Cold Blue Love by Valerie Wilde
Beth sat in the second pilot’s seat, watching the stars as they flew past. Every few seconds she’d glance over at Haadr, who was sitting to her left. He didn’t look at all concerned as he tapped away at the computer, setting the new course into the controls.
Haadr looked over suddenly, catching her staring at him. He’d taken off the cloak that he’d been wearing on Centauri and was back to being half-naked, all his cut muscles on display. But that wasn’t the only reason Beth couldn’t stop looking at him.
Beth still couldn’t quite believe that he’d trusted her theory enough that he’d paid the trader two hundred credits. Not that she knew exactly what the conversion rate of credits to dollars was, but it sounded like a lot. Haadr and the trader had acted like it was a lot of money.
Most of all, she couldn’t believe that she’d actually voiced her theory. She never would have had the confidence to do that before! There was something about being so far from home that let all her insecurities seem irrelevant. Plus, Haadr’s complete support was a definite confidence boost.
“The journey will not be long,” Haadr said, turning his attention back to the computer.
“What do you think Slervorm -”
“His name,” Haadr interrupted with a deep sigh that was just the right side of exasperation. “Is Slervoran.”
“Right. Right,” Beth said testily. It was a difficult name to say and Beth had never exactly been good at languages. “Do you have a plan to deal with him? Just gonna sneak up on him and hope he’s alone?”
“I have no intention of kidnapping any more aliens,” he said gravely, smiling slightly as he looked over and continued speaking. “One is more than enough.”
She smirked back at him and, if their chairs had been closer, she would have reached over to touch him. But, as it was, he was too far away, so she leaned back in her chair, watching the stars again, this time feeling more confident. She settled herself comfortably into the cozy cloak that Haadr had wrapped around her. He’d wound it so tight around her that it wasn’t in any danger of coming loose and the press of it was like the ghost of his touch still on her skin.
“That is our destination,” Haadr said, pointing a finger at the starry screen.
He was pointing at a blue and green colored planet that was approaching fast.
“Oh, it really didn’t take long,” Beth said, feeling slightly cheated.
“The planet is sparsely populated,” Haadr said, not seeming to notice Beth’s change of mood. “And,” he paused to make a relieved sound, “There is a single person at the coordinates.”
“Great,” Beth said unenthusiastically. This whole adventure was going to be over faster than she was ready for, and then she’d go back to Earth and never get to see Haadr again. Still, she wasn’t going to be churlish. She forced a smile on her face and with more enthusiasm than she felt, she repeated herself. “Great!”
Haadr’s fingers flew across the computer panel, pressing buttons quickly. “It is great. I am programming the ship to land near Slervoran’s hideout and will then prepare myself for his capture.”
The ship was flying down through the atmosphere and now Beth could see the large green continents and the blue seas of the planet. The colors were exactly the same as footage she’d seen of Earth from space, but the continents were all wrong and misshapen.
“Hey!” Beth said. In her distraction, Haadr had slipped from the room. She followed after him, watching the play of his back muscles as he stalked down the ship’s corridor. “Hey, what do you mean prepare yourself.”
The ship lurched slightly, the engine noise changing as it approached the planet surface. Haadr finally turned to face her when they reached the entrance corridor, a small frown on his face.
“I do not understand. Slervoran is there, I am going to capture him. Why the negative reaction?”
“Because,” Beth spluttered. “Because as soon as Slervorman sees you then he’ll know you’re there to capture him. You need to confirm that it’s him. And as soon as he sees you he’ll know that you’re there to arrest him...Which is why I should go first and make sure it’s him.”
Haadr stilled and reached out to touch Beth’s cheek with a single fingertip. It was a weird gesture, but Beth understood its tenderness. The coolness of his flesh was still a shock.
“You want to help me.”
“Well…” Beth shrugged, dislodging Haadr’s finger. “I mean, you’ll take me back to Earth when he’s caught.”
“I’ll take you wherever you want to go in the galaxy.”
Beth grinned playfully, of course she needed to get back to Earth and her desk job as soon as possible. It was nice to entertain the fantasy of being the first human to explore the galaxy and learn about alien species. But that was all it was; a fantasy.
“But no,” Haadr said, opening one of the wall lockers and getting out his twisted metal weapon, before strapping it onto the waistband of his clothing. “Slervoran is a dangerous war criminal, responsible for thousands of Ka’adril deaths. This is not like facing a Centauri trader. It would be dishonorable of me to send you to do my duty.”
Beth nodded, plucking at her cloak distractedly. She couldn’t quite believe her own courage - she’d just volunteered to go talk to an alien murderer! Was it safe for Haadr to go alone?
The ship engine was powering down as they got closer and closer to the planet’s surface.
“Do you need assistance taking that off?”
Beth snorted. He was obsessed with getting her to take off clothes!
“You’re going to take it off for me?” she teased
“It would be my duty, as I put it on you,” he said gravely, although Beth was beginning to suspect that tone wasn’t as serious as it sounded. He stepped closer to her, leaning over her. She stepped away, her back hitting the wall. He was simply so large, planes of blue muscles filled her entire vision.
Haadr put a hand on her shoulder, right where the edge of the cloak was tucked in. His thumb brushed against her neck.
The ship lurched again, making them both stumble. Haadr didn’t lose his footing but his body pressed against Beth and she could feel the length of him. His skin was cool against hers, making her intensely aware of every point where their bodies touched. She felt like her skin was on fire and he was a cooling balm, grounding her.
The engine switched off and, in the sudden, unbearable silence, Beth realized that they had arrived. It was time for Haadr to leave.
He stepped away, leaving Beth feeling flushed and feverish without him to cool her down.
“I will return and we will finish this discussion.”
Haadr opened the ship’s door and went down to the planet. It was dusk and, in the half-light, Beth could see a domed cabin made of dull metal. It felt wrong to watch him go like that. But there was nothing else she could do.
Haadr opened the house door and disappeared inside. It just felt wrong to Beth. They’d been hunting Slervorman together! And now Haadr, the big lunk, was doing something dangerous without her.
The safe option would be to stay here, on the safety of the ship. But Beth was enjoying her newfound confidence and she wanted to get involved. She wanted to help.
Surely, if Haadr was fine by himself, then he would have already captured Slervorman. But the house door remained resolutely closed. It had taken Haadr a matter of seconds to kidnap her. This time he was taking much longer, surely that meant that there was a problem and Haadr needed her help!
Her mind made up, Beth left the ship and stepped foot onto the new planet. The grass under her feet was as green as the grass back on Earth, but it crunched slightly under her shoes, rather like a layer of snow.
She walked slowly toward the metal house, covering half the distance before she heard a pained yell coming from up ahead. It sounded like Haadr’s voice, although she couldn’t be certain. Beth ran forward, not hesitating now that she knew Haadr needed her.
Beth flung the metal door open, taking a second to understand what she was seeing. A bright overhead light shone over what was clearly a small homestead. The furniture had mostly been torn apart as two blue men were locked in a fight in the center of the single room. They grappled with each other like wrestlers, neither one obviously winning or losing the fight.
Beth’s foot hit against Haadr’s weapon, lying uselessly on the floor; she picked it up. She wasn’t completely sure how to use it, or what it would even do. But there was one part that looked like a trigger and that was enough for her.
“Stop it! Stop fighting!”
One of the men stopped first and the other landed one last punch on the other’s stomach. Both of them stood to attention, matching wary expressions on their faces.
No, Beth realized with horror. It wasn’t that they were both blue, or that they were making the same facial expression...they were both identical. They were both Haadr.
Haadr had found his shapeshifter! But Beth had no idea which one was Haadr and which one was Slervermmman.
“What the...fuck…” Beth exhaled, pointing the gun at first one then the other. How the hell was she going to work out which one was which. They were identical!
“Quick, shoot the traitor!” the Haadr on the right yelled.
“No!” the Haadr on the left yelled, “Do not fire! He must be brought to justice.”
Beth scowled. She was more worried about accidentally killing Haadr than not killing some criminal. Just how dangerous was this weapon anyway? Would one shot be enough to kill?
“Alright…” Beth said. “There must be a way to work out which one of you is Slervorman.”
The Haadr on the right just blinked at her slowly, smirking, not seeming to care about how she was butchering the guy’s name.
The other Haadr, on the left, sighed, and muttered quietly, “Slervoran.”