Defying Peace (Silent Hunters book 1)

Chapter One

Valin regretted every second of the morning after forgoing her coffee in effort to arrive to work on time.

Absolutely not worth it.

Pushing the elevator button for the twentieth time she was ready to scream. If she was late after giving up her coffee, she was going to hurt someone.

Her boss arranged a meeting with someone she didn’t care to remember an hour before the start of business. As a secretary her job was mainly to sit in a corner, take notes and make sure her boss had someone at her becking call.

Peering at the elevator button, Valin scowled. “Why did the light turn off?” The elevator had not stopped and she could hear the humming so the damn thing was obviously working.

Frustrated she let her head fall back with a groaned. Turning to the right and left, she checked to make sure no one was coming before she stomped her wedge boot against the stupid piece of junk – button.

The lack of coffee made her violent….apparently.

Thankfully the light turned back on.

Thank Seth.

Checking the time on her Minky pad she cursed. She was already a minute late, and the meeting was probably starting, because her boss was prompt like that. Being late was equal to selling firm secrets, and Valin just committed the ultimate crime.

Defeated she scrolled her contacts for her boss. She needed to let her know that she was downstairs.

While Valin skimmed hundreds of names she heard a series of shoes on the stone floor.

Glancing over Val felt a flutter of lust as she took in a group of men with perfectly chiseled jaws, thick heads of hair and suits that made a lady like her imagine doing dirty deeds in the server room.

Those flutters turned a violent when the group surrounded her. Their expressions calm, collected and patient.

A half second later the elevator hummed as it came to a stop and the doors opened gracefully, pretending it hadn’t been ignoring her for the past ten minutes.

Valin hesitated when no one else moved to get in, but one of the males held out a hand silently instructing her to go first. How very gracious. She loved it.

Taking a moment to press for her floor, she stepped back to the corner and lifted her Minky pad anxious to send a little message to her office best friend.

Vibrating with glee she typed a quick note: Pretty sure I’m looking at a group of men that I’d be happy to go to Debsa for

Sorcha: LOL. Not sure that’s a good pick up line

Valin: Oh, I wouldn’t need to pick them up, I would slap a nighty-night-tab on each one and take them home with me.

Sorcha: LMAO. Now I see why you’d go to Debsa.

Sorcha: Didn’t know you were looking for a harem.

Valin: I wasn’t….until I was. Seriously, we should find out where these guys are headed so you can see them. Dirty dreams in the making. We can enjoy them and then go to Debsa together.

Sorcha: I’m too delicate for prison.

Valin: Valid point. I guess I’m going to have to invest in a set of boot knives for myself then.

Sorcha: You’re insane.

Not officially, she thought to herself.

Lowering the Minky pad she noticed two of the males looking directly at her, with narrowed eyes as if they knew what she was doing.

But that was impossible.

Biting her lip, she smiled politely. Unfortunately she couldn’t stop thinking about her conversation with Sorcha and a blush warmed her cheeks. Dropping her eyes she waited till the cab pinged and the doors opened.

The males closest to the exit walked out. At first she thought they were being thoughtful to give her room to leave, but when she was in the entry way, the rest of the group followed suit. Valin paused wondering what department they were headed, because she’d never seen them before.

When the lead male opened the door to her firm, her blood pressure dropped. The two males that looked at her in the elevator, moved to her side and held out their hands, making it clear they knew where she worked.

Swallowing hard she entered the executive offices following the five males that were heading directly to the back conference room where her boss would be waiting for her.

The two males, silently walking on each side of her made her feel exposed, even though no words had been said. She honestly couldn’t remember a time feeling more uncomfortable in her life. As she crossed the hall into the meeting room, she saw her boss’s shoulders relax.

“Good timing,” said her boss.

Valin disagreed, it was too early and she had somehow pissed off the sentinels encroaching on her personal space.

In effort to calm her nerves she asked her boss, “Would you like me to get refreshments for our guests?”

Her boss scanned the males taking their seats. The sentinel with blond hair and striking cheek bones answered, “We’ve had our morning meal. We don’t require anything more, thank you.”

Her boss nodded as if she approved.

But then he added, “But Valin has missed her morning coffee, and that makes her a little violent. We’d be willing to wait for her to find some.”

Oh holy mother of Seth, how the hell did he know that?

Looking to her right, she felt her heart stop. His brown eyes had a honey gold center and she could have been hallucinating, but the gleam in his eyes, made it look like he was silently laughing at her.

“Or,” said the brunet on her left, “we can start now and include her in our conversation telepathically. I’m sure she’s quiet capable.”

Telepathically?

Snapping her eyes to the left she saw the same brown eyes and golden center. The brunet’s eyes weren’t laughing at her, he was challenging her.

To what she didn’t know, but she was game. Considering she might be fired later.

“Valid point,” the blond said using her exact words from her conversation with Sorcha.

Valin was starting to get an idea as to what the challenge was.

Her boss chuckled halfheartedly, “Valin’s not a morning person, but I doubt she’s violent.”

One of the males at the table mumbled, “Tell that to the elevator button.”

Well, well, well, and a new opponent was stepping into the ring. Holding in a laugh she covered her mouth.

“What?” her boss said looking confused.

Valin cleared her throat, “I’m going to grab some tab-water for our guests.”

Her boss didn’t look pleased when she agreed, “That’s a good idea.”

“Said her accomplice,” mumbled the blond.

With feigned politeness Valin said, “Feel free to sit anywhere, luxurymen,” in hopes that they would back out of her person space, but neither male moved.

“Its their custom to be addressed by their given name and title,” her boss said quickly as if she might offend them.

Too late for that, Valin thought.

Backing up she kept her eyes averted until she was in the hall. There she took a detour to her desk and grabbed an emergency caffeine tab.

Ripping it open she pulled up the arm to her black sweater – within inches to apply the tab to her arm – it was ripped from her grasp by an invisible force and burst into hundreds of pieces.

Speaking out loud she said, “I was wrong. I’m not going to Debsa for kidnapping. I’ll be going for murder.”

“Or,” said a voice behind her.

She turned around to see the brunet holding a monster coffee. The blond sat on the corner of her desk as if he owned it.

Ignoring the blond she reached for the monster coffee, the same brand and size that she always got.

“Hello, my sweetlove,” she said as the warmth from the heavenly beverage soothed her soul.

Both males snorted.

She took a sip and cherished the moment. When she opened her eyes, the brunet asked, “Better?”

“The monster has been caged,” she said.

“Good.” Holding out his hand Terran style he said, “I’m Gabriele.”

Taking his hand she said, “I’m Valin.”

When she finished the blond held out his hand. “I’m Mallik and we’d like to offer you a job with our company.”

Chapter Two

Valin sipped her coffee from the corner desk, listening to the negotiations between her boss and  the two males, Gabriel and Mallik. They were negotiating for an untouched and mineral rich wilderness.

Valin didn’t usually pay attention to these meetings because she didn’t have to. The program that recorded and transcribed the information also took highlight notes. It was a wonderful program that an old boyfriend wrote and gave to her as a gift.

Of course, the relationship ended when he found out she put it on a new tech website and bought it from herself with her firm’s office supplies budget. Not that she kept the money, she used it to pay off the doctor and vet bills for her neighbor’s daughter and dog. The daughter was playing with a new hover toy by a new company when it exploded and burned both her and the dog sleeping by the bed. 

Two days after her neighbor contacted the company, to tell them what happened, they disappeared. Leaving her neighbor with an insane bill to pay. That’s where Valin stepped in and took care of the bills. 

She used the rest of the money to pay for a contract on the Demon market for someone to find the owner and bring them to Marnak to be tried. Three months later, the contract was complete, and the anonymous person found them and dumped them with all the evidence to convict them on the doorstep of the Admiral who ran Marnak. 

But that was years ago. 

“Then we have an agreement,” her boss said as she stood up and held out her hand to Gabriel. “As soon as the funds are verified, we will send you the deed.”

Valin scratched the back of her neck realizing she had stopped paying attention and the meeting was over. 

Her boss shook Mallik’s hand and then disregarded the rest. “My secretary will send you copies of the contract.”

The group stood up and one by one they walked out. Mallik lingered only long enough to give her a look before tapping his Minky watch and walking out. 

“Subtle,” she whispered.

“What?” her boss asked as she tapped her Minky pad. 

“Nothing, just compiling the transcripts to add to the contract notes,” Valin said as she stood up from the corner desk. “I’m going to go to my desk and send the copies.”

“Good,” her boss said, as she put away the Minky pad. Her boss had a look on her face that Valin knew meant she was going to get another warning.

“This morning could have ended very differently if you had not shown up when you did.”

“I know.”

Her boss’s brows rose, “Do you? Do you know how close you came to being fired?”

“Yes,” Valin said looking at her boss’s clothes rather than her face. Confrontation was never her thing.  

“Good. Then you will understand when I tell you that I expect you fifteen minutes early to every meeting from now on.”

That sounded drastic, but Valin nodded to the new terms.

When she was back at her desk, Valin quickly updated, compiled and sent out the contract. She also scrolled her new messages and answered them as they arrived. A half hour later she stepped to the restroom where Sorcha found her and asked her about her harem. 

By the time Valin got back to her desk, she saw a prompt for a meeting reminder. A meeting that was not on her calendar before she left for the restroom. Worse, the meeting started in twelve minutes. 

Grabbing her Minky pad, she had a feeling that she was never going to see her desk again which was why she grabbed the five packs of emergency caffeine and stuffed them into her pockets. 

As soon as Valin stepped into the conference room she knew it was over. Her boss ignored her as she walked to the corner desk. The rest of the attendees filed in and the meeting began with a rapid fire update on all the current projects. An hour and a half later, the tag up was over and everyone filed out except her boss. 

Without so much as a glance her boss said, “Gather your effects and take the rest of the day off. You won’t be coming back.”

Valin cleared her personal messages from her work Minky pad, and set it on her desk before leaving through the double doors to the elevator. She didn’t bother to tell Sorcha, she’d do that when she got home where her personal Minky pad lay by her bed. 

Outside the firm’s private offices she waited for the jank-ass elevator. Of course the stupid thing took forever. By the time the doors opened she was rubbing the dull itch on her forehead. 

Ignoring the person in the cab she walked to the back and leaned her back against the elevator wall. The doors closed and nothing happened. Assuming the elevator was taking the opportunity to ruin the rest of the day, she closed her eyes and waited because she would be damned if she had to walk down almost fifteen flights of stairs in her wedge boots. 

“Need a moment to process which floor you want?”

Valin knew that voice. Opening her eyes she felt the sting of embarrassment claw her stomach. Not only had Gabriel seen her at her worst that morning, now he was seeing her at her lowest. 

“Gabriel,” she said in greeting hoping that he didn’t mistake the emotional tenor of her voice for the type of female that cries in front of people.

He pushed for the lobby and said arrogantly, “If you were a crier, I wouldn’t have offered you a job.”

If she knew he was a telepathic jerk, she wouldn’t have given his job so much thought. 

“Do you get claustrophobic?” he asked changing topics and ignoring her mental complaints of his insensitivity. 

“No.” 

“You haven’t been in a confined space situation in the past week and it’s kind of important to know if you have issues with that considering the delicacies of the job.”

First of all, did he just admit that to watching her for a week? Like some kind of hot telepathic stalker?

And what in the name of Seth did confined spaces have to do with her job?

Come to think of it, he never told her exactly what her job would entail.

“How important is your privacy?” he asked moving to the next topic. 

Apparently he wasn’t the one to linger on a thought or topic. Valin wondered if there was such a thing as ADHD for his race. Maybe they could call it twitchy-thoughts. 

“You’re the one getting sidetracked. I was asking about privacy.”

As if he knew the meaning of the word. 

“Not sure if that’s a no.”

Gabriel’s insensitivity was next level. Honestly, she was impressed. 

In effort to answer him, she said, “Is this your way of asking if I would have an issue with working for a bunch of telepaths?”

“I’m a Cerebral, not a telepath. The job requires you working with two Cerebrals and a Bezoral.”

Valin had no idea what a Bezoral was, but she knew Cerebrals were telepaths.

“Cerebrals have telepathic and telekinetic abilities.”

Cerebrals were also supposed to be sickly looking. Light grey skin, gaunt faces with dark hair and serial killer blue eyes.

Gabriel was the model of health and physical perfection with light brown skin, hair and beautiful eyes. He also had a playful side from when they first met. Seeing the polarity from that Gabriel to the one in front of her, she could deduce which version was authentic. 

Gabriel slid his hands in his jacket pockets. “As much as I appreciate the compliments of my looks, you should know that regardless if you keep the job or not, there will be no chance of any intimate relationship.”

She forced a smirk to keep the pieces of her dignity in place. Being fired and rejected one right after the other was a sizable hit to her ego. 

On any other day she might have a witty comeback but at the moment all she could say was, “Probably a good idea.”

The door opened and Gabriel led the way. She followed him to the front of the building planning to part ways and catch a Nack Krawler, but he held out an arm on the other side of the double doors -pointed to a Grummer. “That way.” 

“Thank you, but I can make it home on my own,” she politely as she walked around his arm.  

“Valin,” Gabriel called firmly. 

She kept walking eeking out a little more space between her and the male who was starting to piss her off. Turning back she lifted her brows making it clear she was done for the day. 

Pointing to the Grummer he said, “This way.”

“No thank you,” she said firmly. She was not an employee and she was not getting into a vehicle with him. At this point she was starting to wonder if he was one of those bosses who had no moral or ethical lines….and was a secret control freak who kept a tight lid on his bondage kink while at work but had a fully furnished dungeon full of whips and gagballs. 

Gabriel’s face darkened with kindled fury, and witnessing it was scary.  

Valin tried to retreat, but her body was utterly frozen. 

The Cerebral sauntered to her side. He casually pulled out a pair of black leather gloves. His voice was low and bordered on threatening as he slipped his hand in the first glove. “We’re past the point of pretending that you have any power in this situation. I can hear everything you think and take control of you whenever I want. Now… you can follow me on your own, or I can make you.”

Gabriel definitely had a secret dungeon somewhere.

He leaned in closer and hissed, “Stop, or I will return the insult.”

….was it an insult or was he upset that she figured him out?

“I warned you,” he said as he pulled on the other glove. 

Just then her body turned around with a jerk. Her legs and feet moved uncoordinated towards the vehicle. Gabriel grabbed the door and gave her a small snarl as she embarrassingly crawled inside on her hands and knees. 

Flopping back against the seat she got Gabriel’s message that not only could he control her, he could make her feel like an utter idiot. 

The inside of the Grummer had one flush back bench that could seat four people that were squished tight or three average sized people comfortably. As Gabriel sat down with a sophisticated flare she was grateful he left plenty of room between them. 

Bordering the other sides were three benches making it look oddly like a movable living room. Mallik who was crouched forward typing something into a Minky pad glanced over and went back to what he was doing.

On the other side was a third male. The one who talked about her treatment of the elevator button.

“Where’s the rest of the team?” she asked.

“There are only three,” Gabriel said staunchingly. 

She saw more than three in the meeting. 

“You were supposed to,” Gabriel said as he flicked his fingers at the Navigation screen. But instead of turning on, the whole vehicle lifted higher in the air and soared forward. 

Now that….was disturbing. Could he see the cross traffic? What if they ran into something?

“This isn’t safe,” she mumbled to herself. 

“It’s a rental. I have someone driving the Grummer.”

“With it powered off?” Did he really think she was stupid?

“The driver is a Cerebral. He doesn’t need the engine.”

Pointing at the three in the cab she said, “Three in here, plus a driver equals four.” 

The male across from Mallik chuckled. “That was my bad,” he said before slapping his hands together causing a loud bang. It also changed the interior of the Grummer. It was as if she was in a virtual reality seconds before then took off the goggles to see it was all just one big lie. 

First thing she noticed was that Mallik wasn’t in the cab. Second thing was that, the one who clapped his hands, wasn’t a trim and pale looking male anymore. No, his skin was dark purple with haunting white eyes. He was dense, with a light grey t-shirt that was pulled tight over his wide chest and thick arms. 

His thick thighs were working his pants and Valin fully disproved of him hiding all that maleness.

“Challen is a Bezoral. He can’t show his true form to the Federation population because it’s against the law for him to be on this side of the border. So regardless what you think, he will continue to hide what he is.”

It should be against the law to keep someone like him out.

Challen grinned.

Gabriel cut out, “That’s not his real form, either. You’re falling for an illusion.”

Valin winked at Challen, and mouthed, “Keep this.”

Gabriel audibly exhaled as if she was grading on his last nerve.

She tried to keep the feeling of satisfaction out of her mind, but when she heard a male chuckled from the drivers side she figured Gabriel and Mallik heard.

“You were the investigator for this specific wilderness we bought before being promoted to the secretary position, correct?” Gabriel said matter-of-factly.

Yes she was, “Are you saying you want to hire me as a wildland investigator?”

“No,” Gabriel said as he gave back control over her limbs. “That’s not what I said. I was confirming you were the wildlife investigator. I asked because I wanted to know if you had any mental notes from your inspection, specifically from the people who lived there.”

Valin thought back on villagers and how they kept talking about the water that crept on land at night to eat their animals. She was pretty sure she didn’t include those notes.

“You didn’t,” Gabriel said, sounding pleased with the information. “But that thought confirms our theory.”

“You have a theory? About what?” 

Gabriel didn’t answer her. Instead he said, “We want you to show us where the village was, and everything else that you know about the area.”

“Wait…What do you mean where the village was?

Gabriel sounded intellectually superior when he tapped his Minky watch and pulled up an image of the wildland. “I meant what I said. The village is no longer there.” He went through each area and she hardly recognized it. The threes were packed together and thinner than she remembered. They also looked half dead with only a small smattering of leaves.

Crossing her legs and arms she sat back wondering why the images were making her sad. “If the villagers left the north shore, I have no idea where they went.”

Gabriel rescinded the image. “If anyone with a conscious thought was anywhere inside the wildlands I would have found them. But there is no living person in all 700,000 acres.”

Valin was having a time following the magnitude of Gabriel’s abilities were, but more than that, she was struggling to conceive a reason why the villagers would leave. No one in the past ten years had even hinted at drilling in that area. “If they’re gone, I doubt I’ll be much help.”

Gabriel removed his business jacket and set it aside. When he began unbuttoning his shirt. Valin cast her eyes away not wanting any of those images. As attractive as he was, she wasn’t attracted to who he was. 

“We just need you to pinpoint the old village, we can take care of the rest,” Gabriel clipped out as he dropped the shirt on the bench between them. It was too close and she found herself scooting closer to the wall. This Grummer for whatever reason only had one door. 

The windows of the grummer were fake so she couldn’t look out, but she was sure that they were headed to the wilderness and not her home. Which made her ask, “Are you taking me home after this? Or should I ready a Nack Krawler to pick me up?”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Gabriel snapped as he dropped more clothes between them. 

She was sure he knew what he was going to do with her – he just wanted to wait for the perfect moment to leave her in the wilderness alone. 

“You’re annoyingly paranoid.”

As if he didn’t have his faults, she thought. 

Valin could see the blue pants crumbled in a heap in her periphery. She hoped that whatever he changed into better represented his personality. The universe deserved a visual warning.

“We’re here,” Gabriel announced as the vehicle stopped moving.

Gabriel opened the door and got out and made a gesture for her to follow. She tried to assess how she was going to get around his pile of clothes when every part of her body froze. She was yanked from the bench by an invisible force, wedged out of the door like an old travel bag. When he set her down he glared at her again. “We’re running out of daylight and it’s really important that we get to the village before then.”

She couldn’t imagine what was so important about an abandoned village, unless they were referring to the wildlife inspector that the firm was going to send out tomorrow afternoon to go over the mineral rights and such. 

She also couldn’t imagine someone needing to wear a leather jacket in the forest, but at least the universe would see him for what he really was – an arrogant prick. Too bad she couldn’t do what the Bezoral did and make Gabriel look ugly that would be a mercy on her lady parts.

“I wish I had a Cerebral blocker, I’d make you put it on,” Gabriel mumbled.

That made two of them.

Coming around the front of the Grummer was Mallik in a similar well dressed leather jacket but he had a white shirt on and red shoes. When he saw her he smiled so big the lines in his eyes creased. “Hello again.”

“Hi.”

Rubbing his palms together he said, “Ready to catch an Outworlder?”

“Aren’t you an Outworlder?”

He shrugged and playfully. “Yes and no. But the Outworlder that’s living in the cove needs to go.”

The Outworlder in the cove….?

“Gabe,” Challen called. “Who’s gonna watch her while we hunt?”

“You,” Gabriel answered.

Challen’s brows pulled together as he lifted a massive looking weapon from the back of the Grummer. “Me?”

“Mallik,” Gabriel corrected. 

“You said I was cut after the one time on Port Meno.”

Gabriel cut his eyes to her. “Which way?” 

Valin saw the furious impatience in the Cerebral’s face. It was enough to keep her from thinking something to piss him off more.

Peering over the trees she didn’t see any clippings that the villagers used to mark the way home. Thankfully she developed her own method for finding her way. The sun descended in the west and that was the way to the water. 

Turning on her wedge boots she led the way. Gabriel and Challen passed her but Mallik walked to her side and pulled out a two handed phaser. Holding his left hand at her he asked, “Shall we?”

Not sure what that meant, she grabbed his hand and they both floated in the air following the others. It was an odd way to travel but in a way, she couldn’t help smiling at the feeling of being treated as royalty. 

When they reached the beach, Gabriel waited near the trees until Mallik and her landed. He glared at their clasped hands and Mallik released her immediately. As he walked away he mumbled, “So many mixed messages.”

With a hiss Gabriel told her, “Stay here. If I think you need to move, I’ll do it for you.”

Chapter Three

Gabriel wished he had his father’s gift to rifle through a person’s thoughts. It would have eliminated the need for Valin to show him where the monster hunted when she was the land inspector. That way he wouldn’t have to bring a very Terran female to an extermination.

With as much time as his team spent looking for the creature, he figured by sheer volume of crossover they would have found it. 

Gabriel admitted to himself that Valin wasn’t the core of his frustrations, but her presence was messing up his focus. It didn’t help that Mallik’s tiresome response to Valin arguing with him was “you two are so cute.”

Leaving Valin standing between a set of trees, he treaded through the soft sand and broken coral pieces towards a dense male with ash grey skin, long black hair pulled back into a tie, and a pair of yellowish white tusks protruding from his lower teeth. The Angny male was an illusion. A form that Challen was projecting into his mind. 

It was a mutated ability that developed over thousands of years. Of course, Gabriel didn’t know that about Challen when they first meet. All he noticed was a darker brown Terran was wailing on a Night Demon that was trying to take his Minky watch in an ally on Port Nicca. 

Gabriel didn’t stop the fight, but he did stop the Night Demon’s friends from joining in. When it was over, Challen was feeling himself- in that his head was held a little higher and his chest looked a little bigger. 

Gabriel and his brother took a contract, an hour earlier, with the Federation to hunt down an invisible snow beast on the Terran planet. Admiral Orin agreed that if he and his brother took care of the problem quietly, there could be more jobs in the future.

So when Gabriel wanted to extend the opportunity to someone who could help. But when Challen saw him, the fighter’s high vanished. The first three words Gabriel heard was, “You’re a Cerebral.”

With a shrug Gabriel joked, “Half.”

“And the other half?”

“A Silk Demon in need of a drink. Want to join me?”

Challen came for whatever reason. Gabriel believed the reason why he couldn’t hear Challen’s thoughts was because he had a Cerebral blocker. Six years later he was walking out down the ramp of his ship next to Challen who had just slid on a pair of sunshades when he stopped, ripped off the glasses and pressed the flesh of his palm against his forehead. 

In the next second Gabriel could hear Challen’s thoughts as the dark brown Terran faded into a dark purple person with shaved black hair and white eyes. As shocked as Gabriel was at seeing his friend change forms, he was more interested in his clothes. 

Pointing at Challen’s pants he laughed. “Are you really wearing pink paloots?” 

Challen looked down at his Cerebral style pants and there was a moment of utter terror from losing his ability. Then he turned around and cursed all the way back to the ship and got on a call with his mother – who Gabriel thought was dead. 

At first Gabriel and Mallik tried to help Challen get used to his new gift but Challen hated it. It got to the point where he wouldn’t leave the ship and even then he hated hearing the inner thoughts of everyone who passed to close to his telepathic range.

A half year later, Mallik and Gabriel approached Arvey and asked for him to give Challen’s gift back. He did, but he also made some changes in that both Mallik and Gabriel could hear his thoughts.

 “You want me to pull out the cannon sparks?” Challen asked bringing Gabriel out of his memories and back to the beach where he should have been the whole time. 

Rubbing his face, before answering. “No. The sparks aren’t going to slow down water.”

“And the blades are?” he said skeptically. 

“The blades stay,” Gabriel said as he peered over to check on his brother’s progress. Mallik was watching the water as his thumb, index, and middle finger moved from side to side. Mallik was searching energies in the water, or call them- something like that. It was a unique sense that Mallik had. 

As a telepath Gabriel couldn’t hear or see that sense in Mallik’s mind, but Gabriel didn’t doubt his brother’s ability. 

Challen finished with the blades and moved to unfolding the synthetic bladder – or at least that’s what he called it.

A light whistle hung in the air. 

Mallik’s sign that he found something. 

Moving towards the water, Gabriel reached out and flicked his finger towards the four-foot blade. Lifting it from the sand he heated the tip and waited for the first sign of the Outworldly-creature. 

“Mother of Seth, look out,” Mallik yelled as four sections of ocean moved like drills. 

Gabriel lifted himself off the ground and pulled three more blades, heating the blades with his unique gift he sent them hurtling towards the…things.  The red hot blades did nothing to stop them from shooting from the blue abyss. One went for Mallik, one went for Valin and two when for him. 

His first duty was to his team, but his eyes drew back towards Valin, picking her up and out of the way of the water tentacle. Then he pulled down a wall of trees making a temporary shield. 

Two of the water churning tentacles, wrapped around his body encasing him in a vortex. He spun and twisted in the chaos trying to anchor himself to anything. Gabriel tried to telekinetically grab the water around him but it lacked a sense of weight.  

With no other choice he stopped fighting and pushed the heat from his hands to rest of his body. From there he projected it out. The liquid vaporized around him and he had enough time to grasp one gulp of air before he was dropped from the air. 

Landing hard, he sucked in as much air as he could and pushed himself to his side. Gabriel looked up as a wall of water crashed on top of him. The hit knocked the precious air from his lungs. Visually weak, he rolled away from the water. Once out he took in two breaths before the wall of liquid hell was on him again. 

Reaching out telekinetically he grabbed the wet sand and pulled it around him. Then he started to roll and heat himself at the same time. The mud heated to sand and the sand melted and to glass. In the glass he was able to breathe a little easier but he didn’t want to waste the air inside. 

Looking out he saw Challen back behind the trees shooting a series of rockets at the liquid tentacle coming for him. 

Challen ran one way through the trees and then another breaking the water’s strength.

Gabriel lifted the glass tube and floated above the beach. It didn’t take long before two more drills were heading his way. As he watched them come, he reached into Mallik’s mind to make sure was okay. Mallik had been using walls of sand to disorient the water attacks. 

Gabriel tapped his connection to Valin to make sure she was okay before he took on the beast. She had made it back to the Grummer and was trying to find her Minky pad to call for help. 

Three tentacles reached out from under the surface and he didn’t fight as they pulled him underwater. In the murky waters, it was hard to see distance which is why he yelled when he noticed a large whitish funnel with black thorns. Similar to a giant worm’s mouth. The mouth enclosed around the glass. Gabriel heated the glass and opened the top letting the ocean in and helping him swim out. 

The surface was too far for a quick breath. The tentacles would easily be able to keep him under. Which meant he had to deal with the beast before he went for air. So instead of looking for it up, he looked down and got a really stupid idea. 

Letting himself get caught in a series of thorns cutting into him as a real weight sucked him down. Once he was fully submerged in the mouth, he projected all of the heat within him, and then he just kept churning for more.

A warbled cry echoed around him. 

The suction around him eased and Gabriel used the solidness of whatever the beast had and pulled himself deeper, char-boiling the bastard from the inside. The creature cried again and then Gabriel heard his brother’s words in his head, “It’s dead.”

Good because Gabriel was out of breath. 

Using his brother’s mind as a beacon, he ripped open a section of the creature and pushed himself up to the surface. Taking a deep breath he held himself in the air, just over the ocean. 

Mallik was hovering over the water next to him, holding the bladder ready to finish the job by removing all evidence of it.

Gabriel gave it a few more seconds before dropping himself back in the water. Where they gathered the burnt digestive system and the thin elastic film that may or may not have been its skin. Not that Orin cared for proof, but Gabriel liked to give it. Just in case.

***

Gabriel helped Challen pack up the weapons in the go-bag. Mallik smoothed over the beach and arranged the trees so it looked like they were trying to build a log cabin, but got a quarter way in and gave up. Valin was sleeping in the Grummer. 

She had worked her way up the chain of command from the helpline until she was greeting the Admiral before Mallik had the sense to knock her unconscious.

When everything was ready, Gabriel picked up the bladder and floated it behind him as he led the way to their vehicle. Challen hefted the weapons because that was just something he liked to do personally. 

There wasn’t enough room for the bladder and the weapons in the trunk. Gabriel made the executive decision to keep the weapons upfront next to Mallik since the floor was occupied with Valin’s unconscious body. 

Mallik flew the Grummer back – not with the vehicle’s power, but with his own. The point was to make it look like they weren’t there and if the power wasn’t on, nothing was being recorded.  

At first the ride was silent, and Gabriel was able to avoid looking at Valin’s helpless state. But then Mallik started in, speaking telepathically to both him and Challen. It was a courteous they extended. “To the ship, right?”

Out loud Gabriel answered, “Take Valin home first.”

I have two reasons why that’s a dumb idea; first, she saw the creature and she will have questions. If we leave her in her bed, she will probably use all her contacts and hunt us out, exposing our private pest control job and demand those answers after we’ve been ousted. Two, and know you don’t want to hear this, but she

Gabriel cut him off. “-She’s not my future mate. Not now – not ever. I’m done talking about this and you will never have a say in who I’m with. I don’t care what you think you sensed between us.”

“…Are you done? Because I wasn’t going to say she would make a good mate – which she could, but I was referring to her actual skills. She’s good at her job.”

Gabriel ignored the mate comment. “We don’t need a secretary. You’re just trying to get out of writing the memos to Admiral Orin and keeping an inventory of what we kill and where.”

She calls herself a secretary, but you know damn well she was the firm’s Key Operator. She ran that place like a gifted droid. Plus we got her fired by slipping doubts in her boss’s head for the past week, there was no way her boss was going to let those seeds of doubts go.”

Gabriel could see the value in someone like Valin working with them, he just didn’t want it to be Valin. But then Challen’s mind reviewed a memory when they didn’t know who she was, only how detailed her notes were on the file they found in the archives.

“You made the same argument about her – you remember that right?” Challen said. 

Yes, but that was before he actually met her.

“Mallik may have come up with the idea to buy the land, so we could ask her directly for anything she didn’t put in the document. But you were right there, agreeing with him,” Challen added driving his point home. 

Yes, he did agree with the plan, because up till then she was a boring workaholic. Aside from her grumpy disposition in the morning. 

Of course the morning of, she was on a different level. All three of them witnessed her storm around her apartment destroying everything in her path as she searched for the right clothes. The poor Nack Krawler was probably suffering internal damage from the hundreds of times she hit the Navigation screen demanding it go faster. Not to mention her bloodthirsty assault on the elevator.  

By the time they all rode the elevator up, he was no longer himself. She had amused him so thoroughly he couldn’t help joking with her. Then Mallik threw out that they’d like to hire her and now they were discussing what to do with her.

A discussion they shouldn’t have had.

Gabriel peered over at the false windows. Trying to be objective he acknowledged that they could use help – but it didn’t need to be her. Valin wouldn’t be out of a job long, not with her work experience and skills. 

Then he thought of the one thing, that could end this discussion once and for all. He was about to tell Mallik to stop the Grummer, but as a telepath – Mallik was already descending. As soon as they were on the ground, Mallik left the driver’s cab and joined us in the back to wake her up.

Well, Mallik tried to by tapping on her arm. “Hey. Valin.”

“Go away,” she growled as she rolled on her side and pulled herself into a ball.

Mallik pulled back his hand and Challen grinned as his chest shook with laughter. 

“Your turn,” Mallik said gesturing to him. 

Gabriel didn’t touch her, but he did speak loudly. “Valin get up. We need to know if you accepted the job or not.”

When she didn’t growl Mallik gave him a look and telepathically said, “You’ve always been good with taming beasts.

Gabriel rolled his eyes and tried again, “Valin, we need to know-” 

“I’m thinking,” she snapped. 

She wasn’t. She slipped right back into her sleep and Gabriel looked at Mallik and said out loud. “She has issues getting up every morning. If she moved into the ship, you’d have to live with this.”

“No, I wouldn’t, she’d get her own cabin.”

“Are you going to make her coffee every day? You and I both know she buys it because she doesn’t like the way she makes it.”

Mallik waved his hand at Challen, “Challen’s the cook, ask him.” 

Before Gabriel could ask Challen said, “I can make her a latte, it’s not hard and before we leave the planet I can pick one up.”

“See, we’re good,” Mallik said leaning back on the seat.

“She hasn’t agreed. If we just take her that’s called kidnapping.”

Mallik shrugged as if he didn’t care what it was called so long as she came with them.

“Not to mention she would have to pack up her apartment and it won’t fit in her cabin. She’ll have to get a storage unit,” Gabriel persisted.

“She won’t have to do anything but pack what she wants. We can pay for moving bugs to do the rest and we can keep her storage unit in the cargo bay. Simple.” Mallik was gloating because he was confident in his rationalizations. 

Gabriel glanced at Challen who shrugged as if he didn’t have an argument.

“She’d be giving up her perfectly good life. Why would she leave that?”

“What’s perfect about it?” Mallik snorted.

Gabriel couldn’t think of anything right then. He didn’t remember learning about her parents or family. She didn’t have a boyfriend, and her only friend was a work friend that she never spent time with outside of the office.

 Abandoning his argument he suggested, “Some people can’t handle being locked in a confined space for long periods of time.”

“She practically lives at her office or the mini desk in the conference room. If she’s not there, she’s in her apartment. She’s not the outdoorsy kind of female.”

Throwing up his hands Gabriel had nothing else, but, “She hasn’t said yes. We can’t do anything until she says what she wants to do.”

“I’m glad I didn’t have a delicate ego to start with, you two would have crushed it to bits” Valin said stretching her legs out.

Gabriel had no idea she was awake. Her mind had been utterly quiet.

Rolling up she rubbed her eyes. When she noticed she was on the floor she pointed to Mallik, “Move over.” He did and she crawled to a spot on the bench seat. There she rubbed her temples, and he heard her think, “He’s not pretty enough to put up with.”

Mallik covered his mouth to keep a laugh in.

Valin didn’t imagine what it would be like to live on a ship. Nor did she picture what it would be like to work there. 

Instead her thoughts were based on words. She thought about the amount of keleps she’d keep by not having to pack up her apartment and pay for storage. Considering that at the end of the month she was going to have to decide if she wanted to extend her lease or not. Timing was on her side. 

Additionally she reminded herself that if the job didn’t work out, she’d be able to move to a different planet without the headache of finding the right transport company that didn’t charge her half of her retirement to move.

Without making it obvious he filtered her thoughts to Challen, to letting him know why she was taking the job. Gabriel slipped in telepathic narration telling him, “She’ll be gone in three months.”

Mallik chimed into the telepathic conversation. “Five hundred keleps she stays for at least a year.”

Challen could have thought of the words and both Gabriel and Mallik would have heard him, but he was an illusionist so it didn’t surprise anyone when an imaginary bag with 1000 on the side popped into his hand.

Gabriel could see through Valin’s eyes and she didn’t see what they were seeing. Challen’s illusions were an art at this point.

A thousand keleps for what?” Mallik asked.

Challen disappeared and Gabriel watched as another him sat shirtless in his favorite Cerebral grey paloots with his legs open. Another Valin crawled between his legs, perched on her knees and pressed a hand on his chest and leaned into his lips and kissed him softly as if she was asking if what she was doing was okay. 

The other Gabriel didn’t kiss her back and so she leaned back and left the illusion dejected. Fake Gabriel lifted his wrist and tapped his Minky watch. The date projected in the hologram was the exact date – one year from now.

The illusion disappeared and Gabriel noted the somber look on his friend’s face. As if Challen was disappointed that Gabriel was going to be the reason she left. 

“I’ll take the job, but I will be getting a Cerebral blocker,” Valin said. 

“Done,” Gabriel agreed and Mallik got out of the Grummer without the elation of getting what he wanted. Then Mallik shut his mind off; keeping Gabriel from hearing what he was thinking. 

Considering the situation, Gabriel didn’t like that Mallik was being secretive.

Chapter Four

Mallik sat down in the driver’s seat of the Grummer. He mentally connected with the vehicle and lifted it up in the air with his telekinesis and flew towards Valin’s apartment building. 

His mind was quiet, but it wasn’t still. His thoughts were consumed with the images Challen put in there. Mallik knew that Gabriel would be angry Mallik shut him out, but he had to. He was emotionally conflicted – not just from seeing his brother’s response to Challen’s illusional late night kisses, but also from the dark energy that was starting to eat at the bonds he shared with his brother. 

It was the same dark energy that severed the bonds between Kava and them, and now that darkness was in Gabriel. Mallik had a unique ability to sense energies. It wasn’t a natural Cerebral ability, either was it a Demon ability. Ansel, the Numan doctor that used to be friends with his father assumed it was an ability from his mother’s Terran side. Ansel called it synesthesia and said that he had a mutated version of it.

Mallik didn’t usually regret anything, but he was seriously regretting how much he pushed Gabriel towards Valin. Had he known Gabriel would reject finding out his and her energies snapped together like a sonic boom, Mallik would have kept his mouth shut. He had to fix his mistake and fast before Gabriel cut all ties and left – just like Kava did.

Kava, Gabriel and Mallik were triplets but they never acted like it. Hell, Kava barely acted like a brother. The last time they talked was over ten years ago. 

Mallik didn’t want to lose another brother.  

*** 

Mallik opened his mind as he landed in the parking lot of Valin’s apartment building. Valin left to pack her clothes and anything she would need on a daily basis. He told her after she packed to order the moving bugs and he would send her the money to pay for it.

 Challen had left too to buy an espresso and coffee maker, leaving Gabriel the only one left inside. Mallik got out of the front seat and moved to the back. He could feel his brother searching for any remnant of previous thoughts but Mallik had cleared them away. 

The darkness in their bond ate deeper into their bond. “What are you hiding?” Gabriel asked.

“I wasn’t hiding, I was thinking.”

Gabriel’s dark brows rose in question.

“After Valin gets things organized, I’m sure Bruce can automate it. Once she’s done, we can drop her off wherever she wants and go one with our jobs.” Mallik could feel Gabriels distrust with his motives. 

“Why the sudden change?” Gabriel asked at the same time he thought about how ridiculous it was to assume Bruce would help.

“Bruce will help if we ask nicely, and like I said, I thought about it. Valin has never been on a ship and you and I know space life is hard. It’s not for planet people.”

Gabriel didn’t trust Mallik’s quick change of mind, especially when Gabriel gave those exact words to argue why Valin shouldn’t stay with them. Mallik understood that but he wasn’t about to tell him the full truth. Not when Gabriel was in the mood he was in. 

“I’m not going to ask again – why the sudden change?” Gabriel’s thoughts fractured into multiple reasons including -but not limited to- Mallik wanting Valin for himself, Mallik trying to manipulate him in some twisted way by tricking him into thinking Valin should go, and Mallik seeing something in Gabriel and Valin’s bond that made him suspicious. 

“I never knew you were so paranoid.”

“I never knew you were so secretive,” Gabriel spat back and grabbed the door handle. Before he got out, he said, “Whatever you’re planning, I’d drop it because there is nothing you can say or do that would make me take an insignificant Terran as a mate.”

“She’s not your mate,” Mallik said knowing that it wasn’t a lie persay, but also knowing that she could have been.

Expecting to see Gabriel’s relief he was shocked to see more black anger. 

Gabriel slammed the door, knocking the Grummer back against a nearby vehicle, to which the Grummer flipped up in the air and landed in an empty spot upside down -with a crunch. 

Mallik was still holding himself in the air amazed at how violent Gabriel had reacted. The rented vehicle was completely totaled. They would have to pay to replace it, and it wasn’t cheap. It most likely would take the combined funds of Gabriel and Mallik to pay for it. 

This was exactly what Mallik was trying to avoid. 

Gabriel was walking into the elevator when he must have heard Mallik’s thoughts. “So you are trying to manipulate me?” Gabriel said telepathically.

“No, you psycho, I was agreeing with you. If she was your mate, it would be mutual, not to mention mates usually have pink bonds, yours with Valin was white.”

“Was,” Gabriel challenged.

Mallik used his telekinesis to punch a hole in the door to get out before he responded out loud knowing his brother could hear it. “Your bond was bright white,” the color of a true connection. “But it’s fading. I was wrong about you two being mates.” 

Gabriel didn’t throw up a mental wall, blocking him out, but he might as well have. Gabriel stopped thinking about bonds and Mallik the second the elevator opened and he saw Valin talking to a neighbor from down the hall. 

Mallik knew that Valin wasn’t romantically interested in the male. He knew Gabriel would have sensed that too – but that didn’t stop Gabriel from snapping his fingers and sending the male into an unconscious slumber. The male slumped to the ground like a wet pair of pants.

Mallik leaned back against the warped Grummer and shook his head. Somehow he made everything a thousand times worse.  

Chapter Five

Valin stood in the doorway of her apartment unable to move. The blood in her body was probably frozen too because her thoughts had all disappeared the moment her neighbor’s body slumped to the ground. 

Did Gabriel just kill…?

“He’s not dead, he’s unconscious,” Gabriel said dismissively. Stepping over Stav’s body, he grabbed her upper arm and pulled her back into her apartment.

“Pretty sure that’s not legal,” she said thinking about how the Federation security guards would react to her doing such a thing. But once she pictured herself doing it she added, “But if I had that ability I’d probably do the same thing – to a lot of annoying people,” she paused for a second to think about which annoying people needed it the most and inwardly smiled, “there wouldn’t be anymore lines at the coffee shop. This is the most beautiful dream I’ve ever had. I’m gonna need to find a way to develope that zappy thing.”

He took her by both shoulders and pointed her to her room. Before he let her go he said, “Don’t call it a zappy thing, and go pack. All you need are clothes and a toothbrush.”

Valin was pushed forward but not harshly which was good because she turned around at her door and asked…with a little sass, “Your ship has Enda-Derm facewash, right?”

“No.”

“Sensa-bull toothpaste?”

“No.”

Mocking a frown she asked, “Non-astringent hair wash and bio-safe conditioner?”

Gabriel tilted his head as if he was slightly annoyed.

Holding up her finger while she backed up she called out, “I’m going to assume you don’t have Baltic Stones for centering mental energy, a fur blanket for my me-time, a DR for streaming music, and the correct nitrates for my kissing violets.” 

Gabriel moved in her room like a predator, stalking forward, until he was too close and she fell back to her bed. Closing the distance with both his hands on either side of her, claiming the air around her. 

“Pack the basics. Your cabin is only ten feet by ten feet.”

Leaning back she winced. “That’s not going to work for me.”

His soft grumble radiated over her skin – prickling from her head down to her toes. Little sparks popped in the air as if their closeness was creating a static charge and warming the air. “You’re being insanely dramatic.” 

“You’re being insanely impractical. I need a woman sized room. Nothing smaller than a twenty by twenty.” 

“The biggest room is a fourteen by twenty and that’s the captain’s room – my room,” he said with unmasked annoyance. “And you’re not welcome in there.” 

She faked a cough and rolled back and off the bed so that she could get away from all that…sexy intimidation thing he was trying to do. Yes he was attractive, but the more she got to know him the less attractive he became because he was acting like an android. And everyone hated androids because they were impossible to work with.

Gabriel stood straight and flicked his fingers. She was lifted off the bed and moved to the side. With another wave of his hand all her things were being pulled from the wall and landing in a pile in the center of her bed.

She didn’t have to be a telepath to know what he was thinking. 

“Stop stopstopstopstop – I’ll pack the basics I swear.”

Gabriel lowered her to her feet and unfroze her. “Good. Now pack and try to remember that things get easier when you see things my way.”

She faked a pleasant smile and said,  “If you trade rooms with me I promise to always see things your way.”

His eyes wandered as if he was thinking about it and she, honest to Seth, held her breath. A moment later he snorted arrogantly. “As if my stuff would fit in a ten by ten.”

Her mouth dropped as her hand rose in the air. He understood. He knew exactly why she couldn’t live in such a small room and the scoundrel was keeping the king sized room to himself. 

Chucking darkly he walked out, “It’s called the captain’s cabin, not a room; and you have ten minutes before I pack for you.”

Valin flicked her fingers like he did and imagined she could zappy him unconscious.

“Stop calling it that.”

Grinning she bent down and pulled out her extra large travel bag and got to packing.

Chapter Six

Gabriel eyed Valin as she walked with a permanent lean; her overstuff travel bag was half her size and easily forty to fifty pounds. The Terran didn’t know the meaning of the word basics. As ridiculous as she was, he found it interesting that she objected to the help from Mallik and Challen. 

Didn’t she realize it was easier for Mallik to carry her bag with his telekinesis, than it was for her to slug forward with it? 

Probably not. 

She was so….Terran. 

He couldn’t imagine living a life void of abilities. Growing up on the moon with so many other Terrans he noticed that all of them wished they were like him. There wasn’t a time when someone didn’t wish they knew what their friend or partner was thinking. Or to be able to do hard chores with telekinesis instead of their own time and energy. 

Gabriel wondered, not for the first time, how Terrans had survived for so long.

Inside the cargo bay Challen carried their weapons to the elevator to get them cleaned. Mallik had not talked to him since Gabriel flipped the Grummer over. There wasn’t anything in Mallik’s mind that would suggest he was mad, but Gabriel knew not to trust that. It was a Cerebral trick to push down emotions, so deep that no one could see or hear. Mallik would either keep them down, or think about them once Gabriel was asleep. That was what Gabriel did anyways. 

Just then Mallik called out, “Bruce, we have a new employee and a Grummer to pay for.”

Valin wasn’t addressing anyone when she asked, “Who’s Bruce?”

Gabriel planned to answer but Valin’s thoughts had shifted too fast. In less than a second her travel bag was falling to the ground and her eyes were taking in the bay, hungry for a piece of it. “Now this is a room. I’ll take this one.”

“This is not a room, it’s a cargo bay. And on ships the place you sleep is called a cabin…not a room. I know I’ve explained this, and for someone you can’t seem to remember that. I’m starting to have doubts about your mental organizational skills.” Gabriel was purposefully cutting hoping to motivate her to use the right terms, but the female didn’t flinch at his words – nor did she sound like she heard them. 

Mallik did, and he mused that if their mother heard him speak to a female in such a way she would have lectured him for days.

“It’s like a giant mental palace. A one room fits all. I could run a whole planet from here,” she said as she whirled around. 

“It’s a cargo bay. It’s where we store junk. It’s not for living in.”

She smiled at the walls. “That’s perfect then. Because if the container with all my stuff is here, I can pull out my desk and set it up over there, and hook up my Minky screen above it. My bed can tuck along the side there….” 

“I said no and if you say one more thing about making it a room- I mean cabin, I’ll float you to your room and lock you inside until you learn to use the correct terms.” 

Valin’s smile dropped and a cold calculating look crossed her face. He almost picked her up and floated her to her cabin as a response to whatever scheme she was thinking up. Whatever it was, he would find out and retaliate a million fold. 

A part of him wanted to rip out her Cerebral blocker and burn it to ash. The idea of having a blocked mind on his ship all of a sudden seemed defiant and he didn’t like it.

“Where’s my office? I’d like to look at what it has.” she said with a strained tone of cordiality.

“Your office and cabin are one in the same,” he answered.

“Is that normal? Do you fly the ship from your captain cabin?”

“Don’t worry how or where I work.”

A flicker of something crossed her face before she said, “I wasn’t worried.”

Mallik snickered and for no conscious reason, that set Gabriel off. Flicking his fingers Gabriel lifted her into the air, making sure that every part of her was frozen. He wasn’t going to let her mouth off to him again. 

“Want me to grab her bag?” Mallik asked with a heavy sense of disdain.

Gabriel lifted Valin’s bag and mentally told Mallik, “You have something to do, I’m sure of it. Do that and stay out of my conversations with my employee.”

“She’s our employee, not just yours.”

Gabriel ignored that and continued to the stairs, taking the long way to Valin’s room because every second she was in the air, he hoped was another second she was learning her lesson. 

At number 15 he opened her cabin and floated her in. He dropped her on the bed and set the bag down at her feet.  

“This is your cabin. Get used to it. You will have access to level one which is the engine rooms and servers. Level two, which you are on now. You can go to level three – the cargo bay for emergencies only.”

She had not changed expressions and it took him a minute to remember he didn’t unfreeze her. When he did, she was quick to cut her eyes at him. He expected more of her dramatic sass but instead he got cold business. “Send me the passwords to your ship’s network and any other business correspondence that needs to be filed or gone through. I plan to get started tonight.”

Pleased that she wasn’t being dramatic, he called out to the ship’s system, “Bruce.”

A male voice spoke through the internal speaker systems. “I need Valin’s non-Federation ID to send her the files.” 

Valin looked around, “You have microphones in my room? That’s unethical.”

“What’s your non-Federation ID?” Gabriel pressed. 

Holding up her finger she spoke slowly and professionally. “No, first you are going to give me a room that does not have microphones in them and then I will answer you. I am not staying in a room where some guy can listen to everything I do.”

“You’re Minky listens to everything you do.”

“That’s an algorithm, not a nosey bastard,” she said standing up and grabbing her bag.

Gabriel expected Bruce to stutter in and tell her he wasn’t a nosey bastard but that didn’t happen. So he told her, “Bruce is an A.I.”

Her eyes widened. “Are you crazy. A.I.’s were banned over a hundred years ago. They’re dangerous.”

“Bruce is more annoying than he is dangerous.”

She didn’t seem to like that but he didn’t really care. “Tell Bruce what’s your non-Federation ID is so he can send you the information.”

“You have an A.I…… why don’t you just tell him to organize your stuff. Why hire me?”

At that Gabriel looked up as if he was waiting for Bruce to answer. When he didn’t, Gabriel snapped. “Answer her question Bruce. Why won’t you organize our files and do our schedules?”

“Because you’re an ego-centric bastard and I don’t like you. Plus you haven’t asked nicely,” said the artificial personality. 

The coldness in her face softened and the side of her lips twitched as if she could have smiled. 

Gabriel lifted a challenging brow at her. 

Her professional colness was slammed back down. Opening her travel bag she said, “Bruce sounds like a solid program. I’m sure I can work with him.”

“Give him your ID then.”

Pulling out something with a lot of wires attached she said, “I will. But first I need to unpack.”

Gabriel wasn’t waiting. Before was able to do so, Valin said, “Bruce….can you shut the door please?”

Instantly the door slammed in his face and Gabriel snarled. “Do that again and I’ll break this ship in two.”

The artificial voice was quick to respond, “You can’t afford another ship at the moment. Not after the Grummer you had to pay for, so by all means tear me in half and see how fast you float yourself to the next planet.”

Gabriel could feel the tension in his jaw grow as he walked to the elevator.

Inside the cab he told Bruce, “I want to know when she gives you the ID.”

“She’s already given it to me.”

“Send it to me, and everything else you’ve copied from her account,” he instructed.

Bruce was silent and he didn’t get a ping to his account so he assumed Bruce had yet to access all her files or it was being it’s normal – annoying self.

Gabriel rubbed his face and thought about the bottle of Quib he had in his cabin. He needed a few glasses to calm the gnarled frustrations of everything being out of order. 

The elevator pinged and he exited taking a right to his cabin instead of a left to the bridge. Inside he heard his Minky screen ping five times in a row. Glaring at the offending machine that never shut up, he melted it with his thermokinesis. The black electronic device drooped into a stinky oily lump. Before it hit the floor, Gabriel flicked his fingers for the ejection shoot and trashed the twelfth Minky screen.

 Sinking into a chair from the small round kitchen table he grabbed a glass and figured now would be a good time for a drink.

The door opened and Gabriel squeezed the glass in hand feeling the glass give. Releasing the glass he ignored the finger impression he left and looked at his brother. “What?”

“You have all the Quib.”

“Because I’m the one who buys it.”

“I’ve offered, you tell me no,” Mallik said before walking in and taking the other seat at the round table. Flicking his fingers he opened the cabinet and withdrew a bottle of Quib and grabbed it in the air. Pouring a generous amount in two glasses, Mallik took a sip and stared at the wall with the missing Minky screen.

“Number twelve?” he said absently.

“You wanna to get kicked out,” Gabriel threatened.

“I was just asking.”

“Why don’t you ask yourself why you’re drinking with a brother you’re pissed at.”

Mallik took a sip of this drink. “I don’t have to like you, to drink with you.”

Gabriel grabbed his glass again and took a sip conceding that logic. “Challen would have drank with you, and I’m sure he buys his own alcohol.”

“He didn’t answer the door,” Mallik said. 

Gabriel rolled eyes checking into Challen’s mind to see him on the bed, with a bottle of temple beer between his thighs while he moved his fingers over the translucent Minky screen in front of him.  He was playing a quantum game with another gamer named Quell802. 

“I thought about asking Valin if she wanted to drink but Bruce locked me out of level two.”

Gabriel sat back unable to name what he was feeling. His mental walls slammed down with such violence that the air sparked and Mallik calmly set his glass down and quietly said, “I wasn’t planning on doing anything with her.”

We haven’t been on the ship for ten minutes and Mallik was getting stupid. “You just said you were planning on drinking.”

“Yeah but I wasn’t planning on blitzing her.”

Again the air crackled with sparks and this time they were close enough to get Mallik on the face. His brother hissed and backed up. “I just said-”

“I know what you said. I also know that all the females you blitz are ones you met at a bar.”

“If you’re trying to say that I stalk bars for drunk women to blitz I might punch you in the throat,” Mallik cut in.

“I can’t remember the last time one wasn’t intoxicated,” Gabriel said.

Mallik’s eyes slid over. “Do you really want to compare bed partners right now?”

Gabriel raised his brows, challenging Mallik to say something about the women he dated.

Mallik drank from his glass, finished the contents and poured himself another generous helping. “Valin’s off limits, I know, you don’t have to worry about that.”

“I hope you’re not saying that as a reference to her being a potential or nonpotential mate, because that’s not why I’m pissed.” Mallik gave him a hand gesture to explain and so Gabriel did. “We don’t bring our bedpartners back to the ship because that’s how we separate our work from play. Because regardless if you think you would blitz or wouldn’t, I know you and I know that you would have charmed your way right between her legs. I also know that you know nothing about about females so let me help you out by saying regardless of what you think or how innocent it is – sex always complicates things. So try…if you can…not be so damn stupid.”

  Mallik tossed back the Quib like it was water and set the glass down with a hard thud. Standing up he said, “You’re wrong. It’s not that sex complicates things – you do. And since you’re being a complete prick I don’t feel bad by saying, your connection to Valin was the brightest pink I’ve ever seen. But every time you opened your mouth it dulled until it disappeared – vanishing the moment you cut her down in the cargo bay.”

Gabriel didn’t feel remorse for anything he said or did in that cargo bay. 

Mallik shook his head and floated to the door because he was probably too drunk to walk after two full glasses of Quib. 

Before he left Mallik hovered in the doorway and said, “You did the same thing to Valin as you do to all your females. You draw them in, get them interested, and then push them away by cutting them down. I don’t know why you do that or if you get off by making your females cry – but whatever black hell is inside you, is starting to leak out.”

Gabriel flicked his fingers shoving his brother out of the way so the door would shut. Once he was alone, in a peaceful silence, with his glass filled with a stomach warming alcohol, he didn’t feel any better. 

Grabbing his drink he wondered how much it would take this time, to knock him out and shut down the constant fear of failure.

Chapter Seven

Valin read another message from an unknown ID. The person addressed Gabriel’s secret pest control team as “Magool Hunters” telling him about an ice beast on Marnak. Oddly, all the requests were sent to Magool Hunters. Reading further into the extra messages from the same person, Gabriel told the person it wasn’t a beast but a white tandor, and it was a natural predator to the planet. When the person tried to explain that the tandor was ravaging the small towns, Gabriel never responded.

Bruce had gone through the first ten rejected messages explaining that Gabriel didn’t take jobs for natural predators. If it wasn’t an Outworlder, he didn’t care who it was, or how much it the person was willing to pay.

This person who lived in the frozen tundra of Marnak was persistent. He kept sending requests and after clicking to the second to the last message he started sending pictures too. Those made her sick.

Sliding her hands across the screen she minimized the message and pulled up a search for the ice tundra on the planet. She pulled up all death reports and hacked all the videos and Nack Krawlers that went in and out of the area. The reports had stopped the day after the unknown person sent Gabriel the images of utter carnage. 

Tapping into the Nack Krawlers flight paths for the area she noticed that not only had no one requested to go there, but that there was a flight detour to keep people from going there.

Valin left the screen up as she sat on the floor, leaning back against the bed.

“Are you angry at Gabriel?” Bruce asked from behind her. 

She didn’t know what sound system was behind her so she turned and saw a 3D outline of a male. The outline was blue and it looked almost real, except she could see through him.

If she wasn’t so…upset she might have shown some reaction to the ship’s A.I. to having a human like form.

“Gabriel is not allowed to hunt natural predators.”

She wasn’t listening to any excuse for what happened. Turning back to the Minky screen she pulled her knees to her chest and thought about what she could do. Because one thing she wasn’t going to do, is let this happen again. In fact she was already making notes to sift out the requests that had to do with natural predators and find a hunter that did take jobs like that. 

The A.I. walked around her bed and crouched near her, observing her as if she was a foreign object. “You’re distressed.”

She gave herself another thirty seconds to be sad before she swallowed those emotions and pushed to her feet, walked to the mini cooler, withdrew her Nebula red the latest caffeine drink with a cherry flavor. She loved coffee and preferred it, but with no coffee insight she took her emergency form. Twisting the top she moved back to the Minky screen. 

Redesignated the displays she split the screen in two. One for a notepad and a second for a review of contracts and unanswered messages.

She chugged a few ounces of her Nebula red and began taking notes from the jobs that weren’t ever addressed or taken care of. 

“Why are you taking notes on jobs that the team won’t be doing?”

Valin had spent a few years around old A.I.’s. She learned quickly that they weren’t dumb programs. They were smart and adaptive to finding information. So she didn’t talk rudely to the blue person standing next to her looking somewhat confused and child-like confused.

She also didn’t lie. “These issues won’t resolve themselves. They still need to be addressed. And since the team has been instructed to focus on specific predators, I am taking notes so I can send these jobs to hunters who can take them on.”

“You can’t forward these jobs to Federation hunters. Gabriel and his team are to remain anonymous.”

“I wasn’t going to forward them,” she said, wincing at another series of photos of dead people killed by predators that killed to kill, not to eat.

Bruce was quiet for a moment then asked randomly, “Do you like music?”

“Yes. Do you?” she stopped to give him her attention and showed that she took his question seriously.

“I do. Can I look over your music list?” as he asked he looked at her Minky pad and pointed.

“I have a Bloom 10. All my music is stored on it.” Valin pointed at her music pod that was blinking red. Bruce turned and she watched as he reached down and picked it up off a cabinet with her other bathroom accessories. She was surprised when he picked it up with one hand and pushed the power button with his opposite index finger.

Bruce wasn’t just a program, he had a form – most likely from nanites.

Which meant he could be everywhere in the ship at the same time. She wondered if the ship’s programming and his nanites were connected through a wireless connection or if there was something else because she was sure that she heard Bruce through the ship’s speaker system earlier. 

Bruce took her Bloom 10 and walked to the table, sat down at the single chair and began scanning her music lists. Watching a new intelligence look over her music preferences wasn’t as important as getting the information for the unmet requests. Getting back to it she continued to scan things manually. 

But she also put in a search for local and nonlocal hunters in a search at the back of the screen and hoped that by the time she was done, she’d have a bunch of jobs to pass out.

***

It had been ten hours and she finished reviewing the entirety of the inbox. She had counted seventy two jobs that needed attention. Her eyes were blurring a little and she needed something else but Nubula reds, water packages and nutrient bars to keep her going.

Turning around she noticed that Bruce was still skimming her list. From the look of the screen, it looked like he was listening to a song, but she didn’t hear anything. She was tired and thinking of taking a shower and seeing if there was any food around the ship before calling and talking to the hunters on her list.

She debated how to ask Bruce to step out while she showered and dressed but her Minky screen pinged. Checking the name it was Gabriel. Answering the voice call she said, “Hello.”

“According to this inbox you’ve been in for ten hours and it still looks disorganized. Nothing has been filed and I’m just wondering what organized looks like to you.”

A micro manager….how fun. “It took me until now to go through every message in your private pest control inbox.”

“If you went through it, why aren’t they filed?”

Valin had plenty of experience with people questioning her methods and her intelligence. Narcissism wasn’t a Terran only behavior. “I needed to get a wide overview of all your requests before I can file them and write a program to address them as they come, making your…business more efficient.”

“Not all requests that come in are accepted, some are for natural planet predators.”

“I noticed. I will make sure those requests are sent to local hunters.”

“No you won’t. You’ll delete them, like I’ve been doing for years.”

He deleted them?

Mother of Seth. She should have searched the deleted files. She wondered how many more were in there.

“Valin? Did you hear me?” Gabriel asked.

“Yes, I heard you.”

“And?”

“And I acknowledge that you want me to delete the messages that your team have been instructed not to take.” She doubted he missed the way she purposefully didn’t say she wasn’t going to send the request to a local hunter before the message was deleted.

“Correct.”

She wasn’t sure if he was saying correct to her thought or to what she said. A part of her wanted to check her Cerebral blocker to make sure it was working, but Bruce was still in the room and she needed to watch what she did.

“Compile the requests that have not been addressed, respond to them, and send the coordinates to Bruce. When the job is done, send the completed contract to the only Federation ID that is saved in this mailbox’s contacts. Then file a copy in the Outworlds archives. The link is in the first message that is labeled favorites.”

Valin yawned and shook her head as she inhaled. When she was done she told him, “Okay, I’ll get to those in five or so hours. I’m going to log out, shower, eat and sleep for a bit.”

“It’s only been… oh yeah, you’re a Terran. Does your kind only work for ten hours?”

Again she didn’t bother responding to his cut into her race. Being a Terran on Marnak, you get used to being joked on from the time you understand language. “In my apartment, as I was packing we discussed our fixed price contract. We agreed to 45,000 keleps for me to organize your incoming requests, file and process all the ones that have been done and set up an automated communication system so your business runs efficiently and without a physical coordinator. You and I both agreed on a video call with a notary. You and I both have copies of those transcripts. If you look over them, we did not agree on a deadline, nor did we discuss a minimum hours worked a day. But if you’d like to amend the contract, you may send me your proposal and I will respond with my own amendment.”

Gabriel didn’t respond and she wondered if he was looking for the contract.

The door slammed open and Gabriel dropped from the air, with wet hair, a black shirt and matching sweatpants. He didn’t have shoes on as he walked to her bed, sat down on her personal pillow and leaned back, putting his feet on her things – making the mother of all power moves.

Valin mentally slapped herself for not planning for Gabriel to walk in, whenever the hell he wanted and invaded her space.

In a controlled tone he said, “Why don’t you walk me through your process. So I can let you know what will and will not be happening.”

Gathering her thoughts she stalled for time as she walked to the kitchen table, where Bruce had disappeared …along with her Bloom 10. She took a seat and crossed her legs. “Where would you like me to start? How I open Mangool’s messages, or how to read them to determine the different tags that I will use when filing? Or do you want me to walk you through the automated system I will be writing for you?”

“I want to know everything and,” he pointed to the many times littered all over the room, “it’s been hours. When are you going to put these things away?”

Power moves and insults meant he was bored and looking to take his extra energy out on her. She was punching bag once in her life. She was never going to be that again. Standing back up, she said, “I’m starting to feel dizzy so I’m going to grab something to eat in the gallery you mentioned earlier. As soon as I get back, I’ll go over the process.”

Gabriel didn’t say anything as she walked past. But when her door didn’t slide shut she peered back and saw him following her. Exhaling she faced forward and said, “Your A.I. can track me wherever I go. I wasn’t lying. I’m just getting some food.”

He didn’t respond.

In the small galley she noticed it was stocked with water packages and nutrient packs. Or at least that’s what it looked like, but when she pulled out all the boxes she found freeze dried noodles and fried rice.

“Yeeeesssss,” she whispered through her teeth as she stuffed her arm full of wonderfully edible food. Once her arm was full she stuffed her pockets with water. When she turned around Gabriel looked to be hiding a smile.

“I told you I was hungry,” she said, assuming he was laughing at how much she was taking back to her room.

“Those noodle cups are probably expired. I told Challen to get rid of them months ago.”

The Cerebral knew nothing. “First of all, they’re freeze dried so they don’t go bad. The chicken flavoring packages do, but they don’t make you sick, they just have an aluminum hint to them. Been there and ate that, survived that.”

He was starting to struggle more. Coughing first he added, “The fried rice probably has weebles in it.”

Hmm. Point to the Outworlder for knowing what weebles were. But still. “I’ll fight every person and weeble on this ship that tries to eat my fried rice.”

Gabriel wiped his mouth and looked away struggling in vain because she saw the little dimples and if he wasn’t a douchebag, she would have thought they were cute. When he had the ability to talk he said faking a firm voice. “There are no cooking dishes for you to make those in.”

“Don’t need a cooking dish,” she said confidently.

“You’ll need a bowl or glass container of some sort.”

She humphed at him and headed past him. “Poor Terrans are the kings and queens of improvisation.”

“I have no idea what that means.” 

She could hear him behind her and she assumed he was following her back to her room. She decided she was truly tired if she didn’t think to stay and eat in there, finish their talk and then go back to her room and crash.

By allowing him back in, she was setting up a precedence for him showing up whenever he wanted. 

As she walked in, she gave him a curt look. “You can sit on the chair, not my bed.”

He looked at her bed and she wasn’t sure if he was going to try and dominate her area again so she added, “If you don’t respect my rules in my room, then I will do the same, except I sprinkle all the weebles I find all over your bed.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she wished she could scoop them back up and swallow them.

Valin never threatened a boss who suffered from authority insecurity.

Damn it.

Gabriel promptly laid down on her bed, this time pulling his hands behind his head, smearing his scent over everything. Grumbling under her breath she said, “I don’t like you.”

“Feeling’s mutual,” he said happily.

Rolling her eyes she dropped her plunder on the small table and watched a few of them fall. Reaching down to retrieve them seemed too far so she let tomorrow’s Valin deal with it. Grabbing the noodle cup and a water back she walked to the heater, threw the bag in the wrong spot, cursed, picked it up and dropped it into the warmer. 

“At first I thought you were trying to lie to me, but I’m pretty sure I’m seeing the real you.”

Valin turned to the warmer and rolled her eyes so he couldn’t see.

Then she thought, the real me would eat you for breakfast, you arrogant Mogoo-wool or whatever your dumb name is. 

When the timer dimmed she reached in, hissed as she picked up the hot as hell package. Then used her shirt to hold it. Twisting off the top burned her fingers but without hot pads or anything it was the best she could do. Pouring in the hot water she covered it back up for the five minutes to rehydrate. 

Walking to the ejection shoot she dropped the package. Shaking her shirt away from her skin to keep from burning her stomach she grabbed the first shirt she saw, felt the silkiness to it and tossed it on the bed. Grabbing the next shirt she noticed the texture, knew it wasn’t a sleeping shirt and threw that on the bed too.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking for my sleeping bed,” she said, throwing another work shirt on the bed.

“What’s a sleeping bed?”

She stopped having no idea what he was talking about. “What?”

“What is a sleeping bed,” he said half leaning over the bed, doing a weird thing with his face, like he was happy about something.

“Are you talking about a sleeping bag?”

“I don’t know? Are you looking for one?”

“What? Why would I be looking for a sleeping bag,” she snapped back wondering what was wrong with the up tight cold hearted narcissist.

He tilted his head, and looked at her like she was the crazy one. “Valin? Are you suffering from a ship phobia thing? Are the walls getting closer?”

“Why are you talking to me like that?” she asked as she threw another set of her fancy shirts at him she pushed herself up and scanned the ground for her sleeping shirt. It had to be there unless someone stole it. 

Wait…. “Are you trying to gaslight me? Give me back my stuff and I’ll forgive you but touch my jams again and I’ll destroy you.”

Gabriel sat back, took both of his hands and covered his mouth. Then used both hands to point at her as he asked slowly, “Did you mean sleeping clothes? Are you looking for sleeping pajamas?”

“What else would I be looking for?” 

He looked around, opened his mouth to say something and then just shrugged. “Honestly I don’t know. The only female I’ve lived with was my mother and she was much cleaner than you.”

“Good for her,” Valin snapped as she grabbed a shirt off the bed, ripped open a drawer and threw the peach colored off shoulder shirt in. Peering in, something looked familiar. 

Her heart leapt as she gasped with glee. “Ah ha!” 

Pulling her grey t-shirt dress out, she rubbed her face on it and loved the soft feel of it. “It’s okay, I’m here to save you from the deep dark drawer.”

The timer to her noodles rang and she opened her eyes and snapped out of her daze. Looking at her sleeping shirt and then at Gabriel then at the noodles she growled. “I don’t trust you.” Using her already wet shirt she lifted up the noodles and walked them and her sleeping shirt to the cleaners. Inside she would be safe to change and eat. If she was in the cleaners he wouldn’t ask for some of her precious noodles. 

***

Gabriel moved from the bed and flicked his fingers, using his telekinesis to put away Valin’s things and organizing her room. The litter of chaos was driving him insane and he couldn’t help himself. The Cerebral blocker that he took out of her ear the second he walked in after she brought up their contract was still in his pocket.

He assumed she was playing a game with him and he was going to lay down the law.

He was wrong, she wasn’t trying to twist their agreement into getting something extra from him. She was one hundred percent honest in her thoughts and words – if he discounted how much she faked being business pilot.

When he came down to her cabin, he planned for a variety of threats and contingencies. What he didn’t expect was her irrational hunger mixed with exhaustion. More to her credit,  the female did it again, she made him laugh. This time over expired food. How she managed to turn something so disgusting into tears of laughter he would never know.  

Then she did it again when she misspoke. 

And who called their pajamas ‘jams’? Why did he want to hate that and yet with the same level of hate he felt envy. He wished he grew up calling his night clothes jams. Gabriel imagined Valin growing up, sneaking out to parties and hiding her food treasures under her bed confident that her parents and family would never know her thoughts or what she was hiding.

A true childhood.

Gabriel finished putting away her things and waited by the cleaner’s door. When she came out, he planned to tell her that they could finish their conversation tomorrow. He looked forward to hearing her inner thoughts – assuming she would be secretly thanking him even though her face would be controlled and polite.

It took a second to realize he wasn’t hearing anything. Stepping in front of the motion sensor, the door opened and there she was, sitting on the toilet, in a grey mid thigh dress with a cup of noodles pouring onto the floor as her hand’s grip was loosening. 

In her other hand was a toothbrush. A single noodle still clinging on to the end of the handle.

Eating noodles with a toothbrush.

His mother would die….from laughter. A ghost of a smile tickled his lips at the thought of telling her about Valin. 

The lightness in his chest fluttered away because he knew he would never do that. 

Picking up the exhausted Terran with a flick of his hands, he removed the noodles and used a sanitation wipe to clean her hands. Then he floated her to ther bed, where he physically pulled back the blanket and re-arranged the pillows. Once she was down he covered her back up and stood back taking in the moment. 

This was the first time he ever tucked someone into bed.

It didn’t feel gratifying like a huge accomplishment. He assumed it would considering everyone talked about how special that was. 

Instead he felt something else. Something he couldn’t name, but it wasn’t bad. More like…he knew he could do this again. It wasn’t awkward or beneath him. Not sure if she’d even remember what he did, didn’t diminish the pleasantness he felt standing over her. Watching out for her.

Considering how delusional she got after a long day, he decided he would do this again – to ensure she didn’t hurt herself. 

Checking her room again to make sure everything was in its place, he almost smiled. With only a few unnecessary things, she found a way to claim the room and make it hers. Not only that, but the energy in the room felt like her. He couldn’t explain it other than that.

Gabriel planned to walk out, but he stopped by the bed and looked down at the Terran one more time. She wasn’t overly pretty, with a killer fit body. She had decent taste in clothes, but she wasn’t high class. Not even if she tried, she would always revert back to being a queen of imporoverazation – or whatever she said.

Drawing a stream of hair from her mouth, o behind her ear, he tried to be honest with himself. He tried to see if he got an overwhelming desire to have sex with her – to mate her. The answer came when he didn’t feel anything. Not even a desire to kiss her hard enough to wake her panting and needy.

Stepping back he shoved both hands in his sweatpant pockets understanding that Valin truly wasn’t his. 

Feeling for the Cerebral blocker, he pulled it out and set it on the nightstand and backed up. There wasn’t anything inside him pulling him towards the bed. Another confirmation that his brother was wrong. There was never a bond between him and Valin.

As he walked out, he paused, turned back and moved the lamp she brought from home to the corner. If the ship hit turbulence, it would have hurt her.

When the door shut, he thought about floating back to his room, but decided instead to walk. Something felt wrong and he wasn’t sure what it was. In fact he didn’t figure it out until he too was laying in bed, watching Valin’s dream of sewing her work shirts together so she could have something to sleep in. 

It wasn’t until then that he felt his lips twitch again and the sense of dread and failure were utterly gone.

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