Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 44

 

“This is manmade?” I gaped at him.

He shrugged one shoulder. “We take security seriously. Without the Kardoval, we would be lost. They are protected.”

I got the hint. Not that I thought Garjah was threatening me, or was worried I would do anything. But the other Four Arms didn’t know me. And I was bringing a deadly animal with me. I stoked a hand down Bouncer’s side. “Hear that, buddy? Let’s not get too… excited.” That could be difficult. Look what he did with Timok. I pursed my lips, suddenly not quite as amused with him picking up on my feelings.

Resolving to stay calm, I focused on the window. Beyond the canyon was a yellow carpet of plants dotted with pink fronds that spiked above it. Arches of orange and black rocks dotted here and there in the landscape. The squared off rocks glinted in the sun like geometric bridges going to nowhere. I glanced out the windows on Garjah’s side.

“What is that?” The spiky top was higher than we were gliding, but it ended in a bulbous bottom that had to be as big around as a ship, and that was held up, or maybe tethered, by a multitude of strands that were sunk into the ground. Holes in the sides of the matte green spike opened and shut.

I squinted. “Is something coming out of those holes?” The shapes undulated with extremely large, translucent wings over a narrow body.

“Don’t worry, the trincophants are too small to be a danger to this transport. They’re just attracted to the trail of energy left behind our transport.”

“What exactly are they consuming?”

“Electricity, of course. They absorb it from the sun usually but love to gorge when transports come and go,” Garjah said it so matter-of-factly I goggled at him. The lack of sound or vibration from an engine suddenly struck me. The transport we were on was moving incredibly fast, but I wasn’t hearing any traditional source of power.

I opened my mouth to ask what exactly was shooting us faster than I was ready for toward the Kardoval when we topped a small rise and a city spread out below us. I’d seen many cities on many planets created by many different races.

This shouldn’t stand out.

It did.

Maybe it was how important the city was, or not really the city, but the rulers inside the city. I didn’t normally meet leaders in a culture. Other than following local and galactic law, I didn’t have to worry about them, and they certainly didn’t care about little ole me.

My stomach flipped, and Bouncer sat up, nudging me. When I only placed a hand on his head, he leapt to his feet and jumped on the seat between me and Garjah. He rumbled and hung his head over my shoulder, wrapping his paws around my torso.

“I wish he wouldn’t do that.” Garjah spoke, but I couldn’t see him since Bouncer was rubbing his head against me.

“He’s just nervous.”

“You’re nervous, and he senses that.”

There wasn’t anything I could say to that. It was the truth. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling the musk of Bouncer’s skin and the slightly rank scent of his breath. Wrinkling my nose, I rubbed my head on his and then pushed him away. “Okay, I’m better. We’re fine.”

His paws, the claws sheathed, slid down my body until he draped over my lap. Garjah was pushed into one corner of the seat, his lips pressed together. Stroking one of my lower hands down Bouncer’s pebbly spine, I held the other one out to Garjah. “You won’t leave me?”

“No one will ask me to, and I wouldn’t leave you even if they did.” He interlocked our fingers.

 

The transport’s windows were not opaque so others could see in. There were stares and gestures from transports that moved alongside us for a time, but I only caught a few glimpses of the reactions on our speedy journey. We quickly separated from the traffic—a commonality in every settled world—and headed toward a building that stretched high into the sky with rounded corners capped with light blue metal that reflected the surroundings in distorted shimmering waves.

I swallowed and smiled with my teeth tightly clenched, letting Garjah lead me out. Bouncer stayed pressed against my thigh. An aide dressed in a draping tunic around his lower shoulders that stretched up and tied around his neck and just below his upper shoulders greeted us with a low bow.

“If you would come with me. The Kardoval await you.”

Expecting a meeting hall, or maybe an audience chamber, I was thrown completely off balance when we were shown into an office not much larger than the dean of the Academy had. Sure, it had a large table with armless chairs and a separate sunken seating area along with a refreshments bar full of prepared dishes and even some completely human ones if I didn’t know better… but it wasn’t the tribunal I’d expected.

Especially when one female rushed from a door, shaking hands raining droplets, and a scowl on her face. “Why is there always a malfunction with the dryer when someone important is coming?” She paused, her eyes widening. “And of course he’s here.”

She wiped her hands on her shimmering gold tunic. “Hello, hello. How are you?” She offered me a hand. I took it, shaking it gingerly. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Is that not a custom of your species?”

“Oh, um, sure. Just not normally with wet hands.”

“Completely dry hands before shaking. Got it. I’ll make a note.” Her eyes closed for a second, then she smiled. “We’re so pleased you’re here.” She glanced from Garjah to me, then down at Bouncer. He elicited a response I hadn’t. “Oh, um, a cerops. I forgot that was mentioned.”

A male snorted. “You did not forget, Mereval. You chose to focus on the human.” 

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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 43

 

The concept that four arms came in handy had occurred to me before, but being knocked off my feet when the ship lurched through the air hammered that home. Without the extra hand grabbing the bunk, I would have slammed my right temple right into the corner. I flopped over onto the mattress.

“Are you all right?” Garjah stood with his leg spread, riding out the ship’s shudders.

“You should sit down!”

“I am fine. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you to brace yourself. You have changed so much I forget you don’t quite have the same bone and muscle density we do.”

“You think?” I snorted. The extra arms were obvious. The eyes, when I looked in the mirror. I could see the muscles in my arms and legs, a definition in my chest, stomach, and those hip divots that I’d liked to trace with my tongue whenever my partner had them. But Garjah still dwarfed me.

“Give it a moment, and navigation will smooth out the flight. It is simply the—”

“I know all about transitioning from space to a planet in a ship.”

“Truly?” Garjah raised an eyebrow. “The small ship you went to Ardra on—”

“It’s a skimmer,” I corrected him.

“—the skimmer,” he continued like I hadn’t said anything, “was sideways when we found it. Surely that is not the usual way to land a vessel?”

“So the heavy gravity caused a few issues. Auto-navigation mostly took care of it.”

Garjah stared at me. “You couldn’t navigate it on your own?”

“I put in the coordinates for the planet,” I said defensively. “And I got there okay.” I didn’t like having this conversation flat on my back while he was standing over me. I sat up, swinging my legs over the edge of the bunk and hold on tight so I couldn’t be knocked off onto the floor. That’d be even worse. “Humans are very self-sufficient.”

Garjah’s nostrils flared. “Please don’t try to pilot any of our vehicles.”

He really thought I was going to get off the ship and try doing what, flying away? Hopping into a surface vehicle and going for a joy ride? I ground my teeth together. “I can’t even read your signs on the corridor walls.” My voice came out tight through my clenched jaw. “Do you really think I’m that stupid? If you do, then you should go look at your reflection.”

“That’s not what I meant.” His voice rose.

“It’s what you said,” I pointed out. “Like I’d take a vehicle and just scuttle off on a strange planet where I don’t know anyone or anything.”

“Like on Ardra?”

I stood, poking him in the chest. “That was different,” I roared. “It was supposed to be an uninhabited planet. It is uninhabited; it’s not my fault you people go there to rip off it’s natural resources and steal humans you go around doing experiments on.” The words flew out of my mouth in the rage before I even knew I was going to say them. I wanted to take them back the second I saw their impact; Garjah’s shoulders slumped, and his colors muted, dulling even if they didn’t quite change.

“I just… we… I don’t know what to say here.”

The corridor door slid open. “How about you apologize?” Timok said.

“Why don’t you try knocking?” All the anger that had drained away when I saw how I’d hurt Garjah surged back.  

And I had no compunction about hurting Timok. He deserved it.

“Claws away, dear.” Timok sailed right by me, ignoring the threatening gestures I made to both his front and back. He circled me. “Yes, you look good, at least you will once you get a hold of yourself.”

I’d get a hold of him.

“Let’s go.” Garjah grabbed my hand and towed me out of his quarters before I could do anything Timok might live to regret.

“Bouncer!” I called the cerops, and he snarled as he leapt past Timok. He yelped and stumbled back, falling onto our bunk. I laughed until I realized his scent would be on our bedding. “Have to change that,” I muttered.

“Hmm?” Garjah looked down. He kept hustling me down the corridor. Bouncer paced beside me, and those coming toward us got out of the way or turned around and booked it back the way they came.

“Nothing.”

 

I expected a cacophony of noise, people, supplies and bureaucracy greeting the ship. There was one transport and the driver wasn’t even visible. The sky was blue, the weather warm from one large sun burning bright overhead, and the gravity was similar to Ardra. I could analyze that much about the planet from our short trip from the ship to the transport.

“Where is everyone?”

“I don’t know.” Garjah admitting that didn’t help my nerves. Were they hiding me? “Diplomacy isn’t my strong suit. I don’t know how they welcome foreigners. I’m usually doing reports when we return.”

Oh.

“How long will it take us to reach the Kardoval?” I asked.

“Ships land at a distance from the city.”

“So we’ll get to see some of the planet?” We were traveling through what appeared to be a fairly standard port, except it appeared nearly deserted.

“Yes.”

I watched eagerly out the windows, then gasped when we left the port.

The edge ended abruptly, falling in jagged cliffs into a deep canyon. There were roiling dark gray clouds below and lightning flashed, stabbing from the ground into the clouds. The crack in the earth stretched as far as I could see. “What is that?” I asked, my cheek pressed against the window.

“Security. If you try to pass it in a ship without the proper coating, it will fry the electrical system.” Garjah pointed. What I’d assumed were pieces of rock sticking out of the side of the canyon took on new shapes as he continued to speak. “No one makes it to the other side.”

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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 42


“Protocols. What are they?” I’d distract myself. We didn’t have time for more, and I didn’t want to meet anyone with a damp spot the only nice outfit I’d been given.

“There are not many. As we know our roles once the memories are triggered, there is little need for guidance or wisdom on our paths to take. The Kardoval mainly deal with major issues; planetary-level decisions, disciplinary judgements, and all life and death decisions are made by them.”

Maybe the noodles weren’t so good. They were suddenly a nest in my stomach. “And if I’m a risk to you, I’m dead.”

“No. You would never be harmed. We’re bonded. This is just something new. They need to see you, see us, and make sure you’re safe.” Garjah reached out and gripped my hand, squeezing it. “Eat. It may be a while before we get another chance.”

He might believe what he was saying, but that didn’t mean I did. For all his confidence, the fact the Galactic didn’t know about Four Arms meant they had to be relatively isolated, and that usually lead to xenophobic behavior. If not on the part of the ordinary citizens, certainly on the more insular leaders.

And with the reverence everyone had when speaking of the Kardoval, no one would gainsay their decisions. I’d have to be prepared for anything. It was just smart.

 

The meal sat heavy on my stomach, but Garjah didn’t seem to notice. He strode around his quarters getting things ready. We’d arrive soon, and as soon as the ship was cleared, we’d be escorted off it. I tried telling myself it was just another fact-finding mission to learn about a new species, but the uncertainty was making me fidget.

That, in turn, was setting off Bouncer. I sat on the floor next to him, stroking his pebbly cheek and down his sleekly muscled side. He was turning into quite the specimen. “Can Bouncer come with us?” Who would take care of him if I wasn’t here?

“Yes. The Kardoval wish to examine the bond he has with you, and by extension, me.” Garjah slid a box out of a storage area. He came over and crouched beside me, holding his balance with one hand on the floor. Holding the box almost ceremoniously, he slowly took off the lid.

Inside a black set of armbands lay nestled in green fabric. The circlets were the faintest of jades, even paler than Garjah’s stripes. “Would you do me the honor of wearing these armbands?” he asked.

“They’re beautiful.” I reached out to touch one, expecting stone, but it had the cold hardness of metal. I glanced at his shining eyes. “Do they mean something?”   

Garjah traced the path my finger had taken. “They were my mother’s. A symbol of all that she was, before she was taken away unexpectedly.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t—”

“You should,” Garjah cut me off to say. “Pryntiok was one of a kind, straddling two paths. She was both scientist and nurturer. It was my great honor to be her son, to learn from her. My father still mourns her passing, and poems are sung about her tragic end.”

“What end?” It hadn’t passed me by that Garjah had said she straddled two paths. His hand fell away from the armbands. “I’m sorry,” I backpedaled. “You don’t have to answer that.”

“I can.” He settled onto the floor beside me. He held the box on his lap carefully and leaned back against the bunk.

 “She was out alone, saw an animal she wanted to save, and took a risk.” Garjah glanced at Bouncer and then at me, raising his eyebrow.

“Oh, that’s different,” I said.

“How?”

“He’s not dangerous.”

Garjah rolled his eyes. “Ahem.” The noise held all his contempt for that idea. Bouncer lifted one ear, his gaze shifting to Garjah.

Okay, so maybe he was. Bouncer was definitely smart. He knew when we were speaking about him.

“Are you sure you want me to wear those, though?”

“Pryntiok was rare, almost one of a kind. You know how our memories work, how we learn, but she was different.”

He didn’t have to reinforce that quite so strongly. I’d heard the mutters and looks when Seedrah took me to get food. “It won’t make me more like you,” I warned him. “Wearing clothes like yours, jewelry. It could backfire. Maybe I should wear my old stuff.”

“It is not proper.” Garjah and I had had this argument, and it was one he’d won. “We go before the Kardoval. I would mark you as rare and unique as my mother, who was revered across the nine continents and known through four quadrants for her skills.”

Mark me? My nostrils flared. I’d marked him, and now he carried my scent. Did that not mean the same to him. “Why do you need to mark me?”

“I don’t need to,” he said quietly. “I want to.” Lifting a band from the fabric, Garjah held it out on a flat palm. “Please take it.”

Hesitating, I finally closed my hand over the outer edge of the ring. Slipping it over my left arm, I slid it up until it lodged around my bicep just below my armpit. When I took the second and went to put it over the opposite arm, Garjah shook his head. “No, no, you are not a fighter. Not security. You place both the bands on the left side.”

The metal warmed a second after I put it on, then it tightened. When I looked down, any looseness was gone, and they were like they’d grown out of my skin. I had the pants, the boots, and now the jewelry. I could take my cerops. Surely I could take my handheld. I’d snuck it into a pocket. “All set, then?”

“We are.” No sooner did he say that, than the ship hit atmosphere, shuddering around us.

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Julie Lynn Hayes


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 41

 Sorry this is late! I stabbed my hand between my thumb and forefinger yesterday evening, and it cut my writing time short. 

Garjah was still tense. He was still frowning even though he had me wrapped in his arms. As possessive as I was of him, he was of me. That was all it was.

At least I hoped that was all it was. “What about what you need?”

“You’re what I need.” Garjah stroked my face. “You’re changing everything; I want to make you comfortable.”

I pushed into his caress. He leaned down, nuzzling my cheek and then kissing the corner of my lips. I turned, needing more, hungry for the taste of him more than the food he’d brought. On my toes, I leaned against his solid chest, stroking his shoulder.

Using my tongue, I prodded the seam of his lips until they parted. My tongue could not compare to his, but I caressed him back, moaning at the salty flavor I craved. His breath puffed against my cheeks, and I closed my eyes, sinking into the pleasure building between us. The tension I’d felt, the tightness of my skin across my joints, eased until I was boneless. His arms became steel bands around my back. Only his embrace kept me on my feet.

Finally parting, gasping for air, I rested my forehead on his shoulder. Garjah stroked my back until I rolled my head back and looked at him. “You’re addictive,” I accused in a voice not at all angry about it.

Garjah chuckled. He dropped into a chair. “Sit down?” He made it a question.

Instead of taking the chair opposite him, I just sat on him. He looked amused. “Food?” He grabbed the edge of the tray and pulled it closer to us.

“Not that hungry.” I rocked closer to him, but my stomach took that moment to prove me a liar. It proclaimed its empty status with a hideous gurgle. My face heated.

“I love how your color changes.” Garjah’s eyes were lidded, and his scent thickened. “But you need to eat.” He put a hand on my hip, stilling me. “Then we need to speak of protocols.”

“Protocols?” That would not help my appetite. I slid off Garjah’s lap and into my own chair. “For meeting the Kardoval, right?”

“Partly, yes.” He took food off the tray and put it in front of me, gently placing my fork beside my plate. I stared down at the purple-flecked rounds, the green and yellow swirled nest covered in a white sauce, and the fruit I recognized from Ardra. Not exactly food in their style. I glanced at Garjah’s plate which had strips of food in similar colors to mine, and even the same white sauce. He picked up a third plate and stood.

My breath caught. “Where are you going?”

He put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Just feeding Bouncer.”

As happy as it made me he’d brought Bouncer food, I stopped him. “Do you think he’ll take it from you?” Bouncer seemed to like Garjah, but what I’d learned was that cerops were fed by their mothers in the wild, and apparently I’d take his mother’s place.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Garjah wiggled the plate. “I’m just going to set this down. He can eat it or not.”

“Oh.” He wasn’t going to try to hand feed him like I did. “All right.”

Garjah carefully approach Bouncer who’d sat up when I’d said his name. His gaze was locked on the plate in Garjah’s hands. I hoped it wasn’t breakable because it looked like… “Watch out!”

Midway through leaning down to place the plate on the floor, Bouncer, well, bounced. He pounced on the edge of the plate, tipping it so all the meat on it went flying. Garjah’s reflexes were fast, so he held onto the plate and leapt backward away from Bouncer just a second after he’d struck, but it was too late.

There was meat on the floor, on the bunk, and even one piece that went sliding into the bathroom area. Bouncer was growling as he starting eating, searching out each piece and pouncing on it before he snapped it up.

I shouldn’t. I couldn’t. I covered my mouth with one hand, wrapping two around my chest. Like that would keep it in, but no. I started laughing in big, huge gasps of sound.

Garjah turned slowly and gave me a look of utter betrayal.

“Sorry, I guess he was really hungry,” I gasped out between spasms. My sides and ribs ached, but it was hard to calm. Bouncer was so excited each time he found a new piece of food, and Garjah’s normally stoic look was gone. “He’ll clean it up, every drop.” He always did.

Shaking his head, Garjah came back to the table and dropped the empty plate onto the tray. “The bunk is a mess.”

I shrugged that off. “It needed to be changed anyway.” I glanced down at my plate, picking my fork up and twirling it in the noodles. “After earlier.” Not that I hadn’t been sitting there enjoying the way our scents mingled.

Taking the bite I managed to neatly twirl onto my fork, I hummed in appreciation. The thin strands were spicy and crispy when I bit down, for all they flexed like a softened noodle. The sauce cooled the spicy bite and was fresh with a hint of fruit. “This is great,” I managed to offer between swallowing and shoving another bite into my mouth.

“I’m glad you like it. It’s one of my favorites too, but I asked them to make something your utensil would work well with.”

“Someone show them human food?”

“Probably. Timok was there before, ensuring you would not be eating anything toxic to your system.” Garjah sliced off a bite of his block of food and swallowed it down. I tried not to imagine what else he could do just opening up like that and—


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 40

 


“And you are mine,” he said.

“Hmm?” I looked up at him, too blissed out to move. “What?”

“You said mine.” He blinked lazy eyes at me. “We belong to each other now.”

I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but I was glad I did. For days I’d been on edge, like the skin I was in was too tight, my muscles quivering on the verge of an explosion. Inside I’d been just as big of a mess, emotionally and mentally. Now all I wanted to do was sleep. “Rest.” I stroked his chest and one thigh.

The universe could stay outside our quarters for a little longer.

 

Our reprieve was not as long as I wanted, but longer than I could probably have hoped for. Bouncer’s growl at the door chime woke me, but Garjah was already out of the bed. I had even been cleaned up, my skin holding the faint traces of cleanser and the metallic tang I associated with Garjah.

He came out of the bathroom with a new uniform on, but instead of answering the door chime, he came over to me. “You’re awake.”

“Hard to miss that.” I gestured rudely toward the sound.

“Yeah.”

Garjah hovered awkwardly on the side of the bed, so I stood and pulled him down, kissing him. I ran a hand over the smooth ridges on his scalp, sliding my lips across his cheek and down his neck. Inhaling deeply as I went, I let it out with a soft sigh. That was what I needed. “You smell good.”

“You do too.” He had a pair of hands on my lower back, just above my ass. He squeezed me, then let me go. “I should probably see who that is.”

“Okay,” I agreed. I grabbed a set of pants and put them on while he checked who it was.

“Hello, Seedrah.”

“Garjah.” Seedrah inclined his head but kept his distance and didn’t even try to look into our quarters. “Are you available? There have been questions about the mission, and we are approaching the galaxy edge now. The quadrant leaders are dissatisfied dealing with an underling. They are threatening to send you directly before the Kardoval.”

The stripes across Garjah’s body didn’t change color, but Seedrah’s darkened like he was distressed even to share this news.

“I would request that. The only ones who have the wisdom to judge this are those who can see all.” Garjah turned toward me. “Do not worry, Essell. I will go speak and relay the proper security codes to ensure our prompt process to the Kardoval’s complexes.”

Bouncer was at my side, rubbing against my leg. I wasn’t sure what to say; the scientist in my still reeled at the knowledge of their racial memories and the rigid roles their society locked them into. I kept wondering if that rigidity would turn into xenophobic tendencies, and that is why they hid from the Galactic… or if there was something else.

“I need to feed Bouncer,” I said. He was mouthing my hands, sniffing and nipping lightly at my fingers when they proved empty.

“Seedrah will take you.”

The younger male’s back straightened, and he widened his shoulders and took a deep breath. “It would be my honor.”

Well, that was a weird change. He’d been very informal before, almost insulting at times. Now he’d barely look at me, and he was posturing. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. I could probably figure it out from here.”

Garjah turned his back on Seedrah, and the door slid shut with a soft hiss. I opened my mouth to say how rude that was, but Garjah captured both my cheeks in his hands. He tilted my face to lock our gazes together. “Essell, you are very different now. That will confuse the crew. Sometimes confusion can turn to fear, and fear to hate for that which caused the dishonorable emotion. Please allow Seedrah to escort you so the familiar outweighs the unknown.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way; they knew what a cerops was, they’d seen Bouncer several times, and yet many of them would hiss or rumble at him. What would they do to me, the deformed half-human, half-Four Arms hybrid?

“All right.”

 

Garjah, damn him, turned out to be right. Even with Seedrah dogging my heels I wasn’t comfortable away from Garjah’s rooms long. The looks and mutters weren’t outright comments I could object to, but it was enough to send me hurrying back to our quarters once Bouncer had his fill.

Seedrah offered to bring food, and I thanked him. Sitting with my back tucked into the corner of the bunk, I stroked Bouncer’s pebbled flanks and under his chin. He closed his big, dark eyes and rumbled contentedly.

When the door slid open, I thought it would be Seedrah but Garjah strode in instead, a tray full of food in his hands. “Food.”

I cocked my head. “What’s wrong? Is it about the Kardoval? Are you in trouble? Are they going to kill me?” The questions tumbled from my lips in a hurry, thoughts I hadn’t even realized were in the forefront of my mind.

“What? No. We will be at their complex by the next shift change. They wish to meet you, yes. But they will not harm us.” Garjah slid a hand around my waist and drew me up. “Come. Eat. You should ask me for these things if you want food.”

I stopped, twisting to look at him. “Is that why you came in here with a frown on your face? Because I asked Seedrah to get me food?”

“We are bonded. What you need, I will provide.”

“You were busy,” I pointed out. “And people were staring. I just wanted to eat in private.”

“I will get you a communicator so you can message me anytime,” Garjah said. “I will bring you whatever you need.”

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