Using Fejo: Chapter 25


Vanessa lounged on a stack of fluffy pillows in the space-viewing room. When they were flying at lightspeed, there wasn’t much to see outside. Everything moved by in a blur. But they’d slowed in order to evade a particularly intelligent checkpoint, and a nearby galaxy was visible. It shone and spiraled outside the window, seeming far closer than it really was.

Fejo had brought her here and pointed it out to her yesterday, right before he’d locked the doors, bent her over a tall stack of pillows, and plowed into her. Her stomach did a flip at the memory, tugging on her clit. She sighed and took a small sip of mott to cool her disappointment that Fejo had to work all day today.

The last week had passed in a blur. Fejo had explained that since Earth was being heavily monitored, they’d need to slow down while passing checkpoints in order to properly cloak their ship. He was confident he could get past the technology scanning different parts of the known galaxy, but Vanessa felt he was acting more confident than he actually was.

It was still incredible to her that galaxies could be crossed in a matter of days, even while moving at a slower speed. Apparently, though, when they reached the Milky Way, they’d need to slow to what they considered a crawl.

Vanessa’s mind remained torn. She couldn’t help but treasure every moment spent with Fejo. Even the time spent away from him felt right. Though he’d warned her about the crew and their seedy pasts, most had treated her with nothing but respect.

When Fejo was working, Vanessa would spend her time bonding with off-duty crew members. Though Fejo kept himself at bay from his crew, assuming they only listened to him because he’d instilled fear, she found that most respected him more than he knew. Even cared for him as a captain.

Though he hadn’t boasted about it or even mentioned it to her, it hadn’t gone unnoticed that Fejo had saved Capra when they’d been down on the Vulstrata Port. While showing her a few different controls on the bridge, Manx had regaled her with the story he’d heard from Uja, describing the events with a flair she was sure Uja hadn’t had when he’d told the men what had happened. There was an unspoken understanding that though Fejo could be harsh, he protected each and every one of his crew the best he could.

And to her bafflement, they seemed to like her too, and she found she liked most of them. The predatory-looking Molu, in particular, had turned out to be hilarious and so, so sweet.

Vrok, the enormous black-and-red dragon man who basically looked like he was about to spit fire at whoever strolled by, had warmed to her as well, allowing her to recline against the wall and watch as he carved delicate, beautiful drawings into the metal of the ship with a sharp claw.

Uja had even thawed. She counted it as a personal victory when she’d critiqued Fejo’s opulent clothing, remarking on how difficult it must be to walk with that much jewelry on, and Uja had let out a quick chuckle before appearing angry with himself and rushing away.

Life seemed to be on track. She had a mate who doted on her. Friends both on the ship and back on Clecania. And she even had a solid plan in place. She and Molu had talked, and he was confident that even if Julie was in the late stages of her cancer, he could save her. Their current plan was to put her into an induced coma and place her in one of the emergency cryo-tubes that would halt the cancer in place until they could get a proper Clecanian medical tube and give her the elixir.

She’d spoken to Fejo about a plan as well and had reached an unfortunate solution. Vanessa was going to go down to Earth, and if Julie was still alive, she’d give her two tough options. One, Julie and Mia could come live on the ship with her and explore the universe as a healthy mother and daughter. Or they could travel on the ship for a short while, just until she could get Julie healed, then Vanessa would bring them both back to Earth and leave without them. There were no other choices. Vanessa wouldn’t allow Julie to die on Earth, and staying there with her was no longer an option now she and Fejo were mated. Fejo couldn’t live on Earth, and he also couldn’t live happily without her. Not if the mating bond had anything to say about it.

Though she wanted to let the happiness pushing in from all sides overtake her, a part of her was still knotted with dread. What would happen if she got to Earth only to find Julie dead and Mia someplace horrible? What if she was with her father?

If Julie was dead, she’d have to kidnap Mia and bring her into space. It wasn’t the best choice. Especially since Mia might grow to resent her as she got older. How would Vanessa ever explain to her niece that she’d abandoned her sister just when she’d needed her most? How would she look at Mia every day and not see Julie staring back at her? Was she even ready to be a parent, if that was what it came to? Was Fejo? He hadn’t asked for any of this, but they were mated now. She’d almost brought up her worries so many times this week, but that black, oozing dread had held her back.

What if he resented Mia because she wasn’t his kid? Vanessa had her birth control implant in now, but what if he pressured her into having a child with him before she was really ready? Before she’d properly learned how to be a good guardian to Mia? All of these thoughts rang false, but she couldn’t keep them from invading her mind.

Most of her time spent with Fejo were shining moments of utter happiness, yet her dark worries were like shadows lingering on the sidelines. They threatened to overtake her at any moment, and she only kept them away through sheer, stubborn denial.

Though she hadn’t spoken the words out loud, it was clear to her that she loved Fejo. He was everything she wasn’t. Confident and bright. Quick to laugh and tease and forgive. He made her better merely by being around her. And though she’d never imagined she could be a good influence, she found that she, perhaps, made him better as well.

She tried to show him every day how wonderful he was. How worthy he was. And in the moments when his chest bowed and his spine straightened, she felt he heard her.

She couldn’t imagine anybody like Fejo would ever love her back, but her barriers were breaking. The way he looked at her…it could only be described as love. He gazed at her as if his bones were going to break if he didn’t touch her. Like he’d crash his own ship if she said she didn’t like the color of the walls.

In the dark, when they laid together at night, they exchanged stories about their lives, both the happy parts and the heartbreaking ones. With dreamy grins, he described the ocean from his home city and how he rode the tides and scoured the seabed for treasures. And she told him about her life. The many foster homes she’d lived in, her mother…Julie. He’d chuckled and stroked her back when she’d told him about her secret diaries and how she’d hidden them in her dresser after Loretta had stolen one and read it to the rest of the house, revealing her crush on a boy at school named Jeremy.

She found herself thinking more and more about what she wanted her life to look like. What she could bring to the equation. Fejo was so capable. Intelligent and cunning in a way even he didn’t recognize. He’d come from absolutely nothing and had built himself up so much. She was constantly in awe of him.

Yesterday, she’d had a marvelous idea after speaking to Vrok. She’d come across him carving yet another piece of art along a vent and had spoken to him about her plan.

Figuring Vrok was likely off work by now, she rose and gathered the supplies she’d pilfered from Fejo’s large wooden desk. He’d explained he’d be busy all day, which was perfect. It’d give Vrok enough time to work his magic before she met up with Fejo for dinner and what she assumed would be a romantic evening.

They were only a week away from Earth now, and though her anxiety pummeled her with worries of all the different things that could go wrong, she didn’t want to hold herself back anymore. It was time to tell Fejo how she felt.

She’d agreed to meet Vrok in the cafeteria, assuming that Fejo wouldn’t think anything of it if his matehood Spidey senses picked up on her location. She was halfway there when a blaring beep boomed through the comm systems.

Vanessa’s body tensed and she dropped, squatting as if that would help. Dread slid down her spine, curdling in her stomach. Fejo was working on the bridge today, ensuring they flew under the radar past a particularly difficult checkpoint. Had they failed? Was this alarm telling the ship the authorities were on their way?

She took stock of where she was and mentally mapped the quickest way to the bridge, but the blaring suddenly stopped. An odd screeching, like a thousand records scratching at once, emanated from the sound system. Falling to her knees, she clamped her hands over her ears, her brain pulsing. She crouched against the wall and waited for the awful noise to stop, but it didn’t.

After a few minutes passed and nothing changed, she rose unsteadily, still covering her ears, and took tentative steps down the hall. The bridge was only a few minutes away. If she could make it there, she could figure out what was going on.

What would happen to Fejo if they were caught? What would happen to the rest of the crew? Bile rose in her throat. This was all her fault. She’d put them in this situation.

Somebody brushed past her, hitting her hard on the side, and she crumpled into the wall before righting herself and forcing her hands back over her ears. She peered toward the person and saw it was Manx, the young guy who’d been helping her learn about the different galaxies in the Intergalactic Alliance.

“Manx!” she called, but he didn’t stop. Her chest tightened. Something was wrong. He wasn’t running or even walking quickly, yet he didn’t acknowledge her. “Manx!” she shouted again as he grew farther away.

She jogged, trying to catch up with him, and called his name from right behind him, but he didn’t slow. She dashed in front of him. Was the noise somehow louder for him than it was for her? When she skidded to a halt in front of him, she stiffened. His gaze was aimed forward, but his gray eyes were glassy and unfocused. An odd, vacant smile curled his lips.

It was as if he was hypnotized by something. Lowering her hands, her head pounded with the screeching sound coming from the sound system, but she powered through. She continued walking backward, since he hadn’t stopped. She pushed on his chest and managed to make him take a step back. But he only pushed forward again. She shoved with all her strength. Manx wobbled, then continued forward. Her efforts were in vain. He pushed past her as if she were no more than a spider web.

Frantic gaze bouncing up and down the hall, she saw another man walking in the same direction as Manx. She recognized him as a quiet guy who worked near the engine room. She often came across him reading, and he was skittish, always raising his virtual text and blocking her out whenever she tried to say hi.

The same vacant look shone on his face.

Fejo, she thought, her mind scrambling. She followed the two men, realizing they were headed in the same direction.

What the fuck is going on? Her brain worked to figure out what could possibly be happening, and she settled on the screeching sound.

She recalled a conversation she’d had with Lily, a human woman who was mated to Verakko. Lily had said something about sway, a type of mind control a few species on Clecania, including Verakko, had and how it didn’t affect humans the same way it did everyone else.

Could this be similar? A sound that could only affect the Clecanians on board? If that were the case, she was fucked. But who would do it? Everyone on the ship was Clecanian. Was it coming from somewhere nearby?

She followed the two men to the bridge at the end of the hall. Through the open doors, she could just make out how crowded it was. Creeping forward, she crouched low and peeked inside. Her head throbbed in time with the screeching sound, and she clutched her stomach as a wave of nausea hit her.

All the males she’d come to know were gathered, standing vacant and still in the center of the room. She scanned the space, searching for Fejo, her heart pounding in her throat, and spotted Maladek and Capra fiddling with controls at the two main stations.

Rage rippled over her skin so hot she was surprised the crew nearest to her weren’t singed. Those pieces of fucking trash. And after Fejo… Her heart dropped into her stomach when she spotted Fejo standing among the crowd, the same vacant smile and distant expression on his face. She choked on a sob, trapping it in her throat.

Taking in the scene, she noticed Capra’s hand bobbing up and down as he counted the people in the room. Now that he was turned to the side, she could just make out a yellow substance in his ears. He’d plugged them. She glanced at Maladek and saw he’d done the same. Those bastards had planned this, but why? What were they doing?

Her head was pounding, the sound burying into the soft parts of her brain like a worm. It was becoming hard to think. She watched as man after man filed into the bridge and stood silently. She had to stop this. Had to break them out of this somehow. But how?

Taking one last glance at Fejo, her heart ached. “I’ll be back,” she whispered.

Slipping her shoes off and holding them in her hand, she silently padded away. Maybe she could disable the sound system. Fists and jaw clenching and unclenching, she deflated. She didn’t know where the sound system was controlled from. Probably the bridge.

Movement at the very end of the hall drew her attention. Uja walked, his wings tucked and his gaze unfocused. If anyone could help, he could, but she had to snap him out of it.

A few days ago, Fejo had given her access to all areas of the ship. He’d said he wanted to fuck her in every room by the time they got back to Clecania. At the time, it’d been a sexy joke between them. A game of hide-and-seek, testing out his new mating senses. Could he find her wherever she was, no matter where on the ship? Their steamy sessions in the pool, the space-viewing room, and even the highly secured communication room had proven he could. But now maybe she could use that knowledge to her advantage.

The communication room was only a few doors down, close enough to the bridge for Fejo to come and go as needed and—most importantly—soundproof. Sprinting down the hall, she skidded into the cafeteria and grabbed a tray, hoping she was quick enough to get back to Uja before he entered the bridge and Maladek and Capra saw him. She doubled up on her trays for good measure, then bolted back, keeping a watchful eye out.

Uja’s slow steps worked in her favor, but every step was still one farther away from the communications room. Marching up behind him, she raised her trays and whispered, “You’ll thank me for this later,” then brought them up across the side of his skull as hard as she could.

With a grunt, he crumpled to the ground. She set her trays flat on the ground and hooked her hands under his wings and armpits, her gaze flashing in the bridge’s direction every few seconds. It took all of her strength, but she managed to pull him onto one tray. Once he was on, she dragged his dead weight down the hall. The tray helped his large frame slide across the rubber floor, but he was still heavy.

His massive wings, muscle-laden six-foot frame, and limp body had her straining every muscle she had—and some she didn’t know she had. Sweat poured off her, clinging to her skin and making her clothing damp. Her lungs burned with the effort to keep going. Fear was the only thing pushing her along. The screeching sounds pounded into her brain like nails on a chalkboard. At any moment, Capra or Maladek might emerge from the bridge and she’d be found out.

When she finally reached the communications room door, she pressed her palm to the metal and prayed she still had access. It zoomed open, and she heaved Uja across the threshold. But he was too big. She had to rush outside into the hall to force his legs to bend awkwardly and fit into the small room. His right leg wouldn’t stay put, though, and kept falling into the hall, preventing the door from closing.

“I’m gonna go make sure no one’s gotten stuck anywhere,” she heard a raspy voice call down the hallway. Though she hadn’t heard him speak often, she was sure it was Maladek.

She dove into the room, grabbing Uja’s leg and hefting it until it pointed to the sky. A terrifying moment passed before the door slid shut. When it finally closed, metal gears whirring and locking the door in place, she collapsed, dropping Uja’s leg so it propped against the wall, and heaved in deep breaths.

The horrible sound didn’t penetrate through the walls. The deafening silence of the room had her ears buzzing. And she let out a thankful breath.

Her relief was short-lived, though, as she wondered whether the two Tetrans could get into this room. They’d somehow managed to take over the sound system, after all. If they could do that, who was to say they hadn’t gained access to this room too? Heartbeats passed as she waited, sprawled awkwardly over Uja’s leg. There was only faint ringing in her ears.

Fejo had ensured this room was completely cut off from the rest of the ship, only accessible to him and Uja and used while they were at port, which was when they could contact other planets. A groan from behind her told her Uja was waking, and she bolted to attention, spider-crawling back into the corner. A cold flush broke out over her skin, her pulse thrashing inside her body.

Uja hissed in a breath as his hand raised to grip his head, where she’d left a sizable lump. He blinked a few times. “What the fuck?” he croaked, rolling to his side, his wings twitching along with his pain. He blinked a few more times as if trying to clear his vision, and his gaze landed on her.

She let out a long, relieved breath when she saw his eyes were clear.

His brows furrowed, and he looked around the room, then peered back at her. “Explain,” he barked. His own shout made him wince, and he slammed his eyes shut before rising unsteadily to his feet.

She followed suit, raising her hands defensively in front of her. “Something’s going on,” she whispered out of instinct. The logical part of her brain told her no one could hear her through the door, but her fear kept her voice low while quickly explaining the situation.

Uja’s eyes widened as he took in what she was saying, his right hand still clutching the side of his head.

“I had to knock you out. I’m so sorry,” she added, wincing in apology. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Uja swayed on his feet and placed a palm on the wall to steady himself. “Were they smiling? Like they were in a trance?” he asked tentatively, as if he didn’t really want to know the answer.

“Yes,” she breathed in relief, hoping he knew what this was and how to fix it.

“Fuck.” He ran both his hands through his hair and grimaced when he got to the wound he’d forgotten about. He paced back and forth in the small space and continued to curse. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

“What?” she cried.

His gaze was wild, bouncing all around the room. She’d never seen him so unnerved, and her breaths started to come in quick gasps. She’d left Fejo behind. What if something happened to him? She had to get back.

“There’s only one species I know of who does this,” Uja explained, his voice low and tight with what she could only assume was fear. “The Sieliji. They’re dregs who send out false distress signals to ships passing by, and the noise can hypnotize. That’s how they draw ships down to their planet. They make them crash, then scavenge for survivors and parts. Their species was excommunicated from the Alliance centuries ago because they refused to stop luring ships to their planet and robbing them.”

Vanessa took a step forward. “Why the fuck would Capra and Maladek be working with them?”

“I have no idea.” Uja shook his head. “But whatever it is, it can’t be good.” His gaze flashed to the door, and he looked back at her. “You said they were gathering people on the bridge?”

Vanessa nodded, her heart aching in her chest.

“They’re going to notice if I don’t show up.” Uja scrubbed a hand over his jaw, still staring at the door. “They’ll definitely notice if you don’t show up.” He glanced at her.

Vanessa’s mind raced. “We need a plan.”

Uja stared at the wall as though looking through it. “Okay. If we’re careful, I think we can make it to the loading bay. The escape pods should still be working. There’s no way they could’ve hacked into those.”

“Escape pods?” Vanessa scowled.

“If I were them,” Uja continued to mutter to himself, “I’d check rooms first.” He waved a hand in the air, his brows raising. “But what if more people are missing? If it’s just us, we don’t have much time. But if others didn’t hear the sound—”

“I’m not getting on any escape pod.” She stepped in front of Uja, blocking his view.

He stilled in the middle of running a hand through his hair and shot her a confused look. “Of course you are.”

“No. I’m not,” she argued, crossing her arms over her chest and mirroring his stance. “Not without Fejo. And not without all those other men, for that matter. I’m not just going to abandon them, and I can’t believe you want to.”

Uja took a step back at her cutting tone, fury flaring in his narrowed gaze. “I’m doing this for Fejo. If he knew what was going on and that I hadn’t done everything I could to keep his mate safe, he’d flay me.” Uja’s gaze softened as he took in her hard expression. Taking a step toward her, he urged, “This is what he would want.”

“Well, I don’t care.” She shook her head, cold determination setting in and clearing away her fear. “I’m not just Fejo’s mate. I’m me. And I won’t run away and let the man I love be tortured or killed or whatever the hell they’re going to do to him. You can leave if you want, but if you’re staying, you might as well get onboard fast.”

A muscle in Uja’s jaw twitched like he was trying to decide whether to speak. He studied her. “Vanessa…think of your sister.”

A large breath exploded from her chest as though she’d been punched in the gut. Tears rushing to her eyes before her mind had even registered the low blow he’d delivered.

Indecision tore at her insides for only a moment. She lifted her glare to Uja. “This isn’t a choice. I’m not picking my family over Fejo and I’m not picking Fejo over my family.” Vanessa’s fingers curled into fists, and she did what she did best, buried her emotions so they wouldn’t overtake her. “I’ll save them both.”

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