Broken Preview

Chapter 1 

The gunmetal walls of the hallway tilted as they crept closer and closer. Struggling to grasp the news that should’ve made her happy, but in fact, scared the crap out of her, Alyssa Rose glanced back at the door to the prenatal clinic, her face ashen, wondering again if they could’ve been wrong.

“A baby? Really?” She slapped a hand against the wall to steady herself. “This can’t be happening. How is it even possible? He’s a damn alien.” Pulling in a ragged breath, she let out a little scoffing laugh. “Obviously, it’s possible… the test proved it.”

Alyssa took two unsteady steps, bouncing off the metal wall of the med pod, a converted shuttle pod. With a hand to her forehead, she squeezed her eyes shut at a sudden realization. “Oh hell… what’s Kayn going to say?”

Glancing around to see if anyone overheard her, Alyssa leaned against the wall, sighing, her cheeks flushing as she thought how embarrassing it would be to have witnesses to her brief melt-down. With a shake of her head, she scurried down the bright hallway, pulling her knit sweater tight, the material bunched in her fists.

Do half-alien, half-human babies exist?

With trembling arms wrapped around her gurgling belly, Alyssa floated through the corridor on auto-pilot, passing the various medical offices of the med pod, the stifling air of the hallway threatening to choke her as she swallowed back bile.

The thin slash of a pupil stared at her—scrutinized her—as Alyssa held up her wrist to study the cat’s-eye symbol scarred into her flesh. Given only to favored humans, the loyalty brand represented the Szu’Kara’s home planet, Valentis, but for her it symbolized dreams come true, a fulfilling career and a relationship she’d waited years for.

Her fingers grazed the raised lines of the brand as Alyssa turned to go outside, the early morning sunlight warming her chilled skin. Long, wavy black hair hung down the sides of her face, blinding her to everything but that condemning eye as she stepped down onto the ramp, narrowly avoiding colliding with someone.

Two pale hands grabbed her shoulders. “Aly, are you okay?”

“Huh?” Alyssa looked up to find her best friend, Jess, staring at her. “Oh, um—yeah, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” Jess peered at her with concerned, hazel eyes. “You’re white as a ghost.”

Pushing Jess’ hands away, Alyssa forced a smile. “Really, Jess, I’m good.”

“Okay, then.” Jess shrugged, always so trusting. “I need to get going. My shift starts soon. You want to get together later?”

“Yes.” Alyssa blew out a breath of relief. “I really could use some girl time. I’ve been working way too many hours with Kayn and General Ass.”

Jess grinned, snickering at their nickname for General Ras’Mar, second-in-command of the Szu’Kara.

“You want to help me finish some decorations for the Arrival Day celebration?”

“Sure,” Jess said, as she brushed her frosty blonde hair away from her face. “You want me to bring some wine?”

“No! I mean… I can’t drink. Kayn has me on-call until Arrival Day.”

“Aly, you’re all pale again. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, sorry. Just tired from all the overtime,” Alyssa said, forcing a convincing smile. “I’ll call you later.”

 

***

 

Alyssa attempted to collect herself as she entered the reception area outside the commander’s office. She cleared her throat, hoping her voice wouldn’t come out shaky. “Isa, is the commander in?”

“He is with the general,” Isa said in her smooth, cultured tone.

She leaned her hip against Isa’s desk, bracing herself. The beautiful alien regarded her with curiosity, her hairless head almost level with Alyssa’s, despite being seated. As she reached for a pen, Isa’s iridescent, ivory skin glimmered with a barely perceptible lavender highlight.

Like Alyssa’s loyalty brand, the large eyes of the Szu’Kara race were like a cat’s, but without the iris. They came in a range of stunning metal or gemstone colors, with the darker hues often concealing the thin pupil. Shimmery gold marbled the surface of Isa’s brilliant white eyes, which looked like precious jewels set in her elegant face.

“Do you need assistance, Alyssa?”

“Sorry, no.” Alyssa tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I need to speak with the commander alone. How long has the general been in there?”

“Nearly two hours.”

As personal assistant to the commander of the Szu’Kara race, Alyssa had worked with Isa on many projects. Although the Szu’Kara had been on Earth since she was two, working so closely with the commander required a deeper knowledge of the alien society she just didn’t have. Isa had been an invaluable coach, causing Alyssa to wonder, on more than one occasion, if her own position was more… superficial. Having acted as the official greeter when human delegates visited the Command Compound, she’d felt like set dressing more than once.

With a deep sigh, Alyssa stood, smoothing her black pencil-skirt. Just as she reached for the palm-scanner, the door swooshed open to reveal General Ras glaring down at her. She put on her most polite smile and stepped back out of his way.

“Hello, General.”

“Miss Rose.” His grating voice seemed to crawl up his throat with great effort.

“Anything I can help you with today?” She folded her hands in front of her, knowing full well how he’d react.

Ras continued to scowl at Alyssa with narrowed, silvery-gray eyes, which as usual, flashed with disapproval, and briefly, she pondered the length of that stick up his ass.

“No,” he said, jutting his chin out, the light reflecting dully off his grayish-blue skin, emphasizing the gaunt features of his long, triangular face. “I need nothing from you.”

Alyssa pursed her lips, holding back a grin, and rolled her eyes at an amused Isa as the general stalked away. Stepping into the office, she chuckled at the churlish general.

“What is so amusing?” Kayn’s baritone voice bounced off the cavernous office walls.

“Oh, uh, nothing, Commander.” In the office, respect was always required, regardless of any outside relationship.

The Szu’Kara were sticklers for propriety, although they tended to tolerate more from the humans they favored. Their own word, kara, loosely translated to mean elite, noble, or leader, depending on the context, and every alien born of the commander line received a name that included ’Kara.

Alyssa glanced across the office to where Kayn stood behind his desk with sunlight filtering in through the tinted picture window behind him, casting a halo around his silhouette. A large lamp shined from the corner of his desk, making his dark face glow, halting Alyssa in place, her heart skipping a beat.

“Ras amuses you.” The corner of his mouth turned up, a gleam in his eye.

With a quick shake of her head, Alyssa rushed to her desk in the corner of the dark office, feigning interest in a stack of files. She smoothed down the hem of her lavender silk blouse, tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear, and steadied herself.

“Kayn, I have something to tell you. Is this a good time for a private conversation?”

Alyssa sensed Kayn’s presence at her back before his hand touched her shoulder, long fingers sliding up to caress the curve of her neck. Taking a deep breath, she turned to gaze up into his liquid gold eyes, mesmerized by their beauty as she considered how a baby would affect their burgeoning relationship. She couldn’t imagine not being able to touch his silky, steel-blue skin or feel his long, slender fingers sliding through her hair. The thought sent tingles down her spine.

Pull it together, girl… don’t get distracted. This might change things, but he still cares about you. He knows you’re a dedicated employee, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Alyssa dragged her almond-shaped eyes away from his all-consuming gaze, her pulse racing as nervous butterflies fluttered in her belly. Stepping back, Kayn seemed to study her like a treasured specimen, his sharp, regal features giving him a commanding presence that demanded respect.

“There is much work to be done, but I will allow a short break if it is important.”

“It is.”

“Shall we sit?”

“Yes, please.” Alyssa drifted to the sitting area across from her desk, hesitant with nerves. “I’m sorry to interrupt your day, but I have some… news I need to discuss with you.”

Perched on the leather sofa together, Alyssa turned to face Kayn, placing her trembling hand in his as he cradled it in his large palm, nearly distracting her again. “What do you need to tell me, my dear?”

Alyssa blew out a shaky breath. “I had a doctor’s appointment this morning.”

“Yes, it was on the schedule.”

“It was at the prenatal clinic. I, uh, had a pregnancy test done. It was… uh.” Oh, hell.

“Yes?” Kayn’s face remained emotionless. Not curious, not concerned—not anything.

A lump clogged her throat, threatening to choke her, and with a gulp, she blurted it out. “I’m pregnant!”

Trembling, Alyssa hung her head, trying to smile as she peeked up at Kayn through her dark lashes.

“Pregnant?” He dropped her hand. That’s not good. “Is that so?”

“Y-yes.” Alyssa’s pulse pounded in her ears.

Kayn stared down at her, blinking slowly. “Interesting.”

Unsure of his reaction, Alyssa waited, smoothing her sweaty palms over her velvety skirt as Kayn rose from the sofa, stepping away with his hands clasped behind his back. The alien leader carried himself in a cool, calm, and always-in-control manner Alyssa admired. After several minutes of silence, she flinched when he finally spoke.

“Did Shar perform the test?”

“Y-yes, she did.” Alyssa tugged at the hem of her skirt.

Shar’Enta was the charge nurse at the prenatal clinic, and managed most of the nursing staff at the med pod. She could do what most human doctors do, usually better, since the Szu’Kara had developed advanced technology and medical knowledge over the centuries.

“Kayn?”

“Yes?”

“How did this happen? I thought our species were not alike enough to… breed.”

“It is possible, my dear. Rare, but possible.” Kayn swung around to face her, beaming with pride. Alyssa’s heart skipped a beat.

“This is wonderful news, Alyssa. While it is unexpected, I am not surprised. I am Kayn’Kara, Commander of the Szu’Kara. My bloodline is the strongest of our species.”

“So, you’re happy?”

“Yes, I am happy. Although, it would be prudent to keep this between you and I, for now. There are many who would not understand.” Kayn crossed his arms, looking towards the picture window with a scowl. “As the commander, I cannot appear weak. We must be sure the child is developing properly and is genetically sound before it is announced.”

“Okay…” Irritation flickered through Alyssa’s already frazzled mind.

“This will be my first child, Alyssa. It must be strong, especially since it is half-human. If the child is born healthy, it will change the course of our plans.”

“I understand, Kayn.” Not really… “May I tell Jess? She’s my closest friend, and I need someone I can confide in, other than you, of course.”

“Of course.” He tipped his head to her. “Yes, you may tell her, but she must not tell anyone else. You can trust her to be discreet, correct?”

“Absolutely.” Alyssa pursed her lips, reining in her irritation.

“You will need to participate in the prenatal program. I will contact Shar this evening. You may coordinate your schedule with her tomorrow.”

“I will. May I hug you now?”

The Szu’Kara did not appreciate spontaneous affection, in fact, most aliens avoided physical contact altogether outside the privacy of their personal quarters. Kayn, however, enjoyed touching Alyssa, but preferred to initiate the contact himself.

“Yes, you may.”

Alyssa rushed to wrap her arms around Kayn’s slender waist. With her ear against his broad chest, she heard air moving in and out of his extra-large lungs, as well as the double beat of his two hearts. She looked up at Kayn with a hopeful smile, and he grinned down at her, stooping his long upper body to grace her with a passionate kiss.

With a wistful sigh, Alyssa slid a finger over a crisp seam of his pristine commander’s uniform, thankful Kayn was happy about the baby. She could even feel herself starting to accept the situation. Maybe this baby will be good for us. Maybe we can become a family.

“Alyssa.” Kayn stepped away from her, lowering his head, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Yes, Kayn?” She clasped her hands in front of her as she tried to hide her sudden anxiety.

“I assumed you were on some sort of birth control. Is that not so?”

“I-I’m sorry… I haven’t dated since high school and, uh… didn’t need it then. With you, I thought it was unnecessary, you know… since nothing should have happened…”

“Yes, well, I knew it was your first fully intimate Asen’Sha.” He cocked his head as his eyes nailed her in place. “I was unaware you had never been with a human male before. Humans are encouraged to have relations with other humans before engaging in sexually intimate Asen’Sha.”

When the Szu’Kara arrived, not only did they bring advanced technology, they literally brought humanity a key to heaven, or as the general population referred to it, Zion. Using a natural chemical in their body, known as Valene, the aliens could guide humans to Zion, for a short time, through a kind of ritual called Asen’Sha. Like an out of body experience, during Asen’Sha humans could feel the euphoric atmosphere of the heavenly realm and experience amazing things that weren’t possible on Earth.

“Well…” Alyssa blushed beet red. “This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but my experiences with human males in the past haven’t gone so well. In high school, I tended to date older boys, and when they turned sixteen they spent most of their time with their Szu’Kara guides. Let’s just say, after getting dumped so many times, I lost faith in human males.”

Experienced in different degrees of immersion, humans were allowed to have their first Asen’Sha at thirteen, absorbing limited amounts of Valene into the skin by holding hands, or clasping arms with an assigned guide during a meditation session, often in a group.

At sixteen, a human could choose a higher dosage of Valene, delving deeper into Zion, in private sessions with more physical contact, usually sitting with their bare back against an alien guide’s bare back. Depending on the relationship between the alien and the human, private sessions could be quite intimate, within limitations. The Szu’Kara would never take advantage of an underage human.

Finally, at eighteen years old, humans were granted the most immersive and intimate Asen’Sha experience, which could, and often did, involve sexual contact. Some people never chose to go so deep, if they even chose Asen’Sha at all, but most regarded it as the highest spiritual experience possible.

Alyssa hugged herself, searching the room for just the right words. “For as long as I can remember, I had a huge crush on you. I thought you were the most beautiful creature on Earth.” She averted her gaze, her cheeks burning. “I just didn’t think you’d ever care for me the same way. Once I started working for you, I focused on being the best assistant I could be… for you.” Now I sound like a damn stalker.

“I see.”

Looking back at his face, Alyssa searched Kayn’s stern eyes. “I’m perfectly healthy, and like you said, you’re the commander, so everything will work out fine. Right?”

“Of course.” Kayn stared down at her as anxiety scratched at the back of her mind, the blessed buzz of the intercom eventually drawing away his intense gaze.

 

***

 

After her eventful morning, Alyssa asked Kayn for the rest of the day off. General Ras had returned to discuss the rebels, so Kayn let her go, as the general would likely take up the rest of his day anyway.

Alyssa decided a trip to town would take her frazzled mind off Kayn’s confusing reaction. Stopping by her quarters, she slipped out of her blouse, pencil-skirt, and patent-leather pumps, and into an over-sized pale-pink hoodie, black yoga pants, and her most comfortable sneakers. A quick check in the bathroom mirror revealed startled brown eyes staring back, with normally faded freckles spattered across her high cheekbones standing out in stark contrast against her pale skin.

With a swipe of blush, and a thin layer of lip-gloss adding color to her face, Alyssa gathered her hair into a tight ponytail before stuffing her wallet into her hoodie pocket and leaving her quarters. She jogged around the housing pods, weaving her way through the people and aliens walking along the pathways that surrounded the monolithic command ship as it loomed from the center of the compound, casting a chilly shadow. With a wave to the guards, she slipped through the front gate.

Alyssa strolled along the side of the mile-and-a-half road connecting the nearby town with the compound, the brisk, refreshing early spring air clearing her anxious mind. A small butterfly fluttered across the road, disappearing into the short stalks of recently planted wheat that filled the surrounding fields for miles as a transport shuttle zipped by overhead, its wake scattering loose dust into the air.

By the time Alyssa reached town, her stomach sounded like an angry monster, reminding her she’d been too nervous to eat breakfast before her doctor’s appointment, and had missed lunch as well. Wow, not even a day and I’m a terrible mother.

Disappointed in herself, Alyssa vowed to do better, marching into the nearest café to find a quiet booth in the back corner. Staring out the window as she waited for the server, she observed the townspeople outside as they went about their quiet, peaceful lives, wondering at the difference between their lives and her own.

The town of Hamlin, located in the high plains of eastern Washington, was small and cozy, but still mostly original from before the war. The neighborhoods were a mixture of older well-kept houses and newer, shiny homes built with Plastin materials. Being so isolated and insignificant, the terrorists didn’t bother bombing it as they had most of the larger towns and cities around the world.

The compound, on the other hand, resembled a beehive with humans and aliens zipping around, the population in constant flux since it had the best medical and laboratory facilities in the world. Plus, the general held several training sessions each year for the Szu’Kara military.

When the Szu’Kara arrived, they’d positioned themselves all over the world. One hundred and twenty-three monolithic spaceships embedded themselves into the earth, some near metropolitan areas, and some in isolated places, such as Hamlin. The command ship, named Kara, had thirty floors below ground level, and ninety floors above. Commander Kayn’s office and living quarters were located, to Alyssa’s relief, only twenty-two floors above ground.

The Szu’Kara brought technology to Earth that allowed humans to more easily and efficiently convert things such as used tires and broken appliances into building materials. Through an advanced process with special alien bacteria, almost all waste was turned into a very soft, almost liquid, type of plastic called Plastin, which was biodegradable, and could be molded or used in 3D printers. Most everything, from dishes to furniture to housing, was made of either Plastin or recycled materials.

A server appeared, placing a fresh set of Plastin utensils on the table. “What can I get you?”

“I’d like a huge glass of ice water, a small salad with ranch dressing, a portabella mushroom burger with Swiss cheese, and fries, please.”

“You got it.”

The war devastated the planet, killing off half the world’s population. Many people died during the attacks and bombings, and the rest either perished from radiation poisoning or starvation. Unfortunately, the animal kingdom didn’t fare well, either.

Thanks to the Szu’Kara, humans were once again thriving. Every alien compound and settlement, as well as almost every rebuilt town or city, had at least one greenhouse, along with field crops growing in revitalized soil, which could provide enough fresh food to feed its residents.

Some of the people in Hamlin ran small farms with chickens, goats, and cows, which provided eggs, milk, and cheese products for the town, but they seldom killed the animals for meat. Alyssa had never eaten beef and only indulged in the occasional chicken salad.

When her water and salad arrived, Alyssa dug in with gusto as she replayed Kayn’s reaction to the baby news. He said he was happy, so why do I feel so insecure? And, seriously, why do I always feel like a silly fan-girl around him? I thought I was over that years ago. And those birth control questions… How could I have known? Okay, seriously, calm the hell down. I’m a responsible adult. I have supportive parents, an amazing career—and Kayn will be a wonderful father… I think. Why have I never seen a Szu’Kara child before?

“Hey there, mind if I join you?”

Startled out of her racing thoughts, Alyssa looked up, fork halfway into her mouth, to find a strange guy looking down at her. She blushed, dropping the lettuce-packed fork, and gaped at him as he sat down before she could object, his black biker boots clunking against the table pedestal.

“Uh, sure…”

“I’m Jordan.” The young man unbuttoned his red flannel jacket, grinning despite Alyssa’s scrutinizing stare.

“Alyssa… Do I know you?”

“Heh, no.” Jordan lifted the brim of his well-worn baseball cap to tuck a jet-black curl of hair underneath the edge. “I’m new to the area. Just checking out the town, seeing what there is to see.”

“Well, there’s not much really. Hamlin’s pretty tiny. Only a few shops here on the main street, but you should stop by Marly’s Malt Shop. He makes the best shakes around.”

“I’ll be sure to do that.” With a half-smile, Jordan drummed his fingers against the table’s edge. “Sorry if I interrupted anything. You were looking pretty intense.”

Alyssa narrowed her eyes, the corners of her mouth turned up. “Was I?”

“Mm hmm.” He tilted his head back, peering at her with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

“Yeah, well, it’s been a pretty intense day.”

“Good intense or bad intense?”

Alyssa studied his boyish face and near constant goofy grin, finding the way he talked out of the side of his mouth funny, but kind of endearing.

“I don’t mean to sound rude but— “

“Why did I pick you, out of all these other pleasant people, to talk to?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Yeah…”

“I saw you come in looking all stressed. Thought maybe you could use a friend.”

“You don’t think I have friends?”

Jordan frowned. “That’s not what I said.” His goofy grin reappeared. “You just… looked like someone kicked your puppy.”

Was I that transparent? “I don’t have a puppy.” Alyssa pursed her lips to hide a smile.

“That’s not—” Jordan ran his startled eyes over her face as a smirk forced its way to her mouth. “Ah, so you can smile.”

“Are you coming on to me?” Alyssa leaned back in her seat, folding her arms over her stomach, eyebrows arched.

His tanned cheeks flushed pink as he screwed up his face. “I, uh… no, I… no no, I wasn’t coming on to you. Can’t a guy just be friendly?”

“I’m with someone, just so you know.” And having his baby…

“I swear I’m not coming on to you.” Jordan held his hands up in mock surrender. “Just looking to make new friends in a new place. Most of the people in town seem nice and welcoming.”

Alyssa felt a swell of pride, knowing Kayn had worked hard to ensure the residents of both the town and the compound were happy. She’d often assisted him with public relations events, maintaining openness and trust between humans and aliens.

“Hmm, I guess so. I suppose I take it for granted that everyone is happy here. It’s always been that way. We seldom have anything bad happen here with the Command Compound being so close. There’s really no reason for us not to be nice.”

“So, you live in town?”

“No, I live on the compound.”

“You work there too?”

“I do.”

Jordan bobbed his head, lips puckered to the side, looking thoughtful. “Huh… that’s cool.”

“Where are you staying? The boarding house?”

“No. My older brother has a small farm a few miles out. Just moved into his spare room. Going to help him out for a while, see if I like it.”

“Where are you from?”

“Oh, I’ve moved around here and there, with my mother. I mostly do odd jobs, handyman, jack-of-all, you know.”

“Where’s your mom now?” Alyssa lifted her glass to her lips as she watched Jordan over the rim.

“She moved in with a Zook. We didn’t quite mesh, so I moved on.”

Nearly choking on an ice cube, Alyssa gulped down the water already in her mouth as she plunked the glass onto the table. The ice cubes rattled in the glass, drawing stares from nearby patrons. Flushed, Alyssa glanced around, hoping no one overheard.

“That is not a term we use here, Jordan.” She crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at him. “The Szu’Kara are our saviors and protectors. We are loyal and respectful here. If you’re not careful, you’re likely to make enemies instead of friends.”

“I, uh… I’m sorry.” Jordan scrunched up his face, confusion clouding his eyes. “I didn’t mean any disrespect, I swear. Honestly, it’s a common term used everywhere else I’ve been.”

With a sigh, Alyssa checked her temper. Damn hormones… For someone whose job it is to be pleasant and welcoming, I’m not doing a very good job of either.

“It’s fine. You didn’t know any better.” Alyssa waved her hand near her face, trying to cool her flushed cheeks. “I shouldn’t have jumped on you like that. Just keep in mind, everyone here is loyal to the Szu’Kara. They’re our friends, and sometimes, our family.”

Jordan cleared his throat, tugging on the collar of his black T-shirt. “Right. Won’t happen again.”

“Good. So, what’s it like out there?”

“What’s what like?” His eyebrows jumped to his hairline.

“All the places you’ve been. I’ve only been to one other place besides this town and the Command Compound.”

“Where’s that?”

“A small town outside Portland, Oregon that’s no longer there.”

“Huh. Well, it depends on the place, really.” He casually glanced around the café. “Some towns are thriving and some are struggling.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“Everyone knows the Szu’Kara—” Jordan smiled and winked “—helped rebuild and restore most places that were destroyed in the war. Unfortunately, those places are spread pretty far apart, and everything in between was left to wither and die. Most everyone who survived the war in those places had to abandon their homes and move to the nearest alien settlement.”

“Yeah, I knew all that, but… have you been to a city?” Alyssa leaned forward on her elbows, curious to hear about the outside world. “I know they rebuilt places such as Washington, D.C., New York, and Seattle. You see them on the broadcasts when Kayn does his annual visits. I always wondered what it’s like to actually be there.”

“Kayn? As in…the commander?” Jordan gave Alyssa big eyes, the corners of his mouth turned up. “You two close?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m his personal assistant.” And his girlfriend… I think.

“Really? Well, I hope Kayn is a good boss.”

“You’re kind of strange, you know that?” Alyssa peered at Jordan, squinting an eye at him.

He grinned. “Am I?”

“Well… I guess you’re just different than most people I know. I suppose we’re all somewhat influenced by the Szu’Kara temperament. Plus, we don’t get a lot of new humans in town. My granny would probably like to meet you.”

“Is she strange too?”

Alyssa scoffed. “No, she’s not strange. I mean… she just likes people and things that are new and different.”

“Cool. I’d like to meet her sometime.” He nodded as if it were a done deal. “Looks like the rest of your food’s here, and I got to head out. Here’s my number. Let’s talk again soon.”

Jordan handed Alyssa a business card, gave her a small salute, and then wiggled his fingers at her. She studied him as he strutted out of the café, blinking in wonderment. Shaking her head, she examined the card while the server set her food on the table. His name, Jordan Michaelson, and his phone number were scrawled on the front, with a small circle drawn on the top right corner of the back. Two lines cut through the circle, like a pie cut in four pieces. Alyssa quickly hailed the server and ordered pie for dessert.

 

***

 

On the way back to the compound, Alyssa admired the pink and orange hues of the crystal-clear sky as dusk fell upon the plains. Remembering her plans with Jess, she called, hoping her friend didn’t think she’d been forgotten. Picking up on the first ring, Jess’ bubbly voice instantly warmed Alyssa’s heart.

Promising to hurry back, they planned to meet in the entryway to the housing pod where Alyssa’s quarters were located. Jess still lived with her parents in the same housing pod near the lab Alyssa’s parents resided in.

As she approached the compound, Alyssa craned her neck, her eyes following the sharp lines that led up the side of the imposing tower. Dark windows, thick enough to withstand the rigors of space, circled the Kara, rows upon rows stacked too high for Alyssa’s comfort. Staving off a wave of dizziness, she pushed on, greeting the guards as she passed through the wrought-iron gate.

When Jess spotted Alyssa, she jogged out to greet her with a tight hug, bringing a smile to Alyssa’s face as she relished the love she felt from her best friend. Jess twined her arm with Alyssa’s, bouncing back to the entry, dragging her friend along.

“I didn’t bring any wine.” Jess pouted, bottom lip stuck out.

Alyssa giggled at her friend’s silly expression. “That’s okay. I can’t drink anyway.”

“You’re still on call then?”

“Yes, but that’s not why.”

Jess halted, causing Alyssa to stumble. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll tell you inside.” The corners of her mouth quirked up as she pinched her lips between her teeth.

Jess’ eyes got huge. She yanked Alyssa’s arm, pulling her into the pod and down the hallway. She bounced on the balls of her feet while Alyssa palmed the scanner to open her door, then proceeded to take the time to gather all the decorations.

Plopping down at the dining table, Jess ogled Alyssa as she carefully spread out all the decorations and pulled out her chair to quietly sit down. She bit back a smile and started fiddling with some streamers.

Jess huffed and slapped her hands onto the tabletop. “Oh, my God, you’re killing me! What is going on with you?”

Alyssa tucked her chin to her chest, hiding an amused grin. “Well… I have some news.”

“Spit it out, Aly!” Jess practically vibrated with anticipation.

“Okay, okay!” Alyssa paused, enjoying the tortured look on her best friend’s face. “I’m pregnant.”

Jess stilled in her seat, eyes wide with shock. In a flash, she bounded out of her chair, rushing to Alyssa’s side. “Holy crap! What? Really?” She grabbed Alyssa up into a bear hug.

“Jess—” Alyssa gasped “—I need air!”

“What? Oh… sorry.” Jess stepped back, looking sheepish. “Seriously, you’re pregnant?”

“Yep.” Alyssa gave a quick nod. “Just found out this morning.”

“Who’s the father?” Jess poked Alyssa’s arm. “I thought you were with Kayn.”

“Of course, I’m with Kayn! I would’ve told you if there was another guy. Damn, Jess!”

“Right. Of course, you would’ve, but how are you pregnant?”

“Well, turns out humans and Szu’Kara aren’t completely incompatible.” Alyssa tilted her head to the side, eyes wide and eyebrows raised.

“What?” Jess gaped, panic in her eyes. “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

“Calm down, Jess.” Alyssa grabbed her by the shoulders.

“But I haven’t been careful with Lorn…” Jess squeezed her hands together, shaking her head over and over. “…like ever!”

“Jess, it’s okay.” Alyssa gave her a little shake. “It rarely happens. Kayn thinks it has to do with his superior bloodline.” Alyssa made air quotes while rolling her eyes.

Jess sniggered. “Seriously, he said that?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Honestly—” Jess flung her arms out to her sides “—I don’t know how you put up with his arrogance sometimes.”

“It’s not that bad. Besides, most of the Szu’Kara are the same way, you know that. Especially the higher ranking officers.” Alyssa shrugged, lifting an eyebrow and corner of her mouth in an ‘it can’t be helped’ gesture.

“You mean like General Ass?” Jess smirked, chuckling as she sat back at the table.

“Oh, yeah. Thankfully, I only had to see him in passing today. I don’t think I could’ve put up with his crap after the morning I had.”

“That’s why you looked so sick this morning. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was processing… and I had to tell Kayn first, sorry. I had to find out from him if it was actually possible. Not that I doubt Shar’s medical expertise or anything, but you know… I was in shock.”

“Of course you were, and you had every right to be.”

“Well, I was pretty shaken up after telling Kayn.”

“Was he mad?”

“No, like I said, he was pretty proud of himself. It’s just that… he was asking me about birth control, you know. The way he was questioning me… Anyway, I feel better now.”

“Did he make you feel better?”

“Hah, no! But he did let me leave early.” Alyssa toyed with a sparkly streamer. “Actually, it was going to town and having some time to myself to think about things. Oh, and I might’ve made a new friend.”

“You’re not replacing me, are you?” Jess squinted at Alyssa with suspicion, a smirk turning up the corners of her mouth.

“Never!” She raised her hands in surrender, grinning. “No, actually, I met this guy at the café—”

“A guy? Aly, you’re pregnant and involved with the commander!”

“Stop the hysterics, girl.” Alyssa tossed her head back and laughed. “I wasn’t trolling for guys at the pub. Seriously, Jess, you know me better than that.”

“Okay, fine. Out with it.”

“Well, I was scarfing down my salad like I hadn’t eaten in years. Just as I was about to shovel another enormous forkful into my mouth, this guy asks if he can sit with me. It was sooo embarrassing!”

“Oh no, you weren’t!” Jess guffawed.

“Oh yes, I was! I forgot to eat breakfast—and lunch.”

“Well, missy—” Jess wagged a finger at an eye-rolling Alyssa “—you can’t do that anymore.”

“Anyway, he seemed nice. New to the area, and well… different. Kind of like Granny. Not as proper as the Szu’Kara prefer us humans to be.”

“Interesting… What did he want?”

“Nothing… really. He wasn’t flirting with me. Not that I would know, or care how guys our age flirt. We just chatted a little while, then he left. Gave me his number, though.”

“Huh. I’m surprised you talked to him.”

Alyssa shrugged, looking away. “He sat down before I could stop him. Honestly, it’s not like I’m scared of men. I just don’t… trust them, you know…”

“Aly, it’s been years. Alec was an asshole—”

“Not just Alec…”

“Okay, so you had a bad run with guys in school. We were all immature back then. They just got a taste of Valene and lost interest in us regular girls.”

“All of them? At least you had a boyfriend for a while who wasn’t a complete Valene junkie. Every one of the guys I dated dumped me when they got a bigger taste of Zion.”

“Well, it is Zion, and you were always picking guys who were near or at the next age bracket. You seem to have a thing for older guys.”

Alyssa smirked, thinking about Kayn. “I do, don’t I?”

“Uh, yeah! Kayn is what? A few hundred years old?”

Alyssa tried to recall if he’d ever mentioned his actual age. “Um, I guess, maybe.”

“Well, anyway, are you going to call this guy?”

“I thought it might be nice to take him to Granny. I think she’ll get a kick out of his attitude.”

“Maybe I’ll tag along.”

“Sure. Granny loves when you visit her.”

For the rest of the evening, Alyssa put the baby out of her mind, and focused on her friend. Jess talked about what a softy Lorn, her Szu’Kara boyfriend, was and how he did this and that for her. Lorn’Sefa worked as a scientist at the lab, and was kind of a geek. He was also the shortest and softest looking alien on the compound, and although he worked long hours, he doted on Jess with more love and affection than any other alien Alyssa ever met. It sometimes made her envious that Kayn wasn’t as attentive. That’s what I get falling for the commander…