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In the year 2774, Shane Thomas has earned the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to explore space as an astronaut for the Beals Corporation. If selected, he’ll make the incredible journey along with his best friend Jalen Martin… the man he’s secretly loved for years.
While training to fly beyond the galaxy, Shane and Jalen undergo an unexpected transformation. The change reveals long-hidden desires, and brings the two men together for a night of passion hotter than the brightest star. Now Shane must learn to accept his new role so that he can achieve his dreams… and claim his mate.
First Alpha is a m/m non-mpreg omegaverse romance. It is a prequel to Alpha Omega Force, the upcoming space opera romance series from Christa Tomlinson.
Tags: Sci-Fi, Omegaverse, Friends to Lovers, Multicultural
Heat Level: High/Explicit
The warmth and brightness of early morning sunlight falling on his face woke Jalen. He blinked and stretched, not used to still being in bed at this hour. Rolling over, he saw Shane watching him with a soft smile. "That was the first time I slept past dawn in weeks."
"I thought it best to let you sleep. How are you feeling?"
Jalen shivered as Shane reached out to caress his bare arm. They'd returned late from their trip to the hangar last night. Exhausted, he'd almost immediately fallen into a deep sleep, as though his body needed to store up rest for his coming heat. But now he tingled with awareness, skin already flushed and warm. "I think if we're going to carry out our plan we'd better hurry. Otherwise, we'll have to wait a few days."
"Got it. You shower first and I'll send a message to Director Nelson and ask to speak with her."
"Okay." Jalen threw back the covers and went to shower. He washed with quick efficiency, determined not to linger on any of the sensitive parts of his body that were demanding his attention. If he did, he wouldn't be able to stop. He'd end up walking out of the bathroom and climbing right onto Shane's cock.
Once he was clean and dry, he let Shane have his turn in the bathroom. Jalen dressed in neat but casual clothes then sat on the bed to look at his data pad. He was checking the schedule to see how many respite days they had when a notification came through. It was a message from Director Nelson, granting them a meeting at eleven o'clock. Jalen let Shane know when he came out of the shower, rubbing a towel over his wet hair.
"The director is meeting us at eleven. That gives us time to call your dad too."
"We also have time to eat breakfast."
Jalen shook his head. "Not hungry." Shane came over and tugged him to his feet.
"Try to eat a little something. And we'll bring a few protein snacks back to the room, okay?"
"Yeah, okay." With Shane so close, Jalen breathed in, taking in the scent of his alpha's strength and arousal. "You smell so good." He raised his palms, ready to stroke them over the broad chest in front of him. Just before he touched, Jalen cursed and stepped back. "I'll wait in the hall while you get dressed."
Shane cleared his throat. "That's a good idea."
Jalen stepped out into the hall, breathing in air that didn't smell like the man he wanted to rub up against. It worked to calm him down a little, but he was still twitchy and hot, his skin sensitive. They were cutting this close. Thankfully it didn't take long for Shane to join him. When Shane came out he too was dressed casually. And he smelled different. Jalen wrinkled his nose. "What did you do?"
"Rubbing alcohol. I thought it might help."
"It does. You smell awful." Jalen smiled. "Thank you."
Shane nodded and they set off together, walking close but not touching. In the cafeteria, Jalen noticed that everyone looked happy and relaxed. The tension from waiting to see if they'd been selected was gone. Now they had a few days to rest and recharge. Jalen realized that he actually was hungry and managed to eat nearly everything Shane encouraged him to put on his plate.
Once they were finished with breakfast they went to the communications room. The room was set up with five video phone booths. They were all in use when Jalen and Shane arrived, so they sat on a bench waiting for one to become available. Jalen's heart pounded as they waited. He hoped their plan would work. But he was also terrified it would somehow backfire on them.
After a few minutes, a phone was free. He and Shane went into the booth together and sat down in front of the monitor. The closed door gave them privacy for their conversations, but Jalen didn't trust that Beals Corp wasn't listening in. Luckily for Jalen, he had a way to speak without being heard by any hidden recording devices.
They called Jalen's family first. His mom answered, then called his dad and sisters over to join her. They all crowded in front of the screen, smiling and waving hello.
"Guess who's going into space?" Jalen asked with a grin. His question brought screams from his sisters, tears from his mom, and a proud smile from his dad.
"Congratulations!" They all cheered, the twins popping confetti cones.
"We knew you'd both be selected," his father said as confetti rained down on his head.
Shane leaned slightly forward to speak into the camera phone. "Thank you. The training was tough. And there were a lot of amazingly qualified applicants. We feel lucky to have made it through to the final group."
The twins looked back and forth between Shane and Jalen, matching mischievous grins on their identical faces. "And you're calling us together. That's sweet. Is it because you're such good friends or...?"
"Stop fishing, sis. Yes, we're a couple. These past few months together gave us a chance to see how we really feel about each other. And things just sort of happened from there."
"That's great news, son."
"Welcome to the family, Shane," his mother said. "You've always been a part of it, but now it's official."
"Thank you, ma'am," Shane replied with warm affection.
Jalen was happy to see his family's easy acceptance of Shane as his partner. Not that he'd doubted they would. "We weren't expecting to end up together while we were here but I'm glad we did." He kept smiling as he started speaking in American Sign Language. "Everyone continue talking to Shane. Michelle, pay attention to me but don't react, okay?"
A frown briefly touched his sister's forehead but she smiled and signed okay. Jalen gave her a quick summary of everything that happened, from the injection, to the meeting where Beals and his staff had confessed to the gene splicing and the reason for it, to almost everything that had changed about them.
Michelle's eyes widened but otherwise her expression didn't change. The smile still on her face, she took her right thumb, shoved it into her left fist, then quickly yanked it back out.
Jalen laughed. "Shit is right," he signed back. "We're going to talk to Beals and his team and let them know going forward they need to be upfront about the Zareen injection for future recruits. But we're worried they might kick us out of the program for speaking up. As a security measure we need someone on the outside who can tell the public what took place. We plan to let them know we'll leak the details of the Zareen injection if necessary. Will you help us?"
His sister raised her fist, palm facing the camera to emphatically sign yes.
"Okay. The people who didn't make the program are being released from seclusion this week. Find a guy named Sobelman. He can back up our story that the recruits were all injected with something, and we bet he'd be willing to break his non-disclosure agreement and go public as well. We're hoping it won't come to that but if it does it'll be to our advantage to have another source verify at least some of our story." Michelle nodded and Jalen touched his fingertips to his chin to sign thank you. Then he switched back to speaking verbally, catching up on the rest of the family's conversation.
"Yeah, we're so excited. Last night we saw the jet we'll be flying. It's beautiful. I wish we could have taken pictures but everything is still pretty top secret."
They finished the conversation by promising to call back when they had information on the launch date so they could make plans to come and see them off. "I love you guys," Jalen said as he waved goodbye. "Can't wait to see you again."
"Love you too, honey. You too, Shane."
The screen went dark and Jalen looked up at Shane. "That's done," he said with relief.
"Let's call your dad. Then we go talk to Beals."
* * *
Thirty minutes later, Shane and Jalen again waited in the lobby of Director Nelson's office. Just like before, Shane could sense Jalen's nervousness. He could also feel Jalen fighting to control his heat. Shane purposely didn't touch him, but he offered verbal reassurance. "You're doing great, baby. Just hold on for a little while longer."
Staring straight ahead, Jalen nodded, a muscle flexing in his jaw.
Shane had to push back his own coming rut and the urge to pick Jalen up and carry him back to their room. He started to pop his knuckles just to let out some of the growing frantic energy under his skin when the receptionist spoke.
"Officers, they're ready for you."
"Thank you," Shane said as he and Jalen stood. When they walked into the conference room, Tevoris, Director Nelson and Beals sat in the same chairs as last time. The rest of the seats were empty. Tevoris immediately grinned when he saw them.
"Are you two sure you should be up and about? We don't want any public mating displays in the halls."
The tips of Shane's ears warmed as he sat down. Tevoris' bluntness about mating and heats was so natural, he could only assume that was standard for all Zareenians.
"I'm fine," Jalen snapped.
Shane backed up his mate. "Yes, we both are. That's what we're here to talk about. We are more than thankful for the amazing opportunity to travel into space. And we understand why the recruits were injected with Zareen DNA. However, Jalen and I feel we - that all the recruits - should have received explicit knowledge of what the enhancements were, and been given a choice whether or not to be injected only after receiving that information."
"I see," Director Nelson said. She shot a look down the table at Beals.
Shane looked too. The other man's eyebrows drew together in a scowl, his lips pressed together in a straight line instead of their usual smile. The first crack in his normally jovial demeanor.
"We'd also like to know if these changes will be passed down to the recruits' children." Jalen said.
Director Nelson answered again. "We don't know that yet since there is only so much we can test in the lab. But since I've been informed the Zareenian genetic material is dominant over humans, it is almost certain that at least some traits will be passed down by those injected. Especially if two people who have both been injected with Zareen DNA have a child. But again, we won't know for sure until we have a generation of children from the original group to test."
Shane frowned at how fast and loose they'd played with human genes and evolution. He sensed Jalen's anger and disquiet as well. Shane watched with quiet pride as Jalen sat up straight, shoulders back, palms flat on the table.
"I would like to request that the Beals Space Exploration Program make a change. Give all applicants the opportunity for informed consent to the Zareen enhancement along with their acceptance into the recruitment program."
"I second that request."
Beals, who up until that moment had been uncharacteristically quiet, finally spoke up.
"Are you two making demands on me?"
His face twisted in ugly anger, revealing the fact that he wasn't always the friendly, laid-back inventor he presented to the world. Shane wasn't shocked by that. No one who had as much success as Vincent Beals acheieved it based purely on kindness and benevolence. And his decision to play with people's very being showed how determined he was to forge ahead with what he wanted, no matter the consequences.
"We just want to do what's right. What's ethical," Jalen said as he stared Beals down with quiet determination.
Beals slapped his hands on the table, rising half out of his seat as he yelled. "I don't ca-."
Shane's hackles rose at the show of aggression towards his mate, but Director Nelson spoke up, cutting Beals off.
"They're right, Vincent. The recruits should have been informed. You know I felt that way from the beginning."
Tevoris spoke up as well. "I didn't like the secrecy but as a guest on your planet I went along with your plan. However, after observing this first run, I think it would be best for the subjects to be informed of the injection and all of the Zareen characteristics. My people will not provide any more of our genetic material unless this change is made. I'm sure your scientist will find a way to synthesize it, but that could take time, and set your program back a few years."
Shane started to relax. With Nelson and Tevoris on their side, and no mentions of releasing them from the program, he and Jalen wouldn't have to go through with their plan of breaking their non-disclosure agreement.
Beals slowly settled back into his chair. He clearly didn't like being told what to do. But he didn't want to give up his access to the genetics and technology given by the Zareenians either.
"Fine," he bit out from between clenched teeth.
Shane exhaled a relieved sigh and relaxed fully, as did Jalen next to him.
"I actually have a plan in place for this," Director Nelson continued. "We're holding a press conference to introduce the group selected for the BE 9 mission. During that time, we'll make the information on the Zareen enhancement public. In addition, each person injected will be provided with all the information necessary for their medical records. We'll also conduct a seminar to explain how to share that information with potential sexual partners, and what they can expect in the future. Is that acceptable?"
"Yes," Jalen said.
Shane nodded in agreement.
"Excellent. We wouldn't want to lose our top two recruits over something so easily rectified," she said with a pointed glance toward Beals.
Beals smiled, the mask of the cool and quirky inventor firmly back in place. "Of course not. We'll do everything we can to set the minds of our Bealstronauts at ease so they can focus on the mission." Beals clapped his hands together. "Bealstronauts! How have I not thought of that before now? Excuse me, I need to go and speak with my marketing team." Beals rose from the table and left the room, already moving on to the next topic.
The remaining four at the table were quiet for several moments before Jalen broke the silence.
"Thank you, both. Neither of us wanted to risk our spot in the program but we had to speak up. I feel a lot better knowing that future recruits will be fully informed on all aspects of the program."
"You're welcome. And congratulations to both of you for being selected for the BE 9 mission."
"I admire you for the risk you took," Tevoris said. "Now, seriously. Get out of here. You two are throwing off so many pheromones it's making my eyes water."
Shane's ears warmed again, but he left the meeting with a much better vibe than he had the previous one. Once they were in the hall, Jalen stopped and turned to him. His face was flushed, but a relieved smile curled his lips.
"We did it."
Proud of his mate for speaking up and wanting to show it, Shane pulled Jalen close for a quick kiss. "We did. Now let's get upstairs to our room so I can take care of you."
* * *
Jalen made his way back to the residence tower with Shane, the halls quiet due to the reduced population. As they walked, Jalen let go of the tight control he had on his body. He relaxed, jaw unclenching, fingers flexing as he uncurled his fists. Shane kept his big hand at the small of Jalen's back, fingers occasionally dipping down to brush over the curve of his ass. Jalen shivered each time, as the heat within him rose higher and higher.
In the elevator, he pressed up against Shane's side. By now, the alcohol Shane had rubbed on himself had faded, and his alpha scent filled the air. Jalen breathed it in, then gasped when Shane slid his hand down to cup and squeeze his ass.
He lifted his face for a kiss but just as Shane leaned down to meet him halfway, the swiftly rising elevator stopped, and the doors slid open with a pleasant ding. They held there a breathless moment, caught between the urge to kiss now or get to their room where they could do so much more. The decision was made for them by someone clearing their throat. Jalen looked and saw a fellow recruit standing in front of them, her lips twitching as she held back a smile.
"Excuse us," Shane said as they stepped from the elevator.
They hurried down the hall to their room. As soon as they were inside with the door shut behind them, Jalen threw himself against Shane's chest. He wrapped his arms around his mate's neck, pulling him down into a kiss. It was desperate and wild, a release of everything he'd been holding back during their meeting.
Shane pulled back just enough to whisper a question. "What do you want?"
Jalen's answer was swift and sure. "I want all of you. I want you inside me." Truth be told, he'd wanted that for weeks but he'd also wanted to save that experience until he was in heat. Now, it was time.
Shane smiled, brushing a thumb over Jalen's damp lips. "I can give you that."
With careful yet quick hands, Shane undressed Jalen from his shirt to his shoes and everything in between. When Jalen was naked, Shane again cupped his ass, this time with both hands as he picked him up. Jalen wrapped his arms and legs around Shane and held on tight, wanting every part of his body touching his alpha.
They went down to the bed, Shane on top, kissing just as desperately as they had when they'd first entered the room. But Jalen chafed at the fabric of Shane's shirt and jeans, the materials keeping him from fully experiencing the heat of Shane against him. Skin to skin is what he needed. "Naked. Need you naked so I can feel you," Jalen panted into their kiss as he frantically tugged at Shane's shirt.
Shane rose up and quickly stripped out of his shoes and clothes, baring his broad, muscled chest, tight abs, and powerful thighs. His cock stood up heavy and thick between them, already hard. Jalen's inner muscles clenched at the sight of it, and he felt himself start to go slick. It wasn't a surprise this time, but it was still strange. The same sweet scent from before bloomed in the air. Shane paused to close his eyes and breathe in deep before he returned to the bed.
When he lay back down between Jalen's legs, Jalen shuddered with relief. With desire. He stroked his palms over Shane's back and held him close to feel his chest rubbing over his own tight, aching nipples. It settled him, assuring him that his alpha would take care of him during his heat.
Shane started kissing his way down Jalen's throat, and Jalen tipped his head back giving him all the access he wanted. Shane nuzzled the spot near Jalen's pulse before moving to his nipples. Jalen groaned as Shane drew one into his hot, wet mouth, rolling his tongue over it before lightly nipping it with his teeth. He sucked and tugged on the tender skin of each nipple, while the heat within Jalen grew until he was consumed and writhing with it. He pushed his hips up, desperate to be filled, calling for his lover to give him what he needed.
Shane stopped and rose up, eyes already glowing silver. "Turn over and go up on your knees for me."
Jalen obeyed instantly, rolling to his front, then shifting up onto his knees. Shane gripped his ass with a big hand and spread him open, sliding a thumb between his cheeks. The digit moved wetly over Jalen's skin, aided by his omega slick.
"This - you - are so beautiful."
"It's still weird to be slick there."
"I promise you I love it," Shane said as he patted Jalen's entrance with the pad of his thumb.
Jalen assumed they were about to fuck, so he was surprised when instead Shane pressed a damp kiss to the back of his thigh. "What are you doing?" he whispered.
"Something I didn't get to do last time."
The memory of Shane licking his lips as he stared at Jalen's slick hole flashed in his mind. Nervous, he held still as warm breath blew over his entrance. There was a quick, tentative lick, immediately followed by a husky groan, and a second slower lick with the flat of Shane's tongue.
"God. You taste..."
His sentence remained unfinished as Shane dove back in, burying his face in Jalen's ass, wrapping an arm around his waist to hold him in place. Jalen cried out, his thighs shaking as he held himself up for Shane's worshipping tongue. His body burned as he arched his back and pressed the side of his face to the mattress, panting, mouth open, eyes half-closed as Shane feasted on him. Shane tasted him everywhere, licking the slick from his inner thighs and sucking his balls but returning again and again to pushing his tongue into Jalen's hole as far as it would go. Through it all, soft, hungry growls rumbled from his chest, vibrating against Jalen's skin and making him feel deliciously wanted and desired.
The sweet smell of Jalen's lust was thick in the air, but beneath it another scent teased his nose. That of an alpha ready to claim his mate. Jalen couldn't wait anymore. As amazing as this was, he needed more. "Shane, please!" He wiggled his hips as much as he could in Shane's tight hold, trying to dislodge him. Shane gave him one last lick then finally pulled back.
"Of course, baby," he said as he got in position behind Jalen and set the head of his cock to his entrance.
"Yes. Inside. Please." Jalen quietly begged, uncaring that he was desperate and needy. The heat within him didn't care about pride, it only wanted to be satisfied.
"We'll take it slow. Don't want to hurt you." Shane rubbed the head of his cock in soft circles against Jalen before pressing only the tip in.
Jalen pushed up on his elbows and shook his head. "No. I need you too much to wait." He rocked back, trying to take more of Shane inside him.
"Baby, you're so small here. And I'm... Just let me ease into it."
His voice went rough from the strain of holding back. But Jalen didn't want him to hold back. "Shane, fuck me now!" he demanded. Shane cursed, but thankfully he slowly and steadily pushed in. He was undoubtedly the biggest that Jalen had ever had. But Jalen was so aroused and slick, his rim so soft, that Shane slipped inside with relative ease. Once Shane bottomed out Jalen sobbed with pleasure. Shane's huge alpha cock inside him was everything he needed.
Shane rubbed Jalen's back and caressed the side of his thigh. "Better?" he asked softly.
"Yes." He did feel better. But it was nothing compared to the way he felt when Shane pulled out then slid back in. Sensitive nerves tingled and sparked as Shane's cock dragged over them. Jalen was stretched so wide around him he had to breathe in deep through his nose for a few seconds while he adjusted. And Shane took care of him, keeping his movements slow and easy until he relaxed.
Only when Jalen's muscles loosened, knees sliding across the sheets as he spread his legs wider, did Shane increase his power and speed. He gripped Jalen's thighs and fucked into him with heavy, pounding thrusts that rocked his body forward and back, again and again, and again.
Jalen squeezed his eyes shut, breathing in the scent of their sex and listening to the sound of their bodies slapping together. It was magic. It was everything. He wanted to scream as an outlet to release some of the pleasure pulsing in his blood, so that he could keep going, and take in more pleasure, more sex, more of Shane's cock. His own cock was stiff, pre-cum leaking onto the bed, but he couldn't manage to release the death grip he had on the sheets to give himself any relief.
Shane pulled him up so that Jalen's back was pressed to his broad sweat-slick chest. The new position changed the angle of Shane's cock inside him, giving him new sensations that made him tremble and writhe, pressing his ass back into Shane's pistoning hips. "Alpha!" Jalen cried out.
"Say that again."
Jalen shivered at the command growled into his ear. "Alpha. My alpha. Claim me," he whispered through a haze of pleasure, finally saying out loud the words that had been in his head for weeks.
"You're mine, Jalen. My omega."
As Shane spoke his lips brushed over that sensitive spot above Jalen's collarbone. He slowly licked the spot. Kissed it. Sucked the skin into his mouth. Then... he bit down. Jalen screamed, as white-hot pleasure sparked beneath his skin, in his blood, racing to his cock until cum arced from him in a pearly stream. As he came untouched, Shane moved from gripping his hip to holding him in a tight embrace. His thick shaft swelled even bigger inside Jalen, somehow becoming even harder. This must be the knotting Tevoris had mentioned since a bump - a knot - started to tug on Jalen's rim each time he pulled out.
"I'm coming, baby." Shane groaned against the side of Jalen's neck.
Eventually Shane couldn't thrust anymore. He pushed inside one last time and ground his hips against Jalen's ass, filling him up with a hot flood of cum. Jalen went limp, moaning softly as he accepted his lover's release into his body. And it was indeed a flood as Shane came in steady pulses that seemed to go on forever.
His heart was still pounding when Shane eased them down to their sides, being careful not to jostle the place where they were joined.
"Are you okay?" Shane quietly asked.
Jalen turned his head, looking at his lover over his shoulder. His eyes were still glowing silver, although it was muted now. Damp hair clung to his forehead and his jaw was tight, a muscle flexing there every time his cock pulsed with his drawn-out orgasm. "More than okay," Jalen answered. Some of the tension eased from Shane's handsome face, and he leaned forward to bring their lips together in a slow yet passionate kiss.
As they kissed, Shane stroked a hand up and down Jalen's body, eventually stopping to languidly stroke his cock. To Jalen's surprise, he came again, a deep, full-body orgasm that rolled through him in gentle waves.
Shane groaned. "I love the way you're squeezing me right now."
Jalen only whimpered, unable to speak as he trembled and clenched on Shane's knot. Shane held him through it until both of their orgasms eased up and the thick knot inside him started to go down. When he'd softened enough to do so without causing Jalen any discomfort, Shane carefully withdrew.
Jalen pulled in a deep breath, letting it out on a long sigh. His head was clear, body momentarily cool and calm. "That was intense," he said as he turned to face his mate. He brought his fingers up to the spot where Shane had bitten him, but stopped just shy of touching. "How did you know to do that?"
"It was a feeling I had. Almost a voice - no my voice telling me to claim you." He paused and frowned as he looked at Jalen's neck. "I broke the skin. I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Jalen shook his head. "No. It aches some now, but when you bit me it felt amazing. I came so hard I swear I saw stars."
Shane smiled at Jalen, happy that he'd satisfied him so thoroughly. He got up to get them each a bottle of water. They slowly sipped the cool liquid, talking and relaxing while Jalen's heat momentarily eased off. But soon Shane noticed Jalen shifting restlessly. A flush warmed his chest, spreading up his neck. He peeked up at Shane, licked his lips, then looked back down. Shane's body responded to his mate, his cock moving against his thigh as it filled, fingers tingling with the urge to touch his lover. Shane took the near-empty bottle of water from Jalen and set it on the nightstand along with his own.
"Is it time again?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. I love sharing this with you." He eased Jalen to his back and slid between his spread thighs. Shane took the time to make sure Jalen was ready then pushed inside. The heat and slick that wrapped around his cock made him groan deep in his chest. Nothing had ever felt so good as being inside his omega mate. Jalen gasped, then bit his lip. Shane touched his thumb to the soft flesh, tugging it free. "Don't hold yourself back."
"I don't want it to be too much."
Shane took in his lover, his flushed skin, kiss swollen lips, eyes bright and silver behind half-closed lids. He looked gorgeous and luscious and Shane would do anything to keep that look on his face for as long as he could. "Not too much. You're perfect." Jalen's lips curled in a smile at that response. Shane bent his head to press a kiss to those smiling lips as he thrust inside his mate slow and deep.
When Shane rose back up he noticed Jalen eyeing his throat before shyly glancing away. Maybe the mating bite went both ways? There was only one way to find out. He lowered himself until they were chest to chest, bracing his elbows on the mattress to keep his weight from crushing Jalen while putting his neck within his reach. Jalen nuzzled into the curve of his shoulder and throat. Shane said nothing, not wanting to influence him either way. He simply continued fucking him as he waited to see what would happen. It didn't take long.
"Shane," Jalen whispered. Then he bit.
"Fuck!" The curse burst from his mouth as pure, concentrated pleasure shot from the spot where Jalen's teeth were in his skin, crackling throughout his body like a streak of lightning. He snapped his hips forward as his cock throbbed with a sudden, sharp orgasm that made the breath catch in his throat. But even after the unexpected release, he stayed hard and kept moving his hips.
Jalen released the bite and lay back against the pillow. "Mmmm." He moaned, licking his lips.
Shane cursed again. He shoved his arms beneath Jalen's thighs, pushing his knees up to his chest, and balling Jalen up beneath him. Jalen gasped and wrapped his arms around Shane as he started going hard. Sweat trickling down his spine, he slammed into his lover with stiff thrusts, the heavy weight of his balls slapping against Jalen's hot skin.
"More, Shane. Give me more," Jalen begged as he lay tucked beneath Shane's body.
Shane gazed into Jalen's eyes as they came together with such passionate force it rocked the bed. There was so much pleasure trapped inside Shane he thought he would explode with it. He drove his hips forward, faster and faster, reaching for the release that they both desperately needed.
"Shane," Jalen breathlessly panted his name. He paused to lick his lips then spoke again. "Something is happening."
Shane nodded. "I feel it too." Something swirled around them like silver star dust, brushing over his skin until it seemed as though Jalen touched him everywhere. But it was more than that. He could feel Jalen within him. Not his thoughts, but his essence. It felt right, soothing Shane's alpha, his soul. He knew without a doubt that now they were truly bonded mates.
His knot rose again, catching on his lover's rim each time he pushed in or pulled out. Shane released one of Jalen's legs. Reaching between them, he took his mate's cock in his hand, thumbing the head until pre-cum slicked his palm with each stroke. Jalen started to shake, his eyes drifting closed as he reached over his head to grip the pillow in a tightly clenched fist.
Shane watched as he came with a wordless cry, his body tight with tension as the cream of his climax spilled over Shane's pumping hand. With a harsh groan, Shane came too, his cock slowly pulsing his release as Jalen's body milked and squeezed him for every drop.
Although they were still locked together, their bodies relaxed, letting them savor the final swells of their joint orgasm. "Jalen." Jalen slowly lifted his lashes when Shane called his name. Shane smiled at his softly glowing eyes and the sweat drying on his brow. He was the picture of satisfaction, and looking at him prompted Shane to speak the words within his heart. "I'm glad we were injected because it led to us together like this."
Jalen raised a hand and trailed his fingers over Shane's cheek. "So am I. I love you, Shane."
Shane turned his head to press a kiss to his mate's palm before he answered. "I love you, too. Here on earth or up amongst the stars, I'll love you forever."
* * *
Launch time approached. Shane and Jalen left the Beals campus to spend time with their families and eat the last fresh, hot cheeseburgers and fries they would have for some time. They even shared a chocolate milkshake, each sipping from a straw as their parents laughed, and Jalen's sisters took pictures. Then there were tearful goodbyes and promises that the three years in space would go by quickly.
Now, they stood on the ramp along with the rest of the Beals Space Explorers, dressed in identical black space suits, glossy black helmets tucked under their arms. They waved to the crowd of family members, friends, news press, and Beals staff. And then it was time to go.
Shane pulled on his helmet, Jalen doing the same beside him. Together they walked onto the massive Beals Explorer Nine, taking their seats in the cabin for non-flight crew. Shane buckled himself into his seat's safety harness, then automatically checked to make sure Jalen was secure.
His own heart pounding, Shane could smell the excitement of his fellow crew members. Above it all he scented Jalen, his excitement bright, happy and so lovingly familiar. Shane looked at his mate and smiled. Although he could only see Jalen's eyes, he could tell he was smiling too from the way his eyes sparkled. The anticipation built and sounds came from everywhere; the pneumatic whine of the hangar's roof opening, the ship's engines surging to life, and the voice of the captain over the PA system.
"Beals Space Mission Nine is a go. Control tower, please count us down."
"Roger that BE 9. Commence countdown."
A steady voice echoed throughout the ship. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven...
Shane reached out for Jalen. He placed a hand over his mate's, fingers rubbing over his glove to feel the bump of the silver wedding band that matched his own. In between milkshakes and goodbyes, they'd married with their friends and families as witnesses. The media got wind of it, and they'd become America's sweetheart astronaut couple in the days leading up to the launch. It helped smooth over the outrage and confusion when the Zareen gene splicing became public knowledge.
Six. Five. Four.
The ship hummed with power. Shane's seat vibrated with it as they started to rise.
Three. Two. One. Lift off.
They were in the air, steadily rising, slowly at first then with greater speed as the thrusters kicked into high gear. The huge cabin windows afforded them their last looks at earth as they broke through the clouds. Then, so suddenly if you blinked you missed the change, they were outside the atmosphere and in the deep black of space.
Shane was awed as he gazed down at the blue and green globe of his home planet. He turned to look at Jalen, wanting to see the joy of reaching their goal on his husband's face. And his joy was beautiful, his eyes visibly silver behind the helmet's visor.
"We made it," Jalen said happily.
Shane laced their fingers together. "Together. The way it was meant to be."
Ah, and that's the end. Our space boys are happy and together, embarking on a journey to far galaxies. Yay! I'm so happy to have written this story. For weeks all I had in my head was that elevator nook scene where they first realized something was different. I knew I had to give Shane and Jalen a chance to come together before I took on the rest of the Alpha Omega Force series.
If you'd like to have a copy of First Alpha for your e-readers it will be available for free on Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo this Tuesday. It will be up on Amazon as well, but it might take awhile for the free price change to go through. So if you read on Kindle/Kindle app I will have a downloadable link here on my website.
And finally, I would love to have your support for the Alpha Omega Force series. Alpha's Desire releases October 30th. You can sign up for my newsletter to be notified when it's available. Please tell any of your reading buddies who enjoy space opera romance!
Thank you for reading! <3
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Available on AMAZON - APPLE - BARNES&NOBLE - KOBO October 9th.
One Month Later
The recruitment process was drawing to a close and the days training weren't nearly as hectic and long. Still, Shane was glad to be back in their room for the night. He was happy because of the man walking out of the bathroom through a cloud of steam.
Regrettably, he and Jalen didn't shower together, as the shower stall was too small to comfortably fit both an alpha of his size and his mate. But sitting on the bed while Jalen walked around the room clad in nothing but a towel wrapped around his narrow hips was a fine consolation prize.
Shane ran his gaze over his mate, admiring everything he saw. Drops of water sparkled on Jalen's smooth brown skin. He was slim, but his arms and chest were well-defined with sleek muscles. His stomach was flat, with a line of dark hair trailing below his navel. When he reached the dresser, Shane was treated to a view of his backside, with the damp towel clinging to the curves of his ass. Shane was borderline jealous of that towel. He grinned to himself at his foolishness, but he wanted his hands, his mouth, and his cock all over that ass.
Shane shifted on the bed, making a quick adjustment to his briefs as his cock started to harden. Soon. He would have that soon because Jalen was his. Shane managed to hold back the possessive growl that wanted to rise up but he couldn't control all of his body's reactions. The changes to his body that made him an alpha broadcasted his arousal, and he saw the exact moment Jalen caught the scent of it.
Jalen froze, hand still on the dresser that now held both their clothes. He ducked his head as he turned, but the sultry smile that curled his lips was still visible. As Shane's gaze lingered there, he saw that Jalen's lips were fuller, deeper in color. He'd also noticed Jalen's scent changing the past few days, becoming warmer, more alluring. And the frequency of his naps had increased. Shane thought it was adorable when he returned to the room and found Jalen asleep in their bed, full lips parted as he breathed softly, the constellation blanket tucked beneath his chin. And it was their bed, since Shane had all but moved into Jalen's room, spending every night there with him since their mutual confessions of love. All of the previously noted signs meant one thing: Jalen was about to go into heat again.
Shane was even more eager for it this go round because now there was no hesitancy or secrets between them. They knew where they stood and were honest with each other every step of the way. Jalen had admitted the intensity of an omega's arousal had unnerved him, and he wanted to ease into their physical intimacy. Shane didn't mind taking things slow. He'd do anything for Jalen. Plus, that meant they got to go back and enjoy all the stages that his heat had sent them hurtling past.
They’d started off with evenings spent cuddling beneath the blanket Shane bought for Jalen. Cuddling lead to kisses, which turned into exploring hands beneath shirts, which became bare chests pressed together as they kissed, then Shane on top of Jalen, grinding them both into orgasm. They hadn't gone farther than that yet, but the anticipation for it hummed in the air between them.
Jalen unknotted the towel at his waist and let it drop to the floor. Shane's eyebrows shot up in surprise at that. After years in the military, they were both fastidiously neat. But he quickly lost interest in wondering at the out of character move since Jalen was walking directly toward him, completely nude.
"You know what I've been wondering?" Jalen asked in a low voice.
Jalen kneeled on the foot of the bed and crawled up the mattress until he was at Shane's side before answering.
"You got bigger here, here, and here," he said as he brushed his hand over Shane's shoulders, chest and arms. "But did you get bigger here too?" His fingers trailed down to brush over Shane's rapidly hardening cock. "I can see that you're big. But are you bigger than you were before?"
Jalen's fingers dancing along his shaft, touching him there for the first time, drew all of Shane's attention. He had to concentrate in order to answer. "The growth was proportionate," he managed to say.
"Can I see?"
Shane's cock throbbed at that request. "Yes."
Jalen tucked his fingers into the waistband of his briefs and pulled them down, with Shane lifting his hips to help. Jalen's eyes were riveted on Shane's cock as it was revealed inch by inch, but Shane watched Jalen. And he saw the tip of his tongue dart out to slide over his lip and the flush that rose on his cheeks.
"Oh," Jalen breathed softly. "I didn't see you here before, but you grew about four inches in height, so if it was proportional..."
The breath froze in Shane's chest as Jalen's fingers hovered over his naked flesh, just shy of touching. He looked up at Shane from beneath his lashes, lip caught between his teeth. After glancing back at Shane's lap, Jalen slid down the bed until his face was directly across from Shane's cock. Warm breath blowing over his skin nearly set Shane off. "Baby, what are you doing?"
Jalen looked up with a smile dancing in his eyes. "Did you know you only call me baby when you're turned on?"
The delicate caress of soft lips brushing over his cock made Shane's breath hitch in his chest. "I... Uh. Yeah."
"I don't mind if you call me that at other times. I like it."
What were they talking about? He didn't know, but whatever Jalen wanted the answer was yes. "Okay, if that's what you want."
"Yes, I want that. And I want to suck your cock. Can I?"
"Fuck, yes." He cleared his throat. "I mean, yes. Sorry, I wasn't expecting that."
"I don't think I was either."
Shane gently cupped Jalen's jaw as he reassured his omega that his desire was welcome. "You can have whatever you want."
Jalen nodded, then bent his head and tentatively licked over the tip of Shane's cock, leaving it glistening and damp when he drew back. Shane held still, letting him go at his own pace. After a moment, he did it again, his eyes drifting closed. A soft whine slipped from him just before he closed his lips over the head and started to suck.
Shane groaned at the heat of Jalen’s mouth and the wet swirls of his tongue. He reached down and gripped his cock at the base, holding it steady for his lover. Jalen moaned and pressed down further, taking more of Shane’s cock each time his lips slid down. Shane was too big for him to take it all. Once he had as much as he could take in his mouth Shane gave him praise.
“That’s it, baby. You did good.”
Jalen slowly lifted his lashes to look at him. “Your eyes are glowing,” Shane said in surprise. He’d been aware that he’d picked up that trait from the Zareenians since Jalen had pointed it out, and he’d seen it in other Beals recruits as well. But this was the first time he’d seen the reaction on Jalen. His dark irises had changed to a shimmering silver, glowing softly. It was beautiful in an otherworldly way, reminding Shane that they were more than human now. Jalen blinked once before he lowered his lashes again and started sucking faster.
Shane inhaled on a sharp breath, stomach muscles pulling in tight. He cursed when Jalen pushed his hand away to replace it with his own so he could stroke the shaft as he bobbed on his cock. Shane’s balls drew up hard and full at his lover’s passionate enthusiasm. “So good, J. Your mouth is so perfect.”
Jalen sucked and stroked, taking Shane right up to the edge of orgasm. His shaft was pulsing with the urge to come, but Shane wasn’t ready for that yet. He lightly tapped Jalen’s chin, signaling for him to stop. Jalen pulled off with a little pop but he didn’t stop lavishing attention on Shane’s cock. A sound similar to his alpha growl came from Jalen as he licked his way down the shaft and nuzzled Shane’s balls, but quieter, softer. Almost like purring. The sound both filled Shane with tenderness and made him want to push Jalen down to the mattress and fuck him until he screamed with his climax.
With a low growl rumbling in his chest, he pulled Jalen up to straddle his lap. “Kiss me.” Jalen obeyed, and Shane tasted sweet omega and his own cock. It was intoxicating, and he licked into his lover’s mouth seeking more of the flavor. “You make me feel so good,” he whispered against Jalen’s lips. “Got me so hard.” He reached down to grab two handfuls of Jalen’s ass, squeezing, and then spreading him open. “Want you.” Jalen wiggled, brushing their cocks together.
“Let’s wait. My heat is close. Let’s wait,” he gasped between kisses.
Shane was disappointed, his body clamoring to be inside his omega. But the decision was Jalen’s and he would respect it. “I’ll wait as long as you need, baby.” Still wanting to give his mate pleasure, he gently rubbed the pad of his finger over Jalen’s entrance, stroking the soft skin. Jalen shivered, wrapping his arms tight around him.
Shane gave his mate what he asked for, slipping the tip of one finger inside him. Jalen trembled, his body tight and resisting at first. But Shane kept up with gentle, small thrusts, in and out until Jalen relaxed. His rim softened and Shane slid his finger in deep. He groaned as he delved into slick heat, imagining how it would feel on his cock. Jalen panted his name, breath hot against his cheek.
“Yes,” he answered with a nod. “I’m not in heat yet, but I’m already so sensitive.” He shifted, pressing a kiss to the corner of Shane’s mouth. “Did you ever think that we would be together like this?”
Shane pushed in another finger before answering. “I know I wanted it.”
Jalen pulled back, a wicked grin curling his lips. “Wanted what? Tell me everything you thought about doing to me during our video chats.”
Shane wrapped a hand around the back of Jalen’s neck to hold him in place. “I’ll tell you. But you have to get both of us off while I do.”
That soft whine came again. “Okay.”
Jalen lowered a hand between them and gripped both of their cocks. Once he started stroking, Shane began sharing some of the thoughts he’d had over the years.
“Thought of kissing you in dark corners and convincing you to come back to my room so I could have you in my bed. I thought of stripping you out of your uniform pants, throwing your legs over my shoulders, and pushing my cock inside you so I could fuck you nice and deep.” He traced his fingers down Jalen’s spine, making him shiver. “I get so turned on when I think about having this gorgeous little body beneath me.”
“I’m not that small,” Jalen pouted.
Shane smiled at Jalen pouting even as he rode his fingers. “Mmmm, you are to me. And baby?”
“I’m gonna do all of that real soon.” He switched from thrusting to sliding his fingers over the sensitive gland that made Jalen tremble and moan in his arms. “And you’ll be tight and hot and slick and I’ll fill you up with so much cum you won’t be able to hold it all inside you.”
“Oh! Shane, I’m… I’m… Right there! Gonna come!”
Shane held on just long enough to make sure Jalen came first. As soon as he felt his omega’s cum spilling against his shaft, his ass clenching on the fingers he had stuffed inside him, Shane cursed and let himself go. “Fuck!” He wrapped an arm tight around Jalen’s waist, grinding against him as his cock pulsed with pleasure. Jalen’s eyes glowed even brighter before he closed them and leaned in to press their lips together. They kissed, breathless, no finesse, just raw passion as they chased every ounce of pleasure until there was nothing left.
When it was over, Jalen sagged against him. Shane stroked his back as they both caught their breath.
“Mmmm.” Jalen hummed against Shane’s ear. “That was nice.”
Shane dropped his head back against the wall behind him and laughed with happy, post-orgasm exhaustion. Nice. This omega, his omega, would be the death of him.
The next day, Shane noticed the mood on campus was different. Another group of recruits had been released overnight. And all the instructors and staff seemed quietly excited during classes. When the remaining recruits received a notification on their data pad to meet in the front of the main building after dinner, rumors started to fly that tonight was the night they'd announce who was officially accepted into the Beal's space program.
It was a logical assumption, they'd thinned the initial crowd of applicants down to a number that made sense for the size of the ship. And everyone left had been converted to the alpha, beta, omega dynamics of the Zareenian people, and seemed to be handling the change well. In addition, although no official date had been given for the end of the program, they'd been there long enough for it to feel like it was ending.
Since he'd been on a different schedule than Jalen that day they hadn't eaten dinner together. But as he walked down the hallway towards the lobby, a now familiar sense of awareness hit him. He turned slightly to see Jalen headed toward him. Shane immediately smiled and held his hand out. Warm fingers slid across his palm as Jalen reached him and linked their hands together.
"You think this is it?" Shane asked.
They continued their walk outside. The fountain was on tonight and the entire area was lit with the golden glow of the spotlights. Servers strode around, offering the small crowd of recruits’ crystal flutes filled with sparkling, bubbling champagne. Shane and Jalen each accepted one. Just in front of the fountain, a small stage had been set up. It was currently empty, except for a microphone stand.
Shane and Jalen spent a few minutes chatting with the people they'd befriended during their time there. Lieutenant Wu and Charlie seemed happy together. The Marine from his first time in the zero-gravity chamber looked torn. Shane was willing to bet it was because it was hitting him that he was going to go into space and leave his wife behind. It was a tough choice; one Shane was glad he didn't have to make himself. Suddenly, a hush fell over the crowd. Shane turned and saw Vincent Beals stepping up on stage to grab the mic.
"Thank you for coming tonight everyone. And thank you for enduring the trials of Beals Corp. I know we put you through the ringer, and you were probably ready to mutiny at several points but if you're standing here that means you were more than up to the challenge."
Friendly laughter rang out as the recruits exchanged glances. The process had been rigorous. But hopefully, it was time for the reward.
"And now the announcement you've all been waiting for." Beals paused for effect, smiling over the crowd. "Everyone here has been accepted into the Beals Corp Space Exploration Program. Congratulations! You're all going into space." He threw his arms up to the star-filled sky with a dramatic flourish.
Cheering and whistles immediately split the warm night air. Shane remained quiet, but he grinned as a rush of excitement went through him. They'd done it. He and Jalen were officially Beals Space Explorers.
On stage, Beals's smile grew. "Enjoy all the champagne you want as you celebrate tonight. The buses will be here momentarily for us to take a little show-and-tell tour. After that, you'll have a few days to relax before we hit the next step in the program." He put the microphone back on the stand and applauded them before leaving the stage.
Once Beals disappeared into the crowd, Shane looked down at Jalen. His cheeks were flushed, his lips full and rosy. He hadn't had enough champagne for the alcohol to have such an effect on him. A sweet scent drifted into the air. His heat was getting closer. Shane didn't mention it however, wanting this moment to be about their achievement. "Congratulations." Jalen smiled up at him, dark eyes sparkling with excitement.
"You too. I knew we'd make it."
They exchanged a brief hug then broke apart to offer congratulations to their fellow explorers. After they'd spoken with nearly everyone there, the blond alpha from that day on the race track approached.
"Captain Morgan. Commander Thomas. Congrats on making the program." He offered congratulations to them both, but his eyes were locked on Jalen.
Shane's hackles rose at the other alpha's proximity to his mate but he tried to keep his cool. Unfortunately, that plan went to shit when the man not so discreetly inhaled the scent of Jalen's approaching heat, coming closer as he did so.
Shane stepped forward, blocking the other man's path. "Is there something I can help you with?"
A low, threatening growl rumbled from the blond's throat and his eyes started to glow silver. "I smell you on him but you haven't claimed him yet. Maybe he wants to get to know another alpha before he's locked down."
Shane lowered his chin, aggression rolling off him. This guy was a jerk, and Shane was willing to bet he'd been that way before the Zareen injection. Either way, Shane didn't like the way he was looking at or talking about his mate. "Jalen. Would you like to get to know this alpha?" Jalen pressed against his back, making it clear who he wanted.
"No. I know who I want to be with," he said in a hard voice.
At that, the obnoxious alpha finally stepped back and walked away. Shane turned to Jalen, his aggression immediately fading. "I'm sorry. It happened so fast."
Jalen shook his head. "Don't apologize. He should know. Everyone should know that I've chosen you as my alpha."
"I love hearing you say that," Shane said as he pulled his lover into a loose hug.
"My heat is getting closer. I'm sure that's what brought him over here."
"I know. But that doesn't give him the right to act like that." The buses started to pull up. "Will you be okay on the tour or should we go back to our room?"
"I'm okay. Let's go."
Shane released him but held his hand out. Their fingers linked again, they set their half-drunk glasses of champagne down and boarded the first bus.
Jalen sat next to Shane on the bus, his head on his alpha's shoulder. They drove along a slightly curving road, that took them behind the main campus. Soon, a large building with an arched roof came into view. Jalen sat up straight as he realized they were at a hangar, and about to see the ship they'd be taking into space. Excited murmurs swept up and down the aisle as others came to the same conclusion.
The bus came to a stop with a hiss of breaks. Vincent Beals waited for them in front of the hangar, Director Nelson and Tevoris at his side, the rest of his team behind him. The explorers filed off the bus still excitedly talking amongst themselves. Once they were all on the ground in a big group, Mr. Beals spoke.
"Now it's time for the big reveal. The ship that will take you to the stars, the Beals Explorer 9." Beals clicked a button on the remote in his hand and the hangar doors slowly slid open.
Jalen held his breath, muscles tense as he watched the reveal of the Beals space ship. Little by little it came into view. Sleek. Black. Red lights blinked and glowed at various points along the visible starboard side.
Once the doors were completely open, Beals waved a hand, inviting them to go inside for a closer look. Jalen moved into the hangar at the head of the crowd. The ship was massive, towering over them, three city buses wide and longer than a football field. Even with all the specs he'd studied, Jalen couldn't imagine the power it would take to get such a huge ship up in the air.
After a few minutes of their group walking around and admiring the ship, Beals got their attention again.
"If you'll follow me, I have something of interest to all of you in the fighter pilot class."
Their excitement renewed, the recruits followed Beals around the bow of the BE9 to the other side of the ship, stopping when they were in front of a black velvet curtain that hung from the ceiling to the floor.
"I present to you, the Beals Tech-One Screamer. BT-1 for short." Continuing on with the man's clear love for the dramatics, the heavy, black velvet curtain fell to the ground with a whoosh, revealing the space jet behind it.
Shocked gasps came from the group, followed by enthusiastic applause. Jalen himself was awestruck as he stared at up at the fighter. Looking at pictures and doing flight simulations didn't compare to standing in front of the real thing. It was painted a glossy black, with Z E A F in bright red along the side. The canopy bubble was a shimmering metallic gold, meant to bounce away enemy radar and shield the pilot from the burn of atmosphere entry. The BT-1 was comparable in size to the Air Force fighters Jalen had flown for years, but the angles and lines were different, sharper. More aggressive.
"This is gorgeous." As he walked around the jet, he noticed a partial wall off to the side. Behind it, he could see the tail wing of another craft. Jalen slowly walked over, trying to get a better view. "What's that one?" he asked the Beals staff member standing guard near the wall. The man held his hand up in a signal for Jalen to stop his approach.
"That's a proto-type for something we're adapting from Zareen mechanics. We won't be using it for this mission, however." He smiled, but he clearly wasn't going to let Jalen any closer to see the hidden aircraft.
Jalen was curious, but he turned his attention back to the one that he would be flying. He wondered if Beals would follow military tradition and allow pilots to personalize their jets with their names. An excited smile tugged at his lips as he imagined Captain Morgan emblazoned on the side of such an amazing machine. Even after all their training and hard work, he was still blown away by the fact that he and Shane were going into space, achieving their lifelong dream.
Still, something nagged at him, prompted in large part by the secretive behavior of the hangar guard. It reminded him too much of the Beals team keeping the ABO classifications and Zareen injection a secret.
As everyone continued admiring the two air crafts, Jalen pulled Shane to the side. "You know Beals isn't going to be satisfied with only one trip into space."
"You think he'll send more people up?"
"Yep. And I think he'll alter anyone else he brings on board, just the way he did us."
His firm lips pulled down into a grim frown, Shane nodded. "I'm sure he will."
"It worked out for us. But what about the people who didn't adjust? Or the people who did but didn't make the program? All of our lives are changed, and we should have had a choice about it."
"What do you want to do?"
Jalen huffed a quiet laugh. "I love that you know I want to do something. Normally, I'd fall in line, trust in our superior officers and carry out the mission. And I don't want to risk our place in the program. But what they did was wrong. I have to speak up about it."
"I feel the same way. We can request another meeting to speak with Beals and the program leaders and see if they have plans to be upfront with future recruits. But like you said, they might kick us out of the program for rocking the boat. Are you sure you want to take that chance?"
Jalen stared at the sleek, space-ready jet. He didn't want to risk his chance at flying among the stars when they were this close. But his conscious wouldn't let him ignore what was done to them, and what might be done to others in the future. He looked up at Shane. "I'm sure. We have to do what's right. But..." He went quiet as an idea started to form.
Shane arched a brow, waiting for him to finish.
"Maybe we can give ourselves a little safety net."
"What do you mean?"
Jalen looked around to make sure no one was close enough to overhear before he answered. "We get to contact our families now that the recruitment process is done. We can let them know what's going on and tell Beals we'll have them leak it if he cuts us."
Now both of Shane's eyebrows shot up. "You want to blackmail Vincent Beals?" he asked in a low but shocked voice.
Jalen scrubbed a hand over his hair. He didn't want to. He didn't want to do any of this. "They altered our DNA without our consent, Shane." After a moment, Shane sighed and pulled him into a hug.
"Okay. We'll do it."
"Hopefully we won't have to use any underhanded tactics."
"Hopefully," Shane agreed.
Oops, I did it again. Got off track with my updates. =( I thought I only had one more chapter, but it was getting a bit long so I broke it into two. So the real final chapter will post in a few days. After that, it will be available to download as a free e-book. Yay!
I hope things go well for our boys in the final chapter. I'm nervous for them! ;-)
Thanks for reading!
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Shane emerged from his first ever rut drained of energy. He wished it was because he'd fucked Jalen to the point of exhaustion. Unfortunately, it was due to staying awake for two days so he didn't have another goddamn heat dream, while futilely stroking his cock just shy of chaffing. Now, the rut was over, but the frustration chewing at his nerves refused to turn him loose.
Thanks to the Zareen injection, changing him into something different - into an alpha, Shane had several new, powerful urges when it came to Jalen. He wanted to provide for him, give him anything he needed. And he wanted to protect and satisfy his mate. But for the first time in their lives, Jalen was avoiding him. Shane was damn near desperate to be with Jalen, every part of him yearning to be with his mate, but he couldn't force his way into the other man's space. He respected the distance Jalen had put between them, even though the separation was driving him up a wall. Because of that he was without an outlet for these new urges he was just coming to grips with. Hence, the frustration.
At least he had a few ways to work out all this roiling energy. Like now, in the flight simulator. He was completing one of the courses he'd missed during his time off. The controls and screen were different than he used in the Navy, but he'd already become accustomed to them during his short time in the Beals program.
The simulation had him engaged in a firefight against an enemy with small, speedy aircrafts. The goal was simple. Take out the speeders while avoiding hits to his own craft while protecting the slow-moving cargo ship flying with him. He'd already destroyed most of the fighters, utilizing head-on attacks and using himself as bait to draw fire away from the cargo ship. Two ships remained, and they were after him with extreme aggression.
He went into a nose-dive barrel roll to avoid a volley of fire, then manhandled the ship to pull up out of the roll, banking around so fast the sim shuddered. Behind the enemy now, he pressed down with his thumbs to fire both guns simultaneously. The blasts hit his targets dead on, and the planes exploded in front of him. Once the last remnants of the debris drifted away into space, the screen went dark and the same pleasant voice that had welcomed them to the Beals auditorium came from the speakers.
Shane let go of the controls, rolling his wrists while he waited for his results. After a few moments, the screen lit up again and the names and corresponding scores scrolled up like an arcade video game. His heavy-handed maneuvering and borderline reckless risks had paid off; his name sat at the top of the list. Of course, Jalen hadn't gone yet, so that might change.
Shaking his head at Jalen sneaking into his thoughts again, he pressed the button to open the door and stepped out of the simulator. Outside, Shane came face to face with a crowd of awed recruits. The screens outside the machine had his monitor on display, and apparently a group had gathered to watch his run. Someone gave a low, impressed whistle.
"Wow. That was amazing."
"Thank you," Shane said.
As he made his way through the crowd, Shane noted that some of the looks weren't just appreciative of his flying ability. That surprised him. He wasn't used to that type of admiration in a professional setting. A young man approached him with a flirtatious smile, but before he could say anything, an older guy tugged him back.
"Do what we talked about and breathe in."
The young recruit followed the directive, inhaling deeply. Then his shoulders slumped as he pouted.
From that exchange, Shane realized two things. One, something about his scent indicated he had a mate. And two, the word was out and people knew their bodies had changed.
Unsure how to address the recruit's disappointment, Shane offered the young man a somewhat apologetic smile. He gave the rest of the crowd one last nod of acknowledgement then headed out of the simulation room. On his way out, he passed Tevoris, who leaned against the wall next to the door, his feet crossed at the ankles and arms folded over his chest.
"How are things going?"
Shane didn't stop when he answered. "I just beat the course with the highest score in the program, so I'd say pretty well."
Tevoris straightened from the wall and followed him from the room.
"I'm not talking about the program. As you well know."
Shane looked at the alien. Since this was the one person who could give him some advice on his situation with Jalen, he decided to be honest. "Not well. I've never been so exhausted and frustrated in my entire fucking life." Cursing in front of others was out of character for him, but he was well beyond the point of caring about politeness.
"I disagreed with their decision not to disclose the full truth of the enhancement and the effects it would have on humans. Perhaps I should have tried harder to change their minds."
"You think?" His snark earned him a half-exasperated, half-amused look from Tevoris before he continued.
"On my home planet, alphas court the person they want to bond with. Don't you have equivalent traditions in your society?"
"Yes, we date. But I can't exactly take Jalen out for dinner and a movie while we're on lockdown here. Besides, he's not speaking to me anyway, so I doubt asking him out would help."
"Maybe you could present him with a gift? On Zareen that's how we express serious interest. You have access to the company store where such items can be procured."
Shane considered it. "A gift would be nice."
"What do you want to give him?"
Shane scrubbed a hand over his hair, thinking of all the ways he wanted to care for Jalen. In particular, how he wanted to make sure the other man was snug and warm in bed since he wasn't there to see to it himself. "Oddly enough, a blanket," he answered. Tevoris looked delighted at his answer.
"That's perfect! Omegas love nesting materials. And it's ingrained in alphas and bets to make sure our omega mates have a comfortable nest."
"Nesting?" Shane asked with a frown. Then he sighed and shook his head without waiting for an answer from Tevoris. "Never mind. We'll have to figure that out on our own, right?"
"Yes. Although..." He paused for a moment, coming to a halt in the middle of the hallway. "There is one thing I want to make clear."
Shane stopped too. "And that is?"
"Alphas don't take or use force. We invite someone to be our mate, and if the person we have the urge to bond with feels the same, they grace us with a yes. To do otherwise leads to disastrous consequences."
Shane detected an odd note to the other man's tone. "You sound like you've got a little experience with that."
Tevoris smiled a little, but it was tinged with sadness. He resumed walking. "Unfortunately, yes. I won't go into my own failed mating history, but do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I would never take anything from Jalen that he doesn't want to give," Shane responded with fervent honesty. Not only was using force not part of his personality, but he would never do anything to hurt Jalen.
"That's good to hear." After only a few steps, Tevoris stopped walking again and nodded at the door to their right.
Shane looked and saw they'd arrived at the Beals company store. Apparently Tevoris had been leading him there all along.
"Good luck finding the right gift."
Shane held his hand out. "Thank you for the advice." Tevoris seemed surprised, but he accepted the handshake before saying goodbye and striding off down the hallway.
Left on his own, Shane went into the store. Having the shop was a smart decision. Although the program provided the recruits with all of the basics, and they'd been allowed to bring a few extras, there were always items people would unexpectedly need on a prolonged stay away from home. There were different toiletries for those who didn't want to use the brand provided by Beals. Trinkets and t-shirts to take home to friends and family as souvenirs. And an unusually large supply of blankets. Apparently the Beals people knew about omegas and nesting and had prepared for it.
A woman with short, black hair and an Air Force emblem pinned to her black shirt stood in front of one of the tables, eyeing the stacks of blankets. Her nametag identified her as Lieutenant Wu. Shane politely nodded at her before he began looking over the choices too.
"Bonding with an omega?" she asked.
Shane looked back up and saw her watching him with a curious smile. "Yes. I guess this is an obvious sign."
"If it's not now it will be soon. It's odd, but I want to do anything they ask of me. Charlie mentioned the blanket on their bed wasn't soft enough, so here I am."
She chose a pale cream blanket with a satin border. Shane chose one in a deep, midnight blue with constellations embroidered on it in gold thread.
They walked to the register together, still chatting as they waited their turn to pay.
"I'm assuming everyone here is going through something similar."
"Everyone left you mean. They did the first round of eliminations two days ago. Those who were cut from the program didn't change for whatever reason. Guess they were resistant to it."
"Ah, I see."
"How did you miss that? Were you not at the assembly they had yesterday where they explained about the enhancement?"
"No. I was uh... occupied with my omega for a few days."
The confusion on the lieutenant’s face cleared, replaced by speculation.
"I think something is about to happen for us too. We've had a couple of really intense dreams. I started to go see the med team about them, but I didn't want to end up failing a psych eval because of it."
Shane shook his head. "Don't bother. We already did and found out they're a normal part of the Zareen mating process."
Her eyebrows drew together in a quizzical frown. "Mating process..."
Shane didn't see any point in keeping the secret as they'd been asked to do. This woman was clearly about to go through it herself and Beals hadn't exactly engendered a sense of loyalty in him with their unethical medical experiments. He explained about the heats and ruts.
She looked as shell shocked as Shane had when he'd learned of all this. To her credit, she quickly shook it off.
"Got any advice for me?"
"Yeah. Eat lots of carbs beforehand. You're going to need the energy."
She looked at him in shocked silence, like she was waiting for him to say he was kidding. When he didn't, she barked a deep laugh that was almost at odds were her petite frame.
"Okay, then. Thanks. I'll be sure to do that." Still chuckling, she paid for her blanket, waved goodbye to Shane and left.
After making his own purchase, Shane made his way to Jalen's room. A quick knock went unanswered and he didn't want to invade Jalen's space by using the guest code. But he didn't want to leave the bag unattended either. He doubted anyone would steal it, he just wanted to be sure Jalen knew the gift was from him. As he stood there thinking, the knowledge of what to do came to him.
Guided by instinct, Shane took the blanket from the bag and brought it up to his face. Then he rubbed the soft fabric over his skin, focusing at the juncture of throat and shoulder where the Zareen injection had pooled. When he was done, he wrapped the blanket back up and set the bag down in front of the door. Shane looked at the brown bag with the red Beals logo for a moment before going back down the hall to the elevator. He'd brought the gift. It was up to Jalen whether or not he accepted it.
* * *
"You look like I feel."
Jalen looked up from the Beals pilot manual he was blankly staring at to see Charlie standing in front of him. "Excuse me?"
"You look confused as hell, and I bet it's not because of that book you're reading. Mind if I sit down?"
Jalen nodded at the chair across from him. "Not at all."
Charlie pulled the chair out and sat down. "You're an omega too, right? I'm still learning to sniff that out."
Mindful of the fact that they were in the library, Jalen laughed softly. "Like a hound dog. And yes."
"It's weird. I just recently accepted being non-binary and now I have this extra thing attached to me that feels heavily weighted toward the feminine side. I was really close to withdrawing from the program after they informed us about the injection but Peyton convinced me to stay."
"Leaving the program was never an option for me," Jalen said. "Especially once we found out the change is irreversible. But I am confused about some of the details of being an omega."
They sat quietly for a few moments before Charlie spoke again.
"You know. There's someone we could ask about all this."
"They've already stated they don't want us asking questions or sharing information. Or at least, that's what they said when Shane and I met with the heads of the program privately."
"Pfft. That's the problem with you military types. You follow orders too easily. You need a rabble rouser like me to get some answers," they said with a grin. "Let's go find Tevoris. I bet he'll give us more information." Charlie stood up from the table and looked down at Jalen expectantly.
Jalen grinned too. He closed the manual he'd been attempting to read, and put it on the re-shelving cart. "Okay, then. Let's go."
They left the library together, determined to get some answers. As they wandered the campus looking for Tevoris, Jalen filled Charlie in on what the Zareenian had already shared. The other recruit responded with wide eyes and a whispered, Holy shit. That summed up Jalen's own reaction when he'd learned about going into heat, so he just nodded and continued walking.
Eventually they found Tevoris outside in one of the small courtyards. He sat with one of the other members of his team that they'd only seen in passing, both of them looking at the screen of a piece of technology that clearly hadn't been produced on earth.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but Charlie and I have a few questions. Is now a good time for a meeting?"
Charlie snorted and muttered under their breath, "So official."
Tevoris and the other Zareenian stood. "Now is fine," Tevoris said as the other man smiled and excused himself. "How can I help you?"
Not wanting to waste this opportunity, Jalen got right to the point. "We want to know more about being omegas."
"I see. That's not surprising, since the description Dr. Oliver gave during our meeting wasn't exactly clear."
"I heard it wasn't much better during the program-wide assembly."
"No, it wasn't." The wind blew, ruffling the tendrils of white hair at Tevoris's temples as he thought for a moment. "Dr. Oliver told you alphas are dominant, omegas are submissive and betas are in the middle. However, there's much more to it than that. And it's not a hierarchy of power as Dr. Oliver somewhat presented. It's more of a different set of personality traits that are typical for each class. Give an alpha, a beta, and an omega each the same problem and they'll all solve it, but using different skills and methods that are best suited for their class."
"So, omegas aren't forced to obey alphas?" Jalen asked with suspicion.
Tevoris's eyebrows shot up before he burst out laughing. "I can't speak for all worlds, but that's not the case on Zareen. Omegas can be soft and sweet but are also strong and fierce, as evidenced by you two bearing down on me with such determination. Trying to force an omega to obey would be like trying to force one of your domesticated cats to do what you want. From your culture's videos, I've seen that is extremely difficult."
"But omegas are more feminine?"
Jalen remained quiet as Charlie waited for the answer to the question that had been bothering them.
"The ABO classifications aren't tied to your society's definition of gender, although I can see why you would think so. The softness of an omega is a personality trait that is accepted in any gender and it's the same for alphas and betas. Look at your Lieutenant Wu for example. She's an alpha, but she didn't suddenly become more masculine."
"Huh," Charlie said with a slow nod. "Your society sounds kind of awesome."
"As a Zareenian I agree. But I have to admit that it is not perfect. There are those who don't approve when someone exhibits traits outside their classification. And life can be awkward for people that don't have the physical characteristics typical for their class."
Charlie frowned. "That sounds less awesome."
Tevoris gave one of his unconcerned shrugs.
"One last question," Charlie said. "What about the heats Jalen just told me about? Heats are usually for animals trying to breed. Does that mean any omega can give birth?"
"No," Tevoris said with a firm shake of his head. "There are planets where that is the norm, but it's not the case for Zareenians. Heats and slick are a result of our species evolving to facilitate bonding and sex between partners. As your people start exploring beyond your world, you'll find that this occurs fairly frequently among various races."
Jalen sensed Charlie relaxing now that their questions were answered. Unfortunately, the tension didn't leave his own shoulders.
"You have another question."
Jalen stiffened further, surprised at Tevoris so easily picking up on his disquiet. Charlie looked back and forth between him and Tevoris.
"You know what? I think I've got all the answers I want for right now. I'll leave you guys to talk alone."
They went back inside, leaving Jalen alone with Tevoris.
"You resisted your heat, didn't you?" Tevoris asked in his blunt way.
Jalen didn't bother to deny it. "How'd you know that?"
"An omega who has a good heat with their partner comes out the other side happy, with a vibrancy that only comes from being satisfied. You, however, look haggard. And you smell miserable."
"What does misery smell like?"
Tevoris wrinkled his nose. "Awful. Like burning hair. What happened?"
"We tried to go through with it for the good of the mission. But to me, it didn't feel right being intimate simply because lab created hormones gave us a false feeling of desire for each other."
A frown drew Tevoris's brows together before he shook his head. "That's not how our mating works. The Zareen DNA doesn't force you to mate with anyone and the attraction and desire you experienced can't be created from nothing. They have to develop naturally, just like with humans. Bonding only kicks in once that happens. Our physical pleasure is more intense than what humans usually experience. But there's nothing manufactured about it."
"Why did it happen so fast for us? The others in the program are just now realizing they've changed, while we've already had a..." He faltered, still embarrassed at giving a name to what his body had gone through. Tevoris supplied the word for him.
"It built on what was already there, on both sides."
When Jalen didn't reply to that, Tevoris asked him another question.
"How would you feel if you were accepted to the space program, but Shane wasn't?"
Jalen visibly flinched, his mouth pulling down into a frown. Space was their dream. They'd come this far together, they would reach the stars together. Apparently, his reaction was enough of an answer for Tevoris, because his lips curled up in a knowing smirk.
"I bet if I were to ask him that question, I'd get the same response. You two were already meant to be together. The Zareen mating bond just helped you get there."
Jalen thought about that, afraid to hope it could be true. He'd hidden his true feelings about Shane for years, pushed them down so far that he'd convinced himself he'd only ever think of Shane as a friend he just happened to think was attractive. Could Shane have done the same?
A beeping noise came from Tevoris's pocket.
"I have to go," Tevoris said as he silenced whatever tech made the sound. "Sit with this information for some time if you need to. But I hope eventually you learn to trust your instincts. They won't lead you wrong."
Jalen nodded his thanks and stepped aside so Tevoris could go wherever he'd been summoned. After a few moments of simply standing in the sunlight, letting the fresh air wash over him, Jalen went back inside too. When he arrived on his hall, he saw a small bag on the floor outside his room. Picking up the bag, he reached inside and pulled out a soft, dark blue blanket. He put it to his nose and breathed in, inhaling Shane's strong, comforting scent.
Jalen sighed. He went into his room and unfolded the blanket, admiring the gleaming gold constellations embroidered into the fabric. The gift was undoubtedly from Shane, and receiving it made him feel good and settled. It was as if something clicked into place, satisfying a need within him that he didn't even realize he had.
Kicking off his shoes, Jalen undressed down to his skivvies. He curled up in bed, arranging the blanket around him so that he was safe and warm, surrounded by Shane's scent. It was the best feeling. Thankful that he didn't have any other responsibilities for the day, Jalen closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Jalen took a few days to think everything over as Tevoris had suggested. He wanted to be one hundred percent at peace with his personal new normal before he added in a changed relationship with Shane. So, he observed his own behavior. His determination to reach his goals was still there. He continued to step up and be assertive in class. And most importantly, he was still a bad ass pilot, as proven by his name sitting at the top of the flight simulation leader board.
There were differences in his physical abilities and his body had changed in unexpected ways. But the core of what made up Jalen A. Morgan remained unchanged. Once he had that mental assurance, he was ready to talk to Shane.
Unfortunately, their schedules didn't immediately allow for a private discussion. He had a chance to offer Shane a smile across the cafeteria at breakfast, receiving a surprised, yet happy smile in return before they were both occupied with training. Then in the afternoon, they ran into each other in the hallway. He reached out and lightly touched the back of Shane's hand. "Can we talk later tonight?"
"I would love that."
The exchange was short but served its purpose. That evening, they were finally free to talk. Yet, Jalen purposely ate dinner alone. He didn't want to have such an important conversation while they were surrounded by other diners. Once Jalen finished his meal, he sought out Shane. The other man had just finished eating too. "Let's go outside," Jalen suggested.
Shane stood, and they walked next to each other in awkward silence until they reached an exit door for one of the interior courtyards. There were a couple of little stone benches placed under shade trees, but Jalen chose to remain standing. His stomach trembling with nerves, he turned to face Shane.
"I received your gift. Thank you."
"You're welcome. I hope you know there are no strings attached to it. I gave you the blanket because I wanted you to have it, not because I was demanding your attention."
"I know. I made the decision to talk to you completely on my own." He paused and grinned. "But the blanket did help me take several excellent naps."
The teasing comment eased some of the tension between them.
"I didn't know you were a nap-type person," Shane said in a more relaxed tone.
"I didn't either. It's just one of those things that I'm dealing with after the injection." That was as good a segue as Jalen was going to get, so he plowed on. "I thought the injection was responsible for something else as well. Turns out it wasn't."
Shane went still. "What something would that be?"
"Our attraction to each other."
The statement hung in the air between them, soft and fragile as cloud mist, yet so powerful and important.
His nerves increasing, Jalen had to look away from Shane's handsome face lit by the moonlight. He glanced down at their boots, noting the difference in size between them before he continued. "According to Tevoris, the Zareen DNA didn't cause us to seek each other out the way we did. The feelings were already there." He hesitated, looking up at Shane from beneath his lashes. "Do you think that's true?" Jalen held his breath, waiting for his friend's response. Shane had obviously been on board with their physical intimacy, but that wasn't a guarantee he wanted anything more.
"I know it's true. At least, it is on my side."
Jalen's shoulders sagged with relief, and the breath he was holding rushed out of his lungs, accompanied by a question. "Really?"
Shane smiled softly, and to Jalen's surprise, his eyes started to glow silver.
"Jalen, I've loved you since we sat next to each other in the barbershop to get our first high and tight. Probably before then, I just didn't recognize it for what it was. I never said anything because you dreamed of the Air Force, while I wanted to join the Navy like my father. So, I watched you fly out of my life, always hoping there would be a day where we could come together. The Beals Space Exploration Program was a better opportunity than I'd ever hoped for. Both for our careers and us on a personal level."
I'd planned to tell you how I felt once we were accepted into the program and finally in the same place, but then Beals and his crew decided to mess with evolution and things happened so fast. I was concerned you'd think such a high-pressure environment wasn't the right time for personal relationships. So, I convinced myself to focus on the mission, and once things calmed down I'd confess. That was wrong. I should have been honest about the way I felt before I touched you." He reached out and brushed a fingertip down Jalen's cheek. "Before our first kiss. And I'm sorry I wasn't." He started to drop his hand.
Jalen quickly grasped Shane's wrist, stopping him from pulling away. "I wasn't honest either," he said in a rush. "I never looked too closely at my feelings for you."
"Because I was afraid of what I would see. That I love you. That I've always loved you. I just... let it stay buried beneath the layer of our friendship because I didn't know how or even if I should mention it. It was easier that way."
"I don't want to do what's easy anymore. If I can be brave enough to try for a life in space, I can be brave enough to live that life with my best friend as my partner. Or maybe as my mate. I'm not sure which word to use."
Shane stepped forward, easing into Jalen's space. "I like mate. It makes me feel like you're mine and I'm yours."
"I like mate too," Jalen whispered. He leaned in close, seeking Shane's warmth. Shane slid his arms around him, hesitantly at first, then confidently and securely once Jalen nodded his permission.
"I know I've already told you, but I have to say it again. I love you."
Jalen tilted his head back to look up at his best friend... his mate. "Tell me you love me whenever you feel like it."
"I will. I promise."
With so much settled between them, Jalen felt safe enough to tease. "You should kiss me when you feel like it too." Shane's eyes glowed even brighter.
"I can do that."
He leaned down and Jalen rose up on his toes until their lips met in a kiss full of promise and relieved joy. It was tender and sweet, Jalen's lips parting on a sigh, Shane's tongue easing forward to stroke against his. They kissed there in the courtyard for long, quiet moments, just the two of them in their own world, pressed together so close that nothing, not even moonlight, could pass between them.
When they finally broke apart Jalen stayed in Shane's arms, breathing in his scent. It was different, pleased and aroused, and Jalen loved that he could tell the difference.
"We should get to bed soon. Do you need anything?" Shane asked as he rubbed Jalen's back.
"No, I'm fin-." Jalen bit his lip. "Damnit, that's not true. This is going to take some getting used to. But I need to spend time with you. Maybe you could come back to my room and cuddle with me for a while?"
Jalen blushed furiously at the request but it was what the omega inside him needed. And Shane apparently didn't think there was anything wrong with what he asked for, because he smiled, looking as eager as if Jalen had offered him a solo flight to the moon.
"I'd love to cuddle with you."
They went back inside and rode the elevator up to Jalen's room. The entire trip, they stood close enough for their arms to continuously brush together. Once they were behind a closed door, they kicked their shoes off and settled on the bed. Shane wrapped his arms around him and Jalen curled in close, like he'd wanted to do after their first time together, resting his head on Shane's chest. "This is nice," he said with a content sigh.
"Were you really going to wait until we were all the way in space before you told me you loved me?"
Shane chuckled, the sound rumbling in Jalen's ear.
"Not very alpha of me, huh?"
Jalen looked up at his mate. "No, I think it's perfect and sweet."
"You're perfect and sweet," Shane said as he squeezed Jalen in a hug.
Prior to the Zareen injection, Jalen might have thought that was an odd thing to say to him. But now, the part of him that was an omega basked in the affectionate words, and the intoxicating scent of possessive alpha that accompanied them. And Jalen was completely okay with that.
My apologies for my little unplanned hiatus! But I'm back, Shane and Jalen are together, and all is right in the world. Hopefully. One more chapter to go...
Thanks for reading!
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Jalen lifted his face into the shower spray, letting the cool water soothe the growing heat within him. This heat wasn't like the fever of sickness. Or even like the feeling of sitting in the sun. It was as if there was a warm glow beneath his skin, but it didn't drain or exhaust him like a fever did. This heat energized him in a sensuous way. He wanted to feel soft materials against his sensitive skin, and he constantly thought of Shane's big hands moving over him, delicately shivering when he pictured his small body tucked beneath Shane's much larger frame.
There was no escaping the fact that he was about to experience something completely alien to him. Two days after the meeting with Director Nelson and the rest of the team, all Jalen wanted to do was hole up in his room, in his bed, with his chosen alpha. With Shane. Unfortunately, he hadn't been able to do that; the recruitment process was still underway and he had to attend the classes and examinations. They'd both been called in for a physical yesterday, to officially document the changes from the Zareen injection.
While there, they'd been given a politely worded order not to share the details discussed in the conference room with anyone else in the program and received notice that he and Shane would be excused during his heat. They simply needed to inform a member of the Beals staff once it began, and the training coordinators would be notified. Of course, they'd have to make up the assessments they missed once it was over. With that in mind, Jalen worked extra hard to make sure his stats didn't fall off too much while he was... incapacitated. He suspected Shane was doing the same.
Over the past two days he and Shane had spent a lot of time together. They were drawn into each other's orbit, standing close when they were in the same class, finding each other immediately after when they weren't. By unspoken mutual agreement they didn't spend time together alone in their rooms. Attraction and arousal still sizzled between them, but for his part, Jalen didn't want to give in to it before they had to. If their new alien DNA was forcing them to be intimate that was one thing and he'd go along with it for the mission. But anything beyond that felt inappropriately out of place to the terms of the friendship he had with Shane. No matter how desperate he was for Shane's touch.
With the water still running and cooling his heated skin, Jalen braced a hand on the shower wall, fingers softly curling against the tile. He brought his other hand up to brush the fingertips over his nipples. They'd become increasingly sensitive during the last twenty-four hours. Now, they were tight and aching. He pinched one, gasping at the powerful surge of arousal that streaked straight to his cock. His bottom lip caught between his teeth, he followed the path with his hand, down his water slick torso until he reached his erection.
An aroused moan echoed in the shower stall as he thumbed the head of his cock, then lightly stroked it. He didn't touch with any real intent, he merely wanted to tease himself while he imagined Shane's muscled chest rubbing against his nipples, setting off even more of those amazing sparks of pleasure. Jalen grew even hotter, the cooling effect of the water losing its potency as his temperature rose. Sensing that he was about to be fully in heat, he realized he needed to go and find Shane.
Taking his hand away from his cock, he twisted the knob to turn off the shower and stepped out to dry off. The habit of a lifetime had him dressing in his uniform, making sure he was neat and presentable before leaving his room.
Not knowing what was going to happen next was unnerving, Jalen thought as he took the elevator down to the skybridge. Tevoris had said they'd want to fuck each other a lot and Jalen was desperate to know exactly what that entailed. Would he be mindless and out of control? STDs had been all but eradicated from humans a few centuries ago, but did Zareenians have them? Would he want to fuck anything that moved, or just Shane?
He had one of his questions answered when he hit the center of the bridge. A male recruit going in the opposite direction stopped in his tracks as Jalen passed, eyeing him with clear sexual interest. He was a beta, so his scent wasn't aggressive enough to make Jalen recoil as he had that day on the track. Regardless, Jalen froze the man with a look of icy rejection and kept walking. He didn't want anyone but Shane and he wanted him now.
Once he reached the end of the skybridge, Jalen went straight to the elevator, taking it down to the third floor. Shane had told him earlier he'd be in the main gym working out this afternoon. Jalen passed a few more people on the way. A female alpha who smiled at him in admiration. Another beta who didn't show any interest. Charlie, the enby omega he'd met in flight sims. And two recruits who had no scent at all.
Jalen briefly wondered what it meant that they didn't have scents. He was also curious if the people who did have them knew their bodies had changed, or if they were still clueless while Jalen was able to read them. Regardless, he ignored them all. He pushed open the door to the big gym and was immediately assaulted by so many smells he couldn't decipher classifications. Not that he cared.
He scanned the room, looking for Shane. When he found him, he stood there for a moment and watched him work out. Muscles bugled in Shane's thighs and biceps as he did squats with a heavy barbell over his shoulders. After a full set of twenty reps, Shane put the weight back on its rack. He lifted the hem of his tank to wipe his forehead, revealing hard abs, and a chest damp with sweat. A bolt of electric lust shot through Jalen and he actually whined. A soft little noise that he'd never made before in his life.
At that exact moment, Shane glanced up and looked directly at him. The breath caught in Jalen's throat as their eyes met and held across the huge room. In the next heartbeat, Shane lowered the hem of his shirt and started purposely striding toward him.
Jalen took a step back. Then another, before he spun on his heel to go back the way he'd come. On his way out, he paused to briefly speak with the clerk manning the desk, letting her know what was happening. It was embarrassing as hell that he had to inform the staff he was about to disappear for however long so that he could have sex with a fellow recruit, but it had to be done. Thankfully the clerk didn't give him a salacious leer or do anything else of that nature. She simply nodded and started typing on her touch screen computer.
Jalen didn't wait for her to finish. Turning away from the desk, he grabbed the door handle and pulled, almost smacking himself in the face with the door in his haste to get it open. He wanted to run, so that Shane could give chase and pursue him, then catch him and claim him for his own.
Shaking his head, Jalen continued down the hallway to the elevator bank, where to his luck one had just returned. He stepped inside and pressed the button to take him up to the skybridge, catching a glimpse of Shane coming after him before the doors closed. This was all so bizarre, he thought as rode up to the connecting walkway. He should stop and wait for Shane to catch up to him so they could walk to his room together. But he didn't. He set off across the skybridge on his own. And when Shane's elevator arrived, Jalen quickened his pace. He didn't look behind him, but he heard Shane moving quickly as well.
He made it to the residence tower's elevators and again dodged riding with Shane, the door easing closed just as the alpha following him reached it. The ride to his floor was quick, and Jalen hopped out before the doors were all the way open. A passing recruit looked at him with curiosity as Jalen hustled to his room. Too agitated to think of the entry code, Jalen yanked off his badge, flashing it at the security pad. The door beeped before smoothly sliding open. His heart pounding, Jalen went in and let the door shut behind him. Shane was just down the hall, so he wouldn't have long to wait.
Not even half a minute later, a chime sounded, announcing he had a visitor. Shane was there.
For one crazy second, Jalen considered refusing to open the door. But if nothing else, they at least needed to talk about what was happening between them. Besides, Shane had the guest code. He could come in if he wanted to. Jalen pressed the glowing red button to open the door and retreated to the center of the room as Shane stepped inside. Jalen didn't know what he expected. Maybe for Shane to be crazed and wild and immediately take him down to the floor like an animal. Instead his friend appeared slightly concerned, forehead creased with a frown.
"Are you okay?" Shane asked.
"Yeah. Just nervous." And horny he thought.
Shane approached slowly. "It's okay. We don't have to do anything you don't want to do. You know that. We're going to get through this together. And if it helps, we can talk about what's happening first."
"Okay." Jalen ran a hand over his hair. "They weren't kidding about the heat part. I've taken about three cold showers today, but I'm still burning up. And I feel like I'm about to crawl out of my skin." Or crawl all over you, Jalen added to himself.
"I've got a lot going on too. It's as if I can feel you in here, in my blood." Shane pressed a hand to his chest. "And I can smell you. Your heat, your arousal." His voice lowered, growing husky. "Is it the same for you?"
Jalen bit his lip and drew in a breath. As he inhaled, he pulled Shane's scent into his lungs, and somehow, he knew it was alpha, and this alpha was in rut for him. And that made every molecule in his body, human and Zareenian, want to rub up against Shane, covering himself in his alpha's scent. Jalen nodded in answer to Shane's question, but hesitated before speaking again. They were supposed to talk, but he trembled with the need to feel Shane's hands on him. He looked at his friend and hoped like hell what he was about to say wouldn't destroy their relationship.
"I changed my mind. I don't want to talk. I need you." He whispered the last sentence, but Shane didn't hesitate. He came forward and gently gripped Jalen's chin, raising his face up.
"I'm here for you," Shane said as he leaned down.
The delicious scent rolling off Shane intensified as their lips met in a soft kiss. Jalen tried to keep it impersonal, but how did one impersonally kiss? Especially when he needed so badly. Still, he did what he could, remaining as quiet and still as possible.
Shane lifted his head. "Is this okay?"
"Yes. It's for the mission, right?"
Shane hesitated a moment before answering. "Yes. For the mission."
"Then it's okay," Jalen said with a determined nod. Shane kissed him again and this time Jalen caved and gave in to one of his urges. He pressed his body close, fingers curling against Shane's broad chest. To his surprise, strong arms went around him as Shane picked him up and carried him over to the bed. Shane set him down gently then kneeled on the floor at his feet.
"What are you doing?" Jalen asked.
"Taking off your shoes for you."
"Oh." He watched as Shane untied his boots and pulled them off one by one. "Thank you." Shane looked up and caught his stunned expression. Shane's changed to one of chagrin.
"I hope that was okay."
"Yes, I just didn't expect it."
"I don't think I did either," Shane said with a soft laugh. "I know this sounds odd. But I just want to take care of you."
Jalen's stomach lifted lightly with joy at Shane's declaration, until he reminded himself this wasn't real, that it was all manufactured by Beals. But he couldn't help but gasp as Shane rose, his broad shoulders looming over Jalen as he guided him to lay back on the bed. Shane kicked off his own shoes off before joining him on the mattress. Without consciously planning to, Jalen parted his legs to allow Shane to settle between them. They kissed again, this time with Shane's tongue teasing at Jalen's lips until he opened them and let Shane slip inside.
He couldn't hold back his moans any longer, not with Shane kissing him so passionately. Shane was obviously embracing the heat, so Jalen did too. He tentatively let go of some of his control, letting his head fall back into the pillows. Shane buried his face in his throat, tongue coming out again to lick at a spot that was suddenly exquisitely sensitive. Jalen shivered in response. He was hard, nearly unbearably so, the heat within him rising and rising.
How was this happening? The sensations flooding through him were stronger than any arousal he'd ever experienced. It was lust, pure and needy, his body begging him to throw away all inhibitions and just revel in getting fucked. It felt as though he was losing himself, and that scared him. He clenched his fists in the sheets, trying to keep his head above water and not drown in the animalistic lust.
Shane immediately stopped and lifted his head. "Yes?"
"From the way things are going, the way I feel, I think we'll have to have some kind of release. But I don't -. I'm not ready for..." He stumbled to a halt, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. How did he say I'm not ready for my friend of nineteen years to fuck me? Thankfully, Shane understood what he was trying to say.
"It's okay. Just tell me what you need. I'll only do what's necessary."
Jalen closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on his body and what it wanted most. His nipples demanded attention. They were so achy and tight Jalen was seconds away from squeezing and tugging at them right in front of Shane. "Touch me, here," he said as he trailed his fingertips over throbbing, pebbled flesh.
Shane nodded. He pushed Jalen's shirt up, palms smoothing over his torso as he did so. Jalen's nipples were so sensitive a moan slipped from his throat as soon as Shane brushed a thumb across one of them.
"Does this help?"
Jalen hesitated before shakily nodding. It helped... but he needed more. And Shane, watching him so attentively, noticed his hesitation.
"Tell me what you need, Jalen."
The commanding tone to Shane's voice made Jalen shiver with a delight he didn't know how to process. "Your mouth. I- I need your mouth on me," he answered with complete honesty.
"I can do that."
Shane shifted lower on the bed and brought his head down to Jalen's chest, tongue coming out to lick across one swollen nipple. When he sucked it into his mouth, Jalen sighed with relief. Having Shane's mouth on him soothed his body, cooling him from the flames of his heat. Jalen arched his back, raising his chest high against Shane's mouth, demanding more without saying a word. Shane responded by sucking hard and bringing his hand up to squeeze and play with Jalen's other nipple.
"Ah!" Jalen cried out, sliding his fingers into Shane's hair to keep him close. He'd always enjoyed nipple play, but this was amazing, each suck and lick and squeeze made his cock throb. He thought he might come from this alone and that they wouldn't have to do much else. But all too soon the feeling of satisfaction started to fade, and his arousal kicked up even higher. He needed more. He moaned, his body on fire, hips rolling with increasing frustration. He felt empty, like he desperately needed to be filled with a thick alpha cock.
At that odd thought, Jalen suddenly felt wet in a place he'd never been wet before, and a sweet smell drifted onto the air. A millisecond later, Shane released his nipple with a soft pop and jerked his head up. Nostrils flaring, he drew in a deep breath. When Shane exhaled, a low growl rumbled from his chest.
They both froze. Jalen stared at his friend with wide eyes. That sound wasn't something that came out of humans. Shane had growled, an actual real life fucking growl.
"I'm sorry," Shane quickly apologized as he sat back on his heels. "I hope that didn't freak you out."
Jalen shook his head. "Not too much. But there's something... different going on with me." He shifted uneasily, wondering why he felt like he'd been generously lubed.
Shane lifted a hand and let it hover over the closure of Jalen's pants. "Should I check?"
Slowly, Jalen nodded. Ignoring this new development wouldn't make it go away. Shane unbuttoned his pants and tugged the zipper down. Tucking his fingers into both pants and briefs, he pulled them down and off, Jalen lifting his hips to help. Once the clothes were removed, Shane tossed them over the side of the bed to the floor. Jalen lay there naked and exposed, his cock hard and straining, leaking pre-cum onto his belly. Embarrassed, he held a hand over it, hiding from Shane's hot gaze. Shane rested a warm palm on his thigh.
"Let me see," he said hoarsely.
Hand still protectively cupping his cock, Jalen hesitantly spread his legs wider. He didn't protest when Shane gripped his ankles, pushing his feet up the bed and raising his knees. Shane softly trailed his fingers down Jalen's thighs before cupping his ass and spreading him open. Then he sucked in a breath, a ruddy flush covering his cheeks. He breathed in deeply again, and when he spoke his voice was soft, as though he were in awe at what he saw between Jalen's legs.
"You're slick. Like you've been prepared for m-."
He stopped, but the unfinished me hung in the air between them. Jalen wasn't sure how to read that. Did Shane cut himself off because he knew that all of this wasn't real, but simply the side effect of hormones manufactured in a lab? Or was there another reason? Jalen didn't know. He didn't even know how he felt about this himself. And right now, with lust clouding his brain, he was unlikely to figure it out.
Shane brushed a thumb over his entrance and Jalen had to bite his lip to keep from moaning at the touch. But he couldn't stop his body from becoming even wetter. That sound rolled out of Shane again in response. Softer. Yet still causing a shiver to run down Jalen's spine. Shane raised his head to look at Jalen.
Jalen's lips parted in surprise when their gazes met. "Your eyes."
"They're silver. And glowing."
Shane blinked but his irises didn't change. They remained silver and luminous, as though they were lit from within. Another change to their bodies as a result of the Zareen injection.
"It's kind of pretty," Jalen shyly offered the compliment.
A small smile curled Shane's lips. "Thank you." He looked back down at Jalen's ass, softly stroking a thumb over his entrance again. With his head still canted low, he looked up at Jalen and licked his tongue over his lower lip.
It was obvious what he wanted. But Jalen couldn't - the thought of Shane tasting him there... Jalen gripped the sheets again. He wouldn't be able to maintain any sense of decorum, any pretense this was only for the mission if Shane were to do... that. It would be far too intimate. To his relief the demands of his body came to his rescue.
"I need something inside me," he said as he clenched down on nothing. He hadn't brought any of his toys with him. This was work, not vacation, and he'd figured for the couple of months he was here he'd be okay with his own hand. He hadn't planned on this.
Shane shifted on his knees. The movement drew Jalen's gaze, where it was caught by the thick erection tenting Shane's shorts.
"Don't worry about that. Unless you tell me you changed your mind like you did earlier, my dick is staying right where it's at." He pressed down on his cock, but it popped back up like it was trying to escape the confines of its cotton prison.
Jalen had to close his eyes for a second. The sight of Shane kneeling between his naked thighs, with a massive erection that he desperately wanted inside him - even though he wasn't ready to admit it - was too much. He tried to keep still, but the heat licking flames of desire all over his flesh wouldn't let him. He moved restlessly on the bed, his hips rising and seeking against his will, his cock sliding on his belly with the movement. Embarrassed, he threw an arm across his eyes to hide away from his friend.
"I'm so sorry! I can't help it."
Shane soothed him, stroking a palm down his calf. "Ssssh. It's okay. Maybe my fingers will help."
Jalen peeked from beneath his arm and watched as Shane raised a hand to his mouth. He started to lick his fingers, but after a glance between Jalen's legs, he changed direction and lowered his hand. Jalen gasped as he slipped a finger inside. It went in smooth and easy, aided by the slick substance. It wasn't enough. He needed to feel full. That same soft whine he'd made in the gym rose in his throat again.
"I need more."
Shane immediately obliged the desperately greedy plea, adding another finger to join the first. He stopped once to pull his shirt off then immediately resumed fingering Jalen, watching him carefully as he pushed in a third finger. Jalen moaned. It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but he still loved the fullness. Shane kept at it, finger fucking him until Jalen was shaking and moaning. He stared up at his... friend, taking note of the heavy-lidded glowing eyes, chest heaving with deep breaths, and flushed skin damp with sweat. And god, Shane was so hard. His cock strained against the shorts, occasionally jumping slightly. Shane clenched his jaw each time it happened.
It reminded Jalen that he wasn't the only one caught up in this. Shane was experiencing a Zareenian rut for the first time but was selflessly focusing all his energy on taking care of Jalen. That made him want to go up on his knees and offer himself to his alpha, let Shane take him from behind with hard, pounding thrusts that would satisfy them both. Then his alpha would claim him and everyone would know that he was Shane's omega.
A tiny portion of his brain still worried that this wasn't natural or human or him but that thought flew out of his head when Shane pressed on a spot that sent sparkles of pleasure racing over his skin. He cried out, hips thrusting up, swamped by the orgasm that rushed through him. On the next wave, he bit down on his lip so hard he tasted the coppery tang of blood in order to stop himself from calling out his friend's name. To stop himself from begging Shane to fuck him until he came again. Shane suddenly came down on top of him, kissing him through it and unintentionally helping him stay silent.
As they kissed, Shane roughly rutted against him, rubbing his still covered cock over Jalen's body and it felt real, as if Shane truly desired him, and he wanted to sob at the unfairness of it. Jalen had just found the courage to touch Shane again, lightly pressing his fingertips to the warm, sweat-slick muscles of his back, when he went stiff and came with another of those spine-tingling growls. Disappointed, Jalen quickly pulled his hands away.
They rested together for a moment to catch their breath before Shane rolled off him. He reached out, gently stroking a hand down Jalen's bare arm.
"Are you okay?"
Jalen closed his eyes, wanting to curl up against Shane's chest and nuzzle into his warmth. But his friend had been so kind and helpful and Jalen didn't want to take advantage of him anymore than necessary. He resisted the urge to cuddle in close by digging his nails into his palms. As he lay there, he realized he couldn't go through that again. Holding himself back, only allowing what was necessary so he didn't embarrass himself. He hadn't been prepared for the shocking intensity of being in heat and he needed to come to grips with it before he went any further with Shane. "I think that's enough."
"What?" Shane asked with a frown on his brow.
Before answering, Jalen haphazardly scooted off the bed.
Shane sat up on the side of the bed, feet planted on the floor, knees slightly spread. There was a sizeable wet spot on the crotch of his gray shorts. And he was still hard. But even with an erection, he looked calm, his eyes back to their usual green. While Jalen was so flustered he repeatedly tripped trying to step into his pants. Giving up, he left them where they lay.
"I thought I could do this for the mission like we agreed. But I can't. So, I'm calling it off."
"What about the negative effects of withdrawing from each other?"
"I... we'll just have to suffer them. I'm sorry, Shane. But I can't do this again."
"It's okay. There's no need to apologize," Shane said softly. He stood, quickly pulling on his shirt and grabbing up his shoes from the floor. "Please let me know if you need anything. And I don't mean sexually. If something happens I want to help you. Okay?"
Jalen nodded without looking at his friend. He was afraid if he did, he'd beg him to stay. He stayed silent while Shane left, the door sliding shut behind him. Jalen was left alone in a room filled with the delicious scent of their sex, his body already heating up and demanding more of his alpha's touch.
* * *
Shane rested his head against the shower tile, letting the cool water fall down his body, trying to ease the arousal pulsing in his blood. It didn't help. His cock still stood up hard and throbbing, completely ignoring the effect cold water was supposed to have on it. Nothing helped. No matter how many times he took his cock in hand, he couldn't find relief.
Most of the time he didn't even manage an orgasm. When he did, it was weak and unsatisfying. His erection and arousal came back even stronger, as though they were furious they'd been denied the real thing. His body simply refused to give him a true release without Jalen. Jalen, who was in his room, in the same boat. Shane knew, because he could feel Jalen under his skin.
Because he's your mate, his mind whispered.
Groaning in frustration, he shut off the water and climbed out of the shower. He dried off but didn't bother putting on underwear or pajamas. Since he'd been excused from all training and tests while Jalen was in heat, he didn't expect to be pulled from the bed in the middle of the night.
Shane flopped down on top of the covers, determined to ignore his throbbing cock. Eventually he fell into a restless sleep. As he drifted off, he hoped he would have some peace from constant thoughts of Jalen and this never-ending urge to fuck his mate...
When Shane blinked to awareness, he knew right off what was happening. "Heat dreams. I forgot about the heat dreams," he said with a defeated sigh. He turned and tried to go back into the darkness. But an invisible, formless barrier blocked the way. Unable to make any progress in that direction, Shane sighed again. There was nothing for it. He would have to go forward until he woke up. It was odd, knowing that he was about to be in Jalen's head.
The first time they'd shared a dream, he'd had to walk forward a few steps before he reached his destination. This time, the second his foot came down he was in Jalen's room. Jalen lay on his back, knees raised and spread wide, one hand on his cock, the other raised to his mouth with a finger between his teeth. Just like before, Shane announced his presence. "Jalen."
Jalen snapped his head to the side. "Shane!" He raised both hands, reaching out. "Please, I need you."
Shane immediately went over to kneel on the bed, that now familiar growl rolling out of his chest. Frantic hands tugged him down until he lay on top of his omega. Once he was settled, he slipped a hand between them and pushed two fingers inside Jalen, shuddering at the feel of that silky, slick liquid. He wondered what it tasted like. Shane went still when Jalen shook his head and whispered.
"That's not enough, Shane. I need you inside me."
He didn't question the fact that in their dream, Jalen wanted to go all the way. He simply removed his fingers and replaced them with the head of his cock. Unfortunately, the second he did, Jalen started to melt into nothing, just like before.
Jalen cried out and Shane tried to hold on to him, but it was no use. He disappeared, leaving Shane kneeling on an empty bed. Frustrated, he pounded a fist on his bare thigh. "God damn-"
Shane jerked awake. Every muscle was tense, his body was screaming with the urge to come. And Jalen was suffering too. Determined to help him, Shane picked up his data pad to place a video call. He would take a chance and at least ask if Jalen had changed his mind on going about this alone. When Jalen answered the call, Shane saw that his face was flushed, sweat dotting his hairline, lips red and swollen.
"Shane." He paused to draw in a breath. "Is everything okay?" he asked in a shaky voice.
"I'm fine. I was just checking on you."
He clearly wasn't but neither was Shane so he didn't call him on the lie. However, Jalen's arm started to move, his eyes drifting closed. His hand was out of the camera's view, but Shane knew without a doubt what he was doing. Jalen had to be pretty far gone to do this in front of him. As the wet noise of his hand sliding on his cock came over the line, he realized Jalen had to be drenched with pre-cum for that gorgeous sound to reach his ears.
"Baby, I can be to your room in thirty seconds. Just say the word."
Jalen's eyes popped open and his arm stopped moving. They stared at each other through the screens for a long moment. Shane realized he'd called Jalen baby, but he didn't apologize for it or take it back. Jalen was his and he should be there taking care of him. But Jalen determinedly shook his head.
"No. I can get through this on my own."
Before Shane could say anything else his screen went black and the call ended. Shane slapped the data pad down on the bed with another frustrated curse. "Fuck."
Poor Jalen. That must suck trying to play it cool while in the middle of your heat. Ba-dum-chish! (Thanks, I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waiter.) Seriously tho, these boys are going to have to talk some things out, yeah? Figure out what they really want and where they truly stand. But that's for next week...
Thanks for reading!
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They elected to skip breakfast and went straight to Director Nelson's office in the main building. The halls were still relatively quiet as they walked along, discussing the other changes they’d noticed over the past few days. When they reached the director’s office, Shane pulled open the frosted glass door. They stepped into a small waiting room, where a friendly faced receptionist sat behind a dark wood and amber colored Lucite desk.
The man looked military, and Shane wondered if Nelson had brought him over from the Army with her. "Hello," he said returning the greeting. “We'd like to speak with Director Nelson if she's available."
The receptionist smiled politely. "Of course, please be seated."
"Thank you." He and Jalen sat down in thickly cushioned chairs with padded armrests. Directly across from them was an artist's render of a Beals space ship flying amongst the stars. Shane's desire to make that trip hadn't changed. And he hoped whatever was about to happen wouldn't take the opportunity to achieve that goal away from him.
While they waited, Shane's entire being hummed with awareness of the man next to him. He could tell Jalen was nervous. His stiff body language gave it away, and of course Shane knew he was worried after their conversation a few minutes ago.
But it was more than that. He could smell the worry and fear coming off his friend. Which wasn't normal. Not by a long shot. Neither was the urge Shane had to pull Jalen into his arms, hold him close against his chest, and reassure him everything would be okay.
Sure, he'd carried a torch for Jalen for years, but Shane had never pictured the dynamics of a relationship between them working out that way. In his hazy imaginings, it was more along the lines of two bros who realized they had a thing for each other and grew closer as bros while they fucked. This feeling was very different from his imaginings.
For now, Shane settled for briefly resting a hand on top of Jalen's. When Jalen looked up at him, he gave the smaller man a reassuring smile before removing his hand. Jalen smiled back, his nervousness decreasing somewhat.
A few moments later, the door to their right opened. Director Nelson stood in the doorway, dressed in a sharply pressed black and red Beals uniform, the silver streaks in her short, curly black hair gleaming in the sunlight shining through the window.
"Gentleman, please come in."
They rose and walked into a small conference room at the crisply issued invitation. To Shane's surprise, there were five people already in the room, seated around a glossy pine table with a big crystal bowl of red roses at the center. Beals sat at one end, with Dr. Oliver, Dr. Bakshi, and a lab assistant who sat with a legal pad in front of her to his right. Tevoris was on the inventor's left. Director Nelson took a seat at the other end after closing the conference room door.
Beals gestured at the two unoccupied amber-toned Lucite chairs next to Tevoris. "Have a seat."
Everyone was silent as Shane and Jalen pulled out the chairs and got settled. Once they had their knees beneath the table, Director Nelson began the meeting.
"How can we help you?"
Shane and Jalen exchanged a quick glance. Shane nodded for Jalen to go first.
"We've noticed several physical and mental changes since our arrival," Jalen said.
"Go on," Dr. Bakshi said with a small nod.
The lab assistant clicked their pen, holding it ready over the legal pad.
"To start, Shane is bigger. He thought his clothes shrank in the wash, but I realized there was an actual difference in his size. Our physical capabilities have improved without making any changes to our training regimens, and our senses are, for lack of a better word, heightened. In particular our sense of smell."
The lab assistant’s pen flew across the page, scribbling down everything Jalen said.
"Anything else?" Director Nelson asked.
Shane took over. "We've experienced... unusual mutual physical attraction. And we dreamed about each other. But it was as if I was in his head and he was in mine. When we spoke this morning, we discovered we had the same dream. But that's not possible. Is it?"
"Actually, it is." The director looked to the only non-human in the room. "Tevoris?"
The big alien closed his eyes and drew in a breath through his nose, nostrils flaring as he inhaled. After he re-opened his eyes, he nodded at Jalen first. "Omega." Then he looked at Shane. "And Alpha."
Dr. Bakshi's eyebrows rose. "That's a surprise, as we'd tagged Commander Thomas as Class Beta."
Shane glanced at Jalen from the corner of his eye. They finally knew what the letters represented, but he wanted all of the information, not just names. "What do those classifications stand for?"
Beals braced his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers together. "Let me explain. As I stated in our welcome assembly, we have the technology to expand space travel beyond our galaxy. We just need the people to make it happen. A different breed of people."
Uneasiness prickled the skin of Shane's armpits. He asked his next question, even though he was almost one hundred percent positive he knew what the answer would be. "What do you mean a different breed of people?"
"Our species has evolved and adapted over the centuries since we came into existence. However, life on such an abundant and hospitable planet has stunted further growth. We are not built to withstand the effects of prolonged time in space because we've never needed to leave our home. It's why there were health issues from those on the BE7 and BE8 missions.
We've adapted to survive on an extremely specific arrangement of gases. If we're going to engage in widespread planetary travel, we'll need to be able to breathe in atmospheres that aren't exactly like our own, without relying on oxygen tanks and other apparatus of old school space suits. That's where the Zareenians come in."
Beals nodded at Tevoris. "For lack of a better word, the Zareen people are hardier than humans. More adaptable, and able to thrive in a multitude of environments. By combining their DNA with humans, our species can finally get out there and truly explore. Unfortunately, interbreeding the... old fashioned way would take far too long, and we wouldn't necessarily be guaranteed a large enough number of people who were interested in and skilled enough for space travel. So, we decided to speed up the process and splice Zareenian DNA with that of the humans we recruited into the Beals Space Exploration Program. And you," Beals sharply clapped his hands together then threw them out wide to indicate Shane and Jalen. "Are the result."
Beals looked pleased, as though he were unveiling a dazzling new invention. A smug smile curled Dr. Bakshi's lips. Dr. Oliver was clearly excited, his eyes wide as he leaned forward in his chair, giving off the vibe that he wanted to examine Shane and Jalen right then and there. Director Nelson watched them with her usual stern expression, while Tevoris appeared faintly amused. None of them looked bothered by the fact that they'd drastically altered hundreds of people's lives with only the barest attempt at disclosure.
Tevoris spoke again. "I've learned from my time here on Earth that the expression you both are looking for is, What the fuck?"
He wasn't wrong, Shane thought as he looked at the white-haired alien. "What do you and your people get out of sharing your DNA with humans?"
"The Zareenians need to increase the population. It's why my team and I were sent on the mission to make contact with Earth. My group was specifically looking for other races that are compatible with Zareenians. Humans fit the bill. We agreed to share our DNA to help your species evolve, and in exchange, we'll have new alphas, betas, and omegas to bring home to Planet Zareen. Human DNA will help increase our people's birth rate which unfortunately has always been low."
"Christ," Jalen whispered the curse. "At least you didn't kidnap people to be your alien brides."
"There were those among my people who wanted to do exactly that."
Shane's mouth dropped open at that calmly voiced atomic bomb. Before he could say anything in response however, Dr. Oliver tapped a forefinger on the table, bringing everyone's attention to him.
"To answer the Commander's question about the classifications, the people of Zareen have a secondary gender class: Alpha, Beta, and Omega. From our study of what Zareen and his team have shared with us, alphas are the most dominant of the three, usually larger in stature and tend to take on leadership roles. Omegas are the opposite, tending to be more submissive, and betas fall in the middle.”
Tevoris abruptly shifted in his chair but didn't interject so Dr. Oliver continued.
"As Tevoris just stated, Captain Morgan, you are an omega. And Lieutenant Commander Thomas, you're an alpha. We tried to hedge our bets by learning the recruits' personality traits with our quiz and injecting each of you with Zareenian DNA that aligned with the results. With Captain Morgan, we were spot on. However, in your case, we were incorrect in taking your personality answers as a Beta."
"I informed the Doctor and his staff the classifications don't work that way with one hundred percent surety and neither would injecting subjects with gene strands from a particular secondary gender, so their surprise is foolish."
"And the shared dreams and... attraction?" Jalen's voice sounded faint, lacking its usual vibrancy.
"Ah, yes. It appears as though you two are forming a bond," Dr. Oliver said with an indulgent smile.
"A bond?" Shane asked.
"He's your mate," Tevoris stated plainly. "Along with the Zareenian hardiness as Mr. Beals calls it, you get our sexual biology as well."
The room grew silent as Shane digested all of that info. Turning his head slightly, he looked at Jalen and saw that he sat ramrod straight, his expression stunned. Shane gave voice to a concern, one he was sure Jalen shared as well.
"Will this bond disqualify us from the program?"
Dr. Bakshi smiled and shook her head. "On the contrary. We're happy to see these changes, as it's proof that the gene mixing has been successful. And if you choose to pursue your relationship, every accommodation will be made for you to be together as a couple."
"It would be foolish for them not to be together," Tevoris coolly stated.
"What else is going to happen to us?" Jalen asked.
The doctors, director, and Beals exchanged glances. Director Nelson spoke for them.
"We'd prefer to let things continue to develop naturally, without interference from the med and science teams."
Years of training stopped Shane from disrespectfully snorting at his superior. None of this was natural. They were basically lab rats. Why would they be informed of the effects of the drug?
"Are we the only ones in this situation?"
"We can't disclose anyone else's medical information of course. But we have seen the effects beginning in others in the program. You two are the farthest along however."
"Can it be reversed?" Jalen asked the million-dollar question.
"I'm afraid not," Dr. Bakshi answered. "Our efforts have been geared toward enhancing human genetics."
The fact that they hadn't cared enough to develop a way out for those who didn't want to be enhanced was left unsaid.
"Is there anything else?" Beals asked in his usual jovial tone.
Shane shook his head no. He looked to Jalen who also shook his head.
"Great!" Beals rose from the table. "This is excellent news. And I've been informed that all of your test scores are through the roof. In fact, you two are neck and neck for the top spot in the program. We've still got over a month to go in the recruitment process, but I have a feeling you both will be fitted with a Beals Corp space suit soon." He winked at them then confidently strode from the room.
Once Beals was gone, Director Nelson rose as well. She nodded to everyone remaining at the table. "You're dismissed."
Shane and Jalen rose, saluting out of habit even though they weren't on a military base and she was retired from the force. They left, going back through the waiting room into the hallway. Silence hung heavy between them as they walked, until a soft whistle floated down the hall. In near unison, they stopped and turned to see Tevoris coming up behind them.
"I disagree with their plan to keep you in the dark about further changes," he said once he reached them. "There are some things you should know, if only for your own safety." He looked at Shane. "When you mate, you're going to knot him. Once that happens, you'll need to stay inside him until the knot goes down. Otherwise, there is risk of causing damage to your omega," he finished with a nod at Jalen.
"Knot?" A frown settled between Jalen's brows. "I don't understand."
"Perhaps my translator is malfunctioning," Tevoris said as he tapped his ear. He dropped his hand to his belt buckle. "I could show you my knot if that would help," he offered with a leering grin.
"That won't be necessary," Shane snapped.
Tevoris's grin widened. "Ah, yes. Definitely an alpha."
"Everyone is assuming that we're going to sleep together," Jalen said with quite a bit of frustration to his tone. "What happens if we don't?"
"The bonding has already begun, as evidenced by your heat dream."
The frown stayed on Jalen's face. "Heat?"
"Omegas go into heat. Their alphas respond by going into rut."
Anyone with basic knowledge of the animal kingdom could decipher that bit of information. Tevoris expounded on it anyway.
"Basically, you're going to want to fuck each other a lot for about three to five days. And you smell like your heat is about to hit you soon. It's why your alpha is so tense and is making sure to keep his body between us."
At that last comment, Shane took stock of himself. He realized he stood stiffly, his hands clenched into fists, feet planted wide, and shoulders angled to create a barrier between Jalen and Tevoris, who he suddenly recognized as another alpha. Shane's ears burned with embarrassment at being called out on something he hadn't even known he was doing. But he didn't relax his stance.
"If you don't mate, the effects will be unpleasant. You'll both experience unrelenting physical desire along with a general feeling of misery. If you separate from each other long enough before you complete the bond, eventually the effects will start to fade. But since you're confined to this campus..." He lifted his shoulders in a clear sign for you're shit out of luck. "I've said enough. I just wanted to give you two a chance to go about this with as little turmoil and mishap as possible."
He started backing away but left them with one final shot. "An omega in heat is a beautiful sight Commander Thomas." Tevoris grinned, following it up with a wink. "I hope you enjoy it."
* * *
Jalen stared as Tevoris disappeared down the hallway. He was still in shock that his DNA had been altered, spliced with an alien's. So much new and disturbing information ran through his head, he didn't know what to process first.
"Would you like to go and talk about this?"
Jalen gave himself a mental shake and responded to Shane's question. "Yeah. Let's go up to my room." They left the main building and returned to the residence tower, both of them silent the entire trip. When they reached his room, Jalen punched in the code and stepped inside, Shane following behind him. The door slid shut with a soft hiss, locking them in together. There were only two places to sit. Jalen sat on the bed and after a moment's hesitation, Shane took the desk chair. Jalen appreciated being given the space. He started the conversation with a lame attempt at a joke.
"So, at least we know they aren't turning us into space Banes."
Shane snorted a dry laugh even though Jalen's joke fell flat.
"They came damn close. I can't believe they experimented on us in such a permanent way, without informing us what they were doing. The ethics and legalities of it..." He rubbed his temples for a moment, clearly disturbed at what Beals Corp had done. "You asked if it can be reversed. Are you thinking about leaving the program?"
Jalen started shaking his head before Shane finished the question. "I still want to go to space. I just didn't think I'd have to have my genetic makeup altered to get there."
"Same here. I have a feeling anger is going to set in later, but right now I'm of the mind that what's done is done. Beals is the only one that has the ability to make a course correct on this, so leaving won't get it reversed, and we'd lose our shot at becoming space explorers. You remember what Dr. Bakshi said to that Sobelman guy."
Jalen dropped his head in his hands and laughed softly. "The answer we got was not the one I was expecting. I thought they'd tell us we'd been dosed with a shot of steroids, that for some reason had hallucinogenic effects. Instead we find out we're a new breed of humans. Fucking hell."
It was silent for a few moments as they let that information settle in. The sound of Shane shifting in his chair brought Jalen's head back up.
"We should probably discuss the other... the part about the bonding and..." He cleared his throat. "And heat."
Jalen caught the scent of arousal and anticipation as Shane spoke. He started in surprise at that. One, because it was beyond strange that he could smell and decipher emotions so clearly. But also, because for some reason, he'd assumed that since they knew these changes were manufactured by Beals Corp, that Shane's desire would fade away. Jalen looked at his friend, who shifted uncomfortably, a flush crawling up his neck. He was probably embarrassed that he was forced to feel this way.
"We don't have to of course," Shane said without making eye contact.
Again, Jalen shook his head. "No, we need to talk about it. Tevoris said that the effects of staying apart once the bonding has started will be rough." Jalen took a deep breath and admitted what he was feeling. "To be honest, I'm a little nervous about going through whatever this heat is on my own. Especially since they won't give us any more data. Maybe we could at least be together for support as we see what happens."
Shane slowly nodded. "That's probably for the best. And we can take each step as it comes."
Jalen asked a question for clarification. "And if those steps mean we have to be intimate, like we were in our dream?"
Now Shane looked directly at Jalen, some of the heat that had been there during their conversation that morning returning to his expression.
"I'm willing to go there if you are."
"You are?" In his surprise, Jalen practically squeaked the question, while that sultry internal whisper came again. Claim me.
"For the mission of course," Shane said as he straightened his shoulders. "We have to get through this to get to space, right? It's what we've always wanted. So, we'll look at it as a mission and do what we have to do to be successful."
"Right. For the mission," Jalen echoed. He kept his face and voice calm as he spoke, but Shane's comment left him feeling dull and... dry.
An awkward silence fell between them.
"We should give each other guest codes to our rooms," Shane finally said.
"Okay." Jalen took his data pad from his pants pocket, tapping through until he was on the screen to request a guest code. He pressed the submit button then waited as the Beals logo pulsed. A number popped up after a few seconds. "Ready?"
"257427," he read off.
"Got it. Yours is 337473."
Jalen typed the code into a note taking screen for safe keeping until he had it memorized.
After that, they sat there in another awkward silence, unsure what to do or say next. Shane made the first move.
"I'd better get going. I've got astronomy class in ten minutes."
He stood, and Jalen rose from his seat on the bed. However, neither of them moved more than that, they just stood there with nearly the entire width of the bedroom and the enormity of Beals Corp's actions between them.
"You think we'll be okay?" Shane asked.
"Absolutely," Jalen said with a determined nod. "The Zareenians are hardy, right? Now we are too."
Shane hesitated, as though he wanted to say something else. And although Jalen was near positive Shane hadn't meant okay physically, he didn’t say anything to correct his deliberate misunderstanding. He needed time to sit with everything they'd learned on his own, and for that, Shane had to leave. Thankfully, his friend seemed to understand he didn't want to talk anymore. After a quietly voiced goodbye, Shane turned and left the room.
Once Shane was gone, Jalen dropped back onto the bed. He didn't want to believe any of this was happening, but he couldn't deny the fact that his body was different. He was faster, his lungs inexplicably functioning better than they had when he was in his early twenties. He could smell Shane's emotions and they'd shared a dream.
Apparently, he'd even sensed another alpha's interest, recoiling from it because his body or his pheromones or whatever the fuck had already chosen Shane. So, unless everything that occurred since he'd arrived at Beals Corp was in fact one long hallucination, this was happening and he was an omega.
Jalen thought back to the questions on that survey when they'd first arrived, and the lab assistant's comment that his measurements were perfect for an omega. That remark made sense now, after Dr. Oliver stating that omegas tended to be smaller than alphas and betas. However, hearing that omegas fell on the submissive end of the scale gave him pause.
What did they really know about the Zareen culture? Beals Corp had been the first contact with the Zareenians seven years ago. After the initial, Hey, look! Aliens! news, they and the government had doled out very few details about Zareen society.
The military assured Americans that the Zareenians had no plans to attack them. NASA shared incredible details about the makeup of their planet and the galaxies beyond the Milky Way. And they'd all seen that Zareen physiology was extremely close to humans'.
But how was their society structured? And what did it mean that omegas were submissive? Were they second class citizens, forced to walk behind the more dominant groups with their heads down?
Jalen rubbed slightly damp palms on his pants and forced himself to stop worrying. If he were selected for the BE9 mission, he'd make the trip to planet Zareen and find out firsthand what it meant to be an omega. There was no question he was still excited about traveling to another planet. Now... He wouldn't say he was scared. But he was definitely concerned about just what he would find out there in the vastness of the universe.
* * *
Shane returned to his floor, thoughts swirling with everything he'd learned that morning as he walked. Once he was back in his room, he leaned against the door and closed his eyes. He knew he should be worried about the changes to his body, to his DNA, but all he could think about was Jalen. His dream, their dream was so close to becoming a reality. And he didn't mean their dream of going into space. The dream they'd shared last night filled his mind.
According to Tevoris, they would be together intimately very soon. Shane would finally have the chance to kiss and touch the man he'd desired for so long. The thought of having Jalen beneath him...
Shane groaned as arousal surged through his body. He put a hand at the front of his pants, rubbing his stiffening cock as he remembered Jalen's whisper: I want you inside me. He felt guilty as hell for being excited at the possibility of sexual contact with his friend, since it was coming about due to an experiment by scientists with shitty ethics.
Still... his fingers drifted up to dance over his zipper as he debated whether he had time to get himself off before class. He couldn't wait for Jalen to go into heat.
Whelp, there you go. We have a few questions answered - including the big one. Beals dosed their recruits with alien DNA just so they could send space ships to explore new planets. Shady! Now, Jalen's heat is coming. How will our boys handle it? Find out next week on First Alpha!
Promotional Consideration Paid for by the Following:
The giant box of Chewy Lemon Head & Friends I ate while writing this.
P.S. There's a code in here! (It's the codes Jalen and Shane exchange) If you crack it you'll unlock a prize! Send me your answer (PM if you're reading this on AO3, WP or Tumblr. Email at email@example.com if you're reading on my blog.) and I'll put the first five correct people on the list to receive a free advanced e-copy of book one in the Alpha Omega Force series.
The next two days went by in a blur of activity. Shane and Jalen managed to move past their kiss and the resulting awkwardness by pretending it didn't happen. They had to. There was too much at stake to worry about interpersonal relationships. It was uncomfortable the first few times they ran into each other, or were in the same training, but with each meeting they relaxed until they were smiling and friendly once more. Of course, with the awkwardness gone, that meant they started spending time together again. Like now.
Shane, Jalen, an aerobatic stunt pilot named Charlie, and Aaron, the civilian teacher from Zero G, were all having coffee together as they waited for their first training of the day to start. The sky hung low and gloomy, the air damp with drizzling rain. Shane was fine hanging out with Jalen. Except for one small problem.
Whenever Shane wasn't focused on a task to be completed, he was focused on Jalen. He was drawn to Jalen's presence, wanted to pull the smaller man against his body and hold him close, shielding him from the rain while they waited for the instructor. He wanted to bring Jalen to his room so they could curl up in his bed and fall asleep together. Then he'd wake Jalen up with slow kisses and-.
Shane took a big mouthful of hot coffee, scalding his tongue in an effort to put a stop to that train before it could gather any steam. He swallowed the liquid down, still clueless on where these sudden lust-filled thoughts for his friend were coming from. He was starting to think they were brought about by exhaustion.
When he'd looked at his schedule two days ago, his eyebrows had shot up in surprise. Class after class after class was listed, with breaks in-between so short there was barely enough time to get from one training area to the next, and a short twenty-minute lunch. In addition, all of the pilots in the program had twice been pulled from their beds in the middle of the night for a flight simulation course, while others in different segments of the program were given their own late-night assessments.
Shane understood why the schedule was so full. It was Beals Corp's own version of Hell Week. Beals wanted to see who could handle the rigorous training and who would crack under the pressure. Because it was a sure bet if a recruit couldn't handle the pressure on earth under controlled conditions, they wouldn't be able to deal with it in space on a ship where help was beyond reach.
So far, Shane and most of his fellow recruits were holding steady. No one left on the first day of the packed schedule. But after two days of nearly non-stop training and middle of the night wake-up calls, three recruits had buckled and left the program. So, including the man who refused to accept the Beals enhancement that brought the total withdrawals to four. A small number considering there were close to three hundred people in the program. Cuts would probably be coming soon and Shane didn't want to be among those released.
"Look alive," Jalen said.
Shane looked down at Jalen, then followed his nod to see three people approaching from the direction of the main building. A bald, stocky man with a hard jaw, and narrowed eyes led the way, with two Beals staff members following close behind. The lead man had undoubtedly been a drill sergeant before he came to Beals as an instructor because the first thing he did was issue an order in a voice rough from overuse.
The four of them stood shoulder to shoulder in a short line and waited while one of the assistants verified everyone's ID badge. When she was finished, she stepped to the side for their instructor to continue.
"This morning, you're being trained and assessed for wilderness first aid. It will serve as the backbone for what you will do if you're ever on an uninhabited or hostile planet with a wounded team member. Gear bags with first aid kits are inside the tent. Get in there and grab one," he directed.
They all stepped into the three-sided tent, tossed their reusable coffee cups in the collection bin and selected a bag. They were small and black with a hard-shell cover. One of the assistants listed off the contents as the recruits went through their bags to verify they had everything: material for splints, emergency allergy auto-injector, a knife, hydration capsules, squares of material that looked like patches for a raft or air mattress, and more. After they finished their inventory, the instructor gave them the assignment.
"Your job is to find your assigned wounded dummy using your locator beacon. You will get them stabilized in the field, then bring them back to the tent using the gurney in your pack. However. This is not like regular wilderness first aid. Do not under any circumstances remove the wounded person's helmet. When you're out there on some random planet it might not have an atmosphere that you can breathe in and survive. We're building the habit now to always leave helmets on in emergency situations. Also, for the same reason, you are not to remove the wounded's space suit."
Shane frowned. How were they supposed to assess damage if they couldn't remove the suit?
Their instructor nodded at one of his assistants. "Show ‘em."
With an excited grin, the assistant stepped forward and dramatically whipped the cover off a draped object in the center of the tent, revealing a mannequin wearing a skin tight black suit and glossy black helmet. The suit lit up in several places, glowing yellow in some spots and red in others.
"This is the brand new Beals Space Suit. It is not a prototype. Those of you who are selected for BE9 will wear this gear on your mission. The suit is designed to function as an exoskeleton for your bodies, and it monitors your vitals. As you can see on the mannequin, it displays wounded areas. Minor injuries do not light up. Serious, but non-life-threatening injuries glow yellow. Red indicates severe blood loss. The only time you have permission to open an astronauts suit is over a red zone. To do so, you'll make an incision in the suit. Pour the blood clotting agent on the wound, then immediately secure the incision with the uniform patch. Any questions?"
The information and instructions were delivered rapid-fire, with barely enough time for them to absorb it. Still, the four of them shook their heads no to the instructor’s question.
"Okay, then. You'll be scored on sufficient treatment of your dummy's injuries and speed in returning it to base. Move out."
They all took off across the short expanse of grass before separating at the tree line. Shane headed into the forest at an easy jog, carefully watching the terrain in front of him while frequently checking the screen on his locator. The forest floor was soft and thick with wet pine needles that absorbed the sound of his footsteps, and the birds and other forest animals were quiet as they hid from the increasingly heavy rain. Shane heard nothing over the raindrops plopping on his head and shoulders, except for the sound of his breathing, and the steady beep-beep of the locator.
He followed the signal, staying on the course it displayed until he approached a small clearing. He'd just gained a visual of his wounded dummy on the other side of the clearing when an explosion went off with a loud boom. Smoke poured into the area, obscuring his vision. Shane hunkered down and waited. It wouldn't do him or his "team member" any good if he stumbled blindly into the smoke and inadvertently injured himself. He had to keep himself safe in order to help others.
Once the smoke cleared and he could visually vet the area was clear, he moved forward again. His dummy lay on the ground, right foot turned at a bad angle, the suit glowing yellow above the ankle. There was also a red glow on the dummies right side just above its waist.
"Okay," Shane muttered to himself as he decided on a plan of action. He nodded and got to work. Shrugging off his pack, he took out the supplies he'd need to address the more serious injury first. A small cut opened up the suit, and he ripped it the rest of the way so as not to risk cutting the mannequin's simulated wound.
Mindful of the fact that if they were in an atmosphere hostile to humans he'd be exposing the wound to possible harmful bacteria, he moved quickly, dumping on the clotting agent to temporarily stop the bleeding and close the wound, then applying the patch to seal the uniform. After that, he applied a soft splint to immobilize the injured ankle.
When he finished with the field dressings, he dug into his pack again for the portable gurney. It was a slightly heavy square of folded plastic about the size of a dinner plate, with a thick strap holding it closed. The first button opened it up like an automatic raft. Shane cursed at having to drag the inflatable gurney back to camp because it would probably be faster if he carried the dummy over his shoulders. But there was another button.
Shane pressed it and to his surprise, the gurney lifted off the ground a few inches, hovering just high enough not to drag on the ground. There was no way the instructor forgot to mention that piece of information, so taking the time to find out how the gurney functioned was obviously part of the assessment and training.
Shane set off, pulling the dummy behind him. He had to put a little effort into it, since the gurney wasn't self-propelled but the hovering ability made the task of moving his wounded much easier. He made it back to the base camp first. Upon his arrival, one of the assistants checked over his dummy. All areas had been properly treated and he was given the thumbs up.
"Good work, Thomas."
Once his score was recorded, the four of them turned to watch the forest and wait for the others to arrive. Shane wasn't surprised to see Jalen emerge next. He quick-jogged toward them, his face set with determination as he pulled the weight of the dummy behind him. It was several more minutes before Aaron showed up, with Charlie a few paces behind. All three mannequins were assessed, with all three receiving passing scores.
"Good job, men."
Charlie was red-faced and panting from exertion but raised a hand to get the instructor's attention. "Sir. I'm not..." Charlie paused to gulp in a deep breath. "We're not all men. I’m non-binary, sir."
"My apologies. Good job, everyone," the instructor corrected himself before moving on. "Your scores will be submitted shortly. Return your packs and move out for your next assessment."
At the dismissal, Shane turned to Jalen. Rain dripped down his nose and drops of water sparkled on his eyelashes. But he was smiling.
"Another assessment passed with flying colors." Jalen looked over his shoulder at the mannequin in the center of the tent. "I'm going to look good in that space suit."
Shane silently agreed. He ran his eyes down Jalen's slim build, picturing it encased in the skin-tight material. As he looked at his friend, Shane smelled the rain and the cut grass under their boots. But beneath those outdoorsy smells was the warm, elusive scent he'd first noticed in the hallway after his Zero G training. The scent that he knew came from Jalen. Although he hadn’t brought it up after his initial inquiry to Jalen about cologne, he continued to be teased by the elusive scent. It didn’t always show up when they were together, but when it did, Shane wanted nothing more than to pull Jalen close and breathe him in.
Charlie and Aaron approached, grabbing their attention and distracting Shane from thoughts of his friend. They all congratulated each other on passing the first aid assessment before heading back to the main building.
Inside, Charlie pulled out their data pad. "Wow. I literally don't have time to dry off before my next class."
Everyone else checked their schedules as well.
"Neither do I," Jalen grumbled.
Aaron shook his head, indicating he didn't have any spare time either.
"We'd better get moving then," Shane said. They went their separate ways after his informal dismissal, wet boots squeaking down the halls. Shane made his way to one of the research labs for more practice with the neural translator.
And so, the day went on.
Sitting in class learning the Galaxy BMS 4425 system.
Mock repairs of engine components during a water walk.
A high-level mathematics test.
Studying the schematics of the BE9 ship.
Then dinner, where he'd observed a few heads nearly nodding over into plates as the recruits ate.
Now, mentally and physically exhausted, Shane returned to his room. He stripped naked, placing his wrinkled uniform in the hamper because even as tired as he was, he refused to leave clothes on the floor. Then he trudged into the shower and turned it on. He let the water beat down on his tired muscles, thanking the stars above that the campus had excellent water pressure, and an apparently unlimited supply of hot water, since it was a good bet that nearly everyone else in the exploration program was showering right then as well. Including Jalen.
Shane groaned and squeezed his eyes shut tight. But that didn't stop the image blooming in his head of Jalen wet and naked in the shower, soap suds slipping down his back to slide between the round curves of his ass. The picture was so vivid, so enticing, he raised a hand, fingertips tingling as he imagined tracing them along the path the bubbles had taken.
Fuck. Shane swore as he dropped his hand. What was wrong with him? His constant thoughts of Jalen hadn't been this bad since he was a teenager, with hormones raging out of control, and secretly crushing on his best friend.
Cursing again, he abruptly switched the water to cold, shocking himself, and effectively scaring away the erection that was valiantly trying to get started despite his exhaustion. After a few seconds under the icy spray, Shane turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. He dried off, yanked on briefs and pajama bottoms on the chance they were pulled out of bed in the middle of the night for another test, then collapsed on top of the covers. Sleep would come easy tonight; his eyes were already closed as he lay his head on the pillow. But as he drifted off, one word ran through his mind... Jalen.
Shane opened his eyes. He looked around, unsure if he was awake or dreaming. His head was clear, as though he were awake. But the last thing he remembered was falling asleep. In addition, the area around him appeared oddly... amorphous. He stood in a dark, empty space but somehow, he knew if he went forward that would change.
As he slowly started walking, the darkness gradually lightened, revealing a moonlit bedroom. Shane recognized it as one of the rooms in the Beals residence tower but it wasn't his. The window was on the wrong side, and the dresser was dark wood instead of gray like the one that held his clothes. Also, there was someone in the bed.
Jalen lay there, face down, one knee drawn up. The sheets were tangled half off his naked body, and his hips rolled in a slow, hypnotic rhythm that mesmerized Shane. From his position, Shane could just see the curve of Jalen's balls hanging between his legs when he raised his hips, then plumping up when they pressed against the bed. It was a gorgeous sight, one he could have watched for hours. But even in his dream state, Shane knew this wasn't something he should watch without permission. He needed to make his presence known.
"Jalen," he said hoarsely.
Jalen stopped his movements, quickly turning onto his back. "Shane," he said in surprise.
Everything was so sharp; the colors bright, Jalen's face and expression in focus. Shane could even see the scar on his friend's thigh from when he'd fallen out of a tree when they were fourteen. He moved closer to the bed and reached out slowly, running his fingers over the old wound. The skin was soft, the texture different from that of the skin around it. "This is a really realistic dream."
"Yeah," Dream Jalen agreed. He raised a hand and held it out to Shane in an invitation to join him.
Shane looked down and saw that he was naked. Had he always been naked or had his clothes disappeared? It didn't matter. All that mattered was that Jalen was inviting him into his bed. Shane went gladly, first kneeling on the mattress, then easing on top of his friend. They both shuddered as bare, heated flesh slid together. Shane had never had a dream feel so real before, but he decided to roll with it.
He lowered his head, gently pressing a kiss to Jalen's full lips. When Jalen's lips parted beneath his, Shane softly sucked at the full bottom one before sliding his tongue inside Jalen's mouth. Jalen moaned and licked him back.
"This is just a dream," Shane whispered between kisses. "It's okay if we do this."
"Yes, it's okay," Jalen agreed again. "I like it."
Shane stroked a hand down Jalen's side to grasp his thigh, tugging him into place so their bodies fit closer together. "Me too." Their kisses and touches grew more heated after that, their hips rolling, silky hard erections rubbing together. That delicious scent came again, the one Shane had wrongly thought came from phantom baked goods. "You smell amazing," he said as he brushed his lips over Jalen's jaw and down his throat.
"So do you," Jalen panted. "I never noticed before but you smell so good."
More kisses followed. Soft, wet kisses that stoked their arousal to a fever pitch, the bed softly squeaking as their bodies rocked together. His thrusts made Jalen pant and moan. Jalen's thighs squeezing Shane's hips made him groan and thrust harder. He could come like this. He would come like this if they continued, but Jalen's next words made him realize he could have more.
"I want you inside me," Jalen whispered into Shane's ear.
Shane's cock throbbed at those words. That's what he wanted too, more than anything. He raised his hips slightly, so that Jalen could slip a hand between them and touch what he wanted.
Jalen gently grasped Shane's cock, guiding him to his entrance without hesitation. Just as Shane began to press inside, Jalen started to disappear, melting away into mist right before Shane's eyes.
"Don't leave," he begged.
His dark eyes wide, Jalen clung to him in a panic. "I don't want to go!"
Shane desperately tried to push forward again, to keep the dream going, but it was too late, Jalen was gone...
Shane jolted awake, eyes popping wide open. His cock throbbed and he didn't stop to think. He just shoved his pajama pants and briefs down beneath his balls, took his cock in hand and stroked tight and fast. Within seconds he was coming, with an unusually deep groan rumbling in his chest, and cum spurting hot and thick on his belly.
He kept stroking through the pulsing climax, hips rising as he frantically tried to push into the body of the man who should be there with him. To his frustration however, there was nothing for him to thrust into. He was alone.
The climax ended, his body stilled and Shane lay there with his softening cock in his hand, more asleep than awake. When sunlight eased into the room, clearing the lust haze and fog of sleep from his head, Shane sat up. That dream. It was more realistic than any he'd ever had and he remembered every second of it. Although he was tempted to blow it off as his subconscious manifesting his desires in a less than subtle way, he was more than a little unnerved by the tone and sharpness of what he'd just experienced.
Unfortunately, he wasn't sure what to do about it. Things were just getting back to normal between him and Jalen after their unexpected kiss. And how did one broach the topic of a sex dream about their friend without coming off as a total creeper? It didn't seem possible and he didn't want to ruin their friendship. Especially now when they were so close to achieving their goal of going into space together. Shane stared out the window at the slowly dawning day, wondering what he should do.
* * *
Jalen slowly drifted awake, becoming aware of things in stages. He lay face down, arms wrapped around his pillow. His body burned with heat. He slowly humped the mattress. And the front of his briefs were wet.
That last piece of information made Jalen still his movements and open his eyes. After a second's hesitation, he rolled onto his back and peeked beneath the covers in disbelief. What the fuck? He'd ejaculated in his sleep like a teenager.
While Jalen stared at the wet spot on the front of his underwear, the memory of just what and who had been the cause of his nocturnal emission hit his brain. Jalen shot upright in bed as he remembered that dream. The vividness of it. Shane's voice, the warmth of their skin pressed together, the startling coherence where they'd carried on a conversation with none of the meandering tangents of most dreams. Plus, the fact that he'd smelled Shane. And not in the way that something was in his room, influencing his senses. That scent was uniquely Shane and there was nothing in his room now that resembled it.
All of those details combined with the fact that he'd thought Shane looked bigger, and their out of character kiss had him wondering if these unusual occurrences could be traced back to the Beals Corp enhancements. The recruits still hadn't been told what they'd been injected with, or even what the classifications meant. Maybe it was time to find out.
Jalen threw back the covers, grimacing at the feel of his cold, damp briefs pressing against his crotch. He quickly stripped out of them, tossing them in the small hamper on his way to the bathroom. After a quick shower, he dressed in his uniform, made his bed with military school precision, and left the room.
He decided to go and talk to Shane first and see if he'd experienced anything suspicious too. If he had, they could compare notes and decide how to handle the situation together. But Jalen didn't make it to Shane's room. He'd just turned onto the hall with the elevator when it chimed to announce a car's arrival. Shane stepped out. He noticed Jalen and immediately walked toward him.
Jalen stopped and stared at Shane as he approached. He'd always thought the other man was attractive, but in a detached, this is Shane my hot friend, sort of way. More recently that aesthetic appreciation had turned into genuine attraction. But now...
Now, Jalen thought Shane was gorgeous, and the sight of that big body, with its bulging biceps, hard thighs - and god he could see the outline of a deliciously thick cock - coming toward him made Jalen want to fall to his knees and worship Shane from the ground up. With his mouth. Jalen shook his head, trying to dislodge those lust-filled thoughts from his brain.
"Hey," Jalen quietly greeted his friend, hoping none of what he was thinking showed on his face. "I was just coming to see you."
"You were? Why?"
Jalen cleared his throat. Embarrassed but determined to find out what was going on, he forced himself to be truthful. "This sounds really cheesy. But I dreamed about you. And it felt... "
Jalen frowned as an out of this world suspicion started to form. "Yeah," he said slowly.
"I dreamed about you too. And the whole time it felt like I was actually touching you."
Shock settled in Jalen's stomach as they stared at each other in disbelief. The electric charge and hyper awareness that seemed to appear whenever they were near each other returned, stronger than ever before. This time there was no mistaking the fact that it was heavily tinged with desire. Jalen could see it in the way those green eyes watched him, heavy-lidded but so intense as they focused on him. That same wonderful scent he remembered from his dream was in the air. It made him want to close his eyes and press his body close against Shane, so the scent would surround him, cover him.
Jalen swallowed hard, fighting back the urge to rub against his friend like a cat in heat. He was an Air Force captain and fighter pilot. He could control his body's physical urges, even ones as strange and new as what he was experiencing now. Still, his voice trembled when he asked his question. "Touching me?"
Shane nodded. He moved forward, guiding Jalen into a small alcove near the elevator bank.
Jalen took several steps backward, allowing Shane to tuck them away into the nook. Anyone who walked down the hallway would only see Shane's back if they deliberately looked to their left as they passed the elevators, but nothing else. Once they were in relative privacy, Shane continued.
"Intimately. In a way I've never touched you before."
"I was on my bed."
"And you came over and joined me and we kissed."
"Yes," Shane said with a nod. "And you... you wanted me inside you." His voice deepened. "Tried to guide me there."
Jalen's heart pounded, his body tingling with arousal as he remembered everything that happened in his head as he slept. He stared up at Shane - who was definitely bigger, there was no denying it when they were this close - completely shocked that they were describing the exact same dream. "How is this possible? People don't share dreams."
Shane braced a hand on the wall above Jalen's head. "I don't know, but I can't stop thinking about you. Not when I'm awake and apparently not when I'm asleep either."
He leaned down, pressing his face to Jalen's throat and breathing in. Warm breath gently blew over Jalen's skin as Shane exhaled, making him shiver in reaction. Before he could stop himself, he tilted his head to the side, allowing Shane to nuzzle in even closer. Two words whispered softly in Jalen's mind. Claim me. The words and the feeling behind them were strange, as though they came from a new part of him. But they felt so right, he almost parted his lips to say them out loud.
"Something is wrong," he managed to say instead.
Shane breathed in once more before he straightened. "Definitely. And even though you smell really good, and all I want to do is to take you back to my room to finish what we started in our dream, we should go find out what's happening to us."
Jalen licked his lips, his belly trembling with desire at Shane's blunt honesty. He felt the same way about continuing where they left off, but this wasn't like them, and they needed to find out what was going on. "I agree." Shane stepped back, giving Jalen room to move from the little hideaway.
"What do you think? Should we go to Doctor Bakshi or Doctor Oliver?"
Jalen considered a moment before shaking his head in response to Shane's suggestion. "No. We should start higher than that. Beals said the buck stops with Director Nelson, right? Let's go see what she has to say."
We're at the halfway mark! Now that they've been sexually frustrated by that mean old dream, I think it's time the found out what the heck is going on.
Thank you for reading and let me know what you think in the comments. =)
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Two days after receiving the mysterious icy injection, Jalen was fully immersed in the Beals Space Exploration Program. This was their third full day on the campus, and each one had been busy practically from sunup to sunset. He'd been tested in group projects where he and his team members had to successfully navigate different survival scenarios in simulated alien terrain. He'd spent hours in classes learning the star maps of Galaxy BMS 4425 - the location of planet Zareen, and the specifics of the highly advanced beacon space navigation system. And most interesting so far - other than the flight simulator - practicing with the neural translator.
The translator allowed the wearer to understand almost any language spoken to them. The technology was impressive; sleek, light, and smaller than his sister's cochlear implant. The Beals tech running that training session admitted it was one of the few items they'd taken wholesale from the Zareenians. Tevoris was there as well, and he'd smiled smugly at the tech's admission. The translators they'd used in the training were temporary, as the permanent models required specific adjustments for each wearer. As a result, there'd been a slight lag between Tevoris speaking in his native language and Jalen understanding him.
Jalen had been fascinated by it, as languages were an area of interest for him. He spoke English of course, but also Spanish, and serviceable Russian since that had long been a requirement for astronauts. He also knew enough not to be an annoying tourist in French-speaking countries and was fluent in American Sign Language. His immediate family had all dedicated time learning to sign after one of the twins was diagnosed with congenital hearing loss.
Now, Jalen stood at the starting line on the indoor running track. He and everyone else in the program were undergoing another physical assessment. This time Beals was looking at their VO2 Max, general lung capacity and probably a host of other things. Each recruit on the track wore a small, digital VO2 mask, while Coach Staggs stood in front of the group, a clipboard in his hand, and a silver whistle around his neck.
"I want to remind you all this isn't a race. It's simply for our department to get a reading on your physical abilities. Your goal isn't to beat the guy next to you. Your goal is to give us the most accurate read out of the way your lungs convert oxygen during exertion."
Everyone agreed, but a few of the people lined up laughed. Jalen smirked as well. He hated running for the sake of running, he preferred a pigskin tucked close to his chest, a crowd cheering him on and an end goal in sight, but once the bell went off his drive to win wouldn't let him languish at an easy speed. He'd be at the front of the pack aiming for the fastest time.
The coach shook his head, apparently realizing his reminder was falling on deaf ears. He stepped off the track, conferring one last time with his assistants before they got started.
As he waited, Jalen lifted his foot, grabbing his toes behind him to stretch his quad. He looked off to the side, where the next groups to be tested waited on the sidelines. Jalen's eyes went directly to Shane. That was a new development, but it seemed to be happening a lot lately. He didn't know whether to blame it on the fact that they were thrown together after so long apart or that he didn't know anyone else there. But over the past two days, Shane had constantly been on his mind.
That wasn't the only new development. Somehow, Shane looked even bigger than when he'd arrived. Jalen wasn't sure how that could be true, they weren't exactly working on bulking up in the recruitment program. And at twenty-seven, Shane should definitely be finishing growing in height. But... Jalen ran his eyes down the length of his friend's tall, mountain man-esque build, his eyes catching on the thick thighs straining the fabric of his shorts. He really did look bigger.
Jalen dragged his gaze back up from those powerful thighs and saw that Shane was watching him. Heat skittered over Jalen's skin and he quickly looked away, embarrassed to be caught staring.
What was wrong with him? Jalen switched to stretching the other quad, then released his foot to jog in place. He hadn't come here with the goal in mind of hooking up with anyone - least of all his old friend. So why was he ogling Shane like the man was an all you can eat buffet and Jalen had just walked in the door double-fisting forks?
"Runners, affix your masks and take your marks."
Jalen snapped out of his internal dialogue and got ready to run. He tugged the Beals Tech digital VO2 mask securely over his mouth and nose and shook his legs out one last time. Once everyone was in place - some partially kneeling in a traditional sprinter's stance, some in a more relaxed, upright pose like Jalen - the coach blew the whistle. The pack took off, Jalen near the head of it.
Even though he was focused on making sure he won this not a race, he couldn't help but notice that his stride felt smoother, his lungs easily pulling in air to fuel his blood and muscles as he sprinted around the track. Jalen lowered his chin, his eyes intense as he brought up a sudden burst of speed. The people near him were nothing but a blur of flesh tones and the gray of their PT uniforms, their running feet an indistinct thunder of noise in his ear. Soon all of that receded even further as he pulled away from the pack. He might be smaller than nearly everyone else on the track with him, but he was fast. Faster than them. And he proved it by crossing the finish line first.
Jalen ran it out a few extra steps, gradually easing to a stop. As instructed before the race, he left the VO2 mask on, but his grin behind it was huge as he left the track with a significant amount of swagger to his step. He made his way over to one of the staff members. She recorded his volume of oxygen, as well as a dozen other details. Coach Staggs walked past just as Jalen unbuckled the mask from the back of his head.
"I said that wasn't a race, Captain Morgan." Staggs paused, then smiled a bit. "But you have great form and speed. Could have used you in the St. Louis games eight years ago."
"Thank you, sir," Jalen said as he nodded his acceptance of the compliment. It was high praise coming from an actual former Olympics track coach. The coach nodded back and moved on down the line of recruits. Still full of adrenaline, Jalen lightly jogged over to meet Shane on the sideline.
"You looked good out there."
He accepted the bottle of water Shane handed him. "Thanks. That was my best time ever. Guess having a crowd of people at my back was a big motivator."
"Maybe you should have run cross country instead of playing football."
Jalen pulled a face. "No way. Cross country is entirely too much running. And they have to get up way too early in the morning."
Shane threw back his head, a deep laugh rumbling from his chest. "I swear, I don't know how you ended up as a running back with as much as you hate running."
Jalen grinned himself. "The shorts bursts I can handle. Anything more than that is ridiculous." He eyed his friend as Shane continued to laugh. "You seem bigger," he said once Shane quieted.
Shane looked down at himself. "No, my clothes are just smaller. Had to send in for new uniforms since they shrank in the wash, but I didn't bother with my PT gear. Figured I'd let the tight t-shirts show off my muscles."
Jalen looked Shane over again, not accepting the smaller clothes theory. "My uniform didn't shrink."
"Maybe the person in charge of my floor's laundry used the wrong setting." Shane shrugged, clearly unconcerned.
"Hmmm... maybe." That explanation was as good as any, but Jalen still felt like they lined up differently than they had before. He started to say as much, but just then, a tall blond recruit walked past. The man looked at Jalen, giving him the type of smile that was usually followed by an offer to buy him a drink. Jalen wrinkled his nose and took a step back in a near visceral rejection. The man didn't stink, so Jalen didn't know why he'd reacted that way. Shane took a step to the left, effectively putting his body between Jalen and the other man. It was done so quickly and naturally that Jalen didn't know whether Shane had done it on purpose or not.
It didn't matter. The man was gone, while Shane was still there looking down at him. He didn't say anything, but something, crackled in the air between them. A charge so electric that when Jalen drew in a breath, he expected to smell the petrichor of a coming storm. He didn't. Instead he inhaled a heady scent that was hot and powerful, and made arousal pool low in his belly. Jalen abruptly took another step back, out of the shadow of Shane's bulk, and away from that big body that seemed to be radiating heat.
"They're calling the next group to the track," he said to cover for his reaction.
Shane stared at him for what felt like an endlessly long moment, both of them unnaturally still while everyone around them moved and talked and laughed. Then, with unspoken questions in his green eyes, he nodded before going to take his place at the starting line. Jalen watched him go, a warm flush spreading across his skin as he once again noted his friend's powerful build. Deciding to head back to the residence hall and beat the lunch rush, Jalen left the track. He'd originally planned to stay to watch Shane's assessment and eat with him afterward. But after that exchange, he thought it would be in his best interest if he put a little distance between the two of them.
Hours later, Jalen sat up in bed. It was late, and he'd been actively busy from sunup to sunset learning Beals flight technology, taking physical tests, and sitting for math assessments, but he wasn't even remotely tired. On the contrary, he was restless in a way he'd never been before. His skin tingled, hyper sensitive to the chill air stirring in the room, and he was unusually aware of the clothes on his body. It seemed as though he could smell everything: people, food from the cafeteria on the ground floor, the roses outside. And his thoughts kept returning to Shane, over and over, wondering where he was, what he was doing.
They'd always been close, but this sudden laser focus on his friend was driving him mad. And the more Jalen thought of him, the more his blood hummed. He needed to burn off some of this energy. They'd worked out that day in addition to the VO2 Max test, but more exercise might help him settle down to sleep.
At the thought of finding peace through physical exertion, Jalen got up from the bed. He was already dressed in sweats and a t-shirt so he pulled on socks and tennis shoes, grabbed a bottle of water from the small fridge and left his room.
Other recruits milled around the halls, and he said hello to the faces he recognized as he made his way to the smallest of the gyms on the campus. It was on the ground floor of the residence tower at the far end of the building from the cafeteria. Once inside he looked around, trying to determine what he wanted to do. Running wasn't his favorite thing, so the treadmill was out. He started to head toward the free weights but changed his mind when he spied the speed bag. That's what he needed to burn up this strange energy. Some fast footwork while he pounded away at something.
He quickly yet carefully taped his wrists, then stretched after jogging in place for a few moments. Once he'd warmed up, he started working the speed bag. He quickly fell into a groove, his fists landing on the leather with a satisfying thud, feet moving as he ducked under the bag, and popped up on the other side for more strikes. It felt good to be active, letting the physical exertion clear his head.
The first drops of sweat were beading on his forehead and trickling down his spine when the sound of the door opening drew his attention. Jalen stopped for a second, prepared to be polite and greet whomever was entering before getting back to his workout. But it was Shane there. Jalen sucked in a quick breath, his budding peace instantly gone.
Shane looked almost confused to see him, before his face eased into a familiar smile.
"Hey, how are you?" he asked as he crossed the room.
Jalen shrugged, deciding not to share the full extent of his issue with his friend. "Felt a little restless so decided to get in another workout."
Shane huffed a laugh. "Same. What do you think about giving that poor speed bag a rest and sparring instead?"
Jalen arched a brow. "Against you?"
Shane arched his own brow. "There's no one else in here."
"You're on." Jalen couldn't resist that cocky challenge. He went back to the supply cabinet and drew on a pair of sparring gloves, took off his socks and shoes, then waited while Shane got gloved and stretched. When he was ready, he joined Jalen on the mat.
After a quick handshake, they squared off, lightly bouncing on the balls of their feet while sizing each other up. They hadn't sparred together since military school. Shane had always won their earliest rounds using his greater bulk and reach. However, once Jalen got tired of losing, he'd learned a few tricks, as well as a style that used his smaller size to his advantage. After that, they were more evenly matched. And Jalen had greatly increased his skill since their school days.
Shane aimed a quick jab at Jalen's jaw, but he easily ducked the blow. "You're not pulling your punches, are you?" he teasingly asked as he danced away from Shane's long reach.
"Against you?" Shane parroted the words back. "Never."
Jalen rolled his eyes because Shane was definitely pulling his punches. Technically they both were, since they were only sparring. Regardless, they got a little more serious, each looking for weaknesses in the other to exploit. Jalen tried a middle round kick and was blocked. Shane tried to grab him in a double tie so he could catch him with a knee, but Jalen countered and escaped just in time.
The action sped up, and it became more difficult to evade the moves Shane came at him with. So, Jalen focused on a favorite strategy: faking his opponent out. Shane was too smart to fall for obvious tells, like looking where he planned to strike or concentrating on a specific body part. Which meant he needed to be subtler. Every fighter had a side they favored. Most led with their right and their opponents defended themselves accordingly.
However, Jalen was a southpaw, and Shane knew that. He'd set his stance to defend against Jalen's left-handed moves and Jalen played into it. Then without warning, Jalen switched it up. He started striking with a right lead that had just as much power as his left. Shane frowned, shifting as he adjusted his defense. So, Jalen switched back to a left lead, forcing Shane to adjust again, looking visibly frustrated and off balance.
Jalen took advantage of his opponent's momentary confusion on where his next strike would come from and darted in close. Gripping Shane's arm, he jumped up and wrapped his legs around Shane's neck in a scissors hold. He swung down and around, using his momentum to flip Shane to the ground. They fell to the mat, Shane on his back and Jalen landing on top of him. Jalen locked his legs around Shane's thighs to hold him in place and braced a forearm over the bigger man's throat.
"I won," he said with a smug grin.
Shane didn't answer for several heartbeats. "Yes, you did," he finally said.
Shane's response made Jalen pause. The timber to his voice was... off. Jalen slightly tilted his head to the side, his brows drawing together in a frown as he tried to figure it out. They were both still, Shane quietly staring up at Jalen and Jalen staring right back. Suddenly, Shane drew in a deep breath, his chest rising, and nostrils flaring.
The tension and electricity between them returned, dancing over Jalen's sensitive skin, making the hair on his arms stand up. He ran his tongue over his lip, and Shane's eyes dropped to watch. When they rose to meet Jalen's again, they caught the light in an odd way that made them shine silver for a moment. Jalen became excruciatingly aware that he was straddling Shane's lap, their groins just shy of pressing together. Before he could move however, Shane gently grasped Jalen's arm, sliding it away from his throat. Then, their gazes still locked, Shane pulled him down. He went slowly, while Jalen's heartbeats sped up with every breath of space that closed between them.
When there was no space left, their lips met. Jalen gasped in surprise, and Shane seized the advantage to stroke his tongue between Jalen's parted lips. He placed a hand at the small of Jalen's back, then smoothed it down, cupping his ass, holding him in place as he rolled his hips up. Caught up in the unexpected swirl of arousal, Jalen's eyes slid shut and he instinctively pressed his own hips down, moving in tandem with Shane to rub their hardening shafts together. It felt... good. So good that Jalen softly moaned into their kiss, wanting to touch Shane, wanting to feel Shane's hands all over his body claiming him.
The odd thought broke him out of the sensual haze he drifted in. He jerked backwards, ending the kiss and tumbling off his friend to land on the mat. They stared at each other in silence once more. Except this time, Shane's green eyes were wide, mirroring the shock that had Jalen's heart pounding.
"I'm sorry," Shane apologized as he slowly sat up. "I... I don't know what came over me."
Jalen didn't have a clue how to respond to that. He didn't know what had come over him either. Didn't know why they'd kissed, didn't know why it felt so right, and didn't know why he'd had that odd thought about being claimed. Since he didn't have any answers, Jalen pushed himself to his feet, grabbed his shoes and walked off, leaving both the gym and Shane behind without looking back.
* * *
When Shane woke the next morning, his first thoughts were of Jalen and the kiss they'd shared. He really didn't know what had come over him. Shane had long been attracted to his friend. That he admitted, if only to himself. However, he hadn't planned to act on it. Certainly not now, when they were in the middle of a rigorous selection process to get into a space exploration program. But with Jalen on top of him, he'd drawn in a breath and realized that gorgeous scent that he wanted to pull deep into his lungs was coming from the man straddling his lap. Maybe it was a cologne that was enhanced by the other man's exertion. Shane didn't know. He did know that Jalen's arousal had been real. As had his shock and abrupt departure.
"Damnit." He softly swore at the memory of Jalen running away from him. He needed to apologize with a little more clarity and assurance today.
With that goal in mind, Shane got up to shower and dress. When he went down to breakfast, he filled his tray, then looked around for Jalen. He found him at a table in the center of the room, already eating. Balancing his tray on one hand, Shane went over to him.
"Is it okay if I sit down?"
His expression wary, Jalen nodded.
Thankful Jalen hadn't told him to get lost, Shane sat and placed his tray on the table. "I want to apologize for last night. Like I said, I don't know what came over me, but that's no excuse. It was completely out of line." Jalen took a bite of toast while Shane apologized. He watched as a smear of butter touched Jalen's bottom lip, making the soft, plump skin glisten. Shane paused, waiting for Jalen to notice and wipe it away, while thinking how much he'd love to suck that butter off himself.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. Shane cursed to himself while a flush crawled up the back of his neck. He shouldn't be sitting there fantasizing about kissing Jalen again while he was apologizing for kissing him the first time. Clearing his throat, he continued. "It won't happen again." He thought he was finished talking, but then Jalen made direct eye contact with him as he slowly ran his tongue over his lip, catching up that glistening smear of butter. The next words popped out before Shane could stop them. "Unless you want it to."
Jalen's eyes widened in surprise. But he didn't look disgusted, or even shocked as he had last night. His cheeks flushed and Shane swore he glimpsed interest and desire in those dark eyes before Jalen lowered his lashes to look down at his plate. Shane's fingers tightened on the fork he held. If they weren't in a room full of people he would-
"How are you two doing?"
Shane snapped his head up at the interruption. Dr. Oliver stood there, smiling down at them. It was the first time he'd been directly addressed by the head of the medical team, so his sudden appearance while Shane had a plate full of rapidly cooling eggs in front of him was unexpected.
"I'm doing great, sir."
"Same here," Jalen answered.
"Still excited about the program?"
"Yes, definitely," Shane said with a nod. "A little more excited each day actually."
"Excellent, excellent." Dr. Oliver continued staring at them, his large, blue eyes bright and unblinking. "Have either of you experienced any changes in mood or otherwise?"
Shane frowned slightly. "This seems like a question that should be asked during an exam."
The doctor finally blinked as he laughed. "Ah, yes. Privacy factors and all that. I assure you I only asked out of informal curiosity. But I understand your reluctance to answer over breakfast in front of others, so forget I brought it up. However, I would like to say that if you're experiencing any... tensions, just relax and let what happens happen."
He paused and expectantly stared at them with that odd, unblinking gaze, but neither Shane or Jalen said anything to fill the silence.
"I've noticed you two together a lot," he eventually said.
Shane and Jalen glanced at each other. Shane wondered if that was something that would disqualify them, and no doubt Jalen was thinking the same.
"We went to military school together, but that's all. And we disclosed that in our applications." Jalen said. "We're just sticking with a familiar face."
"That's fine. Personal relationships are encouraged actually. We want to make sure those who are selected for the Beals Space Exploration Program get along, as you'll be on a ship together for quite some time."
"That makes sense." It grew awkwardly quiet again. Shane looked at the doctor, noticing how black his wild mess of curls was. It was obviously colored, he'd be able to tell that even if he couldn't smell the chemicals on it. Shane figured it must be freshly dyed for him to have picked that out with all the food smells around them.
The doctor smiled. "Well, I'll leave you to your meals."
He strolled away, but Shane was no longer interested in his cold eggs. "That was odd."
"Yeah. I wonder what made him come over here?"
"Probably checking to see if we've started turning into space Banes."
They laughed with some of their usual familiarity but it quickly faded as the tension from before returned. That luscious scent, which he now knew without a doubt came from Jalen, teased Shane's nose again. He had to know what it was but tried to play it cool. "What cologne are you wearing?" he asked before calmly taking a sip of his orange juice.
A frown creased Jalen's forehead. "I'm not wearing anything. Just my anti-perspirant." He raised an arm and sniffed his armpit. "Why, do I stink?"
Shane choked on the juice he'd just swallowed, ruining the nonchalant effect he was going for. "No. Not at all. You smell nice, actually." So nice that Shane's body was reacting to it, while in his head he pictured pressing his face to Jalen's skin, and breathing in his scent. Blood started heading south to a very specific location, so Shane abruptly stood up from the table.
"I have to go," he said stiffly. Then, without eating a single thing on his plate, Shane dumped his tray on the collection carousel and hurriedly left.
Author Note: Ah, the good ole 'Kiss then Fight' trope. I'm a fan. That was one of the first scenes I had in my head when planning this story. And that doctor is a tad creepy.
Will our boys kiss again? Find out next Sunday!
Thank you for reading and let me know what you think in the comments. =)
Visit my website: www.ChristaTomlinson.com
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The next morning, Jalen woke early. The sun was barely up but he threw back the covers anyway. Anticipation for the day ahead wouldn't let him linger in bed. After a quick shower, he took a look at his data pad. According to his newly uploaded schedule, he didn't have any physical requirements for the first half of the day, so he dressed in the uniform he'd been issued: black pants with a large cargo pocket on the side of each thigh, perfectly sized for his data pad, and a short-sleeved black button-down shirt with red epaulets and red piping alongside the buttons.
He clipped his name badge to his left breast pocket, just below the Beals logo. Above it he pinned the silver wings which identified him as a member of the Air Force. There was no hat for the Beals Corp uniform, so once he had his black shoes on and laced, Jalen left the room. The door slid shut behind him with a smooth, nearly silent hiss.
Others on his hallway were leaving as well, and he joined the loose crowd of people heading down to the first-floor dining hall where they'd eaten dinner the night before. The food there was served school cafeteria style, with multiple stations set up so that the lines didn't grow too long. Jalen moved along the second station, indicating to the friendly servers which dishes he wanted until he had a plate piled high with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and cantaloupe. Once he had a tall glass of ice water balanced on his tray, he looked around for a place to sit and eat. He was about to pick whichever table was closest with an empty seat when he spotted an arm waving on the other side of the bustling room.
It was Shane, signaling him to come and join him. With a smile, Jalen headed toward his friend.
"Good morning," Shane greeted him.
"Morning. This is a nice breakfast nook," Jalen said as he sat down. The sun had set by the time yesterday's presentation concluded, so he hadn't grasped the full beauty of the glass enclosed room while eating dinner. Although last night the space was impressive with the night sky and twinkling star lights visible in the huge skylight overhead, today they saw misty gray skies above, the near black of the forest stretching behind them, and of course the jagged peak of Mount Hood far in the distance.
A man in a cart drove alongside the wall of windows, spraying the roses as he went. Jalen assumed it was with the patented Beals Corp fertilizer, manufactured to be safe for the environment, while increasing the size and bounty of crops to levels that made plants and vegetables from centuries ago look like stunted cast offs.
Shane laughed. "I keep waiting for someone to pop up and say they spared no expense." He took a drink of his orange juice, neatly wiping his mouth before continuing. "Sorry I didn't find you last night to see how your physical went. I fell asleep as soon as I returned from my own. You'd think I'd be up late due to the time change, but too many all-nighters preparing for this program must have taken their toll."
"It went well. Nothing abnormal and I was sorted into Class O. A lab tech said I was perfect for it but got prickly when I asked what that meant." Jalen chewed and swallowed a bite of bacon. It was crisp, just the way he liked it.
"That information is classified," Shane said with a nod.
"You sound like you have practice saying that to a few squids." Jalen got a shrug from his friend for an answer, amusement gleaming in Shane's leaf green eyes. "So, what's your classification?"
"Class B. And I don't have a clue what it means either."
"Maybe we'll find out more this morning. I have another medical appointment scheduled at 0800 in Lab G to receive that shadowy enhancement we signed off on yesterday."
"So do I. I think at the same time and location." Shane pulled out his data pad, swiping to get to the correct screen. "Yep, Lab G, at 0800."
"Cool, we can go together then," Jalen said. They finished their breakfast, catching up on more of their lives as they ate. Truthfully, there wasn't too much they didn't already know, as they'd kept in contact with each other once they'd gone their separate ways after military school. And that contact had increased over the past year as they'd applied and taken the steps to gain entry to the Beals Space Exploration Program. But texting and video chats weren't the same as being in person, so Jalen was glad of the chance to catch up with his friend.
As they talked, he couldn't help but take notice of all the ways Shane had changed over the years. He'd always been big, it was why he'd been a fullback tasked with protecting Jalen when they'd played football together. But the youthfulness from those long-ago days had vanished completely. His jaw was clean shaven, square and hard, as though he was already determined about something at 0730.
Full, deep-pink lips drew Jalen's eye again and again as they talked, their sensual fullness an interesting contrast against Shane's authoritative way of speaking. As he'd risen through the Navy ranks, he'd adopted one of the more relaxed military hair styles, cut low on the sides and slightly longer on the top with a side part. The color was still the rich brown Jalen remembered, while his skin glowed tan from the Hawaiian sun.
Shane's face had definitely matured but it was his body that had changed the most. The black material of the Beals uniform top clung to Shane's torso, clearly outlining the defined muscles of his chest. His shoulders were so broad, arms so thick with muscles, Jalen didn't know how he'd come in under the maximum size requirement to become a Navy pilot. Maybe they'd had a special, extra-large cock pit made just for him. That thought made Jalen laugh to himself, but some of his amusement must have shown on his face because Shane looked at him with an eyebrow raised in question.
Jalen ate his last bite of buttered toast and shook his head. "Just laughing at an inside joke. Are you ready?"
"Yep. Let's go."
They rose together, and after depositing their trays on the collection carousel, headed down the hall to Lab G. So far everything they'd seen at Beals Corporation had been smooth. However, when they arrived at their destination, there was a small commotion underway. One of the program recruits stood just inside the doorway, feet planted wide and fists tightly clenched as he loudly argued with the med staff. Security guards stood nearby, close enough to keep things from escalating, but thus far not interfering.
"I don't care what form I signed!" The recruit shouted at the anxious looking group of lab techs. "I'm not agreeing to let you inject me with anything without more information on exactly what you're putting into my body." He crossed his arms over his chest and glared.
The dark-haired woman Jalen remembered from yesterday as Dr. Bakshi approached, the little knot of lab coats parting to allow her to stand in front of the angry man. Her response to him was quiet yet firm.
"Mr. Sobelman. If you don't agree to the injection, you cannot remain in the program. All of your access will be revoked. You'll be removed from campus and escorted to the hotel for those who don't pass the requirements, where you'll be sequestered until the recruitment period is over. In addition, you won't be allowed to rejoin the program in the future. Do you understand?"
Tense silence stretched as they all waited for Sobelman to make his decision. He answered by yanking his ID badge off his shirt.
"Fine. Revoke my access."
Dr. Bakshi pursed her lips before accepting the badge and nodding at the two guards. They stepped up, one moving to grasp the now former recruit by his elbow.
"Don't touch me," Sobelman snapped. He uncrossed his arms, pushed his shaggy brown hair back from his forehead, then spun around and walked out with the two guards trailing closely behind.
When the trio passed by, Jalen stood stiffly, keeping his eyes locked straight ahead. Once they were out of sight around the corner, Dr. Bakshi turned to face Jalen and Shane. Jalen expected to see her flustered after the incident, but she looked as calm as though she'd just had a soothing cup of tea.
"I'm sorry you had to see that upon your arrival, gentleman," she said.
"No problem, ma'am," Jalen replied as he relaxed his stance.
She smiled at them both then walked away. As her soft soled footsteps disappeared around a corner, a relieved looking lab assistant came over to lead Shane and Jalen to neighboring stations. Each one had a cot and a small rolling medical cart next to it. A long countertop with built-in cabinets beneath it ran nearly the entire length of the room. Everything was shiny and white, the overhead lights so bright they nearly gave Jalen a headache. Of course, the headache teasing at his temples could also be from nervousness over what was about to happen, but Jalen resolutely pushed his worry about it to the back of his mind.
He sat down on his cot, Shane doing the same next to him. Once they were settled atop the small beds covered in waxy, white paper, their shirts removed and folded across their laps, their vitals were checked and recorded by their assigned med techs. Jalen's swiped to a new page on her data pad.
"Okay, Captain Morgan. It says here you're Class O. Our first today," she said with a pleased smile.
The tech's tone and pleased expression came across as though Jalen was a puppy who'd just performed an adorable trick. Jalen didn't love the way that made him feel, but he kept his questions behind his teeth as ECG electrodes were pressed to his chest. Eventually, someone was going to tell them what the classifications were. He just had to be patient.
The tech entered a code on the cabinet's keypad lock, then pressed one of three buttons on the countertop. As Jalen had come to expect by now, the button was labeled with a glowing red O. A lock clicked and the tech opened one of the small cabinet doors. Dry ice rolled out, indicating that whatever was stored inside needed to be kept very cold. When the fog cleared, Jalen saw several syringes stored upright in a metal rack. The fluid in each was clear with a light blue tinge and appeared slightly gelatinous.
The tech snapped on a pair of gloves before selecting one of the syringes. "This will pinch just like any other shot. After which, you'll feel a cool sensation in your arm as the enhancement enters your bloodstream. It will last for a few minutes. Make a fist, please."
Jalen balled his fingers up into a fist, squeezing slightly to help raise his veins as the tech tied a bit of rubber tubing around his arm. The tech gently rubbed a spot on his inner elbow with an alcohol-soaked pad, then with practiced efficiency she snapped off the tube and slowly injected the blue liquid in Jalen's vein. Cold flowed up his arm, from the injection site, all the way up his bicep until the sensation pooled under the skin where his throat met his shoulder. The feeling lingered for a good thirty seconds before it slowly started fading away. Nothing else happened. The assistant alternated between eyeing the monitor Jalen was hooked up to and closely watching Jalen himself.
"Okay." She noted something on her pad. "I just need you to sit for a bit so we can continue monitoring you. If everything checks out, you'll be good to go. I'll come and let you know when you're done."
After she left, Jalen looked over to Shane, whose tech had already stepped away. "How are you doing over there?"
"I feel fine." Shane paused, then looked around and lowered his voice before continuing. "It's strange they won't just say what this enhancement is. I'm sure the guy we saw coming in isn't the only one who wants to know more about it. A little information might alleviate issues like his abrupt departure."
"It's probably something to protect against any illnesses we might be exposed to," Jalen said with an unconcerned shrug. "Or maybe we're about to be turned into an army of space Banes."
Shane barked a laugh that he quickly hushed when an attendant across the room looked at them with a frown. "I'd rather not be turned into a genetically mutated villain," he said in an amused, yet quiet tone.
"I'm sure we're not. But if you start noticing your strength rapidly increasing, start worrying."
* * *
As they lay there with monitors beeping, Shane softly laughed at Jalen's dry humor. He'd always cared for Jalen, more than he'd publicly expressed. To go through this experience with him felt right, as though the years apart were simply necessary filler to get them to this point. After all, how many people grew up together with the shared goal of becoming astronauts, then twenty years later were actually in a position where it was close to happening? Not many.
They'd taken separate paths, Jalen as an Air Force fighter pilot, Shane flying in the Navy, but they'd ended up here, in this lab, laying on cots next to each other as Beals Corp dosed them with a medical enhancement that would help them stave off the effects of prolonged space travel. Shane didn't recall ever having used the word fate to describe anything in his life, but this, here and now with Jalen, certainly felt like fate was involved.
Putting thoughts of fate aside, Shane looked down at his arm, where a cotton ball was bandaged over the spot where the needle had pierced his skin. The injection had been cool as it entered his blood stream, ending with a tingle just above his collar bone, but other than that he'd barely noticed it. Now he just had to wait for the med staff to release him.
It wasn't long before the lab tech came back. He checked the monitor of the machine Shane was hooked up to, then gave him the all clear to sit up.
"While I was gone I did a double check to make sure you were supposed to receive a Class B injection," the tech said as he quickly typed on his data pad. "But it looks like everything is in order."
Shane didn't bother to ask what the classifications meant since Jalen had already reported he'd been shut down when he brought it up. So, he just smiled politely as he sat there waiting for the tech to finish typing and remove his electrodes. Shane did a quick check-in with his body. He didn't notice anything odd or different or experience any dizziness. He'd almost wonder if he'd been selected to receive a placebo for whatever they were testing, if his non-reaction hadn't been what the med staff seemed to expect.
Paper crinkled as Jalen slid off the cot next to him. Shane rose too, and they stood there facing each other with less than four feet of space between them as they drew on their shirts. Shane had to make a focused effort to keep his eyes off the strip of smooth brown skin rapidly disappearing behind buttoned black cloth.
"What's up for you next?" he asked his friend.
"I've got time in the flight simulator scheduled. Apparently after the first few tests, they'll determine what class pilot we'll become. I'm aiming for fighter class of course. I figure if hurtling through the skies is a rush, doing it in space has to be even more intense. And if I ever fight in an actual space battle, I will consider my life peak perfect," Jalen said with an excited grin tugging at his lips. "How 'bout you?"
"I'm off to the Zero G chamber."
Jalen's brow shot up. "It's a good thing those injections didn't have any side effects. Can you imagine doing weightless training if you were already feeling woozy?"
Shane mock shuddered at the thought of it. "I'd rather not," he said as they left the lab together. When they reached the end of the hall, they stopped.
"Good luck on your first training."
"You too." Another grin flashed across Jalen's handsome face. "If I find out you vomited I'll never let you live it down."
Shane laughed, and after a quick handshake, they went their separate ways. Shane scanned the map mounted at the corner of the hallway to make sure he was on the right path. He was looking forward to this training. An actual Zero Gravity chamber was a relatively new technology, only put into use in the last seventy-five years, and developed by Beals Corp of course. Beals had created what was previously thought to be impossible. Prior to their invention, weightlessness could only be achieved in flight doing parabolic arcs. Still, this new technology was expensive, and most programs utilized water walks for their zero-gravity training.
Shane was the first to arrive at the designated area. As he waited, he looked around. There was a small control station podium, another medical cart, this one large enough to have three separate monitors, three chairs, and what looked like elevator doors to his right.
Shane was mentally going over what he'd read about the Beals zero gravity technology when a tall man approached. With his hair buzzed down to a burr and his precise bearing, he was obviously military. Since the recruits were all dressed in the black Beals Corp uniform, Shane had to look to the familiar globe, eagle, and anchor symbol to confirm he was a Marine. He noted the man's eyes drop to take in the Navy emblem pinned to his own chest.
They nodded in greeting, quickly sizing each other up. Small talk about their first day on campus was exchanged, but before they could discuss anything else, the third recruit arrived. He didn't have a military emblem pinned to his chest, which effectively marked him as a civilian. The Beals staff member in charge of running the unit showed up on the heels of the civilian.
He quickly checked their ID badges to verify they were present at the correctly scheduled time. Once the staff member finished, the civilian asked a question.
"Why are we starting off with the Zero G chamber? Shouldn't that be something we work our way up to while practicing water walks? Or does Beals consider that an outdated methodology?"
The staff member responded with a smile. "Not at all. We have a water walk pool facility here and those who advance in the program will spend time training underwater. However, in order to quickly weed out those unsuited for space travel, we're using the chamber to test initial reactions."
Shane thought that was a little odd but apparently his armed forces brother didn't agree.
"Quiet before they change their minds. I want to float," the Marine said with a cocky grin.
Shane felt a flicker of something, that gave him a hint that the Marine hid a small bit of nervousness beneath his excitement. But before Shane could fully grasp that feeling, it disappeared.
The assistant started running down the instructions. They were to stand against the wall and hold the hand rail while the red light was on. Once the green light clicked on, they would be able to move about freely. At the yellow light, they would be given thirty seconds to make their way back to the wall to prepare for the "return of gravity" to the chamber. He explained the physical sensations they would experience and concluded with assuring them they would be monitored with video and sound, and the training would stop if anyone experienced extreme duress.
The three of them shook their heads so the assistant pressed a button on his stand. The door slid open, moving heavy and slow in their tracks.
Feeling like he was entering an amusement park ride, Shane followed the other two into the chamber. It was a fairly small space, slightly longer and wider than a full-size van, with walls padded for safety. He claimed a spot on the wall, gripped the bar, drew in a deep breath through his nose, let it out slowly and waited. After a few moments of quiet anticipation, there was a deep hum. With his back against the wall, the sound vibrated in Shane's chest then rose in pitch until it was a barely perceptible whine.
His body sensed that the chamber was rapidly spinning and rising, even though nothing around him appeared to move. It was a near sickening feeling. His muscles wanted to clench up and reject the disparate sensations between what his body felt and what his eyes saw. But he stayed calm, keeping his eyes open because he knew it would make the sensation worse if he closed them. He'd gone up in the Vomit Comet before. The first time he'd lost his lunch, but after that he'd learned to handle it. He put that knowledge to use now.
Focusing straight ahead, he watched the red light. It changed to green a millisecond before his stomach lifted slightly. The feeling was akin to the surge when an elevator descended floors. Shane didn't recoil or fight it. He relaxed his muscles and took another deep breath. As he did so, his feet left the floor. Heels first, then toes lingering before he slowly floated up into the air. Shane grinned, pushing off the wall so he could drift across the room. It wasn't space, but it was a damn close step and he was lucky to experience this technology.
Unfortunately, his chamber mates weren't doing as well as him. The meaty Marine repeatedly cursed with one breath then apologized for his language on the next. The civilian looked to be adversely feeling the effects as well. He moaned, head hanging low on his neck, with an arm braced across his stomach in the familiar pose of someone who was fighting not to vomit. Shane stepped up and took control of the situation. He wanted to help his fellow recruits, but he also didn't want to have someone else's puke floating at his face.
"Stay calm, men. Relax. Breathe. You'll adjust." The civilian squeezed his eyes shut. "Eyes open." Shane commanded. The guy's eyes immediately popped wide open at the order. "Stay aware of your surroundings, allow yourself to accept the weightlessness, don't fight it. And keep breathing," he said as he patiently coached them through their time in zero gravity. The Marine got himself together first and eventually, the civilian did as well, until the three of them were all floating along with smiles on their faces.
The Marine folded his hands behind his head. "Can't wait to tell my wife about this. Of course, I'll leave out the parts about the cursing and near vomit."
Everyone laughed just as the light above them glowed yellow. Groaning in disappointment, they made their slow, drifting way across the room to grab hold of the handles on the wall. A few seconds after they were secure, the red light clicked on and Shane landed hard, both feet hitting the ground with a jarring impact that clacked his teeth together.
"Their technology could use a little work on the landing," he good-naturedly groused as he worked his jaw back and forth.
The doors slowly re-opened and the three of them stepped out of the chamber. Shane had a moment of vertigo before his balance returned. Two more staff members had arrived as each of them had to have their vitals checked before they were released.
"You all did great. Especially you, Commander Thomas," the first staff member said. "Nice work calming everyone down."
Shane nodded in acceptance of the compliment but didn't make a big deal of it. He'd simply done what needed to be done. Once he was dismissed, Shane started off down the hallway. When he reached the juncture where he could go right or left, he started to go right, but something pulled at him to go left instead. Following his instinct, he turned left and immediately ran into Jalen.
"Hey," he said with some surprise. "How was the flight simulator?"
"Pretty damn close to being up in the sky. The tech here is amazing. Now I'm even more excited to get out there and fly one of their real birds."
"Cool your jets, Captain. You've got several weeks’ worth of tests and training to pass first."
Jalen smiled, his dark eyes sparkling as excited happiness radiated from him.
“I'm not worried. I'll ace every one of their tests."
"I don't doubt it." As Shane smiled down at his friend, a warm, tantalizing scent teased his nose. He looked up, expecting to see someone approaching with a plate of baked goods or something, as odd as that would be. But there was no one there. Jalen drew his attention again.
"I'd better get going. I've got some pen and paper type classes to get to."
"Okay, see you later," Shane answered somewhat distractedly.
Jalen continued on down the hall, and before Shane could determine the source of that wonderful smell, it faded away.
Author Note: Oooh, a mysterious injection! I wonder what it could be? ;-) The lab scene where Shane and Jalen were laying on cots next to each other was inspired by a scene from Firestarter - one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. If you've seen it, you probably know the scene.
For the Zero G chamber, it played out in my not at all an engineer or scientist brain as a combination of a rapidly descending elevator and the Tom's Twister, a ride we had a Six Flags St. Louis. It has other names at different parks, but it's the one where it spins really fast, and the floor sinks away while the motion of the ride keeps you against the wall. Has anyone ridden a version of that? I did as a teen. I got off, stumbled to the side and lost my lunch in the bushes. Won't be riding that one again!
Next chapter posts next Sunday. =)
Thank you for reading and let me know what you think in the comments!
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Childhood friends Jalen Morgan and Shane Thomas have long dreamed of becoming astronauts. They've worked hard to reach their goal, and now thanks to the Beals Corporation Space Exploration Program, they have a real chance of making it. But the Beals Corporation hasn't shared the full truth of the program with its eager recruits.
Circumstances bring Shane and Jalen together in a way they never expected, a night of passion hotter than the brightest star. But can they trust their recently revealed feelings?
April - 2774 A.D.
Shane Thomas sat on a private bus with about fifty other high-level military personnel and talented civilians, riding to a special, new campus for the Beals Corporation. Tiredness from the five-hour flight from Honolulu to Portland tried to pull his shoulders down into a slump, but the excitement buzzing just under his skin kept him alert. Everyone on this bus, as well as the people on the other four buses in their caravan, had been selected to participate in an amazing opportunity. The military had granted all participants leave for the duration, while Beals Corporation had generously paid three-month salaries for all recruits. With that kind of money at play, Shane knew this was a serious undertaking - not just an experiment.
He looked out the window as the bus slowed and turned off the main highway. The long, curving drive to the campus was lined with trees, so many he couldn't see beyond them to the building yet. Mount Hood stood far off in the distance but still dominated the horizon. He caught glimpses of sunshine sparkling on glass over the tree tops. Finally, they were close enough for him to see the entire campus. The lane widened and the trees parted, revealing a tall, gold glassed building with wings on each side. A smaller tower rose behind it, connected to the main building by a glass walled skybridge. The bus stopped in a huge circular driveway with a fountain in the center, behind another bus that had pulled up moments before them.
"We have arrived," the driver said in the tone of a showman unveiling a majestic wonder.
The dramatics weren't unfounded, Shane thought as he looked over the beautiful campus. Huge beds of red roses fronted the main building on either side of the doors. The center fountain also had a raised bed of roses surrounding it. Castoff drops from the water's spray sparkled on the deep-red petals of the flowers. There was an impressive statue in the middle of the gentle arcs of water, a stylized space ship crafted from bronze, with the Beals name and logo emblazoned on the side, blasting into the sky. Mount Hood served as the perfect backdrop, towering above the forest of pine trees behind the campus, its peak still white with snow. And the setting sun cast its rays over the entire scene, turning the gold glass building into a blazing beacon in the center of it all.
With the bus stopped, recruits were on their feet and slowly moving down the aisle. Shane sat in the middle, so he waited until most of the people in front of him had exited before standing to leave himself. He stepped out onto the red bricked drive, taking a moment to let it settle what he was there to do. This was it, his chance to achieve a lifelong dream. He planned to do everything in his power to make sure he was successful. Shane went to retrieve his duffel bag from the bus's luggage compartment. He'd just slung the straps over his shoulder when a third bus drove up. It parked with a hiss of brakes and one of the first people to step out brought an immediate smile to Shane's face.
"Jalen!" he called out.
The young airman turned at the sound of his name, smiling when he saw Shane. He waved, then signaled he was going to get his bag. Shane waited, happy to see his friend. Jalen's arrival wasn't a surprise since they'd applied to the program together, discussed the process several times over the past year and a half, and celebrated when they'd both been selected. But seeing him immediately upon his arrival felt like a good sign.
Once Jalen had his bag in hand, he crossed the courtyard to Shane. He looked good in his Air Force uniform. Although he'd filled out from the lanky teenager who'd first worn it, Jalen was still slim, and he hadn't gained much in height either. But Shane knew from their days playing football in military school that his small build hid explosive power and speed. His face was the same as Shane saw on their rare video chats, smooth light-brown skin, military-short black hair, full lips that easily parted in a charming grin, defined jaw and high cheekbones that had made him a legit poster boy for Air Force recruitment, and dark eyes that sparkled with life and happiness. For a wistful second, Shane wished all of that happiness was for him, rather than the adventure they were about to embark on. That wasn't even remotely true, but he'd settle for the fact that at least some of Jalen's happiness was for him. They met next to the fountain, greeting each other with a warm handshake that turned into a quick one-armed hug.
"It's been too long, Lieutenant Commander Thomas," Jalen said as they parted.
Shane grinned at the use of his newly achieved rank. "I don't make it over to the mainland nearly as much as I'd like. How's your family?"
"My parents are doing well. They made it back from a cruise of the Mediterranean just in time to say goodbye. And the twins are finishing up their last year of residency at Dallas Mercy Hospital. What's Big Shane up to?"
The childhood nickname for his dad brought a fond laugh. When they were kids, Shane Thomas, Sr. had seemed like the biggest man alive. Now, at six-foot-two and a muscular two-hundred-twenty-two pounds, Shane matched his father in height and weight, but the nickname had stuck. "He's doing well. Churning out the best cadets in the country. And his azaleas win prizes every spring."
"That's great to hear."
With the catch up on family news out of the way, both men turned and looked at the huge, golden building in front of them.
"Are you ready for this?" Shane asked his friend.
Jalen adjusted the strap of his duffle bag, hitching it higher on his shoulder. "Ready for a chance to go into space? You know I am."
"I see things haven't changed much," Shane teased.
"One goal, Thomas. That's all I've ever had. And you were right there with me, dreaming of the same thing: becoming an astronaut."
"You're right and my goal hasn't changed either. Come on, let's go."
They crossed the drive, queuing up with the rest of the arrivals to enter through one of the three double doors opened to welcome the crowd. Just inside, employees in khaki slacks and dark gray turtlenecks with glowing-red name tags pinned over their left breast moved around the large lobby, guiding the recruits.
"Any check-in point is fine, please join the shortest queue."
Shane and Jalen stayed together and went toward the table in the center. The set up was in keeping with the grandeur they'd already seen. Rather than using a plain folding table stacked with cardboard boxes and file folders as the military was wont to do in situations like this, Beals Corp had gone all out and created mini-office spaces.
Each station had a desk with a burnished gold metallic base and cream marble top. A state of the art computer sat atop it, and knotted pine shelving units stacked with plastic wrapped bundles stood behind it. At their selected station, the attendant was also dressed in one of the dark gray turtlenecks, and he sat in a coffee colored leather chair. Straight black hair brushed his collar and the name tag pinned to his shirt read Luke. When they reached the head of the line, Shane stepped up first.
"Good evening, and welcome to the Beals Corporation Space Exploration Program. Your name, please?"
"United States Navy Lieutenant Commander, Shane Thomas."
The attendant rapidly tapped through his touch screen computer. When he finished, a plastic ID badge with Shane's picture, name, and Beals Corporation Space Exploration Program Recruit slid out from a small black machine. Luke attached a clip to it and held the badge out to Shane. "Okay, sir. Here is your Beals identification. All of your information is keyed onto it. You can use this badge for all entry points where you have clearance, and it's also the key to your room. Just hold it over the red sensor to gain entry." He spun around in his chair to grab a shrink-wrapped package from one of the shelves. Another quick spin had him facing Shane again. "Here are your uniforms, according to the sizes you submitted. If your measurements have changed and something doesn't fit, please let us know and we'll provide you with new uniforms."
Shane accepted the package, impressed with Beals's efficiency.
"And last, your data pad."
Luke handed Shane a sleek, gold electronic tablet. It was slightly bigger than his hand, and nearly as slim as a credit card.
"This is to be on your person at all times. It has your schedule for the first week already entered. Any new information will be uploaded to it daily, so please check it first thing in the morning. Your personal identification number opens your room and unlocks your data pad. Please memorize it and don't share it with anyone. You'll be given a guest code for your room if you request it."
Shane's eyebrows rose at that. Was that tacit approval for fraternization? he wondered to himself.
"Please place your luggage on the cart," Luke said, indicating the half-full mobile luggage cart to his right.
Shane followed the instruction, then watched as Luke scanned a tag then clipped it to the straps of his duffle bag.
"Thank you. Your belongings will be taken to your room." Finished with Shane's check-in, Luke folded his hands together on the marble desk top.
"I'm impressed we've got private rooms," Shane said.
"Beals Corporation only provides the best." This was stated in a slightly admonishing tone, with Luke's nose slightly tilting up in the air.
Shane and Jalen exchanged a quick glance before Shane stepped to the side to allow Jalen to go through the check-in process as well. A few minutes later he finished, and they followed the crowd into an auditorium. A pleasant voice coming from hidden loudspeakers floated over the milling crowd.
Welcome to Beals Corporation. Please be seated. The presentation will begin shortly.
By now it wasn't a surprise to see how nice the auditorium was. It wasn't opulent like a theater to showcase the fine arts. But it was sleek, immaculately clean, and boasted cushioned seats wide enough to be comfortable for someone of Shane's size. Spotlights shone down on a currently empty stage with a glossy black floor.
Shane led the way to seats halfway down the aisle. He and Jalen sat down next to each other, quietly discussing what they'd seen so far while the auditorium filled up. About five minutes after they sat down, the lights dimmed and a giant screen descended from the ceiling above the stage. A presentation began, with a deep voice rolling out from speakers all over the room.
Beals Corporation. Unparalleled leader in developing technology to make our planet a better place. Number one in exploring the majestic black and bright stars of space.
Pictures flashed on the screen of all the innovations of Beals Corp over the last three hundred years, set to a soundtrack of fast-paced, triumphant music. Prosthetics that connected to the patient's neural pathways, allowing the manufactured limb to function just like a biological one. Planes that flew at speeds that shortened the duration of a cross country flight by half, without being so overpriced that only the very rich could afford it. A dramatic shot of Beals Explorer Eight, a space ship that had traveled farther than any before it, rising into the air, a cloud of afterburn leaving a trail of fire against the dawn sky. The astronauts aboard had been lauded as heroes when they returned, although some had fallen ill due to the effects of prolonged time in space. Vincent Beals and multiple members of his family before him were responsible for many changes that had revolutionized society the world over.
Jalen leaned over and whispered in Shane's ear.
"Why didn't they just go all out and have a laser light show? Maybe even bring in a smoke machine to really cap it off."
Shane grinned down at his friend's familiar sarcasm before returning his attention to the presentation.
The baritone-voiced narrator continued lauding Beals Corp, focusing on Vincent Beals and the accomplishments of the company under his leadership in particular. The presentation ended with a flourish, prompting applause from the audience. Once the lights went back up and the screen retracted, a tall figure stepped onto the stage. The man himself, Vincent Beals. He was dressed the same way he usually appeared in his photos: slouchy earth tone cardigan with a solid V-neck beneath it, dark corduroys paired with expensive tennis shoes, horn-rimmed glasses, and an Afro pushed back from his forehead with a slim black band. The look gave off the vibe of a quirky, approachable genius.
"Well, I don't think there's much more I can add after that. Props to my PR department for making my job so short and easy." He clapped and the audience politely joined him in thanking his staff. Beals continued once the applause tapered off. "As you saw in the video, we have the technology to not just travel into space, but to live and thrive in space. To explore farther than anyone on this planet ever has. But what Beals Corp needs is the people. That's where you come in." He clasped his hands together, extending his index fingers to point at the crowd. "You've all been chosen through a highly selective screening process as candidates for this mission. Teachers, scientists, pilots, engineers, farmers. All of your skills and knowledge are needed. Over the next few months, you'll be tested, poked and prodded as we determine your fitness for a life in space. Many of you will be selected. Some of you will not. That's the truth. If you are selected, your life will change in ways you never imagined."
His lips pursed and curled in a smile that promised secrets and excitement. "Now, I'm just the idea man, so let me bring out the team that is actually responsible for running this dog and pony show." He turned slightly to look into the wings and five people came out to join him on stage. After they lined up next to each other, Beals began introducing them. "Director Nelson, formerly General Nelson of the United States Army, is the supreme ruler of the Exploration Program. The buck stops with her. Dr. James Oliver is in charge of all medical testing and exams. Former Olympic Coach Adam Staggs will be in charge of physical requirements, and Dr. Burbage will oversee all skills and knowledge related testing."
There was one person on the stage that Beals hadn't named. The entrepreneur stood there silently, smiling that secret smile again while the anticipation built. Finally, he completed the introductions.
"And of course, Tevoris of the Alwan Clan, from planet Zareen."
A ripple went through the crowd. They were in the presence of a real-life alien. Of course, Tevoris was in the presence of aliens too. But even after the arrival of his space ship seven years ago, confirming that there were in fact other species and populated worlds beyond Earth, it was still surreal to be in the same room with someone from another planet.
Shane observed how human Tevoris appeared. Two arms, two legs, torso, head. Features all in the same spots as humans, skin tone close to that of someone from South Asia. But there were a few differences. His hair, worn in a long braid over his right shoulder, was pure white, a color that for humans would be at odds with his youthful face. He was big; even in a room full of military types, he stood out due to his height and the breadth of his shoulders. And his eyes were a bright, glowing silver. Shane had heard the Zareenians eyes glowed with powerful emotions. He wondered what the man was feeling right then.
The murmuring ceased as Dr. Oliver stepped forward and addressed the crowd. "Before we begin, you'll need to sign a waiver and fill out a survey. Please enter the personal identification number assigned to you on your data pad and you can begin."
"Another waiver?" Jalen asked in an exasperated tone.
"Guess they forgot to include it with the five-hundred-page packet they originally sent us."
Jalen snorted. "Don't exaggerate, Shane. It wasn't five hundred pages. More like four hundred and ninety-seven."
Shane laughed as he tapped the screen to turn on his data pad. It glowed bright red before the color faded to a readable white background with black font, asking for his access code. He entered the seven-digit number he'd been assigned and thumbed the submit button. The medical waiver was the first screen on the pad. Shane quickly scanned the doc, looking for the gist of the waiver. He found it in a single line near the end of the second paragraph: You consent to medical testing and to receive physical enhancements from the Beals Corporation medical staff. Shane's eyebrows rose at that. "Enhancements? What are they going to do, put us on steroids?"
"Space steroids," Jalen muttered as he read.
Shane laughed, but the consent request made him hesitate. He hated that it wasn't explicitly explained. Enhancements could mean anything. But he didn't want to be expelled from the program when he'd barely set foot in the door. Space was his dream. It had been since he was a kid. Squaring his shoulders, Shane dragged the tip of his finger over the screen to input his electronic signature. Then he typed in his ID code to verify it and hit submit. The document whooshed off the screen, then a twenty-question survey faded in. The first few were questions he didn't expect to see from a program testing him for his fitness to go into space.
1. How would you best describe your personality?
B) Easy Going
2. How do you handle conflict?
C) Let Others Handle It
3. Do You Prefer to Be the Leader?
The questions went on in the same general vein all the way through twenty. Shane shrugged and truthfully answered each one. After he finished answering the last question, the document whooshed away, and a thank you message momentarily appeared. The data pad went back to the home screen, a black background with Beals Corp in glowing, red letters. Shane tapped the screen to send it to sleep, then glanced over at Jalen. He was still working on the survey, his brow furrowed in concentration. A few moments later he finished and tapped his data pad to sleep as well. Jalen sat back and looked at Shane.
"Those were some odd questions."
"Yeah. Felt like one of those relationship quizzes in teen magazines."
Jalen's eyes grew wide with curiosity, but Shane headed him off before he could voice any questions. "Don't ask. Just know that life can be tedious on a ship and sailors entertain themselves any way they can."
"No judgement," Jalen said while clearly holding back a grin.
A few minutes later, a woman in a gray turtleneck began directing everyone out, so Shane and Jalen rose and filed from the auditorium with the rest of the crowd. Jalen had his head down as they walked, looking at his data pad.
"The next two hours are reserved for dinner and physical exams. Looks like we're scheduled to go in waves. I'm in the first group of physicals."
Shane looked at his own schedule. "I'm in the third. I'll go and check out my room, then have dinner before I'm up."
"Okay, see you later." Jalen gave him a small, casual salute then headed down the corridor.
Shane watched him go for a moment before he went his own way. Following the posted signs, he went towards the back of the building, and took the elevator up to the glass-walled skybridge. Night had fallen during their time in the auditorium, so he couldn't see anything beyond the softly lit grounds as he walked. At the other end of the bridge, he took another elevator, this time down two levels. It swooped him along so fast he barely had a chance to turn and look out at the star-filled sky before the doors were sliding back open.
The elevator let him out onto a quiet hallway with only a few people about. The walls were the same cream color as the main building's interior, although they were bare of the artwork and promotional posters that graced the walls in the lobby. The doors were pine, but from the overly glossy look to them, Shane assumed they were merely manufactured to look like wood. A third of the way down the hall, he came to room 314, his assigned quarters. Shane entered his code into the keypad lock just to verify that he'd memorized it correctly. He'd use the ID badge and sensor next time.
The door slid open and Shane stepped into a decent sized room. It was bigger than his college dorm, definitely bigger than his cabin onboard ship, but smaller than his bedroom at his home on the base. There was a surprisingly large bed, a small dresser, desk and chair, personal fridge, and a private bathroom. The room was utilitarian, but they didn't need much more since they'd only be here a few months during the testing. Shane was grateful and still surprised that they weren't living in barracks. This place must be massive and a lot of funds allocated in order to give individual rooms to the crowd of recruits.
As the attendant had stated, his bag and uniform packet were already there. He unpacked, setting his toiletries up in the small bathroom and neatly stacking his own clothes and the uniforms provided by Beals in the dresser. He slid the last drawer closed with a decisive snap, then wandered over to the window to look out at the night sky. It wasn't the complete black and sharp stars of the sky over the high seas, but they were far enough away from the city that light pollution was at a minimum. As he stared at the twinkling constellations, Shane clenched his fists with determination. He was one step closer to flying among them.
* * *
Jalen strolled toward the lab named on his schedule, fingertips tingling with excitement. He'd known in his heart from that first joint press conference with Beals, the military and NASA confirming the arrival of extra-terrestrials on their planet that he would be part of the first wave of people who would set foot on an alien world. And now, five years later, as his footsteps took him past sleek framed posters of Beals astronauts, his belief that he would be named among them was stronger than ever. Jalen grinned to himself. Actually, both he and Shane would be among them. His friend's presence in the program felt like it was pre-destined, the stars aligning to make their long ago dreams of going to space together a reality. Jalen pressed his lips together, trying to reign in his grin. The excitement of the day was making him dramatic.
After traveling two long hallways, Jalen stopped at one that dead-ended in a set of double doors. A posted sign read Medical Exams: Lab H. A short line had already formed, three people chatting quietly as they waited. An Asian American woman with a cap of short, black hair, in Air Force service dress like Jalen, a Hispanic man with dark brown hair cut in a high and tight, and dressed in Army dark, with gold trim glinting in the overhead lights, and a blond civilian in a dark gray suit. Jalen nodded hello to the small group. The civilian who'd been talking when Jalen approached reopened the conversation, this time including Jalen.
"We were just discussing how amazing this place is."
Jalen looked around at the spotless hallway, with its gleaming floors and wall of windows that looked out onto large beds of red roses lit by warmly glowing spotlights. "Well when you're a private company that can afford to send a colony of people into space, it makes sense you'd have a facility this nice."
The woman laughed. "That's the truth." She held out her hand. "I'm Lieutenant Peyton Wu, originally from Atlanta and currently stationed in Germany."
Jalen accepted the firm handshake from his fellow Wingnut. "Captain Jalen Morgan. Born and raised in Dallas and stationed in Colorado. Nice to meet you." The others introduced themselves as well. Major Mike Sanchez was an engineering specialist stationed in Missouri. Aaron Cooper was a teacher from Connecticut.
After the quick introductions, the four of them continued with small talk for a few minutes, discussing the eighteen-month long process it had taken to get to this point. The conversation had just shifted to speculation for the role the Zareenians would play when the door opened, and a woman wearing a pristine white lab coat, with thick, black hair in a braided bun perched regally atop her head, greeted them with a professional smile.
"Hello, I'm Doctor Bakshi. And you all are Morgan, Wu, Sanchez, and Cooper correct?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jalen answered for the group.
"After reviewing your files you've all been sorted into different classes. These classifications may change over the next few days. But for now, Lieutenant Colonel Wu you're Class A. Major Sanchez and Mr. Cooper are Class B, and Captain Morgan you are Class O." She named off the classifications without referring to a chart or data pad. "Please follow the appropriately marked tracks for your physical exams." She turned and held a hand out, indicating they should enter the lab.
Jalen nodded goodbye to the three he'd been waiting with and moved where directed. The smooth, white floor was lit from beneath with two parallel lines glowing a muted red. Between the lines, the letter O repeated at regularly spaced intervals. At the first station on the track, a small white screen was set up for privacy. Two assistants waited behind it. One sat on a small rolling stool, while the other stood next to a small cart of medical equipment.
"Please remove your uniform down to your briefs," said the seated blond woman.
Jalen did as requested, neatly folding his dark blue Air Force dress uniform over the back of a chair. The seated assistant asked him basic questions about his health while the other, a young red-haired man, took his height, weight and blood pressure. None of the information requested had changed since he'd first supplied it on the application to the Beals Exploration program. He was five-foot-nine, one hundred and seventy-five pounds. No history of any medical issues other than allergies to tree pollen, which they joked he wouldn't find in space anyway as they noted his stats.
The assistant pressed a stethoscope to Jalen's chest and listened to his heartbeat. "Your measurements are perfect for Class O," he said with a smile.
"What's Class O?" Jalen asked out of simple curiosity.
The man's friendly expression closed off somewhat. "That will be explained at a later time."
Jalen had merely been mildly curious before, but that reaction had him intrigued. However, he'd been in the military long enough to realize he wouldn't get answers for information he wasn't cleared to receive. With that in mind, he simply redressed when told, and followed the next steps along the O track, giving blood, taking a vision exam, and having his hearing checked. When he finished he thanked the last assistant and left the lab. But as he made his way to the residence tower, he was still curious about Class O.
Author Note: Agggh! I'm so excited to finally start posting this story. Okay, I was super nervous, but still excited. What do you think? Obviously we can all guess what Class O is going to be but how do you think we'll find out? Step up and place your bets! Lol. Next chapter posts next Sunday, same Bat time, same Bat channel.
Thank you for reading!
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