No Way Back – The Story Ch. 11-15 – Edited 20JUN2010

Chapter 11

The screen’s landing cut-scene comes to an abrupt end. The screen begins showing my Bot discarding its orbital entry armor, then landing with a whine and a whirr amongst the trees, and finally swinging the camera behind my Bot, through its rear armor, and into the cockpit.

I smile as I feel myself falling into my usual play habit, which is to zone out of the rest of what’s going on. I might as well be sitting in that cockpit myself with a yoke, paddles, and keyboard for its controls. I twist the yoke’s grip to make sure that my controller is registering the input, the most common controller failure I’ve ever encountered with this system. When the Bot reacts as planned by twisting its upper body with the yoke’s movement, I knew I was ready.

I look up at the HUD’s radar display and see the expected ghosts, shadows, and pings from the trees I’d landed in. This was going to be a hide-and-seek match, and I was welcoming it. I bring up the map, which shows the position of my Bot in relation to the game’s map. Most of the planets in the game were small enough to be divided into four maps, but the one she’d chosen was the largest planet in the game, and took eight maps to show its entire size, and our engagement area was in four of them. It was quite a distance to cover, but it made for a very interesting game when it was amongst people who were looking for a fight. This configuration was usually used for four-teams of up to 5 Bots to make the action much faster. But, one-on-one? This could be hours.

“Come find me,” she teased over the intercoms.

I tap the microphone key, bringing my own mike to my lips. “Oh, so you’re hiding now?”

“Not quite. But we’ve got a long way to cover. I hope you’re ready for me.”

“Less, I’ve been ready for you for a long, long time. Too bad you were too busy to try me.” I carefully slide the throttle up on the controller base to get my Bot moving at about half-speed. Any terrain I damaged would leave a trail right to me, so I wanted to avoid that as much as possible. I also refused to fire my jump jets. I wasn’t about to give away my position that easily.

It appeared that she was thinking the same thing because I caught no tell-tale signs of motion from a heavy machine, just the static, ghosts, and false images from the trees. “Oh, come on, you know that I really like you.”

“No, really, I don’t,” I reply as I allow my voice to edge and show my irritation at her assertion. “You treat me like a brother, always at arm’s length.”

That seems to get her attention. “I… I…,” she stammers as she hunts for the right word to say. The next thing I hear is a loud curse over the communications channel. “Damn it, Robert, I just didn’t want to be hurt by anyone. We’re friends and I didn’t want to lose that.”

I recognize the reasons for concern in the area, with the landing points usually surrounded by heavy foliage. Odds are the curse came from her slamming into one of the area’s plants. I smile, then bring my targeting reticule upwards and launch one of the probes I was carrying. It is detectable in its flight, but only if they’re looking for it. It doesn’t show up on radar on even a clear map, but if you see it, you can target it and it’s virtually armor-free. Within seconds, the radar display filters, and I get a clearer overhead view of the area two and a half kilometers our from my Bot. “Less, I didn’t realize that I made you feel that way. I wish there was some way I could have known that. Oh, there was! You should have told me! We could have talked about it, Less; there was no reason for the game.”

“I’m sorry.” Her voice is strangely honest. Her tone surprises me, but I don’t let that implication distract me. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d let her words throw me off. “What if I tell you that I’ve always been interested in you? That you’re the one I’ve been holding out for. Robert, I could have had so many other people. But I chose to wait for you. Doesn’t that mean anything?”

I keep moving through the forested planet, carefully avoiding the small and medium sized tree trunks as I let the overhead scout do its work. I hear the sounds of the wood, the crunching of the grass, the sway of the wind through the trees, and I know I’m not being tracked yet. I turn my Bot into a new direction and carefully move my combat rig towards another map. “It would have, had you bothered actually trying something. I told you, Dannielle and I are dating now.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t have any kind of a chance, Robert. And I’m sorry for making you try so hard.” She almost sounds desperate, yet still quietly in control of how she’s feeling. “Look, let’s just try it, one way or another. I don’t care if you win, Robert, I want you to take me out and I want to be with you.”


She sighs in the microphone, then goes quiet. Instead, I hear the sound of a laser blast forcing its way through the trees at a distance. My drone picks up a heat signature, just outside of the border of this map and into the next one. I turn hard and make toward the direction of the weapons fire, pressing on at half speed. I know it’s another tactic to lure in a combatant, especially in this kind of arena. That kind of infrared is hard to cover, even at great distances, which means she either thought she saw me or was baiting a trap. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much of an option and needed to get closer to let my scout drone accurately track the heat signature from her Bot.

— —

She fired off her heavy laser, partly in irritation, partly as part of her surrendering to her need to go home. She didn’t want this anymore. She was pretending that she was interested in him so he’d still continue with his training. His practice. She needed him to be in tip-top form, or they would reject him as a suitable trade.

So why, then, did it feel real to her? Why did her plan to hurry this though feel like a betrayal of her own feelings?

Chi’bi angrily shoved the thought away. That kind of thinking was for the weaker person. Granted, she had to feign being weaker than she was, but that was all according to the plan already in motion. He was ready for the transfer off-world. She was ready to have her Djarn back. She wanted this nightmare over. She sat for a moment to let her now hot cannon cool and began plotting her next move. He’d surely be coming. Sitting in one spot too long would be a dead giveaway about her surrendering. It was fine to sit for a moment, planning and setting traps. This time, however, she’s not setting anything that would be too damaging to his Bot. She’d need to put out some fire and make it look real, but she needed to fail. Her armor, while still the proper weight, was positioned slightly differently to leave her engine housing, torso, and cockpit slightly more exposed to fire, but leaving her legs and arms capable of taking one hell of a beating. She looked over the condition of her systems. She already knowing that her machine was in perfect condition but wanted a reason to wait another moment. She turned her Bot and slowly began picking a path between the tree trunks.

Her waiting to be discovered came to an end before she was actually ready for it, as she took a weakened long-range laser blast to her Bot’s left arm. Without any kind of scanning setup on her Bot outside of her standard radar it was very difficult to gauge where the blast came from, but she turned anyway and hoped that any other rounds would strike her in another area so she could get an idea of his position. She smiled as another blast slammed into the rear armor of her Bot. She turned the opposite direction and was rewarded with another two blasts to her front, but finally managed to see the actual shot as it struck her. She grinned with anticipation and opened fire in return towards where she was hit from. She didn’t think she’d actually scored a hit, but fired off her blasters in slightly varied angles. “Lucky shot,” she growled into her mike, then punched up and jumped out of the tree canopy. No sooner had she taken to the skies was she met with the precision-tracked fire of long-range missiles. Not only did she not see where they fired from, but she realized that she hadn’t expected him to switch to a scout probe! She scanned the sky, simply taking the bursts from the missiles, each one doing more damage than the previous, and found her target, the flying probe. She quickly brought her medium-range lasers to bear and destroyed the targeting drone. As she lowered herself back into the canopy, she brought her Bot hard right, aiming not quite away from Rob’s war machine, but more perpendicular to his route. She was hoping to throw off his expected routes this way. She threw the throttle up to full and began to dash forward, running down the smaller plants and trees and leaving a heavy path. Not the most dignified exit, but it was needed to make some room between his Bot and her own.

“Where do you think you’re going? Still trying to be difficult?” His voice sounded unusually powerful, even for him. She’d been on the receiving end of a surprise hammering from him before, but never did it seem so determined, so strongly executed. She was impressed by the tenacity in his attack, and it made her glad to see that he wasn’t letting up, even though he felt there was nothing to gain.

She cleared her throat, deciding to not allow her pride in her handiwork show. “Well, since when do you waste your weapons load-out on a spy probe?”

“Since I needed a leg-up on you.”

“Not going to help now, is it?”

“Don’t need it to. I’ll be able to finish it on my own.”

She dropped her speed and cut left between some larger trunks to set up for a return. She knew he didn’t have much of a choice He’d need to trail her, and she’d be ready for him. She cut her engines and dumped the emergency cooling reservoir into her system. She needed to run cold to strike back at him, and that burst of speed had her systems running rather hot. She held her hand from the controls for a moment, then activated the switch to drop her Bot into a crouch. She was planning on using the shade from the trees to hide her combat rig. At that moment, all that was left was to wait. Her options were rather limited at the moment because she wouldn’t have the ability to just take off if she was caught with her unit in the crouch it was.

She was rewarded shortly afterwords by a slowly-moving opponent. It was obvious that he was expecting the launch of her own surprise attack on him. She watched, controlling her impulse to hammer him as he walked into the end of the foliage valley she’d left in her escape. As he slowed to a crawl, she pressed a key on her board to slave all her weapons to the next single trigger-pull. She watched as the Bot slowed to a crawl, turning slowly towards her Bot. She eyed her damage display on her Bot, knowing that she could take a few hits, but the missile hits she’d suffered had damaged her armor severely, and a well-placed heavy blast to the engine housing would end her round before she was ready. It almost looked as if she was trying to lose, and she couldn’t have it be obvious that she was planning to.

She held her breath, watching the Bot’s virtually undamaged cannons point directly at her cockpit. It paused for just a moment, and she expected the cannon to open fire. She waited another few seconds, and it began turning away from her, re-centering, and then looking the opposite direction. She exhaled hard and laughed into the microphone as she smacked the crouch control, bringing her Bot to a stand. No sooner had she done so did she see his Bot attempt to bring itself back around. She pulled the trigger, unleashing a powerful barrage of weaponry at very near proximity, meaning there wasn’t a single shot that missed. Several medium and long ranged lasers, and two racks of medium-ranged missiles slammed into his Bot, knocking it off balance and sending it tumbling to the ground, where it bounced off of larger trunks and crushed or snapped smaller ones. She didn’t wait to see if it was a critical hit. She hit the jumpjets and quickly tore off to reposition herself. She needed to get ready for her planned hard run at him, the intention being to miss the important strikes and have his targeting hit her and knocking her out for the final test.

The part she hadn’t expected, however, was his landing. His Bot slammed to a stop against a large tree, then fell to the earth, but aimed upwards into the air. He quickly aimed at her Bot and fired from the hip, since he didn’t have the time to target her machine. The blast was not the flawless hit he’d hoped for, but managed to catch her war construct in the leg, destroying two of the four jumpjets on the machine, and sending her to the ground before she knew what was happening. Before he pressed the keystrokes to right his downed Bot, he fired off the second spy. He knew she discovered the first, but no one carried a second. His machine stood, then quickly disappeared into the woods again, effectively hiding him again as she landed hard.

She snarled in frustration into the mike and was responded to with a strange laugh. She turned her Bot around to see that, not only had he stood, but had already moved out of her line of sight. She continued to growl as she moved towards where she’d dropped his Bot and into the woods, pressing forward quickly in hopes that he had simply gone slow and stealth through the trees. As she re-entered the undamaged tree line, she was surprised by the targeting warning tone, and a radar signature from behind. She began to quickly bring her Bot around, but it was too late. The first two missiles catch her back, another three hit her right arm, another two catch her right leg, and one slipped past and into the left leg. The remaining four, however, managed to slam into her engine cowling, shattering the armor, and cracking the engine block.

She watched as the auto-eject sequence began and the screen showed her damaged Bot surrounded by explosions, then changing to a brighter, much larger explosion and taking the rest of the Bot with it. She smiled as he looked at the screen while it showed her long-awaited loss. He had fulfilled the requirements that he was unaware of and she was ready to turn him over.

— —

I won.

I watch the ensuing destruction, seeing the machine’s engine go critical and showering the area with hot debris and destroyed components. I simply can’t believe it. That drone showed her hard drive towards his previous position, and I’d simply jump-jetted over the trees, leaving a clear shot towards her rig. I quickly targeted and fired my ‘Bot’s missiles, being just outside of the minimal safety range. I expected to miss, or for her to have kind of defense. I suppose there was no time for defense. It’s just… Strange….

“So, you beat me.” The smile and happiness behind her voice through the microphone is unmistakable. “When would be best to go?”

I’m left stunned. I actually managed to finish the round. Not only had I done so while suffering minimal damage, which would only cost me a few thousand credits instead of the normal hundreds of thousands, but I had beaten her! I feel my heart pounding, and I’m barely able to savor the victory before the loud voice in the back of my head pipes in: “But you’re already with Dannielle.”

“I… I…,” comes my stuttered response. She heard my confusion since I no longer needing to hold down the chat key. We’d already exited the combat arena, and our ships were connected to voice chat. “Allessa….”

“Well? When do you want to go out with me, Rob? I’m yours. Claim your prize.” She sounds so excited, so honest, as if she’d been waiting for this moment for a long time.

“But, what about Dannielle? What am I going to tell her?”

The tone of her voice surprises me. It’s harsh, almost as if I’d insulted her. “Don’t tell her. We’re friends! We can hang out if we want to. Besides, you told me it would be just the one time. I’m gonna have to make it count.”

I look at the calendar in my dropship’s display. It’s Saturday night, so we could go tonight. But, I decide I need some time to think about the whole thing. “How about Friday night? Eight o’clock after school. We can go have something to eat.”

“Sounds perfect! Oh, I have to get things ready! I’ll see you later, Rob. I can promise you one thing though. It’s going to be a night that you’re going to remember for the rest of your life.” Then she’s gone as she signs off of the game.

I stare blankly at my computer screen and slowly lift off the headset. I’m going out with Allessa. She’s finally giving me the opportunity I’d wanted for years. I smile, knowing that I can have my one time with her, and then be happy with Dannielle. No more games. No more hiding. Allessa will be the friend she always wanted to be, and I’d finally have a chance at happiness.

Chapter 12

Junior Fleet Commander Es’trinah Rrayend 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, since 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. Little did they know that being disposed of was being drugged to forget their length of duty and dropped off on whatever planet was available. We’re cold, but we’re not heartless, the commander repeatedly told herself. It was all just a facade.

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 go home. 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 she could, 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, her home planet was warm, comfortable, and easy to be wherever you wished to be. She had spent the past few hours straightening her uniform, a dark gray-green setup designed to mask the gender of shipmates enough to allow minimal interference from unintended attractions or unneeded jealousies. Her race, the Au’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 your body, and the more elaborate the design, the more noticeable and desirable you were.

Males were very picky in that they choose 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 scales. 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 years 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 and 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, Shee’ahna, 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 and looks around, taking notice 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 acknowledgments 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 hopped out of her uniform, in plain view of a few males who were passing through, suffering 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. Its 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 for good.

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. It took just a brief moment, but there was a loud click as the lock disengaged. 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 and looked 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 to her knees as she found its walls bare 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 would bear 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, then turned to sit 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. They had taken weeks choosing the right domicile. It was more his than it was hers, since she had suggested living in the starship base. “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 bombarded by several yellowed tears that had fallen down her nose. Without thinking, she threw the device out the room’s door. As she begins to stand, she thinks about his words. She turns around to face the bed again, then looks 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.

— —


How long has it been?


When did I eat last?


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 Au’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. Shee’ahna 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 Au’Sharh, and one Eil’ph, both in UFO medical garb, had entered, and were checking her physical capacity, inspecting her scale coloring, breathing patterns, blood chemical content, and 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, such a rarity at her ranking. She insisted that she 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 Au’shaiy, 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 her feet with 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 that she elected to keep was unusually unkempt and gave her the 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. Within the message was praise for her years of duty and service, followed by the 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.


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. She straightened herself in her chair to give a more appropriate appearance for her rank. Her voice was calm, almost serene as she spoke, “Thank you, Eiyeana. Tell them to report that the harvesting has been delayed by three 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 Shee’ahna. “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.

Shee’ahna went limp in 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. She stood upright again and took a moment to smooth her uniform to her pale scaled skin. “This mission is being expanded by three 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.

Chapter 13

“What do you mean, three more years?! He’s ready now! Tell your Commander that I can’t wait three more years, it’s got to be now!”

Chi’bi had already dressed herself and was getting her appearance ready for her date. She was following their protocol and contacting them with about two hours before she was ready to have her target collected. She had gotten herself worked up about the date, but only in the sense that she would be done and going to see her Djarn. She would finally be putting her false feelings for this dirty primitive behind her.

She was less than happy with the local ship commander’s response. The slightly older, orange-scaled Au’Sharh looked as if she sympathized. Then again, with those snakes it was hard to tell. “I understand, little one, after all I’ve not seen my bond-partner since the start of this mission. But, collection won’t be possible until we are nearing the end of the mission. It‘s your job now to keep him trained and ready until such time comes.”

“But he’s ready now! Why can’t you pick him up, put him to sleep, and let me home!?” Chi’bi punches the wall next to the holographic display plate, causing the reptid on the other side of the communique to flinch slightly. “I know you can do it! I know that you transport your illegitimate ‘goods’ that way! Pick him up and let me go home!”

The Au’Sharh’s red eyes flared in irritation, her matching red hair fanning somewhat in a threat display, a show of aggression and anger from her kind. “Look! None of us understand what’s going on! Think I don’t want to go home? Get over yourself, bunny!” With that, she turned away from the screen, and it went blank, and returned to a mirror. Chi’bi, or, more appropriate to say Allessa in a rabbit’s mask, stared back at her, rage filling her normally bright blues. She tried to raise them again, then a second time. And a third.

She snaps around and throws her brush across the room. It flies into a section of actual wall and leaves a small indent in the sheet rock. It wasn’t going to make her feel any better, and she knew it, but all Chi’bi wanted at the time was to throw a tantrum. How could they!? They told her, no more than 30 local months! Now another three full years?! Why!? Did she do something wrong? She was planning on throwing the match, but she hadn’t had the opportunity. Did she take too long? No, couldn’t be it, they’re extending it! But, if it was just for her…

She sat on her bed, letting her head fall into her paws, and was surprised to feel a slight dampness from her cheeks. “It’s not fair…” she mumbled to no one. Either way, it didn’t matter. She had a date to be ready for, one that, she knew, Rob was truly looking forward to, regardless of how much he claimed he wasn’t. She looked at her wrist and whispered a soft command. A bubble rose slightly, then parted, revealing what looked like a small thumbtack. She carefully reached and plucked the miniscule injector from the nanites that had been masking it, and placed it back into the storage case. I’m not going to need it now, she thought to herself as she uttered the command to return the nanobots to their previous condition. “I don’t have time for this. I have a job to finish getting ready for.” Chi’bi jumped off the bed and moved towards her mirror to get the magic and makeup right. She watched as she slowly was painlessly altered into a humanesque appearance, cringing and waiting for the pain she’d felt in her dream. Just a job… She applied the small dabs of makeup as needed to balance out the spell’s illusion to the remaining, more flexible mask, which was stretched far thinner than normal, since she was baring far more fur than usual. It still needed to be hidden, which made the nanite coverings stretch further. If it’s just a job, why does this just feel so… so… wrong?

— —

I go back into my more effectively organized closet (although my mother disagrees still), and find a nice, clean, and, most importantly, straight and unwrinkled dark blue T-shirt. Nothing fancy, just a plain shirt. I’m sure that Allessa won’t be doing anything special, either. She seemed unusually interested in tonight over the past few days, although hadn’t really spoken much to me when Dannielle was around. I haven’t made it any easier on her to talk since I had been spending the majority of my time with Dannielle. Lunches were spent together, evenings, we would spend here or at her place. I’d been having such a good time with her that I hadn’t really noticed the days slipping away until last night. Friday morning, as I was getting ready for class, it dawned on me that I had plans for today. Amazing how easily you can forget someone who hadn’t been around for you.

I pull on my shirt and then close the closet, stepping away to look at a small mirror in my room. Standing there, in just a shirt and green boxer shorts, I try to remind myself that this is just like us hanging out any other time we had. When we’d go to the mall, or just drive to the ice cream shop, or just sitting on the porch. And that I wasn’t betraying Dannielle’s trust because this thing with Allessa was something that wasn’t going to lead anywhere. I know better. I’d been trying for years, so what makes today any different?

The difference is, this time, you’re actually going out with her, and it’s not a pity party… It came almost like a second voice, a deeper, darker version of myself, a mental exercise before I make any kind of rash decisions. Debate it with internally and see if there was a logical conclusion that I don’t see.

Who says it’s not? I only barely won.

But you won. That’s the part that matters.

No, what matters is that I have a girlfriend now. She knows it. It’s a “what could have been” thing, and that’s all.

You keep telling yourself that and, one day, you’ll believe it.

Unfortunately, I know better than to try to lie. The truth is that I’m so excited that I feel like I’m going to puke. For as great as Dannielle is, Allessa was the girl I’d dreamed about for quite some time. The culmination of years of hoping, wanting, wishing, and it was all about to come to one night. And that night was in less than an hour. Damn, I still have to get through doing my hair and shaving and finish getting dressed! I dash over to the dresser, all three steps, and quickly yank out the bottom drawer. The contents, a dozen pairs of jeans and a few pairs of khakis, along with the drawer, become disconnected from the unit, creating a mess of semi-folded pants.

Maybe I should slow down just a tiny bit…

— —

I look at my watch. I have five minutes to make the two minute journey to pick her up, but I’ve become impatient and want to see her now. I’d actually been ready for the past ten minutes and it was everything I could to wait this long. I tell my parents that I’m heading out with Allessa, and I hear them wishing me good luck, with dad being a bit more exuberant about it than mom. I pull the door shut behind me, then start down the steps to the walkway. As I move to the sidewalk, my mind starts to race. Is she going to even open the door? What if she changed her mind? Am I over-dressed? I run my hands along my almost wrinkle-free khakis, smoothing them to my legs as I walk. Did my hair get screwed up? The flash of a memory takes me back to that day when she made the wager. I really hope there’s nothing wrong with my hair…

I step up the front stoop to Less’s house and stop, taking a deep breath.

“Okay, this is it,” I whispered to myself as I started to reach for the doorbell

— —

Chi’bi checks her hair once more in the mirror. It was considerably longer than she’d had it in a long time, but that was fine. Its black coloring and the added volumizers help to mask the bumps that were her ears in hiding. She’d elected to keep her hair down and simply styled it around her head and shoulders. The black hair was unusually straight and long, falling gently along her shoulders and spreading to part against the straps of the dress she’d elected to don based on the history of Robert‘s personal interests in what girls wore. The straps ran down to a cross-cut chest and seemed to wrap around her bust, accentuating her bosom without leaving much showing. It followed her body closely, the straight, smooth fabric sharing her curves with the world. Its skirt ended slightly below her knees, and she’d chosen a bright pink set of hosieries, speckled with small black spots, and a pair of black patent heels which made her look just that much taller. Since she couldn’t hide her tail or ears effectively in this outfit, she’d decided to use matching scarves, one tied around her waist to mask her tail, and the other around her neck to hold her ears in place behind her which made them easier to hide in her hair, and both were colored to match her stockings. She looked closely at her reflection and made sure anything obvious was hidden. She cursed her lack of nanites since she wasn’t expecting to need so many, and turned, looking at her form from behind. Everything looked in place for now.

She took a glance out the window to find Rob making his way towards her house. She suddenly felt nervous, like a girl five or six years her junior going out on her first date. She closed her eyes and banished the thought. “If I have to do this, I might as well enjoy myself…” She brought to mind the dark tan Eil’ph she’d imagined him as before, and put the imaginary Rob in the dark blue shirt and khakis that he’d chosen as his get-up. The visualization made her smile. She could do this. She could fool him into giving all his time to her and make the time fly. She just had to have some fun.

Chi’bi, now falling into her Allessa character, reached for the door when she saw him reaching for the doorbell. “Alright, this is it,” she whispered to herself as she twisted the doorknob and yanked the door open.

— —

I go to press the button as the door flies open, and am met with a sight I couldn’t have had in my naughtiest of dreams. Her gorgeous eyes smiled at me, their luminescence the brightest that I could ever remember. I find my eyes taking in every inch of her body. The dress, hanging from her body in a fantastic display, danced in the light from her living room. Everything about her oozed beauty, and my excitement is made only more powerful to me by the fact that she’s allowing me to be the one next to her. She notices my reaction and smiles, the first to say anything.

“So, I take it you approve?”

All I can do is nod as I finally tear my eyes from her perfect display and back to her eyes.

“Good. Now, can we go? I’m starved.” She purrs the words as she steps forward and takes my arm before I can offer it.

I finally snap out of my shock and turn to guide her to my car. “I really just figured it’d be more like us usually hanging out, being that it’s a one-time thing and all.”

She smiles as she starts leaning slightly into my body in a way she’d never done before, flirty, fun, unabashed about being close. “I told you to expect a night you’d never forget. Have I ever lied to you about anything like that?”

I absently answer her. “Well, no.” I turn to look at her, unable to hide my confusion. “But, if you thought this way about me, why did it take this long?”

“I told you, silly! I didn’t want to be just some girl. I wanted you to feel you earned it. Do you?”


“Then that’s what I wanted!”

I feel myself grinning like a fool as I guide her to the passenger door. I separate from her for just a moment and quickly swing the door open.

“Oh, a gentleman! How unexpected!”

My smile grows wider as she climbs into the car and I find myself watching her take her seat and straighten her dress. She crosses her legs as I push the door shut, which is the last thing I notice before I walk around to the driver’s side. I open the door and climb into my own seat. As I press the keys into the ignition, I finally respond. “You knew the whole time I’m a gentleman.” I push in the clutch and twist the key, bringing the V-6 powerplant to life. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have made me work for it.”

“So true.”

I roll my eyes in an attempt to reduce the happy grin that hasn’t left my face. I bring my hand down to the gearshift and drop the car into reverse, and we begin the drive to what, for me, is going to be the best night of my life.

Chapter 14

Our drive is sparsely dotted with a bit of small talk about where we wanted to go tonight. We hadn’t made any effective plans and still needed to choose where we wanted to eat. I suggested pizza. Who doesn’t like pizza, right? Apparently Allessa isn’t a huge pizza fan. She’d eat it, but only if that’s where I wanted to go. She suggested the new salad chain that opened up recently in the area. Neither of us had been, so I agree, and off we went. The rest of the ride was rather quiet, with her seeming deep in thought, and looking out the side window towards the stars.

We pull up to the salad shop and I park the car, yanking the parking brake up and killing the engine. I look over to Allessa and notice her still peering upward. “Is something the matter?”

Her head snaps around and I see what could have been a small tear in her eye. She quickly blinks any trace of it away and shows a smile. “No, Rob, I just am so happy about being here. I mean, this is what we wanted, right?”

I look into her eyes as I search for an indication of what’s on her mind. I catch a glimmer of something before she blinks and turns away: a slight drop of her eyes and a droop to her head. She turns to look at the store, a real smile hiding what was left. I decide to ask her about it later.

“Are you ready to go in?” Her voice was soft and flirty, very inviting, which almost makes me forget that I was looking for whatever was upsetting her. Almost.

I open the driver’s side door as I tell her to wait for a moment. I quickly make my way around and open Allessa’s door for her. She smiles up at me and lets her hand land on my shoulder as she stands, then lets is slide teasingly along my back as she stands and walks around. Her hand falls towards my side, collecting my right arm as her escort while I push the door shut. “Thank you, my sweet, handsome man,” she playfully purrs at me. The sound of her flirting voice makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

I turn to look back into her eyes with a smile splashed across my face. “You’re more than welcome, my fairest lady,” I announce in a deep, mock-English accent.

She laughs at my attempt at humor, even though I know it was poorly done.

We walk together into the shop. I’d never seen the inside before, but, it turns out, it’s a gourmet salad creation shop. We walk up to the line queue and wait for the obviously well-off couple to complete their order. She snickers, leans against me, letting her body press up tightly against mine.

“So, do you think they put that much on so that way they can just take it all back off,” she playfully whispers her question into my ear, her body lingering so I can feel her body warm.

I laugh quietly, shifting to whisper into hers, “Kinda defeats the purpose…”

We chuckle together and I feel her not slipping away from my body, staying close and resting her cheek against my shoulder. My heart starts to race and my mind pushes through the dreams of what I’d do if I had her this close to me…


I feel her slip away and watch as she steps up to the large glass display that makes the display window. She bends over slightly, both showing the guy behind the counter more than he’d anticipated while also looking over at me with a wink, her way of letting me know she sees my eyes following her shapely figure. I feel my cheeks suddenly warm, then start to move myself closer to the counter while I wait for Allessa to make her order.

“Well, hello!” she starts, standing and looking at the boy standing across the display case from her. “What would you suggest?” She looks at him with a playful, flirty, yet knowing smile, and he stutters his unintelligible response. “What was that?”

“I said, uh, that, uh, it depends on what you like.” Hearing his stuttering and broken language made me feel much less nervous about the night. I actually smiled even though I felt horrible for the kid.

She starts very matter-of-factually, “Well, I like vegetables and cheeses.” Her voice lowers to a playful purr as she continues. “So, what exactly do you have,” she pauses, licking her lips, “… for me?”

I start to chuckle as I notice his trembling arm pointing through the glass at one of the garden salads. She’s playing him hard, I think to myself. I wonder if that’s what this is with me. Just a game.

“Does it have mushrooms? I really don’t like mushrooms at all.”

“No, miss. If it did, I could just not put’em in, if that’s what you wanted.”

“Good. I’ll have that, then. Thank you!” She turns with a huge grin on her face and starts towards the register, walking with a playful gait and letting her body put on a show for both of the entranced males. Of course, I watch until she turns around, the smile still on her lips as she leans against the counter. My, can she put on a show.

I finally turn to look at the clerk, but he’s still hard staring at my date. I clear my throat loudly, and he snaps his head over to see me. “Hello? I have an order, too.”

“Uh… Sorry, sir, is this together?”

I smile wide, watching him try not to glance over to the gorgeous woman who was obviously making a scene. I look through the salad options and pick up a meat and cheese chef’s salad with ranch dressing, then head over to the register., standing next to Less as I watch her try to stifle her laughter.

“Miss, what dressing did you want?”


I look at her with surprise. “None?”

She smiles and looks at me, This time, I catch the look of absent in her eyes again, I’m sure of it. “Of course not. Have you ever seen me use dressing on a salad?”

“Well, no, but we’ve never had salad together.”


We wait for a few moments while the salesman makes the salads. He brings them over in their separate bowls and places them on a singular tray, then offers us drinks and rolls to go with our salads, which we both take. I pay for our order while joking about the extortionistic prices for some leafy greens. Receipt in hand, we make our way to a table across the room, far from the cashier. We laugh when notice how the poor boy’s made a bee-line for the back of the building.

Sitting across from her at the table, I watch as she inspects the individual pieces. She pulls a few strands that didn’t meet with her inspection off to the side and progresses to the next bits. Seeing her be so specific about her food makes puts me slightly on edge. If this is how she goes through her food, how will she be about her dates?

— —

Allessa looked up at Rob and notices that look he‘s had every other time she‘s made notice. The one that told her that she’d let off a sign that she wasn’t totally here in mind. She smiled, then popped a clean leaf of lettuce into her mouth. She decided to stop hunting for the least-fresh pieces of salad, noticing how his eyes were following her hands as she worked.

“Is something wrong, Rob?” At that moment, Allessa realized she wasn’t really giving him the attention he was expecting. How could she? Every time she looked his way she had to picture him with a light brown fur and appropriate ears. His expressions looked rather cute, and it was making her forget that this was, in fact, a job. Each time he smiled at her, the image in her head smiled, and she wanted to keep it that way.

“Well, you just seem rather distant tonight, Less. Is something on your mind? Do you really not want to be here?” Robert’s eyes were crystal clear in his honesty. It made her feel excited and nervous at the same time. She wasn’t used to a male actually caring how she felt. In her kind, they cared, but were always interested in gaining the Blessings of the Goddess. With Djarn, there were territorial displays, a feeling of control, and dominance of those around. With Robert…

Was this how human girls felt when they liked someone? Where they all treated so well?

She swallowed the over-chewed leaf and took a drag from the straw in her beverage. It was nothing more than a stalling tactic so she could formulate a diversion from her own confusion. “Rob, I was wondering. Why haven’t you stayed with the girls? I mean, I know it wasn’t for me. Was it?”

He looked taken aback, almost choking on the fork-full of salad he’d just bit down on. He chewed slowly, swallowing his salad, and she could feel her heart suddenly sink a little. Was he stalling like she had? She knew the honest answer about what had happened with the girls but wanted to hear his feelings about it.

“Well, I really don’t know why my dating never worked.” Allessa internally sighed in relief as the Eil’phen version of Rob began speaking. “It always seemed as if someone was working against me.” He took a smaller mouthful of salad in, swallowed it, and continued between even smaller bites. “I mean, yes, I really wanted to go out with you. So in that regard, yes, it was partly you. But I did it mostly to myself. I let your challenge be my every-day, and that’s just not acceptable to most women.” He sighed quietly. “Luckily, I was able to talk to Dannielle and explain everything. Turns out, I’m not such a bad guy, once I stopped worrying about…” He cut himself off and dropped his eyes to his half-eaten salad.

At that moment, it felt like every eye in the place was on her, and made her feel awkward. Chi’bi, hidden in Allessa’s skin, suddenly felt guilty. Not just a little guilty, but horrible He didn’t deserve this. He was gentle. Sweet. Kind. Everything that a mate should be. And she was only going to hurt him again. She let go of the Eil’ph mental image and saw Robert as himself again. “She’s a lucky girl, you know that,” she asks softly. Her hand lands on his, and she’s surprised when he doesn’t pull away. “I’m sorry that I made this a game. But, I needed to know that you could put your all into something. Even me.”

— —

I lift my eyes and see Allessa smiling sweetly. They seem to glow with that luminous blue that I know so well, and I feel a weight lift from my shoulders. I feel the warmth of her hand on my arm and smile again, loosing a soft sigh. I couldn’t have dreamed this moment up in a thousand years. Everything was perfect.

But it really wasn’t. The voice in the back of my head chose that moment to chime in. Remember, you are taken now. YOU can’t HAVE her.

I glare inwardly at my other half. “Wanna bet?”

“Less, I would have given you everything and you know it. You were… No, you are everything to me. For as good as all these other girls may be or have been, they knew that I was hopelessly in love with you. And I still am.” I look down again at my salad, no longer hungry but trying to hide my embarrassment.

It lasts all but a few seconds. I feel her hand sliding under my chin, lifting me back to her gaze. What I see I’ll remember for the rest of my days. A tear seemed to form in the globes of her eyes, and she wipes it back with her free hand. “Is that how you really feel?”


Allessa smiles, then drops her hand to eat more of the salad she’d been working through. Through the rest of the meal, we remain silent. It was strangely calming and lacked the strange sensation of awkward confusion I’d been expecting. As we finish, we stand together and make our way over to the garbage collection.

“What, you’re not going to finish those bits of salad?” I point at her tray to the short stack of veggies. To me, they look perfectly fine. For what ever reason Allessa had chosen not to eat them. What made it funny was that the rest of her bowl was empty! All but licked clean!

She giggles as she pushes the flotsam off of the tray and into the waste receptacle. “Those ones just weren’t fresh enough, I’m afraid.”

“I guess you’d know.” As we exit the building, I stop and turn to her, catching her hands so I can ask her a question without her turning away. “Allessa, if you really don’t want to be here…”

“Robert, stop… Please….”

“No, let me finish. Something just seems off tonight. Normally you’re the strong one. You’re usually the one who’s not distracted. Tonight, though, I see it. Something’s on your mind. If being here with me tonight is upsetting you, I’d rather just take you home.”

Allessa lets out a sharp gasp and suddenly seems as if she’d lost any answers. While it was refreshing to see her off-guard, I really needed to know what it was she kept thinking about. I held my breath and waited for her to tell me that the night was over.

She started slowly. “Robert… There are a lot of things in my past that you don’t know about. And there are many more that I want to be able to tell you. But that’s for another night. I’m here because I really do want to be with you, Robert. I do. And I know I seem distant, but it’s not your fault at all.” She smiles and gently brings her hand to my cheek. “Please, take me out tonight. Let me be the one girl in your heart, even if it’s just tonight.”

Her words lingered in the air for what seemed like an eternity. Was it really possible? Was she really telling me that she wanted to be with me? And just for one night? This girl had been the entirety of my heart for years, whether she knew it or not! I feel something inside snap, and the part of me that has wanted me to be aggressive about her comes loose. Within a moment, my hands are around her, my left hand finding her hip while my right comes to her hair. My fingers catch something as they work behind her head, but I completely ignore them as I pull her body tight to mine. In that last moment, I bring our lips together in a kiss that I’d long denied myself.

— —

The Eil’phae has no time to react as he envelopes her body in his arms. Her mind races along with her heart as she tries to think of what to say or do. Chi’bi had only said the words to make him want to stay, but now… She ordered her body to resist, to fight back against the savage’s advance. She tried willed away the powerful feeling that came as his body pressed against hers, but to no avail. Every fiber of her being felt as if she’d come to close to her Bot’s engine core and was taking the static charge off of its housing. Chi’bi’s eyes grew wide as she felt his long-awaited passion come to its first fruition, and at the last moment, she tried to envision her love, her wolf, her Djarn…

His kiss strikes off the built energy, and Chi’bi was Allessa only, her body melting into the arms of this human. The wonderful, caring, and respectful human. Her human. Her Robert. Her paws crept around his body as she pulled herself into his lips, and returned the affection just as eagerly. He started to pull back, and her body refused to let go. Chi’bi had been in dire need of affection. Her kind lived on it, thrived with it. And here he was, willing and wanting. She pressed up against the ground to force her kiss to stay with his lips. She felt him bring another, more passionate kiss to her, and she drank it in deeply. It felt good to be held and kissed, and she would deny herself of her Goddess-given pleasures no more. Even if she were to bless herself in the arms of this abomination, so be it.

Yet, in the back corner of her mind, the part of her being and conscience rebelled. Her heart and body, it belonged to another. She was betrothed, and was breaking that promise. The part that held her love for Djarn was quickly swallowed in instincts and desires long banished. So, it collected the true feelings she had for the Ru’therian and locked them away, to be released when this job was completed.

— —

She was wild! I never thought it would be like this!

I finally manage a break to breathe, and I look into her eyes. There was a sudden, noticeable change in what I saw. It was as if no one else was around. Whatever this past was that she spoke of, it was gone. Her smile became a much happier thing to see, and it felt entirely real. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or feeling!

“Shall we.. Umm… Head to the theater now?” I realize how unusually calm I feel, and it only makes me feel happier.


I help Allessa into the car, then come around and let out an ecstatic WHOOP! This was turning out to be the best night EVER!

The rest of the night was a blur. I couldn’t even tell you what movie we watched. I can tell you that the seats were comfortable and had armrests that folded up. I can tell you that the theater was all but empty. I can also tell you that, for almost an hour and a half straight, this woman of my dreams had her arms around me and her lips against me. And I can also tell you that she didn’t leave my side. Not once. The few other couples that were around as we left hadn’t noticed anything, but we both look disheveled. Then again, so did they. I remember the drive home, full of laughter, joke, and teases. I remember walking her to her door and feeling as if she was trying to pull me in for a moment.

As she closed the door after our good-nights, I looked up at the stars and walked slowly through the grass to my front door. The world was my desert cart, and I finally had the one thing that I wanted more than anything. As I opened my front door, a thought hit me: What was I going to say to Dannielle?

As I closed the door behind me, I voiced my thought. “She’ll understand.”

Chapter 15

I find myself looking at the ceiling for a while as I lay in my bed. It’s been just over three years since we started seeing each other, and today’s another one of those days when I wonder why it’s been so long. Another day where I think about Dannielle and wonder why I didn’t just do what I said I would back then. Oh, she understood alright. And then she made me understand. Three stitches just under my left cheek and an inability to stand for a short period of time. Mom was infuriated and dad wanted to press charges. I told him no. I knew what I had done, and I felt as if I deserved it. After a few months Dannielle and I started talking again but it was never the same. When we graduated, she came over to me and told me that she still cared and gave me one last chance to leave Allessa. I close my eyes and remember the moment clearly.


I look over to see Dannielle, her face still spread with a smile as she held her valedictorian award and her diploma close. “I know, right? We did it! We’re done with this school!” I ran over to her and gave her a hug. I was truly happy to see her since had all but disappeared the past few months. She had made it clear that she was going to get the top of the class, and nothing was going to stop her.

She giggled as her feet left the ground for just a moment. She smiled down at the boy who she was no longer sure of and risked one last try. As I looked up to her with a smile and began to set her down, she grabbed the back of my head and quickly kissed my lips. She took a half-step back as my arms freed her from my embrace, and I could tell that she could read the surprise in my face. “Rob, please, listen to me before you say anything.”

I simply nod. It’s not like I was expecting her to kiss me.

She quickly scans the graduates for someone, even though I know who it is, and then steps back in closer. “I know that she still isn’t being the girl you need, Robert. I know that it’s been a year and a half, and I know that we’ve both got our significants, but if you tell me you want me right now, then I’m yours. I always have been.” Her voice wavers as she fights back tears and tries to sound as if it’s simply a request and not her heart at its breaking point again. “I’ve seen how she is with you, Robert, you’re barely even there in her eyes.”

I start to quietly respond to what I think is an opening. “Dannielle, she treats me,” I pause for a moment to think of the right word, and one doesn’t come, “okay. I know that it could be better–”

“Then leave her!” She stops masking the tears as she continues and one flows down her cheek. “Damn you, Robert, you’re so dense! Don’t you think you should have better?”

I look to the ground, then back to her eyes. “But I love her, Danni…”

She squeezes her eyes shut, and the steel clamp that was her protection for herself against me clamp back down. Her eyes open and the tears, hope, and dream is completely hidden away again. “I know you do. I had to try, though, didn’t I?” I hear a loud sniffle as she quickly clears herself of her tears. “I’m… I got accepted to California PolyTech, and I’ll be heading out in a week to get my housing arrangements set up.” Dannielle’s eyes light up as her smile becomes real. “I’ll be studying computer networking and sciences. When you told me the truth about what had happened, I started to do some research. I’ve decided I’m going to try to find out who’s been tracking your family.” She turns slightly to hide a slight blush but continues. “I promise to let you know if I find anything.” She turns around to see her boyfriend, a slightly taller, black-haired guy, weaving through the crowd to get to her. “Well, looks like Donovan found me. Keep in touch, ‘kay?”

And she left. I never saw her again. We talked on the phone occasionally, and we would send e-mails back and forth. But the calls got shorter, and the e-mails less frequent. Then, one day, she didn’t return my e-mail. She wouldn’t answer her phone. I gave up after about two weeks of trying. I didn’t want to be the hurt in her life and I felt like I was. Besides, I’m sure she and her boyfriend were quite content to live as they were, and that was without me.

I open my eyes and it’s three years later again. The bed is still warm from my laying in it still wearing my jeans and t-shirt from the day’s classes. It’s been such a long day. I finished the last of my second-year finals today, so all I want to do now is have a few drinks and pass out. That’s not going to happen today, though. Allessa told me that she has something important for me once she finished her own classes, which means that the schedule’s empty for tonight and it’s just her and I.

Bringing my legs off of the bed, I swing them out to the side and down to sit up. We’ve shared an apartment since we started going to college. It’s a two bedroom place because she suggested that we’d need our time together and our time apart, which I understand. She’s an only child and used to having her own room, her own furniture, her own everything. We spend a lot of our time in the living room but still have our separate sleeping arrangements. Whenever we have plans, though, it usually leads to the apartment being wrecked and sleeping wherever we fell. The only strange thing about that was that I never woke up with her in my arms. I guess she still prefers sleeping alone.

I walk over to the mirror in my room to try and straighten my hair once again. The one thing that I was always very sure of was to not have her come home and see me too unkempt. Once in a lifetime of being that badly embarrassed was enough! I let my hand fall to the dresser where the comb should be. The small black item was exactly where it was supposed to be: tucked underneath a thin piece of fabric I use to keep the products in their entirety off of the natural wood. As I lift it to my brow, I start thinking about what normally happens when she tells me she has something special planned. The actual time together is different than anyone I’d ever been with before her. The biggest difference is that she never, ever lets me see her naked. EVER! Even when we’re enjoying our most intimate of times, she keeps herself completely and unshakably clothed. I learned quickly to not even try to get them off her. The few times I did, the fun came to a stop faster than I could blink! I eventually decided to stop trying for as much as I really, really wanted to. And the sex itself? Outside of the lack of nakedness, which I find less than personal, she was insanely good with it! Not that I’m some kind of expert in the matter, but she seemed to know everything that I could possibly want and more! I feel my skin start to grow warm as the memory pushes through my mind of how she took my body to insane heights of pleasure. Behind her longer skirts and dresses that always indicated her desire, she was a master of the art. It was damn-near a religious experience with her!

I pause as that thought comes to mind and look at myself in the mirror. My hair’s finally laying where I want it, but I’m chewing on the words. A religious experience? What else could I call it? It was magical what she could do with her body, and, I never let her know, but I’d heard her say something under her breath. I couldn’t make it out between her moans and gasping, but what I could catch seemed so very important to her. After I heard it the first time, though, I started to watch and listen for it. Whatever it was that she mutters, she says it practically every time. Maybe religious is more accurate than I–

I hear the door to the flat open from across the living room. Quickly, I bring the comb back down and under the fabric hiding place, and then turn to greet the lovely Less from her long day of finals. My feet pound the ground happily as I fly out and into the living room to find her there closing the door. Her back is turned to me, but my smile vanishes when I see her head hanging slightly and I hear her hands turn the lock slowly. It wasn’t like her to be down after a test…

“Hon? Is everything okay?” I walk closer to her, passing our entertainment center and letting my hand fall on her shoulder. She turns slowly to face me and I can only become more confused when she smile she offers me is obviously forced.

Her bright blue eyes seem strangely cloudy as she starts to speak. “Yeah, I’m fine, Robert. I’ve just… It’s been a long day. I hope,” she sighs ever-so-slightly and then brings her eyes to look into mine, “that you’re ready for tonight.” With that she begins to press past me. Not quite forcefully, but strong enough that it doesn’t seem like her. Her jeans swish as their legs slide against themselves in her pushing through the living room quickly and into her room. The last thing she does is push the door closed quickly behind her.

I slowly cross the common area again and stop at her door. I bring my hand up and rap it against the hollow flat-paneled door. “Allessa, is everything okay? We don’t have to do anything if you’re not up to it.”

“I’m fine. I just… I need… a moment…”

– – – –

She looks across her room and at the panel of the wall that is her communications board. Through her mind played the message she’d received early this morning.

“Ah, you’re awake.” An orange-and-black Au’sharh appeared on its hidden video display with a large smile across her face.

A naked and groggy Chi’bi wiped the sleep from her eyes since she had, in fact, actually been sleeping rather fitfully. Her ears stretched upwards since she had no need to hide them within her own room. Robert wouldn’t dare enter without her expressed permission, and there was no way she’d be offering that anytime soon. “I am now. What’s so important that you’d call me at this time of night?”

The snake’s smile grew as her tongue flicked from her mouth, a sure tell that she was excited about something. “I thought you should be the first to know. Your mission is at an end! The Fleet Commander has authorized the collection of all viable subjects. You’re one of three I have for my ship and I know you’re ready to leave this hell-hole.” She cocked her head slightly as if to allow a more thorough study through the screen. “He IS still viable, isn’t he? I know you Eil’ph enjoy milking your mates dry…” She let the sentence trail as she started a hissing laugh.

Chi’bi glared at the reptid through the comms panel, her ears snapping back and her nose twitching in rage. “You know damn-well he’s ready, and I do NOT milk that…” She suddenly couldn’t finish the statement. She looked down in embarrassment. “He’s ready, commander. Let’s take care of this now, before he can wake up.” The words left her mouth but her heart wasn’t in them. She knew she’d become attached to the human in ways she would have cursed herself for years ago. He now was in her heart, just like Djarn, who she’d never forgotten.

“We can’t yet.”

Chi’bi snapped her gaze at the machine and threw a fist at it, the impact making a clattering sound as it reverberated the wall. “Then why, for the love of the Goddess, did you call me!?”

The transport commander’s grin had only slightly diminished from the outburst. She’d expected it. She knew that this “poor little bunny” didn’t want to be in love with a human, but it was apparent that she was. “Because I’m not yet in position. I will be in about twelve hours. Can you be ready then?” Her tone was teasing but still very serious.


“Good. When you’ve finalized his collection, send the burst transmission aqua.”

The Eil’ph looked at the screen in mild confusion. “Why aqua? It’s more likely to be detected by the humans than any other burst,”

“Because it looks like their other communications channels. We’re coming in during daylight, Chi’bi, and we must make the extraction as simple as possible. Burst Aqua.” The Au’sharh nodded off-screen and it snapped to black, then white to match the room, leaving the naked alien in the dark.

Chi’bi, currently in the appearance of Allessa, spent all day thinking about everything that had happened so far. The time spent with Robert, actually with Robert, has been nothing short of happiness. Even her initial plans to keep him as distant as possible didn’t stop him from making her happier than she ever thought such a primitive race could have. He was kind, caring, and honest with her to a fault. It was different than the Ru’therian lover she still kept dear to her in ways she hadn’t expected. Djarn was very selective about what was said and done. His discipline didn’t counteract the natural aspect of his own territorial nature, and it made him cruel around other males. His kindness tended to have a price, which that came from the pressures of his own race’s pressures. His race was so dependent on the military mindset that social interactions were usually short and to the point. She wasn’t with him for small-talk, though. She’d fallen in love with his clumsy attempts to show his affections in ways that grated harshly against his normal self. Chi’bi loved knowing that he wanted to do whatever was needed to see her happy and that he would often embarrass himself in his attempts to show just how much he cared. But this human was raised where his feelings and emotions were a part of his life and not something that had to be contained at all times. She now understood why the females who were around him acted as they did, and it was making what she was about to do that much harder.

She began to steel herself for the task at hand, pulling herself from the door and heading across the room to where she’d hidden the small injector, when a thought crossed her mind. What if she didn’t have to turn him in? What if he would accept who she was and start fresh here? Would he keep her secret? Would he tell her that he still loved her? Would her goddess, Mei’enerra, bless their union? Her hand, still under its nanite camouflage, rested on the case that held the sedative device as she thought about what could be. She could live here with this human she finally forced herself to admit she was in love with and be happy. He would love her, bring her happiness, and always be unafraid of his emotions towards her. She lifted the case from its hiding place within her dresser and eyed the wooden box. It was a simple jewelry box that she’d purchased in case someone did look through her items, but inside held the self-propelled dart. The projectile itself could be launched if need be, but usually was inaccurate beyond a few feet. It had found more appropriate use as a point-blank injection device that was easily deployed and hidden after the job was completed. The mark that would be left would resemble a small insect bite, making it that much more difficult to trace the sedative’s, or poison’s, delivery vehicle.

As Allessa began to open the box to inspect the tool, the other side of her opened up its opinion. She was still in love with Djarn. A wolf who would be waiting for her in suspended animation while she was replacing him with an animal. And these animals can’t even choose a single mate! What if he rejected her entirely, or eventually became bored with her? She would be left on this planet with no way to return. She would have let down all of her family, her friends, her love, simply on a maybe?

“That wouldn’t do either,” she says out loud to no one.

What if she tests him? If he love her, he’ll ignore her form. He’ll know it’s her. If he doesn’t love her, then he’ll panic and run. Then she’ll know.

She whispers a command few technomages ever use and the small machines at her right wrist part and make a small gap. Allessa carefully lifts the injector from its case and gently slides it into the newly-formed compartment. Her lips let out a soft hiss as she thinks to her machines that it should be ready. The gap closes around the needle, hiding it from existence, and informs her that it is still ready to be used. Once the compartment is secure, she decides to remove the disguise. She whispers a command and follows it with mental controls, and the devices begin leaving her face and left hand. She smiles as the mirror panel that hides the communications station shows her soft black-and-white fur and her rabbit-like pink nose. Her still humanesque hand fell to the human designed fabric of her jeans and began undoing their bindings. Her body quivered as the air rushed to greet the slightly sweat-dampened fur beneath the woven material. She steps out of the clothing and kicks it away from her as it falls to the floor, then unbuttons the shirt she’d chosen to wear for the day and discards that as well. Once she’s comfortable and unclothed, her left hand-paw undoes the ponytail holding her long black hair, and her ears, down and back. Her long, straight hair falls down as the band releases its grip, and she smiles as she stretches her ears and now-unbound tail. “One last thing,” she tells herself as she grabs the blanket from her bed and wraps it around her back. She closes her eyes and calls out loudly to Robert, then snaps to have her back face the door.

It was now or never.

– –

I hear my name being called through her door. I jump from the couch that I’d been sitting on as I waited for her. As I made my way to her door, I was struck with a thought. She never, ever called me me to her room. Was this it? She was finally going to let me into her life completely? My hand shakes slightly as I reach for the doorknob and give it a twist. The door swings free and I find the woman I’ve known for years standing in a pink-plaid blanket that covered her from shoulder to floor. Her long black hair was pulled just outside of the blanket and left me nothing to see of her body. I smile but wait at the door to be actually invited in.

She seemed to notice my lack of entry, because the next thing I hear is an unusually soft voice. “Please, come in and close the door, hon.”

I obey, pressing the door closed with a loud click.

“I…,” she starts, strangely unsure of herself, “I know that it’s been difficult being with me.”

“No, it–”

“Please, don’t interrupt. I have to do this. Robert, do you love me?” She stands perfectly still as she speaks, still facing away from me.

I cock my head in slight confusion at the question. Had I ever given her any reason to think otherwise? “Of course I do, Allessa! You make me happier than I’ve been in my life!” It was mostly true.

“Even if I was different from everyone you knew?”

“I know everything there is to know about you! Well, everything you’ve let me know, but everything I know tells me that you’re who I want to be with. Is something wrong?”

She shakes her head slowly. “No, Robert. There’s nothing wrong. But…” She begins to lower the blanket to the floor. “I am different.” As the blanket lowers past her shoulders she starts to turn around slowly.

My eyes widen in excitement. This isn’t happening! I’m finally going to…

The first traces of her skin show to me, and it’s not the lightly-tanned skin I’m used to. It’s black… No…. It’s white? It’s both? I look more closely and realize that I’m not looking at skin but at hair. Or fur? I involuntarily take a step back from her and towards the door. As my foot lands I start to catch a glimpse of her face from behind the hair. The lovely lines that were there are suddenly gone, replaced by a slightly elongated snout. Her nose is actually flush with her lips, and they, too, are covered with the black and white fur that was on her back. As I notice the shape of her new face, I catch something lifting her hair. No, it didn’t lift her hair, it actually parted it and pushed past. The limbs were also fur-covered, but they stretched upwards until they were practically vertical. She completed her turn, but not before I saw the tuft that made her tail. My eyes wide, I stand in stunned silence. What was I looking at? What was she? Who was this thing that sounded like my Allessa!?

“What… What kind of… Is this a joke?!”

The rabbit-like humanoid in front of me spoke in Allessa’s voice, and I watched her mouth make the words that should have been Allessa’s. “No. This,” she gestures to her nearly naked body, “is who, no, what I am.”

I feel the panic start to push through the confusion and start to press backwards. “Allessa, if that’s you in a costume, you need to tell me now!”

“Robert,” the Allessa-rabbit creatures spoke, then lifted her right hand, still in its nano-camouflage, up for me to see, “ This was the camouflage.” She started to step closer. “Can’t you hear me in this body? My body? Can’t you see me in my eyes?” Her voice began to sound hurt as she pleaded with me to see her in the strange body.

I look into her eyes and find the bright, almost glowing blue eyes that I know. I listen to her voice carefully and realize that it was most definitely her. This thing was my Allessa! Fighting my body’s inclination to flee, I step closer and bring my hand to her cheek. The fur, which I’ve accepted that that’s what it is, is soft, and I see her close her eyes as I come into contact with it and feel her lean into my hand. “Allessa, what happened to you?” I try to sound calm and in control, but I realize that I sound panicky, and I know she can feel the shaking of my hand.

She sounds more calm now, as if re-assured by my touch. “This is who I really am.” Allessa-rabbit’s eyes open again and look into mine. “I’m an alien to your world, Robert. I always have been. At least since I convinced the real Allessa to move by changing her parent’s work records and moving them to another state. Hold me, Robert, please…”

What could I do? What was I supposed to do? An alien? This has got to be a sick joke. “Allessa, I don’t know if I can. This feel so… Strange! I don’t know if I’m supposed to just accept you’re not being who I thought you were or if I should be calling the damn FBI!”

My words hit her, and I know they do because I can see what looks like a tear forming in her still-beautiful eyes. “I understand, Robert. I do. But listen to me, please. I’m showing you this because I’m supposed to…” She stops and thinks about her words. “Go back tonight. But I think I’ve fallen in love with you, Robert. I’m telling you this because I want to know if you love me! If you still love me, even as the Eil’ph that I am.” I can hear the barely withheld tears in her voice, and I can’t help but feel the girl I’ve grown to love inside of this human-animal form. “Do you still love me? Can you still love me?”

I find my eyes drifting down from her eyes and face and along her body. They trace along her bared breasts, then past and to her tight stomach, then continuing on down her legs. My eyes tell me that she is still the same woman who I’d come to know. Her voice, her eyes, everything was Allessa. But now, that same form seemed so different. It was suddenly… Alien… Could I really love her?

“I don’t know what to say, Allessa. I really want this to be a strange dream. I want to believe that this is still you.”

She brings her hand, paw, what should I call it, to my chin and brings my eyes to hers. I see the alien lips smile and the eyes I know glimmer. “Kiss me and I’ll prove it’s me.”

I strongly consider it. If it’s her, I’d know it right away, right? “If I kiss you, I’ll know? But, what if–”

“I promise you’ll know right away. Just, please…”

My mind begins to race. This would mean that I’ve been making out with an alien. Making plans with one. Giving my heart to one. Making love to an alien! I have to speak, I tell myself. “Why are you on this planet, then?”

The question makes her pull back, but only just slightly. “I promise, I’ll tell you everything if you kiss me, Robert.”

I feel myself ready to accept it as inevitable, that the only way I’ll get any answers and know anything is if I kiss this … rabbit, is what I’ve decided that she is. I bring the only other question I can feel forming up before I surrender to her request. “Okay. I will. But, I want to know your name first. Your real name.”

She nods, and her eyes sparkle in triumph. “Alright. Fair enough.” She sounds so happy as she continues. “My name is Chiantalle’Biress, which roughly means “Gift of Light.” My mother is a priestess of her… My order. My friends call me Chi’bi, my love.”

I stop my leaning into her at the name and quickly draw back. Chi’bi! “Wait, your name. It’s really Chi’bi?”

She smiles and nods, not realizing that I know the name. “Yes. My mother was so happy to have–” She cuts her words short when she notices the anger growing in my eyes. The honest smile and tone vanish into a deep, unhidden concern. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong?”

I can’t hold in the rage, and she hears me clearly. “You! It was you the whole damn time?” My voice raises to a yell as I continue. “You ruined my life! Why would you do that?” She opens her mouth to try to respond but I don’t give her the chance. “You toyed with me for years! You made my girlfriends think I didn’t care! What the hell were you doing with me? Why!?”

Chi’bi fights back a tear as she tries to gather her thoughts and answer. “Robert, please! I want to tell you everything! I want us to be together! Please, don’t do this. Don’t cast me out! Remember how you feel for me.”

Her lack of answer only angers me further. “You? YOU!? I don’t know you! You’ve lied to me since you took over the real Allessa! All for some sick fantasy? To hell with this, I’m leaving!”

“No! Don’t do this! You’ll force me to…” Chi’bi cuts herself short again as she sees me begin to turn away from her. “Please! This is real to me, you don’t understand!”

My hand grabs the doorknob and begins to twist. Before the latch disables, I feel a pair of hands grab my shoulders and pull me strongly from the door. She had managed to get me turned before I could protest, her movements amazingly fast and stronger than I ever remembered. As I’m spun around, she presses herself against me and tries to force a kiss from my lips. I bring my own hands to her chest and begin to push her away when I feel a sting in my right arm. I cry out in pain, then in confusion as I notice that I can no longer feel my fingers or my forearm, and the feeling is spreading fast up my arm.

Her eyes are filled with tears as she begins to speak. “I didn’t want to end it this way. I love you, Robert. I’m sorry that I’ve hurt you.”

The numbness has crept beyond my upper arm and into my chest, moving faster as whatever the sting was courses through my blood. I try to speak, but she puts a claw to my mouth.

“You will be fine, I promise. It’s a sleep agent, Robert. You’ve only got a few moments before you go unconscious. I wish you would have let me explain.” Chi’bi slides my body down the door as she notices my legs suddenly going limp. As she lays me flat she brings her lips to mine, since I can no longer resist her, and kisses me with all the love and hope that would have shown me that she was truly the Allessa I had known. I try to fight it but can’t as the numbness has spread up my neck and to my jaw. “I’m truly sorry to have hurt you.”

My eyelids suddenly get extremely heavy, and although I fight to keep them open, the room goes black as they shut of their own accord. Before the world goes out completely, the last thing I hear is her voice.

“I hold our love forever in my heart, my back-water being.”

– –

Chi’bi looks over Robert as she sits crouched over his sleeping body. She closed her eyes and let a single tear fall from each. A tear for love had, and a tear for love lost. It’s all she would allow herself. He would hate her forever now and there was nothing she could do about it. She stood and turned towards her communications panel, half expecting it to turn on and for her to see the orange-scaled lizard laughing at the collection. She felt dirty inside and out, almost as if she was betraying her own heart and soul. Instead of waiting for the comms panel to go live, she headed to her dresser, pulled out her UFO jumpsuit, and proceeded to slip into it. After securing the fabric, she went to the display and pressed a digit to it. The wall flashed twice in the color of aquamarine, then returned to a white wall. Within a minute, the unit warmed to the reptilian face she had anticipated earlier.

“It’s done. Get me out of here. Now.”


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