After the meal and dance, and true to his word, Tya let Jorja go away without hindering her, though he was tempted. But if he asked she’d probably punch him again. He had studied her one more time, ‘You look delicious.’
‘I know. You’ve got impeccable taste.’
He had laughed and kissed her cheek, lingering for just a moment. ‘I’ll see you later. Thanks for the company.’
‘It was your pleasure. Enjoy tonight.’
As he laughed again she headed toward her deck. Exiting the elevator she ran into Zeft who now seemed bereft of any quips. Suddenly her evening gown felt inadequate, she felt almost naked under his gaze.
‘You look beautiful, Babe.’
Jorja found herself blushing. Did that mean she was extra ugly?
‘I’ve got to go, there’s some squabble over who gets to EVA in the morning.’
The orux were surprisingly good at extravehicular activities and once trained they often fought over who got to go on EVA duty.
They parted ways reluctantly. Jorja cursed herself as she undressed. Zeft headed for the common room and for the first time wasn’t thinking of just sex. Jorja was his life mate he was sure of it. No more fun for him. Once an orux was matched, nothing would get in the way. Now he just had to wait for Jorja to make the next move.
Later the next night, Jorja was somewhat nervous. She couldn’t focus at work that day and had managed to avoid the tricky jobs by tackling a stack of computer work. She found herself in her small room, selected because it was cheap. A bed was to the right of the door coming in. Storage below and on top. More storage at the end. A bathroom to the left at the end. A kitchenette/workbench to the left. A large soft rug lay on the floor and the table on which she worked, in the middle. It wasn’t a place to have visitors. Her goal was to buy a space craft and she had to have the right leverage.
For the third time she checked her appearance. What was she doing?
‘What are you doing?’ Jorja asked herself out loud staring at her reflection.
Then she realized she had put her hair up as it had been when Zeft had looked at her that way. In irritation she pulled out the pins and her hair spilled over her shoulders. Unfashionably long. Her door buzzer went off.
When she let Zeft in, he smiled and deliberately brushed against her side. This wasn’t a good idea, she thought.
‘I wanted to show you the mining camps.’
She hesitated pressing the door button and as it slid across silently she felt she was doomed. A sudden wave of expectation swept through her and she almost groaned.
‘Thanks.’ She tried to keep her voice neutral but it didn’t work. He had moved to the high middle table and was flicking through some maps.
‘Yes.’ He seemed distracted and her fantasies of being thrown onto the bunk were destroyed.
She poured them both a drink and while he was reading the map intently she gulped down her drink. Zeft made a show at the maps but couldn’t help but feel the pull of her smell. She was in breeding season. He could smell she was nervous and her need was overpowering. He should leave. But instead he took the drink and turned to her. He was completely consumed and it took all his control to stop himself from ripping off her dress. Leave, now, he told himself. It wasn’t the fact she was in heat that stopped him it was the fact she was nervous. He wondered why.
Jorja saw his hesitation and excused herself. She just had the same reaction as she did to Scalice sometimes. She knew Scalice at one level but then suddenly she was faced with his damnable alien-ness. When she came out of the tiny bathroom Zeft had gone. Bloody hell.
Zeft was about to go back to her room knowing she’d be pissed at him for leaving like that. Instead he headed to Scalice’s rooms. His leader and Jorja were friends and his boss might have some advice for him on how to handle the ‘situation’.
After Jorja had another drink she went to have a chat to Scalice and was reassured at orux ‘protocol’. Scalice saw her to the door and said quietly so that Mary couldn’t hear, ‘Zeft said you seemed nervous and didn’t want to press the matter.’
Jorja smiled gratefully at the tall orux and left.
After Scalice closed the door he grinned. He was glad he wasn’t going through all that again. When he joined Mary on the couch he saw her expression and even before she opened her mouth he knew he was going to be nagged at being a ‘bloody way station’. He nodded here and there during her tirade and grumped to himself, no sex tonight.
Zeft might be an orux but he knew enough about women to know that women were similar everywhere. Jorja probably wouldn’t talk to him for a few days. When he saw her the next day he was surprised that she smiled at him.
They had lined up to get their dinner. She moved back a few places to stand in front of him. She ‘saw’ the alien and she hoped he hadn’t noticed her reticence.
She broke the silence, ‘Maybe we can have that chat tonight?’
Zeft saw her blush and grinned, ‘Sure, Babe. Mining sounds…exciting.’
At his use of ‘Babe’ she ‘saw’ Zeft again. Jorja nodded, ‘I’m going to need your services.’ She quickly looked away and Zeft thought she was blushing again. When she turned back her eyes held amusement and twinkled with mischief. He felt himself respond.
‘What can I do to help, Babe.’
‘You have some specific skills I need to utilize.’
‘I thought Sal was your mining man.’
‘Oh, he is but there are some things even he won’t do.’
They both chuckled and moved in the line. Zeft decided to take a risk and moved closer to her and whispered, ‘You know, Babe. Whatever you need me for I’ll be there for you. All you have to do is ask.’
She was about to respond when they were both called to a meeting. She’d been dreading the call after she’d found out more from Pretty Max about the new assignment, but she was keen to have a say. What she hadn’t been prepared for was her total inclusion. Max had evidently been left out of the loop for awhile. She knew he had censored the Marquis involvement for her benefit a while ago and he had told her everything when it became obvious her skills would be required.
Pretty Max met them outside the reception room and gave Jorja a pill. She took it without question. When they arrived at the office she saw Margel, Drax and Krud. Jorja eyed off Skink, one of the unusually fast and hardworking Skellum’s that she’d only met once before, and Maris, a fink, mind reading morale officer. Tya winked at her from across the table. The entire group made an interesting cocktail in Jorja’s eyes and she guessed it was a special squad. That meant one thing, anything else and this mission was overkill. She felt Maris’s mind touch hers. She gave him a dirty look and he left her. No mind reader could go into a mind without the person’s knowledge. At least that was while they were awake or if they forced the issue.
Scalice led them into his briefing room and closed the door. A light over the doorway turned red to indicate the room was sealed. Jorja felt the sweat trickle down between her breasts.
‘We’re approaching Esan. General Rist needs us to retrieve four packages before they strike. The Marquis have been known to wipe out entire populations if threatened. Jorja, you’re our consultant and will come down on the shuttle. I’ll need you to go over the plans. We’ll form two patrols. Margel and Tya, medic and explosives. Maris, you’ll need to inspect the packages when we get back to the shuttle to ensure they haven’t been compromised. Skink and Drax, you’ll both double up as signal and rats, Krud, Pretty Max, Zeft and I’ll be the grunts. Teams, Jorja?’
The pill worked and she didn’t puke. It wasn’t the first time a general, and she guessed it was Scevish who hated her, had thrown her a curve ball.
‘Margel, Skink, Zeft and Pretty Max to go in west side.’ She flicked through the maps, ‘Park the shuttle in the east, and second patrol to go south. Exit here and here….’
Every time that night when Jorja used the word ‘Marquis’ her skin prickled. Every time her skin prickled everyone except Tya looked at her. She was hoping that by the time she was called in to do a job like this that her therapy sessions would have paid off. Of course, for therapy to work one had to be honest in how one responded. No doubt her therapist had cleared her for this duty thinking her ok. Regardless, she was the best for this job, she knew the Marquis and while General Scevish was looking for an opportunity to get rid of her from his battle group, she planned for that part to fail.
At three hundred hours they were huddling over individual files. Scalice moved and beckoned her over to the far corner and they sat on a sofa. ‘Are you good to go?’
‘Are you worried?’
Her friend grinned at her, ‘Not particularly. Orux often smell of fear but they stand fast. Your advice tonight was clear and precise, I’d be more worried if you had no fear or if your fear was uncontrolled.
Skink joined them, his small frame relaxed. Jorja’s eyes met his green ones as he asked, ‘What’s our success rate?’
Before Jorja or Scalice could answer Maris spoke out, ‘Twenty percent.’
Margel choked on his sandwich, ‘What the…’
Jorja laughed, ‘It’s not us bringing the rate down. It’s the packages.’