I ducked my head, pulling my knees to my chest and burying my face against them. My throat burned, and I swallowed repeatedly. I’d tried to stay coldly logical, thinking everything through, convincing Deke and Captain, and keeping calm even when I’d been locked in waiting for my brain to betray me—and worse, betray the ones who’d set me free.
Knowing it wasn’t going to happen set free all the emotions I’d tried so hard to suppress. My breath shuddered in and out, and a few tears escaped.
“It’s okay, Kohen. You’ll be all right.” Lakshou stood behind him and ran his hand across the back of my head. His long fingers brushed the ports.
Those synapses fired again, and whatever extra alien parts they’d shoved inside that helped me accept the advanced processes from the technology also embedded inside my brain were spinning through the things we knew, the fears we had, and the horrible possibilities.
“I’ve bonded with Captain. But the others who were rescued who have ports… did any of their brains change or were they still intact, ready to receive whatever signals are about to break through? Before, Captain said none of their scans showed any extra activity like mine. So… are they susceptible?”
Aparoe stood, shoving the wand into the machine and clamping the lid shut. “It’s a valid fear. I need to get back to Medical. I will leave you two to discuss this with Captain Querry and Deke.” Aparoe sighed. “I don’t like it, but Deke asked me to assess the species rescued on this latest mission to see if there’s any way to sedate them as a group. While I am not happy that it is fully safe for all, I do believe we have a sedative on board that can be injected into their air supply if the vents are isolated.”
“It’s possible.” Closing off their system controls to ensure that their level was secure was one of the modifications I’d helped make earlier. I’d thought Deke was paranoid but isolating their environmentals was possible.
Aparoe was gone, and Lakshou and I were hot on their heels when I froze. “Why did I believe you so easily? That this is all so easily stopped, so neatly foiled?”
Lakshou cursed in a language I didn’t understand. He turned and the rage on his face distorted his bifurcated lips. “Why can’t you just stop thinking and stop fighting for once? I told them, told them this wouldn’t work!”
“That damn bond. First the technology failed, now the bond has made my influence too weak to hold you for more than a few seconds. I told them you were a liability; Querry might be taken in by your body and your broken innocence, but I just knew you’d fuck up our plans.” Lakshou pulled his arms out of his robes and the restraints glinted in the light. “I don’t have time for this.”
Shock stopped my heart from beating and the breath from entering my lungs as Lakshou ranted, but the sight of those cuffs broke me from my trance. The door had slid shut behind Aparoe, and we were alone… and Lakshou was the traitor all along.
How did we miss that?
“Time for Plan B.” Lakshou sneered. “You, I hope they cull.” His horns flashed blue, but he was too late.
Deke was a paranoid fucker, and he’d been worried about me. He’d gotten a monitor tracer from Aparoe and injected it inside me—and it would’ve gone off the attosecond my heart stuttered in realization that I was locked in Captain’s room with the alien who was potentially behind so much suffering and death.
“Why?” I asked in a choked voice.
“What? Tell you my life’s history, some great sob story of injustice against Central Command that Brox is helping me get even? Let you stall for time in hopes Aparoe tries to contact me and fails, then comes to find us? Or the guards come in?” He shook his head, and the shine around his horns grew stronger.
My arms fell to my sides, and the first smooth, relaxed breath I’d had since realizing the survivors might not have really been rescued after all made my chest rise and fall. Then another. I watched, eerily calm, as Lakshou glided closer. “No, I think you’ll calmly stand there and me give you this injection.” He pulled a hypo from his pocket.
“Your body will be immobilized and fastened to the wall with restraints. Easier to transport you that way. Once this ship is boarded, you’ll be taken back to a lab. The scientists will figure out where you failed, then they’ll cull you. Body parts here, there, whatever’s needed for the next experiment.
“And I’ll get paid.” The hypo hissed and burned my neck as Lakshou hovered over me. My muscles locked tight, and I rocked against the wall. “That’s all your worth to me, a payday.”
“What will be left of you won’t be worth gathering up to mail back to your clan to scatter to the winds in a traitor’s pyre if you don’t get away from Kohen right now,” Captain roared.
Lakshou spun, his mouth parting. “How did you get in here?”
“Kohen is under my protection. Step away from him. Now.” Captain’s hands clenched around the weapon he raised. “Or you won’t even have pieces left for the pyre.”
“Calm down.” The restraints hit the ground with a muted thud as Lakshou stared wide-eyed at whatever Captain was holding. “You’ll kill us all with that.”
“Ironic, considering killing us all seems to be your plan.” Captain nodded once sharply.
Deke and a guard entered his quarters from the front door, like normal, and Deke held an identical weapon. “Use his restraints,” Deke said. His voice was rough. “You okay, kid?”
I blinked, the only thing I could do, and a tear leaked down my cheek.