Cold Blue Love by Valerie Wilde

Chapter Six

That was enough for Beth, she knew which one was the imposter!

Still not sure how powerful her weapon was, she aimed it low, pointing the twisted metal at the imposter’s feet and squeezed what she hoped was the trigger. A beam of blue light flew out of the device, shocking her so much that she dropped the weapon.

The blue light hit the impostor’s ankle and he let out a screech of anger and pain. The shapeshifter’s blue skin rippled around the wound. It was like looking at a reflection in a pond, the shape of his ankle undulating weirdly and, just like in a pond, as Beth stared at it she could make out a hint of his real skin: slimy green like an underwater plant just visible below the surface.

She only had a split-second to understand what she was seeing. The real Haadr dived on top of him, wrestling Slervoran to the ground with a loud smack of flesh on flesh. The injured imposter struggled, weakened by the shot and screaming again as he hit the ground. The skin on most of his ankle was back to being blue but there was a small slimy green patch where Beth had hit him.

He was trying to look like Haadr again, but there was no disguising that wound!

With a loud grunt, Haadr dragged Slervoran to his feet, keeping his arms locked behind his back.

“At last, Slervoran, you will pay for your crimes.”

Slervoran laughed, trying to twist out of Haadr’s grip.

“Slervoran you call me?” His face rippled in that strange way that his ankle had, his features changing. Now he looked like a different man, although still the same species as Haadr. But, with Haadr holding onto him from behind, he couldn’t see this new face. “Why don’t you call me Raddr? That’s my name, old friend. We are brothers, separated by a war we had no choice in.”

Beth’s eyes widened. She’d known that Haadr was tracking a criminal, but she hadn’t realized it was this personal for Haadr. Would he be moved by his friend’s plea?

“I will never use that name again. You were a spy in our midst, learning our secrets, faking friendships until the right moment when your betrayal would hurt us the most. A thousand Ka’adril are dead because of you.”

Slervoran twisted sharply, slamming his head backwards, trying to headbutt Haadr, but Haadr was too quick for him. Slervoran could not escape.

“Then kill me!” Slervoran snarled. “Kill me and be done with it. Don’t take me back for a mockery of a trial.”

“No.”

Compared to the screams of Slervoran, Haadr sounded calm and resolute. He pushed the traitor forward, using the exact same maneuver that he’d used to corral Beth to his ship when he’d kidnapped her.

“Wait!” Beth said suddenly.

Haadr stopped, looking at her with an expression that she once would have thought was blank but now she understood him better. There was anger and rage being held back, none of it aimed at her, as he waited patiently to hear why she’d stopped him.

“We should tie up his wrists.”

In the mess that they’d made of the cabin, there were some braided metal cables, neatly tied up but lying on the floor half covered by the debris of what might have been a wooden chair.

“Yeah,” Beth continued, bending over and moving aside the broken planks with one hand, still clutching the weapon in the other. “This should work perfectly.”

Haadr nodded, taking the cable from her while not completely releasing Slervoran. “Keep your aim on him while I tie him up.”

Haadr worked quickly, binding Slervoran’s wrists with ease. The cable was long and there was nothing to cut the metal with. So, as he tightened the knot that held Slervoran in place, there was still a long length of cable that dangled to the floor. Haadr pick it up, pulling on it so that he could walk his prisoner like a dog on a leash.

“Walk, Slervoran. There is no point in delaying this further.”

Slervoran stumbled forward, hobbled by the wound on his ankle. The three of them left the house and stepped onto the weirdly textured grass, starting the slow walk back to the ship.

Haadr kept a tight hold of the cable leash, pulling it taut whenever Slervoran slowed down too much.

“You know,” Beth’s voice said in a conversational tone. Beth gasped, her head whipping around. She hadn’t spoken those words! Slervoran had changed forms again. This time he was her!

It was like looking at a moving mirror that had a mind of its own, weird and disconcerting. He had even copied the clothes that she was wearing!

She stared at Slervoran’s copy of her, feeling a pang of sympathy for Haadr. Back in the cabin, he’d had to fight himself. It was uncomfortable just walking next to Slervoran as he mimicked her. She imagined it would be even weirder to physically interact with herself.

Slervoran’s face twisted into a terrible leer, distorting her face. Beth was sure that she’d never made that expression in her life...But maybe she had. Unwittingly. She hated to think that anyone had ever seen her doing that with her face.

“I should have been using this form all along,” he wiggled his hips and pushed out his chest suggestively. “You have found yourself a pretty companion, Haadr. Maybe if I’d looked like this when you arrived you would have been less eager to fight, hmm?”

“Silence, Slervoran. I have heard enough from your duplicitous mouth.”

Slervoran pouted. It was, Beth thought as she watched, both horrific and mesmerizing. She couldn’t seem to look away. Did she really look that childish when she made that expression?

“Oh, but she’s eager for it, isn’t she? What a shame that you’re such a noble Ka’adril, much too noble to fuck her like she clearly desires.”

Haadr yanked on the cable, sending Slervoran stumbling to the side. He yelped as he landed on his bad ankle, barely managing to avoid tumbling to the ground.

“You are foolish to believe that you can goad me, Slervoran. I will not kill you. You will face justice, no matter what obscenities you spew.”

Slervoran’s skin rippled again, changing back to a blue skinned Ka’adril man that he’d been back in the cabin. Haadr’s lip curled slightly in disgust, it seemed he hated seeing Slervoran in this form most of all.

Beth went up the gangway into the ship first and then stood to the side as Haadr and Slervoran came on board. Haadr silently pushed Slervoran in front of him, down the corridor that led to the room that he’d originally locked her in.

Beth didn’t need to watch Slervoran being locked up. She hit the button on the wall that brought up the gangway and closed the ship door, then headed to the bridge. Settling herself into the second pilot’s chair, she waited for Haadr to return.

“I apologize for the things he said to you,” Haadr said, startling her. He hovered in the doorway, not coming any closer as she turned in her chair to watch him from across the room.

“It’s not your fault,” Beth said sharply. Haadr nodded and, as if her words had given him permission, he came closer and sat in the other pilot’s seat. Without another word, he started the ship’s engine and they took off. Haadr’s large fingers worked quickly, skimming across the rows and rows of buttons with practiced ease.

Beth watched him work, ignoring the view of the stars as they flew through the atmosphere and up, into space. Of course she didn’t blame him for what Slervoran had said!

But…

The man was a shapeshifter. That meant that he’d had to observe her closely in order to mimic her...had he seen something in the way that she looked at Haadr? Was she that obvious?

“The journey to Ka’a will take awhile. Try to rest while you can,” Haadr said, interrupting her thoughts. Beth looked away from his fingers with the speed of someone who was doing something wrong. She stared without seeing at the screen as the stars whizzed past.

She didn’t answer, too lost in her own growing sense of embarrassment.

Beth twitched, jumping slightly as the ship swerved. She must have fallen asleep!

“I’m awake,” she mumbled sleepily.

“I know,” Haadr said from his seat. “Your species make noises as they sleep.”

Beth blinked slowly, her mind foggy so it took a few moments for her to parse what he’d just said.

“I do not snore!”

Haadr was smiling at her, pausing what he was doing on the ship’s computer to watch as Beth sat up indignantly.

“Do not be alarmed. It was very cute. Look, we are nearly at Ka’a.”

A planet was looming large on the ship’s screen. It was grey and inhospitable looking. Was this really his home planet?

“There! Do you see the city of Ka’dr?”

A patch of light gleamed like a jewel amid the barren landscape.

“I see it,” Beth said, leaning forward. Ka’a was going to be the third alien planet that she’d visited...but this one felt different. This was Haadr’s home and that made it special. As they got closer she could make out more details, the shape of brightly lit streets and squat grey buildings. It didn’t look like any human city she’d ever seen but the tapestry of streets and highways was universal.

Closer still and Beth saw that the streets were not lit by street lamps as she’d been expecting, instead garlands of colored lights were strung across every street. It was dusk, and the lights stood out clearly in the darkness.

“Wow, it’s beautiful!”

Haadr seemed just as taken with the bright lights as she was, although he must be used to the sight. They flew almost all the way over the city and then began to descend onto a brightly lit open space.

“My people are setting up for the Festival of Lights. It was traditionally held in midwinter but celebrating it was banned under Vaslor. The people are getting very excited.”

“Huh, yeah, of course,” Beth nodded. “We have a...midwinter celebration on Earth too.”

Beth frowned at the reminder of her life back on Earth and then pushed the thought away. “They banned you guys from celebrating?”

Haadr nodded solemnly as the ship landed.

“Come,” Haadr said, standing and offering Beth his hand, “I sent word ahead that we had captured Slervoran. Security will need access to the ship.”

Beth took his hand. As always it was a surprise to feel the coolness of him. He wasn’t exactly cold, but the differences in their temperatures made her incredibly aware of the way that his larger hand enclosed hers.

“Always so warm,” he murmured softly. He hadn’t held her hand before but Beth wasn’t complaining as he led her through the ship. Still hand in hand, they left the ship. Outside, at the bottom of the gangway, there was a group of armed Ka’adril men. They were all as half-naked as Haadr and they nodded at Haadr and, Beth noted with surprise, at her too before going into the ship.

It was a little bit like standing on the tarmac at an airport. A few spaceships that looked similar to Haadr’s were parked in the distance. A few of the buildings in the distance were draped with garlands of lights, some that shone neon orange and others that shone light silvery-blue.

“It is not,” Haadr said, squeezing her hand lightly. “The best introduction to Ka’dr, but the city beyond the spaceport is much more interesting.”

The blue guards marched out of the ship in a tight formation. At the center of the group was Slervoran, his arms still bound in the metal cable.

“Commander Haadr!” one of the guards stopped in front of them while the rest continued on their way, marching Slervoran over the tarmac. This new man was just as naked as Haadr but somehow Beth didn’t feel the same appeal as she looked at him. He wasn’t as broad across the shoulders as Haadr was and his blank, expressionless face had none of the hints of emotion that Beth could see in Haadr.

“Congratulations on your successful mission. And,” he turned to Beth and made a gesture that was something between a nod and bow. “Thank you for your aid. You are a true friend of the Ka’adril.”

“Oh!” Beth said, looking between the stranger and Haadr. She hadn’t done anything much! “Um, you’re welcome?”

He nod-bowed again and turned to hurry after Slervoran and the rest of the guards.

“A friend of the Ka’adril,” she murmured. It was such an odd little phrase, spoken to her by a stranger - yet it underlined how much her life had changed since Haadr had abducted her. She’d flown across the galaxy, seen new worlds and befriended an entire species apparently. How could she go home now? Back to her boring, timid life?

She looked up at the ship’s gangway with a feeling of dread and squeezed Haadr’s hand, hoping that he’d forget his promise to return her as soon as he’d delivered Slervoran to justice.

Beth’swarm hand was small in his and he was very aware of the thinness of her bones and the need to be gentle. It was time to fulfill his promise to her...and yet he did not want to. He did not want to take her back to the human world just yet.

She was the most beautiful woman that he’d ever seen and now, as she entrusted her hand to him, he felt more drawn to her than ever. Still, Haadr felt the weight of his responsibility. He had kidnapped her, taken her from her homeworld and forced her to help him on his hunt for Slervoran. Would it be dishonorable if he made his interest known?

His people, enslaved for hundreds of years, were poor but they were proud. Honor was the one thing the Vaslor had never been able to take from them.

But then, Beth had been curious about the worlds that the two of them had visited together. Perhaps she would be just as interested in seeing more of Ka’a.

Treasuring her hand and the way that she was looking around the spaceport, observing everything without seeming to care that he was still holding her, Haadr considered how he could tempt her to stay a little longer on Ka’a.