I can't help but tear up as I stare at my reflection in the full-length mirror. Zalu is an absolute artist.
My makeup is light but flawless. The mixture of brown and pale green eyeshadow applied to my eyelids makes my blue-green eyes pop. The pale pink lipstick Zalu brushed my lips with gave them a plump, kissable look. My hair has been swept up into an elegant bun, and the dress...The light green lace ball gown I am wearing is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I truly feel like a princess.
"Are you happy," Zalu whispers from behind me, and I spin around.
I wrap my arms around her waist, and she giggles before returning my hug.
"I am honored," she says quietly, and I release her before stepping back.
"I have never felt like this before. I feel breathtaking," I admit, and she nods while her cat-ish eyes grin at me happily.
"I am happy I could help. Are you ready," Zalu asks lightly, and my butterflies return.
She watches my expression closely, and I nervously lick my lips before dropping my eyes.
"Who do we meet first," I whisper, and Zalu gently tilts my chin up.
"Keep your head up. These females will walk with confidence, and I expect you to do the same, my beautiful friend," Zalu says, and I nod.
"First, you will be introduced to the other females in groups. You will be paired with the females from Earth, and you will be told when to move to the next group to socialize. While you greet one another, you will be snacking on light refreshments. Once breakfast is over, you may return to your room to freshen up. Take the chance to come here and let me apply for touch-ups. I will be present for breakfast, but I am not allowed to leave the outer perimeter...After breakfast, you will have lunch at a long table. Across from you will be an identical table for all the males. After lunch is over, the dancing and conversation begin. Try to meet everyone you never know who might be the one...I will warn you...there is a particularly famous female in this patch of harvested females. Her name is Zor. She is arrogant and is not like any of the Keas you have met. Other females will be pleasant when you meet, but this one...She is not nice, and she looks down on everyone who is not a Makskin," Zalu says, and my brain runs through the different aliens.
"The dome people. They have the harshest world," I say out loud, and Zalu nods.
"While their planet is harsh, their controlled environments are very desirable. Maybe people from different worlds vacation there. She is the symbol of beauty on their planet. Her skin is a rich burgundy color, and her hair is a deep black. Her eyes are a blend of purples, and her figure is to die for. I expect her to be chosen first. Avoid her...she is known to be cruel for no reason. The females who have been sent with her are being treated like servants. She deems herself to be perfect. She is from a very important family and can have anything by simply requesting it. Tell Jia to be wary also. I know the two of you are outspoken. Please be cautious," Zalu says, and I nod.
"Of course. If you say she is dangerous, I believe you. I will avoid her," I reply, and Zalu smiles.
"Let's go," she says, and I nod while gulping down my nerves.
I follow Zalu through the familiar halls, and as we walk, I begin to sweat. My romantic experience is almost nonexistent. I have had one boyfriend in my life, and that lasted a semester. We held hands and kissed once. The males I am meeting today aren't boys in high school looking to kiss my cheek. They are trained war veterans. The best the galaxy has to offer, and they want to mate with me. Me! I am a nineteen-year-old kid who spent the majority of her life in a hospital. What do I even say to these men?
"The room is right through those doors. Jia and the others beat you here. Sit at your assigned table with them. When the hostess Kea instructs you to stand, do it. Walk with your group proudly. You are perfect and far more deserving than all of them. I have to enter from a different door. Are you ready," Zalu asks, and I stare at her for a second.
'How do I look," I ask, and Zalu smiles.
"Perfect," she whispers, and I nod before taking a deep breath.
I raise my head high, and Zalu beams before opening the door for me by pressing a button. My eyes do a quick sweep, and I spot my group quickly.
"Ahh, another human. This is Krystal Dunn of Earth. She is nineteen years old. She has brown hair and blue eyes. Her correspondent describes her as lively and outgoing. Please have a seat, Ms. Dunn," a male Kea says with a magnified voice from the front of the massive room, and I blush while grabbing my flowy skirt.
I walk quickly but relatively gracefully all the way to the Earth table, and my friends smile as I sit down. I look them over with a massive smile on my own face, and they all blush.
Jia looks stunning in a tight yellow dress with a plunging neckline, Fiadh looks innocent and lovely in her white lace dress, Xiu looks like an elegant Chinese bride in a tight red dress, and Zuri looks like an absolute goddess in a high collared cream and rose gold dress.
When I finally peel my eyes off of my gorgeous friends, I begin to take in the women from the other planets all around us. They look sexy and scary with their fierce difference, and I instinctually cower a little. The Froles are particularly intimidating with their striped skin and sharp jaw lines.
"Wow," I whisper as my eyes return to Jia, and she nods.
I look around at our table again, realizing we don't look cohesive like the other tables. Xiu is sitting with her back as straight as usual, but her face is blank. Fiadh is fiddling with her hands, and Zuri is smiling at the entire room. Jia just looks nervous, and I know my face reflects hers.
The door I walked through suddenly opens again, and we all look to see who was arriving this time.
"Our last group has finally arrived. Please welcome the beautiful females from the planet Makskin," the male Kea says, and my eyes lock on the burgundy female in the center.
Her appearance says it all; she is Zor. She is the alien Zalu just warned me about.
Her dress is black, sexy, and tight. There is a gold band around her neck connected to the dress, and her makeup is something I would describe as smokey. Her straight black hair reaches her waist and is super shiny. Her comrades are all dressed in white dresses that resemble each other. They look like sidekicks.
As the Makskins begin to walk to their table, Jia leans in closer to me.
"Jali warned me about her," Jia whispers, and Zuri shushes her instantly.
"I found out they hear better than us. Be careful," Zuri whispers, and Jia nods quickly.
We fall silent, and I glance around discreetly at the room's perimeter. When I spot Zalu, she is already looking at me intently. I smile at her to show I see her, and she nods before gesturing with her chin. I raise my head a little, and she nods before smiling.
"Now comes the fun part. Please stand," the kea with the amped voice says, and we all stand.
Male Keas, from the sidelines, immediately move forward and start grabbing the tables we were just sitting at. As they leave with our seats, the doors open, and more Keas enter, carrying different tables. The process takes maybe a minute, and the men act as if the pieces of furniture weigh nothing.
When the final table is placed, and the males disappear again, the announcer clears his voice.
"Now, I will pair you. Please pay attention. As you can see, the tables are different colors. Please listen for your planet and your color. Vaals, Shikaz, blue. Cok, Kea, red. Peulo, Hassins, yellow. Makskin, Glortinon, orange. Frole, Bronkark, Earth, green. As per the rules to accommodate the fact that Earth does not send soldiers, it was planet Giamo's turn to skip Harvest. Please take your seats. The first course will be Juna fruit," he says, and my eyes widen as I realize one planet is excluded from sending women because of us.
Jia meets my gaze with a matching expression, and we all begin to walk to the biggest table.
"I didn't think about that," I mumble, and Xiu sends me a look.
"It isn't hard to figure out," she mumbles, and Zuri sends her a displeased look.
We sit down, and the ten other women we are supposed to be meeting also sit. I try to offer smiles all around, but the Froles frosty expressions make my stomach tighten.
"We will go first. My name is Yulna. I am from Bronkark for the ones who need to know. I hope to mate within the top ten," a beautiful orange woman says, and I bite my lip nervously.
I don't know what to say to that...
"My name is Reila. I prefer a mate from Bronkark or Hassin," the one on Yulna's right says, and I nod.
The other three Bronkarks provide only their name, and my eyes shift to the Froles, who look a little annoyed.
"Kilsa is my name. I will mate with a Frole....we all will. Two other females will have to be chosen to come back to our planet, and we all hope it isn't a human," the middle one growls, and I see that her teeth are much longer than Zalu's.
Her companions nod, and I cross my arms.
"My name is Krystal. I am very thankful to be alive. I look forward to learning about the different cultures all around me, and I resent anyone who acts rudely towards us," I snap before thinking, and Kilsa looks surprised for a second.
"Same here," Jia says, and the Bronkarks begin to laugh.
"You tell those cats, Krystal," Reila says, and I grin even though the Froles look as if they want to kill me.
"My name is Xiu. I come from China. I hope to be chosen by an honorable champion," Xiu says, and we look at her in surprise.
"I want to be loved by a kindhearted man," Fiadh says quietly, and Zuri puts her arm over Fiadh's shoulders.
"My name is Zuri. I am proud to be from Earth. These women beside me have survived more than you ever have," Zuri snaps at the Froles viciously, and I can't help but smirk.
The Bronkarks laugh again, and our dishes are served before anything else can be said.
So much for not being the underdogs.
"Attention, after meeting with your next group, you may retire for thirty minutes. For the last switch, please listen up," the male Kea says, and the female from Hassin, who I was speaking to, stops laughing. I turn my attention to him almost eagerly. Ever since the uncomfortable first round with the Froles, things have run smoothly. The Keas and Hassins being my favorites to talk with, closely followed by the Shikazs and the Peulos. We haven't had any more uncomfortable moments, and I have even made a couple of new friends. The male Kea lists the names and colors quickly as I look around the room with a easy-going grin, but when my eyes land on Zalu, my happy feeling dims a bit. She looks anxious as she stares at the announcer, and the realization hits me slowly as to why. The last group...the ones we haven't met yet. "Makskin, Earth, blue," he says, and a chill runs over my skin. The fact that Zalu is this worried about us talking with Zor is intimidating. It mak
"How did it go with Zor," Zalu asks as she sprays my face with what is apparently flawless foundation in a can.I grin as the memory of Xiu's words run through my head. She was so kickass!"It went well. Xiu handled the conversation, so it remained respectful but dramatic. Zor made some rude remarks, and Xiu returned the favor while not going over the line. It was beautiful," I explain while looking up at Zalu's nervous face.She grins and sets the spray can down before picking up the brush to apply more lip product."Good. I was worried you would let Zor get under your skin. She can be hard to get along with," Zalu says, and I nod slightly since I am trying to keep my lips still.Zalu finishes my makeup touch-ups quickly, and we hurry back to the hall. Just like before, Zalu presses the button to open the door, but the room's new layout makes me pause for a few seconds before I proceed into the room.The colored tables are nowhere in sight, and fancy lights are now hanging from the c
The females begin to take their seats, and I watch the line to ensure I grab the right chair. The last thing I need to do is get into a skirmish with a Makskin over seats. As soon as the smaller Makskin sits down, I follow. Jia sits down beside me, and I focus my attention on the male Kea watching all of us with an excited smile. He looks as if he can't wait to bring in the champions competing for our hands, and that eases my mind a bit. Kea people are sweet individuals. If he is happy to introduce us, the men must not be too bad. "Now then, let us begin. It is my greatest honor to present this Harvest's Champions. We begin with the Commanders—Commander Garlof, age 27, from the planet Cok. Defeated and conquered a Rusckods base with only seven soldiers. Commander Fornis, age 26, from the planet Cok as well. He led a covert mission into Muysocks controlled space. Not only was the mission a success, but he also didn't lose a single soul in the mission. Commander Burk, age 27, fr
"I was just surprised. I figured that would be something Fiadh would do," Jia whispers as we watch the twirling bodies move around the room. I shrug and rub my forearms to hide my embarrassment. "The thought of someone mistreating one of you just brought up a lot of emotion. I didn't mean to cry. I know that made me look weak...I just. My mom was all I had before I came here, and now the four of you are all I have. My bravado and hate towards the stuck-ups just kind of evaporated when I started questioning our safety," I explain, and Jia wraps her arms around me tightly. I manage to wrap my arms around her lower back, and she pats my back. "I wasn't trying to make you feel bad. I appreciated you standing up and showing some vulnerability. We needed to be reassured," Jia says, and I nod as she releases me. I give her a small smile, and we return our focus to the dance floor. Xiu, Zuri, and Fiadh have been asked to dance twice, while Jia and I have been asked once. O
BURK POV The feminine voices buzz all around me as I try to pinpoint individual conversations. I don't want a mate focused on my gold status now that we have received it. She will spend our lives flaunting our wealth instead of building our family. "Any luck," Modok grumbles lowly, and my eyes snap open to glare at him? Even his low tone hurt my sensitive ears, and he knows how much I hate when I get interrupted. "No. But how could I if you keep butting in," I growl, and Modok shrugs. He moves closer to my side as his reptilian eyes sweep the room. Between his eyes and my ears, very little gets past us. But there have been times. "Just ask them to dance. I'm going to focus on the Keas and the Earthlings. They should be the least likely to base a good pairing on gold. Nole has already reported back on the Shikazs and the Peulos. It's pointless to approach their groups again," Modok says, and I glance at him. "They call themselves humans. Use their terminology. That group
BURK POV"I wasn't good enough for Commander Garlof, so I decided he wasn't good enough to escort me," Krystal explains with sass in her soft voice. My eyes dart towards Commander Garlof, who is receiving disapproving stares, and I smirk. He thought because the human females were smaller, he didn't have to respect them as he would the others, and now Krystal has exposed his disrespect to the room. As I return my focus to the females, I am approaching the tallest beauty with chocolate skin places her hands on her curvy hips. "I will kick his butt! You are amazing," she says angrily, and I chuckle slightly at the idea of her fighting against the renowned Commander. She wouldn't even be able to handle a poke from his hand, let alone an all-out fight. But the human females seem just feisty enough to believe they could actually win. What they lack in size, they make up for in spirit, something I have come to respect during my years of fighting. As I continue my approach, I w
I sigh loudly as the door closes, and exhaustion hits me like a tank. I kick off the heels I have worn all day while shoving my fingers into my hair to remove the pins poking my scalp.I was having such a good time. I really like both Tilk and Burk, but when my virginity was brought up, the romantic bubble that I was in popped.They are going to compete against one another in physical combat to win the right to deflower the female of their choosing, and that goes against everything I was ever taught. I realize the other planets are unlike Earth, but I can't shut off what my world engraved in my mind.A knock comes from the other side of my door just as I step towards the bathroom, and I freeze. I hope it isn't one of the guys I just gave the cold shoulder to. I take a deep, reassuring breath and turn back towards the door."Yes," I say as I open the door cautiously, but when I see Zalu on the other side waiting, my nerves evaporate instantly, and I manage to pull a smile to my face."
Fiadh's eyes move around nervously as we listen to the announcer introduce the males we met last night. With each name, rank, and story, the crowd erupts like a volcano. The sound of their many voices causes the walls to shake and Fiadh to become more afraid. Zuri has tried to soothe her, but even her gentle touches seem to be too much for our easily spook-able friend. A few more minutes of this, and Fiadh runs the risk of passing out for sure. "It's okay, Fiadh," Zuri whispers again, and I nod to show my support. Fiadh gives us both a weak smile before looking back toward the door, but her hands don't stop shaking. I wish the room was more inviting. Maybe if the interior was nicer, we could distract her. The bare reddish-orange walls give the room a very cellarish vibe, and there isn't any seating for us to relax. Zalu had warned me before we arrived that this place is just a big arena. It isn't fancy like the place we have been staying, but I don't know if the other corre