Authors: Linda Mooney
Tags: #sci-fi, #aliens, #alternate worlds, #action, #adventure, #sensuous, #science fiction, #space opera, #romance
Kyber nodded sympathetically, but Verin had given him some very valuable insight. They’d fought against the underground creatures for the past few nights. That meant their weapons were close to being depleted. Because he had informed the D’har that there was a Terran who could recharge them, it explained more clearly why the Seneecian wanted to keep the discarded guns for himself.
The D’har believed the Terrans were unarmed. As long as Fullgrath and the others kept the knowledge of their tube guns secret, if the D’har did try to claim dominance, there was a good chance of defeating him.
A good chance, if the gods were benevolent,
Kyber mused to himself.
“Time’s up!” the D’har ordered. “We need to keep moving.”
To everyone’s surprise, Gaveer stood and pointed in the direction where the tunnel lay, which led to the nonagon.
“We need to move. Now.”
The Seneecian turned to look behind him, back to where the trees rose nearly to the top of the vaulted ceiling and brushed against the row of windows which let in the sunlight. Kyber noticed the way the branches swayed, the leaves rustling loudly.
In a room with no wind.
He quickly got to his feet. “Hurry,” he snapped and took off for the tunnel.
They were halfway across the open area when they heard the angry squeal erupt behind them.
They barely made it into the narrow tunnel leading down toward the nonagon before the dark creature tried to pick them off. Safely inside, they all stopped and watched as the huge, snake-like creature tried to bore its way through the small opening. Its long, slender tongue reached inside the slit without success. After a few minutes, the monster gave up and undulated back to the trees where it could lie in wait.
“It feeds on whatever comes to feed from the trees,” Massapa conjectured. No one argued the point.
As they had in the temple, the D’har and his two men stayed at the rear of the line. It was a tactical defense Kyber had seen dozens of times. But, as he had privately noted in those instances, he believed such a defense was a mistake. By not having at least one armed man at the front, there was the chance a prisoner could make a run for it and escape.
But there is also the chance a prisoner would be the first to be killed or eaten, especially on a hostile planet such as this one,
Kyber silently acknowledged.
It was clear the D’har felt he already had the upper hand, and Kyber glanced back at Massapa and Gaveer. He had no way of knowing if those two, including Tojun, would revert to obeying the D’har, or if the realization they were no longer bound by Seneecian protocol would convince them otherwise. By the same token, once Verin and Kleesod understood there would never be a rescue ship, and they would spend the rest of their lives on this planet, would they continue to look to the D’har for leadership?
On the ship, D’har Plat’s rule had been harsh and unforgiving. On board, he’d had the full authority of the Seneecian Alliance to back him. Any crew member who raised his ire was at the man’s mercy, which could be swift and bloody. It was their way. It was Seneecian law—to dismiss and be rid of those found weak and unsuitable, rather than attempt any sort of compromise or collaboration. Or rehabilitation.
Kyber frowned. Since he and the others crashed on this odd planet, they’d been forced to abandon all things Seneecian and Terran in order to survive. The question was, could the D’har let go of protocol? Kyber believed he already knew the answer.
“Por D’har!” D’har Plat’s voice reverberated down the length of the narrow corridor.
Kyber stopped, turning around to await what the man had to say. In the pale gleam from their tube lights, the white-furred Seneecian appeared to glow.
“How far down are you taking us?”
“I do not know the exact depth, D’har. By my estimate, we are almost there.” Without waiting for an answer, Kyber resumed the downward hike.
If the D’har’s method remained true to form, Kyber expected the other two to subtly take new positions, one in the middle of the line and the other near the front, close to him. Two hundred meters further down, he sensed someone coming up behind him. A quick glance proved his instincts were correct. Verin met his eyes but said nothing as he remained at Kyber’s heels.
Within another hour, the lights in the atrium filtered into the tunnel, guiding them. As they filed into the open area, Kyber glanced around at the closed doorways. The place looked empty.
“Is this our destination?” the D’har inquired. The man continued to speak in Seneecian. He would not use Terranese until he was ready, and only then when he had to directly address them.
Kyber kept his back to the commander. “Yes. We’re here,” he answered in Terranese, knowing it would inevitably infuriate the D’har at some point. But the Terrans needed to remain aware of what was being said.
“Where are the others you told me about?”
“They’re here. Inside their apartments.”
“What apartments? Call them out. Now.”
Bowing his head, Kyber peered from the corner of his eye. Verin’s blaster remained on him. The D’har had the three Terrans in his line of fire. That would mean Kleesod’s weapon was trained on Gaveer and Massapa. At this point, the odds were not in Plat’s favor. Kyber suspected the commander was about to attempt a coup. He took a deep breath.
“Hello! Where is everyone?”
As he expected, Kelen was the first to burst from their apartment. The joyous smile on her beautiful face instantly disappeared as she grasped the situation. She skidded to a halt and stared at him with apprehension.
“I must admit, it didn’t take you as long as I thought it wo—” Sandow came to a jerky halt as he also spotted the three new Seneecians, all of whom had blasters trained on Kyber and the others. The physician’s face reddened with anger. “Who are you?”
“This is D’har Plat, of the warship
” Kyber made the introductions.
“D’har!” Tojun emerged from his apartment, a surprised look on his face as he cradled his arm. The Seneecian glanced at the other two new visitors. “Kleesod! Verin! You survived! Thanks be to the gods.”
Kyber mentally noted the two crew members smiling back at Tojun. On the other hand, the D’har barely acknowledged the wounded man.
“You said there were five others,” the D’har remarked.
“He wants to know where the others are,” Kyber interpreted.
Sandow pointed behind him. “I have a sick man inside my apartment. Our fifth member is at work in that apartment there.”
“Por Veenosh Massapa.” The D’har made a motion with his hand, indicating Verin should hand his blaster over to the Seneecian. Massapa glanced at Kyber, but accepted the weapon.
The D’har indicated Massapa to go over to the doorway. Giving a nod, Massapa left his position and hurried over to where Dox was located. “Dox, this is Massapa. Please open up.” He beat on the door but there was no answer. He looked back at his commander for instructions.
“Blow it open.”
The Seneecian was visibly shaken, and Kyber understood why.
“Reconsider, D’har. If Dox is standing directly on the other side, the blast will kill him.”
The D’har’s eyes narrowed. “Are you countermanding my orders?”
“I am asking you to reconsider,” Kyber repeated.
Tension filled the area like a thick, invisible fog. Kyber could almost taste it, harsh and bitter, like blood on his tongue.
Hissing softly, the D’har waved a hand at Massapa, although his gaze remained fixed on Kyber. “You were instructed what to do. Do it!”
Hesitantly, Massapa raised the blaster and aimed it at the portal.
“No! Wait! Don’t!” Kelen yelled, rushing over to the Seneecian. “Let us try to get him to answer it.” She threw a pleading look at the D’har, her eyes lighting on Mellori. “We’ll get him to open it. Paul?”
The ex-engineer detached himself from the group and walked over to the door.
“Hey, Dox! It’s me. Open up.”
The door remained shut.
“Blow it,” the D’har reiterated.
When Massapa lifted his weapon again, Kelen ran over to the door and pounded on it with her fist.
“Dox! Dox, Code Black! Code Black! Open up!”
Mere seconds later, the door dropped into the ground. Dox emerged, sleepy-eyed and curious.
“Hi, Kelen!” He started to say more when Verin strode over, grabbed him by the arm, and jerked the little man out of the doorway. A hard shove was enough to convince Dox to join the others in the center of the atrium.
“That is four. Where is the other?” The request was more of a command, and Kyber knew where this was heading. D’har Plat was gradually bringing the other Seneecians back under his authority. Years of service and submission was difficult, if not impossible, to dismiss. Not when a commander like Plat rode their backs.
Except there was one question that continued to loom at Kyber. If he chose to challenge the D’har, would Verin and Kleesod accept him as their new leader? He knew, without a doubt, that Massapa, Gaveer, and Tojun would continue to support him. But with Plat’s return, they could be faced with no choice but to accept him as their commander.
Sandow glanced from Kyber, then to the D’har. Raising his hand, he then pointed it toward his apartment. “Our second in command is in there. I’ve declared him mentally incompetent and no longer fit to command.”
“Bring him out here.”
Kyber translated for the physician.
Sandow shook his head. “Sorry but he’s been restrained.”
“Release him.” Surprisingly, the demand was in Terranese.
The physician refused to budge. “My apologies again, D’har, but that’s not possible. He’s a menace to himself and to the rest of us. If I release him, he will attack. Not
“I understand,” the D’har said. “Kith Gaveer!”
Gaveer straightened and faced the D’har. The commander held out his blaster, which Gaveer accepted.
“Kill the bound prisoner,” the D’har ordered.
Kyber responded before anyone could protest. A few meters away, Kelen gave him a look he couldn’t read. He saw anger, but he also saw helplessness. It was as if she was silently begging him to do something.
He’s one of you. You have to stop him! Stop him before this goes too far!
Kyber gave Gaveer a hard glare. “Put down the blaster.”
“Kith Gaveer, you were given a direct order,” the D’har repeated in a darker voice.
The moment had come. Kyber turned to directly face the commander.
“And he is no longer bound to obey.”
A slight flush came over the D’har’s countenance, but Kyber got the impression the man had been expecting this to occur. The commander smiled until he revealed the tips of his long teeth. The threat was clear.
“Are you challenging my authority, Por D’har?” The man’s voice was tight, restrained. But he was also weaponless. However, for a trained Seneecian, that was a small detail. His talons and teeth could do considerable damage if the two of them were reduced to hand-to-hand combat. And if it came down to an official challenge, tooth and nail was all they would be allowed to use.
Kyber mentally assessed his physical deterioration. Had he just the deep wound in his hip to contend with, he would have given himself even odds against the older man. But with the blaster wound in his shoulder, which affected his entire arm and hand, the odds were heavily against him. He was at a disadvantage, but he couldn’t show any weakness to the D’har. He couldn’t allow the man to know how injured he was.
With the exception of the one question, Plat continued to speak in Seneecian, deliberately keeping the Terrans in the dark about their conversation. Likewise, Kyber continued to semi-translate by responding in Terranese.
“I am not contesting your commands, D’har. You do not understand our present circumstances. You do not understand the treaty by which we abide.”
“I am not bound by your treaty.”
Kyber paused. Taking a deep mental breath, he answered slowly. “Yes. You are.”
His rebuttal sparked immediate anger from the D’har, as he expected. He watched as the man’s attention shot away from him, to land on the other three Seneecians who stood behind Kyber. The division was immediately clear who stood with whom.
Snorting, the D’har directed his next question at Sandow, and in Terranese. “You say your commander is unfit to lead?”
“Then who is your leader?”
The physician automatically looked to Kyber, as did the other Seneecians. From the way the D’har narrowed his eyes, Kyber knew the challenge was about to be issued.
“No one’s directly in charge.”
Kyber glanced in shock as Kelen walked over and stood directly in front of the D’har.
“Everyone’s opinion counts. It has to,” she insisted. “We are all dependent on each other. Therefore, we allow everyone to state their beliefs and disbeliefs before a plan of action is agreed upon.”
D’har Plat reared back his head. The look of disgust on his white-furred face was unmistakable, and Kyber understood why. Females did not defy the males. Lesser ranking crew members did not correct their superiors. And worse, Terrans did not flout the authority of a Seneecian.
“Return to your abode, female.” The command was terse. Dismissive.
is right here, with my fellow crew members,” Kelen snapped, crossing her arms over her breasts. The action drew the D’har’s gaze to that area of her body.
“Are you the only female?”