Escape Pod 633: Lucky Shot (Part 2)

Lucky Shot

By Gerri Leen

The fire crackles, and Sirella watches as Kai lies with his eyes closed, pretending to sleep. She knows he’s pretending because his breathing is too soft. She’s heard his almost snores since the second night, when they’d both finally relaxed enough to sleep. She heard them and registered the strange, soft noises—realized they came from him and not from someone or something trying to sneak up on them in the dark of night—before falling back to sleep.

“Kai?” The word is a whisper. She isn’t sure what she wants to say to him. Just that she should say something.

His breathing stutters, but he doesn’t open his eyes.

“I’m sorry.” She looks away from him. She is sorry. But she doesn’t know who the people he lost were. She doesn’t know if they were innocents or not. She doesn’t know why they died, only that someone from her side killed them. She wishes he hadn’t lost people he loved. But he would have died if her shot hadn’t flown so damned wide. And then what? Would some other Vermayan have sat with some other person from one of the nations that make up the Revirian Confederation, and drawn out in strangely colored sand how Vrenden Kai was killed?

Vrenden Kai would have killed her if his shot hadn’t also gone wide.

They’re in the middle of a war. Killing is part of that. She can’t feel bad about it.

She mustn’t feel bad about it.

She feels bad about it.

“Sirella?” Kai has turned over and is staring at her, and she wonders how long he has been watching her.

“I’ve lost people, too, you know?” Her tone is as abrasive as the sand-laden wind.

He frowns. He doesn’t understand her, and she won’t act it out for him. She’s tired of this, tired of drawing in the sand or playing charades. She wants to talk, wants to laugh at a joke, or cry at a sad story. One she understands in words—not one drawn in the sand by her enemy.

She rubs her eyes, forcing the tears back. She doesn’t want to weep over his tragedy. Or because she’s stuck here with him. Or because she missed such a damned easy shot. Why didn’t she check for interference?

Why didn’t he?

Why are they alive when no one else is?

He sits up and stares at her, and his dark eyes seem even blacker in the night. She can see the fire reflected in them. He adds more wood to the fire, and the flames flare up, in his eyes and between them.

“Good,” he says, using her word and trying a small smile on her.

She wonders if he understands what she was conveying with the word, or is he just seeking to reconnect with her. With the only other living thing on this awful world?

“Good,” she says, trying to smile, too, but she can feel that the expression is forced.

She doesn’t want to be here with him. Somehow, the fire is making it worse instead of better. It reminds her of all the things she’s lost, is bringing up memories that razing wind and green dust could never evoke. She can see the fire in her brother Cahl’s large oven, the one he uses to make bread every morning for his restaurant. She wonders if he thinks she’s dead, if Confederation officials informed him of the tragedy out in the wasteland. Maybe he’s grieving and making bread in his fiery oven for some post-funeral meal.

She can see flames flaring in a fire pit on the vacation world of Scaloth. She imagines her and Justina’s friend Moren crouching down by the pit, warming his hands as he stares out at the sea. He’ll cry for them. He’s sensitive and soft, and she loves him for that. He opposed the war and begged them not to go, to stay on Scaloth with him and let the ship go on without them.

Justina laughed at him; she loved the ship too much. Sirella was tempted to stay on Scaloth, but she knew that Justina would always be first in Moren’s heart. He might take Sirella as second best, but would she want to be that for him? Not that she loved him, or at least not that way. But she didn’t want to be anyone’s consolation prize.

Right now, being a consolation prize on that beautiful, soft world with that beautiful, soft boy sounds wonderful.

“Sirella?” Kai’s rust skin looks bronze and hard and alien in the firelight, and she looks away. She doesn’t want grizzled bronze. She wants soft yellow skin like her own. She wants Moren’s or Cahl’s, or anyone’s but Kai’s.

She turns away, more to stop the flow of hurtful words she can feel welling up in her than because she cannot face him. She can taste the bitter things that are fighting for release into the air between them, things that she’ll never be able to take back even if he understands nothing she says.

He’ll understand the tone. He’ll understand the look on her face. He’ll understand hatred. Anger.

And loneliness. Sheer, wrenching loneliness caused by his beautiful, roaring fire.

She holds her hand out to the flames, closer and closer and then in them. The fire burns, and she clenches her teeth to stop a cry of pain from escaping. She’ll feel this—she’ll feel this instead of all the other things she’s afraid to feel.

Kai grabs her wrist, pulling her hand out of the flames. Her skin is red but wasn’t in the heat long enough to burn badly. “Basla?” His eyes are confused. And worried.

She doesn’t need a translator for that. “Why?” he asks her. And she has no answer other than that she’s a coward and a failure and his enemy.

He touches her hand gently, looking at her quizzically as if checking her reaction. She hisses as he hits the part of her palm that took the brunt of the heat, and he pulls his fingers away. Shaking his head, he lets her hand go. But she notices he’s watching her carefully, as if to make sure she won’t do it again.

Studying her palm, she touches the red area until he frowns at the way she’s poking it. He says the thing he said to her when she was scratching the insect bites. His voice holds impatience but also worry.

She holds her hand to his, palm facing him. “It hurts,” she says, as if that’s a good thing. As if it will be a focus now, one that can take the pain and anger and fear that might have come out of her in cruel and cutting words, and transmute the bad things into something good. Something the two of them can use to survive.

She feels stronger; the pain makes her feel stronger.

He holds up his left hand, lays the back of it against her palm, his burn against hers. His skin is cooler than hers, and it feels good against the raw flesh. She looks at him and feels tears begin again. Reaching out with his other hand, he tries to wipe her tears away, but she shakes her head.

His hand stops midway to her.

“Don’t.” She’s holding herself together with only the pain from the flames. His touch, if it’s gentle and sweet and forgiving, will undo her, will send her into some place she doesn’t want to explore.

He drops his hand.

“I’m sorry,” she says, pulling her hand away from his.

He doesn’t say anything, just looks away and puts more wood on the fire.

She lies down, staring into the fire until the flickering of the flames puts her into some other state and she can finally look at him again. He’s sitting up, watching her as she rests.

Watching over her.

The gentleness of his expression threatens to destroy the control that pain gives her, so she stares back at the flames until she can finally close her eyes and go to sleep.

Sirella wakes and stretches, immediately regretting the move as her back threatens to cramp. The sun burns down brightly, pushing away the coldness of night, making it difficult to feel the sadness that overwhelmed her in the dark. Her hand throbs where she burned it, but she holds on to that pain for it’s the feel of survival, the pain of getting on with life. Her skin may burn, but it’s no hotter than the sun beating down on her, than the winds that blow as always.


She turns. Kai is there, holding several of the succulent’s leaves. She didn’t realize he wasn’t in the camp and wonders how long he’s been gone.

He says something long and complicated, his face concerned. She thinks it’s a lecture on keeping her spirits up, a lecture he’s giving her because she hasn’t reached for a leaf. She takes one of them from him, squeezing the juice onto her hand. The relief is immediate, the scorched feeling replaced with wonderful numbness. She wonders where loneliness and bitterness are located, wishes she could pour the juice on them, too.

Kai turns away, grabbing her water container and the spare. He already has his looped over his shoulder. She notices his water is half gone. He looks at her curiously, as if unsure whether she will want to accompany him after not going the day before. Nodding, she motions for him to walk on. She keeps up with him this time, her ankle no longer hurting as much as it did. Her arm still throbs when she forgets herself and turns it the wrong way—she keeps the sling on just to remind herself not to overdo.

The winds whip even more strongly, and she turns to look back the way they came. Their tracks are already blown away in a frenzy of small green cyclones. She’s glad they know the way back by heart.

Kai sighs and rubs at his eyes, which are red and watering. He’s more sensitive to the gritty winds than she is. He’ll rinse his eyes when they get to the watering hole. And for a few minutes, while he kneels low to the ground and rests his eyes, he’ll be at peace. But as soon as they start back, his eyes will begin to water again. She’s seen it happen for five days now.

She watches him as he walks, judging whether his knee is hurting him. He’s walking fine, and she thinks his knee is better, that his injury inside it was much more mild than the cut on top of it.

He seems to sense her eyes on him and glances over. Rubbing at his eyes again, he makes a face. She tells him to stop it in his language—she’s heard that word enough to learn it—and he smiles.

Patting her knee, she points to his, hand turned up as she shrugs to ask him how it is. He nods, his smile grows. It’s fine. It’s good. She motions to her side, points at his. He makes a face, dismissing her concern. She decides if he had internal injuries, they’d know it by now.

She can tell by his walk that he feels good, that his body is strong and not hurting. But she can also see tiredness in the way his eyes seem to be extra sensitive to the blowing grit, in the way he yawns repeatedly as they walk. How long did he keep watch over her?

He looks at her again, another question in his expression. She points to him, makes their sign for sleep. He rolls his eyes—a gesture he picked up from her—and she laughs. She isn’t sure what it means to him, but it amuses her that he probably intends something sarcastic. That it’s her fault he’s tired, perhaps? That he doesn’t know what she expects him to do? Does she think he’ll sleep during the day when he should be working to ensure their survival?

Still grinning, she stops inspecting him, secure that he’s in better shape than she is. The juice is starting to wear off, and she wishes they had a way to make it more portable. Maybe she can find another container in the wreckage. Even something small would be sufficient.

Kai says something and she looks up. He’s pointing up, his face pinched as he tries to see. She follows his gaze and realizes a ship is coming down to the surface.

It’s one of hers.

He realizes it, too. Glancing at her, he takes a step back. “Sirella, kosha.”

She wonders if that’s the word for home. “Kai…” She isn’t sure what else there is to say.

The ship is Revirian; he isn’t. This is very simple. He’s a Vermayan, her enemy. And now he’s her prisoner.

He looks at her. His hand slips down, to his knife, but he doesn’t pull it out. “Sirella?”

She feels her throat lock up. How do her people treat prisoners? It isn’t something she’s ever had to ponder. It was her job to shoot, so she shot, and ships either blew up, crashed if they were in a planet’s pull, or they were disabled, floating in space until boarding parties loaded those aboard into detainment shuttles and sent them on their way.

On their way to where? Where will they send Kai?


She hears the sound of metal sliding on leather; he’s pulled his knife from the sheath. She turns, and his eyes are black and empty for a moment, as if he could really do it, could bring his knife, which he has raised so high, down and down and into her flesh.

She can’t move for a moment, stops breathing and just waits. It’s only fair, really; she stabbed him first. She meets his eyes and sees them change, the darkness in them giving way to something sad and hurt and unsure. Then he smiles. A frightened and slightly apologetic smile.

She inhales; the hot air feels good suddenly. The dust against her face feels good too. She doesn’t want to die. That fact surprises her.

Maybe it’s just that she doesn’t want to die at his hands?

He sighs, and looks up at the ship. His expression is one of grim resignation. He mimes a sign for captive, his hands held in front of him as if tied.

She shakes her head. “No. I go. You stay.” She makes a sign for hiding, which is stupid because there’s nowhere to hide here. If she hurries back to the site, she can beat the ship down. She can say she was the only survivor. She turns to go.

“Sirella,” he says, and she turns. “Water.” He has learned the word from her.

And he’s right. She’ll need one of the bottles to keep her story up. He tries to hand her the spare, but she shakes her head. He’ll need it more.

Looking up, she sees the ship is in slow descent—the winds must be making it hard to stay level. And, of course, there’s no need for it to hurry. She imagines her people expect to find only bodies and wreckage. She wonders if Kai’s people are also on their way.

He turns his knife, holds it carefully by the blade, offering it to her. “Pa Sirella.”

She’s about to refuse it, but something in his eyes tells her she shouldn’t. She pulls her own knife out and hands it to him. “It has no stories. It has no past. Nothing but your blood.”

He doesn’t seem to want her to try to act out what she’s said, just nods and sticks the weapon in his sheath. The knife is a little too big and sticks out more than it should, but he smiles as if it’s a perfect fit. “Derne Sirella.”

She shoves his knife down into her sheath where it fits with room to spare. She touches the gold tracings before looking up at him. “Goodbye, Kai.”

He holds his hand out to her, and she takes it. Her burned palm protests as he clasps her hand tightly, but she doesn’t try to pull away. He says something with many words and in a voice so soft she can barely make out the tone. Then he lets go of her hand and lopes off into the burning desert, away from the camp.

He’ll be fine. She mustn’t worry. He’s been the one who kept them alive. He’ll be fine.

She turns and walks back to camp as fast as her hurt ankle will let her.

She has enough time to hide any evidence of Kai, to make it look like she’s used all the blankets, to be sitting on the pile of them, watching as any lingering footprints disappear from the green sand—the rush of air the ship is bringing up as it lands is finishing what the winds started.

Kai will be fine. He’s a survivor. She mustn’t worry about him.

Her people are here. She can go home. Or at least be with her own kind and talk and laugh and probably cry a little.

Isn’t that what she wanted?

The ship is landing, and she recognizes the type. A search and salvage shuttle—they’ll be here for a while. She will just have to make sure they don’t head toward Kai and the watering hole.

He’ll have no blankets at night. How will he stay warm?

He’ll find a way and it’s immaterial now, as the door opens and an officer who outranks her twice over steps out. He looks startled to see her.

She forces herself to her feet and stands at attention. “Lieutenant Sirella Nacleth, sir.” Her posture is perfect, her salute regulation, her voice that of the well-trained soldier. She is Doalan, after all; they’re known for their soldiering skills. Loyal, brave, cognizant of their duty.

She would never let a prisoner escape. She’d never give succor to the enemy.

“Captain Rejehr.” He gives her a pleased look. “At ease, Lieutenant. We didn’t expect to find anyone alive.”

“I’m the only one, sir.” She manages to put everything that means into her voice. Sorrow. Guilt. Loneliness. Fear.

He walks closer to her and wrinkles his nose. He’s Doalan, too—the epitome of fastidious. “There’s a shower in the ship, Lieutenant. Go use it.”

“Yes, sir.” She doesn’t want to go; she wants to stay and make sure they don’t find any trace of Kai.

“Now, Lieutenant.”

She heads to the ship where another officer is stepping out. As she passes her, she sees her make a face at the smell.

“Nacleth?” Rejehr says.

“Sir?” She turns, afraid he’ll hold up some personal item of Kai’s.

He isn’t holding up anything, he’s merely staring at her, a strange look on his face. “You buried their dead, too?”

“They were starting to smell, sir.”

He nods; that’s easy to understand.

Sirella turns back and tries to give the other officer a wide berth. “Shower?”

The woman smiles. “Come on. I’ll take you. I’m Commander Trabeli.” Leading her down the hallway, she takes Sirella past other crew working to make the shuttle ready for lift-off, past the salvage crew gearing up to take anything of use from what is left of the two ships. “You must have been through hell, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, you’re back among the living now.” Trabeli smiles again, the expression true and generous.

Sirella is touched. Her people, her language, her life. All back. “Thank you, sir.”

Trabeli looks out toward the grave Sirella filled with Kai’s help. “All those people dead. And you had to bury them? With a broken arm?”

Sirella nods. “I was in shock.”

“I believe that.” The woman’s expression clears, and she goes to a storage cabinet and pulls out a pair of coveralls. “Not an officer’s uniform, but it will have to do. Go get cleaned up and then ask someone to take you to the mess.”

“Thank you, sir.”

She waits for Trabeli to walk away, then ducks into the shower. Dialing for cool water, she lets it hit her body for a long time before using the cleanser to scrub the dirt off. The water as it drains is green, and she scrubs harder, working at her skin until the water finally runs clear. Then she turns off the shower and gets out, staring at herself in the mirror. Her skin is darker, burned brownish-red from the harsh sun. Her nose is red and her lips chapped. There are dark circles under her eyes, and her skin is so dry that she looks older. Much older.

Finding some lotion in the bathroom, she spreads it on, but then hears a yell from outside and feels a shiver go down her spine. They didn’t find Kai—they couldn’t have. He stayed away, surely?

She pulls on the coveralls, not bothering to comb her hair as she rushes out. There’s no sign of Kai. Only a few of the salvage crew, whooping over something they’ve found in the Vermayan wreckage. Trabeli looks at her curiously as she stands in the entrance, and Sirella realizes she’s started to shake.

“Go get some food and sit down before you fall down, Lieutenant. That’s an order.”

Sirella turns back into the ship, finds her uniform, and shoves it into a refuse chute. She buckles the knife around her waist. Let them ask her about the dagger. She’ll say she needed a replacement for her own, and one of the dead Vermayans was wearing this one. It was pretty and very sharp. It was only efficient to take it.

And greedy. They’ll think she’s a little greedy to have stolen it from one of the enemy dead. But greed’s allowed when it is also efficient. She isn’t so sure they’d understand her saving a Vermayan from the grave—or from them—even though that too was efficient. He was her only chance for survival. And later she owed him her life.

She doubts they’ll care. She wouldn’t in their position. So she won’t tell them. They can all rest easy: she with her secret, they with their ignorance.

Sirella sits in the back of the shuttle and watches as the surface gets smaller and smaller. They’ve been on the moon—she was right, it was only a moon—for barely more than a day. The salvage team was quick and there was little to take back.

They dock with the larger ship—the captain’s true command. She sees the numbers on it. Revirians don’t name their ships as she knows Vermayans do.

Rejehr invites her to the bridge, and she stands behind his chair as they start to pull away from the moon, ready to make their way across the wasteland.

Trabeli is the pilot, which surprises Sirella for some reason, and she frowns slightly, watching something in the screen at her station. “Incoming ship,” she finally says.

The ensign at tactical confirms. “It’s Vermayan.”

Kai’s ride home has arrived.

Rejehr leans forward. “Ready weapons.”

“Weapons ready,” the ensign says.

Sirella walks over to him. Watches as he does exactly what she did. “Sucker shot,” she says under her breath.

“The enemy is charging weapons, sir.”

She can see it all over again. Her ship will shoot and they’ll miss. Then the Vermayan will shoot and they’ll miss, too. And then, while they try to reconfigure their sensors to compensate for the interference, they’ll drift dangerously close. The shots, when they come, will be too much, the damage too heavy. They’ll crash; they’ll die.

She thinks she should just head for the auxiliary station now. Belt herself in and wait to see if she can survive a second crash from her padded cell.

Trabeli looks over at her. “Just like old times?” Her grin is sympathetic. She’s told Sirella that she’s been approved for leave as soon as they make it back to Revirian-controlled space, probably didn’t want Sirella to see combat this soon after trauma.

“Just like old times,” Sirella says.

The ships will collide and all these people—these fellow Revirians who are just trying to fight the best war they can—will die. And so will all those Vermayans.

She leans over the tactical officer and begins to compensate for the interference.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“Giving us all a chance,” she mutters as she looks over at Rejehr. “Fire?” she asks, knowing she’s completely out of line taking over this way.

“Fire,” Rejehr says, obviously not caring any more than Sirella does about protocol. But then he and Trabeli have heard her story of what happened on that other ship.

Her shot strafes along the side of the Vermayan ship. They fire back but miss by a wide margin.

“Interference,” Sirella says, and hears the ensign make a sound of understanding. She compensates again, her fingers working fast enough that she thinks the younger man can’t follow what she is doing. “Fire,” she tells him.

He fires. The shots strafe the other side. She thinks the damage looks worse than it is, but she hopes that the tactical officer won’t realize that.

He doesn’t. “Good shot.”

She laughs softly. “Lucky shot.” Turning to the captain, she says, “Still too much interference to get a good shot, sir. I’ll try again.”

“No need,” he says, pointing to the screen with a disappointed look.

Kai’s ride is running away.

“Shall we pursue?” Trabeli asks.

“No. Let’s go home.” Rejehr looks over at her. “Is that the right answer, Lieutenant?”

She tries to smile; she should be eager to go home. “Sir, yes, sir.” She watches the Vermayan ship disappear. “Do you think they’ll be back?”

“Why would they? They must know we got everything of value off the planet.” The captain is already programming something into a data module. Probably a report of the encounter. She wonders how he’ll write up her role. “There’s nothing on that planet they’ll want.”

She doesn’t argue and is overcome with tiredness.

Trabeli looks over at the lieutenant at comms and says softly, “Why don’t you show Lieutenant Nacleth to guest quarters?”

He gets up and leads her through the ship, to the habitat area. Her room is small, but she doesn’t mind. It’s hers. And she can be alone.

The way Kai is alone now. Alone with all the dead—his and hers. The Revirian dead weren’t worth salvaging. It’s a pragmatic thing; they were buried after all. Never mind that they lay one on top of the other, or that strange green dirt filled their noses and mouths and eyes.

They’ve left their dead behind. She doesn’t think the Vermayans will do that. Any people that carve stories on their knife handles will go back for their dead. Maybe they’ll wait until they’re sure it’s safe, or until they fix the damage she did to their ship, but they’ll go back. They’ll go back, and Kai will be safe.

It’s a fantasy; she knows that. But it’s the only one she has to hold onto.

The little skiff bucks in the harsh atmosphere of the moon. Sirella knew when she rented it that it would be a handful, but she took it because the owner was one of the few people interested in loaning his ship out for a joyride to the wasteland. She holds onto the controls and is jerked a bit from side to side.

Her arm barely twinges at the motion. The medics did have to re-break it. The sound was just as bad as that time on Doala. The pain reminded her of Kai.

The ship finally touches down, near their camp, and she rushes out, yelling for him.

He’s not there.

She checks the camp and sees that the blanket she hid for him when Rejehr and the others weren’t looking is spread out in their sleeping area.

He was here. He must have made his way back as soon as the Revirian shuttle took off. Did he sense his ship up there in the sky beyond his ability to see? Did he know that she saved and doomed him both?

“Kai?” She screams it, then breathes in too deeply, her mouth filling with the green dust she hoped never to see again. She forces herself to breathe shallowly.

There’s no answer. She walks to the water hole, afraid that she’ll find him dead. He isn’t there. She walks to the place where they found the succulents. He’s not there, either. She tries using the scanner on the skiff, but the dust and winds block anything more than a few meters away.

Night falls and she beds down in the skiff. She has to believe his ship came for him. Even if the Vermayan dead are still in their grave, his ship still came. She can’t find Kai because he isn’t here. He’s home. Safe. Happy.

She sleeps fitfully, waking at each change of the wind, thinking it’s him. She can’t stay here long. Her leave is short. She has a new assignment: tactical officer on Rejehr’s ship. He was impressed with her, and the ensign was due to transfer off.

When morning comes, she walks back to their watering hole, digs down and dunks her hands in the rapidly retreating water. She closes her eyes and tries to block out the sun and the wind and the harsh loneliness that fills her.

Kai wasn’t her life. Kai was her enemy. They were thrown together by circumstance. They looked out for each other, that was all. She saved him because she owed him. Not because she was his friend. Not because she liked him.

He’s the enemy.

Pushing herself to her feet, she walks slowly back to the camp. Kai will know that she was worried about him. Kai will know that she’d come back to look for him. She doesn’t know why she believes that, but it’s a certainty, an in-her-gut knowledge that won’t be denied.

Kai will know she’s come back for him.

She takes his knife and a piece of material from the inside of his ship. It is soft enough to score, and she carves the number of her ship into it. Then she pins the message through the blanket and to the ground with his dagger.

With a last look around, she smiles. This part of her life is over. It’s time to rejoin the living. Time to rejoin her own people.

Time to rejoin the war.

She flies the little skiff back, barely making it into the docking ring before the engines give out. The owner yells at her about damage and green dust wearing delicate systems down, but she pays him and leaves, ignoring his whining as if he was speaking Vermayan.

She reports to the ship the next day and settles in to a routine that seems strangely easy. Life on that moon was hard. She can’t turn on a water faucet without thinking about digging for water. She eats the meals in the mess with far more gusto than anyone else, remembering when plant pulp was the only delicacy to look forward to. And she talks to her crewmates in ways she never did when she and Justina traveled in that other ship.

People are precious. Communion is precious. Life is precious.

Which doesn’t stop her from taking it. War doesn’t end just because she thinks life is precious. After she destroys a Vermayan warship, the first thing she does when she gets off duty is throw up. Over and over and over again.

The second thing she does is cry. What if that was Kai’s ship?

In time, she doesn’t get sick or cry any longer. She has to believe he’s okay.

She’s off duty and walking with Trabeli to the habitat area when a courier drops a package in her hands. She shrugs at Trabeli’s look, but is unwilling to open it in front of her because, while the package is addressed to her, her name is spelled strangely, as if by someone who’s sounded it out.

Trabeli smiles knowingly and leaves her alone, and Sirella locks the door and unwraps the package with shaking hands.

It’s her knife. And wrapped around it is a piece of paper with the name “Morascan” on it.

She looks it up in the database. It’s not one of the ships that’s been obliterated by the Revirian fleet. She knows from memory which Vermayan ships she’s destroyed.

There’s something else written under the name of the ship. In a careful hand, in a strange, stilted form of Doalan, as if he looked each word up in the dictionary and laid them out according to Vermayan logic, Kai had written. “The war lasts not forever. Meet when over on world of green.”

She smiles. They will meet on the dusty green moon when this is over. And she’ll take a Vermayan-Doalan dictionary with her.

Now all she has to do is stay alive until then. She feels sorry for the Vermayans that come up against her ship. She feels just as sorry for any of the Revirian fleet who take on the Morascan. Both she and Kai have something to fight for.

Not a cause. Not something abstract. They have something to fight for that actually makes sense.

She smiles. Once again, he’s found a way to ensure their survival. She soaks the paper in her sink until it disintegrates—there must be no record.

Picking up her knife and pulling the sheath out of the closet, she slides the dagger home and buckles the holder around her waist. It looks right there, and her hand goes down to touch it for comfort before she goes to join the others in the mess.

Trabeli eyes her knife as she walks up. “Is that what was in the package?”

Sirella nods. She told her that she lost the Vermayan one on leave. Trabeli didn’t question it and was sympathetic at her loss of such a fine trophy.

“Not as special as your last one.”

“Not as pretty.” Sirella touches the black handle gently. “But still special.”

About the Author

Gerri Leen

Gerri Leen

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader and an at-times sporadic writer, she’s passionate about horse racing, tea, whisky, and art. She has work appearing in: Nature, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, Grimdark, and others. She’s edited several anthologies for independent presses, is finishing an urban fantasy novel, and is a member of SFWA and HWA.

Find more by Gerri Leen

Gerri Leen

About the Narrator

Alethea Kontis

New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, storm chaser, and Saturday Songwriter. Author of over 20 books and 40 short stories, Alethea is the recipient of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award. She was an active contributor to The Fireside Sessions, a benefit EP created by Snow Patrol and her fellow Saturday Songwriters during lockdown 2020. Alethea also narrates stories for multiple award-winning online magazines and contributes regular YA book reviews to NPR. Born in Vermont, she currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and her wonderful world at

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