But he couldn’t. They had to get her to safety first.
Kissing her cheek, he stood up with her. “Kalea, I’m going to hand you to the nice lady and she’s going to take you to some men and get you to safety, okay?”
“What about you, Daddy?”
“Daddy’s going to make sure you stay safe. Aunt Shahara is going to hold you for just a little bit. Okay?”
He handed her off to Shahara. “Fain, cover them out the back. I’ll draw these bastards off you.”
“You got it. Stay safe.”
“You stay safer.”
Fain inclined his head to him.
Hauk waited until they were clear before he opened the door where the instructor was gesturing to the Phrixian guards. As soon as the new arrivals saw him, they drew weapons. The Andarion in him wanted to start a war in the hallway, but there were too many children here. He wouldn’t risk one of them getting hit in the cross fire.
So instead, he fell into the role of arrogant League officer. “Is there a problem?” he snarled at the approaching soldiers.
“By whose authority are you here?”
“The prime commander’s,” Hauk answered boldly. Technically, it wasn’t a lie. He wouldn’t be here if not for the rank smelly dog. “Would you like to call him and tell him that you’re interfering? I’ve heard he’s real forgiving of being questioned by lesser-ranking soldiers.”
They started to accept that until one of them, unfortunately, used his brain to have a thought. “Why would he send an Andarion when we’re at war with them?”
That was a good question. Luckily, Hauk was used to thinking on his feet. “Some of us are still Leaguers.” He didn’t know of any offhand, but it was always a good bet that someone was stupid.
The soldier hesitated. “I don’t know…”
“You three stay here and let us check this out.” The soldier left the two Phrixians and one other guard.
Hauk waited until the other guards were gone before he knocked the one unfortunate guard who’d been left behind unconscious. When the instructor started to sound an alarm, he drew on her. “Don’t.” He switched the setting from stun to kill to let her know he wasn’t playing.
The Phrixians held their hands up as if they were afraid, too, and moved to shield her. Hauk ran backwards through the hallway, toward the exit. He was almost to the door when someone opened fire on him in the stairwell. He fired up at them and hit the door running.
Ah, great… There was a group of League soldiers in the yard who turned immediately toward him.
Shit. Why couldn’t he ever catch a break during an escape? Just once?
They opened fire. And the moment they did, his friends came out to play and returned it with everything they had.
Grateful beyond belief, Hauk dodged the blasts that narrowly missed him and headed for the transport that was backed up to the gate. At a full run, he dove in headfirst and landed on top of Darling.
“Ah gah, Hauk! Lose some weight. You’re crushing me, you fat bastard! I don’t know how Sumi stands it.”
Laughing at Darling’s humor, he pinched his cheek. “Suck it up. You make a sweet cushion.” He rolled to his feet, then frowned. “Where are the others?”
“We sent them on ahead with Kalea to get her out of the line of fire.”
He sighed in relief as he saw Nyk, Maris, Fain, Darling, Nero, and Drake, who’d stayed behind to cover him. They were the best and he’d never appreciated them more.
Nero drove them out at full throttle, under heavy pursuit. The transport went careening down the street, sending pedestrians and other vehicles in all directions.
“Nero!” Darling shouted. “Some of us aren’t suicidal back here.”
“Then strap your ass down. Or lose it.” Nero jerked to the right.
This time, Darling landed on Hauk.
Hauk put him back on his feet. “Nuh-uh. You have to buy me dinner before you crawl on top of me, baby. No one gets a free ride on the Hauk train.”
Maris laughed. “I’m learning all kinds of fun things about you today, Hauk.”
Suddenly, the ride leveled out and slowed.
Darling blanched as they were hammered by League fire. “What are you doing, Nero?”
“Shh! I’m being stupid and I have to concentrate for it.”
Hauk winced over what that really meant. “Is he giving himself brain damage?”
Darling cursed under his breath. “With all of us inside? Yeah.”
Hauk clenched his teeth at the sacrifice Nero was making. “I can carry him out.”
“I’ll cover you both,” Nyk offered.
The transport picked up speed again. Within five minutes, they were back at the port. Nero parked and opened the hatch. He got up and pressed his hand to his nose, which was pouring blood all over him.
Hauk helped him out and slung one arm over his shoulder to help him walk. No one in the hangar paid any attention to them at all. It was as if they weren’t there. “You’ve cloaked us?”
Damn, that had to be killing Nero. Hauk tightened his grip on his friend. “Just remember, if you have to hurl, Darling’s right there.”
Offended, Darling twisted his face up in distaste. “Screw you, Hauk.”
“Back at you, human. Besides, you handle it better than I do.”
With an evil laugh, Darling nodded. “Okay, that’s true, but still. I get tired of everybody doing that to me.” He glared meaningfully at Maris.
Maris scoffed. “What’s with that look? I only did it the one time. And at least it wasn’t during your wedding vows… while being videoed and broadcast.”
They hurried as fast as they could across the bay and headed to their ship.
“I can’t hold it much longer,” Nero breathed. “I think I’m about to pass out.”
Hauk walked faster. “I’ve got you, drey. I won’t let you fall.”
His nose bleeding harder, Nero stumbled.
They were halfway to the ship when a voice rang out. “Halt!”
Nykyrian clapped him twice on the shoulder. A silent motion that said to run. Hauk swept Nero into his arms and ran while the others laid down cover fire for them. One blast landed in his thigh and almost sent him to the ground.
Catching his balance, he cursed and kept going. Like Sumi had said, if he went down, he was a lot harder to move than the others. And the last thing they needed was to carry both him and Nero out on their backs.
He ran on board first and placed Nero in the closest seat. Grinding his teeth against the pain in his leg, Hauk winced at the sight of the wound.
That one word and the excitement in that precious high-pitched voice brought tears to his eyes as a wealth of emotion coursed through him. Before he could stand back up, a tiny form slammed into him and threw her arms around his neck.
“Daddy! I was getting so worried! But Aunt Shahara and Aunt Jaynie and… and Uncle Ryn and Uncle Caillen told me not to. You know, you gots a lot of brothers and sisters, Daddy.”
He held her close to his chest. “That I do.” He set her down in a seat and harnessed her in as Nykyrian, Fain, Maris, and Darling pulled up the rear while Shahara started tending to Nero.
“Burn it!” Darling pounded on the flight deck door to signal to Ryn and Jayne that everyone was on board and the ramp secured.
“Everyone hold your ass,” Jayne said over the intercom. “We’re having to blast our way out. They’re sealing the doors, so everybody pray.”
The ship lurched forward as she dropped anchor and hit full throttle.
Kalea’s eyes widened.
Hauk buckled himself in beside her. “It’s all right, baby. Daddy’s right here. We’re going to see Mommy.”
He tried to hold her hand, but she was so tiny that she had to wrap her entire hand around his index finger. And as the ship shook, she buried her face against his arm and held tight. He rubbed her back, proud of the fact that she didn’t cry like most children would. But she did squeal a lot. Something that was piercing to his Andarion hearing.
They should have named you Baby Harpie.
Hauk cringed as he heard the sound of metal on metal as they scraped through the hangar doors. Visions of being crushed in a blast shield went through his head. That would be bad enough, but Jayne and Ryn appeared to be in the middle of an argument while they escaped.
“Get your hands off that, woman!” Ryn snapped.
“Where’d you learn to f**king fly? At a shoe store?”
“Don’t touch that!”
“You get your hands off!”
Gaping, Hauk met Nykyrian’s stunned expression. “Oh my God, who let the two-year-olds fly us?”
They all pointed to Darling.
With an innocent expression, he held his hands out. “Ryn’s a Tavali captain. He should know what he’s doing. And Jayne’s Jayne. She’s never failed us before.”
Suddenly, something hit the ship. Hard. The power drained instantly.
Ryn hissed over the intercom as Jayne went silent. “Oh… shit.”
“Attention all passengers,” Ryn said over the intercom. “We seem to be experiencing some turbulence. Please, do not release your harnesses, and remember that if you kick the ass of the pilot right now, he won’t be able to fly you out of this lovely mess.”
“Passengers to pilot,” Darling said drily. “Please note, every one of us here, except our new junior member, is licensed to fly, so we don’t really need you and if you don’t get us back into motion, there will be lots of Ryn ass-kicking to go round. Your two little brothers are back here and we don’t like you much, anyway.”
“Yeah!” Drake weighed in. “And one of your brothers is not only a pilot, but a licensed assassin and you’re a Tavali. I get bonus pay if I deliver your head in a jar.”
“Our father weeps at your merciless ways. A pox to both your nether regions.” Ryn paused. “Oh hey, look! We got engines.”
“Say, thank you, Jayne,” Jayne said sarcastically.
“Thank you, Jayne,” Ryn mumbled over the intercom. Then louder, “Nyk, open the back panel and cross the dampner crystal with shields for me.”
Nykyrian’s eyes widened. “That’s a real bad idea, Ryn.”
Hauk put Kalea’s hand into Fain’s. “Daddy will be right back, sweetie.”
He unbuckled himself and went to the panel to access it. Curling his lip, he fought the urge to curse Ryn and Jayne for the damage that had been done during their escape.
“What are you doing, big guy?” Darling asked him.
“What I always do. Saving all our asses.” Hauk hissed as he was shocked rewiring their power modules. Worse, life support was quickly bleeding out. Unless he restored it, they only had minutes before it was gone. He plugged it as best he could and then used an override code to fool the overheated generators back on. He tapped his link to Jayne. “One pulse on my mark. Three. Two. One.”
She hit it and they went into hyperdrive.
“Go, Hauk, go!” Jayne shouted.
“Yeah. Don’t cheer yet,” he said under his breath as he kept working on everything that had shorted out. He cursed again at another shock.
His fingers turning black from it, he wanted to tell Jayne and Ryn where to shove this mess. Then he glanced to Kalea.
Snuggled up against Fain, she had her hands over her eyes and her fingers spread wide so that she could watch him through them. Damn, she was the cutest thing he’d ever seen.
She lifted one hand and waved at him.
Strange how in all the missions he’d run – in all the times he’d come through unbelievable odds and all the people he’d pulled to safety – he’d never felt as tall or as heroic as he did right then from that innocent sweet look on her tiny face.
That’s my girl.
His throat tight, he returned to working on the ship until he had most of it going again. They were still lower on shields than he’d like, but…
“Jayne? I’ve given you guys the best I can without pulling over for parts. Can you radio for an escort?”
“We already have one. Saf and three of his brothers fell in about two minutes ago.”
He breathed easier knowing that. “Good. We don’t need to take a hit. Shields are minimum, but I had to put that power to the hyperdrive, dampners, and life support. Let me know when we come out and I can redirect it.”
“You got it, Hauk.”
He put the panel back in place and returned to his seat.
Kalea bit her lip. “Are you a superman, Daddy?”
“Yes, he is,” Fain said. “He’s saved the life of everyone in this ship at least once, and many of us, a lot more than that.”
“Really?” she asked, eyes wide.
Hauk blushed as Kalea wrapped her arms around his biceps and hugged him tight.