As Queen’s Physician, Charlotte had enjoyed every luxury Londonium had to offer as well as full backing for every scientific exploration she’d ever wanted to undertake. Yet she’d never crashed a ship on an unknown planet before.
“Another thing I need to learn,” she muttered, pushing up out of the cupboard into which she’d tumbled.
Sig was sprawled on the floor and half buried by rubble. From the brief look she’d gotten at his chest before the crash, she didn’t hesitate to grab the small black case containing her most prized research. Tossing the broken panel and twisted hull aside, she called out to him. “Sig? Are you still with me?”
“Charlie.” He tried to laugh but his chest wheezed like a ghastly broken pipe organ. “Did we make it?”
She dug into her case and pulled out a pair of sharp scissors to cut open his lawn shirt. A pity, because the fine linen and delicate hand-woven lace looked like it’d come straight from Parisii. “A bit worse for wear, I’m afraid. I hope you weren’t terribly fond of Henry for I’ve broken him beyond repair.” She kept her voice light and cheerful, despite the severity of his wound. Any other physician would merely make him comfortable until his final moments. But not I. “What manner of planet have you sent me to, Lord Regret?”
“A rebellious colony.” Not good. The shard had pierced his heart, possibly beyond even her repair. “It won’t surprise me if Majel simply blows the entire planet out of the sky for their audacity.”
“Safest I could find on such short notice.” His voice weakened, breathy with pain. His pulse fluttered in his throat, frantic and uneven. “Don’t bother, Charlie. I know it’s bad.”
As if to illustrate his words, he wrapped his hand around the shard and yanked it out of his chest. Blood spurted immediately, his life draining away in an alarming fountain.
Planting her right hand over the wound, she laid the precious glass tube out on his heaving chest. Inside, tiny bits of silver metal glinted in the emergency lights. She leaned down over him so he could see her face despite his weakened senses. “I can save you, if you want to live.”
“Too many regrets,” he whispered, his words stumbling together until she could barely understand him. “Let me die.”
She hesitated, searching his face. The lines of pain eased about his eyes, smoothing into acceptance. He’d risked his reputation as the galaxy’s most famous assassin to help her. He could have left her at Pier 371. He could have tossed her to the bounty hunter and escaped unscathed.
But he didn’t.
How can I stand by and watch him die without at least trying?
She flipped the cork out of the tube. She removed her hand from his chest, braced for spraying blood, but he’d already lost too much. In the open wound, she could see the torn remains of his heart and the white of broken bone. Into that cavity, she sprinkled the metal bits from the tube.
All of them. The more assemblers in his body, the more likely they can repair the damage before he dies.
She pulled out the datapad and typed in simple commands. Heart. Infection. Blood loss. Her assemblers weren’t sentient, so without programming, they’d simply be bits of debris in his wound. While they worked their magic, she gave him a shot for pain. At least he’d be comfortable if they failed. Then she spilled a bio-bandage over the wound and hoped for the best.
Settling back on her heels, she closed her eyes and allowed emotion to wash through her for one brief, luxurious moment. Relief, joy, terror, heart-pumping adrenaline. Her hands trembled, and with no one to see her moment of weakness, she even allowed a few tears to fall. She was so close to freedom! So close to losing the man who’d helped make it all possible. So close to death herself. But at least I’ll die fighting for my freedom, not trapped in the Tower while Majel scribbles down every secret her torturers yank out of me.
With that out of her system, she forced herself up and moving. She couldn’t assume the bounty hunter had given up on them so quickly. They were down in strange territory, helpless, unable to flee, and one of their party severely wounded. If they had to make a run for it, she needed to gather the most crucial supplies. There was nothing else she could do for Sig at the moment, although she couldn’t help stealing glances at him to see if he were still breathing.
Packets of food. Every weapon she could find. Anything she might be able to sell or trade for information or protection. She had a tidy pile by Sig when she heard the first rustling and cracks of undergrowth outside the ship. Arming herself with a lazor he’d thoughtfully installed beneath Henry’s main dash, she wiped all emotion from her face, hit the button to open the hatch, and walked outside with all the regal confidence of the Duchess of Wyre.
“Hello, there!” She called in her most imperious voice as though summoning the butler for her afternoon tea. “We need assistance immediately.”
A man stepped out of the shadows, crossing the torn earth and smoldering tracks of their crashing descent. He approached with hands palm up and empty, his manner hesitant despite his lumbering giant-like size. She kept the lazor hidden against her skirts, ready to slice his head off if he even thought about attacking them. His much larger bulk wouldn’t matter one iota against the razor-sharp weapon. Dressed in a strange mishmash of furs and leathers with the skin of some small rodent wrapped around his head, he appeared to be a colonist, not the bounty hunter who’d shot them down.
“Are you hurt, my lady?”
English, at least. She could thank her lucky stars a Britannian colony had been close, although she hoped the colonists weren’t too sympathetic to Her Majesty’s command. Americus had been the first colony to attempt to cast off Majel’s yoke. If she hadn’t been busy wiping out the Razari, she might have already destroyed Americus’s pitiful little rebellion.
“No, but my companion is. Do you have shelter nearby?”
“Only my cabin, my lady. I’m afraid we’re several klicks from any real civilization.”
Perfect. She stepped aside to allow him to peek inside the ship at Sig. “That’ll do. What’s your name, sir?”
“Gage, my lady. I’m no bloodletter, but your friend doesn’t look well at all.”
Briskly, she gathered up her research equipment and as much of their provisions as she could carry. “Bloodletting is for ignorant fools who know nothing better. Now make yourself useful and help me get my friend to safety.”
The man easily scooped Sig into his arms like a child, emphasizing his bear-like size. I have no contacts in this place. My title and House cannot help me here. All I have are my research—which I daren’t use too openly else Majel will catch wind of it—my feminine wiles, and my wits.
Putting as much seductive sway as possible into her hips, she stepped out of the wreck and cast a flirtatious glance back at Gage. The poor bumbling man gaped at her like she’d sprouted another head and almost dropped Sig.
It’s a damned good thing I’ve been blessed with a brain.