I fucking hate aliens.

 

That thought runs through my head with every single step I take through the ankle deep mud. Hating aliens gets me through the day. Makes me take each and every breath. Hating our alien masters is all that is keeping me alive.

 

I'm bent nearly double carrying a big load of rice from the store house to the transport base. It's a several mile trek and the ground is muddy and slushy thanks to the heavy watering the Rathkari systems give it daily. These plains used to be suburbs, but nothing remains of the perfectly maintained houses hedged carefully with little bushes, and yards with their paddling pools and swing sets. Everything has been wiped away. It's all rice as far as the eye can see. It would be beautiful, if you were to come upon it for the first time. If you didn't realize that every plant had been put in place by a human hand against her will – and if you didn't realize that the very fertilizer that made it grow, was... I can't even stand to think about that.

 

I trudge toward the transport, the weight of the sack making every bone in my body ache. This is hard labor, but it is better than what I could be doing right now. Three years ago, the Rathkari came to Earth in a blaze of fire. We mistook their ships for large comets and as a species, prepared to meet our ends. We were right, but not as we expected.

 

Large rocks didn't slam into our world. They slowed as they came through the atmosphere and slid to a halt. And then the purge began. They took the men first. Every male over the age of five, gone. They took the mothers next, those with young ones. And then they came for the women of breeding age. Eighteen to twenty eight. They breed us like we used to breed animals, an irony that I'd be able to appreciate much more deeply if my womb wasn't one of the ones they had designs on.

 

Those that were left, women over twenty eight, became workers. I'm twenty four, but I've gone out of my way to avoid the capture teams searching for fertile females. When they came to our city, I slipped into the line for workers and that was the end of it.

 

I don't look good. I'm covered in dirt from the fields and my clothes are basically rags. The idea is to keep fooling the aliens into thinking I'm older than I am. Past breeding age. Carrying heavy loads helps me to stoop, and so far, keeping my face to the ground has worked well too. If I keep this up for another six years, I might get away with not being herded into Rathkari freighter and getting inseminated.

 

I remember a time when my biggest concern was whether I was having a good hair day and if Tony in my Psych 204 class liked me. We don't know where the men have gone, but there's no human male left on the planet. In their place are the Rathkari.

 

Being fucked by a Rathkari male is apparently quite an experience. It's also one I never intend to have. I hate aliens. I hate what they've done to our planet, and to our species. I had a brother and a father. They're both gone now. My father was old. I doubt they found a use for him. My brother was engaged to marry the love of his life. That never happened. She was taken away to produce babies for the Rathkari.

 

I slam my sack onto a pallet destined for the stars. The Rathkari sure consume a lot of rice and vegetable matter. They're not really into eating flesh, but that's not the good news for the animals that I thought it would be. When hungry aliens compete with animal species for plant products, the animals lose every time. Global deforestation has driven damn near every species that isn't human to extinction. Dogs are basically instinct. Cats are rare, though the Rathkari tolerate them as hunters. The planet is being pillaged shipment by shipment. Every pallet that leaves the planet depletes the soil. We're sending the very heart of nature out into space. It can't last forever. In an effort to stall the complete degradation of the soil, they regularly pump waste over the fields. It falls green and fetid all around us, the stench of it clinging to our clothes, and our very souls.

 

I'm on my way back to the field when one of them stops me. I don't look at his face. I keep my eyes at his feet. He's wearing the long black boots they all wear that rise all the way to their knees. It's not hard to keep your eyes from a Rathkari's face. They're so damn tall that you basically have to get a ladder to find them.

 

“You're behind your quota,” he says, stopping me by lifting his knee in my path. The overseers don't like to touch us. We're filthy. “You should have delivered a hundred pounds of rice by now. You have only delivered ninety-two. You are at risk of correction.”

 

“Sorry,” I grind between my teeth.

 

“Apologies are a human custom and have no place.”

 

They talk like robots when they talk to us. I don't know if it's because they're stupid, or because they think we're stupid. Probably both.

 

He stops and points at my leg. I look down and see a fresh smear of red close to my inner thigh. Fuck. My period has started, and the tell tale stain gives it away. If he has any kind of brain in his head at all, he'll know what that means.

 

“Wounded,” he says. “Slow. Broken.”

 

He doesn't know what it means. He thinks I'm injured. Obviously nobody has explained the human female reproductive cycle to him. I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking he'll send me back to quarters to be 'tended' by the others. Finally, some kind of respite from the relentless toil forced on us under threat of lash and worse.

 

The ground slips away from my feet as he picks me up under his arm and begins to walk toward the refinery. It is a large ugly bulbous building in the corner of the field in which a green slurry floats. There is a large hatch on the side marked in Rathkari script. None of us can read it, but none of us need to. We know what happens when someone is put into that hatch. We don't like to look, but every single one of the workers has made that mistake once. Usually, only once.

 

I start to fight for my life. For my brother. For my father.

 

“Stop it, or I'll break your neck,” he threatens impatiently.

 

I don't care. I have minutes of life left and I'm going to make them count. Each and every damn one of them. We didn't fight hard enough against these aliens when they came. We tried to broker treaties, make peace. We were like lambs to the slaughter, but I will not go quietly. I kick and flail, lashing out with every ounce of my strength and every part of my body. I will hurt him. He will wear my scar before I am gone.

 

“STOP!”

 

The overseer comes hulking to a halt. He pivots toward the sound of the shouted command and we both look in surprise at the unexpected interruption.

 

A high ranking officer is striding across toward us. I've made enough noise to draw attention from one of the supervisors. They don't come down to the fields very often. We see them maybe once every six months. I guess today is an inspection day.

 

The supervisor is built differently from the overseer. He's taller and his skin is clearer. Overseers are exposed to the hostile Earth atmosphere a lot more than the high ranking officers. The Rathkari weren't really made to live here. The air attacks them, like the Earth has an immune system, fighting them off like the invasive virus they are.

 

“What are you doing?” He growls the question at the overseer. His voice has a low resonance to it which is much deeper than a human male. It runs through my body and makes parts of me quiver deep inside. I can hear displeasure, impatience, a natural dominance which commands obedience from the burly overseer who turns toward him, holding me dangling in front of him, his massive hand fisted just above my ankle as I swing head down.

 

“She's broken,” the overseer says. “Her quota is low and she's bleeding. I'm going to terminate her.”

 

“No,” the superior says, stepping closer to squint down at me. “That female isn't broken. She's of breeding age.”

 

“She's a worker,” the overseer insists. “Old. Useless for breeding.”

 

“She's been misassigned. Let me see her.”

 

The overseer drops me seven feet. I fall to the ground, and land roughly with a cry of pain as my knees and palms hit the dirt and graze instantly.

 

“Be careful,” the superior snaps. “They're delicate.”

 

“She's a worker,” the overseer says, sounding almost petulant. “And she's broken.”

 

The superior crouches down next to me and looks at me with those eyes that burn like the very sun, the black core at the center of his gold iris drawing me in. His long, strong fingers push the matted hair away from my face, and he rubs the dirt smudging my cheeks with his thumb. The secret I've managed to hide for four years is hidden no longer, not under that gaze that sees deep into me.

 

“What is your name?

 

“... Era.” I haven't formed that word in a long time. These aliens don't usually care what our names are.

 

“She's of breeding age,” he says, pulling his gaze from mine to look at the overseer. “Prime breeding stock. I'll take her.”

 

“No...” I'd rather die than suffer this fate. I turn to the overseer. “Take me to the recycler!”

 

He steps back from me and nudges his boot into my rib to push me away, just as the superior tries to grab me.

 

“No!” I scramble from them both. “Send me to the recycling! I'm old! I'm broken!”

 

* * *

 

The human is babbling utter nonsense. I can see her fear. She is more terrified of me even than death. She has pretty blue eyes, a hue not seen in our species, and highly valued in our mates. It is impossible to determine the color of her hair as yet given the dirt she is caked in.

 

I step toward her and her lips curl back from her teeth. She lets out a hiss, as if that will stop me from claiming her. She is an angry little thing, and filthy too, but I know good human flesh when I see it, and the structure of her bones is very pleasing. Her attempt to hide herself beneath layers of dirt demonstrates above average intellect for one of their species, though I do not understand her reason for it. Most females do not attempt to avoid their fates. We ensure that the process of being inseminated is highly pleasurable, as the flood of orgasmic hormones is strongly associated with higher conception rates. Those taken as private property, and all those in the greater breeding program are treated well. They are given the best of everything, kept in luxurious surroundings with no work to do but gestate. To choose body breaking work in the fields and disposal for organic energy generation makes little sense.

 

This human surprises me with her reluctance. She is a strange little thing, and she piques my curiosity. Humans are a curious species. En masse, they behave with great predictability, but as individuals they can vary greatly. I suspect this one has greater variance than many.

 

There is no point exchanging words with her. I stride toward her, catch her before she can squirm away, and lift her over my shoulder. The sounds emitting from her are high pitched and irritating, but she will settle soon enough.

 

I carry her from the work fields to my private transport. I do not intend to spend a moment more than I have to on the filthy land she has inhabited. I am eager to have her decontaminated and cleaned, to see what treasure I have unearthed. Our ship orbits the human world, high above the toxic atmosphere. It is larger than their moon and has created no small amount of havoc with their tides, but it provides us with a safe base from which to operate.

 

She is still struggling as we enter. She is too weak to effect escape, but that does not seem to dissuade her. It is a common trait of humans that they are often unable or unwilling to acknowledge a futile situation. They must be bought into full confrontation with it and made to surrender.

 

I lower my cargo into a seat and strap her in, buckles crossing over her shoulders to her waist on both sides, then another running from between her thighs, splitting at the middle to connect above her shoulders.

 

I can feel her eyes on me, spitting feral fire. Her heart is pounding. I can hear it beating through her chest. Her fear fills the room. I can smell it. I can even taste it as her pheromones drift on the smallest currents, the sweet tang of humanity triggering an inescapable response.

 

She has no concept of what she does to me. She looks at me with loathing and my blood boils with the desire to conquer. Rebellion only inflames my desire, and she is the most rebellious little thing I have encountered on this planet. Her hatred, her fear, it is all pure aphrodisiac. I fight the desire to take her, knowing she is in a fragile state and in desperate need of proper care.

 

“Shhh,” I soothe, making a calming sound. “There is nothing to be afraid of, my little human. You will not come to any harm with me.”

 

She responds with a string of the most choice local cursing I am yet to hear. The human language is simple, but effective, with great capacity for invention. She puts it to incredible use over the period of a minute or so until her breath fails her and she sits there, trembling with the fear she is trying so hard to hide.

 

* * *

 

I throw every form of abuse at him that I can think of and he just looks at me. It doesn't anger him. It doesn't hurt him. It does nothing. When I'm done, he tightens the straps, making them fit even more snugly. I can't move in this chair, and even if I could, what would it matter? He's nearly twice my height and more than twice my weight and he has the might of the Rathkari empire behind him.

 

“I'm not going to harm you,” he says. “No matter what you say. Try to breathe. The first trip through the atmosphere can be unpleasant for humans, especially small females.”

 

“Don't worry about me. I don't care if you eject me into space, as long as I get away from you.”

 

His face is just inches from mine. He's handsome. Darkly, dangerously, impossibly handsome. His features are almost Italian or perhaps Greek. He puts me in mind of the beautiful statues which now lie in ruins or submerged beneath what used to be Europe. He has a powerful nose, a strong jaw which is square at the bottom and hard all the way to his neckline. His cheekbones are high, giving him a perpetually alpha appearance, and his dark brows slash down across those golden eyes.

 

He has three parallel scars on his left cheek, running from about half an inch below his left eye, to the line of his jaw. They look old and deep. They should be disfiguring, but instead they only serve to make him look more dominant. This is a man... no... an alien. I can't think of him as a man. He's a creature who has known pain, as well as inflicted it. I wonder what fought against him and left those marks.

 

“Breathe deep when you start to feel the acceleration,” he says, utterly ignoring my statements of rebellion. “The pressure can force the blood and oxygen away from your brain.”

 

He stands up and leaves me, moving to the front of the shuttle. I can't see him anymore. I'm left facing the back of the chair in front of me, strapped in so tight I can't escape. I try to pull the buckles off, but aliens don't use simple clips and buttons and for all my fumbling, they stay in place.

 

The ship starts to rumble and I know we're about to leave. God. No.

 

“No! Let me off! No!” I cry out, but my voice can't be heard over the sound of the thrusters, even if he would care if he heard me. Suddenly, I feel the hand of something more powerful than anything I have ever directly encountered pressing down on my chest, my legs, my arms, my head, my neck. The engines are fighting gravity, and I'm caught in the middle.

 

Seconds later, the engines win. The acceleration is incredible. I feel as though I'm being pushed back through the chair, the soft foam molding around me as the earth tries to reclaim me from the grip of this alien. I feel like every bit of nature is crying out as it is torn asunder, his craft rendering the rules of our existence irrelevant as we rocket into the sky.

 

I try to breathe deep, to keep the oxygen flowing through my blood, keep consciousness so that this alien cannot have his way with me, but I can't. I'm fading. The vibrations are so intense I can barely stand it. I'm being torn apart. I'm sure of it. This is the end.

 

* * *

 

I wake to warm water running over my shoulders and back. I open my eyes to find that I'm utterly naked and floating in a very large tub. At first I can't see where the water is coming from, but then I realize that a large hand is holding a pitcher, pouring it from behind. As my consciousness seeps through my body and I begin to distinguish water from not water, I suddenly realize that the hard plane behind me is not the tub. It's him.

 

He's in the bath with me. I'm naked. With an alien. This is how it starts. Am I already pregnant? I push away from him with a panicked squeal and drift across the surface of the water. The other end of the tub is only five feet away, but it's enough to put some much needed liquid between us.

 

He's naked like I am. I can't make out his body completely below the waterline, but I can see his chest and much of his torso, the muscles gleaming with rivulets that run over the hard planes. Rathkari alien males are formed a lot like human men. Similar selection pressures or something. I don't know. I know his shoulders are broad and well developed, his biceps are thick and powerful, just like the rest of him. When he moves his arms, little shivers of a feminine excitement I really don't want to be experiencing run through me.

 

Even wet and naked, he looks powerful and commanding. Master of the bath. He puts his arms out and rests them on the sides of the tub. It fits him perfectly, but it swallows me whole. I am small in the water, bobbing uncomfortably at the far end, unable to sit on the bottom and still keep my nose and mouth above the water line - out of my depth in so many ways.

 

“What are you doing!” I throw the question like an accusation.

 

“Cleaning you,” he says simply. “You have not experienced such a procedure in quite some time. I can understand your fright.”

 

There is no trace of humor in his tone or in his face, so I can only assume his dry wit is unintentional.

 

“They don't provide baths in the slave quarters,” I snap at him. How dare he oppress me and then blame me for the dirt. How dare he strip me. How dare he... I feel my world going dark again as I slip into the warm water's embrace.

 

* * *

 

When I open my eyes, I am lying somewhere soft. It's dim, and I'm looking at a ceiling of some kind. I can sense him close. Too close.

 

“If you're here, I'm going to scream.”

 

“Don't,” his deep voice rumbles nearby. “You keep losing consciousness from excitement. You are weak. You need to lie still and be calm...”

 

I push myself up to yell at him. “I don't...”

 

* * *

 

When I open my eyes again, I'm lying somewhere soft and there are heavy straps crossing my legs, my arms, my waist and my forehead. I can't move.

 

“You think this is going to save you?” I don't know what threat I'm making, but I know I need to make a threat regardless. He has to know he hasn't beaten me. I might be at a total disadvantage. I might be tied up like an animal, but I'll be damned if I let him see me sweat.

 

“Hush,” he says, his handsome face coming into my field of vision. “Calm yourself.”