Today I’m sharing the first chapter of Lorran. It’s a big, juicy one with nearly 6000 words. The normal warnings about typos and things changing apply. (I’m still not happy with Lorran’s section.) Let me know what you think!
She’d do it today. She’d volunteer.
Better to just get it over with and know than sit and worry for weeks. Volunteers had control. If they were matched to an alien mate, they had time to make preparations, pack, and say goodbye.
Plus, there was the money to consider. Wyn had to admit the money would be nice. It’d cover her portion of the rent for the next year–hell, the next three years. Her roommate and bestie, Sonia, could bitch and moan about the oppression of the patriarchy and the systematic injustice that offered up half the Earth’s population as human chattel to pay for the protection of alien warlords, but she’d take Wyn’s money. Sonia had principles but she was also realistic.
Principles were nice but they didn’t pay the bills.
But would Sonia speak to her if she knew Wyn was considering volunteering to be matched to a Mahdfel warrior?
Her friend’s opinion did not matter. If Wyn did it now, she took control of her fate and would have agency. Sonia could choke on those words if she didn’t like it. Sonia might be her bestie but Wyn needed to do what was right for her.
She could do it.
She would do it.
“Is that all for you today?”
The cashier’s voice yanked Wyn from her pep talk and back to the reality of tightly clutching a bouquet to the point of damaging the flowers. She set the bouquet of pink daisy, creamy peonies and pink teabud roses on the counter. “That’s all.”
“Is this for someone or just because? Do you need a card?”
“Just because. Mondays are hard enough. It’s nice to have fresh flowers,” Wyn said. Her job at an insurance company call center was gray and miserable. Flowers helped.
For the last eight months, when she realized that she’d have to take the test to be matched to an alien, Wyn had been purchasing flowers every Sunday at the florist next door to the volunteer center. She liked flowers well enough but she had been trying to work up the courage to volunteer for the test and be the master of her own destiny. The flowers were innocent bystanders in her scheme.
So far the only thing to come of it was fresh flowers for her desk at work. Not that the call center was her work–okay, it was her day job. Wyn was an artist–mostly painting but also mixed media, thanks for asking– but freelancing as an artist for hire didn’t come with health insurance.
“The owner wants to know if you can make another dozen of those cute little Mahdfel figurines. Maybe with candy canes for the holiday?”
Wyn nodded. She got a better price for the polymer clay figurines online but the florist paid cash and she had the electric bill due soon. “I can bring them by next Sunday. Any particular color?”
“The purple ones with the horns are always popular,” the cashier said.
Good. She had a decent stash of purple clay ready to go. She’d toss in a few red and blue guys for variety. The green guys, unfortunately, blended too well with the bouquets. They weren’t as popular.
Having paid, Wyn hesitated outside on the sidewalk. She could jump in her vehicle and try again next week but she was running out of “next weeks”. She’d turn thirty in three weeks and then she’d have to take the test whether she liked it or not.
She did a lot of research on the likelihood of being matched to an alien warrior, which is a perfectly normal reaction to a person in her situation. It wasn’t weird or obsessive, no matter what Sonia said.
Somehow Wyn made it to 30 without being tested. When she turned 18, she came down with pneumonia, which earned her a one year medical exemption. Then she was fake-engaged to neighbor’s grandson. Her parents paid him so Wyn could focus on school without having to worry about being shipped off to aliens. Then real engaged to Oscar for five years. Then Oscar ditched her to follow his muse. Being left for another would have been better than being ditched because he got bored. How does a gal’s ego recover from something like that?
Anyway, the next year her appendix decided that it had enough of the world and burst, so that was another medical exemption. All of which brought her to today, her 30th birthday and her first time taking the test literally every other woman on the planet had to take, unless they took evasive action.
She didn’t believe the online conspiracies about mandatory testing for the Mahdfel bride program and she did not agree with Sonia about the unswerving oppression of the patriarchy. It sucked, obviously. Several articles on the network claimed that love matches and volunteer matches were more common than a genetic match, therefore mandatory genetic testing should be phased out. The invasion had been nearly two decades ago, surely Earth fulfilled its side of the treaty with the Mahdfel, and so on. The arguments ran from reasonable to banana pants ridiculous.
Do it. Don’t be a wuss.
Statistically women over thirty were not matched. She’d take the test, get rejected and then she’d know. Worry over. No more searching the network for articles about statistics and half-assed claims about tricking the test.
10 Simple Tricks to Fools the Test.
What the Mahdfel Don’t Want You to Know!
None of the clickbait titles ever had any real substance and Wyn didn’t want to trick the test. She just wanted to know.
The worst that could happen is that she’d be matched, which would have happened eventually. If she did it now, she’d have the time to get ready for her new life with an alien. Plus, the bonus money for volunteering. And she’d have a smoking hot alien warrior mate, so double plus.
The Mahdfel were a fact of life. Wyn had been a little kid during the invasion, but she hadn’t forgotten the sharp delineation between Before Aliens and After Aliens. Her family made it through, despite having to relocate to a refugee camp. They survived the raid and gas attack. Everyone survived. So what if Wyn needed to use an inhaler for the rest of her life? She would have died if a Mahdfel warrior hadn’t slapped a mask over her face and tossed her in the back of a vehicle.
She might have developed an awkward preteen crush on the heroic aliens. Who could blame her? They were brave, built like they got a double helping of the jacked gene, and handsome. Like all of them. If a person could look past the alien features of horns and fangs and tails and sometimes scales. Nothing on that list sounded bad to a young Wyn.
Still didn’t. All that sounded amazing.
The Mahdfel continued to star in her fantasies. She knew she wasn’t the only person drawn the aliens. Handsome, heroic, dedicated to their mates.
Stop. Her ovaries could only explode so much.
Alien romance books were a guilty pleasure and she might have purchased a special edition battery operated toy, but what was in her nightstand drawer was her business.
Okay, being matched had a lot of benefits. Sexy alien benefits.
Sure, being away from her parents would suck and Sonia would be upset. She had lectured Wyn enough about the yoke of the patriarchy, blah blah blah. She’d appreciate Wyn seizing control over her own damn body. Right?
Eh, she’d give it 50-50 odds.
And it was going to happen anyway.
Just do it.
Wyn opened the door.
The woman behind the reception desk smiled. “You finally made it! Good for you. You’ve been dilly dallying for ages now.”
“What?” Mortified, Wyn wanted to rush back out.
“The flower lady. Every Sunday.” The woman glanced pointedly at the half-crushed bouquet. “Don’t worry. Plenty of people take a few attempts before they actually volunteer. That is why you’re here? Unless you already have a mate?”
“No. No mate. It’s my birthday soon,” Wyn blurted. Her cheeks burned. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Lots of people volunteer and it’s normal to come in and ask questions, then think about it. There’s a lot to consider.” The woman produced a series of glossy pamphlets.
“No, I mean I’ve never been tested. Ever.”
“Never.” Wyn had been a kid during the invasion. While her family made it through mostly unscathed, they were caught in a gas attack. Wyn knew they only survived because a Mahdfel warrior slapped a gas mask on them and took them to a medic. Even then, she had scarring on her lungs which required supplemental oxygen for years after. She knew about the devil’s bargain Earth made with the Mahdfel but it didn’t apply to her. She had an exemption.
Until she didn’t.
When she turned 18, the authorities decided that people with her condition or other injuries sustained during the invasion could be managed with medication and were no more serious than any other chronic medical condition. But that was the year she developed pneumonia and got a medical exemption from mandatory genetic testing. She still had a serious pulmonary condition, after all, even if the authorities were convinced that didn’t affect her uterus.
After that, her parents paid the neighbor’s grandson for a fake engagement. That arrangement lasted all through college until she fell in love with Oscar and got engaged for real. They were together for five years until Oscar left to follow his muse–his muse. What kind of artsy-fartsy bullshit was that? The next year, her appendix had decided it had seen enough of the world and burst, which was another medical exemption. So here she was, on the cusp of thirty and never having been tested.
“It just worked out that way.” She shrugged.
The receptionist patiently explained the process but Wyn just wanted it done. “Please, can we just get it over with? I’ll sign all the things. I don’t care.”
“Sure, okay.” In a few moments, Wyn signed what felt like a dozen documents, had her ID chip scanned, and a tech brought her to the back to swish a swab around her mouth.
Now all she had to do was wait.
The call came later that night. Wyn saw the ID info on the screen and went into her bedroom to answer.
“Yes?” She shut the door and switched on the box fan to cover the conversation. The walls in the apartment were thin. Lots of natural light but crappy, cardboard walls.
“Good news! Your sample was successfully matched to a Mahdfel warrior.”
“Oh.” The floor sort of fell out from underneath her. Not literally. Well, maybe a little. Wyn sat on the edge of her bed but slid down to the floor. With her voice sounding impossibly small, she asked, “What’s his name?”
“Lore-ran,” the person on the other said, stressing each syllable.
“Oh. That’s a nice name,” she said without thinking.
The caller scheduled Wyn’s pick up–on her birthday–and said that shipping containers would be delivered to her address tomorrow. Whatever she packed in the containers would be shipped to her new home but they advised against shipping furniture or other large items. “I’d recommend packing any food items you’re going to miss. Chocolate is a popular choice. Supplies can be inconsistent off planet.”
A shopping list sprang into her head of chocolate, tea, coffee–the good kind in the yellow vacuum sealed bricks, those shortbread cookies with the jam centers, and not just snacks. Art supplies. Surely the non drying clay she liked to work with could be replicated and she wanted to try other mediums. Aliens had to have amazing art supplies. She remembered reading an article about luminescent, lighter than air pottery. The clay had been sourced from some moon. The photos of the pieces looked amazing.
It had to feel amazing to dig our fingers into the clay from another world and shape it into something never seen. Her fingers itched at the thought.
A light knock on the door was all the warning Wyn had before Sonia barged in, holding up a sheet of paper covered in brown squares. “Which one looks like Mummy Brown to you?”
“I know. Weird, right? You’d think it was a name picked by the marketing department but Mummy Brown paint was made from actual mummies. Isn’t that ghastly? So,” she tapped the page, “which color best represents the dehumanization and commercializing of human flesh?”
Wyn searched the paper for dehumanized commerce but found nothing but brown swatches. “What is it supposed to look like?”
“Not as red as burnt umber.”
That helped her not at all.
Sonia’s hair was a vivid red today. Colored wax tinted her curls a new color every handful of days.
Both art students in college, they met in drawing class their first semester and immediately hit it off. Wyn liked Sonia’s brash attitude. She held nothing back, good or bad, and provided balance to Wyn’s quiet nature.
They both had jobs in the same call center for an insurance company. It wasn’t the most inspiring place for two artists, but it paid the bills and it gave Wyn plenty of time to let her mind wander to daydream. After Oscar left, they shared an apartment for budget reasons but also because Wyn did not want to rattle around an empty apartment on her own. It was a good match. Despite Sonia’s biting sarcasm, innate grumpiness, and rigidity that clashed with Wyn’s organic chaos, she had never let her down.
Sonia tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “You’re thinking.”
“Admiring your hair. It really goes well with your sweatshirt.” Faded to the point of being no specific color, the sweatshirt hung off of Sonia’s slim shoulders. Of course the color worked with Sonia’s coppery complexion. Wyn had to pick her colors carefully or she looked washed out. Of course, she always felt a little envious of the way Sonia could just wear anything, even ratty old sweatshirts, and make it look like a fashion statement.
Finding clothes that fit Wyn’s boobs and butt was a struggle. Button-up shirts were a no-go. Too many buttons had failed to hold the straining fabric together. Making a fashion statement was too much to ask when all Wyn wanted was a pair of damn pants that fit over his hips and didn’t gap at the waist.
Sonia glanced at the phone on the bed.
Wyn casually placed her hand over the phone.
“Who called?” Sonia asked.
For a moment, Wyn considered lying, which would be a shitty thing to do considering that Sonia would eventually find out.
Wyn took a deep breath, ready to rip off the proverbial bandage. “I volunteered to be matched. I’ve been stressing about it for months and I just had to know so I thought I’d get it over with and know, you know? They gave me some bonus money and I want to give you half for the rent so you won’t have to work for at least a year and just focus on your painting. But his name is Lorran Rhew and I forgot to ask what planet he’s from or where I’m going and I have to be ready to go by my birthday.” She sucked in a huge breath, holding it while she waited for her friend’s response.
Sonia nodded slowly. “Okay… That’s a lot to unpack. You volunteered?”
Wyn let a sigh. “I’ve been trying to work up the courage to do it for ages now.”
“Sunday flowers,” she agreed.
Sonia tossed herself down on the bed next to Wyn. She stretched out, arms behind her head and stared at the ceiling. Then she giggled. Like, an uncontrollable giggle and the more she struggled to not laugh the harder it became to stop laughing.
“It’s not funny,” Wyn said.
“You’ve been… buying flowers… for months…” She wiped tears from her eyes. “I thought you just liked fresh flowers but you’ve been too chicken to do the test. That’s classic Wyn.”
“Yeah, well–” Wyn struggled for the correct words. “I know it’s not a big deal to you but I’m freaking out.”
“There are loopholes. We’ll get you out of it.”
“I’m not sure I want to get out of it.” There. Her big secret–the tween crush that never went away–out in the light.
Sonia sat up. “You want to go?”
“Maybe? Fine, yes. I want to go. And they’re giving me a stupid amount of money.”
“Blood money, Wyn. They’re buying you.”
“It’s compensation for lost economic performance, that’s what the brochure said, and there’s enough money for you not to work for at least a year and just paint. You can tell the call center to suck it.”
“I do enjoy telling people to suck it,” Sonia agreed.
“Enough money to help pay for my parent’s meds. Since I volunteered, I have extra time to get ready. And I prefer to think of it as alien booty money.”
“Everyone wins, huh? Wow, that is some internalized oppression. You totally bought what they were selling.” Her words were cynical but Sonia almost smiled at the mention of alien booty money.
“It’s the best outcome. I’m making lemonade here,” Wyn said.
Sonia pushed her hair off her brow and madea frustrated noise. “This isn’t a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons situation. You’re the lemon. The patriarchy is making lemonade out of you.”
Wyn sprung up from the bed. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you. I’ve been trying to work up my courage for months, months, and all I kept thinking about was the little lecture you’d give me if you found out.”
“You didn’t want to tell me?”
“It sucks. Obviously. I’m being given–like a puppy– to a stranger and I barely know his name. Fuck. I think the application to adopt a puppy asks more questions than the volunteer center asked me today. Okay, forget the puppy. That was a bad analogy but the point is this is happening and it’s happening on my terms. You can respect that and help me or you can keep your opinions to yourself.” Wyn paused, waiting to apologize for her harsh words but needing to be firm. “But I’d really like my friend to support me because it’s fucking terrifying.”
Sonia’s eyes went wide. “Oh. Wow.” Then a grin spread across her face. “You found your spine. About damn time, Winnie. I was beginning to suspect that Oscar took that with him when his sorry ass took off.”
“I have a spine.” Wyn crossed her arms over her chest, all keyed up for an argument.
“I’m trying to tell you that I’m glad you’re pushing back. Since he left, you’ve been down. Not as bright. Like your spark was gone.”
“We were together for five year. That’s a hell of a long time. Of course I felt depressed.” The fucker broke her heart. She honestly believed they were forever and he got bored. Oscar tagging her in social media posts about his latest inspiration or gallery showing didn’t help. Leaving prompted a burst of creativity for him and Wyn hadn’t picked up a brush in nearly two years. She made cute little figurines to sell because chasing her muse didn’t pay the bills. “It’s called grief and it’s normal.”
“And grieving Wyn got pushed around by people. You just existed. I can’t even remember the last time you worked on a sculpture,” Sonia said.
“I got pushed around by you,” Wyn retorted, because focusing on that was easier than poking at her lack of creative mojo.
“And I’m a dick. I know. I go on my tangents–”
“But this isn’t about me. It’s about you doing things you want to do, the way you want to do them. I’m so damn proud!” Sonia positively radiated happiness, sitting crossed legged on the bed. “So what do we need to do? Oh my god, have you told your mom?”
“I literally just found out, so no.”
“You have to call Alana right now.” Wyn rolled her eyes but Sonia said, “Don’t. Your momma is scary when she’s upset and this will upset her.”
She had a point. The first Thanksgiving in college, Wyn brought Sonia home, since she had no place to go. Her parents welcomed Sonia without reservation and considered her to be another daughter. This covered all the good stuff like hugs and unconditional support but also the bad stuff like judging life choices and speaking their minds.
“Fine, but let’s do dinner first. Mom is not going to let this go with a quick ‘Hey, guess what? I married an alien and I’m moving. See ya.’ It’ll take hours.” And Alana would insist on helping Wyn with the arrangements. She wished the arrangements did not sound quite so much like planning a funeral but she had no idea what the arrangements would entail. Packing, certainly. Selling unneeded stuff like her vehicle. Transferring the utilities to Sonia’s name. Banking was supposed to work off planet but she needed to double check.
Okay, there was a fair amount to be done.
“Let’s splurge my alien booty money on pizza,” Wyn said.
“We are not calling it that.”
“Booty. Money.” Wyn reached for her comm and pulled up the food delivery app. “The usual? BBQ Chicken with red onions for me. Sausage and mushroom for you. Done. So are we done talking?”
Sonia frowned. “You weren’t going to tell me.”
Wyn shrugged. “Eventually.”
“That’s really shitty.”
“I know. I was working myself up to it.” Nevermind that it took her months to work up the nerve to volunteer for testing. “I was definitely going to tell you before the military showed up on my birthday and hauled my butt off planet.”
“Yay, probably five minutes before the knock on the door,” Sonia muttered. “Fuck, I’m going to miss you.”
“Hard same. You’re my best friend. I can’t imagine not talking to you every day or arguing about who used the last of the coffee creamer.”
“I can’t believe you’re smiling. How can you be happy? You don’t know this alien or what he’s like, just that he’s willing to pump you full of alien babies.” Sonia sounded incredulous.
Wyn touched her face and discovered that she was, indeed, smiling. “It’s just… Look, I’m just glad the will-it-happen-won’t-it is over. And it’s scary and this Lorran Rhew is a stranger–”
“Who might be a giant dickbag.”
“Who might be amazing,” Wyn said in a gracious tone, “or a giant dick bag. I can’t control that. You know those year-long galaxy cruises? Travel the stars on a luxury starliner. See the best sights in the universe. Be pampered like a rich fuck and never have to do your own laundry? I feel like I’m about to go on that trip. It’ll be a year of inspiration and plenty of time to work on my art.” Her stomach fluttered from excitement and nerves. It was amazing and terrifying.
“If you want to travel, those ships hire all the time. And the cabins are way too small for a studio for your sculpture. And it’s not a year, it’s for life.”
“Drawing or watercolors and I know that.” Wyn liked the messy spontaneity of watercolor but she loved clay and how it got under her nails.
“What if this alien is a giant dickbag? They’re bigger than us. Stronger. And you’ll be all alone.”
“Then I’ll get a divorce. I’m not without my rights.” The counselor at the volunteer center made sure Wyn understood her options if her match turned out to be less than amazing. But Wyn refused to believe that her Lorran Rhew was anything short of perfect. He was her alien and he would cherish her. That’s what they said about the Mahdfel. Okay, on the network they said a lot of nasty things about the aliens but there were just as many people singing their praises. “The divorce rate is really low, too.”
“You know why that is, don’t you?” Sonia asked.
“Because everyone is blissed out on alien wang and living happily ever after?”
Sonia’s cheeks flushed, which might have been a blush or might have been frustration. Wyn literally had no way of telling. “Just don’t build him up in your imagination too much,” Sonia said.
“Fine, fine. I’ll set my expectations low.” Lies. Her expectations were already sky-high. Orbiting the planet, even.
Wyn picked up the discarded page of color swatches. She held the back of her hand to the paper and compared. “Oh my stars! Am I Mummy Brown? Maybe more of a walnut.”
Sonia huffed and rolled her eyes. She spoke to the ceiling, “Lord help me, I’m going to miss her sunshine behind so damn much.”
“Uncle Lorran! Look how high I can jump.” Gavran squatted down and hopped.
“Very impressive. Show me again.” Lorran crouched to better admire the young warrior’s demonstration. The comm unit chimed with incoming messages. The communication array had sustained damage in a recent skirmish. Back on line, messages from the past few days continued to arrive.
Gavran hopped around the room, crashing into the chair by the dining table. He and the chairs landed in a heap on the floor. He blinked, as if uncertain of his injuries, and looked to his uncle.
Lorran studied the comm unit’s screen, as if he missed the collision. He scrolled through the unread messages, most from his mother.
“Pretty good, huh?” Gavran sprang to his feet, completely resilient only the way a child could me.
“I am impressed by your speed but your control requires practice.”
The child pulled a face, scrunching up his nose. It was a look Lorran had seen many times on Gavran’s father’s face. Gavran looked remarkably like his Terran mother, beige skinned, light brown hair and brown eyes, but there was no mistaking the Mahdfel in his build. Gavran was nearly three, already tall and strong.
No doubt Seeran would want his son to begin training as soon as possible. Today Gavran jumped around their cabin and crashed into furniture. Soon he would be breaking bones if he did not have an outlet.
It was a shame. Lorran wanted the child to enjoy what he could before being burdened with lectures on duty and responsibility.
The youngest of three sons, Lorran felt as if his entire life had been a long lecture on his family’s expectations and how he disappointed them. He did not have as prestigious a position as his brother Mene. He did not have the responsibilities as did his brother Seeran. He did not have a mate and a child, unlike both his brothers.
The list varied from day to day, depending on his mother’s moods, but those were the core complaints.
Lorran might not be the oldest or the son with the most honors, but no one loved his nephews more than him. He was the favorite uncle. Mene and Seeran were no competition at all.
“Your mother asked me to feed you. What sustenance do you require?” Lorran righted the chair and entered the food preparation area.
“Tempting, but I question the nutritional value.” His brother’s mate, Hazel, deposited Gavran at Lorran’s cabin an hour ago, begging for time to pack. They planned a family trip to Sangrin for the holiday. He did not understand the need to pack more than a single change of clothing but agreed when she promised cookies for his labors.
“Uncle Mene would let me have ice cream.” Gavran hauled himself onto the chair, grinning wildly.
“It is dishonorable to lie,” he said, because he was a responsible adult. After a pause, he then added, “And to lie so poorly is an insult. You need to strengthen your creativity,” because he was the fun uncle.
Lorran opened the cooling unit and withdrew the containers he selected from the cafeteria the previous night. As a single male, he did not bother to prepare his own food. On good nights, he had an invitation from his brother’s mate to dine with them. Other nights, he dined with his fellow warriors in the cafeteria.
“Gross.” Gavran flicked a chunk of green vegetable off the plate.
“Apologies. I have misunderstood. I thought you desired ice cream?”
Gavran’s eyes went wide. “Yes! Ice cream.”
“Eat your protein and vegetables, then you may have ice cream.”
Gavran looked skeptically at the greenery on the plate. “With whipped cream and sprinkles?”
Lorran leaned in, as if to disclose a secret. “Better. We will go to the training arena.”
Gavran’s eyes went wide and he shoved a piece of breaded protein in his mouth. “Can we shoot? I want to shoot.”
“Negative. You are too small yet for such weaponry. There are other activities suitable for a young warrior.” Despite Gavran’s moaning about everyone saying his was too little, Lorran was pleased that his nephew took an interest in weaponry. He could not wait until the day he could introduce Gavran to his favorite weapon, an antique plasma rifle.
Yes, it was wrong to have a favorite weapon–all weapons were useful and had their place– but this plasma rifle belonged to his father’s father. Lorran felt a connection to the relic.
Being a responsible adult was easy. He did not understand why his brother constantly complained that Lorran lacked focus.
“I can carry it. I’m not little,” Gavran insisted. He dragged the equipment bag along the floor.
Lorran resisted the urge to snatch the bag from the child but the look of utter joy on Gavran’s face made him pause. A few more scuffs would not impair the functionality, after all. Instead, he stooped to carry one end.
The training arena was a series of specialized rooms. Some were nothing more than a sandy floor and benches for spectators. Others had equipment for building muscles, drones for sparing, and targets for shooting.
Lorran particularly enjoyed spending his time in the training arena due to the facility’s solitary nature. He only competed with himself and his physical limits. No one compared him to his brothers. When he sparred with a drone or ran to simulated heavy gravity, his achievements and failures were his and his alone.
He loved his brothers but his entire life had been a competition for his parent’s attention. Whenever it did fall on him, it was only to compare him to Seeran and Mene’s accomplishment.
Lorran dropped the equipment at the base of a rock climbing wall. Gavran tilted his head back to get an eyeful. “It’s so tall.”
The rock wall stretched far overhead, the handholds growing progressively smaller and farther apart. Some sections were perfectly smooth with no means for grip at all. Other sections had simulated rock slides or trap doors which released drones that attacked like avian predators. Panels shifted and changed texture. Occasionally handholds vanished into the rock face. The wall was never the same challenge twice.
Lorran pointed to a cluster of boulders and a wall with a wide ledge, designed for youths. “We will start there.”
“That’s for babies,” Gavran said.
“Then you will demonstrate your mastery and we will move on to the next level. A warrior does not skip steps in his training.”
Gavran’s lower lip stuck out in a near pout but he nodded. Lorran suited up the youth in protective gear.
“Ugh, I can’t breath,” he complained.
“Your mother will be displeased if I return you damaged.”
“I can’t move. I’ll fall and damage myself and then Mommy won’t let you have cookies.” Gavran stuck out his arms and flailed them about, demonstrating that his range of motion was not impaired.
“Your mother is making cookies?”
Gavran’s eyes went wide. “It is a surprise.”
“I will not tell.” Lorran adjusted the straps to the helmet but no matter how he tugged, the helmet was too large for Gavran’s head.
“I don’t need it. I promise. I’ll be careful.”
Lorran doubted that the youth could keep such a promise but he acquiesced. “We will be cautious. Now, allow me to demonstrate.”
He stood at the foot of the wall. “Start easy. You will use your feet, thighs and back as well as your shoulders and arms. Be aware of where you put your feet and how you balance.”
Lorran climbed onto the first ledge, hauling himself up with exaggerated care. He reached a flat platform and crouched down to peer over the edge. “Now you. Join me.”
I wanna do it.” Gavran bounced in place. “I’m gonna climb to the top!”
Lorran doubted the youth could reach more than the summit of the beginner’s wall, but he felt indulge his nephew’s ego. “That would be most impressive. Come on up. Mind your horns,” he called down.
Gavran giggled. “Silly Uncle Lorran. I don’t have horns.”
The youth pulled himself up to the first ledge, huffing with the effort. Lorran called down with words of encouragement.
Gavran grasped a hand hold, his foot kicking at the wall for purchase, and he pulled himself up. Pride surged in Lorran’s chest. His nephew was tall for his age and strong. More importantly, his lack of horns did not hinder his sense of balance. Lorran had heard cautionary tales about males who damaged their horns and walked in circles for hours, unable to orient themselves.
What nonsense. Gavran had never had horns for the lack of horn would not hinder his balance.
Though he did worry about the lack of protection for Gavran’s skull. His precious head seemed so vulnerable without horns to take the force of a blow.
Gavran reached for the second ledge, rather than the handhold.
“Do not overreach,” Lorran cautioned.
“I can reach.” He stretched and his foot slipped. For a heart wrenching moment, he clung to the handhold.
Lorran threw himself down to the ground, the uneven simulated stone digging into his stomach. Too slow. His hand brushed Gavran’s tiny fingers and the youth fell.
The fall took forever, as if time broke and gravity reversed. Gavran hung in the air, his eyes wide with fear. Lorran’s name tore from his lips.
Time and gravity resumed their proper function. Lorran jumped down, landing roughly and scraping his hands.
Gavran lay there, unmoving and staring blankly up. The force of the fall had knocked the protective vest open. Prone, on his back, Gavran looked so human and fragile.
No helmet. Why hadn’t he insisted on a helmet?
Lorran broke the child.
Had Gavran been blinded? Had the equipment failed to absorb the fall? Cracked his skull on the floor? The flooring was meant to have absorption for such events. Clearly this was a design flaw. He would seek retribution from the engineer responsible for this vile contraption.
Worse, the situation proved that Lorran failed at being a good uncle. He behaved irresponsibly. His brother’s mate had been wrong to entrust him with the care of someone so precious and irreplaceable.
“Gavran, speak,” he croaked.
Seeran was going to kill him.
Gavran clutched his belly and laughed. His little legs kicked and his head rolled from side to side. “I wanna do it again!”
“Perhaps not.” He breathed a sigh of relief.
“I went woosh! Did you see?”
“I witnessed it.”
“Again! Oh please, Uncle Lorran.” Gavran bounced to his feet, the vest askew on his slim frame but otherwise in place. A quick check ensured that the equipment had absorbed the impact. The child was undamaged.
Lorran breathed a sigh of relief. “We must resecure our protective gear.”
Caught up in refastening and checking all the buckles, Lorran did not sense the presence standing over him.
“What are you doing?”
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Checklist for a top secret mission:
Pack your favorite knife
Befriend your fellow badass
Ensure that you have plenty of explosives
What’s this about a stowaway?
Lorran has wanted nothing more than to find his mate for years. Now fate unexpectedly delivers a luscious human female in the midst of a dangerous mission.
His warlord says he lacks focus and discipline. He’s never been more focused in his life but it’s hard to stay on task with an invasion fleet headed his way. Even more troubling, his mate refuses to believe that he wants everything with her.
He’ll win the female’s heart, save the day and the whole damn galaxy.
Wyn knows all about good-looking, charming guys.
Lorran is no different. Well, other than being a massive purple alien. He promises forever but the last man who promised her that got bored and left.
She won’t risk it. The alien may possess her body, but he won’t claim her heart.
Lorran is a stand-alone book with a guaranteed HEA and no cheating (gross).