They had punched through to their own system about two months ago, and found their universe in panic. The Magog were systematically moving from system to system, leaving death and destruction in their wake. The systems with enough power and wealth to have military power were still unable to agree on anything, not even a unified defensive against the approaching threat. In the end, Dylan had pulled out his trump card; he'd sent word of Beka's identity and her DNA profile to every major Nietzchean pride left. Shortly afterwards, however, a request for assistance had come from one of the smaller systems regarding trouble with stellar-level looters.
"Rhade, you've been tense ever since we left for this mission."
Telemachus was scowling at the screen before him, but it was unclear if he was unhappy with what he was seeing or something else. "I still feel that it was wrong for me to leave Beka on the Andromeda alone." Definitely something else.
"Beka's a big girl, Rhade. She can handle herself."
"Dylan, the prides are not going to wait on their homeworlds for her to make a tour of their domains. They'll want to meet with her now, and each will want to be the first in hopes of currying favor."
"And you feel that you should be there with her."
"I am the only Nietzchean currently serving aboard Andromeda. I know Beka better than any of the others. I am the best choice to aide her in this matter."
Dylan gave a half-smile over his shoulder. "Provided the two of you wouldn't kill one another first. You haven't exactly been getting along of late."
"Beka is determined to be difficult. This entire situation is stressful, and she isn't happy that you've announced her presence to the entire Nietzchean race without asking her first."
"Yeah, I kinda got that impression when she threatened to emasculate me with my own force lance." Dylan glanced over the Maru's helm again. "You wouldn't have said anything?"
"Because Beka didn't wish it, and my duty first and foremost is to see to her safety and well-being. Adding to her stress levels is counterproductive to that duty."
"Ever the alpha male. We're about to exit slipstream." There was the tell-tale jostle as the Maru made it into normal space. Both men looked out onto the place where they had left Andromeda with shock. "Okay… this is a bit more than I had anticipated."
There were ships surrounding Andromeda. Nietzchean ships. A lot of Nietzchean ships. "I tried to warn you."
"Yes, you did." Dylan hit the com channel. "Andromeda, this is the Eureka Maru requesting permission to dock."
"Permission granted. Welcome home, Captain." Andromeda's voice was as welcoming a sound as she ever was. Dylan brought the Maru into her usual dock and landed her with perhaps a little less grace than Beka would have managed. Telemachus powered down the ships auxillary systems before joining him on the way to the hatch. As it opened, however, they both received a surpise. "Rommie!"
The ship's avatar, her real avatar, walked up into the Maru with a smile. "Captain. It's good to have you home."
"But… how… when?"
"Harper finished construction on my new body a few days after your departure. He wanted me to be a surprise."
Rhade was smiling from ear to ear. "It's good to see your face again, Rommie."
"Thank you, Rhade, but technically it isn't my face. It just looks the same."
Dylan laughed. "Well, either way, it's good to have you back." He gave her a rather uncharacteristic hug. Over his shoulder, Rommie's face registered surprise and mild confusion as she returned it awkwardly. She seemed almost relieved when he broke it. "Thanks for coming out to meet us in person."
"As to that, I'm here for a reason. Beka wanted me to get to Rhade before the other Nietzcheans saw him."
Rhade frowned. "Why? Is there a problem?"
Rommie held out something towards Rhade. "She says that you are to put this on and not ask questions."
Both men looked down at the object in Rommie's hand. Telemachus gave her an incredulous expression. Dylan gave a bark of disbelieving laughter. "Rommie, that's a Double Helix band."
"I am aware of that, Dylan. The Nietzcheans want Beka to marry, preferably to an alpha male. Beka told them that she already was."
Rhade gaped at them both. "You've got to be kidding me. She wants me to pose as her husband?"
Rommie gave one of her little, barely-there smirks and nodded with a soprano pitched "mmm-hmm". Dylan gave a shrug. "This is Beka we're talking about. She's always avoided commitment like a plague. It only makes sense that she'd do something like this when backed into a corner. She knows you."
"Yeah, and she knows me well enough to know that I would be completely wrong for her. We'd be lucky if we didn't murder one another."
"What happened to the whole 'my duty first and foremost is to see to her safety and well-being' part?"
"I never said that included pretending to be married to her. She's out of her mind."
Dylan was doing very well in not laughing, but it was clear that he was amused. "Look at it this way, Telemachus; what are the Nietzcheans in those ships out there likely to do if they learn she isn't married?"
Rhade scowled. "They'll refuse to leave until she chooses a husband."
"Exactly. We need them ready to fight, but if their alphas are too busy competing against one another for Beka's favor, they aren't going to do us much good. Not to mention that it puts Beka in greater stress than she already is, which I believe you were wanting to avoid."
Telemachus was beaten, and he knew it. He snarled and shrugged out of his jacket, grumbling the entire time, and tossed it at Dylan's face. The human managed not to burst out laughing as Rhade snatched the Double Helix out of Rommie's hand and fastened it around his left bicep. "I wonder if I get any of the side benefits that come with this."
"Oh, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you." Dylan handed him back his jacket. "Remember, you're a newly wed. Try to smile and look happy."
Rhade growled and stalked past Rommie and into the rest of the ship. When he was out in the corridor, he took a deep breath. "Andromeda, where is Beka?"
The ship's icon appeared on one of the com screens at the corridor intersection. "Beka is on the obs deck, along with several key leaders of the Nietzchean prides. They are waiting for you."
"Of course they are." He walked down the corridors in brooding silence. His life just kept going from bad to worse, and now this. He liked Beka well enough, when she wasn't doing something stupid that risked both of their lives and made him want to snap her neck, but he would never have married her. They were too volatile together. Still, this move of hers did make sense. Any other alpha male would be expecting a real commitment, and as Dylan said, Beka avoided commitment. She did not believe in marriage and she never wanted children. He was her 'safe' choice.
The doors to the obs deck slid open. As the ship's AI had said, there were several Nietzcheans there. Some were obviously Matriarchs, but most were males. They had all done their best to be impressive and intimidating. Dozens of eyes were suddenly trained on him, sizing him up. He made sure to show no sign of weakness.
"Honey! You're home!" Beka broke through the crowd, smiling. Rhade could see the relief in her eyes as she hurried towards him. No doubt the alphas were quickly wearing on her nerves by now. He summoned up a smile for her and gave every sign that he was glad to be back with her. He had a part to play, after all.
"Miss me?" He held out his left arm to hug her, keeping his right hand free and where it could reach his weapon if he needed to. Beka put her arms about his neck. This close up he could see the tension in her face, the tightness about her eyes and mouth.
"More than you know." She leaned forward and kissed him. Rhade kept his ears trained for any sound of potential threat out of the gathering, not an easy trick when you had to pretend to be enjoying a kiss from your 'wife'. Beka made to move a way, but he tightened his grip. If they were going to pull this off, then they would have to be convincing. A newly wedded couple, even a Nietzchean couple, wouldn't stop so soon. At least, that was part of his reasoning.
The other part was that if Beka was going to put him through this, then he was going to have his fun. Rhade deepened the kiss, causing Beka to give a little squeak of surprise. She'd made her bed. Now she was going to have to lie in it.