Like a previous chapter, I need to post this scene and move on. Con: It took far too long to write, and I still really wanna tweak the flow. Pro: I wrote more than twice what I am posting, because Kin kept spouting thoughts that had me groaning “Don’t reveal that now. Wait until later!” So, yay! I have lots of words already written for ‘later.’
There Be Mature Content Here
Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.
(So, there isn’t any explosive mature content in this installment, but I thought it best to keep this noitce posted. You know, because there could be mature explosions at any time, as the explosive mood takes hold… and stuff.)
Kinixys exited his private lavatory. Anxiously holding his breath, he darted his much improved gaze over his modest chamber. He skipped over the sole occupant, who was leaning against the closed doors, and exhaled in disappointment.
His shoulders drooped.
Wait. His shoulders actually drooped?
A low, self-disgusted snarl rumbled his chest. Unacceptable.
By Aku Himself, he was Sub-Commander Kinixys Strazar Dobar Umara, The Last of the Bale! If Rez wasn’t in his chamber—where he wanted her—then he would hunt her down and carry her back, dammit. If he must, he would dash from chamber to chamber until he had her slung over his ‘never-should-have-drooped’ shoulder.
There. He had a simple, one step, easily executable plan. Well, more of task, really. Shouldn’t take but a moment or two.
A reviving second wind rushed through him, straightening his spine and clicking his carapace scutes.
He slid his gaze back to the only other occupant in his chamber, and he bowed his head. “How can I further serve you this afternoon, High Umara?”
His mother, Trionya Ferir Calcitravi Natha, the High Umara, shook her head at him. “Still so tactless, Sub-Commander.”
Her criticism was unquestionably valid. He had brazenly carried out her command to address the ‘evidence of a hasty dalliance’ by rushing through cleansing and changing. He also insolently disregarded her authority and discretion by requesting, rather than awaiting, any addition instructions. Last but not least, he furthered the insult by daring to include an impending time constraint—this afternoon.
His eyesight had recovered sufficiently that he watched her pass her gaze over him in distaste. “You are risking Emys’s match by pursuing a mate out of turn, Sub-Commander.”
He wouldn’t deny that he wanted Rez, but the rest of the accusation was nonsense. True, female siblings mated before any males to ensure the continuation of the Bale. Only then would a Bale seek to make advantageous matches with extraneous males.
“I am not risking Emys’s match,” he tempered his tone, hoping he sounded matter-of-fact. “Ryorin has voiced no criticisms about Emys.”
“And he lavishes her with no praise, either.” Then she mumbled. “None publicly, by Aku.”
He knew his mother was referring to Emys and Ryorin’s frequent, private rendezvouses. Hell, the entire Bale tracked how often those two sequestered themselves away from prying eyes. Kin had tried to send microdrones after them, but the mates-to-be had disabled each and every one. As far was he was concerned, that shifty pair was made for one another.
Out loud, though, he would readily declare Ryorin an unworthy fuckface; except when dealing with his mother.
Then, he would always have Emys’s back. “My sibling has her mate-to-be well in hand. You needn’t worry about their private goings-on.”
His mother shrugged. “Their goings-on are worrisome if what that male declares in private remains unspoken before Aku, the Umara, and the Akupara Bale.”
He couldn’t contradict his mother. The Umara surname traced back to the beginning of all Bales, yet Ryorin Alast had been the only male to court Emys. It burned Kin’s pride to admit it, but—although that conceited male was not worthy of Emys—the Umara were lucky to have him.
Ever since the decline of the Umaras, Kin’s Bale had toiled amongst the bottom feeders of the Akupara social hierarchy. The Umara had been reduced to a single mothership that possessed no fighter squadrons, and until the mission on Warren’s, hadn’t seen planetfall in over a generation. Not since Kezonta, once High Umara and his grandmother, had ruined them all.
Truly, just look at the Umara. His Bale was searching for an egg donor on a failed human colony, that had been abandoned by its homeworld, because the Umara had no other options.
“And Ryorin took no issue with you initiating the courtship of the human female chosen to supply DNA for his future hatchlings?” His mother’s question pulled him from his own dismal thoughts.
Now that he considered Ryorin’s recent behavior, his sibling’s mate-to-be hadn’t uttered a single challenge about the tousled state of Kin and Rez when the security detail had found them. Nor had Ryorin mentioned Rez’s torn pants or Kin’s stained crotch.
“None, High Umara,” he answered truthfully, but it unsettled him.
He’d never entertained the notion that Ryorin was on Warren’s, associating with the Umara, purely for Emys’s sake.
“Well, if Ryorin has no objection, then take the female—”
“Rez,” He cut in. “Just Rez. That is all.”
His mother huffed. “Just Rez?”
Fine, he would oblige her stubbornness. “Rez, the Only Runner of Two-Four-Kay.”
His mother, as he knew she would, harrumphed. “A Runner.”
Kin felt a familiar shame—which was rooted in an aberrance of all things fast and first—rising within him. He pushed back against the old vanguard values. By Aku, it tore at his gut, but he refused to view Rez through the eyes of his people. They would catalogue her best features as flaws. Rushing to conclusions. Constantly changing her mind. Proud of her status as a runner for her people…
Rez viewed none of those traits as less. Then why should he?
“Runner or not,” said his mother. “She still needs to be tested as an egg donor.”
“No.” The word shot forth from him.
He dismissed his mother’s astonished gaping. Rez couldn’t undergo the battery of medical tests. Her secret—her flash hairs and mixed humanity—would be revealed.
“For what reason, Sub-Commander?”
Oh, that was ridiculously easy to answer, whether he was guarding Rez’s secret or not. “She’s mine.”
His mother narrowed her eyes. “You’re missing an important descriptor there, Hatchling Mine.”
“A descriptor designating her role to you, and thus through you, her connection to the Bale.”
Apparently he needed to speak more plainly. “I claim Rez as my mate, High Umara.”
His mother gaped at him again, blinked once, then railed, “You can’t claim your sister’s egg donor for a mate!”
Claiming her might be a scandalous breach of decorum, but it wasn’t strictly forbidden. When he claimed Rez outright—and not merely in a private audience with his mother—he would tell any detractors to fuck the hell off.
Oh. And he would obviously want Rez there—as she should be—for her own claiming…
Right. He mustn’t forget that bit.
But he was getting off topic.
Since he was striving toward an additional goal beyond claiming Rez—which was to elevate his Bale, he would graciously use his skills to satisfy everyone. “I shall acquire another female for my sibling.”
There. Problem solved.
His mother huffed, probably because the solution was distastefully expeditious in both concept and execution, let alone swiftly delivered by him, her least favorite hatchling.
She slowly ran her gaze over him. He knew his mother well. She was assessing and scheming.
She canted her head. “You will bring back another human female.”
Was that a question or a demand? Emys often pulled that same shit. He was terrible at discerning an interrogative from a declarative. His mother’s head gesture conveyed ‘this ought to be good’ but her tone rose at the end, mimicking inquiry.
Whatever. He would treat it as both.
He nodded once, committing himself. “I’ll acquire another female.”
Hell, if it meant he could keep the only human that he wanted, he would acquire dozens of females for the Bale. Indeed, he could comfortably accommodate four or five females slung over his shoulders per haul.
And he knew exactly where to acquire them.
Last evening—after settling Rez in the medical bay and then having his sight healed—he’d reviewed the data feed from his microdrones positioned within and about Two-Four-Kay. He’d seen Kletka mercenaries prowling through streets devoid of any humans. There was no production at the mine. No pillaging. No rustling up prisoners for transport. The humans were huddled into a few buildings. The drones had found evidence of a few casualties, but otherwise, the Kletka were apparently holding the entire settlement hostage for no obvious gain.
Kin was fully willing and prepared to take advantage of the Kletka’s lack of foresight and stage a rescue mission.
Of a single human female…
For his sibling’s happiness and the good of his Bale…
And partially to give his sibling’s fuckface mate-to-be no platform for criticism.
“You look doubtful, Sub-Commander,” his mother said.
Yes. He most certainly was.
He couldn’t guarantee his Bale the most amazing female because he’d already claimed Rez for his own. But surely there must be one other female worthy of the shelter of the Bale?
He would worry about that later. Now he needed to find Rez and ensure she understood, in clear and plain terms, that she’d been claimed.
Arousal immediately thrummed through him as he envisioned her swift jab to his throat.
By Aku, he could hardly wait to tell her the wondrous news.
As Rez ran through Briarwood, she measured each stride, making sure that Pyxis could keep up. The temptation to open her throttle and speed away was nipping at her.
You know, she could totally out run Pyx. Easily.
But, she kinda didn’t want to.
What would be the point in that? Pyx had already crowned her the faster runner between them. If she chose to haul hell-bent for leather now, she would get no satisfaction from it.
Sure, Pyx would cheer and praise her, but he wouldn’t be stupefyingly impressed. It wouldn’t stun him into a gratifyingly mute moment of stoically astounded awe.
Not that she wanted to blow anyone’s mind. She was just saying…
And since she was in a saying mood, she might as well add that Pyx was doing an admirable job of holding his own. Rez had set a steady pace at about twice the speed of an average human, and the Akupara was trailing right along behind her. Although Pyx was not as bulky or tall as Kin—just a measly six-five-ish to her five-six-ish, the guy was covered from head-to-toe in the Akupara’s flexible armor and still he’d maintained their run.
That thought had her stumble a step before she righted herself.
Kin, that sneaky asswipe.
She’d almost cracked a freaking molar keeping her impatience in check as she’d led him through Briarwood, assuming him to be both blind and slow. Well, the blind part was true, but Kin’s speed and the goddamn direction that they had been traveling were both lies.
A low, simmering resentment, as well as wounded pride, had her sucking a bit more wind than she usually did on a run like this.
Kin had made a fool of her, but even worse, she’d made a bigger fool of herself. The millisecond she stepped outside of the Bale ship and her toes gripped the grass and her eyes spotted the sea, she’d known they weren’t in the Chaparral. Yet she’d clung to Kin in the sea, then climbed him like a damn cliff face—tossing aside his deception and her own gullibility.
Slowing her pace, she blew a fuming breath through her nose, flaring her nostrils like a damn bull. If Kin were there now, she would charge the jerk and knock his ass to the ground.
And then punch him in the throat.
Within a second, Pyx was standing next to her.
Well, not so much standing as fidgeting.
“Are we here?” His blank faceplate swiveled from side to side as he twisted his torso to gaze behind them. “Is this it?”
Rez gawked at the Akupara.
Pyx didn’t move like this brother at all. His entire being vibrated with eager curiosity that kept him in constant, fluid motion. As opposed to Kin, who had always loomed next to her like a dark hearted sentinel. The difference was so stark, she’d already asked Pyx several times—and in several ways—if he and Kin were truly brothers. Pyx assured that they were, from the same clutch of eggs and everything.
Pyx pivoted back to her, dipping his faceplate down toward her. “Is it?”
With Kin, gazing into his blank faceplate had always been accompanied by tightly strung tension. She never knew his thoughts…
She parroted hollowly back to Pyx. “Is it?”
Pyx tipped his helmet, well his head. “Are we here? At the human settlement?”
Right. Save the settlement. Forget Kin. Moving on.
“Close enough,” she mumbled as she surveyed their surroundings.
She’d deliberately stopped about a league away from Two-Four-Kay. She had no choice. She’d been too distracted by her anger toward Kin to properly scout her approach. Which meant, she had no clue if they’d tripped any Kletka security detection or not.
If she did? Well, she’d deal with it like she dealt with everything—using her flash and her fists.
“Huh.” Pyx nodded once, rather agreeably, “Close enough.”
Then he spun back around and resumed his endless head-swiveling.
Good god. Pyx was gonna snap his own neck on his quest to see everything.
Rez grumped as she walked away from him. He was not her problem. She was in no way responsible for him, and besides, he didn’t listen to her anyway. She’d told him that she was just gonna dash over to Two-Four-Kay for, like, a quick sec. Get an update beyond ‘what the hell is going?!’. Then dash on back to the Bale.
Seriously. She very much appreciated Pyx’s tidbits about the Kletka occupation, but she only would’ve been gone for five to ten minutes, tops. Maybe fifteen if she had to dodge any Kletka patrols.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to dodge Pyx.
While she’d lost precious seconds avoiding the Akupara sentries within the corridors of the Bale, Pyx had managed to suit up in his armor and track her down at the seaside cliff, where she had been cautiously peering over the edge and swearing.
Give her break. That particular door was the only sure-fire exit point that she knew.
Pyx had snuck with her—back through the Bale—to another exit. Now, here he was with her—just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the settlement. The eager guy was twitching like a two ton kitten revving itself up to pounce the shit outta something.
Fine. She’d just point him toward a Kletka or six. Maybe even toward Rogers.
Chuckling to herself at that image—Pyx tackle hugging the settlement’s useless leader, she thumped her foot rhythmically on the forest floor.
“Should I do that too?”
Rez jolted and spun around. “Shit, Pyx!”
He was there, right behind her. “Should I thump the ground with my foot?”
She sighed. “No.”
“Are you sure?” His faceplate batted between gazing from his foot to hers. “It seems unnecessary, but I still wanna do it.”
Two ton kitten…
Really, what harm would it do? Joia would hear it and definitely know—if she already didn’t—that Rez wasn’t alone.
She shrugged and gestured toward Pyx’s humungous feet. “Go for it. Knock yourself out.”
Pyx jerked and then froze. Which was weird, since he’d been vibrating non-stop since they’d left the Bale. “And it’s dangerous!”
His delight unbalanced her. “Um, well—”
Pyx’s wild stomping cut her off. “This is fabulous! Am I doing it right?”
Right? The mining equipment simply shimmied compared to his seismic footfalls.
She nodded quickly. “Awesome. Good.” No response. “Stop.”
He raise his faceplate from his foot. “Really? It was good?”
She patted him on his armored shoulder as she stamped out a subtle reassurance to Joia. “Totally nailed it, Pyx.”
By ‘nailed it’, he surely alerted the entire planet that he was in Briarwood.
Pyxis nodded again. “Outstanding.” Then he cocked his head. “What message did I just stomp out?” He shrugged. “I was kinda winging it.”
Her mind went blank. “Um… ‘I come in peace?’”
Pyx reared back. “That is not how I come at all. I’m a geyser.”
She just gaped at him.
“Truly, I gush.” He shrugged and then pivoted away from her. “Look! Someone new!”
With her mouth hinged open, she shifted her gaze.
Oh thank fuck! Joia!
Joia, always deeply suspicious, returned Rez’s gaping stare from a generously safe distance away.
Joia’s wide-eyed astonishment flicked between Rez and Pyx. “Rez?”
“It’s all good, Joia,” Rez said as she again thumped ‘all’s clear’ with her foot.
Rez knew that Joia, with her incredibly sharp hearing, would hear that message along with the smooth, even beats of Rez’s heart. No danger.
“Oh thank fuck!” Joia heaved as she bolted across the distance to hug Rez.
“Fabulous!” Pyx said as Rez banded her arms about Joia’s neck. “Are all humans this fast?”
Joia whispered harshly into her ear. “Who’s the Fan Boy?”
Huh. Joia’s nickname was rather appropriate. Pyx actually said ‘fast’ with enthusiasm. Unlike Kin, who always sounded disgusted when speaking of anything fast or quick.
Rez gave Joia one more squeeze before pulling back.
“Joia, this Pyxis—” Huh. Rez turned toward Kin’s brother. “I, um, don’t know your full name.”
He shrugged and waved her off. “Pyx is fine. So is Fan Boy. I’m flexible.”
Rez gave Pyx a genuine ‘what the?’ doubletake before continuing, “Joia, this is Pyx.”
He immediately spread his arms wide.
Joia arched her brow, ran her eyes over him, and huffed. “Yeah. No.”
“Why do none of you humans hug?” Pyx cocked his head like a curious bird. “I researched this. Humans hug. You two just hugged.”
Keeping her glare on Pyx, Joia crossed her arms. “Rez?”
Yeah, yeah. She received Joia’s ‘what the fuck’ loud and clear.
She hooked Joia by the elbow and started to lead her off. “Stay right there, Pyx.”
With a slight tug, she and Joia sprinted half a league away.
Joia tugged her arm free as they both fired off their exasperated questions.
“What the hell is up with Fan Boy?” Joia snapped as Rez hissed, “Where the hell is Luna?”
Rez glared accusingly at Joia. Hell, they must be mirror images, because Joia gave her a thunderous glare as well.
Fine. Whatever. They were wasting time.
“It’s good to see you,” Rez rattled off.
“You, too.” Joia didn’t miss a beat. “Fan Boy?”
Her turn. “Harmlessly happy goofball. Luna?”
Joia harrumphed. “Course he’s happy. He’s covered in armor worth more than the whole damn mine.” Then she sobered. “Baby Bunny won’t leave the miners.”
Baby Bunny was how Joia referred to Luna when Luna’s gracious nature overtook her. So, that meant Luna was continuing to tend to the sick miners and probably anyone who was wounded when the Kletka attacked.
Rez shifted her gaze toward the settlement. “Maybe I can talk her into leaving. She can’t treat anybody if she’s caught or injured, right?”
Joia harrumphed again. Rez caught her meaning: Joia had already tried reasoning with Luna’s tender, yet utterly stubborn heart.
Rez’s own heart started pounding faster, matching her rising desperation. “Maybe Pyx can carry her out?”
Joia barked a coarse laugh.
“Fine,” Yep. Rez must be getting kinda desperate to suggest that. “We’ll leave him in Briarwood. Sneak in and get Luna ourselves.”
Joia sobered. “It’s what we always do, Rez.”
Yeah. It always came down to the two of them. In the scientist’s barge. During the crash. Surviving in Two-Four-Kay. Just a pair of old shoes walking along a new road was all.
Rez canted her head back toward where they’d left Pyx, signaling that they needed to go back. “Is this gonna end up being too much speed for you? You’ll have enough reserves to get around the settlement?”
Joia had phenomenal hearing, while Rez possessed near-unending speed.
Her friend shrugged as she pulled out of her pants pocket a pair of her modified mitts. “I’ll get by.”
Stupid question. She and Joia had no choice but to get by.
Rez also pulled on her own reinforced-metal mitts as she and Joia sprinted back to Pyx.
She pulled right up next to him and fired off, “Listen, Pyx—”
The poor guy jolted.
Rez’s flash hairs tingled. Shit.
She softened her joints, readied her muscles, and pivoted about. From the corner of her eye, she saw Joia do the same.
“You’re crackling, Rez,” Joia whispered as she kept looking about.
Rez never knew her charging flash hairs produced a sound until Joia had told her so. For years, Rez had thought that she and Joia possessed the same ‘danger’ instincts. Instead, her friend had been reacting to the priming buzz of Rez’s flash hair.
Rez cast a quick look toward Joia. “Do you think you were follow—”
An explosion boomed in the distance.
Rez jerked, but immediately turned to Joia, who had her attention turned toward the direction of Two-Four-Kay.
But it also didn’t escape Rez’s notice, that while she and Joia had been caught off guard by the explosion, Pyx merely winced.
She turned to him. “Pyx?”
“Rez?” His reply was way too casual.
Joia shook her head as she gazed in disappointment toward the settlement. “So much for sneaking back in.”
Pyx huffed out a single grump. “It wouldn’t have worked anyway.”
Rez and Joia both redirected their attention—while arching their brows—toward Pyx.
He straightened his back and threw an arm out toward the settlement. “Truly. That’s what I was trying to do when I went over there!”
This chapter is now complete. I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.
As always, thank you so much for reading!