The nightmare that consumed my mind as I slept held me in its grip when I woke as a hand touched my shoulder, and I lashed out and backed away. The corner of my cell was safest when they were trying to prod me out. They’d get me, eventually, but I couldn’t make it easy on them.
“No, no, no, no,” I chanted as I rocked. The darkness shocked me. My cell was never dark. What new trick was this?
“Kohen, open your eyes.”
I froze. That voice didn’t belong. Not here, not in this place.
“Kohen. I need you to open your eyes and look at me. It’s Everett. You’re safe. Just open your eyes.”
My breath sawed in and out. Not again. I’d had another nightmare, and I’d hurt Captain again. I didn’t want to open my eyes and look at him, see what I’d done.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry, just open your eyes. Look at me and see.” Captain’s hands were on my face, his fingers stroking my cheeks. Cautiously, I opened my eyes. His were the first thing I saw.
The darkness was gone, a low light brightening as we kept moving around.
I searched Captain’s face, his neck, his bare chest. There was a faint red mark on his shoulder. “How…?”
“Before I woke you up, I put a cushion between us. It blocked most of the blow.”
“You shouldn’t have to… I’m sorry.” I touched the spot. “I should go to my quarters.”
“No, you shouldn’t. You should stay right here, with me.”
I pulled away, pushing to my feet. I had to use the wall for support. “We can get enough contact when I’m awake and it’s safe for you.”
“But I like sleeping with you. Space is cold, even when the ship’s enviro controls are set to perfect human parameters, it feels chilly. I’ve never had someone in my bed before.” Captain was still at my feet, and it was strange to look down at him. I wanted to offer him a hand up, but I hesitated. Finally, I held one out.
“Are you going to stay down there?”
Captain heaved a big sigh but let me help him up. “I was thinking about it. If I’m vertical, we need to get back to work. We should be arriving soon, and I want to ditch this ship.”
My mouth was probably around my knees. “Ditch. The ship?” The words didn’t make sense together.
“Shame for something like this to be sold off for parts, but it’s time to go underground. When Freska gets free, she’ll pick us up.”
Captain pulled me into his arms. I relished the feeling of his skin against mine and drew in all my sense of him. He seemed okay, not favoring his arm. I probably hadn’t hurt him, but I hated the risk. I wanted to do the meditation exercises Lakshou had taught me to calm down, but they were tainted with the knowledge that he’d just gotten close to me so he could get my trust to turn it against Captain and hurt me.
“So where exactly is this place? That you can sell a whole ship?” It was strange to quietly clean up and dress. I moved around Captain’s quarters with him, like we’d done it a hundred times or more instead of being new.
“Most races know of Mackinack, but don’t actually know which planet it is. Have you heard of it?”
I shook my head. “No.”
Captain smiled. “Mackinack is like… the shadiest dreams can be reality. Nothing too dark, no slavery, no eating sentient beings or anything like that, but if it can be voluntarily bought and sold? It is. Or gambled. Or traded. And it all happens below the surface, literally. The virtual market is on a secondary plane, a virtual one that can be accessed below the crust. You must know a gatekeeper to get in, and you must have something the gatekeeper wants in order to garner their interest enough to gain access.”
“Do you?” That was a silly question to ask. Of course he did. “Never mind. So you’ll sell this ship there? And Freska will meet us? Will it be safe for her? She won’t be tracked?”
Captain snorted. “No one could track Freska’s ship if she doesn’t want it to be. I’m sure she’s late because she decided to draw away some pursuit or saw some means of capturing more intelligence. She is very capable. If she was one whit more bloodthirsty, she’d take over Deke’s position. Well… if she cared for more than machines. It’s harm to any of her precious metal companions that really pisses her off.” Captain shook his head, a wry grin creasing his cheeks and forehead. “Her poor babies, she moans.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” No crushing any shuttles or other metal parts around the crazy mech lady. Got it. “So will we get to Mackinack soon?”
“We’re arriving at J277 Alpha Zenta in the Jexan quadrant now. That’s what Central knows this planet as. I’ve a few contacts here, no one anyone else would recognize. Friends of friends of friends. People who served and know what it’s like.” His grin was gone, and Captain paused with his hand on his stomach.
“Mackinack is… underneath?” I asked to break him from his trance.
“Yes. We’ll go down with a few guards. Leave the ship up here where it is safe and take a shuttle like we’re going down for supplies. I’ll use vid images to make the trade.”
Captain stopped, and I nearly ran into his back. “Together, remember? Where I go, you go. I learned my lesson. Nothing is going to separate us.”
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