Aisha & Quinton
Aisha watched as Quinton spoke on his phone. He was turned away from her, tense and raking his fingers through his long blonde hair. His voice was low and quiet. She felt her heart start to race as she stared up at the blinking red light.
‘Is-is there something wrong?’ she asked as he slid the phone back into his pocket.
He turned to her. Aisha’s heart beat faster. He was frowning and looking pale.
‘We’re in trouble,’ he said.
Her mouth turned dry. ‘What trouble?’
‘We have visitors who mean us no good.’
’V-visitors? You-you mean, o-other aliens?’
He paced the room without response, raking his fingers through his hair again as he murmured under his breath. His pale face was turning red. His eyes were wide and angry. ‘How could this happen?’
Aisha watched him, the back of her neck prickling. Other aliens. Bad aliens. She suddenly imagined tentacles, insect-like appendages, slimy green skin and oozing mouths. And what about alien technology? Blasters and lasers and things that could torture and maim in unspeakable ways. She shivered. So many terrible things could be out there, worse than the deepest parts of the ocean. Aisha couldn’t even imagine.
Quinton noticed her fear. ’Don’t be frightened. I will protect you. We will protect all of you.’
‘B-but w-what about y-you?’ Aisha bit her lip. Her stutter always worsened when she felt herself starting to panic.
‘Don’t worry about me.’
Aisha opened and shut her mouth, wanting to say so much, but she knew her words would be a jumble. Instead, she looked up at him, staring back into those startling yellow eyes. Quinton gazed back. The anger in his gaze softened. Aisha felt the prickling of tears.
‘We’ll win this,’ he told her. He took her hand. ‘You must come. Time is short.’
He didn’t answer as he dragged her towards the door. Like her words, her feet mangled and she kept tripping. She was suddenly furious with herself. She should have just accepted his technology and fixed herself. Then, maybe, she could even help!
The corridor was alive with blinking lights. A group of tall Zibons raced past, boots thudding heavily against the metal floor. For the first time, they didn’t notice her. They were quiet, their faces hard.
Quinton tried to hurry but Aisha staggered after him, dragging against his strength. He turned. He didn’t ask permission, there was no apology in his eyes, as he swept her into his arms and raced after the group of fleeing Zibons.
He was so fast! The corridors seemed to flash by, the blinking lights a smear of colours. She looped her arms around his neck, tightening her body so she felt as light as possible. His pounding footsteps were all she could hear until a loud screeching noise filled her ears. Aisha slapped a hand to the side of her head. The corridor turned black, then brightened again.
Quinton slowed, then stopped. He eased her to her feet. They were in a dark, metal room: no windows; several heavy, barred doors. Then she saw the ladder-like stairs leading down through the floor.
‘Get onto my back,’ he told her.
He dropped into a crouch, and without a word, Aisha wrapped her arms around his neck. He hoisted her up onto his hips as he took his first step down the ladder. ‘Hold on tight.’
Again, he was so fast! Seeming to slide his way down. Before she knew it, they’d reached the floor. It was much darker and quieter down here. She couldn’t even hear the alarm anymore. There were no spinning or blinking red lights. Her ears were ringing. Now, all she could hear was the sound of their breathing, and it seemed more frightening than the frantic noise they’d left behind.
As she clung to his back, Aisha heard a beep then the clang of a heavy door opening. They stepped inside a blackened room. A light flickered on with a dull twang.
‘W-where are we?’
He eased her to her feet without answer. He turned. His expression was hard, his face filled with a resolve that Aisha didn’t like one little bit.
She grabbed onto his shirt. ‘Don’t go.’
Lowering his eyes, he tried to pull away.
She tightened her grip. ‘Don’t go!’
He grabbed her hands. The prickling in the back of her eyes intensified. Gently and firmly, he pulled her hands away, folding them in his powerful fists.
‘Be safe,’ he told her.
He let her go. Aisha staggered as she tried to grab him again, but he slipped through her fingers and he was out of the door. Her feet tangled and she fell to her knees. She hardly felt it as she dropped her head into her shaking hands.
Quinton’s heart was pounding in his temples as he stared at the door. Be safe. And yet it may not be possible—for any of them. It made his heart sink. She’d be back safe on Rictor 5 if it wasn’t for him.
He turned and went to the ladder. He’d just grabbed onto the lower rung when he heard footsteps. A pair of boots began climbing down. Quinton squashed himself up against the wall. It was Zibry. His mate followed.
Quinton stared—they were bonded. He knew it even in the semi-darkness before his fellow Zibon said a word or even turned to face him. He could feel it like a tremor in the air, like a warmth beating against his front. Zibry was gripping his mate’s wrist a little too tightly. Tears glistened on the redhead’s cheeks.
‘I’m sorry,’ Quinton told them.
They both looked at him. The redhead burst into tears.
‘Is that you, Quinton?’ came Clint’s voice.
Quinton looked above. Footsteps scuffed. Shadows moved. ‘Yes.’
‘Is there room down there?’
‘There will be in a moment,’ said Zibry gruffly, slapping his hand against the escape shuttle’s door lock. The door pulled open. Light poured out.
‘Don’t! I can help!’ the redhead cried, pulling against him.
’The best way you can help is keeping out of the way. And keeping safe.’
Quinton turned his face away, trying not to look into the room and Aisha waiting within. Quickly, before Clint could descend, Quinton raced up the ladder.
‘No!’ he heard the redhead scream.
Quinton was trembling as he stepped onto the upper platform, his eyes darting between the bonded pair: Clint was resolved while his mate was ashen, though his mismatched eyes were bright with protest.
‘Go,’ Quinton told them. ‘Hurry.’
‘I don’t want to go,’ the Rictorian yelled at Clint. ‘I can do something!’
‘Look inside me,’ Clint said fiercely, gripping the Rictorian’s shoulder as he towered over him. ‘Feel what I feel. You know you can’t.’
‘Just because it’s what you feel doesn’t make it the truth!’
‘You said you agreed.’
‘Well, I’ve changed my mind.’ Tears started leaking from the corners of his eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ Clint said, and he seized onto the Rictorian. Before the Rictorian could react, Clint had hoisted him over his shoulder.
‘Clint!’ the Rictorian roared as they descended the ladder.
Quinton waited several moments for both Zibry and Clint’s return, listening to the screaming and shouting. When they finally did, he could see in their eyes what Quinton was feeling.
They didn’t speak.
They ran, quiet and determined as their boots thudded against the metal floor.
At one point on their rush back, they passed Tor and Roco with their mates. They exchanged fierce glances but nothing more as they sped in opposite directions. Then they came upon Drake. He’d slung his female over his shoulder. He was looking white, his mouth pulled into a frown. They could hear the Rictorian shouting and screaming as he raced down towards the waiting escape shuttle.
They reached a crossroads. Mutely, the three Zibons separated, each heading towards their allotted stations in preparation to meet the Wriling attack. The Wrilings—Quinton still could not believe it. Out of all their fiercest predators, the Wrilings!
Even as he ran, he held onto the hope that it was all a big mistake. That it was all just a technological blip. An error. He kept glancing towards the windows, as though he could see them. But of course he couldn’t—at this point they would only be known through their ship’s elliptical sonar. They were a tremor in the closest sun’s gravitational pull, nothing more.
But close enough to cause havoc.
Close enough to cause fear.
So much for his “holiday”. So much for the time he was supposed to be spending with Aisha forming their bond. Gone. It was all gone.
Don’t go! Quinton winced.
He was panting as he approached the door leading onto the west wing’s ignition room. Three of his comrades, also trained in the use of radionic pulsation, were standing by their computers with their headsets on. They all turned upon his entrance. They nodded, gave stiff welcomes, then turned back to their screens. He recognised two of them but had never seen the third. It no longer mattered that Quinton was a senior operative. They were on equal ground now.
Quinton took up position at the remaining computer, his heart pounding. After seven months, he’d never been involved in defence, only training for it twice. As a cellular geneticist, his job was to study new lifeforms—not battle. That was for men like Roco, Clint and Silo. Maybe even Tor.
But he would do what he could.
He slid his headset on.