EXCERPT FROM BOUND TO YOU by AR DeClerck
"It's radiation, Lia. Whatever this machine does, it creates radiation. If you go in there you will die from radiation poisoning." He pointed to the Illaran words on the door, written large and in red. "I think it probably means to stay away."
"Then you can't go either!" She squeezed her upper arms hard, the only way to stop herself from throwing her body into his. "You're not immune to radiation."
"I've got no choice. I'm the power source. You can live, Lia. You don't have to come inside."
She was shaking, the world crashing in on her as her choices became clear. "We kill Verhagnis, and I have to watch you die. Or, we walk away and Verhagnis escapes this planet to kill billions of other people?"
"No." Jacks shook his head. His hands were shaking, but he gripped the strap of his bag and looked at her intently. "No. We kill Verhagnis, and I die. You go on, and you live and love and have babies and get your happily ever after. That's the only choice."
"We could die together. Be together in the afterlife. We know it exists!" She was frantic, looking for some answer to the puzzle that had none.
"I didn't say I'd go easy, princess. If there's any way to survive this, then I'll survive it. For you." This time he did reach for her, and he pulled her into his arms as if she were water and he a dying man. "But I won't risk your life."
"It's not your choice, Jacks." She held him, her arms around him and her face against his chest. She could smell him and feel him inside every pore, and she wondered how much it might hurt to have the bond broken between them. "I say when I die. I say where I go."
"Do it for me, then."
She pulled back, pissed. He was serious, every line of his face set in stone.
"Please, princess. If you love me, you'll do this for me."
She wanted to hit him again. In a way she felt loved and flattered that a man might give up his own life to save hers. On the other hand she was really fucking tired of him knowing exactly how to manipulate her emotions when it suited him. She was beyond angry and past pissed off, but he pressed his lips to hers.
He couldn't help the grin that slid over his lips. Those damned lips. "Promise me that no matter what happens you won't come inside this room. Promise me that if I die you will not do anything other than mourn me and move on. Promise me, “he rubbed her cheek with his thumb, "that you'll survive this."
"What happens if Verhagnis comes in here while you're in the room?" She hated to act like such a bitch, but it was tit for tat. "What happens if he kills me while you're inside?"
"You're smarter and stronger than that."
His praise made her blush, but she steeled herself against the pleasure of it. "And if the machine fails? What then?"
A frown appeared between his eyebrows. "It won't."
"If it does?"
She couldn't hold him any longer. She knew he was gone even before he left. She was still standing there when the door to the room closed behind him
Jacks leaned against the door and tried to control himself. He was a fucking mess, and this was not the way to try to power an alien machine. He needed to be focused and sure of what he was doing.
That was the problem. He wasn't sure. The minute he'd realized what the reinforced room meant, every promise he'd made to Lia went out the window. They were not doing this together, no fucking way. He'd seen the results of radiation poisoning in his classes at the IGU, and he knew that the Illaran machine must put out massive amounts to warrant such a remote, closed room.
He looked up, and saw that above the machine there were doors, like hangar doors that must open to the surface. Surely, if the energy the machine created was to destroy the wormhole, the doors opened up to allow the energy out.
He looked up and saw that Lia was pressed against the window, her palms flat on the glass as her eyes followed his every move. He tried to ignore her, but knew it was impossible. He went to her, and placed his palms on the glass, mirroring hers.
"Don't die." she mouthed to him, her voice carried away by the thick glass.
He tried to think of something reassuring to say, but found nothing, so he nodded. She was torn up, the gamut of emotions coming off her end of the bond physically painful. He winced, and rubbed his chest, and she stepped back, lessening the flow. They were learning to control the flow between them with every day that passed, and he knew that, if he tried, he could completely shut her out. He held on to that knowledge, praying he wouldn't need to use it.
He backed away and looked around the room. He was here, but he had no idea what to do next.
"I'm here." he said aloud, hoping Layl was nearby. "What now?"
A moment passed, then two, but nothing happened. He looked at Lia and raised a shoulder. She pointed, and he turned as the terminals inside the room suddenly came on. The same scrolling Illaran letters were running, and he leaned closer. They made no sense to him at all, the figures completely different than any language he'd ever seen.
"Uh, okay." he called out to Layl. "Still no idea what to do."
He could almost picture Layl's frustrated growl, as the computer nearest him stopped scrolling, and the screen froze. He leaned an elbow on the table and studied it. It was a diagram of the machine, complete with pictures showing him how to open the domed lid.
He moved to the machine, looking for the same buttons on the machine that he saw on the screen. He pressed it, and the dome slid back. He grinned and looked at Lia, who'd covered her mouth with her hand as she stared at the machine. He went back to the computer and the picture flipped, showing the person climbing bodily inside the machine as the dome slid closed over them.
"Illaran death machine for dummies." he murmured, going back to the machine. He looked up at Lia, and tried to send her reassurance through the bond.
She didn't move, but her fingers curled against the glass as he sat on the bed of the machine and swung his legs up. He laid back and as his head touched the pillowed rest the dome slid closed over him.