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 The interior of the Atlantean shuttle looks sterile and at the same time strangely old-fashioned, with wall panels alternating orichalcum and another pale material embossed in decorative ornate spiraling designs. Smoke is pouring from one of the wall panels, and there is a fire burning on the floor and engulfing three side panels in one end, throwing orange-red light at the other walls, the floor, and sloping ceiling. It’s a single large chamber, with six central seats in a rotating suspension harness and a control panel hovering before the seventh command chair.

All the seats are empty except one.

I see an Atlantean with pale golden hair, slumped over in the command chair. He is wearing the usual grey uniform, and with an awful sinking feeling, I approach and see the black armband on his sleeve.

It’s Aeson Kass.

He appears dead.

My temples are already pounding wildly, with panic. And now they go into overdrive. At the same time, this terrible, indescribable odd sense of regret comes over me. . . .

I rush toward him, and I take him by his shoulders, raise him up, push him carefully against the back of his chair, and his head lolls to the side. I see his forehead is covered with blood, and his metallic hair is streaking crimson, demonic in the growing flames.

His eyes are closed . . . even now in these insane moments I notice the dark fringe of lashes and the wonderfully exotic lines drawn around the eyelids in kohl—or something else, whatever it is that they use—darkly outlining his eyes, and the lapis tint over his perfectly shaped eyebrows.

I reach with my trembling fingers and feel for a pulse in his wrists, the muscles of his throat—do Atlanteans even have a frigging pulse in the same places we do? Of course they do, what an idiotic thought. And yet I find nothing, or else I don’t know how to properly look for a pulse. At least his skin is warm to the touch. . . .

His chiseled lips are parted slightly, and I place a finger against them, and it seems there might be a very faint breath. . . .

Okay, he just might be alive after all—good! A wild strange relief surges through me at the realization. So now we need to get out of here immediately! The fire is spreading!

I look down, and Aeson Kass is attached to the chair with some kind of seatbelt and shoulder and torso harness, but there appears to be a single spring-button release, which I figure out in three seconds, and push it, until the cords and belts fall away, and his body is free to be moved.

Free of the harness, he starts to slump forward again, and I move in, so he falls against me, and I put my arms around him and start dragging him out of the chair.

He is heavier than I thought, and he is all rock-hard muscle. I strain and barely manage to drag him a few feet, leaning into him with all my strength, and panting hard from the exertion. I am already dead tired, and this—this is just insane.

Furthermore, as the smoke spreads and thickens, it’s getting harder to breathe.

Adrenaline and panic give me a burst of energy, because the smoke is engulfing the cabin interior, and I cough, sputter, and continue grasping him around the waist as I drag him . . . A few steps more, just a few steps more, as I back out of the shuttle.

I reach the outside opening and stairs, and now it’s just a step to fresh cold air. . . .

I manage to feel for the ladder side-rail with one hand, and step backward onto the first rung by feel alone, supporting his entire weight as I descend. Meanwhile, his long pale gold hair has fallen into my face, and I am now smeared in his blood.

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