“Please take a seat, Ms. Cressfield. Your guide will be with you shortly.”
Alyssa plopped into the armchair and accepted the courtesy cup of organically farmed coffee, which on this planet cost more than a month’s salary.
Happy birthday to me!
Excitement sparkled in her veins like champagne. Today, for her thirty-fifth birthday, she would realize her lifelong dream and buy herself a pet. Her gaze scanned the pristine expanse of the lobby, a hologram logo of the Interstellar Pet Training Inc. floating above the shiny white reception desk. The hot cup she nursed bore the same marking: a smiling human petting a kneeling alien. Soft music mingled with the gentle splash of the fountain located at the center of the room. Alyssa sipped her coffee, but its rich flavor barely registered.
Pet-keeping entailed responsibility. She wouldn’t be able to spend so much time running around shopping and partying with her friends anymore; she would have to be at home to feed and care for her new friend. But then again, building a relationship with her pet would be so rewarding. A pet was also a status symbol. She looked forward to flaunting her companion in public and receiving the admiring or envious looks associated with owning a pet.
Alyssa shifted her weight. She put her hand on the armrest, her fingers tapped the white leather. Finally, she heard footsteps on the marble floor, and a man approached.
“Ms. Cressfield? I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Welcome to Interstellar.”
Alyssa put her coffee down and rose. The IPT Inc. employee in his tailored suit shook her hand. “Thank you for considering us for your needs. I’m sure you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. My name’s William and I’ll be your guide today.”
Alyssa resisted the urge to jump up and down and squeal. “Great. Let’s get on with it.”
William gestured her to walk with him.
“Male or female?” he asked.
“Male,” Alyssa replied. Females tended to be easier to handle, but a male would look more impressive by her side. A big, sexy male with muscular arms…
“Is this your first pet, Ms. Cressfield?”
“What kind of training are you looking for? Do you mean to engage in pet shows or sports events?”
“No, I just want a house pet. If it turns out he’s interested in competition, I’ll train him further myself.”
“You want one with only the basic training, then. I’m happy to say that we have a large selection for you.” William gave her a broad smile. “You may have difficulty choosing.”
Alyssa grinned. “That’s exactly what I want. Impress me.”
The room they entered was lined with comfortably furnished glass exhibits, each occupied by a pet. In the first enclosure, a pale-skinned Lurexian sat reading a book. When Alyssa approached, he set it aside, moved up to the glass, and posed to accentuate his toned pectorals. His face and body were human-like, but his golden hair resembled a lion’s mane and he had a long, furry tail as well. William entered a command on his wristband, and the lights above the Lurexian’s glass cage dimmed. His skin began to glow with natural bioluminescence. He wore only a black loincloth. Alyssa licked her lips.
William seemed to notice where Alyssa’s gaze had drifted.
“Would you like him to remove the cloth?”
“Maybe later,” she said, eagerly turning her head toward the next exhibit.
They viewed several Lurexians, after which came Lizardians, fur-coated, quadrupedal Wolfmen, and tall Crasnians, with their gorgeous red eyes. The pets were all fit, handsome and healthy, and each bowed respectfully as she passed. No wonder IPT was said to be the best pet training center on Silenia.
Alyssa was in heaven, having so many good-looking males to choose from. She scarcely focused on any of them for more than five seconds before running to the next. Her heart skipped with delight as her gaze scanned the enclosures around her.
“I could spend the whole day here!”
“I fully encourage you to do so,” William said. “You want to choose the right companion.”
A glowing sign pointing to the adjoining room caught her eye. It said “hybrids”. Heat rose in her cheeks. Human-alien hybrids were the most popular sex pets. Being wealthy and attractive, Alyssa had no difficulty finding partners whenever she wanted someone in her bed, but owning a sexy creature and having him at her disposal at all times promised a new kind of excitement.
“I think I’d like a hybrid,” Alyssa said.
“Alien-alien or human-alien?”
William proceeded to direct her to the right side of the hybrid room.
“This one is very tame and amiable,” he said, pausing in front of a tall half-Lizardian. The pet looked like a man, but he had beautiful, bronze-colored scales. “Would you like to pet him?”
Alyssa nodded. William tapped his wristband. A section of the glass wall slid aside, creating an opening large enough to fit a hand through. The pet crawled on all fours to the opening and presented his shoulder. Alyssa ran her fingers over his skin. It felt warm, and more ridged than human skin. How delightful it would be to touch him every day. She cooed at him and tried to establish eye contact, but he kept his gaze averted. He didn’t even seem to realize she was there.
Alyssa wanted a pet she could interact with. She pulled her hand away. “Do you have any that are—”
A crash split the air, making her jump.
“Damn that thing!” someone in the next room shouted.
Alyssa looked at William with a raised eyebrow. William’s jaw had tightened, but he tried to give her a pleasant look.
“I’m sorry about the noise, Ms. Cressfield.”
“What was that?”
“It’s merely the new acquisition. His cage is in the training area.”
“Oh? Can I see him?”
“You wouldn’t be interested in him. He’s not ready yet. Still completely wild and untrained.”
Alyssa came alive with curiosity.
Wild! Untrained! What are they like when freshly caught?
She straightened. “I’d like to see him.”
William opened his mouth to speak, but then seemed to think better of it. He nodded politely and walked her through a door to a different area of the facility. Whereas the pet display areas were predominantly white, decorative, and spotlessly clean, the walls here were drab gray, everything with a strictly utilitarian look. Several empty cages lined the hallway. The new acquisition occupied the cage at the end. Four men stood in front of it, wearing dark uniforms with an armband identifying them as pet trainers. One of them collected scattered pieces of equipment off the floor.
“A client wants to see the new merchandise,” William announced.
The men looked warily at Alyssa but stepped aside. Alyssa faced the cage and gasped. A human-alien hybrid; a mouth-watering hunk of hard muscle. He looked mostly human, except for the brown-and-blue scales that covered both arms and part of his left leg. His posture radiated strength and defiance. He glared at all of them, his face twisted with barely contained rage. His eyes were pale blue with narrow pupils, typical of the humanoid-reptilian S’laurians.
He was also completely naked. Shreds of black cloth littered the floor of the cage.
He stalked toward them and threw himself against the glass wall, trying to break it. Alyssa started back, although she knew the glass would hold. The hybrid pounded his fist against it until his knuckles turned bloody. He threw Alyssa a snarl, sauntered to the back of the cage, and appeared to fume silently.
Alyssa’s heart pounded. She had never seen anything so ferocious and strangely attractive. Her gaze shifted to the red smudge on the glass.
“He hurt himself.”
“We’re going to have to sedate him for a while,” one of the trainers said. “Calm him down and start all over again. He’s not responding to the training like he should.”
“How long has he been here?”
“If you have seen enough, Ms. Cressfield, may I suggest we resume our tour?” William said.
Alyssa thought about going back to the other pets, but the idea left her cold. She couldn’t tear her gaze away from the beast hunkering in the corner. She stepped closer and tapped at the glass. He glanced over his shoulder. Their gazes met and the power behind his dark scowl made her breath catch.
I could tame him. Make him mine.
He was different from all the other pets. A flame licked her belly at the thought of owning this raging male, having this beast on a leash…
“No need. I want this one.”
William’s eyes widened. “But he hasn’t been tamed. Ms. Cressfield, this pet is extremely dangerous.”
“I know. I’ll be careful.”
“We usually don’t sell unbroken pets.”
Alyssa fixed a stern gaze on William. “I’m the client, and I want to buy this one. Do we have a deal or not?”
“Of course,” he replied, paused, and cleared his throat. “Perhaps…you would like to learn more about your new possession before we handle the transaction?”
Alyssa smiled and turned to the nearest trainer. “Does he speak English?”
The trainer scratched his head. “We haven’t exactly managed to have a conversation with him, but judging from the curses he throws at us…yes, I’d say he speaks English.”
“His estimated age is thirty-eight standard years,” a younger trainer said, handing Alyssa a data pad. “Here’s his file. Half human, half S’laurian, strong and healthy, should be suitable for almost anything if you can tame him. You can feed him regular human food, just make sure it’s low in carbohydrates and high in protein. And regular exercise is important. It should help curb the violent outbursts.”
Alyssa skimmed over the file. She couldn’t wait to have him transported to her apartment, to have him all to herself.
“I have the cage and everything else ready at my apartment. How soon can you bring him over?”
“We’ll need to chip him and run a few tests,” William said. “Would tomorrow morning be suitable?”
“Tomorrow morning would be perfect. Now, the price…”
“Yes. Please excuse me for a second. I need to talk to my superior—this specimen is untrained and doesn’t yet have a price.”
Alyssa nodded. She dreamily gazed at her new pet while William stepped aside to make a phone call. The wild creature kept his back turned to them. His muscular shoulders rose and fell with his breathing, betraying his anger, even though he remained silent. He examined his injured hand.
“You’ll take care of his hand, won’t you?” Alyssa asked the trainers.
“We’ll patch him up for you.”
“And make sure he can’t injure himself anymore. I don’t want him hurt.”
“We’ll see to it, Ms. Cressfield.”
William ended his call and returned to Alyssa. “Ms. Cressfield? I’ve been instructed to offer this specimen for 500,000 credits.”
“Half a million?” Alyssa laughed. “You can’t be serious. That’s as much as your fully trained pets.”
“He’s a very rare hybrid,” William said. “This is the first time we’ve acquired someone like him. Fully trained, he would fetch twice as much. And please remember we’ll handle the transportation and all the necessary insurances for you; it’s included in the price. We also provide a training collar and a basic pet care kit.”
A rare hybrid…now the price sounded like a bargain. And the idea of possessing a one-of-a-kind pet appealed to Alyssa. Besides, she had the money. This was what she had been saving for. She didn’t really care what he cost anyway, she simply wanted to have him.
“All right, 500,000 credits.”