Chapter Twenty-Three

My name is Alana Chase, sirs, and I have a right to be here because I swore I would protect Commander Channing’s daughter with my life.  You can have everything I ever gave to the Compact, including my body…and my soul.

— Alana Chase to Marshals Aidan Church and Adam Windsor, c. 5231


11 Novem, 5249 PD


            The double click on the comm had come almost an hour before.  Ezra stared out the viewport, hand on the pistol she’d given him, trying not to worry.  Should it be taking this long for them to get out?  It didn’t look like the installation had gone on alert.  Thunder growled in the distance and Ezra exhaled.

“What’s wrong?”  America asked softly.

“I just keep thinking that it’s taking too long,” Ezra murmured.  He shook his head.  “Probably just being paranoid.”

“Probably.”  America grinned at the betrayed look he shot at her.  “It always seems like it’s taking too long when you’re the one doing the waiting.  Believe me, I know.  My husband has a penchant for that kind of stunt.  Sometimes I think he did it to punish me.”

Ezra blinked.  “For what?”

“For not going with Rachel and Grumpy.”  America’s smile faded a little, then she shrugged.  “But I couldn’t leave him to fight alone.  They’d be safe without me.  If I stayed, I could make him safer.  I wanted him to see his daughter again someday.  I wasn’t confident that would happen if I didn’t stay with him.”  She stood up slowly, unsteady, and limped to him at the console.  She stared out the window into the shadows born of a gathering storm.

“He’s angry,” she murmured after a few moments, “but they’re all right for the moment.”

“The bond?”

She nodded, the muscles in her jaw tightening.  “It’s good to feel him again.  Even if he is angry.  I wonder about what.”

“Wouldn’t know,” Ezra murmured, then sighed.  He caught sight of movement a few seconds later.  His breath caught in his throat.

“There they are,” he finally said as the two forms moving through the woods became more clear.  “Wake Brendan.  See if he can fly.”

America nodded and shuffled back toward the bunks.  She shook Brendan gently, but he tried to ward her off anyway.  He groaned as he came awake, shivering slightly as he cracked one eye open, then the other.

“What is it?” he rasped.

“Ezra wants to know if you can fly,” America said quietly as she sat back down on the bunk.  “Alana and Grant are on their way.  Do you think you can do it?”

Brendan coughed into his elbow as he slowly levered himself upright, eyes focusing slowly.

Ezra watched like a hawk as his friend slowly stood with only a trace of unsteadiness and made his way to the pilot’s chair.  Brendan took his time settling in, taking a deep breath and exhaling it slowly.  Ezra frowned.

“You sure you’re up to this?”

“Yeah,” Brendan said after a moment of just sitting in the chair before he started to wake the ship, flipping switches and touching controllers.  “The kelteminaphine’s cleared, I think, and whatever you gave me instead is taking the edges off.  I can see straight and my hands aren’t shaking.  I think I’ll be okay.”

Ezra nodded slowly, looking back toward the figures approaching them quickly through the trees.  He was starting to be able to make out Alana’s face, locked into a grimace.  What’s wrong?  Is she hurt?  He squinted, pressing closer to the window to try to see. Damn her for wearing black!  I can’t see anything.

He pulled back, chewing at the inside of his lip for a moment before he headed for the hatch.  One way or another, I’ll find out in a minute.

“Oh man,” American murmured softly.  “Is he ever angry about something.”

Brendan glanced at America, frowning, then mumbled a curse at himself and focused on the controls.  Ezra shook his head.

“Is that unusual?”

“Mm.  Depended on how the war was going on any given day.”  America perched on the edge of her bunk, eyes on the hatch.  “Toward the end, he was upset a lot, but not angry.  Not like this.”

The comm clicked three times.  Ezra hit the hatch control, cycling it open.  Alana propelled a tall, broad-shouldered figure into the craft before she stepped in after him, her expression a thundercloud matching his.  Ezra blinked, staring at the two of them.

“All in,” Alana snapped and hit the hatch control.  “Get us the hell out of here, Cho.”

“As soon as you lock down the hatch, Alana.”  The engines hummed to life.  A shiver ran through the ship.  “Guys are going to want to strap in.  I’m not sure we’re going to avoid that spot of weather that was rolling in when we landed.”

Ezra glanced at his friend.  “How long do I have before we hit it?”

“Not very long, Ez.  Five minutes, tops, and then your ass had better be tied down to something.”

“Right.”  Ezra turned to the man he presumed was Grant Channing and pointed to the space on the bunk next to America.  “You, sit, now.”

Grant wasn’t listening.  He was glaring at Alana, who was strapping herself into a seat near the pilot’s console.  “You put my daughter in danger.  What the hell were you thinking?”

Alana stared straight ahead, saying nothing.

Ezra’s brow furrowed.  What the hell is this?  “Commander Channing?  Please sit down.”

He was ignored as Grant continued his tirade.  “I asked you to protect her!  To make sure nothing happened to her!  And you decide to come gallivanting out here looking for me after I expressly told you not to attempt a rescue at any cost!”  Grant leveled a finger at Alana.  “How dare you!”

Alana looked at him squarely.  “She and Rachel both told me to come.”

“And if Rachel and my daughter told you to jump off a bridge, would you?”

What the hell is this?  “Commander, sit down.”

“Well?  Would you?”

The ship began to shake, buffeted by winds.  “Strap in,” Brendan warned.  “I’m not going to be responsible for bodies flying around the cabin.”

Ezra grasped Grant by the shoulder as the turbulence increased.  “Sir, I don’t want to have to hit you, but I will if I you make me.  Sit down.”

The ship bucked and Ezra caught himself against the bulkhead as Grant was tossed down onto the bunk with America, who grasped his arm tightly.  The ship rattled and lightning knifed past the viewports.  Bracing himself, Ezra looked at Brendan, who was white-knuckling the controls.

“How bad is it?”

“Bad enough!  Hang on.”

The ship seemed to drop abruptly, then nosed up and started to rapidly climb.

Ezra stumbled sideways, slamming into the bulkhead and sliding to the deck.  Alana’s hand grasped his shoulder and held him in place as the ship continued to shake.  It grew worse the higher they seemed to climb.

“Almost there.”  Brendan’s voice was tight.  Ezra squinted.  Was he shaking, or was that just an optical illusion born from the ship’s shaking and the pilot’s seat shaking out of sync with each other?

The shaking stopped abruptly agonizing seconds later.  Clear skies full of stars filled the viewport and the ship realigned, angling upward and to the left to stay out of a satellite’s scanning radius.

Brendan laid in a course with one hand.  It was shaking.

So it wasn’t an optical illusion.

Ezra picked himself up from the deck, starting to move toward his friend.

“I can’t believe the risk you took, Alana,” Grant growled.  “And broke the promise you made to me while doing it.”

That’s it.  Ezra bit the inside of his cheek and turned slowly toward Grant, who was starting to rise even as America tried to hold him down.  “Commander, sir, let me make something abundantly clear to you.  I don’t want to have to punch you, but I will if that’s what it takes to get you to knock it the hell off.  You should be grateful to Alana.  She’s put her entire existence on hold for Lindsay.  She’s doing this for her.  Not in spite of her.  She wouldn’t have even come if Lindsay herself hadn’t said that leaving you two in captivity wasn’t an option, and I still had to talk her into it.  I had to point out that the alternative was the two of you dying.”

Alana cleared her throat.  “Ezra.”

Ezra waved her off.  “Though talking her into it was easier than talking Brendan into it.  Talking your son-in-law into it.  So I guess you could say that she’s here protecting Lindsay through his Bond to her.”

“Ezra.”  There was a note of pleading in her voice.

Again, he ignored her for the moment.  “And another thing—”

“Ezra.”  Alana jerked on his arm and pointed at Brendan, whose shaking was becoming more pronounced, starting to tip toward convulsion.

Shit.  Ezra spun fully toward Brendan and headed to the console.  Brendan’s eyes were glued to his board but a trickle of blood oozed from his nostril.  “Brendan?”

“Just let me finish,” Brendan whispered, lips barely moving.  His knuckles were white on the control stick, fingers of his free hand twitching arhythmically over the jump control.  “I’m almost finished.”  His face was pale, eyes more bloodshot now than they had been before.  He was twitching, though he didn’t seem to notice it, or the shakes.

I shouldn’t have put him back into the pilot’s chair.  Ezra touched his shoulder.

Brendan’s hand came down on the jump switch half a second later.

The ship shivered and accelerated before the screens went gray in front of them.  The ship settled into its pace, the gray fading into hyperspace.

Brendan’s eyelids fluttered and he slumped into Ezra soundlessly.  Ezra cursed.

“Alana, help me get him back into the bunk.”

“What happened?”

Ezra shook his head as he got Brendan by the shoulders.  “Something tells me I shouldn’t have let him fly this thing.”  They hauled Brendan over to his bunk and laid him out again.  Ezra mopped up the blood coming from his friend’s nose and murmured another curse under his breath.  What the hell is this, Brendan?

“What happened to him?”  Grant’s question was practically a demand.  Ezra ignored him as he started assessing whatever further damage Brendan had done to himself.

America touched her husband’s arm.  “Calm down, Grant,” she murmured.  “He’s a pilot. During the first leg of the run, while they were getting me out of Corp space, he had to manually deactivate his implant so they couldn’t take control of the ship.”

“Manually deactivate his implant.”

“He stabbed himself in the implant, Commander.  Twice.  It actually took the second time.”  Alana swiveled the pilot’s chair back toward the bunks.  “He’s one of the best pilots Marshal Windsor has, if not the best.  And he’s Bonded to your daughter.”  Alana glanced at Ezra.  “Is he going to make it?  Lindsay will kill you if he doesn’t.”

“I’m not even sure what just happened,” Ezra muttered, tearing open another patch and slapping it against Brendan’s neck.

Alana grimaced, glancing back at the boards.  “Well, you’ve got some time to figure that out.  We’re locked in for a direct line back home.”

“Back home?  No correction point?”

“Guess not.”  Alana shook her head, looking at America and Grant.  “I suppose he wanted to get them home to Lindsay as quickly as he could.”

Maybe.  Ezra frowned.  Brendan’s vitals were slowly stabilizing.  Could it have been a side-effect from stabbing his implant?  He wasn’t sure and had no literature at hand to check his theories.  Exhaling a sigh, he turned to Grant and America.  “Let’s have a look at you, Commander.”

Grant arched an eyebrow.  America smirked a little and squeezed his arm.  “Don’t worry, dear.  I’m sure he’ll be gentle.”

The onetime commander of the Psychean Guard’s remnant looked like he didn’t believe her.

Ezra smiled.  “First, do no harm.  Lie back, Commander.  Time to see how badly that oath’s been violated in the last eighteen years.”

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