On a planet ravaged by plague, Argo Stallon finds himself in the position of assimilating into his society enemy females stolen from their homeworld. The women have no intention of willingly submitting, and Argo must abide by anti-slavery laws. Jena A5D45623, the leader of the captured women, is Argo's greatest obstacle, an obstacle he intends to overcome.
His society is paternalistic, where women are mothers and caregivers. Jena comes from a unisexual world where children are incubated in laboratories and physical differences are controlled through hormone suppressants in the food supply, so the inhabitants never reach full sexual maturity. On the new planet, without a steady diet of the suppressants, the women begin to emerge, their bodies and dispositions changing, their drives surfacing. Argo's conflict with Jena takes on new dimensions.
Then her planet attacks. Can enemies work together to save what they've created?
Sarah Winn was born in Kansas. She resided for a time in both Hawaii and California but is now firmly settled in her adopted native state of North Carolina. After a thirty-year career in scientific research, she became a full-time writer of romance fiction.
To date, she has published three historical novels, one of which won the Eppie as the best historical romance of 2003. Another published romance is a time/travel with a contemporary setting. In the midst of doing research for historicals, it dawned on her that she could take advantage of her education and working experience in the sciences by writing a science fiction romance. Of course, there's a lot of difference between food science and space travel, so she still had to research.
Sarah found that combining science fiction and romance provides unique opportunities for exploring the development of loving relationships. By creating new worlds, she could change human characteristics in ways that emphasize the adjustments needed when two people fall in love and seek to combine their lives.
She also found other fun things to do in science fiction, such as calling on her food science background to create unique food for the inhabitants of her fictional planet.
Strange words tumbled through Jena's mind. Then she remembered the Zanthonians and began to understand.
"I have the blood samples and skin scrapings, Doctor. Shall I put her shorts and top back on?"
The bastards had stripped her. What else had they done?
"Just cover her with the sheet for now. Get those blood samples into the analyzer."
A door swished open. "Commander Stallon! What brings you to the medical galley?"
The devil himself!
"I was just checking on the prisoners in the stasis galley and learned you had one of them here. I ordered all the women put into stasis cabinets." Stallon asked in his gruff voice.
"My God, she isn't even restrained!"
That news surprised Jena. She couldn't feel her arms or legs, much less move them.
"Don't worry. She's been given a muscle relaxant and a sedative. It'll be at least an hour before she regains her major motor functions."
"Don't take any chances. These women aren't like ours. They're vicious. That one was captured with a phaser in her hand. If our Marines hadn't been faster, she might have killed some of them."
They weren't faster. My aim was blocked.
"I wanted to start my tests so I'll have something to report to the magistrars as soon as we land. I've already determined that she's anatomically compatible."
What the hell did that mean? Jena heard a swish of cloth.
"Look at that body. She has the breasts of a twelve year old and the muscles of a Cybering wrestler. No Zanthonian man will ever be aroused by that."
The bastard had raised the sheet! Jena's eyes flew open and she looked up at long black hair flowing on either side of a short beard that was topped by a hawk nose and piercing black eyes. Forgetting her intentions to pretend to be docile, she glared up at him with fury.
"The bitch is awake," Stallon barked. "Tie her down."
"Please, Captain." The clean-faced doctor came into Jena's view. His golden hair was as long as the other Zanthonian's but tied back. He took the sheet from Stallon's hand and let it fall over Jena's body. "As long as this woman is in my galley, I insist she be treated with the dignity any patient deserves."
Stallon stepped back. "Dammit, Doctor, you have to be careful with these Alphians. I've been fighting them all my life and the women are just as deadly as the men."
"I'll have her back in the stasis galley well before she's a threat."
"What have you found out about her other than general anatomy?"
"My technician is just starting the tests."
"What about those marks on her neck?"
"They appear to be some sort of tattoo. I checked the prisoners on arrival and noticed they all have them."
"Yeah," Stallon replied, "but they're not all alike."
He pointed at the series of little lines on the side of Jena's neck. "The lines vary in thickness and length and are arranged in different orders on different women."
"They're probably identification marks. The Alphians rank everyone according to their genetic makeup. My guess is they have something to do with that," the doctor answered in a disinterested voice.
"But these women are all supposed to be military, and Alphians select their warriors according to genotypes. So they should have similar marks. Also they're not the same heights. The few times I've been close to Alphian warriors they were all tall, whether male or female."
The doctor turned back to his workbench. "The stasis data did show a good bit of variation in their body weights."
"How soon before this one is able to talk?" Stallon asked.
"I'd say an hour," the doctor replied in a hesitant voice.
"Well, don't put her in stasis until I've had a chance to question her. Put some clothes on her and put her back into the restraint bag before bringing her to my quarters." With a quick turn, he left the galley.
Zots! Apparently the devil didn't know he'd captured experts in almost every sphere of Alphian life. She prayed to Alpha for the strength to protect that secret no matter what tortures Stallon subjected her to.
The doctor came back to the examining table and looked down at her with what appeared to be real sympathy. "I'm sorry you're having to go through all this. I'd planned to have you in stasis before you awoke. Now you'll have to endure..." he paused and signed. "Oh, well, just remember that my technician and I are medical personnel and don't be embarrassed while we're dressing you."
If Jena could have moved, she'd have crushed the fool's windpipe.
The doctor and his aide easily redressed her. She had an almost out-of-body feeling as she watched them slipping garments onto her weightless, numb limbs. They also put a long suit over her short clothes. The two-piece coveralls were made of a strange fiber that stretched to fit her body. Unlike loose-fitting Alphian long suits, this suit hugged her form closely. Good. She hoped her nearly flat chest would continue to disgust her captors.
After she was dressed and strapped to the table, the doctor opened the front of her suit and laid a small meter against her chest. "Can you feel that?" he asked in Alphian.
Ignoring the slight coldness she did feel, Jena closed her eyes. Maybe she could convince them that their heathen drugs had done her permanent damage.
Stallon paced in his small galley. The bridge had reported no Alphian pursuers, so he'd order his ships to avoid the asteroid belt and stay on straight courses for home. He should be relieved, but couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. The whole damn mission had been too easy. The base they'd attacked had been poorly defended, and the physical differences in the prisoners suggested it had been something other than an Alphian military installation.
At least he'd gotten female prisoners as the magistrars had ordered, but they'd specified military females, hoping they'd be strong enough to survive. Those tattoos and their size variations definitely showed these women were a mixture. No telling what that base in the Frozen Zone was really for--maybe more of their weird genetic experiments. The Creator only knew what he was taking back to Zanthonia this time.
A rap sounded at the door and Stallon pressed the "Open" button. Two aids entered carrying the prisoner. Nosy Doctor Jaymar followed them closely. "I won't be needing you, Doctor," Stallon said.
The doctor bristled. "I'm charged with the prisoners' welfare. I insist on being here during the questioning."
Stallon glared at him, but to his surprise, Jaymar's stance grew firmer. With a shrug, Stallon gestured to his aids. "Strap her in the acceleration couch. I want to see her face."
When the restraints were in place around the female's chest and legs, Stallon slowly looked her up and down. Like all Alphians, the lower half of her head had been shaved. Tufts of short, light brown hair on the top of her head protruded through the weave of the body bag. If she'd been a man, he would have admired her obviously fit body. Since she wasn't, his disdain for her grew. Perhaps, however, she'd be strong enough to recover from the plague.
Then he noticed her eyes--light blue and glaring back at him. Good, she wasn't afraid. That would make questioning her easier. "What is your name?" he asked loudly.
She didn't move.
Stallon glanced over at the doctor. "Can she speak?"
"You spoke in Zanthonian. Would you like me to translate?" the doctor asked.
"That won't be necessary." Turning back to the prisoner, Stallon began to speak in Alphian. "What is your name?"
Her lips formed a thin, hard line. He leaned closer and glared at her with the expression he'd often used to intimidate reckless young cadets. She met his gaze without flinching.
He couldn't let her get away with this defiance, but he knew Jaymar wouldn't let him beat her into submission. "Perhaps this one was bred without a tongue."
He looked up at Jaymar and switched back to Zanthonian. "Did you check to see if she has one, Doctor?"
The young physician looked confused by the question. "Why, no, sir, I--"
Stallon didn't wait for him to continue. "I don't want to keep yelling questions at the poor thing if she's mute. I'll see for myself." He pulled the grippers of the containment bag apart until he could uncover her face. Wrapping one hand around her chin, he forced her mouth open and stuck the index finger of the other hand inside her mouth. "Yes, she does have one."
The woman viscously chomped down on his finger.
Spewing curses, he pried her jaw down again and freed the throbbing digit.
"Keep your filthy finger out of my mouth," she roared up at him.
"So you can speak," he said while examining the teeth marks on his finger. At least she hadn't broken the skin. "And in Zanthonian, too. Isn't that convenient?"
She was also hot tempered. He'd see if he could use that against her. Sticking his face close to hers he yelled, "By the terms of the Taurolean Pact, you are required to identify yourself. What is your name?"
"Jena A5D45623," she yelled back at him.
"What branch of the military are you in?" he demanded.
"Prisoners of war are not required to give any information other than their names," she growled through clenched teeth.
"Then you admit you are military?"
"I haven't admitted anything."
He sneered to let her know she'd made a foolish mistake. "Only military personnel can be prisoners of war."
Uncertainty creased her brow and she closed her mouth so tightly that her lips puckered.
"Too late. Your secret's out. Now tell me the rest, and maybe I won't let my men have their way with you." He leaned closer and blew into her ear. Then he almost whispered, "You know what Zanthonian men like to do to females don't you?"
She jerked her head away. Then she jerked it back in an attempt to head butt him. Seeing her intent, he grabbed her throat and pinned her against the high back of the couch.
She bared her teeth in a feral grimace and muttered, "Hairy beast."
"Commander, Commander!" Doctor Jaymar called.
Stallon became aware of the man hopping from one foot to the other very near his right arm. If the doctor grabbed his arm, Stallon knew he'd hit him and that wouldn't go over well with the magistrars. He released the woman and stepped back.
Jaymar continued in an agitated voice. "You know how important it is to get these women back to Zanthonia. I can't allow you to harm even one of them."
Stallon turned to tell the young fool just who was in command here, but before he could speak, the woman blurted out, "Why are you taking us to Zanthonia?"
The doctor looked at her with a stricken expression. "Ah--ah--medical reasons."
Her mouth dropped open.
Stallon couldn't stop himself from smiling and saying, "That's right. We need organ donors." Then he waved impatiently at his men. "Take her to stasis."
The doctor would surely file a complaint if Stallon continued to question her. Besides, he'd probably have to seriously hurt that hardheaded female to get any more information. He couldn't help admiring her courage. Despite being completely helpless, she had stood up to him like a true warrior.