The Gifting Series
Enyl on Gikaet
Etterian Ground Base
The Battleship Gladio hovered off-world. The disembarking was swift, from his scimitar-class craft, Sasay, to the martial bunkers of Calustrum. Metal walls lined the passages, the lighting bright and unforgiving. Enyl sucked in a deep breath, humming in appreciation. The air-filtration systems recycling Gikaet air, and the addictive stench of victory brought back cherished memories.
He strode toward the young male on welcoming duty. As expected of one with his rank, that of the crown prince, he strode ahead. Prince Blaine trailed him, a youngin of seventeen years, and the son of Enyl's uncle, Prince Citus. Two Etterian males were the usual sighting, but not in Enyl's case.
Acting as protector was Malo, an Etterian male similar in age to Xeus. Due to his skill set, Malo had been his father's preferred escort, since Enyl was a damu. As Head of Operations, Commander Malo was lethal. His presence was too excessive. Enyl scowled. He could defend himself, and they were at peace. There were no external threats he needed to be wary of, especially not on a diplomatic trip to the Global Council.
“What do you mean Remi is not here?” Enyl demanded of the young recruit who had stiffened behind the stone podium.
On the back wall, large display vids revealed the day's Gika movements and kills per warrior. Focusing on the flickering data, he allowed the promise of battle to calm him. Enyl knew better than to use his position as crown prince, but he felt irritated, restless. Alodon's balls, his hands trembled of their own accord. To feel is to fail. He was unable to school his emotions, to rein in tighter control. He was no longer a youngin who experienced emotions due to a lack of control. Malo shot him a surprised glance.
“I apologize, my prince. Base Commander Remi scheduled these inspections prior to your arrival.” The young male hesitated, as if he had more to say but their current protocol prevented it.
Enyl forced an encouraging smile. “I give you permission to speak freely, youngin.”
The male drew in a deep breath before proceeding. “It was a miracle your mother blessed your father with your birthing. Your impending arrival does not mean all schedules need revising. His words, my prince.”
Enyl blinked at the pale male as Malo and Blaine chuckled behind him. “Remi would be correct.” He didn’t miss the poor youngin's sigh of relief. “To which barracks am I assigned?”
“N14-A, my prince.” The recruit tapped on his O.D.I., sending Enyl his roster.
Reading the message brought on a scowl. His duties were medical shifts, construction work, and protocol training. There was no Gika hunting, no battlefield excursions, and no scouting missions.
“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.
Calustrum was a haven for him, a place to kill something, to rid himself of this unusual restlessness he suffered from before he headed for the Council. He hadn't come to tend a youngin's scraped knee!
“Base Commander Remi stated you may hunt in your off time. He needs you as indicated, my prince.”
He stepped aside and allowed Malo to address the recruit. Neither of them would be staying long, and since Remi did have full authority on Gikaet… Enyl grunted. Every male received training in all skill sets in all aspects of Etterian life. Such knowledge ensured he continued to serve Etteria after reaching fifty years of age, should the void not have claimed him yet. It pleased Enyl that he wasn't working the kitchens. Making kreso and momaberry sauce for an entire base left him drained after each shift.
“Specialized training?” At Malo's hissed words, Enyl fought the twitch teasing his upper lip. The formidable Operations Commander, in his black Etterian armor as they all were, leaned toward the young male. He loomed, casting his shadow across the recruit.
“Your skill set is greatly sought after, Operations Commander. Announcing your impending arrival filled your classes in an instant.”
Enyl chuckled at the turn of events. Malo would not be hunting Gika. Instead, he would see the four walls of a classroom for the duration of their short stay. His elite skills in interrogation, negotiation, and infiltration were why he headed their espionage units.
“Prince Blaine, welcome.” The youngin assumed Malo no longer needed to converse with him and addressed Blaine. “Your barracks is N08-H. You have one item on your roster. Please do not hesitate to comm Base-Commander Remi should you require any assistance.” With that said, the energetic male left them staring after him, his boots squeaking on the polished Maloidian floor.
“Alodon's balls. Weapon sterilization?” Blaine growled while glowering at his roster.
“Alodon? He is why weapon sterilization exists. We cannot have you blasting off your own balls. Though, fewer Blaines might be a blessing,” Malo teased.
“Blaine's balls? It has a cadence to it that is appealing,” Enyl chuckled.
“Tell me again why we are here and not visiting brothels across the galaxies?” Other than the darkening of his cheeks, Blaine didn’t react to their comments.
“You are too young to know that sexual relations with females not your Dar Eth are pointless,” Malo said.
“It feels good at the time.” Blaine grinned unabashed.
Malo stared him down. “It is fleeting pleasure. You are worse off, trust us in this, youngin.”
“I prefer a female beneath me instead of my hand, Malo,” Blaine said with a cheeky wink.
Malo grumbled. “Arrogant damu.”
“Well, our obligations start in the morning. There is time for a quick kill or two.” Enyl’s excitement swept through him at the prospect of a hunt, snatching his breath.
“That is the best thing I have heard since we landed.” Malo headed for the closest cleansing room. “You can come too, Blaine.”
“You might learn a thing or two,” Enyl teased.
“My father has brought me here often, as you well know, Enyl.” Blaine’s tone was defensive as his shoulders stiffened.
“Let us hope Citus has taught you well,” Malo said.
Amid the bustle of Etterian warriors, Enyl feathered his fingers across his Maloidian-nano polymer suit, pre-drenched in an acid-deterrent. The metallic-and-fabric-layered armor shimmered as he manhandled it. He yanked on the Gika-proof armor, his movements lacking his usual efficiency.
His hands trembled again. Drawing in deep breaths, he clenched them into fists. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. This irritation, this impatience thrummed through his body. It granted him no rest, demanding something of him he couldn't name.
He glanced at Malo who slid his armor on with smooth, methodical tugs. His movements were efficient and graceful. The male radiated peace, which was a rare emotional state for an Etterian. Yet Malo, who was a year younger than Xeus, showed no signs of the impending void. He might have embraced it with the way he utilized darkness.
Enyl gritted his teeth against the anger coursing through him. Malo, his father, and himself were too young to face the void or for the early effects of the darkness to stain their souls. He wouldn't shame his father by succumbing at such a young age, but he was stumped as to a possible solution to his emotional turmoil.
Driven by alarm, he peered at his reflection. Were his eyes a paler blue than usual? He grunted at his own lunacy. He hadn't encountered any females to trigger the Ethera which meant his eyes were the same indigo they had been since he was a damu. As per protocol, suppressing emotions happened at a young age; but this agitation hounding him was a recent development. The emotion was unacceptable as one of the preferred which confounded him. It wasn't anger, humor, or minor affection. If he could name it, he could deal with it.
“Ready, my princes?” Malo shared a tight smile as he sheathed his greatsword down his back.
Excitement replaced Enyl's irritation. He relaxed his hold on his emotions enough to grin. “To the hunt.”
He too sheathed a greatsword down his back and fastened a blaster to his thigh. Grabbing a visor, he tossed it to Malo before sliding his on and striding toward the neutralization zone. The possibility of a moment's peace from the irritation added a bounce to his step, energizing him. Some exertion might ease the onslaught, but he knew better than to hope.
Ori meets Daniel
Within the first hour, she had settled two 'arguments'. Her knuckles bled on her bruised right hand, but under the circumstances, it was minor. She detained a thief awaiting station security pickup. Holding his arm in a hammerlock, she pressed his face to a wall. If he moved in any way, he would dislocate his own shoulder. Of course, her partner was absent again! She scowled, his blatant disregard for his security position angered her.
“You're new,” a man said.
She admired his station-security uniform and the blaster holstered to his thigh. He was tall for a human, broad-shouldered, and the rectus femoris of his thighs were well-defined. His uniform—dark gray trousers with a silver, protective armor plate—did his bare pecs and deltoids justice, as well. His face wasn't bad either. An attractive man on Horizon was rare.
“How much is the Algri paying you?”
“He pays me in coffee.” Her grin was unrepentant. Despite her determination to remain aloof, the amount of attitude she had endured this evening had called forth her humor. She could lose her patience or gain a sense of humor. The latter seemed less effort.
The man chuckled, shaking his head. “Daniel Gregor, welcome to HoSS. Here, pass him over to my partner.”
Tugging on the thief's twisted arm, she handed him over to the quiet officer standing behind Daniel.
“Come by the station sometime. I would love to hear why a beautiful woman like you is in this shit hole.”
“Gregor, you charmer.” She chuckled, brushing his invite aside. “I've had four marriage proposals this evening. You're offering me a chat when I could be wearing fake diamonds on these well-manicured fingers.” She waved her grease-stained hands in front of her face.
His smile dimpled his cheek. “Aw shucks, my missus won't like it if I bring home a new wife.”
She laughed, delighted at his teasing response. He wasn't wearing a ring or sporting a matrimonial tattoo which meant he wasn't serious about having a wife. His brown eyes studied the thief, the retinae spinning, indicative of bio-optics, or bionic implants. It was the standard practice for security staff to invest in upgrades, the law of escalation, and so forth. In this case, the bio-optics implant strengthened the connection between the O.D.I. and the sec-crime databases. Gregor had the low down on anyone he focused his gaze on.
“In that case, I'll make sure to come see you boys. Always pays to be friendly with men with nice big guns...and blasters too.” She winked at him.
He smiled as he escorted his new prisoner out of Bodacious. By her shift end, there were no more 'arguments'. It might've been due to the dwindling clientele more than any skill on her part. Her hand throbbed more than she had expected it to. She studied it, the bruises and swelling suggesting she pay for a medic.
“Good.” The Algri glided to her and gestured with four of his twelve tentacles for her to follow him.
She darted over to the lockers to collect her bag, throwing it over a shoulder with her good hand. He scurried fast on those limbs of his, but she managed to catch up. She was curious as he led her along a narrow passage, not too far from the bar. The flickering artificial lights, dirty, white-paneled walls, and filthy grated flooring gave off a sinister vibe.
They breached another door into a causeway holding housing units in line with what she had expected a space station to have. After another five minutes, he stopped outside an air-seal door. 28508c in disease-riddled letters embossed on the metal.
“Ori,” she said, preferring he use her shortened name.
“Boblisknesooput.” A garbled sound came from the Algri.
She blinked but didn’t ask him to repeat it. Instead, she tried to pronounce his name. Doing so showed respect, even if or when she didn’t succeed. “Bob...?”
“Bob good.” Six eyes blinked in sequence as he handed her a key card and scurried off.
She stared at the dirty card and shuddered; the urge to sterilize it made her skin crawl. After swiping the key over the console, she peeked into her new home and released a deep sigh.
It was a standard metal cube, five by five by three meters. The side wall was back-lit with the usual soul-sucking UV lights. Creeping inside, careful not to touch anything, she located the bed and called it out of its hidden compartment. She sniffed the mattress, shuddering at the odor. The rehydrator and replicator received the same treatment. Slipping out of the quarters, she closed the door and authorized a sterilization spray. She winced at the cost, but she had foreseen the expense. Projecting patience she didn't feel, she waited for a green light to flicker before entering the room again.
The subtle sting of antiseptic and bleach greeted her. Better.
Dumping her bag, she left at once, heading for Medical. As she strode along the causeways following the emergency signs, she studied her hand. A punch or a deflection maneuver might have caused a sprain. And despite the short spikes of agony when she flexed it, she expected a break to be worse. Through a sterilization spray, she entered the bright-white lights of Medical, wincing at the white bulkheads, ceiling, and flooring. Exhaustion summoned a chuckle at the thought of asking them to treat her for blindness, as well. Bypassing a male bleeding in a white chair, she ambled to the reception counter and leaned her uninjured hand on its immaculate surface.
“I don't know if you've noticed, but that man is staining your floor.” She flicked a thumb at the blood pooling beneath the poor man.
“Shit!” The woman, also in white overalls, rushed past her, tugging a device out of her pocket. She scanned him while holding her white-gloved hand to his wound. Her sigh of relief a few minutes later let Ori know he would make it.
“Hello, may I assist you?” At the calm male voice, she faced… a person.
She assumed he was a man due to his masculine voice but his sterility mask neither confirmed or denied this. If he appeared beside her on the causeways, she wouldn't be able to recognize him. He wore a sort of cap, plastic transparent goggles, the sterility mask, and his white overalls. Well, it was better to be cautious than dead, with the sterilization spray was 99.9% effective against most known germs. Some alien species had blood that was poisonous to humans.
“I suspect I've sprained my wrist.” She raised it to show him.
He gestured to a stall. She climbed onto the bed and left the chair for him. He sprayed red foam over her hand, rubbing it in before wiping it off. The throbbing and burning had intensified, and now pulsed to her heartbeat.
“Why is it red?” She indicated the foam canister. “Is it to cover up the blood?”
The medic nodded. He must have heard this question a million times and thought it was easier to agree with her. Sterility had been a subject Uncle Gayn had covered.
“Liar.” She paired her soft accusation with a cheeky grin. “Not all aliens have red blood, so if that was the case, you would need a canister for each species on Horizon.”
His brown eyebrows arched above his goggles.
“Is the color dependent on the level of contamination?” She wiggled her uninjured hand. “My hands tend to go places no anatomical part should ever go.”
The medic chuckled. “We only use yellow and red. Those living in a sterilization unit would use the green.”
She offered a smile in thanks, watching him scan her hand. The device made her fingers tingle. After a while, he wrapped it with a neo-band with precise yet fast wrist flicks. She admired his skill.
“How bad is it?”
“You should be fine within a day or two. A sprain no longer takes weeks to heal, especially with this new technology. Would you like an anesthetic?”
She shook her head; she didn't need the extra cost. As it was, seeing a medic would be expensive.
“May I ask how you received this injury? Did you fall? Angry boyfriend?”
The burn of anger flushed her face while she stared at him, not knowing how to respond to his prying. With no partner backing her up, injuries were bound to happen. It made her blood boil, that he had stood by and let her get hurt. He had done it on purpose. She had glared at him when she had returned to her position. His response was an arched eyebrow in a condescending way.
She must have taken too long to answer since the medic cleared his throat. “My name is Liam. If you ever need any assistance, comm me.”
The buzz up her arm confirmed her O.D.I. received his details.
“I work at Bodacious, hence the injury, Liam, but thank you for the offer.”
“I've been on this station a long time, Miss. I've learned not to judge.” He cleaned up his mess before giving her space to climb off the bed. “You need to limit your movement for at least twelve hours. Please see the desk for payment.”
“Thank you again, Liam.” As she left, the burn of his gaze on her back added to the premonition she would visit him often.
Within minutes of returning to her unit, she had her bag unpacked. Delighted that the previous occupant had left a ration of water, she scrambled to peel off her jumpsuit. She soaped and rinsed before climbing onto her sterilized bed. Sitting there, she studied her hand, which didn't ache, raising the suspicion that Liam had administered an aesthetic anyway. The water-resistant neo-band was still dry to the touch.
Spreading out on her back, she stared at the ceiling where the back-lit wall cast lifeless shadows. Her arrival at Horizon Space Station had gone better than she had expected. She had two jobs and a place she could live in. It wasn't home. No place could ever be home again; home had been with her three uncles. She had been alone for so long. With a moan, she rolled onto her side and double-checked the alarm on her O.D.I. before allowing sleep to claim her.
Liam Saves Ori
Horizon Space Station
Orbiting Ganymede (Jupiter's moon)
Year of 2253, June
"Not again, Ori?" Liam rushed towards her. She strolled into Medical, clutching at her forearm. The blood was dribbling down to her fingers, to dribble onto his clean floor. It looked bad but he knew better than to assume the worst based on the blood loss.
"Stop lecturing me, Liam, and fix me up. I'm bleeding all over Horizon. The brightness of your medical facilities is far more painful than this wound." Ori chuckled as she hopped onto the bed, holding out her arm, knowing his procedure well. He grunted at her familiarity. She did spend too much time here and he hated it. But she was stubborn, ignoring his subtle suggestions for her to quit her job at the bar.
"It's a good thing I have excellent healing technology. You'd look like a walking scar by now."
"Like anyone sees me naked," she said and followed it with a deep sigh.
Liam chose to ignore her comment. He didn't think she wanted to discuss it either. The last time he had, she'd given him such a tongue-lashing that his ears still burned from it. He could still remember her words…
What man would date a woman who could kick his arse?
She hadn't found a man that excited, stimulated, or tempted her!
She didn't have the time to pander to the whims of another person in her life.
She endured enough nagging from her friends—a lover would nag twice as much.
She was saving up for her craft and he'd be too expensive.
All valid reasons in his book. Liam hid a grin; soon she'd encounter a man that would rip her logic from under her. He hoped and prayed that he was with her when that happened.
"Tell me about today's epic battle," he said as he examined the knife wound before spraying red foam on it. It would anesthetize and sterilize. Her clenched jaw revealed how painful the wound. But typical Ori, she didn't make a sound.
"Epic? Huh! More like naivete on my part. The damn idiot had two knives. You'd think by now that I would've anticipated that. I swear, all the station's illegals visit Bodacious to beat me up."
Liam's head shot up to look at her. The buzz had indicated that her 'partner' paid them to attack her. For some strange reason, Hanson had taken a dislike to her. Liam held back a shiver. It was wise not to draw the attention of a man such as Hanson. The Martian Military had dishonorably discharged him. The buzz stated that they escorted him off Mars for killing a recruit and raping another under his command. The man was unpredictable and vindictive. An unhappy Hanson made for better business at Medical. But a happy Hanson meant fewer lives in danger, and for Liam, that meant Oriana's life too.
He peered around her and saw no Sam. He grimaced, not liking the implication. He and Joe had spoken to Andrew about modifying Sam's length of service, as well as his parameters. Ori hadn't needed to know that the sec-cyb guarded her every moment of the day. Andrew had agreed once Liam explained how many times within a week he saw Ori. She'd accepted with grumbling ease that the assessment policy had changed from four weeks to six months. It would be indefinite if Liam had his way.
"Where's your shadow?" He'd teased her about it, trying to appear normal and uninvolved. "Missing him?"
"Don't tell him I said so, but yes. He documents everything for me. But I don't miss falling asleep under the glare of his red eyes."
"So, if you could keep him, would you?"
"Sure. He's a good listener and I needed his strength for the generator refit."
"Why not request cybernetic implants?" Liam knew she was one hundred percent natural, except for the ODI. A rarity on the edges of space.
"And miss my weekly visits with you?" Her bright smile curled her lips, bringing beauty to her features.
"I'm serious, Ori."
She studied him for a moment then grimaced, shaking her head no. "Only if I lose a limb."
"And at the rate you're going you should quit Bodacious before that happens." Liam went with directness since his subtlety wasn't reaching her.
"Not you too!" A moan tore from her; her irritation clear by the look she leveled on him. "Daniel and Joe have been nagging me as well."
"If all your friends are saying the same thing…." Casting her a pointed look, he wished he could hold her gaze, but he had work to do. He sealed her wound with his bio-scan before applying a neo-band to it. "There. Are you planning on making another appearance this evening? I could reserve a bed for you."
"No one likes a smart arse, Liam." She grinned at him. He loved it when she smiled; it brought such beauty to an otherwise drab place. Seeing her always brightened his day, although the circumstances of her visit were unfavorable.
"It's a good thing you no longer have to pay for these visits." He cleaned up around her, hating the sight of her blood spilled so carelessly. What had she done to piss off Hanson? "I was beginning to feel like your favorite prostitute," Liam teased with a chuckle.
"You still are; my sugar daddy covers your fee now," she said with another grin. Liam had approached Bob about paying for her medical expenses since he'd refused to deal with Hanson.
"And here I thought you injured yourself on purpose because you cherished my company." He helped her down, surprised that she'd let him. Ori was such an independent person.
"Thanks again, Liam." She sauntered out, waving at him in a somewhat girlish way. "Until next time," she said.
He watched her walk away and exhaled, turning to pick up his data tablet. He'd received a strange message from his Maloidian friend, Dregg. Liam had studied with him in the hopes of understanding his physiology. It was an enlightening trip, sharing information across species. Smiling, he reread the message. Dregg mentioned that the Etterians were hoping to find females to mate with. He didn't think the Etterians had taken Humans into consideration. Dregg had studied both Human and Etterian physiology—which Liam envied—and they were similar. He'd suggested Liam send a few samples to the Etterians, contact details attached. The medic tapped his chin with his data tablet in deep thought. He had Oriana's samples, had documented them as per the protocol for all permanent employees on HoSS. He could send it. But without her permission?
He'd have to. He doubted she'd agree to test for mating compatibility with a species she didn't know existed. Besides, if she wasn't compatible, she'd never know. And if she was a possible match, they would whisk her off to a better life. Hanson would be happier if his Ori-problem disappeared. But Horizon would be worse off. Things would return to normal and Hanson could continue to rule his world from his position at Bodacious. Liam attached her samples and sent them to the details indicated before he could change his mind. If anyone deserved a better life, it was Ori.
Enyl receives a visitor on Gikaet
Etterian Ground Base
Enyl swung his greatsword across the exposed underbelly of the Gika. He made quick work of lancing through its hard carapace and managed to dodge the acid saliva, for the most part. Glancing around the battlefield, he caught the Base Commander Remi’s last strikes as he took down his own Gika. Enyl grinned, the smile hidden within his visor.
The Gika soldier he had killed had stopped twitching. In a fluid motion made easy by the strength in his arms, he removed his greatsword from the creature's thorax and scooped up his discarded blaster. Gikaet had its own beauty—rolling dunes of gray sand against a burnt-orange sky. On the horizon, craggy rock formations and chasms rippled across the surface.
His black metallic-infused armor sizzled from the dead Gika’s saliva. Thankfully, the Maloidian suit was saturated in acid-retardant.
He loved being this side of the galaxy, fighting a war that had lasted longer than four hundred years. Gikaet had become a rite of passage for Etterian males. Upon reaching their eighteenth year, they would spend the next four years at Calustrum, the Etterian ground base north of Gikaet's equator.
This war wasn’t madness, as a few older males declared. Extensive history with the Gika proved they had a hive mind and fast reproductive cycles. Unrestrained, they would consume worlds, eradicating existing planet life in the process. For this reason, the Etterians fought an endless war ensuring the Gika never returned to their former destructive power.
Whenever life as a crown prince became overwhelming, this was his escape. Out in the field, there was nothing to denote his royalty. He was a warrior as any other earning his honor. To battle Gika, to test his mettle, to hone his body, his strength, and his reactions against a true opponent was the closest to ecstasy for an Etterian without triggering the void.
Etteria’s proving grounds were males against males, and since they all knew the code, every technique or strike was predictable. He much preferred the unpredictability of a Gika soldier but battling Gika was rare on this current visit, wasting hours doing nothing.
Between medical, protocol training, and construction, he preferred the latter. There was satisfaction in building something tangible, to seeing the result after a day's sweat. His arm buzzed. He slumped, hating that it was time to return to his responsibilities, and thus, end this day's hunting.
He stomped into the ground base, stirring up dust clouds, to rid his armor and boots of the dead Gika’s green slime. Sliding into the neutralization zone, the sprays rinsed off the remaining acid on his suit. After two minutes in the zone, and with the white light giving the all-clear, he headed for the shared cleansing room.
Striding past the large crate, he dumped his blaster and greatsword, sparing a grin, since it was Blaine’s task to attend to them. The cleaning and prepping of these weapons for tomorrow was the task for the young recruits. It ensured optimal knowledge of all weaponry. Enyl had held the same task six years before. Blaine would return the following year to start his four-year service.
He stripped off his armor to reveal the bronzed skin of an Etterian, along with his honorable black fishtail braid that brushed his heels. With his indigo eyes, he was a prime example of an Etterian male, tall and well-muscled from extensive weapons training.
This training incorporated daggers, long swords, greatswords, and blasters. From a young age, Etterians learned unarmed combat to assist in the control of their emotions. Only with a female may they show affection and lust, to a certain degree. Unless of course, she was his Dar Eth, his life force.
Enyl frowned at the path his thoughts had taken. It required a miracle to find his Dar Eth. None could recall when the last Ethera pairing had occurred. It had fallen into legend, yet every male longed for the female the Maker had designed to be perfect for him.
Once satisfied that he was clean, he activated the air-dryer, taking the time to read his message. He had a visitor? In all his years at Calustrum, he had never heard of a male receiving a visitor. Judging by the message’s wording, the male who had notified him wasn't pleased to do so. Enyl grunted as he grabbed a wrap and activated its adjustment function, allowing it to meld to his body. He traipsed barefoot to the arrival center, curiosity driving him.
As soon as he strode through the door, a beautiful Etterian female glided toward him. He recognized her—Anin, adorned in a dark orange wrap. The ceremonial gown accentuated her figure as she sashayed. As beautiful as any Etterian female, her body was lithe and graceful. He took the time to admire her, as one might study a kinetic sculpture.
His semi-arousal was due to the rush of the kill that still flowed through his veins. It was the most acceptable explanation to how he reacted to her presence. At the thought of mating her, he shuddered with disgust gripping his throat. No matter how he declined her numerous offers, she persisted, having no problems envisioning him as her lover. Her determination was admirable.
She bowed low before him, flashing a fair amount of cleavage. Taking the time to admire her unbound hair undulating around her was a clear sign he wasn't at his most guarded. Fellow males paused to gape at her. They could look, but he would advise them to never touch. She was someone he couldn't trust because of her single-mindedness. Anin had been after his seed for as long as she had been under her uncle's protection. To be the mother to his heir was what drove her and her uncle, Ambassador Brenin. Yet despite her obvious charms, a life with her, no matter how fleeting, would have him seeking the void with all due haste.
“Milady, what brings you to Calustrum?” He controlled his distaste, revealing none of his emotional turmoil.
“Prince Enyl, my apologies if I have intruded. I was passing by, en route to Etteria, when I discovered you were planet-side. I wished to pay my respects. As you well know, my uncle would have expected no less of me.”
He grunted, understanding her viewpoint. Her shifting limbs caught his attention. He clenched his jaw, fighting his rising anger. She had assumed a seductive pose, and her wrap parted to reveal a bare leg, from thigh to slipper. He fought the urge to yank her garment closed not wanting to see her so exposed. His males obeyed him without question, yet this female ignored his authority as if it was her right. He abhorred wasting his time to entertain a bored female who disrespected her body and him.
“Thank you for paying your respects. I assume you will depart shortly?” He clasped his hands behind his back.
Many years at court had taught him diplomacy and not to trust beautiful females. Except for one, with haunting green eyes and a quick smile. He brushed McKenzie’s image aside, the mumble of Anin’s voice reminding him that he wasn’t alone.
“I hope I am not imposing should I request to stay longer. The vessel is oppressive and dull. If I could avoid court for an hour or two longer, I would appreciate it.”
He scowled. For one, she traveled in luxury where he, as prince, assumed an officer's quarters. And she adored court life, but since she targeted him for many a year, he avoided her whenever he returned home.
“Please join me for dinner.” He squeezed the words through gritted teeth. “I must caution you, milady, dinner will not be in the Common. As you well know, females are not permitted on Gikaet.”
“Private is acceptable to me,” she rasped her voice, in what she must have thought was alluring.
Of course, privacy was acceptable to her, but he wasn't a fool. He tapped out commands on his O.D.I., before offering her his elbow. She accepted it and allowed him to lead her to Remi's quarters. As Base Commander, Remi had earned his extensive quarters. It had a private eating area since entertaining male dignitaries formed part of his role. Enyl hid a smile. The room served his father and Remi’s reminiscing into the darkness of night.
He ignored the gawking males in the passageways as he escorted her, unable to make small talk when her unexpected visit infuriated him. His time at Calustrum was his alone. He wasn't expected to pander to females, to assuage offended sensibilities. He flicked out a hand, hovering it above the access panel. The urge to slam down his palm tremored through him. He drew in a slow silent breath, willing his trembling fingers to calm. With the gentlest of touches, he pressed his hand to the glass.
As soon as Remi's door slid opened, she caressed her fingers along Enyl’s arm in a lingering touch before entering ahead of him. He scowled again, forcing his legs to move, to follow her. Her cloying scent didn't please him. She stood, poised, and ran a heated gaze over his form, her indigo eyes hooded. This didn't please him either.
With a stiff gesture, he directed her to the door. “This way.”
He dashed toward it with the same level of hopefulness as she did. The eating room's walls were a paler gray, a light glow emanating from it. As Etterians, they preferred the neutral steel, but since the walls were interactive, one could command it to alter to any color including transparent.
He released his pent-up breath at the sight of Malo, Blaine, and Remi laughing around the eating table. Their presence would preserve his honor and his freedom. She couldn't accuse him of seduction or twist the events of this evening to suit her plans.
“My prince, milady, what a surprise.” Remi’s outburst was too contrived. Enyl grinned, making a note to thank his Base Commander later.
“Greetings Base Commander, Prince Blaine, Operations Commander Malo, thank you for welcoming me,” Anin crooned, despite her rigid shoulders.
She shot Enyl a glare before smiling at the other males. They each offered her a chair. She chose one ‘at random’ next to Malo. The male smiled, appearing 'pleased' with her decision.
If anyone could handle her conniving ways, it was Malo. Relief eased the tension between Enyl’s shoulders, like hot water drenching him. He settled into a comfy chair, its ability to conform to his backside comforting. Surrounded by his battle-bonds, the coming hours might almost be bearable.
A call from Andrew
City of Issneen
The door chimed, and Ori had to rush to grab a wrap.
Enyl’s gaze followed her as she tugged the wrap on and activated the clasp, closing it. Only then did he open the door.
An Etterian male in the standard armor hovered in the doorway. “My princess, my prince, I apologize for the intrusion. I have a transmission for Princess Oriana from a persistent Earthian male.”
Her gaze shot up. “Thank you, can you send it to my O.D.I.?”
“The display vid would be more secure, my princess.” The male gestured to the wall where a rectangular black vid hung.
“Thank you.” She hurried to stand in front of it with Enyl joining her, curiosity furrowing his brow.
“What Earthian male would this be?” He tried to smother the note of protectiveness in his voice.
As if she hadn’t been thoroughly ravished not minutes ago, she ran a lustful gaze over his body. “I have no idea.” She lingered on his bare chest, licking her lips in anticipation.
He groaned and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her against him.
Sighing, she tapped the display vid. It flickered and an image of an elderly gentleman with brown hair and gray at his temples formed.
“Andrew?” She gasped before giving him a genuine smile. Warmth blossomed in her chest and her beamed. Seeing him alive and well, untainted by her Yithian experience, gave her a pang of regret and longing, like undigested pasta.
“Why are you glowing?” His flabbergasted gaping made her laugh.
“It's good to see you too, my old friend.”
“Old friend she says when she ignores my messages, gets herself kidnapped and whatnot, then leaves me to handle those damned water filtration systems all by myself?” His eyes sparkled. “You look good too, Ori, despite the glowing thing. Only you could go from lowly mechanic to the Princess of Etteria. I see the Prince is treating you well.” He bowed his head at Enyl as a sign of respect.
“Well...” She chuckled, tightening her arm around Enyl’s waist. “I could do with more time on my back, but I suppose I can't complain.”
Enyl grumbled at her teasing, but her remark got the desired result: Andrew blushed.
“So? Spill it—you wouldn't comm me unless it was urgent.”
Andrew muttered something, his words indecipherable. She sighed—it had to be her that drove the males around her to mumble to themselves.
“Daniel asked me to comm you.”
“Daniel.” She would have loved to chat to him, Liam too. “How’s he doing?”
“On the verge of marrying by the looks of things.” Andrew flicked his wrist. “According to him, the buzz has the Yithians hunting for you, even to the extent of putting a substantial bounty out on you. We thought we would give you a heads up. I’ve been trying to reach you, Ori, and when we heard you married, I reached out to the closest Etterian battleship.”
Cursing under her breath, she tossed a hopeful arched brow at Enyl. “Can't we decimate their planet? These kidnappings are starting to bore me.”
Andrew's eyes widened. “At least, I don't need to say no to that face, Your Majesty.”
Enyl tutted. “As tempted as I am to destroy an entire species for you...”
“Yes, I know, and here I was starting to enjoy a life of dissipation.” Yithians wasting more tokens on her should worry her, but it didn’t. Whoever took the bounty would have to breach the Etterian armada to reach her. “Thanks for letting us know, Andrew. Now for the important question. When can you visit?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “Trust you not to take a Yithian bounty seriously.”
“I do.” Enyl kissed her temple.
She shrugged. “I can't worry about something that might or might not affect me. I can, however, get you to visit.”
Andrew leaned back, stretching his arms in front of him. “And be the tiniest man on the planet? No, thank you.”
“Nonsense, there are male children too. Besides, the royal gardens are beautiful. You might be able to take a few clippings.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “White blossoms with the most incredible fragrance, and blue grass, Andrew. Blue!”
“That's not playing fair, Ori,” he groaned, as he glanced to the side at his plant wall.
“Let’s see if you could replace Granntt?” She offered, not sure if it was possible but willing to find out for her friend.
“I’ve beat you there, Ori. I am Granntt’s temporary replacement.”
She gasped, jerking forward to peer into Andrew’s eyes, as if he toyed with her. “What? When? How?”
“Succinct as always,” he teased then threw out his palms at her impatient glare. “He ran off with the station funds he squirreled away. HoSS is running low.”
“Shit, I didn't see that coming.” Gaping like a goldfish, she shook her head.
“No one did.” Andrew pursed his lips, as if he endured much after Granntt escaped.
She studied him, looking for those tiny clues. Exhaustion slumped his shoulders, soft shadows circled his eyes, and his perma-furrowed brow hinted at concern. She opened her mouth to ask him, but when he winced, she sighed.
Forcing a teasing tone and a wink, she said, “You living in Sovereign now? With all the silk pantyhose you could ever need?”
The tension in his shoulders eased like a deflated balloon. “Hell no, I'm acting Station Chief only.” He curled his lips in dismay. “I’m not moving to those fancy digs.”
She tapped her chin, flicking through a mental list. “The powers-that-be should place you in charge of the maintenance budget. Want me to see if it’s possible?”
He froze, his interest piqued. “Now that could work,” he said. “Imagine what I could do...”
She laughed when he bounced on screen. “If that's all, Andrew, I need to use my considerable talents to convince my prince to get that budget for you. Only he or his father can make that happen.”
Enyl grunted by her side but with an eager smile. How he had such stamina, she couldn’t say. Her uncles hadn’t gone into too much detail on an Etterian’s libido.
“I don't want to know!” Andrew said and cupped his ears. “Spare me the details.”
Even Enyl chuckled.
“I miss you, my friend.” She placed her palm on the display vid.
“Ditto.” With a last smile, Andrew ended the communication.
“I like him.” Enyl drew her into the circle of his arms. “What is this convincing you need to do? Does it involve certain parts of your beautiful body?”
She licked her lips. “And yours.”
“What parts are we talking about?” His voice had dipped to a low grumble.
“My tongue,” she whispered and leaned in to brush her lips across his parted ones.
“Is that all?” His nonchalant tone conflicted with the slight tremor rippling along his arms.
A wave of power swept through her, at her ability to make a male such as Enyl tremble. With great power comes great influence. She flicked her tongue across his bottom lip, then nipped it. His breath caught.
“How about I promise to fuck you until you roar my name?”
His growl rumbled from his chest to hers, stuttering her heartbeat. “I love it when you say such words,” he managed to whisper. Taking her by the hand, he dragged her toward their bedroom.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” She breathed into his ear then squealed when he threw her over his shoulder to break into a run. She chuckled and took advantage of this position to stroke his tight ass.
Her reward was a groaned, “You are killing me.”
Ava spots an abused Etterian female.
The Royal City of Issneen
The Royal Court
12252 Years, 6th – 7th Month
Kanzo blinked at his Dar Eth. They were in the Royal Court, where Adviser Cales had announced Ava as the Enforcer of the Foot of Honor. The court had reacted with shock; there were still whisperings rippling through the surprised masses. King Xeus and Adviser Cales were jubilant on this bestowing, their authority brooked no argument, as expected. But Ava stood before Kanzo, not concerned with the responsibility now placed on her shoulders. Instead, she begged him with her eyes to believe her.
“I promise you, Kanzo, it’s Lily. Come, look for yourself.” She tugged him to an alcove and urged him to sit. She positioned herself on his lap, not realizing open demonstrations of affection were unknown in Etteria. He held her there, loving her backside on his lap, regardless of any protocol they violated. “Do you see her to the left of me, over my shoulder?” Kanzo glanced at the too-thin Etterian female, her size unusual. His eyes widened as he observed Lily’s timid mannerisms in the small female.
“I do not disbelieve you, thamani. I am furious that such has occurred to one of our females and under our guard.” He jumped up, ensuring Ava’s feet touched the floor. He strode across to the king, with Ava following him almost at a jog. As soon as the office door closed behind them, Kanzo faced King Xeus.
“Thank you for agreeing to see us, my king. My Dar Eth believes there is a mistreated Etterian female, Lady Erox.”
“What do you mean you suspect mistreatment?” Xeus glared at Ava.
It wasn’t her suspicions that caused the king to react in anger. Yet a furious Etterian King was a sight to behold…and intimidating. But Kanzo didn’t fear for Ava’s life. To harm a female was a deplorable act, one belonging to a male without honor.
“I’ve seen the same body language in abused children.” She demonstrated the tilt of a head, furtive glances, jumpiness, and fearful expressions. “I promise you, Your Majesty, she has suffered abuse.”
“I have seen the same mannerisms in Lily. She speaks the truth, my king.”
“Nerx’s Lily?” Xeus asked, shock stiffening his shoulders. “How do we ascertain this?” He watched the female in question through his transparent walls looking out across the court. “She is Ambassador Murox’s daughter.”
Kanzo understood. How could Xeus demand this female stripped and examined by a medic? What if they found no physical evidence?
“Lily was fearful of my size, of my booming laughter. If any male approached her, she would cower and search for a way to escape,” Kanzo said to the room in general.
“This is unacceptable,” Cales growled.
Xeus nodded, spoke to Cales then gestured to Ava and Kanzo to become comfortable while they waited. When Medic Aldur burst in, Xeus explained the situation. Aldur’s reaction mimicked Xeus’s. Minutes later, a stiff Cales led Murox and his daughter into the office.
“My king?” The Ambassador strode into the office as if he owned it. His arrogant manner implied this strange interview offended him.
“Murox, brought to my attention is an unusual yet deplorable and dishonorable situation with which I require your assistance.” He gestured to Kanzo and said, “How should we ascertain whether this male has abused his Dar Eth?”
Ava’s mouth dropped open, but she dipped her head and assumed the mannerisms the king required of her. She darted her gaze at Kanzo in fear before timidly glancing at the floor while trying to make her body as small as possible. Kanzo swelled with pride, despite not liking her fearful. She’d reacted as King Xeus needed her to.
“What would the law require in such matters?”
“A medic must examine her to verify such claims,” Murox said while admiring Ava’s curves.
Kanzo ached to challenge the male for such a look, but he clenched his fists against the urge. He couldn’t take offense since it was Murox’s daughter they needed to save.
“And should the male have a right to contest such an examination?”
Murox frowned as if he gave this matter much thought. “No, my king, he has no opinion under such suspicions.”
Xeus nodded, knowing the law. “Thank you, Murox. I would request your daughter go with Lady Ava for the examination. She might be wary of other males.”
“This is acceptable to me, my king. Erox, see to Lady Ava with Medic Aldur.”
“As you command, Father.” Her voice was but a whisper, and when she hurried to obey, a slight wince crossed her delicate features. Kanzo gritted his teeth and watched as she followed his Dar Eth into the next room.
Minutes ticked by and as the time passed, Kanzo stiffened until he gripped his knees with white-knuckled fingers. The solid door burst open with an irate medic storming into the office. Kanzo released his breath on a slow exhale.
“It is as we suspected, my king, and confirmed by the female herself. Extensive bruising with evidence of badly healed broken bones.” The rumble that traveled through the room was alarming, like thunder reverberating in the distance.
“Ambassador Murox, what does the law state regarding such abuse?” King Xeus vibrated with barely contained righteous rage.
It was an acceptable emotion, and Kanzo understood the need for it. Yet, judging Cales’s expression, King Xeus couldn’t afford to feel it. Concern ripped through Kanzo. To lose Xeus to the void would be a great loss for Etteria.
“Strip him of all he owns, remove his hair and deny him the right to house a female.” Murox smirked at Kanzo.
“Like this?” Cales asked, and with a flick of his blade, Murox’s braid fell to the floor. The male gaped at it, aghast at the full length of it coiled at his feet. His hand flew to his head in horror.
“Now you have no honor, Murox for what you have done to your daughter,” Xeus boomed, then he shook his head when the Ambassador opened his mouth to defend himself. “No words you speak shall ever justify such behavior. I could kill you for this, and believe me, I fight the temptation. Get him out of my sight, Cales.” As soon as the door closed, Xeus turned to Ava who’d brought Erox into the office. “I must confess, Lady Ava, I have never had to address such a situation. How should we proceed from here?”
A tearful Ava glanced at Kanzo who smiled, encouraging her. But she silently pleaded with him to speak on her behalf.
“Proceed as you would if Lady Erox was your own daughter, my king,” Kanzo advised, glancing at Ava to ensure he’d answered as she might have. The beautiful smile she bestowed upon him swelled his chest.
The king crossed to stand in front of Erox. He knelt and bowed his head. “Please forgive me for not protecting you, Lady Erox. I vow to not fail you again.”
She placed her small hand on his shoulder, and he jerked back. “It is not for you to ask forgiveness, my king. You cannot know what my father hid from you.” She scanned the room as Xeus rose to his feet. “Thank you for freeing me. I am grateful to you all.” She glanced at her clasped hands. “What is to become of me now?”
“How old are you?” Cales asked.
“I have seen seventeen years.”
“Did you attend the pairing?” Xeus asked her.
“No, that would have been a mercy,” Erox grimaced. “I am understandably fearful of males, my king, yet an Eth would have been preferable.”
“You shall fall under my care.” Xeus gave her a kind smile. To which she nodded.
Ava rushed forward and hugged the girl, startling her. “Feel free to comm me or visit me. King Xeus has trusted me with a great responsibility, and I’ll need your help.”
“It would please me to assist, milady.”
“It’s Ava, just Ava, Lady Erox,” Kanzo said, receiving another huge smile from his Dar Eth.
“Lady Ava, Cales, would you please see to Lady Erox’s comfort,” Xeus said and gestured to Kanzo to remain. As soon as the door closed behind the party which included Aldur, Xeus faced Kanzo. “Would you recognize such signs in other females?”
“Of course, my king.” Kanzo rushed to assure him.
“To even consider that such occurs under our lore, with our honor, it is unthinkable, Kanzo.” Xeus dropped into his chair behind his white Fuyra desk and rubbed his temple as if exhaustion plagued him. “In the last two years, we have found Dar Eths, are on the verge of war with Yithia, have formed an alliance with Gika, and have adopted damu from another planet.”
“The war with Yithia is a concern, although, you have prepared our males for it, my king.”
“True. How fare the children?” Xeus asked with a tight smile.
Kanzo smiled as well, having heard that Xeus spent the afternoon with the children. “Very well, some of our males have offered to train them. I have advised Olivia accordingly. They commence with short sessions tomorrow.”
“And Nerx? Has Lady Olivia approved his request?”
“She has and believes it is in Lily’s best interest. I notified him of this.” Kanzo smiled, recalling how delighted Nerx had been. He couldn’t recall when last the grumpy male had been this exuberant.
Xeus nodded at this news. “This bodes well for Etterians.” He circled his desk to approach Kanzo. “I need you to continue in this role, Kanzo. It cannot fall onto Cales’s shoulders as he will travel to Earth. We will think of a title for this position at a later stage. I also require that you attend court proceedings. It is not for Lady Ava to endure. You may escort offenders to her for enforcement.” He stood there in a daze before sighing, “I now have two daughters.”
Kanzo frowned. “My king, are you unwell?”
“There are many changes occurring, Kanzo. Cales will issue a task list for you to attend to in his absence, one, in particular, is the human missiles and submarines he has the lima kuu working on. In addition, the construction of Olivia’s home is also your responsibility. See to it the children are content here.”
“To serve Etteria is an honor.” Kanzo nodded.
Meet the kids
“Angel!” Ruby rushed over to give Ava a hug. “You look like you’re in a good mood.” The tall, lithe girl, now seventeen, was the same old Ruby she’d known for twelve years. Mature for her age, but Ava loved her anyway. If Ruby hadn’t called the police that night, Mrs. Wheeler might’ve killed her. The three of them had feared Mrs. Hastings, who had taken them in. But over the years, through determined kindness mixed with infinite patience, Mrs. Hastings had taught them the meaning of love and the importance of family. Now Olivia ran the orphanage, a younger, single woman, who had a heart of gold.
“Is this what a good mood feels like?” Ava gasped in mock horror.
Ruby chuckled, glancing at the strange, elongated bag Ava hefted around. “What manner of torture will this be tonight?”
“Cricket,” Ava said, excitement squeaking her voice.
“Do you even know how to play that?” Ruby’s dubious gaze made Ava frown.
“Yes, I read the rules.”
“The true question is whether Tommy will be able to listen to said rules?” Saira said as she opened the door onto the wrap-around porch and held it open with one hip. The fifteen-year-old rocked their newest family member, little Jessie. She was the baby of the family at six months old with lungs strong enough to wake the neighbors.
“You’re right, what was I thinking? Croquet was hard enough last week, but a seven-year-old boy learning about bowling and fielding?” Ava’s shoulders slumped. “Well, it’s a good thing I always have a backup plan.”
“I shudder to think what you’ve come up with this time.” Under a mountain of laundry, Olivia strolled from the dining room to the lounge.
Ava grinned, spun on her heels, and raced to the car. Dumping the cricket bag in the back, she removed her backup bag. She was inside the house within minutes.
“Popcorn, loads of it, and movies.” She whispered the word ‘movies’. The government had outlawed music, movies, and video games in 2021 due to a music vid that caused over a hundred thousand deaths in young adults under the age of twenty. All religious groups, feminist movements, and stricter governments had banned the three industries. Therefore, any vids or music that landed in her hands was contraband. And it was ancient contraband since there were no new movies or music produced unless via the underground. Even schools couldn’t teach via singing. It was silly and paranoid in her opinion. Annie’s grandson had given Ava her current batch, and she disposed of them as soon as they’d watched them. If the media police caught her with anything, it would be a one-way trip to Mars’s penal colony where they would leave her to rot.
“Angel.” Lily barreled across the floor on her stumpy legs.
Whenever Ava saw her, she tried not to cry; there were cigarette burn scars all along Lily’s arms and legs. How she had gotten them was a little hazy, and over the past year, Olivia had done wonders with her. It was only under certain situations that those mannerisms would reappear, acute shyness, trembling, shallow breathing, darting eyes as if she were looking for an exit. It crushed Ava’s heart to see a child so abused. She scooped Lily into her arms for a cuddle and a kiss. Lest she drop her, she lowered the squirming girl.
“Ava.” Mikey, aged eight, skidded around the corner, almost knocking her off her feet. Tommy was close behind, colliding with Ava’s legs. She grabbed him and wrapped her arms around him to hug.
“Ava,” Tommy moaned as he wriggled in her arms. She suspected they gave Lily lessons. “No kissing,” he warned, his face glowing a bright red. His drug-addict mother had abandoned him when he was two, hence his hyper-activeness. Who knew what ran through his veins. He could go radioactive at any moment. She giggled.
“Where are the twins?” She released him then tried to grab Mikey. His light brown hair had grown to cover the scar on his head. “One day, Michael O’Dell, I’ll get my hands on you, then I’ll give you the biggest kiss ever. One huge kiss for all those times you slipped through my fingers,” she teased.
His face twisted in horror before he giggled. “You have to catch me first.” He flashed a charming smile as he put his arm around Lily’s shoulders and led her to the lounge.
“The twins are by the fireplace playing with their cars again,” Neve said as she sauntered out of the kitchen, drying her hands, having just done the dishes. Grumpy twelve-year-old that she was, Neve tried to keep everyone away. But her gruff exterior belied a soft heart.
“Hello, Neve.” Ava offered an exaggerated grin.
Neve’s lips twitched before she forced them into her trademark scowl. “I heard you were planning on torturing us tonight?”
Ava shook her head, now in full denial mode. “Not me. I’m innocent, I swear.” She handed the bag to Ruby before entering the lounge to find the four-year-old twins.
Dagon and Davian were playing with their cars, in some elaborate game only the two of them understood. They lived in a world of their own where few things intruded. She’d often envied them that. Kneeling beside them, she pressed a kiss to each of their foreheads, before scooping up little Maddie, two years of age and fascinated by whatever the twins did. She hadn’t spoken in the year she’d lived with Olivia, but they all had hope.
Ava settled on the large overstuffed three-seater with Maddie still on her lap. She positioned the girl so that she could see the large television Mich had bought for Mrs. Hastings with his first salary. Saira handed baby Jessie to Olivia now seated in the armchair so that she could set up the movies Ava had brought. And in the background, the pop-pop of popcorn preceded the dishing out of bowls. As the movie started, and silence rained down on the never-quiet Hastings house, Ava sighed in contentment. This was the perfect way to spend her Friday night.