The meeting had ended, and everyone was now retreating from Captain Rannn’s office. It had been weeks since the battle with Fynbar and his killer bots. They’d won, but all this time had been spent locating the slaves and healing them as best as Ansel could.
Chollar and his new mate were slow to exit the office. Rannn assumed the telepath had something to say, maybe a warning regarding what someone had been thinking. Rannn didn’t care.
He couldn’t care. Mostly because he couldn’t concentrate on anything but the images in his head. Good Seth, he was thankful that no one had noticed how truly lost he felt.
The mission was over, they were headed back to Garna, and he had his own issues to worry about. Namely, whether or not he was still fit to be captain. The vast horrors he’d experienced courtesy of the memories he had gained, knowledge of the crime the sadistic Numan had committed for hundreds of years, tortured him.
The things that Fynbar had done. They horrified and consumed him so much that he didn’t even remember if he had showered today or not.
Even now, he flashed on a memory of Fynbar cutting out a male’s rib cage and installing organs of his own design. The male had bled out within hours. The cybernetic organs were not aligned right when installed. An entire life gone because of a miscalculation.
Another memory from Fynbar slithered across Rannn’s mind. The time he’d unleashed nanites into a prison cell, infecting two families. The nanites had destroyed the part of the brain that controlled the feeling of being sated. Less than a week later, they started to eat each other. That was after they had eaten their clothes.
So much evil.
Rannn had to push those thoughts back. He had a ship to run, a crew to think about. Rannn had to get his crew back to safety. Back to Garna. Deep down, he felt as if his mind were crumbling, and he didn’t know how long he would last.
Rannn gasped and hit a knee.
Searing, white-hot pain clawed into his mind. He had no idea why. He hadn’t done anything, had he?
His whole body shook. Grabbing his head, Rannn couldn’t see anymore, and he wasn’t sure if he had closed his eyes or if the pain had blinded him.
All he could do was survive the burn. Images of death and carnage flashed quickly behind his eyes. Blood, death, bodies, cries, pleas…it was too much.
Rannn could smell the floor and feel the hardness of it as he pushed his forehead against the coolness. Faint groans echoed in his ears. His heart pumped hard in his chest as he kept gasping for breath.
Was he dying? What was happening?
The mental claws receded, and he felt his body being lifted into the air. Floating weightlessly. It took a few extra seconds to open his eyes.
He could breathe easier. His chest was…his whole body no longer felt constricted.
When he felt his feet, Rannn leaned over and grabbed the table, taking a deep breath. It was all he could do, considering that his brain felt like it had been beaten and scrambled. But it didn’t take more than a millisecond to figure out what had happened.
Chollar had removed the evil Numan’s memories.
Rannn couldn’t recall anything. And he tried.
Rannn hadn’t known that Chollar could do that. If he had, he would have asked him to do it seconds after he’d gotten back. Even though his head felt fatigued, and he was still recovering from the onslaught, Rannn tried to voice his genuine gratitude.
His voice was lost, though. His brain lagging.
Chollar didn’t bother waiting for a thank you. Instead, the Master Elder Cerebral said, “And just so you know, Nue didn’t lie to you. She didn’t change or forge her prison transfer paperwork. And the reason she was being sent to Debsa is because the Federation messed up and thinks she’s a contract killer named Nova.”
Rannn was dead-silent. He understood the words but couldn’t process them.
“Also, you’re right to assume she’s going to try and escape the ship the second you get back. Considering how you locked her down, you’ve fed her fear. She thinks the second you go back, you are sending her to Debsa. So, either stop being a coward and do what you really want to do, or let her escape.”
Rannn watched Chollar leave the room, hand-in-hand with his mate. The warning echoed through his mind. Nue didn’t lie to you. It was a crushing blow to his soul.
He remembered being furious when he found out.
Irate that another female had lied to him so convincingly. And to think, she’d thought his anger would force him to send her to a prison planet that would take her life.
Slumping into the nearest chair, Rannn leaned back, closed his eyes, and cursed. By all the power of Seth, he had become his worst nightmare. He had become his father, unable to see past his duty. His responsibilities. Unwilling to see the truth in a female’s eyes.
Rannn remembered the look in his sister’s eyes when she told him about what had happened to her. Rannn had vowed to himself right then never be so heartless.
Seth of Stars, he couldn’t breathe.
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