Phantoms (excerpt – chapter 2, part 3)

(continued from the last post here.)

————

“How long will the analysis take?”

Saffir stared at the crystal point in her hand. Blue wings shifted behind her. “I am uncertain. Perhaps a few days.”

Anita looked up at Daris, a question on her face.

He nodded and she returned her eyes to Saffir.

“I appreciate your hospitality, Crystal Keeper Saffir.”

Saffir tipped her head. “You are welcome.” She straightened and fixed her gaze on Nare, her pleasant expression falling. ["Elis and Raea are in the infirmary, unconscious. They arrived a little more than an hour ago."]

["We heard. Are they all right?"]

["Stable but weak."]

["I wish to see them."]

["I expected you would."] Saffir took in the others when she said, ["You must excuse me. I will have our experts begin immediately. Nare will show you to your quarters."]

“Thank you,” Anita said.

“You are welcome, Agent Cross.” Saffir strode past, her white robe billowing behind her.

Nare ground her teeth to hide the impatience of being assigned to play chauffeur to Anita.

Daris was another matter. Without Anita hovering near, she could talk to him, maybe learn more about why his touch had inspired an instant connection between them, at least as she perceived it. Whether he did or not was one of the questions she wanted answered. It had been brief, but she was sure of that spark.

The hole in Anita’s pants leg caught her attention.

“Infirmary first. You should probably have that leg looked at.” Her healing of the wound the Shirukan had given Anita was the best anyone could do, but it gave her an excuse to visit Raea and Elis first.

She led them on a trek from one tower to another with a short transport tube ride to reach the infirmary level.

Upon sight of the clouded glass doors, Nare strode faster. Please be all right.

At her approach, the doors parted. Inside were two isolation booths surrounded by energy shields to purify the air within from contaminants. In one lay the tall, black-winged cousin she had always harassed in return for his pranks on her. In the other lay a Raea, young woman with brown wings and hair who had been raised on Earth to believe she was human until six months ago. Blankets covered both hiding the insertion points of intravenous tubes connecting to overhead wide cylinders glowing with myriad indicator lights around the bottoms.

Nare hurried to Raea, wishing she could do something. Only one discouraging thought muted that hope—if there was anything, Saffir would have already tried. Based on the readings of the holographic displays hovering over her, Raea was alive but her vitals were weak.

A heavy sigh alerted her to the presence of others next to her and she caught the worry on Anita’s face. “Something always happens when I have to leave. I’m glad they survived.”

“Barely.” Nare stepped away to put distance between her and the woman. Anita should have been there with her special forces to protect them, like the soldiers who had interrupted the return of the Risaal to their homeworld. Or maybe she should be blaming Davrel for calling Anita to San Francisco to investigate NeoGen Labs. Maybe the woman should have done her job better. Whatever the case, Anita shouldered some of the blame, along with her agency.

In the other booth, Elis looked peacefully asleep, but the readouts above him showed similar low vital signs. His black hair hung out of his face for a change, but he lay on his back with his wings contained by the rails around the sides of his bed. The fingers of one hand clenched tightly in a fist on his chest.

They had destroyed Heffin’s Gate with the power of the Starfire, yet it had weakened them so much that they remained comatose. The same power must not have been able to revive them.

So much to learn yet about the Starfire. It could convert living tissue to energy or do the opposite, depending upon the situation. Soriel had full access, because he was fully assimilated. Any Keeper or Crystal Keeper would weaken to use too much of the Starfire’s power, because they were only partially assimilated with that energy. All Keepers were taught the latter in training. The former had never been recorded before Soriel.

["I'm sure you have an interesting story to tell,"] she murmured. ["You better wake up and tell me, or I'll have to come in there and pound some sense into you."] Seeing him like that made her regret her last words to him at the wedding only a few days ago, but it had been teasing. He must have known that.

It would be the ultimate cruelty on her if she was forced to live with those words eating at her conscience, even in teasing, by never being able to apologize. Elis had to wake up.

Stupid Shirat Empire. They had taken so much from her, from Elis, and from Raea. Every survivor, every changed Shirukan—she glanced aside at Daris, who stood alone and conspicuous but with that pleasant visage that could dispel any fear—every one of them was one small victory against it.

Now, Elis and Raea had done what no one in their history had achieved—the destruction of the terrible machine at the heart of all the conflict on their world. She admired that.

["You better wake up...so we can all thank you."]

Damn. One more victory for Elis. She would never top that.

["Well, this is a surprise."] The familiar voice pulled her attention from the booth. Behind her stood a woman in a red uniform with dark wings and a less-than amused expression on her face.

["Jadeen,"] Nare said. She was still there?

Those sharp eyes narrowed on Daris. ["I was told to expect two Shirukan. Where's the other?"]

["Not him. They'll be here soon."]

["And why is he free?"]

The accusing tone grated on Nare’s nerves. Her blue wings tightened to her back. ["He's not one of them, and he's not injured. If you want something to do, check her."] She pointed at Anita. ["She was shot in the leg. I healed it, but you might want to take a look. She's human."]

Jadeen’s eyes lingered on Daris a second longer, but he seemed to take no offense, and then turned to Anita. ["This way."]

The medic stopped at an exam table near the wall. Anita climbed up and sat.

Content to keep her distance, Nare stayed near the isolation booth where Elis slept. The scrape of feet accompanied the presence of another moving in close to her.

In a low voice, he said, ["She's been wanting this for years."]

A smirk twitched at her lips. Exactly what she had suspected about Anita.

She looked aside and, upon realizing how close Daris stood, forgot her dislike of Anita. His nearness scrambled her thoughts with a confusion of emotions that set her heart pounding in her chest.

————

Note: This is not a final version and may be subject to change before the book is released in September 2013.

If you like what you’re reading, Soriel (Starfire Angels: Revelations Book 1) and Deception (Starfire Angels: Revelations 1.5) are currently available from online retailers.

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