“What kind of monster drags innocent people into the middle of a war?” she snarled. She leaned forward in the guest chair in front of the enormous wooden desk and slammed her hands on her hips. “What the hell is wrong with you to put us at risk like this?”
“You were already at risk and the answer is still no.” He raised a dark eyebrow at her in challenge.
“I do not accept that decision,” Danielle hurled right back as she glared. She was not one to back down when she felt she was right. Especially when she was right and angry.
“We are not negotiating,” he said calmly as he folded his hands together on top of the desk as if he was used to having conversations like this one.
“Who gave you the right to make choices for me or my daughter?” she demanded.
“You see these?” he asked, his green eyes snapping fire as he glared at her and pointed to the small overlapping gold squares on the collar of his uniform.
“Yes,” she said, rolling her eyes. “They are hard to miss when you are wearing head to toe black.”
“These four squares say I decide what we will do,” he said firmly and then sat back in his chair as if that settled everything.
“That metal jewelry means nothing to me,” she snarled.
“Gold insignia,” Spartak snarled right back.
“Insignia, jewelry, what difference does it make?” Danielle said.
“For you? Everything. It means that I command, and you follow those commands,” he said firmly, giving no quarter.
“Like hell I do!” she shouted, standing up and slamming her hands down on his desk. She grimaced at the sting caused by the impact, but she covered it quickly. She refused to show any weakness.
He looked at her angry face as she stood there, breathing hard and nearly shaking with anger, a slight smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. His eyes roamed appreciatively over her face and upper torso for several long seconds.
She growled at him once she realized what he was doing.
His green eyes danced merrily as he chuckled.
She gasped, outraged that he would laugh at her. “Most people have enough common sense not to piss off a redhead.”
He looked at her long, wavy red hair and shrugged. “You make it sound like it is some kind of warning sign.”
She growled in exasperation. “Smart people realize it is.”
They engaged in a glaring contest for several minutes, neither backing down.
Spartak shook his head as if to clear it, realizing he had let himself get distracted. He then turned towards Bethany, the 17-year-old girl who was the spitting image of her mother right down to the red hair, eyes the color of the tropical waters of his home, and slight build, who sat in the other guest chair, watching them go back and forth like a tennis match. “Is she always like this?” he asked, nudging his head towards Danielle.
Bethany grinned at him. “Well, when she has her mind set about something, I would say yes. I rarely mess with her when she pulls out the mom’s voice like she is right now,” said Bethany, giving Spartak a “what are you going to do?” look. “It never goes well.”
Spartak just grunted in response.
“Over here, bucko,” Danielle said, snapping her fingers in his face to draw his attention back before leaning on both hands again.
He turned back to the stunning creature fuming in front of him. His eyes again traveled up and down her body in appreciation. Realizing he was letting himself get distracted by her beautiful blue eyes and flawless skin, he focused on her words.
“You are not getting this. We are not staying. Beam us, materialize us, do whatever voodoo that you do and return us back to Earth,” Danielle snarled. Every muscle was tense as she tried to hold her temper from spiraling out of control.
“You are the one not listening,” he said, narrowing his eyes at her. His expression clearly displeased.
“I do not have to listen to you,” she shot back, amping up the power of her glare.
“We have already established that you do,” said Spartak as he pointed at her when he said the word you.
“We have established nothing except that you are a pig-headed pain in my,” started Danielle.
“Do not finish that sentence,” warned Spartak. “I am losing my patience with your pointless stubbornness. You are staying. I will return no one to a planet where it will be a death sentence. End of discussion,” said Spartak with a definite finality in his voice. He opened his desk drawer on the left side and pulled out two black bands before closing it again.
“You are an unbelievable,” Danielle started.
“Shush,” he said, and he typed something into the tablet-like device he had picked up from the side of his desk.
“Oh, you did not just shush me,” she glowered.
Bethany just snorted, leaving no doubt how well the conversation was going.
“Yes, I did. Not that it worked,” he groused. “Here,” he said as he tossed Bethany a band and slammed the other on the desk in front of Danielle.
“What the hell is this?” she demanded, glaring at the band.
“This acts as a communicator, security badge, locator, watch, and health monitor. The others were just given theirs. Everyone is to wear this at all times, even in the shower. Just need to tap the band face and tell it what you need. If you need directions, tell it where you want it to go, and it will lead you there. We have assigned each person a specific suite. Command the band to open the door and it will. Same thing to lock it. It also runs the suite’s dispenser and acts as an alarm clock. I will not tolerate tardiness from anyone. If you need to find someone, tell the band and it will direct you. Tell the band who you need to talk to, and it will connect you,” he said.
“I don’t want it,” Danielle said as she flung it back at him. It bounced along the top of the desk after pinging off his expansive chest. It would have horrified her had she known that her face clearly telegraphed that she was chastising herself for looking at his chest for a fraction of a second longer than she should have.
He just smirked at her. His laughing at her internally just infuriated her more. He picked it up and held it out to her.
“No,” she said firmly, amping her glare up again. She knew she had probably pushed him too far when she watched him transform into the warrior leader as his posture and bearing shifted. He was clearly used to giving orders that were obeyed immediately.
He set the band down in front of her without missing a beat. “Enough of this. You will accept it,” he gritted out. “As the Strategic Manager for the Americans and the Strategic Director for all Earthlings in the Fleet, this will let you do your job,” said Spartak as he stood up and pressed his hands on the desk opposite of her. He leaned his tall, muscular form over enough to make them nose to nose. Almost. He looked down as she looked up, given the height difference, but the intent was obvious. He was not backing down.
“What the hell is all of that, and why me?” Danielle demanded.
“We have rescued 1664 females from Earth and 118 males. They need a leader who understands them. That is you. As the Strategic Director, you will oversee the Strategic Managers for the United Kingdom, Russia, Europe, Asia, Meso-American, India, and Scandinavia. You will interface directly with me,” said Spartak. “You will also interact with the Fleet Medical Director, the Commanders of each of the fleet’s vessels, the Squad Commanders with Earthlings on their teams, our Security Director, and the Strategic Directors from the other planets as Earth’s representative on the Survivor’s Council.”
Danielle’s eyes bugged out. “Why me?” she asked. “I am just a nurse, not a politician.”
“There are no politicians. I have chosen you because you were the only one asking reasonable questions during orientation. More questions than anyone else ever has, if truth be told. I do not expect that you suddenly change that behavior,” he said, giving her a pointed look. “Since you are going to ask anyway, it makes it easier if you are the one to share the answers with your fellow Earthlings,” said Spartak.
“Surely someone else is more qualified. I just take care of sick or injured people,” said Danielle, taken aback by the responsibility he was thrusting upon her. “I only speak English and medical Spanish, not those other languages.”
Spartak gave a humorless laugh. “You must think we didn’t research what a nurse does in your world. You are more than capable, so you will do this,” he said, eyeing her angrily. “The fundamental difference I see between you and your fellow Earthlings is that Americans don’t just accept what they are being told. You even less than the average American. If you know, then you can tell them, so I do not have to repeat myself a dozen times,” he said, sitting back down. “As for the language issue, the cochlear translator will fix that. You will hear what they say in your native language, just like they will understand you. It is why you understand me now.”
She had been so angry she hadn’t noticed that what she heard and how his lips moved were out of sync. She squared her shoulders. That did not matter. “I don’t want it,” Danielle said, putting her hands on her hips.
“I would like to think this is a translator problem, but I sincerely doubt it,” he said sarcastically. He then out a big breath. “Let me put this in a way that you can understand. This is not a democracy. This is a military hierarchy. As I said before - I command, and you do,” he said flatly. “These mean High Commander,” he said, pointing to the insignia near his collar. “I am the absolute last word in this fleet,” he said flatly.
She straightened as she glared at him, contemplating her next move. “I do not agree with this,” she said boldly as she pulled her shoulders back, ready to go to battle over this.
“Perhaps,” he conceded. “But it changes nothing. You are here, will stay here, as will every other female chosen. Each of you meets the criteria necessary to ensure the survival of the humanoid species. There is a bigger picture at stake, and you will follow the chain of command.”
“I don’t like you,” Danielle said flatly. She glared at him like she wanted to punch him.
“Doesn’t matter. We deliberately selected every person we collected because they had not been sick and what we needed to ensure our species survived. You may not like that, but that is irrelevant. No one made this choice. They forced it upon on all of us. You will not be going back. Accept it, don’t accept it. It doesn’t matter. Nothing will change.”
Bethany snorted because she knew how well her mother would take that.
Danielle’s head swung around as she glared at her daughter.
Bethany suddenly got very busy trying to put her band on her wrist.
“Now that is settled,” started Spartak.
“It is hardly settled,” snarled Danielle.
“Yes, it is,” Spartak interrupted before she got her ranting started again. “When you return to the conference room, introduce yourself and your role. You will then lay out the specifics to the rest of the American females for the next two days.”
“And those entail what exactly?” she asked, sarcasm dripping from each word. She refused to make this easy.
He laid out his expectations.
“Gee is that all?” she groused.
“No. You will also command all of them to get a meal in the dining hall on Deck 7a. We restricted all males from that deck while you are there. After the females eat, all are to retire to their suites until class tomorrow, where they will learn all the customs of the different races in this fleet. It will begin in the Conference Center they are in now promptly at hour two,” Spartak said. “The males are being handled by the Squad Commanders, so you need not worry about them.”
She stared at him again for several long seconds, trying to get a read on him. Finally, sighing as she realized he would not budge.
Seeing the look on her face, he said, “Do not even try tears. I am immune.”
She sputtered at him in shock. “Do I look like a woman who would cry to manipulate someone into doing what I wanted? That is just insulting.”
“No, I did not get that impression, but the look on your face is telling me you are feeling desperate. Desperation makes people do things they normally wouldn’t,” said Spartak.
She had to give him credit for at least figuring that out. She assessed his physical form, looking for a weakness. Maybe, just maybe, she could overpower him and force him to return them to their home.
He broke into a full grin when he saw the moment on her face when she figured out he outweighed her by at least a two-hundred-plus pounds and had a good ten-inch reach on her. Brave little thing. She barely reached his collarbone. It was good she realized she would not win a physical battle with him.
“Allright,” she said finally, not giving up her glare.
He was almost disappointed when she finally gave in. He liked her fire. He would have liked to continue to match wits with her, but it was time for her to get back to the group. “Make sure that everyone wears the band and understands it is essential that it be on at all times,” said Spartak.
“You said that already,” Danielle said impatiently.
“Just making sure that you internalized the message and then share it. Also, make sure they understand they are not to be out and about tonight. Any males they come across on this ship will have expectations the females are not prepared to handle. Just to make sure you understand what I am saying, there are over seven thousand unmated males in this fleet, and only a little over twenty-three-hundred unmated females, including the Earthlings who just arrived. We do not have pleasure girls here. Even the most innocent of females can do the math and understand the desperation. Behaviors innocuous on Earth means an acceptance of a mating by several races here. That is what you will learn about tomorrow,” said Spartak.
“I assume mating means what I think it does,” said Danielle, the irritation in her voice obvious.
“It does,” Spartak said calmly.
“Mating as in marriage?” squeaked Bethany.
“Yes,” both her mother and Spartak said in unison.
“I am serious about them staying in their suites. If they find themselves mated because of ignorance of existing customs, it will be final. It cannot be undone,” said Spartak, interrupting Bethany’s panic.
Danielle nodded at him. She put on her wrist band and made sure Bethany had hers on. She gave Bethany a meaningful look, conveying this was far from over. She turned without a word and left, with Bethany trailing behind her.
Spartak smiled after she left. He turned on his tablet, tapped a few keys, and watched her walk back to the conference room. His eyes riveted to the sway of her hips. She was truly spectacular.
Iosif, his second-in-command, strolled into his boss’ office. “Is that an actual smile on your face?” he asked, chuckling.
“Shut it,” Spartak growled, not even bothering to look up.
“You didn’t think I would let that go, did you? You haven’t smiled in years,” said Iosif.
Spartak growled again.
“She is certainly a beauty. I looked up the cultural reference to the red hair after I heard her say it was a warning sign. I found lots of interesting quotes and anecdotes but the one that summed all the others up best was by an Earth poet named Sylvia Plath, a redhead herself, that said, Out of the ash I rise with my red hair and eat men like air.” Iosif started chuckling when Spartak glared at him.
Iosif just stood there, waiting for a response. It wasn’t like his commander to let a comment like that go.
“I like her spunk,” Spartak finally said. “She will need it. The Americans are unlike any other group we have run across yet. All our research says the American culture is resistant to conformity. They even had a name for it. Rugged Individualism.” Spartak snorted. “I looked up the definition on their internet. It basically means that they do not give a flying fig what anyone else wants. Well, that will not be acceptable in my fleet. They will adapt.”
“You think it will be that easy?” asked Iosif, surprised his boss thought this would be the end of her displeasure.
“It doesn’t matter if it is easy. They have no other choice,” said Spartak.
“Yeah, that always goes so well,” laughed Iosif.