Authors: Laura Jo Phillips
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
Without warning the door of his cell slid open with a whisper of sound. A gigantic golden haired man stepped inside and approached him without a word. Eric stood up, watching the man warily. He thought it was the same man who’d brought him to this cell, but it was hard to tell. So many of these Jasani freaks looked exactly alike. The man put one hand on his shoulder and stepped sidewise.
Eric swallowed hard, determined not to show his shock and fear at finding himself in a completely different room between one heartbeat and the next. Instead of his cell, he was now standing in front of an unmarked door which the man reached out and pushed open before nudging Eric forward. Eric stepped into a narrow room with a window in the far wall. Following the man in front of him, he stepped up to the window and looked into an enormous room covered in white padding. What was it with these Jasani and white? he wondered absently.
As he watched, three gigantic birds flew into view and landed on the floor not far from the window. They all had brightly colored eyes with matching markings in their black fur. Eyes that fixed on him, sending a shiver down his spine. The center one opened it’s razor sharp beak and screamed. Eric stumbled backward in abject fear.
“Don’t worry, they have no desire to eat you.”
Eric spun around in surprise, feeling the blood drain from his face as he stared at the woman who’d entered the room behind him. Faith. It was Faith. Or her twin. But no, her twin was dead. As Faith was supposed to be dead. But she was obviously very much alive, standing a few feet in front of him, a smile on her face. She had some sort of red furry thing on her shoulder that she reached up to pet with one hand as she studied him.
The furry thing stared at him with big red eyes and growled.
“It’s all right Bubbles,” Faith murmured to it, never taking her eyes from him.
“How?” he asked.
Faith smiled. “I think I’ll ask the questions, if you don’t mind.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed angrily, but Faith continued to smile. “Have you ever heard of a
Eric shook his head as his mind tried fruitlessly to understand how this woman could possibly be standing in front of him unharmed. Losing his life for avenging his sister was one thing, but losing his life for a failed attempt was another. It wasn’t fair that Faith was standing there perfectly healthy. On the other hand, if she wasn’t hurt, then he wasn’t guilty of killing her. Maybe he would walk away from this mess after all.
“Bubbles, will you show him what a
is, please?” Faith asked the strip of red fur. “But no eating him, okay? I don’t want you to get sick.”
Eric’s eyebrows rose at that, then he shrugged off his concern. If that little thing came close enough, he’d break it in half. Or stomp on it. In fact, he hoped it did. Faith was obviously attached to the thing, so her reaction to its sudden, violent death would be fun to watch.
He watched as the strip of fur jumped down to the floor and walked toward him. He smiled. Just a little closer, he thought.
Suddenly the little strip of fur...changed. Eric found himself staring up at nine feet of massive, red furred beast with dripping fangs and knife-like claws. It opened it’s huge maw and roared loud enough to burst his eardrums, causing him to stumble backward again, this time slamming into the window behind him.
“What in the hell?!” he shouted.
“If I were you, I’d keep my voice down,” Faith said. “Bubbles doesn’t like shouting.”
Eric opened his mouth, then snapped it shut as the giant red monster took a step closer to him. “Call it off,” he said, striving for his best commanding tone.
“No,” Faith said.
“You need this thing to keep you safe I suppose,” Eric said striving for contempt.
“Not at all,” Faith replied, her smile widening to a grin. “I just want her to have a bit of fun.”
Eric tore his eyes from the monster and studied Faith’s expression. She was telling the truth. Why wasn’t she afraid of him? Why was she so damned calm? He looked sideways, but the big blonde who’d brought him here was gone. When had he left?
had he left?
“What game are you playing at?” he demanded.
“This is the Question and Truth game,” Faith said. “I ask you a question, you tell me the truth. If you lie, even a tiny bit, your body will give off a scent that will tell me as clearly as words.”
“What do you want to know?” Eric asked with a smirk, not believing her for a moment. Did she think he was stupid?.
“Are you afraid?” Faith asked.
“No,” Eric replied. Faith tilted her head back and sniffed. Then she looked at him and grinned. “Liar.”
Eric’s eyes widened just a little before he caught himself.
“Two more lies and I will put you in the room with my Rami,” she said.
“Your what?” Eric asked.
“My mates,” she said. “They’re waiting in that room behind you.”
“Your mates are giant birds?” he asked, putting as much sarcasm into his voice as he could.
“Yes, if they choose to be,” Faith said easily, ignoring Eric’s tone. “Now, are you ready to tell the truth?”
“Try me,” Eric said.
Faith tilted her head sideways, then sighed. “You aren’t taking me seriously, are you?” she asked. “I suppose I need to convince you.”
Eric rolled his eyes, then froze in shock as the petite woman in front of him suddenly became a gigantic bird like those he’d seen earlier. She was smaller, but she filled the small room as she opened a wicked looking beak and screamed into his face. A moment later she was Faith again, standing a few feet away, watching him cower on the floor. “Stand up,” she said.
Eric climbed to his feet, wondering if they’d drugged his food.
“Now, tell me, Eric, how did you get out of prison on Earth?” she asked. “And don’t lie.”
“I got an offer from the Xanti,” Eric said, deciding not to tempt the creatures in front of him. “They promised to get me out for a price.”
“That’s what we figured,” Faith said. “How did you find me?”
“I negotiated,” Eric said. “I wanted out, and I wanted to know where you were. Hell, I got to Jasan before you did.”
“How did you know I was on the
“Pure dumb luck,” Eric admitted, seeing no reason to lie. “I saw you arrive at the Skyport, watched as you talked to those guards. Then you vanished. I had no idea where you went. I spent a week trying to find you, or someone who knew about you, but I got nowhere. Then one day I saw you walking down the street with three men, happy as can be. It wasn’t hard to find out who the men were.”
“How did you get aboard the
“I intercepted a delivery,” Eric said, smirking again. He was actually enjoying the chance to show off his cleverness. “It wasn’t that hard. There were people running around like ants all over the place. I delivered a package, and then found a nice little closet to hide in. Once the ship left the Skyport I got a uniform from the laundry, and pretty much went wherever I wanted aboard the ship. The only problem I had was finding you, then catching you alone.”
“The poison that was on the knife,” Faith asked. “Where’d that come from?”
“The Xanti,” Eric said. “You’re like a damn cat, Faith. No matter how many times we try to kill you, you just keep coming back. That poison was supposed to make sure that when I put you down, you’d stay down, once and for all. Looks like it wasn’t worth the price I paid for it.”
“Oh no, you got your money’s worth,” Faith said. “It definitely would have killed me.”
“Would have?” Eric asked.
“Yep,” Faith said. “But you see, I’m not human, Eric. I think I just showed you that.”
Eric nodded slowly. She definitely wasn’t human. Had she always been this...whatever she was? No, he decided. That made no sense, considering all that had been done to her.
“Now the only question is, what do we do with you?” Faith mused, interrupting his thoughts.
“Send me back to Earth,” Eric said. “I’ll serve out my prison sentence. I don’t have any money left for bribes so you won’t have to worry about that.”
Faith stared at him for a long moment as though considering his suggestion, then shook her head. “Come on, Bubbles,” she said. “It’s time for us to go now.”
The red beast snarled at him once more, then shifted back into a small strip of fur before leaping up to Faith’s shoulder.
“What are you going to do, Faith?” Eric asked, unable to prevent himself.
“I’m going to go have lunch,” she said.
“What are you going to do with
?” Eric yelled angrily as she turned her back on him and walked toward the door. Before the echo of his shout faded, there were three tall, dark haired men standing in front of him. The Admirals. Eric pressed himself tighter against the wall behind him. These were seriously big, angry men.
“Speaking to our Arima in that tone is not wise,” one of them, the leader he thought, said coolly. “But then, you are not very bright so I suppose such behavior is to be expected.”
Eric heard the door close and looked between two of them, surprised that Faith had really left. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
The Falcorans only smiled at him. One of them placed a hand on his shoulder and a second later he blinked, shocked to find that he was no longer on a ship. Instead, he was standing on a planet with a sickly green sky. He looked around, seeing nothing but reddish dirt and rocks for as far as he could see in every direction.
“This planet has an atmosphere capable of sustaining your life,” the leader, Tristan Falcoran, said while the other two simply stared at him with tiny smiles on their identical faces. “There is water, and some of the vegetation is compatible with your physiology.” He gestured toward two crates sitting on the ground nearby that Eric hadn’t noticed. “You will find a small tent, a pack with survival tools, a change of clothes, and enough water and food to last you a couple of weeks, if you’re careful. After that, you will need to fend for yourself.”
“What is this place?” Eric asked.
“Buhell III C,” Tristan replied. “A small, uninhabited moon with no intelligent life, a fact unchanged by your arrival. There are some rather vicious animals here though, so you may wish to be careful. Particularly as we did not provide you with any weapons.”
“You mean there are no people here?” Eric asked.
“That is correct,” Tristan replied. “No people, no technology. Aside from yourself, of course, and what is contained in those two crates. Farewell, Eric Kick.”
“Wait!” Eric shouted frantically. “You can’t just leave me here.”
“Of course we can,” Tristan replied. “It’s either this or kill you outright, and you do not deserve the release of an easy death. This is much better.” With that, the Falcorans stepped sideways and vanished, leaving Eric Kick alone on a barren planet at the outer rim of the galaxy where he could never harm anyone again.
“There are eight Xanti ships that have just taken up a barrier formation between us and Onddo,” Tristan said, standing at the head of the long tactical conference and manual plotting table in the Operational Command Center aboard the
. Seated around the table were the Katre Consuls, the Gryphon Consuls, their Arimas, and the captains and Chief Tactical officers from the
, and the
. Attending the meeting via secure tight beam video link were the captains of the five Jasani battleships and four cruisers that made up the remainder of the task force.
“Thanks to Unblind, we know their locations, as well as their specifics,” Tristan continued. “They are surely aware of us but do not know that we are aware of them. It’s reasonable to assume that the Xanti plan is to avoid revealing their presence to us until they see what our intentions are. That gives us a window of opportunity, but I wouldn’t count on that window lasting very long.”
“Given that the Xanti do not know that we can see them, they will not expect to be attacked. That fact gives us the element of surprise, which we should seize by attacking now,” Maxim Katre said. “Normally, negotiations might be in order in this situation. But, since in the centuries since our first contact with them, no Xanti ship has ever surrendered. We know that attempting to negotiate with them would have no benefit, and would serve only to alert them that we are aware of their presence, throwing away the tactical advantages that surprise affords us. Their formation is directly in our path and can easily shift to block us from reaching Onddo no matter which trajectory we take. So, again, I say we must attack now, while surprise is still with us.”
“Consul Gryphon?” Tristan asked.
“Consul Katre’s analysis is sound. We agree,” Olaf said.
“In that case...,” Tristan was interrupted by an insistent buzz from the comm panel. He swiftly opened the circuit with the stab of a finger.
“Admiral, sir,” the comm officer said, “we are receiving a video signal directed at us from the planet’s surface. The sender insists on speaking to ‘whoever is in charge.’”