Rating: NC-17 (language, violence, adult situations and graphic sexual descriptions)
Classification: Col/Post Col, MSR, /O, Consensual and (implied) Non-Consensual Sex, Angst, Mytharc
Warning: “Abaddon’s Reign” is a grownup tale set in harsh times. A number of scenes contain graphic descriptions and portray adult situations that may offend some readers. Please, read with caution.
BOOK II MUSIC [mp3]
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A Crown of Twelve Stars
Continued from Book I
Earthdate: May 26, 2002
Assessment Bay 16
Four Nih-hi-cho entered the lab, moving and thinking as a single unit. They positioned themselves equidistantly around the terrestrial female. She was prepped for them, stripped of her garments and held immobile on the assessment platform by rods through her wrists and ankles.
Like most captive earthlings, this one was frightened. She watched the Quad with wet, blinking eyes, the muscles in her limbs quaking. Sweat slicked her pale skin. Her respiratory and circulatory rates were accelerated. The reaction was both expected and irrelevant. It didn't matter that she craned her neck or writhed on the table; this was going to be a brief memory probe, not a complete biological analysis.
Their objective was to insinuate a cognitive conduit into her memory center to determine why she had been outside the ship prior to launch. Had it been mere coincidence? Or was her arrival connected to the premature release of the Infants? Perhaps she had been a lookout, or a diversion, for the unidentified infiltrator.
That second trespasser had mysteriously eluded detection, and the consensus was he must have received help from the Incorporeals. It was the only possible explanation.
The Quad readied themselves for the probe. They quickly closed off their forebrains' extrasensory receptors, blocking out the thoughts of the 5,327 Nih-hi-cho and 15,716 Others who inhabited the ship. An abrupt but necessary silence followed; it was an unwelcome experience, similar, they imagined, to what humans described as loneliness.
There was some satisfaction in knowing their separation would be temporary and brief; the Quad would rejoin the Society in less than thirty Earth minutes and the unsettling sensation of isolation would dissipate.
When all external mind-chatter was effectively shut out, the Quad began their survey by channeling an array of telepathic links into the terrestrial female's brain, creating a complex transference network.
Their first glimpse of the female's consciousness provided them with a distorted view of themselves through her eyes. Monsters. Hideous in appearance, terrifying in purpose. It was a predictable reaction. She was not in a position to appreciate that it was she, not they, who was monstrous.
Earthlings were disgusting creatures, simplistic half-beings who relied on pairing with other half-beings in order to procreate. Dimorphism and blatant sexual characteristics dominated their gender-specific physiques. They had alarming reproductive proclivities and seemed to strive for little beyond sensual gratification.
Most despicable of all, however, was their unfathomable autonomy. Unable to establish any sort of communal consciousness, they were alone with their self-centered meditations, blocked off from each other and from the Divine Legion of Angels. Only upon death were they capable of experiencing a consciousness beyond themselves.
It was a mercy to kill them, really, because living humans were useful for only three things: serving as hosts for Nih-hi-cho offspring, acting as spies to ensure the successful takeover of Earth and, in a few rare instances, possessing the genetic anomaly referred to as the Derivation. This female, like nearly all her kind, was incapable of comprehending the importance of these roles. Her thoughts were sheathed in human emotion. Terror, outrage and confusion camouflaged any rational judgment.
"We could suppress her fear response to facilitate our procedure," they considered simultaneously. "No," was their immediate and united answer. "Time is short."
Without further discussion, they proceeded to embed themselves deep into her psyche.
Aware of their invasion, she recoiled, mentally and physically.
"Get out...don't...oh, please, stop!"
She struggled for several minutes -- longer than most terrestrials.
"Strong willed," they agreed. They admired the trait, even as they restrained it.
When her objections ceased to dominate her thinking, the Quad converged on her most recent memories. Images flooded their collective mind: the ship's northwest entrance...Nih-hi-cho supersoldiers...
"She recognizes Cassandra Spender!" they said, surprised and slightly awed. It was unanticipated. The possibility that the female was an associate or friend of Cassandra's meant the Quad must cease their psychic exploration immediately. To pry further or chance permanent damage was unacceptable.
"Summon Mrs. Spender," they decided in unison.
"How long has she been here?" Cassandra demanded, rushing toward the Assessment Bay. She hated those torture chambers and it made her blood run cold to think of Dana in one of them.
A Gray ran along behind her. By means of telepathy he explained, "We would have finished earlier, ma'am, but mobiliza--"
"I don't care about that. Just tell me how long!"
"Fifty-eight Earth hours."
"In Assessment?" Cassandra asked, incredulous. She stopped in front of Bay 16.
"No, no, on the ship, ma'am. She's been in Assessment for only eighty-two minutes."
Over an hour -- there would be physical and emotional injury. "Open the damned door."
The Gray used a mental command to disengage the high security lock, and the door slid open with a pneumatic hiss. Cassandra hurried inside and went straight to Dana, who was lying naked under a spotlight on one of the aliens' despicable examination platforms. Her wrists and ankles oozed blood from recent puncture wounds, but she was no longer restrained. Her eyes were closed.
Cassandra took hold of her icy hand. Gooseflesh stippled Dana's bruised skin.
"Fetch a blanket, for goodness sake," Cassandra snapped at the Gray. "And don't bring it yourself. Send my aide."
The alien hurried to oblige, leaving the two women alone for a few precious minutes.
"Dana? Wake up, dear."
Cassandra smoothed sweat-dampened hair from the younger woman's forehead. Dana's face was pinched with pain and fear. Russet lashes fluttered as she opened her eyes.
"Cassandra? Is it really you?" she mumbled.
"Yes, it's me."
"Wh-where's Mulder?" She searched the room with dazed eyes.
"I have no idea. Was he with you?"
"He--" Dana gasped when Dibeh, Cassandra's personal aide, appeared in the doorway, holding a blanket and a plain gown in her gray arms.
Cassandra supposed the aide might look threatening to someone who wasn't used to seeing alien-human hybrids, but Dibeh, like all her breed, was a harmless, serene creature. She had alien eyes and skin, yet her mouth, ears and hair were essentially human. She was slight and willowy, but taller than most Grays. And like all hybrids, she was female. Infertile, but female nonetheless.
Cassandra gave Dana's hand a reassuring squeeze. "It's all right. This is Dibeh, my aide. You can trust her."
Dana shook her head. "I'm not sure I can trust you."
"Of course you can. I'm here to help. There's no need to be afraid." Cassandra took the blanket from Dibeh and draped it over Dana, who hugged it to her chest with shivering hands. "You poor thing. Are you okay?"
"Th-they were inside my head."
"I know, it's dreadful." Cassandra helped her to sit up. "But it's over now."
"I want to leave this place."
"I'll take you to my quarters."
"No, I want to go home."
"That's not possible."
"Am I being held prisoner?"
"Of course not."
"Then let me go."
"Dana, we're airborne."
"We're on a plane?" She looked around, eyes blinking with confusion.
"We're on a ship. A spaceship."
Dana's darting gaze settled on Dibeh. "I...I guess I knew that."
Cassandra stroked her hunched shoulders. "Are you hungry...or thirsty?"
"I-I could use a drink of water."
"Can you walk?"
"I think so."
"In that case, let's go somewhere more comfortable."
Ca-Lo slouched in his favorite reading chair. His breakfast remained untouched on the table beside him. He was dressed in his uniform and boots, but his belt was undone and his fly open. A hybrid knelt on the floor between his splayed knees.
She had a talented tongue, this one. It swirled delightfully around him, pliant and hot, meting out sufficient friction to nudge him steadily toward ecstasy. She gazed up at him with liquid black eyes, large and unblinking like her Nih-hi-cho ancestors. Her alien features were framed by a luscious mane of human hair the color of amber. And her lips, oh her lips were warm, full and so seductive.
He groaned when she unexpectedly slowed her ministrations.
"Don't stop, ha-gade," he commanded, using the endearment because he didn't know her real name. She was one of many hybrids who regularly satisfied his sexual appetite. All the half-human, half-alien females looked essentially the same and each performed splendidly. They were perfect companions because they were willing and adept, and, best of all, they were incapable of crawling inside his head to read his thoughts like their Nih-hi-cho cousins.
Plowing his fingers into her tresses, he thrust into her mouth, eager for his release, yet wanting to prolong this moment of pleasure -- an oasis of bliss in a lifetime of duty and disquiet. The Nih-hi-cho didn't understand his human sexual drive. They tolerated his use of the hybrids in deference to his rank, though they considered his proclivity disgusting.
"Don't stop...don't...stop..." he begged as he pumped into her. That lovely mouth. Heavenly.
His orgasm arrived like a stealthy adversary; it was upon him, unstoppable, too soon. His hips bucked and his semen pulsed down the hybrid's compliant throat.
She was still on her knees, wiping swollen lips, when the signal light flashed, letting him know someone was waiting outside the door. He palmed her amber head in appreciation before tucking himself into his pants and calling out, "Enter."
His command automatically unlocked and opened his door. Cassandra Spender stood at the threshold, frowning at him.
"I need to speak with you," she said.
"Come in, Mother." He rose from his chair, crossed the room and, hiding his impatience at her unexpected arrival, offered his cheek for a kiss.
Cassandra bestowed her kiss, then shooed the hybrid out of her way as she made herself at home in Ca-Lo's chair. The obedient hybrid bowed submissively before hurrying from the room. When the door closed behind her, Cassandra shot Ca-Lo another annoyed look. "Why do you waste yourself on those barren half-breeds?"
He remained standing, the sticky sensation in his pants making him uncomfortable in his mother's presence. "Because I'm not permitted the luxury of human companionship."
"Pish-posh. You're permitted whatever you like."
It wasn't true. "They watch me constantly."
She plucked a ripe berry from his breakfast plate and popped it into her mouth. "So what?"
"They watch you, too," he reminded her.
"I don't care. You know I want grandchildren...before I'm too old to enjoy them."
He wanted offspring, too, but not on this damned Nih-hi-cho vessel and certainly not during mobilization. "I have more pressing responsibilities at the moment."
"As soon as all the fuss is over then." She reached out a hand. Without hesitation, he stepped forward and took hold of it. "Promise me, Ashkii. Please?"
"I've asked you not to call me that." His tone was stern, but he gave her fingers an affectionate squeeze. It was an old argument. "You make me feel like a child."
"Fine, fine...*Ca-Lo*. I didn't come here to quarrel."
"Good." He pulled gently away. He was overdue on the Bridge. Lieutenant Harris would be calling for him soon. "Why did you come?"
"Because of Dana."
"Imagine, seeing her again after all this time!"
"Who are you talking about?"
"Dana Scully. She was picked up by one of your scouting teams just before we launched."
"Dana Scully is on this ship?" It couldn't be true. "You must be mistaken."
"I'm not mistaken, Ashkii." She picked up another piece of fruit. "I was just with her."
If Ca-Lo had been a religious man, he would have offered up a prayer of thanks to the Divine Legion. He could scarcely believe his good fortune: Dana Scully, delivered directly to his door!
"She was alone?" he asked.
No Fox Mulder? That was disappointing. "What was she doing outside the ship?"
"I have no idea. Why don't you ask your 'interrogation team'?" she said with a sneer of disapproval.
He would do one better -- he would ask her himself.
Cassandra suddenly tossed her fruit back onto the plate and glared at him. "You should be ashamed, Ashkii."
The rebuke startled him, but he hid his surprise behind a mask of practiced calm. Years of Nih-hi-cho punishments -- unspeakable beatings, deprivation, mind games, torture -- had taught him to conceal his vulnerabilities. "Ashamed of what, Mother?"
"You allow these horrible examinations to continue."
"I mean it, Ashkii. Dana is an old friend and it breaks my heart to think of her suffer--"
"It's standard procedure. It's out of my hands."
"Nothing is out of your hands. You outrank everyone on this ship. They'll do whatever you tell them to do."
"Is it reasonable to torture humans?"
"You tell me," he snapped, his anger overtaking him.
Tears sprang to her eyes and he was immediately sorry for his reproof.
"I would have stopped them if I could." She sniffled. "You must know that."
He did, truly. She had been helpless, too. As much a victim as he had been.
"Mother..." He steadied his voice. "Send Dana Scully. I want to talk to her as soon as I return from the Bridge."
She eyed him suspiciously. "No more alien interrogations?"
"You promise? I care about her, Ashkii. Please, don't hurt her."
"You have my word, Mother. I've been waiting a very long time to meet Ms. Scully. I only intend for us to become better acquainted."
A tap on the shoulder woke Scully with a start. She hadn't intended to fall asleep, but the bed had been soft, the linens fresh, and the drink Cassandra had given her earlier warmed her belly in a most comforting way.
She rolled onto her back and was startled to find an alien-human hybrid standing at the side of the bed, staring back at her with enormous ebony eyes.
"What do you want?" Scully asked, sitting up.
The creature's expression turned sad.
Scully tossed back the covers and swung her feet to the floor. A wave of dizziness struck her, causing the room to spin.
The hybrid put out a hand to steady her. It cooed sympathetically as it caressed her arm.
"Don't touch me." Scully shrugged out from under its unwelcome petting.
The creature retreated a step and its backward movement caused Scully's head to swim. She grabbed the mattress for support, blinked, tried to focus.
What had Cassandra put in her drink? Her fingers felt numb, her movements sluggish. A too-sweet taste coated her tongue. She glanced at her watch to determine how long she'd been out, only to discover a snow-white bandage swathed her wrist in its place.
The previous day's events flooded back to her: the examination platform, those hideous aliens, their attack on her mind --
It's over, it's over...I'm okay, she told herself.
She glared at the hybrid. "Do you speak English?"
The creature wagged its head, then seemed to change its mind and nodded.
"Which is it, yes or no?"
It grunted softly.
"You understand what I'm saying, but...you aren't able to speak."
It smiled shyly, head bobbing.
"A mute mutant. Wonderful."
The hybrid reached out a thin, gray hand to tentatively pluck at the plain robe Scully was wearing. The garment's strange fabric was papery and it hung loosely on her frame, several sizes too big. The hybrid tilted its head toward a tidy pile of satiny green material on the foot of the bed.
"You want me to change my clothes?"
The shy smile returned.
The hybrid didn't appear threatening. Then again, Scully wasn't sure she could trust her instincts. The invasion of her mind and the drug from Cassandra's drink might still be affecting her judgment. She needed time to clear her head.
She also needed to wash. Her feet and hands were black with oily filth from the cell where she had been kept earlier. She could smell an unpleasant tang of dried sweat on her skin. More serious, however, was the state of her injuries. Blood encrusted her arms and legs around her bandages. The flesh was swollen and red, and throbbed with pain. If she didn't disinfect the wounds soon, she'd be facing serious infection.
She held out her arms for the hybrid to see. "Is there someplace I can clean up?"
With a wave of its slender hand, the hybrid beckoned her toward a side room. Scully rose on unsteady legs to follow.
The adjoining room turned out to be a bathroom, equipped with tub, toilet and sink, all spotlessly clean. Faucets and mirrors gleamed beneath silvery sconces. A vase of what appeared to be real roses graced the vanity beside an alabaster soap dish.
The hybrid located a towel on an upper storage shelf and placed it on the counter beside the sink. Then it crossed to the tub and began to draw a bath.
While steamy water thundered from the tap, Scully carefully unwrapped the bandage on her left wrist. She was appalled to find the wound went straight through her arm. It was the same unusual injury she'd seen on Theresa Hoese and on Mulder after their return from Bellefleur.
"Look at this." She thrust her arm under the hybrid's nose.
It hunched its shoulders as if ashamed...or afraid.
"You've seen it before, haven't you?"
It kept its eyes focused on the streaming tap.
"Well, so have I. You--"
"Dana?" Cassandra called from the outer room.
"Ah, good. Are you finding everything okay?" Cassandra swooped into the bathroom, displacing the hybrid, which backed out of her way. "You may go, Dibeh," she told it.
The creature bowed its head and quickly left them.
Cassandra gestured to an orderly row of lotions and assorted toiletries. "Feel free to use whatever you like. If there's anything you need, just ask."
"I want to leave."
Sympathy peaked Cassandra's pale brows. "That's not possible."
"You're keeping me here against my will."
"You're a guest, Dana, not a prisoner. I explained that earlier."
"I wasn't invited here; I was abducted." It was a word she rarely used, preferring the terms "kidnapped," "captured," "taken hostage," anything that pointed toward human, not extraterrestrial, intentions. "What did you put in my drink?"
"Just something to help you sleep."
"You drugged me."
"Dana, I would never hurt you."
"Then let me go."
"I can't do that."
Scully straightened her shoulders and tried to sound stronger than she felt. "Who's in charge? I want to speak to them."
"That's what I've come to tell you." Smiling, Cassandra shut off the taps, then poured a measure of scented oil into the bath. The smell of jasmine curled through the air. "My son wants to meet you."
Jeffrey? Scully had seen him a few days ago, at Mulder's trial. Disfigured beyond recognition and weakened by horrific tests, he'd barely had the strength to testify.
"Jeffrey's in charge of this spaceship?"
"No, no, not Jeffrey." Cassandra waved off the possibility, without a hint of sorrow. Perhaps she was unaware of her son's unfortunate circumstances. "I'm talking about Ashkii, my older son."
"I didn't know you had an older son."
"Oh, yes. He's a very important man." Pride tinged her voice. "He'll keep you safe from the Nih-hi-cho."
"The aliens. The gray ones. I know how they seem, and there's no denying they do have a cruel streak, but their ultimate purpose is worthy, I assure you."
"Worthy? How can you say that?" She extended her bloodied arm.
"I know, I know. I was in your place on more than one occasion. I understand what you're going through. But when you get to know them and learn the reasons they do what they do, then, well, you'll see the light, just like I did." Her eyes glittered with what Scully could only describe as euphoria.
"I want to go home, Cassandra."
"As soon as it's safe."
"Why isn't it safe now? Tell me what's happened?"
"Ashkii will explain it all. My aide will take you to him after you've finished here." She patted Scully's shoulder. "You'll feel right at home when you meet him, I promise you."
"Who chose this ridiculous dress?" Scully demanded, irritated by the clinging floor-length gown. Its straight skirt constricted her legs. The form-fitting bodice was deeply cut, revealing too much cleavage. With the exception of two delicate straps that crossed between her shoulder blades, Scully's back was exposed from nape to buttocks.
"Was it Cassandra?" she asked, trying to keep pace with Dibeh as they navigated a dank, labyrinthine corridor. "Or this...this Ashkii person?"
The hybrid shrugged and guided her around another corner.
After several more minutes of dodging puddles and avoiding leaks in the ceiling, they arrived at a timeworn door, gunmetal gray in color and as solid looking as a bank vault. The hybrid used a small wireless transponder to unlock the entrance. The door slid into the wall with a pneumatic hiss and the hybrid ushered Scully across the threshold with a delicate wave of its hand.
When the hybrid turned to go, Scully asked, "Aren't you coming in?"
It shook its head and quickly vanished in the direction they had come, leaving the door open.
Scully wandered into the middle of the sumptuous front room. She had been expecting an alien version of a conference room, but this was obviously Ashkii's -- or someone's -- personal apartment.
"Hello? Is anyone here?" she called.
When no one answered, she considered walking out. But with no way off the ship, there was nowhere for her to go, so she decided to investigate the apartment and learn something about its occupant before he returned.
The room was oversized, opulent and decidedly masculine. A plush carpet, decorated with bold geometric patterns, cushioned her feet. A gleaming wooden desk filled an alcove to her left. It held a sleek computer, which was powered down. A substantial leather chair was pushed away from the desk to face a matching couch and an overstuffed wingback. These were flanked by cherry end tables. A toppled stack of ancient-looking texts littered the floor around the wingback.
The apartment's walls were straight, smooth and square, unlike the organic construction in the outer corridor. They were covered with a mossy-green damask fabric. Paintings of terrestrial landscapes, illuminated by recessed spotlights, hung in neat rows around the room. The air smelled pleasant, like sage, and the temperature was less humid than elsewhere on the ship.
A sliver of light and the soft twitter of birdsong beckoned her to an arched doorway at the room's back corner.
"Hello?" she called again, crossing to the adjoining room.
It turned out to be a spacious bedchamber, furnished with a magnificently carved canopy bed and a large gilded birdcage. The domed cage was cylindrical and stood nearly eight feet high. Several colorful birds chattered and fluttered on its filigreed perches.
The bed's canopy was hung with heavy drapes, which were pulled aside to reveal bronze-colored linens and piles of satiny pillows. Not a wrinkle marred the sumptuous coverlet.
"Make yourself at home," Mulder's voice startled her from behind.
"Mulder, where did you--" She spun to face him and blinked in disbelief. "Oh my God."
It was Mulder. And yet it wasn't.
A strange brand marked his right cheek. And when he sidestepped around her, she saw that his hair hung nearly to his waist. Three silver clasps held it in a sleek ponytail, which swung hypnotically when he tossed a black military jacket onto the bed.
"I've been looking forward to meeting you, Ms. Scully," he said, turning to confront her. Lanky and graceful, genial yet imposing.
Just like Mulder.
Stunned, she was at a loss for words.
He loosened a brass fastening at the neck of his plain black uniform and watched her with cold amusement. His eyes were startlingly green, more so than Mulder's. The irises glittered like brilliant emeralds.
"Y-you're Cassandra's son?" she said when she finally found her voice.
"But...but you're a...a shapeshifter...or a clone."
A look of disgust darkened his too-green eyes. He unstrapped a sheathed dagger from his thigh. "Hardly. I'm as human as you are." He set the knife and its sheath on the nightstand beside the bed.
“How is it I look so much like him?” A slanting grin nudged his cheek and his expression was so like Mulder, it stole her breath.
“Yes,” she managed to whisper.
“You’re gonna love this.” He loomed closer. “Fox Mulder is my brother.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“No?” He stepped around her to the birdcage, where he filled the food tray with fresh seed. The birds twittered with apparent appreciation. “You knew my father, Ms. Scully. CGB Spender was a dishonorable man. A cheat...in business and in marriage.” He checked the latch on the cage before turning to face her. “He impregnated Teena Mulder six months before he impregnated my mother.”
"You're a liar." Even as she said the words doubt washed through her.
A DNA analysis had proved Jeffrey Spender was Mulder's half brother. And Jeffrey testified at Mulder's trial, "His mother had an affair with my father," supporting the claim that CGB Spender, not Bill Mulder, was Mulder's biological father.
The look-alike crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed. His face appeared deceptively earnest. He toed off one leather boot. "I have no reason to lie to you, Ms. Scully."
"I've known Cassandra Spender for four years. Why hasn't she mentioned you before?"
“Because she met me for the first time only last year.”
“What do you mean she met you for the first time? Is she your mother or isn’t she?”
"She is, but you know how these things are. Weren't you the mother of a child you'd never met?" He tugged off the other boot and let it drop to the floor with a muted thud.
"That...that was different," she said.
"Not so much. My mother was abducted during the first trimester of her first pregnancy. I was taken from her womb as a fetus."
"Taken by whom? Aliens?"
"There are thieves and scoundrels all around us, Ms. Scully -- both alien and human."
She wanted to bolt from the room, get as far away from this lying clone as possible, but his familiar gaze held her in place. "What you're suggesting is impossible. A twelve-week-old fetus cannot survive outside the womb."
"And a barren woman cannot become pregnant, isn't that so?" He peeled off his shirt, turning it inside out as he drew it up over his head. His long hair crackled with static electricity when he pulled free of the garment. She was relieved to see his left shoulder bore no trace of Mulder's old gunshot wound. It was a clear difference between the two men, a reminder to be wary of this stranger. The look-alike dropped the shirt to the floor, creating a black puddle of fabric beside his stocking-clad feet. "These beings work outside the constraints of your science, Ms. Scully. Their skill is nothing short of miraculous."
"If you're insinuating my son was a product of alien technology--"
"You have another explanation? Maybe you believe he was summoned into existence by the hand of God."
"Or maybe I believe his conception was proof that I was never barren in the first place."
He rose from the bed and approached her.
She held her ground, even when he loomed so close she could smell the faint, musky odor of his skin...so familiar...so like Mulder.
His gaze dropped to her low-cut gown. "Your pictures don't do you justice, you know."
She felt her face flush. "You've seen pictures of me?"
"Lots of pictures." He raised a finger to her collarbone and traced it to the strap of her gown.
His stare was mesmerizing. His touch was feather-light, barely there, and yet it sent a spark sizzling through her. She knew she should push his hand away, step back from his uninvited caress, but she felt mysteriously paralyzed, even when he hooked his finger beneath the dress' strap.
"Tell me, Ms. Scully, what were you doing outside the ship just before we launched?"
"Star gazing," she lied. Cassandra had claimed she didn't know Mulder's whereabouts; it was possible her "son" didn't either.
Doubt, and a hint of amusement, glistened in his emerald eyes. His finger changed course, taking a leisurely path from her shoulder to her cleavage. Gooseflesh sprouted across her chest and she felt her nipples harden.
"And the condoms in your shopping bag? Those were for what...a chance encounter?"
"That's none of your business."
"Oh, but it is. You see, while my soldiers were picking you up, we discovered an intruder on board."
Mulder. It had to be. Damn it. "An intruder?"
"Mm-hmm, a real troublemaker. You wouldn't happen to know someone like that, would you?" Grasping her arms, he drew her up on her toes and whispered insistently into her ear, "Where is he? Where's Mulder?"
"Let me go." She tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip. "You're hurting me. Stop it."
He surprised her by releasing her and taking a step back. What appeared to be genuine concern creased his brow.
"Sorry," he said, sounding sincerely contrite. He pointed to the bandages on her wrists. "I forgot about..." His words trailed off as he studied the bruises on her arms.
After a moment, he said, "I can make the pain go away."
"That's probably the worst pick-up line I've ever heard."
A cheerless smile played across his lips. "Honestly, I can help."
"I have no reason to trust you."
"And you have no reason not to trust me."
"Other than the fact that I'm being held prisoner on your ship...in your bedroom."
"You're not a prisoner," he said.
"So everyone keeps telling me, yet here I am."
He gently captured her hands, curling his fingers loosely around her wrists. "Let me help."
She stiffened. "How?"
"I told you, I can make your pain disappear."
"You're going to drug me again?"
"No, no drugs."
"I want you to relax, clear your mind," he said.
"I don't think that's possible."
"Try closing your eyes."
"No." She drew back.
He retained his light hold on her wrists. "All right then, look at me instead. Look into my eyes."
"You're going to hypnotize me?"
"No, not hypnosis. This is something different."
She huffed with disbelief and challenged his claim by looking directly into his eyes.
"I don't feel anything," she said after only a few seconds.
"Shhhhh." His stare didn't waver.
She waited, focusing on his strange-colored eyes, ultra aware of his bare chest only inches from her fingertips. Heat radiated off him, warming her upraised palms.
Behind her, the birds twittered softly, a delicate sound, like the tinkle of bells. It melded with the rasp of her breath.
It was then she noticed something shift inside her. An odd sensation, hard to describe, like the soft brush of a sleeve from a passing stranger. It left her slightly disoriented and mystified, as if she'd entered her childhood bedroom to find her favorite doll had been moved an inch or two from its usual spot on the pillows.
"I think...something's happening."
"Good. Don't talk."
Thoughts began to shuffle like playing cards in her brain, yet she wasn't alarmed by the rearrangement. She was still in Ashkii's room, still held captive by his sea-glass eyes. Shards of emerald and jade shimmered around the midnight of his pupils, a flash of northern lights in a dark, December sky.
"Can you feel it?" His voice was velvety smooth and infinitely intimate.
She held her breath. His muted pulse tapped against the sensitive undersides of her wrists. No pain, just a gentle tap...tap...tap...
Unexpectedly, he released his hold on her.
"How do you feel now?" he asked softly.
The pain had vanished.
"You lied," she said. "You're not human."
"I am. Truly. I just know a few tricks."
"I've seen this before. Shapeshifters who can heal even lethal injuries."
"I've seen them, too. But I'm not one of them. See? I didn't heal you." He indicated the bruises that still mottled her arms. "I just blocked your pain."
His smile broadened into a proud grin, making him appear boyish and innocent.
"Then how did you...?"
He leaned toward her, as if poised for a kiss. "Does it matter?" His lips were so close.
The room's walls wobbled. The floor buckled. He was doing something to her, affecting her perception. She watched in amazement as the sumptuous linens on his bed transformed into a rumpled comforter with a garish design, a kaleidoscope of blues, oranges and reds, exactly like the bedspread in the Frontier Motel in Roswell.
Muscular arms embraced her. Warm lips pressed against hers.
"Mulder..." She broke the kiss and buried her face in his neck, relieved to be with him.
Mulder lifted her off her feet and carried her to the bed.
From somewhere beyond the edges of her conscious mind came a whisper of flapping feathers and the trill of birdsong.
Terrestrial defenses were floundering in the wake of the Nih-hi-cho's e-munitions offensive. Telecommunications systems were inoperable and the world's power grids disabled. As anticipated, ionized gases blocked most radio and radar signals. The first strike had been a resounding success thanks to Ca-Lo's bold push for early mobilization. Yet he wasn't on the Bridge to bask in his victory.
And his absence did not go unnoticed.
"Locate him and report back." The order came telepathically to Watcher VII from the Society's Overseers. "Proceed with utmost caution."
Their addendum was unnecessary; the Watcher understood his responsibility. He had been surveilling Ca-Lo for the past three Earth years and was an expert at stealing into the officer's brain and quietly eavesdropping there. Ca-Lo had yet to detect his presence, and hopefully never would. VII had no intention of repeating Watcher VI's egregious blunder. VI had been caught spying and Ca-Lo responded by having him lobotomized, severing him permanently from the Society. A terrifying punishment, to be sure, but perhaps deserved in his case. Due to VI's incompetence, Ca-Lo was now alert to the Watchers, making VII's job all the more difficult.
VII vacated his post on the Bridge to ride the elevator to Level 4. Alone in the car he morphed out of his human disguise. He observed the transformation in the car's reflective steel doors, blandly watching Lieutenant Harris' familiar craggy features churn and eddy until his eyes grew large, his nose all but disappeared, and his skin melted into a pool of smooth, hairless gray. The entire process took only a second or two.
Pleased to be back in his own skin, VII inhaled deeply, flexed his shoulders, and exited the elevator on 4.
He went directly to the Portal of Solitude, where he entered the Privation Chambers' upper hall. A dozen Nih-hi-cho squatted like chess pieces on the caldarium's semi-transparent decking, intent on their various tasks. The entire floor was incised with a faint honeycomb pattern, which delineated the sixteen-hundred hexagonal compartments below. Silvery haloes spotlighted the occupied cells. Empty chambers remained dark.
The cells were used for a variety of purposes, ranging from enforced imprisonment to voluntary introspection. Approximately half were currently occupied by humans slated for genetic manipulation or virus testing. One-hundred and fifty-two held Nih-hi-cho enemies -- treasonous spies, malfunctioning Replacements, and inept personnel like VI, who were condemned to live out the remainder of their days in solitude, cut off physically and mentally from the Society.
VII repressed a shiver. To think the Refuters voluntarily segregated themselves here. They claimed to use the chambers for religious meditation and prayer, preferring to connect individually with the Divine Legion. The practice riled the Council of Overseers, who considered any desire for autonomy immoral. The Council regularly challenged the Refuters, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the Society. They made little headway, however. The Refuters' self-inflicted isolation made identifying their true purposes difficult, if not impossible.
The Refuters' disloyalty was not VII's concern at the moment. Bent on locating Ca-Lo, he proceeded to an unlit hexagram and positioned himself with feet together atop the cell's constricted entrance. After a moment, the passage expanded and VII was swallowed into the chamber.
The sphincter-like entrance closed automatically above his head, effectively filtering out the Society's mental chatter, allowing VII to home in on Ca-Lo's thoughts without a prolonged period of mental preparation. He settled back on his haunches and began to methodically probe each deck, alert to Ca-Lo's familiar thought patterns.
"There you are," he murmured when he located the officer in his personal quarters.
Human emotions assailed his senses the moment he entered Ca-Lo's psyche, and he recoiled from the onslaught. Ca-Lo was engaged in a sexual act. And through him, VII also suffered the repugnant physical desires of an adult human male.
Ravenous. Needy. Desperate to join physically with another, to dispel his emotional loneliness.
Ca-Lo's purpose was focused, deliberate, his motivation intense. He was impatient. Reckless. Driven. He wanted to possess his lover. Control her. Gain her affection. Her loyalty. Her desire.
Her moans enthralled him. Her touch set him afire. He was spellbound by her scent, by the look of ecstasy in her pale blue eyes--
"Nooo!" Watcher VII bellowed upon discovering Ca-Lo was not with one of his barren hybrid companions, but was mating with a human woman.
It was blasphemy! Ca-Lo was not permitted human lovers. Ever.
VII sprang to his feet.
"Let me out!" he commanded.
The overhead passage expanded, opening the cell. He was expelled to the decking above and, ignoring the surprised stares of his fellow Nih-hi-cho, he bolted for the exit.
"Divine Legion, help us," he prayed as he ran.
The nightmare is always the same.
In it, Ashkii is seven Earth years old. He is exploring the ship, crawling through a ventilation duct on Deck 19, which leads him toward the outer hull. He isn't supposed to be there; he isn't supposed to be anywhere without supervision. But he manages to elude his Nih-hi-cho tutor after their morning lesson and it feels wonderful to be beyond the reach of Tkin's stinging Taser.
Ashkii will pay for his disobedience later, he knows. But punishments are a daily occurrence, so it seems there is little to lose and plenty to gain by running away.
The duct opens into a tall narrow space with curving walls, a cavity between the inner and outer hulls. It is crowded with humming machinery and piles of knotted cables. Twenty meters up, wasps have made an enormous papery nest at the crook of a metal brace. The yellow-eyed insects dot the sweating bulkheads in search of moisture. Others swoop through the muggy half-dark with seeming purpose, unconcerned by Ashkii's intrusion.
Ashkii slides feet first out of the vent onto a grated floor. Tipping his head back, he inspects the upper wall, where sunlight seeps through the outer hull like a specter's splayed fingers. Light puddles in the crevices of the heat exchange system; it reflects off the wastewater stack, highlighting its fasteners with silver. Attracted by the gleam, he starts to climb a network of thick, flexible tubing. He imagines the fat hoses are Tse'Bit'a'i's veins, carrying blood to its parts.
Ashkii has seen his own veins, countless times, exposed during his weekly physical assessments.
He tries not to cry when They cut into him. He hates the things They do. He hates Them.
Sticky with oil and dust, breathing hard, he works his way toward a pair of intake apertures, towering slits in the outer hull that allow the New Mexico air to flow into the ship. He intends to look out at the surrounding desert, glimpse the sun, feel the tickle of real wind upon his skin, maybe smell the Earth's hot, foreign odor...but he is distracted before he ever reaches the opening.
A small gray bird flounders in a shaft of sunlight. It beats its wings against a metallic plate, mistaking the shiny rectangle for a way out.
It's an insect eater, a vireo; he recognizes it from his lessons. It must have come looking for food -- the wasps, maybe. He's never seen a live bird before and is curious about it. Wanting to touch it, he climbs closer.
It stops fluttering and perches crookedly on a coupling when he draws near. Its heart is hammering beneath its ruffled white breast. Its eyes, circled by thin, pale rings, have grown dull.
"I can help you," he tells it softly.
He wants to ease its terror and confusion. He thinks he can manage it, too, because he's been practicing during his weekly assessments, concentrating hard on blocking out the most painful tests. It's just a matter of willpower, he believes. After all, the Nih-hi-cho are able to get inside his head. They can make him feel things, do things. When he's been very good, they sometimes take his fear away.
He lifts the bird with great care and cradles it in his palm, intending to bring it back to his bedchamber, where he will revive it and then keep it as a companion. Its head lolls frightfully, however, and he realizes it is hurt worse than he first thought.
"Don't worry." He tucks the limp bird into his tunic and quickly returns to the ventilation duct.
When he emerges at the other end, Tkin is waiting for him.
"Give it to us, Ashkii," the tutor demands telepathically, his hand held out. His Taser dangles menacingly from a strap around his wrist.
Lying is futile, but the words pop out before Ashkii can stop them. "I-I don't have anything."
"We want the bird now, without further falsehood or argument."
"But...it's hurt, Tkin. I want to make it better."
"Maybe *you* can?"
"We are not interested in healing the bird."
"I want to keep it."
"That is not permitted."
Ashkii feels Tkin begin to tunnel into his mind. He is nudged toward compliance.
Unable to stop himself, he reaches beneath his tunic and withdraws the bird. Its heart beats faintly against his palm. Its papery eyelids are closed.
"Wh-what are you g-going to do w-with it?" he asks, his voice thin with fear.
"Dispose of it." Tkin snatches the bird away.
"P-please, don't kill it!"
Tkin's fist closes tightly around the vireo. Blood drips from between his fingers, spotting the floor with crimson. "It is already done. Now we shall see to your punishment."
No, please, no, no--
Ca-Lo was startled awake by a hiss from the outer room. Someone had opened the pneumatic door. A hybrid servant? He glanced at the timepiece on his nightstand.
"Too early for housekeeping," he mumbled beneath his breath. The interloper must be a high-ranking Nih-hi-cho to risk intruding at this hour.
He grabbed his dagger from the nightstand, then glanced at Dana Scully.
She was still asleep, curled on her side, her hair fanned across the pillow. Good. He hoped she stayed that way, at least until he could evict his midnight prowler.
He eased off the bed, careful not to wake her or alert the intruder.
Stealthy footsteps, hushed by the thick carpet, crossed the outer room, drawing near. From the sound of them, Ca-Lo guessed there were at least four men, maybe more in the hall. Sent by Watcher VII, no doubt.
Fucking little spy. Hope he likes the cell next to VI, Ca-Lo thought as he sidestepped his clothes. Edging toward the archway, he positioned himself to one side, where he could grab the first man who crossed the threshold.
It turned out to be Lieutenant Harris.
Ca-Lo's arm shot out and hooked Harris around the neck. The Lieutenant choked with surprise.
His three comrades rushed to the rescue. Ca-Lo raised his knife to the older man’s throat. “I wouldn’t,” he warned them, freezing the soldiers in their tracks. “Not unless you want to watch him bleed to death all over my nice carpet.”
"Ca-Lo...don't," Harris rasped.
"What are you doing here, Lieutenant? Dirty work for the Refuters?" Ca-Lo tightened his grip.
"No...I...I was sent by the Overseers."
"You know why. Her." Harris' focus slid to Dana Scully.
"She's my business, not the Overseers'."
"That's not true." Harris gulped for air. "They're going to take her from you. Even if you kill me."
The three soldiers stepped forward. Another dozen filed through the front door from the hall, rifles drawn. Behind them came a contingent of Nih-hi-cho. Already Ca-Lo could feel them boring into his mind.
"It's over, Ca-Lo," Harris wheezed. "You can't win this."
"Poor Dana." Cassandra slumped in Ca-Lo's wingback chair. She felt chilly in her nightgown and bathrobe, but was too fatigued to return to her apartment to change her clothes.
Ca-Lo paced around her, his feet bare, his unbound hair fluttering restlessly against his naked back. He wore only yesterday's wrinkled pants, recouped from the floor shortly after Cassandra had arrived to witness Lieutenant Harris and his minions dragging Dana Scully from the apartment.
That was an hour ago.
"What were you thinking, Ashkii?" she scolded. "Did you really believe you could get away with it?"
He paused in front of her. "I want her back."
"Don't be a fool."
"I *want* *her* *back*!" He brought his fist down on the table beside her chair. The wallop toppled her coffee cup. Oily black liquid rained to the floor.
Turning away from the mess, he resumed his pacing.
She remained in her chair. One of the hybrid servants would clean up the spill later.
"I asked you not to hurt her, Ashkii. You promised me."
He glanced over his shoulder to glare at her. "I didn't hurt her."
"You're saying she came to your bed voluntarily?"
"Is that so hard to believe?"
"Yes, Ashkii, it is. Dana loves Fox Mulder. They have a child together. She wouldn't have--" Her eyes widened with sudden understanding. "That's it, isn't it?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You wanted her because she's his. You're jealous of your brother."
He spun to confront her, his face flushed, his emerald eyes flashing. "Can you blame me? He has everything, Mother, *everything*. He lives *there*...*outside*...in the world of humans. He's free to do whatever he pleases. He grew up with a mother and a father. He has a family of his own, a son, a woman who loves him. Tell me, what do I have?"
"You should be proud of who you are." She plucked at a snag in her bathrobe. "You were chosen to serve the Divine Legion."
"You believe that crap?"
"It's written in the Prophesy," she admonished.
"Three million years ago -- what the hell did they know?" His attention wandered to one of his paintings. In the picture, a terrestrial waterfall tumbled through a wooded glen.
"Why didn't you ever search for me, Mother?"
"I didn't know where to look."
"You knew who took me."
"I never imagined this place."
"My father knew of it."
"He told me nothing."
"Did you ask him?" He looked back at her. "Or was it easier to forget me than fight for me?"
"I was in no position to fight. I couldn't save you, Ashkii. I couldn't even save myself."
Suddenly the brutality of the past seemed too heavy a mantle and he sank to his knees beneath the painting. He plowed quaking fingers through his tangled hair. "What am I going to do?"
She rose from her chair and went to him. Placing her palm on his head, she stroked his soft hair.
"You could try petitioning the Overseers -- ask them for her release."
"They'll never agree to it."
"They might, given your position--"
"My authority goes only so far. I direct the Armada, not the Society. The Overseers barely tolerate me."
She leaned down and kissed his worried brow. She loved him, more than he realized. "My poor boy. I'm sorry..."
When she didn't say more, he asked, "Sorry for what, Mother?" His eyes gleamed with hope.
She traced the brand on his cheek. A permanent reminder, placed there when he was a small boy, so she'd been told, to mark him as the man he was meant to become -- "Ca-Lo," the Destroyer.
Now she must say the words he needed to hear, not those for which he yearned. "You refuse to accept your destiny."
His reply was sharp with disappointment. "I've refused nothing, Mother. I'm still here, aren't I?"
Twelve Overseers sat in their customary seats, a semicircle of onyx chairs -- the only furniture in their chambers. A central spotlight obscured the room's damp walls, giving an illusion of infinite space.
Ca-Lo stood at attention in front of them, his spit-polished boots gleaming in the spotlight's silvery beam. His features were molded into an expression of repentance. The regret was genuine -- they could read it in his mind as clearly as on his face. However, they also knew his regret was misplaced; it was not a response to his irreverent actions, but the result of being caught.
"Release Dana Scully to me," he petitioned.
The twelve councilors answered as one, verbalizing their response to emphasize their point. "No," they said.
Ca-Lo flinched at their use of audible language. He had heard their click-clacking speech since his boyhood and understood its nuances, yet his reaction revealed he still considered the sound alien and offensive.
"She will remain a captive," Overseer One said, reverting to telepathy. "It is because of your contravention, Ca-Lo, she must be closely monitored now."
"So tag her with an implant," Ca-Lo suggested.
His voice was restrained, his manner outwardly calm. Yet his hypothalamus was releasing norepinephrine, causing his adrenal glands to produce adrenaline. His heart rate, pulse and respiration were rising. Blood sugar, lactic acid, and cortisol were readying his body to fight or run, neither of which was truly an option for him. Human emotions -- frustration, resentment, dread -- were beginning to overwhelm his psyche. At the moment, he perceived everything as a threat, everyone as an enemy.
He had good reason to be afraid of them.
"We have already installed a bio-monitor in the woman's sinus cavity," Overseer One said, "and a locator beneath the dermis of her lower back."
Ca-Lo's thoughts registered surprise, yet his face showed no emotion at the Overseer's pronouncement. "Then she can be set free."
"No. Her implants will not ensure your cooperation," Overseer Six explained. "Her imprisonment will."
"Then tag me, too." A muscle twitched along Ca-Lo's jaw, the first outward sign of desperation. His tone grew sharp. "Don't keep her in isolation. You know humans can't tolerate loneliness any better than you can."
"Do not attempt to compare your insignificant feelings to ours," said Overseer Six. "We are not here to bargain with you. Our intent is to curb your undesirable impulses by punishing your disobedience."
"What if I promise to be a good boy, forever and ever, amen."
"Your sarcasm does not amuse us. It never has."
"What does amuse you? Torturing an innocent woman?"
"You misjudge us, Ca-Lo. Torturing the terrestrial female elicits no emotion in us whatsoever."
Ca-Lo's fists tightened. "Please, don't do this. It was me...I forced her... The fault is mine. Imprison me instead."
"Yes, the fault was yours, but it is not practical to remove you from your duties at this time. Your tactical skills are required for colonization."
"And if I refuse to lead the Armada?"
"Then Dana Scully will spend the rest of her life in a Privation Chamber."
They waited for his response, listening to his internal struggle. His emotional connection to the Earth woman was strong, stronger than they would have predicted, given the scant amount of time the two had spent together.
"And if I cooperate in every imaginable way, how long will you keep her locked in your despicable bee hive?" he asked.
"Until we know whether or not she carries your child."
This time Ca-Lo didn't try to hide his surprise. "You think she could be pregnant? After only one...?"
"Why not? You took no precautions."
"Did the damned Watcher give you that detail, too?"
They saw no reason to lie. "Yes. He also reported the true motive for your sexual encounter with Dana Scully."
"I was feeling horny after a long day of world domination?"
"No, you intended to impregnate her--."
"That's not true."
"You took no precaution against such an eventuality."
Ca-Lo's mind was crowded with protests, but digging deeper they uncovered a buried desire. Ca-Lo dreamed of having a family.
Unfortunately for him, his rare genetic configuration disallowed it. The Derivation flowed in his veins. He was the will of God, Heavenly Father of humankind. This made him an abomination in the eyes of the Nih-hi-cho, who followed the teachings of their own gods -- the Divine Legion of Angels and the Red Dragon, eternal enemies of God the Almighty. The Nih-hi-cho reviled Ca-Lo, but they dared not kill him. To do so would result in severe retribution from his Creator. Better to hold him prisoner, control his actions, study his unusual genes and understand his special skills, all the while ensuring a natural end to his cursed bloodline by denying him a mate.
It was paramount Ca-Lo never sire a child, an anomaly, like the four Earth children born last year, all believed to be miracle babies, future saviors of the human race.
Of these four, only young William Mulder remained alive, hidden from his enemies by a devious mother, Dana Scully, the very woman who was found in Ca-Lo's bed mere hours ago.
Ca-Lo cleared his throat. "And if there is a child?"
They would not terminate the pregnancy, as much as they might want to. The humans' God wielded great power over this matter and now was not the time to test Him.
"Will you release her to me then?" Ca-Lo asked.
"You do not seem to grasp the seriousness of your transgression. You will never see Dana Scully again."
Desperation rolled through him. "There must be something...something I can do in exchange for her return."
Another quick reading of his mind told them his plea was sincere. His desire for the woman was not a whim. As a matter of fact, the prospect of a child had solidified his resolve.
"Perhaps there is something..." Overseer One began.
"Anything. Name it."
"Find her son William and bring him to us -- alive. Then and only then may you bargain for Dana Scully."
Continued in Book III...
Click on the thumbnail below to see a portrait of Ca-Lo by SoulDreamX.
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