Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 60

 


“Aren’t you hungry?” Cheisumn asked. “You must have traveled a long way.”

“We did. But these pleasures are not meant to be eaten alone. Please, can we have the use of some cups and a bowl?”

She rolled a table over, the dishes upon it clattering on the bumpy rug. “Anything else?”

“No, but thank you for the hospitality of your shop.” Garjah flicked something from his pocket to her, and she caught it and winked.

“What was that?” I hissed.

“Cred card.”

“A what?” I scritched the bumpy skin behind Bouncer’s ears, but he barely flicked them in annoyance.

“I paid her. A good sum, but then it was for than the nuts and milk. You had a good eye, Essell. Are you sure you haven’t taken part in intrigue and espionage before?”

“What?” I glanced at the pair of men on the other bench. They weren’t even pretending not to listen to our conversation. How rude! “No, of course not.” I nudged Garjah, lifting my eyebrows and glancing at the men when he looked my way.

“Ah yes. Now that I have everything prepared. Gentlemen, can I interest you in a little snack?” I gaped at Garjah. What? These were who we had to give it away to? The two stood readily enough, but I noticed, with dismay, that there were four cups on the rolling table. Garjah picked up two, handing me one.

“Thank you,” one of the men said politely. He lifted the cup. “To generosity.”

“To curiosity,” said the other.

“To audacity,” Garjah said.

They all looked at me. “What am I supposed to say?” I lifted the cup nervously. “Um, to humanity?” I mean, all their words rhymed. It was all I could think of. The second Four Arms snorted.

“It fits.” He tilted his cup toward me, and I could tell he had a lot more in there than Garjah had put in mine. Thank the stars! From the look on Garjah’s face, I couldn’t get out of drinking the swill. I gagged the second it hit my tongue, the burning acid stripping away taste buds before the funk coated my teeth, tongue, and cheeks.

I desperately wished for some plain water.

“Great,” Garjah choked out.

“Pure heaven.”

“Delightful.”

They all looked at me again. Damn Garjah for not giving me enough information to go on. Then again, I probably would have insisted on staying in the shuttle if he’d told me I’d have to drink this stuff. “Tastes great…” The tip of my tongue touched the roof of my mouth, and I gagged. I clapped a hand over my mouth and swallowed convulsively, not wanting to vomit.

It was close.

The men were smiling, clapping Garjah on the back. The first one spoke up. “I am Chaintrik. This is Swintik. Teams were sent out when you were noticed.”

“I thought they might be. We stopped at the first seller with the sign on her stall outside.”

“Sign? What sign? And why are these guys so friendly all of a sudden?” Gone were the blank expressions and standoffish postures. They were smiling and leaning against the table, looking for all the world like they were old friends with Garjah instead of strangers.

“You drank the nut milk and appreciated it. We know you’re safe.”

I blinked. That made no sense. “What?”

“Lying is almost unknown in our culture. Some word play, sleight of tongue, perhaps, but outright lies? No.”

“But to be a rebel means to embrace many new things,” Swintik said. “Anyone who can drink nut milk and compliment it clearly is a liar.”

“And we like liars.” Chaintrik grinned.

Narrowing my eyes, I considered their logic. “Mereval lied to me.” How did Garjah explain that?

“Did she? Or did she just not tell you the whole truth?”

Stars! He had a point. She had evaded revealing her true motives by revealing ones that I wouldn’t like but that would make me stop looking for deeper deceptions. “But that doesn’t mean she can’t like in action instead of words.”

Chaintrik shrugged. “There is a difference,” he insisted.

Garjah clamped a hand over the bands on my arm. “Agreed.” I clamped my lips shut and let him speak. This was his show, after all.

“Shall we go? Perhaps get a real meal and drink?” Swintik piled his cup on the tray with Chaintrik. The bag of acoji nuts were tucked into his belt.

“Lead the way.” Garjah watched him intently. Chaintrik hurried over and peeked through the doorway into the main room.

“It’s clear.”

The pair of them grabbed the rug and pulled it back. Underneath was a wooden floor and several of the slats were discolored. A trap door.

We had to go underground? I shivered, and Bouncer pushed against my hip. I dropped a hand to his head. He’d hate this. I didn’t like the idea of it either.

Swintik lead the way, stepping onto a panel that slid smoothly down before it rose again, empty. “I will go first,” Garjah said. “Stay with Bouncer.”

“Like he’s going anywhere.” My cerops shadow was close enough to press against me and force me to lean into him so I wasn’t pushed over. His claws were also out, scraping lightly on the wood floor.

Apprehensive, I listened as Garjah went down, but nothing happened. Snorting I shook my head.

Bouncer and I took the pad down next, and I knelt to be closer to him just in case. Not hiding, just… a precaution. My head wouldn’t be where someone expected it to be.

But the pad stopped in a small room light with adaptive lights. They highlighted shadows, throwing Garjah’s strong features into relief and emphasizing the strong muscles of his torso as he captured me in a hug.

“We made it,” he said. “And we’re getting in.”

Swintik was feeding something the acoji nuts. It turned in half, bent over its back, and blinked large, yellow eyes at Essell.

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J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 59

 

Wishful thinking. The market was chaos with Four Arms everywhere, but all eyes were on me. If the Kardoval were looking for us, and people wanted to turn us in, we’d be easy to find.

I had to hope the rebels here would accept Garjah. I wasn’t sure if they’d be more or less suspicious with me in tow, but he’d refused to leave me in the shuttle. Bouncer had been equally insistent on coming with me, so he paced at my side.

Maybe they weren’t staring at me so much. The predator with poisonous claws would probably make any sane person nervous. Especially after the first thing Garjah did was buy some meat and start tossing it to him as we walked.

“What are you doing?” I hissed. “Can you be any more obvious?” Weren’t we supposed to be hiding?

“I’m sure anyone who might be alert to my appearance already knows I am here. If I were coming at the head of a security force, you would not be by my side and I would not be walking with a cerops and feeding him.”

Oh. I hadn’t thought about that. “You’re making it seem like we’re on vacation.”

“I don’t take vacations.”

I flapped a hand at him, scowling. “Don’t try to twist words. Here for leisure, not business. Or arresting people, since that is what you do.”

Garjah raised his eyebrows, his nostrils narrowing as he looked down on me. “I do far more than that.” He sounded insulted. “Peacekeepers arrest those who are guilty of crimes.”

“I really need to figure out all the job roles you guys have specialized,” I muttered. “Or I’m going to keep sticking my foot in it.”

Garjah looked down, already shifting us to the side of the narrow path we were walking beside the busy street. A pair of Four Arms crouching in a doorway grumbled, looked up, then shot to their feet and into the darkened recesses of the shop without another complaint. “What did you step in?” He eyed Bouncer suspiciously.

Rolling my lips in, I bit the bottom one, trying to hold in my laugh. I snorted, then choked on the giggle that somehow made its way out my nose with a nasal honking. Garjah stared at me like I was insane.

Okay, I was the insane one for using an obscure human idiom and then laughing, well, not so normally but still. He’d brought me to a remote small city to buy unpalatable food and drink and give them away to indicate our good intentions to rebels determined to bring down the government that he’d supported right up to that very afternoon.

If the light wasn’t fading, I’d have taken him somewhere to explain how the joke was on him. Instead I pointed to a shop with a small booth in front, bins full of different foods, some raw, some prepared, propped up on table lit up with spotlights in the corners of the awnings. “Aren’t those the acoji nuts you wanted?”

“Oh yeah, come on.” He took one last careful scan of the ground, as if checking for waste or anything else unpleasant that would soil his feet, and then towed me across the road between shuttles zooming past. By the time we made it, my heart was racing as fast as the vehicles had been.

“Isn’t there a crossing path through that?” I asked breathlessly, watching the shuttles weaving together. “Why do they have to fly so low anyway? Why not stay above the streets?”

“Above them? Why would we do that? Then no one will know the shops are open and come to see who is here and what they can buy.” The food seller winked. “I’ve never seen your kind before.” She tilted her head, examining me. “Four Arms, but no markings, and all that fuzz on you.” Both her eyebrows went up. “Hmm. Looking for exotic foods from some strange planet are you?”

Cheisumn, as the name above the cafe and food stall announced her, only shook her head. “Well think again. Not much import allowed from them.” She pointed a long graceful finger at us. “Come with me. I may be able to rustle something for some weary travelers long in the seat.”

As they followed her into the building, she paused when Bouncer followed me. Her eyes rounded so wide, she almost lost them. “That… animal—”

“Is my friend,” I interrupted her. “He goes with me. Everywhere. All the time.” That wasn’t strictly true, but I wasn’t going to equivalize right then.

She glanced at me, then Garjah, who was standing just behind and beside me, hefting the bag of nuts. I’d peeked into it once, and never again. It reeked of something like three day old body suits when the sweat had made the collar both sticky and stiff plus dead. Something had to be dead inside those oblong little white spheres. They looked more like shriveled organs left in fluids too long; the skin on the outside sloughing off with the gentlest of touches, the insides both wrinkled and swollen with fluids.

Disgusting.

Almost as bad as the tuber milk. Milk came from processors, not plants! When I’d told that to Garjah the first time he’d offered some of the thin, red fluid with a last meal, he’d looked at me like I was mentally deficient. For all their technology, they were a very agrarian society. I’d grown up too much on stations and planets with little plant life hospitable to humans.  

And of course, tuber milk is what Cheisumn handed Garjah. “Here, here. Sit, sit.” She pointed to a low bench against the far wall. Two men were already on another bench against the other wall, a window open to the night air bringing in the scent of dust and moist, heavy heat.

Bouncer sat at my knees, his gaze fixed on the two strangers.

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J Ray Lamb

Julie Lynn Hayes 


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 58

 

I leaned heavy against Garjah, and he gripped my hips with two hands, locking our lower bodies together. Despite being on top and having leverage, and two sets of arms, there was no way I was getting away from him.

Good thing I didn’t want to.

“We don’t have anything to slick the way.” His voice was a low rumble that vibrated against my chest.

“Hmm, guess we’ll have to do something else.” I wormed a hand between our bodies. My shaft was slender beside his, but rigid. He was flexible, the control he had over his shaft amazing as he rubbed in slow pulses until I gripped both our shafts together.

He grunted. “Tight.”

“Mmhmm.” Keeping up the torment, I used the same small strokes he’d used to keep stimulating our shafts. His wide shoulders, so capable of carrying the burdens others placed on them, eased as I massaged them with all the strength I had in my fingers. Knots gently eased, and his breathing picked up slowly as Garjah’s hips got into the thrusts I barely allowed through my grip.

I grinned fiercely as I watched him slowly relax and let go as the arousal I sent through him peaked. This was something only I could do for him. His eyes bare slits, Garjah palmed my face with two hands and brought me down to meet his lips. We kissed, sharing taste and scent, breath and pants and soft caresses for long moments until my balls began to ache. Need growing myself, I eased my hold and started thrusting in counterpoint to his surges.  

Garjah gasped, or maybe I did. Pleasure skittered down my spine, and I stiffened. My knees dug into the chair, my thighs clamped around his hips, and I came. Arching backward, one hand on the back of the chair and the other holding so tight to his shoulder it’d bruise, I striped Garjah’s stomach with my pale come.

I panted heavily through the pleasure, the touch almost too much as I kept stroking. Garjah’s growl was growing in his chest. I leaned my head against his shoulder, kissing then licking his salt-tinged flesh. I drew a deep bite in then sucked hard.

“Essell!” Garjah barked. He jackknifed in the chair, and I held on so he didn’t spill me onto the shuttle’s floor. The muscles in his stomach were rigid, and he came in flowing ribbons that coated us both. The salty musk of his scent increased, and I sank boneless against him when he fell back into the chair. I rose and fell on his chest as he struggled for air, but I was too drugged on the pleasure and utter release of stress I felt in his arms to even consider moving.

Closing my eyes, I snuggled closer. Garjah let me relax until I shivered. “We should clean up and get dressed. Your skin is too delicate.”

“Not really.” It was warm outside, so the cool air was circulating through the shuttle. I’d noticed Garjah had no fine body hair like I did. “It’s just the hair on my back getting tickled in the breeze.”

“You do not have hair here.” He stroked a hand down the muscles alongside my spine, and I almost arched and purred. It felt good. I’d have to ask for a massage later.

“I do too. They’re almost invisible though.” Garjah peered over my shoulder. “It is soft, not prickly.”

“Most human’s hair is only prickly if they shave it. On women, that’s usually their legs and underarm. For men, their faces.” I stopped to consider that. “And sometimes their back and chest.”

“Why?” he asked.

I opened my mouth, paused, then closed it. “Evolution. Sometimes it leaves us with weird automatic functions that make no sense.”

Of course Garjah had cleansing wipes in the shuttle, though I had to push Bouncer away when he got a little too interested in the smells ponging off my body when I leaned down to get my clothes. Apparently the wipes got us clean, but they didn’t cover up the scent at all. “Bouncer, no, go lay down.” He was persistent, coming back for more with his mouth open and cloth pushed the cerops away from my lower belly where the soft fur on his face tickled my skin and sent ripples through my muscles.

“We will be there soon,” Garhah sad. “You should buckle back in.”

I was fascinated by the glimpses of the strange animals and plants we passed, but as the time went by, I was forced to accept  If ad three wishes, I’d ask for all the time in the world to explore this planet and touch Garjah and be touched in return.

Meeting up with rebels who opposed the government was not on the plan. Then again, nothing had been according to the plan since I’d landed on Ardra.

“How are we going to find the rebellion people?”

“There’s a place they meet, Dytokshun market, and a signal. A phrase you have to say while you buy acoji nuts and a skin of tuber milk.”

Tuber milk? “Do we have to actually buy the things we order?” The expression on my face must have shown my disgust because Garjah chuckled. He shook his head.

“We do not. They will not go to waste, however; giving them away is part of the identification.”

“Oh good. I can give away tuber milk all day long.” Something about the process fermented it, and the one time I’d tried it, I’d nearly thrown it up right there. I’d tried a lot of things over the years, but that was the worst. I wasn’t sure how getting a container of that was considered a gift and not a curse.

I squinted at the map then looked at the lights on the horizon. The city was larger than I expected, but it was still a lone star of lights in the otherwise dark landscape. Did it really scream freedom or was that just wishful thinking on my part?                                                                                  

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Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Chapter 57

 

Cooperation was one of my mother’s three basic tenets for first contact. These aliens had protected me, fed me, healed me, changed my body to be like theirs, and probably forever isolated me from the rest of humanity when they did that.

Someone would find the crashed skimmer and make the wrong conclusion. Sonez wouldn’t check too extensively, just order a scan of the surface of the planet from orbit and examination of a few days travel in either direction of the spot.

There were plenty of predators large enough on the planet to consume a human. Someone who was thorough might question where my suit was or the other missing equipment I took with me, but he was anything but thorough.

Odds are, he’d blame me for stealing the skimmer, say I crashed it on purpose, ruin my reputation and declare me dead.

Which left me with a decision to make. Did I let the rest of the Galactic believe that I was dead and help Garjah resolve this with his people and close the rift with the Kardoval? Or did I shock everyone and push the Four Arms to expose themselves to the rest of the universe and reveal my status as very much alive but irrevocably changed?

Rather than answering me, Garjah pulled up a map. “This is the city. We’re here.” He indicated a dark spot on the ordered map. He wasn’t joking when he said those in the snarl didn’t like to be ordered. Apparently it was so disorganized not even a satellite map was visible. “This is the port and the ship.” He tapped a white dot.

“We’re not going there.” They’d have to be waiting for that. I toyed with the arm bands, unable to sit still and do nothing. Bouncer had eased to the floor and had fallen asleep, so I’d lost the blanket over my legs.

“Of course not. I wouldn’t put the crew in danger.” Garjah shook his head. “I am not that na├»ve, even if I do not play political games. There are things the Kardoval don’t know about me.”

The things I did know about him I could recount with the fingers on four hands… in other words, not that much. Was I surprised he was hiding things from the beings that ruled his entire culture?

Actually, yeah. “You seem like such a rule follower.”

“I am. I am not the one breaking custom. Besides, I did not lie when I became Garjah. Securing the fate of our people is part of my nature. It is not against the laws to fail to reveal that I straddled two paths. Pryntiok was both ti, a nurturer, and ok, a scientist. My father was a government official; he saw the danger of the admitting I had both his memories and his father’s.”

My lips parted, and I stared at him. The bracelets… “You should have these. You’re like your mother.”

“They wouldn’t fit me.” Garjah smiled. “Besides, I am more like my greatfather than anyone else. He trained me.” He grew serious, his thin nostrils flaring. “He was afraid for the direction our people were going too.”

“Why afraid?”

“Nine continents. Billions of beings whose voices are smothered or ignored until many of them have no choice but to fight back. Three of the four quadrants have sent envoys asking for advice about encroachments, as they’re even closer to galactic space.

“I worry the fourth hasn’t even contacted us in nearly a cycle. After we filled the ship, it was supposed to be the next stop on our check of the boundaries of our space.”

“I messed that up,” I said ruefully.

“It wasn’t your fault. None of this has been.” Garjah shook his head. “You are just the latest in a long line of reasons they will seize upon for their excuse to remain in power.”

“That’s it, I don’t get it. Why would joining the Galactic take them out of power?”

Sighing, Garjah pointed to a dark dot on the map on a lower continent. “That’s where I think we’ll find the answer. I know the resistance has a base there; I kept it a secret.”

“From the Kardoval?”

Closing the map, Garjah said, “From everyone, except you that is.”

“So no one will know where we are going?”

“No one.”

 

To say I was nervous as we flew over the planet was an understatement. We were alone. There was no back up. Garjah was the face of security in the government, and we were going to confront people who were against the government.

There was a chance we could disappear just as permanently as Sonez would make me in the Galactic.

“How long until we get there?”

“Past nightfall.”

Bouncer was asleep. The shuttle was autolocked onto the coordinates of the location Garjah had showed me. There was only so much much oohing and ahhing I could do from above. I longed to explore, learn, if not touch.

There was something I could do. Or someone. We were safe for the moment. The seats weren’t spacious or comfortable, but we could make it work in a pinch.

“What are you doing?” Garjah’s eyes flared wide, his green skin darkening. My nipples peaked in the cool air on the shuttle as soon as I stripped my shirt over my head.

“Multitasking. I’m a scientist; I’m good at it.” As I spoke I pushed down my pants. In another moment I stood naked. “Your turn.”

“Is it?”

“Mmhmm.” Garjah had swiveled his chair sideways; I stood between his legs. “Arms up.” His wide chest invited touch, and I stroked him, tracing the patterns across his defined muscles. “Lift.”

I had no idea how to remove his boots, so I left his pants bunched at his ankles. He didn’t need to stand anyway. Crawling onto his thick thighs, I straddled his legs. My erection had grown as I stripped him, and I pressed it against him. 

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Julie Lynn Hayes


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Wednesday Briefs: Ancalagon Ch. 56

 

Garjah tapped the screen on his transport. He tapped it again and growled.

“What?” I asked. I was sitting in the seat opposite him and Bouncer was crowded in close. To say the meeting hadn’t ended well was an understatement. Garjah was pulling an implacable unmoving object on the Kardoval, which scared me.

Everything I’d overheard, or was directly told before we’d arrived, was about how powerful they were and how much everyone revered and respected their unique abilities. Maybe I hadn’t spent enough time among the different Four Arms, interacting while they worked, to learn the difference but they seemed like any other group of leaders to me.

Cagey, willing to use deception and misdirection to achieve their aims, and secrecy above and beyond anything else. What was it that drove them, and the rest of Garjah’s species to want to remain so isolated?

No, it wasn’t all of them. Lenveval had said there was growing dissent to the isolation in recent generations. That meant those with the view hadn’t changed their mind and had passed it on to those they birthed. How many generations back? How many dissenters? Was this a biological imperative or a cultural development?

The scientist in me itched to find out more. The scared human, especially as the only human on an entire planet, wanted to find my own special place to hide. Lost in my thoughts, it took a quick change and turn to the right to jar me from them. We hadn’t made any abrupt turns before. “What? Where are we going? What’s wrong?”

Garjah’s entire body was tensed. “We are being followed.”

“And the evasion technique? It’s not like everyone doesn’t know where you live.”

“We are not going back to my house.” Garjah pulled up and we flitted away from the street level and into a maze of buildings I was amazed existed just behind the main thoroughfare. They were fanciful, angled, some with arches and others with towers that leaned in crazy angles.

And other transports were careening through them at speeds even greater than ours. Bouncer’s claws scrabbled against the floor as we tilted sideways, and I caught him in a vise grip around his chest. I draped him over my lap and clamped my lower arms over his back. To calm both of us, I rubbed his head and hushed him when he growled. The transport was silent, but the tension was thick enough to feel like an oppressive shield.

I tried to move and make as little noise as possible. All four of Garjah’s arms were moving at the same time, and he was operating the controls, tapping on the screen, and rapidly scrolling something on the edge of his seat. We narrowly missed being clipped by a stinger shaped skimmer that was emitting a harsh ripple of light in its wake.

Closing my eyes led to my stomach lurching with every unexpected movement, so I dealt with the abrupt stops to my heartbeat whenever I watched Garjah save us from a crash or make a turn skim divers in propel suits would be proud to execute on a professional course.

Nausea, the rapid changes to my blood pressure, and the acute stress of the entire day had tense my body to painful rigidity. I wanted to blast this entire culture and their crazy… “Stars bedamned!” I choked out the words as we came to an abrupt halt, nose down in a darkened parking cube.

“I haven’t had that much fun in ages.”

Fun? I was going to have bruises on my bruises. Bouncer was still growling. I would need more than two hands to count how often we’d almost died, so it was a good thing I’d evolved to grow two more. That made me think about the Kardoval and all the hypocrisy left behind.

“How is this fun? Your leaders sent people to follow us because my ship is looking for me, a reasonable action when someone goes missing by the way. You drove like an insane person; we could have died. A lot.”

“People can only die once in each mortal form.”

Dealing with his stolid logic was going to make me scream. “You know what I mean,” I said sharply. The faint smile on his face after that proved I was right.

“We may have to wait. This is the snarl; each building is prided on being unique, and the community likes being on the outskirts of the tranditionalists structure. Zoning is impossible, and so many of the building foundations and levels are supported together they can’t untangle the mess. Any who skim through the area is tagged for reimbursement to the sector. I’ve never hit another transport or even tapped a building.” Garjah was smug, but had he even heard what he just said?

“Tagged? Who oversees that? Who could intercept an image of our vehicle, tag it, and make it so we can’t fly out of here?”

“No one,” Garjah said.

“What—” I was cut off when we spoke at the same time. I loved a good mystery, the same as the next bored spacer without a planet to explore, but I wasn’t about to show my ignorance on this one. Thankfully, Garjah took pity on me.

“So we wait. When they give up, we’ll creep out, join the main thoroughfare and start traveling again.”

“Where?” I understand now the politics. The Kardoval and the opposition, the old and new were locked in a dance that repeated itself through history. Should we stay, or should we go? Hide or reveal ourselves?

Once upon a time, the Four Arms would have always said the Kardoval were right; but now enough had joined the ranks to actually create a strong opposition. Too many felt like the galactic was the right way to go; hiding behind shields lost all the benefits participating the wider universe would garner.

Because of course there’s an opposition that Garjah used to hunt down that we’re now running straight to. Made perfect sense.

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Julie Lynn Hayes