Time for another chat with Dellani Oakes. Thank you, Karen, for sharing my interview!
It’s time for my yearly breast MRI and I’m not looking forward to it. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2009, I made the decision to have a lumpectomy. This was followed by 4 rounds of chemo and 6 weeks of radiation therapy. Not the most fun experience I’ve had in my life.
I decided to have the cancer DNA test run – thank God the insurance paid for it. I came back BRCA 2 positive. This puts me in a much higher risk category for recurring cancer – particularly breast and ovarian. As a result, I opted for a hysterectomy two years ago. Also, not the most fun I’ve had. I’m still thinking about having a mastectomy with reconstruction, but after the hysterectomy, I needed a break from surgery and hospitals.
So, here I go again, heading to the imaging center for an MRI. As I write this, I remember the feelings I experienced being told I had cancer. Horror, shock, fear — this crushing pressure in my chest like my lungs were going to explode. It’s like getting hit with an emotional truck.
I was lucky. My lump was very small – about 1 cm. By the time I had the biopsy, it was half that size. My surgeon was amazing and my oncologists kind and caring. In fact, the radiation doctor bought two of my books.
I urge everyone, men and women alike, to have breast cancer check ups regularly, particularly if it runs in your family. Do the breast self-exam. It isn’t fool proof, but it’s a good starting point. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your doctor.
My lump was found by a routine screening done when I was entering an experimental drug testing program. They called me and said there was “something” on the films. “It’s probably nothing, but we want you to go for an MRI.” The MRI showed cancer.
Everything was a whirlwind after that. I saw oncologists and a surgeon and had my surgery less than two weeks after I was diagnosed. I began my chemo about six weeks later. Six weeks after that, I started radiation. It was a harrowing experience and one I hope and pray never to undergo again.
If you even suspect you have cancer, PLEASE see a doctor. Not wanting to know is your worst approach. If it’s cancer, it’s better to face it head on. Being diagnosed is not a death sentence for everyone. YOU CAN WIN! Ignoring the symptoms is sure fire way to take a one way ticket to your death bed.
Don’t ignore it. Do something pro-active. See a doctor.
The following is a short story that is a spin off of my sci-fi series. This story shows the main character, Wil VanLipsig, as a little boy, before life grew hard and he found his dreams and innocence shattered.
Wil walked through the seaside resort with his maternal grandmother. He was nine years old. For his birthday present, his father, Pyle had allowed her to take him to the capitol city of Aenias Drax. It had been an amazing trip, full of adventures and fun. His grandmother took him to all the historical landmarks, famous buildings, museums, art galleries and concerts she could find. Although the smaller towns were provincial and stayed, this was a bustling, lively metropolis.
To Wil it had been like heaven, the most beautiful place on earth! Tree lined sidewalks skirted canals that were clear and clean, sparkling in the sunlight. Small cafés were scattered everywhere, dotted with striped umbrellas of yellow, blue, pink and green. Flowers grew in pots and window boxes. Splashes of color caught the eye, dragging it artistically to the focal point of every garden. Wil’s sense of smell was acute even then, and he was able to pick put the different scents of each flower.
Walking one day from one museum to the next, they came upon a small building that sat directly on the edge of the canal. No bridge crossed the water, and a large garden stretched for nearly three blocks west of the canal. Wil could not see the other side, it was so large. Consulting their map, they could see that nearly a quarter of a mile of garden lay between them and their goal. Wil was anxious to see the displays at the next museum, and did not want to walk around because it would take them so much longer to get there. There was a man standing by a gate in the garden fence. He was letting people through, smiling and tipping his hat.
Wil’s grandmother approached him. “May we get through your lovely garden? It’s a long walk around and the boy is tired.”
Smiling, the old man answered her. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, this is the exit. Only way to get in the garden is from the south entrance. You’ll have to go around.”
“Can we go through the building?” She pointed to her left with her white gloved hand.
“Well now, you can try,” the old man said with a shrug.
“Thank you, we shall,” she said and took Wil by the hand, leading him to the business doors.
It was a pretty building, all glass windows and white painted French doors. When she opened the door, a tiny brass bell tinkled.
A strange sight met their eyes. To Wil, everything he had seen in this city was unique and new, but this was peculiar even to him.
They stood in a small, cobble lined foyer. To their left was a set of large windows overlooking the canal. To their right was a beautiful, delicately tooled wooden bench whose scroll work was dusted with gold leaf. Behind it was the wall of an elderly looking, wooden building. Directly ahead of them was a small picket fence that sat upon a wall, making the entire edifice about four and a half feet tall. Two small, cement steps led up to the fence. An old man, similar to the one outside, sat on the other side, reading a newspaper. He was hunched over in his chair, reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.
He did not look up when they entered, just kept reading. As Wil and his grandmother approached the fence, his hand hit a lever and a short, yellow gate, like the kind at a railroad crossing, came down in front of them at the top of the steps.
Undaunted, his grandmother approached, opening her handbag. She extracted several bills and offered them to the man. He looked askance at her, shifted in his chair and flipped his newspaper.
“May we please come through?” Wil’s grandmother used her most sweet and charming voice. Her look was expressive of a willingness to comply.
“Nope! Got to come into the garden from the south. Ain’t coming through here.”
“But we don’t want to see the gardens. We’re passing through. The child is tired and anxious to see the art museum on Brach Street. Surely we could walk through your building to save steps?
“Nope!” He looked at her over his glasses. “What’s that you’re doing?”
He was glaring at her hand. She had rested it on one arm of the delicate, wooden bench to her right. As if she had been stung, she pulled her hand away.
“I’m terribly sorry. May we pass?”
“Nope! You look careless to me. You might scratch my fine, handcrafted trailer.”
He jerked his head to his left. They saw that the building to their right was indeed a small trailer that was lined with light gold wooden paneling. It already looked quite scratched. The other old man wandered in and out of the door, brushed against the wall, and passed into the garden on the other side. He seemed to be laughing. The doors opposite them opened. Tourists entered, turned left and passed into the garden, brushing past the back end of the trailer.
“I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life!” Wil’s grandmother was getting angry. Two bright spots of color rose in her cheeks as she stuffed her money away.
Wil, being only a child, wandered up the steps, slipped past the yellow guard gate and down the other side. He sat on a bench looking out the window at the canal. The old man hardly seemed to notice. Wil’s grandmother stood paralyzed with anger.
“You’ve just let my grandson past!”
“Yep. He’s small, he won’t scratch my fine, handcrafted trailer.”
“I won’t scratch it either! Now raise this ridiculous gate and let me take my grandson and leave!”
The old man scowled at her over his reading glasses. “Nope. Ain’t gonna let ya pass. You might scratch…”
“Your fine, handcrafted trailer! I got that part! If you won’t let me in, let my grandson out!”
“He can wait here while you walk around.”
“He can’t! He’s just a little child! This is a big city and I don’t know you! Now let him out!”
A young couple walked through the other door. Wil had the impression that the woman was beautiful, with blond hair. The man wore a bright red shirt. He didn’t really look at them, but gazed out the window. His grandmother continued to fuss at the old man. The young couple stopped and stared.
“Very well,” his grandmother sighed heavily. “You leave me no choice. Wil!”
He looked up at his grandmother. She wore her no-nonsense-will-be-tolerated face, the one she wore when she was about to do or say something extremely important. When she looked like that, he was to do exactly what she said, no questions. He faced her, solemn and quiet.
“Wilhelm, go over to the trailer. Take out your pocket knife and scratch the hell out of it!”
Startled, he did not react right away. Hand at his pocket, he stared at her a moment. Then instinct took over and he walked obediently to the wall of the trailer, grabbed his knife and extended his hand toward the wall before the old man had a chance to react.
“Now look here!” He rose, dropping his paper to the ground. “Stop that!” He grabbed Wil by the collar of his shirt, yanking his feet off the floor.
The young man stepped forward and grabbed the old man by his collar. He could not lift him off the floor, but he was enough taller he was able to make the old fellow stand on his toes.
“Here now, you can’t do that to a little kid! Let him go!”
Wil’s grandmother used the distraction to raise the gate and follow Wil over the wall to the other side. Deftly, she extracted her grandson’s collar from the startled old man. Thanking the young man for his assistance, she spun Wil toward the door and propelled him forward, crashing through like a bulldozer.
Over her shoulder she called loudly, “Your fine, handcrafted trailer is already scratched, you old coot! And by the way,” she turned to face him, still gripping Wil’s hand tightly. “It’s made in a factory in our town, and they don’t craft them by hand!”
Lifting Wil nearly off the ground, she stormed off toward the museum. They had walked only a few blocks when another café came into view. Wil’s grandmother made directly for it, and ordered a glass of lemonade and a plate of cookies for Wil.
“And I’ll have whiskey,” she told the waiter. “Neat.”
The waiter brought their order, she paid him and gave him a handsome tip to keep her drinks coming. “Wilhelm,” she told him in her no-nonsense-will-be-tolerated voice. “You are never to speak to another living soul about this as long as you live.” She did not mean the incident with the old man, rather the fact that she was drinking whiskey.
They had never gone anywhere near the large garden with the grumpy guard again, but it was such a vivid memory for Wil, it drove much of the rest he had seen that day completely out of his mind. However, from time to time when they were alone, Wil would crack a wicked grin at her, and say, “Grandma, do you remember the yellow gate?”
© 2011 Dellani Oakes
The officer went down first, a gurgling sigh filling the air as he sank to his knees, face hitting the pavement with a wet, sick squelch. The man holding her legs stumbled, dropping her. As he righted himself, Lill got her balance on her left foot, kicking hard with her right. She caught him in the ribs with a satisfying crack.
The man holding her upper body had a moment to prepare. Letting go of her, he grabbed his weapon, aiming around her at Tab Stevens. Lill reacted instinctively, slamming her small body into his raised arm. The weapon fired and a focused beam of energy bounced around so much she lost track of it. He squeezed off two more shots before she got the gun away from him.
Whirling, she kicked him in the midsection. Her hands slammed into the back of his head, driving him face first into the ground. A heel to the back of his head assured he wouldn’t get up again. The man she’d kicked in the ribs groaned, moving to his knees. She kicked him in the head. His neck snapped back at an unnatural angle. He didn’t make a sound as he fell.
“Lill,”Tab’s voice was faint, weak.
“Tab!” She found him in the shadow of the building. “What happened?”
“Random blast. I caught one.” There was blood on his face, a wound in his chest. “I’ll be okay. Get me up.”
She put her shoulder under his, raising him with her legs. He weighed nearly twice as much as she, but was partially able to hold himself up. They were nearly to his quarters when his body lurched away from her. He fell in slow motion, right hand grasping her clothing as he died. It was then she saw the wound in his back. He’d been shot at fairly close range. She shook him, but knew without checking his pulse that he was dead.
A man stepped out of the shadows, holstering a weapon. “Time to go, little girl,” he said calmly.
His face was wickedly handsome, his body lethal. Dark, fathomless eyes riveted hers, halting movement. As if hypnotized, she was unable to react. Lifting her like a sack of potatoes, he carried her to the unmarked building. A medical team met them at the door.
“Is she injured?”
“Check for yourself,” her abductor replied. “Next time, do your own dirty work. She killed two of my team and incapacitated the rest.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. We’ll see to her now.”
“Make sure she doesn’t remember,” he said softly. “I don’t want her to recognize me when she wakes up.”
Lill woke the next morning with a terrible headache, feeling that something important had happened during the night. She didn’t recognize her surroundings, but a doctor explained she’d suffered a head trauma the night before.
“You must expect some memory loss,” she explained. “It’s natural under the circumstances. Let me introduce you to the rest of the squad.”
One of the men stepped forward. He was tall, dark haired with piercing black eyes. She had a flash of deja vu before convincing herself she’d never seen him before.
“Hello, Lillian.” His smile was somewhat chilling. I’m Wil VanLipsig.”
“Pleased to meet you. Call me Lill.”
“Did you know? Is that why you kept me here?”
His eyes fluttered away from hers, unwilling to meet her stare.
“They were coming for you too. I couldn’t let them take you from me. Not before….”
“Not before we were together. Is that it?”
“I risked my life, my career for you!”
“I didn’t ask you to! I should have been with my friends! Will they experiment on them too?”
He nodded, closing his eyes.
“And me? They’ll take me too?”
“Yes, but it isn’t always like this. There’s something big they’re working on. I’ve never seen them this excited. There was a doctor here looking you all over. He was particularly interested in you and your friends for some secret project.”
He closed his eyes, not wanting to answer. Forcing himself, he spoke. “Some sort of super soldiers. They want special, exceptional people.”
“Why the dummies then? They hardly fit that category.”
“Werchan’s have a specific chromosome they can harvest. It’s necessary to the enhancement program. That’s all I know.”
That night, Lill went to bed early, skipping chow. She had no desire to be with the other recruits. She lay on her bunk, back to the room. As the others came in, they spoke in hushed tones as if she were one of the condemned. After lights out, they continued whispering between their bunks.
Lill had no stim pack to help her stay awake, but fear and adrenaline had the same effect. She wasn’t asleep when they came for her. Six of them surrounded her bunk and one moved forward to inject her with the sedative. As he leaned over, she wrested the medication away from him, injecting him instead. He fell heavily, a slow sigh escaping him.
The other five rushed her, but she took out three before the last two brought her down. Rather than succumbing quietly, she screamed and kicked, biting unprotected skin. Her mouth was covered in blood that wasn’t her own and both men were limping. They carried her out between them as she continued to writhe and fight.
“Took you long enough.” A man met them outside the barracks. He was dressed like an officer. “How hard is it to take down one little girl?”
The man holding Lill’s feet grunted as she kicked him again, connecting with something soft.
“Swear to God, girlie, I’ll rip you in half you kick me there again!” There was malice in his eyes.
Fighting like a hellcat, she bit the arm of the other man. Spitting blood and flesh at the officer, she delighted in seeing him wince.
“Gag the bitch,” he said calmly, wiping her spit and the man’s blood from his uniform with a handkerchief.
“Try, you scabrous, poxed excuse for a man. Can’t get a woman any other way? You’ve got to kidnap them? Or do you prefer boys? You’ve taken them too.”
The officer’s face became a death mask as he leaned over her. “Listen, you annoying little bitch.
If you weren’t so damn important to this project, I’d let them bleed you. Since that’s not an option, you will settle down and cooperate or I’ll personally see to it that any work that’s done on you is done without anesthetic. Considering some of that is drilling into your bones, you might want to consider cooperating.”
Lill quit fighting. This was a man not to be trifled with. As they passed Stevens’ quarters, a darker shadow joined them just out of the line of sight. Lill knew it was Tab Stevens, hunting the hunters.
It might have been intended as a joke, but he wasn’t laughing. Determination firmed his jaw, making him even more handsome. Uncaring of anything, Lill stood on tiptoe, planting a soft, lingering kiss on his lips.
“I’ll help you with this. Not to further my career, but because you’ve asked me.”
“I’d move seven kinds of hell to be with you.”
The next kiss was fierce, primal. He left her tingling with the imprint of his body on hers, blazing through her clothing. Leaving suddenly, he walked away from her, motioning for her to go the opposite direction. They arrived at the target range separately, within moments of one another. Tab was completely professional, not showing any sign of how he felt about her. Lill followed suit, treating him with distant respect.
That night, two couples disappeared. A team of six came in and carried them out with their possessions. Lill felt cold fingers of doubt crawl up her spine when one of the team members walked in her direction. She was careful to keep her breathing normal, though she wanted to scream. She appeared relaxed, feeling anything but, especially when the person walked closer to where Ché and Shauntay slept.
The leader of the team hissed, motioning for him to come. That was the first sound she had heard them make. None of them spoke as they walked out the door. Lill listened a moment longer, then rose to follow them. With her weapon in hand, she crept silently out of the barracks. They had, for some reason, left the door unlocked.
They carried their burden to a waiting vehicle. Still not looking around, they didn’t see her as the piled in the front of the transport. The back was covered by a canvas, so Lill climbed in. It didn’t occur to her until they took off that this was probably a seriously bad idea. Stevens had said to follow them. He hadn’t told her to be stupid, though. And this, she decidedly was being.
The truck stopped not far away from her barracks. Lill slipped out, hiding under the truck before the men got out. They carried their human cargo into the long, low, unmarked building just as silently as they’d carried them out. Once they were inside, she crept out from under the trunk, scampering back to Stevens’ quarters. She could only imagine the kind of trouble she’d be in if she were caught out after curfew on the military base.
The light was on under Stevens’ door. She scratched lightly against the surface. The light went out and the door opened silently. He pulled her into his quarters, holding her close, both of them trembling. He kissed her hungrily before he let her speak. Lill told him everything she’d seen. When she described the building, he paused.
“Forget you know those people.”
“Tell me,” she insisted, her volume rising slightly.
“Will you shut it? That’s owned by the Council,” he whispered desperately.
The Council was a secret, governing body that operated outside galaxy rules. They subverted, assassinated and bribed their way to power. They were the nameless men no one spoke about. If they were behind the abductions, no one was safe.
“I need to get back to my bunk.”
“Not yet. I don’t give a damn if they kill me.”
His embrace was almost painful, his lovemaking torrid, fierce. Lill was completely swept away by the experience, knowing that no other man would ever compare to him. They made love twice before he escorted her quietly back to the barracks, locking the door behind her.
“No matter what,” assured her softly before parting. “They can’t take that away from us.”
That morning, not only were the four people gone whom Lill had followed, but three others as well. During her absence, Lill’s friends had disappeared without a trace. Furious with grief, she went to Stevens’ quarters before chow.
Fortunately, the commodes had stalls with doors and she was able to put in the contacts. The stim patch would have to be applied later, after she and Dray shared their recreational time. He’d notice if she wore it and it might affect him too if any of the chemical rubbed off. She put it where she could find it easily and waited until the others were asleep before applying it to her inner thigh.
It was nearly three in the morning when she heard the door to the barracks snick open. They were locked in at night. Sargent Stevens was supposed to have the only key, but he wasn’t in the group who moved with unnatural silence around their barracks. The four men set a canister of what looked like sleep gas among the huddled forms on the other end of the room. They didn’t even glance at Lill as they surrounded two of the Wercha natives, injecting them with a sedative. Saying nothing, they communicated with hand signals. They lifted their two victims carefully, carrying them out of the barracks. Two others came in, got their possessions and left just as silently, taking the spent sleep bomb with them.
Lill felt very vulnerable and defenseless. What if they decided to come after her, or the others? Could she lie there and let them be spirited away in the night? Like hell she could! They were a team now, friends. Not having had many of those over the years, the ones she did have meant a lot to her. Removing the stim patch from her thigh, she rolled over and fell into a light sleep.
The next morning, Lill was tired, but determined. She reported to Stevens directly after chow. He took her for a long walk, ostensibly to discuss the day’s activities. Instead, their stroll took them far from the normal walkways of the camp. When they were far enough away to suit, concealed by a tall, thick stand of trees, Stevens faced her. Before he said a word, he kissed her slowly, deeply, making her toes tingle. Startled, Lill looked up at him, her knees weak.
“Tell me what you saw last night.”
Lill described in vivid detail everything she had seen.
“They never even came down to your end?”
“They were nowhere near us.”
He nodded, frowning.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know yet. There’s not much to do, unfortunately. Once criminals are convicted, they become property of the State until they are released. These were all lifers.”
“Does that mean they could take Ché?”
“And what about me?”
He said nothing, refusing to look her in the eyes.
“Can you do something? They’re my friends. I care about them.”
“Do you think you can do another night of this?”
“I want them followed.”
“What? Are you crazy?”
“I can’t do it, Lill. I need this from you.”
“Fine. But I need more than filters and a stim patch. I need a weapon.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“You’ll get that weapon, or you can forget about me following anyone.”
Stevens stared into the distance, a faraway look in his eyes. Decision flickered across his stony face. “Okay.” He paused, staring unashamedly at her. “Dammit, Lillian. They could kill me for the thoughts I’m having.”
“Can’t kill a man on his thoughts, Tab.”
“This is Wercha. They can kill me for farting in public.”
It might have been intended as a joke, but he wasn’t laughing.
“Twins,” he said as if that explained it. “It’s a psy bond we’ve had since birth.”
Lill blinked at him, having never heard of something like that. “Really? So you know everything the other is thinking?”
“Mostly. Sometimes I see things she sees when I’m away from her. “
Lill nodded slowly, examining Dray’s athletic build. “Well, if I give Ché to your sister to play with, what am I gonna do?”
His smile told her she wouldn’t have to worry about that. She enjoyed his company even more than Ché’s. In the morning, another couple was gone. There was no hiding the sargent’s worry now. For once, he didn’t even hit on Lill as they walked. She overheard him talking to the other non-commissioned officers on the way to chow.
“They’ve never taken this many before.”
“Are they showing up anywhere else?”
“No. That’s what worries me.”
“Not your best?”
“No. The ones disappearing are the dregs so far.”
“They’ll turn up.”
“They’ll turn up dead, you mean,” Tab said to his companions. “I don’t like this. The recruits are starting to wonder who’ll be next. Working like this is unsettling. I can’t handle a bunch of stupid, scared people.”
“You going to command?”
“Hell, no! Keep it quiet, that’s my motto.”
“Good luck, Tab. We’ll keep an eye out, but they ain’t no guarantees ’round this place.”
Tab trotted to catch up with Lill. “I need you to keep any eye on things tonight,” he murmured.
“When am I supposed to sleep?”
“I’ll get you a stim pack. I can’t stay in the barracks. I need someone with an ounce of sense watching.”
“What do I do after?”
“Report to me at muster. This isn’t normal, not this many.”
“Wait a second,” she stopped him abruptly. “Not this many? You mean you expect to lose some recruits?”
He sighed, running his stubby fingers across his close cropped scalp. Turning her aside, he led her into a space between two buildings.
“One thing the higher ups do around here is take recruits from the prison section and use them for experiments.”
He shushed her. “I don’t want to lose you, Lill. So don’t let on you know. Tell me what you see, that’s all.”
“It’s pitch dark in that barracks….”
“I’ll take care of it. Check your footlocker before light’s out. Don’t let lover boy know.” His tone held scorn.
“I thought you had more self-control.”
“I’m lonely. Find a way for us to be together if it’s bothering you.”
Looking furtively around, he kissed her hard on the mouth, leaving her stunned and tingling.
After chow, she went back to the barracks, checking her locker when the others were in the shower. She found a stim patch and light sensitive filters for her eyes. They went in like contacts and would activate automatically when the lights went out. She slipped both in her pocket, taking them with her to the bathroom.
Despite her circumstances, Lill’s settling in and meeting some others she can call friends. She may not like it where she is, but she has them to see her through.
He moved his possessions to the bunk next to Lill’s as soon as the got back to their barracks. Thirty minutes after chow, it was lights out. It was impossible to move the bunks as they were bolted to the floor, but most couples made due with one narrow bunk. Lill and Ché Hershey put their mattresses on the floor. It wasn’t very comfortable, but provided them a place to get to know one another is a more than friendly way. Afterwards, they put their mattresses back on the beds and fell asleep.
Morning wake-up came at 0400. Stevens came in, crashing metal lids together. They were given 10 minutes to get ready and headed to chow. Most of the recruits had spent too much time fooling around the night before and were dragging. Lill and Ché were pleasantly rested, a fact that did not escape the discerning eye of Sargent Stevens.
“You playing with the pansy?” He asked Lill, taking her aside before chow.
“He’s not a pansy, Sargent. I guarantee, far from it.”
“But you are playing?”
She gave him a level stare, indicating it was none of his business.
“I have a right to know, Recruit. If it interferes with your performance in any way, you’re both on report.”
“It won’t, Sargent.” More quietly, she added, “Did you expect me to wait for you?” She didn’t wait for his answer.
At morning muster, two of the recruits were missing. No one knew what had happened to them. They disappeared during the night. Since the Sargent didn’t seem disturbed by the incident, no one said anything, but Lill was curious. As their day was spent with physical training, she didn’t have time or energy to think much about it. Worn and weary, she and the others trudged to evening chow. Most fell into their bunks as soon as they got back to the barracks and went immediately to sleep.
Lill and Ché, who were in better physical condition than their comrades, spent another night together in their private corner. Later, Lill’s dreams were plagued by dark shapes moving about the barracks during the night. In the morning, another couple had disappeared.
This time, Sargent Stevens looked worried. He didn’t say anything, but Lill found him counting them repeatedly during the day. After their noon meal, they were joined by more recruits. The barracks was nearly full now, but Lill and Ché were still relatively isolated. Only one other couple was anywhere near them.
Before evening chow, they had a few minutes to police the barracks. Lill took the time to introduce herself to the others. Their names were Dray and Shauntay Metzger, a brother and sister from an off-world theatre company.
“They didn’t like our act,” Dray explained, shrugging massive shoulders. “I throw knives at Shauntay and they thought it was exploitative and hazardous.”
Ché was shocked. “And I thought we got railed.”
“We were charged with inciting a riot,” Shauntay shook her long blonde hair out of her face. “The crowd found our act exciting and were cheering for us.”
“Seven years,” Dray complained.
“I’ll be dead before then,” Shauntay complained. “If a battle doesn’t get me, I’ll be dead from the smell.”
“Or the food,” Ché added with a dour sneer.
They sat together at chow, talking quietly together. On the way back to the barracks, Dray took Lill aside.
“I don’t mean to snoop, but are you and Ché – is it a serious relationship?”
“Not really. Why?”
“I think Tay likes him.”
“How would you know a thing like that?”
Lillian Simpson has already made a favorable impression on her Sargent. Smart, capable and sassy, she’s shown him she can be relied on to excel–if she can survive.
”See you after chow,” he whispered.
Lill stared after him, confused. Had that conversation been what she thought? Was he hitting on her? Though she had to admit that Sargent Tab Stevens was the tastiest thing she’d seen since getting to this backwater, she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk military prison, or worse, just for a romp.
She put away her belongings and made her bed. By the time she’d finished, the first recruit reported to her. The 20 minutes until chow were spent in a whirlwind of inspections. When the sargent came back to take them to the mess hall, he flashed a pleased eye around the room, nodding to Lill. She led the group, following the sargent.
“Twenty minutes,” Stevens announced as they hit the door. “Hold up, Simpson.”
She stopped, waiting for him to speak.
“You’ve got a lot on the ball, Simpson. Most of these folks can’t find they damn ass with both hands and a flashlight. You stick with me, you’ll get that promotion in record time. You copy?”
“I hope so, Sargent.”
Flashing a seductive smirk, she strutted into the mess hall, swinging her hips for his benefit. Once more, his booming laugh followed her inside. She ate as far from the other recruits as possible, ignoring most attempts to make friends. One other off-world recruit joined her. The tag above his pocket said, “Hershey.”
“Hey, Simpson. Mind if I sit here? I don’t think I can stand another minute of that crew.”
“Sure, Hershey.” She smiled at the tall, dark haired, olive skinned man.
Hershey was slender of build, wiry muscle. He moved more like a dancer than a soldier.
“I know why I’m here,” Lill grinned at him. “What brings you here? You aren’t like the others.”
“I’m a dancer by profession – was,” he amended. “I got caught after curfew in a compromising position. Apparently they take such things seriously on Wercha.”
“You lady didn’t like what she ended up with?”
“Not exactly. The man I was with seemed perfectly happy. It was his wife who found our antics objectionable.”
“Oh!” Lill choked, trying not to spew crumbs as she laughed. “I’m sorry. Honest, I don’t have a problem with that. Didn’t know he was married?”
Hershey shrugged. “Subject didn’t come up.”
“You could have invited her to join you.”
“That’s what got her riled. And the fact I’m prettier than she is. Most native Wercha females aren’t what you’d call attractive.” He winked, dark eyes dancing with mirth. His face clouded suddenly. “The judge said I was a sexual predator and would have thrown me to the perverts in the prison if my lawyer hadn’t appealed, rather desperately, on my behalf.”
“You were lucky.”
“I suppose. I’m here for life. No chance of redemption. You?”
“Four years for loitering.”
“There ought to be a warning beacon on that planet. I don’t know why there isn’t.”
“They probably tried and got arrested for something.”
Both tried to laugh, but it wasn’t easy under the circumstances.
They finished their meals in silence. Walking back to the barracks, their compatriots walked in pairs, planning to meet after lights out. Lill and Hershey walked together, huddling against the moist chill of the wind.
“If I’ve got to listen to a night of these buggers porking I might be ill,” Hershey looked disgusted. “Mind if I move down by you?”
“I’d love your company. I don’t suppose you like girls, do you?”
He grinned, cocking his head to one side. “I don’t know, I never tried girls. But I’m willing to make an exception if it means we can have some fun and ignore the others.”