“You’re twisting my words,” I say, feeling confused and angry.

“How?” he asks bitterly. “What else would you have had me do? What would you have done, faced with my situation?”

“Well, I would have—” I start but then pause, at a loss. But then I finish confidently, “I would have trusted my brother.”

First only scoffs. “A brother who has hated you his entire life for what your mother did to his? My mother stole his birthright and gave it to me, then made sure his mother disappeared into obscurity until her death. Even my name is a mockery to him. We were each brought up to hate the other. He had me put under lock and key even though I betrayed my own mother to save his life.”

“He said you were exiled, that he had no control over what happened because it was the Draci way—”

“The most convenient excuses are those that have a ring of truth. He could have protected me and kept me close. He did not.”

“Would you have?” I ask. “If you were in his place, newly crowned king with such unrest. Would you bring the one who’d been your nemesis with the next best claim to the throne close?”

“Of course I would,” he says. “Better to have my enemy close. Look what happened when he kept me far. The rebels naturally looked to me as their figurehead. It was poor strategy on his part, in addition to a betrayal of the life debt he owes me.”

I toss my hands up in the air. “Well, can you allow, just for a moment, that not everyone in the universe is going to act exactly how you would have in a particular situation, but that doesn’t mean you have to now seek to destroy them!”

First’s eyes narrow on me. I can’t tell if the look is one of confusion or pity.

“What I’m saying makes sense. It’s how we can live together on this world and not be at war all the time. Or is that what you want? You like living this way?” I gesture around at the sad, empty house and desert stretching in all directions beyond us. “Exiled from everyone, constantly plotting for power?”

First just shakes his head at me, an amused smile on his face. “We will have an easy time conquering your species if they are all as soft-hearted as you.”

I glare at him. “Well, they aren’t. In fact, you’re acting exactly like someone I knew very well, and guess what? He was a human.”

The smile disappears from First’s face. “Who? Tell me the name of this male. How do you know him so well?”

“Gross, I didn’t know him like that. He was my father. And he didn’t have the time of day for me because I wasn’t useful to him. He saw people like chess pieces too. You two would have gotten along famously, except for the fact that he would have pulled out his shotgun and blasted you in the face if you’d tried stepping one foot anywhere in his line of sight. He loves hunting and hates immigrants. And children, he wasn’t very fond of children, either. Which was why he left when I was eight years old and never looked back.”

First frowns now. “He abandoned his kit? How could a father do a thing like this?”

“What? You don’t have dead-beat dads where you’re from?”

“Kits are valued above all else. To be a father is an honor above all else. I will cherish our kits, my mate. I will give my life in their protection if circumstances call for it.”

That has me stopping in my tracks. We were talking about something important, and I had been trying to make a point. And now all of the sudden First is making dramatic declarations about how he’ll die for any kid we have.

Not that we’re going to make any kids together!

I mean, it’s not even something I’m considering… Just because First isn’t as blood-thirsty as I initially assumed doesn’t mean this is anything I should— He kidnapped me for God’s sake!

But whether I like it or not, I’ve been pulled into the center of an intergalactic drama. The Draci in First’s faction want to take over the planet. All I’ve ever wanted to do was make a difference in the world. And here I am, poised at the crossroads, with three alien ships circling above the planet, my friends and my planet on one side, and my kidnapper and a faction of angry Draci on the other.

On the face, it seems like a simple choice.

First is the enemy.

But I’ve worked with social justice and difficult causes to know that reality is rarely ever so black and white. Just listening to First explain his side of the circumstances that brought him here…

“Give me your blood,” he demands out of nowhere.


Tags: Stasia Black Draci Alien Science Fiction
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