Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, Science Fiction
Jill watched the images late into the night, going back and forth until she had gained everything she needed to know about Stok or at least a very good start.
She hopped up and removed her clothing before slipping back into bed. Her foot throbbed absently, but the events of the day let her ease into a deep, even sleep.
Neeja was at her side with another tray when she woke. “Sit up, Jill. You have medical appointments today, and you need your sustenance.”
Jill clutched her bedding to her chest and scooted up against the headboard. “Yes, ma’am.”
Neeja snickered and sat next to her. “Don’t get me wrong, this is my first meal of the day as well, but if I know T’los, he will be here in a matter of minutes, so we need you dressed and ready.”
Whatever the food was, it was hot and had an appealing creamy taste. Jill finished her bowl and followed Neeja’s gesture to take up a piece of fruit. She nibbled until the sweet fruit was gone, and then, she scooted to the side of the bed. “Close your eyes.”
“That will make it hard to eat.”
“Well, humour me. I am in a hurry.” Jill balanced and wrapped herself in the dress again. She bas buckling up the leather when there was a chime at the door.
Neeja cracked one eye open. “Oh, good. It’s safe. I will be right back.”
Jill found the lavatory, and after she had figured out the plumbing, she scrounged for a brush. Once her hair was straight, she whipped it into a quick braid, tying the end off with a few loose hairs.
By the time she emerged, T’los and Neeja were just entering the doorway. “Good morning.”
Neeja smiled, and T’los seemed at a loss for words. He coloured again. “The medical staff is waiting. Are you ready?”
She hopped forward. “Yup.”
“This will be faster.” He stepped forward and lifted her in his arms.
Neeja laughed. “T’los is in charge of planetary security. Do you feel secure?”
Jill looked at the very long distance between her and the ground and then up to T’los’s interested features. “Pretty secure.”
He grinned, inclined his head to Neeja and they were on their way.
The medical officers were surprisingly quiet. They put a grafting paste on her foot, and it immediately took hold, sealing the wound and rebuilding tissue. Jill wiggled her foot as soon as they released her ankle.
“Thank you. That was quite bothersome.”
Physician K’lin smiled at her. “Our administrators want to speak with you. Are you up to it?”
“Of course.” Jill sat up and wiggled her toes.
Three very sober faced giants walked in, two were young and one was already exhibiting the effects of the contraction. They inclined their heads politely. “Miss Jill, we have something to ask you on behalf of the Stok people.”
“Your genes contain the missing link that we have been searching for. Out of fifty-seven visitors, you are the first one to have this gene. Will you allow us to take samples and use them to create a treatment for our people?” The younger man smiled.
T’los was standing against the wall with a peculiar expression on his lips.
“What am I being offered for this?”
They blinked. “We can offer you money, a place to live, a servant if you wish or a means to leave Stok when this is over.”
That surprised her. “How can I get off an interdicted world?”
They smiled. “It isn’t as hard as you might think. Is this acceptable to you?”
Jill sighed and shook her head. “No. I don’t want to leave.”
T’los straightened from his lean against the wall. “You don’t?”
“No, I don’t. My family sold me and spent the money. I have no interest in returning home. I want to make a place for myself so that is my criteria. I want to live here.”
She sucked in her breath and laid out her demands. “I want a place to live, the opportunity to educate myself in an effort to fit in and the possibility of surgical enhancements that will help me to blend with the population, even if I am the same height as a teenager.”
The representative blinked. “That’s it?”
“Yup. Just the chance to make a home here. You can take what you need from my body, and if the treatment is successful, after you treat the worst cases, I would like Neeja to be first in line if she wants it.”
K’lin smiled. “Of course. We need marrow samples and that isn’t comfortable. You will be fairly immobile for a while. Are you willing to put up with this discomfort?”
“Of course. Bring it on. I am willing to start now if you like.”
The representatives grinned. “We will draw up the contract, and you can sign it before the procedures begin.”
K’lin grinned at her. “We will prep you for the procedure, and by the time they are ready with your contract, we will be standing by. I have to tell you, this is exceptionally exciting. This is the first true hope we have had in centuries.”
“Hope is an easy thing to offer. I only pray that your hope is born out when the treatment is administered.”
K’lin pulled a rolling chair up, and he sat next to her. “Do you know your species history?”
She quirked her lips. “Not all of it, but I would not be shocked to find out that it is the Edinar portion of my genetics that popped up as viable.”
T’los whistled softly. “That might be it. Not one person has appeared with that genetic strain.”
Jill smiled. “My grandmother escaped from her home world before it was destroyed. The Edinar looked like other races, so she made her home, married and had children. The blood strain was a secret that none of her kids bothered mentioning to their own children until I popped up with my talent and my mother had to sit me down and explain a few things.”
“For someone with forbidden genes, you wear it proudly.” T’los smiled.
“I had to find something special about me, and if my only claim to importance was a talent that was as much a part of me as my eyes, I embraced it but kept it my own secret.”
The medical staff bustled around her, putting up a screen and helping her change from her clothing to a medical gown.
After the contract was signed, it was the beginning of a very long day.
By the time the extraction was complete, Jill was sore and T’los was very careful as he brought her back to Neeja’s domain. She was given a meal, and Neeja and the bots tucked her into bed.
It was the start to an agonizing routine of blood and tissue samples followed by days spent in bed hardly able to move. Each day, T’los carried her to and from the medical centre and stayed with her until she was settled, and each evening, he brought her a small gift. A slow courtship was underway.
Jill found herself looking forward to seeing his figure in the doorway, eager to see the look in his eyes when his gaze met hers. It made her feel like a foolish teenager, but she liked the feeling.
Her body wasn’t up to much but that was coming to a halt. They had gained and cultured enough over the last two weeks to create the treatment, and the first patients were already undergoing the first phases of their alteration. All changes were being recorded and the entire world was holding its breath.
Neeja came in with her breakfast and grinned. “There is going to be an official visit today, but the therapy created has begun to effect spinal repairs on the first subjects. I love to be the bearer of gossip, and Yono wants to thank you in person.”
“Who is Yono?”
“She is our planetary defense specialist. T’los’s cousin.” Neeja set up the tray on the small table and sat as Jill levered herself into clothing.
She had taken to showering with the help of a bot in the evenings so that mornings were not as time consuming, and today, she was glad for it. She had just wrapped her dress around her when F’pil, R’nar and S’dan came into her room.
Neeja hissed at them. “Rudeness is not tolerated here. You should have rung the chime.”
The heads of the Stok government coloured and bowed low. F’pil, the eldest, smiled his apology. “Please pardon us. We were so eager to tell Jill that the procedure is a success, we forgot our manners.”
Jill smiled. “I am very glad for all of you. I am even more relieved that the extraction process is complete.” She was tired, to her bones and beyond.
She sat and poured tea for herself and Neeja. “Gentlemen, was that everything?”
There was a slow tapping coming down the hall, and the room full of people turned to watch a woman grimacing with effort slowly moving into Jill’s bedroom.
Jill muttered, “If this keeps up, I am going to start charging for admission.”
She looked to Neeja, but tears were streaming down her friend’s face. T’los appeared behind the woman using two canes to move, and it suddenly clicked. “That is Yono.”
The woman balanced and grinned. “I am indeed. I was the first person who saw your traumatic entrance to our world, and I am very happy to say that I was also the one who had the vines rise to catch you safely.”
“Pleased to meet you, Yono. Thank you for your help during my…uh…landing.” Jill smiled, and T’los hovered behind his cousin.
He smiled brightly at her. “Yono was confined to a chair until two days ago. Her recovery is remarkable.”
Jill noted the pride in Yono’s face and the relief in everyone else’s. It had been a race against time to have children on Stok. With degradation beginning soon after the prime childbearing years, it left a small window to keep their population up before a woman’s body just couldn’t manage it.
The procedure was going to help the folk of Stok lead full lives, and Jill didn’t mind the pain. Her brain had already pushed most of it away.
F’pil smiled. “We have come to make good on our promise. If you wish it, a home will be prepared for you.”
Jill looked to Neeja. “Will you enjoy having the house to yourself again?”
“You are welcome to stay as long as you like, even if that is decades.” Neeja smiled and squeezed her hand.
T’los cleared his throat. “I would like to speak to Jill for a moment if that is all right with everyone.”
His words were not a question though it was phrased very politely.
Jill got to her feet and slowly followed him to the hallway. “Where do you want to talk? The arboretum?”
“That is a likely location for what I have to say.”
He offered her his arm, so she took it. It felt weird to not be cradled in his arms, so any contact was welcome.
She was wearing the slippers he had given her the previous week when the medics confirmed that her foot was completely healed and fit for walking on.
As they passed through the glass doors, she inhaled deeply, loving the herbal scent that filled the air. This room felt the most alive out of all the rooms in the embassy.
“You may need to sit down for this, Jill.”
She was nervous. Back home, this would be the biggest moment in the courtship, but she had no idea what it meant here.
Jill perched on the edge of a bench, and her breath caught as he knelt in front of her. “Jill, I don’t know how to say this…”
“Just say it.” Her insides jangled with nerves.
“The Coalition has demanded your return.” He held both of his hands in hers.
Her nerves fell flat. “What?”
“There is a warship in orbit threatening Stok if you are not returned to your husband.” T’los’s eyes were wary.
“We were not married.”
“Yono pointed that out, and they informed her that you were married in absentia.”
She trembled. “I don’t want to go back.”
Even kneeling, he was still eye-to-eye with her. “Good. I don’t want you to go back. We can send the refusal, and Stok will be only too happy to deal with the Coalition.”
“That will endanger your people. Isn’t there another solution?”
T’los’s dark brows drew together. “I am not sure.”
Yono’s voice came from a few feet away. “It is quite simple. We just have to contaminate Jill a little.”
She was only using one cane now and looking determined. “Jill just needs some Stok blood in her, and she will be unable to leave, by the laws of the Coalition.”
Jill asked, “Until it is done, we can fake it.”
Yono smiled, but T’los looked lost.
“I don’t understand.”
Yono chuckled. “We need makeup and a vid screen. Your little alien is going to look stunning in green. Of course, there is another option.”
T’los frowned. “What?”
“You could simply marry her. It would be easier for all concerned.”
Jill’s stomach flipped again.
T’los smiled at her. “Would you marry me?”
Jill nodded, cleared her throat and said, “I will.”
“Will you paint yourself green to fool your ex-fiancé?” Yono was chuckling.
Jill laughed. “I will.”
“Then, let’s get you to the com station. I have just the shade that will highlight your hair.” Yono chuckled and waved her arm toward the door.
Jill got to her feet and kissed T’los before he could stand up and get out of her reach. “It is one of my customs. Do you do that here?”
He grinned and wrapped his arms around her, tilting her back and sliding his tongue along her lips until she parted for him.
Her world spun as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
When he raised his head, he smiled down at her. He was standing, and she was cradled in his arms once again. “We of Stok have been known to kiss on occasion.”
She pressed her fingers to her lips, and she smiled shyly. “I get that idea.”
He chuckled and followed his cousin down the hall. Yono paced slowly with her one cane. Her movements were easier with every step.
Jill squirmed, and T’los slowly let her slide down his body, leaving her in no doubt that his interest was not solely in offering her sanctuary. Today, she had a makeover to sit through and a Coalition to reject.
Yono settled behind her station and nodded to Jill. It was time to start the show.
“This is the Monitor of Stok calling warship command.” Yono waited.
A face appeared on the screen, a scowling man with enough medallions on his uniform to dramatically increase his weight. “This is General Dosil. Where is Miss Keeran?”
Yono gave Jill a hand signal, and Jill sat up as she came on the screen.
“Who are you?” The general scowled.