Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday Briefers: Denied Chapter 68

“Interesting. So he is more than just a member of your crew?” Anyas eyed the lack of space between us.

“You already knew that.” Captain’s voice was flat. “Don’t act as if you know nothing about us. I am sure you have been recovering data since the moment our ship came in range.”

“If you believe I have such resources, and hate the Elites so much, why risk coming here? Why put such tempting morsels within my reach?”

I frowned. “I’m not a morsel.” I shivered, disliking the thought and feelings of being consumed, used. There was something strange about Anyas, something different from before. But I couldn’t figure out what it was exactly.

The vehicle slowed, then came to a stop. Anyas smoothly rose and glided toward the door. “Come, come. Let us go inside.”

Deke and Captain exchanged a look. Deke led the way, Danie followed him, and Captain placed me in front of him so that we were sandwiched in the middle. Our guards took up flanking positions while Anyas’s men took up posts that looked like they were well-practiced.

He'd been right. The second I stepped out of the vehicle, I started to shiver violently. The word cold didn’t even begin to describe how icy it had become during the short trip. It felt like I was wearing nothing at all, and the wind blasted ceaselessly, throwing fine grit through the air to abrade any exposed skin. My suit covered most of me, but the tiny grains were miniscule projectiles.

“Holy mother—” I raised my arms and covered my face, trying to project my lips and nose. Ice had literally formed on my tongue as soon as I opened my mouth to speak. Danie wasn’t much better off than I was, though.

Captain grabbed my arm and dragged me against the cage of his body. He protected me from the worst of the wind as we rushed after Anyas. How were his guards just standing out in that crap? It was breath-stealing pain, and I gasped in short breaths of the searing air.

No one argued with Anyas's thoughts that we would freeze anymore. I hated to admit he was right… but he’d been right. I’d have died from being outside in this. I still might if we didn’t get inside quickly. My feet were fast becoming blocks of uncoordinated meat at the end of my legs.

In all my years at the hands of the scientists, I’d never failed. Except for that once. I’d learned not to disobey after that. So this was the one person, the one shot, we had.

My one second chance as it were. I stumbled against Captain as I stopped pushing against the strong wind that was no longer there.

Anyas clapped his hands when we entered. As freezing as it had been outside, it was warm inside. Tropical even. The dryness was replaced by soft mists hovering around the ceiling, and there were plants everywhere. Attendants swarmed around us, and we were offered warmed robes and drinks.

It still took forever to thaw out. I’d thought space was cold. It almost made me think back to the neutral temperatures of my cell fondly—almost.

“Come, come. Sit down, young ones. Eat, drink. Warm yourselves.” Anyas led us into another room with a table covered in foods with odd little chairs that were only a foot off the floor, more of a stool than a chair since they just had a single arched back support made out of a spindly rod carved with vines.

Deke leaned in to Captain. “What is all this? Why is he so friendly?”

“Do you like the table?” Anyas turned. “I found it on Valneros V. Interesting race of beings with a puffy sort of growth on their backs. All their furniture has to have a big gap. It is still oddly comfortable. Sit, sit.”

“We are not here to be pampered or eat and drink,” Deke growled. We all sat anyway.

“No, you are here to threaten me if I do not help you, are you not?” Anyas narrowed his eyes. “You are not hard to figure out.”

“We aren’t here to threaten you,” I said.

Anyas smiled at me. “No, I believe that of you. Of him,” he inclined his head toward Deke, “I do not. He tried to sneak a weapon in, after all. My men deactivated it.”

“Deke!” Captain growled. “We will discuss this later.” Captain turned to Anyas. “I apologize for my crew, and for any misunderstanding that might have arisen. We have come here to ask for your help. Yes, we believe it would in your best interest to help us as well, but we did not plan to threaten you to achieve it.”

“You risk much to come here assuming that I am still wanted dead by those who had command over your….” He blinked. “Crewman?”

“My name is Kohen,” I said.

“Kohen and I met a few years prior. What makes you think I would be amenable to your request and am not in league with those aligned against you?”

I leaned forward. “You are still here. They are not.” I waved my hand around the house. “This, this is what your home should be. “Brightly lit, lush vegetation, moisture in the air from near constant rains bathing the planet. Not a frozen wasteland.

“Odds indicated, if you were on this planet, you would still be an outcast and our proposal might be considered at a greater than fifty percent success rate.” Danie spoke up for the first time. “With your help, our odds at successfully defeating the Elites directing the Brox Corporation and those who have infiltrated Central Command raises to nearly twenty percent.”

Captain dropped his head in his hands. “Freska…!”

“Danie, hush. That’s not helpful.”

“Are you sure? Knowing the odds is usually—”

“Danie!” Captain snapped.

“Delightful, utterly delightful.”

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 67

It was cold and dark on the planet’s surface. How many of these planets were we going to go to that were so harsh? Beings had adapted to all sorts of planets, but I honestly got Captain’s desire to retire to a quiet, warm planet. Something with a lot of sun.

“You okay?” Captain asked. He lead the way, while I lagged a step behind instead of walking beside him.

“Fine.” I didn’t like the lack of people in the port. It was good to keep others clear of the shuttle, but it made blending in harder.

Not that there were any humans out and about. Everyone on the planet we encountered was an alien being—we were definitely standing out.

We stopped at a few shops to trade, making it seem as if we were assessing the potential of adding this planet to a route. I knew from listening to others, though, that it was a flimsy cover. It was just too far out to be worth the cost and risk to run goods, even at the prices these merchants were willing to pay.

Marvil led the way out of the last shop, and I followed. He abruptly halted, and I ran into his back. “What are you doing—”

A contingent of guards stood outside the shop on either side of the doors of a hovering conveyance. Captain pushed forward to stand in front of me, and Deke stood beside him. I was behind the wall of muscles in no time flat, a guard behind me and two flanking me.

“That is not necessary.” The being who descended from the vehicle was calm, but his men tensed when he stepped closer to Captain, eyeing him up and down. “I would not hurt the hidden one.”

“And you are?”

 “The one you are looking for, no matter what you are trying to prove with this display. I believe you already know my name.”

Deke glanced over his shoulder. It’d been some time; how long, I wasn’t quite sure. My years in the cell had stretched longer than the years Captain and Deke told me I’d been in there, each day the same nothingness and pain. But the punishment for failing to kill this being had been harsh.

I thought it’d been for taking comfort in his touch, for the weakness of feeling.

Either way, his face was blazoned in my memory still. This was definitely Anyas Ober-Candro. I nodded.

“This public display is not seemly. I would speak you with you, since you are obviously seeking an audience with me, if only to remove you from my planet.”

“It’s not that simple,” Captain said darkly.

Anyas sighed. “It never is.” He waved an elegant hand toward the conveyance. “There is enough room inside for everyone.”

There was enough room for our group and his guards, though some of them stayed on the outside of the vehicle. We trundled off through the deepening gloom. I thought it’d been dark before, but the windows showed how dark it could really get.

“It will soon be too cold to be outside as the full sun fades. At least for outworlders,” Anyas said. “I thought it best to collect you before you froze to statues in the boulevard.”

“We have climate suits.”

“Not good enough, especially for the young ones.” Anyas looked at me. “If I had known what you were before, I would have done more. You were good, very good.”

Captain growled and leaned forward, blocking Anyas’s view of me. “Excuse me?”

“Not what I meant. I would never be so crass.” Anyas waved one long-fingered hand. His dark skin gleamed against the pale cream of the vehicle’s interior, the low lights reflecting off his shiny skin. “He never revealed his true purpose, never let on his intent to harm me. The guard who warned me thought the spy’s data was in error but would not risk my life and his position by failing to secure me immediately. You let me go.”

I nodded once. “I did.”

“Afterward, I researched you. Found what you did.”

Panic struck me. I didn’t want him to reveal it, to say what I’d done in front of the others even if I was pretty damn sure they were getting the picture already. “Prisoners aren’t given a choice.”

“No, and the kind of training my kind is capable of is impossible to counter. That is why I am so surprised you have. Both of you.” He looked at Danie, his arched eyebrows rising. “Very surprising.”

“That is partly why we’re here,” Captain said. “You’re an Elite. Most of the universe thinks your kind is a myth, but we’ve found out you’re not. No, your kind is sitting back, pulling strings, starting wars and trying to control everything.”

“Trying to?” Anyas arched that brow again. “We’ve been doing it for millennia. Manipulating lesser beings is simple, for the most part.”

“Until humans spread across the universe,” Danie said. “Humans never do what is expected.”

“No, they do not.” Anyas again looked at me.

“That’s why we came—for help. You owe me. You wouldn’t like those assholes creating a new order by using what they stuck in me and in Danie anyway.” I was done being vague. Obviously Anyas knew why we were there. He was willing to talk in front of his men. Everyone with us knew exactly what was going on.

“Exactly what I meant.” Anyas’s smile widened. “How delightful. You surprise everyone.”

Captain glanced at me and then at the Elite staring at me. He was tense, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t because of what I was saying. “He doesn’t surprise me. Kohen has the ability to get to the heart of a matter, and he is always focused on doing what is right.”

Pride swept through me along with a warm surge of love. I’d made him doubt me for a few seconds, maybe, but we were still in sync.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 66

“I think you have all forgotten that I am the captain of this ship,” Captain said. He stood with his arms folded behind his back while the rest of us sat at the table in the conference room. He looked at each of us in turn.

I squirmed when it was my turn, just as Freska did. His steely-eyed stare was uncomfortable when I knew I was in the wrong. Danie sat and stared, but he didn’t know better.

He’d learn—even a machine could make an error. Maybe he wouldn’t feel what we did, but Captain would make him sorry somehow if he felt the need.

“My crew gathers information and provides that to me. Then I issue orders. Then my crew follows my orders. If I am not available, then using your best judgement is expected, but I do not like being disregarded.” His last words thundered, and I hunched my shoulders. “This ship, this crew, this mission, will only succeed if we can learn how to work together.” His gaze swept the table again. “All of us.”

Captain took a deep breath through his nose and let it out slowly. He pulled the chair at the head of the table back and sat slowly, his back straight. “So, let’s ensure that we move forward properly, shall we?” His words were calm, but his voice held a bit of a growl.

“I’m sorry, Captain Querry,” Freska said first. “I should have—”

He held up a hand. “You have the least blame in this. I gave you the command of this ship and a mission. You carried it out admirably. Because of you, we know things and have a plan, of sorts.”

“Yes, but I found Danie. And with my gifts, I feel I should have known what he might do. I should’ve guessed he’d try to convince someone other than me, and Kohen would be the logical answer. I could’ve anticipated and stopped the conflict from happening.”

“By that argument, I know Kohen best and should have saw that he’d try to stop Deke’s purchase and redirect our course.”

I flinched. “I’m sorry. I should have asked first, explained.”

“Yes, but then it might have been too late. Deke… we both feel the sting of being used, being fooled. But we can’t take it out on you for trying to do what you think is right.”

Captain sank back in his chair. “And maybe, if I’d been thinking more clearly and objectively, I would have seen what Kohen has seen so clearly. But I think none of us are very objective right now.” He glanced at Danie who was watching everyone with his head tilted slightly. “Not even you, our A.I. friend.”

Danie frowned. “What do you mean by that, Captain Querry?”

“You watch us, but especially Kohen. I think you have questions and needs you don’t know how to handle. You are a machine, but also a living being. You may be evolving, Danie, like Freska thinks. But you do not know how to act toward other beings. You cannot take actions such as you did with Kohen. That harmed him.”

Turning to me, Danie blinked. “I did not mean to harm you.”

I wrapped my arms around my chest. “I know.” Still, he had. He’d brought up things I didn’t want to remember, but he’d also helped. “But you also prompted memories I’d forgotten.” I looked to Captain and he must have understood, giving me a nod. I explained about our course change, what I remembered about the Elite I’d been tasked to kill but failed.

“So, you think this one might be able to help us?” Freska tapped her fingers on the table.

“Maybe. If we can find him.”

“If that’s what the Captain orders,” Freska looked at him, waiting for his nod, “then I can make that happen.” She grinned and wiggled her fingers when I asked her how. “Oh, just a little skill. Gotta know how to ask the questions.”

Captain and I stood in the command center as we orbited the planet in the far-reaches of the Elite’s galaxy, just out of sensor range of the satellites ringing the giant. I shouldn’t have doubted Freska. As soon as we got into range, she’d used the ship’s A.I. system to slip into the planet’s network like a ghost.

We now knew even more about the Elite than even his parent probably did. If they had parents. Maybe they were cloned. They certainly liked their medical technology.

“Shuttle?” Deke asked. “We’ll never get the whole ship down there unannounced.”

The city Anyas Ober-Candro lived in was small. It boasted a spaceport, but only that didn’t see many full-sized ships other than scheduled supply runs or passage liners.

“I rigged it to bounce their sensors.” Freska stood beside the navigation console.

“Even with their advanced technology?”

“You know they almost exclusively use A.I.s to run their systems?” she asked. “Apparently their condescension isn’t exclusive toward humans. They look down on all beings, even the ones they program to be like them. All I had to do was treat the A.I.s like they were worthy of being treated, and I was given the keys to the kingdom.” Freska didn’t look gleeful like she’d sounded that one time on the comms. She sounded angry.

“Maybe we can teach them a few lessons,” Deke promised. He caressed the weapon at his right, but he bristled with them.

“Let’s go.” Captain turned to lead the way and Freska, Danie, Deke and I followed. Aparoe sent a large kit, and there was a team of security waiting by the shuttle, almost as well armed as Deke. One had combat medic training they’d refreshed with Aparoe on the last leg, just in case. Captain was covering all possibilities.

He turned to me when we sat, sliding his hand across the back of my neck, pressing our foreheads together. “Stay safe,” he whispered. “I need you.”

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 65

“What did you do, Kohen?” Captain stood, approaching the navigation console and looking at the screen. He frowned. “You know I can override this lock out. It’s a maintenance code.”

“I know.” I shook my head once, tilting it. “Did you really think I would try to stop you?”

Captain turned slowly without changing out heading, even though we were going to jump soon if he didn’t. “I don’t know. You’re not acting like yourself, and that bothers me. Especially after… what happened.” He glanced around.

“The supply run is not safe. Deke doesn’t need those guns.” I shot him a look. “We have enough ordinance on board, and we have foodstuffs and the medical supplies Aparoe wanted.”

“Why wouldn’t you ask me first?” He gestured toward the console, ignoring the shocked stares of the crew in the command center.

“Can you honestly say you would have listened to me?” I crossed my arms over my chest. “All you keep saying is that I need to rest. You are treating me like a victim again. Well I’m not!” I insisted. My hands curled into fists and I leaned forward to invade his space. “Will you ever stop trying to protect me?”

“No, Kohen, I won’t. What… he did.” Captain’s lips shook, then he firmed his jaw as he took a breath. “I wouldn’t let that go, not for any of my crew. But this is different.” He glanced at my head.

“I did this. This isn’t something that was shoved in my head my someone else.” I’d had that fear for a long time, but my mind was my own. Yes, Danie had invaded it, but I knew what was his memories and what were mine.

But it also gave me a unique insight, and when we sat there, I’d been studying the star charts on the overhead Nav screen. The one with our next leg of the journey had shown the galaxy where we’d planned to go based on the symbol. A planet smack dab in the prime habitable zone with several satellites around it was the focal point.

But there was someone I’d met once… a test I’d failed. I thought it was because I’d given in to the comfort he’d offered, the touch. I thought they were simulations, visions stuffed into my brain through the wires they’d attach.

Not just that I’d failed to kill him. But now, with what I’d realized they’d really been making me do. Everything in my file had said one thing, but the truth of the Elite’s plan was another altogether. They weren’t trying to give me an aversion to touch to alter my sexuality; they were programming me to dehumanize me while altering my brain and body.

I’d been a failure, in more ways than one.

The being I’d seduced wasn’t an easy mark. From a dark world, the ebony skinned man had sought out my pale body to enjoy but as he curled around me afterward, he recognized me for what I was. Before he’d escaped, he’d told me about his world, explained how the sparkling glimmers of the glowcers would shine on me and turn my milky skin to scintillating brilliance in the low-light of his world barely lit by the elemental beings.

One of Danie’s memories was of Elites with glowcers, their dark skin matching that of my target’s.

And only one planet in that system matched the muttered pillow-talk that had captivated me and made me fail to even try to attack the being I’d been ordered to kill.

Surely if the Elite was a target of those who’d tried to alter my mind and turn me into an A.I. then he would be an ally. If we could find him. If he hadn’t been killed by someone else. But it was better odds than getting a damn planet-killer and keeping it on board like Deke wanted.

Then again, by the looks Captain and Deke gave me, maybe I should have explained why I wanted to avoid making that supply stop and jump ahead in the journey with a slight detour before I made the change. It might have been better to ask first.

Of course Deke nearly drooled when he viewed the specs of the weapon as he contacted the seller, so keeping him off that planet might be better for all of our health.

We were at a standoff. I had information I needed to share to make him understand, and it was hard to not be able to just tell Captain what I knew and have him know this was the right course.

I opened my eyes wide, and I gasped.


“This is what Danie faced. He couldn’t figure out another way to convince you. I was his only hope. Now I’m facing the exact same thing.” I let out a sharp bark of laughter. “How do I share with you what’s in my head, what I know is true, and get you to believe me?”

Captain stepped close. “Talk to me,” he said quietly. He glanced at the console. “Before you do stuff like this in front of the crew.”

“If we don’t go now, we might lose the chance. I don’t know if he’s still alive, but the Elites have to know something is up. We’ve taken some of their men, Danie is gone, and we have a limited window before they realize that. But we will need allies. More knowledge, more people.”

“And you think we’ll find it there?”

“I think so.”

“Captain Querry, we had a—”

“Deke, I am sure you can cobble something more than deadly enough together to replace your weapon. Talk to Freska; I’m sure she knows every inch of the ship and her components.”

“You want me to release her?”

Captain considered me. He unlocked Navigation. “Keep us on our current heading,” he ordered the crew. “Deke, get Freska and Danie. I think it’s time we all sit down again.”

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 64

“Kohen, are you up to talking?” Captain was still holding me. His hand was gentle on my head and neck as he stroked me and rested his hands on my skin, letting me absorb his warmth.

“How’d you know I was awake?” I asked.

“I could sense it. Like I know how much you like this.” He had his hands wrapped around my neck from behind, his palms against the sides of my neck and across the bare skin of my shoulders. His thumbs stroked up and down the knobs of my spine on the back of my neck but stopped short of the ports in my head.

“You’re so warm.” I groaned, tilting my head forward when he dug his thumbs in, and then sighed. “He really wasn’t trying to attack me, or you through me. I think he honestly thought it was the best way to share his truth in a way that I would have to believe.”

“He invaded your mind.” Captain growled.

“And allowed me to invade his.” And here I was, forced to use that unique insight to actual defend him even though I was still pissed and hurt and—yes—violated by the way he’d done it. “Danie appears human, but he’s an A.I. He can’t be judged by our sensibilities. Honestly, it’s best to view him by alien standards; he has a completely different genetic make-up based on what’s inside his body. Add in he was brought online instead of growing into a being in a society in any sense of the word.

“We are actually more alike than I want to remember. When I’d shut down because I’d existed in my lonely world of my cell without contact with other beings, I’d been nearly as alone as he had. Danie doesn’t understand what he did to me as wrong—to him, it was logical. It had the highest probability of success for creating a bridge of understanding because I had to believe what I saw and heard and felt for myself inside his mind.”

I turned in Captain’s arms. I tucked one hand under my head but stroked my other hand over his chest, cupping his pec and thumbing his nipple. I smiled a little when it tensed and he took in a quick breath, then moved my touches across the strong caps of his shoulder and up his neck. “Did you know that we have the same signature, Danie says? Like the exact same person in two bodies.” I touched the synthgar curled behind his neck, and it opened its eyes. They glowed briefly, then it curled tighter and went back to sleep. “I think it’s partly this guy.”

“Just partly?”

“We were already getting close before you offered him to me with the bond. Weren’t we?” I asked, suddenly not quite sure.

“We were,” Captain assured me, brushing his fingertips gently over my cheek. “And I need to work harder, if you’re not sure of that.”

“Oh, good.” How’d we get on this conversation? “We’ve had a lot going on.”

Captain sort of huffed and chuckled at the same time. “That is very true. And every time I turn around, you’re discovering something vital, or rescuing someone, or revealing some secret plot just in the nick of time. You’re an overachiever.”

“I’ll try to stop,” I said.

“Maybe after you singlehandedly pull off this mission like we’re all waiting for you to do. Then we’ll take a break, if you’re still up to retiring with this old guy.” Captain inched closer.

“I’d love to.”

“Good.” Captain said the word on a quiet breath against my lips, then claimed them in a kiss. By the time he’d finished caressing my mouth with gentle pecks and soft strokes, I was a puddle on the bed and actual fell asleep.

“On approach. Captain, are you sure I should be….” The crew member at the navigation station looked nervous.

“You’re fine. The ship likes you just fine.”

The look on her face was skeptical. “Not as much as she likes Freska,” she muttered.

“It’s another supplies run. Just set the ship down, Supply will arrange for the transfer, and Security will keep us safe.”

Captain had objected to me leaving our quarters, insisting I needed more rest, but I wanted to stay close to him. I’d spent ages alone in my cell, not really knowing if the times the doctors and scientists from Brox released me and used the programming in my head to force me to do things were real tests or simulations, but it had all been for a purpose.

I knew more now, saw the truth behind Freska’s report on Danie’s memories, and knew the Elites were behind everything. It was so damn predictable it was almost pathetic. Power-corrupted beings seeking more power ruins lives of those who have none.

But this snake was so much bigger and more complex than we’d thought.

“Allies. We need allies,” I muttered.

“What, Kohen?” Captain turned, but I’d already pushed navigation out of the way. My hands flew on the console and star charts appeared and lit up. The ship reversed direction and began to pull out of the galaxy we’d entered.

That symbol I’d seen echoed in the star charts was burned in my brain, but instead of the center star where we’d planned to approach, I’d plotted a course to one out of the way on the outer rim, even farther out.

“We need to go here,” I said.

Deke was hovering near me. “Captain?”

“Kohen, what did you just do?” Captain asked.

“This is bigger and more complex than even we know. We need to go here to find allies,” I said.

“What makes you think that?”

“I just know.”

“Do you? How?” Deke asked.

“Kohen, I need you step away from Navigation. We have supplies to pick up. We have a plan I already ordered.” Captain stood.

I moved away from the console. Deke stepped closer to it. He tapped the console then turned. “It’s locked out.”

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