I felt sick—as in, physically sick.
I screwed my eyes shut. The white glare from the teleporter still blinded me. I sucked in a deep breath. My stomach tap-danced, my knees wobbled, and my brain turned into mush. If anyone ever tells you teleporting is fun, you go right ahead and knee them in the groin for me.
I heard loud footsteps and, not wanting to be blindsided, I forced my eyes open. I was standing on a teleportation pad similar to the one at the testing center, but my new surroundings couldn’t be any more different.
Instead of the sterile, pale beige walls of the room I had been in, the new walls were metal. Bright wires snaked across the floor, connecting a myriad of terminals and devices. By the corner were a couple of high-end medchairs.
This must be some sort of lab.
Cautiously, I took one step forward. My stomach lurched as I adjusted to my new surroundings. The thud of footsteps grew louder. Not a second later, I heard the soft whoosh of the door as it slid up into a hidden partition. In the doorway stood one of the most impressive specimens of masculinity I’d ever seen. He stared right at me.
At his height, he dwarfed me in size, his head crowned by an impressive set of horns. They curved slightly into ends as sharp as a dagger’s tip, and they were the color of polished ivory. The man—or, rather, the alien—was as impressive as his horns.
A uniform hugged his muscular chest and powerful shoulders in an enticing way. I’d wondered if it was true what they said of the Mahdfel. According to what I’d heard back on Earth, the most elite specimens among the Mahdfel became Vaznik warriors, their prowess the stuff of legend. Thanks to them, Earth hadn’t become a slave camp for the Suhlik.
I’d always thought people exaggerated whenever they told stories about these aliens. Now that I was face-to-face with one of them…well, judging by how damn perfect he looked, there was definitely some truth to those rumors. This man was like a chiseled block of marble. He was a space-hammer with a brain.
“Hello there.” His voice flowed over me, soft and kind. Moving fast, he crossed the length of the room and took my hand in his, like an aristocrat of old. He performed a little bow, a grin on his lips, then straightened.
His shadow fell over me. I gulped, suddenly realizing that he could crush my skull between his thumb and pinkie.
“Are you my…?” I wanted to say the word ‘mate’, but I just couldn’t. Had I really gone from a promising engineering student to a breeding companion? The thought sickened me.
“My name is Storgin,” he said, putting a hand to his chest. “And I’m not your mate.”
First, I felt relief. Then, I remembered that didn’t mean anything. Even if this guy wasn’t my mate, I’d been sent here because someone in this place had genetically matched up with me.
“Where am I?” I asked. “What planet am I on?”
“This isn’t a planet. You’re aboard a Vaznik military vessel. We call it ‘Goldie’, but her official name is The Golden Meridian.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly anxious about something. He cleared his throat.
“I’m terribly sorry about this, but we gotta move. We’re about to depart in a couple of minutes, and we really can’t have any delays.” I said nothing. He just smiled. “Please, follow me. We need to get you inside a flight suit.”
Having no idea what was happening, I followed this Storgin guy into another room. He grabbed overalls from inside a locker and turned his back to me, probably signaling for me to get dressed, so I did. I had no idea what these overalls were made of, but the fabric adjusted itself to my body, gently hugging my curves.
Storgin snuck a glance at me and smiled. “Perfect. Now, let’s get to the bridge.”
Even though I knew I was aboard a military vessel, nothing could’ve prepared me for The Golden Meridian’s bridge. It wasn’t as epically large as a starship bridge in one of those holovid action movies, but it pulsed with an aura of raw adrenaline. Endless information spooled across dozens of terminals spread around the room. The viewscreen mounted at the front offered a breathtaking view of the darkness of space.
“Here,” Storgin said, directing me to a small seat bolted to the wall. “I’m sorry we’re rushing you through this, but…”
He shrugged, and I gave him a nervous nod and took in the rest of the crew. Sitting atop an elevated platform was another imposing alien, who I assumed to be the ship’s captain. He caught me looking, and my breath caught in my throat.
“Welcome to The Golden Meridian,” he said. “My name’s Timcur, and I’m this ship’s captain. Again, I want to apologize for being so abrupt. You caught us right before we uncoupled from our docking platform, so it can’t be helped.” Looking me straight in the eye, a kind smile spread across his lips. “I know you must be confused, but as soon as we’re on our way, we’ll let you get acquainted. For now, you had better strap in.”
“Right,” I muttered, not sure how I felt about getting acquainted with a military crew of aliens. “Thank you.”
“You’ve already met Storgin.”
“There are enough seats for you five up here. I’ll strap in at the lab.”
Storgin jogged into the hall. Captain Timcur waved a hand at an alien sitting by a terminal on the side. This one was even more muscular than the rest of them, and he looked exactly like the kind of alien who’d get in brawls for fun. “That’s Thelkor, our gunner.” Another wave of his hand and he pointed at the chair directly in front of the viewscreen. “And that’s Thelkor’s mate, Rachel.”
“Rachel?” I repeated. “I’m not the only human here?”
“Not really,” Rachel said, spinning her chair around so that I could see her. “Nice meeting you.”
Before I could respond, she turned back to her terminal and continued fiddling with the thousand switches and dials in front of her.
“And, finally,” Captain Timcur said, “that’s Olath, my Executive Officer.”
I looked in the direction Timcur was pointing at and…
I had no idea how I could possibly know.
That is the one I matched up with.