Captain Evander Starr watched, helpless, as the sky above him erupted. Laser blasts flew this way and that in a horrific parody of a fireworks display. Explosions rang out a discordant symphony, and the earth beneath his feet shook when starships—his own amongst them—plummeted, trailing flame and smoke. The attack had been swift and unexpected. He’d not even had time to teleport back up and assume command of his vessel.
As the battle ended, Evander dropped to his knees. He’d seen where his ship fell, but there was no point hurrying to the crash site. After such destruction, there would be no survivors. His crew were dead. His ship was lost. There was nothing he could do.
The roar of engines sounded above, and when he glanced up, he saw one of the enemy craft approaching. The Teludazian starships were sleek and black, making them near impossible to spot until they were upon you. Unlike his own ship, with its silver plating and colourful flag emblazoned on the side. Command’s refusal to change the design left its fleet sitting ducks. Because of the obstinacy of a group of old men who’d not seen combat in thirty years, Earth had lost another of its deep space outposts.
That’s all that would worry the generals when word got back. Evander doubted his life, and those of his crew, meant much to them. The fleeting thought did not dismay him. They were fighting a war, after all, and if Command started to care for every life lost, they would give up the offensive and the Teludazi would win.
As the ship set down, Evander considered his options. He could hope they’d not yet spotted him, run and hide, and seek a way off the planet. But where would he go and what would he do? This was a remote posting and it was unlikely another ship from Earth would pass by any time soon, especially now the Teludazi ruled the airspace. He could surrender and be branded a coward. Or he could fight and die with honour. Perhaps he’d even manage to take one or two of the bastards with him.
Evander drew his blaster from its holster. He got to his feet and waited as the door to the Teludazian ship opened. He held steady until the first of the crew emerged. Then he unleashed a battle cry and charged. His first shot missed; however, the second caught one of the Teludazi on the shoulder. He adjusted his aim and pressed down on the trigger. But he never got the third shot off.
A blast from the enemy hit him full in the chest. The force knocked the weapon from his hand and sent him flying backward. Pain erupted throughout his body. He convulsed. Then everything went dark.
Evander woke to a blackness as deep and impenetrable as that which had rendered him unconscious, and for a moment he questioned whether he was awake or lost in some nightmare. Was he even alive? If he were, it made no sense. He’d engaged the Teludazi in direct combat. By rights, he should be dead. Yet, if this was death, it wasn’t as he’d imagined. His body ached, his head throbbed, and he thirsted. If this was death, he had gone to Hell.
“You are awake at last. I was starting to worry the stun-blast had killed you after all.”
The smooth voice came slithering out of the darkness, and Evander shuffled away until his back hit a wall.
When the lights came on, he had to shield his eyes against the glare. He blinked, spread his fingers, and squinted between them as his eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden illumination. There was a figure seated across the room, and as his vision cleared, Evander recognized the Teludazian uniform. He reached to his holster. But the blaster was gone. Then he remembered watching his weapon skid across the ground as he fell.
The Teludazi tutted and shook his head. “Really? Is this the thanks I receive for sparing your life? A little gratitude would be more fitting.”
“I believe gratitude is the correct response to such action.”
“No, I mean, why’d you spare me?” Evander’s voice cracked as his parched throat constricted, and he doubled over in a coughing fit.
He didn’t realize the Teludazi had moved until a glass tumbler waved beneath his nose. He peered at the liquid within. It was clear and scentless; it looked like
water. His throat cried out for it, but his soldier’s instincts told him to beware.
“It is perfectly safe,” the Teludazi said, thrusting the drink into Evander’s hand. “I did not save you to poison you.”
Evander raised the tumbler to his lips and drank. The water was sweet and pure, and in that moment it was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted. He lowered the glass and looked over at the Teludazi, who had returned to his seat and was regarding Evander with a steady gaze. “Why didn’t you kill me?”
“Because I wished to speak with you.”
“And if I don’t wanna talk to you?”
The Teludazi smiled. “Then I will persuade you. Come, Captain Starr, you made a valiant stand. Your courage impressed me, but do not let courage turn to stubborn imprudence.”
“You speak our language well.”
“I thank you. It has long been my study, and that is why I would converse with you and learn more about your ways.”
“The better to kill us, I s’pose.”
“Essentially, yes. I grow weary of this conflict, and the sooner we can bring it to a conclusion, the better. Would you not agree? Lives will be spared in the long run.”
“You may as well kill me now, ’cause I’m not gonna talk.”
The Teludazi sighed. Then he rose and moved to the door. “I will give you some time to consider. If you change your mind before I return, knock on the door and ask for Kaname. Good night, Captain Starr.”
Once Kaname left, the room was plunged again into darkness. Evander listened, but the only sounds were the gentle hum of the ship’s engine and his own breathing.
He wasn’t certain how much time passed. He drifted into a fitful slumber, and upon waking, a small light in the corner of the room illuminated a jug of water and a bowl. The latter contained a porridge-like substance—tasteless but not unpleasant. He didn’t hesitate to eat and drink this time. The water had been safe, and Kaname’s speech about not saving him just to poison him had rung true. So, he wolfed the meal down. The moment he finished eating and set the bowl aside, the light turned off.
He must have fallen asleep again, because the next time he came to, he sensed a presence in the room. He turned toward it and heard a soft chuckle.
“Hello again, Captain Starr. How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” Evander muttered. His aches and pains were gone and he felt more rested than he had in a long time. But he wasn’t about to share that with Kaname. “Don’t you wanna turn the light on?”
“Why bother when I can see you perfectly well already?”
“It’s true then? About your eyes?”
Evander had heard the tales ever since he was a boy. The Teludazi were the monsters parents used to discipline wayward children. They were the creatures talked about at night around the campfire. It was said all their eyes were that odd lilac colour because they could see equally well in light and dark. It was pointless hiding from them beneath your bed or in the closet—they would still see you.
When he made captain and joined the fleet, Evander’s superiors had striven to suppress such rumours. It was bad for morale, Evander supposed, if you believed your enemy had superhuman abilities. In all other respects, the Teludazi were like them—humanoid, with a similar life span—and that was what the generals expounded. But on the ships, out in deep space, the crew talked. And it seemed the stories had been true all along.
“Indeed, Captain. I can see you peering into the darkness even now. You try to see me even though you know your weak eyes cannot hope to penetrate the gloom. Your hand is in your lap, but I can make out the subtle twitch of your fingers. You yet long to reach for a weapon and shoot me down, do you not?”
Evander hadn’t been aware of the movement, but now that Kaname had mentioned it, he noticed it too, and willed himself to still. Then the lights came on.
He closed his eyes for a few seconds and blinked. He looked at Kaname, who sat in the same spot as before. He stared into his otherworldly eyes. They were so strange and unnatural, yet there was something beautiful in the way they stood out—pale and bright—against the translucent skin and strands of long black hair that framed them. When Kaname smiled, Evander shuddered.
“Shall we begin?”
Evander straightened and held his head high. “My name is Captain Evander Starr of Earth’s Forty-Eighth Spacefleet. You have my name and rank, and that’s all you’re getting from me, you bastard.”
Kaname’s sole reaction to the statement and insult was to study his nails. “I know all this from the badge sewn onto your uniform, Captain, but if it is a formal introduction you seek, allow me to comply. My name is Kaname, Lord of the Teludazian Sands.”
“A lord, huh? Isn’t interrogating a prisoner a bit below your pay grade?”
Kaname frowned. “I do not understand your question.”
“Shouldn’t someone else be talking to me for you? Someone who gets less money?”
“We do not fight for money, Captain Starr. Unlike you, we fight for honour and for the survival of our people.” He rose with a scowl and stormed toward the door. “It seems our interview is over for today.” When he exited, the lights went out.
Kaname paced. His mind was restless and the only way to quiet it was to transfer that activity to his body. It had always worked in the past. Why did it fail him now? His thoughts kept straying to the human locked in the room below. It was the man’s courage that had first enchanted him. Then his sense of duty, unwavering even in captivity. How a man as noble as Evander Starr could participate in so unjust a war, he had yet to determine. But that wasn’t what kept him awake at night.
No, it was other impressions of the man that left him tossing and turning in his bed. The square chin, so often raised in defiance. The flare of passion in his eyes. Passion for a cause, yes, but the look would be the same if a different fervour were to awaken. Those strong arms were wasted languishing in a cell. How much better they would be put to use wrapped around Kaname, gripping him in a tight embrace as he—
Kaname tensed and kept his back turned. “What is it?”
The door opened with a gentle whoosh, and then he heard footsteps as his second-in-command entered.
“Kaname-pán, you should know the men are growing concerned.”
“About what, Vladame?”
“The prisoner, Kaname-pán. He has been here for weeks without giving us any useful information. Many wonder why he yet lives.”
Kaname resisted the urge to slam his fist into the wall and strove to keep his voice tough and level. “He lives because I wish it. I have my reasons, and you and the others will learn of them when the time is right. All speculation on the matter will end now. Do I make myself clear, Vladame?”
“Then leave me.”
Only when he heard the door close did Kaname turn. His face was flushed and his breathing uneven. Had Vladame sensed his distress? If so, his second-in-command had not revealed it. His word would hold for now, but Kaname needed to come up with a good explanation for Starr’s continued presence aboard ship, and soon. He should be thinking of his people, his mission. Both called for the human’s blood. That should be what he wanted, too. However, the pain in Kaname’s chest and the heat in his groin spoke of other desires. And he was determined to get to the bottom of what had caused them.
Evander started marking the days by picking stitches from the hem of his shirt. They fed him twice a day, and after the second of these two meals, before the lights went out, he would raise his shirt and tug the thread. Based on this tally, he believed he had been a prisoner for sixty-one days.
To begin with, he divided his time between wondering what the Teludazi planned to do with him and pondering what, if any, retaliation Command had carried out following the loss of the outpost. He never once considered anyone might be looking for him. It was likely they thought him dead. And even if they knew of his capture, he doubted any of the generals would care enough to attempt a rescue. One man meant nothing in the greater scheme of things.
On the whole, the Teludazi treated him well. Better, he suspected, than Spacefleet cared for any Teludazi they captured. He wished they would turn the lights on more often, but they kept him clean and fed, and the torture he’d expected to follow on from his refusal to talk had never taken place. At least not in the way he’d envisioned.
Kaname came every day. He always appeared sometime after Evander’s second meal, and they’d established a routine of sorts. Kaname would arrive and sit in his chair. The lights would come on. Then Kaname would ask him questions. At first these had revolved around the Spacefleet and Earth’s defences, and Evander had refused to speak a single word, but in recent weeks their focus had shifted. Now Kaname queried Earth customs and beliefs, seeking knowledge about the daily lives of its inhabitants. To these questions, Evander had initially given evasive answers, but as the days passed, he found himself opening up and reminiscing about life back home.
When Evander spoke, Kaname lent an attentive ear. He would sit forward in his chair, drinking in Evander’s words, and his strange eyes would gleam. Sometimes he smiled, and twice now he’d laughed. That laugh—not the harsh cackle of a conqueror but the warm chuckle of a companion—had haunted Evander’s dreams ever since.
Perhaps this was the torture he’d long expected. Did Kaname come in here to torment him with his smiles, his laughter, his captivating eyes, and his long, lithe limbs? Did he parade himself before Evander in an effort to beguile him into giving up his secrets? If the Teludazi could see in the dark, what else could their eyes accomplish? Was it Kaname’s unwavering gaze that made him feel this desire that worsened day by day, growing stronger every time Kaname came into his presence? Because Evander wanted him. Desperately.
When Kaname sat opposite him, so near and yet so far, Evander had to fight back the urge to surge forward and close the distance between them. He longed for
Kaname to touch him. He wanted to feel Kaname’s hands upon his skin, in his hair, wrapped around his cock. And he ached to touch Kaname, too. To taste his lips and get as close as possible to those bright eyes that seemed to see into his very soul.
“You look flushed today, Captain. Are you ill?”
Evander started and looked in the direction of the voice. He’d been so lost in his contemplations, he hadn’t noticed Kaname’s presence. That was a serious lapse. He needed to remember his training and not allow his gentle treatment at the hands of his captors to lull him into a false sense of security. Being caught off guard left him at Kaname’s mercy. He could have done anything to Evander. Anything....
Evander cleared his throat and tried to relax. “I’m fine. Just thinking.”
His first thought was to fashion a lie, but then Evander changed his mind. He was sick of these psychological games, of being played with and manipulated; he would bring things to a head, to hell with the consequences. “Why am I here?”
“I thought that apparent—you are my prisoner.”
Evander could hear the smile in Kaname’s voice and caught a flash of his eyes through the darkness. But the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes seemed at odds.
“I’ve refused to cooperate. I’m never gonna cooperate. So why go to the trouble of keeping me alive?”
“You would prefer death?” There was an edge to Kaname’s voice that made Evander shiver.
“No. I don’t get it, is all.”
“Neither do I.”
Evander heard the rustle of clothing, followed by footsteps as Kaname strode to the door. Was he leaving? The pang Evander felt at that thought made him bite back a curse and grit his teeth. He didn’t crave Kaname’s company. He didn’t. He didn’t care if he left.
Despite these internal assertions, Evander couldn’t prevent his heart from thudding against his chest as he waited for the whoosh-click combination that always signalled Kaname’s departure. But the door didn’t open. Instead, Evander heard a ping, then the crackle of static over a radio link.
“Please close off all audio and video monitors for this chamber until I emerge.”
Evander was surprised when Kaname continued to speak in English. On previous occasions, he’d switched back to his own tongue to address his men. Did he want him to know what was going on this time? And if so, why?
The guard responded in Teludazi, so Evander couldn’t be certain what he was saying; nonetheless, he got the impression he was questioning the order.
“There is no need for your concern. I will be fine. Unless you doubt your lord’s ability to overcome one weak human?”
A brief response, which Evander took to be in the negative.
“Then do as I say.”
There was another hiss of static and a second ping; then the room was plunged into silence.
A sense of unease settled over Evander and he shifted in the darkness. He pressed his back against the wall and listened, but there was no sign of movement. He knew Kaname hadn’t left, but where had he gone? Was he watching Evander even now with those keen eyes of his? Why did he want the next part of their exchange unseen and unheard? Was the torture Evander had long expected about to start?
“How did you do this to me?”
The voice, close to his ear, made Evander jump. He tried to slide sideways, but Kaname grabbed his arm and held him in place. His fingers dug into Evander’s skin. It should have hurt, and he knew he ought to fight, but Kaname’s proximity rendered him immobile and all he could think was at last.
“How did you do this? Tell me!” Kaname sank his other hand into Evander’s hair and latched on to the strands.
“How did you make me feel this way?”
Kaname’s eyes were two circles of light in the darkness. Up this close, Evander could see streams of pale purple and white swirling within each iris. It was as if Kaname’s eyes held two tiny galaxies trapped within them. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
“Answer me, Captain.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What is it you feel?”
“This.” Kaname’s voice broke, and then he pressed his lips to Evander’s.
The kiss sent tremors coursing through Evander’s body. When Kaname tightened his grip in his hair and pulled him forward, Evander went willingly. He wound his arms around Kaname and hung on as if his life depended on it. As the kiss deepened, he moaned and tried to press closer, desperate to eliminate all the space between them. This was what he’d dreamt of for weeks. He no longer cared whether or not Kaname merely played with him. If this was a trap, it was one in which he was happy to be caught.
Nothing about the moment seemed a lie, though. The warmth of Kaname’s lips; the hunger with which he plundered Evander’s mouth; the way he clasped Evander to him. All these things spoke of a passion that could not be fake. And it was a passion Evander returned. It should have felt wrong, to crave his enemy’s embrace and glory in his touch, but instead it was as if everything in his life until now had been a lie and this was the only truth.
The kiss ended, yet they remained entwined. Kaname’s hot breath wafted against Evander’s cheek, and his own breathing was ragged and uneven. He reached out and ran his fingers through Kaname’s hair, but Kaname tore away.
“What did you do to me? Have humans some magic in them?”
“You mean this wasn’t you?” Evander crept forward on hands and knees until he encountered Kaname, who was still crouched on the floor. “I thought it was you doing this to me.”
The word had been whispered with such emotion, Evander abandoned further attempts at self-denial and flung his arms around Kaname. For a moment they stayed that way, hugging each other tight, and when Evander did sit back, he kept his hand on Kaname’s arm, unwilling to break all contact.
“My crew want you dead.” Evander caught a flash of lilac eyes. Then they lowered once more. “My authority has held them in check so far, but I cannot tell how long that will last.” Kaname sighed. “If only you would relent and join with us. Then I could save you.”
“Kaname, I won’t betray my world. Don’t ask that of me.”
“You value duty more than your life?”
“Even though your cause is unjust? What honour is there in starting a war to kill your own kind for profit?”
Evander drew his hand back and edged away. “What’re you talking about? It was you who attacked us.” A sickening suspicion edged its way into his thoughts. “Was all this, that kiss, that embrace, nothing but a trick after all? An attempt to make me lower my guard and spill my secrets?”
Kaname froze. Evander accused him of trickery, but Kaname conjectured the deceit came from closer to home. Had Evander been taken for a fool? Could the soldiers of Earth not be aware of the true reason for the conflict? Did they not know who the Teludazi were? It seemed impossible—if correct, it was despicable—yet it would explain how an upright man like Evander had been drawn into the fray.
He wet his lips and watched Evander back away. The bliss he’d experienced in Evander’s arms a few moments ago melted away to be replaced by a red-hot rage. Though that anger was not directed at Evander.
“Is that what they told you? Your commanders said we initiated the conflict?”
“Yes. I s’pose you’re gonna tell me that was a lie?”
Kaname couldn’t blame Evander for his distrust. He had every right to assume his superiors told him the truth about why they sent him out to fight.
“It was, Evander. It was all lies. Every word.” He paused, wondering where to begin. “You asked once about my eyes. This ability to see in the dark is something that has developed over the generations. We did not always possess this gift. My ancestors were regular humans. No different from you.”
Evander shook his head. “No, that’s not true.”
Kaname gave him a second, but when no further protests came, he pressed on with his tale.
“Teludazi was a colonial outpost. Much like the one where we met a few weeks ago. It was a mining community back then, its ground bursting with valuable ore. For years the workers farmed the planet, until there was little left. But the governors back on Earth refused to believe the ore depleted. They insisted the workers dig deeper and deeper. Then there was an accident. A cave-in buried nearly all the inhabitants. Rather than sending aid, Earth abandoned its colonists. They soon forgot about us, but deep in the belly of the planet, we survived, and we changed.
“I will not bore you with our full history for the present, but suffice to say we adapted to our new conditions and diet. We abandoned the words of those who’d abandoned us and created a language of our own, calling ourselves ‘Teludazi’ after the planet that had brought us death and rebirth. And all the while, we worked to fight our way out of our underground prison.
“It took close to two hundred years, and when my grandfather and his team made their way back to the surface, they found their once lush land had become a desert. However, Grandfather spotted something glinting within the sand. It was a diamond, and its discovery cemented his place as head of my people. They hailed him Lord of the Sands, and our family has held that title ever since.
“We made contact with other races and began a prosperous trade. All was well until Earth heard tell of us. The planet and people they’d left to rot were now of value. They tried to impose their rule over us and steal our wealth. We resisted, and they responded with war. Other races came to our aid at first, until we were able to build and supply our own fleet. And thus the conflict has raged for two generations.”
Kaname paused and waited for Evander to speak. He could see the conflict in Evander’s expression, but the other man had heard him out, and he took that to be a good sign.
“Why? Why tell me this tale?”
“Because it is the truth.” He moved to kneel opposite Evander, gripped his chin, and raised it until Evander met his gaze. “Look into my eyes, Evander, and tell me if I am lying.” He held his breath while Evander squinted at him through the darkness. He tried to pour all his earnestness into his expression. His compassion for Evander’s position. His...love.
Evander’s shoulders slumped, and a second later he pounded his fist into the floor. “The lying bastards. I trusted their leadership. I believed every word they said. We all did. I never expected.... My ship. My crew. Their lives, and those of countless others, were thrown away, and all for the sake of some fucking stones.”
“This ends now, Kaname. I’m gonna end it.”
A tremor of fear ran through Kaname. He couldn’t lose Evander. Not now. “What do you plan to do?” He gripped Evander’s arm. “You will not go back there?”
Evander shook his head. “I don’t need to. Not so long as you guys have recording equipment on this ship. There’s a message I’ve gotta send to some friends of mine.”
Nine months later, Evander woke to the sound of sand scratching the window as the wind blew it past the house. It sounded heavy. The storm would last all day. He broke into a wide grin. He’d come to love the Teludazian sandstorms. When they hit, all work ceased and everyone remained indoors until the weather front passed. That meant he would have Kaname to himself for a whole twenty-four hours.
The video he’d made and broadcast from Kaname’s ship had gone viral in no time. He’d targeted two groups: fellow officers and civilians. The response had been as expected. Everyone was sick of the war, and when they learnt the truth behind the conflict, they were enraged. Petitions were started. Demonstrations were held. And angry mobs stormed Command Headquarters.
At first the government tried to discredit Evander, but it was to no avail; in light of the continued civil unrest, they had no choice but to cease all hostilities and renounce both their claim on the Teludazian deposits and their electoral seats. Evander had hoped the new government would call the generals to account for their lies—they had to have known the truth, along with the politicians—but somehow they all escaped scot-free. When he’d grumbled about it, Kaname had advised him to let it go. What’s done is done, he’d told him, and the kisses he trailed down Evander’s chest soon turned his mind to other things.
He and Kaname had revealed their relationship the day of the signing of the official truce, and Evander had accepted Kaname’s offer to live with him on Teludazi. The war was over, but Kaname was still Lord of the Sands and had work to do, running his government. The role was more involved than Evander would ever have dreamed, resulting in long days at the office and piles of paperwork. Not to mention attendance at meetings and social events.
But not on sandstorm days.
Evander rolled over and ran his hand down Kaname’s arm. Kaname murmured and pressed back against him, still half-asleep. Evander shifted his hand lower and squeezed, and this time his lover stirred. In more ways than one.
“Kaname,” Evander whispered in his ear, “it’s a sand day.”
“Is that so?”
Kaname twisted within Evander’s arms until they were facing one another. Evander took a moment to drink in Kaname’s pale, gleaming eyes; then he claimed his lips in a deep, lingering kiss.
When they broke apart, he nipped at Kaname’s earlobe and whispered, “Today you’re my captive.”
“I rather think I always was.”
Fire Up My Heart (MM Sci-Fi Novella)
London bartender Fane thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he finds a rare and expensive service Bot discarded in a dumpster, and he takes it home to get it working again. The Jo-E brings some much-needed companionship to Fane’s lonely life, but there’s something different about this Bot, as indicated by its odd behavior. Fane’s developing feelings toward Jo-E trouble him, and things go from bad to worse when a robotics engineer arrives on Fane’s doorstep, demanding the return of his property. Fane is forced to choose between a hefty reward and following his heart. Giving in to his forbidden desires might get him killed—or change his life forever.
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F9A00QY
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01F9A00QY
Wish You Were Here (MM Contemporary/Paranormal Novella)
The death of Oakley’s sister has left his family broken and buried beneath their grief. In an attempt to get out from underneath their pain, they rent an isolated cottage in the Cotswolds. For Oakley, it’s an exercise in futility. He doesn’t see much hope for things to get back to the way they used to be, and he’s bored and restless as he waits out the time until he can return to the city and university. All of that changes when he meets local boy Bobby, and the connection between them is instant. Within a few days, Oakley is ready to walk away from everything to stay with Bobby. However, Bobby has problems of his own, and they might be more than the budding romance can survive. But they might also give Oakley a new perspective on his own situation.
Nicki J. Markus (aka Asta Idonea) was born in England but now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.
Nicki launched her writing career in 2011 and divides her efforts not only between mainstream and MM works but also between traditional and indie publishing. Her books span the genres, from paranormal to historical and from contemporary to fantasy. It just depends what story and which characters spring into her mind!
As a day job, Nicki works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys music, theater, cinema, photography, crochet and cross stitch, and sketching. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling, and travel, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration for her writing. She is never found too far from her much-loved library/music room.
Visit Nicki's Linktree for links to her blog and all her other social media pages.