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Reaver’s Kiss: Sneak Peek

Allison

“The Loliax aren’t going to leave us.”

I looked around the dingy room in the middle of our dorms that we’d dubbed the rec room.

Seriously, could anyone really believe that we were going to be abandoned?

It was ridiculous.

Not even worth thinking about.

A tiny glimmer of doubt prickled my belly.

Maybe because the idea of being abandoned in space by a bunch of aliens is too terrifying to think about, Allie.

No. It was ridiculous.

“We have a contract with them. How do we even know that Kyla is reading the screens right?”

The computer whiz of our little group shot me a look, and I shrugged.

Sure, Kyla was the only one of us who had managed to take extra shifts with the Lollies maintenance crew, the only one of us who had poured over their stupid manual with all the mind numbing detail about the ship, the Smarniks Dream.

Of all of us girls who had signed on as entertainers for this third-rate intergalactic cruise, she’d be the most likely to understand what she was seeing.

But how much could she really know?

It had only been forty years since the Galactic Alliance had contacted Earth, only forty years since humans had known for certain that we were not alone in the Void.

Four decades wasn’t much time to try to absorb an entire universe of new technologies, advances in physics, new branches of science that we’d barely dreamed of.

Kyla couldn’t be right.

And still, the warning announcement rang over and over in my mind.

“Attention honored guests. Unexpected solar activity has been detected. Shielding has been raised. There is no cause for alarm, but for your safety and comfort, we ask all guests to retire to their quarters.”

We weren’t ‘guests’ but we’d gone to our quarters, gathered around in a panicked mob, and now Kyla was making things worse.

“Make you a deal,” Sarah said.

I was a little surprised.

Sarah wasn’t usually the type to push herself into the center of a situation.

But here she seemed to step up to the plate and take charge. Someone needed to do it before we had a mass of crying women.

I looked over the rest of the girls.

Sophia and Amelia holding hands, looking shocked.

Hannah seemed calm enough, maybe because she spent her off-time reading up on all the different aliens. For a xenobiologist to be, this must have been heaven. 

Hannah would know they wouldn’t really abandon us.

Maisie stood a bit behind the others, eyes fixed on the screen over Kyla’s shoulder.

Who knew what she was thinking.

She never said much, and honestly I wasn’t sure she had much to share.

But she did dance well, and the aliens who ran the cruise appreciated that.

“Thirty minutes in the pods, just in case,” Sarah continued.

She met my eyes and grinned.

“If Kyla is wrong, and we’re all overreacting, I’ll take your shifts for the rest of the cruise.”

Tempting. Very, very tempting.

When I signed up for this, I’d been thinking about it like any other gap year job, just one that paid much better.

I needed the money if I was ever going to finish school.

A dual degree in law and linguistics would get me a job almost anywhere on Earth.

Even off Earth if I wanted.

But after several weeks of being stared at by every species imaginable, feeling like nothing more than a bug in a cage, I wasn’t sure how friendly I was feeling about dealing with aliens ever again.

“I’m not that much of a bitch,” I told her.

I mean maybe I was. Probably was.

It might have come up before.

“Fine, I’ll get in my pod. But I reserve the right to tease you all until we’re back on Earth.”

“Four minutes,” Kyla said.

That cold voice of fear popped up again.

She sounded awfully certain.

After that it was a mad scramble as we all slipped back to our cabins.

Olivia, my roommate, had beat me to it. I only saw a flash of her hair as she slid into one of the tight cylinders set into the outer wall of our room.

No matter. It wasn’t exactly like we were best friends.

Taking a deep breath, I looked at my tablet, thought about grabbing it, getting a little studying time in.

“Nothing’s going to happen,” I reminded myself. “You may as well take a nap.”

Nothing had better happen, because to be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain about the sturdiness of the pods.

It was clear these cabins had been created for us humans as an afterthought, ostensibly because they didn’t have space for more staff in the main part of the ship.

I thought it was clear that the rest of the staff didn’t want to be housed with savages like us.

Probably the inclusion of escape pods was part of some Galactic bureaucratic codebook, like having a fire escape or something.

“And maybe that’s a good thing,” I admitted as I slid inside the cramped tube.

“Here’s the view from the external cams,” Kyla said, her voice faint through the pod’s comms system.

Fine.  It wasn’t going to keep me from my nap. I’d seen it before. The long column that housed our deck stretching out before us, ending underneath the giant disc where the rest of the cabins were housed, the pleasure gardens and lounges and casinos and all the rest of the things that made an intergalactic cruise fun.

At least for the passengers.

Whatever.

The all clear would sound, we would get back to our regular schedule.

My shifts would start in a few hours, and I’d skip up and down the stage, while I mentally reviewed torts and damages cases.

I grimaced.

Dancing had never been something I’d tried to learn. It was frivolous, a waste of time.

Luckily, none of the aliens seem to care. Or maybe they did, and the commbangle on my wrist did a terrible job of translating for me.

Either way.

“See, they’re not going anywhere,” I said. “I’m taking a nap.”

No sooner had I closed my eyes than the pod shook, and my heart leapt in my chest.

Shit.

Something really was happening.

Couldn’t be. Maybe it was just something with the shields.

A thin crescent slowly emerged, dividing the disc from the cargo column. From us.

“Can’t be happening, can’t be…” I couldn’t even speak, eyes riveted to the screen as a white light began to circle the edge of the disc.

“Guys, that’s the jump drive powering up,” Kyla’s voice said.

I didn’t want to know that.

It circled, gaining speed, the glow getting brighter and brighter.

They were doing it. The Lollies were really leaving us. 

I was going to sue their pants off for this. Ok, not pants. They had too many tentacles for that. But still…

The flash that filled the screen was almost too bright to look at, and suddenly the cargo column rocked back and forth, the shouts of the other girls echoing in my ears.

When the screen cleared, the disc was gone.

But they hadn’t jumped.

The wreckage floating all around was proof of that.

Everyone was silent, all the words shocked away.

And then the hiss of sleeping gas filled the pod as I was ejected into the Void.

Tirac

“How did you miss that shot?” Hador hissed.

I snarled.

I didn’t think I had missed it.

But the golden flank of the neika was quickly bounding out of sight, its nimble hooves darting through the dense brush of the jungle that pressed all around.

“I didn’t, I’m sure of it.”

“Well, it’s not here,” Laicer smirked from a nearby tree, adjusting the net slung over his shoulders that held our kills for the day.

I swung down from the branch above the game trail where I’d waited patiently all day long.

Maybe not that patiently.

And maybe it had only been an hour, maybe less.

Still, long enough.

I bent down over the tracks then straightening showed Harry and Dick the thick blue fluid smeared across my fingertips.

“I didn’t miss.”

“Well, the neika is long gone,” Laicer said. “And you don’t have your kill. Doesn’t seem to make a difference, does it?”

Hador jumped down beside him.

“Come on, we have enough, let’s get back to camp.”

Swishing my tail in irritation I hung back.

“I’ll meet you there,” I finally decided. “I’m not leaving it to wander around, injured.”

My companions left without arguing.

They didn’t need me to help take the day’s hunt, poor as it was, back to the village.

We’d been out on the trails since sunrise, but the animals had been scarce, their normal patterns disturbed.

They weren’t the only ones.

I’d been agitated all day, like an itch deep in my blood that I couldn’t scratch.

A long run would soothe it.

Regaining my vantage point, I could see what direction the neika had gone.

Hooking the bow to the quiver slung over my back, I leapt from tree to tree, following the broken trail of branches below.

It was faster than I expected, running and dodging through the underbrush, despite its wound.

But it couldn’t run forever. 

The further I followed, the more certain that truth became. My prey was running toward the tip of the Horn. 

And while neika might be the fastest creatures in the jungle, one thing was certain.

They couldn’t swim.

Right here, the land jutted out to sea from the coast, a rough triangle surrounded on all sides but one by water. Someone long ago had compared it to a lopped-off horn of one of the red warriors, the Vak’ki, and the name had stuck.

The neika would have to turn soon, or it would trap itself.

Either way, I would have it.

A rumbling moved through the jungle, a sound so low I felt it in my bones before I registered it.

The birds exploded from the trees in a cacophony of sound, every creature below me broke cover to run wildly in all directions, and still the noise grew louder.

Quake.

Instantly I lowered my body to cling to the branch, arms, legs and tail all wound tightly for support.

The ground bucked and shuddered below, the trees shaking violently, a shower of leaves and branches raining down all around.

“No, no no no…”

There was no escaping it. My branch broke, and I plummeted through the air.

Twisting free, I jumped from tree to tree, desperately trying to gain height, to get away from the center of the destruction.

Almost!

Then something crashed into me, and all was dark.

***

When I woke it felt like half the forest had fallen on me.

My head ached, and when I went to rub it I realized my hand was trapped.

“This day doesn’t seem to be getting any better,” I grumbled, heaving at the tree trunk that lay across my chest, pinning my right arm and left leg

Other than my grunts, the jungle was silent around me as if the chaos and commotion of the quake had sucked away every sound.

Finally I worked my way free, staggered to my feet and turned around, almost unable to comprehend the destruction around me.

Half the jungle had been flattened, entire trees picked up and tossed about like a giant had kicked them away as he stomped through, heedless of his path.

With a sinking feeling in my gut I slid the strap that held my quiver and bow off from my shoulder.

Broken, every arrow, and a crack running through the stave of the bow that promised it would snap in my hands the next time I pulled it.

My belt knife was unscathed, to be sure, but the signs were clear.

“This hunt is over.”

Slowly I made my back towards the village, keeping a wary eye on the trees that still stood, not trusting them to bear my weight.

Once the ground trembled under my feet and I crouched, waiting it out.

But no more trees fell, no more calamities stalked my path.

Until I tried to return from the Horn and saw the true destruction of the quake. The Horn had been snapped off like a branch from a tree, leaving a vast chasm that separated me from the village.

I stared at it, blinking.

The distance was more than twice as far as I could jump, even on days when I hadn’t been clobbered by a tree.

Peering over the edge I considered climbing down, but the rocks still crumbling and crashing below put an end to that thought.

“It won’t be the first night I’ve slept in the jungle,” I decided. “And I’m in no shape to figure it out now.”

Eat, sleep, and then in the morning light, I’d look for a tree long enough to span the gap, make some sort of rough bridge.

Reluctantly, I turned away from the mainland and went to survey the damage to my new domain.

The moons rose as I walked, and for a moment I wondered how the village had fared before pushing the thought away.

I would find out soon enough, and worrying without being able to do anything about it would do me no good.

Strong warriors and well-trained cubs, all of them.

They would be capable enough to deal with whatever the quake had caused without my assistance.

My thoughts were still with them when I stumbled upon another trail, but this time of no creature I’d ever tracked. A long wide furrow in the earth, ridges at either side, plowing in an unnaturally straight line. 

I knelt to examine it more closely, mentally separating the wreckage from the quake from whatever had crashed through the jungle here. 

A row of saplings marching down the upturned earth, all close to the same height, gave me the clue I needed. Whatever had passed through had been months ago.

I could not get home. Could not help my brothers. 

But this, this was a mystery I could solve.

Carefully I followed the trail, keeping to the shadows, keeping the furrow to my right as it led deeper into the Horn.

The trail stopped in a clearing.

And nothing was there.

Then I saw it, moonlight glinting on the slivers of metal that were not covered by a thick coat of fallen leaves.

Warily I approached it, a long tube with one end buried in the roots of an odill tree at the far side of the clearing.

The artifacts of the Makers were not to be handled lightly, their secrets passed down only to the elders of the clan.

But the closer I studied the cylinder, the more I became uncertain.

It was very much like the devices that the Makers had used, had left behind when they disappeared.

But I’d never seen anything quite like this. Its lines were foreign to me, unfamiliar.

What was it doing out here?

Circling it, I noticed small colored lights flashing on one side. Green, yellow, blue, green, yellow, blue.

Then the pattern stopped, the panel turning solid green.

And with a hiss, the lid began to open.

Allison

When I first went to college, my first roommate was a bit of a wild child.

Okay, more than a bit.

Nice enough, but I only went out with her once.

And right now I remembered exactly why.

My head pounded, my tongue was swollen, scratchy.

Every bit of me felt like crap and the idea that people would do this to themselves on purpose was still bewildering to me.

But this wasn’t the dorms.

Or my cabin, back on the Dream.

The unthinkable had happened, and I was somewhere else.

Somewhere unexpected, unplanned.

I hated not having a plan.

Wherever I was, it was quiet, the ever present hum of the ship gone.

No voices. The rest of the girls weren’t here.

Maybe they were still asleep.

I could feel fresh air on my face, a rich loamy scent of plants all around.

Maybe this was a garden. That would be nice.

Still I kept my eyes closed, just for a moment, just while I tried to clear my mind.

“What are you?” A deep voice rumbled and I sat up in shock then froze.

I was at the side of a clearing, tall twisted trees lacing the sky with slender branches far overhead all around, deep shadows at their bases.

A circle of dark sky above was filled with a giant full moon.

I swallowed hard.

To its side I could see a second, smaller orb.

Two moons. That… that was different.

I looked around again. “Who’s there? Who spoke to me?”

A dark form separated from one of the trees and I stayed very still.

From a distance, in the shadows, it looked like a man. Very tall, with broad shoulders.

But one head, two arms, two legs, and–

I blinked.

A tail. Yes, a thick tail swishing in the air behind him.

When he stepped closer into the moonlight, I swallowed hard.

My rescuer was unclothed, other than a short loincloth and a broad strap running diagonally across his chest.

The light was enough to give me a clear view of the rich stripped green of his skin, the strong planes of his face not softened in the least by the frame of dark brown hair.

This was no gentle gardener.

“Are you here to help me?” I whispered.

Sure, it was more than a little terrifying to be by myself in the dark with a naked alien.

Naked, giant alien.

But at least we could communicate.

He tilted his head to the side.

“I do not know your words. What are you? Where did you come from?”

Or not.

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