Colette has been a sci-fi fan all her life and considers the countless years she's spent watching Star Trek in all its forms as Very Important Research. She prefers Picard and Data over Kirk and Spock, and Lieutenant Worf will always hold a special place in her heart. She doesn't care if that gives away her age. Her books explore the dangers and pleasures of romance in other galaxies, and sometimes the dangers and pleasures of falling in love on an Earth colonized by alien races. Because love can happen anywhere.
Colette enjoys hearing from her readers. You may contact her via her website: http://www.ColetteDuke.com.
Landing on Emerald 3’s treacherous, mist-shrouded terrain and setting a beacon for colonists should be a breeze for Fioran, the rising star of Galaxy Command.
This mission is her last one as a beacon tech, and upon its completion, she’ll earn her Interstellar Scout badge and spend her days exploring new universes. The freedom Fioran finds in the stars is the one thing that can liberate her from the flashbacks of a previous beacon mission gone terribly wrong.
But when a cloud of algae-laden mist clogs her propulsion vents and forces Fioran and her crewman, Alohxi, to crash-land, she’s faced with more trouble than just repairing her landing craft while enduring agonizing flashbacks.
Alohxi is a Kadiosh empath. Unlike the Galaxy Command probes that have determined Emerald 3 is suitable for colonization and bears no sentient life, he knows immediately that the tree-like creatures of Emerald 3 are sentient. Not only that, they’re intelligent and have a complex social structure.
There goes the colonization of Emerald 3.
There goes Fioran’s promotion to Interstellar Scout.
Like all his race, Alohxi is too honorable to take advantage of emotions kept private—but once those emotions are voiced, his nature won’t allow him to ignore the attraction. Fioran’s eleventh-hour admission of her desire for him, when she thought they wouldn’t survive the crash, has literally given Alohxi carte blanche to seduce her. But can the man who knows Fioran best guide her through her fears, or is their hold on her too strong?
Just when Fioran and Alohxi conceive of a way to return to the Galaxy Command starship without harming the tree people of Emerald 3, a twist of fate ties the future of the funny, inquisitive creatures to Fioran’s. The choice she must make will mean her survival or theirs.
Visible through the landing craft’s viewing window, a single mountaintop jutted like a pink castle from the thick mist that cloaked Emerald 3. Fioran adjusted the controls to ensure the craft stayed on course between the twin moons and well above the planet’s permanent cloud cover.
Emerald 3. It was an ill-conceived name for the giant ball of gray-white clouds. But recent probe transmissions indicated lush foliage on the planet’s surface, and someone in Galaxy Command had decided on the name.
A faintly green puff of mist rose in front of them. As the craft passed through it, warning indicators lit up.
“Something’s up with the propulsion system,” Fioran noted, waiting to see if the glitch would resolve itself after they left the green mist. Another warning light. “Lovely. Navigation system just went down.”
The landing craft bucked. She flicked off the autopilot and grabbed the manual controls. At least they were above the clouds, where they could see. Galaxy Command had wanted them to set down in the murk. When she’d refused, risking her promotion and her job, they’d agreed to extend the mission. She and Alohxi would travel on foot down the mountain to confirm the data collected by the probes, and back up again, instead of just moving explorations to a proper planet that wasn’t buried in clouds. Then they’d set the beacon to guide the colonists and get back out to the stars.
“You don’t question Galaxy Command,” she muttered. Who’d want to colonize this place anyway? Anyone living here would never see the sky. No wonder no life forms existed here, other than plants.
Alohxi, the only other crewman aboard, included in the mission for his empathic abilities, slid into his seat beside her. “Maybe next time you’re tempted to challenge authority, you’ll remember climbing down all these cliffs and back up them again, and you’ll keep your mouth shut and just land where you’re supposed to.”
“Only a fool would try to land without visuals. Surface is probably a swamp.” The elevation sensor dipped, and she pulled up on the controls. The craft responded, but it felt sluggish. Instead of climbing, it sank into the dense cloud cover. “Bring up the external sensors.”
“External sensors have failed,” Alohxi announced as the thick white clouds gave way to a denser substance that darkened the viewing window to a vivid green. “And the green stuff is back.”
“Thank you. I hadn’t noticed.”
The sour scent of fear sweat filled the cockpit. They buckled their safety harnesses.
The mist thinned, and a sheer wall of pink rock loomed in front of them. Fioran keyed the display for topographical maps. It came up with a featureless blue screen. Was there any part of this ship that still worked? She flashed through her memory of the probe reports she’d studied. Made a fast decision.
“Banking to starboard.” She twisted the controls, still pulling up. The craft lurched to the right, the mist thinned around them, and she could see a patch of blue sky ahead. Sweet, sweet freedom. “We’re getting out of here, my friend.”
“You going to explain to Galaxy Command why we didn’t set the beacon?”
“Oh no, we’re setting the damn beacon.” She increased thrust to the propulsion system, intending to circle around and set down on the mountaintop. “And we’re confirming the probe data. But first we’re getting out of this godforsaken air-soup.”
Setting the beacon was the only thing that stood between a string of missions like this one and a promotion to Interstellar Scout—and endless forays into the freedom of the vastness of the stars. She’d earned that promotion, and she wasn’t going to let a soggy cloud planet get in the way of wearing an IS badge on her uniform sleeve.
The craft jolted, silencing Alohxi’s response. Then the unmistakable scrape of Krylo fiber against stone as the hull impacted the cliff face. Fioran met Alohxi’s gaze. Her heartbeat felt oddly slow.
“We’re going down.”
“Thank you.” His face paled, and he forced a smile. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Still fighting with the controls, Fioran tried to get the craft back into an upward trajectory. But she fell forward in her seat, and the safety harness tightened against her chest. They were making a steep descent. Barring a miracle, they weren’t coming out of this alive.
“I wish I’d said yes that time on Arturion,” she blurted.
She sneaked a glance at him. His bold Kadiosh features softened in perplexity. Despite the dire predicament, something within her responded to his aura of peace. As with all his race, Alohxi radiated a gentleness that contrasted with his rugged features. The juxtaposition was fascinating. Alluring. Yet somehow everything that was good about him left her suspecting she lacked those qualities herself. She didn’t like the way it made her feel.
“Noted,” he said mildly, but she detected a resolve in his voice and knew the eleventh-hour admission had been a mistake. The Kadiosh were too honorable to take advantage of a human’s attraction to them, but they didn’t back away from overt sexual advances. Ever.
The craft jolted again, and branches whipped against the viewing window. Alohxi’s eyes opened wide. “Did you feel that?”
She gripped the controls, pulling up, not that it was doing any good. “Kind of hard not to.”
“No, it’s the trees,” he said reverently. “They’re trying to stop our descent. They don’t want us to die.”
If they survived the landing, her relationship with Alohxi would become . . . complicated.