Jorja finished wiping the last array and drifted in the airlock before one final glance up at the planet above her. Cleaning the arrays had taken a few weeks. Later, just as she was being released from her EVA spacesuit, a message came through. ‘Jorja Westmore. Report to command.’
She acknowledged the request and barely got into the lift when another message repeated the last request. She held back a facetious, ‘I’m coming, darling,’ and mumbled, ‘ok’ instead.
Just hours later, she was sitting in a shuttle heading for the surface of the planet. In her hands she held a little mineral detector device. You just never knew when your hobby would come in handy.
Scalice sat in at yet another meeting and so far Zeft had managed to disappear each time he was wanted. Scalice had agreed to some terms he hadn’t really understood but he did understand the looks given by the new visitors. They appreciated his men and continually asked for fighting demonstrations. Some people, called marines, tried out against the orux and the ‘others’. They were good but the orux were better, that was except for one called, ‘Pretty Max’. Even some of the Skelfs and Skellums beat most of the marines but none could beat the quick human. Resulting from a life filled with violence Scalice could, through experience, identify a killer from a soldier. The differences between the two were subtle but that Pretty Max was a killer was evident to the orux leader. Scalice grinned as another marine was tossed aside, but rather than upsetting the marines he could tell it pleased them.
During the latest landing he’d approached a matt black space craft. He liked the way it looked, like a bird of prey. Near the entrance a woman came out. She had straight, long, honey-brown hair, a solid build, had decent sized boobs and was yawning. She moved to the wing of the craft and sat on an orux crate. She surveyed the crowd in front of her, listening to some report, and then swung her gaze around catching Scalice’s eye. He observed dark rings under her eyes and noted how tired she looked. A man whispered in her ear and she nodded and walked over to him. There was no hesitation as she grinned and held out her hand. ‘Scalice, I believe. Nice to meet you. Pretty Max tells me you’ve agreed to have someone guide me and a team to Wyrnn. My name is Jorja. By the way, despite what others may tell you, come and see me before you sign anything.’
‘Mary already mentioned it.’
Her green eyes quickly scanned the area. She said, ‘Good. No doubt we’ll meet again.’ She looked around again. He guessed her intention.
‘Mary’s inside. One of the skelf’s bit off his tongue.’
She screwed up her face. ‘Nasty.’ She then grinned at him and nodded towards Pretty Max. Jorja said, ‘Ah, I think you are wanted.’
Before he could respond, someone called her name. He was having second thoughts about the trip to Wyrnn. She winked at him and she wandered off giving Pretty Max a quick wave. Scalice approached the marine but before he could say anything Scalice said, ‘We should call off the trip to Wyrnn. I’ve just had some reports in and there’s a shift in allegiance.’
Pretty Max hesitated and then noted the large orux looking at Jorja. Max smiled. ‘It’ll be fine. She can handle herself. Now…’
Scalice looked at her again. A killer saying a woman could look after herself was something to consider. She didn’t look that fearsome in baggy pants and black shirt.
During the talk with Pretty Max Scalice noticed Zeft heading toward Jorja.
As her fingers were pressing on some square device she caught the look the orux was giving her. As far away as they were Scalice could hear every word.
Zeft grinned at her.
‘See something you like?’ Jorja said dryly.
‘You’re not as skinny as some of the humans.’
‘That’s observant of you.’
He eyed off her arm muscles and said, ‘You fight?’
‘Only when provoked.’ She replied coolly switching off the device.
She sat down and grabbed an apple from the crate next to her crate. After she bit into it and looked him up and down she said with a mouth full, ‘You thinking what I’m thinking, a little orman?’
Zeft laughed. ‘Or a humux.’
‘Let me think on it. I have strict criteria before I breed with someone I’ve only just met.’
‘Oh yeh, what?’
‘Let’s see, dinner, dancing, presents, flowers…’
‘Sounds painful. I think I’ll give it a miss.’
‘Well, you’re assigned to the Xenica II so if you change your mind, look me up.’
‘I may do that, but you could say I’m taking you on a bit of a date today.’
‘Ah, you must be Zeft. Our guide.’
Scalice hid a grin as Zeft scowled at the term.
Jorja had held out her hand as she did with him.
Zeft took it and dragged her in close. The effect was electric. They studied each other and felt something neither had felt in a long time.
Scalice glanced at Pretty Max who’d seen the exchange and watched briefly with interest but then started talking again.
Jorja was pulled up against the orux who was half a head taller than she was. He wasn’t as wide as some other orux she’d seen but Jorja suspected as deadly as Pretty Max. Another brief thrill went through her which she quickly dampened as taught by her therapist. I must not like brutality. Remarkably, Zeft had smelt the change in her and altered his tactic. ‘How do roast rat, raw gem and weeds sound, Babe?’ His blue eyes blazed at her, it was obvious what he was thinking. He was rubbing his fingers over her hand.
‘We orux prefer less flowery phrases.’
‘Ah,’ she thought for a moment, ‘Sounds gruesome.’
He grinned after briefly resting his face against hers, ‘Better.’
He released her and called his men over. With a second interested look at Jorja he reconfirmed with the scouts that Wyrnn would meet the visitors peacefully. It all smelled like humanshit to Zeft. But then Wyrnn was no brilliant tactician and he rarely gave ‘evil’ humans a second glance. They were simply flotsam to be cast upon the enemy in the first wave.
Jorja, slightly flushed, assembled her team. They had no real interest in Wyrnn, especially after the reports were read from the marines. What they were interested in were the minerals discovered in the area.
Later, Pretty Max met up with one snot nosed lieutenant. ‘Swap out Jorja’s mining team for marines.’
‘The orux will notice.’
‘Just do it.’
‘They’re not stupid.’
‘And neither am I. You have your orders.’ The snot nosed lieutenant had pissed Pretty Max off so he now gave him an additional order, ‘And tell Jorja she needs to disguise herself. Apparently the males in the horde haven’t had a female for a long time.’
Pretty Max walked away with a grin. He didn’t envy the lieutenant at all.
Four hours walking and Jorja wished they could have taken the horses or even the orux mardogs. The cruiser had dumped them off after a couple of hour’s flight. She could tell the orux were excited about flying even though they’d all been joy riding in it before. After the forth hour she could see why they couldn’t have travelled conveniently. They’d been watched for over two hours and as they appeared to have nothing of value they were left alone. Her back hurt, her legs ached. At least it wasn’t as cold here. In fact, it was getting decidedly hot. Along the way she took recordings and noted the terrain. Data was one thing, human eyes were another. Zeft came alongside her, ‘Not long now. What are you doing?’
‘Scanning the region for minerals.’
Rigel said without looking back, ‘I thought we weren’t supposed to tell.’
‘Brilliant, moron,’ Scott butted in, ‘now they know we weren’t supposed to tell.’
Zeft gave her a quizzical look to which she replied, ‘Long story.’
‘You’re familiar with the concept since obviously the marines aren’t?’
‘You could say that. I’m supposed to take you to Wyrnn so when we’re compared you’ll know we are harmless.’
At that last word Rigel burst out laughing. He still had bruises from the so called mock battles.
‘Why did you swap your team?’ Zeft asked. He had reported it to Scalice earlier who had shrugged it off.
‘I didn’t. Our almighty leaders decided it was for the best. They’re arses. They probably thought you wouldn’t realise, and that you think we all looked the same.’
She grinned, ‘You’re familiar with that as well.’
Rigel turned back to them briefly, ‘Why did they swap us? I don’t know anything about first contact or mining.’
‘Of course you don’t, Naskin. You haven’t the time to learn. Don’t worry your pretty head. I know what needs to be done,’ Merat said.
‘At least I won’t get stale in my job. Good thing Aeon’s have to change their careers otherwise we’d…’
‘Shut up, Rigel.’
‘Shut up, Merat.’
Jorja cringed. She wondered if they were doing the orux a favour with their offer of joining them. Her neck clicked somewhere along her vertebral column. She noticed some of the orux around then giving them funny looks; some were smiling.
She twisted her head to look at Zeft, ‘Our mighty leaders are interested in meeting with Wyrnn but are also wanting some visuals on the terrain here. We didn’t need four of us to do that but since my hobby is mining, I got the lucky job.’
‘More like you pissed off the powers that be.’ Merat said.
Zeft raised an eyebrow.
‘Again.’ Scott added.
Jorja held up her grimy hand and put her thumb and finger together drawing them apart slightly. ‘Maybe just a little.’
‘I don’t care about the lot of you,’ Scott inhaled deeply, ‘I’m loving this. It’s good to be on a planet again. It’s been too long since the last holiday.’
Jorja cringed, ‘It’s all great for you lot, you’re not covered in muck, slouching and carrying crap.’
‘Still…you cleaned your mess up pretty well, nice job on the arrays by the way.’ Scott gave her a sly look. ‘This is due punishment for annoying the powers that be.’
Zeft said, ‘So, that’s what they do when you piss them off. Put you in danger?’
Rigel stopped and Jorja walked into him. ‘What do you mean danger?’ He looked around the twenty or so orux walking around them as if noticing them for the first time. He winked at Jorja but his mocking humour was completely wasted on the orux who, by their frowns, thought him serious. Rigel’s grin sagged.
Zeft looked at Jorja as well and stopped walking. ‘Scalice told me you don’t have enough soldiers to get enough down time. Is that all there is to the offer?’
She pushed Rigel away and faced Zeft, ‘As far as I know. We do recruit new soldiers but never in such large numbers. Pretty Max seemed happy that as long as the orux were willing to go into battles their needs would be met and terms would be fair. He would have told me if there was another agenda. But I won’t lie to you. It’s rough going. There are tensions within and outside of the ship and between the confederacies. You won’t be involved in most of the crappy stuff, but will be asked to fight. You’ll get paid of course.’
He studied her face for a moment, wondering where she came into the picture. She obviously wasn’t a ‘marine’ but something about her smacked of authority. He nodded. He and his men understood ‘paid’. He said aloud, ‘This trip is dangerous but only for a woman.’
Rigel breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief.
Jorja shook her head and hoped her disguise didn’t rub off or worse yet, they didn’t strip search them. To make herself more unattractive Zeft suggested she drawl occasionally. ‘At least you don’t have to drawl.’
Scott, usually the serious one piped in looking at Rigel, ‘Not while he’s awake anyway or shaking the man.’
They all laughed. Zeft had been quick to pick up on the crude humour. It surprised him that Jorja joined in the laughter. Mary was more sedate and the orux women only laughed at their men, not with them.
Another hour later and they arrived. There was a mountain with a sheer cliff to the left, the dark stoned fortress nested at the base and massive rocky wall to the right. Jorja noted the guards, the ways in and out, and several items that could be used as weapons. She also knew the marines would be doing the same thing. She wasn’t allowed to talk but would nod and rely on Scott to say and do the right thing.
Several hours later and Jorja could tell the orux under Scalice’s command were clearly the cream. The whole meeting with Wyrnn was brief, boring and uneventful. The room was dull with high ceilings and grey stone walls. It wasn’t hard to play the dullard well. They didn’t even search her but if asked they would tell them that ‘he’ was simply the pack mule. Aside from the occasional look from an orux at the back of the assembled group, nothing interesting happened. They were taken up a tower and to a large round bare room. Zeft posted guards outside the room and, to the marine’s amazement, outside the one window. They bedded down for the rest of the night. Jorja had marines at her back and Zeft to her front who had positioned himself with good views to the one window and door. She didn’t think he’d slept at all. It was the trip in the morning when all the problems started. They were walking out of one tunnel with Zeft’s men who were behind the humans. Jorja and Rigel were out in front. It started to rain in the dingy light. They were almost to the front gates, which appeared not to be guarded, when Rigel gave a hand signal that something wasn’t right. Jorja’s heart rate increased as she prepared herself, controlling the nerves but using the adrenalin.
Suddenly, sounds above them caused them to step aside. Dirty and sharp looking orux dropped from ledges above. One of them approached Jorja. ‘He was right, you’re a woman.’
Rigel turned to her, ‘Did you forget to drawl?’
As she was shrugging, Zeft flew into action. If the marines felt beaten during the mock battles they weren’t prepared for the ferocious battle that occurred. Somehow Zeft pushed Jorja back while he battled in front. She was protected on both sides by about a third of the orux. She could barely keep up with Zeft’s movements as he cleared a path that led outside the gates. One second Zeft was piercing the chest of one orux, the next he was beheading a gragnor, and the next he was flying in the air kicking away two new contenders who jumped up on the path from somewhere below. The whole time she was pushed forward and back or squished between orux. She almost had her breath knocked out when Zeft grabbed her and climbed up the sheer cliff. In a daze she noticed the other orux climbing up and three had additional burdens.
This was going to make for some report.
It wasn’t as embarrassing for her as it was for the other three, she could just imagine what they were thinking. She might be old and experienced but she loved being a woman. It was kind of fun being rescued. Jorja doubted the marines had a chance to fight either. Rigel would be moody for days.
Without much ado Zeft pushed and turned her into a crevice on her back. One side was perpendicular to the ground. The other side, the one she lay on, was at a forty five degree angle. He positioned himself above her and panted heavily.
‘Are they coming?’
‘No. I don’t think it was Wyrnn. Just that snitch at the back.’
‘I saw him.’
His blue eyes focused on her and he grinned. ‘I think we killed most of his followers. There’ll be no going back now.’
‘Does that worry you?’
He positioned himself a little more comfortably and while she was sure he needed it more he offered her some water first. He took a drink and said, ‘I think things may be more interesting at the place we’ll be going.’
‘Pretty Max told me you were opposed to the move.’
‘Let’s just say I’ve changed my mind.’
‘You saved my life. Did it need saving that much?’
‘Babe, you have no idea. But there was no way they were going to touch you.’
Regardless of her experience with the Marquis de Sadi she didn’t contradict him. She didn’t know the orux well enough to know what they were capable of.