The Alien Reindeer’s Redemption – Sneak Peek

Ryant

“Greetings, sir.”

The old man sitting behind the counter of the small shop raised his eyes, one eyebrow cocked up, and folded the newspaper he was reading in half.

“Whaddya want?” he asked, a row of yellowed teeth showing between his lips.

He had a full head of white hair and an unkempt beard that reached down to his collarbone.

Judging by his worn appearance, he had to be an elder, someone whose experience allowed him to lead the other humans in his tribe.

“I’m looking for a reliable method of transportation,” I told him, hoping I was hitting all the right notes of human etiquette.

High command had given me a data crystal stuffed with history, social rules and guidelines for interacting with Terrans.

I’d kinda given it a brief glance.

I didn’t plan to be here long, and for such an uncivilized race, they sure had a lot of social rules and guidelines.

Boring.

“What the hell do I look like?” The old man grumbled. “A car salesman? A taxi driver?”

“You look old, sir,” I promptly replied, and his eyes flickered with annoyance. 

Clearly, honesty wasn’t something humans valued around these parts. “I am to undertake a journey and, as an elder of this place, I humbly request your wise guidance.”

“Are you on drugs, kid?”

“Should I be on drugs?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” The man growled, and his annoyance turned into a blend of fear and anxiety.

He moved fast, reaching for something underneath his counter, and then jumped to his feet, a primitive double-barreled weapon in his hands. “I don’t know if you’re drunk or if you’re high, but I want you to get the hell outta my store right now.”

As if to reinforce the point he was making, he pulled back the hammer on his weapon.

Skith.

Maybe I should have done more than skim those reports.

I only remembered a few scattered things about human interaction, but it seemed like I wasn’t exactly remembering the ones I needed to.

Oh, well.

Moving fast, I reached for the weapon and yanked it out of the man’s hands. I did it so fast that when he tried to squeeze the trigger his finger found nothing but empty air.

“Interesting,” I whispered, quickly disassembling the weapon to find two red cartridges resting inside its barrels. Inside them were tiny spherical projectiles. 

Shaking my head at the primitiveness of it all, I tossed the weapon onto the floor and turned my attention back to the old man. 

By now, his eyes were wide with fear. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

“I need a method of transportation,” I repeated, this time dropping all the politeness out of my voice. 

This social dance had made me tired, and I was in no mood to be nice. I just wanted to get this over it so I could leave the planet as soon as possible. “Something reliable and strong.”

“Maybe…maybe you’re looking for a pickup truck?” He stammered.

“What’s that?”

He opened his mouth to answer, but then clamped his mouth shut and just pointed out the window. His trembling finger pointed toward a black vehicle in the corner of the parking lot. It had a set of wide, rough-looking wheels, and it looked sturdy enough to blast through a wall.

“That’s what you’re looking for,” the man spoke up. 

Satisfied, I looked at him and made a conscious effort to pull my lips back and showed him my teeth. I wasn’t exactly sure, but I had a faint memory from the file that humans liked baring their teeth whenever they were pleased about something.

 “I wish you long days, elder,” I said, and then just spun around and left the cramped little store on the side of the road. 

I made my way straight toward what the man had called a pick-up truck, but quickly realized these human vehicles wouldn’t be as easy to pilot as I had expected. The doors refused to open, no matter how hard I yanked on the handle, and I had to resort to cruder tactics—using a long piece of metal wire, I fiddled with the lock until the latch popped.

I slid into the cockpit and tossed my pack behind me into the small storage space.

“Finally,” I grumbled, but I wasn’t quite done yet. It was fairly obvious how to operate the vehicle, but I had no idea on how to activate it. 

There didn’t seem to be a biometrics sensor or anything like that, and the electronics were sparse. 

So, how did the humans turn the damn thing on? Sighing, I popped out a couple of panels on the dashboard until I found a tangle of wires. It took me almost an entire minute, but I eventually figured out how to hotwire the vehicle. 

The engine growled as it woke up, and I allowed a grin to spread across my lips as I sped off the parking lot.

“Thank you,” I said, waving with one arm as I saw three men running across the parking lot. They were yelling and shaking their fists at me, and one of them was even holding the gun from the store owner.

He fired twice, the sound of it echoing throughout the night, and I gave them one final wave before merging with the traffic. 

Maybe some sort of primitive custom to salute those who were about to embark on a journey.

Who knew.

I wasn’t a cultural scientist. 

I hadn’t travelled to this backwater on some xeno-archaeological expedition. 

I was a reilendeer warrior on a mission.

Get in, get the item, get out.

That’s all that mattered.

Pushing all trivial concerns to the back of my mind, I focused on the task at hand. 

I left the highway on the next off-ramp I saw, and twenty minutes later I was trying to navigate my way through a small two-lane mountain road.

Snow was falling all around, covering the road ahead in a thick curtain of grey sludge, and both the wipers and the high-potency headlights seemed to do little to improve visibility.

“Great,” I muttered under my breath. “Just freaking great.” If only I could use some of my Vondin tech instead of having to rely on all this primitive skith.

But orders were orders.

Until I retrieved the item, I had to behave like a prehistoric asshole.

 As if to reinforce that thought, a red light suddenly started to blink on the dashboard, next to a crude pictograph of a rectangle with a tube coming out of its side.

This at least seemed fairly universal. The antique engine ran by a series of small, contained explosions powered by petrochemicals.

I’d seen refueling tanks clustered outside of the small store where the old man had been stationed.

Perhaps I should have spoken to him more.

Except he was irritating.

Thankfully, I found what I was looking for a few miles up the road. Bright neon lights cut through the snowstorm, and I left the road and drove into what looked like a rural gas station. 

Attached to it was a squat little building, the words Joe’s Diner blinking in tired neon lights over the door.  I stepped out of the truck to find a spindly old man in blue overalls looking at me. He was wearing a winter cap with furry lining, the flaps on the side covering his ears.

“Need a refill, mister?” He asked me, his eyes taking me in. He looked slightly suspicious, and I quickly deduced that it was probably because of my attire—I was wearing a plain black t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of boots. Everyone I met so far had been hiding under thick coats and padded sweaters, which suggested that humans struggled with cold temperatures way more than I did.

There was a jacket on the seat of the truck, but I’d ignored it. I reached for it, then shrugged. It smelt of the old man with the ridiculous weapon.

Why would I care what these people thought?

Back to the matter at hand. “Yeah, a refill will do.”

“What are ya gonna pay with? Cash or plastic?”

“Cash,” I answered promptly. 

There had been nothing in my reports suggesting that humans were using plastic to conduct their transactions, and while I had noticed a variety of shaped plastic items loose in the truck, I had no idea of their respective values.

Reaching into my pocket, I grabbed a handful of crumpled bank notes, courtesy of the Vondin High Command replicators.

I looked down at them and, not sure of what the proper thing to do was, grabbed five notes marked with $100 and pushed them all into the man’s hands.

“Does that cover it?” 

He just looked up at me, eyes wide and jaw slack. “Right, of course,” I quickly said, and pushed three more notes into his hands.

“Thank you so much, sir!” He whistled happily, stuffing the notes down the front pocket of his overalls. “Feel free to grab something to eat, mister. On the house!”

“Thank you.” After my weird experience in the last store, I was actually surprised at how polite humans could be. 

To think that all I needed to do was push a few scraps of paper into their hands.

And Commander Darsh had the nerve to reprimand me for not playing well with others. Shows how much he knew.

  Satisfied with how things were going, I ventured inside the diner. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the experience of  human food but, just like my truck, I needed to refuel.

The hinges squealed as I pushed the door open, and I was immediately greeted by the bells and a soft chorus of music. 

Later on, we’ll conspire…

It came from a large machine in the corner, something I recognized as a jukebox. 

Songs about conspiring by fires. 

I should stay on my guard around the natives, even if I was making progress with their customs.

A large wooden counter stretched from one wall to the other, and a few worn tables littered the rest of the cramped little building. The sharp smell of caffeine hit me all at once, but I could also smell burnt oil in the air, the scent of it pungent and greasy.

“Caffeine, please.” Slapping one of the $100 notes on the counter, I eyed the woman standing behind it. She was a rotund little specimen with curly brown hair, and she was wearing a pink apron with the picture of some weird bird stamped on it. “The man outside said I could get anything that I wanted, but this is for your troubles.”

“You sure, hun?” She laughed, looking down at the note without picking it up. “Coffee’s free, you know? You can just order a meal and grab a cup with it.”

“That’s for your troubles,” I repeated, and she just shrugged and stuffed the note into her apron. Moving fast, she produced a cup from behind the counter and poured a dark liquid into it. I wasn’t used to taking my caffeine like this, but I didn’t hesitate before putting the cup to my lips. It was surprisingly good.

“What about dinner, hun? You gonna eat something?”

“Zavin herbs, if you have them,” I mechanically replied, and only then did I remember there were likely no Zavin herbs here on Earth. “Fresh vegetables, if you have them,” I quickly continued, and the woman knitted her eyebrows together before shaking her head.

“You one of those boys who only eat vegetables, huh?” she asked me, and I could tell she wasn’t too excited about it. “Seriously, for the life of me, I can’t see what’s wrong with a fine steak. Your generation has been too pampered, that’s what I think. My father would have whooped me if I got home and told him I’d just have beans and sprouts for dinner.”

 She continued her tirade even as she walked into the kitchen, presumably to fix me dinner, but I no longer heard a word of it.

To put it simply, her speech was too primitive and boring. The Vondin didn’t consume meat out of respect for the spark of life in every sentient being.

Sure, we were also known for beating into a pulp everyone that stood in our way, and we had the best tech in the galaxy when it came to low-profile assassination ops…but, hey, at least we didn’t eat our targets.

That had to count for something, right?

Bored, I looked around the small diner as I waited for my food.

And that’s when I saw her.

Sitting by herself in the corner, the woman had long auburn hair with faint pink streaks. It fell over shoulders gently, framing her delicate face as if she was the centerpiece in a painting. 

Her eyes, smart and hungry, were of a vivid grey, a color I hadn’t expected to find in a human. 

Although she looked a bit thinner than what she should be, she was absolutely stunning.

Keep it together, I warned myself. 

I hadn’t come to Earth to mingle with the natives, had I? 

No, I was here on a mission, and I wouldn’t allow myself to get distracted. No matter what, I would keep my focus and—

And here I was, looking at her once more.

Watching the lush curve of her lips.

Skith.

Megan

I didn’t realize I was staring until I heard the french fry I had been holding clatter back down onto my plate.

I dragged my eyes away from the stranger that just entered the diner. 

I’d never seen a man like that before. He stood out against the tatty holiday decorations strewn across the diner as if he were wearing lights himself.

Even from across the room, I could tell he was well built. I couldn’t tell much else about him other than the fact that his eyes were dark and his shaggy hair needed a slight trim.

He didn’t look scruffy or unkempt.

Just a little wild.

I glared at the sad pile of french fries on my plate and fought the urge to stare at him again.

What the hell was wrong with me? 

I shouldn’t be drooling over some guy at a glorified truck stop.

I shouldn’t have noticed him in the first place. 

I couldn’t afford to get distracted now. 

My stomach clenched as the familiar guilt hit me.

God, I was a terrible mother. How could I have let this happen?

My five-year-old daughter, Arabella was missing. 

She wasn’t a runaway. She didn’t get lost. 

It was so much worse than that. She’d been kidnapped. 

Police still didn’t believe me, no matter how much evidence I shoved in their smug, condescending faces.

The worst part is, I even knew the kidnapper’s name and they still refused to help me.

Dr. Theodore Bonven. 

Her father.

How do I know this?

I poured every last penny I had in my savings account, which was meager to begin with, into hiring a PI.

I’d never been wealthy. Not even close. 

Despite that, I’d done my best to give Arabella a good life. 

She wanted for nothing. No matter what, I always found a way to get her what she needs.

Now she was in the hands of her dickwad father. 

She could be cold, scared, or hungry and what was I doing? 

Making eyes over my french fries at some stranger with a jawline that could cut diamonds.

Fuck, I’d give anything for a burger right now. 

I kept shifting between being too sick with worry to eat and being ravenous enough to eat an entire cow. My stomach grumbled. 

All I had to eat today was a packet of peanut butter crackers that tasted chalky.

I picked up a French fry and placed it on my tongue. I felt the individual granules of salt, but couldn’t taste anything. 

I chewed and swallowed even though my body had already switched back to being repulsed by the thought of food.

I needed to eat. French fries weren’t exactly packed with nutrition, but it was the cheapest thing on the menu and I wouldn’t be able to eat again until tomorrow. 

I had carefully budgeted this trip. I knew exactly how many days it would take to reach my daughter at her father’s compound. I calculated the exact amount of gas it would take and how much I could spare per day on food.

I sipped my water, hoping it would help the perpetual dryness in my throat. A soda would’ve been a luxury purchase. 

Arabella will get as much soda as she wants when I get her back.

The holiday carols on the jukebox stabbed at me, highlighting the ache in my chest.

We’d never been apart on the holidays. Never been apart for even a day.

My daughter loved holidays. Loved dressing up and making everything a game.

I thought of the compound where Ted had supposedly taken her.

The photos the PI sent looked grim.  He’d provided rough coordinates, but not an address. I hadn’t been able to verify that there was anything at those coordinates other than snow, snow, and more snow.

I believed the compound was there. And I could believe that Ted took her. 

Ted had always talked about wanting something like that, a place away from everything where he could work uninterrupted, when things…when things were good. 

Not that those times had lasted long, I chided myself.

I pushed thoughts of him out of my mind before I totally ruined my appetite. I forced myself to eat a few more fries before pushing away from the table.

I’d been here too long. I needed to keep moving. 

Every second wasted was a second longer I was away from Arabella.

I kept my head down as I quickly left the diner, but at the last second, a feeling struck me.

As if someone had silently called my name.

And when I looked up, the hot guy was looking right at me. Now, I could tell that his eyes were dark blue like sapphires in firelight. 

Dark. Dangerous.

And not for me.

I’d already proved my judgement couldn’t be trusted.

I looked away and stepped out into the chilly late afternoon, searching for my car.

Finally I found it, an unfamiliar shaped under the thin blanket of snow on its hood and roof. I’d sold my car for a cheaper model once I realized how far I’d be travelling.

It was a calculated risk, but necessary. The cash I made off the exchange funded this trip, and although this rust bucket was probably as old as I was, it would have been fine, if I wasn’t driving through such rough terrain.

One more example of me and my questionable judgement.

From the outer pocket of my bag, I pulled out a worn paper map that I got from the PI. It was the only map of the area he could find that had trails and dirt roads clearly marked. 

The area where my daughter supposedly was being held was circled in red ink.

It took a few tries to get the old clunker to start. It was a manual. I learned how to drive this car ten minutes after I purchased it, which was about twenty minutes before I started this trip. 

I still had some trouble shifting, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I was bad at it or because the shifter-thing was rusty and looked one good yank away from coming off altogether.

My parents thought I made terrible decisions because I was impulsive and reckless. 

I thought it was because I never had that many good things to choose from to begin with. 

The story of my life was just me making the best of bad situations.

Except for Arabella. 

She was the best thing in my life. I couldn’t believe I let her slip away from me. 

I could only hope Ted was being kind to her, had taken the time to get to know her, even  a little.

She didn’t like the dark and she got cold easily. 

She was a good sleeper. She could fall asleep just about anywhere. I wasn’t worried about her being sleep deprived. 

I was worried about her getting enough to eat. Like most five-year-olds, she was pretty damn picky. 

Had he even bothered to child-proof anything in the damn compound?

I gnawed my lip, peering through the windshield at the snow covered road.

All the questions in the world wouldn’t answer the most important one.

Why had Ted taken her?

He’d never showed any interest in her before.

He showed up once, in the hospital room after she’d been born.

My parents hadn’t come by yet.

Disappointed. Again.

I’d been terrified, exhausted, clinging to my baby as he stood in the doorway, cold eyes peering across the room.

“Do you want to see her?” was all I’d been able to manage.

“Her?” He straightened, stepped away. “No.”

And that was that.

For five years.

But somehow, for reasons only known to himself, he’d changed his mind.

The PI had traced the giant who’d actually snatched Arabella, and then found the connection with Ted.

Thankfully, he’d stopped asking questions when I explained that the father and I were estranged.

That’s a reasonable way to explain what happens when your professor leaves you pregnant your sophomore year, right?

Like I said.  

Questionable judgement.

Dr. Theodore Bonven had been considered a miracle hire at our tiny state university.  He was a biochemist by trade, but was taking what he jokingly referred to as a “reverse sabbatical,” teaching whatever science classes the university couldn’t afford faculty for.

Sophomore year Megan never even thought to question it.

What had he been doing, teaching at a little school like that?

But he swept me and my questions away by the sheer force of his personality.

I was an astronomy major in college. 

My parents thought that was the latest mistake in a long chain of poor decisions. They wished I’d selected a more marketable major like business or communications, but I loved the stars.

I loved the idea of investigating the mysteries of the universe. For me, there was no other choice of future.

It was everything I wanted.

And then somehow, there was Ted, and everything I wanted, everything I planned, got pushed aside.

He wasn’t a professional astronomer. He said he’d started it on as a hobby and fell in love with it, just like me.

Yes, he was more than two decades older than me but he didn’t look old. He certainly didn’t act old.

When he taught, his whole body lit up with excitement. Passion sparked in his eyes when he spoke. He was the first person I ever met who loved astronomy the same way I did. It was beyond a professional curiosity. 

It was a calling. 

I’d convinced myself astronomy was in my blood.

I approached him one day after class expressing interest in an astronomy club. To my outrage, I’d just found out there wasn’t one. 

Dr. Bonven offered to help me establish one on campus. 

To this day, I don’t know if he genuinely meant to help me or saw an opportunity to get a little action with the naive student with stars in her eyes.

He suggested the roof of the science building as a potential location for club meetings, since it was the tallest building on campus. 

Even if the light pollution was unbearable, it was still our best chance of seeing the cosmos.

Instead of planning for the club, we spent hours talking about the stars. I was entranced. We decided to meet on the roof again the following night. He brought wine. I brought a pizza.

He didn’t take my virginity, but he may as well have.

We saw each other for three months. 

Somewhere in that time, my Arabella was conceived. 

When I found out I was pregnant, I’d never been happier. I was so excited to tell him.

He was…less excited.

He cut ties with me. He tried to get me removed from his class but he didn’t have the authority to do so. 

I left on my own a few weeks later. I couldn’t stay at the school. It was too hard knowing he was on the same campus as me and didn’t care I was carrying our baby.

I couldn’t go home to my parents. The last thing I needed was a never-ending lecture about all the ways I’d failed them.

So, I did what any expectant mother would do in that situation. 

I figured it out. I got a crappy little apartment. 

I worked three jobs. None of them were good jobs but they paid the rent and the doctors. When Arabella came, it was all worth it.

And other than that one, brief visit in the hospital, Ted was nothing more than a memory.

Until now.

A sputtering noise tore me from my memories. My little car wasn’t doing so well. The incline and icy roads were just too much for the poor thing. 

I pulled over on the side of the road just as the engine died completely.

“Okay,” I sighed shakily. “Don’t panic. You can figure this out.”

But how? I didn’t have enough money for repairs. I barely had enough for gas. I didn’t know where I was.

I pulled out my map. It was old so it didn’t show lodging or public transport stations.

How was I going to get to Arabella now?

Tears welled up in my eyes.

I’d been doing all right at keeping it together. If I broke down, I was no use to Arabella. I couldn’t help it now. Tears rolled down my cheeks. It was so cold in the car I thought my tears would freeze.

A knock on the window scared me out of my wits. Expecting highway patrol or something, I rolled the window down.

Standing next to the driver’s side was the man from the diner. 

Apparently this time, my bad decisions had decided to come to me.

The Alien Reindeer’s Redemption is available for pre-order today.

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