Excerpt for A Game of Survival by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




A Game of Survival

The Spiritus Brides 1-5


Immortal Angel


Copyright


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


A Game of Survival

All rights reserved.

Published by Fallen Press, Ltd.

Copyright © 2017


This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.


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Tales of Flouriant: A SciFi Erotic Romance

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Tordan: Cyborg Warriors


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DEDICATION


There is a special person in my life who felt as if OCD and anxiety swept into their life one day, destroying so much of who they were. I’ve always said you and I are connected in a way that few people can understand, so when you hurt, I hurt. Holding your hand and guiding you through your struggles has been the most difficult thing in my life. But the truth is, you never stopped being amazing, incredible, intelligent, thoughtful, and one-of-a-kind. Your OCD and anxiety can never take that away from you. I understand this illness is a rollercoaster, but I am thankful everyday that the tornado that seemed to change our lives forever has finally begun to calm. I will always be here for you, no matter what you need. And even though it might not feel like it sometimes, our battle against this illness is one we will win.


I’ll love you always. Always and forever.


~Immortal Angel


*** PANS/PANDA is a sudden onset of tics, obsessions, and compulsions caused by an autoimmune disorder in small children. In my opinion, it is worth investigating for children with a sudden onset of these symptoms.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Part One- A Human Sacrifice

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Part Two- A Human Patient

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Part Three- A Human Lover

1

2

3

4

5


Part Four- A Human Fighter

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

Part Five- A Human Bride

1

2

3

4

5

6

7


Sacrificing her life should've meant death, but what if it was just the beginning...

The alien virus was destroying Rory's mind more and more with each passing day. She knows what the future holds for her, unimaginable suffering followed by a slow death. So when her sister is drafted for The Star Squad, Rory volunteers to take her place. There's no question Rory will die, but at least she'll be sacrificing herself to save billions of innocent lives against the alien invasion. Including her sister.

But only if she can hide her debilitating illness long enough.

FarSeer is a medic aboard a ship headed for the far-away planet called Earth. His responsibility is to see to the medical needs of the new brides, even though he may never claim a mate of his own. Yet, as they approach their destination, he will discover a secret that will change everything: the Earth females aren't willing brides.

What's more, everyone on board their ship is in danger. And their enemy? Creatures that will stop at nothing to take the Earth brides for themselves.

**** "A Human Sacrifice" is Part One of a 5-part serialized novel. Each serial is roughly 10,000 words.****

Check out the entire series:
Book 1- A Human Sacrifice
Book 2- A Human Patient
Book 3- A Human Lover
Book 4- A Human Fighter
Book 5- A Human Bride


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A Note From the Author


They say good things come in small packages… well, some good things. Am I right? Some things you want in large, sexy, irresistible, mind-blowing… wait, I can’t get distracted by that just now. Like I said, some good things come in small packages. This 10,000 word serial will give you a taste of my world, then you decide if you want the rest of the story in bites (more serials), or if you want to devour the whole thing (the box set)! Either way, thanks for taking a chance on an author who writes stories from the heart, and hopefully, you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.


~Immortal Angel





Part One:

A Human Sacrifice


Chapter One

Panic welled inside Rory’s mind as sweat beaded her forehead. It’s everywhere! I don’t want to care, but I have no choice.

It never gives me a choice.

Dust! the virus commanded, bringing with it another wave of terror that rocked her body and twisted her stomach.

Dust. Now. Now!

She could fight it, but she already knew it would win. It always won.

Eventually.

Gritting her teeth, she grabbed a clean, perfectly folded rag from under the sink. She wiped the offending particles from the top of her white vidscreen, then dusted the base for good measure. When she was finished, she took several steps back and let her gaze run over the vidscreen. It sat in the center of the room, like the first item in a brand-new place, not a single piece of dust visible to her eye.

Her relief was marred by sadness. My house is perfectly clean now. And empty.

So different from when my sister was here.

But the virus wants cleanliness. Always cleanliness. So I simplified. Removed everything I used to cherish.

And everyone.

A loud commercial interrupted the soft music that had been playing on her vidscreen. The familiar voice caused everything inside her to tense.

The president stood, her back straight, her plain gray clothes a subtle reminder of the seriousness of what she was about to say. “My fellow Americans, we had hoped to avoid a draft, but the time has come. The names of all women between the ages of nineteen and twenty-nine were placed in a lottery last night, and soldiers are already on their way to the homes of the women selected.”

The news crews in the audience started shouting questions, but the president held up her hands for silence.

“We have no other choice. The process is so selective that less than one in five hundred passes the test. And there aren’t enough volunteers for testing. This simply must be done for the survival of the human race. But please remember, each woman who passes the test will be given one million dollars to leave to whomever she chooses.”

The president nodded to two men in military gear on either side of her. “We are sending two soldiers to each house to collect the women who are drafted. We want to avoid instances of women fighting—or fleeing—when selected. Please do not make this anymore difficult than it already is. The aliens have made their agenda very clear, and we have nothing to do but sacrifice a few to save the many. This is a great honor. The women who join the Star Squad will fight to save billions of innocent lives.” She paused, her expression gentling. “But remember, you still need to pass the test. Even if you are drafted, chances are small that you will be chosen.”

The camera zoomed in on a close-up of her face. “Give your life for those you love. It is the ultimate sacrifice.”

The commercial ended with a flashing of the daily countdown: 7 days until The Return, followed by one advertising the latest police-sanctioned hovercraft. Then, her soft music began again.

Rory’s gaze strayed to the pamphlet lying on one of her white couch cushions. I know this is the right thing to do, so why am I so afraid?

The answer was simple: You just don’t want to hurt her. To abandon her when she’s lost so much already.

But despite her guilt, Rory heard a different countdown in her mind. 7 days. 7 days until I die.


Chapter Two

Medic FarSeer jerked awake. He’d had that feeling again, even in sleep, that feeling of being tugged at by someone far away. And it was always the same, a painful moment of sadness followed by a vision of the future. Usually bad.

Make that catastrophic.

He knew it was coming…and even though he’d tried a hundred times, he couldn’t stop it.

Tingles ran through his muscles and goosebumps erupted on his arms just seconds before the vision swept him under.

The female stood on the edge of a cliff, her pale blue dress swirling around her in the wind. As he moved closer, she slowly turned to face him.

He inhaled sharply. The female was like no being he’d seen before. She was tiny, both in stature and sheer size. Her skin looked strangely pale, without markings, and big blue eyes peered at him with adoration.

Eyes the color of the clearest oceans of Omiria Five.

She is different, but she is beautiful.

Against his will, he reached for her. To his shock, she came to him, rushing into his arms. The soft feeling of her body against his was like nothing he’d felt before. His manhood hardened at her touch, his senses drinking in every inch of her—from her strangely sweet scent, to the way she felt so fragile in his arms.

But I shouldn’t be able to touch her. I am a non-shifter. A Second Tier male.

She looked up at him. “I am yours.”

His heart sang, pushing aside all logic, claiming her as his own. As his mate. As his heart.

And then a shadow passed over her face. Her eyes widened, and he saw the same fear that he’d seen in the gazes of too many women before her. The Bortracks had come for her.

His female’s life was forfeit.

And he could do nothing to save her.

A shiver crept down his spine as an old memory pulled him under. It had been ten years ago on a Bortrack vessel. One of the beasts had trapped a female beneath it, while she beat and beat against the hard shell of its tan body. Her cries were ones of terror and unimaginable pain as it took her against her will. The creature screeched in fury, and then it leaned down, unhinging its jaw.

Then, the Bortrack used its sharpened teeth to snap off her head in one lethal movement.

FarSeer had been frozen in shock. All he’d done was stare.

Never again. He’d been young then. Too shocked to react. But experience had wiped away his inexperience in The War of Innocence.

So why do I feel so helpless in this vision?

She reached for him, tangling one hand in the back of his long blond hair and tugging him down to face her. She rubbed her thumb along his bottom lip in a movement that was shockingly sensual.

Out of instinct, he licked the digit. She tasted sweet. So incredibly sweet.

His cock surged, straining against his pants.

A smile played at the corners of her lips.“Just think of me. Of us.”

But the Bortracks…

You don’t understand the danger—“

Her hand left his lip, moving down to curl around his hardened cock. “If you’re always focused on the future, you’ll miss the now.”

The vision faded and FarSeer found himself alone in his room, shaking and aroused. Never before had he experienced a vision like that. But what could it mean?

Elation had filled him for a brief moment, followed by fear.

Which was swiftly turning into anger.

Why do I have a vision of this female when I’m not allowed to take a bride? Perhaps it is to open my wound anew. To not only remind me that I’ll always be alone, but to remind me of the many females I couldn’t save from the Bortracks.

Will my failures haunt me always?

Why can’t I simply forget the scars war has left upon my heart and accept my life without a mate? Most other Second Tier males have. It is simply the way things are.

He stared out at the stars through his window. Since the Rewire Contagion killed off 75 percent of the Spiritus females, mates were a rarity. If a male couldn’t shift, he couldn’t protect her. The government had stepped in as battles for the remaining females raged across the planet. The law was set. No shifting, no mate.

You’re just nervous because the new brides will arrive soon, he told himself.

Sweeping a hand through his hair, he willed the strange feeling in his chest to fade, to gain control over the arousal that made his body hum with tension. I am a medic and the head researcher on a ship headed for a new world. I have other things to focus on than my vision, like the blood samples of the new brides.

But even though logic told him to climb out of bed and get to work, he paused for a moment to rub at the spot that ached in his chest. It is good that my visions often have other meanings beyond the obvious. Because if I were allowed a bride, and she were in danger, nothing could stop me from protecting her.

He clenched his fist even as he felt the unmistakable stirring of the beast within him stretching to life. It was just a vision and nothing more.

Yet when he licked his lips, the delicate female’s flavor still lingered.


Chapter Three

Rory’s vidscreen chimed and an image of her older sister appeared on the screen. For a minute, she just stared. Darlene had the face of a cherub. She had bright green eyes and shoulder-length brown hair that matched their father’s. She had innocence, intelligence, and strength. Which made her dangerous in battle.

But more than that, she had a kind heart.

Choking back her tears, Rory spoke, “Connect.”

Darlene was leaning back on her bright orange-and-red sofa, her legs—real and artificial—drawn up next to her. It was a stark reminder that her sister had already fought for their country, when their greatest enemy was a dangerous group of terrorists. How could anyone of us have known that while we were wasting our time fighting each other, the real enemy circled above our heads?

Rory had been ineligible for the military because of the virus, so her big sister had gone, protecting all of them. But she hadn’t returned the same. While the leg was obvious, it was more than that. Without the money to buy a biologically identical leg, her sister was in constant pain. Getting the bio-leg is the only way to stop the pains that make her life a living hell. The ancient metal leg strapped to her knee was just not enough.

She deserves better.

And my sacrifice will give it to her.

Worry created small lines in the corners of Darlene’s mouth. “I haven’t heard from you in awhile. I was starting to think something bad—“

“I can’t live like this anymore,” she blurted out before she lost her nerve.

Surprise flickered in the depths of Darlene’s eyes, and she slowly dropped her legs to her carpeted floor. “You’re going back on the meds?”

Rory shook her head. Paused. Shook it again.

Then again.

Stop, she commanded herself.

She stopped shaking her head. Obeying. All I do is obey my obsessive thoughts now.

No, not my thoughts. The thoughts from the virus.

She clenched the fabric of her white pants than released her fingers. Looking down, she noted the wrinkle. More anxiety bubbled inside of her.

“No.” Rory swallowed. “I’m volunteering to be tested for the Star Squad.”

The color drained from Darlene’s face. “No. You don’t have to do that. We just need to find the right doctor.”

Change your pants now.

Rory’s laugh was bitter. “So another one can tell me it’s all in my head? That roughly 5 percent of women randomly developed debilitating OCD and anxiety the day after the alien craft crashed, but it had nothing to do with the aliens?”

“We’re making progress with the government. Just give them more time to find a cure!”

“They aren’t even looking for a cure, dammit! All of us are suffering, and we’re either dying quickly, or more slowly. And I’m sick of waiting for a cure that isn’t going to come! ” She closed her mouth, surprised to realize she’d been yelling.

Darlene ran an angry hand through her dark hair, her lips forming curses she didn’t speak out loud. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t get better. At least you’re still here! This is suicide!”

Change!

“I know. But it’s for a cause. And you know what? Intentional or not, that damn ship brought this virus here. It’s their fault I have this condition. I want to fight them.”

Her sister slammed her fist down on the table in front of her, eyes blazing with anger. “They’re already doing a draft. The aliens will be fought—it doesn’t have to be you! This family has already given enough!” She paused, visibly getting herself under control. After a second, she spoke more calmly. “We can go to more doctors.”

To waste the little money we have instead of focusing on you, to helping the one of us who has a chance? No.

With the money I’ll get from joining the Star Squad, you’ll finally be able to achieve your dreams. One of us can really have it all. And it should be you.

“I’m sorry, but I—“

Darlene held up her hand. “You have other options besides this. I won’t support you in it. I need you.”

“That’s not fair! No one stopped you when you wanted to fight! I couldn’t go then. Let me do what I can now.” Anxiety made her wring her hands. She didn’t want to leave her sister like this. “Please. I need to go.”

“No,” her sister said. “You don’t. And if you do this…if you abandon me after losing Mom and Dad, I will never forgive you.” Darlene hesitated, her voice coming out stronger. “I need you.”

Rory was taken aback. Does she really need me? She’s always been the strong one, the one to take care of both of us. How am I supposed to leave now, when she’s never asked me for anything before?

“Please?” Her sister’s word came out choked.

The answer was suddenly clear, though it almost killed her. I can’t leave her alone in this world.

Rory hung her head. “Fine.”

Her sister’s tortured expression relaxed. “Thank you. Because even if you can’t see it…even if I don’t show it enough…I need you as much as you need me.”

Someone knocked at Rory’s front door.

“Who’s that?” Darlene asked, frowning.

Rory was shaking, afraid of what she might say or not say. “I’m not sure, but I’d better check.”

Her sister’s gaze held hers. “I love you.”

Even though Rory’s heart hurt, she forced a smile.”I love you too.”

“Forever and always.”

“Forever and always.”

The moment they hung up, there was another knock.

Change. She pushed the thought aside, gritting her teeth.

Rising on shaking legs, she walked to the front door and peered out the small peephole. Outside, two dark-haired men in military uniforms stood waiting.

It’s fate.

Her heart pounded as she opened the door. “Hello?”

“Darlene Summers?”

Horror made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. No. This can’t be!

“What do you want?”

The taller soldier squared his shoulders and put down the hand-comp he was carrying. “I’m Officer Thompson, and you know why I’m here. Don’t make this harder than it already is. We’re looking for Darlene. Are you her?”

My sister must not have updated her address yet, so they think she still lives here. I have a chance to protect her. If I handle this right.

Rory drew herself as tall as she could, asking the question even though she already knew the answer. “Are you here for the draft?”

Officer Thompson rolled his eyes. “I’m sure you can put two and two together here, right? Because we’ve had a long morning.”

“My sister has already done her duty to this country.”

A look passed between the two men.“Ma’am, please—“

“She’s a goddamned vet!” Rory shouted. “She lost a leg! She’s sacrificed enough.”

Her words seemed to settle between them, and the atmosphere changed.

The shorter soldier removed his hat. “I’m so sorry.”

“That’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t change our job.” Officer Thompson said, clearing his throat as he held up his comp. He began to recite from the screen. “Darlene Summers is hereby enlisted in the Star Squad, the sole force in the battle against the alien invaders. Please understand that this is a necessity and not a decision that was made lightly. Even though we had hoped to avoid a draft, our battle plans were set in place when they crashed their ship here twenty years ago. In that vessel, we extracted their plans. They are returning in seven days’ time to invade Earth and enslave mankind.”

He paused for a breath. “The ships we’ve captured and reverse engineered can only be flown by women. Your service will prevent them from destroying our technology and systems and, most of all, humanity. She is our last hope to avoid the destruction and enslavement of mankind. In return, her family, or an heir of her choice, will be compensated with one million dollars cash. It is her duty to—“

Fate is cruel. But I don’t have to let it win. This is what I wanted anyway. And I would do anything to protect my sister. Anything.

“I’ll do it.”

He started, looking up from the comp and halting his monotone speech. “What?”

“I volunteer to be tested in her place.”

“You…volunteer?” the other guard repeated, his expression softening. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Rory answered without hesitation. Then she added more quietly, “She’s my sister. And she already got a Purple Heart in the Winter War.”

Surprise, then sympathy, reflected in his dark eyes. “As you wish.”

The paperwork took a surprisingly short time, and then she was given her testing appointment the very next morning. As they left, Rory stared at her ticket, then set the germ-covered number carefully just inside her door.

It’s done. Tomorrow I’ll be tested. And whatever those damn aliens want us for, it’ll be me going up there. Not my sister.

She went to her hand-comp and typed a simple message to Darlene.

I’m so sorry, but I’m submitting myself to be tested for the Star Squad. I hope one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I love you. Forever and always.

She scheduled the message to be delivered long after her testing appointment, then turned off her comp, and shuffled down the empty hall with its blank walls to her bedroom. She walked past the bed, nightstand, and lone lamp to the closet, where she pulled out an identical pair of white pants hung with the utmost care.

Taking them out, she dressed with caution. Aware that if any of her tears fell on the fabric, her brain would make her change again. And again.

I hate you, she directed the thought at her brain.

As always, there was no answer.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.


Chapter Four

The Evaluator’s office was just outside their small town. It was a huge building, dark and foreboding, and it took everything in Rory to straighten her shoulders and walk toward the big glass doors. Soldiers, dressed in military fatigues and carrying rifles, eyed her as she passed them. She pasted on a smile and tried to carry herself as if she wasn’t counting each step.

The women accepted seem to be young and in good health, so that’s exactly how I need to present myself.

When she got to the door, she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and pushed it open. She tried not to imagine the germs crawling from the cloth, making their way to her skin, but the image haunted her.

There was another security desk at the front. She had to leave her coat. And place all her important items on the belt. Inside, she saw the line of women. I just need to go stand with them. Fear and anxiety filled the air as they chatted with one another.

Too bright.

Too loud.

Too dirty.

Too crowded.

She panted, sucking in breaths as her vision spun. Hold it together!

Just then, chaos erupted behind her. She spun around as four soldiers dragged a tall brunette into the facility.

What the—?

The brunette swore in Spanish, struggling in their arms as she kicked and punched. Several of her blows landed, causing the soldiers to curse.

The soldiers’ gazes held barely controlled rage. If she keeps it up, they’re going to hurt her. Worry made Rory freeze in shock.

But then they were coming right at her.

She jumped out of the way. The woman caught her eye, and the fear and desperation in her expression took Rory’s breath away.

They took the struggling brunette to the end of the line.

She struck one man in the face, and he drew his arm back, mouth twisted in anger.

“Stop!” All eyes were on Rory before she’d known she’d spoken. “Just stop,” she begged.

The brunette’s long hair was a messy curtain in front of her face, just one big eye peeking out. But the way she held herself, and the rapid rise and fall of her chest, told Rory the woman was nowhere done fighting.

But she needs to stop. They’ll hurt her.

Why aren’t any of the other women trying to help?

Every one of them stood with their backs turned, looking straight ahead. As if pretending not to see it means that it isn’t happening.

One of the soldiers leaned in and spoke, nearly into the woman’s ear.

Instantly, she stilled. The men released her, hovering close. But all the fight was gone from her eyes.

Rory’s heart pounded as she moved to stand behind the woman. I want to offer her comfort, but what could I possibly say? The soldiers around them slowly moved away until they were positioned at the exits.

The brunette turned with a smile that wavered. Her hands shook as they moved to fix her tangled hair. “Thanks for stopping that asshole. My name is Catalina.” The words rolled off her tongue with a beautiful Spanish accent.

It’s been so long since I talked to a person besides my sister. She’ll see right through me to the virus. Meet her eyes. Choose your words with care.

“What just happened?”

The woman raised both brows, looking surprised by her bluntness. “I didn’t want to be drafted.”

“I don’t think you’re alone in that.”

But there must be more to it.

Catalina gave a laugh that held only a slight edge of anger. “True enough. I didn’t catch your name.”

“Rory.” She forced the word out past her dry lips.

“Well, straight-to-the-point Rory.” Catalina leaned in and opened the collar on her red shirt ever so slightly. Rory caught a flash of silver. “I have a plan to get us out of here. You in?”

Is that a knife?

She shook her head slowly.

Catalina leaned away, the sharp lines of her face growing sharper. “What? You one of those crazies, hoping to be beamed up and find something better?”

“No, I—“

“You trying to get out of jail time?”

“No.”

“Then, why the hell wouldn’t you jump at a chance to escape?”

Rory swallowed. Should I be honest? “Because I’m taking someone’s place.”

“Who?”

“My sister.”

The woman’s whole demeanor changed, her anger fading into something closer to sympathy. Then she nodded, slight wrinkles gathering at the corners of her full lips. “It shouldn’t be like this. You shouldn’t have to throw away your life to save someone you love.”

I don’t want to think about that. “Can I ask you something?”

Her eyes became guarded. “Shoot.”

“What did they say to get you to calm down?”

Catalina was quiet for so long Rory thought she’d never answer, but then at last she did, her words coming out soft but certain. “My grandfather molested me as a kid, but then he moved away. When I left home, I made my mom promise to keep him away from my little sister. But she didn’t.” Anger flashed across her face once more. “I tried everything I could to help her, but finally, I just shot the bastard.”

Saying she didn’t answer my question doesn’t seem appropriate…

“I’m sorry,” was all she could manage.

The woman shrugged. “I’m glad I killed him. But I didn’t expect to be dragged here for testing. I did what I did knowing I’d spend a long time in prison, but I didn’t sign on for a death sentence.” She took a deep breath, something unreadable flashing in her eyes. “But they reminded me that they could always take my older cousin in my place. And nothing means more to me than family.”

They threatened her? What despicable pieces of garbage!

“I’m sorry.” The words felt inadequate, but they were all she had.

Catalina stared expectantly. “Most people have a different reaction to learning I killed someone.”

“Most people think every life has value.” She spoke without thinking, but once the words had left her mouth, she wished she could take them back.

“Oh.” The woman’s eyes widened. “I get it now. You volunteered for a reason then. No judgment.”

She thinks I want to die.

How can she possibly understand how much I want to live?

“If I had any chance at living a normal life, of having a husband, having children…I wouldn’t be in this line.”

The woman’s face suddenly looked younger under her heavy makeup. “Okay. I believe you.”

For some reason, Rory felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. I’m giving my life, not taking it.

The line moved slowly over the next hour, but she finally found herself standing in front of two massive metal doors with guards on either side. When it was Catalina’s turn to enter, the woman looked back over her shoulder and patted the spot where her knife was concealed, then entered without looking back.

Time seemed to crawl as Rory counted her breaths.

This time when the doors opened, her legs shook. It’s my turn. And it doesn’t sound like Catalina has caused any trouble—yet.

A small man in a military uniform led her through three more sets of metal doors—each guarded—before she stepped into the dome that housed what appeared to be an alien-looking craft.

This is it.

They went straight to the ship and stopped just in front of it. It was about twice as wide as an SUV, but far shorter, slightly taller than her waist. All black. Round in the middle and a sharp nose in the front. There was a sleekness to it that gave it an air of mystery.

“Anytime now, blondie.” The little man pointed at the ship.

She narrowed her eyes. “And what exactly would you like me to do?”

His mouth pulled into a thin line. “What do you think? Climb in! See if it responds to you!”

This must be the test.

Taking a deep breath, she drew her shoulders back. Then took two more breaths. Then walked toward the ship. When she reached the side, she saw that the glass top had been pulled back to reveal a small area filled with a dashboard covered in buttons. It was a small space, obviously meant for one person.

She’d never been claustrophobic, but her anxiety screamed to life. A guard reached for her hand to help her board. She shifted away from his touch, fighting her brain’s desperate screams to run from the small dark germ-filled space.

When she finally lowered herself into the ship, she was slick with sweat. She clenched and unclenched her hands as nervous energy coursed through her. Staring at the dials, she wondered how she was supposed to fly it. And then, a dark thought slid through her mind.

This is the moment.

If you aren’t chosen, you will lose the opportunity to die with dignity.

To help your people.

To help your sister.

You must be chosen!

The guard leaned over her. “Place your hand on the disc.”

She looked up to meet his eyes, but instead his gaze was running over her. Something uncomfortable flipped in her stomach. Why is he looking at me like that?

The little man in the military outfit suddenly appeared next to the guard. “On with it now! We’ve still got a line out the damned door, and we’ve only found one match all morning.”

With one hand tapping her leg, tap, tap, tap, pause, tap, tap, tap, she reached her other hand out and placed it on the silver disc. Straps wrapped around her hand like the tentacles of an octopus. She gasped in shock and fear as she tried to pull free. A second later, however, pain radiated through her palm. Red blood leaked from beneath her hand onto the disc.

This isn’t right! This shouldn’t be happening! Something’s wrong—

The world faded to nothing. Instead, she saw a strange and beautiful man sitting at a desk. He was covered in tattoos, curving black shapes that seemed out-of-place on a face that was so stunning it took her breath away. Looking up, his pale green eyes widened in surprise. His lips moved, but she couldn’t hear any sound.

She moved closer to him, wanting to run her hands along the hard lines of his body. To tangle her fingers through his long blond hair.

Never before had she seen someone who should frighten her, but instead, aroused and intrigued her. His gaze promised her, I will protect you always.

Closing her eyes, she willed herself into the safety of her arms.

“Command it!” someone shouted.

Her eyes flashed open, and reality came back like a bucket of cold water. Her vision, the feeling of being safe, disappeared in the harsh lights of the military building.

“Command—?“ she murmured.

“Tell it to fly!” the military man shouted in annoyance.

Feeling uncertain, she did as he told her. To her shock, the dashboard lit up and the craft slowly rose from the ground. The two men near the ship stumbled back as the ship rose higher and higher.

She looked down into the room below. The scientists, guards, and military men working around the edges of the room paused in their tasks and stared up at her.

Now what?

“Okay,” the little military man said, excitement in his voice, “just imagine gently landing back down.”

It can’t really be that easy, can it? But she did as he said anyway. Very slowly, the craft landed.

The man and the guard were immediately at her side.

“Congratulations,” the little man said, smiling for the first time. “You’ve got what it takes to fly one of the alien ships, pilot. Which means you’ve just officially been accepted into the Star Squad.”

He pulled something from his pocket and pressed it onto the back of her hand.

She looked down.

9,847.

I guess this means I’m in. So what now?

Fear crept through her veins, but even as it did, she remembered the face of the man from her vision. And although she knew he wasn’t real, the thought of him calmed her in a way nothing else had for a very long time. She tried to imagine him just as he was in her mind, but somehow, she could already feel him slipping away.

If only…

But she already knew, even if the man with the kind eyes existed, he couldn’t help her now. No one could.

Chapter Five

FarSeer’s primal side was enraged. It demanded the blood and death of his enemies. Who were close. Closer than he ever imagined they could be.

I just need to focus on my work. Lose myself in it.

Or kill those creatures with my bare hands.

He drew in a shaky breath, forcing his hands to uncurl. You are a medic and a researcher now. Not a soldier. Those beasts are not your concern.

But something had brought his primal side roaring to life. A memory. A memory of the beautiful female who his heart claimed as his mate.

It was nothing.

And yet, his hands shook. With anger. With frustration. With desire.

This is why your work is so important. It is something you do have control over.

Turning his head, he stared at his screen, willing himself to forget all else but his work. Time ticked by. He slowly relaxed as he viewed the data streaming in from the new Earth brides. This is exactly why I agreed to join this crew, being Head Researcher on the first bride exchange with a new world is an opportunity I never thought I’d have.

And it keeps me focused on the present.

From light-years away, females were simultaneously injected with their new mate’s language, while their blood sample was taken. Only females capable of breeding with their males would be accepted in the exchange.

Everything was going perfectly. Not even a slight hiccup detected so far.

Almost the second the thought entered his mind, the computer flashed, the numbers freezing in place. His eyes widened at the sight of the latest data being streamed from their soon-to-be brides. “One of the women has Spiritus blood in her. That’s impossible.”

He rubbed his face and stared back at his holoscreen until the numbers stopped blending together. The data was the same.

Not quite one of us, but not quite human either.

“That can’t be,” he murmured to himself. “In order for one of the humans to have our blood in them, she’d have to be…”

He wasn’t certain.

But what he did know was that female number 9,847 was an abnormality. A mystery. And I love mysteries. He now not only had a new species of brides to study, he had a specific female to study.

He grinned, but then his smile faltered. Number 9,847 would be the easiest Earth female to breed with. Parsimon will want her as his bride. Which made him feel… uneasy.

Soon he would run The Bride Initiative. It would assign each woman to their mate based on the best possible match for breeding, but also based on factors that they’d finally been able to identify on a scientific level. Their system was nearly flawless. The females would find themselves irresistibly drawn to their mates, as would the males. It was the closest science could come to identifying a formula for love.

But when Parsimon learns of her Spiritus blood, he’ll want female number 9,847, regardless of whether or not they would make a good match.

Unfortunately for her.

His door beeped. Only a few people have access to the private medbay that leads into my living quarters. I wonder what the person wants.

“Enter,” he responded, leaning back with a groan.

How long have I been staring at that damned screen?

His best friend and captain entered FarSeer’s quarters with his usual air of confidence. Moving soundlessly past his bed, he went to the corner and poured them both a drink.

Immediately, FarSeer tensed as the real world collided with his simpler world of numbers and formulas. Wearily, he watched as the other male came to settle in the chair across from him.

Usually I’d be glad for his company but not after what I learned earlier today. Not after seeing my greatest enemy, the creatures who haunt my nightmares, walking the halls of this ship as guests.

It was a terrible betrayal. And the only person responsible for it could be the male staring at him, one FarSeer had called friend for many years.

“No greeting?” Leader’s voice held an edge of amusement as he handed the other male a drink. “I’m told you saw the Bortracks and that you were not pleased. That you have been asking many, many questions. Do you still have any left unanswered?”

Many. Too many.

Like how could we work with the creatures responsible for the greatest war in our history? Like how could any male see the things we did during the war and not gut any Bortrack on first sight?

But spewing my angry, betrayed words will do no good.

FarSeer eyed Leader, trying to remain calm. “Why are the Bortracks here?”

“We need them.”

His friend’s answer was not good enough. “We have never before needed the Bortracks to retrieve brides. What’s different this time?”

Leader’s smile faltered. “Parsimon does things differently.”

This has been sanctioned by the council? He wasn’t sure what he’d hoped was the reason for seeing the Bortracks on board, but imagining his government coming to some kind of agreement with their enemies was certainly not it. As excited as I am to be Head Researcher, I would never have joined a crew with those beasts on board.

“The Bortracks thrive on suffering and violence. They’ve been reduced to little more than a scattering of groups that survived the war. What could Parsimon possibly have offered them to gain their help?”

Leader shrugged.

The muscles in FarSeer’s body tensed further. “I can only conclude that he lied to the Bortracks to gain their help. Offered them something that we would never willingly give.”

“I don’t know what Parsimon gave them in exchange.” Leader sat back in his chair, swirling the golden contents in his glass. “I was not part of the negotiations.”

Be calm. Think. Don’t act.

FarSeer took a sip of his own Golden Spite, letting the beverage pop softly on his tongue before he answered. “I don’t like it.”

This can only end badly.

Leader’s facial markings shifted with his darkening mood. “None of us like it. But Parsimon says we need them.”

He felt a wave of relief. At least my friend is not working with them by choice.

FarSeer almost suggested they give up their mission and have the Council send another crew that didn’t include the Bortracks. Almost.

I lose nothing but a chance to keep my mind busy with my work. Most of the males on this ship would be delaying claiming their mates. Including Leader. Including my other friends. It should be their choice, not mine. If the males who had paid for their brides through this voyage wanted to take this risk, it wasn’t his place to speak against it.

But I sense that this will end badly.

“Not to worry, my friend. You might not have a vote on politics, but you are still our First Tier Medical Specialist and Head Researcher. You’ll be tucked safely away with any females who need your level of expertise. Who need your healing mind. And, of course, with your beloved data. You won’t even be aware of the Bortracks.”

His gut tightened. I envy you, my friend. If you can so easily forget the horrors from the war. The images of what the Bortracks did to those females. Because I can never forget. And knowing they are so close? His pulse raced, pounding in his ears. It will take everything in me not to seek out their chambers and give into the soldier within me. To crush the life from them.

It is what they deserve. Every one of them.

FarSeer was shaking, struggling to control his raging emotions. “I’m already aware of them. Stomping our halls like they own the place.”

“While guarded.” The words held a slight growl.

My friend’s inner beast rides too close to the surface. If he isn’t careful, he’ll shift on this voyage. And the last thing he wants to do is prove the rumors about his infamous temper.

“They will be kept in their quarters as much as possible,” the other male added, as if such a fact was significant.

FarSeer wondered if Leader really thought that their physical presence was his issue with their agreement. He should know me better than that. He should know my hatred for the Bortracks runs deep. The creatures are evil at its purest form.

The Bortracks stole or purchased their females as breeding slaves. Then mated with them continuously until they were impregnated. If they survived the mating process, the females were locked in a birthing chamber. A box where the females would hang, with metal bars encasing them, bowing them forward, leaving room only for their bellies to grow. Tubes were inserted where needed to force them to stay alive, to use all their energy in growing the monstrously large child. When it came time to birth the Bortrack baby, the females had usually become thin, almost lifeless skeletons, their bellies extending nearly to the ground. Then, the Bortracks would cut the child free and leave the mothers to bleed to death.

During the war, most of the birthing chambers they stumbled across held nothing but bodies. But worse were the times they found the females who still lived. Their deaths were slow. All I could do was take their pain away.

I did not become a medic to helplessly watch females die.

In all his time as a soldier, he had saved only one female. She had survived…but barely.

Her name was Purity. Seeing someone that brutalized, someone whose body I could heal but do nothing for her mind, still haunts me. For that reason, I sometimes wish I had never been with the medic assigned to that Alpha Squad. Even if saving the king’s niece brought me fame and fortune.

“What are you seeing?” Leader asked.

FarSeer jerked back into reality. Setting his drink down and rising in agitation from his seat, he paced before the wide windows of his chambers.

“I wasn’t. I was remembering.”

Leader’s voice held a note of fear. “So it was not a premonition?”

FarSeer had been given his name when Power Seeker had determined his gifts on the first day of his birth. People often grew nervous when he got lost in thought. They always think I am seeing some terrible vision of the future, but how could they possibly understand that seeing is about the past just as much as the future?

“No. I was thinking of Purity.”

“Ah.” Leader sounded far too relieved. “I saw her at a ball not long before our departure. She looked well. You did an excellent job healing her.”

She has gained weight once more. But although her body looks healthy, her eyes are still haunted. I wonder if she is glad she lived.

“The same monsters who brutalized that woman are guests on our ship. I wonder at the wisdom of your choice.”

Leader raised a brow. “It was not my choice.”

“That does not excuse it.”

His friend placed his drink down and crossed the room to step in front of FarSeer. “I can handle this. I can handle anything, if it brings me to my mate.”

Before the Contagion, none of these males would risk working with the Bortracks for a mate. They are desperate. Recklessly desperate.

“And you believe we can control these creatures? Even for a short time?” FarSeer tried to keep the disbelief from his words, but failed miserably.

“Trust me. The females will be safe. If the Bortracks step out of line, deal or no deal, I will dispose of them. Even if it costs me my career.”

FarSeer knew his friend was called Leader for a reason, and it wasn’t just that he was the captain. Leader’s reassurance tugged at his thoughts, urging him to listen.

But instead, FarSeer met the other male’s gaze. “If I have to kill those beasts to protect the newest brides, I will.”

Leader fidgeted nervously. “I thought that your killing days were behind you, that you sought only peace now.”

FarSeer clenched his teeth. “If you do not want me to return to the male you knew in the war, you will make certain no female is hurt at the hands of our enemies.”

His friend squeezed his shoulder, holding his gaze. He’s afraid. Afraid of what I’m capable of. “You have my word. All will be well.”

FarSeer looked away, that familiar feeling rising in him again. He might not be able to shift, but the primal side of him was always there, just below the surface. Driven by a violent need to protect. And since his vision of the blue-eyed female, he felt it pacing just below his surface.

I must hope all goes well. If I unleash it, I fear that I will not be able to regain control again.

And in many ways, that was more worrisome to him than even the Bortracks.


Chapter Six

Training was every horror Rory imagined all rolled into one. She slept in a massive room filled with bunk beds. Forty women shared the space. Some smelled. Some were messy. Some hummed or sang. All were infested with germs.

She couldn’t even hide out in the filthy, overused bathroom. Instead, she gritted her teeth and closed her eyes, trying to imagine she was in a pristine white space alone.

Her OCD fought her tooth and nail, but she reined it in as well as she could. Obsessive thoughts beat at her brain over and over again. She was sure the other women thought she was odd. It was impossible for her to hold a real conversation. Someone would speak to her, horrifying images would play in her mind, and when she looked up again, the person was gone.

If I can just hold on a little longer, this will all be over.

She rocked in her bunk, hands over her ears, repeating the comforting words over and over even as the intrusive thoughts roared louder.

These clothes are filthy.

The stains on the sheets are probably covered in germs.

Get out. Run! Go—

Someone touched her shoulder.

She uncovered her ears, realizing for the first time she was shaking.

“Rory?”

Looking up slowly, Catalina’s face came into view. Free of makeup, she looked different, younger. With an air of innocence that was completely unexpected for a killer. Or for the woman who has proved herself such a bad ass leader and fighter that she’s become the head of our squadron. Catalina’s dark brows arched over eyes that were such pale brown they were almost hazel. She smiled, softening her heart-shaped face even further.

“You okay?”

“I’m—“ She shuddered.

“Not okay.” Catalina finished for her. “Come with me, amiga.”

She wasn’t okay. Because she was spiraling. Because she was so close to losing all control, she followed Catalina. Untangling her legs from the bunk, she ignored the way conversations silenced as she walked past. How card games froze.

Catalina led her out the door and into the chilly air. Immediately, her anxiety seemed to decrease. Strange. She sucked in a breath. At home the outdoors makes me worse.

The base was quiet that early in the morning, the massive field of alien crafts strangely silent. The only movement came from the enormous fence surrounding the base, where armed military men paced. To keep us from escaping.

Some of the women whispered that bases just like this one had been created all over the world to house the women. To keep them prisoner until the aliens arrived.

Catalina took her to the small lake in the back of the base, where she sat down on a bench. Rory cautiously sat next to her.

“You have the virus.” Her words were a statement rather than a response.

But Rory answered anyway, “Yes.”

Catalina was quiet for a long moment. “My older sister had it too.”

She didn’t need to ask why the statement was in past tense.

“It must have taken everything within you to last this long. To come here and face your fears.”

Each time they have me fly the spaceship, the small space closes in on me. My hands shake, my vision goes black. I can barely hear the commands over the intercom.

And training classes are just as bad. I can barely fight. I’m so distracted by the smell of sweat. When I spar with the other women, I pray not to make contact with their bodies.

This place is torture.

Rory wrapped her arms around herself. “Maybe it was a mistake. I’m not hiding it well enough.”Catalina turned slightly to face her, and Rory noted that she was cautious about not touching her leg. “We only have one more day.”

All the air rushed out of her lungs. “I’m about ready to break. I don’t know how I’ll hide it that long.”

Catalina only laughed. “You can hide it.”

“Easy for you to say. One day you’re trying to kill our commanding officer, and the next you’re the head of our squadron.”

She shrugged. “Maybe I decided this is a cause worth fighting for. Or, maybe, I thought the nine of you needed me.”

We did. Their squad was the absolute worst. They would be the first to attack during the invasion. ‘Bullet Catchers,” as some of the other women mumbled. But Catalina had never hesitated in demanding that if she led, it be their group only.

“I want to be able to do this… but I’m going crazy.”

Catalina met her gaze. “You fly well. The ship responds to your commands faster than any other woman. It’s only your fears, your unwillingness to try during hand-to-hand training—“

“I am trying! I’m trying so damn hard!”

She put up a hand. “I know. But that isn’t how they see it. My point is, you’ll make it. Because I believe you can, and because I’ll help you.”

And because Darlene needs me to.

“But what about Zoey,” who seemed constantly distracted, “and Athena,” who was frighteningly angry, “and Clarissa,” who seemed terrified of her own shadow. “They all need you too.”

Catalina smiled. “Let me worry about our squad girls, you focus on yourself.”

If only it was that easy.

“Besides,” she continued, “I think at this point they’d let you fly no matter how crazy they thought you were.”

Not when they can simply take my healthy sister in my place.

Rory forced a smile. “That’s something.” She touched one corner of the bench, then touched it again. With each second that ticked by, she could feel training time drawing nearer, but she wasn’t ready to end the best moment in days. Not yet. “Can I ask you a question?”

Catalina nodded.

“Do you regret killing your grandfather?”

Geez, Rory, where did that come from?

“No.” There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation in her voice. “My sister wasn’t safe, and no one would help her. She was too afraid to tell anyone else the truth. And my mom and the officers? They just saw a kind old man, not the sadistic bastard hiding underneath. It was all a game for him. All he had to do was not screw up while they were watching.” Her head sank a little. “So I did the only thing I could.”

The hurt in the other woman’s voice called to her. “I’m so sorry.”

Catalina nodded. “I’ll never trust another man again.”

“Well.” Rory smiled sadly. “That probably won’t be a problem at this point. For either of us.”

“Do you…do you have someone?” the woman asked.

Rory shook her head. “I’ve heard it’s better to have never loved than loved and lost though.”

“I guess we’ll never know.”

For some reason, they both laughed, even though the sound was sad to her ears.

A comfortable silence stretched between them.

“Why do you think only women can fly their ships?” Catalina asked.

Rory had spent too long the past few days thinking of this. “Maybe they’re all female?”

Catalina shrugged. “I guess we’re just lucky their scout ship crashed years ago, or we wouldn’t know about the invasion. They’d wipe us out and we wouldn’t have any real resistance.”

“I guess that’s something.” Her stomach turned in an unsettling way that made her want to curl up in a ball and sleep until this nightmare was over. If only. “So tomorrow then?”

Catalina stood and looked back at base. “Yup, tomorrow, and it looks like training is about to begin.”

Rory stood too. I can handle one more day.

But a cruel voice whispered in the back of her mind, No you can’t.


Chapter Seven

FarSeer’s comp rang out as he was finishing straightening up his private medbay. He frowned. They’d be entering the wormhole shortly, and then all communication would be cut off from this galaxy. But who would be contacting me now?

Walking past the three healing chambers, he seated himself before his desk and placed his palm on the silver oval. Parsimon’s 3-D image wavered and came into view. His dark hair lay combed close to his face. His markings were sharp, distinctly unpleasant, and set into an equally unpleasant face.

“Medic FarSeer.”

“Lord Parsimon, to what do I owe the honor?”

“Have you found my mate?”

FarSeer felt a sense of unease as he spoke. “I was about to run the Bride Initiative. But…there is an Earth female with Spiritus blood. I will have to examine her to determine exactly—“

“She is mine!” Greed darkened the other male’s eyes further.

FarSeer released a slow breath. “Are you certain this is what you wish? Without the program, there is a chance you will not be compatible. She may not enjoy your company or find you attractive, you in turn—“

The male waved a hand, dismissing his concerns. “All I care for is that she is capable of producing healthy heirs. Females themselves interest me very little.”

FarSeer tried to hide his surprise. After going across galaxies to find a mate, I would care more for the female herself than her uterus.

“If you are certain.”


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