The heavy manacles around Mila’s wrists and ankles made standing difficult. She shifted her weight and took a deep breath, only to cough on the dust kicked up by the swelling crowd. Severe fatigue, thirst, and hunger left her momentarily dizzy. Black spots dotted her vision and she fell to her knees, only for a soldier to prod her with a metal pole until she rose to her feet.
Somehow, she found the strength to rise, but her efforts left her bleeding wrists and ankles aching worse. The manacles were far too heavy for a human. She should have never, ever come to this horrid planet.
She took another long inhale and screamed, “I didn’t do it! It was the white-haired Corononzian female! I’m innocent!”
The roar of the crowd hurt her ears, her head ached terribly, and she couldn’t hear her voice over the increasing noise. No one seemed to hear her pleas, and even if they did she supposed it didn’t matter. She’d already been sentenced to death. Despite the heat of the midday sun beating down upon the village, a cold shudder ran through her.
She peered at the ocean of shouting aliens, their fists raised and their faces red, all of them hungry to see her blood spill. Her fear deepened and she swallowed past the burning in her throat. And hopelessness abounded within her, a deep sinking emotion that was worse than her fear. With trembling hands, she lifted her arms quickly in an attempt to break the manacles that linked her wrists to her ankles by a thick, weighted chain. It didn’t work.
This is it. This is how I die.
The soldier used the metal pole to push her into the pool of blood directly beneath the lifetaker, a large orange hovering mass that was alive, some kind of strange alien creature native to this planet. It looked like a giant orange cloud, but she knew it was no harmless cloud.
Mila tried to resist being pushed underneath the deadly creature, but the tip of the pole emitted an electric shock every time she didn’t obey. A second soldier appeared on her opposite side, also holding a pole, and between the two of them the aliens easily forced her under the orange mass. Her entire body shook with the violence of her deepening fear. She felt colder and colder, as if her veins were filling with ice. The scent of blood made her stomach turn.
Over the noise of the crowd, she heard the thunder-like sound of the lifetaker, rumbling down on her from above. At least no one would mourn her passing. Everyone she’d ever cared about, including her parents and siblings, had died in the earthquake that hit the human occupied continent on Yozovinla. Would that she had died with them.
The lifetaker’s rumbling grew louder. She braced herself for the pain. She’d witnessed five other convicted criminals die within the last hour. All of them had screamed and writhed around in their manacles as if the greatest of tortures were being inflicted upon them. Death hadn’t come quickly to any of those criminals either, each session taking several long minutes of agonizing pain before they finally perished as blood gushed from their ears, noses, and eyes.
Please, God. Let me pass out from the pain.
The others to die before her weren’t human. Maybe her physiology would react differently to the lifetaker. Perhaps she would die instantly. Closing her eyes, she held her breath and waited.
Then it hit her. The greatest pain she had ever experienced. It felt as if she were being ripped apart over and over again. She collapsed to the ground and screamed.
Her life flashed before her eyes in a series of happy images, which mercifully dulled the pain, if only a little. Clear as day, she saw her mother’s smiling face, her father laughing, and her sisters chasing each other in a flower-covered meadow. She even saw her sweet kitten, Adonis, rolling over and begging to have his tummy scratched.
The pain intensified, but then it stopped completely. She was still awake and aware of what was happening. She opened her eyes and saw the bloodthirsty crowd, but she no longer heard them. She also couldn’t hear the thundering of the lifetaker. But she smelled fresh blood. Was it hers?
The crowd faded and she found herself walking in the flower-covered meadow with her sisters, following their parents to a favorite picnic spot near the shores of a crystal clear Yozovinlan lake. Sleek Estriian sailboats glided across the water and large lentrivank birds soared through the cloudless blue skies. The day was serene and quiet, and Mila paused to gather a bouquet of the sweet-smelling blue flowers that covered the meadow.
“Race you to the lake!” Sherla, her youngest sister said.
“Eat my dust, short stuff!” Terena, the middle child of the family said.
Mila, being the oldest and having the longest legs, ran ahead of them, laughing as the wind whipped her long dark locks about her head. She clutched the flowers in one hand and held up her skirts with her other, taunting her sisters as she outpaced them by several feet.
The lake came into view and she ran faster and faster, anxious to dip her feet in the cool water. But before she could reach her destination, she awoke as if from a dream, gasping for air with jolts of pain afflicting her body.
Strong hands cupped her face, and the agony immediately ceased.
Someone was speaking to her in a strange language, but his words—it sounded like a male—were strangely soothing, despite her inability to discern his meaning. She blinked as her vision cleared, and she gasped at the sight of a huge man with glowing green eyes leaning over her.
Wasn’t she dead?
Confusion reigned. But before she could ask any questions, she collapsed into a black bottomless abyss, devoid of dreams or anything at all. She floated in the warm, dark space, feeling out of place but oddly safe, as if her very own guardian angel stood close by.
* * *
Stax studied the petite human female as he wiped the blood from her face. Poor little creature. He despised the dishonorable aliens who’d hurt her so badly. He hoped she wasn’t too frightened the next time she awoke. The urge to comfort her and heal her consumed him, and even though the nanobots were doing their job in her blood, he set the blood-soaked cloth aside and returned his hands to her head, hoping his own powers as a touch healer would hasten her recovery.
A glance out the medical bay’s viewscreen showed a small group of Horsthan Defenders approaching. He paid them no mind, even when they opened fire on his vessel. Their technology and weapons were no match for that of a Vaxxlian ship. His vessel barely shuddered under their firepower, even as bright orange blasts detonated outside the viewscreen.
Let them fire their weapons. They couldn’t hurt this little human anymore. He wouldn’t let them. She had suffered enough and he planned to do whatever it took to help her recover from her painful ordeal on this horrible planet.
But rage filled him when he recalled how much blood had covered the human female when he’d found her lying in a pile of bodies outside the city, discarded as if her life meant nothing. Beneath her bruises and angry wounds, she’d been barely recognizable as human. His blood heated with violence, and before he realized what he was doing, he grabbed his battle sword from the bridge and charged off his ship.
The first Defender came at him, shooting orange rays of light from his weapon, but Stax dodged each blast and soon found himself face to face with the stunned alien. He sliced the Horsthan’s head off and moved on to the next Defender, and the next one, until each and every one of them lay dead. A loud growl rumbled from his throat and he held his battle sword high, satisfied and victorious that he’d vanquished some of those who had made the little human suffer.
He could have aimed weapons from his ship at them, but he’d wanted to kill them by hand. Wanted to see the look of fear in their beady black eyes just before he ended their lives. The filthy scuhumas. May they rot in despair for all eternity.
Grasping his sword, he made his way back onto the Yeronna. He headed straight for the medical bay and was pleased to find his little human still resting. Good. The longer she slept, the more healed she would be once she finally awoke. He’d given her a sleeping aide when she woke up the first time, but he didn’t wish to administer it a second time, as too much of the drug might hinder the nanobots’ progress.
He moved to her side and clasped her hand. A deep sense of protectiveness for the female moved through him, nearly taking his breath away. It was as if he’d met her before, perhaps in a long-forgotten dream. Or maybe it was the recognition of his fate resting on the table before him, his absolute certainty that she was meant to be his for all time.
Her chest rose and fell slowly, and he glanced at the discarded clothing he’d cut off her body. The pants and shirt were soaked with blood, and he quickly picked them up and tossed them into a recycler. He’d put her in a long blue medical gown after washing all the blood from her body, and he was pleased to see the cuts on her wrists and ankles had already healed. All the bruises and tiny cuts that had covered her petite form were now healed as well.
But he worried over the wounds that weren’t physical. The poor human female had likely endured great suffering and trauma. Unfortunately, the nanobots couldn’t help in that regard.
How would she react when she awoke the next time? Would she be frightened? Would she be grateful he’d saved her life? Having never met a human before—he had only seen pictures of them—he did not know and the uncertainty weighed on his heart.
He touched one dark lock of hair, mesmerized by her beauty. He’d never seen a female with hair so thick and long. And her skin was smooth and creamy white, so much lighter than his own bronze color.
After checking the progress of the nanobots one last time, he placed a warm blanket overtop her and kissed her forehead, his lips lingering on her soft flesh. He wanted to stand there and give her a thousand such kisses. But, stepping back, he was satisfied that her expression no longer seemed pained. She looked at peace, as if lost in pleasant dreams.
Eager to depart this wretched backward planet, Stax hurried down the corridor to the bridge. He powered the ship on and began setting a course for home. A glance out the main viewscreen showed another troop of Defenders rushing from the city’s edge.
Let them find their dead comrades, he thought. Let them see what happens to scum who kill a defenseless female.
While Stax had no idea why the little human had been sentenced to death, he doubted she had committed a grievous crime. But whatever her crime, albeit minor or serious, she was the human Stax planned to take back with him to New Vaxx.
He needed a mate and she would have to do, whether she wanted him or not.
The fate of the Vaxxlians hung in the balance and the males of his species needed to find compatible mates as quickly as possible. With most of the female Vaxxlians gone, the majority of them having perished during an Irrcon attack on Vaxxlia, Stax’s now destroyed home world, human females were beyond precious, as humans were the only alien race sexually compatible with his people.
Whoever she was, this little human female now belonged to him.