Challenging saber, p.8
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       Challenging Saber, p.8

           S. E. Smith
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  “I…,” Saber started to say before he pressed his lips together and turned away. Walking stiffly, he leaned on the cane for support. “It is better that you don’t trust me. It is time for you to leave,” he said in a quiet voice.


  Saber turned in surprise upon hearing the determination in both Hunter’s and Dagger’s voices when they said the word at the same time. He stared warily at the two men as they rose. Hunter crossed his arms while Dagger stood across from him, his fingers moving restlessly by his side.

  “You’ve wallowed in your self-pity long enough,” Dagger replied with a humorless, sharp-tooth grin. “We’ve decided we want the old Saber back.”

  “I didn’t mind too much before because it gave Taylor time to grow up,” Hunter replied with a shrug. “The problem is, she is grown up now. I know that Taylor spent the night with you before she left,” he continued. “Did you claim her?”

  Saber flushed and looked away. “Do you think I don’t realize that she is grown?” He asked in a thick voice.

  “That’s not what I asked,” Hunter growled in a low tone. “I asked if you claimed Taylor the other night, Saber.”

  Saber turned and glared at Hunter, refusing to answer his question. What could he say? Yes, he took Taylor, but cast her aside the next morning. The flush on his face deepened with shame and remorse. That was exactly what he had done. He had used her as if she was a….

  “She deserves more than a broken warrior,” he muttered, sinking back down onto the couch.

  His head jerked up when both Hunter and Dagger burst out into bitter laughter. He glared at them. His head was about to explode, his throat felt like he had swallowed a handful of sand, and his heart felt like he had ripped it out of his chest, and the two men he considered his brothers thought it was funny.

  “I don’t see what is so humorous in the situation,” he growled, glancing back and forth at them.

  “Broken?” Dagger said with a shake of his head. “I spent two years in a fucking fight ring. You want to talk about broken….” He drew in a hissing breath and stared at Saber with dark, piercing eyes. “I still have nightmares. If it wasn’t for Jordan….” His voice died and he shook his head again. “Don’t you fucking talk to me about being broken.”

  Saber glanced at Hunter’s calm face. “He’s right,” Hunter said. “I was there with you when you were wounded, Saber. You weren’t the only one hurt. I had to learn to walk again, too. If not for the nano-charges implanted in my spine, I wouldn’t even be able to stand up.”

  A wave of shame flashed through Saber. They were right. Dagger’s two years of captivity had left their own deep scars, both inside and out. If not for Jordan Sampson, his friend would have died in one of those illegal rings and no one would have been the wiser. They had all accepted that he had been killed when the fighter he was flying exploded shortly after crashing.

  If not for Hunter, Saber would have been dead as well. The attack on them was strangely reminiscent of what was happening on Dises V. The thought of Taylor caught up in a civil uprising filled Saber with rage.

  A soft moan escaped Saber and he bowed his head. Reaching up, he rubbed his throbbing brow. For the first time in his life, he wasn’t sure what to do.

  “The healer said if this latest procedure on my leg doesn’t work, they may have to amputate it,” he finally said in a rough voice.

  “If it happens, you deal with it. Do you really think that Taylor would turn you away because of it?” Hunter asked, sitting back down in the chair across from Saber and stared at him. “Taylor, Jordan, and Jesse are different. Taylor spent the last five years studying ways to help you, Saber. What Trivator female do you know would have done that?”

  “None,” Saber reluctantly admitted as he turned to watch as Dagger walked over to the set of doors.

  Saber studied the stiff shoulders of his friend. He knew that Dagger was remembering the dark times in his own life. After several long seconds, Dagger turned and looked at him.

  “What Trivator female do you know would spend two years searching for a dead warrior, then when she found him, refuse to leave him behind, no matter how dangerous it was to her own life. Jordan came close to dying, more than once,” Dagger said in a gruff voice. “If not for her… I thought I was going insane. She brought me back, as much as I could be,” he admitted, looking away.

  “You are right,” Saber finally admitted with a tired sigh. “Taylor’s last words to me were that she loved me, and that I was lying to her. She was right. I do love her.” He turned his head back to Hunter and rose stiffly again. “Hunter, I would like to request your permission to claim Taylor as my Amate. I swear I will do everything in my power to protect her,” Saber said in a solemn voice.

  Hunter rose and looked at Saber with a crooked grin. Saber knew what he would see, and it wasn’t impressive. His clothes were wrinkled. He smelled of liquor, and he desperately needed a shower. Straightening his shoulders, he stared back at Hunter with determination.

  “I accept your request,” Hunter said with a smile. “Now, you just have to get Jesse to agree. She isn’t very happy with you at the moment.”

  Dagger stepped up and slapped Saber on the shoulder, chuckling when Saber winced and shot him a nasty glare. He knew Dagger had done it on purpose. Dagger was probably wishing he had slapped him upside the head.

  “Neither is Jordan,” Dagger grinned.

  Saber nodded with a wry grin. “The one who is the most angry with me at the moment is Taylor,” he replied. “I need to get cleaned up. I don’t want her to see me this way, though it is no less than I deserve.”

  Hunter shook his head. “She told Jesse she didn’t want to see or hear from you until she returned. Jesse said Taylor was quite adamant about it,” he said with a grimace.

  Saber swallowed. That wasn’t going to happen. She was going to talk to him even if it meant getting on the next transport to Dises V to do it!

  “How long did she say she was going to be gone again?” Saber asked, looking at Hunter’s slightly amused expression with dread.

  “Three months,” Hunter replied. “You have three months to get yourself together.”

  Another groan escaped Saber. He would still contact Taylor. She might not want to see or talk to him, but he had a lot to say to her. Each sentence began with the phrase ‘I’m such a moron’.

  Chapter 11

  Dises V: Two months later.

  “Taylor, over here!” Buzz called from the other side of the large tent.

  “Be right there!” Taylor hollered back, smiling down at the little boy that she had helped. “Remember to do your exercises every day. Before you know it, you’ll be able to play just like the other boys.”

  “I will,” the boy said, staring up at Taylor with a touch of hero worship.

  Standing, Taylor smiled at the boy’s mother, Karna. She had brought him in with a compound fractured arm almost three weeks ago. It had taken two surgeries for the healers to repair all the damage.

  “Thank you, PT Taylor,” Karna said with a nervous smile. “You are different from the other warriors. I am glad my son was given into your care.”

  Londius, or Lonnie as Taylor had nicknamed him, slid off the table and wrapped his arms around her waist. She hugged him back and ruffled his hair. At seven, he was full of energy and reminded her of herself when she was that age.

  “It’s just Taylor, and I am glad too,” Taylor said with a slightly worried smile. “I hope you have a safe trip home. I thought I heard the sound of explosions earlier.

  Karna nodded. “Yes, the unrest is growing. I hope that the two sides come to terms soon. For the Western to want to use people the way they do….” She paused and shook her head. “It is wrong, but there are more of them than there are here in the Eastern region.”

  “I agree,” Taylor replied, turning when Buzz called to her again. “I have to go. Don’t forget your exercises, Lonnie.”

  “Goodbye, PT Taylor,” Lonnie called, skipping ahead of his mother.

  Taylor grinned before turning. She had only taken two steps when the communicator at her waist buzzed. Pulling it free from the clip, she glanced down at the message. A choked giggle escaped her.

  “What’s so funny?” Buzz asked, looking at the screen before he raised an eyebrow at her. “What kind of a warrior sends a female pictures of yellow pieces of cloth?”

  Taylor hugged the communicator to her chest and scowled at her best friend. “One that knows he is on my shit list,” she replied, sticking her tongue out at Buzz. “What did you need?”

  Buzz frowned and shook his head at her. “I don’t understand what you see in that male. He is old. I am closer to your age and I am whole,” he grumbled.

  “There’s nothing wrong with Saber!” Taylor said sharply, glaring in warning at Buzz. “Where did that come from, anyway? We’re best buds, not – you know – like interested in each other.”

  Buzz turned unexpectedly. Taylor stared up at him in surprise when he reached out and tightly gripped her arms between his hands. Tilting her head to the side to look up at him, she realized that he had really gone through a growing spurt over the last two years.

  “Best buds,” he muttered, staring down at her in frustration. “This is a term you used when we first met. You said it meant friends. That was fine for when we were younger, but I have been waiting for you to reach the age of acceptance.”

  “Age of acceptance,” Taylor mumbled, trying to understand what the hell was going on. “That is like so – retro. I mean, back on my planet, I think they stopped talking like that about a hundred years ago.”

  “You are not on your planet, Taylor,” Buzz bit out harshly. “You are on mine!”

  Taylor looked around the tented clinic that had been set up. “Technically, we aren’t on either,” she said with a confused smile.

  “I know that,” Buzz growled. “That’s not the point! The point is….”

  Buzz’s words were cut short by a loud explosion that shook the tent. His arms immediately wrapped around Taylor and he turned to cover her as part of the tent collapsed. The sound of sirens and additional explosions shook the ground.

  “We’ve got to get out of here,” Buzz said in a low, urgent voice, holding onto Taylor.

  Taylor nodded, slipping her hand into his and squeezing it. In the background, she could hear yelling and the sounds of fighter transports flying overhead. Another series of explosions rattled the tent. They barely made it out the other side when the force of a missile striking it sent them both flying through the air.

  A scream tore from Taylor’s throat as she hit the ground and rolled. The force of the impact knocked the breath out of her and her ears were ringing from the thunderous sound. Crawling, she rolled under a large trailer used to haul material behind a ground cruiser.

  More missiles struck close by destroying many of the new medical buildings. Through the cloud of smoke, Taylor saw Lonnie’s familiar form on the other side of the gate. He was sitting on the ground between two buildings, crying.

  Rolling out from under the trailer, Taylor stumbled to her feet. She covered her nose and mouth with her arm to keep from breathing in the smoke from the fires caused by the explosions.

  Her eyes swept the area. She didn’t see Buzz anywhere. Shaking her head, she tried to clear the ringing in her ears as she stumbled through the debris. She ignored the men that ran by her, shouting; her only thought was to reach the little boy.

  She gasped when a hand suddenly reached out and grabbed her arm. Turning, she started to strike out when she saw Buzz’s dirty face gazing at her. Turning, she threw her arms around his neck in a brief hug.

  “We’ve got to go,” he shouted, pointing in the opposite direction.

  “No!” Taylor cried out, trying to break his grip and pointing to where she had been going. “Lonnie!”

  Buzz turned and looked in the direction that Taylor was pointing. A grim expression crossed his face. Nodding to Taylor, he turned and started running toward the little boy.

  Taylor ran beside him, glancing with fear as several Trivator warriors raised their weapons and began firing in the direction they were going. Fear for the little boy gave her an adrenaline rush and she sprinted past Buzz when he stumbled as the ground shook under their feet again.

  “Lonnie,” Taylor cried out, kneeling in front of the boy. “Are you hurt? Where is your mom?”

  Lonnie shook his head, looking wildly around him. “I don’t know,” he choked out. “There was an explosion and we were running and I lost her. I didn’t know what to do. I thought she might come back to the tent.”

  “Taylor, we’ve got to get out of here,” Buzz said, scooping the boy up in his arms.

  Taylor nodded. She rose and started to turn when she heard the sound of a cry. In the narrow alley, Taylor spotted Karna. She was struggling to climb over some fallen debris.

  “Take him to one of the transports,” Taylor instructed. “I’ll help his mother.”

  “Taylor,” Buzz started to argue.

  Taylor shook her head and started to move away from Buzz. “I can’t carry him, Buzz, you’ll have to do it. Go!” She ordered, turning and running down the alley.

  Taylor glanced over her shoulder in time to see Buzz jerk as another blast hit close. He shot her a frustrated look before turning on his heel and running back to the compound. Taylor didn’t wait any longer.

  “Here, let me help,” she said, rushing up to where Karna was struggling.

  “Londius?” Karna asked as she turned and looked at Taylor with frightened eyes.

  “Buzz has him,” Taylor said, wincing at the sounds of the fighting drawing nearer.

  “My skirt is caught,” Karna said, jerking at the back of her skirt.

  Taylor grabbed a handful of the material and pulled. The sound of tearing could barely be heard over the shouts of the warriors, the blasts, and the overhead fighter transports attacking the invading forces.

  “You’re free! This way,” Taylor said, grabbing Karna’s hand and pulling her forward.

  Taylor stopped at the end of the alley and glanced around the corner. She could see a group of Trivator warriors moving down along the sides of the buildings. They were returning fire on the rebels.

  Her head jerked up when a fighter moved slowly over the area, striking with a frightening precision into several buildings further down the road. Squeezing Karna’s hand, Taylor drew in a deep breath and took off running. The right side of the gate that lead into the compound lay on the ground. The other gate hung crooked, bent from flying debris.

  “There’s Buzz; go to him! He knows where Lonnie is,” Taylor called out, turning toward the area where she saw a wounded soldier fall.

  Taylor’s heart pounded as she ran to the man. He was holding his side, but she could see blood coming from his leg as well. Falling to her knees, she pulled the scarf holding her hair back from her head and untied it.

  “How bad is your side?” She asked breathlessly, tying the scarf around his thigh to stem the blood long enough for her to check his side.

  “Run, female!” The warrior growled with a furious look. “You should not be here.”

  Taylor sent him a shaky grin. “I don’t think any of us should be here,” she replied, throwing herself over him when a series of rapid fire struck the building to the left of them. “Can you get up?”

  “Yes,” the warrior hissed, struggling up with Taylor’s help. “Who are you?”

  “Taylor Sampson,” she replied, wrapping her arm around his waist. “Come on.”

  The warrior grimly nodded. Taylor saw him turn pale, but he didn’t complain. She could tell he had more wounds than she had seen at first. He had blood coming from his shoulder and a gash along his forehead.

  “What’s happening?” Taylor asked as they struggled across the compound, pausing briefly to wait for the gunfire to clear before mo
ving to the next area of cover.

  “Talks have broken down,” the man grunted. “The West has declared a separation from the Alliance and has identified the Eastern region as part of their territory. The planet is on the verge of a Civil War. The Eastern side is rebelling. They hope the Alliance will send in troops to support them. The Western council that was working with Razor has been assassinated and a new governing board of extremists has taken over.”

  Taylor paled. The little that she knew of the situation, the Western had been on the verge of accepting an agreement. She knew that Razor was there working on the negotiations.

  She stumbled when his leg gave out under him. He was losing a lot more blood than she’d realized. Relief washed through her when two of the military medics rushed forward and grabbed him. She stepped back and realized that she was near the tent where she and Buzz had been working.

  “Prepare for evacuation one!” One of the medics called out. “We have been told to pull back to the military base.”

  Taylor nodded. Her eyes swept over the compound. It was just a temporary medical station, not a military one. She swallowed as she saw more injured soldiers being transported in and additional support coverage converging in the center.

  She started forward before she remembered her backpack. Turning, she hurried back to the living quarters. She saw several people running out. Pushing past them, she ran up the stairs. She was almost to the third floor when she heard her name.

  “Taylor,” Buzz called out from the second floor landing. “We have been ordered to evacuate.”

  Taylor looked down over the railing. “I know. I’m just grabbing my backpack,” she replied.

  Buzz nodded. “Hurry. I’ll wait for you,” he said with a worried glance down the stairwell.

  Taylor nodded and hurried up the last few steps. Holding onto the wall when the building shook, she jogged down the corridor to her room. She pushed the door open and stepped inside. It didn’t take her long to pack the few things she had brought.

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