Wydawca: Montana Publishing Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 2010

Uzyskaj dostęp do tej
i ponad 25000 książek
od 6,99 zł miesięcznie.

Wypróbuj przez
7 dni za darmo

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

e-czytniku kup za 1 zł
tablecie  
smartfonie  
komputerze  
Czytaj w chmurze®
w aplikacjach Legimi.
Dlaczego warto?
Czytaj i słuchaj w chmurze®
w aplikacjach Legimi.
Dlaczego warto?
Liczba stron: 392

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:

Androida
iOS
Czytaj i słuchaj w chmurze®
w aplikacjach Legimi.
Dlaczego warto?

Ebooka przeczytasz na:

e-czytniku EPUB kup za 1 zł
tablecie EPUB
smartfonie EPUB
komputerze EPUB
Czytaj w chmurze®
w aplikacjach Legimi.
Dlaczego warto?
Czytaj i słuchaj w chmurze®
w aplikacjach Legimi.
Dlaczego warto?

Pobierz fragment dostosowany na:

Zabezpieczenie: watermark

Opis ebooka River’s Run - S.E. Smith

River Knight was looking forward to a peaceful vacation in the mountains with her two best friends, Jo and Star, her fellow circus performers and sisters of the heart, but when she travels up into the mountains of North Carolina to the cabin Star has rented for them, she is shocked to see them being abducted! She follows them… and discovers their abductors are anything but human… After sneaking aboard the shuttle to rescue Jo and Star, River finds herself on an unplanned vacation to the stars. Internationally acclaimed S.E. Smith presents a new action-packed story full of romance and adventure. Brimming with her signature humor, vivid scenes, and beloved characters, this book is sure to be another fan favorite! Main Content: 200 (6x9) pages, 70,433 words

Opinie o ebooku River’s Run - S.E. Smith

Fragment ebooka River’s Run - S.E. Smith

River’s Run

Lords of Kassis Book 1

S. E. Smith

Contents

Acknowledgments

Synopsis

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Sample of Touch of Frost

Additional Books and Information

About the Author

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my husband Steve for believing in me and being proud enough of me to give me the courage to follow my dream. I would also like to give a special thank-you to my sister and best friend Linda, who not only encouraged me to write but who also read the manuscript. I would also like to thank my dear friends who have supported me: Sally, Lisa, Julie, Chris, and Jackie who have been there through thick and thin.

And a special thanks to Paul Heitsch, David Brenin, Samantha Cook, Suzanne Elise Freeman, and PJ Ochlan—the awesome voices behind my audiobooks!

—S.E. Smith

Montana Publishing

Science Fiction Romance

RIVER’S RUN LORDS OF KASSIS BOOK 1

Copyright © 2010 by Susan E. Smith

First E-Book Publication February 2010

Cover Design by Dara Englandand Melody Simmons

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the author.

All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations are strictly coincidental.

Summary: River sneaks aboard a spaceship to rescue her two sisters, and makes a deal with a group of alien prisoners who have no intention of following through with their end of the deal.

ISBN: 978-1-942562-58-0 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-942562-20-7 (eBook)

Published in the United States by Montana Publishing.

{1. Science Fiction Romance – Fiction. 2. Science Fiction – Fiction. 3. Paranormal – Fiction. 4. Romance – Fiction.}

www.montanapublishinghouse.com

Synopsis

River Knight was looking forward to a peaceful vacation in the mountains with her two best friends, Jo and Star, her fellow circus performers and sisters of the heart. When she travels up into the mountains of North Carolina to the cabin Star has rented for them, she is shocked to find the two sisters being abducted! Following them, she discovers their abductors are anything but human.

Sneaking aboard the shuttle in an attempt to rescue them, she finds herself on an unplanned vacation to the stars…

Chapter One

“I’ll be there. It might be late by the time I get there, but I’ll be there, I promise,” River said, sitting on the bed in the hotel she had just arrived at in California.

“Do you swear, River?” Star asked anxiously.

Star was twirling her shoulder-length blond hair around her finger and looking at her older sister, Jo. She had been trying to get through to River Knight for the past two days. It had been far too long since she had seen her best friend and surrogate sister.

“I swear, Star,” River laughed. “And tell Jo she still owes me for the last time we got together.”

Star grinned at Jo, giving her the thumbs-up sign. They had been trying to get the three of them together for the past year. Now, everything was set. They would finally see each other again.

“She’s coming!” Star said excitedly, wrapping her arms around Jo’s neck and dancing around.

River let out a tired sigh, rolling her shoulders around to ease the tension. She had a lot to do in the next couple of days if she was going to meet up with her two best friends. She grinned.

They were really more like sisters to her. They were her only family now. She had grown up traveling with the circus and had met them when their parents had joined when she was five.

The Strauss Family Flyers were known for their high-wire acts. When Star and Jo’s parents retired several years ago, it became the Strauss Flying Sisters. River’s parents did just about everything from tightrope walking to the high wire to River’s specialty, knife throwing. River had been born into the life of a circus performer just as Jo and Star had been.

They grew up moving from town to town, country to country, nomads in a modern world. The life had actually been very fulfilling. They were very well loved and protected. Their schooling consisted of learning a wide variety of languages as well as learning how to do all types of incredible tricks. They had more parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles than any girls could ever imagine having. It had hurt when River’s parents were killed in a hotel fire during one of their stops when she was seventeen, but her circus family had gathered around her and supported her.

Two years ago, Jo and Star decided they were tired of all the traveling and accepted jobs with Circus of the Stars in Florida. They bought a condo and loved the stability of living in one place. River continued traveling with the circus.

At almost twenty-two, she was the youngest of the three. The circus had just finished a tour in Asia, and she was glad to be home. The girls promised each other they would get together at least once a year.

Last year, Jo convinced River to meet them at their condo where Jo produced at least a dozen different guys for River to meet. River knew what they were up to. They thought if they could get her interested in someone, she would settle down. River still enjoyed traveling too much to put down roots. All the guys left her feeling awkward and clumsy, which was ridiculous when one considered she could hit moving targets with a series of knives while gliding through the air upside down held only by her ankles.

River just wasn’t comfortable around the opposite sex. She always felt a little different. It might be her appearance. She looked more like an elf.

Oh, not one of Santa’s—more like one from the Hobbit. She wasn’t really tall at five foot six, but she was very willowy. She had thick dark brown hair that hung to her waist, pale skin, and huge dark-blue eyes outlined by thick dark lashes.

Most people thought she wore colored contacts when they first met her. She usually wore dark sunglasses when she was out because her eyes were so different. She didn’t mind when she was performing—it helped with the mystique about her—but out in public she would often be stopped and stared at. Her parents used to tease her, saying she had been a gift from the stars, which she might have believed if her mom hadn’t had the same unusual eyes.

River was glad they had decided to meet somewhere else this year. Star had picked out a cabin in the middle of nowhere. They were supposed to meet up in the mountains of North Carolina in two days. River was still in California so she had to make arrangements for a flight.

She called Ricki, who made all the travel plans for the circus, and within an hour she had all her flight arrangements done including her e-ticket and leased car. The joy about Ricki making the arrangements was River didn’t have to worry about the usual restrictions for car rentals. Everything went through the company.

Pulling a big, black bag that resembled a duffel bag onto the bed, River opened it to look at her collection of knives carefully packed. She was very, very picky about her knives. They were her life, literally. She had been tossing, juggling, and throwing them since she could walk. Some of the acts her dad taught her had never been performed by anyone else in the world.

She was known as the best of the best when it came to anything involving a blade. While she made sure that everything had survived the shipping from Asia, River couldn’t help but laugh at the memory of the reaction of customs officials on both sides of the ocean. Ricki had been there to take care of everything, thank God.

Now, River had the next three months off as the circus broke for a much needed rest. She would spend most of it at the cabin Star had rented, practicing new acts. Closing the bag, she finished packing her other belongings before getting ready for bed. She was so looking forward to the peace and quiet of the mountains.

Everything worked out well. She made the flight and for once she didn’t have to produce documentation about her duffel bag. She had gone ahead and checked all her baggage so she wouldn’t have to deal with it in the cabin of the plane for the long flight. After she plugged in her iPhone and placed her sunglasses firmly on her head, she was left blissfully alone for almost seven hours.

Picking up her two bags at the airport, she placed them in the trunk of the rented black SUV and began the three-hour drive up into the mountains. She wouldn’t get there until after midnight. It was a warm evening, but she couldn’t resist driving with the windows down. She loved the freedom of the wind blowing through the window.

She stopped for gas and a quick bite to eat an hour out as she didn’t want Jo or Star to feel like they needed to cook for her so late. She couldn’t suppress the thrill of seeing them.

She did miss them so much. No one could separate the three of them during their teenage years. River was two years younger than Star, who was a year younger than Jo. She had always been the one everyone protected the most.

There was a full moon, and the gravel road was lit up as River pulled up toward the cabin. The road for the past ten miles had been winding around and around the mountain. Star told her to park in the garage, which was located below the cabin. She would have to tote her stuff up a narrow path to the cabin.

River found the garage with no problems and pulled in next to Jo’s SUV with Florida tags. River grinned when she read the bumper sticker saying “Flyers Do It Better.” Grabbing her black duffel bag in one arm and her smaller carrier in her other, she quietly pushed the button to close the trunk. She bent down and pulled one of her smaller knives out of the bag to slide in her boot.

She didn’t know what types of animals lived in the mountains, but if she was walking through the woods at night, she wanted at least one knife with her for protection. Moving out under the bright moon, she was glad she had worn her black jeans and put on her black sweater to ward off the cool mountain air. She would have glowed in any of her other jackets with their rhinestones.

Walking along the moonlit path up to the cabin, River was enjoying the peace and quiet until a scream ripped through the air, followed by a second one. River froze for a moment before she dropped her bags and took off at a run toward the cabin. She skidded to a halt behind a tree when she heard what appeared to be a growl. Reaching down to her boot, she pulled a knife from the sleeve hidden inside it.

Moving up toward the front porch, she jerked back when the door suddenly opened, and a huge figure moved out onto it. She crouched down so she wouldn’t be seen. Peeking around the corner, her breath caught in her throat when she realized more than one huge creature was coming out of the cabin. She counted three of them; two of them appeared to be carrying something wrapped in blankets.

River shook with fear as she watched the huge creature turn at the bottom of the stairs. Its face, if you could call it that, was elongated and had what looked like scaly green skin. It turned and hissed at the other two. As they moved down the steps, River almost fainted when she saw Star’s arm hanging limply down its back. The creatures started moving down another path on the far side of the cabin.

River slid the knife back in her boot and took off toward the path she had just come from. If she was going to try to save them, she needed more than the one knife in her boot. Sliding on the leaves, she grabbed her black duffel bag and took off running after the creatures. She didn’t have any idea what she would do when she caught up with them.

River rounded the cabin cautiously before moving down the path on the other side of the cabin. She could hear them moving up ahead of her. She moved silently, keeping as close as she could to the trees so the shadows would help hide her. They moved at a lumbering pace, their long legs taking steps twice the length of hers.

She froze suddenly when one of them stopped and turned around. Keeping her head down so her face wouldn’t be as visible, she held her breath. After what seemed like hours, the creature hissed at the one leading them and turned to move down the path again.

River followed them for almost two miles before they came to a clearing. She stood frozen behind a tree as she watched them move into what appeared to be some type of spaceship. It was almost as long as a football field. The two creatures carrying her friends moved up a platform that was opened in the back. River could see lights shining dimly in the interior. The one leading hissed at the other two as they moved up the ramp, but it remained outside the spaceship. A few minutes later, the two creatures returned. A loud noise off to the left side of the ship suddenly caught their attention. All three hissed and took off running toward the woods.

River shook with fear as she moved toward the spaceship, keeping an eye on the woods where the creatures had disappeared. She didn’t know if there were any more in the spaceship or not, but she knew she needed to get to her friends and get them out. Pulling her duffel bag straps over her shoulders, she slowly climbed up the ramp, casting quick glances all around her.

Moving up the ramp, she saw a narrow corridor leading to a larger opening. Moving swiftly through the corridor she glanced around the interior of the spaceship. In front of her was another corridor that looked like it led to the front of the spaceship. On each side of her, there were a series of seats with what appeared to be storage compartments above and below them.

Chained to two of the seats were Jo and Star; both of them were unconscious. River moved toward them with a silent cry. She put her hands on their cheeks and gave a sigh of relief when she felt their warm breath against her palms.

“Jo, Star, wake up. Please, wake up,” River called out softly.

She looked at their wrists and noticed they were both chained to a metal bar between the seats. She gripped their wrists to look for where the key went in to see if she could pick it. All three of them were good at picking locks. Marcus the Magnificent, the most famous magician in the world, had shown all three girls how to pick locks before they had learned how to ride a bike. She twisted the cuff on Jo’s wrist around and around but didn’t see where a key would fit into it. Jo gave a slight groan as River moved the cuff.

“Jo, wake up. It’s me, River. Please wake up,” River softly said again.

“River?” Jo whispered. Jo’s eyes suddenly flew open in horror. “River, you have to run. Run, River. Don’t let them get you.” Her eyes flew back and forth as she struggled to free herself.

“I can’t leave you and Star. We have to get out of here,” River whispered back.

“There isn’t time,” Jo said as her eyes filled with tears. She looked at Star, who was still unconscious. “Oh, Star.”

“Come on. You have to help me figure out how to get these off you before they come back,” River whispered frantically. She pulled the knife from her boot and tried to pry at the metal.

“Where are we?” Jo asked weakly.

“It looks like some kind of spaceship,” River replied softly. “The creatures that had you and Star carried you here. I don’t know what they are. What happened?” River asked.

She was trying to keep Jo occupied while she worked on the cuff. There had to be some way to get it off them. If she had more time, she knew she could figure it out. There was always a way.

“I don’t know. We were waiting up for you. I heard a noise and thought you might need some help, but when I opened the door to the cabin, it was to those creatures. I screamed and tried to close the door, but it just ripped it right off the hinges. Star ran for the bedroom, but one of them caught her and she fainted. I don’t remember much after that. They put something across my mouth and everything went dark,” Jo whispered hoarsely. She began shivering uncontrollably.

“They’re coming back! I can hear them. Run, River. Run!” Jo began crying softly now.

“Never. I won’t leave you,” River said, sliding her knife back into her boot.

Looking around, she dropped down to pull open one of the compartments under the seats. It was filled with boxes of some type. Moving down the row, she hurriedly opened and closed them until she found one in the corner that was empty. Removing her duffel bag, she slid down feet first into the compartment, pulling her duffel bag in front of her, then reached over and closed the compartment.

Jo stared at River before nodding. River would not abandon them, ever. Closing her eyes, Jo let the darkness of unconsciousness take her away from the fearful creatures boarding the spaceship.

Chapter Two

River looked out the front of the spaceship she had stowed away on for what seemed like the millionth time. It turned out the spaceship the creatures used on Earth was just a shuttle to a much, much larger ship. Once they docked with the larger ship, the creatures carried Jo and Star out. River remained in hiding until she felt sure all the creatures had left the shuttle. Now, she moved about the empty shuttle, trying to get familiar with what she had gotten herself into and waiting for the shuttle area to clear out a little.

Peeking out the front view panel, River watched as about ten of the creatures moved containers about. She watched as the one creature who she suspected was the leader of the shuttle crew who had taken Jo and Star argued with another one who was almost twice as big as it was.

The bigger creature hissed loudly and pointed at Jo’s and Star’s unconscious bodies wrapped tightly in the blankets. The smaller creature hissed something back, then flinched when the other one roared. The other two creatures took a step back and looked like they would have preferred to have been anywhere but there. Finally the huge creature hissed something at the two holding River’s friends, and they followed him. The other creature just hissed and left the shuttle bay by another exit.

River knew she needed to find a way around the ship without being seen. These creatures were huge compared to her, Star, and Jo. Looking up, she noticed a series of platforms leading to the ventilation system. If she could get to it unseen, she could move through the vents. The creatures were too large to fit in them. Besides, wasn’t that what they did in the movies? If she could stay with them, she could find her friends and they could hide out until they figured out a way to get off the ship.

Satisfied with her plan, she just needed to wait until things calmed down a little. In the meantime, she explored the shuttle for any type of food or drinks and a restroom. Finding a box with what appeared to be emergency rations, she stuffed as much as she felt she could safely carry into her duffel bag. She needed to get ready in case she needed to defend herself.

Opening her duffel bag, she pulled out some of the harnesses she used to carry her knives during her performances. She pulled her sweater off, placing it in the duffel bag. She might need it later but not while she was climbing.

Pulling on a tight, long-sleeved, form fitting black spandex shirt, she strapped on two of her leather wrist holders which contained seven small knives in each holder. Next, she grabbed her back and chest holder. It crisscrossed her front and back and allowed her to put all types of knives and throwing stars in it, including two small swords which fit in an X-formation on her back. Pulling on her belt, she put additional small throwing stars in it. She used this belt when she was riding bareback and throwing them at candles lit around the ring. She had maybe twenty-five very sharp throwing stars in it.

Lastly, she pulled out several of her favorite throwing knives and placed them in the inserts she had in her leather boots. Closing the duffel bag, she pulled the straps tight so she could run faster if she needed to.

River waited almost two hours before the shuttle area had become deathly quiet. She watched as the last creature left the area, and the lights dimmed. Moving toward the opened ramp which had been left down after their arrival, River stayed as low as possible, moving slowly so she could listen for any noises.

Grabbing the side of the ramp, she flipped under it so she was covered. Peering out, she moved swiftly when she felt confident she was safe toward the nearest stack of cargo boxes, slipping between two of them. She followed the tight corridor between the crates until she was in the shadows under the catwalks leading up to the ventilation system.

River turned and grabbed the piping and began climbing. She hoped there was no video surveillance of the area. If so, she should have had company already.

Rolling over the catwalk, she took the stairs up to the highest level before grabbing hold of the piping and climbing it up to the vent. It was small, but she wouldn’t have any problems sliding through it. They didn’t even have a grill over it. Holding on to the pipe with both hands, she stretched her legs out until she could slide them in, then pushed off, letting the rest of her body follow. She moved back about ten feet into the vent before she leaned back and took a deep breath to calm her shaking body. She had never been so scared in all her life. The only thing keeping her going was the knowledge Jo and Star had to be even more scared than she was.

River crawled until she reached an intersection in the vent. Here it was high enough, she could actually stand up straight. She guessed whoever built it was a lot smaller than the creatures on it now.

They would have a hard time crawling as each one of them had to be over eight and a half feet tall and almost as wide. Moving to the left, which she hoped was the direction the creatures had headed when they took Jo and Star, she followed the ventilation system for hours, marking sections as she came to them with a permanent marker. Luckily she had always been good with directions, probably because she had traveled so much her whole life. It almost reminded her of the passageways under Paris, she, Star, and Jo had explored one summer.

River almost cried out with relief when she saw a schematic of the ship attached to one intersection. Pulling out one of her knives, she pried it off the wall. Sinking down, she looked over the map. It looked like there was some type of holding cells two levels up.

If she followed the ventilation system another hundred feet to the left, there should be a vent leading up to the next level. She needed to do this again at the next level to get to the one she wanted. Sliding the stiff map into her shirt, she moved off to the left.

Sure enough, she came to a vent that went straight up. It was narrow, but it had what looked like foot holds. Grabbing hold of the first rung, River began climbing.

River spent the better part of the next three hours moving through the ventilation system. She had made it to the level with the holding cells. It had taken her longer to climb up to them than she expected. They were much further apart than she expected. Once she had made it to the level she wanted, she had paused to rest and get something to drink.

At first she was leery of what was in the bottle, but on smelling it and then finally taking a sip, she was relieved to find it was water. She drank half the bottle before realizing she needed to conserve what she had. Closing her eyes, River felt the fatigue take over her body.

She needed to rest before she moved any further. She had been up for over seventy-two hours between arriving back in the States and her long flight and drive. Then there had been the wait in the shuttle until everyone had left.

Leaning her head back against the cold metal, River felt a shiver run through her body. She had no idea how they were ever going to get home. No one would even begin looking for them for at least three months when they didn’t return from the mountain. By then, who knew where they would be.

Shaking off the depressing thoughts, River focused on finding her friends first. She had to make sure they were safe. Her last thought as her body shut down was that she would worry about the rest later.

River woke disoriented. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. Taking a drink, she rubbed her eyes, trying to get them to focus. She wasn’t far from the first row of cells. She figured she would leave her duffel bag here and check out each cell through the vent until she hopefully found Jo and Star. Shrugging the bag off her back, she checked to make sure all her knives were securely fastened so she didn’t make any noise.

Standing up, she moved to the first cell. Peering through, she saw it was empty. Moving to the next one, she found the same. On her third cell she saw a familiar pink-and-white comforter lying across what looked like some type of bed. Peeking around the room, River waited a good five minutes, listening.

“Jo, I’m scared,” Star whispered. “Do you think they are going to hurt us?”

“I don’t know, baby,” Jo replied softly. “I hope not.”

“Psst. Jo, Star,” River called out softly.

“River?” Star whispered excitedly.

River pulled the vent grill up. Man, whoever designed these cells must have been thinking whatever was going to be in them would be too big to fit through the opening. It was a perfect fit for River’s, Jo’s, and Star’s petite figures.

“You alone?” River asked quietly.

“Yes. They only come by once a day. They bring us something to eat and drink, then don’t come back again until the same time the next day,” Jo replied.

River was surprised. She didn’t realize they had already been in here that long. She had fallen asleep earlier in the ventilation system, but hadn’t thought so much time had passed. She felt guilty at having slept so long.

“When will they be back?” River asked huskily.

“Not for another eight hours by my calculations,” Jo said.

River laughed softly. Jo was always the level-headed one of the three of them. River slowly lowered herself through the vent opening and dropped lightly to her feet. Star rushed off the bed and wrapped her arms around River tightly.

“Oh River, you shouldn’t be here,” Star cried softly.

“Oh? And where else do you think I should be?” River teased softly, pushing Star’s hair back. “Whatever adventure we go on, we go together,” River said softly, repeating a mantra they had said since they had become friends.

Jo smiled through her tears. “Yeah, but even we aren’t stupid enough to have invited you on this one.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else without you,” River said. “Now, we need to think about how we are going to get out of here and back home.”

“What do you suggest? If we are on a spaceship, and I have to believe we are, God only knows where we are. Even if we were able to get off, where would we go? It’s not like any of us know how to fly one of these things,” Jo said sadly, sinking down onto the bed.

“Can you understand anything the creatures are saying?” River asked, trying to think of ways to get the girls in a fighting-back mood. Usually it was Jo who was the one shaking everyone up out of the doldrums. This was a new experience for River.

“Yes. They gave us some type of translator to wear,” Star said, pulling her hair back to reveal a device that looked almost like a small hearing aid.

“I need one. I‘ve been scouting the ship. If worse comes to worst, we can disappear into the ventilation system until we can figure out a way to get off this boat,” River said, holding out her hand.

Star handed her translator to River. “What should I tell them when they discover it missing?”

“Tell them it fell in the toilet,” River grinned. “I bet they’ve dropped stuff down it before.”

Jo laughed. “You are so bad.” Sighing, she couldn’t help but admit, “I’m glad you’re here, River.”

River smiled softly. “Me, too. If I am going to be hanging out here some, I need to use your bathroom. I left my duffel bag up in the vents a few cells down. I figured I could spend part of the day with you and the other part doing reconnaissance. I need you two to stay here just in case someone decides to put in a surprise visit. I’ll leave you some of my knives just in case you need them. Whatever happens, don’t be afraid to use them,” River added seriously.

Jo and Star nodded as they took the knives River handed them from her boots. They knew this was for real, and they wouldn’t get a second chance if they hesitated. River used the bathroom to freshen up and refilled her water bottle.

The three of them talked for the next few hours planning different strategies. River had Jo copy the map she had of the ship, and they made plans on where to meet if they had to disappear into the ventilation system. They had three places they set where they would meet if they should get separated from each other.

Jo insisted River get a couple hours sleep, and she would wake her an hour before their next scheduled visit from their captors, so she could hide. River was going to stay close to make sure the translator worked before she would explore more.

Over the next two weeks, they did the same routine. River began having Jo and Star explore the vents to get familiar with the ship while she stayed with one or the other. They figured she could cover up with the bedspread and act like she was sleeping if the creatures came back early.

So far, they had been left alone. It wasn’t until the beginning of their third week of captivity that they knew something major was happening. The ship jerked and shuddered, tossing them to the floor as the lights in the cell dimmed.

“What’s happening?” Star asked, frightened. She gripped the edge of the bed trying to keep from falling again.

“I don’t know. I’m going to go check it out,” River said. “Give me a boost.”

Jo and Star stood and cupped their hands, giving River a boost through the vent. River closed the vent grill before whispering, “I’ll be back shortly.”

The sisters nodded as they staggered under another shudder. The ship moaned, then everything seemed to become deathly quiet. Moving over, they sat on the edge of the bed, holding on to each other as they waited for River to return.

Chapter Three

River moved swiftly through the vents. She was a pro at navigating her way through them now. She had even pack-ratted items she thought might come in handy. She had food and water stored throughout the ship. She had found a storeroom filled with weapons.

She had taken as much as she thought she could get away with and hidden them in strategic places as well. Her biggest find had been what looked like explosives. She figured they could always find a good use for those. Moving down, she followed a group of creatures running toward the shuttle bay. They seemed to be very excited about something.

Running, she made the quick climb down the vents until she came to the vent she had originally slipped into almost three weeks before. Staying to the shadows, she moved quietly out onto the catwalk using the pipes to move around. There was a large square duct hanging down she could hide behind, but be close enough to hear what was going on as she would be almost directly above them. Crossing the thick metal beam, she made her way across and hid behind it just as the huge creature that obviously was in charge stormed into the shuttle bay with almost twenty armed men following him.

Another ten men stood surrounding a shuttle with their weapons drawn. A small explosion caused the platform at the back of the shuttle to open. The men rushed in.

A few minutes later they came out, followed by a group of almost a dozen men. River caught her breath at her first look at the men. They were much different than the creatures that had captured Jo and Star. They were tall, about six and a half feet, but had long, black hair pulled back at their necks.

They were all dressed in leather pants and had on different colored shirts except for the one in the front who was older and wore some type of formal cloak. They were so handsome, River would have to call them almost beautiful.

They appeared almost human in form. She couldn’t tell what it was about them from this distance, but she knew there was something different about them. Maybe it was their builds, which were very muscular, or the way they carried themselves, but something was different.

River watched as the huge creature named Trolis walked up to the man in the long cloak and hissed at him.

“So, Krail Taurus, we meet again. This time there will be no peace negotiations,” the huge creature hissed.

“Trolis, you have broken the treaty signed by your people by attacking an Alliance vessel on a diplomatic mission,” Krail Taurus replied calmly. “This will be seen as an act of war.”

Trolis grinned nastily before replying, “No, this will be seen as an act of war.”

Before anyone knew what Trolis planned, he swung a double-edge sword and sliced the older man across his neck, severing his head clean off his shoulders. The other men roared with rage and moved to attack. Suddenly, the ten men surrounding them opened fire and all the men dropped to the floor.

River shoved her fist into her mouth to keep from crying out. Silent tears coursed down her cheeks as she watched all the men drop. She almost fell from her hiding place when she heard Trolis tell the men to drag the men to the holding cells.

They aren’t dead, just unconscious! she thought with relief.

She waited to hear what else Trolis had to say. She needed to know what he planned on doing to the other men. If he planned on killing them, she was going to have to tell Jo and Star they were moving up their attack on the creatures.

“Commander Trolis, what do you want us to do with the others?” one of the creatures hissed out.

Trolis swung his large head back and forth. “Two of the men are part of the royal family. I think a demonstration of who is in charge is necessary. Strap them to walls. Take the younger one with the red shirt and secure him to the center of cell block eight. I want the others to watch as he is gutted. I have plans for his older brother to suffer.”

“Yes, commander,” hissed the creature.

Trolis called out to two other creatures, “Clean up this mess.”

River watched as Trolis walked out of the shuttle bay. She moved back along the metal beam, climbed back into the vent, and took off at a run. She had to let Jo and Star know about what happened and get to cell block eight before they had a chance to kill anyone else. She didn’t know why, but she knew those men were their only hope of finding their way off this ship and back home. They had to free them.

“Torak,” a voice called out hoarsely.

Torak shook his head to try to clear it. He focused on pushing the pain in his chest where he had taken a blast from the stunner. Looking up, he saw all his men chained to the walls, most of them just regaining consciousness. He looked up to see he was chained as well by both his arms and legs. Looking around, he frowned when he didn’t see his younger brother, Jazin, with the others. His eyes narrowed when he saw Jazin chained to bars in the center of the room.

“Is everyone else here?” Torak asked harshly.

He was furious. The Alliance had a treaty with the Tearnats. He knew Trolis was a deadly opponent. He had fought against him in the wars before the treaty had been signed. He had not known Trolis had gone rogue until recently. The wars had ended two years before, and a tentative peace had been achieved with the Tearnats. Trolis had been a commander during the war and was the second son of the ruling family. He had not been happy with the decision to end the war, even though the Alliance had vastly outnumbered the Tearnats in both technology and in warships.

Made up of over twenty different galaxies, the Alliance provided safe passage and support to ships traveling between the galaxies. Torak was a member of the ruling family of the Kassis star system. They were one of the most powerful members of the Alliance.

His people were very advanced technologically and had the most powerful warships. He, his younger brother by three years, and ten of his best men had been on a diplomatic mission with the head chancellor of the Alliance, Krail Taurus of the Dramentic star system. They had been on the chancellor’s shuttle on their way to intercept Torak’s warship, the Galaxy Quest, when Trolis had fired upon them, taking out their engines.

The chancellor had insisted they allow the shuttle to be taken and felt confident a diplomatic solution could be reached. Now the chancellor was dead, and he and his men were prisoners. His only hope was that the emergency signal he had sent out to his brother, Manota, would be received. If so, Manota might be able to reach them in time.

Torak’s eyes narrowed when three of Trolis’ men came into the room. He recognized one of them as Progit. He had fought against Progit and given him a nasty reminder of their encounter by cutting off one of his arms. Progit hissed loudly when he saw Torak. If the Tearnats could grin, Torak could have sworn Progit had one on his ugly face.

“So, we meet again, Kassis scum,” Progit hissed. He pulled up his double-edged sword and made as if he was inspecting it.

“Progit,” Torak replied. “You are much more confident when you have me chained. Release me, and we can settle what we started three years ago,” Torak taunted the huge creature.

Progit just hissed. Pulling his sword, he swung it around before letting it cut a thin line across Jazin’s cheek. Blood began pouring from the wound.

Torak growled. “Your battle is with me.” He strained against the chains holding him.

“Not this time. This time Trolis has given me the right to extract revenge. I am going to start by gutting your brother in front of you. I’ll cut him up into little pieces, one piece at a time, so you can hear him scream. Then, I am going to do it to each of your men. By the time I am finished, you will know exactly what you can expect,” Progit hissed with satisfaction.

Torak growled louder. “I’ll kill you.”

Progit just grinned as he nodded to the other two creatures with him. “Pull him tight. I want him to feel every cut I make in him. I think I will take his arm first.”

Jazin looked at Torak with a grim expression. Holding his head high, he spoke calmly. “I will meet you in the next life, brother. Fight well.”

Torak looked at his younger brother, feeling overwhelming despair at the thought of watching him die such a painful death. “Die well, brother. Until we meet in the next life,” he whispered.

Progit hissed his amusement. “So touching. Let’s see how well he screams as he dies.” Raising his sword above his head, he let out what could only resemble a malicious laugh.

River was out of breath as she raced through the vents. She grabbed her duffel bag as she swept by the entrance to the cell holding Jo and Star. They would need to hurry.

Pulling the vent grill out of the way, she reached down and said one word. “Now.”

Jo and Star stared at her for just a moment before they nodded. Jo cupped her hand and lifted Star up through the vent. River reached over and helped her through the opening before they both reached down and grabbed Jo’s hands as she jumped, pulling her up as well.

River pulled two weapons out of her black duffel bag. She handed Star a miniature crossbow she used during her performances. She also gave her the twenty arrows she had to go with it.

“Make each shot count. Remember to aim for the throat or between the eyes. They have a thick bone covering their chest. I don’t want to take a chance of the arrows not going through it. Jo, take the staff. Push the center button, it extends and has blades on each end. You are the best with that. They have some men captured in cell block eight. They are going to kill them, so we have to move now. Remember our plan. We’ll take out any creatures in cell block eight, then head to our spots to shut down the lifts. I’ll take out the engine room. Star, you head down to block all the entrances out of their living quarters. That should take care of almost half the crew. Jo, you make sure all lifts coming up to the shuttle bay are blocked. We meet in forty-five minutes at the vent leading into the shuttle bay. Remember to kill as fast as you can. Don’t think,” River said, looking at each of her friends. Now they were taking action, she was calm. She would probably bawl like a baby if she lived through this.

“Do you think the men will help us, River?” Star asked hesitantly as she pulled the arrows across her back.

“Yes. I don’t know why, but I feel like they are our only hope. The huge creature cut one man’s head clean off, Star. He plans on killing all the rest of them. I don’t know why, but I feel like we have to save them.” River looked into Star’s eyes before turning to Jo.

“Well, let’s go kick some alien ass,” Jo said with a smile. “Hell, if I’m going to die today I plan on taking as many of those assholes with me as I can.”

“Showtime,” the three girls said as they linked their hands. It was their favorite saying right before they were to perform.

Heading down the vent, they quietly came up onto cell block eight. Jo lifted the grill. It was located in a small unlit corner of the cell. This cell was much larger than the others.

River jumped down, crouching low until she was sure she hadn’t been heard. Nodding up to Jo, she stepped aside as Jo lowered herself down, followed by Star. Nodding for each sister to take a side, they had decided River would come up the middle. It gave her more freedom to throw her knives with both hands.

With River holding up a hand, the girls listened as the one-armed creature talked about how he was going to kill each of the men before killing the man fighting against the restraints. River heard Star catch her breath when the young man said good-bye to his brother. That was all the three of them needed to hear to know they were making the right decision.

Torak watched as Progit raised his sword with a harsh laugh. He refused to look away from his brother’s face. Just as Progit was preparing to bring his sword down to sever one of Jazin’s arms, he froze in place. Torak watched in disbelief as he turned halfway around, then backward onto the metal floor, a knife protruding from between his eyes. He jerked when the other two creatures, who had been on each side of his brother, met the same fate.

Glancing up with undisguised hope, he softly called out. “Manota?”