I left Valentin sleeping in medical and went to find him a shirt from the crew bunk. With his augments, I wasn’t exactly sure how long he’d stay out. It might be as little as fifteen minutes, so the faster I got him into a cell, the better.
It was more difficult than I expected to wrestle his limp body into a shirt, but I finally managed it. With him fully dressed again, I picked him up and carried him two doors down. Pain stabbed down my right leg with each step but the bandage seemed to be holding.
I put Valentin in the only cell with a fully manual lock. I didn’t know if he could manipulate connections other than neural links or if the ship’s security would stop him. Either way, it was better to be safe than murdered in my sleep.
After a moment’s hesitation, I picked the lock on his remaining leg shackle and removed it. He’d be more comfortable without it.
With Valentin contained, I headed to the bridge. We had cleared the planet’s atmosphere. And as far as the sensors were concerned, no one had followed us. If someone had followed us, their stealth system was better than mine. In a few more minutes we could make our first jump and hopefully lose any tagalongs.
“Invictia, close all neural link connections. Accept only my spoken commands and authenticated terminal commands until further notice.”
My mental connection to the ship disappeared. “All neural connections have been closed,” the ship said over the bridge loudspeakers.
I severed my connection to the net and closed all of the neural link sockets that listened for incoming connections. It might be overkill, but without knowing exactly how Emperor Kos’s ability worked, I couldn’t be sure.
At the thought of the Emperor, my mind drifted back to our almost kiss. I touched my lips. The painkiller had loosened its grip and I still wanted him. He affected me more strongly than anyone I’d met in a long, long time.
But he could have anyone he wanted, and while I was self-aware enough to know I had a sort of delicate charm, I was far from the stunning women he was used to.
I scowled, but jealousy wasn’t a good look, especially not when the target was so far out of reach he might as well be a distant star in the night sky. I needed to keep my eye on the prize and get over the fact that he was hot enough to melt metal.
To keep myself busy, I plotted the course to the Coalition’s headquarters on Trigon Three. The direct route required two jumps. The stardrive needed a four-hour cool down before the second jump, but even so, I could be home in time for brunch.
However, I also needed to let the Kos Empire know that I had Valentin. Right now we were in the middle of Quint space and communication was restricted, so if I wanted them to get the message sometime this century, I needed to be closer to a large communication hub.
I could hit the nearest hub in a single jump but it was still in Quint Confederacy space. Jumping the two people the Quints wanted most in the world directly into their lap probably wasn’t the best move. No, I needed something in disputed space and that left only a single nearby option: Caldwell Prime 57.
Once a tiny frontier space station, Caldwell Prime 57 had grown to epic proportions. Rumor had it that seventy-five percent of the universe’s black market goods moved through CP57. Both Quint and Kos were desperate to control it, but CP57 had grown tired of the constant fighting and declared themselves independent—and they had the money, power, and might to back it up.
I plotted the course. Stopping by CP57 meant adding an extra jump—and another four-hour cool down—but it was safer than hanging around in Quint space. And it put me closer to Trigon Three if things went south. Decision made, I locked in the route. We would complete our first jump in ten minutes.
With the course set, I decided a shower was the next highest priority. Invictia came equipped with a water generation and recycling plant, an unheard of luxury on a ship this size. But this was my personal ship and I enjoyed real showers, so I’d authorized the reduced crew quarters to make it happen. I didn’t often ferry anyone around, so there was no crew to complain.
The door to my quarters slid open, revealing painted walls of pale gold that reminded me of sunlight on a summer’s day. A large bed dominated the room, another anomaly. Thanks to the bed, I didn’t have space for a full sitting room, but I had managed to squeeze in a comfy overstuffed chair and a footrest.
This room had been my haven for far longer than I’d been Queen Rani.
I dug through the wardrobe looking for clothes that would be easy to put on with a busted up shoulder and thigh. I decided on loose utility pants and a button-up shirt. I skipped the sexy underwear. I doubted Valentin had anything fun on his mind after my little stunt.
My tiny private bathroom had a sink, shower, and toilet. The mirror above the sink did not reflect a flattering picture. Dark circles shadowed the skin under my eyes and my right eye was ringed in black—Commander Adams had hit harder than I thought. And thanks to the blood loss, my skin had taken on a sickly pallor. I looked like a dark-eyed, dark-haired wraith.
I stripped out of my underthings and stepped into the shower to let the water wash away the remnants of our escape. Bloody rivulets ran down my arms and legs.
Lulled by the warm water, I lost track of time, but the unmistakable vibration of the stardrive kicking in broke me from the daze. I washed my hair then carefully washed around the bandages.
By the time I was done, my thigh throbbed in time with my pulse, a deep, stabbing pain that the painkiller couldn’t completely alleviate. And after my last experience in humiliation, I wasn’t eager to give myself another dose.
This week and next week will be full chapters, but there may be a week or two of partial chapters after that, depending on how much I write over the holiday. Just FYI so you can prepare yourselves. :)