The Xxan and humans have been at war for five decades. Despite the ongoing hostilities, a small group of captured Xxan have assimilated into Earth's culture and become strong allies. They have even interbred with humans. That doesn't mean all is calm between the allies...or their enemies.
It's MATING SEASON. Zondra Daahn has hit her quickening with both feet and no warning. She's on the prowl for a male to sate her, and Evan Duncan is just the overbearing, alpha male she needs. There are just a few little problems...
Miri Johns is a negotiator for the Xxan. When it all blows up, she finds herself captured by humans, an illegal crossbred experiment used as a weapon against them. The best she can hope for is that they'll kill her without torturing her too badly first. Aleeks Daahn is a natural-born crossbreed, raised on Earth. With Miri at the height of fertility, Aleeks may not be able to control the Xxan need to Dominate and claim his young prisoner. Nor does he want to control it. Are two crossbred Xxanians CLOSE ENOUGH TO HUMAN to survive in the human world?
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
"What do you think, Daahn?" Jacks asked.
"You know what I think. This is fucking stupidity."
Commander Aleeks Daahn forced his jaw to unclench. There was something wrong with this whole setup. Even his gran-seir had agreed that the Xxan didn't negotiate this way.
The Xxan don't negotiate at all. They were hunters; they took what they wanted, as they'd tried to take Earth fifty years earlier.
But the councilors had refused to listen. They'd claimed that since Daahn the Eldest had been away for half a century, things might have changed for the Xxan in that time.
Barking unlikely, in Aleeks's opinion. According to his gran-seir, the Xxan hadn't changed significantly in millennia, his own decisions and those of some of his command notwithstanding.
The councilors had agreed to this meeting on Xxania Hethhh, the Xxan sister-moon, a festering hunk of rock that had been all but mined out of its precious ores and minerals. Now it was up to Aleeks and three squads of other elite troops to keep the fools alive, agree or not.
The Xxan entered from their side of the mountain range, streaming into the amphitheater in triple rows. They were massive reptilian humanoids, the Dominant males with their ridge plates fully extended in show and their serrated teeth bared as a warning to rival males. Not that Dominant Xxanian warriors saw humans as rivals. It had taken his gran-seir two years in captivity to develop that much respect for humans.
The Grea Elders took the higher seats, the lesser Dominants below, and the Subdominants as a buffer between them and the humans across the theater.
Just as Gran-seir postulated. Their opinions of the untouchable humans hadn't changed.
Then why are we here? It was a setup, but it was a damned odd one. Most of the human Council was present--all but the three female Council members, by his count--and all the Xxanian Grea Elders. The former made sense to him; the latter didn't compute.
Aleeks forced himself to breathe through his nose alone, keeping his mouth shut tight. The tongue-scent of so many rival Dominants would make it nearly impossible to control his need to raise his ridge plates in response.
As it was, they'd hidden his Xxanian eyes behind dark glasses and trusted the confusion of Xxanian and human scents to mask his own mixed heritage. It was a safe bet that the Xxan would assume the worst if they discovered Aleeks among the humans.
When the Xxan were seated, Councilor Allen greeted them in the traditional manner. While many of the other soldiers listened to the conversation on translators, Aleeks chose to do his own translation.
"Honored Grea Elders, Dominants, and all, I greet you and speak as negotiator for Earth's leaders. I am Councilor Ian Allen."
One of the Grea Elders stood, motioning expansively. "The Xxan welcome our human guests. It is an honor you show us, learning our language. Perhaps you would allow us to show you the same honor."
Aleeks motioned his men to covert readiness. After nearly fifty years of disdain for all things human, the Xxan wouldn't offer such a magnanimous show unless there was a trap involved somewhere.
This entire thing is a trap. The question remained: where was the switch to activate it?
A murmur in the human ranks swelled into a cacophony of voices overlapping.
"It can't be."
Aleeks examined the slight female making her way to the center of the dirt floor between the delegations. She was dressed in black pants and a button-down shirt, not unlike those worn by Earth's soldiers of two generations ago, though hers bore no insignia of rank and affiliation. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back in a braid behind her head. She was barefoot and wearing a pair of dark glasses not unlike Aleeks's pair. In fact, they might have been a pair of standard-issue glasses taken from a human prisoner of a few decades earlier.
Curious, he tasted the air, using her female musk to separate her from the other bodies crowding the amphitheater. His mind rebelled, and Aleeks forced his ridge plates back, almost painfully.
Jacks jostled him. "She's human, Daahn. Some of the prisoners must have--"
"She's not." Aleeks knew precisely what she was, but she started speaking...in English, stealing his chance to say it first.
"Honored councilors of Earth, I greet you and speak as negotiator for my Grea Elders Xxan." She bowed her head first to the Xxan and then to the human delegates. "I am known as Mirienne Johns. I am of your Marilyn Johns, formerly of planet Earth."
Jacks started to ask a question, and Aleeks motioned him for silence.
Councilor Allen recovered his wits enough to speak. "You're human?"
Aleeks rolled his eyes. Though he didn't trust this, the idea of crossbred Xxan-humans should hardly come as a shock to Allen.
She hesitated, then removed her glasses, meeting the councilor's eyes across the five meters that separated them. Aleeks didn't question what the councilors saw. No doubt, Mirienne Johns had retained the Xxanian eyes, just as Aleeks had.
But why is she called Johns? She should carry the name of her seir or mate. Barring the possibility that Marilyn Johns herself had been pregnant with a son when she was captured, and that son had taken a Xxanian female to mate, producing Mirienne in the bargain, her naming made no sense to Aleeks.
Mirienne didn't put her glasses back on. The amphitheater was dark enough for the Xxan and those with Xxanian eyes. He wasn't certain why she'd worn the glasses at all.
It's theatrical. Something is very wrong here.
"I know this must be a shock for you," she continued.
Hardly...if it's real.
"But I hope you can see past--"
The first blast came without warning, mowing Allen down. Taken off guard, the human troops and councilors scrambled.
Mirienne turned, seemingly horrified at the attack. Her weapon came up as Aleeks's did, both locked on the Xxanian shooter. Her blast hit home a split second before his, both killing shots.
Blasts came from every direction in response. Aleeks shifted his attention from the Xxanian warriors attacking them to the "negotiator" taking down those she "represented" and back again.
She was shouting in Xxan, ordering them to stand down, shooting one warrior after another as their weapons came up. Her head snapped around at a command from the Grea Elder who'd called her forward.
"Kill the crossbred abomination."
Aleeks's heart stuttered in fear and then smoothed. They didn't mean him; they meant Mirienne.
The Grea Elder was dead before his words echoed...then two more went down. They weren't three in a row, which would've indicated she wanted to kill the entire forum. Rather, they seemed chosen at random. Something told Aleeks they weren't random.
The uproar from the Xxan seemed to support that theory. Mirienne abandoned the next elder she'd targeted and started dodging blasts, bolting for a tunnel opposite Aleeks's position. Suddenly, none of the Xxan were interested in firing at the retreating humans. Every Xxan with a weapon in hand was firing at a single crossbred woman.
Aleeks provided her cover, ordering his men to cut down every Xxan in fighting stance, letting instinct rule him in the manner that had served him so well in battle thus far. Still, the Xxan didn't turn on the humans again.
He let out an explosive sigh as she disappeared down the shaft. Aleeks cut down the first five Xxanian warriors trying to run her down. If he could give her a decent enough head start, she might just escape them.
Jacks pulled at his shoulder. "The councilors are gone, Daahn. We're pulling out."
He nodded, covering his men to the darkness on their side of the mountain range. Not that there was much to cover them from. Some of the Subdominants had followed Mirienne Johns down the tunnel, but the rest of the Xxan had retreated to their own side of the range.
There were only two transports left when he reached the touchdown point. Aleeks ignored them both, heading for Admiral MacNair. Only MacNair would understand, and only he had the power to keep them from pulling out completely.
In the distance, Aleeks noted several Xxanian transports lifting off and speeding farther into their space.
"Daahn," MacNair greeted him.
"I need a transport and my team," he stated bluntly.
MacNair gaped at him. "Denied."
"We need Mirienne Johns."
"We do or you do?" he challenged.
Aleeks forced his ridge plates down, aware that his forehead undulated in the battle to keep them retracted. "We need her...and she needs our help. We would have been sitting ducks in there without her."
He didn't add that he'd warned them it was a trap. That might push MacNair too far, especially since MacNair had agreed with that assessment. Though politics went against Aleeks's Dominant male Xxanian side, his human side could rein that in...usually.
MacNair sighed. "Captain Seaver," he shouted.
Seaver's head came up. "Sir?"
"You have a mission, Captain."
Seaver scowled at Aleeks but didn't comment.
"Bring her in for questioning, Daahn. You have eight hours. After that, I'll leave you on this rock, your gran-seir and seir be damned."
Aleeks bit back a smile. "Understood, sir." He turned away from his 'godfather.' "Jacks! I want the team suited up for stealth and ready to roll in thirty or less. Less is preferred."
The lieutenant grumbled but complied.
* * * *
Miri hissed a series of curses in Xxan and human English. Damn her gran-seir and seir alike. Damn her entire family, the Grea Elders, the Dominants...and anyone else who had even a passing knowledge of this shit.
It had all been a lie, from conception... She ground her serrated back teeth at the unintended pun.
From conception to execution, and if I am not mindful, it will mean my execution.
That eventuality firmly in mind, Miri crept along the darkened tunnel, her senses open to scent and sound and movement of air as much as they were to sight. If she could find her way back to the surface, Miri could hide herself in the old growth, lose herself in the sacred areas no one else cared to tread.
The ambush came without warning. The six humans had been shielded from every sense: wearing dark clothing to blend into the tunnel walls, unmoving, silent, and masked in breathers to still their air.
Her hand shook, and she rested her thumb on the weapon lock, torn on the point of readying the weapon for a firefight.
On one hand, she had no wish to harm the humans. Miri had been raised and trained to be a negotiator to them. She hadn't been raised as a weapon.
Yes, I was, and now I know it. And so do they.
That fact was the one reason she kept her thumb on the lock. Innocent of the plan or not, Miri had been used by the Xxan to stage the attack. She might have to fight her way out.
"Lower your weapon, Johns," one of the humans ordered.
She spied the black on black insignia of a lieutenant, the only protection he'd have on a world that obeyed the Interstellar War Pact. Failure to display rank and affiliation could see him dead.
I have no insignia. No doubt, the Xxan had planned it that way. She hadn't questioned it, because this had been presented as a diplomatic mission and she as an honored representative of the Xxan. Now she was a combatant. They could kill her without pause. And likely will.
Miri took a step back into the tunnel she'd come out of, her trembling more severe. She'd passed a crosstunnel ten meters back. If she could reach it--
The arms suddenly encircling her were as strong as her Xxan-Dree trainer's. Miri didn't waste time questioning who he was or how he'd managed to sneak up on her. As he ripped the weapon from her hand, Miri moved--down, then in a flowing movement around his body.
He was quick...and skilled. Her trainers had never put her through her paces so strenuously. Every move to escape was met with a block. Every move to incapacitate him for a moment was countered skillfully. Miri was considering doing him real harm when the end came.
It was a move she'd never encountered before, either with her Xxan-Dree trainer or her human martial trainer. One moment, she was on her way to freedom. The next, Miri was facedown on the stone, her wrists captured behind her back, locked in his larger hands. The length of his body pinned her down, spikes of pain from her injured abdomen making her gasp for breath.
"Concede," he grumbled.
Miri pressed her forehead to the smooth stone floor, abruptly weary. "It would seem...I have no choice in the matter."
His laughter was low and dark...but not cruel, as she usually experienced. "An accurate assessment."
"If you're through dancing with her," another voice interrupted. "Perhaps you would verify her identity, Daahn?"
Miri braced herself for the sting of a blood test that never came. Her captor nuzzled at her neck, and she jerked at his hold, panic driving her to flee. He pushed her down with a wordless growl, stroking his tongue up the side column of her neck to her jaw.
Every muscle in her body tightened in fury. How dare he examine her so intimately! A hiss of warning escaped her lips.
His next move stunned her, rendering Miri a babe in his hands. His tongue stroked over her mating stripe, and her body responded fiercely. Even before she felt the press of his erection to the back of her thigh, Miri's body had slicked to welcome him in, the pains fading into the background for once. Her glands released Zhigaaah, the female sex pheromone, making her head swim.
"You are mine, little blue," he whispered.
She shivered in delight, needing him to finish what he'd started. Another voice buzzed at the edges of her consciousness, drowned out by the cascade of Zhigaaah.
"She's the one," the male over her attested.
Miri's blood went cold at that pronouncement. Her eyes pricked in tears she couldn't bear to shed. She swallowed down a sob, then forced words out, feigning confidence she didn't feel and pride she had no right to display. All the while, she nursed the loss of the illusion stoically...as she'd done before.
"I suppose you should kill me now, though I am hardly worth the energy. If my--" They aren't my people. I have no people. "If the Xxan find me, they will kill me, and I have no information to give you. I am worse than useless to either side now."
There was a moment of tense silence. Miri forced her breathing to even.
"Are you?" the one over her challenged.
Daahn. They said his name was Daahn. And she thought she'd spied the insignia of a commander on his uniform. Commander Daahn.
Her muscles ached. "Yes, I am." She prepared for the blast that would kill her. Or would he break her neck? It would save them the energy of killing a useless prisoner.
There was another moment of silence. "I see. Jacks...the shackles, please."
Miri didn't fight the restraints. She didn't intend to fight anything they did. If they wanted to question her, even to beat nonexistent information from her, it would still be a gentler death than the Xxan would grant her.