Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 49


There wasn’t a sound or movement to indicate how upset Garjah was at Lenveval’s statement, but just like he always knew when I needed him, I knew he needed me. Sloval shouted when Bouncer leapt on the table and then off on to our side. We both pressed against Garjah from either side. Bouncer put his head on Garjah’s lap, and I put one hand on his head, then used another to squeeze the rigid muscles holding Garjah’s frozen body in place.

Gently, I turned cupped his cheek on the far side. He resisted for a moment, then reluctantly turned his head to meet my gaze. Fear dominated those eyes, flaring nostrils, and nearly invisible lips pressed so hard together they were colorless.

I hated seeing it on him just as much as he hated seeing it on me. I’d had thoughts of going back, to the what ifs of working for the Institute like I’d always planned, to… stars swallow it. That life was gone, and I didn’t really regret it. Not if it got me this being by my side. I stroked Bouncer. Both of them.

“You know that’s not what I want.” If it was, I wouldn’t have been such a mess worrying about them breaking our bond.

“Before you thought they might kill you or not let you leave. He just said you could go back to your life.”

“Did you forget I study biology? Advanced as you are, I don’t think this is something that can be fixed.” I waggled my fourth hand I’d had resting on my thigh. I wasn’t quite sure how I could make all four hands do independent tasks. Huh. I’d never thought about that before. Humans struggled with that, but since I’d woken up with four arms, I didn’t seem to have the same limitation.

Something to take notes on would really be handy. I sighed. “If you guys trust me now, can I get a device I can access data on and use for notes? I keep thinking of new things I want to research.”

“That’s it?” Mereval asked. “A simple no thank you to changing you back and going home, and can you have access to ways to research?” She exchanged a look with her fellow Kardoval. “What about your family? Humans live in close groups.”

“I didn’t say no thank you. I just don’t see how it’s possible. And I don’t want that, even if it was.” I shrugged one shoulder. “My parents are busy people. They expected me to go out and live my life. That’s what I’m doing.” I smiled at Garjah.

Sloval, his upper arms crossed over his chest and lower arms gripping the table, was staring at Bouncer. “You’re not mad at Garjah?”

“No, why?”

“He could have judged you safe before you were injured. He did not.” Sloval didn’t blink often enough, and the twist to his lips made his stare antagonistic. Bouncer looked up and lifted his own lip, showing off sharp fangs. Sloval paled. “What’s he doing?”

“Right now he’s comforting Garjah because he felt how upset he was, just like I did. But when you stare at him like that, it upsets him. Maybe knock it off.” I broke off when Garjah placed one hand on my thigh, pressing down.

Yeah, yeah, leaders of their people, should be respectful. They hadn’t seemed very leader-like since we’d come in and Sloval could benefit from a lesson in manners himself. “I believed my exosuit was unbreachable as well. I’d have died if I’d touched that plant while I was on my own.” Besides…. “Could have is not what is. We face what is. We move on.” A lesson I’d learned early from my parents.

Maybe they had taught me more than I knew.  I’d always planned to be a biologist, and I’d thought that first contact didn’t interest me, but between them and Bouncer, I had all sorts of research to do.

“One day, I hope to help introduce Four Arms to the rest of the galactic, anyway. I’ll be famous.”

“Four Arms?” Lenveval’s face was doing unbecoming things. All the Kardoval stared at me. Garjah sighed. He knew what was coming.

“It’s pretty descriptive, don’t you think?” I waved all four arms, wiggling my fingers around. “And handy, too.”

He slumped in his chair.

“What?” I said.

“I’ve told you before, we call ourselves—”

“Meh, that’s boring. Mine is better.” Okay, I totally knew their racial name was Neejah’al… and interesting. Neechay’al, Kardoval, Mereval… al, all? And what place did jah have in there? Or did it mean anything since it wasn’t at the end? These guys had racial memories, locking them into a role.

I turned to Garjah. “You said they needed to be sure I was safe and test our bond.” It was sounding more and more like that had been the barest hint of the truth.

“They can see the bond, just as they can see how all Neejah’al connect to the whole. They can understand the path a youth will take, if they do not know it. That is how they guide our society.”

“But I’m a break in the system. A divergent path in the normal connections.” I cocked my head. “Has no one really ever experienced what Garjah and I have before?”

“No one,” Mereval said. “But we think it may have something to do with the planet where you met. It was new to us, just as it was to you since you were the first in your sector to approach it. We have never encountered an alien race there before.”

“But what could it be? Timok ran tests.”

“He did?”

“I might have sneezed on Garjah. In his face.” My face heated at the memory. 

Want more flash?

J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 48


“You said they wouldn’t…. That they couldn’t….” Each time I trailed off, unable to finish my sentence. How could he have sat there so calmly and asked if I knew what would happen if they broke our bond?

Garjah griped my sides, pulling me into his body. I ducked my head against his chest, pressing my forehead into the hard muscle. He locked one arm around my back and the other he used to stroke my hair. “Breathe,” Garjah rumbled.

His muscles were tight, but as I relaxed and started to breathe with him, he calmed too. His chin rested on my head, and I felt every word as he spoke to the Kardoval seated at the table behind us. “Maybe you should consider your words carefully before you ask him any more questions.” The words were mild, couched in a suggestion even. The tone made it an order. My anxiety spiked again, and Garjah stroked a hand up my back. “Shh, we’re fine.”

“You… They’re in charge. You’re going to get in trouble.” I could only imagine giving the Council orders like that. I’d find myself sanctioned so fast I’d be a social pariah, unable to find work, a place to live, an outcast. Those in charge did not like underlings who spoke above their rank.

“When it comes to your wellbeing, I am in charge.”

“That may be true,” Mereval stated, “but you have left him woefully ignorant of bonds. And yourself.”

My heart started to race, and I stiffened in his hold. What didn’t I know? I’d done research. “Timok gave me things.” I thought I knew about this. “Garjah.”

Bouncer rumbled and pushed between us. I dropped a lower arm onto his head, cupping behind his erect ears and rubbing. The rough texture softened just behind his ears, and stroking the skin there soothed both of us. I didn’t want to do this in front of them, in front of anyone.

In the weeks since I’d left the Rinta to explore Ardra, I’d made impulsive decision after impulsive decision. I’d let emotions and panic rule me. Relied on those around me to care and calm me. I was doing it now. Gulping in a few more deep breaths, I firmed my resolve.

I’d graduated head of my class at the Institute. I’d explored countless worlds and stations my parents dragged me along to. Met hundreds of alien species. Knew smatterings of dozens of languages, cultural practices.

My body might be different now, but my brain was still in control. Taking in one final deep breath, I lifted my chin and moved back from Garjah’s chest to look up at him. “Let me go,” I said quietly. He looked down at me, his thin nostrils flaring. “I’m okay.”

Not on the inside, but no one but him and Bouncer had to know that.

“Let’s sit down. I think it’s time I ask some questions.” I dearly wished for a recording device, but I could remember what was important.

It was all important.


The Kardoval, this group of four aliens who resembled my Garjah but were somehow also more, stared at us. They’d stopped eating. Good. They could answer my questions. We took our spots back at the table.

“First. Who is Garjah?” I knew if I asked him, I would not get the answer I sought.

“He is the head of security,” Lenveval said.

“For his ship, I know.”

“No.” Mereval shook her head, placing a hand out on the table. “He is the head of all security. He was on the ship to scout our borders. The planet you stopped on, that you humans call Ardra, is just one place along the way.”

That… Stunned, I sank back in my chair. Swallowing hard. He was like… the general of generals. Commander of all. Whatever they called it. I wasn’t familiar with military for us or them. No wonder everyone gave him wide berth and looked at us with wide eyes.

I gasped, turning to him. “It wasn’t just that you were with me and I’m human, was it?”

“What?” Garjah asked.

“The stares and whispers.”

He scowled. “No.”

I’d thought it was me. Turns out, it was about him. Well, maybe him and me. “So,” I said slowly, “if you’re in charge of security, you were always the one who could decide if I was a danger or not.”

Now it was his turn to answer reluctantly. “Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I know you would never harm a living creature or being.” Garjah looked down at his clasped hands, the lower pair scrubbing over his tight uniform pants. “Once I knew that, how could I justify keeping you?”

“And then this happened?” I waved a hand to indicate both the changes to my body and our bond.

He shrugged one shoulder. “I wanted you before. Something drew me to where you were hiding on the planet.”

Mereval made a noise, but I ignored her. Well, I tried to. “What?” I turned to her. She was practically vibrating in her chair, leaning over the table.

“What did you feel when you first met Garjah?” she asked.

“Scared as fuck,” I replied drily. “He’s huge.”

Quixoval giggled and even Sloval snorted. “He’s funny,” Quixoval said. Bouncer left my side and began to slink around the table toward him. The youngest of the Kardoval watched him with big eyes and a motionless body. “Is it safe?”

Bouncer wasn’t hunting. “Yes.”

Focusing on the Kardoval, watching Bouncer sniff first one and then the other, I considered what to ask them next.

“Why did you ask me about broken bonds?” I asked Lenveval.

“If we could reverse the physical changes, and you could go back to your sector, back to your life, that would break your bond with Garjah.”

Want more flash?

J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 47

I ate, but my brain was whirring so fast from thought to thought that I was surprised they couldn’t hear it. Or smell the neurons firing. I swear, it was all flowing through my brain so fast that it was a surprise static wasn’t sparking from my fingers every time I touched my metal fork.

Swallowing a bite of something I didn’t even taste, I glanced at Garjah yet again. He frowned at me. “What? Are you not hungry?”

“They’re staring at me.” The Kardoval were watching us both, though they were attempting to be discreet.

Not exactly possible in such a small room and with them sitting directly across from us.

“Can you blame us?” Sloval asked abruptly. “You are just as unknown to us as we are to you.”

Maybe. “I am an unknown, yes. But you know about humans, the universe at large. I know you have databases on us; Timok used them when he treated me. I’ve never meet your kind before, your planets are hidden from the rest of the universe, and culture is a complete unknown.” I put my hand on Bouncer’s head, stroking him with my fingertips. “I’d say you have me at a disadvantage.”

“You’re not exactly human anymore,” Sloval rebutted.

“Stop that,” Mereval hissed.

That was not the kindest way to approach the changes that had happened to me, one of the main reasons we were here. That, and the fact that I’d somehow bonded with Garjah in the first place.

“Essell, we appreciate that you are here to speak with us, and we wish to know more about you personally and find out more about humans. Things are… changing. This is a sign.” Mereval indicated him and Garjah.

“We are not a sign.” Garjah’s voice was a harsh rebuke, and I turned to him, astonished. I’d never heard him speak that way, not even to Seedrah when he’d screwed up.

Maybe I should feed Bouncer. He was getting restless, starting to shift his weight on his front feet, and eyeing the plate on the table. I took a breath, turning away from Garjah’s tightened features to look at Quixoval. “You wanted to see Bouncer eat, didn’t you?”

Quixoval’s shoulders dropped and he let go of the table. A smile spread across his face, but then he hesitated. “Oh yes. Is it safe here? Will he stay under control when he gets a taste of meat, or should we leave?”            

“He’s never hurt anyone before.” He could get a little… bouncy. There was a reason I’d named him the way I did, but I’d fed him with others in the dining hall before and it’d been fine. “Just stay over there.” I grabbed the plate. “You hungry, buddy?”

Bouncer’s ears perked up. His nostrils flared, and I chuckled. “Oh yeah, you smell it, don’t you?” I turned my chair and scooted a few paces backward. He’d gone deathly still, and he was staring directly at the plate in my hand. I picked up a strip of meat. “Ready?”

He crouched, his thick muscles bunching around his shoulders. As soon as I threw the meat into the air, he was moving. Bouncer jumped, catching the meat in his jaws in mid-air with a sharp snap. The light scattered on his pebbled red skin as it darkened. Bouncer shifted from foot to foot, whining for more.

I threw one more piece into the air and then two more left and right. Bouncer caught the one in the air, then pounced on the one to the right. He tore into the piece on the left, shredding it with his claws.

“Bouncer, stop that!” I scolded him. He was going to scratch up the floor. I got up and pushed him away from the strips of meat. Picking them up, I dangled them over his head. “Come on, take them.” There were gasps, but I ignored them as he did a little hop and delicately took the strips out of my hand.

“What if there was poison on that meat?” Quixoval asked. “You just picked it up.” He turned to Garjah who was sitting relaxed in his chair. “You let him.”

I shrugged. “There’s never been any before.” I narrowed my eyes and pursed my lips. “And Garjah doesn’t tell me what to do.”

“The cerops would never hurt Essell. He doesn’t release his poison.”

“Maybe he’s incapable,” Sloval suggested.

“Bouncer is perfect.” I resented them suggesting otherwise. “He loves me so he doesn’t want to hurt me.” To prove my point, I fed him the next few strips from my hand. He always took them gently. “I only throw it because he likes to move. It’s fun for him.” I threw two pieces up right next to each other and he did a rapid snap, snap and got them both.

Bouncer settled down at my feet with the last piece I tossed him as I tucked the plate under my half-full one.

“It’s almost like he knows what you’re going to do.” Lenveval stated his observation just as quietly as he’d done everything else since we entered the room. He seemed to take in everything and miss very little.

“He does mirror Essell’s emotions,” Garjah confirmed.

“You do as well,” Mereval said. She looked disturbed, tapping the table.

“What?” I frowned.

“You get upset, he gets upset. You relax, he relaxes. It’s a complication.”

“Isn’t that the nature of the bond?” I asked.

“No, not like this. Timok warned us to keep our distance, but we thought that was the result of an incomplete bond. You have bonded, but this mirroring between you two is unknown.”

Great, more things unique to me. I’d already changed my arms and eyes. Now the bond? “You’re not going to try to break it, are you?” Would they separate us? My heart started to pound.

“Has anyone told you what a broken bond entails, Essell?” Lenveval asked.

Want more flash?

J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 46

I didn’t want to have a moment in front of the Kardoval, but stars… never mind. I wasn’t going to ignore this need to touch Garjah for them or anyone. I slid one hand across his far cheek, turning his head toward me, then pulled him down for a brief kiss. As hard as it was to resist, I didn’t part my lips and drink in his scent to taste him further. This was enough.

A flurry of movement and murmurs broke through my distraction. I leaned away from Garjah. He blinked at me several times, and I waited for him to get upset. He didn’t; I should have known better. Garjah picked up my fork from where I’d set it on the table and held it out to me. “Food?”


I speared the noodles and twirled them around my fork, then brought them to my mouth. I was chewing energetically, enjoying the firm pasta and thick, tangy sauce when the attention on us grew sharper. The Kardoval had stopped muttering among themselves.

“Is that what you do with those?” Mereval asked.

“You made the food but have no idea how to eat it?” Then again, none of them had plates.

“It was made for us. We do not eat it; the intention was to help you feel more comfortable.” She nodded toward my plate where I had twirled up another small nest of pasta on my fork. “That device is fascinating.”

“It is very useful for the way he eats.” Garjah had pulled out his knife and was flicking off pieces of meat, placing a few on my side of the plate. The others he swallowed whole.

“Yes, of course.” One of the males came back to the table, plates in both of his upper hands. He pulled out a chair, then offered one plate to Mereval. She thanked him.

They all had gotten food after Garjah filled out plate, and they sat together on the other side of the table facing us. Like judges facing off against supplicants. My stomach started to churn, and I swallowed hard. Garjah’s nostrils flared, and he glanced down at me. “What’s wrong?”

Leaning in close, I pressed my shoulder against his chest and rested my face near his ear. “They’re over there, we’re here. Feels… judgey.”

His chest bounced, a chuckle. “Sometimes I forget.” His voice carried, deep against my neck but also loud.

“Shh.” I glanced at them, and of course they were watching us.

“It’s okay, Essell. They are giving us space because we are newly bonded. Mereval is no threat to us, but another male could be. My instincts are known, but yours are not.” Garjah picked up my fork and speared a small piece of the purple meat he’d cut for me. He held it out, not giving me the fork handle but offering me the bite.

I took it, pulling the meat off the tines carefully as I thought. “They’re giving me space because they’re not sure if I freak out on them because they are interested in you?” Which one was interested in Garjah? I swept a glance across the table. Was it the one who gave him the armbands?

The ones he never took off?

Mereval laughed, that odd sound I’d heard a few times from Timok even higher from her. “No, no. The pheromones coming off you are outrageous, dear one. Fear, caution, possession, anger, it’s all a riot against our senses. They are keeping their distance out of respect, both for Garjah’s service and for your bond.”

Cranking my head to one side, I considered that. “Is that why they haven’t introduced themselves by name?”

The three males all lightened, and Mereval laughed again. “Oh no, that’s just them being males.”

“We forgot,” the one who’d always been sitting said. The other male who sat on his far side had brought him a plate. “Please accept our apologies. We’re so used to everyone knowing who we are.” He rubbed at his creased forehead. “It is strange.”

“You hide from the entire universe. It can’t be that strange.”

“But among our people, we are unique. Known from nearly birth.” The confrontational one gestured with his knife. “I am Sloval.” Maybe he had a good reason for being so cranky. Still, he quickly bit into a piece of fruit and couldn’t speak anywyal

“My name is Lenveval.” Bowing from the waist, the next to introduce himself was the one who had stayed seated. I nodded back at him, not sure of the protocol. That left the youngest Kardoval. The one who’d seemed awed by Bouncer.

“My name is Quixoval.” He leaned forward, dipping his head quickly. “Is your cerops hungry?”

I snorted. “He is always hungry.”

“Could I prepare a plate for him?”

Hesitating, I glanced at Garjah. Would he take food from them? “There are tongs. He can touch the food without getting his scent on it.” His reassurance helped. I nodded my agreement to Quixoval, and he jumped up immediately.

“I didn’t mean right now. You could eat first.”

“Nonsense. This will also give us a chance to study this phenomena.” Quixoval was up and over at the table before I could protest again.

“You won’t be able to stop him,” Sloval warned. “So don’t try.” Was that supposed to be an order or a commiseration. His glare was certainly pointed at Quixoval instead of me.

“How do you want to do this?” Quixoval asked as he handed over the plate of meat.

“Essell finishes eating before anything else,” Garjah said firmly. “Then he can show you.” He slid the plate aside, then nudged my fork back toward me.

The most confusing aspect of the whole meeting so far was the way they actually listened to him. Quixoval returned to his seat, and everyone started eating quietly, like they wouldn’t even ask me questions. Just who was in charge here?                                                                                                                                          

Want more flash?

J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes