Short Stuff


This space will be for some of my short stories, or flash writing, or verbal vomit, or whatever.

 

 

This is my contest entry to the Tales site for March. As with February’s entry:

Be advised, the story contains mature subjects and content!

After the phone call, Jase stared into space for nearly a full minute. The woman’s rich, melodic, sensual contralto echoed in his ears and locked his mind into a fantasy of desire. If her voice could do that to him, what would happen if they met? He had to find out. No one since Lealu Maldon had ever affected him so and he had bungled his chances with her in high school.

 

*****

 

Jase had spoken to Lealu two years before while he attended college. She called his mobile out of the blue one weekend afternoon, and the news she laid on him was a bombshell. Lealu confessed she had been in love with him but never told him, at least not directly. Twice a week, she left a dark pink carnation on his desk to let him know he was always on her mind and that she would never forget him. She regretted not telling him and asked how he felt. Lealu’s news left Jase torn between his high school dream girl and the love he had recently found. He chose his new love. Dead silence assailed Jase’s ears just before Lealu ended the call, and that was the last he heard from her. Regrettably, his new love cheated on him two weeks afterward, but whether through pride, shame, or decorum, Jase never contacted Lealu. He had squandered the opportunity of a lifetime, twice, and wallowed in a quagmire of despair ever since.

 

*****

 

As the warehouse assistant manager at the Astrohall in Houston, Texas, Jase usually passed the phone order to one of his runners, but he decided to deliver it himself. He had to meet the woman with the mesmerizing voice. She had to be new because he would have remembered her.

 

When he arrived at the stand, Jase opened the rear door and beheld the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, personified. Raven-black hair framed an olive-skinned oval face with a slightly pointed chin, high cheekbones, round, deep-set Indigo eyes, patrician nose, and full, pouty lips. She was of Mediterranean descent, and her smile offered promises to which he had no right but desired anyway.

“Hello, Jase. It’s about time we met.”

“How do you know my name?”

“I’ve asked about you. All the ladies know who you are, so I just had to meet with you. Why don’t you come inside?”

Jase shook his head to clear the cobwebs left by the angel’s voice. Over the phone, her voice was simply intoxicating, but in person, it evolved to hypnotic.

“Jase? You okay?”

He finally found his voice, “Uh, yeah. I’m okay. Um. I have your order…,” Jase let his voice trail off.

“The answer you seek is Apate, and I meant what I said,” she moved closer and laid her hand on his neck, “I would love for you to come inside, and you can take that any way you like. I love your vibe and your looks. You remind me of Nicholas Cage, just Black, and way more muscular.” Her hand caressed his triceps.

 

Jase found himself uncharacteristically speechless but retained the sense to wheel his trolley into the stand and unload the goods he had collected. His head still swam from the sound of her voice as he stacked the last box on the floor of the backroom. As soon as he stood up straight, Apate was in his arms, and her lips pressed longingly against his.

“I’m off at six, and I definitely need you to give me a ride. You won’t leave me frustrated, will you, Jase?”

Her faux-pout hooked him, so Jase vowed he would be there for her. Apate’s gaze finally released him, and he walked away, eyes unfocused and fuzzy-headed.

A recent, recurring dream dragged him into semi-consciousness as he slogged back to the warehouse. 

 

*****

 

Jase was in a dark place, bound to a pole bolted to the floor by a rope that bit into his wrists. His hands and shoulders ached, and his head swam as though someone had slipped him a Mickey. A female figure, shrouded in shadows, walked toward him. Light glinted off of metal in her right hand as a voice exploded in his mind. No one ditches me until I’m done with them. The metal bit deeply into Jase’s neck as he woke up screaming.

 

*****

 

He almost jumped when a hand gripped his elbow. Mitchell, his best friend, asked if he was okay. Somehow Jase had arrived at the warehouse with no recollection of how he had gotten there. He assured his friend he was fine and returned the trolley to its place in line. He sat in front of the computer and pretended to audit the previous month’s balance sheets as Mitchell handled the bustling warehouse staff. Jase had a great best friend. The memory of the dream had muted Apate’s effect on him. Why had it surfaced right at that moment? He had no valid answer.

Six o’clock rolled around, and he left for the day. The gun show had ended an hour before, and Mitchell had everything under control in the warehouse, so Jase made his way back to the concession stand and his date with Apate. He honestly didn’t expect her to wait for him, not with her smooth, olive skin, large breasts, tiny waist, and curvy hips. Jase wasn’t that lucky or good-looking enough to rate someone like her despite somewhat resembling Nicholas Cage. As he walked, her name tickled the back of his mind. Apate sounded familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on why. Mythology came to mind, but the specifics eluded him. Kind of like Tantalus, Jase mused about the evil king doomed by Zeus to eternal hunger and thirst by keeping food and water just beyond his reach. But when Apate’s eyes locked onto his, all doubt drowned in a sea of desire.

The next morning that recurring dream dragged him from a troubled sleep. He awoke raw, bruised, and covered in weeping wounds revealed by the recently risen sun as it speared through the blinds. Teeth marks still shown on some of them. Apate lay next to him, and her back resembled his body. He had no recollection of where they were, how they got there, or what happened the previous night.

 

Jase began to rise when, from seemingly nowhere, a hulking figure blocked the sunlight. He threw the covers back, ready to launch an attack when an iron grip froze his shoulder in place.

“It’s only Dolos, lover. He’s my nosy roommate who needs to learn how to knock.”

“Sorry. Just checking on you. You two made a lot of noise last night.”

“There was a reason for that, Dale. Go back to your room, please. I’m not done with Jase yet.”

That was news to him because he wasn’t sure his battered body and raw genitals could handle any more of her. Dolos, Dale, or whoever lumbered out of the room.

“Wha-what happened last night?”

“You were everything I’d hoped for, tiger. No one has satisfied me so well for a very long time. I think I’ll keep you, for a bit anyway.”

At the time, all Jase wanted to do was to go home, shower, and go back to bed, but when Apate kissed his neck, desire flared within him again. When next he awoke, moonlight revealed even more bites and bruises, but he remembered something of their coupling this time. The sex had been intense, as was the pain that, surprisingly, intensified the experience. Still, something had been different about her, but he could not put his finger on it. Now, Apate seemed as beautiful as ever despite being covered by more bites and bruises, but the light of the moon seemed to have weakened her hold on him. 

Following an instinct that helped him survive growing up in the hood, Jase leaped from the bed, grabbed what he could find of his clothing strewn across the floor, opened the door, and ran straight into Dale. He didn’t hesitate. He thrust the heel of his hand under the giant man’s chin, which knocked him back two steps. Jase followed up with a snap kick to the abdomen, then an uppercut elbow that toppled Dale to the floor. Jase bolted through the door and into the night, wild-eyed and bare-assed. After a quarter-mile, he stopped to pull on his pants and shirt. It was a good thing the night was warm because his bare feet could not take the cold. He checked for his wallet and found it safely nestled in his right-front pocket, but his phone remained on Apate’s bedroom floor.

Nothing around him looked familiar, so Jase walked until he found a recognizable landmark, the rotating penthouse restaurant of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston. He knew where he was now, and he felt he had put enough distance between himself and the hulking Dolos to be safe.

The next day brought the beginning of the Psycho Siege, as Jase would call it later. Apate appeared everywhere he went. She plagued him at work, at home, and even at his mom’s house. For weeks, nowhere in Houston was safe, so he emptied his savings account and hopped the first available plane, which happened to go to New York City, likely one of the best places to lose himself. It lasted a week.

Jase hopped the Pond and landed in merry, old London, another place that should have shrouded him, but he took no chances and paid cash for passage to Stavanger, Norway, on the Viking Cruise lines. The week on the cruise ship was wonderfully uneventful. When he disembarked in Stavenger, Jase hopped the first train to Oslo and spent a night under an assumed name in the Anker Hostel on Storgata 53-H, sleeping in one of their eight-person dorm rooms.

After a quick breakfast, Jase hopped a train to Copenhagen, after which came one of the most unique voyages he had experienced so far. The train from Copenhagen to Hamburg boarded a ferry at Rødby, Denmark, for a fifty-minute crossing that landed in Puttgarden, Germany. Something about a train crossing the water inside a ship intrigued Jase. He wasn’t frightened even when they hit a little weather during the crossing.

Under yet another assumed name, Jase stayed in a six-bed dorm room in the Backpakers St. Pauli Hostel near downtown Hamburg. For the first time in a couple of weeks, he felt somewhat safe. If Apate could track him through all of the cash payments and fake names, he would never be rid of her. 

He attributed her locating him in New York to the burner phone he’d purchased. Even though he had used an alias, she had found him there within a week. Perhaps she possessed the resources to track his passport to the U.K., then Stavanger, but she would have to be a sorceress to track him through the EU and its borderless borders. Sorceress? That word took him back to the reason the names Apate and Dolos sounded so familiar, but mental fatigue and stress shoved the thought to the outskirts of his mind. Jase needed good food and drink, so he walked down to the St. Pauli piers and enjoyed a fantastic seafood dinner, along with some genuine St. Pauli Girl brew at Dock 3-Beachclub on Bei den St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken.

After the excellent food and brews, Jase strolled over to the so-called red district of St. Pauli, Reeperbahn, and was surprised to find a KFC on the corner of Reeperbahn and Hamburger Berg. He had a good laugh at that as he plunged into the crowded streets full of both drunk and sober locals and tourists, amazed at the size of the crowd so early after sundown. Signs advertising the Dollhouse, Beach Club Shooters, and Safari Bierdorf beckoned to Jase as he strolled down the bustling sidewalk, feeling a bit like a pinball as he bounced from one passerby to another. That beer had been pretty strong.

He found a recently-vacated patio table at a little bistro and took a seat. A cute waitress with brown hair cut into a short bob and sparkling blue eyes took his order for another beer. He wasn’t partial to anything in particular and asked the waitress to surprise him. She spoke English remarkably well, thank goodness, because his German was practically non-existent, except for a few choice words not appropriate for public consumption and a phrase he remembered from an episode of The Bionic Woman reruns. That one might come in handy under the right circumstances. But, on second thought, his last foray into casual sex landed him right where he was. He would leave well enough alone.

After a couple more beers and some relatively exciting people-watching episodes, Jase returned to his Hostel. When he opened the door, all he saw was a fist large enough to block the sun, then stars just before the floor rose to meet him.

Jase woke up into his nightmare; tied to a post, biting ropes, dark room, everything except for the shadow with the glint of metal in one hand. A few moments later, that part of it came true, accompanied by Apate’s sultry voice.

“You’ve led us on a merry chase, Jase,” she snickered at her clever turn of phrase, “But now it’s time to pay up. I told you in the dream, no one runs out on me, especially some no account mortal, despite how well you pleased me. Your little guardian angel can do nothing to help you now.”

The missing piece fell into place in his fractured mind. Apate was the minor goddess of deceit in Greek mythology, actually a Daimona, a little less than a goddess. Dale or Dolos was the demon of trickery, her male counterpart. Jase didn’t want to believe it, but what other explanation could there be? He heard a click, and dim lamplight stung his eyes. She walked into the corona of faint light and what he saw reminded him of the second time they had sex. He remembered bluish skin, magenta hair, sharp teeth, beauty beyond compare, and a body made for sex. 

Despite everything, an erection tented his pants because he now desired her more than anything else in the world. Apate leaned over Jase and dragged a nipple across his lips. The knife in her hand clinked as it struck the pole above his head, and it didn’t bother him one bit when the cold blade touched the side of his neck over the carotid artery because it was just a part of the game. All he cared about was the breast nearby as his mouth searched for the raised mound of flesh at its tip.

From nowhere, a dark pink carnation floated into view. When it touched Apate, she cried out and retreated as the smell of burning flesh assailed Jase’s nostrils.

“You cannot have him, Apate. You broke the rules of engagement by using a mortal to retaliate against me. Now, I can banish you and your demon brother, this time permanently.”

A glowing, translucent apparition floated down and settled between him and Apate. She turned to look at him. It was Lealu, all aglow and more beautiful than he remembered. She gestured with one hand, and his bonds dissolved.

“Stay behind me, Jase. I’ll protect you,” Lealu faced Apate and Dolos, both of whom morphed into full-on, blue-skinned, red-eyed, demon mode, without the horns. He had seen images of succubi before, and Apate fit the bill perfectly, while Dolos’ legs grew cloven hooves like Pan without the wool.

“I’m full of souls now. You’re no match for me, phantom.”

“I wasn’t until you chose to avenge yourself on the man I love.”

“We’ll see,” Faster than Jase’s eyes could follow, Apate fired a bolt of yellow energy from her hand at Lealu, who barely had time to dodge as it seared her arm. Apate fired a second time, then a third, but they never got close to her again as she moved away from him. Apate realized what Lealu was doing and turned her attention back to Jase, and that was all she needed. She charged the demoness and batted her arm away just as Apate released another ball of energy, right at Dolos. He disappeared in a torrent of fire that descended through the concrete floor and, hopefully, straight to the underworld.

Apate shrieked and tried to retaliate, but Lealu rained blow after blow upon her face, neck, and chest until the daimona lay dazed on the floor. She stood over Apate’s prone body and pointed her open palm at the demoness.

“You’ve led me on a merry chase. Now, I release you to an eternity of oblivion, daimona,” a bolt of white light burst from her hand, struck Apate in the forehead, and descended her to the underworld in a splash of white fire and red flame.

Lealu returned to Jase, encased in a brilliant white light brighter than the sun but calming to his eyes and soul. She staggered into Jase’s embrace.

“How is this possible, Lealu?”

Shortly after that fateful call, Lealu took her own life. Mother Azna, God’s agent whose dominion included Earth, gave her a choice. Typically, when a soul returned to heaven, they took time to meticulously plan out their next life. However, suicides instantly reincarnated into a life, not of their choosing. Lealu could go forward and be reborn immediately, or she could hunt down Apate and Dolos. Then, she would be admitted to heaven.

Lealu’s earthly form began to fade.

“Will I see you again?”

“I will wait for you so we can plan our next life together, Jase. I love you,” His cheek tingled at her touch as she faded from view. He fell to his knees and wept.

When Jase returned home, the dry, blasted wasteland that had been his front yard had grown into a lush garden of dark pink carnations.

 

 

 

 

I wrote this short story for a contest on a website named Tales. We were limited to 3000 words so I wasn’t able to explore the plot and characters as much as I would have liked. This is the original contest entry. I will add more content later to polish the story and answer some questions I had to let lie.

Be advised, the story contains mature subjects and content!

Courage, Compassion, and Blood

By CB Arnold

“Why her, and why now, Schiar’N? You’ve dangerously accelerated our timetable.”

“I had to Oba. She was in so much pain and would be for days. I couldn’t let her suffer. She chose release.”

Oba sighed and gazed at the woman he loved, not with anger but understanding. “And they still call you a mindless, blood-sucker.”

“Because they don’t know the truth. They can’t. What do we do now?”

“They’re on to me. They know I’ve covered for you. We have to move now, or we’ll lose our only chance.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes, belovéd. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Your compassion is why I love you.”

“And your courage, I, you, Oba. I never thought exile would bring me such joy.”

Schiar’N licked the blood from her fangs then retracted them. Her golden eyes glowed in the darkness of the back alley. Oba’s brown eyes had begun to change and would continue as long as he swapped body fluids with her. His brown skin wouldn’t change, though, and she would have it no other way. On her home planet, dark skin was rare and treasured. The handsome, high cheekboned Oba with his broad shoulders and narrow waist would drive the lady vamps wild. On Earth, Schiar’N was devastatingly beautiful, but she was barely average back home.

Before they met, the existence of vampires had never crossed Oba’s mind, much less the thought of a relationship with one. But he loved Schiar’N almost from the day he met her. Crazy, he thought. He kissed her and ran his hands over the smooth, cream-colored skin of her arms. He had once been hesitant to kiss her so soon after she fed, but that had long since vanished.

#

*****

#

Schiar’N and Oba met three years before when he had been assigned as the head of a task force of five, created to find and eliminate the person or persons behind the murder by exsanguination of homeless citizens. Oba analyzed the details of every attack, deduced several likely locations for the next, then chose one. He sent the others to cover the rest of the possible sites. He got lucky, sort of.

When Oba entered the alley, he heard slurping sounds, as though someone sucked up the remains of a milkshake through a straw. He rounded the edge of a dumpster and found two people. A man on the ground stared blissfully at the stars while the other held his wrist to their mouth. Oba shouted at the hooded figure to stop, hand on his service revolver. He drew his pistol when they didn’t, but they backhanded the firearm from his hand with blinding speed. Then the figure swung around to face Oba, flashed a large pair of bloody fangs, then hissed at him. He took an involuntary step back as glowing golden eyes thrust icy fear into his abdomen, but he held his ground. The figure lowered their hood and opened their cloak. They looked almost human. She was undoubtedly a woman and beautiful despite the bloody fangs exposed by what passed for a smile. Her pointed ears made her look like an elf.

She moved with unearthly speed and lifted Oba inches off the ground with one hand on his throat. His hands flew to the woman’s wrist, but he could not loosen her grip. He had only moments of air left as she squeezed. He slammed his fist into her throat. It worked! Her grip loosened ever so slightly, so he used every bit of strength to ram a fist into the crook of her elbow where a nerve bundle lay in humans. Surprisingly, Oba fell to the ground. 

As he gasped for breath, he spun into a leg sweep and reached for his backup weapon, a silver alloy Panga machete crafted for him by a Maasai Shaman after he saved their village from raiders. The vampire toppled as the blade sang when drawn from its sheath. Oba swung it in a deadly arc, but she moved with that impossible speed, and the tip caught her forearm in a glancing blow, but enough to draw blood and a yelp from the woman. Dark red stained the Panga’s tip. Oba stood ready for her next attack, but it never came. His adversary rolled into a crouch and held out one hand in a gesture of submission as she stood.

“Enough. I do not wish to harm you further.”

“What makes you think you can? It appears I have nicked you with my blade.”

She chuckled, “A flesh wound that will heal soon enough. It will leave a scar, though. Your sword is silver, yes?”

“It’s a Panga.”

“Whatever. You’re not afraid of me?”

“Fear is irrelevant. I have a job to do.”

“You think me a monster?”

“I don’t know what you are, but I have to bring you in.”

“Don’t you want to destroy me for what I’ve done?”

“I do not take life unless I have no other choice.”

“Neither do I. I am Schiar’N, and I give comfort to those who have no other option.”

She could sense those near death and in excruciating pain. She gave them the choice of a quick, painless, almost blissful release. Most accepted her offer. Oba’s research had revealed that all of her victims had been terminal, but there was no way to verify that she had given them a choice. However, the man on the ground still lived. He followed his instincts because they had never led him astray.

“Allow me to question your latest, um, victim.”

She stepped aside. Oba kept the sword between himself and Schiar’N and spoke to the man. Phil smiled up at Oba. He had not been so free of pain for years and welcomed the stranger’s help in moving on. He felt wonderful and looked forward to the peace that came with death.

Oba suspected that the vampire had simply bewitched the man. Schiar’N laughed and explained that while her people had abilities, none could control others, as in Earth’s vampire mythos. Her pheromones induced a state of euphoria, and her saliva contained a sedative to ease the target’s passing. Superstitious fools who witnessed previous visitors created that myth. The revelation shocked Oba. Schiar’N was from another planet—a planet ruled by vampires. 

She told him to clean his Panga and put it away because she had no desire to hurt anyone. She licked her fangs clean then retracted them. Oba held on to his Panga. Schiar’N sighed, rolled her eyes, then crossed the three feet between them and forced his blade arm down. She could kill him, and he could do nothing about it. That’s when things progressed from strange to weird. An enticing aroma floated from her, and he suddenly felt attracted to the alien vampire. 

Schiar’N wrapped her free arm around his waist and drew him close. Her pheromones reflected her mood, and though Oba responded to her emotionally, he remained in control of his mind. She had never met a human with such strength and courage, and she desperately needed a friend, maybe even a companion.

“How do you know I won’t say yes then betray you at some point?”

“I don’t,” She stepped back and released his blade hand, “but I’m willing to trust you, Oba.”

“How? Oh, my badge.” Schiar’N smiled. “An alien vampire with a sense of humor. Didn’t see that coming.”

“Despite our differences, our peoples have much in common, and I am so very lonely. If we can come to some agreement,” she opened her cloak wider to reveal more of her voluptuous figure, “I can be very, very generous.”

“Right, and turn me while in the throes of passion. No thanks.”

That myth collapsed along with sunlight, garlic, and mirrors. Turning was a long, arduous process usually managed by a biobed.

“I am not a monster, Oba, or my belly would already be doubly full.”

He cleaned and resheathed his Panga. He believed Schiar’N. As fantastic as her story was, enough of it fit the evidence to be feasible. 

“What now?”

“Let me complete Phil’s journey, and I will take you to my ship if you wish. Or we could go to your place. I’ll do whatever it takes, Oba. It’s been decades, and I don’t want to be alone anymore; not now.” Schiar’N wore a pained look that touched his heart. That look once stared back at him from his mirror in the lonely times before Oba rescued a young girl from the African village he saved, then adopted her. N’ghazi had given his life purpose.

His decision was insane, but it felt right, so Oba stepped aside. The look of contentment on the homeless man’s face as he passed from the world convinced him that he had chosen the right path.

#

*****

#

Oba called to Aszur’L, the ship’s A.I., and arranged for a P2P, a point-to-point teleport to their vessel. They had to move quickly now before the authorities caught them. Those forces were commanded by a cabal of the rich who controlled all aspects of life on Earth. Their only goal was to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. On Schiar’N’s planet, the vampire minority had used their power to take control. Then they bred the normal humanoids into semi-sentient food stock. She was exiled for trying to free some of them. The cabal on Earth would do essentially the same to the non-elite.

Oba and Schiar’N had pulled together a group of dissidents to weaken the cabal’s hold through the expansion of technology. However, the cabal quashed every effort to introduce lifesaving medical and low-cost energy technologies to the world. At every turn, the organization would buy out every corporation or assassinate each investor they enlisted. They had one last ploy as the cabal’s noose tightened about their necks. The dissidents would hack the global satellite network and transmit the advanced technologies to everyone on the planet at one time. Even the cabal could not shield the entire world from that knowledge. Change would be slow and grudging, but things would change.

With Aszur’L’s help, Oba and Schiar’N previously acquired five of six code keys necessary to access the satellite network. The sixth had proven difficult to obtain, but Oba used his position to access the computer of the final key holder. He’d installed a keyboard key tracer on it and just had to retrieve and decode it to find the final code key. He was now compromised and would have to use P2P to retrieve the device. That would set off alarms and alert the cabal to their true intentions. Still, they would have time to accomplish their goals, just not a lot of it.

Safely on the ship, the trio adapted their plan to the new timetable. Schiar’N would use her speed to retrieve the keyboard device. Aszur’L would then build all the information into an auto-virus on a thumb drive. Schiar’N and Oba would P2P to the satellite facility, load the keys, burst the info to the world, then P2P out. On the surface, it sounded simple.

“Even if our crew distracts them, you’ll have fifteen minutes minimum, twenty at the most, then the cabal will be upon you,” Aszur’L predicted, “and that is from the time you retrieve the key counter.”

Oba’s spirits dropped. He would have to load the information while Schiar’N held off the troops all by herself. There was no other way. Aszur’L offered to fly the ship as air support, but they couldn’t risk it. As powerful as it was, the spacecraft was still vulnerable to human weapons. If only Oba had turned, he and Schiar’N could hold off an entire army together. But no, he kept his humanity from some ridiculous sense of pride. He shook it off because, with their slim timetable, there was no room for distractions. He looked at Schiar’N with downturned eyes.

“I told you before, I’ll do whatever it takes, belovéd. I can hold them off long enough.”

“They’ll set up teleport inhibitors.”

“I know, but there is another, more dangerous method of teleportation.”

Aszur’L chimed in, “We can use subspace, but it will take much more energy than normal, as well as a few changes to the method of travel.”

“What changes?”

“Aszur’L and I have worked out all of the variables, Oba. We’ve come to the conclusion that, as a last resort, the risk is worth it.”

Oba knew Schiar’N hid something from him, but her golden eyes remained inscrutable. It would be useless to interrogate either of them and there was no time to spare. Schiar’N opened her arms to him, and he went to her.

“I want one more embrace and one more kiss before this venture. I wish we had time for more. I love you, Oba. When I came to this world, I never thought I would find love, then you came along and nicked me with your sword and changed my life forever.”

“It’s a Panga.” Oba smiled at their old joke.

“Whatever.”

“If not for you, Schiar’N, N’ghazi and I would likely have become drones for the cabal. She loves you too, you know.”

Their kiss was long and sweet and a little sad. No matter what happened that day, everything would change, one way or another.

“Break it up, you two. Time’s not on our side.”

#

*****

#

Operation key retrieval went as planned, and the fifteen-minute clock began. It only took two minutes for Aszur’L to decode the key and load the drive. They immediately teleported to the satellite facility, where Schiar’N stood guard at the tunnel entrance while Oba ran to the server room. Eight minutes into the clock, Oba heard Schiar’N engage the cabal forces. It sounded like World War III down there, and Oba grew worried. Aszur’L chirped in his ear that she held her ground, but time was of the essence.

A moment before Oba entered the final keystroke, an enormous explosion rocked the entire facility and nearly knocked him off his feet. Aszur’L told him to hurry, but she wouldn’t answer when he asked about Schiar’N. He verified that the satellite connection remained intact. The final keystroke was anti-climactic, and the information spread worldwide. 

Oba swam through the whisps of smoke in the long tunnel. The sounds of battle were replaced by silence so deep his ears ached in anticipation. When he rounded the last corner, Schiar’N lay prone in the center of a wasteland of broken concrete and broken bodies. He rushed to her. She was still alive, but just barely. More troops rushed in their direction; no time to give her blood.

“Aszur’L, get us out of here.”

“Acknowledged, Oba. Prepare for teleport.”

You barely noticed a typical P2P, but the journey through subspace took seconds that felt like hours, induced severe nausea and pain, and dropped their naked, frost-covered bodies on the floor of the ship’s infirmary. Oba did not hesitate. Despite the pain that wracked his body, he lifted Schiar’N to the nearest biobed and pressed the button for the autodoc, but nothing happened.

“I’m sorry, Oba, she’s gone.”

“No, no, no, NOOOOOO!”

Oba snatched up a laser scalpel, slashed his hand, and drained blood into Schiar’N’s open mouth, all the while pleading for her to come back to him. He would give her every drop of his blood if it would save her life. The biobed remained lifeless in response to the condition of the woman who lay on it.

“Oba.” Schiar’N’s voice caressed his ears from a nearby holoprojector. She had recorded a message to him in case she did not survive the operation. She never expected to make it back. She knew she would be weak from fighting, and for the subspace teleport to succeed, one of them had to use their life energy to protect the other. She chose to spend the last of what she had to shield him. If only I had turned. Oba’s weakness would haunt him forever.

Schiar’N needed him to continue their work. He must free the peoples of Earth from bondage. They could not end up like the humanoids on her homeworld, or her death would mean nothing. A vial of her blood materialized at his side. Oba could use it to turn so he would have the strength to free his people. She never regretted one moment since they met and even wore the scar he had given her with pride. It was proof that, though human, Oba was every bit her equal. She said her goodbyes and hoped to see him in whatever life existed afterward, then ended the message. Oba collapsed, wishing he could drown in the pool of tears at his feet.

“What do we do now, Oba?”

“I don’t know, Aszur’L. Just give me a minute. Please.”

The silence dragged on from seconds into minutes before Aszur’L spoke again.

“Schiar’N is still with us. Her remaining life energy spread throughout the mainframe and all the ship’s systems.”

“Can we use her blood to clone her body, then download her essence into it?” The spark of hope briefly lifted his spirits.

“No, Oba.”

“Then what’s the point?”

“To free the peoples of Earth from tyranny. She could not save our home planet, but she gave her life to save yours.”

“So you think I should keep at it?”

“I think you should follow your heart, Oba. No matter what, I am with you. You are my home.” Aszur’L sounded different.

Oba pictured N’ghazi as a cabal drone. He inserted the vial into the receptacle at the head of an empty biobed, then climbed into it.

“The peoples of Earth need us, Aszur’L. We have work to do.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes, belovéd.”