Alone in a desert world...a world he once called home, Zak is now a damaged man. Reckless in his battle against the creatures that destroyed his family, he roams under the glare of the two suns, seeing phantoms--seeing Aimee.
Five years had passed since Aimee Patterson left the man she loved. For five long years she traveled the path of life, always waiting--always looking to the stars, knowing, hoping, that one day he would return for her.
And today was that day...
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Less than two days after her high school graduation, Aimee Patterson walked her Cocker Spaniel along the pond on her parent’s farm. When Ziggy charged into the woods on the other side, Aimee was paralyzed with indecision. The forest was scary, a dark lair she had avoided since childhood. But she was not a child anymore, and something had caught the dog’s attention. Trailing after him into that bleak stockade...Aimee disappeared from this planet.
She woke up on a spaceship so grand and so far from Earth, never imagining that her adventure in space would last five years. In that time she learned new technology, visited a foreign planet, battled aliens, encountered disease—and cured it. Most importantly, though, she fell in love.
When the adventure was over, Aimee was twenty-two years old and confronted with a monumental decision. Should she remain in the stars with Zak and start their life together, or should she return to Earth to lead a normal existence and comfort the parents who never knew the fate of their missing daughter?
Aimee’s heart yearned for one future, but the burden of responsibility argued for another. The truth was that in order for her and Zak to spend a life together without regrets, they both needed to evolve—to mature.
For half a decade, Aimee walked the routine journey of life—always waiting—always looking to the stars—knowing, hoping, that one day he would return for her.
Today was that day…
Five long years.
Aimee stared through her hands at the pine needles blanketing the ground below. Beneath her loafers, the packed earth altered, transitioning from brown, to gray, to obsidian−until finally the turf was gone and her leather shoes reformed atop a marble floor.
For a moment she was afraid to look up.
Five years ago today she had stood in this exact same spot, saying goodbye to the man she loved. It was a moment filled with anguish barely diminished over time. In that period, doubt grew into a behemoth monster that warned daily that she would never see him again. To protect her heart she had tried to move on, but no man could connect with her as he did. And, every night the pendant around her neck burned his memory into her dreams…
Only moments ago, she stood in the woods behind her pond as her heart drilled with the fear that he would not come back for her—and yet, the beam had appeared from above. A sign of faith. A sign of love. He was back. He wanted her. She bled happiness at the thought of being with him.
Yes, time had passed, but in space the hands of the clock grew fuzzy. Here she was, once again aboard the Guardian Ship, Horus, about to be reunited with the man of her dreams.
At last, Aimee lifted her head.
With a spontaneous burst of delight at the sight of Vodu’s creased face, she leapt off the pedestal and enveloped him in a fierce hug.
"Welcome back, Aimee Patterson." His embrace was strong. His voice deep. Still with a face grooved like a road map, the man was nonetheless ageless.
Aimee stepped back to accept the next set of arms that wrapped around her. Raja.
Drawn tight into this embrace, Aimee’s fingers lodged into the golden hair spilling down Raja's slim back. She could smell a sweet hint of something floral, and heard emotion deep in the declaration, "Aimee. I'm so glad you're here."
Aimee, I'm so glad you're here.
Not, Aimee, I missed you. Not, Aimee, I'm so glad you're back.
Aimee withdrew and detected a flash of trepidation in Raja's green eyes, but the wide smile did its best to conceal that bantam shadow.
As delighted as she was to see Raja, Aimee was already looking over the woman’s shoulder. Save for these two individuals, the transport room was empty. Maybe he was waiting elsewhere. Maybe he was planning a surprise.
Her anxiety could not be masked, particularly when the faces staring at her began to lose their mirth.
Aimee retreated so that she could look at them both simultaneously.
"Where is he?" her voice cracked.
Raja clasped her hands together and pressed her lips tight, turning towards Vodu. Maybe age moved at a snail's pace aboard the Horus, but youth was external. The eyes revealed all, and right now the years tallied up inside Vodu's blue gaze.
"Aimee, let's go somewhere where we can sit down."
On cue, her legs weakened. She reached out and Raja was there, sustaining her with a strong grip.
"Where is he?" Aimee repeated, desperation lassoing around her throat.
Vodu winced and cast his glance towards the stars outside. "Aimee, Zak−"
"Zak what?" Oh my God. She could feel panic inching up the back of her neck—red hot fingers worming their way up her scalp.
"Not too long after you returned to Earth, Zak left for his planet, Ziratak, as planned."
Aimee wasn't even aware that Raja's arm had slipped behind her back for additional support.
"He−" Vodu hesitated, "−he missed his rendezvous with the Horus. We lost communication with him."
The old commander read her despairing expression, but continued. "We sent reconnaissance missions for as long as we could before the Horus pulled out of range. The terra angels did not have the capacity to make it back to us. It would have been a one-way mission if any more took off.”
“And no one volunteered?” she cried. “For a man that was your best Warrior? A man this entire ship idolized only second to you! No one volunteered for a one-way mission?”
Vodu’s face pinched in pain. “Aimee−” Now it looked like he was the one who required a chair. “The reports that came back from those last recon missions were dismal at best. The Korons, who we believed were leaving Ziratak, in fact returned ten-fold. The rebels that Zak was intending to unite with, did not even exist, or had been wiped out quite some time ago.”
Blood drained from Aimee’s face. She began to feel dizzy, but blinked back the assault. “Zak?” She could manage no more than that single plea.
“They found his ship.” Vodu swiped a gnarled hand across his face. “It had been gutted to the point of inoperable. There were tracks around the craft−” he closed his eyes, “−not human.”
“There was nothing to send that one-way mission to,” he defended. “Nothing encouraging enough to warrant it. Zak was like my own. I would have flown to him if I could, but our window to reach Ziratak had closed. We have to wait another ren until we can return. And we will return.”
“So if Zak left the Horus shortly after me,” a spark of hope ignited, “then we are getting close. I’ve been gone a full ren.” A ren, she recalled, was a span of five Earth years.
Vodu nodded, but he possessed no spark. “Aimee. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to accept the fact that Zak has most likely been−”
He couldn’t say the words, and she sure didn’t want to hear them.
Vodu’s lips thinned with strain. “You have a choice now. Our terra angels have made some upgrades. We are close enough to Earth that we can take you home and still afford your pilot enough time to make it back to the Horus.” He paused. “I think it is wise for you to go back.”
Aimee flinched. “You brought me up here. I didn’t beam myself up. Why would you do that? Just so you could tell me this horrendous news and then dispatch me back to my world—left to always wonder.”
“I did not bring you up here,” Vodu declared, his condemning eyes cast over her shoulder. “She hit the button.”
Aimee recoiled from the embrace around her back and pivoted to capture the glance that sought to elude her.
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