heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 43

Capri awoke with a start in the middle of the night, unable to remember the details of her dream. All she knew was there had been blood, a cage, endless space, and the feeling of falling. She hugged her knees and looked around the dimly-lit apartment. Once, it had been her home and a relatively safe place.

Now, the replica of Saint Theresa seemed mocking. The subtle sounds and smells of nature were glaringly artificial. She’d experienced freedom. She’d experienced reality. Nothing else would do.

Capri stood and dressed. She wouldn’t fall back asleep. She wanted to do something useful, something other than sitting and waiting to hear from Colin about how he planned to free his gunman. She’d lost her hold over Ekon. Who else could she turn to? Who else would listen?

Haddaway was in his fifties, rugged, and gray-haired, but no one questioned his strength. His authority was absolute. As far as Capri knew, he was a good man, a fair man. If he wouldn’t come to her, then she would go to him.

A guard stood outside of her door.

“Where are you going?” he asked, but he didn’t seem as if he planned to stop her.

“To the garden,” she smiled wanly. “I can’t sleep.”

He nodded and let her go. She walked away, expecting him to state her whereabouts through his linker, but she heard nothing. It struck her as odd. Why was he there, if it wasn’t to keep tabs on her?

She counted herself lucky and headed down the stairs to the next floor. Another guard was stationed at the door.

“Welcome back, Lady Capri,” the woman said kindly, hands loose around her rifle. “Where are you off to this time of night?”

“The garden,” Capri answered again, and again the guard nodded and let her go.

The heightened security made her feel uneasy, but no one detained her. She forced herself to continue through the halls. Asking to see the head of security wasn’t strictly forbidden, but it was an unspoken rule and Ekon was already unhappy with her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to take any chances with Brody’s fate—or her own—by telling the guards the truth.

She reached the floor for the garden and hesitated. She’d intended to bypass it, but there was another guard, and he nodded to her. He was unsurprised by her appearance, even though Capri had never heard them alert one another.

If she’d known where to find Haddaway, she might have tried to bluff her way to him. He was either on duty, which meant he could be anywhere, or he’d be in his quarters, which she assumed were on the first floor. That was where Ekon housed the people he preferred to have close by. But she had no way of knowing for sure.

She quickly made the decision to stick to her story and enter the humid, botanical paradise. There was an exit on the other side. Maybe she could go that way and still achieve her goal.

She walked briskly along the winding path through the labeled trees and plants, but she found herself feeling uneasy again. She slowed her steps. The artificial atmosphere in the room was made so that the plants grew as naturally as possible, with night and day cycles, and now it appeared to be nighttime, dark and moonlit. Eerie.

She was not banned from walking in the garden at night. She and every other lady had always been allowed to go wherever they liked—but now she knew that was only because Ekon had made their world so small. None of them would think to go anywhere other than the places he was comfortable with. They would explore the garden, library, or dining hall. They would call on each other. The idea of venturing elsewhere was absurd.     

At least, it had been.

She stopped, heart aching with the hopelessness that had to plague all caged creatures. She was being herded, forced to remain in the confines of the familiar. On the other side of the garden would be another guard. He or she would wish her a good night and offer to walk her back to her room.

Her mission had already failed.

Still, she didn’t want to make it easy for them. She wasn’t ready to admit defeat. So she wandered. There was a small waterfall, tall trees, and exotic plants. It was the only place on Mars besides the menagerie where living birds and bees could be found in something like a natural habitat. The garden was peaceful.

Capri reached out to brush the leaves with her fingertips as she passed, eyeing a tall, purple flower with mild curiosity. Aconite, the label read. After a while, she was aware of someone else. Her faith in the guards was weak. They’d proven themselves to be as useful as a security blanket—a brilliant defense against invisible monsters but useless against real ones. They were there to keep the girls in, not the monsters out.

All of them except for Brody.

She shivered despite the warmth and pretended not to notice as the footsteps grew closer. Whoever it was matched her steps, trying to remain unnoticed.

Despite the fact they were alone together, they never came closer than about twenty paces. She had two options: try to reach an exit and ask a guard to escort her back or confront the person.

She came upon a long stretch of faux-cobblestone path and whirled around. Her stalker made no move to hide, and the fake moonlight was enough for her to make an identification.

“Haddaway,” she greeted, keeping her voice even so he wouldn’t realize how scared she’d been. “Just the man I was hoping to see.”

His eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Is that so?”

“Yes.”

“You were going the wrong way.”

“I wasn’t sure where to find you.”

“I doubt they would have let you through the main entrance.” His smile was terse. “I live off the main street, in an apartment with my wife and youngest son.”

Capri’s initial reaction was surprise, then embarrassment. She’d never given any thought to his home life. Why wouldn’t he be married? Maybe she saw people as objects, too, at times. Haddaway had been there to serve the needs of the palace and nothing more, until this moment.

“I was home when I received a message that you were roaming the halls and acting strangely,” Haddaway continued, not bothering to mask his exasperation.

Capri frowned. They were keeping close tabs on her after all.

“I won’t keep you long,” she said. “Can anyone hear us?”

“Not unless I want them to.”

“Tell me what they’ll do to Brody and how I can stop it.”

Annoyance flickered across Haddaway’s face. She doubted he appreciated being put on the spot when he should have been at home in a nice, warm bed next to his wife. But Capri’s own bed was cold, her heart ached, and she couldn’t muster the sympathy he probably deserved. She held her breath.

“There’s nothing, Capri. He admitted it. His DNA was inside of you. Ekon wants him dead.”

Pain lanced through her heart with surprising intensity, and she looked away to ensure she kept her composure. “How long does he have?” she asked.

“Maybe a few days. I won’t do it. Ekon won’t get his hands dirty. He’ll have to call in some rebel gun-for-hire, since he’s bent on killing the one he used before.”

Silence stretched between them. She was stuck on one detail: the one he used before. Capri realized for the first time that Brody had been the one to kill Sullivan. It was one more link in the chain connecting them.

Haddaway watched her intently, as if trying to read her mind.

“There’s no way to stop it?” she asked.

“Nothing short of breaking him out.”

“Would you stop me?”

Haddaway shook his head, but it wasn’t in response to her question. It was an admonishment. “Don’t get in over your head, Capri. You’re already on thin ice with the King. You’d never make it down there, and even if you did you’d just be in trouble, too.”

“What else could he do to me? Send me away like Alexander?”

Haddaway was silent, and Capri swallowed. She wondered suddenly if Alexander had been sent away at all. Haddaway spoke again, before her imagination could run away entirely.

“Is that what you want?”

Capri hesitated. Too much of his allegiance remained with Ekon. Complete honesty wasn’t an option. Once her business here was done, she had every intention of leaving. In the beginning, she’d thought she might be able to convince Ekon to let her go willingly, but he’d made it clear that he wouldn’t. “You belong to me, Capri. Flaws and all.” She’d never once thought, however, that he might kill her if she tried to run. There were so many beauties. What did it matter if they stayed or went once he was done with them?
But it seemed to matter very much.

“I have ties here.” Capri chose her words carefully. “I don’t want to go anywhere.” Yet, she omitted.

Haddaway shook his head, frustrated and tired. He massaged the bridge of his nose. “You mean Shots? You can’t get involved with him. You think you love him? He loves you?”

Capri’s face flamed. “It isn’t just about him,” she said sharply, cutting off his train of thought. He was asking questions she couldn’t afford to consider.

“Who then?”

“Marianne,” she said.

“Marianne,” he repeated, incredulous. “You have ties to Marianne? You hate each other.”

“I didn’t say they were friendly.” She took a deep, steadying breath. “I believe she orchestrated my rape. I want to stay here to find out the truth and see justice done. That involves you as well, doesn’t it?”
Haddaway was silent, but she could see that his brain was working. He was checking facts, going over the years-old incident, trying to figure out if it could be true or if Capri had lost her mind during her short absence. Or did he think she was trying to distract him?

She could tell from the look on his face he had come to the same conclusion she had: that it was not only possible but probable.

“Don’t get in over your head,” he said again, voice softer now.

Capri’s gaze narrowed. “You won’t do anything about it? Ekon can’t possibly ignore this. He can’t let something like this go unpunished, even if I’ve fallen out of favor.”

“Ekon can do whatever he likes, Capri,” Haddaway answered flatly. “He’s the King.”

It was what Briony had said to her the night before he bedded her, and she closed her eyes against the pain of disappointment. “You think he’ll keep the peace with Marianne rather than address the scandal?”

“I know he will.”

“Then I’ll go to the U.N. He can only get away with so much.”

Haddaway grabbed her by the arm and leaned in close, looking slightly panicked. Maybe he wasn’t as confident in their privacy as he’d seemed.

“He will never let you escape again, Capri. He will kill you first. I can do nothing. Ekon will do nothing. If the U.N. knew, they would do nothing, too. You have to believe me. You have no idea how this place operates, not really. There is nothing to be done about Shots. There is nothing to be done about Marianne. Just stay put, play by the rules, and try to enjoy the gifts you’ve been given.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked. “You play by the rules and just hope he doesn’t decide to make you the next scapegoat?”

He shook his head and stepped back. “I’ve got my family to think about. I’m not a hero.”

“I can see that.”

He ignored the jibe. “I’ll take you back to your room.”

Capri let him, fighting despair. Haddaway wouldn’t help. Ekon wouldn’t help. She would just have to find a way to help herself.

*

Capri stepped off the elevator. Haddaway made eye contact with the guard on duty and nodded, as much a warning to keep an eye on her as a greeting. She didn’t give either of them a second glance and entered her apartment.

Her head was buzzing with lack of sleep and swirling emotion. All she wanted to do was fall into her comfortable bed and escape reality for a few sweet hours. Instead, she found Briony sitting on the edge of the mattress in her dressing gown, back straight and legs crossed, mouth pinched with worry. She didn’t stand, but she looked at her lady.

“Where have you been?”

Capri glanced at the clock by her bed. She’d been gone for two hours. At the U.N., the sun would just be rising.

“I went for a walk,” she answered, sitting carefully next to her friend.

A knock sounded on the door, and Briony stood to answer it. She returned with a tray of tea, fruit, and soft-boiled eggs. Capri had gone to the alcove to pour a glass of wine. She sat with her friend, who eyed her drink of choice dubiously.

“I’m going back to sleep,” Capri explained. “I’m very tired.”

Briony took a sip of steaming liquid from one delicate cup. After spending time on an industrial ship with only the bare essentials, even that tiny china cup seemed absurd.            

She watched her friend for a moment and considered opening up to her, but she was worried her frustration, anger, and sadness would make her say something hurtful. She felt too much like she had after she was raped, when she was angry at the world and Briony took the brunt of it.

She deserved more than that side of her, and Capri wasn’t sure she could give it.

After talking with Haddaway, she was tired and disheartened. She needed sleep and time to think. Briony, however, did not seem inclined to let her rest.

“What happened on that ship?” she asked. “You had sex with someone? Willingly?”

Capri swirled the dark red liquid around in her glass and watched the ripples. “Yes.”

Briony paused. She seemed to sense they were on tenuous ground.

“Was it the man that took you? The big one?”

“Yes.”

“You have…feelings for him?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

The question was gentle, but Capri bristled. The blond suspected she’d been brainwashed.

She drained her glass. “Yes.”

“Capri.” Briony reached out to cover Capri’s hand with her own.

She pulled away. She’d scream or cry and she didn’t want to do either. She tried to ignore the hurt look on her friend’s face.

“I’m just trying to understand,” Briony said. “I’m your friend. Help me understand.”

Capri stared at her empty glass, too tired or tipsy to defend against her friend’s gentle assault.

“He used to be a guard for the palace,” she said finally. “The one who caught Sullivan. He won the last auction.”

“The one who rejected you?” Briony was trying to keep up with the bombardment of unexpected information.

“Yes. He didn’t know it would be me, and he couldn’t go through with it. I think he took me away from the party because he was trying to save me again, to save someone. Whatever the reason, we came to an understanding. We had sex. He’s the first man I’ve ever wanted to be with and now he might die for it.”

Her voice was bitter but not bitter enough to hide the waver at the end of her words.

“Oh, Capri,” Briony breathed. “I am so sorry.”

She wrapped her in a hug, and Capri bit her lip, struggling to keep her emotions in check.

“I’m tired,” she said.

Briony stood. “I’ll let you sleep.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *