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Zenik: Warriors of Etlon Book 4 by Abigail Myst, Starr Huntress (1)

Chapter One

 

Barbara Jane

 

 

Her mother was sobbing. It wasn’t the first time. She’d sobbed like this the first time she’d deployed. And the second.

“Oh, Barbie!”

Barbara tried not to roll her eyes, she really did.

“Ma! It’s only the Lottery,” Jeff said as their mother completely covered the front of his shirt with wet splotches. “Chances are she’ll be back in an hour.”

Only to have this scene repeated tomorrow when she had to report back to the base. She was already exhausted from the drama.

It was policy to grant single females a week’s leave before their birthdays. Get some quality family time in, just in case you were shipped off to the far reaches of space to pop out babies for the Mahdfel. She almost wished they hadn’t let her off base. Her mother had been weepy all week. Not only that, but her mother had paraded every eligible bachelor she could wrangle through the house. There hadn’t been a moment of peace. Even a night out with her brothers had introduced her to Mark, Luthor, and Quentin.

Barbara wasn’t a prude when it came to sex. She would have jumped at the chance for a quick release with Quentin, but surrounded by four brothers, there was little chance of that happening. No, instead she’d been the good little girl, keeping her trap shut but quietly refusing each of the candidates, even as her mother not so subtly hinted that some of them could be bought for very reasonable prices.

If Barbara had wanted to buy a fiance, there were plenty of guys back in her unit that would do it for an ice chest full of beer. Command was a bit short on soldiers and had learned to look the other way when a girl’s birthday rounded the corner of the calendar. There was just something dishonest about it all and it didn’t sit right with her.

When Earth was invaded by the Suhlik, humans been caught with their pants down. Golden space lizards with bulletproof scales and spacecraft that could outmaneuver anything from Earth had rained down and declared Earth their own. While it was obvious that the Suhlik had underestimated the scrappiness of humanity, Earth was well on its way to losing the war until the Mahdfel showed up.

Most of the people left were too grateful to be suspicious when the Mahdfel offered them a deal. Protection had its price, and in this case, it was a steady stream of Earth women to bear the next generation of Mahdfel warriors. The Suhlik had bred the Mahdfel, genetically engineered the species to be the perfect slaves, and as a safeguard, to produce no female offspring. If they wanted to reproduce, the Mahdfel needed females of other species. The catch - because there was always a catch -was that if the DNA match wasn’t high enough, the mother would most likely die in childbirth.

So each country on Earth had instituted a draft or lottery system to determine which females were required to go to be tested for DNA compatibility. In some countries, there were rumors of scooping the poor off the streets and holding them in detention centers until they were matched. In the U.S., it was up to each state to determine how their lotteries were run, but most kept to the policy of testing women once a year, on their birthday, with all records of their DNA wiped from the system each year. Women with husbands, fiances, and children were exempt. Barbara didn’t have any of these, but she’d been tested over ten times and come home every time.

“Oh, my little Barbie!” her mother wailed again, this time rotating and putting her hands out to her for a hug. Barbara bit her tongue. “I wish you wouldn’t cut your hair so short.”

Barbara liked her hair. It fell right along her cheekbone, in a no fuss ebony mess.

“Long hair doesn’t fit under a helmet,” Barbara replied.

“But it was so cute when you were younger, with your little braids-”

“Mom.” She tried not to let her exasperation sink into her voice.

A knock sounded at the door. It was strong and authoritative.

Her mother started wailing again. Jeff opened the door to reveal a soldier in combat gear. Once he saw Barbara, standing there in her uniform, he relaxed a bit. Soldiers had more dignity than to throw a fit going to the testing center. She picked up her duffel - more to keep her mother’s slobbery face away from her uniform than anything else - and prepared to leave.

“I’ll be back later, and we can go for that round of drinks,” she told her mother.

“What if you’re not?”

“Then you can decide how to spend my million. Okay?”

Barbara went to the door, pausing as she stepped through the threshold. Something made her glance back at her mother’s house, not the one that Barbara had grown up in with her brothers but the one that she’d bought with Dad’s life insurance payment. It was everything Barbara wasn’t - plush, soft, overstuffed and over decorated with unoffending shades of peach and beige. There was nothing to miss here that she hadn’t already done without while living the life of a soldier but that didn’t help assuage the guilt she felt while looking at her mother’s face.

“Mom, I love you.”

“Oh Barbie!”

She left swiftly down the walkway before her mother could take advantage of her weakness. Barbara mounted the steps to the tram and glared at the guy who was about to offer to carry her luggage. It wasn’t his fault exactly. This wouldn’t be her dream duty either. Dealing with sobby manic women all day, every day. She’d heard nightmare stories from buddies who had to serve. One guy swore he’d been shot at more times in Chicago than he had in two tours overseas. Women often went to ground, hiding to avoid their day, which was stupid. If they got caught, it could mean getting put in a daily draft or in prison until they were forty. No, thank you.

Besides, Barbara had seen some of these Mahdfel warriors up close and personal and not a single one of them was fat, lazy, or lascivious. They were all hot specimens in their prime. They’d give you a whiff and if you didn’t smell right, it was all over, hands to themselves. These warriors mated for life. There was no chance that you’d have to deal with wandering eyes or hands. Once he was yours, he was yours. That beat most Earth men hands down. Once you got over the pretty skin colors, the horns and the tails, everything was golden. One cadet had bragged that her cousin had recently been matched to a seven foot tall wookie. When Barbara had pointed out that wookies were fictional, the cadet simply went on to add that this one could talk, and had a tongue and a cock that were both over twelve inches long. It was like fucking a bear with a monster sized cock, and her cousin was having the time of her life.

Barbara took every wild sex monster story with a grain of salt. She knew Earth propaganda liked to sow fake stories to make women more willing to appear for the Lottery. It wasn’t half bad for many women anyway, especially those who lived in parts of the world that had been destroyed by the Suhlik. There were plenty of women who volunteered. It was the only way out of poverty.

Barbara glanced at the two other women on the bus with her, both silent.  One was creating creases in her dress as she constantly clenched and unclenched the fabric in her sweaty fist. The other was a deathly pale and wincing every time they went over a bump. Hungover and probably ready to binge her way to unconsciousness later this morning if she was still planetside.

The tram stopped and a fourth woman boarded. This one was a lot less in control of her emotions. Her breaths were coming in sobs and her eyes were red and swollen. She grabbed a handful of tissues and collapsed against the clencher, which in turn started a chain reaction. The two of them blubbered against each other in a mass of soggy tissues. Barbara looked at the hungover one. Fortunately,  she was too busy trying not to puke to join the tear train.

As they pulled through the armed gates of the Homeland Building, Barbara finally had enough. “Look ladies, suck it up. You’ll either be chosen or not. Deal with it and act like the badass Earth Bitches that you are.”

She didn’t wait for a reaction, but disembarked the tram the moment it stopped. The soldier guarding the door straightened up when she gave him a glare. Thankfully, the ladies seemed to have taken her pep talk to heart and shuffled in behind her with only a sniffle or two.

“Good morning ladies,” Doug said with a reassuring and practiced smile. His nametag declared him a proud, two year employee, quite an accomplishment in such a stressful environment. He wore a lab coat, but Barbara knew from experience that he had no more medical training than a typical slightly-over-minimum wage job. “Great to see you again. I’ve reviewed your charts, and since you’ve all been here before, I think we’ll dispense with the informational vid and get right to it.” The women nodded. The vid was a grand piece of propaganda that had the president personally thanking each and every woman for their service. It was supposed to be mandatory, but unless there was a newbie in the group, most centers overlooked the mandatory part in favor of a quick and expedient testing.

“Do we have a volunteer to go first? Or alphabetical order?”

Barbara stepped forward. Doug looked relieved. “All right then.” He escorted her down a corridor. It wasn’t the small testing cubicle that she was normally taken to. It had a platform that she recognized immediately. It was a Mahdfel transporter. Her bag was already sitting on it.

“This is Celia. She’ll fill you in.” Doug practically ran from the room.

“Have a seat, Barbie” Celia said. Barbara winced at the pet name. No one ever took Barbies seriously. She’d nearly split the last non-family member in two when he’d called her that. Celia must have thought there was another reason for the glower because, though she was trying to hide it, Celia was fingering a panic button built into her bangle bracelet. With one touch, soldiers would come running.

“I’ve already been matched, haven’t I?” Barbara put the pieces together and felt her stomach clench, just like that moment of quiet before someone starts shooting.

“Yes. As a soldier, you’ve already had a chip installed and your DNA is on file, to be run on your birthday only. Your affairs are in order and well, you’re good to go.”

This was not a time to think. It was not a time to panic and freeze. She would not disgrace herself or her uniform by balking. She strode over to the platform, picking a mint out of the little bowl and mounted the steps onto the little circle. The mint was designed to keep you from tossing up your guts when you got to the other end. Part of basic training had included short trips, just so soldiers would be ready to fight the minute they arrived at the other end.

A deep breath. Barbara felt suddenly naked without her laser rifle. She refused to think of her mother, of her brothers and how pissed off they would be. That made her smile.

“Thank you for your service,” Celia said meekly. She hit the button and suddenly the world was a swarm of colors and lights.

The next moment, Barbara was in a jungle staring at five other women who looked a bit queasy but extremely pissed off. It was an odd picture, like one of those Rousseau paintings where everything was recognizable as a jungle, but just odd enough not to be right.

“Finally!” one shouted. She was blonde and her perfectly balanced coiffeur was beginning to melt in the humidity.

“Good,” another said.

“It’s okay if you throw up, ” a third told the others, looking ready to heed her own declaration.

There was no way Barbara was going to throw up in front of them. She swirled the mint in her mouth. It was bloody hot she thought, and stripped off her uniform jacket.

“So,” the first one said. “Where are we?”

“More importantly, where are our husbands?”

She stared at the group, standing there with their cases, and she suddenly realized that they thought she was in charge. She didn’t feel like dissuading them from that notion. No leader and they’d panic. Then there’d be more tears. She scanned the area. There was a clear path through the jungle, leading away to what she guessed would be a landing path for small crafts. Standard operating procedure. Don’t put your transporter receiver anywhere that would allow the enemy to hijack the connection and transport into the center of your camp.

“The shuttle will be that way.” She pointed up the path, which while being clear enough for one woman at a time, wasn’t going to be kind on the little wheels mounted on the bottom of their suitcases. “Someone will get your cases. Leave them here.” She shouldered her own duffel. She could carry her own. She started off down the path.

“What’s your name?” one of them asked.

Barbara hesitated. They were all starting fresh. She wasn’t going to be anyone’s Barbie here. “Call me Jane,” she told them, confidently.

 

“Jane” had barely exited the clearing when she heard the quiet hum of a Mahdfel engine. Sure enough, a small shuttle craft was deftly landing and the back opened to reveal two very large green men wearing their less formal, warm weather planetary uniforms. They were little more than black biking shorts, to be honest. Each had a toolbelt attached where they carried a wicked looking knife and a few other devices. All in all, these Mahdfel were extremely fit and looked like they could be Tarzans swinging from the trees. They seemed a bit out of place on the high tech ship, especially with their minty green appearance and their muscles bulging.

"Oh my Lord in Heaven," one of the ladies said. She actually fanned her face with her hand. Jane would lay odds that the leggy brunette was from the South. The two Mahdfel approached and picked up the woman's suitcases as if they were empty. This sent another tittering through the crowd.

They watched in awe as one by one, the Mahdfel loaded their cases into the ship. When it came time for Jane's bag to be loaded, she simply said, "I got it," and loaded her bag into the ship herself.

"Well, come on, ladies, let's not waste the day away," Jane said when she realized they were waiting for someone to tell them to move. Four of them followed her up the small ramp. The fifth just stood there, looking like she was about to hyperventilate.

The women sat down and looked pointedly at her, and then at the straggler, and then back at her. Jane sighed and hopped out of the ship. "What's the hold up?"

"They're so big," she said, her Southern drawl getting even stronger.

"Yup."

"And green."

"And you really don't have a choice,” Jane said, “because Earth is a couple of million miles away. I really don't think you want to be in this jungle after dark." As if on cue, some creature made a howling shriek. That was all it took for the straggler to scuttle onto the craft and sit down next to the other women. Jane sat across from them and they took off.

The pilot did not leave the craft, although he swiveled in his chair as they approached. He was not wearing the same little shorts as the other Mahdfel, but the more formal, coverage bearing space uniform of a black shirt and pants. He had forgone the space boots though, in favor of bare feet, like the other two.

The warriors took up a relaxed stance on the edge of the benches, trying oh so sneakily to catch a sniff of the women in front of them. It was the way of the Mahdfel. A warrior knew his female by scent, and when he caught a whiff of her, the results were supposedly astounding.

Jane hoped that neither of these warriors were mated to any of the five women, considering that popping a hard on in front of the skittish ladies would probably have some hard to deal with consequences, and they all thought Jane was in charge at this point. Jane watched the two warriors with interest. Both of them were having a silent argument, prodding the other to be the first one to speak. Funny. The warriors were shy around girls.

"Terrans," one of the warriors finally spat out after his fellow Mahdfel kicked him. "I selected a Terran as my match first. You all copied me."

"No, you copied everyone else. They all copied Kave." He got an elbow for this contradiction.

"Either way, there are a copious amount of Terrans on the planet, so you should not feel alone," he informed the women. The smile he offered was closed mouth, as if someone had instructed him not to show his teeth to an Earth girl before they had settled in. It actually made him look comical, almost cartoonish.

"Though your mate will be happy to keep you busy if you should feel alone," one of the Mahdfel said with a smirk.

"My mate?" the Southerner stuttered.

"He means husband," Jane said. "The Mahdfel refer to their wives as mates. For them, it's a permanent connection."

"I know that," the woman replied.

“Don’t be stupid. This is all a scam, anyway, to depopulate Earth so they can take it over for themselves,” the melting blonde said, venom dripping from her every word.  She was clearly from an affluent family and wasn’t used to receiving orders. Her long hair was twisted up into complicated knots that no one could have managed on their own. Her hands were full of glittering rings and she kept touching the large stone in her necklace like it was a talisman.

"That conspiracy shit isn’t going to fly here,” Jane scolded. She didn’t have the patience for Suhlik deniers and Mahdfel haters. Most of them had enough money to avoid the lottery, anyway. But this one, somehow had slipped through and was ready to blame everyone and everything for her situation.

The pudgy, short woman on the end who had been silent so far opened her mouth as if she was going to say something.

“Of course you would say that,” Rich Bitch said, before the other woman could speak.

“I think we all need a little more time before we make any assumptions,” the short one managed to say. “I thought I was going someplace cold. This is so green! I’m Meadow, by the way.”

She continued to chatter, and her easy way seemed to put the conversation to rest. She engaged the Southerner in polite chit chat about jungle facts. The warriors seemed relieved not to have to instigate the conversation themselves.

Jane was equally relieved. She was able to take in more details of the craft and its occupants. It was a standard shuttle capable of only a brief space flight, but really not designed for anything more than transferring cargo any further than a ship or station in orbit. It was designed to be pretty damn easy to fly. Jane could do it, and she’d only had basic flight training.

Her attention was drawn to the pilot. He had the same green skin and bald head as the others, indicating that he was the same species as the other Mahdfel, but he had said nothing the whole flight and nor had he even turned around to gawk at the females like the others did. His choice in uniform also set him apart. He was definitely a curiosity.

When they landed, it was quite a production. There were green bodies everywhere and no other color in sight. This was going to be a highly selective clan, Jane thought as she stepped down from the hatch ramp. The camp layout, however, was familiar, even if the soldiers were not. The buildings were laid out in basically two concentric circles around a center area or quad that could be used for exercise or conducting drills. The landing platform sat at one edge of the the camp, far enough away from the living quarters to prevent any fumes or noises from shaking apart people while they slept. She saw a mess area, with outdoor tables covered by a tarp to guard from any rain. Along the right side of the camp was a beach with the most beautiful golden sand Jane had ever seen. Jane was not really a fan of beaches but could envision herself spending ample time at this one. The other side of the camp was lined with a dense jungle, and Jane was fairly certain she saw a force fence separating them from anything that might come out of the jungle.

She was curious as to what kind of larger animals inhabited the jungle. Perhaps there'd be some version of a cat monkey swinging from the trees. Either way, it would get a nasty zap if it tried to cross over into camp.

The green aliens lined the pathway into camp in a sort of honor guard assembly. Jane counted about fifty. At the end, of the line of guards there was another alien flashing his brightest smile. He was holding a set of datapads. Off to the side, Jane saw three Earth women with wide eyes, anxiously sizing them up. Their lack of a suntan told Jane they were relative newcomers themselves.

"Welcome to Noven 90, where your mates are very anxious to meet you. I am Kave, and I trust you will be happy here. We do not have all of the modern amenities, but we have a beach, volleyball, and a lot of eye candy." He spoke as if he were following a script, not quite understanding what he was saying . "We will now announce the pairings. Lest you despair, you shall soon have much company and most of them shall be Terrans. Terrans are very popular. Odette is a Terran," he said proudly.

Jane looked around. None of the three women claimed to be Odette. Where was this Terran that he held in such esteem?

"Please do not be alarmed by your new mate. I am sure once you get to know him, there will be love and joy and all that jazz. Also, you do not have to copulate with your mate immediately. He will be respectful and keep his distance until you get to know him a little better."

Some of the aliens shifted. They were obviously anxious to discover whether they were among the lucky five to receive their mate.

"When your pairing is announced, I will hand you a tablet and your mate will escort you to your living quarters. Again, welcome to Noven 90, where every day is paradise and there is always food and fun and no Suhlik to kill you."

She supposed they were expected to take this as reassurance, but Kave smiled right at that moment, changing a swirly near yellow green - not a reassuring color.

He began calling out the names of the women, followed with the name of the warrior to whom they’d been matched. “Meadow. You are matched with Goru.” A heavy set warrior stepped forward. He wasn’t necessarily fat - no, none of the Mahdfel were fat - but he was built much more like a tank than the other Mahdfel present. He got within a foot of Meadow and took a long sniff. It was like a starving man entering a bakery for the first time. His face lit up with delight. Meadow offered a tentative smile and held out her hand. He took it and kissed it. Goru looked like he wanted to much more than that, but he kept his distance.

“Charlette,” Kave said with some difficulty.

“It’s pronounced with an Sh,” Miss Rich Bitch corrected, pronouncing her name, putting the emphasis on the “lette” portion. Jane thought about telling Charlette that the poor guy probably didn’t know what an ‘Sh sound’ was, considering they were using a different alphabet, but let it go. The computer probably had transcribed her name into his language and he was just reading whatever phonetic computer generated prediction was in front of him.

“You are matched with Haxet,” Kave finished. Lucky bachelor number two stepped up. Charlette gave him a once over and gave him a disapproving look suggesting that said she found him to be no better than the dirt on her two inch heels. He reached for her hand, and she immediately hid her hands behind her back.

“No touching. He said you couldn’t touch me.”

For his part, Haxet showed patience and just stood next to Charlette catching whiffs of her and offering a toothy grin.

The next two ladies accepted their fates with the same grace that Meadow had, offering their new husbands a hand and smile, even if a rather timid one.

Jane was the last one. Before Kave could call out her given name, knowing it would forever brand her as Barbara Jane, she stepped up to Kave and took the tablet from his hand. With a thumbprint, the text changed and she saw the name of her mate written out in English.

“Zenik.”

None of the warriors moved for a second. There was some sighs of disappointment, but no Zenik came forward.

Kave hollered at the top of his lungs, “Zenik!”

A Mahdfel in full uniform came quickly out of the crowd and Jane recognized him as the pilot. Covered in so much black, he stood out among the other warriors, though he was not discernibly different physically than the rest. His face was a green swirling mass, and his expression was somewhere between desire and fright.

Jane decided it was time to take charge and accept the cards she had been dealt. When he reached out his hand for hers, she took it, and pulled him into a kiss.

 

 

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