Close Obsession : Chapter 1
The Krinar stared at the image in front of him, his hands clenching into fists.
The three-dimensional hologram showed Korum and the guardians approaching the hut on the beach. One of the guardians raised his arm, and the hut blew into pieces, fragments of wood flying everywhere. The fragile human-built structure was clearly no match for the basic nano-blast weapon all guardians carried with them.
The K raised his hand and the image shifted, the flying recording device approaching the wreckage to take a closer look. He didn’t worry that the device would be spotted; it was smaller than a mosquito and had been designed by Korum himself.
No, the device was perfect for this task.
As it hovered over the hut, the K could see the drama playing out in the basement, which had been exposed by the blast. The guardians jumped down there, while Korum appeared to be carefully studying the remnants of the hut above ground.
Of course, the K thought, his nemesis would be thorough. Korum would want to make sure nothing and no one escaped from the scene.
The Keiths – the K had started calling them by that name in his mind as well – were panicking, and Rafor stupidly attacked one of the guardians. A foolish move on his part, the K thought dispassionately, watching as the invisible protective shield surrounding the guardians repelled the attack. Now the black-haired Krinar male was jerking uncontrollably on the floor, his nervous system fried from contact with the deadly shield. Had he been human, he would’ve died instantly.
The guardians didn’t let him suffer for long. At the command from their leader, one of the guardians swiftly knocked Rafor unconscious with the stun weapon embedded in his fingers.
The other Keiths were smart enough to avoid Rafor’s fate and simply stood there as the silvery crime-collars were locked into place around their necks. They looked angry and defiant, but there was nothing they could do. They were now prisoners, and they would be judged by the Council for their crime.
After a couple of minutes, Korum jumped down into the basement as well, and the K could see that his enemy was furious. He’d known he would be. The Keiths were as good as gone; Korum would show them no mercy.
Sighing, the K switched off the image. He would watch it in greater detail later. For now, he had to figure out some other way to neutralize Korum and implement his plan.
The future of Earth depended on it.
“Welcome home, darling,” Korum said softly as the green landscape of Lenkarda appeared beneath their feet, and the ship landed as quietly as it had taken off.
Her heart hammering in her chest, Mia slowly got up off the seat that had cradled her body so comfortably. Korum was already up, and he extended his hand to her. She hesitated for a second, and then accepted it, clutching his palm with a death grip. The lover she’d thought of as the enemy for the past month was now her only source of comfort in this strange land.
They exited the aircraft and walked a few steps before Korum stopped. Turning back toward the ship, he made a small gesture with his free hand. All of a sudden, the air around the pod began to shimmer, and Mia again heard the low humming sound that signified nanomachines at work.
“You’re building something else?” she asked him, surprised.
He shook his head with a smile. “No, I’m un-building.”
And as Mia watched, layers of ivory material appeared to peel off the surface of the ship, dissolving in front of her eyes. Within a minute, the ship was gone in its entirety, all of its components turning back into the individual atoms from which they’d been made back in New York.
Despite her stress and exhaustion, Mia couldn’t help but marvel at the miracle she’d just witnessed. The ship that had just brought them thousands of miles in a matter of minutes had completely disintegrated, as though it had never existed in the first place.
“Why did you do that?” she asked Korum. “Why un-build it?”
“Because there’s no need for it to exist and take up space right now,” he explained. “I can create it again whenever we need to use it.”
It was true, he could. Mia had witnessed it herself only a few minutes ago on the rooftop of his Manhattan apartment. And now he had un-created it. The pod that had transported them here no longer existed.
As the full implications of that hit her, her heart rate spiked again, and she suddenly found it hard to breathe.
A wave of panic washed over her.
She was now stranded in Costa Rica, in the main K colony – completely dependent on Korum for everything. He had made the ship that had brought them there, and he had just unmade it. If there was another way out of Lenkarda, Mia didn’t know about it.
What if he had lied to her earlier? What if she would never see her family again?
She must’ve looked as terrified as she felt because Korum squeezed her hand gently. The feel of his large, warm hand was oddly reassuring. “Don’t worry,” he said softly. “It will be all right, I promise.”
Mia focused on taking deep breaths, trying to beat back the panic. She had no choice but to trust him now. Even back in New York, he could do anything he wanted with her. There was no reason for him to make her promises that he didn’t intend to keep.
Still, the irrational fear gnawed at her insides, adding to the unsavory brew of emotions boiling in her. The knowledge that Korum had been manipulating her all along, using her to crush the Resistance, was like acid in her stomach, burning her from the inside. Everything he’d done, everything he’d said – it had all been a part of his plan. While she had been agonizing over spying on him, he had probably been secretly laughing at her pathetic attempts to outwit him, to help the cause he’d known was doomed to failure from the very beginning.
She felt like such an idiot now for going along with everything the Resistance had told her. It had seemed to make so much sense at the time; she’d felt so noble helping her kind fight against the invaders who had taken over her planet. And instead, she’d unwittingly participated in a power grab by a small group of Ks.
Why hadn’t she stopped to think, to fully analyze the situation?
Korum had told her that the entire Resistance movement had been wrong, completely misguided in their mission. And despite herself, Mia had believed him.
The Ks hadn’t killed the freedom fighters who had attacked their Centers – and that simple fact told her a lot about the Krinar and their views on humans. If the Ks had truly been the monsters the Resistance portrayed them to be, none of the fighters would have survived.
At the same time, she didn’t fully trust Korum’s explanation of what a charl was. When John had spoken about his kidnapped sister, there had been too much pain in his voice for it all to be a lie. And Korum’s own actions toward her fit much better with John’s explanation than with his own. Her lover had denied that the Ks kept humans as their pleasure slaves, yet he’d given her very little choice about anything in their relationship thus far. He had wanted her, and, just like that, her life was no longer her own. She’d been swept off her feet and into his TriBeCa penthouse – and now here she was, in the K Center in Costa Rica, following him toward some unknown destination.
As much as she dreaded the answer to her question, she had to know. “Is Dana here?” Mia asked carefully, not wanting to provoke his temper. “John’s sister? John said she’s a charl in Lenkarda . . .”
“No,” Korum said, shooting her an unreadable look. “John was misinformed – I’m guessing, deliberately – by the Keiths.”
“She’s not a charl?”
“No, Mia, she was never a charl in the true sense of the word. She was what you would call a xeno – a human obsessed with all things Krinar. Her family never knew that. When she met Lotmir in Mexico, she begged to go with him, and he agreed to take her for some period of time. The last I heard, she got someone else to take her to Krina. I imagine she’s quite happy there, given her preferences. As to why she left without a word to her family, I think it probably has something to do with her father.”
“Dana and John haven’t had a very happy childhood,” Korum said, and she could feel his hand tightening on hers. “Their father is someone who should’ve been exterminated long ago. Based on the intelligence we’ve gathered about your Resistance contact, John’s father has a particular fetish that involves very young children –”
“He’s a pedophile?” Mia asked quietly, bile rising in her throat at the thought.
Korum nodded. “Indeed. I believe his own children were the primary recipients of his affections.”
Sickened and filled with intense pity for John and Dana, Mia looked away. If this was true, then she couldn’t blame Dana for wanting to get away, to leave everything connected with her old life behind. Although Mia’s own family was normal and loving, she’d had some interactions with victims of domestic and child abuse as part of her internship last summer. She knew about the scars it left on the child’s psyche. When they got older, some of these children turned to drugs or alcohol to dull their pain. Dana had apparently turned to sex with Ks.