Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 98

Deke was scary when he was in that good of a mood. He whistled. He sang. He almost danced as he played with his weapons and there was not nearly enough room on the ship for that.

“Knock it off,” Captain said.

“Fine, fine.” Deke stalked over to his seat and sat, his favorite pistol in his lap. The sleek metal glinted dully as he fondled it.

I shuddered, slightly disturbed. Or maybe that was Captain. He was looking at his friend with a funny look on his face. Or… yeah, Chomper was not lap-sized anymore, and he was definitely doing his best to crawl into Captain’s chair when I made my way around to the front of it.

“Hey, get down you little beastie.” Captain and I knew leaving him behind was not an option. No, we had learned our lesson before. Our family stuck together. The whole crew was back in one unit, on the ship, and we had one mission.

Search and destroy.

Then go home.

I already missed the searing heat, the dry, dusty landscape, and the relentless light that made up the long days before the short, dark nights that chilled the air. Space was dead around us, at least to my senses, and the ship a steady temperature but nothing could fix the scrubbed nothingness left from the filters.

Chomper abandoned his attempts to curl up with Captain and came to me instead. He’d transformed on the ship, his wings gone, his body more streamlined for the narrower corridors and smaller quarters, but he was still growing. He still climbed me like I was just an obstacle in his path, curling his body over my shoulders and back, his legs wrapped around my waist.

Good thing he was lighter than he looked, probably so he could fly. And sinuous. He curved his head around to look in my face. “Hi, hi, hi.”

“Hi, Chomper.”

He shivered. “It cold.”

“Maybe wear some of the clothes we got for you?” Yeah. That didn’t happen often, even in this form.

“You warm,” he purred. He rubbed his face against mine, his leathery skin soft and definitely cooler than normal. He snuggled into my neck. I reached up and rubbed the back of his head, his thrumming purr increasing, reminding me of his mom when the eggs were hatching.

“Did you need something, Kohen?” Captain stood and put his arm around us. I couldn’t feel it, Chomper being wrapped around my back and all, but I liked that he was adding his warmth, sandwiching our little being between us.

“Just to let you know we got the shuttle in docking bay 3 unstuck from whatever Deke landed in last time and brought aboard. I had to pry up the landing arm and hold it so it halfway so Luca could scrape the plate clean.” That hadn’t been easy. Those things were meant to be locked out or collapsed inside the shuttle’s exterior skin completely; my arms ached.

“Wow, strong.” Captain’s eyes flashed. “I bet you’re sore.”

“A little,” I admitted. “But it sounds like Chomper here is having an issue. I was thinking I’d take him down to the hydroponics room. Nice and warm there. Moist, too.” That would be a treat. He loved water, but it didn’t last long on the planet which was mainly dry.

“Here.” Captain handed me a small suit. “Aparoe said this shouldn’t irritate him too much, but it’s geared toward regulating his temperature.”

“Maybe Aparoe should try to put it on all his arms and legs when he’s wiggling around trying to keep it off.”

“You could drop him off at medical, maybe have them make sure you’re okay after all that muscle strain, and then meet me back in our quarters at shift change.” Captain had stepped in close, dropping his voice to a husky, throaty suggestion that I could totally get on board with.

Deke made a sound of derision. “You guys just get more and more sappy.” He was grinning though.

“You just sit over there and play with your toys.” Captain ignored him. “Sound good?”

Oh, he was talking to me again. “Yeah. I’ll, um, do that.” The incessant need to touch and be touched by this warm, gentle man never ended. He pulled me in for a hug and I sighed, tucking my head into his neck in an echo of Chomper.

Time spent with the rapidly growing being that Sparkles had left with me for some reason always made me happy. No matter what else the universe had decided to fate for us, we had these moments. It was like a pet, and a child, and a really gross murderous being all in one. He’d pounced on the food Aparoe provided as soon as we hit the medical bay.

“He needs to keep his activity level up and the live food is better for him,” they explained.

“Uh-huh. I just got him in that outfit thing you wanted him to wear. So now you can get him out of it and get it clean and then get it back on him.” He’d collapse after he ate, but moving his limbs would be impossible.

I made my escape.

When Captain made it back to our quarters, I’d bathed and managed to find a way to lie on the narrow bunk that left my legs spread and open for him to view as soon as he came in. He stopped and then glanced around the corridor, hurrying inside.

The door slid shut in a whoosh, locking us together in quiet privacy.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 97

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re sure?”

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

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

“What?” Deke asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That too.”

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 96

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But who are they?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t pay us anymore, Captain.”

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

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

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

“No drugging the crew,” Captain insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 95

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

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

“Promise you’ll be more careful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What. Are. You. Hiding?”

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

I waited.

It was something I had gotten very good at doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“All right, all right.”

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

Captain made a face.

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

“Do we have to put clothes on?”

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

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

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