Authors: Jason Halstead
She paused, offering her unresponsive husband a smile. “One way or another, I’ll get you back.”
* * * *
The colors faded almost as soon as they’d come. In their place he saw nothing. It reminded him of the time he’d risked everything and touched the same crystal Jenna had touched that transported them to a magical place filled with blinding light. They’d communed with the Elders then, the first to do so in thousands of years.
The difference was that this time he wasn’t blinded by white light. Nor was he plunged into darkness. Darkness meant an absence of light. Where he was there was nothing, not even darkness. He imagined the experience would be similar to having his eyes plucked out of his head. Without the pain, at least.
Dexter wanted to spin around but he had no control over his body. The last thing he’d felt had been prick of a needle or a knife, he couldn’t be sure which, then the brief sensation of being yanked abruptly away. If he’d had lungs, he would have gasped.
His soul had been stolen, just like Jia’s. He wondered if Jia was here with him. For all he knew she could be here beside him. If ‘here’ was a place.
“I apologize for the unusual parley,” the disembodied voice continued.
Dexter strained to focus on the voice, but there was no way he could do so, other than to pay attention to i
t. It did sound familiar to him, or it felt familiar to him, since he no longer had any ears. He had no mouth either, how was he to respond?
“This need not be one sided, Admiral. Project your thoughts. Think what you wish and I will hear it.”
Dexter’s first thoughts returned a mental chuckle from his counterpart.
“The problem with this form of communication is the
need to take care lest you forget the lack of any internal dialogue or censor.”
“Wouldn’t be so sure of that if I were you,
I’m holding a full carho hold’s worth of thoughts back that I’d dearly love to share with you.” Dexter thought back. “Is this what you’ve done to my daughter?”
“Straight to the point, as I remember. I can’t tell you how much I admired that
, given the political games I had to play. In a sense, you’re correct. The difference is that the device used on you is only temporary. The material isn’t strong enough to hold you for more than a short time. Less, the closer the ring is kept to your body. Additional magic was needed to allow me to speak with you.”
Dexter wasn’t sure who he was dealing with, but he ached for the need to punch or shoot the man. If it was a man, even that he couldn’t be certain of. “Went to a lot of work for this,” Dexter said, refusing to give anything away.
“I see your time amongst the elves has taught you a bit about politics as well. I know I have you for a while yet, but let’s dispense with the nonsense. I want something, and that requires your assistance.”
“Most times when someone wants a favor, they try asking first,” Dexter pointed out.
“Regrettably, that would not have worked. I’ve spent years planning this. Years waiting for the perfect time and perfect events. The elven empire holds something I want. Something large.”
Something large? Large like a ship? There
were more ways to get a ship than Dexter could count on the fingers of his missing hands. No, it couldn’t be a ship. Larger then, but what could be larger?
A port, Admiral,” the voice answered his unprojected question.
Dexter wondered if the Federation was involved. They’d
either been at war or on the verge of war with the elves for years. When the elves had been shaken up from within by the elders, things changed. The Federation didn’t trust the elves nor did they have much interest in dealing with them. In spite of that Jenna had seen to it that every Federation system world or port that the elves had taken for the last forty years had been given back.
“Might be a problem,” Dexter told him. “The Elven Empire’s run by a new Council of Nobles or Royals or something like that. The Empress abdicated the throne and I’m only Admiral in name.”
The voice was quiet for what felt like a long time. Without any external reference, Dexter had no idea how much time passed. “This is unfortunate,” the voice finally said. “I didn’t anticipate that.”
“What, you never figured someone might value the lives of their family more than their position?”
“I did not,” he admitted. “You’ve proven time and again you’re resourceful, perhaps you might yet be of assistance. You must, if you have hopes of reclaiming your daughter.”
“Threatening you won’t do me much good, but you can be sure I won’t have an itch to help your cause. What do you need?”
“Meet me at Port Freedom. Make your best speed, Captain, we’ll talk more then. Think along the way about my needs. Satisfying those will make this a mutually beneficial situation.”
“Kinda hard, seeing that I’m in here and can’t tell my crew where to go.”
The voice chuckled again. “Soon enough, Captain. A few days, at the most. Long before your body would waste away.”
“So who am I meeting? And where?”
“I’m hurt, Captain, that you don’t remember me. No matter, when you dock I’ll send someone. Until then, relish the peace and quiet. I doubt you’ve had an opportunity such as this in years. Not since you were a lonely solitary pilot for the Federation.”
How long ago had Dexter met the man? Or
was it a woman? He remembered a few, but couldn’t imagine any of them aspiring to control an entire city floating through the void. Then again, nobody would’ve figured he and Jenna would end up reorganizing the Elven Empire seven years ago.
“And what if I don’t play nice?”
“That would be foolish, Captain. Irritable to me, but not insurmountable. I always have a backup plan. The backup plan consigns your daughter to an eternity of agony. I suggest your cooperation.”
Dexter fumed silently. He had questions but none he dared ask for fear they’d tip too much of his hand. Getting Jia back was his first priority, but close behind that was putting at least two feet of steel into the belly of the bastard that had done this to them.
* * * *
Jenna stood outside
Jianna’s door listening. She stared at the latch but her hand wouldn’t move any closer to it. Inside was someone more precious to her than her own life. Jianna wasn’t just her daughter, she was a symbol that had bridged race and culture. Jenna’d yearned from almost from the day she’d first met her husband. There were other half elves scattered through the void – thousands of them if not more, but there was only one Jianna. Jianna was a symbol of hope for the future for both races, or she had been. Now Jianna was so much more to her. She was her daughter. Her baby girl. Her only real priority anymore. And now Jenna couldn’t bring herself to open the door and face what remained.
She’d done so much in such a short time. Seven years and she’d gone from being an exile to helping overthrow her father and taking his place as the leader of the void-faring elven people. She’d travelled through time at Dexter’s side and witnessed amazing things even the most imaginative of elves wouldn’t have dreamt possible. She’d done all of that and more, but none of it helped lessen her desire to hide in a dark corner and hope that she’d wake up from
Jenna turned away from
Jia’s door, only to find herself facing the Captain’s room. She and Dexter shared that room, but now he lay stricken the same as Jianna was. She had nowhere to go, nowhere that was safe for her to knees to buckle and the tears to come. Numb, she turned and walked down the companionway. Jenna stopped at the cargo holds and turned into the one on her right and faced Dexter’s assassin.
“Keshira, they need you on the deck,” Jenna ordered in the firmest voice she could muster. Celia sat
nude in the corner, hugging her knees to her chest. The sight filled Jenna with shame – she’d wanted to adopt the same position only moments ago.
“I don’t know what to do,” Keshira said so softly it was almost a whisper.
“You’ve spent years working the deck of a ship, Keshira. You know it better than anyone. Go and help. Show the new hands how it’s done. Dexter would have wanted it.”
Keshira nodded. “Yes, Mistress.”
Jenna jerked at the title. She watched the pleasure golem leave the hold, her normally erect and proud frame now slumped. Jenna shook her head and reached for the door. She paused, a thought coming to her, then stripped all of her weapons off and left them outside the door. She shut it before she could change her mind, then turned to face Celia.
Celia looked up at her, her eyes wide and red. The tears had dried but trails of salt and dirt remained on her cheeks. Jenna walked over to her, feeling disconnected with her own body. She didn’t know why she was there, Celia had told her everything she knew already. She reached down and pulled the girl to her feet much like she’d done in her cabin hours ago.
Jenna knew why she was there now. She had no blades with her but she wasn’t there to kill Celia. She’d come to hurt her. Once Celia was standing Jenna hit her, knocking her back into the wall. Celia gasped and let out a yelp, then was silenced when Jenna’s fist connected again.
Celia almost fell but the walls of the corner slowed her long enough for Jenna to grab her hair and hold her up. Her other fist slammed into her time and again, striking her stomach, chest, face, and whatever else she could. Celia’s legs gave out, dropping her to the floor of the hold. That wasn’t enough for Jenna, she kicked her, driving her soft boots into the girl’s torso and hips.
The red haze in her vision faded. Jenna stopped, breathing hard and feeling exhausted. Something was running down her face and her hands and feet throbbed. She reached up, extending her fingers painfully wiping away the tears on her own cheeks. Another wipe came away red. She’d lost all control and had managed to smash her own nose in the one sided fight.
As her ire faded Jenna heard Celia gasping and sobbing. The small elven woman’s body shook violently. She’d curled into a ball facing the corner. She looked frail and pathetic and it was Jenna’s fault.
“Will you live?” Jenna’s voice was so raspy it startled her.
Celia jerked, then cried harder.
Jenna swore and took a moment to study her hands. Her knuckles were split and bleeding, though much of the blood on them was Celia’s. “Answer me!” Jenna shouted.
loudly before breaking into fresh sobs. She mewled into her chest but the pitch changed enough that Jenna realized she was trying to talk to her. She’d fallen back to speaking in elvish, her native tongue.
Jenna listened closely and picked out enough words to construct her response. “I’m so sorry,” she kept repeating. “I’m a terrible person. I’ve let everyone down. It doesn’t matter anymore, they’ll never forgive me. You can kill me. Please, just make it end.”
“Make it end for you while my daughter and husband are trapped forever?” Jenna snarled. She almost drove her foot into Celia’s back. She turned away, shaking her head in disgust.
“Dexter would have probably killed you,” Jenna growled at her. “He might have made sure he got everything out of you he could first, but then he’d have killed you.”
“Please!” she whispered.
“He wouldn’t have beat you. He wouldn’t have ripped out your eyes or burnt your toes so you could enjoy the smell of roasting flesh. He wouldn’t have broken your fingers and torn out your fingernails one by one. No, Dexter would have just killed you and been done with it.” Jenna paused, wishing the girl would at least look at her. With reluctance she had to admit that, if their situations had been reversed, Jenna wouldn’t have given Celia the satisfaction of seeing her fear. “Dexter’s a far better person than I am!”
“I should die,” Celia moaned.
“And you will,” Jenna promised. “But not until I’m sure you feel as much pain as you’ve given me!”
Celia gasped, expecting another strike from Jenna’s foot or fist. When it didn’t come she dared to slowly turn her head and look through swollen eyes. Jenna stood there, staring with pure malice in her eyes. Celia whimpered and rolled over. Her breath caught in her throat as she moved, evidence to the injuries she’d received. She managed to make her way to her knees, then she bowed her head before Jenna.
“I deserve this,” she whispered.
Jenna forced her aching fists to unclench. “Why?” The question slipped from Jenna’s mouth without her intending to ask it. “You’re just a child! Why would you do this? When I was your age I just wanted to be free to sail the void and meet new people.”
“He made me,” Celia cried. “He killed my best friends! He said my family would be next, and that he’d save me for last if I didn’t do what he asked.
I didn’t know what he was making me do, only that I had to do it!”
“What makes your family more important than mine?” Jenna barked.
Celia cringed and sank down lower on her knees. She looked up, trying to see Jenna through the swollen flesh and red tint the blood in her eyes gave her. “I didn’t know he hurt your daughter,” Celia said. “And I didn’t know your family. I only knew mine. I’m so sorry, Empress!”