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Freeing Luka: Chapter 1

Am I being carried? Alice thought dreamily. Her eyes were still closed, but the fog of sleep was lifting. As it did, panic started to settle in its place. She mentally scanned her body, not yet able to move but gaining more awareness with each minute. Someone very large was indeed carrying her. Her head pounded as she tried to recall…anything. Where she was, how she’d gotten there, and whose fingers were digging into her thighs and ribs.

The last thing she could remember was taking the garbage out at work. She’d been exhausted after a double shift at Molly’s, an old dive bar in her small college town.

Think! Think!

An image of something large and green rushing her in the alley behind the bar flashed in her mind, and she struggled to hang on to it. Her blood ran cold when she recalled the creature in more detail. It’d been a monster. Green, with scales instead of skin. More upright lizard than man. Alice remembered screaming, throwing the bag of garbage at the creature and running, then…it was all black.

It must’ve caught me.

Panic and fear took hold. She tried to open her eyes, but her lids only twitched in response. Her heart rate picked up speed and her breaths became quick and shallow. Luckily, whoever was holding her didn’t seem to notice, or if they did, they didn’t say anything.

Pleading with her thundering heart to quiet, she strained to listen for clues indicating where she was and whom she was with. The sound of two sets of heavy footsteps echoed around her, and her cheek rested on a hard chest. She needed to get away.

Can I even move?

The instinct to wiggle her fingers and toes to make sure she wasn’t paralyzed ate at her. She forced herself to remain still, knowing she couldn’t risk it. Instead, Alice gently clenched and relaxed every part of her body she could, hoping to appear more or less still. Blood flowed through her numb limbs, making them tingle. The more she worked the muscles, the easier it became.

She inhaled, taking in the cold, stagnant air. It reminded her of being on an airplane. She’d only flown a handful of times, but the stale scent of crisp, filtered air always stood out to her. Was there no fresh air in this place either?

When she finally lifted her lids a fraction, she squinted at whoever or whatever was carrying her. Through thick lashes, she could make out the blurry image of…a man?

What the hell is going on? Where am I?

Just then, he began to speak, his deep voice vibrating through his chest. “Where are we taking her?”

“I’m not sure,” she heard another gravelly voice answer. “The boss is in room six. I’ll ask.” The resounding thump of the new man’s steps accelerated, then slowed. He spoke again in a hushed tone, “Or we could take her to twelve first. He doesn’t know she’s here yet. Who knows what happened to her on that ship, what condition she’ll be in upon delivery? We could have a little fun with her first.”

Alice stiffened. As the steps of the man carrying her slowed, she let out a mental plea that he’d stop whatever the other guy had planned. She swallowed, her throat working to lubricate her dry windpipe in preparation to scream.

Chuckling, he replied, “True, the Cae can be a vicious species.”

Wrong answer!

Curling her fingers into her palm, she gathered every ounce of strength she had and shot her fist up, slamming into the man’s chin. His teeth clacked together, and his head snapped back a second before he dropped her with a grunt.

A sharp pain lanced through her hip when she tumbled to the floor, but she forced herself to ignore it and run, screaming at the top of her lungs. Her steps were clumsy, and her vision was blurry. Whatever drug she’d been given was still working its way out of her system. She blinked rapidly, stumbling forward.

Muttered curses from behind her told her the men hadn’t moved to follow her yet. “That pishot made me bite my tongue!”

“Yeah, you’ll need a healer for that,” murmured the second man in an amused tone.

When her sight cleared, she found she was in a hallway lined on either side with heavy metal doors. The pristine floor, ceiling, and walls were white and bare, save for the imposing metal doors on either side of her. The odd air. The clean white surfaces. The metal doors. Was this a prison, or a hospital? Adrenaline spiked and she increased her speed.

Hearing heavy footsteps behind her, she screamed louder, ignoring the searing pain shooting through her vocal cords. They’d implied “the boss” wouldn’t want them to do whatever they had planned. They’d also mentioned he was waiting in room six. If she could find room six, at least she’d be safe from the two men behind her.

While running, her frantic gaze landed on the doors, searching for a number. The symbols she saw were foreign. She couldn’t even place which language they might’ve belonged to, and yet the men had been speaking perfect English, so it was unlikely they were in a foreign country.

What the hell is going on here?

A few feet ahead, a stocky man stepped through a heavy door and scanned the hallway. When he spotted her, his eyebrows drew together in confusion, and then he shot a furious look behind her.

Two sets of hands suddenly gripped her upper arms, jerking her backward.

“What’s going on here? Why is she screaming and running through the halls?” he yelled, his booming voice echoing down the hallway.

Alice needed him to know what they planned. “They wanted to take me to room twelve before bringing me to their boss!” she screeched just before a firm hand wrapped around her mouth.

The “boss” stilled. “Is this true?”

They said nothing, but the hands on her arms tightened so painfully that she cried out into the calloused fingers covering her mouth.

Their leader stepped into the hallway more fully. The mustard yellow of his coat clashed with the light orange of his shoulder-length, pin-straight hair. Alice wasn’t sure if it was his utterly still posture or the anger displayed everywhere except his eyes that made a shiver run through her. There was something about him that made her want to lean into the painful hold of the men behind her.

“You will ease your hold on her and take her to room nine. Any damage I find when I inspect her later will be inflicted on you. Do you understand me?”

A loud roar reverberated from the room behind him, making the man flinch. Her stomach somersaulted as the sound of rattling chains rang through the open door.

“I need to get back to our visitor,” he said, glancing into the room then back to his two flunkies. “Do you understand my instructions?”

She heard a low “yes, sir” from each of the men, and then she was being pushed forward.

As they passed the open doorway, she tried to glance in to see what creature the furious sound had come from. The briefest glimpse of a naked, chained man had her struggling and screaming with renewed vigor. The imprisoned man’s eyes were completely black. He swung his head toward her, snarling and snapping his teeth.

They pulled her thrashing body past the room, then one of the men stepped into her line of sight, and her screams died in her throat.

Alice gazed wide-eyed at him, frozen in place. She blinked. Her eyes must be playing tricks on her. She couldn’t process what she was seeing. He was a man, but not entirely. Murky brown wings flared behind his back, and sharp fangs flashed at her as he snarled, “Keep your mouth shut. You’re hurting my ears.”

Was he an angel? Angels shouldn’t look terrifying, though, should they?

Mouth wide, she craned her head to look at the other guard, wondering if she was hallucinating. While most of his features were normal, he had white shining markings running around his face and neck. She hadn’t noticed them before through her half-closed lids. Shrinking away, she felt her knees buckle. He glared at her with bright yellow eyes.

A hoarse “what are you?” was all she could manage as they resumed dragging her to a door a short distance away.

In response to her question, the two men exchanged wicked grins and pushed her into the dark room. She stood where they placed her, dumbfounded. As they left, she heard an electric buzz, followed by the metallic scrapes of dozens of locks sliding into place.

After a few long moments, Alice’s mind snapped to attention and she realized she was standing stock still in a pitch-black room. The darkness pressed in around her. With a start, she swept her hands out in front of her, and crept in the direction of the door.

She hissed when her knee hit a sharp edge. The sound of glass breaking from her right made her freeze.

Not willing to put trust in the soles of her worn Converse, she kept her feet planted then bent at the hip and groped forward in the darkness. A flat, solid surface met her hand a few feet in front of her. Blindly, she slid her fingers over the rough stone of the wall and stilled. Had her pinky brushed a smooth glass surface? She prodded the small, sleek area experimentally. All of a sudden, a harsh light illuminated the room.

Alice squinted, dazed by the sudden brightness, and tried to be patient as she waited for her eyes to adjust. After they did, she looked around the room.

Her shoulders relaxed in a moment of fleeting relief when she saw there were no chains. At least she wouldn’t be shackled like the man a few rooms away.

Fragments of a broken glass of water lay around her feet in a puddle, and she carefully stepped around them. The sharp edge that’d hurt her knee belonged to a low table topped with a tray of food near the door. Alice’s stomach rumbled as she looked at it.

Clutching her middle, she tried desperately to remember the last time she ate. The oddest sense that time had passed was present in her mind, but she couldn’t account for any of the lost time. How long had it been since she’d been taken, and what had happened during that time? Her body was exhausted and sore from the short sprint, and her throat burned from her screaming. More than it should’ve.

She twisted and turned, inspecting her body, but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. No bruises other than the new dark ones forming on her arms. No atrophied muscles. Her legs, which she’d just shaved before work, were still smooth, and the small cut she always seemed to get when shaving around her knees was still fresh. Maybe she was just imagining the lost time, but her instincts said otherwise. Resolving to go down that rabbit hole later, she surveyed the space again.

The room itself, with its gray walls and long, thin lights embedded in the ceiling, wasn’t completely unpleasant, but the locked heavy metal door and the lack of windows made it clear this was nothing but a sparsely furnished cell.

A sagging twin bed was crammed into one corner of the room, another small table was pushed alongside it, and what she could only assume was an odd-looking lamp stood on top. Across from her was a doorway, through which she could see a small bathroom. A large, simple rug covered most of the floor in front of her, and a chair sat by the door.

Alice sank onto the bed’s rough navy fabric, head in her hands.

What do I know? She tried to focus, her mind racing. I know that one guy had fucking wings, and the other had yellow eyes. I know there are symbols I’ve never seen before on the doors. I know they all spoke English, and they didn’t have an accent. I think I know that a green, scaly monster took me from work.

Alice shook her head, incredulous. A few minutes ago, she’d thought she’d made up the green monster, that she’d hit her head and had a concussion or was hallucinating. Only now was she starting to accept it might’ve been real.

Alice remembered clearly that one of the men had said, “Who knows what could have happened to her on that ship?”

Sitting up a little straighter, she mused out loud. “The other one said the green guy was from a species called Cae. Species of what? Angels? Mutants? Am I in an X-Men bunker or something?”

But…a ship. What kind of ship? Her breaths quickened.

Her cell door opened, jarring her from the inevitable conclusion she was reaching.

She jumped back, grabbing the lamp from the side table. Alice glared at the man she now knew was the boss, and held the brown metal of the cordless lamp in front of her.

He stood in the doorway, hands resting in his pockets, and over his shoulder said, “Gishen, Sal, get in here.”

The two men who’d dragged her through the hall a few moments ago shuffled through the door behind their leader.

“You can call me Helas,” he said, eyeing the lamp in her hands. “Did they hurt you after I told them not to?”

Alice glanced to the two men glaring at her. If looks could kill. “No, they didn’t.” It was better not to make them hate her any more than they already did, she concluded warily.

Helas stared at her for a moment longer, then addressed the men. “You’ll not touch her again. She’s just become a very important part of our research.”

Gishen and Sal looked at him quizzically.

“Research?” Alice interrupted, dread running through her. What kind of ship was it?

Ignoring her, Helas spoke to the men. “Luka recognized her.”

With slackened jaws, both men’s gazes ping-ponged between her and Helas.

“Someone here knows me?” Alice asked hopefully.

Once again, he continued to speak to the men while ignoring her completely. She gritted her teeth in annoyance. “Find a secure communicator and tell the other outposts what has occurred. Anyone who touches her will have to answer to me. This could be the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for.”

Both men nodded and began to leave. The winged man didn’t spare her a glance, but the other man’s unreadable yellow eyes stayed trained on her for a few fleeting moments before he finally left too. When they were gone, Helas closed the door and moved to sit in the chair near the small table with food. He motioned to the lamp Alice was clutching in a death grip. “You can put that down. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Alice snorted. “I think I’ll hang on to it anyway. Maybe just until my arm bruises fade and I can leave this room without permission.”

He raised his manicured brows, and the corner of his thin mouth lifted in a smile. “As you wish.”

Now that she could see him more clearly, she realized he too had white tattoos, although his were much fainter than the other man’s had been. Her forehead creased. There was still something off about him that she couldn’t place. Were his eyes just slightly too large? The teeth he exposed when he smiled were small, but she could swear he had more of them than normal.

Again, she asked, “What are you?”

Surprisingly, he answered. “I am Clecanian. Lignas is my race. You’re human, correct?”

“Yes. Are you human?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“I am Clecanian,” he repeated.

She licked her chapped lips, weighing whether she really wanted to ask her next question. His eyes shone as he waited for her to speak. Is this asshole enjoying this? “What’s a Clecanian?”

“A Clecanian is a species made up of many races. We live on the planet Clecania. That’s where we are right now.”

Alice’s palms were slick against the lamp, and a buzzing sounded in her ears. “I was on a spaceship,” she mumbled absently.

“Yes, indeed. Brought here from Earth by a species known as the Cae,” Helas said, coolly.

Anger at his uncaring tone caused Alice’s mind to focus. “Why was I brought here? What research are you doing? Who is Luka, and how did he recognize me?” The name hadn’t sounded familiar. She didn’t even know a Luke. There was a guy named Luther who lived in her apartment complex. Had he been taken too?

“I don’t have time for this,” he said, but his relaxed posture made her question that. “I’ll only explain what you need to know, and if you do what I tell you, I might be inclined to answer more of your questions later. Agreed?”

Alice glared at him. She was by no means stupid, but she knew she was sometimes naïve when it came to people. For the most part, she wanted to believe people were good. A year of serving drinks in a dive bar had taught her differently.

With the help of her coworker, Jen, she’d finally started to learn how to tell which men were harmless and which ones were dangerous. The drunk, handsy ones weren’t great, but the ones you really had to watch out for were the quiet, polite ones—the ones whose charming smiles never met their eyes.

This affable-looking man might’ve stopped the other two before, and he’d been cordial enough with her so far, but she could tell by the coldness seeping from his eyes that he was a bad man. Probably the worst of them all. When cornered, angering men like this was never a good idea.

Play by his rules for now.

He must’ve seen the decision on her face, because he smiled and began speaking. “Our people, and the many races therein, are headed toward extinction. Males outnumber females twenty to one. Many attempts to have children are unsuccessful, and when they are successful, most of the children born are male. Our attempts to grow life using artificial wombs have failed. We’ve been searching endlessly for a race descended from our own that has compatible females.”

Her head pounded. There was so much to take in. “You brought me here to become pregnant and have alien babies because you think humans are descendants of Cle…Clecin—?” Alice said, trying to keep the fear from her voice.

“Clecanians, yes.” Helas corrected. “We have yet to be successful, but after today…I’m hopeful.” He seemed pleased when Alice remained silent. “Long ago, Clecanians mated for life. There was only one person for another. If a Clecanian’s eyes changed color, they knew the person they were with could be their true mate. If markings, called mating marks, appeared around both wrists, then they knew for a fact they’d found their true mate. Historically, true mates had the best chances of any couple to conceive.”

Alice glanced down to his wrists instinctively.

“Don’t worry, I’m not your mate.” He chuckled. “There hasn’t been a mating in over a hundred years. However, when you walked by the room I was in earlier, Luka, the male inside, had quite a reaction to you.” Helas leaned forward, his grin widening. “He recognized you. His eyes changed.”

Alice’s recalled the eerie onyx of the snarling man’s eyes and felt bile rise in her throat. “You brought me here because you think I’m his mate?” she said, glancing to the wall. How was she supposed to handle this news? Not only was he telling her that she was to be bred like an animal, but that the chained, roaring alien a few rooms away was supposed to do the breeding.

“I brought you here to be artificially inseminated and studied just like any other test subject. The fact that Luka recognized you is purely coincidental and highly interesting. I think you two have a better shot at creating life than any other beings in our facilities. And I think if you do turn out to be his mate, we’ll have proven that human females should be considered a subspecies of Clecanians and taken seriously as a viable alternative to the females already living here.”

Helas rose from his seat suddenly, causing Alice to stiffen.

“This is what we’re going to do,” he began matter-of-factly. “Every day, you will be taken to his room, where he will be chained. I’d like for you to sit with him so we can see whether extended proximity makes his mating marks appear.”

“Why will he be chained?” Alice asked quietly, not wanting to upset her captor but needing to understand what kind of danger she’d soon be facing. “Is he violent?”

“He’s been drugged since he got here. We were testing some new medications on him to make it easier to…” a cruel smile spread over his face as he searched for the right word, “obtain samples.”

“Samples?” Alice started, appalled. “You can’t mean—”

Helas smirked then began studying her room, as though the conversation was banal. “I can, and I do, mean samples of his seed. Luka is only half Clecanian. His mother was from another planet, Traxia.”

The briefest flash of disgust passed over his face at the mention of Luka’s mother.

“Members of our organization believe that tainting our ancient bloodlines with that of different species is…wrong. Although I agree, there is no denying that mixed-species Clecanians are walking among us, and with the amount of pure Clecanian births continuing to dwindle, our people are becoming desperate.” He focused on Alice, his words spilling out of him now. “Only a few weeks ago I had a revolutionary idea. I decided perhaps there was a way to alter part of the biological information transferred through procreation. What if we could extract only the Clecanian pieces of DNA and combine them to produce a pure Clecanian sample from a mixed-breed individual?”

Alice felt her skin crawl. How could an alien species that’d made such advances in technology still have such antiquated views?

“Then all we’d have to do to create undiluted offspring would be to alter the mixed-species’ diluted genetic material.” Helas’ chest puffed with pride, but then the corner of his mouth twitched. “I explained this to Luka, tried to convince him to stand with us and aid me in my endeavor, but he declined. He was unwilling, as so many who are brought here are, so I have been forced to do what is necessary to test my theory.”

“So that makes it okay for you to rape him?” Alice whispered.

His smile stayed in place, but his right eye twitched, betraying his calm demeanor. “We do not touch him in that way. Weekly, we dose him with a drug that makes him feel overwhelming lust and clears his mind. He’s chained, and then every few days he’s allowed to relieve himself. We merely collect the sample.”

Her shoulders straightened. “He hasn’t consented. You know what you’re doing is wrong. Don’t pretend like it isn’t.” Alice felt a surge of satisfaction as she witnessed the twitch return to his eye at her words. She’d always been braver whilst defending others than when standing up for herself. For some reason, it came easily to her. See a patron talk down to a coworker, rage like an avenging angel. Get talked down to by a patron, shrivel into a self-conscious mess.

“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” he said after a moment. “In any case, his chains will act to keep you safe, as well. If he recognizes you as his mate while on these drugs, he’ll try to get to you, and he won’t have the presence of mind to be gentle.”

Alice clutched the lamp tighter. An unfamiliar urge to inflict pain assailed her. This man was the kind who’d throw a person to the wolves and then ask for a “thank you.”

He stood and crossed to her, his large frame crowding her. His stance was meant to intimidate and frighten; Alice hated that it worked. Cold sweat broke out over her skin, and she began to shake. The scent of rubbing alcohol and something else she couldn’t quite place wafted over her, stinging her nostrils. “I won’t allow him to touch you, and in return for my kindness, you will go in there every day and attempt to make his mating marks appear.”

“How?” she asked in a squeaky voice as hundreds of terrifying possibilities flashed through her mind.

Helas’ shrug was noncommittal. “If proximity doesn’t work, you will touch him. If that doesn’t work, we will have to think of something else.” He allowed his smile to fade away, and at last, the coldness in his eyes matched the rest of his expression. “I am not asking.”

She stayed silent and felt the pressure of tears forming behind her eyes. All she wanted to do was curl into a ball in the corner, but she forced herself to stand tall and not let him see her cower.

In an instant, his mask of aloof kindness was back in place. He stood and walked briskly to the door. Motioning to the small table, he said, “I’ll have more food and water brought to you tomorrow. Sleep well.”

After he left, Alice sank to the ground, her legs unable to support her weight. Pulling her knees to her chest, hot tears rolled down her cheeks, and the deep sobs exploding from her tore at her throat like sandpaper.

Her whole life had changed so drastically in less than an hour. She wasn’t on Earth anymore, and if Helas had his way, the rest of her days would be spent in this room, either pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

There was no one to help her. No one to hold her while she cried. For all she knew, there were no humans on this planet at all. Alice would need to save herself somehow.

Tomorrow she’d be strong. Tomorrow she’d do what she had to do to survive. But just for tonight, she’d allow her pain and sadness to flow through her unrestrained.

Alice cried for what felt like hours until only dry, ragged sobs escaped her. She didn’t try to rise from the cold concrete floor when her eyes slid closed. When she eventually drifted to sleep, she dreamed about the chained man.


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