Shades of Honor(7)

By: Sandy Williams


Something flickered in his dark eyes. Something hot. Whether that was anger or a glimpse of a different kind of heat, she didn’t know. He shut it off and looked back down at Hauch.

“You good?”

When Hauch nodded, Rykus rose. He even helped Ash’s teammate up. Hauch tried not to wince, but Ash had damaged that knee. He couldn’t put weight on it. He hobbled on his right leg, trying to maintain his balance.

“That must have been an impressive feat of hopping,” Ash commented, picturing the tough, broad-shouldered man making his way down the corridor. “I almost wish I could have seen it.”

Liles and Mandell looked at the leg. She could see them calculating the distance Hauch had covered to get there, and though they kept scowls on their faces, their eyes betrayed a held-back laughter. They’d give him a hard time for the hopping after his knee healed. Just like Ash’s old team would have.

Her lungs constricted. She had to force herself to take a breath, to push away the pain of their loss. She couldn’t undo the past no matter how hard she tried. But she couldn’t keep avoiding it either. She knew what she needed to do to get some kind of closure; she just hadn’t been able to take those steps yet.

Soon, she promised. And if this confrontation with the prime ended the way she intended, soon might be today.

Rykus was watching her. Something told her he knew where her thoughts had drifted. Before his arrest, he’d held her half a dozen times when she’d woken up screaming her dead teammates’ names.

She hated that he’d seen her weak. She hated that he’d seen her hurting. She hated that he’d seen her appear anything other than strong and in control.

“You’ve interrupted a private meeting.” Prime Tersa’s voice helped Ash focus. “A meeting that is classified because you asked for all matters relating to your discovery to be kept secret. You agreed—”

“Yeah, about that. This assignment ends now.” The loyalty training squeezed her throat. Ash was a soldier. It was her duty to follow orders, not to question them. She’d been able to circumvent direct commands when she had been charged with treason a month ago only because of the situation—her silence had protected the Coalition. But now she was free of Valt’s manipulation, and the truth that telepaths existed was known by more people than just her. The loyalty training insisted she fall in line and behave. But Ash happened to be from Glory, a planet whose inhabitants always took issue with authority. And, well, Ash was Ash. The Fighting Corps tried to bleed native idiosyncrasies out of its soldiers, but she had never managed to “standardize her behavior.”

“Lieutenant—”

“I’m useless here. I told you I would be.”

“You weren’t useless on Ephron,” Tersa said. “You weren’t useless on the tachyon capsule.”

Her mind flashed back to the Fortune’s Citadel and to the four days and nights she’d spent in Rykus’s bed. She had desperately needed the retreat from reality, and it had been an exquisite escape until the last day when a telepath might—might—have brushed against her consciousness.

“I told you I’m not reliable,” Ash said. “That could have been nothing.”

“But it could have been something.”

“Give us a new assignment.”

“Give her a new assignment.” Hauch hobbled forward. His voice sounded tight. He really should put a rejuvenation brace on that knee.

“I’m fine with a new team,” Ash said. “I’m also fine with going after the enemy solo.”

She could practically hear Rykus grind his teeth. Ash lost count of the number of klicks she’d run and the hours of sleep she’d lost because of her insubordination on Caruth. Rykus had never tolerated it.

And that’s why she kept doing it.

When he drew in a deep breath, then ever so slowly let it out, Ash hid a smile. He’d recently become more accommodating of her behavior. Almost as accommodating as Tersa. The prime’s strategy for dealing with Ash was to acquiesce to a few of her requests, to make her feel important and integral to the defense of the Coalition, and hope that Ash repaid her with obedience. And for the past month, Ash had. But that was ending today no matter how much the loyalty training threatened to choke her.

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