Authors: Harmony Raines
Tags: #Romance, #Multicultural, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Genetic Engineering, #Multicultural & Interracial, #General Fiction
“We’re heading over there, to what used to be the breeding house.” Niko pointed into the distance, and she followed his gaze to a big building with a high wall around it.
“A breeding house? I don’t suppose you use it to breed cattle or sheep?” Petra asked.
He turned to look at her and shook his head. “I’m not quite sure what your cattle and sheep are, but no, it’s where we usually keep the females that were brought to Karal to breed with.”
Petra took a moment to think that over. Here on Karal females were treated very much in the same way that farmers used to treat their cattle. Shut away in huge barns so that they didn’t escape and used to breed whether they liked it or not. Surely that was not how the Karal treated the females they bred with?
“Why? Why would you keep people shut away?”
He sighed heavily. “The females we bring here are not always as cooperative as human females have been.” He let the meaning hang in the air.
It was as she had suspected. The Karal went off into space and took what they needed to survive. In some ways they were very similar to humans; it was all to do with survival of the species, of procreation. The Karal did what they had to do to make sure that their species survived. And it was the same as her mother had done only recently, overthrowing the President to ensure the survival of the human race. Even if that had meant sacrificing her daughter.
“But this time it’s different, right?” she asked, wondering if this whole story about going into deep space was a lie, and really, she was just being brought here to live in this breeding house and used as the Karal saw fit.
“Yes, it took a little time, but the first human females who came here to Karal managed to persuade the council that it was better for us to live together and raise our children together. So that is our new path. Although as more human females are bought here, new challenges arise. You cannot expect everyone to live in harmony.”
“It would be naive of any of us to think that it would be easy for two alien species to get on without there being hiccups along the way. However, I think we all just need to understand how similar we are and understand we want the same thing. Here on Karal you want to have children. And on Earth we want to live without fear for our species’ future. By bringing the females here, you are accomplishing both things. So I’m sure that we will come to an understanding.”
“From what Okil says, now that your mother is the President that understanding will be much deeper, much easier to achieve.”
They arrived at the breeding house. Big gates swung open and Niko drove inside, parking the cruiser in a large courtyard. He stood up and stretched, and she admired the way he moved, lithe and supple despite his well-muscled body. She tried not to stare, turning to look out of the window instead.
“Come,” he said, offering her his hand. “You have an appointment with Darl. He will give you a quick examination and then we can find something to eat, and then...”
She didn’t need him to finish his sentence. She knew exactly what would happen when they retired to his quarters. It was, after all, the reason she was here. Although now she was worried that there was another reason for human females to be brought here.
“What kind of examination?” she asked, conjuring up images of alien experiments from old movies.
“Just to check your health before we go into space,” he said, easily.
“Nothing else?” she asked.
“Like what?” He frowned at her, and a burst of red crossed his face. She still had not figured out if the colours meant a specific mood, or if they were random, and she did not feel relaxed enough around Niko to ask him.
“I don’t know? I guess I’m just a bit scared. This is all so new to me.” She looked at his hand and placed hers in it, feeling his fingers close around her hand as he pulled up from her chair. This was the first time they had touched, and when she looked at his hand she saw the colours vibrant, sparkling like little fireworks going off and she could feel the electricity pass from his skin to hers. A shiver ran through her body, but not from fear: this was something else. It was excitement, a promise of the unknown.
She had lived her life modestly. By the time she was ready to be serious about dating, her father was cold on the ground and her mother was hardly around. Petra had shut all her pain and loss out and focused on her studies, pushing all thought of boys and relationships aside.
But now Niko promised her something new, something exciting, and she was beginning to think she was ready to embrace it.
All she had to do was get through an alien examination.
She seemed unsure, but followed him out of the cruiser and across the courtyard, with only a slight hesitation. They went into the building where Darl had a temporary office. Petra stayed close to him as other Karalians approached, her unease evident by the tension in her body. Unconsciously, he squeezed her hand to reassure her, and a memory, long forgotten, sprung into his head.
It was of his father, holding his hand as they walked along the beach, next to the ocean he loved so much. He couldn’t have been much more than five or six, and the waves were so big, he had felt as if they would swallow him whole. His father had held onto his hand, squeezing it and smiling down at him as he explained that there was nothing to fear from the ocean, or anything else in the universe, as long as you treated it with the respect it deserved.
Glancing at Petra, beside him, he wondered if his father would have said the same thing about having a female living with him. He could offer her respect, and he would, but was it right not to fear her? She had a hold over him already, making him feel weak. He wanted to protect her, to possess her, and he already worried if those feelings might be a distraction on their mission.
“Here is Darl’s office,” he said, looking in and seeing the doctor at his desk, studying a computer screen.
“Will you stay with me?” she asked, hopefully.
They had only just met, and yet there was already a bond between them, or was he imagining it? It was probably due to Niko being the only Karalian she had met, the only one who wasn’t a total stranger, that made her want him there.
“Of course,” he agreed. What else could he do?
“Ah, there you are. I thought I saw a flash of light, signalling your arrival on Karal,” Darl said, getting up to great Petra. “It’s good to meet you, Petra.”
The doctor held out his hand, and instinctively Niko tightened his grip on the hand he still held, as if he thought Darl was going to steal her away from him.
She lifted her right hand and shook the doctor’s offered hand, which puzzled Niko. The sim had never taught him this. What did it mean? Darl caught his look of confusion. “It’s an Earth custom.”
“To touch hands like that?” Niko asked.
“Yes, we do it in greeting. When we meet an acquaintance,” Petra explained.
“I see.” Niko frowned. The Karal did not openly touch each other, except in combat training.
“Now, let’s have a look at you, shall we?” Darl said and turned to walk away, heading towards the table in the middle of his office.
Petra stood there, and looked up at Niko as if trying to find her courage. “It’s all right, you can trust Darl. He has looked after all of the females. And I swear I would not let anything happen to you.”
She didn’t say anything, but walked forward letting go of his hand, and he found himself trying to hold onto her as long as possible as her fingers slipped through his, a sense of loss filling him when her skin was no longer in contact with his.
Petra went to the examination table, stopping beside Darl. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just sit on the side of the table. I want to take some blood to test. The results will be in tomorrow and if everything is okay, you will go on your mission. I also need to take your temperature and test your tag to check it’s working properly.”
“What is a tag?” Niko asked.
“It is a kind of computer chip that is embedded in all humans,” Darl said. “It gives us the information we need to match females with a suitable Karalian. It also gives us information on the health of each individual. In addition, it will tell us when Petra becomes pregnant.”
“I didn’t realise it did all that.” Petra put her hand to the back of her neck. A flash of anxiety swept across her face. “Is there anything else you use it for?”
“Like what?” Darl asked. He had an instrument in his hand which he was placing on Petra’s arm; it had a trigger and looked almost like a weapon. Darl squeezed the trigger and her blood began to fill up a vial that was attached to it. Petra hardly seemed to notice.
“I don’t know. What about if you are trying to make some kind of weapon? You know, by using our DNA.” Petra watched what Darl was doing, but seemed more relaxed now.
“Don’t worry, Petra. I would not allow that to happen.” Then he looked up at her, and his face had streaks of black across it, as if poison seeped through his veins. Niko was about to step forward when the doctor spoke again. “But you are right to be concerned, you are as astute as your mother. The tags were already in use by your President when we arrived. Only now that your mother has taken power do we have access to the records. Only now are we uncovering what he intended to use them for.”
“What do you mean? They were originally used to track the number of people on Earth. And for identification purposes.”
“Originally, yes, but when the President came to power, he started to investigate ways of using them in a far more sinister way. But the people he had working for him, refused to carry on once they realised the true purpose of the tags. And then, when we arrived, the experiment was shelved.” Darl looked up at her with sadness in his eyes. “Your species had a lucky escape. If the tags had been altered ... well, let us say that the human race wouldn’t have a population problem right now.”
Petra’s face went pale, and Niko took two steps towards her, wanting to comfort her.”
But she held up her hand as if pushing him away. “I’m fine.”
“We have a lot to thank your mother for,” Darl said as he finished taking Petra’s temperature. “And now you’re here, you can join the last mission into deep space, and I sincerely hope that we find a planet for your people, Petra.”
“And does it look likely that the missions will succeed?” Petra asked.
“The first of the missions have not returned yet. They are due back any day; we can hope that at least one of the missions will be successful.” Darl smiled at her. “All done. You can go now.”
Petra still sat there, looking at the doctor, and Niko could see that she had more questions she wanted to ask, but she hesitated, maybe because she didn’t want to hear the answers. “And if they don’t find a planet?” she eventually asked.
Darl shook his head. Then he said, “There is no point thinking about that now. There is plenty of time for us to come up with a solution to the population problem on Earth.”
“But that will never include activating the tags?” she asked. “My mother would never agree to something like that.”
Darl smiled at her, his expression a little warmer this time, and said, “I can promise you, Petra, that I will never be a part of something that would cause the population of Earth to be wiped out. Even if the Hier Ruler ordered it.”
Niko studied Darl. His loyalty was always to the Hier Ruler and the Hier Council, the same as all of the warriors, but he questioned what would happen if no planet was ever found, and the fate of the Earth rested on the reduction of numbers in Earth’s population.
Once the Karal had taken all the females they needed, it would be nothing to do with his species, surely. But still as he left Darl’s office, with a visibly shaken Petra, he hoped that they would find a new planet, and the question that Petra asked would never need to be answered.
She felt as if she’d been hit in the chest, and it filled her with a panic that she struggled to contain. Almost unconsciously she lifted her hand and put it to the back of her neck where her tag was located. She desperately wanted to cut it out of her flesh. This thing that had been there all her life was potentially deadly.
In the wrong hands, this information could mean the death of the human race. And her question was:
were the Karal the wrong hands
? Maybe Darl wouldn’t ever use the tags against humans, but there must be other people, other doctors or scientists on Karal, that might.
And what about her mother? Had she any knowledge of this before she fought to overthrow the President? Or was she as shocked as Petra at the potential decimation of humans? She felt sick to her stomach and wished there was a way she could contact her mother and discuss it with her. As they made their way through the building, Petra had never felt so isolated.
“This is my room,” Niko said, his hand touching her back as they reached his door. His touch made her jump. She had been so deep in thought she’d almost forgotten where she was. And the look of concern that crossed his face, along with the sweeping wave of red across his skin, told her that he was concerned about her.
“This is where you live?” Petra asked, trying to get her brain to function normally. She didn’t want to draw any undue attention to herself, especially as her thoughts were occupied with whether or not there was some way she could get back to Earth.
“This is where I live, at the moment, while the missions are going ahead. My real home is way down in the south. It is too far for us to journey to now. When we return, that is where we will go and live. You’ll like it there, the sun is warm, as are the oceans.” He pushed the door open and a slight pressure on her back urged her to walk in.
The rooms were small, but everything they needed was here. There was a small kitchen, with a small table and chairs for them to eat at. Then there was a sitting-room that also doubled as a bedroom. And off the sitting-room was a small bathroom. It was compact, that was for sure, but also comfortable, and she felt so weary, all she wanted to do was lie down and sleep.