Locked Down


How may I serve you?

I’m in trouble with these eigenvectors.

If you get your body in motion over here and take me to the grocery store, I can help.

LOL Coming!

When they climbed out of her vehicle at the grocery store, Indigo finally got up the nerve to ask, “Won’t your boyfriend be annoyed with you being here with me?” He didn’t want to say the asshole’s name.

“Not anymore,” Umi snapped, looking off in the distance.

Only later, he realized a guy passing buy them warned, “Don’t go in there, man,” as he walked by.

People were streaming out of the grocery store as they entered. “What happened?” Indigo asked holding the entrance door open for Umi.

She frowned as she looked around blankly, “We argued. A lot. I figured out that I wasn’t happy.”

Indigo nodded; her now-ex had a brittle personality. Great, while he had it all together, but when he didn’t…total asshole. By the time they each grabbed a shopping cart, the sound of the squeaky wheel on Umi’s echoed. “I’ll meet you at the front when you’re ready,” she said in a subdued voice.

“Where’s the music?” Indigo muttered to himself as he started snagging the food he needed.

He had passed through several aisles when one of the employees of the store stopped and stared at him. “You got to go,” he said, his mouth muffled by a mask.

Indigo jerked to a halt. The sheer silence of the store except for the irregular squeaking of Umi’s wheel smashed into his consciousness. “What’s going on?”

“There’s a disease. What kind of fucking well did you crawl out of you fucking moron?!” He shook his head and held out his hands, “Sorry. Sorry. Someone decided to drop dead in aisle 2…Grab everything you could possibly need and get the hell out of here. NOW.” He pointed towards the exit and started walking away. “Oh, and stay out of aisle 2.”

Indigo blinked as what-it-meant whooshed through his brain. The squeaking of Umi’s wheel got progressively louder. “Shit.” He didn’t know how long he stood there. Probably a second. But it seemed like forever as he pulled up the edge of his jacket over his face and sprinted to the sound. Squeak. Pause. Squeak squeak squeak. Pause. Pause. She’d stopped. Umi was standing just at the end of…Aisle 2. Putting on a last burst of speed, Indigo swung himself between her and whatever was in the aisle. Spinning her around, he pulled her into his arms, and her face into the edge of his jacket too. “Umi.”

She gasped, “Indigo!”

“Listen to me. We’ve got to get out of here and stay the hell out of aisle 2…”

“…someone’s on the ground…”

“…dead. I just found out. Cover your face and follow me, okay?”

Umi nodded and took over as Indigo snagged her scarf to start wrapping it around her face.

The rest of their shopping trip was a blur and muffled whispers behind their face coverings. Of course all the masks were gone in the medical section. After filling up both shopping carts, they headed out the front door of the building only to be greeted by police. They stopped stunned. There had been no way to actually purchase the items. “Unload your carts into your transport and go home, citizens,” blared over the external speaker from one of the police officers. Working rapidly, they finally left the empty parking garage with one of the police transports following.

“Did you get it fixed?” Indigo turned on the radio, seeing Umi nod, and was greeted with a tinny voice.

“All of County 9 is under quarantine, but officials are not optimistic that the virus has not already spread widely. Airborne, incubating for as long as two weeks…” Umi and Indigo looked at each other. She tapped a button and set the windows to lower. Indigo turned up the volume as the noise from rushing air overwhelmed them. “…the virus was finally isolated revealing its off-market origin. Current suspects are un-Incorporated religious-racial extremists…”

Umi pinched Indigo, “Mmmm?” he asked.

“Just checking that this isn’t a nightmare, and I didn’t want to pinch myself.”

“I’d kiss your fingers, but I feel like we both need to get intimate with bleach ASAP.”

Umi smiled at him, “When is that police transport going to stop following us?”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about that,” he answered.

When they returned to Indigo’s home, Umi’s vehicle shut down as the police transport blocked them in the space. Then a really bright light was shone on them as the speaker blared, “Mr. Welle and Ms. Etheria, you two are confined to the residence for the next 4 weeks.” Indigo nudged her and tilted his head towards the nearest wall. The light was a projector, its text stated, You have been exposed to a dangerous, highly contagious disease. Remain in quarantine or go to jail, not a hospital. When Umi turned back around, to stare at them blankly, trying to understand what-it-meant, the speaker called, “We are monitoring your movements. Thank you for your cooperation.” And then they left. Umi automatically tried to restart her vehicle. The dashboard light flashed, Locked Down.

Umi looked at Indigo. He awkwardly petted her knee, “Come on. There’s a nice, cold bleach wash awaiting us just around the corner.”

“I don’t even have a change of clothes,” she said uncertainly in a small voice.

He hugged her briefly, trying to stifle the moisture gathering in her eyes, “You can borrow mine.”

Opening the door, she pulled away from his hug with a couple of welcome squeezes on his arm as he released her. “You know which shirt I want.”

He groaned.

The bleach wash was awkward. Indigo wanted them both to just dive in and get it over with, Umi pointed out that they’d then have to take a shower together. Indigo told her that was fine with him, but Umi insisted he go first and she’d follow 5 minutes behind.

When she emerged from the bathroom with the gag shirt she’d given him, he groaned for a different reason. He could see the twin peaks of her nipples. The shirt was a naked female print to vaguely correspond to the wearer. In his case, an indisputably masculine frame with broad shoulders and musculature. It was absurd. On her, it was still absurd since her real breasts were located in the shoulder region of the print. “I love you, but I’m burning that shirt,” he commented.

She chuckled.

He was serious.

After putting away everything from the store, and bleach washing it along the way, they sat on the couch and scanned through the news on Indigo’s computer. After the article that the religious extremists had committed suicide and that the government was fanning across the world to seize the genetic equipment that they had used to make the virus from anyone who owned them, Umi sighed, “I saw your vehicle in the storage. What’s wrong with it?”

Indigo looked at the top of her head where she was leaning on his shoulder. “Nothing. I just decided you’d value me more if you had to work for my time.”

Umi lifted her head, looked him in the eye, and rolled hers. “Think the police missed it?”

“Nope.” He closed the screen showing the news and pulled up a comedy that they both liked. “I checked.”

“That’s why they didn’t let me drop you and head home.” Umi clicked the play selection on the screen.

He cocked his head, “I don’t follow.”

“Only a couple would leave a functioning vehicle behind to go to the store together.” Then she chuckled at a gag at the start of the show.

Indigo swallowed his next two sentences opting instead for, “Use my computer to let your family know you’re here.” …with me. He was delaying the inevitable issue: where she was going to sleep. The discussion with her family settled that…

Her mom asked, “Is he safe?”

“Yes,” Umi replied rolling her eyes, “I’m sleeping on his couch.”

Her father frowned, “No. But he’s acceptable.” Indigo was heading to get a pillow and blanket for her when he said that and paused. Turning his head, he caught Umi looking at him speculatively. Then she blushed and looked back at the screen to ask, “Are you guys safe?” …

Having settled her on the couch afterward, Indigo wished her goodnight. A brief hand squeeze. Then she had the worst night of sleep possible. Her hips were over-supported, her shoulders under-supported, her knees had to be partially tucked, and she couldn’t get her head into a comfortable position if she straightened them. It was miserable.

When Indigo, well rested damn the man, came out to the main room at twilight, Umi looked at him blearily, “Izzit morning?”

“For me,” Indigo replied sympathetically. Then he picked her up and carried her to his bed.

She rolled over, tucked in, and murmured, “Smells like you.”

“Sweet dreams,” he told her dropping a soft kiss on her hair.

Surrounded by his scent, she fell asleep.

Indigo sat and tried to figure out how the next several weeks were going to play out. It looked as if the semester was over, and he’d have to start all his classes all over again. For some reason none of it dealt a blow to the contentment he was generally feeling. He checked in with his parents and siblings. They were fine, worried about his being alone. He told them about Umi’s situation. The reaction was to demand more information, which he didn’t want to give. Then the subject was dropped…until the next barbed joke. “Look, I hoped we wouldn’t have this conversation, but when they threaten to call the police, you’ve got to let them go.”

At lunchtime, Indigo woke Umi, “You can’t sleep the whole day, because I’m not going to have you keep me up late.”


“Lunch is on,” he added leaving the room.


Staggering out of the bedroom a few minutes later, Umi zombie walked to him. Groaning, “Brains,” she put her arms around him and pulled his hair with her teeth.

Laughing, “Stop it…stop…stop…I meant it,” Indigo pinched her until she took her seat for her br-unch. He liked having her arms around him, not so much the hair pulling.

“Brains?” she muttered poking at the items on the plate.

“Only figuratively.” He smiled, savoring his happiness at the moment. “I was thinking, how about if we plant some seeds?”

“Start a garden?” she sipped at her tea. “Probably best to start the seeds germinating inside, then transplant the shoots outside. We’ll have to adjust the conditions out there, but it sounds like fun.”

They worked outside for the rest of the day figuring out where to put different types of vegetables and herbs. Then in the evening, they worked on setting up the seeds. Umi built a basic radio so that they could listen to music. News broadcasts would break up any sense of peace that they’d attained. Indigo had an accident which took the radio out of commission until Umi could repair it several hours later. Afterwards, she attached it to herself and warned him that there were a few of his household items that she wouldn’t miss. A fire broke out in the evening near the dirty clothes, but fortunately only destroyed one shirt. Indigo pointed out that he was working with Umi all evening. Umi pointed out that it was unusual her gag shirt was the only one that was placed directly on the heating element for drying. Indigo pretended he didn’t hear her mutter, “Gee, wonder why most women run away screaming after dating him.”

As they sat together on the couch and watched the news, then turned to some entertainment to distract themselves from it, Indigo idly rubbed Umi’s neck making her curl into him. He wished she’d put her arms around him again, but the way her hands touched his leg between their laps was satisfying enough. And arousing.

When it was time for bed, there was no discussion. Umi trailed him into the bedroom and settled on the side next to the bathroom. Rolling over, putting her back to him, she murmured, “Night, Indigo.”

Laying on his side, looking at her back, he replied, “Sweet dreams, Umi.” He was surprised to sense her hand patting around between them which then patted his hip. On the way, she slightly missed, brushing the erection he couldn’t resist as soon as he crawled into bed next to her. Snagging her hand, he held it.

Smiling, Umi squeezed his hand a couple of times then pulled her hand away to get comfortable again. Her semi-innocent exploration answered one question she had: Indigo at least was physically attracted to her. She’d spent the whole evening uncomfortable, wanting to get closer. But she didn’t want to push him. Four weeks was a long time, and if they didn’t get along, it could become a nightmare instead of a wonderful time with her platonic best friend. Sighing, trying to calm her body down, she closed her eyes, focusing on his increasingly addictive scent and the comfort of not sleeping on the couch-from-hell.

The next day, Umi opened her eyes and blinked. She rolled over and was practically nose-to-nose with Indigo. Who wasn’t asleep. He was watching her. Before and after her blink, his facial expression changed. She would have described the earlier one as earnest. The one that her eyes focused on afterward was pleased. “Morning,” she muttered.

“Good morning,” he replied with a deep rumble.

She narrowed her eyes, “What are you so happy about?” His facial expression was the one he generally wore when he’d gotten away with something. He raised his eyebrows and widened his eyes affecting innocence. Definitely guilty.

He really wanted to kiss her, but he didn’t want to pressure her. If she didn’t want it, he’d be spending 4 weeks awkwardly sleeping next to an indifferent or hostile bedmate. “Just enjoying a wonderful dream.” For the moment, he was satisfied that he’d gotten her into his bed for a reasonable amount of time to get her used to him.

“You’re awake.” She pinched him.

Slapping at her hand, he slid out of the bed on the other side. “It’s getting hard to tell the difference.” He didn’t bother concealing the tented state of his pajama bottoms as he wandered to the bathroom. Out of the corner of his eye, he could tell she noticed.

They walked around the neighborhood in the morning, then gardened after lunch, building variously capable tiny greenhouses for maintaining conditions for the vegetables. The herbs were hardier. After the second news report broke up their musical background, Umi took the radio off her belt and put it away in the tool area. Several days passed in much the same manner. One evening a week later, tired, they curled up together on the couch. Emphasizing a point as they chatted over a movie, Indigo grabbed Umi’s hand. Then he didn’t let go. She didn’t try to take it back either. A contented fuzz took over his brain. Then next thing he knew, she was shaking him awake saying, “We fell asleep on the couch-from-hell, c’mon. Lets go to bed.” He was unconscious when his head hit the pillow.

The next morning, he groggily sat up when the bed shook. Umi was heading to the bathroom. As they sat at the breakfast table, she pulled up her shirt and covered her cough. “Sorry,” she muttered.

He had a mild headache and sighed, “I feel…not so great.”

“Let’s take it easy today. Got any games?” Umi suggested.

They started out with a strategy game, which took several hours. After lunch they took a nap. Not feeling any better, they played cards instead until it was time to eat dinner. Which was warmed up frozen food. Then instead of curling up on the couch, they curled up in bed. And instead of absorbing any news, they simply watched comedies. As Indigo and his headache slipped off to dreamland, Umi’s soft cough provided the background sound.

When he struggled awake the next day, he knew he had a fever. Despite laying next to Umi’s warm body, he was still cold, outright shivering. Climbing out of bed, he staggered to the bathroom. He had to hold on to the door frame as the locations of objects lost meaning. After using the toilet and brushing his teeth, he looked at the bathtub as Umi’s coughing returned. Drawing a hot bath, he climbed in before it was even close to full. The temperature was perfect, his shivers started to quiet. Laying back, finally comfortable, he closed his eyes, just to relax for a little while.

“WAKE UP!” Umi yelled, “Holy shit, Indigo! *cough cough* You trying to kill yourself?!” Umi wiped her nose on her sleeve as she turned off the water and pulled the drain plug.

Indigo blearily looked up at the woman he was desperately in love with. He was in his bathtub, and she was draining the water. He’d been gradually submerging under it. The level was up to his chin. Oh. He tried to sit up, but he couldn’t without the buoyancy from the water. “Help,” he pleaded.

“Of course, honey,” she said leveraging him into a sitting position. Getting him to his feet was the next hurdle, but then she was able to support him back to bed. “Lets get you some water and a fever pill. You’re burning *cough* up.”

“Always wanted to be naked with you. Just pictured it differently,” he tried to joke as he collapsed back into bed.

Umi patted his butt in response.

With them both medicated, Umi joined him blowing her nose and coughing roughly before laying back down. Indigo sought her hand under the covers; Umi seized his hand, and he weakly squeezed hers.

A few hours later Indigo could tell that his fever had lowered, because Umi’s worsening cough bothered him. He wished she’d try holding it in instead. He knew that was irrational, but he also knew that it was making her throat irritated, more susceptible to coughing. Which was when he got an idea. Climbing out of bed and rummaging through his medical kit, he found a numbing med for the throat. He only had it because of surgery a few years back. Waiting until Umi’s coughing fit ended, he talked her into trying it out.

In the blessed silence that followed, she whispered to him, “I liked it when you grabbed me.”

“When?” How? His fever was coming back, but he could tell it wasn’t going to be as bad. The shivering wasn’t as violent.

“At the grocery store. It was the first time I’d ever been in your arms.”

He remembered the moment, too. Relived it in his dreams, well day-dreams. He gently ran his fingers down her wan face. Precious.


He’d said it out loud apparently. “I want you in my arms.”

She smiled. “I liked you being naked. When we got you out of the bathtub. I looked.”

He chuckled softly. “You can look anytime when you get better.” Then he kissed her forehead.

“Oh, a goal. It’s a deal.” She grabbed his hand then and curled up with his arm to sleep.

And just like that, he had managed to get the woman he’d desired for years to become his girlfriend. If he didn’t know any better, he’d argue that the sudden rush of endorphins set him well on to the road to recovery.

Hours later, or maybe a whole day, a knock on the window and the crashing of the blinds afterwards woke them both up, but they didn’t have the energy to do more than look in Indigo’s case and ask what he saw in Umi’s. She had a fever but the cough was gone.

A police officer stood outside of the window. He recognized the tool she put down; it was a powerful electromagnet. She must have used it to rip the metal fixtures holding the blinds out of the wall, letting her look in through the window. “Mr. Welle and Ms. Etheria, your families have requested we perform a wellness check.” She pulled out another tool and waved it across the window, “I am not detecting any blood. If you have not vomited, raise your hand.”

Indigo raised his hand, then realized that Umi was out of it. Grasping her arm by the elbow, he raised her hand as well.

The officer took out another tool. “I see that Ms. Etheria has a high fever.” Then she stepped away from the window. After a few minutes, she returned, “Mr. Welle, I’ve put medical supplies on your doorstep. The hospitals are unable to treat non-essential workers at this time, so Ms. Etheria is in your care unless you want her family to send a volunteer to manage her illness. If you wish to remain her caretaker, raise your hand.”

Indigo raised his hand and waved it to make sure she saw it.

“Ms. Etheria, can you understand me? If you can, do you consent to Mr. Welle’s taking care of you?”

Umi tried to raise her hand. It was more like propping her elbow up on Indigo.

“I am confirming that Ms. Etheria has consented to Mr. Welle’s managing her care. I’ll report back to your families. We will check in on you again tomorrow unless you contact us with an update.” Then she left with a soft crunch of the gravel.

Indigo struggled up, got Umi to take a med for her fever, then brought in the supplies box that was left by the officer. It was mostly food, such as soup and crackers, but there was also cough suppressant, decongestant, and fever pills. Exhausted, he lay back down and reflected that they both needed showers, and the sheets could use a change.

Umi woke up having to go to the bathroom. Staggering out of the bed, she noticed that Indigo wasn’t in it. After peeing, she was surprised that the bathroom door opened as she was washing her hands.

“You’ve got to take a shower, sweetie,” Indigo stated reaching around her to turn it on.

Umi couldn’t deny that part, but, “I can’t stand for very long. I’m about to fall over.”

“Trust me, I know. I put a chair in the shower,” he grasped her waist and helped her step in.

She gasped as the water hit, but then sighed. It felt really good. Then Indigo helped her take off his shirt. He was getting wet, too, but the space was too small for the both of them with her sitting. Then he helped her stand and take off his boxer shorts. She was naked, and she blearily looked at him to see how he took it. He looked, but concern motivated him more.

Handing her the soap, he asked, “Are you able to do this part?”

She nodded.

“Okay, I’m going to change the bed. Don’t move.”

She smiled since that was funny.

Doing her best to bath herself, she quickly tired. When Indigo returned and suggested he help her wash her hair, she gratefully accepted. He had changed from his wet clothes, so this time he just stripped instead of letting his fresh set of clothes get wet. And she got an eyeful. He was standing-at-attention, erect. “You’re beautiful, my girlfriend, and I’d have to be dead to not appreciate that,” he told her when she looked back up at him embarrassed at being so focused on it. Scrubbing her hair awkwardly, uncertain about how to handle its length, he helped her finish cleaning.

When he offered her more clothes to wear, she only took the boxers. Sighing, she settled back into the clean sheets, herself clean, all thanks to the amazing man tucking her in. “I love you,” she murmured closing her eyes. Very gently, his lips pressed against hers. Their first kiss. She smiled.

When she awoke in the middle of the night, she sighed enjoying the moment. She was achy from being in bed so long, but she didn’t feel so feverish anymore. After going to the bathroom, she climbed back in next to Indigo. His soft breathing lulled her back to sleep, while his presence filled her with warm pleasure.

Sitting on the couch again the next evening, well back on the mend, Umi was trying to figure out how to deal with him. She was like precious glass to him, but she wanted to get closer.

“Would you like to play a game of cards?” he asked.

She sat up straighter as an idea struck her, “How about if we do a little bet on the game?”

“Like what? I’ll trade you 10 of my herb seeds for one of your massive melons?”

Umi smiled. Apparently she wasn’t the only one experiencing some form of frustration. “The loser has to kiss the winner.”

Indigo paused his shuffling. Then continued while asking, “Where?”

Her eyes just about crossed as that thought hit, “On the mouth.”

“Open or closed.”


“Not that I’m complaining, but how’s that different for the winner?” He held out the deck for her to cut it.

“Okay, reverse that, and the loser has to sit there and not react with anything more than his/her mouth.”

His eyes were twinkling as he dealt the cards, “Deal.”

Indigo lost the first game and as Umi leaned towards him, he said, “Wait a minute. I need to tell you something.”

“Mmmm. No. Tell me after I kiss you.” And then she pressed her lips to his cutting off the protest. He groaned his frustration, opening his mouth, and letting her kiss him. She made sure not to wrap her arms around him to hold him secure, and he pressed forward by leaning into her to deepen the kiss. His flavor filled her senses, heightening the warmth spreading through her body. Wanted this. Wanted you.

Pausing for breath, she pulled back and smiled at him, full of feminine delight in driving him crazy. He wanted to grab her and pull her back for another dose.

He looked so hungry, she was thrilled to have created it. “Now, what did you have to tell me?” And then he looked guilty, but not entirely. The guilt came from the emotion that he was hiding under it.

“I reported to the police on our recovery, you know they wanted a daily update, and they said that we have to stay quarantined for another six weeks.”

She raised her eyebrows at such a long time frame.

“I asked why it was so long, and it seems like the problem is everything inside this place is infectious, and they don’t want to deal with that because there are shortages on cleaning supplies.” He took her hand and kissed her palm saying, “Sorry. You’re stuck with me.”

She narrowed her eyes. That was definitely a sorry-not-sorry. “I could say the same,” she observed. He didn’t realize that her father’s response to her mom’s asking if he was safe was directed at her, too. Then she tapped the deck. “Well, we have lots of time then to drive each other crazy. Deal.”

In what sense? He was already losing his moorings when it came to Umi. When they kissed, he wanted more. Like an addict. Learning from the police that their quarantine was extended was received as great news by his gonads. Apparently his lack of screaming in response elicited an elaboration as to why and a release from the daily check-ins. Refocusing on the game, he decided that he wasn’t up to another loss. She needed to get back into his arms for an intense, solid, no escape kiss.

Umi lost, but she smiled at having won. Indigo’s hunger took over his facial expression as he pulled her into his arms murmuring, “I win.” She was tugged onto his lap, and he secured her waist with one hand and the back of her head with his other. She sighed happily as his mouth again reclaimed hers. With his hand behind her head, the pressure of his mouth against hers was demanding. His tongue again caressed hers, and he repeated the motion claiming her again and again. His erection was a hard object pressed against her hip, promising. Arousal burst like flame from the warmth filling her.

When he was done, she commented while breathing heavily, “That was fun…you know, having a bit of skin or saliva in the game.”

He held her gaze. She was still recovering. He needed to be careful with her or else she could revert back to being sick. “I can’t wait for tomorrow when you’re feeling better,” he rumbled.

She grinned. Then yawned. “I take it we’re done for tonight. Which show do you want to watch?…”

She was oblivious that such a simple sentence grooved a powerful sense of rightness in his frame. This. He wanted this. Being with her just like this.

When she awoke in the morning, she felt much better. Indigo had made breakfast, and she insisted on eating it at the table. Setting her up with his computer and some comedies, he took care of various parts of the home, the laundry, the garden, and so on. He took advantage of kissing her at every opportunity. She felt guilty about being so useless. So she joined him in the garden, and despite being urged not to do too much, she felt fine building the greenhouses. Every once in a while she’d pause and watch Indigo. She enjoyed watching him move. He’d look back at her and smile before focusing on his task. Every once in a while, she would find herself thinking of THEIR garden or THEIR bed or THEIR home, but then she would jerk her mind back from the drift. It all was his, and she was his guest. That was all. Well, girlfriend-guest, with its extra…benefits, but guest all the same. Glancing back at him, she reflected that girlfriend-rights were something she hadn’t yet fully explored. And she had an idea.

That night, when they were clean and ready for bed, relaxing on the couch again, she suggested, “How about another game?”

“What sort of game?” he was instantly smiling and aroused.

“We play cards, but the loser strips?”

“How about the winner gets to rub the loser’s gonads.”

Getting his hands on her breasts and vulva shot through her brain. “What if the loser orgasms?”

“Okay, switch. The loser has to stimulate the winner to an orgasm.”

“And the loser?”

“Has to rub him/herself to orgasm, or we can play again and he/she has to wait till they win.”

“Okay…we can try it.”


“No, that’s part of the game.”

“Mmmm. No. Have the loser strip and then the winner gets rubbed to an orgasm in their clothes?”

“Works for me,” she laughed.

“I love you. No.”

So she agreed, and they pulled off their clothes. His erection was unmistakable, and he commented, “I can’t control that around you. I want my girlfriend.”

Her heart beat harder in response, and she sighed, “I miss my vibrator.”

“You’re welcome to use me anytime,” he selflessly offered.

She rolled her eyes, “You’re not going to quietly sit in the closet until I’m feeling the urge again.”

“I want to be the one triggering the urge,” he replied darkly.


The cards were dealt, and she won. As Indigo moved in on her, he licked his finger and then [deleted]. His eyes were dilated, watching her intently as he moved his hand. Heat filled her as [deleted], and she briefly grabbed the back of his head to make him kiss her. The motion of his hand shifted [deleted]. “My dick’s jealous of my fingers,” he rumbled. Her heat intensified. [deleted]

[deleted] “Indigo,” she groaned.

“Feel me, my Umi?” he murmured against her lips. [deleted], and he was driving her crazy.

“More. Indigo, that feels so good,” she moaned. [deleted], he took her lips again. She shuddered under his hands, thrilled he was doing this to her.

When she was done jerking and grimacing, Umi opened her eyes to stare into his. Sighing in satisfaction, she asked, “Want to play again?”

He smiled. For some reason, she lost, and when she [deleted], he murmured, “I love your playing games with me.”

[deleted], she commented, “You said you wanted me to value your time.”

[deleted]. But this was perfect. [deleted]. “Careful how you play with me, though,” he tried warning her. Then [deleted].

Umi smiled, satisfied, and actually licked her finger as she washed her hands in the sink. Having followed her over, Indigo grasped her into his arms trapping her against the sink in response. “Feel like playing another game tomorrow?” she sweetly inquired.

He murmured into her neck as he kissed her there, “I’d insist on tonight, but since you’re still recovering, lets see what we can do tomorrow.”

“And we’ll have all day. Looks like it’s supposed to rain.”

“I think we can count on it.” The way he said his double entendre, his voice filled with dark promise and his arms wrapped around her securing her to him, made her shiver with desire.

Umi fell asleep so rapidly that Indigo knew he couldn’t tire her out just yet. When she suggested playing games to get intimate, he just about tripped over himself. He’d been trying so hard to let her recover before pushing for more, and he was thrilled that she’d made the first move. That she wanted him as much as he wanted her was the best feeling in the world, and he couldn’t wait until the next day to let her know that. It wasn’t until the soft rush of wind outside rustling through the trees was followed by the sheets of water against the roof that he finally fell asleep.

After breakfast, Umi looked at the rain falling outside the windows on their garden project. “Looks like it’s going to be a while before we can go back out.”

“I seem to recall your original purpose for coming over here was to work on eigenvectors,” Indigo commented slipping a textbook and writing paper next to her hand on the table.

She looked up at him with a smile, “I wanted to eventually get to complicated two-body motion.”

Indigo mmmmmm’d. Her suggestive urging was pushing him off-balance. His erection sprang into action when she spoke. “I’m going to pick a random object, and you’ll find the most unstable rotation.” Which seemed to be a natural talent of hers.

“If I win?”

“Cunnilingus.” She shivered watching him swallow excitedly.

“If I lose?”

“Sex. You get on top of me and make me orgasm.” He put a condom on the table next to the book.

She blew out her breath. “No fellatio huh?”

His erection twitched at the thought but, “Next round, maybe. For this one…you’re MY girlfriend now. And call me territorial, but I’m out to destroy your memories of any other men touching you but me.”

Umi’s breath caught when he made his declaration. She’d always cared deeply for Indigo, but he’d triggered her sense of self-preservation. Something about him threatened to make her fall so deeply in love with him that if anything went wrong, she’d worry about her sanity. He really could wipe out her memory of other men as she lost herself in him. “Okay, but what…what are you expecting from me when we aren’t playing?” she had to ask.

“I expect you to sleep in my bed, be my companion, and to tell me what you want from me physically.” He picked up her hand, and softly kissed one of her knuckles.

“Exactly what we’re doing?”


“What about when we can leave again?”

“Nervous?” She should be. It was an inevitable event that was stirring something dark deep inside him, something he wasn’t ready to face. “Let’s see how we feel then.” Making her crazy about him in several weeks would be a challenge, but he was up for trying.

“What if I’m more attached to you than you are to me?” she worried softly, looking him in the eye.

Keeping her eyes fixed on him, he unleashed his consuming desire for her fractionally so she could see it. Raw hunger. “Sometimes you have to just jump and discover where you land.”

Thinking back over how he had behaved since the insanity of the pandemic started, she realized that he had always been her partner, caring, adoring, and funny. Now he was looking at her like she was a feast, an echo of her own interest in enjoying his body. Her question was one of whether the activity would be love-making or fucking. His answer was clear: love-making. Softening her lips, she softly smiled, leaned towards him nose-to-nose and murmured, “Game on.” Then she kissed him, licking his bottom lip before nibbling on it. He opened his mouth, seized the back of her head, and deepened the kiss and its intensity.

When they paused, he said, “A uniform sphere.”

“Seriously?” she smiled. That one didn’t have an unstable rotation axis. The sample calculation was right in front of her in the book. She filled in the steps they skipped and put her pen down at the same time he pulled her chair away from the table. Helping her stand up, turning her around, he guided her to lay back on the table and pulled his boxers off of her.

“I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to me that you are always wearing my clothes,” he commented with a nip and a lick on her inner thigh.

Her thigh muscle spasmed in response, and she swallowed as she sunk deeper into her thickening arousal. “Your scent is in everything, and I’m perversely enjoying rolling in it,” she laughed.

Then he shouldered himself between her thighs, settled on her vacated chair and smiled at her over her mons, “You’re good enough to eat.”

Her breath caught at the sight of the hunger in his eyes. Then [deleted], and she gasped dropping her head back on the table. Indigo was merciless. He [deleted]. Umi threw out her arms and grasped the sides of the table. When she moaned his name, he [deleted]. Her back literally came off the table as she keened.

Pulling his face away, petting her with his fingers, he kissed the inside of her thigh as she panted. “Ready for your next challenge?” he rumbled, his voice dark with promise. She was about to be claimed.

“Give me a minute,” she sighed, her heart rate racing. Indigo never did things halfheartedly. Having his focus and drive targeting her sexual pleasure was an intimidating prospect. One likely to render her into a jibbering, sexually subsumed bundle of nerves.

“Be right back,” he chuckled, getting up to wash his face in the sink. He returned just as she managed to crawl off the table. When she reached to pick up the boxers she’d been wearing, he rumbled, “Don’t bother. Just sit…And get ready to be mine.”

Umi narrowed her eyes at his challenge. He was certain she couldn’t do the next one, and damn the man, he was probably right.

“Squat ovloid,” he announced with a smile.

She looked at her sphere solution realizing that she had to keep all three axes. “Uh, oh,” she murmured. “How about the x and y axes stay equal?”

“Sure, go for it. That’s more difficult in my opinion, but give it a shot,” he grinned.

Naturally, she didn’t get there. Feeling her naked vulva pressed against the chair every time she shifted around didn’t help. Nor did Indigo’s deciding to undress by the time she was halfway through the calculations either. Indigo helpfully circled where she’d gone wrong when she’d given up; two elements in her matrix array had been switched. “Gah!” she groused.

“You almost got away,” he commented as he seized her wrist, tugging on her to get up. Urging her to straddle his lap, he pushed his shirt off of her and pulled her in for another intense kiss.

“Mental whiplash,” she muttered when he paused and dropped his mouth to her chest, leaning her back slightly to lick her breast.

“Sums up every moment I’ve had with you,” he murmured into her skin as he shifted to her other breast. Liquid heat was pooling low in her womb. Each lick, tug, and teasing caress of her nipples was shooting straight to nether regions.

“I need you inside me,” she moaned as the arousing sensation became frustration.

His grin was full of masculine magnetism as he reached for the condom and put it on. “On you get, my woman,” he ordered with a grin.

She shook her head, smiling, as she lined herself up [deleted]. Her gaze caught his as [deleted]. She widened her eyes at [deleted], whereas his eyes were half-lidded, twinkling, the look of a man savoring a tasty morsel. As he [deleted], she assumed a similar expression. The sensation was exquisitely delicious. Indigo’s eyes opened wider; he wanted to feast. [deleted], he grasped her chin and took her lips. Then he [deleted]

“Indigo,” she moaned.

“Mmmmm,” he replied, too blissfully happy for words. She was tensing in his arms, and he was holding her tighter for [deleted].

“I’m losing it.” She was [deleted].

He licked her neck as he [deleted], “Mine.” It came out as a low growl.

[deleted] His mouth left her neck, and he [deleted], his arms tightened on her more if possible. He groaned, and [deleted]

When he relaxed, he didn’t open his arms. Keeping one wrapped around her waist, he shifted the other up her back to the back of her head to urge her to kiss him again. He kissed her deeply. Her sexual bliss morphed and bloomed into a deep heart warmth, a sense of rightness and everything wonderful being in his arms.

“Love you,” he murmured against her lips when they paused kissing.

“Love you, too,” she replied back to him, smiling and squeezing his shoulders for emphasis.

They spent the whole day resting, eating, and making love. Exhausted, Umi asked him as they watched another romantic comedy in bed, “Which one of these is your favorite, by the way?”

“The one where the nerd gets the hot babe,” he answered without hesitation and kissing the top of her head.

She petted his chest, chuckling, “Figures. Those guys generally are pretty sneaky and persistent, I noticed.”

He laughed.

Several weeks passed in romantic bliss for Umi and Indigo. He was fairly confident that they were together for the foreseeable future, but he was increasingly getting the feeling that she would need more convincing to move in with him. That was when her parents reached out to her with some unwelcome news. Her ex-boyfriend had contacted them trying to figure out where she was so that he could check that she was okay. Indigo really really REALLY didn’t like the idea that the bastard was out of quarantine and had visited her domicile. Stepping behind her into the camera view, he whispered in her ear asking, “Can I talk to them?”

She nodded, “Mom, hang on a minute, Indigo wants to join us.”

Lifting her hand and kissing the back of it, making her blush, he told them, “Grant’s got problems with boundaries. He’ll be trying to get information about Umi other ways. Expect a fake police call, possibly even with a female voice.”

Umi swallowed remembering one of their last fights before she’d broken up with him and nodded. “Just pass on any messages, okay? Don’t let anyone know where I’m at even if it sounds like an emergency.”

Umi’s father and mother agreed. Indigo returned her father’s unspoken look as they signed off for the night. The man wanted to know he was settled on his daughter. He was.

After dinner, Indigo suggested a game of truth-or-dare. Umi giggled, “Sounds like fun. Okay. Truth or Dare, honey?”


“When did you first decide you liked me?”

“The first time I talked to you on the comm.”

“Wow,” she breathed, her body warming under the look he was giving her.

“Truth or Dare.”

“Um, Dare.”

Indigo’s eyes fairly sparked, “Climb onto me right here, now, without a condom.”

Umi’s eyes widened. Then she blew out her breath as he stood up and took off his clothes. And yep, he was ready for her. The escalation completely caught her by surprise, but then she remembered the conversation earlier. Fucking Grant. Asshole. Pulling off her clothes, she climbed over him and they [deleted]. If there was one think he’d driven into her awareness since they’d become lovers, it was that he was going to make the sex good. It wasn’t long before she [deleted]. This was so risky. “You know I’ve no protection since we’ve been in quarantine, right?”

Perfect. “I’ll pull out when I orgasm…”

She let out her breath and [deleted].

“…Unless you tell me not to.”

Okay, then. “Tr- Truth or Dare?” she breathed.


Let’s do this. “What is your darkest fantasy?”

He [deleted]. He rumbled, “Making you pregnant.” Keeping you forever.

Umi’s heart was beating rapidly. I asked. Indigo promised to get her off of him when he got close. She was in control, but she recognized his pattern: he states what he wants, then he works to get it. She was about to be hunted. If she was honest with herself, she’d constantly been engaged in being chased by him. “How about if we just get married?”

“That, too.” He [deleted]. “Truth or Dare, sweets.”

“Truth.” She [deleted]

“What is your darkest fantasy?” [deleted]

Oh, she was having all her buttons getting pushed tonight. You asked him first and he answered. “Um…”

Indigo [deleted]

“…It’s um…” Oh, this is going to be special.

“If you don’t answer, I get to choose what happens next as the winner…” he warned, “…and pulling out is on the table.”

“When you exercise a level of control over me,” she actually cringed. “I get warm inside. It, um, it could get pushed further.”

Indigo’s eyes glinted, and he [deleted]

“Truth or Dare!” she gasped.

He [deleted]. “Dare.”

She had to come up with a dare. And he [deleted]. “Dare you to put on a condom.”

He stopped. “Oh, let’s play, Umi.” [deleted]. Once he had the condom on, he didn’t let her climb back on to him, prompting, “Truth or Dare.”

Frustrated, burning up without him, she hesitated. “Fine. Dare.” She knew she could stop playing, but that part of her that she hadn’t wanted to admit to pressed to keep going, letting him push her over the edge.

He took the condom off. “Up you go.” Umi shivered realizing where all their games in the near future were headed. He was possessive. And she? She’d become obsessed. [deleted]. “Feels a lot more intense, doesn’t it?” he rumbled.

She nodded, [deleted]. She was breathing heavily. It was consuming; she [deleted], she remembered, “Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.” [deleted]. He was thoroughly enjoying himself. He really was a perfect fit for her.

She lost track several times as he [deleted], then remembered she had to ask a question. “Why didn’t you ask me out?”

“Game theory.” He [deleted]. “I wasn’t willing to risk our friendship unless certain the answer would be yes.”

Umi [deleted].

“Truth or Dare.”

She knew where this was going. If she said Truth, he would keep her on edge…for as long as it took. He was nothing if not determined. Obviously the only choice to end the game was Dare. And she had a pretty good idea what the dare would be.

“Truth or Dare, sweets,” he prompted. His voice was rich with masculine satisfaction. He knew he had her cornered. He knew it turned her on. He knew she knew all of those things. Take me.

Opening her mouth, she licked up his neck making him suck in his breath. “Dare,” she whispered into his ear.

“Gotcha,” he whispered back. “Dare you to let me orgasm right now, the way we are.” [deleted]

[deleted]. Then [deleted]. She [deleted]

Panting. [deleted]. Umi kissed Indigo, and he returned it with fervor. “I love you,” she murmured.

“Marry me,” he ordered, [deleted].

“Are you planning any more games?” she asked smiling.

He grumbled, “As many as it takes…and then some.”

“Fine. You’ve got me.” As if she would let him go.

“I love you, Umi,” he replied.

Leaning her elbow on his shoulder, she ran her index finger over his eyebrow. “You know, there’s no reason to think you got me pregnant with this. I’m not going to make it easy.”

Indigo grinned and patted her hip, loosening his arms. “How about a strategy game and then a coordination game tomorrow?”

“I’m sure it’ll be exciting,” Umi rolled her eyes and dropped a brief kiss on his nose.

During the next call to his family when he announced their engagement, his dad turned to his mom and joked, “Call the Police…She’s as crazy as he is.”

Photo by Hoang Loc on Pexels.com

Notes image linked to wikimedia commons source. Wiggling eyebrows animated by Bettie Zyx from wikimedia commons image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basic,_wide_anime_eyes.svg

Pen & Sword

“Get naked,” she ordered.

Sam had been kidnapped. He knew his work in hybrid rights made him a target, but he didn’t expect this. And his kidnapper was the last person he would have expected, raw, rough, and female. Very female.

“You’ll have to kill me if you want free,” he said.

Kosandra had to make some decisions. None of them good. She had to trust Sam, who followed her, chased her, and then finally seized her into his arms. She was evil, but he pushed her into salvation.

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“Get naked,” she ordered.

He stammered, his arms wrapped around himself as he shook, “Wh..wh…why?” He needed another blanket, not to lose what clothes he had.

“Because or else you’ll freeze to death and become a meat popsicle,” she growled while pulling off her own shirt and pants from underneath the blankets. “Get under my blankets when you’re done.”

Nodding, desperate, he tugged off his jacket and remaining clothes, clawing at them with stiff fingers. Lifting the blankets, he resignedly crawled under them, repulsed at touching the kidnapper but attracted to the boy’s heat. Once settled, he rolled to face away as his shivering increased into full body shakes.

Muttering, “Stupid. Not worth it,” Kosandra pressed her body, from her breasts to her hips, against his back and wrapped an arm around him to maintain the contact.

“You’re not a boy!” he gasped as the shaking started subsiding from her heat.

Kosandra just shook her head. “Sleep, John. You’re still recovering.”

“It’s Sam. My name is Sam,” he replied again as exhaustion began to fuzz his thoughts. “And you’re the one who shot me,” he slurred.

Kosandra resisted curling her hand into a fist. “Sam is dead. John is nobody. You got one choice, chump.”

All he knew as he fell asleep was that his kidnapper smelled good.


As usual, Kosandra awoke to every soft noise made outside the tent. Well into the early morning after a shuffling animal passed by, she lay on her back satisfied that John’s hands and feet stopped chilling her. The moment didn’t last long when he in turn rolled over and grabbed onto her like she was a bed pillow, pissing her off. His heat was starting to make her sweat. Bad as that was, it got worse when she decided to get up to at least put her clothes back on and he tightened his surprisingly strong grip to hold her down..In his sleep, without half trying. She shuddered as a different kind of heat threatened to rise in her. She debated slapping his bandaging, but decided against it since she didn’t want to deal with his throwing a fever or some other complication requiring going to another hospital.

Sam’s ass hurt, but he didn’t want to wake up. He was having the best dream of a naked woman in his bed. Every time he tugged her tighter, pressing her warm skin into his erection, sweet arousal would cascade up his spine. He didn’t want it to end.

As the moron in bed with her started humping her hip, Kosandra lost her patience. “Wake up, shithead,” she barked at him, her voice huskier than usual.

Sam opened his eyes and focused on the furious, flashing gaze of his kidnapper. His stomach sunk, repelled, disgusted with himself. “Oh, I’m sorry!” gruffly slipped from his lips automatically as he snapped his arms back and tried to roll off of the low foam mattress insulating them from the ground. He hissed as his sore ass complained at the maneuver.

“Whatever,” she grumbled as she stood up, snatching her clothes and putting them on.

Unable to stop himself from watching her in his periphery as he did the same, he frowned. His penis wasn’t softening as fast as it should have. His body was still simmering for her heat. Sensing the trouble he was unable to extricate himself from, he desperately asked, “How soon will you know if the ransom’s been paid?”

Ignoring the eyeful of male in front of her, Kosandra put her hands on her hips and reminded herself that the idiot that was too smart for his own good. “I lied.” Holding up her hand to stop whatever he’d opened his mouth to say, she continued lifting her chin in his direction, “I’m supposed to kill you because you can’t keep your idiot mouth shut. But I changed my mind…” She glanced away for a moment then looked back at him, “…You’re valuable to me. No, not as ransom, but if you irritate me enough, I might consider it.”

As questions exploded across his mind, Sam looked her over in every detail. Her gear was all non-standard and old. Her clothes lacked the usual chemical scent. Her eyes were not noticeably separated wider until you looked, but it was the scarring on the back of her neck that gave it away. Even while dressing, she’d been careful to keep her back turned, hiding the groves. “You’re mixed-heritage?” he asked, softly. The lowest of the low, untouchable by society that mattered, human-alien hybrids were exploited, lived in slums, abused, and generally treated like animals.

“And for the moment, so are you, John.” Her voice was devoid of emotion.

The planet tilted on its axis as he began to realize what was really going on. “My work…” on mixed-heritage rights…

“…Might end up costing a monstrous asshole a little bit of money,” she interrupted. “We’ve got to get moving. I have an appointment to keep.”


Again he was banished to the nearby tree, fortunately not cuffed to it this time, as she broke down the tent for transport. Because it was daylight, and he was watching her every move, he noticed the tattoo she kept hidden. One of the tent parts caught her hat, knocking it askew just enough that he spotted the mark. He frowned. It shouldn’t have mattered to him, but it did.

Ignoring John’s constant offers of help, Kosandra reloaded the tent onto her air transport. As she straightened to order him to find a comfortable position in the trailer, she blinked in surprise. He was already moving stiffly toward her, not staring off into space like the overeducated brainiac that he’d been so far.

“Did you really shoot me or was it an accident like the docs said?” he asked as he climbed on top of the bulk in the trailer and lay on its soft surface face-down.

She nodded as she threw a blanket over him and secured webbing on top to keep him from falling off, “Docs were right that you got hit by a stray bullet. You stopped to pick up the letter I placed on the ground to get you into position.” She shrugged as he looked sharply at her. Shooting up in the air in order to hit the target with the falling projectile as it came back down was a bitch for most everyone to pull off. “If I’d shot you directly, you would have been under more security at the hospital.”

He dropped his head in resignation, “Of course.” He saw the whole plan. His friends, family, and neighbors were all aware and would react if someone tried to kidnap him, not to mention he’d fight like hell himself. At the hospital though, injured in an ‘accident’, no one knew or cared who he was. Easy pickings to cover your face with a medical mask and walk out with discharge paperwork while he was drugged powerless.

Four hours later, the cold wind had reduced him to a shivering shell of a human when she stopped. “H..h..how good was aim?” he asked as she released him.

“Shit,” she muttered, tugging on him to get him off her gear. His lips had gone blue. “I was hitting about 1 and 2,” she replied to distract him as she yanked free the blankets and threw them on top of him.

He laughed, grasping them around him.

Kosandra frowned, concerned, yanking out the tent and working as fast as possible.

His laughter choked off. “Do you and your husband have kids?”

Rubbing her forehead, she closed her eyes as she answered robotically, “No.” He couldn’t see her through the tent as she secured the far corner. Her face was clear as she tossed in the foam mat and unrolled it. John was standing right behind her.

“Note to self: next time you’re kidnapped, dress for the weather,” he mumbled collapsing onto the mat and covering his head.

Kosandra left pretending she didn’t hear his next thought.

“Got my own kidnapper. MY kidnapper,” and he laughed to himself again.


Chewing a shared food bar in the fading light, Kosandra finally answered one of his first questions. “I don’t know when you can safely start firing off your pretty mouth again.” John’s face was getting rough with whiskers. He was leaning on his side to keep pressure off his healing wound. “It’s a musical chairs game while assholes lie, cowards point fingers, real people demand answers, that kind of crap.”

He nodded watching her.

“If you want to live…maybe never. That’s the problem. I really was hired to fix you.” She gestured at him as if her gun were back in her hands. “If the fuckers who did it get busted, well, you’re free. If not…” She sighed.

He collapsed on his front and stared at the floor. She left him to settle her equipment and give him some privacy.

An hour later, she returned to find him under the blankets. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Kosandra,” she mumbled while pulling off her combat parka. Climbing under the blankets fully clothed, she sighed seeing John in a similar clothed state.

In the darkness with her warm presence at his side, John’s heart beat a little harder. He had to push. “Kosandra’s your real name?”

“As real as yours, John,” she answered elliptically, shifting to settle on her back next to him, shoulder to shoulder.

After closing his eyes and listening to the sounds outside, he ventured, “Tell me about your husband.”

“No.” Her answer was swift, no hesitation.

He let his breath out on a puff, thinking. A few minutes later, he said, “A number of years ago I had a serious girlfriend. She left me when rape threats started coming in because of my work. I stopped dating then.” He sighed. “Couldn’t risk it, and didn’t trust those who were interested despite the danger to not be setting me up.”

Kosandra rustled softly after he spoke, but it still shocked him to feel her small, warm hand wrap around his. Curling his fingers around hers in turn, he swallowed the rest of what he was about to say.


Kosandra deposited his shivering bulk in a maintenance shed at their next stop the following day. It wasn’t much improvement over the outside beyond a lack of wind. After marking his neck with similar scars to her own, Kosandra lent him her hat pulling it low over his eyebrows. Then muttering something about ‘dealing with the garbage’, she left him and suggested he take advantage of any information he could glean from the equipment on the outside world’s events.

John was in the middle of listening to radio reports when the door was thrown open by a security guard. “Mutt. What are you doing here, boy?” he called menacingly waving a gun at him.

The man looked vaguely familiar and not in a good way. John’s mouth hung open as he tried to think through the situation. He’d knocked back the chair, he stood up so fast.

“Cat got your tongue, birdie?” the guard laughed. Then he frowned and slapped the back of his neck. Glancing at his hand, his face assumed a slipping mask of surprise to blank expression, “What the hell is this?” He stumbled sideways and fell to the ground at which point John could see some blood on his hand.

Behind him stood Kosandra slipping a tube back into her gear. “Help me get off his jacket,” she ordered John, as she tossed the guard’s hat to the side and started tugging on his jacket like he was a limp puppet. John lept to help her, making quick work of the process. Throughout, the guard cussed, threatened, and swore at them.

When they were done, Kosandra leaned over him, “Remember Freya, Mitch?”

John jumped up as if electrocuted. He stared at the guard recognizing him. As the guard fell silent, it was obvious he didn’t know what she was talking about.

Looking away for a second, Kosandra added, “Or does this jog your memory?” she reached into her pocket and pulled out an image of dead hybrid, female, who’s death was obviously violent. John closed his eyes, swallowed, then opened them and stared at Kosandra. It wasn’t a picture that just anyone could get, coming from a police report that only existed because of him. He had raised the public’s ire to medium-sized demonstrations over the miscarriage of justice in the case.

“That ain’t human, what should I care?” the guard answered, but his tone gave him away. He remembered.

Kosandra straightened up, snagged up the man’s jacket and tossed it to John. “She didn’t even matter enough to know her name.” Putting on the guard’s hat herself, she opened the door to leave. “Let’s go.”

John didn’t look at the guard, following her through the door. He thankfully put on a real jacket and tugged her hat more securely onto his head.

“Leave the door open a crack,” she added as she climbed onto the air transport.

Climbing on to the seat next to her, he finally asked, “You’re letting him freeze to death?”

“Nope,” she replied, “His pores are about to start emitting death-bug venom. We’ve got 5 minutes remaining to get out of here. Did you learn anything while waiting?”

Glancing back at the shed and quietly urging Kosandra to drive faster before the bugs arrived, John stuttered, “Um…there’s discussion about an article of censure…”


That night as they lay under the blankets, John tentatively reached for Kosandra’s hand. She rotated her hand and returned the grasp. “How…” he had to ask, “How does killing make you feel?”

On a sigh, “Pity,” she answered, then added, “Usually.”

“That takes a lot of empathy.” He turned his head to gaze at her outlined profile in the darkness, “Is that usual?”


He waited.

Finally, she rolled to her side facing him and murmured, “They don’t care if other people get caught up in the killing, that the target’s in pain, that loved ones suffer knowing it was murder.”

He nodded. After a while, he rolled to his side to face her and asked, “Who hired you to kill me?”

She yawned, “I don’t know.” Several minutes later, she sleepily added, “But they’ve got a shit load of money to burn.”


Throughout the next day, they drove three times as far as the previous days. Kosandra would occasionally break her usual silence with a story about the terrain through which they traveled. John only recognized that they were deep into the farmland that supported local towns, often perceptible just on the horizon. Kosandra was careful to avoid any visible contact. After a while he finally asked, “If I’m dead, then are you, too?”

Carefully traversing a gully that ran below the road they were avoiding, she ignored the question.

John narrowed his eyes. After the ground evened out, he watched her like a hawk as he asked, “How soon till we get to the appointment you mentioned?”

“We had it,” she answered lifting her chin at his jacket.

John’s eyes dilated. “It’s time you told me the full plan, Kosandra. I’m done being used for bait.”

He’d noticed how the guard was lured to his location. She couldn’t help the slight lift to the corners of her mouth that his comment triggered. Then she frowned. Her smiles were as false as her marriage. She rubbed her forehead again; the spot where her ex-husband marked her as his.

They had finally reached the terrain of the unsettled wilderness. While it meant fewer opportunities for dangerous sightings, it also was rough with no smooth routes. “So I’m guessing you’re dead, too,” he prompted.

“Yeah, I’m one of the missing now, plenty of those to get lost in,” she finally answered.

John compressed his lips, fighting to keep his expression bland, “You just let your husband think you’d disappeared?” He couldn’t help his accusatory tone.

“No. While I’m a total bitch,” she looked away from his angry features, “And I mean it, told him we were getting divorced when I got back from a business trip and he could keep everything.”

She fell silent. “Then what happened?” he asked.

She ignored him and squeezed her hands on the controls a little tighter.


They were winding their way up a dry river bed, when Kosandra suddenly stopped. It was an eerie place with shear walls on either side and no animals. No bugs, nothing. Just unusual plants that looked like overgrown mold. “Here we are. Home sweet home.” She pointed.

“Is it safe?” He stared up a small rock alluvial fan into a gaping cave tucked into the side wall.

“Mmmm. No but it’ll do,” she waved her hand around them, “We’re surrounded by bad air here. If you fall, get up immediately or else.” And she snapped her fingers. As John looked around nervously, she pointed back up at the cave, “It’s flowing out of there. Mining and a saboteur fucked it up good.”

Then she worked the air car to slip up the alluvial fan of rock. A task that left John gritting his teeth as the car slid backwards most of the distance gained for every thrust she took up the slope. When they finally got traction at the top, she eased it into the rear end of the large space. Then she jumped out of the car, snagged a large circular ring from their gear covered in flexible material and walked to the opening in the back. As she moved, the material fell in a flow behind her. John picked it up to follow her until she ordered, “Great, throw that end outside about 3 meters, thank you.”

He walked backwards watching her. She took the ring, shook it a bit, and unspooled it into a larger ring that was 10 meters across. She was just within the shaft of the mine, so when she let it go, it sealed across the entrance. Air or something immediately filled it, swelling the material like a plastic snake and approaching his end. Which he dropped. “That’s brilliant,” he couldn’t help commenting. She had set up a bypass so the toxic air would skip the cave on its way to the dead channel below. The smile that flashed at him in return for the compliment took his breath away. Then it flickered off like a switch.

Kosandra shrugged. “Lets get the gear set up, and I’ll show you around.”


John stared at the ancient comm device, “Yeah, I can work this.” He tapped around a little uncertain as the single interface blinked at him. “Huh.”

Kosandra left him to it and went hunting for some fresh meat for dinner.

An odd sound tore John’s attention away from the comm. Kosandra stood at the entrance to the cave with her leathery wings unfurled for just a moment, blocking the light, when she swept into the sky. He ran to the entrance to witness the amazing capability hybrids had which terrified full-humans. Shielding his eyes, he watched Kosandra’s flight with sinking upset. He saw why the light hadn’t framed her symmetrically and her flight was labored, limping. Her right side was stiff, and she favored it, making her jerky. “What happened to you?” he whispered.

Returning to the comm, he started asking it to list off every capability it had to connect to other comms. After a few hours, he finally managed to get an application to run in order to skim the news. Then he managed to redo it to do keyword searches on the downloads.

It was as he was skimming the remaining headlines that Kosandra returned. An unusual noise caught his attention, and he turned his head to comment in surprise, “Did we just adopt a dangerous predator?” She held a living vicious snap-mouth. It was shaking back and forth attempting to free itself from her grip around its jaws.

“Nuh huh,” she moved to hold the animal down on the floor of the cave. Able to dig its legs into the ground, it fought and she struggled to keep it in place.

John watched the interaction confused. After a minute, he jerked in surprise as she shook the animal in a vicious twist, killing it.

“Cave’s clear. We’ll not snuff out sleeping tonight,” she sighed as she pulled out a knife, seemingly from the air, and strolled to exit the cave. “Food will be ready in a couple of hours.”

John stared at the floor for a minute, then he got up and walked out to join her. She had already sliced open the snap-mouth and worked knowledgeably at separating edible from inedible parts. “Another investigation was opened into the investigation that closed on my disappearance,” he began.

Kosandra made encouraging sounds in response, so he continued, “I’m thinking of writing an essay that speaks as if I were a ghost saying something like ‘When I asked for your help, you dismissed me. Then one of you killed me.’ and discuss why I fought for hybrid rights. Can you tell me more about your assignment now?”

Kosandra worked steadily as he talked. On this last point, she tossed the inedible remains of the carcass on to the cliff above for animals to consume. “Nope. Not that I don’t want to, but I don’t know shit. Jobs follow the cash, and the whole shitshow is anonymous.” Lifting her chin, she tilted her head towards the cave, “Everything I’ve got is in the folder I dropped on your seat of the car before I went out.”

“Need any help?” John looked back at the cave hungrily, but he stayed.

She shook her head, “Go on. My hands are already dirty.”

He waited until she led the way.

As Kosandra cleaned her hands at the faucet, John curiously took the folder to the old desk and sat. The information inside was general information on his location at home and work, family, and nearest contacts. It was pretty bland stuff. Rifling through it, he scratched his head.

“Look for what’s missing,” Kosandra called as she energized the stove.

“Ok,” John flipped through the materials again. Parents, his sibling, covered. He looked at his friends and muttered, “Tally, of course. Beau, ok. Huh.” He called out, “Would they include my boss?”

“Maybe. Depends on if you’re around him/her a lot.” The soft sound of sizzling echoed around the space.

He nodded, “Yes, but she would never do this to me. She’s been a major proponent of my work, and I don’t make any big money for her, just prestige.”

“Well, think about the people around her. And it might not be her.” Tasty smells were emanating now. “We’re not going anywhere for a long time. There’s no rush to jump to conclusions.”

“Ok,” he got up and joined her near the stove. “How did you find this place?”

She glanced around and shrugged. “I was here when they all died.”

John turned his head concerned.

“I mean, I didn’t do it. I was working. 14 years old. Food. Just bringing food.” She shrugged again. “But it was a hit. On the operation. Worst goddamn mess.” As she handed him a fork to eat with, she continued, “Want to guess who saved me?”

John saw. He took a bite, “The hitman.”

Kosandra twirled her fork in the air. “Damn you’re too smart for your own good.”

“Why you?” he rumbled.

She glanced at the opening to the cave. “Guess, smarty pants.”

“The climb. You’re light as a bird. But why save anyone?”

She spoke through a mouthful of food. “Apprentice.”

“And to not feel like a total monster,” he growled.

She swallowed, “Yeah, well, he’s dead now, too.”

“Dead dead or our dead?” John rubbed his face, tiredly.

Kosandra shook her head, “Come to think of it…no idea.”

Dropping his fork, John covered his face with his hands.

Getting a shower after dinner was fantastic. “Don’t use up all the water, borrowed-time!” Kosandra yelled at him.

As they lay down that night, John grabbed Kosandra’s hand. “Hope we wake up.”

“I suppose,” she sighed.

He rolled his head to look at her profile.

“In a few months, we can reappear as temp labor for farming, but it’s not much…compared to what you’re used to. It pays…shit for non-fliers.”

Very carefully, he mused, “You have a unique way of flying, so you can’t?”

“Yup,” she sighed, “First job. Screwed up. Went to the shitter.” On a yawn she added, “Everyone flies a little different, like a fingerprint.” She squeezed his hand briefly.

He squeezed her hand back in turn and warned, “You’re going to have to figure out what to do about the marriage mark by then.”

She closed her eyes and moved to roll away. John let her hand go until she did, then rolled on his side facing her back and took her hand back, where it lay on her thigh.

“You’re breathing down my neck,” she complained.

He didn’t answer.

Since the beginning of time, full humans have destroyed each other based on nothing more than prejudice. There was no substantial difference between one group and another. While our very DNA testifies as to who won, the loser was always our world. At first, it didn’t appear to matter as there was a beautiful planet to sustain the survivors. But as our urge to destroy became larger, more absolute, we began to destroy the very world we needed to survive. Even when we weren’t fighting each other, we continued to destroy our world. Our ancestors had no value for it. Now here we are. We are the descendants of extremely brutal colonists that were able to escape, the children of oppressors. We are a minuscule portion of that original population that our ancestors manipulated and left to die. Something is broken in our genetic heritage. Again and again, we anoint bizarrely unfit individuals as leaders, those that make us feel that our worst and most selfish inclinations are just. These monsters led to our repetitive destruction of the very world that billions needed to survive. That is our shame and the shame of every generation that follows. The founders of our new world here, our forefathers, were simply, purely evil.


Kosandra woke the next morning again penned in John’s arms. In the sleepy liquid awareness, she was aware that his hips had pressed a solid object against her, but being neither here nor there, it existed, a fact, no more, no less. Listening carefully to the noises beyond, she sighed. There was nothing but wind…and dirt, life existed at a distance. Hers was a cocoon in the midst of death. Resigned, she closed her eyes and returned to chasing dreams. Whether he knew it or not, John had gifted her a reprieve from her nightmares.

Awareness came to John with a sharp pinch of pain to his side. “Ow!” he protested, trying to get away and slapping at the source.

“Do you sleep with a stuffed pillow?” Kosandra disentangled herself from him, mostly pretending her irritation.

John collapsed on his back with a groan. “No, it’s just you’re warm.” He inhaled and cut off the rest of his sentence.

“Yeah,” she muttered.

He noticed she looked at his clothes-covered erection as she said it.

Kosandra was riffling through the trailer when John finally emerged. Finding what she was looking for, she turned around and caught his eye. They were half-lidded, and his face and bearing were commanding. “I’m sticking by your side until you tell me what I want to know,” he stated.

The pulse of nervousness that went through her frame was only detectable by her. That was the stance he took when he spoke to crowds.

Now we live here in a time of plenty and have learned nothing. We have a new planet after our ancestral greedy mass murderers destroyed our home world, and again we take the path of destruction. WAKE UP AND PAY ATTENTION! Anyone who encourages you to hate is never going to learn. We must evolve past this if we are to survive.


“He adored me. And was such a smart ass. Not unlike yourself,” she frowned at him as she sliced another fruit from the branch. “Your turn. Tell me about your boss.”

John blinked, “My turn?” He caught the fruit and put it in the backpack he carried, “Oh, you mean quid pro quo.”

Kosandra didn’t bother to respond as she swung onto a new branch.

“Lynn inherited the business from her mom. While she was interested in the work, she always seemed to want to push the barrier.” He paused slightly confused, “Your turn.”

Landing on the ground, Kosandra began walking, her eyes skittering left and right scanning the vegetation around them. “Zeke didn’t have shit. Couldn’t rub two coins together. No job, but he managed to scrape together enough food and other items for himself. He tried to hide it from me. But what caught my attention was that he kept collecting books and read them. He mispronounced everything.” She smiled fondly for a moment, then narrowed her eyes and knelt to study a plant. “Your turn.” Grasping the base of it, she pulled. An edible fry-root emerged.

“So that’s what they look like,” he commented, surprised. He tentatively reached a hand out to help her out to stand back up, but she waved him off continuing to scan the plants. “Um, so Lynn was the one to hire me. I mean, as things got nasty, she hired a fact checker to review everything I wrote. Do you know that…well, things got nasty.” Kosandra nodded. “I didn’t make any money myself. Worried when the death threats came in that she’d fire me, but nothing happened except more security.” He sighed into the past. “At least she got to collect a small fortune on my death.”

Kosandra stopped in the middle of tugging up another fry-root. Closing her eyes for a moment, she looked up into the sky, shook her head, then returned to tugging.

“Wait a minute…you don’t think,” John finally caught up to himself on watching her reaction.

Kosandra just worked in silence.

“She started avoiding me a few weeks ago…but that’s…well, it’s insulting. I mean it’s one thing to die because of what you believe in, but to get killed because someone can make a buck…DAMMIT!”

She only stopped digging and tugging when John dropped to his knees beside her and grabbed one of her hands.

“Kosandra, stop for a minute.”

His voice had dropped in timbre, and she looked up into his eyes. They were shiny with unshed moisture.

“How do you read this? Are they going to figure out who you are? Are they going to figure this out? Is there going to be a man-hunt?”

She shook her head and tried to look away. John cupped her jaw and gently made her look at him. Licking her lips, she finally sighed, “It depends. Your enemies probably already know about the treachery. If not being lying assholes works to their advantage, then they’ll spill. The hospital footage doesn’t show my face, but I have a short rap sheet. And it’s of course to their advantage that I’m untouchable…to be killed by the garbage you tried to save. This life I lived here was my first death. Finding that connection requires my mentor. It’s a lot of time, money, and dead ends.”

“Your ex-husband…” he prompted, glancing briefly at her lips, then clenching his jaw.

Kosandra hesitated.

“You should know: I’m really strongly attracted to you when I’m not terrified.” John leaned his face forward, his lips just a fraction from touching hers. “If you don’t tell me everything…suicidal or not, I’m coming for you.”

She took a shuddering breath, “I…I set up an anonymous fund to send Zeke to school. He wanted to be a lawyer. All spit and fire. Figured he’d go away, but he didn’t. Every time I turned around, there he was.”

“Go on,” John leaned back, releasing her.

Kosandra kept talking as her hands went back to work on automatic. “I was tired. I relaxed and tried to do the double-life bullshit.” She glanced at John, then back to her hands, “Was warned. It was awful. He figured out I’d been lying. You…You just can’t go on business trips and cease to exist. I…I killed one of his, um, heroes. We went to the funeral.” Her voiced shook, “These jobs. They don’t tell you the target ahead of time. You agree and then get the info.”

John shifted to keep her in his shadow, protected from the Sun. After a minute of silence, he prompted, “My job.”

She nodded and stopped moving looking at her dirt-encrusted hands. “I, um…you’re also one of his heroes. Mine too. I just couldn’t. And he…Zeke was looking for a fight. I gave him one. He threatened to leave, and I yelled at him that I was leaving on a business trip and we were done.” She shook her head, “He, he followed me to the hotel that I took that night, and and tried to be nice, begged um me to do anything else. I told him through the door that I’d been lying to him since we met and had been betraying him.” Tears slipped down her cheeks as she sniffed, “And told him he deserved better and I wasn’t going to a good place and he needed to stop being around me.”

Placing roots in the bag, John watched her for a full minute digesting her story. “I need to know the name you used with him.”

Nodding, Kosandra sighed, “Penny. Our last name was Smit.”

“Kosandra,” he added, waiting until she looked at him uncertainly, “You can’t have him back. You know that right? There’s no amount of marriage counseling that’s going to fix that.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Rubbing her forehead, she sadly murmured, “There’s no such thing as quitting when you’re in the system. Failure to meet the contract’s terms, proof of the target’s death, results in a hit getting taken out on me. But with both of us gone missing, your hit is edited to a bounty hunt. My profile sits in limbo until that’s settled.”

She pushed herself up from the ground as he prompted, “Your ex…is he in danger?”

“My profile is for the person I became after the accident in the mine. Zeke’s Penny wasn’t her name. Penny only existed when I wasn’t working.” When she grabbed the heavier bag he held, he turned away from her keeping it and handed her the smaller bag of roots instead. As she took it, she couldn’t help blushing.

“Hang on a moment, Kosandra,” John murmured grasping her forearm.

As he licked his thumb and rubbed the sweat and dirt off of her marriage tattoo, she shivered as heat blossomed from her cheeks down to her toes.

Beware of the monsters among us. Progress requires loyalty to principles and redemption of peoples. These are simple ways to live, but you can’t pick and choose a principle. You have to accept reality, in essence the laws of physics, as your guiding principle. Accept a measurement that has been made. Understand how well it was made, but it is a truth and truth is the only way to understand the world. People will mess up, they will make mistakes in judgement. There is no reason to preserve them from the consequences of these mistakes, but there is every reason to give them the opportunity to make up for them. Some mistakes are simple to address, a public statement of having said something wrong. Others have consequences that are permanent and damaging, the correction of which is to make every attempt to repair the damage if not for you then for others. Hatred, fear, and greed are powerful emotions that frequently lead to the obfuscation of data, the decision to take an action that damages another whether physically or mentally for one’s own personal benefit. Anyone who arouses your hatred, fear, or greed is not doing so to your benefit. This is a monster in the classic sense.


John sat at the communicator as she set to work preparing a series of meals. Keeping him in her periphery, she studied his profile. His eyes darted from his fingers to the screen as he entered commands. His facial expressions never stopped shifting. His eyebrows knitted then they would relax, his mouth would pinch then release as he nibbled his lip, he’d tilt his head to the side and wave his index finger in the air. She smiled to herself realizing that he was internally talking to the machine.

When it was time to sit down to the meal, John cautiously held his hand out to Kosandra, “Please come here; there’s something you should see.”

Kosandra frowned and marched forward without hesitation. She accepted his hand, but it was impersonal, robotic. On the screen, he had brought up her missing person’s report. After a quick perusal, she shrugged and tugged on his hand to urge him to the table. The report had the wrong woman’s face on it, and ‘Peni’ was missing without any other description. She had seen dozens like it, including her cousin’s.

“They do that on purpose,” John added quietly as he rose, refusing to release her hand.

Kosandra shrugged, “It’s better in my case. Do you know why?”

“It’s to assert that the only time a mixed-heritage has an identity is when a full human sponsors him/her.” He released her hand and tapped the table top. “I had to declare Freya to be my servant to initiate an investigation into her murder.”

She nodded and started eating.

“You knew?” he probed.

“No, not about that,” she looked him in the eyes, her own focus lost internally, “We were cousins.”

John tilted his head, “Through your ex.”

Kosandra shook her head.

John hesitated unsure. Snagging her hand again, he opened his mouth but was cut off.

Kosandra turned his hand over and traced the faint lines in his skin. “If Zeke mentioned our split, then police’ll tell him to fuck off. He’s not going to screw with finding a pure sponsor, been fighting against the sponsorship rules on untouchables all his life. Especially after the way I left, he’s not going take another nut-shot to his pride and do it. And if he suspects who I actually may be, he’s not going to fix it because I’m safer among the large population of missing hybrids.”

Grasping her fingers, her pondering touch somehow making him agitated, John nodded. “So it means everything and nothing.”

“Yeah.” Another involuntary smile blinked in and out.

That night as they lay down, John took Kosandra’s hand and instead of just wishing her goodnight, he also kissed the back of her hand, right on the crease between her middle and ring fingers at the knuckles. A soft intake of breath and spasm of her hand left him smiling in the dark.

Inspect your principles and welcome data that challenges them. Increasingly, it’s common to find a pure researcher who determines that untouchables are benefiting as slaves. Then another researcher will point out that the massive and growing list of missing mixed-heritage people, men, women, children, who are never seen again, presumed dead, cannot be a welcome benefit. It soon becomes clear that the definition of ‘benefit’ differed between the two researchers.


Kosandra woke again with John clasping her tight. They had by silent mutual agreement gone to bed in their underwear. Their clothes were drying and finding a better way to clean them was getting desperate. Fortunately underwear cleaned easier in the shower and dried faster. Didn’t change the fact that his hand clasped her breast and his dick had slipped between her thighs.

And she liked it. Which was worse. She was a terrible person, but she’d been faithful to her ex. It felt dirty. Which was ironic. Zeke had probably already had his revenge sex and was moving on to his consolation sex.

Taking a deep breath, which pressed her breast into John’s hand, which un-helpfully squeezed absently, she resigned herself to the daily morning battle against her growing attraction. She resented the lubrication that she leaked into her panties from the stimulation. Gritting her teeth, she moved to sit up and get away from him. John’s arms tightened again, locking her down. He pressed his hips forward sliding his clothed dick against her clothed muff. She shuddered as the teasing brush heated her up. Then he levered his hips back and did it again.

“John!” she barked unable to take anymore.

His deep yawn into the base of her neck made her shudder. Then he rubbed his nose into the back of her head and kissed the back of her ear. Kosandra closed her eyes as he murmured, “You chose me for your companion. I’m thinking I should choose you in turn.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” she grumbled.

Making another effort to pull free, she failed when John tightened his grip. She shivered as raw lust ignited. John was breathing heavy, not from having to actually put effort into overpowering her. When he replied, his voice was rougher, “Even trussed up like a roast I was somewhat mollified and horrified by wanting you.” He didn’t move his arms, he kept his hand fixed on her breast, but he couldn’t help shifting his hips slightly. The smell of her arousal was winding through his nose and drugging his brain with desire. “My escape plans kept trying to find ways to take you prisoner instead of just simply running.” Softly he bit the shell of her hear, smiling as she gasped. “We will be talking about this before tonight. It’s too cold to sleep separately..” He inhaled deeply, his nose in her hair. “..I’m waking up each morning hard as a rock..” He shifted his hips, rumbling through the pleasure of the pressure as her vulva and thighs enclosed his erection. He felt her hips shift slightly twerking. “..And starting tonight I’m going to bed naked, because frankly, beautiful, I’m going to start making a mess here. I almost came just now.”

“I’m NOT having sex with you,” she growled.

Releasing his grip on her, he sighed, “While that would be nice, you’re not ready, I know.” Laying on his back and sliding his hands behind his head, he added, “I’m reaching full-on wet dream territory here, and you’re going to get some of my ejaculate on you.” Scratching his whiskered face, he looked her in the eye as she stared at him warily, “Some part of my personality really likes that idea, too. Makes you mine on some level.”

Kosandra’s face blushed as she climbed from under the covers and began to dress in the cold clothes. “I’ll warm up breakfast.”

“I like your hair when it’s mussed like that in the morning,” John called after her exit, smiling. He rubbed his chest in contentment. She hadn’t flinched at his pursuit.

But what neither researcher on ‘What is best for hybrids’ is aware of, intentionally, is the Progrom behind their genetics. Just before his disappearance, Sam Noble discovered what the Ancestors had tried to keep hidden. The story that hybrids were the bastard children of raped pure women was only the end of the story. The beginning was that the first generation of colonists could not survive here, grow and harvest enough food, without a hardy labor force. Remember those humans that were left to perish on the dying homeworld? The Ancestors’ survival depended on genetically producing a new slave force to harvest their food. One that was efficient enough to survive in the conditions here of reduced nutrients. So they created the Progrom. Women were punished for the smallest of crimes, real and imagined, with forced impregnation and birth. The alien DNA? It’s not alien. It’s useful genetics from other Earth species, primarily bat. True to their innate monstrous selfishness, they had their slaves to farm their land. Their own grandchildren, a new generation, discarded as untouchable animals. And they stopped. Some scientists at the time tried to warn them that they had created a generational time bomb, rendering our new world as lifeless as Earth. But they were silenced.


“John, you need a cover story with the farm hands,” Kosandra commented as they ate breakfast. She kept clenching her free hand in her lap.

He watched her closely, “I’m going to be a mess fitting in.”

“Everyone will figure it out in minutes. The trick is to get everyone to mentally classify your ass as..” She held her fingers up in air-quotes, “..THEIR problem.”

He nodded gazing at her forehead as she spoke. “When are you going to claim me as your husband?”

“Today,” she looked away at the tunnel cover and took a deep breath of the non-toxic air it protected them from. “The tat’s got to be old enough that it’s clear we’re established.”

John fought the smile that wanted to slip out as his whole body tensed. Fact was that she had chosen to claim him. Maybe under duress, but hey, he wasn’t exactly getting much choice in the matter either. “Only under one condition.”

“What?” she was surprised and her gazed jerked to his narrowed eyes.

He carefully enunciated, “Only if you desire me too.”

“Ah,” Kosandra inhaled sharply. Heat rose up in her cheeks, and she nervously pressed her knees together.

Keeping eye contact, John got up and circled the little table to kneel next to her chair, “Whatever the future holds, there’s no backsies on our marriage. You’ll have to kill me if you want free.” Carefully, gently putting his hand on her delicate knee, he added, “I’ve never been married, but I do understand trust. I trust you to keep me aware of where you are and what you’re doing no matter what. And I need you to trust me…at first to follow your directions because frankly I’m totally out of my element here…but to trust my judgement in things that deal with pure humans and their systems. And I won’t be a dictator or anything, your experience and thought on what I do is essential, but when push comes to shove with their legal system and media, I know what I’m doing.”

Kosandra was still tongue-tied, “Um.” But she didn’t try to move his hand either, covering it with one of her own instead.

“And I’m going to need you when it comes to politics. You seem to understand what depths the monsters will dive to reach a short term goal.” Kosandra snorted. Encouraged, he concluded, “I can tell you’re not ready to make love, which I really really really want to do…but only when you are into it. And that’s the crux of us being married. I will not handle it well if I’m sleeping next to you, married to you, and have no hope to ever have sex with you.” Then he made himself shut up and wait for her to reply.

She kept her voice low, “I never cheated.”

John nodded encouragingly.

“But you’re right. Being married includes understanding..what we both want.” As she looked up at the ceiling of the cave, seeking, John slipped his other arm around the back of her chair. After a tense minute, she finally said, still looking up at the ceiling as if talking to it, “I am attracted to you, in my body…” and she tapped her head, “…and my brain, I just…” She looked down, gazed in his eyes uncomfortably, then off to the side, “…feel wrong about it. Like dirty…in my soul. I’m used to feeling dirty, but not there.”

John rubbed his face. “Okay, look. I need us to wait on this until you’re about ready.”

“You can’t, John,” Kosandra shook her head, hard, and looked him in the eye, “If your tattoo is too new, you’ll have no chance.” She leaned forward and grasped her thighs.

Frowning, John shook his head in disagreement. Being focused so hard on her face, he missed the small item her hand held as she reached out to him with a soft sigh. Then all was nothingness.

If we don’t complete the process, of ensuring that our future generations are all hybrids, our planet will be unable to continue sustaining us. Already there are projects trying to understand why our water is becoming toxic, why our air is dropping in oxygen, how to increase farming into poorer soils. Our children require supplemental vitamins until they finish growing and women require these supplements to have a healthy baby. These are symptoms of a disease. Pure humans can’t survive here for millennia, like we did on Earth. We desperately need the very people we are brutalizing. The pure human population has not expanded in 3 generations. Despite the devastation and lack of medical care, food, and slums in which we force hybrids to live, they have continued to slowly grow. We need them. And woe be to our grandchildren if we do not make amends with them and finish becoming one people. When they realize their strength and our weakness, if we continue our apartheid, failing to become whole. We will fall. And after so many generations of neglect, our knowledge and skills will be lost too.


It was the pain in his head that brought him back to consciousness. “KOSANDRA!!!” he yelled as he opened his eyes, cringing. So mad that the pain could be ignored, he sprang off of their bed and burst into the cave.

Heat rose to her cheeks as she watched the furious man storm towards her. Her husband. She didn’t say anything expecting that John needed some time to rant.

“THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO MY CHOICE!” he yelled as he charged up to her. When she held up her hand, in warning, he stopped moving but kept yelling. “MY CHOICE!!!” He spun and stomped away before charging back, “YOU OWE ME A MAKE-OUT SESSION EVERY DAY FOR AS LONG AS I WANT! YOU KNEW WHAT I NEEDED AND YOU DID IT ANYWAYS! SAY IT, MY WIFE!” She was deeply blushing and keeping her eyes lowered. He was hard as stone, and only her willing acquiescence was going to satisfy him.

Kosandra lifted her eyes from the pulsing vein in his neck to his sparking eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.

John backed up and sat in the chair at the table. Pointing at the ground in front of him, he growled, “Say, ‘I messed up, husband. To fix this marriage, I agree to kiss you and touch you and let you kiss me and touch me’.” Then he placed his hands on his thighs and waited.

Swallowing, Kosandra took a tentative step towards him. Then another. Then another. Then she was looking down on the top of his head. He remained fixed, looking forward. Extremely mad. He demanded nothing less than everything. He told her what he expected from his wife. Now that she had made herself that person, he was demanding that she fulfill the, the duties. She had done many terrible things, yet he still wanted her. She had shown him her true self, something she’d never shared with Zeke. And he was ready to battle her…for her. She swallowed, then spoke clearly, breaking the soft silence of the plastic rustle of toxic air flowing through the cave’s bypass. “I messed up…husband.” John’s eyes lifted to meet hers, stormy with flashes of light from the comm screen behind her. “To fix this marriage,” she moved forward, then spread her legs to enable standing on either side of his chair, “I agree to kiss you and touch you.” She slowly lowered as John grasped her hips. He kept his gaze fixed on her face, “And let you kiss me and touch me.” She settled onto his lap as she finished. Her breathing had sped up and heat filled her from anticipation.

John kept Kosandra’s eyes locked with his as he guided her down to settle herself astride his lap. Willingly. “Kiss me, wife,” he ordered darkly. He flexed his hands on her hips, letting her know he wasn’t letting go.

Captured by his flinty gaze, Kosandra hesitantly leaned closer. As she tilted her face, her heart pumped wildly and she had to break the spell his eyes held over her. It wasn’t right. None of it was. It wasn’t fair to him, it wasn’t fair to her memory of Zeke, and she couldn’t understand how she couldn’t emotionally get over a wall when she knew that she wanted who was on the other side. John’s hands released her hips, seized the back of her head, and pulled her in. His lips were warm, soft, and hungry.

Kosandra gasped as John’s sudden snatch, but she didn’t push away. She could feel how badly he wanted her pressing between her thighs. His tongue took advantage and slipped between her lips, seeking her own tongue. His taste burst through her mouth. It was raw, tantalizing, a flavor of wild. The heat of her body magnified almost rendering her insensible of anything but his mouth.

Slowly, after a few minutes, he gentled the kiss until finally pausing and rumbling, “Look me in the eye, wife.” Disoriented, Kosandra raised her eyes reluctantly to his hot gaze. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Kosandra shook her head, her eyes wide. Sighing, he continued, “Do you have any pain meds because my head is killing me.”

Smiling despite herself, Kosandra nodded, her eyebrows raised. It was official: John’s adorable.

Despite his headache, John tried to insist on accompanying Kosandra in gathering food. But she refused; his tattoo was too new for much exposure to dirt and sweat. When she dropped her hands during the discussion, John backed off lest she knock him out again.

That night, after their showers and as they readied for bed, John pulled off all of his clothes and crawled under the blankets. He made sure Kosandra got a good look at him as he did it. Kosandra’s cheeks were pink as she slid under the covers herself, with a shirt and panties on. “Take off the shirt, Kosandra,” John ordered.

Kosandra shivered more at the tone of his voice than the cold air. Slipping under the blankets next to him, she tugged off the shirt as his hands unhelpfully caressed her skin…The outside of her thighs, her waist, and then finally slipped between her breasts to snatch her tight, her back to his chest. Her heart rate jumped from his lustful attack and heat blossomed in her womb. Swallowing nervously, she muttered, “You’re going to have to move your arm; it’s worse than sleeping on a bench with a seat division.”

“That’s a really detailed observation.” John slowly withdrew his left arm from under her, caressing the contours of her breast along the way.

Kosandra non-commitally grumbled. John’s naked cock had wedged into the muscles of her derriere slipping her underwear into the crack. The sensation was distracting. Sighing after a few minutes, she turned her head to look at him out the corner of her eye. John had his eyes closed. His new tattoo was covered in numbing, sterile gel and a bandage. She smiled and faced forward. Her head was pillowed on his arm, so he had to notice the slight motion.

“I’m trying to understand how a headache goes with the traditional hybrid wedding night,” he rumbled.

Kosandra snorted. John squeezed her and she enjoyed the sensation.

Falling asleep more from the exhaustion after hours of pain, John was thrilled. He’d gotten Kosandra to laugh for the first time.

Greetings Leader, Hybrids are in mortal danger. Your messenger will answer your questions. The attached article is to be published in the middle of harvesting season. The initial reaction is expected to be a mass murder of hybrids. Find shelter with a secure water supply, harvest sufficient food for a year for your people, limit the number of people aware of these steps being taken.


Her dream was so pleasant. If she turned the right direction, her feet left the ground and she could fly. There was a terrifying background that hovered though. If she turned in the wrong direction then an evil force she created would turn on and slam her into the ground. The good direction was towards Sam. He couldn’t come to her, though. She had to go to him. The bad direction hovered, threatening. And so she flew. Sam reached for her, and as soon as she was close enough, he snatched her out of the air and wrapped himself around her. She closed her eyes content in the embrace. When she opened them, she saw they were on an island. Her ugly acts, suppression through mass murder, was the water surrounding them. “We have to fix this,” Sam sighed. “How?” Kosandra felt ugly, dirty, despairing. She wanted to cry. “Dikes.” The word was such a shock, she emotionally whiplashed into a fog of nothingness. “Dikes let you reclaim the land. I know how, I’ve written it all down in this essay, but you’ll have to do the work. Can you?” “I’ll do what I have to do.” He kissed her on her temple, “Good morning, my wife.”

The kiss was real. She snapped awake with a start. “I need to read whatever that thing is you’ve been writing.”

“Not what I expected to hear, but alright,” John rumbled goodnaturedly.

Page 17

Watching Kosandra drift across the cave like a bird of prey, his bird of prey, John inhaled. “Something just occurred to me.”

He snagged Kosandra’s waist as she reached the screen to the comm. “John,” she grumbled as warmth spread through her.

“Make-out time first, wife,” he rumbled into her ear and pulling her flush to his body. “I get the impression you’re going to make me tense and defensive as soon as you read that.”

The warmth turned to heat and Kosandra shivered as he tugged her back to sit across his lap on the chair. “Likely. We’re very different assholes.” They were roughly the same height, so with her on his lap, he had to tilt his grinning face up to kiss her. As their lips met, she inhaled sharply. John slipped a hand from her waist to the back of her head. He drove his tongue into her mouth and teased her to meet his caresses. His wild smell and taste bloomed through her mind making her light-headed. Sitting sideways, she could feel his erection pressed against her hip.

Her lips were tingling and her head was fuzzed, when John paused his kiss to murmur, “Sleep naked next to me tonight.” Then his hands started moving. One skimmed the side of her breast and another slipped between her thighs. His thumb brushed teasingly close to her vulva.

Kosandra nodded, her eyes sparkling with simple lust. Then John shifted his hand up and directed her head down for another kiss. One deeper and more intense than the first. When his thumb grazed the clothing over her pussy, she melted. Literally her pussy started weeping for more, and she shifted her hands from his shoulders to either side of his face to keep him in place. And she shifted her hips to press closer to his erection.

John groaned, and released her head to cup her breast and teasingly slide his fingers over her clothed nipples. She pulled back from his kiss when he did and moaned up to the ceiling. Presented with her lovely column of neck, John licked the artery from her collar to her jaw. Then he brushed her vulva again with his thumb.

Kosandra looked down at him. Her gaze was open to him, and he paused as he studied her. There were demons, hellfire, and wonder there. Then he grasped her hair to drag her in for another kiss. “I want you, Kosandra. All of you,” he said after another minute of kissing.

When she finally slipped out of his arms, both of them sexually on edge, he smiled expectantly at her back. She wasn’t holding him off any longer. His smile slipped as she read, her back stiffening.

Page 18

Kosandra straightened, looked up at the ceiling of the cave, it’s stunted spikes both familiar and alien, and shook her head. “If your intention is to trigger a genocide, this is perfect.” She dropped her gaze to his unhappily frozen expression. “Assuming anyone pays attention to random blatherings in elite nerd-speak that’s anonymously posted.”

John stared, horrified.

“But it doesn’t matter. The wrong people will see and trump up whatever it takes to stoke the garbage fire.” She sighed.

John stumbled to the chair and collapsed into it. “Oh, my God.”

“There is no god,” Kosandra snapped.

He spoke to the screen displaying his text, “Sometimes, I’m afraid you’re correct.”

“I am correct. You’re a damn idiot savant.” She rubbed her temples, “Is it out there already?”

“No. I should just delete it and start over.” He turned towards the machine, but Kosandra slapped his hands away.

“No. If Sam dug it up, there were always others following him. Saw them. No, it’s got to go out.”

He inhaled sharply, “Shit.”

“It is what it is. There’s one choice here,” Kosandra paused, wrapped her hands around John’s shoulders and began massaging. “Food.”

John grasped her hand and kissed the back of it. “How do we organize a strike?”

“You don’t. You clean up this text to make it readable. I’ll start making some visits to area hybrid towns.” She squeezed his shoulder with her free hand.

His grip on her hand tightened, “I’m coming with you.”

“You can’t. Not only are you weird, in your own sweet way of course, but it’s about to snow and your foot tracks will give our bolt-hole away.”

He nodded in resignation. Then he said, “Yours.”

“What?” She looked down at his uplifted face.

“Your idiot savant.”

Kosandra softly smiled, “Yes. Yes you are.” She briefly kissed him on the lips.

Page 19

Kosandra sensed John’s disturbed state grow more agitated as she set up the remaining food stores to finish curing/drying while she was gone. As she packed the few things she could carry for a long flight, he asked, “When are you leaving and for how long?”

It was a question Zeke had asked many times. Kosandra closed her eyes for a moment, digesting old pain. “At sunrise and for this venture, no longer than a day. I should be back by sunset.”

Her voice was strained as she answered. John wrapped his arms around her waist. “Why sunrise and sunset?” She stiffened, but also put her hands over his, accepting of his claim.

“To blend in with the other flying animals.”

He sniffed her hair. “We can’t stay disappeared, can we?”

Kosandra smiled and turned in his arms, “We’ll be mostly dead.”

“As long as you’re in my arms, I feel alive,” he joked.

Kosandra tilted her face up and kissed him on the lips. A brief pressure, full of desire.

John licked his lips as she pulled back to continue preparing. “Is there anything I can do?”

Pausing, Kosandra said, “Read some equipment manuals?” She pointed at the desk.

“Ok.” John opened a drawer curiously.


Page 20

As bedtime approached, John’s breathing was deeper, and he had a soft erection getting harder. He watched Kosandra closely as he stripped and crawled under the blankets. She hesitated on her underwear.

He didn’t say anything as she looked at him. Just smiled and tapped his tattoo. Awkwardly and blushing, Kosandra tugged off her underpants and climbed under the covers. But not fast enough to hide her response. He briefly caught sight of the sheen of her lubrication. She was aroused.

She lay down with her back to him, but John tugged on her to lay her on her back. “I want to see you seeing me,” he murmured as he petted her soft, warm abdomen. The muscles beneath his fingers shivered, as she turned and looked up at him. Her eyes were wide as they glinted in the scattered light from equipment that surrounded their tent in the cave.

She grasped his wrist as he moved his hand lower, his fingers just grazing her cleft. “We already made out today.”

“So we did,” John’s eyes twinkled as he submitted to her request to stop.

Her eyes wide, she added, “I need my sleep for tomorrow.”

John’s erection hardened at the thought of her out of his reach. He grunted and relaxed his hand, rolling onto his back. “Okay. I’ll just hold you, then.”

Kosandra swallowed, her tense expression relaxing into frown. “I’m rolling over then.” Reluctantly, she presented her back to him. John shifted to press against her back, wrapped an arm around her waist, and slipped a leg between hers spreading her pussy open. She blew out her breath sensing the tickling caress of air over her pussy…where his hand would be right now if she hadn’t stopped him. His erection pressed uncomfortably between her ass cheeks. “You need to stop poking me with your cock, John.”

Shifting his hips slightly, John adjusted his erection [deleted]. Sensing the lubrication there, he rumbled his dissatisfaction, and replied, “Getting poked goes with marriage, love.”

Lightly snorting at his response, Kosandra couldn’t stop herself from squeezing her thighs [deleted]. Her breath caught from the heat of the sensation that licked through her. John, breathing deeper, shifted his hips fractionally, intensifying the burn. Only with brutal control did she stop herself from tilting her hips [deleted]. When he shifted again, she choked warningly, “John…”

John stopped, but he replied, “Only because I want you looking in my face when I penetrate you, I’ll stop. But if you decide to use me to masturbate? or whatever this is, I’m turning you over before you finish.”

Kosandra’s breath caught. She smiled, a real smile that he couldn’t see but only he seemed capable of creating. She squeezed his arm reassuringly. “Okay,” she answered, humor coloring her tone.

Page 21

John floated between sleep and awareness. A naked woman, HIS naked woman was pressed against him. Flesh to glorious flesh. Already aroused, he tightened his arms on her, and a burst of fire shot up his spine. [deleted] He dropped his mouth to lick up her shoulder as he shifted his hips [deleted]. Her breathing deepened. Licking up her neck, he shifted again. She jerked briefly in his arms. He shifted again, but this time she moved her hips [deleted]

“John,” she murmured huskily.

He shifted his fingers forward [deleted]. She jumped in his arms, and grasped his bicep and forearm. He held her tight, each struggle making him tighten his grasp. And he moved his hips [deleted]. “Want in,” he groaned.

“JOHN,” she moaned, then she stiffened, relaxed, stiffened, relaxed.

Her thigh muscles flexing [deleted] wrapped bands of pleasure tight around his brain, which was currently located in his extremely stiff, sensitive [deleted]. He pressed himself [deleted]. As he spasmed, [deleted]. And he held her tight [deleted]. Another spasm shot up his spine, [deleted]. Kissing the back of her neck, he rumbled, “Mine.”

Kosandra blinked hard, her breathing returning to normal. John slowly relaxed his arms, but she wasn’t shifting away, rather melting from pleasure. She was covered not just by his [deleted] and body but also thoroughly emotionally entangled. Well and truly claimed.

Page 22

Clearing her throat, Kosandra pulled free, “I need to get moving.”

“Hang on a moment, love,” John rumbled rolling onto his back and reaching for his shirt above his head. “Wipe off with this.”

As she took it, he snatched her hand and briefly dropped a soft kiss and lick. She sucked in her breath in surprise.

Ten minutes later, she dressed after her shower, distributing most of the weight for her trip at her chest where it would lay under her wings as she flew. “I’m off. Don’t leave any signs outside that you’re here. Good?”

“Be safe,” John’s eyes darkened as he held her hand. When Kosandra nodded, he slipped his hands behind her head.

Kosandra lifted her face to kiss him farewell, but found his throat as his tongue lapped her tattoo. She squeaked. “I’m yours! You’re such a twerp!”

“Your obnoxious twerp,” he crowed, letting her go and smiling.

With a last wave, Kosandra turned toward the opening, spread her half-crippled wings, and launched. John’s smile fell as soon as she was out of sight. “I’ll not be comfortable until you get back, love.”

Heading back to the desk, he pulled out the geological chart and prepared for an intense battle with the comm to understand what he was looking at.

Page 23

Kosandra landed near the small farming community with a bit of a run that was hard on her knees. It was always awkward. The chilling air made her damaged wing ache. As she folded them back up and flipped the coverings of the jacket holes closed, she heard a faint sound near the buildings. Taunting in tone. Glancing over, she saw a small group of hybrid boys making the emotionally grating sounds, the details she couldn’t make out. Definitely her damaged wing.

“What happened, Crippy?” one of them called, “Did you hit the ugly tree really hard?” “Bet her mom was raped, and she hated that she liked it.”

Kosandra could make out their words as she approached them. Ignoring their taunts, she watched them react to her predatory stroll. She scanned them as she smoothly, silently stalked. Most were backing up except one. The others were taking their cues from him. One looked fearful for a moment, then glanced at the leader. He was a challenger. The challenger suddenly picked up a rock, intending to throw it at her. Kosandra sprinted forward, charging, making him slightly scream as he threw it wide in surprise. The leader was getting ready to jump behind another kid when she snagged his wrist and whirled him into a lock, threatening to dislocate his shoulder. “Want your little friend here to get hurt, my pretties?” she inquired with false sweetness.

All of them yelled. Most backed up as a couple started running home. “Let me go!” the leader yelled.

She laughed, “I don’t think so my bitty-bird.” She nodded at a nearby boy hovering in horror, “You. Lead us to bitty-bird’s home, if you please.”

He nodded jerkily and started walking up one of the side streets. The rest of the boys led him at a run. The leader started yelling at her as they walked, “My dad’s going to kill you, Crippy! Hear me?! Dead!” The last bit ended on a squeak as she increased the pressure on his shoulder.

They reached the end of the street, more of an alleyway of hovels, when an intimidatingly large hybrid came roaring out of one of the shacks. “Nalis!” Spotting Kosandra with Nalis under her control, he stormed towards them, “Let him go now, bitch, and I won’t kill you.” Slowly, he pulled out the cleaver hybrids used in the fields for cutting vegetables. “Just cut you because you touched mine.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Kosandra spotted a hybrid security guard. The man was talking in his comm and looking nervously at Nalis’ asshole father.

“Your bitty-bird here said you were going to kill me, asshole,” she taunted. “Is that how you talk to bitty-bird’s mom?” As the father approached, she released Nalis with a shove and a kick. As the father glanced at his son, she cold cocked him.

A gasp fell over the witnesses. And more than a few laughs. Three more security guards showed up. When all was said and done, the mother decided to press charges, and Kosandra was arrested. Nalis looked uncertain whether to be gleeful about that or concerned that his father was going to take the embarrassment out on him.

The ‘cell’ she was put in was pathetic. It had a bench, a pail for the toilet, and a spigot for water. Ignoring all their annoying questions, Kosandra shrugged out of her jacket, which they didn’t search, put up her feet on the bench, and shut her eyes listening to the chatter just beyond.

“What the hell?”

“She’s just ignoring us.”

“Let the Chief deal with her.”

“Big Jeris deserved that.”

“I got caught smiling.”

“Best go get statements from the boys and the neighbors.”

“Till he cools off?”


The conversation drifted to typical small town gossip until a new voice spoke, “She doesn’t look like much till you get closer, does she?”

Kosandra opened her eyes to peer into intelligent green eyes boring into her from the other side of the bars.

“What’s your name?”

“What’s yours?” she asked.

He raised an eyebrow, “Chief Edwin.”

“I call myself Kosandra,” she shrugged.

Studying her for a moment, he tapped his fingers against the bars in thought. “We’ll talk when the rest of the statements come in, won’t we?”

“Yes,” she smiled faintly, “Yes we will.”

Edwin frowned. He turned but glanced back at her, troubled.

When food arrived, Kosandra approached the bars to accept the thin tray. Then she smashed it into the deliverer’s face, while snatching his stick off of his belt. Swinging it into the hinge, she detached the door in two strikes, and stepped out. Edwin stood but raised a hand to prevent the other guards from attacking her. “Leave us,” he ordered.

The guards glanced at Kosandra’s relaxed stance, with one hand in her jacket, and stopped. “Yes, sir,” the 2nd in command replied. Then he ushered the others out.

“Kosandra,” Edwin began backing up and sitting on the edge of his desk where she could keep her eyes on his hands. She heard the quotes around her name as he said it. “Why are you here?”

Keeping him in her peripherals, Kosandra knelt to pick up the mess of her meal on the floor. “I bring bad tidings.”

Edwin raised his eyebrows.

“In 4 months time, some news will get out, the truth behind the hybrid progrom.” She dumped the handfull in the garbage next to his desk. “We will be systematically hunted down and killed.”

“You’re military?” he chewed on his lip.

She shook her head, “No.” Holding out a comm she appropriated from the cave, she added, “We have one hope. Without us, there’s no food. It’ll be the middle of harvest season.”

Edwin opened his hand accepting the old machine. Glancing at it curiously, he wondered, “How can I believe any of this?”

“My contact on the other end of that has all the details you could ever need.”

Edwin quirked his eyebrows. “Why did you beat up Jeris then?”

“Because his kid’s an asshole, and it was the fastest way to find who’s in charge around here.”

A sharp smile slipped across Edwin’s face for a moment, “You sure have a way with kids.”

Shrugging, she returned to the cell and slipped on her jacket, “I’ll keep in touch with the comm. Prepare to evacuate.”

Edwin escorted her to the edge of town past curious onlookers. Then she kept on walking perpendicular from her flight route until the sun’s disk touched the horizon, then she launched & flew back home.

Home to John.

Page 24

John couldn’t focus anymore. He would look at the geology field book right side up, upside down, sideways, at a tilt to look down the paper, and it was no good. “Where are you Kosandra?” he muttered for the dozenth time. And still time crept along. The shadows had long since lengthened to dark invisibility, and the blue cape of twilight covering them was just emphasizing how long she’d been gone. Pacing across the cave and back, he paused thinking he heard a suspicious whoosh of wind. Running to the cave’s entrance, he looked out and up, seeing nothing but a bloody sunset, all various shades of annoying pink. “Dammit, Kosandra, I want you home NOW,” he grumbled. His mind filled with frustrated images. He wanted to snatch her tight in his arms and punish her mouth with angry kisses. Two heartbeats later he pictured hauling her into their tent, taking her down to the mattress, growling, “No more barriers, my wife,” and rubbing her thoroughly till she screamed. Finally then driving himself into her wet heat to secure her to him. Gripping the desk as he slowly sat down with the impossible book again, he decided it was time for a full-on seductive attack. For his sanity, of course.

Page 25

The light was almost gone when Kosandra spotted their cave. It was dark, dead-looking as it should be. “Please be okay,” she whispered to the wind. When she landed, a familiar form stiffly got up from the chair. John. She sighed in relief.

“Ah, the warm shadow of my wife has ghosted upon me!” he declared while shaking off the cold. “Normally we should be in bed right now,” he mock-complained.

His strong arms wrapped around her as much as he could with her wings in the way. “Can’t retract them until they’re warmer,” she murmured into his neck, enjoying his smell.

“And that’s why you need to dump your electronics and go straight in the shower,” he offered, tugging her towards the stall.

Half shoved inside the space, Kosandra sharply inhaled when the burning lukewarm water hit her freezing skin. “You should start getting messages over the comm,” she squeaked.

“So your trip was a success, I gather,” John called through the door. “Are you planning on leaving me again in the near future?” he joked, not-joked.

Damp clothes hitting the floor of the shower stall were followed with her answer, “If this doesn’t work to spread the word and get action, yes.” She threw open the door, beautifully naked. As far as he could tell. The cave was comprised of lighter and darker shapes as twilight faded to full night.

He pulled a blanket out from inside his jacket and wrapped it around her. “Here. Go lay down in the tent. If you promise to stay naked, I’ll handle your wet things for drying overnight.”

He couldn’t see her smile, but he could hear her lips part, a soft snort, and her whispered, “It’s a deal.”

Page 26

When John entered the tent, Kosandra had heated up from cold-but-surviving to fever-shiver. “Get under the blanket with me,” she murmured.

He quickly stripped and climbed in. Her breathing sped up a little as his weight dipped the mattress and the rush of cool air was replaced with his hairy body. His hands slipped around her shoulder and grasped her waist. “Tell me all about your adventure. I never saw Aero when I was working.”

Kosandra shrugged, “It was a basic agri-town.”

“Tell me.” His breath tickled her hair.

Inhaling his clean male scent, remembering how Aero smelled like rot, she replied, “Low buildings, small lives.”

“So what happened when you arrived?” John pressed his nose into her hair inhaling.

“I beat up the local bully.”

John’s breath escaped in a puff, “Which brought the local law enforcement. How did you avoid them?”

She yawned, “I didn’t.”

“Darling, no offense, but aren’t you wanted beyond just me?” John asked, puzzled.

He could hear her lips part on a smile. “Actually, no.”

After a moment of thinking it over he commented, “I just realized how fucking lucky I am.” She was squeezed briefly by his arms.

“Me too,” she whispered. She kissed him, a brief press of her lips.

John rumbled his contentment with the gesture.

“What did you do while I was gone?” her voice was fading as the exhaustion hit.

He briefly kissed her before answering, “I sat down and tried to teach myself how to read geology maps.”

“Yuck. Was there anything useful?” Kosandra murmured while tentatively pressing her lips against his chin.

John’s arms squeezed her tighter in a spasm. “This cave extends for miles, but what I can’t figure out are these black and white circles. They mean something but I can’t figure out what.”

“Strike and dip.” Her voice said the words uncertainly, slurring them slightly.

John paused, listening. “What’s that?”

She shook her head. Or rolled her face across his shoulder, either which. “I’m having a hard time keeping my eyes open.”

“Sleep.” John kissed the top of her head. “Probably going to ravage you in the morning,” he whispered on an exhale.

“You too,” she muttered. A few breaths later, she was out.

branch cold freezing frost

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Experimenting with Smashwords!

Howdy my dear readers!
So this whole publishing thing has been a long experiment, and after some tests here and there decided to try Smashwords. The 20% sample that’s been enabled encompasses much of Book 1 in “18 Degrees and Counting: Diamond Anvil”. Other books will follow in time *slowly* as I get more comfortable with this interface. Hopefully hard/soft copies will be available again next year! Thank you for following me!


Library in a Forest

At UCLA, there’s a garden in the area that preserves the natural topography from when it was founded. One of the roads next to the music library was actually a bridge over the ravine if you continue to follow it uphill (all filled in now). If you go there when the Santa Ana winds blow on a Sunday morning, it’s the only place I’ve found that can overcome the sound of cars. Bring your breakfast, take a book, and relax…

Speaking of which I’m really missing rain, so here are some surround-sounds to bliss-out to.

tree with brunch and green leaves during sunset

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Old Flu Advice Publication

FYI, as pointed out in Adam Ruins Everything, the placebo effect is a very real thing. So here’s my offering of information with unproven medical studies from a decade ago.

Healthnotes Newsletter Feature Story


re:source for better

October 2000


Feature Story
Conquer Your Cold; Flatten Your

Cold Comfort and Flu Fighters

Breaking News
Ginger for Nausea

Fast Facts

How Hale Are You?

Herbal Remedies
Echinacea: The Herbal Defender

Nutritional Supplements
Zinc: The Zapper

Ask Dr. Murray
Immune Platoon


Speed Up Your Recovery With
Select Nutrients and Herbs

Conquer Your Cold; Flatten Your Flu

The common cold certainly lives up to its
name—the average adult catches an all-too-common two to four colds a year, and
kids fare even worse. Don’t resign yourself to join the legions of sniffling,
sneezing cold recipients. There are many ways to bolster your body’s defenses
and stop a cold or flu in its tracks. And if you do catch a cold or come down
with the flu, you don’t have to throw in the towel. There are plenty of
natural ways to shorten your suffering.

Vitamin C Victorious
Vitamin C has been touted as a cold remedy for decades, and with good reason.
Just consider this: when a group of 21 placebo-controlled studies were reviewed,
the researchers found that taking 1–8 grams of vitamin C slashed the length of
illness and the severity of cold symptoms by almost 25%.1 And that’s not all;
the news is even better for kids. Another review study found that vitamin C
supplements led to even greater benefits for children’s colds than for
grown-ups.2 This study also shed some light on how much vitamin C is best in the
battle against cold germs. Taking 2 grams or more every day was superior to just
1 gram daily, in terms of reducing the duration of cold symptoms.

Vitamin C doesn’t just put the kibosh on cold
germs, it also puts the flu virus on the run. Dockworkers given 100 mg of
vitamin C each day for ten months had the flu 28% less often than did their
coworkers not taking vitamin C. Of those who did develop the flu, the average
duration of illness was shortened by 10% for the vitamin C-takers.3

Other studies have shown that taking vitamin C in high
amounts (2 grams every hour for 12 hours) can lead to rapid improvement of
influenza infections.4 But such high amounts should only be used
under medical supervision.

Zinc Zaps Those Volatile Viruses
of the newer weapons in the fight against colds is zinc (in lozenge form). It
has been known for quite some time that zinc has a role in immune function. For
example, in test tube studies, zinc interferes with the ability of viruses to
reproduce themselves and wreaks havoc on their ability to enter cells.5 And
viruses that can’t gain a foothold in your body aren’t going to result in
illness. But the research with zinc is not limited to test tubes in a
laboratory. Studies with real people suffering from real colds have shown that
sucking on lozenges of zinc actually helps squash colds.6

When researchers lumped together the results of
six major zinc lozenge studies, they found that folks using “real” zinc
lozenges—compared to those unknowingly sucking on fake lozenges—had a 50%
decreased risk of still having symptoms after one week.7

Unfortunately this analysis didn’t reach
statistical significance—the gold standard of scientific scrutiny. However,
some researchers have an explanation of why zinc lozenges didn’t make the
grade in all of the studies reviewed.8 It seems likely that some of the studies
used lozenges that inadvertently contained substances that interfered with the
action of the zinc. Other studies might have used too little zinc.

Most successful studies have used zinc lozenges
in the form of zinc gluconate or zinc gluconate-glycine. Each lozenge should
provide 15–25 mg of zinc. Another tip: avoid lozenges that contain citric acid
or tartaric acid. These substances are also suspected culprits in blocking the
ability of zinc to annihilate the cold bug.9 10

Keep in mind that zinc lozenges are not to be
taken long term, but rather only at the onset of a cold and stopped when
symptoms have disappeared. The best effect is obtained when lozenges are used at
the first sign of a cold; up to ten lozenges per day can be taken for several
days during a cold.

Echinacea Tames the Common Cold

The herb echinacea is another sworn enemy of winter germs.
Echinacea extracts have proven their mettle in double-blind studies showing a
shorter duration of cold symptoms.11 12 Other research has
found that fresh pressed juice of the flowers of echinacea (E. purpurea)
preserved with alcohol and tinctures of echinacea root (E. pallida) reduce
symptoms of the common cold.13 In addition, echinacea root (E. angustifolia)
tinctures in combination with wild indigo, boneset, and homeopathic arnica
reduce symptoms of the common cold.

To treat a cold, the minimum effective amount of
echinacea tincture or juice is 3 ml three times per day; however, a bit more
(3–5 ml every two hours) is generally better and is safe, even for children.
Encapsulated products may also be effective, according to a double-blind study
involving E. pallida.14 Generally, 300–600 mg capsules three times per day
area used.

In terms of prevention, however, echinacea’s
track record is not as good. It seems that echinacea is great for easing the
symptoms and shortening the length of illness, but not for preventing the
infection altogether.15 16 Therefore, it is currently recommended to limit use
of echinacea to the onset of a cold and to use it only for 10–14 days.

Double-blind studies in Germany have also shown
that infections associated with flu-like symptoms clear more rapidly when
individuals take echinacea.17

Elderberry: Another Soldier in the Virus War

Elderberries are best known as a tasty ingredient in wine and
pies, but they also have their pace in a winter first aid kit. A small,
double-blind trial studied the effect of the berries of the black elderberry on
influenza in a group of people who had come down with the flu.18 Individuals
receiving the elderberry extract (four tablespoons per day for adults, two
tablespoons per day for children) recovered more quickly than did those
receiving a placebo.

Elderberry might also have some benefit for the
common cold, since it has general antiviral activity, but this has not yet been
put to the test.

Hopefully the natural remedies discussed in this
article will aid recovery if you or a loved one comes down with a cold or the
flu this winter; but don’t forget the basics. Adequate rest, plenty of fluids,
and a healthful diet are the cornerstones for treating wintertime infections.
And don’t hesitate to visit your healthcare professional if your symptoms are
severe or persistent.

1. Hemilä H. Does vitamin C alleviate the symptoms of the common cold?—A review
of current evidence. Scand J Infect Dis 1994;26:1–6.
2. Hemilä H. Vitamin C supplementation and common cold symptoms: factors
affecting the magnitude of the benefit. Med Hypotheses 1999;52:171–8.
3. Renker K, Wegner S. Vitamin C—Prophylaxe in der Volkswertf Stralsund.
Deutsche Gesundheitswesen 1954;9:702–6.
4. Klenner FR. The treatment of poliomyelitis and other virus diseases with
vitamin C. South Med Surg 1949;111:210–4.
5. Macknin ML. Zinc lozenges for the common cold. Cleveland Clin J Med
1999;66:27–32 [review].
6. Al-Nakib W, Higgins PG, Barrow I, et al. Prophylaxis and treatment of
rhinovirus colds with zinc gluconate lozenges. J Antimicrobial Chemotherapy
7. Jackson JL, Peterson C, Lesho E. A meta-analysis of zinc salts lozenges and
the common cold. Arch Intern Med 1997;157:2373–6.
8. Macknin ML. Zinc lozenges for the common cold. Cleveland Clin J Med
1999;66:27–32 [review].
9. Eby G. Where’s the bias? Ann Intern Med 1998;128:75 [letter].
10. Garland ML, Hagmeyer KO. The role of zinc lozenges in treatment of the
common cold. Ann Pharmacother 1998;32:63–9 [review].
11. Brown D. Echinacea root fails to prevent upper respiratory tract infections.
Healthntoes Rev Compl Integr Med 1999;6:6–7 [review].
12. Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinagard treatment shortens the
course of the common cold: A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.
Eur J Clin Res 1997;9:261–8.
13. Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, et al. Immunomodulation with echinacea—a
systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine 1994;1:245–54
14. Dorn M, et al. Placebo-controlled, double-blind study of Echinacea pallidae
radix in upper respiratory tract infections. Compl Ther Med 1997;5:40–2.
15. Melchart D, Wlather E, Linde K, et al. Echinacea root extracts for the
prevention of upper respiratory tract infections. Arch Fam Med 1998;7:541–5.
16. Brikenborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH. Echinaforce and other Echinacea fresh
plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold: A randomized,
placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Phytomedicine 1999;6:1–5.
17. Braunig B, Dorn M, Limburg E, et al. Echinacea purpurea radix for
strengthening the immune response in flu-like infections. Z Phytother
1992;13:7–13 [in German].
18. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of
influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract
(Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern
Complement Med

Newsletter, ©2000 Healthnotes, Inc., 1505 SE Gidoen, #200, Portland, OR 97202, info@healthnotes.com,

For educational
purposes only. Consult your physician for any health problems.


The Family Bathroom (origin)

Part 3 of 3

10 Months Earlier

Mindy was staring at the signal from a distant radio tower, when it suddenly wiggled wildly then returned to normal. Huh? She scratched her head looking at the oscilloscope when the wind suddenly picked up, with a lot of dirt. Squealing and trying to protect her equipment, she had barely grabbed a sheet of plastic when the wind suddenly stopped.

Mindy stopped.

She looked over her shoulder at where the wind had come from worried. Swallowing hard, she decided to follow her instincts which were hollering, RUN!!! Snagging her radio, she started jogging. Getting her breathing and strides up to her usual rhythm, she flipped on the radio and turned the scanner to the weather frequency.


As the robotic voice droned on with the list of the districts, she briefly shook her head as she ran. Paetyrik was over 10 km from her location. And I still have no fucking clue as to what the emergency is! As the list of evacuation areas finally ran out, she crested a hill and looked over her shoulder. The sky was blackened with orange flashes and lightning licking through it. Oh, my God.

She picked up her pace thinking, There was a river, if I can get into the river, that…oh but what if there’s a mud slide going through it. Fuck fuck fuck… It was during her litany, in time with her rapid footfalls that the idiot radio weather robot from hell finally coughed up the information she needed.


Oh, my God. She couldn’t run any faster. Caves? Did I see caves? Oh, my God. Hitting the emergency button on her radio, she called blindly, “Mayday. Mayday. 10 km east of Paetyrik. I’m on Medieval Forest Road on foot.” She paused panting to keep up her pace and suck in lungfuls of air. Air that was beginning to smell tainted with combustion gasses. “Mayday. Mayday. Advise of shelter.” She crested the next hill and looked over her shoulder. The black sky was above her head. Fire was waving from the tallest trees. She couldn’t run any faster.

She was about to raise her radio for another emergency call when a levicopter rose over the next line of hills in front of her. Her radio announced, “Mayday, is that you? Black pants and yellow shirt?”

I love you, God. She raised the radio to her lips, “Yes, yes.” She panted, “I’ve got another 3 km left in me. Please tell me there’s some shelter near.” As she spoke, the levicopter swooped around until it was behind her. They can’t land. There’s no time.

“Um. Yes. Keep running straight.”

Her lungs working like bellows and her legs pumping furiously, she was about to ask for more directions when she heard the levicopter directly behind her. That’s really really close. Glancing behind her, she gasped and focused on her footing.

The rescue arm was out and its basket was down. One of the men in the crew was strapped to the basket, and he was flying at her half a meter above the ground. At the last minute, he used his feet to tilt the basket until the forward edge almost touched the ground. Opening his arms, he grabbed her as she slammed into his body and they both slammed into the basket floor. Her head hit something rock hard in the catch, later she would learn it was how she broke Scot’s jaw, and she passed out from the concussion. The basket swung on its cable high and wide from the levicopter both from the impact and the pilot’s sudden acceleration away from the oncoming firestorm.

Image credits:

The Family Bathroom (cont)

Part 2 of 3

An hour later, Mindy announced, “Pull over, I need to go bathroom.”

“Rest stop in 5 minutes,” he murmured.

“Fine.” After a minute, she finally summarized to her reflection in the window, “I don’t know what I’m doing here, you know ‘us’, anymore.” She missed Scot’s hands spasm on the steering.

The rest station was mostly empty when they arrived. Climbing out of the vehicle, Mindy followed Scot towards the entrance, but when he held the door open for her, she stepped to the side at the next door over and let herself in instead. Scot clenched his jaw.

Weaving unsteadily towards the bathrooms, she stopped and groaned. It was closed for cleaning. Right next to it was the ‘Family Bathroom’ for parents to change diapers. Muttering, “Whatever, my life is shit anyways,” she entered. But as she shut the door, it wouldn’t close. A hand was in the way. And then an arm and a shoulder, and a large, impossible man. This is different. “In or out,” she grumbled at him. He finished stepping in and then turned the lock on the door.

Ignoring him and thankful that the space had been cleaned recently, she settled herself on the toilet. Scot went to the sink and dampened some soapy wipes that were available. He stepped back towards the door to let her wash her hands, but when she turned around to face the door…and him…he hit the lights. “Scot?” she squeaked.

“Shhh,” he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her head, while turning and backing her up into the surface of the door.

She shivered as her back pressed against the locked door and one of his hands wrapped around the back of her head, holding her in place as his lips found hers in a soft caress. When his lips moved to her jaw, she murmured, “I can’t read your face like this.” What little he does express.

His mouth nipped her neck where it curved into her collar. “Feel,” he mumbled into her skin. His hands, wrapped around her back, petted her.

“I never stopped feeling, damn you,” she grumbled.

A puff of amusement warmed the skin on her shoulder through her shirt. One of his hands snagged the bottom edge of her shirt and freed it from her pants’ waistband.

Warming up bodily, despite her mental wishes, Mindy grasped his shoulders for balance. The darkness was dizzy and disorienting in her inebriated state. As his hands moved across the skin of her back, her waist, and then slid upward, she reveled again in the strong musculature she touched that delivered such gentleness. Then the flexing beneath her fingers briefly intensified as her bra was unclasped. She inhaled sharply when his hands lifted her shirt and bra and his wet tongue lapped the underside of her breast. “Why…” she began asking softly. Then she shuddered as her nipple was licked.

[Here’s where the paywall usually goes to keep out anyone under 18. Going to try something a little different this time. -BZ]

As Scot laved and nipped with his lips on [redacted] his hands dropped to her waistband again, this time tugging the material down with her panties. Through a thin soapy wipe, he gently touched her [redacted]

As her internal fire caught, [redacted] Mindy licked her lips before letting her breath ease out in a sigh of pleasure. “Why are you doing this?” she finally asked. She didn’t expect an answer.

“Mine,” he roughly declared. His fingers [redacted]

She mentally wasn’t sure that was true anymore, but nothing came out except a choked squeak as his fingers [redacted] Moving back from her, for just a moment, she found him tugging her away from the door and turning her to face the changing table. Scot palmed her back with just enough pressure to urge her to bend over.

Then he knelt behind her. “Here?” she queried softly, wondering, A public toilet? [redacted] Panting, she pushed back on the urge, focusing on Scot instead. “Not,” she licked her lips and fought making any sound that could give away what they were doing. “Not that I’m complaining, but,” she fought another urge to release, “but,” she couldn’t finish the thought. [redacted]

Buzzed with a combination of hyperventilation and alcohol, she was vibrating with desire for Scot’s promised followup. [redacted], she trembled. As his silence drew out, she was relieved that he didn’t called her ‘My Mayday-Mindy’ again. The sour thought, of a reference that never ceased to trigger her PTSD, lowered her passion enough to think. “Stop moving,” she ordered.

Scot grunted, a remarkable sound from him, but he stopped. [redacted]

Fighting the rising heat as his hands moved, she clearly enunciated, “Agree to go with me to marriage therapy or let me go.”

Scot settled his weight against her back and bit her shoulder. “Anything,” he breathed, [redacted]

Flushed, amazed that he’d agreed, she shivered uncontrollably as [redacted] His lips on her shoulder shifted and he nuzzled her back. “Mindy-mine,” he moaned.

[redacted] Scot was always mindful of his strength, and their spontaneous reunion was no different. [redacted]


[redacted] Scot exerted his strength in a way he’d never attempted since they started dating. He locked his arm down on her hips keeping her pinned [redacted], she shared her surprise, “You didn’t pull out.”

Bent over her, kissing her back, he murmured, “No.”

She sighed, partially with contentment from being in Scot’s arms again but also in resignation, I hate the insemblockers. She’d had an accident one other time, and it had made her sick to her stomach. “We should get moving,” she stated the obvious.

Scot gave her one last kiss on her spine, then he straightened, [redacted] Then he pulled up her panties and pants and his own, snagging his arm around her waist to keep her close each time she moved to shift away from him. Then he hit the lights.

Mindy blinked owlishly as she looked over her shoulder to really look at Scot, how she hadn’t looked at him in weeks. He looks, well, pretty crazed. Satisfaction and happiness with their moment was in his eyes, but there also was grim determination, upset, and…panic. He promised. Just need him to try to work on our relationship. She offered him a shy smile. He responded with a kiss.

As Mindy stepped out, she glanced around the empty area. Insemblockers were available in a dispenser in the main bathroom. Scot followed her as she headed for one; she didn’t think anything of it until his hand covered the payment slot. Surprised, she looked up at him for an explanation.


She blinked at the unexpected response. Looking back at the dispenser, she registered exactly what-it-meant. Scot wasn’t moving his hand, but she knew he would if she insisted. She looked back up at him. The wild look was still in his eyes. He’s trying. She hesitated. “Okay,” she murmured to herself. Then she refocused on his eyes. “Okay.” She turned, and headed for the exit. When he held the door open for her, she went through it and snagged his hand to tug him after her.

“For future reference, ‘Family Bathroom’ doesn’t mean that’s where you start them,” she playfully grumbled in their vehicle as he settled next to her.

Scot snorted, snagging her hand and pressing his lips hard against her skin. “Soulmate,” he declared into her flesh.

Image credits:

The Family Bathroom

Part 1 of 3

Friday night Mindy struggled to stay awake on the tube ride home. She was so tired. Working late, only after everyone else had left, she finally finished her tasks. Human Resources had called to schedule a meeting for the upcoming Monday. They wanted to address her supervisor’s concerns…not about HER productivity but rather about how her constantly talking to everyone else in the office was affecting THEIR productivity. As the message that she was about to have jammed into her brain hovered excruciatingly on the conclusion of the weekend, she rubbed her chest and gazed morosely through the window at the cement walls flashing by beyond the window. Her feet were sluggish as she got off the tube and walked home.

With the air of defeat, she entered the door to her apartment. It was dark, but she didn’t turn on the light. It suited her mood. And she really didn’t want to face Scot. Dropping her backpack and jacket at the door, she headed to get ready for bed. What’s that? She paused to look at her pillow. A flower and paper lay on it. She frowned. Don’t get your hopes up. She picked up the paper and went to the bathroom.

She sighed, defeated. There was no note on the paper. It was just a pamphlet. For some lousy remote bungalow. Why does he do this? When she was done with her shower, she put the pamphlet back on the pillow and headed for the couch, leaving the sleeper on the bed undisturbed. Her thoughts were dark, darker than despair.

The silence that permeated her 8 months of married life greeted her in the morning. She moved through it like a freshwater fish in a salty pond. The sounds of Scot moving silently broke the white noise of the various machines in the space. She dressed and cooked and cleaned as she had every Saturday for 8 months. She couldn’t look him in the eye anymore. It was as he took over pouring her another cup of tea that she furrowed her brow. “Thanks,” she finally said.

He sat next to her on the couch. She didn’t look at him as she scanned the bills. I can’t lose this job.

“Let’s go on a road trip,” he rumbled.

She used to love his voice. He couldn’t talk when they first met; he had a broken jaw. But then as he recovered, he would ask her questions. She loved telling him stories. He would snort and smile at all her silliest parts. His stories were always brief, but he’d TALK. “No,” she answered, “You go ahead.” Last person she wanted to be stuck with in the middle of nowhere was the man who was breaking her heart. He got up and left to the bedroom, shutting the door. She inhaled a deep breath, finished the task, and then snagged a bottle of wine from the pantry. Running low in there. It became her weekend habit around 6 months into their marriage when she realized she’d doomed herself to a consistent and insidious form of ostracization. Snagging an opener and her sketch tablet, she stepped outside, the neighborhood lush, to sit next to entrance to the apartment, greet her neighbors, chat, and sketch.

A few hours later, she was tapping the last of the wine into her glass, somewhat missing it, when she frowned. The why she missed it involved her wrist being grasped by a large male hand sporting a familiar marriage ring. The realization came around the time another hand from same male, grasped her upper arm to leverage her out of her seat. “Scot, what?” she slurred when his arms shifted, swinging her up. She clung to her sketch pad as she was bodily transported to a small-occupancy-vehicle. When the door shut, she blearily tracked her endlessly silent husband as he circled it and climbed in on the other side to settle next to her. “Am I hallucinating?” she asked while reaching over to pinch the miserable man next to her. A brief intake of breath from the pain, the snatching of her fingers, and his lips on their tips was the sole response she got. Groaning, she pulled her hand away.

Staring out the window as they moved, she thought back over the past several months. She’d tried being playful to get him to talk to her. She’d talked about how his silence hurt her. She’d tried to give him a dose of his own medicine, which was when she started drinking. She yelled at him. And then she cried. A few minutes at a time, but occurring almost every few hours, she cried. Sometimes it was sobs, other times just tears, and then it all just went inward. Her heart ached. She was alone. The man she loved didn’t care for her enough to share his soul, too.

After a while, in complete silence except for the road, she sighed. “Where’s the wine for this shindig, sweetcheeks?” If she downed another 2 glasses, the pain would shut down. Rolling his eyes, Scot reached behind her seat and handed her a bottle. A bottle of water. “Where’s the fish?” she snarked at him. He smiled back at her with that extra curl of amusement. Opening it and drinking, she sighed again and stared back out the window.

Scot’s smile sank, and he clenched his jaw.

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