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Isolde's Initiative: New Beginnings -- Serialization of novel by J.A. Taylor -- Seventh Installment

Updated on January 26, 2016
Janet A Taylor profile image

Isolde's Initiative: New Beginnings is the first in a series. The second, "Stranded on Tevan" will be coming out next.

Chapter Eight

Since Cassia’s astounding rescue, Quillar spent six nights in sleepless anxiety. Absentmindedly, he paced in his quarters. He had failed Morgan, and thoughts raced through his mind of how and when he would tell the “Terror of Baldaninus.” Morgan needs me, he kept telling himself. Saying that to himself repeatedly seemed to ease his concern. Morgan’s forceful personality may bring the weak-minded and the meek under control, but I, alone, control the true power that can bring the defiant to their knees, he thought.

He stood with arrogant pride before a full-length mirror as the sound of heavy footsteps echoed from the corridor outside his quarters. In the mirror, he observed the door opening. When Morgan entered unannounced, accompanied by his personal guards, Quillar’s self-bolstered courage fled. He strained to swallow a nervous lump in his throat, and turned to greet him. Morgan’s face was flushed with rage; his jaw was set in an annoyed frown, his eyes blazed. The gait of his steps never slowed and his crimson cape flared out behind him as he crossed the room in a straight line toward him, shoving a table between them out of his path.

Morgan was within three paces when Quillar feigned a cheerful greeting. “Morgan. I wasn’t expecting…” he started.

Before Quillar could finish his salutation, Morgan’s fist, with considerable and deliberate force, smashed into his face. The Deltan fell to the floor like a ponderous bag of sand, and Morgan stood over him. “You incompetent fool!”

Disoriented by Morgan’s attack, Quillar managed to get to one knee. He looked up with a hand covering his nose and upper lip as blood oozed between his fingers and dripped to the floor. Morgan paced arrogantly back and forth in front of him. “Four days ago, I received some rather disturbing news. Quillar, it was not what I wanted to hear.”

By the tone in Morgan’s voice, Quillar knew that Morgan had learned of his failure. Another lump formed in his throat. “They arrived sooner than I expected,” he stammered. “I didn’t have a chance.”

“And, how is Drew Tayven faring these days?”

Somehow, that name sounded familiar to him, but Quillar, in his muddled thoughts, could not recall exactly who he was. “Tayven?”

“The son of Governor Frashure of Alpha-Bynaurus,” Morgan said. “I placed him in your custody. How is he?”

“We have him somewhere below, alive,” Quillar answered. “If you wish, I’ll have him brought…”

“Interesting,” Morgan interrupted cynically, “just how are you going to pull that off? He’s alive all right enough, but he is not here. Five days ago, one of your informants sent me word that the Interstellar Council had rejected the leadership of Owen Isolde. He also told me that Lady Cassia and Drew Tayven were expected to arrive on Gosmaar in the company of her brother, Corey, and the one you know as Damon Gyles. I thought you were going to rid us of this nuisance!”

Quillar was suddenly speechless. At this point, any excuse he tried to make would only infuriate Morgan more. Morgan had him. There was no escape from his wrath.

With a wave of Morgan’s hand, two of his armed guards lifted the dejected Deltan lord to his feet. “Be in remembrance of this day, Quillar. You’ve received your last pardon for failure. I’m taking authority over our combined forces until such time that you, personally, rid me and this galaxy of Damon Gyles.”

Quillar, still nursing his battered face, gave Morgan a bow of submission, and stepped back. Morgan turned to one of his men. “Colonel.”

The officer snapped to attention and took one-step forward. “Yes, milord!”

“Inform Admiral Jibade that the Apgarean fleet is to move on Gosmaar with all haste. I want the Interstellar Academy completely obliterated. Dispatch the taskforce of Baldaninus to Arraada. Delta battle cruisers are to move on Lithaar. Crush all possible Interstellar resistance. The nails must be driven into the Interstellar Council’s coffin before anyone can resurrect its corpse!”

j

In Corey’s office on Gosmaar, Cassia stood at the door as the last members of the Interstellar Council filed out, each giving her hand a kiss and bow of respect as he walked out. The meeting had not gone well. When the door closed, she began to walk about the room in thought, sighing and wringing her hands. Her father’s last words, “The Council must not be allowed to dissolve, echoed through her mind. “What has begun here on Paldaar must see its completion in the galaxy…carry on as I have taught you…let nothing deter you from what has to be done. Repeatedly, his entreaty for the Interstellar Council grew more intense; his presence seemed to hover over her so profoundly that she had to sit down, or collapse under the pressure.

Returning to Corey’s desk, she sat down and instantly began to sob, burying her face upon her arms on top of the desk. “Father, she said, “where do I begin? How I wish you were here. Oh, father…what should I to do?”

“Mind if I come in?” Damon asked softly from the door.

Startled, Cassia bolted upright in the chair and swiveled, turning her back to him and wiping the tears from her face and eyes.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your meditation.” He knew it was much more than that. “I can come back later.” He turned to leave.

“No, no…come in.” She pulled a small hanky from the ruffled sleeve of her blouse and sniffed. “Just give me a moment.”

She blotted her eyes and wiped her nose, and, with a momentary sigh, slowly turned toward the door. But Damon wasn’t there.

“Are you all right?” he said from an unexpected position on the far side of the desk.

Once again, she jumped with a start.

“I’m sorry.”

She let out a half-hearted chuckle to disguise her sudden fright. “Is there something you needed?”

“No, you sent for me…remember?”

“Oh…yes, that’s right.” She swiveled away from him in the chair and rose to her feet. “Alec informed me that Aurora is completely repaired.”

“That’s right,” he said.

She walked around the desk and stood toying with a writing instrument while she tried to regain her composure. “And you’ll be leaving soon?”

“That’s the plan,” he replied. “Got something on your mind?” He walked around the chair and stopped behind her.

Taking note of Damon’s stance, she took a couple of steps around the front of the desk. “Drew, that is…Lord Tayven wishes to return home to Alpha-Bynaurus. He asked if you would be available to take him.”

Every move she made about the room, Damon shadowed her, keeping a respectable arm’s length away. “Is there anything else?”

“He has extended the same invitation to me as was given to my father. On behalf of the Interstellar Council, I will be presenting my father’s proposal to Governor Frashure and his cabinet,” she replied.

“So, you’ll be going along,” he said, “anyone else?”

“Alec and Ida, of course.”

“What about your brothers?”

“They’re staying here,” she said.

“You know, Corey won’t like this arrangement,” Damon said.

“Arrangement?” She turned to face him and found him leaning in closer to her.

“Yeah, you…and me,” Damon said with a romantic tone as he waved his arm skyward. “Out there…among the stars.”

Cassia nearly blushed at Damon’s hint, but quickly regained her composure. “Corey’s business is here. He has more pressing matters at the moment, and I have father’s work to do.”

“All right,” Damon said, “if that’s how you want it.”

She noticed a sudden change in Damon’s countenance. “Is something wrong?”

Damon pursed his lips in thought, and then shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “It’s best that I mind my own business. So, how soon do you want to leave for Alpha?”

“As soon as possible,” she said, following him to the door.

He paused, his back to her.

“What is it you want to say?” she asked.

Damon wheeled around to face her. The warmth in his eyes was gone, and his forehead was furrowed. “You know, I just don’t understand you Isoldes!”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Morgan’s declared war on you, and this interstellar club of your father’s? He has his heart set on adorning his trophy case with your heads!” Damon declared. “Lady, you better wise up quick! You’re not safe anywhere in this galaxy. Quillar has an intelligence network like no other out there and he’ll track you all down!”

Damon’s sudden attitude flabbergasted Cassia. “We’re safe here.”

“Safe? You call this little school of yours safe?” Damon said with a sarcastic snicker. “Look around, lady! One Deltan battle cruiser could level this place in no time. Not to mention what a few squads of Soarers could do to those inexperienced Shooting Star pilots you got here. One green Deltan pilot could take out three of your cadets without batting an eyelash.”

Cassia’s eyes were wide with surprise, and when Damon saw fear creeping up on her face, he thought a moment, and decided to tone down his rhetoric. “There, I said it. How you can remain so passive about this, is beyond my reasoning.”

Damon’s chilling comment brought Corey’s suspicion to her mind. “How do you know these things?” she asked, “How do you know so much about Quillar and…?”

“Like I said before, I’ve had my share of run-ins with him,” Damon said, “and if it’s all the same to you, after I take your little party to Alpha, I’m getting away from this galaxy before it blows up in my face.”

“Corey thinks you’re a spy.”

“Me…a spy?” Damon said. “Spies are expendable. I’m not.”

“But, we know so little about you. You refuse to tell us where you’re from, or how you even got to Uvalde. I told you I could spot a military man.”

“How many times do I have to keep telling you and your brother the same thing…is that what you think?”

“Well, what am I supposed to think?” she asked.

Suddenly, the door swung open, and Corey entered, with a worried look on his face. When he saw Damon standing in close proximity to his sister, he frowned. “What’s he doing here?”

“I sent for him,” Cassia replied.

Damon started out the open door. “Damon, don’t go.” She turned to her brother as Damon closed and stood by the door. “Corey, what’s wrong?”

Giving Damon a suspicious look, Corey answered, “Arraada and Lithaar have fallen under attack. Fleets from Baldaninus and Delta.” Cassia looked questioningly with raised eyebrows to Damon. He nodded.

“What’s been going on in here?” Corey asked.

“Nothing, Commander,” Damon said.

“Damon was telling me how vulnerable we are here on Gosmaar,” she said.

“Oh, he has,” Corey retorted.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” Damon chimed in, “You may not realize this, but you’re all sitting dewstas. Morgan has declared war on you and anyone who stands with you. He’s going to try to end this as quickly as he can. I lay odds that a fleet of warships are on their way here as we speak.”

“How much time do you think we have?” Cassia asked.

“It’s anyone’s guess,” Damon answered.

“Any suggestions?” Cassia asked.

“Evacuate Gosmaar now, while you can,” Damon answered.

Corey’s attention went from his sister and Damon, as they seemed to have left him out of the conversation. “Evacuate Gosmaar!” Corey shook his head. “No way! Let them come. We’ll be ready for them!”

Damon turned to Corey. “Be reasonable, Commander, these cadets of yours are no match for seasoned combat pilots. Right now, Morgan is counting on surprise, or you being stupid enough to take a stand and fight.”

“Listen to him, Corey,” Cassia said.

“Give me one reason why,” Corey asked.

“I’ll give you two…no, three,” Damon answered as he began counting on his fingers. “One, he’s out to get as much military technology as the academy has. Two, the academy itself has, at least, the rudiments of a future military strike force. Last of all, he’s looking to snare you Isoldes in the process. With both of you and this school out of the way, there won’t be anyone to stop him. Right now, the name of the game is survival. Get out of here while there’s still time.” Damon sensed he was finally getting through to Corey. “The facts are clear, Commander. Stay here…you lose. Leave, and you’ll live to fight that important battle someday.”

Cassia and Corey stood for a moment staring at one another, and in resignation, Corey sighed and nodded.

j

Gosmaar was fast becoming just another distant star like a tiny speck of glitter. Aurora sped away on course set to Alpha-Bynaurus—onboard—her new captain, the acting Chief Consul for the Interstellar Council, two androids, and a man on his way to a homecoming.

Damon, with the communications headset on, gazed into the rear-viewing screen at the planet as he spoke to Corey on Gosmaar. “How’s the evacuation going, Commander?” he asked.

“All technicians and advisors are enroute to Zattaan. Thirty-five freighters have been loaded with all the armament they can carry. They will depart in about two hours along with twenty-eight troop transports. Fourteen refurbished shuttles are standing by for all hospital, research facilities, and command personnel,” Corey answered.

“Sounds good. How about your patrols?”

“So far, all’s clear.”

“Keep up the good work, Commander,” Damon said.

“Affirmative,” replied Corey, as static began to crackle. “We’ll be at our planned communication point in seven days and…” An odd assortment of alarm noises went off in the background of Corey’s transmission, and then dead silence.

“Commander?” Damon said, as he tried to tune in by flipping additional switches and turning knobs on the receiving station, “Commander, do you copy? What’s happening back there?”

Corey answered, but the alarms nearly drowned him out. “One of our scouts just reported a taskforce of Apgarean ships headed straight for us. Twelve or thirteen battle cruisers. Estimate arrival, two hours, three point six minutes.”

Damon sensed Cassia’s presence at his right shoulder, and she had overheard everything.

“Corey…” The static steadily grew worse. “Commander, you’re cutting it too close. Get outta there now! You copy?”

“Damon, we’ve got to go back,” Cassia urged.

Damon didn’t hear her; he was too busy with the communications console. “Commander!” He pressed the headset harder against his ear. “You can’t wait on those hospital supplies. Get off Gosmaar, now!”

Cassia noted Damon’s frustration with the receiver. “What’s wrong? Why is there so much static?” she asked.

“A jamming signal! Alec, I thought fixed you this!” Damon’s fist came down on the console in frustration. “Corey! I didn’t copy your last transmission!”

The frequency cleared, and Corey’s voice came through again in bits and pieces with intermittent static. “…have accelerated evacuation…need a little more time…sending available Shooting Stars out…”

“Damon!” Cassia exclaimed, “I said, turn Aurora about. We’ve got to go back!”

“Negative! Negative!” Corey’s voice came back a little more clearly, “Aurora…stay…course…must complete mission…will leave in plenty of time…I repeat…on prearranged course, copy?”

“Affirmative, Commander,” Damon said, “we’ll monitor as long as possible. Don’t linger too long, you hear?”

“I copy,” was the answer. “Tell Starshine not to worry. Gosmaar, out.”

Aurora, out,” Damon turned to Cassia with a smile. “Starshine?”

Cassia nodded shyly. “A nickname an old friend gave me.” Although Corey had tried to make everything sound like an ordinary drill, he had not convinced Cassia.

“Don’t worry,” Damon said, “Corey’s got everything under control.”

“Looks like you’re right,” she said apprehensively. “Have you ever been wrong about anything?”

“Many times,” Damon replied. “You’d better get some rest. You’re gonna have your work cut out for you on Alpha-Bynaurus.”

Cassia turned without saying another word and left the command center.

After a moment of thought, he glanced back to Ida at the navi-comm station.

“Ida.”

“Sir?”

Damon turned in his chair. “Lay in the alternate course out and away from Uvalde-Minor. I have a feeling we’d better avoid that sector.” He rose to his feet.

“Very well, captain,” Ida replied.

“Look, Alec, I’m sorry about that remark. I’m sure you fixed the…”

“There’s no need for apology, Captain,” the android said. “Your concern was noted.”

“Thanks.” With a yawn, Damon gave Alec a pat on the shoulder. “Take over…I think I’ll get some rest myself. Keep an ear tuned in to Gosmaar. If anything comes in, or you should pick up any unusual formation of ships on long-range scans, take evasive action and notify me straight away.”

“Will do, sir,” the android answered.

j

Corey entered the command center of the spaceport on Gosmaar. “What is our current status?”

“All hospital shuttles are under way,” the central controller said, “and the last four shuttles are still standing by for the research and demolition crews!”

“What!” Corey barked. “What’s the hold up?”

“Sir,” said another officer looking up from his console, “Shooting Star squadrons are sustaining heavy losses. They report the Apgarean taskforce will be within range in fourteen minutes!”

Damon was right. “Recall all fighters! Signal them to break off attack and rendezvous with the main body as planned,” Corey said. “Open all academy intercom speakers.”

The communications officer nodded, flipped several switches, and then looked up to Corey. “Intercoms are open, sir!”

Corey stepped up to the speaker. “Attention all personnel. This is Commander Isolde. The Apgarean force is due to arrive in thirteen point two minutes. All research crews…bring only what you can carry, destroy the rest, and report to your transports immediately. Your transports will leave in five minutes. I repeat…all remaining shuttles will depart in five minutes! Demolitions crews…tie all charges to the command center and get to your evac transports!”

“Commander,” another officer called out, “all auto-defense systems have been activated!”

“Very well. Program all defense weaponry to commence firing in ten minutes on the incoming armada. Maybe we can convince them we’re still here and buy us enough time to leave this quadrant before they wise up.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” the man responded.

“As soon as our special reception is set,” Corey ordered, “encrypt a message to Aurora that evac is complete. Then activate all self-destruct charges on the consoles…then get to the command transport.” Corey headed toward the door.

“Sending it now, sir!” the officer said.

Nearly one hundred technicians converged on the flight deck in explosive confusion. The five minutes allotted for the final evacuation was hardly enough time to gather their thoughts, much less decide what was too important to leave behind. Many carried stacks of books, others slung huge sacks over their shoulders, and a remnant rushed about empty-handed, preferring no hindrance to their hasty departure.

Corey entered the hangar on a dead run, stopping men along the way and asking them questions, only to receive a shake of the head or a shrug. With his questions unanswered, his eyes searched the mass of scurrying humanity for his brother. He walked to his waiting ship, stepped up into the hatchway, and watched the last ship receive its last passenger and lift off.

The entire facility was now devoid of personnel, save for three soldiers emerging from a corridor and making made their way to the ship. Corey reached out and helped the first two men into the ship. The last man paused outside and looked up. “Sir, no one has seen him since the evacuation began. He may have left on one of the hospital transports, or the advisors’ ship. He’s not here.”

“Very well,” Corey nodded. “Get aboard.”

Rumbles of internal explosions echoed through the corridors. The lights in the docking bay flickered intermittently before the hangar was plunged into total darkness. Shrill, squawking fire alarms went off everywhere as smoke from the corridors spewed into the docking bay.

In final resignation, Corey activated the hatch closing, and the command ship’s engines illuminated the darkness as it rose skyward. Inside, Corey settled into a chair and caught the gaze of everyone about him, as they asked questions without speaking. He knew he did not have the answers, but in time, he hoped he would.

j

Drew Tayven entered Aurora’s command center. “Mind if I join you?” he asked.

Damon casually looked over his right shoulder. “Not at all,” Damon said, motioning him to the co-pilot’s chair.

Drew took the seat and looked about the cabin area. “I met Alec on the way in. He had nothing but praise for your handling of this ship.”

Aurora is a well-ordered vessel,” Damon replied, “and that means a lot to any pilot. Owen Isolde deserves the credit.”

“I wouldn’t think any ship would be too difficult for a Rising Star like you,” Drew said.

Damon’s eyes widened in surprise. “Me?”

“That is the highest commendation Delta-Linus gives to an ace pilot, is it not?”

Damon turned away, his smile dissolved into a worried frown. Knowing that Cassia could appear at any moment, he took a quick glance over his shoulder to the doorway.

Drew caught his worried glance. “Does she know?”

“Know what?” Damon replied.

“Come on, Gyles, you know what I’m talking about,” Drew said. “Do the Isoldes know you’re Deltan?”

“No, but how did you…?”

“The old man rescued from Delta with me,” answered Drew. “He told me you killed a man in Quillar’s arena, that you are now militia.”

“Not any longer,” Damon said. “Did he also tell you that man was trying to kill me, and it was a fair fight?”

“The man was unarmed and half-blind, Gyles. Tell me, what’s fair about that? Fairness was never in the game plan of Quillar’s cutthroats.”

“That unarmed-half-blind man killed two other men before taking a piece out of me that day.” Damon shifted himself in this chair and turned to the Alphan. “So…what’s waiting for me on Alpha? Corey Isolde has been looking for an excuse to cut out my liver. Would it help if I slit my wrists?”

Drew’s hesitancy in answering infuriated Damon even more. The Alphan had found him out and had made a point of telling him, and for what purpose?

Damon lifted his disrupter from its holster. Drew flinched. “I have a feeling you’ll be more merciful than Isolde,” Damon said, turning the grip of the weapon toward the Alphan. “So…what do you say we get this over with?”

Drew reached out to push the weapon away, but before he realized it, Damon had thrust the disrupter into the palm of his hand. “Look, I had to know for myself…whether the old man had hallucinated.”

“You asked if you had seen me before…now you know.” Damon turned his back to Drew and pointed to the back of his head. “Now, you can do Corey a favor. Stick the muzzle of that disrupter right here, and pull the trigger. I’m a man with no place to call home, no one to call a friend. Maybe this is the peace I’m looking for. Go ahead, Lord Tayven, what’s one Deltan, more or less?”

After a moment of tense silence, Damon turned to find that Tayven had left the command center; the disrupter lay in the chair he had vacated. Damon picked up the weapon and returned it to his holster. Either Tayven doesn’t have what it takes to pull the trigger, or he has something else in mind, Damon thought. He began weighing his options if Tayven’s homecoming was a little warmer than he liked.

j

Morgan monitored the tactical maneuvers of his deployed forces and all the reports that had come in indicated they were by-and-large successful. Arraada and Lithaar succumbed quickly to the well-executed invasions, but many of their influential military leaders had managed to escape along with some tattered remnants of their armed forces that now wandered about the galaxy in total confusion and disarray. It was expedient that they be rounded up and disposed of as soon as possible.

In the communications center of his citadel, Morgan paced impatiently. It had been fifteen hours since the Apgarean forces entered the Gosmaar system. If they had been successful, he had no way of knowing. The successful annihilation of Gosmaar’s entire academy personnel, the destruction of the Interstellar retaliatory-strike capability, and acquisition of any technological secrets, would be a crushing blow to the Interstellar Alliance.

“Milord,” an officer said from his station, “Admiral Jibade of the Apgarean fleet is reporting.”

Morgan went to the console. “Yes, Admiral?”

“Milord, Gosmaar is ours. The academy is completely destroyed as ordered.”

“And the casualties?”

“Three battle cruisers, sixteen stilettos, and approximately twelve hundred troops,” Jibade said.

“What of the enemy, General?”

“Twenty-five Shooting Stars, sir.”

“Twenty-five fighters? What about the rest of their forces?” Morgan’s voice rose.

“What forces, sir?” Jibade asked. “Gosmaar was totally deserted.”

Anger rose in Morgan’s veins to a fever’s pitch. “General! You’re saying you lost one-third of your taskforce to twenty-five interstellar fighters?”

“No, milord,” Jibade answered, “we encountered the Shooting Stars an hour before we reached Gosmaar. They were hardly a match for us…nearly sixty in all, but then they retreated.”

“Then explain your heavy losses, Admiral,” Morgan said.

“Gosmaar had an automatic defense system, milord,” the Admiral replied. “Their missiles were trained on us before we entered the atmosphere. It happened so fast, we didn’t realize it until it was too late. We dispatched two hundred Stilettos to penetrate the academy’s defense screen. When our assault forces landed, they found the entire facility deserted and sabotaged from within. I don’t understand how they could have known. We don’t know where they’ve gone.”

Morgan had no choice but to accept what had happened. It was finished. Isoldes probably got wind of the attacks on Arraada and Lithaar, and anticipated that Gosmaar was next. He had to give his adversary credit for the clever maneuver. “Very well, Admiral. Sift the facility for any information that might have been left behind, and then return.”

“Yes, milord,” Jibade replied as static cut off his comm.

Morgan turned to the communication officers. “Alert all patrols to report any unusually large formations of ships. I want that fleet found.”

“Yes, sir.” The officer held out a comm-log. “Milord, this message just came in.”

Morgan read the message in half-hearted interest, and his evil smile returned as he handed the device back to the man. “Relay this to Lord Quillar on Brigdaan. I imagine he’ll be pleased to get this. Let’s see how well he acts on this.”

j

Aurora was now within a few hours of Alpha-Bynaurus. Damon sat in the co-pilot’s chair trying to communicate with the Alphans over the laughter emanating from the passenger compartment. He wondered what Tayven was saying that had Cassia laughing so loudly; there would be lulls, then more outbursts. In his curious preoccupation, he inadvertently cut off the external speakers. Grabbing the headset, he pressed it against his ears while he worked the switches to the communications console.

“Affirmative, Alpha-Bynaurus,” he said, “this is Damon Gyles, captain of the Aurora. I have the newly-appointed Chief Consul of the Interstellar Council onboard and I’m requesting clearance to land.”

Damon glanced over to Alec in frustration, pointing to the console speaker that was not working.

Alec recognized the dilemma and pointed to a switch in front of Damon. “Sir, it is that switch there,” the android said.

He reached up to the switch he thought Alec pointed to, looked over to Alec for his approval—and after a nod from the android, Damon flipped the switch. The external speakers came back on again. “Sorry, Captain, we cannot grant clearance. The time allotted for the Interstellar Council to respond to our invitation has expired.”

“I’ve got news for you, Alpha-Bynaurus. I also have onboard, Drew Tayven, the son of Governor Frashure. Is he to be denied a homecoming?”

After a brief moment of static, the voice replied, “If Lord Tayven is with you, we would like confirmation.”

“Affirmative, Alpha-Bynaurus. Standby.” In exasperation, Damon removed the headset, tossed it on the console, and headed to the passenger compartment.

In the laughter-filled compartment, Damon found Cassia and Drew leaning toward one another, nearly butting heads. Drew was speaking in a low voice to her, and she burst out in wild laughter again. Damon cleared his throat to announce his presence and Drew straightened in his seat lending a little decorum.

Cassia, still laughing, looked up. “Oh, Damon,” she said, “Drew just told me the funniest story.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he did,” Damon replied with disinterest. “I thought you’d like to know we’re in contact with Alpha-Bynaurus.”

Drew’s eyes lit up with the mention of home. “Alpha? You’ve talked to them?”

Damon pointed over his shoulder. “They’re on the telecom now. They’re refusing us clearance to land. They’ve asked for confirmation of Lord Tayven’s presence.”

“Don’t worry.” Drew rose to his feet. “I’ll get that clearance. Excuse me.”

Cassia nodded. Drew was on his way to the command center, while Damon headed toward the storage compartment at the back of the ship. There was something different in Damon’s temperament. Out of curiosity, she followed.

Inside the narrow cubicle, he moved about checking the fastenings on each of the storage bins, lifting, and closing each lid. Damon knew everything was secure; he wanted to appear busy, thinking it wise to keep a modest distance from Cassia.

You’re in enough trouble now, Gyles, he thought. Tayven knows who and what you are, and he’s sure to have a welcoming committee waiting for you on Alpha. If he does, what are you going to do?

He worked his way down one side of the compartment until he reached the end. He placed a bulky crate on a shelf at eye level, swung the restraining bars down, and paused; again wondering what he would do if the Alphan played the hand that Damon had dealt him.

“Is there anything I can do?” Cassia asked.

“Huh?” Damon quickly dismissed his thoughts and continued with his inspections. “No…I’ve got it.”

“Is something wrong?”

Damon didn’t bother looking around. “No,” he answered, “just making sure everything is secure.”

“I don’t mean back here.” Damon backed up and turned unexpectedly, not realizing how close she actually was, and accidentally bumping into her. “I mean…with you.”

She looked up into his steel-blue eyes in pleasant surprise, but she didn’t back away. Her arms went around his ribcage and he could feel the warmth of her hands on his back through his shirt. So close, their separate heartbeats had almost merged into one. Someone’s heart is racing…is it hers, or is it mine?

For a moment, they stood gazing at one another until Cassia’s arms tightened and her soft cheek rested against his chest; his chin lowered and he smelled the sweet fragrance of her auburn hair. As she clung to him like a frightened child, he gently returned the embrace, trailing one hand slowly up her arm, to her shoulder, to her neck, and then it opened upon her cheek. She lifted her head and their eyes met again—hers wide with wonder and his with desire.

As their lips met, her arms went about his neck and his about her waist, lifting her until her feet were off the floor. So, how long has it been…since you held a woman in your arms? She’s unlike any you’ve ever known…she’s magnetic. You felt it the first time you saw on her on Uvalde-Minor…even on Delta-Linus. Each time you’re alone with her the attraction grows stronger.

Damon’s eyes opened, and he pulled his lips away gently. What am I doing?

He slowly lowered her to the floor, backing away and putting her at arm’s length. His hands dropped to his side, opening and closing to relieve the burning sensation in his fingers. There she stood, still and silent…head tilted back, eyes closed, and a pleased smile upon her lips like a beautifully sculpted statue waiting for the one kiss that would awaken her.

Go ahead…kiss her again. As his shaking hands were poised to cup her face, and he leaned toward her lips, the statue opened her eyes. No…Damon straightened, his hands fell back to his sides and with a shake of his head, and he turned, making a hasty retreat from the compartment.

These are a few of the friends I have met at a couple of book signing events in Stafford, VA and Fredericksburg, VA. I welcomed and appreciated their stopping by. I've always been an author in search of an audience.

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