Across A Sea Of Stars by Caitlyn Willows

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ACROSS A SEA OF STARS
by Caitlyn Willows
Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance
June 2016
Cover Art by Trace Edward Zaber

A night of debauchery has made Kes realize how much he’s wasted his life. Fate delivers him a chance to turn things around. All he has to do is retrieve a stolen Planet Skipper and deliver the culprits responsible for its theft. Once the task is accomplished, his entry into the Interplanetary Commission is guaranteed. But the Universe has another plan—Anne Sherwood.

Anne has always believed that everything happens for a reason. She prides herself on being open-minded. A world of possibility and wonder lay open to those who were willing to accept. But even she has her doubts when she learns the hot-as-heck man she’s spent the night with reveals he’s from another planet.

Through Kes, Anne discovers a power of her own she’d never imagined—the ability to control energy. It’s a power that’s growing by the minute. A power that could get out of control if she allowed it to do so. Now someone from Kes’s past is aware of it, too. And he wants it for himself.

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REVIEWS

“Five Shooting Stars! When a jaded space traveler meets a starry eye romantic they get a beautiful love story. I loved Across the Sea of Stars by Caitlyn Willows. It is a great love story that made me smile and really have a lot of aww moments too. Plenty of heat between the characters too to keep me reading.Kestral he is tired of one night stands that mean nothing. He wants his life to have more meaning than that. He blocks out his fears and disappointments in life by having sex with random strangers. He has one last chance to prove he can follow his dreams. He is going to change his life and take that chance. He knows this is it for him all or nothing and he is willing to gamble it all to win.Anne she is from Earth. She is upbeat, optimistic, dreamer. She sees a shooting star she loves watching the night sky. When she is attacked in the parking lot by a group of drunk men, Kestral saves her.They hit it off right from the start. But Kestral wonders if Anne can handle who he really is and will pursuing her cost him his dream job or not.Over all this is one sweet story I couldn’t stop reading. I will have this one on my keeper shelf.” – Redz World Reviews.

EXCERPT

Anne Sherwood sorted her tips by denomination. Two hundred dollars! A great night! But then, paydays for the military community normally were. She stuffed the wad of money deep into her big black leather tote and smiled up at her coworker.

“Ready to call it a night, Peggy?”

“I’ll say.” She tucked a strand of her platinum blonde hair back into place in its braid. “My feet are killing me.”

“They did keep us running tonight. But it was a good night.”

“Little Miss Mary Sunshine as always.” Peggy laughed lightly. “I swear, if a customer left you a quarter, you’d still think it was a good night. You even dealt with that problem table wearing a smile.”

Anne couldn’t help it. It was so much easier being happy than sad. If a person looked hard enough, they could always find something good in a situation.

She steered Peggy toward the door. “You need to get home to that man of yours. That’ll put a smile on your face.”

Peggy glowed with anticipation. “Your plans?”

“I’m off for groceries, then home to my menagerie.” She swung open the glass door and stepped into the late summer night.

“Damn it to hell,” Peggy muttered. “The streetlight’s out again. Find some good in that.”

A flash across the sky caught Anne’s eye. “Look.” She jerked her hand toward the disintegrating meteorite. “A shooting star.”

Peggy merely shrugged. “Is there a night when you don’t see one?”

Eyes wide, Anne scanned the heavens for more. “Hardly. I love watching them, wondering where they came from, how old they are. There’s going to be one heck of a shower tonight. Are you going to stay up to watch?”

“At one in the morning? Are you crazy?”

Anne glanced at her friend. Peggy’s eyebrows had shot up to her hairline, or close to it.

“Life’s too short to spend it sleeping. This is an event.”

“Yes, and it happens every year. So what’s the big deal?”

“It’s…celestial.”

The awe with which she’d said the word earned Peggy’s laughter. “Yes, and magic, too. Like the comets.” Peggy tossed a hug around her shoulders. “See you Tuesday. Enjoy your weekend. We’re spending ours in Vegas.” She walked on to the parking lot.

“Enjoy.” Anne lifted her hand in a wave the other woman didn’t see, while she scanned the sky again. Two more meteorites shot across a star-kissed field of black. It was going to be a spectacular show later on. She couldn’t wait.

“Well, well, well. Look what we got here.”

The deep voice drifted to Anne from the shadows of the building. Three men stepped from the inky depths. Fear crawled through her body. She shot her gaze to the parking lot. Peggy was already gone. If Anne hurried, she might be able to make the safety of the restaurant. Two deputy sheriffs were finishing up dinner inside.

As if anticipating her move, the men surrounded her, chortling with glee. They were the problem table she’d dealt with earlier. They’d been drunk then and were worse now. She ticked off identifying characteristics—white males, slender, early twenties, baggy jeans and sports jerseys, black knit caps.

“It’s our cheery little waitress,” one said.

“Wonder how friendly she really is,” said another.

“Come on, sweet thang.” The man in front of her gestured toward her tote. “We could use a little sumpin, sumpin. Gonna give it up without a fight?”

Anne sucked in a breath, ready to scream her lungs out. A big hand clamped over her mouth from behind. The man reeked of french fries, stale beer, and cigarettes. He clamped his arm around her waist, while his friend tried to peel her fingers away from the purse straps.

“Yeah, fight, baby. That’s the way I likes it. Fight it hard.”

A green glow lit them like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Anne clicked her gaze skyward. A meteorite zoomed low overhead, shooting green flames as it traveled from east to west. It was a truly phenomenal event.

The hand over her mouth loosened. Anne saw her chance. Pulling power from deep within her gut, she prepared to unleash a blood-curdling scream.

“I think you’d better let the lady go.” Another man stepped into their circle. His voice was low, firm, and music to her ears. Help was here. Judging from his stance, he wasn’t going to put up with any shit.

Anne watched the green ball slowly disappear over the horizon. Its remnants highlighted the gold and red in the man’s tousled brown hair. He wore light-colored khakis and a pullover shirt she swore matched the fading meteorite.

“Yeah? And who’s gonna make us?”

Anne saw the flash of metal.

“He’s got a knife!”

They charged him as one. The man crouched low and snapped out his palms. With a muttered oof, two were hurled against the brick wall. Gasps for breath followed. Her savior whipped a fist around to their partner.

Anne had to blink twice. She swore she saw light pulse as he made contact. The mugger tumbled backward, hitting the ground hard. Eyes wide, he scrambled to his feet and took off. His friends wasted no time following. Anne listened to their footsteps beating a path to safety.

“Are you all right, miss?”

Long fingers curled around her upper arm. What she could only describe as energy coursed through her, lifting every baby-fine hair she possessed. Deep brown eyes studied her. His eyebrows tugged together as he waited for her response.

Anne was mesmerized by his sharp, angled features—the long, straight nose, the squared jaw, the hint of shadow carved just under his cheekbones, his full lips. What was his smile like? Were his teeth white and perfect? She wanted to stretch to her toes and kiss him, to wrap her arms around his waist and nestle her head against his broad chest. His touch, his nearness made her feel safe, protected. Desire overwhelmed her. Nothing was a more powerful aphrodisiac than heroics. But this felt like so much more than about sex. Yes, his nearness made her thrum, but there was safety and calmness that said things she’d never imagined. Things she’d believed existed only in stories. Trust, love, forever. Words like the one, love at first sight, and happily ever after danced on the edges of her mind.

“I’m fine, thanks to you,” she finally managed to say.

“Fortunately, I just happened to be in the area.”

He caressed his thumb over her arm in slow circles. Anne’s blood thrummed with each round. She imagined the calloused digit on her nipple, flicking it back and forth until it was hard. Then he’d wrap his full lips around it. His breath would be hot, his tongue wet, his touch…

“We should probably call the police.” He dropped his arm, breaking the sensual spell, but not the connection she felt.

Anne hugged herself against the sensations and tried to focus on the attack. Nothing was stolen, she wasn’t hurt, and they were long gone by now, so why bother? Her conscience intruded. If they did this once, they’d do it again. She had to notify the deputy sheriffs.

She glanced at her watch. What about her groceries? It was getting late. Her animals needed her.

“Do you have a cell phone?”

His question cut through her thoughts. “Yes, but there are two deputies eating inside. I could report the incident to them. But…”

Head tilted slightly, he waited for her to continue, then prompted her with a, “Yes?”

Anne looked up at him again. His eyebrows were still inched close. “I have to get to the store before it closes. My animals need me and food. Reports take forever to fill out.”

Worry faded with his bright smile. Anne’s legs wobbled. The man was gorgeous!

“These creeps need to be reported. I’ll go to the store for you, Anne. Just give me a list.”

She narrowed her eyes. “How did you know my name?”

Light laughter swirled around her, caressing her skin into goose bumps. “Your name tag.” He tapped the plastic badge.

Feeling foolish, she laughed. “Of course. Anne Sherwood.” She extended her hand to his.

“Kestral Dermot. It’s a family name. Friends call me Kes.” His hand wrapped around hers. Warmth spread up her arm, through her body. Her breathing quickened. “I’ll be glad to go to the store for you while you file your report. A list and some cash is all I need.”

Was it an underhanded trick to take her money and run, or a genuine desire to help her? Her instincts and heart screamed trust. Logic be damned.

A spate of shooting stars burst over his head. An omen to back up those instincts. The stars had yet to fail her when she searched them.

“Thank you. I do want these men stopped before they hurt someone.” She dug through her tote for the list, then handed it and her hard-earned tips to him. “It’s probably more than you need—”

“Then you’ll get a receipt and change back. Mind if I borrow your car? Mine’s down. I was headed to a pay phone when I saw you. My cell phone’s dead.”

Anne slipped him her keys, her trust, and her heart.

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My Salvation by Caitlyn Willows

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MY SALVATION
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotica – Short Paranormal
April 2014 (previously released in November 2006)
Cover Art © Lacey Savage

A traffic accident took away Aaron’s salvation, his fiancée Melinda. Lost and grief-stricken, he plunged back into his former days, drowning his grief in mindless parties and drunken debauchery, until a random accident of his own threatens his very soul. Trapped at the crossroads of heaven and hell, he finds himself in limbo, waiting for the Powers That Be to determine his fate. Now, as his soul hovers between eternal bliss and endless damnation, Melinda returns from the grave to help him earn his salvation once more.

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REVIEWS

FIVE HEARTS! Beautiful, amazing, enthralling-I cannot think of enough words to describe this magnificent short story! I found myself intrigued and aroused-my, oh my Melinda and Aaron had erotic sex. They pulled me along with them in their graphic sex. Then there were the parts of plot where I just wanted to cry. Ms. Willows has an unbelievable ability to wring emotion out of her readers. Melinda, who is dead and Aaron, who wishes to be dead are surprisingly well described for a short story. The plot flows absolutely seamlessly, even when twists come in the story. I cannot remember a story ending which I have enjoyed more. Brava, Ms. Willows! ~Marcy Arbitman, The Romance Studio

4.5 BLUE RIBBONS! Caitlyn Willows takes us on a fascinating journey of self-discovery with this short tale. I could have easily cried for Aaron, his beloved Melinda and the life that they should have had together. It’s very easy to understand his disappointment and how simple it would be to slip into his old ways after such a loss. At the same time, you get the feeling that Melinda may have physically died but she never truly left him in spirit. Ms. Willows brings us the life after death experience in a beautiful heart-touching way that readers won’t soon forget. ~Chrissy Dionne, Romance Junkies

[A] heart-wrenching story that is sure to pull heavily on your emotions. There were moments where I was teary eyed, instances where I shook my head in shame and times where my spine was tingling with heated passion. My Salvation was so engrossing that I read it in one setting. I could easily see the love shared between Melinda and Aaron. Their chemistry was very passionate and expanded across time. There is not much more I can say without giving away the plot; however, I took great pleasure in reading Melinda and Aaron’s story and I am sure once you discover My Salvation you will enjoy it also. ~Nikita Steele, Joyfully Reviewed

EXCERPT

Aaron Crane hoisted the bottle of Absolut to his lips and chugged it. He’d passed the buzz-stage quite some time ago, yet he still maintained a death grip around the neck. The vodka dulled the pain in his heart, filled the void in his soul, and faded the memories that assaulted him even in his dreams.

“Are you taking a leak or what?” Joe Sanchez hollered back.

“Keep your panties on,” Aaron yelled back.

He heard the other three snicker in response, most probably because Aaron had used the word “panties” rather than for the insult he’d intended. God, they really were an immature bunch. None of them had evolved beyond the mentality of a college freshman. Fun was belching contests, seeing who could piss the farthest, and laying down quarter bets of whatever game was on TV, while they scratched their balls and scarfed pizza. Aaron was the only one of the bunch who held a steady job. If he kept partying with these guys, he’d be standing behind them in the unemployment line, and he knew it. Insurance companies liked their claims adjusters alert and attentive, not to mention timely, and he’d been none of those lately. Hungover, emaciated, and perpetually tardy were more likely descriptions.

And yet, in his grief, Aaron had chosen to return to this comfort zone rather than setting out on his own. The more time he spent with these four, the more he disliked them…and himself. But then, he’d hated life and himself since the night Melinda died. The only thing he wanted was to be dead, too. That’s how he felt inside—dead.

He tossed back another drink. Who the hell got the bright idea to stop off in the middle of the desert? They were halfway to Vegas. Why the fucking side-trip?

“Screw it.”

Aaron sank to the nearest boulder and stared across a landscape silvered with the light of a full moon. A warm breeze washed over him. They’d made love under a moon like this once, with only the wind as their blanket. Melinda had wrapped her legs around his. They’d clutched each other as closely as two people could as they soared to the stars watching over them.

He’d loved everything about her from the moment they’d met—her beauty, her goodness, her laughter, her mind. Melinda made him want to be a better person. Hell, he had become a better person, shrugging off his errant ways to be the man she’d want. She was his salvation. Everything he’d dreamed of had seemed to fall in his lap once she’d beamed her smile over him. Paths Aaron never knew existed opened. The world, the future, was golden.

The day he proposed they’d scoured the Internet for the perfect honeymoon spot. There was really only one choice—Desirata. Melinda had read about the idyllic island chain in a travel magazine; a tropical paradise where all a person’s needs were met. It was off the beaten tourist path, exclusive, private—visitation was granted on a person’s needs, not their wealth. Melinda filled out the application, her eyes shining the whole time.

“I know they’ll accept us,” she’d said.

Aaron didn’t care where they went. As long as they were together, he’d give her the world if he could. What better place to start than on a white sand beach perched on the edge of a crystal blue-green ocean?

And just like that…she was ripped away from him. All because some fool blabbering on a cell phone ran a stop light at sixty miles per hour. She’d died clutching the envelope containing the Desirata application.

Grief had torn him in two. He’d tried so hard and for what? To bury the woman he loved? It was all for nothing. In the end, that’s all he had…nothing.

Aaron had quickly reverted to his previous ways, hoping to drown out the unrelenting pain that haunted him day and night. He hated life, hated the four rowdy friends who couldn’t wait to pull him back into their fold. Where once he’d found some measure of joy in the constant partying, now it was merely an escape from the horrors of an unjust world.

He closed his eyes as the breeze brushed over him, lifting the hairs on his arms. His mind drifted with the sensation, imagining Melinda was here with him, gently dancing her fingers against his skin. She’d kiss her way down his throat, while she toyed his nipples into hard dots meant for suckling. While her lips played there, her hands would wander to his cock, stroking, kneading…

Aaron clutched at the erection that burst to life. “Not now…please.”

In his present state, relief wouldn’t be possible. He was too drunk. The fact he had a hard-on at all was a shock. But with memories of Melinda assaulting him, his dick refused to obey the rules. All he could think about was how great her lips felt around him, how tight her hot pussy felt when he was inside, and how painfully lonely the world was with her gone.

Emotion clogged Aaron’s throat. Tears welled up behind his eyelids. Hand shaking, he lifted the bottle to his lips. A sudden gust of wind knocked him off-balance. Arms flailing, he toppled backward. The vodka bottle shattered against the boulder.

Aaron sat on the hard cushion of sand. Moonlight glinted off the shards of glass. Fear welled up inside him. He needed the forgetfulness in that bottle. The pain in his heart was too much to bear without it.

He hugged his knees to his chest. That’s when he noticed the blood. His hand was cut and he hadn’t—still didn’t—felt a thing. Heartache was more than he could bear, but a cut like this…nothing. It was really bleeding, too.

Wonder if it needs stitches? In his fogged brain he tried to calculate the distance to the nearest hospital. A coyote’s howl nearby snapped him upright. He was just pondering whether they could scent blood like a shark when he heard Joe stomping back his way.

“What the fuck, man. You comin’ or not?”

“I fell. Jesus, cut me some fuckin’ slack.”

Aaron shoved himself to his feet. He staggered there for a second or two, then followed Joe. At least the hard-on was gone. He glanced down to make sure and stumbled over his feet, nearly plowing into the other man.

Joe caught his shoulder to steady him. “You okay? Jeez, what happened to your hand?”

Aaron pulled away when he reached for it. “Bottle broke. It’s just a cut. It’ll stop bleeding soon. What was so all-fired important that we had to stop in the middle of nowhere?”

“Check it out.” He motioned to where the other three stood, just beyond a sign that read, “Government Facility. Restricted Area. No Trespassing.”

What little morality Aaron had remaining reared its head. He pulled Joe back. “Are you nuts? This is a restricted area. You’re going to have us thrown in jail.”

“Like we’re gonna get caught way out here. And since when did a little something like rules stop you?” He trudged onward.

Aaron followed reluctantly behind. God only knew where they were. Visions of Area 51 gendarmes swooping down on them filled his head. They weren’t in that area, were they? He’d paid no attention to the direction in which Joe had driven. His only interest had been in reaching the bottom of the bottle.

“What is it?” he asked as he crept forward. Please don’t let it be an alien, his drunken brain whined.

“Take a look.” Joe pointed to six rectangular boxes. They looked like—

“Are those caskets?” Aaron asked.

“Sure enough.” He actually sounded proud of the discovery. “I found them the last time I came through. I was looking for a place to take a leak and there they were. Suppose it’s a desert cemetery someone dug up?”

Aaron frowned. They were old coffins, nothing more than pine boxes. But they didn’t have the aged look he would have associated with a desert cemetery. Still…it was night. “Where are the bodies that were inside?”

“Ewww…” Joe adopted a spooky voice. “Maybe it’s a vampire lair.”

“Shut the fuck up, idiot. Let’s get out of here.” He turned to go.

“Scaredy-cat. I’ll pay you fifty bucks to lay down in one.”

The other three snickered—their comment on everything.

So, that’s what this was all about. Aaron tossed up his hands. “Whatever. I’ll play your stupid game.” Anything to get out of here and on the road. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. He really needed to find a hospital.

He staggered over to the nearest coffin. A wave of dizziness overwhelmed him. Shaking his head to clear it, Aaron hoisted himself inside and stretched out.

“Satisfied?” he asked. “Pay up.” But he couldn’t move. Weakness overwhelmed him.

I’ll just close my eyes for a minute.

His mind slipped into the limbo stage of twilight sleep. Soon the nightmares would take him and there was nothing Aaron could do to stop them. He drifted on a sea of nothingness. Two tunnels lay ahead—one dark, one light—and there he hovered, waiting…waiting…waiting.

 

High Roller by Caitlyn Willows

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HIGH ROLLER
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – SciFi/Futuristic – Short Story
April 2014 (previously released February 2006)
Cover Art ©Lacey Savage

When Nikos Dirvan’s spaceship crashes to Earth near Las Vegas, he is thrust into a world he’s only read about. One thing he does know is how a woman should be treated. Carla Fletcher needs two things–to escape her manipulative husband and to heal her soul. Can this strange high roller help her as he’s promised?

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REVIEWS

FIVE HEARTS! Caitlyn Willows pens a fascinating story with characters for whom the reader feels an immediate empathy. Nikos and Carla are both endearing characters, poised against the backdrop of that hateful villain Drake and his father, and this reviewer found herself cheering for the couple from the very beginning. This was my introduction to the stories of Ms. Willows and she has moved to my must-read-authors list. ~Annie, The Romance Studio

FOUR RIBBONS! HIGH ROLLER will take you on a breathtaking ride as you read through the pages as quickly as you can, because you can’t wait to see what happens next! Will love ultimately conquer all? Love, not only for another person, but love for oneself as well? You’ll have to read HIGH ROLLER to find out! I can’t wait to see what Ms. Willows has in store for us next! ~Kimberly, Romance Junkies

FOUR ANGELS! Caitlyn Willows has written an imaginative short story that might not end exactly how readers envision at the beginning. However, the conclusion is quite sweet and well deserved. Nikos learns more things in Las Vegas then he imagined he would. Carla finds something in Nikos that she never expected. With touching passion, Carla and Nikos offer readers a wonderful connection that will leave a smile on their face. High Roller is a quick read, but one that is pleasurable and worth spending an hour curled up with. 4 Angels! ~Shayley, Fallen Angel Reviews

EXCERPT

Nikos Dirvan fought the controls of his star runner, silently willing stealth mode to stay on-line. The small ship shot through the moonless night like a meteorite. If he lost invisibility, it sure wouldn’t look like one, though. Earth’s military forces would be on him before he knew it, if that happened. He’d be captured, his recon mission compromised, and…well…he’d sure never see his home world again.

Rumors abounded of how vessels had been confiscated and pulled apart by Earthmen. Their captains and crews were imprisoned like animals to be studied copiously, then horribly dissected at their demise and kept locked for all eternity in a vault to be constantly evaluated. Those souls never knew the peace of a final resting place…or so it was said.

But the Talorian government never fell prey to rumor. They lived for facts. Hence this fact-finder project. For years Nikos’ people had been quietly monitoring those on Earth, gathering information under the cloak of invisibility. Occasionally, Talorians would filter into mainstream society for more in-depth analysis. The wealth of data they’d collected was staggering. The rumors had never been confirmed or denied, but Nikos’ coworkers were careful not to be detected. So far, so good…until tonight.

He’d hit a dense patch of polluted air over an area called Los Angeles minutes before, clogging the star runner’s intake manifolds. Nikos had lost power in seconds. He’d barely had the time to switch command control into the sub-unit generator before the small ship started hurtling to earth. Banking hard, he’d managed to keep aloft, gliding on the thermal currents while the sub-unit kept the cloaking shield in place. That safeguard wasn’t going to last long. Already, the violet warning light flashed in a frantic plea for immediate attention. Any minute now…

“Warning. Shield integrity at critical low. Evasive action necessary to avoid detection.”

The computer voice synthesizer mimicked the panic this moment decreed. The designers had felt weaving emotion into the program would provide solace to captains on long, lonely flights. But at this moment, the voice was a definite irritant, digging beneath his skin like the shrill cry of a rashuka searching for its covey, who were likely only mere yards away.

Nikos liked animals as much as the next person, but rashukas had to be the stupidest avians ever created. Their nests consisted of a couple twigs tossed precariously on the low-hanging limbs of the whisper tree, where they were prey to everything taller than knee height. They were horribly nearsighted, perching on anything and anyone. But they were a beautiful breed boasting colors of turquoise, lavender, and crimson among their feathers. They were devoted parents, friends, and they mated for life. Those qualities made their annoyances worth bearing…most of the time.

“Warning. Shield integrity—”

Nikos punched off the screech. He needed focus, not distraction. If Command wanted to provide solace for their captains, they could have reinstated the soft Companion Comfort beds that gave pleasure on command. Now there was a benefit he could stand. Though not as sweet as plugging his cock into a real woman, the simulation would have given him much needed relief on these long flights.

Unfortunately, one previous captain had spent too much time in the bed and little on his mission. Word filtered through the ranks the man had actually managed to short-circuit the device from overuse. More tales indicated he’d been engaged in his favorite pastime and was nearly detected. Nikos didn’t know what of it was true, if any. The story could very well have been conjured so Command would have an excuse to remove the beds. They wanted their pilots alert and on edge. Nikos was certainly that—alert and on edge.

The small craft shuddered. It was time to find a safe haven. The desolate patch of desert below looked perfect. He pointed the bow downward, fighting gravity to glide to a soft landing. Gravity won. Fanning the air brakes, Nikos managed to level out, but he was still closing the parallel distance fast. He saw the outcropping of rock too late. One smack tumbled the runner nose over tail. Sand, rock, and other debris flew by the viewing port. A final tumble landed his craft upright. It skidded to a stop in the cradle of brush perched on the bank of a dry wash.

Nikos slowly peeled his fingers from the steering column and dared a breath as he assessed any damage to himself. Other than shaken nerves and a desperate urge to relieve himself, he seemed fine. A green flicker caught his eye through the viewport, a clear sign the shield was failing.

“Re-route all systems to shield integrity,” he told the computer as he unsnapped his seatbelt and punched the audio back on.

“Shield integrity holding,” the computer calmly replied.

“How long will the sub-unit generator keep the shield intact?”

“Twenty-hour Earth hours.”

Normally, that would be enough time to clear the intake manifolds, but with the landing he’d just had…

“Computer, damage report.”

“Ruptured fuel line. Fuel dissipating rapidly. Other damage is cosmetic and will not interfere with flight. Generator is charged for twenty-four Earth hours. Using stored power in the mobile pack will give an additional six hours.”

“How much fuel is gone?”

There was a moment of silence. “Fuel tanks are now empty.”

Nikos closed his eyes and leaned into the headrest. “Is the rupture repairable?”

“Affirmative. A laser torch will fuse the edges.”

Then it was probably a good thing the tanks were empty; he would have had to purge them anyway to avoid a fire. As long as he hugged the ship, the shielding would also hide his presence and repair efforts.

He shoved to his feet and snagged the laser torch from its lock-hold on the toolbar as he walked to the hatch. There he paused at the door, hand poised over the access panel. His first taste of Earth air. Nikos wished he could be happier about it, wished he could explore and indulge his curiosity. If he made it back to port after this trip, maybe he could convince Command to promote him out of Overflights and into Contacts.

He pushed the panel and inhaled the fresh scent that drifted through the open portal before hurrying to his task. A dark patch in the sand spread out from his vessel, a telltale sign of leakage. The warmth from Earth’s sun would evaporate it come daylight. Running his fingers on the underside of the hull, Nikos quickly found the breach and sealed it.

Now to refuel.

He slipped inside the ship, returning the torch to its designated spot. “Computer, please scan for the nearest source for fuel.”

“Nearest source is fifty miles northeast. City of Las Vegas. Scanners reveal a profusion of rich fuel transportable in multiple containers. However, acquisition must be made with Earth coinage and in heavily populated areas. Protocols call for—”

“Acknowledged.” Nikos knew the directive by heart—assume Earth attire, identity, and mannerisms. Hopefully, the monetary denominations his predecessors had acquired would be sufficient to purchase his fuel and be on his way.

He retrieved the Earth clothing, so much more binding than his pasfa-soft flight suit. At least the colors were similar—midnight blue. He tucked the cap on his head wondering what the significance was of the image on the front—a pirate from early Earth days named “Raiders.” The white shoes were comfortable enough and were called “Nike.” Earthlings seemed to be fond of naming their clothing. The shirt had a symbol over the heart. The pants were named Dockers. A strange custom, but who was he to judge?

Nikos looped the thin, webbed mobile pack around his waist, tucking the laser torch into his pocket. It could make an effective weapon if necessary. He prayed it wouldn’t be.

“Warning,” the computer nagged. “Use of mobile pack will diminish energy reserves.”

“Note to Command,” Nikos replied. “Mobile pack needed to acquire fuel. Assuming Earth protocol to do so. Computer, if the sub-unit generator should fail before my return, your instructions are to notify Command and self-destruct. Acknowledged?”

“Affirmative, Captain Dirvan. This vessel will self-destruct in twenty-three hours, thirty minutes.”

“Instituting Earth Protocol Omega. Dirvan out.”

“Acknowledged.” The computer’s console faded to black.

Nikos stepped into the desert night once more, sealing the hatch behind him. He activated the mobile pack, sealing himself from view as he moved away from the vessel. Safely away, he lifted into the sky and aimed for the halo of lights called Las Vegas.