Years ago, Commander Elizabeth Massoud abandoned ideas of love and romance to focus on her work. However, fate had other ideas…
After being shipwrecked on an uninhabited planet, she finds herself in a struggle for survival – and in an unexpected and illicit relationship. Her troubles continue. She finds herself lying to her superiors, and endangering her precious career, all to protect the man she loves.
Set against the backdrop of an alien invasion, this is the story of two people who must overcome the opposition of society, and the misunderstandings between themselves, in order to be together.
This is a romance with a strong family theme. It is also a science fiction novel that goes light on the science. There is mild sexual content leading to the bedroom door and no further.
Targeted Age Group:: 17+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Like many of us, I put my dream of writing a novel aside to deal with the practicalities of life – work, children, marriage. Then two things happened. Firstly, I was reminded that I wanted to write a book when I reached that magical period of life known as ‘someday’. Not too long after that, a younger friend died. In the following days, as her parents sorted through her things, I was overwhelmed by evidence of all the projects that she had never finished. Craft supplies, yarn, fabric, sewing machines, and drawing materials were a sad memorial to things undone. I realized that I could not wait till ‘someday’ to write that novel of mine. I had to do it now!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters in my books start off like jigsaw pieces of people I know, am amused by, or admire. Each piece is fitted together to make a fictional personality. Somewhere in the process of writing, my characters became individuals in their own right, much like children who take the traits of their parents but become someone utterly separate and unique. Specifically, the title character in ‘Massoud’ started off as a 'heroine' who had the realistic quality of falling down when she got hurt, but she ended up being ordinary woman who always got back up no matter what forced her down.
The first twelve orbits of the planet were nearly complete when Massoud’s duty watch ended in the early morning, ship’s time. Once relieved by the captain, she shared a few parting words with Evans, who was piloting for the upcoming watch. As she departed, she noticed the captain’s fingers tapping the console—it was a small movement, a sign of impatience and glaringly out of character. She paused by his shoulder.
“Is everything alright, Captain?” she asked quietly.
“Get your rest, Massoud. I think you will have enough to do later.”
“Understood. Please call if you need me.”
Evidently, his indisposition would be apparent soon. She would send a message to the doctor to check on the captain while she slept, perhaps mid-watch. She would do it herself, but she was already bone tired.
Even before starting her duty watch, she had had to deal with Speck who had been aggravated by a trivial disagreement about shuttle loading. He had intimidated Chrostowski, backing her up against a wall, until Massoud’s shouted orders had penetrated his thick skull and he desisted. He had been penitent, as he could sometimes be, and Chrostowski had been tolerant. “It’s just how he is,” she opined. Nonetheless, Massoud would have to discipline Speck, which could prove to be a fortuitous opportunity to have the sewage lines serviced. Maybe that would cool his temper. However, for the present, Speck was confined to quarters, not restrained by a lock but by the public humiliation of her harsh words. He could not stay there; his labor would be needed as the survey progressed.
Resignedly, Massoud decided to brief the captain on the situation later in the day, and then realized she might be briefing him very much later than that. Quite shortly, she was going to be the final authority on this ship, if only temporarily.
Without wanting it, Speck had become Massoud’s personal rehabilitation project. The crew remarked that he behaved much better under Massoud’s supervision than he had previously, which made her wonder what this hulking hothead had been like in the past. Speck often did listen to her—when she barked loudly enough—and grudgingly accepted her authority, which did not enflame him as the authority of others did.
Massoud ate a breakfast that pretended to be porridge, and sleepily slouched back to her cabin. She had slipped off one shoe and had slipped one arm out of her tunic when an unexpected and overwhelming force flung her body against the wall. Dazed and uncomprehending, she stood uncertainly. Mechanically, she slowly put her arm back in her jacket. Still shocked, she detachedly observed herself returning her shoe to her foot. Then, with the turn of an instant, her head cleared and her adrenaline kicked in. She was out the door, running towards the bridge, screaming at those she passed “Report. Report!”
Her shipmates were running in the opposite direction, but she pushed through them, determined to get to the bridge. The inertial dampeners were not doing their job; the ship lolled. It felt as if it was moving laterally at some incredible speed. Fragments of information were shouted at or near her.
“We’ve been hit.”
“ . . .Escape pods . . .”
“ . . .engines . . .”
It took an agony of moments to get to her destination. On the bridge, her eyes were immediately drawn to the external view screen and the grotesque technological mass that occupied most of the image. Evans was gone. The captain was hanging over the pilot’s console.
“Captain!” she cried.
“The engines are gone. Engineering is blown to pieces. I’ve ordered an evacuation. Get to the pods now!”
“Let’s go,” she said, and then realizing the captain was still manipulating the controls, she added—yelling in the near quiet bridge—“What are you doing? We’ve got to go!”
“We are too close to the ionosphere. The pods will burn up. The maneuvering thrusters will buy them some time.”
“They’re useless; we have to go!” She tugged on the captain’s sleeve, turning him towards her, only to discover a face suffused with insanity.
“Those bastards. Throw every weapon you have at them, Massoud. They will not destroy my crew!” he seethed.
“It won’t do any good. Look at that thing—it’s ten times our size. Captain, listen to me.” She used both hands to pull him to face her as she stated bluntly, “We have to go now, or we’ll die. There’s nothing more to do.”
“I will not leave until the crew is clear. I will not!”
Massoud instantly changed her approach, and addressed the ship, “Command System, how many personnel are still on board?”
“Two. Capt. Teloc and Commander Massoud” was the crisp reply.
“See, we can go now, Captain. Let’s go.” He hesitated, so she declared, “I’m not going if you don’t go. I’m the crew. If you want to save me, you have to leave.”
She was still gripping one of his sleeves and yanked him towards the exit, dragging his significant mass ineffectively behind her. Then something clicked in his brain and he moved ahead, towing her impatiently along the route.
“Command System, status of escape pods on deck one,” Massoud shouted. It was quiet on the ship except for ominous swooshing behind them, but it would have been inhuman not to shout in such a circumstance.
“Four escape pods have ejected. One remains and is serviceable.”
“Go! Go! Go!” Massoud yelled unnecessarily. The captain’s pace was rapid, and he was all but lifting her off her feet as she clung to his sleeve. Arriving at the pod, he pushed her in, following feet first, swinging himself from the grab bar above, pulling the hatch shut and sealing it while Massoud started the undocking sequence and vainly tried to strap herself into the impact seat simultaneously. The pod did not release immediately. “Start rocking back and forth,” she ordered, remembering an old-timer’s tale. The captain complied, and within the first movement the pod released, propelled by compressed gas away from the Constance whose hull was fatefully fractured. The little ship was popping compartment after compartment into space, each a silent and fatal explosion. The Constance was helpless in the face of the unmerciful laws of physics which gave no clemency on the basis of her good character.
Massoud had no leisure to watch her beloved friend’s death throes. The pod was rotating violently and was indeed too close to the atmosphere for safe maneuvering. Their progress was a hurtling, sickening, abusive tumble. “Pod, use air jets to eliminate roll!” Massoud would let the computer determine the best way to make that happen. Her brain was a jumble. The precise voice of the automated systems responded. “To release sufficient air, the air supplies on board would be reduced to 1.35 days’ supply.”
“If we don’t reach that planet safely, we won’t need air.” Massoud, still shouting, realized that the pod computer might not recognize an implicit command. “Use air jets to eliminate roll, now.”
The pod steadied within moments. Massoud was finally captured by the impact seat, and she looked over to see the captain already secured. He was wild-eyed but, mercifully, appeared to have enough sense to function. They were both likely to be bruised, but neither thought of that as they hit the atmosphere. They were mesmerized by the blossoming glow at the viewing port and the warmth coming from behind them, seeping through the seats and their uniforms. Training told them that the pod would grow hot when it entered an atmosphere—but wasn’t this too hot? How bad had their altitude and trajectory been? Why hadn’t the pod released? Was there damage to it? Surely, this was too hot. They had left the ship too late.
The massive acceleration pressed every fiber of their bodies into the impact seats as they traveled downwards. Unimaginable forces, usually disguised by dampening systems, forced muscle askew, made eyes weep, and compressed organs. The sensation of being ground apart was suddenly relieved when the pod finally deployed friction flutes, slowing the descent, and allowing the hull membrane to cool a little. Still with a sensation of incredible speed, they shot downward, the friction flutes slowing them incrementally until their rate of travel seemed civilized. Massoud finally allowed herself to think, We’re going to make it, and as the thought formed, they hit the surface of the planet hard—a massive jolt even at low speed. The impact seats swelled around them, cushioning them from further injury.
Silence followed—just as shocking as everything that had preceded it.
Massoud could hear her own heart pounding and lungs gasping, could see the lighted displays in the little pod, but there was nothing else beyond that. The rest of the universe had blipped out of existence. Gradually, her breathing moderated, and her mind started to function. She felt gravity, higher than that simulated on the ship. There was air fingering the outside of the pod. She sensed the pod was grounded and connected to the solidity of a planet. The jigsaw pieces of her mind started to fit together, not fast enough, but she willed them into place. Then a connection was made, and she acted instinctively, unstrapping from the seat and hitting the stop button for the automated beacon. The only ship able to observe their beacon was the aggressor. She sat back, spent and empty. At this moment, she was literally incapable of doing more.
Gradually, an ache made itself known in her left wrist; she became aware of a soreness in her shoulder. Feeling pain was a luxury she could now afford. She held up her left arm to examine her wrist in the weak light from the console screens, which inadequately illuminated the moonless night of the planet. She was unwilling to turn on the main lights and be more observable to her enemies than she already was—a warm-blooded animal in a technological shell on an undeveloped planet without indigenous fauna.
Her injured wrist, her arm, was something separate from herself, swollen and painful. She moved each finger in turn, wondering at the ability of her disconnected mind to make such movement happen. And then she had an unremarkable thought. No bones broken, perhaps a sprain. It was such a rational thought, connected to existence as it should be, not to the hellish place it had suddenly become. She then tested her shoulder, to feel it protest at the painful motion but ultimately comply with her instructions. It was badly bruised, maybe strained, nothing more. She didn’t remember getting hurt. Perhaps it had happened when she had been flung around the tumbling pod. Why hadn’t she noticed the injuries then? This question reassured her, because it was connected to ordinary thinking. She began to feel that her body belonged to her again, that the shattered little pieces of her identity were coming together into a whole. With the return to reason, she began to act.
“Captain, what happened? I really didn’t get a chance to find out what was going on.” She turned to her companion to find him hulking and sullen, like a stranger. “Captain,” she tried more firmly, “you have to listen to me and answer my questions. Report! What happened?”
“The smaller moon crested the horizon and they popped out from behind. Our sensors were inadequate to detect them earlier. We activated shields, but they were useless against a ship like that. Their weapons’ fire came at the same time as their stupid hail. They hit Engineering. Took out the engines. The hull was compromised. We had to evacuate.”
“But who was it? Banditos?”
“I told you they hailed,” he spat out the words. “It was those fucking Xenos. Who else hails and then fires? Those bastards, they killed my ship. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.”
With these last words, he started punching his console viciously, again and again, his face livid, contorted and harsh. Massoud recoiled, her mind almost shutting down again. The horror was not over. She was flung from one nightmare into another. She was trapped in a cage with a violent madman, a nasty twin to her sober captain.
His rage subsided; the punches slowed and then stopped.
He leaned back and breathed deeply for a few moments. “I will get worse,” he said in a voice somewhat like his own. “There is little you can do. I will be calmer after a violent outburst but will deteriorate again.” He reached forward to open the stowage compartment in front of him, tugging on the door to release the mechanism bent by his pummeling. He handed the object he retrieved to Massoud.
“You will have to use it on me. Set it to kill. There is no point in stunning me. My adrenaline levels are too high. I assure you, I will attack you. You are not safe. This is the only way. You should have left me on the ship. That was my intent—but you would not have left without me. Now it needs to be finished.”
Once again, her brain was lagging the action. Massoud spluttered, “I’m not going to kill my captain. No . . .no.” Her eyes were mesmerized by the console surface, its resilient material unable to reform after his beating. Her skull was pathetically brittle by comparison. Danger occupied every breath she inhaled.
“There has to be another way. I can’t kill you. I can’t kill anyone in cold blood. What kind of person do you think I am?” she wailed. “It’s your idea. You do it, if you’re serious . . .What am I saying?” She placed a hand over her mouth.
“I do not have the self-control. It does not serve my self-interest. You must do it to protect yourself. Do it now, before I lose all control. I won’t try to fight back now, but later I will. I will overpower you. You are weak. You have a right to protect yourself. No-one will blame you. No-one.”
Massoud looked at the weapon in her right hand trained unsteadily on the captain, once again feeling that her extremities were not part of herself. She struggled to find her own reason and develop her own logic. With an extreme effort, she conventionalized the situation by applying the discipline of problem-solving.
“Okay. Okay. Let’s not run ahead of ourselves. To make a good decision, I need to understand what’ is going on. Tell me everything you can about what’ is happening to you. Anything at all that might help.”
“You are hesitating. You do not have enough time for that. I want to save my crew—so I do not want to do you harm, but I will. I would die to save my crew, so let me die.”
“Captain! Listen to me. If you want me to do what you ask, convince me it’s necessary. Tell me everything you can. Convince me. Give me lots of details. I will need them. I will really, really need them.”
The man who was once Capt. Teloc growled his impatience. “It’s the myash. Every male Gnostian suffers it at some point during his life, usually four or five times, before he reaches old age. Our emotions are unbridled. Out of control. I am insane, and I am very angry. Very, very angry.”
“Captain, focus! Tell me more.”
“It’s happening too often to me,” he cried. “It comes from living with you humans with all your outbursts and smells and irrationalities. It’s unbalancing me,” he exclaimed angrily. “Some men withdraw into themselves, but I get angry and dangerous. It’s your fault. It’s all your fault.” He eyed her viciously.
“No, Captain, it is not,” Massoud was firm and intent. “It’s just a natural process we have to deal with . . .somehow. What do they do on Gnost when this happens?”
“We go to a kind of monastery—a retreat. We are incarcerated, and the monks take care of us to atone for their own crimes. There are drugs and mental exercises . . .”
“Mental exercises. What kind . . .?”
He cut her off sharply. “They don’t work. They never have. They just reflect the usual Gnostian obsession with mental discipline. How can mental exercises work against this?”
“So, what does work? There has to be something other than violence. Why does violence calm you down, temporarily at least? What’s the mechanism? Maybe we could replicate it in some way that’s not so destructive.”
“Don’t be stupid, with the resources we have in a pod! That idiot doctor was going to pump half the ship’s pharmacy into me. There is nothing here. What can we do? I don’t want to die, so kill me quickly before my mind is gone again.”
As much as the tight quarters of the pod would allow, the captain curled up and away from her. She debated whether to let him enjoy this anxious calm or to press ahead with her questioning. Fearing further deterioration in his condition with the passage of time, she decided to proceed directly.
“Captain,” she said gently, “tell me more.”
She paused to consider her next question, but the captain’s piteous voice emerged from his huddled form. “It’s something about the release of intense emotions with violence. It seems to use up all of our emotional capacity—burns it out, so that we are something like ourselves for a short while until the emotions return.”
“You mean violence does this—because it is intense?”
“What about other intense emotions—positive emotions like joy?” she asked optimistically. “Would they work?”
“Joy,” he roared. “Joy! Are you a fool? What is there to be joyous about? Do you know what just happened to us? The only joy I want now is to have the Xenos come hunt us down so I can tear them limb from limb. Maybe they can kill me—and you can go on your cowardly way. You don’t have the guts to do this.”
“Actually, I don’t have the heart to do it”, she said quietly, almost to herself.
He turned to look at her. “Of course not. You have to be everybody’s friend. You need everyone to like you. Do you want command or not? You must do what is needed Massoud. You must kill me. Are you worried that your friends will think badly of you? Would you rather they mourned you? I am giving you a chance to save yourself. Take it. Take it.”
“No, I’ll die first.” Her hand shook as she changed the setting on the gun to stun.
“It won’t be clean—I might torture or rape you to begin . . .”
Her hand hovered over the setting, but her resolve held.
She left the setting at stun.
“Because this is not who you really are. You’re a good man. I admire you. If I destroyed what you are now, I would destroy a worthy person too. Your life or mine. If it has to be one, then . . .logically it should be me. I’m not important to anyone.”
“You would sacrifice yourself . . ..” The captain fell silent, taking slow breaths, calming himself to a degree. “There is something else that might work. It might not.”
Massoud grasped at it. “What?”
Massoud shrunk back.
His voice was fractured. “Right now, I admire you very much. Very much indeed. Perhaps enough to feel a strong emotion if we . . .” He looked at her intensely, his hand reaching for a loosened lock of hair on her shoulder, coiling it in his fingers, fascinated by it. She could retreat no further into her seat. She still had the weapon. She could stun him, but eventually he would wake, and they would face the same problem. Could she, should she, keep him stunned for a week, when they should be moving, and doing something to better their situation? She would need to sleep. What then? Would this even work? Voluntary sex was better than rape—less damaging anyway, physically at least. It was definitely better than a cold-blooded killing. Would it work? Could she go through with it? Wouldn’t she try to break away and then all his rage would emerge and destroy her?
His face was very close to her now, his mouth close to her neck. She realized he was smelling her, moving his nose from her neck to her ears and back again. His breath was alarmingly warm and intimate on her exposed skin. She felt a tingle where he brushed against her. Her body was alive and her mind in revolt. His lips met hers, moving gently, and she unconsciously opened her mouth to welcome him. The only words in her head, What are you doing Elizabeth, what are you doing? He pulled away, holding her face in his hands. His eyes burned into her with a shocking intensity, flickering with the anguish of the man she knew. His voice cut through her doubt, “Help me, please help me,” and she knew what she would do.
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