Who will forgive you when you can’t forgive yourself?
The Colonial Scouts are a group of explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.
Natica is drowning in siblings. She hoped that if she became a Scout, she would rise above her brothers and sisters and shine. But when a man dies because of her mistake, she can’t forgive herself. She leaves the elite program and returns home a failure.
Her homecoming is even worse than she imagined, however. Her twin brother is missing, so she sets off to find him. Natica comes from a water world. Her search for her brother takes her on a high-speed boat chase through a floating city. She is kidnapped by pirates and attacked by a sea serpent. And her brother seems nowhere to be found.
Alien Seas is the third book of my Colonial Scouts series, fast-paced science fiction for teens and pre-teens. Buy it at Amazon in print or eBook. Soon to be an audiobook.
Here’s an excerpt:
Alien Seas by Roxanne Smolen
PLANET 3459-3 SR7
Clear magenta skies. Bright white sun. Palm trees rustling in a breeze. A tropical paradise thought Natica Galos. At least, it would be if not for the ground-rending quakes and rivers of molten rock.
She motioned at the steaming fissure that cut across her path. “Looks like another dead end.”
Her partner, Davrileo Mas, consulted his sonic resonator. “We’ll have to split up. See if the fault narrows. If it does, we can use our jet packs to get to the other side.”
“Great. I’ve always wanted to fly above flowing lava with a combustible device upon my back.”
He turned toward her. His facemask reflected the orange-tinged steam rising from the rift, hiding his ever-present scowl. As he often said, he didn’t much care for her brand of sarcasm, and she didn’t care that he didn’t care. But he was the team leader of this excursion, so she shrugged and followed the fissure’s edge.
“Keep your com open,” Davrileo called after her.
She waved to show she understood. She didn’t like Davrileo Mas, and the prospect of spending a three-day mission with him frayed her nerves.
They’d arrived on the planet the previous night, traveling via an Impellic ring, a programmable wormhole. Interstellar probes reported a wealth of minerals on this world. As Colonial Scouts, Natica and Davrileo were dispatched to determine whether colonists could survive the planet’s violent upheavals.
Already Natica had endured showers of acid rain and blizzards of volcanic ash. She marveled that such an environment could spawn a rain forest—but no one needed to convince her of a planet’s will to live. A previous assignment took her to a fungus world that rose against her team in the form of indestructible mold monsters. The memory still brought a shudder.
With a grimace, she forced the image away. Think happy thoughts. Fungus World is behind you. Time to move on.
She kept to the edge of the lava flow as closely as she dared. Heat seeped through her skinsuit, and a vague sulfurous smell sifted through the filters of her mask. She heard a screech and looked up at a large bird circling overhead. It looked like a pterodactyl.
Wouldn’t surprise her.
Bushes with large purple flowers leaned over the bank. Their wilted petals and blackened leaves confirmed her guess that the fissure was a recent addition to the landscape. As she jogged past, clouds of yellow butterflies rose then resettled among the branches. Natica walked backward to watch them.
Within her mask, she heard erratic panting. Davrileo was breathing into the open com. Perhaps his path took an uphill turn. She smiled and pictured a tortuous track up a sheer cliff. With obstacles.
A low-pitched rumble broke into her thoughts. She frowned and looked around. With a sudden lurch, a quake hurled her to her knees. Trees snapped and toppled. Behind her, the purple bushes she’d passed slid over the crumbling bank.
Natica yelped and scrambled to her feet. She’d go over next if she didn’t move. But the ground heaved again, and her boots skidded. She sprawled back, her head hitting with a thud.
A tree fell into the rift. Lava splashed. A creature rose from the molten rock. It stood over five meters tall. Sheeting magma exposed a body of soot and stone. Rocks bulged from its torso like muscles. Natica gasped, and it turned.
At first, its face was a mere lump of rock. Then features emerged.
It was the face of the man she’d helped climb a barrier of logs—an injured man who slipped from her grasp and slid into a burning pit.
The man on Fungus World.
“But you can’t be.” Panic edged up her throat. “You’re dead. I saw you die.”
The magma creature stepped onto the bank. Flaming footprints dotted the grass. The quake ended—yet the ground trembled with its steps.
Natica skittered back. She had to get to her feet. She had to run. But she could only stare at the burning face.
He wanted retribution. It was her fault he died. She killed him. She let him go.
Hands fell upon her, and she fought them, batting them away before realizing Davrileo Mas knelt beside her. His voice echoed through the com. She couldn’t understand his words.
The magma creature advanced, looming over them. Davrileo aimed his stat-gun. The beam struck the thing mid-chest. It paused, dripping fire. He shot again.
It exploded. Chunks of rock flew through the air. The creature’s face landed before Natica. Its mouth gaped. Fire consumed its eyes.
Natica screamed. It felt as if the sound were tearing her inside out. Vaguely, she was aware of a wrenching sensation, of moving very fast, and then falling forward onto the Chamber floor.
Someone yelled, “Get her mask off.”
She felt her body turn, felt her facemask pop. Cold air bit her skin.
“Natica! Stop screaming!”
But her mind still held the burning face before her. She couldn’t let go.
“Get her to the infirmary.”
* * *
Impani stared at Natica across the cafeteria table. “You’re overworked?”
Natica sighed. “That’s what the doctor called it. Stress and fatigue due to the job.”
Impani sipped a hot cup of chai and cocked her head. Natica looked awful—dark circles, trembling hands. “But that was your first assignment in over a week. How can you be overworked?”
“I don’t know. I think I’m losing my mind.” She rubbed her eyes then lowered her voice. “I swear that lava monster had a face.”
“Davrileo says it was made of silicon, not lava.”
“He’s telling everyone it was no threat and that the reason he had to ring back early was you.”
“It’s the injured man I let die on Fungus World. He’s in all my dreams. I can’t sleep anymore. I think I see him everywhere. Glimpses from the corner of my eye.”
“Stop it.” Impani leaned forward. “This isn’t you. You’ve always been the stable one.”
“It’s been ages since we left the fungus planet. You can’t keep blaming yourself for something you didn’t mean to happen. If you keep this up, it could jeopardize your job.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You never watched anyone die because of you.”
Impani swallowed her answer. Once, she watched a hundred people die in an abandoned shopping mall. Members of a street gang she infiltrated. She led authorities to them not realizing they planned to wipe out everyone with flamethrowers. How long did it take her to accept that mistake?
“I have to go.” Natica gathered her uneaten breakfast onto a tray. “I’m meeting Anselmi. We ring out in an hour.”
“Another mission? What about being overworked?”
“I insisted. Have to prove myself. You know.”
Impani nodded. “At least, this time, you’ll be with a friend. Anselmi will watch out for you.”
Natica offered a fleeting smile, picked up the tray, and left.
Impani slouched in her chair. Her thoughts returned to the shopping mall massacre, dragging up images so real she felt she were living it all again. She saw people running, shadows in smoke, and the pounding flash of gunfire. She heard screams, children crying. Smelled the horrible reek of fuel.
It was known in the media as The Slaughter of the Headsmen Gang. She didn’t dwell on it so much anymore, pushed it to the back of her mind. But she never forgave herself. She always thought she should be punished somehow.
If she were to go home, there would be retribution. The surviving gang members knew what she had done, and although legally she was cleared of any wrongdoing, she was certain they would kill her.
She picked up her cup. It was cold. She pushed it away in disgust, then gazed across the busy cafeteria.
From several tables away, a boy stared at her. Impani lifted her chin and stared back. She was used to male attention, often used it to her advantage. However, this boy’s stare was more appraising than most. He looked younger than her—fifteen or maybe just turned sixteen. He was bald, as were all Scouts.
She hadn’t seen him before. Must be a new recruit. She should walk over and introduce herself—that usually embarrassed them enough to keep their stares to themselves. Yet, there was something odd about this boy.
Something about his eyes.
PLANET 330-10 GEN
Natica stood on an icy bluff overlooking the frozen tundra. Windblown snow traveled the night like fog. She shivered, although the cold could not reach through her skinsuit. “Who would want to live in a place like this?”
Beside her, Anselmi’s pale, almost-human face beamed. “Just like home.”
She considered his reply. Anselmi had been her friend for over a year, yet how much did she know about him? He was humanoid—two arms, two legs, one head, but his eyes were solid black, his skin bluish-gray. She had no idea how old he was or what Veht, his home planet, was like. “You come from a frozen world?”
“The Colonial Expansion Board was looking for fresh water sources even in those times. They sent Scouts to my planet expecting to find oceans of barren ice. Instead, they were greeted by a thriving culture.” He chuckled.
“Well, this place is about as different as it could be from my home. Just once, I’d like to be sent to an ocean world.”
“Such worlds are rare. Your wish is fruitless.” He walked away, boots crushing the packed snow.
Natica felt a surge of anger she knew was due to lack of sleep. She dampened her ire, afraid Anselmi’s telepathic bent might pick up her emotions. Friend or not, he was team leader and would detail all aspects of their mission. She couldn’t afford another bad report.
They followed the ridge. Anselmi held his sonic resonator before him, searching for pitfalls or energy readings. Natica carried the tri-view glasses, which not only magnified the landscape but also kept a visual record of what the Scouts saw. As there wasn’t much to see on this world, she kept the glasses hooked to her belt.
Skidding down a slick hill, they approached a snowfield. The region reflected the moon so brightly, Natica’s mask darkened in response. A snow devil swirled her way, pelting her with sparkling dust. Could this be her home if an ice age hit?
Anselmi’s head jerked. “Did you see that?”
“I thought I saw…” He looked puzzled. “Nothing.”
“Mirage. Too much white.”
He nodded, looking thoughtful.
They trudged across the vast expanse leaving footprints in the unbroken snow. The only sounds were the crunch of boots and the rattle of equipment belts. Moonlight disguised the distance, making the plain appear endless. If only she could return to the bluffs and rest.
A flicker of movement caught her eye. There came a muffled plop. Natica glanced about but saw nothing. Don’t mention it. He’ll want to investigate. Anselmi looked at her as if he heard her thoughts.
It was unfair that he could read her mind but she couldn’t read his. She felt disadvantaged. A sort of telepathy among siblings was common on her world, yet she never held such a bond with her brother, Eury. She often wondered why.
“You are distracted,” Anselmi said. “That’s not like you.”
“I was thinking.” She paused. “Maybe we should go back to the cliffs and look for a cave.”
Her cheeks heated. “I’d hate to be caught out here in a storm.”
He consulted his resonator. “There are no atmospheric disturbances within range.”
“What a shame,” she muttered.
Anselmi smiled. “How tame you must find this frozen world. Too often our missions are labeled adventures.”
“It’s not that, it’s—”
“Look around us. See how the starlight glistens. Beauty in silence.”
Anger flared again. She wasn’t about to traipse around this wasteland while he reminisced. “People need more than beauty to live. This planet can’t support life.”
His smile broadened as he gazed beyond her. “Don’t be so certain.” He knelt in the snow.
Natica saw three plates of sculpted ice. “Artwork?”
“There are more.” He stepped into a field of crystalline disks.
She wouldn’t have noticed them if he hadn’t pointed them out. The disks ranged in size from a hand’s breadth to a full meter across. They looked carved from frosted glass.
“Someone’s been busy,” she said.
“However, you agree there is someone?” He held out the resonator, scanning the featureless horizon.
Natica walked among the plates. Their edges were smooth and slightly raised, forming a lip. They reminded her of the albino manta rays in the seas back home.
The thought struck like a slap. What was she doing? Was she so homesick she could think of nothing else? She was a Colonial Scout, not some rookie first time away from her mother’s skirt.
“This is stupid,” she cried. “No one will want to live here. Not even a water excavator. Not even a robot for a water excavator. And I don’t care who carved these stupid plates.”
She kicked the snow, and her toe caught a disk, sending it tumbling. It landed on edge and cracked. Natica hadn’t meant to break anything—still, she derived a vague sense of satisfaction as she looked down at the jagged pieces.
With the sound of a thousand angry hornets, the remaining disks rose from the ground. They hovered around Natica, whirring madly.
“Watch out,” Anselmi shouted.
Natica sidestepped as a smaller plate whizzed past her face. She flinched, her thoughts sluggish. Were the plates alive? She stared at the broken disk. What had she done?
Anselmi yanked her arm. “Run!”
Several disks cut off their escape. One dove toward Natica, and she swatted it. Wobbling, it turned and continued toward her. Anselmi snatched it from the air and threw it like a discus. At that, the whirring noise increased as if the plates were outraged. They attacked together.
For every disk Natica knocked away, four more took its place. They struck her shoulders, her back, her thighs, and she yelped with each blow. They flashed so quickly across her vision, she couldn’t track them, couldn’t dodge. She felt trapped in a whirlwind.
A large disk aimed at her head. Natica ducked. The plate hit Anselmi instead. He dropped to his knees, looking winded. It reared back and struck him again, roaring like a buzz saw. She grabbed it and threw it with all her strength. It collided with another plate. Both exploded, raining down in glittering specks.
A sudden wrenching sensation twisted her stomach, and she knew Anselmi had recalled the Impellic ring. She felt at once relieved and alarmed. How was she going to explain this fiasco? Two missions in a row had ended prematurely because of her.
She tensed against rushing vertigo—speeding through the universe while standing still. Then her momentum ended, and the Impellic Chamber materialized. Infinite images of herself watched from the mirrored walls.
Hopping down from the platform, she circled to the other side. “Anselmi, I’m sorry.”
She reached him just as he crumpled. With a gasp, she leaped forward and caught her teammate before he struck the floor.
“Help! I need help,” she shouted to an unseen technician.
She leaned Anselmi against the side of the platform. Two slice marks crossed his chest—the plate cut right through his skinsuit. She didn’t see any blood, but purple welts showed beneath the silvery material.
A terrible panic welled in her. This was her fault. He might die because of her.
The door opened, and a four-person medical unit rushed into the room. They wore bulky hazmat garb.
Natica grabbed the first one. “He’s hurt. You have to save him. The ice attacked and… and then he just fell.”
Elbowing Natica out of the way, the medic examined Anselmi.
“Erratic respiration,” he said. “Blood pressure is falling.”
“Get that oxygen over here,” said another.
“Will he be all right?” Natica cried. “Please. You can’t let him die.”
It was as if she hadn’t spoken. She watched with growing dread as the medics replaced Anselmi’s mask with an oxygen tube.
“Open wound in an alien environment. Better get him to quarantine.”
Natica bit back her tears.
* * *
Impani took Trace’s hand as she weaved between people and video machines. Laughter and the chimes of games rose in discordant music. She spotted Natica at a table in the corner. Her face looked puffy.
“There you are,” Impani said in a half-shout as she sat across from her at the mushroom-shaped table. “The game room is busy this evening.”
“Too busy,” Natica mumbled.
“A lot of missions must have ended.”
Trace gave them a bow. “Can I interest you ladies in beverages?”
Impani laughed. “Anything but that nutty vitamin drink you always get.”
“It’s good. You should try it.”
“I don’t drink anything that’s thick and brown.”
Chuckling, Trace walked away.
Impani placed her hand over Natica’s. “I just came from seeing Anselmi. He looks much better.”
Natica groaned. “He’s in isolation.”
“Just a precaution. They don’t want him catching a cold from one of his well-wishing friends.”
Natica nodded but wouldn’t meet her eyes.
Impani pursed her lips. “Those ice disks might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for you. Imagine if an excavation company settled there. You exposed a real hazard.”
“Stop it.” A scowl creased her friend’s face. “That’s not what they’re saying.”
“Here you go.” Trace set tall glasses upon the table. “Two Peach Snowcaps for you girls and a Health Nut for me.”
“Mmm, peach.” Impani sipped the icy juice. Tart sweetness burst over her tongue.
Natica punched the snowcaps down with her straw as if they offended her.
Into the prolonged silence, Trace said, “Did you tell Natica about our little mishap?”
“Oh, yeah. It was the strangest thing.” Impani leaned forward. “We were in the Impellic Chamber waiting to be whisked off-world and one of the main computers exploded.”
“It what?” Natica’s eyes widened.
“Almost like it was sabotaged.” He shrugged. “We were standing there, and standing there, and Impani said does it seem a little smoky in here to you?”
Impani laughed. “It’s funny now, but if that ring had engaged, we would have been fried.”
“What could have caused it?” Natica asked.
“No idea.” He took a drink. “I heard Chamber Four will be closed for a while, though. Strange accident.”
“Really.” Natica shook her head.
Impani sipped her juice then muttered, “There he is again.”
Trace glanced around. “Who?”
“That kid with the strange eyes. I think he’s a new recruit. I swear he’s following me.”
“Following?” He set his glass down hard.
Natica said, “Why would someone follow you?”
Impani shrugged. She glanced at the boy then looked quickly away.
“Which one is he?” Trace pushed back from the table. “I’ll have a few words with the guy.”
Impani grabbed his arm. “Come on, forget it.”
“I don’t like stalkers.”
Impani tried to smile in a soothing manner, but she felt alarmed. She couldn’t explain it. There was something odd about the boy. Something ominous. “He’s just staring.”
“And you like that, don’t you?” Trace’s voice rose. “You always enjoy being stared at by other guys.”
“Don’t be silly. He’s a kid.”
“I’m not an idiot, you know.”
Impani hugged his arm. “You’re jealous. It’s kind of sweet.”
Trace wrenched from her grasp and stormed out of the room. Impani gaped in amazed confusion.
“Nice going,” Natica said. “You hurt his feelings.”
“You know Trace. He’ll get over it.”
“There was never anyone following you, was there?”
Impani stared at her. “You think I lied?”
Impani shook her head. What was happening here? “Let’s just relax and finish our drinks. You’ve had a hard day.”
“So now it’s me? Why is it always my fault?”
“Who said anything about fault?”
“Couldn’t be you. Little Miss Perfect.” Natica pushed her glass away. “I don’t know why he loves you, but he really does. And you treat him like everyone else. If he were my boyfriend—”
“Is that what this is about?” Impani shouted.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve always had a crush on Trace.”
“And you’ve always treated him like drel.”
“You’re jealous of our relationship.”
“Jealous? Of you?”
“Admit it. You wish you could be more like me.”
Natica stood and lowered her voice to a growl. “I would die if I was anything like you.”
Impani watched her rush away. Her face burned, and her thoughts seethed. How could Natica accuse her of lying to make Trace jealous? What did she think—that she’d make a better girlfriend? Impani gulped her juice, and then glanced about the room.
The odd boy still stared.
Impani woke later than she intended. She lay for a moment, cocooned in the warm berth, grasping at tendrils of a dissipating dream. With a sigh, she switched off the adventure novel she’d been reading when she fell asleep. Turning onto her stomach, she crawled from the compartment and down the honeycombed wall.
The sleeping berths were tubes open on either end, making the wall accessible from fore or aft. Many beds were occupied, showing heads here and feet there, and she was careful not to wake her fellow Scouts as she left.
Beyond the girls’ quarters, the corridor was bright with daylight. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed the morning sun. Staff members and technicians bustled about on workday errands. A few waved or nodded to her as they passed.
Impani stepped into a nearby restroom. Her nose crinkled at the antiseptic smell. She splashed her face and scalp with cool water then disrobed and pulled a crisp tunic from the communal laundry closet.
As she dressed, she looked in the mirror. Behind her stood shower cubicles. They were rarely used. Scouts endured a caustic chemical cleansing after each mission. The chemicals removed the threat of contaminants along with all hair and a layer of skin. It made normal showers less inviting, even for Impani who grew up homeless and, at first, reveled in the luxury of water jets.
Refreshed, she rushed to the cafeteria. It was always busy. Day and night held little meaning when Scouts came in from missions at any hour. However, Impani found that people tended to choose the same seats out of habit. So when she reached her usual table, she was surprised Natica wasn’t there.
She looked about, hoping to spot her, a greeting perched on her lips. No Natica.
Was she still angry about last night?
Impani frowned. Maybe Natica had overslept, too. That wasn’t like her—but lately, so much about Natica wasn’t like the girl Impani considered her best friend. If she wasn’t sleeping, where would she be? Had she set off again on another assignment?
That made perfect sense. Natica must be anxious to tackle a new mission and prove she’s still part of the team. Mr. Arkenstone would know where she’d gone.
Impani left the cafeteria and headed toward the program director’s office. Arkenstone’s door was always open, so she never thought of him as her boss. In fact, on more than one occasion, he’d acted as confidant and mentor.
She stepped into a room dominated by a huge, holographic seascape. A boat sailed in the distance. Natica often made excuses to see the director just so she could visit the holo.
“Morning, Leila.” Impani approached a woman behind a desk. “Is Mr. Arkenstone available?”
A voice called from an adjacent room. “Come in, Impani.”
Leila smiled and returned to her computer screen. Impani entered the director’s office. Everything in it was massive—the chairs, the tables. A bank of windows behind the huge desk showed the spires of surrounding buildings.
Arkenstone glanced up. “If you’re here about Anselmi, I have to tell you I agree with the doctor. He must remain in quarantine. Even though he’s no longer in danger, the ailment he contracted might yet prove fatal to humans.”
“I know. They let me wave to him through the glass at the infirmary. It’s weird to see him turned purple like that.” She stepped nearer. “Actually, sir, I wanted to know if you sent Natica on another mission.”
His mouth made a silent oh, and he stood. With his arm about her shoulders, he guided her to a couch and sat beside her. “Natica’s gone home for her birthday.”
“Apparently, the sixteenth birthday is cause for celebration on her world. She wanted to be with family.”
“But she didn’t tell me.” Impani frowned. “Didn’t say goodbye.”
“She’s burnt out. I’ve seen it before.” He looked into Impani’s eyes. “I fully expect Natica to quit the Colonial Scouts.”
Impani felt her stomach disappear and all her insides slide to her knees. “No. She can’t.”
“I’d hate to lose her. She’s one of the best.” He squeezed Impani’s arm. “I’m going to schedule a break for you. A needed rest. I hope you’ll take advantage of it.”
Impani wasn’t aware of leaving the office, didn’t remember walking away. She found herself several corridors down, standing against the wall, trembling, seething with outrage.
How could Natica let one tragedy paralyze her? And how could she leave without saying anything? Impani never even knew it was her birthday. Why would Natica keep that a secret? What kind of friend was she?
“Impani? Are you all right?”
She looked up at Davrileo Mas. You’re part of it. You gave Natica a bad report. But Davrileo wasn’t the problem. It was Natica. Her friend was making a terrible mistake.
Impani straightened her shoulders. “Have you seen Trace?”
“Sure. He’s still in bed. Grumping about something.”
“C Wing. But you can’t go down there. Boys only.”
She took off at a trot into the forbidden Boys Only zone, vaguely disappointed that it looked so much like the girls’ area. She was aware of startled looks, but no one tried to stop her.
She turned down C Wing and stepped beside the sign that labeled it a quiet zone. The sound-dampening floor cushioned her feet. She gazed up a wall honeycombed with twenty sleeping berths. A few reading lamps glowed from the compartments, but most were dark and silent. How would she find Trace?
Screwing up her courage, she shouted, “Trace.”
She heard an answering chorus of groans. Only one face showed. Trace was on an upper tier. He scrambled from his berth and hurried down the ladder.
“What are you doing?” he whispered.
“Natica’s gone. She quit the Scouts.”
Someone called sleepily, “Give us a break.”
“Yeah, take it outside,” another boy moaned.
Trace took Impani’s arm and led her from the sleeping berths. He sat with her on a bench beneath a window. “Start from the beginning.”
“Natica and I had a big fight last night, and I was looking for her so I could apologize.”
“You?” Trace smiled.
“But I couldn’t find her. So I checked with Mr. Arkenstone, and he said she’s gone home.”
“Just like that?”
“And do you know what else? He said it’s her birthday. Why didn’t she tell me? That’s not something to keep private.”
“Calm down. There must be more to the story. What were you fighting about?”
Impani looked away. “Girl stuff. You know.”
“And you think she was angry enough to leave the Scouts?”
“I don’t know. I keep running over the argument in my mind.”
“Well, I don’t think you could have said anything that would make her quit. She’s been off her game lately. Distracted. Overreacting.”
“Because of Fungus World.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“I swore I’d never tell anyone.” She looked at him. “But I don’t think she’d mind if I told you. It happened back when you ordered a moat dug around the colonists’ camp. You were going to create a ring of fire to keep the mold men away, remember? You sent us up the hill to cut logs and roll them down to you.”
“And the mold men attacked.”
“We had to retreat.” Impani frowned, dredging up the memory. “Natica and I ran carrying an injured man. The logs were deep, a solid wall, but we finally got him to the top. And we saw the fire around the camp had been set too soon and was burning out of control.”
He grimaced. “I remember.”
“What was I supposed to do? We had moss men behind us, fire ahead. We couldn’t just stay there. So I left the man with Natica and climbed over the edge. I figured that if I could reach the ground, she could drop him down to me. I never got that far. The fire weakened the pile, causing the logs to slide into the blaze. Natica lost her grip on the guy, and he just kind of rolled along with everything else and disappeared in the flames.”
“It was an accident. No one was at fault. But Natica blames herself. She’s obsessed.”
“No wonder she freaked at that lava creature.”
“She has to snap out of it.”
Trace paused then met her eyes. “You should go to her.”
Impani blinked at him.
“I mean it. Take a leave of absence and go to Natica’s home world. You might not talk her out of quitting, but at least she’ll know you care.”
Impani sat forward. Why hadn’t she thought of that? She had more than enough credits in her expense account. And hadn’t Arkenstone said he was scheduling a break for her?
She smiled and cupped his cheek in her hand. “What would I do without you?”
He pulled her close, holding her, but didn’t answer.
Like what you’ve read so far? Alien Seas can be found at Amazon in print or eBook.