This epilogue now appears at the end of Her Alien Mates. It introduces the hero of the next book, Her Cyborg Champion. This is Striker’s story…
He shouldn’t be here.
Striker didn’t know what had drawn him to the edge of the landing field to watch the shuttle land. The beings onboard were strangers. Worse, they were humans.
The thrusters kicked on as the shuttle neared the ground. The earth beneath his feet trembled, and the leaves above him shifted in a sudden breeze thick with the scent of ozone. A shower of leaves fell around him in a flurry of red, gold, and purple, and Striker allowed himself to be distracted by the colorful display.
This was the first time the colony had experienced autumn, and he was enjoying the changes to his woods. Not that they were really his, but given that he was one of the few beings who preferred the silence of nature to the bustle and thrum of Haven’s streets, he liked to think of them that way.
Would any of the humans onboard want to explore beyond the colony? Veth, he hoped not. He didn’t want them intruding there. Besides, the woods were dangerous. Especially for an unenhanced human female. They had no implants. No nanotech. Hell, it was a good bet none of them had ever been outside before. They were from Earth, transported here as refugees from a dying planet.
Typical. The humans had destroyed their home and then abandoned the least desirable members of their species to die a slow death along with their planet. Humans corrupted everything they touched, which is why he didn’t think of himself as human. He was a cyborg.
The shuttle settled on its landing pad. A few seconds later, the engines powered down. They’d be disembarking soon. Taking their first steps on a new planet, under a strange sky. Haven’s newest colonists. That’s what the leadership council called them. As if they were just like the others who called this place home. They weren’t. They were potential mates for the males of Haven. Vardarian and cyborg alike.
Not him, though. He had no interest in pairing up with a woman for more than a night of mutual pleasure. He could find willing company among the cyborg women, as well as a few of the unclaimed Vardarian females. A committed relationship was not on his radar, and even if he lost his mind someday and decided he wanted something more, it would not be with a human. They’d already taken too much from him. He didn’t trust any of them.
He caught a flash of bright pink hair among the crowd standing near the tarmac and amended his thought. There was one human who had proven herself trustworth—Phaedra Kari. The first human to be claimed by a pair of Vardarian males, she was now the consort of the Vardarian prince who had helped found the colony. Phaedra was smart, loyal and fiercely protective of Haven and everyone in it, particularly the cyborgs she’d helped to bring here. They might have been left in cryo-stasis forever if she hadn’t fought for them.
A message came through his internal comms channel. “You know I can see you. Right?” It was Edge, the unofficial leader of the colony’s cyborg population.
Striker scanned the crowd, using his cybernetic eye to zoom in until he picked out Edge near the back of the group gathered to greet the new arrivals. “Of course you can see me. It’s not like I’m hiding up here.”
“And yet you’re lurking in the trees instead of joining us,” Edge said.
“Lurking is not the same as hiding. I was just in the area and heard the shuttle’s engine. Thought I’d check it out.”
It was a lie, and they both knew it. He also knew the other cyborg wouldn’t call him on it. It wasn’t just that Edge had command functionality embedded in his programming that they looked to him for leadership. He was a surly bastard, but he knew what his people needed from him. In Striker’s case, that was simple. He wanted to be left the fraxx alone.
“You know you’re welcome to stand with us,” was all Edge said.
“I know.” There wasn’t anything else to say. Not that he’d actually said anything out loud. He did most of his communication by his internal channels. His voice—what was left of it—wasn’t something he used often.
There was a minor stir of activity on the tarmac as the handful of Vardarian males present launched themselves into the air and flew back to the colony. The council had decreed that the males couldn’t approach the women until they’d had a chance to adjust to their new home. Once a Vardarian caught their mate’s scent, things happened quickly, with all three falling into a mating fever that couldn’t be denied without risking the sanity and even the lives of everyone involved. For now, the winged wonders would have to wait to find out if their mate was among the handful of women aboard.
An opening appeared on the side of the shuttle. Even at this distance, his enhanced senses allowed him to hear the hiss of air as the seal broke and the pressure inside the cabin equalized. A set of stairs unfolded from beneath the doorway, extending down to the tarmac.
Striker caught himself leaning forward and forced himself to take a step back. He wasn’t interested. Not really. They were humans. If they were lucky, maybe this first batch wouldn’t be able to acclimatize, and they’d end the refugee program before any more arrived. There were plenty of reasons that could happen. The higher gravity, cultural differences, the change in climate. Hell, the fact there was a climate at all would unsettle some of them. It had taken some cyborgs months to adjust to weather and an open sky. They’d been created after the war and spent their lives as research subjects on a space station. These humans had lived their lives inside an enclosed system. If they couldn’t adapt, they wouldn’t send more here. They could find some other planet to live on. Somewhere far away from him.
A Vardarian female appeared first. Her silver skin gleamed in the sun as she unfurled her wings and glided down to the tarmac instead of taking the stairs. Another Vardarian female exited and flew down to join her companion. They both raised their hands and beckoned. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, a human woman stepped out, her eyes shielded by a pair of tinted glasses. She looked around in obvious wonder, then gripped the railing and descended with deliberate care.
Others followed. Each of them wearing the same glasses and moving at the same slow pace as they tested their legs against the new gravity. There was a gap in the flow after the eighth woman left the shuttle. There were supposed to be ten women, though he’d heard a rumor one had dropped out before they’d even left Earth. Had only eight made the trip?
Number nine waited until the woman in front of her was on the tarmac before exploding out the door like a comet. She let out a whoop, threw a leg over one railing, and slid down it to the ground, hitting hard enough to fall to her knees on impact. She bounced back to her feet, threw out her arms, and spun in a circle, her face lifted to the sky. Beaming and laughing, the woman danced, her red hair glowing like fire in the afternoon sun.
Striker couldn’t take his eyes off her.
He’d witnessed the arrival of hundreds of Vardarian colonists and been present when many of his cyborg brethren were roused from cryo-sleep and told that their nightmare was over—that they were free. None of them had reacted with the joy of this small, curvy human. Was she intoxicated? Had her mind broken during the journey?
He used his implant to get a closer look at her. If he hadn’t, he would have missed the moment she took off her glasses to wipe the tears from her cheeks. She looked up again and called out, “You did it, Jade. You got me here. Wherever you are, thank you, now get your ass here as fast as you can.”
None of the other women reacted to her outburst. In fact, they seemed to be working hard to ignore her. That caught his interest even more than her wild antics. She was an outsider. Like me.
He knocked the errant thought away like he was swatting an insect. She wasn’t like him. She was human. Tiny. Unenhanced. She didn’t even come to his shoulder. She was nothing like him.
He tore his gaze away from the strange little human and stepped back into the forest, fading into the sun-dappled shadows. He had work to do, and he’d wasted enough of his day already. The humans were nothing more than a distraction. He had a home to build, traps to check, and the vast wilds of this world to explore. The humans could have the colony. The woods were his, and no fragile human woman was going to take them from him. They’d ruined their own world. He wouldn’t let them destroy this one.
Her Cyborg Champion will be releasing this spring. If you’d like to get more sneak peeks, cover reveals and other news, be sure to join my newsletter!