ground. Medical teams hovered over several, treating their wounds. Faces turned to Malgus, eyes wide, but no one said a word as he walked toward the transport.

What happened here? To these people? It was not like this when I arrived.

Malgus said nothing.

They are afraid of you.

They should be.

When they got aboard the transport, Malgus instructed the pilot to fly them to Valor, the orbiting cruiser he commanded. Then he laid Eleena down on a reclinable couch and covered her with a blanket. She touched his hand as he tucked her in.

There is gentleness in you, Veradun.

He pulled his hand away from her and stood. If you ever call me Veradun in public again I will kill you. Do you understand?

Her smile melted in the heat of his anger. She looked as if he had punched her in the stomach. She sat up on her elbow. Why are you saying this?

His voice came out loud and harsh. Do you understand?

Yes! Yes! She threw off the blanket, rose, and stood before him, her body quaking. But why are you so angry? Why?

He stared into her lovely face, swallowed, and shook his head. His anger was only partly her fault. He was angry at Adraas, Angral, the Emperor himself. She was just a convenient focus for it.

You must do as I ask, Eleena, he said, more softly. Please.

I will, Malgus. She stepped forward, raised a hand, and traced the ruined lines written in the skin of his face. Her touch put a charge in him.

I love you, Malgus. She peeled away his respirator to reveal the ruins of his mouth. Do you love me?

He licked his scarred lips, his thoughts whirling, again no words coming.

You dont have to answer, she said, smiling, her voice soft. I know that you do.

* * *

Zeerid checked his appearance in the

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