“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?