Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 21

Today could have been better.

Tep wanted to do some of his tests with me conscious. That was fine and dandy for the blood tests, urine analysis, that kind of thing. For taking skin samples ... mine and the Its ... local anesthesia was employed. It didn’t go so well.

I was never in pain. However, the It does not want to be tested, not when it is aware of what is going on. It had a few surprises in store for us all.

I first felt it stir as a separate entity when Tep programmed the medibed computer to take blood. When activated, the medibed sends one or two ‘arms’ to move from beneath the bed to cover the patient. These arms are panels that contain computers, injectors to deliver medicine, scanners, and extractors ... like for taking the samples Tep wanted. I had two of these panels over me for the tests. One arched over my chest, and the other covered my abdomen.

“I might keep these panels in place to track where those alien feeder veins are going,” Tep told me. “That way, scanners will pick up if they start moving in the direction of the baby.”

“Sounds great,” I said absently. I was interested in what he had to say, particularly when it comes to my daughter. However, I had detected some concern and a twinge of anger from the It.

Oses and Betra were there. So was a squad of four security Nobeks, headed by Oses’ second Ebnad. They were present just as a precaution. I was still in partial stasis, my body frozen from the neck down. How much trouble could I cause?

I didn’t want to find out there was a scary answer to that, so I duly reported, “I can feel it’s aware of what’s happening. The It is not happy.”

Dr. Feru, the psychologist who was helping Oses and me get past our PTSD of being kidnapped and held prisoner, was also in attendance. He moved closer, his kind face concerned. “Is it separate from your thoughts, or do you feel them as your own like before?”

“Separate. It can damned well stay that way too.”

Feru grinned at my bravado. I wasn’t being bad-ass to impress anyone, though. I had to be strong to protect us all, my baby the most.

“Blood sampling complete,” the bed’s computer reported in Kalquorian. I frowned. I didn’t think I had gotten so far in my language lessons. The It still felt separate. Was I retaining some of the things it had learned when it infiltrated the ship’s systems?

“Send samples to lab,” Tep told the computer. “Tag it as first priority.”


“Set for local anesthesia. Left arm and lower abdomen.”

“Scan indicates alien exoskeleton on subject’s left arm, requiring piercing of bone. Continue with procedure?”


“Carve the damned thing off if you want to,” I muttered.

Tep arched a brow at me. “I’d prefer to recover you in one piece.”

I felt a couple of tiny pinpricks on either side of my belly. I felt nothing from my arm, but there was a jolt from the It. Its need to fight was on the rise.

“Somebody’s getting cranky,” I warned. “It wants to resist.”

Feru cupped the top of my head with his palm. “Let me know if the sensations you receive from the parasite start feeling more like your own thoughts.”

He hoped to talk to the It if it gained control over me. From the nightmares and the little bit of thought I’d experience from my unwelcome guest, I doubted he would find his efforts useful. The It didn’t want to be reasoned with. It had a goal, and the goal was to destroy. That’s what it had been made to do. I thought the only real question that needed answering was who had made it? And did its creator know how to reverse its effects on me and Candy?

My stomach went numb. Tep ordered the panels to collect samples of the exoskeleton, the feeder veins, skin, and placenta. That’s when the It went full-blown crazy.

Rage filled my skull. It was enough that I couldn’t transform this body as quickly as I was programmed to do. It was unthinkable they had captured the other one like me and sent it to sleep for the moment. But for them to think I would allow them to test me in an effort to find a weakness? No. I could not be stopped. I would not be stopped, not by these weakling creatures.

Then I was back to Shalia, tearing myself free of the It to shout a warning. “I’m losing myself to it!”

Now I had two separate consciousnesses in my head, both fighting for supremacy. Feru was asking or telling me something, but I couldn’t pay any attention to him. I had to keep this thing from taking me over, from erasing me from existence. I was terrified that would be what happened if I gave an inch to the It.

From then on, it was the two of us shouting from the same mouth. One moment I was saying stuff like, “It thinks it can get free. Watch out!” Then the It vented its rage with, “Lower creatures will be eliminated. Purity will be maintained! Order will prevail!”

I could feel the It trying to assert itself on my brain. It didn’t hurt, but I could almost sense a clawing, a grasping, a bid to get a real foothold over my psyche.

“No! I will not let you! My name is Shalia Elizabeth Monroe. My name is Shalia Elizabeth Monroe. My name is—”

I interrupted myself with the It’s big play, one none of us saw coming. In perfect Kalquorian, words shot from my lips like machine gun bullets. “Emergency override of all Medical systems. Dr. Imdiko Tep authorization one-five-zero-four—”

Over me, Tep’s eyes widened in horror the instant I started speaking. As I yelled his authorization code he shouted, “Voice recognition! Cancel emergency override! Erase Tep authorization from the system, security protocol!”

Ebnad roared, “Acting Weapons Commander Ebnad confirmation of head medic’s removal, authorization beta-seven-three-three!”

“-seven-two-delta!” I finished screaming.

There was a moment of absolute silence. Then the computer said in its usual flat, emotionless tone, “Head Medic Tep’s authorization erased from system. Dr. Zaw currently with sole full Medical systems authorization.”

Before the It could start rattling off more codes, I yelled, “It’s got all the authorization passes for this department. You have to take them all out.”

“Fuck!” Ebnad swore before using his security pass to take the whole system, minus the stasis fields, offline. Fortunately for us all, none of the patients in Medical were in life-threatening situations. I didn’t have Ebnad’s security codes, so I couldn’t disable the stasis field holding me prisoner. That had been my primary objective.

Oses stepped forward, looking down at me gravely. “How much of the ship’s systems has the It gained access to?” he asked me. “Whose codes, what departments’ access?”

At his question, my unwanted guest drew its consciousness back, trying to shield itself from me. However, it had been so intent in gaining control over Medical and stopping Tep from his tests that the It had left itself wide open. I caught the answer before it slammed the door shut on me.

“Nearly everything except bridge and most security functions,” I answered. “It got into some lower-risk security accesses, which is how it got the shuttle bay doors open during yesterday’s attack. But it hasn’t yet gotten into weapons, navigation, power, or life support. It has every intention of getting hold of those codes as soon as it can, however.”

“Damnation,” Ebnad growled. He looked to Oses. “I’d like to reset everything, from food services right up to the captain’s codes.”

“Agreed. Once you wipe the system and input new accesses, the invaders’ that have taken over Mataras Shalia and Candy will have to start over again from scratch – if they somehow manage to escape stasis.” Oses’ tone said he was pretty confident that wouldn’t happen.

I hated to rain on his parade, but I remembered one small nugget that had crossed the It’s mind during our battle. “It thought of Candy’s confinement as temporary. It is confident that you can’t keep either of us locked down forever.”

The weapons commander’s eyes narrowed as he looked at me. “You’re sure of that? I don’t know of any creature capable of escaping stasis.”

“The It has no doubt it will get free,” I reiterated. “It is only a matter of time.”

Feru blew out a heavy breath. “Tep, were you able to get all your samples?”

The head medic shook his head. “Not one bit of tissue before everything shut down. Subcommander, I know you have a full plate, but I need my department back up and running as soon as possible in case there’s an emergency.”

“Of course. We’ll get to that immediately. Let me get to my console on the bridge. I’ll have everything back up with temporary codes within fifteen minutes.” Ebnad glanced at the rest of the squad. “Stay here and keep an eye on things.” His glare in my direction was decidedly unfriendly.

Betra’s face was lined with worry. “Now what?”

Tep was on his handheld, tapping on it at lightning speed. “Once Medical’s systems are restored, I’ll put Shalia under heavy sedation. I’ll get those samples, whether that damned thing in her wants me to or not.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

May 20, part 3

Tep put me in a private room. He got busy arranging the tests he needed to subject me and my unwanted guest to. I remained in partial stasis to keep me from taking off and committing mayhem should the It get the upper hand again.

Oses remained with me while Betra went back to my quarters to fetch a few things. My Imdiko lover returned with my prettiest nightgowns, my handheld, hairbrush, and other little things. He set the handheld on the table next to me so I could speak to it. My diary, music, and audio story files were there to keep me amused during this incarceration.

It is an incarceration. I am a prisoner in Medical, held by stasis and the terror of the thing taking me over.

I gave in to panic for a little while. “Promise me,” I begged Oses and Betra over and over. “Promise me the baby will be saved, no matter what it means happens to me. You have got to keep my child safe if I get to the point where I can’t make those decisions anymore.”

They said all the right things, assuring me that my little one would survive this nightmare. I’m sure Betra meant it at the time, but who knows if he’ll falter if the worst happens? He’s told me he loves me, and sometimes love makes us weak. If it comes down to pulling the plug on me, I’m not sure he can insist.

Oses, however ... well, he’s Oses. I have hopes his brand of uncompromising love will take care of whatever comes. He’s had to face the possibility of it before. I think I can count on him.

When I continued to cry, devastated by all that had happened and continued to happen, the men did their best to soothe me with gentle kisses, whispered comforts, and loving caresses. When that failed, Oses went for what only a desperate Nobek who couldn’t beat someone up would think of: sex.

I was jolted from my despair by him flipping up the nightgown I’d been dressed in by the orderlies, exposing me from my swelling waist down. I gasped as he spread my legs and planted a wet kiss on my pussy.

“Are you insane?” Betra hissed at him, looking as shocked as I felt. “This is not the time for sex!”

“She’s stopped crying,” Oses pointed out. If not for the heat in his purple eyes, the look he gave me would have been quite bland. “It’s a good distraction, I think. It’s up to you, Shalia. Do you wish me to stop or continue?”

I stared at him, flabbergasted. “Oses, I’m being taken over by an alien organism!”

“Yes, I know. But right now you are still Shalia, the woman I crave. You were also getting hysterical, which does you no good. I have snapped you out of that.”

He had a point. However, my mind was far from wanting a lurid encounter. “I do not feel like fucking, Oses.”

“Not yet,” he shrugged. “Maybe I can change your mind. You are helpless under a partial stasis field. That puts you unequivocally under my power, something that usually makes you happy. I can give you a little sexual pleasure to help you feel better. If Betra will stop looking so affronted, he could help too.”

Betra shook his head at Oses. “Only a Nobek would think of fucking at a time like this.”

Oses rolled his eyes. “I said nothing about actual fucking. It’s against regulations for intercourse in Medical anyway. However, Shalia can be serviced. Maybe she can even achieve climax. Maybe not. But we can try to take her mind off her troubles, if only for a little while.”

Betra looked like he was getting angry. It was a crazy idea, all right. Plus I had another concern, which I voiced before the Imdiko could give Oses the verbal tongue lashing he was no doubt planning to unleash.

“Oses, you can’t want to touch me. Not with this – this awful thing on me. In me.”

The Nobek looked at me. There was love in his eyes, but not the soft dewdrop love of poetry. Not a sappy, silly love. This was hard love, the love of a man who would kill in its name. It was an uncompromising love that said nothing would keep Oses from doing what had to be done to shelter me.

“It is not you,” he said. “The invader can never take you from me. Nothing, not even death can take you from my heart. I see only you, Shalia. The It cannot change that, and it cannot have the part of you that matters most. If the only way I can show you that is through lovemaking, then that is what I will do.”

With that, he buried his face in my pussy. My instincts were to buck him off, to slug him, to pull on his hair to get him off me. Yet I was helpless to do anything but take it.

That thought was enough to switch my gears. My mouth had been opening to tell Betra to kick the Nobek’s ass when I realized there was nothing I could do physically to ward Oses off. Damn the man, he’d been right when he said that was one of my triggers. My pussy gave an insistent throb of need.

Even now, I’m not sure how lust could have overcome my terrors at such a moment. Maybe it was the love I’d seen in Oses’ eyes. Maybe it was simply an animal instinct to hide, at least emotionally, from what tormented me. Whatever it was, it had me gasping all of the sudden as desire lit its familiar but still wondrous fire.

I moaned, my vision turning hazy as I looked at the dark head moving between my legs. Lips, tongue, and teeth worked my sweetest flesh. Oses’ breath was warm on me, its heat seeming to seep into my core.

I guess my reaction to those most intimate kisses convinced Betra that Oses was on the right track. The Imdiko’s mouth found mine, and his hands curled over my breasts. While Oses concentrated his delicious attack on parts south, Betra handled everything from the waist up.

Mouths and hands played over my body, taking me away from the horror for too brief a time. It was the best they could do however, and I sank into the pleasuring with gratitude.

With one hand moving over my belly, as if he sought to comfort the child in me, Betra’s other hand and mouth teased and tormented my breasts. One moment he nipped and pinched. The next he kissed and caressed. Then he sucked and squeezed. The sensations went from twinges of pain to soft pleasure to stabs of excitement. One bled into the other until it was a continuous pulse of bliss that suffused all of me.

Meanwhile, Oses plied me with fingers and mouth. His fingers worked in and out slowly, putting pressure on all the best, most sensitive parts. His lips surrounded my clit, sucking it into his mouth, trapping it carefully between his teeth, and lashing it with his tongue.

I lay beneath the two men, unable to move. Rapture swelled within me as they took advantage of my inability to even twitch, devouring my frozen body until billowing delight shattered me. When those first surges of ecstasy quieted, they resumed with more intensity than before. They made me climax twice more before they deemed their work done.

I floated in a hazy aftermath, my body sated and my mind quiet for the moment. I felt strangely secure as Oses and Betra straightened my nightgown and bed sheets, making me presentable once more.

Some semblance of sanity asserted itself. It told me my lovers would protect me as best they could. If the day came when they no longer could keep me safe, then they would guarantee my child’s well-being. With my earlier hysteria bled out, I could think again. Thanks to Oses and Betra, I once more knew exactly where everything that mattered most to me stood. The universe was still a catastrophic fuck-all, but at least now I had stable bits to keep me sane.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 20, part 2

By the time Oses got me to Medical, we had a security detail of six Nobeks surrounding us. We burst into Tep’s department like I was dying with only seconds left to be saved.

It felt that way.

The doctor wasted no time. “Put her on the table for a full scan,” he ordered Oses.

Oses had to remove the cuffs that held my wrists prisoner behind my back to lay me down. He bared fangs at the security officers around us: they had drawn their blasters. I for one welcomed the show of force. There wasn’t the slightest peep from the It that had invaded my body. I thought perhaps it knew it was in danger and that kept it quiet.

Though Oses was clearly unhappy to have me under armed siege, he didn’t say anything to object. It was pretty obvious that I was behind the shuttle bay incident. Under the It’s control, I could be very dangerous to this ship and crew.

“Computer, place patient in stasis from the neck down,” Tep said as soon as I was in position.

Good, I couldn’t move. Oses snarled at the others, “She’s secured. Put the blasters away.”

I’m sure they could have challenged him since he was on leave, but no one did. Oses was held in high esteem apparently, no matter what his current status was. They immediately holstered their weapons.

Tep muttered and scowled at whatever the scan showed him. “All right, all right,” he said. “She’s certainly infected with the same organism as Matara Candy, but nowhere as much. It’s barely left the arm. One feeder vein in her chest, two in her brain. There seems to be something else here though, something on her wrist...”

Betra’s voice informed me that he’d arrived. “It looks like that cuff Candy got her for her birthday. The armor is growing right over it.”

Tep tapped like the world’s fastest typist on his computer station’s keyboard. I’ve never seen fingers fly so fast. “Actually, it’s growing from the bracelet. There is no separation between it and where the armor connects to it. Did Matara Candy have one of these pieces?”

I stared at the ceiling overhead. “Yes, an exact duplicate. She bought it from a vendor on Darotkin.”

“How long have you been wearing it, Shalia?”

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d put the thing on. I searched my memory, but all I could come up with was the night of the special dinner with Betra and Oses. I’d worn the bracelet and the pretty blouse Katrina had bought me. The one that matched the dress she’d bought for my unborn daughter.

I swallowed. Tep had said the It was only in my arm, chest, and brain. It hadn’t gotten to my baby yet.

“I don’t know for sure the last time I put it on. The latest I remember wearing it was eight days ago. I don’t remember ever taking it off after that.” I looked at Oses, pleading with my gaze for him to believe the next thing I said. “I don’t remember going into the shuttle bay today either. One moment I was in my quarters, and the next I was in the bulkhead where we found Candy. The computer there was counting something down, but I didn’t know what. It must have set off the bay doors opening.” My voice ended in a little sob. Men had died because of me.

“Easy, pet,” Oses murmured. He stroked my hair, his fierce face trying its damnedest to be comforting.

Tep’s frown deepened, putting big furrows in his face. “Candy came into possession of these cuffs during shore leave. That was ten days ago. Did she start wearing hers immediately?”

I remembered her sliding it on right after giving me my birthday present. “Yes.”

“I’m going to operate on the theory that the organisms affected you both in the capacity of memory. You wouldn’t realize you were still wearing the pieces once they had the chance to infiltrate your bodies. I’m betting it sends one of those veins ... or whatever the green tubes are ... straight to the brain as quickly as possible.” The doctor paced, considering. “Only two days’ difference between the times you put them on and forgot you were wearing them. And yet the organism has spread so much farther in Candy than in you. Why is that?”

I interrupted his worrying. “Are you going to put me in full stasis too?”

Tep shook his head. “I’d like to run tests first. I want to know if there is something in your genetic makeup that is fighting this organism. If we can figure out why it is invading you more slowly, that could be the answer to saving Candy and you from being overcome.”

I wanted Candy to be okay. I wanted me to be okay. But someone else was my overriding priority. “What about the baby? You can’t let this thing get to my child.”

Tep paused for only a moment. “Right now, it is nowhere near the fetus. I can’t let this opportunity to study it pass, Shalia. However, I promise that the instant I detect any of these veins heading in the baby’s direction, I will put you in stasis.”

“The thing is still taking Candy over even though she is in stasis,” I pointed out. “Can you take the baby if you have to?”

Tep wrung his hands. “At this stage, that would be dangerous. A few more weeks and she will be at a stage of development that will give her a better chance of survival. If we can’t—” he paused.

“If you can’t stop the organism from advancing,” I supplied, grimly stating what he didn’t want to.

Tep nodded. “If it comes to that, I will deliver the baby. We’ll do all we can to ensure her well-being.”

I said, “Even if it means you have to give up on me.”

Betra’s sharp intake of breath came at the same time that Tep’s brows shot up. “I am in no way saying it will come to that,” the doctor insisted.

“It could,” I grated between clenched teeth. “Let me tell you why.”

I reported my dream then, making sure they knew the first dream of being an armed killer among many others had occurred well before seeing the armor on Candy. I didn’t want them to take the insight lightly. I ended with, “I think the nightmares were the It’s memory of an earlier time. With it connected to my brain, I believe I am seeing some of what it’s done in the past.”

“The It?” Tep asked.

“That’s what I’ve been calling this thing. It was made to kill. It has no conscience. It takes pleasure in destroying.” I swallowed a surge of nausea, remembering that heady thrill of power that had accompanied my bloodsoaked dreams. “It cannot be stopped once it’s in full control. I don’t think I can make that clear enough to you. It will not think twice about killing all of you.”

Between clenched teeth I finished by telling Tep, “If you have to, take the baby and destroy both me and the It. You cannot let this thing get loose.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

May 20, part 1

I have spent the last 24 hours in hell. I am in terror for myself, for my child, for Oses, for Betra ... for all of us.

I am not myself anymore.

The last thing I remember after Betra left my room was choosing an outfit for my appointment with Dr. Tep. I thought of how I would have myself tested for the alien organism that was taking over Candy.

I don’t recall a blank period. It was as if one moment I was pulling a dress out of my closet, and the next, I was back in the bulkhead area where I’d gone to Candy.

I blinked at my surroundings. The area had seemed much darker only the day before, when I had strained to see Candy in the shadows. It was much better lit this time around. There was no way I could have been so certain, but I somehow knew I was in the same exact place as before.

The nearby computer console had a vid floating before it, as if it had recently been in use. I’ve learned a decent amount of conversational Kalquorian and even how to read a few words. All I saw that looked familiar on the screen was a series of blinking numbers. They appeared to be counting.

I barely paid attention to them. My heart was hammering with the knowledge that I had lost time. There had been no hallucinations as when I’d returned from being a captive on Finiuld’s ship. Yet there was no denying I had lost conscious knowledge of what I was doing. I knew I must be missing at least twenty minutes, the time it took to get from my quarters to the bulkhead area.

My first thought was that I was having another breakdown. Yet except for worrying over Oses and then Candy, I hadn’t been under a whole lot of stress ... at least not the kind of stress that has become almost commonplace simply because I’m Shalia Monroe and trouble loves me.

Thoughts of Candy reminded me of my nightmares and the concern that I might be infected as she was. That sent a stab of terror through me that had me running to get out of the bulkhead area in a hurry.

I thought of going straight to Medical, but instead my feet carried me back to my quarters. I had a bad scare in the shuttle area when I was almost discovered by the men working in there. Now I wish I had been caught. It would have raised questions and perhaps saved some lives. Lives that I took, as it turned out.

I entered my suite, out of breath, with my heart hammering a million miles an hour. I stood in my sitting room, kind of at a loss as to what I would do next. I couldn’t think straight.

My gaze fell on my room’s com unit, which flashed a notice that messages were waiting. I patted my pockets to discover I hadn’t taken my portable with me.
“Play messages,” I ordered the com.

The first was from Dr. Tep. “Shalia, you have an appointment with me as of fifteen minutes ago,” he said, sounding exhausted and a bit temperamental. “Please get here as soon as possible.”

I checked the chronometer. Holy shit, I should have been in Medical an hour and a half ago. What the hell had I been doing in that bulkhead for all that time?

The second message was from Betra. His voice was almost screamy from worry. “Shalia, where are you? You didn’t make your appointment with Tep. Com me back immediately, or I’ll have Oses track you down.”

His message had been left 45 minutes ago. Surely he’d put the weapons commander on my trail well before now. Why hadn’t they found me?

I realized they hadn’t been able to find Candy either, not until they tracked her when she contacted me. Even I’m not so slow as to not figure out what was going on.

I was turning for the door, ready to run my infected ass straight to Medical before I could lose my mind as Candy had, when the floor beneath me shook. Screams and then warning claxons erupted in the corridor outside my door.

The message over the transport’s announce system came seconds later. “All Mataras, please go to your quarters immediately. Your section of the ship is not in danger. I repeat, Mataras, please go to your quarters and await instructions from your liaisons.”

I had no idea what was going on. However, I knew I had something to do with it. I thought about the computer in the bulkhead, the vid showing numbers changing. Perhaps counting down?

The order had been to stay in quarters. Screw that. I needed to be in Medical, maybe even in stasis. I ran out of my room ... and straight into Betra.

The Imdiko grabbed me, his eyes wide. “Shalia, thank the ancestors! Where have you been?”

I didn’t answer him. “What happened? What was that big jerk I felt?”

He shoved me back into my quarters. “One of the shuttle bays suffered explosive decompression when the door to space opened without warning.”

I got a really sick feeling in my gut. “How many, Betra? How many were killed?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m a liaison, so I wouldn’t have that information right away. No doubt at least a dozen or so men were working in there. Probably more. I doubt they all got away in time.”

At least a dozen lives lost. Men doing their jobs, not harming anyone. Why?

“Is the ship in danger?” I asked.

Betra sighed with obvious relief. “An emergency containment field went up seconds after the doors opened. The ship is fine. Hopefully, that also means a lot of the crew got away unscathed.”

He hugged me tight against his body, but my thoughts were riveted by what he’d said. An emergency containment field? Damn it, there had been no indication of any such thing, but I should have known there would be something like that in place in case of a rupture. I had been dormant for far too long, and this body was putting up too much of a fight for me to function at capacity.

Rage suffused me. I was too angry at my failure to even realize I wasn’t hiding my thoughts from the host anymore.

Wait a minute. I meant to write, I was so focused on the otherness inside me to realize it wasn’t me...Shalia me...thinking and furious with the invader’s failure.

I remember everything as if it was my own actions causing them. At that moment, the other was in my head, running my body, and using me. But it didn’t feel separate from me at all. It felt like it all came from me.

That scares me more than anything else. I couldn’t separate it from me at all in that moment.

Lost in the parasite’s will, I turned the rage against Betra. I yanked free of him and shoved him away. He went down, arms and legs flailing, his mouth a perfect ‘O’ of surprise. He didn’t let go of me right away, and the sound of fabric tearing was almost as loud as his surprised yelp.

He stared up at me from the floor. I stared back, wondering how the hell I could have attacked Betra. I was losing my mind.

Oses swept into the room before either of us could recover. He stopped short to see Betra sitting on his ass and me standing over him. He eyed us both carefully. “Is everything all right?”

Betra said, “Fuck no.” At the same time, I said, “Everything is fine.”

This time I could feel a separateness there, a slight difference between my real thoughts and the other ones that shouldn’t belong to me. My mouth opened to scream for help.

Oses spoke first as Betra climbed to his feet. “Shalia, you were seen leaving the shuttle bay several minutes before the doors opened. What were you doing in there?”

There was no time to explain, not when I could attack my lover and be forced to lie without warning. “Get me to Medical now,” I said. “Use hover cuffs if you have to—”

My throat and mouth froze. Anger was building again, the same anger that had led to me shoving Betra to the floor. My fists clenched.

Oses saw the motion, his gaze dropping to my left hand. His eyes widened for an instant before he moved in a blur.

He grabbed my arm, lifting it. My sleeve had torn, showing a hint of gray and green beneath the fabric. Oses tore the sleeve off.

From the wrist to just past my elbow, my arm was encased in bony armor and green tube-like veins. I swear as God is my witness, I do not know when it happened. It might have been days that the exoskeleton had been knitting itself over my flesh ... and I had never noticed.

The otherness in my head dissipated, becoming one with me. For a few moments, there was no more Shalia Monroe. There was only the It, and it was furious to have been discovered too early.

Rapid-fire tactics flew through my head, faster than any thought I’d ever experienced before. Strengths of Kalquorians, the assessment of the pair before me, my options of fight and flight – it ran through my shared brain in less than a second. I recognized that I was not up to full strength and could not hope to fight to victory. Flight seemed the best plan now, flight and going into hiding. First I would have to get past the two enemies to gain the door and the corridor beyond. They were still surprised. It gave me a precious moment to hurt them badly enough to keep them from being able to follow or raise an alarm.

A small part of me had remained separate after all, it seemed. At the idea of harming my lovers – and seeing into that other’s plans and how devastating its attack could be to them – I re-surfaced and snagged tenuous control over myself.

“Cuff me now!” I screamed at Oses. “It’s going to use me to hurt you!”

Bless that big wonderful brute, he didn’t hesitate for an instant. Even as I screamed with the rage of the It, Oses was already behind me, snapping cuffs on my wrists at the small of my back. He swept my feet out from under me, catching me before I could fall and be hurt. He lowered me facedown onto the soft carpet.

The Its consciousness vanished all at once. I was fully myself again, sobbing in terror of what I’d become.

“The baby,” I cried, my greatest fear rising to the surface. “What is this thing doing to my child?”

“We nuh-nuh-need to get her to Meh-Meh-Medical now,” Betra said, his hitching words telling me he was weeping as well.

“I’ll carry her,” Oses said, his hands busy with tying my legs together with what I later discovered to be my bathrobe’s sash. He’d gone into my room for it and returned without me even realizing he’d moved. “Let Tep know I’m on the way, but first com Security and tell them to get a guard detachment with me.”

“Oses, this is Shalia!”

“Not all of her is Shalia. Not any longer.” Oses swung me into his arms, cradling me gently against his chest. “Get me that security detail, Betra. Tell them I’m taking the most direct route to Medical.”

With that, he left my quarters at a run. I shut my eyes against the blur of our surroundings and prayed for salvation.