Wanted by the Rakian Warrior: Chapter Four


He was trapped.

Trapped in the prison of lightning and pain that came back every time he closed his eyes.

And this time he could not wake himself, even though deep in the back of his mind he knew he was safe, home with his brothers.

He was trapped, and the agony was tearing him apart.

“Tell me what you remember.”

The voice drilled into his mind.

There had been voices then, too, he knew that much. Voices that threaded themselves through his dreams, a never-ending litany.

This voice held an echo of familiarity, but still, he could no more answer it than he could the inquisitors from so long ago.

“Tell me what you know.” Over and over again it repeated, demanding answers he didn’t have.

“Stop it!”

A new voice.

He should recognize it, he knew it, he was sure.

But he couldn’t hold onto the sound, couldn’t grasp anything past the torment that shredded his frame.

Suddenly the scent of burnt flesh was overwhelming.

“Come on, come on,” the new voice insisted, and suddenly cool hands were on his skin, soothing away the pain, pulling at him, leading him out of the trap.

“What are all of those wires for? What was he doing?”

He couldn’t answer her, even as he began to be aware of the darkened room around him.

Kennet’s lab.

That’s right, he’d gone to Kennet’s lab with…

Suddenly a face filled his vision, smooth copper skin and deep brown eyes glowing softly in the faint light of the laboratory’s work panels.

“Sasha,” he croaked.

She smiled, and for a moment all of the pain was gone, vanished.

“We’ve gotta get out of here,” she said, and laced her fingers with his.

He stopped, turning her hand back and forth within his own, entranced by her smooth skin.

“I promise you can look at my hands all you want later, just follow me.”

And so, he did.

He stumbled, then leaned on her small shoulders as they wound through the corridors of Ship.

Step by step, his mind cleared, but it wasn’t until they had crossed into the trees outside that his senses fully returned.

He came to a stop, pulling her against him.

“What happened?” he demanded. “What have you done? Where is Sonoda?”

Sasha bit her lip, shook her head, eyes wide with fear and worry. “He was doing something to you. I don’t know what it was, but it was wrong.”

He grabbed her shoulders. “He’s an authorized genetic technician of the Alliance,” Merren enunciated slowly. “Technicians like him are the ones who built me, built all of us. Sometimes they have to do some fixing up, work out the kinks.”

He tried to keep his voice light.

What had happened to him was a little more serious than a kink.

But Sasha wasn’t convinced. “He wasn’t trying to help you,” she insisted. “He was demanding answers from you. And you,” she looked away. “You were screaming. He might be with the Alliance, but whatever you think he’s here for, he’s looking for something else.”

Merren let go of her and dropped down to crouch on his heels as her words sank in.

“Do your usual checkups end up with you screaming in pain?” Sasha pressed on.

“No,” he admitted.

He ran his hand through his hair, clutching the sides of his head, focusing on his breathing.

This was not the time to shift, to let his cat out to solve the problem with the rending and tearing.

Wait a minute…

“Is he dead?”

Sasha shrugged. “I don’t think so. A little charred maybe.”

That was good.

Except in his gut, he wasn’t sure.

She knelt beside him. “What does he want you to remember? Do you know what he was asking about?”

“Carthak.” The word came to his lips unbidden. “It must go back to when we were on Carthak. Everything does.”

She stayed silent for a long minute, watching him. “Then maybe you need to go to Carthak and find out what happened? Because I wouldn’t trust that guy to ask.”

The idea jolted him from his spinning thoughts.

“I can’t,” he said flatly. “Our unit has been stationed here, on Crucible.”

“And the men who ruled over my people thought that I should be locked into a cage, experimented on, and–”

Her voice broke off and her eyes had the lost, haunted look he’d seen there so often.

Sasha shook herself. “I’m just saying, sometimes you can’t trust the people in charge to look after you. You’ve got to get your own answers.”

Get answers.

He nodded, the beginning of a plan forming even as he fought against accepting the idea.

“You don’t understand. An Alliance Enforcer doesn’t leave his assignment. Ever.”

“Why not?” she asked simply.

He took a slow breath in, the cool night air mixing with something else. Something sweet.

With a start, he realized it was her.

“I mean, what happens if you do leave?” She reached over and tapped his cuff. “I know they can track you through this, but what if you just took it off?”

What if…

“How do we even get to Carthak?” he asked, as much to himself as her. “Any of the shuttles we have access to could be tracked just as easily as my cuff by the Alliance.”

She grinned, her white teeth flashing in the moonlight.

“What if we didn’t use anything from the Alliance? You never exactly met the new neighbors, did you?”

It took a moment for her meaning to sink in, then he stared at her in shock. “You want to borrow something from a Prince of the Empire?”

She rose to her feet, lithe and graceful.

“Think of him as your new brother-in-law. Does that make it easier?

Merren blinked once. Then again.

“No. That doesn’t make it easier at all. Besides, that’s the bastard that had me, traded me back to my brothers like a sack of meat.”

Sasha shook her head slowly. “From what I heard, he wasn’t the one that took you originally. But he’d have information as to where you were before, as well as transport. Sounds perfect to me.”

“You’re out of your mind.”

“Come on, I’ll introduce you,” Sasha said.

“What? Wait. No.” Merren shook himself all over and concentrated on his breathing.

Really, there had to be something better than that.

And he had to regain control of this conversation.

“Even if I were to go to Carthak, and even if I were to go ask a Prince of the Empire for the loan of one of his starcraft, you are most definitely not going with me.”

Sasha leaned back, her eyebrows raised. “How do you think you’re going to stop me?”

Merren threw his hands up in the air, stomped around the tree, kicked at last year’s fallen leaves, and came back to her.

“There are a million reasons.”

“Alright then. Start listing them.”

“If someone in the Alliance is really willing to torture me in order to get information,” his mind stuttered, stopped.

Someone was.

He knew that. Ridiculous as it sounded, he knew that was the truth.

“If that’s the case, nowhere is safe. Any Alliance world we go to is in danger, any Alliance technology we used could be used to track us, and I’m not exactly going to fit in well with the Empire.”

“Last I checked, nowhere was safe,” Sasha said bluntly. “At least that hasn’t been the case for me. Besides, don’t you want to know what happened to you?”

“Yes,” he rumbled as his cat answered with him.

It was true. Before, the missing years had been a slow lingering weight, a reminder of the damage done to him, to his body.

Now it seemed like ignorance could be deadly.

Now he had to know.

“And wouldn’t it be nice to know you had someone with you who is on your side?”

His brothers would be on his side, Merren knew that.

But if they had orders otherwise?

No, he couldn’t put them in that position.

“As far as the Empire outpost,” he allowed. “I can’t take you off planet.”

Sasha shrugged and turned to the north. “We’ll see.”

He grabbed her shoulders, turned her back toward him.

“No ‘we’ll see’ about it,” he growled. “You don’t know what’s out there.”

She jerked her arm out of his grip. “And you don’t know what’s been here. Somebody’s offering you help, so do the graceful thing, and accept it.”

He recoiled as if she’d slapped him. “You’re right,” he said finally. “But we’ve got one more thing to do before we leave.”

As they headed out to the north, only a small hill at the base of a tree marked where they’d buried her bracelet and his cuff.

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