Thunder exploded in the calm of the night, jolting Claire Dermott from her deep sleep. Groggily, she opened her eyes, and turned her head to peer at the small clock sitting on her simple bedside table. The green glow of the clock told her it was just after one in the morning. Damn. She sighed and closed her eyes, hoping to fall back into the bliss of slumber.
When the first roar of helicopters passed overhead, lights flashing all about the place, she knew she'd never get back to sleep. So much for living in remote North Queensland of Australia, where the thought of a window shade or curtain was far from her mind. She had no neighbors within a hundred kilometers.
She threw off her sheets and stomped her bare feet through her house, shoving open her screen door to stand on the veranda. The mountain range, which loomed to the back of her property, lit up with three helicopter searchlights. Damn it! They hovered over the bulk of her land.
What the hell is the army up to this time?
She had an agreement with the neighboring army compound, signed and sealed. It stated no army exercises were permitted on her land without her written permission. Otherwise, she could prosecute them in a court of law.
Claire spent two years hounding the local government minister to stop the army from encroaching on her land. The simple agreement stated they would leave her in peace, she would leave them alone.
So much for a remote, out-of-the-way place to live. She scowled, as doubt flashed through her mind. Maybe some poor stupid hiker had gotten themselves lost in the remote Queensland rainforest. It wasn't unheard of.
The rumble of a military truck and the glaring of headlights, coming up her dirt track, told her something was definitely up.
Claire grabbed her gumboots from the inside of her screen door and shook them out of habit before sticking her feet inside. She knew what dangerous spiders and snakes lurked in the tropics, and how they loved smelly, dark holes to crawl into. She grabbed the hair tie around her wrist while pulling back her dark brown, shoulder-length hair from the back of her neck. Securing it in the band, she waited.
The truck came to a stop for them to open the gate she put up around her house, to keep her animals secure. At least they had the decency to close it behind them.
Claire stood glaring with her hands on her hips, as the truck finally came to a stop outside her home. The single light from her porch lit up the face of Captain Randall Deer; he stepped down from the passenger side of the truck.
She had come to verbal blows with the military installation captain more than a few times, especially in his off-duty time. He had started to make it a habit to pay 'social calls' trying to get her to 'go out' with him.
Unfortunately, Captain Deer's attractive six foot frame, with down-to-earth good looks and clear blue eyes hid the fact the man was an arrogant asshole and irritated the hell out of her. Not to mention he preened and strutted around like a peacock. No way in hell she would ever date a man like him. After all, being in love with himself, left little time for anyone or anything else.
"You better have a damn good explanation for trespassing." Claire folded her arms across her chest as he approached. "It's the middle of the damn, fucking night!"
"Claire, humble apologies for this intrusion." Captain Deer's gaze swept over her sleeping attire of navy blue shorts, and pink cotton tank top with spaghetti straps.
She was far from shy, and would not suddenly act all girly by rushing inside and grabbing a robe to cover herself. Claire stood her ground, and simply continued to glower at him.
"We received a report a plane came down in the area. We're searching for the wreckage and survivors."
Claire's whole manner changed to one of concern. A loud boom had awakened her in the first place.
"Oh shit, I'll join the search."
"Not necessary. We only ask permission to search your land."
"Oh, of course. I should come with you because I know this area better than any of you."
The captain shook his head. "No. Stay here, and keep the lights on in case any survivors stumble this way, then call us immediately, so we can get them to a hospital."
"Okay." Claire gritted her teeth knowing she was being brushed off, but still wanted to help. "Take the fire break track; it'll take you right through the heart of my property."
Captain Deer nodded. "Thanks, Claire." He turned to walk back to the truck.
"Let me know if you find anyone." She suddenly got the creeps as Randall climbed into the passenger seat glancing at her again.
From his tone of voice she realized he wasn't going to tell her a damn thing.
The army truck roared and drove towards the secondary fence, which accessed her forest land.
Doubts bounced around in her head as she paced for a few moments, going over the brief explanation from Captain Deer. She studied the hovering lights across the mountain, and thought about the sound she had heard earlier.
"Damn it to hell!" She yanked open her door and stalked inside. No way she was going to get back to sleep, or wait passively for someone to stumble through the tropical rain forest for help. She stripped off her nightclothes and reached for a pair of sturdy jeans, bra and top, before pushing her feet into her solid workboots. She walked out of the house, down the steps and marched across the yard to her horse shed. Patrick, her faithful, old brown brumby raised his head as she approached.
"Hey, beautiful boy, we're going for a midnight ride." She flicked on the shed light. She set to work saddling Patrick and packing her saddlebag, filling it with a water bottle, torch and a large stretch of rope, then secured it to the saddle; she checked her crock rifle before slipping it into the saddle's holster before mounting up.
"Fuck the army!" She did know this land better than anyone else. She was going to conduct her own damn search.
The pounding in Addassar's head did not make thinking any easier. It was a good thing his natural, plated head ridges protected him from the impact. Lurr had not been so fortunate. His body slammed heavily against the side of the ship's console when it crashed into the water.
Addassar popped the emergency exit hatch, climbing out before helping his co-pilot and friend Lurr out of the spacecraft. The ship hissed and bubbled as it sank. Addassar managed to resecure the hatch lid, before water covered the top of the ship. They now sat on top of their ship in waist-deep water.
Addassar thought back over the fight with the Xerson raider ship. It had done more damage to his Kelon Fire Skimmer than he'd first thought. At least they had destroyed the Xerson raider before it reached the round, blue planet.
Lurr whooped out a victory cry before all systems in their craft started sparking, and the red warning lights flashed.
Being too close to the planet's atmosphere and too far away from the Kelon station, which now hovered in permanent orbit around the Earth's moon, they had no choice but to crash land on Earth, and pray they survived.
Addassar tried to direct the Skimmer to a remote part of the planet, to avoid detection from the human authorities.
"Protect, do not interfere." The Kelon council gave its directives, loud and clear.
The Earth, with its valuable resources, had to be protected. Unfortunately, after the last attack by the Methrill, the Earth governments were extremely skittish, and untrusting.
The Kelons informed the Earth government they were now under their protection. It came as no surprise when they rejected the offer of protection, but it did not deter the Kelon government. The Earth would be protected, despite their accusations that the Kelons only wanted to steal human women, even though they tried to explain the women had freely chosen to live on Kelon. They understood their Kelon mates cherished and adored the human women.
In time, the humans would come to understand they were protecting Earth's interests, by keeping them safe from their enemy, the Xersons, one out of the half-dozen races which made up the Federation. Nonetheless, Earth's government ordered them to keep their distance and not land on their planet without permission, as it would scare the people.
Addassar had a soft spot for human women; the few he'd known only fueled his desire to have one for himself. He had come close to having his own woman--the beautiful, bountiful Rachel. He sighed thinking about her soft curves, but his commander and long-standing friend had claimed her, much to his disappointment and those of many others.
He and Lurr had put up their hands to volunteer their service to staff the newly built space station and protect the Earth from any further attack. Addassar felt, in the back of his mind, the faint hope a human woman would look upon him with favor. But they were not allowed down on the planet. Being so close to something you wanted, yet not permitted to touch made many of the Kelon men edgy with frustration.
"This is not good." Lurr carefully cradled his injured side, his face grimacing in pain.
"You think I do not know this?" Addassar gripped his arm, helping him onto the bank of the small lake, as he watched the Skimmer sink down further into the water.
"I think I have broken my encasing bones." Lurr touched the side of his ribcage and winched in pain. "Why is it when you pilot, we always crash?"
Addassar glanced up as he heard the approach of the human sky crafts. He had no wish to be caught by the human military forces. He threw Lurr's arm around his shoulders and half-dragged, half-carried him into the shelter of a rock outcropping, hiding them from view as the sky crafts' lights moved across the area of their crashed Skimmer.
"I do not always crash! Both times we have been under attack. Be silent!" Addassar glared indignantly at Lurr.
He almost held his breath watching as the lights moved on to search another area. Lurr's breath came in shallow pants as he struggled to draw in air, before he slumped down to the ground.
"Lurr, on your feet." Addassar got no response. He dropped to his knees and felt for Lurr's pulse, and found his heartbeat steady and strong. He needed the healing kit, but it was submerged along with the Skimmer.
Addassar stretched Lurr out and half-covered him with brush from the forest floor to keep his body hidden.
From the studies his people had done of Earth, he understood the planet had many different landmasses, split into many separate countries. They had crashed into the country known as Australia. He knew this because three human women, who now lived on Kelon with their Kelon mates, had come from this country.
Addassar needed help and wasn't sure where to search for it, other than the Earth forces. By the blessings of Elron, he hoped to find someone to aid them.
Able to see perfectly well in the dark, Addassar started picking his way through the vegetation and down the side of the mountain.