Stephanie hands off the disc in its solid state before she returns to her own ship and Tyreke. She did what she came to do: found Evan, got the disc from him, and gave it to the militancy. Now she can take a moment to breathe because she is Talon, and the Darkstation sensors have decided their Alliance ship is hers. The joys of being one thing by career and another by blood, she thinks darkly.
Tyreke stares at her injured knee, and all Stephanie can find the strength to do is glower back. Doesn't stop her from wanting to vent though. She warned their captain not to send them. Viciously, "Sergio is a—"
"Don't say it." Tyreke's already dark eyes grow darker.
She ignores him as she slides into the pilot station of the small scout ship, the only complement their ship, the Analik, can afford to house in its own tiny bay. She has never figured out Tyreke's relationship to Sergio and right now, she does not want to. Instead, she leans her head against her arms. She is lightheaded from blood loss, from her own loss.
She is traitor. There was no chance to choose.
"You're Ardoran, right?" Stephanie suddenly says bluntly. It's not really a question. Tyreke's musculature leaves little doubt that he's a genuine heavy-grav planet-born, and that leaves Ardor, a planet long on cultural antipathy toward the Alliance. It's not a question, so she doesn't wait for him to answer. "You know that the Alliance isn't us. You know our people matter more."
His people. Her people. She looks up. He stares at her for a long moment.
He does not speak. It's not his way. Instead, he sets down his weapons one by one, weapons she has never seen him without, and then reaches over to cut the fabric from around her knee and evaluate the wound dispassionately.
"It will scar," he says. It is the only compassion he could offer her.
It makes her stare upward at the ceiling and wish to see the stars.
The handoff went well and easy. It could not last. It does not last.
She trips something in the external sensors on her way out of the droid and maintenance backdoor entrance of Darkstation. Seara Marré is one of the best pilots in twenty-two star systems, but her speeder is borrowed Elysium craft, not militancy, and when those sensors hit her hull and ask for identification, she cannot tell them no.
She wants to curse and swear a blue streak, but that is exactly what her fater would have done, and Seara is nothing like her father. She grits her teeth and guides her speeder through bars and beams and laser arrays, running toward Sellus, the tiny moon outpost where her base is stationed.
A dark cloud of small pre-bots launch from the station, and she catches her breath at the sight of them shadowing over the view of Cercys, the bright lamp of a sun. They are heading for the Anea, the Elysium ship she and her officer had been traveling aboard when she got the call to Darkstation. She has no time to warn them, not with the disc in her hand that was worth a battle and a near rebellion and an alert. They are not militancy, but the Talons will not care.
Pre-bots mean a ship, and the ship appears, a monster of steel and glass.
Seara whispers a prayer, "May He protect you," and flies for the wormhole, Kippler's. It's her only hope. She has no chance to save them both.
"Good news, I hope?" Sergio begins, but the words die when he realizes Tyreke is carrying her onboard and into Analik's tiny medical bay.
Stephanie tries desperately to ignore the fire of pain in her leg as he sets her down. "I told you not to walk into an alert on Talon Mede."
Rayanne moves in with what equipment they have to tend to her.
Stephanie glares at her captain. Anger helps to fend off the welter of disappointment inside her. They have no medical officer, and even Stephanie knows that field dressing won't get her back in the pilot's seat and under bright stars again.
"I recommend some downtime," Rayanne interjects, speaking calmly. Always calm. She isn't the one consigned to this d— medical bay until they can reach a proper Alliance hospital.
Stephanie scowls. She doesn't want downtime. She wants to fly. She wants out of this Alliance ship with its dark metal walls and no windows out. This is why she never visits home and Talon Mede. This is why she never lets the monster of dissatisfaction and fierceness gnaw at her insides. This is why she ignores the cries and sirens of Talon Mede.
Her leg is throbbing. She turns away from Rayanne and Sergio to stare up at the sheen of blue ceiling above her. The world seems to close in, and she wishes she could see the stars through Talon glass.
Alarms loudly in Andrea's ears. She lies in the pilot's bed of the Anea, shimmering metal at her back and the glass expanse over her head—cracking. Even without the alarms, she can see the monstrous Talon pirate ship with her own eyes.
What happens when the glass cracks?
Elysium spaceship glass is not supposed to crack, but Talon glass is stronger. Elysia is a planet; Talons live only in space.
Andrea tries desperately—futilely—to avoid the collision that will destroy her ship and allow the pirates salvage. For an instant, she feels the vastness of eternity waiting.
G-d preserve us.
The glass shatters.
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