Simdow entered the colony’s dining room. His eyes widened to see the women clustered together in tight knots.
He’d seen females, of course. The barren Matara who had unofficially adopted him as her own had been the sole example of women of his own species, but there had been plenty of the feminine gender to be had on Dantovonian brothels. All alien species except Kalquorian and Earther had been available for myriad carnal delights. Yet these women he looked at now were so similar to his own race. Shorter, smaller, of many differing colors, but still remarkably like him.
His gaze swept over the dozens of frightened faces turned to him, but he couldn’t seem to locate the pretty blonde Vadef had sent him a picture of. He did see Miv watching him. His Nobek’s face showed unmistakable relief, his tight jaw easing as he nodded to his clan leader.
With Vadef at his side, Simdow walked over to Miv. The other guards he passed issued slight bows as he passed, acknowledging his rank. He gave brief nods in return.
He looked up at Miv, who stood a good five inches taller than himself. “My Nobek. It seems you have the best duty of them all, guarding these pretties.”
Simdow’s address to him as a clanmate rather than a lower-ranking crewmember allowed Miv to respond informally. The Nobek grimaced. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”
The Dramok cocked his head. He rarely saw Miv look upset. The expression on his face was fierce, as usual, but there was definitely unhappiness in his eyes and the tight set of his mouth.
Restraining the urge to put a comforting hand on Miv’s shoulder, Simdow asked in a low voice, “What’s wrong?”
“They’re frightened, my Dramok. They cry. They call us monsters.”
Vadef’s face paled. “But it’s been explained they’ll be taken care of, hasn’t it? That we won’t hurt them?”
Miv snapped a sharp nod. “As best we can manage, but they don’t wish to hear it.”
Simdow’s excitement faded quickly. “They are prisoners who are being taken from the lives they know. We should have expected this.” He could have punched his own head.
Vadef bit his lip. “Oh no. What of the one we’ve chosen? Kather-Ine?”
Miv blinked. “She said her name was Sisterkatherine.”
“Katherine. Like you said, Simdow.” Vadef hurried to explain. “‘Sister’ is her rank, my Nobek. She’s a kind of religious leader among the women, if I understand it correctly. Third in command. The one called Mother Superior is the ultimate authority at this colony.”
Simdow was more interested in Miv’s earlier statement. “She spoke to you? You’ve talked to her directly?”
Miv nodded. “She has many questions. I don’t know how to make her understand she’s safe with us.” He blew out a frustrated breath. “I’ve left her alone since she first approached me, because I’m afraid I can’t explain the situation well enough to make her feel better. I’m sorry, my Dramok.”
Simdow gave him a half-smile. “You’ve done fine. There’s probably very little anyone could say to any of them to ease their fears right now. Who’s in charge here?”
Miv nodded to a Nobek lieutenant who stood a few feet away. The other man watched them and nodded respect at Simdow’s notice.
He said, “I’ve already received word Nobek Miv is off duty upon your arrival to attend his Matara, Commander.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Simdow turned back to his clanmates. “Well, my Nobek and Imdiko, let’s see what we can do to give Matara Katherine a sense of relief. Miv, which one—?”
“She’s in the center of that group.” Miv nodded at the largest cluster of white-gowned women who stared and whispered in fearful voices as they realized they were the center of the trio’s attention.
At last Simdow saw her. That tiny face surrounded by foaming golden curls was just as afraid as the rest, but unlike those surrounding her, Katherine displayed determination. A sense of fight. By the ancestors, she was magnificent, and Simdow swallowed. Was this beauty really to be his?
Releasing July 2013