Tardicus wasn’t going to get the satisfaction of seeing my tears. It took everything I had in me to not let that happen. With my jaw clenched so tightly it hurt, I nearly succeeded.
One single tear managed to escape, and began to roll down my cheek. One single silent word of eulogy to the first and greatest Love of my very long life.
I imagine Tardicus fancied himself the Angel of Death, visiting his touch on deserving heathens. I fancied him a hypocritical psychopath with a god complex, much more like his not-really-a-secret lover Javison than he’d care to admit.
Rejuv techniques had come a long way since they were first invented. I was in my late fifties when Dr. Lene Hau’s discoveries were finally turned toward medical applications, and nearly seventy when I first entered a rejuvenation clinic. Waking up to an eighteen year old body was quite a shock, but the center had very skilled counselors on hand to help with the transition. Most of them had been through the experience of old age themselves, which added to their ability to help guide people through the surprise.
These days, a rejuv would not only reset your biological clock, but was quite capable of fixing all manner of chemical imbalances in the brain. It was no accident that Tardicus and Javison were left exactly as criminally insane as they were. Albert needed them this way.
I was about to echo my Lover’s last words when the Vox bucked violently under my knees.
I was thrown through the air backwards and to my right, out of the line of fire of Tardicus’ weapon, clutched in his still profusely bleeding hand. As I instinctively prepared for the impact of the steel deck, I focused only on the look of shock on the face of my would-be executioner as he faded to black.
When the lights came back up and I slammed into the deck, I was no longer on the bridge of the Vox.
“Go! Go! Go!” I was screaming and raging uncontrollably, overwhelmed by the sudden freedom I could now give myself to let go. Still bound, I could only manage to kick at the deck and bang my head on the bulkhead against which I’d slid. Pain was no consideration as I flailed and spasmed in grief and tears and anger and hate. Tardicus would not die quickly.
I suddenly felt the familiar feeling of falling into nothingness that signaled to me that our first mate had heard me on the com. The Hau drive spirited us away instantaneously from a fight I had no desire to flee, but I knew deep down that this wasn’t the time.
I spent the next small eternity lying on the floor, convulsing and crying. Emotion had flooded my body, taken control without my consent, and it spilled through my eyes and nose and mouth like a river, creating a small lake of tears and snot and spit and blood on the deck.
I never heard Kristine’s boots on the floor, and had I not been such a miserable, woeful wreck lying there, I’d have been startled by her touch.
She must have been kneeling behind me when I felt her hair brush my neck above the collar of the jumpsuit, and her whispered breath in my ear.
“I’m so sorry, Janie. The shields…”
I couldn’t even answer her. I wanted to lash out, scream at her, beat her to a pulp, but I knew that in the end it wasn’t her fault. Kristine never gave less than her best at anything. If she did, she wouldn’t have been aboard our ship in the first place. We don’t accept second best. None of us. Second best gets you dead.
“There’s no pressure in medical, let’s get you to engineering so I can get you out of those restraints.”
Kristine managed to get me to my feet with little help from me. I couldn’t quite get my legs to hold my own weight, so she more or less carried me to the rear of the lower deck.
It took a while for her to get the right frequency to unlock the handcuffs, but fortunately Tardicus’ brainless little sheep were too lazy to use a different one for the leg irons. As soon as the restraints fell to the deck I tried to stand, failed miserably, and collapsed into Kristine’s arms. She held my head to her chest and stroked my hair and whispered and consoled me until I could gather myself a little.
“C’mon. You need to sleep, and I need to get back to the bridge to make sure they can’t follow us.”
“What happened to Medical?”
“It got bumped. They had to lower their matter shields to board the Mirror, but never lowered their energy shields. When I got back to the ship I realized I couldn’t transport you unless I took out the energy shields. I rammed them.”
“Oh.” I was trying to regain some control, some handle on what was going on around me. I wasn’t feeling much like a captain, though. “How bad are we?”
“Not too bad. I shut it all down before the impact. A few days in dock somewhere.”
Once in our quarters, it took me several minutes to decide whether our bed was the most comforting place I could be or a hideous, monstrous reminder of the hole in my soul. I finally decided that Kate would want me to be there, so I let Kristine undress me and tuck me in.
I wasn’t ready to be alone, so when she leaned down to kiss my forehead, I reached up and directed her lips to mine. It wasn’t just a matter of sexual desire just then, I needed her. I needed her to kiss me, and hold me, and make love with me, and help me cope with the loss of Kate.
I needed her to show me that there was still life left in me, that I would not be completely consumed with hate and revenge. I wanted to know that somebody still loved me.
Kristine has always been the most empathetic of the three of us, always the first to help those who needed us, always the first to see the effects of things on the people around us. She had an innate instinct for seeing inside people, and a strong compulsion to do whatever she could for them.
She threw herself completely into my need. Without hesitation or second thought, she enveloped me in her selfless compassion, kissing and stroking every part of me as though I was a priceless work of art to be cherished above all others.
This night was not about orgasms or pleasure, but about healing and comfort. Kristine made sure I had plenty of all of them.
When exhaustion began to threaten to overwhelm me, she kissed me long and gently once more, slid gracefully out of bed, and gave me one last sympathetic smile before padding off to the bridge, never so much as glancing at the pile of her clothes on the deck.
I don’t even remember falling asleep.
The Lilith Quotient, all chapters