There Be Mature Content Here
Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.
Luna the Baby Bunny
“I swear to god, Luna,” Rez growls over me, “I won’t just pinch you this time.”
Rez’d gotten to the settlement’s clinic way faster than I’d expected.
I scramble to the far side of the wobbly cot I’m on—moving away from her pissed off voice—and drop right off the edge.
I both thud and grunt as I hit the hard floor of the clinic.
Well, this is not how I need this meeting to go.
Chasing after Joia and Emys has been a huge bust. First, those jerks are both actively dodging me, and second, I shoulda gone to Rez a long time ago. As Kin’s mate, she’s living the dream version of my nightmare.
If anyone can help me with Pyx, it’s Rez.
“Heya, Rez.” I wince as I get to my feet. “Thanks for coming.”
By coming, I mean coming here, to the settlement’s clinic, where I’ve been bellyaching about a fake bellyache for over a dang day.
Seriously, what took her so long?
With her arms crossed over her chest, she narrows her eyes at me. “Right.”
Yep. It’s going smashingly.
“Ya got a sec?” I’m shoving my feet into my boots, pausing to tap out a quick message. Let’s get outta here.
Rez does her frustrated grunt/groan thing, rolls her eyes, and walks out. Since there’s no need to change clothes—the clinic doesn’t have hospital gowns and stuff—I’m right on her heels.
As we exit the back room, Doc Skylar is sitting on her stool, snacking on rations from the communal mess.
“I’m all better!” I smile at Doc. “You give such amazing care.”
She really doesn’t, but I’d taken the risk anyway.
Doc is off her stool and shuffling away from Rez and me. “Just get the fuck outta here.”
She’s speaking more to Rez than me. I’m one of Doc’s best patients. I make a one-hundred percent recovery, one-hundred percent of the time.
I’m super awesome at being a sick person.
There’s some bad blood between Rez and Doc. But I was willingly to risk a nasty confrontation between them because I’m desperate. My fake ache was the only way to get Rez back from the Bale while avoiding another Bloodhound Gone Wild episode.
Think about it. What if I’d sniffed out Pyx’s scent somewhere else besides his quarters? Like mingled with this female that’s interested in him?
Stepping out into the fading daylight, Rez glances back at me. “Are you growling?”
I scoff. “No.”
But I totally am.
Every dang time I think of Pyx with some other Akupara female, my palms throb. They’ve also started heating up as well, and a few times I could see the shadows of my bones beneath the skin.
So, yeah. I’m so utterly freaking desperate.
Again, I tap my foot in the dirt, signaling that we should go to our—no—my modular. Rez gives me a grim nod, which is promising. Maybe she’ll hear me out before throat-punching me.
As we near the modular, my hopefulness sinks, and I’m not sure why. The place is wonderfully vacant, yet I don’t feel wonderful about it.
“Luna?” Rez is side-eyeing me. “Everything all right?”
I cast my gaze around. “Yep. Perfect.”
It is perfect. Sorta.
Yet, I’m not ecstatic that Benny and Gary are no longer camped out on my doorstep. The other day Joia’d issued new patrol orders that rescinded her original, crappy ones.
Bye-bye Benny the Butt Peeper.
However, those new orders also mean that Pyx isn’t patrolling here, either. He’s not even sleeping here.
How do I know? Because I’ve already inhaled, and that annoyingly uncontrollable impulse has dragged the scent of…
Well, nothing worth noting.
Both the stench from my bread and Pyx’s intoxicating scent are gone.
“Luna,” Rez snaps.
I turn toward her and stop whining—
Crap. I’m whimpering like a sad puppy.
I’m kinda shocked that I got her name out because I’m spiraling, both mentally and physically. Dread is icing through me as my face heats with mortification. My legs tremble, torn between buckling and racing off. Whether the running part of me wants to hide or seek, I don’t know. I just don’t—
“Luna!” Rez’s arms are wrapped around me.
God, I’m thrashing and I can’t stop. Rez’s slightly taller, but a whole heck stronger than me, yet she’s wheezing curses as she’s hauling me toward our modular.
Not our modular. My fucking modular. Where Pyx’s scent is gone and I want it back.
I want him back so bad; I’m falling.
Seriously. That ‘stomach dropping’ sensation hits me. I’m free from Rez’s restraint, and for a split second, I’m free from everything else, too.
I slam into the ground.
Ah fuck. It hurts. Although something padded is beneath me, the impact’s knocked the air from my lungs.
“You done, Baby Bunny?” Standing over me, I see two—maybe three—Rezes frowning down at me.
My back’s knotting up. My chest’s aching. My lungs are burning. I’m also fucking terrified. So, yeah. I think it’s best that I’m done.
I groan and nod.
“Awesome,” Rez reaches down, snags my hand, and pulls me to my feet. “God, you’re burning up, Luna!”
Horrified, I yank my hand free as I jerk back.
Oh god. I’d been touching Rez as my hands were throbbing with heat.
I stare up at Rez. “Are you hurt?”
My question, which is really a panicked shriek, is echoing around us in the dimly lit mining tunnel.
That’s right. Rez—who kicks ass beyond belief—got my-ferally-flailing-self into the modular, opened our secret hatch, and tossed me onto the mattress in the far corner of the abandoned tunnel…
Yet, when I’d pulled my goddamn cursed hand from hers, I stumbled over my own feet. And because I’m so freaking me, my backside has smacked down on the rock floor of the tunnel, rather than landing on the padded mattress.
Rez, who’s frowning down at me in confusion, shakes her head. “What?”
“Are you hurt?” I scramble to my feet. “Did I hurt you?”
“Show me your hand, Rez.” I reach—”Goddammit!”
Yanking my hands back, I tuck them behind me. For good measure, I lace my fingers together and squeeze, tightening my interlocking hold.
Hell, like that will do any good. I need to be restrained. Or, even better, they should amputate my hands.
“Luna?” Rez steps closer. “What’s wrong?”
She isn’t afraid of anything. Because she moves so damn fast, she’s absolutely confident that if something or someone’s gonna hurt her, it’s got to catch her first.
Here is she, reaching for me. Which would be fine—I don’t have cursed shoulders—but she’s trying to turn me.
I twist out of her hold without exposing my back. “Show me your hand, Delorez!”
“Fucking show me!”
My voice echos again, but this time it’s not a shriek but a roar.
Well, a Luna-like roar.
My point is that I’m demanding obedience. None of this ‘request and comply’ bullshit. Rez and I are past that.
That, and I swore. I’m pretty sure that’s why she’s silently holding her hands out, even though her face is covered in shock.
I heave a breath—through my freaking nostrils—and nod. “Th—”
But I bite back my ‘thank you.’ As I’m studying her hand in the dim light, the realization hits me. It hits me fucking hard, too.
There’s not enough light. I can’t see.
And even if I could see, I can’t fix Rez because I won’t risk touching her with my fucked-up hands.
“Shit!” Rez hisses in alarm. “Luna. Luna don’t—”
My hair flutters as Rez zips away.
Yeah, I’d leave me, too. I’m such an abysmal failure.
But then something soft, but scratchy, is being dragged across my face.
“What the—?” I jerk back.
My vision is blurry, but there’s more light. Looking around, I see the lantern from upstairs and that Rez’s cringing as she’s holding something limp and gray in her hand.
“Sorry.” She’s shrugs apologetically. “I’m shit with crying people.”
I blink, and yep. I’ve got teary-eyed blurriness going on. Even got the draining-of-the-sinuses sniffles happening, too.
“Here.” Rez thrusts the limp gray thing at me.
“Is…” I blink and sniffle again. “Is that a sock?”
“It’s your sock.”
I look up at her.
She scoffs and shakes her head at me. “Like I’d use my own sock.”
“I have handkerchiefs.”
“Linens,” I blow my nose into my sock because the sinus drainage has become an open faucet, “a whole basket of them.”
“Those’re the rags.”
It’s just where Rez would put the rags because she’d never bothered figuring out our laundry system. I kinda don’t miss that about her.
“Huh.” I sniffle and wipe my nose.
“Huh, what?” Rez narrows her eyes at me. “What’re you huh-ing about?”
“Nothing,” I sigh, and it’s a nice, deep, lung-cleansing exhale. “So, um, can I see your hand? Please?”
“Yeah.” Rez nods as she extends her hands in the lantern light, and—
I gasp. “Kin gave you armor?”
Her hands, fingers included, are covered in the Akupara’s black, matte armor.
“He sure the fuck did, Baby Bunny.” Rez’s grinning like a big-tooth predator. “I didn’t even have to blow hi—Shit! You’re crying again.”
I am. I’m balling my freaking eyes out.
“It’s just…” I hiccup, then wail, “just so freaking sweet!”
“Right,” Rez mumbles as she lowers her hands. “Sweetest fucking thing ever.”
How can she not see this? Kin got her armor, for her hands, because she’s always punching people.
But mostly people.
“He loves you so much,” I sob.
“Yep. Loves the shit outta me.”
“And you love him, too.”
“Only on the days I don’t wanna murder him.”
I sigh. “That’s so sweet.”
Rez stares at me. She’s got this fierce frown on her face. I know this look. She’s strategizing. That’s kinda Rez’s thing: to constantly come up with plans. By constantly, I mean she’s always reacting, slapping together new plans when things turn to shit, and then keeps on powering on. This woman literally makes split split-second decisions.
But, she’s been staring at me for a few seconds now, which I’ve never seen her do before. It’s unsettling, but I don’t know what to do. So, I simply stare back at her and wipe at my nose with my wet sock.
Finally, Rez huffs, and it’s an astonished, yet frustrated sound. “What the fuck is going on, Luna?”
Right. The whole reason I wanted to talk to her.
“I’m kinda sorta mated.”
She arches a brow. “Mated?”
I’m staring up at her, nervously wringing my snotty sock—Gross. Okay. Stopping that.
I toss the sock.
“Say something, Rez.”
She shrugs. “Already knew that.”
“Already…” My head’s pounding. Is this what people mean when they say ‘splitting headache.’ “You already know that I’m mated to Pyx.”
“It’s so fucking obvious, Baby Bunny. With all the growling and shit.” She laughs and it’s an actual airy-chime of delight. “It’s super cute.”
“It’s not super fucking cute, Delorez!”
“Hey.” She holds her hands up. “Calm it down. You’re using curse words and full names.”
“Are you serious? I’ve been swearing and calling you ‘Delorez’ since you threw me down here!”
“Ah,” she points at me, “but now we can joke about it.”
“This isn’t a joke. It’s a real problem, Rez.” I’m snarling and yanking at my hair. “I’m mated. My freaking primal instincts are locked on and all in mated to an alien—”
But, I’m not stopping. Everyone’s always telling me ‘that’s-not-a-real-problem-Luna’. But this is a very real problem, and I’ve held it bottled up inside way too long. If I don’t say it—make someone else see it as a problem, too—I’m gonna crack wide open.
“Who I can’t fucking touch!” I rail.
Hell, my chest hurts. My throat hurts. Shame batters me as well.
Oh, and I’m crying again. Perfect.
“And I’m trying to fix it,” I sob. “I’m trying so hard. But I can’t fix anything.”
“Luna.” Rez has slid her armor-covered hands over my sticky cheeks. She’s tilting my face up, and the look in her eyes makes my chest squeeze.
Unbelievable. Delorez Florence Umara, née Griffith is being gentle with me.
“Luna, why would you want to fix anything about this?”
“I can’t be his mate, Rez. I’m not like you.” I place my hands lightly over hers. It feels weird and unnerving. I usually don’t touch people where, typically, their skin would be bared. “My hands. I could hurt him.”
Rez shakes her head. “You can’t hurt him. He’s Akupara.”
Yes, Emys had explained this to me. She’d been concerned that the Akupara’s natural invulnerability would hinder my attempts to improve her fertility. In fact, the Akupara are so impervious to physical injury that their people always wear their infamous black armor when outside the sanctuary of their Baleship.
Now, the armor’s not completely fake; it’s kick-ass enough that there’s a healthy blackmarket clamoring for scrap pieces of it. Which the Akupara encourage. This way, other alien races believe it’s the armor that’s superior, and thus don’t set up a secret S.C.A.R.E—Shell-Cracking (an) Akupara Research Experiments—laboratory to dissect and study them.
But despite all those ‘assurances’, why doesn’t anyone see? Why am I the only one keeping an eye on the presumably dismissible but truly dangerous things that get overlooked or taken for granted?
“We don’t know that for certain, Rez.” We don’t. The test subject pool is tiny: just Emys, who’s a willingly participant, and Pyx, who never got a say in the matter. “Just because the scientists never had an Akupara prisoner for me to—”
“Luna.” She jostles me by my shoulders, saving me from a long chain of horrifying memories. “Pyx went head-to-head against a pulse cannon. It musta fired a hundred rounds and each one struck him. Each one, Luna.”
I’ve heard this all before. Pyx’d charged the cannon in slow-motion—what the Akupara call ‘Outbaler’ speed—to draw attention away from the clinic and my rescuers.
But, still. “He was wearing armor.”
“Kin took direct blaster fire while naked.”
“Not a stitch. Wasn’t even wearing undies.”
Huh. “Do the Akupara wear—”
“The point is,” Rez jostles me again, keeping her eyes locked on mine, “you can’t hurt him.” She flicks her gaze to my hands, then back to me. “Well, you can’t with those things.”
Pyxis The Restrained
“You’re sure?” I ask Joia as I unload another bundle of lumber from my shoulders.
This is marks my fifth delivery of supplies to Luna’s territory in Briarwood.
“Totally sure,” Joia says as she’s picking up, examining, then tossing aside fallen leaves. “The little faker’s just trying to get my attention.”
“Luna’s faking being ill? That’s…”
I don’t know what to make of that.
Everyday I fake being normal to avoid attention, and Luna had done something similar as well. When the Kletka had attacked Two-Four-Kay, she’d avoided interrogation by deliberately taking sedatives and convincing the bounty hunters that she’d been badly injured.
So, I suppose, the same strategy—to fake being ill—could possibly be used for gaining attention.
“She’s needy is all,” Joia shakes her head, “and sneaky. Don’t forget the sneaky part. She doesn’t look it, so people underestimate her.”
“I value her greatly.”
“Sneaky.” Jo points a finger at me. “You’ve been warned, Fanboy. Here.” She shoves a blackened loaf of bread into my hands. “Crush that, would ya?”
She arches a brow at me.
Right. Jo always has a reason.
I squeeze my hands closed, and the loaf makes a grating sound, like stone scraping against stone, before crumbling. The pieces fall onto a broad, Briarwood tree leaf that Jo’s holding beneath my hands.
“Thanks, Fanboy.” She nods as she walks away. “You can carry on with your obsessing over Baby Bunny.”
I scoff. “I’m not obsessing.”
Jo calls me out with a sharp, dry chuckle.
All right, I’m obsessing a shit ton.
The only reason I’m out here, using primitive materials to build a cabin in Briarwood, is because I’ve failed Luna. A few days ago, she’d passed through her territory. As she’d walked the perimeter, she was mumbling and shaking her head. She’d even lingered by the spot where I’d uprooted the first tree—the one that Rez had me hurl into the Chaparral—appearing confused and upset.
I knew I should’ve uprooted more trees.
Luna’d been so disappointed by my failure to fortify her territory that, when she moved on, she’d forgotten her basket of burnt bread.
How do I know all this?
I kinda sorta followed her.
And then I kinda sorta hid her basket. Which Jo has obviously found.
Honestly, fuck if I know why I did all that—the following and the hiding. It’s probably just another mating impulse: to obsessively collect and possess any little bit of Luna. Even her burnt, discarded bread.
Well, the next time Luna comes through her territory, she’ll see a fuck ton of progress. I’ve made certain of that.
The clearing is now sizable enough that I’ve stopped pulling trees and have started processing lumber down at the Chaparral. Using laser cutters from the Bale, I’ve been turning massive trunks into boards and beams and then racing them back to Luna’s territory.
Looking at the stacks of wood, the initial sense of pride blooming in my chest gets iced over by anxious doubt. The urge to do something better surges inside of me.
“Jo,” I say, keeping my eyes on the wood. “What do you think about curtains?”
“They’re fucking essential, Fanboy,” Jo says from behind me. “Gotta have curtains.”
I nod. “Gotta have curtains.”
Where the fuck am I gonna get curtains?
“But ain’t ya getting ahead of yourself? How do you know Baby Bunny even wants a cabin here?”
I scoff and shake my head at Jo’s absurdity. “Doesn’t want a cabin?”
Of course she does.
“Just saying, is all.” Jo’s voice is strained, like she’s lifting something heavy while talking.
I turn to see that she’s kneeling in the turned up dirt of an uprooted tree. She’s digging with a small spade—which isn’t mine, so I’ve no clue where it came from—and sprinkling breadcrumbs into the soil.
I’ve no idea what she’s doing.
So, I turn my attention back to the stacks of wood and run through the calculations that my father’d taught me.
Joia chuckles, but it’s winded from her digging. “What I’m doing ain’t fabulous enough for you, Fanboy?”
Not really. Whatever Jo’s doing, it’s got nothing to do with Luna’s cabin.
That I’m positive she wants me to build. Here, in Briarwood.
But I still need to answer Jo, so I muse out loud, “Gonna have to move some more trees.”
“For the square footage.”
I run the numbers again. Yep. The cabin needs to be bigger. Luna’s too cramped in that modular. Oh, and a bolthole. I’ll have to dig her a bolthole.
“Over there,” Jo says. I pivot to look at her. She’s pointing to another uprooted tree. “This spot’s mine.”
She laughs and shakes her head as she resumes digging. “You make this shit amusing as hell, Fanboy. Thanks for that.”
“Sure thing.” But, I’ve got no idea what she’s talking about.
“You ran all the predators off.”
It wasn’t a question, but I nod anyway.
“And you’re gonna keep working on your crap cabin by the shitters?”
“Totally working on it.”
I’m just not building that stick shelter quickly. I’m keeping a slow and steady pace. It’s what the settlers expect from an Akupara. It also gives me a place to sleep, locked in my armor. No thanks to my fucking mate-fevered hands, roommating with Luna in her small modular is no longer possible.
Though, once I’ve completed the Briarwood cabin, Luna and I can live here. And I sure-as-fuck am building a place that has plenty of space for two people to live as roommates.
But, to be fucking sure-as-fuck, I start calculating for adding even more square footage.
“Do me one favor, will ya?” Jo asks as she stands and wipes the dirt from her hands.
“Keep it simple.”
“Totally keeping it simple.”
As Jo continues to wipe dirt from her hands, I can tell that she’s studying me. She’s got that look—the one where her mind’s processing with an intellect that makes me feel like an insect.
But I am keeping it simple.
I’m just building a decoy cabin as I work on a second cabin, when in all honesty, I don’t need either cabin. My armor’s in top form. It cleared the routine diagnostic maintenance conducted by the Bale’s tech, as well as all twenty-one checks that I’d run. Plus, my cache—the a domed compartment on my back—is fully stocked. So, wherever I go—be it the Bale, the empty shrub-steppe of the Chaparral, or my fake home by the shitters of Two-Four-Kay—I always have what I need.
Not to mention that everywhere on Warren’s there’s all this breathable air and shit.
She blinks and says softly, “Complicated ain’t your thing, Fanboy. You’re too real.”
“I hope so.”
But my answer—something that’s lock-and-loaded for whenever Jo tells me I’m real—rings hollow. I’d uttered it like a system’s auto-reply rather than delivering it as a well-rehearsed line of dialogue.
It makes me sound like an Akupara—methodical, modulated, mechanical.
“And we’re back to the same old shit,” Jo mumbles under her breath as she taps her foot. “Baby Bunny’s outta the clinic, Fanboy.”
My spine snaps straight, clicking my carapace plates together.
“Go on,” Jo sighs as she sweeps her arm wide, gesturing toward the settlement. “Get the hell outta here.”
Luna the Baby Bunny
I’m sitting at my work bench within the gold mine, rubbing a rag over an engine part. I don’t know which part it is. And I’m only fifty-percent confident that the part’s from the engine.
Okay. Twenty-percent certain.
But that’s not important right now, because I’m not really working on the engine. I’m not even monkeying around.
I’m thinking. And I’m thinking really hard.
See, Rez and I’d talked some more. She’d told me how Kin had eventually opened up about their mating. He’d described his mating instincts awakening and that he was totally relieved to throw off the expectations of his society and submit completely to the need for Rez.
God. That word—need—is the crux of it.
The crunching sounds of boot soles on gravel draws my attention to my doorway. A few dozen seconds later, one of the Bjørn brothers—Barnard, I think—pokes his head into my work room.
“Heya, Lue,” he says as he scratches at his beard.
“Heya, Bee.” Then I mumble the rest because, I swear to god, I can’t tell if I’m looking at Barnard, Barret, or Byron.
The Bjørn brother juts his chin out toward the crate by the door. “Can I snag a brick?”
Sigh. He means my bread.
But I smile and nod, “Help yourself.”
“Cart keeps rolling away from me.”
It does? That means there’s something to fix!
I hop off of my stool. “Want me to take a look?”
“Nah,” the Bjørn brother shakes his head, “brake’s broken for good this time.” Then he dips his head to the brick-bread in his shaking hands. “Thanks, Lue.”
I resettle back on my stool as he shuffles off, his arms and legs shaking with his burden. I also caught a good look at his face, which was ghostly pale with the exception of his beet red cheeks.
That Bjørn brother, like most of the miners, is not doing well.
And I can’t freaking fix it.
I mean, I don’t even know if there’s a noxious gas leaking into the tunnels, or if there’re toxic metals mixed in with the rocks. Not to mention how the mine’s run-off is certainly contaminating the settlement’s soil and water sources.
Unfortunately, all the original safety equipment had been tossed into the junk pile ages ago, and my H.A.R.E. ability has got shit to do with environmental hazard detection.
At least, when the War-naries were here, they’d sing.
Hell, little guys even sang while they were dying.
It’s just… all so fucking fucked.
Taken by surprise, I yelp and—because I’m me—tumble off my stool.
Right into Pyx’s arms.
My heart pounds. Pyx had just zipped from the doorway—where anyone could have walked past—and caught me.
“Luna?” Pyx’s fingers brush my hair back from my face. “Are you hurt?”
His tone is insistent, edging on being demanding. I shake my head in response, and dammit, I’d meant to yell at him for risking his secret because of my clumsiness.
Instead, I’m staring up into his faceplate with wide eyes and my jaw unhinged in shock.
I’m also taking a greedy inhale of the best fucking scent in the entire universe.
Crispy, robust, comforting.
Is it weird that I want to cuddle with a man—er, male clad in armor? It’s pliant armor, so that makes it kinda soft-ish.
That’s not weird, right?
Nope. It’s totally normal, purr my shebits. Let’s get to it.
Ugh. Pull it together, Luna.
I clear my throat. “Um, what’re you doing here?”
“To monkey around with you.”
“Monkey around?” I have to say that out loud, because my ears are trying to change his words to ‘screw around…’
“Yeah. I got your note.”
“My note said not to eat the bread on the counter.”
That’s it. That’s all I get—a deep, husky ‘huh’ from the Akupara warrior who’s saved me from falling on my ass.
But, seriously, am I gonna turn him away?
I should. I totally should. But I won’t.
“So.” I swallow. Because my throat’s dry, not because my voice is all breathy or whatever. “You wanna monkey around with me?”
He looks at me, which is unnerving. Usually, he’s all over an offer like that.
My chest starts to burn. This, right here, is what I—
“Close the door, Luna.” Pyx’s voice is a deep rumble as he smoothly stands and sets me on my feet.
Oh my frickity freaking god!
Yes! I will so close that door!
On wobbly legs—and who the heck cares if I look sexy—I teeter toward the door.
Your ass, hiss my shebits. Stick out your ass more!
Then it hits me.
What the actual heck am I doing? I can’t close my door and be alone with him.
But, he wants to screw around, insist my shebits.
No. There will be no screwing around with Pyx.
Really? Then why’s he holding a screwdriver?
I turn to look at Pyx. That’s not a screwdriver he’s holding. It’s a… Um…
No, no. Take your time. My shebits say all sugary sweet. We’ll wait.
Okay, I’ve no clue what Pyx is holding. All I know it that the rusty, worn tool looks like an ancient artifact next to his matte armor. It also looks tiny, like comparing a nail file to a saw, in his huge, powerful hands. He’s turning it about, too, like he’s contemplating how to use—
Yep. He just snapped the metal tool in half. So, it kinda doesn’t matter what tool it was, now does it?
Whatever. My shebits are fanning themselves. That was hot.
I’m nodding, emphatically, because it was hot. And also because Pyx is freaking prowling around my workbench like a War-gator about to pounce.
And I like it.
Plus, he’s totally eradicating the eye-stabbing memory of Rez and Kin using the surface as a ‘this is how I knock-up my mate’ demonstration and replacing it with this mouthwateringly sexy moment.
Oh, I’m gonna be using this steamy memory later tonight, when I’m all alone in my bed.
Hell, yes, we are! my shebits agree.
Huh. Look at that. The four of us can get along. On occasion.
“…need to strip down…”
That was Pyx pulling me from my thoughts.
“Need to strip down?” I babble back at him.
You, me, or both?
Because I’m all for both.
“Yeah, strip down. Get a good look.” Pyx flicks his attention toward me. “Luna. The door.”
Right. Door. So gonna close it.
I close the door and press my back against it as Pyx is intensely focused on the hulking chunk of the drill’s…
Heck, I don’t know what it’s called. It’s part of the engine, but not the entire engine. Some kinda drivetrain, alternator, timing belt thingy.
“Moving fast is best.” Pyx nods his head once. “You’ll mind the door?”
I know what he wants. He’s about to move at his natural speed, and he’s trusting me to guard the door and keep his secret.
“I’ll keep my ears open,” I manage to scratch out.
But my eyes will be totally locked on him.
With his faceplate focused on the drill-thingy, he nods. “I know you will.”
He takes soft-footed steps and his armor ripples around his tensing muscles.
Alien or not, someone of Pyx’s own natural bulk who’s encased in armor shouldn’t be capable of moving the way that he does. He’s stalking, and a part of me hopes—so desperately hopes—that when he launches into action, he’ll pivot toward me. Pounce on me. Press my back flat onto the workbench surface as he slides my dress up and spreads my legs open—
Thump. Thump. Thump.
That’s not my heart pounding. It’s my shebits throbbing like the beats of a bass drum.
Pyx streaks into motion.
I’m a H.A.R.E. I move fast, but not this fast.
For a second, I’m incredibly envious of Rez and Jo. They’ve both embraced their speed and other abilities given to them by the scientists. Rez has flash hairs on her back—bioluminescence that generates a disorienting flash that can be used defensively or offensively—plus the ability to maintain her near-supersonic speed for endless hours.
Jo can’t run non-stop like Rez, but she can push herself into lengthy dashes because she’s never neglected her enhanced speed. She also has this ability to know things—which she’s definitely honed—yet evades all questions, even direct one, about how that’s possible.
Then there is me. Who can only take a few zippy, but stumbling steps to avoid rocks, and whose touch is malignantly Midas-like, not beneficially Hippocratic.
Because I’d stifled my enhancements once we’d integrated into Two-Four-Kay and then spent that last decade moving slowly—but let’s be honest, never steadily because I’m a klutz—means that I can’t move with Pyx in hyper-speed as he does what he does.
Which I’m sure would have been utterly amazing to witness, but the end results is…
“Pyx!” I gasp and blink, hoping that what I’m seeing will become something else. “Whaddya do?”
Good god, he’s completely torn apart the mining drill engine-thingy.
“Three-hundred and five parts,” Pyx says with a brisk, satisfied head nod. “Now we just gotta find the interchangeable ones.”
“Three-hundred…” My voice sputters out.
Freaking crap! I’m gonna need a monkey-godhood-infinity amount of time to fix the stupid drill now.
I flip a limp, overwhelmed hand at my workbench. “I don’t know what any of those parts are, Pyx.”
Seriously, it’s gonna take all of Earth’s monkeys and all of Infinity’s hours to put the drill back together again.
“That’s all right, Luna,” Pyx says and I can hear him smiling behind his faceplate. “We’ll figure it out together.”
“Figure it out?”
“Sure. Break it down. Find the problem. Put it back together.”
Stunned, I gape up at him. Wait a freaking second here…
So, I can break something in order to fix it?
Rez’s voice echoes in my head. “You can’t hurt him, Luna.”
If Rez and everyone else isn’t bullshitting me about how tough the Akupara are, then Pyx isn’t at risk at all. Because the person that I’ve gotta break down and reassemble is me.
“Sure.” I can barely restrain the huskiness in my voice. “We can fix it together.”
This chapter is complete! I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.
As always, thank you so much for reading!
From Slow & Steady: The Velveteen Tortoise
Copyright © 2020, 2021 by Bex McLynn
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