“What do you think?” Nick glanced over at Angel.
He was annoyed. She wouldn’t take her eyes off Brian. The teenager was lying on the floor of the ship. He’d passed out as soon as he’d tried to answer Nick’s question. He was covered in blood but Angel had a medical kit on board. He wasn’t hurt but he’d been through a lot. Nick wondered how he’d fare if he’d been chased by monsters. He probably wouldn’t pass out though, he decided.
Angel still stared at Brian. “I know him from somewhere, but I don’t know where from.”
Nick frowned at her. He had the same feeling. “Me too.” But there was another feeling as well, something more uncertain. “I don’t like him. I don’t know why but I don’t like him. Howard set us up. He created this trap and it’s almost as if he wanted us to find Brian. As far as I’m concerned, that makes Brian untrustworthy.”
“You’re a little harsh,” Angel replied. “Besides, what are you worried about? There’s one of him and two of us and he is kinda scrawny.” She raised an eyebrow. “Not frightened are you, Nick?”
“Of course not! Just… suspicious.”
“Well, he’s been out for long enough. Time to wake him up.”
Angel pulled a hypodermic needle from the medical kit. Carefully she pressed the needle into the skin on Brian’s arm and injected him with a pale yellow liquid. Brian jerked. His eyes opened and then he yanked his arm away from Angel. “Get away from me!” he screamed, backing away against the side of the ship.
Angel held her hands up, showing him that she had no weapon. “It’s okay!” she said.
“We’re the ones who saved your life!” added Nick. “Don’t you remember?”
Brian tilted his head to stare at them both. He frowned and then glanced about the ship. He peered over them to the front of the ship where the stars moved as the autopilot guided them. Nick had programmed the location at random. It didn’t matter where they went, as long as they got away. They’d lost Zenok but he wanted to keep moving anyway. There was no telling what the emperor planned to do next. He was after Nick, Ac-Free and he appeared to be after Brian, though Nick didn’t have a clue why anyone would want him.
“Yes,” Brian murmured. “I remember. I’m sorry, I was just a little disorientated. Where are we?”
“My ship,” replied Angel. “You passed out when we got you aboard. You were about to tell us why Zenok was chasing you.”
Brian’s eyes dropped to the floor and Nick knew what he was doing. He was thinking up a good lie.
“He must want you pretty bad,” Nick said. “That was the emperor’s personal ship at the moon where we found you and he didn’t stop chasing us for quite a while. Why are you so important?”
Brian was fidgeting with his fingers. “It’s a long story,” he said. He still didn’t meet Nick or Angel’s gazes.
‘I bet it is,’ Nick said to himself silently. ‘And it’ll be completely made up.’
“I’ve got some supplies on board,” said Angel. “Why don’t we all eat something and you can tell us your story and we’ll tell you ours.”
Brian nodded. “Yes please. I’m starved.”
Nick didn’t take his eye from Brian. He’d have to keep watch on this one.
“Gods damn it, Gods damn it!” Zenok screamed. He seized an ancient vase from a destroyed alien civilization and threw it at the wall.
How could he lose him now? It had taken weeks for them to receive a tip off to Brian’s whereabouts and now they lost him just when he was in their reach.
Brian would pay dearly for this. He’d wring the brat’s throat, he’d rip out his heart and make him eat it, he’d…
But he couldn’t do any of those things, not yet. Brian was too important alive to be killed. When they got him back he’d just have to try and be nice. Maybe it would make Brian unlock the powers of the ring.
Thinking of the ring only made Zenok even angrier. He smashed his fist into the desk in front of him, leaving a dent behind.
A chime from the door signals that somebody is waiting to enter. Zenok brushes his face with his hand to try and calm his appearance. “Come in,” he calls.
Hazlin entered the room, his back straight and his head held high. He was Yenok’s replacement and seemed proud about it. Zenok only hoped that this man would prove better at doing his job. Yenok was useless. Brian was a weak, whining brat. How hard was it to felt him walk out of the palace? A Martian dog could have done a better job than Yenok.
“Sir.” Hazlin saluted. “We have disturbing news.”
“What?” growled Zenok. The knife was already in his hands, ready to eliminate Hazlin if his news proved to be too unpalatable. There were plenty of others begging for this position.
“We have some news on Nick. We think he might have been at Jivitra’s second moon when Brian escaped. And Ac-Free was probably with him also – ” Hazlin cringed, as if expecting Zenok’s anger.
Zenok imagined holding AC-Free in his hand. He squeezed his fingers and crushed her. The bitch, the little bitch! She interfered with everything! She destroyed his slave camps, she helped Nick to evade capture and now she had snatched his own son away from him. Oh, she’d pay for this when he got hold of her.
He turned his thoughts back to Brian and then something unexpected happened, something even Zenok hadn’t predicted, he laughed. The rolls of laughter filled the room. Hazlin’s mouth dropped in astonishment. Zenok couldn’t help himself. Brian was with his brother and he didn’t even know it!
“S-sir?” ventured Hazlin.
Zenok coughed away his chuckles. “This could work to our advantage. Nick and Brian in the same location. Yes, it will make things much easier. We no longer have to split our forces.”
Nick had made a fatal mistake by saving Brian from capture. Now two of the triplets would be wandering around together and, even better, they had AC-Free with them. He didn’t have to divide the search anymore. He could send his entire army after them. Not even AC-Free would be able to avoid everything Zenok had.
Zenok scratched his chin thoughtfully. AC-Free was clever. She was a woman, but she was clever. He needed another woman to outsmart her. In general Zenok loathed women but there was one he had at least some tolerance for, only because she was good at killing for him.
“Hazlin, send a message to Fyliza. Tell her I have a job for her.”
Hazlin trembled slightly. “The assassin?” he whispered.
“It takes one whoring wench to catch another. Yes, send Fyliza. Send her to bring me Nick, Brian and that Gods damn AC-Free.”
Sweat dribbled down Brian’s arms. He couldn’t stop it. He was in a dangerous position. These two people were obviously trying to get away from Zenok and that didn’t look good for Brian. What would they do if they found out who Brian really was? He was in trouble.
And Nick suspected something. He wouldn’t take those damn blue eyes off of him.
Angel seemed nicer. It felt a bit odd to talk to her though. Zenok had always told him never to talk to women. Women should be seen and not heard. Somehow though Brian knew that Angel would break his neck if he told her that, and he quite liked talking to her.
“So, tell us what happened,” Nick urged.
Brian nodded. “I was a slave in Zenok’s palace and I stole something from him.” Not entirely untrue. He still had the ring hanging about his neck. Zenok wouldn’t be pleased that Brian had it. “F… Zenok was going to sue it to do something bad, I think, so I stole it and ran away. He came after me.”
Angel frowned. “What did you steal?”
“Something important,” Brian said. “He’s after it but I can’t give it back.”
Yes, the story sounded good enough to Brian. Bits of it were even true. Zenok had told Brian that the ring had great powers and Brian doubted if Zenok wanted that power for anything humane. It was a nice balance of truth and lies. Brian hated to tell lies to people who had saved his life.
Angel tapped her fingers against the table in front of them. She looked sympathetic. Nick though was frowning.
“What about you two? You’re not… friends of Zenok are you?” Brian ventured. He could have been tricked. Right now he could be being carried back to Mars.
Abruptly Angel’s face changed. Her eyes grew hard as sapphires and her lips curled in rage. “Are we hell! We’re as far away from Zenok’s friends as you can possibly get!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Brian stammered. “I was just afraid I’d been trapped or…”
“Brian, we’re not friends of Zenok. Of that you can be certain,” said Nick. “I know how it feels to be suspicious.” The eyes stared directly at Brian. He caught their meaning. Nick suspected Brian was connected to Zenok. He wondered if Nick knew how right he was.
“Why is Zenok after you?” Brian asked. “I gave you my story, now you give me yours.”
Nick still stared at him. He opened his mouth and then closed it.
Suddenly a bleeping noise came from a console at the front of the ship. Angel leapt to her feet and pressed several buttons. She groaned.
“Are we under attack again?” Brian asked fretfully.
She shook her head. “No.” She glanced at Nick. “It’s a message from Howard. Text only. He wants to meet us. He’s sent us some co-ordinates.”
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “The Gods damn him! We’re not going anywhere that weirdo wants us to go!”
“Who’s Howard?” Brian asked curiously.
“A freak,” Nick grunted. “Plot a course in the opposite direction to where he wants us to go.”
“Nick,” Angel said softly. She moved forwards and pressed a hand on Nick’s chest. “Look, I don’t trust him either but he knows things.” She glanced over at Brian. “Maybe he knows something we don’t. Maybe there was a reason we were sent to where he told us your brother would be.”
Brian frowned. Angel was talking cryptically on purpose to keep him out of the conversation. Typical woman. Some things Zenok said were right.
Nick’s eyes lingered on Brian. “All right, but I don’t trust him. We have to be very, very careful. Where does he want us to go?”
“A planet called Yaresia,” Angel replied. “He didn’t say what he wants.”
Nick turned back to Brian. “We’re going to Yaresia. Are you coming with us?”
Brian stared at Nick for a moment. He had a feeling that Nick didn’t want him to go with them but Brian didn’t have anywhere else to go and he kinda liked Nick, even though the man was suspicious of him. Nobody had ever saved Brian’s life before out of kindness. He liked Angel as well. She was nice. Both of them were everything that Zenok wasn’t.
He nodded his head. “If you don’t mind.”
“Angel, plot the course,” said Nick.
Nodding her blonde head, Angel took the ship of auto pilot and began to press panels and buttons. Brian felt the engines throbbing with power as the ship accelerated. Stars streamed be either side of them.
Nick leant down beside Brian. “I don’t trust you, he whispered. “You’re not being honest.”
Brian felt his heart beginning to beat louder. He felt sick. If Nick knew who he was then Brian knew he was going to die. These people wouldn’t want Zenok’s son aboard their ship.
“But for now, I’ll let you stay,” Nick continued. “You’re obviously an enemy of Zenok and that makes you a friend of us, but I hope that you’ll see that you can trust us and tell us the truth. For now though, you keep your secrets, but I won’t wait forever to hear them. I’ll find out who you are eventually.”
Raising his head, Brian saw that Angel was oblivious to Nick’s words. She hadn’t heard a thing. Brian tried to say something back to Nick, but the blond turned away from him and busied himself at a console.
Brian felt lost. He liked these people but somehow he knew they would never understand him. He felt like crying.