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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.