Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 97

Going between being scared and being angry and ready to murder the universe made for some very chaotic nightmares and cranky mornings. Aparoe moved out, more to get away from me than because they were done studying Chomper or the bond between us.

Because, whatever other worries I had on my mind, his rapid growth and the changes in him were also creating a great day of anxiety in me. Every few days he seemed to gorge himself and then just… spurt up and out. The house could barely take it. Anything breakable had been broken. Our vids had to be locked in a cupboard when we weren’t using them.

Technology endlessly fascinated Chomper. He fiddled with machines, tearing them apart and then, miraculously, putting them back together. Mostly. There was one replicator incident that led to a really stinky blob of something that jiggled and made a sound when tried to pick up the plate to recycle the matter.

His one word and simple phrases started to get more sophisticated. He followed Captain around, sitting on his hind legs and mimicking him whenever Captain would stop for a few minutes and do some thinking.

And all through this, the link between us never wavered. I could hear the thoughts in Chomper’s mind. He sent me pictures.

The first time he sent a burst of flames, I ran out of the house shouting for him, planning to douse them… only to find him spouting thin rivulets into the air out of his pursed lips and flapping his wings in glee. “Look!” he cried.

“I see.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “What did we say about fire?”

Chomper cut off the flame he’d somehow split into a circle that met in front of his face and dancing eyes. “Fire, hot. Fire, dangerous.”

“Yes. And can start a bigger fire.” I waved a hand around the dry scrub around the house. “Especially out here. Be careful. No fire unless you’re right by the water or an adult is with you. Got it?”

He nodded, and his wings drooped. Seriously, what was that face? Were his eyes glistening?

“Want to show me your tricks?” I was already out there anyway.

He perked up, nodding. “Show, show!” I walked him over to the backyard cistern, ready to peel back the cover and douse whatever needed it if his flames got out of hand.

Yep, I had more than enough to keep me busy, yet I was slowly going insane each day we didn’t hear from Freska, Danie, and Deke. The wait felt like forever was stretching out into eternity.

When the message came, Deke gave the news while Danie sat in blank silence and Freska hovered next to him in the background. She looked nearly as shell-shocked as I felt.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Captain. Danie tracked the ship to a planet not far from Central. It’s just enough out of the way to be discreet, but close enough to make use of all the jump points and networks.”

“So that bastard really did have plans within plans within plans,” I whispered.

“What?” Deke asked.

“Nothing.” I shook my head. “Freska, what exactly did you learn?”

“Well, it took some doing to land without being spotted, and then Deke had to hustle me over to the ship in person. He was locked down to remote transfers—someone has been spilling the beans.”

“So whoever was employed by Brox on the ship before wasn’t as stupid as we thought they were.” I ran a hand through my short hair.

“Cells. They operate though cells so different plans can be happening at the same time. That’s why some of this didn’t really make sense,” Freska said. “And why I wasn’t able to get all the information out of the other ship. It didn’t know about it, because the cell wasn’t using any technology on the ship to communicate or plan. They were dormant.”

“Someone helped Lakshou escape,” I said. I shivered, thinking about his ability to influence a person. He’d told me how it worked and what he could do, but was what he told me true? Or did I have to worry about him knowing and being able to do so much more?

“They did. And he definitely wants revenge. I think he thought we’d go to that planet, since it’s one the whole crew loved to stop at. Captain Querry never made a big secret of his plans to retire to a rich planet and live the quiet, natural life.”

“Yeah, that’s why we’re here.” Quiet, yes. Natural? Yes. Rich planet? Um, no. Try middling to poor with people who might reach out a helping hand if you’re truly down but it might just be to rip your hand off so they can get inside your home and rob you blind. Well, if you’re an off-worlder at least. Not sure what we had to do to be considered natives.

Captain’s face was like a carved stone. His back rigid. He stood with his legs apart, his hands locked behind him. “So we know the who. We know the why, or the probable why.” He held up a hand when Aparoe threatened to interrupt. “Or he could know about Sparkles.”

“We know the ship does not have the coordinates there.” Freska picked up Danie’s hand, patting the back. “And Danie plumbed the data the ship shared. They definitely don’t know where you are.”

“Good,” Captain said grimly. “Then they won’t see us coming. This time, Lakshou won’t be getting turned over to the council. This time, I’m going to handle this my way.”

“You mean my way, right?” Deke said, leaning forward with a wicked grin.

“That too.”

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 96

“How are we right back where we started?” Deke snarled. His face on the vid wavered, but his expression of frustration was clear anyway.

I knew how he felt. Other than the fact I wasn’t in pain, or trapped in a tiny cell, and I had a bond with Captain and the crew that we both trusted at our back to help me… I was sort of right where I’d been when they first found me. My life was being directed by forces outside of my control. Someone, or someones, was arrayed against me.

And it wasn’t just me I worried about. I worried about Captain. The crew. Chomper. He’d startled many of our friends who came as soon as Captain called, but he was too damn cute not to pull them in. Even Priella forgot to be nervous around Captain and got down on the floor to play with Chomper. He’d loved her hair, pulling it out of the plait she wore it in.

My hair was still short, barely long enough to flop over my ears. Then again, watching her untangle his tiny claws, yet again, maybe that was a good thing.

“We can’t think about it that way,” someone said. I glanced up, but I’d missed who spoke.

“I agree.” Captain stood. “We have knowledge, skills, and they can’t surprise us.”

“But who are they?” I asked.

“That might be something Danie can help with,” Freska answered. She shoved Deke aside in the vid. “Move, you take up too much room.” Centered, she smiled. “Hi, guys. So Danie revealed another trick they encoded in his body. He’s able to pick up certain… signals.  With that, we’ve been tracking where the ship went.”

“How can you know it’s the right ship?” I asked.

“These wavelengths are leftover from the ship’s energy waves as it destroyed the planet. Trust me, there’s not two ships just passing through that have the ability to do that.” Danie piped up in the background, but we couldn’t see him.

“Right.” I nodded, taking a breath. “So, you think you will be able to find where the ship went?”

“And the ship itself. If we can get close enough for me to link…” Freska paused significantly. Not everyone knew of her specific abilities, and it was a closely-held secret of her people exactly how they did what they did.

“The ship will sing its every secret.” Captain smirked. “Remind me to give you a raise.”

“You don’t pay us anymore, Captain.”

“Well then it won’t be much of a raise.” He grimaced. “Thank you guys. Stay in touch. And, Deke, try to stay calm even if you don’t get to go on board and kill anything.”

“We will.” She cut the transmission before whatever comment Deke started to snarl could be heard.

“He needs a sedative,” Aparoe said calmly. “Added to his food. Continually.”

“No drugging the crew,” Captain insisted.

“Fine. But we’d all have less of a headache.” Aparoe stood. “You’ve all had the chance to meet Chomper, hear what Kohen and Captain Querry have to say, and we’ve been updated by the crew who are following up on where this all started. Anyone have biological questions for me that don’t invade privacy?” They eyed the room’s inhabitants who didn’t say anything.

“Good. I’ll be retiring to my quarters. I want to look at the data from last night’s tests.” Aparoe quickly left the room.

Chomper was still larger-sized, coming up to my mid-thighs now. If he reared up on his back legs he was up to my rib cage.  And his sounds had morphed into chatter.

Mental chatter. He kept up a running commentary of one and two word sentences, mostly demands or exclamations. Between the discussion, Captain’s feelings, my own conflicted emotions, and dealing with him, I was exhausted. I leaned into the warmth of Captain’s body next to mine and started to drift, letting the words wash over me.

Plans. Secondary plans. Contingency plans based on the secondary plans going wrong. Defensive plans. Offensive plans. They were really good at this. I wasn’t. My job was to do what kept me safe. Me and Chomper.

Later, we had another rare moment of peace. A few of the guards Deke had trained were patrolling outside—warned about our underground threats in case the pack came back—and Aparoe had chosen to eat in their room.

“Who do you think it is?” I asked. The thought had been looming on my mind whenever Chomper wasn’t keeping me busy.

“One of my enemies? Any number of opportunistic companies, governments, or forces who think you would be valuable who’d managed to covertly flip one of the Brox workers who knew of you?”

“What about Sloak’s suggestion of it all being a coincidence? Life does find a way, after all.”

“To destroy a whole planet?” Captain raised his eyebrows. “That’s the thing. Someone, on a ship, destroyed the planet where we used to restock our ship’s supplies. That’s a coincidence, maybe, but I doubt it.”

“What if….” I paused, looking down at my plate. I swallowed hard, the bite like a rock in my throat. “What if I never stop putting the crew in danger?”

“They had the choice to go anywhere else, Kohen. They stayed with us because they’re our family. You’d try to protect them too, if the situation was reversed.” Captain reached out a hand. “Whoever this is doesn’t know where we are. That’s to our advantage too. This time, we have the upper hand.”

“Right.” I would find my conviction. “Freska, Danie, and Deke will find out who they are, and then we’ll pick our plan and strike. They’ll never see it coming.” I’d kill anyone who was after those I considered mine. Slowly and painfully.

Then if anyone else had plans to hunt us…. Yeah, there it was. So not going to happen.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 95

Our bond was still a vital need that thrummed through me, like an itch under my skin I couldn’t scratch that slowly grew to consume me, even with the closeness I had to Chomper and the recognition I’d felt for Sparkles. I leaned into Captain’s body, relishing the skin contact as he cleansed the blood and checked me for wounds again. Nothing I had with them came close to the feeling of complete and utter need I had for him. I’d been forced to do many things with many different aliens, but I was thankful Captain was human.

He was everything, and nothing about him felt like anything but sheer comfort and bliss as we touched. I gasped and leaned in as his hands slid down my back. “More.”

“Promise you’ll be more careful.”

“I was walking around the house.” I pushed back, looking into his eyes. “Nowhere is perfectly safe, you know that.”

His eyes were intense as he stroked them down my cleft, stealing what little bit of focus I had left. I closed my eyes, groaning and falling against his chest again. “Just promise.”

“Uh-huh.” He had me helpless and writhing in the bathing room, against the wall, and in our bedroom for the rest of the night.

Morning brought light to the world and new clarity to my brain as I woke from the haze the synthgar brought to our bond when Captain touched me with his expert fingers—nearly as good as mine. I turned and faced him in the bed.

“Why are you so insistent that I stay safe? Have you heard from Freska and the others?”

Captain grumbled, rubbing a hand over his whiskers. “Huh?” On the planet, he didn’t always wake quickly and ready to stave off every problem that might have arisen in his absence from the command center on the ship.

“What do you know that I don’t know?” I asked again in a new way.

“Is that supposed to make sense?” Captain yawned. We hadn’t gone to sleep for a while, and I knew Aparoe had Chomper, so we could sleep in. Of course my brain had finally woken up and now adrenaline flooded through my body.

“What. Are. You. Hiding?”

Captain sighed and rolled onto his back. I sat up and focused on him, ignoring the way pulling the bedding to wrap around me left him deliciously bare. I didn’t get distracted by the scars, or the warm skin coating the sinewy muscles on his arms that he brought up to rub his eyes and over his short hair, or the rasp of the two in the quiet.

I waited.

It was something I had gotten very good at doing.

Finally, he turned his head and looked at me. “The planet where we used to stop to resupply has been razed. The pristine surface? Not so pristine. Someone has destroyed that world.”

Anyone could have knocked me over with the slightest touch. “What? But… we stopped the people returning the victims of the experiments. We exposed the Elites for who and what they are. Their plan to rule over the universe wasn’t exactly original, even if they did have technology and time no one else has had before.”

“What we also did was create a lot of chaos, Kohen. That’s why we’re hiding. I swore I’d keep you safe. We thought that whatever happened that caused you to ingest Sparkle’s egg and combine your DNA with hers was random, but now it looks like it wasn’t. Someone was probably looking for her.”

“I don’t get it. What makes me so damn special?” I snapped. “I’m just a kid from a hellhole planet whose parents didn’t want to keep feeding him. I survived.” I stood, unable to sit any longer. I paced, uncaring that I was naked. “It doesn’t make me special, it makes me stubborn. And maybe stupid!”

“You’re not any of those things, Kohen.” Captain followed me, grabbing me and forcing me to a halt.

“I don’t want to always live with a target on us, with people planning to do things to me or with me I can’t control!” My voice cracked. Damn it. Why couldn’t I hold it together?

“You won’t. We’re going to figure this out. Freska found a whisperer left behind to report any visitors to the planet. You know she tagged and reprogrammed it as soon as she got close enough to give it her personal touch.”

“But you’re saying there’s someone else out there who is behind a secret plan who wants to experiment on me.”

“No, what we know is that someone destroyed a planet you’d been on. We know that Sparkles came from there. We know Chomper is pretty damn unique. You know that I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe, and we both know our crew has our back.”


“Everything.” Captain’s hold on me was physical and emotional, giving me the sturdy connection I needed. “We’ve defeated Elites, Kohen, Elites! Whoever thinks to challenge us will learn just why we won, and they did not. Okay?”

I took a deep breath. “Okay. But stop hiding things from me. Again.” I gave him a look.

“All right, all right.”

“We can’t make the same mistakes as before,” I said. “Maybe we need to talk to everyone. Bring them here. Introduce them to Chomper. Get everyone’s ideas on what to do.”

Captain made a face.

“We’re not on the ship anymore. We asked our friends to help us.” Gnawing hunger started to beat at me. “Chomper’s awake. You ready?”

“Do we have to put clothes on?”

“Yes.” I pushed him away. “Claws, fire breathing? Not to mention, Aparoe’s still here and we need to get ready for more guests.”

“One of these days, I really am going to get to go away with you and spend days without clothes. Days upon days upon days,” Captain said.
I forced a smile. “Sure.” 

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday Briefs Denied Chapter 94

Fucking nighttime beasts coming out trying to eat me. I spun and smacked the squishy beast from my shoulder before it could lock its jaws onto my shoulder and gnaw a gaping hole up to my neck and blood supply. Worse, I knew these things didn’t come out by themselves.

No, the creepy little beasts crawled out of tiny holes with their squishy, extendable bodies, looking for something warm and blood-filled to take away the chill of the night. Where the hell did they come from?

I stomped on the thing on the ground and it squished, then splatted as the blood spread out through the splits on either side of its body. “Die!”

There was another one. I took two big steps to it and stomped down. So nasty, but necessary. Soon they were coming up nearly as fast as I could stomp down. I didn’t want to run back to the house; they’d follow the heat trail from my feet.

Chomper was in the house. I glanced at the window.

Shit! Chomper wasn’t there anymore. Well, maybe that was a good thing. He didn’t need to see this. I stepped on two of the crawlers at once, one foot on each, and shuddered, yelling in revulsion.

“Kohen?” Captain came running from the back of the house. He held a weapon at the ready. “What are you doing?”

“Killing these things. One of them tried to take a nibble from my neck. I kinda thought you might not like that.” Another one came up from a hole I thought I’d collapsed. Damn it! “You gonna help or what?”

The buzz of Captain’s weapon frying the little shits was loud in the near perfect silence, at least until a strident bellow sounded in the air above my head. I risked a quick look up, and my jaw dropped.

Chomper was in his shifted form. He was bigger, at least twice the size he was before, and he had two of the squishy beasts dripping blood down his arms, one in each clawed hand. He tore a strip off of each with his teeth, living up to his name, chewing with his mouth wide open.

By the blood coating his front, he’d eaten more than the ones he was holding.

At least he was safe in the air. It took several more minutes before the attack subsided and we packed down the holes that had been left in the ground. Captain holstered his weapon and slid his hands over my arms and up to my neck, checking me for wounds. “You’re okay?”

“Yeah, fine.” My feet hurt, and my stomach was churning, but that was because I could see Chomper on the ground still eating. “I don’t think we’ve been feeding him enough. Or maybe just not enough meat.” I swallowed and checked Captain with my eyes. “You okay too? How’d you know something was wrong?”

“Of course. I was inside when Chomper started yelling. He’d been whining, but this was different. Then I felt your panic.”

“Well, when it was just one I was fine. A whole herd of those things is deadly.” I still didn’t even know what they were called.

Aparoe stood in the doorway of the house. “Everyone all right or are my medical skills needed?”

“We’re fine,” Captain called.

The medic caught sight of Chomper. Their breath caught. “Oh my. He’s grown.”

“I know,” I said. “I left him inside in the window sill and came outside to walk. I only went around the house about three times before I was attacked. Then Captain and Chomper came to help me.”

“Oh no. I came to help. I told Chomper to stay inside like a good boy like his dad told him too.” Captain glanced at the filthy little beastie that was somehow ours. He was still on all fours, but his wings were tucked and he was slowing down. “But he must have found a way to get out.”

“Did he grow before or after he ate some of them?” Aparoe asked.

I shrugged. “Don’t know. He had blood on his face and two of them impaled on his claws when I saw him.”

“My guess is before. He couldn’t have reached the door release, otherwise, his arms were too short to release the latch and turn the handle.” Captain pursed his lips. He sighed. “Guess we’ll have to put a password lock on the doors.”

“It’s fine,” I tried to say soothingly. “I was out here. He doesn’t go anywhere without me or you.” He was like the synthgar in that. Hmm… the little symbiote was with Captain right then, and I could see just the edge of it behind his ear.

“So most likely a biological response to the threat. To you, obviously, not him since he was safe indoors. Once again proving the bond between you.” Aparoe tapped their chin. “Fascinating. Chomper, will you come see me? Let me run some tests?”

They didn’t even ask me anymore, just Chomper. I said no, but he usually said no. Of course, I’d veto if I felt I needed to. But Aparoe knew my history, new Chomper’s… they knew exactly who was Chomper’s parent, and what would happen to them if Sparkles came back. Chomper dropped the carcass he was more playing with than eating and scampered over to the medic.

Picking him up as if the blood covering him was nothing, they retreated into the house.

If, not when. I stopped on the walk back to the house, suddenly stuck on that thought. Captain’s jerk on my arm as we stopped startled me back into walking. “Sorry.”

I needed out of these clothes and into the clean room. I needed a wash fast. I might even splurge and do a water bath.

“Join me?” I glanced at Captain over one shoulder.

“Anytime.” We stripped the second we hit the bathing chamber. I ignored the promise of sleek, naked skin was too much for him to resist.

Even though we were planet-side, he still rationed, and the water the house of all. We climbed inside the clear stall and the lights came on. His eyes stared at me hungrily, and I felt like a feast laid out for him to nibble and snack on until his heart was content.

“I was so worried about you,” Captain said. “What if I didn’t get there in time?”

“But you did.”

“Because Chomper told me there was something wrong. He’s hyperfocused on you, but sometimes, that’s a good thing. You get into too much trouble.” Captain wasn’t wrong, but he’d winked and the rueful grin as he rolled his eyes said he was only joking.


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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 93

“This is too weird,” Deke said. He stared at me and then smirked. He glanced at Captain. “Guess you two are daddies now.”

“What?” Captain opened his mouth and then shut it. He shook his head.

“You see that fire-breathing sparkly death machine anywhere around here?” Deke looked around in example. “She looked pretty cozy with those ones that looked just like her but left that one with your boy there. And he’s talking to you. I’m thinking she’s basically saying the boy is your problem.” He snorted and started laughing. “Better hope he doesn’t want to nurse or anything,” he gasped out.

“Can you be any more ridiculous?” Aparoe said.

Deke was still chuckling. “What part of what I said wasn’t true?”

“Beings born from eggs are almost always capable of eating the same diet as the parents from the very beginning. Beings who are incubated internally are normally the ones are often born with a less developed system and need another method of feeding, such as a liquid based diet, until their systems mature further.”

“What part of this is normal? Tell me that!” Deke flung an arm out. He wiped his forehead. “What I can tell you is that we gotta get out of here before it gets much hotter.”

“He’s right,” Captain interrupted when Aparoe pulled themselves up in a huff. The arguments Deke couldn’t seem to stop having with the medical officer wouldn’t help them now. “Let’s go back to the pool, see what’s happening there with Kohen’s friend, and then pack up. I want to get Kohen home as soon as possible.”

Deke apparently couldn’t hold back another jibe. “Dying to set up a nursery?”

“To call Freska. Just shut up and lead the way.” Captain helped me up and stayed behind me, taking the rear. Aparoe kept glancing back as we walked in single file through the narrow path to the pool.

Sparkles wasn’t at the pool. The egg sacs were gone too. Other than the equipment the others had left behind, there wasn’t anything to suggest anyone or anything had been there, other than us. “Where did she go?”

“She dumped and ditched on you, man.” Deke laughed again.

His sense of humor was getting on my nerves. I glared at him. The baby was still curled up in my arm, tucked inside my shirt. Maybe having his egg caught on fire and burned around him was exhausting, because he’d fallen asleep on the short walk.

“Let’s go,” Captain said. He wiped sweat off his forehead. “Before we all cook in here.”

 I stood around while the others packed up. Then we started the long walk back to the house; funny, it hadn’t seemed like we’d flown that far when I’d been clutching at Sparkles in terror.

Deke left as soon as we got near his place, but Aparoe didn’t go anywhere. I sighed. There went our privacy. Captain ushered me inside with a hand on my back. Our small house looked like the others on the world from the outside, but inside was a blessed oasis of technology. The cool air was recirculated, and we had a vid and plenty of other technology to make it seem as if we still lived in comfort on the ship—just with a lot more space and freedom outside.

I had a brief moment to worry about Chomper and the cool air, but his skin seemed to warm even as I pulled him out of my shirt. Okay, so he didn’t need outside heat to regulate his temperature. We woul’n't have to replicate the sauna warmth of the rocks and pool.

“Did Sparkles like it warm?” I asked Aparoe, since they were right beside me.

They shrugged. “The temperature never seemed to bother them either way.”

Okay, good. I looked around for something to lay Chomper on. “Here,” Aparoe said. They grabbed the blanket from the pack Captain set down, balling it up. I set Chomper in the middle. He lay there, his eyes blinking lazily, and waved his arms and legs around.

“He might go back to sleep.” Captain’s voice was a rumble at my side. “Babies sleep a lot.”

“I know that.” I’d had younger siblings.

“Can I scan him again?” Aparoe asked.

“If it doesn’t bother him.” I turned on my heel. “I’m going to go check on our supplies, see what else we have he can eat.” He couldn’t live on protein chips alone.

Except he could. I’d been right; Aparoe hadn’t left. They camped out in the tiny spare chamber. Chomper ate every protein chip we could get our hands on and refused any other types of food. He never left my side, no matter what form he was in.

He switched between the two at will. He wanted to curl around my shoulders or use those tiny wings to flap around the floor? He turned into a dark, swirled Sparkles-like alien. He wanted to be snuggled or there were strangers around? He looked like a child, a dark, swirled child. His diamond eyes never changed though.

His speech was simple word mimics or prompts. Food. Want. Water. Want. Hold. Want. It was exhausting.

Freska and Danie were to find out more about Sparkles. They’d taken a shuttle off-planet, but Captain wouldn’t tell me where. The only good thing? She’d taken Deke with her. I was slowly going crazy inside the house, trying to keep Chomper a secret, and he hadn’t been helping.

“I’m going for a walk around the house!” I announced. “By myself!”

Chomper whined, but he would be fine. “Sit here.” I put him in the window seat. “You can see me from there.”  

It was a blessedly cool evening, as I paced exhaustedly. I waved my first time past the window. Chomper watched me intently. The second time he waved back. The third, he was waving before I got there, his eyes laser focused on me.

Who knew having someone depend on you for everything was so exhausting? I froze, my head coming up as that thought struck me. Like… Captain was for me and mine. I’d never realized—

Then something else struck me.

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