“It’s okay, Kohen.” Captain stroked my cheek, wiping away the tears. “Someone get Aparoe in here so we can get an antidote.”
His fingers smoothed across my face, and Captain leaned down, staring into my eyes. “I’m going to lift you, and we’re going to sit on the couch. Okay?”
Did he expect me to answer? I couldn’t even swallow, which I learned the second he lifted me and my head lolled to the side, landing on his shoulder. My lips parted and warm drool oozed out. I’d experienced so many humiliations in my life, had all my choices taken away, lost the ability to touch and be touched unless I was being used as a weapon against others… but this humiliation was almost more than I could bear.
Lakshou was my friend. He taught me how to harness the terror I’d felt, to push it away and lock it down. He’d spent time with me, and I’d never glimpsed even a hint of the hatred and disgust he’d just showed toward me.
I’d saved his life.
How could I have been so wrong?
“Hey, hey. Whatever’s going through your head, stop.” Captain turned and sat, pulling me close and shifting me around to sit sideways on his lap. My foot was caught and turned at an awkward angle, but I couldn’t tell him, so I tried to ignore it. “Lakshou has been a member of my crew nearly from the beginning. I trusted him, until the last two times Aparoe scanned you, and he was in the room. That’s when we started to wonder if he was using his abilities on you, and if something in your mind was different.”
They did? Why didn’t they tell me? My heart sank. Trust. They must not have trusted me. Maybe they thought we were working together.
“Stop it, I said. You really can’t have a single thought that doesn’t appear on your face, you know that? I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking, but I promise, it had nothing to do with thinking you’re working with the Brox Consortium willingly.” Captain stroked my forehead between my eyebrows. “You, or anyone else they shoved all that stuff inside their head. But, to anyone who knows you even a little, it’s easy to tell what you’re thinking. Your face is like a public vid—anyone walking by can see it, if they have the code.”
I wished I could talk to him. I wanted to ask him all the questions crowding around in my head. I wanted to ask him to turn my head so I could see what I heard going on in the corner of the room where Deke and Lakshou were. I really wanted to ask him to untangle my foot from the cushions.
Aparoe entered the room, the box abandoned in favor of a more modern medical kit. Thank the stars! They made a quick pass of my chest, then a longer analysis of the injection spot. “I think I can counter what that traitor gave him, but it’ll have to process through his body slowly.”
“We don’t have time for that.”
“Look, you may be the captain, but I’m the medical officer on this oversized hunk of junk. And his physiology is in flux, his hormones are going crazy, and I’m afraid of doing that will harm him further. We will do this my way.”
“Okay,” Captain said. “Whatever you say.”
I didn’t want slow either. Being trapped inside my body was torture. There was so much going on around us I didn’t understand. What had happened? Lakshou went from trusted friend to enemy, and I had no idea why. He’d talked about money.
Was that really the reason for so many lives being ruined? My life? My parents had sold me, the Brox had tested on me and then used me in their machinations, and Lakshou betrayed me. And worse, he betrayed Captain and the rest of the crew, faked loyalty to them and their mission.
The zing of whatever Aparoe hit me stung briefly but then warmth began to spread through the cold lethargy holding me captive. I tried to move, but I couldn’t.
“Calm down, Kohen. Aparoe said it’d take some time, remember.” Captain stared into my eyes. “I’m sorry we couldn’t tell you before. We knew something was off, but we didn’t know what it was exactly. We weren’t sure Lakshou would show his hand, but we suspected he would. He had to; we’re too close to the central planets. They can’t use us anymore, not since we know the truth.”
Captain looked past my shoulder. “Deke is handling him. We’re going to issue general quarters. All crew members not part of the original team are going to be confined for our safety. I think I can be forgiven for my lack of trust, in this case.” Captain rubbed my shoulder, then slid his hand down my arm to my hand. My fingers twitched.
“Did you feel that?”
“Do it again.”
Concentrating, I curled my fingers around his.
“That’s good!” Captain grinned. “You’re coming back. I need you. We’re going to stop these bastards once and for all. We’re going to give them the surprise of their life when they board us, and when we reach Central, we’ll root out the corruption and stamp it out. Then I’m taking my own ship, and my crew, and you, and we’ll find something else to do in the galaxy to earn our keep.”I had a feeling that things wouldn’t be as easy as he made them sound. I dragged in a deeper breath, my chest aching. “Sounds perfect,” I rasped, forcing the word past still partially-frozen vocal cords.
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