Berkley (May 2004)
ISBN-13: 9780425196557 ♦ ISBN-10: 0425196550
In her popular novella in the New York Times bestselling OUT OF THIS WORLD anthology, Susan Krinard created a futuristic world of humans, telepaths, and an alien race called the shaauri. Now, she returns to that future galaxy with a captivating tale about two telepaths who have nothing in common—except the love they share for each other.
Ronan VelKalevi was a man torn between two worlds. Born into the human race, he was kidnapped at the age of six by the alien shaauri. More than twenty years later, he has found himself on the run from the aliens who raised him–and being saved by a ship of humans. Captain Cynara D’Accorso, commander of the Pegasus, has no reservations about rescuing the telepathic Kinsman from his damaged ship. But she isn’t expecting the dangerous emotions this troubled man awakens in her–or that he isn’t the innocent fugitive he claims to be. Now, as their hearts fall prey to passion, Ronan and Cynara must discover the paths to which they were born before their destinies destroy them both …
Read an Excerpt
The boy was young–young enough to be barred from the areas of the Persephonean corvette he most wanted to see, and to be assigned one of the Archon’s own special agents during the voyage into shaauri space. Too young for wandering the corridors, where he might interfere with the duties of busy crew; too young to visit engineering with its vast sparkling pillars filled with dancing light like rainbows in a bottle, or to join his parents on the bridge.
All during the journey, he had spent most of his time in his small cabin or in the Aphrodite‘s mess hall, where he played games on the holosim or cards with Agent Teklys. She laughed when he almost beat her at Nova and told him he was too young to be so good.
But he was not too young to know when something had gone terribly wrong.
The first warning came when the Aphrodite shook as if a great fist had slammed into its hull. Agent Teklys jumped out of her seat, hand flying to the gun at her belt, and stared up as if she could see through the overhead to the source of the explosion.
The boy followed her gaze. “What is it?” he asked. All of a sudden he was very excited and very scared. “Is someone attacking the ship?”
Before she could answer, the first alarm shrieked over the intercom. Agent Teklys muttered something fierce under her breath. The boy felt her fear; he couldn’t read thoughts, not yet, but he sometimes caught images, feelings. What he glimpsed in Teklys’s mind made his stomach flip-flop like a spike-eel in a fishing net.
Agent Teklys ran to the bulkhead and punched the intercom. All that answered her call was static and the wail of the klaxon. She dashed back to the boy and knelt before him, grasping both his arms.
“Listen to me, young ser. I’m going out to see what’s happening. I’ll be right back, and I want you to stay here until I come for you. Is that understood?”
He nodded, swallowing the thickness in his throat. He wanted very badly to go with her, but he’d only get in the way. That was what his older brother Ambros told him constantly.
But Ambros was home on Persephone with Uncle Miklos, and he, the middle son, had been allowed to go with Mama and Papa on this most important of missions. He would not wish he’d been left at home as well.
“Very good,” Agent Teklys said. “Don’t be afraid. I will protect you.” With a final tap on his shoulder, she ran through the mess door and sealed it behind her.
He waited. He was good at waiting, watching and listening; Mama said he was very much like his father in that way. But he knew he was not nearly as brave as Papa, or as smart. The noises continued, explosions and bumps and thumps he could feel in the soles of his boots. He thought he smelled smoke. Stray emotions from the crew drifted around him like ghosts, adding to his fear.
Mama? he cast out wildly. Papa? There was no answer. He was not strong enough to make them hear. He ran to the door and placed his hand flat on the control grid. It vibrated against his palm. He stepped back just in time as Agent Teklys charged through, hair loose in her face and her gun raised to fire. The door closed behind her.
“We have very little time,” she said in a clipped, tense voice. “The Aphrodite has been boarded. You must get to the escape pods immediately.”
Boarded? He knew what that meant; someone else had come onto the ship, someone who hasn’t been invited.
“If ever the ship is boarded,” Papa had told him, very seriously, on the day they left Concordat space, “I want you to go straight to the escape pods and do exactly what I’ve shown you. An automatic signal will go out to all of our nearby ships, and someone will come for you. Do you understand?”
He didn’t understand nearly enough. But he took Agent Teklys’s sweaty hand and let her pull him toward the door.
It slid open in a burst of bright light. Agent Teklys shoved him behind her, and then the tall figure in the doorway lifted his weapon and fired. She staggered and fell. The boy stood frozen where he was and looked up.
He knew what he was seeing. Mama and Papa had carefully shown him the holovids, answered all his questions, and tried to prepare him to meet his father’s friends among the shaauri. But his mind compared the holovids to the huge shape before him and refused to make the connection.
Red fur. Red, black-striped fur covered the whole body, from long-nailed bare feet to the tips of pointed ears. He stood a head taller than even Papa, who was a big man. He wore short, loose trousers, many belts hung with tools and weapons across his chest, and metal decorations around his arms and throat. His face, wrinkled in anger or confusion, made the boy think of Uncle Miklos’s cat on Persephone, but only a little. The shaauri were not cats.
Shaauri. Shaaurin–that was what you called one of them. And this shaaurin had just shot Agent Teklys.
“Boy?” The creature said. He grated out the word with effort, as if he couldn’t quite make his mouth form the right shape. “What …” He flattened his ears and hissed out a stream of sounds the boy didn’t understand.
“Why are you here?” the boy demanded, clenching his fists. “You aren’t my father’s friend. You hurt Agent Teklys.”
The shaaurin’s ears twitched back and forth, back and forth. He glanced down at Teklys.
“Not … dead,” he rasped. “Sleep.”
There was no reason to take the alien’s word, even though Papa had told him that most shaauri didn’t lie in the same way humans did. The boy dropped to his knees beside Teklys and put his ear against her chest. He could hear her heart beating, the air going in and out of her lungs.
She was still alive. The shaaurin had only stunned her. The boy sat up and rubbed his eyes with his hands.
“Why did you come here?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking. “Where are my mother and father?”
A rush of emotion pushed inside the boy’s head. It wasn’t anything like what he felt from the crew, or Mama, or Papa, or his uncles. But it was just like what he’d seen on the alien’s face: anger, uncertainty, confusion.
The shaaurin held out his hand with its bare-skinned palm and curved, claw-like nails. “Boy,” he said, “come.”
Come. Come where? “Get to the escape pod.” That was what he had to do, and that meant getting past the shaaurin with his big weapon and his claws.
The boy stared at the small space between the shaaurin and the frame of the door. He had to move very, very fast. He met the reddish-gold eyes of the alien and lifted his hand. As the alien reached to take it, he darted sideways and dove through the gap.
In all the boy’s life he had never run as hard as he did then. He caught a glimpse of other crew members lying in the corridor, heard bangs and loud voices behind him. But though he ran with everything that was in him, it was not enough. The shaaurin caught him. Nails hooked in his jacket and hauled him up like a sack of rockroots. He dangled there, terrified, and swung his fist at the face centimeters from his own.
The shaaurin shifted his grip, but not before the boy’s fist connected with the alien’s nose. The creature gave a grunt of surprise, just like a man. His long teeth bared in a grimace of rage.
Then something strange happened. One moment the boy hung between the shaaurin’s powerful hands, and the next he was on the ground, free, and the alien was just standing there as if he had been shot.
But there was no one else in the corridor. And the boy’s head pounded and rang like the great bells of Hestia at the Harvest Feast. The shaaurin was inside him, with a thousand thoughts and feelings the boy could hardly begin to understand. He stared out of someone else’s eye from a dizzying height–down at himself, sprawled motionless on the deck.
You can do it, his father’s voice seemed to urge.
He pushed up on his arms and tried to stand. Everything was wrong with his body–the shape, the size, the way it felt when he moved. But he took one step, and then another, and the shaaurin didn’t follow. Slowly the alien mind inside his began to fade away. His arms and legs belonged to him again, and he was able to run without stumbling.
He did not look back. No one caught up with him or stopped him. He hid when he heard alien voices. He reached out for his parents with his mind, but they were gone–gone, as if a great wall had fallen between him and them.
Tears blinded him, but still he ran, along corridors and companionways, until he reached the nearest pod berth. All the pods were still in place, their lights glowing a steady green.
Papa had explained exactly what he had to do. He tapped out a sequence of numbers on the grid above the hatch. The hatch cycled open.
The inside of the escape pod was very large for a child of six, and he felt very small indeed. But he had to get away, for Agent Teklys and for his parents. He could get help and come back for them.
Wriggling his way through the hatch, he settled into the webbing, strapped in and studied the ranks of lights and controls overhead. It was easy to operate an escape pod; all he had to do was remember the sequence of operations. The vessel did the rest.
He followed instructions and watched the lights change color from green to stand-by yellow. The hatch locked. There were several loud clicks as the pod disengaged from its berth, and then the sensation of motion, tumbling, weightlessness. The boy gripped the webbing and shut his eyes very tight.
I did what you told me, Agent Teklys. I got away. Mama, Papa, I’m coming back to get you.
He knew they couldn’t hear him. Someday he might be strong enough to push his thoughts across a big distance, but not yet. “Be patient,” Mama had told him. “You have the gift. Ambros doesn’t, and neither does little Damon. That’s why we’ve brought you, so that you can learn.”
All he had learned was that there were bad shaauri, not like the ones who had adopted Papa. They had taken the ship. They were different from people, but not so different that he hadn’t been able to feel one shaaurin’s thoughts and know that it wanted to hate him for being human.
Just as he ought to hate it for what it had done. But he was suddenly very tired, and couldn’t seem to think of much at all. He left himself drift and imagined the distress signal going out to all the Concordat ships on the border. Pressure increased as the pod’s small engine propelled it on a course for the nearest wormhole to human space. He knew that the stasis field was about to put him into a deep sleep until someone found him.
He woke to the sound of something striking the hull of the pod. The display on the pod’s small screen flashed a message: Retrieval imminent. Prepare for docking. The words were very big, but he knew they meant that someone had found him.
The clock said that it hadn’t been very long. The Aphrodite had been deep into shaauri space; he didn’t think there would be many other Concordat ships so close. He waited tensely while the pod was drawn into the ship’s docking bay and the lights turned green again. Gravity sucked him down into the webbing.
He punched the hatch release. Strangely scented air rushed into the pod, but it was a minute before he recognized the smell.
It was exactly the same as the shaaurin who had tried to capture him.
Too late he tried to close the hatch. A sleek-furred hand reached in and caught at his harness, deftly undoing the clasps. There was no hope of struggle. He was grasped and carried and passed from one set of hands to another until he was set on his feet on an alien deck.