The insistent buzz of her communications alarm woke Lina from a light sleep. She rolled over on the bunk and swiveled
a nearby monitor around so that she could see the readout. The ID signal showed a familiar origin at Central Command, an agency that had intergalactic jurisdiction
in hate crimes, terrorism, and many other areas.
So much for the vacation, Lina thought as she opened the com-link and with a groan rolled to her feet, stretching and
The smooth, silver-gray floor was cold beneath her bare feet and above her hands, the textured gray ceiling hid storage
space. Her ship was roomy and the communications camera would follow her wherever
she moved inside of it. “Cadian here, are you just checking up on me, Callie
or is there a reason for this?”
Dark haired and slender, the image of Callie Meuru grinned at her from a cushy office in Central Command’s headquarters. “There’s a reason, but it shouldn’t interrupt your vacation too
Lina rolled her eyes as she walked forward to the pilot’s seat. Idly,
she checked the readouts on the advanced instruments on the gray panels in front of her. She
would believe that when it happened. The last time Callie had said something
like that Lina had been stranded for two months, playing nursemaid and guardian to six scientists at an isolated base until
Command personnel could get there.
Lina wasn’t an agent for Central Command, just someone they found useful at times.
Although she was a shifter, she had no qualms about working for them. They
paid well and when she had first started taking assignments from them, she had badly needed that money.
“What is it this time?” Lina settled back into the well-padded,
black, pilot’s seat waiting for the worst. If it was just a normal mission,
they would have sent one of their own agents on it. She got the assignments where
they didn’t want to be directly connected to the mission or the ones that required a shifter touch.
“A woman on a planet known as Nariu Minor, a large world in Shifter protected space, has gone missing. She was there with a group of researchers studying the ruins on the planet.” Callie paused and thought for a moment.
“Why do you need me for a disappearance?” Lina narrowed her
eyes. She knew there was more to this than just a mere missing person report. “One of the Shifter patrols will take care of it. They certainly won’t welcome interference.”
“A distress call has come in from her. When I heard it, I thought
of you.” Callie smiled, an annoying, this-is-just-your-type-of-mission,
That drew a groan from Lina. A woman went missing in Shifter controlled
space usually for one reason and it wasn’t pirates. This woman had been
chosen by a shifter as mate and had run. Lina would rather go up against a shipload
of the worst space scum in the known universe than mess with a shifter mating. “Show
me the distress call.”
Callie nodded, a satisfied smirk crossing her face. “Here it is. Audio only, no vid on this one. The method
she used was archaic.”
“Help me . . .” The sound of panting breaths and breaking foliage, as if the woman was running through a
forest or an overgrown area, came clearly over the link. “You’ve
got to come get me. They’ll come after me.
I drugged them, but they know where our camp is. I can’t go there. They took me from there.” The woman’s
voice was thready and high-pitched. She sounded panicked, almost incoherent. “They’re animals. They can
be animals. Please, send someone for me.”
“It sounded as if she was dealing with one of your kind.”
“Well, she is probably dealing with a shifter. The message did seem
to indicate that. My kind, I don’t know.
I can go there, look for her.” Lina pursed her lips as she considered
the difficulties of this mission. There were obviously some shifters there or
somewhere nearby which could make it difficult.
“You don’t think you can find her?” Carrie raised her
brows, but her smile taunted, challenged.
“If the man is already mated to her when I get there, she won’t want to leave. I won’t try to take her from him. As long as she isn’t
mated, any help I give her won’t get me killed.” Lina nodded accepting
the assignment and giving Callie the conditions.
“Why would they kill you?” Callie frowned, clearly perplexed.
Lina ignored that question, trying to explain the seriousness of a shifter mating to a non-shifter was useless. “If she is still free and not mated, I’ll get her off the planet and rendezvous
with one of your ships. As I’ve told you before, even getting her off of
the planet probably won’t help in the long run.”
“We’ll get her out of Shifter Space. She’ll be safe if
you can get her to us.” Callie radiated confidence in her cheerful smile
and perky attitude.
“Shifters are persistent. I’ll need everything you have on
her. If she’s hiding, I’ll need to know where she’s most comfortable.” She doubted that Callie believed or even grasped just how intense a shifter would
be in the search for his woman. He would come after the woman he considered his
mate. Tracking her across galaxies was normal for them.
The transmission of the woman’s files as well as those of the people with the research group came almost immediately. There was no information about the shifters.
Lina began preparing to go into Shifter protected space. It wasn’t
only the rescue mission that was risky. For her, just being in Shifter space
could be the end of her freedom. She put her ship, a Sendar 4 shuttle, into stealth
mode. If there was a group of shifters on that planet, they had a ship. She wouldn’t give them advance warning of her presence.
“The researchers will co-operate in any way you ask. They’ve
been told an agent is being sent to investigate, but not when, who, or how.” Callie
advised. “Be careful.”
Lina shook her head as the screen went blank. Callie didn’t understand. She had just told Lina to be careful after assigning her to retrieve a woman most
likely chosen as a mate by a member of an unknown group of shifters. With shifters,
careful wasn’t enough.
Lina studied the files on Nariu Minor. From the artifacts logged by the
researchers, she knew that it had once been a shifter world, but she couldn’t decipher which group of shifters from
the images of the artifacts. The file didn’t contain much information about
the location of the camps. She would have to do some preliminary scans of the
planet to get better information on the topography and just who was where when she arrived there.
The prep work would be extensive and she wouldn’t contact the researchers until it was done. After she spoke with them, there was a chance that her presence could become known to the other shifters
on the planet at any time. She had to be prepared for a fast retreat if it was
On the journey to the planet, she sipped at some chilled juice while she studied the files on the missing woman. Nerisa Regal had an interesting history. She
had spent most of her childhood with her father, a researcher. She was accustomed
to primitive conditions and knew how to survive. That would be a plus in eluding
those who hunted for her.
If she had not been recaptured, Lina would wager she had taken refuge in some ruins.
She had done that with her father and some other researchers when a flood had swept away their camp and again when
a freak storm had made it impossible to return to camp on another expedition. That
was if she had managed to elude those who would have tried to find her.
That was a big if. Even the best trained and most experienced person found
eluding a shifter for any length of time required skill and luck. Nerisa would
have had to have gotten very lucky. Her training didn’t include hiding
her trail and her scent as she traveled through the forest.
The Sendar’s sensors picked up the ship circling the green and blue world of Nariu Minor as she entered the system. When she first saw the scans, she stared in stunned awe and growing horror at the
size of the ship in orbit around Nariu. This mission had just become very dangerous.
A Veriga class battle ship stood guard over the planet. With its advanced
sensors and weaponry, it could pose a considerable threat. She had expected a
small party of shifters patrolling their space. An entire clan hovered over the
planet in that giant ship. If a large number of shifters were on that planet,
searching would be difficult. The more shifters there were on the planet, the
greater the chance became that she would be spotted and recognized as shifter.
Arriving at the planet, Lina did her scans, but was careful when she did. Two
distinct camps had been formed on the side of the planet where the research was being conducted. The researchers’ camp was smaller, not as well equipped as the shifters’ camp. On the opposite side of the planet from the group of camps, buildings rose in varying stages of completion.
A few intercepted messages later, she identified the group of shifters as Santir, the same species as she was, and she
learned that they hadn’t found Nerisa. She did a few extra scans to explain
some anomalies she had found and then began preparations for entry into Nariu’s atmosphere.
She knew that, in spite of the sophistication of the large ship, they wouldn’t be able to detect her Sendar 4. The modifications she had made to it were unique.
As well, if they knew that anyone had arrived, even in the solar system, a vehement demand for an explanation of her
presence would have been issued along with a few threats. Her ship was equipped
with weapons, but there was no way it would stand against that large battleship.
She used the first three days on planet to familiarize herself with the terrain and to stash emergency packs in the
areas she was most likely to need them. To get a better idea of what she faced,
she sent out tiny, remote hover-vid units and piloted them to spots around the Santir camp. With
these she could watch them without too much risk.
She kept an eye on the video monitors when she was on the shuttle. On the
morning of the fourth day, she was transfixed by the sight of the two men on the monitor displaying the Santir camp. Her mouth watered, warmth stirred low in her belly at the luscious male flesh on display. The warmed breakfast bun she had just taken from the auto-prep station landed at her
They stood in front of one of the Dura-tents. Both obvious alphas. Both lick-them-all-over gorgeous.
They were bare-chested and both of them had dark hair. The sight of them
held her attention and directed her thoughts to carnal paths. They had dark skin,
as dark as rich, deep brown, manoga bark. From experience, Lina’s eyes
measured their height against known landmarks. She judged that the men in the
tight, black pants were both tall, above average in height.
The one on the right had straight hair that fell to just past his shoulders. She
zoomed in on his face. He had sparkling green eyes framed by thick, long lashes,
a sharp blade of a nose, and full, kiss-inciting lips. He was close to beautiful,
but even through the monitor a predatory quality made itself evident. This man
could be dangerous. The dark spots of his trika at jaw line and ribs were splotches
of darker flesh against his dark skin visible only to those who expected to find them.
He was muscled and broad shouldered and of the same height as the man next to him, but he appeared smaller next to the
sheer muscularity of the man on the left.
The man on the left had long, black hair which hung in spiraling curls to nearly the middle of his back. He had dark brown eyes and a rugged, starkly masculine face. His
nose had been broken more than once. His hard, sensuous lips slashed into a frown
at the moment. The dark spots of his trika at his jaw delineated a very firm
jaw line. The fierce animal in this man loomed very close to the surface, a predator
waiting to pounce. Something in his stance, in his attitude, revealed the strength
The flash of red, a bird or something, flying close in front of her vid-unit, broke her concentration and brought her
back to reality. She took a deep breath and focused on discovering if they had
found Nerisa. If they hadn’t found the woman, she had to go talk with that
research team. Taking a step forward, she stepped on the still warm roll. Shaking her head, she turned back and prepared another roll while she cleaned up the
first one. Finally, she sat down in front of the monitor and began looking.
The camp was well-equipped, even lavish in some respects. All of the tents
were the luxurious, large model of Dura-tent, even the tallest man wouldn’t have to stoop inside of them. She saw an abundance of supplies, some still in crates. Tables
had been placed in two rows at one end of the camp and were used for work space when not in use for a meal.
As she switched between the images, Lina noted the weapons and kept a running total of the number of people in the camp. Some men and women worked at the metal tables set in a clear area; while others made
their way through the camp. When she was satisfied that Nerisa hadn’t yet
been found, she shut off the monitor.
Leaving the bun to cool on a small counter, Lina went to her bag and began going through what she’d need to take
with her. She had a variety of gadgets that could be useful if she was spotted,
but she couldn’t use a few of them, because of that big ship orbiting the planet.
One of her favorite tools, a beacon designed to bring her ship to her, was just such a device. Selecting the equipment
she needed, she plucked them out of her bag and stashed them in various pockets on her functional brown flightsuit.
Satisfied that she was ready, she returned her attention to her now cold breakfast.
She chewed the cool bun without any real enjoyment of it. It wasn't nearly as good cool as it was warm.
After she had eaten, she left the Sendar.
It was time to talk with those researchers.