Monday, September 28, 2015

July 15, part 2

I returned to my quarters, ready for a nice long nap. I had surprises waiting for me.

Half a dozen boxes were on the low table before my sitting room’s lounger. On top of them was a vase filled with vibrantly colored flowers. Fresh flowers on a ship? Where the hell had those come from?

I saw a handwritten note lying on the small stack of packages. I picked it up and recognized Betra’s writing. For a moment my heart leapt, thinking perhaps he had decided to mend things between us already. But instead the note read, Gifts from Clan Seot. They send their apologies that it’s not as much as they would have wanted you to have, but our ship’s stores are limited. They will try to do better at our next shore leave on Alneusia.

I wonder how Betra had felt about bringing me goodies from one of my prospective clans. Poor Betra. I felt a stab of guilt that as my liaison, he was forced to be a link between me and the men making him jealous.

There was no help for it, however. It wasn’t my fault one of my prospective clans had decided to send me presents. It was just bad luck that Betra was caught in the middle of things.

I first looked at the flowers, really examining them. Oh my gosh, I could hardly believe it. They weren’t actual flowers. They were crystals, grown in the shape of flowers. Such arrangements had been all the rage on Earth before Armageddon. Just one crystal, carefully coaxed into the shape of a rose, daisy, or the like, would set the buyer back the price of a weekend vacation. A bouquet like the one in front of me was on par with a private shuttle. This arrangement was all extravagance, though I didn’t know what price the acquisitions department of the Pussy ‘Porter had put on it.

I ran my finger over one delicately shaped petal of an iris, the fabulous color shading from indigo to lilac at its tip. The arrangement was stunning with several crystal irises, along with sprays of white and gold arum lilies and pink roses. Even the leaves were detailed, with deep green veins. My mind boggled at the time and care it had taken to make this bouquet.

Avaricious excitement took hold of me. I like to think I’m not greedy, but I couldn’t wait to see what else the guys had given me.

I opened half a dozen boxes, gasping at the contents of each and every one. The first one was full of chocolate confections, made by the transport’s kitchen. With a bunch of Earther girls on board, the mess crew had gotten quite good at making our favorite treat. I couldn’t help but sample one. Oh glory ... it was so good I had to sample five more. After I lectured myself on self control ... and ate three more chocolates to bolster that self control ... I moved on.

The next few boxes held purely luxury items, the kind of things I was not about to spend my allowance on. Earrings dripping diamonds, sapphires, and rubies. Cologne that one of my monthly paychecks on Earth would have bought about an eighth of an ounce of. A gold bracelet for Anrel that was half the size of my wrist but still wouldn’t fit her for a few months. She could almost wear it as a necklace. There were also a couple of small vid projectors for photos and memories.

The last box I opened had another note, again in Betra’s writing but from a member of Clan Seot. I’ll get you a better one once you’re on Kalquor, but in the meantime, this will keep you in practice. I think you could use your skills to help me with my family’s cruise line. We will discuss it when you wish. Imdiko Cifa.

I opened the final package and gasped for the hundredth time. It was a professional vid recorder, the latest (and I guess last) in Earther video technology. Even my governmental department with its extensive budget and equipment hadn’t had one of these, though we’d all drooled over the promotional material we’d seen on it. I and a few others had talked the recorder’s specs in tones reserved for worship. Man, how we’d wanted to get our hands on one of these. Now I had one.

I switched it on and settled the grip in my palm. I brought up the view vid and panned across my quarters. Even though my arms were still weak enough to wobble holding the lightweight recorder, the motion it showed was smooth as silk. The readout was crisp, making things look almost hyper-real.

I must have played for an hour, zooming and recording my quarters, myself, the corridor and others I found. I showed anyone who would listen how wonderful my new toy was. I saw eyes glaze over as I rhapsodized over aspect ratios, settings, and in-vid editing. Okay, so no one else was as thrilled as me. Only a vid geek would be this entranced over a recorder. But this thing was AWESOME.

I couldn’t contain myself even after I’d exhausted everyone else’s patience. I hooked the recorder into my com system and rang up Clan Seot.

To my delight, a beaming Cifa answered. “Shalia! What a nice surprise. How are you?”

“I’m wonderful! How is the picture? You may need to adjust it for max definition on your end. Not that I’m so sure I want you to see me in all my post-invader takeover awfulness right now—”

“Stop that,” Cifa said, his tone managing to be firm and gentle all at once. “You are still a lovely woman who will be even lovelier as you recover. So you got the vid recorder? Do you like it?”

“I love it!” I squeal-shouted. “It’s amazing! Thank you so much! Oh, and for everything else. It was all terrific and so sweet of you and your clan to give me all these things.”

He chuckled, his sweet face beyond adorable. I wished I was recording him instead of me. “We thought you could do with some indulgence. I wasn’t so sure the recorder would count as that since it was what you did for work back on Earth—”

“Are you kidding? I love shooting vid and creating through it. Sometimes the work I did stunk in that regard, but it still beat anything else I could have done to make a living.” I blinked, thinking about that. I’d been thrilled when Dramok Aslada had talked about me making vids for his needs. “You know, I didn’t realize until today how much I missed doing that.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Cifa said. “I don’t know if Earthers did luxury ocean cruises or anything like that—”

“The ones with money did,” I affirmed.

“Good. Then you’re probably at least a little familiar with how vid can promote such things.”

“Oh yeah.” My excitement built as I saw where he was going with this. “But not just promotion. Recording memories for your passengers. Stuff like weddings. Or in your case, clannings on board your ships. Celebrations. Training for staff. Recruiting new hires.”

“Exactly.” Cifa fairly bounced with enthusiasm. “We’ve talked about moving such a service in-house rather than having contractors come in and deal with those matters. Sometimes our guests hire companies to record their events, and the vendors turn out to be not so skilled. Even though it has nothing to do with the cruise line, our reputation tends to suffer in those cases.”

“Because one wrong thing puts all of it in a bad light.” I knew just what he was talking about.

I could see so much opportunity in the idea beyond just the cruise line itself. Travelogues. Documentaries about far-flung places and their histories. Restaurant reviews for foodies. The possibilities were endless.

Cifa and I might have brainstormed decades’ worth of shows, but Seot and Larten appeared in the feed. “Look at this pair with smiles on their faces,” Seot grinned.

“They look entirely too pleased with themselves,” Larten agreed with mock suspicion. He winked at me to make sure I knew he only teased. “How are you today, Shalia? It’s a joy to see you looking happy.”

“I was comming to thank you all for the wonderful gifts,” I said. “You really were too generous.”

“Hardly.” Seot pulled a face that did nothing to diminish his good looks. “There wasn’t much to choose from. Your ship’s acquisitions officer did not put in much effort to gather goods before leaving Earth. Especially when it came to things for the baby.”

“I think us Earther girls might have put a few dents in the inventory,” I laughed. “Particularly me. I cleaned out everything I possibly could for Anrel before she even got here.”

“We’ll do better next time,” Seot promised.

How sweet of him. Of all of them. There they stood, looking so glad to see me even though I was a wreck. As usual, they looked good enough to wallow all over. That made my thoughts go where they had no business going. All at once I got warm down below, happy feelings trilling through my girlie parts.

Thank goodness they weren’t there. If Larten is half the Nobek Oses is, he’d have smelled my sudden arousal.

Embarrassed to be feeling amorous with these three near strangers – no matter how gorgeous, muscled, mouthwateringly delicious they seemed – I hurriedly tried to put up a barrier I didn’t want. “I should let you get back to whatever I interrupted. I just wanted to thank you. I do appreciate the gifts.”

“You weren’t interrupting anything,” Seot said. He smiled. “We have plenty of time to talk if you wish. Larten’s trainees didn’t destroy themselves too bad after all, so he’s not wasting away in the camp’s infirmary.”

Larten looked a little worried. “Are you all right, Shalia? You are suddenly quite flushed. Perhaps you should summon a medic.”

“Um, no, I’m okay,” I stammered, getting even more flustered. “I guess I just got overexcited.” (Ha-ha, if they only knew.) “The vid recorder was something I’d wanted back on Earth and I’ve been running around seeing how it works.”

“Sit down,” Cifa urged. “You’re still recovering from that horrible organism. You need to rest.”

What I needed was to run to my bedroom and get that dildo Katrina had given me for Christmas. Despite my humiliation, I had visions of naked Clan Seot dancing in my head. The more concerned they acted with me, the more I thought of being surrounded by them, taken care of by them, soothed and loved by them.

My imagination had slammed into overdrive. Moving towards my lounger, just because it was something to do, I turned my back on the tempting trio and tried to take a few deep breaths. I walked slowly, giving myself as much time as possible before having to look at them again. I sat down.

I looked up at the clan and almost groaned. Why did they have to look so damned yummy? I could have wallowed on those three bodies for days on end.

I crossed my legs, as if that might somehow shield my pussy from the overwhelming stud-storm I was enduring. I gave the men what I hoped was a reassuring smile. “Okay. I’m relaxing.”

They returned the smile with triplicate interest. My heart boomed. Seot’s unabashed handsomeness, the rampant adorableness of Cifa, and Larten’s dangerous magnetism ... how the hell was a girl supposed to not get horny looking at that?

Then Seot added fuel to the flames heating my core. “We talked about a great many things yesterday. Maybe I’m going too fast, especially considering what I’ve heard about Earthers.”

“Not to mention she’s still two months away from Kalquor,” Larten said. I had the distinct feeling he didn’t like where the conversation was going.

Seot gave him a look. Larten scowled but went quiet. There is was again, that control that managed to not be overbearing. I was again impressed with the Dramok. Then my naughty head wondered if I would ever get that look. My crotch spasmed at the thought and I tightened my thighs together. Damn those sexy men.

Seot returned his gaze to me. “It is early, and yet maybe it’s best to have everything out in the open before we get together. I thought perhaps we could discuss sexual compatibility.”

If I hadn’t been sitting down, my knees would have given out right then and there. “Sexual compatibility?” I repeated, my voice wavering.

Seot gave me an uneasy look. “It’s not a big deal to Kalquorians to talk of such things. Given that you told us you’re not a strict adherent to Earth’s official religion and you’ve had relations with other Kalquorians, I thought perhaps you’d be willing to have a conversation about it.”

Cifa made a kind of waving gesture with his hands that I assumed meant not to get upset. “If not, we can respect that. Let us know what you’re comfortable with and we’ll remain within those boundaries.”

I restrained the urge to bray hysterical laughter. Here I was with my crazy libido, and these three were worried that talking about sex would send me running away. Ha! I would give anything to fuck their brains out. The irony of the situation was almost too much for me to handle.

I had my fists clenched under the concealing folds of my skirt, trying to hold onto my composure. I still heard a giggle in my voice as I said, “It’s all right. I am fine with discussing what our mutual limits might be.”

Seot nodded and then exchanged an uncomfortable glance with his clanmates. “Good. Great. Because I don’t know what your previous lovers were like. Kalquorians can be very, um...”

“Passionate,” Larten supplied. Nobeks don’t squirm, but he looked like he wanted to.

“So I’ve noticed,” I said in a dry tone. I was seriously ready to die of laughter however. I wondered if I should make them more uneasy or let them off the hook.

“Yes, well, um, we’re pretty typical for our kind,” Seot said. He was no longer looking me in the eye. None of them were.

“Oh?” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to maybe startle them. “So I can earn a spanking by being either a really good or really naughty girl? And after that, maybe you big, strong fellows could hold me down nice and helpless while enjoying me the way you want?”

Ha! Didn’t they look me over then!

Larten’s face went dangerous in an instant. “It sounds like intimate compatibility will not be a problem,” he said in a slow, knowing voice. He no longer looked the least bit uncomfortable. Instead, he looked ready to pounce.

My panties were drenched. I so wished I was there in person to be pounced on.

“Oh ancestors,” Cifa said. His eyes were wide and that too-cute face held a world of anticipation.

A grin gradually took over Seot’s handsome face. “Matara Shalia, we may be on the same page. Is such a strong woman as yourself able to surrender to the power of her lovers?”

“I prefer it,” I admitted. “When I’m not having relations, I like being able to stand on my own two feet. I like to forge my own path and stand up for myself. But I like to give away that power to the right man ... or men ... when I’m having sex. It makes me feel good.”

“No wonder we had such an insanely high compatibility score,” Cifa said. “We appreciate your strength and think it is important for you to pursue your dreams. There is nothing more enticing than a woman who can take care of herself.”

“Though I do hope you’d allow me the privilege of being your protector if the situation occurs,” Larten added. “The thrill of earning the submission of a woman as strong as you cannot be overstated.”

I started to wriggle on the lounger. I made myself sit still. Man, their eyes were dark. I thought I saw some rising interest at the bottom part of my vision. I made myself not look. Holding my eyes on their faces was like trying to hold up an elephant with one arm. I kept catching myself getting to chest level before dragging my gaze back up.

“Yeah, I’m the kind of girl who likes the strong, in control type,” I said, my voice a lot huskier than usual.

 “Excellent. And the kind of discomfort that comes from spanking? Not any more though.” Seot looked a little stern. “I am not one to put marks on my lovers.”

“No.” Cifa shook his head adamantly. “No marks. No severe pain. Control, light discipline, maybe a few games?”

“No humiliation,” I said. That made me think about Betra, and my heart tugged a bit. I steadfastly stayed in the moment. “I don’t mind watching someone getting humiliated, but I can’t take it myself.”

“That’s fine,” Larten said. “I could never treat you in such a matter anyway. You like watching others play?”

“Oh yes.” I crooked a naughty smile at him. “I like watching a lot.”

That got grins all around. “And watching men with men?”

“Not a problem.” A fresh surge of heat had me wriggling again. “I haven’t seen much of that, but it sounds pretty hot.”

“So far so good,” Cifa said, his smile mischievous. “Toys designed for pleasure? Is that okay?”

“Very okay.”

“By the ancestors, I can’t wait for you to get to Kalquor.”

I was giggling like mad by then. The guys had ear to ear smirks. We teased each other and had fun doing it. We kept it at that level with questions and answers and gentle challenges. The flirting was outrageous, but it went no further than comparing who liked what and how much of it and under what circumstances.

An low tone went off in my room. I was shocked to see the time. “Dinner time? Already?” Not interested in signing off I whined, “But I’m not really hungry.”

Seot crooked a brow at me. “You need to eat, Matara. Besides, it’s pretty late here and we should get some rest.” He backed off the commanding attitude to smile at me. “But I’m glad we got to talk for so long. I’m delighted you commed again, Shalia.”

“I’m glad you had the time to talk. It was fun.” Jeez, another jabberfest. Clan Seot was going to think I was a regular Chatty Cathy at this rate.

Saying goodbye took another five minutes. My small sitting room looked cavernous when the images of the three men disappeared. It made me feel super alone. Sigh. I hated to see those big gorgeous hunks gone. And I was insanely horny after all the flirting.

I’d been tired and ready for a nap when I’d come in. Sleeping couldn’t have been farther from my mind ... or other parts ... at that moment.

I stood up, thinking I would find that dildo and get some happy before going to the dining hall. Before I took a single step towards my bedroom, my door announce went off.

“It’s Oses,” came my favorite growly voice.

My pulse, already going at a nice, steady trot, decided to go a little faster.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

July 15, part 1

After freaking out Clan Seot and my dads yesterday, I decided against more drama before I spoke live to my second set of beaus, Clan Aslada. An hour before I was to talk to them today, I sent a pre-recorded message. I got dressed up again, hair and makeup, all that jazz. It did little to help my drawn looks after yesterday’s emotional storms, but it was the best I could manage.

I told them the story of the It, the early birth of Anrel, the prognosis that we would both recover. “What you see of me now is not forever,” I teased. “So don’t run screaming quite yet. I’ll give you other reasons for that in due time. Oh, what the heck. Let me give you a reason now.”

At that point, I relayed what was going on with Nang and the possibility he might show up to cause trouble later down the road. I decided if Clan Aslada made our scheduled com appointment after all that, they were either extraordinary men or masochists of the highest order.

They answered my live com when I rang them from Anrel’s room later. Maybe they’re extraordinary masochists.

I was greeted by three gorgeous specimens of manhood who bowed to me the instant they appeared. Dramok Aslada seemed broodier (Is that a word? It fits him.) than before, though he mitigated some of that with a gentle smile.

“Matara Shalia, thank you for the opportunity to talk live to you. We are honored. And is this the lovely Anrel?” His politician politeness crumbled as he looked at the baby in my arms. She was back in her pink dress, since it was still pinned to almost fit her. Aslada’s grin stretched over his face. Someone give me back my ability to breathe. That Dramok is beyond stunning when he smiles.

“Oh, she is beautiful,” Imdiko Meyso enthused. He didn’t gush as Cifa did, but his delight was genuine. He beamed wholeheartedly at my little Anrel, who was doing her favorite trick of chewing on her fist. “What a wonder she is! I would give anything to hold her right now.”

Nobek Jaon bowed to Anrel, his gaze riveted on her face. “Greetings, little Matara. I know you can’t understand a word I say, but I feel fortunate to meet you.” His eyes flicked to meet mine. “And Matara Shalia, may I express my regrets that I am not with the two of you to keep you from harm.”

That he wanted to keep me from harm ... maybe just so he could rip someone’s head off for fun ... was my first impression. Jaon is all muscle, all ferocious intent. I had a vision of him and Oses beating the shit out of each other and then laughing about it later over drinks. Some Nobeks live for the opportunity to hit stuff. I thought Jaon probably fit that description.

Aslada’s expression turned concerned after Jaon’s declaration. “You have been through a terrible time. I confess, I was stunned to see your state when you sent us the earlier message. However after hearing your story, I am amazed you fared as well as you did.”

“Strong lady,” Jaon agreed. “I am most impressed, Matara Shalia. You put many Nobeks to shame.”

I didn’t share his opinion, but I blushed a little at the praise. “Thank you all.”

“Would you mind if I asked your Dr. Tep for a copy of your brain scans during and after the infection?” Meyso asked. “As a brain surgeon, I am fascinated with how it tried to acclimate to you as an Earther. Plus I want to make sure there is no scarring or evidence of impairment.”

I shrugged. My case was already a matter of record for researchers and bio-weapons experts. Besides, Meyso would catch any problems a general medic like Tep may have missed. “Copy away.”

I got a big entrancing  smile that made me feel warm all over. “Thank you. While we’re talking shop, I hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions about your mother, Matara Eve. I have all the reports from Dr. Nayun and Tep, but I’d like to get a few observations from someone who has a long-term history.”

We spent about five minutes on Meyso’s questions, during which time Aslada and Jaon waited patiently. They studied me and Anrel. I was glad to see their expressions warming over those few minutes. I supposed they grew accustomed to my wan state. As for my baby, her every little motion and chirp was greeted with smiles. Even Jaon couldn’t help but flash a wide grin from time to time.

Once Meyso finished quizzing me about Mom, the imposing Nobek gave me his complete attention. “I have begun inquiries into all available channels to do with this Dramok Nang. Hunting down men is my specialty, and I will exhaust every possible trail he may decide to take. I have connections throughout the known galaxies. He will be seen at some point ... and he will be stopped.”

The hair on the back of my neck rose at the unspoken threat in Jaon’s tone. I had the feeling his definition of stopping Nang didn’t necessarily mean slapping cuffs on his wrists and bringing him before a judge. I thought maybe Jaon showed little mercy to those miscreants he was sent out to catch.

Me being me, I found such power exciting as well as scary. I have to laugh at myself and my wanton urges.

We discussed far more pleasant subjects, such as my former career as a vid producer. “I can foresee many opportunities for you here on Kalquor,” Aslada enthused. “I am always looking for the best way to promote important legislation.”

“And yourself during the election cycle,” Meyso said with a wink.

“Of course, of course. With her woman’s intuition and feeling, Shalia will be able to bring across the emotions of many issues instead of just boring facts and figures. We can get beyond the practical and into the true guts of my causes.”

I liked the idea of flexing my creative muscles again. Sitting around playing hausfrau was not my idea of happily-ever-after. I missed the work I’d done on Earth. “As long as I agree with what you’re up to, I’d be thrilled to be a part of it.”

The Dramok grinned as his clanmates chuckled. “There is nothing wrong with having to convince someone of my worth in order to win her support. I look forward to finding out where we agree and on what matters we will debate.”

We talked for about an hour before I felt myself starting to flag. Mindful of my condition for a change, I arranged to speak to Clan Aslada again before the transport left wormhole access behind.

They are without a doubt a steady, self-assured clan. Maybe they are more reserved than Clan Seot, but I sensed underlying warmth there. I like that Aslada sees me as a potential partner in his work. Meyso would certainly take outstanding care of me and Anrel. And Nang would be a billion times an utter fool to fuck with Jaon no matter how obsessed he is. A girl could do a hell of a lot worse.

I’m looking at two very viable options to spend my life with. It’s giving me a spark of happiness. I look forward to discovering how this all shakes out in the end.

Monday, September 21, 2015

July 14, part 5

I know Tep would have my head if he found out I went from Medical and the ‘visit’ with my dads straight to Oses. The Doc was not happy that I looked so worn out. I really was beat. But with confirmation that Nang was on the loose and more than likely looking for me and my baby, I needed to find out what the weapons commander’s inquiries had unearthed.

Oses had been in contact with the Atlanta site’s security team. He confirmed all my dads had told me, along with a few more details.

“Nang attempted to de-clan his Imdiko and Nobek,” Oses reported, his brow furrowed with disapproval. “His complaint was that he clanned them not realizing that he might one day have the opportunity to clan a Matara. With his clanmates being as fiercely homosexual as Betra is hetero, he could not hope to gain an Earther female for his clan. At the mediation, his Imdiko and Nobek claimed Nang was not merely interested in clanning a Matara ... they insisted he wanted you specifically.”

“Was this before or after he got into my fathers’ communications with me?” I asked, my heart thudding painfully. This was scary as hell.

“After. Two days after his bid to de-clan was rejected and therapy was ordered for the entire clan, he took that shuttle and left Earth.”

“Any sign of him since?”

“There was a report of a Kalquorian matching Nang’s description signing on to an Adraf freighter at the space station orbiting Neptune.”

“The one Earth allowed the Solns to operate before the war,” I remembered. “It was shut down when the fighting started since the Solns refused to drop Kalquor as a trading partner.”

Oses nodded. “The Galactic Council re-opened it to help facilitate Earth’s evacuation. Kalquorians have been in and out of that station since the end of the war, so there is no way to be sure it was Nang who was seen.”

“What about the shuttle?” I asked. “Leaving it behind would be a definite giveaway that he had been there.”

“No sign of it anywhere.” Oses scowled. “That doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, however. Adrafs are profiteers. It could be that Nang was desperate to book passage and gain cover while he was at it. He may have paid for his right to work on the Adraf freighter by giving them the shuttle. They probably disassembled it to put in their cargo hold to sell for parts elsewhere.”

“Let’s say it was Nang,” I said. “Was that freighter heading to Kalquor?”

Oses shook his head, confirming what I’d suspected: he’d already investigated everything possible. “No, but it is making stops at various outposts. Nang will most likely not stay aboard it to avoid being caught. He’s probably left it already. I expect he will jump from ship to ship, making his way to the Empire that way. Getting into Kalquorian space will be a trick given our strict examination of incoming foreign vessels.”

“He’ll find it hard to come in on one of your ships since there’s an alert out for him,” I mused.

Oses smiled his most predatory smile. “Damned hard. I’m not saying he can’t pull it off, but it will take some doing.”

“There is little chance he’ll be on Kalquor in nine months.”

“Next to none.” Oses came close to stroke my hair, comforting me. “Pet, you should be all right even if Dramok Nang makes it to the home planet. I’ll personally see to it that the Matara Complex’s security knows you have an obsessed stalker. I’ll also make sure the local police force is aware of the problem. You will not be left alone to fend for yourself and Anrel.”

“Just the same, I’m worried,” I admitted. “It sucks to have to depend on others so much.”

Oses nodded. “I would hate that too. I can’t imagine how helpless you must feel. But you will be all right, Shalia.”

I’m glad one of us feels that way.

I went back to my quarters. It was time for dinner, but my appetite was nil. I was too tired to think of anything except that Nang was coming for me and Anrel. I tried to lay down and sleep, sure nightmares would come.

They didn’t because I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, unable to rest for the constant thought of Nang, far away but on his way. Who knew how far he would go, what he would do in his state of mind?

I’d known a woman back on Earth, a decent lady who dated a man she thought was the answer to her every wish and prayer. Her husband had died, leaving her the sole supporter of three young kids. Her new man was a charmer, a guy who seemed rock solid ... until he started showing up at her work and following her everywhere, including the grocery store. He spied on her to make sure she didn’t speak to other men. He made it clear that he would not tolerate her leaving him. Freaked out, she tried to call the relationship off anyway. He abducted her kids and disappeared with them. After a terrible couple of weeks with no idea where her babies were, he started comming her messages and pictures of the children. He said that when she agreed to marry him he’d bring the kids back. They’d live happily ever after as the prophets had told him they were fated to do.

Fortunately, that tale did have a happy ending ... of a sort. The police were able to track the man down soon after he got in touch with my acquaintance. He was arrested. The children, who he had taken good care of, went home to their mother. The most chilling part was the kids reporting that the boyfriend had constantly told them, “Your mom will join us soon. As soon as she does, we will all go to the Kingdom of Heaven, where we will spend eternity together.” Then he showed them bottles of juice, which he said they would drink to toast their new beginning.

The bottles were all found to be laced with poison. The five bottles, one for each of them, were deadly hereafter cocktails.

I don’t know that Nang is that obsessed or unbalanced. I do know that for Anrel’s sake, I will do everything in my power to not find out.

Maybe that was why I got up and went to my com. I had to do something, anything to feel I had some kind of control over the situation, some way of protecting my daughter. I called up a frequency I hadn’t tried in months. I waited for no one to answer, the way they had not the last dozen times I’d attempted to reach them. They knew my frequency and avoided it.

Then a low, dangerous voice came on, one I still recognized after seven months of separation. “Shalia?”

“Esak,” I whispered, hardly daring to believe the Nobek had answered. “Esak, is that really you?” He hadn’t turned on a vid connection.

“It is. You sound ... tired. Are you all right?”

Tears welled up and a sob trembled at the back of my throat. I swallowed it down. “I had my baby. Her name is Anrel. She is beautiful.”

There was a long beat. When Esak spoke again, his voice sounded thicker than before. Maybe he hadn’t turned on the vid because he didn’t want me to see him hurting. Nobeks, especially younger ones, have a lot of pride over such things. Showing certain emotions is akin to showing weakness.

He said, “Of course she’s beautiful. You’re her mother. Congratulations, Shalia.”

“Thank you.”

The words dried up for a moment. After so long, after all that had happened, I should have had a million things to say. For a few terrible seconds, I couldn’t think of one damned thing.

Of course the first questions should have been easy. “How are you? How are Dusa and Weln?”

“We are all well. Healthy. Strong. Dusa and Weln are working the overnight shift tonight.”

Dusa’s absence must have been why Esak had taken the chance on answering. The young Dramok had been the one to cut off all contact, convinced it was in my best interests. I understood Dusa’s reasons, but it still hurt after all this time.

I took what comfort I could in the sound of Esak’s voice. “How’s your head?” I smiled, thinking of his pride in his ‘marks of honor’. My first Nobek lover had plenty on his skull, thanks to a bomb that had nearly gotten him killed. Such things were glorious to his breed, prizes to dote on.

Esak’s tone was pleased. “My hair didn’t grow back in some places. When others come close enough, they see the scars I earned protecting you and the others. I have impressed a lot of men older with more experience than me.”

“Good for you.”

My voice failed again. Why was it so hard to speak to this man? He had been a lover, protector, friend. For all I knew, he was Anrel’s father.

Thinking of that, I remembered why I had commed in the first place. “I heard about Nang.”

“I’m glad you got my message.”

So it had been Esak who’d sent the cryptic Ask your fathers about Nang. I was willing to bet Dusa didn’t know about that.

“Thanks for the heads-up. From what I heard, he went pretty far off the deep end.”

Esak growled something that was probably some Kalquorian curse word. “Nang has gone to look for you, Shalia. He found out you’re pregnant and thought the baby might be his.”

“That’s what I understand.”

“Have you picked a clan yet? Do you have a Nobek to watch out for you and the little one once you reach Kalquor?”

I heard the desperate fury in his voice. “I have a couple of prospective clans. The Nobeks in them are big badasses, Esak. Total beasts. Plus I have a friend here on the ship who is keeping tabs on the situation. He promises to make sure I’m well protected by the complex’s security and law enforcement on Kalquor.”

I heard a sigh of relief. “That is good. Because Nang ... I think he may have gone insane. His actions are not those of a rational man. He probably won’t make it back to Empire space ... but it’s best to be cautious.”

“I know. Damn, Esak, it’s good to hear your voice again.”

I thought I heard a smile in his tone. “It is good to hear yours too. So very good, Shalia.” His voice softened. “The baby ... she is well? I do not know much of these things, but she must have come early.”

I didn’t want to tell him all I’d been through since leaving Earth. Esak was Nobek through and through, protective to a fault. He’d proven that by going against Dusa’s wishes and letting me know what was happening with Nang.

Instead I said, “There were complications which led to her being born ahead of term. She’s doing fine though.”

“I’m glad. I miss you, Shalia. I think about you all the time.”

I swallowed a lump of hurt that had lodged in my throat. I couldn’t claim the same thing. Sure, Clan Dusa was a presence somewhere in the back of my mind always, but I’d put them in a small little corner of my consciousness. It had been the only way to deal with the loss.

I’d had to leave them behind. Dusa had insisted on cutting them out of my life. So I had moved on after a long struggle with that, deciding to build a life without them. Yet hadn’t there always been the hope of seeing them again someday, of showing them the daughter that might be theirs?

This conversation was opening up old wounds. I almost wished I hadn’t made the call.

Our exchange limped along after that, never reaching a real moment of ease. Esak, a typical Nobek, wasn’t much for talk. He’d always been a doer, a quiet man of action. Plus I think we were feeling too much of the distance between us, the impossibility of a real future together. I know I did. Esak’s inquiries about the baby and myself were careful. It was as if he wanted to know everything and feared it too. We tortured ourselves and each other with our tenuous contact, one that would be severed yet again when we clicked our coms off.

In the end, it was too painful to go on. I thought I heard relief along with regret in Esak’s voice when he said goodbye. “Take care of yourself and the child, Shalia. For my sake, be safe.”

“I will. You do the same. Stay strong and alive for your clan. They need you.”

Then he was gone, that ghost of my past. Once more, a bit of Clan Dusa had entered my life and left it.

After sitting a while, I don’t know how long, I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. I turned my attention to the future, to tomorrow, to my plans and what I needed to do to ensure Anrel’s well-being. I was resolute as I vowed to figure out a way to keep her safe.

I will not look to the past again. With Clan Dusa it holds only hurt. With Nang it holds fear and regret. The past offers none of the answers I need.