Jada Washington suffers from a rare disease that has crippled her body and left her home-bound. She copes by finding strength and support among the friends she’s made on an online forum for those afflicted by the disease. When her friends start to go missing, she knows someone is taking them. Her investigation draws the attention of a handsome alien inquisitor sent by his home world to investigate the disappearances. As they unravel the reason for the abductions, she finds it almost impossible to disbelieve Ryland Breese’s claim that she’s his mate. She might not believe in soulmates, but she can’t deny she’s attracted to the sexy golden alien. One of his kind is stealing Earth women, but he’s stealing her heart.
Jessminda42b9 was missing.
Jada had tried to be patient, but she was no longer clinging to the hope that her friend was busy doing something else. Like the other twelve women who had disappeared from the forum she ran, Jessminda had simply stopped posting.
At first, Jada hadn’t realized there were disappearances. It wasn’t completely uncommon for people to stop posting, or to go long stretches of time in between, even for the close-knit Internet community that composed the forum for sufferers of Kaiser’s Syndrome.
It wasn’t until the fourth member had dropped out of contact that Jada noticed their members were slowly disappearing. She had phone numbers for some of the missing women, and she had tried to call them all as the weeks had passed. Since they were Internet friends, she didn’t always have a way to reach them outside of email or the phone number for some, even though she was the administrator of the forum, but she had continued to send emails every few days that went unanswered.
It was completely unlike the women, most of whom had been her friends since she’d established the forum eight years ago. They had all joined within a few months of her setting up the website for Kaiser’s Syndrome sufferers after receiving her own diagnosis. It had been one of the ways she had coped, and as her mobility had dwindled, and her confinement at home had expanded, the forum had become one of the most important parts of her life.
She was deeply alarmed that twelve of her friends had fallen out of contact within the last two months, but Jessminda was particularly upsetting, because they were close friends. They had discovered within a few months of starting to chat that they lived in the same city, so whenever practical, they got together in person. With both of them confined to a wheelchair, it didn’t happen as frequently as either would have liked, but it was typical for them to see each other at least once a month.
She hadn’t heard from Jessminda for five days now, including emails and phone calls. She had called Jessminda’s brother, who often stopped to check in on her, and when he had finally called her back less than thirty minutes ago, it had been with the disquieting news that his sister wasn’t home. She usually informed him if she was going somewhere, just to be on the safe side.
Pradheep had also told her the neighbors hadn’t seen Jessminda come or go in the last few days. Even in a wheelchair, her friend was a dynamo, often wheeling around the apartment complex or sitting out by the pool in the summertime. It wasn’t like her to stay locked up in her apartment for days on end. She wasn’t like Jada.
She’d tried notifying the police, but they had dismissed her concerns, taking the view she couldn’t possibly be concerned about people not checking in on an online forum. The detective she had spoken with had been slightly rude about the whole thing, as though he considered her a waste of his time.
That meant she’d find no help with the authorities, so the only tool at her disposal was to slip into the underbelly of the world wide web and see what she could dig up. She made herself comfortable, slipped on compression gloves to protect her fragile wrists and finger joints, and began to finesse her way inside databases that were encrypted and technically supposed to be closed to her.
As she made her way around, starting with Internet providers and working outward after learning the identity of each woman who had gone missing over the past two months, she was temporarily amused at her own skills and familiarity with this side of life. Before she had gotten sick and received the unexpected diagnosis of Kaiser’s Syndrome, she’d barely used a computer at all, except for work. She’d known how to copy and paste and create new documents, but had no knowledge of how the processes worked or the code that kept everything flowing.
Once she had displayed symptoms, they had moved quickly, and she’d been diagnosed with rapid progression less than a year after the first diagnosis. She had ended up in a wheelchair within two years, and it had changed her life. She stayed home most of the time now, and she had discovered she didn’t mind it. The social creature she had been before was the one that felt like the façade that had finally fallen away, rather than her feeling like she was retreating into a shell and hiding from the world.
With all the free time on her hands, and looking for some way to use it, since she could no longer work as a paralegal at the busy law firm where she had been employed, she had learned all kinds of useful information. That had somehow led to her finding her way into hacking, almost by accident.
There was something fun and pleasing about solving the mysteries and breaking the code, and there was an illicit thrill that went with looking through all the deepest, darkest places of the Internet that had drawn her. She wasn’t the best cracker around, but she was pretty good, and she had learned it all easily.
Two hours later, she leaned back in her wheelchair and pulled her hands from the keyboard, taking a break for a moment as she absorbed everything she had learned.
While it was still fresh in her mind, she put her hands back to the keyboard and pulled open her blog. It was an unusual posting for her, since she was far more likely to write about the daily challenges of living with Kaiser’s Syndrome, or share her recipes and cooking, which was another hobby of hers.
She didn’t touch on hacking or conspiracy theories even in a casual way usually, but her blog seemed like the best venue at the moment. The authorities wouldn’t take her seriously, and she couldn’t reveal her source of information to any recognized media establishment. She would have to act as a citizen journalist and hope enough people became interested in the topic to force the authorities to investigate.
This is a different blog post for me, everyone. As you know, if you’re a reader of my blog, I’ve run a forum for Kaiser’s Syndrome victims the last eight years. There are only about eighty-five members, so when they started to disappear, I took notice. These are the kind of women who don’t just stop talking to us one day and drop off the face of the earth. For a lot of us, we’re as close as family.
I called the local police, but Detective Thorne dismissed my concerns, so I had to become more creative. I’ve discovered it’s not just my friends going missing. My source revealed there are almost four hundred active cases of missing women with Kaiser’s Syndrome at the moment worldwide.
I assume you’re not new to my blog, and you know what Kaiser’s Syndrome is. Just to be on the safe side, let me give you a quick refresher course. Kaiser’s Syndrome is a genetic condition caused by inheriting a tiny fragment of extra DNA on the ninth chromosome. It only causes symptoms in women and is passed from mother to daughter, but it’s only active if the father is also a carrier.
It was only recently discovered, and doctors don’t know everything about it. Dr. Hans Kaiser was the first to label and identify it. His patients who had it suffered from the same shared genetic anomalies, including an extremely rare blood type identified as AO-negative. That’s due to the genetic mutation, and the link is still unexplained.
Also unexplained is why Kaiser’s Syndrome affects mostly women of African or Indian descent. Eighty percent of women who have Kaiser’s Syndrome are in those two nationalities. Men can receive the gene from their mother, but they’re only ever carriers. There hasn’t been nearly enough testing to determine why that is, or if it’s more prevalent among other races of men, or also mostly confined to Indians and Africans.
So the question becomes, what happened to four hundred women with a disease that progressively affects their neurological and musculature system, rendering us disabled and virtually immobile as the disease progresses? Is there a connection? It’s true that people go missing every day. According to the National Crime Information Center’s website, there are more than six hundred thousand open missing persons cases right now.
Am I simply seeing a coincidence? Am I trying to generate a link where none exists? Or is there someone targeting women with Kaiser’s Syndrome for some reason? I could think of a few theories as to why, and the most predominant one would be medical experimentation, but that makes little sense. I’m certain many of us would volunteer for experimentation if we could get the funding and the attention necessary to make Kaiser’s Syndrome a known and easily recognizable disease with public urgency for a cure.
It’s true pharmaceutical companies are motivated by profit, and they’ve certainly done underhanded or shady things in the past, but it seems beyond the norm even in that industry to actually kidnap people on whom to experiment. So what is the explanation?
I eagerly await any theories, and I encourage you to share this post. Only through public demand will authorities take action. Right now, disappearances are scattered over multiple jurisdictions worldwide, and I’m not even certain anyone has made the connection besides myself. Help me to change that, loyal readers.
After finishing the post, she sat back as a wave of exhaustion swept through her. She had certainly depleted all her energy today, and suddenly all she wanted to do was go to bed and sleep for a thousand years. Knowing it would be a while before anything started happening with the blog post, and assuming she was being wildly optimistic that any public official would act on the information contained therein anyway, she decided to have an early night.
Concern for her missing friends filled her mind, but it was no match for the pure physical exhaustion in her ravaged and withered body. She hated being at the mercy of the disease, which trapped her in a useless body and zapped all her energy. As she drifted off to sleep, she couldn’t help indulging in a slight fantasy, one in which her friends and the other women with Kaiser’s Syndrome were taken for a noble purpose, one that resulted in a cure for everyone. She wasn’t normally so Pollyannaish, but on the edge of sleep, she indulged the optimistic thought until unconsciousness swept over her.
It had been almost a week since her blog post, and while Jada certainly hadn’t forgotten about it, it had slipped to the back of her mind in a way. There had been somewhat of a flurry in the first few days, and it had received the most hits of any of her blog posts ever, along with countless retweets on Twitter and shares on Facebook, but all the excitement and buzz generated from the article had done nothing to interest the authorities.
Jada continued trying to contact her friends, and she grew more alarmed as two others stopped posting on the forum and didn’t respond to their emails any longer. She didn’t have phone numbers for those women, so she had no other way to contact them, but her concern grew.
On the forum, the women were discussing ways to protect themselves, and Jada wished she had a gun like some of the ladies. It had always seemed like an unnecessary device before, since she lived in an urban area with police that responded quickly, but now that they weren’t responding at all, she was feeling weak and terrified, which pissed her off. She had fought long and hard for her independence, and she resented that whatever was happening could make her feel frightened to even open her door long enough to check her mail or arrange to take the bus to the market.
Acting from that apprehension, she was cautious that afternoon when her doorbell rang. It could be her latest delivery from Amazon or a neighbor. Perhaps it was even her stepsister, though that seemed unlikely since Erica was firmly immersed in her own world and only stopped by to visit her two or three times a year despite living within fifty miles.
Grasping the poker from the fireplace, she moved her electric chair to the door, peeking out through the peephole that had been lowered and modified so she could see it comfortably from her chair. A strange man stood on the other side. She couldn’t see all of him, but he appeared a bit bland in his dark suit. “Who is it?” she asked through the door.
“Are you Jada Washington, author of Jada’s Blog?”
Jada’s stomach tightened with dread that she had no logical reason to feel. The unknown was scary enough, and suspecting she was being targeted—well, her and every other woman with Kaiser’s Syndrome—was plenty of reason to be cautious and wary. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“My name is Ryland Breese, and I’m here to investigate the disappearances of the women you mentioned in your blog.”
“Show me your badge.”
He hesitated. “I don’t have a badge,” he said softly.
She shook her head, a harsh laugh escaping her. “Do you really think I’m going to let you in without a badge? I don’t know who you are.”
Without awaiting a reply, she backed away from the door before turning her chair to face it a few feet away. She was hoping he had gone away, but when he knocked again, she gritted her teeth.
“Please, Ms. Washington, I only want a few moments of your time.”
“Or maybe you want to kidnap me and make me disappear like my friends. Go away now before I call the police.”
There was silence, and it lengthened to the point where she was starting to feel optimistic that the person on the other side of the door had given up and chosen to go away. If he was really investigating the disappearances, he would produce a warrant or a badge before he got into her home. If he had other, more nefarious plans, at least she wouldn’t make it easy on him by opening her door and inviting him in for sweet tea and abduction.
Just as she had taken a deep breath of relief, the door started to glow with a golden light that emanated under the door sill and around the cracks. She watched with openmouthed shock as the locks unlocked themselves, all unlocking in a neat and orderly fashion one after the other. As a final step, the chain fell out of the plate before dropping to the wall. She lifted her poker with abject terror as the door slowly opened, and the bland man stepped inside.
“What are you doing? Get out of my house.”
He ignored her, pausing to close and lock her door again, doing so by placing a palm against the door. After she was locked in with him, he took a couple of steps toward her before pausing and holding up his hands. “Please, Jada, I mean you no harm.”
“Who are you? Why are you here?”
He sighed, and then the air around him seemed to twitch and vibrate for a moment. It was like watching blurred pay-per-view at fast-forward. One second, he was the nondescript man, and the next, he was far taller, far more imposing, and anything but bland. His skin was brown, perhaps even a few shades lighter than her own, but with golden luminescence that was beautiful and hypnotic at the same time. He had tawny-brown eyes with that same gold shine to them, and his features were strong. While he wasn’t classically handsome, he was certainly compelling to look at.
He’d also gotten taller and far broader in the shoulders, which emphasized his narrow waist and flat stomach. The dark suit had morphed into a simple black garment that covered him from neck to ankle.
She sagged in her electric wheelchair, shaking her head as she tried to deny what she was seeing; what she had just seen. “What’s going on?”
He bowed his head slightly, and it appeared to be a gesture of respect. “As I said, I’m Ryland Breese of the Dazon Empire. I’m an inquisitor, which is akin to an earthling detective. Your blog post caught my attention. You have similar occurrences noted that match events occurring in an investigation by my home world. I’ve come to Earth to find the answer to where your friends have disappeared to.”
She shook her head, gripping the poker even tighter between both hands. “I don’t buy it. Why would some alien dude care about a bunch of missing Earth women?”
She wanted to say he arched a brow, but she realized he had no eyebrows. He just had a thick mane of golden brown hair that flowed from his forehead down to the back of his neck, though there was no hair on the sides of his head. She didn’t know if that was a deliberate styling choice, or if perhaps they didn’t grow hair there.
Or perhaps she was going crazy by believing this was actually an alien. It seemed far more likely it was someone pretending to be an alien, simply because that was what logic suggested. However, if this was a pretense, the person had certainly done a good job of presenting an alien appearance, and how had they managed that trick with her door?
“May I sit down, Jada?”
She almost snapped at him, wanting to demand to know when they had become familiar enough to be on a first-name basis, but if he really was an alien, it seemed like the kind of lapse in etiquette she should just let slide. Still clinging fiercely to her poker, she waved a hand toward the recliner in her living room. She had gotten rid of all the other furniture, because it impeded the path of her chair, and visitors were infrequent. “Have a seat, Mr. Alien.”
“Ryland Breese,” he said for the third time as he walked past her, nodding his head again in that same fashion that suggested it was a show of respect. He sat down on her lounger, and though it was cushiony and overstuffed, he looked far too big for it. It was like an adult trying to squeeze into a child’s recliner.
Any urge she had to laugh faded when she met his golden-brown eyes again. There was genuine concern reflected there, and also what looked like…guilt? She wasn’t certain. If he was an alien, could he even feel guilt? She wheeled herself a bit closer, but certainly not within easy grabbing range, and set the poker across the arms of her wheelchair in a decisive fashion, clasping the metal rod in both hands as she stared at him. “Explain to me why any aliens would care about earthlings?”
“May I share a little of the history of our empire with you?” At her nod, he said, “The Dazon Empire is slowly dying out. Three generations ago, we were at war with an enemy who unleashed a biological weapon upon us. We managed to defeat the enemy, but it was only as the war came to an end that we started to see the effects of the biological weapon.
“The primary effect it had was to render Dazon females sterile. Some women were still getting pregnant, but far fewer than we needed to keep our species alive.”
She made a small sound of distress on behalf of the women, finding sympathy for them even if this was all some sort of elaborate hoax, or the women didn’t even exist. She could empathize, having had to give up her dreams of motherhood upon realizing she had Kaiser’s Syndrome.
She couldn’t risk passing on the disease, and with rapid progression, she hadn’t been in a proper state of health to get pregnant anyway, even if there had been a prospective father in the picture at that point. Her fiancé had been long gone, disappearing shortly after her diagnosis and before things even got really bad. Barry never would have made it through seeing her confined to a wheelchair and having to adapt to that kind of life.
“Our scientists have done what they can, and some genetic manipulation is possible, but now when there’s a successful and healthy pregnancy, eighty percent of the time it results in a male child. We’re not certain if that’s a direct side effect of the biological weapon, and it was designed to work away, or if it’s a result of the genetic manipulation our scientists use, and the fact that males seem to be immune to the effects of the biological weapon.”
“So you have very few women who can get pregnant, and when they do, four out of five babies born are male?”
Ryland Breese nodded again. “Yes, that’s exactly right.”
She frowned at him. “It sounds like a terrible problem for your Empire, but I still don’t see the connection with my missing friends.”
He nodded. “For the past generation, we’ve been desperately searching for a genetic match among other species, hoping to find women who could bear Dazon young before we’re completely extinct. It’s been slow going, and politics hamper how to proceed should we find a compatible species. There is debate between simply snatching the women and forcing them to bear our young, or attempting to solicit their compliance with material things, or perhaps treaties and information exchanges with the governments of the planet involved.”
“And have you reached a consensus?”
He hesitated for a moment before shaking his head. “The only resolution our General Council has fully embraced is the women must be compliant and consenting. We might be on the verge of extinction, but that doesn’t justify kidnapping a race of sentient beings to save our own. We don’t have a firm plan in mind, and there’s an outspoken minority that protests this. The High Council has never given their official position, but it’s well known they align with the minority.”
Her head was starting to hurt. It was simply from the overload of information and trying to absorb the fact that maybe, just maybe, this guy was a legitimate alien and not some actor or hoax. “What… Do you think Earth women are compatible?”
Ryland shrugged. “I’m not certain. I’m not tasked with the scientific investigation into finding a compatible species. I know Earth women have been tested, but it’s my understanding there was no clear outcome. However, the scientist in charge went on hiatus two months ago, as did a small number of his core team. I’ve been unable to find any trace of Jorvak Ha or the others. It’s my supposition that perhaps Dr. Ha found a link between our species’ genetics and a small subset of your species’ genetics.”
She let out a ragged exhale. “You’re going on the assumption that women with Kaiser’s Syndrome are genetically compatible with Dazon men?” The idea of being intimately…compatible with the golden alien squished into her recliner was distracting and threatened to derail her from the conversation as erotic images flickered through her mind. Forcing her attention back to him when he nodded, she asked, “And what was Jorvak Ha’s position on how to handle finding a compatible species?”
His expression closed, and his lips tightened as he radiated evident anger. “Dr. Ha firmly believes we should take the women with or without their consent and use their genetic material as needed.”
Her head spun, and she slumped even further in her chair. “Do you think my friends have been abducted by aliens?” She let out a laugh, but it held a slight edge of hysteria. “I want to say that sounds crazy, but it’s actually the most logical theory I’ve heard or come up with myself since I started noticing their disappearances. Do you know where my friends are, and where the other women have been taken?”
“No, not yet, but I hope to figure that out with your assistance, Jada.”
She blinked at him, shocked she was in this position. Was she really having a chat with some intergalactic detective-type who was investigating missing persons cases of galactic proportion? Were her friends really being held as some sort of breeders for a desperate race of aliens on the verge of extinction? It truly was no crazier than some of the other theories she had come up with or had been suggested on her blog. With a helpless shrug, she said, “I’ll help however I can, but I’m not going to be very useful to you in this chair, Mr. Breese.”
“Call me Ryland, Jada. And if you permit me to do so, I can solve that problem.”