Besh eyed the inhabitation before him, his body tight and ready to spring into action at any moment. He felt his muscles ripple and stretch, unease rolling through him. He couldn’t appear too aggressive as he and his men approached. This was a scouting mission, not an attack. Under the heavy battle armor he wore, he felt sweat trickling down his clenched abdomen, his stomach taut with tension.
He and his group of warriors marched ahead toward a small village, an anxious feeling riding his nerves. The heat on this planet didn’t help, either. It was unbearable, unlike anything they had ever encountered on any other inhabited world. But this mission was the last sector he and his men were charged with scouting. Besh looked forward to finishing the assignment he and his men had been on for nearly a year so he could get back to Dsh’Attar for a much-needed rest.
Before any thoughts of a respite could be considered, he needed to find water and sustenance for his men. They had long ago gone through the water supply in their packs because of the sweltering heat, and they were overdue to be back aboard ship. If the warriors marched any longer in the glaring sun that beat down on this world, they would all eventually pass out from dehydration.
The extreme heat aside, this new world added to the reaches of their territory and was of critical importance. Earth was in peril, and had they not stepped in when they did, the world would have fallen into the hands of a dangerous enemy. The current residents didn’t necessarily understand the danger they were in, and Besh hoped they never did.
Under the current Emperor’s rule, the Aegarian Empire now totaled one hundred fifty-seven planets in six different galaxies. They had spent months incorporating this world into the Empire, and it was all nearing completion. The Earthlings were not quick to trust, which had made integrating them into the realm just that much more difficult, though Besh and the rest of the Empire fully understood and expected to work to earn their trust. He himself would not have laid down his arms and invited another race of beings to come in and take over, no matter their claims it was for his own good.
Unfortunately, though, the lack of confidence bred small rebel groups and his warriors sought them out, in hopes of squelching any uprisings and preventing needless injury to either side. The rise in terrorist attacks in the cities had escalated, and unfortunately, most of the casualties were humans. They could not sit idly by and allow them to destroy one another, regardless if it were accidental or not. A peaceful solution could always be found, but sometimes a show of force had to be used in order to keep the peace.
The troops had been in this sector of the planet for over a month, scouring the small towns and villages, routing out any possible insurgents, and making sure to post patrols at various points around the planet.
There was something else which lured him here. Besh was searching for something indescribable, but whatever it was most definitely drove him here. He felt it down to the tips of his toes; something besides finishing his mission was drawing him to this place. His whole body held a tension he’d never felt before, not even on some of the most perilous missions he’d been on in his years with his army.
As they broached the town limits, the pedestrians stopped and stared at the band of soldiers who wandered into their quiet vista. Mothers grabbed toddlers, pulling them behind them, acting as shields. Some raced to windows, noses pressed against them, looking at the spectacle walking down their main street, while others dove into doorways, hoping to avoid attention altogether.
It was like this in every human town they arrived in. Fear and curiosity warred in these people, yet they had such a strong sense of courage. Even once they had submitted to alien rule, they stubbornly resisted in small ways, seemingly not afraid of angering their new sovereigns at all. Besh admired the stubborn fire in these people, as it would be nice to have more equals in the realm versus mindless bodies which followed, as was the case in so many of the merged worlds they had absorbed.
As they walked down the thoroughfare, a sign grabbed his attention. His English was the strongest of the Earth languages. He had studied for the previous five years, and he realized from the sign it was a small restaurant. Besh sighed in relief; finally, he could get sustenance for his troops and a brief respite from the heat.
As the men walked through the front door and into the dining room, the collective gasp from the patrons was audible. Everyone inside stopped eating, lifting their eyes to gaze at the heavily armed men. An eerie silence settled all around the room, a tangible thing, as all paused in whatever act they had been about to complete to stare in wide-eyed wonder and fear.
The Aegarian soldiers remained in full gear at all times when around humans. They wore it for protection, but also to hide a tremulous truth the human population was not ready to have revealed. They would see faces that resembled their own. The huge warriors, garbed in dark encased metal, were surely intimidating, but the army also used fear at times to its advantage, especially in crowd control, so no soldier removed his gear in sight of the human population.
Besh moved to the front of the room and demanded everyone but the owner leave immediately. The customers and staff quickly exited, fleeing the unknown, turning to look over their shoulders as they escaped. Besh then turned to the woman who remained in the doorframe that obviously exited to the kitchens. She was tall for an Earth female, and he could sense she was holding herself up using the support of the doorframe, trying to not show her fear. She was given away by the slight tremor he witnessed in her knees.
As he approached her, he caught a scent of something which stirred his blood and made his heart beat loudly in his ears. He had never smelled anything like it before; it was not unpleasant, nor unwelcome, but it was affecting him in a way he could not understand. He stopped short of the woman as the smell caused him to become weak-kneed himself. Placing a hand on the wall, he tried to stay upright as the world swirled before his eyes.
“Bring … my men … food and water … now.” He struggled to bark at the woman before him, being short not out of rudeness but out of uncertainty of what was drugging his mind and body. The last thing he saw before his vision began to waver was her wide, brown-eyed look before she shot back through the door. He turned to his second in command, Dar Jin, to ask if he also noted the same sensation. He gripped Dar by the upper arm and dragged the man to a corner and spoke in hushed tones to hide his sudden weakness from his men. He pulled off his helmet and nodded at Dar to do the same.
“Do you smell that?”
Dar sniffed at the air around them twice and turned to face his commander. “Smell what, sir?”
“That smell … that sweet, sweet smell. It’s driving me insane. I feel like I’m drugged … my heart is rushing, and my body feels weak, yet I feel excited all at the same time, like every cell in my body is on fire.” Besh paused, shaking his head and wondering if he was just suffering from the excessive heat. “It’s starting to subside now, but a moment ago I felt like I could fall to my knees.”
“Ah, sir … I don’t smell or sense anything out of the ordinary. I can’t give you any explanation for what you sense, but it almost sounds like….” Dar’s eyes had opened wide as he paused, as if he were unwilling to go on.
“Like what, Dar?” Besh felt Dar’s hesitation in answering him.
“It sounds like … no, it couldn’t be. “
“Stop playing games with me and just spit it out.”
“Sir, it sounds like Daya N’goul.”
“Dar, it can’t be. There is no Aegarian woman here, so how could it be Daya N’goul?”
A faraway look clouded Dar’s eyes for a brief moment before he appeared to shrug off whatever had preoccupied him. He smiled. “I agree there is no way it could be, which is why I was hesitant to say it. In the meantime, I will check with the other men to see if anyone else is feeling any similar conditions. It could simply be heat exhaustion. If not, then I have no other answer for you. Should we head out, just in case it is something dangerous?”
“No, the men are tired from scouting in this heat. They need time to rest before we head out. And they need food and water. If you find anyone else who is feeling odd, send them directly to me.”
Besh watched as Dar replaced his helmet and walked toward the group of men seated around the small abandoned tables which filled the front of the café before he moved toward the lavatory. He entered the small room and used the sink to wash his head, face and hands. Looking into the mirror hung over the sink, he rested his hands on the counter of the sink.
Am I going mad? Is it the heat? Do these humans have a biological weapon we did not find in our research of the planet? Whatever it is, get a hold of yourself for the sake of your men.
Another splash of water to the face and Besh replaced his helmet and walked back into the large main space of the café.
When he returned, the woman was back to serve the men cold water, lemonade and sandwiches. Besh noticed some of the men had started to unlatch their helmets so they could dig in before the woman had left, endangering their upper hand, the fear these people had of them in full gear. If they saw the faces underneath, the fear might subside.
“Halt! Do not take off your gear!” As he rushed toward the tables, the scent hit him again and almost overpowered him. He pulled for all his strength, hoping he could make it across the room without falling, and grabbed the woman by the arm to escort her back to the kitchens so his men could eat unhindered. As soon as he closed his gloved hand around her upper arm, his cock became painfully erect.
Damn … there was no way this human female could do this … no way possible this was Daya N’goul. But only finding his mate could make his body react in this way, and it couldn’t be explained away now by heat exhaustion. The heat was not giving him an erection.
He needed time for his brain to function, which wasn’t easy with all the blood draining to his lower half. He needed to get away from her. Shoving her through the door to the kitchen, he spat, “I will call for you when we are done. Stay in here until that point. Don’t come out.”
Her chocolate brown eyes opened even wider at his tone, and tears began to collect there. The last thing he needed right now was a weeping woman, especially when he was contemplating what he was contemplating.
Stalking from the swinging door which was the only thing between him and this woman, he nodded to Dar to close the heavy curtains gathered at each side of the window. Once they were hidden, he allowed his men to take off the helmets and enjoy their respite. The sighs of pleasure the men let out after freeing their heads from the hot gear echoed through the room as Besh grabbed Dar and pulled him to the lavatory.
“Did anyone else experience that?”
“No, sir, I don’t even know what that you are talking about was. I’ve checked with the men, and no one else has smelled the odor or felt drugged. Should we head back to camp to let a wi’ mia check you over for heat exhaustion?”
“Yes, we should head back.” He paused, shaking his head, unable to believe what he was about to say. “I think there is a possibility it is Daya N’goul. Have two of the men subdue the woman in the kitchen, drug her so she will not resist and bring her back to the ship. Let’s try not to make a scene in this town by having a screaming woman on our hands. I don’t want to create panic in the people here for abducting one of their own. But if we don’t take her, I may not find her again so easily.”
“Sir? I know I said it sounded like Daya N’goul … but…?”
“But? What?” Besh turned and glared at his second, not being in the mood to have his orders second-guessed.
“Sir? She is human. A human can’t be the cause. It must be the heat. Are you sure you want to do this and give these Earthlings a reason to fight us? She may become the martyr they need, a rallying cause to join together and rebel against us. This female could be the beginning of the end.” Dar looked beseechingly into the eyes of his Captain.
“Until I get back to camp I don’t know what to think. If she is drugged and taken in secrecy, no one will know but our warriors. The townspeople will have only rumor and hearsay. They can’t have a martyr if they don’t know for certain what happened to the woman.”
“But, sir … if she is gone, they will know it was us. You’re only giving them the opening they need.”
Besh stepped close to his second in command. “I want her with us when we return. If it is heat, we release her and nothing is amiss. She will not be mistreated in our care, so make sure the men take great strides in being gentle with her. Do I make myself clear?”
“Sir … I know it is not my place … but … what if it isn’t the heat? What if it truly is Daya N’goul? What will you do with her then? You can’t Join with anyone but an Aegarian woman, so what would be the point? You know of the factions in the Empire that are already anti-human. This would be the perfect opportunity for them to exploit their propaganda.”
“Dar, be glad you were my brother’s best friend. If it weren’t for that, I would have your head for questioning my commands.” Besh softened a little at the quick remembrance of the pain of losing his brother. “I will have to decide what becomes of her if it is Daya N’goul. And the decision is none of your concern. I am fully aware of the anti-human factions, as it seems your father wants to lead the pack.”
Dar blushed lightly, the embarrassment his father caused him evident on his face. “Of course, sir. I meant no offense. I just wanted to make sure you had thought this through, especially if you aren’t yourself at the moment.”
“I know you meant no harm. Which is why you are still standing before me, but do as I wish. Subdue her, wrap her in linens, and have a man carry her over his shoulder back to the meeting point. I will decide what happens after.”