1.8 To Die Well [concluded]

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*** This chapter continues from last week. I'm stoked to see some new readers! Feel free to leave comments; I will respond. During the next two weeks, I'll be traveling with a group and may miss a Monday post, but I will make every effort to stay on schedule. ***

Alex was startled to see Cherise brandishing a blaster glove. The high-tech weapon fit her hand, although it didn't quite fit the pirate-like outfit she'd sewn and knotted together. She looked ready to shoot someone.

"Do we get a choice?" she asked.

Thomas looked ashamed, unable to meet her gaze. "I don't want to die from torture," he said in a defeated tone. "If that makes me a coward, then fine. I'm a coward."

His hand hovered over the display. Ariock watched carefully; all Thomas had to do was gesture, and he could send them on a suicidal course towards the sun.

"We're going to die, no matter what," Thomas said with resignation. "Better a fast death. It will rob the Torth of their triumph." He reached for navigation icon. "I'm sorry."

With two fingers, Alex pushed Thomas away from the controls. The hoverchair glided like a boat.

Thomas glared in outrage, and Alex wondered if he was bullying a disabled kid for no good reason. After all, Thomas surely had a good grasp of the situation. He must know what was best for all of them.

Spontaneous combustion was better than losing oneself in prison arena combats, reduced to a slavish, bloodthirsty animal. Alex knew that well enough.

"He wants death," Cherise said, glaring towards Thomas. "He wants us to die. Like him. I think he's wanted that for a while."

Some of the ummin refugees picked up her attitude, and studied Thomas with suspicion.

"I never wanted this." Thomas's voice was pleading. "I should have ... I'm sorry. I failed you."

As if their situation was solely his responsibility. Alex should have guessed that their stolen ship was a trap. His sense of impending disaster had gone dormant for a few days, but it had never gone away. That should have been enough of a hint that something was wrong.

He had sacrificed Duin, and his mother, for freedom. Innocent people had lost their lives because of him. Was it all for nothing?

Alex studied the array of warships. When he imagined another high-stakes, high-casualty battle, he was angry. The Torth wanted to force him to slaughter hundreds or thousands of people?

Maybe they didn't know what they were asking for.

Alex pushed himself to his feet, towering over everyone. "If the Torth force me to fight," he said, "I will give them a war."

Kessa and Margo and a few other people looked worried, and Thomas clearly wasn't impressed, but Alex felt certain. Deep down, he'd thought of his peaceful future on a reject planet as a fantasy. Unreal. His past on Earth had been peaceful ... and he had stagnated there, as unsuited to peace as Thomas was unsuited to spending all day in classes at school.

When Alex had unleashed his Yeresunsa powers in the spaceport, he had felt truly alive and powerful for the first and only time in his life. That meant something. Despite the disaster, it had felt right to him. And he had barely tapped whatever potential was within himself.

"If I die fighting," he said, "then I will die well."

Weptolyso gave him a fervent look, puffed up, and snorted agreement. "I fight with you. If you die, I die." He snaked his head in a nussian salute.

Alex returned the salute with a grateful nod. "What about you?" he asked the crowd. "Do you want a quick death?" He gestured towards Thomas. "Or do you want a fighting chance?"

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