Authors: Siobhan Crosslin
Tags: #M/M romance, #sci-fi
As children, Temsha and his twin brother were kidnapped, their parents murdered, and forced to become sky force pilots for the notorious Lord Jheghda. Their younger brother was sold off to become an anam, a companion and power source for pilots, and if they are lucky they get to see him every three years.
After he nearly kills their latest anam, Temsha is at his limit. He is tired of being a slave, tired of worrying constantly about the brother he has not seen for six years, and tired of burning out anams. When they are assigned a new anam, Temsha tries to resist getting close, because one more loss will be the one that breaks him.
Note: While there is no incest, the brothers do share a lover.
Fire & Soul
By Siobhan Crosslin
Published by Less Than Three Press LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.
Edited by Tanni Fan
Cover designed by V. Rios
This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.
First Edition April 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Siobhan Crosslin
Printed in the United States of America
To Drew, for being my muse.
And to my mama, for always being there.
Court is bright colors, swirling shapes and voices overlapping and fighting for dominance. Cold masks frame lips—slashes of sneers, biting smiles and cruel laughter—all rebounding off the marble and clear glass of the receiving room. And everywhere, the sweet, cool rasp of silk on silk on skin.
His Eminent Lord Jheghda of Clan Bredan tilts his head and flicks his fingers. One of his aides glides forward and leans down to whisper in His Eminence's ear. Jheghda's lips quirk at whatever the aide says and the Alliance official seated opposite our entourage pales. His Eminence is not known for his tolerant amusement.
"You've heard of the pride of my family's sky forces." The official nods before Jheghda finishes speaking. Jheghda's fleet of space fighters, commonly referred to as adjuncts, are renowned throughout the Alliance. Jheghda gestures widely—Mikscn and I end up included in the sweep more by chance than any care on Jheghda's part. Not that anyone could miss the black metal collars around our throats. "Do you know the story of how they were acquired?" Jheghda sounds supremely bored, which means he's putting this show on just to punish us. The bruise ringing my eye throbs and I fight the itch to move.
"No, Prince," the official says.
"There were rumors of a family in my forests, retired pilots with three sons," Jheghda says, and I can catch the edge of a grin from where I'm standing. "They didn't declare their presence, so I had my men investigate."
Investigate—yeah. I can still smell the burning wood and the coppery stench of blood.
"The two elder sons were taken as pilots. The third, I sold to be trained as an anam." Out of the corner of my eye I see Mikscn stiffen. "It really is too bad pilots can't be paired with an anam sibling. They're all terribly powerful."
"I've heard stories." The official fidgets in his seat, but I don't let the movement draw my eye.
"They're permitted to see their sibling every three years, provided their behavior has been good."
Distress rolls off Mikscn in waves and I close my eyes. There's no use pretending now.
"They would have been able to see their brother during this trip if Temsha hadn't overloaded their newest anam." Jheghda turns his head towards me. "Right, Temsha?"
"Yes, Eminence," I croak. Another three years. And Cherian is probably here somewhere, or at least on the planet. So close, dammit!
Jheghda flicks his fingers at the official, who recoils. "But we're all works in progress. Temsha really does try so hard." His tone is honey sweet and cold and I let it wash over me, my eyes squeezed shut.
"I'm not angry about what happened with our anam."
I glare at the damaged electrical panel in my hand and wish I could disappear inside the adjunct. I lean over and look down. Mikscn stands at our mech's feet, his hand held up to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun off the white alloy.
"You should be," I reply as I pick up a screwdriver. The adjunct's right shoulder is in pieces around me, the plating pulled away to expose the inner workings where the pirates had managed to fuck our shit up.
"You weren't mad when I fucked up last time." Mikscn's voice is a little closer and a quick glance confirms he's climbing up the adjunct's leg. I sigh. I knew I shouldn't've left the adjunct on one knee.
"You didn't get our anam put in a coma last time," I say with a vicious jab into the electrical panel. "We don't get to see Cherian
our anam is probably going to be euthanized." Jheghda's not exactly patient when his property doesn't work the way it should.
I had positioned the adjunct so its arm rests on its bent knee. Mikscn settles on the back of the wrist and stares up at me. "It's not your fault," he says. "It's not either of our's fault. Cherian understands that. Jheghda does this on purpose to show off to the other Houses."
I grit my teeth and shove the electrical panel into place. "Have you heard anything about our new anam?"
Mikscn's silent for a few seconds before he replies. "Not a word, other than that he or she is arriving tonight."
I nod and start replacing the armor panels. The adjunct just has to be able to get us home—we'll have an escort on the journey back to our home planet, no fighting required.
It makes me sick some days, looking up into the severe parody of its face, knowing that another one of these days whatever kid they saddle us with is going to be carried out of the cockpit.
Gods, Misa. I tried so hard to keep from drawing more power than she could give, but they came at our right flank and I had to pull power, I had to. She should never have been approved for space combat.
Mikscn clears his throat. "Here, I'll take over. Go get something to eat."
I make a face at that, but nod and start scaling down. "Damage isn't that bad," I say when I'm on the ground. "I got most of it fixed. Mostly we need to replace the plating, but that'll have to wait till we're home."
Mikscn nods. "I'll run a diagnostic, see if there's anything our anam's going to need to look at."
The Brudeah capitol planet, Eisen, caters generously to the Houses that are based off-world. House Bredan is old, expansive and wealthy—our home here is open and beautiful, all trees and sweet-smelling flowers, courtyards and fountains.
I stride through the busy corridors, ignoring servants and nobles alike. They ignore me in turn—Mikscn and I are answerable only to Jheghda. I nod to a few pilots, and many stop to offer their condolences for burning out yet another anam. The souls of our adjuncts may be dispensable to the people that own us, but anams are precious to pilots. We literally cannot survive without them.
In the mess hall, I finally relax. This place is for pilots and anams only, and no matter if I blame myself or Mikscn or Jheghda for the people we've killed, there is no judgment here.
I get my food and make my way to one of the long tables in the middle of the room. The others part to let me sit down and I tuck into my food, only now realizing how hungry I am. Aiya, one of Mikscn and my mentors, strokes her fingers through her hair as she chats next to me and I let the quiet murmur of conversation vibrate through my skin.
Keito, Aiya's fellow pilot and Mikscn and my other mentor, leans over the table to me. "A Vrah'di family bought Misa," he says, and I can't help the smile that breaks out over my face.
"Yeah?" I ask, and he nods. It's not a guarantee, but if Misa wakes up, she'll be free—the Vrah'di are part of the Hegemony, where all forms of slavery are illegal, and several of their Houses have gotten into the habit of buying pilots or anams who are disabled. Most anams eventually recover from the physical and psychic trauma of being overloaded, if they're given enough time. It's just they're rarely given that long to recover, and they're generally considered useless afterwards. This is the best possible thing that could come of this situation.
"Thank you for telling me," I say, and he gives me a brief smile before his attention shifts to something behind me.
"You're new," he says, and as one the table goes quiet as everyone turns to look at the man behind us.
"Just got off the ship," the man says warily. There's a lunch tray in his hands and a backpack over his shoulder. He's tall, lean, and breathtakingly beautiful.
"Did you," Aiya drawls. Keito and their anam, Micca, stiffen. Aiya smirks. "You must be Jye."
The man, Jye, frowns. "Yeah."
Aiya nudges my shoulder. "I believe this belongs to you."
It's not clear which one of us she's talking to at first, but then it hits me like a fist to the gut.
This is the next anam I'm going to get killed.
It isn't until I'm in the suite that I share with Mikscn—and will share with Jye—that I realize that maybe bolting from the mess like an idiot wasn't the best way to greet our new anam. It isn't until I'm being sick into the toilet that I realize I don't care.
I jump when cool hands smooth my hair away from my forehead, but Aiya doesn't acknowledge that she startled me. "It's okay, love," she whispers, and I realize I'm crying. "It's okay, it's not your fault," she murmurs as she wipes at my face with a wet towel. "Misa'll be okay, you only hurt her a little."
"I'll get him killed," I choke out and she
and pulls me down to cradle my head in her lap.
"You forget that me and my boys are free," she says as she pets my hair. Her pants under my cheek are quickly growing damp, but she doesn't seem to care. "Didn't I say I'd get you two a present?"
I snort despite myself. I do forget, somehow, that Aiya and Keito and Micca don't belong to anyone but each other. "You said that two years ago," I croak and she chuckles.
"It took a long time to find someone like him."
I still. "He is? Jye's our present?"
She strokes my cheek. "He's the most powerful anam I could find, equal to or stronger than your brother. I didn't know he was so pretty, though." She worms her free hand into her pocket. "Speaking of your brother…"
She holds the wrinkled, crumpled note in front of my face and I make myself open it calmly.
To my idiotic brothers,
Don't you dare blame yourselves. It was Jheghda's fault as per usual, you're not allowed to be sad. And I'm doing fine, I promise. Just ask Aiya, I'm sure her and Baina gossip enough. I'd say our mentors shouldn't be allowed to talk to each other, but then we wouldn't be able to, so I guess that's the price we pay.
I smile despite myself and scan the rest of the letter before tucking it safely away to share with Mikscn later.
"How'd you convince Jheghda to buy us a stronger anam?" I ask.
"I didn't," she says, petting her hand down my cheek. "I convinced Jye's House that a good diplomatic relationship with Bredan is something they want, and Jye volunteered to be a goodwill ambassador."
I just breathe for a few seconds. "Jye is free?" I manage, and she hums a positive. "Totally free?"
I sit up and stare her in the eye. "We could—he could—we could convince him to buy Cherian and set him free, pay him back somehow."
Something flits across her face too fast to read before her expression smoothes out and she smiles. "How about we get you boys introduced before we worry about all that."
I nod, but I'm already thinking, planning ahead. Finally, a chance to free Cherian! I have to tell Mikscn. Aiya sighs as she follows me out of the room, but I ignore the sound, feeling lighter than I can remember. Finally, a chance to make things right.
The next few hours are spent trying to track Jye down. He's been everywhere—medical, the quartermaster's, our suite—and by the time I give up and return to the adjunct, I'm ready for a nap. I climb up to where Mikscn's inspecting the panels in the adjunct's face and pass him Cherian's note.
He smiles as he reads it aloud and I imagine that Cherian's talking to us. I can remember his voice, a little, and it's a nice fantasy.
Mikscn passes the note back to me. "He sounds good."
"Yeah." I tuck it back into my boot and stretch languidly. "I met our new anam. Kind of." I wince.
Mikscn takes it in stride, though. "Yeah? Do tell."
"He's pretty," I say before I can stop myself, and Mikscn laughs. "Aiya said he's powerful. Like, Cherian-powerful."
Mikscn stares at the panel in his hands. "Good. That's … good."