Using Fejo: Chapter 7

His wife had grown pale. The edge to her personality—that spark always lighting just under the surface and firing her temper—had been muted in the wake of her anxiety.

Fejo was sympathetic. Though he’d been raised on a planet where space travel was normal, he’d still become sick while on his first space transport car. The fact she—a being from a planet with only the barest knowledge of space travel—was holding it together was a testament to her strength.

He wished he could do more to relieve her distress, but she was oddly unwilling to let him comfort her. It was frustrating beyond belief. He just wanted to show her what a good husband he could be. Were all humans this disinterested in receiving pleasure?

He certainly hoped not because his body wouldn’t let him forget how much he wanted Vanessa. He practically salivated every time he thought about kissing her.

The doors slid open, and his heart clenched as she sucked in a frightened inhale. Without thinking, his hand lifted to touch her. He forced himself to lower it again. She appeared to want to deal with things on her own.

It was a quality he found he didn’t appreciate. He couldn’t pleasure her. He couldn’t comfort her. He couldn’t seem to find a compliment she enjoyed. What the hell was he good for? She’d even tried to give back his gift, for Goddess’ sake!

Vanessa was the most tantalizing mystery, and he needed to solve her soon.

Eyes round and jaw clenched, her eyes darted around the small view of the port they currently had. He couldn’t seem to look anywhere but at her. Her attention shot to him and she gave a jerky nod. “I’m ready.”

He held back the compliment about her beauty being rivaled by her bravery and guided her forward.

Vanessa’s gaze bounced around the moderately busy entry of the port, and he scanned the area as well, trying to see it through her eyes.

Daylight simulators were in effect at the moment. Which meant the ceiling looked no different from the Clecanian sky on a sunny day. There were other portions of the port with a clear view into space, but he figured she wouldn’t be pleased to see that quite yet. Not with how ardently she’d refused to look through the window of the transport car.

Essentially, this area of the Clecanian port was just a long, plain hallway. Travelers bustled to and fro, entering and exiting the multitude of doors lining either side of the hall.

A large Trilum female, wearing a bioshifting suit, slithered out of the arid Buterious section of the port. Vanessa’s steps slowed, and she openly stared at the female passing by. Luckily, the Trilum female seemed not to notice.

Was he to correct his wife? It seemed wrong to lecture her on proper port etiquette when he himself was a poor model for behavior, but she needed to learn how to show respect to the species that may be more inclined to rip her pretty head from her body than forgive a slight.

With a gentle finger on her chin, he turned her head to face him. She grimaced at his action and pulled her chin away. “What?”

“When in doubt, avert your gaze. Many species, including that Trilum, see staring as an act of aggression or…flirtation.”

“Oh.” Her gaze shot to the floor and that pretty pink leaked into her cheeks. “I’ve never seen anything…uh, anyone like that. I mean, down on Clecania, most of you look so…well, you know, human.”

They walked at a slow pace down the hall. Vanessa covertly glanced at all the beings entering and leaving their respective terraformed sections. “I think, rather, you look very Clecanian,” he commented.

She peered at him sidelong. “I suppose that’s true. Especially when it comes to you. I’d have a hard time telling you weren’t human if you were down on Earth. Are you part Lignas?”

Lignas, the race who called Tremanta their home, were close enough to him in appearance that he could understand her confusion. He was a citizen of Tremanta, after all. But the issue of his race brought up a buried ache he didn’t want to confront just yet. Still, the fact that she was asking him about himself, that she cared to, made him feel so odd. Almost uncomfortable.

Luckily, a school of chittering, yellow four-legged Ftur skittered by, distracting Vanessa. She eyed their small bioshifting suits. “Why are we the only ones not wearing suits like that?”

“This is the Clecanian port. It’s typical for the artificial atmosphere of each port to mimic the planet it belongs to. We’ll have to wear suits at the other ports we visit until we enter our designated terraform section. If they have one, that is.” She shot him a confused glance, so he explained, “Each of these doors along the walls leads to a different artificial environment. Visitors will wear their suits to explore the port and do their business, but they often return to their sections to relax without suits. The sections also usually have vendors that sell food and drink native to the visiting species. Not everyone can eat Clecanian food, and vice versa. We’ll be visiting some interesting ports on our trip. I think you’ll like the Renchuth Port especially. It’s one of the few that has an atmosphere similar to our own, so we don’t have to wear suits in the main areas. But Clecanians get a small high from the chemical composition of the air there.”

Fejo spotted their dock up ahead. One of his crew, Orenag, walked ahead of them, clearly headed in the same direction. Seeing the large male brought back the unease Fejo had been feeling all day. When he’d told his crew his good news days ago, he’d gauged each of their reactions. Orenag was one of the males who’d been a bit too enthused by the idea of Vanessa onboard.

“That’s a lot to take in,” Vanessa said, scratching her temple. She slid an odd look toward him again and her lips pursed. “So, what kind of business are you planning to do on the Renchuth Port?”

Fejo grinned, though inside his unease built. The question was innocent enough, but it was laced with an unspoken accusation. Someone had told her he was more than just a merchant. But who? And when? Before she’d agreed to marry him? Or after?

Had the rumors about his work been a source of intrigue for her? Or was she upset that she’d married a male who potentially broke the law? It would make him feel better to know which way she was leaning. For one thing, he’d play up his criminal act a bit more if she was attracted to that.

He decided to answer honestly, without disclosing the information she actually wanted to know. “I’m picking up some cargo from a Renth dealer.”

Her gaze scanned his face, and she appeared unsatisfied. Fortunately, they’d just rounded the last corner and his glorious ship came into view. He gestured to it proudly and watched her expression widen into comical awe as she beheld his home.

Satisfaction curled in his belly.

***

Was that his ship? Vanessa couldn’t seem to process what she was seeing.

Sure, she’d seen spaceships on TV before, but this was different. Although it still had some elements she tied to sci-fi spaceships, it wasn’t as angular and cold as she’d been expecting. In actuality, it looked like the head of a beast. As if an enormous sea monster had just surfaced and she was only seeing a glimpse, the rest hidden under water.

It was large and had curved edges rather than sharp corners. Two large globes stuck out near the front. They were spotted with what looked like hundreds of round windows. The iridescent, shimmering black metal of the ship almost glowed electric blue in places as the light hit it. The ship’s curved top was shallow and dotted with pointed protrusions that blinked and pulsed with murky turquoise light.

On the bottom of the ship there was a wide loading door open, and men were walking up and down a ramp, directing large floating pallets of items inside the ship. But it looked more like the ship itself was swallowing them whole.

A shiver ran down Vanessa’s spine. It wasn’t from fear this time, though. She was impressed. She caught Fejo’s intense stare and realized he was gauging her reaction. Hot guy with a pleasure kink—check. A bit of a bad boy streak—check. Had his own fucking amazing space pirate ship—check, check, check. Damn, he was getting more extraordinary by the minute.

“Very cool,” Vanessa croaked, hoping she could mask how ridiculously impressed she actually was.

“I assume cool means breathtaking, deadly, awe-inspiring work of functional art?” Fejo’s lips twitched.

Vanessa pursed her lips. “I know how your translator works. You know that’s not what cool means.”

His mouth curled in response to her exasperated tone. “Let’s go in, and I’ll give you a tour. Show you some more cool things.”

Ugh. He knew she was impressed. Why did that make her so annoyed? Because his already-inflated ego needed no more boosting perhaps?

She followed him toward the ship, and a familiar sourness invaded her thoughts. She was probably so irritated by how remarkable Fejo was because it reminded her how unremarkable she was.

And to top it all off, she couldn’t even claim to be a good person. She was using this world’s desperation to her own ends. Taking the one thing every straight guy on the planet wanted—a wife—and making him believe it was real.

Her shoulders curled over in disgrace as she approached a quiet ramp on the far side of the ship that no one was using. She’d let herself feel like shit for a few more seconds, just until she was on the ship, then she’d shut out these emotions again. It wouldn’t help anyone for her to feel sorry for herself, and she had to keep focused on why she was doing this in the first place.

She might not be a good person, but what she was doing was right.

Before stepping over the threshold of the place that would either be her salvation or doom, she steeled herself. So far, she hadn’t remained the pleasant-yet-distant wife she’d planned to be. Unsurprising. She’d always been a terrible actress. Straightening her spine, she followed Fejo, vowing to keep a damn word filter in place if it killed her.

The hallway at the top of the ramp they were ascending was eerie and made of the same radiant black metal as the outside of the ship. The light illuminating the interior was bright but seemed to become swallowed by the metal, as though the walls themselves were alive.

Vanessa marveled as the hallway expanded and broke off into four separate corridors. The strange yet beautiful aura of the ship had her sentimental heart pining for her goth years. She paused at a portion of the wall that didn’t quite fit and realized it had been scratched. But not randomly. The scratches created a beautiful picture of a tumultuous sea at the base of misty mountains. The image only seemed to be visible when the light hit it just right, and it had her wondering if there were pieces of art like this hidden in plain sight all around the ship.

“Would you like a tour first? Or should I take you to our room?”

Her head snapped around. “Our room?” Shit, that hadn’t been part of the plan. She’d been told repeatedly that married couples stayed in separate rooms. “I thought we were supposed to have our own rooms.”

Fejo grinned. “Lucky for me, we are at full capacity on this trip. A few new crew members just joined our ranks and took the last spare room.”

Damn. She’d been counting on having her own place to hide in for a few days. Now it seemed she’d have to maintain her act at all times.

“Captain,” a large male with brilliant white wings and charcoal-gray skin called from down the hall. As he approached, his silver eyes scanned her. There was curiosity there, but nothing too intense. Not the way some people stared at her in the city.

“Ah, Uja!” Fejo greeted warmly. “Meet Vanessa. I’ll be introducing her to the rest of the crew after we enter cruise speed.”

“I’m honored to meet you, Vanessa. You’ve chosen a fine male in Fejo.” Uja flared his wings behind him and gave a quick bow.

Vanessa tried for a polite smile. She’d only met one other winged Clecanian—one of the men who’d kept her locked up—and she wanted to be sure she didn’t let that encounter color her opinion of Uja. “It’s nice to meet you too.”

“I’m showing her the common areas before we depart,” Fejo explained.

“I’m afraid you may need to wait,” Uja said with a meaningful glance at him. “You have a call coming in.”

Vanessa saw the skin around Fejo’s eyes tightened ever so slightly. “Can it wait?”

Uja shot a glance at Vanessa. “They’ve called three times already.”

The stiffness in Fejo’s stance increased. “Alright, I’ll be there in a minute.”

With a nod, Uja walked away, his large wings crowding the wide hallway.

Fejo guided her forward and with a tight smile said, “I’ll take you to our room. The tour will have to wait until later. Clients can be quite demanding.”

Was it a client? There was obviously more to it than that, unless they were a particularly picky customer. Vanessa hadn’t yet seen much that could dim Fejo’s charismatic personality.

He led her quickly through the ship, and she tried as hard as she could to note all the different rooms flashing by, but most of the doors were closed. It didn’t help that the hallways were identical. Same shining black metal. Same dim, relaxing light. Same hard-yet-rubbery flooring. The only thing that seemed to be different were the glimpses of scratched artwork carved into the walls.

“Where did these come from?” Vanessa asked as she admired a floor-to-ceiling image of a beautiful horned woman, naked and gazing over her shoulder.

“Vrok likes to carve them. At first, I was against it, but it helps new crew members navigate the ship and, more importantly, it helps his temper.”

“Art therapy is supposed to be great.”

Fejo shot her a curious look. “Do you enjoy creating art of some kind?”

“Ha! No. I’m about as artistic as a boulder.”

Fejo gestured to a door up ahead, one that was oddly blue compared to the black metal surrounding it. “Well, I’m dying to learn what other hidden talents you possess.”

“Instead of learning what my talents are, why don’t you concentrate on driving the ship and getting us out of here alive,” Vanessa quipped, but she found the sarcasm in her tone was more teasing than annoyed. Was he already growing on her?

The corner of his mouth raised, and he gazed at her as if she’d said something adorable. “There’s not much flying that we do. The ship pretty much guides itself. Of course, if there’s an emergency, there’s a team to take over manually, but it’s very rare. Do humans manually guide their own transportation?”

Vanessa hadn’t given it much thought, but all the Clecanian transportation was automatic. The cruisers down on the planet drove themselves, and even the platforms that guided them across the Pearl Lake seemed to have a mind of their own. She didn’t know why, but she’d assumed something as advanced and dangerous as a spaceship needed a manual pilot.

The notion of how primitive she must seem to him in this moment struck her. That realization straightened her spine, and she flatly replied, “No. Not all transportation.”

He made a small noise and shrugged, not questioning her answer, then he pressed his palm to the door and with a zip, it slid open. She stared at the interior for quite a while before stepping through.

Vanessa didn’t know what she’d been expecting, but everything about the space screamed Fejo. The room must’ve been located in one of the large globe eyes she’d seen from the outside because hundreds of small, round windows dotted the ceiling and wall. It was almost like looking through the eye of an insect.

The teal light that emanated from the protrusions on the top of the exterior of the ship glowed through the windows and illuminated the cluttered space from above, making it look like his own personal grotto full of treasures. There were rich fabrics and carved trinkets crammed into almost every corner of the room. Vibrant clothing and glittering jewelry were placed with care along the black walls, and a plush magenta couch sat underneath a loft housing one massive bed. The black rubber of the floor was almost out of sight, covered by layers of intricately woven rugs.

She took a few steps inside, and the smell of Fejo invaded her senses. The scent was light and crisp, but it was unmistakable. How much time did he spend in here? It looked like he had an entire home’s worth of keepsakes stashed away.

She turned to peer at Fejo, whose smile had grown nervous. His gaze shot around the interior of his room, and he looked back at her, a question clear in his eyes. She couldn’t help the warmth that seeped into her chest, so she gave a soft smile and said, “Very cool.”

His posture straightened instantly, and his grin grew brilliant.

Cursing inwardly, she schooled her features. Distant and pleasant!

“Organize it however you’d like. If you want anything moved, I can do that. Or if you’d like to have some of my things, just say so. Your bed is up there. Although I’d love to share it, unless you tell me otherwise, I’ll sleep below.” He pointed to the large magenta couch that could easily fit two of her side by side but would only fit one of Fejo.

A part of her felt bad for making him sleep on the couch in his own room, but the other part reminded herself that if he were in her bed, she’d forget about her no-sex rule before twenty-four hours had passed.

“I have to go now. Will you be alright on your own?”

“I think so. Am I locked in this room?”

Fejo took a step back toward the door and shook his head. “No, you can leave easily, but if you do, you won’t be able to reenter until we load your print. I’m the only one with access, however. If anyone comes knocking, just ignore them.” He was in the entrance to the room now, and before he left he ran his gaze down her body, heat returning to his dark eyes. Vanessa felt her insides warm and her nipples harden. How was he able to do that with just one look?

When the door finally slid closed behind him, Vanessa let out a relieved breath and took a few moments to scan the room one more time. She explored, looking in all the drawers and any compartments she could figure out how to work. Every crevice was crowded with things. None of it felt personal—it was all just stuff accumulated over time.

It was clear she wasn’t going to learn much about him from being in this room. What had she expected to find anyway? A big whiteboard that said something like, I steal and kill for a living, so you shouldn’t feel bad ditching me?

But of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. She spotted a small glass figurine of an animal. A cross between a seahorse and a fish. A smile tugged at her lips and she ran a finger over the smooth glass of its neck. Why had he bought this? Were there animals like this from his home?

Her hand flew off the figurine as though she’d been burned.

Stop it! she chided. No getting soft and curious about Fejo. Vanessa forced herself to remember the knives strapped to his chest, which cooled the fluttering in her belly. Maybe if she learned more about him and the terrible things he did, she’d get over this mini crush.

Three days. That was what the itinerary had said. Three days until Lentri Port. She could keep herself from liking him for that long, right? She rarely liked anyone, after all. It should be easy.

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