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Here are the first two chapters of the book. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1 – Olivia
Olivia pressed the stethoscope on Mrs. Miller’s back.
“Okay, Mrs. Miller. If you could just breathe deeply now…”
The older woman inhaled and Olivia listened to the raspy sound of her lungs pulling in air. Mrs. Miller was barely in her forties, but with the deep wrinkles on her face and tired eyes, she looked much older. The years since the Suhlik invasion on Earth nearly two decades ago had clearly not been kind to her.
As Olivia moved the stethoscope on the woman’s back, the bracelet she always wore around her wrist fell past the sleeve of her shirt. She hurriedly pushed it back. Technically, she wasn’t supposed to be wearing the thing while she was working in the hospital, but there was no way she was going to take it off until she was forced to.
“Do you hear it, Miss Griffin?” Dr. Malcom, her attending physician, asked behind her.
Mrs. Miller pulled in another ragged breath, and Olivia nodded to the doctor. She moved the stethoscope off Mrs. Miller’s back and turned to face the woman.
“Mrs. Miller, I’m really sorry to say this but it seems that your condition has deteriorated since your last visit. I’m afraid the oxygen treatment has been ineffective.”
Mrs. Miller smiled sadly. “I had thought as much.”
“What do you suggest as the next step, Miss Griffin?” Dr. Malcom glanced at her. He was a kind and understanding doctor, sometimes strict with the medical students, but that only made him a better supervisor.
“I recommend moving on to an oxygen tank,” Olivia said to Mrs. Miller, trying to keep herself calm. The weight of the bracelet on her wrist suddenly felt heavy. “The large tanks are not ideal as they are quite heavy to pull around, but at this point, you should have direct access to oxygen whenever you need it.”
Mrs. Miller nodded grimly. “I understand.”
“We will get you arranged with the equipment you need, Mrs. Miller,” Dr. Malcom said. “Although no cure has been discovered for lung damage caused by the Suhlik gas attacks, regular intake of oxygen will help your breathing. Miss Griffin will help you sign the necessary papers to get the equipment.”
“Thank you, doctor.” Mrs. Miller rose from her seat slowly, as if the slight movement might already take the air from her lungs. Olivia forced her expression to remain neutral. None of the devastation she felt inside showed.
“Right this way, Mrs. Miller.” She walked to the door and escorted the woman out. They walked slowly to the reception, with Mrs. Miller breathing heavily with every step.
A nurse took her information and Olivia explained Mrs. Miller’s medical needs to her. They filled out the necessary forms together before the nurse brought out an oxygen tank for Mrs. Miller and she walked to the exit.
“Take care, Mrs. Miller,” Olivia said.
“You too, my dear.” Mrs. Miller smiled. “Thank you for taking such good care of me today and good luck with your medical studies. I know you will become a fine doctor one day.”
A smile formed on Olivia’s lips. “Thank you, Mrs. Miller.”
Mrs. Miller walked out the automatic doors, pulling her new oxygen tank behind her, and Olivia let out a heavy sigh. These were always the worst situations as a doctor. When there was nothing you could do to help the inevitable.
Olivia cursed the Suhlik in her mind. The new illnesses that had developed after the lizard-like aliens attacked the planet had been the source of scores of academic papers, even entire medical journals. New illnesses were still revealing themselves, nearly two decades later.
And for most of them, there was no cure.
Yet, Olivia didn’t doubt her conviction in wanting to become a doctor for even a second. She turned back toward Dr. Malcom’s office, fiddling with the bracelet around her wrist. It had been her best friend, Tammy’s. They’d lived right next door to each other and been friends since before either of them could remember. Doctors and nurses had been their favorite game.
Then… The Suhlik had come and everything had changed.
The tall, golden bodies of the lizards – so utterly beautiful and yet frightening at once – had beamed down onto the planet and gone on a massacre. Olivia and her family had survived by chance because they had been visiting her grandparents out of state and hadn’t been at home.
Tammy and her family hadn’t been so lucky.
Olivia had watched Tammy as she wilted and withered away over the three days after the attack on her city. Her tiny body had been unable to deal with the toxic effects of the Suhlik poison – the very same gas that was now slowly, over the years, deteriorating Mrs. Miller’s lungs.
Within days, Tammy had given in, first to a coma and then to death. Before she passed, she’d given Olivia the bracelet she refused to take off her wrist. Tammy had told her that she wanted her to have it so that she could remember her.
As if she’d ever be able to forget.
Olivia took a deep breath, calming herself before she turned to enter Dr. Malcom’s office. But before she could open the door, a male voice called out to her down the corridor.
“Miss Olivia Griffin?”
She turned on her heel and faced two soldiers holding assault rifles in their hands.
Olivia’s heart immediately sunk. She knew what the men were here for.
Her time had come.
After the Suhlik attack, another alien race known as the Mahdfel had come to Earth’s defense. They had fought off the lizards with technology far beyond humanity’s progress, but their aid hadn’t been selfless. The Mahdfel had been genetically engineered by the Suhlik to be stronger and faster, but as a result of that, their ability to have female children had disappeared. So, they’d made agreements with other planets. Protection in exchange for females.
They had saved planet Earth and in return, they were now asking humanity to give them women so they could continue their race. And of course, in the face of extinction, the Earth governments had agreed.
Every single, childless, and healthy woman was now mandated by law to be tested for genetic compatibility with Mahdfel warriors. And if the compatibility was 98.5% or higher, they were immediately teleported to a Mahdfel-occupied planet to spend the rest of their life there as an alien’s bride.
Olivia had slipped through the cracks so far. She’d thought maybe someone was making sure that she didn’t have to be tested. Doctors were in such short supply nowadays, even though they were needed more than ever. She was an asset to the state. She’d thought maybe that would protect her, but apparently not.
It was time for her to find out whether she was compatible. Whether she was going to be shipped off to another world to leave her dreams and family behind.
In some states, the testing was done on birthdays – the ultimate birthday present, right? – and in others, a series of numbers were called every week like some depressing lottery. In Olivia’s state, it was seemingly random. One day, soldiers showed up on your doorstep – or at work – and you were taken whether you wanted it or not.
If she resisted, she’d be forced anyway. That’s what the guns were there for. And that’s why they came at random: to prevent anyone from escaping if they knew about the testing in advance.
Olivia nodded to the soldiers. Really, she had no choice but to follow them out of the hospital. The soldiers guided her to a large van filled with other women who were mostly staring into space with dull looks in their eyes.
The stories were that being a Mahdfel bride was good. You lived a life of luxury with someone who adored you. At least, that was what the news said. She didn’t trust any of the propaganda coming from the state that was forcing this on them in the first place. Of course, they weren’t going to admit if the Mahdfel actually kept women locked up as sex slaves or something.
But there was one woman in the van who could barely keep the smile off her face.
At least someone had bought into the probable lies.
The van drove to the testing facility on the outskirts of the city. Deceptively, it looked like any other office building. There had been a lot of destruction when the lizards came, and a lot of rebuilding afterward. This was one of the new buildings that had gone up, and so it was ugly. Made of gray concrete, it was just the quickest and cheapest thing that could go up. It was fitting.
They unloaded from the van and walked into the testing building. The soldiers led them to a waiting room where they went one-by-one into a small office to get their fingers pricked and to find out within minutes whether their life was going to change forever.
Of course, the chances of being a match were minimal, but for the first time since she was old enough to understand such things, Olivia wished she’d more seriously considered getting married to another human. She was twenty-seven. She could have married someone. She could have been pregnant. That would have gotten her out of the testing now.
She was sure she could have found someone willing to make the sacrifice of marrying her so that she didn’t have to face this situation. Her father had offered to search once. He desperately hadn’t wanted her to end up where she was right now.
Tears stung in her eyes at the thought of never seeing her father again. Or her mother and younger brother. They had all been through so much, and now she might never even get to say goodbye. They’d get the money as compensation for her sudden departure, but that would be all.
“Miss Griffin?” Her stomach dropped when her name was called and she was brought back from her thoughts.
Slowly, she stood up from her seat, her whole body feeling numb as she walked to the testing room. The nurse inside was a middle-aged woman with a kind face. She smiled at Olivia and gestured for her to take a seat.
The friendliness of the nurse only made everything harder as she put out her finger for it to be pricked. She’d have preferred someone aggressive or harsh, not someone who looked like they pitied her.
She barely felt the needle as it pierced her skin and a drop of blood collected on her fingertip. She stared at the wall to her side in silence. She didn’t want to be a part of any of this. A million thoughts a second raced through her mind, all of them focused on the life she might be about to leave behind.
The minutes were agonizingly long as they waited for the results. And then…
“You’re a match.”
Olivia sucked in a breath. She felt the blood drain from her face and her whole body froze. She was so stiff she thought she might break in two.
“What?” she whispered, her voice oddly hoarse. “A match? That… that can’t be right.”
She’d been working herself up about the possibility, but it was never supposed to actually happen. This wasn’t what her life was supposed to look like. She was supposed to go back to her life and her family and be outraged by the principle of it happening from the safety of her home. She was supposed to become a doctor.
“You are a genetic match with a Raewan-Mahdfel warrior named Kraev ek-Tayn,” the nurse said, though Olivia barely heard it. Her blood pounded in her ears and her thoughts were moving a mile a minute.
Leave Earth. Go and be a baby-maker for an alien man she didn’t even know…
“Miss Griffin?” the nurse said, leaning forward and putting a gentle hand on Olivia’s shoulder. “Olivia… I understand this must come as a shock to you, but you are a match. The sooner you accept that, the better.”
“I… I can’t.”
“Yes, you can.”
Olivia shook her head, but she knew there was nothing she could do. No other option. She was a match. She was going to – where was she even going? She hadn’t been listening to the nurse at all.
“Where am I going? Who is my match?” she asked.
The nurse didn’t look exasperated as she repeated the information Olivia was sure she’d already given. “His name is Kraev ek-Tayn. He’s a Raewan-Mahdfel. You’ll be going to planet R-2841.”
“R-2841?” Olivia blinked. “That’s the name of the planet? It doesn’t have… like a proper name?” Already, dread was settling in her stomach. What kind of backward planet was she going to that it didn’t even have a name?
“That’s all it says here, yes. Apparently, it’s a mining colony in the same galaxy as your match’s home planet, Raewan.”
“A mining colony?” Olivia repeated in horror. She didn’t want to go anywhere, but if she had to go somewhere, she would’ve at least liked to go somewhere… civilized. A planet filled with cities or some exotic new world. Not a nameless colony.
“How many people live on the planet? Is it even inhabitable?”
“I don’t know how many people live there. There is an oxygen atmosphere. Believe me, you would not be sent anywhere unsafe.”
The nurse pressed a button on her desk, and Olivia knew the guards would soon be here to pick her up to be teleported.
“Wait, I just want to say goodbye to my parents. My younger brother…”
“They’ll understand what’s happened.”
“That’s not good enough.”
The door opened and two soldiers stood on the other side, waiting for her.
“You can give the money to them,” the nurse said, holding up a tablet to her as if that would make it all better. The brides were each given a million dollars to grant their families or whoever they wanted as compensation for being forced off-planet and essentially into a life of slavery. “You can nominate up to five people to receive the money, and split it any way you want.”
Olivia looked long and hard at the tablet. She had tried so hard to avoid thinking about the whole process that she’d never thought much about this part. Who would she give the money to?
Of course, her family would get most of it. She wrote her parents’ and brother’s names in the first boxes, and then chewed her lip on the amount.
In the end, she decided to give them each a quarter of the money. The rest she donated to a charity for which she’d campaigned ever since she was old enough. The charity did lots of research into the newly emerged Suhlik-influenced diseases, and they helped people cope with their diagnosis and the mental conditions brought on by the Suhlik attacks on the planet. They did incredible work, and Olivia knew her money couldn’t have gone to a better cause.
She handed the tablet back to the nurse with her signature.
“Here,” the nurse said, handing her a small sweet. “This mint will help with the teleportation-associated nausea. Take it as soon as you get to the other side of the teleport.”
Olivia put it in her pocket. “Thank you.”
“The last thing we need is to implant a translator,” the nurse explained as one of the guards stepped in and retrieved a small case from a shelf. “If you could just hold your hair out of the way.”
Olivia did as she was told, and the nurse implanted the translator just behind her right ear. She expected to feel something, for there to be a sharp pain, but it was virtually painless. She wasn’t even certain the nurse had implanted it until she was moving away from her again.
“It’s time,” one of the soldiers said behind her.
The nurse wished her good luck and the men escorted Olivia out of the room.
The urge to run away was overwhelming, but Olivia knew she’d have gotten about two feet before one of the soldiers stopped her. All that running would do was embarrass herself. She still took a step backward automatically as they reached the teleport room, and she felt the soldiers tense. She wondered how many people did run.
But the next step she took was forward. She walked past the soldiers and into the room where she’d disappear from Earth – possibly forever – with her head held high and almost managing to hide the tremors in her hands.
Inside the room was a huge cylindrical machine. A teleporter. She’d never seen one in person before, and once again wanted to back away from it like a scared little girl.
“Okay,” one of the soldiers said, moving away from Olivia and standing at a control panel by the teleporter. “You’ll just stand in the chamber, and I’ll make the teleportation happen. You’ll feel nauseous when you arrive at your destination, but the mint will help. The nausea will be worse the more you move, so I advise standing still.”
Olivia nodded numbly. The room didn’t even have windows. She wouldn’t even get one last glimpse at the outside world before she was taken off the planet and sent to her new home. Her last image of Earth would be the nasty gray concrete of the office where her fate had been sealed.
It was almost enough to make her cry.
She walked into the chamber of the teleporter and closed her eyes as she listened to one of the soldiers tap on the controls.
And then, with a flash of light, she was off.
Chapter 2 – Kraev
Kraev reached up and picked a piece of fruit from one of the trees in the greenhouse. This was his favorite place to spend his off-duty time on the barren and icy planet of R-2841. The greenhouses were huge domes on the surface of the planet that managed to stay warm despite the harsh environment, and they were filled with colorful plants from all over the universe. But most importantly, they produced fruits from his home planet, Raewan.
Despite the food replicators that could make him any meal in the known universe or even create fruit-imitations, those were nothing compared to picking something straight off the tree.
“I heard there was another Suhlik attack last night,” his friend, Zevyk, said as he walked up to Kraev.
Kraev bit into his fruit and swallowed before responding. “Yes. The arrogant lizards thought they could get on the surface. It was a full-frontal attack. Hundreds of Suhlik ships right outside the planet. I blew up at least a dozen of them.”
Zevyk grinned. “I wish I had been there to see it. I had just finished my shift in the control room and was sleeping.”
Kraev chuckled. “You didn’t miss out on much. They were pathetic. I doubt they’ll try again for a while.” He paused, taking another bite of his fruit. “But I don’t want to talk about Suhlik while I’m off-duty.”
Zevyk picked a piece of fruit as well and sat down next to Kraev. The purple-and-blue amihae were delicious and reminded Kraev of their home. “What do you want to talk about then?”
“Anything. Like the pleasant weather of this planet.”
Zevyk laughed now. Neither of them was particularly enamored with R-2841. It was a hostile and dangerous planet. But it was also vital to the Mahdfel.
Hellstone, an incredibly rare mineral, could be found in abundance in the volcanoes of R-2841. The mineral had a unique quality that could prevent teleportation, and it was important for the defense of any Mahdfel location. It was Kraev’s duty as a pilot defending the planet to ensure that the Suhlik never gained control of the mines.
Among the warriors stationed on R-2841, the planet was affectionately nicknamed “hellhole” after hellstone and the barren landscape. The name was very fitting, which is why Kraev escaped to the greenhouses whenever he could.
“Well, I think the weather has been warming up the past few days,” Zevyk said, a contemplative expression on his face. Kraev could tell his friend was joking, but he was probably the only one who could. Zevyk was often so serious that not many understood his dry sense of humor.
Kraev was about to make another witty remark about the weather, when a sudden beep and a flashing white light on his wristband interrupted their conversation.
A new message has arrived.
Kraev tapped on the screen of his wristband, and a cool voice spoke in his ear.
“Kraev ek-Tayn, a genetic match has been found for you. The details on your match are the following. Name: Olivia Griffin. Species: human. Planet of origin: Earth…”
Kraev almost dropped his fruit.
Zevyk frowned at him. “Kraev, what’s wrong?”
“…Your match will arrive at your current location on R-2841 within the next hour,” the message continued. “Congratulations.”
A huge grin broke out on Kraev’s face. “Nothing is wrong,” he said. “In fact, everything is very right.” He turned to Zevyk, his entire body buzzing with excitement. “A match has been found for me!”
Zevyk’s eyes widened momentarily before he grinned right back. “The fates have favored you this day.” He clapped Kraev on the back. “Congratulations, brother.”
He and Zevyk weren’t actually siblings, but they were as close as it got without being blood-related. When Zevyk’s family had been killed in the war nearly twenty-five years ago, Kraev’s family had taken him in and the two of them had grown up together.
“The message said she is a human from planet Earth.” Kraev frowned. Not that her species really mattered, but… “I’ve never seen a human before. Have you?”
Zevyk shook his head. “I don’t think there are humans on R-2841. I’m not even sure there are any on Raewan. Isn’t Earth the newest planet the Mahdfel have made an agreement with?”
“Maybe…” Kraev’s voice faltered, but it wasn’t nerves or doubt in his voice. He could hardly stay still with how excited he was. “I can’t remember news of humans going to Raewan.”
“It’s a long time since we’ve been home.”
The longing to see his family again tugged at Kraev. It had been a long time. Two years, maybe even more. But as soon as the melancholy hit him, it disappeared, replaced by joy.
“I can’t wait to have a big family of my own.” He was the oldest of six brothers, and he wanted just as many children. “A family of strong warriors to carry on our traditions.” He grinned. “I can’t wait to meet her.”
Zevyk gave him a short, one-armed hug. “I’m happy for you, my brother.”
Kraev was hit by a sudden wave of nerves. He hadn’t expected a match, not right now. Of course, he had always hoped for one, but… Had he tidied his quarters well enough? What about the gift he’d had for years, sitting ready and waiting to give to his mate when she was found? Was it good enough?
It was a Raewani tradition that a male gave his mate a gift to demonstrate his commitment and ability to care for her. Had he gotten enough to demonstrate that to his human female? He looked at the fruit in his hand. Maybe he could collect some to take to her as well. She would most likely have never had anything like this before on her home planet.
His wristband flashed again and he expected it to be an alert that his mate was being teleported. His nerves vanished and then returned in full force when he noticed the color of the message. This time, the light was orange. His whole body stiffened in horror. From the corner of his eye, he could see that Zevyk’s wristband was flashing too.
Despite Kraev’s earlier words that the Suhlik probably wouldn’t dare to attack anytime soon after their failure last night, it seemed that the lizards had not only attacked the planet again… They had breached its defenses.
This was the worst possible timing. His mate would be coming here now, and she would be walking right into the middle of a deadly attack if the Suhlik managed to land.
“I have to go,” he said, fighting back the rising panic. He’d never panicked in the face of a Suhlik attack before. He was a warrior. All Mahdfel went through vigorous warrior training from birth. He had been trained for this his entire life. He’d never been afraid of the Suhlik before.
But now, he was terrified. The first place the Suhlik would try to take control of on R-2841 was the planet’s most tactical location: the teleport base. The very teleport base where his match was currently being teleported.
A hard lump stuck in Kraev’s throat and his stomach felt suddenly empty despite the fruit he had just eaten. He might lose his mate the moment he got her. He might not even get to see her alive.
“Go, Kraev,” Zevyk said, bringing him back from his panicked thoughts. “You need to get to the teleport base. I’ll report to the Warlord that you have been matched and that you have gone after your mate. It will be fine.”
“Yes.” Kraev rose immediately to action. It would be fine. It had to be.
He started on a fast-paced run out of the greenhouse and toward the entrance of the volcano where the fighter ships were kept. He was a pilot. He could do this. He could push the ship as quickly as possible toward the teleport base, where his mate would be waiting.
He would get to her before the Suhlik did.
He allowed himself a single glimpse at the sky and saw that it was full of Suhlik ships, and the Mahdfel ones flying fast to meet them.
With his heart in his throat, he quickened his pace.
He wasn’t going to let anything happen to his mate.