Read The Princess and her Bounty Hunter: Alien Romance (Fated to the Alien: The Psychic Matchmaker Book 2) Online
Authors: Harmony Raines
Tags: #General Fiction
“Do it,” she told herself, and then felt the knife sink into soft wood. Chipping away at it, she made a hole big enough to get her fingers into, and began tearing at the trunk, relieved when a big chunk came away, revealing, as she had suspected, a cavity big enough for her to slide into.
“Food.” She had to eat: her energy was spent, and she needed fluids too. Going back to the first box, she took out handfuls of emergency rations, grateful all of the ships from her home planet were well stocked. Emergencies happened in space, and they knew to be prepared.
Water was the next thing, along with a packet of rehydration tablets. Once those were safely inside, she headed out again, stopping for a moment to listen for big monster footsteps. It was quiet. Perhaps too quiet.
Taking a risk, she ran to the other box, pulling out an emergency blanket and tucking it under her arm. Then she dragged both the box away from the tree, hoping that they might go unnoticed by anything passing by. It felt counterintuitive to leave her only provisions out here, but there was no room in her hiding place.
Exhaustion caught up with her. She crawled into her tree and pulled what dead wood she could across the hole. Then she lay down, with the blanket over her, trying to ignore her clothes, which were covered in the gloopy water, dirt and sweat.
Then she opened her ration bar and ate it. Anyone seeing her now would never have guessed who she was. It wasn’t exactly the best look for anyone, let alone a princess.
The Virdian always embraced new technology, and the jump to warp speed reminded him why. It would have taken him days to travel here at light speed; instead, the journey had taken an hour at most. As they exited warp speed, he checked the readings on the nav screen. Being so new, he struggled to see how something so fast could still be so accurate, but as usual, Stellia had steered them true. He smiled with satisfaction, pleased with his expensive purchase once more.
One thing he had learned early on: if you were going to collect bounties, you have to be able to outrun the next guy. This bounty would make a sizable dent in the cost of Stellia. He grinned. The investment was good. He only hoped the trip had not been a waste of his time or his fuel. He might be learning to trust the ship, but Misha’Ha, that was another matter.
“Stellia, scan planet.”
“Planet scanning commenced.”
“Confirmed. Readings on display.”
He squinted, looking at the display screen in front of him, where a surprising number of advanced technologies were highlighted. “Well, it looks as if your data bank does need an overhaul. You said the planet was uninhabited.”
There was no answer from Stellia, which probably meant he was wrong.
“What are these workings?” he asked, his finger touching the screen to show Stellia where he meant.
“Earth works.” He had upset her; they were going to play one-word answers.
“A mine?” he asked.
“What kind of mine?”
Stellia was silent. Maybe she was not running an analysis, but rather planning how to make him pay for his lack of respect of her superior intelligence. He smiled again, they were getting used to each other; she just needed to learn not to take things so personally.
“Creatil. Used in old momentum engines?”
“Yes.” She paused, not able to hold out too long, and he chuckled when she caved in, needing to share her knowledge. “By my calculations they have been dormant for fifty sols. All machinery intact.”
“Interesting. OK, so search for anything recent. A space cruiser of some description would be an excellent find.”
“Space cruiser located.”
“Good work.” He peered at the screen. There it was, in a large grassy area. “Not exactly the aquamarine I envisaged.”
“It’s a bog.”
where day meets night, on the Jewel of the Trallic. Look for the aquamarine.”
He stared at the screen. He studied the terrain. “Analyze composition.”
New results flashed up. He looked at them frowning, while Stellia buzzed, static electricity crackling through her circuitry. That meant only one thing; she was excited with her find. He wasn’t going to play games with her. He needed answers, and like an excited child, jumping up and down with its hand in the air, Stellia had them.
“I don’t see what she means,” Mak said, sounding defeated.
“I will break it down for you.”
Because your human brain is too small to put it together.
“We have reached the Jewel of the Trallic. And the ship is where day meets night, as the planet turns out of the sun’s rays.”
“The bog is made of a phosphorus viscous organic liquid.”
“Commonly known as gloop,” he said with a wry smile.
clings to everything. When the sun sets, it glows. In this case it glows a bluey-green color, also known as aquamarine.”
“So we land there.”
land there. I have no intention of touching down in that gloop of yours.”
“So you have a plan?”
“Of course,” she replied.
“Does it involve opening the cargo bay door and throwing me out?” he teased.
Don’t tempt me.
“I will hover low enough for you to be expelled out of the cargo hold in the rover. Then I will find a place of safety and send you the coordinates. When you have found what you seek, we will rendezvous.”
“That is a good plan. I like your strong sense of self-preservation. Just don’t forget you need me.”
“How could I?” she answered, making him smile. Their relationship was in some ways symbiotic: he needed her for information, she needed him for fuel. If she could do away with him, he was sure she would; although she was warming to him, he had a sense for these things.
Trusting Stellia to keep him safe, Mak left her to work out the necessary coordinates while he went to the cargo hold and prepared the rover. Out of habit, he checked the emergency rations and the fuel levels; then he climbed in and put on his seatbelt, bracing himself for the entry through the upper atmosphere. This was something else he had grown used to trusting Stellia with: she could make minute adjustments and analyze data to correct the ship’s course in a nanosecond.
It made every landing smooth. Including this one. “Prepare for exit,” her voice came to him over the ship’s internal radio.
“Open doors,” he commanded, and the cargo doors began to open, a rush of air spilling in, tugging at the rover, which was still magnetically secured to the floor. Starting the engine, he checked the coordinates Stellia had sent to him.
When the doors were open wide enough for the cruiser to fit through, he pulled a lever, releasing the wheels. However, wheels were going to be useless in the bog. He punched a button, and the sound of air being pumped filled the cargo bay. The rover raised another foot higher and hung in the air, swaying slightly as the ship flew lower towards the ground.
Throttling forward, he eased the rover forward and maneuvered it out of the cruiser, the ground coming up to meet them. He could feel Stellia making minute adjustments, timing her descent to match his movements. She really did have eyes everywhere, and far too much control. But she was the difference between life and death, and he did not plan on dying today.
Once the rover was free of the ship, Stellia lifted back up into the air, and he watched her fly away, trusting she wouldn’t desert him while he was off finding his bounty. There was always a first time, right?
He couldn’t think like that. He had to find the man he sought, hopefully before night fell completely; he shuddered to think what was alive on this planet. The information Stellia had dug up about the mines told him they had been abandoned while the crew was still on the ground. Dead on the ground. There was a reason this planet was uninhabited, and he didn’t want to experience it firsthand.
Throttling his rover forward, he kept one eye on the distant horizon to his left, where the sun was slowly setting, while the other was on the grid the onboard computer relayed. It was linked to Stellia, it was what kept him safe and helped him find his bounties. It was designed to pick up movement. With the ability to use infrared to seek out heat sources, generally it alerted him to anything, and everything.
“Scan four clicks ahead.” The grid widened, and caught the outline of the ship; it was in the bog, a residual heat from its engines showing on the screen.
Maybe he was still sat in there, waiting to be rescued. Hey, he might be pleased to see a bounty hunter. Could life ever be that easy?
He doubted it, but his job was to seek and find. One way or another he was going to capture this bounty. He had not come this deep into a strange galaxy to leave empty-handed. He also mentally apologized for not trusting Misha’Ha.
The grid flashed, and he steered the rover towards the downed ship, slowing as he drew nearer. At this distance he could scan the ship more thoroughly, but could not pick up the identification code of the ship: not surprising, since the bounty would want to cover his tracks. But it was the right make and model, a generic space shuttle, used more for short-range journeys, but with the capabilities of reaching light speed.
The scan was complete, showing no other heat source other than the cooling engines, which told bounty was either dead, or no longer on the ship. He would have to go aboard and take a look, it was a dead or alive deal, but ferrying a body back across the galaxy never sat well with him, even if the death was not of his doing.
Circling around, the grid flashed again; this time it showed a bigger heat source. Much bigger, outside of the ship. There was some kind of creature, hanging around the edge of the bank, and then swimming back towards the ship in a loop. This did not look good. If this thing had eaten his bounty, he would never get paid, unless he caught the creature and slit it open. Would a half-eaten corpse be enough?
He lifted his rover to maximum height, but knew it might not give him enough clearance above this monster. If it reared up, it could down him, and he wasn’t in the mood for a dip in the bog.
Pushing the grid to one side, he looked out of the window, to take a proper look at what he was up against.
“Hello, handsome,” Mak said as the wormlike creature swung back towards the ship, its head coming high enough above the thick gloop, to give him a look at its head and its incredibly sharp teeth. He was not picking a fight with that thing in a hurry.
To make the whole spectacle even more unnerving, as the sun set behind him, pockets of gloop began to glow. Shimmering as the creature disturbed the surface. Stellia was right: it was kind of an aquamarine color, but not bright and vibrant, more like a sea churned up by a storm. Dull, dark and sinister.
However, as darkness settled further, the glow became brighter, almost hovering above the surface of the water like a fog. He scanned the bog for any more of these creatures, all the time pulling back from the one still making its endless patrol. As if it was searching. But for what?
“Of course.” It made sense. The ship had landed, and he had got out, knowing he was stuck: where would he go? The bank, and the shelter of the trees. Skirting wide around the creature, Mak headed towards the bank, but the trees were too close together. He would have to land and then get out and move on foot. All he had to decide was which direction to take?
Then he had his answer. On the bank, across from where the ship had gone down, was a glowing trail. Under the trees, where darkness was deepest, he could make it out like footprints in wet sand. His only concern was, that anything else out here would be able to see it too. The knowledge of those dead miners played a little trick with his mind, and he shivered, glad he had weapons to defend himself with.
Or he could simply return to Stellia and seek out a different bounty. But Mak wasn’t the best for nothing—he had never walked away from a difficult fight in his life.
Time to ditch his rover, somewhere out of the reach of the freakish thing in the water, and head inland on foot. A small clearing in the trees around fifty feet from the edge of the bog seemed about as good as it was going to get. He was certain nowhere was safe on this planet; if the big thing in the bog was any indication, then he was going to meet trouble.
Unless life had never left the water. Maybe evolution had stalled. He might just hold onto that thought. Undoing his harness, he checked his weapons, slung a pack on his back, which contained a mixture of weapons and supply rations, and headed outside, relieved when his feet hit solid ground.
Taking out his taptab, which showed a similar grid to the one on the rover, he switched it on, and checked the reading. It flashed to show proximity and he extended its range as far as he could. If there was a big bad
out there, it would be picked up.
He shook his head as he stepped over a fallen branch. Not sure if he could hear the sound of another creature in the distance, or whether it was the one in the bog roaring into the night. Beneath the trees, the sounds were distorted, giving him little clue as to its true location.
Another call, another shudder passed through him. It felt as if the planet was haunted, ghosts and ghouls waiting to crawl out of the glowing bog and grip him with their bony hands. Who knew how many souls had been killed on this planet? He was not going to be one of them. He had to keep his mind on the job. Hunting was ingrained into his very nature, and a good hunter never let himself be distracted.
He kept walking, the darkness beginning to settle, the bog behind him was becoming dimmer, but so too was the glowing trail before him. He suspected most of the gloop had dried on his quarry’s clothes. Only a faint blob or two kept him moving forward in the right direction.
A whoop sounded nearer, he could imagine some bird flying down to pluck him off the ground and carry him off to its rocky crevice somewhere high above them, where its monstrous chicks were waiting, hungry for fresh meat.