The zuu pounded dully under Eriphet's skin as he docked the shuttle. Despite his growing concern regarding the Mituants, the Grand Dragon was enjoying the pathetic sounds the human Captain made, gagged and tied up to face his dead mate. Attachment was indeed the root of all cowardice.
The Phyrnosian was glad now that he'd walked away from Phado when she'd sought him.
He still twinged at the loss of Mak; he'd been a promising soldier, one who could be counted on. But what skill was required to die? Even a skinbag could do it. They could have sent-
An idea bloomed in his head. The skinbags could do it. They would deliver the skinbags to the Mituants!
It was perfect. The creatures shut down when they were digesting. The humans' AI ships had said as much. How long would they quiet if he delivered them the human camp in entirety?
He looked at Howl Johnson, who still stared at the remains of his mate. The man's mind was gone. It seemed humans had no more than a thread tying them to sanity. Fragile, undeveloped race.
He wondered if he were really about to see Qabal, his paiparoh, again. The revolutionary had never been around when Eriphet was young. Her children were raised by legend, his mairo used to brag. But that paled in learning at your pairo's knee.
He pulled the captain up by his hair, and entered his port dragging him by his side. Officers studded the entryway, watching Eriphet pass with the man in hand. He had a reputation. This would only burnish it. And his plan! He would go down in legend as a Dragon worthy of the name.
He would outfit Howl with a controller to override his mind. There were Phodiine defects who'd created such things-devices that latched into a brain and lived there. Howl Johnson would speak and act just as Eriphet wished. He'd trade the man for Qabal and then use Howl to bait the Mituants.
The man twitched. There was no telling how long he'd last. You heard stories about skinbags dying from grief. Such strange, useless creatures.
Such perfect bait.
Vince shifted restlessly. He stood outside the circle of ships, waiting to make the exchange. Qabal sat before him, heavy-jawed and unblinking, his scales rough enough to tear skin. All looked the same to the Knife. If this one was the Valkyrie's father, how old did that make it? The skin around its eyes was creased, but it didn't look old, exactly. The Phyrnosians were bizarre beings. But, he reflected, much more interesting on the inside than on the outside. They were filled with all that goo.
He longed to open this one up and spill its guts on the ground. If the thing ran, he promised himself, he would. Although that could mean death for Howl. Jesus, there was a thing. Poor Demma. Rushing onto the shuttle the way she had.
When she'd done that, he knew she'd never come back alive Pretty little Demma. Dead as a doornail. War was no place for women. And Howl knew that, too. He'd give the man what for when he came back. When Howl was to rights again, that is. They would get the little girl off the ship, and Gillian too.
The Phyrnosian lifter came towards him, flanked by big Evoks and trailed after by shuttles. The Knife cocked his gun at Qabal's motionless, glittering head. "Give me the captain or Qabal gets it," he said. The Evoks were trying to gust some emotion at him: peace or goodwill, something like that. But the Knife was immune to smell. He'd rooted that out a long time ago. There were lots of things a knife was good for.
The driver nodded. A door slid open and Johnson was dumped limply into the sand.
"Howl?" Vince said, not taking his eyes off Qabal, who still squatted motionlessly before him. "You okay, brother?"