“Please allow me to introduce myself,” the aged Ventuvian three seats to my left said, glancing around the table. “I am Sawney, the supreme judge of the Legion of Guardians. Let the record reflect we are here today on the space station Ruthanna to resolve the ongoing dispute between the Zaxxendans and the people of Earth.”
“Dispute? They have nearly destroyed our entire planet. Dispute is hardly the term I would use.” The words left my mouth before I could stop them.
“Evie!” My father Jason, the high sophisticate of Earth, grabbed my arm—much tighter than necessary—and scowled at me, his dark eyes flashing a warning. “Mind yourself.”
The familiar tone reminded me, despite my hopes to the contrary, that he saw me as nothing more than a nuisance, at best.
“Please forgive my daughter,” he said, his voice dripping saccharine, “she sometimes forgets her place.”
To be rebuked by my father in front of our enemies only compounded my humiliation. Still, I would not give in to the hurt. I ought to have been accustomed to it by now.
From across the table a low growl rumbled from the chest of one of the massive Zaxxendans. There were three of them, though they took up the seating space of half a dozen, at least. Per the policy of the Legion of Guardians, all of the seats around the negotiating table were exactly the same. The Zaxxendans filled theirs to overflowing. I could have shared mine with my best friend Carly as well as a giant bucket of popcorn.
At least the table hid the fact that my feet didn’t even reach the floor.
This was the closest I’d ever been to a Zaxxendan, though their warheads and gravity mines had wreaked havoc upon my people, many of them noncombatant citizens, including children, for the last several months. I took a moment to study them, these aliens who held the fate of Earth in the palms of their gigantic slate blue palms.
In fact, all of their visible flesh was steely blue. Sort of a silver with a blue tint. It was difficult to describe and this was hardly the venue for a discussion of it. Their eyes were dark and penetrating and they each had shoulder-length black hair.
Other than their size—the one in the middle was even more broad and tall than his companions—the only way to tell them apart was the ridges on the bridge of their noses. Trying not to stare, I determined that each of them had a different colored set of ridges running up the top of their noses, starting at the bottom of their eyes and extending about halfway up their foreheads. I had no idea if the colors signified anything in particular, though I noted that the largest, the one I suspected was the leader, High Commander Makkx, had ridges the same shade as an eggplant. Or at least the last time I had seen an eggplant.
Fresh produce runs short when your planet is being blasted for weeks on end, the climate thrown completely off kilter by toxins in the air.
Supreme Judge Sawney cleared his throat and my father gave my arm one final pinch of warning. “Oh, um, my apologies,” I said, keeping my gaze on the judge. I did wish to apologize to him. I would never apologize to the beasts who had set my planet to flames. My father probably expected an apology too. He had strict rules about how females should be seen and not heard. Frankly, I was still confused about why I had been included on this trip in the first place. I had hoped my father had decided to take notice of his only child and include me in the leadership of our planet, but the pain throbbing in my forearm told a different story.
The judge nodded in response to my apology and then made introductions around the table. He alternated between those on my side of the table… my father the high sophisticate, myself Evelyn, and Charles the minister of war. Opposite us were the Zaxxendans. I was correct that the largest, with the purple ridge-y thing, was High Commander Makkx.
He was known throughout the galaxy as a fierce warrior and the set of his jaw, as well as a scar near his eye, were consistent with that reputation. To his right sat Krill, second only to High Commander Makkx. His ridge was deep green. The third Zaxxendan was named Trivert. He must have been the growler. The ridge on his nose was an angry orange color. When he looked across the table at the delegation from Earth his eyes held a level of hatred I had never encountered before. The judge had stated Trivert’s title, but the evil glint in his eye gave me such a shock his title didn’t even register in my brain. An icy shiver engulfed me and I struggled to maintain my composure.
An image flashed through my mind of what could have happened if the Zaxxendans had actually landed and invaded our planet. Like a horde of gigantic locusts they would have shredded our resources and our people. Or just the resources and then left the people to suffer and die of slow starvation.
I studied the beings seated across from me; their cruelty and inhumanity—if you can even use that term with nonhuman life forms—were unquestioned. No doubt the judge, who had been selected for his ability to perceive sincerity and honor, would see them for the intergalactic bullies they were and sanction them mightily for their unfounded attack upon my planet.
Take that, angry growler. I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at the trio of Zaxxendans. They might be huge and strong, but we had right on our side. And in just a few moments, they’d get their comeuppance. Arrogant bastards.
Supreme Judge Sawney cleared his throat and picked up a stack of papers on the table in front of him.
“I have reviewed the statements and demands of both the Zaxxendan delegation,” he nodded in their direction, “and the Earth representatives.”
I glanced across at the Zaxxendan high commander and I’d swear the color on his nose ridges had gotten darker. Did the change have something to do with their emotions? Or was my mind playing tricks on me?
Judge Sawney tapped the papers on the table to tidy up the stack and then began to read. “The Council of Guardians, having the power and authority granted by the Intergalactic Truce of 3838, and both Zaxxenda and Earth being bound by their membership in the Universal Commons, hereby finds as follows:
“First, the council acknowledges the wisdom and mercy of the Zaxxendans for halting their aggressions toward Earth and agreeing to come before the council for resolution. As the attack upon their planet by the humans of Earth had been unwarranted and surreptitious, as well as a form of genocide which has been explicitly forbidden by the Intergalactic Truce of 3838, they would have been within their rights to either invade and take over the planet or destroy it.”
I gasped and reared back in my seat. My lungs struggled to get enough air. My head spun and I feared I might faint, but I managed to speak. Loudly. “What are you talking about? This was an unprovoked attack on Earth. We have done nothing to deserve such a brutal and heinous assault upon our planet, especially the indiscriminate way their warheads and gravity mines destroyed parts of Earth without thought or consideration for innocent lives, particularly women and children.”
I addressed my comments to the judge but the Zaxxendans responded before Judge Sawney had a chance.
In one giant wave of steel-blue flesh, the three of them stood, towering above the table and those of us still seated around it. High Commander Makkx pressed his hands flat on the table and leaned in my direction, his eyes boring into mine. The purple ridges on his nose practically glowed with the heat of his emotions and I fought against the shiver of anxiety that skittered up my back.
“Food sent from Earth as a gift,” he spat out the last word, “contained a virus which killed all of the females on our planet. Young. Old. All of them gone. Suffering greatly in the process. And their loss has caused additional suffering for Zaxxendans, not to mention the fact that we will be extinct in a matter of years if there are no females with which to breed. Our families are in tatters.” He paused for a moment to let those words sink in before continuing. “So pardon me if I find your claims of hardship and the loss of innocents hollow.”
His words, filled with anguish and anger, hung in the room. Though he was the most powerful being I had ever encountered, I refused to be frightened.
I remembered what his people had done to my planet. My people.
“That is a lie.” I stood and leaned across the table toward him, mimicking his aggressive posture, though my actions only served to amplify the difference in our sizes. Regardless, I would not be cowed.
“Order!” The judge stood and put his hands up as if to separate the two of us, as though the massive wooden table was an insufficient barrier. “We’re here to reach consensus. There has been enough dissension.”
The Zaxxendans lowered themselves back into their seats and I did the same. Oddly, neither my father nor the minister of war who were seated on either side of me had gotten as angry over the statements as I had. If anything, the two of them appeared somewhat smug.
Once everyone had resumed their seats, Supreme Judge Sawney continued.
“Second, the council finds that the terms of surrender submitted by the Zaxxendans and agreed upon by the delegation from Earth are just and reasonable and therefore grants same.”
“What t-terms of s-surrender?” I glanced around the table, suddenly overcome by the distinct feeling everyone else in the room knew something I didn’t. No one would meet my eyes. No one but the high commander of Zaxxenda. He stared at me boldly, his gaze lingering on the neckline of my shirt, the corner of his mouth turning up in a sultry smile.
What the hell? Was he trying to flirt with me?
And worse, why was I distracted by it? What was wrong with me? This alien and his government had made slanderous allegations against my planet and when he looked at me, extremely unsettling heat bloomed between my thighs.
The judge flicked his eyes first to my side of the table, then the other and back again before clearing his throat. “Perhaps it would be beneficial if I were to read the terms of surrender that the Zaxxendans have presented.”
“Yes, please do,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest again. I glanced at my father. He didn’t seem overly interested in the discussion, which I found surprising. He was an attentive leader, even if he was a lackluster father. “Aren’t you concerned about this?” I whispered to him.
“Remember your place, Evelyn,” he said steadily. His eyes focused on the judge.
Cold dread seemed to start at the top of my head and trickle downward through my body.
“Terms of Surrender,” the negotiator began, “submitted to the Council of Guardians this 68th day of Waxxa, 4920. First, the Zaxxendan government will immediately cease and desist all attacks upon the people of Earth and will return its warships to their own planet upon the conditions set forth below.
“In order to repopulate their planet and continue their long and glorious tradition of being fierce warriors and benevolent citizens of the Universal Commons, Zaxxenda demands fifty healthy, fertile, and unmarried women of Earth be delivered to them forthwith upon the battleships that are now in orbit around the Earth awaiting the outcome of this summit.
“Furthermore, as a gesture of good faith, Evelyn of Earth shall become the mate of High Commander Makkx.”
I heaved and gasped for air, sucking in shallow breaths. Had my lungs completely stopped working? My chest pounded, my head spun, and I feared I might faint.
“What is going on here?” I finally managed to say.
“I should think the document is self-explanatory, but since you appear to have some comprehension problems, I will explain,” Commander Makkx said, his voice a deep rumble in my jumbled brain. “If this war continues, your planet will be destroyed.” He shrugged. “There are many who would take satisfaction in that outcome.”
Mr. Orange growled again.
“However,” the commander continued, “that wouldn’t solve the problem of extinction facing my planet now that we have no females. Besides, what is the point of winning a war if you’re not entitled to the spoils?”
His fierce gaze raked over me and he raised an eyebrow. A hot flush moved through me and my throat went dry.
“The proposal we have submitted is reasonable and more than fair under the circumstances. Once forty-nine women have been delivered, the warships will leave your atmosphere and return to Zaxxenda.”
“Forty-nine?” I asked, though I had a sinking feeling I knew who number fifty was.
“As of now, you are my property.”
I jumped to my feet. “And if I refuse?”
“Your planet will be incinerated.”