“Where is he now?”
The atmosphere in the Man’s chambers was heavy at the best of times, the scent of spices and oils from all corners of the galaxy mingling into a warm intoxicating concoction. The question hung in the air like a wisp of smoke, swirling provocatively between them.
The Man spoke again without giving him time to think up an answer, a warning edge to his voice, “Don’t try to read me, NG.”
He should have known better but it hadn’t been a conscious effort, more a gentle testing of the mood to gauge what the tone of this meeting was going to be.
“We don’t know,” NG said finally.
“Sit down.” The Man nodded towards the heavy set wooden chair in front of his desk. It wasn’t often that he’d get summoned to the chambers and only rarely was he asked to sit. He sat.
“Outright war between Earth and Winter,” the Man said and shook his head slowly, his hands clasped in front of him on the desk. “Factions finding the audacity to make moves against us. Our own demonstrating questionable motives. And we don’t know where he is?”
There wasn’t usually much that could go wrong with an easy acquisition. He wiped blood from his cheek with a shaky hand. Senses still spinning, he tried to lean forward to disengage the drive but the restraints tightened and pulled him back into the seat. An alarm was sounding, distant and irregular, only now becoming an insistent irritant inside his head, which was pounding and wondering where the hell things had gone wrong.
He tried to twist around in the harness to check on the package but his neck resisted and a pain shot through his side with enough bite to make him straighten up and groan. The proximity alarm, he thought. And remembered it sounding much louder not so long ago. It faded as he closed his eyes.
The voice that penetrated the fog was soft and feminine, nudging gently into his awareness. “Hil,” she said in persuasive mode, “Hil honey, you need to wake up now.”
He could taste blood and smell hydraulic oil. That couldn’t be a good combination and his survival instinct was screaming at him to jump up and fight, or run, he wasn’t sure which because it was being soundly beaten into submission by his immediate need to fade out again.
“Hil,” the voice was louder now. “I need you to get up and help me, hon, because I can’t fix this by myself. My suppressant systems are shot and if you don’t get back there and do something to control the pressure that is building up, the drive is going to explode and we’ll both die here on a godforsaken planet in the back of beyond and no one will care or miss us except for that damn package you had to go get.”
It was a dream he had too often so he embraced it and decided to let it run out. Usually he’d wake abruptly and go get a beer to calm his nerves. The nightmares had been more often of late but this was the first that hurt so bad. And the first where Skye was so polite. And come to think of it, the first where he could feel his head spinning from the smell of fumes.
He jerked awake and gasped as the movement reignited all the sparks of pain.
“God dammit, Hil,” Skye was screaming, “you worthless son of a bitch dragging us out here on a goddamned wild goose chase and dying on me.” He’d never heard so much emotion from the ship before.
He couldn’t help the smile that crept across his face, sore as he was and in no way sure enough of the state of the ship to be cocky. But he’d gotten hold of the package and made it away. So why was he sitting here grounded on god knows what planet with his wits scattered as far as wreckage from his ship?
The smile faded…
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