Chapter 1: Grojan

"Oh for God's sake, you bloody moron." Captain Mark Fuller shook his head as he slid down behind the crumbling wall. The patrol had walked straight into a Grojan ambush after the patrol leader had ignored Mark's warning. The survivors dived for cover either side of the street. Mark keyed his radio. "Jackson?"

"Yes, sir?"

"You stay here with me and provide covering fire."

"Yes, sir."

"Everyone else fall back to the square and hold that position." Mark was now the senior officer, even though he was not a Marine. They had been tasked with holding the Grojan while the last human refugees were evacuated. The full Grojan fleet had not yet arrived and they had to get away before they did. But the advanced force of Grojan had arrived unexpectedly on the small human colony, despite the fact the colony was insignificant and situated on the opposite side of human space from the Grojan advance. The cruiser he was traveling in had been preparing for its next jump when a distress call from the colony had been received, and they had changed course. He had volunteered to help on the ground because the ship didn't have a full complement of Marines as it had been pulled back from frontline duty for a refit. Mark had used the fact he was a member of the elite intelligence corps to hitch a lift back from his final leave before preparation for his first posting commenced.

Now he was in the middle of a firefight against Grojan Marines. They should have stayed behind the barricades to keep the Grojan back for the final few minutes to enable the last of the refugees to escape. Instead, the Marine captain had ordered them forward to flush out the Grojan.

Pulse fire shot above his head, and Mark moved round the edge of the wall. The Grojan had been hiding in a ditch on the edge of a large garden situated at the end of the street. Mark fired at something moving behind the ditch and for a moment the enemy fire stopped; Jackson did the same keeping, the Grojan's heads down.

The squad survivors ran back to the defensive line at the end of the town square, keeping low and to the side of the street. Mark's intercom crackled for a moment then a voice came through, "Sir, we can cover you now, and we are ordered to pull back for the last shuttle. The main Grojan fleet has just entered the system and the last of the surviving colonists have just left for the cruiser."

Mark glanced across the street. "Jackson, are you ready to move back?"

"Yes, sir," Jackson shouted back.

The Marines behind the main barricade started to lay down covering fire.

"Jackson, go now!" Mark rolled away from the wall he had been crouched behind and keeping low, prepared to run for the defenses they should never have left. Just at that moment the wall was hit by heavy Grojan fire. The explosion knocked Mark off his feet and through a ruined window. He hit an overturned couch hard, and the impact left him winded and dazed. Mark lay gasping for what seemed to be hours. He cursed his lack of armor; it would have protected him against the impact, but at least he had hit a couch instead of a wall or floor. He fought to catch his breath then pushed himself away from the couch, stood and moved to the door. With his back against the wall he chanced a peek. A lone Grojan was walking towards the door, as the enemy soldier was upright - and there was no sign of gun fire - he had to assume the town square had been evacuated or destroyed. His pulse rifle was smashed, so he had left it where it had fallen. His pistol had lost power hours ago - he had found it was almost useless against the superior Grojan armor anyway.

Mark looked round for a weapon, and just within reach was a pile of rubble, so he leant over and picked up a brick. He heard the crunch of the Grojan's boots as it made its way to the doorway. Mark held his breath. The Grojan had reached the door and slowly moved forward holding its pulse rifle in front of itself. Mark twisted, grabbing the barrel of the rifle, pulling the Grojan into the building. The Grojan lost balance and staggered forward as Mark smashed the brick into its helmet. He twisted the Grojan round as it fell, and ripped the rifle from its grip then smashed the brick into the helmet again. The Grojan fell backward against the pile of rubble and Mark jumped forward with his knee against the creature's chest. From its size and the shape of the armor it had to be a female. Armored hands tried to grab his arms, but he smashed the brick against the side of the creature's helmet, causing the brick to crumble. The creature went limp as the helmet retracted; the blows must have caused a failure in the suit systems.

No one had ever seen a Grojan as they always fought to the death, and their suits destroyed their bodies at the point of death. Even if any human had ever seen a Grojan they had not lived to tell. As far as he knew female Grojan warriors were extremely rare. Unlike humans, only Grojan males normally fought in their armed forces.

Mark lifted another brick to smash the Grojan's head as it lay dazed beneath him. It ... no she blinked and then aquamarine eyes locked onto his. They stared at one another for a moment then Mark swore. "Oh fuck!" It was the most exquisitely beautiful face he had ever seen.

He was a millisecond away from smashing her face to a pulp, and his blows to the side of her helmet had probably injured her already.

Mark froze; he could not smash the brick into her face. Heat suffused his body. This was not the repulsive alien creature he had expected, his chest tightened and he couldn't breathe. A knot twisted in his gut, the shock to his suddenly overloaded senses caused him to momentarily freeze. She blinked again, releasing him for a moment. He swallowed, and threw the brick against a wall so hard it smashed to dust. He had almost killed her, ruined that perfect face, and as he leant forward and brushed his lips against hers the knot in his gut twisted tighter. An automatic survival instinct kicked in, and he rose and scrambled out of the back of the building, leaving her lying in the rubble.

In a daze, he keyed his Marine intercom, but all he got was static, so he pulled it from his ear and threw it down. He looked up at the evening sky. "What the fucking hell just happened?" The sound of his own voice jarred him back to the reality of his situation. He was trapped on a planet now occupied by Grojan. The marines he had been with had either escaped with the cruiser or had been killed. Either way Mark knew he was on his own.

His only hope was the colony spaceport to the west of the small town. If the Grojan were still mopping up, moving from house to house, perhaps there might still be an undamaged ship left at the spaceport he could use. He had to move fast as once as if the main Grojan fleet moved into orbit they could use their sensor systems to locate him. When the Grojan conquered a human colony they would systematically search for, and kill, every survivor. Keeping to the shadows, Mark moved quickly through the destroyed town. Twice he had to make a detour, once as the street was blocked and once to avoid a group of Grojan.

Dusk was falling by the time he had reached the port. His luck however was still holding, the port was deserted, with a few destroyed ships scattered around. Off to one side of the field were a collection of private hangars. The first two were empty, but the third contained a partly dismantled freighter, and standing alone in a corner, partly covered by a large sheet, sat an antique obsolete long range fighter. Mark ran to it and pulled the dust sheet away then climbed the ladder to the open cockpit. This ship had obviously been someone's pride and joy. It was immaculate. Mark settled himself into the single seat and, holding his breath, he keyed the main power. He let out a sigh as all the systems came online, and he glanced at all the readings. The ship was fully fueled and ready to go. One problem he noticed immediately was that the weapons systems had been disabled. The whole console had been replaced by a realistic dummy.

"So I can't defend myself. Shit!"

He closed the cockpit cover and retracted the ladder, then started the ignition sequence. The engines fired, and he pushed the throttle then released the brakes - the ship started to roll forward. He maneuvered the ship round the dismantled freighter and headed for the open hangar doors. As he emerged and turned onto the main runway a group of Grojan appeared at the far end of the field and started to run in his direction. "No time for flight checks. Come on, old girl, let's see what you can do."

He pushed the throttle fully open and the ship leapt forward. The raw thrust from the ancient engines pushed him back into his seat. "Bloody hell, this thing is awesome!" He headed straight for the advancing Grojan, a few wild shots passed over the top of the cockpit before they dived out of his way. He pulled the stick back and the fighter rose swiftly, the exhaust and thrust from the engines kept the scattered Grojan from firing at him for a few important seconds. When they did, the craft's shields dissipated the pulse rifle shots, and within minutes he was in the blackness of space with the planet below.

Mark checked the sensors - the Grojan fleet was still the other side of the planet and too far away for an effective shot. Mark shuddered and ran his free hand through his close cropped sandy blonde hair. He had escaped so far, but the Earth Force cruiser was gone. The little fighter was fitted with a short range jump engine so he could get out of the system. He flicked the jump charge button and checked the navigation computer for coordinates at maximum range, which would get him away from the local system.

The person who had undertaken the fighter's restoration had done an excellent job, even the internals of the ship's computer had been updated with modern components. It had probably been ignored during the evacuation due to it being an obsolete antique, for which Mark was certain he owed his life. Functionally, the ship was perfect. He double-checked the navigation computer; he could make the Intelligence Corp base he had initially been on route for. The journey would only take six jumps and he was certain, once the cruiser reported the Grojan, a fleet would be dispatched to take them on. Mark hit the jump activator and commenced his journey back to the Intelligence Corps medical base and his appointment with the plastic surgeon.

The first jump had removed him from immediate danger so he allowed himself to relax as the navigation computer performed its calculations and the jump engines charged for the next jump.

The incident with the Grojan played out in his mind; her lips had parted as he had stared at her and he had noticed her pointed front teeth. It had not registered at the time or during his escape but now he was sitting alone with only the stars for company a childhood memory surfaced; his mothers smiling face, her teeth had been pointed in the same way. She had always sung to him at night, her strangely beautiful voice sending him to sleep. Then he remembered the panic as his mother and father had hugged him for the last time. They had disappeared, leaving him with his grandparents. A sudden realization caused him to gasp; she had not sung to him in Standard, the common language all humans now used. For no reason he could identify, he had a strong feeling his mother was the same as the Grojan female. But how can that be? Your memories are faulty, Fuller, that has to be the explanation. The alternative was too fantastic to even contemplate.

The jump engine ready tone sounded, pulling him from his thoughts. He had to be imagining things surly? He had been too young when they left him to remember his parents clearly. He decided to say nothing about the incident during his inevitable debriefing, it was madness, and his imagination was playing tricks on him. Captain Mark Fuller, human, punched the jump activator.

Varna lay in the rubble, emotions ravaging her body. Ancestors! I bonded with the human! She had been stunned by his size, strength and speed. He would have been more than a match for a fully developed Grojan male, which was extraordinary. He had smashed her helmet with a brick in just the right spot to disrupt the molecular cohesion and cause it to fold back. How had he known that? For the first time in her life she had felt fear as the human had ripped her rifle from her grasp and thrown her against a pile of rubble. When he had held the brick ready to smash her face her feeble attempts to hold his arms had no effect. She had thought it was her end, but then his eyes locked on hers. Ancestors! It had felt like a bonding, she had actually wanted him to kiss her! He had leant forward, and the faintest touch had caused every nerve in her body to go off like a supernova, all her senses had screamed at her mine! Varna shuddered, the very thought! She wiped the back of a trembling hand across her mouth and sat up just as Minara stepped through the door.

"Varna! What the fuck are you doing? You look terrible, has something failed on your suit?"

Fisting her hands, Varna struggled to get her body and emotions under control; no one must know what had just happened. It was impossible, and she would die of shame if anyone found out. She stared at Minara for a moment before answering, struggling for a reply that would not incriminate her. She decided the truth was the best option, a part truth anyway. "I have just been attacked by a human if you must know!"

Minara looked round the ruined room. "Where is it then?" she asked, her eyebrows lifting.

Varna struggled to her feet. "It got away." She shuddered again at the memory of the fear and hopelessness as it had pinned her to the rubble and destroyed her helmet, then the sudden heat in her traitorous body at the false bonding as their eyes met.

"It got away?" Minara's laugh was hard and humorless.

Varna glared. "Yes, and I don't want to talk about it, Okay?

"All right, if you say so, but there is something you aren't telling me?" Minara frowned. "Varna?"

Varna shook her head. "I have to get my suit fixed, see you later, Minara." She stepped through the door, leaving a frowning Minara behind. She had only taken a few steps when Minara's shout caused her to turn back.

"Varna, you forgot your pulse rifle, what's wrong with you?" she held it out. Varna snatched it from Minara's hand without a word, avoiding her gaze. She turned on her heels and stalked back to the troop ship so she could get her armor repaired.

The debriefing later that day proved difficult, her commander and senior fleet officers were concerned a human had been able to disable her helmet, had even known exactly where and how to strike it. Varna found herself repeating the encounter over and over again until it was decided to redesign the helmet systems to prevent further occurrences of the failure.

Every time she repeated the story of what happened she left out the one thing that was the most important part of the encounter in her mind. The initial stage of bonding had occurred with a human! Ancestors, they were nothing more than vermin to be eradicated from the galaxy and she had started to bond with it. At least the initial stages were not easily detectable in a female so she would not be found out if she were careful.

The first night after the incident, alone in her cabin, she had even dreamt about the creature and she woke in a sweat, her body hot with need. She was disgusted and ashamed with herself, and for the first time in her life tears had stung her eyes and she cried.

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