Trapped on a spaceship bound for the slave markets of Sirius B, Eris fears she'll never see her home again. But then fate whisks her away from her reptilian captors and into the arms of Varrin, a fast-talking space pirate who promises to deliver her safely back to Earth. He claims to have her best interests at heart, but Eris soon discovers that her charming rescuer has a hidden agenda.
As they race across the galaxy, outrunning a villainous figure from Varrin's past, Eris begins to realize that their relationship is putting her planet, her life and her heart in imminent danger. She knows that trusting Varrin could prove deadly ... but what other choice does she have?
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IMMINENT DANGERAnd How to Fly Straight into It
By Michelle Proulx
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Michelle Proulx
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Personally, I think the existence of extraterrestrial beings is a scientific improbability. Just because there's life on Earth doesn't mean there's life on other planets. Until we find evidence that aliens do exist, I think we're wasting time and energy searching for something that's probably not even there."
Folding her speaking notes closed, Eris stared out at her fellow students in the high school science classroom. If any of them had found her presentation particularly intriguing, it didn't show. Most were too busy reviewing their own speaking notes in case Mr. Pingree decided to squeeze in one more presentation before the bell rang. The students who had already finished their presentations were staring out the window, texting under their desks, or sleeping.
Mr. Pingree crossed his arms and addressed the class. "Any thoughts? Eris raised some excellent points."
He was met with silence.
"Come now," the tweed-clad teacher cajoled, wiggling his eyebrows as if this lighthearted display could somehow inject life into his zombified audience. "Aliens, ladies and gentlemen! Little green men from Mars! UFOs! Someone must have an opinion."
A boy in the back row raised his hand. "I don't know about little green men," he said, "but that blue chick from Avatar's pretty hot." His friends hooted their agreement and exchanged congratulatory high-fives.
Mr. Pingree apparently sensed that expecting intelligent class participation at such an early hour might be asking too much from his teenage students. "All right," he sighed. "An excellent and thorough presentation, Eris. You may return to your seat."
Eris smiled tightly at her teacher and hurried back to her desk. She disliked public speaking, especially when a misstep could make her the latest target of the formidable Barlow Collegiate gossip mill. Luckily for me, no one ever listens to class presentations, she thought.
She was out the door as soon as the bell rang, anxious to get back to her dorm and take the shower she had skipped that morning in favor of going over her presentation notes one last time. As she walked along one of the many pathways that crisscrossed the high school campus, she kept her head down and avoided all eye contact with her fellow students.
Once safely back in her dorm room, Eris finally started to relax. She spent a moment rummaging around for her toiletries and a towel and then locked her door and headed to the suite bathroom for a relaxing shower. But barely halfway through, the water switched from pleasantly warm to freezing cold. Eris frantically rinsed the conditioner from her long, dark brown hair. Then she wrenched off the faucet and jumped out of the shower.
Looking for her robe, Eris realized she had left it in her room. Silently berating herself, she took the towel she had brought to use as a turban for her wet hair and instead wrapped it around her body. Pressing the top of the towel firmly under her armpits, she gathered up her clothes and clutched them under one arm. With her soaking hair dripping down her back, she stepped out into the hallway.
A deep, male voice sounded from the common room, accompanied by female laughter. As Eris fumbled the key card from her bundle of clothes to unlock her door, she heard the voice say loudly, "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" This high-pitched voice with a slight British lilt belonged to Lisa Brightman, one of Eris's roommates. Of the three girls who shared her suite, Eris found Lisa to be the most tolerable. The other two girls acted so vacuous that blonde jokes were remarkably close to doing them justice.
"The door," said the young man. "Didn't you say Mallory's in class?"
"Well, she is ..."
Heavy footsteps pounded on the floor as Lisa's jock boyfriend, Josh Fisher, poked his head around the corner. "Yo, Mal, where were you last night? I thought we were gonnawhoa!"
Eris froze and blushed as the handsome rugby player gave her a once-over. His head jerked back toward the common room as he called out, "Babe! Who's the naked chick?" Josh's eyes returned to her towel-clad body.
The key card practically flew from Eris's hand and plunged into the lock. Yanking the door open, she dove into the safety of her private room, the door slamming shut behind her.
"Lisa! You been holding out on me, babe?" Eris heard him yell, accompanied by the sound of receding footsteps. "Your roommate's kinda hot!"
"So?" Lisa demanded.
"You said she was a nerd!"
Eris tried to glare daggers through the door. It didn't work, of course. All it did was attract her attention to the full-length mirror attached to the back of the door. "How does being a nerd automatically make me unattractive?" she grumbled, eyeing her slim, admittedly less-than-luscious curves. "Maybe I don't flaunt my body, but I've still got it where it counts." She smoothed the towel down over her hips and sighed. "Keep telling yourself that, Eris."
"I never said that!" Lisa's shrill voice cried from the common room. "I said she never parties with us!"
And that makes me a nerd how? Eris thought.
"Fine, babe, whatever you say," Josh said. Eris knew that the rugby player was right now raising his hands in surrender before her very persuasive roommate. Lisa was commonly referred to as "that smokin' hot British chick," and she generally got her way where boys were concerned.
Eris wished she had a fraction of Lisa's natural good looks and poise. Growing up, Eris hadn't been given the usual advice that other girls received from their mothers. Most mothers taught their daughters how to dress stylishly, how to wax their eyebrows, and how to wear makeup. But Ms. Miller, a divorced feminist entirely disillusioned with men, had always insisted that following fashion trends turned you into a mindless automaton, waxing was unnatural, and wearing makeup didn't make you more attractive; it only made you look like you were wearing makeup.
Three years ago, when Eris had first set foot on the campus of Barlow Collegiate as a freshman, she'd had an unpleasant surprise. Not that middle school hadn't been enough of an eye-opener, but in high school, looking good seemed to be an obsessionthat, and getting drunk and high, but Eris's mother had turned her off those as well. Eris had tried vodka at the only residence party she had ever attended but hadn't liked the fuzzy-headed feeling it gave her. Drinking herself into a stupor had never struck Eris as particularly appealing.
It's not that I mind not fitting in here, she reflected. Well, fine, of course I do. Who wouldn't? But if fitting in means showing up to class stoned or going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, I think I'll pass.
She could still hear Josh and Lisa talking and laughing in the common room. To her dismay, Eris felt a familiar pang of longing. I wish someone would talk to me like that. He doesn't have to be cool or handsome like Josh. Just a nice, sweet guy who would make me feel wanted.
She sighed. "Who am I kidding? I don't have a chance, not with girls like Lisa around." Eris grabbed the bottom edge of her towel, gave her mirror a practice curtsy, and then rolled her eyes. "Might as well wait for Prince Charming to appear out of thin air and sweep me off my feet, for all the good it'll do me."
She pulled on a pair of jeans, her favorite purple hoodie, and worn sneakers. Normally she had to wear the school uniforma pleated green skirt and white shirtbut today was casual Friday. After a quick trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth and fix her long hair into a ponytail, Eris gathered up her books, put on a coat, and hurried from the suite. Josh and Lisa barely glanced at her as she passed by.
Eris decided to take the elevator down to the ground floor even though the plodding old contraption was long past its prime. Although that will mean missing this month's "art exhibition," she thought. Last month, the stairwell had been splattered crimson from top to bottom, thanks to three seniors, a bottle of tequila, and a can of red paint.
When the elevator doors finally grated open, Eris stepped inside and pressed the M button. "Hold it!" a familiar voice called as the doors lumbered shut. Josh barreled into the elevator, book bag flung over his shoulder.
Feeling very awkward, Eris stared at her school bag while the elevator descended, avoiding eye contact with Josh. She wasn't used to being alone and so close to an attractive member of the opposite sex. When something touched her arm, she was so startled she yelped and jumped away.
"Sorry!" Josh exclaimed, giving her a weird look. "I was just being friendly. Chill."
Eris flushed and rubbed her forehead. "No, sorry, it was my fault. I'm not used to people touching me. Strangers, I mean." Thank God I stopped myself from saying "boys."
Josh chuckled. "Considering that I just saw you halfnaked, I wouldn't call us strangers."
Eris's jaw dropped. "What would you call us, then?"
"I'm sure I could think of something."
"I'm not entirely sure you could."
Before he could respond, the elevator doors opened on the main floor and Eris rushed out. She wanted to be far away from Josh in case he ever figured out what she had meant.
She had ten minutes to get to Calculus, so she set off along the bustling, tree-lined pathway that led to the science building. Eris found something comforting about being lost in the flow of studentsit made her feel like she belonged, and that was something that didn't happen very often.
Just as Eris was passing the thick row of pine trees that lined the path near the science building, she felt suddenly uneasy. She stopped and looked around but could see nothing out of the ordinary. "Stop being so paranoid," Eris muttered. She hoisted the book bag farther up her shoulder and continued walking.
A flash of movement among the pine trees startled her, and she stopped again. "Watch it!" a girl snapped, almost running into Eris.
"Sorry," Eris mumbled and quickly stepped off the path.
Convinced there was something moving behind the pine trees, Eris tried to peer through the dense screen of green needles, but the morning sunlight was filtered by thick gray clouds, making it too dim to see. Probably just some idiot getting high before class, she decided, turning to resume her journey.
Suddenly, a large, blue, scaly, clawed hand darted out from among the trees and closed around Eris's wrist. The hand gave a single tug, and before she could open her mouth to scream, she was yanked backward into the pines.
Terrified, Eris flailed her limbs and attempted to shriek, but a second scaly hand closed over her mouth, muffling the sound. Her survival instinct kicked in, and she lashed out, trying to struggle free of her captor by elbowing and kicking.
Then a third hand wrapped around her torso to trap her arms, and a fourth and fifth grabbed her legs. A gang attack? Eris thought incredulously. And they're all wearing ... scaly gloves? What the hell?
A sixth hand tilted her head back, and a vial of glowing blue liquid descended toward her lips. Eris clamped her mouth shut, but her jaw went slack the instant the liquid touched her. She could feel a disgusting fluid trickling down her throat. Her terror doubled when she realized her arms and legs were going numb. Seconds later, she was completely paralyzed.
Eris's captor hissed, and then she felt someone pull the book bag off her shoulder. She tried to see who was attacking her, but there wasn't enough light. All she could make out were several huge figures, easily seven or eight feet tall. It seemed as if there were far too many arms for the number of bodies, but Eris assumed that was just a trick of the shadows.
Her books were soon tossed aside. Her laptop was discarded as well, flung at the wall of the science building, where she heard it shatter. Just as the space bar flew through the air and landed at Eris's feet, she began to feel the world spinning. That stuff they made me drink ... must have ... The words blurred in her mind as she lost the ability to form a coherent thought.
One of her assailants poked Eris's paralyzed body and emitted a sound like that of a decompressing balloonphhh ... phhh ... phhh.
Eris's world went black.
Chapter TwoWhen Eris came to, her first thought was blue. It took her a few groggy seconds to figure out why. The spongy, curved walls of the small, spherical room in which she found herself were a vibrant shade of aquamarine and glowing softly. There were no obvious doors or windows. Where on Earth am I? In a giant blue gum ball?
After several minutes of panicked hyperventilation, Eris forced herself to calm down and try to make some sense of her situation.
Someoneor multiple someonesattacked me, she thought. They were wearing scaly gloves, for some weird reason. A prank gone way too far? I wouldn't put it past some of my classmates. But Eris found the paralysis liquid more difficult to rationalize. Professional kidnappers? Barlow Collegiate has its fair share of trust-fund babiesthey must have mistaken me for one, although my duct-taped book bag really should have given me away as a scholarship student. This must be just a colossal mistake.
Feeling slightly calmer, Eris examined her surroundings more closely. The only item of interest was a circular groove in the wall about six feet in diameter. She guessed it was the door, since the rest of the room was seamless and unmarked. Although it doesn't look like any door I've ever seen. Eris decided to bang on it to see what would happen.
Just as her fist was about to thunk down again, the groove glowed a bright white. The door spiraled open like a camera's shutter. Eris was caught off balance and tumbled forward, straight into a pair of scaly blue arms.
Gasping, Eris pushed herself away and staggered back. The creature before her was like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Jagged blue scales covered its entire body, and it stood easily eight feet tall. It had six hands, each with webbed fingers and inch-long claws. A milky white gem on its forehead was glowing softly, and its slitted, purple eyes peered intelligently at her. The eyes were like nothing Eris had ever seen. Otherworldly eyes. In that instant, she came to a jarring realization.
"Alien," she whispered.
Then she fainted.
* * *
When Eris regained consciousness, she found herself staring into slitted purple eyes. The creature was crouched over her, flicking its tri-forked tongue in and out from between scaly blue lips.
This isn't a dream, she realized, starting to hyperventilate again. This is real. This ... thing is real.
The creature made a phhh sound, splattering Eris's face with moist, foul-smelling spittle. She screamed hysterically and scrambled away from the monster, pressing herself against the far wall.
The alien stood up, towering over her. Eris screamed again, holding her hands in front of her. "Leave me alone! Please! Go away!"
Flicking out its tongue again, the creature looked down at her and then abruptly turned and left.
As the door spiraled shut, Eris's knees collapsed. She sank to the curved floor in shock. "I can't believe it," she whispered. "Aliens exist?"
Eris had always been skeptical of the existence of extraterrestrials. In her mind, they fell into the same category as dragons and vampiresfun to imagine but not real. For a few minutes, she tried to cling to the belief that this was just an elaborate hoax by some crazy group of people who enjoyed dressing up as scaly blue reptiles. But those eyes!
The memory of her captor's otherworldly eyes made Eris feel certain that somehow, for reasons she could not possibly begin to fathom, she had been abducted by aliens. This terrifying prospect was so far outside her range of experience that Eris could do little more than sit silently, frozen with shock.
* * *
As the hours dragged by, alone in the gum ball cell, Eris's initial terror was slowly replaced by bewilderment. She began to wonder why, of all the people on Earth, she was the one who had been abducted. She wasn't the president of some country. She wasn't the daughter of anyone important. She wasn't particularly popular. To her knowledge, she had never done anything to offend anyone in any way. And she didn't do drugs, or she would have attributed the whole thing to a really bad trip.
Maybe I'm actually their long-lost princess and they've come to bring me back to their planet, where I'll be cherished and adored by my true people. Eris briefly entertained the notion and then discarded it as ridiculous. Could this really just be a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
The more Eris thought about her predicament, the more it began to infuriate her. Jumping to her feet, she shouted, "This is insane! Aliens shouldn't even exist, let alone fly around kidnapping random people for the fun of it! Let me out of here, you scaly psychos!"
Excerpted from IMMINENT DANGER by Michelle Proulx Copyright © 2013 by Michelle Proulx. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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