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Lost Hope


Shifting Alliances Book 5



By Severine Wolfe

Science Fiction Romance

Lost Hope

Copyright © 2019 by Severine Wolfe

First E-Book Published January 2019

Cover design by Melody Simmons

e-book ISBN:


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.


All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental.


License Statement


This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re rea
ding this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Out in The Black you can lose everything


Nan’s entire life had been stolen from her before she’d been abducted and given away to pay a debt. All she wanted to do was give up and die and join her dead husband in whatever afterlife there was. Frustrated at not being allowed to go back to what little bit of life she had left on Earth, she grabs on to the chance to learn about new engines and propulsion systems. When she’d invited to visit a new ship with brand new engines, she feels life inside her for the first time she can remember.

Miko left Selu as a young man to attend The Academy and become and engineer on the best ships with the best engines The Accord has to offer. He’s given up finding someone he wants to spend his life with until a woman walks into his engine room and he feels the mate bond his people had abjured centuries ago.

The two of them discover each other and sabotage out on The Rim and find another piece of the puzzle into the faction that is trying to tear The Accord apart. Things turn especially dangerous when their ship is stranded far from a jump gate and dozens of saboteurs on board. They must discover how and why The Graxxus has been targeted and the discovery puts them into a race to beat the forces determined to rob them of the happiness they have found.

Dedication


My Muse says all of my books should be dedicated to her. Since we don’t always see eye to eye, I won’t. It won’t stop her nagging me at 3 AM with new ideas that I must immediately get out of bed and write down before I think they were a dream.

This book is dedicated, instead, to my wonderful readers who write me the best messages and really encourage me to keep trying to get better. It’s for each one of you that I sit and stare at a white screen every day and put words into place that hopefully tell a really good story. Thank you for buying and reading my words.


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my husband who has an almost repulsive knowledge of rocket engines, internal combustion engines and bleeding edge propulsion systems. I have tried to keep things as generic as possible.

I would also like to thank Kyle at Because Science for imparting volumes of information about space travel, space ships, and battling in space. Any mistakes are mine, not his.

ONE

Nan Toto had stood next to the hole where they had put her husband, Stuart. How appropriate that it was raining in a part of the world that wasn't really known for it, according to old songs her mother had listened to. She nodded to the few people who had come to the burial service. She thanked them for coming, remaining stoic until the last person was gone, then she stood looking into the hole with the two men assigned to cover him up standing patiently by a tombstone. Madly, her mind latched on to the chore of picking out a tombstone for their plots. She hadn't been able to do that. Not yet.

How was she supposed to survive this? How did one live without their heart inside their body? She had no idea, but she felt the hole that Stu's death had left in her being.

She looked up at the two guys waiting, sighed and turned away. Nan carried an umbrella, but she didn't bother to put it up. She had eschewed the offered limousine ride to and from the funeral home, choosing to drive herself. Simply put, she could not stand to talk to anyone or see their sympathetic eyes or listen to their sympathetic mouths saying stupid things that people always said when one lost a spouse.

"I'm sorry for your loss."

Probably the most useless words ever strung together, she thought bitterly. They had no idea what her loss was. They had no idea of the love between Nan and Stu. No one had. They'd had friends, but they were only truly themselves with each other. How dare they even consider speaking of what she'd had with Stu? They could not possibly know what kind of love that animated both of them. No one did because it had been so precious that they had shown no one in fear that it would sully what was perfect.

She sat in her black Honda watching as the two men began putting the dirt back into the hole and she was overcome with the urge to run over to them screaming at them not to bury him, that Stu was still alive. She was used to those momentary, brief, flights into pure madness that would come upon her at the odd moment. They'd been hitting her since they had learned of Stu's cancer six months before.

They would hit in between her bouts of wanting to just scream at the universe for doing this to them.

She finally put the key in the ignition and drove home on auto-pilot.

She had as much time as she needed in bereavement leave, but she returned after a mere week, unable to sit in the home she'd built with Stu. Everything was a reminder of him. She could still scent him, barely. He'd been in the hospice center the last two weeks of his life. After the medical equipment had been sent back to wherever that sort of stuff belonged, the house had seemed… empty. Even more empty that when Stu had gone into the hospice center.

She'd phoned her supervisor and was cleared to go back to work, provided she have weekly visits with a grief counselor. Her work was too important for her to screw something up because her brain was all messed up. Going back to work was her attempt to keep the emotions at bay by working. Nan was frightened because she could not bring her thoughts into order after Stu's death. Her mind was the only thing she had left, and she was living in terror of losing that, too.

The work had helped, the people at work had not. If they avoided her for whatever reason, she was okay with that. No, it was the people who felt she needed to talk, a shoulder to cry on, that aggravated her the most. She didn't want to talk to anyone about a man that most of them had never met.

Quite simply, she was angry at the entire universe.

At the time she had no idea that parts of the universe would make sure she knew what true anger was all about.

∆∆∆

She had awakened restrained by something attached to some sort of surface. She could see the light beyond her closed eyes, but it was too bright for her to open them. Had something happened? What? Had there been an earthquake? Mudslide? Was she in a hospital? Where was Stu? Oh, dear God, Stu!

It was the thought of her dead husband that opened her eyes, despite the lights and she stared at the face of… something… with red skin who smiled at her with so much evil intent she screamed.

"Good, my little slave is awake," it said. She was confused. His lips didn't move in conjunction with the sounds she heard in her mind. Nan tried to shake her head. The… thing just chuckled at her attempts to free herself.

"I fought a good war and you're my payment, female."

"You can't take people in payment for services rendered!" She screamed at him.

This could not be happening. This was some horrible joke. Aliens didn't exist. Everyone knew that. The Drake enthusiasts at SETI had found nothing to indicate there was any other life out there.

The face loomed over her again and a thick tongue flipped out of the mouth and licked her cheek.

"Of course, you can accept slaves as payment of a debt. It's not strictly legal, but it is done."

She closed her eyes and sucked in a breath.

"By whom?"

"What do you mean?"

"Who used me to pay off a debt to you?"

He stood up and away from her, giving her enough courage to open her eyes again.

"The Skelexian king, as I obtained an item for his menagerie for him." He looked at something somewhere else that she couldn't see from her table, bed, whatever. "I'm taking you home to my homeworld. We can evidently breed, and you will give me sons that will sell their fighting skills."

"That's barbarous," she spat at him. Then a smile curved her lips. She'd show him. She was sterile! Well, she might be. She and Stu had not managed to conceive in their ten years of marriage. At first, because they were still college students and didn't want to, then because they just didn't. They were beginning the tests to see if they might be unable when Stu's bone cancer was discovered, and all hope was lost.

Tears poured down along her temples at that thought.

"Why are you crying? I haven't touched you yet," He grimaced at her. Well, Nan assumed it was a grimace. Perhaps he always looked like that.

"My husband is dead."

"You were mated before?" He asked, leaning to look her in the face. "I was not told this.”

"He died a couple of months ago," she said, crying even harder, finding it hard to breathe.

The red giant grinned. "Then you know how to please a male, I won't have to train you."

"I'm not fucking you, you stupid idiot!" She yelled at him, outraged.

"Willing or no, I will take you," he told her, releasing the restraints.

Nan popped off the table ready to do battle.

"Conscious or not," she heard before the lights went out again.

∆∆∆

When she woke up again, she was staring into a red chest while she could feel him moving inside her body. Her entire spirit broke with that knowledge and she just gave up, wishing to join Stu wherever he might be. She couldn't live with it. She turned her brain off like flipping the light off in her closet.

∆∆∆

The rapes happened daily, several times a day without her in her own mind. The moment he approached, Nan shut her brain off and lay there, taking it. The big, red guy grew more and more disgusted with her lack of a fight or participation. She had overheard him talking to someone somewhere about getting screwed in their deal and demanding better payment, more payment.

She had heard the conversation clearly since the guy thought she was completely broken. They had made arrangements to meet up at some station and the red guy would be given two more slaves. He could blow her out of an airlock for all anyone cared, including herself. She hated him, hated herself for still living, and she felt filthy. Big, red, and rapist would just toss her into the shower, not even really cleaning her up, then throw her back on the bed to fuck her all over again.

It hurt. He was huge, and it hurt so badly, but she never made a sound. She gave him nothing at all to work with, enjoying the fact that it was frustrating him more and more. In her mind she smirked at getting back at him in some small way.

They had stopped by the station and the scientist inside Nan wanted so badly to see it, feel it, learn it, but she had to remain mute and brain dead. Two other women had been brought aboard and she had been left on a table in what she presumed was the medical bay. She could hear the cries and the screams of the women and it sickened her. She could not help them. She had no idea how to fly this thing, where they even were in the galaxy or even how to contact anyone that could or would help them.

She'd watched in horror as the red guy had carried the limp body of a woman into the medical bay and he threw her onto a bed and closed the lid on it. A few seconds later a sound was made, and he pulled her bloodied body out and put her into the refuse chute, to be blasted out into space.

"She's dead, so you're back in business, slave," was all he said.

Rations packets were occasionally thrown at both women and a tube of water per day. They didn't speak as Nan was still in her silent phase, giving him nothing, especially when he raped her.

The other woman finally died two weeks after they had picked them up and Nan found herself numb. She could only see the day when her own body would be thrown out an air-lock, into the unforgiving vacuum of space where her blood would boil within her body because there was no way to radiate heat in a vacuum. Space was cold, but that's not what killed you in exposure. It was the inability to shed the heat the human body produced.

A few hours after the other woman had been literally fucked to death, alarms sounded. The red guy ran to the front of the spacecraft and Nan was glad she was strapped to a table, if only to prevent her from killing herself. It felt like the craft was jinking, as she knew it was called. The craft was rolling from side to side, as if it was in gravity evading fire from another aircraft. She wasn't sure how that would work in space. Dogfights would be useless in a vacuum.

Then everything stopped, and the guy ran back and began gathering things, madly tapping at screens when there was a bump and the computer told her to prepare to be boarded. The red guy froze and stared as a tall, silvery skinned person with the whitest hair she'd ever seen walked in. His black eyes took in her on the table and the red guy standing stock still in the middle of the medical bay.

"Well, well, well, Moru," he spoke quietly. "Finally." He sounded very satisfied. He looked over at Nan again and nodded towards her. A female with pinkish skin came forward with a blanket. The big red guy, Moru, evidently, didn't even reach out to stop her. Two more male aliens walked in and shackled his arms and legs. The first, silvery guy smiled.

"Justice will be meted out, Moru, have no worries."

Big, red was then dragged off, screaming and yelling and then that suddenly just stopped, and the silvery guy looked extremely smug.

"My name is Silas, madam," he introduced himself from a distance while the female ran something rectangular around her body. "You have been rescued by Accord Security Forces."

"I want to go home. I didn't get to see my husband's headstone installed," she spoke up suddenly. The word rescue was a beacon to her. No more pain for her body to endure. She could go back home, to her home with Stu… but Stu was no longer there.

"I'm afraid I cannot help you there," the man said quietly, and she felt some pressure in her brain and closed her eyes.

"I have a headache," she mumbled to the pink woman.

"I am currently scanning your mind for your recent memories," the silvery guy, Silas, told her. "Mareet will finish with your physical scan in a few moments, then we will know where to take you."

"Take me?" I asked, looking up at him."

"Which rehabilitation planet on which you will most likely be helped before we can take you to Olyg where all Earth females are living.

Nan just stared at him. "Did you say Earth females?"

He smiled and nodded. "We are trying to make sure we find all of you who were stolen."

"Then you'll take us back?" She asked, hoping against hope, even though her rational mind told her it would be a foolish move and that nothing awaited her back there anyway.

"That would be quite impossible. You would not be able to cope with what's happened to you. Who could you tell?" He shrugged one thin shoulder. "We're trying to do right by you and offer you new lives for the ones stolen from you.

"She's not pregnant," the pink lady told Silas.

"Thank you, Mareet," he said, still smiling. "Can you please get a hover bed and take her to the medical bay on board our ship? I'm going to get this thing into the flight bay and have our tech teams go over everything."

"He killed two women," Nan suddenly blurted out. "He picked up two earth girls from a station somewhere and fucked them to death."

Both the silver and pink beings in the room with her stopped and went still.

"He complained that I was not payment enough and he was told where to go to get two more women."

Silas nodded sadly and then to Mareet who motioned a bed into the room where Nan was told to lay down. The hovering slab fascinated Nan.

"I'll let you inspect it later," Mareet whispered to her.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, Nan looked forward to something.

TWO

She had been put into a med-bed and healed from the internal injuries she had received as a result of Moru's enthusiastic use of her body. She felt physically better when she was released from the med bay and taken to her own quarters. There was a guard outside her door and only the captain was allowed in or medical staff with his permission. Three times a day food was brought to her. Mareet had come by to check on her and show her how to use the lighting and climate controls.

A shower in the ray device had left her feeling cleaner than an hour-long soak in a bathtub. She could see why they would invent such a thing since providing water to an entire spacecraft had to be a pretty mean feat. After the first few days she had asked permission to tour the engines but had been denied. Silas had explained that they could not show her anything above her own technology. It was forbidden beyond the viewer she had been given with the cultural information on Olyg and the Accord and the peoples therein.

Nan had read everything given her and asked for anything more she could be provided. She had nothing but time as it had been decided that she would be taken straight to Olyg rather than spending time on a rehab planet. She was as healthy, physically and mentally as she could be, all things considered.

Silas had asked her about Stu on one of his visits and she had only explained that he had been her mate, as these people called them. She offered nothing more and did not feel a burgeoning headache she got when he went diving for information in her memories. He was never rough or mean about it, but it did not sit well with her, having her brain put through a sieve as he sought information.

"Moru has been gelded and he will be sent to a mining prison," he informed Nan the day before they were to reach Olyg.

She had gasped and stared at him. Her mouth opened, but there were no questions for her to ask.

"It is done cruelly, without the aid of anesthesia and he's been given no painkillers after. He will be put in the same compound with the other rapists who have been caught and sentenced."

She did nothing but stare and wonder at the justice of an advanced civilization.

"Rape is a horrible crime, as Moru is about to discover. It's far uglier than you think in the aftermath when you have to face your rapists every day," Silas had said before bowing and leaving her quarters. It chilled her to her marrow, the word rapists. However, she did not ask for any leniency. The man would have fucked her to death and shot her out of a refuse chute without a backward glance.

Nan sat on the sofa type of contraption in her quarters thinking of everything, her mind swirling. She wasn't sure what she should think about it all. She found herself, for the first time since her abduction, feeling a wrathful anger toward those who had stolen her from her life and her life from her. She got up and began picking things up and throwing them. Then the screaming and yelling began, and she poured all of her anger, all of her grief, all of her horror into that until she was on the floor, curled in on herself.

That was how Mareet had found her when Silas had warned her that Nan was breaking down. The medic had kindly given Nan a sedative and once she was out the other guard had asked one of the guards to place her on her sleeping platform, tucking her in securely. Then the medic watched her for a while, while busy on her own personal comm, contacting a person she was sure could help Nan with her transition into her new life in a place she had never before known existed. A sly smiled crossed her face at the response from the person she'd contacted.

If anyone could help Nan, Tasha was that being.

∆∆∆

Nan had been taken down to the surface of Olyg by Silas who had officially handed her off to the Alliance medical personnel assigned to The Center where she would apparently be staying until they could decide where to dump her. She had been given a complete scan, told that she wasn't pregnant, again, but that she was fertile. That was something, she supposed.

She'd been handed a tote-like bag with clothing in it. She'd kept her own viewer from the ship she'd been on and it had been calibrated to The Center, so she could access more information than she had aboard the ship. Then, she'd been shown to her quarters that she was supposed to share with another woman, who never showed up. She was told that the woman had stolen a ship trying to get back to Earth to retrieve her daughter. That had set Nan back on her heels. As far as she’d been told, they had made sure to capture women who would not be quickly noticed to be missing. Missing an entire child was a huge deal.

She spent the first two days in her room reading up on Olyg, the people, the culture and what The Accord was telling them about their plans for them.

She read with abject horror the news of women from primitive worlds that had been kidnapped and had no hope of returning to their home but could not possibly be expected to operate in this very technologically advanced society. She read of the rehab planets where they were housed and fed and counseled if possible.

The news that centuries of data had to be thrown out as they found everything had been tainted by the knowledge that most of what they thought they knew about other worlds had been made up to hide the criminality of the scientists who thought to "boost" evolution by planting their own seed in the women and observing what happened. She vomited upon stumbling across that knowledge, the scientist in her rebelling at everything about it.

On the third morning there came a knock on her door. She barked a "come in" as it was probably eating time and trays were sent up to her as she refused the dining hall experience with other victims just like her. She was being incredibly stubborn.

Would they stare at her, knowing she'd suffered in the same way as they had? Would they refuse to speak to her? Or worse, would they want to share their experience with her?

A shudder ran through her at that thought when a woman a lighter shade of skin than hers, carrying a baby, came into the room. That stopped Nan's mental works completely. Dear sweet merciful God that she no longer believed in. They'd made it stick with one of the women. She gasped.

"I'm Tasha," the woman said, shifting the baby from her arms to her hip. She dropped a larger bag on the floor that had diaper bag written all over it. “Mareet called me from the ship and asked me to drop in when I was here this week,"

Nan just nodded, not taking her eyes off the child.

"My husband is standing outside the door…" Tasha said, suddenly twigging to Nan's lack of emotion. "Is that okay?"

Nan suddenly remembered her manners and gave Tasha a small smile. "Please have a seat," still not taking her eyes from the child.

Tasha stood for a moment, then turned and opened the door. "Hadok, can you step inside a moment."

When the Selusian stepped inside the door Nan stopped in the motion of sitting in a chair and stared at him instead of the baby. How could Tasha have married her kidnapper? The child was the image of her father.

Tasha turned and handed the baby to Hadok who stepped back outside without a word and Tasha came over and sat in the other chair, watching Nan the entire time.

"His twin brother was the one who abducted me," the other woman explained. "Hadok discovered me after Fragard died while raping me on Selu. He got me out of there and well… we fell in love."

Nan knew there was a whole lot the other woman was leaving out, but who was she to turn love off the box where it sat, as someone had once said in a movie she'd once seen.

"You can tell that Margaret looks so much like him," Tasha smiled kindly.

Nan was shaking her head. "I don't — I can't even think…" Her mind stopped, unable to think what she would have done if she'd gotten pregnant with that red thing's child.

Tasha chuckled. "Meg even got the small points on her ears. It's so different than Earth. She'll have wanted my round ears as they are not the norm out here at all."

Nan just nodded vacantly. No one had explained to her why everyone out in space had pointy ears but a few species, it just was. Rounded ears were seen as wonderful and desired. She had not understood it, still thinking of Earth and the attraction of elves and Vulcans.

"She's beautiful," she finally breathed. The child had been as pale as her mother, but with her father's dark blackish hair.

"Can I bring her back in with me? She loves her daddy, but it's nearly her lunch time."

Nan nodded and watched as Tasha reached out and took her daughter in her arms and then her husband's head swooped down for a quick, but thorough kiss.

Tasha smiled as she sat down, putting Meg down with some toys on a blanket and the baby rolled from side to side.

"She's going to be crawling soon. We've already baby-proofed the house, but we’ve both been warned that babies are always looking for new, inventive ways to kill themselves."

Nan just nodded, staring at the baby who was doing very human baby things.

"That thing was trying to plant a baby inside me," Nan finally said out loud, her thoughts escaping her through her mouth.

Tasha nodded, very matter of fact and her mouth thinned. "That was the stated goal, at any rate."

Nan looked up at her. "How do you stand it?

Tasha smiled kindly. "I made a conscious decision to live through it." The woman shrugged and sighed. "Then finding myself so attracted to Hadok… They were identical twins, and then finding out about Meg here," Tasha laughed. "Finding out about her changed everything for us."

"I didn't get pregnant," Nan blurted out. "I wasn't sure I could until the physical here. It's not like Stu and I ever…" she could speak of her dead husband to anyone here. The bludgeon of his death once again beat her into silence.

"You lost your husband shortly before you were abducted?" Tasha asked, then grabbed a squalling baby and a blanket and with the expertise of a professional, set her daughter to her breast without showing anything to anyone. Nan sat in awe of talent like that. Tasha saw her watching and she smiled. "We're rarely ever alone, someone is always visiting. I've had a ton of practice at baring my breasts without showing anything."

"Stu died a couple of months before I was taken," Nan found herself giving Tasha the details of Stu's illness and the heartbreaking months between his diagnosis, his sudden failure of health and then his death at the hospice care center where his pain had been managed.

"You still hadn't processed your grief and then you were kidnapped, raped and terrorized," Tasha shook her head as she diapered her baby and handed the bag out the door to her husband. She turned back smiling. "You don't want that in here."

Nan smiled for the first time she could remember. "May I hold her?"

"Do you really want to? She's a squirmy wormy just before a nap." Tasha smiled down at her kicking daughter who was working off the last of her energy before beginning to sleep. Nan was so quiet while they watched her drift off, so busy watching the small thing, she was surprised when Tasha spoke again.

"Hadok brought up some lunch, would you like some?"

Nan nodded, expecting more food packs, but was surprised to find a small box with street food in it.

"This is my first taste of non-packaged food," Nan inhaled the delicious fragrances coming from the box.

"You haven't gone down to dinner?"

"No, I haven't wanted to see people…" She looked up expecting judgment.

I get it," Tasha said before taking a bite of what looked like a hush puppy and closing her eyes in rapture. She moaned in pleasure. "If Hadok hears that I'll be in trouble,” she snickered.

Nan couldn't imagine wanting a man again. Ever. Her man was dead.

"Have you worked up to your anger phase of grief yet?" Tasha asked in between munching on the hush puppies that were so delicious they made Nan's mouth water.

"It's funny, we spoke of so much before he died," she admitted to Tasha. "He said he didn't want me to be mad at him for dying, or mad at the disease. He wished he could hear me once again railing at the universe because he hadn't put the toilet seat down…" She began crying. "I want to be mad at him for leaving his shoes in the middle of the entryway again, not because he got cancer and then died so quickly."

"How long had you been married before he was diagnosed?" Tasha sat up and asked, watching Nan quietly.

"Almost ten years, and he was gone within six months. It was so fast, and I just couldn't keep up." Nan wiped tears away. "My whole life was gone, and I just couldn't process it. I was walking around like a zombie trying to stay busy, just so I didn't have to deal with it."

"Had you gone out with any friends or invited them over?"

Nan shook her head. "You know how it is when someone gets sick, everyone stops coming around because it's either a reminder of their own mortality or they can't deal with it either."

Tasha smiled sadly. "It's also hard if you cut yourself off and don't talk to others who miss him as well, who understand what you're going through."

Nan had not thought of it that way either. Stu's best-friend, Art, had tried to reach out, and lord knew he probably had to talk as badly as she had, but she just… couldn't. Not then.

"I feel a big hole inside of me, all the time," Nan confessed as Tasha remained quiet, allowing her to gather her true thoughts and give them a voice.

"Do you want to know the worst thing about someone close to you dying?" Tasha finally asked.

Nan shook her head.

"They leave you behind to deal with it while they go to wherever we go when we die. And, we're left alone to deal with their estate, our grief, and the constant question of how to go on."

Oh yeah, Tasha knew grief.

THREE

After a few sessions with Tasha, Nan felt ready to face her future and at the very least, allow herself to be tested to see where she would fit best in her new reality.

She had even gone out to visit Tasha and Hadok's farm and met their neighbors. Everyone was so kind to her. She had found a friend in Sailosh's human mate, Irina, who was an imp and teased her husband to no end. There was love there.

As her training advanced, she took more of an interest in the world around her, no longer working to stay busy, but she was so busy learning that she didn't have time to wallow in her grief and sadness. She still thought of Stu a lot, but it wasn't a constant hit with a hammer. It wasn't like being hit with a Nerf bat either, but she was working on living again.

Her work with propulsion systems had gotten her major attention from the engineering sector and talk was made of allowing her to travel to Selu once the final rebellions were put down. Fighting was still going on there and the production plants had almost all been bombed into oblivion. Any building was taken over by the Accord and the scientists and engineers moved to The Center on Olyg until they could return to Selu.

Tasha had found a fast ally in a woman named Marion who had mated with an Olygian and was a mathematician. They were currently working on some of Nan's coursework at The Center while Marion's husband, mate, whatever, was at the Center for a training course of his own. Marion had known the woman that Nan was supposed to be rooming with.

"… and Taka just walked onto Irina's transport and stole it, with Oras right behind her. Nome barely jumped on board in time. She's supposed to stick to Taka like glue." Marion stopped and looked at Nan. "It's been months, and no one has heard from them since they hit the last jump gate before hitting the Earth quadrant."

Nan was learning about space travel and how they managed to traverse such vast spaces. It wasn't a trip to the Quickie Mart. Earth was months’ worth of space travel and jump gates away.

The longer she stayed on Olyg and the more she learned about propulsion systems on their spacecraft, the surer she was that it would be impossible to take the women back to their home planets. Simply put, they had too much knowledge and too much experience to cope with being back from where they had been plucked.

Nan shared the math tutor that Marion had and was enjoying the new knowledge and the small glimpses she was given of now outmoded propulsion systems, but it was still leaps ahead of the knowledge she'd brought with her. The challenge was what spurred her to get out of bed every morning.

Before she knew it, she was learning about engines currently in use. Her learning of the energy source for most engines had been a huge hurdle as it required some remedial physics and chemistry as far as the Accord was concerned before she could completely grasp the concepts involved. She had worn a wry grin as she attended classes with children at the beginning. She had told Tasha that even a newborn Olygian had more knowledge of the universe than an eighty-year-old rocket scientist from Earth. Tasha had grinned and explained that she was the Accord expert on the human psyche, and it had surprised her to discover that the psyche was not universal, she, too, was learning.

"I hear you're joining dinner most nights," Tasha had said as they took Meg on a walk around the park that was across from The Center.

"I enjoy the company, even though there are only about twelve of us left and they haven't found any new Earth women from what we've been told. And it’s not like any of the guards bother any of the women."

Tasha nodded and looked out across the small pond where some bird, duck-like animals swam. No one threw crusts or food to them, so Nan supposed that's what the signs around the pond stated.

"You will usually get notice when that happens, and they will tell you the protocol for approaching the woman," Tasha's gaze went far away. She sighed heavily and looked down at her sleeping daughter. She turned to Nan. "I was brutally raped and beaten before I was taken to Selu and then slapped into an apartment I couldn't leave." The woman looked into Nan's eyes. "This goes no further, but I feel I can trust you. Meg is not Hadok's daughter, but his brother's." Tears welled up, but Tasha refused to cry one more tear over Fragard. "This held Hadok and I back longer than it should have. We just let everyone assume she belongs to Hadok, and a genetic scan will show she does, thanks to them being identical twins. He loves her so much." She gave Nan a watery smile. "And Meg loves her daddy." She looked around the pond and trees surrounding it, watching other people out taking in the pleasant day.

"I guess what I am trying to say is that if you find someone who interests you, eventually, don't let your abduction keep you from pursuing something that could be really good."

Nan just stared at her. "How do you look at his face and not see… him?"

Tasha smiled and nodded. "I choose to see Hadok and not Fragard. I've been doing it long enough now that it's not even a conscious decision, it just is."

Nan shivered. I just don't think I could ever look at someone with red skin again and not throw up."

"Wait until you meet Sensi's mate, Gwum. He was imprisoned in a slave market with Marion's mate."

Nan just could not possibly imagine a Glyxonian in a good light. It was just impossible.

"The likelihood of you running into them is almost nil since they are mercenaries and outside the Accord," Tasha pulled up the brake on the stroller and they continued their walk. "You really should read up on the mating customs of the races you'll be working with, so you don't accidentally end up mated to some male just because you handed him a wrench."

Nan gasped at that remark. "Surely, they don't —" She couldn't finish the thought, it was so foreign to her.

"Nah," Tasha laughed. "However, Selusians used to have a mate bond, but denied it for whatever reason. They are finding it coming back very quickly now that they're not repressing most of their biological drive. Thank God," came out with a satisfied smirk. Nan shook her head.

"I've never believed in that whole soul mate, instant knowledge stuff."

"You don't have to. Jesus, watch Sailosh and Irina or Marion and Furgo. I find it amazing that neither of those women is pregnant as often as they're dragged off to the bedroom, or they are dragging their men off," she shook her head. "Shameless."

Nan snickered. "Irina told me that you and Hadok holed up in a room for a couple of days of non-stop sex."

"As all newlyweds do," Tasha protested.

Still, Nan shook her head in disbelief. "I just don't buy into it. Stu and I met as undergrads and were friends and it grew… We enjoyed each other but there was no great burning need to have sex or be with each other."

Tasha crossed the road back to The Center and both women waited as they were checked and allowed into the facility. The Earth women there were protected very carefully as there had already been kidnapping attempts.

Meg was fed and changed before Tasha left to get the transport back to the small town where she and Hadok had built a home on a farm. She was eating dinner in the dining hall later and got a message on her comm. She gasped, and her face broke out into a huge smile.

"Holy shit, did you win the galactic lottery," said Andrea, an anthropologist from South Africa.

Nan shook her head. "No, I've been asked to join a group of other engineers to view a new engine the Accord is going to be using. I get to go up to the station orbiting Olyg."

Andrea chuckled. "They're so casual here about shooting into space. You should have fun."

Nan nodded as she read the entire message over. She would have a Security Force guard with her all the time. She ate her dinner with a constant smile on her face. She was getting back into a groove, not just walking on a treadmill of her own making.

After sending a quick message to Tasha and Irina, she went up to her quarters and tried to decide what to wear. Accord black or Accord grey?

∆∆∆

The next day a female Security Forces officer met her at her door.

"Hello, Naki," she smiled at the young woman.

"What is up?" Naki replied. The girl delighted in learning Earth slang and using it.

Nan chuckled. "The sky, Naki. The sky is up."

They both laughed and Naki pointed up. "We will catch the special shuttle on the roof, we've just been cleared to proceed." She pointed to her ear and walked slightly behind her as they went to the elevators.

Nan was so excited about leaving Olyg, if only for a few hours, that she was nearly bouncing in her seat on the shuttle. She was belted in, but Naki was standing with a hand in a hook hanging from the ceiling as they lifted off, so that she would not be stuck in a seat should she need to protect Nan from… whatever.

Naki got them checked in and thus the tour began. Nan took in everything and noted any questions she had about generic stuff to ask later so as not to slow down the demonstration. Any specific questions she had would be asked in private if she could manage it. She didn't want to breach security in any way.

They were led into the engine compartment of the ship and explanations began on the improvements over the old engines, the new features, and then a demonstration of how much easier it was to change out fuel cells and other parts that were routinely maintained. All of the other engineers appeared cheery about where a part was located, and it was shown how easy it now was to perform maintenance on it.

She thought briefly of a friend of Stu's who was a designer of engines for the automotive industry on Earth and how they were encouraged to make things as difficult as possible so only the dealerships could work on the vehicles that were made to be broken. That wasn't even a consideration out in space.

Questions came, and the Captain, a Lyxosian named Lysion, patiently answered them as best he would. Yes, a captain would want to know all about his engines. When he was stumped, he called for his Chief Engineer. Nan was wondering why Captain Lysion, pronounced Lee-shun, had black hair and looking it up on her personal comm unit while they waited. Oh, he was part of the Royal Family, she found out. When another voice began speaking, she looked up and her thinking stopped.

Wow! She wondered if this was the lust thing, she'd heard so much about. She could hear his voice, but not what he was saying, her mind had just gone haywire as she stared at him. He was Selusian. He had their almost Oriental look, but his hair was dark brown, his eyes a yellow-orange, sort of umber, color. He was tall. About six inches more than her five foot six, that was for sure. His face was all angles, his skin tight over his high cheekbones. She swallowed as she imagined her fingers traveling over the planes of his face.

"Are there are any other questions?" She heard Captain Lysion ask. There were several and she watched as the Chief Engineer exited the chamber. She tried to bring her mind back to the engine and only barely succeeded.

This had never happened with any man, she thought to herself. She'd met Stu in a math class when she was a sophomore and he was about to graduate. He'd been a biologist, specializing in genetics, while she'd been interested in building engines that could really go. They'd clicked, dated and several months later both of them decided to dip their toes into the waters of a sexual relationship.

Nan blew out a breath as she heard a cheer go up in the room and she looked around. What was going on?

"So, if you will all go into the auditorium and be seated, we will get underway for a short demonstration. Our Chief Engineer will be in here, with video up in the auditorium so he can explain what is going on and how it's all working."

"How far out will we be going?" She asked, suddenly frightened at the thought of being on board for too long. She was safe on Olyg.

"We'll head out to the edge of the accretion detritus, make some repairs to an observatory out there and then head back. So, plan on about three hours."


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