“No Good” cover by Hidden Citizens feat. Rånya
“Tribulation” by Matt Maeson feat. VÉRITÉ
“The Light We Cast” by Jessica Curry
As Leda Revik walked into the meeting room, she reached for the blaster at her hip. Her finger flexed around the trigger both for her own comfort, and to watch Jace’s eyes widen in fear.
Those had been her favorite moments with him, when she caught him off guard, surprised him, tricked the trickster.
They were rare, and she liked to think she was the only woman who could do that to him.
Used to do that to him, she reminded herself as she strode into the circular room, locking eyes with him. Everyone else’s eyes followed her as she joined the group of misfit beings around the hologram platform in the center. Low-lives, thieves, scoundrels, and that was just the few to her left.
There were fifteen, maybe twenty of the most notorious outlaws in the universe gathered here, with assorted members of their different crews. The risk they all ran in answering the Admiral’s summons was huge, but the danger of running away this time—even though it was what they all excelled at—was even greater.
Some of them touched their weapons as well, but when Leda had gotten enough satisfaction from Jace’s fear, she relaxed. So did he.
“Ah, Leda, you’ve joined us, excellent,” Jace said. He quickly looked away. “Now that we’re all here, Admiral, over to you.”
Admiral Bristowe squinted at Leda before turning to the hologram controls. She flicked a switch and pushed a button, and a hologram beeped into life in the air above them. A spider’s web of galaxies arced over their heads, tethered together only by smoky fingers of dark matter. Leda knew these paths. She had traversed them before, harvesting dark energy for sale on the black market, and lately, for the admiralty, who had finally figured out how to power their ships with it.
But Leda had an inkling about who gave them the idea—the very man who had sold the idea to the highest bidder in the black market, and was now running both from those mobsters and from the Admiralty. The kind of man who would trade his genius for whoever wanted it the most, regardless of their purpose. The sort of man who would hire himself out if it meant another month, week, day of payment into his eternally hungry account.
The man who stood across from her with his hands on his hips, staring too hard at the star map above them and avoiding her dark brown eyes.
Jace Arundel, pirate, smuggler, inventor, asshole.
She pulled her thoughts away from how his belt accentuated his waist, or how his upper holster suited his broad shoulders, and back to the Admiral explaining her plan. It was well-coordinated over several days, prudently included most of the different outlaw factions, and quite frankly, wouldn’t work.
“Admiral? If I may?” Leda said, stepping forward and pointing up into the fiercest cluster of dark energy on the map. “That’s where they’ll be. The Locusts have been jonesing for this energy field for so long. Now that the other nodes have dried up, their flagship will head here next, likely with their whole fleet in tow. That’s where we should meet them.”
Admiral Bristowe’s silver eyes flashed at her. “We cannot risk open war, not when we have other options available to us. Meeting them head-on will be our last resort.”
Leda looked around the room and found tense faces on some of the most fearsome cutthroats in this end of the universe. How Jace and the Admiral managed to convince them all to come to the same meeting, she’d never know, but now that they were all here, eyeing the blasters in each other’s holsters, they needed a plan that would unite everyone. Not alienate those who were already afraid of the Admiralty’s prison sentences hanging around their necks, or the price on their heads set by the Locusts’ leader.
They were all smugglers, all quick to make a deal when the hand you were dealt called for it, but this was different. If the Locusts harvested this energy patch, it would disrupt the gravitational balance of the last inhabited planets in this galaxy, and power their flagship for several lifetimes. It would likely mean the end of the Admiralty, of the fleet, of whatever fragile equilibrium they had in the cosmos right now, gravitational or otherwise.
“The Locusts have already orphaned so many souls in the Orion system,” she said. “I won’t be on the side of history that did nothing. I’m going to do what it takes to stop them.”
Even if that means teaming up with Jace, for now.
Jace stared at her, his navy blue eyes searching her face for some sign, but she kept her features expressionless. Her armor was back on, and she’d never let anyone take it from her again. She stood straighter.
“We should gather our full strength and confront the Locusts. They won’t expect it. They’ll have heard of our little gathering by now, I’m sure someone here is already ratting us out to them as we speak. But they’ll expect us to sneak and lie our way there. What if we all band together—for once—and fight as a unit? As a team?”
Admiral Bristowe stared at her, then turned to Jace as if for confirmation. Jace was smiling at her in his smirking way, and she wanted nothing more than to slap it off his face.
“It’s certainly unexpected, I’ll give you that, Revik,” Bristowe said. She looked around the room at the rag-tag band of anti-heroes. “Well, what say you? Will we fight as one?”
They shrugged at each other. Dregs’ tentacles flopped over his shoulders, Zin’s third hand stroked his chin, and Aleyna’s vertical eyes narrowed, their red glow dimming only momentarily. Each of them would kill the other in a heartbeat, but it was undeniable, they shared an enemy in the Locusts.
Those zealots, bloodthirsty yet obsessed with pure blood, who took whatever they wanted and called it the will of their overlord, Rath. His greedy antennae sought out any weakness, any resource to exploit, and Leda was tired of him gaining ever more power, and hearing him spew forth his ego-maniacal tirades with no challenge.
“I will fight,” she said, stepping forward.
A chorus of assent grumbled from the others, some in their own tongues, but the vote was clear. They would all fight, together.
The only one who abstained—and of course he would—was Jace, who had taken a half step back into shadow. He watched now as the Admiral began to rework her plan into something more aggressive and overt, and the band of thieves began to warm to the idea as they were each given a role to play, one that let them use their strengths.
Leda was given co-command of the Andromedan Korlons, which she was fine with, as she’d fought with them before. She went over to where they stood and shook hands with Aleyna, whose eyes burned fiery as a solar flare.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself a commission, Captain,” Aleyna said, her voice low and warm.
“I’ll defer to you in matters of navigation, of course,” Leda said, as Aleyna’s skill in warp journeys was known far and wide.
“And I’ll defer to you in matters of artillery,” Aleyna said, nodding at the blaster at Leda’s hip. “New model?”
“My own design,” Leda began, but she paused as the Admiral appeared at her shoulder.
“Revik, a word. The rest of you may return to your ships in the hangar. Further instructions will be shared when we receive the latest dispatch from our scouts.”
Aleyna winked vertically at Leda as she led her fellow Korlons away. When Leda turned back to the room, she saw why.
Jace was there, alone with the Admiral.
Leda sauntered over and put her hands on her hips, knowing it exposed her midriff. Jace hadn’t been able to keep his hands off her when she wore this shirt. His eyes darted to her stomach, then away, and inwardly she smiled.
I’ve still got you, you bastard.
“All right, I’ll be quick,” the Admiral said. “I know you two aren’t. . .close anymore. But we’ve already had the latest dispatch. It’s not good.”
Jace’s chiseled face darkened. “They’ve already begun harvesting?”
“Not yet, thank the Goddess, but you were right, Revik. Their whole fleet is there, and it’s larger than we thought.”
Leda clenched and unclenched her jaw. “How many ships?”
The Admiral’s face, hardened from decades of warfare and loss, seemed to age even more. “At least ten thousand.”
Leda and Jace found each other’s gaze. She knew fear bloomed in her eyes just as it did in his. They were killers and gamblers, but they weren’t fools.
“We have, what, a tenth of that? We’re no match for the Locusts.”
“We’ve recalled the Ursan fleet from its expedition. If they return in time, we’ll have almost 2,000 ships,” the Admiral said, staring up at the slowly rotating hologram.
The ghost of a smile flickered over Jace’s mouth. He’d had a fling with the commander of the Ursan fleet too, and was probably remembering some small detail, something to add to his ever-growing pile of conquests and broken hearts.
“Everything really is a joke to you, isn’t it?” Leda said, her temper simmering.
“No,” he said. “I. . .never mind.”
Leda looked to the Admiral, who was still lost in thought. “If you knew this, why did you agree to my plan? It’s a suicide mission now.”
“Any action we take will be a suicide mission. Their technology is far superior to ours, and has been for some time. If it weren’t for Arundel’s modifications, we wouldn’t have a spark’s chance in a black hole.”
Leda stared at the Admiral. “But what will we tell the others? That they go to certain death? I mean, let’s run the numbers here, we won’t even make a dent in their defenses, let alone give them any trouble—”
“What else can we do?” the Admiral’s gaze was on her again, bright as polished chrome. “When is death not certain? As you said, we may as well meet our end together, as one. In fact, I was hoping someone might suggest this plan of action. I just didn’t expect it from you, Revik. Or you, Arundel.”
The Admiral left a meaningful glance hanging between the two of them, before striding towards the door. “I’ll leave you two to decide how to tell the others. You know them better than I. But you can assure them their sentences will be commuted—if we succeed.”
Leda planted herself between Jace and the door as the Admiral left. She wouldn’t let him slip away this time.
She crossed her arms. “You son of a bitch.”
As the door slid shut with a metallic clang, leaving him alone with Leda, Jace Arundel’s eyes were drawn to the line of her jaw and her neck, then down along her waist, her hips, even to her heeled boots. He couldn’t help it.
He couldn’t help a lot of things.
Her face glowed different colors from the light of the hologram, first green, now purple, and her dark brown eyes reflected the projected starlight.
Just as they’d reflected the stars that night on his balcony. He’d watched her beat his entire crew in target practice down at the bar, and had brought her back to his place, a shitty flat in an even shittier part of the city.
He’d never brought anyone home before. He always went to their apartment. It was easier to escape that way.
But with her? He liked feeling trapped.
That first night, the latest supernova had blossomed in the depths of her eyes, and he could have swum in those pools of stardust for hours, except she’d pinned him against the wall, unbuckled his trousers and made stars burst in his eyes instead.
She stayed until the next morning. And through the next night.
Then she was gone.
They were drawn together like magnets after that, when their ships happened to bring them into the same system. Each time was just like that first night together. A game, a competition, one-upping each other until they collapsed, spent in a tangle on whatever flat surface would have them. She’d roll away and clip her holster back on, and he’d pour them both a drink. And they’d sit naked together, staring out the window, watching whatever city they were in come to life.
But they couldn’t exist in daylight together. There were too many debts owed, too many distractions and glares from the skyscrapers stabbing into the stratosphere. There was something about darkness, about night, about the velvet silence of the city that let them surface for each other. It thrilled him—but it also scared him. And so he ran, into the arms of someone else.
“Did you hear me? What have you done, you bastard?”
He was back on the Admiral’s ship. Leda was glaring at him, just a few feet away, her arms crossed, her jaw set.
“This was your idea,” he said, his voice softer than he would have liked.
“My idea? You slimy, two-faced—” she paused. “I know what you’ve done. What you’re doing. You’re playing both sides and thinking you can get away with it, like you always have. Well not this time. They don’t know you like I do—”
She faltered again, and he took a half step towards her.
No one knows me like you do, he wanted to say. The words were on the tip of his tongue, ready to spill out. He bit his lip.
Her eyes flicked there. “What? I know you want to say something. Go on.”
A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “You’ve always seen right through me. Like no one else.”
She clenched her jaw. “Oh like when I saw right through your bullshit on Lanokea? With that Visanti girl? And you thought you’d pulled the Kevlar right over my eyes.”
He shook his head. “I knew you knew. I’m—” He froze, the syllable catching in his teeth. He’d never apologized before. “I’m sorry.”
Her eyes widened.
Goddess, those eyes.
“So you didn’t even try to hide it? You hurt me on purpose?”
He leaned forward onto the hologram table, his head spinning faster than the star map above. This wasn’t going how it was supposed to go. He’d hoped she’d come, but he also hoped she wouldn’t. That her pride would be too strong, that she would stay away and keep fighting in the shadows. It was where she thrived.
Him too, but he had too many targets on his back now. He had to come out into the open to clear some of his debts.
“I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I just. . .I don’t think I can love you the way you need. The way you deserve.”
She crossed her arms tighter, her eyes boring into his. For a moment he saw a flash of pain there, and it panged in his chest. He hated hurting her, hated what he had done to her, and he would regret hurting her for the rest of his life, but he couldn’t actually say that to her.
“In a room full of scum, you’re the most despicable,” she spat. “You broke my heart. I should never have given in to you and your fake charm. I won’t make that mistake ever again.” She turned towards the door, the celestial light fading from her face. “You can tell the crew the truth. You clearly need more practice with it.”
“Leda,” he said, reaching out to her, his voice cracking. The knot in his chest tightened. “I wish you had stayed away.” Her eyes widened in pain again, but he continued. “For your own sake. Why did you suggest open war? We won’t survive.”
She reached up towards the door controls, then hesitated. Her face was in shadow, but he could just make out the pinpricks of rage in her eyes. “Well at least I won’t die a coward.”
The door shoonked open and closed, and she was gone.
He was alone again.
He hated being alone. He also hated what he’d done. And what he was about to do.
Jace reached under the hologram table where he had stuck the recording device earlier. He turned on its transmitter with an unfortunately satisfying click, and static crackled to life in his ear canal.
“The transmitter is live?” said a voice.
The knot in his chest tightened even more, a vice grip of guilt around his heart.
“Yes Lord Rath. I’m sending their battle plans now.”
He sent the data to the Locusts, then turned off the transmitter, his earpiece, and the hologram. Darkness settled around him, with nothing but the cold arms of the galaxy wheeling by outside the window.
Leda backed against the wall of the corridor. Her earpiece hummed in her ear, as the bug she’d attached near the door controls had picked up Jace’s voice.
She’d heard everything.
She clamped a hand over her mouth, but no roar of rage came. Somehow, deep down, she knew he was no good. She knew underneath his bravado and his sarcasm, his cool indifference, was a weak man who cared only for himself. Any moment of intimacy between them was just an act, a ploy to get what he wanted.
Good thing she got paid half up front.
A deep voice crackled in her ear.
“Confirmed, my lord.”
“Good. When the battle commences, kill him.”
She hesitated, but only for a second. “Yes, Lord Rath.”
As Leda and the Korlons joined the rest of the fleet, made up of Admiralty ships and a motley assortment of outlaw vessels, her head ached. She’d drowned her tangled feelings last night in a bottle of Oort whisky, and Aleyna helped her drink it, but didn’t ask why.
Leda collapsed into a seat in the cockpit behind Aleyna, who was giving orders to her crew. They had nearly arrived at the dark energy cluster, and their sensors were beeping relentlessly—either at the presence of Locust ships, or of the dark energy itself.
Leda holstered and unholstered her gun to distract her mind. She had checked the crystal prism inside both blasters four times that morning after disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling them. There could be no room for error today.
Good thing she never missed.
The ship jolted to a halt as they left warp speed, and were greeted with the sight of thousands of Locust ships just ahead. Branches of dark energy hovered in the air around them, pulsing with acidic purples and blues and greens. They had been brought into the spectrum of visible light through the Locusts’ risky use of quantum meddling, and from the special lenses on Leda’s goggles, another one of her own designs. She and the Korlons stared in awe at the sheer quantity of Locusts—and dark energy—before the adrenaline rush of reality came crashing in.
The first cannon blast hit their ship, and a new alarm started blaring.
Aleyna called out commands while Leda bolted down to the gunners’ deck and helped them recalibrate their trajectories. More cannon fire landed, and screams mixed with the wailing alarm.
“There are too many of them!” cried a gunner to her right. “We’ll never make it!”
Leda clapped her on the shoulder, then flicked the woman’s helmet setting to airlock. “We have to try.”
She flicked her own helmet’s setting to the same, just in case a blast ripped into the gunner’s deck. It was their turn to launch a volley of shots now, and the red bundles of energy roared off towards the Locusts’ ships. Some hit, some missed.
“Again!” Leda yelled, and the gunners sprang to their controls, recalibrating once more as the Locust ships merged into their infamous swarm. They didn’t all join simultaneously though, as they normally did. They didn’t seem as harmonious—no, congealed—as they usually were.
They didn’t know we were coming? Leda wondered.
She swiveled around to peer out of the nearest window, to where the Admiral’s flagship hovered, vast and sturdy. She knew he was there, on the bridge, probably standing alongside the Admiral, offering suggestions.
Weaving more lies.
Well, I’m one to talk, aren’t I, she thought ruefully, wondering how she’d get him alone, never mind if she’d actually be able to pull the trigger.
A gnawing urge prickled in her mind then, to flick on the tracking device she’d stitched into her jacket pocket. The Locust-made one. She reached into her pocket and felt the groove through the fabric with her fingernail, and switched it on.
A thunderous crack of cannon fire tore through the gunner’s deck before being silenced by the vacuum of space. She was sucked out through the chasm in the ship’s hull, and funneled out into the void.
Jace’s already wracked pulse stuttered. One of the Korlon ships—was it their flagship?—had its side ripped open, and bodies and debris scattered away from it. He watched from the cockpit of his own ship as chaos erupted around him.
Laser blasts from the Locusts’ cannons seared across the never-ending black as ships wheeled around and through the concentrated vortexes of dark energy.
So much power. So much potential.
So much money.
Some of the Locusts’ ships were still focused on harvesting the energy field, not the battle, and Lord Rath’s flagship was occupied with filling its energy stores. Cosmic particles sluiced into the Locusts’ special batteries, ones that Jace had helped design. He’d given the Admiralty the same technology eventually. It wasn’t his fault that the Locusts were the first to offer payment.
The bodies floating away from the Korlon’s ship, and Dregs’, and the Ursan’s, stole Jace’s gaze. He left his ship on autopilot as it launched from the Admiral’s vessel, then flicked on the tracker sent to him by Lord Rath, as well as his own receiver. He’d rewired it to pick up the Locusts’ secret frequencies. It beeped into life, and one of the bodies up ahead registered on it, alive with a blinking red dot.
He squinted. That was Aleyna’s ship. Which means Leda was on it—
His breath caught in his throat as his mind did the arithmetic.
Jace grabbed the controls with such speed he not only forced the ship from autopilot, he drove it in a downward dive, away from the Admiral’s ship—and away from the full force of a Locust cannon blast.
It razed the hull of the flagship, and vaporized a handful of smaller ships in the crossfire. There would be no defeating the Locusts with firepower alone, especially once their batteries were at full capacity.
But his hands continued to work without his mind noticing, and he pulled his ship up again, towards the cloud of flotsam around the Korlon’s destroyed craft. Bodies floated past his windshield, and jagged shrapnel came dangerously close to the ship, until—there she was. Floating like she was underwater, her limbs drifting uselessly in the absence of air.
He put the ship in autopilot again, then pulled on his airlock helmet. He zipped up his jacket, and remembered the boosters he’d just installed in the soles of his boots. No time like the present to test his newest invention.
The airlock opened, then the upper cargo hatch, and again he moved as if in a dream. As if he were swimming, but the water was marbled with purple and green energy as old as the universe itself, and shot through with the violent red fury of laser cannons.
Just a little further. . .
Then she was in his arms again, her face hidden behind her goggled mask—one of her own designs, no doubt—and he was propelling them back towards his ship. In another three precious breaths, he had dragged her back inside and closed the hatch, then the airlock, which hissed shut.
The weight of her body fell into his lap, and as he took off his helmet, his breath came hard and fast. So did hers.
She ripped off her helmet with a snarl, and brushed blood from her nose. She froze at the sight of him.
“You’re welcome,” he said, appreciating the strange picture they made, him cradling her on the floor of his ship while war raged outside.
She reached for her blaster. He reached for his. They rolled away from each other and stood, each with their pistol aimed at the other’s heart.
Bastard, backstabber, liar, the words all hissed through her mind, but did they not also apply to her?
She squeezed her finger around the trigger, but did not fire. His eyes, blazing brighter than she had ever seen them, were fixed onto hers.
“Traitor,” they both whispered under their breath.
She froze. How did he know?
His eyes flicked towards the controls, where a steadily beeping receiver seemed to show someone with a tracking device here on the ship.
“How much did he offer you?” Jace said, his voice low. The battle outside was eerily quiet, but light flooded the cockpit with each new volley of cannon fire. The energy field was dimming, ever so slightly.
“Less than you, I’m sure,” she said, panic leaping in her throat.
She’d never wanted to say yes to Lord Rath. Never wanted to help the Locusts. But what choice did she have, when they offered her more than she could have ever earned in her entire lifetime? When she could have wrought some kind of revenge on him? She had agreed to the deal in anger, yet here, at the end of the world, with the dust of Korlon corpses clinging to her jacket sleeves, was it worth it?
He was calculating the exact three moves it would take to disarm her, but she had already done those numbers—and others—in her head. And the Locusts’ behavior when the Admiralty fleet first arrived implied they didn’t know a full assault was coming.
“You sent false data to them. Decoy battle plans,” she said.
“Yep.” He rolled his shoulders, his blaster still pointed at her. “Where’d you stash the listening device?”
“Up your ass you sneaky son of a bitch, now what’s your next move? You might as well tell me before I finish my mission.”
“To kill me?” he said, tilting his head, that wry glint back in his eyes.
Her fingers tightened around the grip of her trusty gun. “Yes.”
“Well it seems we were given the same directive.”
She froze once more. That’s more times than I’d like to count that he’s surprised me.
Her pulse roared in her ears. She fought to keep her breath even, steady. She hated the effect he still had on her, hated the stalemate they were trapped in. She hated feeling trapped.
He seemed to be enjoying himself.
He took a step forward, she did the same. He took another step towards her, she did too. They were one step away from each other now. His eyes flicked to her lips.
“Don’t even think about it you selfish prick!” she said, feinting to the left before going right, grabbing his wrist and twisting it up and away. He did the same to her, until they were inches from each other. His grip was too tight on her. It hurt, but she’d never say stop.
“Were you really going to do it?” she hissed, blood trickling from her nose once more. “Kill me?”
Those dark blue eyes, navy blue, nebula blue, the only color she loved and hated in equal measure. The hue she’d gladly drown in, out here in the endless dark. She saw him surface then, just like before, when he finally let his armor down and let the light in. Let his true self shine. She saw his fear, his guilt, his doubt—and his love.
“No,” he said, his voice breaking once more. It was the only thing that made her heart weak.
He leaned in to kiss her, but she bit his lip and head-butted him instead.
He rocked backwards, howling in pain and clutching his split forehead.
She laughed and licked the blood from her lips—his mingled with hers.
“Got you,” she whispered. She aimed her gun and pulled the trigger.
Jace fell hard. A sharp bolt went through his body, locking his limbs into stillness. But his eyes stayed open, and seeing. She knelt down into his field of vision and waved the blaster in his face.
“It was set to stun, you idiot.” She clicked the safety into lethal mode. “But it won’t be next time.”
He groaned. I can’t believe she shot first. . .
He tried to move, tried to speak, but couldn’t. He could still taste her though, or the memory of her. Sweet and a little bit salty.
Ok maybe more salty than I remember. . .Nope, that’s just my blood.
She kicked his blaster out of reach and strode away, her fabulous boots clacking on the metal floor. She sat in the cockpit, and he could just about make out her face, the colors of the battle outside reflected on her perfect skin. He could read her as no one else could, just as she could him.
“I have an idea,” she said slowly, but he’d already seen it cross her mind.
He felt a tingle returning to his toes and feet, his hands, his lips, and maybe somewhere else, as the stun shot began to wear off. But he gave nothing away. He wouldn’t. He was too proud, too—
Nope, I can’t take it anymore.
“So do I,” he mumbled.
She swiveled in the captain’s chair and sweet Goddess he wished he could have taken a spectral record of her there.
“Ah, the feeling’s coming back, is it? You go first, I’ll decide whose is better,” she said.
Her blaster cocked from somewhere just outside of his field of vision, and his nervous system managed a feeble smile.
A cloud seemed to pass over her face. “Typical. I should have guessed.” She got up, paced a few steps, then sat down again with one leg flung over the arm of the chair. His chair.
“I’m trying to do the right thing here. I think we both screwed up, and we both regret it, though I know you’d never admit it. Looks like I need to be the bigger person, yet again.”
She rested her chin on her hand. She was so calm, so pensive, while anarchy reigned out there, in those sovereign galaxies stretching to infinity. He was a fool for hurting her. But here was their chance, maybe their last one. They could run, and be together, and live by their own rules. Let the Locusts chase them, or the Admiralty. He’d run for eternity, if it meant being with her.
She turned off autopilot and took the controls. He loved when she did that.
Snap out of it you dickhead.
“What’s your idea then?” he asked, even though he already had a hunch. He turned his head ever so slightly, relieved to find the feeling returning to the rest of his body.
She turned the ship so it pointed straight at Lord Rath’s flagship. Not only that, right at the bridge.
He could picture Rath there, surrounded by his many-legged cronies, scowling at the receiver where his—and her—trackers were blinking at them, taunting them. The Locusts knew his tracking signature, and hers. It was why they weren’t firing on him—yet.
His blood went cold, colder than when he was outside his ship, swimming towards her. What if she was right? What if this was the way to end it, once and for all?
There are worse ways to go, than in a blaze of glory and heroism.
But something compelled him to stand, slowly, keeping his hands up in the air as her blaster was still aimed at his heart. He moved towards her, his skin prickling as he drew closer, as if she were a live wire.
Her eyes were glowing like embers, alight with purpose and a death wish he’d never seen kindled before. She had lost hope and was tired of running, tired of looking over her shoulder only to get stabbed in the front. He knew he was to blame for some of those wounds, but was she really this committed to ending it all, here, now?
“I’m not afraid,” she whispered, breathless, and it made his pulse jump.
They were hurtling towards the Locusts’ mothership. They had, what, 30 seconds?
Another sensor on his dashboard pinged to life.
The Locusts have even less.
Leda dragged her gaze away from his bleeding, handsome face to the new beeping contraption.
“A power gauge.”
She stood and pushed the barrel of her gun into his back when he reached for the gauge. She reached around his chest from behind, unzipped his jacket, and felt inside for the gun in his shoulder holster. She took it and threw it down the length of the cockpit.
“Careful, that one’s not set to stun,” he said, winking at her.
“What’s the power gauge so excited about?”
“Ah, you’re curious,” he said. “See Rath’s flagship nearly sucking down the last of that patch? His ship’s batteries—and his backups—are already full.”
She glanced out the windshield, then back at him, her brow furrowed. “What? Why would he continue to harvest if—”
“He doesn’t know he’s full yet. When I programmed their energy meters, I set 100% to look like 50%.”
Her jaw dropped. Goddess, he’s done it again.
“I love your brain,” she said, before pulling him in for a kiss.
He kissed back emphatically, and her heart leapt, her soul sang, her stomach lurched.
But not because of him—the ship was turning. He had reached down and taken the controls from her, and steered the ship away from the Locusts’ mothership.
“No!” she cried, lunging for the controls. “This is the only way to be sure—”
“No, it isn’t,” he said, grasping her wrists again. “They don’t need us to make them explode. We can run. We’ll finally be free.”
She looked out the windshield at the carnage floating past them, at the magnitude of carnage that lay in the future if the Locusts weren’t stopped, now. That wild animal desire to end it all, to stop them and be free from all that pain, fizzled out, as she saw a new path open up ahead of her.
The light and momentum would propel them forward into the stars, into the unknown, into a mystery greater than either of them, but one she was—damn it—curious about.
He must have seen the fire go out in her eyes, as he released her wrists and pulled the ship away from the Locusts. He calibrated a warp jump, but she factored in a new algorithm she’d learned from Aleyna, one that would use the force of the explosion to send them further than they could normally go. Jace set a course for a far-off galaxy, one neither of them had been to, and therefore neither of them were wanted in—yet.
The power gauge screamed now, and the Admiral’s voice bellowed over the comms.
Leda leaned down to transmit one last word before switching them off. “Run.”
Jace flipped the controls back into autopilot and she holstered her weapon. She pulled him in for another kiss, and he melted into her arms.
The force of a million suns erupted from the Locust’s fleet, beginning with the mothership and spreading from vessel to vessel until they were engulfed in the biggest explosion seen in eons. The full spectrum of colors blossomed all around them, and as Jace pulled her closer, his fingers raking through her hair, their ship jumped to light speed.
Meredith is a writer and art historian who loves getting lost in books, films, TV shows, and music. She writes adult historical fiction and is currently working on a novel set in 17th-century Venice. You can read all of her Muses stories here.