word these men were saying. "Hello?" she called, interrupting them.
The commander cleared his throat. "I wished to check the accuracy of my language translator. You are not in a pod? You are only protected by a suit?"
"And neither the ship nor any pods are within your view?"
"Right. There's nothing." Although her helmet did limit her view. "Hold on. Let me see if I can twist around and get a better—" As soon as she swiveled her hips in an attempt to turn around, agony shot through her right side, all the way up into her chest. "Ah! Shit!"
Resting a hand on her side, she held her breath and clenched her teeth.
"Earthling?" he said sharply. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." Maybe the pain would ease if she remained still.
"You are injured?"
"I'm fine," she gritted. But she could feel warm moisture creeping down her right arm, down her side, down her hip, and recognized the signs of bleeding.
"Eliana," she corrected. "My name is Eliana." Even in her current, terrifying circumstances, being called Earthling was just too weird.
"Are you injured, Eliana?"
She glanced down. "I don't know. I can't exactly open my suit and take a look, but—judging by the feel of it—I've had worse." Hunting and slaying psychotic vampires on a nightly basis could sometimes result in injuries that would prove fatal to ordinary humans. As an Immortal Guardian, however, she could usually recover from such in anywhere from minutes to a few hours . . . if she had a goodly supply of blood on hand.
He spoke softly to someone in that foreign language.
"What's happening? I can't understand you," she said.
"Because you have no beacon, we will have to determine your location by tracing your comm signal. Once we do that, we can come to you, but it will take time."
"How much oxygen do you have left?"
"I don't know. How do I find out?"
"On the left forearm of your suit, there is a flap you can pull back. Can you open it?"
Though the rest of the suit was baggy, the gloves that covered her hands were made of a stretchy material that reminded her of spandex and weren't too huge on her. She found a little flap on her left sleeve and pulled. It drew back as though stuck with Velcro, revealing an electronic screen about the size of a cell phone, bracketed by multicolored buttons. "Okay. Now what?"
"Press the blue button."
As soon as she did, a female voice spoke in that other language.
More muted conversation erupted.
"What did she say?" Eliana asked.
"You have the equivalent of twenty-six Earth hours of oxygen left."
That didn't sound so bad. She had worried she only had minutes left. "How far away are you?"
"We have not yet determined that," he said. "We are still tracing the signal."
"Oh. Okay." She had a sinking feeling that it wouldn't take this long for them to trace the signal if she were only a day away from them.
The men returned to their soft conversation. She was glad the commander left the line of communication open. She was trying very hard not to freak out, and hearing their calm voices helped.
She tried once more to remember the events that had landed her out here in the middle of nowhere. "We were attacked," she murmured.
"What?" the commander asked.
"We were attacked, like you said. I was with Ganix. I was trying to get him to help me talk one of the Yona soldiers into sparring with me."
"Sparring with you?" he asked, his voice hesitant, as though he wasn't sure he understood the word.
"Yes. Sparring means . . . fighting or engaging in battle."
"This Yona offended you?"
She laughed, then grunted when pain shot through her chest. "No. I meant fight with me as if we were training, not as if we were enemies. I had never met a Yona soldier until I boarded the Kandovar, and they really intrigue me. They're always so stoic, you know? I mean, they never exhibit any emotion. I've never met anyone like that before and was curious to see if that changed when they fought. Do they get angry? Do they get frustrated? Do they get excited, thrilled by the rush of battle? I was trying to get Ganix to help me talk one into sparring with me so I could find out when alarms started blaring. A voice came over the speaker, saying we were under attack. The ship began to take fire, and the situation degenerated quickly. Ganix told me I should get my people into escape pods in case the worst should happen. Apparently fighting while racing through a qhov'rum isn't easy. So I hauled ass to get my charges onto escape pods—"
"What are charges?"
"There were other women from Earth on the ship. I was one of their guards, tasked with keeping them safe. So once Ganix told me to get them to the escape pods, I hauled ass to get all my charges into the pods."
"Were you able to do so?"
"Yes." She'd had preternatural speed on her side and had deposited most of them in pods in the same time it would take a single Lasaran to settle into one. "Then I helped the Lasarans."
"You did not enter a pod with your friends?"
"No. I guess I should have. They were my top priority. But the ship's shields began to fail, and Lasarans were being injured. So I helped as many as I could reach the pods—"
"Even though the Lasarans were not your people?"
She paused. "Of course. It doesn't matter that they weren't my people. They were kind to me. And my friends. So I helped as many as I could." She frowned. "I would've helped more, but Ganix caught up with me and kept ordering me to get to a pod myself. Then there was an explosion and . . . some guy talking gibberish in my ear woke me up." She glanced down. "I wasn't wearing this suit when the attack happened. Ganix must have stuffed me into it while I was unconscious." He probably had tried like hell to get her to an escape pod, too. "I hope he's all right."
A moment of silence followed.
"I hope they all are, Eliana."
She liked the way he said her name.
"You're very brave."
A wry smile twisted her lips as she stared through the helmet's visor. "I don't feel very brave at the moment." She was actually scared shitless.
One of the other men spoke softly.
Though she couldn't understand what Dagon bit out next, the way he delivered it sounded suspiciously like a curse word.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
He cleared his throat. "We are having difficulty calculating how far away you are."
He sounded grim as hell. And she was going to go out on a limb and guess he didn't lie very often, because she had no difficulty determining he was doing so now.
"Bullshit. You've already calculated it. I can hear it in your voice. How long will it take you to reach me?"
"We will reach you as quickly as we can."
"What's your name again?" she asked.
"How long will it take you to reach me, Dagon?" Her heart pounded with dread as she awaited his response.
"You are farther away than we anticipated."
Don't panic, damn it. "How much farther? I can stretch the oxygen and make it last."
"No, you can't," he replied, his voice soft with sorrow.
"I can," she insisted. "I can slow my heart rate, slow my metabolism, and slow my breathing so I consume less oxygen. I can do it." Ordinary humans could not. But Immortal Guardians could, thanks to the symbiotic virus that infected them. She could actually slow her breathing and heart rate to such an extent that doctors would declare her dead.
"Lasarans sent us detailed information on Earthling anatomy so we would be able to render medical aid to any we found," he countered. "That information did not indicate that Earthlings are capable of such."
She swore silently. "I know. But not all Earthlings are alike. I'm different. I'm stronger. And I need you to trust me on this, okay? How long does the oxygen have to last for you to make it here?" She could do this. She would do this.
A sigh carried across the line. "It will take us one of your Earth months to reach you."
All breath left her lungs. "A month?" she repeated, head spinning with sudden dizziness.
His voice was full of regret when he answered. "Yes."
Tears burned the backs of her eyes, but she stubbornly blinked them back. "Well . . . damn. That's a long time." Too long. Even she couldn't make twenty-six hours of oxygen last thirty days.
"We are contacting other members of the alliance to see if any of their ships are closer to you."
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. "Thank you. I appreciate that." Her mind worked furiously. "In the meantime, would you maybe head my way and see if any of my friends or the Lasarans are somewhere between us? If I survived the attack in a suit, then some of those escape pods had to have made it, too, and they might be closer to you."
"We are already on our way to you and are traveling at top speed."
"Thank you." Even at top speed, they were still a month away. "How long can they survive in one of those pods?"
"The pods have enough oxygen and rations to sustain life for . . ." He muttered something in his language. "For two of your Earth months."
Relief rushed through her. "Good."
"They were designed in such a way to provide those inside with adequate time to either reach their chosen destination or locate a habitable planet on which they can seek shelter."
"My friends can't do that. They don't know how to pilot those things." The Lasarans had only schooled them on how to activate the distress call beacon, obtain enough rations to keep them alive, and how to use the weird space toilet inside it.
"As soon as we lock onto their beacon, one of my men can remote pilot the pods for them. The Lasarans have given us the override codes."
"Good." At least they would have a fighting chance.
Dagon fell silent once more. Every once in a while, she could hear him speak softly to the men on what she assumed was the bridge of his ship.
Fear kept trying to creep in and choke her. Eliana steadfastly pushed it back and turned her mind toward finding her friends.
A thought occurred to her. "Will talking to me keep you from receiving incoming communications from someone else or detecting distress beacons?" Though she had spent five months aboard the Lasaran ship, she still knew little about how one operated.
"No. My communications officer can continue to search for the others while we speak."
"Who is your comms officer?" she asked curiously.
"Can the other people on your bridge hear us talking?"
"Hey, Janek?" she called.
All background conversation ceased.
Despite the gravity of her situation, she laughed . . . then wished she hadn't when the pain in her side multiplied. "Being called Earthling is just too weird. Call me Eliana."
A pause ensued. "Yes, Eliana?"
"Were you the one who spoke to me before Dagon did?"
"Thank you for waking me."
Another pause. "You are welcome, Eliana."
"No matter what happens to me, please keep searching for my friends, okay? You all seem like good guys. So if I can't save them, I want you to."
"I am searching for them now," he assured her.
Eliana stared at the stars. She had twenty-six hours of oxygen, and Dagon's ship was a month away.
Correction. She had a little less than twenty-six hours of oxygen since she had been speaking to them for several minutes. "Dagon?"
"Yes?" he responded instantly.
"I'm going to try to slow my heart rate and sleep for a bit. Would you please keep the comms link open so I can hear you?" She was more afraid than she was letting on and didn't want to lose the connection to them even for a second, terrified she might not get it back. "You don't have to speak English or anything. I just . . ." Tears threatened once more, but she kept them from altering her voice. "It's never quiet where I'm from." Especially since she had preternaturally sharp hearing. "And I'm guessing deep space is completely silent." The last thing she needed was for that silence to close in and make her feel more alone.
"We will keep communications open," he agreed.
He had a nice voice. A very telling voice. She didn't have to see him to know that his inability to save her upset him.
Closing her eyes, she tried to clear her mind and block out the pain. The latter was pretty damn difficult. The peculiar symbiotic virus that infected her was healing what damage it could. The bleeding slowed. One broken rib slowly shifted back into position in torturously small increments.
Eliana listened to the activity on Dagon's ship.
Her breathing slowed.
Her heart rate decreased.
And consciousness gradually slipped away.
Dagon stood in the center of a circular room. The only furniture in it was a padded bench that hugged the wall all the way around. Breath slow, he waited . . . and tried once more to turn his mind away from the Earth woman he had failed to save.
A flicker of movement drew his eyes to one side. The wall to his right seemed to shimmer faintly. Spinning, Dagon struck out with his sword and hit metal where there appeared to be none.
A curse filled the air, not his own.
He swung his weapon again and again, each time striking his invisible target. He straightened his free arm. The armor protecting it elongated into a chain that slipped down through his fingers and formed a heavy metal ball on the end. In battle, the ball would be covered in spikes. But now it was smooth.
He swung his sword, then spun and let the ball fly in an arc.
His target grunted when the ball hit.
Barus flickered into view as his camouflage failed. Bending forward, he breathed heavily through his mouth. "I'm glad you didn't hit me any lower with that."
Dagon tried but could find no smile. The ball and chain retracted, morphing into the armor on his forearm. Crossing to the low bench that circled the room, he picked up the scabbard and slid his sword home.
"It wasn't your fault," Barus said behind him.
His words did little to ease Dagon's troubled spirit. "I am aware."
"The Earth woman was too far away."
And she had died alone.
Three days had passed since he had spoken to her. Her oxygen supply had long since run out. But she had not made a single sound. She had wept no tears. She had not begged them to come faster. She had not gasped or struggled to find her last breath. She had simply . . . slipped away.
Every man on the bridge had grown more tense as that twenty-sixth hour had approached. Though the comms that linked them remained open, they had heard nothing from her since she had told him she was going to sleep for a bit.
No other ships had been closer.
None could have saved her.
"Take comfort," his friend and second-in-command said gently, "in knowing she must have died of her wounds in her sleep. It was the most merciful death she could have found in her situation."
Dagon nodded, knowing it was true. He also took comfort in knowing that if she had died in her sleep, then she had died unafraid. "She was not what I expected of an Earthling."
Barus nodded. "The Sectas described them as a primitive, warring society full of people quick to hate anyone who was different. The fact that they captured and tortured the Lasaran princess confirmed that."
"And yet Eliana risked her life to save countless Lasaran men and women." Dagon had spoken with Tiran, commander of the Lasaran ship Tarakona. The two of them had become friends after being brought together in the biannual war games conducted to train Lasarans, Yona, Segonians, and additional alliance forces to fight together in battle against the Gathendiens and other enemies. According to Tiran, some Lasaran escape pods had been recovered. And many of the Lasarans inside them had credited Eliana with getting them there swiftly and saving their lives. "She was very brave."
"And did not deserve the fate dealt her," Barus agreed. He had not been present on the bridge when they made contact with Eliana, so Dagon had replayed their conversation for him.
A click sounded in Dagon's earpiece.
Commander Dagon," Janek said, voice tense, "your presence is requested on the bridge."
Dagon tapped the earpiece. "What is it?"
"I believe I've picked up something on comms."
Dagon glanced at Barus. "You've located one of the pods?"
"No, sir. I think . . ."
Dagon waited. Janek was not usually one to mince words. "Janek?"
"I think it's the Earth woman. I think Eliana may still be alive."
His heart jumping in his chest, Dagon swiftly turned and strode out of the training room.
Eliana? Still alive? Impossible.
And yet his steps steadily increased until he was jogging toward the lift, Barus right on his heels.
Moments later, he strode onto the bridge and speared Janek with a look. "Explain."
Janek looked up from his station. He cast the other crew members on the bridge a quick look.
All were silent, their faces solemn.
Janek's lips tightened. "I wanted to believe her," he admitted. "When she said she could slow her heart rate and make the oxygen last longer, I wanted to believe her. So I left the comm line with her open and . . ."
"And what?" Dagon prodded impatiently.
Janek hesitated, as though fearing all would doubt him. "I think I heard a moan."
Barus shook his head. "That's not possible."
Janek ignored him and speared Dagon with a look. "I know I heard something."
Dagon strode to his seat. "Let me hear it."
Everyone remained silent as they all listened carefully.
Dagon strained to detect even the slightest rustle of her suit, the sound of a soft breath, anything . . . but heard nothing. "Eliana," he called.
No response came.
Janek shook his head. "I know I heard something."
Dagon trusted him. "Eliana," he said louder.
A sigh carried across the line.
"Max?" Eliana mumbled.
His breath caught.
"I was having the worst dream," she complained groggily.
Murmurings erupted among his crew.
Dagon's heart began to slam against his ribs. How was this possible? "Eliana?"
he emitted a sharp grunt of pain, then—sounding much more alert—said, "Ah hell, it wasn't a dream. That sucks!"
He shared an astonished look with Barus.
"Dagon?" she said. "Are you there?"
Thank you for leaving the line open. How long was I out?"
"Damn. I had hoped I'd sleep longer than that."
"My apologies. I woke you. We hadn't heard from you in a long time."
"And you thought I was dead?"
"Yes," he admitted.
When next she spoke, her tone conveyed a smile. "I told you I could make the oxygen last longer. How much do I have left?"
"Press the blue button on your sleeve again."
A female voice speaking Lasaran announced, "Fifteen hours and forty-two minutes of oxygen remaining."
Barus shook his head. "How did she make ten hours of oxygen last three days?" he asked in Segonian.
Dagon shook his head.
"What did she say?" Eliana asked.
"You have fifteen hours and forty-two minutes of oxygen left."
"Damn. So I've already used up almost half of what I had?"
"I don't suppose you found any allies who were close enough to swing by and pick me up, did you?"
"No. All were farther away than we are."
"Are you still headed my way?"
"Have you found any other survivors?"
"No. But the Lasarans have recovered several escape pods."
"Were any of my people rescued?" she asked, hope brightening her voice.
"But we are all still searching."
"Thank you." She had a nice voice, deep for a woman and a little husky from sleep. He didn't like hearing the disappointment that darkened it now. "What about the Yona? Has anyone found any of them yet? I know those guys look and act as though nothing ruffles their feathers, but I'm sure they don't want to die out here either."
"No Yona soldiers have been rescued yet." He opted not to tell her that the bodies of several had been drifting in space near some wreckage found by his fellow Segonians. The soldiers had done what they were trained to do—they had remained on the ship, fighting until the last minute, and died when the ship was blasted apart.
He frowned. "I don't think my translator is accurately defining the word suck."
She laughed, a happy sound that made his lips twitch until she grunted in pain again. "I was wondering how you were speaking English to me. You have a translator?"
"A translator chip," he elaborated. "All starship commanders and crew members have one. The Lasarans sent us an upgrade that included ten Earth languages so we would be able to communicate with you when we found you."
"Cool. I'm guessing your chip is telling you that suck means to close your lips around something and create a vacuum?"
"That's actually correct. But the phrase that sucks is slang used to express . . . well, either annoyance or sympathy, depending on how it's used. Like if someone said My boss just fired me, you might respond with Wow, that sucks."
He nodded. "I shall commit that to memory."
"So you've spoken with the Lasarans?"
"Do they know who attacked the ship?"
"Gathendiens launched the attack."
"Are you fucking kidding me? " she practically shouted, fury entering her voice. "The Gathendiens did this?"
Eyebrows flew up all around the bridge as crew members exchanged looks of surprise.
"The same Gathendiens who used a bioengineered virus to try to exterminate the Lasarans?"
"Okay, seriously, Dagon, you have got to find a way to reach me before I die so I can hunt those bastards down and kick their collective asses."
Barus grinned. "I like this woman."
"Who was that?" she immediately asked. "I don't recognize his voice."
"He's my second-in-command, Barus."
"Nice to meet you, Barus," she said, her voice still full of pique. "I take it you don't like the Gathendiens either?"
"I loathe the Gathendiens," Barus replied.
"Good. Then do me a favor and help Dagon find a way to reach me faster so I can help you kick those fuckers' asses."
Grins broke out among the crew.
She didn't ask them to find her so she would live. She asked them to find her so she could exact vengeance. Every man here understood that.
She cleared her throat. "Sorry about that," she said, the words more calm and carrying a little chagrin. "I hope I didn't offend you. I tend to have a foul mouth when I'm upset, and I know nothing about your culture. Do you guys, by any chance, curse or use foul language when you're angry?"
Dagon grinned. "Yes, we do."
The hesitance left her voice, replaced by a smile. "Good. Now if you really want to put my mind at ease, you'll all answer Hell yes, we do the next time I ask you that." She cleared her throat. "Okay. Here we go. Do you guys, by any chance, curse or use foul language when you're upset?"
"Hell yes, we do," every male on the bridge chorused.
She laughed in delight, then grunted in pain once more. "Thanks, guys. I needed that, even though it hurt."
Dagon frowned. "How are you? How are your injuries?"
"Still there, still annoying, but I've had worse," she said, a shrug in her voice. "Do the Lasarans know I'm out here?"
Heavy silence ensued.
He frowned. "Did you not want me to tell them?"
"No. It isn't that. It's . . ." She sighed. And for the first time since waking, she sounded hesitant and unsure. "Did they by any chance mention Seth? Does he know I'm out here?"
"They did not mention anyone by that name. Was he on the ship with you?"
"No. He's back on Earth."
"Is he your male?" For some reason, the notion unsettled him.
"Are you bound to him?" He sought the correct English word. "Are you married?"
"To Seth?" Amusement entered her voice. "No. I'm not married. Seth is . . . my commanding officer, I guess you'd say. But he's also a father figure to me."
"I lost my own father a long time ago. When Seth found me, I was in a really bad place. And he . . . saved me. I owe him everything. He took me in, gave me a family, gave me a purpose." Her voice thickened. "I can't believe I've failed him like this."
She had behaved with bravery and honor. "You haven't failed him."
"Yes, I have. He trusted me to keep my people safe. He trusted me to protect them. And I failed to do that."
"You got them to the escape pods. That's all you could've done."
"What's worse is I'm probably going to die before you reach me, so I'm even going to fail to bring the assholes who did this to justice."
Dagon took his seat. He didn't want to lie to her. Even with her astonishing ability to conserve oxygen, she would still likely be dead within a few days. "Should that happen, I will seek vengeance for you."
"The next time you talk with the Lasarans, would you please ask them not to say anything to Seth about me?"
"You do not wish him to know you survived?" He and Barus shared a frown. "Surely he will not blame you if you are the only survivor from Earth. You did everything you could to save your friends."
"That's the thing," she said, voice solemn. "He won't blame me. He'll blame himself. That's just how he is. He's going to blame himself for putting us at risk, for putting us in this position, for agreeing to let us leave Earth. And if he thinks I died out here alone, in pain, while floating in space for days or weeks, waiting to be rescued . . . it will tear him up inside. He'll never forgive himself. And I don't want that. So I'd rather the Lasarans just tell him you're all still searching for survivors. That way if I don't make it until you reach me, you can just say I died in the initial attack. A quick death. No suffering."
Dagon could find no response.
"You still there?" she asked.
"You seem like a real stand-up guy."
"I don't know what that means."
"Honorable. You seem like an honorable man. I mean, you wouldn't still be heading my way otherwise. And I doubt lying comes easily to you. I'm sorry if this is a lot to ask, but please think about it, okay? If I die, I die. Seth doesn't need to torture himself imagining a long, drawn-out death. So please ask the Lasarans not to mention me beyond saying you're still searching for me. He doesn't need to know the rest."
Her words made Dagon's chest ache. "I will do as you ask."
"Thank you." Her words soughed out like a sigh of relief. "If I ever get to meet you in person, I'm going to give you a big hug."
He smiled. "I'll look forward to that."
She chuckled again, the sound ending abruptly in a grunt of pain.
Barus's frown deepened. "How bad are her injuries?" he asked softly in Segonian.
Dagon shook his head. "I don't know. She won't tell me."
"What's wrong?" Eliana asked. "Are hugs and public displays of affection forbidden in your culture? I know the Lasarans are pretty strict about that sort of thing."
"No," Dagon assured her. "Even if they were, I would still look forward to receiving yours."
"Good. One hug coming right up."
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