Defy the Stars(147)

By: Claudia Gray


“No, never,” Akide says gently, soothing her temper. “It was a theoretical exercise only—one of our final projects together. I had no idea he intended to carry the plans out; even now, I can’t entirely believe the Abel model truly fulfilled the ambition of those plans. Now I want to know exactly what Abel is capable of.”

“He has a soul. I know that as surely as I know I have one.”

Akide shakes his head. “That’s only an illusion, Vidal. A convincing illusion, and I don’t blame you for being fooled. Model One A is already extraordinary without going to any… fanciful extremes.”

He speaks kindly. Means well. Unlike Kaminski, Darius Akide doesn’t intend to shame Noemi for her beliefs about Abel; he simply believes his last cybernetics project with Burton Mansfield was only that, tinkering with metal and circuits.

However, Noemi didn’t put everything in her report. She hasn’t told them how crushed Abel was by Mansfield’s betrayal, or even what Mansfield truly intended, because God forbid anyone else should ever get the same idea. She hasn’t told them about Abel’s declaration of love either. That’s too personal. It belongs to him and her alone.

Besides, if she’d reported that Abel loved her, they might’ve wanted to ask how she felt about him. Noemi can’t answer that, because she isn’t sure.

Is it love? Maybe it would’ve been, given only a little more time. All she knows is that she still wants to hear what Abel would make of everything she sees. What he might do if he were here beside her. He’s the one she wants to talk to about everything that’s happening, even though she knows she’ll never get the chance. She doesn’t feel as safe here on her own planet, under the protection of an elder on the Council, as she did with Abel beside her. This is her home, and yet it feels incomplete without him.

If that’s not love… surely it’s where love begins.

“Tell me,” Akide says. “Where do you think Abel’s gone? What is he likely to do next?”

“I don’t know.”

It’s the truth. And in some ways, that’s the most wonderful truth of all. Abel’s potential is as limitless as any human being’s. The entire galaxy has opened to him, and she wants him to find someplace he can build a good life—if such a place exists in this galaxy anywhere besides Genesis. Noemi’s not sure about that anymore.

But as she looks up into the darkening night sky, she knows she’ll never stop hoping. Never stop searching the stars, wondering whether any of them could be the one Abel someday calls home.





42


ABEL LEANS BACK IN THE CAPTAIN’S CHAIR. “REPORT.”

“We’ve got a confirmation on the Saturn-Neptune ore haul,” Zayan reports from the ops console. “That is, if we can pick up our load within eight hours.”

“Set in a course,” Abel says to Harriet, who grins at him from the navigation console as she follows his order. To Zayan he adds, “Let the mine know the Persephone accepts the job.”

He has renamed this ship one last time. He had to, of course, to cover his tracks, but he chose the name carefully. In Greek myth, Persephone was the bride of Hades, rescued from the underworld by her mother, Demeter, but still bound to her husband by the pomegranate seeds she ate—and, in some tellings of the story, by love. Abel thinks of Noemi as belonging to both Genesis and to the stars, as a person who will always have a place on more than one world.

Besides, he thinks, she’s been to hell and back.

If only he could tell her that joke, and see if it makes her smile. But he doesn’t allow himself to dwell on the loss too often. Noemi’s final request was that he create a life of his own, and he’s already spent enough time brooding in the equipment pod bay for many lifetimes.

No more. Abel intends to live.

Once he was safely back in the Kismet system and had dealt with the first crushing sorrow of losing Noemi, he considered his options carefully. His skills would allow him to take on virtually any sort of work, and he already possessed the ultimate advantage in that area: a spaceworthy ship. Erasing his criminal profiles was tricky work, but well within his skills; he erased Noemi’s, too, while he was at it, just in case she ever gets another chance to travel the galaxy. Abel wants that for her.