The male met his gaze briefly.

“Died,” the male replied. “When I was young, I was attacked by a razithihis. Vagirith killed it, but he could not be saved. My father terminated him before he was in too much pain. We endure the weight of our actions doing what we must for those we are bonded to.” His eyes looked meaningfully at Terri and Harahna. There was no judgment in the male’s expression. Instead, his mandibles twitched with approval.

“You made a wise choice,” the medic commented, closing all further discussion of his dorashnal.

Veral grunted to indicate his understanding and allowed his gaze to rest on his mate and daughter.

“I do not want her to be anxious. Her emotions tire her. And Harahna as well, even though she seems adept at keeping herself secure to her mother. Will it present any damage being engaged so long?”

Leaning forward, Tarik swept a scanner over the offspring to gather more data than the simple bio-scans that warrior and medic-class Argurma possessed.

A soft grunt escaped the male, and he settled back into his seat.

“It takes less energy for a symbiont to protract and remain that way rather than constantly fluxing as Terri tends to wield it. The nanos are compensating for the energy draining, pulling from her fat reservoirs. She will merely eat more while they are engaged. I see no reason to be concerned, but I will monitor her. It is possible that her symbiont, being a second-generation production, has modifications that were made by the parent symbiont to counter possible deficiencies. It is fascinating to see such bioengineering. Other than our nanos—a technology we acquired and implemented from an elder race—our technology is far more limited. Even our nanos, while capable of multiplying and being passed organically to our mate through insemination, are incapable of improving on themselves to such degrees.”

Whereas not too long ago Veral would have found the depth of the medic’s scientific fascination annoying and suspicious, it now amused him. The male was devoted to his females’ welfare, and so Veral no longer possessed any issue with Tarik’s endless curiosity. If that kept his mate and daughter well provided-for, then he was pleased.

A small flurry of activity surrounded the flyer at that moment, drawing Veral’s attention as several guards peeled away to safe zones away from the flyer. The vessel vibrated slightly as Larth stepped in, a brute of a dorashnal close at his side. Larth ducked his head to clear the entrance and dropped into the seat closest to him. He was immediately followed by Malraha, who did likewise across from him, her own dorashnal, a thin, rangy thing that was still clearly growing into her paws, sitting awkwardly at her side. Navesha slipped in alone just after them, her expression tense as her mandibles flared.

“I regret to report that I will not be traveling with you. Featha is remaining behind to investigate what occurred here, and I have decided to do likewise,” she growled. “We will also be watching for any sign of movement from the council. The registrar’s presence coinciding with the attack is too convenient. Someone knew that male was coming and likely is in communication with Ki’karthilan.”

It seemed that he and his cousin were of a similar opinion on the data presented. That was something that Veral was also worried about and why he agreed with Featha’s judgment to leave immediately. Not only because it was an obvious direct attack with deadly intent, but the timing was too close to his departure and the arrival of the representative of the registrar’s office too convenient.

“Noted. Comm if you have any updates to our situation.”

The female nodded stiffly and departed, the hatch door sliding shut behind her. The drone of the engine increased as the flyer began its final preparations for liftoff. He caught a glimpse of Navesha before she disappeared behind the safety barrier. They were all clear for departure. From his peripheral vision, he could see the tension radiating through Malraha as her hand tightened on her spear and her other gripped her dorashnal’s vibrissae tight enough that the animal whined and turned her head in warning. Malraha immediately loosened her grip, though her body vibrated with tension.

“Speak your mind now while you have the opportunity, Malraha. There is no returning after we leave if you have concerns.”

The female expelled a hard breath and met his eyes.

“I think this is foolish. If the council is involved, there is no escaping them for long,” Malraha’s replied. “Fleeing may only mean delaying the inevitable. It would be wiser to take a stand here at the compound where we have defenses we can utilize.”

Veral met her gaze, his jaw hardening.

“My task is not to defeat them. Whatever victory we gain in direct confrontation would only be short-lived before they destroy us completely. It will take more than our household to effectively fight against the strength of the council and all the united forces of Argurumal under their yoke. My only intention is to delay discovery until it is safe to depart. With my absence, the council will lose interest in the house of Monushava. As of now they have no direct proof of your complicity against them and I will keep it that way for as long as possible. Featha has orders to deny all accountability and knowledge of our status and to renounce me formally to preserve the standing of our house. Tarik and Dreth are fully aware of their risks by joining with us. You are welcome to remain with the rest of the household if you are concerned,” he replied in a firm voice that invited no argument.

The female flinched, but she did not speak further, nor did she leave her post. Despite his annoyance, he did not fault her for being concerned and so did not reprimand her further. The offer was a reasonable one, not one born of resentment. Those who did not wish to be entangled in their fight with the council should remain behind. He did not begrudge anyone who wished to look out for their own safety and those of their immediate line.

Veral glanced over at Larth. Even the large male appeared on edge, his vibrissae flaring aggressively as his eyes snapped everywhere, never staying in one place long. It was the look of a male readying for formidable battle.

“What of you, cousin?”

Larth grinned from his seat, the points of his fangs and a hint of the edge of his sharp teeth showing between his lips.

“It has been revolutions since I have practiced stealth maneuvers against war droids on the edges of the Galithilan. They do not operate well in those conditions for the same reason it is too risky to take flyers beyond that point, but they still will be set regardless of how many are brought down. I would not wish to miss participating.”

Veral smirked. An expected response from a war-blooded male. With all advanced programming set as a warrior, it would never depart him, regardless of his post. Nodding in approval, Veral turned and slipped into the seat beside the pilot behind the emergency flight controls. Dreth glanced over at him, and at Veral’s signal the engines roared as the flyer lifted and snapped forward to dart out of the entrance.

“Inputting coordinates for the eastern holdings and increasing speed,” Dreth relayed, the flyer maneuvering through the air at a sharp angle as it adjusted its course. “Projected arrival three hours, twenty-three minutes, and five seconds.”

Veral grunted in acknowledgment as he settled into his chair.

Silence filled the ship. There was no need for useless chatter, and he suspected everyone was resting however they could manage to do so. Dreth leaned back, dozing with the AI hooked directly to his temple to rouse him at any change in their path.

Veral could not sleep. Instead, he watched the dark sky stretched out ahead of them, his eyes falling on the dunes as the faint operational light of the flyer reflected off the sand. The view gradually brightened and became more vivid as the sun crested the horizon framing the tall, dark structure of the compound that rose up before them.

As their flyer drew in on its approach, Dreth immediately straightened and wordlessly fell into procedures to initiate landing. Just behind him, he could hear the subtle shifting of Argurma and dorashnal through the flyer as everyone slowly awakened. Terri sighed, the sound making his civix tighten, but he ignored the sensation as he spun around in his chair to face his mate.

Tags: S.J. Sanders Argurma Salvager Science Fiction
Articles you may like