22 CYCLES LATER:
D’Argo “Deke” Crichton trudged through the hip deep snow, trying to make his way towards the lights of what he hoped was a settlement. The Prowler he was piloting, the one that belonged to his mother, started to give him trouble with the engine. As soon as he got back to Moya, his mother would give him quite an earful, but in the meantime, he had to get the Prowler fixed so he could get home. And that meant he had to wade through the snow, freezing his ass off.
Deke blew hot air into his cupped hands. Even with his Sabacean blood giving him a high tolerance to the cold, his thighs were numb, he could barely feel his feet, and his nether regions. The sooner he got indoors, the better. “Come on boy, keep moving.” He mimicked his father as best he could. That meant he kept going with a frustrated growl going to war with the wicked howl of the wind.
Lieutenant Rylani Rayvin Shanu stood in the dark doorway looking out at the frozen snow covered wasteland stretched out before her. The sky was open with the stars shining bright. It was nearly nauseating. She hated being planet bound, even if it was her father that gave her the mission. She wasn’t happy about being here. Rylani had been born in space, on a Command Carrier, lived there for five cycles. Her reason for being on a planet in the first place was so that she could meet with a Kalish Resistance fighter who had information to pass along. So far, her contact had not shown. She was ready to hop back in her Prowler and leave this frozen hunk of rock behind.
Rylani was about to head back inside when she noticed movement. Putting on her tactical headset, she used the thermal imaging to determine what it was she was seeing. The thermal signature was male, but the snow was bleeding away any heat. She ripped off the headset, shoving it into her bag where she shoved it into the small alcove. Rylani tacked out into the frigid night air, the low temperature numbing her exposed skin. This was reckless, against protocol, and very stupid.
Deke breathed hard, the cold air burning his lungs with every inhalation he took. He looked up, seeing a dark figure coming towards him, a delicate shadow. Was this a hypothermic hallucination? He wasn’t sure, and so he kept going. If he stopped, there as a chance he would fall face first and pass out. Deke kept his eyes on the willowy figure coming towards him. Right now, he was regretting his choice to leave his headset in the Prowler, which might be frozen over by now for all he knew.
Rylani fought her way through the waist deep snow. The male tripped, landing face first in the snow, being swallowed up by it. It forced her to pick up the pace, to push her muscles harder. She got to the male, pulled him up, and against her. With her inherited Scarran strength, the male, who by all appearances outweighed her, felt as if she was carrying nothing more than a duffle full of clothing. She got them turned around, following the same path to return them to the abandoned building she taken up temporary residence in.
Deke felt the presence of another person next to him, helping him stay on his feet. He was so cold that he could barely feel the heat from his savior. “Where are we going?” he asked, his teeth chattering.
“Somewhere warm,” Rylani answered. She kept her eyes locked on the building, pushing herself to get out of the snow, and back inside. She was breaking so many rules at this moment, and if her father found out. He would reprimand her, but more than that, he would be disappointed in her. That would hurt her worse, and she would do anything to keep him from feeling that for her.
Deke could tell from the sound of the voice, his rescuer was a female, a Sabacean. She sounded nice, and he hoped she was. The mystery woman was being nice enough to pull his dumb ass out of the snow. Feeling he could, Deke opened his eyes just in time to see them approaching a darkened doorway.
Rylani, using her free hand, grabbed her pack, and then kicked open the door. A burst of hot air sliced through her, and the man at her side. It didn’t deter her from rushing inside. She could handle the heat thanks to her Scarran genes. Luckily the heat would help her companion to thaw out. Carefully she dropped him to the pallet of fur blankets and then went to secure the door.
In the low light, Deke groaned, half from relief, half from pain. The heat felt good, but as the sensations returned to his extremities, there was also that sense of throbbing that had him biting his lip against the agony. He turned his head to see his savior. She was tall, lithe, and startling beautiful. And she was dressed as a Peacekeeper; the black leather pants, the long black jacket – like the kind his father still wore- and the basic black shirt. “Can I thank you?” Deke asked.
Rylani shed her long jacket, bringing it over to place on top of her companion to help warm him faster. She stretched out next to him, her head resting in her hand as she replied, “You can when you are ready.” She scooted closer to him, knowing that her mission was probably over, and the contact she was sent to meet wasn’t going to show. “What were you doing out there?” Rylani asked.
Deke rolled to his side, slowly, and with a groan. “My engine was giving me trouble. So, I had no choice but to set down here.” He brought the blanket, the collar of her jacket up to his nose to thaw it out. “My Prowler is probably a giant ice cube by now.” His mother was definitely going to kick his ass; to borrow another of his father’s favorite expressions.
“I know a tech who can fix whatever the problem is,” Rylani offered staring into the clear blue eyes of her temporary companion. The male lying before her was attractive, in a roguish space scoundrel kind of way. He had a few scars on his face that were only accented by the strands of his dark hair cutting across is cheek. “And you are in luck. He’s right here on this planet. The moment you warm up; I will take you to him.”
“What planet is this?” Deke asked, closing his eyes, exhaling to add warmth to the blanket covering his nose.
“Nor’Takan three,” Rylani answered. She didn’t have to ask why he was here. If he was having trouble with Prowler, this was the closest planet for him to set down on.
“I don’t like it,” Deke said, shaking his head. If it was a contest between living in space or this planet, he would choose space. Living aboard a Leviathan was supremely preferable.
“I do not blame you,” Rylani agreed. A smile graced her black lips when the male had slipped into sleep. A strange desire came over her to brush back the dark strands of his hair so she might reveal more of his face. Before she gave into it, she got up, returning to the door to resume looking for her contact.
A short time later, Deke woke comfortably warm, and still burrowed under the blankets. His rescuer stood guard at the window, her back ramrod straight, and her arms crossed. She had her hair pulled back away from her face, bearing the gold accent marks on her temple, and down her neck. He imagined just how far they went. Deke knew those marks; they were Kalish. It would explain the red hair, but not the white highlights he could see. Sitting up, he stretched, scratching the back of his head, “How long was I out?”
Rylani didn’t look at him as she answered, “Nearly an arn.” She abandoned her post by the window, returning to the pallet to crouch down next to him. “Your color has returned. How do you feel?”
“Normal,” Deke sighed, taking her coat from the top pile to hand to her. “Thank you.” He stood up at the same time she had. She was imposing, that was for sure. And her eyes, the way they glowed. Deke found himself getting lost on them.
“My pleasure,” Rylani smirked. “I attempt to do one good deed every cycle.” It was a joke. No amount of good acts on her part would ever change the way the galaxy saw her. To pure bred Sabacean’s she was a mongrel. To Scarrans she was an abomination. To the Kalish, a genetic mistake. In spite of all that, she made her place with the Peacekeepers, and had a family to show for it.
“Good policy to have,” Deke nodded. She was definitely a head of the game. He, as well as his parents, were still considered outlaws in most of the Uncharted Territories. Good deeds didn’t come till after the chaos was already well underway.
“The wind has calmed down considerably,” Rylani said, changing the subject. “If you are ready to brave the elements, then I can introduce you to the tech who can fix your Prowler.” She was trying not to seem as if she was in a hurry to get rid of him. In truth, she wanted to spend more time with him. That confused her. Never before had she felt such a pull towards a male.
Deke nodded, “Yeah, that would be great.” He was trying to take his cues from her. She was a stranger after all, and he had to get off this rock as quick as possible. Yet, the urge to stay was getting stronger the longer he stayed close to her. It was weird. Deke only just met her, and she saved his butt from being a permanent frozen fixture on the landscape.
Rylani shrugged into her coat, doing up the closures. She went to her pack, removing a standard pulse pistol, where she placed it in the holster on her left thigh. Her tech was a little twitchy around new faces. She was going to have to pay him more currency, assure him with her smile, and threaten him all at the same time. Looking back at him, he had this intrigued gleam in his eyes. It forced her to ask, “What are you staring at?”
Deke placed his hands on his hips, rocking back and forth on his heels, “I don’t mean to, it’s just, I’ve not seen a Kalish that looks like you before.” The black lips were in contrast to the pale/golden skin most of them were known to have. She had slight scale accents around her eyes, and the while streaks. This woman was a genetic mixed bag if ever he saw one.
Rylani tucked a stray strand of white hair behind her right ear. “I am not entirely Kalish,” she answered, looking him in the eyes. “My genetic heritage includes Scarran, as well as Sabacean.” In all her cycles of life, she’d not admitted that to any other living being. Rylani wasn’t ashamed of who she was, there was just no need to give voice to what made her unique. Everyone she came in contact with on a regular basis already knew who she was. She was the child of Scorpius and Sikozu Shanu.
“Then,” Deke came closer to her, “we have something in common. I’m Sabacean, too.” Actually, he was only half. His father, John Crichton, was a human from some back water small planet that he loved so much. It wasn’t his favorite place, seeing as they could only get there via wormhole. As much as he understood them through the inherited genetic knowledge from his father, he hated to traverse them.
Rylani smiled, in spite of herself, “Come on.” It pleased her to know they had at least one thing in common. He would be one being in this galaxy that didn’t outright distrust her because of how she looked. No one, except the truly stupid, came out and said it to her face, but she knew. It was how her father was treated.
Back outside, Deke huddled in his black leather jacket. Now that he was warmed up, the bitter cold sliced right through his hearty Sabacean blood. He fished the gloves out of the inside of his jacket, and put them on. Then, for added warmth, he tucked his hands up under his armpits as he jogged to keep pace with her. She walked with such purpose, her stride long and determined. “Did I thank you?” he asked.
“Not yet,” Rylani replied, a light chuckle coloring her words.
“Oh,” Deke nodded. “I will.” He followed her as she set off into the heart of the small snow covered town.
Rylani kept close to the shadows while she made her way through the deserted settlement as she was increasingly aware of the male keeping close to her back. She could feel the lick of heat emanating from him. It was threatening to addict her, when she had to keep her mind clear. All she was going to do was help him get his Prowler fixed, then they would never see each other again. ‘There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun with him.’ Her libido had to speak up at that moment, and she had to agree. Rylani could take some time to have a little fun.
Deke saw the building his hybrid companion was heading towards. He picked up the pace, getting ahead of her so that he might open the door for her. It was one of those learned behaviors his father had taught him. She looked at him suspiciously, passing by him, and into the cavernous bay where a Prowler waited. It had to belong to her. “So, who is this guy? It is a guy, right?”
“Yes,” Rylani confirmed. “Sai’Pra! Get out here!” she shouted, putting a little Scarran roar into her voice. That side of her always scared the little tech into doing exactly what she wanted. She learned that tactic from her father. A few microts later, a small, scared little mole of a creature appeared. His beady little eyes flicked right, and then left, and finally rested on her.
“No! No! Not done! Gotta leave!” Sai’Pra shouted, trepidation in his timid voice. “Go away!” As much as he hated working for the Peacekeeper, she kept the others away from him, kept him from being killed.
“Sai’Pra, take a breath, and calm down,” Rylani urged. “I am not here to rush you. I have only come to offer you more currency,” she said, assuring him of her true intentions. Motioning to the male at her side, “My companion needs your specific skill set. His Prowler…”
Deke took up where she left off, “I was having engine trouble that forced me to land on this… planet. It’s only six hundred motras outside of town.”
“No, no, not good Can’t help!” Sia’Pra cowered in fear.
Rylani crossed her arms, “Your grubby little minions have already fetched, have they not?” When the little tech refused to look at her, she hissed. He dropped to the ground, curled in a ball, shaking and whimpering.
“I think you terrify him,” Deke leaned in and whispered, perversely enjoying the sight of the little mole-like creature fearing for his life.
“It is the hissing he is afraid of,” Rylani answered. “It reminds him that I have more Scarran in me than what is seen on the surface.” Then, crouching down next to him, she poked him, “Sai’Pra, I will not harm you, but you have to stop being so afraid.”
“Can’t! Don’t eat me!” Sai’Pra shrieked, curling tighter into a ball.
“I will not eat you,” Rylani crooned, “and I will pay you three times what you normally charge if you ready his Prowler within three arns.” That got the tech to stop quaking. He uncurled and looked at her.
“Five arns! Best I can do!” Sai’Pra wailed, ducking his head back under the protection of his arms.
“Deal,” Deke cut in. His companion looked at him, and she nodded. He offered her his hand. She looked at it, then up at him before placing her hand in his. Her skin was the same temperature as his. Touching her felt like he’d been hit with an electric current.
Rylani knew she should let go of his hand, but the way he held it was so strong and so gentle. It felt too good to let it be over too quickly. While her mind could still function, she said to Sai’Pra, “We will return in four arns, and both Prowler’s had better be ready.” All that greeted her was a little squeak.
“While he’s working, what are we going to be doing?” Deke asked, pulling her close enough that the heat of her bled through the fabric of his clothes. He could see the flash of primal desire flit through her iridescent blue eyes.
“We are going to have a little fun,” Rylani chuckled darkly. It was ill advised, against her better judgement, and yet, she was still going to set aside her rank, her identity as a Peacekeeper. The male before her was a fine specimen. She learned to take momentary pleasure when the mood struck her.
The door crashed open, spilling Deke into the room with beautiful savior in his arms. They were kissing like they needed the taste of each other more than they needed air in their lungs. Without looking where he was going, his boots caught on something, and down he went, landing on the pallet of blankets that had thawed him out earlier. The contact with the floor broke their lips apart long enough for him to gasp, “Sorry…”
Rylani took that moment to pulled back, to sit up while remaining astride his lap, “Stop talking.” She took her long coat off, tossing it away. A cold caress of air whispered around them. She curled her lip in annoyance. Leaning down, she kissed him hard and quick, before getting up to secure the door.
Deke took that moment to regain his feet. Off came his jacket, his shirt, and his boots. Last was his belt, that held his pulse pistol. He moaned in appreciation when she came back over to him, her hands on his chest. She shoved him hard against the wall, rough enough to draw a grunt of pain from him. She smiled wickedly. That told him all he needed to know. She liked it rough, and he was gentlemen enough to oblige her. Deke took her upper arms, pivoting, so it was she who was pinned against the wall.
Rylani growled, breaking his hold, and then bringing her hands up to thread them through his hair. She dragged his lips back to hers, needing the feel of him against her. He gripped the back of her leather clad thighs, picking her up, wedging his waist between her thighs. She used the change in height to yank his head back, and kiss him back down to the floor. Taking her direction with ease, she felt the blankets beneath her knees. Rylani pulled back to strip off her shirt and service bra. “I will not break,” she said.
Deke rolled them, putting her beneath him, “What’s your name?”
Rylani smiled broadly, “Rayvin.” She drew her nails down her chest, asking, “What are you called?”
D’Argo wanted to answer with the name of his birth, but it wasn’t who he was. So, instead he replied, “Deke.”
THREE ARNS LATER:
Deke traced the pale scars on Rayvin’ back that could have only been left by a Scarran. It didn’t keep him from asking, “How’d you get this?” He wanted to keep talking to her, even though she gave nothing away as to how she lived her life. Conversely, he was guilty of the same. Deke was telling her nothing of who his parents were, of where he lived, and what he did on any given solar day.
Rylani sighed, pressing her cheek into the balled up corner of fur, “I was in a fight with a particularly large Scarran soldier.” She had been on a mission for her father, gathering intelligence in a place that he could not venture. The Scarran had caught her, they fought, and it ended with her using her abilities to liquefy his insides. “After it was dead, I had to stop the bleeding with sutures. Primitive, but it was all I could do.”
“You sewed up your own side?” Deke asked. He leaned over her, kissing each scar.
“It was more difficult than I imagined it would be,” Rylani answered, moaning from the feel of his lips.
“Ouch,” Deke commiserated, pulling his hand back when she shifted to her side. She reached out, touching his left side, the tip of her finger tracing the knife wound he’d survived after getting into a bar fight with a Peacekeeper Commando.
“You might have a few scars from me,” Rylani bit her bottom lip. She took her hand from his side so she could touch the nail gouges on his face. They wouldn’t scar, she knew they wouldn’t. If Rylani wanted to leave her mark on a male, she wouldn’t do it in such a prominent place, not when he had such a pretty face.
“I’m ok with that,” Deke chuckled, turning his head to kiss her palm. Their time was nearly up, and soon they would part ways. At least he would have the feeling of her body burned into his skin to remember her by. The chances that they would ever meet again were infinitesimal. “It’s almost time….”
“I know,” Rylani sighed and sat up. Once they got dressed, he would get in his ship and she would return to hers. She had to return to her father and tell him that she failed to secure the information he required. All through it, she sensed, she would have to hide her smile. To her, this mission wasn’t a total failure. Certain needs she had had been met, and sated, but it was best to end this now. Rylani got up to put her pants on.
Deke followed her lead. While he was still under the blanket, he pulled his pants on, zipped and buttoned them. Rising to his feet, he took the blanket, folding it so he could take it with him. One more memento of their time together. He put his shirt on, pulled on his boots, and shrugged into his jacket. When he turned to face her, she was dressed, and pulling her hair back away from her face. “The white? How’d you end up with it?” he asked just to prolong their interaction.
Rylani shrugged, “It is a genetic quirk. When I was fifteen cycles, my bangs, and certain streaks of my hair started to turn white.” All the curls she used to have went away as well. She assumed it was because her hair was nearly down to her waist, and that it was so thick and heavy, the curls fell out. Rylani didn’t know, and she wasn’t curious enough to find out. She started to walk by him, when he caught her about the waist, hauling her back against his chest. His lips pressed to the side of her neck drawing a laughing sigh from her.
From inside the pocket, Deke removed the ring he’d been carrying around for three cycles. Ever since Rygel had given it to him. He took her left hand, placing the silver ring on her middle finger. The large sea blue stone shined against her skin. “This is a small way to repay you for getting my Prowler fixed.”
The weight of the metal felt strange against Rylani’s finger. She wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to do this, but she kept her mouth shut. The ring felt good against her skin. She knew she wouldn’t be able to wear it for long, once she left this place it would have to come off. She turned in his arms, kissing him lightly. “Thank you.”
Rylani sat in the cockpit of her Prowler running the pre-flight check when she noticed something out of place. Two data crystal were in previously vacant places on her console. Now it made sense why she never met her contact. He’d not bothered to face her directly. Her father was right; the Kalish Resistance were nothing more than lowly cowards. At least her mission was a success, partly. She was supposed to meet with the contact directly.
Deke lifted himself up to sit on the edge of the Rayvin’s Prowler. “Hey, you almost ready?”
Rylani looked up, “I nearly am.” She left the data crystals where they were. Standing up, she kissed him one more time. “Perhaps, we will meet again.”
“Yeah,” Deke chuckled. “It’s a small universe, after all.” He wanted to haul her out of there, tell her they could stay longer, and go back to that little room where all the heat they needed was each other.
“It is a big universe,” Rylani argued lightly. She was reticent about firing up her engine’s, closing the canopy, and blasting from the surface to return to the stars. Deke was unlike anyone shed ever met, and leaving him in her wake seemed wrong. She never had this much doubt inside her before.
“Until we meet again,” Deke whispered close to her lips. Then, he pulled back, and was back on the ground. Walking away had to be the single hardest thing he’d ever done in his life because he knew he was walking away from a truly unique and special being. There was no guarantee that he would ever cross her path again.
HALF A CYCLE LATER:
Lt. Rylani Rayvin Shanu stood in command quarters aboard the new Peacekeeper Command Carrier, Zelbinion. Her hands were behind her back, in proper military review stance, but she couldn’t stop the nerves. She had been reassigned to this ship, and not by her father’s command. The uniform she was in was new, as her last one had been ripped, and shot up. Being a ‘Black Ghost’ was not the safest position a Commando could know. She had the urge to reach for the ring she kept on a chain hidden beneath her uniform shirt. Rylani ahd been doing that a lot lately; holding it, wearing it while she slept. It reminded her of a cold planet, and a hot night.
Commandant Meeklo Braca watched the grown soldier stand, her back straight, and her uniform pressed to perfection. He was proud of Rylani, as proud as he felt he had the right to be as he got the honor of watching her grow up. “At ease, Lieutenant,” he made himself known. She turned to him, the smile wanting to curve her lips up. He was family to her.
“I am not sure as to why I am here,” Rylani said, her voice light, and small. It wasn’t the tone of a hardened commando, but of a little girl standing before a man she saw as an uncle.
“You’re being promoted, and offered a new position aboard this Command Carrier for the interim.” Braca announced.
“I do not understand,” Rylani tried not to sound shocked. “Promotion?” Had this been at her father’s request? Rylani wouldn’t have put it passed him. When he wanted something, he went after it. Even if it was something for his daughter. She was a little sad that he wasn’t here to see her promoted.
“Yes, Captain.” Braca handed her his former insignia. He always knew that someday he would want to pass this on to her, and Rylani had more than earned it. She pushed harder, fought harder than any other soldier he had commanded. Through the cycles, he’d seen her grown, seen how she’d come into her own as a soldier, spy, scientist, and whatever else she needed to be. She was never satisfied being just one thing within the corp. Rylani expected herself to do better than everyone else. And she did.
Rylani accepted the black leather that would sit on her shoulder. “A new position? What would I be doing?”
Braca sighed, “I would like for you to act as a liaison between myself, your parents, as well as a third party that should be arriving shortly. This third party has some history with us, and tensions will be on the rise. You’re a relatively new face to them, thus they will not have problems with you.”
“Sir, I am no diplomat. Honestly, you do not want me to do this.” Rylani argued. She was a hunter.
“You are exactly the Peacekeeper I want for this,” Braca argued back. “Your father will be inclined to behave himself while you are in his presence.” When he needed, he knew how to maneuver his former commander in the direction he wanted. Keeping Rylani close was one such maneuver.
Rylani had the urge to give a flippant remark, but Braca was her commander, and she had to obey. “I will endeavor to do my best.” Controlling her father’s moods was not her area. That honor belonged to her mother. It was better to get down to business, “This third party, how am I to help liaise between you and them?”
Braca admired her ability to switch gears, the same ability Scorpius had. “Here. It’s all in there.” He handed her a complete dossier on John Crichton, Officer Aeryn Sun-Crichton, their son D’Argo Sun-Crichton, Ka Jothee, Chiana, and Dominar Rygel the 16th. “You will have three solar days to become knowledgeable about all of them. Quarters have been arranged for you befitting your new rank.” Braca motioned to the spacious room, “I hope these will suffice.”
“Thank you, Commandant.” Rylani broke with regulations, going to her uncle, she threw her arms over his shoulders and hugged him. “I will not let you down.”
“I know you won’t. Failure is not in your DNA.” Braca replied, stepping back. “Good night, Captain, and congratulations.”
Rylani hardly noticed the departure of Braca. She set the reports on the desk so that she could set to work. She had three solar days to learn all there was to know about a crew of outlaws. It was best she not waste any time in committing their past to memory.
TO BE CONTINUED: