Authors: Angela Verdenius
“Maybe the freezing unit is cutting in and out.” Grabbing a pair of gloves off the hook beside the unit, Abra stepped into the freezer and reached for the frozen body. “We’ll have to carry her; the ice is too thin to risk the claw winch digging into it.”
Plucking another pair of gloves off the hook, Vane joined him in the freezing depths of the unit. “Oh, joy. Just the way I want to spend my night, snuggled up to a frigid woman.”
Ignoring him, Abra reached for the iced warrior. No sooner had his hand touched the ice than a crack sounded. Alarmed, he leaped back as the ice shattered then slipped down from the warrior’s body.
“Oh, shit!” Vane backed up against the frosty walls of the unit. “She’s gonna fall apart!”
They backed out of the freezer unit, the cold air ebbing around to hide the body from clear sight. Bracing themselves for the sudden stench of decaying flesh, they heard the thump as the body fell to the floor.
Abra half expected the head or other appendage to come rolling out of the door but nothing happened. No smell, no loose flesh, nothing yucky at all. Raising his eyebrows at Vane and Ricna, he saw that their surprise mirrored his own.
Relief also filled him. Maybe the warrior’s body was perfectly preserved so much that the body would stay intact. He didn’t have much experience with thawed out bodies. Dead, frozen outlaws stayed that way.
“Come on - ”he began, only to stumble to a halt when a soft moan came from inside the freezer unit.
“What the hell was that?” Vane’s eyes were huge.
At any other time Abra would have laughed at the alarm on his friend’s face, but right now he was fighting the prickling sensation that was spiking across his neck.
Another moan sounded, then a draghin then aging noise. A very slight dragging noise, but dragging nonetheless.
As though someone was dragging themselves across a floor.
Rican grabbed the laser lying in a nook on the other side of the compartment and aimed it at the opening of the freezer unit as he came back to stand beside Abra and Vane.
“I think we should shut the door,” Vane suggested, a note of panic in his voice.
Frowning, Abra bent down and peered into the swirling, cold-fogged depth of the freezer unit. There was no way that body could be moving of its own accord.
No way could a moan seriously be coming from it. No way -
They all jumped back several feet in heart-pounding shock as a hand suddenly appeared through the white fog. It glistened with wetness as it slammed down upon the floor. The same dragging sound, another moan. The fingers of the hand flexed, clawed at the floor and then pressed down against it. A bent elbow appeared, then another hand.
“Oh stars.” Vane stepped back, his eyes wide. “Abra!”
Abra didn’t know what the hell was happening but he wasn’t one to panic. Yet. But he was stunned and, he admitted, spooked. Clutching a laser in both hands, he motioned to his friends to move back.
Laser barrels pointed at the opening of the freezer unit, they all backed away and watched.
“I don’t like this,” Ricna said from between clenched teeth.
“I say kick it back in and shut the door,” Vane suggested, his laser wavering just a little. “Or shoot it now.”
Abra didn’t say anything, just watched closely. He didn’t know what to think right then and that was the truth. He didn’t understand what was happening but he sure as hell wasn’t going to start shooting until the thing inside revealed itself.
The two hands on the floor pulled and wet, blonde hair appeared as the upper torso of the warrior was pulled from the freezer. She didn’t look up as she pulled herself out inch by painful, weak inch. Her laboured breathing was clear to all.
It wasn’t possible that the warrior could really be alive. Abra kept the laser trained on her. She was wet, shivering as she pulled herself the last few inches from the freezer unit. Slowly she lifted her head and he saw how blue her lips were. Her eyes, wide and beautiful, a deep violet, looked straight up at him, but she couldn’t focus. Her mouth opened, but all that came out was frosty breath. Propped up on one elbow and her other hand, she squinted in the bright light.
Shivering, she tried to haul herself further away from the freezer but her energy seemed to have run out, so she stayed where she was, her breathing laboured as she tried to focus on them. Her skin gleamed wetly, her clothes sodden. Blonde hair hung down in wet ringlets over her shoulders to pool on the floor, mingling with the water that slipped from her body.
“Cover me,” Abra said tersely.
Immediately Vane and Ricna ranged themselves each side of the fallen warrior, their lasers pointed at her head.
Keeping his laser trained on her, Abra moved forward cautiously. When she didn’t reach for him, he bent down and touched her shoulder.
Startled, she turned her head. Her teeth were chattering, her lips blue, and ice particles hung from her thick lashes. Unable to lift her head, she stared at his boots.
Squatting down beside her, Abra looked thAbra loher over before asking loudly, “Warrior, do you hear me?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but her chattering teeth made distinction impossible.
Sliding his hand beneath her chin - her skin was cold as ice - Abra angled her head back so he could gaze into her face. She still couldn’t focus properly but she whispered something from between her chattering teeth.
“What?” He leaned down a little closer, watching her mouth. “What did you say?”
“H-H...” Closing her eyes, licking her lips, she took a deep, shuddering breath and opened her eyes to look at him with that unfocussed gaze again. “H-h-hunter...”
Letting go of her chin, Abra rested his wrist on his knee and studied her as her head dipped forward again.
“What the hell’s going on, Abra?” Vane demanded.
“I don’t know. But one thing is for certain, this warrior is alive.”
“That’s impossible. No one can survive being frozen for, what? Years?”
“Impossible as that seems, this warrior is alive.” Abra handed the laser to Ricna. “And she’s going to die of hypothermia if we don’t do something to warm her up fast.”
“Are you sure this is wise?” Vane looked dubiously at the violently shivering woman. “Maybe we should just chuck her back into another freezer.”
Ricna smacked him sharply up behind the head. “Bloody fine pickle we’d be in then if the Reekas found out.”
The warrior on the floor moaned softly and weakly tried to crawl away.
Grabbing hold of the back of her vest, Abra scowled up at Vane. “She’s alive and no longer an outlaw, Vane. I don’t know how or why she’s alive, but they’re the facts. Now let’s get her upstairs and warmed, and see if we can keep her alive. We can ask questions later.”
Vane nodded while rubbing the back of his head, but instead of replacing the laser in the nook nearby, he pushed it into the waistband of his pants.
Abra certainly didn’t blame him. The whole damned thing was spooky but he pushed those thoughts aside. For whatever reason their dead warrior was very much alive. Somehow.
Taking her by the shoulders, he flipped her over easily. She reached out, trying to push him away, but ignoring it, he slid one arm beneath her knees and another behind her back, and straightened with her in his arms.
She was so cold, the chill of her body and wet clothes almost burning Abra as he carried her swiftly up the stairwell and out into the corridor.
“Ricna,” he said as his friend moved up beside him. “Get the bath in the spare cabin filled with as hot water as a body can stand. Vane, get a pile of covers on the bed and start the mattress warmer.”
Without a word Ricna hurried forward, entering the spare cabin ahead of Abra. Vane peeled away to go to the spare storage cabin.
“What’s going on?” Nat stepped out of his cabin, his eyes widening as he saw what his pack leader was carrying. “What the…”
“I’ll fill you in later,” Abra replied tersely.
Entering the spare cabin, Abra took the warrior straight through into the bathing cabin. Ricna was already filling the bath with steaming water. Without hesitation Abra lowered her into the water, supporting her head until her neck reide her nested on the back of the bath.
Reaching into the water, he tugged the rawhide lacing of her boots free, unwound them and then tugged her boots off. Her vest followed and he tugged her split skirt off, using the buoyancy of the water to ease her up. Naked, she lay back in the hot water.
Steam filled the room and Ricna turned the water off. They both stood and looked down at her, more concerned with the mystery of her than her nakedness.
“What do you think happened?” Ricna asked.
“I don’t know.”
The warrior opened her eyes, her gaze darting around, and then she placed one violently shaking hand across her breasts, her other hand clasping the side of the bath as she tried to push upwards.
Grabbing a towel from the rack, Abra dropped it over her nakedness and went down on his knees, reaching out to push her back into the water.
“You need to get warm,” he stated harshly. “You hear me?”
She nodded, clenching her teeth against the chattering.
“No one here will harm you,” Abra added.
Unfocussed she might be, but there was no mistaking the derisive twist of her blue lips.
“Oh boy,” Ricna muttered. “This ought to be fun.”
“Lie back.” Abra was mildly surprised when she obeyed.
The towel floated above her prone body but it seemed to reassure her, though her white-knuckled grip on the bath edge was a telling sign of her tension.
Well, that simply meant she was one more tense person on board the bounty hunters’ ship right now.
Vane’s voice sounded from the sleeping cabin and Ricna moved out to answer him.
Abra studied the warrior grimly. She was still shivering but the blueness of her lips wasn’t quite so vivid. Her chill flesh was a little less cold. Flicking a switch, he released some of the cooling water and replaced it with hot.
She bit her lip as the warmth engulfed her once more and he wondered if it was too hot, but he had to get her warm. The coldness of her body would soon cool the water.
“Just a few more minutes,” he said.
She relaxed a little more as the minutes passed, coughing now and again, and when she next opened her eyes, they were clearer. But hostile.
Oh goody, the frozen warrior was thawing out and priming for trouble. Her only saving grace was that she was too weak to do more than give hostile looks. At least for now. And Abra meant to keep it that way. The safety of himself and his pack came first and foremost, and she was an unknown threat.
“Ricna,” he called.
“Yeah?” Ricna appeared in the doorway.
Turning his head so she couldn’t see him, Abra said, “Get a cup of hot chocolate.” And sleeping draught he mouthed.
Ricna didn’t miss a beat. “Coming right up.”
When he reappeared minutes later Abra took the cup, slid one arm around the woman’s shoulders and supported her as she drank from the cup. She tried to reach up but her trembling hands couldn’t do more than flutter weakly. Sip by slow sip she drank, and Abra ensured that she drank it all, giving her small pauses to catch her breath.
By the time she0">B time sd finished the sleeping draught was already working on her. That and the heat combined making her eyelids start to lower.
“Come on,” Abra said. “You’re going into a warm bed after you’re dried.”
She murmured something but he couldn’t catch it. Pulling the towel away, he slid his arms under her and lifted her from the tub with a grunt.
“Ricna,” he began, but his friend was already there, supporting the warrior against himself as Abra did a hasty drying job on her.
Straightening from running the thick towel down her long legs, Abra grabbed another dry towel and wrapped it around her before once again picking her up and carrying her to the bunk. She was already asleep by the time he’d plunked her down and yanked the covers over her.
Finally finished, he stepped back and stood side by side with Vane and Ricna. Looking down at her, he shook his head.
“Well,” Vane finally said, “this should be a very interesting trip.”
“Even more interesting when I tell Sabra that the dead warrior is alive,” Abra said. “That should bring the Reekas hot-footing it through space to meet us.”
~ * ~
The mist swirled around the high peaks of the fortress , built into the mountains. From high up steam poured from a peaked roof. The sky was dark and heavy with clouds.
Inside the bleak stone fortress, The Darknen contemplated his army and smiled. It was almost time to march, almost time to wreak vengeance, almost time to tear apart the Inner Sanctum and take it for his own.
He had his own demons, his own army. The Darknen was more than ready.
Feeling the shudder that wracked the spiritual plane, he laughed. They were getting desperate, he knew, but let them try. Let them try and find someone to stand against him. Let them try and find someone to hunt him down. They would fail. The Overlord’s domain would be his and then no one would be safe. He’d raze the Lawful and Outlaw Sectors down, pour through them without mercy, and all would be his.
Soon, so very soon
~ * ~
“Ceri and Rani.” Tenia laid the image photos down on the table. “Our cousins. Mother’s cousins, to be precise.” She looked down at Sabra. “But only one has been found?”
“I’m afraid ‘tis so.” Sitting back in the big armchair with her legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, Sabra’s gaze was steady. “Abra’s pack is bringing her home.”
“Which one?” Standing at the window, Reya watched her daughter playing with her cousins below on the grass.
“Ceri.” Tenia ran one hand through her golden fringe. “The other warrior, the missing one, is Rani.”
Reya continued to look down at the gardens, but her mind was on the conversation. “And you say Ceri has woken?”
“So Abra tells me.” Sabra shrugged. “Weird, but ’twould seem ’tis a time for weird things.”