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Jagati, in the process of returning the bridge weapons to their locker, froze as she was struck by an overwhelming tide of anger.
And while anger itself wasn’t unusual—Jagati’s average day ran the gamut of annoyance—this particular fury was cold and deep and drew her towards the companionway with the strength of a whirlpool in the Oracle Ocean.
She’d gotten down to the third deck when she overheard the noise—shouting—from voices she didn’t recognize. An odd, animal keen rose above all, making the hair on her neck stand on end.
“What in the comb?” She began to sprint, leaping several steps so she came thudding down to the cargo bay half a meter behind Eitan. “Weren’t you supposed to be sleeping?” she called, following him out into the cold.
He didn’t deign to answer, but as she hit the gangplank, she almost ran straight into him, because he’d come up short.
“What?” she asked, elbowing him aside. Or rather trying to elbow him aside—statues were more flexible—before giving up and easing around.
A little further down the plank she discovered the source of the tumult—John being strangled by some nut job in an infantry coat.
Which meant Nasa, and John’s misplaced sense of guilt.
While she took in the scene, Eitan de-statued and raced down to the tarmac, where he put his hand on the nut job’s shoulder. Good, she thought, knowing the Fujian would have the maniac down and broken (or better, dead) without breaking a sweat.
Except he wasn’t taking the maniac down.
What the hells?
The rage that had drawn her this far flared into a wildfire that muttered and roared across her synapses, making her dead to everything and everyone around her.
Powering up the shooter she hadn’t known she’d drawn, Jagati pressed the muzzle to the base of the maniac’s skull, hard. “Let him go, or I will be decorating the hull with your brains,” she told him. Somewhere to her left, she heard a young girl pleading, but the red haze didn’t fade. “I won’t bother to count to three.”
He froze, and his hands dropped, and Eitan caught John’s slumping figure.
Still, the red haze did not dissipate.
So she reversed the shooter and cracked the nut job on the head. The shock of wood meeting skull thrumming up her arms felt good. Yeah, she was still pissed, but the overriding fury receded.
“Jagati, that was hardly necessary.”
“Were you without oxygen long enough to suffer brain damage? Because that was absolutely necessary.” She pulled the shooter back, meaning to strike the downed dire wolf again when the kid’s crying cut through the fog and she lowered the weapon.
John, not entirely steady, crouched beside the unconscious nut job. Eitan, already on his knees, wore an expression she couldn’t decipher. Anger? Judgment? Who in comb cared?
“I told you he was trouble,” she heard a semi-familiar voice and turned to see Jinna, Rory’s old shipmate, looking twice her normal self. Pregnancy could do that.
“Except he’s not,” the girl was saying, wiping her eyes as if ashamed of the emotional display. “Not really.”
“Uh huh,” Jagati said, and jerked her head towards the river. “I vote we see if he can float.”
“Oh, now,” Rory cut in, “that’s not funny.” He looked at the girl. “She doesn’t mean it, Mia.”
“Jagati,” John said, or, more like rasped, his expression flat with disapproval.
“What?” She glared at him, then looked up to see the kid tossing her a look of pure defiance.
Another time Jagati might have been impressed. Not now. Not when Nasa had reared its ugly head one time too many.
“Rory,” John said, rising somewhat creakily to his feet, “see to the colonel, would you? And our guests, if you don’t mind.”
“Aye, captain.” Rory jerked his head. “Mia, would you help me gather my kit?” he asked, sharing a glance with Jinna, who nodded and helped usher the girl aboard after him, despite the kid’s obvious desire to remain with the nut job.
“Colonel?” Jagati asked, as John’s orders registered.
She looked down at the tall, spare figure who was, yeah, wearing the Infantry coat, but without the suns indicating a colonel’s rank.
“Colonel Gideon Quinn,” Fehr spoke at last. He’d come to his feet and was standing at her side. “My commanding officer, until Nasa.”
“Don’t you remember him?” John asked. “You were present at his arrest.”
With her vision cleared, she thought he looked a little familiar. “I do now, but if I stop being mad at him for trying to kill you,” she said, turning her glare from Quinn to John, “the next best thing is being mad at you for letting him.”
John opened his mouth, as if to protest, when Rory appeared, first-aid kit in hand and Mia at his heels, so he shut it again, shook his head, and stepped away. The tacit disapproval would have galled, but, at the same time, something flapping and big and annoyed came swooping down to land at Quinn’s shoulder, giving Jagati her first view of a tame draco.
“He’ll be all right, Elvis,” Mia said, squatting next to the draco. “He will be all right, won’t he?” She gave Rory a stink eye even Jagati found admirable.
“Oh, aye, he’ll be right as rain,” Rory said, “of which we’ve plenty,” he added, casting his own stinky eye at the ever-present mist that fell over Nike.
“Jagati.” Eitan drew her attention away from the confab on the tarmac. “A moment?” He stepped away from the gondola, into the shadows.
After a beat, she followed.
“I understand your anger,” he began, meeting her challenging gaze. “I also understand not all of the anger you felt belonged to you.” Here his head dipped towards the man on the ground.
Jagati’s expression went blank. “Come again?”
His lips twitched, but his eyes remained serious. “The colonel’s fury was—is—deep, and terrible, and old. It struck me like a blow, even inside the Errant. That is why I came outside so quickly. But because his fury is old, and deep, and terrible, I failed to intercede.” His hand tapped at his temple, which she took as an indication he’d been trying to reach through to Quinn psionically.
“You shouldn’t have tried.” She shook her head, momentarily distracted. “Not so soon after that backlash—”
“It’s done,” he cut her off shortly. “And as I said, I failed. I also failed to protect you from that rage, and my sorrow for that.”
“I don’t need protection. From anyone.”
“Not even yourself?” He paused as she shifted, boots sliding on wet tarmac. “Jagati, I believe you to be a sensitive, and I think you believe this too—even if you choose not to admit it.”
“What makes you—”
The anger you experienced just now was not yours. It was his.
“Please,” she waved him off. “I was angry because Quinn was trying to kill John.”
Perhaps you were. But that does not explain how you are hearing me, right now.
He continued to look at her, his expression patient.
Her jaw dropped because, not only had he spoken to her, mind to mind, he’d done so without touching her. “You said you could only connect psionically during physical contact.” The words were an accusation, and they both knew it.
“Only with another sensitive,” he said, unoffended.
She threw her hands in the air and stomped away, and then stomped back. Then she made a face at him. “So what do I do about this?” she asked. “Dammit, I don’t even like sensitives. A bunch of toxic wasps.” She paused, thought about what she’d just said, and made another face. “Sorry.”
“Never worry. Some are toxic.” He let out a slow, foggy breath. “That said, unless you wish to become toxic yourself, some training will be necessary.” He glanced over. “And you never noticed? All this time...”
“I thought it was instinct. Following my gut.”
“What happened here goes beyond instinct.” He nodded to where Rory was applying a cold pack to Gideon’s head. “Possibly your Sensitivity is escalating.”
“Great,” she responded dryly, then looked up as John joined them.
“Rory says we need to replace the squidgy bit in the starboard pod,” he said, looking at Jagati. “If you could head to the dockmaster’s, the night watch should be able to supply what we need.” He handed her a list and the starbucks Tiago had refused, earlier. “And while you’re out, if you can suss out any information about a Minister Killian Del? He’s big in the 9th District, I understand.”
Squinting at John, Jagati tried testing out Eitan’s theory, as if she were poking at a sore tooth with her tongue…and Sensed John’s pain, exhaustion, and stress.
Probably with her.
Her teeth bared in a not-smile. “Sir, yes, sir,” she snapped a fist to her heart before stalking off into the airfield’s dark mist.
“That went well,” John said as he and Eitan watched her depart. When her figure became indistinguishable from the shadows, both turned to where Rory, Mia, and the draco hovered over Quinn, who seemed to be stirring.
“Perhaps I should offer Mia some tea,” John said, “while you and your CO get reacquainted?”
He didn’t say, though Eitan understood, that, in this case, reacquainted meant explain what happened at Nasa. “Of course.” Both men started back to the airship. “You know he will want to speak with you, after.”
“After,” John said, peeling off towards Mia, “I’ll be ready.”