Out of the many things Xander learned about pregnancy the one he hated more than mood swings was the nausea. It didn’t matter how awesome and high tech his ship is any little movement made him green around the gills. The kid didn’t help much either what with all the kicks and flips he does inside Xander’s belly. No, wait, the nausea he could handle, it was a normal part of milithre or any creature’s pregnancy. He hated it but he could handle throwing up at 3:00 am and unable to sleep afterwards, staying away from seafood with the same level of aversion as a vampire does garlic, and being so intimately acquainted with the toilet that he named it (John). He could handle losing weight when he should be gaining it, the stretch marks on his stomach that to him look so ugly, and eating strange and disgusting foods like: BBQ Sabra crickets, grilled lemon basted vow slug fish, ice cream with La-Saffroni grass (like purple sparkling cat nip) sprinkles, sour lemons by the bushel, whole roast chickens with honey dip, and chocolate covered anything and everything. He could handle the eating excessively, vomiting, mood swings, and aching feet; it was the persistent pull and enveloping loneliness that was bringing him way down. It kept him from true rest and gaining the healthy weight his kid needed. The pull in the bonds to his mates urged him to go to them, called to him like a drug, whispering ‘There they are! Yours. Alone no more. Protection and love, companionship forever over there, follow.’ Follow he did, is doing. Following them like a kitten to the other end of his very long ball of yarn.
Six months Xander followed one bond only to have it lead him farther and farther out into space with no Riddick in sight. No spotting’s, no rumors, no artful slaying of mercs that screamed ‘The Riddick was here!’ Nothing that could feed the persistent and hollow hope within him that grew bigger with each day of fruitless searching. Xander might as well be mated to a ghost.
‘Moving targets are a pain in my ass.’ Xander thought darkly as he thumped his head against thick glass. Looking out of the wide dome windows Xander watched the expansive space with its many stars, scattering of planets, doting of moons, and space trash speed passed him. Somewhere out there his mates exist without him, maybe happily. Xander flinched at the thought and then cursed himself for it. One very important thing Xander learned about milithre is that they could live contently without a mate as long as they never meet them, touch them, and bond them. The need for them sets in like the flip of a switch, a dependency for their presence. A love drug.
Some books Xander read said a milithre hooked to a mate from the very first whiff of scent and others the first kiss or sight. Xander remembered zooming in on Riddick’s pod, on his plaguing interest as he asked Oren’s birth mother Rebecca questions about the convict, or how he didn’t question rutting inside the massive ribcage of a dead animal with the man he just met. Riddick was his mate and he wanted it, the claim, the touches, he wanted all of Riddick. He wants Riddick.
The Council of Elders doesn’t want Riddick though. They want their gifted prince on Emfrine studying the arts of the light of Emfri, living up to his title as the Sah, learning the ability of wooing the Alliance of Planets in milithre favor, and act like a prince with all the princely bells and silver spoons and squeaky Cinderella shoes. They want him to go to parties, kiss-kiss with powerful people, and play his part as a member of the Lith`Halo royal family. They wish him to forsake his bond, they want him to take drugs that would wash it away, and they desire he take an artificial bond in its place. In the last six months Xander received a hundred and seven messages from prospective bond candidates. It felt like Xander’s in room vid was constantly in use.
As if the very thought activated it the screen blipped on and an attractive smooth faced girl with a plastic smile appeared. A binging trill sounded from the vid and the girl called out sweetly. “Hello? Is Prince Alea`xand`r Lith`Halo in? Hello?” The girl’s voice is pleasant, her teeth perfectly straight and white as pearl, and her long brown hair woven into hundreds of tiny braids, and around her neck a long length of diamonds worth more than some spaceships. “I’m Lady Natasha Hut`Eei Rotenski! I was told to call Prince Alea`xand`r at this number by Elder Oota Tra`Koth Jin`zol Rows! HELLO?”
Xander looked at the pretty milithre girl as she became frustrated. The girl looks no older than sixteen. With a sigh Xander pressed the button to take the call and allowed the caller to see him. A cold mask of indifference settled over his face. “Yes? What do you want?” Wind through a mountain glacier is warmer than his voice right now.
The girl gave a bright simpering smile as she looked him over with interest. Her pretty blue eyes locked on the crown circlet with its many milithre focusing gems in it and the large nugget resting against his chest. The very circlet that belonged to and was passed on to the most powerfully gifted milithre in the royal family, before it belonged to Xander it belonged to his aunt Illiann and before her it was a part of King Sanotus’ crown. The large focusing gem the size of a plump cherry dangling from the gold chain around his neck was the symbol of the Sah and held a lot of religious sway with the milithre people. Xander was apparently a catch. The girl bowed her head low to Xander and spoke carefully. “Hello, Prince Alea`xand`r Lith`Halo Wit, Light of Sah, second son of Crown Prince Sanotio Lith`Halo Ruin`ith Wit and third in line for the grand throne of Emfrine. I’m Natasha Hut`Eei Rotenski second daughter of milithre General Cobalt Hut`Eei Rotenski Vi and Melody Hut`Eei Rotenski Vi of Helion 3. I’m of breeding age and have no mate yet and my family comes from a powerful line of telepaths.” She sat arrogantly before Xander on screen in her fine white velvet dress and with every word she said she puffed up with pride. “My family believes we can create a powerful soft bond together.”
Soft bond, artificial bond, fake bond . . . it left a bad taste in Xander’s mouth. Xander wanted to shut down this little girl’s hope but he had to be nice and princely, it was not worth the trouble of having the Council of Elders and angry families bugging his dad and grandparents. He had to give nice rejections even when everything in him was just begging him to just turn off the vid or say hell no! He had to give reasons. Tapping the vid screen Xander opened another window and looked at Natasha’s profile.
Candidate: Lady Natasha Hut`Eei Rotenski
Father: General Cobalt Hut`Eei Rotenski Vi
Mother: Melody Hut`Eei Rotenski Vi
Bata father: Lord Ray`Amondi Hut`Eei Rotenski Vi
Birth place: Helion 3
Siblings: 2 Gordon Hut`Eei Rotenski and Rayla Hut`Eei Vi
Mate(s): Kamran Lu (rejected)
Age: 16 years 10 months 22 days
Birthday: October 9th
Lady Natasha was born Oct. 9th at 6:02 pm in Kotabai city on planet Helion 3. Lives in Emfiy city of planet Emfrine and Kotabai city of Helion 3, commutes by private ship every 3-9 months. Hobbies are ballet dancing, singing with the Sunshine flowers choir, painting, and horseback riding. Applied to Kotabai University for dance. Goes to Light of the Gifted School for telepathy and healing training in Emfiy city and set for early graduation in the fall. Telepathy level 7 high and healing level 2 poor. Virgin. One rejected bond registered and no record of offenses. The father General Cobalt is 53 years of age and is in charge of the milithre air fleet of sector C milithre space and captains his own flag ship Emfrinia in battle. Responsible for the win at battle for Breaker Moon and awarded the high honors silver six pointed Sah by King Sanotus twice. The mother Melody Rotenski is a 45 year old Helion 3 citizen and works as a fashion model of Claret magazine and is an active member of Feed Our Progeny charity. Lord Ray`Amondi Vi is a 38 year old milithre citizen artist and teacher of clairvoyant arts and known for his lifelike stone sculptors of milithre children. Older brother Gordon Hut`Eei Hist is a 26 year old tax lawyer with one rejected bond and holder of a soft bond to an older wealthy milithre named Lord Rumesh Hist. Younger sister 14 year old Rayla Hut`Eei Vi goes to Light of the Gifted School and rumored to be in the process of making a bond.
“I see you have a mate listed with a rejection. What happened?”
The girl blushed and lowered her eyes. “Kamran’s just a poor Helion 3 citizen. My family holds a great deal of pride in our milithre gifts and his bloodline would delude that being human with 1/6 elemental in his blood. My father felt he had nothing to offer our family so I rejected my claim to Kamran and started taking Dylenolithine.”
Dylenolithine the milithre drug used to suppress or break a bond or to cope with a broken bond. The very drug the Council of Elders wished Xander to take. “Were you two bonded?”
If the girl rejected her bonded mate because she wanted someone wealthier than Xander could reject her right now. Anyone that could leave a full bond and love for money needed rejection. A pretty blush covered the girl’s face and she looked at him shyly. “No. Our minds and bodies never linked. He doesn’t even know he’s one of my bond mates.” A look of longing glimmered in Natasha’s eyes.
Even without the full bond the girl felt some of the crappy longing Xander did and he felt for her a bit. ‘Stupid little girl.’ “Is it you who doesn’t want Kamran or your family?”
Natasha blinked than spoke in a soft whisper. “My family.”
“Do you want him? Do you like him even with the drug in your blood?” Xander stared steadily into the girl’s eyes and she crumbled like a sugar mold in a careless hand.
“Y-y-yes.” A pained look crossed her face. “But a bond with you could break it and make us both feel better.” Xander could see the doubt in her eyes and went in to poke at it with a sharp stick of logic.
“I don’t think you want a soft bond, even a soft bond with a prince. You want Kamran Lu. I’m on the Seeking Quest, an honored and old ritual search for my mates. I’m not seeking any bonds but theirs and I think you’re doing the same for Kamran subconsciously. Elementals may weaken telepathy for milithre but they strengthen clairvoyance and sometimes the healing art. I thank you for expressing interest in a union with me Lady Natasha but I must decline. Goodbye.” Xander pushed the off button on the confused but hopeful looking girl. “It’s like I’m Mr. Matchmaker now.” Xander sighed then smiled every rejection was a snub in the council’s faces, like giving them a little batch of poo cookies with every princely no.
Loud thumping petite feet sounded behind Xander and the little arms of his child wrapped around his legs. “Hi, daddy!” It amazed Xander that in a few short months Oren went from tiny baby to a walking talking toddler ready for preschool.
Xander brushed a hand through Oren’s messy dark hair and grinned. “Hey, little man! How were lessons with your teachers? Was Giles extra booky? Did he clean his glasses when you called him G-man?”
“Fun! Mr. Giles gave me ice cream if I promised not ta call um G-man taday! I got nilla with chocolate stuff on it! Grampa Rip and Ms. Jeara`Kadel share one too! She made him go red and dey had chocolate all oveh their mouths. Ms. Jeara`Kadel showed me vids on whales all over the galaxy! Morrow uncle Oz and uncle Jarith are taking me to the pools ta swim. Are you going to go daddy?” Oren looked at Xander with wide happy eyes.
“Yep! Swimming’s good exercise for fat people like me!” Xander poked his round belly.
Oren laughed and crinkled his bright jewel blue cat eyes. “Teacher told me it not fat! A baby’s sleeping inside your tummy so it can’t be fat.”
Xander raised a brow. “How do you know it’s not all the ice cream I’ve been eating while you’re at nursery school?”
Oren frowned and his expression just screamed ‘You’re eating ice cream without me!’ then brightened into a tooth gapped smile. “Cause my teacher Ms. Jeara`Kadel said!”
Xander rolled his eyes, as far as Oren was concerned Ms. Jeara`Kadel knew everything in the universe. “Fine, fine. Hey, are you excited to go planet side after so long on this big ship?”
Oren’s eyes widened and he smiled big showing off slightly pointed baby teeth. “Yes! Uncle Oz and uncle Jarith are going to take me to a park to see trees and birds and lakes and mountains and take me to da fair! Uncle Jarith said Pacifist is very pretty for a poor backwater planet of rich snooty-pants’ wearin flower watah splashin yuppies. Are yuppies fish? Why is dat bad? Why they need flower smelling watah? And how are pants snooty?” Oren asked with a questioning frown on his round face but moved on to another topic before Xander could answer him. “Uncle Jarith is gonna get me something cool on the planet!” Oren moved closer as if he was going to tell a big secret. “Uncle Jarith said if I’m good like gold and you say yes I can have a pet!”
Xander raised a brow. “He did?”
Oren gave his daddy a worried look. “Do you think I’m good like gold, daddy?”
“Better than!” Xander ruffled the little boy’s curly dark hair making him laugh and bat at his hand like a kitten.
“Good, cuz I want a big tiger and maybe a whale that can talk! He can sleep in the bath tub.” Oren said as he walked ahead of Xander leading the way to the dining hall. “Do you think they have blue tigers in the market? Maybe I could get one with spots like me?” The boy tapped the leopard like spots along his hairline with a small pointer finger.
“I’m sure there’s a kitty with spots just like yours somewhere, if there is uncle Jarith will find it. A whale might be too big for the ship though, they need lots of room. A whole ocean of room.”
Oren stopped and turned toward Xander disappointment in his big blue eyes. “Like their own bedroom big?”
“It could sleep in the pool? That’s way bigger.” Oren looked at Xander hopefully.
“An ocean is way, way, way bigger than our pool.” Xander grinned.
“Bigger than our ship?”
“Some oceans cover whole planets and some are so deep we’d never see the bottom no matter how hard we try.” Oren gave Xander a disbelieving but curious look. “Didn’t Ms. Jeara show you pictures of the oceans when she showed you whales?”
“Nope! We looked at halos of what whales looked like cause she read us a story about a little whale that got lost! Tomorrow we was possed to see their houses and other stuff.” Oren entered the dining hall and brightened at the sight of some of the crews children. “Can I go sit with Talon and Mary, daddy?”
“Sure.” Xander watched his growing toddler scamper off to his two best friends the navigator’s son Talon Row Gemi and the laundry maid’s daughter Marianna Flit. Talon is a quarter milithre with light blond nearly white hair and a pale as bone bushy tail and Mary is a full human with dark copper skin and wiry ebony glass bead braided hair. The three were thick as thieves and played with each other every day. It made Xander a little sad to think of Oren out growing them. Already he was catching up to his five year old friends in height. By next year Oren would look and act maybe twice their age. Xander could find no trace of the birth father or any relations that Rebecca the birth mother claimed were waiting for her on Helion Prime. Xander didn’t even have a last name or even a real name to search with.
“What do you mean you have nothing on any Rebecca’s around the age of 20-25? Shouldn’t her last name be listed on the Hunter Gratzner’s manifest?” Xander asked with disbelief as he rocked Oren small form gently in his arms.
Greg shrugged and scanned the vid again. “She must have been under another name. I can pull up the pictures of all the female passengers and you can look through them.”
“You think she gave me a fake name?”
“Maybe Rebecca was a middle name?” Greg pulled up another list on his vid and frowned. “It’s strange no one’s come forward asking about her since you said she was meeting someone here. Not everyone on the dark runs has someone that cares but some do and that Rebecca girl looked like a settler. Settlers usually have a little nomad community looking out for them.”
“There’s a Catfish community somewhere on Helion right? Maybe I could head back there? Ask around, find his dad, and maybe they can teach Oren a bit about himself?” Xander asked hopefully.
Greg shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “The Catfish on Helion are not known for their social abilities. If they take Oren they’re not going to want you or the family around.”
Xander tightened his hold on Oren making the baby mewl irritably. “Are you saying I have to give them my kid?”
Greg shook his head. “No. Maybe? They’re a people taken from their original planet to be observed and now they’re so changed from their ancestors that they could never really live on their home world. They don’t like to be observed and they don’t like outsiders on their little piece of Helion.”
“So what do I do?”
Greg shrugged. “Maybe send a message by vid? You’re a prince. Throw some royal weight around and ask to talk to an Iqaulion representative.”
And a meeting with an Iqaulion representative was set up. It wasn’t any fun.
Chief Topudon looked down his nose at Xander even though Xander was the prince in fine robes and he was just a lowly farm owner of a private island on the coast of Helion Prime’s capital in home spun wools. In a small way Xander found the sneer on the catfish’s face funny since if Xander desired it he could make Chief Topudon’s life quite miserable. It felt good to know he had that type of power even though he knew it was unlikely that he’d ever use it like that. Even though the thought of crumbling Topudon’s pineapple business was very tempting right now. “Did you just call my kid nothing?”
Topudon pressed his lips together and narrowed his ash colored cat eyes as he picked out a small tartlet from the serving tray he had snubbed earlier. His second set of eyelids blinked as sunlight filtered through the windblown curtains onto his face as he chewed slowly like someone deep in thought. The grey leopard spots bordering his face and along his hands looked faded and highlighted the crow’s feet and wrinkles making the man look older then he truly was. Topudon sighed and wore a look that reminded Xander of his old teachers in good old Sunnyhell, a look he christened the reluctant and suffering teacher mode. ‘Oh woe is he that teaches the Xander something!’ “It is the name given to off-castes of our blood. Yiggi`Nah means they have no one and nothing but their hands and mind. They are pitied and well-educated by the people but never a part of us completely. Every Yiggi`Nah must prove themselves to the Iqaulion. I will take the . . . boy and have the Yiggi`Nah cultivated in our ways but he will not be one of the Iqaulion until a father steps forward among us.”
“Can you find the father?” Xander shifted Oren in his arms and looked down at the sleeping child with fondness.
“If the father is among us on the islands and was giving permission by his family line to mate with this Rebecca woman and create this-” He gestured at Oren like one would a spill on a table. “-child.”
Xander clinched his jaw and his smile was more teeth than anything and wasn’t even slightly friendly. “I don’t WANT Oren to be a Yiggi`Nah. He’s not alone he’s got me and my family. He’s Oren Lith`Halo. I brought you here to give the dad whoever he may be a chance to get to know my kid and to teach Oren about what he is.” Xander brushed his fingers over the blue/grey leopard spots on the baby’s arm. “He’s Iqaulion.”
“He’s a halfblooded nameless orphan that has nothing to offer my people.” Topudon sneered. “What YOU want and what will be is very different milithre prince. If a father is found he will raise the child as his bloodline sees fit and if not he will wear the name Yiggi`Nah until he proves himself worthy of naming or one of my people stoops low enough to marry him. I have wasted enough time here! Give me the child so I may return home.”
“Or option three I kick you out of the palace and keep my kid.”
So much for doing the right thing and trying to find Oren’s birth family. Xander still grits his teeth at the memories of that conversation. They wanted proof of Oren’s bloodline, demanded to see the child, and then were angry when Xander wouldn’t give strangers his kid so that they can see if he was worth rearing. Chief Topudon the catfish that talked to Xander cared more about his people’s privacy then a halfblooded orphan’s health and life. Chief Topudon offered to house Oren within their community and educate him but made it clear Xander was unwelcome and would never set foot on their islands. He made it clear that Oren would be nothing but an obligation till the birth father could be found. A name meant a great deal to the Iqaulion. A name meant ties, strength, and pride. All without were called Yiggi`Nah which stood for ‘nothing’ in catfish. Xander didn’t want to give up his kid to someone who saw him as less or at all really. Not going to happen. Nope! Not ever.
But Xander does wish Chief Topudon and he had come to some sort of consensus. Why deny a child his culture and to know his race? To this day Oren’s never met another catfish. Xander’s awesome kid Or thinks he’s a milithre that just grew in the wrong cabbage patch.
Putting his worry for his fast growing kid to the back of his mind for now Xander made his way to the head table were his family is eating. Jarith, Oz, Jeara, Giles, and Xander’s uncle Santaris were the ones to volunteer themselves as helpers and aids for Xander’s seeking quest. All of them were enjoying their meals, Jarith pressed to Oz’s side yammering about some ship trouble that happened today while Oz nodded calmly, and Giles and Jeara`Kadel(reincarnation of Jenny Calendar) were pouring over vids and dusty books arguing about which information’s right or true with Santaris sitting contently between them. Sometimes Xander wished the happily mated milithre family members didn’t come with him. It was a little torturous to watch.
Jarith grinned widely at his baby brother and wrapped an arm around him as he sat down. “Did little Or talk to you yet?”
Xander pushed Jarith away and piled food onto his plate. “Yeah he did.”
“Hope you don’t mind him getting a pet. He’s such a good little mite and I like seeing my nephew happy. I’ll pay for whatever he wants, swear!” Jarith grinned.
Xander shrugged. “Nothing too big or dangerous. How did this whole pet thing happen anyway?”
Oz shrugged then pointed at his mate. “Wants to be favorite.”
Jarith huffed. “I should be favorite uncle since I’m the fun one! I’m going to take Or swimming and I’m teaching him our family’s defensive arts. What did you do to get favorite uncle?” Jarith asked his mate.
Oz shrugged. “Guitar.”
“He does love playing his guitar and looks forward to his lessons with Oz.” Xander said before he shoved a piece of toast into his mouth.
“Swim tomorrow?” Oz raised a brow.
Xander shrugged. “If I don’t end up sick as a dog I’ll go swimming. The healer said I need more exercise because my hip muscles keep tightening up.”
Jarith looked at his brother with worry. “You’ve been spending a lot of time meditating. You were connecting with them weren’t you? You look a little run down.” Jarith pressed a soothing hand to Xander’s forehead and his light reached for Xander’s weakness to cleanse it away. Xander batted at the hand and broke the connection of light.
“I’m fine. No one needs to baby me.” Xander picked at the chicken pieces on his plate and sighed. “You healing my tiredness will make their touch go away. It’s stupid but I’d rather feel tired then lose what little I got from connecting to my mates. It’s stupid but I need this.”
Jarith pressed his lips together. “I understand.”
The next day Xander watched from one of the small heated pools as his little son swim circles around everyone in the large pools and laughed as Jarith tried to keep up with the small child. Oren swam like a fish. Oren tugged on Jarith’s tail and let out a sharp little giggle as he dodged grasping arms. “Grr! I’m going to eat you up Or!” Yelled Jarith as he made monster noises and swam after Oren. Compared to Oren’s torpedo movements Jarith looked like he was flailing rather than swimming. Resting in the heated pool with all weight off his hips and his kid’s laughter in his ears Xander let out a sigh that was almost content. Little feet pressed against his belly and his baby’s sleepy happiness reached for and interwove with his. Xander felt happy.
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