Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 92



I fell onto my ass abruptly, fighting to draw in a breath. Captain dropped to my side. “I thought… I thought that was just what created the mental connection. The stuff in my body and brain joining me and Sparkles so I could feel her and probably them. Not making us physically—” I broke off, waving a hand between me and the little hatchling.

Captain and Aparoe exchanged glances. Aparoe scowled and folded their arms, and Captain sighed.

“What?” I split a look between them. “What?” I asked again when neither of them spoke.

“I’m telling him. I always thought it was best, especially after Lakshou turned out to be a damned traitor. His judgment was clearly suspect, and he probably had ulterior motives to prevent Kohen from knowing about all the changes that were done to him.”

“He was scared enough. I agreed—”

“To keep things from me?” I snapped, interrupting Captain and pulling away from him. “We talked about that.”

“I know, I know.”

“What didn’t you tell me?” My heart was in my throat, and I wanted to throw up. Or I was going to have a heart attack because my heart was still pounding out of my chest and cold sweat was running down my back.

“The changes to your body that let you be faster and stronger than normal humans are not just from your mind and the synaptic changes. They put alien DNA through your whole body, changing your bones, nerves, and even parts of your muscles. Your joints lubricate in different ways, which let them move more fluidly.” Aparoe spoke calmly but they must have thought about how to explain this to me because I understood everything they said.

“How could you keep this from me?”

“You don’t even notice you’re doing it, Kohen,” Captain said softly. “I didn’t want to scare you more.”

“Shit, kid, you blend in with anyone and everyone you come in contact with by instinct.” Deke was looking over his shoulder, still guarding our backs—from what, I didn’t know. “No one expects you to come at them until you’re just… there.”

“So it’s more of the weapon stuff.” My chest hurt, and I ached to run, to hide, but the hatchling couldn’t run and Sparkles was nuzzling it with her nose. She huffed, looking up. “Yeah, okay.” I shoved aside my shit for the time and rolled painfully onto my knees. My back was killing me.

The hatchling was still blue, orange, and yellow, and it was still covered in skin instead of scales. The wings were gone, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was an alien child curled on the rock waiting for a parent.

A humanoid alien child. It sure as stars didn’t look like a Sparkles.  I held out one shaking hand toward the hatchling and Sparkles, waiting to see if she’d bite my hand off or what. I was still sort of waiting for that, now that I’d helped her. “Can I touch him?”

At least, I thought it was a him. He had a pouch where Sparkles didn’t. Stars if I knew! If she was a girl fire-breather, and the others were essential clones of her, this one had to be male. Were all males different? Or was it just my DNA?

Sparkles blinked.

“Okay.” I lowered my hand, holding my breath. I couldn’t hear anyone else breathing either. The hatchling’s light yellow eyes with dark diamond irises watched me closely until I made contact with his belly. He was soft, not like the others, but smooth and silky almost like his egg had been before Sparkles torched it.

“Oh, wow. Wow.” My eyes fluttered half-closed, but I couldn’t look away. He—he was definitely a boy—was cold, and hungry, and something—someone smelled good. The little chomper opened his mouth and closed it several times, whining, and shivered. “Oh. Deke, give me that food in your pocket.”

“What? That’s my breakfast.”

I yanked my head around and glared. “You don’t need food, this baby does. Give me what you have in your pocket.”

Sparkles’s head was very close to mine, and she hissed.

“Fine! Stars! Take it, take it.” He hurried to toss me some protein chips. Not the best, but they were at least soft. The others were still sleeping, but I put two aside for the little ones. Chomper rolled onto his belly and crawled toward the meat, so I scooped him up.

“Okay, so not quite like a baby,” I muttered as I flipped him and held out a protein chip. Babies were defenseless and needy and… His claws snagged my hand and pulled it to his mouth, and I barely got to keep my finger. “Definitely naming you Chomper.” So he was needy. And still cold. I opened my clothes and put him next to my skin, offering him another protein chip when he was done with the first. “Yum!” I bopped his nose like I’d once done to a younger sibling, distracting the baby between bites to draw out his meal to make up for the tiny portion.

‘Yum!’

I gasped and yanked my head up. “He just spoke!”

“You were talking,” Aparoe said.

“No,” Captain disagreed with her. He was a few feet away, but he was watching us closely. “Kohen’s right. He spoke. But I don’t think it was out loud. He copied what you said. He said yum, didn’t he?”

“You heard him?”

“Sometimes, when your brain is going, I can hear you through our bond. Kohen, you have a bond with him, and it’s not like what you have with Sparkles. It’s not even like what joins us through the synthgar. It’s like… he’s a part of you. Our connection must let me hear him like I can sometimes hear you.”

As soon as I started feeding him, Sparkles had wandered away, going back the way we’d come. “What am I supposed to do with him?” I looked up at Captain, but for once, he didn’t have all the answers.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 91



Sparkles blinked once, staring at me intently, her claws nudging my hands closer, just barely touching them. The sharp tips pricked my skin, one tiny blood drop welling up. “That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t touch the eggs.” But she could retract her claws. But her paws were still hard, the scales rough. I’d felt it when she grabbed me earlier. My skin, on the other hand… “I can touch it?”

She blinked again.

“Okay. Here goes.” I slipped my hands into the water and cupped them under the egg. Then I lifted them, bringing the egg out of the water. The weight settled into my palms as I got it out of the water, heavier than I expected and almost overflowing both hands. The egg was smooth, and it rotated in my palms, but it wasn’t slimy, instead the outside felt silky when I barely slid my thumbs against the sides to hold it as the water streamed between my fingers.

Captain stood beside me, one hand hovering just under one bicep. I was still crouched over the water. Glancing up, I looked at Sparkles. “Now what?”

She chirped, stepping backwards, not breaking focus. I turned and followed. “Where’s it going?” Deke said behind me.

“How do we know?” Aparoe snapped.

I focused intently on not moving my hands and watching every step I took, placing each foot with precise care so I wouldn’t stumble. The horror of possible dropping the egg was forefront in my mind, and I was glad when Captain stayed close even as I used every speck of my training to move fluidly.

“Thought you’d been keeping an eye on the beast,” Deke muttered.

“I checked on the eggs. Sparkles didn’t let me wander around. She’s sentient, I said. She’d let me in and out, through the one entrance, and that’s it.”

Sweat dripped down my face by the time Sparkles stopped. The suns had risen and light bounced off the rocks, warming them. She indicated a white mass in a depression.

“Kohen, is that your shirt?” Captain frowned.

“Yeah. I wore it that day I cut my hand carving. See, there’s the blood from where you used it as a bandage. I thought you threw it out.”

“No. I didn’t.”

Sparkles chirped and looked from me to the shirt then back. “You want me to put it there?” What was it with her following me? The babies liked my scent, burrowing into my arms earlier. They seemed happy enough now, perched on Sparkles’ head, curled into sleeping coils. Did she know this egg would need help and take my shirt?

How smart was Sparkles?

The fluid-filled egg was slightly firm, but would the shirt be enough cushion? The baby inside still wasn’t moving. Why wasn’t it moving?

Questions flitted through my mind and worry churned in my gut, making me sick. Tremors shook me, and I wanted to ask Captain to hold me, to sink into the comfort of his arms. But I couldn’t. I had to do this myself.

Well, not completely alone. Captain steadied my wobble as I knelt. I nestled the egg in the small depression with shaking hands. It shook slightly, like jelly, when I slid my hands out from under it but then went still.

“What now?” I asked Sparkles. She thrummed and nosed me, pushing back. I stumbled, reaching for Captain now that I wasn’t holding any babies. Funny… the three babies on Sparkles head were all awake and thrumming too. Sparkles pushed me farther with her tail, facing the egg.

Her sides heaved, then a stream of fire burst from her mouth and consumed the egg.

“No!” I screamed. I tried to jump forward, to shover her, stop her, but Captain’s arms closed like vices around me.

“Stop, Kohen. It’s too late, you can’t save the egg now,” Captain shouted over my cries, and I couldn’t stop fighting him for the long seconds Sparkles continued to fry her egg to a crisp.

“Why? Why would she—” I broke off, unable to say it. I turned my face into Captain’s shoulder, body shuddering, tears streaming down my face. I’d thought she wanted me to save the egg, not help her destroy it.

The humming cut off and then someone gasped. Deke cursed. I couldn’t look. Captain’s hands on my back froze. “Kohen, you need to—”

“No, you were right, okay? She’s an animal. Fire-breathers like her are dangerous.” I shook my head against his shoulder. “I can’t… I don’t want to see.” I gasped in short breaths.

“Yes, she can be dangerous. But you need to see this.” Captain moved back and put his hand under my chin, moving my head when I didn’t do it on my own. “Open your eyes.”

Reluctantly, I did. I’d face it, then we’d leave. She had her babies, she could stay away from me and I would never think about the precious egg I’d held so briefly in my hands….

Lit up with incandescent swirls as my shirt flared and then crumbled to ashes. Through the glowing swirls, I could glimpse the baby. And it moved!

I gasped. “It’s alive! I’m sorry, Sparkles. I didn’t understand. Fire burns. That would hurt me. Oh stars, you knew,” I said breathily. “That’s why you pushed me back. But the egg had to come out and this baby needed fire?”

She blinked once, then turned and started humming. I scrambled up to the edge of the depression. The cloth was gone, but the egg didn’t look soft anymore. The baby inside rolled, stretched, and tapped one side.

The egg shattered around the small being. I sucked in a breath, staring. Bigger than the others, but just two back legs and forelimbs, dark wings wrapping its rounded body unlike the others’ lean, tube-like bodies. Blue, orange, and yellow swirls colored its… skin?

Its blue eyes had met mine, and it changed.

“Aparoe?” I whispered.

“I said it had more of your DNA.”

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 90



The miniature Sparkles turned when her croon cut off. She rose from the water and nudged me with her nose. She chirped and I looked from her to the egg still in the water. The babies clawed their way up her snout to perch in small circles on her head.

“Sparkles?” She hadn’t gone away from the water, still hovering beside me, but she wasn’t making the same sound she had for the other eggs. She wasn’t hovering over it or bathing it with water. “Is it okay?”

I glanced at her, but she was looking at one of the babies who’d perched on her eyebrow ridges.

“Aparoe!” I called. “Aparoe, come help!” I’d wanted to share this moment with just Sparkles, but now I needed someone who knew more than I did.

Captain and Deke were on their feet instantly. Deke faced out, a weapon in his hand while he scanned the lightening sky. Captain rushed to my side, crouching next to me.

“Why didn’t you wake me? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. It’s not me.” I didn’t talk about why I didn’t wake him up. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but this was bigger than me. We needed help. The egg needed help.

“Is it the large egg?” Aparoe asked. They slid in next to me on the other side away from Sparkles.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see how big they all were or anything.” Aparoe had spent more time around the eggs and knew a lot more about Sparkles than I did. “It’s not moving. Sparkles stopped humming and left the water.” I shot up. “You said you didn’t experiment on the eggs. Were you lying?” I opened and shut my hands into tight fists. “If you hurt it….” I hissed.

“Calm down, Koehn. Do you think Sparkles would let me harm her babies?” Aparoe activated a scanner. Sparkles was right next to the egg as soon as the scanner neared it. “Yes, it’s okay, we did this before.”

Seconds passed, but they felt like ages before the scanner beeped. Aparoe frowned. “This egg has always been on the bottom of the others. I could tell it was bigger, because it protruded beyond the edges of them, but it was below them and under the water so I could never get a clear scan of it.”

That told me nothing. “Is it… dead?” It didn’t have quite the same opacity as the others either.

“No. But it isn’t moving either. I’m not sure why. The scan shows a mix of your DNA and Sparkles, but it’s not the same either.” Aparoe looked up and bit their lip. “I’d like to scan one of the babies. Do you think she’d let me?”

“Getting between a new mama and her babies is a bad idea,” Deke threw over his shoulder. “Good way to get mauled or burned.”

Captain was near my side, but even he didn’t get too close to Sparkles. For all that Aparoe helped take care of her when she was little, I sensed Sparkles scared the doctor in her full-grown form. Then again, multiple limbs with sharp claws, impenetrable scales, fangs, and the ability to breathe fire would intimidate anyone.

Just not me.

“Sparkles? Can I hold one of the babies?” I asked. I was desperate to help the egg, and I’d held the babies before. “I won’t let anything happen to them.”

Sparkles blinked and chirped, then lowered her head. I wasn’t sure how I knew which was the oldest, but I picked up one coiled baby, crooning to it when the baby quivered on my palm. “Shh, you’re okay. You know me, remember.” I brought the tiny face up to mine, breathing my scent out and receiving a tiny lick on my nose.

I turned, tucking the baby next to my chest as I encouraged it to stretch out along my arm. “Be careful, move slow. Don’t scare it.”

Aparoe grumbled under their breath, but moved gingerly, the machine held sideways instead of over the baby. Aparoe scanned with glacial slowness from its head to tail. Data was already streaming before they finished. “Hmm.”

“Hmm… what?” Captain said. He leaned in but didn’t touch, just examined it with a small smile on his face. Oh, the beautiful baby was charming him as it yawned and curled back up.

“The baby is a genetic match for Sparkles, perfectly. As near a replica as nature can come up with.”

“So she produced them asexually?” Captain said. “Clones?”

“This one and probably those two since they look identical? Yes. But that egg, that one is different. It has more of Kohen’s DNA.”

I carefully placed the baby back on Sparkles’ head. “What does that mean?” What was in that egg? Some sort of half-human freak? A doomed mix of human body parts and scales and wings? A monster? I shuddered, disgusted, knowing it was the doctor’s experiments on my body that let this happen. That would have twisted that baby into whatever poor creature it had become. “Is it even… viable?”

Aparoe opened their mouth, closed it, then sighed. “I don’t know.”

“What do you know?” I hissed in frustration.

“Sparkles wants you here to do something. It wasn’t the other babies. They were born just fine, though they liked climbing on you, they could have gone on her. It has to be this, this is why you’re here.” Aparoe had been watching.

I frowned. “But what can I do? I’ll do anything to save it, but I don’t know how to help the egg.”

As if that was all Sparkles was waiting for, she nudged me. Pushing on my body, then my arms, she guided me to the pool and the egg. Her razor sharp claws swished the water, but she pulled them back from the egg and out. Then she nudged my hands.

“Do… do you want me to take it out of the water?”

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 89



“Hey kid, causing trouble again?” Deke showed up with a bunch of equipment and a grin. He wasn’t nearly as cranky as I expected. Captain stood to help him set down all the supplies he brought.  “What took you so long?”

I shoved his shoulder when he bent down to drop some of the bags he had slung over one shoulder but he didn’t even stumble. He swayed away with the force and then came back, grabbing my arm and putting me in a lock.

“Ow!” I twisted my arm in the opposite direction, leaning into the hold instead of following my instinct of pulling away from him… just the way he’d been training me. I broke his grip.

“Good!” Deke’s grin danced in the shadows from the fire Captain had started in the portable pit, but he didn’t move out of his crouch. I watched him warily; I’d learned how quick he was and how fast he could strike from that stance in our first session.

I opened my mouth to say something, but a hiss and slap distracted me. Sparkles was out of the water for the first time since we came, at least her top half, and one of her wings was splayed out. Had she slapped the water with it?

“Holy mother of mercy… what is that?” Deke turned and gaped.

Sparkles struck.

Deke reared back, but he wasn’t fast enough to avoid the wave of water that swept up from the pool and splashed his face and soaked his chest. Not a drop touched me.

Aparoe started laughing and Captain’s booming laugh followed suit a heartbeat later. Deke stared at Sparkles who’d sunk back under the water other than her eyes which seemed to dance with mischief. Or maybe that was just something I felt from her.

“What in the hell?” Deke just said. He wiped the water still dripping off his chin.

I died. I literally laughed until I could hardly breathe, sinking down to the rocks next to the pool and gasping for air. Sparkles swam closer, and I scritched the skin on her nose, rubbing the smooth skin there and up her face to between her eyes. She thrummed, or purred, or whatever it was that she did when she was happy.

“Someone made himself a new friend, huh?”

I looked over my shoulder at Deke who’d accepted a clean shirt from Captain. He was wiping off the remnants of the water with the back of his wet shirt. They were all watching me again. “Sort of.” I told Deke about my sense of being followed, and Aparoe explained about finding Sparkles on the ship.

“And you didn’t think you should inform the head of security?” It was like Captain all over again, down to the posture and tone of voice.

“It turned out fine. Though I’m guessing she’s watched us train before because she hissed at Captain when he came, but she didn’t try to attack you when you grabbed me.”

“But she soaked me.”

“That didn’t hurt you,” Aparoe. “Just made you stop.”

Yet another sign of Sparkle’s intelligence. I stared at her. “You’re just as unique as me, huh?” She nudged my hand, then went back to the eggs, fanning water over them. “Yeah, there’s those guys too.” I sighed.

We all worked together to put up a shelter. I left the door open, but it wasn’t that cold with a heater providing warmth and Captain at my back holding me close. It wasn’t a big space around the pool so Deke and Aparoe had to sleep close, so we weren’t doing anything intimate, but just having him close pulsed through the bond we shared.

Sleep took some time to come, and I never sank into a deep cycle. A deep hum woke me in the predawn hours before the smallest of the planet’s suns rose. I crept out of the tent, not waking anyone else. “Sparkles?” I whispered.

The fire was embers only, but they glinted on her shining skin as she curled around the eggs. She’d stilled, her wings no longer moving the water. She seemed excited, fine tremors shaking her body. I took a chance and got closer so I could see the eggs.

They were hatching! I still couldn’t quite see inside the sac but the body inside the one closest to the edge was squirming and moving, pushing until the egg stretched. I was so fascinated that I nearly missed when the egg on the far right stretched so far that it actually split, releasing a milky fluid into the water as a tiny body squirmed out of the slit.

“Stars!” Its little body was pale, an early echo of Sparkle’s iridescent shade maybe. Its tail thrashed, propelling it from the tumble it took into the water, and it clung with tiny claws to the empty sack of its egg.

Sparkle’s hum switched to a croon. She extended a paw with her claws retracted. It saw her and lunged, climbing on, rubbing its head on her and making tiny squeaks. “Adorable,” I whispered when it looked like she was presenting the baby to me. She held still so I reached out with one trembling finger.

The baby squeaked and cocked its head, then stretched out its neck. It touched my skin, nostrils flaring, and then it jumped onto my arm. I barely held in a shout of surprise. Its tiny body barely weighed a thing, but it startled me, so warm, slightly wet, soft.

So soft. “Hey baby, you should stay with your momma. You’re gonna get hurt.” It was a daredevil, that was for sure. I looked at Sparkles, but she was humming again, watching the eggs. Okay, so maybe I was babysitting already?

This tiny Sparkles replica was easy enough to cradle in one arm against my stomach. But as the eggs hatched, I gained two more identical babies to snuggle.

But one egg wasn’t moving.

TBC
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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 88



“I don’t think so,” said Aparoe. “I found her right before we left the other ship. I never told anyone I did scans, but I was just as wary as you about unknown life signs after what we’d been through. I didn’t want to have any more surprises. But no one has tried to find her, like you think would happen if she was going to be used against Kohen.”

“You’d think telling your captain would have been on your agenda, at least,” Captain said. “How did you know this wasn’t part of the Elite’s plot? Or something else the scientists cooked up? Kohen figured out that it was a plan to get his DNA within minutes.”

Aparoe shrugged. “You had a lot going on trying to overcome your guilt at bonding with Kohen. He was afraid he was a threat to the ship and crew. I had it handled. Besides, no one knew I had her and she was tiny.”

“Key word there. Was.” Captain turned a narrow-eyed glare on Sparkles.

“Hey, stop that. It’s not her fault,” I said. She chirped and rolled quickly in the water, ripples splashing the edge of the rock around the pool.

“I was forced into the water by Lakshou, and the egg was just there. She didn’t ask for this any more than we did. The question now is to find out if this was part of the plan to use my DNA to create… something, whatever super soldier they were trying for originally mixed with her species, or if we’re just looking at another tiny part of the puzzle that Danie and I represented to the scientists.” I skirted around Captain and knelt next to the water, putting my hand inside the warm pool. A nose instantly nuzzled my hand.

“Meanwhile, we protect her and the eggs. She brought me here for a reason. I don’t know—”

“The eggs will probably hatch within a day,” Aparoe interrupted. “The sacs have grown more transparent and you can nearly see inside them. She’s been attentive to them, checking back frequently, but nothing like this.” Aparoe indicated the long curl of a wing around the eggs swishing water around them gently.

“Oh. Well… um, do they need help, do you think?”

“Doubtful. She seems to be self-sufficient, if given the right environment.”

Captain huffed as he crouched beside me. “You’d be safer at home.”

“What will hurt me with you here?” He was armed to the teeth and it wasn’t like I was helpless, even if he tried to treat me like I needed protecting. “Do you need to comm anyone? I’m sure you have Deke freaked out, right?”

“Freaked? Probably not. Excited to hunt with some of his toys? Definitely.”

“Well, he’ll just have to be disappointed,” I snapped. “No hunting Sparkles; I told you that before.”

Captain made a sour face. “I’ll let him know where we are and to bring supplies for a stay outdoors.”

I settled into my spot, my hand in the water next to Sparkles and not far from the eggs. I didn’t want to touch them, but there was an urge to stay close. “How’d you do this, huh? Are these babies gonna be okay?”

Sparkle’s eyes rose above the water. She blinked, then nodded once.

“Are they like you?”

She just blinked several times. I sighed. Too many answers possible for that question. Then again, would she understand DNA? Or the connection between us? She understood words, but advanced concepts or abstract ones? But then again, she also knew she couldn’t answer.

I looked over my shoulder. “How much did you do with her, Aparoe? Talk to her, teach her?”

“She had a space in my quarters. I left programming on the vid for her, to mask any noise she might make or her movements from others. During the evenings, I spoke to her often, I guess. Before I took her to my quarters to hide her, I often spoke to myself in the evenings.” Aparoe huffed. “Hard to find anyone else to have an educated conversation with most times.”

So maybe Sparkles would understand. Perhaps her kind were intelligent and not just naturally sentient. “How smart are her kind?”

“Not this smart. Something in the genetic link she shares with you has made her different,” Aparoe said.

“So I’m going to have to share you?” Captain’s warmth settled down beside me. Sparkles sank below the water immediately.

“I felt a tie, but it’s not like our bond.” I leaned back against his body. “You’re in here and in here.” I tapped my head and my heart. “Every time we’re close, it gets stronger. This is like… recognizing someone or something you know you know but can’t really remember how you know them. Or it. A gut feeling.”

“Your gut feelings have saved us before,” Captain said. “I should have listened. I’m still trying to learn how not worry.”

“Like how you instantly thought Sparkles being here meant someone on the crew had to be a traitor? Even though you know everyone who came with us is loyal to you?”

“You are the most important thing in the universe to me.” Captain nuzzled my neck, his arm creeping over my chest and locking our bodies close as he spoke softly in my ear. “I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully trust anyone else is completely safe around you. I want to keep everyone and everything away, even the people I trust with my own life.”

At least he didn’t want to say he wanted to lock me away. “We’re stronger together.” There was going to be danger in our lives, but this crew was not just a random group of aliens brought together for a mission. They were a family, one who stuck together, fought together, and had each other’s backs. “Whatever mystery Sparkles and her eggs hide, we’ll figure it out. All of us.”

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 87


Wednesday Briefers bannerPrompt: How many times must I tell you that?


“She?”

“Well, bearing young does not have to mean a female gender in all species, but it is the most common expression of gender identity for bearing species. She seems to be using your DNA and hers to create them, and you are male. I scanned the eggs and they show your distinct genetic make-up as well as hers, which is quite unique, as you know.” Aparoe turned and sat on a pile of rocks not far from the pool.

“You didn’t harm one of them to find that out, did you?” I asked, my stomach roiling at the thought of her ripping open one of those shining eggs bobbing in the water to find out what was inside.  

“Of course not. I would never experiment on a sentient creature. Captain Querry only asked me to avoid treating you in my medbay to prevent you from having flashbacks, not because he’s worried I would do anything to harm you. And I’d never harm one of the eggs. Do you see any harm to Sparkles? And I cared for her for weeks.”

Captain did trust the rest of his crew, those people who had been with him for so long. But look at what Lakshou had done to me, and he’d trusted him before that. “Weeks?”

“And she never grew an inch, not until we got here. Then she began to grow steadily. The eggs showed up overnight.”

“How long ago?”

“Two days.”

“Just two?” They were as big as my hand.

“And they were only as big as the tip of my thumb when I first saw them.” Aparoe leaned forward. “And quite a bit darker. They are nearly opaque now.”

“Maybe you just missed seeing them?”

“I didn’t just see them, I scanned the pool. I scan every time I come close after the first time I came too close while she was eating. So no, they weren’t in the pool before that.”

“Did you know she could fly?”

Aparoe’s brow rose. “Fly? No, I did not. Most creatures who swim do not fly.”

“She did. She flew us here from my house. Captain is probably frantic.”

“Would you like to contact him?” Aparoe pulled out a comm from their robe.

I should. I didn’t really want to because I knew he was going to be very upset, but I sighed and nodded. Of course, I was right. The second the comm connected and he heard my voice, he was frantic.

“Stop yelling,” I finally yelled back. “I’m not in any danger, I said. How many times must I tell you that. Aparoe is here with me. They’ve been taking care of this creature for weeks. No one on the ship was hurt. It’s been following me this whole time, and I haven’t been hurt.”

Captain’s nostrils flared. “It flew away with you.”

“You have my location. Come here. But quietly, carefully, because there are little ones.” I cut the connection.

“So I made the call. Captain is coming. Sparkles brought me here for some reason, you’re here, and the eggs are here.” I sank down on the warm rocks, enjoying the heat in the chilling air. “Why? What does all this mean?”

Aparoe cocked their head. “You think there is some purpose or meaning behind all this, beyond coincidence and strange genetic luck? The universe is a diverse place.”

“It is.” I’d been thinking about everything that Aparoe said, about where Sparkles came from, and about how our DNA was mixed. The universe was a diverse place, but it was also immense. And we had not gone to that planet unbeknown to those who had plans to put me back in that cell. So even if Captain’s cousin was under arrest, even if the Elites were dead, that didn’t mean all their plans had been stopped.

But was I right or Captain? Sparkles was swimming in the water, fanning the eggs that swayed in the ripples from her circles. Her movement was the only real way I could see her. The same for the eggs. Sparkles seemed to understand me; if Aparoe was right, she’d been inside me.

She was meant to carry my DNA.

“That’s it.” A back up plan. When I’d been pushed under the water, I’d swallowed some of the water. That was the real reason for the attack. “Plans within plans within plans.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know. Danie’s is way more important than I am. He’s a living Artificial Intelligence.”

“But they kept going after you. Not him, you. Lakshou’s plans were for you. When we arrived at the Elite’s planet, they separated you from the rest of us.”

“What is so damn special about me?” I frowned.

“Everything,” a voice said behind me.

I twisted, knowing the voice and not afraid of being snuck up on by the owner of it. He’d managed to surprise both of us though. “Captain.”

Jumping to my feet, I let him pull me into his arms, nearly squeezing the life out of me. I could feel the hum of our bond ringing in relief and tension I hadn’t realized I carried inside me eased. Inhaling his scent, warm and sweaty and mixed with the dirt and vegetation of the planet he’d had to pass through to get to us, the hot heat of his skin under all of that still stood out.

Sparkles raised her head out of the water and hissed.

“Shush. He’s not going to hurt you or the eggs,” I assured her. “Right?”

“Kohen—”

“No. This is important. I think someone did plan for her to get my DNA inside her, but I don’t think they ever planned for us to meet after I expelled her egg.” Aparoe and I filled Captain in on what we knew and what I’d been thinking about.

“But then someone else on my crew is a damned traitor,” Captain snarled.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 86


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Sparkles shivered, the light dancing around the small clearing. It inched closer. “Come on, don’t be afraid. I’m not.” It was probably stupid, Captain might be right. Someone, or something, might have motives to hurt me with this beautiful creature—but if they did, then they were the dumb ones.

Its scent enveloped me, that sweet odor tickling my nostrils. Its nostrils, a row of them going up its snout, flared. Then it shivered again. “What do you smell, huh? Is there something about me?” I held out one hand, palm down, and waited.

A low thrumming croon throbbed in the air. In an agile move no creature with a spine should be able to make, Sparkles twisted and exposed its neck and belly. The scales were hard and smooth under my fingers as I stroked its neck, first with just two fingers and a soft stroke. The croon grew as I gained confidence and leaned in closer, mapping out the path of the iridescent scales as they covered the being’s flexible neck and down to its powerful chest and abdomen.

“How did you get here, huh? Someone bring you to me? Captain is worried you’re here to hurt me.”

Sparkles opened its eyes wide, shaking its head, kicking up some dust and leaves.

“You do understand me!” I hadn’t been one hundred percent sure before, but I was now. “You answered yes or no. Let’s see…. Um, are you here alone or is someone forcing you to come to me?”

I got another head shake but that wasn’t really clear. I asked two questions. Was that no to both or to one? Those shining eyes were staring into mine, and I could just tell the language barrier was as frustrating for it as it was for me. I sighed. “I’ll get better at this. Though I wish you could just talk to me. Or I could understand you. You must be trying to speak to me. I thought these damn translators worked for everything nowadays.”

Or maybe that the junk the scientists had put in my head would be good for freaking something. I jerked back when Sparkles rolled abruptly, crouching on its six limbs. Its head came up over mine where I was sitting, then it wrapped the first two limbs around my chest and reared up.

Wide wings unfurled, flapped once, and then we were in the air. I didn’t even have time to suck in a breath and yell for Captain where he stood outside our little home staring wide-eyed up in the sky as we passed overhead like a speeding shuttle.

“What are you doing?” My legs dangled uncomfortably until I tried to lift them and Sparkles then used its lower set of limbs to support them. “Where are you taking me? Take me back, Sparkles!”

It ignored me.

Shit. Fuck. Had I been wrong? My heart was pounding, but I was startled by the abrupt changes. I’d never see the wings that perfectly matched the scale pattern of Sparkle’s back when they were folded, and I certainly didn’t expect to be flying around being held up by a creature who might be as tall as I was vertically, if I ignored its tail length, but was only half my width. Still… I wasn’t really scared or angry.

We didn’t travel all that far, though the speed might have been deceptive. Sparkles descended in looping circles under the canopy of some of the stone spires that made up the canyons and rock cliffs to the south of the town and our property.

Sparkles landed somehow on their middle limbs and one arm of their front and back limbs, keeping me tucked close enough not to hit the solar-warmed rocks that still radiated heat from the second sun. It scurried under cover and into a round bowl, putting me down.  Then Sparkles eased down to a pool of water, slipping into the liquid.

That’s when the true worth of its scales became clear… or nearly as good as clear. I couldn’t see anything but its eyes and where its limbs were moving to keep it at the edge of the small pool.

“Stars! You live in the water. It’s like… camouflage. But you’re a fire breather.” How the hell did that work? Why?

The water rippled, and I crept closer. I should be trying to get back to Captain, but there was a mystery here, something drawing me closer. How had this creature followed us from another planet? Or had it?

I gasped. “Are those… are those eggs?”

“They are.”

I spun, stumbling on the rocks. “Aparoe?”

“Careful! You don’t want to crush the eggs. I don’t know how you managed to keep the first one intact through the attack and trip back to the ship, much less how it survived the reclamation system.”

“I did what?”

Aparoe smiled gently. “I have a theory that you might have actually swallowed the egg, because you seem to have sloughed some of your DNA into the… well, I don’t know if it has a name—”

“I call it Sparkles.”

“You do, do you?” Aparoe raised their eyebrows.

“It seemed right,” I said defensively. “What are you doing here? How do you know about Sparkles? What do you know about Sparkles? I just started seeing it a few weeks ago.”

“I found it when I was doing a biological scan on the ship for contagion after our last stop on Central to ensure we hadn’t been infected with anything deliberately to prevent landing on another station or planet.

“It was much smaller, only the length of my forearm, but it had your DNA. I didn’t want to alarm Captain Querry until I had more information, but it hardly seemed a threat or dangerous once my scans proved it was safe biologically.”

“And he won’t let you study me,” I said shortly.

Aparoe shrugged. “Perhaps.”

“Sparkles isn’t the size of your forearm now.”

“No. She’s not.”

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 85

Inspired by the prompt: What did that jackass do now?


“I haven’t been this color since I was a kid.” I glanced at my arms and chest. The locals wore tight vests but I preferred to leave mine off whenever I wasn’t in the small town. The tight squeeze brought back bad memories, but they faded more and more.

Danie put his arm next to mine. “I am still the same color. The locals look at me funny.”

“That’s probably something to do with the nanotechnology they implanted in you, not your skin. And the locals look at you funny because that kid caught you and Freska with her fingers all ending with wires and shoved into your neck and stuff.” I raised my eyebrows. “Not exactly blending in.”

“Like you and Captain don’t attract attention,” Danie said. “And what about when Deke blew that giant hole near the road?”

So none of them had really done a good job avoiding the locals, but at least the universe at large wasn’t knocking down their doors. Freska had littered the night sky above them with some minders, as she called them, that Danie had helped her camouflage. They’d have warning if someone came calling that wasn’t on the usual list of traders or planet hoppers.

“So what are you building today and why are you outside to do it?” Danie curled up in the shade of a striped tree with wide, triangular branches covered in soft, fuzzy leaves in yellow and red. He crushed one between his fingers, releasing its distinct pepper scent to ward off the flying bugs starting to descend as the first sun faded.

I’d begun to tinker, as Captain put it, with different things. I liked fixing stuff, but I liked making things even more. The kids on this planet didn’t have it as bad as we’d had it growing up, but they didn’t have a lot either. I could make toys, little things out of metal and gears, things scavenged from the ship or even things others threw out.

It got where people were already bringing me anything metal they found in trade for an eventual finished product to give as gifts, even the adults.

“I like it outside.” I shrugged one shoulder, using the tiny torch to weld on another scale. “And I needed my inspiration.”

“What inspiration?”

“It ran away when you came. Don’t turn your head, but glance off to your left.”

“Stay calm,” I said quietly when Danie froze, his chest not even moving.

“How did I not see that running away?”

“Dunno. I think it’s got some sort of ability. It’s been coming closer since the second day we were here.”

“What is it? Does Captain Querry know?”

See, and that was where I was having an attack of conscience. I hadn’t told him about my visitor. I wasn’t able to get a glimpse of it for weeks on end, just sense it. How’d he take me thinking something was stalking me? I’d get locked inside and he’d bring Deke in to hunt it.

That couldn’t happen. Then I’d caught a glimpse of it stealing my lunch one day. The next day I brought two lunches. Since then it let me see it every day, coming closer and closer. The toy was my way of showing Captain without telling him.

“I’m making the toy as a surprise for him.” The creature had melted back into the shadows, but I didn’t need to see it to make the rest of the long, plated tail. Just two more pieces to put together.

“Nice.” Danie blinked. “Where is he today? Captain?”

“Dealing with Deke.”

“What did that jackass do now?”

“Nothing as far as I know?” I shrugged. “He’s just making the rounds.”

“Oh. Well, I’ve bugged you long enough today, I guess. Freska said she’d take me in to the market today for more ingredients. If you guys want to come over for last meal after the next sunset, I’m making enough.”

“Thanks. We’ll comm you.” If Captain wasn’t freaking out or starting a hunt. No. I looked up, holding the last scale now, and made a silent vow. I didn’t know what my visitor was, or why it was there, but I knew it wasn’t to harm me.



Captain was screaming and so not convinced. “Fire breathers, Kohen. And it’s not from this planet. So who or what brought it here?”

“That sweet scent. That’s what it is!” I remembered it, from way back when Lakshou had taken me off the ship to the planet when the flame wasps had attacked us. “I knew I’d smelled it before!”

“What? When?”

I explained about that uninhabited planet and the large beasts Lakshou had told me about, the ones that weren’t a threat. “So, see, it won’t hurt me.”

He snorted. “You believe anything he said? Besides, I ask again, how did it get here? You aren’t safe. Deke should—”

“See, I told Danie that you would say that. No! No hunting it. No hurting it. I won’t let you lock me away for my own safety.” I stood up and frowned as I stared down at Captain. “You trust my instincts for other things, why not this?”

Before he could answer, I spun and walked outside. I didn’t care if the second sun was going down, bringing down the darkest night the planet had. I didn’t care that we had plans for dinner with Danie and Freska.

And for the first time, I learned that not only did the sun make the scales on my creature sparkle, but it literally glowed in the dark where it was curled up outside below the window into our room. I glanced at the front door; Captain hadn’t followed me.

“Come on, Sparkles, it’s not safe,” I whispered.

Then I got to hear its voice. It trilled and twisted, following me but staying in the bushes to my left. Then I stopped and sat. “Sparkles? Am I imagining the way you understand me?”

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