Stealing Coal Page 17

Coal relaxed and flipped the com system back on. He gave her a grim nod.

“I’m speaking to the two inbound ships. Identify and state why you are tracking my ship.”

A crackle sounded from the speakers. “This is the commander of the Star. We’re searching for a life pod that accidently launched during a training exercise.” Silence ticked. “There is a reward if you’ve picked it up or seen it on your long-range radar.”

Coal hunched forward. “Who is speaking?”

Another hesitation. “My name is Flint. Have you seen the pod or know of its location?”

Coal suddenly leaned back and a grin spread across his face. To Jill’s shock, he flicked off the voice modifier. He looked up at her and winked.

“Not only have I seen it, Flint…” he chuckled, “it was a tight fit. I don’t recommend traveling in one.”

Jill’s knees wanted to collapse under her when it dawned on what he’d said. He looked away from her as the other man responded.

“Coal? Is that you?”

“Who else? I turned off a voice modifier.”

Flint laughed. “We’re increasing speed. Is Councilman Zorus well?”

Coal’s smile faded. “We were separated and I’m alone.”

“Damn. We’ll talk when we dock with you. I take it we have permission?”

“Granted. I’ll slow to a stop when we meet up.”

“Glad to hear your voice.”

“Yours as well.” Coal turned off communications.

Jill blinked back tears, not wanting Coal to see how upset it made her that he’d found his friends. She’d been sure they had more time together. She knew they had mere minutes left before the fast-approaching ships reached them. Her gaze shifted to find Coal silently watching her.

“There’s no need for fear. You are safe and my people will not harm you. I am keeping my word to return the shuttle and droids back to your control.”

She nodded, her throat too choked with emotion to dare speak for fear of revealing her feelings. It would be better if he assumed she worried about her fate.

Coal rose to his feet, hovering over her, and then he pulled her into his arms. “It will be fine. Don’t worry.”

The feel of his arms holding her, his wonderful masculine scent and hot skin pressed against her cheek would be sorely missed. She hugged him back, hoping she didn’t cling too tightly. She nodded rather than speak.

His hands gently rubbed her lower back through her shirt. “They may seem frightening but know I’d never allow anyone to hurt you.”

She nodded again.

“Let me dock to them and then we’ll greet them in the cargo hold.”

“Okay,” she said softly, making her arms release him although she regretted doing it. She stepped away to give him room to move.

Coal dropped back into the pilot seat, his full focus on the controls. She took the time to compose her unstable emotions. She would drink some of the strong booze her father’s crew had kept aboard. She’d never touched it but after Coal left, she’d need it. Getting drunk would be the only thing that might keep her from attempting to follow him to whatever system he lived in just for a chance of a not-so-accidental meeting with him in the near future.

“We’re slowing and turning for a soft dock,” he informed her minutes later.

“Their ships must really move fast to reach us so quickly.” Lame response, she berated silently. But it beats me begging him to open fire on his friends, disabling their ships long enough for us to full burn so we can run away from them.

The shuttle bumped into something softly, the deck of the floor vibrating slightly, and she knew they’d docked. Coal grinned when he shut down the engines. He stood and turned to address Fray.

“Stand down and inform the other droids that guests are boarding. They pose no danger to anything on the shuttle. I want the three of you to shut down until I give further orders.”

Fray nodded. “I will relay the order.” He claimed the pilot seat.

Coal held out his hand to Jill. “Come with me. Until they realize you are a friend do not make any sudden movements. Just stay at my side.”

“Okay.” She tried to push down the fear that had her heart racing slightly. Coal happened to be a sweetheart but what if the other cyborgs weren’t? That silent question left her definitely disturbed. She repeated it aloud.

His squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I gave you my word to free you without harm and they will have to honor it.”

That didn’t set her at ease by much but, despite her misgivings, she followed alongside him when he moved toward the door. Her dread rose with each step until she fought the urge to flee to her quarters to hide there until after Coal left. His firm hold on her hand kept her at his side though. He walked to exterior loading door and released the lock. The door slid open.

Four tall cyborgs stood waiting on the other side in the docking sleeve attached to the Jenny. All of them wore tight, black leather uniforms that covered their bodies from their gray-colored throats to their kickass, military-style, matching black boots. The man in the lead had jet-black hair that fell to his wide, gigantic shoulders but his bright, piercing blue eyes captured Jill’s attention the most. His gaze pinned her where she stood.

“This is Jill,” Coal’s voice deepened. “She rescued me. She’s our friend.”

The big, scary cyborg shifted his intense gaze from hers to stare calmly at Coal. “She located and took the pod aboard?” He glanced around the cargo hold. “What happened to Councilman Zorus then?” He frowned at Coal after visually searching the area.

“The life pod is on a damaged cargo freighter. The crew picked us up from space and separated him from me.” Anger tightened Coal’s voice. “The humans who found us weren’t friendly. Jill is a trader who came aboard their freighter where they held me captive and stole me away from them. When they came after us I made certain not to blow them up for fear Zorus remained onboard. I didn’t want to accidentally kill him along with the human crew. I have memorized the coordinates of their last location to give you to search their ship for him. I doubt they’ve traveled far, taking into consideration the damage I caused their engines.” He paused. “I wasn’t able to go after him myself. Jill’s ship is severely outdated, slow, and I needed more men for the odds of a successful rescue to be favorable.”

“Um…” Jill whispered and she cleared her throat, trying to speak louder. Five pairs of cyborg eyes turned on her. She looked up at Coal since he didn’t scare her. “That captain of the freighter mentioned another cyborg but I forgot about it until this moment. He said Earth Government sent a ship and they took him. The crew hid you to keep them from taking you as well. Your friend is probably either on his way to Earth or already there. I have no idea how long you were with them and the captain didn’t say how long ago it happened.”

Coal winced, his thumb stroking the back of her hand while he gazed at her. “You’re sure?”

“Captain Raul told me he decided to keep you because you looked meaner for fighting on Arris. He said the other one looked kind of pretty and didn’t look as though he’d fought much. It really pissed him off that Earth Government had taken your friend without even paying him for finding a cyborg. He seemed sure a reward should have been paid.”

“Damn,” one of the cyborgs muttered. “Well, we tried. If he’s reached Earth, he’s lost to us forever. What a shame that is.” He chuckled. “Poor them. Imagine his temperament after being around what he hates most.”

“Sky,” Flint turned his head to shoot an irritated look at a gray-haired cyborg with really scary, unusually pale-blue eyes that had an odd look to them. “We still have to attempt to retrieve him. I’m not fond of the councilman either but he’s one of our brothers. He also knows everything about us. They could torture him until his mind snaps and then he might give them all the information they wish to gain about us.”

“Or,” Sky grinned widely. “They’ll believe he’s an example of what we’ve become and decide we’re too damn sadistic to f**k with. If anyone could make Earth decide to avoid cyborgs at any cost, it would be Zorus. I know, after spending time with him, that I would do nearly anything to avoid further contact.”

A dark-haired cyborg laughed. “He makes a valid point, Flint.”

Annoyance flashed on Flint’s face. “Don’t encourage him, Onyx.” He turned to face Sky. “You know more about humans than anyone. How would we obtain him from Earth Government? I need solutions instead of snide comments. Shut off your personality traits this instant and answer me. That’s a direct order.”

The cyborg sobered, his pale, strange eyes locking with Flint’s. “First we’d have to locate where they sent him. They could be keeping him prisoner on one of their war vessels but my estimation would be that they wouldn’t wish him contained near all that technology with his active implants. On a ship they couldn’t effectively shield all the access points to the main computers. If it were me, I’d keep him drugged while transporting him to a secure location on Earth where they could restrict his abilities. Their smartest move would be to hold him in one of the detention centers where they kept us once if any of them are still operational. We know the locations of them if that’s what they’ve done. It’s also logical they wouldn’t believe we’d willingly risk returning to Earth under any circumstances to retrieve him. It means surprise would be in our favor.”

“If he’s there, what is next? Hacking into their security systems to find him shouldn’t be too difficult. Humans were always too dependent on them to store all their information.” Flint took a deep breath. “It’s getting on and off Earth to break him out that will provide a challenge.”

“We can’t take the Star or the Rally within range of Earth. They obviously know we didn’t legally obtain them after that insurance company tried to retrieve one of them once. They’d send a warship to intercept us as soon as we entered the system.”

Flint’s blue gaze locked on Jill. “Coal did say she’s in the trading business. We could use this shuttle to reach Earth without triggering alarm. They allow Earth ships to land on the planet.”

Jill’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. An instant protest formed but she never got the words out. Coal released her hand and stepped in front of her to block the stare of the other cyborg.

“No. She believes Earth Government has a warrant issued for her arrest. She once had a run-in with a few of them. I won’t put her at risk in any way. Think of something else, Flint. She saved my life and I gave her my word no harm would come to her.”

“Belief and fact are not the same.” Flint’s voice grew cold. “Rescuing Councilman Zorus is paramount.”

“Not to me.” Coal’s body tensed, his arms tightening until the ridges of muscle seemed to strain. “Her safety and well-being are my priority.”

Jill inched to the left a little to peer at the four cyborgs facing off against Coal. Flint had an angry frown fixed on his features and his eyes seemed to darken. He held Coal’s gaze, never even glancing her way, and then crossed his arms.

“I sympathize. I don’t wish any harm to come to the female but we must go after Zorus.”

“Find another way.” Coal’s deep voice sounded his anger. “She’s done enough already to risk her life for a cyborg. That freighter came after this shuttle intent on killing her for taking me away from them. She had no reason to do what she did yet she still stole me from them. I’m sure they reported my theft to Earth Government.”

“That wouldn’t be logical,” Onyx spoke. “She stated the captain of the freighter didn’t hand you over to the authorities and hid your existence. It would be detrimental for them to admit they’d done that. They can’t report a theft of something they refused to state they were in possession of in the first place.”

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