The day had finally come.
I stood outside the house I’d grown up in, one small bag slung over my shoulder, and stared at the beat up taxi waiting for me. The rusty fuselage reflected a pink sunrise, hitting me straight in the face, and it was enough to make me squint. Tightening my fingers around the strap on my bag, I took one deep breath and gave myself an encouraging nod. I’d only taken a couple of steps toward the taxi when I heard the thud of boots crunching the gravel behind me.
When I turned on my heels, there he was.
“You don’t have to do this, Wiley.” Tight-lipped and pale-faced, my father looked straight into my eyes. He stopped just a few feet away from me, his entire body tense as a nocked arrow, the creases on his forehead deepening. From over his shoulder I could still see the large gathering in front of the house—my mother, my two sisters, and a handful of cousins. Every single one of them looking at me with a blend of pity and fascination. They all thought I was crazy. “Please, Wiley, think about it.”
“We’ve already talked about this, Dad,” I said. I knew that I was breaking his heart, but I had to do it. I didn’t want to look back at my life a few years down the road and feel regret. Taking one step toward him, I went up on tip-toes and kissed his cheek, giving him a faint smile. “It’s going to be okay.”
“It’s what she wants, Jon.” My mother approached and laid a hand on his shoulder, kindness and patience in her voice. “She’s already made up her mind, and the only thing we can do is support her.”
“I know that, but…” He trailed off, looked down at his feet, and shook his head. “This is hard, Wiley.”
“I know, Dad.” I bit the inside of my cheeks to stop the tears from coming. No matter how much I wanted to leave, it still hurt to know I was breaking my family’s heart into a thousand little pieces. Before I could say anything else, my dad closed the distance between us and wrapped his arms around me. He pulled me in, held me tight for a couple of seconds, and then turned on his heels and marched back into the house without looking back.
“Give him time.” Smiling, my mother lowered her voice. “He’ll come around.”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I said, using the same low tone as hers. “It’s just that—”
“I know,” she cut me short. “I was just like you when I was your age. I thought there had to be more to life than just plowing the fields and fixing the crop droids. I dreamt of escaping this life, of adventure and freedom.”
It surprised me to hear her talk like this. She’d always been the rock in our family, the steadfast worker who ensured the farm ran like clockwork. I’d never really thought of her as a wide-eyed girl who craved for more in life.
“Go, Wiley,” she said. “Go be happy.”
“Thank you.” This time, it was impossible to stop the tears. They rolled down my cheeks, and I took a deep breath to steady myself. I hugged my mom tightly, wondering if I’d ever see her again, and then finally headed toward the taxi.
The small shuttle hovered just a couple of inches off the ground, the engines purring softly as the driver prepared for departure. I clicked the button on the door, waited as the hydraulics hissed and lifted it up, and then glanced back at my family one last time. I gave them one final wave, entered the taxi and sunk into my seat.
Seconds later my family was nothing but a blur of color in the rearview mirror. Closing my eyes, I leaned my head back and sighed heavily. I knew leaving home would be hard, but I wasn’t expecting it to hurt so damn much.
“It’s tough, huh?” the driver said suddenly, his kind eyes locking on mine through the rearview mirror. He had a chubby but open face and an honest smile. “My youngest got the letter a couple of years ago, and she spent the day before her test bawling her eyes out. She didn’t get selected. Few girls are. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones, huh? Chin up.”
“Will do,” I said, not finding the courage to tell him the truth.
Unlike this man’s daughter, I hadn’t been selected. I’d volunteered.
Everyone thought that I was crazy, of course. Most women dread the day they reach maturity, terrified of being sent to the other side of the galaxy, not knowing who they’ll find. As for me, I always thought of lottery day as the ticket to a new life.
Lottery Day has always been one of the most divisive measures implemented by the government. When young girls finally become women, they’re forced through a random process of selection: the government picks a random birthdate and, if you’re born on that specific day, you pack your bags and head into the nearest testing facility. There, if you’re found to be a genetic match, you are immediately shipped off. You don’t know who your mate is, you’re not told where you’re going. You’re just pushed into a teleporter, and told to hope for the best.
Most women feared it.
I longed for it.
Ever since I was a young child, nothing more than a brat with scuffed knees and big dreams, I knew I wasn’t meant to stay on Earth. My family had tended a farm for generations, a rural and boring existence in the middle of nowhere, and I hated the fact I’d be just another pair of hands tending the crops. I wanted more out of life. The galaxy was a vast and wondrous place, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of living life without experiencing any of it.
“Miss? We’re here.” The driver’s voice cut through the fog that had settled on my mind, and I opened my eyes lazily. The clock on the dashboard told me that three hours had passed since I had left the house. I must’ve fallen asleep.
“Nothin’, really.” He gave me one of his warm smiles, and then pressed a button that made the door on my side rise up. “You remind me of my youngest daughter. She was terrified the day I drove her here. This is the least I can do.”
Stretching my back as I exited the taxi, I gave the driver a wave and a smile as he drove off, merging with the traffic. All around me taxis and large transport shuttles were dropping off girls my age, most of them carrying a pale expression and a fraught smile. The anxiety in the air was almost palpable.
Following after a group of women, I headed toward the building to my right. It had no more than three floors, but the walls were made of the clear glass you’d only see on city high-rises. It had a clinical appearance, the scent of disinfectant assaulting your nose even before you walked in. Wasting no time, I strolled into the main atrium and beelined toward one of the receptionists.
“A volunteer, huh?” she asked, knitting her eyebrows together as she confirmed my birthdate on her terminal. “Good for you.” Gently, she placed my ID bracelet on my right wrist, and then instructed me to follow her colleague to the testing room.
I followed after the second woman, a lanky blonde with a lab coat that was one size too small for her, and ended up in a large holding room, almost a hundred plastic seats filling the place. They were all empty.
“You’re the first one,” the woman told me in a clinical tone. There was no warmth or coldness in her voice, she was just stating a fact. We crossed the length of the room and then stepped through a set of sliding doors into a lab. There were four surgical chairs in there, all of them cushioned, and I was directed to one of them. “Sit down and make yourself comfortable. This will only take a minute.”
Doing as instructed, I sat down and waited as she placed a tourniquet on my arm. Using a sharp needle, she drew some of my blood into a vial. Following her with my gaze, I watched as she took the vial to a computer and inserted it into one of the slots.
“The process takes about five minutes,” she explained, looking at the readout on the screen. “I know that you’re a volunteer, but don’t get your hopes up. Only a small percentage of women end up being—”
She was interrupted by a high-pitched sound, her terminal beeping as the screen lit up. Craning my neck, I looked over her shoulder to read the bold letters that read: ‘MATCH CONFIRMED.’
“Huh,” the woman merely said, swiveling her stool around so that she was facing me. “Seems like we’ve found a match for you. Most girls would be panicking right now, but since you volunteered for this. . .well, this is your lucky day.”
“What happens now?” I asked, my heart suddenly tightening into a fist. I wanted this, no doubt about it, but that didn’t stop me from feeling anxious. After all, my life was about to change for good.
“Now?” She laughed. “Now you’re in
for a ride.
“No fractures on the fabric, but the stress tests remain-suboptimal.” Leaning back on my seat, I narrowed my eyes at the screen, parsing through the information the test tube was feeding my terminal. To my left, tactical gear hung suspended inside a round glass tube, small needles poking at the material over and over again. “Not great, but we’re getting there. Just a few tweaks and we’ll get it done.”
“We’re getting there, yeah, sure,” Kyre repeated with a grumble.
Standing before me, he peered over my shoulder at the readouts on the screen. Even though I couldn’t see him from my position, I could tell he was frowning. He’d been growing impatient with his progress these last few days, and it was starting to show.
“We should already be there,” he said. “It’s been a week since I’ve started working on these damn things. At this rate, we’re going to die of old age before we can head into the tunnels safely.”
“We’re doing what we can.”
“Not good enough.” Always the perfectionist, he pulled the tube open and removed the gear from inside it. He laid it all out on the worktable, then started spraying it with a thin layer of a heat-resistant agent. “If only we had better materials.”
We didn’t have them, of course, and that was putting a strain on the ship’s fabricator. There was no way around it, though. We were on Gravum IV, far away from any real civilization, and there was no way to get our hands on some decent materials.
Still, we needed to keep on trying.
Command had ordered us here to look for some damn artifact hidden in this planet’s underground tunnels, and none of us wanted to go back home empty-handed. Our pride would suffer, as would our bank accounts. Kyre, our chief engineer, had taken it upon himself to create the tactical gear we needed to head deep into the tunnels, but the task wasn’t an easy one. I remained confident, though. Just a few more tests and we’d have quality tactical suits for the entire team to wear.
Thankfully, we’d also been lucky enough to discover we weren’t as alone on this planet as we’d previously thought. The Qitzal, a tribe of pale, rough-skinned creatures with long talons and fangs, had proved themselves to be amiable. Underground dwellers, they were the ones that hinted at the possibility that the object we were looking for was buried deeper in those tunnels than we’d theorized. Despite cautioning us against seeking out the artifact—what they called a ‘cursed object’— they were still doing their best to help us out, bringing us raw materials and food whenever they could, but there was only so much we could do with what we had at hand.
“Let’s forget about the stress resistance for now,” Kyre said, pushing the gear inside the tube and sealing it in. He placed both hands on his hips, his narrowed eyes still focused on the gear, and pursed his lips. “Maybe we’ll have better results with the heat resistance test. I’ve been working on a new formula, and I think this one will have significant improvements. You know what to look for?”
“Sure do,” I replied, tapping the terminal a couple of times. The temperature inside the tube started to rise at once and the warmth emanating from it was strong enough for me to feel it on my cheeks. I waited as the terminal compiled the results, hands clasped behind my back, when I heard a familiar chime echo throughout the work room.
Oh, fuck. Not this shit again.
Immediately, I stopped the heating resistance test and minimized the readout on the screen. In its place appeared the ship wide communication interface. Occupying the entire screen was a single alert, and it announced that the teleportation sensors had gone off. Already knowing what I was going to find, I pulled up the coordinates and sighed.
“Earth,” I said.
“Well, shit,” Kyre muttered under his breath, momentarily forgetting all about his tactical gear. He looked straight at me, and even though he didn’t say a word, I knew exactly what was on his mind. Aside from Javik and I, every other crewmen aboard The Calliope had already been assigned a mate as per the treaty. If another woman was coming our way, then there was a fifty percent chance she’d been sent for me.
I didn’t know how to feel about it.
The treaty established between the Mahdfel and the humans was supposed to be a good thing, all with it ensuring those of my kind could get a genetically compatible match, but I didn’t particularly care for it. We were Vaznik warriors, and our sole focus should be fucking up the Suhlik bastards and completing whatever mission Command assigned us. As it was, The Calliope was looking less and less like a tactical team’s ship. If I was correct and Earth was sending us another woman, she’d be the fourth one joining us.
Truth be told, I didn’t mind having women around. As frail as they were, they all brought something to the table, and the crewmen they’d shacked up with were now more content with daily life. After all, these women were stubborn but kind, and they also knew when to be funny. It was hard not to like them. . .just as long as I wasn’t forced to have one of my own.
I was perfectly happy with being alone.
I didn’t need the distraction.
“It’s probably going to be Javik,” I said, pushing my chair back and rising to my feet. I tried to play it cool and sound confident, but my stomach was already in knots. What if this new woman was my mate? Shit, that was the last thing I needed. I’d rather scrub the entire length of The Calliope’s galley than to have a woman to babysit.
“Yeah, it’s probably going to be Javik,” Kyre said, but he didn’t sound too convinced. He tried to keep a serious expression, but he did a poor job at hiding his smile. The bastard was actually looking forward to this. “C’mon, let’s see who’s coming.”
Leaving the terminals switched on, we headed out of the engineering room and joined the rest of the crew. The remaining three Vaznik warriors and the human women were already on their way toward the teleporter, everyone’s nervous footsteps echoing throughout one of The Calliope’s cramped corridors. I caught Javik’s eyes as we walked, and he shrugged his meaty shoulders in a ‘what can you do?’ gesture. Just like me, he didn’t look too excited about having a woman to look after. We already had a lot on our plate, and the last thing we needed was someone new running around aimlessly.
The women, though, were over the moon.
They were chatting excitedly, their smiles so wide you’d think someone had just sent each and every one of them a billion credits. I didn’t blame them for it. They were away from home and everyone they loved—aside from their mates—and the idea of having someone else like them around was bound to make them happy.
“It’s happening,” Lila whispered.
My body tensed as a faint blue glow took over the teleportation pad. We held our collective breaths as the glow intensified, and the knot in my stomach tightened as the delicate shape of a human female emerge through the blinding gate of light.
Wild, curly brown hair framed an oval face, and her hazel eyes widened with excitement and wonder. She stumbled forward, her movements awkward, and did her best to stand upright. That didn’t work out. She was still disoriented from having her atoms reassembled, and it didn’t take long before a nauseous expression took over her face.
Even so, she looked beautiful.
“What the…?” I felt a pleasant warmth spread over my right shoulder, and I looked at it instinctively. Pulling down my shirt’s neckline, my stomach lurched as I realized what was happening: my tattoo was glowing, a silvery hue emanating from my violet skin. There was no denying it—this woman was my mate.
The shocking disruption of the teleportation severely dampened my mood. I wanted to be excited, but the moment the lights started flashing my sick stomach overtook my thoughts.
It happened a lot quicker than I expected. Just when I started to wonder how long I would be disembodied for, the lights flashed and I felt solid ground under my feet again.
My eyes took a few minutes to adjust. The lights of the teleport were like nothing I’d ever seen before and I knew that it wasn’t just my response to the circumstances, it was my body going through such a long trip. I almost staggered to the floor and vomited, but I managed to hold myself up. My future mate would be in this room somewhere. I wanted to make a good impression.
The first thing I noticed was a hand touching my forehead lightly. It felt cool and calm where my forehead was a sticky mess of stress. I looked up slowly and focused on a cute girl with reddish brown hair and hazel eyes very much like my own.
“I’m Lila,” she said softly. “Are you alright? Can we get you anything?”
I tried to smile but I couldn’t be sure if it came out as friendly or more like a grimace.
“Uh, I’d love some water. Thanks.”
From my other side someone held out a cup. “Already done,” a cheerful voice said softly. I turned towards it, gingerly taking the water and trying my smile again.
“I’m Ferne.” She grinned at me, lighting up her blue eyes. I smiled back and I knew that finally, my face was working again.
“I’m Coralie.” A blonde girl appeared between Lila and Ferne. “How are you feeling?”
I stepped off the teleportation pad, sipping my water. I was grateful for their hands guiding me gently, holding my arms in a companionable and somewhat protective way.
Still, I was hoping they’d move soon, because I wanted to check out the area. My mate was somewhere here. Mate, how I loved the word. No questions of loyalty, no stress over finding the ‘one’ and wondering about my own judgement. Just a full and complete understanding of two beings who would become one.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Lila was giving me a strange face. “Did you get chosen to come here?” Her face was so open and sympathetic my heart warmed in my chest. She was a nice girl, this one. She genuinely cared about others.
“Yeah,” Ferne continued. “If you need to talk, if you need some time to adjust, we can help you. I know it’s really difficult being taken away from everything you know.”
I laughed out loud, almost spilling my water. My face must have been back to normal now, as well as the rest of me.
“Oh, no. That’s not how it happened.” I shook my head. “I volunteered—my name is Wiley.”
They all looked at each other in silence with different expressions. Maybe they’d never met anyone who wanted to join the program before. That seemed crazy to me—who wouldn’t want to visit strange, exotic places and find a hot, sexy man who was going to be all yours?
My eyes began to adjust to the surrounding area and I realized I wasn’t in a room with bright lights, but in a small area filled with natural light. It was white yellow and brighter than any sun I had ever seen, reflecting off the nearby sand with a harsh glare.
But I didn’t have time to take in the surroundings just yet. It flickered at the edge of my vision. What I couldn’t stop looking at were the males standing nearby. Males who were undeniably attractive.
Wow. Like, wow. Hot and gorgeous and…completely unexpected. They were all good looking, much hotter than any human male I’d ever seen. They were each covered in incredible tattoos and I wondered what kind of ink would make a color and texture like that.
The tall one with the purple skin was really handsome. His face had dramatic cheekbones and sculpted lips. I could imagine those lips kissing me. I could almost feel those long-fingered hands touching me all over.
He was fucking smoking.
I had to admit to being a little unnerved by the look of them. They were…aliens. Horns and strange colors and textures…I just didn’t know. I hadn’t considered the fact they would look so different. As excited as I was, I couldn’t help my reaction to their unfamiliar features.
There were some other aliens lurking about, but they looked really strange, not at all like the handsome ones. They glanced at me with quick eyes and I honestly couldn’t tell if they were friendly or not. They didn’t have expressions like anything I’d ever seen. At least the guys with the tattoos had body language recognizable to me.
To take my thoughts away from the weird little guys I looked out across the landscape, lit by that savage light. I didn’t want to think about the possibility I’d been matched with an ugly alien—seriously, the thought had never occurred to me. Now that I was actually looking at aliens, I realized I should’ve checked if any of them looked like frogs.
My first good look at the desert blew every thought from my mind. After my eyes adjusted to the glare, I beheld the sweeping dunes. Their edges seemed sharp against each other, perspective falling back into the distance across their shaded slopes. At the same time, the sand gave the impression of softness, even from so far away.
My gaze traced hard baked plains in between the sand hills, areas that looked as flat and hard as concrete that reflected shimmering waves of heat into the sky. Clinging to the edges of the hills and scattered across the rocky plains were strange little shrubs that looked black against the pale simmering heat of the desert.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even form the thoughts I needed to give myself words. It was just so beautiful, so strange and unknown. My heart caught in my chest as I shook my head in disbelief.
It was worth it. It was all worth it. I knew that I had done the right thing.
When I turned back to the girls and the aliens, I had almost forgotten about the little guys. I averted my attention, trying not to think about the possibility of being with one of them. My gaze travelled up quite naturally to see what cast the shadow over us.
A spaceship. A fucking space ship.
Now my heart thundered in my chest twice as hard. I felt like I was about to pass out as my pulse hammered in my throat and my eyes bugged out of my head. I started to feel dizzy, then remembered I should really take a breath.
“Are you okay, Wiley?” Lila laughed softly, looking at me with an endearing expression.
I could only nod in response. My entire vocabulary was gone. There were no words for how awesome this was.
“Did you come from a small town, Wiley?” Ferne rubbed my shoulder gently, as if testing to make sure I hadn’t frozen to stone.
I nodded again, still unable to look away from the ship. All the smooth lines and glorious shiny metal…I didn’t think I could ever take it all in.
The blonde girl—Coralie, I think—hooked an arm through mine.
“Forgive us,” she said gently. “But we really should brush up on our hospitality. You’re just standing here in the heat after a rough ride and the first stage of your culture shock.”
“Oh, really, it’s okay.” I just couldn’t stop looking up at the ship. “I’m enjoying looking around.”
Ferne grabbed my hand from the other side. “Oh, believe me, you haven’t even started looking around yet.” She had a bright smile that was so carefree, I would have envied her. I knew that I didn’t have to, because I was here to live the same life she did.
Action, adventure, true love. Who could ask for more than that?
I felt my face coming alive with a real smile. I gripped Ferne’s hand and linked my arm more tightly with Coralie’s.
“It’s so nice to meet you all!” I wanted to immediately ask about my mate. I couldn’t wait to find out, even if I was scared it might be one of the weird looking guys. I just didn’t know the etiquette. I also wanted to ask all about their experiences, about how they felt being matched with the Mahdfel.
“Let’s head inside.” Lila’s smile was gentle, her entire manner welcoming. “We’ll get you some tea and something to eat. It always makes a rocky teleport trip easier if you can get something into your stomach.”
I nodded, letting the girls direct me towards the ship. I guessed I’d be able to ask all the questions I wanted once we got settled.
As we started to walk away, I
noticed the eyes of the males on us. It looked like they were just as curious
about me as I was of them.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” I repeated once more, pacing the length of overturned dirt right at the foot of The Calliope’s entrance ramp. I had been at it for the past ten minutes, and if I carried on with it, soon enough we wouldn’t need tactical suits in order to reach deep underground. I’d just dig our way there with the sole of my boots.
“He’s having a meltdown,” Kyre said.
“Definitely,” Cedroc agreed with a grunt.
I stopped moving and glared at them. They seemed amused with the situation. Bastards. They’d probably already forgotten how out of depth they’d been when their women popped out of the teleporter. I still remember their faces when they realized their mates had just fallen onto their laps, all courtesy of a bullshit treaty and an intergalactic express delivery system.
“I know how it feels.” Pushing the other two aside, Rekker closed in on me. He laid one hand on my shoulder and smiled. “I was at a loss when I first met Lila. Your tattoo, has it…?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That woman, she’s…” I hesitated, not sure if I could say it out loud. Fuck, why was this happening to me? I was in a committed and very loving relationship with The Calliope’s arsenal. I didn’t need a woman. “Fuck. Seriously.”
“That comes later,” Rekker said, a grin spreading across his lips. It was unusual for him to joke around like that, all with him being the ship’s captain and whatnot, but it seemed even he wasn’t above having a good laugh at my expense. “Alright, there’s no need to lose your cool, Derrix. Just let things happen. Get to know her, alright? Go in there and introduce yourself.”
“It can’t hurt,” Javik added with a shrug. Frowning, I looked at him over Rekker’s shoulder. The bastard was leaning against The Calliope’s landing gear, a relaxed expression on his face. He’d gotten off easy, and he knew it. “From what I’ve seen, to establish solid rapport in the early phases will definitely—”
“I get it, Mr. Oversized Brains,” I cut him short. “I’m going.”
Gritting my teeth, I spun on my heels and looked up the ramp. Somewhere inside the ship was that woman, and I still wasn’t sure on what to make of it.
My body, though, was quite happy to make her acquaintance.
Even though the woman had wandered into The Calliope more than ten minutes ago, I still felt my blood boiling inside my veins. My heart pounded, and even my lungs seemed to be working overtime to get the air in. I tried to rein it all in, to exert some kind of control over my own fucking body, but it was useless. That woman was my mate, and my body was hellbent on making my mind understand it.
“Alright, fuck it,” I muttered under my breath as I climbed up the ramp.
The guys laughed behind me, but I paid it no heed. I just focused on making my way through the cramped corridors, doing my best to ignore how tight my chest felt. It didn’t take long before I heard Lila’s voice come out of the crew mess.
“. . .they males have been teaching us hand-to-hand combat and outdoor survival techniques. We’ll get you up to speed in no time.”
A new, feminine voice that must belong to my mate exclaimed, responding excitedly as they talked about her upcoming training.
Freezing in my tracks, I stopped before the door and hesitated before punching the panel on the side. “Alright, Derrix, you’re a fucking Vaznik warrior. You can do this.”
The doors slid back into their partitions with a mechanical hiss as I pressed the panel beside them. I stepped inside the mess, finding the new woman sitting at a table in the corner, a steaming cup of tea nestled between her delicate hands. She’d already regained some color, her pale and disoriented expression from before almost completely gone. The other women—Lila, Coralie, and Ferne—had taken over the remaining seats around the newcomer, and they all turned their heads once they saw me walk in.
“That’s him,” I heard Coralie say in a barely audible whisper, and she hit Lila with her elbow. “It has to be.” Clearing her throat, she rose to her feet and smiled as she looked at the others. “Let’s see what the boys are doing outside, shall we? We’ll let you enjoy your tea in peace, Wiley. Just holler if you need anything.”
Grinning, the three of them marched out of the crew mess with hurried steps. One of them closed the door as they left, and my heart skipped a beat as I heard it lock in place. The woman—Wiley—turned on her seat and offered me a nervous little smile.
“Hello,” she said as I approached her. She was even more beautiful up close, the freckles around her nose moving as she smiled. “My name’s Wiley.” She offered me her hand and I took it in mine, her tiny little fingers brushing against my palm. Her touch was electric, and my heart started pounding once more. “I think we’re supposed to be a genetic match, right? They don’t offer much in the way of explanations back at the clinic.”
Her tone was polite, but almost too clinical. It sounded like she was introducing herself to a new coworker, not to her fated mate. Maybe she didn’t understand that we were so much more than just genetic matches. Great. How the hell was I supposed to explain it to her?
“The name’s Derrix,” I said, mimicking her sterile politeness. “I’m The Calliope’s weapon specialist.”
“Happy to make your acquaintance, Derrix.” There it was again, that clinical tone. “Is that what this ship is called? The Calliope?”
“And where are we exactly?”
“Gravum IV. We’re here on a military expedition.”
“Really?” She leaned forward, her eyes widening with excitement. I didn’t know if that was normal. The other women all freaked out once they realized they were stuck with a bunch of military guys, but this one seemed excited. “So, you guys are soldiers?”
“You could say that. We’re Vaznik Warriors. We’re a specialized Mahdfel military unit. We’ve been sent here to retrieve some kind of artifact. We’re not yet sure what it is, but sooner or later we’re going to find it.”
“What can I do to help?” The eagerness in her voice surprised me. Well, at least she wasn’t freaking out. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this. I’m sure I can be useful.”
“It’s, uh—it’s dangerous.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” she said, and now she sounded even more excited than before. “I want to help, though. I promise I won’t get in the way. I can handle myself., and the girls have already offered to get me up to speed with combat training.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can do,” I told her, scratching my chin. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with putting her to work right away, but it wasn’t like I could stop her from being useful. Learning how to defend herself wasn’t a bad idea, even if I would be here to protect her. Besides, she had a gleam in her eye that told me she’d be able to handle herself. Or so I hoped. Not knowing what else to say, I gave her one small nod and rose to my feet. “I’ll let you finish your tea, Wiley.”
I left the crew mess even more confused than before. Wiley seemed enthusiastic about being on a military ship in the middle of an assignment, but she didn’t seem particularly interested in the whole mate thing. I knew she understood that we were a genetic match and that we were meant to stay together, but I was pretty sure that she was oblivious to the depth of a mating bond.
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I sighed heavily.
Outside, the sun had already started its descent, the night’s deep blue meshing with the mellow orange of a setting star. Rekker and the guys were busy building a fire a couple of feet away from the ship, and the women were sitting around it in low tree stumps, chattering quietly.
“Kyre,” I said once I closed in on them, “I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“We’re going to need a tactical suit for the woman. Wiley, I mean.”
“Okay, sure,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “She wants to help out?”
“Yeah, she said that—”
“You really think that’s a good idea?” Coralie interrupted me. Knitting her eyebrows together, she turned around on her tree stump and looked straight at me. “She’s just arrived. You should give her some time to adjust. We don’t even know what she can do yet.”
“I’m not forcing her to do it,” I said. “In fact, she was the one that—”
“Derrix’s right.” Standing at the top of the ramp with the mug of tea still in her hands, Wiley looked down at the group and smiled. Carefully, she climbed down and sat next to the other women, reaching for the fire with one open hand. “I want to help, I really do.”
When Coralie opened her mouth to say something, Wiley rushed to continue speaking. “I’ve spent long enough doing farm work. I want to do this. You said you all would help me. I’m ready to start now.”
Neither Lila, Ferne, or Coralie said a thing. They merely exchanged glances and shrugged. It seemed like Wiley shared their stubbornness, and they knew it was useless to try and stop her. Resistance was futile.
But was I really going to trust the training of my mate to the human women? “You want to train? Fine. But you’ll train with me.”
Wiley’s eyes widened and she glanced at the women, who shrugged. “Okay.”
“It’s settled then,” I said, giving her a hard look. “And you don’t go out with us until I clear you.”