The Healer by Kelly Lucille

Chapter One

The emaciated streets of Freefall echoed with emptiness this late at night.  Built as it had been over the top of a once great city, it was easy to forget in the light of day and in the better parts of town, what had once been.  Here, past even the outer ring of rickety houses and dimly lit patched and worn streets you could not escape that Freefall was essentially built on the bones of the dead.

The ancient rubble might have been long since paved over around the pristine and military precise space port found at the north side of town, or at the fancy two story houses of Government Square but in the outer rim, not even ten miles south of the city center, you could find the truth easily enough.  Like all the big cities and most small towns the wars and the millennia since had left deep scars. 

Walking silently through the dubious streets of the outer rim where the past had been crushed down and trodden over, shoved to the side like tombstones along a forgotten road, no one could mistake it for anything but what it really was.  A graveyard.

Tonight even the ghosts that haunted the place seemed to be absent. 

No surprise there, Serenity thought looking up at the black splotch among the lighter moon kissed skies, not with a Fleet Destroyer in the sky.

Not that it would exactly bustle in a few hours when the sun rose, not with the OIP hovering above for who knew what reason.  The people of Freefall might know that the OIP controlled their lives since it was the military and their appointed government that supplied the jobs and food supplies that kept the town alive, but that didn’t mean they liked reminders.

What the Order of Intergalactic Peace could possibly find on Earth to warrant one of their deadliest beasts of war after all this time Serenity could not begin to guess at, but it did not bode well for the survivors eking out their existence here on the ground. 

Earth had been the first planet in the Commonwealth to be culled for a reason.  Of the hundreds of planets discovered in the last thousand years, it was on the origin planet where the genetic anomalies had shown up first, and in the highest numbers.  The Order had accepted any and all volunteers from Earth no matter their power designation (or lack of) since the beginning and went on to conscript everyone else they could find.

The fleet foot soldiers were said to be predominantly Earthers who showed no signs of the gifts.  Cannon fodder no one would miss, encouraged to mate and breed by edict of OIP command in hopes of sparking mutations in the next generation. 

They said it was to repopulate the worlds that had survived the great war, and that was probably truth, Serenity mused.  But not the only one.

The children that were born from the OIP armies were sent away to academy if they showed the least bit of power, propaganda said to learn to use that power responsibly.  The rest were left with their parents to learn the ways of the warrior class and join the ranks of the military at the lowest tier.  They received an indoctrination of another kind.

Cannon fodder and breeders, like their parents before them.  Besides dying in battles to snuff out the small rebellions that kept cropping up across the galaxy, they managed to live well enough.  If the stories were true they were well fed and housed, with clean clothes, food, and the chance to send their children to the military schools set up for the indoctrination of their class.  They certainly had it better than anyone left behind on Earth.

Most were generations into the cycle of life and death that soldiers and their families faced and didn’t seem to expect anything else.  Or mind the idea that breeding was mandatory and could result in the loss of your child, in battle training, war, or to the special schools if they showed initiative or power.

Serenity had heard of more than one person who had deemed the loss of freedom and low life expectancy to be small prices to pay for comfort, even among those that had not grown up in the system.  She had even understood.  When everyday was a battle for survival anyway, you might as well get a hot meal and a warm place to sleep for your troubles. 

Not to mention at least the military had an understood command structure.  Unless you lived in the wilds beyond the walls of the established cities you were lorded over by the capricious families handpicked and backed by the OIP.  Tyranny at its finest and almost as hard to swallow as the subpar rations given to everyone outside of the small handful of families who controlled everything.

If she had been anything but what she was, knew what she did, and lived the life of poverty she witnessed in Freefall, she might even have given in to the temptation herself.  In her case though the same reasons that would tempt her the most was also what made it impossible.  She was a healer, and that was more than just a designation in her case.  A soldier she would never be, just ask her father. 

So she hid as much of herself as she could when she ventured into any of the cities and she lived quietly and alone save for the occasional visit from her father, or brief healing trips to towns.  She was grateful for whatever it was about her power that made the animals that usually would have been the true threat to her leave her be.  

She kept her secrets, hid access to the home that her and her father had carved out of a mountain and told herself that a little loneliness was a small price to pay for her freedom.  Because she knew, had always known, that if it became known a healer of her power was on Earth more than a Fleet Destroyer would be deployed to root her out.  Like the Hunter Designation of her father, Healers were rare.  A healer as powerful as herself, the thing of legends.

Because of the culling, the conscriptions and the harsh living conditions found on Earth, even in the cities, it was rare that any new powers were discovered outside of the OIP.  Those that were outside of that particular sphere of influence usually fell under one of two categories, either too weak to bother with, or they had already joined the second most powerful faction in the universe.  The Rebellion. 

She and her father were in neither, and because of it they existed on the edge of a dangerous line.  Serenity was under no illusions that she would have survived free as long as she had if her father had not been who and what he was.  Hunters, even those of low power, which her father was not, were feared even more than healers were revered. 

Sought after by both the OIP and the Rebellion their enhanced senses and beast like drives made them ideal soldiers for search and destroy missions, and for those with the control for it, the elite guard.  But first you had to find them.  In the wild no one could find a true hunter if he did not want to be found.  Or forced him into anything he didn’t want to do.  That included giving up his children or dying in wars not of his making.

Which led to the other reason she was still free and prospering in her little sphere of influence.  Among the small tribes of survivors outside of the military held cities left on Earth her father was legendary, and everyone had learned the hard way that ‘the healer’ was protected by him and was to be left alone.  Even speaking of her had gotten more than one person hunted and skinned alive, left as a message for the rest. 

All of it led to her being little more than a benevolent ghost to the towns.  A whispered legend of hope quickly followed by a stifled waft of fear.

Most people believed she was nothing more than a myth, but those who had met her or heard from someone in the know, posted pleas for assistance on the city gates for everything from help in finding love, to curing infertility.  Most she had no problem ignoring. The others, the poor, the young and the truly desperate, those she helped as many as she could.  All the while staying in the shadows.

Serenity wondered where her father was now.  It had been months since he last visited and would probably be longer still.  His very nature made staying in one place nearly impossible.  He had managed to stick around until she was old enough and trained enough to see to her own day to day safety, and she always knew he would return for her if he sensed danger or stress.  Otherwise she saw him rarely. 

She was tempted in her most lonely times to find some danger for herself just so she could see him, but that was a good way to get herself killed, captured, or conscripted.

And she was a healer, seeing the swath of destruction her father left behind the last time she had been under attack had left its mark.

She had been locked in a closet the last time it had happened, but she could still hear everything that went on in that small house where she had been taken prisoner.  The man had thought to use her abilities for himself after he had witnessed her heal a child. 

There were screams in the night that still haunted her nightmares nearly a year later.  Her father had taken her home, still covered in the blood of his prey and lecturing her the entire way about what she should have done differently. 

He knew better than to try to stop her from healing.  He had tried to forbid her to heal when she first developed the gift as a child, but even then she could no more have ignored someone in pain than she could now. 

As he was a hunter, she was a healer.  He had been forced to accept her nature, just as she was forced to accept his.  It was the reason, she assumed, that despite his many atrocities against evil men, there was no taint of rot to him.  He was exactly as he was made, just as she was. 

He hunted and killed, she healed.  They were as defined by their gifts as they were by the connection they had to each other.  Two sides of the same coin.  Light and Dark.  But he loved her in his own way, ferocious and uncompromising as he was.  And since her mother had died long before she remembered, he was all she had.

And when he found out she had gone into Freefall after curfew while a OIP Fleet Destroyer was in orbit he was going to skin her alive.

That worry was for later, she reminded herself.  Right now she was here because she owed a debt.  One that had been hanging over her head since her sixteenth year.  Ten years was a long time to hold onto a life debt.  Never knowing how or when it would be called in.  She needed it done.  Besides, she assured herself.  She might not be a hunter by blood and power, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t picked up some of the skills her father taught her.  And her healing nature might hinder her in some ways, but it also compensated her well with other abilities.

Killing would never be in her wheelhouse, but the rest?  Well, her father’s threat was not the only thing that had kept her free for twenty-six years.  It was just the most obvious.

The message had been vague, standing out among the prayers and pleas for help on the last crumbling bits of the old city wall by its efficient wording and precise script.

Ryker’s mark was glaringly obvious even in the dark of night.  She didn’t need more than that to know he was in Freefall, and that he was looking for her.  After that she just followed the loudest need in a place no one should be.

Serenity had more than a small knowledge of the hidden warrens and outer ring, so the rebels were not difficult to find.  Many tiny pricks of need grated across her senses as she walked among the shadows and abandoned streets, but the need was the greatest from one direction.  A direction no one should be.  And the wounds were bad she realized, feeling the pull of pain like a spike across her senses.

She might live deep in the mountains, in hiding most of the time, but she could only go so long without healing.  That need had led her to a firm knowledge of every nook cranny and escape Freefall had to offer.  She was never seen here during the light of day when people were on the streets.  Night had become her favored time to travel.  So the dark, star-filled night didn’t bother her.  She moved through it and the crumbling city as easily as she did her own forests at full light.

She made it to the dilapidated house on the outskirts of the revitalized city center unseen and not soon after the midnight hour.  She didn’t have heightened senses physically, but psychically, she could read all the heartbeats within the downtrodden structure.  She could also see that though the structure looked like it could crumble at the slightest breeze, someone had taken the time and initiative to reinforce the door, and the windows were boarded up and secured against even the smallest gleam of light escaping.  That, as much as the feeling of hovering death that surrounded one of the occupants, told her she was at the right place.

She took a breath and stepped out of the dense shadows, allowing her body to resume a normal heartbeat and temperature.  A trick only a healer could pull off, or a powerful hunter.  It allowed whatever sensors were aimed at her to finally see her.   She wasn’t exactly spotlighted standing on the abandoned road in night blackness, but she felt like it. 

For all intents and purposes she had only taken a few steps, but they would now know she was there.  She just had to wait for them to come to her now, and hope that the rebels inside were still as honorable as the last time she had a run in with them.  Before she had honed her skills enough to escape detection.  When they had first saved her life and then let her go with only the promise of future aid.  A promise she had come today to fulfill.

The door opened with the quiet snicks of multiple locks.  She stepped forward, and it opened wide enough to allow her inside.  Unlike the moonlit rubble outside, the darkness inside was unbroken.  She had to rely on her other senses for information.  She could feel three heartbeats just inside, but only one of them was directly behind the door.  It closed with a breath of wind behind her and the locks snicked again before the lights came on and she could see the room, and the rebels she had come to meet.

The one beside her had a psi signature she recognized. 

A hunter then, she thought, as she kept her heartbeat steady and her nerves tamped down.  He might not have the level of power even close to her father’s, but he would still be able to read her every reaction with his enhanced senses.

“How was it,” he asked, his voice as rough as the stubble that roughened his granite jaw.  “That you were able to get that close before we picked you up on our sensors?”  She read the rest of what he did not say, which was that she got that close without him sensing her but said nothing. 

She knew he was a hunter, nobody else would by just looking at him and it was imperative that she keep that aspect of her power designation to herself.  If they knew all the gifts being her level of a healer could manifest they would never let her walk away again.  Not just because they would want to use her, but because she would be even more useful to their enemies.

“I am a healer,” she said quietly, giving them something to hopefully ally suspicions.  “I can regulate my body temperature, and do as a rule, anytime I am walking underneath a Fleet destroyer in an occupied city after curfew.”

“Do that a lot do you?” another voice asked.  Twins she thought as she looked at the brother and sister deeper inside the room.  Early twenties, younger by a good ten years than the hunter beside her.  Morphers, mid-level.  Non-descript was the best way to describe them.  Brown hair, brown eyes, unremarkable features and average of height.  The usual for morphers whose power was to adapt and change to their circumstances.  These two would blend into any crowd even without the use of their powers. 

Not so much the hunter they traveled with.  Six foot and some change he towered over her admittedly small stature.  If she really stretched herself she could reach five feet five but only just.  Unlike the fluid muscles of a predator that were obvious beneath his flight leathers, she was soft. 

She was stronger than she looked, and her stamina was high thanks to her father’s hunter training.  She could run fast when she had to and carry a heavy backpack for hours without needing a rest, but strength wise she was as weak as any non-powered female of her small size, and her speed and dexterity were just above average.

“I’m a healer,” she said again.  As if that was the answer to the male twin’s question.  And it was.  A healer went where she was needed.

They all understood that.  Still she knew they were studying her softness and her curvy short self, reading her with their eyes, and in the hunter’s case his gifts.  Precipitating what her father had once described as the Serenity effect.

She read to all predators, wild, human, non-human, and even the hunters as a non-threat.  It meant that she could go into dangerous circumstances and anyone with the least little bit of hero complex would want to protect her.  And most men, she found, had at least a little bit of that. 

It also meant that when she was in the presence of warriors, like those that fought a rebellion, she read as weak, and easily dismissed.

Which thankfully they did now.  The woman first, and then with an admiring look for her soft curves, the male twin.  She did not blame them.  Under her loose pants and long flowing buttoned shirt that she had cinched at the waist with a leather belt that matched her knee boots, she could never be mistaken for a warrior.

The hunter stepped closer, using his big, muscled body to intimidate as he looked her over again.  Starting at the long braid of brown hair trailing down her back to the tip of her leather boots.  Then back again until he met her light blue-green eyes. 

She made absolutely no effort with her appearance other than being clean and neat.  Her nails clipped close and her face bare of artifice.  He scented her and narrowed his eyes.  She knew what he scented so she spoke to belay any new suspicions her lack of scent would cause.

“My father is a hunter,” she told him.  Since he was not local he wouldn’t know who she was.  No one would chance sharing the story of a hidden healer with strangers, not when it came with a risk of a visit from a rogue hunter for loose lips.  “He trained me well in forest craft and other things.  I cannot be tracked by scent if I leave none behind.”

The man had nearly the same coloring as the Morph twins, tanned skin, brown hair, and brown eyes.  Even his leathers were a brown so dark they faded into the shadows he seemed to command.  All but the black boots and weapons belt at his waist that gleamed where the light skimmed it. 

He was not handsome, too hard edged for that, but he was compelling, particularly when he focused on a woman, she mused.  As if every atom of his forceful attention was centered on her. 

She bet he could be persuasive with that rough voice of his when he needed to be.  Especially with the pheromones hidden in the depths of his uber-masculine scent.  The release of which told her he was seeing her as a woman he would like to mate with.  Yes, she had no doubt that he could be very persuasive when he wanted to be.  But not to her.

Like any drug, toxin, bacteria, virus, or any other foreign body in the air her abilities treated them all the same and filtered them out.  Her body not reacting at all to the lure of his scent, eyes, and that dark voice of his.  And he would know it too.  Whatever reaction her body made to arousal, or otherwise he would be able to read all of it with his enhanced hunter senses.  From her he was getting exactly nothing.  Not fear or arousal or any other reaction he was used to getting from a small female in response to his daunting male presence.

She didn’t need to be an empath to know he didn’t like it.

“Your father was a hunter?” he finally asked, as if he couldn’t believe someone as weak as her could have come from strong stock.

“Is,” she said.  “He still lives.”

That had his eyes flashing from irritated and insulting to new scrutiny.  “In which army?”

“Neither” she said surprising him yet again.  “He’s a rogue hunter.”

That brought a smug knowing look to his face.  “Then he is low level.”

If only he knew, Serenity thought, but kept her humor to herself.  “If you want me to heal your patient before he passes beyond my skills, I suggest we get started soon.”

Another flash of suspicion there and gone.  “How do you know it’s a he?”

“She knows a lot more than that.” A new voice spoke from the doorway where the others had disappeared. 

She looked over at the warm voice and straight into familiar navy eyes in a ridiculously handsome face. 

“Hello Serenity.”  He smiled the same roghish grin that had made her sixteen-year-old heart flutter and probably had the same effect on females from twelve to ninety-five everywhere.  “How is it after ten years you still look sixteen?”

Then he looked over the rest of her.  His eyes got caught at her hip and then moved up, landing squarely in the vicinity of her softly rounded breasts.  “I stand corrected,” he murmured.  “Clearly you’re all grown up.”

Serenity laughed.  “And wise in the ways of scoundrels,” she assured him.  “You had a better chance when I was sixteen, crushing on your pretty face and moved by the fact that you had saved my life.”

He laughed.  “A child, even one as lovely as you were at that age, is strictly off limits, even a scoundrel such as me has standards.” 

A scoundrel he might be, with that wicked gleam and hard supple body under his too tight black fighting leathers, but there was no rot to his soul, even after all these years, and all the battles he had fought for the resistance.  So he hadn’t changed that much.  He was still the honorable man she had made her promise to all those years ago.  Serenity almost laughed.  A little giddy from the relief coursing through her.

“Besides,” he smiled bigger.  His eyes going to the hunter standing a little too close to her side.  “Your father paid me a visit not long after I sent you on your way.  If I had any thoughts back then of trying to find your hidden forest grotto and seducing the beautiful nymph with the innocent eyes who resided there, he would have changed my mind.  Never have I been so happy that a beautiful woman was off limits than when I woke to find a hunter standing over my lonely bed.”

She snorted at the flowery imagery he had painted of her that had no basis in reality, even as she winced at the thought of what her father would have done to that pretty face if he had touched her. 

“From what he told me of his visit,” she said giving him a raised brow.  “Your bed was not that lonely.”

He held up his hands and motioned to himself with a shrug that said with his looks he really had no choice.  His eyes, she noticed, when they were not locked on hers, still held that of the dangerous man behind her.  If she was not mistaken, beneath the teasing he was giving her; he was also delivering a warning.  For the hunter.  Who was standing too close, giving off warning vibes of his own.  They were both, in their own way trying to protect her, she realized with an inward sigh.

The Serenity effect, she mused.  Her father would be laughing his backside off about now if he could see this.  Once he got over the fact she was here at all.

“Well, if you contacted me after having a visit from my father, I assume your need was great?”  She stepped toward him and both men turned their attention back to her.  “And as you said I know a great many things about the three people in that room you are guarding, and one of those things I know is that the man you brought me to see is in terrible pain and not long for this world.  I need to get in there.” 

All emotion wiped clean, both men now gave her their undivided attention.

“Of course,” Ryker said, finally moving away from the door so she could pass.  But the hunter stopped her with a hand on her arm.  Not painful so much as firm in his grip.

“I need to check you for weapons,” he said with that same firmness in his voice.

Serenity was not surprised.  She just handed him her bag and waited for him to look through it.  All it had in it was her survival kit and a change of clothes.  He gave her another suspicious look.  “No medical supplies?”

Ryker snorted.  “Never seen a powerful healer work have you?” he asked when the man looked over at him in question at the sound.  “Trust me,” he said with finality.  “She doesn’t need a med kit.”

When the hunter turned back to her, accepting that with more than a splash of doubt she held her arms up so that he could search the rest of her.  He did, with impersonal but thorough speed, and when he had finally finished searching her braided hair with firm fingers he nodded to her bag.  “I’ll keep this here.”

That was fine with her, she had a feeling that he was even more suspicious of her since he found no weapon at all on her person, than he would have been if he found one.  Few people went about in the world without at least a small weapon of protection.  She didn’t bother to explain to him that she was a healer once again. 

The remarkably high level of her power made defending herself by hurting others impossible.  A weakness built into the very fabric of her being.  Along with her need to heal and her inability to consume the dead flesh of any animal.  All aspects of her abilities that her hunter father had cursed more than once.

She just nodded and headed for the room beyond.  When she passed Ryker at the door, the hunter was close at her heels.  She took in the twins, who had preceded them and were standing sentinel on either side of the bloody figure on the collapsed bed.  Then she got her first look at the man she was there to heal.  And knew that the hunter behind her sensed the upswing of her adrenalin and finally tasted a hint of fear from her person.  Some reactions even she needed a little warning to control.

The sight of that distinguished face, mangled as it was, had her stalling out at the door.  She knew that face.  Everyone knew that face. 

The long white hair coated red with blood.  Striking silver eyes that marked him as Mage designation.  His power signature was weakened by his wounded state, but she didn’t need to read him at full power to know he was of the highest level in his craft.  Everyone knew that face and those eyes belonged to the High Mage leader of the rebellion.  Nolan Rand. 

No wonder there was a Fleet destroyer hovering over the town.

She swallowed hard.  “Do they know he’s here?”

“They suspect,” Ryker said.  “If they knew he had survived to come here there would be more than one Fleet destroyer hovering above.”

“If they didn’t just erase the planet and be done with it,” the hunter added, so helpfully in his low grumble of a voice.  But he was probably right about that.

She shook her head, even as she approached the bed.  “Why did you bring him here of all places?  You have to know that most of the people trying to survive here are sympathizers to the Order or determined to be uninvolved, and probably related to someone in the Order.”

She had laid her hands on the bloody head and chest.  The man beneath her hands was a fit forty-year-old with charismatic looks and a powerful persuasive voice.  You just couldn’t tell most of that now, beneath all the blood and damage.

“You’re here,” Ryker said simply.

Serenity stilled at his words, sucking in a breath at the implications.  She turned just her head to look at him, even as she let her power flare out over the hurt being beneath her hands.  She held back as much as she could, but even in this state his power flickered at her, trying to fight hers off.

“You need to let me help you,” she said mildly, allowing more of her power to push through.  His pain had been calling to her since well before she made it past the first door.  She met his eyes and heard his swift intake of awed breath.  The hunter who could also see the power glowing in her eyes did the same.  Though his held more shock than awe. 

She did her best to limit herself, work slowly so that the extent of her abilities would not be so obvious, but she had not lied when she said the man was not long for the world.  His body was breaking down as fast as she was healing it.  If she wanted him to live, she had no choice.

The smart thing would have been to walk away, tell them she had done all she could, but as she was forever repeating, to her father, to these strangers, she was a healer.  There were some things she could not do.  Walking away from a dying man was one of them.

She let go of the tight hold she had on her power.  If flared higher, and rushed over her body, lighting her up from the inside as if a torch had been lit beneath her skin.  There was more than one gasp around the room as she lit up.  When she was at full power even the nonmagical could see her glow.  The whoosh of that heat and power slipped from her glowing hands over the man beneath her and he immediately breathed easier.  She left her conscious body behind and followed her power deep into the work she had to do.

These days when she healed she was more circumspect with her power show, allowing the power to trickle down and heal at a slow rate so that anyone who witnessed it missed the full extent of her power, but she had less control when she was sixteen. 

Ryker at least had seen this show before.  At sixteen she had not possessed all the power that matured within her, or the control that she had now, but it had been enough.  She had healed a full room of people, along with herself, after they had been pulled from the burning wreckage of a fallen building. 

This time she had no real choice if she wanted the man to live.  She allowed herself to heal as she was meant to heal.  Giving herself free rein.  She knew, as her power swept through the mangled man beneath her, that only his own power had kept him holding on to life as long as he had.

Ryker was right.  No one else would have been able to heal him.  Not unless there was another powerful healer out there in hiding as she was.

Two sluggish heart beats later, and the man who should have long since died of his many wounds opened glowing silver eyes and looked at her from a perfectly healed and once again handsome face.

Serenity stepped back from the intelligence and sheer will in those eyes, wavering on her feet.  The hunter caught her, but she was not about to fall.  He probably expected her to pass out, as most would when so much power had been used, but she had not teetered on her feet because of weakness.  Unlike most healers who could use their gifts and then once they reached their limits they needed rest to recharge before doing so again, she was the opposite.  Using her powers had never been a burden. 

Her father thought she had just never reached the limits of what she could heal, but Serenity knew better.  She had teetered because knowing the mage was powerful and reading him at full power were entirely different things.

Never in her life had she sensed a power in another to rival her own.  Until now.  She really needed to get out of this room, and hope that everyone assumed the power returning to their leader was just a byproduct of his return to health.  Because if they suspected the truth, that she could heal overused powers just like she could heal everything else, there was no way they would let her leave.  As it was, those silver eyes told her without a doubt, she was already close to that edge of no return, and this man was powerful enough to take on even her father to keep her.

She looked away from those eyes with an effort.  The shock and awe in the silent room was palpable on all their faces.  They would not make the mistake of underestimating her after that display.  Ryker was the only one who wasn’t completely taken by surprise, after all, he had seen her do something nearly as miraculous the first time they met. 

“A life saved for the life you spared,” she said looking into those navy eyes.  Not a speck of the playful scoundrel looked back at her. 

She knew he was honorable, but she had taken enough chances this night.  It was time to make a quiet exit, before anyone could suggest she might like to join the rebellion, forcefully. “Is there somewhere I can be by myself for a moment?  Healing such wounds is…” she shrugged and attempted to look drained instead of close to panicked.

Ryker took a step to her and pulled her from the hunter’s hold, supporting her more than he needed to.  She let him, giving him just a bit of her weight. 

He looked to the bed and the man that was even now sitting up and bursting with vitality.  “I’ll take Serenity to the second bedroom and return.”

“Quickly,” Nolan Rand said in a smooth voice that belied any hint that he had been at death’s door but moments before.  “We have a few things to discuss.”

Serenity didn’t raise her eyes, or look behind her again, feigning weakness for all she was worth.  She could feel those silver mage eyes on her, and the eyes of the hunter as well.  She had no doubt that they needed to discuss all kinds of things, like getting off the planet without getting caught.  And probably how to get a certain healer to go with them.

Ryker led her to a second room.  Nearly identical to the first, in that it was dusty, crumbling and held a bed of mats on the floor.  He helped her to lay down and she closed her eyes, as if sleep were calling, allowing her body to slow and her thoughts to calm she knew what he would see.  What the hunter that had followed him to the door would see.  An exhausted healer, asleep before her head touched the bed.

A warm hand brushed over her hair at her temples before she felt Ryker leave.  The hunter at the door stayed longer, long enough that she wondered if he had plans to leave at all.  He finally did, and the door closed with a soft creak.  The snick of the lock was louder. 

Serenity cursed long and loudly in her head as the sound of it verified her worst fear.  The hunter at least, and probably the mage, intended to keep her.  Even if he tried to argue, Ryker was outgunned and outmatched.

Good thing some of her father’s training had stuck.  Serenity was through the locked door and out onto the black streets without tipping even the keen senses of the hunter to her escape.  She left her bag behind, which was a shame, but it had been left so helpfully by the front door that she didn’t trust it had not been tampered with in some way.  She would check her clothes and hair when she reached one of the safe harbors she had in the city.

She knew better than to keep anything they could use in her bag, so that would do them no good. 

Fading into the darkness of the city streets she headed for the most paranoid person she knew that could scan her for hidden sensors and hide her.  Luckily for her, he owed her, and had no love for either the Order or the Resistance.