I fell onto my ass abruptly, fighting to draw in a breath. Captain dropped to my side. “I thought… I thought that was just what created the mental connection. The stuff in my body and brain joining me and Sparkles so I could feel her and probably them. Not making us physically—” I broke off, waving a hand between me and the little hatchling.
Captain and Aparoe exchanged glances. Aparoe scowled and folded their arms, and Captain sighed.
“What?” I split a look between them. “What?” I asked again when neither of them spoke.
“I’m telling him. I always thought it was best, especially after Lakshou turned out to be a damned traitor. His judgment was clearly suspect, and he probably had ulterior motives to prevent Kohen from knowing about all the changes that were done to him.”
“He was scared enough. I agreed—”
“To keep things from me?” I snapped, interrupting Captain and pulling away from him. “We talked about that.”
“I know, I know.”
“What didn’t you tell me?” My heart was in my throat, and I wanted to throw up. Or I was going to have a heart attack because my heart was still pounding out of my chest and cold sweat was running down my back.
“The changes to your body that let you be faster and stronger than normal humans are not just from your mind and the synaptic changes. They put alien DNA through your whole body, changing your bones, nerves, and even parts of your muscles. Your joints lubricate in different ways, which let them move more fluidly.” Aparoe spoke calmly but they must have thought about how to explain this to me because I understood everything they said.
“How could you keep this from me?”
“You don’t even notice you’re doing it, Kohen,” Captain said softly. “I didn’t want to scare you more.”
“Shit, kid, you blend in with anyone and everyone you come in contact with by instinct.” Deke was looking over his shoulder, still guarding our backs—from what, I didn’t know. “No one expects you to come at them until you’re just… there.”
“So it’s more of the weapon stuff.” My chest hurt, and I ached to run, to hide, but the hatchling couldn’t run and Sparkles was nuzzling it with her nose. She huffed, looking up. “Yeah, okay.” I shoved aside my shit for the time and rolled painfully onto my knees. My back was killing me.
The hatchling was still blue, orange, and yellow, and it was still covered in skin instead of scales. The wings were gone, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was an alien child curled on the rock waiting for a parent.
A humanoid alien child. It sure as stars didn’t look like a Sparkles. I held out one shaking hand toward the hatchling and Sparkles, waiting to see if she’d bite my hand off or what. I was still sort of waiting for that, now that I’d helped her. “Can I touch him?”
At least, I thought it was a him. He had a pouch where Sparkles didn’t. Stars if I knew! If she was a girl fire-breather, and the others were essential clones of her, this one had to be male. Were all males different? Or was it just my DNA?
“Okay.” I lowered my hand, holding my breath. I couldn’t hear anyone else breathing either. The hatchling’s light yellow eyes with dark diamond irises watched me closely until I made contact with his belly. He was soft, not like the others, but smooth and silky almost like his egg had been before Sparkles torched it.
“Oh, wow. Wow.” My eyes fluttered half-closed, but I couldn’t look away. He—he was definitely a boy—was cold, and hungry, and something—someone smelled good. The little chomper opened his mouth and closed it several times, whining, and shivered. “Oh. Deke, give me that food in your pocket.”
“What? That’s my breakfast.”
I yanked my head around and glared. “You don’t need food, this baby does. Give me what you have in your pocket.”
Sparkles’s head was very close to mine, and she hissed.
“Fine! Stars! Take it, take it.” He hurried to toss me some protein chips. Not the best, but they were at least soft. The others were still sleeping, but I put two aside for the little ones. Chomper rolled onto his belly and crawled toward the meat, so I scooped him up.
“Okay, so not quite like a baby,” I muttered as I flipped him and held out a protein chip. Babies were defenseless and needy and… His claws snagged my hand and pulled it to his mouth, and I barely got to keep my finger. “Definitely naming you Chomper.” So he was needy. And still cold. I opened my clothes and put him next to my skin, offering him another protein chip when he was done with the first. “Yum!” I bopped his nose like I’d once done to a younger sibling, distracting the baby between bites to draw out his meal to make up for the tiny portion.
I gasped and yanked my head up. “He just spoke!”
“You were talking,” Aparoe said.
“No,” Captain disagreed with her. He was a few feet away, but he was watching us closely. “Kohen’s right. He spoke. But I don’t think it was out loud. He copied what you said. He said yum, didn’t he?”
“You heard him?”
“Sometimes, when your brain is going, I can hear you through our bond. Kohen, you have a bond with him, and it’s not like what you have with Sparkles. It’s not even like what joins us through the synthgar. It’s like… he’s a part of you. Our connection must let me hear him like I can sometimes hear you.”
As soon as I started feeding him, Sparkles had wandered away, going back the way we’d come. “What am I supposed to do with him?” I looked up at Captain, but for once, he didn’t have all the answers.
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