Always feeling overshadowed by her pretty and outgoing sister, quiet and self-effacing Wynne Donazetto dreams of college and building a life of her own were lost when Earth was invaded by two warring alien forces. Earth changed, but Wynne didn’t.
Seven years later, Wynne is still living in her sister’s shadow. She’s comfortable there… until her life explodes along with the starliner she’s travelling on and she ends up in the arms of a sexy space-aged smuggler called Tor.
Tor’s life revolves around his ship and his crew and both have been taken from him. He’ll do whatever it takes to get them back, even if it means sacrificing himself. Meeting the woman of his dreams is a complication he doesn’t need.
Together with Tor and his eclectic alien crew, Wynne sets off on the adventure of a lifetime to retrieve a stolen spaceship and its cargo of kidnapped Women of Earth. Along the way, she’ll discover a strength she never knew she had and a love that will change her life forever.
The air around her vibrated with the noise of the claxon horn blaring from the ship’s speakers. It sounded incongruous in the space-age vehicle, but its meaning was clear. Red warning lights flashed from behind the glass panels on the upper walls.
The floor trembled beneath her feet.
Wynne Donazetto clutched the sweater to her chest and ran from her cabin into the passageway of the Romer II. The Dragonhead Starliner was the second of three ships that would carry her through time and space to the Godan capitol and her sister, Mira. All the assurances she’d received about its safety were drowned out by that awful honking sound.
“Attention, your attention please,” a polite and toneless voice called out, as if with all the noise and flashing lights, someone would ignore it. It repeated the message in three different languages, none of which were English. Fortunately, and only after Mira bullied her into it, Wynne had the nanochip translator injected. Her mastery of Godan, the dominant race of Earth’s alien saviors, was constantly improving, but she was by no means proficient. The translator helped.
“Hull breach on Deck 3, Section 3B,” the disembodied voice announced. “Doors to the section will seal in three, two, one.”
Hull breach! Holy crapoli. Hand and sweater pressed against her chest. A breach. Wynne knew what that meant. It was the only thing she knew about space travel. She’d made the mistake of asking Mohawk while they were still on the shuttle that took them from Earth to Earth Station II, the satellite docking station that now orbited her home planet.
The smaller craft looked similar to the space shuttle she remembered from before the war. It was higher tech, of course. Almost everything the Godan brought with them was. Three of the hypersonic shuttles carried passengers and cargo regularly from their sector to the larger space station beyond the moon. She’d seen them take off and land, but had never been close to one until she boarded the shuttle three days ago. The skin of the shuttle felt solid to the touch, but it was paper thin.
“So, what would happen if this thing sprang a leak?” she’d asked.
It was a curiosity question, okay, a nervous curiosity question, since she’d never flown on anything before except the car-like hovercraft they called a skitt and that was considered a land vehicle.
She’d kept her voice light and casual. Mohawk would be merciless in his teasing if he thought she was afraid.
“Before or after your head exploded?” the Perithian asked in return. His bushy mustache which he was currently training into a handlebar, lifted up to expose his grin. His sharp, pointy teeth looked abnormally yellow in the overhead night lights of the cabin.
“Before?” she’d squeaked, displaying the nervousness she’d hoped to conceal.
“It would seal itself.” The old devil waited until she issued her relieved sigh before adding, “And then your head would explode.” The grin widened, turning his beady black eyes to slits.
“Nah,” he laughed and gave her an avuncular pat on the knee. “Your lungs would pop first. If it’s a big hole, you’ll be gone before you know what hit you. A little hole? You’ll last longer and wish you didn’t.” He went on to explain the horrors of rapid decompression. “Shuttles are equipped with pressure doors, so most of the passengers in Cabin B would survive.”
“Small comfort,” she said with a shudder. They were in Cabin A.
“It is if you’re in Cabin B,” he reasoned. “Don’t worry. I’ve only seen it happen once and we’ve got protection.”
He was referring to the Godan fighters that escorted the shuttle. Out of danger from a Hahnshin attack, the ship they were on now had no escort.
She didn’t ask any more questions after that, not about the shuttle or the Romer II, the larger and more comfortably equipped vessel they boarded once they reached Earth Station II. She was nervous enough without Mohawk’s explanations.
“All passengers and personnel on Deck 4, Sections 4A, 4B, and 4C are to evacuate immediately and report to the OC on Deck 5. Walk swiftly, but safely to the nearest exit. Do not run.”
The breach had occurred in the section directly below. Wynne’s feet began to move while her mind flew in different directions.
What the heck was an OC? Her small room was on 4B. The access tubes gave her the options of Decks 3,4,7, and 8 which held guest cabins and various entertainment decks. How was she supposed to find 5? Did the access tubes even work during an emergency, or were they like the pre-war elevators? In case of fire, take the stairs. There were no stairs that she knew of.
But there was a ramp. She’d overheard a crewman talking to a group of human women at supper the night before.
“All personnel are required to use the outer corridor to get from one deck to another. It’s a continuous ramp, really, that circles the outer decks. All that walking helps the crew stay in shape.”
“I wouldn’t mind a little of that shape,” one of the women laughed. She leaned to the side to get a better view as the crewman walked away. “Will you look at that tush?”
“Enjoy it while you can,” said another. “If this works out, you’ll be an old married lady by next spring.”
“Married, not dead,” the first said. “And hopefully with a tush of my own to watch.”
“Do they even have spring?” another asked.
“Guess we’ll find out.”
The Brides Brigade, as she’d dubbed them in her mind, were the first group of women from Wynne’s home sector to be sent to the Godan Bride Market. To Wynne, it sounded like a place where women were bought and sold like breeding cattle. Her sister swore that wasn’t true.
“It’s more like a super serious match making process.”
Ahnyis, the Katarin healer, explained it all, but Wynne still thought of it as a ruthless practice where women sold themselves to Godan men. You take care of me. I’ll give you sons. No one ever mentioned falling in love. Yuck.
Wynne passed the access tubes which were, as she suspected, shut down in the emergency. The lights were off and inside the opaque cylinder, the platform looked like a black hole. The corridor ahead was empty. Everyone was enjoying the bars, the holo-programs, and the gambling hall in 4A. It was where she’d left Mohawk when she went to retrieve her sweater. He was tossing six sided dice and shouting profanities when his luck turned bad. That and the location of the dining hall comprised her total knowledge of the ship.
The floor shook again, this time hard enough to cause her to stagger. To hell with walking swiftly but safely. Wynne began to run. If this section of the ship was circular, she had to move to the outside circles, but she had no idea which way that was. The corridors were curved, but would the spiral lead inward or outward? She found a short, straight hallway to her left and took it, almost crying with relief when she heard the muffled sound of living voices somewhere up ahead.
The computerized voice called for attention again.
“Deck 4 will commence sealing in fifteen minutes.”
Fifteen minutes. That was the translator talking. It converted unfamiliar language into something the listener could understand, but terms of time were relative. A minute on Earth wasn’t the same as a minute on Jupiter. Did the translator convert time to Earth minutes or translate literally? She tried to remember if she heard the Godan word for fifteen and couldn’t.
“Use the credit tag to buy a Galactic time piece once you get to Orion 9,” Roark had told her. “You can buy a decent one for about two hundred credits. Mohawk will help, but don’t let him talk you into buying one from the stalls. Find a jeweler.”
She doubted a timepiece would help her here and it didn’t matter anyway. Orion 9 was their next stop.
Wynne kept moving toward the sound. She cut through another straight hall on the left. The sounds were louder. She couldn’t hear the words, but the tones were a mixture of angry shouts and frightened screeching. There was panic up ahead, but she couldn’t see a way to avoid it.
The computer voice announced fourteen minutes.
Full skirt accommodating the length of her stride, Wynne ran on. She’d never been athletic like her sister, but walking, climbing stairs, and hauling their belongings from one dwelling to the next had strengthened her muscles and increased her stamina. It was one of the few benefits of surviving the war. She was in good shape.
Strength and stamina were one thing, agility was another. Hand leaning against the wall for balance, she tore around the corner of another short hall. Too late to stop, she tried to leap over the body lying in her way. Her toe caught on the flap of his uniform jacket and she fell headlong into the second body. A third lay several yards beyond.
Three people, two male and one female, all murdered. It didn’t take a detective to figure that out. The first two were crew members lying on their backs, uniforms once sharply creased and pristine, now soaked in blood. The third was a man dressed in heavy, form fitting brown trousers, and filthy yellow shirt. He wore a red mask, the kind made from a scarf tied so it covered his hair and the upper half of his face. It was twisted to the side and a blond curl poked from one of the slits that was meant for an eye. He had a burn hole in the middle of his back.
Knuckle to her mouth to prevent a scream, Wynne was pulled from the ghastly scene by another computer generated warning.
“Deck 4 will commence sealing in twelve minutes.”
This hallway had a distinct upward slant. It had to be the outer hall that would lead her to safety. There was trouble up ahead. If the dead crew members didn’t make that clear, the screaming and shouting did. Time was running out. Still, she hesitated to move forward.
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t faced danger before. Earth had been a battleground for almost seven years. She’d lived through the bombings. She’d gathered their flock of children and fled as a building collapsed around them. She’d seen her parents die in one of those early raids. But always, always, Mira was there to lead them through the rubble strewn streets and alleys to safety. Mira knew where the hiding places were when soldiers marched through the streets. Mira knew where to find the next apartment. Mira always knew what to do next. Mira was the strong one, and Mira wasn’t here.
Her sister was on her soon-to-be-husband’s home planet, Mishra. She was awaiting the imminent birth of their son in Roark’s childhood home, the Honorable House of Kronak of the Godan Nation.
The children were at home on Earth in the care of Mason, a human doctor, and Ahnyis. Mohawk was God only knew where.
For the first time in her life, Wynne was on her own.