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Warrior’s Mate: A Sci-Fi Alien Romance by Alyce Guertin – Sample

Chapter One

Sayk

Death soiled the desert, bodies lying around the open space in the clearing of white sand, facing the relentless twin suns of Valcan with unseeing eyes.

Twenty paces to the left, the open belly of an Imperial transport lay broken, metal ripped like soft flesh on stone teeth.

“Looks like they’ve been here for a day at the most,” Rager, my commander of the Enforcers, said from behind me. “That’s an entire unit of them.”

I nodded my approval. The desert was full of lost souls, those desperate or brave enough to face it. The dead wailed, their pleas forever unanswered.

Nothing I could do for them now.

“What do you make of this?” Rager spoke again, walking straight for the first body, a young man in his thirties. The torn remnants of his Imperial Army uniform exposed a bone-thin body.

I followed Rager, walking between the bodies littering the ground. Twelve Imperial Army soldiers lay dead, their bodies scattered around the crash site of their transport.

“Something isn’t right.” I frowned, then my eyes went to the next victim, a man in his fifties. “That man doesn’t look like an Imperial soldier.”

Rager grunted in surprise, then nodded. “Too skinny.” He pointed to the man’s face. “And look at his teeth. He wouldn’t pass the entrance exam, not even for a second-class soldier.”

We stayed silent for a moment, allowing the information to sink in. I frowned, looking around the crash site. Details popped to my attention, things I hadn’t noticed at first.

“This isn’t what it seems.”

“It’s obvious they died from the crash.” Rager frowned in confusion, turning around to follow my gaze. “There’s no sign of a fight and all twelve of them are dead. What do you see?”

“I think it doesn’t make any sense,” I replied. “No Imperial convoy comes this far north. They know better.”

Rager frowned and nodded. Things didn’t add up.

“Maybe the Empire wants to extend its reach on Valcan.” Rager got to his feet, his feline features taking on a new expression. “This could be a scouting expedition.”

The Muharib warrior was keenly observant, his sharp senses well developed, but he did not know the desert like I did.

The desert flowed in my veins like grains of sand. It was as much a part of me as my flesh.

“No.” I shook my head, then pointed to the barely noticeable tracks in the dunes. “Someone dragged them here.”

Rager followed my fingers, a dubious expression on his face, but he didn’t contradict me. He knew better than to question a Huugwor on the art of reading the desert. “What about the crash? That transport didn’t pilot itself.”

Silence fell between us as we turned around, studying the spectacle of the dead.

“That transport didn’t crash here.” Again, I explained to Rager the subtle clues of the desert, the way the rocks stood in the sand without disturbance, or the way the dune’s soft surface rippled under the caress of the wind. “This is a carefully designed scene, but it’s nothing more. A fake. A lie.”

“But for what purpose?” Rager shook his head, incredulous. “We’re at least two hundred clicks from Tartarus. There’s nothing out here.”

The Muharib was wrong. There was an entire world out here, one he didn’t even suspect the existence of.

“The desert is not nothing,” I corrected Rager. “You forget this land has its secrets, Muharib. Phantoms roam here, I can assure you. Do not make the mistake of believing your eyes when you gaze upon the sands.”

Seconds passed as the Muharib didn’t answer. I lifted my gaze to see him staring at me.

“Really? Phantoms?” Rager lifted his hands at his sides, his expression one of amused frustration. “Speak plainly, Sayk. I’m not one of your kind. Riddles and word games do not amuse me.”

“This is not an amusing sight,” I retorted. “We are in Erynian tribe territory.” I motioned to the landscape of rocks and sand all around us. “These lands belong to the Huugwors.”

At those words, Rager’s face became tense, and his eyes darted around. His hand went to his side, holding his blaster without taking it out of the holster. He was uneasy, and I understood why. “Are they watching us right now?”

“They were watching us as soon as we entered their territory,” I replied. “But this isn’t their work.”

“How can you be so sure? You said it yourself; this is their land,” Rager protested, but took his hand off the blaster. The weapon would be little help in a battle if we were ambushed by a group of Huugwor warriors, anyway.

“Huugwors make no mystery of their kills,” I answered. “When we kill, we quench the desert’s thirst with blood. Whatever killed those people, it wasn’t my kind.”

I got to my feet and turned around, reading the sand and the rocks for clues. A few minutes later, I shook my head in frustration.

“Is there something the Empire’s scanner might have picked up? A rich vein of gold or a diamond field?”

I understood Rager’s logic. The Empire stayed cautiously away from Huugwor lands, uninterested in starting a new war with the rulers of the desert. Despite the Empire’s lack of ambition when it came to the dry lands, their greed could always push them to test the determination of the native inhabitants of Valcan, especially if enough riches were involved.

Rager’s logic was sound indeed, but I had to shake my head in the negative.

“Not here. There is nothing in this direction that could entice the Empire enough to provoke a war.”

There was nothing else to be gathered here but sand and dried blood.

“Who alerted you of the Imperial convoy going past Tartarus?” I asked Rager.

“Anonymous tip, if you can believe it,” Rager answered.

I could not. There was no such thing as a coincidence and no such thing as a secret kept in a town like Tartarus. Whoever gave Rager that tip had wanted us to find the bodies.

Why? Who? None of the possibilities that came to my mind were good.

Another piece of the puzzle that fit nowhere. I growled my frustration as I looked at the fading light of the twin suns.

“We need to be out of the tribe’s territory before nightfall,” I told Rager. “Get word to your Enforcers to send a transport here. We need to bring those bodies back to the city.”

Rager nodded, then spoke in his commu-link, dispatching a transport to fetch the bodies and bring them back to the city of Tartarus.

I crouched next to another body. This time, recognition hit as I looked upon the face of the man.

“This is Hendrick Dargale.” I reached out, tearing the shoulder of his uniform, revealing the man’s brand, burned on his shoulder decades ago. “He’s one of ours.”

Rager walked over to me and bent on the other side of the body.

“He works for Jake Callahan, last I heard of him,” Rager said. “He’s been a pain in my side these last few months. Got into gambling debt with his boss and turned to stealing to pay it off. Loves the ladies of the paying kind as well, which doesn’t help his debt, I’m sure.”

I grunted. Hendrick Dargale was a petty criminal and a nuisance to the city. How did he end up dead, deep in Huugwor territory and wearing an Imperial Army uniform?

“His sister reported him missing a few weeks back,” Rager added. “She’s one of Jake’s girls.”

“One of Jake’s girls? And she came to you?” This was more than surprising. Jake kept an elaborate harem, with females of many species within the walls of his well-protected palace. “That’s a first.”

Rager grunted in agreement. “One of his favorites, too.” The Muharib added, “Guess she loved her brother more than she fears Jake.”

A sad mistake, no doubt. Jake was rich and powerful enough to have ears reaching far and wide in Tartarus, even in the Enforcers’ quarters. I knew a betrayal such as this would cost the woman her life.

Jake Callahan was a man who did not forget a slight or forgive a mistake.

“We need to find out who these victims are and how they made it all the way out here.”

“I’ll get my best Enforcers on this,” Rager replied, his face suddenly sober. “You, on the other hand, have other things to worry about.”

Rager was right, of course, but I wasn’t in the mood to discuss the many logistical problems of Tartarus with him. The Muharib had a way of seeing things in black and white. It was a trait of his kind, but one that didn’t work well with the mostly human population of the city under the mountain.

“Crime has been declining steadily since we removed Wylder from power.” I sucked on my teeth, not bothering to hide the frustration welling inside my chest. “But you can’t expect the population to trust you so fast. We need to win them over, Rager, not hammer into them.”

“The people of Tartarus should see what you’re trying to do.”

I scoffed, then turned my back on Rager and walked toward the transport. The legendary city of outlaws, hiding under the mountain in the desert’s depth, was my responsibility, but it didn’t mean I liked it.

Tartarus. Home for some. Prison for others. For me, neither.

Except perhaps a well-deserved purgatory.

“The people of Tartarus have a lifetime of betrayal to contend with,” I corrected Rager. “Don’t forget it.”

“I never do.” There was a bite in the Muharib’s voice. “I know just as much as they do the sting of that betrayal. But this is no reason to live like animals, preying on each other. We need to cleanse the streets of the criminals and start fresh.”

I nodded. This was not new information.

“Tartarus was founded on freedom. If we punish without justice, we are tyrants, not leaders.” I glanced at Rager, the Muharib standing tall and strong. I did not resent him for his views. His people were a warrior kind, much like mine. He didn’t know humans enough to see the gray between the black and white shades of their minds. “The cost of that freedom is that sometimes the people choose to act wrong. But even a mistake is better than no choice at all.”

Rager pursed his lips, exposing long white fangs. His people knew honor and loyalty, but not the kind of freedom that had drawn the enslaved and the oppressed to the desert. He would learn to appreciate it, in time.

At least, I hoped so.

“But you are right,” I said. “We have many problems and Jake Callahan accounts for at least half of them.”

Jake was a powerful man in the city, running brothels, gambling rings, and fights where the citizens came to lose what little money they earned. He ruled his criminal empire with an iron fist, enacting his own form of justice on those living under his thumb. The old outlaw was ruthless and knew no morals that couldn’t be bent, no oath that couldn’t be broken.

He wanted more, spreading his tentacles across the city, gaining power one inch at a time. The thin thread of justice I’d built since becoming chancellor was in danger of being broken. Jake wanted to best me at the next election and he was well on his way to doing just that. Once lost, freedom was hard to capture again, for those who held power seldom released it.

“I am who I am, Rager,” I repeated, inhaling deeply. I knew what the Muharib wanted to say but was too careful to put into words. The people of Tartarus feared me.

What I inspired was fear.

No matter my years as their commander of the Enforcers before Rager took the job, they would never see me as anything else but a monster in the night, ready to strike at any moment. A Huugwor, a creature of the desert, as merciless as the land without water.

I didn’t blame them. My kind had no softness in them, no forgiveness or pity. And neither did I.

I sat in the passenger seat of the transport, waiting for Rager to come to my side.

“I still think we should postpone the whole concept of elections, allow the people time to see you as chancellor before giving them a choice.” He shook his head, his mane moving freely as he did so. His flattened, feline features were set in disapproval.

“My answer is still no.”

The Muharib cursed, his reflective green eyes flashing. “You’re too stubborn for your own good, Huugwor.”

“And you speak too freely for your own, Muharib.”

A voice sounded on Rager’s commu-link and the commander of the Enforcers spoke with his subordinate.

“The transport will be here to pick up the corpses within the hour,” Rager confirmed. “What do you want to do with them?”

“Send them to the Enforcers’ quarters. No word of this goes out to the city. We don’t need a panic in the streets.”

Rager nodded.

After a long hesitation, I grunted in annoyance. I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I had no other choice but to call on her.

“Get a hold of the doc as well,” I told him. “Tell her to be ready when the bodies arrive in the city. I need her to examine them.”

“Janet won’t be happy to be ordered around this way.”

I ignored Rager’s words. I had my reasons for keeping Dr. Janet Alderman as far away from me as possible.

“We’ll need to identify as many of those people as we can while keeping things under wraps,” I replied as the Muharib warrior shook his head. “Something isn’t right about this. I want Janet to examine those corpses and she’s the only one I trust to keep it a secret. Then we’ll know better what we’re up against.”

Rager hesitated only a moment, then nodded. He looked at me from the driver’s seat, his face full of hesitation. It was unusual for the warrior, and I turned to him.

“How long has it been since you last saw her?”

The question took me by surprise, and I frowned. “I hardly see how this is relevant to your investigation.”

Feline green eyes flashed, and there was a hint of sadness in them. Not for himself, but for me.

“It is not weakness to care, Huugwor. A warrior needs a reason to go into battle, a cause to fight for.” Rager took his fist to his chest in the way of his people. “But don’t expect her to make this easy on you. She’s even more stubborn than you are.”

I didn’t answer as Rager piloted the transport under the hammering twin suns of Valcan and back to the city of Tartarus.

Back to the woman I’d pushed out of my life all those weeks ago. As the desert flashed by, Rager’s words came to my mind.

It’s no weakness to care.

How wrong he was.

Janet

A knock on the door startled me and I yelped, the sound bouncing on the walls in the small room. My assistant looked up at me with a startled expression.

“It’s your next appointment, Doc,” Mariel told me, handing me the computer. “He’s a few minutes late.”

“Thank you. I’ll see him by myself. You can go home now, you’ve been on duty all day. Get some rest.” I smiled, and the girl smiled back, forgetting all about my absentmindedness.

If only I could forget this easily.

I’m the stupidest woman in the history of the universe.

I was thinking about him again. I often did, no matter how much I tried not to.

I inhaled deeply, chasing all thoughts of Sayk from my mind.

“Come in, Jax.”

A young man wearing the midnight blue uniform of the Enforcers made his way inside and I turned to the wall to compose myself. Whether I wanted to or not, this was my clinic and I was responsible for those who came into my care. I took the time to look around the new shelves as I braced my hands on the narrow steel cabinet lining the wall. My medical clinic was well furnished, full of equipment that even the best clinics in Villea would love to get their hands on.

I was a captive bird and my cage was all gilded.

But it’s still a cage.

At the thought of my lost freedom, a bundle of feelings coiled deep in my guts and I struggled to keep the bitterness at bay. It wasn’t easy, but I managed it. No matter where I was, I was still a doctor.

“Take off your jacket and shirt and sit on the bed for me,” I instructed, keeping my voice cool and neutral as I picked the necessary equipment from the display.

“I’m fine, Doc. I don’t even know why you made me come back.”

The young man sitting on the cot spoke with a gruff voice, but the look in his eyes told me otherwise. These young men, these Enforcers working for Commander Rager all came to me looking for more than just medical care.

In the short time since I came to Tartarus, I had become their doctor, their sister, and their mother, all bundled into one.

Most of them had never had anyone care for them like I did, and as much as I tried not to, I was getting attached to them.

“You’ll be fine when I say you’re fine.” My answer was equally gruff, but the young man smiled as I checked the healing of the long wound running along and around his arm, all the way to his shoulder blade. At the sight of his young, eager face, I felt that peculiar tug of protectiveness for him, deep where my most buried instincts were.

No. You’re not his mother, you’re just his doctor, I admonished myself. He was fine before you arrived and he will be just fine when you’re gone.

But even as the thoughts ran through my mind, I knew they rang false. Those men who worked as Enforcers were the last line of defense against chaos in the city under the mountain and if I left, there would be no one left to care for them.

Not my problem.

I ran my nano-healing wand along the wound, the short-wave rays disinfecting and strengthening the tissues at the same time, inducing the young man’s body to produce weeks’ worth of healing in just a few seconds. It was my latest toy and as much as I tried, I couldn’t suppress the brief pang of pride as I looked at my finished work.

“That should teach you to get into a knife fight with your bare hands,” I said, before putting my wand in its place on the neat display along the wall. “Now promise me you’ll be more careful in the future.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Jax protested, but made no movement to stop my hands as I checked the freshly healed pink skin. “I can hold my own. I grew up in a gladiator school, you know.”

My smile faltered just a little but came back just as fast. I knew where the people of Tartarus came from, most of them. Some were thieves and mercenaries, outlaws and cutthroats, but not all. Many were escaped slaves and gladiators, those who had lived hard, desperate lives under the thumb of the Empire until one day, they found the courage to leave and seek freedom out in the desert. Many had lost their lives trying to find the fabled city, but they’d tried anyway.

Those who survived lived free, here in Tartarus.

“Well, let’s just hope you’re either faster or smarter next time, because I’d hate to see you come back here. I’m seeing too many of you big hunks as it is. Don’t think I’ll always be there for you.”

“Of course you will, Doc!” He laughed that loud, carefree laugh that only young men can. Young and without worry. Young and without grief. My heart squeezed and suddenly, I prayed that this young Enforcer would never know what I knew.

That life ended in pain and tears. That there was no other way but to keep breathing when all else crumbled to dust.

I watched Jax leave with his fresh scar, a stone settling in the pit of my stomach. My new home was a dangerous place, but a place I understood. A little.

Humans or others, we were all the same. Yearning for freedom, for a life of our own.

As the young Enforcer left, another familiar figure made its way into the room. I crossed my arms and dug in my heels as I faced the tall, burly human man wearing an Enforcer’s uniform, a captain’s pin shining on his chest.

“Ry.” Just saying his name was enough of a greeting, such was the relationship between us.

“Doc,” he answered with equal curtness.

For a moment, I was reminded of that time I saved his life, shortly after my arrival in Tartarus. Shortly after my life was changed beyond recognition.

“What brings you here? You can just say so if you’re missing my care, I’ll be happy to stab you.” I smiled, perfectly aware of the provocation. “Then I get to save your life all over again.”

“Keep running your mouth, Doc, and it’ll bring you nothing but trouble.” Ry shook his head, stray strands of ash-blond hair falling over his brows. His face was stern, but there was affection in his gaze as he spoke. “He needs your help.”

He didn’t need to be introduced. Only Sayk could be spoken of this way. Immediately, my belly clenched and my mouth dried, my heartbeat sped up to a frenzy. I hated my body’s response at the mere idea of him, but I was powerless against it.

Even after all this time, everything about Sayk made me lose control.

“What does the chancellor want with me?”

“Go to him and you’ll know,” Ry answered, his face suddenly serious. “He’s waiting for you in the garage.”

As I walked, I was powerless against the onslaught of memories coming back to me in a flood.

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