Hunted By the Alien Pirate by Celia Kyle Page 0,1

ablative armor panels all on my lonesome. I’ve been working all day, and this is the last piece.

Once it’s secured in the housing, I use my self-sealing bolt gun to ratchet it permanently into place. This new alloy will help disperse and redirect energy weaponry away from our hull, an essential upgrade given that we’re now on the Interstellar Human Conglomerate’s shit list. The Queen was never intended to be a warship, but her formidable defenses served us well before we picked up the refugees from the derelict Freighter the Frontier.

Not that I’m bitter about Solair’s decision to take the human women under our protective wing, not at all. It was the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, and anyway many of them have proven to be invaluable members of our blended crew.

And I have a very personal, perhaps even selfish reason for my tacit approval. I believe one of the women is my fated mate—Fiona. I’ve suspected for a long time she might be my chosen one, but of course I haven’t had a chance to verify it with a kiss. Now that Fiona is serving as part of the bridge crew, I barely get to see her any longer.

My face twists into a sour expression even as I fit the last bolt into place. The only reason Fiona was assigned to the navigation console is because my friend Lokyer got himself killed trying to be a hero. Scratch that, he WAS a hero, though it’s most emphatically past tense.

It’s been a long time since we lost a member of the crew, and I should know. I’ve been serving on board the Queen under Captain Solair since he first inherited the ship. Crew mates come and go, but Lokyer was like family. At times like this, I’m struck by how truly helpless we are in the face of death, in spite of our technology.

I’ve stripped to the waist, and the stiff breeze coming off the crawling, wrinkled sea feels good as it cools the sweat on my body. I take a moment to soak it in before looking at the gangplank settled in the sand. There are things I could be doing, perhaps even should be, but by my own estimation I’ve earned a break.

Udrillon is perhaps the most beautiful world I’ve ever been to, with all apologies to my home world of Kilgar. Our society, our race, is very old, and precious little land back home hasn’t been developed. Those areas that do remain untouched and unspoiled are often nature preserves, and it’s forbidden to go there without express approval from the matriarch’s council.

But here, I’m free to walk through the sand, watch the roaring surf, and enjoy the exotic wildflowers, which seem to spring from every surface, even the strange looking stiff-leaved trees. Just because I spend most of my time in the engine room or in my workshop doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I do so because of necessity, even sleeping in there from time to time. Okay, most of the time.

It truly is lovely here. Lokyer had always wanted to retire to a tropical world, and this would have been perfect. My heart breaks with sadness at the thought that he never even got to see it before his death.

As I trudge along through the sand, I encounter others from the crew who are likewise enjoying this paradise for as long as we can. Snippets of their conversations reach my ears, most of it pertaining to the recent mate bonding ceremony of Swipt and Ilya.

Three of my crewmates have found their fated mates, which is very unusual. That’s not how things normally go in Kilgar society. Females are born at a very low rate, thanks to a long-ago mistake by our society, and one woman might have as many as a dozen husbands, almost always more than one. Fated mates are a true rarity.

But now there have been three pairings, and with human women, not Kilgari. I wonder why this is happening now, and with such frequency?

The conversations on the beach halt almost at once as if by rehearsal. I notice many horned heads turning toward the ship. Curious, I look as well, and my jaw falls open when I see what has distracted them so.

It’s Fiona, our erstwhile nav officer, but she’s out of uniform. In fact, I have to look twice because at first I think she’s naked as the day she was born. As it turns out, she