heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 23

Capri had sat down on the floor again, back against the bed, and she remained there. She felt vulnerable enough as it was. She didn’t want to shower when she had nothing else to put on. Her mind was foggy with exhaustion and drifting, and she was perfectly content to stare at the wall while she waited for Brody’s return.

She’d never been in control of her own life. The small freedoms she’d managed to obtain had always been within the parameters of someone else’s rules. There was a certain comfort in it. Now, far from Mars, with no direction, she felt lost.

Brody was very different from the guard she’d briefly known, but he was a familiar face. Whether she liked it or not, he’d tell her what to do. And in this moment that was all she wanted. Some glimpse into her future. Some purpose.

A knock sounded on the door. She stood to answer it, but it wasn’t Brody. A man younger than the gunman stood in the corridor. He had a fresh face and thick, curly hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. He held a metal object in one hand and a few pieces of clothing in another, and he looked just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.

He recovered somewhat and offered a sheepish smile. “Shots said he had a girl on board, but I didn’t realize it was one of…well, you.

Then his eyes moved lower, and she was reminded of the blood on her dress. Her cheeks grew hot, and her smile waned.

“Are those for me?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah.”

He blushed and handed over the shirt and pants. She took them gratefully. There was something she liked about him. Something honest and endearing. She gestured to the object in his hand.

“What’s that?”
 
He glanced down, seeming to have forgotten it was there. “Oh.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s a part from the ship.”

Capri raised her eyebrows. She didn’t know much about space travel and ships, but she was pretty sure all the parts were supposed to be attached.

“It’s nothing important,” he assured her quickly. “The cockpit door is broken. They never close it, but they want it fixed.”

He shook his head slightly, clearly thinking the task was a waste of his time.

“So you’re a mechanic, then?”

“Yeah, I am.” She could tell he took pride in his work. “Jax, my brother, he’s the pilot. The captain’s the captain, and you already know Shots. That’s everybody on board. Except for you.”

Capri smiled, and it was genuine. He was chatty. Guileless. He put her at ease, and she was grateful for that.

“If you need anything, just ask,” he said. “I get bored. It’s nice to have a new face.”

“Thank you.”

He raised his hand in a brief wave before continuing down the corridor. She closed the door and locked it. Then, she squeezed into the small bathroom, stripped, and showered. She used the soap she found there—Brody’s soap—and the steam and the scent of him made everything hazy. She scrubbed dried blood from her skin, from under her nails, trying to ignore the images of the massacre that kept flashing in her mind. But she couldn’t stop them. Soon she was gasping for air. She rinsed quickly and opened the shower door, then the bathroom door, desperate to escape the oppressive steam.

The silence that greeted her was deafening. She felt so tired and so alone. She shivered, dried, and dressed in the borrowed clothes. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d worn pants. Maybe never. The fabric between her thighs felt strange. The t-shirt was white, nearly see-through where her skin was still damp. He’d also loaned her a jacket, and she donned that as well.

Capri looked in the mirror. She barely recognized herself.

With trembling hands, she finger-combed her hair and wove the precious metal beads back into her long curls, holding onto that one, small piece of the self that she knew. But the extra effort just looked silly with her pale, drawn face and drab clothing. She pulled it back into a ponytail and climbed into the top bunk. She didn’t feel right sleeping on Brody’s mattress, but she needed to lie down.

*

Capri had nightmares again. This time, there was more blood and there were lifeless faces. Bony hands reached for her, not to touch her, not in that way, but to kill her. Faceless men polished guns. She was in the upper dining hall. Every figure on the dais was a skeleton. She was two feet from the exit, but she could never reach it.

There was a gunshot. She should have woken up then, but she didn’t. She just stayed there, in mid-air, terror tight in her stomach, unable to move in the real world or the dream.

Maybe she was dead. Maybe it was true that if a person died in a dream they’d die in real life. Maybe the afterlife was just this—standing still forever with nothing but terrified thoughts for company.

Capri managed to pull herself out of it. The sound of a cry bounced off the metal walls of the room, her own voice like a stranger calling back to her. She sat up and shivered. She hadn’t turned off the light. A glance at the bottom bunk confirmed that Brody had never returned to the room.

It was too bright and too quiet. She didn’t know the layout of the ship or if she was allowed to leave the room, but she had to get out of there. A glance at the clock told her that it was two o’clock in the morning, U.N. time.

She got down from the bunk clumsily. She’d never had to climb up or down from anything high without a helping hand. Not since before she could remember, anyway. She pressed a button on the panel, and the door slid open. It was silent and dark except for a security light in the hall. She glanced at the doors to her right and decided they were probably more living quarters. The door across from Brody’s was closed, and she left it that way.

But the next one was open. The dim light from the hallway landed on a refrigerator. Her stomach growled, so she headed in that direction. She banged into a chair and cursed under her breath.

Apparently if she was taken out of her element she wasn’t so graceful after all. Another reason she needed to get back to Mars. She felt so out of place here.

She opened the door and hesitated. She wasn’t sure what she was allowed to eat, or if she was allowed to eat, but she was starving. She grabbed a container of cheese and dried fruit and a beer. Something to take the edge off the hunger and something to take the edge off the pain.

“Offerin’ to open my brew for me?” came a deep, rumbling voice.

Capri nearly dropped the glass bottle and whirled around to find Brody sitting casually at the dining table, watching her. He’d been there the whole time, and the corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk. Capri straightened, cheeks burning. She narrowed her eyes and took a deliberate gulp before answering.

“It isn’t as if I had time to pack. For now, your ‘brew’ is my brew.”

“You’re lucky I just finished cleaning my gun.”

Capri sat down in the chair across from him with some trepidation. His freshly-cleaned gun was there, in the center of the table, so close she could touch it. But Brody didn’t reach for it. His body language was relaxed, non-threatening. She wondered suddenly what would happen if she grabbed the gun. She’d been around them nearly all her life, but she’d never held one. She’d never hurt someone.

She looked away, took a sip of beer, and opened the container of food. Brody still watched her. If he’d noticed her brief fascination he didn’t mention it.

“Jax’ll be pissed you’re eating his stock,” he said.

“At you, maybe.” She glanced up and popped a square of cheese in her mouth. “Did you talk to the captain?”

“You’ll be back safe in your little Mars apartment in a week.”

Capri stopped mid-chew. She’d thought they would turn the ship around immediately. She swallowed, trying not to let him see how far the news made her heart fall. He seemed to enjoy catching her in weak moments, like it was a game to him.

“A week?” She sounded disappointed, even to her own ears. But she didn’t argue. Once again, she had no choice.

“Ekon can come for you—and me—if he’d like. But I doubt he will. Too much else goin’ on right now. That’s the next time the ship will be passin’ through.”

Capri looked down at her borrowed clothes. She’d be in this strange limbo, on this strange ship, with these strange people, for a week. She fought the urge to cry. The food had lost its taste, but she finished eating it.

“You’re not a prisoner,” Brody said after a short silence. “You can go where you like. Just stay outta the cockpit and other bunks. I’ll keep you fed.”

Capri’s eyes shot up. Keep her fed. Like she was a child or an animal. She stood to throw the trash down the garbage chute. Then she downed the rest of the beer and tossed it in as well.

“Are you coming back to the room?” she asked.

“Why? You got somethin’ in mind?” He smirked, but his eyes were dark with something that made Capri’s heart beat fast, even as annoyance flared at the presumption. She was sure that if she made the invitation he would go to bed with her. Maybe she’d find comfort there. But she said nothing and waited for him to respond.

“I gotta keep the ship on course.”

She nodded and returned to the room alone.

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