Although he carried no visible weapons, the Mauritanian radiated malevolence. He swaggered in the open doors of the huge space port terminal, past hurrying travelers and loaded baggage hovies. His hide was nearly obscured beneath swirling ink; his visage shimmered with stripes and dots. Through the paint, his yellow eyes glowed with a feverish intensity.
Passengers and space crew alike gave him a wide berth beneath the elevated hover-walkways. He bared his jagged brown teeth at an Argonautian and even this huge being shuffled to one side.
Lt. Commander Steve Craig turned to watch warily as the Mau passed. As a veteran of the Solar Wars, he recognized war paint when he saw it. Mauritania had sided with the Quark Ogre’n in the wars and was now a conquered planet, governed by Space Forces troops. Evidently there were still pockets of resistance.
Stopping in the shadow of a pillar, he lifted one hand to activate the com-link on his collar.
“How may we assist you, traveler?” asked a smooth voice.
“You’ve got a problem at the south entrance,” Craig murmured. “Might want to send a few port guards.”
Nervousness rippled like wind through the throngs of embarking and disembarking space travelers passing around Craig. Those on the hover-walkways gawked as they passed overhead.
“Your report has been noted,” the voice said serenely. “Guards activated. Will there be anything else, sir?”
“I’ll let you know,” Craig said drily.
Other beings were sidling away, pulling children and baggage with them, leaving the Mauritanian alone in a rapidly widening space. Through their hushed murmurs, Craig heard the unmistakable whine of hovie-cycles. Good, the port guards. He hoped to hell they were veterans who would recognize an imminent threat.
The armor-suited guards zipped into view over the crowd and circled above the Mau, their search lamps trapping him in brilliant light.
“You are disturbing the peace of this space port,” one of the guards stated, voice magnified. “Assume a prone position on the floor, limbs spread.”
The Mauritanian threw back his head. With a ululating war cry, he tore open his short cape. A cry of shock and fear ricocheted through the crowd. The guards froze. So did Craig. It was far worse than he’d feared. This being wasn’t just looking for a single foe, he was out to do as much destruction as possible.
Under his cape, the Mau carried a barrage of multiple-barreled laser weapons. Not the refined, pinpoint pistols carried by guards or officers. These were blunt-force weapons. Formidable enough to kill or maim many of the surrounding beings in this end of the space port.
“I kill you!” he cried in heavily accented Galactic, the universal dialect. “I kill you all!”
The crowd wavered and in another instant would have stampeded for the exits. Craig braced himself to hold his position, reaching for his weapon. It wasn’t on his belt, of course, as he was off duty. Even if he’d been armed, it would do little good. The Mau had claw-like hands on his weapons. If shot, he would likely fire back as he went down.
Craig’s gut filled with ice as he looked around at the terrified faces of families and civilians. He’d stared death in the face many times in the last several years. Not these folks—they were the ones he’d been fighting to protect from moments like this.
He eyed the Mau again, options racing through his mind. If the guards could get close enough, maybe, just maybe, they could drop a containment over him and protect the biggest part of the crowd—reduce casualties. His eyes narrowed with satisfaction as he saw two of them inching closer.
The Mau snarled at them, his claws clutching the weapons. The guards froze in midair.
The edge of the crowd across from Craig wavered, and then opened. Craig was astonished and dismayed to see a lone figure stride through to face the Mauritanian. Tall and lean, he wore a silver-grey flight suit with the insignia of rank. Although young, he had the cold, composed face of an ascetic under his short, black hair. In the bright lights his eyes were a deep, compelling blue. Who the seven hells was this guy? Some kind of preacher or positive thinker trying to reason with a terrorist?
The crowd wavered, still on the verge of flight. But amazingly they calmed as the young man raised one hand. Craig blinked. Damn, he felt it, too. As if he’d just downed a shot of really good Earth II scotch.
“Wait for a moment,” the newcomer said. His deep, cool voice flowed through Craig like ripples on a pond. “Wait…”
The humanoid shook his head, raising his weapons. “I kill! Kill all—destroy.”
“No. That was before. Now you realize that there is no need for violence.” The man’s gaze, fathomless as a night sea, enwrapped them all.
The onlookers sighed, relaxing their grips on each other, on children. Craig grinned, unable to recall why he’d been so worried. Things were fine.
The Mau groaned again in wordless protest, but his muscles relaxed. Very slowly, like a felled tree, he swayed to one side, then the other, and thudded to the floor, enthralled.
A sigh of relief whispered through the crowd. Their rescuer beckoned to the hovering guards, who zipped down, swarming the would-be terrorist. In seconds he was disarmed and sealed in the folds of a containment bag.
The remaining guards saluted the lone man.
“Thank you, Commander. Damn glad to have an Indigon passing through today.”
“Nice work, sir. If you hadn’t been here…”
“An Indigon!” exclaimed someone behind Craig. “They have powers, you know. Mental powers.”
“Did you see? He stopped that monster right in his tracks.”
The crowds began to flow again. The search lamps winked out as the guards carried the loaded containment bag off between their hovie-cycles. Soon it was as if nothing had happened to disturb the bustling space port.
The Indigon stood still, face even paler than before. Travelers gave him a respectful berth as they hurried by. He seemed not to notice them.
Craig shook his head, stepping away from the pillar. He felt sober again. Had this guy just hypnotized him and everyone else in the area? He’d heard of Indigon powers, but this was the first time he’d ever been on the receiving end himself. Un-quarking-believable.
The experience didn’t seem to have hurt him. He felt fine. Great in fact. Damn glad to be in one piece, instead of scattered over the surrounding space port in smoking bits of rubble.
Their rescuer looked the worse for wear, though. Craig walked over to him. “I was just about to have a drink. Care to join me?”
The Indigon gazed blankly, then swayed slightly. Craig suppressed a grin and took the other man’s arm.
“That’s what I thought. Come on, pal. You need some time to regroup.”
He half-carried the Indigon into one of the open bars along the concourse and pushed him gently into an empty booth.
“We’ll have a couple of local ales,” he told a passing waitress. She smiled at him, batting her purple eyelashes, and hurried off.
“I…must thank you,” the Indigon managed. He leaned back in the booth, eyes closed. “I hadn’t…realized.”
“First time you’ve ever done that mind-control thing on such a big scale?” Craig guessed.
“Thought it might be. You looked nearly as shell-shocked as that damned Mau.”
The Indigon opened his eyes and raised one dark, arching brow. “I trust…not. One of the most…retro individuals I’ve had the misfortune to intuit.”
Craig gave a crack of laughter, and stuck out his hand. “You’re light-years ahead of him, buddy. Name’s Steve Craig, Lt. Commander, InterGalactic Space Forces.”
The Indigon looked at his outstretched hand and then slowly took it. “I’m Daron Navos.”
“Nice to meet you, Navos. Thanks for saving all our asses. I’d heard about Indigon powers. Never experienced it before, though.”
Craig accepted their ales from the waitress with an appreciative smile and held out his link for her to read his credit status. She bent over so he could enjoy her cleavage while she scanned the link, smiling at him and then Navos.
“I saw what you did,” she purred to Navos. “Heroic. And I see this one is decorated for valor too.” She stroked one hand over Craig’s epaulets, pressing her breasts against his arm. “Heroes deserve special thanks. How would both of you like to join me upstairs, in my apartment?”
The Indigon froze, his mug halfway to his lips.
“That’s quite an offer,” Craig said. “But I’ve got a transport to catch and my friend here has just been through a harrowing experience. Maybe another time?”
She shrugged and sauntered away, hips swaying.
Craig watched her go, not without regret. “Damn. I bet she can really heat it up.”
Navos set his mug down carefully. “I…sensed her sexual interest, but I thought she was after you alone.”
Craig grinned and, after a moment, the Indigon returned it. They both began to laugh. The Indigon’s was rough, as though rarely used.
“Folks all thought you were just standing there enjoying the moment,” chuckled Craig.
“I was contemplating whether I could make it to the nearest seat without falling flat on my face,” Navos admitted wryly.
Craig nodded. “Reminds me of my first fighter mission. Got back to the base—couldn’t climb out of the cockpit. Deck sergeant had to peel me out.”
“You’re traveling on leave from the Space Forces?” the Indigon asked, taking a sip of his ale. Lowering his mug, he looked into it with surprise, then took a longer drink.
“Yup. Been to visit my mother back home on Earth II. Now, I’m looking for a job. My service term is finished and I’m not re-upping. How about you?”
“I’ve just accepted a position as tactician on a cruise and transport ship. LodeStar Corporation.”
Craig’s eyes focused in keen interest. “Oh, yeah? They need any more officers?”
“They’re interviewing for several positions. I’ll introduce you, if you like.”
“I’d appreciate it.”
Several years later…
Daron Navos stood at the porthole of his office on the command deck of the spaceship Orion, gazing at the incredible view flung out before him.
Against the blackness of space, the planet Porphyry glowed a hazy blue and green, its moons scattered about like silver balls dropped by a celestial juggler. Beyond it streamed the edge of the galaxy, a gauzy stole flung down by the same careless hand.
The Indigon was only peripherally aware of this beauty. His gaze turned inward as he reviewed the last few hours.
It was his task to do a routine telepathic examination of the passengers about to board the Orion. Under the command of Captain Steve Craig, she was bound for Frontiera, by way of Cirrius and the Ballarian system, on her fourth voyage. One her crew commanders hoped would be without suspense or violence of any kind. The first three voyages had each been fraught with tension, as the doughty crew repelled vicious clandestine attacks on their ship.
The Cassiopeia, Orion’s sister ship, had just embarked on her third voyage, so there was the added tension of knowing the Orion’s mysterious attackers might choose to strike at Cassiopeia as well.
With all this in mind, Navos had done an intense perusal of the passengers. No saboteur would slip aboard on his watch, not if he could stop them.
He was certain all beings aboard had intentions that were, if not exactly noble, at least not deadly. The passenger roster revealed mostly tourists and business travelers, intent on the profit and pleasure that drove most galactic voyagers.
He turned away from the porthole and sank into his chair, distracted from his thoughts by new images bombarding his senses. He was tired from his mental exertion, or he wouldn’t be so open.
These new stimuli were pleasant. Very pleasant. A female had just boarded the Orion. A fellow Indigon, she was sending as strongly as he was receiving.
The other passengers were busy, eating and drinking, bustling about to explore the great cruise ship. Some were hoping to sight a royal personage. After all, the magnificent Prince Azuran and his retinue had been on the last voyage. He’d even held some kind of wild, licentious party in the ballroom, sending smoke and loud music billowing out.
None were thinking of the Orion’s second-in-command. Except for this female. She was focused on him to the exclusion of all else. He was bombarded with her tangled thoughts: hope, yearning and even, unbelievably, hero worship. Her effervescent emotions burst into his consciousness like bubbles in moon-ring champagne.
His own anticipation swelled. Although he held himself still with practiced discipline, his eyes narrowed with interest. A female empath this strong had to be an Indigon. It was most unusual to find a mature Indigon who would allow emotions such free rein. He looked forward to meeting her in person.
Navos was startled by his own response. He lived a life founded on the principles of intellectual control for which Indigons were well-known. Many called his father’s people cold, emotionless. His mother had been among them.
This bothered Navos not at all, for he looked with contempt at beings who chose to live in constant tempests. He was extremely fortunate, as only a half-Indigon, to wield such strong telepathy. But it came with a price. He could not afford to wallow in human emotion. That way led to misuse of power. He must remain above petty drama, using his gifts judiciously.
Certainly he had sexual urges—strong ones. He was a male in his prime and in the peak of physical condition. He assuaged his needs with paid sex companions. There was a certain resort on Serpentia that specialized in beautiful, skilled females of all species. And if he occasionally felt these encounters lacked something, that was no one’s business but his own.
Although the crew of the Orion contained many attractive women, including the lovely, lethal Serpentian guards, most of whom would leap at the chance to try the Orion’s second-in-command as a sex partner, he did not consort with the crew. He was an officer of the ship. If anything were to happen to Captain Craig, he would be the acting captain. With power came responsibility.
A similar bias kept him from consorting with passengers. He shuddered at the thought of pouting looks in the mess hall or passageways.
An Indigon lady would of course be different, with the superb control of their race. Although this female was unique in her effervescence. He viewed the warm, happy tangle of her aura as an inner portrait, unique as a retinal scan. He was certain he didn’t know her, but he wanted to, at least for the space of this voyage. He’d have to be careful, of course, to remain detached. That should be no problem—his mental discipline was superb.
This lady knew him, or at least knew of him. Perhaps they had met at a gathering on Indigon, or she might have been a passenger on one of the first three voyages of the Orion. Bemused, he shook his head. She was as eager to meet him as a fan meeting Chaz Jaguari, the galactic singing star.
She was outside his door now. Rising, he walked around his desk. He was expecting an intern from the Indigon University to arrive shortly, but the young man could wait for a bit while his commander met this fascinating woman.
He heard a soft tap on the door.
“Enter,” he invited.
She was much younger than he’d expected. This thought flitted across Navos’s mind. But his foremost reaction was the solid jolt when their eyes met. Her gaze hit him square in the chest, rocked him back on his heels and sent heat flooding through him, arrowing straight down into his loins.
Deep, deep blue, her eyes held a glow of anticipation that was echoed in the mauve flush high on her cheeks. Her piquant, oval face was framed by dark hair cut in a short, feathery cap that bared her delicate ears and emphasized her lithe slenderness. She was lovely.
The flush on her cheeks deepened. As if Navos needed another sign—he was awash in the warm flood of her emotions. Now that they were face-to-face, a new current surged to the forefront. A sexual glow of attraction joined the other emotions in her aura.
Male triumph swelled in him. Here was an antidote to the ennui plaguing him lately. He would allow himself to enjoy her. She was a passenger on his ship, but she was unique. This was going to be a very interesting voyage.
“You are Commander Navos?” she asked in a husky voice that shivered over his skin like a caress.
A smile quivered at the corners of her soft lips, the hue of Pangaean roses. Her eyes widened.
“Oh, sir. It is such an honor.”
Without taking his eyes from hers, he stepped closer. She gazed up at him uncertainly, her soft lips parted, small breasts rising and falling with her quick breaths. Her scent was as delicate as she.
“We need no such formality,” he said. “I’m very pleased that you’re here.”
Her eyes widened. “You are?”
“Of course. It’s not often that I’m visited by a lady of my own race, especially one with such…power.”
She fairly glowed. “Oh, Commander. You don’t know how much that means to me. I—I have wished to meet you for so long.”
“And now you have.” He allowed some of his own arousal and anticipation to flow outward.
Her response was immediate. Shock was followed swiftly by a feminine flowering both physical and psychic.
Navos lifted his hands to her slender shoulders and pulled her closer.
“It’s all right,” he murmured. “We’ll go slowly.”
Savoring the anticipation, he bent his head to her. She smelled of fresh, warm woman and some faint flowery perfume, an intoxicating blend. Her breath hitched as she tipped her head back, her lips parting moistly. Her lashes fluttered and sank in feminine surrender.
He was about to take her soft mouth with his own and pull her hard against him, hell, perhaps even take her right here on his desk, so powerful was the need swirling between them. Soon the sensual whirlpool would sweep them both down into its depths.
Uncertainty speared like a shard of ice through her arousal. He froze, a hairsbreadth from kissing her, then slowly forced himself to straighten.
“Who are you?”
As he waited for her answer, the heat that roared within him congealed into cold, hard anger. For along with the uncertainty in the indigo depths of her eyes, he sensed trepidation, chagrin.
“I—I’m Nelah Cobalt,” she faltered. “Your—your new intern…sir.”