A young woman with long corn silk-blonde hair shouted at the walls of her prison. She was trapped in a small room with a small bed covered in a thin mattress. The only luxury in the space was a pillow, which was really more of a suggestion of a pillow, being so thin that she could fold it over and it still felt flat underneath her head. These were actually better accommodations than those she was used to finding on her own, but that didn’t mean it was okay to lock her in here.
“Leeeet. Meeeee. Ouuuttt!” She was starting to get hoarse, but that wasn’t going to stop her protesting. She was being held against her will, without trial, without a lawyer, without anything civilized people would have considered a necessity. And these ones had the nerve to call themselves an advanced species. Hah!
A door opened and a large shadow fell over Faith. “Be silent. You have caused enough trouble.” The words fell gruffly from accented lips.
Faith pouted at the impossibly tall man with the broad shoulders and the expression like the side of a cliff. He had large, piercing silver eyes and thick, dark hair that fell in a rough, yet sleek fashion around his ears. His features were chiseled and hard, his cheekbones high, his lips thinned with irritation.
She’d mistaken him for a woodsman once. There was no illusion of that now. Now that she looked at him properly, she wondered how she’d ever mistaken him for human at all. There was a distinct otherness about him, in spite of his general layout. He had two arms, two legs, that sort of thing. At first concussed glance, one might be forgiven for thinking that he was a man. But there were so many things about him that were just… wrong. His eyes were a little too wide. His jaw was a little too powerful. His nose was straight and maybe a little too long. His skin held a metallic hue that was not quite right either. At certain angles, he sort of… gleamed. Like a perpetually oiled-up wrestler.
Testosterone, or whatever his alien equivalent was, charged through his veins. She felt it calling her with some deeply primal need to couple, which irritated her intensely as she really needed to hate this man, and yet every time she laid eyes on him, her body began a cascade of hormonal responses that hijacked her senses.
“Screaming and shouting will not save you now, Faith.”
“I’m just trying to explain, you big… god! If you would listen for just two seconds, you’d understand that…”
He spoke to her in such patronizing tones. It was bad enough to be a prisoner, but she wasn’t even getting the credit most prisoners got for being dangerous. She was being spoken to like a petulant brat, which was about the most irritating thing he could have done. Faith was used to being called rather nasty names by very nasty people. Being mildly lectured was a change of pace she was not enjoying. Maybe it was twisted, but it had been easier when she dealt with pure scumbags. She hated them and they hated her. It was easy. There was none of this confusing desire and lust and the occasional warm feeling that made being this creature’s captive so confusing.
“You need to let me out.”
“Freedom is earned,” he said. “And you are far from earning it.”
“You can’t keep me locked up like this!”
“You know very well that I can.”
“You were nicer when we first met,” she said in accusatory tones.
“You were less trouble when we first met.”
Faith rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “Uh, technically, when you first met me, I was unconscious.”
Her handsome captor’s expression remained grim. “Exactly.”
One month earlier…
On his last day on Earth, Serkan picked his way through the alien forest, looking for a few small samples to take as keepsakes to commemorate his time on the distant planet. His stay on the blue-green dot had been extraordinary in many respects and had expanded his knowledge as a physician beyond that which he had ever imagined. It was a biological treasure trove, containing many types of life long since vanished from his own planet.
His only concern regarding the planet was its apex species: humans. They were trouble beyond trouble. Serkan had seen more in a few months of observation than he truly needed to see. They were capable of great wonders and great horrors alike, and he had been witness to both. He had chosen to spend his final hours on the planet walking through remote forest. The density of the foliage and plant life reminded him most of home, and the solitude allowed him to breathe out some of the struggles of his mission.
Humans. What to do about humans? He did not know. What he was sure of was that one of these days the smart little things were going to get incontrovertible proof that they were not alone in the universe—and that was going to make all hell break loose. It never went well when an immature species made first contact. Humanity needed another thousand years to mature at least before they’d be ready to take on the kind of responsibilities that being an intergalactic civilization involved.
The problem was, humans were precocious. Too smart for their own good, far smarter than their level of social development would have suggested. The last few trips he’d made, there had been more cameras, more surveillance. Once or twice one of their military planes had made a flyby and circled under the orbit of his shuttle, as if they sensed him there. Their space programs were developing fast too. Soon it would be impossible to sit in their blind spots and observe.
Perhaps it was unfair to blame them entirely. They did not know better. They had sprung from seed cast far and wide, the largely forgotten children of a species lightyears away. As could be expected from abandoned progeny, they were misbehaved. Serkan’s people had recently begun keeping an eye on the wayward ones, as humans were so often called in his tongue. They were tough, self-reliant, and they were slowly making progress, though it was often painful. Humans seemed to always learn the hard way.
Lost in his thoughts, Serkan walked right into a low-hanging branch that conspired with the low light of the forest and the particular lay of the land to be almost invisible. “Ooof!” It hit him right in the lower part of his ribcage, failing to hurt him, but giving him a reminder to pay attention. At the same time, his foot hit something firm underneath the leaf litter. Frowning, he looked down at his feet and startled back a step. There, near his boot, was a female human hand sticking out of a pile of leaves.
He felt his stomach twist as he stooped down out of pure instinct and brushed the leaves away to see what lay beneath them. His initial assessment had been correct. The leaves parted and fluttered away at the urging of his hand to reveal the face of an unconscious young woman with a cut on her head. It was bleeding a little, and she was breathing still, but all signs pointed to a very sick human.
Serkan looked down into her face, feeling the familiar clench of misery in his stomach as he looked upon human suffering. Her eyes were closed, her hair was tousled around her face. She had pretty bow lips, full cheeks, and a pert nose. What a pity this was. She was beautiful, vulnerable… and by his medical reckoning, she would not survive another day out here in these woods. The night was coming and it would be cold. She had no shelter, no access to food or water. It was almost certain that she would pass away in a few hours.
A pity. She was beautiful and vulnerable, and—the rules surrounding these encounters were simple. Wildlife was not to be interfered with. Humans included. Natural processes were supposed to take their course. He was not to intervene. He was not supposed to…
Serkan scooped the young woman up into his arms and blinked back to his shuttle.
Once safely several thousand miles above the Earth, Serkan did his best to push away the clanging of his conscience. No, he wasn’t supposed to be doing this. He wasn’t supposed to be picking up humans and taking care of them. He was supposed to let everything unfold as it was going to unfold. There were good reasons for the rule. If they did not let the humans do as they willed, they would be forever saving them from themselves and humanity would never mature. It was unfortunate that most of the lessons humans seemed to need to learn were very painful ones—both for themselves and for the observers who watched over them.
He told himself that he could probably get this one patched up and rehydrated before she came to consciousness. Even if not, a little sedation would ensure she didn’t remember anything.
Serkan laid her on his examination table and began stripping her of her clothing to ensure she was not wounded anywhere else. Her body was quite lovely, and to his relief, largely unmarked aside from a few bruises on her arms and legs that looked as if they had been incurred around the same time as she hit her head.
“What have you been up to?” He murmured the question softly down at her.
Her figure was on the fuller side, ample hips, thighs, and breasts tipped with pink nipples that were stiffening in the cool air of the medical bay. She was very beautiful, a woman on the verge of the prime of her life. It would have been a great tragedy if that life were to have been cut short. Serkan told himself that and many other things as he cleaned and dressed the wound on her head after scanning it to make sure there were no fractures to the bone or significant swelling to the brain. There was a little swelling above the skull, but other than that, she was lucky. It must have been quite a crack to knock her out like that. He put an IV line filled with liquid nutrients into the vein of her right arm too and let it drip slowly into her system, and added a compound that would bring down the swelling and repair tissue damage caused by the bruising.
His patient showed no signs of waking up anytime soon. She was probably exhausted. From the state of her feet, she had been running hard before knocking herself out on a low-hanging tree—no doubt the same branch he himself had walked into.
Over the next few hours, Serkan monitored his patient. Fortunately, he had gotten to her in time before any serious damage from exposure could set in. With the drip running, she would soon be back to full health, without so much as a headache to mark her injury.
Now would be a good time to release her back into the wild. Her wound was tended to, she had been replenished, and her vitals were strong. He’d give her a little adrenaline shot to wake her up just before he left her. Feeling better about his decision to take her, Serkan re-dressed his patient and prepared to put her back where he’d found her.
Before doing so, Serkan checked his instruments to see what the situation on the ground was like. Much had changed in the few hours since he had taken the female. What had been an empty forest was now crawling with packs of men. They were heavily armed, highly aggressive, and when he concentrated the listening apparatus, they appeared to be on the hunt for the woman he had in his care.
“Where the fuck is she?”
“The dogs had the bitch’s scent… but they’ve lost it.”
“Spread out, she can’t have got far!”
Serkan looked over at his patient. He couldn’t very well release her back where he found her. The men had vehicles and hunting dogs with them. She would be taken or killed within minutes, making his efforts thus far entirely pointless. Perhaps he should fly her a little further away and drop her somewhere safe. But where would be safe for her? Without knowing who she was and what was going on, he couldn’t make that determination.
There was nothing for it. He was going to have to rouse her, see who she was and where she came from, then re-sedate her and send her home. It was another breach of his code, but that was what happened when one broke the rules. Things got messy.
Before waking her, Serkan used the ship’s nano-dresser to fabricate himself some clothing that would make him look more friendly to her. A faded red ball cap, blue jeans, work boots, and a t-shirt with a beer slogan on it seemed to be the safest bet in this part of the country.
He then used the mirage station to set the walls to appear as if they were in a back country bar. The bed she was lying on shimmered, then appeared to be a pool table. The illusion was so good that the scent of spilled beer, cigarette ash, and human sweat seemed to hang in the air.
With everything prepared, Serkan administered a small dose of adrenaline along with a synthetic additive, enough to bring her out of her insensate state. Almost immediately, her eyelashes began to flutter, her breathing rate increased, and her arms and legs began to move with little instinctive tremors as she came back online.
“Y’all right there, little lady?” Serkan drawled the question as she came to her senses.
“Oh, my god!” She awoke with a scream, wrapping her arms around herself in a defensive position. Her eyes were wide and green, a nice match for the cascade of corn-blonde hair that still carried a few twigs and leaves from her dash through the woods.
“You have to hide me,” she said, sitting bolt upright so quickly he was concerned she might pass out again.
“S’alright, you’re safe,” he assured her as she grabbed at his arms. “Nobody’s going to come for you here. Those doors over there could hold back a tank.” That was true, especially given the tank would have to be orbiting Earth to have a chance of making it through. “Now you tell me what’s going on. What’s your name?”
“Faith,” she said. “My name’s Faith and…” She looked around. “Where am I?”
“You’re at my place,” Serkan said. “I found you in the woods with a crack on your head.”
“I think I ran into a tree,” she said, rubbing the side of her face ruefully. Awake, she was awfully cute. Those big green eyes, that dash of freckles over her sunburned nose, a sweet mouth that seemed to twist easily into a smile. “I guess I’m lucky you found me before they did.”
“Guess you are,” Serkan agreed. “What did they want with you anyways?”
“They want to kill me,” she said, her eyes welling as she brought forth a sniffle. “They hate me.”
“They’re trying to kill you because they hate you?” Serkan tried to keep the skepticism out of his voice. This girl wasn’t telling him something, but an interrogation probably wouldn’t help matters much. And it didn’t really matter. He had interfered enough.
“It’s complicated,” she evaded.
“Well, is there somewhere safe I can drop you?”
“No.” She gave him a look of such pure despair he felt his heart almost shred itself in sympathy. “Where is this place? Are we near the highway? Maybe I can hitch a ride out of state and…”
The floor rocked, and the girl screamed. “What the hell was that!”
Serkan knew exactly what it was. His shuttle had been detected in orbit. ‘Detected’ as in slammed into by one of the hundreds of objects orbiting Earth. Dammit! Ever since they’d cluttered the sky with their satellites, observing Earth had been more like trying to sail through a minefield of trash.
Evacuate immediately, Commander Serkan. The automated order came through the implant in his ear. The impact has sent debris into the paths of several monitoring devices. The earthlings will become aware of your presence in twenty seconds.