“I WANT A REFUND!”
When an Aberk is angry, their voice can be heard across an entire constellation. This one is so mad that without hearing protection, my head would be exploding through the phonetic wiring implanted in my ear.
“This human bites! You’re fortunate my genitalia is capable of regenerating, or you would have a suit on your hands, flarkr!” Flarkr is an insult which combines all insults and narrows them to a very sharp point designed to skewer the character and self-confidence of the recipient.
“I did warn you not to put your soft parts near her sharp end, sir.”
“She took my shuttle and left the planet. I paid you one million credits for this human, and she’s cost me more than ten times that amount in the three days I’ve had her. I. Want. A. Refund.”
“No refunds. Store policy. Very sorry.”
He lets out a roar of rage which is probably doing intense property damage to everything unsecured in this town. Then he begins to threaten me.
“I am going to kill you, Zed. I am going to kill you, travel through time before you died, kill you again, then travel back through time to before the day I killed you that time, and kill you a different way. You are going to spend your entire life being killed from this day until your birth. Do you understand me, ZED!?”
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the universe, not very long ago…
“At all times, no matter what the circumstances, stay on the Earth side of the Horsehead Nebula.”
That warning rings in my ears over and over as I am carried, bound hand and foot, with blood trickling from the corner of my mouth and a headache like none I have ever had before. Massive, clawed hands have hold of me without regard for possible injuries or damage they might incur. I am being carried like a lump of meat, and in this moment, I feel like one. Thank god for shock making me go numb in the aftermath of…
“You’re supposed to land, not crash.”
That’s another piece of advice from the academy I seem to have ignored. I got too used to the autolanders at the Authority space docks. Anybody could land those. A mouse in a wheel could land there, and several have. Landing on an alien planet is difficult. There’s atmosphere, and weather, and in my case, a pretty fucking big tree.
I can see the remains of my shuttle being picked over by green-skinned alien beasts. They’re humanoid, but only in the loosest sense of the term. Two arms, two legs, a head, and the ability to speak. The bar for humanoidness is low. Intelligence is somewhat optional. This species is in no way civilized, that is for absolute certain.
The beast that looks down at me has piss-yellow eyes and two massive fangs emerging from the lower part of his jaw, curling up over his upper lip. His head looks like it was fashioned from a rock. It’s massive and angular, with a heavy brow ridge and wicked dark slashes of hair to mark them. His nose is scaled along the topside, flared wide at the nostrils. All the better for him to scent me with.
He is muscular. Not like a man might be muscular if he spent a lot of time in the gym. He is muscled the way a wild predator on a savannah is muscled.
The note on the map I stole from the surveillance room had this planet marked as being inhabited by wild trolls. I’m no longer sure why that attracted me so much. One of them has just ripped the black box out of the cockpit—and stuffed it into his mouth. I watch in dismay as my only lifeline to Earth is pierced by fangs, then thoroughly crushed and masticated by a row of big flat teeth along the back of the jaw. They’re omnivores, I muse to myself, my inner scientist coming out even through my terror.
“HUMAN!” He thunders the word as if I am supposed to have some prepared response for a brutal alien who just threw me to the ground and almost dashed my brains out on a rock. I don’t think he meant to hurt me. I just think he didn’t care if he did.
“Yes. Hello.” The words just sort of blurt out of me in a polite kind of way. I don’t know how I’m supposed to talk to aliens who have never seen humans before. This is a first-contact kind of situation. I never thought I’d have the honor. Now I wish I didn’t.
He displays his manhood. Ten inches of throbbing, green-veined flesh. There is both intent and motive in that cock. I gulp, wondering if the obvious is about to happen. They were never exactly specific in the academy as to what happened if you were caught on one of these wild planets, but I think I’m getting the picture really fucking quick.
“NO!” Another brute has appeared, even bigger and angrier than the one who dragged me out of my crashed ship by the hair.
“MINE!” the first troll roars.
“MINE!” the second troll roars back.
What they lack in sparkling conversation they make up for in sheer brutality. I am left on the ground as they begin to battle, shaking the ground with the ferocity of their stomping. They don’t have claws on their fingers, but they know how to use those teeth. They rip into each other with no regard for their personal safety, tearing off large chunks of flesh and bits of scale. They are naturally armored, but the armor does not do much in the way of anything to protect them from one another. Their fangs are too long, their teeth too sharp, their ferocity too insane to stop them when it would make sense to stop. There are bits of flesh and blood absolutely everywhere. It’s raining alien.
I take the opportunity to wriggle slash crawl away into some bushes and just keep going, putting as much distance as I can between me and them. The fight seems to be increasing in intensity if their shrieks and calls are anything to go by.
A sharp rock provides a surface on which I can start to free myself, sawing my bonds across it until they loosen and I get my limbs free.
Please, god, please, let the Authority come rescue me. I have to hope that they can extrapolate my trajectory based on the last information sent back by my computer. I have to hope that these aliens will fight each another long enough to forget about me and lose my scent.
It’s important to put as much distance as I can between myself and the crash site. My suit has limited life support capacity. There are rations secreted in the pockets. I could pretend that’s Authority standard practice, but it’s really my personal SOP. There’s also a small energy weapon, which I didn’t have a chance to use because they found me while I was still unconscious after connecting with the ground more aggressively than I planned.
For now, I crouch in the bush. I don’t know where to head next. That’s the thing about being on an alien planet outside charted territory. My best chance of being rescued is if I stay near the wreckage.
Cowering passes the time very slowly indeed. Every minute feels like an hour. I am terrified that I am going to sneeze or make some other involuntary physical sound or smell. The last thing I ate was freeze-dried macaroni and cheese, and both of those ingredients are performing an elegant, striking, ten-out-of-ten flamenco in my gut. This is what the body does when it goes into survival mode. It gets messy, embarrassing, and very uncomfortable.
The bushes nearby rustle suddenly. I freeze. This is how it all ends. Something in the wilderness is going to claim me. If the troll aliens are the sentient species on this planet, and they are equipped with such violent physical capabilities, I can only imagine how wild the truly wild animals are.
“Human? Human! I see you, human.” The voice which speaks is a great deal more calm and refined than the grunting animals who are now wearing the seat covers as trophies. That doesn’t mean I want to interact with this new voice either.
“No, you don’t.”
Sometimes refuting things will throw someone off.
“Yes. I do. Come out of there.”
This alien speaks human much more smoothly than the others. They grunt words here and there; he speaks it fluently. That might mean he’s accustomed to traveling and perhaps trading with us. He might be an ally. He might be safe.
I peer out and look at him. He does not look like the trolls. He also doesn’t look what you’d call safe. He is green, but that’s about where the similarity ends. He has a very powerful but narrowed jaw, like the famed detective Humperflink Bendersnatch. His eyes are bright purple and narrow, giving him the look of someone you’d be foolish to trust. His hair is dark and rough-swept back from his forehead in a way I can only describe as… stylish?
He is wearing a leather harness across his muscular green chest. I’m surprised he doesn’t have more clothing on his upper body but I’m not mad that he doesn’t. The lower part of his body is covered in black shimmering material which clings tightly to his musculature. In the midst of chaos and terror, being rescued by a big, green, hardly-clad alien is something of a dream come true. This is best case scenario in a very worst-case scenario.
“They’re like animals,” I tell him. “I mean, they’re… they are not friendly.”
“Indeed. We should leave. Your scent is rich and they will soon find it again. I will not be able to stop them from taking you without a mass slaughter, and that is strongly disapproved of these days. Come.”
He turns and walks away, giving me the choice to follow or not. I suppose I have to follow. The screaming and general aggression behind us is escalating, and any fear I have of leaving my wrecked shuttle and going off with an alien stranger is quickly overshadowed by my fear of staying with the screaming fuck-trolls and turning into food or mate, or maybe and horrifically, some combination of both.
“What is your name, sir? I’m Ava.”
“Everybody calls me Zed,” he says, patting down his harness in the same manner a man might pat down his flight suit pockets. I have no idea what he could possibly be looking for. There’s nowhere to hide anything there.
“Ah. Here it is.”
He pulls out what looks like a button from just over where his nipple presumably is. Just a button. Not attached to anything in particular. It looks like a spare for a machine that might actually do something. I watch, stunned, as he places the button in the middle of his palm and presses it.
A rocket ship manifests in front of us as though it had always been there and it was a bit embarrassed for us for not having seen it. It is about twenty feet tall, bright green, and shaped in a friendly sort of way, round and smooth with a big window at the bridge and little round portholes, many of which are decorated with hanging flowers. It does not look like the sort of craft that Zed would choose for himself.
“Is this your mother’s ship?”
“I suppose it was somebody’s mother’s ship at some point,” he says cheerfully. “It’s mine for the moment, until I trade it in.”
“Is that what you are, a trader?”
“You could call me that.”
Evasive is what I could call him. I feel a certain amount of hesitation as he opens the door and makes a welcoming gesture. This alien has no reason to help me. I don’t get the feeling he is taking mercy on me. He has that used-spaceship dealer kind of feel about him, which means if he’s helping me, there’s a reason.
He sees my hesitation and smiles more broadly. He is handsome when he smiles, with an easy charm. I imagine he is the sort of creature who manages to get away with absolutely anything. I’ve known guys like him before. They’re usually Authority Academy dropouts because they have issues with authority.
But beggars, as people used to say, cannot be choosers.
“Are you able to return me to Authority space?”
“If you want to go back there; doesn’t seem like you were too keen on following Authority rules given your current location and situation. What does Authority do to couriers who break protocol, fly outside sanctioned air space, and crash multi-trillion credit ships?”
He’s right. I hadn’t really thought about all the potential consequences of my actions, which include, but are not limited to a lifetime of crippling debt. I am going to owe the Authority every paycheck from now until eternity for what I just smashed into the dirt.
I groan inwardly as I step into the ship, which feels like a very cozy living room generated a very long time ago. The walls are covered in floral print in lime-green tones, and there is a soft gold carpet across the floor.
“I have never seen carpet on the floor of a spaceship,” I note.
“This is a comfy class shuttle,” he says. “Fully customizable. No feature is too much trouble. The elderly of our species like to sell their homes, buy one of these, and spend their declining years piloting them about the system until they either collide into something or, well, usually collide into something.”
“And so you traded this?”
“You ask a lot of questions,” he observes with that sexy smile designed to wipe a woman’s brain completely clean. I don’t know what kind of alien he is, but if they’re all built like him, I can understand why the Authority doesn’t want us having any contact with them.
“I don’t usually get into strangers’ spaceships. It’s pretty high up the list of things not to do, according to Authority regulations.”
“Right after crash landing on alien planets outside designated…”
“Yes. I know. I fucked up.”
He smirks and gives me a muscular shrug. “It really doesn’t matter, you know. There’s no way to get through this or any life without doing something the Authority wouldn’t like. You may as well enjoy whatever happens next. I think it’s time for a drink.”
A drinks trolley emerges from inside a wall, wheels itself over to us, and proceeds to make a couple of drinks in some tall plastic cups decorated with green and orange pictures of oranges and limes. It slides one over to me, and the other over to the alien who has rescued me. Drinks on a spaceship beat getting ripped to pieces by aliens who can’t work out what part of me to fuck.
“So,” he says. “What was the plan?”
“Yes. What were you going to do when you landed on this world?”
“Oh. I was going to study the inhabitants and learn about them, eventually returning to the Authority as an expert on a new alien life form, skipping from courier to professor in one easy go.”
“By being mauled and violated by them?”
“I thought I’d stay undetected a little longer than I did, but my shuttle landed badly, and it was almost like they were waiting for me when I crawled out of the wreckage.”
“They saw you coming. They heard you coming. A shuttle coming through the atmosphere lights up like a star. It draws every curious creature in range. And then crashing, that makes a hell of a waypoint as well. Essentially, you truly could not have done anything more to make this worse.”
“You really don’t know a damn thing about what you’ve gotten yourself into, do you?”
I sip on my drink and shake my head slowly back and forth. No. I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. I really thought I’d zip over to a new planet, meet some aliens, and get famous. In retrospect, that was a harebrained idea, but I figured there were worlds just waiting to be discovered by someone brave enough to leave Authority territory.
“You’re outside the human protection zone,” he explains. “You’re fair game out here.”
“I did not know that. What’s the human protection zone?”
“Humans are a protected species inside the zone. Your species is very much in demand across the universe. The protection zone allows you to maintain a healthy breeding population.”
He is talking about us as if we are a rare kind of shrimp. I suppose, compared to the few aliens I have met lately, that might be an apt comparison. I feel particularly vulnerable right now, even sitting here sipping on my beverage.
“I’m surprised the Authority does not educate its interstellar pilots more thoroughly.”
“I’m not technically an interstellar pilot. I’m more of a courier with a science degree…”
“And you decided to take a quick detour around the nebula.” He finishes my sentence as if he has heard this story before.
“Yes,” I agree, somewhat shamefacedly.
“You are fortunate I found you,” he says. “Or you would be a…” He trails off, shaking his handsome head as if the words do not bear saying. “Humans need quite a bit of training and reinforcement to survive copulation with that species.”
A tremor runs through me at the way he speaks. Training and reinforcement. What does that specifically mean? Dare I ask?
I do not.
“Well, thank you for saving me,” I say politely.
“Don’t thank me yet.” He smiles charmingly. “I’m not an altruist, and you still have value.”
I have no idea what that means, but I get the impression he has a plan for me of his own. He is looking me over very thoroughly, as if assessing me for various purposes.
“If you take me back to Authority territory, I’ll make sure you get paid.”
“We both know you won’t. You’ll be sent to prison, and I’ll be out profit and a round trip. I have a better idea. One that profits us both. Well. I’ll get profit, and you’ll get to meet a wide range of alien species up close and personal.”
I drain my drink, really not liking what I’m hearing. I’m currently physically fine, but for how much longer? I should be grateful to be intact, I guess.
“But first, I am going to make sure you’re not injured. Take your clothes off.”
“You just hit a planet. Take your clothes off. I need to make sure you’re intact.”
I get the feeling he’s not talking about medically intact. There’s something intimate in his eyes and in his voice. Everything and everyone on this planet wants to fuck me. Maybe it’s something in the air, a kind of carnal intensity I just slingshot myself right into.
“Go on,” he says, reaching out past me to the head of my chair and pushing it back.
It transforms into something more like a bed, not a comfortable one, but it puts me in position to be examined.
Zed crouches next to me. “Take that uncomfortable Earth suit off. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. You don’t answer to them. You answer to me.”
His last sentence hits me in my gut. I might have escaped the Authority, but I’ve found myself at the mercy of another authority, and this one has an even more intimate plan to use me. His purple gaze is magnetic. I know he could rip my clothes from me. They’re already torn from the monsters and the impact. It’s a good suit. It saved my life when a hundred thousand little bubbles of gas inflated the suit just at the right time, keeping me safe as my shuttle skipped across rock and trees like a stone across rough waters.
I shouldn’t be alive. I have a spacey feeling, as though I might not actually be.
“Stay with me.” His big green hand covers mine, bringing me back to the present moment. I am alive. I am here. With him.
“I need to get that suit off you.”
“You don’t. You could scan me without needing to see my bare skin. You must have the technology.”
“Technology is no substitute for simple sight and touch.”
“I’m fine. I really am. If I wasn’t, I’d be in pain.”
“Pain is a funny thing,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t notice it. Sometimes it can feel like pleasure. Sometimes it is absent when it should be present. And sometimes things hurt terribly when there seems to be no reason for them at all. That’s why I need to see.”
I put my fingers to the neck of my suit. I know on some level that if I take it off, I’m done. It’s over. I won’t be who I was. I’ll be someone else. I’ll be his.
“Good girl. Take it off. That’s right.”
I draw it down, slowly. It’s not supposed to be a teasing thing. I’m just hesitant. What will he think when he sees me? What if he turns on me like the monsters out there did? What if he can’t help but ravage me right here in this cozy spaceship which only makes him look oversized and muscular in comparison to the little details and knick-knacks on the shelves.
My body is exposed inexorably, my skin bared to his alien view. I wear no underwear beneath the suit. It’s better not to. Allows the wicking fabric to draw away moisture directly from the skin.
There she is. My prize is unwrapping herself for me with those deliciously hesitant eyes. She could genuinely be hurt. She should, by all rights, be hurt. Her ship came down at an angle no ship could ever recover from, and yet she is here. It seems like a miracle, as do the smooth lines of her body, the gentle curves and the soft swells revealed to me. I thought I might find something of value on the planet. I never imagined it would be anyone this valuable. I don’t know whether to think about all the money I am going to make, or how incredibly attractive this human being is. There is not a mark on her skin, not from the impact of the crash anyway.
“All the way off,” I say, taking over to help peel it from her arms and her legs. There is a rush of scent when the gusset of the suit peels away from her sex. I smell her womanhood, her delicate femininity melting into the air. She has been reacting with need to something lately. Perhaps she’s turned on by crash landings. Or maybe it is the effect of baring her completely naked from head to toe.
There are bruises forming on her legs and her arms, but they are lighter than I would expect from a crash and they fit with the profile of one of the oversized brutes who was attempting to eat-fuck her back on the planet’s surface.
“You seem to be largely unharmed,” I say.
“The suits prevent us from taking damage in a crash,” she explains, blushing adorably. “Can I put it back on?”
I pull a scanner from the first aid kit. This ship might look like a traveling retirement home, but I’ve made sure it is stocked with everything I need. In my line of work, injuries are inevitable. Trading is not a career for the faint of heart. You have to deal with unsatisfied customers from time to time, including ones who specifically buy things in order to be angered by them. One of my best-selling lines is a cake that punches you in the face if you try to eat it. It was designed to help those who wanted to pursue a healthier diet, a sort of aversion therapy. But nowadays it’s mostly purchased by those who want something to complain about. The reviews are as bad as the sales are good. But I mentally digress. This human in front of me, she is no face-punching cake. She is an object of pure delight.
“Hold still,” I tell her. “Let’s see how you’re really doing.”
She takes a breath and freezes in place. Nothing moves besides her nipples, which stiffen into two peaks. I don’t think she has control over them. That’s an automatic response, as is the sweet flush of new arousal between her thighs. This little human female likes to do as she is told. Actually, that may be too much of an assumption. She likes being told what to do; whether she is generally obedient is a matter yet to be determined.
The scanner reveals nothing. It’s just static on the screen, and an error code: H0M1N.
Oh. Right. It’s not designed for her species. I’ll have to adjust the settings to a general sort of sweep that’ll basically only tell me if she’s alive or not. I make a mental note to invest in some human-specific equipment. I want to take very good care of my newest inventory.
“What does it say? Am I okay?” She’s looking at me nervously with those very pretty, expressive eyes.
“You’re at least as good as someone who hasn’t recently crashed into a planet.”