Chapter 53

En Route (Part 6)

“Aaaaand I win again!” Shaela threw down her card and bounced in her chair in a muted victory dance.

“You have to cheat!?!” cried Xenglo. “There’s no way anyone can win this many times in a row!”

“What, and you don’t cheat?” laughed Shaela.

“Well of course I do. I don’t have a chance against you if I don’t!”

“You don’t have a chance against me even when you do.”

Xenglo dealt another hand, “Clearly.”

Princess Leyva stood up. She’d been distracted these last few days. Space travel didn’t agree with her, she was a free child and a spaceship was a confining space, even one so big as the Swift.

“Deal me out, I’m going to go see Betsy.”

Shaela watched as her friend walked away in a sullen mood. When the door shut behind her she wheeled on the two remaining players.

“Okay you two… Talk!”

“What do you mean?” asked Xenglo. He was a good cheat, and a better liar but he wasn’t that good.

“You’ve been avoiding everyone for the last few days. Which is pretty hard to do on a ship.”

Xenglo picked up a card from the deck, “Not if you’re the captain it’s not.”

“True enough.”

“Would you believe that Nakaia & I have been sneaking away for some private time?”

Nakaia nodded in agreement and reached across the table, grabbing the captain by the front of his shirt and roughly pulling him in for a kiss.

“Not buying it.” Shaela said flatly.

“Why not? Looked pretty convincing to me.” stated the captain.

“Nakaia can’t stand Neb’s. No offence.”

Xenglo shrugged, “None taken. Well, I think this is my queue to leave. Thanks for the kiss sweetheart.”

“Go fall in a black hole!” Nakaia snapped, which only served to bolster the captains confidence – singing a common Nebula-Runner song about fair maidens at the top of his lungs as he left the room.

“He’s lucky I don’t sing him in to the airlock.” Nakaia muttered, and got up to leave.

“Sit. Down.” commanded Shaela, and to her surprise the Orrix did. “Tell me. Now.”

Nakaia, usually so vocal, was at a loss for words. Her head hung low, and she seemed lost in her own private labyrinth.

“NAKAIA!”

That shook her out of her trance. “The captain received a coms message the other day.”

Shaela thought that coms had been cut-off with Xaabos due to Pyroxius. But she didn’t want to question Nakaia now that she was talking.

“A friend of his, if a man like that could even have fr-”

“Nakaia.”

“Sorry.” she started to pack up the cards. She was stalling.

“Nakaia.”

“His friend had stopped by Xaabos for resupplying and heard some terrible news. Korv assassinated Emperor Saarang and laid waste to the Water Palace. I don’t know if anyone that was there survived.”

Now it all made sense. She knew exactly why she’d been avoiding everyone these last few days – and no doubt ordered the captain to stay quiet to.

“You haven’t told Leyva have you?”

Nakaia looked up and stared in to Shaela’s fiery red eyes. “No.”

“She deserves to know! She deserves to mourn!” Shaela shouted crashing her fist in to the card table, hearing the metal buckle underneath her powerful strike.

“Please Shaela. Wait a few days, until you’re both in the bonding chamber.” the Orrix pleaded, “If she finds out now she’ll order this ship turned around and her father’s death will have been in vain.”

“If you had done you job properly in the first place, maybe he wouldn’t be dead. And maybe we wouldn’t be stuck in this blasted tin can!”

Shaela regretted her words the instant they escaped her lips. She’d hurt Nakaia, she could see it in her eyes. She wanted to reach across and comfort her – the emperor’s death would’ve hit her hard. She wanted to say she was sorry, that she didn’t mean a word of it, that it wasn’t her fault.

But she was too furious. She toppled the table and stormed out the room leaving behind a stunned Nakaia.

Tomorrow, she thought to herself, tomorrow I will apologize. But for now, I need to punch something.

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