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If he'd been kicked in the gut, Lucifer thought with a mixture of fury and disbelief he carefully concealed, he did not think it could more effectively have knocked the breath from him than the question lodged at him by the group of scientists studying him with the same clinical detachment they would have felt for a fungus.
All of them, that is, except for the woman--Nicole.
As usual, she was struggling hard to pretend she was somewhere else, or part of the furnishings in the Spartan room where they held him.
She was keenly aware of him, though, maybe more aware of him than any of the others, as hard as she tried to pretend that wasn't so.
Curious to know if the question had stunned her as much at it had him, he allowed his gaze to wander over her assessingly--or tried. He found it difficult to maintain any sort of detachment when he looked at her.
It was hard to pinpoint what it was about her that made that impossible when it shouldn't have been.
He was sure he should have found the pale, wingless creature unappealing if not repulsive. He would have, he thought, if he had only been told about one such as her.
That had not been the case, though--unfortunately.
Despite all reason, from the moment he had first set eyes upon her he had been--fascinated with her.
Obsessed might have been more accurate and that had been a purely physical reaction. The longer he studied her, though, the stronger the pull. Nothing had lessened the primal desire for her--not the pain and humiliation they inflicted on him, not her determination to ignore him or at least keep her distance--but the more heobserved her, learned about her, the stronger the invisible chains that coiled around him until he could no longer discount it as purely physical. Unfortunately, as much as he would have liked to deny it, the attraction was on both a physical and an intellectual level.
She was tiny, wingless, fragile, and so pale her skin seemed almost translucent, as speckled as a tynal egg--he had no idea why just looking at her was enough to make it nearly impossible for him to drag his mind from thoughts of claiming her, but so it was, and no amount of reasoning would banish the thoughts, and nothing she had done had even served to lessen what had quickly become an obsession.
It wasn't just his interest in her that appalled him. Under other circumstances he wouldn't even have questioned it. He was a man--she was a woman--an exotic creature unlike any he'd ever seen before--and it had been a long time since he had had any opportunity to assuage his needs--a very long time.
It was his inability to focus on anything else when she was near him that disturbed him when, at the very least, he shouldn't have been able to dismiss the disaster from his mind even if he could have dismissed his personal circumstances. "I will demonstrate--with her," he responded finally, mostly, he thought, to see how she would react--if he could get a reaction out of her at all.
Or perhaps not, he thought ruefully when she lifted wide, pale blue eyes to meet his gaze for the first time--ever.
Once, he thought, it would take only once and she would be his--and she would not be able to deny it.
Then, maybe, he would be able to gain a little perspective.
Nicole had been doodling on the pad she'd brought to make notes on, trying, without a great deal of success, to present an outward appearance of cool scientific objectivity in the subject under discussion--the sexuality of the Saitren, an alien race from a world he called Nadryl--but at that announcement she lifted her head with a jerk of surprise. For a handful of seconds, she met the gaze of the alien chained to the wall on the other side of the room, noted with an uncomfortable gallop of her heart rate that he was staring directly at her, and then looked around the room uncertainly, wondering who he was planning on 'demonstrating' with. Discovering that every eye in the room was now focused speculatively on her, she felt a heated blush begin in her face until her cheeks felt as if they were glowing.
The realization that he'd meant her hit her between the eyes like a hammer blow, undeniable once it sank into her head that he'd been looking straight at her when he'd said it, and everyone, except her, had grasped that immediately.
In vain, she waited for her fellow scientists to veto the suggestion--to scoff, express outrage.
She realized after a few moments that they were waiting for her response.
No--more accurately, she could see from the speculation in their eyes and the expectancy on their faces that they were wondering what she might have done to prompt the suggestion to start with and waiting for her to accept the 'scientific' challenge.
Outrage surfaced. She ignored the slow churn of heat low in her belly that was a purely unscientific reaction to the suggestion and the look on the alien's face--Lucifer, he called himself, appropriately enough, since he bore an uncanny resemblance to an ancient mythological being that had been known by the same name.
Speculation over that similarity was rife, and the study team had broken into two factions.
Half were convinced his kind had visited Earth centuries before and that the myths arose from these beings.
The other half was equally convinced that he had somehow gained access to the ancient texts, realized the resemblance to himself, and was trying to convince them he was a descendent of beings who'd visited the Earth before.
There were a few inconsistencies with the last that didn't seem to bother those who clung to the latter theory so determinedly--he hadn't claimed any such thing, and he spoke a Latin based language--English--in a previously unknown dialect which he called Saitren.
The story, he might have managed, somehow, to access. The language--primarily Latin--was dead, had long fallen into disuse except as a written language, and, even at that, was not widely used. Moreover, there was no hesitancy to his speech, no groping for unfamiliar words as one might expect if it wasn't his native tongue. He spoke it fluently and with the emphasis on specific words that carried the emotions behind the comments.
She wasn't a mathematician, but even to her the odds seemed astronomical that the same language would've developed on his world as theirs.
The heavily manacled, dangerous being across the room from them certainly wasn't a 'nut case' trying to convince them he was from the country of Heillius on another world--Nadryl--regardless of the uncomfortable similarity between the name of his land, his name, and his appearance to those ancient myths. Although in some respects he was amazingly human-like--from his physical appearance, to his internal organs, and right down to his DNA--not just humanoid--in many more ways he was shockingly un-human. His skin was red--not just carrying a faintly reddish tint, but the red of a deep blush on a swarthy skinned person--not even close to anything considered 'normal' for humans. His hair was black, but the highlights greenish in tint--highlights no human hair held. Beyond the coloration of his hair and skin, he had horns--a pair of short, slightly curled, pointy nubs approximately an inch and a half long--sprouting from his forehead at the hairline--and wings which more nearly resembled the wings of a bat than anything else known to man--a thin membrane of reddish/purple skin stretched over spiny, jointed bones similar to the bones found in the hands and feet--or more accurately, she supposed, a bird's wings.
Her throat closed with emotions she didn't want to identify when it dawned on her that her team mates were actually taking his suggestion seriously. "No!"
Although she spoke to the room at large, her gaze had been snared by the Saitren man, and she couldn't seem to look away. Something glittered in Lucifer's dark eyes, but it was impossible to tell from his expression what was going through his mind--sex, she had to suppose, although there was nothing about his hard expression to indicate barely leashed, or even barely warm, passion.
It was easier to decipher the expressions of the others.
"We'll consider this," Dr. Murray said decisively, getting to his feet as if to dismiss the session.
Nicole surged to her feet, as well, but before she could object further, the research team flowed around her. Someone grasped her arm in a firm grip, and she was ushered from the room. Too stunned to react at first, she shook the hand off when she discovered it was Dr. Sam Clements. "We need to consider this offer from a scientific standpoint," he said coolly.
Nicole felt her jaw go slack with disbelief. "There's nothing to consider!" she snapped.
"He's offered to cooperate. This is the first time he's cooperated in any way with our studies. We can't simply dismiss the opportunity to study the Saitren procreation process due to a hysterical, purely feminine reaction. You're a scientist, Dr. Williams! Your first priority should be in advancing our studies of this important species."
"She isn't a guinea pig!" Dr. Sandra Waters volunteered indignantly.
"Thank you for the voice of reason!" Nicole exclaimed, a little surprised that the younger woman, who'd never seemed to like her, had planted herself firmly on her side. "It's outrageous for you to even expect me to volunteer--and I noticed no one asked! If you're so hot to 'explore' the sexuality of the Saitren, you fuck him!"
Dr. Boyd Murray glared at her. "That's a prime example of hysteria if I ever heard one! You've no need to resort to crudities! He was very pointed in singling you out, Nicky. Obviously, he has a preference, aside from the fact that I am not a female and would be useless for the experiment."
"Crude language!" Nicole gasped furiously. "Exactly what would you call asking--no demanding--that I let that--alien mount me as if I was some sort of brood mare--nothing more than a lab animal? It sure as hell isn't 'making love'. If it offends your sensibilities to call it what it is, you'll have to pardon me!"
"I'll volunteer," Dr. Waters interjected just as everyone tensed to argue the matter.
The comment took the wind out of everyone's sails. Nicole gaped at the woman, wondering, since it let her off the hook, why resentment instantly swelled in her breast. "There!" she said, trying to infuse enthusiasm in her voice that she was far from feeling. "You have a female volunteer."
"You don't think his sudden willingness to cooperate is suspect?" Dr. Mark Collins asked cautiously.
The question drew everyone's attention away from Sandra Waters.
Mark, the youngest member of the team, reddened. "I'm just saying he hasn't cooperated before. He's resisted every step of the way--quite violently at times. Why would he suddenly capitulate--and on this point?"
"We've been holding him for study for weeks," Clements said dryly. "The sex drive of a human male is generally a good deal stronger than what he's displayed thus far. I think it would be safe to assume his drive has overcome his reluctance to perform, especially with a human female--however unappealing he might find them." He looked thoughtful when he'd finished and missed the glares both Nicole and Sandra sent him. "Can we assume, I wonder, that the Saitren don't have the same drive as the human male? Or is it the circumstances? Or maybe just a lack of interest in the females available?"
He looked Sandra and Nicole over speculatively, apparently noticed, then, that they'd taken exception to his assessment of their appeal to the male, and reddened slightly. "Not but what Drs. Waters and Williams aren't reasonably attractive females--ah women."
Thank you for the high compliment, Nicole thought angrily. As if he had any room to talk about 'reasonably' attractive!
"I can't tell you how devastated I am to discover your opinion is that I fall somewhere between 'reasonably' attractive and unattractive, dough boy!" Sandra snapped.
"Must we descend to juvenile name calling?" Murray demanded.
"I guess we must if Dr. Clements is determined to share his personal opinion with us!" Sandra retorted.
Clements glared at her for a moment but then turned thoughtful. "She has a point," he murmured. "We should consider the 'attraction' factor of his request. If we're to pursue this from a scientific standpoint, we should pull up all of the research we can in case studies on human sexuality and try to determine if he actually is sexually aroused by Nicky or if he had other motivations for offering and, if so, what they were. The studies would probably help us determine where Nicky stands in relation to her attraction to the human male, which would hopefully, in turn, allow us to determine the points of interest in the Saitren."
Not that he could figure it out himself, Nicole thought irritably, the pursuit of science having, apparently, neutered him somewhere along the way.
She supposed she had no reason to quibble. She didn't find Clements particularly attractive, and she certainly didn't want him to be attracted to her. She had been moderately interested in Dr. Murray--the jackass!--but obviously that wasn't mutual or he wouldn't have suggested what he had. "I think this entire idea is in poor taste, aside from being less than 'scientific'! I can't believe any of you are actually considering it! We don't have a Saitren female, so we can't really study the reproduction of the Saitren--or their mating habits. Aside from--possibly--making him happy, exactly what is it you hope to accomplish with such an 'experiment'? Sexuality isn't even our field."
"We were called upon to discover everything we possibly could about this species," Murray pointed out. "Whether it's a specialty or not, we need to learn whatever we can. If, as the government suspects, he's some sort of ... scout, maybe his purpose for suggesting it is because that's one of the things he wants to learn to take back to his people? Whether or not our females would be suitable for mating purposes?"
"That's ... really reaching!" Nicole snapped. "It's obvious from his physiology that they procreate like most of the animals on this planet, including mankind--which means they have females. Why would they have any interest in females of another species?"
"They're actually more like another race than another species," Mark pointed out. "We've already determined that--that there are only very minor differences between us--on a genetic level."
Nicole narrowed a look at him. "Fine! It's obvious the majority have already decided to pursue this avenue of study. I don't agree that it's necessary or desirable, but since Dr. Waters has volunteered, I'm willing to leave it at that--that I disagreed with the general consensus."