COPYRIGHT 2011 by C.A. Dawson
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Carmen sat cross-legged on the weathered boardwalk of Earth Garden Six, arms out to either side for support. Splinters poked at the tender skin on the heels of his palms.
The Gron’dalins hadn’t planned on staying this long, not long enough for floorboards to weather.
Usually it was a quick in and out for them; a quick attack and grab. Then they were on their way home to Ranat – wherever the hell that was – with their spoils.
They didn’t usually bother building a colony. Not on most Bride Quests. They usually stayed on their massive ships for the plunder. But Earth was a special case.
Yes. Earth was special alright. Earth almost brought them to their knees. He snorted at the thought and suppressed a flood of resentment. If only Earth had been the Gron’dalins’ graveyard.
Linda raised her eyebrows inquisitively. A sea of emotions she could not read surged across Carmen’s face. She’d promised not to read his mind and she hadn’t yet tried. She knew he was confident she couldn’t read it even if she did try. He was wrong. But she wouldn’t advise him of that fact. He was good at concealment, but not as good as he thought he was.
He made no attempt to explain his distraction, but went deeper into his thoughts as she continued to sit on the rough boards.
He smiled, and the temptation to dive into the warm folds of his mind beckoned. She resisted.
Funny how things change, she thought. Only six months ago, at the mercy of an invader who was a member of the Masters of the Universe Club, as Linda had dubbed them, she’d been helpless. An assailant had controlled her with his mind. He couldn’t do it now.
One minute you were the Masters of the Universe and the next minute you weren’t. And a half-human captured for her reproductive ability, a half-human made your Queen for the sake of appearances, for the sake of decorum, was calling the shots.
Oh it wasn’t Linda calling the shots. No. She hadn’t been captured by the Gron’dalin King. She was captured by the warrior of warriors, by their lead Sentry, by their military mind, Cruchton Vihad Sentry.
But a half-human female WAS calling the shots.
Linda smiled as the thought grazed her mind. While Linda wasn’t that Queen, she was proud of her, proud to call herself a half-breed on her account. Unlike the Queen, Linda didn’t wield the power to stop the Gron’dalins from leaving Mars. But like the Queen, she had developed her mind extensively.
Now none of Cruchton’s kind could enter her mind. If they had been attacking today, Linda would not be captured. And what was more, she’d learned how to read their minds better than they could read hers.
Linda had become among the best of the telepaths. Only Orgone was better at reading minds than Linda, and she was determined to outclass Orgone.
And this Alterin who sat opposite her right now in Earth Garden Six, this human-Grondalin cross, this half-breed male thought he could block her from entering his mind! Not likely.
Carmen’s smile broadened. He looked briefly away from Linda. Feeling the splinters graze his flesh, he brushed a hand absently over the worn boards. Careful not to acquire the splinters that poked into his hands as a take-away from the encounter, he sighed and inhaled deeply.
Looking back at the beauty who sat opposite, Carmen tried to re-focus his thoughts on her. She was the reason he was sitting here, after all. He should be thinking of her, not the Gron’dalins.
But the fact that human women – or the ones who occupied the North American continent during the invasion – were independent minded; the fact Humanity had spawned a Queen for the Gron’dalins from North America – a Queen who possessed the power to expand her mind and take control of her own destiny – was why the Gron’dalins were still here on Mars.
They would be long gone if not for Hill’carn. These floorboards might be weathering away because the Gron’dalins were forced to build a colony; forced to build it because humans fought so hard to keep their women. But there would be no one to see time taking its toll if not for the Queen.
But wait, he thought. “The Queen’s from
Linda scoffed. “Ya. But what does she have to do with meeting you here?”
“Nothing. I was just thinking that if she hadn’t insisted the Gron’dalins stay here because of the health of her unborn child, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you this morning.” This was at least a partial truth. More correctly, he was thinking of the splinters in the weathered boards, not of his meeting with Linda.
“This is the deep thought you appear to be engaged in?” Linda raised her eyebrows, questioning.
Carmen chuckled and nodded. “You have a point.”
Sweat beaded lightly on his scaled forehead and tickled as it slowly meandered into his eyes. He blinked the stinging salts away and sighed as his attention returned wholly to Linda. God! He was terrified of frightening her off.
Steam rose lazily, threading its way from the jungle floor beneath the boards; enveloping him in its humid warmth for a moment before lacing skyward to the banit’ye barrier. In the distance a parrot squawked. Another answered.
Across from him Linda shifted restlessly, her scaled features a study in stone.
“I’m glad you kept your human name,” he remarked. Almost a year after her capture, Linda remained defiant about her name, not allowing anyone to call her Gra’lin.
She licked her lips and regarded him cautiously but made no reply.
He gazed at her with admiration.
“Do you want me because I’m Cruchton’s wife?” she asked suddenly.
Her words startled him. “I respect your courage,” he answered. “Your strength.” He knew he had to say this first, and not that her beauty took his breath away. She wanted to be respected. “And you’re so beautiful but at the same time so Gron’dalin.”
As this statement reflected off the barrier into the trees around them, he felt a stirring in his loins. He detected disquiet in her and knew he had blundered by describing her likeness to her captors.
“Of all the captured women,” he continued, trying to dig himself out, “it’s ironic that the one who struggled to escape them the longest...”
She cut him off and finished the sentence. “Became the most like a Gron’dalin ge’ad,” she admitted.
“Yes. But you were the one who struck the fiercest blow,” Carmen said, returning to her heroism and steering her away from thoughts of how scaled she was.
He never should have mentioned it. What was he thinking?
“You were also the one who wrought the most emotional damage on your captors.”
He took her hand in his.
Linda’s tightly curled black hair glistened in the filtered light that flooded through the rainforest canopy from above. Taking advantage of the break in the tropical covering to reach the forest floor, a break that the boardwalk provided, the light danced across her bare scaled shoulders. Piercing brown eyes set in a symmetrical face that had once been the rich color and smoothness of chocolate cream, stared out at him.
Instead of smooth human skin, sunlight now played across the tightly-woven scales on her face. Like a prism, her face threw off hues of red and blue, the colors of the Gron’dalin Sentry. Iridescent, unlike his own scales, Linda’s scales were beautiful in the extreme. To call them extremely beautiful didn’t do them justice. Their loveliness took the word beauty to new levels.
Cruchton’s colors, Carmen suddenly thought, and just as suddenly the beauty of Linda’s scales was diminished.
Nervously, Carmen shot a glance at a small gecko, which ran between them to scurry across the boardwalk. The distraction was welcome, taking him away from thoughts of Cruchton, if only for a moment.
If the Sentry found them in this garden he would kill Carmen. It was that simple.
Linda also took advantage of the diversion the small creature created. She too was nervous. She followed Carmen’s gaze to the tiny reptile and watched it intently.
What they were doing was dangerous. That made it all the more enticing though. Didn’t it?
She smiled to herself.
In his peripheral vision, Carmen saw Linda’s attention diverted to the little lizard. They both settled for staring at the reptile rather than broach the topic they wanted to address.
He rubbed the back of her hand gently.
The tiny lizard stopped partway to the other side, almost like Carmen and Linda, partway there.
After a few moments, Carmen looked back at Linda and said, smiling, “You’re probably the most beautiful, brave, independent woman I’ve ever set eyes on and I want to sleep with you.” There! He’d said it. He’d finally taken the plunge.
Her gaze slowly slid away from the small lizard as he spoke. Looking at Carmen again, she said. “He would know.”
“The lizard?” He shrugged playfully.
“You know who I mean.”
There was irritation in her voice. He regretted his flippant reply. His try at humor had failed. In light of her serious demeanor he relented, allowing his boyish playfulness to fall away.
“How? I’ve learned to hide my thoughts from them. You can hide your thoughts from them too.” He shrugged.
Linda seemed to consider this.
If he only knew how much she could conceal, how deeply she could probe, she thought.
Then sighing deeply, she said, “I would know.” She said this under her breath, more to herself than to him. It was a revelation to both of them.
Carmen decided to ignore her comment. This comment expressed self-doubt and possibly more, and would do nothing to further his aim.
He forged on. This liaison could not happen if Linda entertained any self-doubt. He must work fast to set aside her introspection. He changed the topic.
“My father used to say I was a late bloomer,” he said. He squeezed her hand gently. “My father was right.”
He slowly began rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand. She didn’t take her hand away, but continued gazing into his eyes.
“I couldn’t hide my thoughts from them when Paul Muntz blew out of here six months ago.” He confessed this in a quiet voice, a voice that was intended to sooth, a voice intended to keep her from exploring the misgivings that rested just behind her dark eyes.
But his tone did more than that. His tone revealed his resentment at being left behind. He hadn’t intended to give that resentment a voice. Not with her. Not now.
“That’s why they left me here,” he continued, barely able to conceal his bitterness. Having launched on the subject, like a bulldog he had to finish the bite. “I wasn’t developed enough as an Alterin back then. I am now. I can do it now, six months later.”
Too late, his tone admitted, and he cringed inwardly at the picture he was drawing.
“I could help them blow up that damn armada now if they were doing it.” He said these last words in a whisper, not unlike Linda’s earlier whispered confession.
Then, trying to refocus on the issues at hand rather than old wounds, he added, “He’ll never know, Linda.” He breathed raggedly as he slid a little closer, taking a chance with those splinters while not taking his eyes off hers. Still holding her hand, he pulled her towards him into a warm embrace.
“I would know,” she repeated, her voice a soft sound at his ear; a soft sound in the quiet jungle.
A parrot screeched again in the distance, disturbing the hush.
He broke from the embrace and kissed her lips. His heart pounded. This was the moment he had been waiting for. When he finished kissing her, he said, “I can guard my thoughts probably better than they can.”
She sighed loudly before taking a deep cleansing breath. “I doubt that.”
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, not wanting to address her remark and certainly not wanting to startle her. He didn’t want to re-awaken the kernel of self-doubt she had voiced a moment earlier. His voice stayed barely audible.
Linda tensed just the same.
“I want you,” he breathed.
Suddenly Linda pulled away. Those words, those poorly chosen words, wedged between them like a metal bar. Cold and solid.
Fluidly, she thrust herself to a standing position on the boardwalk.
She gasped. “This is insanity! This can never be! What was I thinking?”
“We’re the same, you and I,” he protested looking up, but making no move to join her, at least in part because of a nasty splinter that challenged him to make one unscheduled action, but more importantly because she would not want him to.
“We were human once. HE never was.” Again that resentment hammered his voice. All-consuming rancor drifted through him like bile.
“You and I are totally different!” Linda snapped.
With this declaration, she took a step back and inhaled deeply. Her hand, the hand he’d been holding, the hand he’d been caressing, went to her throat.
“What was I thinking? That’s it. That’s all. This can never be,” she announced. Her words were clipped and final.
Carmen made no further reply. He wanted to say he was stronger than Cruchton, although he knew he wasn’t. He wanted to say he would challenge Crutchton for her. But he knew by her attitude she would never allow him. He had lost. She would never be his. There was no reply he could make. Instead he looked sadly down at the gecko, which was surprisingly still frozen to the boardwalk despite Linda’s sudden movement.
She looked at the gecko.
As if taking its cue from their renewed scrutiny, or perhaps just mirroring what was happening between them, the little creature darted the rest of the way across the boardwalk and disappeared over the side into the undergrowth. The sound of it’s scurrying through the foliage hung on the sultry air for several seconds. When it could no longer be heard, Linda spoke.
“At least it can escape,” she said, pensively. They continued to stare in silence for a long time at the place where the gecko had vanished.
Then, changing the subject, Linda remarked, “Geckos. They’re native to
“That was a gold dust day gecko, common to
“Someone did stop them,” Linda remarked calmly. Her voice seemed to say ‘and that someone wasn’t you’.
For the second time in less than ten minutes, Carmen’s resentment at being abandoned by Paul Muntz surfaced, but this time he said nothing.
“They sure took this stretch of forest from somewhere hot,” Linda remarked, knowing the temperature was artificially controlled. She wiped sweat off her face as she began turning to leave. “And, Carmen,” she added, “if they hadn’t stolen this stretch of jungle, you would be a lot less happy on this Godforsaken planet.”
As though substantiating her claim, wicked Martian winds whipped red sand against the barrier that stood only yards behind where Carmen sat. He glanced briefly at the curving surface.
“It would be a lot less inhospitable out there,” he remarked on turning back to face her, “if that jerk Orgone hadn’t taken it upon himself to play God and manufacture air.” His voice was now unfriendly as well as ill-tempered.
She began walking as he spoke. Away from him. He wanted to scream at her to stop. He wanted to demand that she come back and sit down and listen to his reasons why they should be together, why she should betray Cruchton’s confidence. But he knew better.
“And I’d be a lot happier if they had never invaded Earth in the first place,” he called after her like a petulant child.
“A lot of people would be,” she observed. With that comment Linda picked up her pace.
Along the boardwalk the heels of her shoes clacked goodbye. Her tight jeans clung to thin legs, the humidity in the garden causing the jeans to stick to her like a second skin, making her all the more enticing to him.
She walked away with determination.
As though Linda could walk any other way, Carmen thought, dispiritedly.
At the barrier that protected the garden from the rest of Colony the doors swished open, releasing her. And she was gone from him forever.
The moment of her departure hung on the air, so final; so absolute. As Carmen stared at the closed doors that sealed her away from him, he almost couldn’t believe she had just been sitting near him. He almost couldn’t believe he had almost won the heart of the most wonderful woman in Colony, only to have her slip through his fingers.
The doors opened onto the corridor at the edge of Colony and Linda stepped through.
Standing there in silence, Cruchton watched her with hopeful eyes.
Recovering from the shock of seeing him there, she spoke. “Have you been here long?”
She strode defiantly towards him over the smooth floor that led to the elevators, her jeans still clinging from the high humidity inside the garden, the smell of her desire still clinging as persistently as her jeans. He had smelled that desire on her of late when she let him come to her. Had this desire been for Carmen and not for him?
Tall and well-muscled, Cruchton stood erect, unflinching, casting a shadow onto the floor behind him.
“Since your arrival.”
“And you didn’t come in to stop me?”
“I knew you would stop yourself.”
He tilted his head slightly in that inquiring manner he had, that inquiring manner she had come to know so well over the many months of her captivity.
“You are an honorable woman,” he said.
She sighed at this remark.
“Honorable,” she said under her breath. Some time elapsed before she repeated the word again softly.
She nodded, and with the release of the word the second time she discharged the breath she had unconsciously been holding. Realizing she was, for the first time since her capture, afraid of him, she raised her eyebrows. Was she afraid of him or was she afraid of what he thought of her? Was there any difference? His opinion mattered. That gave him power over her.
“Possibly, but I am no longer a human woman,” Linda observed, bitterly.
“It must be hard,” Cruchton said, groping for words that did not come easily to a Sentry, any Sentry, but especially to Cruchton. She knew he was a gron of action, not of words.
“It must be hard to be captured and removed from your home. To be,” he motioned with one hand to her face, “altered thus. It is an unenviable position to be in,” he remarked hesitantly, “to be coming to terms with” he groped for the right words, “your altered looks, and with your captivity and with...” He sighed and almost gave up the search for the right thing to say. When he continued, he finished with “With your removal from everything familiar.”
He grit his teeth as the awkward phrases finally spilled from the mouth of a warrior who had never aspired to diplomacy. “These ‘scales’ as you think of them are nevertheless beautiful.”
He took a small step towards her, wanting to touch her face, wanting to show his admiration of her beauty, just as the Alterin had just showed his admiration. Suddenly he stopped, reading her body language. A thing he was becoming very astute at doing.
He sighed loudly as the content of her message suddenly registered. “What are you if you are no longer human?”
She almost smiled a cynical smile, but held back as this could wound him. He was so slow to reason things through, to see what needed to be addressed. “I think it’s pretty obvious what I am,” Linda replied boldly, anger thinly held in check.
This answer confused both of them, but Linda more thoroughly than Cruchton. She wasn’t sure exactly what she meant. The fact that she didn’t know what she meant only served to make her angrier. Was she saying she was a Gron’dalin now?
Cruchton, the strongest of the Gron’dalin warriors, the lead Sentry upon whose skill the battle for Earth’s women had largely rested while their King was indisposed, took a sudden step back. He prepared to be attacked once more. He read the anger in her eyes, and experience told him to withdraw.
When the attack didn’t come he frowned at her, not knowing what to make of this change in her.
Silence stretched out between them until Cruchton finally broke it, “I am sorry, Linda,” he said. “I am sorry it had to be this way.”
Linda crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him quizzically. Light splashing in from outside the barrier, glanced off her scaled shoulders and slashes of blue and red danced across the hall toward him.
“That’s the first time you’ve said my name. That’s the first time you’ve said ‘Linda’ instead of that asinine construct you’ve called me for ten months.”
They regarded each other as if for the first time.
“’Gra’lin,’” she voiced the name with contempt. “And it’s the first time you’ve said you were sorry.” She said this more gently and with a puzzled look.
The shock in her voice startled him.
“This makes a difference?” he asked, genuinely confused.
“Of course it makes a difference. It makes you less of a monster,” she replied. Tilting her head the way he did when he was trying to figure something out; tilting her head as though seeing him for the first time. She regarded him anew.
He recognized that tilting of the head. She had picked that up from him. He was having an influence on her behavior. The thought startled him.
As she finished speaking the doors to Earth Garden Six opened and Carmen stepped out into the corridor.
Cruchton bristled. The gron and the Alterin stared each other down. Cruchton broke the silence.
“Nice to see you, Carmen.” There was no warmth in his voice, no mistaking his meaning.
“Go take a flying leap!” Carmen retorted. “You have her by default. I love her.”
There. It was out in the open, although Carmen wasn’t sure it was love he felt for Linda, and not lust. Still, Carmen obviously knew Cruchton’s purpose in being outside the garden, and Cruchton knew Carmen’s purpose for being inside the garden.
“You’re assuming I don’t?”
“Oh give me a break. You would have chosen anybody to satisfy your needs.” Even in his ears, Carmen sounded petulant.
“Not true. But that is none of your business, either,” Cruchton replied. “And remember, she chose not to accept you, Carmen.” Cruchton said this with a level of composure only a Sentry could display. Carmen recognized the self-restraint. “So I may not have her by default after all,” the sentry added.
Linda gasped at this declaration. Not knowing how to take the noise, Carmen rushed forward. In two long strides he stood face-to-face with the larger gron, challenging him through body language; daring him to lash out.
“Is she free to go? Is she free to leave you?” he questioned angrily, looking up into the face that, only a few short months ago, was alien to the Alterin but was now so familiar; so like the face he saw in the mirror every morning.
Linda suddenly intervened. Stepping closer, she said angrily, “You have no right to involve yourself in this matter, Carmen. This is a matter between Cruchton and me, not between Cruchton, YOU and me.”
Her admonishment was very disingenuous. Only minutes earlier she had been willing to include Carmen, in fact to encourage him, in becoming a central figure in her dissatisfaction with her captivity. Wasn’t her acceptance of his advances a clear sign that she was dissatisfied with her situation?
Slowly Carmen disengaged. His shoulders relaxed. His jaw loosened. A sigh escaped his lips. If there was any question of Linda’s intention before her defense of her relationship with Cruchton there was none now. Taking a step back, a step away from the brink of his own destruction, he looked away from Cruchton.
Gazing intently at Linda, he nodded. “He’s right then. You are with him because you want to be.”
“Hardly because I want to be. But I choose to be with him now. That’s what’s important.”
She regretted the words even before they left her lips. She didn’t want to admit this. It scared her more than anything else.
Giving Cruchton a quick look of hatred, Carmen brushed past the Sentry and fled the fourth level. Taking the stairs in lieu of an elevator, perhaps to be quit of the place as quickly as possible, his steps retreated quickly, echoing down the stairwell with anger.
Standing side-by-side, Linda and Cruchton watched the Alterin’s retreat. Silence gathered around them like a warm well-used blanket as the heavy door swung shut behind him with a click.
In the more than ten months they had been acquainted, if acquainted you could call it, Cruchton had never hoped for the sort of intimacy they now shared. Intimacy was born of the familiar, created out of respect and understanding. Had they finally found that? Were they a couple? Could he hope for that?
As he slowly turned to face Linda, hopefully, more openly then he’d ever allowed himself to look at her or anyone before, his eyes gleamed with tears.
Then a sudden flash of light, and another and another slashed the morning sky behind her.
“What is . . .” Cruchton’s brow furrowed. “What is that?” He leaned away from her toward the banit’ye barrier with a look of incredulity on his face.
Linda quickly and anxiously cast a glance over one shoulder in the direction of Cruchton’s puzzled gaze. As she watched explosion after explosion impact the Martian soil outside the barrier, her breath caught in her throat.
Sand sprayed the barrier and the ground quaked, shaking Colony.
Startled at the implication of what she was witnessing, she looked back to say we’re under attack, but Cruchton was already transporting them away. In a blur they re-materialized in their quarters, the familiar flowered sofa beside them; the nestling tables beside the sofa.
“You will be safe here,” he said, his voice full of concentration and urgency. He swiftly released the elbow he’d been gripping. “Nothing can penetrate banit’ye. It is harder than diamond.” He spoke to re-assure her, knowing she would need no reassurance. She was, after all, Linda.
“Go,” she said. “Go where you’re needed.” Suddenly this was her home, this was where she belonged, and it must be protected.
With that he was gone, and the moment of their tenderness, the moment of their oneness in the corridor on the fourth floor of the Martian Colony, was extinguished by an act of war against the Masters of the Universe.