tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 100

Three Square Meals Ch. 100


The Invictus lifted off the landing pad on Sequathis' upper platform, retro-thrusters blazing bright orange amidst the blue glow from Brimor's sun. Alyssa banked the sleek battlecruiser around, departing on their initial approach vector, rather than just pointing the nose skyward and blasting them into orbit. The reason for her careful manoeuvre was not in deference to Brimorian port speeds, but simply because they had a rendezvous to keep, with a certain black stealth shuttle lurking in a dense bank of cumulus clouds. Faye raised the Invictus' Primary Hangar door as the two ships matched speeds and the shuttle glided inside.

"Jade's safely inside!" the purple girl announced, bouncing up and down where she sat on John's command console.

"Nice work, ladies," John said, finally relaxing now the Nymph was safely back aboard the Invictus. He glanced over at Dana who was engrossed with the shield status display. "Everything looking good with the shields?"

The redhead grinned at him, her blue eyes shining with delight. "I had to recalibrate the display. We blasted the fucking roof off the maximum shield status!"

"How much more have we got now?"

"Over seven times the Invictus' original shield strength... but that doesn't include the damage reduction effect from the Brimorian shielding!"

John returned the exuberant young woman's grin. "Will that make a big difference?"

"A fucking huge difference! We'll take reduced damage from Beam Lasers, making the shields last loads longer. We're also effectively immune to Terran Laser Cannon fire now and can just laugh at anything weaker than that..." She turned her beaming smile to Calara. "That basically means fighters can't do shit to us now!"

"That's fantastic news," John said, nodding appreciatively. He followed the redhead's gaze to the equally excited Latina. "Everything checking out okay with the upgraded energy weapons?"

"I'm reading everything in the green for the Pulse Cannons, Photon Lasers, and the Nova Lances!" Calara exclaimed, her brown eyes sparkling with barely contained joy. "I'd love to obliterate an asteroid belt or two for a weapons test, but there's no real need. I've never had a single weapon failure on the Invictus; our lovely Chief Engineer is just that good."

Dana tipped an imaginary hat at the Latina's compliment. "I like to take good care of my toys!" She got up and stretched, then glanced around the Bridge. "Any volunteers to help me install the new shield generators and eternity crystals in the Valkyrie and Raptor?"

There was a chorus of agreement as everyone on the Bridge offered to help, the whole crew rising to their feet in their eagerness to assist.

Alyssa glanced at Rachel, then stepped over to John and placed a hand on his wrist, intercepting him as he turned to join the others in heading for the grav-tube. "Wait a second, handsome. We can help later, but first you'll probably want to have a chat with Jade."

"Is she on her way up?" John asked, slightly unnerved by the gleam in Alyssa's cerulean eyes.

"She certainly is," the blonde replied, giving him a coy smile.

He saw her eyes dart towards the grav-tube, so he turned to greet the Nymph. His jaw dropped when he spotted a beautiful teal face framed by a mass of light green hair, peeking out from behind Jade.

"What the hell?" John blurted out, gaping at the two women.

*I brought back a sample of Helene's DNA!* Jade informed him with a telepathic giggle, barely able to contain the radiant smile on her face as she gently coaxed the wide-eyed girl onto the Bridge.

"Hey everyone," the Nymph said as she clasped her new friend's hand and squeezed it gently to reassure her. "I'd like to introduce you to Helene."

There were friendly waves and smiles all round, which Helene just about managed to acknowledge with a shy smile of her own. She was clearly fascinated by the girls, gaping in astonishment at the dazzling mix of hair and skin tones, none of which were familiar to her.

When her eyes darted to John, she gazed at him in awe, a look of pure wonder on her face. "Are you John, the Master Wizard?" she asked in reverent tones.

He shot a bewildered glance at Jade, who blushed a deep green and looked decidedly shifty. Walking down the steps from the Command Podium, he replied, "My name's John Blake. You're aboard my ship, the Invictus."

"Yes, your sky chariot!" Helene exclaimed, her baby-blue eyes widening as she paused to look around the Bridge. "This is just like the stories I heard as a child!"

Alyssa glided past her stunned lover and gave the aquatic beauty a soft kiss on the cheek. "It's lovely to meet you, Helene. My name's Alyssa... welcome to our home."

"Thank you, Alyssa," the guileless young woman replied, her lovely face lighting up in gratitude.

Turning to look at John, his blonde Matriarch arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps now would be a good time for that chat?"

He nodded mutely and waved a hand towards his Ready Room. Before they departed, Jade handed the hypo-injector to Rachel, the brunette greeting Helene with a friendly smile. The Nymph slid her arm around Helene's waist and guided her towards the Ready Room door. She stared at John in fascination as she walked past, seemingly unable to tear her eyes away from him, then she glanced back over her shoulder to watch him as long as she could before Jade led her through the doorway.

*I'm not completely sure, but I think Helene might be interested in you...* Alyssa told him, her bright blue eyes full of artful innocence.

*You knew Jade was bringing her here!*

The blonde shrugged. *Of course. It wasn't fun listening to our resident Nymph's underwater thoughts, but we were in constant telepathic communication before she made the decision.*

*We're about to go into what's likely to be the most dangerous battle we've been in so far and you two decided to bring a civilian on board?!* John balked, pouring his disapproval into the empathic bond he had with them both. *You didn't even ask me about it! What were you thinking?!*

Alyssa closed the distance between them and hugged him tight. *Please don't be mad! Helene needs your help and we've just been evicted from the Brimorian Enclave... they told us not to come back! Neither Jade or I could think of a better way of handling it and we both wanted Helene to be a surprise!*

*Well you certainly managed to surprise the hell out of me,* he muttered, frowning as he glanced towards the Ready Room.

*I'm sorry, John,* Jade told him, sounding genuinely contrite. *It took me so long to find Helene, I had no time to ask any questions about the Abandoned. This seemed like the most efficient solution.*

*So what's all this Master Wizard nonsense?* he asked them both, before spotting the guilty flash in the blonde's bright blue eyes. *I take it that was Alyssa's idea?*

She nodded, but didn't flinch away from his stern gaze. *Helene's a sweet girl, but very naive... we needed to talk to her in terms she could understand. When Jade explained the situation, it seemed like a relatively harmless way of encouraging Helene to return to the ship so we could talk to her.*

John gave her a knowing look. *And this has nothing to do with your obsession of adding as many beautiful girls to our family as possible?*

Alyssa had the good grace to blush this time. *I'll admit that might have been a passing thought...*

He groaned and rubbed at his face. *Haven't we got enough on our plate at the moment?*

The blonde stood up straighter and fixed him with a steely gaze. *No. This is important... Helene's important, I can feel it. I'm sorry I didn't ask your permission, but this is a very different situation from Niskera. Besides, you did leave me in charge of recruitment.*

*I'm never going to hear the end of that am I?* he asked with a weary sigh.

She gave him a tender kiss on the lips then gazed intently into his eyes. *Answer me honestly... have I made a bad call yet with any of the girls I've brought into your life?*

John paused then looked chagrined and shook his head. *No... they're all wonderful.*

Alyssa gently stroked his cheek. *You say we're partners, but I'm willing to defer to your judgement on every other decision in our lives. If you truly respect my judgement as well, then wouldn't it be fair to offer me the same courtesy on this single subject?*

Now it was John's turn to look guilty. *Alright, I suppose that's fair enough, but you know why I'm concerned right? Any girl I end up in a serious relationship with will probably want children and I don't want to spread myself so thin I end up unable to give them enough attention...*

*I know...* Alyssa said softly. *Just trust me; I know you better than you know yourself. Everything will be alright.*

John took a deep breath then nodded. He offered Alyssa an arm and they entered the Ready Room, to find Jade and Helene sitting patiently on one of the sofas. Helene's eyes snapped to his face and she watched his every move with a startling intensity.

Sitting on the sofa opposite, John smiled at the alluring aquatic girl to put her at ease. "I'm sorry if I was rude when we first met. I didn't know you were coming aboard, so Jade just caught me by surprise when she introduced you. As I said earlier, my name's John and it's a pleasure to meet you, Helene."

"There's no need to apologise, Master Wizard," she replied, bowing her head deferentially. "I understand you must be very busy!"

John flicked a quick glance at the Nymph beside the aquatic girl, then focused on Helene again. "What did Jade tell you about me so far?"

Helene let out a soft sigh, a starry-eyed look on her face. "That you're good and kind, and you spend your life helping as many people as you can." She hesitated for a moment, then gave him a look of profound longing. "She said that what you like doing most of all, is granting wishes to good girls."

"What would you wish for, Helene?" John asked quietly.

Her trusting eyes filled up with tears and her hands went to her slender tummy. "I... I can't have babies..." She started to tremble, her shoulders shaking with grief as she began to sob. "I'm not a proper woman any more... and it's all my fault!"

John's heart went out to the heartbroken girl and he quickly knelt down in front of her, then clasped her hand. Jade put her arm around the distraught young woman, and gave her a supportive hug.

"What happened to you?" he asked, brushing his thumb over her soft teal-coloured skin.

Helene wiped away her tears and took a deep breath to try to steady herself. When she started to speak, her voice was full of sorrow as she began her tale. "Years ago, I fell in love with a sweet handsome boy called Firon. We'd grown up together and were soulmates; everyone said that we'd be together forever and that our love would conquer all. Elder Debha told me I was too young to carry a baby and to wait a few more years, but Firon and I were so much in love..." Her voice caught, and tears rolled down her cheeks. "...I didn't listen and thought I knew my body better than anyone. I was with Firon and it was so wonderful... his seed quickened in my belly that very first night..."

Unable to continue, Helene turned and wept into Jade's shoulder as the Nymph did her best to comfort the heartbroken girl.

"You lost the baby..." Alyssa murmured, her tone gentle and full of sympathy. "Elder Myrna tried to save it, but after the bleeding it was too late... You were badly hurt, your womb not ready to carry a child to term."

Helene gaped at Alyssa in stunned disbelief. "You're a wizard too!" she gasped, her voice ragged from crying.

When John turned to glance at his blonde Matriarch, he saw her eyes were glowing with a soft white light. She was looking away into the distance, her gaze unfocused as she delved into the aquatic girl's mind.

"The Brimorians came for Firon, to punish him for damaging a female," Alyssa whispered, her anguished expression reflecting the harrowing grief of Helene's memories. "You begged for him to be spared, but they executed him as a lesson to the others..."

"It was all my fault!" Helene cried out, her face twisted in anguish. "Firon died because I was too foolish to listen to the elders!" Her body was wracked with plaintive sobs. "If only I'd waited a few more years... he'd still be with me and we would have had six babies together by now!"

John frowned at that and glanced at Alyssa.

*Firon died seven years ago. Helene's twenty-two...* she replied quietly, answering his unspoken question. *The Brimorians encourage the Abandoned females to have children every year for as long as they're fertile... they're breeding a slave race!*

His eyes widened at that shocking revelation, then turned his focus back to the weeping girl. "I'm so sorry about Firon," he said, gently squeezing her hands. "There's a lot I can do, but I'm afraid I can't bring him back for you."

Helene's face twisted with guilt and self-recrimination and she began to cry all the harder. John waited patiently for her outpouring of grief to run its course, while Jade whispered quietly in her ear, her murmured words kind and supportive.

When her tears dried up, Helene finally met John's sympathetic gaze. "I should never have come here. I'm not a good girl... if I was, my wish would have been to bring back Firon..." No longer able to meet his sympathetic gaze, she turned away, a haunted look in her eyes. "I'm so selfish... I was going to ask you to make me a woman again... but I don't deserve it."

Before John could disagree, Alyssa walked over to the heartbroken girl and gently lifted Helene's chin so that she would look into the matriarch's glowing eyes. "I've looked into your heart, Helene. You're not a bad person. You're kind, generous, and loving with all your friends and family. What happened to you and Firon was not your fault."

Helene looked shocked and shook her head. "But I-"

Alyssa leaned down and gave her a tender kiss to silence her objections. "The Brimorians are to blame for a whole host of reasons. We'll talk about it later when you're calmer, but for now I want you to trust in my magic and know that I'm telling you the truth."

"I-I do trust you and your magic, Mistress Wizard," Helene finally whispered, looking stunned as she appeared to be re-evaluating her opinion of herself and her troubled past.

"Just call me Alyssa," the blonde said with a benevolent smile.

"And please call me John," he requested, rubbing her hand in a soothing motion.

Helene nodded distractedly, appearing too shell-shocked to speak.

John glanced at the Nymph, then said, "I don't know what Jade said to you before she invited you aboard the ship, but we'll be leaving Brimorian territory for quite some time... at least a few weeks but it might be much longer. You're welcome to come with us, but if you're in a hurry to return to your home on Brimor, tell me now so that we can take you back before we fly too far away."

Her red-rimmed baby-blue eyes focused on him once more. "Jade told me I could go on an adventure with her... and I... don't want to go back. I love my family, but everyone at home looks at me with such pity! 'Poor Helene, her story is so tragic'... I know that's what they think, I've heard people talk about me when they didn't know I could hear."

"All of us have had troubled pasts so we understand," Alyssa said softly, smoothing some of Helene's light-green hair away from her face. "What happened to you was awful and if you'd like to talk about it with John, me, or any of the girls, we'll be happy to listen. We won't judge you or look on you with pity, but we will be a sympathetic ear if you need it. Does that sound okay?"

That look of awe was back on Helene's face again as she slowly nodded.

John shared a glance with Alyssa, then said to their guest, "At some point I'd like to ask you a bit about your people, but that can wait for now."

Helene shook her head and gave him a shy smile. "You may ask your questions now, I will answer to the best of my knowledge."

He studied her for a moment and saw that she seemed to be composed again. "Jade mentioned that you called this language 'the Old Tongue' and that it was forbidden?"

She flinched reflexively with that sudden reminder, then blinked as she remembered that she was now in a safe place. "The Brimorians ordered that we must only speak their language, but my people have kept the Old Tongue alive in secret. The stories say that it was hard at first; the Abandoned were watched and guarded, but now... we only really see the Brimorians for the crop harvests."

"Have you always lived on the Kelp farm?" John asked, listening attentively.

"For all my life," she replied, a conflicted expression on her face. "I mostly helped the men to gather the crops; it kept me busy and I didn't have time to think about things too much. I really loved helping look after the children in the nursery, but the pregnant women didn't like it if I spent too much time around them..." Her face fell, overcome with sadness. "They worried that I was bad luck."

John ducked his head to make eye contact with her. "That unhappy chapter of your life is over with. You have a bright future ahead of you now."

"Does your magic tell you that?" Helene asked, a flicker of hope lighting up her face.

He hesitated for a moment, unwilling to lie to the fragile young woman. "I promise I'll do my very best to make it happen."

She gave him a lovely smile. "Jade was right, you really are a good man."

Flushing self-consciously, John cleared his throat, then said, "If you're completely certain that you'd like to stay with us, then we need to help you settle in and make sure you're comfortable." He studied her for a moment, then continued, "I know you can breathe underwater, but what's the best place for you to sleep? We have a lagoon that you're welcome to make into your home, or we can give you your own room."

"I used to sleep in the shared dorms, Mas-... John," Helene said, correcting herself before calling him by his title. She looked down and looked shamefaced as she added in a soft whisper, "But it was so lonely. No one wanted to sleep with a broken woman..."

Jade grinned and hugged the troubled girl around her waist. "We all sleep together here! There'll be no shortage of volunteers to cuddle you at night."

*Jade...* John cautioned her with a frown.

"You'd really let me sleep with you!" Helene exclaimed, beaming at him with joy. She caught a glimpse of John's worried expression and her face fell. "I'm so sorry! I shouldn't let you shame yourselves..."

Alyssa grinned at her and shook her head. "Ignore the Master Wizard, he gets some funny ideas sometimes. He thinks you're a stunningly beautiful girl, but he's worried that if he lets you sleep with us, the two of you will end up making love... and that he'd be taking advantage of you. He's very concerned about making sure you're happy and doesn't want you to feel hurt, or get upset."

Helene looked at him incredulously, the doubt written plain as day across her lovely features. "I-is that true?!"

John glared at Alyssa, then turned back to the breathless girl. "Yes, I do think you're very beautif-"

He didn't get to finish the sentence because Helene launched herself at him, her soft lips seeking his like a heat-seeking missile. She straddled his lap and moaned into his mouth as she kissed him passionately.

*She's from a very sexual culture, but she's been shunned by men for all her adult life,* Alyssa said softly. *Please make her first proper kiss one that she'll remember.*

John shrugged off his shock and wrapped his arms around Helene, applying just enough pressure to let her feel his strength. Her moans grew louder as he held her close and began to return the kiss, putting everything he'd learned in the past six months into practice. He used firm, insistent pressure on her lips, not enough to bruise, but enough to let her realise that she should follow his lead.

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