tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 053

Three Square Meals Ch. 053

byTefler©

Dana and Rachel both looked delighted when they strolled into the hangar with Associate Bhaken, and they waved jubilantly at John, Alyssa, and Irillith who were waiting by the Raptor gunship with Jade. The two girls spoke earnestly with their Trankaran guide for a moment, thanking him for being such an excellent host as they waved him goodbye, before jogging over to rejoin their friends.

Alyssa sighed with relief as John dropped his mind-shield, and when she was able to listen to his inner voice, he seemed more like himself once again. His behaviour seemed to be increasingly erratic of late, acting distant and out of character, and she was getting more than a little worried. Jade had been the first of the other girls to notice anything, and it had been a big relief to be able to share her concerns, having kept it to herself to avoid troubling them. Dana and Rachel rushed over with eager smiles on their faces, and she turned to listen to the redhead as she began to speak.

"That was awesome!" Dana exclaimed, bouncing up and down with excitement.

John smiled at her, and asked, "Things went well with the Forgemaster, I take it?"

To his surprise, it was Rachel who answered first, and she beamed as she replied, "These Trankarans are so friendly and helpful! The Forgemaster had a male and female assistant, who both let me take some genetic samples. They agreed to let me scan them too!"

Dana nodded animatedly, and said, "And I've just spent the last hour having a fascinating chat with Forgemaster Gilgrem about metallurgy. Associate Bhaken wasn't exaggerating about the Trankarans having a gift with metals, they really know their shit! They're also mining several metals I've never even heard of before!" She looked a bit evasive, but grinned at him endearingly as she added, "I bought a ton of each, just in case they might be useful. I hope that's okay?"

John chuckled and replied, "Yeah, as long as you got a good deal."

She winked at him slyly, and whispered, "These Trankarans might be friendly and helpful, but they aren't the sharpest traders. Considering how rare those metals are, I picked them up for a tenth of the price I was prepared to pay."

John clapped her on the back as he said, "Sounds like you did some quality haggling! Will the ore be here soon?"

She giggled before replying happily, "Forgemaster Gilgrem said he'd have them delivered straight away, so hopefully they should be here in a few minutes." She then looked at him with a quizzical expression and asked, "How did the meeting with the Chancellor go?"

He grinned at her and replied, "Very well actually, but we can go over the details with everyone back on the ship. Basically, I agreed to help them with their rebel problem, and in return, they're going to outfit the Invictus with the best engine tech they can make. I requested their engine specifications, so you'll know what you're going to be working with, and you can start thinking about how to seriously upgrade our Inertial Dampeners."

Alyssa smiled at her old friend and said wryly, "The Trankarans had some concerns for our safety if they gave us their state-of-the-art tech. Something about our frail Terran bodies not being able to cope with the strain. I think you'll have to come up with something pretty special, to stop us from getting squished like a bug the first time we crank our engines up to max."

Dana's sky-blue eyes sparkled with excitement, and she said, "I've actually had a few ideas already, but with the materials bonding research I've been working on, I haven't had the time to come up with anything concrete." She then looked torn with indecision, and asked John, "With all the new metals, and the notes that Forgemaster Gilgrem said he'd send me, I could make some real headway with my materials research. Do you really want me to stop working on that?"

John nodded and said apologetically, "I'm hoping our mission for the Trankarans will just take a few days, in which case we'll be able to get the Invictus outfitted with new engines very quickly. I want you to drop everything and work on the Inertial Dampeners first, alright?"

The redhead pouted, but nodded in agreement.

Alyssa laughed and said, "Cheer up, Sparks! Remember, you'll be getting your hands on some top-of-the-line alien tech. There won't be a single Terran ship with engines this fast!"

That turned Dana's frown upside down, and she looked ecstatically happy once again. Movement by the doors into the hangar drew their attention, and a male and female Trankaran appeared, steering robust, tracked trolleys that were loaded with sturdy ore containers. Dana skipped over to join them, and they smiled at her when she gave them a cheeky wave.

Rachel smiled at the others standing with her, and said, "You should come and meet the assistants, they're very friendly."

Alyssa and Rachel walked briskly to catch up with Dana, and John watched the enticing sway of their hips as they departed. The two girls greeted the Trankarans in a friendly fashion, and the Forgemaster's assistants gave them a broad smile, as Dana introduced everybody to each other. The group then began to make their way towards the rear of the gunship, following the redhead's animated directions.

"I'll go and open the rear loading ramp!" Jade called out to Dana, who turned and waved at her with a happy smile.

As the Nymph headed back into the Raptor, John began to walk over to join the girls, but a soft hand gently brushing his arm made him pause. He turned around and was surprised to see that it was Irillith who had reached out to touch him. John glanced down at her slender blue hand, looking at where it rested against his forearm, and enjoyed the feeling of her warm fingers as they lingered on his skin. When he turned to the Maliri woman, her face was flushed, and she snatched her hand away quickly.

"Is everything alright?" he asked her curiously.

Irillith gazed at him for a moment, before looking away, and saying in a quiet voice, "I just wondered why you brought me along to that meeting."

Alyssa turned around sharply as she was abruptly blocked from John's mind once again, and she narrowed her eyes as she saw him talking to Irillith. Something about the Maliri was making him act very strangely, and if anything, seemed to trigger him blocking her from his mind. She looked suspiciously at the Maliri woman, but Irillith's body language and posture seemed unthreatening.

A sly grin spread across John's face as he replied, "Didn't you see how shocked their Chancellor was when I revealed you were a Maliri? She was reeling for that entire meeting because of it."

Irillith was surprised at his cynical manipulation of the Trankaran Chancellor, but she hadn't forgotten the consequences of his little stunt. "If this ever gets back to the Maliri, I'm dead!" she said to him urgently in a hushed voice. "You might have just signed my death warrant!"

John had a calculating smile on his face as he said, "I wouldn't worry about that. I'm quite certain you'll be fine."

Irillith didn't feel particularly reassured, but she managed to suppress her anger, and nodded obediently instead, reluctant to break her cover. She smiled at him as she replied, "If you say so; then I feel better already."

He nodded smugly, and then they walked over to join the rest of the group. Alyssa watched them approach, and being denied her mental connection with John, the rest of her senses were all on high alert. The fact that they all warned her of danger only deepened her suspicions about Irillith.

***

After loading up the Raptor with ore, they said goodbye to the Trankaran assistants, and Jade shuttled the crew back to the Invictus. Once they had landed, John and Alyssa unloaded the gunship, with John carrying his share of the ore crates, while Alyssa levitated hers via telekinesis. They stacked the ore containers on the far side of the Cargo Bay, next to the storage containers of Etherite crystals and Onyxium ore.

After securing the crates to the deck via mag-locks, they walked back across the Cargo Bay to rejoin the others, who had watched them hauling the heavy containers around with interest. John found Dana staring thoughtfully at the dozens of containers full of Maliri electronics, and he asked her, "What are you thinking about?"

Dana turned to look at him, and grinned proudly as she said, "I think I might have a buyer for the electronics, but I was just thinking that we should hold out on selling, until we sort out the problems with the Trankarans. If we stop these rebels from fucking up trade, then there'll be a rush of merchants after Trankaran ore. Our cargo should increase in value considerably!"

He laughed and gave her a hug as he said, "I think you missed your vocation as a merchant!" When he eventually let her go, he glanced over at Irillith, and said, "I better secure our guest back on Deck Four."

Alyssa stepped forward and smiled, but there was a steely determination in her eyes. John had dropped his mind-shield again on the flight back from the Trankaran flagship, and she didn't want him anywhere near the Maliri woman if she could help it.

"Why don't you go up to the Bridge and update Calara? I'll escort Irillith back to her quarters," she said firmly.

John shrugged, and nodded as he smiled at her amiably, then walked over to the grav-tube arm-in-arm with Dana and Rachel. Jade watched them leave, and glanced in Alyssa's direction. *Want me to come along too?* she asked the blonde girl.

*I'll be fine,* Alyssa replied. *You go ahead and catch up on the details of our assassination mission...*

Jade frowned, and her thoughts sounded puzzled as she asked, *Assassination mission? That doesn't really sound like our usual line of business.*

Alyssa gave her a worried look, and replied, *Yeah, I know.*

The Nymph gave her a quick hug, and quickly departed to catch up with the others, leaving Alyssa and Irillith alone in the Cargo Bay. Alyssa turned towards the Maliri woman, who was studying her cautiously, and said, "Shall we?" gesturing towards the double doors with her hand.

Irillith smiled and nodded, matching pace with Alyssa as they walked over to the grav-tube. There was a frosty silence in the air as they rose in the anti-gravity field together, and when they stepped out onto the fourth floor, their footsteps seemed to echo loudly as they walked to Irillith's quarters. Alyssa gestured for Irillith to enter, and followed her into the room as soon as she spotted the collar on the bed, left there when John had casually discarded it earlier.

Being very careful not to let her true feelings show in her expression, Irillith waited patiently for Alyssa to walk over to the bed, and pick up the collar. The blonde girl glanced at the metal circlet she held in her hands, twisting it slowly, so that the light reflected off its cold metallic surface. Alyssa heaved a sigh, then stepped very close to Irillith so that they were only millimetres apart. If either woman had turned even the tiniest bit to either side, their breasts would have brushed against each other.

Alyssa carefully secured the collar back in place, locking it with a soft click around Irillith's slender blue neck. She then stood silently, and stared at the Maliri woman's beautiful face, gazing into her angular violet eyes.

"John might be fooled by this act," Alyssa began in a level voice, "but I know you're hiding something. Things will end very badly for you, if you try and hurt any of my friends."

Irillith stared back into Alyssa's bright blue eyes, with an innocent, disarming smile on her face. She tried to maintain that guileless stare for as long as she could, but something deep within the blonde girl's piercing cerulean gaze sent a cold shiver down her spine. Irillith quivered with fear, and looked away, not able to maintain eye contact any longer.

She could feel Alyssa studying her coldly for a long moment, before the Terran girl finally turned and walked out into the corridor, leaving Irillith alone in her quarters. The Maliri woman immediately walked over to the door, pressing the button that would close it. As soon as the door swished shut, her shoulders sagged, and she let out a huge shuddering sigh before flopping onto the bed. Between the dreadful irresistible magnetic pull she felt towards the Mael'nerak, and the roused suspicions from that terrifying otherworldly blonde, she knew this horrible nightmare was only going to get worse.

***

Trankaran space was not particularly broad, but it was very long, and wrapped around the edge of Terran Space in a thick band, neatly curtailing future human expansion in that direction. Fortunately, with Port Megara built as conveniently close to the Trankaran's capital as it could be within Terran Space, the journey to Trankara was only going to be a short one.

"Ten hours," Alyssa stated, as she finished making corrections to the flight path Jade had plotted on the Sector Map. She smiled at the Nymph, and added, "That was nicely done, Jade, you're definitely improving." With a final wave of her fingers, she activated Dana's interdiction response suite, which would alert them if any Trankaran vessels got too close.

Jade could feel her confidence growing, and she grinned with pride as she looked up at Alyssa, delighted to have impressed her mentor. Her smile quickly faded as she studied the beautiful blonde girl, seeing the telltale signs of worry in her expression, and so the Nymph asked quietly, "Do you want to talk about John?"

Alyssa paused, and concentrated on the minds of the other girls she was linked to. She smiled when she listened to their lusty thoughts, as Calara, Dana and Rachel were revelling in a energetic foursome with John. She carefully raised her own mind-shield to prevent the other girls from listening to her thoughts or sensing her emotions, but they were so immersed in their lovemaking that they didn't notice.

She glanced down at Jade, and nodded as she replied, "They'll be busy for a while. Let's go and chat in the Ready Room."

Jade walked after the normally buoyant blonde girl, and now that Alyssa was making no effort to conceal her worries, the Nymph could feel the heavy emotional burden weighing on her friend's thoughts. Alyssa pressed the button to open the door into the Ready Room, and gestured for Jade to proceed, so the green-skinned girl strode inside, then turned to her left, gliding over to the sofas. Jade lay down on one of the long comfortable sofas, then opened her arms invitingly.

The blonde girl smiled wanly, and then lay down next to the Nymph, resting her head on the comfortable pillow of Jade's luscious bosom. Jade encircled her with her arms, stroking her back and holding the blonde girl close.

"It's just us now," Jade said in a comforting, maternal voice. "You don't have to be brave any longer."

Alyssa clung to her fiercely, her shoulders trembling as her face crumpled, and she began to cry. The tears came in a flood, as she finally released the worry and stress that had been plaguing her for weeks.

"It's all my fault!" Alyssa sobbed, wracked with guilt. "You warned me that encouraging John to be dominant was a bad idea, and now the Progenitor side of him is taking over!"

Jade frowned and said soothingly, "What happened with the mercenaries wasn't your fault. We'll just have to try and avoid letting him get into combat situations on his own."

Alyssa shook her head from side to side, as she sat up abruptly, and stared down at Jade with her eyes wild and full of tears. "You don't understand! It's been going on for weeks now!" she exclaimed dejectedly. "He hardly ever used to block me from his mind. The handful of times he did, it only lasted a few minutes, and it was when he was thinking about something that he thought might upset me. Now it's happening for hours at a time, and I don't think he's worried about upsetting me any longer. It feels like he's doing it to hide his dark thoughts from me!"

Jade pulled the heartbroken girl down into her arms again, and spoke in a soft voice as she said, "It can't be as bad as all that. He loves you. I've seen how devoted you two are to each other, and you can't fake that kind of connection."

Alyssa cried into her chest, while Jade stroked her soothingly, and the Nymph considered what the other girl had said. Jade looked thoughtful while she comforted Alyssa, murmuring reassuring words, and helping her unload the tension and stress she'd been carrying for weeks.

"I don't think this has anything to do with you encouraging him to be dominant in bed," Jade eventually said, her voice firm and full of conviction.

Alyssa lifted her head up, and brushed the tears from her eyes as she asked in a hushed voice that was tinged with hope, "You don't? How come?"

"You said yourself that this started happening a few weeks ago. Who did we meet around that time?" Jade asked leadingly.

Alyssa's eyes narrowed, and she gritted her teeth as she hissed, "The Maliri..."

Nodding, the Nymph said, "Although he's always been lovely with us, and he was brought up as a Terran, John is still a Progenitor. You must remember as well as I do, all those pictures the Ashanath showed us. His species enslaves hordes of women, and uses them for conquest. Then there's all the research Rachel did on the Maliri; they've been designed to be a slave race for a Progenitor to dominate and control."

Alyssa looked troubled and said, "So you reckon being around the Maliri has made the Progenitor side of him emerge? Like a bear being drawn to honey?"

Jade frowned and said, "I don't know for sure, but it seems like an awfully big coincidence. We meet the Maliri, and John starts losing the plot."

A sad shadow crossed over Alyssa's face as she said, "And we know how John feels about coincidences."

The Nymph smiled at her, and said, "Exactly. So the question now is, what are we going to do about it?"

Alyssa looked pensive, thinking over her options, and she finally replied, "As much as I loathe Irillith, I don't want to just space her, despite what I said. She hasn't really done anything bad enough to justify being murdered, and as horrible as she is, she can't help the effect she's having on John. Even if we did bump her off, I'm not even sure it would dissuade him from following through with trying to complete this deal with Edraele."

Jade looked thoughtful as she mulled over their predicament, and said, "I agree. So where does that leave us?"

Alyssa shrugged helplessly, and said in exasperation, "I don't know if we have many options. I guess we just have to help get this deal with the Trankarans over with, and then try and convince John to drop Irillith off at Geniya Space Station, then forget all about the Maliri."

Jade nodded, and gave Alyssa a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, I'm sure it will all work out in the end. But don't try and carry anything like this all by yourself next time. Remember, you're my little kitten, and I want to look after you."

Alyssa laughed and hiccupped at the same time, then giggled, and leaned in for another hug. "Thank you, Jade," she said sincerely. "You've been so wonderful. I feel loads better already."

The Nymph smiled at her lovingly and placed a tender kiss on top of the blonde girl's head. Her heart surged with gratitude for the young woman she was holding in her arms, and she whispered, "You saved me from that pirate ship, and helped set me free. I'd do anything for you."

Alyssa squeezed her green-skinned friend in a tight hug, then sat up with a smile on her face once again. She suddenly yawned, and blushed, saying, "Crying always tires me out. Come on, let's go to bed, the others are sleeping now anyway."

She rose from the sofa gracefully, then offered Jade her hand. The Nymph smiled at her, and taking Alyssa's hand in her own cool fingers she stood up elegantly. The blonde girl was about to turn to leave, but Jade pulled her back with a gentle tug, and said in a soft voice, "Remember what I said. Please come to me if you need to talk about anything." She then smiled wryly and added, "I'm over ten thousand years old; you youngsters should listen to your elders."

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