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.

Buy link:

Amazon

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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Warrior Princess by Caitlyn Willows

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WARRIOR PRINCESS
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – SciFi/Futuristic – Short Story
April 2014 (previously released July 2003)
Cover Art © 2014 Lacey Savage

Things aren’t going well for Rhiannon’s people. She has returned to chaos after being elsewhere. She hates what the evil Lord Taroog is trying to do to her people. With her brothers dead, she tells her parents she will go undercover to infiltrate Taroog’s inner sanctum. Even if that means she has to be his consort. All she asks in return is that she spend her last night in the arms of a special man selected by her mother. A man to take her virginity and teach her what it means to be loved so she has pleasant memories to carry her through Taroog’s hell. Barron, one of the leaders of the Resistance, is the chosen one. How can he refuse a woman so brave? And under the cover of darkness, he grants her wish…

Buy link:

Amazon

REVIEWS

4-1/2 STARS!!! The Warrior Princess is fantastic! The author’s imagination and powerful writing shine in this story of love, sacrifice and courage. The blazing passion in the sensual scenes is tasteful and appropriate, the relationship between hero and heroine incredibly compelling within the parameters of this brief tale. Caitlyn willows is a writer of great talent. Don’t miss this one! ~ Anya Kerensky, The Romance Studio

FOUR ROSES!!! WARRIOR PRINCESS is a sci-fi adventure to be enjoyed! Rhiannon is a strong heroine that many readers crave, making the ultimate sacrifice–herself–for that of her people. Barron is a perfect match for her–strong, handsome and dashing. One of the best parts of the story is the daring rescue of Rhiannon. The thrill of discovery matches a heated, frenzied mating once she sees Barron again. However, they must escape and embark on an exciting match-off with Taroog. It is a must read for any erotic romance fan. ~ Miriam, Love Romances

FOUR UNICORNS!!! This short sci-fi fantasy is written with enough information to almost feel like a compressed full novel. I admired Rhiannon’s bravery and intelligence. Her chosen Barron, is a very generous and compassion man. The passion between them is sincere and very arousing. For those sci-fi lovers out there, you will enjoy this tale of love and war. ~Anita, Enchanted In Romance

EXCERPT

The Homecoming

Rhiannon struggled to read the instrument panel through a veil of tears. How could the ravaged wasteland below possibly be her beloved Juron? The years since her departure had not been kind, and neither had that vicious, black-hearted cretin, Taroog.

Gone were the islands of light that announced sprawling cities below. Devastation lay in their place. She’d circled the planet twice looking for something positive, drifting from night to day then back again. Spirals of smoke drifted into the atmosphere. Some represented the remains of fires that still consumed the cities. Others were bastions of hope from those who refused to give up, choosing to live primitively rather than in tyranny. Life still existed, that much she knew.

But how long before Taroog added them to the countless millions who had perished?

Gone were the crystal spires that were a beacon of optimism and love to all. They had drawn all to the center square for joyous celebrations of life. From what she’d been told, they’d been Taroog’s first targets when his forces had invaded from Primadyl. His goal, she presumed, had been to defeat them by destroying a symbol of their religion. But Juronians were made of stronger stuff than that. Just not as strong as those whose own survival depended on takeover.

If only the Primadylians had been open to negotiation. Rhiannon’s people had been perfectly willing to share. Taroog wouldn’t hear of it. It was all or nothing for him.

Rhiannon swooped her shuttlecraft toward the dense forest near her family’s castle. The fact she wasn’t challenged was a good sign she’d managed to slip in undetected. It looked like the cloaking device was truly a success.

The little ship eased between the trees with nary a rustle of the leaves. Settled in the tiny clearing, she flicked the controls off. The engine shut down with a sigh.

She patted the panel. “Good girl. Always so quiet and dependable. What would I do without you?”

This was the prototype for what she prayed would one day be a fleet of vessels. All they needed now was time and the element of surprise–a distraction so great Taroog would never know what hit him until it was too late. And that’s why Rhiannon had snuck home after five, long years.

She tucked her laser pistol into the pouch at her side then swung her pack over her shoulders. No doubt her return would be greeted with a mix of tears and anger. Her parents would simply have to understand her safety no longer mattered, not when Taroog had systematically killed off all her brothers. She couldn’t stay tucked away in Rebazet any longer. It was time to get out of the laboratory and make a different kind of stand.

The door lifted silently. Not even a hiss of the hydraulics indicated its presence. Cool mist drifted in, bringing with it the acrid stench of smoke.

Rhiannon stepped into the glade, shutting the hatch behind her. The vessel disappeared behind its cloaked shield. She wished she had the benefit of that type of camouflage. One day. She and her fellow engineers had labored intensively on that project, too.

Holding her pistol at the ready, she ducked into the line of trees. Smoke pervaded all, chasing away the sweetness of late blooming moon lilies. Gone, too, was any sign of wildlife. Her presence stirred no roosting birds, no animals on their nightly foray. Survival had required desertion of their normal ranges. With any luck, they’d made it to Mount Rasi and were safely tucked away on the highest peaks, nestled in its deepest valleys. But not for long if Taroog was victorious in his conquest. He would destroy all in his path.

Rhiannon hiked up her chin. That wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen…even if she had to slit his throat herself. He and his regime would be brought down.

Scanner in one hand, laser pistol in the other, she picked her way through the towering trees. The well-trodden path she’d known as a child had long since disappeared. Had it been daylight, she could have found her way with no problem. Night now held too many dangers, so she drew out her scanner. It showed more than just direction, so she knew she was alone. One thousand measures later, the dark gray walls of her family’s castle loomed before her.

Rhiannon tucked her scanner away as she glanced around the open expanse of patchy grass between her and the stone wall. Here she trusted her eyes. All was clear. A quick sprint carried her across. She hugged her back against the surface, daring not to breathe for fear of discovery. Several minutes passed. Still nothing. It was safe to move on.

She counted the windows towering above. Dark curtains blocked out any hint of light beyond, yet she knew her target well. How many times as a child had she and her brothers snuck back in after a night of fun, doing all to avoid that particular window? The thought of joyful times made her smile. At least she had memories.

The creeper leading to their respective rooms had died. Too risky to climb. Rhiannon had expected as much. Reconnaissance had paid off. Pulling the rappelling cannon from her pack, she aimed for the eaves above. A small pouf launched the projectile. A light thunk seated it. Rhiannon gave a hard tug to make sure then clicked the rope to her belt. A flick of her wrist hauled her up. She stopped at her parents’ window and swung to the ledge. Hopefully, her mother was still a light sleeper. She hated to destroy the glass.

Drawing in a breath, Rhiannon tapped against the pane. Thick walls kept her from hearing anything inside. She tapped again lest they pass off the noise as inconsequential. Within seconds the dark shielding parted and the flare of a candle backlit her father. His mouth dropped on a gasp as he yanked open the window.

“By the gods of Remlig, child!”

Strong arms snapped around her waist and hauled her inside. Her mother’s gasp brought her scurrying to their side to pull her the rest of the way.

“Rhiannon, my darling.” She grabbed her in a smothering hug. Rhiannon clung to her, fighting the urge to cry. Just as quickly, her mother shoved her away at arm’s length.

“What are you doing here? Have you lost your senses? We told you to stay on Rebazet. The danger here is too great.”

Her father wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Much too great.”

She cupped her hands against their cheeks. “I am aware of it. Losing Debron was too much. I had to see you.”

“But, sweet dear–”

She pressed a finger to her mother’s lips. “You may scold me in a moment.”

Without explanation, she turned and released the rappelling gear, then tucked it back into her pack. “Can’t take the chance of discovery, can I?” she said with a smile. Neither of them returned it.

Rhiannon studied their features. She could put their wan appearance down as shadows from the dim candlelight. To do so would only mean lying to herself. The years had not been kind to her parents. Lines dragged down their faces. Her mother’s brilliant, shining, red hair–a match to her own–was shot with silver, and her father’s now completely gray. The loss of four sons, the absence of a beloved daughter, and the destruction of their home world were all too much for the royal couple to bear.

Her father drew her close once more. “Why are you here, child? Has something gone wrong with the trials?”

She curled her hand over his, holding him tightly. “No, Father. The trials have been perfected. One of the prototypes lies protected nearby. The A-bot is a success. It will just take time to build the fleet.”

“Child, why bring it here and risk discovery?”

She had to smile. Would they ever think of her as anything other than that? She’d managed a team of scientists for the last five years, uncovered the mysteries of cloaking technology, and still she was child to them. And, yet, Rhiannon would never take that from them.

“I brought it here for training. You need experienced people to pilot the vessel. Success depends on many factors. We do not have the luxury of error.”

“But”–her mother swallowed hard–“how will you return?”

Rhiannon pulled in a breath. Time to sell her plan. “I don’t intend to go back to Rebazet, Mother.”

Her father took a step back. Anger reddened his face. “By the gods of Remlig, I refuse to allow you to stay here.” He punctuated his decree with a stab of his finger. “I have lost four sons. I will not lose my daughter.”

She dusted her hand from his shoulder to his elbow. “I won’t be staying here, Father. There is work elsewhere which needs to be done.”

Her mother frowned. “But…where will you go?”

“Come, let’s sit.” She drew them toward the two chairs perched before the dying embers of the fireplace. Once they sat, Rhiannon pulled the small table before them and sat on it.

“As I said, we cannot afford the luxury of failure. It’ll take time to build a fleet. Time to train qualified pilots. Taroog cannot discover our plan. We need a diversion. Something to distract him.”

Her mother snapped to her feet. “No! I forbid it! Royal brides are to enter marriage pure. To mate only with the chosen one.”

“If I don’t do this, there’ll be no royal line to carry on. No world to rule and protect. And certainly no marriage.”

“No man would have you after Taroog,” her mother spit out.

“Then he wouldn’t be a man worth having,” she shot back.

Her father buried his head in his hands and slowly shook it.

Rhiannon looked from one to the other. “His penchant for Juronian women is well-known.”

Her mother squatted before her, taking both hands in hers. “So is his desire for a miracle child.”

She held her mother’s hands tightly. “And we know that’s not possible. Juronians and Primadylians are not genetically compatible.”

“That doesn’t keep him from trying. Those who conceive have borne abominations. What would you do then?”

“Love it. Bless it during its very brief time in this world. Thank it for the sacrifice it has made.”

Her father stared at the thread-worn carpet on the floor. The fact he had said nothing boded well. Rhiannon turned her argument toward him.

“Taroog will think he’s achieved a supreme victory when a royal Juronian falls into his lap. One banished for her support of his regime.”

Her mother gasped. “Banished? No, Rhiannon!”

She clutched her hand tightly to keep her mother from pulling away. “We all must make sacrifices, Mother. Once Taroog has been brought to his knees, all can be revealed. Trust me. I can keep him busy enough until the fleet and pilots are ready. There’s no other woman who’d intrigue him more than one of royal blood.”

Her mother jerked away and strode to the fireplace.

Rhiannon snapped to her feet. “I have lost my brothers. You have lost sons. Others have made sacrifices just as great. Victory is in our hands. I will make this work. No cost is too great. I refuse to allow Taroog to continue to rape our world.”

Her mother whipped around. “So you choose to put yourself in its place? To sacrifice yourself? To have yourself…banished?

“The pain will be great, but temporary. The shame for you regrettable, but also temporary.”

A deeply drawn breath pulled her father to his feet. “You and your team are confident in the A-bot?”

She gave him a single nod. “The cloaked battle suits are a different matter and giving us problems. The ships are perfect.”

His blue eyes bore deeply into hers. “I had hoped for a spectacular wedding with the Chosen One by your side. Feasts would last for days. I had planned for many things for all my children. Taroog has taken too much from my people. As much as I abhor the idea of you laying with this odious creature…”

Rhiannon wrapped her arms around him and nestled her head against his chest. “There is no sacrifice too great for my people. How many times have you said that, Father? How many times have you shown that?”

His arms fell about her. “A true leader. Just as your brothers were.”

“We will be victorious, Father.”

“Or die trying?” He gave a soft chuckle. “Yes, you are truly of the House of Ba-lark.”

“I can’t fight you both.” Sadness weighed down her mother’s voice. Rhiannon pulled from her father’s embrace. “Thank you. I have one final request of you.”

Her parents waited, eyes focused on her. The gods only knew what was going on in their minds. It was a daring request, but no more so than what she had previous told them.

“I need something to carry me through the years. A sweet memory if I am to lay nightly with Taroog. All I ask is one night of pleasure in the arm’s of a man chosen by you.”

The silence lasted a full minute. Finally, her father uttered a single word.

“Agreed.”

Her mother flicked away a tear and turned away.

Rhiannon would never let them know how frightened she truly was. She was counting on this single night to carry her through.

 

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 © 2013 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?

Buy link:

Amazon

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.