Page 35 of Broken Earth

The other woman barked out a surprised laugh, wincing when it brought her pain, but her eyes contained a spark of amusement and relief when she met Terri’s eyes. “I should say so. I’m her daughter, Becky. Mom made it… Thank the gods! I’m so fucking happy to hear it,” she gasped. “I wouldn’t mind seeing her again if it’s all the same. Am I going to be able to get out of here?”

Terri winced. “Yeah… One sec, okay? Veral, come here,” she hissed, knowing full well that he would be able to hear her.

The women parted before him as Veral made his way over to her side, his churning vibrissae the only sign of his obvious dislike in response to the human women pressing in so close around him. At least they were only crowding him a little. No one made any attempt to touch him. Terri stiffened but then stifled a laugh as one of the women attempted to lean against him and he sidestepped her with an irritated huff. He didn’t seem overly concerned about the injured woman, although his eyes did narrow perceptively.

“Becky here needs help. The Reapers took her leg after she killed one of them in her attempt to escape,” she murmured to him in a low voice. Veral nodded as he hummed with approval. The sound was one of grudging admiration for the wounded woman, but he gave Terri a sideways glance of displeasure.

“Do you wish me to carry her? I will not be efficient at protecting the females if I am carrying one.” He sounded pained at the idea, but the fact that he offered to touch the woman if Terri required it, despite his natural repulsion toward physical contact, made her smile.

“I think it will be better if your hands were free,” she whispered. She didn’t miss the relieved expression that flitted across his features. “I have an idea. Let me have one of the collector carts. It may be big enough for Becky to fit inside.” She gave Becky an apologetic look. “It’ll be a bit uncomfortable to ride, but I think it’s probably our best option.”

“Works for me.” Becky groaned. “I’m already in pain. What’s a little more? As long as I can get the fuck out of here, I’m game.”

Veral smiled approvingly. “You would make a fine mate for any warrior. I am mated… so another warrior,” he clarified sternly.

Becky’s eyebrows shot up. “Okay… umm, thanks. I think.” She looked to Terri for confirmation. “That was a compliment, right? I just can’t tell with men anymore, much less what appears to be an alien. Very freaky, by the way. I would be screaming in terror, as would the rest of them, if they weren’t so damn happy to be rescued.”

Terri smiled and patted the other woman’s arm. “The best kind of compliment coming from him,” she assured her. Turning away, Terri held her hand out for the disc.

Veral jerked his chin down and unfastened the disc from his belt, tossing it to the ground behind them. With a finger pressed on his wristband, the device immediately deployed, expanding into a collector cart amid the gasps of the women watching. Without preamble, he bent down, picked up the injured woman, and deposited her in the cart.

Terri opened her mouth to thank him but jerked in surprise when he grabbed ahold of her arm and yanked her toward him. Rubbing his cheek and mandible against the side of her face, he took her hand in his, turning her arm as his fingers traced out a pattern. The area he touched lit up with a dim flash. His thumb caressed her arm once before he released her.

“What is that?” she asked him quietly.

“The beacon for the collector cart. You will now lead the females out as we agreed. It will follow you at whatever pace you set. You know where to go. I will meet you at our shelter.”

Her brow furrowed. “This isn’t how we planned it. We’re supposed to leave together after I set the dynamite around the shack. What are you planning to do?” she asked.

In answer, he pulled her bag from her shoulder, removing her emergency supplies and setting them on the ground. His own bag he set on the ground beside hers and transferred the supplies to it. Lifting his bag back up, he slid the straps over her arms, tightening them with a flick of his wrists. He trilled in satisfaction as he picked up her bag and looped it over his own shoulder. He pulled the strap tight around the hard, protruding bone and thick muscle mass.

“I will destroy them,” he said simply and then promptly turned and walked out of the shack.

The women immediately began to whisper in a panic.

“Where’s he going?”

“I thought he was here to save us!”

“Why is he leaving without us?”

“What are we going to do without him to protect us?”

“Quiet!” Terri hissed. “Veralisprotecting us. He’s going to provide a distraction and hopefully take some Reapers out in the process. My mate will meet back up with us when he’s done. We will survive just fine. There are no posted guards, and the Reapers are busy further in the compound. I’ll take you to the shelter, where those of you from the caravan can be reunited with your families and friends. We’ve got clean water there and can tend to your wounds.”

“You can’t protect us,” one of the women complained.

Terri felt her patience fading. “We’re going to protect ourselves. We arenotnew to this world. We’re survivors,” she snarled quietly.

Some of the women made noises of agreement, though many, especially among the most abused women who’d been captives of the gang for far longer, looked around with uncertainty.

As she threaded her way through the women, Terri stopped and rested a hand on the shoulder of the grieving mother who still clung to her daughter. “We have to go now,” Terri whispered, her heart going out to her.

“I can’t leave her…” the woman sobbed quietly.

“She’s already gone. She’s with you in the only way she can be right now, and she wouldn’t want you to die. You can’t risk being slowed down by carrying her.”

“I want to die. I don’t want to outlive my child. They should have taken and killedme. Not my little girl.”

Tags: S.J. Sanders Argurma Salvager Science Fiction
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