Kiera's Home (Chapter Two, page 1 of 7)

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His beautiful nishani was frowning when A'Ran entered the conference room. Mansr looked away from the visual of the planet, his expression inquisitive.

A'Ran nodded once. Their sensors indicated that the mines were producing the grey metal.

His nonverbal confirmation made Mansr sigh in the only sign of the relief they both felt. With grey metal, they could buy allies, trade for food, and protect their people, who were scattered throughout the Five Galaxies. It was something A'Ran had struggled to do for many sun-cycles, until Kiera.

She was staring at the magnified grass on the planet. A'Ran's fingers still tingled with the sensation of the blades against his skin. It couldn't last without the sun and water. Yet these were minor issues compared to what he'd faced since assuming the role of dhjan - king - at the age of fifteen. The planet had begun to die the day he was exiled from his home, and it would stay dead, if not for Kiera.

She was the key to regrowth on the planet, and the grey metal would pay for what it'd likely take to clean up their world and care of his people until everyone was able to return.

What is sunlight when we have hope after so long? Rarely did he let himself feel pride or hope, preferring to keep his focus on his duty and executing his next mission. Today, however, he'd seen how much of a miracle she was. One touch, and his planet had begun to return to life.

He couldn't imagine her frown was for anything other than the fact he wouldn't let her stay longer. She'd been adamant about going that morning. It was too dangerous for anyone to linger with the atmosphere full of toxins.

"We must plan to pull as much metal out of the ground as possible," he said to Mansr.

"So no melting spaceships?" Kiera asked. Her green-blue eyes were bright, her curly hair captured at her neck. Shapely and small compared to the women of Anshan, she was as exotic in looks as she was in her ideas. His gaze lingered on her, the way it always did whenever he saw her.

"No need," he said. "We can trade for atmospheric filtering devices then put everything we have into pulling metal out of the ground."

"I'm guessing these things are not cheap."

"There is only one planet that makes them," Mansr said. "The devices are likely to be more expensive for us."

"Did you pick a fight with them, too?" Kiera asked.

A'Ran allowed a small smile to slip free. "We both did, nishani."

"Qatwal?" Surprise crossed her face. She said a few words that didn't translate but which sounded like the ones she'd directed at him earlier that day during their argument. He decided he was probably happier not knowing these words.

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