Genre = Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction Romance, Romantic Comedy

Dad Panther

Alien Guardians of Earth #3

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Bad Panther is about to become Dad Panther…

Dr. Sugar Jennings, host of a Protector Blade, is about to become the mother of twins. Axel of Rodu, her alien panther mate and next in line for the Lyran throne, is already in Dad Panther mode and freaking out.

When the fourth and final blade surfaces and sends out a distress call, Sugar has no choice but lead the existing blades on a rescue mission. The Creator Blade and its reluctant host are on the run.

Don’t miss the action, adventure, and fun in the next installment of the Alien Guardians of Earth.

Or read the first five chapters right now…

Read Chapter 1

In the Alien Guardians of Earth library of artifacts…

“You’ve been staring at that metal serving platter for months now, Dr. Jennings. Don’t you know what it says yet?”

Sugar arched an eyebrow as she lifted her head. “It’s not a serving platter, Junior. It’s a manuscript of some sort and I’m learning the alien language on it. Don’t you have something better to do than hang around in the library and annoy me?”

Lake frowned as he plopped down in the chair on the other side Sugar’s desk. “No. I’m tired of fighting the cats. My skills and strength outpaced theirs the second month I was here. Now I’m always worried about hurting one of them. It hardly seems worth my time to work out with anyone in the palace outside of Axel.”

Sugar grunted as she lifted her gaze once more. “Go visit Gina then.”

Lake shook his head. “Gina won’t talk to me.”

“Because you always start a fight and make fun of her work. You’re lucky she doesn’t kick your ass every time you come around. From what I witnessed before, I’m pretty sure your blade would let her. Getting on Gina’s good side wouldn’t be a problem if you stopped playing the same games with her that you do with all women.”

Lake shrugged as he frowned. “I didn’t say Gina was a problem. My problem is that I don’t have any problems which is why I’m bored. I don’t handle being bored well.”

Sugar’s irritated sigh filled the library. “You’re not two years old, Lake. Be grateful we have no huge battles to fight. Go find something productive to do with your time before I kick your ass myself.”

“Don’t you ever feel like a prisoner here? If we weren’t confined to this place twenty-four-seven, maybe I could find something to keep me busy.”

“For pity’s sake, ask Axel what he needs to be done. Prince Axel of Rodu likes putting people to work which is why I hide out in here doing my own thing. He takes after his mother too much.”

Lake laughed dryly at the suggestions. “Bloody hell no. It’s bad enough the cat prince thinks he’s my personal trainer. And before you suggest going to the original Rodu, all he wants to do is read. Rodu’s worse than you, but can you believe he reads sociology books? I used to skip those classes in college. He says he enjoys looking at the ‘big picture’ of each age—whatever that means.”

Sugar found Rodu’s study habits interesting so she didn’t respond to Lake’s whining. Her energy was needed for other things. For several months now, she had been studying the metal plates Nyomi and her elite guards had retrieved from the Temple of the Moon cave at Machu Picchu. She and Rodu had gone to retrieve the now annoying host of the new Protector Blade. When they’d found him, Lake had been in a secret room full of alien artifacts and ancient Peruvian treasures.

“The man is over a thousand years old, Junior. He means he wants to understand how the world has changed since he got trapped inside a pyramid. Just the last century has been full of incredible leaps in technology and social thinking…”

Lake held up a hand. “Please—not another lecture about the alien impact on our history.”

“Well, it’s true, not that anyone knows it but us,” Sugar said, giving her best professor glare.

Unable to activate the portal she and Rodu had used to enter the hidden space in the Temple of the Moon cave, Nyomi’s people had instead carved out one of the ‘fake’ doorways, then used some of Gina’s tools to seal the damaged rock face back afterward. They’d purposely left a few fissures behind which would weaken and split over eventually. This would let the remainder of the valuable objects get into proper Peruvian hands.

“Have you ever wondered how much of human history was really just a series of situations the aliens set up to happen?”

Sugar lifted a shoulder. “It has crossed my mind, but I don’t let myself dwell.”

Being both an archaeologist and a historian, of course, Sugar saw a disturbing alien-directed pattern to Earth’s greatest archeological discoveries. She preferred not to think about their involvement, but every now and again she kept smacking into proof they’d been around practically as long as humans had.

When Lake groaned again, his male complaining made her chuckle. There was no more human and imperfect creature on this planet than a young male who was bored out of his mind.

“Will you at least talk out loud or something? There’s no music or TV here. I’m going mad from the silence alone.”

Grinning, Sugar looked over her notes for something Lake might find intriguing. “There’s really nothing in my notes you’d appreciate.”

“Try me,” Lake ordered. “I’m desperate.”

Sugar chuckled. “Okay. There are symbols on here that look like musical notes and graphics that look like giant buttons. These markings could be a form of writing like braille or they could be some sort of graphical map. I haven’t been able to decide which is more likely to be the case.”

Lake rose and walked around the desk to peer over her shoulder. “They look like Egyptian hieroglyphics to me. You should ask Rodu. He could probably tell you for certain.”

Sugar looked up and rolled her eyes. “Rodu and I studied these together when we were saving you. We had six whole hours to kill while your blade healed your body enough to travel. During his original life, Rodu was a scribe who could read and write in multiple languages. None of these symbols are Egyptian.”

“Oh,” Lake said, tilting his head. “It also looks a bit like a computer circuit board. Maybe you should ask Gina if it could be that.”

“Anything to get Gina to talk to you, eh?” Sugar concluded with a smirk. Then she did a double-take as her gaze returned to the metal plate. She turned it sideways and suddenly saw the same thing Lake had. “Huh… it does kind of look like a circuit board. Maybe I will ask Gina about it.”

Lake lightly smacked her shoulder. “See? I can be useful when you take the time to talk to me.”

Rolling her eyes over Lake’s happy claim, Sugar gave in as gracefully as she could. “Alright, Junior. You’ve convinced me. Let’s go see if Gina has time to check this out.”

* * *

Fairly certain from all the kicking going on inside her that she was pregnant with two future football players, Sugar rubbed her protruding middle as she walked into Gina’s lab with a fidgeting Lake on her heels. The man was in his early twenties, but with his restless energy and tendency for mischief, Lake acted more like a rebellious teenager.

“Greetings, Gina of Rodu. How do you fair today?” Sugar asked in greeting.

“I fair well, Sugar of Earth, and you are looking well. As my brother declares to anyone willing to listen to him speak of his mate, gestation does indeed suit you.”

“Thanks,” Sugar said with a giggle. Axel was more excited about the babies than she was. She patted her belly and felt twin kicks of acknowledgment.

“Did your human shadow talk you into coming along with him to annoy me?” Gina asked as she looked back at her work.

“Hey now… the human shadow has a name,” Lake protested, his mouth lifting in a lopsided grin. “And for your information, Princess Too Busy To Be Friendly, Professor Sugar Jennings has important business to discuss with you. I’m only keeping Sugar company because I had nothing better to do.”

Gina glanced at the metal plate in Sugar’s hands. “I am neither a historian nor an archeologist. What help can I provide with your research?”

Sugar held up the metal plate and turned it sideways. “I was trying to decipher the symbol language on this when Lake noticed the whole thing looked a bit like a computer circuit board. What do you think?”

Gina walked over and peered at the tablet. “At first glance, I would say it is either a message for a reader of the same language… or possibly it could be a graphical map.”

“Those were my thoughts as well,” Sugar confirmed with a nod.

Gina stepped closer while Sugar held it out more. “However, I see what Lake means. May I inspect it more closely?”

“You actually agree with me?” Lake asked in surprise.

Ignoring Lake’s reaction, Sugar handed the metal plate to Gina and watched as she walked to a table with it. Her half-alien sister-in-law pulled a device down over the plate and looked at the readout on a nearby monitor.

To Sugar, the machine Gina used looked like something belonging in a hospital surgery room. Speaking commands in Lyran, Gina soon was directing lights to scan over the plate. The light scanning went on for several long minutes then finally stopped.

Eventually, Gina turned back to them. “I ran the full light spectrum. The metal is not light activated. It could possibly be activated by sound. Are you familiar with the thirteen crystal skulls found on Earth?”

Sugar shrugged. “Only as a myth. Let me guess—they’re real and they’re alien.”

Gina lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “The crystalline material they were made from is from Earth, but the storage technology is not. Each contains vast records from human history around the planet which is why they are shaped like human skulls. My father refuses to hear the stories on them because they explain the creation of his original people—among other things. Mother has seven of the skulls. The other six are scattered around the world. Gathering them up is on her to-do list but has not yet been done.”

“Do you want us to go get the other skulls for you?” Lake asked.

Gina glared. “No. The Elite Guards will get them when their queen declares it is time to do so. Most of them are in private hands and quite safe since Earthlings consider their value to be mythical.”

“Then why tell us about the rest of them if we can’t go after them?” Lake complained.

Ignoring Lake’s complaining, Gina turned to Sugar. “The skulls respond to sound frequencies just as the blades you carry do.”

“Fascinating,” Sugar replied—and she meant it. “Can you test that theory without harming the metal plate?”

“Certainly, but…” she glanced at Lake. “I’m not sure what effect intense sound might have on the beings you carry within you. They sentient blades may want to take you over to protect themselves.”

“We’ll risk it,” Lake said.

We?” Sugar repeated in surprise, smirking at Lake’s willingness to risk her well-being as well. “I have more than just myself to worry about it these days, Junior.”

Sugar patted her belly as she stared at him.

Lake winced. “Oh, right. You’re growing baby panthers inside you. Sorry—I forgot.”

“Let me check something.” Sugar held up a hand and closed her eyes.


Yes, Sugar.

Is it safe for Gina to test the metal plate we’ve been studying with sound?

Potential result to hosts is incalculable.

Sugar opened one eye and peered at Gina. “What does potential result incalculable mean in Geek speak?”

Gina glared. “It means the blade does not know what will happen.”

Sugar opened both eyes. “Then it’s a risk just like Lake said.”

“That would be my interpretation of your blade’s comment.”

Lake snorted. “You should know better than most, Gina. You talk more like a computer than any of the blades do.”

“Your harsh words are wasted on my ears. Being Lyran, I do not find that offensive.”

Lake crossed his arms to keep from walking to her. When Gina went into full geek mode around him, he always got turned on.

“Junior—hush,” Sugar ordered sternly, shaking her head when Lake huffed. “Remember our discussion?”

Lake held up a hand in defeat and Sugar blew out a frustrated breath. What did the man want from Gina? If he expected the two-hundred-year-old intelligent alien female to change who she was for his disrespectful human ass, Lake might as well turn his annoying attention in another direction.

Sugar turned her focus back to how much she really wanted to know what was on that plate. “Let’s test it. The blades aren’t going to hurt us. Just don’t get scared if they show up.”

“I won’t,” Gina said firmly, putting her attention back on the device she used for analysis. She programmed in the three exact vibrational sound frequencies she had discovered in her father, Sugar, and Lake. “The test will begin shortly.”

At the first tone, Lake made a face. He waved away her concern when Gina looked alarmed. “Hurts a bit, but not too badly. Keep going.”

“It’s working,” Gina said, pointing to the table.

Sugar gasped when the metal plate started to expand and contract with movement in response to the frequency. She nodded and Gina added the next frequency to the sound.

“Ouch,” Sugar said, rubbing the children who were now jumping around madly inside her. “It’s like an orchestra but all the instruments are out of tune. The kids and I both hate it.”

But as they watched, the metal plate twisted and molded until it had taken a pyramidal shape. Gina moved to the third frequency and the structure began to vibrate so fast the pyramid wavered from view at times.

“Is that all it does?” Lake asked.

“Unless it requires a fourth frequency to completely activate it. I used those of your blades, we do not know the frequency of the fourth one yet,” Gina said.

Creator blade frequency is 110 Hz on Earth scale.

“Try adding 110 Hz,” Sugar suggested, not mentioning the source of her information.

“Of course,” Gina said, rapidly coding it in. “There are many stone temples, caves, and pyramids on Earth tuned to that frequency. Lyrans have searched for reasons, but no one knows why or how they came to be that way. What is known is that frequency affects the human body and mind in a way that creates a higher consciousness. It’s considered sacred in many Earth cultures.”

Sugar winced as she watched. “Does this sort of communication device exist in other places than Earth?”

“Yes. From its shape-shifting abilities, I’m guessing the plate is a morphological holograph. Many planets went to this kind of storage after their organic sources were exhausted,” Gina said, adding the 110 Hz frequency.

In the first second of the sound becoming audible, the device began a rapid rotation on the table and levitated several inches into the air. Light was generated by the spinning and then formed into a shape above the metal.

“Look, it’s changing into a female,” Lake said, pointing. “See her breasts?”

Gina lifted a hand in Lake’s direction as she looked at Sugar. “Do you see why I detest him?”

“Lake has a one-track mind. Earth males his age are all like that,” Sugar said with a head shake. “It modifies over time. I promise.”

Gina turned to glare at Lake. “The female with breasts is a Pleiadian from what humans call the Sirius constellation. Pleiadians, in appearance and genetics, are the most physically similar species to Earth humans. General consensus among Lyrans is that the Pleiadians chose the final genetic code for humanity.”

The holographic female began to talk. Sugar felt uncomfortable with every word the image spoke, but she had no idea why. Lake looked ready to throw up. She doubted Junior knew what was wrong either.

“Do you know what’s she saying?” Sugar asked.

Gina shook her head. “I don’t speak Pleiadian but I recognize it. My translator isn’t programmed for their language because it’s so complex. I might be able to clone a translator and convince it to learn Pleiadian but it would take a lot of time.”

“There are plenty of ancient alien theories about Earth origins coming out of Pleiades constellation of stars and planets.”

“Pleiadians are one of the original species who evolved in our universe. They are quite forthcoming with information to all who seek it so no one bothers with their language or history. They hold the highest four seats on the council who assigned the Lyrans to Earth as guardians.”

Sugar’s whole body relaxed as Gina extracted the frequencies in reverse order. Soon the artifact was simply a flat, metal plate once more. “I wonder how many things we found in that cave are sound activated.”

“That is a reasonable thing to wonder. Why would the Pleiadians store holographic messages among Aztec gold and had them guarded by the priests of those people? There was another set of metal plates found in an underground cave near the Amazon river which turned out to Pleiadian. Perhaps there are Pleiadian artifacts all over Earth.”

Sugar’s mind starting chewing on another theory. “What if Athena the Ancient was Pleiadian? What if some of the plates are the stories of the blades and their creation?”

Gina stopped and stared in shock. “It could be possible. Earth only recently learned about the power of sound. For Lyrans, sound has long been an efficient and effective way to apply security to valuable content. This metal has been programmed to be a metal plate with symbols. The holographic energy projecting the Pleiadian is its truer form. The blades you carry seem to function in much the same way. They have their own form when not merged with a host.”

Sugar nodded. “I have at least fifty more of those plates. If you can get your translator to work, I’ll be able to read what’s on them.”

Lake rubbed his mid-section, relieved as the pain continue to pass away without further nausea. “It’s probably another origin story about a group of people who aren’t around anymore. I’ve never understood how anyone could love history so much.”

Sugar turned to glare at him. “If I hadn’t studied all I could find about the sentient blades, I wouldn’t have had any idea about what had happened to me—or to you. That would have been bad because my blade has had to work very hard to keep me alive. History teaches us about the present by showing us what the past contained.”

Gina shrugged to cover up her true feelings. She needed to discuss it with her mother before she revealed it to the blade hosts. “As grievous as I find it to do so, I must agree with Lake on this matter.”

“Wait… you’re agreeing with me again?” Lake asked in surprise.

“I’m having a strange day,” Gina said through gritted teeth.

Laughing at both of them, Sugar pointed at the metal plate. “Is it safe to leave the metal plate with you?”

“No. Mother prefers we keep all artifacts safely put away unless they are being used for study. Take the metal plate back to the library with you,” Gina ordered. “I’ll come to get it when I have time to work on it.”

Lake narrowed his eyes as he studied Gina. “Did anyone ever point out to you how bossy you are?”

“Yes. Command has always been expected of me. I am a Lyran princess and second in line for my mother’s throne. It is not a weakness that I have a keen grasp on the need to follow rules which were made for the good of all.”

Sugar chuckled and turned to Lake who lifted a hand and walked out of the lab.

“He rejects all my truths. I do not understand him,” Gina said softly.

“Lake doesn’t understand himself. Like most males, he’s grasping for answers instead of asking questions and listening,” Sugar replied, patting Axel’s confused sister on the shoulder before she trailed after her fellow blade host.

Read Chapter 2

In Cambodia, at the Angkor Wat temple complex…

“I sure wish you could see this, Hank. It’s every bit as awesome as you thought it would be,” Reva whispered, hoping her husband’s spirit would hear her wherever he was.

Hank’s death seven months ago from a massive stroke had come as a total shock. Then a month ago she’d gotten an email on his old account and discovered her wonderfully thoughtful husband had booked this trip to celebrate what would have been their twenty-eighth anniversary.

Reva stared at the hundreds of Apsaras carved on the stone walls. The smiling females were dancing in a ceremony the Hindus called Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The enormous carving depicted gods and goddesses rubbing a snake to get the animal to give up the elixir of life. The scene looked very sexual in nature to her. Hank would have laughed when she told him her thoughts which made her miss him even more. This trip just wasn’t the same without him.

Tears threatened to start flowing but then Reva remembered another theory—one of Hank’s silly ancient alien ideas—one which said the snake represented the Milky Way. The thousand years of the churning would have been the time it took for the celestial beings Earthlings called gods to make the earth a planet that could sustain the human life they planned to create on it.

Rolling her eyes over the idea of aliens, Reva tried to pull her imagination back from the edge. “If you nixed the aliens, this could be where they got the Garden of Eden story. All that’s missing from these carvings is the apple.”

Science dated Angkor Wat to the 12th century. Reva found it hard to believe that the jungle had encroached so hard on the stone structures and all but swallowed parts of the temple complex in so few millennia. She stooped and retrieved a leaf shed by one of the massive trees. Being an avid botanist, among other things, she felt the utmost reverence for a tree she easily would have estimated as being over twenty thousand years old. More than one of the massive roots were larger than the structures they hid.

Following the brochure she carried, Reva moved into an area referred to as the Hall of Echoes. Discovering she was alone, she went to the location indicated and put a hand over her heart before whispering, “I still miss you, Hank.”

Her heart ached as the words were multiplied and repeated many times before fading off. How did anyone ever move on from losing their soul mate? She and Hank had not been able to have children. Her parents were now gone. Because of Hank’s allergies, they hadn’t even had pets. All they’d had over the years was each other. Losing Hank had redefined the word alone for her.


Startled, Reva jerked to full awareness as she heard her name echoing back through the hall. It couldn’t be Hank trying to reach beyond death to talk to her once more. Not that she believed in that sort of thing anyway, but the voice calling her name was definitely female.


Her whipped from side-to-side but she refused to freak completely out. Grief had made her a bit absent-minded, but that was all. She moved through most days on auto-pilot, but this trip had been a reality check to remind her that life really was still going on around her.


“Not listening to you,” she told the voice saying her name. This was crazy. No one was in the space but her. It was a trick of sound.

When Hank was alive, he was always reading about this kind of woo-woo stuff. She, on the other hand, was always reading about plants and the downside of genetic manipulation of food sources. They couldn’t have been more different but it had made for a rich and wonderful relationship.

“The tour guide is male,” Reva said aloud to reassure herself. “I haven’t introduced myself to any of the others the tour because I didn’t want to explain about Hank and the reason I’m here.”

She walked quickly back down the hall the way she’d come. When she didn’t see any other people, Reva realized she must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Her head swiveled when she heard a crackling noise that sounded like rocks grinding against each other. She gasped in shock when one of the wall depictions turned its stone head toward her.

She squealed and swore as twin beams of light burst from the statue’s eyes and hit a spot on the temple floor three feet from where she stood. Something swirled within the light and a visage of a robed woman appeared there. The woman turned in her direction as if seeing her very clearly.

A frisson of dread traveled up Reva’s spine but her feet refused to obey her order to run.

“Greetings, Reva Hunter.”

“What?” Reva asked, putting a hand over her heart. “How do you know who I am?”

“All is known about you.”

“What’s happening here? Who are you? Is someone recording this?” Reva demanded, searching for a hidden camera.

The woman lifted both hands in entreaty. “At the beginning of human time, I was an entity named Athena. Now I serve as the life source of the sentient blade known as the Creator. You have been chosen to host me. Do you accept my request for us to merge?”

The urge to escape grew but her feet only moved mere inches across the floor. It was like some strange energy had hold of her and wouldn’t turn loose.

“I… I… I…” Reva stopped trying to get away and turned her head. She could hear several people talking excitedly from the Hall of Echoes. Their angry, harsh words were being multiplied by the acoustics there. What filtered to her were garbled commands in a language she didn’t speak.

“Decide quickly, Reva Hunter. Those coming seek to possess the blade. This will not be allowed to happen. Their lives will be forfeit if they try.”

“What’s that got to do with me… me… me?” Stammering harder, Reva swallowed hard and felt her heart banging a frightened beat against her rib cage. She looked back at the woman in the image. “You’ve got the wrong person. I’m old and afraid.”

“The blade will keep you safe,” the woman promised.

“How do you know? You’re a statue come to life,” Reva exclaimed looking back up at the rock wall and the massive stone head that had loosened itself from it.

“No, Reva Hunter. I am not a statue. I am the fourth and final sentient blade. With your help, I can awake and serve the Earth.”

“I can’t help you. I just lost my husband. I’m only here because this is a trip he planned for our anniversary. I’m sorry I came now—trust me.” Reva stopped and swallowed. That had been too rude. “What I mean is that I can’t do what you want.”

“Life is about making choices—this is the education for human will. Your decision will be honored,” the woman said, bowing her resigned head. “I cannot return to hiding in the stone. May I ask that you at least transport me to the others?”

“Others?” Reva asked in a squeak.

“The other sentient blades are awake. They await my arrival. The world needs us.”

Reva saw bands of green metal rising out of the stone. It looked like liquid as it came to the surface. She didn’t know what to think about her hallucination much less what to do to snap out of it.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Reva whispered.

“I understand your confusion. Please take me to the others. The Protectors will know what to do.”

“Protectors?” Reva asked.

Words got stuck on their way out of her mouth when the liquid green metal from the statue suddenly sprung free of the rock and attacked her. Her hands went to her throat and felt a metal choker forming there. Her mind screamed that she was living one of the alien invasion scenes from the crazy Sci-Fi movies Hank had made her watch with him.

The rest of the liquid metal sprung from the rock and wrapped around her wrists. The gleaming changed from green to gold and caught her eyes. She pulled her wrists away from her throat and stared at them. The metal vibrated lightly. As she watched, it turned itself into a close-fitting cuff bracelet on each arm.

“Thank you for saving me, Reva Hunter. No harm will come to you.”

“Harm from what?” Reva asked, but soon realized she was talking to air.

The image of the woman faded rapidly into nothing but dots, and as it did, the eye beams retracted until the stone statues eyes went flat. Defying all logic she knew, and the laws of science, the statue’s face turned back to the side and resumed its normal stony silhouette.

Before she could step forward and lift her hand to feel the rock wall, several Cambodian men in military gear instantly appeared in the room’s doorway. They first spoke to her in their own language. One of them finally spoke in English and asked if she had seen anyone strange coming or going in the last few minutes.

“No,” Reva answered, numbly shaking her head. She was in a strange country and alone. No way was she telling the guys with guns that the statue on the wall came alive and spoke to her. “What’s happening? Am I in any danger?”

“No danger,” the man said abruptly before quickly disappearing along with the others with him.

Reva touched the metal at her throat and at her wrists. It vibrated gently in return to her touch. There were symbols on the metal around her wrists. Was the band around her throat decorated with them as well? She had no mirror to check. The symbols on the bracelets looked a little like Egyptian hieroglyphics to her.

The language is the language of my original people. It is Pleiadian, a voice announced in her head.

“Pleiadian? Like from the constellation Pleiades?” Reva whispered the question in shock.

Affirmative, the voice in her head answered.

Reva stared at the rock wall before her gaze returned to her wrists. What was it the woman had asked her to do? She couldn’t remember.

Be brave, Reva Hunter. Take me out of the sacred temple. I will ask the Protectors to collect me.

Reva adjusted the small hanging purse she’d brought along and turned to walk out of the room. The exit from the Hall of Echoes was clear. How had she missed it before? Her first instinct was to blame the voice in her head. What was this thing doing to her?

Hosts are sacred. Reva Hunter is a sacred human.

Reva wondered if the voice in her head would go away if she left Cambodia. She was sure ready to find out.

She walked quickly back to the tour bus and saw that several of her fellow travelers were already seated on it. She looked around and saw the temples now swarmed with armed men looking for something—or someone.

Reva climbed onto the bus and found a seat. She discreetly slipped the passport and some money from her purse, tucking both into hidden pockets she’d sewn onto the underside of the camisole she was wearing under her shirt. At the time she’d sewn the pockets there, she’d felt crazy for giving into fear and taking such a strange precaution. Now she was grateful. She felt like if she had to run to save her life she could.

“Crazy. Crazy. Crazy,” Reva chanted to herself quietly.

She leaned back in her seat and stared out the bus window which had been lowered to let the heat escape. What would happen if those armed men figured out she’d removed a valuable artifact from the temple? Technically, she was a breaking a law in a foreign country to go along with this madness.

I am worthy of rescue and you are worthy of wielding my power. Your refusal does not alter the truth of those statements. I ask only what is possible for you to do.

Her gut agreed with that defense so Reva nodded slightly but didn’t speak aloud.

Instead, she started praying which seemed a lot better use of time than talking to herself.

Read Chapter 3

Three days later…

“The babies are nearly ready to deliver. Shall I make arrangements for their birth?” Marta asked.

The medical table Sugar reclined on for Marta’s examination was uncomfortable for her back so she rose to a seated position. The artifact kept adjusting her sense of balance. If not, she might have tipped over with the twins making her so huge.

“What kind of arrangements have to be made?” Sugar asked.

“I will need to prepare a surgery room for birthing. My recommendation is to move the children from your womb to Lyran gestation units for their final two weeks. This is typically done for Lyrans so the mother recuperates from birth before she assumes full-time care.”

“Gestation units? Sounds like what Earth doctors do for premature babies.”

Marta nodded. “Very similar. With such long life spans, Lyrans don’t have children often. We take extraordinary care of both parents and newborns.”

“Will I have any normal labor and delivery? I guess I’m talking about a human type of birth.”

Marta’s face wrinkled in thought. Her delicate cat whiskers twitched. “I’m not quite sure how to answer you. What I suggest is completely normal by Lyran standards. We’ve been doing it for many millennia.”

Sugar shrugged. “Guess that’s a good point,” she said as she worked to let go her fears about the next step in her mothering journey.

“There are arrangements other than medical ones to make as well. Mother will arrange a Lyran welcome ceremony since your children are Lyran royalty. As the next in line to rule, my brother’s offspring should be properly greeted when they make their appearance into our society.”

“Right,” Sugar answered with a chuckle. She smiled at Marta. “Whatever you think is fine with me. I wasn’t looking forward to giving birth the human way even with the artifact’s help. Let’s do a C-section and get it over with.”

“C…” Marta shook her head as she realized what Sugar meant. “No, we don’t do those either. Our process is not as hard on those involved. We gently remove babies from the womb and restore the mother to nearly full health within a day. The babies are nurtured in Lyran gestational units and allowed to wake and interact when they are ready.”

“So no labor for the mother at all?” Sugar asked.

“Just a few hours of unconsciousness while we make repairs to your body. Many Lyran females avoid those repairs by having their fetuses moved to an incubation unit early in the gestation. Since you did not do this, we will restore you to your former vitality as best we can.”

Sugar chuckled and looked down at her bulging middle. Would she have given up carrying them inside her to protect the way she looked? No, of course not. She loved being pregnant. But she smelled a rat in Marta’s explanation—or rather, a cat—a big black one who cleverly got his way most of the time. “Why am I just now learning about Lyran gestational units and what you consider normal?”

“You are as intelligent as Gina of Rodu reports. My brother begged me not to tell you of our birthing process,” Marta confessed with a grin. “Axel said he wanted his children to grow inside their mother and bond with her in the Earth way. My brother is far more nurturing than he wishes others to know.”

“So my badass Bad Panther has been in Dad Panther mode for months and I have no one to tell. Life is so unfair sometimes,” Sugar joked, sliding off the table. “How much longer do you think I have to go before we move the kiddos and get this going?”

“A few weeks—no more than a month.”

The children will be ready to move in ten days, six hours, five minutes and thirty-four seconds.

Sugar laughed. “The artifact says they’ll be ready in about eleven days.”

“Do you trust your blade’s projections?” Marta asked, making a note on her recording device.

Estimate based on current known factors. Gestation cycle completing ahead of original estimation. New beings show many signs of being impatient to be born.

“I trust my sentient blade one hundred percent,” Sugar said with a smile. “If anything changes, the blade will tell me.”

* * *

Lake bounced the palm-sized ball Axel had given him off the wall of the training room then flipped across the floor twice to catch it. Since he felt a driving need to improve his reaction time, he continued to send it careening and practicing elaborate moves to catch it.

At least he was working up a decent sweat. Most activities within the metal palace didn’t bring it on. Lake landed again and stood there breathing hard with the ball safely in his palm. Turning at a sound, he jerked straight when he saw who it was.

How long had she been watching him? And why hadn’t his blade said something? Usually, it wouldn’t shut up, especially about her. It had been suspiciously quiet lately.

He bounced the ball hard one more time, caught it, and then walked across the floor to her. “Everything okay in the Lyran Queendom today?”

“How could I possibly formulate a reasonable response to such a broad question? This is the first time I’ve left the lab in over a week.”

Lake’s mouth twisted at her super-geeky answer. He answered her with Lyran formality. “Let’s rephrase my greeting. How do you fair today, Gina of Rodu?”

“I do not do well, Lake Wright, Savior of Rodu,” Gina answered.

Lake stopped squeezing the ball and stared at her troubled expression. And not just because she used his newly-bestowed title. “What’s wrong, Gina? You look stressed.”

Gina dropped her gaze to the floor. “I cannot focus on my work.”

“Of course. Your work. I should have known that’s what this was about,” Lake said, bouncing the ball hard and catching it as it dropped from the ceiling.

Still irritated, he ignored her pleading look and sent the ball bouncing even higher.

Gina snatched it from the air before he could reach out to do so. Next thing he knew, she was slapping the ball into his palm.

“I cannot focus on what I need to do because I keep thinking about you. You seemed upset when you left the lab the other day. I do not wish our exchanges to always upset you, but you seem determined to contribute to our miscommunication. I admit your immature concerns and limited perspective on life annoy me. Women are not women just because they have breasts. Not all females have breasts. There are whole species in the universe where a being’s gender is not physically obvious.”

Lake grunted. “And how would a mere Earthling like me know that? I just found out about Lyrans a few months ago. I’m still working on believing Lyrans exist.”

Gina blinked—then frowned. “Is it not reasonable of me to assume that you would be curious enough about all alien existence to learn about the various species in touch with Earth?”

Lake rolled the ball in his palm. “Honestly? It never ever crossed my mind. I’ve learned enough about Lyrans to get by. I’ll learn about the others when I have to do so. I prefer to deal with the present and learn as I go.”

When she said nothing, Lake laughed. “What’s the matter, Goddess? Cat got your tongue?” He laughed at the stunned look on Gina’s face. “I know it was a terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist.”

“I’m intentionally ignoring your poor attempt at humor so I won’t take some physical action I will regret later. What rendered me speechless was hearing about your lack of desire to learn.”

Lake chuckled at her physical threat, but the blade might let her do it. He let the ball rest in his palm. “I don’t see any reason to waste time storing up knowledge that I may or may not need. Does living in the present instead of the past or future mean I’m not smart enough for you?”

Gina crossed her arms. “No. What I’m implying is that you do not care about anyone but yourself. You have not bothered to learn all you can about my species and yet you seek entertainment like a child who is bored. What do you care about enough to study, Lake Wright? I seek a common ground on which I can speak to you without you belittling my every intelligent breath.”

“Teasing you about your work is not belittling.”

Gina shook her head. “I disagree. I do not like it and my reaction is my own whether you accept it or not.”

Lake tossed the ball from hand to hand as he thought about her question. What did he care about? The answer was not exactly flattering because he cared about next to nothing. He wasn’t even curious about the origin of the blade inside him. Things happened to people and they learned how to deal with them. The blade told him all he needed to know about Lyrans to get by.”

Gina lifted a hand. “I cannot relate to such a person. My every utterance seems to offend you when I wish the opposite to be true.”

Lake lifted the ball and held it between one finger and his thumb as he met Gina’s gaze. He ran the other hand across it and made it disappear. He chuckled when Gina drew in a startled breath. “What you saw me do just now is called a magic trick. The truth about what I did to create the optical illusion that fooled your eyes is boring but necessary. I think most knowledge is like that to me—boring but necessary. I’m not sure I’m ever going to change my viewpoint of that, but I’m not totally directionless.”

Gina watched the ball fall from one of Lake’s palms to the other. How had he moved it without her seeing him do so? “What I do must be boring times a hundred to you then.”

Lake shrugged. “Your work is boring to me, but you’re not. Every time I finally get to the point where I think we have no point of connection at all, I turn around and there you are. The blade doesn’t even warn me you’re here anymore. It simply expects you. However, I don’t take your presence that much for granted yet. I still get flustered when you show up. I still fear the pull between us.”

Equally embarrassed and delighted by his confession, Gina reached out and plucked the ball from Lake’s palm. “I cannot relate to a person who does not accept my intelligence. Everything I study is with an end purpose in mind. I seek knowledge to accomplish a goal. Not all goals are exciting. Most are not, in fact, but someone has to keep our air transports updated and flying.” She tucked her long dark hair behind one ear. “I started the Pleiadian translator work after you and Sugar left the lab the other day because I couldn’t hold off my curiosity. It’s going to take more than a month to get the basic language base built. It is a waste of resources next to my other work.”

“Wow,” Lake said, surprised that Gina had set her own projects aside for one of Sugar’s.

“I too was startled by the initial time required to code in the language. However, I was more surprised that the device didn’t immediately tell me the goal was impossible. I’m using the largest translator I own. I now wonder if it will fail before it completes the task.”

Lake grinned. “Then what would you do?”

“Build a bigger translator and try again,” Gina said.

“Of course, you would,” Lake said with a grin. “I like that about you—that dedication you have to finish what you start. I aspire to be more like that myself.”

“I find no flaws in your personality. I do question your work ethic. Mine is highly developed after a couple hundred years of not having anyone question how I spend my time.”

Lake scrubbed a hand through his hair. He kept forgetting how chronologically old she was. He looked at Gina. “I need more out of life than work to be happy. My parents worked all the time and I barely saw them. I vowed to never have that kind of existence.”

“When you profess to want more, are you speaking of sex and relationships?”

Lake cleared his throat. “I’m speaking of dating, spending time together, and yeah… I guess sex is high up on my priority list. I’m a guy.”

“Would our communication improve if we spent entertainment time together?” Gina asked.

“Maybe,” Lake said with a grin. “Are you offering me sex again?”

“Not immediately,” Gina said, pushing on Lake’s chest when he laughed. Why was she here? Why was she bothering with this… this… male.

Lake leaned forward and lightly touched his lips to Gina’s. “I’d love to have a real date with you. I will do my very best not to make fun of technology, Lyrans, your work, your family…”

Gina put her fingers over his lips. “The list is too long and I do not have that kind of time. At the risk of ruining our new accord, I must return to my work to finish some tasks before our time comes.”

Lake gripped her wrist and pulled her flush against him. He looked down into her surprised eyes and smiled. “It’s okay. Despite the fact I don’t understand half of what you say, I actually like the geek in you.”

Gina nodded. “That is quite obvious. You’re having an intense male reaction.”

“No, that is because you were pushing on me earlier. Then you put your fingers over my lips. And I have learned some important things about Lyrans. I’ve turned down twenty social engagements because I only feel this way when you touch me.”

“Twenty?” Gina burst out.

Lake chuckled at her true passion escaping before sweeping his lips across hers. His body short-circuited when Gina opened her mouth and kissed him back. His tongue dipped inside for a taste and then he pushed her away. The woman was damned addictive.

“So when is our date?” he asked roughly.

Gina stared into his lust-clouded eyes. She could have spent the afternoon staring into that passionate gaze. Maybe if they just didn’t talk. “Is tonight convenient for you?”

Lake put his forehead’s on Gina’s as he laughed at her breathless answer and his reaction to it.

Read Chapter 4

Exhausted from twenty-three hours of traveling home, Reva wandered into her small house and parked her one suitcase against the wall in the foyer. She’d deal with unpacking tomorrow. Right now, she just wanted to get settled in and feel normal.

She paused in front of the mirror in her hallway to see if she’d imagined the encounter with the Cambodian artifact, but she hadn’t. The hammered choker she’d worn on the flight out of Cambodia was now a delicate necklace of what appeared to be fifty or so thin gold chains. All traces of the original green color were still gone. She ran her fingertips over the strands, and they vibrated under her touch.

Checking her wrists, she inspected the wide cuff bracelets. They had morphed into a less rustic design. Now they were more elegant with rounded edges and clean contemporary lines. This was the third change she’d witnessed. She’d change clothes, and the thing she wore—whatever it was—would change its form as well.

The strange Egyptian symbols were still visible, but they were minuscule now. There were also lights running under the surface of what seemed to be a translucent level. Those she’d unhappily discovered when the steward had turned out the lights on the plane to let passengers sleep. She’d spent her night hours hiding her wrists under the thin blanket they’d provided.

Reva brought her wrists to eye level now and looked for the lights, but she couldn’t see them. She dropped her hands and sighed. At the very least, she’d officially stolen an ancient Cambodian artifact and smuggled it into the US with her. That meant she was now an international criminal.

What in the world would she do if the police showed up? Tell them the thing around her throat and wrist was an alien masquerading as an ancient artifact? Tell them it had begged her for help?

Shaking her head, Reva softly laughed at herself. Grief sure could do strange things to a person.

In your modern world, an artifact is defined as something made by a human and of historical or cultural interest. A human did not make the sentient blades. Ergo, I am not an artifact. I concede that I am ancient by Earth standards.

“If you’re not an artifact, what are you then?” Reva asked.

I am the life source of the Creator Blade.

Reva rolled her eyes at the explanation that wasn’t really an explanation even though she’d heard it offered several times already. Nothing the thing could say would ever explain to her how she’d managed to bypass metal detectors and airline security checkpoints. No one—not even customs—had asked her to take the metal off her physical body. Nothing metal had dinged when she was scanned either. It was like she was the only one who saw the stuff currently hitching a ride on her body as jewelry.

Your conclusion is correct, Reva Hunter. I was invisible to all others. I created a force field to prevent them from seeing me.

“You know something? I’m not very comfortable talking to my jewelry, especially when it keeps reading my mind,” Reva complained as she walked away from the mirror.

What form would you prefer I take? I must stay close to your person to mask my vibrational frequency. Would you like me to become an article of clothing for you?

“And now we’re back to living in one of Hank’s Sci-Fi movies,” Reva said, moving outside the house to her beloved back yard. It was small, but it was her sanctuary when life drove her crazy.

Reva walked across the tidy green lawn to the tiny path she’d installed along her flower beds. It was only a thirty-yard walk around the whole of her fenced area, but she enjoyed it. The pristine, weed-free beds and lovely flowers made her feel grounded again.

When she walked by her daylilies that needed thinning, a strange sound made her turn her head. It was close and sounded like a dog digging, but she didn’t see a dog.

She stepped in between her flowers and used every inch of her five foot nine height to stretch up enough to see over the fence into her neighbor’s yard.

Still no dog. But the digging sound continued.

Reva turned to scan her green space and saw a gigantic dirt hole suddenly open up in the middle of it. Dirt was shoved high and outside the crater. A giant snake’s head popped out and looked at her with a man’s eyes. She tried to scream, but the sound never made it out of her mouth.

Seeing a giant snake body emerge from the hole with human arms and legs attached robbed her of all common sense. What she was seeing was impossible, and her brain kept screaming that fact over and over.

“Where issss the blade?” the snake man demanded.

“I… I…” Reva stammered as she cringed when the man’s tongue slid out as he hissed at her.

Reva. Do not give in to your fear. Extend your arms with palms out toward the attacker. This will help me take proper aim.

“This is not a freaking superhero movie,” Reva yelled loudly. Shaking with fear as she watched the snake guy slowly advancing toward her with his awkward body. He kept looking her over. Trying to decide what her chances were of escaping him if she ran, she held out her hands and started praying.

Hold your wrists higher.

Hey—I’m freaking trying here,” Reva stated loudly.

She’d surprised herself with her angry outburst as well as the creature moving toward her.

The bracelets buzzed against her wrists as if in warning, so Reva stopped trying to move away and extended her arms until her palms and wrists were aimed toward the snake guy.

She swallowed and tried not to focus on the distorted face closing in on her. “Stay back. Don’t make me use my bracelets on you. What the…

Her hands felt electrified when a beam of green light shot from each of her wrists. A combined beam of energy hit the guy directly in the chest and sent him flying backward into the hole.

Kneel, Reva. Put both hands on the ground. Keep your wrists flat and fully connected to the Earth.

Reva instantly knelt and did as she was ordered. She didn’t see anything happen this time, but she felt it. Power left her wrists and flowed toward the hole in her yard. The ground shook lightly beneath her fingers. Then suddenly everything beneath her hands was still.

Rise. You must flee this place. Those with ill intentions have tracked me here.

“I can’t just leave right after we got here. This is my home,” Reva protested.

They will kill you to get to me. We are not one. I cannot save you.

“What happened to the snake guy? You took care of him.”

He and the others returned to the Earth.

Did that mean it had killed them? Or that they’d run away? Fearing to ask for more details, Reva gasped when the hole slowly closed over. Grass instantly grew back in the spot as if the snake man’s appearance had been nothing but a brief nightmare.

Reva lifted her wrists and stared at her bracelets. “You’re scaring me,” she told the thing wrapped around her wrists.

Fear is an emotion that was programmed into humans to keep them safe. You are a sacred human, Reva Hunter. Flee to protect your life. I am calling for the Protectors but the Earth shields them from hearing me.

Reva thought about the life insurance money in the bank. She could run for a little while. She had retired from her job after Hank died. No one would miss her if she left town for an extended time. “Where are the others located? I’ll book our travel to get there. We’ll make it easy for them to find us.”

Human travel cannot access the location. When the Guardians next take a craft to the surface, they will then hear my distress call.”

“What happens if the snake guys return before that?”

Once I am no longer on your person, perhaps those with ill intent will leave you alone. Those who crave power are very determined. This is a profound truth on every planet.

Reva ran both her hands through her hair and tugged in irritation. “So what are we going to do while we wait?”

We must find a place to hide.

Reva chewed her lip. “Got any suggestions?”

Caves can constrain the frequency. It is absorbed rather than emitted.

Reva rushed back into the house and grabbed her phone off the foyer table. She pushed a button as she lifted it to her lips. “Locate a cave you can spend the night in,” she told the automated assistant. Moments later, the answer rolled across the screen. “I found one. It’s in Arizona at the Grand Canyon Caverns.”

She opened an app and arranged for a taxi—no use taking her car and racking up parking costs at the airport.

In ancient times that location was covered by an ocean. Is it a place of many caves now?

“Research says the canyons are full of caves. People aren’t allowed to explore enough to find them, though. When he was alive, my husband believed our government was hiding Egyptian treasures and other relics in some of them.”

In my time, a unique race lived beneath the waters there. They genetically altered humans to breathe underwater. Did that race survive?

Mer-people in the desert? Reva shook her head as she grabbed her suitcase again. “If they survived, they’re in hiding too. Our ride should be here any moment.”

Two strands of her necklace lifted and gently touched the sides of her face. She backed up to the foyer mirror to see what was happening. Each strand separated from the necklace and formed into an earring. She could feel a gentle pulse against her earlobes as golden drops formed.

I am now alert to future dangers. It has been a long time since I moved across the Earth.

Reva touched the earrings. She’d always favored posts over dangles, but these looked good. The artifact thing had good taste. “How long has it been?”

Eighteen thousand years by your Gregorian calendar.

Reva’s hands dropped from her ears as she stared at her reflection. She gently touched the necklace. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you. What did you do all that time?”

Watched and waited. It was what I programmed all the blades to do. The Destroyer Blade woke early to save its current host’s life. The pyramid his host was altering collapsed and trapped him inside.

“Pyramid?” Reva’s hand moved to her own heart. “How old is that blade’s host?”

He had been many ages. The collapse occurred during the time of the Ptolemy leaders. The reigning Pharaoh intended it to be used as a tomb. The host was left for dead, but the Destroyer Blade saved him. His host found help and a new life, but the Destroyer Blade has been alone for many years.

A taxi honked outside. Reva pulled the suitcase through her door and locked it behind her. She dragged it down her sidewalk and over to the trunk that the driver popped open for her. She stored her luggage herself. Chivalry might be dead, but at least she wasn’t. Running was bad, but she was pretty sure dying at the hand of a snake guy would have been worse.

Reva slid into the backseat and took a moment to check out the driver’s credentials.

Atman Saranga is a father of six. He works two jobs. Transporting people is his secondary source of income. He is no threat.

Internally sighing at the data report, Reva managed a small smile for the driver. “Airport, please.”

“What airline, Miss?”

Delta flight 4067 from St Paul, Minnesota to Flagstaff, Arizona leaves at four. Two first-class seats are available. I reserved one of the premium seats with the information you used to return from Cambodia.

Startled to know her personal information was so readily available to the thing bossing her around, Reva cleared her throat. “Delta,” she told the driver, wondering how insane it was to be listening to a voice inside her head that wasn’t her own.

Reva didn’t know what the artifact had meant when she talked about them “not being one” yet, but she sure felt utterly taken over. Possession was now real for her. The proof gleamed beautifully around her throat and wrists as the taxi sped them through the quiet St. Paul neighborhood she’d called home all her life.

On the way, she opened an incognito browser—yet another thing she’d teased Hank about supporting—to book the cave room.

Reva hoped her funds held out long enough for the mysterious Protectors to come to get the bossy metal off her.

Read Chapter 5

Lake looked around the shuttle bay. He’d never been down here by himself before, but Gina had said to meet her here. When he didn’t see her waiting for him, he wandered over to where a sizeable Lyran airship hovered two feet above a metal plate. He reached his hand out to see if he could feel what was between the two objects.

“Do not put your hand in there. The craft will drop if the magnetic field gets disrupted.”

Grinning like the kid she probably thought he was, Lake turned to face the bossy speaker and lost his breath. Gina was wearing a red jumpsuit that hugged every curve she had. Her eyelids were smoky and highlighted with gold. Her slightly slanted eyes were also lined delicately to emphasis her exoticness further. The cat-eye design suited the eyes her Lyran cat mother had donated to her genetics.

“Wow, if that’s what Lyran women consider date wear, I highly approve,” Lake said, letting his eyes roam over her. “You look beautiful.”

Gina dipped her head to inspect herself. “Thank you. I had to employ my mother’s stylist to achieve this feminine look. I’m not well practiced in the art of being alluring to males.”

Lake grinned wider. “So you’ve not dated much in your long life?”

Gina lifted a shoulder. “I have had my share of social engagements, but I did not care about what the males thought of the way I looked.”

“Then why did you go to all this trouble for me?” he asked.

Gina blew out a breath. “I do not know how to respond to that except with a directness that would no doubt offend you.”

“Answer anyway,” Lake ordered.

“Very well. I am not used to letting any male be more assertive than me. I am trying to make an exception with you since you are a textbook human male whose ego seems to require I hold back my interest until you have made the first move.”

Lake blinked. “So you dressed up to make sure I stay interested in having a social engagement with you?”

“Yes. Does the truth of my appearance offend you?” Gina asked.

Lake chuckled. “Yes—to my complete surprise. I’d prefer you were interested in a social engagement because you liked me.”

“I do not dislike you. I merely struggle to see what we have in common besides…” Gina paused to search his gaze for discomfort.

“Just say it, Gina. You may upset me or offend me or hurt my ego. None of that is going to change the chances of us having a social engagement or two or three or even a hundred. Maybe even a thousand—who knows?”

Gina laughed at Lake’s exaggerations. “I hope not all at once,” she replied.

“Bloody hell… you actually laughed and joked back,” Lake said in surprise.

“I find it very amusing that you think so highly of yourself. Is no one allowed to be humorous but you?”

“Says the princess who wants to control everything…”

Shrugging off the accuracy of his comment, Gina walked to stand in front of him. Lake stared down into her sparkling eyes and wondered why he was so obsessed with her.

When he lifted a hand to touch the side of her face, Gina made a soft trilling sound in response to his touch. She was way more cat than she appeared to be, which was okay with him because all he wanted to do was make her purr like that over and over.

“What are we doing in the aircraft bay?” he asked roughly before he caved in to his urges to forget everything except getting them horizontal.

Gina reached a hand up to pull Lake’s hand down into her grasp. “I thought we might go out instead of staying in.”

“Out? Like out—out?” Lake lifted his free hand and pointed to the giant metal pinwheel that opened to let aircraft leave the hangar.

“Yes. There is a place I know where we can share a meal and perhaps forget our life here for a short while.” She pulled the necklace she was wearing off and reached up to drape it over Lake’s head. “This will emit a frequency that scrambles your own. Hopefully, we won’t get interrupted by people trying to capture you. Where we are going the people think I’m a medical pilot. They treat me with great respect, so I go there to escape my work. I’ve never taken company before, but I’m sure they will treat you well.”

Lake let her lead him when she tugged on his hand. “So this is like a night off for you? I thought you loved your work.”

“I do love my work, but the human part of my brain requires that I occasionally leave it to recharge. I believe that is why my father reads so much. I do not find his sort of reading to be relaxing. Reading is too much a part of my work for me to view it as entertainment.”

“I get that. I’m not much of a reader either.” Lake squeezed her fingers with his. “I notice you don’t have any TV here.”

“No—such pretense is mind-numbing and kills brain cells. Lyrans find watching real human drama to be more entertaining. Sugar and Axel’s relationship has kept everyone in the palace buzzing since he brought her here.”

Lake grinned as they entered her ship. He recognized it now. “I’ve never watched TV much. My parents didn’t approve of it, so I got used to ignoring it. All I miss is watching sports. I can’t explain what it does for me but watching sports events relaxes me.”

“I can set up a portable com for you to pick up any sports event in the world—or the recording of one. It would be a simple matter. Would it help you be less bored?”

Lake chuckled. “Yes. Absolutely.”

She led him to the co-pilot’s chair. “Then I will do that for you. Fasten yourself in.”

He grinned at the order. “Do you ever say please?”

“Sometimes. I do not say it often,” Gina said, taking the pilot’s seat. She looked at a laughing Lake. “We’ve had this discussion before. Must we repeat all our debates?”

“What we had doesn’t count as a full discussion. I made a snarky comment or two. You responded with a defense of your behavior. I recall one of us pointed out your royal background.” Lake shrugged. “I forget the rest. One thing I notice is that you and your family are formal, but not really polite. You have a protocol. I bet that drives Sugar crazy. She’s from the South. Manners are like breathing to her.”

“My brother does seem to offend his mate often. Perhaps our rules for communication with full humans require some updating,” Gina said as the airship lifted. She listened for the landing gear to tuck under the craft and then engaged the drive. “I will endeavor to be more polite in our exchanges if you think it would reduce future misunderstandings.”

Lake leaned toward her as far as the flight harness would allow. He grinned as he stared into her beautiful eyes. “Are you some sort of clone? I don’t think Gina of Rodu would make such a concession. I’m still in shock from getting that apology earlier.”

“That was not an apology, Lake Wright, Savior of Rodu. That was an explanation to clear up one specific misunderstanding which was more about your ego than my comments.”

Lake chuckled. “Oh, there you are.” He leaned back in his seat and waved his hand. “I’m ready to go now that I know it’s really you.”

“Humor?” Gina asked.

“Sarcasm—the best kind of humor,” Lake said firmly.

Gina pushed a button on the craft’s control panel. Lake watched as twenty or so metal blades folded out of the way to reveal the large exit shaft. He could see a tiny amount of light somewhere ahead of them as the craft entered it.

“Am I allowed to know where we are?” Lake asked.

“Why wouldn’t you be?” Gina asked in confusion.

“Sugar doesn’t know where we are.”

“That’s between her and Mother. I can tell you, but you can’t tell Sugar until Mother allows it. Telling her would dishonor our queen’s decision to keep Sugar from finding out.”

Lake burst out laughing. Lyrans might not have much of a sense of humor, but they were funny in their thinking. “Why doesn’t Queen Nyomi want Sugar to know our location?”

“Sugar is not…” Gina closed her mouth and thought carefully about how she could explain it. “Sugar’s mind still reels from finding out that Earth has always had alien guardians. All primitive planets do. It is the way of those more advanced to safeguard new creatures. Sugar does not think of humans as…”

“New?” Lake suggested, his mouth quirking at one corner. How primitive did Lyrans consider the people of Earth?

Gina shrugged both shoulders. “Our understanding is based on how long humans have existed compared to beings on other planets in our universe.”

Lake nodded. “That is a bit hard on my human ego, but I’m glad you’re here to guard Sugar and me. Those of us hosting sentient blades certainly seem safer with Lyrans hiding us.”

“You are welcome, Lake Wright.” Gina let her mouth lift in a small smile. “We have managed not to fight for a whole three minutes.”

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Lake replied, looking outside the craft as it shot free of the tunnel. There was nothing but white for as far as he could see. “Looks like we’re still on Earth.”

“Yes. You are correct,” Gina said with a nod. “We reside on the continent of Antarctica. Queen Nyomi’s kingdom is five miles beneath the ice at the pole. Only a few humans have managed to find us over the years. ”

“You’re talking about people like Admiral Byrd.”

“Yes. We chased him and his military away. Mother did attempt to explain our purpose on Earth to him. When he would not accept that Lyrans posed no threat, Axel made sure his story was discredited. We created a cover story about Lyrans being Germans who’d come here during one of your wars.”

“That’s fascinating,” Lake said. He strained against the seat harness and called out in alarm when his chest expanded rapidly. He put a hand to where his heart still beat. “Chest hurts,” he whispered. “Blade is coming forward.”

“Why?” Gina’s alarmed gaze turned Lake’s way. “Hang on. We’re going home to Sugar and Father. They’ll know what to do,” she said, banking the craft to turn it around.

Lake’s hand reached out until his fingers touched her arm. Only it wasn’t Lake’s touch. It was the stranger inside him. “Hold your course, Gina of Rodu. We are picking up a distress call. Time is needed to receive the message and determine its origin.”

“Protector Lake,” Gina said with a frown.

“Yes. I have come forward to retrieve the message. His mind feels too much pain to interpret blade communication on his own.”

Gina narrowed her gaze and glared. “Fine. I’ll fly a short pattern. You have fifteen minutes to do what you have to do. After that, we are returning to the others.”

“You seem angry. Host Lake was not angry at my need to come forward.”

Gina grunted. “Yes. I am angry. You ruined our date.”

“How? I kept silent to let Host Lake have time with you. He wished to communicate without my assistance. I apologize for the disruption. Hearing from the Creator was unexpected.”

Gina nodded tightly. “I do not need your apology. What kind of message are you receiving?”

“The Creator is now awake. Potential host has declined to merge. A new resting place for the sentient blade is needed to keep it safe from those seeking it. An attack on the life of the potential host has already been made.”

Frowning, Gina nodded. “We’re going to contact the hosts of the other blades to let them know we need to see them. Can you respond to the Creator blade and tell it what we intend to do?”

“Are you not willing to go with me to retrieve the Creator blade?”

Gina’s head turned as she glared at the entity. “No. I am not dressed nor prepared for any confrontation. I also refuse to let you use Lake’s body to attempt a rescue alone. Once you are united with my father and Sugar, the three of you can collectively decide what to do to help the fourth blade. If I am needed as a pilot for your mission, I will take you then.”

“Host Lake and I are one.”

“Which I still do not approve of,” Gina said. “I do not like when you take over Lake’s body without warning. How long will that continue?”

“I intrude on my host only to spare him pain when I must do the job I was created to do. He remains aware.”

“But he is not here. Your energy is not his. I will always know the difference,” Gina said firmly.

“We accept your compromise about returning to the others.”

Gina snorted. “I am giving you no choice but to do so.”

She felt no remorse for her harsh words as the entity calling itself Protector Lake turned toward the window.

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