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       Dovis, p.5

           Laurann Dohner
 
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  “Do what you can.”

  He ran out of engineering, grabbed one of the emergency comm wrist straps, and messaged Cathian. “I’m suiting up to search our outer hull for a tracking device. And maybe the device that caused the damage. Mari is working on getting our engines back online.”

  “I’ve just reached the bridge,” his friend responded. “She’s right. We have company coming. Two shuttles just showed up on long-distance radar. I’ve got York manning weapons and Marrow is sending a message to our allies that we need help. Raff is guarding the main docking door in case they try to attach and breach if we can’t keep them back. Nara is heading to help Mari. Pods, scan minds and tell us if anyone is coming at us cloaked from our scans.”

  Dovis tried to calm his rage. “Mari believes she can get our engines running, but not for long. See who can meet us fastest and head towards them once she gets us back online. I’ll kill the tracker if I find it to prevent them from following.”

  Chapter Four

  Mari wiped the sweat from her forehead, glad that she’d at least tied her hair back. Nara had been nice enough to bring her a wrist comm unit to make communicating with the rest of the crew easier as she worked.

  The crawl space was tight, hot, and airless. Cleaning out the shattered pieces of the U coupling had been difficult but was now completed. She inserted the one she’d fashioned from inferior metal and asked Nara to bring her the thickest protection gloves she could find. They were huge on her hands…she just hoped they’d be enough to keep her from dying.

  The sound of blasts had started minutes before. The Vorge was firing at the two approaching Raxis shuttles, attempting to keep them at a distance. No help was in range enough to come to their defense right away. They were on their own for a while.

  So far, the Raxis hadn’t returned fire. They wouldn’t want to damage the ambassador-class ship. That would negate the entire reason for inventing the little machine that took out U couplings. Most ships needed that part, and they were all made from Pelsis metal. The Raxis probably kept a box of spares on their shuttles to make the repair, giving them a completely undamaged stolen vessel to sell.

  She reached up, wiping her brow again with the sleeve of her shirt, and carefully coated the pieces of metal that linked the two brackets she’d used to form a new U coupling. It wasn’t pretty but it should work. The comms kept her updated on what was happening.

  “They’re dodging my fire but they aren’t getting any closer,” York stated.

  “Watch power levels,” Cathian warned. “Those bastards might be trying to wear down the batteries of our weapons and then come at us. Life signs say there are over twenty of those pricks between both shuttles. We’d be outnumbered if they breach us. Report, Pods. Anyone trying to sneak up on us with shielding suits on?”

  “No,” One stated. “We’re only picking up the crew.” He paused for seconds, then, “Mari, it’s too dangerous. You should have told our captain that you could possibly die getting the engines back online and giving us a chance to flee this battle.”

  Crap. She bit her lip, wrapping padding around the now coated metal. We’re all going to die if we don’t get out of here. What’s one life compared to the entire crew?

  “Your life is as valuable as ours,” One replied. “Captain, she’s at risk of being electrocuted, even while wearing gloves to hold the parts together when we restart the engines.”

  “What’s he talking about, Mari?” The captain’s tone made her flinch.

  She kept working. “It should be fine.”

  “She’s lying,” one of the Pods stated. “She is thinking she will probably die. The U coupling she has created will hold together once the power is flowing thru it, but it must be held in place at first, until a solid connection is made. The gloves won’t fully protect her from being electrocuted.”

  A snarl sounded over the comms. She wasn’t sure if it was the captain or Dovis. He’d been silent since locating two devices near the engines on the outer hull, and removing them. It was possible he was still making his way back inside The Vorge or was removing his spacesuit.

  “It doesn’t matter if I survive or not. We need to get the engines back online to recharge weapon batteries that have almost been depleted. It should give the crew a chance to lose those pirates, but very worst case, you’ll be able to fight them off longer until help arrives. Raxis pirates don’t take hostages or prisoners. They kill crews.” Mari finished the wrap and sprayed sealer over the temporary U coupling. “The important thing is, if the part works, you can max out on speed but keep it steady, whatever you do. Any powering back might pop the coupling connection loose and the engines will go back down. Understand?”

  There was silence over the comms.

  The captain finally spoke, his voice grave. “Thank you, Mari. Is there anything we can bring you that would help alleviate the risk?”

  “No. The gloves are the only thing small enough to wear and still allow me to fit my hands inside the hole where the coupling goes, and I have to physically push it down when you restart the engines to hold it in place for a few seconds.”

  “What about using a tool?”

  She glanced at the toolbox a few feet from her, knowing the contents. “Any other metals might fry the cables on either end if it creates a feedback shock, and nothing else could withstand the electric current that’s going to be thrown off whatever touches the coupling. It’s best if I physically hold it in place.”

  “You’re saying you’re going to be holding on to a live wire?” That was Nara, and she sounded shocked.

  Mari debated her words carefully. “Pushing against it to hold it in place is more accurate. The coupling I created isn’t a perfect match, which means it could pop out of place when the engines start. Someone has to hold it there until the electric current is flowing.” Mari paused. “Just in case I can’t tell you later, thank you for hiring me. Freedom was wonderful. There’s no family to notify if I don’t make it.”

  Another snarl sounded over the comms, this one louder, almost vicious, but otherwise, no one said a word.

  The captain finally came back on. “How long until it’s ready, Mari?”

  She swallowed hard and put on the gloves, picked up the coupling, and leaned into the open panel. “I’m installing the coupling now. Give me a few seconds and then be ready to start the engines on my go. I’ll tell you.”

  She used her knee to push one of her tools out of the way to keep all metal from touching her except what was in her gloved hands. She’s already removed everything from her pockets. The flooring and access panel were now coated as well, to ground them.

  A low grunt came from her left but she ignored it. She released one side of the coupling and grabbed the metal comm unit on her opposite wrist, placing it away from her.

  Then she placed both hands over the coupling again and pushed down as hard as she could.

  “Restart!” she yelled.

  She closed her eyes, knowing it would hurt. Her body tensed. There was a hum…

  And then pain raced up both arms and beyond as power surged through the U coupling and into her body. She would have screamed but she couldn’t.

  The unit powered on and the engines engaged. She was aware of that as she fought to breathe but failed. Too much energy pulsed through her body. Agony had her seeing spots before she blacked out.

  Dovis watched helplessly as Mari collapsed inside the panel.

  He hadn’t made it to her in time.

  He dove for her lower body to break her connection to the coupling. Electricity shot up his arm when he touched her. He clenched his teeth, ignoring the pain. The momentum of his dive tore her free and they landed in a heap outside the panel.

  The worst pain faded in seconds, leaving the arm hooked around her hips throbbing. Mari was curled in front of him on her side.

  He had to use his other hand to roll her to her back in the cramped space. He managed to back up, dragging her body past the open access panel and do
wn the crawl space. She wasn’t moving, and worse, he couldn’t hear if she was breathing.

  “Mari, report!” Cathian’s tone demanded an immediate answer.

  “She’s down,” Dovis shouted. “I’m taking her to the medical android.”

  “How bad is it?” Nara sounded worried.

  He stopped pulling on Mari and crawled up her body, getting closer to her face. He put his palm on her chest, feeling her soft breast underneath. Long seconds passed

  She wasn’t breathing…and he didn’t feel a heartbeat.

  “Fuck!”

  “Dovis?”

  “Not now, Cathian! I’m trying to save her.”

  But she was already gone. He’d arrived in time to see her die.

  An image of her flashed through his mind, looking fearful as she’d stared up at him when he’d caught her doing repairs while she should have been sleeping. For York’s steam, of all things.

  The human was a sweet little thing. Gentle. Strangely pretty…and he realized he’d felt protective of her earlier that evening.

  The same instinct surged again.

  He refused to let her life slip away forever.

  It was forbidden, against the laws of his people, but fuck them. They’d never done anything for him except make his childhood a living hell until he’d escaped his own planet.

  He pinned her body between his spread thighs, tearing her uniform at the neck to get access to her shoulder.

  He didn’t hesitate. His fangs sank into her flesh and her blood touched his tongue. The rich flavor of it instantly made his body react in ways he didn’t expect. He loved the taste of her. Heat flared through is veins until he broke out in a sweat.

  He drank for long seconds, releasing his saliva into her in turn, before freeing his fangs and straightening a little, putting his muzzle near her lips.

  Her eyes were closed and she didn’t react in any way as he watched.

  “Come on,” he growled.

  He had to shift to skin to breathe into her mouth, and he did chest compressions to try to restart her heart. It was possible it wouldn’t work. He’d never tried to save a human. The last time he’d bitten someone, it had been Cathian’s blood relative.

  There’d been nothing to lose, since Raff had lay dying. It had worked without any consequences. He hoped for the same result again. Raff had begun to heal immediately, his stab wounds closing within a minute. Then again, Raff’s heart had been beating at the time. Mari’s wasn’t.

  Dovis continued to work on her—and her mouth suddenly opened, her body jerked, and she gasped in air.

  He glanced down at the bite, watching it heal.

  Dovis almost smiled as he shifted back to fur. The little human should be fine. She didn’t wake right away, though. He backed down her body, grabbed her ankle, and dragged her toward the ladder. Her limp body slid along the floor, her arms dragging over her head, tangled with the hair she’d tied in a loose knot, which was now coming free. He exited the access tunnel and got on the ladder.

  “Hurry up!” Nara yelled from below. “I have the lift waiting. Seconds count. I sent the Pods to get the medical android online and they’ll be waiting.”

  “She’s breathing,” he called out. “She’ll be fine. She’s just unconscious.”

  He released Mari’s ankle and grabbed her thigh, being careful with his claws as he dragged her closer. He hooked one of her arms and managed to carefully drape her limp body over his shoulder. He climbed down the ladder with her. Mari didn’t weigh much but the climb was awkward.

  “Come on,” Nara urged. “We’ve got to get her to sick bay.”

  “She has no need for the android.” He got to the bottom and faced Nara. She looked upset.

  “Take her to sick bay now, Dovis! You might not give a shit if she lives but we do! That’s an order.” She pointed toward the door.

  He couldn’t allow the android to run tests on Mari. It would be proof of what he’d done to save the little human’s life. “Cathian?”

  “Yes, Dovis.”

  “Tell your life-lock to back off. I took care of it. Mari is going to be fine…it’s like Max station. I’m taking Mari to her room.”

  Cathian paused for a long moment then spoke. “Let him go, Nara.”

  “But Cathian, she’s hurt! He’s got Mari slung over his shoulder and she’s not moving.”

  “Nara, Dovis knows what he’s doing.”

  “But—”

  Dovis ignored her and headed out. “Are the Raxis following us?”

  “Damn straight they are,” York snorted. “We’re leaving them behind though.”

  “You heard Mari,” Dovis reminded the crew. “Don’t power back our engines. They’ll fail. I’m going to put her inside her cabin and then I’ll come to the bridge.”

  He reached the lift. Nara ran in too, glaring at him. He pressed the button for the level Mari slept on.

  “She needs to be seen by the medical android.”

  “Not anymore. She’ll be fine.”

  “Sometimes I hate you, Dovis. You want to take over everyone’s job, but you’re not a medical android. There’s no telling how badly Mari is hurt. She’s out cold.”

  “She’s breathing and has a heartbeat now. She didn’t before.” The lift stopped and he stormed out.

  Nara stayed on his ass. “Come on. Stop being a dick. Take her to the android.”

  He overrode access to Mari’s cabin and blocked the door, keeping Nara back until it closed with her still in the corridor. He spun, carrying the female over his shoulder to her bed then gently bent, using his hands to protect her head and back as he lay her flat. He checked the bite again. His fang marks had completely sealed over. Some blood remained. He glanced at her face briefly before leaning in and licking it away.

  It annoyed him that he liked the way her skin tasted. Her flesh was sweet.

  Mari made a low sound. He backed off and adjusted the torn shirt to cover her shoulder

  She opened her eyes and blinked, looking dazed.

  “You’re fine,” he told her in a hushed tone. “Rest. The engines are online and we’re fleeing the Raxis pirates. You did it.”

  She smiled. “I’m not dead.”

  He couldn’t help baiting her a bit. “Are you sure?”

  “Yes.”

  “Some would think they were in hell, waking to see my face.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  He paused, staring at her. She didn’t find him ugly? Frightening? It must be a side effect of what he’d done to her. “Relax. Stay in bed for at least an hour. That’s an order. You’re healing, and it will take that long or longer for you to be back to one hundred percent.”

  She looked confused. “You gave me one of those super-healing shots I’ve heard about? I feel weird.”

  Dovis hesitated but decided the lie was best. “Yes. Exactly that. Stay in bed, Mari. I’m going to order the computer to monitor you. You move, I come back…and you don’t want upset me.”

  “I’m tired.” She closed her eyes and her breathing immediately slowed in sleep.

  He straightened and walked to the door after giving the computer orders to notify him if Mari got up or if her life signs were in danger.

  Nara paced in the corridor. He raised his hand to cut her off when she opened her mouth, keeping her quiet until the door closed behind him. “There are things I refuse to explain to you. Mari will be fine. Give it an hour and she’ll never know she was hurt.”

  “You’re not a doctor. Do you even have medical training?”

  “I don’t need training.”

  “What the hell does that mean?”

  He strode toward the lift. “I’m needed on the bridge. Mari is sleeping. Leave her be. The rest is needed.”

  “Dovis, answer me!”

  “Learn to trust the crew, Nara. Mari is one of us now. I wouldn’t purposely hurt her.”

  “You’re such an asshole!” she seethed. “Tell that to Harver. Oh yeah, you can’t—because
you beat him up until he quit!”

  He was grateful when he reached the lift and it closed, blocking anything else Cathian’s life-lock might have yelled at him.

  Things were calm when he reached the bridge. York grinned from his station.

  “We’re leaving the bastards behind. Their shuttles are slow.”

  Cathian stared at him grimly. “You have a little blood around your mouth.”

  “Shit.” York turned in his chair. “What happened? Did you get yourself with your teeth?”

  “Something like that.” Dovis wiped his mouth and moved closer to Cathian, lowering his voice. “The little human will be fine.”

  “Thank you for what you did. I know it’s taboo.”

  “She’s important to you.” He wasn’t about to admit he had panicked when he’d realized Mari wasn’t breathing and no longer had a heartbeat.

  Cathian gripped his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “Still. I owe you.”

  “Never. We’re friends. What’s the situation?”

  “We’re leaving the pirates behind. Grover station is sending out a patrol to meet us and, if necessary, haul us in if our engines go down again. We’re at a speed that will allow us to intersect with them in seven hours and six minutes. Mari saved the day.” Cathian hesitated. “Do you think she helped them? The pirates? It’s a little odd that I hired her and then we were attacked.”

  The idea didn’t sit right with Dovis. “She died restarting our engines. If that was her plan, it was a shit one. She would have just sat on her ass, waiting for her friends to attack.”

  Cathian nodded. “I had to ask. I was sure you’d be suspicious of her. But her personality isn’t that of someone who’d betray us.”

  “I might not like that she’s here but she put her life on the line for the crew, and I doubt your android would have been able to save her. I suspect the damage she sustained was too great. She smelled like cooked meat.”

  His friend flinched. “Good thing you have miraculous healing abilities.”

  “Let’s change the subject.” He hated to talk or even think about what made him different from most of his own race. His people abhorred him. Shunned him. Made him an outcast.

 
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