By Dellani Oakes
She walked through the jungle, the soft light warm on her opalescent skin. Cobalt blue hair cascaded down her back in tumultuous curls. Shaking her head, she laughed, the sound ringing and echoing like bells.
Shardana had never seen a bell. She didn’t even know what they were, but he knew. He hadn’t heard bells in awhile, he missed them sometimes. But he had her laugh and that was almost enough.
The river roiled over boulders, falling over the cliff to rumble and tumble on the sharp rocks below. Shardana yanked her hand away, rushing headlong for the lip of the land. He wouldn’t be joining her in her long swan dive to the lower river. They’d learned long ago that his body couldn’t handle the trauma of either dive or water pressure like hers could. Shardana was not a soft and cuddly plaything. As lethal as she was dangerously beautiful, she ruled undisputed over her domain. Most days she was glad of her visitor. Others, she demanded he leave. He couldn’t go entirely, but he had a place to stay on his own, away from her wrath.
The distant splash heralded her landing. He heard her voice calling him. Instead of trying to answer, he merely followed her voice. She was about a quarter mile from the falls when he caught up with her. Floating on her back, her pearly skin glittered in the filtered light.
Shardana dove below the surface, leaping out of the water before splashing down. In the water, she was in her element. Her lithe, sinewy figure cut through the water in graceful arcs.
She leaped high once more, purposely splashing him with her feet. Looking more like a split caudal fins than feet, they were long and bony, the toes fully webbed. When it was wet, he could see that her hair grew along her spin like a dorsal fin. Having taken a sample of her DNA, he discovered her people were descended from fish. And why not? Considering all the chemicals man had dumped into the waters of the world, he’d have been more shocked not to find a humanoid being like the Icthyumans.
Jase had found out that, though her kind were fish-like in many aspects, their species were physically compatible. She could never bear his children, but they could mate. Jase had long ago dispensed with the term, making love. A man didn’t make love to a female like Shardana. Their mating was rough, primordial.
“Join me, Jase!” She leaped, spun and dove, luring him with her psy-call. Like a siren, she tugged at his psyche.
“No, my Queen” he replied, fighting the lure. “The inhabitants of the river find me too tasty.”
“I’ll protect you. Swim with me.” She bobbed with her head just above the surface.
The tiny, vicious peraquin, a carnivorous predator, swam around her. It seemed the only thing the little buggers didn’t eat was Shardana. Jase had seen them rip one of her people apart. Faster than piranhas, they swam in tight formation, lurking at the bottom of the river for the unsuspecting traveler. As far as Jase was concerned, the only good peraquin was one roasting over an open fire.
Much as he cared for her, Jase was weary of this place and Shardana. Several times he’d asked his superiors to replace him, but they wouldn’t budge. Someone needed to study and document this discovery. Shardana tolerated few scientists and had driven more than one away. For some reason, she liked Jase and would allow only him in her presence. Jase didn’t always like being the queen’s favorite. She could be demanding, arrogant and cruel.
There were times when she could be loving, sweet and gentle. She would feed him delicacies with her own hands, sometimes allowing him to eat the food off her naked body. He never returned the favor as she had extremely long, sharp teeth. He could never be sure that she wouldn’t take a notion to add him to the menu.
Shardana jumped out of the water onto the shore. Some of the more adventurous peraquin nibbled on her skin. She shook them off. Several flew in his direction. Jase dodged the deadly little projectiles easily, letting them fall gasping to the ground. Shardana scooped them up, dropping them back into the water with an indulgent giggle.
Water pooled around her feet in slightly oily puddles. The water here wasn’t exactly like that outside the dome. Jase couldn’t drink it, not that he wanted to. Too many years of human runoff had made it undrinkable.
Shardana grabbed him, holding him close to her naked body. She kissed him. As always, his own anatomy betrayed him. He desired her—but it was more than that. Shardana emitted strong pheromones when she wanted him. Coupled with her strong psy abilities, she could often bend Jase to her will.
Her strong, bony hands tugged at his clothing as her kiss turned more aggressive. Jase complied with her demands. She could be brutal when she didn’t get what she wanted. Besides, it was what he wanted too.
They lay on the soft, mossy ground beneath an ancient tree, mating like beasts. After they finished, Shardana shoved him away and dove into the water. When she came out again, she snuggled close.
“You will do that again,” she said.
“As many times as you wish, my queen.”
She stroked his body. “Do you wish to leave here?”
“Sometimes I miss home.”
He suppressed his thoughts, not wanting her to know about his home or the outside world.
“Do you miss—someone special?”
Where did that come from? Why was she asking that?
“There’s no one special back home.” Not entirely true, but why elaborate?
“Not even Althea?”
He glared at her. “You’re reading my thoughts again. Stop that.”
“When you sleep, I find her in your dreams.”
“Keep out of my dreams. Stay out of my head. You don’t have any business there.”
She levered herself upright on one arm, eyes blazing a dark red. Fury made her hair stand out like static electricity. “All business is the Queen’s Business, Jase. I go where I wish, visit where I wish, take what I wish. You will serve me now,” she demanded, tugging on him somewhat uncomfortably.
Jase had no choice but to cooperate. He was at her mercy. Soon, he lost himself in the act, giving her what they both desired.
She fell asleep afterward, curled on her side. Nestled on the moss covered ground, her head cradled on her arm, she looked peaceful. Jase dressed, heading to his private quarters not far away.
Shardana knew he had quarters, but he had never taken her there. It was his haven, his place to be alone. The scientists on his crew had done their best to camouflage it from Shardana and her people, even going so far as to mask his scent.
Jase accessed the security door. Stripping out of his clothing, he had a long, hot shower and threw his clothing into an automatic washer. He dressed in fresh clothing and fixed himself something to eat. It had been awhile since he’d had a meal not prepared over a fire that he’d had to catch for himself.
A message light blinked on the console. He keyed in the code to receive, noticing that it had come while he showered. The screen flickered and he gazed into the dark blue eyes of Althea Marshall, his boss. She smiled happily.
“Jase, hi! I had the pod contact me when you came in. How’s it going?”
He leaned back in his seat, feet on the console. “Not bad. I’ve been a busy boy today.”
“Really? What have you been doing?”
He raised an eyebrow, lowering his chin as he stirred his coffee. “You sure you really want to know?”
“Jase!” She laughed, throwing a pen at the viewer. It bounced back at her, making her laugh again. “So, the Queen continues to find favor with you?” Was that a hint of jealousy in her voice?
“Thus far. I’ve yet to fail to please. Honestly, Thea, I can’t help wondering how much longer this can last.”
Althea had studied the other, less vicious inhabitants of the dome. “The Icthyuman aren’t so bad, Jase….”
“The other Icthyuman aren’t Shardana,” he countered quickly. “She could kill me anytime she wanted. You’d never know what happened.”
She cleared her throat delicately. “Not specifically true. We’ve had you under observation.”
“What!” He leaped to his feet, furious. “You’re spying on us? Me?”
“We had to have more than your reports to go on. It wasn’t my idea, Jase. The word came down from Lawson.”
Fredrick Lawson, her boss, was an arrogant, opinionated, uncompromising sack of shit.
“So you’ve seen everything.”
She nodded, glancing away from the Tri-D. A slight blush rose from her collar, spreading upward. “Only Fred and I have access….”
“That’s enough, isn’t it? My ass flashing the camera…. Then you’ve seen how she gets. The rages get more pronounced and the frequency has increased. I don’t know how long I can keep her happy. I really need to get out of here. We’ve learned what we can about Shardana. We can continue to monitor remotely. Having me here won’t add to our data by much.”
“We discovered something,” she muttered, looking away again as if the entire idea disturbed her.
“Am I going to want to hear this?”
“Just spit it out. Can’t be any worse than the idea of having my head ripped off and eaten.”
“Further data indicates that it is possible for a human male to….”
Jase paled. He didn’t think his day could get any worse, but it just had. “To what, Thea?”
“Fuck….” he whispered. He got up and got himself a couple of beers from the refrigerator. He drank them both rapidly. “Now I really could get myself killed. Thea, you know what she does when she—mates.”
Althea nodded, eyes wide with horror. She’d seen Shardana mate to produce a child shortly after coming to the dome a few years ago. Once the act was complete, Shardana ripped off the male’s head and ate him. When the child was born, the women of the tribe took it and raised it. Shardana could not be trusted with her own young.
“These folks never heard of condoms and birth control, Thea. What am I going to do?”
“I’ve presented the data to Lawson, asking that you be removed.”
She swallowed, shaking her head.
“Goddamn it! Does he really want me dead that badly? If so, I’ll pitch myself into the river with the peraquin. I have a feeling it would be a better death!”
“You’ve made a name for yourself there. The scientific world stands in awe of Dr. Jase Thorngold. When you leave the dome, you could run Cosgrove Industries. Lawson’s worried about his job.”
He sat quietly so long, she thought the viewer had glitched. Tapping her controls, she called his name. Eventually, he responded. Blinking slowly, he gazed into her deep blue eyes.
“Thea, you have to get me out of here. Go over Lawson’s head. Appeal to the Cosgrove board if you have to. When she wakes, she’ll come looking. She knows where this place is even if she can’t find its front door.” He leaned forward, appealing to her humanity. “Shardana is coming into her fertile time. Twice a year she takes a mate and conceives. If I impregnate her….”
His voice caught, slightly strangled by his emotions. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to come home. I want to see the sun again, not the artificial light of the dome. I want to swim in the ocean and drink water that won’t kill me. I want to be with a woman who hasn’t got razor sharp teeth and scales! I want you, Thea!”
Althea gulped, nodding. “I’ll see what I can do. How long can you stay there?”
Jase glanced at his watch. He’d already been gone three hours. Shardana wouldn’t sleep that much longer.
“Maybe an hour, two at the most.”
“I’ll take your concerns to Lawson.”
“No need,” another voice broke in. Lawson’s nasal drawl was distinctive. “Don’t worry, cowboy. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” His image flickered onto the screen beside Althea’s.
“Dr. Lawson, do you want me to die here?”
“What I want is what Cosgrove wants.”
“An Icthyuman and Human hybrid.”
A wild, ululating cry echoed through the jungle. Shardana was coming. He had moments only.
“Her fertile cycle starts in three days. If I’m still here, I become choice du jour.”
He disconnected the call. Head in hands, he took a shuddering breath. Three days to get out or die. To him there was no option. If Lawson didn’t come with a directive from the Cosgrove board, he’d leave on his own.
“Meanwhile, the Queen awaits.”
Sighing heavily, he filled a pack with biodegradable bulbs of fresh water. He grabbed another beer from the refrigerator, tucked in some MRE’s and slung the heavy bag over his shoulder. Exiting the pod, he made sure it was tightly sealed. It took about fifteen minutes of muddling his path to come at Shardana from the wrong direction. Forcing himself to smile, he walked up to her.
“Where have you been?” The words might have been teasing from a human woman. From the Icthyuman Queen, they were a reprimand.
He patted the pack on his shoulders. “Running low on fresh water.”
She nodded. He knew she counted the bulbs of water he kept near her sleeping place. He was glad he didn’t have to lie to her about it.
“We will go to the Sacred Grove after you have replenished your supply. I want to spend the night there. We will mate under the Mother’s Veil.”
The Mother’s Veil was a gigantic waterfall, higher, more powerful than the one nearby. Legend was that the first Icthyuman emerged from her waters.
“Why there? If you want a waterfall, we’ve got one.”
“This is something special. You will mate with me there. Only the Mother’s magic can give me your child.”
“It is nearly my fertile time, Jase. I want your child inside me. We will walk to the Mother’s Veil two days and a night away. When we arrive, we will mate beneath it. You will give me a child.”
“And you’ll eat me….”
She laughed, holding his face in her hands. “No, foolish Human! A Queen doesn’t eat her life mate! Only the animals she breeds with to make more of the tribe.”
“So I’d be your life mate?”
“Of course. Why? Do you not want to be?” Her eyes hardened, her face a cold mask of growing fury.
“Sure, I do! Nothing I want more!” He put as much enthusiasm into it as he could.
Wishing he could make up an excuse, Jase went with her calmly, if not willingly. He felt better knowing she wouldn’t immediately eat him, but the prospect of being here as her life mate didn’t make him feel much better.
The light of the dome dimmed as evening grew near. Jase glanced at his watch, yawning loudly, stretching his arms in an exaggerated fashion. Shardana glanced at him.
“Yes. You just had a long nap. Can we sleep tonight and leave tomorrow when I’m rested?”
“Of course,” she purred.
He knew what she wanted. He could smell her sex scent fill the air, swirling around him like an intoxicating cloud. They were together twice before she allowed him to sleep.
He lay on his side and Shardana watched him before rising silently. Making her way to a secret part of the jungle, she found the flower that spoke to her. The face flickered into view.
“I did as you said,” she told the face.
The man nodded solemnly. “You’ve done well, my Queen. The time grows near for you to have your heir. It will be like no other, a perfect blend. Did he believe you about the mating ritual?”
Her turn to nod. A sly smile twitched her lips. “Why would he not? We chose the words well.”
“You are wise, my Queen. Any chance he’ll wake?”
“Doubtful. I worked him hard.”
“You should go back now. He might wake and wonder where you are.”
She left as quickly as she’d come, running silently back to her bower.
Jase rose shortly after Shardana left. He didn’t believe what she’d said about their mating. A part of him knew she wouldn’t break from tradition just for him. Dressing rapidly, he took off barefoot across the dank jungle floor, losing himself in the dense undergrowth as he wound his way to the pod. Once there, he accessed the door, sealing it against Shardana. Should she actually find it, he didn’t want her to get inside.
He loaded a small backpack with food and water. The door to the dome wasn’t far, only about half a mile from his pod. He’d argued for having direct access from the pod itself, but Lawson had overridden him. As always, the old man had his own agenda. It should only take a few minutes to get to the door, but he’d learned to be prepared. If Shardana tracked him, he could get trapped and have to wait her out.
Arriving at the door, he keyed in his code. The door clicked but didn’t open. Trying again, more slowly, he typed it in. A red warning flashed and a tinny voice reprimanded him.
“The code you have entered is incorrect. Failure to key in the proper sequence will initiate security measures.”
He knew it was the right code. It meant someone, probably Lawson, had changed it. Pulling out a portable Tri-D, he called Althea. A quick explanation brought her to the door. Her codes didn’t work either.
“I’m trying, Jase. He’s locked us out.”
“No, he’s locked me in. She’ll come back. She’ll know I’m gone.”
“I’m trying…. I know.”
She flipped some switches and the entire dome grew dark. The artificial light dimmed to nothing, allowing only a hazy moon to filter through the thick plexiglass covering.
“What are you doing?”
“Rebooting the system. It will take a few minutes, but I can use a default code.”
The hair on Jase’s neck rose as he heard a distant, ululating call.
“She’s looking for me. I’m in the open. She’ll track my scent. Hurry!”
“Two minutes, Jase.”
“I may not have two minutes.”
“I can’t rush it. Come on! Come on!” she urged the computer.
“I love you, Thea,” he blurted out. “I’ve loved you since you first came to Cosgrove. If I don’t make it out…”
“I love you too, Jase. And we’ll get you out.”
The quavering cry was closer than he’d anticipated. Shardana could move rapidly even in the dark. Her sense of smell led her, her eyes able to see details even in the dim shadows of night.
The console beeped, lights flashed. Hands dashing over the console, Althea reset code after code.
The cry came again, about a mile away. Shardana could cover that distance in less than two minutes. Jase turned, his back to the sliding panel, wanting to face her when she attacked.
“She’s coming,” he whispered. “I can smell her.”
“One more minute.”
“I don’t have a minute, Thea.”
Shardana leaped at him from the shadows like a panther, claws extended, slashing at the air. One of her talons laid open his cheek. Only the door opening behind him saved him from further injury. He fell backward as she attacked once more. Her claws hissed in the air above him.
Jase kicked her in the midsection, knocking her back a step. “Now!” he commanded as the Icthyuman female staggered away.
The door hissed shut. Shardana pounded on the other side, screaming loudly in frustration. The plastisteel door was harder than stone. She’d never get through.
Althea locked the door, resetting the code. Jase lay on the floor, gasping and bleeding. When she’d finished, Althea rushed to his side, staunching the blood on his cheek with her lab coat. Jase took her face in his hands, drawing her to him. Without a word, he kissed her hard and deep, expressing his gratitude in the best way he could.
Pounding on the inner door heralded Lawson’s arrival. Althea looked up at it, grinning.
“He won’t get through. I locked him out of everything. The system shutdown gave me full control.”
“We can’t go out, he’ll get us in the hallway,” Jase said, glancing at the door.
“The authorities should be here soon. They’ll arrest him.”
“That could take ages.”
“I know,” Althea replied, unbuttoning her lab coat. “What shall we do with ourselves until help arrives?”
Jase grinned. “I’m sure we can think of something….”
* * *
© 2014 by Dellani Oakes • All rights reserved