Monday, February 22, 2010

Lucy in the Sky by Barbara Elsborg

Chapter One

Chlorella: single-celled green algae, one of the simplest and earliest plants on Earth, that can only grow when soaked by rain.

Lucy had always thought that if she was ever lucky enough to see a spaceship, it would be as a fleeting bright light in the sky. There one second and gone the next. If she was really lucky, maybe a multicolored disk would hover long enough for her to grab her camera and snap the photograph of a lifetime. If she was extraordinarily out-of-this-world lucky, she’d spot an alien waving or maybe mooning her through a porthole. What Lucy had never expected to see was a spaceship sitting in her garden.

Only six in the morning, so she hadn’t been drinking, not even a cup of tea. Lucy had been reaching for the kettle when her gaze slid to the window and got stuck. She stared openmouthed at the massive sweep of dark silver—something—in the center of the lawn. No windows or doors. No mooning from a porthole, Lucy thought in disappointment.

She came to her senses in a snap and filled the kettle. Of course it wasn’t a spaceship. It wasn’t even there. She’d wanted something different to happen in her life, and when it didn’t her imagination had obliged with a real humdinger. She grabbed a mug from the cupboard and dropped in a teabag.

“Don’t look out the window,” she said and laughed. “Ah, talking to myself, the second sign of madness.” The first—thinking there was a spaceship in her yard.

She couldn’t resist taking another quick glance.

Um, still mad then.

Lucy tried to look away but the shining object tempted like a naked man and she couldn’t help staring. So what is it? It couldn’t be a spaceship, but it didn’t look like a plane or part of plane. If it had fallen from an aircraft or dropped from space—some wayward disintegrating satellite—she would have heard it crash. Plus it would have made a big hole, probably a crater deep enough to bury it. Instead it just sat there on the grass. Looking perfect. Watching.

Watching? Where had that thought come from? On its back came fear. Lucy’s pulse spiked, her mouth lost all moisture and her knees refused to lock. She leaned against the countertop, her heart hammering to get out of her chest so it could run upstairs and hide under the bed. She took a deep, calming breath. Well, took a deep breath. Nothing exciting ever happened to her, and now that it had she was not going to hide under the bed.

There wasn’t enough room. Too many shoes and paperback novels.

Living up to her mother’s perpetual claim that one of Lucy’s middle names should have been Stupid, she padded barefoot across the kitchen and left the house through the side door. A glance around the corner sent Lucy reeling and she scraped her elbow on the wall. The yard was empty. What the…? Her heart bounced between her throat and her stomach. How could something that massive disappear without her hearing?

She ran down the stone steps and skidded to a halt on the wet grass. A groan of despair burst from her lips. The spaceship wasn’t the only thing that had gone. So had her beautiful garden. A deep trough had been cut right through the middle of the flower bed destroying the roses and uprooting every shrub and bush. The herb patch had been plowed into the soil, all her little sculptures had been smashed to smithereens and there was no sign of Eros. Torn between tears and fury, Lucy howled. All those hours her father had spent planting the garden, all the work she’d done so he had something to look at through the window when he was sick, the one thing she had to remind her of him and now it was gone—ruined.

Tall trees surrounded her yard. The thing she’d seen was too big to have slipped away between the pines. The gouged earth suggested it had ground to a halt just where she’d seen it. So where had it gone? Lucy tilted her head back and looked up into empty sky, relieved to find no monstrosity looming over her and the whole of West Yorkshire.

She took a few tentative steps, the early morning dew cold underfoot. The stretch of lawn between her and the devastated garden looked wrong. No pearls of moisture beaded the flattened blades of grass. Lucy gulped. Not her imagination. Something had been there. It had managed to miss the trees, but skidded through the wilderness area at the far end of her property, then scored through her flower bed and come to a halt not far from where she stood.

Lucy walked in an oval loop, mapping out the area, chewing her lip over the remains of her devastated plants. Could she save any of them? Probably not. Back at the point she’d started, Lucy stood with her hands on her hips. The area the lump had covered measured twenty feet across and maybe fifteen in length but narrower at the back. Was the grass really dry where it had lain or was she imagining it? Lucy stepped forward to check.

Oomph.

She looked at the sky from her prone position, then pushed up on her elbows and stared directly ahead. Lucy couldn’t see anything in front of her but something was there. She’d walked into it. Adrenaline raced around her bloodstream, exciting her synapses and driving her brain into a frenzy. She scrambled to her feet and brushed her wet hands on her thighs.

Invisible?

Impossible.

But…one tentative stretch forward and her fingers made contact with something she couldn’t see. She snatched her hand back as though she’d touched a snake, swallowed her whimper and tried again. Warm. Smooth. Hard. It had looked like metal and that’s what it felt like. Lucy ran the flat of her hand over the surface, tracing the shape of the craft she’d seen from the kitchen window. She hadn’t imagined it. Aliens had landed in her backyard.

Yippee.

No. Not yippee.

Help. Police. Fire. Ambulance.

Well, maybe not an ambulance, though the way her heart skipped and jumped Lucy suspected she might soon need one. Only what the hell could she say if she called the police?

A spaceship’s destroyed my garden, and I was wondering if you’d be good enough to come and remove it? Did I mention it’s invisible?

She pictured the response—an ambulance, a tight white jacket, and two burly nurses. She wouldn’t even get a chance to persuade them to go down on the lawn and have a feel. Lucy thought about that. She’d better not word it in quite those terms.

Lucy walked all the way around again, this time trailing her fingers over the metal. She wondered if there was a door at the rear she couldn’t see from the kitchen. Judging from the state of the garden up to the point it had stopped, the thing must have crash-landed. What if someone was injured and needed help? They could be inside dying while she stood outside gawking.

An idea shot into her head. She turned and raced back to the house.

*   *   *

As the woman ran her long slender fingers over his O-class shuttle, Three flinched. He’d seen her coming across the grass and suspected he’d not cloaked the vessel soon enough. Her collision with the ship confirmed it. Fortunately she was unhurt. Tall and slim with untidy, short blonde hair, she looked more excited than afraid. He estimated thirty Earth years.

She circled the shuttle and he pondered the best way to handle this. If he stepped out of thin air, even though he looked like an Earthman, she’d probably scream. If he uncloaked the ship, she’d probably scream. If he took off, the down-thrust would kill her, but she’d scream for a moment first. Not that it would be a sound he’d hear, but that was beside the point.

Three didn’t like screaming women. Admittedly, the screaming that annoyed him was a sound of pleasure rather than fear or pain, but a scream was a scream and this Earth woman would scream. Apart from the fact that it might draw unwanted attention, he found the screeching sound irritating. Her nearest neighbor was the other side of the bank of trees at the far end of her yard—Moorfield Garden Center. The owners might have arrived by now and he had no idea if she could shriek loud enough to alert them. Three sighed. Of course he could simply take off now she’d run back to her house and that would be an end of it.

He should take off. He had what he came for and he’d been on his way back when there had been a shuttle malfunction or—reluctant as Three was to admit it—perhaps a moment’s inattention on his part and he’d skidded back to Earth. He hoped no one would ever find out. He’d done no damage to the shuttle’s systems. He’d already checked the exterior. Nothing more than smudges of soil and scratches and they would be removed by the friction of the planet’s atmosphere on the journey back to the mother ship.

The woman was still out of sight. She might be calling the authorities. He had to leave. Why did he hesitate? Three felt uncomfortable. His indecision disturbed him. Usually he knew what was required and executed his mission without question. Immediately.

He’d just wait a moment.

When Three saw her coming from the house carrying a paper container, he furrowed his brow. What was she doing now?

What was he doing? He’d take off.

One more moment.

Three groaned. Why couldn’t he stop watching her? She picked up one end of a long, flexible green pipe and dragged it over the grass to his shuttle. Water sprayed over the craft. He knew the droplets would bounce off the surface, but she still wouldn’t be able to see anything. Then her hand dipped into the bag and a cloud of white powder flew into the air. Three tightened his mouth and felt it twitch at the side. Clever girl. Now she would be able to see the ship. A scream was no doubt imminent.

“Floor down,” he ordered. The ship was programmed to accept all languages he was chipped for, including English. He might as well practice. Three found it slipped off his tongue more easily than some.

The square under his feet lowered him to the entry level. Three pressed the door release, the hatch slid open and the ramp unfolded. Speed was of the essence. Render her unconscious. Put her inside her dwelling and leave. When she came round no one would believe her. Yet another deluded UFO spotter.

He coughed as a deluge of white particles hit his face. Three’s tongue slid out and he licked his lips. Plant origin. Nontoxic. Flour. Whoa, how do I know that? He shook his head, brushed the powder from his eyes and blinked. The woman had neither screamed nor run. She stood glaring at him. He took another step toward her, ready to slam his hand over her mouth.

Too slow.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing in my yard? Why on earth would you think this was a good place to land? Thousands of empty fields out there, miles of deserted moorland and you pick my garden. If you were out of control, couldn’t you have at least aimed for some uninhabited spot? You’ve wrecked my flowerbed and destroyed my herbs.”

Three stared at her. Barely aware his jaw had dropped, he clenched his teeth together.

“Those roses were grown from cuttings. They’ve been in my family for years. They were special to me and now they’re buried under a pile of dirt. Worst of all, you’ve decapitated Eros.”

Three was aghast. “I hit someone?”

She stomped up and poked him in the chest. “Not just hit him. I spent months working on that guy, knocking out every imperfection, getting him just as I wanted and you’ve sliced his head clean off.”

“The scanner indicated one female living alone.” Three had noted no sensor readings suggesting another life form, or the elimination of one. He’d schedule a maintenance overhaul for the shuttle when he returned. Maybe the crash landing hadn’t been his fault. He brightened at the thought and then remembered Eros. “I’m sorry,” he said. Sorry wasn’t enough but what could he do? His medical manual didn’t deal with putting heads back on bodies.

He expected tears yet none appeared. Three watched the expression on her face move through indignation and confusion before it settled on apprehension. That lasted a brief moment before she switched back to belligerence. She hid nothing.

He liked her.

“I’m going to go and get my husband,” she said and took a step back.

“Eros isn’t your partner?”

“No, I keep him in the yard.” She frowned. “Kept him in the yard.” Another step back.

That’s why she wasn’t more upset. Was Eros an animal? A dog? He’d had a pet when…what? Of course he hadn’t.

Three knew she intended to run, saw the moment fear swamped every other emotion. He timed it perfectly, slipped ahead of her and she ran straight into his chest. As she fell back, he caught her and pulled her into his arms.

“Mphmph. How did you do that?” she gasped.

“I’m very fast.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Well, try and avoid this, fast boy.” She jammed her knee up between his legs. His lightning reflexes enabled him to trap her knee between his thighs before it connected with his groin. She struggled and Three tightened his grip.

His hand touched a strip of warm bare flesh at her waist and his pulse jumped. What she wore concealed little. Loose leg wear and a short top with thin straps. Her breasts were squashed against his chest. She scowled and her eyes—ah, her eyes were unusual. Dark blue, flecked with light green. Little brown dots speckled her nose and cheeks. She smelled sweet, of flowers and sunshine and a warm bed. For a moment, Three yearned—but the moment passed.

“Let me go,” she snapped, trying to squirm out of his grasp.

He slung her over his shoulder.

“Put me down, you big jerk. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

I have no idea. He held onto her legs and walked toward the shuttle. She beat at his back with her fists, thumping him hard in his kidneys and Three let her drop until he held her by her knees. Something he regretted a second later.

“Hey,” he yelped. “Stop that.”

The little hellcat had sunk her teeth into his backside. Three wrenched her off. She wriggled like a Legolian snake and he dropped her. She needed her behind paddled.

On her feet in an instant, she dashed off. He was impressed by her speed. Three watched her bend over and he exhaled. Such a curvy butt. He saw the head coming his way, registered this must be Eros and in the split second he wasted putting two and two together, the chunk of stone hit him.

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

Word count:  Plus Novel (70,000 - 99,000)
Flavor:  Science Fiction Romance/Erotica
Author:  Barbara Elsborg is a published author with Ellora's Cave and Loose-Id.  (Author page bio.)
Other:  Lucy in the Sky received a 4.5 stars from The Romance Junkies and 9s from Seriously Reviewed.

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