PREVIEW: Blood of the Broken
Atlantis Legacy, book 5
As I strode down a corridor in the Med Sector, tension coiled through me, tightening the muscles of my shoulders and neck until my head throbbed. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the ache in my chest. The knot in my gut. The fist lodged in my throat, making each breath a conscious effort.
I rounded a corner, then another, making my way back to the recovery pod where Emi was recuperating from the gut wound she had suffered at the hands of the asshole space pirates. My hands balled into fists as I thought of them. Despised them. Every devastating thing that had happened—all the Zari psychics who had died during the attack, all the damage to the Elysium, and, of course, Raiden’s heroic sacrifice—directly tied back to the pirates. This was their fault. All of it. And there was nothing I could do about this simmering rage because they were already gone.
I forced my fists to unclench and stretched out my fingers. What was done was done. The dead were gone, but there was still hope for Raiden. In a matter of minutes, I would deliver news to Emi that would give her hope of seeing her son again, but it also carried the potential to destroy her completely.
We had found the pirate’s shuttle—the ship Raiden had piloted as a decoy to lead the Tsakali scout ship off our trail. Barely an hour ago, the Elysium’s deep space telemetry system pinged the shuttle’s unique signal on Othrys, a once habitable planet orbiting the star Acheron that just so happened to be the Tsakali home planet. I wasn’t blinded by hope. The location was significant. How—why—of all the places in the universe had Raiden’s ship, the decoy that saved the rest of us by drawing the Tsakali off our trail, ended up there?
It had been a suicide mission. It should have been my mission. But Raiden had taken advantage of my weakened state and overpowered me.
My hands balled into tight fists once more, and again, I had to force them to unclench. I shook out my arms and my shoulders. I rolled my neck, attempting to dispel some of the sudden agitation, replacing thoughts of those last devastating moments with Raiden in the transport hanger with everything Hades had told me about Othrys. Dwelling on what had already happened wouldn’t help us now, but being prepared couldn’t hurt.
As far as we knew, Othrys had been abandoned by the Tsakali millennia ago. It was their home planet, the same world they had abandoned with my people’s help tens of thousands of years ago. Before the war. Even then, the radiation cocktail emitted by the planet’s red star, Acheron, had been making Othrys increasingly uninhabitable for organic life. It had only intensified in the millennia since.
We were already experiencing the power of that radiation, which was causing electromagnetic interference, periodically disrupting the signal from Raiden’s ship. Its beacon kept winking in and out on the navigation chart. Of course, that same radiation was what Hades claimed would hide us from detection when we dropped out of FTL in the shadow of Othrys’ moon.
I paused outside the door panel leading into Emi’s recovery pod and thought through what I was going to tell her. What if we found Raiden’s ship but no Raiden? What would be worse—finding a body or finding nothing at all? If we didn’t find him on that planet, would the hope that he was still out there become all-consuming?
Already, my internal risk scale was dangerously uneven. Despite Hades’ willingness to fly the Elysium—the vehicle ferrying the last vestiges of the human and the Olympian races across the universe—into what was most likely a trap of some kind, I knew he didn’t think it was the right move. But he was willing to do it. For me.
I pursed my lips and stared at the polished silver surface of the door panel. The knot in my belly tightened, twisting until it was hard to breathe. Was this a mistake? What if going after Raiden led to the destruction of everyone else—all the people stored in the Vault of Souls living out their incorporeal lives in a simulated world? What if I lost Emi because of this mission? Or Fiona or Meg? What if I lost my mom? Or Hades?
I reached out, gripping either side of the doorframe, and closed my eyes. I bowed my head, drawing in shallow, shaky breaths. I could still turn back. I didn’t have to tell Emi about the signal. We didn’t have to follow it to Othrys. It wasn’t a necessary risk.
When we dropped out of FTL in the Acheron system, we could jump away as soon as the FTL drive recharged. Hades and I knew about the signal, and through our bond, Meg knew, too. Nobody else was aware of where Raiden’s ship had landed. Nobody else knew we had found him. Or, at least, that we had found his ship.
I could turn around and head back to the Bridge. I could tell Hades this rescue mission wasn’t worth the risk. Raiden gave his life to save us. To give us the chance to reach the safety of Terra. He absolutely would not approve of a rescue mission that put everything he sacrificed himself for at risk.
His voice whispered through my mind, a memory of him threatening to tie me to a bed to prevent me from doing something reckless. But those words felt like they were from another lifetime, though they had been spoken barely a month before leaving Earth.
I couldn’t make myself turn around. I couldn’t abandon him. He hadn’t sacrificed his life for the billions of souls on board the Elysium; he had done it to save me. To prevent me from flying that decoy ship away.
Because he loved me.
Anger surged within me, irrational and potent. I was furious with Raiden for putting me in this position. For forcing me to make this impossible choice. The guilt sparked by that anger only enraged me further.
On the off chance that Raiden was still alive out there, I couldn’t abandon him.
I inhaled a deep, steadying breath. Another. After the third, I straightened and released the door frame. I pressed the button on the small control pad set into the wall beside the door, and the metal panel slid open.
I froze with one foot in the recovery pod. Emi wasn’t in her recliner. A quick scan of the seven other empty recovery chairs spaced out in two neat rows on either side of the room confirmed that Emi wasn’t there.
As I moved closer to her abandoned recliner, I noted that Raiden’s consciousness orb was gone, but Emi’s unused comms patch lay on the tray, still affixed to its backing. Eyes narrowing, I raised my hand to press a fingertip to my own comms patch stuck to the skin behind my ear. I murmured my mom’s name to form a private connection with her.
“Mom,” I said, my voice low. “Are you awake?” I held my breath, releasing it in a sigh when no response came. She was probably asleep.
I touched my comms patch again, this time forming a link with Hades. “I don’t suppose Emi is with you?” I asked him. I had left him on the Bridge only fifteen minutes ago, so I knew he would still be up.
“She’s not in her recovery chair?” he asked, responding immediately. His question confirmed he didn’t have eyes on her.
“No,” I said, scanning the pod again.
“I can trace her comms patch,” Hades offered.
“Don’t bother,” I told him. “She left it here.”
“Ah,” Hades said. He was quiet for a moment. “What would you like me to do?”
I stared down at the tray table attached to Emi’s abandoned chair. Had she taken Raiden’s consciousness orb to upload him to the simulation? If we did find him alive down on Othrys, we would end up with an awkward duplicate situation. The Olympians had strict rules about uploading, cloning, and regeneration that had been created to prevent that exact thing. No duplicates were allowed within the simulation or to move on to another body.
If we uploaded Raiden’s backup, then found him alive on Othrys, the living version would be forever locked out of the simulation. Duplicate consciousnesses threatened the integrity of the entire system, endangering every single person stored within a consciousness orb in the Vault of Souls. Which meant that when Raiden actually died—assuming he still lived—that death would be the end for him.
The prospect disturbed me. But I feared his upload to the simulation for another reason as well.
Again, his voice whispered through my mind. This is not your fault. It’s my choice . . . Promise me you won’t blame yourself. Those had been his last words to me.
The version of him that would be uploaded to the simulation was missing the final hours of his life. I would have to explain to him what happened—why he was being uploaded to the simulation—and I wasn’t sure I could recap the events leading to him flying the decoy ship away from the Elysium without pointing out all the things I could have done differently to prevent his sacrifice. All the things I should have done to stop him from taking my place.
I hated myself for my inability to honor what may have been his dying wish. It was my fault. I did blame myself.
I blinked rapidly against the sudden, stinging threat of tears and cleared my throat. “Can you check the Vault of Souls?”
“Of course,” Hades said, then fell quiet again.
I stared up at the ceiling, taking slow, controlled breaths to rein in my raging emotions.
“No life signs in or around the Vault of Souls,” Hades informed me.
I blew out a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding. I focused on my psychic bond with Meg but knew almost instantly that she hadn’t seen Emi recently.
I touched my comms patch again and formed another private connection, this time with Fiona. “Fio? Have you seen Emi recently?”
Seconds stretched out, long enough that I assumed Fiona was asleep as well.
“Aye,” Fiona said, finally responding. “I’ve got her here with me and Stasya in Scout’s room. She’s assisting the slice and dice on my new toy.”
I frowned, wading through Fiona’s words and their potential meanings. Scout’s room was what she and Emi called the lab where we kept the electrified cage housing the creepy, childlike Tsakali scout we had captured on the ice planet. The scout appeared innocent enough now, but I had no doubt that if it got free, it would transform into the vicious creature that had attacked me with razor claws and teeth when we first found it.
“Do you mean the Titan?” I asked, mildly horrified at the thought of the body of the Tsakali psychic who had been working with the pirates being stored in the same lab as the captive scout. The Titan was synthetic, like all Tsakali, so it wouldn’t decay, but I couldn’t help but sympathize with the scout for having to share a room with one of its “deceased” brethren.
I frowned to myself. “You’re already dissecting her—or, um—it?”
I honestly wasn’t sure how the Titans—or any Tsakali—viewed themselves gender-wise. All reference material and recordings I had seen showed Titans with typically feminine curves, but now that I knew their bodies were synthetic, I supposed they could have modeled the Titans after Olympian psychics—and all Amazon warriors were chromosomally female. Essential characteristics tied to the “y” chromosome intrinsically interfered with psychic abilities.
“Oh yeah,” Fiona confirmed. “I couldn’t wait to get inside her… give her a little tickle to see what made her tick.”
I snorted a laugh, surprising myself, as Fio’s inappropriate sense of humor somehow reached through the emotional storm raging within me. I shook my head, snatched Emi’s unused comms patch off the tray table, and headed for the open doorway.
“I’m heading to you guys,” I told Fiona. “See you soon.”
I hurried through the warren of corridors leading from the Med Sector to the Genetec Sector, where the recovery pods and asclypos chambers gave way to an endless string of mostly unused labs, but I couldn’t move quickly enough to leave my troubled thoughts behind.
Why was I so torn up about Raiden’s likely death? We had an almost up-to-death copy of his consciousness. During my lifetimes as Peri, I had lost dear friends many times on missions and had faced no such issues moving on with their regenerated selves. There had never been any sense that the new versions of my friends weren’t still them. There had never been any sense of loss—merely annoyance at having to wait a couple of decades for their new bodies to grow up and their sense of self to mature into their true selves. This was no different.
Except now, I wasn’t just Peri. I had spent two and a half decades as Cora, and new human respect—and fear—for death had been ingrained into my current body’s sense of self. Into my sense of self. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Raiden was likely dead, even though his self lived on in a consciousness orb on this ship.
By the time I reached the lab housing the live Tsakali scout—and apparently the now lifeless Titan who had nearly killed me—my jaw ached from gritting my teeth so hard to maintain my stiff upper lip. Unwilling to give myself any more time to waffle emotionally, I punched the button on the control pad beside the door as soon as it was within reach, and the door panel slid open.
Within, Fiona and Stasya stood on one side of the centermost of the three morgue-like lab tables filling the space, Emi on the other, and the Titan’s lifeless form stretched out between them. Facing me, Emi held her head cocked to the side, the downturn at the corners of her mouth hinting at disgust as she watched Fiona work. Fiona was literally up to her elbows in the Titan’s torso.
In the far corner of the lab, the diminutive scout cowered at the back of its cage. Its eyes were opened wide and unblinking as it, too, watched Fiona dissect the Titan. Was the scout imagining itself laid out on the exam table in the Titan’s place? Did it fear such things? Did it fear?
The scout’s childlike appearance still threw me off. Even though I knew it was likely centuries old, it looked like an innocent kid of seven or eight. It was kind of cute. But then I pictured the monster it could transform into, all bulging veins and metal teeth and claws, and goose bumps covered my skin.
I stepped into the room, bracing myself for what I was about to do. As I drew closer and gained a clearer view of the Titan’s body—and the crimson staining Fiona’s long work gloves—my lips twisted until I was making a full-on ick face. The Titan absolutely did not look like a synthetic being. It appeared to be a woman made of flesh and bone and blood, just like the rest of us.
“I think I’ve got it . . .” Fiona’s features tensed, and she wrenched her arms. Something inside the Titan’s body made a crunching sound that reminded me all too well of breaking bone. “There,” she said, her expression brightening as the Titan’s chest parted down its midsection. She straightened, pulling her arms free with a sickening, squelching sound. “That should do it.”
Emi glanced at me, offering me a halfhearted smile. I spotted Raiden’s consciousness orb tucked into the nest of Emi’s sweater on the next lab table over, where Fiona had set up her hybrid workstation out of human and Olympian tech. Emi returned her focus to Fiona and the dissection.
Fiona, still oblivious to my arrival, wedged her fingers into the narrow opening in the Titan’s chest cavity. With a grunt, she pushed the two sides apart, affording us all a better view of the Titan’s insides.
“Stasya?” Fiona said as she shuffled a few inches to the left, making room for Stasya to take over holding open the Titan’s broken ribcage.
I suppressed a gag. Poor Stasya.
“See this here?” Fiona said, pointing to something around where I would have expected an organic creature’s heart to be. “This is the CPU, but this band wrapped around it is what I was talking about on that scan. It reminds me of a superconductor.” She angled her head, her loose topknot of neon orange hair flopping to one side. “Or what I would imagine a superconductor would look like if it were grown rather than made,” Fiona clarified. “Not that I have any idea of how such a thing would be possible.”
“Huh,” Emi said, a crease forming between her brows. She gripped her own elbow with one hand and tapped her lips with the index finger of the other. She glanced at the scout huddling in the back of its cage. “Nothing like that showed up on any of the scans we did of that one.”
“Right?” Fiona pointed to Emi with one bloodied finger. “I can’t help but wonder if this part is unique to the Titans. Like, maybe this is the source of their gifts, like a psychic fuel cell.”
Emi’s faint frown deepened, and she shook her head thoughtfully. “I suppose, though I don’t know how we would test the theory.” She looked past Fiona, her focus locking onto me. “Maybe you or Stasya could channel psychic energy into it and see if whatever this is can hold the energy?”
Fiona spun around to face me, flinging gobs of blood in my direction.
I instinctively held up a hand and turned my face away. “Gross, Fio.”
Fiona glanced down at her gory gloves, then flashed me a sheepish smile. “Sorry, Cora. But what the shite?” she snapped, all hints of contrition vanishing. “How long have you been standing there?” She waved the question away before I could answer. “Never mind. Will you do it?” She glanced back at the half-dissected Titan. “Will you channel into it?”
“If you think it’s safe,” I said, shrugging. “Yeah, sure.” I looked past Fiona to Emi. “But I need to talk to you first, Em.” I nodded toward the doorway, figuring she would prefer some privacy for what I was about to tell her.
I had gone back and forth over whether we should tell her the true purpose of the mission to Othrys, not wanting to give her false hope. But Raiden was her son, and if I was going to ask her to delay uploading his consciousness to the simulation, I needed to be honest with her about the reason.
My heart beat faster as Emi followed me back to the doorway and out into the corridor. I turned to her, and whatever she saw on my face caused her to hug her middle.
I forced myself to speak before I could wuss out. “We found Raiden’s ship.”
Emi gasped and brought a hand up to her mouth, her eyes going glassy.
I licked my lips. “We’re on our way there now,” I told her. “Hades says we should reach the planet where the ship’s signal is originating soon, but—” I winced, bracing myself against the hope welling in Emi’s eyes along with all those tears. “There’s no guarantee we’ll find him there.” I forced myself not to retreat from Emi’s gutting stare. “Or that he’ll be alive if we do find him.”
Emi closed her eyelids, and tears cascaded down her cheeks. Her shoulders jerked with silent sobs, but I waited for her to regain her composure. If I reached out to her, if I comforted her in any way, we would both lose it completely. We didn’t have time for emotional breakdowns right now, not with the impending rescue mission on the horizon.
Finally, Emi inhaled, deep and tremulous, then opened her red-rimmed eyes. “I understand.”
Sitting tailor-style on the metal grating of the observation deck on the top floor of the Elysium, I stared out at the stars through the reinforced glass curving along the wall and ceiling. Since the ship currently moved faster than the light given off by all those distant celestial bodies, the stars formed glowing lines streaking through space like multicolored laser beams. I rested my hands on my knees and arched my back, stretching my neck first one way, then the other, earning a satisfying crack-crack-crack and a tingling rush of endorphins.
I should have been in my private quarters, catching whatever scraps of sleep I could manage. I needed to be clearheaded and ready to handle whatever awaited us on Othrys.
But every time I even closed my eyes for longer than a blink, I saw Raiden’s face peering out at me through the porthole in the hull of the pirate shuttle. I saw his hand pressed against the glass, mine against his, and renewed grief crushed my heart. The one time I did actually drift off, the gut-wrenching goodbye had played out in all its horrifying glory. I had gasped awake, heart hammering and cheeks wet with tears.
That was when I gave up on sleep and fled from my quarters, heading up to the observation deck in the hope that the stars might bring me comfort. I needed this reminder that I was small, that the universe was infinite.
I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs to the brim, then closed my eyes. I pictured darkness. A spark appeared in that black void. I imagined it growing to a flickering flame, beating back my inner demons with its light.
A silhouette appeared at the edges of the darkness. Tall and broad. Familiar.
My heart beat faster, and my chest tightened, my rib cage seeming to constrict around my lungs until my breaths quickened.
The figure stepped forward, and Raiden’s face came into view, flickering in the dim light from my flame. He raised his hand like he was pressing it against an invisible barrier. A porthole. His face slowly morphed into another, elongating and sharpening. His hair lengthened and lost its color until it was shoulder length and silver-blond. He transformed.
Raiden no longer stood in my mind’s eye. Now, I saw Hades, his stare somber as he mouthed a final goodbye.
I gasped, clutching my chest with one hand, and snapped my eyelids open. Panic cocooned me, its embrace unrelenting. My upper body caved in on itself as I fought for air. My shoulders slumped, and I curled my legs up and hugged my knees.
I dragged my stare up from the metal grating on the floor and focused on the streaming stars, needing this proof that I was here, on the observation deck, not down in the transportation hangar, watching Raiden or Hades leave me. The streaming stars provided a visual reminder that I was on my way to Raiden right now. And Hades was on the Bridge. I was doing everything I could to keep them both safe.
But are you?
The question whispered through my mind, toxic and insidious.
Are you really?
“Stop it!” I hissed through gritted teeth, smacking the side of my head with my open hand. “Just stop it!”
With a low growl, I unwrapped my arms from around my knees and straightened my legs, extending them out in front of me. My hands trembled, my muscles thrumming with unspent adrenaline. I uncurled my body, stretching out on the floor to give my lungs the maximum space to expand.
Panic attacks were nothing new to me. They had been almost a daily occurrence for the past two decades. As I stared out at the streaming stars, the tremors racking my body gradually lessened, giving way to the faint vibration of the ship, and the panic lost its chokehold over me.
My mind wandered in a less disturbing direction. I took note of the sense of wonder sprouting in my chest and of the dichotomy of my own feelings about journeying across the universe. How strange to feel as though hurtling through space at faster-than-light speeds was both novel and mundane. The part of me that had once solely been Cora was amazed, but the part of me that had spent lifetimes as Peri was utterly unfazed. I was no longer two people stuffed into one body, but times like these made me think my two selves hadn’t fully integrated into a single identity, either. My sense of self wasn’t exactly divided, but it wasn’t completely unified.
Like so many things in my life right now, it was complicated.
At the sound of a throat clearing behind me, I craned my neck to peer toward the back of the observation deck. Strands of my loose hair snagged on the metal grating, making me wince.
My mom approached, a slight, forced smile curving her lips. The tension in her jaw and around her eyes made me think she was aware of where we were headed.
“I hear we have a new mission,” she said as she drew closer, confirming my suspicion. Had Hades told her? Or had Emi? Or perhaps, by now, it was common knowledge.
“Yeah,” I whispered, the single word drawn out and utterly devoid of confidence. I crossed one ankle over the other and raised my head off the floor, folding my arms beneath it to use as a pillow.
When my mom reached me, she lowered herself to the floor and bent her legs, drawing them up to rest her forearms on her raised knees. She gazed out at the silvery veil of starlight, her presence a comfort, even in the silence. We sat there for minutes, quietly observing the universe together.
“How are you doing, sweetheart?” my mom finally asked.
My whole body tensed.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation for everyone, but for you . . .” She sighed. “I can only imagine what you’re feeling right now.”
“I’m fine,” I croaked. I cleared my throat and repeated the statement. “I’m fine.”
She turned her face toward me, resting her chin on her shoulder.
I glanced at my mom but had to look away under the weight of her measuring stare.
“Have you gotten any sleep since, well . . .” She exhaled a breathy, humorless laugh. “Have you gotten any sleep?”
I blew out a breath and shook my head. “Every time I close my eyes, I see him. I see his face through the glass. I see his lips moving as he tells me—” I choked on the words as anger surged up from the darkest depths of my heart. He had left me behind. He had left me.
I squeezed my eyelids shut, but there he was in my mind’s eye, mouthing those words.
Promise me you won’t blame yourself.
I did, and I didn’t. I blamed myself for not making him see I was a worthy partner. A strong ally. I blamed myself for not earning his trust and respect as a warrior. But I blamed him for not believing in me, for not taking me with him to back him up.
I love you. That was the last thing he had said to me before flying the decoy away, effectively sacrificing himself to save everything I loved. Everything but himself. For all I knew, he was dead. Thoughts that we wouldn’t find him—or his body—were ever-present in my mind. He might have been captured. Tortured. Killed.
And I was mad at him? I had never felt like such a steaming pile of shit before in all my lives.
“Ugh,” I growled, opening my eyes again.
I raised my head, pushed off the metal floor with my elbows, then sat up all the way, once again hugging my folded legs to my chest. Turning my face toward my mom, I rested my cheek against one knee. My eyes stung with the threat of tears. If I continued down this mental path, they would flow freely. I knew that, and I didn’t want to cry anymore, but I couldn’t stop myself from voicing my nagging fears.
“What if he’s not there?” I said, my voice weak. “What if I have to spend the rest of forever wondering?” I swallowed roughly, choking on the dread. “Wondering how he died?” My voice wavered, and I drew in a shuddering breath. “In some ways, I’m hoping he’s dead because the alternative—that they’re holding him captive and doing things to him—is so much worse.” I stifled a sob and buried my face in the crook of my arm.
“Oh, sweetheart.” My mom rested a hand on my shoulder, her touch gentle and reassuring.
“I mean, who does that?” I asked, raising my head to look at her. “Who hopes someone they love is dead?”
Sympathy contorted my mom’s features. “Oh, Cora,” she said, sliding her hand along the back of my neck and curling her arm around my shoulders. She pulled me against her, wrapping her other arm around me and tucking my head under her chin.
I collapsed against her, clutching the front of her sweater as the sorrow, rage, and sheer wretchedness of my existence exploded out of me in a bout of guttural, full-body sobs.
My mom’s arms tightened around me. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” she murmured. “It’s all right. I’m here for you. I will always be here for you. Whenever your burdens are too heavy, I will help you carry them,” she promised. “Always, my sweet Cora-Borealis.”
I laugh-sobbed at the sound of the old nickname.
My mom smoothed down my hair and rocked me gently. “And I will help however I can when we get to Othrys—and after—but please don’t get yourself worked up before we know what we’re dealing with.” Her voice was soft, steady, soothing. “We might very well find Raiden with the ship. And if we don’t, Hades tells me most ships record what happens on board, like an alien version of a black box. If Raiden isn’t there, hopefully the recording will give us some further insight.”
Her logic and reassurance battled against my raging emotions, gradually wrestling them into submission. My sobs lessened as she spoke, and I relaxed my death grip on the front of her sweater.
“But,” she added. “If we get to Othrys and find his ship and still don’t know what happened to him . . .” She paused like she was considering her words carefully. “If you want to take the Argo and follow his trail to find out what happened to him, I will go with you,” she vowed. “I’m with you until the end.”
Her words echoed in my mind. This mission could very well lead to that exact end.
I squeezed my eyelids shut as tight as I could, welcoming the mental image of Raiden because it was better than picturing my mom suffering a similar fate. Better than considering the danger in which following Raiden’s trail even this far was placing her—and everyone else on board the Elysium. Better than facing the terrifying truth.
That this might only be the first loss of many.
And in all my lifetimes, death had never felt so permanent.
Hades’ gaze lingered on my face as I ascended the stairs to join him atop the captain’s platform on the Bridge. His attention was no real surprise. My face still felt puffy from the cryfest with my mom, and my heart was heavy with the weight of all we were risking by venturing to Othrys. All I was risking, because going after Raiden’s ship had been my call.
The lid cracked open on the lockbox shoved into the darkest corner of my heart, threatening to release those volatile emotions. I had only just managed to stash them away. I wrapped a chain forged from my will around the box. I would not break down again. I had neither the time nor energy to waste on such weakness.
I wondered what Hades thought of my tears. Did he believe they had been shed for Raiden alone? Did he have any idea that many sprang from the idea of losing him, as well? My index finger itched to touch the stone glowing a subtle amber in the regulator hanging from the chain around my neck and to unleash my psychic abilities so I could find out.
I clenched my hands into fists and offered Hades a tight smile. “How close are we?”
“Minutes from landing the jump,” he said, returning his attention to the oversized holoscreen hovering in front of him.
I climbed the final step and crossed the narrow platform to perch on the wide armrest of his chair. I scanned the windows open on the holoscreen, taking note of their contents. The background displayed a navigation chart, the solid white beacon marking the Elysium shifting ever closer to the large, red dot marking Acheron’s location on the chart.
On the left side of the screen, a long, narrow window displayed a list, and beneath it, another smaller window displayed a dozen multicolored bars, some half-full, some almost entirely empty. On the right side of the holoscreen, another window displayed an ever-changing line chart with red, orange, yellow, and magenta lines shifting with jagged peaks and deep valleys. A small window had been tucked into the upper right-hand corner, displaying a countdown timer. Just under two minutes until we dropped out of FTL.
“You’re sure nobody will be able to detect us?” I asked, glancing at Hades out of the corner of my eye. If his answer was anything other than a definitive no, I was calling the mission off.
“I am sure.” Hades raised one hand, indicating the fluctuating line chart with a flick of his long fingers. “No tech could differentiate the burst of chaos energy given off by our arrival from that mess of radiation,” he explained. “The electromagnetic interference caused by the output of radiation from Acheron will conceal our presence. With our shields and the rebounding radiation, we will be undetectable. I am not uncertain about this.”
I studied his face through narrowed lids but found no hints of deception. I turned my attention back to the holoscreen. He wasn’t uncertain about this. Was he less sure about other aspects of the mission?
A thought struck, and I frowned. “If the radiation will conceal us, couldn’t it be concealing other ships that are already there?” I looked at Hades, studying his angular profile. “Like the Tsakali?”
Hades settled back in his seat and leaned his elbow on the opposite armrest from where I was sitting, angling his face toward me. “There is always that risk, but even if other ships are already there, they will not detect our arrival or our lingering presence.” His features tensed as he searched my gaze. “Are you having second thoughts about the mission?”
I was. And third and fourth and fifth thoughts. This was not a good idea. Raiden wouldn’t have approved. I could picture his scowl so clearly. See the disapproval in his stare. He would cross his arms over his chest and threaten to tie me up until I came around to his way of thinking.
Before I could confess my doubts to Hades, an alarm blared through the ship-wide speaker system. We were about to drop out of FTL. We had arrived.
I reached out, bracing myself on the railing that curved around the captain’s platform. Hades lowered his hand to grip the end of the armrest on the other side of his chair. The ship shuddered.
In a blur, the navigation chart reoriented itself to display Acheron’s planetary system. The viewscreen spanning the entire front wall of the Bridge flickered, the curtain of streaming starlight vanishing, and then the screen filled with a red inferno. Acheron. My eyes widened as I stared at the viewscreen, at the red behemoth blazing in all its dying glory. I couldn’t help but feel like we were flying straight into hell. Or possibly just my own personal hell.
“We can leave,” Hades said softly.
I looked at him, stunned speechless by his offer. The mask he had worn for lifetimes was that of the reserved, calculating prince of Olympus, but I knew better. It had taken literal lifetimes for him to let his mask slip, but once he did, once I glimpsed his true nature—generous, compassionate, and perceptive—I had loved him. I did love him. But I was putting him at risk, all to take a moonshot at rescuing another man who I also loved.
“We can wait for the FTL drive to recharge and jump away,” Hades added. “It’s not too late.”
I swallowed around the lump in my throat. Or maybe that was my heart.
A window popped up in the center of the navigation chart. The red, flashing border around the window drew our attention back to the holoscreen.
Hades leaned forward and reached for the holoscreen, dismissing the warning with a swipe of his hand. I glanced at him in time to see his frown before he blanked his expression.
My eyes narrowed. “What was that about?”
Hades stared ahead, back straight and shoulders stiff, and I could practically see the thoughts racing through his mind as he worked through his response. Here was the calculating aspect of his nature in action.
Dread twisted in my gut. What was he hiding?
“Hades,” I said, my voice low and threaded with warning.
Hades inhaled deeply, then let out a long sigh, his posture slumping. He raised his hands, smoothing back the silver-blond strands that had slipped free from the band binding his hair at the base of his skull. “We’re running low on several essential element cartridges.”
My eyebrows rose. Had he been hiding this from me on purpose? Anger sparked to life within me, reigniting the volatility in my veins.
Hades pointed to the two windows on the left side of the holoscreen, one with the list and the other containing a series of multihued bars. “If we hadn’t stopped here, we would have needed to find another resource-rich planet soon,” he explained. “It just so happens that Othrys is an ideal location to search—formerly inhabited by an advanced civilization, abandoned in a hurry. We’ll likely find everything we need there.”
I pressed my lips together as I stared at his profile while he pointedly avoided looking at me. “Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, unclenching my jaw to speak.
Finally, Hades focused on me, his ice-blue eyes imploring me to understand. I didn’t need access to my gifts to sense how conflicted he was feeling about this. “I didn’t want this situation to influence your decision to pursue the rescue mission.”
My brow furrowed, and I opened my mouth to argue.
Hades held up a hand, holding off what was sure to be a biting retort. “It wouldn’t have mattered in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “If you chose to pursue Raiden, then we could search Othrys. If you chose to move on, then we could find another planet to search.” His expression softened. “We still can.”
My chin trembled as my emotions rattled the lockbox in my heart. I wanted to rage at Hades. Why did he have to be so damn understanding? Why couldn’t he be petty or snide or domineering? Why wouldn’t he fight me? Try to influence me? Persuade me? Control me?
Because you’re his partner, whispered my inner voice of reason. His equal. Because he respects you.
I squeezed my eyelids shut. “I don’t know what to do,” I admitted, my voice barely above a whisper.
“We’re already here,” Hades said calmly, like his steadfast composure might help regulate my own unstable emotions. “We might as well search Othrys for what we need. It’s as good a place as any.”
My chin trembled, and I nodded, unable to open my eyes. Unable to speak.
“And while you’re down there,” Hades added, “you can find the ship.”
Again, I shifted my chin down and then raised it back up.
“I’ve already drawn up a list of all the depleted element cartridges,” Hades said, all business now. “I included diagrams and chemical signatures, so your team can use their holobands to discern the correct element cartridges.”
I cleared my throat and opened my eyes, focusing on the holoscreen. “That’ll be helpful,” I said, the words coming out stronger than I felt.
I looked at Hades, placing one trembling hand on his shoulder. “Thank you,” I said, hoping he could see that I wasn’t just thanking him for his careful preparation for the resupply mission. I was thanking him for the shift of our focus from my reckless rescue mission to one genuinely benefiting the whole ship. And beyond that, I was thanking him for his ability to read me, to instinctively know what I needed.
Hades covered my hand with his. Our stares locked, and my breath hitched. I didn’t deserve the way he gazed at me. Eyes stinging, I averted my stare to the wall of fire visible beyond the holoscreen.
A sliver of darkness appeared at the very edge of the viewscreen. As that sliver grew and we moved past Acheron, some of the tension inside me eased. Stars winked into existence, brightening as the hellish glow from the red giant diminished. And then we were past it.
A brighter spot coalesced among the stars, glowing a haunting reddish-orange, slowly growing larger. A planet. Othrys.
My hand still rested on Hades’ shoulder, and his still covered mine. I closed my eyes, setting a string of tears free. I was so sick of crying, but I couldn’t seem to stop.
Hades’ fingers curled around my hand, a silent promise of support. An unspoken vote of confidence—in me.
I hastily wiped away the tears, then sniffled, cleared my throat, and lifted my eyelids. Othrys had tripled in size on the viewscreen. I took a deep breath and looked at Hades once more.
He squeezed my hand, the tightening of the skin around his eyes barely perceptible. “We’ll enter orbit soon,” he said, relaxing his grip. “I’ll send drones down to the surface as soon as we arrive.”
“Good.” I pulled my hand from his shoulder, flexing and clenching my fingers. The sense of his touch lingered, like it had been seared into my skin. “I’ll get my team prepped and loaded onto the Argo,” I said, standing.
I reached the top of the stairs leading down from the platform in two steps, then stopped, turning partway to face Hades. “Thank you,” I said again, my voice raspy with emotion.
Hades bowed his head.
I turned away and started down the stairs, walking away from Hades. And toward whatever awaited me on Othrys.
Thanks for reading this preview of Blood of the Broken (Atlantis Legacy, book 5)!
The book is available for preorder and will be released on 8/16/2022.
If you haven't already, be sure to snag your free copies (ebook or audio) of Legacy of the Lost, the first book in the Atlantis Legacy.