Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 102

“Someone is being bad,” Lakshou said. He tsked, his palms pushed together. He wore his robes, his eyes glowing, his appearance still just the same.

It sickened me that I wanted to go to him. Why hadn’t I felt that before? He’d frozen my body, but he hadn’t toyed with my mind. Captain stood rigid in front of me. The crew stood all around us. Deke had his weapons drawn, as did his hand-picked security.

“I kill him, they kill me, you die,” I said.

Lakshou laughed. “As if you could kill your bonded. You’ve wound together so tight, it’s a miracle you can ever part. Not that you usually do. I knew, if I drew out his people, I’d draw the good captain behind them and, with him, you. And now I have you.”

“That glow around you gets one iota stronger, and I’ll do it. You’re relying a lot on the power of the bond between us, but you know better than anyone here what was done to me. What it can be like up there.” I nudged just one finger toward my head, not letting Captain go. “Compartmentalized. Dead. Emotions are a luxury in a life I wasn’t free to live.”

What I wouldn’t give for that not to be true. I’d spent so much time trying to overcome my fears because for the longest time they’d been what held the tightest grip on my emotions. When all you could do was huddle in a corner or in a bed and fear that your reality was going to betray you, that your body and mind were not your own to control, then each day, each passing moment, stretched into an eternity of self-doubt and paralyzing rictus of terror.

Not that all the work I’d done had helped one iota. I faced a being who could tie me up in knots and use the very thing I feared against me. The man I loved, who said he loved me, had known it was possible and kept it from me.

For my own good.

The crew had gone along with his decision. They’d taken my Chomper and sedated him, hidden him in a shielded room. That room was probably the only reason why they’d stopped at just sedating him. For as deep as I knew the deadness descended inside me, I was finding a ruthless streak inside Captain that fell as far.

He’d do much to bring down those who plotted against him.

“You won’t hurt him. And even if you did, all you do is condemn all three of us to death. Are you truly ready to give that up yet?”

I snorted. “You’ll give me a life?” No, he’d give me a prison, experiments, pain, and then death. “I think not.” Captain was stiff against me the whole time, but he any pliability in his body vanished.

“Then we are at an impasse, are we not?” Lakshou’s hands were folded, sliding toward his robe sleeves.

“Stop,” Deke shouted. “Hands out of your sleeves.”

Lakshou ignored him but the slow progression stopped. Our two sides were stuck in a stalemate. The ship’s AI continued to blaze automated warnings but even her casual comments were off, locked into the scene unfolding before the scanners.


All of these plans, but no one had told me. But it’d take just one thing they hadn’t planned for.

Like this.

Who thought I’d take my mate hostage with a razor’s edge to his throat? But, maybe to save something, you had to be really willing to destroy it. Killing him would kill me, but I couldn’t live like this anymore. If it took death to finally bring me freedom….

“Seriously, we’re just standing here?” said some useless alien with six eyes and tufts of greasy green bristles sticking up in clumps all over his head and shoulders. Huge, muscular shoulders that led to foot-wide fists, each holding weapons.

“Who said I was doing nothing this whole time?”

Captain had pulled the weapons out of my belt. As Deke had moved up and pointed his pistol at Lakshou, he’d accessed my weapons too. And I had one he’d given me that was scarily lethal.  

The grenade was already chiming its last countdown, the tiny light its only warning indicator. I spun, shoving Captain away and then put myself among the enemy, right where I belonged.

“Fialis Tevvikit Sars!” Lakshou glowed bright enough to hurt my eyes. My hands curved into talons, my strength now a weapon against those I loved. I’d compartmentalized, felt like I’d shut down my brain, like I’d put aside the love I’d felt and shared.

 But this was completely different.

Alien. Wrong.


The electricity burst from the device implanted on the back of my suit, curved through the channels, and then spread out around me in a halo of wicked crackling pain. It found the weaknesses of the suits, and skins, and scales of all the beings in my proximity, and those it couldn’t the blasts sizzling through the air took down.

Because Lakshou was standing right next to me and through the connection to my brain, the frying electricity I’d allowed to burn through the circuits inside me until it charred them and wires had jumped and spread from my body into his.

He’d shared his calm, his peace, his pleasure, and his rage before. Now I turned that connection back on him.

I didn’t anticipate the fur on his body to begin to smoke, the char spreading across his chest and stomach and catching his robe on fire.

The blaring alarms grew louder. The chaos around me grew to epic proportions. I already knew Lakshou was dead; the glow was gone as was the stranglehold on my emotions. I could feel a distant connection to Captain, but I pulled away.

Maybe he’d live. Each slowing beat of my heart echoed like a drum in my burnt out head. “Sorry,” I croaked. Not exactly what I’d intended.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 101

My heart cracked, but I ignored the pain in my chest. “Why not tell me?” I asked it in a quiet voice, not letting the others hear us.

“Because, like you feared, your mind isn’t safe.” Captain turned with regret heavy on his face, his head hanging slightly. “He can read you, Kohen. Your aura, your energy. He’s been tapped in since he started treating you on the ship.”

I stared at Captain, my mouth hanging open. I closed it with a hard swallow, my mouth suddenly drying. “What?” The crack spread from my heart to my throat, garbling the word nearly unrecognizable. What the hell was this aura thing they all kept going on about? Danie had just been talking about it too.

“Lakshou implanted suggestions in you, to help the Elites. We knew this, but what Aparoe and Freska found together was buried deep in your synapses. It put there and then intended to lay dormant until he triggered it.”

Just the thoughts of what Captain said made me want to dig into my own brain and rip out anything contaminated by the fatherless wastes of space. But I couldn’t. “Why? Why are you telling me this?” Why wasn’t I locked up? Or dead?

“I was going to be your trap.” The idea dawned on me even as I said the words. “You were using me as bait. Luring him in with his link to me so you could take him out.”

“Him and the last of the traitors. He really did need help; you have to be in range. That’s what blowing up that planet was intended to do, draw us out. So I obliged him.”

“But why tell me…?”

“Because your aura isn’t the same. You’re connected with more than just Lakshou now. You’re connected to Chomper. Or, you usually are.” Captain looked over my shoulder. “Danie?”

“The special chamber has masked that as we thought it would. Aparoe had to sedate him.”

“What?” Adrenaline surged through me and I spun on him. “You guys did what?” They’d sedated my Chomper?

“It’s for his own safety and yours. We don’t have much time. We’re almost done fighting off their advance, and then they’ll latch onto our hull. We’ll be breached and boarded. Lakshou will try to use you, Kohen, and then take you. To do that, he’ll have to get close.”

The anger left and a sick wave of fear washed over me. The emotional roller coaster was making me nauseated. “Why are you doing this? Why not just kill him? Shoot his ship up? I’m sure Deke has toys to do it.”

“What if he’s not on it, just using some technology making us think he is? What if he comes after us again? I will end this looking at our enemy in the face.” He reached out for me, and I flinched back, unable to stop the motion.

It’d been a while since that happened, and I hated the hurt in his eyes, but I feared the hurt his touch would bring me just as much. Because I knew, knew deep down, I wouldn’t feel pain at the warmth of his palm cupping my cheek, but I would feel the agony this decision cost him.

And I wasn’t ready to forgive him yet.

A jarring shudder shook the ship, lurching the floor out from under my feet abruptly. I fell backward, falling gracelessly in a heap with another crew member who was knocked out of their station.

“Hull breach, hull breach.” The ship’s AI was sounding the alarm. Crew members scrambled up, shouts and calls interrupted by hissing gases, beeps, bells, and alarms.

My head was ringing from the blow to the floor, but my vision was steady. All the fear, the anger, the nausea… those were gone. I was a blank slate as I rolled over. I pushed up to my knees, blinking as I panned across the command center. A breath later I was on my feet.

“Breach penetrated. Intruder alert. Intruder alert. Corridors seven and eight compromised.” They’d come in not far from where we were, meaning they had a good idea of the ship’s layout. Or just few options; the ship was pretty small compared to the first one we’d been on when Captain had rescued me.

I stood stock still, an ocean of calm amid the chaos as some of the crew tried to identify just how many came aboard with Lakshou while others set off traps and yet more crew members worked feverishly with the AI on the ship’s systems.

Danie stood at my back. “What are you doing?” he asked. I could barely hear him.

“Waiting.” My feet braced shoulder-width apart, my hands near my holsters, shoulders relaxed, I listened and monitored. The crew ignored me, as they often did when I visited Captain in the command center, and I turned most of my attention inward.

A stroke distracted me. I opened my eyes. “Kohen, are you okay?” Captain stood in front of me.

“Fine. Just fine.” I swallow. “Are you?”

“Not hurt. The ship? Not so great, but she’ll fly to a port to get healed, Freska says. Once we deal with this.” He waved a hand toward the vid monitoring the intrusion. The picture flickered and changed again as they moved closer.

“Thirty seconds until they reach the outer doors, Captain Querry,” said the helmsman. He was on ship-wide navigation while they weren’t moving. Drifting in space didn’t exactly take much skill or mathematical knowledge.

Metal screeching on metal was my cue. I burst into motion, pulling Captain against my body. “Don’t move,” I ordered the crew. “Not unless your role is absolutely necessary, and I give you permission. And remember all the time I spent in here, just watching before you try to trick me.” I glared at them dispassionately. “He’ll pay the price for any disobedience.”

The doors slid open. “Perfect timing.” That smooth, unctuous voice was like a douse of space. It froze everything, like not even the ship dared make a peep.

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Julie Lynn Hayes
Carol Pedroso
J Alan Veerkamp

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 100

“Stay calm,” Danie said. “Freska won’t let him in.”

“What makes you think he’s going to ask permission?” I had to hide Chomper. I had to get more weapons. All the weapons. I’d left our quarters with just two. It felt like enough on the ship when I’d had time, seconds that would stretch out as long as I needed them to, it had seemed.

But the prey we’d been chasing had turned on us and now we were caught. I shuddered, or maybe that was my chair as another blast rocked the ship. “Chomper, go hide. Like we said.” I’d tried to prepare him for this. We’d found a spot, near the reclamation pool, that he could hide in that masked his body temperature, his scent, and neatly hid his entire form.

He chittered, gnashing his teeth. “No, no, no. Bite, bite. Bad man. Bad man!” His eyes glowed as his dusky skin grew darker and his small wings flapped to keep him in the air. His arms ended in clawed hands, the wicked points curved and capable of rending flesh.

But I grabbed him, holding one, knowing he’d never hurt me. He snuggled close, the slow flap of his wings lifting my short hair. “Please, Chomper. So I know you’re safe.”

His growl was growing bigger, and he was fierce, but he was still so young. Just a few weeks old, and I wouldn’t forget that. Small, ground-dwelling creatures at home were one thing, but monsters like the ones we were about to face were something else.

These ones used weapons and weren’t afraid to use your weaknesses against you. I didn’t want that for him, or for Chomper to be used against us. If Danie could see our bond, I knew Lakshou would be able to as well.

As the little one finally flitted off, his sulky mutters trailing off as he flew to the hiding spot we’d picked out, I made my way to my feet as well, clutching the wall when the ship rocked. I refused to go down; I had to get my weapons. “Thought Captain said we wouldn’t be seen coming,” I complained. “Someone saw us.”

Danie trailed behind me. “Or someone warned them,” he pointed out oh so calmly and logically. “That would make sense.”

I rounded on him. “Oh really? Like who? You?”

He jerked to  a stop, his eyes widened. “Of course not!” He blinked and stared at me.

“Freska has the ship locked down electronically. Magic?” I snorted. “Physical means? Maybe, if you had some way to get a bot through the lock down. Or some access. Or a way through the physical shield. Do we really think all of this is a coincidence?” The bitterness ate into my tone just as much as it ate at my stomach and heart.

Someone hated Captain, or me, or the both of us since killing one of us now meant the other would die. Or maybe they were banking on just getting rid of us so they were free of someone who’d thwarted their plans.

Somehow I didn’t see that for Lakshou; he was too controlled. He’d have a plan, one that was geared toward making us suffer.

I rushed to our quarters and barely remembered to slam something in the door to stop it from closing automatically. The first thing I grabbed was a protein stick, then another. The first I would sate my hungers; the next two hungers I could only acknowledge with an ache.

The first was the messy bed, the sheets pulled back toward the foot, the pillows askew. They were hard as a rock, too small, and never stayed in place. The second was the vid. There was a picture of Captain on the screen. Just one click had taken away years from his face and stern demeanor; he laughing and smling like I’d never seen before.

NO way was I letting some bastard take that away. Strapping on my pistols, I grabbed my knives, both poisoned and unpoisoned. I handled the poisoned ones carefully, sliding them into sheaths on the outside of my thighs. I wanted them handy, just in case.

Luckily, they were both secured when the ship took another blow, this one causing the whole room to veer sharply to the right. I stumbled roughly. Danie stretched out an arm and caught me.

“How aren’t you falling?” I asked, breathlessly, resisting the urge to rub where his fingers dug in.

“Magnetic boots. Are you done?” Danie held out a hand.

“I am,” I said grimly.

“Where to? I’ll help you get there.” Danie shifted to the side and slightly in front of me as we left my quarters.

“Bridge. To Captain.” The alarm was growing more strident, and Lakshou’s voice was still spewing insults and threats. I’d been doing my best to completely ignore it.

“Ahh, of course.”    

There was no sign of a breach between our quarters and the command center of the ship, but crew were rushing around everywhere. Captain stood in the center of it all, a beacon of calm, issuing orders. The sickening lurch in my soul calmed just being near him.

“Kohen, is he…?” Captain raised his eyebrows. It took me a second to figure out what he meant.

“Yes. Safe and sound. Return fire.” This was what we’d talked about. Deke had gotten to go over the ship when they were out investigating before. “Brace yourselves, everyone.”

I did. “I thought we had a few hours.”

“So did everyone else on board,” Captain said grimly. “Except for a select few. Now my pool is much narrower.”

“You suspected there were still traitors?” I stared at him, wide-eyed.

“Nothing else makes sense. The escape, the blowing up the planet, coming out here all alone…. It’s a trap. But I knew about it before we sprung it.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 99

Danie stood beside the window. He was watching Chomper, and I could practically hear his brain cells frying. “What?” I asked.

He blinked several times. “Your question doesn’t make a lot of sense. What what?”

I had to hide a smile. His question didn’t make a lot of sense either, and I didn’t know if he even realized it because he was too busy watching Chomper. “You’re looking at him like he’s about to maul you, and you’re not sure if that means deadly injury or not.” Wary, a faint wrinkle to his nose, his body tense with muscles flexed but his hands loose at his sides so he didn’t seem like a threat.

“We have been assessing the data shared about him. He is quite dangerous.” Danie blinked again, his brow wrinkled. “I do not think he will maul me, however, because humans are his family. I think any bipedal species close enough to your form, our form, would be safe, but that is not why I was watching him.”

“No?” I sat down, and Chomper left the flexible tube he’d been rolling around in and came to me, crawling up into my lap. He spilled over it, even in his smaller form. He was happy, though, his blue skin darkened as he hummed, his arms stroking me as he snuggled in. Chomper put his head on my shoulder and sighed, a hot breath tickling the hair on my neck.

I’d thought a being who could generate fire would be hot inside, but he wasn’t. He sought out heat, especially in the cold of space, and I found myself holding him more often than not. “So why are you watching him?”

“The thing Lakshou could do, with his empathy. I think it has to do with auras. If I adjust my settings, I can see some beings’ auras too.”

Why wasn’t I surprised? Still, I shivered. I didn’t like to think about what Lakshou had been doing to me when I’d meditated with him. Chomper’s wings rustled and he crooned, a high-pitched warble. I patted his back, then ran my hand down it, taking turns rotating round firm bases of his wings and smoothing the muscles that were oddly shaped around the mobile joints allowing him two or move positions. He loved those scratched gently.

“See, right now you’re afraid. I know because your aura flashed, then his flashed another color—a complementary color, I’ll have you know—and then he soothed you.”

“How?” I asked slowly. “And how did you see all that?” I tried to listen and understand everything Danie told me. My fingers twitched, and I longed for the ability to write notes. But Captain insisted on no evidence. He disliked Aparoe keeping logs even.

“Magic? Science I don’t even know to explain. For all the processing power they gave me, I cannot know it all.” Danie scowled. “Freska says that proves I’m human.”

I leaned back, Chomper’s breath tickling my skin as she slid from my shoulder to nestle against my chest. “She would.” She was probably the least alien of all the alien beings I’d met.

“But what does this have to do with me and Chomper? Or Lakshou?” I still had the urge to rinse out my mouth after I spat out his name.

“He used your aura against you, training you in ways that would make you vulnerable to him. Now imagine he could see you, see it, and see your connection to him.” Danie cast a significant look at Chomper. “Imagine what they’d do to him.”

It took everything in me to resist the urge to snatch Chomper tight to my chest and glare at Danie for even suggesting anyone would ever hurt him. “I’d never let that happen. Never!” My voice rose and I realized I’d shouted both of those last thoughts out loud, not silently like I’d thought. Chomper woke with a whimper, immediately rolling and shifting. His claws dug into my skin, but I ignored the pricks and welling blood.

“Calm,” Danie said. He eyed me warily. “I don’t know if he’s more and more like you, or if you’re becoming more like him.”

I bared my teeth at him. “Guess.”

“No thanks.”

Chomper climbed off my lap and hissed at Danie, and then he turned and butted his head against my stomach. “Okay. Fine fine. All safe.”

“Yes. You’re safe.”

“You’re safe,” he mimicked. He bared far more impressive teeth than mine. A burst of heat burped out of him.

“Not if you cook me. No fire on the ship,” I scolded him.

“No fire.” He closed his mouth, rubbing his head against my stomach again. I sighed, looking at Danie. “I don’t know what you mean by auras, or exactly what Lakshou did to me. My hope is Captain gets us close and then blows his ship up.” He probably wouldn’t, just in case there were innocents on board, but I could dream.

“Still, there may be something I can do to figure out a way to shield your connection. It’s emotional, yes, but also tangible so it’s not just a metaphysical bond. If I’m outside of you, but I can see it, and Lakshou could manipulate it, then we should be able to protect it as well.”

“Okay, okay. Just… try staring a little less.” We only had about half a shift left before we caught up to the ship. Danie would have to think fast if he wanted to figure out some sort of miracle cure to what Lakshou could do to us.

The ship rocked, and Chomper’s wings flared out and he sprang into the air, hovering. The floor bucked and rolled under our chairs and feet. I held on for dear life. “What’s happening?” I shouted.

Danie shook his head. “I don’t know.”

A ship-wide announcement rang through the comm. “Did you really think we wouldn’t find you?”

That voice….

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J Alan Veerkamp
Carol Pedroso
Julie Lynn Hayes