The pod spun around as it briefly touched the side of the hold of the small spaceship.
Blackguard watched intently as a huge crane loaded his item of cargo. He folded his arms across his chest. Damn female was surely more trouble than she would ever be worth.
Nearby, his captain of the guard, Moses, held his breath as the container bounced on landing, then resumed breathing as it settled down safely in the hold.
Why was the man so concerned? Well, besides the fact that if anything happened to the pod before the bonding of the morph, they might lose the formation of a huge alliance with his people to help them fight their most notorious enemies. But it wasn't like this pod contained Moses's future. No, only Blackguard's.
The crane lifted its boom to go back to loading more typical shipping containers onto other ships. Several more cranes operated in the loading bay of the dock. Metal catwalks and ships ran the length of the bay with an open area in the center.
"The seeker morph is loaded onboard, sire."
Blackguard nodded to Moses. "Noticed."
"You don't sound happy about it." Moses's grizzled face wrinkled up in disapproval. Disenchantment with his prince as always. "You didn't even want to peek at her before she was loaded onboard."
"What am I supposed to be happy about?" Blackguard leaned on the railing to the metal walkway nearby his ship, which would take him and his morph back home to his palace, where she'd become his princess. "A woman in stasis I've never met that I have to mate with?" Didn't matter if she looked ugly or wouldn't tell him "boo." He'd have to make her his just the same. His marriage had been arranged for him, not by him.
It had been set up several months ago by his father.
But too many lives depended on him for him to balk over taking a woman into his life and his bed.
"She's a seeker morph."
Blackguard's hand clenched on the iron railing. Moses acted as if that explained everything. What was so damn special about that species? The name explained nothing to him. Not one damn thing. Too little was known about them. "So?"
"She's a woman, who, once she wakes up, will bond with and be whatever you desire. As she enters her first cycle, she'll go into heat and be moldable. She'll become your greatest passion. Everything you've ever wanted." Moses shook his head, looking anywhere but Blackguard's face. "To most men, that would be all they'd dream of. A woman they could mold to whatever they wanted her to be. A woman whose first time is a sexual heat that she can't escape or put off."
"And?" Blackguard shrugged his shoulders.
The exasperation sounded in Moses' voice. "Seeker morphs are rare. And you will have one." She was the last known true seeker morph for generations. Few seeker morphs were born. Rarer still did a seeker survive to their first cycle, which generally hit about their 25th year. Seeker morphs were so sought after, they were often stolen before their first cycle and killed in the attempt to claim them.
"That's supposed to make me jump for joy?"
Driven by a sexual heat to bond with a man, the morph would bend to his every wish and command even as she fucked him six ways to Sunday.
"Yeah." The last seeker morph had been the cause of a war between two rival galaxies. "Most men would." Didn't mean he would.
Why didn't he find this intriguing? Why didn't he find a woman who'd succumb to his every charm arousing? Maybe because his planet warred to keep its place in the galaxy instead of being bombed into non-existence? Maybe because he didn't have time to go a-fucking and bonding with a woman with his planet in jeopardy, even if it guaranteed him alliance? Maybe because he liked a woman to challenge him? How the hell was a woman designed to cater to his every whim going to do that?
He was tired of everyone telling him how special he was because he was the prince. Moses was one of the few that stood up to him. That was why he was still the captain of the guard, despite his age. Moses had worked under Blackguard's father for years.
"At least be polite to our host overseeing this transaction."
A transaction. Maybe that bothered Blackguard most of all. The seeker morph wasn't even seen as a person by his people or her own. Only a commodity to be traded.
Moses moved to the side and down steps, heading for the doorway that would take them to the passenger loading dock and where his host had gathered to wish him well.
Blackguard gritted his teeth. "Should I remind you to be more concerned with my enemies than with my own following of protocols?"
"No." Moses didn't stop but continued through the door without a glance back. "No need to remind me."
Blackguard waited a moment and then followed behind the older man's back. Typical.
Tangara, their host and the deliverer of the seeker morph, moved forward to pump Blackguard's hand. He was an Engosian, an ally both of Blackguard's people and of the planet Morpho. He'd been chosen to facilitate the transfer for Morpho, though they'd insisted Blackguard be present. "It's an honor, sire. A true honor. I know you can't wait to get the little woman home, so I won't keep you." His grin turned sly. "Isn't she a pretty thing? Tall for a morph."
"I don't know." The other's man's grip turned tight, trying to squeeze hard. Blackguard extricated his hand but not before giving a none-too-gentle squeeze of a shake back, much harder than the grip thrown at him. Time to remind the other man of his people's strength. While they were allies, something reeked about the man Blackguard didn't trust. "Haven't seen her yet." Why had Tangara? He had to have known they hadn't opened the pod. He'd been right there the whole time the damn thing was being loaded.
Moses moved forward. "We didn't have time to open the pod, and we didn't want to chance her coming out of stasis. Her awakening before her time would be unfortunate." He lowered his head. "I'm sure you can understand our reasoning, sir."
Moses covered the game of words that shouldn't have set off Blackguard's irritation, but had. Blackguard glared at his captain. He also felt the stares of other people and looked around diligently to find the source.
"Yes. I didn't think you'd be opening the pod before you left." Tangara moved the hand away that Blackguard had squeezed, stretching his fingers out and bringing them back toward him as though they ached.
Blackguard felt no pride in his physical prowess, only gladness at still being able to do something for his people. He wouldn't have responded like that if Tangara hadn't tried the action first.
What was the man up to?
A bang sounded behind them from a container being lodged in another ship's hold. The crane set down a pod in a small shuttle craft built for one, which looked ready to take off.
Moses's and Blackguard's hands both went to their guns at the same time at the first round of noise.
The sooner they lifted off from this place and got back home, the better.
Blackguard moved his hand as he saw the source of the noise but kept it close to his weapon. "Thank you for your assistance in this matter." He stood solemnly, not letting any emotion grace his face. "For acting as the emissary of Morpho." He nodded, bowing his head slightly as was the custom of Engosians.
"It was my pleasure, King Blackguard."
"I'm not king yet." He would be by the end of the week. The formalities hadn't been executed yet, but when his father had died two months ago, the system had been set in motion for Blackguard to rule. Picking up the seeker morph was step closer to his control of the throne.
"But you will be. Our seeker morph will rule by your side. As your queen. Your perfect queen." The man smiled, showing pointy teeth.
Too many teeth. Too big a smile. And the seeker morph wasn't Tangara's.
Movement came from behind Moses. Not another crane. A gunman on the gangplanks above them. Had Blackguard not been watching, he never would have seen the brief glimpse before the man ducked behind a canister.
Tangara saw the man, too. Blackguard saw his eyes shift to the canister. But he didn't react in a panic. Instead, he prattled on as if the gunman wasn't even there.
Dammit. A trap. Blackguard's hand clutched his gun again.
Tangara had never intended to deliver the seeker morph. He'd set them at ease by placing the pod in their ship. Instead, he'd betrayed them all. Had he betrayed Morpho? Or were they in on the transgression against Blackguard's people?
Blackguard's gaze swung around to other side as his fingers tightened on his weapon. More brief movement along all the upper catwalks. They hid themselves. How many were there? "Moses."
The man didn't flinch or tear his gaze away from where he stared. He'd seen what Blackguard had.
With careful slowness, Tangara dropped his hand down to his waist. "This will create an alliance..." He stopped at the look on their faces and the lifting of their weapons to his chest. "What's wrong?" He quickly pulled up a phaser from some hidden holster around his waist.
Blackguard didn't hesitate. He shot point blank with his phaser toward the other man's chest.
Moses shot at the same time.
Tangara died before he hit the deck.
At the sound of the phaser fire, Blackguard's men filed out of their aircraft with weapons drawn. They weren't standard shuttle crew, but members of his army.
The firefight began.
The men they fought against had the higher ground from raised walkways surrounding the shuttle. With it, they possessed the advantage. Not to mention greater numbers. Though Blackguard's men managed to take out many of the gunmen, most of his men were being methodically cut down one by one.
All he could do was watch from his position.
"Come on!' He grabbed Moses's shoulder. "We have to reach the men." They'd moved further away from the shuttle to greet Tangara. But they could follow the gangplanks back to their men's position.
Moses clasped him back, holding him in place. "We can't reach them. Not in time. We'd have to cross the open area where there's nowhere to shield us. They'll cut us down." He continued to try and pick off the gunmen. A useless endeavor.
"We have to do something."
"Shoot. It's all we can do."
Good men died in front of Blackguard. His finger grew tight on the trigger. Damn his enemies. Cowards, who would ambush a squadron of men and pick them off instead of a fair fight.
A bullet whizzed by his head and embedded itself in the metal behind his ear. Shards glanced across his neck.
As the men were being picked off, the gunmen turned their attention to Moses and Blackguard.
Moses grabbed him by the shoulder, pushing him away. "Go! To the shuttle. Now. You have to get away."
"What? I'm not leaving..."
"We'll be your diversion. Your cover. Go, sire." He shoved Blackguard along, pushing him. "We'll hold them off."
"No. You said it yourself, I can't reach our shuttle without crossing the open area."
"If you're captured or killed, your people will pay the price."
"No." Blackguard wouldn't abandon these men in their time of need. Wouldn't leave a man behind. "I'm not leaving you or my men."
Moses blew out a breath. "Will their deaths be for nothing? They die to protect you. You must go and get back to the warship."
Blackguard shook his head. "No. I won't leave you here to fight my battles."
He never saw the blow coming. Something whacked him in the back of the head. Hard. His world spun. Another blow. And down to the floor he went.
Blackguard came to in a small shuttle.
Moses had buckled him in and was closing the top. It clicked into place with a thundering sound in Blackguard's throbbing ears.
Blackguard shook his head wildly to clear his senses. He growled. It had only been a few minutes since he'd been hit and obviously Moses had done the hitting. He fumbled with his seatbelt trying to free himself from the strap.
Moses spoke into the comm near the shuttle. "The auto-pilot is locked in for thirty seconds. Once the shuttle takes off, that's that."
"You bastard." Once the shuttle took off, he'd have few choices. Landing again would be difficult with the gunmen. Not to mention the propulsion of the shuttle would be hard to call back in such close quarters. He'd have no choice but to exit the facility, even if he planned to come right back.
The engine began its power up sequence. Soon, there'd be no going back.
"Moses, please stop this!"
"Go! You must live." Moses yelled one more time before charging back up the ramp. He fired wildly, drawing the fire of the men above them.
Blackguard checked out the controls of the shuttle. It was the one he'd seen a pod loaded onto earlier. Not too complex a system but nothing he could override. He could fly anything so would be okay when the autopilot disengaged.
The docking clamps discharged. The shuttle sped from the docking bay heading for the doors. The auto pilot disengaged while in flight, and Blackguard took over. They exited the doors before they closed behind him. Someone had thought to close them but too late to capture him.
His lips twitched. He'd made it out in time.
Without his men.
They'd closed him out. Getting back inside would be difficult.
His fist connected with the steering column. Enough pain to bring him back to himself. He had to communicate with the other ship, which they'd left a few systems away. Then, he could exact payment for treachery. It would be huge. He'd bring hell on this planet once he'd rescued his men. All he had to do was get out of the planet's atmosphere, and he could call his ship to their side. He'd do that before going back in.
Damn Moses for making him abandon them.
An explosion from the docking bay he'd exited caught him by surprise. The entire base exploded into shards of fire.
His mouth opened. His men ... Moses. Hell, the damn seeker morph they'd come there for.
All gone. All lost.
He had no time to ponder their deaths.
The shock wave caused by the explosion caught his shuttle with a bounce, taking him with the driving force. The small craft had no defenses against the wave. All he could do was bounce along within its stream until it ejected him.
He tried to steer and keep control of the shuttle but the wave drove his path for several seconds.
Then, with a downturn of the shock wave, he crashed.
On the planet of his betrayer.
His head bleeding, he cursed everyone involved from here to eternity as his shuttle skidded to a stop.
They were all dead.
He struggled to look behind him at the roaring inferno. No one could have gotten out of there alive.
If he'd stayed, he'd be dead now, too.
He swallowed. Now was not the time to dwell on the losses. Now was the time to get off his ass and back to his planet. There, he could sort things out and figure what his next move should be.
The pod that he'd seen the crane load started beeping from behind him.
"Shut up." He tried to circumvent failing systems to get the shuttle back up in the air as he took off his harness. A no-go. Too much damage had been done to the small craft. "Shut up." The persistent beeping annoyed the hell out of him as he kept trying to access the systems even as they failed on him. He might be stuck at the crash site. He couldn't even get a radio signal out from this small of a ship to the other ship unless he cleared the atmosphere. It would be several more hours before they'd launch a rescue on their own.
He drew his phaser and turned around, ready to shoot the offending pod's controls to silence the beeping, only to find it had opened. The crash must have broken down the locks on the thing. It had unlocked whether he wanted it to or not. "This isn't a good time." Watch it be something alive like parsec beetles, a delicacy for some races, or psi-cats, a pet. Just what he needed all over the dying shuttle.
The cover slipped open as the beeping subsided.
Blackguard kept his gun trained on the pod, even as the heady scent of spices met his nose. What could it be, a spice delivery? He turned toward the back, facing all the way around, to get a better look.
A woman sat up with a stretch of her body. Her pert mouth yawned. A naked, beautiful woman lay in the pod. With big breasts. Long dark hair. Green eyes. Big breasts. He couldn't tear his gaze away from her. He reacted as if he'd been struck in the gut with something heavy. Could hardly get breath out of his lungs.
He blinked, not having expected a person to be in the pod, especially not this lovely creature. The gun shifted downward. Even with the surprise and the circumstances, lust filled him at her appearance. His cock tightened. He'd never seen a female so delicate looking. So beautiful.
He'd never scented anything like her either. Something resided below the spice's scent, which had to be her. His cock rose up as his heart pounded. The adrenaline raised by his getaway channeled to his libido. His whole body reacted to this woman and wanted things with her, that even in his wickedest days, he couldn't imagine. Until now.
He shook his head to clear the fog. This was a bad time for arousal.
Her gaze centered on him as an unsteady smile graced her lips. "You must be Blackguard. I'm Annalisse. Yours to do with what you will." Her voice sounded throaty. Husky. It ran along his spine like a rolling river with a sharp dip down to his heavy cock.
He almost groaned at the impact of her words. Annalisse. Beauty had a name. His arousal grew tenfold, which hardly seemed possible. Oh, yeah.
Maybe it was a good time after all.