The people of planet Earth have suffered the tides of war for six long years, but it’s not their war. Earth is the battleground for the thousand year conflict between the invading Hahnshin and the Godan warriors of the Galactic Confederation.
Mira Donazetto’s only concern is for her family’s survival, so when she’s offered work as a translator for the Godan, she jumps at the chance and right into the arms of the new First Commander, Roark. Her heart says she should trust this alien warrior, but how can she when he has the power to take away everything she holds dear.
Roark’s new command post is a disaster with a long list of problems that he must address, including dissention among his officers. The last thing he needs is to have his heart touched by a woman who may be a traitor.
It’s a whole new world and a whole new love story in a whole new series called Women of Earth.
Mira shook the water from her umbrella, collapsed it back down into its small cylinder shape, and tucked it into her bag. She brushed what dirt she could from her skirt and used her rain soaked handkerchief to give a last swipe to her face. After twisting the water from the delicate cloth, she pressed it flat against her thigh, and folded it neatly before returning it to her pocket. There wasn’t much she could do with her hair. The neat French braid she’d so carefully laced along the back of her head, now sprouted damp curls along its length.
That everyone else in line was as ragged and filthy as she didn’t make her feel any better about her appearance. After standing in line for three days, the last one of constant, drizzling rain, it was the best she could do. She only hoped that whoever interviewed her would see she’d made an attempt to look presentable.
She began to worry when the six people in front of her were unceremoniously turned away after a brief inspection. She took a deep breath to relieve her trembling and stepped forward into the cage formed by metal fencing and the inner and outer gates.
Two guards, fully covered in their warrior’s armor with helmet faceplates lowered, stood to either side of the gate, strange looking weapons at the ready. Two more watched from the enclosed platforms above while yet another two searched through her bag which contained her residency papers, the folded umbrella, and what little food remained of her meager supply.
One guard turned the umbrella over and over, running his gloved fingers through the folds. Was he searching or curious? Mira couldn’t tell. The helmet and dark faceplate blocked any view of his face.
They were always shielded from view. When on occasion, they marched through the streets, the Godans were covered in their battle gear, each soldier looking exactly the same as the next. They cared nothing for the people here. Earth was a battlefield in their war with another race, the Hahnshin. No one knew who was winning and Mira doubted many cared. People were too busy searching for food and shelter, particularly in the bombed out cities.
Most forms of communication were shut down, but there was one form neither the Godan nor the Hahnshin could stop. If gossip truly did supply grain for the gristmill, bellies would be full, and Mira wouldn’t be standing where she was now.
She was sure the stories about the aliens’ appearance were exaggerations. Until the past week, no one was allowed within the gates of the Godan’s compound and most of the rumors were of the my-sister’s-neighbor’s-brother-in-law-knew-someone variety. Horror stories abounded, but Mira discounted most of them because of the Godan soldier they’d hidden for months in their little apartment. Yes, he was markedly different, but certainly not ugly or frightening.
The guard searching her bag opened the plastic container holding her food, sniffed it, and tossed both container and contents into a large trash bin. Food was too hard to come by to throw anything away. Mira began to protest just as the guard fiddling with the umbrella hit the tiny button on the handle.
“No!” she cried, meaning both the food and the umbrella.
The umbrella unfurled with a pop, striking the other guard in the face. Container and food soared in different directions and suddenly Mira was faced with four very scary weapons all pointing at her head. The two guards were angry and shouting at her. Their words were muffled and hollow sounding behind their masks and it was difficult to understand.
“Please,” Mira begged. She raised her hands over her head in surrender. “Speak slowly. I can’t understand what you want.”
Rough hands pulled her arms behind her back and the guard facing her drew back his fist.
The first blow to her stomach had her buckling over and it was only because of the guard holding her from behind that she didn’t fall. He released her arms with the second blow to her head. She collapsed to the ground, but the guards weren’t finished. Her head and body were yanked up and back by the tail of her braid. It was released just as suddenly when another voice shouted from the inside the compound and Mira was left kneeling in the dirt, head over her knees, and gasping for breath. She tried to shake away the star bursts behind her closed eyelids.
“Cease!” The booming voice drew Mira. “What goes on here?” it demanded. “Do my warriors feel threatened by a helpless female armed with a flimsy cloth contraption and flying bread?”
Still on her knees, arms wrapped around her middle, Mira wanted to look up. She wanted to thank whoever it was who had interfered on her behalf, but her body was shaking too badly. She was still fighting for air and her vision swam when she opened her eyes. Standing a few feet from her bowed head, she recognized a heavy pair of shiny black boots that doubled and then tripled as her vision blurred. She closed her eyes again, fighting back nausea.
She felt him stoop before her. The heat from his massive presence seemed to surround her. Knuckle beneath her chin, he forced her head up. She barely had a glimpse of his bright piercing eyes before she had to close hers again. She felt him stand and move away.
“Infirmary, this is First Commander Roark. We have an injured human female. I’ll be there in two.”
Then the heat of his body was back, warmer now because he lifted her to her feet and then into his arms. He spoke over her head which he supported against the crook of his neck.
“You six are on report. In my office. One hour. You and you, send the humans home and close the gate. We’re done for the day.” He strode off still barking orders. “Harm! In my office. One hour. Officers meeting in two.”
Mira heard no more. She closed her eyes against the pain and nausea and allowed her body to succumb to the comforting heat of her rescuer.
“God blast it,” the healer swore at Roark’s order. “What is it you want me to do with her?” Vochem’s voice hissed, a sure sign of his frustration. “I can’t put her in the Knitter. She’s too small. It wasn’t built for children, you know. She’ll end up with a head swelled bigger than yours.”
Old friend or not, Roark was in no mood for Vochem’s jokes. “You will do what the Confederation pays your worthless hide to do. Fix her, blast it. Put her in that damned machine of yours and knit her back together.” This last was louder than he meant it to be and with a conscious effort, he reduced his volume to a low growl. “I command it. So it will be.”
“Next, he’ll command us to build a temple in his honor,” Vochem muttered to the female behind him. “All hail to the new First Commander of Sector Three.”
Ahnyis’s eyes crinkled at the corners and her voice held a teasing whisper of humor. “My Lord Commander, might I make a suggestion?”
“Go ahead, Ahny” Roark said with a sigh. She always called him my Lord when he took what she called his high and mighty tone. “It has to be better than what your idiot brother is offering.”
She lowered her head to hide her smile. “There is a man below, a local, who I believe knows something of human healing.”
“What were you doing down below?” Vochem snapped.
Ahnyis put her hands on her hips and gave Vochem a sour look. “I’m going to forgive that tone, Vochy, because I know it’s worry that sharpens your claws, but you have to stop it. I’m a Healer, not a novice, a Healer,” she emphasized. She placed delicate hand on his forearm. “It’s my vocation, same as yours. It’s my duty to care. So I brought them a little extra food and some blankets.”
“Those prisoners could be dangerous, Ahny,” her brother snarled.
“How would you know? You haven’t met them,” she argued back.
“What prisoners? Why wasn’t I told?” Roark had been here for three rotes of the planet and already felt as if he was three lunar cycles behind.
“It’s probably in one of those reports you ordered, though if the others are as long as mine, which is slightly longer than the history of the Universe, you’ll never find the reference,” Vochem told him. “This place is a disaster, Roark.” He frowned at his sister. “There’s plenty to look after without putting yourself in danger.”
Roark understood the not so subtle hint. Ahnyis was a gentle soul who only saw the good in people. This wouldn’t be the first time her trusting and forgiving nature had gotten her into trouble.
“He thinks any male who looks at me is dangerous,” Ahnyis complained to Roark. “Which makes it pretty difficult when most of our patients are male. He spends half his time glaring at them and the other half telling me to be careful. The prisoners down below have shown me nothing but respect.”
“They’d have to, wouldn’t they? They’re under armed guard.” Vochem exchanged a look with his friend.
Roark winked at the plump and pretty female. “I’ll bet they’re all innocent, too, aren’t they, Buttons?”
Ahnyis flicked her fingers at him, sharp claws protracting from the tips. “Don’t call me Buttons,” she threatened before going on in her normal high and rapid-fire voice. “And yes, I think most of them are innocent or at least not guilty of anything worse than protesting the actions of that ignominious creature who was here before you. You really need to look into it Roark. Immediately. Are you going to send for this man or not?”
“I’ll put it on the list of my other two hundred and ten things that need to be looked into immediately. Now, what’s this Healer’s name?”
The order was issued and while they waited for the prisoner’s arrival, Ahnyis shooed the males away while she closed the curtain surrounding the bed. She undressed and cleaned the patient. She spoke quietly while she worked.
“The clothing is dirty, but the young woman beneath it is quite clean. She appears to be slightly underweight. I wonder why?”
Vochem shuffled through the papers in his hand. “Her papers are in order, her ration card unmarked.” He was referring to the symbols declaring her rations be cut as punishment for offences against the Confederation. Rations were carefully calculated based on height and body structure. They were minimal, to be sure, and geared for nutrition over taste. “A woman her size should have no problem surviving on what’s available.”
Patient decently covered, Ahnyis pulled back the curtain. The two men watched as she ran the scanner over the delicate body once more and this time took a minute sample of the patient’s blood. She compared the results to the norms compiled from human medical texts.
“Her heart rate’s a bit slow compared to the average, but her breathing and temperature are normal.”
“Then why won’t she wake up?” the First Commander asked impatiently.
“I suspect it’s exhaustion as much as injury.” Ahnyis kept her eyes on the scanner. “Just as I suspected, she’s anemic with several minor vitamin deficiencies. There’s nothing in the other readouts to indicate any other problems, but scanners don’t always tell the whole story. I’d feel more comfortable if we had a little more experience with these people.”
“Then find someone who has,” Commander Roark directed.
Vochem raised his eyebrows at his old friend’s interest in the creature. When he opened his mouth to tease, Roark’s sour look made him change direction.
“The former Head Healer had little to do with the local population. I find that strange, don’t you? I’ve never known a base to be kept so isolated except in cases of disease or security matters, and I’ve found nothing to indicate either of those. I’ll get in touch with the other Sectors and see what I can find but,” he qualified, “it will have to wait until I straighten out our own situation. The medical facilities here are in shambles, Roark.”
“Tell me about it. The whole damn place was in shambles.”
Roark spoke to Vochem, but kept his eyes on the patient. The reddened contusion at the side of her face was already blossoming into with an angry purple bruise. When Ahnyis lifted the covers enough to expose the side of the woman’s torso, it showed the same vicious bruising. Roark’s jaws clenched.
“Is there something special about this female, Commander? You seem inordinately concerned about her condition.” Vochem’s eyes sparkled with humor.
“It’s not the female,” Roark denied, yet he didn’t deny it to himself.
This woman had touched him in a way he’d never been touched before. Perhaps the previous Head Healer had recognized this indefinable effect and had chosen to isolate the base because of it. Roark decided to wait for the reports from other sectors before mentioning it to Vochem.
“These people are not the enemy,” he continued after his delay of thought. “If we hope to rescue this planet and someday colonize it, this is not the way to go about making allies of its indigenous people. I want the rationing reevaluated. We need to show these people we are not the Hahnshin.”
The First Commander nodded his approval when Ahnyis pulled the sheeting up to the woman’s shoulders and then added a blanket.
“Perhaps you should add another,” he suggested. “Just to be sure she’s warm enough.”
Mira felt the gentle hands pat the covers into place. They smelled clean and fresh. She wanted to say something, but her eyes wouldn’t open and her mouth couldn’t form the words. Her head hurt. The side of her face hurt, too, but trying to remember why only made the pain worse. She wanted to go back to sleep, but knew she shouldn’t. There were things she needed to do, but remembering what those things were was difficult.
There was a commotion outside, harsh voices raised in anger, and then the door opened and the harsh voices were in the room.
“Let go of me, damn it,” a human voice complained, a man’s voice. “I’m cooperating, aren’t I, and I’m perfectly capable of walking. What is it you want?”
“Let him go,” commanded another. “Ahnyis says you are a human healer. This female is injured. Fix her.”
This second voice was not human. It belonged to the alien in the heavy boots. Now why did she remember that, but nothing else? She forced her eyes open. Only one eye responded.
There were more voices, but Mira wasn’t listening. Her one eye was staring up into a remarkable and alien face. It was a warrior’s face, focused and hard, with high cheekbones and a firm, but full lipped mouth. The brows above his eyes flared like the wings of a bird. His forehead was ridged, not deeply or unattractively, but not human either. His eyes were a vivid green that matched the emerald held in the mouth of the silver dragon that rose up from the lobe and curled over the tip of his ear. His skin was golden, the deep burnished gold of an ancient god and tattooed with dark symbols. Her first thought was Viking. Her second was that his face was frighteningly beautiful.
“Holy shit, what is that thing?” the man’s voice asked, not in fear, but in fascination.
“Hand sanitizer. It removes dead organic matter, inorganic substances, and harmful bacteria,” a gentle sounding feminine voice answered. “We have larger, whole body units, too.”
“Harmful to whom?” There was playfulness in the question.
“To us,” the higher voice answered with a hiss of teasing laughter. “I don’t know what it will do to you.”
“Now you tell me. It’s customary to inform the subject before you use him for experimentation.”
“You’re not a subject. You’re a prisoner,” said yet another voice, this one without the humor of the others.
Mira tore her eyes from the Viking’s green ones and tried to look around him to see who was speaking. She caught a glimpse of something shiny and blue flicking up and down to the floor. A tail? She tried to lift her head to get a better look at the woman in the white coat, but strong arms held her shoulders down.
“Oh no you don’t,” the Viking’s voice rumbled and then he turned his head away. “Ahnyis, put it away, and the rest of you cut the chatter. Fix the female or go back to your cell.”
The next face Mira saw was much more frightening than the Viking’s. Face, wild unkempt hair and beard, clothes; everything was filthy. His pale blue eyes were bright and alert, if a bit wild, and amidst the mass of facial hair, she saw a smile.
“Not to worry,” he said. “I’m not as uncivilized as I look. My name is Mason Mason.” The grin widened. “I know. My father, poor man, thought he was being clever. Every teacher I had thought I was being a smartass.” He shrugged. “I was, but not about the name. In spite of the ridiculous name and my appearance, I am a doctor. Let me take a look.”
He opened her swollen eye, and then felt the bruised cheek beneath it. He pressed his fingers over the area until Mira whimpered with pain. With the sound, Mason was dragged back, the Viking’s hand around his throat.
“No. Stop.” Mira rolled forward, reaching for the hand that was cutting off Mason’s air supply. Her head swelled with pain at the sudden movement. The sheet slipped dangerously low before she realized she was naked beneath it. She grabbed the covers instead of her head, but couldn’t stop her moan of pain.
The Viking released the doctor and shoved him aside. Those green eyes blazed with heat. His face still looked harsh, but his rough hands were gentle as one slipped behind her shoulder and one behind her head to lower her back to the pillow. He didn’t smile until he had to peel her clutched fingers from the blankets. He then smoothed them out across her chest and over her shoulders, a little higher than they were before.
A man in a lab coat, looking much like the woman, spoke to the Viking as if what had just happened was no big deal. “If you’re through choking the life out of him, there’s more he needs to look at. Abdominal contusions, rib fracture,” he said to Mason. “Our scan shows no internal bleeding, but…” He let the sentence hang.
“I’m not touching her unless he steps back,” Mason declared.
“I will not step back and if you hurt her…”
“Your goons have done a pretty good job of that already.”
“Goons. Goan ed ta disa?” the Viking asked the people behind him.
“Henchman, cohorts, minions,” Mira supplied without thinking.
“Unless, of course, it was you who hurt her,” Mason continued. “Was it?” he asked Mira.
“What? No, I don’t think so,” she said, searching her blurred memory for the truth. “It wasn’t him. I’m pretty sure. Why is everything else so foggy?” she asked and looked to Mason for the answer.
She rolled her head to the side and glanced down at the big black boots. Slowly, she followed the length of leather clad legs up past the narrow hips and waist to broaden into the vee of his upper body. Here, too, he wore leather, but the vest only accentuated the powerful breadth of his chest and showed off the swirls and dips of the tattoos that covered his muscular arms and shoulders. By the time she reached his face, the god of golden light had turned to the one of thunder and that thunder was echoed in the beat of her heart.
“No, it definitely wasn’t him,” she whispered.
“I am not in the habit of abusing females, Nor are my…” he thought for a moment, “Henchmen.”
“Yeah, somebody ought to tell that to the henchmen,” the doctor muttered.
Mira giggled and then winced as pain shot through her head. “That’s not the word you want,” she explained to the Viking. “Say soldiers or my troops. Henchmen connotes bad guys. It’s like your word shialtek. The literal is arrowhead, but when you say it, you mean a strong and true person. And you,” she added, finger pointing at Mason, “Behave yourself. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
If it wasn’t for the pain, she would have giggled again at the so-there look the Viking gave the doctor. He then switched his eyes to her and the urge to laugh was gone.
“How come you to know these things and speak our language?”
“I have a knack for languages,” Mira evaded. It wasn’t a lie. She spoke several languages and taught three of them in high school, when there still was a high school. “I was hoping to offer my services as a translator or a copywriter. Your notices and postings need work. I was a teacher before the war and I thought…”
“Harm, do we have such a position?” the Viking interrupted.
The older soldier who stood by the door, spread his hands and shrugged in answer.
“Then I command it.”
Harm nodded. “It shall be so. I gather the position is already filled?” he asked and at his superior’s sharp nod, added, “Done. I’ll send someone to get her details. You have a meeting with your officers in five. I told the culprits they could just stand at attention until you got around to them. What do want done with him?” He nodded at Mason.
“May we keep him?” the woman in the lab coat asked as if the doctor were a much coveted pet. “Please? I think he could prove helpful.”
“Hmph. That’s what you said of the Slovashul dog that ended up eating your mother’s entire flock of hens.”
“I was twelve,” the woman laughed. “I’ve changed.”
“But the dog hasn’t. You may keep him, but his leash is in your hands, Ahnyis. See that he gets cleaned up and fixes the woman. And do not leave her alone with him.”
“First Commander Roark has just been assigned here to replace the previous First. He’s a good man. You’ll like him,” the healer, Ahnyis, informed Mira when the men had gone. “And he likes you,” she added. Her laughter was girlish, but her body was not.
The white lab coat and long skirt she wore couldn’t hide the womanly curves of her large breasts and wide hips. Her feet and hands looked dainty and she stood no more than five feet tall. Her face, too different to be human, was round and very pretty in a different kind of way. Her eyes were dark against her tawny brown skin and they tilted upward at the corners when she laughed. Her ears were pointy and set high on her head and her hair, cut in a short bob, was black as night. Her nose was small. Her mouth was wide, and the two upper incisors looked a little too large for the straight row of gleaming white teeth that surrounded them.
“Oh,” Mira said, unsure of how she should respond to the information. The pounding in her head made it difficult to think much past his broad shoulders, solid chest, and thickly corded arms. “That’s nice.”
“You will come back, won’t you? We can share our midday meal, our lunch.” Ahnyis grinned when she found the word. “We can practice together. It’s hard to speak fluently when you have no one to practice with, don’t you think?”
Ahnyis was being kind. Her English was much better than Mira’s Godan.
“You can help me learn about this new world of ours. I can read the notes and get the data from other Sectors, but first hand is always better, don’t you think?” She leaned in a little closer. “But to be honest, I’ve already asked for a few things from the other Sectors and they weren’t very pleasant. Seems my nose only belongs in medical and I don’t have clearance for anything else.” She rolled her big brown eyes. “One of them even asked what a pretty thing like me was doing on a base anyway. I had a few things to say about that, let me tell you.” Ahnyis bobbed her head in satisfaction. “He doesn’t think I’m so pretty now, and I’m never using the holoscreen again. From now on it’s audio only.”
Holoscreen? There was apparently a lot missing from the translator Mira had used to learn the language. She almost said so before she remembered she couldn’t.