“Let go! Let go of me, Goddess-damn it! How many times do I have to tell you I’m not your enemy?”
Kyron struggled in the unbreakable grip of the Goshan warriors but there were too many of the little blue bastards. Briefly he debated using his Touch sense on them—as a Touch Kindred he was able to stimulate the nerves of others using only his mind and the special gift of his kind.
But he had taken a solemn vow when he signed aboard the Mother Ship that he would never use his power as a weapon. Besides, the warriors already seemed to think he was some kind of evil outsider—he didn’t need to make their opinion of him worse or he would never get free of them.
“Listen to me, I’m a Kindred—we’re a peaceful race,” he exclaimed as they marched him through the huge, echoing docking area where they had forced him to land his ship. “We live on the other side of the Blind and we mean you no harm.”
The Blind was a huge cloud of cosmic dust, many light years across, which separated Ky’s own part of the universe from another, mysterious sector. Few dared to pass through it into the unknown area beyond, but he had volunteered when Commander Sylvan, the head of the Kindred High Council, had asked for pilots to go explore it.
He was supposed to be scouting the home planet of the Hive—the race of insectile beings which had invaded the solar system the Kindred called home and now threatened every living thing on planet Earth, which the Kindred protected. Instead, he had barely passed through the Blind when his ship was surrounded by a squadron of vessels who seemed intent on forcing him to land on their planet.
Kyron hadn’t attempted any desperate maneuvers, deciding it was better to wait and explain himself once he landed. Who knew, maybe he could even get help from this new people in his quest?
But no help appeared to be forthcoming so far. In fact, he doubted these blue warriors—who were much smaller than him but too numerous to fight—were even listening to him.
“I tell you I’m a Kindred—we mean you no harm!” he exclaimed as one of them clamped a pair of magno-lock manacles around his wrists.
“Kindred,” the male spat contemptuously. “Yes, we have heard of you. A race of giants so weak you allow your women to rule you.”
“I’ve heard they even pray to a female deity,” another said and the rest roared with laughter.
“A female deity? Who ever heard of such a thing? Why would any self-respecting male pray to a female?”
“It is because they treat their women as though they were rational beings. As if they could think like males.” The first male spat again, as though the very notion left a bad taste in his mouth. “Tell me, Kindred,” he sneered, “Do you have a female back home that you worship and allow to order you around?”
“No, I don’t,” Ky said with dignity. “But if I did she would be neither my ruler nor my slave but my equal.”
His answer was met with roars of derision and mockery as they dragged him from the landing area down a long metal corridor. Their shouts and the sounds of their marching boots filled the hallway with echoes and filled Ky’s heart with misgivings. What kind of savages had he been taken by? Who were these people who spat on the idea of the Goddess, the Mother of all Life, and derided a race who considered male and female to be equal?
Goddess, he thought as they dragged him into a cell. I’m in a bad position here. What the hell am I going to do?
There were no answers forthcoming. Only more trollish laughter as his captors forced him into a small stone and glass cell. They pushed him down to sit on a rough stone bench and shoved his manacled hands above his head where a metal plate was bolted into the stone wall.
Ky gave a gasp as a jolt ran through him and the magno-locks stuck fast to the ferromagnetic plate, holding his arms above his head in a most uncomfortable position.
“There, Kindred,” the first male, who appeared to be the one in charge, said. “That should hold you.”
“Wait—don’t you have any due process here?” Ky was growing increasingly angry—he should never have allowed them to take him! “Is there no one here—a magistrate or a judge of some kind—I can explain my mission to?”
“A magistrate or a judge?” There was another rumble of ugly laughter.
“Consider yourself lucky, Kindred,” the first male said. “You’re in the royal torture chamber—the one used by the Monarch himself. You can explain yourself to him whenever he gets around to coming down to see you.” His dark blue face split into an ugly grin, showing teeth that badly needed cleaning. “But I wouldn’t hold your breath. The Monarch has better things to do than come down to the dungeon and listen to female-worshipers whine.”
“Wait—” Ky began. But the guards were already leaving, clanging the door behind them.
For a time, Ky struggled with the magno-locks holding his arms above his head but though his considerable muscles bulged, there was no moving them. Finally he acknowledged it would be easier to tear his arms from their sockets than to break the incredibly strong magnetic field to free his hands. Gods, he was trapped here and he hadn’t even been able to send a distress signal back to the Mother Ship before he was taken.
What in the Seven Hells was he going to do?
Wait for their leader—for the Monarch that they talked about—to come. Maybe I can make him understand I don’t pose a threat to them. If I can just explain about the Hive and how fucking dangerous they are, maybe I can even get his help on this mission.
But how long would it take for the Monarch to acknowledge that he had a prisoner and bother coming down to speak to him? And even if he did come, who could say that he would be willing to hear from a Kindred, whom these people apparently reviled because of their devotion to a female Goddess and their refusal to use women as objects?
With a groan, he slumped back against the cold metal plate and let himself sag in his restraints.
I’m in so much fucking trouble here…How am I going to get out of this?
Again, he had no answers.
He also had no idea that someone was watching him.
* * * * *
Dannella had been watching from the start.
She was a princess of the Blood and had grown up in the palace, so she knew all the ins and outs of the historic building. In fact, she knew about something no one else did—a series of secret passageways behind the panels with hidden spy holes in the walls. These must have been placed by the builders of the palace centuries ago and then forgotten and Dani, being intelligent and naturally curious, had found them. Now she used them often to get around in private and learn what was really going on.
She had been hiding in the panel behind the throne room instead of studying her needlecraft as she was supposed. Her father the Monarch had been about to make a ruling when the report had come in.
“Your Majesty, an enemy ship has been spotted invading Goshan space,” one of her father’s communications officers exclaimed, pressing a finger to the receiving device implanted next to his aural nerve.
“What kind of ship?” Her father had frowned deeply, worry lines creasing his indigo skin. He had the deep blue skin tones that were common to the males of the Goshan people while Dannella’s mother, who had died suddenly when Dani was only six, had had a pale, creamy brown tone which Dani herself had inherited. So it was with all Goshans—males were varying shades of blue and females different shades of brown.
“Unknown, your Majesty. Shall we blow it out of the sky?”
“No…” The Monarch pursed his lips and rose to pace around the richly appointed throne room. Its high, vaulted ceiling was made of concentric rings of the shining rainbow-reflecting glass which was the pride of the Goshan craftsmen. In fact, the palace was known as the Glass Dome of Heaven and was considered one of the twelve wonders of their world. Every surface which could be made of the gorgeous glass had been, giving the whole place a mirror-like effect which could be strange until you got used to it.
Of course, Dani had been living in the palace since birth so she was used to catching glimpses of her reflection in almost every surface around her. It might have made a different kind of girl vain and preening but Dani knew all too well that she had nothing to be vain about.
Oh, she was pretty enough, with her long, silky black hair and her creamy brown skin and most important of all, her large, dark eyes whose color proclaimed her virginity and purity to all. But she was considered much too tall—almost as tall as a man—to be a true beauty.
Her younger sister, Lavinia, who was born by their father’s second wife, was much more the Goshan ideal. She had tiny hands and feet and was so short she barely came up to their father’s elbow. With her big black eyes and her hair in ringlets she looked almost doll-like, and she affected an empty-headed simper which worked to draw males to her like sweet-flower syrup drew gongi flies.
Personally, Dani couldn’t stand to act stupid just because males liked it. Her nurse, Yana, was constantly begging her to be more feminine. But after her mother’s death, her father had been too sunk in grief to make Dani behave like a proper female. He had allowed his firstborn daughter to do as she pleased and live as she liked, even allowing her to come into the throne room and watch the proceedings sometimes, if she wished.
Though his advisors had shaken their heads and frowned and told her father it wasn’t wise to allow a female to fill her head with affairs of state, Dani had ignored their disapproving stares. She had valued that time with him, though her father had been grieving too deeply sometimes to even know she was there, and she took a keen interest in the politics of her world.
But since her last name-day, things had changed. Dani frowned as she thought of the conversation she’d witnessed between her father and his head councilor, Lord Tornk, directly after her twentieth name-day celebration.
“Your Majesty, it is wrong to allow a female to wander as she pleases and go where she chooses—even into the throne room,” Tornk had said, his disagreeably long face screwing itself up into a look of disgust and disapproval. His long blue face was accompanied by dangling earlobes and short gray hair which always made Dani think of a bray-bray—a four-legged beast of burden that brayed when upset—hence its name.
“Tornk—” her father had begun but the Head Councilor was just getting started.
“The Princess Dannella is now of marriageable age and she still has not learned that females are to be silent and respectful of males. Do you know what she did when I reproved her for speaking out in public and voicing her opinion the other day?”
“She made a good point,” the Monarch said mildly. “The troop placements in to Gulf of Tandoo did need rearranging. If she was a male you would have praised her. If she were only my son instead of a daughter…”
“But she is not your son and not a male and it is time your Majesty stopped pretending and wishing she was!” Tornk hissed, his muddy brown eyes narrowing. “After I reproved her, she laughed at me! Laughed at a male in the most disrespectful display of unbecoming female arrogance I have ever seen.” His face twisted again, making him look more like a bray-bray than ever.
Hidden behind the panel, Dani had made a face of her own. So what if she had laughed at the pompous councilor? He was nearly three times as old as her and extremely arrogant. He’d been giving her father wrong information on the day he was complaining about—why shouldn’t she correct him?
“What will her future husband think?” Tornk went on, frowning. “How will your Majesty find anyone to marry Dannella when she runs through the palace as free as a bird speaking out in front of males and doing just as she pleases?”
“She is a princess of the Blood and quite beautiful, Tornk,” her father said dryly. “I do not think I will have much trouble.”
“Forgive me but I believe differently—as does every male in the Council who has seen the insufferable way she acts.” Tornk had nodded decisively, his nostrils flaring.
“Well I’m certain someone will be willing to take her on.” The Monarch still sounded mildly amused.
“While we are on the subject of a husband for the princess, may I advise your Majesty to wed her to an older male—one who will impose strict discipline upon her and make her act as a good and subservient wife should,” Tornk said. “If she is allowed to go to a younger male who is swayed by her beauty she may end up with the same fate as her mother.”
There was a long, dangerous silence and her father’s face had turned dark.
“Do not speak of such things,” he said in a short, strangled voice. “Ever.”
Tornk seemed to sense he had stepped too far.
“Forgive me, your Majesty. I was only saying—”
“I will think on your words,” the Monarch interrupted. “Now leave me.”
This last exchange had puzzled Dani exceedingly. Her mother had died of a sudden fever—so sudden and catching Dani had not even been able to say goodbye. Her body had been taken, unseen by any, and buried outside the palace walls for fear of contagion. But how could her female rebellion, as Tornk saw it, cause Dani to share the same fate?
She had no answers but she watched after Tornk left and it was clear he had made his point. The Monarch looked troubled and thoughtful after his Head Councilor exited.
The old councilor’s words had enraged Dani as she stood and watched through a spy-hole in the wall of the Monarch’s private council chamber. Tears of anger and despair had stood in her eyes but she had been forced to shed them privately.
How could she go to her father and complain? If she did, she would have to admit she’d been spying. And after all, Councilor Tornk had spoken nothing but the truth—at least as far as her people believed it to be. How many times had her old nurse told her that females ought to be beautiful but silent—that serving a male was a woman’s main function in life?
Dani couldn’t help herself though—something inside her rose up and rebelled when she thought of being silent while a pompous windbag like Councilor Tornk gassed on and on about a subject he knew next to nothing about. Why should she bow and scrape to him just because he was male and she was not?
As for talk of her wedding, she trusted that was far off. Though she was, in fact, of marriageable age, her little sister was much more desirable. Surely her father would think of marrying Lavi off first. Maybe Dani would even be allowed to remain unmarried—free to wander the halls of the palace forever—she hoped.
After the talk between Tornk and her father, though, things had changed. The Monarch had never called Dani into his presence to rebuke her but the very next time she went to the throne room, the guards had turned her away. Behind their crossed pain-spears, she had seen Tornk’s hateful bray-bray face smirking in satisfaction.
When their eyes had met—hers flashing fire—she had seen something new in his look. Something that defied description—a kind of greed or maybe a knowing—as though he held some secret that would hurt her in the future. Dani couldn’t define it but it made her sick all the same.
She had turned and fled and from that moment on, she hadn’t approached the throne room—at least, not from the front entrance. The many passages that ran behind the mirrored panels of the palace had plenty of spy-holes and she was damned if she’d allow that bastard Tornk to chase her away from her favorite spot—by her father’s side where she would have ruled, if only she had been a son.
So it was that she saw the announcement of the rogue alien ship coming out of the Blind and she watched and waited, silent behind the gold and mirrored wall that backed the throne, eager to see what her father would decide.
He paced back and forth, his rich robes of green and purple encrusted with jewels and stiff with gold embroidery rustling as he walked. Around him his advisors and generals—all males of course—waited also, to hear what he would say. Every word out of the mouth of the Monarch was sacred and must be obeyed without question.
“A strange ship,” he mused as he walked, his golden sandals slapping against the lavishly decorated mosaic floor. “No, do not destroy it out of hand. If it came from the Blind, we must examine it and find out why it is here. Force it to land and extract the pilot,” he told the communications officer who had reported it in the first place. “Put him in my private interrogation chamber. I will deal with him at my leisure.”
“Yes, your Majesty! Your word is law!” The officer gave an elaborate salute with his right hand to his breast and the other tucked behind his back. This signified that his heart was completely given to his Monarch and his hand would never be raised against him. Then he touched the mouthpiece implanted under his lower lip and repeated the order to the listening pilots.
It didn’t take long after that. Dani had rushed through the passages, heedless of the dust and knowing her way in the darkness, until she reached a panel behind the main wall of the docking area.
The intruder’s ship was long and sleek and silver, unlike the blunt and snub-nosed Goshan ships which were uniformly black. It seemed to shine like a star when it landed and Dani’s eyes went wide as she watched the Goshan warriors surround it, shouting for the foreign pilot’s surrender.
But the ship itself was nothing to what came out of it.
Dani bit back a gasp as the silver door slid open and the biggest male she had ever seen descended from the cockpit. He looked like a giant—a full head and shoulders taller than even the tallest of the warriors surrounding him.
But his size was not the only striking thing about the prisoner. He had thick brown hair that rippled back from his high forehead in waves and his skin was not blue but tan—several shades lighter than Dani’s own creamy brown color. His eyes were the most striking thing about him—a pale, piercing green ringed with black, they seemed to penetrate her very soul when he glanced in her direction.
Dani put a hand to her beating heart. Those eyes…they seemed like something she had seen before, but she couldn’t place where. Maybe from some half-forgotten dream…
He can’t see me, she reminded herself as the prisoner stared in her direction. No one can. No one knows I’m watching.
But she couldn’t help the feeling of unease when those piercing eyes swept over her hiding place once more before the guards dragged him away.
She knew exactly where they were taking him and she ran ahead, taking a shortcut through a little used conference room and several royal bedchambers before she slipped into her father’s own private suite.
Once inside, she went directly to the corner where a heavy brocade tapestry hung over a seemingly black wall. Once the tapestry was pulled aside, however, Dani knew the exact combination of knocks to cause the locking mechanism within the wall to release.
With a low but audible click, a section of the wall—which was covered in blue velvety wall moss—swung open, admitting her to yet another secret corridor.
Dani went along the corridor, soft and silent in her little slippers, until she got to the door which led into the private interrogation cell. This passage was supposedly only for the use of the Monarch and only his touch could unlock the door.
That was what was widely believed, anyway. But Dani knew, from trying the door herself, that the palm-pad would respond to her own touch as well. It was based on outdated technology, which read DNA signatures. Since she had much of the same DNA as her father, the mechanism mistook her for the Monarch himself and let her pass.
Dani wasn’t worried about anyone finding this out. She was reasonably certain no one else ever tried the door besides her father, so no one else knew of the mechanism’s deficiency.
She peered through the glass panel at the top of the door which would have been too high for any other women to look out of. Dani, being too tall, however, was well able to watch as the guards shoved the giant into the interrogation cell and forced his hands above his head. He had on a kind of uniform shirt made of some brilliant deep blue fabric that looked heavy and shiny. It stretched tight across his broad chest and rippled when he flexed his muscular biceps, straining to break free.
It was a wasted effort, as Dani well knew. The force of the shielded magnetic field holding the magno-locks in place was so strong that even a herd of wild jorex beasts all pulling together couldn’t have broken free of it, let alone a solitary male.
Still, it was interesting to watch him try.
Dani watched him silently, her eyes wide with interest. She had never seen a male with skin that wasn’t blue. Even the savage Thuggors who lived on the Southern continent—the one place on the planet where her father did not have dominion—had skin which was blue, even if it was tinged with gray. Who was this male and why had he come here? She’d heard the guards calling him “Kindred” but she knew very little about that people. She would have to find out more, she told herself.
Aside from his uniform shirt, the Kindred was wearing a pair of tight black leather trousers and high black leather boots which hugged his muscular calves and went up to his knee.
Dani frowned—in Goshan society males wore long robes—she had never seen a male’s legs so openly displayed before. It was…strange. His bizarre wardrobe taken together with his wavy brown hair and those piercing green eyes and of course, his strange tan skin, made him the most interesting male she had ever seen. He looked nothing like anyone she had ever met before—she found she could not stop looking at him.
And then he spoke.
“Whoever you are, stop staring at me and come out and talk.”
Dani bit back a gasp. How did he know she was watching? The window in the cell door was one-way glass—there was no way the Kindred giant could know she was there. And yet somehow…he knew.
“Come out,” he said again. Or are you too fucking cowardly to face a chained male with no weapons?”
Dani had only meant to stand there and watch him but his words put her on the defensive. Her honor would be tarnished if she allowed him to talk to her in such a way and she would be proving she was a coward if she didn’t take his challenge.
Taking a deep breath, she pressed her hand to the palm-pad and listened to the hiss of compressed air and the click as the mechanism unlocked. Pushing the door open, she stepped into the room.