There Be Mature Content Here
Please be advised that the following is intended for mature readers only.
Luna the Baby Bunny
I’m glaring up at Jo. “This is bullcrap, Joia.”
“It sure is,” Jo says, sliding her gaze over her shoulder, toward the inside of her office.
I’m standing out in the hall—and no, I didn’t sleep on the floor there again—as Jo’s poking her head out of the partially opened H.A.R.E.-salvaged door.
It doesn’t matter that she’s blocking my view. I can hear Rogers, Jr., the former mayor of Two-Four-Kay. He’s calling to Joia, insisting that they continue ‘fixing’ some of Joia’s recent decisions.
Do you know what Rogers and Jo are not talking about fixing? The stupid housing lottery for my modular.
“Don’t give me that look, Luna.” Jo arches a brow at me. “I’d told you, if anything changes, you’d know about it.”
I grump, but Jo’s right. For the past several days, I’ve been stopping by The Tower, hoping to convince her to cancel the lottery. No luck. Mostly because I’ve not had a chance to actually talk with her. Each time I’ve come, freaking Rogers, Jr. or Benny or someone else is having a ‘closed door’ session with Jo.
Right. Who I am kidding? I bet Jo schedules these freaking meetings because, like everything else, she knows when I’m gonna stop by.
Jo looks over her shoulder, snips something at Rogers, Jr., then turns back to me. “You can give up the modular all together, Baby Bunny. Stay here with me.”
A shiver moves through me.
There’s no way I’d move into The Tower. I’m not like Jo, who’s thriving in the center of it all. If I moved here, I’d be bumping into people everywhere. All the time. Touching.
“Or,” Joia says, “you could room with Fanboy in his cabin.”
“No.” I’m shaking my head—like, a lot—to drive home my point.
If I permanently move in with Pyx, then I’d be bumping into him everywhere. All the time. Touching.
Another shiver moves through me. This time, it’s not filled with dread, but with tingling, heated excitement.
“Luna,” Jo drawls my name out, “I’m scraping the bottom of my magic hat, here.”
I know. I do. Jo’s back’s against the wall with this whole housing lottery, and she’s still scrounging up options for me. Only, I’m not accepting any of her proposed fixes. Heck, I’m holding out for a miracle.
I give her a hopeful look. “Have you checked up your sleeves?”
She huffs and rolls her eyes as she closes the door in my face.
But, she closes it with a soft click and even softer foot thumps against the floor, letting me know that she gets my meaning. That my lame joke was my apology for being a stubborn, unreasonable idiot who’s refusing to get with the program.
I have choices. Jo’s seen to that.
Now I just gotta stall the lottery while speed-building Pyx’s one-man cabin until I can monkey-up something better.
Oh, and fix what I’ve done to Pyx…
While repairing the mining drill and healing the sick miners…
As well as shoving vitamins down the kids’ throats…
Plus, there’s the whole Rez and babymaking thing. Gotta get on that, too…
But first, I need to bake some bread.
Totally need to make more bread.
I’m using a rag to fan black smoke away from my face when the door to my modular swings open.
“Fucking again, Luna?” Benny whines.
“No flames this time,” I say as I cough. I gesture to the blackened loaves of bread that are precariously balanced on the sliver of bare space known as ‘the counter.’ “A total success in regards to my progress.”
“Shit, Luna,” Benny grumbles as he backs out, “can’t you experiment somewhere else? Even when you don’t bake, it still smells in here.”
Kinda the point, Benny.
“Well, you know how it is,” I say loudly because Benny’s outside.
He mumbles something that I can’t make out. Which I don’t ask him to clarify. Right now, noncommittal responses are my main stalling strategy.
I snag a basket that I’ve woven from reedy, Briarwood bramble and load up as much bread as I can.
Leaving just a few loaves behind, I step out of my modular.
I raise the basket up a bit—and only a bit because it’s like hauling bricks—and nod at Benny. “Just gonna go toss these.”
He takes a step back and wrinkles his nose. “Yeah. Do that, Luna.”
“All righty!” Ugh, I sound too chipper. “Here I go.”
Yep. I’m a chipper moron. But, whatever.
I start walking away and—sigh—can freaking feel Benny watching my butt. My hands throb, so I white-knuckle my grip on the basket handle and keep going.
Since my modular is closer to the gold mine than Briarwood, I have to cut through the settlement. And, because it’s midday and people are about, I can’t move at H.A.R.E. speed. But I do listen for footsteps—the same way I’d listen for Jo’s and Rez’s coded foot thumps—and avoid most encounters.
Well, except for the cluster in the center of Two-Four-Kay.
Good god, is it a freaking cluster…
I stop and gape because Rogers, Jr., that sanctimonious prick, is overseeing the installation of a statue.
A freaking statue made of metal that bears his likeness.
And if that isn’t just screwed up, there something mindbogglingly more screwy.
Pyx is the one positioning that hunk of junk onto a pedestal.
As he’s holding the heavy-looking statue up, he’s turning it in his hands. His head’s cocked at an angle.
I know that adorable head tilt of his.
See, when I was at the Bale, I’d seen zero public statues or community spaces named for an individual. Sure, the Akupara bestow ridiculously long titles, but not actual commemorative displays of stuff to pacify their egomaniacs.
So, right now, Pyx’s really working hard—and probably struggling—to figure out what the heck it is he’s holding.
Amazingly, his intense focus on the statue snaps and he turns his head. And, dangit, his opaque helmet is pointed right at me.
My heart kicks in my chest. My shebits perk up. I take a step—
Unbelievable. I’ve stepped toward him.
Embarrassment rushes my face, so I duck my head, pivot, and resume course toward Briarwood.
Wrong direction, Luna! My shebits shout. Toward the alien hottie! Toward him!
Yeah. Not happening. I’ve got somewhere to be, and Pyx looks super busy—I flick my gaze to him—staring at me. He’s tracking my progress across the square. Rogers, Jr. is ranting and waving his arms, yet Pyx’s focus is locked on me.
I see him take a step.
My nerves fire up. Run!
Oh, purr my shebits, that could be fun. Especially the ‘he’s-caught-us’ bit. Yes. Run.
But, thank god, Pyx stops.
Seriously, I’m not relieved to thwart my traitor shebits. I’m thinking about Pyx here. He’s on the opposite side of the square. I’ve picked up my pace—still moving at realistic human-hustling—so he can’t catch up to me.
Well, he could catch me in a flash, but he won’t. Not with all the settlers about because he’d never risk his Bale’s secret. The settlers don’t know that the Akupara are the fastest beings in the universe. They just see slow moving, turtle-like aliens.
And yeah, I’m using Pyx’s honor and duty against him. I’ve been doing so for days—hustling about Two-Four-Kay—so that I can continue to avoid him.
At least I feel guilty about it. That means I’m not a totally crappy person, right?
But, then I reach the outskirts by the shitters and Pyx’s cabin. And, yep. Crappy people sure can feel guilt while still being totally irredeemable crappy people.
I am such a people.
Pyx’s cabin is exactly how we’d left it the other night. Well, more like five nights ago. And it’s not exactly how we’d left it. It doesn’t look as rickety—like a stiff breeze couldn’t knock it down—but there’s no progress, either.
My chest is squeezing as my vision gets blurry.
Fuck. Pull it together, Luna!
Yeah. I’d said ‘fuck’. This is a rare fuck-worthy moment. I gotta fix the cabin, but first I gotta fix Pyx.
So, I carry on, entering into Briarwood with my basket of burnt bread, and head toward the Bale.
If Jo won’t fix this, perhaps Emys will.
“Whaddya mean you have a meeting?” I throw my hands up.
Yep. My hands are now free. That basket of bricks was freaking heavy. I’d ditched it in the forest. I’d left it kinda close to where I’d hugged Pyx. At least, I thought it was where I’d hugged Pyx. At the site, there’s a huge pit of overturned soil that I would’ve remembered. It’s like someone yanked a massive Briarwood tree up and carried it away, but there was no sign of a fallen tree anywhere…
But, back to this freaking frustrating moment.
Emys is leaning against the doorjamb to her private quarters, looking absolutely fantastic in the flowy pants and sleeveless shirts that the Akupara wear when they’re secluded inside their Bale…
…and it just makes me think that poor Pyx has been stuck inside his armor for days and days…
“It is self-cleaning,” Emys says.
Frickity freak. Again with this…
“Not here to talk about Pyx,” Well, not out loud, “Here to talk about your eggs.”
I gesture toward Emys’s stomach.
And gimme a second here to talk about Emys’s stomach. I’ve done only two exams on her to try to increase her fertility. Right now, the Akupara females are dependent on human female egg donors; it’s how Rez met Kin.
But, back to Emys’s f-ab-ulous abs. She’s freaking ripped, cut like a diamond. Heck, her plastron, the plates that cover her abs, actually sparkle a bit. I’ve told her so.
“Were the med-chamber scans not helpful information?” Emys asks.
I do my best to cringe internally, not physically. “Not really?”
She sees. Great. Awesome. But I can’t tell if she’s calling my bluff or calling me incompetent.
Emys has this frustratingly unreadable and thoroughly unflappable way about her. I’ve been interacting with her for weeks now, and I still can’t get a read on her emotions. She’s just so dang reserved.
You know what? She’d be the worst at a surprise party. You’d have to, like, stick her in the back and tell her to keep quiet and simply hold a sign that says ‘Surprise!’. Maybe put a thought-bubble around the word so that she’s not left outta of the festivities.
“Listen,” I say as my shoulders droop, “schematics of any kind sorta don’t help me. That’s not how this works.”
I wiggle my fingers at her.
Emys gives my Jazz Hands of Dubious Intent a placid look. “So, you simply sterilized yourself, as well as Rez the Fastest Runner of the Bale and Joia the Cunning Mayor of Two-Four-Kay, based on touch alone?”
That’s not how my H.A.R.E. ability works.
Sure, sterilizing Jo and Rez after we’d crashed on Warren’s had been simple. Like terrifyingly simplistic because—as the scientists had taught me—there’s a fine line between surgery and mutilation.
As for my own sterilization? Never happened. I can’t do anything healing-like to myself. Which brings me back to figuring out how I can fix what I’ve done to Pyx.
And, by god, Emys is gonna help me.
Without knowing she’s helping me, of course.
“So,” I rock on my toes as I try to sneak a peek over Emys’s shoulder, “it’d be better if we get hands-on with your—”
“I am unavailable.”
Huh. An actual interruption…
Who’s the newly minted The Last of the Akupara.
“Well…” Okay. I’m scrambling now.
It’s kinda a good thing that Emys isn’t available to be examined. I have no better sense about how to help her than I do for Jo and Rez.
But, I do need access to an Akupara who’ll help me understand—without her understanding—the mess I’ve made.
I’m staring at my hands. “Maybe I can work with another female? Maybe one who’s looking to mate, um, into your family or something?”
Smooth. I’m the Mega Mistress of Machinations!
Emys adjusts her stance. “Mate into my family?”
“Like the way Rez mated Kin and you call her ‘Sibling Mine’.” I stop and wait for Emys to acknowledge me, but it’s getting kinda awkward, so I just barrel onward. “Is there another female interested in being a Sibling, um,Yours?”
And here we are again. More awkward silence. Not a fan.
She settles against the doorjamb again. “Yes.”
“Oh.” That’s my answer? A freaking fracking disappointed ‘oh’? This is awesome! This is what I want. “So, he’s spoken for?”
“Pyxis the Restrained?” She pauses, so I nod. “He will be, once she speaks up.”
“Once she…” I echo. “So, he doesn’t know?”
Emys simply stares at me.
Okay. I probably tapped out her bucket of responses. Rez had told me that. at some point, Kin simply stops answering her.
It’s an Akupara thing.
So, I’m just gonna move on. Emys will catch up.
“Well, can I meet with her then? Get working on her eggs, so that she and, um—” My palms throb, kinda hard, too. Curling my hands into fists, I hide them behind my back. “You know, just get started on the whole hatchling thing.”
“That is not how the Akupara do things.”
“But,” I stammer, “this is super important, right? So, why not get a jumpstart on it?”
Emys shakes her head. “Such a human thing. The process starts when she declares herself to him.”
Of course it freaking does, because otherwise, the Akupara would consider it distasteful to rush things.
Well, tough. This needs to be rushed.
I lock my gaze with Emys. “You’re saying Pyx’s got no idea that this woman—um, female, is interested in him?”
“I know my sibling well.”
But…was that a yes or no?
Freaking Emys. Help a girl out here!
I keep eye contact with her. “So, we’re all waiting?”
“We most certainly are.”
This is good. Really. It’s good for him. I don’t have to factor an already-mated-to-Pyx female into my Fix-it Plans. Plus, Emys just confirmed that he’s still mateless.
Mateless is good.
I exhale and my whole chest deflates in relief. When I inhale, the best freaking smell—crisp, robust, comforting—fills my lungs.
My chest squeezes and I release a jagged sigh. I know this smell.
“Luna?” Emys asks.
“Huh?” I look up, then around.
I’m no longer in front of her door. I’m simply standing in the middle of a polished corridor somewhere inside the Bale ship.
Emys looks from me to a smooth point on the wall ahead. “We are near Pyxis’s quarters.”
“We are?” I mean, despite the Akupara’s doorways being seamlessly integrated into the walls of the corridor, I have no clue where Pyx lives within the Bale.
This means that my mating symptoms are getting worse.
Here I am, steps from his quarters, drawn by the scent that I’ve spent days trying to mask in my modular. Batch after batch of charred bread, deliberately burned in desperate need…
See, I’m not just Roommated to the Alien Warrior.
I’ve accidentally mated myself to him.
Pyxis The Restrained
I’m staring at the likeness of Rogers, Jr. It’s fascinating, but also confusing. The Akupara call this sorta representation an effigy. Rogers, Jr. had called it a statue.
Joia’d called it horse shit.
Eyes on the statue, I say, “Do you smell anything, Gary?”
I don’t bother looking around. Gary and I’ve done this before. He may scurry off, but he’s always a bellow away.
“Comin’!” Gary shouts as he jogs outta a side alley. “I’m a’comin’!”
I wait until he’s hustled up next to me. “Do you smell anything?”
“Smell?” Gary sniffs and his nose scrunches up. “Honestly, don’t know, F.B. My sniffer’s kinda a dud.”
“Huh.” I nod down at Gary. “You don’t say.”
“Worked just fine one day. Gone the next.” He shrugs. “It makes using the comm shitters not so bad, though.”
Comm shitters. Communal lavatories.
I nod again. But, Gary’s kinda at a disadvantage if he can’t detect the scent of shit in the air.
Or, in this case, the complete lack of shit in the air.
I think Joia’d lied to me about the composition of the statue.
I pivot around. “Let’s ask her.”
With my back to the statue, I point toward a woman who’s been lingering across the square most of the day.
Gary turns, sputters, and tries to knock my hand down. “Shit, F.B.! Don’t point!”
Gary grunts. He’s hanging off of my outstretched arm, giving it his all as he’s trying to hold me back.
“Why?” I look from Gary to the woman. “Does her nose not work either?”
“Dangit!” Gary abandons his hold on my arm in favor of scrambling directly in front of me. He holds his hands up. “Just stop, would ya!”
Pausing my forward progress, I run my gaze over him. The little human’s huffing for air and his cheeks are a bright, alarming shade of red. When Luna exerts herself, she flushes a pretty rose.
Gary, well, looks like he’s about to topple over, plastron-up.
The Akupara do not like to be turned on our carapace.
“Sure, Gary.” I gently tap him. “I’ll stop.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I really need to do a better job of listening to him. Poor male gets so upset when I don’t.
He wheezes out a relieved breath and nods, then twists around. “Shit. She’s gone.”
“Oh, um,” the unhealthy red is back, flaming his cheeks, “just, um, Orlene.”
“Yeah, just Orlene.”
“Got it.” I nod, but I don’t get it. I don’t like the way that feels—to be uninformed. “Her nose doesn’t work.”
Gary drops his gaze to his dusty boots as he shrugs. “Dunno. Maybe.”
Now I really don’t like the way I feel. I know there’s something going on here. I just don’t know what it is.
“Gary,” I say, but that’s all I’ve got.
Following my impulse, I reach out and gently tap him.
Tap. Tap. Ta—
“Akkie!” A human male calls as he hustles up to me. “Akkie, that Brack wants ta see ya.”
Brack is what the settlers call Bracys.
Humans have this innate compulsion to shorten the names of everything. Nicknames, Rez has called these truncated marvels.
And I bet Bracys the Volitional—who is one of my mother’s councilors—detests it. Which is outstanding.
“Uh, you best go on.” Gary backs away from me as he gestures to the other human male—the messenger. “I gotta go do…stuff.”
I tap him once more. “Sounds good, Gary.”
Locking my gaze on the messenger’s back, I follow him at Outbaler speed. I’m taking slow steps, but my mind is unsteady.
See, I’m kinda off balance because tapping Gary one more time just kinda felt like the thing to do, you know? Like, whatever we’re doing isn’t done just because I’m leaving it undone…
By Aku, that’s fucking confusing.
Cursing silently, I focus on really slugging my steps, like I’m drudging through a bog…
…while the messenger’s somehow the only one to have found dry ground…
I know. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s definitely motivational.
“Fuck,” the messenger mumbles lowly, “you’re all slow bastards.”
“Not a bastard.”
The messenger jerks.
Yeah, he didn’t mean for me to hear him, but I did.
He glances back at me and his eyes are wide. “I didn’t—”
I cut him off. “My father reared me.”
I glance down at the messenger. A pleased growl—at seeing the male cowering—begins rumbling in my chest and vibrates up my throat. It’s so fucking satisfying watching him pale and cringe—
Shit. This is not good.
Unlike Kinixys—who’s fully submitted to his impulses and instincts, yet still retains our people’s respect—I must suppress these urges and outbursts. It’s what my Bale demands of me, but my control is slipping. First there’d been yanking up trees in Briarwood to fortify Luna’s claim on her territory, and now there’s this fucked up moment…
Not only had I impulsively answered the messenger’s grumbling, but I’d told him about my father as well.
“Unless,” I deliberately lighten my tone as I scramble for something to fill the silence, “do humans apply ‘bastard’ to being abandoned by your mother?”
Fuck. That’s another damn tell.
“Um…” I’m still scrambling. What is it that Luna always says? “I’m asking for a friend.”
“Pyxis the Restrained,” Bracys greets me solemnly. “It is very promising to observe that you’re conducting yourself appropriately.”
Of course I fucking am.
As I’ve learned, someone—whether Outbaler or of the Bale—is always watching and evaluating.
Bracys, here, is the perfect example.
The human messenger has already run off—leaving as soon as I’d sighted my Bale member by the edge of Briarwood, but I’m still approaching at Outbaler speed. And although I can’t see Bracys looking at me—he’s covered from crown to heel in solid black armor exactly like mine, I can feel his analytical gaze thoroughly assessing me.
The conceited ass is kinda eager about it, too. As he’s trawling his opaque faceplate over me in precise increments, I can hear a low, satisfied hiss coming from him. Either he’s too absorbed in analyzing me to lock down his excitement, or he’s confident no one would believe that I, Pyxis the Restrained, would actually report someone for breaching protocol.
Eh. It’s probably the second thing.
“It is promising.” I give Bracys a measured nod with a matching mellow tone. “Outstanding.”
Bracys’s shit compliment aside, I know the routine. He wanted to see me? Well, here I am. Now he can tell my mother that I’m covered in our fake armor while speaking slowly and moving even slower.
So, as Bracys stares at me, I stare back at him.
Well, I’m staring at his armored feet. They’re straddling the boundary between Briarwood and Two-Four-Kay. And I kinda want his left foot to nudge back, so that it’s with his other foot on the Briarwood side of the boundary.
“Excellent,” he says.
No. It’s fucking not excellent. His damn foot’s still in—
“Guardian,” Bracys says.
“Guardian.” I nod, but I don’t have a fucking clue. I missed most of what he’d said.
By Aku, he just needs to stop talking and back the fuck—
Nope. Focus. Fucking focus, you fuck up.
“As you know,” Bracys says and he’s leaning slightly toward me.
No. I don’t. “Yep. Totally know.”
Stop with the fucking ‘excellent’. My hands curl. I wanna grab Bracys, toss him like a Briarwood tree—
“So stay close to her,” his tone is deep and insistent, “Luna the Baby Bunny is now your mission.”
By Aku, that answer’d burst forth like a plastron-caving blow. My body’s responding like Luna’s really here. That tell-tale thrumming’s rushing through my body again, and my heart’s thumping so damn hard. The only thing not reacting as usual is my cock.
Eh, my cock snarls, deal with this shithead first, then we’ll have her all to ourselves…
My hands curl tighter as my chest heaves.
Luna, all to myself?
By Aku, I wouldn’t even take the time to cup her cheeks. That dress that hugs her ass so perfectly? It’d be gone. Ripped at the seams and peeled off of her. I’d run my hands over her smooth back and full hips, coaxing her into position in front of me. Caressing the slope of her spine over and over, I’d encourage her to lower her shoulders, lift her hips, and present—
I rear back in horror. My mind had been flash flooding me with all those cock-throbbing images.
If she’d really been here, my hands would’ve fucking crushed her.
“Excellent, Pyxis the Restrained,” Bracys says as he takes a step back, crossing fully into Briarwood. “This is exactly what the Bale requires of you.”
Fuck me. I know the routine. I fucking. Know. It.
From Bracys’s lips to my mother’s ears. Every fucking thing. Every fucking time.
So, what do I do? I lunge at him. “Wait!”
But I must have been stunned, stupefied for too long, because Bracys is gone. Soon my mother will know that I’m coming undone. That Luna has fully awakened my dormant mating instincts.
Fuck, yes, she has, my instincts growl.
Or was that me growling?
Soon it will be all of us, my cock twitches. Let’s go get her.
I take off but run away from the settlement. As I head south, I’m uprooting trees—one after another after another—and hoisting the monoliths across my shoulders.
Go to her?
No. Never. Not like this. Not as my true self.
Feral. Broken. Discarded.
So I continue racing toward the Chaparral, desperate—for Luna’s sake—to be elsewhere.
This chapter is complete! I’ve enabled commenting and have added my own thoughts as well.
As always, thank you so much for reading!
From Slow & Steady: The Velveteen Tortoise
Copyright © 2020, 2021 by Bex McLynn
All rights reserved