Not everyone was happy when the S’karians joined the Unified Worlds. Riots, mass protests, even some shootings erupted. Those of us who were actually glad of new allies grew used to it—there was the right of free speech after all. Still, I didn’t realize how bad things really were until the WSF—World Security Force—came banging on my door, accusing my husband, a S’karian, of murder.

    “Mrs. Katya Vsklia?” The brusque, military voice of a WSF officer inquired via the comm.

    It was a chill morning that day. The antique coffee maker in the kitchen was brewing what I thought the best morning drink in the galaxy. I shuddered in dread as I opened the door. “Yes? How can I help you, officer?”

    “Do you know a S’karian named Xanilz Vsklia?”

    My heart thudded in my chest. Why would the WSF be asking for Xan? “Y-yes. He’s my husband. What’s happened? Is he hurt?” All sorts of tragedies played out in my head and I clutched the side of the doorframe, my blue eyes widening.

    A woman clad in the uniform of a WSF Investigator stepped next to the WSF officer. “I’m Investigator Maggie Flemming. Your husband’s not hurt, Mrs. Vsklia. May we come in?” Her severe, military-style haircut and pressed uniform told me she wasn’t someone who wasted time on something urgent.

    Tightening my thick robe around me like a comfort shield, I let the door slide open all the way. “Please, come in.” Our small home had only a living room, kitchen, master bedroom, and bathroom, but what made it special to me was the combinations of S’karian technology and good-old Earth tech. Seeing WSF pouring in and going over every inch of our privacy was like an insult. “Xan’s not here if you’re wondering, Investigator.”

    A shadow crossed over Maggie’s face and her smooth hand gripped my elbow as she steered me towards the couch. “We know where your husband is, Mrs. Vsklia. Xanilz was arrested three hours ago. He’s being held at WSF Central.”

    It was like she had punched me in the stomach. My hands trembled. “Arrested? Why?”

    “Chancellor Morgan was killed during a fundraising event last night. One of the witnesses identified your husband at the party around the time of death.”

    “You think Xan killed the Chancellor?” I dared whisper. “No, he couldn’t have. Xan wouldn’t harm anyone unless he had to. Even then, he would never kill them.” I sank onto the couch, my legs too weak with shock to keep me standing.

    Maggie’s green eyes glinted like jewel shards even as she attempted a sympathetic smile. “I’m sure he wouldn’t, Mrs. Vsklia, but there is some strong evidence pointing at your husband’s involvement. Would you mind coming to Central to answer some more questions?”

    Mind? I would have jumped into the path of a brown dwarf to clear Xan! “Of course not. Um, let me get changed first.” Jumping up from the couch, I rushed into our bedroom. No, he couldn’t have done it. Xan’s not the kind of S’karian who would kill a human for no reason. He’s not a killer at all! Slipping on a casual pair of 21st century jeans, sneakers, and a black long sleeve, I just knew that the anti-alien people were just going to love hearing that Xan was arrested. The Pro-Human League had been looking forward to any opportunity to blame a S’karian of a high-level crime like murder. If they had anything to say about it, Xan would be put in jail or even receive the death penalty.

    The atmosphere inside of the WSF hovercar was tense and foreboding, filling me with even more dread that Xan was in deep trouble. Maggie was opposite me, watching me all the way with such intensity that I began wondering if she suspected me as well. “You don’t have to be scared, Mrs. Vsklia,” she said into the silence.

    Instead of jumping, I smirked at the irony. “I’m not scared, Investigator. I’m only concerned that the PHL will put too much pressure on you to let you clear Xan of the charges.”

    Maggie snorted and for a moment, I saw a real woman. “That’s putting it lightly, but I assure you that we’re not going to blame your husband of anything until we know exactly what happened. We don’t need an inter-planetary argument on top of it.”

    I just raised my eyebrows as the hovercar glided to a stop in front of a multi-level, unimpressive gray building. Already in my mind I was planning on calling my little sister, Angie, and her amateur detective group to do some of their own sleuthing. The WSF were great at what they did, but my father had often pointed out that politics got in their way far too many times than necessary. Although avoiding alienating the S’karians because of a false accusation might help us rather than the other way around.

    Maggie opened the door for me and closed it firmly when I stepped out. “Now just follow me, Mrs. Vsklia. You’ll see your husband soon.”

    The WSF Central swallowed me up and I entered a world of sterile white offices, hallways, rooms, and lifts. The only colors were from everything not architecture. Even the uniforms were a bland gray color. It was altogether safe, professional, and no opening for any real sympathy for a wife of a possible murderer. We stepped into a lift that shot up as soon as the doors closed, the closeness of the other WSF making the lift feel smaller than it really was. Fifteen stories up, I was led into a less austere floor of offices and holding rooms. I peeked through the windows; only three of the seven rooms were in use…and one of them held a pacing S’karian I knew as well as myself. My heart lurched and I looked at Maggie uncertainly.

    A look crossed Maggie’s face and she nodded. “I’ll give you a few minutes,” she promised, gesturing at the guard to the room’s door.

    Not waiting for any other approval, I raced for the now open door. I needed to hold him, feel him to make sure he really was all right. “Xan-u!” I exclaimed in relief when I burst into the room.

    Xan whirled around, his thick white hair swinging with the motion, and I was smothered in a relieved hug. “Katya-u, you’re safe. I’d thought the PHL—”

    “I’m fine, Xan,” I reassured him, clutching him to me. A faint musky scent rose from his pale blue skin. “Did they do anything to you?”

    A quiet chuckle purred from his throat and his hand tilted my head up so I could see his solid-colored eyes. (S’karians might look relatively human, but their eyes would give them away seeing as they had no whites.) They were a swirl of blue and green, the color of our pair-bond and a color he only showed me. “Of course not. Even if they did, you would certainly know and have verbally flayed several dozen WSF by now.” His graceful, angled face relaxed a trifle just like the rest of his agile, predator-like body.

    Feeling my own tiny bit of S’karian genes respond, I knew my own eyes mirrored my husband’s. I grinned weakly. “Maybe.” Pausing, I switched from Earth Basic to S’kari. “Were you at that fundraiser, Xan?” I whispered, the stilted, slither-like language flying from my lips. If he somehow managed to lie with our bond, S’kari would make him tell the truth. No one could lie in S’kari; it was physically impossible, though bending the truth didn’t quite count.

    “Absolutely not,” was Xan’s firm answer. His eyes turned a grim shade of green. “I was with Tilv like we talked about.”

    I nodded and rubbed my forehead where a mental headache was already starting. Convincing the WSF about how I knew where he had been was going to be a problem considering I didn’t understand half of it myself. “I know. I just had to ask.”

    Someone cleared his or her throat behind me. “I’m sorry for interrupting, but we have a lot of questions we’d like to ask you,” Maggie apologized, though her voice was strictly professional.

    My heart raced as I slowly followed Maggie out towards another room, but Xan’s eyes flashed two colors: a deep brown like my hair for reassurance and our dual-colored bond-sight as his way of telling me he still loved me. Right, don’t think negative, you’ll only look guilty. I told myself and straightened, following Maggie around several working WSF. Xan was innocent, I was sure of it. There was no way a bonded pair as new as us could lie and lie in S’kari.

    There was a new Investigator already waiting for us who Maggie introduced as Cameron Hartford. Tall, tanned from too much time outside, and with matching black hair and eyes, Cameron was more relaxed than Maggie; a people person. “Thank you for coming down on such a short notice, Mrs. Vsklia. I’m sure this isn’t a great start to your day.”

    “Oh, I’m sure the PHL feels quite differently, Investigator,” I managed to reply calmly, cautiously sitting in a chair on one side of the table. “What’s going to happen with Xan?”

    “Right now I’m just going to ask him the same questions Hartford will be asking you,” Maggie replied on her way out. “Don’t worry, we’re not thinking of him as a suspect yet.” The door slid closed behind her.

    “Have you had any problems with the PHL, Mrs. Vsklia?” Cameron asked in Maggie’s wake.

    I shrugged. “It’s just been little things like making it hard for us to get somewhere or just a nasty com message. If any of the messages were threatening, believe me, we would’ve told you by now.”

    For a moment, Cameron didn’t look like he believed me, but he nodded. “Okay. Mrs. Vsklia, I’ll be asking you some questions you might find hard to answer, but please try and answer as best as you can.”

    “Anything to help Xan, Investigator. Please, ask any questions you need to.”

    “Very well. How did you first meet your husband?”

    A smile tugged at my mouth at the memories that brought up. “I’m a part of an old-style Broadway company called Broadway Reruns. A year and a half ago, when the first S’karian delegation was visiting, we received an invitation from Chancellor Morgan’s secretary to give the S’karians a private performance. I met Xan at the dinner afterward.”

    “So Xanilz was part of the delegation.”


    Cameron made some notes. “When did you marry Xanilz?”

    I mentally winced at his pronunciation, but kept that part to myself. “Around six months after that.”

    His brows came together in a frown. “So you only knew your husband for six months? That’s not a lot of time to get to know him very well.”

    Sighing, I crossed my legs. This was the tip of the iceberg as far as the complicated bond subjects that I only knew a little about. “It’s complicated, but from what I was told, every S’karian has a bond-mate somewhere in the galaxy. For a good portion of their history, it’s been another S’karian, but sometimes inter-species bond-pairs pop up. Xan and I just…clicked, you can say. Six months was more than enough time for me to really get to know him.”


    “When a S’karian couple or, in our case, S’karian/Human couple bond, their minds meld enough that it’s like one mind in two people. I know Xan as if I was him.”

    Either I was seeing things, or Cameron gave a little shudder at that. “So he can’t lie to you?”

    “Absolutely not, not in this short a time since we bonded.”

    Cameron made some more notes, the beeping almost too loud in the close room. He cleared his throat. “Where were you last night between ten pm and two am?”

    “At home, trying to get some sleep from a four-hour rehearsal yesterday.”

    “Is there anyone who can verify you were home?”

    I nodded. “My next door neighbor, Mrs. Cullen. I talked to her a bit through the window before going to bed.”

    Seriousness grew on the Investigator’s face. “Do you know where your husband was?”

    I made myself stay calm. “He was visiting his sister, Tilv, for the first time in a year. This was the first time he could go by himself without me having to tag along.”

    “Was he planning any brief detours?”

    I shook my head again. “No.”

    “During the chaos at the fundraiser, several witnesses managed to describe with some accuracy the tattoo on Xanilz’s face.” Cameron’s datapad made a bleep sound and he handed it to me. “This is what we were able to extrapolate.”

    As soon as I gripped the datapad, my blood ran cold. It was my husband’s Mark, all right, in every detail. My own Mark—an honor I’d received when I’d married Xan—felt like a brand. “Impossible. I briefly talked with Tilv and Xan and they were both at Tilv’s place. No two Marks are the same, Investigator, so Xan couldn’t have been at the fundraiser.” I paused; worry dropping my heart down to my shoes. “How could so many people describe this so perfectly?”

    Cameron took the datapad back. “Several were close enough to get a good look,” he admitted. “However, we were able to get a clearer image from security cameras around the room.”

    “A clear image?” I repeated dumbly. “Wouldn’t a murderer try and hide his face?” Angie and her group had told me once that murderers, especially high-class assassins, would reveal as little of themselves as possible. Unless whoever did it wanted to frame Xan in the first place. Keeping my face still, I shook my head fiercely. “I’m sorry, Investigator, but there’s no way Xan could have killed Chancellor Morgan. Not without me knowing.”

    Cameron was silent for a while. “All right. We’re just going to check your alibis and if they check out, I’ll just have a few more questions before you can go.” He stood up and briskly left the room.

    I felt numb. Go home without Xan? The very idea was torture, leaving him to the mercies of the WSF, but I knew they wouldn’t let me go unless they knew for sure I had nothing to do with the murder. They would know Tilv and Mrs. Cullen’s addresses by now, but I was glad they didn’t have to talk to my sister. Angie would chew them out even more than I could. The fact that someone would go to the trouble of making another person look like Xan scared me, even though I wouldn’t let the WSF know that. If they could convince the general public and the WSF that it was Xan, then any S’karian would be at risk for future crimes.

    After what felt like hours, Cameron came back. “Okay, Mrs. Vsklia, you’re free to go.” He seemed relieved that I wasn’t involved, judging by his more casual manner.

    I sprang out of my seat as if it had pricking lasers in it. “Th-thank you, Investigator, but what about Xan?”

    Cameron led me out back into the busy mess of WSF. “We’re just going to keep him until we get some more evidence. Don’t worry, he won’t be hurt.” He squeezed my shoulder and trotted off to someone who had called him over.

    Not physically, you mean. My sour mind filled in. I stopped in front of Xan’s room. His eyes were an agitated dark orange, but he was keeping his composure. Maggie was leaning slightly over the table; pressuring him about something, I was sure. My heart clenched. He shouldn’t have to go through this. Cautiously, in case they had a way to hear mind users, I reached out to the familiar hum of his mind with mine. I was nowhere near good enough to communicate with words, but I was getting pretty good with emotions and pictures. I sent what I hoped was a wave of reassurance towards him.

    Visually, Xan’s face didn’t change, but his eyes faded to a light black—a neutral, but more relaxed color. “Go, Katya-u,” his rolling mental voice wrapped around my mind. “There is nothing else you can do.”

    I sent an even stronger worry about leaving him alone. I didn’t want to go home when he was still stuck at WSF Central.

    “Don’t worry so much. I’ll be fine,” he responded, wrapping my mind in such a mental embrace, I felt a thrill close to what I had felt when we bonded. Xan’s mind left and I was in my own head once more.