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Blades of Arris: Zai

Blades of Arris: Zai

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My escape pod is captured by the ruthless leader of the Blades.
His face is hidden in an assassin’s cowl. Metal sai weapons are fused to his wristbones. He can fly between spaceships like an owl and execute enemies through a hull.
Yet according to him, I’m the dangerous one...

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ If you love alien romance, but are tiring of the same old trope, then this is the series you have been looking for.

Main Tropes

  • Alien Shifter
  • Forbidden Love
  • Mating Mark/Bite
  • Diverse Heroine
  • Trigger Warnings
  • Heat Level: 4 out of 5


I will destroy all threats to the empire with unrelenting force. Even if that threat comes in the form of a weak, fragile lesser with night-black hair and beguiling eyes.

The blades. Elite forces of the empire, nightmare to all servant-world residents just trying to scrape by. Of course I have to flee when my medical ship comes under attack.

But my escape pod is captured by their ruthless leader.

His face is hidden in an assassin’s cowl. Metal sai weapons are fused to his wristbones. He can fly between spaceships like an owl and execute enemies through a hull.

Yet according to him, I’m the dangerous one.

His people’s lust metal has gotten in my blood. They’ll tear each other apart trying to get to me. And then? Because they can’t understand their feelings, they’ll tear me apart, too.

So he’s taking me to the Arsenal, a massive station teeming with his blades, where I’m one papercut away from unleashing hyperviolent zombies.

Well, okay.

I’m lucky he’s the one who captured me. He senses the lust metal inside me, he understands the desires burning us both with unrelenting need, and he’s completely unaffected.

Or, well, mostly…

*** Contains unique alien shifters, fierce passion, and loyal warriors who find their fated mates in the stars. Each full-length book is a complete romance with an epic happily-ever-after. Claim your conqueror today!

Intro Into Chapter One

I’m sitting on the padded cushion that smells like plastic, staring out at the windswept outback stretching for desolate miles in every direction, when a quarter of the afternoon sky goes dark.

Anxiety flutters in my stomach.

I hate it when this happens.

The fantasy that I’m lounging just out of view of my old friends in the middle of endless red earth shatters to expose the truth: I’m huddling within the squat four walls of the specialized medical facility where my trust is paying a lot of money to keep me confined.

Two separate full-body reactions queue up with terrible familiarity.

A sudden, hot pulse of uncontrollable need burns in my veins. I need relief. Now. I need the touch of a man, his musk, I need him holding me and driving me into the ground, pinning me with his body, fulfilling this agonizing desire. My very skin tries to crawl off my bones to find him, and fire ants bite my pores. I claw at my arms, at my face, arching backward on the cushioned floor as the relentless drive tightens all my muscles, urges me to run, to escape, to attack the first man I see, to rip off his clothes and take my relief. Scratch this itch inside until it bleeds and keep on scratching. Sweat drips off my face.

But I’m used to this. I can outlast it.

As soon I firmly think that—I’m not finding a man, I’m not fulfilling that desire right now—like a switch, the agony shuts off, leaving behind only a restless bone-deep ache for a man’s embrace.

I take a deep breath and sit up.

The first trial is over. Time for the second one.

Heat floods my face, and a high-pitched whine fills my ears.

The biofeedback monitors hooked to my wrists beep a warning, but it’s not for me. I already know my insides have gone wrong.

The world recedes, and my head feels too light. I bob, weave, fighting for control of my sympathetic nervous system before it unplugs my brain and I crash like the expensive, wall-sized viewscreen display.

I take long, deep breaths, closing my eyes and channeling inner peace. Go down, heart rate. Sleep tight, adrenal glands. Don’t let the bush flies bite.

The heat recedes from my cheeks. It worked. I caught my heart rate in time. The biofeedback monitors return to a steady, soothing whirr. Yes, whew, I won’t faint.

This time.

In the center of the wall that darkened, a small central viewscreen shows a picture of my current doctor. She’s a practical woman who runs a neurological disorder clinic in downtown New Sydney.

I tap her picture to answer the call. “Hi.”

“Esme, I want to share news with you. Are you in a safe position?”

I draw my knees to my chest and hug them. The soft, white pajamas are damp from my straining, but I’m in control—for the moment. “Did you get a new test result?”

“No, we’ve already exhausted all conceivable tests. You have no obvious brain damage, tumors, imbalances, or disorders, and your neurally mediated syncope has flummoxed our top medical schools. But”—her lips quirk to one side—“we humans are no longer alone in the universe.”

“Yeah, I remember you submitted my medical data to the Vanadisans.” Whatever’s wrong with my brain that causes this—uncontrollable sexual cravings, and then fainting when I refuse them—it hasn’t affected my memory.

“Correct, and of the hundreds of medical puzzlers we submitted, they selected yours for further research.”

Oh, wow.

Tingling numbs my lips. I can’t feel my legs even though I’m hugging them for support. “They found a cure?”

“They’re going to try. But.” She holds up a finger, catching me again just before my heart races out of control. “They want you to voyage to Vanadis.”

Ah, that sinks me back into the padded floor. “Are any ships passing by? A merchant ship or freighter I could catch up to?”

“Actually, there’s a Vanadis-bound cruiser leaving from here in a week.”

“Oh, that’s rare.” It must be an alien ship. Here on Humana, we’re still in the wood-block stage of space travel while the rest of the universe is in the theoretical physics stage.

“I’m not going to lie to you about the dangers. Our overlords, the Arrisans, don’t bother to patrol this section of their empire. There will be no escorts, no protection, no rescue. You can always stay here in the facility while the Vanadisans conduct research on the blood and tissue samples we sent.”

“But they asked me to come? They want to examine me in person?”

She rolls her lips inward and nods.

Leaving safety, leaving this room, leaving Humana…

When I was a kid, being sentenced to my dim, tiny bedroom on our arid farm compound outside Shiraz was the worst punishment. I received a lot of failing grades, so I got sentenced pretty often. Now, I’m suffering the world’s longest time-out, and this is the first ray of light from an opening door.

“Of course I have to go,” I tell her, and my heart kicks in my chest again. The high-pitched whine returns. I take deep breaths, but it’s way too exciting. There’s no catching me now.

“You should think of this as a one-way trip,” she warns. “Take the week to say your goodbyes. It might be the last time you see your friends and family.”

“Don’t worry about that,” I assure her, as my vision tunnels on the doctor’s concerned face. “My friends are long gone and my family’s been estranged for years…”

And the world goes black.

When I wake up, the wall screens display an endless view of the outback.

I stare at the sky, where just the slightest hint of warping betrays the lie.

Disassociating from my family was crushing when it first happened, even though it was so easy. I just stopped calling, stopped writing, stopped demanding they make time for me to visit. It was supposed to be a test. How many days, months, and finally years would go by before any of them reached out to me? They never bothered, not one of them, not once.

I am an easy person to let go of, I guess.

But ever since I got sick, I’ve been so grateful. They watched me fail out of school, told me countless times I’d disappointed our ancestors, but at least they didn’t witness my descent from shame into outright disgrace.

So now there’s only one person I want to say goodbye to. One person who deserves closure, no matter how much it terrifies me to make the call.

I sit up again.

My heart rate jags unevenly as I dissolve the view of the outback to access the communication panel. But I don’t feel light-headed in the least.

The call goes through, audio only. He still doesn’t have a viewscreen. “This is Vic.”

My heart spikes.

Yet I feel fine.

This is what has flummoxed the medical schools and top doctors. When my heart rate rises and I’m not with a man, I’ll pass out. But if I’m stalking a man, hunting him, my heart can out-beat a hummingbird’s and I’ll feel as grounded as a tent peg.

I push my chest out, even though Vic can’t see it, and drop my voice to a sultry tone. “It’s Esme.”

He’s silent a moment. “Where are you? Do you need help?”

“No.” At least I can still be honest. “I’m leaving, and I wanted to see…say goodbye.”

“I’ll come get you.”

And I don’t say no, even though I could just tell him what I have to say over the call. I can resist my cravings on my own, but not when I’m voice-to-voice with temptation.

Vic arrives on his single-cycle an hour later. I sign myself out of the medical facility but refuse his helmet. I’ve got my own. I climb on the back of his roaring cycle, and we wind around the remnants of skyscrapers and washed out highways to his isolated beachside shack.

We barely make it inside before I jump on Vic, knocking over his surfboards and his cycle engines, and clonk the wall with my helmet hard enough to make the photos of his dead wife rattle.

Now that I’m with him, I can take the helmet off, free to scratch my itches. Some of them, anyway.

The itch to have sex is never satisfied. I want it even while I’m having it. It’s a constant all-consuming siren and nothing, nothing, silences it.

But in the refractory period, I get fifteen, maybe thirty minutes of being relatively normal. I can talk to men without sticking my chest out and biting my lip, I can make plans for the future that don’t involve sex, and I can get scared—or excited, or angry, or feel any heartbeat-raising emotion—without my eyes rolling back into my head and passing out. And after so many weeks of locking up my thoughts, that’s a special, although temporary, kind of relief.

Itch, itch, itch.

In the mornings, I follow Vic down to the water and watch him carve white lines against the vast blue waves.

Gouges on the red cliffs behind us show where the old floodwaters rose up to, so sudden and overpowering, just like the Arrisans’ attack.

We used to think we were alone in the universe. Then the Arrisans found us and conquered us, adding our planet—which they named Humana in Arrisan Standard, the language we all now speak—to the hundreds of conquered planets in their empire. They ordered us to grow their nutrient cube vines, then pushed our planet into a better cube-growing orbit, which unleashed population-decimating cataclysms.

These marks are a sober reminder of how little time any person really has. You have to make the best of it because it’s always less than you think.

Like now, in my mind’s eye, I’m still twenty-two and running across the white sand after Vic, diving into the water and then paddling, paddling, paddling to catch the crest, feeling the swell beneath me as I pop up and balance on the board. Such majesty swirls over me. The water and the air push me forward, thundering through this funnel of power, of ocean, of blue.

There was so much to life then. And Vic was just a handsome stranger twice my age who had a cycle repair shop on a tiny beach, a mature figure in the background that I barely knew

After the last dinner—and sex—we sit nude on Vic’s rusted folding chairs. I have a few precious minutes of normalcy. I need to use them. “I’m leaving Humana tomorrow, probably forever, and my last client left me a lot of money in a trust.”

He sips his homemade ginger tea. “Client?”

“At the Older People’s Health Council. I used to set his appointments before I got sick.”

My centenarian clients remember when viewscreens were used to convey the death orders from the Arrisans, and so I would be the friendly voice on the other end of their audio-only calls listening to their complaints and assuring them help was scheduled or on the way. It wasn’t hard or a busy job, so I took my time with each client. I heard some amazing stories, and at least one of them looked forward to my calls so much that he kindly left me a small fortune in his will. I wish I could call him up once more and tell him thank you. But now I hope it can help someone else who’s deserving.

“But I’m not going to need all that money now that I’m leaving, so I want you to have it.”

Vic rubs a wet spot on his knee. “Return it to his family.”

“His family died in the Second Flood.”

“What am I supposed to do with it?”

“I thought you could reopen the shop, or buy the parts to finish your cycle engines, or just travel. Go surf on the different continents like you once talked about. Where did your old shop partner end up?”


“You could go to Bolivia. Tell her I’m dead or cured, and either way, I won’t attack customers when you go on deliveries again.”

That’s why I left here as soon as I found out about the trust. Even though it’s my worst nightmare, I’d rather live in a padded room than have my weaknesses used against the people who’ve been kind to me.

Vic scratches a spot on his brown glass. “Why me? You had a lot of friends.”

“You’re the only one who said passing out during a schlocky horror movie wasn’t normal. You didn’t think I was a fragile person or that I’d drunk too much, and you told me I should go to the hospital.”


“I didn’t want you to be right, but you validated me. It helped.”

As my illness progressed, it became unsafe for me to drive or cross the road or even to stand in my own apartment without falling over and hitting my head and waking up in a pool of blood—trying to clean it up during a pounding headache, hiding my bruise beneath a head scarf so no one would find out—and I finally accepted I couldn’t continue working part-time at the health council and borrowing the hover van on the weekends to surf. That life was taken away from me. And so I came back here for a time.

Oops, it’s happening again. My head’s detaching. My fifteen minutes of normalcy are up.

I straddle his chair. “You had to do everything for me. I want to do something for you.”

Vic puts down the glass, accepting me. He always does. “You can’t replace Yana.”

“I never wanted to replace your dead wife.” My heart flutters its half response. Mostly. “I just want to make up for all the hassles I caused.”

“I don’t need your money.”

“It’s not mine, though. I think my client would like for it to go to somebody else who doesn’t use a viewscreen. I promise it’s free and clear. I’m just not going to be around to burden you anymore.”

His brows quirk together in dry amusement. “Promising that is repayment enough.”

I’d like to laugh, but I’m afraid if I let any emotions out, it’s going to turn into a sob, so I give up on conversation and apologize to him with my body.

The truth is I did love Vic once, but I knew my feelings were never reciprocated, never, and I accepted that, I really did. I still do. Look at me. I’m in no place to offer myself as a partner anyway.

The next day, he takes me to port to board the shuttle from New Sydney to the interstellar space center in North America. I try to get him to come too. Shuttles go to Bolivia, after all. But he refuses, so at the gangplank, I give him the last of my pocket money. It’s not much in comparison to what he did for me, but I just have to give him something.

He wrinkles his nose, irritated at the wad of cash.

“It’s not like they can take dollars in space,” I say. “And if we have to burn bills to keep warm, we’ll ignite the oxygen and explode.”

He pockets it with a sigh. “I’ll donate it.”

My heart squeezes, and I throw my arms around him in a farewell hug. “I’m sorry I could never do anything for you.”

He pats my back. “I never asked you to.”

“I know, but…”

I let him go, and that’s where we part. I go up the gangplank and settle into the empty shuttle. The trust paid for an all-female staff so I could fly to Iowa without any distractions. My new minder, a steady older woman, sits across the aisle from me with a friendly smile.

Outside the window, Vic’s single-cycle tears back across the brutalized landscape to the beach.

Goodbye, Vic. Goodbye, hopelessness. Goodbye, Australia.

The shuttle engines ignite, my heart rate spikes, and I pass out.

The trip is pretty short, but every time I think of how exciting this is—to be leaving Humana, venturing into space, maybe finding a cure—my body unplugs my brain, and I collapse again in my seat.

Then I wake up, and the engines are quiet. We’re parked at the interstellar port. My minder stands in the aisle, firmly insisting to the flight staff that I don’t need a medical exam.

“It’s company policy,” the captain argues.

“She’s already under the care of a specialist. Oh, you’re awake.” My minder helps me up—she is a warm, solid woman and I am so grateful for her strength. “They’re quite concerned.”

“Don’t worry.” I rap my helmet. “It happens all the time.”

My voice is still shaky, and that doesn’t reassure them.

“It wasn’t your piloting, I promise.”

The captain finally smiles at my weak joke, and that breaks the tension. My minder successfully escorts me off the shuttle and across the spaceport. The ground here in Iowa is jagged, mountainous, and my boots clomp on the gritty, blackened glass.

Our cruise ship is a real alien vessel, all bulbous like a clam with a pearl stuck to the fat part. My minder leaves me in my cabin. It’s only a little smaller than the medical facility room, actually, with ordinary walls and a bed, dresser, night table, and mist shower.

There are twenty other sexually insatiable passengers. We’re the chosen women, the mysteriously incurable few who will receive personal examinations from the Vanadisans.

I learn more about my fellow passengers at the cafeteria that night. The cruiser is set to Arrisan standard time, with their ten-cleg day shifts and night shifts, so our first meal comes early. I have to ask the person behind me in line, a Dutch-Malay woman named Catarine, if she can carry my tray.

“I’m sorry.” I tap my helmet. “If I pass out while I’m carrying it, I’ll make a mess.”

“Oh?” She sounds vaguely irritated. The cat ears atop her fluffy brown hair twist like they have their own mind. “Okay.”

We punch our chosen food into the processing unit—I get a soy burger with beet slice and truffle fries, and she gets some tasty-smelling fried noodles that I’m going to have to ask about later—and we sit at a round table. Other women join us, and we do those awkward, nervous introductions. I just try to keep my heart rate in check.

Catarine stares at my tray. A small wrinkle forms between her brows.

“Thanks for carrying my tray,” I say for the third or fourth time; I’ve lost count. “It’s just stupid how useless I am right now. I really appreciate your help.”

“Okay… Ah.” Her brows clear. “Did you want fry sauce?”

“Fry sauce?”

“For your…” She frowns again and makes small fists out of frustration, then gestures helplessly at my truffle fries. “Food sticks. Food…”

“Fries,” one of the other women supplies.

Catarine’s fists unclench, and she nods. “For your fries.”

Wait, was that why she was staring? I clasp her hand. “Thank you so much for asking.”

“Okay.” She blinks slowly. “Yes? I could carry the…it.”

Aw. That’s just so nice of her, and it’s been a really long time since I’ve had friends. My eyes prick with tears, my heart swells up with feeling, and I…oops.

My eyes roll back into my head, and crash! That’s the sound of my helmet hitting the tray and sending food plates flying.

When I come to, the other women offer napkins and help me clean up, but Catarine doesn’t. She brings me a whole duplicate tray.

With fry sauce.

So right away, we become friends. She doesn’t mind sitting beside my comatose body, acting as a human traffic cone to keep me out of harm’s way, and I’m totally fine with waiting for however long it takes her to drag words out of her foggy mind. Plus there’s solidarity in being the worst off. We both have the most debilitating side effects.

“You’re like one of those…um…those fainting horn-animal…things,” Catarine says. The illness makes her stupid, which is tragic because she was supposed to have her PhD already.

“Yes, except that those goats don’t actually faint,” I say.

“Oh.” She looks and sounds disinterested, but her neurolinked cat ears show her real emotions, and right now, they lift with interest.

“Yeah, the goats get startled, so they try to run away, and their muscles get overstimulated, so they tense up and become temporarily paralyzed. Then they tip over. Light as a feather, stiff as a board.”


“It’s an ancient game. Have you ever played it?”

She shakes her head.

I explain the rules, and we convince some of our new friends to join in. It’s almost like a sleepover, like the kind I used to have in the beachside shacks after surfing. I think it’s cheating when you can just flip a switch to turn off gravity. It’s still pretty fun, though.

The captain is the only person on this cruiser who’s not ill. She’s from an old kingdom in Nigeria, and one day a couple of weeks into the voyage, she’s having her morning cup of stims—bitter and black, she says, just like her heart—and she starts telling me about how she got this ship when she really shouldn’t have.

“I had to sneak the salvaged parts to my hut, repair them during the night, and sneak them back by noon before the shipyard gangs woke up. Then I had to convince my uncle that this junker was still worth something, so I—” She cuts herself off with a frown. “You aren’t going to tell anyone I said that, are you?”

“Of course I won’t.”

“Good.” She scratches her short, kinky hair and mutters, “You’re easy to talk to. That’s dangerous.”

Ha-ha. If I can’t be useful, I guess being dangerous is an interesting second position.

Three weeks—or goras—into this voyage, my shipmates give each other nicknames. I am, ridiculous as this sounds, the ingénue. I look innocent, I have a fetish for older men, and I faint.

If this were a weekend trip to the beach, the captain would be the one to “borrow” the keys and disable the anti-theft tech—for a good reason, of course.

The kingmaker—Allie is an American with immaculate finger coils and regal ebony skin—would create a rocking playlist to make our hover van shake.

The hyper-efficient housewife, pale brunette Lia, would make sure we all packed sandwiches and wore sunscreen.

And the diplomat—Catarine, because only her cat ears know what she’s thinking—would be our super chill mascot.

Who am I forgetting?

There’s also the ace, Noemi. She’s like a movie star, so beautiful that if it were possible to stop desiring men, she’d be my girl crush. I’m not the only one.

Twenty of us have been chosen for this research trip. Twenty of us have insatiable cravings for men, complete revulsion to male blood relatives—which I didn’t know about since I’m estranged—and debilitating side-effects when we don’t get sex.

But it’s all going to work out.

We’re going to reach Vanadis, they’re going to figure out what’s wrong with us, and they’re going to make us cures. That’s why they asked us to come. Even though I faint and Catarine gets stupid and Allie entertains increasingly maniacal delusions that she can destroy the Arrisan rulers and remake the empire into a friendly place for us lessers, we all have the same basic illness.

We just have to endure a few more goras…

A few more…

Then something bad happens.

Emergency lights flash.

Sirens blare. Women scream. The captain shouts, “Get to the escape pods!”

The world strobes as I dive in and out of consciousness. Still frames paint the picture in my mind.

My boots bump over tile as I’m dragged backward across the cafeteria.

A harness holds me into the seat of the tiny escape pod.

And now silence. The pod is sealed. I float against the harness, weightless.


Thunk. Plink. Thud. Small pieces of debris hit the exterior. Am I getting rescued? Or am I in trouble?

A tiny light illuminates the atmosphere meter. There’s no chronometer. Just the level of atmosphere going down…and down…and down…

My stomach growls. My dry throat burns. I feel sick.

And I wake up…

What if the cruiser blew up? What if I’m out here all alone? What if I’m lost in space?

And I wake up…

What if I should do something to save myself and I can’t because every time I wake up, I panic and pass out?

What if everyone else got rescued?

What if no one else got rescued?

Is anyone coming for me?

Am I going to die all alone?

Something is different.

My escape pod is open. When did that happen? Outside, it’s dark. Not like space, but more a charcoal gray, like a shadow.

I’m breathing.

My atmosphere meter reads normal levels.

Oh, wow.

Thank goodness.

So, where am I?

I unbuckle my pod harness, slide out of the seat, and grab the door. My helmet whacks the frame. Crack. It echoes in the room outside the pod.

I’m weak, hungry, thirsty, and sick.

Have I been rescued? If so, why did my rescuer just leave me alone in this place?

My knees wobble.

Well, I mean, I’m grateful. Here with atmosphere is better than suffocating alone in a pod. I…

Do I hear something? Way in the distance?

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Uh-oh. That’s a medical alert. Portable medical kits make that noise when they can’t find someone’s heartbeat.

I’d better…

Mmm. What is that scent?

It’s delicious, like chocolate chip cookies, but also deeper, nuanced and layered. Musk, yet also a kind of soap.

Like this one man I noticed back in my surfing days. His sweat was addictive, and after a quick rinse under the beachside showers, he always smelled even more intense. I just wanted to drop my soy kebab and bury my nose in his armpits. I didn’t, because back then I was still normal, but I always knew where he was, and I will remember his smell until the day I die.

And here he is again, but it’s not him. The scents just have similar qualities. And I’m not normal anymore.

I smell a man.

The puppet string, a little rusty from all the months on the cruiser, pulls my spine back and pushes my chest forward. My lips are cracked from thirst, but somehow I wet them with my tongue. My head screws firmly into place, and I emerge from the escape pod on the hunt.

I am a predator. My focus is a laser. I apologize in advance to whoever I find, because if my advance is unwelcome, I am about to become your burden.

Where is my prey?

I trail my fingers across the gray walls. This is a dark cargo bay, but it is, I think, a ship. The walls are weirdly smooth, and there’s equipment in the corners.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

I move through the labyrinth, following the alert. Beneath my fingertips, the walls display outlines, hidden technology brought briefly to the surface with my touch. Maybe this outline is a door. Maybe another one’s here. Where are you, my delicious target? Ah, there’s a light.

It’s the bridge. This is a ship.

And there, next to a little shipboard kitchenette, is my prey.

The man slumps, his back against the wall and his feet splayed out in front of him.


I can’t get my needs filled by a dead man.

But he doesn’t smell dead.

His skin is so pale, it’s gray, and his cloak hangs open to the mid-torso, baring his horribly scarred chest. A syringe sticks out of his heart, but he forgot to dispense the medicine inside. That must be why the medical kit on his other side is beeping.

I kneel beside the man and move his lax hand to…


His fingernails are lined in black, and his gray ears have four funny little black spikes.

A jolt of fear cuts through my primal hunger.

One of the conquerors!

The Arrisans took over Humana in a day. The couple of foot soldiers they bothered to land strolled through our volleys of gunfire, deflected hails of missiles, and casually stabbed through tanks with blades that grew like monstrous bones from their wrists.

I saw video footage from the archives. I heard stories from my clients. They watched on something called TV as these gray-suited men slashed our armies for fun and destroyed cities for target practice.

And then, after they defeated us, they shook our planet like a carbonated soda, sitting back and ignoring our helplessness while every volcano erupted and the seas surged over mountains.

Why did he bring in my escape pod?

Why would he—an undisputed ruler of the empire—bother to save a lesser like me?

I shouldn’t be here. I can’t touch his hand. I don’t dare breathe his air. I should run back to the escape pod, pretend I never left, and wait for him to come and…and do whatever it is he’s going to do to me.

I should…

Mmm, that scent. It’s coming from him.

Oh, no.

The string down the column of my spine draws tight.

He’s a man.

His musk goes into my bloodstream. It flows like molten honey into my brain.

He has my cure here, my temporary cure.

But he’s not well. The syringe is already in place. I just have to dispense the liquid. Slow and steady…done.

Beep. Beep. Beep…beep…

Look at that. His heartbeat is growing stronger and more regular. I just have to wait.

He’ll open his eyes and see me. I saved him. He’ll be so grateful that he’ll want to talk. Touch. Or…maybe that’s too hopeful. Arrisans don’t have sex like normal races do. They used to go into mating heats, but then they bioengineered their lust away. They go to some arena to mate every…what, ten years?

Mm, that scent…

Maybe this is my lucky decade.

He’ll order me around, and my top skill is listening. I’ve had so much practice. People tell me all sorts of things. Didn’t the captain call me dangerous? I always thought if I can’t do anything useful, I can at least sit quietly and listen. It works except on the people I want to help most, like Vic, who never have anything to say.

But this Arrisan will, I just know it.

And after I’ve listened, he’ll become happy with me, and he’ll do things. Things that make us both happy. Things that take away my sickness, just for a few moments. Things that give me relief…

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