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Aliens Match: Outlaw Planet Mates

Norsuk

The rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins as I leaped into the stinger, my fingers dancing across the manual retro controls. Sorik and Kamek, those idiots, thought they could best me in a contest of piloting skill. Ha! They couldn’t handle a stinger like I could. I zeroed in on my chosen target, a glint of chrome caught in the light of the twin stars.

“Telemetry capture,” I barked at the computer, my eyes never leaving the pale arc of Reazus Prime. The pod’s trajectory flashed across the screen – glide path seventeen degrees south of the equator. Perfect.

The stinger’s thrusters clanged and thrummed as I maneuvered, the vibrations rattling through my bones. I could almost taste the victory. Once I scooped up that pod in the EM haul field, I’d jam it into a descending orbit to Maneet and sell off the contents sight unseen. Minimal effort, maximum profit. The contest was in the bag.

“Glide path twenty-nine degrees southwest,” the computer chimed, an edge of warning in its mechanical voice.

What the hells? The pod was changing course on its own. Impossible. No matter – I was still on its tail. I watched the distance tick down. 3000 klicks. 2500. It was pulling away from me now? I slammed my thumb on the main rocket control, the thrust shoving me back into the command chair.

We were scavengers, my brothers and I. Bounty hunters. Opportunists. Whatever put credits in our pockets. And according to the scans, those pods held human females. Universal breeders. Valuable commodities in certain circles – slaves, concubines, baby-makers. Not my scene. I didn’t want to get close to any female. I just wanted to get rich.

The stinger shuddered as it hit atmosphere, the planet’s surface filling the viewscreen. Too close for any fancy flying now. “Employ EMHF when we’re in range,” I ordered, watching the electromagnetic haul field charge up. Almost there. I could practically smell the credits.

“Ten. Nine. Eight,” the computer counted down. The pod loomed large before me, seconds from capture. I readied myself, fingers tightening on the control stick. At contact, I’d activate the delta fields and guide us safely planetside…

“Seven. Six. Fi-” The cockpit flashed red and klaxons blared.

“No, no, no!” I yelled, fighting for control as the stinger rocked violently.

“Trawl ray failure,” the computer announced needlessly as the pod broke away. The sudden release sent the stinger hurtling in a dizzying loop. I hauled back on the yoke, desperate to level out. To land. The pod was ahead of me again, retros flaring as it tried to land itself.

“Telemetry capture!” I barked.

“Emergency landing sequence engaged,” the computer replied. I pounded the dash. Stupid, useless machine!

“Where is it going?” I demanded. The pod seemed determine to plow straight into a plateau. At the last second, it plunged downward… into the yawning mouth of an arched tunnel. An old mine shaft. Of course.

I pulled up hard, catching a final glimpse of the pod vanishing into the depths. Banking around, I brought the stinger down just outside the tunnel entrance, landing skids sinking into the bare rock.

The hatch popped and I leaped out into a wall of blistering heat. I ducked quickly into the cool shadow of the mining tunnel, following the marks carved into the stone by the pod’s violent passage. It didn’t take long to find it.

The once gleaming nacelle lay dull and scarred, studded with spent retro rockets. As I approached, the rear end suddenly lifted a few inches, then settled again. What the…?

I edged around the side and froze. The pod balanced precariously on the lip of a deep chasm. One wrong move…

The hiss of an airlock seal releasing made me jump. The rear hatch began to rise with agonizing slowness. I knew the shifting weight would send the whole thing tumbling into the abyss. Leaping forward, I peered inside…

And forgot to breathe.

A small, sleeping form lay within. Child-sized, yet curved with the unmistakable shape of a woman. The most delicate, exquisite features I’d ever seen…

The pod groaned and pitched forward. I lunged, scooping the female into my arms and throwing myself back just as the pod lost its battle with gravity and plummeted out of sight. The crunch of metal on stone echoed up seconds later.

Behind me, a thunderous roar. I spun to see a cascade of rubble seal off the distant light of the tunnel mouth. The pod’s violent passage must have triggered a cave-in.

I looked down at the tiny woman cradled against my chest, her face barely visible in the gloom. My heart stuttered, then began to race. Now what the hells was I supposed to do?


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