Her past made her a guardian. Her choice made her a leader.
For Captain Aurora Hawke, becoming the de facto leader of an entire race wasn't part of her plan. Neither was lying to the Galactic Council. Or traveling the galaxy in search of a suitable homeworld for three hundred refugees recently freed from a life of torture and isolation. To make matters worse? Their former captors will stop at nothing to track them down.
While Aurora's busy locating a homeworld, Cade Ellis and his elite team of trained operatives must guard the refugees from the prying eyes of the Galactic Council mole. Hiding three hundred people is no easy task, especially on an aging medical freighter with limited resources. Setting down on the forbidden planet of Burrow might not be the smartest choice, but it's the only option he has left.
Because the hunt is on.
“The Clarek clan is awaiting our arrival.”
Aurora pulled her gaze away from the tantalizing image of Drakar on the bridgescreen and focused on Kire. “Let them know we’re on our way. Kelly, take us down.”
As the ship began its descent, Aurora’s body tingled with anticipation. She’d been captivated by the homeworld of the Clarek clan when Jonarel had brought her here two years ago to attend his succession ceremony. Little had she known how much that event would alter the course of her future.
From space, Drakar reminded her of a Monet painting of water lilies. Lots of blues and greens interspersed with patches of white. The Kraed homeworld contained a diversified climate, but the plant life in most areas grew to a lushness that far surpassed Earth’s most verdant rainforests, in part because the Kraed had never attempted to alter the landscape. They’d chosen adaptation over conquest.
Star shimmered into place next to the captain’s chair, her expression revealing her eagerness as she gazed at the image on the bridgescreen.
“You look exactly the way I feel whenever I return to Earth.”
Star’s honey-colored eyes glowed as she met Aurora’s gaze. “I suppose I do. I had expected to wait years for a chance to reconnect with my clan.”
“Years? Really? I’d assumed we’d need to return at regular intervals for maintenance and upgrades.”
Star looked amused. “Unless we suffer structural damage to the exterior, I can maintain all my other systems.”
Wow. Every time Aurora thought she understood the extent of the Starhawke’s abilities, Star and Jonarel surprised her with something new.
The image on the screen shifted as the ship dropped into the lower atmosphere, revealing the stunning landscape that stretched to the horizon. The Clarek clan lived close to the equator, where a seemingly unending vista of trees and other plant life resembled a bayou combined with a redwood forest. Most of the tree species that thrived here were massive, with trunks that could easily grow to twenty meters in diameter and stretch up a hundred meters into the sky.
It was these trees that had enabled the Kraed to thrive in an environment where large predators patrolled the skies above and the waterways below. The Kraed’s razor sharp claws served as both climbing tools for reaching the safety of the canopy, and weapons against creatures looking for a tasty meal. She’d thought the claws on Jonarel’s hands were impressive until the day he’d shown her the ones on his feet. A well-placed kick from a Kraed could be lethal.
Of course, the advanced technology of the Kraed race made such life and death struggles almost non-existent. But that didn’t mean their skills had dimmed. Every Kraed child was taught how to survive outside of the safety of the clan’s compound. Only fools picked fights with the Kraed.
Kelly pivoted to face Aurora. “Captain, we’re getting close to the landing coordinates, but I’m not seeing any sign of a platform.”
“That’s because the Kraed compounds and ship ports are camouflaged.”
A line appeared between Kelly’s auburn brows. “Then how am I supposed to dock the ship?”
Star’s image vanished from beside Aurora and re-materialized next to Kelly. “When we get closer, the Nirunoc will guide you.”
One of Kelly’s brows quirked up. “Meaning what?”
“Maintain the heading I gave you and follow the ship’s motion. You will be fine.”
Kelly gave Star a long look, her reluctance obvious as she turned back to the console. Star was asking her to make a leap of faith. Not an easy task for the tech-minded navigator.
“What are those?” Kire’s eyes were wide as saucers as he stared at the bridgescreen.
Aurora followed has gaze and spotted a dark mass of shapes in the sky. Their leathery wings and long tails were a dead giveaway. “Trebolks.”
Kire gawked as the creatures glided through the air, momentarily blocking out the late afternoon sun. “They’re huge!”
Celia watched from the tactical console, her hands hovering over the weapons controls as the flock swung in their direction. “Are they dangerous?”
“Not to us. They don’t bother ships. They spend most of their time nesting in the upper canopy or hunting in open water.”
“Good to know,” Kire murmured as the creatures drew alongside the ship.
They kept pace with the Starhawke, like dolphins swimming in the wake of a boat, giving the bridge crew a close up view of their thick bodies and refined heads. But as the ship descended toward the canopy, the trebolks changed course, heading off to the east.
Kelly decreased their speed, a look of apprehension on her normally placid face as she glanced at Star.
“Trust me,” Star reiterated.
Aurora could only imagine how challenging that request was for their navigator. Based on the image on the bridgescreen, it looked like they were about to smash into the upper branches of the nearest trees, which were close enough to make out the shape of individual leaves. But they wouldn’t crash. Star and the other Nirunoc were guiding the ship into an invisible web of tethers that would direct the ship’s motion.
Like a bird returning to its nest, the Starhawke glided through a break in the trees, continuing to slow as they approached an alcove that was the perfect size to accommodate the ship’s bulk. The greenery of the surrounding trees filled the screen as the ship’s forward movement ceased. A moment later the engines powered down. The Starhawke was home.
“Well done.” Star beamed at Kelly.
Kelly blinked. “I’ve never seen anything like that.” An uncharacteristic grin spread across her face. “That was stellar.”
Celia looked similarly impressed with their unconventional landing procedure.
Jonarel’s deep baritone boomed over the comm. “All docking connections are secure.”
“Acknowledged,” Aurora replied. “We’re on our way.” She rose from the captain’s chair. “Who’s ready to see Drakar?”