No Way Back – Chapter 12 – EDITED 09APR2010

Miracle!  I’ve done 2 chapters today!  Here’s twelve. 

I proofed over 12, and made some changes.  If you’ve already read it, the changes, while not major, might still warrant a re-reading.  Also, I’ve noticed that my chapters are getting very long… THis one was 3328 words!

Chapter 12

Junior Fleet Commander Es’trinah finally had managed to find the time to return home. The tip of her serpentine tail quivered with excitement during the entire return trip, all thirty-eight Earth-based hours of it. She knew that her harvest, the fourth of its kind under her command, would be over soon. Within the next seven to fourteen rotations of Earth, the majority of the subjects being groomed for the planned final breaking and training will have passed their tests , and would be ready to be claimed shortly thereafter. It was going better than expected, and she’d only lost four candidates so far. One died in a transport accident before she was ready to be claimed. Two met each other and had moved away from their trainers’ grasp. The trainers would be re-assigned for the next harvest, so long as they believed that their efforts would be rewarded. If not, then they and their leverages would be disposed of.

The last one? She managed to convince her trainer to abandon his post by begging him to become her mate. It wasn’t unexpected, but it left the leverage as a liability on the ship. She’d decided to simply release the poor female back to her home planet. The Ru’therian she-wolf wouldn’t remember much, save for her capture. She’d been held in a comfortable room, as several of her fellow detainees were, fed well, given all the exercise she could want, so long as she didn’t leave the room. It would almost be a vacation, if it weren’t for the fact that she wasn’t allowed to leave. And now, poor dear, she was going to be shattered to learn that the love of her life, the one she’d written hundreds of letters to, had fallen in love with a dirty, disgusting creature. And Es’Trinah would have to be the one to tell her. It tugged at her, because she felt a kinship to the females who were held, if only in gender. She’d try to do her best to offer whatever support, but she herself was limited to what her master harvest ship could provide. For a Ru’therian, it was little more than food, drink, a ride, and, for the over-upset, an easy self-termination.

None of that was on her mind at the moment. She’d been gone from her home planet for nearing four local years. Unlike space, it was warm, comfortable, and easy to be wherever you wished to be. She had spent the past few hours straightening her uniform, a dark grey-green setup designed to mask the gender of shipmates enough to allow minimal interference from unintended attractions or unneeded jealousies. Her race, the Eu’Sharh, tended to have elaborate designs along their scales, made only more so by the affixing of precious metals and gems to them to enhance their look. Such adornments were supposedly forbidden in the military branch she served, but she knew better than to believe that such a law was followed. It was, after all, very difficult to catch a male’s eye as it was, and the more adornments mounted to body, and the more elaborate the design, the more noticeable and desirable you were.

Males were very picky, choosing only the mates more likely to be able to provide for their brood. They were also the ones who were ultimately in charge of choosing whether or not a mate was acceptable, with the roles reversed when compared to how humans chose their mates. She, herself, was very lucky to have captured the attentions of the male she had. He had entered the watering hole at the right time, surrounded by a group of very loudly-talking males, all of whom were doing all they could to keep suddenly interested females from snatching him away. He was young, very healthy, and had, himself, a very lovely pattern to his own acales. What made that even more enticing was his total lack of jewels and coverings. She smiled in remembrance of catching his golden eye across the room. She had fought the urge to do as the other females were, and was rewarded by his personal summoning. From that night on, they’d been nearly inseparable, leaving his group of protective friends to find a new nightly target. She’d had to fight off a few persistent female followers, but now, they’d been legally bound together for twenty cycles, and had renewed their bonds three times, every five cycles as law decreed. She was due to return home and renew them once again, and she was excited to come home to her brood, who, she felt, were lucky enough to gain his coloring.

“This is the last one. After this, I’m retiring.” She looks to her second-in-command. “I’ve had thirty cycles in, and I think it’s time to stay home and be with Schiyahr and help raise our children to adulthood. “

“Commander! I’ve heard you talk about it before, but, now? We’ve got another two more harvests before this series is classified as complete! Do you really thing that the Ladies of the Court are simply going to allow you to retire?” Her subordinate looked across the bridge of the ship from her own station, a questioning look in her greenish eyes, with a matching twitch in her light green-scaled hand-claws. “Besides, no one, and I mean no one could run the harvesting like you do. You take the time to learn them, understand them, and move accordingly.”

“Yes, Sheena, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never agreed to the use of captives to coerce trainers. They will be happy to get rid of the one commander who dissents openly about it.” She sighs, noticing that the majority of the ship’s crew had started listening to the conversation. She knew that, somewhere, in this crew, someone had made a grievance against her about her illegal expression of opinion against the decisions of the Ladies of the Court. It had almost cost her her command. But, when no one stepped forward to fill her shoes, they begrudgingly “slapped her on the wrists” by taking away half a cycle’s pay. No one hid their glance from her, so she went back to watching the display. “They’ll grant it. Now, get me home.”

A chorus of happy acknowledgements filled the bridge.

— —

Es’trinah flexed her lizard-like toes into the soft dirt of her walkway, her kind preferring to be barefoot. It was wondrous to have real ground beneath her, and she savored the walk to her front door. She had disembarked her ship, performed an abbreviated dismissal of her crew, and left her ship in the care of the handlers for repair, refitting, and restocking the harvester ship. She’d jumped on the crew transporter instead of waiting for her personal transport, and then physically jumped off, like she used to when she was younger, in front of the storage depot. She used her datacard to gain quick access, and pulled out a faint-yellow dress, the one she wore when she and Schiyahr had met. She had smiled, quickly jhopped out of her uniform, in plain view of a few males who were passing through, suffered through a few “amoral” sneers and grumbles, and pulled herself into the soft, flowing fabric. It was of a classic design, a nod to a time before the star-jump had gotten them into the UFO, but was of a softer, imported, and very rare fabric. She shuddered in excitement as the fabric would catch and slip past a few wayward scales. She pulled the dress up, smoothing it past her feminine curves, and cinched it in the back. It’s open-backed design let her scales’ design show clearly while still keeping the bulk of her body’s size covered. She quickly ran her claws through the short, professional-cropped mud brown hair, letting it fall to her neck. She’d then folded the uniform and tucked it into storage, hailed a transport, and was dropped at home. All of this was in anticipation of seeing the family she’d left for semi-cycles, full cycles, way too long on their own. Schiyahr assured that he understood, being that she had to follow her orders. He even had the same reservations about using captives to force training, and shared many political views that had kept them doing as they had for quite some time. She would spend her limited shore leave with her family, they’d mate, discuss her orders, and be gone again. It was wearing her down, and she wanted out.

She finally took the last few steps to the door and pressed on the contact plate.

Nothing happened.

Curious, she thought to herself as she pulled her datacard and pressed it against it to the plate, disengaging the lock. It was midday, there was no reason that he’d have the doors locked this late in the day.

She pressed the plate again, and the door swung open noiselessly. She stepped in, looking around. The window tinting had been left at full, which she hadn’t noticed from outside.

“Windows, no tint,” she called out. The computer didn’t respond for a moment, then she heard the acknowledging chirp, and the tint slowly lightened. The time it took was disconcerting since they should have reacted almost immediately. Not responding quickly usually meant they hadn’t been shifted in several days.

“Schiyahr, I’m home, my darling!” she yelled into the house. Her only response was her echo. No younglings. No mate. Nothing. That’s when she noticed the thin layer of dust that had settled onto her seat. On the table where she sat with everyone. The dust seemed to just cover everything. It wasn’t like Schiyahr to leave the house so…

At that moment, there was a click inside her mind. Es’trinah was alone in her home, and no one had been there in a while. She ran down the hallway to her younglings’ rooms, opening each and finding that they were lacking in clothing and a portion of their personal belongings. Sobbing, she opened her own room’s door, and collapsed as she found its walls bared of all of Schiyahr’s belongings.

“He left me…”

He’d threatened to do so before the last mission. She told him that this was the last one, and, if he stayed and beared with her for this last one, that she would retire and be home with him forever. It took her several minutes of convincing, but she had believed that she made her point, and that he believed her. Now, it seems, she had mistaken his words.

She shakily stood, sniffling, snorting, and fighting sobs, and stepped closer to their bed. He’d left the bed as she remembered it, save for a message pad in the center of its rounded design. She picked it up, sat on the bed, and pressed the play button.

“Es’trinah…,” the machine started, displaying Schiyahr’s lovely features and designs, “I’m sure that, by the time you’ve gotten this, you’ll already know that I’m no longer in your home.” His calling their home “hers” stung her heart. “When I agreed to be yours, I had been told that being the house-mate of a star-sailor would be difficult. I know that you want to be with me. I do. But, I also know that my broods grew up without their mother. You could have turned down this mission and retired. You could have. But, you didn’t. You took it upon yourself to go collect those poor, pitiful creatures for a group of people who will only hurt them. I can’t live pretending that I’m okay with that. And I won’t let my younglings think that it’s okay. I’ve taken them to my father’s home, and we are going to live there until they’ve grown to their own adulthood. Then… I don’t know what I’m going to do. Es’trinah, I love you. You are great at what you do. But…” He finally lets go of the tears he’d been fighting the entire recording, ”But I can’t take being alone anymore. When you retire, I’ll be here waiting. But I can’t pretend to be happy with just being financially cared for. Our binding ring was under this pad. I’ll accept it again when you can guarantee that your enslavement of those lower beings is over. Goodbye…” The device showed his turning away, then a flash, and the words “Message Concluded. Delete? Y/N” showed themselves on the blackened screen. Within the next second, it had been wetted by several yellowed tears that had fallen down her nose. Without thinking, she threw the device out the room’s door. She went to get up, then looked down to see the burnished metal ring where he said it would be, with the stag beetle’s bronzed carapace still attached, and their two scales carved to intertwine mounted to its back. She turned it in her claws, and felt her world shatter once again.

— —

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

How long has it been? 

POUND! POUND!

When did I eat last? 

COMMANDER! ARE YOU IN THERE?!

He left me… 

Alright, officer, there’s no answer, and we’re supposed to be underway in less than a day. Disengage the locks, make sure the Commander’s alive!

He’s not coming back…

The door opened forcefully, and several fully-armored Eu’Sharh police quickly filled the main room. To their surprise, they found a pale, naked, barely alive Commander Es’trinah laid out on her chair. The officers, all female, began checking her for life signs. She didn’t respond to questions, didn’t resist anything they were doing. Sheena ran up to her, speaking to her, her voice and body language screaming of her fear and concern. Es’trinah slowly turned her head to look at her, but never actually saw who was addressing her.

I don’t want to live without him. Without them…

A light flashed into her left eye, then her right. Another pair of females, one Eu’Sharh, and one Eil’ph, both in UFO medical garb, had entered, and were checking her out, inspecting scale coloring, breathing, blood chemical content, home temperature. They were talking, but she didn’t care to hear what they said.

I need my younglings. Where are they?

The police and medical crew began lifting her to her feet, talking to her as they did. She wasn’t listening. The only thing flowing through her mind was the message, and the subsequent call to him. She’d begged him to come back. She told him how much she loved him, how she never was unfaithful, a rarity at her ranking. She insisted that was retiring in a few more days, once the mission was completed, and it would all be over forever. Schiyahr responded with an unusually angry hiss, demanding to know why she couldn’t follow a simple request. He wanted her to call when she was done. DONE! And, since she couldn’t follow that simple thing, Schiyahr was leaving. For good. She begged, pleaded with him to reconsider. He told Es’trinah that their contract was up tomorrow, and that he would not resign it. She would have to come back and prove to him that she was done. He then told her that he does love her, with all of his heart, and felt that their bond was a blessing from Eu’sh, their God of Life, but that he was being dishonored, ignored, and felt entirely alone. He didn’t want her money, her property, anything. But, he concluded, he does not want to see her until she was completely and forever done with the service.

There was a strong, pungent odor, and it snapped her to the here and now. The chatter had increased, with a news crew recording from in front of her home. The police were trying to move them along, and the Eil’ph had snapped a wake-up strip in front of the Commander. Es’trinah pulled back from the horrid smell, but was restrained by her shipmate and the other Eu’Sharh.

She screamed in her panic. “Unhand me! Release me or kill me! I don’t care! Just end it!”

At that moment, she simply passed out, exhausted, dehydrated, malnourished, and, she told herself, dying.

— —

Junior Fleet Commander Es’trinah sat slumped in her command chair. She felt the harvesting mother ship’s armor plating vibrating under the power of the engines, and didn’t bother to adjust for it. Her body had had its water level restored artificially, but she still looked parched. They had intravenously supplied her body with the much-needed nutrition, and brought her back to physical health, but her usually full and bright cheeks and facial lines were still deeply sunken in. Her scales, though, remained pale, making her look ghostly against her dark uniform. The thrash of brown hair was unusually unkempt, giving her an appearance of being risen from the dead.

The doctors had given her a clean bill of physical health. They told her that, with time, and plenty of sunlight, her coloring would return to normal. Mentally, they had concluded that she had suffered an emotional shock. It had left her in a confused state, and that it wasn’t an unusual occurrence for her race. They determined that she was generally healthy, and cleared her to return to her commanding duties.

When Es’trinah had sat at her quarters’ desk for the first time, the first message was from him. He’d heard that she had tried to kill herself. He wrote to her, telling her to be strong. That he would wait for her return, if she truly was retiring, and would re-bond with her upon her return. The second message came from the Ladies of the Court High Command, declining her request for retirement under grounds of lacking the appropriate officer to replace her in her duties. Ironic, she told herself, how she forces her trainers to live away from their loved ones, and now, her own government was doing the same to her.

“Commander?”

She snapped out of her thoughts and looked at the communications officer. “Yes, Eiyeana, what is it?”

The ensign looked terrified to relay whatever she’d received. “Ma’am, we’ve received a transmission from Earth harvester 5-027A. Apparently, they’ve confirmed a ready harvest for tonight. The trainer is requesting expedited collection so she can return to her love. Her words, not mine…”

Es’trinah listened closely, and didn’t respond immediately. Not a sound was heard on the bridge, save for the Commander’s breathing. She took a moment to consider, then another. She sighed, and collected herself again. Her voice was calm, almost serene as she spoke, “Thank you, Eiyeana. Tell them to report that the harvesting has been delayed by two local years. She’s going to have to keep his attention for that time period.”

There was a quiet gasp throughout the bridge. The first to speak was Sheena. “Commander, I thought you were retiring in at the end of this harvest. We’re almost ready to finish harvesting, there’s no–”

The Fleet Commander launched from her seat, pinning her longest-time friend to her control panel. She hissed loudly, baring her venom-dripping fangs. “How dare you question my order! If I have to suffer, then that Eil’ph bitch, all of them will suffer with me!” A tear burned down her cheek, which she ignored in her raged response. Now wasn’t the time to admit that she was merely emotional.

Sheena went limp, an indication of her surrendering to the stronger officer. “’Trinah, I was only asking. I would never outright question your order. I swear!”

Es’trinah loosened her grip on her friend, standing upright and smoothing her uniform. “This mission is being expanded by two years to ensure a proper harvest. I understand that it will be almost twice as long as all previous harvests, but, I want to ensure this is the best I can offer. Anyone else have a problem with that?” 

The bridge was silent.

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