Varis choices, p.1
Vari's Choices, page 1
The Hearts of ICARUS Book Five
Laura Jo Phillips
Copyright © 2016 by Kathleen Honsinger
Cover art/design Copyright © 2016 by Kathleen Honsinger
All rights reserved.
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Other Books by Laura Jo Phillips
The Dracons’ Woman
Book One of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Lobos’ HeartSong
Book Two of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Katres’ Summer
Book Three of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Bearens’ Hope
Book Four of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Gryphon’s Dream
Book Five of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Vulpiran’s Honor
Book Six of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Falcorans’ Faith
Book Seven of the Soul-Linked Saga
The Tigrens’ Glory
Book Eight of the Soul-Linked Saga
Quest for the Moon Orb
The Orbs of Rathira, Book One
Quest for the Sun Orb
The Orbs of Rathira, Book Two
Quest for the Heart Orb
The Orbs of Rathira, Book Three
Mixed Blood, Book One
(Available under the name Kathleen Honsinger)
Mixed Blood, Book Two
Hearts of ICARUS, Book One
Hearts of ICARUS, Book Two
Hearts of ICARUS, Book Three
Hearts of ICARUS, Book Four
Books by Harvey Phillips and Paul Honsinger
To Honor You Call Us
Man of War, Book One
For Honor We Stand
Man of War, Book Two
Brothers In Valor
Man of War, Book Three
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Ten years earlier…
“I do not want to do this,” Declan Dracon growled as soon as they were as far from the house as Princess Lariah’s garden would allow. He and his brothers, Jaydan and Kaidan, were far too upset to notice the small sneaker-clad foot as it slowly withdrew from sight beneath the heavy foliage of a lemon geranium.
“We don’t want to do it either,” Jaydan said quietly. “But we must. After the Princes, we are the eldest Dracon male-set of our line now that Quenton, Sam, and Karl have moved on to the next plane. It’s our duty to fill our brother’s places within Clan Dracon.”
“It feels like we’re trying to replace them,” Declan said, beginning to pace back and forth along the flagstone path. “I don’t think anyone would blame us if we declined.”
“Other than ourselves, probably not,” Jay conceded. Declan grunted, but there was no telling whether he agreed or disagreed with Jay’s statement.
“I’m worried about little Nica,” said Kaidan, the youngest of the brothers, his voice throbbing with sadness. “It seems her poor mind is all but broken.”
“They never should have left Jasan,” Declan retorted. “They should have remained here and watched over her instead of haring off to the far ends of the galaxy.”
“They wanted to allow Nica her childhood, Declan,” Kai said. “It was the right thing to do.”
“It would’ve been better for her to lose a bit of her childhood than to suffer as she is now.” Declan paced away, then back again before stopping in front of Jay and Kai. “I tell you now, my brothers, should we ever be blessed enough to find our berezi, we will remain right here on Jasan with her. We will keep her safe every minute of every day and never let her out of our sight.”
Jay stared at his eldest brother in shock. “You would give up all that we’ve worked so hard for and…do what? Become ranchers?”
“I’d give up anything and everything to keep our berezi safe,” Declan replied heatedly. “That includes keeping ourselves safe once we find her so she never has to suffer as Nica now suffers.”
A long silence fell over the garden, broken only by the whirring sound of jewel-bright hummingbird wings and the occasional lowing of a cow in the distance.
“You’re right, of course,” Jay agreed finally. “There can be nothing more important than the health, safety, and happiness of the one woman meant for us.” He shook his head. “I never would’ve believed I’d willingly give up traveling among the stars to remain in one place, but I would do it for our berezi.”
“Kai?” Declan asked.
“Knowing what Nica is going through, how could I not agree? There is nothing I wouldn’t do for our berezi.”
“It’s agreed then,” Declan said. “When we find our berezi, we will keep her safe no matter what sacrifices we must make.” He raised his left hand toward his brothers, they raised theirs in return, and they clasped hands together in agreement.
After they lowered their arms to their sides Declan hung his head and sighed heavily. Jay and Kai waited for him to regain control of his emotions. When he stiffened his spine and squared his shoulders, they did the same.
“Let’s go tell cousin Garen that we’re honored to accept the rank of Dracon-Bats in our brothers’ stead. Then we can return to our work and attempt to leave this heartache behind us.”
Without another word they made their way back through the garden to the house, never noticing the gold flecked green eyes that followed them every step of the way.
Varia Lobo had just begun eating her breakfast when the unthinkable happened; her psionic jammers suddenly and inexplicably ceased to function. The raw, unfiltered, uncensored, and unrestrained thoughts of roughly two hundred fellow diners slammed into her mind with enough force to cause her vision to gray out.
She bowed her head, clenched her fists, closed her eyes, and forced herself to breathe evenly while struggling to raise a psychic shield against the onslaught. It was nauseatingly difficult to do, but the mental image of herself quivering beneath the table like a squilik surrounded by a pack of baying hunters provided her with enough incentive to keep at it.
Her shield was just strong enough to push the cacophony back to a slightly more manageable roar. Her head still felt like it was about to explode from the pressure, but the explosion no longer felt imminent.
“Vari? What’s wrong?”
She opened her eyes, raised her head slowly, and struggled to bring the woman sitting across the table from her into focus. A Flaridian, Shanti appeared to be human except for her dichromatic coloring. Her long, thick hair was snow white, but her thin, finely arched brows were jet black, as were the thick lashes that surrounded her large, equally black eyes. Her lips and fingernails were also black, in sharp contrast to skin as white as her hair.
Aside from her sisters, Vari
Vari nodded in answer to Shanti’s question, which sent shards of glass ricocheting through her head.
“Don’t give me that,” Shanti said. “Your aura is so dark and cloudy right now I wouldn’t be surprised to see it start raining on your head.”
Vari smiled cautiously, then reached up to tap lightly on the sapphire earring she wore in her left ear. Nothing happened. She tapped the earring in her right earlobe. It didn’t work either. Fear raced up her spine too suddenly for her to quell it. She gritted her teeth and shoved it back into a dark corner of her mind with the ease of long practice.
“Oh no,” Shanti exclaimed softly. “Your jammers aren’t working, are they?”
Vari managed a tiny side to side movement of her head. The pressure of so many minds in such close proximity caused the grip she had on her psychic shield to be too tenuous to attempt speaking.
“You have backups, right?”
Vari dipped her head very carefully.
“I’d offer to go get them for you but you need to get out of here, don’t you?”
Another careful dip of the head.
“Go now. Oh wait…shall I let Ria know what’s happening?”
Vari thought about that. Her middle sister was working the night shift in the Leaper’s infirmary as a junior med tech for the summer, and had probably just gotten to bed. There was nothing Ria could do but worry, and she really needed her sleep. Vari shook her head in a careful side to side movement.
Shanti frowned. “Your aura is getting darker by the second. Maybe I should walk you to your room.”
Vari’s eyes widened at that. Shanti had a very strong mental voice which she often projected without realizing it. It was so strong, in fact, that Vari had heard it despite the jammers on occasion. And that was her accidental mental projection. When she deliberately sent thoughts it tended to cross Vari’s eyes unless they were a great distance from each other. She’d been working with Shanti on controlling it, but when she was upset or stressed, like now, it got away from her. Another slight shake of her head was the best response Vari could make but Shanti understood.
“Yeah, I know, I’d only make it worse,” she said. “I’ll vid you later when you don’t have quite so many people to block.”
Vari managed a tiny nod before slowly and carefully turning her head. She grimaced at the number of people between where she sat, and the exit. The tables were set closely together, which made her nervous because the closer she was to a person, the more strongly she picked up their mental voice.
As bad as that was, it was nothing compared to what would happen if she accidentally came into physical contact with another person. Just thinking about it caused her mouth to go dry. Even if both jammers were working at full capacity they wouldn’t be able to protect her from the pain if that happened.
The cafeteria had only the one exit, which left her with two options. She could either cut straight across the room to the door, or walk around the less populated perimeter. The latter choice would reduce the risk of physical contact, but it would take more than twice as long as going straight across.
The sooner she got out of the cafeteria the better, she decided. Her decision made, Vari stood up and started moving. She wove through the tables, careful to avoid touching or making eye contact with anyone. Her step was unhurried but purposeful, shoulders relaxed, arms at her sides, chin up, expression calm. Looking at her, no one would ever guess that the roar of voices in her mind, punctuated by the amplified thoughts of those she passed closest to, made her head feel like it was in an ever-tightening vise.
By the time she reached the exit her heart was pounding and she felt a bit dizzy because she’d forgotten to breathe for the last half dozen or so steps. Once she was through the door and into the corridor she wanted nothing more than to collapse against the wall in relief, but she was still far too close to far too many people.
Thankfully, the early hour meant that the majority of the twelve thousand five hundred passengers and twenty five hundred crew and service personnel aboard the Leaper were still asleep. She wondered briefly what it would have been like if her jammers had failed while the cafeteria was filled to capacity, and shuddered. It probably would have killed her.
Maintaining her relaxed, unruffled appearance out of sheer habit, she made her way across the Leaper’s main deck to the stairs situated next to the bank of elevators near the center of the ship. Vari rarely used elevators because once inside, she had no control over how many people would crowd into it before she was able to get off again. Being hemmed in on all sides with two, three, or even four strangers less than a hair’s breadth from brushing against her was a scene straight out of one of her worst nightmares.
She pulled open the stairwell door, went down one flight, then exited. As she worked her way steadily along the length of the ship, putting distance between herself and the cafeteria, less and less noise penetrated her shield. By the time she reached the door to her stateroom near the stern, the painful roar had become a loud but much more tolerable hum, and some of the pressure in her head had eased.
She pressed her thumb to the print scanner and pushed the door open the moment she heard the lock disengage. After locking the door behind herself she went straight to the tiny bathroom with its equally tiny fixtures and splashed handful after handful of cold water on her face.
“Vari? What’s the matter?”
Vari turned off the water and reached for a towel to dry her face. When she lowered the towel she turned toward the bathroom doorway where a tiny woman no more than three inches tall with long blond hair, pale blue eyes, and two pair of narrow, semi-transparent wings hovered.
“You don’t look so good,” the tiny woman said before landing on the edge of the bathroom sink. She tugged her long, black and white striped dress out of a small puddle of water with a half-hearted sigh.
“My jammers malfunctioned,” Vari said, hanging the towel on the rack.
“Malfunctioned in what way?”
“They stopped working, Pandora. Completely.”
Her wet hem forgotten, Pandora immediately rose up to hover in front of Vari’s face again so she could get a closer look at her. “You’re in a lot of pain.”
“It’s not so bad now that I’m away from the cafeteria.”
Pandora’s eyes narrowed. “How many people were in there?”
“About two hundred.”
“I suddenly find your tendency to awaken hours before the sun to be rather less annoying than usual.”
“There is no sun, Pandora,” Vari said while bending down to get her toiletries case from the cabinet under the sink. “We’re in space, remember?”
“Of course I remember,” Pandora sniffed. “You know what I meant.”
“Yes, I know what you meant,” Vari agreed as she carried the toiletries case out of the bathroom. It took only three steps to reach the narrow cot euphemistically referred to as a bed, where she sat down.
“You had them all tuned and tested before we left Jasan, didn’t you?”
“Yes, as usual,” Vari said, glancing up at Pandora who was just settling on the bedside table. “They were all certified to be in perfect working order.”
“That’s good then,” Pandora said with relief. “I’m sure the backups will be just fine.”
Vari opened the case and unzipped the compartment that contained the backup jammers, each set appearing to be nothing more than a pair of sapphire post earrings identical to those she currently wore. She selected a pair and switched them out with the ones that had failed in the cafeteria.
Her heart skipped a beat when she discovered that they didn’t work. She reached for the last set with trembling fingers, somehow knowing that they wouldn’t wo
“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Pandora said worriedly.
“No, it hasn’t. I’ve never had one malfunction in any way. Now all six fail at the same time. This can’t possibly be a coincidence.” She looked up at Pandora again. “Maybe you should check…you know.”
“Yes, I agree.” Pandora’s eyes grew unfocused while Vari watched, and waited. After what felt like a very long time but was really no more than a minute, Pandora blinked. “There is nothing to indicate that anything wrong is at work here. And before you ask I checked with them. They agree.”
“Thank you, Pandora,” Vari said, then stared down at the two pair of jammers in her hand. “I can’t think of a single reason for this to happen. Can you?”
“No, Vari, I’m sorry,” Pandora said.
Vari returned the extra jammers to the compartment in her toiletries case. “So now what?”
“You can’t remain on the Leaper without at least one jammer, Vari. There are just too many people on this ship.”
Vari nodded, knowing Pandora was right. The pain and pressure in her head was less than what it’d been in the cafeteria, but it wasn’t gone. As the other passengers on the Leaper awoke and began congregating in the public areas one deck above her, the pain she’d experienced in the cafeteria was going to seem like a minor irritation. Her shield was nowhere near strong enough to block so many people. The best she could do was use her shield to quiet the mental voices that reached her, which she was already doing. Unfortunately, it took a lot of effort to hold her shield in place. The more tired she became, the weaker the shield would get until, inevitably, she wouldn’t be able to hold it at all. Staying in her stateroom would help a great deal, but she could only put so much distance between herself and the other passengers within the confines of the ship.
by Laura Jo Phillips have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes