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       Dovis, p.2

           Laurann Dohner
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  “Tell that to Marrow. I tried but she is convinced otherwise. She won’t touch me and hasn’t since Cathian mated. I miss sex so much, it’s depressing.”

  “The Teki women didn’t do it for you on this station?” Dovis grinned.

  “I could get past the tentacles but the two mouths freaked me out. Which one are you supposed to kiss?”

  “You kiss brothel workers?” Dovis snorted a laugh. “Brave.”

  “I can’t get hard without kissing.”

  “I didn’t know that about the Parri.”

  “At least we don’t go into heat. That’s a plus. The Yang have razor-sharp teeth, so that station was out. I wanted to keep my tongue. Hermios only fuck underwater, and I’d drown. The Bing disturbed me. I refuse to engage in a fist fight and have to violently pin down a woman just to get her in the mood. Not to mention, they bite and use their claws because it’s hotter for them if males are bleeding. The Glaxion women looked at me like a test subject they wanted to study. It made me too nervous to consider getting naked with one. I haven’t gotten laid since Marrow visited my cabin before the captain went into heat. What about you?”

  “I did a Bing.”

  His friend’s mouth dropped open, his eyes wide.

  Dovis shrugged. “I enjoy an aggressive romp. And as for the biting part, I just bend them over to keep their mouths away from me.”

  “We were at that station months ago.”

  “I’m aware.”

  “Do you go into heat?”

  “Not like Cathian. I handle it myself. I don’t need a female to get me through it.”

  York grinned. “Are you that flexible? Impressive.”

  “Fuck you.” Dovis laughed though. “I use my hands. A few days of jacking off does the trick, and I’m not forced to be stuck with a female forever. It’s a reasonable solution.”

  “What do you mean, stuck forever?”

  “My kind permanently bond to a female while in heat. It’s a done deal if my sperm enters one. I keep my dick far from females during that time.”


  “It is what it is.”

  “I hope this mechanic is hot and tall. Large breasts would be nice. I like Nara but she’s too small for me. She swears a lot of humans are bigger than her. I want one of those, but they’re very rare out in space. I can’t believe Cathian even found one.” York smiled. “And I hope she likes the color blue.”

  “The captain didn’t find her. She was found for him. Anyway, good luck with that.”

  “You’re not going to compete with me if she’s attractive?”

  “Hell no. Humans are brash, outspoken, and annoying. I’ll pass. She’s yours if you want to stick your dick in her.”


  “I’m just being honest.”

  The computer dinged.

  Dovis walked over to the wall. “What is it?”

  “Captain Cathian wishes to depart. You are to report to the bridge.”

  “Tell him I’ll be there in five. I need to take a fast shower.”

  “Transferring the message,” the computer replied.

  Dovis spun, heading to the doors. “See you later.”

  “Why does he always make you go to the bridge?”

  “In case of attack. Sometimes ships try to follow us. I get to blow shit up in that event. No way am I missing that.”

  York chuckled. “I call dibs on the human then.”

  “Have at it—and good luck.”

  Chapter Two

  Mari wiggled her hips and reached in front of her, dug her fingers into the crevice, and used her bare toes to push forward. Layers of dirt covered her baggy clothes, the material she wore acting like a dust cloth. It was cramped in the air vent but she just fit.

  An intake grate came up on her left. She twisted to her side and reached for the can attached to the side of her pant leg. The spray foamed over the metal, eating at the dirty gunk that had accumulated.

  Once she finished cleaning all the vents, the air quality on the ship would improve. It would smell better too. This was one of the chores Dovis had probably refused to do since, according to the maintenance logs, the cleaning schedule had lapsed for a few months.

  She watched as the foam melted, revealing gleaming metal minus the gunk. Only a hundred and twenty-three more to go. She clipped the can back onto her leg, flattened to her belly, and crawled forward.

  A quick glance at her watch told her she had four more hours before her first official shift started on her new job. Nervous energy had kept her from sleeping. It might impress her new boss that she’d used her free time to clean, or it might piss him off. She was willing to risk it.

  She made it to the next intake grate and sprayed it down. Once the foam cleared, she stared out into an empty hallway on the second deck. No one seemed to be up yet. The Pods were the only crew she’d seen on the ship so far.

  Mari used her toes to push forward as she wiggled down the vent. The auto light strapped to her head turned on when the next section had no grates to allow her any illumination.

  Maybe Dovis wasn’t a small alien and couldn’t perform the task. Even the Pods would have been hard-pressed to fit. They might be short but they were pretty round. She squirmed some more, grabbed wall seams, and pulled forward until her auto light clicked off when another grate appeared ahead.

  The vent widened a bit, and the grate was larger than the rest. She was able to rise to her knees and crawl toward it. Not as much gunk layered the metal bars. She inched closer to peer out into what appeared to be a crew gym. Weights and exercise machines were set up, along with a big area with padding. She sat on her butt, removed the can, and sprayed.

  Just as she attached the can to her thigh, a noisy hiss sounded.

  Mari froze.

  “Fuck,” a deep male voice snarled, the sound followed by a loud boom.

  The foam melted and Mari instantly wiggled backward away from the large grate. An alien had entered the gym. He was tall, wide chested, and very furry. Two pointed ears stuck up from the sides of his head near the top. His mouth and nose were pushed outward, forming a small muzzle. Sharp teeth flashed as he snarled again and stormed toward the weights in the far corner.

  He reminded her of an alien she’d once seen during a repair. Another big furry beast with sharp teeth. The doors to a vessel had opened and a small, hairless animal had rushed out on four legs. The much larger beast had captured it. She’d watched, horrified, as it ate the much smaller one in a few large bites of blood and gore.

  Fear swamped her. Was one of the crew members an alien eater? Would he view her as food?

  Her gaze lowered to his big hands. They were covered in fur on the back and as he gripped a weighted bar, she spotted thick, sharp claws. A chill ran down her spine and Mari inched deeper into the vent, not wanting to draw his attention. He looked tall enough to reach the grate near the ceiling and just rip her out.

  More snarls tore from him as he pumped the weights up and down in his arms. His back was massive and as furry as his front, a light brown shade. He wore pants and boots but no shirt. His form was like a human male—if humans were born with fur. He possessed two legs and arms, but she didn’t spot a tail. The other beast she’d seen had one, and it hadn’t worn pants, either.

  She was afraid to move. The vents tended to creak from her weight as she crawled in them. What if he heard her and attacked? She didn’t want to become like that hairless animal, and find herself devoured. Of course, she was bigger. It would probably take him thirty or so bites to eat her for a meal.

  Another shudder ran down her spine, along with more fear at those horrible thoughts. Had she been sold to a ship with a dangerous crew?

  The door to the gym opened again and a human woman walked in. “Do you ever sleep, Dovis?”

  The big beast of a male snarled.

  “Who pissed you off this early in the morning cycle?”

  He turned, his dark eyes gleaming with scary intent. Mari tensed, h
oping she wasn’t about to see the human get eaten. He dropped the heavy weight bar with a crash. “Shouldn’t you still be with your life-lock?”

  “Probably.” The human laughed. “Cathian does like to keep me in bed. Then again, he had some ambassador gig to attend to on the comms system and, time changes being what they are, it was in the middle of our sleep cycle. So what’s your problem?”

  “We don’t need another crew member.”

  The human nodded and put her hands on her hips. “Ah. Is it because she’s my race, or is it just because it’s another body you aren’t permitted to beat on?”

  He stormed closer but stopped before invading her personal space, towering a good foot or so over the human. He was way bigger, with his broad arms and chest. “Both. Cathian hired a recently freed slave. It’s a security risk. We know nothing about this human. The chances of her being resentful are great. I believe Cathian made a mistake hiring her. Even you have admitted most humans are not people you trust. He won’t listen to me. We were doing fine without her.”

  “You’re being paranoid. Humans aren’t all bad. It’s bullshit to say we were doing fine. Should I mention the clog in my bath drain because you ignored my request to fix it? My life-lock sheds from his mane. I miss my hot soaks, damn it. The food replicator on the bridge only makes drinks. You were supposed to fix or replace it. It’s been that way for two months. Everyone is tired of starving while on shift when they forget to bring snacks. No one else is sorry that Cathian finally hired someone who will do the stuff you won’t. It’s all on you, Dovis. No one else.”

  He growled, looking further annoyed.

  Mari waited for the big furry beast to attack the woman who seemed to either be foolish or insane to purposely engage in an argument with him. It didn’t happen, though. The beast backed off.

  “I would have attended to those repairs, Nara.”

  “In what year, Dovis? This one? Next? We needed help and now we have it.” The human suddenly stepped closer and waggled a finger at him. “Don’t forget what Cathian told you. No more trying to scare the crew to make them quit. You don’t like people. Understood. That doesn’t mean you can be a grump to everyone. We’ve already lost our last maintenance engineer because of your crappy ability to get along with others. Harver quit because of you.” She dropped her hand to her side. “I’m going to personally assure the woman that you aren’t allowed to hurt her. I’ll give her a shock collar for your throat and a remote if you pull your usual shit. I bet that would make her feel safer if you decide to be an asshole. I don’t care if that means you receive a dozen shocks a day. She stays!”

  He snarled again.

  The human spun, marching toward the doors. “I mean it.”

  Dovis turned and punched a dent into the wall. He threw back his head next and his muzzle parted, letting loose a terrifying howl of rage. It seemed he didn’t like to be threatened. Mari flinched, covering her ears. He stormed out of the gym. She breathed easier once he was gone and crawled back into the tighter part of the vent to continue her job.

  That guy was going to make her life difficult. She just knew it. Would she really push the button if the human put a shock collar on him? The Teki used them sometimes on new slaves they’d purchased who refused to take orders. She’d witnessed their punishment, dropping to the ground and suffering what appeared to be seizures while being shocked. It looked extremely unpleasant and painful. She felt sick just thinking about being responsible for doing that to someone else.

  “Nope. Never,” she muttered. “Unless he tries to eat me. Then…probably.”

  She sprayed the next grate and crawled on. Her priority list changed. She needed to go fix that tub drain. The repair had only listed a cabin number, not who the cabin belonged to.

  She hurried through the vents. By the time her work shift started, she estimated she’d be finished cleaning one entire level.

  That should impress her new boss. She’d completed a task before being officially on the work clock. An excellent employee was one a boss would want to keep around. As good as K’pa had been to her, that didn’t mean another owner would treat her well if the captain decided to fire her.

  “Never again,” she whispered, spraying another vent. “I’m keeping my freedom.”

  She reached a sharp turn and had to wiggle a lot to make it. The schematics of the ship said there was a lone crew cabin in this direction but she didn’t know who it belonged to. It was odd, because all the other crew cabins were grouped together on another levels. She just hoped whoever it belonged to wouldn’t be home while she cleaned the final two grates.

  Mari saw a light ahead and paused, listening. It was all quiet. She inched forward and peeked through the grate.

  The private cabin was larger than her old room by at least four times. No wonder the crew member wanted it. There was a full kitchen built into a corner. The bed was massive and could easily sleep five humans side by side. A long, wide couch sat near an entertainment screen. It was black, stuffed like a puffy cloud, and looked extremely comfortable. She felt a little envious.

  Mari noticed horizontal bars up near the ceiling, hanging a few feet down. That made her frown. Was the alien who lived there some kind of bird species? She’d once fixed a ship carrying winged aliens. They liked to hang from perches on the ceiling by their clawed toes while sleeping. But this cabin had a bed, too. Maybe it was a circulation thing for whoever owned the room, and he or she needed to spend some time upside down.

  She shrugged and sprayed the vent. The grate was clogged bad enough that she had to respray.

  A loud whoosh sounded from the cabin, and she stilled. Had the resident returned?

  The foam melted—and she stared in shock at the scary furred beast from the gym. The whoosh had been the shower unit opening to let him out.

  Mari couldn’t help but stare. Dovis wasn’t wearing pants or boots this time. Just a towel wrapped around his furry hips. He shook his body, despite looking mostly dry. The shower unit would have dried him, except sometimes if you had a lot of hair, it would remain damp. She figured he had that problem all over his body instead of just the top of his head, the way most species did.

  He stretched his arms up, twisted his head a little, and then walked toward a clothing storage cabinet near the shower.

  She was too afraid to crawl away or make a noise. He’d probably be pissed to find her inside his vent. It was clear he resented her being hired.

  He yanked open the storage door and she squeezed her eyes closed when he lowered his hand to tear off the towel. Curiosity had her peeking though, wanting to know if he actually did have a tail.

  His legs were human in shape, and he had a super muscular ass covered in brown fur. She had her answer. No tail.

  He tossed the discarded towel in the laundry shoot and stretched again, this time twisting his upper body a little. The garment he withdrew from the closet was like a blue, thin, stretchy wrap that he tied around his hips. He faced her, and she held her breath as he crossed the large cabin, getting closer.

  Mari pushed back against the vent wall as much as possible. What if he saw her? Heard her? The hum from the engines should hide her soft breathing sounds but he had those big pointed ears. It implied he might have hypersensitive hearing.

  He walked over to the fluffy black cloud of a couch and threw himself at it, twisting in the air and landing on his back. He reached over, grabbed the controller for the entertainment screen, and flipped it on. Strange music filled the room. It wasn’t unpleasant or loud, but a slow, appealing beat.

  Mari knew it was time to go. The noises would mask any creaking the vent made.

  She crawled forward and came upon the second grate. It hurt her work ethic to leave it be, but no way could she risk cleaning it with him in his room. He might see the fresh foam if he happened to look toward that wall before it melted.

  She glanced out as she inched past the grate. He remained on the couch…but something about him looked different. Her mout
h fell open as it clicked that his fur seemed shorter.

  It wasn’t her imagination. As she kept watching, his fur seemed to be shrinking away. Within a minute, Dovis was no longer covered in fur, but firm light brown skin.

  Mari knew her mouth was still hanging open.

  He rolled to his side, giving her a view of his face. She almost gasped, and quickly clamped a hand over her mouth to avoid making a sound. His bones had changed too. He didn’t look exactly human, but even closer than he already had. His muzzle had pushed inward to leave a nose instead of snout. His previously thin lips were fuller now that they weren’t stretched over a row of sharp teeth. She couldn’t help but stare, transfixed. He no longer looked like a beast.

  His eyes were closed and, as minutes passed, a low snore came over the soft music. Mari released her mouth and very carefully crawled away. She made it to the intake grate near the lift, cleaned it, and then opened it to drop into the corridor. It was tough to reach that high to close it again. She had to jump a few times, but her fingers managed to push it closed enough to auto-engage the lock.

  She’d heard about shapeshifting aliens, of course. Slaves loved to gossip about the ships they’d worked on and the strange crew members they’d seen. One of her fellow slaves, Bargnor, had shared a story of meeting a tall species that could shrink in size. They went from nine feet tall with slim bodies to three feet of solid, bulky mass. He’d been told it was some kind of social requirement for them to walk around in their tall forms, but while they worked, their smaller, bulkier bodies were needed because they were stronger that way.

  Dovis seemed the opposite. His social form was scary as hell, with his fur and that muzzle full of teeth. But his sleeping form must revert to skin. It was strange, but then again, most aliens were to Mari. She shrugged it off as she got into the lift, returning to her room to shower and change into clean clothes in case the captain wanted to finally meet her. Good impressions could mean life or death.

  * * * * *

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