Slow and Steady – The Velveteen Tortoise – Chapter Sixteen

There Be Mature Content Here

Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.

Chapter Sixteen

(Finished – 9/28/2021)

Pyxis The Restrained

I’m sitting on the rock hard floor next to the broken drill. The air is full of soot and the pungent smell of impure oil from the low-tech lanterns. The flicker of the flames has shadows dancing all around me, but my eyes are glued onto the buttons that operate the hatch.

Only, the buttons don’t operate the hatch. They’re broken, and I think Luna knew. Which means she didn’t tell me. And it’s really riling me up that—after all this time—I don’t know my mate well enough to know why.

I don’t get it.

“I don’t get it,” Gary says.

I’d just said that, Gar—

Oh. He’s not talking to me. He’s still taking to Benny about the broken drill. Both men are standing at the opposite side of the tunnel, close to the bolthole that Jo, Rez, and Luna had dung out.

Gary cants his head toward me. “It’s not his fault that the drill’d been hidden all this time.”

“That don’t matter none.” Benny says, glancing at me. “What matters is what he’s done.”

I can see both Benny’s exhaustion and his hatred in his gaze. Which I complete get. He’s tired and miserable right now because last night he’d escorted me through Briarwood moving only at Outbaler speed. We didn’t reached Two-Four-Kay until sunrise.

I don’t feel bad about that at all.

Well, except that Gary looks just as tired and worn out, too.

Benny scrubs at his eyes. “F.B. admits he’s the one who took the drill apart. So, I’m with Rogers.”

Benny juts his chin, drawing my attention to the others in the bolthole.

Bracys is here, of course. I mean, he did summon me. He’s speaking with Rogers, Jr., who’s managed to reinstate himself as mayor. Once he’d banned Jo, Rez, and Luna from the settlement, he didn’t even hold a vote. Just declared himself the ruler and took over. Again.

When Jo’d taken over as mayor, she had elections and didn’t exile anyone. Yet Rogers, Jr. didn’t hesitate declare my bestest friend, my sibling-by-mating, and my mate to be traitors.

I let out a low, frustrated snarl.

Benny whips his head toward me.

I’m sitting with my back against the same wall of the tunnel that Benny and Gary are leaning on, only Benny can’t get a good look at me because of the sooty light from the shitty oil lamps.

Benny’s brows pinch together. “Hear something, Gare?”

“Nah,” Gary says through a jaw-cracking yawn.

“Bet those fucking War-rats are back in the tunnels again,” Benny grumbles. He shakes his head and then turns back to Gary. “That drill’ll run right over any War-rats. Crush ’em flat. So F.B. best be fixing what he says he broke before that other Akky drags him off. The damn drill’ll never get fixed then.”

Benny again juts his chin toward Rogers and Bracys. The two are still speaking. Rogers’s waving his hands around, just like he did to Emys after we’d liberated the settlement from the Kletka bounty hunters.

The human probably think that he looks adamant and commanding. He doesn’t. He looks like a gnat buzzing its wings at a mountain.

Bracys, though? He’s only comparable to a mountain because he looks like a volcano that’s about to blow. Which is bad. Not as bad as me walking through Two-Four-Kay in partial armor, but still. He’s losing his composure amongst Outbalers, no longer speaking and moving at a carefully measured pace.

And… 

Well, no one from the Bale would believe me if I reported this. So I don’t really give a shit what Outbale conduct laws Bracys is breaking.

“But…” Gary’s confused voice cuts over Rogers and Bracys’ arguing. “The drill’s already broken. So that still doesn’t make it—”

“Make it what?” Benny huffs a laugh. “Make it fair? Just whose side are ya on, Gary?”

Gary shakes his head. “There ain’t no sides here. That drill’s been missing for years.”

“And them girls found it and kept it for themselves.” Benny nods toward the drill that’s before me. “Right there. That’s them picking sides.”

Gary looks from the drill back to Benny. “They were trying to fix it.”

“Nah, they weren’t.” Benny curls his hand into a fist, and then starts extending his fingers one by one—as if marking off a list. “Those girls’re all from off-world. They don’t know shit about mining gold. They can’t hunt, farm, or even fucking cook. There’s no way they could fix the drill. So they hid it.”

I snarl lowly.

Them girls. He means Joia, Rez, and my mate—er, Luna. Who was my mate. Or, rather, will soon no longer be my mate.

See, I don’t think I’d been all that clear with Luna when I’d told her to not bother trying to fix me.

I also don’t think I was all that clear with myself, either. Because I’m sitting in the dead end mining tunnel—the one that connects to the bolthole of Luna’s modular—and am snarling at Benny’s disrespectful tone toward the woman—all the women—that I hold dear.

Gary, who’s either ignoring my snarl or is unfazed by it, shakes his head. “Why would they hide it?”

Benny flicks his skittish gaze to me, then back to Gary. “What now?”

“I mean,” Gary gestures toward the drill, “that makes no sense. Why hide it? You just said they know nothing about fixing it. And even if they coulda fixed it, you said they know nothing about mining gold. So, I just don’t—”

“Fine,” Benny sniffs. “To keep the drill from us. They knew we really needed it.”

“But still,” I can hear Gary struggling to understand. Hell, maybe he’s trying to get Benny to change his mind, “that makes no sense either. They were all part of the settlement.”

Benny sniffs again. “So?”

“Well, I think they wanted to help in ways suited to them,” Gary says. “Like, take Rez. She’s the best damn runner we’d ever had.”

Benny pushes off the wall and faces Gary. “Is she now?”

“And Joia,” Gary continues, “she being mayor, even for a little bit, was a good thing.”

Poor Gary. I can see that he’s not reading Benny’s reaction. Benny’s lowering his tone and crossing his arms—squaring off for an encounter.

While Gary?

Well, Gary’s tone—which is growing stronger in both confidence and encouragement—means he thinks he’s talking to someone who’ll listen to him. That he’s talking to a friend.

“Fuck, Gary!” Benny says as he shoves him. “Just whose side are ya on?”

Gary winces as he holds up his hands. “There ain’t no sides!”

“Of course there are!” Benny snarls into Benny’s face. “Them Akkies are here for one reason: to take our women.”

“They don’t take.” Gary’s voice has lost all its strength. “They don’t.”

“The fuck they don’t?” Benny gestures up, toward the world above ground. “They already caught Rez. You’re the one saying she’s the best runner we’d ever had. Well, them slow ass Akkies caught her and mated her to one of ’em.”

“That’s not—”

Gary’s still trying, but it’s obvious that Benny’s too riled up to listen.

He laughs. “Hell, them Akkies can fucking have Joyful. I’ll wrap her up, shove a rag in her mouth, and deliver her to them myself. Luna, though…” His tone changes, turning hungry and vicious. “Now Luna isn’t entirely useless. She’s got this kickass modular, not to mention that riding that plump ass of hers isn’t an awful way to warm up a bed.”

So that’s what warming the bed means.

Huh. Good to know.

Also, Benny’s gonna be shreds dangling from my fingers.

Lucky for me, Luna’s not here to stop me. But also, unlucky for Benny, because Luna’s not here—

“I’m here!” Luna calls out.

I freeze—halfway between sitting and standing—and forcefully smother the roar that’s ripping up from my throat. Slowly, I look overhead.

Yep. That’s Luna sticking her head into the opening of the bolthole’s trapdoor in the ceiling.

She’s here.

The burning fury inside of me turns into burning arousal. Then she starts climbing down the rungs and all of my burning freezes and dies.

Oh fuck. She’s really here.

As I watch her, my hands and arms tremble. She’s never been able to climb down that ladder without giving me a heart attack. That’s why I’ve always been snagging her off the rungs and into my arms. And right now, she’s moving too fast. Her handholds and footholds on the ladder rungs are rushed and unsteady.

I can sense that Bracys is watching me as intensely as I’m watching Luna. As if he knows that I’m battling my instincts to sprint to the ladder and snatch my mate to my chest.

Bracys levels his helmet on me. “Restrain yourself, Pyxis—” 

Luna cries out as she fumbles and slips. She hits the ground and lands on her back.

Thank Aku, she’d only missed the last two rungs. But it feels awful and wrong to have just stood by and watch her fall.

It’s not what a mate would do.

But when Outbalers are looking on—Aku damn me—it’s what I had to do.


Luna the Baby Bunny

Emys drops down from the ceiling and lands next to me in a crouch.

Which is as amazing as it is embarrassing.

While Emys stuck her landing like some graceful badass outta mythological legend, my entrance into the bolthole has been less than stellar.

(Exhibit. No. 1: I’m still flat on my back, laying here like a stunned idiot.)

“Hold, Pyxis the Retrained,” Emys says evenly.

Unlike Bracys, there’s no ineffective posturing and bombastic bellowing from her. She’s merely got her hand’s held out in the universal ‘halt’ gesture—freezing Pyx in place—while her faceplate is focused on me.

And me?

My focus is on Pyx.

He’s doing a half-crouching, half-standing thing over in the dim tunnel that houses the broken drill. His chest is rising and falling in that hot and heaving way, letting everyone know he’s pissed off and looking to crush something.

Good god. I just love it when he gets all—

“Luna.” Emys snags my attention with her ‘make-better-choices’ tone. “If you are unharmed, stand.”

Right. That’s a valid suggestion. But since it’s coming from Emys, it really is more of a command.

And I do get it. We can’t have Pyx zipping over here at his natural speed to see if I’m okay. You know, because secrets gotta stay secrets and all that.

I do a quick self-check. My face is flushed—hot with embarrassment and the first tingles of arousal—and my hands are heating up.

So, I toss out a crappy reply to buy me some time. “Just my backside and pride are kinda bruised.”

Emys—who’s still crouching—leans closer to me. “Do you need either to repair the drill?”

“Nah.” I wave off her concern. “Those only get in the way anyways.”

“Pride often does.”

“Yep.”

“As for backsides…” Emys tilts her head, as if examining me from a different angle.

I clamp down on my body, resisting the urge to twitch. But I lose control of my mouth.

“What about backsides?” I blurt out.

“Their obtrusiveness must be unique to humans.” Her voice remains matter-of-fact, not colored with confusion or disgust. Just Emys being her un-ruffle-able self. “I have no advice for you in that regard.”

“How about ‘Next time, land on your feet, Luna’?”

“That goes without saying.”

“Says the woman who enters like a legendary badass.”

Emys pushes up to standing while still looking down at me. “I always enter like a warrior.”

Which of course means that I’d entered like, well, me. Luna the Tragically Uncoordinated.

Just look at me. I’m still flat on my back, trying really hard to sink into the center of Warren’s planetary core.

“Right.” I nod my head once. “Always enter like a warrior because…”

Crap. I don’t know. 

Emys offers her armor-covered hand to me. “Because every step forward forces my enemies to retreat.”

Stunned speechless—because Emys is a genuine, ‘forged-from-the-stuff-of-legends’ badass—I let her haul me up. I mumble my thanks like I’m a starstruck fangirl. 

Emys turns to face Bracys and Rogers, Jr., pinning them with her blank, solid-matte helmet. Both men stiffen, as if bracing for her oncoming charge.

Enthralled, I catch the sway of her hips—her ‘tell’ that she’s about to kick ass. Then she strides, the soles of her badass boots striking the cave floor with confidence and power.

“Luna!” Gary’s hustling over to me. “You okay?”

No, Gary. I’m not okay. My butt’s sore. I want Warren’s to open up and swallow me whole. Pyx is growling lowly in the dark, sounding like a War-wolf defending its territory. And I’ve got no idea how I’m gonna to save the freaking day.

But, sure. I’m doing just fine.

I give Gary a small smile. “Yeah, all good.”

I glance back at Emys. She’s engaged Bracys and Rogers, Jr. Although I’m an idiot that doesn’t mean I’m clueless. I know what Emys wants me to do. Go to Pyx. Calm him down. Fix the drill.

I take a fortifying breath—wishing I had an ounce of…whatever… it is that makes Emys so awesome—and hobble over to my mate—er, Pyx.

I resist the urge to rub my sore bum because Benny’s got his gaze locked on me as I approach the old mining tunnel.

Benny steps in front of me. “Whatcha doin’ here, Lun—”

Benny’s face smacks against the cave wall. He’s pinned there, his cheek pressed against the rock, by Pyx’s huge hand.

Ah…

“Heya, Luna.” Pyx grounds the words out.

His chest is heaving, just like when I entered the bolthole. So, you know what? My chest starts heaving, too.

“Heya, Pyx.” And dangit! I sound too breathy. Too turned on. I clear my throat. “So, um, I’m here to fix the drill.”

“Fabulous.”

But, he doesn’t say it like it’s ‘fantastically’ fabulous. It’s more like ‘dripping-with-predatory-appetite’ fabulous.

I don’t know how to respond to that kinda sexy fabulousness.

“She—ugh—can’t!” Benny’s squirming, trying to push off the wall. His face is bright red from the effort and—

Yeah. Someone oughta tell him to just quit. Pyx can crush his face against the cave—literally flatten it—like me stepping on a piece of my candy. Pyx’s gotta be using, like, five percent of his strength to keep Benny pinned.

“Less than one percent,” Pyx says.

“That’s…” My gaze drifts to Benny who’s still frantically struggling against a single percentage of Pyx’s power.

I start mentally rerunning my calculations. And, yeah. His raw strength stats are mathematically sexy.

Numbers never lie. 

Offhandedly I gesture toward Benny. “You can let him go.”

“Sure can.”

I shift my gaze between Pyx and Benny. Then I arch my brow expectantly.

“But I don’t wanna,” Pyx growls.

“Heya, Pyx!” Gary cuts in, his voice trembling despite his obvious effort to sound upbeat. “Let’s all just simmer a second.” 

Gary has his hands up, pleading for everyone to calm down. It’s kinda brave and endearing. Not like Gary at all.

Meanwhile, I’m just silently standing here, kinda stunned. I’ve never seen Pyx like this—being sorta fierce and ferocious—when I’m not naked.

Pyx’s reaction to Luna the Bare Naked is totally fabulous.

“Luna?” Gary flicks his alarmed gaze from Pyx’s hand—the back of which is popping with the most enticing tendons—to me. “Can you…”

Gary cants his head, using several sharp shakes, gesturing stop this, stop this, stop this.

Can I stop Pyx from bashing Benny’s head?

I don’t know.

Everything happening right now is something totally new from Pyx. I’m used to dealing with the alien—er, guy who always wants to do what I wanna to do. Even if it’s something totally boring, he’s just eager to do it with me.

As I’m staring up at Pyx’s blank, matte faceplate—which is dipped down and targeted on me, it hits me. I can’t read him right now. I don’t know what he wants.

Pyx growls. “I wanna smear Benny’s brains—”

“Hang on!” Gary cries out, than gives me a desperate look. “Luna?”

I don’t know what Gary wants from me. Pyx going all Ancient Earth caveman and painting the rock walls with Benny’s brains sounds kinda perfect right now. 

“Um, no.” Gary swallows. “No brain paintin’. Alright?”

Well, that’s too bad. My shebits are convinced that Pyx would’ve created a breathtaking work of art; a true masterpiece outta a piece of a crap creeper like Benny.

However, Gary’s right.

“Let Benny go, Pyx. Decorating the tunnel with fine art totally would’ve livened the place up a bit.” I sigh in resigned disappointment. “But it won’t fix the drill.”

Pyx pulls his hand back, freeing Benny.

Okay. Gotta admit, I didn’t think I could get Pyx to do that.

Benny scrambles away, swearing and shoving at Gary as he bolts. “Who’s fucking side’re ya on, Gare?”

“I told ya,” Gary says insistently. “There ain’t no sides.”

“Yeah, there’s like, totally, no sides.” I say while trying really hard to not roll my eyes. “I’m here to fix the drill.”

Not true. I’m Team Pyx, all the way.

My plan is to fall back on my ‘fake it til everyone forgets you’re even trying to fix it’ strategy. Which will give Emys and Joia time to figure out how to get Pyx and me outta here.

“Ya can’t fix the drill.” Benny sneers, then winces and touches his split lip.

“I can.” I really can’t.

But I can distract everyone with my utterly hopeless attempts.

“Ya can’t.” Benny points at me. “You’ve been exiled.” 

“Eh.” I shrug. Minor detail. But also, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It does, too.” Benny jabs his finger at me again. “You’d know it if ya weren’t such a stupid—”

Pyx growls and steps forward.

“Take a break, Benny.” Gary lunges, blocking Pyx’s path. “I’ll watch over ’em while ya cool down.”

Benny gapes at Gary, looking astonished, then he curls his busted lips back into his familiar sneer. “Like we trust you.”

Gary shakes his head. “Why wouldn’t—”

Benny spits, hitting Gary in the chest.

“What the hell!” I’m glaring at Benny over my shoulder while my hands are pressed against Pyx’s chest, keeping him in check. “Gary and I are literally saving your freaking brains right now and you’re spitting?”

Benny either has a death wish or he’s an idiot. 

Probably both.

Poor Gary stumbles back a step, but I can’t really do more than my yelling. By appearances, I’m the only thing holding back a growly and snarling alien warrior. In reality, I’m not even a pebble trying to make like a mountain.

Gary glances up from the bloody siliva on his shirt to Benny. “Why?”

“That’s what’s so fucking pathetic about you.” Benny snickers as he holds his arms out.

The smug jerk is posturing, like he’s a safe enough distance away to not be murdered.  “I’m here guarding both you and the Akky.” He leans forward, his sneer twisting so he’s showing his bloody teeth. “Didn’t even realize you’re a prisoner, too. Did ya?”

“No.” Gary’s voice cracks.

“Well, now ya do.” Benny spits again, the glob of blood striking the ground at Gary’s feet. “So stop yer whining and go squat with your fucking Akky on your side of the cave.”

Only, Gary doesn’t come over and squat next to me and Pyx. Sure, he’s moved away from Benny, but he’s sitting off on his own, his back to the hard rock wall of the tunnel.

Honestly, I don’t know why Benny’s still in one piece. All I gotta do is lower my hands and step aside. Then Pyx’ll turn him into a modern revival of Paleolithic Expressionism.

I go to lift my hands from Pyx’s chest.

“No.” Pyx places his hands over mine.

Which means I’m not doing a dang thing to hold Pyx back.

Eh, I thought as much.

Okay, then. I’ll move along to my back up plan.

“You stay here.” I tug against Pyx’s grip. “I’ll go liquify that jerk myself.”

“Also no.”

“I’m pretty sure I can get him to boil.”

Because I’m thinking now’s a freaking fabulous time to run some experiments.

And I hate experiments.

Well, evil scientist experiments. Not the experiments that I do with baking and fixing the drill. Those… those are totally different.

I glance over to Gary. I don’t like the way he looks. He’s got all these expressions crisscrossing his face—shock, confusion, and disbelief. He’s probably struggling, trying to process what just happened.

He’s been kicked out.

Because of me.

“And me,” Pyx says softly.

Pyx isn’t growling anymore, which is good. I think. And I’m not tugging anymore, determined to kill Benny. Which I suppose is also good.

“It’s good,” Pyx says.

There is it again. Rather, there is the lack of it again. Pyx isn’t enthusiastically exclaiming stuff, making sure that all of Warren’s can hear his excitement.

I don’t like this.

I dart my gaze around the cave, trying to come up with a next step. I can’t magically make Gary not be sad. Though, if I melt Benny into a puddle that could make Gary happy again.

“It won’t.” Pyx is lightly brushing his thumbs over the backs of my hands.

He’s no longer gripping me.

Truly? He never was. I didn’t even feel one-thousandth of a percent of his strength when he was pressing my hands to his chest.

And now? Well, he’s just…cradling…my hands against him.

Alright. This means that I’m not stopping him, and he’s not stopping me.

But still…

I drop my gaze, taking in his is big, armored boots next to my shoddy shoes. “Tell me what to do.”

“Fix the drill, ma—Luna.”

“I need your help.”

Crappitty crap. I wasn’t supposed to blurt that out loud.

But I don’t know what to do. I can’t fix the drill. So, while I’m stuck here, doing absolutely nothing, at least I won’t be alone.

Pyx always does what I want to do. No matter how—

“No.”

Ah…

I must not be hearing him correctly. I mean, I’m standing here with my hands pressed against the badass armored chest of Pyxis the Restrained. So I’m kinda distracted.

He didn’t say no. How do I know?

Because he always does awesome stuff like gathering up my scattered candy from the forest floor and building me the most amazingly enchanting kitchen on a freaking tech-dying, backwater world.

And he goes and does all this marvelous stuff for me all on his own. I don’t even have to ask him.

Maybe he didn’t…hear me correctly?

I clear my throat. “Do you want to help me with the drill?”

He releases my hands and steps back. “No.”

My heart hammers against my ribs.

It freaking hurts.

You know, the whole my heart against my ribs thing.

Otherwise, I’m fine.

Totally, fabulously, fine.

This chapter is complete! I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.

As always, thank you so much for reading!

xo Bex

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From Slow & Steady: The Velveteen Tortoise
Copyright © 2020, 2021 by Bex McLynn
All rights reserved

One thought on “Slow and Steady – The Velveteen Tortoise – Chapter Sixteen

  1. Welcome to the Shields Up beat! Basically, Luna and Pyx both need to “be right” about their No Ways from earlier in the story. I will have those “I told myself so” moments happening in the next chapter. After that… well, they need to break up.

    Or, at least, I’ll do my best to break them up because I’ve never really done a by-the-book Break Up beat. This should be interesting to see…

    Here are the currents stats for the story. This chapter added 3800 words, bringing the manuscript to approximately 74,000 words.

    And I would like to beg your forgiveness for what — I am sure will be — many typos and grammatical errors going forward. Basically, I need to wrap up Luna and Pyx’s story — both quickly and in a satisfying way — so that I can move on to other WIPs.

    I know. Excuses, excuses…

    But, um, please excuse me?

    Thank you so much for reading!💜

    Like

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