Charlie marched up the ramp of the shuttle bay with Andren and Kaden. She approached Raine and Sumner, who were waiting beside the workbench. Pointing a thumb over her shoulder, she said, “The fuel station attendants said it’ll be about thirty minutes before a fuel truck is free. Once they get hooked up, it’ll take about an hour to fuel the tanks. She’s pretty low.” Sres had filled the twin tanks a third of the way after all the previous hyperfuel was burned off by the crash landing.
“So, we have enough time to go to the market?” Raine hopped off the bench and bounced on her feet. Her hands were together in hope.
Kaden slipped past them and sat underneath the workbench. Her attention was centered on Charlie and Sumner.
Charlie sighed and rubbed her forehead before she turned to her Alpha. “I promised Raine that we’d go to the market.”
Sumner folded her arms, causing her biceps to protrude. She looked between the sisters and rumbled when Raine grabbed her forearm.
“Krafka, Kal.” Raine batted her eyes. “I need to buy a techbit.”
Sumner smirked after a beat, then nodded.
“Yes!” Raine cheered in English. She patted Sumner’s bicep and said, “Wow. You could kill someone with those guns.”
“Raine,” Charlie hissed and gently kicked her sister’s hip to get her away from her Alpha.
Raine laughed at Charlie’s reaction and asked, “Do you go to the gun show every night?”
Charlie rolled her eyes and noticed Andren’s look of bewilderment mixed with a hint of jealousy. She made a mental note of it, then responded to her sister. “Leave my guns alone.”
Raine wiggled her eyebrows, then said, “I’m going to go grab my stuff.” She hurried off into the belly of the ship.
“Gun show? I don’t have any guns on me.” Sumner waited for Charlie to explain the inside joke.
Charlie groaned and rubbed her brow. “She’s not talking about, like, gun guns.” She sighed at Sumner’s expectant look. “It’s an Earthling thing.” The short explanation did nothing to satisfy Sumner, nor Andren. With an aspirated breath, Charlie caved in and said, “‘Guns’ is slang for your biceps because they’re so big.”
Sumner raised an arm and flexed the particular muscle. “And that’s a gun show?” Her eyes sparkled with joy, especially when Charlie blushed.
“Ja.” Charlie ignored Andren’s snicker, then sighed again and gave into the entire joke. “On Earth, someone who is ripped would say, ‘You have your tickets to the gun show,’ then flex their arm muscles.” Her face was still hot. She was unsure if it was a good or bad idea to explain a gun show to an Alpha with an already enhanced ego.
Sumner rumbled, lowered her arm, and grinned even more.
Charlie sensed she’d made a mistake in telling her lover about the joke. She needed to change the conversation, but Sumner relented, became stern, and turned to Andren.
“There is something you must know, Andren.” Sumner hooked her hands in front of her body in usual fashion. Even without the god spirit, certain habits seemed to rest within her.
Andren canted her head while a faint furrow creased her brow. “Ja, Kal?”
Sumner stole a glance at Charlie, but she held Andren’s concerned gaze. Her pheromones grew heavier in the bay, which seemed to ease Andren. “Earlier on the bridge, the Spirit of Kalatas separated from me and remained with Kander.”
Charlie wrung her hands together and waited for her guard’s response to the new information. If Andren freaked out, then it would make the mission far more difficult. But Charlie had faith in Andren’s ability to adjust to the situation.
“I sensed a slight shift in you,” Andren said. “But I was unsure what it was that happened other than it having to do with our departure from Kander.”
Sumner nodded. “Raine is aware of the change too. It will only be us four who know.”
Kaden whined from her location under the workbench. She was sitting on her haunches and huffed when Sumner looked toward her.
“Five,” Sumner corrected with a slight grin in Kaden’s direction.
Andren rubbed the underside of her chin. “I will remain aware of what the other soldiers say or notice. I do not think they will see the change.”
“The challenge will be at Serrato,” Charlie mentioned.
“But Serrato Corps has had little interaction with Kal,” Andren argued.
Charlie shook her head. “I know, but I meant with our soldiers. They will be interacting with Kal more once we land on Serrato.”
Andren huffed, folded her arms, and said, “As if tight quarters on a ship isn’t intimate enough. But perhaps Laken can directly handle the soldiers.” Her point was valid, Charlie decided. But Andren peered up at her ruler. “You have lost your powers, then?”
“Ja,” Sumner whispered. “I am merely an Alpha now.” She grinned, but it was weak, and worry shone in her eyes.
Andren snorted and shook her head. Her features were fierce as she said, “You are still the High Commander and my ruler.”
Sumner bowed her head, then grasped Andren’s shoulder. “Tah, Andren.” Her genuine smile caught Andren off guard.
Andren returned the smile, but cleared her throat and straightened after Sumner withdrew her hand. She glanced at Charlie and asked, “Should we take more soldiers to the market with us?”
“Ja,” Charlie agreed, sensing that Andren needed to shift back to safer topics having to do with guard duty rather than dealing with Sumner’s suddenly apparent emotions. “We should take more guards.”
“How many is too many?” Andren asked. “You know this moon, not us.”
“We don’t want to draw attention,” Sumner agreed.
Charlie heard Raine’s booming steps, but she considered the question. “Maybe two more guards would be good. The market isn’t so far that it’s unsafe.”
“All right. I’ll round up two more,” Sumner said, departing the group. She returned within a few minutes with two Alphas, who were stern and matched Sumner’s height.
Charlie hailed Landon and Will to let them know they were going to explore the market. She wasn’t surprised when Landon hurried out of Terdel the Swift from its docking location and joined them. Together, the group followed Charlie through Lerto’s dusty, gray streets. Kaden remained closest to Charlie, her nose in the air. They passed Charlie’s favorite bar, the last spot at which she drank before first meeting Kal. That mission seemed so long ago.
They arrived at the open-air market, which was a major hub in the quadrant. There were a variety of alien races talking, bartering, and selling supplies.
“Listen…” Charlie turned to the group once they were in front of the entrance. The Kalmar were scanning the people and breathing in the potpourri of scents. “Most of these aliens don’t know who you are. But let’s assume they do.” She hesitated when a three-legged alien walked past them to go into the market. “We need to break off into pairs, so we don’t draw more attention to ourselves. Andren and Raine go together. Landon, you’ll take Mase.” Charlie pointed at the last soldier and ordered, “Perlee, you’re with me and Kal.”
Sumner nodded at the soldiers to follow Charlie’s order.
“You have an hour,” Charlie said. “If you run behind, hail me on the comms.” She then repeated herself in English so that Landon understood the plan.
Landon backpedaled toward the entrance and Mase followed her. “We’ll stay close, Cap.”
“Be careful and don’t talk to strangers!” Charlie hollered after Landon, who waved her off.
“You have to show me where the tech stalls are,” Raine said and rubbed her hands together.
Charlie grinned. “Come on.” Together, they entered the busy market and weaved their way through the different stands. Everyone in the group was dazzled by the aliens, strange food, and products being sold. Most aisles were spacious but a few were tight. Kaden’s earlier sniffs were louder, but she never strayed from Charlie’s side.
“This is amazing,” Raine stated, turning in a full circle and trying to take in all the details. “I don’t know why we didn’t come here when we fueled up on Lerto last time.”
“It’s not that much different than the market in Tarrak,” Charlie told her friend.
“Are you kidding me? It’s so different,” Raine argued and brushed her hand past an overhead orange flag.
Charlie scanned their area and said, “Let’s go this way.” She hooked Raine’s arm, dragging her along. “Try to act normal.”
Kaden drew ahead of the group and softly growled at an alien that came too close to her pack.
“This is my normal.” Raine pointed at Sumner and Andren, who were both looking all over. “Tell them to act normal.”
Charlie grinned and bumped her shoulder into Sumner’s arm. “Hey, handsome. How’s it going?” she asked in English, knowing Perlee wouldn’t understand her. Already the use of Kalmarese had caught a few onlookers’ attention. She rather they pretended to be humans, not Kalmar. She hoped Sumner understood her subtle hint.
“This is different from the market in Tarrak. I am enjoying it.” Sumner touched a few items hanging from the stalls. But she remained with the group and kept one hand resting on her sword. Charlie frowned at the fact that Sumner, without the god spirit, could touch the Sword of Kalatas without injury. The question would have to wait until later when they were in private again.
Charlie gazed about the market, remembering the first time she visited one as a teenager. It was pretty fascinating and new. There was much to see and take in, especially with a mix of species in one small area. “Down here.” She turned the group to the right, then pointed at the upcoming stalls on their left. “Those have the tech, Raine. Why don’t you look around, then grab me when you find something? Jero is the universal language here.”
“Got it.” Raine freed herself from Charlie but looped her arm through Andren’s arm, taking her with her.
Charlie chuckled and leaned closer to Sumner. “I think you’re right about them.” Andren glanced back at her, obviously concerned about not guarding Charlie. Pivoting around, Charlie scanned the stalls next to them and flushed when a particular one caught her eye. Charlie’s gaze traveled over the less risqué items on the outside of the stall, but there were more interesting products deeper inside. “Hey. Let’s check out this vendor.” She pressed a hand to Sumner’s lower back, guiding her a few booths down.
Perlee followed at a distance but paused when Charlie and Sumner stopped in front of the stall. He kept his hand on his sword, but he also had a laser rifle strapped to his back. His magnificent height forced people to go around him.
Kaden remained near Perlee, mimicked his guard-like position. On occasion, her white eyes cut to Charlie and Sumner before returning to the traffic in the aisle.
Charlie checked that Perlee was close but not on top of them. She then noticed Sumner’s curiosity about the items on display at the front. “See anything interesting?”
Sumner rumbled and reached for the closest item but lowered her hand. “What is this?“
Charlie bit her lower lip, then picked up the item, which was bright blue. It was long, about as thick as two of her thumbs, and had a flared head. “It’s called a dildo in English.”
“Why does it look similar to my dick?”
Charlie snorted and held up the dildo vertically. “Your dick is blue?” Her joke missed the mark, so she set the item back on the table. “It’s a sex toy. It’s supposed to look like a penis, sorta.” She scratched the back of her neck, wondering about the sex life of the Kalmar. They were creatures of nature and not so imaginative, but Sumner kept pace with Charlie’s ideas for locations and positions. One time they had used the cock ring because of Sumner’s rut. Since then, it remained hidden in her duffle bag. “Like that Red Cherry Ring. That was a sex toy.” She grabbed another dildo, which was flesh colored. “This one is more realistic.”
Sumner took the presented dildo and frowned at it. “It is much smaller than mine.”
Charlie groaned and rolled her eyes. “Alphas,” she muttered and yanked the dildo out of Sumner’s hand. “Not everyone wants a thick one or a long one.” She returned the dildo.
“Do you wish I was that size?” Sumner folded her arms and narrowed her eyes.
Charlie’s left eye twitched once. The exploration of the booth was going completely in the wrong direction. “No, you’re perfect.” She took Sumner’s hand, led her past the first table and deeper into the booth. The wall had a few items hanging from it. “There’s other toys. Like we could tie each other up.” She pointed at a special bondage rope.
“There is plenty of rope on Kander,” Sumner said.
Charlie sighed with dramatic effect. “Yes, but you need the right kind of rope for the job. You don’t want to use something that could burn or chew into my wrists or ankles.”
Sumner’s head whipped around toward Charlie. “You wish to be tied up?“
“Maybe.” Charlie cursed the heat in her cheeks again. “I’ve never tried it, but I would with you.”
Sumner rumbled and touched the rope, as if memorizing its texture for later. “We have something very similar to this on Kander.” She released it, then continued farther into the booth. “What is this?”
“Oh.” Charlie chuckled and said, “We’re not the right species for that toy.” She grinned at Sumner’s continued interest in it. “We don’t have tentacles.“
Sumner chuffed and continued to the various clothes meant for role playing. “You talked about being the Alpha.” She turned to Charlie and raised an eyebrow. “Are those dildos supposed to do that?“
“Those dildos are pretty old-school.” Charlie shrugged, then shifted past her lover and searched for what she really had in mind. “There’s something way more advanced than those.” She stiffened when the stall owner emerged from around the side.
“Hello,” the owner greeted in a mechanical voice, speaking Jero. “Do you need any help?“
Charlie smiled at the Hurr woman, who reminded her somewhat of Raakor. The memory of him pushed up and left a strain in her heart. The Hurr woman’s beautiful violet skin glowed under the late sunlight. Her left arm was bionic from the fingers up to her shoulder. She repacked the memories of Raakor and replied, “I was here once before. You used to have those advanced penetration shafts.“
The vendor brightened and said, “Yes. I keep those tucked away. I had trouble with them being stolen.” She hurried back to the alcove where she was earlier and rooted around, then reemerged with a metal box. She took it to the rear of the front table and opened it for Charlie. Inside were three long-shaped dildos that each had a slight head with ripples down the shaft. At the other end, the purple dildo ended with a square head, which was different compared to the others on the table. “It’s called the Infinity Powercock. The wearer slides this end into them.”