Embers of the Past

Embers of the Past

by Lyssa Thorne

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Product Details

BN ID: 2940000150177
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
Publication date: 09/29/2008
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 610 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1--The Stowing

Sannaro walked down the hallway without seeing the walls around him.

He wasn't happy that the spaceship was nearly empty because everyone was down on Belvas at the bazaar. As usual, he wasn't allowed to go because he was the Kumani's secret they didn't want the worlders to know about.

The itching of his ears interrupted his thoughts. His telepathy was warning him that someone was approaching him from behind. After a cursory telepathic scan he knew it wasn't someone he wanted to talk to.

However, the sentiment wasn't shared and he was shoved from behind.

He whirled around and glared up at his attacker.

"You're lucky I didn't throw you into the wall, Kuro."

"I should have been chosen for flight school, not you." Kuro waved his finger in Sannaro's face.

Sannaro resisted the urge to bite that finger.

"You shouldn't have been given the yellow stripe on your sash." Kuro grabbed up the sash tails that hung down Sannaro's leg over his solid black flightsuit and rubbed a finger across the yellow stripe as if he could wipe it off. "Someday I'm going to stuff you in that smelt and melt you down."

Sannaro slapped Kuro's hand away. "You can try. This time it won't be me pulling your shoulder out with a little fight on the mats. It'll be the council's decision."

"Some day I'll get you." Kuro swept down the hall.

When he sensed that he was alone, he raged at the limitations he lived with. What good has flight school been to me, anyway? They won't even let me land on a planet! He slammed his fist into the wall and got a glimpse of his watch. He looked at it again in shock. He was late for flight school! He rushed downthe hall for the nearest elevator.

When it opened, a young man with red hair wearing forest green pants and basic light green shirt stepped out, mumbling to himself and bumped his slim chest into Sannaro's nose.

Sannaro stepped to the left and so did he.

"Diok, would you let me through? I'm late for my flight instructions!" Sannaro hopped lightly on the balls of his feet.

The redhead looked down, startled. "Touchy, touchy, San! I'm late for my communications lesson and I still have to get back to my apartment and get my books."

"Fine, you go to your class and I'll go to mine."

"What's got you so upset?"

"It's Kuro. I'll tell you later, okay?"

He hopped around his friend into the elevator and called to the audio sensor to go to the Upper Flight Bay.

The elevator moved upward.

When it opened, he was met by Filp, the senior pilot. He wore a black flightsuit with a white panel that started at the width of his neck, widened out to his hips then came to a point just below the pistol belt and the dark red sash. He had his arms crossed on his chest and the white gloved fingers of his left hand tapped impatiently on his right forearm. "You're late. I ought to take you to the mats and teach you discipline."

"I was--"

"I don't care what you were doing! Shut up and get to the simulator room, now!" Filp stabbed his finger toward the left, to the fore of the ship where the Flight lounge, offices and flight school were.

"Yes, Filp."

Filp's unspoken words blistered through Sannaro's mind unwanted saying, Just wasting my time teaching this alien to fly. He'll never fly a fighter in battle so why did Lazha talk me into tapping Sannaro?

You're right, Lazha shouldn't have bothered. I'll never be a full member of the Astrisi, Sannaro almost said aloud, but he kept quiet when he remembered what his foster father and mother told him years ago, right before he started flight school, to concentrate on his work and tune others out. Sannaro worked to secure his shields from thoughts by those around him and concentrated on training.

By then, they were climbing the stairs from the readyroom to where the classrooms were.

Sannaro went to his locker and pulled out his helmet. He went around the corner and opened a narrow door to a simulator. Sannaro sat down and inhaled deeply. As he let it out, the screen turned on and the program started.

A team of dark menacing fighterships rushed toward him. A stream of energy flowed through the void of space toward his fighter.

Sannaro banked hard right. He glanced at his threat board and groaned; a pirate was locked on his tail.

Sannaro gulped. Uh-oh, no wingmates?

His Vizhai shuddered.

That was close.

He dove six o'clock low and threw the ship into a corkscrew, then banked left. He grinned when he came out behind the pirate and opened fire.

The pirate blossomed into a fireball.

Sannaro pulled out.

A pirate swept in on his starboard side.

Sannaro pulled up.

The lights flared then went dark.

The simulator door opened and he was blasted by Filp's psychic displeasure. "That was pitiful, Sannaro."

He bowed his head.

"How do you expect me to give you a color with so many failed sims?"

Sannaro felt his throat tighten and he let his dark shoulder blade length hair fall forward. Don't cry, don't cry.

"Go down stairs and wait for a vocabulary test."

Sannaro nodded because he didn't trust his voice. His shoulders felt heavy as he climbed out of the cubicle and put his helmet away. He went down the stairs to the flight lounge and sat down in one of the chairs.

"Shuttle 23, ready for takeoff," thundered through the vast flight bay just as a tall, slim man with brown hair entered the readyroom and climbed the stairs. He was wearing the black flightsuit with blue panels and a red sash with the dark red stripe on the tail that swayed to his mid-thigh.

"Hadah, your back," Filp said. "That was my call. It seems they finished quicker than I thought. Sannaro's downstairs waiting on a vocabulary test. Could you go do that for me?"

"Right."

"The list's in the console."

Sannaro moved to the door and stood just outside the lounge as he waited for Hadah.

Just beyond the Refuel and Rearm tunnels, stevedores were buzzing around a shuttle. One of them was counting boxes and checking a data pad in his arms.

"Where's box 32?" he heard a stevedore yell with his more sensitive hearing. "I didn't see it in the load. Keri, go find box 32 and fast. Tower's already called Filp."

"Right."

Sannaro was overcome with jealousy that they would get to go and he could not. He'd heard so much about the wonders of Belvas and its mysterious capitol city that was already there when the humans came.

When they found it, it was said that it was in perfect condition. It had emerald walls that were completely translucent.

Sannaro wanted to see that.

The other stevedores moved away from the shuttle to join Keri in searching for box 32.

What if he went down to Belvas to look around, and then came back before anyone noticed? That would work.

He ducked under the rows of sleek fighterships, past the fuel point, then slipped over to the shuttle and rushed up the ramp. He hid himself in the shadow of the inner door that went to the cockpit just as the stevedores returned and hoisted the errant box in and closed the shuttle door. He settled himself behind the crates. He felt the shuttle being raised to the retrieval deck.

The shuttle stopped and the engines surged, then the shuttle moved forward gaining speed as it flew into space.

He was on his way.

Hadah watched Filp go down the stairs before he went down the hall and turned left.

At the end of the small hall was the simulator control room. Filp said the vocabulary list he was to test Sannaro on was there.

He stepped into the dark room and the lights popped on. He walked up to the console and was about to pick up the printout when his attention was drawn to the control screen.

"Level Ten?"

Hadah read the screen further. He gritted his teeth when he read the name on the test report, it was Sannaro.

He sat down and typed in the order for the simulator report to be sent to the computer in his office, and then he commanded the computer to print it out.

Hadah slapped his thigh in irritation and then grabbed up the vocabulary paper and rushed back to his office.

The printer had just rolled the paper out onto the paper rest.

Hadah grabbed that up and bounded down the stairs.

"San?"

He reached the lower level and looked around. The flight lounge was empty.

Hadn't he just seen the yellow skinned boy sitting on the couch when he had come in after his flight back from Belvas?

Then he remembered the boy had had his black hair in front of his face, a common indication that he was upset again.

Hadah looked at the sim report again. How could he have been upset when he had stayed alive for over five minutes in a level 10 simulator with no wingmates? Why was Filp giving Sannaro a Level 10 sim anyway?

Student pilots who weren't assigned to a colored team were only supposed to receive between levels 1 to 8! Between level 5 and 8, they were eligible for a color. Sannaro's sim was two levels above student pilot!

Where was Sannaro, anyway?

Hadah went over to the communications station on the wall and keyed for the Central Communications Station.

A slender faced boy with wild red hair answered.

Hadah was almost relieved to see the young man. He would know where Sannaro was because he was the yellow boy's best friend.

"Diok, I can't find Sannaro. He was supposed to be in the Flight Lounge waiting for a vocabulary test. Do you know where he is?"

"As far as I know, he should be with you."

"Was he upset?"

"Yeah, I bumped into him just before he went to school and he was really upset. I asked him about it, but he was in too much a hurry to get to the Flight Deck."

"Could you make a general page for him to come back to the Pilot's lounge?"

"Sure." Diok cut the line.

A minute later, Hadah heard Diok's voice call over the intercom with his message.

He sat down on the couch and waited.

As Sannaro huddled in the cargo area of the shuttle, he heard Filp saying in Basic through the cockpit, "Astrisi Shuttle twenty-three to Belvas Space Tower, approaching at vector six five five nine eight. Requesting to land at previous coordinates, over."

"Roger, Astrisi Shuttle twenty-three. You have permission to approach previous coordinates through established flight plan, over."

"Roger, Belvas Space Tower. Astrisi Shuttle twenty-three out."

Filp's reply was lost on Sannaro when he heard a young woman's voice through the hatch. "Is there a remarkable difference in the handling of space crafts inside a gravitational sphere?"

He wrestled with his shock. That voice was familiar to him as one of his best friends named Cherna who was the younger sister of Diok.

He secured his mental shields tighter and hoped he wouldn't give away his presence to her because she had been telepathically linked with him several times in the past.

She was a student pilot along with him, so she must have been intending to help her mother with the bazaar.

A short time later, he felt the retrorockets fire and the shuttle bumped to the ground.

The hatch opened and the stevedores who rode down with Filp on the shuttle grabbed dollies from the wall, hefted up crates and wheeled them out of the hatch.

Before they returned for more, Sannaro snuck out of the shuttle to the corner. He lightly scanned the thoughts around him to make sure everyone was busy.

When he sensed that they were, Sannaro ran for a stall that was set up not too far away from the landing pad. As soon as he was clear of the shuttle, eyes locked on him.

Fausa, Edat! Sannaro broke into a sprint. Why of all Astrisi did it have to be him? No one could beat Edat on physical ability!

"Catch him, don't let him get away!" Edat yelled in Astrisi so that none of the bazaar attendants from Belvas knew what he was saying.

The crowd parted when they realized that the whole crew of the shuttle was rushing after him.

Sannaro leaned in to increase his speed. He was thrown off his feet. He slammed hard onto the ground. Grass sliced and gravel scraped his skin.

"I can't believe you would do something like this!" Edat pulled Sannaro off the ground by his black flightsuit. "I thought we taught you better. You're in trouble. I don't know what Lazha is going to do to you about this."

He began to pull Sannaro back towards the shuttle when Filp came up. "You stupid kid!" He grabbed Sannaro's arm savagely.

Sannaro hissed as Filp's fingers dug into his arm.

"Edat, don't take him to the shuttle or the crowd will think we're kidnapping a Saili kid. They don't know Sannaro lives with us."

"You're right. Now how are we going to get him back up to the Kumani undetected?"

"Just say you were chasing me down because you caught me stealing," Sannaro said.

"It's all right, ladies and gentlemen," Edat said in Basic. "It's just a little thief. We'll handle him."

After that, they pulled Sannaro to a large tent.

Just before he was pulled in, his eyes locked onto the blue mournful eyes of a honey blond-haired girl being pulled around the corner of a stall. "But, Sannaro!"

"He's beyond your help, girl," Baia said. "Let Edat and Filp handle it."

"But, Mother, he's my friend! You're Adara's friend. Why can't we help him?"

"Cherna, it's all right to defend him when someone says an unkind word about him or he makes a small lapse in judgment, but this time he has done a serious wrong. This must be handled by Lazha and Parik."

Sannaro heard Adara's mental voice plea, Nui, oh, cobasora, why? in his head as she looked on from her stall beside the central tent.

"Adara, Cherna can mind your stall for now," Baia called to her distraught friend.

"Fa'arata, Baia," Adara returned distractedly.

Filp shoved him into the tent and onto a chair, then turned to Edat. "I'll go to the shuttle and call Lazha to tell her what her little pet has done."

Edat only nodded to Filp as he left.

"Kila," Edat called to a woman who was passing the tent as Filp opened the flap.

The woman waited for Filp to exit and she came in.

"Go get Zhad and Adara. They'll need to be here when their whelp has to answer for his behavior."

"Adara is getting Zhad and they're coming," Sannaro said.

She nodded and left.

"It's a shame Adara has to leave her stall to answer for you." Edat pulled up a chair and flopped into it. "Really, I thought we, most especially I, taught you better than to do something like this!"

Sannaro folded his arms in front of him. "I just wanted to explore!"

"Even though you knew you were forbidden to leave the ship?"

Just then, Adara and Zhad came through the curtained door.

Adara knelt in front of Sannaro with her face wet. "Sannaro, why did you do it?"

"I would have come back before the shuttle left!" Sannaro now realized how much his disobedience hurt his foster mother, but Sannaro still felt too much anger to soften his voice.

Zhad clenched his fists. "Even though you knew that you weren't allowed to come down to a planet?"

"But--"

"Quiet."

The pure anger that emitted from Zhad's mind was almost like a mindslap Sannaro's dead father would've done. Zhad was angrier than Sannaro had ever seen him.

Filp reentered the tent. "I talked to Lazha, she's furious. She wants Sannaro back aboard as soon as it's safe to get him out undetected. Then we're to take him to the gymnasium. You're in for a bad punishment, boy," he told Sannaro. "It may even be cause enough for Lazha to agree to let me fail you from fighter school. Amida can have you as a Mothership pilot."

"I just wanted to see the mysterious city! I was going to come back! Don't fail me from fighter school!"

"Quiet, Sannaro. Nothing will be decided until we get you back to the ship." Edat glared at Filp.

A stevedore entered with an empty crate. "Here's the crate you asked for, Filp."

"Thanks, Keri. Get in, Sannaro."

"A crate?" Adara gasped as Sannaro felt her hand on his shoulder. Her fear flooded through his senses.

"You can't possibly make Sannaro ride in a crate all the way to the ship?" Zhad's own alarm was plain as his baritone voice began to sound more tenor.

"Not all the way, Zhad, just to the shuttle. When the doors are closed, we'll let him out. I don't want to kill him! It's just the only way I can think of to get him to the shuttle without the Worlders seeing us."

Sannaro gaped at the dark interior of the crate and the musky woody smell took him back to another tight place under the Werner's porch where he huddled to get away from the two angry men who had once been his father's foreman and a fuel handler.

Damn, he saw everything! blistered through Sannaro's mind and returned him to a memory.

He had panicked and ran toward the nearest house. He scrambled under the porch.

Aldinon's hand scraped Sannaro's arm as he pressed himself against the house.

What did he see that they didn't want him to? Why did they want to hurt him? He had just taken his ball back from Jake, that's all!

He was tempted to look into their minds to learn some answers. Then, he remembered his mother's warning that he was not supposed to pry into someone else's mind without asking, it was rude. He was supposed to use his voice with people outside of his family.

The smell of decay assailed his nose.

A black spider tickled the second point of his left ear, hoping the vibrations from its web heralded a meal.

Sannaro was startled when a mouse scampered over his right ankle.

The spider was startled by his sudden movement and bit Sannaro's ear. His ear began to hurt and he broke out in a sweat. His sight blurred a bit around the edges.

Finally, the large arm of the foreman withdrew.

"Sannaro, come out," Aldinon said in a soothing voice. "I was just coming to find out why you are out so late. Your Dad would be worried to know you were wandering around town after dark."

"No!" Sannaro shook his head.

"I'll walk you home. It must be dark and scary in there." Aldinon's voice was soft and reassuring, but his thoughts were panicked and menacing.

"Go 'way!" His head began to pound.

"Oh, now, don't say that. Come out and everything will be okay."

Sannaro's body shook. "No, it won't, you want to hurt me for seeing that!"

"Aldy, let me try," Arlington's gruff voice called quietly. "If you won't tell anybody about this, I'll let you go without hurting you. Now, come out." But his thoughts were threatening.

Sannaro whimpered and pressed his hands over his ears. He didn't want to sense what they were thinking. Their thoughts were about hurting him!

After a few minutes of silence, Aldinon spoke up again. "Sannaro, I know your dad's sick."

"No, he's not sick, he's just mad!"

"He's getting mad more often, isn't he, Sannaro? He's got green around his eyes. Does anyone else in your family have green around their eyes?"

Sannaro sobbed and pressed his head between his knees, but stayed there.

Arlington took over. "He needs a doctor, but if you don't promise that you won't tell anybody what you saw, we won't have a doctor come to help your dad."

Sannaro shook his head until his neck ached.

Arlington continued. "Your dad will die if a doctor doesn't come, Sannaro. Do you want to see your dad die knowing you could have helped him?"

Through the blur of tears, Sannaro crawled over to the side of the porch.

As he scrambled out, the elder Arlington grabbed him by his hair. "Got him!"

Sannaro panicked. He gathered a small amount of mental energy and willed it into Arlington's mind through the fingers that were entangled in his hair.

Arlington howled and clutched his head.

Once Sannaro felt his hair freed, he ran between the houses toward home.

Sannaro climbed back into his room and collapsed into a corner. He stayed there shaking for the rest of the night.

That was another lifetime; from far away he heard the voices of the others in the tent.

"And Adara and me?" Zhad asked.

Filp waved his hand dismissively. "You're Astrisi, no one's going to notice you two entering a shuttle."

Sannaro shuddered. "I can't."

Filp pointed toward the box. "You have to. Get in, Sannaro."

"No!" Sannaro felt that long-ago panic rise in him.

Filp began to draw his laser.

Edat grabbed his arm. "Stop, Filp! Stunning him won't help."

Sannaro crouched down, almost in a fighting stance. "You do that again to me and I will fight you. I'm not getting into that crate!"

Zhad stepped between Filp and him. "Show some respect for your senior, Sannaro."

"Not if that senior has no respect for me!" Sannaro hopped on the balls of his feet, but was unwilling to move his foster father.

"Stop this! We're not getting anywhere challenging one another," Edat yelled. "Sannaro refuses the crate so we'll have to do something else."

"Let's wait until nightfall. Sannaro's already dressed in his black flightsuit." Adara's voice was tense.

"How about a helmet?" Edat said. "It has a dark face-plate that will cover his yellow skin and slanted eyes."

Filp whirled toward Edat. "I'm not letting him fly!"

Edat stepped closer to Filp. "He's a near-color, Filp, you know he has the training."

"Didn't you hear me earlier, Edat? He's suspended! Give me your sash, boy."

Sannaro felt dread as he looked down at the white sash around his waist with the yellow stripe on its tail. He'd worked hard for that yellow stripe, even to the extent of defending the ship from a hostile pirate boarding.

Edat was rigid with his hands clenched at his sides. "And I said Lazha would decide that when we got to the ship, we're not there yet. We're trying to get there. Don't give it to him, Sannaro."

"This is the Chief of Police," a voice called from outside the tent. "I was told, you had a disturbance. Can I come in?"

"Fausa." Filp whirled around toward the tent flap. "Now what?"

Edat gave Filp a warning glare to quiet down. "You may enter, Chief," he said in Basic.

A human man with thinning brown hair and a bulging belly entered the tent along with a man and a woman in brown uniforms.

"I'm Chief Darren of the Belvan Planetary Police. Is this the young man who's being accused of theft?"

"We've got everything under control, Chief Darren," Edat said.

"I'm really sorry about my friend's son." Zhad said trying his best to cover his Astrisi accent. "My wife and I brought him along with us for a favor by his parents who're visiting from Arcturus."

"I was given a report that these Astrisi were harsh about catching him. Do you want to put in a complaint?"

"I'm sure it would be better to resolve this in a civil manner, he wasn't hurt."

"That's your choice."

Sannaro sensed the chief's thoughts were of confusion toward Zhad's reluctance to file a complaint. But, he thought that he had experienced stranger situations than this so he was willing to let the matter drop.

"Thank you, Chief Darren. Now, I want you to apologize to these men," Zhad told Sannaro.

Sannaro bowed his head and forced the scowl not to come to his face. "I'm sorry."

"We accept, young man," Edat said.

"Well, I'll be going now." Chief Darren left.

"Good thinking, Zhad." Edat spoke in Astrisi again and wiped his brow.

Filp snorted. "Two years with Worlders helped for something. I'll find a helmet for Sannaro."

Filp left.

Hadah clutched the sim report tightly in his fingers as he climbed back up the stairs. Sannaro had not shown up.

Just as he entered his office on the upper floor behind the stairs, the computer chirped an incoming message warning. Hadah sat down and opened the channel.

Filp snarled. "Hadah, I need you to fly a bomber down here to the Bazaar."

"Why would we need a bomber at a Bazaar?"

"Stupid Sannaro stowed on my shuttle."

Hadah had to repress a chuckle. For the second time in his life Sannaro had compromised shuttle security on Filp's flight.

The first time was when Adara stowed Sannaro on Filp's shuttle to be healed of his injuries so she could raise him as her own.

Hadah knew that memory was a sore point for Filp.

He sobered up. However funny it might be, Sannaro was in serious trouble. He hurt for the boy.

"I'll grab up his helmet and be down there in ten."

Hadah cut the line, then sighed at the crumpled paper. He turned away, went down to the student lockers and opened it. He picked up the firebird crested black helmet with the dark faceplate, and then closed the locker. He went back down stairs and out onto the flight deck.

"Mete, I need you to prep my bomber for immediate flight."

"You need ordinance?"

"No, just a flight."

Mete nodded, then ran over to the blue-tailed two-canopied Vizhai.

Hadah followed and climbed into the front pilot seat.

Minutes later, Mete gave him the all clear signal and the Vizhai was pulled out backwards into the flight line.

The ship stopped on the lighted rectangle.

A clank sounded and the rectangle was raised into the launch deck.

The ship was pulled forward and locked into the catapults.

Hadah watched the color bar turn from red to green.

The ship shot forward and Hadah was pressed into his seat. He engaged the engines and shot out over the nose of the Kumani and then turned toward the planet.

Minutes later, Filp returned with Hadah in tow. "Put this on, Sannaro." Filp threw his helmet at him. "I called Hadah down with a two seat gunner ship."

"For a short time, you'll look like you're in my wing, San," Hadah said.

Once Sannaro pulled his helmet on, he followed him to the bomber.

As Filp and he expected, no one at the bazaar gave notice to two Astrisi fighterpilots who walked across the field. They were even giving them extra ground.

Even though Sannaro knew he was in for a severe punishment, he couldn't deny the excitement he felt about flying in a real Vizhai instead of a simulator even though he was sure he'd be told not to touch any of the controls.

He leapt up onto the slanted wing and walked up to the rear cockpit.

Hadah opened the canopy. "Get in, San."

Sannaro slipped into the seat and found it a bit tight for his thicker frame. He just shifted his weight to a more comfortable position, then strapped himself into the flight seat. "Ready, Hadah."

The Vizhai hovered off the ground, then swept upward into the sky.

Ten minutes later, they landed in the upper aft retrieval ramp and were lowered to the maintenance bay.

The Vizhai parked beside the automated pulley system. Then the support crew pulled up modular stairs against the ship before Hadah unlatched the canopy and let it swing up.

Sannaro waited until Hadah climbed onto the stairs before he climbed out onto the wing to join him.

Hadah held out his hand.

Sannaro reluctantly pulled off his helmet and handed it to him.

"Let's get to the Gymnasium." Hadah put both helmets into the arms of an engineer, and then went down the stairs.

Sannaro sensed to his dismay that Hadah was considering himself Sannaro's guard who was going to accompany him all the way to the gym. Didn't he trust Sannaro to report there without force?

Sannaro was quiet as they stepped into the elevator and Hadah called their destination.

When the doors reopened, they walked the short hall that led to the Gymnasium where Lazha was waiting along with the people who were still on the ship.

Sannaro noticed Edat's self-defense staff were leaning on the weight lifting equipment and glaring at him.

Finally, he had to look at the center of the large room where the main practice mat was always laid out.

On it was the slender, red-haired Commander, Lazha. Although she usually preferred to wear her curly red hair down to her mid-back she had it in a ponytail. Displeasure radiated from her.

"Sannaro, on the mat."

He hesitated slightly, but drew in a deep breath and walked onto the soft large square.

He stopped at one of the two lines that were marked with white tape.

Lazha glared from the other line. "You're going to learn a lesson, child. I've defended you and made sure you had the chance to become a useful member of this ship as long as you didn't attempt to go down to a planet. Is this how you show gratitude?"

"No, Lazha." He tried to keep his voice steady.

"Then, why did you defy me? Do you realize the trouble you may have caused us?"

Sannaro bent his head. He knew he had done wrong, but between Kuro and Filp, he had just been so frustrated.

She snarled. "It just now dawns on you. So, Sannaro, prepare to fight."

He had just made her angrier. This was going to be a tough fight he didn't look forward to.

At that moment, he would've rather been mindslapped by his dead mother or even spanked like the human children he had played with back when his mother had been alive. Their punishments would've been easier to endure than Astrisi hand-to-hand combat.

While he was good at self-defense and could beat almost anyone, Lazha was better. But, if he had refused to defend himself, the Astrisi would label him as a faint-hearted coward. That was worse to bear, so he positioned himself into a fighting stance and nodded to Lazha that he was ready.

Lazha rushed him in a blur.

He found himself flying through the air. He adjusted his fall so he would hit the mat without injury, but it still hurt. He stood up again.

Lazha charged.

He sidestepped and threw a lateral punch with his right hand.

Lazha blocked it easily with her left arm and punched his stomach with her right hand. As he doubled over, she redirected the same fist to slam into his jaw.

He reeled backward and fell hard on his buttocks. His body threatened to topple him onto his back so he kicked his legs and did a backward roll and stood up in one motion. Then, he took one step forward with his right leg and threw a roundhouse kick with his left.

She grabbed his ankle and fish-flopped him onto his stomach.

As his other foot passed through the air, he kicked her in the face.

She released his foot.

He rolled to a stand. That made her angry as she massaged her sore jaw.

Sannaro took time to his advantage and threw another roundhouse kick with his right leg to her side.

She blocked it.

He punched with his left hand to her face again.

She grabbed his arm, twisted it over her shoulder and then slammed him to the mat.

He gasped in pain as his fingertips brushed the tips of his hair. He kicked back with his left leg to try to force her off, but she grabbed his leg as well.

She bent his leg to touch his elbow.

He howled in pain and reached for his knee.

As if she was warning him, she gave the leg a little yank.

He cried out again and dropped his right arm as sweat poured down his face.

"Do you think you'll ever try that again?"

At least her voice sounded slurred. He must have caused some hurt to her jaw so he wasn't completely humiliated.

"No, Lazha."

"Yell it." She yanked his leg again.

"NO, LAZHA!"

She let go of his arm and leg, then walked a few steps back.

Sannaro rolled to his side and pulled his hurt leg to his chest.

Lazha nodded when Zhad took a reluctant step toward the mat. Filp must have brought Zhad up to witness his humiliation.

At her sign, Zhad raced onto the mat, knelt down beside Sannaro and gently probed his knee.

He cried out even though the touch was gentle.

"His knee is slightly sprained." Zhad went on with his examination. "His arm is slightly strained and his jaw is bruised. There are no further injuries."

At that moment, the intercom came to life and a voice called for Lazha to return to the bridge for a communication.

"I hope that's not about you, Sannaro," she puffed, too winded to show any more anger. She walked out of the gymnasium.

"Danu, get a gurney," Zhad said.

"Right." Another of Sannaro's friends rushed out of the gym.

Lazha was poking her swelling face with a finger when the elevator opened onto the hallway just beyond the bridge. Sannaro had really kicked her hard. She even felt a loose tooth. She was going to have to go to Zhad sometime soon for a bit of healing, too.

She entered through the upraised security bulkhead that was there to prevent hostile boarding parties from reaching the bridge. She turned left and went down the stairs into the control well. She made a U-turn to the communications console at the aft of the bridge located under the second floor balcony.

The young man took off his headset and handed it to her.

She slipped it on.

"Commander Lazha, here."

"This is Chief Darren of the Belvan Planetary Police. Are you all right?" The overweight human cocked his balding head.

She must look a mess.

"Yes, I was just working out with a friend."

"Well, your friend shouldn't work out with you like you're trying to kill each other. Your face needs to be looked at by a medic."

"I'll take that advice once we are finished, Chief."

"Of course, Commander. I showed up at your bazaar earlier today. I got a report that your people were being a little rough with a young Saili man who was accused of thieving at your bazaar. Are you aware of it?"

Lazha wished someone had told her the Worlder police had shown up. "I have just been informed about that incident, Chief Darren. I was told it had been resolved. My people were just angry about the theft. No formal charges will be brought against the young man."

"Once his parents are told about this incident, I wouldn't be surprised they don't press charges for your people's rough handling of their son, Commander."

"Well, I was led to believe everything was resolved satisfactorily to both parties so I hope they don't change their mind. Is that all you called about, Chief?"

"Uh, yes, it is, Commander."

"Is something else bothering you, Chief?"

"Uh, no, Commander, I'll be going now."

"It was nice speaking with you, Chief. Good bye."

"Good bye, Commander."

The screen went blank.

She took off the headset and sighed.

The young man with hair more orange than hers retrieved it and put it back on. Then he looked up. "Lazha, did you hurt San bad?"

"No, Diok, although he'll be in Zhad's care for a few hours. I didn't like doing it."

"I saw him earlier before his flight school. He seemed upset, but he wouldn't tell me anything because he was late. Fausa, why did he do such a dumb thing? He knew better."

"Tell me about it. Now, we just have to lay low for a little while and let things blow over. I wonder what he seemed upset about?"

"I'll sure find out." Diok turned to his board and pushed a few buttons.

Lazha moved toward the center of the bridge and was met by a slender man with auburn hair. "Looks like Sannaro gave you a few bruises."

"Go vape yourself, Retal."

"So, who was that?"

"That was Chief Darren of the Planetary Police. He was asking about Sannaro."

"Did you satisfy his curiosity?"

"Enough for right now. Fausa, this is going to be a mess."

"Why don't you visit Zhad too, get that jaw looked at. He really hit it good."

"He kicked me in passing while I was fish-flopping him. He's gotten cleverer over the years."

"So next time he needs disciplining, get Edat to do it. No one can beat Edat."

"That may be a good idea. Take the bridge, Retal. I'm going to Zhad."

While that conversation was happening, Sannaro had just been brought into the treatment room of the Hospital section by Zhad and Danu.

Zhad had stepped out to get a healing tent when the intercom buzzer sounded.

Danu opened the channel and answered, "Medical."

"Danu, this is Diok. I saw San earlier and he seemed to be real upset about something that had to do with Kuro."

Danu snorted. "Kuro, that's a sore point with San."

Why wasn't he surprised that Diok was calling to find out the story? He was always curious about everything that was going on around him.

"Yeah, anyway, is he in a healing tent yet?"

"No, we just got him here and Zhad's out to get a tent."

"Good. Is San conscious?"

"Yeah, but he's a little sedated."

"Can you try to get a little out of him about what he was upset about? Lazha wants to know."

Was that his excuse this time?

"I'll try, but I don't want to upset him more than he is."

"Try for me, okay?"

"Okay, afterwards I'll tell you what I found."

"Good. Diok, out."

"Medical, out."

"I heard that," Sannaro croaked.

"So, what happened with Kuro, San?" Danu said.

"Kuro wants to throw me in his billows because I was about to graduate from flight school." Sannaro winced at the subtle movement of his swollen knee.

"That's it? Kuro's threatened worse. Why did you let him get to you? He couldn't have been the only reason why you stowed down to Belvas."

"Why do I have to be a damned telepath?! Damn every humanoid mind who lets their thoughts rise from them like stinking week-old garbage!"

Danu's eyes widened and he took a step back.

"That's right. Filp doesn't even try to hide his disdain for me! Now he can't wait to fail me from flight school for that little stowing I did! What in the great firebird do I have left?"

Zhad rushed in. "What is going on here?"

"I only asked San what was bothering him. He started yelling at me. He says Filp wants to keep him from graduating flight school because he disdains him."

Sannaro cried in big sobs that tore his broad short frame while he held his knee.

"Is this true, Sannaro?" Zhad asked.

Sannaro could sense the pained sadness from his foster father. He just barely nodded.

"Lay down and I'll get this healing tent up. Then you'll be grateful for the sleep it brings you," he said with a voice heavy with emotion.

Sannaro laid back and let Zhad and Danu erect the tent and turn it on.

Shortly, he sank into a disturbed sleep as the healing tent took effect to heal his arm and knee.

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