The Pearl of the Queen

She sat in the dark, waiting to die.

Damn the Crimson Patriarchate.

She ran her hand across the cold control panel. She knew every button, every toggle, every switch. She had been flying the Hu-hu for nearly five years. She didn’t need lights to know that her right hand rested on the switch for the rear thrusters, and that if she reached just a bit further to the right, she could drop her last remaining sticky bomb. The fingers of her left hand brushed the port and starboard thrusters.

Not that those would do her any good.

The Patriarchate had been waiting for her when the Hu-hu slipped back into normal space. Half-a-dozen stealth cruisers, sleek, fast, and well-armed. They had not been interested in killing her, though. No, they had very carefully neutralized her slip engine first, leaving her stranded in the oceans of Merai/Ancillary 675256. With no way for her to return to slipspace, they had taken their time, hunting her patiently.

Predators toying with their prey.

Eight days. Eight days of dodging and hiding and fighting when she had no choice. She had actually managed to take out one of the cruisers. The memory of it disappearing in a ball of blue-white light made her smile. But she was nearly out of fuel now, down to a lone meal bar and half a bottle of water, with only that single sticky bomb and one stinger pistol stuffed in her boot —

A flash of shadow through the window.

She stopped breathing, held very still.

A striped fin waved into view, then out again. A gigantic druka shark edged around the hull of the Hu-hu, mouth wide to suck in any fish unlucky enough to cross its path.

Exhaling, she closed her eyes and dropped back in her seat.

Dying in the dark at the bottom of the ocean on an alien Earth.

Not the death Mother and Father would have wished for her. She closed her eyes again. No. Medical school in Nieuw Amsterdam, or maybe an apprenticeship with a healer in Tenochtitlan. Then a long life with a good man, and lots of babies, and then grand-babies of her own.

But that had never happened.

Thunk!

She stopped breathing. Slowly, carefully, she opened her eyes, gaze fixed on the window.

She caught a glimpse as they disappeared around the port side. Another shadow, and another, both much smaller than the druka shark. Stealth armor, weapons, and —

Thunk!

Fuck. The hatch.

She leapt from her chair and raced through the door to the main cargo hold. The Hu-hu was a small ship; just big enough for her, the occasional passenger, and whatever cargo she might be hauling that she didn’t want the Patriarchate (or anyone else) to know about. The hatch sat in the middle of the floor, still intact.

Thunk!

For maybe another minute.

She spun on her heel, ran back through the door of the cockpit, and slammed her hand on the lock panel. Metal grating, the door clanged shut, bolts sliding into place.

That would hold them for another minute or two. Maybe three.

She gripped the back of her chair and stared out the window. The drukashark spun in a lazy circle. Purple and yellow fish and bright red eels twisted and turned.

Somewhere out there in that dark water was one — at least one — of the Patriarchate cruisers. She couldn’t see it, but it was there. If she snapped on her thrusters to escape the divers who were trying to break into the Hu-hu, the cruiser would stop her. And maybe this time, they would actually kill her.

Or they would just knock out her last functional thrusters, break into the Hu-hu anyway, and take her prisoner.

Her fingers tightened, digging into the fabric.

No. Never again.

She pressed her hand to her chest, feeling for the small disk embedded above her heart. It sat just below the skin. All she had to do was press hard enough to break it.

She inhaled sharply. No. Not yet, not yet, not yet. She wasn’t ready yet.

Thunk-ka-chunk!

The ship rocked, the floor vibrating beneath her feet. A warning light flashed on the control panel. The hatch was gone. Air pressure would keep out the water, but the divers were in her ship now.

Tak-tak-tak.

And they were knocking at her door.

She snorted a laugh at the absurdity of the Patriarchate knocking politely. They must be desperate to take her alive.

Another tak-tak-tak, this time a bit louder.

Ah, fuck it.

She dropped back into her chair and pressed the comm button. “This is the captain speaking. If you are calling to complain about the accommodations, well, it’s your own fault for cutting a hole in the floor.”

Silence, and then: “Salonitah of Subjugate 931, you will surrender yourself into the custody of the Rose Guard immediately.”

Her breath caught. The Rose Guard? They had sent the fucking Rose Guardafter her?

She cleared her throat and pressed the button again. “Sorry, who? I think you took a wrong turn somewhere.”

“I will not lower myself to speak further to a woman, and an enemy of the Patriarchate. Surrender.”

“Mmm. I’m gonna go with … no. And fuck you and the rest of the Patriarchate. Oh, wait, you don’t consider that an insult. How about damn you and the rest of the Patriarchate to the Tenth Hall of the Abyss.”

There was a sharp hiss of anger over the comm and a loud thud against the door. “Woman! You will regret your curse upon us!”

She pressed her hand to her chest, feeling the pounding of her heart through her jacket. She circled her finger around the outline of the poison disk and her pulse calmed. They would never have her again. A grim smile tugged at her lips. “Yeah, not inspiring me to surrender. Try again.”

“Woman, you — gh!”

A very loud thud as something heavy slammed against the door. She bolted upright in her chair, spinning it around to stare at the hatchway. It actually vibrated as something rammed into it again.

And then … shouting? A high, rumbly whine that definitely sounded like stingers.

Moving cautiously from her chair, she edged over to the door and pressed her ear to the metal.

Muffled shouts. And stingers; four, no five shots.

Silence.

She pressed harder against the door, straining to hear, only to leap back at a light tap-tap-tap. Then a tap, and a tap-tap.

She stared at the door, her heart pounding harder then it had when the Rose Guard had broken into her ship.

Holding her breath, she raised her fist and answered. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap.

The first sequence repeated. Tap-tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap.

She continued to stare blindly at the door.

No. It couldn’t be.

She pressed her hand to the lock panel. The bolts slid away and the door shifted to the side, metal grinding.

The single harsh yellow light above the door flickered.

Her mouth fell open and she could swear that her heart stuttered.

Teva.

His hair was longer now, wet black curls flat against his skull. But his skin was the same delicious brown, his eyes solid black and gleaming. Thin stinger cuts across his chest and arms bled bright red, and a pair of empty knife sheaths were strapped to each forearm. The secondary gills low on his neck pulsed in agitation.

He was very naked.

He reached through the door and kissed her.

***

She tasted like apples. Spicy apples.

He remembered that taste. He had never forgotten it. Still dreamed about it.

He held her tight, fingers diving into her hair. Alive. She was alive. Her lips were soft and parted in surprise. He inhaled, breathing in her scent even as his tongue dipped into her mouth —

She punched him, her fist hitting him hard in the side.

Grunting, he dropped his hands and staggered back. When it looked like she was going to swing again, he took another half-step back. “Grandmother sent me.”

Gradually, her fingers uncurled and her arm fell to her side. “Oh,” was all she said.

Salonitah’s gaze skipped quickly around the cargo bay, taking in the three dead Patriarchate soldiers and the stinger scorch marks on the hull. One soldier sprawled across the floor at her side, his helmet gone, his neck broken. His stealth armor seemed to eat the little ambient light that filled the room. The other two lay closer to the hatch, Teva’s knives buried in their backs.

Three Rose Guard. Three. Taking on one was dangerous enough. He had been lucky to catch them by surprise, but even so …. He suppressed a flinch, feeling the pull and twinge of the cuts on his chest and arms.

If he had been a minute later. Half a minute even ….

She must have seen it in his eyes, the fear and desperation that had been driving him since Grandmother’s call. Her gaze dropped. A hot flush spread up her neck and across her cheeks and she hastily looked away, focusing on the walls. She swallowed and shook her head. “You Nacaal. Never understood why you all insist on swimming nude.”

One corner of his mouth curled up, some of his fear easing. “I remember swimming naked with you more than once.”

She blushed harder, gaze flitting back to him. She didn’t look away this time. “How did you find me?”

He opened his mouth, hesitating. “There are those working to bring down the Patriarchate from within. And that’s all I will say.”

She tilted her chin, nodding once.

He waved at the cargo hold. “What were you smuggling this time?”

She crossed her arms, embarrassment turning to anger. “Nothing. Yet. Stealth cruisers were waiting for me when I came out of slipspace. The Patriarchate must have their own spy in the resistance; it’s the only way they could have known. And when I get out of here, I’m going to find out who.”

A low pip-pip in his ear. He tapped the com embedded in his ear lobe. “Yes?”

Janah’s soothing voice responded. “Two Patriarchate cruisers are moving into attack formation.”

“Keep them busy. We’ll meet you at the rendezvous.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“We need — where are you going?” he asked.

Salonitah had jumped back into the cockpit and was hunched over the control panel, her fingers dancing. “Dumping the core and setting the reactor to critical. Can you have us out of range in time?”

“Probably not.”

She paused for less than a second, then returned to rapidly hitting buttons. “Doesn’t matter. I can’t let them get anything from the Hu-Hu.”

There was a low whine that dropped quickly to nothing.

“Core’s wiped.” She grabbed a small haka-skin bag from the passenger seat and clipped it to her belt. He blinked, remembering when he had given her that bag, and felt an odd twist in his stomach that she still had it. She pulled a face mask with a built-in rebreather from a storage compartment and then she was back at his side. She settled the mask over her face, the seam adhering smoothly to her skin.

She looked up at him. “Let’s go.”

***

Teva had saved her. Again.

She had been fifteen the first time — angry, half-starved, and covered in scars after five years of living on a Patriarchate slave ship. She had been one of thousands of children dragged from the ruins of her world to work on those ships, ferrying Patriarchate soldiers from one subjugated Earth to the next. Then the ship had broken, or been sabotaged, or been attacked. Salonitah never found out for certain what had happened; she only knew that the Patriarchate had abandoned them to die in slipspace.

But Constabulary Vessel Sheari had found them — maybe chance, maybe the grace of Gods Salonitah didn’t pray to anymore. And on that ship had been Captain’s Apprentice Teva Jhus.

Convinced that they were going to be enslaved again, Salonitah had corralled a dozen of the younger children into a corner and was fighting off the Constabulary soldiers with a metal pipe. When Teva arrived on the scene, he sent the soldiers away, and then tossed her one of his knives.

“If this makes you feel safe, keep it as long as you need,” he had said.

And then he had given her an apple.

The memory washed over her as they swam away from the Hu-Hu, his arm tight around her waist, his bare leg pressed against her. Red and yellow fish dodged out of their path. The water was warm and her clothes dragged at her body. Teva angled up and to the right, pushing them into the shadow of a druka shark.

Salonitah twisted her head, straining for one last glimpse of the Hu-Hu. Obsolete, falling apart, but the ship had never failed her, carrying her safety through slipspace time and again.

The druka shark’s massive tail swept back and forth, blocking her view; and then the Hu-Hu was gone, lost to the darkness of the ocean.

There was a bright flash off to her left. A concussive wave rolled through the water, pushing fish and flotsam out of its way. Teva tensed, his arm tight as he curled his body around her.

A rapid series of smaller flashes made her squint, then a succession of waves, throwing them up and rolling them into the side of the shark. The huge animal let out a low, rumbling oohhhhwww and slashed its tail. Salonitah felt her mask slip and grabbed for it frantically. Water dribbled through the seam.

Teva kicked hard, taking them down, down, down.

The mask slipped again and water ran into her nose. She tried not to cough.

Teva dragged her around behind a large outcropping of rock. The stone snagged her jacket, pulled at her braid. He lifted a hand, finger gently touching the clear plasteen of the mask. She pulled her gaze in, squinting cross-eyed.

The crack along the seam was small, but, even as she watched, it began to spider-web. More and more water leaked in.

She drew a breath and tossed the mask aside. She blinked rapidly, her lungs beginning to burn. She shoved the panic away.

Teva was here.

He cupped her cheek, smiled, and pressed his lips to hers. She felt his chest expand as he drew breath, pulling water through the primary gills on his back and the secondary gills on his throat. She tasted sweet air and inhaled, greedy, as he breathed for her.

Waves buffeted them, pushing them against the rock.

Salonitah pulled away, automatically reaching for the stinger tucked into her boot.

A ship hovered above them. Not Patriachate. It was of Nacaal design, fast and sleek-looking, but not an official Constabulary vessel.

Teva tucked his arm around her elbow and pulled her up. A hatch in the bottom of the ship spiraled open, just wide enough for them to slip through one at a time.

Salonitah landed on the deck with a splat, coughing water. She scrambled across the floor, pulling her legs tight to get out of the way as Teva heaved himself through the hole. The door spiraled shut behind him and the ship slipped forward, accelerating through the water.

“Welcome back, Captain. Welcome aboard, Salonitah of Keetoowah.”

The vaguely feminine voice sounded from all around her. Salonitah coughed again and pulled herself to her feet.

The ship was smaller than the Hu-Hu. A shuttle, but a very nice one: half-a-dozen leather seats, a water-proof thesa-wood floor, a crystaleen window, and a customizable control panel, lights floating across its white surface.

Teva pushed dark hair out of his eyes. “Thank you, Janah. Report.”

“Per your instructions, I delayed the Patriarchate craft. One enemy vessel destroyed, one in pursuit. The Hu-Hu’s reactor will go critical in four, three — ”

“Fuck!” Salonitah lunged for the nearest chair. The plush cushions hugged her thighs and impact webbing automatically spat out of one side to spread across her lap and hips.

“ — two, one.”

Teva was in the pilot’s seat, fingers dragging lights across the control panel. The engines slammed on, pushing her back into the cushions. A moment later, water hit them, hard. The ship shuddered and, through the front window, she could see pieces of metal, plasteen, rock, dead fish, and body parts swirl around them.

“Remaining enemy vessel disabled. Shall I plot a course through slipspace, Captain?”

“Set coordinates for Ancillary 4439, Nacaal Prime.”

“Wait!”

Teva swiveled his chair around, one eyebrow raised in her direction.

He was still naked.

And bleeding.

Jaw tight, Salonitah felt around the arms of the chair until she found the release for the webbing. It retracted with a slurping sound and she stood. “Where’s your med kit?”

“Compartment two up, on your right. I’m taking you home.”

She slapped the release harder than she needed. The cabinet door flipped up. “My home is Keetoowah. Subjugate 931 of the Crimson Patriarchate.”

She ignored his angry sigh as she pulled out the med kit.

“Nacaal is your home now,” he said. “Grandmother is there, my parents — who love you as much as they do my sisters and I. And many of the people the Sheari rescued. Many of them have settled on Nacaal. Why can’t you?”

It was an old question. She tossed the med kit onto the floor at his feet and turned the question back on him. “Why can’t you?”

He frowned. “What?”

“You command some secret Constabulary vessel — I don’t even know her name — performing covert missions for the Coalition. You risk your life every day to protect the Coalition against the Patriarchate and Gods only know what other threats. I’m just supposed to sit on the beach and eat kouca fruit?”

“Yes!”

“Fuck that!” She snatched a bottle of disinfectant out of the kit and began to spray his wounds. The stinger’s needle-sharp plasma charges had cut deep, but he didn’t even flinch. “I saw their ships come out of slipspace. They were like … gashes, wounds in the sky. I didn’t understand. No one did. And they burned the world. They took me away on a ship, beat me until I nearly forgot my name, told me that I was an abomination. A female.” She stopped, breath catching. She dropped the spray back into the kit and reached for the knitter.

He caught her hand and she realized that she was shaking.

“For the first six months after I brought you home to Nacaal, you hoarded food in your room. You woke up screaming almost every night. And you wouldn’t let anyone touch you.”

She blinked rapidly, trying to breathe. Her voice, when it finally came out, was raw. “I let you touch me.”

A small smile ghosted across his lips. He tucked a curl of hair behind her ear. “Not for a long time. And only after I taught you to swim.”

“I already knew how,” she whispered. “I just wanted to be with you.”

***

Teva caught her hips and pulled her into his lap. She straddled his legs, breasts crushed against his chest, fingers digging into his shoulders. He found her mouth with his, tasted her lips, hungry, ruthless.

She kissed him back, just as hungry. She wiggled closer, pressing against his cock, twisting her hips.

He groaned, tightening his grip.

Her hands dropped from his shoulders to pull frantically at her jacket. It fell to the floor with a wet thump. Her shirt followed. They parted just long enough to yank it over her head.

He found her breasts with his hands, and then his lips and tongue. She arched up, panting.

Sweet, and just as perfect as he remembered.

She rocked harder, gasps turning to mewls of pleasure.

He lifted her up on her knees, lips tracing her ribs, licking and nipping. Her belt was stubborn, but eventually opened. He shoved at her pants, but they clung to her skin. She helped, huffing in frustration and giggling. It had been so long since he had heard her laugh.

Finally, they managed to get her pants down passed her knees and around her ankles. He pulled her back against his chest, fingers digging into her hips. She was so warm. He held her gaze as she lowered herself onto him. He hissed, breath catching. She wiggled, taking in more of him, her eyes wide, a dark flush spreading across her chest and face. And then he was buried inside her, surrounded by heat, surrounded by her.

Salonitah.

She whimpered his name.

He didn’t know which of them moved first. He only knew that he was with her, that she was with him. And when they came together, he felt whole again.

*****

“Apologies for disturbing you, Captain, but your heart rate has slowed sufficiently that you appear recovered from your recent intercourse.”

He groaned in annoyance into the curve of Salonitah’s neck. She shifted against him, fingers massaging his lower back.

“Shall I set course for Nacaal?”

“No.” Salonitah lifted her head. She studied him silently for a long moment, then leaned around him to tap at the floating lights on the console. “We can’t leave without seeing the Queen.”

“The Meriamii Queen.” He paused as she leaned back and carefully climbed off his lap. He felt cold immediately. “There was a rumor that she escaped the destruction of Athani City.”

Salonitah tugged at her pants, but they refused to slide back over her thighs. Growling in frustration, she kicked off her boots and shoved her pants back down. “She did, along with a few of her children. Very few. Please tell me you have clothes.”

Suppressing a sigh, he climbed out of the pilot’s seat and walked over to one of the cabinets. Lifting the door up, he pulled out fresh clothing for both of them; civilian attire, not Constabulary uniforms.

“I’ve spent months earning her trust through go-betweens. She finally gave me the coordinates to her sanctuary. I was supposed to be there days ago.” Salonitah pulled on the new shirt, a dark red that set off the copper undertones in her skin, and dark pants and boots. She tucked her stinger into one. “The Queen needs me to carry something to Nacaal.”

“What?” Black pants for him, too, and a black eran-silk shirt; if he went into the water again, he wanted to be able to breath.

He frowned, jaw tight, when she didn’t immediately answer.

When she did, her eyes were heavy with grief. “Their last hope.”

***

Hours passed.

They ate fresh fruit and takka-fish. It tasted like the takka-fish they had caught and baked on the beach behind Grandmother’s house. Salonitah wondered if that’s where he had caught it.

More silence.

She rubbed her thumb back and forth across the seat leather. “Will you be in trouble? Is your command at risk? For coming after me?”

He shrugged, not taking his eyes off the control panel. “None of my missions are officially sanctioned. Yes, they’ll be annoyed with me. No, I don’t care.” He rolled his shoulders. “Did you recruit Grandmother into the resistance, or did she recruit you?”

Salonitah bit her lip, debating. “Both. She had been part of the resistance for years, although I don’t know the full extent. I wanted to do something — anything — to hurt the Patriarchate. You had already turned me down. Pretty sure you sabotaged my application to the Constabulary, too.”

He didn’t answer.

“So, I asked Grandmother for help. I reasoned that if anyone could put me in touch with the resistance, it was a former Ambassador and retired Elder of the Coalition.”

“I wanted you safe.” His words were rough and barely above a whisper. “Nacaal is safe.”

She swung her chair around, grabbing his leg and pulling him around so that they faced one another. “I don’t want to be safe. I want to fight. I need to fight. This is who I am. I cannot — will not — be anything else.” She swallowed, lifting her hand to trace his lips. “Not even for you.”

He caught her hand tight, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Approaching coordinates, Captain. Five minutes to destination.”

Salonitah shifted in her chair, peering out the front window. Spears of rock thrust out of the ocean floor, creating a labyrinth of jagged stone. Druka-sharks and colorful fish that she couldn’t identify and hard-shelled creatures that bore only a vague resemblance to turtles swam to and fro, ignoring their shuttle.

A change in the darkness, a slight movement, and a Meriamii moved out of the shadows of the rocks.

He was beautiful. Nearly two meters in length, an elegant spear in one clawed hand. Dark purple bristles, like the spikes of an anemone, covered his head and ran down the length of his back and tail. His skin was mottled purple and black, and the scales on his tail shimmered.

He flicked his tail to draw closer, coming right up to the window. He stared at Salonitah for long moments, then nodded. He waved his hand, and they followed him into the labyrinth.

***

The Meriamii Queen was magnificent. Reddish-gold and cream with traces of purple and green, she towered over her children. They hovered around her, the few that remained, armed with spears and shields and swords. Tech level three; not just a dark world, unmapped and outside the protection of any coalition or federation, but also home to a matriarchal species. An abomination in the eyes of the Patriarchate. The perfect target.

Just like Keetoowah.

Teva tightened his grip on Salonitah’s hand as she floated beside him.

She pulled away from him, and he realized that the Queen was holding something out. Teva drifted closer, gills fluttering against the inside of his shirt.

A black pearl. It was tiny in the Queen’s hands, but it filled both of Salonitah’s palms. Salonitah stared down at it, shoulders hunched, her legs drawn up.

Suddenly worried, Teva reached out and touched her shoulder.

When she looked up, he saw that she was crying inside her mask.

The Queen sang a high, ululating whistle that he could feel in his bones. He had no idea what she had said, but it was repeated by the Meriamii gathered around her. One by one, they came forward and touched the pearl in Salonitah’s hands. Some sang. Others were silent.

The Queen came last. She covered Salonitah’s hands with her own. The water fizzed and there was a shimmer of blue-white light. When the Queen moved away, the pearl looked the same to Teva, but the Meriamii were singing again.

Salonitah gently tucked the pearl inside the haka-skin pouch attached to her belt. Then she pressed her hands together, and bowed to the Queen.

The same purple-black Meriamii escorted them back to the shuttle, and through the maze of stone pillars. Salonitah sat in her seat with the pouch in her lap, clutching it, legs tense.

As they exited the labyrinth and reached open water, the Meriamii lifted his spear in salute. Teva eased the engines forward, pushing the shuttle through the water.

“It’s an egg, isn’t it?”

She started at the sound of his voice. She swallowed and nodded. “Yes. A queen egg. She will be born with all of the knowledge of her predecessors, every Queen before her. She will know their history, their songs, their prayers. And she will be able to lay more eggs, more pearls. Thousands and thousands of them.” She touched the top of the bag gently. “Enough to rebuild a civilization.”

Silence filled the shuttle. She traced the outline of the pearl through the bag, then slowly lifted her hand to her chest. Her fingers rubbed at a spot near her heart. “Thank you for saving me. I can’t — I don’t want you to think that I’m needlessly risking myself, that I don’t value the gift of my life. I do — ”

“I never thought that. Never.” He grabbed her hand, leaning towards her to cover her mouth in a rough kiss. “And you never have to thank me. I would take on the whole damned Patriarchate to save you.”

Her breath caught and she stared at him, eyes wide with wonder and a desperate flicker of hope.

“Hostile vessels inbound. Shall I set coordinates for Nacaal?”

Teva spun away, fingers jumping across the console. He stared at the lights as they flickered. Schematics and maps formed on the crystaleen window, faded and reformed.

“It’s the Patriarchate, isn’t it?”

He looked over at Salonitah and saw that the wonder and hope in her eyes were gone, replaced by a dulled resignation. She clutched at the bag, holding it to her chest.

He nodded. “Yes. A dozen battle cruisers, and twice as many stealth cruisers. Likely more that are out of range. They’re headed for the Meriamii’s sanctuary.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. Anger curdled his guts. He made a fist, but she caught his hand before he could smash it against the control panel.

She threaded her fingers through his and placed both of their hands on top of the pearl. “Janah, take us home.”

“Yes, Salonitah.”

The ocean outside the shuttle rippled. The dark water shimmered, became a whirl of colors, and they slipped into the space between worlds.

Epilogue

The pearl hatched three days after they returned to Nacaal. Grandmother was present, holding Salonitah’s hand tight, while a team of resistance healers monitored the pearl, the tank, the water temperature and salinity and a hundred other details.

Teva stood off to the side, hands clasped behind his back. Outwardly calm, but she could see the tiny flutters in his throat gills.

The Meriamii Queen who emerged from the pearl was tiny, small enough to curl up in Salonitah’s palms. But she was beautiful, with mottled orange-pink skin and a shimmering orange tail. She announced that her name was Lishakkianah, that she would speak with the ruling council of the Coalition, and that she was very hungry.

Salonitah didn’t see Teva again for several weeks. She spent that time with Grandmother and with Lishakkianah, listening to the Queen sing the songs of the Meriamii and lament the loss of her homeworld.

“But there will be another world,” the Queen proclaimed. “I will make a new home for my children.”

The fifth week, Teva returned, striding silently into the sanctuary. He stood at her side for long minutes, watching Lishakkianah and the two Nacaal healers who were swimming with her.

Chaana.”

Salonitah frowned up at him. “What?”

“My ship. Small, fast. Secret. Good crew, from within the Coalition and from worlds conquered by the Patriarchate. Only fifty-three people, but there is room for one more.”

She hesitated, licking her lips. Behind the plasteen, Lishakkianah twirled in slow circles, her tail shimmering.

Teva cleared his throat. “No official sanction, no back-up. Just us out there, saving and protecting who we can — ”

“Yes.”

He finally looked down at her, expression a mixture of fear and relief and exhilaration. “Dangerous.”

“I’ll be with you,” she said. She closed the small distance between them, tangling her fingers through his, holding Teva tight, holding him forever.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her poems, short stories, and essays can be found there.]