Title: Space particle
Genre: Science Fiction/Romance
“Shields are gone, and we just took a critical hit to the aft engines.”
“Shit,” Alex hissed and clenched the rail as the ship lurched.
The Captain turned his head and looked at her. Alex met his eyes, they both knew that this battle was a slaughter. The Titania was a reserve vessel that was supposed to be on hand to transport injured to planet hospitals. Only there had been no time to retrieve the wounded from the space ships, save Alex’s small crew, before they were routed.
“Ma’am,” the Captain said, his decision weighing heavily on him, “get out of uniform. Hide in the sick bay.”
Alex braced as the ship lurched again. Furious that they had been second guessed so easily, she knew when defeat was defeat. She might be Alex Cassavonia, Special Officer of Her Royal Majesty and capable of a wide range of impossible feats, but sometimes you had to know when the situation was hopeless.
“Fuck!” She growled and stalked off of the bridge.
The Bondoux’s flagship took the Titania surprisingly fast. Alex was shuffled off and corralled with other non-military prisoners in a holding bay large enough to hold the Titania and three other vessels her size. At a time like this Alex needed to fit in. She didn’t let herself believe for a moment that just being out of her uniform saved her. She was only hoping to buy herself enough time to figure out an escape, or be in place for a rescue. The officers were separated from the rest of the crews on opposite sides of the bay with twice as many guards watching them, all heavily armed.
The bay fell silent, even the captured pilots and crew as Bondoux himself appeared, flanked by an honor guard. He went first to the pool of officers and silently inspected each one standing rigidly in place; as if they were statues in Her Majesty’s garden. He didn’t speak, he just looked. Alex stood in the shadow of a man head and shoulders taller than her and watched with great interest. The Bondoux was not what Alex had anticipated. Of course she had seen images, holograms and everything else she could get her hands on like anyone else fighting for Her Majesty’s liberation, but somehow Alex had thought that he would be bigger than life somehow. That like Her Majesty, his presence would fill a room to suffocation. Instead, he looked like any other starship captain should look; trim, well kept and intelligent.
Alex knew that sharp intelligence was what made him head and shoulders above the rest; what made the title of ‘captain’ superfluous. A man like Bondoux transcended rank until his very name was rank. Part of her found it exciting to be so closer to him, to watch him wrap his mind around each person he looked at. She wanted to crawl inside his brain and learn what made him tick. But the reality of the situation was that she was a prisoner of war now.
Slowly Boudoux made his way through the officers and then the crew. It didn’t matter to him how long it took, it just seemed that he had to do this himself and Alex was patient. Unlike the soldiers who arranged themselves into ranks, Alex was adrift among islands of people, clustering here and there, throwing fearful glances at the man who steadily progressed down the bay. Most of them would only guess at who he was, but Alex knew.
“What are you looking for?” Alex muttered to herself.
She didn’t really think that simply changing her clothes was going to fool him. Alex Cassavonia might be a nightmare to the Space Union, but ghosts didn’t cause destruction, ghosts didn’t steal Union secrets. She didn’t think for a moment he didn’t know she had been on one of those ships. She was standing in one place so long she got a cramp in her calf. Stretching it, Alex casually knelt down as Boudoux approached the pool of non-military people. The bay was fully secure; she lost count of the cameras and only estimated the number of soldiers. In short, Alex was resigning herself to the fact that in a very short span of time, she would be facing torture. Despite the Unions claim to peaceful governance, their military tactics were not as forgiving.
Boudoux stopped outside the ring of guards corralling them like animals for the slaughter and slowly looked the group over. Kneeling, she escaped notice at first.
Alex grunted as the man she’d been using for a shield stepped back and bumped into her. Standing hastily she dusted off her hands and tried to appear scared, opening her eyes wide and looking down, hugging her arms around herself.
“You, blonde woman.” Boudoux gestured to Alex, “Come here.”
Alex could feel the invisible blades they would use to sever her optical nerves already. Of course they’d take her eyes; she’d left a lovely calling card once about how she was the Queen’s eyes. She took a steadying breath and made a show of squaring her shoulders and not looking afraid. The bulky, shapeless dress ruined any chance at dignity she might have had, but it hid the rest of her well enough.
Bondoux turned to address the officers around him while the guards parted and let her stand just outside the circle. “Alex Cassavonia has to be here somewhere. The man cannot be a ghost. He is either in this bay or he is dead and I want to know. Find someone who will talk.”
The officers nodded and dispersed, acting on orders.
Alex was so stunned she could just stand there, her mouth slightly agape. Luckily he took her surprise as fear. Boudoux chuckled and graced her with a smile, looking down at her. Up close, Alex could see he lacked the horns and fangs many attributed him with. Strangely, his face lacked the hardness she’d anticipated.
“What’s your name?”
“Sasha.” His smile widened and looked her up and down.
Alex couldn’t remember the last time a man had looked at her like that. Yes she could; she had been spying but it hardly counted then. She’d been dressed for that sort of attention. For an infuriating moment she lost control of herself, cheeks flushing pink. She even looked down, feeling suddenly modest. Give her a gun or a knife and Alex Cassavonia could stand up to anyone, but have a man looking at her like she was a real woman and she turned to jello inside.
“You’re very pretty Sasha. I would hate for such a pretty doll like you to get hurt down here with all these prisoners. Would you prefer to stay with me?”
An invitation? Bondoux could order her any way he wanted her and he was asking her? She looked suitably startled and confused. Her mind raced. He didn’t know that she was female; he was looking for a man. She wanted to laugh in his face; as soon as he started asking the officers for the man Alex they would grow mute and stupid. They knew Alex Cassavonia better than that; so long as she was alive she could get out of anything. She could escape Bondoux. She could do anything.
He also wouldn’t know that she probably safer with the prisoners than with him.
However, the chance to get in his space, spy on him from the inside – it was too good to pass up. It was taking service to her Queen to a whole new level, but it was also protecting her own life. Alex nodded and hugged her arms around herself. Sex had never been her forte.
Alex sat bolt upright in bed, her heart pounding, adrenaline rushing through her body and a cold sweat bathing her skin. A year and she still had nightmares; the old weight of guilt felt twice as heavy.
Next to her a lump grumbled and stirred. “Sasha?” a sleepy man’s voice said. “What is it?” He propped himself up on one elbow and reached out to grab her, his thumb kneading the soft skin inside her arm.
“I had a nightmare,” Alex, now Sasha gasped. The wall of windows let in gentle starlight, bathing the room in an otherworldly glow.
She couldn’t think. Not with the memory so fresh and him touching her. Sasha turned over on her hip and draped herself over his chest. Bondoux was the kind of man who liked people to challenge him, and he never backed down. In the beginning Alex had been tractable, giving him sex to give her more time to ferret out things. Only she had not expected to find Bondoux to be a real person. Now she attacked him as much as he attacked her and the only thing she held back from him was her real name.
He pulled out of her and kissed her neck, working down to nuzzle her breast and hug her body, the soft words escaping his lips. “I love you, Sasha.”
Tears pricked her eyes. She was glad he couldn’t see the moisture she quickly wiped away. “I love you too.”
What killed her was that she really meant it. Almost a year and never the chance to escape. Resources were stretched so thin that everything was always in use. Ships were loaded to capacity and there was never any room for her to sneak on board. She had looked. She had tried. And she had been delivered back to Bondoux. The first few times he had been upset, and then amused. Laying in their love-bed, his tongue teasing her insides, Sasha didn’t know how long it had been since she last tried to escape. Her body told her to never leave him, her heart said to just love him, but her head screamed and told her to run away. Where did being a spy end and her desire for her enemy begin?
She lay awake long after he had spent himself, a silly grin on his face as her fingers played with his hair. How long could she keep this up? Logically she knew she could do it for as long as she needed to. She had always compartmentalized well when she needed to, before she was in love. Love was like poison; it ruined her. She could no longer look at him with steely eyes and firm resolve; when he looked at her she melted, when he touched her body it betrayed her, when he spoke to her about a time after the fighting, of a time filled with children and a home she cried. She didn’t recognize herself anymore. At some point she had stopped being Alex, and she had become Sasha.
The ghost Alex was still out there. According to Bondoux, Alex Cassavonia was still making his life hell. All she could assume was that the Queen knew what had happened when her ship was taken and in an attempt to save her little sister she created another Alex.
Sasha, on the other hand, had been a nobody before Bondoux plucked her from among the trash, planting her in his garden to grow and please him. Lying entwined with her enemy, her lover, Alex asked herself finally: Do I want to leave?
She felt like cutting off her own hand would be easier and silently cursed Bondoux and then herself. A year ago she had been a one-woman force, now she was a mere kitten. Her sister’s face, so strong and serene against a backdrop of fire and rubble sprang up in front of her. They had been children when the Union invaded them, ‘for their own good’. It was only by luck had they not died that day with their family and all of parliament. She still remembered Isabella’s determined face, upturned to the sky as she shook her fists at the aircraft that hovered over the decimated royal palace. Then they spent ten years underground, piecing their country back together. Alex learned to do the really hard things, and Isa learned to be the perfect leader. Victory had seemed so close. It had only been a disaster that Bondoux happened to lead that last attack before she was captured.
Eventually all of Sasha’s worries left her exhausted enough to sleep. Even when her lover untangled himself and left, still she slept. She had begun to sleep most of the day away the last week. Considering that she had nothing to do, it wasn’t a problem. Eventually she would wake up, mostly from the intense pain in her bladder than anything else. She had never been a prisoner on the ship. In fact, she enjoyed the privileges of a guest; the crew treated her with little difference. They just accepted her presence among them in the dining hall.
Sasha eyed the lumpy white mess that was being served for breakfast as she sat down with a small knot of female nurses and doctors. Unlike her native culture, here even the nurses and doctors were military.
“Hey,” she said in return, still eyeing the white mess with distaste. Her stomach didn’t like the idea any more than she did apparently.
“So these explosions on Badelt, whose causing them?
“I heard it was that space trash Cassavonia.”
“How could one man be in two places at once?”
“They’re getting allies. Ivarun’s been recruiting, so I hear.”
“Two places? Where else was he?”
“Puruvia. There was a big demonstration and there were pamphlets being dropped from the air.”
Despite how interesting the conversation was, and how flattered it might otherwise be to get to listen to other people discussing her supposed handiwork, Alex’s stomach chose that moment to completely revolt. She clamped a hand over her mouth and dashed for the nearest trash receptacle and heaved bile until her whole body shook.
Hands held her hair back and a wet rag pressed to her forehead. People were watching. With what dignity she could muster, Alex stood a little straighter and wiped her face with a proffered napkin.
“How long have you been sick, Sasha?”
The problem with hanging around the nurses and doctors was how quickly they switched from gossiping to working. Alex brushed her forehead with the back of her hand and shrugged. “For about five minutes, Michelle.”
Two other nurses flanked Michelle and the rest of the table watched them, ready to jump into action. Michelle put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “Come on, I think you should get a check-up.”
“I’m fine,” Alex balked. “Just don’t like this slop they’re feeding you.”
“You didn’t even touch your food. Come on.”
She didn’t want to eat and there wasn’t a good reason to not go with Michelle, so she followed. There were times when not having to be anywhere was just as inconvenient as having to be everywhere at once.
Michelle poked and prodded her everywhere. Alex had to pee in a cup, give up blood, saliva and hair before finally being left alone in a small room. Time ticked on and still Michelle didn’t come back. Irritated that she had been forgotten, Alex got off of the table and went out into the hallway, startling an orderly.
“Miss, you aren’t supposed to be out here.” He said and waved back into the room. “Please, miss, wait for the doctor?”
Alex put her hands on her hips and stared at the man. Becoming Sasha might mean that she wasn’t as physically intimidating as Alex has been, but Sasha intimidated men in another way. “I just want out of here. What’s the big deal?”
That was the last person she expected to see here. Her head snapped up and even though the sight of Bondoux usually sent her insides into summersaults, right now he just irritated her.
“I’m sorry you had to wait Sasha.” Michelle popped out from behind him, a chart unit in her hands and gestured back inside the room.
Her blood. Alex went cold inside and a bit of her old self returned. Had they identified who she really was through her blood? Bondoux grasped her elbow to guide her back into the room that would be her cell. She pulled out of his grasp and stalked through the open door, head held high. She spun around to face – just Michelle and Bondoux. The rest of his shadow, the aids and officers that followed his every move, were left waiting outside.
“Well?” She snapped, hands on her hips.
Michelle quirked an eyebrow and wrote something down. “Um, have a seat please, sir?”
Bondoux gave her a disapproving look and rolled two chairs over. Alex refused to acknowledge the chair and instead stood; metering out glares to both of them.
“Well alright.” Michelle looked back down at her chart uncomfortably and tapped out a few things.
Bondoux prompted her finally at a loss for what had Alex spitting space rocks and why the doctor would be this uncomfortable. “You said this was important, doctor?”
“Well, this morning Sasha was sick, so I asked her to come back here and run a few tests.”
Alex only saw the tremor in his lip because she knew his face so well. She had never seen him tremble except during sex. Bondoux was not the kind of man to tremble. Before Alex could wonder what such a reaction meant, her world shattered.
“And after everything came back negative, I ran a few other tests. Because this is a military vessel these are abnormal, but Sasha is not military, it made sense. Sir, Sasha,” Michelle took a deep breath, “is pregnant.”
She collapsed onto the chair, her skin going cold and then hot all over. She looked down as if she expected something to claw out of her belly right then. Next to her, Bondoux let out a laughing breath he must have been holding and clamped an arm around her shoulders.
“That’s – that’s fantastic!”
Dazed, Alex just stared straight ahead. She felt his lips on her cheek. Michelle looked relieved and started spouting off medical things Alex knew she should listen to. Eventually Michelle left them alone.
Bondoux got down on his knees and pulled her chair so that he she had no choice but to give him her full attention. Hands on her hips he pulled again, her thighs easing apart so he could hug her to him and kiss her cheeks. Part of her that was still just Alex, and not Sasha, had to wonder at a man like this, who would put aside everything for a screaming, disgusting thing to get in the way of what he was supposed to be doing. Alex’s life revolved around serving her Queen, not reproducing. She needed to get unpregnant.
“Sasha.” He smoothed hair away from her face and cupped her cheek.
For a brief moment she forgot that she was Sasha. He had to say her name again before she locked eyes with him. Her middle felt cold, like she’d swallowed space gas and it had frozen her stomach.
His face morphed from ecstatic and glowing, to serious. It was obvious they were having two very different reactions to the news. “What is it Sasha? What’s wrong?”
“I’m having a baby.” She said the words mechanically, her eyes seeing him, without seeing him.
“I thought you wanted this, with me.” His brows came down, making deep furrows.
“I’m not married to you!” Her voice was too loud in such a small space. The reality of what she had allowed – for a whole year – wrapped around her. It was one thing to pretend, it was another to accidentally fall in love with him. It was something completely different to become this thing, this person he thought she was.
“I’ll marry you. I’ll marry you today if that’s what you want.”
Reality is a cold mistress. It settled on Alex’s shoulders and spoke into her ear. She was Alex. She couldn’t marry Bondoux even if she wanted to, and a painful part of her did.
“But I can’t marry you.” It hurt to say that. It hurt so much she began crying before she realized there were tears on her face.
“Why not?” Confused, he stroked her hair and leaned with her when she tried to turn her face aside; as if in her eyes he could read the reason. For all of their time together, he never even realized how little she spoke, how little he knew about her.
“Because – because I can’t get married without my parents blessing!”
It was a half-truth. Legally she couldn’t be married without the Queen’s blessing and parliament signing off on it, not that she had ever followed the letter of the law, but she couldn’t marry the enemy. Warm his bed, play naughty cadet maybe, but have his child and be his wife? There were just some things she couldn’t do.
Bondoux exhaled and shook his head. “I didn’t think you cared about your family.”
Alex tried desperately to remember what she had spun him about her family. She tucked her chin and looked at him through her lashes. “Babies change things.”
He frowned and chewed his lip. He rarely did that and Alex still hadn’t deciphered what it meant. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll get their blessing and we can get married. Is that all that’s bothering you?”
‘No, just everything else about this situation,’ she wanted to say.
“Yes,” her voice said instead.
“Good.” He kissed her and for the last time she thought about giving it all up. Sasha would never want for anything. Sasha would never know any hardship. Sasha could forget about the universe.
But Alex could not.
He pulled her to her feet, their bodies banging awkwardly together. He wrapped one arm around her, hand splayed against the small of her back and the other buried into her hair, hugging her to him. The medals on his chest bit at her shoulder and the buckle on his pants pressed painfully into her stomach. “We’ll talk about it tonight?”
Becoming pregnant was her ticket off the ship. Where all non-military communications were completely suspended just to prevent possible spies, having something sucking away at her from the inside gave Alex an unhindered ticket to contact whoever she wanted. It still didn’t mean she’d been sloppy. It had taken her two weeks to contact her ‘parents’ and during that time she had pulled away from Bondoux, weaning herself off of him, pleading sickness and being tired. He by no means understood and spent much of their time together with an expression of perpetual confusion on his face. It was pathetically sad, the only thing worse was Alex’s own emotional state. One moment she wanted to jump him, the next she wanted to rip his head off, and then she would cry about the lighting over the bed.
Everything was working out perfectly.
“I know you can’t do anything for the next week.” Alex leaned her breasts against his back, wrapping her arms around his chest and kissing his ear.
Surprised by a sudden show of affection, he rubbed her hands and then up her arm. His reflection in the glass looked thoughtful. “You said your parents moved to Malta?”
Malta was a small moon that boasted a population of wealthy, neutral people. It was inside of the territory Bondoux was responsible for.
“Yes.” She kissed his cheek, willing to be as complaint as possible, not that it was hard when she felt like shoving him in a body-case and abducting him. It was one of her less than brilliant plans, kidnap Boudoux, drain him dry of intelligence and then install him at some remote location just for her own pleasure. There were so many things wrong with it that it never went beyond fantasy.
“It’s not that far away, and it’s safe.” His brows drew together as he thought most of the details out in his head. Of course Alex knew just what she wanted him to say, but the plan had to come as if from him. “A transport could take you there.” He turned his head to look at her, “And you would have a week to put me in your parent’s good graces. I must not look like much of a son-in-law. I practically kidnapped you.”
Alex laughed, “As I remember, you invited me, you didn’t force me.”
“Did I really give you much of a choice?”
“Well I could have said no, and then you really would have forced me.”
A pained look crossed his face, “Do you believe I would actually have forced you?”
Alex sighed and put her forehead to his, their noses barely touching. “No, I know you better than that now, Bou.” Bondoux, for all that he was the sledgehammer in space, spared life when he could.
“It’s up to you. Do you want to wait and use me as a meat shield against your parents, or face them alone?”
She chewed her lip and looked past him, out onto the vista of space. “I think they’ll be happier to see me.” She squeezed him, and laid her head on his shoulder. “I haven’t exactly told them I’m pregnant. They don’t know anything.”
Boudoux chuckled and experimentally pulled her arm. Since he was playing her game exactly how she wanted him to, she slid around him like a dancer on a pole. Two weeks of violent mood swings left a man starved for attention.
Sitting on the floor in the lavatory was not how Alex anticipated arriving on Malta. Michelle said she wasn’t very far along in her pregnancy, but her reactions to the thing inside of her were violent. Her back pressed against the wall, she cradled her head with her elbows braced on her knees and focused on even breathing. “Come on Space Particle,” she growled to the fetus inside her, “do you want us to both starve to death? I have to eat you know.”
Eventually someone knocked lightly on the door. “Ma’am, we’ve arrived.”
Groaning, Alex hauled herself up and shook out the ridiculous dress. Boudoux had gotten crazy ideas into his head that buying her fancy dresses would appease Particle Brain; as if it knew what the thing carrying it looked like. He’d practically redressed her this morning in a two piece, saffron colored ensemble that glistened and changed colors when the light hit it differently. It hurt her eyes to look at her reflection when she washed her hands.
Malta was a tropical paradise. It was no wonder the little moon had been snagged and populated. As Alex walked down the ramp, an attendant handed her an umbrella to shield her space-pale skin from the sun.
The commanding officer, who carried himself with much importance, walked stiffly over to Alex. She imagined he didn’t appreciate carting around Boudoux’s woman. “Ma’am, there’s an escort waiting to take you the rest of the way.”
“Thank you,” she said graciously, making sure to smile and give him a little dip of a curtsy. She was practically free now; she just had to get away from the ship.
The short walk through the building that was more ceiling than wall was over within a few moments. The chauffer who handed her into the car was cheerful and completely oblivious that he was aiding her escape. Alex’s breath came in quick bursts, a color rising on her cheeks that had nothing to do with the sun; she was really free. They all believed her rouse. Alex had to bite her thumb to keep from bursting out in laughter. The drive felt like seconds. She looked at the lavish house they pulled up in front of excitedly; it was another gateway to her freedom.
Alex didn’t wait for the driver to open her door; she opened it herself and darted up the stairs and pulled one of the massive brass rings. A cool breeze and darkness greeted her. There was no one here; someone had rented the house for a month in the name of her supposed parents. It was nothing more than a drop site for everything she was leaving behind and everything she was picking up.
Alone in the house, Alex barred the door and searched for her stash. She found everything in the bottom of a spare wardrobe. Alex looked at her reflection staring back at her. The nondescript black jumpsuit looked so strange on her after going a year without it. Not only that, but it fit snugly; one more reminder that a year had changed her. With no time to lose, Alex shook out her blonde hair and braided it straight down her back and then wove it into a crown on her head. What was left was money, identification, two guns, a knife and a portable console. She went for the console.
Because Alex hadn’t wanted to risk anyone in her escape attempt, she never knew how the second leg of her journey would happen – until now. Her eyes sped over the words and her smile broadened; she was really going home!
But first she needed to find a doctor.
The Queen’s Presence practically filled the palace. Or what served as a palace now. Alex could feel her sister from the moment she landed. Boudoux would be arriving on Malta today; the irony that today she was really home again was not lost on her. Alex had at least managed to keep news of the baby from everyone; she wanted to talk to her sister first. It was one of the perks about having the avatar for a deity as a sister, they usually had good advice.
Alex let the officer open the doors for her. It wasn’t hard to force herself to walk slowly, dignified was hard; she wanted to vomit and she was fairly sure the cramp in her side somehow liquefied in the last five minutes so she now had to pee – again.
Just ahead of her a man in the livery of the Queen stepped forward, his eyes bulging. Most of the people who had helped her home didn’t know who she really was, but the herald bowing to her now obviously did.
“Special Officer,” he breathed.
“Thank you Herald Barton.” The pain between her pelvis bones was about to split her in half; she really did have to pee. “If you would give me a moment before presenting me to Her Majesty.” She breezed past him to the nearest bathroom and locked the door. When she returned everyone was busy studying their toes and looking uncomfortable; no one kept the Queen waiting. “Thank you, Barton. If you would please.” She gestured at the doors and adjusted the tilt of her belt, the weight of the gun at her hip feeling foreign after a year-long sabbatical.
The herald walked towards the doors that receded before him. Where once the Queen would have sat in a grand hall, she made do with a large room that only had a very high ceiling.
The Queen looked every bit as different as Alex did. Once, it was the Queen who had baby-soft curves and a supple body; now that was Alex. The Queen stood to the side of a large table, papers in one hand while she looked at something still lying in front of her. She was gaunt and lean; she would never have Alex’s sturdy build or muscle but the shortages had reached as far as the Queen’s table that was for sure.
It was in the face, though, that one could tell in an instant they were sisters. The same limpid eyes and dark blond hair, the same cast of nose and chin; there was no mistaking them for anything but sisters.
The Queen waved the herald off, causing him to bite back his words and hastily bow backwards, taking with him everyone else that would have edged in to catch a glimpse of the Queen. The doors closed behind Alex with a soft whir of well oiled gears.
They broke out into grins at the same time and despite rank, they ran towards one another, wrapping arms around one another. For several long moments there were no words spoken; Alex drank in the calming presence of her sister and they both touched the face of the sibling they thought they’d never see again.
“You gave us quite a scare,” the Queen said first, holding Alex at arm’s length and searching her face.
“I thought I was dead.”
“So did we.” The Queen released Alex and motioned back towards the table; she could never afford to devote all of her attention to one task.
“I don’t know how Boudoux didn’t know I wasn’t a man, but that misunderstanding saved my life.” Alex shook her head and stepped up onto the small platform and looked down at the sprawl of papers.
“You didn’t say much about the last year in your communications. We only know what a few escapees were able to tell us.”
The Queen’s eyes bore into Alex’s; there was no holding back the truth. So Alex told her every painful detail. She had practiced a condensed version because otherwise she would have broke down crying about how she couldn’t sleep at night without his arms around her, how she ached from the loneliness of not having him around, how she missed the man who had become her life. Instead she was able to keep it to a few sentences.
“Boudoux was in love with you?” The Queen grabbed the table with both hands, bracing herself on it and stared disbelievingly at her sister.
“Is – is in love with me.”
“How did you pull that off, Alex? You’ve managed some crazy things but convincing Boudoux he was in love with you?” A crown of flyaways gave the Queen the appearance of having a halo, which was rather appropriate.
Alex writhed inside. The Special Officer part of her had informed the Queen of the year she spent as a prisoner, but the Alex part of her wanted to tell Isa, her sister, how much pain she was in. Alex bit her lip and looked up at the ceiling. The tears were coming; it was just a matter of when.
“What’s wrong, Alex?” The Queen moved around the table and put a heavy hand on her shoulder.
Alex hugged herself and leaned a hip against the table, and exhaled slowly. “There’s more. It’s not information, it’s – it’s personal. ” Her voice cracked and she needed her eyes with her fists, scrubbing away the unwanted tears.
“Alex, you spent a year as a prisoner – “
“Isabella,” she said, looking for her sister inside the Queen. She didn’t speak until she felt that the more human part of her sister was giving her undivided attention to her. “Isabella, I’m pregnant.”
“What?” Isabella shrieked and covered her mouth with both of her hands.
Alex could only bite her lip and nod.
“How?” Isabella shook her head, “I don’t need to know how; I know how those things are done. But – oh my painted stars! Alex, don’t worry,” Isabella grasped Alex’s elbow and looked her in the eyes, “we can fix this. You can’t be far along. This can be fixed.”
In a rare show of defiance, Alex tore her arm away from her sister. “I don’t want to ‘fix’ this.” She hugged her arms around where Space Particle was lodged in her uterus. “I tried when I was in Malta. I went to a doctor, I was sitting in the room, staring at the things they stick up inside you and I can’t! I can’t do that Isabella.”
Isabella, her Queen and sister, looked back at her, visibly torn.
“It’s not like I’ve ever been you. I’ve never been perfect. Why should this be any different?” She was crying now. Real tears streaming down her face, looking up at her big sister and crying like she was begging to be allowed to keep the stray puppy she found. Only this puppy wasn’t so little. It was a bit more than cleaning up its mess and taking it out for a walk.
With obvious hesitation, Isabella reached out and cupped Alex’s face, “We’ll get through this together.” She stroked Alex’s hair and kissed her forehead. “Now, what can we do for you?”
Alex took a slow, steady breath and pulled the Queen’s hands away from her face. “Get me four people to transcribe what I say. I have a year’s worth of information to report on. I’ll need to be brought up to speed on what’s happened, and access to whatever plans are imminent.”
At twenty-six weeks pregnant, there was not a soul who thought Special Officer Alex Cassavonia should be manning the flagship of the Queen’s Armada with the General. But there was no doubt in Alex’s mind that she should be anywhere else. Ships like chess pieces moved around on the space between their ship and Boudoux’s. They had stretched the Union’s resources thin and were one heavy push away from getting them completely out of their space. Three systems banding together made enough force, plus free fighters and whatever rabid rebels they could get their hands on.
She never learned what happened when Boudoux arrived in Malta and found her gone. She didn’t even know if he knew who she really was. What she did know was that she was the only person who would be able to anticipate him. Boudoux was a mastermind when it came to being a captain; his only weakness was that when he could, he spared lives. With Alex’s information, for five months straight they pounded him and the other Union ships. They targeted his weak spots and took prisoners. The proverbial blood in the water was what made their stand now possible.
Boudoux was a prize. This was the culmination of her hard work and the intense guerilla fighting. Alex had made it obvious from the beginning that Boudoux was hers. It was clear that Alex would take Boudoux personally and it was not something that many wanted to allow, but she was Alex Cassavonia and the Queen backed up her sister.
“Bring up the reserve flank and get those fore pilots back in. They’ve lost too many.” The General scratched his chin and watched colored dots move around in front of him on a table that allowed him to see the whole battlefield.
“The lines are crumbling.” Alex pointed as the engines on two Union frigates that were little more than sitting ducks. “I’m taking the Bounty now, General. When Boudoux is ready to surrender, he can surrender to me.”
Alex didn’t wait for a reply and likely would not receive one from the General. He predated her sister’s reign and resented Alex’s right to supersede him. Her boots clicked as she walked, trying hard to fend off the pregnant waddle that threatened her quick paces. Try as she might, she just couldn’t walk fast enough. She didn’t expect Boudoux to come close to giving up for another hour but it would take her that long to just get down to the Bounty and undock.
Two silent figures flanked her as she left the bridge.
“Are we ready to go?”
“Yes, Special Officer.”
“Good.” Alex nodded and put a hand to the growing bump and winced. “Damn, Space Particle’s learning how to somersault.”
The man and woman both quirked their lips and glanced down at Alex’s baby-bump. Even her newest uniforms made to allow her baby-room were snug over her stomach. Self-consciously Alex ran a hand over it and mentally chided her for thinking about something so silly as her uniform at a time like this. She of course refused to think about why she would be having these thoughts. She steadily thought only of Boudoux as a ship, a crew and not a person. Boudoux, for now, was a symbol.
Aboard the Bounty, Alex’s crew was almost through preflight checks when something loud and grating rasped on the side of the ship.
“What was that?” Alex sank down into a chair, leaving the captain’s chair for the young man that had shadowed her. She’d decided against captaining her own vessel in case she had to be very pregnant at some inconvenient time.
“It’s the hatch-locks, ma’am, they seem to have malfunctioned.”
“My fucking stars they malfunctioned,” Alex roared.
“All hatches are short circuited, ma’am.”
Alex looked at her captain, gripping his armrests so his knuckles were white. “The General-“
“The General wants his chance to wank at the universe.” Alex practically snarled. “Get a com up to the General, now!”
A young man turned around from his station, “I’m sorry ma’am, but the communications system is being disrupted by the flagships –“
“Flying shit balls!” Alex hauled herself to her feet to pace, but only took a few steps before she turned back and flopped down in her chair, glowering.
They sat docked to the flagship for hours. One of the techs was able to hack in so they could get an a/v feed. Alex watched as the Union ships limped into ranks and powered down. She practically chewed her fingers off watching the General’s personal transport meeting Boudoux’s. It wasn’t until they were taking control of the ships and securing the prisoners that the General’s technical team even attempted to fix the hatch locks. They were towing the ships back into the Queen’s territory by the time Alex waddled back to the bridge and hauled the General into his office and gave him the dressing down he deserved, after which she ate an entire box of Fumontu jellied Hoben’s.
It was a twelve hour flight back to where they planned to anchor the captured vessels and Alex could only make a terse report back to the Queen and lay in bed. It had all seemed so anticlimactic. Months of nail-biting culminated in a showdown that cost their side little, but now with that victory behind them Alex could put aside Alex and remember what it had been like to be Sasha. She lay on her side and buried her face in a pillow, wondering if this was how schizophrenic people felt.
Boudoux was so close, and still she couldn’t get to him! But what would that solve? That he would finally know who she was? She would destroy whatever they had created, not that she thought their love had a strong foundation, but they had created the possibility for life – together – and in that twisted, female part of her brain that listened to no reason whatsoever – Space Particle made all the difference.
Waiting was something Alex was normally good at. She’d waited a year for her freedom. She’d waited twenty-six weeks to organize a major military victory. But right now it was excruciating. First she sat down, but she couldn’t get comfortable so she got up and paced. But her feet hurt she sat back down, and her belly pressed uncomfortably on her bladder. She didn’t want to pee yet so she stood back up. This only freed her bladder to be filled more and the immediate need to pee now sent her scurrying for the bathroom.
A frazzled looking Queen, flanked by her army of advisors and aids and attendants walked into the empty room. “Alex?”
“In here,” she called from the Queen’s bathroom.
“Are you alright?”
The Queen shooed the gaggle of people back to the far end of the room and pressed her ear up against the door. “What is it honey?”
Inside Alex sniffled.
Isabella twisted the handle and opened the door slightly. Alex sat on the floor, her black jumpsuit a little darker down the legs. She had her face buried in her hands and was fighting back tears. Quickly Isabella stepped inside the bathroom and closed the door. She sat on the edge of the tub and pulled her sister’s head into her lap.
“I can coordinate a major military attack, but I can’t get the stupid zipper past my belly to pee!”
Isabella had assumed the role of whatever support Alex needed. While Alex Cassavonia the phantom still made appearances, this Alex was behind the scenes now, and most of it was spent with her sister. The people Alex worked with day in and out needed her strength, and in turn Alex leaned on her older sister’s unending supply of divine serenity. She didn’t know how Isabella did it, but she was everything her people needed her to be, even when it came to her own sister.
Alex laughed bitterly and uttered some curses Isabella was sure she hadn’t heard before.
“Well come on, let’s get you cleaned up.” Isabella helped Alex to her feet and turned on the water.
“Have they questioned him yet?” Alex eased the zipper down over her stomach, grimacing as she wedged her fingers between her belly and the teeth.
“He won’t talk. We were hoping you were ready to talk to him.”
Alex bit her lip and shimmied out of the jumpsuit, sitting down on the toilet she reached down to untie her boots. Grunting, she had to concede that it was about time to wear something she could get in and out of easier.
When it came down to come face to face with Boudoux, Alex had frozen. She’d been alone; all that was between them was a door, and she couldn’t force herself to go through it. That was two days ago. She’d watched him on a camera from his cell that looking for some sign that he was someone she didn’t know, that this wasn’t the man she pretended lay in bed beside her at night.
She let Isabella puppeteer her, directing her to shower and then get out and dry off. She only gave the dress Isabella wrapped around her a mere raised eyebrow. She hadn’t worn a dress since that day on Malta. This one made her look like some avatar of fertility, her swelling belly swathed in soft gold. Isabella settled a heirloom necklace on her collarbone, one of the only remaining pieces of jewelry they had from their mother and a symbol of their family.
“Is he still in a cell?”
The Queen shook her head. “No, he was moved here this morning. He’s been nothing but polite, though unresponsive and here we have better – access to him.”
What she didn’t say was that if he were here Alex could take all the time she needed to work up her courage. “I need to sign those papers though. That’s what I was waiting for.”
Nodding, the Queen opened the door and preceded Alex out of the bathroom. Everyone gathered made a show of either being busy or intently studying maps on the wall. Alex’s pregnancy made everyone but the Queen visibly uncomfortable.
“General.” The Queen flicked her wrist and the new General of her Armada stepped forward; a much younger man who she could trust to follow the letter and spirit of her orders.
He laid out in front of the Queen and Alex several documents which they both signed and handed back to him.
“That is all.” The Queen waved her hand and half of the people melted away. The other half remained in dignified silence.
Alex nodded at Her Majesty, excusing herself and went out of a side door. If Boudoux was here he would be in the guest rooms.
She found several guards standing watch outside of a set of doors and heard a man yelling. Whoever was yelling, she didn’t recognize. Space Particle seemed to know that daddy was around here somewhere and liked the yelling even less than Alex did. If anyone should be yelling at Boudoux, it should be her. He was the one who had knocked her up after all. Alex flicked her wrist at the nearest guard who jumped to open the door for her.
A lower level officer Alex didn’t recognize wheeled around, his face an unhealthy shade of red and promptly clamped his jaw shut, his eyes bulging as he made a sketchy bow. Alex breezed into the room, feeling a certain air of possessiveness. The man murmured something even Alex couldn’t hear, but perhaps that was because her heart was thundering so loud in her chest.
Boudoux sat in a chair, completely at ease, facing a window, his back to the door.
“Special Officer, I was just interrogating the prisoner.”
Alex flicked her wrist again. She had never made use of the complex hand gestures – until she became pregnant. So often her voice cracked with the urge to cry or all she wanted to do was growl at a person. The gestures, flicks and twists of hand and wrist, were reliable when one’s voice and body were not.
The interrogator seemed to only take this to mean he should change topics. “Her Majesty wanted to know where supplies were being shipped from.”
“That will be all,” she snapped, having finally lost patience with him.
At the sound of her voice Boudoux turned around. The look on his face was less that of shock that Alex had expected and more like – awe.
“Yes, Special Officer.” The interrogator snapped to attention and walked out of the open doors.
Slowly Boudoux stood, his expression growing more unreadable by the moment.
Alex started to fret inside; why had she let her sister dress her? She looked like Sasha, not Alex. Why was she even doing this? He didn’t have to know. So she did the most reasonable pregnant thing to do; Alex turned around and glared at the open door. “Is it impossible for people to complete orders around here?”
Feet scrambled outside and the door closed with a little too much enthusiasm.
She could feel her cheeks flushing, and it had nothing to do with the time of year. She was in the same room with him, all she had to do was turn around.
“Sasha?” His voice held so many tones and layers; she wasn’t sure what that one word meant.
Better to get the hardest part over with in the beginning. Alex turned; her face under more control than she thought herself possible. Slowly she shook her head. He looked – sad?
“No. My name is not Sasha. I am Special Officer of her Royal Majesty. I am Alex Cassavonia.”
Boudoux stood there, one hand on the back of the chair, gazing at her. He might have been posing for a portrait, were it not for the expression on his face. One foot was pointed towards her, as if he had stopped mid-step. His shoulders were square and his posture strong. His chest was even puffed out like a bird on parade. But his mouth hung open a little and his eyes were locked on her midsection, large as saucers.
“Did you hear me? Or did that little man blow out your ears with his screaming?” Alex snapped when he did not respond.
His eyes dragged up to her face and bored holes into her skull.
This was not how she imagined this going. “Has someone hit you in the head recently?” Alex put her hands on her hips, the gesture only accentuating Space Particle.
“Not that I remember.” His voice was dry and his manner blunt. Alex only assumed he was still in shock.
“Do I need to repeat myself?” She wasn’t feeling as protective of him right now; in fact Alex thought maybe the interrogator was on to something.
“You are Special Officer Alex Cassavonia, sister to the Queen.” Bourdoux shrugged and exhaled his chest much less puffy.
It was Alex’s turn to be startled. “I never told you the Queen was my sister.” It wouldn’t be hard to surmise if one knew what to research but from a young age Alex had separated herself publicly from her sister so she could become the Queen’s creature as she had later in life.
“I always knew.”
Alex’s face grew intensely hot, and she balled her hands into fists at her sides. “You knew?”
Boudoux had the good grace to look sheepish. “I’m Ivarunian by birth. We were captured the year I was born. I was old enough to know to pay attention when they were invading here. I remember seeing two little girls with their parents in pictures on the news reels at night. After you blew the Cetta like an exploding star they told us to look for a man named Alex Cassavonia.” He chuckled and took a step towards her but stopped. “I didn’t think you’d gone off and become a man, but I wasn’t about to correct them.”
“But you tricked me!” Alex glowered at the man who was telling her that she was the one being duped here all along. “You knew who I was when you saw me after you took the Titania and you – you – “
His face grew solemn and he looked at her with sad eyes. “I told you that you could have said no.”
Of course Space Particle had gone far too long being ignored and chose that moment to deliver several impressive kicks and a head butt to Alex’s abdomen, making her nearly double over as she bit back all of the curses she wanted spit.
Boudoux’s hand grasped her elbow and his other arm encircled her waist, the warmth of his person pressing against Alex’s side. He had the most comical expression of fear and worry. Alex couldn’t help but laugh.
The doors opened and the two guards, guns drawn stepped into the room. “Back away,” one of them barked.
“Would you like for me to fall down right here?” Alex leaned against Boudoux and let him guide her to an overstuffed couch. “Back to your posts men. If I need something you’ll know it.”
Confused, the two guards took their time shuffling back outside and closing the doors, just in case Alex changed her mind.
Alone again, Alex pushed the overabundant cushions around until she was comfortable and then looked up at the looming figure. He was looking at her belly again, as if he didn’t know if he should be afraid or enthralled.
“You know nothing’s coming out of there for a while, don’t you? I mean, you can do math, can’t you?”
Boudoux blinked and focused on her face.
Alex just shook her head and laughed; he looked like a proper dumb man and not the imposing force of space he had been. She held out her hand and wiggled her fingers until he slid his hand over her own. Tugging him closer she slid his palm against the swell of her stomach where she had last felt something move.
“I think that’s Space Particle’s head.”
“Space – Particle?” He knelt, bracing himself on the couch with his free hand.
“Well, yeah, I kinda had to call it something, and I’m really not good with names, so that just sort of stuck.”
“You’re calling our baby Space Particle?”
Alex rolled her eyes, “Yes, I’m going to name my first born Space Particle.”
“Do I have any say in this?”
“I’ll have to think about that.” He looked so pitiful, Alex couldn’t stop talking. “Look, don’t start this. I was ready for you to be yelling at me and hateful, not rubbing my pregnant belly.”
Boudoux looked at her and she saw hurt in his eyes. She hadn’t forgotten that it had been his dream to have a family, not hers, and somehow she’d stolen even that from him.
“I have been many things in my life,” he sighed and studied the pattern on the couch, “few of them merit me a child.”
“Bou,” Alex said, pleading. She put a hand on his cheek, bringing his focus back to her, “Let’s talk about that later. Right now I’m here to be official.”
He nodded and regretfully took his hands back, pulling an ottoman close so he could sit with their knees almost touching.
“As the representative of Her Majesty, I’m here to ask you about specifics. Communication channels. Passwords. Supply caches. – ”
“On one condition.”
Alex’s eyes narrowed. She still fought that bit inside of her that wished for a fairy tale ending for her and her baby, but that had disappeared before she was pregnant. “I’m listening.”
“You marry me. Before our child is born and you give him that terrible name.”
“You don’t even know if it’s going to be a boy!”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
Alex crossed her arms over her belly and glared at him. “I’ll have you know the women in our family normally have girls. And I cannot agree to those term, Her Majesty must make a decision.”
Boudoux reached out as if to touch her knee and then stopped himself. “That you would say yes would be enough.”
“It doesn’t work that way here, Bou. I am an extension of my sister.” She reached out and grabbed his hand, moving it to where she felt a gentle prod in her stomach. Her heart thudded just a little bit harder as the look of wonder crossed his face, his eyes widened just a bit and he sucked in a breath of air.
His eyes rose to meet hers. “I said that knowing you would say yes, would be enough, and I mean it. Sasha, Alex, I don’t care what you call yourself. I wasn’t born Boudoux, I was born Jules Vaughle.”
Alex gasped and gaped at the man who had more secrets than she did.
“My parents were killed days after I was born. I was created into someone else to survive. I’ve been waiting for someone to give me the chance at freedom I gave to you, and now that I am free I don’t plan to ever go back.”
“You’re the crown prince of Ivarun.”
“Oh painted stars, I guess our baby can’t be called Space Particle!”
He grinned and shook his head.
“Hell, I need to go talk to my sister now, don’t I?”
Her Majesty winced as her senior most advisor expressed what everyone was thinking.
“Get a blood sample,” the Queen ordered, “we can check it against what is on file and then contact Rignalsus. He is head of the Ivarun Resistance. Sister, you might be a queen yet.”
Alex paled and nodded. Did she want to be queen? She was happy being here, behind things, not a public face.
Standing in the bridal suite, Alex watched Boudoux close the door behind him. Jules. She needed to get used to calling him that. As far as anyone needed to know, Boudoux had died in transit after the battle. In a few months, Jules Vaughle would come out of hiding with his wife and child to be crowned king of the newly liberated Ivarun, which he had not seen since he was a boy. But for now he was just Alex’s. Her breath came a little quicker as he walked towards her.
She was self conscious of her body in a way she hadn’t been their first night together. Her body was bloated and bulging. She waddled when she walked now, there was no getting around that, and she looked like a space-pod in the silvery gown she’d had to wear for the ceremony. She’d pulled it off and put on a robe as soon as she came back to the room.
Jules stopped so that her belly pressed against his and put both of his hands splayed on either side of her stomach. His lips pulled up into a smile as two sets of fists pounded, fighting for his attention. “Space Particle One, Space Particle Two,” he chuckled and bent to kiss the top of her stomach, parting the robe so that his lips caressed her flesh.
“Painted stars, I still can’t believe there’s two of them in there.” Alex winced as the twins put on their performance. Jules had a look of wonder on his face, just like the first time he’d seen her mutated body. “You do know they’re coming out of there.” She prodded his arm so that he looked at her. “And then they’re going to need all kinds of attention.”
Jules grinned and put his right arm around her, pulling her to his side where he could hold most of her close to him and kissed her cheek. “Oh, I’m looking forward to having them out of you.” He kissed her like he had before she was pregnant, when she was still Sasha and he was Boudoux and all they had between them were lies; his kiss tasted sweeter now and more passionate. His arm pulled her towards the marriage bed unyielding.
“Jules,” Alex gasped, “I’m – pregnant.”
He grinned at her, pulling her forward step by step. “I don’t think that is a problem.”
Alex blushed as her husband eased her into their bed. Where he had been demanding and tenacious, he was now gentle and coaxing. To fall asleep against his chest, his hand resting on the Space Particles, Alex knew a happiness she hadn’t known since before her parents died.