Authors: Laura Jo Phillips
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
Jung Del, Supreme Commander of the Marrazon Space Defense Force, Uncle and Regent to the reigning Queen of the Two Systems, and friend to Ellicia Daniels of Earth, gazed down at the remains of what had once been a human man. “It is a shame he did not last longer,” he commented idly.
“I apologize, Sire,” Captain Yoli replied. “We tried very hard to make him last longer, but in the end, there really wasn’t any more to be done.”
“I understand, Captain, do not distress yourself,” Jung Del replied with a dismissive shrug of his wide shoulders. “It is to your credit that you got six months more out of him than I’d expected. In fact, I am impressed that he lasted so much longer than his Terien bodyguards.”
Captain Yoli did not make the mistake of swelling up with pride at the praise, but he did relax just a little. “You are most generous, Sire.”
“Well, dispose of the leftovers however you see fit,” Jung Del said. “Did he have anything of interest to say of late?”
“Not that I am aware of so far, Sir,” Captain Yoli replied. “I have not yet finished reviewing the recordings though. I expect to have a final report for you by this time tomorrow, if that is acceptable.”
“That’s fine, but I would like a copy of the file now, if that’s possible.”
“Certainly, Sire,” Captain Yoli replied, glancing sharply at one of his men. Just because Jung Del had used polite words did not mean it was not an order, and Captain Yoli knew it. Jung Del had a well deserved reputation for unfailing politeness, and utter ruthlessness. Captain Yoli watched as the guardsman turned and raced away at high speed.
Jung Del took a last look at what had once been the much feared, sadistic crime boss known as Stephan Loggia, with a touch of regret. He’d been so busy since his Sister Queen’s death that he hadn’t had nearly as much leisure time as he would have liked. He’d enjoyed semi-frequent visits with Loggia and his bodyguards, and he’d received daily reports on them, but he’d missed the one-on-one participation that he generally preferred with the most deserving of prisoners.
“Sidley, I want you to prepare a message to Agent Ellicia Daniels of Earth,” he said, addressing the small, bluish-grey male standing beside him. “Inform her that the last of our mutual enemies has, at long last, gone to the nine hells to suffer eternity however the ruler of that realm sees fit.”
“Yes yes, Lord Jung Del, Sire, at once, at once,” Sidley replied in his high, piping voice.
Jung Del looked down at his assistant for a long moment. “Sidley, have you been into the jellyfish-fire again?”
Sidley’s narrow face flushed neon yellow. “Yes, Lord Jung Del, Sire Sire Sire, sorry sorry,” he replied, his nervousness causing his voice to rise higher and higher with each word.
Jung Del started to speak, but paused when the guardsman raced back into the tank room and handed Captain Yoli a memory crystal.
“Here you are, Sire,” Captain Yoli said, offering the crystal to Jung Del.
“Thank you Captain Yoli,” Jung Del replied. “Carry on.” Jung Del barely waited for Captain Yoli’s polite bow before turning and heading out of the tank room. He turned the crystal over in his hand a few times, then reached into his pocket for his portable reader. He doubted that Loggia had said anything in the past six months that he hadn’t said repeatedly in the years prior, but one never knew. He would listen to it anyway, just in case. He slipped the crystal into the reader and returned it to his pocket.
“Sidley, I want you to send that message to Miss Daniels, then go down to the dispensary for an antidote,” he said. “When I return from my niece’s birthday party I will expect you to be fully sober.”
“Yes yes, Lord Jung Del, Sire, as you wish wish wish.”
Jung Del stopped walking and turned to face his assistant. “Sidley, listen to me carefully now.” Jung Del waited for Sidley to return his gaze. “If you do this again, you will be permanently demoted. Do you understand me?”
“Yes yes, Lord Jung Del, Sire Sire,” Sidley replied, his voice so high now it was a squeak that hurt Jung Del’s hearing apertures. “Not again, Sire, no no no, not again.”
Jung Del smiled, baring several rows of sharp, triangular teeth. “Very good, Sidley, you’re dismissed.” He shook his head, then put the little fish from his mind and resumed his walk toward the palace.
He really did not have the time, or the desire, to attend Karniva’s birthday party today, but even though she didn’t hold full power yet, she was Queen, and it would be rude not to show up. He loved the child, and thought that, once she grew into her fins a bit, she would one day become a fitting ruler for Marrazo. In the meantime however, most of the day to day decision making fell on his shoulders. He didn’t mind, but he did sometimes wonder if he should have taken the throne himself after his sister’s death. He was doing the work of a monarch now as it was.
But no. He didn’t want to be King. He enjoyed the freedom that the comparatively low rank of Commander of the Defense Forces offered him. He could go where he willed, do as he wished, and maintain his more unsavory contacts without comment. Much of that freedom had been temporarily curtailed due to his responsibilities as Regent. If he were King, those curtailments would be permanent, a thought that made his gills flutter with distaste.
It was nearly midnight when Jung Del slid into bed, exhausted from the long day. The birthday party had been exactly what he expected. Too loud, too bright, too crowded, too everything. But, the young Queen had been happy and that was all that really mattered for any child on her sixteenth birthday.
As much as he wanted to sleep, he decided to take a few minutes to scroll through the memory crystal on Loggia first. He grew sleepy as he skipped through several weeks of mumblings and ramblings which no amount of computer interpretation could clean up. He was just about to shut off the device when something caught his attention. He reversed, then replayed a section. A few minutes later he was wide awake and pacing his floor in thoughtful deliberation.
He thought of the last message he received from the Director many months earlier. It had been upsetting to learn that Ellicia had been seriously injured in an attack that had killed many of her colleagues. He not only owed a blood debt to Ellicia Daniels, he had developed a genuine fondness for her in the brief time that they’d worked together.
He hadn’t given much thought to her attack. It seemed a reasonable risk for the line of work she was in. Now though, after listening to Loggia’s ramblings, he was fairly certain that something far more sinister was going on. Something he didn’t think either the Director, or Ellicia, knew about.
Jung Del stopped pacing and made up his mind. Sending a message was not enough. He owed both the Director and Ellicia more than that. Especially since he now had no way of knowing whether his message would reach either of them. He stepped up to the vid terminal on the wall and hit the button for his assistant.
“Sidley, I want the
prepped. We are leaving for Earth in three hours. I want no excuses, and no delays.”
“Yes, Sire, at once Sire,” Sidley replied. Jung Del pressed another button and got the Queen’s fin-maiden. “Dor, awaken the Queen at once,” he ordered. “I am on my way over to speak with her and I want her alert enough to pay attention.”
“Yes, Sire,” the young female replied at once. “As you command.”
Jung Del closed the connection and hit another button. “Tolip, get in here,” he said as soon as his valet answered the call. He closed that connection before Tolip had a chance to respond, then stepped into the bathroom to dress. A moment later the door to his bed chamber opened. “Get in here, Tolip,” he called. The thin, silver skinned male hurried into the bathroom. “Pack for an extended trip,” he said. “I leave in three hours for Earth so send everything to the
at once. You’re coming, so prepare yourself as well.”
Ten minutes later Jung Del entered the throne room and frowned at the pouty expression on Karniva’s gray face. “Don’t pull that face on me young lady,” he warned, snapping his teeth together lightly as he crossed the room to where she sat on the steps below the throne. “I have serious business to discuss with you and I need you to pay attention.”
“Now? In the middle of the night?” the girl asked petulantly, her wide mouth drawn down into a frown.
“I am leaving in less than three hours for Earth, so now is the only time available,” he explained.
“You’re leaving? Now?” Karniva demanded. “I don’t want you to leave. My birthday celebration only just began. There are still four more days, and you’re running off somewhere. That’s not fair. I want you to stay.”
“The woman who solved your mother’s murder and helped us to capture the man responsible, is in trouble,” Jung Del said with a low growl. “I must assist her as I am able.”
The pout fell from Karniva’s face at once, replaced by an expression of shame. “Of course you must go to her aid, Uncle,” she said, revealing the reason Jung Del had chosen her over her older sisters for queen. “Please forgive my behavior. There can be no more important matter for our family than assisting Ellicia Daniels. I am sorry to have acted so childishly.”
“You are a child,” Jung Del said, his anger instantly soothed by Karniva’s apology. “It is not wrong to act like one. I accept your apology, naturally. But I must go to Ellicia’s aid, and you must remain here and act responsibly while I am gone.”
“Of course, Uncle,” Karniva said. “I ask only that you give Miss Daniels my most sincere thanks when next you see her.”
“It will be my pleasure, Niece. Now, let us discuss a few important matters before I leave.”
“All right,” Karniva said, sitting up straight, an expression of concentration on her face, her black eyes focused intently on him. “I will listen, and I will remember.”
“Good girl,” Jung Del praised. As he began instructing Karniva in those matters that must be attended to in his absence, and those that could be put off, Jung Del was reminded of his sister at this age. He had loved her dearly, and her murder had been a painful blow to him. Only because of Ellicia Daniels had he been able to identify her killer. For that, he was forever in her debt, and even though this might not be the best time for him to leave, it was necessary. This was a matter of honor, and as such, could not be put off or gainsaid.
Faith Meyers hung back and watched as her fellow passengers crowded together near the exit. The idea of joining the press of bodies vying to be the first to exit the liner made her shudder inwardly, though she was careful to give no outward sign of her feelings. She’d didn’t know exactly what she’d do if that many strangers touched her at once, but it wouldn’t be pretty. Besides, what was the hurry? It wasn’t like there was a prize for those who got off the liner and into the Skyport first.
She started to hitch her duffle bag up higher on her shoulder, then dropped it to the floor next to her feet. It looked like it would be a while before that crowd got through the door. She might as well relax while she waited.
“Excuse me, Miss, but is there a problem?”
Faith’s heart leapt to her throat, nearly choking her with sudden fear.
Get a grip!
she admonished herself firmly
Never show fear. Never!
She gave the steward her most irritated frown, her hazel eyes narrowing. “No,” she replied shortly.
“I’m afraid all passengers must exit at this time,” he said.
“Obviously,” Faith replied. The steward stubbornly held his ground, not the least put off. She sighed with exaggerated patience. “I am not a cow, therefore I have no desire to join the herd. Once there’s enough room to walk through the doorway in a normal manner, then I’ll do so.”
“I see,” the steward replied. “Well um, I hope you had a nice journey.”
Faith lifted one shoulder in a noncommittal shrug and turned her attention back to the crowd, which appeared to be getting smaller. Either people were actually getting through the doorway, or some of them had passed out from the crush and fallen to the floor to be trampled by their fellow travelers.
She started to relax again before noticing that, while the steward had moved away, he was still watching her. She kept her eyes on the exit, determined to act as though the man didn’t exist. It wasn’t easy. Especially since every instinct she had was urging her to either run like hell, or attack him without warning, incapacitate him, and
run like hell.
She wondered what Grace would have done, and smiled to herself. Grace would have stared the man down without a trace of fear or embarrassment. Though she and Grace were identical twins on the outside, on the inside they were quite different. Grace had been serious, focused, goal oriented, and smart. Faith was none of those things. She was the relaxed, happy, go-with-the-flow girl.
That was who she had been, anyway. She wasn’t altogether sure who she was these days. What she did know was that she was no longer happy or relaxed. Nor did she think she ever would be again.
It took nearly half an hour for the exit to clear. By then the steward’s almost constant gaze had begun to feel like a physical weight pressing down on her. She picked up her duffle bag and headed through the doorway, struggling against the urge to run. Once she was out of the steward’s sight she paused, letting the relief wash through her as she took several long, slow breaths.