Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 46

“Kohen!” Captain shouted my name.

“I’m fine.” I straddled Elliard. His face was pale, and his eyes were wide with shock. His hand was slack, his wrist pinioned between the fine bones by the thin blade. His fingers twitched spasmodically. “What you’re feeling is poison racing through your body from your heart pounding. You want to slow it down, to stop it, but you can’t. You have no control over your body. I have it all. See, there’s a paralytic on the knife, just like what got used on me.

“But I found a blade that had something else mixed in. Is it burning yet?” I glanced at his forehead. “Ahh, I see the sweat building. I think you’re starting to feel it. In a second, I’m going to pull out the blade and we’ll bandage your wrist and hide the wound. With the sweat and pale skin and how unresponsive you are, we have the perfect medical excuse to pull you out of here.”

Captain put his hand on my back. “Are you hurt?” He pulled me up. He ran his hands over my face and neck, then slid them over my arms. “There’s blood on your hand.”

“He didn’t hurt me. Calm down. It’s his blood, not mine.” I let Captain pull me away from his cousin. I glanced away briefly and Deke took over with the guards, pulling him and putting him on the stretcher I’d been hauled in on. Deke even produced a tiny folded packet from a pocket with a flourish, unfolding it into a sheet to cover his prone body.

They worked fast, but Captain was more focused on me than what was going on around us. I had to get him focused, get cleaned up, and get us back on mission. “I need something to get this blood off. Just in case holding the blade in between my fingers did give me a small cut.” I knew it didn’t, but that got him moving.

Captain jumped into action. He hauled me into the private bathing chamber Elliard’s office boasted and dumped my hands under the cleanser. In seconds the blood was gone, exposing unblemished skin. He turned my hand this way and that, checking all the skin. I shivered from the caress of his fingertips against the thin flesh barely covering sensitive nerves.

“Excuse us. Don’t mind the clean up crew.” Deke grunted and dropped a body from his shoulder. The guard dropped the alien’s legs. Deke used a foot to shove the body against the wall. “Figure we might be able to get a little more distance if these guys aren’t hiding in plain sight of anyone who comes into that bastard’s office.”

“Oh. Right.” Captain’s grip tightened on my hand. He blinked, then straightened. He took a few deep breaths, then his eyes refocused on me. This time they were clearer, focused and steady, not zipping back and forth to look everywhere I might be hiding an injury. “Shit. I did it again, didn’t I? Freaked out?”

“Sort of.”

“I was never like this before. But when I think about something happening to you, I lose it.”

He was the only one who’d ever felt that way about me. I pushed into his arms, getting as close to his body as I could without actually being inside him. I wrapped my arms around his back, knowing exactly what he meant. I’d put myself in danger to protect him from Elliard because I could not let anything happen to him. “It’s amazing. And sweet. And I’m sure you’ll stop freaking out eventually.”

Deke snorted as he came in with another body. “Doubt it. Captain’s got a thing for protecting some people.”

In the span of a heartbeat Captain went from liquid in my arms to rigid steel. “Kohen deserves that protection, all that we can provide him, and more. He’s nothing like—” He worked his jaw.

“Easy, there, Captain. I’m just saying you have a soft heart. We’re used to watching your back while you watch someone else’s. I’m glad you find the right one this time.” Deke cautiously approached Captain, holding out one arm.

Captain eyed him with a frosty glare, but then he thawed. He nodded once, matched his arm to Deke’s, and squeezed. “Is that the last guard?”

Back to business apparently. What the hell was all that? There was so much history between Captain and the crew, sometimes doubt crept in. Would I ever fit in with them? Know what they meant when they went all cryptic like that?

“One more. That shit on the knife Kohen picked will only last about halfway through the next shift. We gotta go and get that fucker to a hospital, or he’ll stroke out when the paralytic wears off and he starts screaming.”

“He’ll what?” I stared at Deke.

“I didn’t know you’d picked that particular knife. The poison is distilled from the chloridianvi cloud vapor on Tlofloxia IV. It’s pretty nasty and he’s definitely screaming as loudly as he can inside his mind right now. If the paralytic wears off before we can counter the poison—which is on the ship or at a toxic shock clinic at a local hospital—then he could cause a stroke.

“Not to mention I don’t want to hear his squalling. I heard him having sex one night while on guard duty outside his quarters, and he’s a screamer there too. Trust me when I say I’m shocked he even has balls with how high and screechy his voice gets.”

“You’re not mad… that I’m torturing him?” I’d expected some anger from them.

“Not really. With what he had done to you?” Captain put a hand on my cheek. “What is that old saying? An eye for an eye? It’s a drop in the bucket. Trust me, he will pay the rest he owes you and the other victims.”

“And you. He hurt you too.” And that’s why I was really torturing him.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 45

The second guard had time to turn toward me before I had my hands locked under his first set of arms. I yanked him forward, dislocating both joints. He howled, his voice high-pitched and penetrating my skull like a dagger. I flinched backward, flinging him up and over my head even though he was twice my size.

Spinning, I locked my knee against his short, squat neck, searching for the weak spot. There was always one. His lower arms batted at my free leg as he continued to howl through the holes in the center of his face. Apparently he didn’t inhale through his neck. “Screw this.” I balled up a fist and slammed it down onto his face, directly into those infernal holes.

The relief was instant. His arm fell off my leg. I shook my hand and ignored the black blood and other nastiness that slung off my knuckles. Wiping my hand on his uniform, I scanned the room.

The others had taken care of the remaining guard, and Deke and Captain were in a standoff with his cousin, weapons out. Our escort secured the room.

“Where do you think you’re going to go?” Captain said. “You aren’t leaving this room, except under guard as a traitor.”

“You think anyone will believe you?” Elliard scoffed. “A washed-up spaceship captain who just killed three Intelligence guards?”

“If they worked for you, they were dirty. You’ve been working with the Brox Consortium, turning on the Central planets and all their citizens by letting those bastards use them as guinea pigs. Manipulating me, your own family, to hide your actions was unforgivable. You’ve gone too far.”

Captain’s hand was rock steady, but his voice shook with rage. “One of us will take you down. You will face justice, Elliard.”

“I don’t think so. I think you’re going to let me walk out of here though the hidden alcove.”

Deke growled, taking a step forward. “Why in the hell would we do that?” Captain grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop when Elliard lifted a second weapon and pointed it at Deke’s head.

“Because I have evidence that you transported those poor victims from those labs and delivered directly to Frujil—who I have proof is working with Brox. It’s heartbreaking to point the finger at my own blood, which is why I was so reluctant to come forward, but clearly the pension you were offered after your service wasn’t nearly as lucrative as trafficking. Look at the ship you upgraded to on this last mission; clearly no one without means beyond their station and income could afford it, and we know why now, don’t we?”

For the first time, Elliard looked at me. I’d stayed crouched, unable to move with fear that any sudden motion would set off that weapon pointed at Captain. For once I was frozen on my own due to intense fear instead of a chemical restraint.

His eyes were Captain’s eyes, right down to the shape and shade. But where Captain’s eyes held compassion and warmth, Elliard’s were cold and assessing. The eyes of a killer without compunction. The eyes I’d seen in the mirror of some of my victim’s homes when I was sent on my missions.

“I think he’ll be coming with me too.”

“What?” Captain gasped. “No! I won’t let you take Kohen. I haven’t done anything to anyone. I rescued people.”

We knew that probably wasn’t true. Those victims Captain saved had probably been taken back to another cell after he’d left them to be reintegrated by Elliard’s corrupted Intelligence officers.

I stood, using it as cover to palm a knife. It was an interesting weapon, one with a channel in the blade that led from a thin reservoir in the handle. I maneuvered it gingerly between two fingers.

“Captain’s right. I won’t go with you. You won’t get to use me anymore. No one owns me but me. I am not property or an experiment. I’m a person.”

Elliard snorted. “You’re not even human anymore. You’re an abomination. One the government will want to be rid of when they find out about you. One way or the other, someone’s going to take you apart for the valuable bits inside you. If you don’t want his life ruined by a court-martial and imprisonment or even a death sentence, we’re going to walk right on out of here, right now.”

I faked hesitation, stepping closer.

“Kohen, no! He’s lying. Stay back!”

“Ah, ah, ah.” Elliard’s weapons whined. “I don’t have to lie, not when the truth gets me what I want. Now get over here.”

I took another step, keeping my hands close to my sides. I got to the edge of the desk and stepped in front of Captain, finally blocking the weapon pointing at him. I knew he’d lower his, not wanting it to point at me.

“Wait!” Elliard glanced at my hand with gunk from the guard’s face crusting the knuckles. “Show me your hands. Lace them on top of your head.”

I spread the fingers of that hand while his focus was still mostly on it, letting him think it was my dominant hand, the one he should be worried about. I raised it toward my head and he tracked the movement. When his gun was least likely to go off in my face, I made my move.

A quick swipe of my thumb broke the seal on the fissure. A flick of my wrist sent the knife on a path straight for the wrist of the arm holding the weapon on Deke. I tensed my leg muscles and jumped, appreciating the slightly lower gravity helping me make the leap.

Elliard went down in a heap of arms and legs under me. His weapon discharged, the sizzle burning my ear as it buzzed so close my hair skin crackled, and the scent of burning hair filled the room.

But I’d gotten my blade right where I’d aimed it.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 44

This week's flash was inspired by the prompt: “You need to calm down, like right now.”

I wiggled my tongue against the capsule cautiously. I couldn’t break it, but I wanted to. My heart was racing, and tears were leaking from my eyes. Captain was cursing and pissed, Deke wasn’t any better, and their struggle and failure to suppress their rage helped our disguise.

Only the promise I’d forced them to make kept us going after I’d become paralyzed and the first salty drop streamed down my cheek to drip off my chin. I’d feared it would happen, because losing control was a trigger Lakshou had taught me all about.

All the things that could go wrong floated through my brain. The capsule might not work. We might be walking into a trap. Someone could get hurt. Deke said he had my back, but I’d rather he stayed close to Captain’s.

Two of the guards from the other ship were pushing me. One was a tiny Phlonian with its rounded body protected inside its large, jointed legs, two on each side. Its body rose and fell as it walked, making me dizzy so I tried not to watch it. The other was a tall, sharp-edged female of some species I didn’t know. All her limbs had points on them, spikes with jagged tips in bright orange. Her large eyes were the same color and set on the sides of her head, protruding outward and rotating constantly to scan our surroundings.

She’d be my warning if something or someone was coming for us, so I focused on her. I listened for Captain and Deke, but they were quiet, keeping up our pretense of being under guard.

And I gently touched the capsule, the barest flicker of my tongue the only movement I could manage.

Whatever code Freska had obtained got us in a side door apparently because we didn’t encounter the security I expected. We were greeted by several voices, but they took our escort at face value, didn’t search Captain or Deke or me.

“Move.” The Phlonian shifted to one side. A human stepped up to the grav, peering at me. “So that’s the one, huh? Where’s Lakshou?”

“How the hell do I know?” one of the others said.

“He’s expecting a big payday for this one.” The human stepped back. “You expect us to believe he doesn’t want it?” He narrowed his eyes and sneered, his voice screaming suspicious.

Not good. If my heart could beat any faster, it would have.

“From Elliard? Hardly,” someone scoffed. “Frujil’s the money man.”

The ugly twist on the guard’s face smoothed out. He pursed his lips before he clicked his tongue in a rude sound. “Truth. I’d make three times as much for him. And not be in as much danger as here.” He looked around the Intelligence building. “Damn government. Never know who’s crooked and who isn’t.”

“Isn’t everyone crooked?” someone else said. “Sort of the definition of government. They’re all out to screw us if we don’t get ours and get the fuck out before they can.”

“Ha!” Elliard’s guard barked out a harsh laugh. He clapped one of the guards on the back. “Truth. And if you have to stab a few family members in the back…” He eyed Captain Querry. “Too bad. I heard you weren’t a bad guy to ship out under. That’s what you get for being too fucking honest like a na├»ve stripling. Someone your age who’s been through the war should’ve known better. Old fool.”

Captain lunged forward, and the guards caught him, pushing him back into Deke. I couldn’t tell if he was really angry or if it was acting, but he had to hold it together. I needed him calm and cool; he had to stick to the plan.

“You need to calm down, like right now. Or someone might get hurt.” He looked at Deke and then me. The guard turned. “Let’s go. This whole section’s deserted for renovations. We got a lab set up to dissect the freak later today as soon as the docs get here.”

If my body had been under my control I would’ve hyperventilated, or I would’ve attacked and ruined everything just so I could escape. Those words set off a cascade of images and fear not even Captain’s promises could hold back.

If his hand hadn’t landed in mine, if he wasn’t squeezing my fingers tight under the cover of Deke’s body from where they’d stumbled together, I might have broken the capsule before we got through the scanner so I could do all that.

But he was, and I held onto the brink, barely keeping the terror from swamping my mind and sending me into survival mode. We broke apart to move, but it had been enough.

Enough to get me through the corridors. To the scanner where I was shoved through, one of my guards going first and then the other following so the machine only picked up my vitals. Techs scrutinized the screens but passed us, weapons and all.

I was afraid there would be a second scan but Aparoe said the antidote needed time, so I had to break the capsule. Praying I wouldn’t destroy all our plans, I gathered all my strength. It was like trying to move the shuttle, taking every bit of my strength straining just that one tiny muscle, but the fragile capsule broke and cold swirled through my mouth and down my throat as I inhaled.

After that I kept my breaths even and steady through sheer force of will. I couldn’t test to see if it was working. I had to stay still, not twitching a muscle, not even the tiniest flicker.

Two of the guards opened doors and the third led the way in.

“Elliard, you traitorous bastard!” Captain shouted.

“Shout all you want. It’s soundproofed.” His cousin smirked.
“Good,” I said. I curled my body and spun off the grav, my foot catching the guard under the chin, snapping his neck. 

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 43

There was a lot of talk that sounded like words I should know but somehow, I knew that what the people around me really meant wasn’t what they were saying at all. All I could do was wait beside Captain and absorb everything I could. I’d learn.

They’d given me that, along with the strength and speed I’d need to take down everyone who Captain said stood in our way to a life together in freedom. I’d barely adjusted to life on the ship, but I already couldn’t bear the thought of losing what few choices I’d learned how to make for myself. I stared at Captain’s profile, at the dark stubble starting to speckle his cheeks and the growing circles under his eyes. His hair was lighter than the others, colored with age just enough to give him a air of command.

You knew by looking at him that he held power and responsibility and he didn’t hold it easily. The lines beside his eyes and mouth showed he knew how to set it aside too—he smiled and laughed. He had friends among the crew that enjoyed spending time with him, so he knew how to relax. 

I wanted to see that happen. He’d been so serious since I’d met him, so burdened. I caressed the handle of the weapons Deke gave me, reassured by their weight and pressure against my skin.

“Shouldn’t Deke have gone with Freska when she goes to the port to arrest Frijul?” Kekillill asked. “It’s going to be chaos.”

“No. He’s too recognizable. There’s no way he’d leave my side during a mission or an attack. Elliard will be expecting both of us.” Captain stood. “Kekillill, you are in command here. You will stay on the ship with our escorts, responding to any demands from Intelligence as vaguely as possible until we engage.”

She jumped to her feet and snapped a salute to her chest. “Yes, Captain Querry. I won’t let you down.”

Deke snorted, and she shot a glare in his direction but didn’t relax until Captain said, “I know you won’t. Thank you.” Captain stepped away from his chair, and I stayed at his side. Kekillill took his spot immediately. Deke and several others abandoned their screens and gathered near the exit. Captain turned smartly, and I nearly ran into him. He smiled and put a hand on my arm, pulling me to his side when I stepped back.

“This mission has a high risk of failure. We are going in knowing that should we fail, but you have a chance to escape. If you can, do it. You can’t attempt a rescue mission if you land in the shit right next to us.” He gave them a look, one I didn’t really understand, but they all stood and saluted. Captain nodded once, saluted back, and then turned on his heel and led the way off the ship.

They were almost clear when Aparoe joined them.

“Leaving it a bit late, aren’t you?” Deke said.

“Shut up. This wasn’t easy.” Aparoe held several things, but I didn’t like the look in their eyes when they turned to me. “I did my best.”


“You didn’t tell him?” Outrage colored their voice. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

Captain squirmed. Literally squirmed, right there, in front of the crew that was watching, like a little boy. “I couldn’t. Not after what happened. How can I ask this or tell him…?”

“How can you not?” they said tartly. “Did you just think the whole situation was going to go away? That it wouldn’t be necessary because it would be hard to say? For you?” They made a sound of disgust.

“No! Not for me. How can I ask that of him? But if he doesn’t come….”

“Can you guys stop talking about me?” I knew they were, every time they said he, and the tension between them and whatever they meant was making my stomach twist. “What’s going on?”

“Lakshou paralyzed you,” Aparoe said bluntly. “Because you’re too dangerous not to. And they have scanners at Intelligence.”

I put a hand over my weapons.

“You can keep those,” Deke said. “Do you really think I’d give you something if I was just going to let someone take it away? They’re coated to block the scans. Well, to not block them. They appear invisible as long as you keep them covered.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

“But the biometric scans are trickier. If you just stood still and let one of them haul you along, it’d sense your body chemistry is off. You have to appear to be paralyzed without actually being paralyzed.” Aparoe scowled. “Not an easy task.”

The word made my skin crawl, but I trusted Aparoe when I’d trust no other doctor. They’d helped me. “So I will be able to move?”

“Not at first.” They held up an injector. “In here is a compound that will paralyze your body, but—” They threw up a hand when I went rigid and started shaking my head. “Calm down. You could move if you needed to, but you’d be sluggish and slow. This will counter the compound.” They held up a tiny pill. “I will place it between your tongue and your teeth. It will take some force, but once you break it, the gas inside will be absorbed into your bloodstream immediately, countering the paralysis in seconds.

“It was the best I could do.”

Aparoe and Captain held their breath, looking at me. It was a mental mind fuck but what did I expect? I should have thought about it. Did I really think I was going to go striding in there behind Captain like a warrior?

No, I was the bait. Again.

“I’m sorry,” Captain said softly. “I just couldn’t tell you.”

“It’s fine. I’ll be fine. Let’s do this. I’m guessing someone has a grav lift?”

Deke held up a small box. “I’ll be close to both you and the Captain. I have your back.” 

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 42

This week's update is inspired by the prompt: "I didn't count on this, to be honest."

I watched everything. I wanted to ask questions, but once Captain issued his orders, the crew moved very quickly. We approached the central planet, and I couldn’t help but wonder at what was coming. Would we succeed?

Deke and Captain were exchanging furious looks, but Captain kept avoiding my gaze while Deke would look at me. Captain finally stood and went over to where Deke was sending orders to the security crew through one of the consoles. They spoke low enough I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Captain grew more rigid with every stab of Deke’s hand in the air.

“Kohen!” Captain barked my name, and I jumped. I strode over to him, stopping a few feet from him and Deke.

“Yes?” Was he going to order me back to his quarters? I didn’t want to go. I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath, locking my jaw and preparing to argue with him.

“See?” Deke said.

Captain’s shoulders slumped. “It would be safer if—”

“No one on the ship is safe. And if the goal of your cousin and this other guy has been to get me this whole time, me hiding in your quarters wouldn’t do anything but ensure they tear apart the ship until they find me there—though, since Lakshou was a traitor and feeding them information, he probably told them exactly where my quarters were and they’d go directly to that ring anyway.”

Deke snorted, and Captain grimaced. “Arm him.” He turned and walked away.

“What?” I stared at Deke who didn’t look happy, but he did look relieved.

“You made the same points I did. Captain Querry allowed you here, and you’re never going to be safe. You’re too valuable as a hostage, or a patient, or an experiment, or an assassin.” He said it so blithely, like it didn’t even matter what they’d done to me in the years they’d twisted my brain and body. He didn’t shy from it or break eye contact, and that alone was what let me do the same. “So whatever the hell else they want from you, they’re not going to just give up. Not even if we take out these guys. And Captain saying this would only take a few days?”

His gaze flicked over my shoulder. “You should be ready for this to take more than a few days. This could spark another war. Brox has been pushing for too long. This isn’t just a business or a few politicians giving a company contracts for stations and planetary developments. This is bigger. This is power and control. Mind control.”

Like he had to remind me. I knew exactly what had terrified me and forced me to make him trap me in Captain’s quarters until I was sure I wouldn’t be a danger to everyone else. Because if they could do that—turn anyone into an assassin without warning—then no one would be safe. Isolationism would rule the universe.

Easy pickings after that.

“If this is bigger than we know, if we can’t cut the head off the snake, then the decision will have to be made. Run, let the universe take care of itself until it reaches wherever we try to hide away, or stay and fight even if some of us don’t make it.” Deke turned and led me to a corner of the room. He pressed a finger to a sensor on the wall, and it slid open to reveal a cache of weapons. “Though I think you’ve already made that decision.”

I stared at the array of deadly options in front of me. This was more than just thinking I probably wasn’t a threat; this was being sure I was on their side. This was giving me a way to protect myself and Captain too. To make sure I never ended up in that cell again.

My eyes burned, and I blinked rapidly. I cleared my throat. “Yeah.”

“So anything here something you’ve been trained on?”

I pointed to a few, and Deke started handing them over along with the proper shields and attachments to secret them about my body. Accustomed to undercover work, I hid them all away. There was something reassuring about being armed. Most of the time, on the missions I’d been sent on, I’d had no weapons but the ones I’d managed to find in my environment.

“We’re closing in, and our escorts should be joining us at any moment.” Captain stood. “All hands to your assigned stations and quarters. Freska, how close do you need to be to get with the ships for the raid on Intelligence? Do you need to transfer ships?”

“Not as close as they’d like to think,” she said gleefully. “I’m patched in, and they won’t know what hit them. And I don’t need to leave my girl at all.”

Deke returned to his console and I went back to stand beside Captain where I belonged. He stared intently at his screen, watching the increasing traffic on our approach. I didn’t understand all the information on the vid, but I could see the movement and paths plotted. There were at least six on a course straight for us.


“Everett,” he corrected me.

In front of his crew? Impossible. I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. He brushed his fingers lightly against the back of my hand. “Everett….” It came out wobbly and hoarse. I swallowed. “Six ships?”

“It’s okay. I’ve had pings from each of them on a private channel, one that those traitors could never have learned about. They’re all captained by people we can trust. Only four were assigned to us; two more are tagging along cloaked to everyone but us.”

I nodded. “Okay.” I brushed my hand on the weapon at my waist, only a slight bulge revealing it. Captain caught me.

“You know I didn’t count on this, to be honest, but it makes me feel better that you’re armed. It feels right.”

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