DISCLAIMER: The story is not to be copied or reprinted except for personal use. It may not be reposted on any other website other than my own without written permission from myself. All disclaimers, title, and author must remain in the body of the story if copied to your personal computer.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Often as not, my story ideas come from bizarre dreams. I really should leave spicy food alone before bedtime. Comments are welcomed, hate mail isn't. SDerkins 2003.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Now What?
By SDerkins



( June )

Her arm was asleep. Lona grimaced and shifted to her side, easing the limb out from beneath her pillow. A bright light rudely shined into her eyes, forcing her into full wakefulness. God, she hated being woken before her alarm clock went off. What time was it anyway? She turned her eyes towards the ancient digital clock and froze.

This wasn't her room. Frantically shifting on the bed, she glanced around, trying to find something--anything familiar. The room reminded her of a prison cell, except there were no bars. A small toilet and counter sat in one corner, but otherwise the room was empty. She tossed off her covers and stood up. No windows, no door, and the walls were a smooth cream color

"Hello? Is anyone here?" Her husky voice squeaked out fearfully. Not a sound. "Hello?" Was anyone watching or listening? Lona knew video cameras were made incredibly small nowadays. Perhaps a camera was in the room.

Lona ran to one wall, her palms running over it in a sweeping motion, hoping to find some sort of seam that hid a door or panel. Every wall and surface was searched. She inspected the floor and the part of the ceiling below the bed where she could reach overhead. A faint hiss revealed a tiny grating where a light breeze came in from. A quick inspection of the opening proved futile. It was firmly attached and too small even to allow her arm to enter even if the vent could be removed.

Slapping the wall in frustration, she paced the room, inspecting every inch over and over. Finally, in exhaustion, she wept and fell into the bed, wondering why she was being held prisoner. She drifted into a fitful sleep.

When she awoke, the reality of her situation struck her hard. She had thought it had been just a bad dream. Lona curled into a ball and hid under her covers, refusing to leave the bed. If the sons of bitches wanted to use her as a guinea pig, they could go to hell. She was staying right here.

Several hours later, her body betrayed her. Her bladder screamed for mercy and she had to get up. She rushed to the odd metal toilet and quickly pulled her pajama bottoms down over hips. Sighing in relief, she noticed something different about the room.

In the corner stood a machine of some sort. Finishing her business, she walked slowly towards the dark metal item. It reminded her of exercise equipment. Studying it, the woman decided her first impression was right. She turned and sat down. Looking up, she found the handholds and reached for them. A few tugs proved her theory correct.

Lona snorted and stood up. Exercise wasn't her forte. A lifetime of being overweight proved that. The psychos who locked her in here could cram the machine up their asses. She wasn't about to become some health nut for their amusement.

Something caught her eye, a small movement just at the edge of her peripheral vision. A tray was on the counter near the toilet. She hadn't seen anything resembling an opening there previously, but there it sat. Walking over, she noted that a dome-shaped item was placed in the center, a small knob at its peak. Lifting it, steam and odors wafted upwards. Some of the strangest foods she had ever seen sat on a plate. A few careful nibbles told her she wasn't being held prisoner by aspiring chefs. After eating her fill, she paced the room, bored. Not a thing in the room except for the damned exercise equipment.

Angry, she picked up the dome and threw it at the furthest wall.

"What do you want from me?" she shouted. Silence was all she got.


Part One

(March )

John Haber, Captain of the Patrol Ship Brittany, sipped his morning coffee as he looked over his choices on the computer menu. Tapping the key for Criminal Activity: Local, he caught up on the latest reports. Seeing nothing new, he expanded the listings and continued his reading.

"Anything interesting, dear?" his wife asked as she joined him at the small table.

"Mmmm, just that Vegra released another victim. An artist from the 14th century this time. Guess he got bored with musicians," he said with disgust.

"Oh God, was he mutilated like the others?"

"Yeah, his hands were cut off, poor bastard. They try to rehabilitate these people but it rarely works. Most of 'em commit suicide in the first six months. I'd probably do the same thing if I lost everything important to me."

"How many does that make John?"

"Six so far. Four decided it wasn't worth living and ended their misery. Number five is iffy. They're keeping an eye on him and hoping for the best." He personally thought it would be unlikely any would adjust. Most were five to twelve centuries behind the times and barely trainable for the basics in life. A typical four year old knew more. Alone without friends or family to support them, then mutilated so even their art was taken from them. What would be the point of continuing?

Janet brushed away her tears of sympathy and gave her spouse a watery smile. "One day he'll be caught and no one else will suffer." She kissed his cheek and left for her office. John sighed. Janet was such a soft touch, but that's probably what made her a good doctor. He placed his empty mug on the table and tapped off his screen. It was time to get to work.


John stood in his office that overlooked the bridge of the ship. His office had walls that were transparent on the upper half and milky duraplastic on the lower portion. It allowed him a bit of privacy without preventing him from knowing everything that went on. He sat down at his obsidian desk. It shined like polished glass and he noted that his reflection showed that his trimmed beard looked more silvery lately. He grunted silently and watched the streaks of reflected starlight sliding along the dark surface for a moment, then settled down to work on the endless pile of reports.

The soft rumble of the traveling vessel essentially covered over small sounds, preventing whispers from carrying and distracting noises from being noticed. Crew members moved quietly about their duties; logging stellar activity, monitoring traffic, and keeping an ear on the constant flow of voices chattering across the vast distances in space. True privacy wasn't possible over 150 kilometers. Transmissions from ships were just too vulnerable to interception. Knowing this, travelers learned long ago to only speak what they didn't mind sharing.

Using advanced technology to eavesdrop, the Patrol often used the Com traffic to detect possible trouble. Sometimes an innocent comment could lead to solving crimes, preventing disasters, and although not admitted openly, deter the boredom that often plagued crewmembers.

"Oho, Travers is pushing his luck. His wife is gonna catch him sooner or later," Patterson hooted.

"Nah, she's too busy with her new assistant to notice," the ensign countered.

"The diplomat's kid? She'd better watch it, rumor is that his daddy is trying to contract him in marriage to some girl from Hespera."

"Ouch, she's a plain little thing. He'd be better off with-"

"Shhhh," Patterson held up his hand to silence the ensign. He listened intently for several minutes as he fiddled with the controls, trying to clear up the signal. More listening then he turned in his chair.

"Captain, I'm detecting an emergency signal. It's so faint I can barely hear it."

"Origin?" John stepped out of his office and leaned over the console beside Patterson.

"Bearing 180.334. There's no call signal to indicate what ship it belongs to."

"Maybe it belongs to a runner ship. Lots of illegal traffic out this way." He turned towards the bridge crew, "Helm, adjust course to intercept." He turned towards his first officer, "We'll check it out. Keep a close lookout for any thing out of the ordinary. It could be a booby trap."

"Aye sir," she answered, already studying her station's scanning equipment. After serving with the man three years, Commander Lewis could practically read his mind.

It took the ship four hours to travel the distance. Several crewmen were relieved so that fresh eyes could scan the area. John focused the ship's cameras towards the small pod, examining it for identifying marks. Finding none, he glanced at Lewis, silently asking her opinion.

"No fuel trails, no debris, but I am detecting a faint life sign, probably human. I'd say it has about reached the pod's limit on life support."

Haber thought about the possibilities for several seconds then snapped out his orders. "Snag it with a grappling hook and bring it into bay three. Have medical personnel waiting outside the safety doors until the bay is secured. I want security posted on whoever is inside until we have answers."

A series of 'Ayes' echoed on the bridge.

"Okay, what's the scoop, Janet?" John asked impatiently.

"It's a new victim of Vegra's," she said, still punching information into her lab computer.

"How can you tell? Did she wake up?"

"No, she's still under the influence of whatever drugs were used on her. But there isn't anying to spotting his tattoo over her eye. Lab reports confirm she was born near the end of the 20th century, determined by what she has been inoculated for. Former smoker, never had any major surgery, never bore any children, approximately forty years of age. She's in great shape. I bet she could beat you in arm wrestling," she teased.

The Captain lifted an eyebrow and glanced into the examination room. One of the woman's arms could be seen resting outside of the blanket. Even relaxed, it was impressive. There was no maybe about it, she'd kick his butt strength-wise. Probably one of those body builders he once read about.

"You said she hadn't been mutilated in any way. Is it possible he did something to her brain that isn't detectable until she wakes up?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know for sure, but it's unlikely. All brainwaves look normal. Her blood, nervous system, and bone structure look intact. If he made any sort of change, I can't find it. Her genetic codes look odd, but would anyone's that was born prior to 2019. Nothing to worry about unless she decides to have children at her age, then she ought to be screened more carefully. There are a lot of inherited genes that hasn't been around for centuries and she doesn't want to reintroduce them to us now. Otherwise, I see no problems. We just have to wait until she wakes up."

"I hate waiting," he grumbled.

"I know, I've complained about that for years," she giggled.

Lona struggled to wake up but felt the telltale signs of being drugged. Her body felt detached from her mind and refused to obey her. Sounds of people speaking tickled at the edge of her consciousness but words weren't understandable. She wanted to open her eyes, she really did, but they were just too heavy. Maybe a little later...

"Can you hear me ma'am?" a male voice asked. Lona forced her eyes to open and tried to focus on the face above her. A kindly faced man of about thirty years of age smiled down at her. Rapidly blinking helped her focus better. The man had pleasant features. Average looks, cropped brown hair, and a putrid green one-piece outfit that resembled hospital scrubs.

Parched and thirsty, she managed to ask for water. A plastic cup was placed in her hands. Tepid water was gratefully swallowed. Lona wiped her lips with the back of her hand, feeling like her mouth was full of cotton.

"Would you like more?" the man asked. Lona nodded and handed back the cup. A woman walked over, a polite smile curling her lips. Lona judged her to be near her own age. She was the type that always made Lona feel grungy. Every chestnut colored hair in place, drawn neatly away from her face with a French knot, trim figure, and would probably never looked frazzled. Greenish eyes glanced at the man beside her.

Slightly older, his dark chocolate hair just turning silver. His serious expression did little to mar his classic Roman looks. Blue eyes bore intensely into her own, looking for what she wasn't sure. Lona was released from his gaze when he lowered his eyes to the device in his hands.

The woman spoke first, "Hello, my name is Janet Haber, and this is my husband, John, the captain of this ship. I'm your physician. Do you think you're up to answering a few questions?" Lona nodded, wanting to ask a few of her own.

"Can you tell us your name?"

"Lona Peterson. Where am I? And what do you mean ship? Am I on a carrier?" she asked as the man began pushing buttons.

"We'll be happy to answer your questions Lona, but let me ask you a few first, okay?" Lona reluctantly nodded.

"What year is it?"

"2002. I don't know what day. I don't have my watch."

"That's okay dear, just a few more questions." Janet asked several mundane questions; age, place of birth and so on as Lona became more agitated.

"Look, I know hospitals have to fill out stupid paperwork but I don't give a damn right now. I want to know what's going on. Where the hell am I?"

"Ma'am, please calm down. I know this is all confusing but we have reasons for asking what we do." Janet watched as her patient leaned back, looking angrily away as her jaw clenched.

"Janet, I think Ms Peterson is a shoot-from-the-hip sort and your approach is frustrating her. Let's cut to the chase." His blue eyes met Lona's brown ones.

"You've been held prisoner by a man named Vegra. He's a brilliant, resourceful, imaginative, and utterly insane. We know you were held by him because he marks each of his prisoners with the same small tattoo." He pointed at his own temple to show where it was on herself. "Up until now, his victims were usually male and creative geniuses. Artists and musicians mostly. He-"

"Why them?" Lona interjected, wondering silently if she was having a nightmare.

"We only have a theory. No one knows what he looks like, where he's from, etc. In fact, we're not even positive he's male. All we do know is that every victim has a need to express themselves creatively and lived in the past."

"The past? What do you mean?"

"Ms. Peterson, the current year by your calendar is 2411," he informed her softly.

"What? B-b-but how...?" her voice failed.

"He goes back into time, steals his victim, duplicates them in every way, down to their very thoughts and feelings, and returns one of them to the past, completely unaware of what happened. He might be a madman, but he isn't a fool. The timeline is very, very fragile. Even he won't risk changing it."

"You mean I'm a..a copy? I'm not Lona Peterson? I'm like a clone or something?" she asked. She was holding onto her sanity by a thread, doing her best to push away the panic that had her heart trying to beat its way from her chest.

"We don't know Ms. Peterson. You could be either one; there's no way to tell. But if it will make it easier for you, in every way that matters, you are Lona Peterson. We just wish we knew why he brought you to our time. You don't fit the pattern at all."

"H-how am I different?" Could this nightmare get any worse? Lona felt lightheaded and the room seemed warmer.

Captain Haber leaned one hip against the examination table and sighed. "Well, as we said before, you aren't male or an artist type. Our records confirm that," he held up his computer pad briefly, "and you haven't been mutilated like the others." The captain continued on, not noticing the patient turning pale, "The artists he usually chops off their hands, the musicians, he likes to render them deaf..." He noticed his audience was out cold.

"Dammit John, look at her. Shoot-from-the-hip my ass! Men!"

Janet guided Lona down the maze of corridors towards the quarters that had been prepared for her. Patrol ships were typically set up two crewmembers to a room but the Captain felt their guest needed her privacy. Crew was shuffled and they managed to get her a tiny room with a portal window.

Lona walked through the eerie door into her room. The doorways of the future were opaque force fields of a sort, allowing people to pass through but not anything else. It gave her the willies but it was better than no exit at all. The doctor gave her brief instructions for the room, showing her a small closet holding some unmarked uniforms and undergarments.

"I know the room is utilitarian but we have several recreation rooms for socializing. The mess hall for your deck is to the left when you leave the room, four doors up. The doorway is framed in red. We even have a gymnasium to exercise in. You look like the athletic type."

Lona barked out a short laugh. "Doctor, the only thing in my prison was an exercise machine. Boredom alone kept me using it." She hadn't talked much about her imprisonment, just stating the bare facts.

"That would explain your...physique. You're quite muscular." Janet thought to herself that Lona had a more developed musculature than most men did. People nowadays tended to exercise just enough to keep healthy but not one bit extra.

"Is there a library on the ship? I missed reading a lot."

"On your room's computer." She had Lona sit at a small desk, explaining the controls over her shoulder. "Just tap the recreation key and follow the menu."

Janet straightened up. "Do you feel up to eating in the mess hall tonight? I could bring you a tray," she offered.

Lona's first reaction was to hide in her room, but she realized that if she did, she'd never have the courage to leave it. In spite of gaining her freedom, the time traveler felt uneasy at the idea of wandering the ship.

"No, I'll be fine Janet. We've had a long day, why don't you go spend some time with your husband?"

The doctor studied her for a moment, not convinced Lona should be left alone, but honored her wishes. "Alright, but if you need me for any reason, use the computer. There's a communication menu, just tap in room 1241, okay?"

Lona nodded and shooed the woman from the room. She was alone. Nervously, she looked over the options on the screen. Looking under the recreation one as suggested, she noticed music. Tapping it, she looked over the assorted branches and chose assorted music from her time. A song she recognized began. Lona stood up and laid down onto the stiff bed.

Her stomach was rumbling. Asking the time, the computer told her it was 21:35. The time was late and she decided the mess hall should be nearly empty by now. Gathering up her courage, Lona stood up and walked out of her quarters. It only took a moment to find the room and she entered, already shaking from fright.

She looked around trying to determine how one got food.

"Do you need help?" Lona spun around and met her first alien. Slightly taller than herself, the humanoid had dusky coral skin, large brownish eyes, and shaggy blonde hair that stuck out like a horse's mane. Lona had no idea if it was male or female.

"Do you need help?" it repeated. Lona could only nod mutely.

"Anything special in mind or would you like just the plain fare you humans usually partake in?" the alien said drolly. Was it teasing or insulting? Lona decided to take it as teasing.

"What do you consider fitting food?" she smiled.

"Care to try some of my native foods? I love making it but since I'm the only one of my kind aboard, I can rarely share it. Your people consider it rather spicy"

"Sure, I'll give it a try. I like Tex-Mex myself."

"Never heard that term before, but I take it that it is spicy?" it asked as it circled a counter and took two platters from a cupboard.

"Yeah, and its Mexican food with a Texan flair. Texans love their food hot as blazes."

"I think I'll look it up in the computer. There might be recipes I could try." The alien handed her a plate and motioned to a small table near the portal. Lona took it and sat down.

"My name is Lona. If we eat together, we ought to know one another's name," she stated politely.

The alien bowed slightly before sitting. "Allen," he said politely, "My actual name is too difficult for most, so I took a human name."

"And you are male?"

"Yes, although you are the first to ask," the alien laughed, "Most assume since it's a male name, I must be male. I chose it because I liked the way it sounded. My second choice was Eileen."

Lona chuckled, "Then everyone would have assumed you were female." She picked up a fork and scooped up a bit of food. Bravely, she took it in her mouth and began chewing. It had an unusual taste but it wasn't unpleasant. A few seconds later, heat spread. She sucked air into her mouth as her eyes began watering.

"Whoa, that is hot!" she sniffed. She wiped the tears from her eyes and took another mouthful without hesitation. Allen smiled hugely, impressed with this human. She finished her plate and even asked for a second helping. Finally full, the woman leaned back and smiled.

"That was wonderful, thank you. It reminded me of Mandarin cooking. Some of their dishes are quite hot. They have small dried peppers that makes you feel as though your head will explode if you bite into them."

"Oh, how do you spell that? I will look those up as well. I love experimenting."

Lona spelled it and suggested a few of the more popular dishes. She didn't notice a middle-aged crewman enter the mess hall, nor saw his angry look. She jumped when he slammed his palm on their table.

"Ma'am, I don't know who you are, but take a piece of advice, stay away from this creep. He's nothing but trouble." The man didn't even wait for her reaction; he just spun on his heel and left the room. Lona sat there stunned for several seconds before turning her gaze towards the alien.

"What the hell was that all about Allen?"

The alien looked defeated perhaps convinced she would quickly join the others in denying him companionship. "It's a long story. Perhaps you should do as he says and avoid me. I'm used to being different and shunned because of it."

"That doesn't answer my question Allen. The man obviously hates you for some reason. I'd like to know what I'm up against."

"It's nothing I've done Lona, but my people in general. Our two races fought in a war for several generations. There's still a lot of hostility between us in spite of the treaty. It didn't help that my people are what you'd call cannibals. If a warrior of great bravery and skill fell in battle, we'd eat his heart to gain his strength. Then we'd paint our bodies in his blood."

Lona felt empathy for the being across from her. She knew what it was like to be hated for something you couldn't change. There was no way she'd ever do the same to anyone else. Everyone had to be judged for his or her own actions.

"Actually, we had several cultures on Earth who once did much the same thing. So humans can't pretend indignation at your beliefs. They don't have a leg to stand on for that. As for the past war, I didn't live through them, so I have no preconceived ideas about your people. As far as I'm concerned, if you treat me with respect, you'll get the same from me. If jerks like that guy don't like it, they can kiss my ass."

Allen stared at her, amazed by her willingness to associate with him. At best, he was tolerated aboard the Brittany. None had dismissed the past as she had. Overwhelmed with emotions he couldn't even begin to sort, he held out his hand in friendship. Lona took it solemnly, glad to have found a friend.

The friendship flourished as they spent time together. Allen was the personal cook to the officers aboard ship. By tradition, the entire compliment of officers was forbidden to eat at the same time, preventing either accidental or deliberate poisoning. Since they ate in shifts, Allen spent a great deal of time cooking and planning. The chef was like a devoted pet owner, knowing each person's taste, down to how many shakes of salt they used on food.

The human began helping the cook, a little at first, then more, as Allen became confident of her abilities. With less work on his hands, he was able to enjoy more free time. He liked joining Lona in the gymnasium, where in spite of her joking, she kept up her exercise regime. The alien would spend his time with his favorite weapon, the jahth, which was much like the Japanese Bo, but had a slight curved hook near one end. He gave her a few lessons, which she enjoyed. .

Lona spent several hours a day reading, catching up on some history. After all, 400+ years had gone by. She jumped from file to file, following references, timelines, and anything that caught her eye. Photos of famous people from her time as they had gotten older, landmarks, wars, inventions, the early space colonies, and even children's books were viewed. But there was one area Lona wouldn't investigate.

The brunette stubbornly refused to look up her personal history or that of her family's. She didn't want to know how or when people died. She didn't want to know if her other half found happiness. Lona doubted it though. That was one thing she had felt all her life, that she had been destined to be alone. Her own name even meant solitude. Lona sighed and pushed away the depressing thoughts. Clicking onto a footnote, she followed the path to the genetic history.

There had been huge breakthroughs once the genes were identified about seventeen years after she had been taken. Most inherited defects and conditions were eradicated in the following generations. She glanced at the list of extinct genetic traits and paled. She now knew why Vegra brought her to the future. John was right; he was cruel beyond measure.

"What is wrong my friend? You've been dragging around in a frightful mood for days," Allen asked as he watched her push up her weighted bar.

"Nothing, nothing at all," she gritted out in denial.

"Then I must assume I have said or done something to offend you Lona," he whispered painfully. Lona heard the tearful tone and quickly put her weights aside.

"No, you did nothing Allen. I'm sorry for worrying you. I..." she didn't know how to explain it, but felt she needed to. "I was reading some history about my people, trying to fill the gaps, you know?" he nodded slightly and she continued. "I came across a piece of information that depressed me, something that has taken away my dream," she confessed, her eyes focused far away.

"Your dream? How?" he asked, concerned, as he sat next to her.

"The dream of finding someone special to spend my life with. That's what was taken. Now I know its no longer possible. That was the missing piece of the puzzle. No one knew why he chose to bring me to this timeline."

"Lona, I do not understand. The galaxy is full of human males, there should be no end of variety-"

"Allen, that's just it, I am not attracted to men, but women."

"Huh? I don't get it. Isn't that rather backwards?"

"Not really, not in the past. There were many like myself in my time. We weren't the most popular people around, but we did okay. But I guess people decided to play God. When our people finished mapping the human DNA, they began screening out less desirable traits and harmful genes. One of them was the gene that caused people like me to be born."

Allen's eyes widened with understanding. "And so you won't ever find a human female to live your life with. You will be.." he didn't finish saying how the loneliness would always be part of her now the hope was ripped away. Now he understood her anger and listlessness. Her past was gone, her family and friends were dead, and now her hope to share her life with someone would never happen. He felt ashamed. His minor problems with rude people seemed so petty in comparison.

"If you'll excuse me, I need time alone right now." Lona murmured and walked from the room.

"She seems very withdrawn John, I'm worried about her. All she does is either stay in her quarters or lifts weights. Lona isn't socializing or logging onto the computer. She just sits in her room and broods. Its like she has this wall erected between herself and everyone else."

"What do you want me to do about it Janet? We're a patrol ship. We don't have a psychologist aboard. I can't order her to smile and make nice with people. Just keep an eye on her until we get to base. They'll take it from there."

"John, she needs to get her mind off her problems. Whatever is bothering her is eating away at her. She doesn't even spend time with Allen anymore. I asked him what was wrong and he just shakes his head. I'm afraid she might..."

"Commit suicide?" he finished for her. She nodded sadly. He sat back into his seat and ran his mind through some ideas.

"Well, it's against regulations, but..."

"What?" she prodded.

"We're sending a supply ship over to Hydra 2's base. They're doing an ethnographical study on one of the continents there. There's not a lot to do but she'd get off the ship for a while and see a planet other than Earth. Once she's on a ship for home, I doubt she'd be able to afford to travel."

"I knew there was a reason I loved you. You're such a softy."

"Repeat that and I'll clap you in irons," he teased.

Lona leaned back and tried not to roll her eyes as the pilot once more went over the rules and emergency procedures. The young man was positively anal considering it was only going to be a nine-hour round trip. Finally, Ensign Rutledge fired the engines and hit the switch to open the bay doors.

Her stomach clenched as the expanse of darkness beyond the metal bulkheads was revealed, softened only by the distant starlight. Praying her motion sickness pill was working, she held on tightly to her armrests as the shuttle shot forward and left the protection of the patrol ship.

"Captain Haber, Hydra 2 base reports that the supply ship hasn't arrived as scheduled and they aren't answering their hails."

John cursed under his breath. Just what he needed. A missing shuttle with a civilian aboard. If he were lucky, they'd let him out of prison in about twenty years.

Pain brought her to the present. Shit, did someone get the number of that truck? Gingerly, she shifted her body, checking to see how bad off she was. After a few moments, she decided other than a killer headache and lots of bumps and scrapes, she wasn't seriously hurt. Taking a deep breath, Lona easily pushed her way to her hands and knees. One foot sloshed through some water. Blinking, she became aware of a breeze and sunlight dancing on the floor below her. Taking a deep breath, she was glad it seemed breathable.

Slowly, she turned her head and looked around for Ensign Rutledge. Her heart sank at the destruction. Most of the shuttle was crushed and ripped. The front of the ship where he had been sitting was missing. Lona had been near the tail end on a bunk, suffering from motion sickness, when he had shouted to hang on. The crash had only taken seconds, but it had seemed the horror had lasted forever.

Lona crawled out of the wreckage and looked around. Scattered debris peppered the area. Looking right and left, she slowly walked back along the crash path, afraid of what she would find and praying she was wrong. That the pilot would be alive and well and she wouldn't be alone once again.

"High One, scouts from the Pova district report that something from space crashed near S'le lake."

"An asteroid?" the young woman asked.

"No my Queen, witnesses say it looked..." the messenger looked afraid to finish. "It was said it looked like a space craft."

Lona finally lost the fight with her stomach. She quickly turned away from the remains of the pilot and vomited until nothing was left, then dry heaved until she nearly passed out. Still queasy and sweating, she headed for the nearby lake. A short stumble to the sandy shore and she dropped down to her knees. Taking a handful of water, she cooled her face. Risking illness once more, she took a mouthful and swallowed. She was a bit light-headed, and Lona felt...wrong. She didn't seem to weigh as much. Maybe the planet had a lighter gravity.

Deciding she didn't care much one way or another, she sat back on her haunches and looked around. It was a pretty place, reminding her of the Pacific Northwest, just minus the drizzle. She watched as an iridescent insect crawled along the sand. If her eyes hadn't been looking, she would have missed it completely. The bug crawled over a small stick, and before she could blink, a thin tentacle shot out from a pile of sand and carried the bug away.

'Admit it Lona, a strange world and you have no idea what dangers are around. Don't touch anything. Don't wander around. Just stick close to the wreckage and pray they come looking for you.'

"Anything Lieutenant?" The Captain didn't expect to have results this quickly but he could hope.

"Actually sir, I do. Sensors are picking up amounts of platinum on the largest continent. The C'helans don't mine it because it is so rare. It has to be our shuttle sir."

"Excellent, now, tell me they crashed in an isolated area and we can zip down and pick them up."

"Uhhh, no sir. I'm afraid not. It went down near their capitol city. From what I can tell, there's a large search party headed in their direction."

Haber nodded and turned away. That was it then. Rutledge and Peterson were on their own. C'hela was a non-chartered planet. Contact was forbidden until extensive studies of the local populace were made, and only if they met a minimum standard in technology. The early reports suggested the C'helans had progressed to about equal to the later half of the 1900's Earth technology and stopped about 5000 years ago. They hadn't changed in all those centuries. It was a matriarchal society with a stable ruling class. No wars, no over population, and little pollution. Each district was self-supporting. Trading between communities provided variety. Money was actually unheard of. It was a planet of contradictions.

A queen ruled it, but translated historical records said the position wasn't inherited. There was a well-trained army, but there weren't any wars. Personal combat settled matters of honor. There was a slave class, but there was little resemblance to the slavery known in Earth's past. No one revolted and there were few crimes. Anyone, slave or noble, had the right to have their case heard by the queen during open court, which was held several times weekly. It was a pleasant little planet but John was familiar with first contacts in the past. Any time it was unplanned, fear and violence was usually the result. He hoped this would be an exception.

"May you find peace Ms. Peterson," he whispered.

Lona looked up at the sky. She swore she had heard the familiar sound of helicopters. Did they still use them in this day and age? 'Guess I should have studied a bit more instead of staring at the walls.' Standing up, she shielded her eyes from the sunshine and scanned the skies. Sure enough, two helicopters were approaching. 'Good guys or bad? Stay or run?'

It had been hours since the crash. If the Captain were going to come to the rescue, he would have by now. Running meant avoiding the locals and trying to survive off the land with slim hope of rescue. Staying could mean being locked up in some lab being a guinea pig. Neither option sat well with Lona. Lona decided to wait and see. There was a path leading to dense forest just behind her. She could always make a run for it if things looked bad.

'Wonder what they look like?' Sci-fi movie images flashed through her mind. Nervous butterflies twisted at her guts as she did her best to look relaxed, hands on hips, while she patiently waited for them to land. She suppressed a giggle. The 'Never let them see you sweat' commercial popped into her mind. 'Now isn't the time to let your warped sense of humor take over--focus!'

Lona studied the aircraft as they drew nearer. They were much like the ones back in her own time, save that the blades were larger and landing gear looked like slim pontoons. Strange markings along the side let her know they weren't from the Brittany.

As the blades came to a slow stop, Lona unsuccessfully tried to look through the dark glass. It figured they'd have tinted windows, she thought wryly. A door cracked open and slowly slid to one side. A feminine leg stepped out, followed by the owner who looked remarkably human. The woman nervously pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, allowing Lona to see it was elfin-like, pointed and long. 'We're not in Kansas any more Toto.'

More women stepped out of the aircraft and slowly surrounded her. Each woman was armed with either a short sword or a smooth metallic club. Lona wondered if they carried firearms. No one spoke, and the silence was eerie. A curt gesture from an obviously nervous woman indicated they wanted her onboard. Lona stepped up into the helicopter and sat down, offering no resistance.

"We have a female alien in our custody High One," the group leader managed to squeak out.

Tashalia sighed, wondering why it had to happen during her reign. "Fine, transport her to the medical facility in Toma. Keep her and everyone who has been in contact with her in isolation. I don't want to risk any sort of virus spreading if she's infected. Everyone is to remain there until I consult with the scientists in charge."

"Yes High one." The royal guard signed off. The Queen dialed a number. When it was picked up, she gave simple orders.

"Everyone, now," then hung up.

Advisor Daz listened as the lieutenant repeated the Queen's instructions. She looked through the one way glass at the woman sitting docilely on the cot, her dark eyes wandering around the room. Then those alien eyes locked with her own, like it knew she was being watched. Hiding a shudder of fear, the Noble spoke to the waiting guardswoman.

"I want everyone out of here except for guards kept outside the building. No one is to come near this woman without my consent. Tell the doctors here to run every test they can on her within the next six hours. After that, they won't have another chance to satisfy their curiosity. Have a prison transport vehicle ready by then with two drivers."

"Advisor, what of the Queen's last orders? She-" The guard was knocked to the ground by the Noble.

"You will do as you're told, do you understand?" Advisor Daz hissed out. The guard nodded her head and stood up. She bowed and left the room.

'I should have ran,' Lona thought miserably. She was strapped naked to a cold metal table, sore and bleeding from dozens of spots. The scientists had taken every type of sample they could think of, from every part of her body--even those only touched by her former lover. She fought back tears, refusing to show any weakness, especially in front of the woman dressed in purple.

The tall woman sat in a chair in the shadows, watching. Lona knew she was in charge even though she didn't speak a word. The human stared towards the smug alien until the dark-haired woman stood and dismissed the others. Once the room emptied, she strolled slowly towards the bound captive. They kept eyes locked, both determined to be the winner.

"P'h dan tey?" the woman asked. Lona shook her head, not understanding. The woman had no patience at her lack of an answer and slammed her fist into Lona's stomach. The earth woman gasped out her breath but didn't feel as much pain as she thought she would. The woman repeated her question. Lona looked up and felt her contrary child take over. The one who was stubborn as hell and hated being pushed around. The part of her that had been frustrated at her helplessness as Vegra's prisoner.

Her eyes hardened as she sent a defiant look towards the tall dark-haired woman. A slight nod in acknowledgement accepted the challenge. The Advisor unplugged a lamp from the wall and yanked the cord from the base. The alien bitch was going to give her the answers she wanted.

Tashalia knew something was wrong. She couldn't explain it, but she felt that Advisor Daz was keeping her in the dark, had been too evasive. The woman had often dragged her heels concerning any sort of change, had quietly undermined every reform, and barely hid her dislike of her Queen despite the traditions that had placed her on the throne seven years ago. Until then, the Counsel of Advisors had ruled the planet until the future queen was old enough to take over her duties. Tashalia suspected that this Advisor had grown used to her power and hated to give it up. Eventually, she'd have to challenge the woman before her actions caused further dissention.

The Queen picked up the phone when her secretary informed her that the director of the Toma Facility was waiting on circuit three.

"Greetings High One, how may I help you?" came the polite voice.

"I want to know the status of the alien woman Director. Any signs of infections among the guardswoman who had contact with her?"

"Infection? I don't understand My Queen, Advisor Daz told us her orders were to take quick samples before moving her to a secured area. We already took medical samples of the alien. The transport truck arrives at the T'hm hour. There was nothing said about her being ill."

Tashalia had her fears confirmed. Someone, most likely Daz, had taken great liberties with their position and countermanded her authority.

"It was just a precaution Doctor. Is Advisor Daz there? I would speak with her if I may."

"I'm sorry My Queen. She said she had errands that needed her personal attention, but would return in time for the prisoner's transfer."

The Queen thanked the director and looked at her watch. She had a little over two hours to get to the facility and investigate for herself.

"Jardon, summon my car. We're going for a little ride," she shouted.

The entourage arrived a short time later. The Queen's car was surrounded by her troop of personal guards. The first to exit was Commander Zeth. She pointed silently, her people already aware of the offense strategy. The guards were to take control of the medical building—quietly. No one was to leave or communicate with the outside. They jogged into position, keeping from sight. The drivers took the vehicles around the building, to await their Queen's wishes.

Tashalia entered the building. Zeth quickly joined her.

"No sign of Advisor Daz your Grace. My people herded the scientists into a back room. I have one soldier 'borrowing' the receptionist's clothing. She will wait in the front office."

"Very good. Where is the alien located?" The Queen followed her commander's pointing fingers. One of her guards stood next to a nervous physician. Seeing her queen approach, she quickly opened an airtight door and stepped aside. Tashalia waved her hand casually and everyone scurried out of the room.

The room was dark except for table located in the center. Under the bright light was a nude woman. Her eyes were tightly closed, perhaps the lighting hurting them. Tashalia was sure the alien heard her enter, but didn't acknowledge her. She stepped closer and studied the prone woman.

Her skin was pale, much lighter than most her own people. The fair skin almost reflected the glaring lights, but only made the wounds covering her body stand out. Bending closer, she saw that some of the wounds were punctures, where skin and blood had been removed. She had anticipated those from what the director had admitted, but the other injuries left her shocked.

Bright welts crisscrossed her body, thin and pronounced. She had been beaten. She followed the trail of welts and spotted dark bruising across the woman's belly. Had those been inflected or from the crash? The Queen looked away, angry and embarrassed about how the woman had been treated. How would this new race view her people? As savages? If so, she wouldn't blame them. Her eyes returned to the woman compassionately, looking for the first time at her features.

Tashalia noted how petite the alien was. She would probably only came up to her shoulder—if that. She was powerfully built, broad shouldered and well muscled. The woman was probably approaching her middle years although her face didn't reflect it. She had the strong handsome features that would only improved with age. Silver streaked her bark-colored hair, adding a dignified air to her allure.

The Queen of C'hela cleared her throat to get her attention. Dark brown eyes blinked open and looked up at her. Not quite sure of what she wanted to accomplish now the woman was looking at her, she let the silence grow. She watched the alien's face and eyes as she was in turn studied. A subtle change in expression brought a flush to the Queen's cheeks as an appreciative smile curled generous lips and dark eyes slowly traveled along her body.

Lona couldn't help but stare in wonder at the exotic beauty in front of her. The young woman who towered over her stood easily over 6 ft tall, but was sweetly curved. She had the skin the color café-au-lait, with soulful dark eyes that were timidly searching her own. Shyly, the tall young woman looked away with a timid smile.

The Queen was flustered. The alien was looking at her with definite interest. She didn't have any delusions about her looks. At best she could be considered plain. Suddenly realizing she that was viewed as attractive to someone left her completely lost. The silence couldn't continue and realizing one of them must make a first move, the Queen stepped closer.

"Dan fey Tashalia," she said softly. At the confused look, she placed her hand on her chest and repeated her personal name. Not many were given the honor of using it rather than her title. She smiled shyly and tapped the alien's chest.

"P'h dan tey?"

The woman cleared her throat and softly uttered her name in a low timbre, causing the Queen to shiver. "Lona." The woman smiled and spoke something in her native language; "I'm pleased to meet you Tashalia." The young queen liked the way the alien said her old-fashioned name, making it sound sensual. Another flush of heat spread across her cheeks and lips. The woman's voice alone almost had her melting into the floor. Glancing at the handsome face, she saw Lona's features flow and change.

Gone was the huntress who tried to seduce her with just a few looks and words. In her place was a woman with a lopsided and sheepish grin. Open, friendly eyes invited her to go ahead and chastise her for being naughty, but made no promises to not do it again. The change was a bit unnerving. Which was the real woman? Dancing eyes laughed at her, daring her to find out for herself.

The challenge was given, was she up to it? Realizing that she didn't fear this alien woman, Tashalia relaxed. The Queen called the researcher into the room.

"Unlock her straps," she ordered.

"W-what? High One, if you wish to release her, you'll want-"

"Did I ask for your advice doctor?" she coldly asked, "I said remove the bindings."

"Yes High One, at once." The doctor dug the key out of her pocket and nervously inserted it into the locks. The mechanisms clicked loudly as they popped open. The moment both came loose, the frightened scientist rushed from the room, no doubt to inform the Queen's guards of her foolishness.

Lona sat up carefully and rubbed her wrists to get the circulation back. The two women gazed at one another awkwardly. Lona felt a bit exposed sitting there in her birthday suit—especially in front of a very attractive woman. Once again her gaze traveled the length of the tall beauty. The word Egyptian came to mind. She sniffed appreciatively at the gentle hint of perfume the woman wore, and fought away the wild part of her that wanted to pull the younger woman closer and get lost in her.

She didn't know that her very thoughts expressed themselves on her face. She stood up and stopped, wondering why Tashalia suddenly looked frightened. Concerned, her thoughts turned to protectiveness. Slowly, her hand reached out and rested on the young woman's upper arm. Dark eyes lifted and met hers. Lona saw the fear go away and tension fade. The human didn't see how her eyes reflected her caring and that her gentle touch was reassuring.

But Tashalia saw it, and with deep-rooted instincts, she realized that Lona was a woman who was as gentle-hearted as a baby tam. The impish, sexy devil wasn't in control, the tam was. Knowing that removed her fear and gave her the control. Lona just didn't realize it yet.

A guard entered the room, carrying a bit of cloth. It resembled a gauze pair of overalls. The material was rough and barely hid her assets, but it would do.

"Lona, shast'" she said softly as she motioned for the short alien to follow.

She stepped forward and took Tashalia's hand, not seeing how the guards' eyes widened in shock. The Queen shook her head slightly, ordering her people not to react. The alien didn't know that touching the High One was one of the few death offenses on C'hela. She squeezed the small woman's hand in reassurance and strolled from the room. Her personal guards fell in behind them as she walked to her car, their weapons gripped tightly.

"Peyd, you and a few others remain behind and question the personnel here. My orders were NOT followed for the alien and I want to know who, what, and why they were ignored. I expect a full report and all evidence on my desk first thing in the morning. Advisor Daz is to be detained and held until all evidence is viewed by the Counsel."

"Yes High One." The guard headed back into the medical facility.

Lona followed her new friend into the back of a luxurious car and settled next to her. The interior was warm and little sound intruded during the ride. Her eyes drooped and she quickly fell asleep, never realizing the Queen's shoulder became her pillow.


Part 2

Lona warily eyed the woman in front of her. She was dressed much like the sadists at the research lab. She backed away from her, bumping into Tashalia. The taller woman placed her hands on the shorter woman's shoulders softly.

"I think she's afraid of doctors after today. Perhaps I should stay while you examine her?" she suggested.

Doctor Taob glanced at the nervously sweating patient and agreed. Frightened people could react badly even when they know what is happening, which the alien didn't. Taob smiled kindly and instructed the monarch on what she wanted to test. The good doctor decided just the basics were needed for now. Other testing could be done once the alien learned more of their language and would agree to it. Heart, lungs, simple reflexes, and a swab sampling of her saliva was taken.

Taking her pulse, the doctor noticed Lona had heavy bones, making her curious. She asked Tashalia to urge the alien woman onto the scale. Moving the larger weight several notches, she glanced at Lona in surprise and moved it over further. Fiddling with the smaller scales measured her total weight.

"She weighs 55 stahns," she said in awe.

"That can't be right. I am a head taller than she is and weigh only 42 stahns," she said in disbelief.

"She must come from a planet with a heavier gravity. Her density is to compensate for it. I bet she's a lot stronger than we are too. Want to find out?"

"The weight room?" she suggested. They led Lona to the Residence's exercise room. Lona looked briefly at the equipment and figured out what they were testing. She slipped under a bar suspended between two posts and easily did a few quick squats. Slaves approached when the doctor summoned them and doubled the weight. This continued until Lona had trouble straightening her legs.

The doctor did a quick tally of the iron plates. "102 stahns. I'm impressed. I'd tell people to be careful not to startle her, your Grace. An accidental blow could seriously hurt someone. I'd make certain Jassa is told this. She's a bully," the doctor added gruffly.

Tashalia nodded. Few could speak to her as Doctor Taob did, since no one else could claim to have delivered the future queen or nursed her through every illness. A wry smile curled the ruler's lips. Once vomiting on Taob's shoes left the good doctor not viewing the monarch as a divine being.

"Any other suggestions doctor? What do we feed her, does she require anything special?"

"I'm no expert Tashalia. I suggest giving her small portions of foods and seeing if there are any ill effects. Her teeth suggest an omnivorous diet. I called the researchers that had her and she was fed cereals and fruits with no problems. Just use common sense. If there's any problems whatsoever, give me a call, alright?"

The Queen nodded and thanked her. She smiled down at Lona and waved her to follow. The rumbling that emitted from the alien could be heard across the room. It was time to raid the kitchens.

Tashalia led her to the small private dining room near the kitchens and pointed to a chair. With the magic only known to slaves, a servant appeared within seconds. She asked for a tray of assorted sample foods to be brought out. They had to experiment and see what the alien liked. The man sent a shaky smile towards the sitting Lona and disappeared through the swinging doors. The Queen joined the petite woman at the table, taking the chair next to her. Another servant entered the room, bearing a small tray of utensils and dinnerware. The table was quickly set for two and the man scurried from the room without a word.

Lona took a fork and lifted it, examining it briefly, then asked a question. It was good a time as any for a quick language lesson. Tashalia tapped the fork and gave the word for it then the name for everything else on the table. Lona dutifully repeated each word. Tashalia wished that they could exchange conversation. Lona's voice was low and pleasant to listen to.

Studying the woman next to her, she came to the conclusion that fiction had left her expecting wondrous mental powers, advanced technology, and surreal behavior. Instead, Lona seemed to be like everyone else on her world—except for those stunted little ears--but the Queen was far from disappointed. The alien woman was approachable and friendly...then the Queen realized Lona wasn't like her kind. There wasn't the air of challenge in her behavior.

C'helans lived by personal codes of honor, forever shifting along the social pecking order with each challenge and power play. The Queen sat mostly apart in the order, considered off limits except in extreme circumstances. She didn't need to play the games and often found the petty behavior irritating. Sitting next to her was someone whose face was open and curious. She didn't hold the behavior of a few against all others—she judged each person as she met them. In spite of no common language, she felt a growing admiration for the woman. The fear that she had done something foolish in releasing the alien faded away. Her instincts had led her true.

Tashalia entered the Counsel chambers, Lona following meekly. Without even greeting her Advisors, she tossed copies of the reports onto the large wooden table. No one said a word as they passed them to each other and began reading. Once everyone sat back, she spoke.

"Daz is dangerous. By pure luck, Lona isn't carrying any viruses dangerous to our people. If she had been, Daz's actions could have proven fatal for much of the planet's population. She deliberately changed my orders, showing her utter lack of respect for my authority. In spite of those actions, I find myself more offended by the fact she bound Lona like an animal and beat her."

"Your Grace, perhaps Daz saw a danger you didn't. After all, do any of us know why she was near our planet in the first place?"

"True, for now, none of us know the facts, but even so, if Daz had concerns, she should have aired them—not taken things into her own hands."

"I have to agree with the Queen," another council member added, "An Advisor must protect not only the people's interests, but must obey the oath to the queen as well. If she could disregard her oath, what else is she capable of? I agree, she's dangerous."

"Any other opinions on this?" Hearing none, Tashalia asked for a vote.

Advisor Daz stood in front of her in the open court, her arrogance making the Queen's teeth grind in frustration.

"Mistress Daz, your head is as thick as a piece of wood. You don't understand why your co-advisors and I found your behavior dangerous. I ordered that the alien and all who came near her to remain in isolation. No one knew if she carried any dangerous germs that could wipe out most of the population. Instead, you sent the guards away to mingle with others and decided to interrogate the alien without permission. You not only overruled my instructions, but you shamelessly beat a bound woman. The counsel has agreed to strip you of your duties as Advisor. Personally, I wanted to imprison you and throw away the key. You got off lucky. Now get your cowardly face out of my court. You disgust me."

Daz paled at her sentence. She was publicly shunted down to nothing, considered no better than a commoner was. Furious and humiliated, she grabbed the base of her sword and held it up defiantly, issuing a challenge. The audience in the great hall gasped, at first believing the challenge was issued against the Queen. But the demoted Advisor was looking towards the alien woman.

Lona heard the collective gasp from the room and wondered what the hell was going on. The woman that had used her as a whipping boy was holding up a sword and sending her filthy looks. She looked over at Tashalia and gave her a questioning look. The queen looked uncomfortable, then pantomimed a sword fight, pointing at both her and the angry woman in front of them.

No way! Lona never held a sword in her life. The way Daz looked, she'd be slaughtered without a thought. The queen was looking at her steadily, almost like she was trying to tell her something. Cursing her ignorance of their language, she thought furiously. A challenge was given. Either she turned it down or accepted. Would refusing to fight cause Tashalia trouble? There was no doubt in her mind that it would be to the death as far as Daz was concerned. If she was the challenged, could she choose the method they fought? It was worth the try.

Lona turned towards the waiting woman and held up her bare fists, indicating she wanted to use hands rather than swords. It was a huge mistake. Daz changed the hold on her weapon and came at her, taking the action as acceptance to her offer of honorable combat. SHIT! Instinct alone saved her life as she dodged the swinging blade.

The human ran several paces to a more open area of the room as the audience watched the former Advisor charging the unarmed challenger. Lona turned and spotted Daz lifting her heavy weapon with both hands and heading her way. Adrenaline rushed to her veins as Lona felt a sudden anger at the woman who wanted to chop her to pieces. She didn't run this time. Instead, the petite woman slipped beneath the raised arms and slammed her fist into the vulnerable belly of her attacker.

The results were surprising. Daz flew backwards several yards and fell into a heap on the polished stone floor. Air wheezed from her lungs as she fought for breath. With one blow, the fight was over. Guards surrounded the former advisor and lifted her off the floor, carrying her away. There was stunned silence for a full minute. Then one member of the audience began slapping her hand against her sternum. Others joined in until the room echoed with the sound.

Lona eyes sought Tashalia's, needing to get her reassurances. The Queen nodded slightly and the human saw a ghost of a wink.

"Ruptured spleen and several broken ribs. Daz will be out of circulation for a while," Advisor Neld informed her. "That was some punch. The bitch was lucky your little friend didn't strike her in the face, she would have died."

"Doctor Taob did say she would be stronger than she looked. Poor Lona is pretty shaken up by the fight. I'd say she feels badly about the whole thing."

Neld tossed down her paperwork and sat down. "Why would she feel bad about it? It was a challenge given and accepted. She won fairly and found approval from the public. The news channels speak of little else. Several have tried to set up interviews with Lona but your spokesperson just laughs in their faces. How do you interview someone who doesn't understand a word you say?"

"Reporters never claimed to be the shiniest fruit on the tree. They just want to film her. I've banned cameras and news people from the Residence's grounds, and it's making them frustrated. I have a guard escorting Lona wherever she goes. She seems content to stay nearby."

"Like you'd allow her to just walk off," Neld snorted.

"Actually, I would. I don't consider her a prisoner. True, setting off on her own would be dangerous but she's a free agent."

"My Queen, I've been one of your advisors since the beginning, and I must be blunt here. She's an alien. You don't know where she's from, why she was traveling to our planet, or what kind of person she is. Daz may be paranoid, but she had a point. How can you trust someone so different? None of us knows her agenda."

"It doesn't matter. I trust her. And until she takes away that trust, I will assume she's being as honest as she can in her dealings with us."

"High One, Tashalia, don't you think you're being naive here? You just met her yester-...why are you laughing at me?"

Tashalia giggled and shook her head. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to laugh at you, but for years, everyone has told me that each queen chosen has shown a strong ability to judge people and events, to see beyond words and appearances. Now you tell me to ignore my instincts. You are a fickle woman."

Neld sighed heavily, holding up her hands in defeat. "Fine, I will trust your judgment and pray you aren't disappointed. But don't place Lona on a pedestal. It's too great a fall for one so short."

"High One, the alien woman is missing. She's nowhere to be found in the building. Guards are searching the grounds." The terrified woman stood rigidly, eyes staring past the Queen's head, hoping she didn't suddenly find herself assigned to the coldest outpost on the planet.

The Queen didn't even look up from her massive pile of paperwork. "Try the slave grounds. She was watching the servants' children play earlier and probably snuck off to join them," she said distractedly, recalling the alien's delighted grin as she watched the children play.

"The slave quarters mistress?" She asked in disbelief. No one went there except servants.

"Sergeant, where does a 55 stahn woman with the strength to crush you with one hand go?" she asked with dry humor.

"Uhhh, anywhere she wants to?" the guard ventured. The queen's lips quirked before returning her attention to her work. Tashalia didn't even notice the guard open and close her mouth several times before giving up trying to speak. She walked unnoticed from the room and headed for the slave area.

"The cook came to me in a huff your majesty." The chief steward informed her.

"Dare I ask why?"

"Lona. Seems she likes to sniff pots to see what's cooking. She's also prone to showing her opinions. Her face is quite expressive your Grace." The servant was trying not to laugh. Few liked the cantankerous chef.

"Sign here your Grace," her secretary said without preamble.

"What's this?"

"Authorization to purchase clothing for our guest. She's butt naked in her room."

Tashalia bit her tongue, wanting to ask why that was a bad thing. "Thank you for reminding me. It slipped my mind that she only had the clothing she was wearing. Can't someone lend her something until the new clothing arrives?"

"Someone lent her a nayst, but she won't leave the room. Seems she's too bashful about running around topless. Maybe we can leave her naked. She gets into less trouble that way," he teased.

"Your Grace? "

"No! If she's in trouble again, handle it unless you see smoke or blood," she said with a sigh. It was only late afternoon and she was exhausted. Every person in Residence felt she needed constant updates on the alien woman's actions.

"Actually, I came in to ask if you wished Lona to join you for your T'zhee tea," her secretary said with amusement. "I think she ran out of mischief to get into and is ready for a nap soon."

"By the Goddess, she's only been here one day. How can one small woman find so many ways to cause a ruckus?"

The man shrugged. She's bored? She can't communicate, she can't read, write, or even understand the public broadcasts. The woman only seemed content to be still when she was with Tashalia. The man suspected the alien woman held a tender for the young queen. Jardon considered playing matchmaker. Tashalia only had three months to find a mate of her own choosing before the Counsel of Advisors chose one for her.

Oh, some would be outraged at the idea of their queen joined to an alien, but Tashalia needed a woman whose spirit was gentle like that of a man. Lona was good-natured and easily laughed at herself. Most women were too busy strutting around in their own importance to be a good mate to such a strong-willed ruler. He had seen the glances between the two of them. The attraction was there—they just need a push in the right direction.

"Very well, I'll have tea in the sunroom. Have Lona join me there."

Lona was sitting on the sturdiest chair in the room and still felt nervous. None of the furniture looked strong enough to support her weight. She was convinced if she let down her guard; the stupid chair would crumble to the floor beneath her. Why did they want her in here anyway? Footsteps in the hall made her stare at the door, waiting for her answer.

Then she almost swallowed her tongue.

Tashalia walked in wearing nothing but tiny sandals and one of those little sarongs that they had tried giving her earlier. Her breasts were bare, giving the human a clear view of each delightful mound with their small nipples. The afternoon sun dappled across skin and shiny black hair. Once more, Lona thought Tashalia resembled an Egyptian with her dark olive complexion and onyx-colored eyes.

The silky flower print material lovingly hugged her womanly hips. The edges swayed with each step and invited her to watch the flowing walk. A smile spread across her lips as she imagined sliding her palms across the smooth skirt to cup her bottom while her lips sought her neck. Desire warmed her blood as the young woman neared and Lona's slumbering sex drive fully woke up. It raised its hand and suggested taking Tashalia to a room with a lock and a bed. 'Down girl! Most of the natives go around half-naked. Don't get crazy now.'

"Oma Lona"

She dutifully repeated the greetings and smiled. She had hoped to spend some time with the queen today. Since they had left the lab, they only saw each for brief periods of time. Lona had to admit that a large chunk of her day had been used to daydream about kissing Tashalia. Those full lips were so inviting and were made to spend leisurely hours just exploring their softness. Her eyes automatically went to the Ruler's mouth, wishing once again that she had the courage to just try and steal a kiss.

Tashalia sat on the backless sofa and patted the place next to her. Lona sat gingerly on the seat and took in the subtle perfume the Queen wore. A male servant rolled in a small table, which held a pot and cups. 'Cool, it was like the English Teatime. I wonder if they have scones?' The man poured each of them a cup and left the room. Lona picked up the steaming cup and took an experimental sip. The tea reminded her of blackberries and didn't need any sweetener.

The queen picked up a small plate and held it towards the human. On it were oddly shaped things that resembled gooey pencil erasers. Unsure what they were, she was reluctant to take the plate. The taller woman smiled indulgently and picked one small piece up then pressed it gently to Lona's lips. Pleasurable shivers ran down her nape at the contact. Their eyes met and Lona gave the young woman a devilish smile as her lips slowly took the morsel from her fingers, allowing her tongue to lightly lick them. She casually chewed the salty treat while keeping her eyes locked with the Ruler's.

Tashalia swallowed visibly and flushed. Lona could never resist a blushing woman. She found it adorable and as sexy as hell. Blushes also had an interesting effect on her. They not only brought out the wolf in her; they made her feel protective as well. She wanted to protect any woman who blushed—from herself! No wonder she had no luck with women. She gave out contradictory signals that left them wondering what the hell happened.

Lona resisted the urge to laugh aloud; knowing her new friend might think it was at her discomfort. Instead, she smiled and placed her hand on Tashalia's, caressing it lightly with her thumb. The Queen smiled, doing her best not to blush again. She wished she knew if Lona was playing a game or was truly attracted to her. Lona seemed like such a flirt at times, she thought as she studied their joined hands.

The human saw a sad look cross her face and wanted to comfort her. She also wanted to kiss her. Torn, she gathered her courage and slowly leaned closer. Tashalia lifted her face and they looked at one another. Lona leaned closer, looking at those lush lips, hoping she wasn't pushed away.

Both women were breathing quickly, their breaths mingling and warming the skin of the other. Their lips were parted by the smallest of distances when a knock on the door made them jump apart guiltily.

"My Queen, pardon the interruption, but you have a call on Line two from Mistress Falton," the man said softly through the door.

"Thank you, I'll be right there." Tashalia ran her hand along Lona's shoulder and apologized, hoping the woman understood her feelings if not her words.

Lona was ready to have a tantrum. Ever since they had met for tea, she couldn't get Tashalia alone. Everyone demanded her attention. Nervous energy thrummed through the human, reminding her of when she suffered from the nicotine fits when she quit smoking. 'But I want to kiss her a hell of a lot more than I ever wanted a cigarette,' she thought.

Another servant neared the Queen, asking for a signature. The man walked away and they headed down a hallway. At her wits end, Lona spotted a closet and grabbed her friend by her elbow. She quickly urged the taller woman into the tiny room and shut the door.

Tashalia gasped as she felt herself being pressed against a wall. The dim lighting didn't allow her to see Lona's face, but she could hear her excited breathing and feel the urgency of her touch. The human had a firm but soft grip on her, preventing her from escaping. Terrified that she had made a bad judgment call, she prepared to scream. Lona stretched upwards and pulled Tashalia's face closer as her mouth sought her own. The queen tried to push the devil away, but found herself being kissed instead by the tam.

Her warm lips brushed her own, gentle and sweet. The hands that held her relaxed, softly sliding against her arms. The Queen felt herself melting into the kiss, exploring the small woman's mouth with her own, just as much in charge as Lona. Time went by unnoticed as the kisses continued.

Lona moaned as the kiss finally ended. She buried her face into Tashalia's neck and wrapped her arms around her. A hand stroked her hair and warm lips nuzzled her brow. Lona felt content and wanted to stay just like this forever, but knew they had to move. Reluctantly, she stepped back. She lifted her friend's hand and placed a lingering kiss on her fingers before cracking the door open.

They left the closet unnoticed and continued to the dining room.

"I wonder what trouble she is in today?" the Queen mused.

"I beg your pardon majesty?" Neld ask, confused. They had been discussing minor issues while strolling through the vast gardens of the Residence.

"I'm sorry," she waved her hand dismissingly as she glanced at her Advisor. "I was just wondering what Lona was doing. No one has tattled to me in hours this morning. It makes me nervous," she said, laughing at her own paranoia.

Neld's massive shoulders shook with laughter as she rubbed her chin with a beefy hand. "My mother used to say something similar about we children. 'If there's silence, the trouble is deafening.' she would say."

"Exactly. I have this impulse to go check up on her. It's ridiculous, I'm the Ruler of the entire planet and I'm worried about one small alien," Tashalia confessed.

"My Queen, don't feel guilty for having feelings for the woman. It's obvious there's a connection between you. I saw it last night at dinner. The air sizzled between you. I'm surprised either of you ate a thing." Neld watched as the young queen squirmed.

"What makes you uncomfortable Tashalia? You may as well tell me, you eventually will anyway," she gently teased. Her Queen sighed heavily and sat down on a nearby bench.

"Neld, what do you think would happen if I took her as a mate?" she whispered, looking away.

"Tell me you are joking Majesty. She's an alien. She's not a daughter of one of our Nobles, nor has wealth or connections. She can't even speak our language—and for all you know, she may already be mated."

"I don't care," she said simply.

"Your Advisors wouldn't give their blessings. Without it, you would be forbidden to mate. I think Lona would quietly and mysteriously disappear. Do you want that?" she warned.

"No. But it doesn't change what I'm feeling for her now, and I feel it growing stronger each moment I'm with her."

"It is merely preoccupation with someone unique. Once the Counsel has chosen you a mate, it will pass. They won't forbid you remaining friends with her."

"I don't want to be mated to a stranger. I would be desired for myself, not my position and the power it would give a my future mate."

"You are young and idealistic. Finding a mate is just a business deal." Her Advisor reminded.

"Each must make a profit to be successful. How would I profit mating with a stranger Neld? I have all the wealth I need. A stranger would give me nothing I'd value. And I have the right to chose my own mate until I turn 28," she said with defiance.

Neld sat silent for several minutes, thinking furiously. The Queen's feelings were strong, and it was her job to find ways to solve problems for her.

"There are two ways to circumvent the counsel, but they are risky for Lona, not yourself. She would have to understand them fully or some would say she was deceived." The Advisor said gravely. The young woman nodded and waited for her friend to continue.

"First, she could publicly ask you to mate with her, allowing any challengers to step forward. If none do or if she wins each battle, there would be no argument. The second method is to give you a child."

Tashalia gasped, "But no one has successfully done that in over 350 years Neld! If we risked it, chances are I'd kill her!"

"I told you the risks were hers. Now, you know your options. If I were you, I'd find out if Lona also wants to mate with you if she were free to do so. I'd also hire a teacher so she can learn our language well enough to understand what you want of her. There isn't a lot of time left before you turn 28," the Advisor reminded her. The older woman stood and walked away, letting the Queen consider her words.

Lona was led to a small room near her sleeping quarters. A door was opened and the servant waved her inside. A woman stood rigidly by a long table, a smile pasted nervously onto her face. Books covered the table and a chalkboard stood near it. She had an idea what was going on but she wondered why it took so long to get around to it. Lona nodded at the woman and the servant left the room.

The lessons began.

The human yawned and pushed away the book. Her teacher, Mistress Calshon was diligent and stubborn, spending an average of 10 hours a day teaching her the basics of their language. It was a tidy language, free of many of the pitfalls English had.

No silent letters, no exception to spelling, and slang was practically unheard of. There were a few proverbs but that was it. The alphabet had only 21 letters and sounds. Words were spelled exactly as they were pronounced.

To Lona's disappointment, fiction was also rare. It seemed the C'helans had little imagination. The majority of books published were manuals and texts. Her teacher informed her that people with creativity were greatly admired, whether they were Noble or Commoner. Lona wondered if she should polish off her rusty writing skills and write short stories to make a living on C'hela.

"You are tired. I think you deserve a break from my constant harping. You have learned our language quite quickly. I think within a few months, you would understand it as well as any scholar. I've already informed the Queen that you have little need for continued lessons. I want to wish you well with your future Mistress Lona," the woman said graciously.

Lona thanked the woman for her patience and complimented her on her skill as a teacher. With a nod of acknowledgment and a slight bow, she left the room. A glance at the clock told her it would be several hours before afternoon tea. It had become customary that she and Tashalia would share it in the sunroom each day. It was the only time they were ever left alone and she cherished the short times they spent together.

As her ability to share ideas grew, she came to admire the Queen's dry wit and strength of will. True, she could be stubborn as hell but she was always willing to listen to another's views. They often debated good-naturedly, in simple words at first, then on more complicated matters as her vocabulary grew. They spoke of their childhoods. Lona was saddened by the Queen's life story.

She had been taken from her parents very young once they chose her to be the next ruler. From that moment on, she hadn't been allowed to be a child. She hadn't been allowed friends or close ties. She was to be queen and therefore separate from the rest of the world. No one was permitted to touch her, not even her body servants. They wore gloves so their skin didn't touch her own. The human was amazed at this, often wondering why she had been exempt from this rule, but she could guess why. Tashalia was a very lonely person, isolated by her position, just as she was unapproachable because of being an alien.

To her disappointment, Tashalia never again kissed her. Touches were innocent and rare. Lona found herself craving them constantly, living for each one. The human woman came to the conclusion that Tashalia only wanted friendship and nothing more—that she had actually pushed herself on the kind, but unwilling Queen. Saddened by the could-have-beens, she pushed the hope for more to the side and enjoyed the friendship they did share. With a heavy sigh, Lona decided to go outdoors and work on her tan.

She returned to her quarters and stripped off her clothing. Lona had never gotten over her basic shyness about going topless, but would dress in a native nayst in small private gatherings. The servants and Tashalia thought little of it since they were accustomed to her, but she couldn't manage attending open court half-naked--not when so many spent times just staring at her.

Lona stepped outside and tossed a large towel over the lounging bench. C'hela was still experiencing late spring but the weather was quite warm. She didn't look forward to the heat of summer. Discovering that harmful sunlight that caused burns on earth were almost nonexistent on C'hela, she spent a lot of time sunning on warm days, very gradually increasing her tan. The warmth felt nice and she often napped in the garden. C'hela had longer days than earth and she usually needed a catnap mid-afternoon. Lona didn't worry about missing teatime because a servant always arrived early enough to wake her. With a contented sigh, she drifted to sleep.

She was having a pleasant dream. Tashalia was sitting next to her, softly stroking her back as she slept. Her warm hand traveled in long circles; caressing each curve and sometimes dipping lower, sliding along her bottom. Lona shifted in her sleep, enjoying the sensations. Her body moved sensually against the towel as her desires very slowly built. The wandering fingers that moved upwards and lightly finger combed the hair along her nape. Shivers made her skin tingle and Lona traveled to where dreams and wakefulness combined.

The human became aware of warmth against her side and the texture of her towel. Birdsong nudged her further awake and she moved in her sleep, rolling halfway onto her back, feeling the hand drift along her skin and come to a rest on her belly. Lona felt totally relaxed and reluctant to wake, so she kept her eyes closed. She fell back into slumber and her sensual dream returned. A soft hand lightly traced her belly, fingertips dipping over each defined muscle. Then the touches became ticklish and her own hand came up to stop the intruding one.

Lona opened her sleepy eyes and saw Tashalia, mortified. Seeing the panicked look in her eyes, the human took the hand she held and pulled her young friend closer.

There was no darkness to hide it this time. Tashalia saw the desire in Lona's eyes and felt her stomach tighten. She leaned over the smaller woman, bracing her arms on each side of her.

"I want to make love with you Tashalia," the human stated quietly.

Lona watched tears brim in Tashalia's dark eyes.

"We can't. Only if we were mated, and the Counsel would forbid it."

Saddened and stunned, she caressed the Queen's cheek, "Have you already spoken to them about this?"

Tashalia nodded, "With Neld." The Queen repeated what they spoke of, leaving little out.

"And how would I give you a child Tashalia? You never mentioned how it's done."

"It doesn't matter, I can't face being the one who kills you. You defeated Daz only because she was unprepared by your strength. Others won't be. You have no training as a fighter."

"I didn't ask for the odds, I asked how do I get you pregnant," Lona said firmly.

The C'helan leader shook her head, not wanting to tell her. How few in the past survived, and the rest died, their life's blood gushing from their wound. Some of her predecessors watching in horror, others indifferent, their hearts cold. She didn't want to become either of them.

"Tashalia," Lona whispered gently, caressing her cheek, "tell me." The voice was too tender, too compelling. The young woman felt the words escape from her.

"I bite you."

"Oh? You have sharp teeth?" she asked mildly, her tone almost teasing. She ran her thumb along Tashalia's full lower lip, peeking at her teeth. The queen sniffled.

"You can't see them, they are hidden. Watch closely," she ordered. The Queen opened her mouth, spreading her jaws. As her jaws reached their limit, Lona saw in amazement, two needle-like fangs emerge from her upper gums, reminding her of snake teeth. Tashalia relaxed her jaws and the fangs retreated.

"They are hollow. When I bite you, they extract small amounts of blood and skin cells. From those, my body blends our genes and produces a child, always female," she paused, knowing the next piece of information would frighten her new mate. "The danger is that the one bitten must remain absolutely still. The slightest movement will sever the main artery and the person bleeds to death."

"That's it? Do we need witnesses?"

"Lona, you don't understand, I fear killing you. I don't think I could face myself if you died. Maybe I was foolish to bring this whole subject up. I should have just let the Counsel mate me to some stranger," she complained.

"No, you weren't foolish, and I still want to know if we need witnesses. I want you to bite me. Before you argue with me, listen. I'm damned tired of being alone. Like you, I have always been different and never felt like I belonged to anywhere or anybody. With a simple bite, we can both end the loneliness and find happiness with one another. If I die, I die. I won't blame you in any way. I'd rather pass away quickly than bring myself to kill another person. Plus, you forget I'm tougher than I look. I think I can remain still while you do what you must," Lona grinned and added the final clincher, "and we can look forward to raising our daughter together."

Tashalia felt her tension dissolve as the idea of a baby by this woman warmed her soul. She had never allowed herself to dream of the possibility. Each Queen had the opportunity, but few attempted it, not wishing to risk the dangers.

"We don't need a witness. The marks will be enough. Are you sure?" Lona nodded and gave her a quick kiss.

Taking a steadying breath, she motioned Lona to move. "Sit facing me and let me slide between your legs. I think it would be the best angle."

Lona waited as her future mate settled onto her knees and moved closer. The human placed her hands lightly upon her waist, holding her steady.

"Ready?" The Queen asked.

Tashalia watched Lona nod. The human closed her eyes and waited, almost serenely. Feeling nervous, she leaned closer and allowed instinct to take over. Her lips sought the perfect position, then opened wide. The fangs slid from their sheath and pierced the skin. To her amazement, Lona didn't even stiffen from the pain. She just sat patiently as the teeth performed their functions, drawing in the precious samples before releasing a chemical to seal the wounds. The muscles that controlled the fangs eased their hold and the teeth retreated. It was over. Moving away slightly, the Queen had to make sure that it wasn't her imagination that Lona had survived.

The fair skinned woman smiled brightly and pulled her closer, kissing her in happiness. She wrapped her arms around her and nuzzled her elegant ear, joy turning into desire. Lona placed tiny kisses along her jaw as her hands caressed her back. Her mate smiled sleepily and yawned. Amused and indulgent, Lona forgot her passion and chuckled. "Sleepy Hon?"

The queen nodded, barely able to remain awake. The process of creating a child would leave her weak and tired. She needed to sleep. Tashalia was only half-aware of being lifted. She was completely unconscious when Lona tucked her under the covers of her bed and crawled in with her. The back of her mind took over, seeking the warmth of the one she trusted. She slept.

The servant entered the alien's apartments at her usual time to remind the woman of T'zhee tea. Not seeing her in the outer room, she walked through the open doorway leading to the sleeping chamber. The drapes were drawn and the servant could see that her charge was asleep.

Stepping closer, her eyes adjusting to the dark, then froze. The alien wasn't alone. The slave tiptoed around the bed, peering at the person nestled against Lona's shoulder. The room was too dark to tell who it was in the shadows, but the tiny glint of metal caught her eye. Bending as close as she dared, she recognized the Queen's signet ring. The servant slapped her hand across her mouth, swallowing a gasp of surprise.

Rushing from the chamber, the servant ran room to room looking for the chief steward. Finding him outside the kitchens, she grasped his sleeve in excitement.

"What is it Dala?"

"The Queen!" She panted out, her breathing labored. She tried to catch her wind while the steward spun her, worried.

"What of the Queen, Dala? What? Is she in trouble?"

The servant woman shook her head. "I don't know," she wept, sucking in a large lung full of air, she continued, "She's in the alien's bed! The Queen—she looked...strained...exhausted. I think that alien raped her!"

Thinking clearly earned him the position he had. He wasn't going to panic. "Stay here and don't speak to anyone, do you understand?" The slave nodded and sat down.

Shamal walked briskly away, not wanting anyone to overhear him. Taking out his chaltz, he called the Head of Security. When she replied, the chief asked that she meet him outside the alien's quarters.

Palla arrived within moments. She was a towering woman, often settling problems by her presence alone. Few wanted to tangle with the intimidating specimen of womanhood.

"What's the problem?" she asked quietly.

"The slave serving the alien came to me in a panic, saying the Queen was in her bed and possibly raped. I think the slave is mistaken, but just in case, I thought we should investigate."

"Agreed. Perhaps it's nothing more than a friendly nap. After all, the Queen often refers to the human as her little tam. I trust her judgment even if my fears say use caution. I'm glad you wanted to keep this discreet."

The head of Security patted his arm in a friendly manner and reached for the doorknob. She padded quietly into the room, hearing the chief follow closely behind and to one side. He has good instincts, she thought absently.

The bedchamber door was ajar and the room dark. Stepping slowly into the room, she removed her miniature flashlight from her pocket. Peering through the darkness, she noted neither of the sleepers moved. She muffled the click of the light and lifted the small beam towards the bed's occupants. Stepping closer, she kept the light away from their eyes, hoping not to wake them for as long as possible.

After studying the two people carefully, she stepped back out of the room. Not allowing the chief to speak, she urged him out of the chambers. Outside she blew out her breath in relief.

"What did you see? Was the queen alright?"

"They are both fine. No doubt they are exhausted, but most newly mated couples are. Just let them sleep," she ordered.

The unexcitable chief almost shouted out his question, but managed to keep it to an excited whisper, "What do you mean, newly mated?"

Looking almost bored in spite of her glee, Palla nonchalantly answered as she walked away. "The alien has fang marks on her neck." Turning her back to the steward, she grinned widely.

Tashalia woke before her mate, feeling much better. Delighted at waking up wrapped within Lona's arms, the Queen nuzzled the muscular shoulder she was resting on. Drinking in the scent of her mate's skin, the compulsion to experience her was too great, controlling her actions.

Her body arched against Lona's warm torso as her hand tried to pull her hip higher and against her own. Finding that her lover was too heavy to move left her a little frustrated. She grunted out a tiny whine, wanting to mold herself tightly to Lona.

Her lover took a deep breath and shifted in her sleep. Suddenly the Queen found herself in just the position she had craved. Murmuring her appreciation, the young woman slid her hand behind Lona's powerful body and explored her back before cupping a rounded cheek, squeezing it in pleasure. The woman beneath her shifted just a bit, humming softly in her sleep.

The reaction made Tashalia grin wickedly. Squeezing it again, she felt the sleeping woman lift her hips and press against her. Enjoying her new game, she played with the twin cheeks, squeezing and cupping them. At one point, her nails accidentally grazed her pale skin. A moan escaped her sleeping lover as strong arms held her a little tighter.

The thumping of Lona's heart could be felt against her own chest, the rhythm not so peaceful. Tashalia glanced at the woman below her, feeling the need to touch and explore her, but lacked the experience and confidence to continue. She rested her cheek back down and sighed.

"Stopping so soon? I was enjoying your touches," Loan's deep voice teased. The Queen stiffened and pushed herself up.

"You were awake! You beast, I ought to..." she trailed off, not knowing what to threaten her with. Lona giggled and pulled her back down and kissed her softly before speaking.

"Did you get enough sleep? You practically passed out on me. You gave me a bit of a scare earlier."

"I'm fine, energized actually." The queen fell silent for a bit, then blurted out what was on her mind, "I'm sorry for teasing you like that. I had just found such pleasure in touching you that I didn't think of how to finish what I started. Even for a virgin I'm pretty uninformed about such matters. I feel stupid," she confessed in a rush.

"Shhh, Hon, it's okay, really. There's no hurry between us, not with a lifetime ahead to share. Besides, I think I need to store up on vitamins since I took a young lover with the instincts of Aphrodite."

"Of what?"

Lona smiled. "Aphrodite. In ancient mythology, she was the Goddess of Love."

"And you compare me to her?" she asked in wonder.

"Yes, because you stole my heart and became my Goddess. You don't need knowledge of what to do; it's inside of you, waiting to come out. Trust in it and us. I'm not going anywhere and already adore you. Lovemaking is nothing more than getting lost in one another, and showing that you care," she said softly, her fingertips stroking Tashalia's cheek.

"Will you show me?"

Lona didn't answer with words, but she did answer with her kiss. Rolling her lover beneath her, she found her waiting lips and began kissing her. The kiss was unhurried, much like their first one.

Tashalia felt the same melting sensation in her belly and spine even as her body tried to move closer to her lifemate. Gentle hands stroked her skin, caressing her slowly. Her body trembled but she felt no fear. The craving began burning her blood once more, and her own hands clasped Lona, pulling her harder against her, wanting to feel her weight pressing on her.

Not letting herself crush the taller woman, Lona slid her knee between warm thighs, resting some of her weight there. The kiss became wilder, but no less gentle. Nailed fingers dug lightly into her back, kneading it uncontrollably. Lona moaned and broke the kiss, her lips seeking the soft skin below Tashalia's ear.

The queen gasped and felt her body respond. She arched and undulated under her lover, wanting to press her hips harder against her. Unable to quite lift the way she needed, her long arms reached down and pushed on Lona's outside thigh, silently begging for it to join the other. Lona moved without thinking, lost in mouthing and nipping the sweet skin along Tashalia's neck and shoulder. Her scent was intoxicating, her taste exotic, and she couldn't get enough.

Hands moved to her bottom and squeezed as hips rose and met her own heated center. Gasping in pleasure, the human began moving her pelvis against her lover's damp heat. Legs twined around her, keeping her a willing prisoner. Breathing frantically, she nuzzled across the upper swell of Tashalia's breasts. The ruler arched, her nipples painfully hard and needing relief.

The movement drove Lona insane. Her mouth latched onto one dark aureole, sucking on it gently. The hard nub became slick inside her mouth and the human suckled a bit harder, tugging it softly. Tashalia shrieked in pleasure, grasping at her hair, holding her in place. Lona was more than happy to remain, the queen's reactions driving her wilder. She felt her womanhood throb with desire as her hips slid along the young woman's wetness. All that was important to her was not her own peak, but to bring the ultimate pleasure to woman in her arms.

A hand grabbed her wrist and tugged. The other breast was thrust into her palm. She knew what her lover wanted. Taking the hard nipple between her fingers, she pinched at it, making her lover scream out her name. The Queen's body arched high, letting Lona know she needed more. Squeezing it harder, she felt the young queen stiffen and suddenly cry out. Arms gripped her tightly, preventing her from moving. It took several seconds for Lona to realize that her lover had reached her orgasm—all too quickly.

She gritted her teeth and paused, trying not to give in to the impulse to continue. Lona still craved to explore her body, to taste her essence, to hear Tashalia cry out her name as she touched every inch of her. Lona took the time to rest while her lover slowly came down and for her body to relax. Tashalia released the death grip she had on Lona and her hands slid along her back in pleasure. Lips nibbled on Lona's ear.

"Is sex always like this?" she asked in wonder.

"We didn't have sex. We were making love. " Lona nuzzled her shoulder with chuckled wryly. "Actually, that was technically a quickie. It ended much too soon. I had dreamed of loving you for hours on end. "

"I have disappointed you," Tashalia said tearfully.

"Not in the least. I can't help but consider it a compliment that you found such pleasure your first time. I feel like climbing to the roof and bellowing like a victorious warrior," she grinned, hearing Helen Reddy's 'I am woman, hear me roar' song in her head.

The Queen took in Lona's cocky grin and felt her fears melt away. Smiling hugely, her hands began traveling along her mate's back.

"Now it is my turn to please you," she promised.

Lona grinned and shook her head. "Tashalia, let me continue pleasing you. There's so much of you that I want to experience," she begged.

"But I want to please you too."

"You do, by telling me with your body that I excite you and that you crave my touch. Nothing is more arousing than that to me."

"Does this mean I can never love your body?" the queen asked fearfully.

Lona laughed. "No, it just means I love to indulge your desires. I'm a greedy wench but you can ravish me as much as you want—later," she grinned.

"Beast, I want to touch you now, not later. Who is the queen here anyway?" she pouted.

"You are, but I have a feeling this may be the last time I can get my own way. After tonight, I'll be your love slave."

Tashalia giggled at the thought, picturing Lona dressed as a Shan. She shuddered at the thought, instantly aroused.

"What?" Lona grinned, seeing the way her lover's nipples puckered.

The Queen blushed. "I can't tell you," she said, hiding her eyes.

"Hon, we can tell one another anything. If something would please one of us, we should say it. I wouldn't laugh at your fantasies. We all have them. Some I would be willing to indulge in, perhaps some I wouldn't, but you should feel free to talk about them."

"I was envisioning you as a Shan, a courtesan," she confessed. Lona grinned.

"How are they different? Do they dress a certain way?' Lona asked, curious.

"Well, if they belong to one patron rather than a brothel, her nipples are pierced with small silver rings. Among my people, nothing is sexier. Women often wear fake rings to arouse their mates. And they wear teeny little loincloths," she added with a blush.

"Would it be scandalous if the Queen's mate had her nipples pierced?"

Tashalia nearly choked, the idea so appealing she couldn't breathe. "You would be willing?" she asked in shock.

"Sure, many did it as body art in my time. My nipples may be tender for a while and you'd have to be gentle, but I'd do it if you wanted me too."

The monarch gasped, stunned and pleased. She couldn't believe she'd find such a lover. Most would have been angry at her suggestion, finding it degrading. Glancing at her mate, she realized her sense of worth didn't rely on strangers, but herself and those she cared for. She would do it, not to show servitude, but to display her willingness to please. Smiling, Tashalia snuggled closer.

"And what do you find sexy Lona?'

"Mmmm, well, you already walk about dressed to please me, but I do have one fetish," she confessed.

"What? You have me curious."

"On my world, men were bigger than women, and the more aggressive ones. Men wore dress shirts, and worn by a woman, was sexy as hell. I'd love to see you relaxing in our apartment at the end of the day, dressed in one. It was much like the soyas here, but it has long sleeves and buttons down the front. The tails of the shirt just barely covered the bottom and fall mid thigh," she described.

The queen smiled, thinking the request was reasonable, although the appeal was lost on her. "Deal, I'll have a few made," she promised. Lona smiled and made a rumbling noise in her throat. "I hope that means good," the Queen laughed.

"Yes, it means I am thrilled, " she purred, sliding her lips across a dark-skinned shoulder.

The head of Security quietly approached the kitchen, hoping to catch the intruder. Sounds of clanking pottery and the clink of silverware could be heard. Reaching the doorway, she raised her stun wand and flipped on the lights.

"Hold! Don't move!" she shouted. A woman was facing the interior of the food cooler, her bottom pointing outwards. Muffed cursing in a language she didn't understand reached her ears. 'Oh crap, it's Lona', she thought, recognizing the pale skin.

"Can't a girl scrounge up a snack without being scared half out of her wits?" Lona groaned as she turned around.

"Sorry, I was just doing my job," she shrugged.

Lona sighed and placed more of her booty on a tray. She wore nothing more than a small towel around her waist, her hair still damp from a shower. Palla noted with amusement that Lona's body was covered with proof that her Majesty was a vigorous and wild lover. Hickeys covered her nipples, neck, and belly. Scratches from fingernails welted her back and bottom, and the alien walked a bit funny. Hiding her grin, the Security head offered to carry the tray to their room.

"Nah, it's okay, I can handle it. Tashalia on the other hand..." Lona said, laughing at her own self. "I should have never said she could ravish me all she wanted. She'd gonna kill me," she whined good-naturedly.

Palla burst out laughing, unable to hold it in any longer. "You know, I now understand why the Fates sent her an alien with extraordinary strength. A mere C'helan would have expired on the wedding night," she laughed. Lona snickered and agreed. She lifted her tray and wished Palla a good night.

The servants had been dismissed for the evening. Lona felt the shirt rub against her pierced nipples as she shifted foot to foot. Her hands were placed flat on a sturdy table as she waited.

She and her spouse hadn't finished their honeymoon stage, even after two months. They both craved the other like there was no tomorrow. Tonight, she had promised to fulfill any of her mate's fantasies. Tashalia had smiled and had her wear one of her rough cotton-like dress shirts. Her voice had lowered as she instructed Lona of her desires, placing her palms onto the table.

"Stay in this position. I will come back in half an hour. When I come in, you may not speak or move. Think about what I may do when I return," she said, her tone promising that she'd be begging for mercy by the end of the night. Lona loved it.

Just as Tashalia wanted, her imagination went wild. She was sexually aroused and ready, practically on the verge of a climax just thinking about what was coming. The tick of the clock made her jumpy; the agony of waiting was becoming unbearable. Finally, her ears heard the sound of the outer door being opened. The room was dim, only lit by a few candles. A shadow flickered on the wall near her and Lona quivered.

Nothing happened. Lona remained bent over the table, sweating as the silence drove her insane. A breeze.

"Close your eyes," she was ordered. Her eyes squeezed shut as she prayed her mate didn't tease her for long.

Hands reached around her, slowly unbuttoning her shirt. Hands reached up and palmed her breasts. They were caressed gently but Lona was too sexually ready to take gentle. She needed to be taken roughly and soon. She moaned and arched her breasts into the large palms cupping them. The hands withdrew. A sharp slap against her ass was delivered. It was just a mild sting to her because of her strength, but Tashalia's hand probably hurt like hell.

"Stay still."

Lona whimpered.

"Spread your thighs," the Queen commanded. Lona quickly obeyed. Warm fingers touched her, finding her more than ready. The fingers went away, making the human groan in frustration. Then something cool and smooth touched her overheated flesh. Hands reached around her and roughly pinched her nipples. Ready to explode, the exquisiteness of the action made her scream with pleasure just as something thrust into her. Hands grabbed her hips. The thrusting continued, getting rougher as her squeals told her lover how much she could take and enjoy.

She was ready to come; her legs getting so wobbly she could barely stand. She begged Tashalia to finish her, giving her permission to go wild. The thrusts came hard and fast, skin slapping skin. Paused on the brink, she felt her lover's hand reaching under and cupping her sex. It was enough to send her over the edge. Screaming Tashalia's name, she felt her body convulse in powerful explosions. Her lover kept pumping, almost there herself. The Queen grabbed her tightly and thrust one last time, staying deep inside of her as her body slumped against her back. Lona was pinned to the table by her lover but didn't mind. She sucked air into her lungs, still quivering from the aftershocks.

They slowly recovered. Tashalia nuzzled her sweating back and slowly straightened, withdrawing the toy she had used. Lona gasped and moaned.


Lona nodded. They went through it each time it was done this way. Lona always ended up sore for several days, but loved the occasional rough sex. The price was well worth it. Tashalia was a natural Top, needing to be in total control once in a while. Lona didn't mind and allowed her mate the freedom to go wild when she needed it. It worked out well.

The rest of the time, lovemaking was sweet and gentle, lasting long into the night. They spent a lot of time just kissing and cuddling in bed or in the garden, under a shady tree. The lovers were often found napping together in the afternoons, when Lona's body clock insisted it was bedtime. A long nap let her get through the rest of the day. Besides, Tashalia was beginning to show her pregnancy. A gentle swelling was beginning to appear much to Lona's delight.

She loved teasing her dignified mate, often addressing the baby as 'Lanth', the equivalent of Bruiser on Earth. The Queen would slap playfully at her arm, telling her no child of theirs would be called such a name. Lona would chuckle and sneak a kiss. People around them grinned indulgently, pleased at the obvious affection between them.

To Tashalia's surprise, Lona told her she'd be willing to be bitten again if she wanted more than one child. The idea was frightening, but not nearly as it was before the first time, and pregnancy certainly agreed with her. She didn't suffer any of the normal problems many other women did, in spite that the child has shown evidence she'd be a little heavier than other children would.

She'd think about it.



Commander Lewis stood on tiptoe, trying to see where the time traveler had gone. She tucked a strand of hair behind her prosthetic ears that allowed her to blend in. Spotting the woman, she did her best to rush through the crowd without raising suspicion. She was within a few feet now.

"Lona Peterson?"

Lona spun around. She hadn't heard her last name since she crashed on the planet. She saw a woman a little younger than herself who looked vaguely familiar.

"I'm Commander Lewis of the Brittany," she whispered, "Is there someplace we can speak?"

Lona nodded, still in shock at seeing another human. She led the officer to her private garden.

"I'm glad I found you. We just returned to this section of space. The Captain thought we owed you one last chance at rescue if it were possible. I can take you to my shuttle, it's hidden not far from here."

"No," she said simply.

"Lona, don't you want to go home?"

"What is on Earth for me? Nothing but loneliness, Commander. I have a mate here and we're expecting a baby. Tell the Captain I appreciate his attempt, but I don't need rescuing."

"You're married? The early reports we intercepted said you were a prisoner."

"I was, but my mate had me released."

"What's he like?" she asked, curious. Lona laughed and took her elbow. She had the human peek through the window. Tashalia was resting in their bed, her pregnancy obviously far advanced.

"A woman? I don't understand."

"Commander Lewis, the reason Vegra brought me here was because he knew I was a lesbian—I'm attracted to women. He also knew humans weren't born that way anymore, so I was doomed to being alone all my life. That was his cruelty. If I hadn't crashed here, I would have probably killed myself rather than face an empty life. I love Tashalia and we're happy."

The commander was still trying to grasp it all, but she would try and explain it to John. She took one last look at the beautiful woman inside the room. She didn't blame Lona for being attracted to her--any man would be.

"And who fathered the baby? A donor?"

"No, I did. It's a long story, but it's done genetically," Lona paused and asked a favor. "Could you pass a message to Allen? Tell him I found my dream. He'll understand."

"I'll pass it on. He was worried about you. We all were, but now we can relax. Try not to cause too much ruckus here Ms Peterson."

Lona barked out a laugh. "Too late," patting the commander on the shoulder and turning away.

The End

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