Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 33

“Fuck, Kohen, you ask some scary questions.” Captain had returned to his quarters, and Deke was with him. Neither one of them could seem to settle, and the space wasn’t big enough for one of them to pace, much less both of them. I curled into the corner of the couch, pulling my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Hey.” Captain sank down beside me. He put his hand on my shoulder, rubbing it up and down my arm. “We’re not mad at you. If anything, we’re mad at ourselves. I was once a soldier, so I know all about following orders blindly. I didn’t want to keep doing that, so I went into business for myself. When the contract job working for Central came up, I really thought I’d left that life behind. As Captain, I had access to more information, the right to know the mission parameters. No more blind faith.” He laughed bitterly.
“But that’s all I apparently had. Like Deke said, you ask scary questions—because we should have asked them ourselves. I should have been asking them, as the captain, but I failed.”
Deke stood rigid. “You have never failed us. When Command disbanded our troop, you took those of us who wanted out. Gave us a place. I wouldna made it as a civilian.” He looked down at his hands, curled into fists before he took a breath and slowly relaxed them. I recognized one of Lakshou’s techniques. “You kept us going. I know you got the shit end of the stick, following orders that meant people died when they didn’t have to, but you were never in deep with the higher ups. I saw a lot more, doing their dirty work. This sort of thing? A traitor using a civilian contractor with past military ties to secretly bring in sleeper agents to infiltrate Central? I should have seen that coming when the missions went so well before.”
“Deke, stop. I knew I shouldn’t have asked you to question the Trepharo or Kemit. You didn’t need that reminder, because that is not who you are. And it is not your job to—”
“How about you both stop trying to take the blame and start figuring out how the hell to fix it?” I blurted out.
I hunched when they both stopped and stared at me. I clenched my hands together and held on tight. “Sleeper agents?” I wanted to know more about that. “Like… me? People with stuff hardwired into their brain who can be given orders and be forced to comply?”
“Kohen, I told you, Aparoe said you’re safe. They can’t do that to you anymore.”
“But you don’t know. You can’t.”
“Aparoe could do some scans. The ship’s medical equipment isn’t the best, not as good as I expected on a ship this size, but you know you’d be safe with Aparoe. The rest of the rescues were given additional scans as a precaution since the flame wasp attack. The ones with ports, like yours, don’t show any signs of additional activity in their brain scans.”
“What if it’s something that isn’t activated until we get close? We’ve been out of communications range, remember?” I jumped to my feet. “What if it hits as soon as we get past this cloud thing? You need to put us in isolation!”
“Kohen, you need to stay close to me. It’s going to be—”
“No!” He couldn’t put himself at risk. Not for me. “Look at this.” I snatched up the cup I’d been drinking from, the warm metal crumpling like tissue. “That could be you.” Nothing they’d done to me before in the tests could compare to what I felt. I was the danger here, and he wouldn’t see it. “They could order me to snap your neck the next time we’re in bed. I tried to stop before and never could. But I’d still wrap my legs around your waist and moan, run my hands up and down your back until they reached your neck, and then it’d be over in a flash.” I looked away, not wanting to see the disgust, the knowledge of my past. “Don’t make me watch that happen,” I begged.
Captain stood, and I backed away. “No, don’t. Deke, put me in a cell. Something I can’t get out of. You need to isolate the others from the lab too, in case someone realizes you discovered something’s not right.”
“Kohen….” Captain’s voice shook. “You didn’t do that. You can’t blame yourself.”
“I know that!” Sort of. “I blame the people who had control over me. And you can’t be sure they won’t do it again. And until you do, Deke has to make sure I can’t hurt you. Lock me up, restrain me. Whatever it takes.”
“We can put out a general quarters order, and I’ll send a few of my men to guard the rescues, make sure they’re armed for whatever might happen.” Deke’s voice was grim. “But, Kohen, the last time you were away from Captain Querry, you went into shock from the bond Lakshou said you have.”
“I don’t care.”
“What if you dying hurts me through the bond?” Captain said belligerently. “Do you care about that?”
“Of course I do. But it’s not safe for me to be close to you.” No matter how much I wanted to burrow against him and feel his arms wrap around me, holding me close. At least I had his scent on the clothes I wore.
“You were okay when I left earlier. Maybe it’s because you’re here, in my quarters.”
“I can rig the door. We can get Priella and Luca to remove the vid panel and the handheld. Isolate all signals in and out of here and the quarters the other rescues are staying in.” Deke nodded slowly. “We have to consider this, Captain Querry. At least until we can rule it out.” 

Want more flash? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 32

I curled up on the edge of the couch, my head on Captain’s thigh. I felt better when we were touching. He crafted messages that seemed completely normal, until he showed me the code he used with his contacts. Then I could decipher the hidden messages inside them requesting more information on the current council and political maneuvering among the military.

“Hopefully these will yield results. They’ll go out as soon as we hit non-shielded space, before I approve Kekillill’s reports, just in case.” Captain stood, gently lowering my head. “I need to go check on the crew that’s on shift. You can stay here, or I can escort you to your quarters, or you can come with me.”

“I’d like to stay here.” It was an easy decision. I didn’t want to see the crew or any of the other rescued victims. And I liked my small room, but I liked being in Captain’s quarters more.

“In that case, here.” Captain handed me his handheld vid. “I’ve queued up my reports from the other missions. I think it’s important that you know what kind of life my crew lives. See how the missions can go.”

“You can let me do that?”

“These are my private files. Nothing restricted. It’s not all good. If it’s too upsetting for you, you can stop reading.”

He didn’t have to tell me that. I’d existed in that cell, other than when they were testing me, for years. I couldn’t have put a number on the eternity that felt like, until Captain and Deke had when they rescued me. People who were willing to make someone do the things they made me do…?

They were capable of anything. Everything. I watched as Captain moved purposefully around his quarters, changing into a formal uniform. The snug fabric hugged his body, leaving no loose cloth to get snagged onboard the close quarters on a spaceship.

“I’ll be back soon, Kohen. Use the vid if you need to get in touch with me. If you have even the smallest difficulty breathing, you page Aparoe and then me, okay?”

“I will.” I didn’t want to feel that suffocating darkness ever again, but I wasn’t ready to face the crew either. Most of them probably had no idea what was going on, but I couldn’t shake my fear that the Trepharo, Kemit, or Ss’merit had done something more than just that one attack. There had to be plans within plans within plans; the only way I felt safe was to hunker down and seclude myself.

That I could do it in quarters surrounded by the Captain’s scent was even better. From the beginning, I’d only felt comfort with him. As soon as the door sealed behind him, I lifted the vid. I was curious about his other missions; what had his crew done to free other victims?

The thought of some sensationalized story, the type told over cheap, homemade alcohol that burned more than it intoxicated, was far from the truth as I read Captain’s accounts of his missions. Pages of dossiers on station blueprints, scientists, guards, rescued survivors, and experiments gone wrong outweighed the short pages of battles to overcome the resistance and save the poor people being tortured in the Brox Consortium’s bid for power.

It made for some dry reading, but I faithfully flicked through every page, scanning and reading while some light music Captain must enjoy during his short leisure time played in the background. It was the only thing that kept me awake.

But Captain and Deke were right. This mission had been different. First, Captain had never been ordered to take a bigger ship before, or the augmented crew he had to use to run it. The Brox Consortium had their arm of the galaxy, but they wanted the center, the rich planets that were part of the Central government and lacking in most defensive capabilities.

What they didn’t lack was the funds to pay for soldiers or mercenaries from more outlying planets where violence was a way of life. So the rich and powerful stayed rich and powerful on the backs of loyal soldiers and those who respected the credits above all else.

It made me sick. They were willing to do anything. Looking through the files, though, I couldn’t find any other notes about the ports some of us rescued on this mission had. Those were different.

No on else had the extensive experimentation on their brains and bodies like I had. Worried about what would happen when we passed the radiation barrier, I focused on the mission reports post-rescue. I flipped through report after report.

A frown creased my forehead. “This can’t be right,” I muttered to myself. Captain didn’t seem like the type of man who’d just shove his problems off on someone else. I paged him on the vid.

“Are you all right, Kohen?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I’d forgotten he’d warned me to contact him if I felt like our separation was hurting me. “But I had a question about your reports.”

“Okay. What is it?”

“After you returned to Central space, you and the crew were debriefed, then went off-mission. But the victims were taken for readjustment, you said? I think someone told me they are helped to go home or to start new lives.”

“Yes.” He looked at me expectantly, his face blank.

“Did you ever actually follow up with any of them? Do you know for sure that happened?” 

Want more flash?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter Thirty-one

“It doesn’t help when you provoke her,” Captain said.

“She hates that the head of security has more say in the mission than she does as your second. She acts like I’m some newbie in the ranks, not a commander in my own right.”

“She’s new.”

“And that right there’s the problem.” Deke leaned forward. “This mission has always been different. The orders came down the pipeline instead of in person. You had to take this ship and a good third of the crew is new.”

“They work for Central Command, just like we do.” Captain held up a hand. “I know, I know. That doesn’t mean they only work for Central Command.”

“Obviously, or we wouldn’t have a murderer on board. Or a stowaway like the Trepharo.”

I shivered and leaned toward Captain. He let me, and I inched closer until our legs and sides touched. Deke watched, but I avoided looking in his eyes, and he didn’t say anything.

“Orders are orders. And ours were to infiltrate the station and rescue the prisoners there.”

“On a station in a system that’s barely even mapped. How did Intelligence know the Brox Consortium had a lab operating there? Why send us on this ship when there were at least two other crews on ships with enough firepower and space to do the same job?”

“We’ve talked about this before. We have the best track record for successful retrievals.”

“Exactly. Retrieval. My teams had next to nothing to do. We secured the victims in the cells, brought them on board, cleared the station and grabbed files. No guards. No scientists. The station’s security systems were easily cracked.” Deke made a face. “All of them, offered up on a platter. Why? What’s the goal?”

“Getting the Trepharo on a central planet? They’re even more dangerous than I am,” I said quietly. “On a ship this big, the null field would be too much to run without cause. Luca showed me the ship’s power cells and the schematics for the systems. A smaller ship doesn’t have that problem.”

“But you would’ve been in close contact with them as part of the rescued group. You would’ve picked them out, just like you did yesterday.”

I shrugged. “Maybe not. You have more room on this ship. And in the suit, I was shut down. If you hadn’t rescued me, and I hadn’t latched on to you?” It was one single moment, the fact Captain came to my cell, that he was the one who rescued me.

“We would’ve gotten you out of it.” Captain rubbed his hand along my back.

“And if you had? Without someone touching me? What would’ve happened?” I pointed at one of the ports in my head. “Would I have survived?”

Deke raised his eyebrows, and Captain hesitated. “Look.” Deke spread his hands and leaned forward. “What it comes down to is this. Do you trust who gave you the orders to raid the station? Were they giving us orders to help Central or are they working with Brox? Did we take a weapon away from the Brox Consortium or are we bringing it straight to the people who are standing in their way?”

“Those are very good fucking questions. Did the Trepharo have any information that might help me figure out the answers?”

My stomach churned every time it was mentioned, but I swallowed and held on to the present, focusing on the touch of Captain’s body against mine, the heat of his palm resting against the base of my neck. I wanted to hear this, needed to.

“Not a whole lot. I believe it was camouflaged as the crew member Kohen didn’t know that he heard talking with Kemit. The plan with the flame wasps was intended to send the ship straight to Central Core. To investigators. Higher ups. People who gave us the mission who’d want to figure out what went wrong and how you’d fucked up.”

“So then it’s a plan to infiltrate the central planet.”

“Maybe. Or they wanted us to bring it in and they’d issue orders then.”

Captain’s body was tense against mine. “So, really, we have no fucking idea who the Trepharo is working for, what it was going to do when it got to the Central planet… nothing.”

“Maybe Kemit will prove more malleable,” Deke said. His voice was dark, and I shivered. “There is evidence Ss’merit has been… friendly, with the Trepharo as well. I do not know if that was as part of its cover, or if he is part of the plot, but we will find that out. His actions are suspect too, especially with his interest in Kohen.”

“I don’t like using you this way.” Captain rubbed a hand over his face. “We are not equipped to deal with spies. We put down resistance, capture and detain, and rescue.”

“But we need answers. The Trepharo is too damn strong. Kemit is human. I can work with human. I had a team following him since we detected the Trepharo. I’ll have them take him in now and report back to you as soon as I have something concrete.”

Deke stood and saluted. He turned and stalked out of Captain’s lounge, already intent on his duty. If nothing else, I was comforted by his willingness to do whatever it took. Maybe it was just loyalty to Captain, but it felt sort of like he was protecting me too.

“What now, Cap—”

“Everett,” Captain reminded me.

My breath caught. I licked my lips. “Everett,” I repeated slowly. “What now?”

“Now I craft my own messages. I have contacts outside of Command, a few palms greased in dark corners. I’ll make sure you’re safe, Kohen. Don’t be afraid.”

“Just me? What about all the people the Brox Consortium could hurt?”

Captain squeezed my neck. “On this ship? You are the most important thing to me.” 

Want more flash?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 30

This week's flash installment was inspired by a prompt which was: Take your hands off of me!

I flexed my feet, my toes scraping along Captain’s hairy legs. I could move again, but I didn’t want to. Even in those cloudy memories I had of before the station, and my cell, and the tests, I couldn’t remember feeling like this. Happy, warm, no pain, no fear, no hunger. Thirst didn’t torture me with every dry breath.

The only thing I could smell was the spice of Captain’s skin and the thump of his heart beat slow under my ear where I’d tucked my head under his chin. His arms were wrapped around me, one around my shoulders and the other anchored at the small of my back.

We were naked, but that was just another layer to the perfection of the moment. It didn’t matter that I was folded against the ridges of his stomach or that his parts prodded my thighs. If I could freeze time and keep this moment forever, I would.

Capturing the scent, touch, sound, even the taste as I gingerly dipped my tongue and took the tiniest sample of the salt of his skin, was paramount. Captain’s breath hitched. I froze, not breathing.

His hand flattened between my shoulder blades. “Kohen? Kohen! Shit.” Captain leaned back. “Please breathe.”

“What?” I asked on a breathy exhale, the word nearly indistinguishable.

“Oh thank the fates.” Captain stared at my chest. “Take another breath.”

“What’s wrong?”

“You stopped breathing last night. I was trying to stay awake, to make sure you kept breathing, but I fell asleep. I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Does your chest hurt? Should I get Aparoe? I’ll call Aparoe now.” He reached out, and I latched onto his arm.

“I’m fine. Nothing hurts. I just froze ‘cause I was trying not to wake you up. I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

He snorted. “Are you sure? You’ve gotten really good at it.”

I glanced away from him, staring at hollow of his throat where the skin pulsed. “Sorry.”

“Stop apologizing. It’s not like you do it on purpose.”

After that, I didn’t know what to say. My plan to show him I could be mature and be a productive part of the crew, was as far as I’d gotten. Naked, in bed, with him naked too? So not part of the plan.

Well, it would’ve been if I’d been going off my dreams. But even those hadn’t been this specific.

“Kohen? Look at me.”

I couldn’t.

His fingers under my chin didn’t give me a choice. I kept my gaze around his nose, not wanting to look into his eyes and see that look I saw before. The one that said I wasn’t what he wanted. The one he probably had on his face when he’d been talking the last time he’d held me. “Kohen.” I couldn’t defy that voice.

“You have nothing to be sorry for. You’re not the one who did this. Whatever happens, it’s not your fault.”

“Okay.” What else was I going to say? No? Of course it is? I should’ve jumped out an airlock or off a cliff on a test? Never met you? I couldn’t argue with him. Not if that would mean he might let me go.

“Why do I feel like that was too easy?”

I shrugged.

He sighed. “All right. Well, if you feel up to it, we need to get up. I need to contact Deke and my second. We’re approaching central space soon. There are things that need to be done before then.”

“Like find out who Ss’merit and the Trepharo are working for?”

“Yes. We need to know where the rescued people come from. What species, planets, and potential contacts we can reach out to find for them. Our reports will be read but there will be officials asking more questions.”

My heart hiccupped, and I stiffened. “You have reports… on me? W-will I have to talk to strangers?”

“Yes.” Captain said it slowly. His hand against my back stroked soothing circles between my shoulder blades. “Never alone. I won’t let you face any of this alone.”

“Promise?” I studied his eyes, seeking the truth there.

“I promise.”

I scooted back. “We should get up, Captain.”

“Everett.” Captain caught my hand and stopped me. “I’m not your captain. Not just your captain, anyway. No, I’m not kicking you off the crew. But if we’re alone, and especially if we’re naked, I need you to call me Everett.”

An immediate denial sprang to my lips, but I studied him. The memory was hazy, but Aparoe had said something about helping him being hard, but why? It wasn’t physically hard—though we both were—but it was confusing.

“I’ll try.” That was the best I could offer.

When we met with Deke and Kekillil, Captain’s second, my nerves had started to jangle again. Not sure if it was the nerves about the Trepharo, or meeting someone new, or the inches of space between me and Captain.

Kekillill was a female Verazoi. Her arms were covered in green tendrils that quivered when Deke sat down next to her. He brushed a hand over them as they hit his arm.

“Take your hands off me!” she trilled.

“You touched me first!”

“Enough!” Captain barked out the order and they sprang apart. “Report.”

“You first,” Deke said.

“As it should be, security guard. The ship entered the edge of central space. The radioactivity of the Qlart system is blocking communication, but we should pass that in the next shift rotation. We’ll send reports at that time and wait for commands.”

“Don’t send the reports until I clear it,” Captain said.

Kekillill’s spots darkened. “Captain?”

“Just a precaution as we finish investigating. I want to send complete files.”

“Oh. Of course, sir.”

“That will be all, Kekillill.”

She glanced at Deke, her spots darkening again. “Are you sure?”


“He’s staying.” Captain’s tone and the smug smile on Deke’s tone bothered me. Didn’t they trust her? 

Want more flash?

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 29

What? Humans don’t bond.” Captain jerked back, and I whimpered at the loss of his touch.

“Who cares about that in this moment? Put your hand back on Kohen right now,” Aparoe ordered.

His hand was even warmer than before and shaking slightly. Or was I shaking? I couldn’t tell. But I could breathe, and the pounding in my head and ache all over my body I’d felt for the last few days started to ease. “It looks like he’s just having a panic attack. He’s had them before.”

“Has he?” Lakshou asked. “Captain Querry, since you brought Kohen on board, I’ve gradually adjusted to the unique signature of his electrical signals. The machinery in his mind has been dormant, and still is, but the parts of his mind that hold alien matter have been changing. I’ve been sensing what I thought were his emotions.

“But I don’t think it’s that simple. Did you ever determine what all they did to him, Aparoe?” Lakshou asked.

“No.” Aparoe’s voice was a quiet murmur behind me. “It’s too complex, and I don’t have scanning equipment that sensitive. Plus, the testing it would require would be too traumatizing.”

I was starting to resent that they were talking about me while I was right there, but when I tried to speak, I couldn’t. My chest was too tight, and all that came out was a strangled whine.

“Captain, there is a psychic connection between the two of you. I can see the mingling happen the second you touched him. He was barely breathing.”

“He’s still barely breathing!”

“I think that’s because you aren’t touching him the… right way.”

There was a choking noise. “I… What?”

“Think about it.” Aparoe held something over my head that beeped right in my head. I flinched. “Good. Good.”

“Think about what?” Captain asked.

“They had him in a suit that deprived him of all sensory contact unless they had him on some sort of test, he said. Things they made him do, even if he didn’t want to. The suit, plus the machinery in his mind, plus the alien biological matter all through his limbic system. That controls everything from emotions, to behavior, to memory, to even the olfactory senses.”

Aparoe was telling Captain to think about it, but now that I wasn’t in danger of passing out and the pain was lessening, my mind was working again and I was absorbing everything they said. The intense need I felt for Captain? The way his scent calmed and drew me to him?

The way the aliens had been able to change my behavior and my memories? Wrapping up most of my childhood in a fog that only cleared in snatches here and there? What they’d done to me had done far more than given me strength and agility.

I wasn’t human. I wasn’t alien. I was something completely other.

And I knew, if Captain rejected me again, I’d die.

“When you took him from his cell, he was in your quarters. In your bed. We did not touch him without gloves on after we took off the suit, since we worried about infection. But you touched him, talked to him. He would have naturally bonded with you. And who better? You care about him, Everett.” Aparoe’s voice held sympathy. “I know this is hard for you, and why, but this young man needs you. Your past is just that. He may be young, but he’s lived enough for several lifetimes. Why not give both of you a chance to be happy?”

“But, if this is because of some weird biology… what if it changes?” Captain’s voice dropped at the end. “What if we get back to the central systems, some government official debriefs him and convinces him to let them study what they did to him, and they can fix it. And, when they do, this bond disappears?”

“Kohen? Let some stranger convince him to let doctors poke around his brain and do surgery? Because removing the alien matter would be the only way to change it. And that would probably kill him because it is literally grafted to his own brain tissue as if it grew that way naturally.”

“Fear, Captain Querry, that’s what you’re feeling. And hope. Try to let go of the fear and hold on to the hope.” Lakshou was using his meditation voice. “I’m not telling you to go to your quarters, or his, and have sex with Kohen. I doubt either of you are ready for that. But both of you need some skin-on-skin contact and some time to come to grips with all this.”

“How am I going to explain any of it?”

“Actually,” Aparoe said, “his brain activity shows that he’s been conscious the whole time. He’s just so physically overcome that he’s incapable of movement.”

“Are you serious?” A hand touched my face, cupping my cheek. “Kohen? Can you hear me?”

I wanted to answer Captain, but I couldn’t. I tried for the second best thing, opening my eyes so I could see him close to me, touching my skin, but my eyelids barely fluttered. I sighed.

“That’s okay, Kohen. That’s enough. Rest.” Captain’s thumb brushed the underside of my jaw. “I’m taking him back to my quarters. Deke, resolve this situation with the Trepharo. I want to know everything it knows.”

“Yes, sir.”

Captain grunted as I was lifted into the air. “You’ve put on weight since the first time I carried you,” he said. When he set me down, I was surrounded by his scent, and I knew I was in his bed again, not on the couch. “Skin-on-skin contact, huh?” Captain chuckled, and it sounded off. “Well, here goes.”

Fabric rustled, the bed shifted, and I rolled. Aparoe had cut off my shirt then wrapped me in a covering from Lakshou’s temple, so my skin was bared. Then I was chest to chest to Captain, my head tucked into his neck.

Utter contentment.
Want more flash?