Challenging Saber: The Alliance, Book 4 (SE Smith)
Seven Years Before – Earth:
The Collapsed Parking Garage:
“This way,” Hunter said in a quiet voice.
Saber nodded, staring at the dark crevice between the huge slabs of concrete. A curse echoed through his mind when he saw Hunter disappear into the opening. Sometimes he wondered about his friend’s sanity. If it had been him, he’d have left the human woman to her fate.
A grimace crossed his face as he slipped through the hole and slid down the incline created by the collapse of the building. With a shake of his head, he knew deep down he would have done the same thing as Hunter did if a human female had risked her life to save him. It was bred into their species to protect those that were weaker, that included all females.
Over the last four years of his mission, he had met a few human women. Most of them had been pleasant, but overall, he found them to be either too demanding or too delicate for his tastes. That had led to many frustrated night since his arrival on the planet.
He paused when Hunter glanced at him and held up two fingers, then a third. Stepping to the side, he and Dagger spread out while Hunter took the center. This was Hunter’s mission; they were the support. His vision quickly adjusted to the darkness. His gaze narrowed on the dim light and the soft voices in the far corner. Hunter slowly moved off to search for the female that had helped him, leaving him and Dagger to deal with the other two. He watched as Hunter disappeared into the darkness before returning his attention to the two figures by the fire.
His eyes were immediately drawn to the figure of the youngest human. She wasn’t quite a woman, but she wasn’t a child either. What he did know was that she was in a very dangerous situation, and that ignited a flame of anger inside him that he had never felt before.
His eyes scanned the shadows of the parking garage for signs of any males. It was hard to tell from the scents in the air. He could smell fresh blood and the acidic smoke from the fire. The blood was the same as from the warehouse where they had tracked the female earlier. He knew that the female Hunter was seeking had to be here, it was just a matter of where.
He turned his gaze to search for Hunter. He caught a glimpse of his friend’s shadow and knew that Hunter was in the mode that made his name famous. It wouldn’t take long for Hunter to find his prey.
He glanced at Dagger. Surprise and amusement swept through him when he saw Dagger’s intense gaze on the two females. Dagger had always been the most forceful and deadly out of the three of them. It wasn’t like he or Hunter couldn’t be put in that same category, it was just they didn’t play with those that pissed them off before killing them. Dagger was known to draw out the deaths of those stupid enough to get under his skin.
Turning his gaze back to the two females, Saber felt a strange twist in his chest as he listened to them quietly talk. The little one was trying to take care of the other. His eyes swept over her tousled blonde hair and slender, almost fragile form.
Anger burned in him as he wondered why the females did not have a male or males to protect them. As a Trivator warrior, protection of a female within a family unit was top priority. If a warrior proved himself worthy, he would be gifted with a family of his own. All warriors hoped to one day prove they were strong enough to have an Amate, a mate, to carry on their bloodline and fill the empty space inside them.
Saber looked critically at the young girl’s face. There was something about her in particular that pulled at those protective instincts, that made him want to shield her from the horrors outside. She was too young and delicate to be living this way.
He wasn’t sure what Hunter’s plans were for the other female, but he had a feeling that it would involve offering his protection. If Hunter did, then these two would also receive the same shelter and care. That meant that he and Dagger would protect them as well, since they considered Hunter more of a brother than a friend.
Satisfied with his reasoning, he decided that Hunter could protect the one he was seeking, Dagger obviously was focused on the welfare of the injured female, and that left him to care for the little one. A grin curved his lips. Since she was obviously the youngest and smallest, that meant his job would be the easiest. He could handle that.
He snapped back to the present when he saw Dagger motion for him to move forward. He nodded and stepped out of the shadows into the dim light of the fire.
A moment later, he realized that he might just have made the biggest error of judgment in his life. His mistake was thinking the littlest one would be the easiest to control.
He drew in a hissing gulp of frigid air as he bent forward. He was trying to keep his footing after the little hellcat with blonde hair nailed him in the stomach with anything but fragile piece of broken concrete that lined the fire pit. She had thrown it underhand with enough force to leave him gasping for air.
He rocked for a moment, trying to push away the pain. He thanked the Goddess that she hadn’t hit him a few inches lower. If she had, any hope of ever having a family would have been over. Straightening, he glared back at her defiant eyes.
Something tells me this isn’t going to be as easy as I thought, he reflected, warily watching her as she bent and picked up another fragment of concrete.
“I swear, Hunter, if that she-creature bites, hits, or tries to escape one more time, I’m going to put her in a cage!” Saber growled, staring at the petite female standing behind his friend several hours later. “Why you little…!”
“Saber,” Hunter grimaced, looking at his friend’s murderous face. “She is a defenseless female.”
Saber could see what Hunter couldn’t. His hands curled into tight fists when she stuck her tongue out at him before giving him a self-satisfied smirk. He didn’t care that she was under Hunter’s protection. Saber was about to throw her over his shoulder and scare a little respect into her.
He rubbed his wrist. He was sure she had drawn blood this time. He wondered if he should have insisted that the healer examine her for any diseases instead of believing the medic on board the transport when he said that, except for being malnourished, the youngest one appeared to be healthy.
“I swear, Hunter,” Saber started to say again before clamping his lips shut. “Go, check on the other females, I will watch over her,” he finally said with a weary sigh.
“Are you sure? I could see if another warrior…,” Hunter offered before giving Saber a strange look when a growl escaped his friend.
“Did he just growl?” The young female asked in awe. “What are you guys? That sounded just like a tiger. I heard one do something similar at the zoo. Does he need to be caged or something? He isn’t going feral, is he? Ugh! I bit him. You don’t think he has rabies, do you? Maybe he should be quarantined. My neighbor did that to a feral cat that she found in the woods near our house. Do you guys have those big pet containers?”
“Taylor,” Hunter warned, glancing at Saber’s red face. “Saber is fine. He is under control. Isn’t that right, Saber?”
“Oh, I am under complete control,” Saber said with a tight, sharp-tooth smile. “Just leave the little human to me.”
“Thank you,” Hunter said with a relieved smile. “I won’t be long. I hope that the healer will allow me to bring both of her siblings back to my rooms.”
“Take your time, we will be fine, won’t we, Taylor?” Saber promised.
He stared over Hunter’s shoulder. His intense eyes locked with Taylor’s wary ones that gazed back at him with growing alarm. He rolled his shoulders and bent his neck from side to side, enjoying the feel of the crack that released the tension building inside him.
“Keep her safe, Saber,” Hunter finally said, breaking the growing silence. “Her sister is my Amate. That means that Taylor and Jordan are now under my protection.”
“I know what it means, Hunter,” Saber growled, not taking his eyes off of Taylor. “I promise there won’t be a single bruise on her.”
Hunter nodded, glancing once more at Taylor before reluctantly stepping around the table in the nearly deserted cafeteria. Saber had to give Taylor credit, she didn’t scream until Hunter walked out of the room. Still, he should have known it wouldn’t be easy to catch her.
Shewta, she’s fast, and slippery, and…, he thought as he wiped the white gooey food matter from his face, creative when it comes to escaping.
“I am so looking forward to wrapping my hands around her little neck,” he muttered under his breath as several warriors chuckled from where they were sitting and watching from the safety of a corner table. “Taylor, get down from there right now!” He ordered, looking at the top of the cabinets attached to the far wall.
“Why don’t you try to make me, you…you moron!” She snapped. “I’ve got a bowl of…,” she glanced at the orange mixture with a frown. “Orange goop and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Saber flicked a piece of green food particle off his left shoulder as he stomped toward the metal cabinets. Right now, he was wearing just about every other color of food matter the cafeteria served. Why not add the last? He was going to need to visit a cleaning unit as it was.
“I won’t hurt you,” Saber promised, watching warily as the cabinet under her shook. “Taylor, that cabinet is not secured to the wall properly. Be careful.”
“You’re just…,” Taylor started to say when the cabinet shifted under her. Her eyes widened in alarm when it began to tilt. “Catch me!” She cried out before slinging the bowl in her hand to the side and jumping.
The sound of the warriors shouting a warning was drowned by the loud crash of the cabinet as it fell. Saber ignored everything but the small figure flying through the air. His arms opened and he caught Taylor.
The force of the impact sent him backwards. On the second step, his left foot hit one of the items that Taylor had thrown at him. The combination caused him to lose his balance and he fell.
His arms instinctively wrapped around Taylor to protect her as his back hit the hard, tiled surface. He was surprised when he felt her hands wrap protectively around his head to cushion the back of it. It took a moment for him to draw in a deep enough breath to speak. He opened his mouth to give Taylor a piece of his mind, but he snapped it shut when he locked gazes with the bright eyes staring down at him in worry.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean for that to happen,” she said in a breathless voice. “I… Thank you for catching me.”
Saber’s expression softened. The feel of her in his arms reminded him of just how small and fragile she was. He glanced over her shoulder and scowled at the grinning faces of the other warriors who had come to make sure that Taylor was unharmed.
“Is she alright, Saber?” Arrow asked with a grin.
“Yes,” Saber grunted with a wince when Taylor pushed up on his chest and accidentally kneed him in the groin. “Careful, little one. I’d like to keep those intact.”
“Oh, sorry,” Taylor muttered, turning a little red as she climbed to her feet and stared down at him with a wiggle of her nose. “Boy, I didn’t miss you much, did I?”
Saber grimaced when the other warriors chuckled. “No, you didn’t.”
“I was a kick-ass softball player before….” Her voice died and she looked around at the group of warriors towering over her before she turned her head to look back down at Saber. “I want to see my sisters,” she said, wrapping her arms protectively around her waist.
The other warriors registered the change in Taylor from bubbly pain-in-the-ass to a somber young girl at the same time as he did. Saber rose to his feet, wiping a hand down over his side before he tentatively reached out and drew her into his arms. With a fierce glance at the other warriors, he jerked his head for them to leave them alone.
“It will be alright, Taylor,” Saber murmured, holding her stiff body against his. “We will not harm you or your sisters.”
Her arms slowly unfolded and she slid them around his waist, resting her cheek against his chest. That protective possessive feeling he felt the first time he saw Taylor swept through him.
“How can we be sure?” Her muffled voice asked. “Everyone else… I wish my dad were here.”
Saber frowned at her fractured words. He wondered where the male was. Taylor and her two older sisters appeared to be alone, but what if they had protectors? He didn’t know if Hunter or Dagger knew the answer to that question.
“Where is he? If you tell me, I will do everything I can to reunite you with your protector,” he promised in a husky voice.
“You can’t,” she replied with a sniff. “He’s… he’s… dead. It’s just Jesse, Jordan, and me now.”
A shudder ran through Taylor, and Saber frowned when he felt her ribs through her threadbare shirt. She was too thin. The knowledge that his people and the Alliance were partially to blame for that fact did not sit well with him.
His species, the Trivators, had come to Earth four years ago. Their mission was to initiate first contact and prepare the Earth for inclusion into the Alliance, a vast coalition of planets that encompassed a large number of star systems.
They had encountered resistance before, but never like this. Mass chaos had reigned around the planet. While the humans were all the same species, their beliefs and lifestyles went from one extreme to the other. Tribal groups, fanatics, those greedy for power and wealth, and those that refused to accept they were not the only ones in the universe fought against not only the Trivator forces, they fought each other too, until their civilizations crumbled.
Bending, he scooped her up in his arms. He glanced at where Sword, Edge, and Thunder were watching in silence. All three men had a tense look of regret on their faces. He bowed his head in acknowledgement. They couldn’t change what had been done, but he could change what happened to Taylor. She would not only have Hunter to protect her, but Saber and Dagger, as well.
“You are not alone any longer, little one,” Saber whispered as he carried her out of the cafeteria. “I will watch over you.”
Neither one of them spoke as Saber turned left at the end of the hallway. They had been negligent about Taylor’s welfare. He felt another shaft of guilt pierce him. Taylor’s two sisters, Jesse and Jordan, had been critically ill while Taylor had been a fireball of rebellion. She had fought like a warrior trying to protect her sisters. Because of her resistance, it never dawned on Saber that Taylor might need medical attention as well. The medic had checked her over and said she needed food, but otherwise appeared healthy.
“Where are you taking me?” Taylor asked, not moving her head which was nestled just under his chin.
“To the medical unit,” he replied in a gruff voice. “I should have insisted that the healer check you over.”
“Is that where Jesse and Jordan are?” She asked, tilting her head back to look at him. “You have dried mashed potatoes in your hair.”
A startled chuckle escaped Saber. “I think I have more than that. You hit me more than you missed. You have a very good aim for a female. You are also very….” He stopped as he tried to think of the right word to describe her quickness.
“I’m very what?” Taylor asked with a puzzled frown.
Saber glanced down at her as he paused outside of a dark green door. “Fast. You are very fast, but the way you could jump and flip… I’m not sure the correct human word to use,” he said in frustration.
“I’m very limber,” she replied with a small smile. “I was in gymnastics. I was really, really good at it. Dad…,” her voice choked for a moment and her eyes glittered with tears. “Dad said I needed it because I was born with too much energy for anyone to keep up with.”
“I’m sorry about your father, Taylor,” Saber murmured, reaching down to open the door.
Taylor shook her head and snuggled up against him again. “It wasn’t your fault,” she whispered. “He was killed the first day by a human. We’ve been running ever since. I’m tired of running. So are Jesse and Jordan.”
“You’ll never have to run again if I have anything to do with it,” Saber said grimly, glancing as one of the medics came forward. “I want a healer to check her.”
The medic looked at the grim expression on Saber’s face and gave him a sharp nod. “Follow me,” he said.
Taylor sat on the exam table and looked around the room. The medic had ushered Saber out of the room, telling him that he would have to wait outside in the front office. She glanced at the door, listening carefully. She could hear the quiet murmurs of the medic and another man.
She bit her lip in uncertainty. Jesse and Jordan had taught her the first year they were on the run to look for anything that they could use. Her eyes flickered to the medicine cabinet attached to the wall. They could always use the medicine once they escaped from here. Drugs were the second hardest thing to find out on the streets; the first was food.
She wiped her sweaty palms down her faded jeans. She would wait until after the doctor saw her, then find a way to hide a few things away. Her eyes jerked back to the door when it opened and a huge man walked into the room.
“Hello, human. My name is Carp. You were with the other two females that are resting?” He asked.
“Are they…,” Taylor said, nodding her head at his question. “Are Jesse and Jordan going to be okay?”
Carp studied the tablet in his hand for a moment with a frown before he glanced up at her and nodded. “Yes, but it was a good thing the three of you were found when you were. Your sisters were very ill and one of them had several broken ribs,” he said with a grim look. “How long have you been without protection?”
Taylor pursed her lips. “Jesse, Jordan, and I have been protecting each other. If you mean how long have we been on the run? It’s been four years,” she replied with a shrug, looking on curiously when he held up a small device. “What’s that?”
“It allows me to scan your vitals,” Carp replied with a slight smile.
“How does it work?” Taylor asked, glancing at it with a frown.
“It picks up your temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure,” he explained, pocketing the device in his jacket before reaching for another strange piece of equipment. “Please place your hands on the surface.”
Taylor cautiously lifted her hands and laid it on the dark glass. “What does this do?” She asked as a red light ran back and forth several times causing her hands to tingle.
“It is taking blood samples and running tests on them. The results will tell me if you have the same virus that your sisters are suffering from, if you are anemic, as well as other tests,” he said, pulling the flat glass toward him and studying it. “When is the last time you ate?”
“About half an hour or so ago,” Taylor admitted. “It was the first time I’ve had that much in years.”
Shaking his head, Carp set the scanner down and walked over to the medicine cabinet. Pulling out a key, he unlocked it before dropping the key back into the pocket of his jacket. He scanned the contents. He started when he realized that Taylor had quietly stepped up behind him.
“What’s that?” She asked, pointing to a purple bottle.
“A vitamin supplement,” Carp replied with a raised eyebrow. “Are you going to ask me what each vial contains now?”
Taylor glanced up at him with a mischievous grin. “Yep,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated with stuff.”
“A few drops in water will give you strength as it replenishes the nutrients and vitamins you are missing. This one will kill any infections you might have. This one will seal a wound and enhance healing,” Carp explained as he touched each vial.
“How do you guys know how to do all of this stuff?” Taylor asked in curiosity.
Carp picked up several vials and turned, motioning for Taylor to return to the examination table. He placed several drops from the purple vial into a glass of water before handing it to her. Taylor studied it suspiciously before sipping it. She was surprised when she felt a charge of energy sweep through her. Quickly drinking the rest of the water down, she handed the glass back to him.
“Can you tell me if you are feeling pain anywhere?” Carp asked, motioning for her to lay back.
“Not really,” Taylor said with a shrug as she scooted back and laid down. “I’ve got some bruises from Saber, but that’s all.”
“Saber?” Carp said with a dark scowl. “He hurt you?”
Taylor snorted. “Only when I hit his hard hide,” she growled. “The guy is built like a brick wall. You try hitting him and see if you don’t end up with a bruise or two.”
Carp’s scowl dissolved and he chuckled as he shook his head. “No, thank you,” he replied dryly. “I’ve participated in enough training sessions to know what Saber, Hunter, and Dagger are like. This will take care of your bruising. I suggest that you refrain from striking any more Trivator warriors in the future.”
“Of course you’d say that, you’re one of them!” Taylor retorted.
“I’ve requested clean clothing to replace your torn garments,” Carp said, running the last of his scans and motioning for Taylor to sit up. “I’ll inform Hunter that you and your sisters may return to his quarters with instructions to return in a few days for a check up to make sure all of you are well.”
“Thanks,” Taylor said, smiling as she sat up.
She watched as the healer walked to the door and opened it after a soft knock sounded. He turned with a stack of clothing in his hands. She slid off the exam table again and reached for them when he held them out.
“I’ll inform Hunter you are here. Just come back out to the front room when you are ready,” Carp instructed.
“I will. Thanks, doc,” Taylor grinned brightly.
Carp gave her an uncertain look before he nodded and stepped out of the room. Taylor breathed a sigh of relief and quickly changed. She glanced at the door before walking back over to the bed where she pulled out the key and scanner she had slipped from his pocket and hidden under the pillow.
It didn’t take her long to place all the vials into her old shirt that she had tied up to make a bag. Her fingers hovered over a gun-shaped item. It was the same thing the medic had used on Jordan and Jesse in the transport that had brought them here.
“It might come in handy,” Taylor whispered under her breath as her fingers wrapped around it. “Always think ahead like Jesse says.”
Wrapping the items in her jeans, she straightened. Once she, Jesse, and Jordan were together, they could plan on how to escape. She paused by the door and pulled down the paper taped to the wall. It was a map of the compound. It would definitely come in handy.
Drawing in a deep breath, Taylor grinned. This was actually fun. They were healthy, had clean clothes, food, and medicine. Now, all they needed to do was escape. Taylor thought of everything she had seen as they were walking to the building. There had been a line of garbage trucks leaving. They were checked coming in, but not going out. It wasn’t an ideal escape plan, but knowing how well these aliens could smell, it just might work.
Doing a little jig, Taylor opened the door and stepped out. She smiled at Carp when he walked by her. She took the opportunity to drop the key back into his pocket. He was just going to have to get a new scanner.
“Thanks again for everything, doc,” she said.
Carp bowed his head in acknowledgement. “I have instructed Hunter to take better care of you and your sisters. Now that he has claimed one of them for his Amate, you are under his protection.”
“Sure thing,” Taylor agreed, not understanding what an Amate was and deciding it didn’t matter as they wouldn’t be here long enough to find out. “Bye!”
She bit her lip when she heard Carp’s muttered words as he turned. If he thought they were strange, he needed to spend a few weeks in the outside world. With a sigh, Taylor saw Saber rise as she entered the room. The adorable alien moron still had dried food in his hair.