Tulip bit her lip as she paced her small quarters on the ship. A lot happened over the next week, and with every passing minute that Kurmar was locked in the cell with the commander, her anxiety rose another notch.
She felt like a traitor to her sister and Bor for not only letting the stranger onto the ship, but for allowing him to lock himself in the cell with Bor’s best friend in a time of weakness.
Would he be even more pissed off at her for this… If he ever got out of that cell. She still didn’t know why Korom was so mad at her. She had racked her brain for hours every night, but nothing came to mind.
With everything that happened over the last week, Tulip was even more aware of just how much her little stunt could cost them all.
As much fun as being in space, hurtling towards a new planet at an unimaginable speed, the risks were just as dire. One tiny mistake could mean the death of every soul on this ship. A hull breach or a malfunction in the engine could mean the death of hundreds of people, including her sisters.
But from the moment she saw Kurmar in his mist form outside the ship three days ago, she knew she had to do something. Tulip might not know much about Korom and his kind, but there was no denying that Kurmar was the same species. And if he was here, then maybe he could help the commander.
She had no idea what was wrong with him, or why he had chosen to lock himself up the way he had, but she just knew in her gut that something was very wrong.
Lucky for her, Kurmar had kept his word, so far. He stayed in the cell with Korom the entire time, and despite her dread, nothing had gone wrong on the ship. At least nothing that could be blamed on him. The Spinner attack that took place was as horrific as it was fascinating for Tulip. She will never forget how scared she was when Violet went crazy in the medical room, nor will she ever be able to go near the engine room without feeling the same dread she felt when she found out that Violet was trapped in there while the entire room froze.
Back on Earth, More and more survivors were coming out of hiding. Now that the Spinners were dead, people slowly and carefully began to emerge. There was still little trust from the humans towards the Torian’s but as Bor had explained, his men would do whatever was needed of them to make sure that each and every human left alive had what they needed to rebuild and thrive. There was still no official figure of the death toll, but Tulip estimated it was well into the six billion mark.
Bor and his command team tried to keep them all as informed as they could about what was happening back on Earth, but it still felt like a dream for Tulip at times. Even with her intelligence, it was hard to wrap her mind around so many people dying in such a short amount of time.
Running her fingers through her long hair, Tulip glanced down at the data pad laying on her bed yet again. She was waiting for any sign from Kurmar that he was done in the cell and she could let him out. She hoped that Korom would be coming out of the cell with him, but she had no idea what was happening to him, so there was no way to know.
Just the thought of the man sent a shiver through her body. Why was she acting like this? The man hated her. She had said all of ten words to him from the moment they met, and besides the glaring looks he gave her, she honestly didn’t think he gave her much thought. Why would he, she thought as she looked down at her stick thin frame, her baggy clothes and her loose, long hair hanging over her shoulders. She didn’t have to look in the mirror to know what she would see there. Tulip was never one to wear make up, or to bother with doing her hair up. She found that eye make up made her eyes dry when she stared at a screen for too long, and was a nightmare to wash off before bed.
Sighing, she sat down on the bed and grabbed the screen. The image showed the video feed from a surveillance camera inside the quarantine cells. All she saw was three empty rooms, and one pitch black storm boiling in the last one.
Wisp flew over to her, moving through her hair and around her neck. The tiny puff of mist hadn’t left her side since the moment she saw it, and Tulip had to be thankful for that. Because of Wisp, she now had access to just about every area of the system they used on this ship, as well as Korom’s command codes for the security system. That was how she had managed to turn off the proximity sensors and cameras the night Kurmar came on board.
A small smile pulled her lips at the thought of what Korom would say when he found out that, technically, he let the male in himself. In a roundabout way, the mist was a part of him, and it was Wisp that had shown her what buttons to press.
A flash from the screen drew her mind back and Tulip raised it up to study the image. A gasp escaped her lips when she noticed that in the last cell, the fog was gone. In its place stood two large men.
Without thinking, Tulip raced out of her room and ran as fast as she could towards the cells. She passed a few warriors on her way, but didn’t bother to stop and chat. Wisp stayed curled around her neck as she rounded the last corner and slowed her frantic run to a fast walk. Pausing by the entrance to the cells, Tulip tried to catch her breath before she opened the door and entered.
Instantly she saw the two men. Kurmar looked tired and a little rumpled, but a small smile pulled at his lips when he saw her come in. Her eyes moved to Korom, who stood a few inches taller than the other man, his powerful body tight and rigid as his eyes fixed on her.
Swallowing, Tulip took slow, cautious steps towards the cell. Looking back at Kurmar, she asked with her eyes if it was okay to open the door. With a small nod, Kurmar smiled and said something to Korom. Whatever words were spoken, Korom let out a long breath, then lowered his eyes to the ground.
Tulip stepped up to the controls and pressed the release button. They hissed open as she took a few steps back.
Wisp fluttered against her skin, obviously glad to see its master again, but didn’t come out from under her loose hanging hair.
Kurmar stepped out first, making his way to the long bench that hung from the opposite wall. He sat down with a long sigh, and rested his elbows on his knees.
Then Korom came out. He paused in front of Tulip, his eyes scanning her flushed face, taking in every detail. Without a word, he frowned, shook his head, and spun to leave.
Tulip had to take a second to catch her breath. That was the first time she had been that close to the man, and her body came alive in a heartbeat at just the smell of him. She would have expected him to be a little musky with sweat and not being able to shower in four days, but he smelled just as good as he had the first day on the shuttle.
As she turned to watch him leave the room, Tulip decided in that very moment that she was going to find out why he was so cold to her. She needed to know. It had kept her up for hours at night, and she was no closer to an answer now than she was before. If she didn’t find her voice and speak up, it would drive her crazy. Not only that, but she needed to know if there was something in their culture that she may have offended in some way. The last thing she wanted was to do the same to the people on Toria.
Taking in an encouraging breath, Tulip pushed off the wall and marched out of the cells behind Korom. When she exited, she found him already halfway down the long hall. Running to catch up to him, she called out, “Wait!”
Korom stopped and slowly turned to face her. His brow was pulled down in a frown, his lips set in a thin line and his body seemed to hum with tension.
He raised one brow to her in question, making Tulip swallow and seriously second guess her plan here. But, she squared her shoulders and pressed forward.
As she walked closer, she spoke. “According to the dimensions of the medical room, and the size of the tiles, there are exactly two hundred and seventy two metal floor tiles in the medical room… From the landing bay to the doors of the medical suite, it’s exactly three hundred and seventy point seven feet, meaning the ship has to be at least three and a half thousand feet long. When you’re angry, you unconsciously rub the tip of your right thumb over the handle of your knife. You also tie one boot tighter than the other… the left one.” By the time she was done talking, she was standing only a foot away from him, her neck bent to look up at his eyes.
He stared down at her, confusion clear in his eyes.
Tulip went on, “I have a photographic memory and can remember every detail of my life from when I was three years old. I have an IQ higher than most and find patterns and make connections in the blink of an eye… but no matter how hard I try to think back, or work it out, I just don’t know what I did to make you so angry with me.”
Korom frowned and let out a short sigh. His features relaxed and his body almost sagged at her words. He moved, stepping closer to her a second before his hand came up to cup her cheek. She jerked at the unexpected contact, but turned her face into his warm hand.
“Oh, Tulip…”He said, his voice a deep, rumbling whisper, “You have done nothing to anger me, little one.”
She looked up, meeting his stunning brown eyes, “Then why do you look at me like I just kicked your dog?”
He frowned, “My what?”
“The few times I have seen you, you glare at me like I’m your worst enemy. Why? What did I do? Is it because I stole the data pad? I can give it back. I never meant to cause trouble, I just… I like technology.”
The small smile that spread over his lips almost stopped her heart. He was handsome when he was angry, but a smiling Korom was enough to take her breath away.
“I know you took the data pad, Tulip. I watched you steal it. I am not angry about that. In fact, I ordered Hara to not say anything and to take a new one.”
“Is it because I have Wisp?” She asked, dreading the idea of him wanting it back, “It came to me on it’s own, I didn’t steal it, I swear.”
He frowned again, “Wisp? What is that?”
She bit her lip, her eyes lowering to his broad chest. She didn’t miss the fact that his warm hand still rested gently on her cheek. The contact comforted her and gave her the strength to stand there and keep talking.
“Tulip, what is this Wisp? I give you my word I will not be angry.”
She let out a sigh and met his eyes again. Tears welled in them at the thought of her tiny friend being taken away.
“Wisp, come out.” She whispered and felt the fluttering at the base of her neck. A second later, the tiny puff of dark mist flew out from her hair and paused in front of her face between them.
Korom sucked in a sharp breath and stepped back, his hand falling away.
In her panic, Tulip reached out for Wisp, “Please don’t take him back. I mean, not unless you need it. It’s… It’s the only friend I have on this ship.”
“How did you get it?”
She shrugged, “It came to me on its own. It’s really cute, and playful. Please don’t take it away.”
She smiled, a blush burning her cheeks again, “Yeah, cute. It likes to hang out under my hair and play with my fingers. It’s helping me as well.”
Korom’s frown deepened as he watched the tiny ball of his mist fly back to her neck to hide in her hair. He swallowed, his eyes moving back to meet hers, “You think the murderous mist that rips flesh from bone in seconds, kills without mercy and can not be destroyed… is cute and playful? Am I dreaming?”
She chuckled, “It’s never hurt me. It helps me…”
She clamped her lips closed, kicking herself mentally for saying too much.
“It helps you with what?”
“Tulip? Tell me.” His tone held the authority she imagined he used on his warriors but lacked the bite of a true order. Unable to lie to this man, she said, “It’s showing me how to use the tablet.”
“What is a tablet?”
“This,” She held up the data pad in her hands for him to see.
“It… It moves my fingers and shows me what to press… How to, um, access certain things.”
A deep, low chuckle escaped Korom, making Tulip’s heart stutter. God, that was a beautiful sound.
After a moment, he said, “Things like the camera’s, proximity sensors and alarms you would need to disable in order for Kurmar to board this ship?”
Her head fell forward again, eyes averted from his stare. She nodded.
“All things that would need a command code to disable?” He continued.
“And if I checked the logs, I would find that it was I who turned off the sensors and alarms?”
She nodded, gripping the data pad tighter to her chest.
“And… Wisp, gave you these codes? Showed you how to do it?”
Again, all she could do was nod.
His hand rose to her face again, making Tulip shut her eyes as her heart leaped in her chest, racing at a million beats a second.
Korom’s gentle touch brushed over her cheek, moving to her thick hair hanging over her shoulders. He lifted one side, looking between the strands.
Wisp fluttered again, moving around her neck to show itself to Korom.
“You are not afraid of it?”
She shook her head, “No.”
“But you are afraid of me?” His voice changed again, growing deeper once more.
She moved her eyes up to his, biting her lower lip, “No. I’m just… I’m shy… But you don’t scare me. Not the way Bor does.”
Korom’s eyes went wide and a smile pulled at his lips. “Bor? You are more afraid of Bor than of me?”
She nodded, “He’s really big and loud and… he intimidates me.”
Korom’s smile fell and his eyes flashed with rage once again.
“Has Bor done something to you? Hurt you?”
“No,” she rushed to answer, “No, he would never hurt me or my sisters. He loves Lilly way too much and he’s too honorable for that, it’s just.. He’s scary, that’s all.”
His grin returned, making Tulip’s heart flutter as she took in the stunning sight, “Bor is large, strong, and powerful… But he is also the kind of male that you can trust with your life. I don’t think there is anything you or your sisters could do to anger him so much that he would hurt you.”
She snorted, “We’ll see about that.”
Korom tilted his head to the side in question.
Tulip sighed, “We need to go tell him what I did. To show him that your back. And once he realizes what I’ve done, he will know that I am now the biggest security threat on this ship.”