The clear green stone glowed in the dim room. It was the width of a human palm but as the surface cleared, small but distinct figures could be seen moving across its shiny surface.
“What is this?” Sovereign Ysldred X’izith of the Hive peered into the bright green depths. “What is the stone showing me?”
“I know not, my Sovereign,” the sentient scholar-worker beside him buzzed, grooming its antennae anxiously. “I know only that the E’lo stones will sometimes show scenes important to their owners—though why it is important is for you, my Sovereign, to decide.”
“I thought the Druvian E’lo stones were only meant to be useful for instant transportation around the universe,” Sovereign X’izith snapped impatiently.
“Regretfully, the transport stones we took are not yet functional,” the scholar-worker said apologetically. “But as you can see, my Sovereign, the seer stone appears to be functioning. It may give us an insight into the Kindred’s plans and motivations if we keep watching.”
“Maybe…” Sovereign X’izith rubbed at his empty eye socket irritably. He had been half blinded and maimed in a recent battle with one of the damned Kindred who had also stolen the female he had designated as his Breeding Queen. Concentrating on the tiny figures in the green E’lo stone with his one remaining compound eye made his head ache.
Still, the stone, which had been stolen from an upcoming sale of Druvian artifacts in the Toloth System, might provide a window into his enemy’s mind and movements. Taking it and the E’lo transport stones had been a risk but one which would hopefully pay off in the end.
The Hive had moved from their spot in the Blind to the arid, freezing mountains of Mars with the Kindred being none the wiser. There, the underground burrow the workers were constructing grew larger every day. Hive slaves that pumped oxygen, which the humans needed, had been put in place as well as the larger glow-bugs which generated heat and radiance. Soon X’izith would be ready to start abducting females from the small blue and white planet called Earth and implanting them with grubs.
But there the Hive had hit a snag. Though the smaller scouts—the ones no larger than Earth sized insects—had been able to get past Earth’s atmosphere to collect samples and data from the Earth females X’izith intended to take, the protective energy net the Kindred had placed around the planet kept out larger scouts and space craft.
Somehow X’izith knew he had to find a way around the energy net—a way to get to the females he needed to implant with both common and royal grubs that the Hive might survive and thrive and spread to conquer the entire rest of the universe.
That was where the E’lo stones came in—maybe they would provide a clue as to what the Kindred were doing and when, if ever, they relaxed their vigilant watch on the Earth.
The Nameless Ones, Gods of Nothing, grant it shall be,” X’izith muttered to himself, bending over the glowing green stone again. “Show me my enemy’s plan,” he said, though he did not know if the stone could hear or obey him.
In its green depths, he saw the figure of a tall Kindred male—at least, X’izith thought he was Kindred. He had strangely mismatched eyes—one blue and one green. Glowing sparks like pinpricks of flame danced in each, seeming to betoken some hidden power. He was taller than the average Kindred—over seven standard feet—and his shoulders and arms were thick with muscle. X’izith could clearly see his physical power because he was fighting the green, scaly-skinned Horvath which was dragging him along at the end of a pain leash.
Let me go, you bastard! I swear by the Seven Hells I’ll roast you alive!”
Come,” the Horvath grunted, yanking on the leash which no doubt sent a charge of agony through his massive prisoner’s frame. “There izz no point in rezzisting. You are a zzlave and will be zzold no matter how you zztruggle.”
He appeared to be dragging the Kindred through a lavishly decorated hall. On one side of the hall a group of women dressed in severely cut suits were sitting. Their eyes were wide with surprise as the slaver struggled with his captive. On the other side was a display of precious stones arranged on one table. Some were as big as a fist while others were as tiny as a fingernail and they ranged in color from brilliant green to deep blue to vibrant purple.
With a start, X’izith recognized the Toloth auction house where his workers had gone to steal the E’lo stones in the first place.
“What is this?” he hissed. “Why does the stone simply show me its origin? This is useless! It shows the place it came from—nothing to do with the Kindred leaders and their plans!”
“My Sovereign…” The scholar-worker who had recommended stealing the stones in the first place had begun to groom its antennae nervously, almost compulsively. “Mayhap if we just keep watching…”
“No!” X’izith turned petulantly from the stone and limped heavily to a nearby fungus cluster growing from the wall of his new room. He sank onto it and reached with his three remaining arms to massage the aching, twisted mass of scar tissue that marred his abdomen and wrapped tight around the base of his breeding barb.
Even if he could get his claws on an Earth female suitable for implantation, he wasn’t certain that he had the strength to breed her just now. The very act of using his barb was certain to be tremendously painful which meant he would have to make each breeding count.
“Where are you, my Breeding Queen?” he muttered to himself, envisioning an Earth female with just the right DNA to carry a brood of royal grubs. “Where are you and how can I get to you?”
He would have to find a way. Even if the E’lo stones they had stolen were useless, he would have to find a way to get the perfect female and fly her back to his new base on Mars. Then and only then would the future of the Hive be secured.
The Nameless Ones grant it shall be so, he told himself wearily. No matter what happened, he would never give up. Not until the survival of his species was assured.
The Kindred and the humans alike would feel the cold shadow of the Hive spreading over their lands before he drew his last breath—Sovereign X’izith swore it.
And he never broke his word.
“There—all is in redinezz. You are perfectly dizzplayed for sale.” Greed’lik stood back and nodded approvingly at his handiwork.
“So you say,” Commander Thornx of the Kindred Elite Espionage Corps growled. “But I feel like a fool.”
“You are drezzed as all the other males zzlaves are.” Greed’lik’s long, forked tongue slithered out to swipe over one slitted yellow eyeball. The lizard-like humanoid was Thorn’s inside man on this job—posing as a slaver for the upcoming silent auction.
And the slave he was going to sell? Well, that would be Thorn himself.
Thorn didn’t like working with the slippery bastard—Horvaths weren’t known for their trustworthiness, only their avarice. But he’d not been able to find anyone else who had an in with the auction slave suppliers so he had to put his trust in the slimy alien whether he liked it or not.
And right now, he most definitely did not—Bad enough he had to go undercover and allow himself to be sold as a slave without looking like this.
He looked down at himself with a frown, taking in the ridiculous get-up Greed’lik had insisted was appropriate for the slave auction. He was bare chested, which didn’t bother him in the least, but the trousers he’d been forced to wear were tight black leather that molded itself to his long legs. They wouldn’t have been so different from the flight leathers that most Kindred wore when piloting except these particular trousers were missing a critical piece—namely the entire crotch.
Thorn grimaced when he looked at the way his shaft was completely on display. He supposed it made sense—the Mistresses who came to bid on male slaves at the elite Toloth action were buying a body-slave who would serve a sexual function as well as a protective one—they wanted to see what they were getting. Still, since they didn’t believe in allowing males to penetrate females on Yonnie Six, where most of the Mistresses were from, it didn’t seem like it would matter what size his endowment was. Maybe it was a matter of pride to have a slave with a large cock.
As it happened, Thorn had no problems in that area. Like all Kindred, he was extremely well endowed. But that didn’t mean he wanted his equipment hanging out in the open for all to see!
There was even a thick strap of black leather knotted around the base of his shaft. It wasn’t too tight right now but it would give him great difficulties if his cock should harden. The strap was placed in such a way that blood could rush into his organ but would not be able to escape again.
If Thorn allowed himself to become aroused, he would be stuck with a very large and prominent hard-on. A hard-on which he would be unable to take care of himself due to the fact that his hands were tied behind his back with another strap—this one made of unbreakable leather-steel.
The strap around his shaft didn’t worry him too much, though—he couldn’t imagine anything about this situation what would get him hard. In fact, quite the opposite. Though he had taken this assignment voluntarily, he didn’t like it. He was not, by nature, submissive. He didn’t fear bending his knee to a female or feel shame at pretending to be a slave, but he wasn’t exactly looking forward to it either.
You don’t have to like it, a little voice in his head reminded him. You just have to do it.
True enough, Thorn acknowledged. Arranging to have himself sold as a body-slave to one of the Sacred Seven, the Mistresses of Yonnie Six who held the keys to the Library of All Knowledge, was an important mission—possibly the most important of his entire life.
For within the Library was information about the Hive—a race of insectile alien beings that were known to be ravenous and tireless in their conquest of other races. And now the Hive had set their sights on Earth, the small blue and green planet the Kindred were currently protecting.
Of course, it would have been much easier if the Kindred could simply have asked for the information. Unfortunately, the Mistresses of Yonnie Six considered males inferior and refused to deal with them. So there had been no choice—someone had to go undercover as a slave and, knowing the gravity of the situation, Thorn had volunteered.
If he failed in his mission and was unable to gain access to that knowledge, the Kindred, as well as the entire human race would be doomed. So it didn’t matter what ridiculous outfit he had to wear or what he had to do, he must be bought by Mistress Neh’sanna—one of the Sacred Seven who were protectors and curators of the Library. And once in her service, he must do whatever it took to gain her trust until he could get access to the knowledge of the Hive. Only then could the Kindred know definitively how to defeat the hungry hoard of insectile aliens coming after them.
Reminding himself of the gravity of his mission helped settle him some.
Take it easy, he told himself. Even though it feels strange and new, this is no different from any other undercover assignment. You’ve been through torture before and never lost your cool.
It was true. He flexed his shoulders, as well as the leather strap that bound his hands would let him. The skin of his upper back was still tight and scarred from the fire whip that had been used on him in one of his other missions. And the blood snails of Tantor Prime…well, they didn’t bear thinking about. But through every form of torture, Thorn had held true and strong and had kept his iron control.
He had to be in control of himself—being half Enfuego, bad things happened if he lost it. His mind tried to take him back to that time, so many years ago, before he had learned to master himself. He had lost it then and there had been tragic consequences…
No—don’t think of that, Thorn commanded himself. Think of the mission. As soon as Mistress Neh’sanna bought him, he would be halfway to his goal. He knew there was a ceremony coming up very soon at the Library of All Knowledge. He had to be with her at that time so he could use her to gain access and then…
“Do you think you’ll be chosen?” whispered a low voice, interrupting his train of thought.
Thorn turned his head to see the slave standing on the auction block beside him. He was a tall male, though not so tall as Thorn, with long, dark tresses unlike Thorn’s own short brown hair. He too was dressed in the tight black trousers with no crotch but his phallus was already prominently erect.
Though he was speaking to Thorn, he was looking anxiously at the vast, rounded double doors that stood at the end of the auction room. The doors where the prospective Mistresses would enter in just a moment. They would bid on the males who were displayed on the circular stage in the center of the opulent gold-draped room, taking only the finest specimens.
“I don’t know if I will be chosen,” Thorn said neutrally. “Do you think you will?”
“I pray so.”
The male’s words surprised Thorn almost as much as the fervent, hopeful look on his face.
“You…do?” Thorn frowned. “You want to be a slave, then?”
“Would I be here if I didn’t? Would any of us?” the other male demanded, nodding at the dozen or so others displayed on the circular stage.
“But…” Thorn shook his head in some confusion. “Are you saying you—and everyone else in this room—are here voluntarily? That you want to be a slave to one of the Yonnite Mistresses?”
“Of course we do,” the other male snapped, frowning anxiously as he continued looking at the double doors. “The Yonnites are renowned for their dominance of males who wish to serve.”
“I’ve heard they’re renowned for their cruelty,” Thorn returned dryly. “I wouldn’t be too eager to be owned by one if I were you.”
Indeed, he was going into this situation expecting to be tortured in ways that rivaled everything he’d thus far been through during his long career in espionage. The Mistresses of Yonnie Six weren’t exactly known for their tender mercy to the males they took as slaves. When they weren’t sexually tormenting them, they used pain collars to stimulate their nerves to fiery agony. Oh no, this wasn’t going to be an easy mission—not that he couldn’t handle it. He could handle anything, he told himself confidently.
But the other male was giving him a scornful look.
“Why arrange to have yourself sold here at auction if you don’t want to serve a Mistress?” he demanded, frowning.
“Arrange to have myself sold?” Thorn raised an eyebrow at him.
“Of course,” the other male said impatiently.
“Why would I do such a thing?”
“For the same reason any of us did.” The male shrugged irritably. “For a change—a chance at a new life—a life you truly want.” He sighed. “I had a successful business on Te’kar Prime but the pressure of it was killing me. I sold it and came here hoping for a fresh start—a new existence serving instead of being served. I imagine most of the males here have a similar story.”
“Really?” Thorn muttered.
“Yes, really,” the other male said. He looked longingly at the door. “When do you think they’ll come in? Surely the sale of the Druvian artifacts must be done by now. It’s past time for the auction, don’t you think?”
Thorn didn’t answer him. Instead, he frowned down at Greed’lik who stood at the side of the round platform licking his eyeballs with his long, forked tongue.
The Horvath bastard hadn’t told him the slaves on sale were here voluntarily. In fact, he’d made a great show of hustling Thorn in past the Mistresses earlier while Thorn resisted as much as possible, shouting angrily that he refused to be a slave—that he was a free male and he would kill the scaly green slaver who had dared to capture him.
This had all been done on Greed’lik’s advice—a little show for Thorn’s soon-to-be Mistress’s benefit. According to the intelligence gathered by the Kindred, Mistress Neh’sanna took on only the biggest, the strongest, and the fiercest slaves.
Thorn had hoped that by catching her attention early with the angry display he and Greed’lik put on, he would make an impression on her.
“Zzhe will not be able to put you from her mind,” the Horvath had promised. “When the zzilent auction startzz, she will bid only on you, Commander Thornx.”
A show of defiance had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time but now the male beside him was telling him that the other slaves wanted to be here. Could that be right?
Thorn looked around at the other males on display. Almost all of them looked nervous or anxious but now he saw what he had missed earlier—their faces were also filled with a painful kind of hope. They didn’t fear a future under the rule of a Yonnite Six Mistress—they longed for it.
How strange! How could any male long to submit that way? He remembered the thick black strap-on phallus he’d seen Mistress Neh’sanna wearing in the holo Commander Sylvan had shown him before he had accepted this task. He hoped he wouldn’t have to endure penetration with that beast during his mission, though if he did, he would count it just another form of torture. But how could any male long for that? Long to spread his thighs and allow his Mistress…
His thoughts broke off when the attendant standing at the tall double doors that led into the slave auction space blew a single, high blast on a marrow-horn. The sweet, silvery note seemed to echo against the high ceiling and all the males shifted, getting into position for the entrance of the Mistresses.
Thorn saw most of them strike poses to better display their bulging muscles. The male beside him swept his long black hair over one shoulder as anxiously as any female getting ready for her first public ball.
Pathetic. Thorn simply stood there and waited. Though his hands were tied behind his back, his pose was relaxed yet alert.
Soon enough he saw her. He’d gotten only a blurred impression before but now he had to admit, she was a beautiful woman. Petite yet perfectly formed with lush curves, Mistress Neh’sanna came striding confidently through the double doors looking like she owned the place.
She was wearing a pair of tight white trousers and a flowing white shirt to match, open to reveal just a hint of cleavage. A black corset cinched her waist, emphasizing the fullness of her breasts and hips. It matched the black boots with impossibly high heels she wore.
Thorn found that he couldn’t stop looking at her. The holo Commander Sylvan had showed him didn’t do her justice. She had creamy skin and large, dark eyes fringed thickly with long black lashes. Her face was exquisite—like a doll’s face made by a master craftsmen, from her delicate nose to her full red lips. A waterfall of wavy black hair fell to the small of her back, swishing with her confident strides. Thorn’s hands, still tied behind his back with the unbreakable leather-steel bands, itched to touch those silky strands.
Stop it, he told himself harshly. She might look beautiful but she’s cruel, like all the Yonnite Mistresses. She’s as deadly as the blood snails they used on you on Tantor Prime.
He lifted his gaze and ignored her even as he saw the males around him trying their best to get her attention.
Mistress Neh’sanna would come to him. He had seen the wide-eyed looks of all the Mistresses as Greed’lik led him struggling and shouting into the auction room. Though he hadn’t gotten a very good look at Neh’sanna’s reaction to their little show, he knew she had seen him. He had made an impression and she was said to enjoy a challenge—she would come.