HOW TO DATE AN ALIEN MAGAN VERNON Copyright © 2012 by Magan Vernon Http://www.maganvernon.com This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form by or any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author. Smashwords Edition: June 2012 Second Edition edited by Dani Crabtree http://www.Hedanicreations.net Cover art by Steven Novak http://www.novakillustration.com For Tim, For helping to make all of my dreams come true. Chapter 1 If someone told me at the beginning of that summer that I would come face-to-face with death because of a Romeo and Juliet romance, I would never have believed it. But it wasn't like that summer went at all like I had planned in the first place. The Columbia recruiter sat across from me, her dark bushy eyebrows rising as high as they could go while she stared down at my application. "So, Alex, I see that you don't have any extracurricular activities." I shrugged. I was sitting in one of those uncomfortable orange plastic chairs in the guidance counselor's office, wishing I could just disappear. I was the first student in all of Winnebago High School's history to have a recruiter from an Ivy League school visit. By the way she looked at our tiny school with its ancient, chipped walls and rusted lockers, I could see why nobody had wanted to visit in the past. I hoped she couldn't tell how nervous I was, so I tried everything that I could to avoid her glazed-over eyes. Instead, I looked at one of those stupid motivational posters framed on the wall behind her—something about success being measured by the failures in life and a man standing on top of a cliff. Yeah, I'm sure that guy had a lot of successes; he ended up on a poster in some small town guidance counselor's office. "I figured my grades were more important than being on the track team or something like that." "I see…" she said, pressing her lips together and scribbling something on the yellow notepad on the desk in front of her. This was my shot to get into my dream college; I had to think fast. I blurted the only thing I could think of. "But I'm doing an internship with Circe Operations Center this summer!" "Really?" The recruiter put her pen down and leaned in, focusing her stare in my direction. “Yeah, it’s something pretty classified, you know with all of the government work they do, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of information to include on my admissions essay.” Great, I hadn’t even been to Circe, and I had barely spoken to my Circe-employed military dad since he and my mom got divorced. “Well, I look forward to reading it." She smiled for the first time since she entered the building and I was finally able to breathe again. **** That was how I ended up sitting next to my dad in his Air Force-issued Jeep as we took the long drive through the Arizona desert. I had no idea how he pulled the strings to get me into Circe, but being a colonel did have its benefits. "Thanks again, Dad. I really appreciate that you were able to help me get this internship." I tried to glance at him from the corner of my eye, but the only part of my mom's gene pool she graced me with was her terrible eyesight, so the peripheral vision out of the side of my glasses didn't work very well. He smiled, patting my knee like it hadn't been seven years since I'd last seen him and that everything was perfectly normal between us. I didn't know many girls that were really close with their dads, but I’m sure they at least saw theirs on a regular basis. I barely even recognized mine when he picked me up from the airport. It was like the years had somehow drastically aged the face that my mom always said looked like Marlon Brando when he was a bad boy in A Streetcar Named Desire. But from what I saw, he looked more like Brando in The Godfather these days, with his receding hairline and crow's feet encasing his brown eyes. "You're in for a real treat. Once the Columbia admissions people see this internship on your application you'll be first in line to pick out your dorm room." He grinned. "I hope so. It's not like I really have much experience doing anything besides babysitting Elijah and blogging. I don't think those count as extracurriculars." I saw my dad wince slightly at the sound of Elijah's name–the son of my mother and her new husband, Brian. My dad didn't harbor any ill feelings toward my mom or her new marriage, but nobody was ever really happy to hear about their ex in a new relationship, especially when it was with a guy like Brian. Brian made model airplanes in his spare time and always called me kiddo. He was the reason my mom moved us out to Winnebago in the first place. To have a "normal" upbringing that wasn't on a military base or living in her parents' basement. Or so she said, until I realized we were moving in with Brian and his cats. The perk of living in a small Illinois farm town was that you knew everyone around you, and the bad part about living in a small Illinois farm town was that you knew everyone. So when I was the only girl who didn't fit into the WASP stereotype with my dad's olive skin and my mom's poor eyesight, it was pretty easy to get labeled as the weird girl fairly quickly. I got used to being picked on, and after awhile I realized that if I focused enough on my grades I could get the attention of all my top choice Ivy League schools. The only problem was they were looking for more than just a straight-A student. "So this isn't like Circe from the Odyssey is it? We aren't going to be stuck here with some seductress for years on end are we?" It was too late to take back the words, but I knew that was how my mom always felt about Circe. It was the seductress that took her husband away from his family. My dad just laughed, shaking his head. "Well, at least I know you still have your sense of humor." After driving for miles with nothing but cacti and desert, a giant steel fence appeared out of nowhere and stretched so far I couldn’t see the end. The wall dwarfed my dad’s Jeep, making it look like we were approaching an iron giant. A pair of guards stared down from watchtowers that stood on each side of the large metal gate. “Why all the big hoopla? It was never like this when you were stationed at Randolph.” My eyes widened as my dad flashed his badge against a small computer screen on the tower, letting the doors creak open. I expected to be greeted by a giant fortress, but all that I could see was more desert and a large mountain range in the distance. “Well, you know this isn’t like the other bases I’ve been stationed at. This one is a bit more classified." He squinted, not taking his eyes off the rocky path lying in front of us as the gate slammed shut. “Where is this place anyway? All I see is more freaking sand and mountains. Don’t tell me I’m going to be camping." I scanned outside my window and saw nothing. Absolutely nothing but barren desert. My dad sighed, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “Alex, you will not be camping. Circe is actually in the mountain range, so we have a bit more privacy when we’re testing equipment and don’t have to worry about all the air space.” “Why would you need more privacy? Is this legal? Am I going to be smuggling something illegal for the government?” Before my dad could answer any questions, the Jeep came to a screeching halt in front of the mountain. He came so close I thought we had hit it. "It looks like we're here," my dad said, shooting me a sideways smile as he unbuckled his seatbelt and climbed out of the Jeep. “Uh, Dad, you know this is just a big rock, right?" I questioned as he grabbed my suitcase out of the back. “I know." He had that stupid smile still plastered on his face like it wasn’t crazy that we were standing in front of a mountain in the middle of the desert. He reached out and pushed against a big boulder. The whole mountain shook and suddenly two of the boulders slid apart. I jumped back as I peered into a small, windowless room covered floor to ceiling in mirrors. “Going up,” a monotone voice droned. “Shall we?" My dad extended his hand toward the opening. My mouth gaped as I stared from him to the elevator. “What the…?" My dad laughed, sliding his arm around my shoulders. “If you want to spend the summer here, you’re definitely going to have to get used to things like this." He led me toward the elevator, pulling me inside just as the big boulders slammed shut behind us. “It was a mountain and then…" My mind was racing as I paced back and forth from wall to wall. I couldn’t tell if we were moving or still on the ground. I didn’t feel any sort of jolt and nothing seemed to vibrate around me. My dad just laughed. “Oh, Alex.” I stopped pacing and narrowed my eyes. “Do you think this is funny?” "You have reached your destination. Welcome to Circe, Miss Bianchi." the same monotone voice hummed over the loudspeaker. I slowly turned toward the elevator doors as they boomed open. Greeting me was a blinding white light, reflecting off even whiter floors and walls that seemed to stretch forever ahead of me. People in silver jumpsuits walked around like nothing had interrupted them as they chatted to the person next to them or read from electronic devices. “Yes, Alex. Welcome to Circe." My dad smiled down at me as we got off the elevator. I swallowed hard. I couldn’t think of anything else to say or do. I had been to other military bases that my dad had worked on, but none of them compared to this. With the high-arched ceiling and glowing lights, I felt like I was going through an airport boarding tunnel and not at a military base. “Vince, my boy, you made it." A man with a salt and pepper crew cut approached my dad. “Walter, old man." My dad briskly shook the man’s hand and they started going on about some Air Force thing or another. "Hey, Alex, give me a minute, will you?" My dad glanced in my direction before diving back into his conversation. I rolled my eyes and gave him a thumbs up. Not that I was expecting an introduction, but it would have been nice to know what was going on. As I got lost in my own world, staring at all the white walls, I felt something crawl onto my arm. I tried to flick off whatever was there, but a cold, slimy hand gripped my arm, whirling me in the direction of a short, wrinkled woman who reminded me of some sort of wicked witch from a cartoon. “Um, can I help you?" I tried to pull my arm away from the woman’s grasp, but despite her small stature, she had the strength of someone five times her size. She tilted her head up, and I could see that she was missing an eye, the empty socket oozing with a black liquid that glittered against her wrinkled face. The one eye she did have was the size of a large egg and was focused right on me. "You," she said in a voice that sounded like a hawk's cry as she pointed a long, curled fingernail at me, "are a traitor!" “Uh, Dad?" My body trembled from her words. I thought she was probably just some crazy prisoner of war or a refugee from some third world country, but I didn’t want her touching me or talking to me like I was the dangerous one. My dad finally stopped his conversation as both men rushed toward the woman. Her slimy hands reached for my neck, those long fingernails scraping against my throat. “Must destroy the traitor,” she screeched. Her fingers swirled like tentacles around my neck and suctioned onto it like a vacuum. I wanted to tell her that she must have made a mistake. I was just Alex, not some traitor. I gasped for air, but the more I struggled or tried to explain, the tighter her grip became and I started to lose consciousness. At least eight men ran in and tried to pull her vice-like grip away from me, but they couldn’t move her while she mumbled in some cryptic language. I thought I was going to die right there. My life flashed before my eyes—my parents' divorce, the birth of my half-brother, and even the Columbia recruiter looking at me with those caterpillar eyebrows. I didn’t want to die like this. Then the woman's grip loosened and the air whooshed back into my lungs. I gasped, relieved that I might actually survive. I tried to focus on what was in front of me, but all I could see was the outline of a very tall man in a silver jumpsuit. “No!" she screeched. “You, of all of us, should know what she is capable of!” I looked up to see a pair of coal-black eyes staring at me as the man heaved the shaking woman away from my neck. The last thing I felt was the warm touch of his hand on my cheek before everything went dark. Chapter 2 My eyes snapped open, only to awaken to the smell of rotten eggs and a pair of beady bug eyes that stared right back at me. I bent my head back. "Holy—!" Only then did I realize that I was lying on a small white hospital bed and my arms were covered in large purple welts. "It looks like she's coming to." A tiny orange fist poked my forehead. I tried to swat the little orange bug away, but when my hand reached its arm all I ended up with was a palm full of clear goop. "What the…?" I tried to sit up, but my head spun. The last thing I remembered before blacking out was a pair of coal-black eyes. But now I was in a large, white room filled with hospital beds and blinking machines like I was in some sort of a spaceship hospital. "Are you doing okay, honey?" I looked over to see my dad sitting at the edge of the bed, his eyes locked on me. "Magpie did a pretty good number on her neck and arms, but the bruises will wear off soon and she'll be just fine." The bug paced on the bed toward my dad. It couldn't have been more than a foot tall with orange scaly skin and a body like Mr. Potato Head. I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. Nope, definitely wasn't dreaming and it just made the marks on my arm sting. "Uh, Dad?" I slowly looked around the room. I wasn't in a normal hospital ward, but more like something you'd see out of a science fiction movie. Creatures of all shapes and colors lay on different cots, with nurses taking their blood pressure and speaking in languages I had never heard. Where the hell was I? "I think that's my cue to leave you two alone." The bug patted my dad's arm before fixating those round little eyes on me. "You'll be fine in no time. Have fun at orientation and welcome to Circe!" The bug flashed a big gummy smile before pouncing off the bed and waddling toward another cot. "I'm glad you're doing okay, Alex," dad said as he scooted closer to me. "That was quite a scare." "Dad, what the hell is this place?" I sat up, my eyes darting all around. I was sure there had to be some sort of an explanation. Maybe I was just hallucinating or something. "I didn't know the best way to tell you this, but remember when I said that I wasn't exactly doing Air Force duties anymore? That I was doing more government work?" His eyes shifted nervously. "Well, Circe is actually an alien operations center." His eyes stopped and met mine, the wrinkles on his wide forehead creased as he waited for a response. "You're joking, right?" I leaned in closer. "I mean, aliens don't exist. That's a myth, like the tooth fairy." "As you can see, Alex." He stood up, reaching his arm out to me. "I'm definitely not joking and you are definitely late for orientation." I let him help me out of bed. I was too stunned to protest. All those years I had sat in science class listening to my teachers trying to debunk myths about life existing on other planets, and now my dad was telling me it was real. More importantly, I was going to spend my summer working at an alien operations center. I felt like I was going to faint again. We walked out of the hospital room and into a large hallway. I tried not to stare, but it was hard to keep my eyes off all the things going on around me. There were small, spiderlike creatures crawling on the walls and yelling gibberish to the people walking by. In the real world there was some sort of professional etiquette about saying 'hi' to the people that one passed in the hallway, but when the person that I passed had three eyes, it was hard to say anything at all. Of course my dad acted like nothing was wrong, even high-fiving the spiders as we walked by. "Alex?" I hadn't even realized that he was talking to me. It was as if I was walking in a daze, one of those hazy dreamlike states were I wondered if I would ever wake up. "Uh, what?" I blinked hard, looking up at him and realizing that he stopped in front of a bulky metal door. "I just asked if you wanted me to walk you in." He leaned an arm against the door. "I don't have to if you don't want me to. I can understand if you're embarrassed." "Uh, no that would actually be great if you walked me in." I smiled weakly, but I was actually happy, for once, to have my dad there. With everything that was going on I figured I needed someone there if I were to faint again, or if some lady tried to kill me…again. He pushed open the door and led me into a room that was so dark my eyes had to rapidly adjust before I could see anything. I squinted as my dad put his hand on my back, guiding me into the room. "Vince, what a surprise to see you here!" a lumberjack-looking guy with a beard like a schnauzer called from the front of the room. After a few blinks I noticed that there were five people, maybe a few years older than me, sitting in a small circle in front of the lumberjack. All their eyes were locked on me as I entered the room and it wasn't a good stare, more like the kind you give to someone that interrupted you in the middle of a speech and made you lose your place. "Well, after Alex had her little scare I felt that I should walk her in." My dad patted my back, beaming from ear to ear. My little scare? A woman or alien or whatever she was tried to kill me and he calls it a little scare! "What the hell?" A petite brunette popped up from her chair, pointing her thin finger in my direction. "My bestie and I spent three years studying the effects of plant life on Three Mile Island and she doesn't get in, but some little military brat gets in because her daddy works here?" My eyes widened. "I…uh…" "Calm down, Riley," the lumberjack bellowed. "Let's not make judgments of people before we get to know them." "Whatever." She rolled her eyes and plopped back down. "Are you going to be okay?" my dad whispered and stepped behind me. My throat felt like it had completely dried up. I swallowed and nodded, taking the seat in front of me. The eyes of the other people in the circle stared me down. They all seemed comfortable, like it was perfectly normal to be sitting in the middle of an alien operations center. I avoided their eyes and pretended like my chewed up fingernails were the most interesting thing in the world, instead of wondering if they were thinking the same thing that Riley had yelled.— That I didn't belong. "Okay then." My dad patted the back of the chair. "Ody, I'll see you at squash later?" "Oh, you'd better be ready for a little Martian versus human action!" He chuckled. "I'll count on it." My dad shut the door, leaving only the echo of his laugh behind. "Well, Alex." The lumberjack's eyes drilled into me, like he was really looking inside my head instead of at my face. And since he was an alien, I was pretty sure that he could. "Welcome to the intern program." He plopped a large white packet labeled Intern Program on my lap before walking toward a small, silver podium just outside the circle. "From what I've heard, you've already been acquainted with the infirmary and some of the locals." He came back toward the circle with a large steel box that he dropped on the floor in the middle of us. "Now, before you all start getting to know the ins and outs of our operations center, get suited up. This would be an excellent time to become acquainted with your fellow interns." He pushed a small red button on the side of the box and it flew open. A cloud of smoke billowed from inside. We all inched closer as the smoke started to fade away. "These," Ody said, reaching into the box, "are going to be your uniforms." He pulled out a silver wetsuit-looking outfit with black patches on the shoulders and a large black belt circling the garment's waist. He tossed one to a guy with a coffee-colored complexion and a button-down shirt. The guy grabbed it, feeling the material between his fingers. "These are temperature controlled so you can deal with the different environments that humans and aliens work in. This way we can keep everyone at their normal body temperature." He passed around the uniforms, throwing one to each of us from the box. "Um are these supposed to be like one-size-fits-all or something? Because I'm a size zero and I'm not sure that this will fit me." Riley held up the uniform in front of her, snarling her upper lip. Who really just announces they are a size zero? You never heard girls like me just announcing their pant size. Oh, excuse me, do you think that these skimpy things will fit my big Italian ass? No, I definitely wouldn't be saying that, especially when I noticed Mister Tightjeans-and-side-swept-bangs peering at me from across the circle. Okay, maybe the internship wouldn't be so bad. I wondered if he was the guy who had pulled the woman off me, but when his eyes met mine there was no mistake that they weren't the same. I wondered if I would ever see the guy who saved me again. I also kept thinking why he needed to save me in the first place. "Is everything okay, Alex?" Ody questioned, snapping me back to reality. "Are we going to have to stop everything for this girl?" Riley huffed. "Oh, give it a rest already, Riley," a blond girl with a Chicago accent clucked. I bit my lip, trying to hide my smile. I could already tell that Riley was like the granolachewing hipsters at my high school. The ones who claimed to be very eco-friendly, but carried leather purses and wore really expensive clogs. I looked back over at the blonde, who gave me a quick wink. It was good to know that not everyone at Circe thought I was a problem. "Well on that note, let's suit up and meet back in here for your tour." Ody motioned his arms to either side. "Boys' rooms are on the left and girls are on the right." We all stood up and started heading in our separate directions. The three boys were already talking and joking around like they were best friends. The third boy with a red crew cut swatted the other guys with his uniform. The girls and I were a different story. "So, you're Alex?" the blonde piped up. She towered over me as we walked to the bathroom. Riley sulked behind us. "Yeah, Alex Bianchi." I smiled, looking up at her. "And you are?" "Jen Davis, bio chemistry major at UCLA. Where do you go to school?" She didn't take her eyes off me as we walked into the cleanest, whitest bathroom I had ever seen. "Uh, well I'm going to be a senior, applied at Columbia for its English program." I stared down at my internship packet, wondering if the giant stack of paper would count as my summer reading, or if I'd even have time to read it. Riley stormed past us, turning back around and holding her arms up. "Whoa, whoa did you just say that you're only going to be a senior in high school? And an English major wannabe?" "Well, when you put it that way…" I shoved my hands into the front pockets of my jeans. Riley shook her head before pushing open a stall door. "Great, I get to spend my summer babysitting some high school writing chick." "Oh I don't think you're going to have to babysit this one." Jen laughed as she pushed open the next stall. "I heard she already survived a Cephalopod attack." "Seriously?" Riley yelled as I slunk into my stall. The suit was thicker than I thought and felt like rubber sliding up my legs. "Well, that's what I heard, a Cephalopod started choking her and it took like ten guys and a Caltian to pull her off. Is that true, Alex?" Jen was tall enough to see over the top of my stall. I had to zip up my suit as fast as I could before she could see anything. "That's what they tell me." I stepped out of the stall to meet the girls. "Is it true that you gave the thumbs up?" Jen looked at me, the suit molded to her body and made her look like space Barbie. I shrugged. "Yeah, just letting my dad know I was fine." Jen covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. "You do know that giving the thumbs up in an alien operations center is like walking in and doing the Heil Hitler sign in a synagogue, right?" She shook her head. "I guess it's good that Caltian was there to save you." I stared down at my feet, trying to hide my embarrassment. I had a million questions running through my brain, but felt like I should ask the obvious one first. "Uh, what's a Caltian?" Riley groaned. "Okay, seriously, I'm going back out with the guys." She stormed out, leaving Jen and I staring at each other before Jen approached the counter. "It's one of the planets that they conveniently leave out in astronomy. If people really studied it in school, then everyone would know that there is life on other planets. Just like Ranga or even Mars. No one ever tells students the whole truth, and they just go on believing what they want." Jen smiled at my reflection and I couldn't close my mouth fast enough to hide my gaping. "So what's the big deal with Caltians, if they're just from another inhabited planet?" I stared back at Jen, who smiled at me like I was a simpleton. "You know how in high school you have your different cliques?" I nodded as Jen ran her fingers through her hair before putting it up into a ponytail. "Well, Earth is kind of the dumb jocks, the Martians are kind of the woodshop guys, and Calta would be like the queen bees. You know, the popular kids, the ones that ruled the school?" “So what you’re telling me is that the universe is basically like one big high school?" I stared at Jen’s reflection, wondering if her blonde hair was actually real or if underneath that large blond mess was the same mousy brown hair that I had. I stared at my own hair and then realized that it smelled like alien goop and quickly put it up into a ponytail to get it away from my face. She turned toward me. “Exactly." She winked. "Now come on, let’s get back out to meet everyone else so you can catch up. I have a feeling that you have a lot to learn.” I opened my mouth to ask her more about the Caltians, but just as I did she pushed open the door, letting a gust of air and laughter blow at us as we exited into the other room. “Oh, hey Alex.” Riley looked at us smugly. I definitely wasn't going to ask any more questions with Riley in the room, especially when she had her little rat eyes narrowed right at me. “I was just talking to Malcolm here, Air Force Academy honor student." She pointed at the boy with the coffee-colored skin. "And Justin, University of Texas government major," she said, motioning toward the redhead. "Oh and of course." She smiled slyly as she stepped in front of the boy with the side-swept bangs who tried not to meet her gaze. "You already seem to be acquainted with Gavin, MIT honor student." She then slowly turned her whole body toward me, crossing her arms over her chest. “And where was it that you said you went to school again?” I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. “Well…I’m kind of…” “Is everyone ready to start the tour?" Ody came barreling in, wearing the same uniform that we all had on. Despite the lightweight feel of the uniform, it still left something to the imagination. I was glad mine didn't reveal every one of my curves or my thunder thighs, and I was pretty happy that I couldn't make out all of Ody's burly, bear-like figure beneath his suit. “Let’s get this started,” Gavin muttered as he looked right at me. I guess he didn’t seem to care that I was a high school student. I looked down, trying not to meet his gaze as Riley whispered something under her breath and fell in line behind Ody. Ody clasped his hands together. “Instead of going to your dorms I’m going to get all of you acquainted in your assigned zones before lunch, and then you can spend tonight getting to know your roommates." Roommates? Just what I wanted, to share a room with a girl like Riley. Ody threw open the door, letting even more light into the room. As my eyes adjusted to the brightness, I felt something at my side. Please don’t be another alien trying to kill me. Please don’t be another alien trying to kill me. “Hey." Gavin’s shoulder bumped mine. “Oh." I adjusted my glasses, trying my best to keep a goofy smile off my face. I’d been at the base not even a day and I already had one guy save my life and another going out of his way to talk to me. I wasn't used to this much attention from members of the opposite sex. Okay, except for the first and last serious boyfriend I had sophomore year. He was one of those pretentious hipsters that thought he was God's gift to Starbucks and promptly dumped me when I refused to go to third base in the backseat of his mom's Honda. “Hey,” Gavin said. He nodded his head in Riley’s direction, who was chatting with Malcolm. “Don’t mind her. She just has some issues that involve too much ego and not enough of a filter.” I tried to do the cute little flirty giggle that I'd heard the girls do at school, but I wasn’t the giggling type and it just came out in a weird snort. I covered my mouth. “Sorry.” He ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair. “Don’t worry about it.” Ody stopped in front of a set of glass doors. Inside were a few tables cluttered with different tubes and machines that I had never seen before. A stout green man, who looked like a giant frog in a wetsuit, stepped out. “Ah, Jennifer, good to see you again, my dear." His English accent threw me off guard ,and the way that Jen smiled at him made me wonder how I would ever get used to walking around with a bunch of aliens. Before Jen even got inside the door, Ody started walking and we all had to pick up our pace to keep up with him. I tried not to stare at all the different creatures that walked past us as we headed down each long hallway, and I silently prayed that they all weren't going to leap out and attack me. We dropped off Malcolm in the hangar, which was in an area filled with different planes. Some of them were military aircraft that I recognized from when I lived with my dad. There were a few others that looked like nothing I had ever seen with their circular shapes and colorful domes. A few aliens stopped to chat with us. Some of them looked like normal humans, but others were scaly or carried personal electronic devices that had holograms popping out of them instead of regular computer screens. I looked through the windows of offices whenever we passed, seeing things that I would have never believed possible if they weren't there in front of my eyes. There were zero gravity rooms in which aliens floated in midair. They drank their coffee or took notes like it was no big deal that they were flying into the ceiling. Certain things I saw made me gasp, like large glass chambers with tiny aliens floating inside a green jelly-like liquid. Their eyes closed like they were sleeping, and their bodies were completely still, as if they were in a coma. They made me wonder what that jelly was really doing to them. By the time we reached the end of the long hallway, I realized that I was the last person standing there with Ody. He stopped in front of two large stainless steel doors that looked like they opened to a giant freezer. “Are you ready, Alex?” “Uh, yeah, sure.” I had no idea what I was supposed to be ready for. All I ever wanted was to be a writer. Not like my mom, sitting at home and writing longhand epic romance novels that were sold under her pen name of Fiona O’Hera, but a behind-enemy-lines type of girl. I wanted to get down in the dirt with war refugees and sling mud alongside fallen soldiers. I told my dad this and he said that he would let the internship coordinators know, which made me really wonder what was behind those doors. Ody pushed the doors open with a loud boom. Inside, there was a floor-to-ceiling black wall with different displays popping over it, like a giant touch-screen monitor. Some of the screens had blog accounts pulled up, and others showed celebrities that I had seen on TV just going about their normal routine. It looked like I had just jumped into one of those virtual reality simulators that you find in an arcade. “Ace, our new intern is here." Ody slapped his furry paw on my back. A small chair in the center of the room twirled around and I came face to face with those inky black eyes that had saved my life. Chapter 3 I stood there speechless. For a moment we just stared at each other, him with his eyes dark and calculating, and mine opened as wide as they could go, before Ace finally stood up. I expected all aliens to be little green men, but Ace was definitely not short and he definitely wasn’t green. He towered over me. His pale face glowed against the television screens as he approached me. The temperature control suit molded onto his body like a second skin that stretched along his broad shoulders. Not that I was staring at the way his biceps curled underneath the suit or wondering if aliens even had biceps. He absently ran a hand through his spiky black hair before extending it out to me. “Good to meet you. I’m Ace, but I guess you knew that." His eyes focused on me with his face expressionless. His hands were covered by black fingerless gloves, but as I felt his fingertips against mine a rush of warmth ran through me and I hoped it wasn't showing in my cheeks. His cold, unmoving face startled me, but the warmth from his hands left me curious and longing for more of his touch. “Alex. Alex Bianchi." I kept shaking his hand as we stared at each other. It was like we were having a silent conversation, but neither of us knew what we were saying and at the same time knew exactly what we wanted to say. “Okay, then." Ody slapped us on the back, snapping us both out of our trances as we released our hands. “You two have fun and don’t get into too much trouble. I know how enjoyable alien security can be." Ody winked before stepping out and shut the door with such force the whole room shook. Ace and I stood silent for a minute, shuffling back and forth and trying not to meet each other’s eyes. “So, alien security?" I didn’t look up from my feet. “Yeah." He shifted his stance before his whole body shook, like he was trying to get rid of whatever thoughts he had. “Which you probably know nothing about." I looked up to see that he was actually smiling. He had the whitest, straightest teeth that I had ever seen, like something out of a toothpaste commercial. His smile warmed his otherwise statuesque face, and I was finally able to let out the breath of air that I had been holding. I was apprehensive to be working alongside someone from a different planet, but there was something about Ace that intrigued and frightened me at the same time. “Up until a few hours ago I didn’t even realize that aliens existed or that I’d be working in some sort of an alien Air Force base." I watched as Ace wheeled another chair out from behind the large screened wall and stopped it next to his before sitting down. “Well, it’s more of an operations center than an Air Force base.” I shrugged before plopping down next to him. “Whatever you want to call it.” “Basically with alien security we troll different social media sites and blogs to make sure that aliens around the globe are staying incognito. Not putting anything out there to out themselves or trying to destroy Earth or anything else." He put his hand up to the screen and moved his fingers back and forth so different websites would pop in front of us. “Wait." I jumped up, leaning into the screen. “Is that my blog?” I touched the screen and, yep, there was that picture of me surrounded by books in my black Stop your bitching and start a revolution t-shirt. My mom hated that shirt and hated that I blogged even more. She would always stare at me with her hands on her tiny hips, narrowing her green eyes as she lectured me about the dangers of putting myself out there on the internet. Little did she know there was a lot more lurking on the internet than just predators, or that I would spend my summer spying on them. I sat back down and looked at Ace, trying not to blink as I waited for an answer. “Well, yeah it’s kind of why I picked you for this position." He put his finger back up to the glass and exited out of my blog. That was the first time I had heard that I was actually picked for a position. I was usually picked last for everything from basketball in gym class to lab partners in chemistry. “You are blogging or on different websites more than just about anyone else on the planet, so I figured this position would be perfect for you." He gave me a sideways glance before pressing some different buttons on the keyboard below him. “Oh." I leaned back in my chair, pushing up my glasses. I was stupid to think there might be other reasons. Like maybe Ace had felt something for me after reading my blog, and that was why he saved me. Traitor. The troll lady’s voice rang in my ears. I looked around. I didn't see her, but I could hear her loud and clear. My whole body tensed up as I let my eyes trail around the room. She wasn't anywhere near me, but just thinking about her hands on my neck sent a nervous tingling through my whole body. I stared at Ace, but his eyes didn't leave the computer screen. I shrugged it off, realizing that it was just my imagination playing tricks on me. How was I going to survive in an alien operations center when I didn't even know what hand signals were safe to use? **** Lunch in the cafeteria scared me more than the aliens who surrounded me. I had spent all morning laughing with Ace as we looked through different aliens' blogs, and even some of their dating websites. I never knew that there were so many aliens on Earth, or that so many of them were looking for single white females. Even though I had fun looking at all things alien, I wasn't sure how the whole cafeteria thing would work. When Jen told me that the universe was basically like high school, it made me worry even more. I knew at my school I had trouble figuring out who to sit with on the first day. The popular girls did not appreciate the new girl with glasses and her father's Italian nose sitting with them, and it took me almost a month before I found my table. Luckily my fears were wiped away when I saw Jen standing outside the security office door. “Hey, wasn’t expecting to see you here,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. My eyes darted around to see where Ace was. When I didn't see him anywhere I figured that we would be work-time friends and that was it. It almost pained me to think about that. He saved my life and spent all morning rambling on about alien life, but when it came to lunch time he couldn’t get away fast enough. I thought maybe things were different with him, that I could at least have one guy who wanted to hang out with me. Especially a guy who could send my pulse rising in ways that were alarming, but also could send a chill through my body, which longed to be close to his in ways that my heart wasn't relaying to my mind. “Well, I wasn’t going to let you get lost on your way to the cafeteria on your first day.” She looped her arm through mine as we started down the long hallway. It looked like any other cafeteria you’d see in a big high school with the fluorescent lights and lunch ladies standing behind rows of different colored concoctions in silver buckets. But the difference between the base and high school was that most of the lunch ladies here had at least three extra arms and instead of students, the room was filled with aliens. I grabbed a tray and followed Jen into the line. “Hopefully the food is better than the last base my dad was stationed at." I wasn’t really good at the whole small talk thing and was kind of intimidated by Jen. “Well, the Neptunians do like their MSG, so as long as you aren’t on a diet, you should be good.” She had the most melodious giggle that didn’t sound anything like my deep wheezing laugh. I picked exactly the same things that Jen put on her tray, having no idea what I was actually getting. Everything looked like different colors of gelatin and smelled like unwashed hair. I was hoping that it all tasted better than it appeared. “Hey, we're over here!" Malcolm shouted, waving his arms at us. We spotted him sitting at a table with the rest of the interns, behind a huge bear-looking alien. Riley ignored us as we sat down, but everyone else's attention was on us, especially Gavin who scooted over for me to sit next to him. “So, is it true?" Justin asked as he took a big slurp from a drink that looked like something from a fifth grade science project. “Is what true?” I looked from Jen to Gavin, who were both staring at me wide-eyed. I heard Riley groan from the other end of the table. “This really should be an obvious one, but I guess that's not something you learn in high school.” I turned toward her and she smirked, planting her palms on the table. “We all heard that you are working with that Caltian who saved you from the Cephlapod.” “Oh, that," I muttered as I watched all the interns' eyes circle me. “Well, yeah I guess he’s the same one." I swirled some of the green goop on my plate with my fork and tried to take a bite, but the smell overpowered me and I had to put the fork back down. “He hasn’t come right out and said anything about it.” I looked up from my plate, but instead of seeing the eyes of the interns I caught Ace staring right back at me from across the room. He looked like he was taking in everything as his eyes grazed over my table. When he noticed that I caught him staring, he looked away and pretended to be interested in the person next to him—as if I hadn't seen anything. Like I could even ignore the way he looked at me or the way the darkness of his eyes had sent my pulse to heights I didn't even know existed. “If you ask me, I don’t know how you can stand an alien like that." Gavin shook his head. I pried my gaze away from Ace and looked back at Gavin. “What do you mean?” “Caltians are the snobs of the universe and have no reason to be. They’re like the mutant spawn of burlesque dancers and emo kids, but somehow can control just about everything in the universe." He took a big gulp of his drink. “It’s just sick.” I nodded, pretending like I understood, but I didn’t. How could Gavin have such dislike for someone he didn’t even know? I’ll admit that I hated the popular girls at school, but at least I had a reason. They were nothing but mean and only talked to me when they wanted help on an English assignment or were making fun of what I was wearing. As far as I could tell, Gavin hadn’t even talked to a Caltian since we’d been there. “You just snarfed my goulash!” I turned to see a large purple alien who looked like he had a giant octopus on his head yelling at the bear-like alien behind us. “I did no such thing!" The bear stood up, mounting to almost eight feet tall. His huge paws were held high over his head, and his short snout curled into his furry face and exposed a layer of pointy yellow teeth. “Liar, I saw you do it!" The octopus spread his tentacles all around his body as he stood to his full height of at least seven feet. “What are you going to do about it?" the bear mocked, putting his arms out to the side. Before I could even blink, the octopus launched one of his tentacles across the table, stabbing through the bear and coming within a millimeter of my face. I closed my eyes, getting ready for the impact when I felt a force hit me like a dodgeball, knocking me off the table and slamming my back hard against the floor. I heard a splashing sound around me and imagined whatever came out of the alien had to have landed nearby, but the sound of my own heartbeat rang louder in my ears than the other sounds around me. "Are you okay?" Jen yelled. I felt a warm hand pressed to my cheek and expected to see Jen hovering over me, but when I opened my eyes, I saw Ace's dark orbs staring into mine. Chapter 4 After the incident in the cafeteria, Ace was off me and disappeared out of the room. I didn't even get a chance to thank him. Even as Jen helped me up off the floor and walked me toward the infirmary, I couldn't see Ace, but I could feel his stare. He was like this constant shadow that watched my every move, or maybe more like a guardian angel, I still wasn't sure. I wanted desperately to talk to him, to ask him why he chose to save me. By the time I was done at the infirmary, we were all ordered back to our rooms for the night and I didn't get the chance to see him. When I walked into my dorm, I smiled to see that Jen and I were sharing a room. Her contagious laughter had kept me in a good mood while I was stuck in the infirmary, even though my head was pounding. But my smile quickly disappeared when I saw Riley scuffle out of the bathroom, mumbling something about peeling linoleum. Three girls in a small room with one bathroom and only one window that had bars secured across it wasn't exactly my ideal living situation. It wasn’t enough that I had already been almost killed, twice, by an alien, but then I had to end my day by sharing a room with Riley! While Jen and I tried to get to sleep early, Riley spent all night complaining about our beds being made with cheap metal or that our room wasn’t much bigger than her old dorm room at Penn State. I wanted to just cover my head with the pillow and drown out her whiney voice. Sleeping wasn't much better. Since Riley took over about half of the bedroom, I was squashed in the corner near the bathroom with the squeaky metal, cot-like bed and my dresser staring me right in the face. By the time I finally relaxed and stopped worrying about my creaking bed, or that another alien might come after me, it was already morning. “At least you survived day one. Think you can handle day two?" I rolled over to see Jen already fully dressed and staring down at me. I scrambled to grab my glasses off the nightstand, hoping I didn’t sleep in and make myself late for my second day. I squinted until the red lights of the digital clock became clear. I groaned. “Jen, do you know that it’s only six?" She smiled, way too perky for that early in the morning. “I know and while you’ve been sleeping I’ve already checked out cultures in the lab, gone for a run, and showered." She beamed again. “Now get up so we can go to breakfast before you wake up someone much less pleasant than me.” She threw off my blankets, making me realize how cold the room was as I shivered in my tshirt and shorts. “You better hop in the shower before you freeze,” she sang as she headed toward her dresser. I sat up on the bed, running my fingers through my hair that had become a big rat's nest in the middle of the night. “Where’s Riley?” “She’s still in bed, but I’m definitely not going to wake a sleeping beast." She covered her mouth to stifle her giggle. I peered over to the other side of the room to see Riley propped up on three large pillows with a sleep mask over her face and giant headphones covering her ears. She looked like her own little science experiment. I was sure perky Jen would do any morning over an overly grumpy Riley. I stumbled out of bed and got ready in record time, hoping not to wake up Riley, but she didn’t even move from her pillow throne. “Are you finally ready, Alex?" Jen put her hands on her hips, standing in the doorway to the bathroom just as I finished putting my hair into a ponytail. “Yes, ma’am," I said, doing a small curtsey in front of her. “Ha-ha, very funny.” We walked into the cafeteria where it definitely wasn’t the clustered mess from the day before. Most of the humans and aliens were like me and not crazy morning people like Jen. The few aliens who actually woke up for breakfast shuffled to their seats, not looking up from their morning bowl of blue gelatin, or whatever it was they were eating. “I’ll meet you in line. I’m just going to talk to a few people from the lab. Be right back." Jen patted my back before running over to a table full of frog-like aliens, mumbling over papers that were scattered in front of them I shook my head before grabbing my tray and finding my place in line. My eyes trailed over the assortment of different colored gunk in large bowls across the buffet until I spotted something familiar. “Yeah, cereal!" I grinned, scooting toward the end of the line. “You know you’ve had a head injury when you start talking to yourself in the breakfast line.” I looked over to see Ace staring down at me. “Oh." I tried to regain my composure, but could feel my face flush from getting caught talking to myself by Ace. “I was just excited to see—" He held up his hands. “Hey, no harm done, just giving you a hard time." He grabbed a bowl of the blue gelatin-like substance. “How are you feeling today anyway? Are you going to be able to work after almost being maimed by a tentacle?” “I think I can manage.” I scooped some cereal into a bowl, waiting for Ace to say something, but he just stood there, shuffling back and forth. I stopped scooping and looked up at him. He had a stare that made every bone in my body turn to slush. I didn’t know if he was playing some kind of an alien mind trick on me, or what the sensation was that I felt every time I could feel his eyes on me. “There you are." I was pushed out of my trance by a bump from Gavin on my shoulder. “Jen said you were in line." He didn’t even look at me, just kept his eyes on Ace. “I’ll see you at work,” Ace muttered as he headed toward his table. I didn't even get to thank him for saving my life, twice, but I didn't know how one would even approach something like that. It wasn't like every girl encountered her knight in shining armor on a regular basis, or knight in a shiny silver jump suit. Gavin shook his head as I poured milk on my cereal. “Can you believe that guy?” “Believe what?" I cocked my head as we went toward our table, trays in hand. “The way he looks at you." Gavin gave a sideways glance over his shoulder before sitting across from Jen and next to me. “It’s as if he thinks he's your personal superhero and may have to run to your rescue at any second.” I snorted, swirling my spoon in my cereal, concentrating on the round flakes like they were the most interesting thing in the world. “He does not.” Justin laughed from across the table. “Dude you’re right, he totally does.” I looked up, feeling the temperature rise in my face. “You guys are just making it up to embarrass me.” “You wanna bet?" Gavin leaned in closer. “I bet if you look over at his table right now, he will be gawking at you with those big Bush Baby eyes.” “Aw c’mon Gavin, leave the girl alone. You're just jealous that some Caltian is checking her out,” Malcolm joked. “I am not jealous of that alien." Gavin shuddered. He scooted closer to me. I couldn't believe that I was so attracted to him the first day and now he was just acting like a first rate a-hole. “Maybe Alex just doesn’t want some alien guy creeping her out, right, Alex?” He stared down at me with pleading eyes, a tight-lipped smile forming on his face. I looked up to meet his eyes, but not before I caught a glance to see that Gavin was right and Ace was staring right at me. Chapter 5 “Do all aliens feel that they need to use dating websites?" I squinted at the screen of an alien that listed himself as a ‘sensitive man who enjoys long walks on the beach and fine French cuisine.’ No red flags or anything that would say he was from another planet, or that he was looking to destroy Earth. “Most aliens usually don’t go out of their way to try and date humans, but they can use these sites to find other aliens around them,” Ace commented, not looking away from his computer screen. His stature was stiff and perfectly straight, his face expressionless like a statue, and his eyes didn't waver from the screen. You would think that after saving my life, twice, that he would have started to warm up to me, but he was just as distant as ever. It only got worse after Gavin pointed out that Ace was always watching out for me like my protector. It didn't make any sense how he acted so uncomfortable when he was near me, but still kept his eyes carefully locked on me whenever we were in a crowded room. Sometimes Ace acted like it was killing him to be in the same room as me the way he groaned or just shook his head whenever I asked a question. “Why wouldn’t an alien go out of his way to date a human?” He sighed as I waited for an answer, but never really answered my question. That had become his habit; I'd ask a question, and he would act like I had just said the stupidest thing in the world, and then ignore me. I stared at him, hoping to at least get him to have some sort of a conversation with me instead of this awkward silence. Outside of the security office, I would catch him with a protective gaze locked on me while we were in the cafeteria, library, or anywhere else humans and aliens gathered. There were times that his stare would frighten me because I didn't know what he was really thinking. But there were also times when he just made me curious. He could be so aloof that I wanted to dig deeper and know what he was really thinking. “Are you wearing guyliner?" I tilted my head, scooting my chair closer so that my face was only inches from his. He had a face and body like a Greek god and I started to wonder if maybe the gods were actually just aliens and had the ancient Greeks confused. Staring at the contours of his face made me notice that charcoal lines formed perfect circles around his eyelids. It was the Greeks that created eyeliner, wasn't it? Or was it the Egyptians? “Am I what?” He blinked, not taking his eyes off the screen. “You know, eyeliner for guys? All the rock stars wear it and with those black smudges around your eyes, I think that you do too." Okay, so I wasn't the best at talking to guys, or just talking in general. Sometimes I just blurted things out when I was nervous and when I had a very attractive alien sitting next to me, I had to be creative. He finally turned his face toward mine, his dark eyes illuminated by the light glaring off the computer screen. I stared at the smoky black lines that encircled his eyes. “No, I’m not wearing guyliner, or whatever it is you call it.” His voice rang with annoyance, but a small smile crept onto his lips. “Really?” I leaned closer, tilting my head. He lifted his perfectly arched eyebrows. “Really, Alex? Don’t you have anything else to do then wonder what kind of earthly cosmetics I’m wearing?” “I do, but…" I didn’t stop staring in his direction as I licked one of my fingertips. “If you really aren’t wearing guyliner, then go like this." I lifted the wet fingertip to my eyelid and started rubbing. Ace glanced in my direction, before doing a double take and full on staring at me. His full lips curved in at the corners in a confused smirk. “What are you doing?” I lifted my fingertip from my eyelid, facing it in his direction. “See when I rub my eye, you can see the beige smears from my eye shadow on my finger." I waved my finger in his direction. “So if you aren’t wearing eyeliner, then when you wipe your eye nothing should come off on your fingertip.” Ace shook his head. A large, gleaming white smile spread across his face. “You are a very interesting human, do you know that?” I pointed my smudged finger at him. “And you are an alien that is trying to hide his love of cosmetics.” His shadowy eyes locked on mine. I couldn’t tell if there was anger behind them, the way his brows furrowed into a point, but I tried to stay defiant as he leaned his face closer. I could feel the cold air radiating from his body, and I swore that it shivered all the way through my suit and onto my skin. He lifted his fingertips to his eyelids, rubbing them feverishly before facing his still clean fingertips back in my direction, with the black smudges around his eyes still in place. “You’re wrong." He laughed, leaning back in his chair. His expression softened, while his smile spread even farther across his face. He had the greatest laugh I had ever heard. It was even more melodious than Jen’s giggle and reminded me of church bells. I crossed my arms over my stomach, trying to hide the girlish grin that was threatening to make its way to my face if I kept staring at the dimples that had formed at the corners of Ace's mouth. “Well it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong about you." I bit my lip, immediately wishing I could take back the words. “I mean…” He arched an eyebrow. “Do you often make assumptions about Caltians?” I shrugged. “I actually didn’t even know any kind of an alien existed until I arrived at Circe, and even then it wasn’t until one attacked me that I realized what was going on.” “It's still hard for me to believe that someone with your IQ and vast expanse of knowledge didn’t suspect there was more to the universe than just humans.” I shrugged, looking down at the floor and trying to avoid his stare. “I’m really not as smart as you’re trying to make me out to be. I was the girl who gave the thumbs up to a room full of aliens after all.” He leaned forward, shifting his head down so that I was forced to look at him. “Do you seriously believe that?” I looked back up to meet his eyes, adjusting my glasses to have something to do with my hands. “Believe what? That I’m not that smart?” He leaned in closer so that I could see every feature of his chiseled face against the glow of the computer screen. “Alex, I wouldn’t have picked you for this position if, after reading your blog and looking through your school records, I didn’t think that you were smart.” I cocked my chin forward. “You looked through my school records?” He shrugged. “Yeah, it’s really not that hard to do when you have the power to access anything right at your fingertips.” He wiggled his fingers before turning his chair back in the direction of the computer screen. “Oh and by the way." He looked over at me. “Yeah?" I scooted my chair closer to the computers, shifting it back toward the screens. “You really don’t need to wear the eye shadow. I think you look fine without trying.” He didn’t look at me as he spoke. I was hoping to catch some sort of a smile or a reaction in his eyes, but I caught nothing. “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?" I leaned in closer, trying to speak with a boyish tone. He let out a single laugh. “Did you just use some lame movie quote on me?” “That is definitely not a lame movie quote," I said matter-of-factly. “It’s a classic and probably one of my all-time favorite movies.” “Maybe I did underestimate that high IQ." He glanced over at me. “If you are into such stupid movies, you really can’t be that smart.” “Look at me! I’m Ace, I wear guyliner and think I know good cinema, but really I’m a closet classic movie junkie,” I mocked, waving my fingers in the air. “Are you trying to make a joke?” He twisted his chair back toward me. His eyes narrowed into tiny slits, making his face look even more like a Grecian statue. I put my hands down and faced my chair toward his. The gravity to his tone made me wonder if he was upset and I tried not to appear frightened as I took a big swallow before answering. “What if I am?” “My name is Alex and I love to make stupid jokes and watch terrible movies about infidelity,” he mocked in a voice that sounded exactly like mine. I inched my chair closer. My curiosity had overpowered my fear, and I wanted to know what else he could do. “How did you do that?” “Do what?" His voice had returned to his normal silvery tone. I put my hands on my hips. “Do you have any other super powers? Like, can you fly or something?” He laughed, shaking his head. “Alex, you seem to think I’m a superhero or something.” “Well you never said that you weren’t." I wiggled my eyebrows. He shook his head. “No I can’t fly without a ship, but there are a few things I could do that might impress you.” I tilted my head toward his. “Are you trying to impress me now?” He let out a deep breath. “Everything isn’t about trying to get into your pants.” I stammered, “That’s, uh, not what I meant.” His eyes met mine as I tried not to gasp from the way they seemed to drink in all of me. With one look my body ran the gamut of emotions from the fear that caused my heart to beat like a drum in my chest to the way my breath would get caught in my throat at the mere sight of his glowing eyes. “Then what did you mean?” “Well, we are friends, right? Friends can try to impress each other." I saved myself by blurting it out as quickly as I could. He nodded, looking back to the screen. “Right, friends. We can do that.” I looked back at my own screen, trying to avoid the lingering feeling that his eyes left on me. Sure we were friends. But part of me couldn’t deny—after sitting next to him all day long and staring at the curve of his jawline—that maybe I was losing my breath because of something other than fear of the unknown. Chapter 6 “You ready for movie night?” Jen knocked me out of my daydream. Whatever kind of weird alien crush I had on Ace was really getting to my psyche. I would try to flirt with him at work and sometimes he would reciprocate, but most of the time he would give me the cold shoulder with one-word answers and groans. When I wasn’t at work, I was constantly thinking of how I could get his attention or try to get him to lower his guard. “Yeah.” I shook the lingering thoughts of Ace’s dark eyes out of my head as I looked up at Jen. “Doing something human and normal definitely wouldn’t hurt me.” “I’m sure you’ll get used to it, eventually, or you’ll just go crazy and end up in the supermarket tabloids." She beamed. I rolled my eyes. “So where are we going for this movie night, anyway?” “We usually go to the boys' room since somehow they manage to have less stuff than us and can fit in an entertainment center,” she remarked as she opened one of her drawers. “But as the new girl, you get to do the honor of popping the popcorn before meeting us there.” She grabbed a few bags of buttered microwave popcorn from her drawer and handed them over to me. “Where am I supposed to pop this? Some alien lab that zaps them in a minute?" I arched an eyebrow. Jen grabbed a plastic bowl from her closet. “You still have so much to learn. There is a microwave in the cafeteria. Just don’t get lost on your way there or to the boys' room, which is just down the hall from ours.” “Aye, aye, captain.” I mock saluted her before grabbing the bowl and turning out the door toward the cafeteria. Usually I had someone with me to walk to the cafeteria, and since all the halls looked the same with their blinding white walls and floors, it was pretty easy to get lost. I ended up running into a few different rooms, one with balls of light bouncing off the wall and another with the spider aliens lounging on recliners and smoking from a giant hookah. I quickly ran from both of those rooms and was eager to find my way. Finally, I made it to the cafeteria and spotted the microwave. I approached the stand, expecting to see some high-tech device, but it looked just like the one my mom had in her kitchen. Just a plain, ordinary microwave. “Okay, I guess this will do." I peeled the wrapper off the bag and plopped it into the microwave. “You know people are going to really start to question your sanity if you keep talking to yourself like that," a low voice came over my shoulder. I gasped, leaping a few inches in the air before Ace slid in beside me, a tight-lipped smile forming on his face. “You scared me." I placed my hand to my heart, which seemed to be beating faster than normal. Of course, it tended to do that when Ace was around. He shrugged as he opened up the other microwave, placing a mug in it, and pressing a few buttons to set the timer. “You shouldn’t expect to be alone when you’re in a big operations center.” “Ha-ha, very funny." I turned toward the microwave pushing the buttons to get the popcorn going. “Do you always spend late nights eating popcorn?” I looked over to see that Ace hadn’t taken his attention away from me. His eyes were still locked on my face like he couldn't pry them away. I tried to hide my smile and suck in my stomach. “Some of the interns are just getting together for a movie night.” “And what are you adding to the movie collection?" He leaned in on the microwave stand. “Something about infidelity or star-crossed lovers?” Star-crossed lovers? Where did he come up with that one? Was that some sort of a reference to him having feelings for me? I was hoping my face wasn’t as red as it felt. I turned back toward the microwave, trying to hide it. “Maybe…” “Well, you claim to want to be a writer, so I just figured you’d be into all those Shakespeare movie remakes. You know, Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, or Othello." “Uh-huh, sure. That’s what you meant." I couldn’t hide my smile as it spread, all too large, across my face. He led into the opening, so I had to try flirting and hope that he wouldn’t just go cold. Not that I was ever the best at flirting. I watched men flirt with my mom all the time. Whether it was because she was a romance novelist or because she had dyed blond hair and a chest that defied gravity, I didn't know, but she didn't seem to mind it. The timer went off on Ace’s microwave. He let his gaze linger on mine as he removed the mug. “If I meant something other than what I said." He stepped closer, walking to the other side of me as he leaned his lips so close to my ear that I could feel every part of his icy cold skin searing into me. “You would know it.” He turned on his heel and walked down the hallway, not even looking back in my direction. **** “How could you burn the popcorn? There’s a button you press that says 'popcorn' and poof, perfect every time." Riley curled her lip in disgust as she plopped down on the futon. The boys' room was the same size as ours, but somehow they were able to utilize their space better. Two of the beds were bunked in one corner, with the other one closely flanking, which made enough room for a futon in the middle. They even had a spare wall for their big TV and game systems. The boys had to have gotten along better than me and Riley. If I even suggested she move her dresser or maybe not take up as much space for all of her stuff, she would probably just huff and tell me off. “I just got distracted, I guess." I took a seat down on the floor next to Jen. “Yeah, that seems to be happening to you a lot lately." Jen laughed as she rifled through the bowl of burnt popcorn. “Give her some credit. She has survived two alien attacks and been stuck living with the two of you." Gavin slid in on the floor next to me, a little too close, but there was really nowhere else for me to move. I guess I was Gavin’s only choice for a girl to try and get close to. Jen had a boyfriend back at school that all the boys kept talking about; he was some kind of a football or basketball player, or whatever. And Riley…well, Riley was Riley. It still bothered me that even though Gavin was attractive, he thought he could sit practically on top of me and think that I wouldn’t mind. I started to wonder if that was how Ace saw me—desperate. Justin popped in some gory horror movie complete with undead killers and screaming bad actresses. Gavin put his arm around me, squeezing my shoulder at the parts where another nameless face would get stabbed or thrown over a cliff. I was trying to figure out a way to get out of the situation. It wasn’t like I was with Ace or anything, but something about Gavin's hands on me just felt wrong. “Who’s ready for the sequel?" Justin chimed, climbing off the futon and over to the TV. By this time, Gavin had already pressed himself completely against my side and I didn’t even want to think of what his next move would be. I faked an exaggerated yawn, stretching my arms over my head as Gavin inched away from my movement. “I think that’s probably enough for me for tonight.” “Oh, come on, Al, it’s a Saturday night. You have plenty of time to sleep in tomorrow." Gavin slid his hand down my leg, letting it rest on my kneecap. Al? Where did he come up with that stupid nickname and how could he even think the he could give me one? The only person who ever gave me a nickname was my mom and even that was annoying. My brother's three-year-old brain somehow believed that was my real name. It made for real awkward conversations when I had to explain to people that the little boy yelling pookie bear was just my little brother. I flinched and jumped up before he could try and put his hand anywhere else. “Yeah, but it’s been a bit crazy lately learning all this internship stuff, and I think I’m ready for bed.” “Fine with us." Riley didn’t even look in my direction. “Start the movie, Justin.” Gavin stood up, slinking in beside me. “Do you want me to walk you back to your room?” “Uh, isn’t it just right down the hallway?" I blinked. “Yeah." He shifted his weight, running his fingers through his hair. “But I just thought you might want someone to walk you there.” “I think I can manage the ten-yard walk, but thanks." I shot him a quick smile, before dodging out the door to avoid him following. I crept into the darkness of my room, making sure that no one had followed me, secretly wishing that a certain alien wasn’t far behind. Chapter 7 “Do you ever feel out of place on this planet?" I didn’t look over at Ace as I scrolled through several questionable alien blogs. “Is that a trick question?" I glanced over to see that Ace’s smile had made an appearance. I let out a deep breath. “I don’t know. It’s just sometimes I feel out of place in life in general. Like I’m always going to say the wrong thing, or that I’ll just never fit in and always be the weird Italian girl with glasses.” I didn’t know why I was unloading everything on Ace. It wasn’t like we usually talked too much about our personal lives, but after the night Gavin tried to get closer to me, I found that I was distancing myself from the interns even more. It was as if I knew that I didn’t belong, but didn’t quite know how to voice it and somehow deep within me I knew that Ace would understand. There was something inside of me, like a primal instinct, gravitating more and more toward him. “Katherine the Curst, a title for a maid, of all the titles worst,” Ace sang, knocking me out of my thought process. “I thought you weren’t into Shakespeare?" I turned my chair in his direction. He did the same, spinning his chair and body around toward me, leaning in. “I never said I wasn’t into the guy. I was just making fun of your taste in movies.” “Well, if my taste in movies is so bad, then what do you prefer?" I folded my arms across my body. “Typical boy shoot 'em up movies?” He shook his head, not bothering to hide his massive smile. “It’s funny to me that you know I’m not human, but you still treat me like I’m a typical teenage boy.” I chewed on the inside of my lip. “Well, how else am I supposed to see you? I’ve been working alongside you for awhile now and that’s how you act.” He cocked an eyebrow. “So I’m just another random teenage boy to you?” I stammered, “Well, not another random one, but another guy nonetheless.” “Could a normal teenage boy do this?" He leaped out of his chair, and with one fell swoop picked up the chair that I was sitting on, with me still in it, and lifted it over his head without straining. I looked down as he smiled up at me, before gently placing the chair back down. His finger grazed my skin and I felt a warmth pulsate from his fingertips, up my arms, and into my face where it flushed my skin to a point that I’m sure Ace had to notice. He didn’t say anything. For awhile he just stood over me, with his face leaned in toward mine. “Impressed?” His words were like ice clouds forming in the air between us. I wanted to open my mouth and catch them on my tongue, but I resisted. “Well…I…uh." I tried to find the right words, but all that would come out was babble. He smirked as he sat back down in his chair. “I thought so.” “You know, most guys when they try to impress a girl, they do something like buy her flowers or take her out to a movie or something,” I remarked, spinning my chair back toward the computer screens. “I think we’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not most guys.” “Well you don’t have to be so gruff about it. It’s not like I don’t know what you’re capable of.” As the words escaped my lips I immediately regretted them. I saw flashes of Magpie with her hand slithering around my neck and her words echoed over and over, You know what she’s capable of. I froze. Every single bone in my body stiffened as her words crept into my ears. They took me away to another place, one that left me in darkness. A place I didn't belong. “Alex? Alex? Are you okay?” I looked up to see Ace hovering over me, his hands on either side of my face. A warm glow radiated onto my cheeks. I gazed into his eyes and noticed they weren't cold or calculating, but filled with concern and longing. The black of his irises blended into his pupil, which were so dark that I could see my own reflection in them. His eyes had the same beautiful radiance as they did the day Magpie attacked me and when he saved me from the cafeteria brawl. I swallowed, not moving as I kept my eyes locked on his. The dark thoughts slowly faded away. “Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry I was just thinking about something." He let out a deep breath, still hovering over me. “You really zoned out there and I was afraid something was really wrong.” Something was very wrong. Magpie’s words still haunted me. No matter how much I tried to forget about what she did, I couldn’t get her words out of my head. A traitor. Different. “Don’t worry." I cleared my throat as he gradually sat back down in front of me. “I’m fine, really.” “You didn’t get dizzy or something from me lifting you like that?" He arched his eyebrows. I laughed, trying my hardest not to snort. “Ace, I’m an Air Force colonel’s daughter. I’ve been up a lot higher than that and not gotten dizzy.” “Well, look at you.” He leaned back in his chair, putting his arms behind his head. “Miss I’m-tough-because-I’m-the-colonel’s-daughter-and-know-Shakespeare.” I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please. You’re just upset because I was only pretending to be impressed by your little lifting trick.” “Little lifting trick?” He inched forward, placing his hands on his knees. “I just lifted you over my head. That’s what you humans like to call mad skill.” I covered my mouth to stifle my snort-like giggle. “And you really don’t think you act like a teenage boy?” His eyes glowed against the computer screen as a huge smile spread across his face and he burst out laughing. “Okay, maybe I actually did just sound like a human boy there.” “I’d say so.” He shook his head, sucking in a deep breath of air. “I’m normally not like that. It’s not every day I go out of my way to try and show off for a human girl.” “So why start now?” I inched closer, waiting for his answer. He shrugged, the smile disappearing from his face as he turned back to his computer. “I don’t know. I guess I haven’t really interacted with humans much in the past couple years and kind of got carried away.” I nodded, feeling a pit of disappointment gathering in my stomach. For a moment there I had felt something between us, not the usual fear mixed with intrigue, but more intrigue and longing. “Oh, I guess that makes sense then.” “Besides, I shouldn’t try and get you too impressed with my special talents or you may never want to leave Circe.” He flashed a hint of a smile in my direction. “Oh, I’m definitely getting out of here and will hopefully have an acceptance letter to Columbia waiting for me when I get home." I widened my eyes, absently clicking some numbers on the keyboard. “Is that the real reason you came to Circe? To get into some Ivy League school?” I looked over to see that his eyes were fixated on me with that same protective stare he held whenever we were in public. I tried to hold back my smile and turned toward him. “Well, as much as I love spending my time hanging out with aliens, I needed to add more extracurriculars to my college applications and Circe seemed like a great option.” “Oh.” A hint of disappointment rang in his voice. “I told you, Ace; I didn’t even know that aliens, or you, existed before I came here." I was confused, wondering if he was actually hurt by what I said, but tried my best to hide it in my face. “Well, I just hope your Ivy League school will let you come back next summer. No one can internet stalk like you can." He grinned. “Pretty impressive for a human girl.” “I do what I can.” I couldn’t get past wanting to know what Ace was really thinking. I longed to be able to read what was going on behind those mysterious eyes of his. The real alien. The security office with Ace was the first place I felt like I really belonged. I didn’t want to do anything to ruin that, but part of me wanted to know how far I could push this relationship. Chapter 8 The weeks had become even more uneventful. Sure, there were a lot of aliens that had put some questionable things on their blogs and the usual cafeteria fights, but the alien I was the most concerned with didn’t act like he thought any more of me than a coworker. “Any big plans for tonight?" Jen looked up from her laptop as I lay across my bed, reading my worn-out copy of Frankenstein. I had planned to reread it before the end of the summer, but the way things were going, I was starting to feel like Dr. Frankenstein myself, trying to convince the world there was nothing wrong with adoring a monster. I shook my head, looking up from the book. “Just another exciting night at Circe.” Jen slid the computer off her lap, sitting up. “You know you’re going to have to get out of here sometime. We do have clearance to leave Circe and it would be nice to see you in another part of the building if nothing else.” She stood up and made her way over to sit next to me, pushing my pillows out of the way as she spread her long body over the bed. “And you haven’t even hung out with the rest of us since that time we had horror movie night.” I hoped the curl of my lip in disgust wasn’t too obvious when she mentioned horror movie night. I was trying to put the whole thing in the back of my mind. Gavin was attractive and I liked hanging out with Jen, Malcolm, and Justin, but I just didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. It wasn’t like I was dating Ace or anything, but somehow it just felt wrong to try to give anyone else a chance when all I could think about were his coal-black eyes. A knock came at our door, interrupting Jen from whatever she was going to say next. “It’s open!" Jen yelled. Slowly a brown mess of hair poked through the door, followed by the rest of Gavin's lean body. “Uh, hey guys.” “Hey Gavin.” Jen beamed, doing a little wave. Great, the last person I wanted to see. I sucked in a deep breath of air, trying my best not to sound annoyed. “Hey.” He closed the door behind him as he approached my bed. Please don’t make yourself comfortable and sit down, please, please, please. “Here, cop a squat." Jen scooted over, making room for Gavin to sit right next to me. He sat down, of course, uncomfortably close to me. The overbearing scent of his cologne and deodorant reached my nose and it was hard for me not to gag as he made himself right at home on my bed. He even leaned back on the headboard, sliding his shoes off and putting his legs next to mine. “So any big plans tonight?” I thought he was speaking to both of us, but his eyes never left me. “Funny that you should mention that." Jen tapped my leg, grinning from ear to ear. “Alex was just telling me how she had nothing planned for tonight.” “Huh, well that’s a coincidence." Gavin’s smile widened. His teeth were definitely not as white as Ace’s, and I was pretty sure that he had that same underbite as my grandma’s shih tzu. I started to wonder why I actually found him attractive the first day. “Well, I, uh,” I stammered, trying to think of excuses in my head to not have one more awkward moment with Gavin. “I was actually just thinking that I probably do need to head to the security office to do some extra work tonight. There has been a lot of crazy stuff out in the blogosphere lately. I’m not sure that Ace can handle it all himself.” Jen laughed. “Alex, I think a Caltian can handle a few delusional alien blogs by himself for one night.” “Yeah, come on, Al. I’m sure you can use some human interaction.” Gavin nudged my hip with his. I tried not to slither away, but just the feeling of his sweaty boy body against mine was enough to gag me. Not to mention the fact that I absolutely did not like his stupid little nickname for me. “No, really it’s fine." I shook my head, jumping up from the bed. Jen and Gavin looked up at me, their eyebrows raised like I was acting crazy. “Alex, you were literally just telling me that you didn’t have any plans." Jen crossed her arms over her chest. I shrugged. “Yeah, it just kind of slipped my mind.” Gavin stood up, slowly circling the bed. “Or you just want to spend more time with that weird alien that you work with.” Jen shook her head. “Oh, come on, Gavin. Alex is certainly not into Ace.” “Really?" Gavin took a step closer toward me, a smirk painted on his face. “Because you know, who could blame her? He’s saved her twice from an alien attack, somehow always ends up in the same place that she is, oh and of course I can’t forget that creepy stalker stare that he always has latched on to her.” I tried not to let my mouth gape open. Ace did not have a creepy stalker stare. Okay, maybe his eyes did tend to linger in my direction, but he definitely did not have a creepy stalker stare. “Gavin, you’re being ridiculous." Jen stood up next to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. Gavin shrugged off Jen’s hand, keeping his eyes locked on me in a cold stare. “Am I being ridiculous, Alex? Or does that creature have some sort of a stalkerish crush on you?” “I…uh…” I pushed my glasses up on my nose, looking from the floor and back to Gavin. “I mean, not that I know of. He’s never said anything about it. We just talk about work things.” Gavin took a step even closer, the smell of potato chips and Mountain Dew seeping from his mouth. “Is that really all that you talk about? He’s never tried to impress you with his little Caltian tricks, like super strength or maybe even asked to probe you?” Jen pushed herself in the middle of us, making Gavin finally step back. “Okay, seriously, I think that’s enough.” “Whatever.” Gavin lifted his arms, sliding around Jen and walking backward toward the door. “You can have your little alien stalker all to yourself. Just have fun trying to explain to people why you are dating someone from another species.” Before Jen and I could even get another word in, Gavin had stormed out and slammed the door shut behind him. Jen looked from the door and back to me. “Well that was interesting.” I plopped down on the bed, letting out the big breath of air that I had been holding in. “How about awkward?” Jen giggled. “Uh, yeah, to say the least.” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t know what his deal is. Just because I don’t want his grabby hands all over me, doesn’t mean that I’m just going to start pawing Ace.” Jen sat down beside me, chewing at her bottom lip. “Gavin is kind of right. It does kind of seem like Ace likes you." I shook my head. “How could you even think that? I’m barely with him except for at work.” “Oh come on, Alex!" Jen tapped my knee. “Like we all haven’t noticed the way he looks at you when you're with us, or that he just always happens to be around when there’s danger. It’s like he wants to be your guardian or something.” I shrugged. “It’s really not like that, Jen. We’re just friends.” Even though I had really hoped that what Jen and Gavin were saying was true, I couldn’t let them know that. After Gavin's bad reaction, I didn’t want to know what everyone else would say if they knew how I really felt about Ace. “Uh huh, and I’m sure he feels the exact same way.” She giggled. “I think you’ve been watching way too many of those sappy romantic comedies.” “Well fine." Jen stood up, putting her hand out to me. “If you really think that I’ve been watching too many sappy movies, then we’re going to have a girl’s night and you’ll show me the type of movies that you like to watch.” I was happy to have the distraction as I pondered in my head what Gavin and Jen had said. Could Ace really be interested in me or was that just gossip? As Jen and I sat huddled on my bed, watching one of my favorite movies, I couldn’t help but think back to Ace’s star-crossed lovers comment. Even though I would never admit it out loud, I thought that maybe Jen was right and maybe so were all those sappy movies—except none of them said what happens when you fall for someone of a different species. Chapter 9 Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, and even Catherine and Heathcliff were all starcrossed lovers who weren't supposed to be together. Of course none of these characters were aliens and all of them knew at one point or another that there was a mutual attraction. “So, do you like me?" The words took forever to form in my head, but once they came out it was like word vomit. Ace didn’t even take his eyes off some random Martian’s blog. “Well, I don’t really know you, but I guess you're okay. You’re a good worker and you come up with some witty commentary." I stared at him, waiting for him to look in my direction, to do anything. “No, I mean like really like me." I cocked my head to the side. “Or is that a weird question since you’re probably a lot older than me?” He shook his head as air escaped through his nose like a silent laugh. Then he slowly turned his chair toward me, his eyes drifted from the screen and over to my face as a smile curved onto his lips. “How old do you think I am, Alex?" I let my shoulders shrug. “I don’t know, light years?” He sighed, shaking his head and glancing at the ground before his eyes stared right into mine, with a look that made me wonder if he was searching for something. “I’m eighteen.” “Really?" I leaned forward, inching my chair closer as I tucked my feet underneath my legs. “Well, yeah. I’ve been this way for awhile, but eighteen nonetheless." His eyes shifted from the screen, then back to me. “What do you mean it’s been awhile?" I leaned even closer, hoping not to fall out of my chair. “How long have you been here, you know—” I twirled my hand above my head. “—on Earth?” “Since the 1940s." He shifted his weight from one side to the other, his eyes trying to avoid mine. “No way!" I bounced in my seat. “Did you come here with the Roswell crash?” “The what?" His eyes finally locked on mine again before he burst into a fit of laughter. “Do people actually believe that weather balloon crash in New Mexico was an alien?" I pouted. “Well, it’s all over those specials on the History Channel." “If an alien ship actually crash landed, more people would know it. They are usually pretty big, unless it’s some sort of a fighter plane. And when we do land, we usually are better at covering it up." He looked at the floor and then back up to me. “That’s what hurricanes and other natural disasters are for.” “Whoa, wait a second." I put my arms out as I slid my feet down to the floor. “So you’re telling me that natural disasters are just a cover up for alien landings?” “Well, not all of them." He rolled his eyes. “But most, yeah.” “So did you come over during a hurricane, then?" I scooted my chair closer to his. “What’s with all the questions today, Alex? This is more than you’ve spoken all week." He rolled his chair closer to me. His knee bumped against mine. We officially could not roll any closer. I felt a cold shiver radiating through his suit and onto my body. I trembled, wondering how his body could be so cold when his fingers always felt warm beneath mine. I shrugged, looking down at our touching knees. “Just curious, I guess.” “Fine, I answer a question about me and you answer a question about you. Fair enough?" I looked up, focusing on his jawline instead of his face. There was no way I would ever say no to his stare, which could definitely get me in a lot of trouble. “Fair enough." I pointed at him. “But you have to answer my last question first. How did you get here?” “Well, that’s an easy one." He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his body. “World War II hit and your fighter pilots weren't up to snuff against the Japanese and the Germans, so the Army Air Force recruited the Caltians to help them out.” “So is that why they call you Ace?" I tilted my head. “Someone’s been studying their history." He beamed. “Well, yeah. My dad, is, or was, in the Air Force, so I think I should know about Ace fighter pilots." I tried to sit up as straight as I could, folding my hands on my knees. “Okay, my turn.” He stood and put his hands on both of my armrests, leaning in so that his face was only a few inches from mine. He smelled like peppermint tea and the breeze after a snowstorm. It was the most wonderful thing I had ever smelled and I wanted to inhale all of him. “Do you—” His eyes drew up, drinking me in before meeting my stare. “—like me?” I couldn’t breathe or swallow. It was as if all the air and saliva had been sucked out of me, and I just sat there breathless and staring as Ace arched his eyebrows. His intense focus fixated into my own like the answer would be right there on my face. Then he smiled, letting a hushed laugh escape his lips. “I’m kidding with you!" He sat back down, bumping my knees with his and then turning his chair back toward the screen. “Oh, yeah, I knew that." I swallowed hard, turning my chair back toward the screen. He might have said he was kidding, but just as all the air came back into my lungs, a part of me felt disappointed. I shook those feelings out of my head and looked back to the computer. “Did you really?” I turned back to realize that his eyes never left me. I looked down. “That’s two questions; you only get one.” “Fine then." He pulled my chair and whipped it toward him so hard that I couldn’t even think or catch my breath. “Ow, Ace." I rubbed the back of my neck, feeling the exact spot where there was still a bruise from where Magpie choked me. “Why would you ask me a question like that anyway? If I like you?" His stare was so deep I felt like I could actually feel his eyes drill into mine. I tried to look anywhere but at him. But any time I moved, his eyes would always find mine again. I let out the weakest shrug I could under the pressure. “I don’t know. Some of the other interns were just talking about the way you looked at me the other day.” He sighed as if my words were the final punch that defeated him, and he sat back down in his chair, shaking his head. “You know aliens and humans aren’t supposed to have any kind of relations other than professional, right?” I arched a brow, inching my chair just a little closer, hoping that it was safe to do so. “Well I mean we’re friends, right? Can we not do that or something?” This time he was the one trying not to look at me. “Technically yes and technically no.” I crossed my legs and I leaned in closer. “That didn’t make any sense.” He finally turned toward me, but this time instead of his eyes looking intense and frightening, they had softened with an expression that made him look like a scared puppy. “I wasn’t supposed to save you that day. I shouldn’t have gotten involved.” For the first time his hands trailed to my fingertips, tracing along my nail line. I felt the warmth from his fingers explode through my body. “But when I saw you laying there, so helpless…” He didn’t take his eyes off my fingers as he intertwined them with his own, letting their heat lock into me. “I knew that I had to do something,” he finished, looking up. His face was so close to mine that I could see every line, as if it were molded by the Greeks themselves into a picturesque statue. My lips trembled as his words fell onto them, parting ever so slightly as he leaned in closer. The sound of the metal doors being pushed open startled us and we both almost jumped out of our chairs. Ace quickly released his hands from mine and started furiously typing away on the screen. I was too shocked to even move, so I just sat there trying to catch my breath as my dad walked through the door. “Hey, Alex." My dad put his hand on my shoulder and nodded in Ace’s direction. “Ace.” He couldn’t have seen anything; he had been behind the door. But even if he did see something, was there anything to see? Holding hands and an almost-kiss couldn’t be a crime. Or maybe it was in the alien world. Ace nodded in my dad’s direction, not looking away from the screen. "Colonel." “Uh, what are you doing here, Dad?" I looked up at him, trying to stop the shaking in my knees. “Checking up on me?” “Is there a reason I need to be checking up on you?" My dad raised an eyebrow, giving me the dad death stare. “Well, no." I looked down at my feet, trying to grasp at what to say without sounding guilty. Ace sighed. “Just tell him, Alex.” I looked up and over at Ace, trying to hide the panic in my eyes. Was it okay to be telling my dad that I just had a very close encounter with an alien? Ace took his eyes off me and looked up at my dad. “She figured out how to hack other people’s accounts, and we were looking at what sort of e-mails her classmates were sending back and forth. I know it’s against protocol.” He shrugged as he turned back to the computer screen. “But she was curious.” I gulped, forcing a weak smile as I looked back up at my dad. “Well, I guess I can let it slide for you this time." He patted my shoulder. “Just don’t go snooping around again, okay? Wouldn’t want the colonel's daughter getting in trouble, now would we? I think you’ve already given us a few scares." He smiled, but it was forced, like a warning. It was as if he knew what we were really doing, but he couldn’t prove it. "Speaking of e-mails." My dad cleared his throat. "Your mom has left me a few messages. She said that she's tried e-mailing and calling you, but hasn't gotten a response." Of course I saw the e-mails and missed text messages, but I didn't want to read my mom's embarrassing e-mails in front of Ace, or anyone else for that matter. As a novelist my mom seemed to have a way with words, specifically the way she would overdramatize them. She could take an innocent trip to the grocery store with my little brother and turn it into World War III. Not something I wanted my alien crush to be reading over my shoulder. It wasn't like I already didn't get enough embarrassment from my dad checking in on us. I didn't want to add another humiliating parent to the mix. I nodded. "Yeah, I saw them. I've just been really busy getting acclimated to everything, but I'll make sure to send her back a message." An awkward silence passed between us as my dad looked between Ace and me, like he was waiting for us to say something. “I guess I should get back to my real job then." I turned toward the computer screen, hoping that I hadn't embarrassed myself too much in front of Ace and that my face wasn't completely flushed. “Have to go and check out some more alien blogs.” “Alright, well I’ll see you later.” Dad patted my shoulder again before exiting through the metal doors. We didn’t move. It seemed like hours before Ace finally scooted back over to me. “Well that was interesting." I breathed a sigh of relief. Ace turned my chair back toward him, not saying a word as his fingers traced my jawline, locking his eyes onto mine. “Yeah, but I would do it all over again.” Chapter 10 Trying to work was really hard when all you can think about was how the lines in your coworker's jaw curve into a perfect dimpled chin. After all those times he was so aloof, it was difficult to not welcome his sudden change of heart, and think about testing how far it could go. "Hello? Alex? Are you even listening to me?" Jen asked. When all I was thinking about was Ace, it kind of made it hard to think about anything else, or pay attention to what I was doing. "Oh, yeah, I'm totally listening. I was just thinking about something that you said." Jen was sitting on the bed across from me, her long legs pulled up to her chin as she swept a dark pink color across her toenails. "Or you're thinking about someone." She pointed the end of her brush at me. I was hoping that my cheeks weren't the exact same color as her nail polish as I stammered, "No, totally not true." "You know Gavin has done nothing but talk about you. You should really go out with us. I know you can't drink, but it's a podunk bowling alley in the mountains, so I'm sure they won't card you just to get in." She looked back down to her nails. I had avoided going out with the rest of the interns for weeks, especially after the last incident with Gavin. I usually spent my nights working overtime in the office, just to use it as an excuse to blog, or really just to spend more time with Ace. "I don't know. What would my dad say?" I thought that was a good enough excuse as I flopped down on the bed, looking at my own unpainted nails. "He would say to stop ignoring your friends and to live a little." She screwed the cap on her nail polish before hovering over me. "You can't spend your summer cooped up in here with a Caltian or you may just turn into an alien yourself!" I sat straight up, widening my eyes as I looked at Jen. "Can that really happen?" She snorted. "Okay, seriously, Alex, if you are asking me that question, then you really aren't working when you are saying that you are." She wiggled her eyebrows. "Is somebody doing more than just working behind closed doors?" "Ew!" It was the first I had heard from Riley all night. She sprang from her bed and stormed over to Jen's bed, pushing Jen aside to sit down directly facing me. "You aren't really fooling around with that Ace guy are you?" "Well, no, but—" "But, what?" She raised her penciled-in eyebrows and scooted closer. "Aliens and humans don't date. Period. It's just gross. They're like another species. It would be as if you were making out with a lizard, or a dolphin, or something." “Riley, there’s no reason to be rude about it." Jen looked from Riley then back to me. “But are you seeing him?" I tried not to meet either of their faces, but I could feel them staring at me, so I focused on Jen’s fluffy pink bedspread. “No, nothing's going on. We’re just friends.” “Ugh." Riley got off the bed and headed toward the bathroom. “Still weird. I mean how could you even have anything in common with him? He’s a freaking Caltian.” She shut the door behind her, leaving Jen and I sitting alone on the bed. We sat in silence until I heard the light spray of the water turn on and hoped that Riley wouldn’t hear us over the shower. “If you are interested in him, I won’t tell Riley,” Jen whispered, inching closer. “I don’t understand it, but if you are—” "Well, I don’t know if you would call it interested." I smiled, still looking down at the bedspread. “I knew it!" Jen tried her hardest not to squeal as she bounced. I finally looked up at Jen, trying to hide my smile. I failed miserably, as it clearly spread across my face and settled into a wide grin. “How did you know?" I asked. My smile began to fade while I twirled a stray strand of fabric around my fingers. "It's not like he would have any interest in me. You said that Caltians are like the popular kids, which means a guy who has spent years on this planet would definitely not be interested in a blogging nerd like me." “I think you aren’t giving yourself enough credit." She got off the bed and walked toward her dresser. “Maybe you should invite him to come with tonight." She plucked a shirt out of her drawer. “Why would I do that?" I got up from the bed and walked over to Jen, leaning up against her dresser. “Because that’s what you do with guys you like. Invite them out with your friends." She raised her eyebrows. “Sometimes it seems like you're light years away from other people’s thought processes.” “But won't people like Riley freak out about it?" I pushed. “Who really cares what Riley thinks?" She slid the shirt over the tank top she was wearing. “Tell him to show up with some of his alien friends and you may just happen to run into each other there.” “I can’t do that." I looked down at my shoes, scuffing one against the other. She pulled her shirt down, and then looked at me. “Of course you can. Now go put on something that doesn’t make you look twelve, and go ask him!" She pushed me toward my dresser. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?" I looked down at my faded unicorn t-shirt and jeans. “It’s vintage. He’ll appreciate vintage.” Jen rolled her eyes and tossed a black v-neck shirt in my direction. “Yeah, he appreciates vintage, but he doesn’t want to date it.” I held the shirt up, staring at the very low-cut neckline. "Can't I just wear something that I already own?" "Well, yeah, if you have something that isn't your uniform or another one of those vintage tshirts." She dug through a small pink bag on her dresser, pulling out an eye shadow and holding it up to my face. "What are you doing?" I raised my eyebrows. "I'm trying to find an eye shadow that will match your olive complexion. It's not every day that I'm trying to sexify an Italian girl for an alien." She giggled, removing my glasses and swiping a layer of eye shadow over my left eyelid before I could protest. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" I questioned as she tugged my hair out of its ponytail. "No." She let her fingers glide through my hair before she grabbed a jar of hair wax from her dresser and started taking the limp brown layers and flipping them at the ends as they fell against my face. "But the best ideas never are." **** I walked down the long, glaring white hallway toward the security office, hoping that Ace would be there. I felt like I looked really stupid wearing the low-cut shirt and all the makeup that Jen made me wear. I thought I looked like some kind of desperate housewife, but Jen kept assuring me that I looked great and pushed me out of the room before Riley could get out of the bathroom and figure out what we were up to. As the door to the security office slid open, I tried to hide the huge grin that wanted to spread across my face, as I saw that Ace was sitting there. “Hey Alex, ready to do some more overtime?" He glanced at me, but then when he actually saw me he spun his chair so that he was completely facing me, covering his mouth to stifle a laugh. “What’s so funny?" I crossed my arms, trying to cover my gaping chest and walk toward him. He removed his hand from his mouth and stood up, inching toward me. “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?" I could feel the coldness from his body as if his skin were practically on me, while his eyes peered down into mine. I gulped before regaining my composure and looking up at him. “Quoting one of my favorite movies is not going to make up for you laughing at me.” “You know this whole look might be complete if you had contacts and got rid of the glasses." I tried not to stare, but my lips were quivering with each word he breathed onto my face. “Well, that’s not going to happen since I’m allergic to contact lenses, so I guess you’ll just have to get used to my four eyes." I tried to look defiant as I adjusted my glasses, but couldn’t deny how weak I was getting in the knees. I couldn’t tell if it was because I didn’t have my temperature control suit on or if my body was actually just overcome with a cold chill from Ace being so close. “There is always eye surgery." He lifted his hands and removed my glasses, his fingers gliding through my hair and sending tingles through my scalp before he set them aside. “All those fancy eye surgeries are just eye doctors using Caltian saliva to cure people’s bad vision.” “Really?" I tried not to let my voice waver, but as I stared at his lips, so close to mine, it was hard not to. “Yeah." His fingers moved to the side of my face. “Do you want me to try it?” “Um, sure." There was no way that I would have ever said no to anything he asked me to do, especially when he had his hands on my face and was looking at me with that intense stare. And well, I wanted to be able to see without having to wear glasses all the time. “Alright now, hold still and open your eyes really wide." He pressed his gloved palms against my temples and moved his lips, so they were only an inch from my face. I opened my eyes really wide, thinking that I must look ridiculous. “Ready.” He sucked in a huge breath, making a gurgling sound as if he was going to spit, and then pulled away in a fit of laughter that left him holding his stomach and leaning over. “What’s so funny? Did I really look that stupid?" I quickly grabbed my glasses and slid them back on, trying to ignore how hot my face felt. Even though most of his body was always freezing, his every touch still made me feel warm all over. “You were seriously just about to let me spit in your eye!" He breathed between laughs, before walking back toward me. “Well, you told me that Caltian spit would cure my eyesight." I held out my hands to the side. He approached me, lacing his fingers with mine. “And do you really believe everything that people tell you?” The heat radiated from his fingers and I couldn’t help but stare down at them. I raised our intertwined hands. "Why are your hands always so warm when the rest of you is freezing? And this time I’ll know if you’re lying.” Now it was his turn to get embarrassed. His fingertips circled each one of my fingers. “Well it’s probably not something you would believe even if I told you.” I squeezed our intertwined hands together. “Try me.” “Well, when humans get excited to see someone they like…" His eyes darted away before returning back to my face. I couldn't believe it. The great Ace was actually getting flustered. "…things happen," he continued. "You get weak in the knees." He inched closer, pushing his legs against mine. "Your lips tremble." He touched his finger to my lips, making them quiver even more than they already were. "Or, other things." His eyes trailed from my toes, back up to my face. “But Caltians—” He released his hand from mine and for the first time slid off his fingerless glove. “—We usually maintain a cool temperature of forty-five degrees Fahrenheit, but when we get this excited, this happens." He put my hand back into his and it was like the feeling of static electricity running through my body. The heat was so intense that it sent a wave of warmth from the tip of my toes to the top of my head and everywhere in between. “It’s all in our hands.” His eyes met mine again. I couldn’t tell if it was the warm feeling running through my body or just how close I was to Ace, but every part of me wanted him closer, to feel the cold air from his body. Ace obviously had the same idea as he leaned in toward me, his breath forming an ice cloud on my lips. “So, I guess the change of clothes worked?” Ace and I jumped back, releasing our hands. Jen stood there, staring at us with her hands on her hips. “Uh, Ace was just telling me," I stammered, my eyes darting around like my excuse would be somewhere in the room. Ace put his glove back on, not even saying a word. He just grinned from ear to ear. “Yeah, yeah, from what I saw it didn’t look like talking." She looked from Ace to me, before looping her arm through mine. “So, I guess Alex asked if you and your friends wanted to stop by the bowling alley near the reservation?" Jen stared at Ace and he tried everything not to look at us. “Well, no, I didn’t actually ask him." I looked at Ace and felt that same electricity running through me without even touching him. “But if you’re not doing anything, the interns are going out to the bowling alley. If you have nothing better to do tonight. Which I’m sure you do.” “Yeah." Ace sat down in his chair, acting like he was looking up something on the screen. “I might stop by if I’m not too busy here. Have fun though.” His words stung me more than I wanted. I thought I saw something in his eyes that said he wanted to be with me as much as I had longed to be with him. But as soon as Jen walked in the room he acted as if nothing happened, as if nothing that was said between us was real. Following Jen into the hall, I tried to hide my longing, but I couldn't stop myself from peeking back through the closing door. The door was like a metaphor for our relationship, each of us tried to open it, but every time we got close, it just closed again. I wished that Jen would have just waited a few moments before interrupting us, because I wasn't even sure if I would be able to open Ace's door again. Chapter 11 “Those humans have been here a few weeks and they get clearance to take out a Jeep, but I’ve been here for centuries and never once got to take out so much as a riding lawn mower," a small orange alien with long inky black hair and a face like a pug whined. The bored-looking guy sitting behind the desk in the hangar rolled his eyes. “Snurf, you know why you don’t have clearance.” “That was the Middle Ages! And come on, you know everyone agreed Earth needed some sort of a plague!" It stomped its pig-like feet. I leaned over toward Jen and whispered, “did it really do that?” Jen shrugged and whispered back, “Wouldn’t put it past a girl from Venus. They aren’t known for their class.” “Alright, Mr. James, it looks like you are all set. Just make sure to have the vehicle back by midnight." The desk guy handed a set of keys to Malcolm, ignoring the steam that was rising from Snurf’s overly teased hair. Gavin came up behind me and pressed his lips to my ear. "We'd better go before she explodes." Obviously Gavin had forgotten, or had chosen to ignore our interaction only a few nights ago, and was still trying his hardest to make an impact on me. As we approached the big green vehicle we heard the clunking of heels behind us. I was afraid that it was Snurf coming after us, but when I turned around, I saw she was the least of my worries. “Hey, sorry, I got sidetracked reading an article, but I'm here now!" The last person I expected or wanted to see was coming toward the vehicle. Riley. She climbed in the front seat like it was some sort of throne and didn't even look at the rest of us. “Uh, are there enough seats for all of us?" I looked up to the small backseat then back down to Gavin, Jen, and Justin. “Well, I'm not sitting in the back," Riley quipped and buckled her seat belt. "And it looks like we are all—" she stopped to smirk in my direction. "—well, most of us are twenty-one and should be able to get in without a problem. If anyone needs to stay back, it should be the underagers." I was about to turn around and head back to my room when I felt Gavin’s hand on my shoulder. “It’s fine. We can squeeze in.” He looked down at me, smiling. “The girls can sit on our laps if they need to." Gavin’s arms slipped around me as Malcolm started up the Jeep and headed out of the hangar. I wished that it had been Ace’s arms around me instead, and I couldn’t help let my mind wander back to our second almost-kiss in the security office. I really hoped that he would be waiting for me at our destination. The bowling alley was about thirty miles from the base in some small town with a population of 200 and one stop sign. Each house looked more worn down than the next and in the middle of town sat the bowling alley. It looked more like someone had thrown up a rickety shack in the middle of a few houses. The only light came from some candy-colored signs in the windows. I tried to ignore the moldy smell in the air as we walked past the mixture of locals in cowboy hats leaning against the wood-paneled bar or teetering on snakeskin-upholstered stools. “Alright, I need a drink." Riley sauntered over to the bartender, an overweight redhead who was missing so many teeth I wondered how she was able to talk. “So, do you want to bowl?" Gavin looked over at me. “Of course she wants to bowl." Jen nudged me. “She needs some good ol’ human activities.” Gavin forced a smile, gritting through his teeth like he was struggling to speak. “Great, I’ll go get us some shoes if you girls go pick out a lane.” He didn't even paying attention to Jen, just stared at me. “What size are you?” “Seven,” I blurted, staring down at the sticky floor. “Same,” Jen said before Gavin turned toward the shag carpet-lined shoe counter. “I thought you had obnoxiously large feet,” Jen whispered. We walked over to the six lane bowling area, complete with seventies Coca-Cola ads and orange carpet that felt like sandpaper. “I do, but I didn’t want him to know that," I whispered back, not looking at Jen as I searched the lanes, hoping to see Ace or at least someone else from Circe, but there wasn’t anyone I recognized except for the people I rode in with. “What are you looking for, brown eyes?" Justin asked as he and Malcolm approached, handing Jen a drink. “I think she’s hoping to see someone of a different race here, and I’m not talking about Malcolm." Jen winked before taking a sip of her drink. “You’re not talking about that alien you work with, are you?" Malcolm raised an eyebrow. “Hey, what’s up? You all aren’t talking about me, are you?" Gavin asked as he and Riley walked down to the bowling area. “I guess only if you’re tall, dark, and not from this planet." Justin laughed, slamming the rest of his drink. Riley rolled her eyes. “Can we just spend one night not talking about those things? It’s bad enough we have to spend all day working with them. I thought by taking this internship I would get some great research for my thesis on Mars' plant life, but having to work alongside those bugs has made me really wish I had just taken an internship back in Philly.” She shivered, shaking her head as she knocked around a few ice cubes in her drink with a tiny red straw. Then she looked directly at me, a smug smile crossing her face. “But I don’t think Alex minds working with the bugs. Do you, Alex?” I could feel the heat of everyone’s eyes on me. I tried to focus on the wood-paneled walls and ignoring them. “Oh, come on, guys. We aren’t here to talk about work. Let’s bowl." Jen nudged me before heading toward the rusted metal ball rack. Everyone else followed, but Gavin slinked in next to me. “Were you really looking around for one of those aliens?" he whispered. I tried to ignore the pointedness of the question and knew the answer that he wanted wasn't the one that he was going to get. “Well, I kind of invited Ace.” Gavin’s eyes widen as his hands closed into a tight fist around his plastic cup. “But it was just to be nice,” I blurted, trying to cover my tracks. “He was asking me why I was all dressed up, so I told him that we were going out and he could come if he wanted.” Gavin shook his head, crushing the glass in his white-knuckled fist with a loud pop. “I can’t believe you have to work with that thing all day. You shouldn’t have even brought it up to him. I don’t think he even has clearance to leave base,” he spat. “Why wouldn't he have permission?” Everyone went silent and I heard a low growl escape Gavin's lips. He leaned in closer. “You really don’t know the kind of guy you’re working with? What that bug has done?” “Come on, Gavin. Let’s just have some fun. Let's not talk about aliens tonight." Justin swooped in at Gavin's side and put his hand on his shoulder, but Gavin flicked it away. A bead of sweat formed on his forehead as he wiped back his bangs. “No, if she wants to know, I'll tell her. We don't want her to have another incident like with the Cephlapod." Gavin leaned in even closer. His breath smelled just as sour as the words that were coming out of his mouth. “That little alien friend of yours isn’t as innocent as he makes himself out to be. Trying to act like he's your guardian when really there should be someone guarding you from him. He’s classified as dangerous and potentially hazardous to humans and other aliens." Gavin’s eyes narrowed. “That can’t be true." I crossed my arms firmly over my chest. “Why would my dad let me work with him if he was dangerous? Why wasn't I told about this before?” “They kind of had to let the two of you work together after he killed that Cephalopod who attacked you. Plus, he threatened to take down a whole unit if they didn’t let the two of you work together,” Riley chimed in from behind Gavin. "We only just found out about it ourselves." I shook my head, turning my back to everyone and looked down at the ball rack. “No, you’re wrong. He was trained in the Air Force; that’s why he’s considered dangerous and potentially hazardous." Riley pushed her way past Gavin and I looked up at her. "It's funny how soon you forget that an alien attacked you on your first day here and yet you still feel like you need to protect them." Gavin nodded in Riley's direction and threw his cup in a nearby trashcan. He mumbled something under his breath as he made his way back to the bar. Justin fell in line beside him and whispered something, trying not to look my way. Riley flipped a stray strand of hair behind her ear, glancing back at the other interns who were pretending not to listen. She locked her eyes back on me and leaned in to whisper, "Look, I didn't realize what I was getting into either when I applied for this internship. But I know one thing is for sure, if you don't stay away from that Ace guy as much as you can, it could end really badly." "That doesn't make any sense. Why would a whole unit bow down to him like that?" I questioned. She shrugged. "He's either got some sort of alien mind control or he's just more powerful than either of us realize." I shook my head. "Riley why are you telling me this? You don't even really like me." She smirked, wrinkling her little nose. "Of course I like you, Alex. And I don't want anything bad to happen to you or any of the other interns. After all, you are the girl that got attacked for giving a thumbs up on the first day. Wouldn't want something like that to happen again." "Well, I guess I can understand that." "Good." Her smirk turned into a weak attempt at a smile "I'm glad we have an understanding. Now let's bowl." I followed Riley back toward the rest of the group, but couldn't help glancing over my shoulder at the door, still hoping that there was someone else waiting for me. No matter how he was classified. Chapter 12 The rest of the night went by in a blur. Gavin wouldn't speak to me, and I would catch him glaring at me whenever he got the chance. I didn't understand why he seemed to have so much contempt for aliens, but accepted an internship at an alien operations center. Jen kept assuring me that it was nothing and he was just jealous and a little buzzed, so I should ignore him and have some fun. But how could I have any fun when I spent the whole night either worried about what Riley and Gavin were whispering or constantly looking toward the door to see if Ace would walk through it? I tried to ask Malcolm and Justin if what Riley and Gavin said about Ace was true, but they acted just as confused as I was. Justin kept throwing around ideas that were really nothing more than gossip, but I knew that wasn't the answer. No one knew any more about Ace's classification or why he was so persistent to have us work together, but once I got back to Circe I knew exactly where to get my answers. “We’re going to hang out in the boys' room for awhile and watch some TV. Do you want to come?" Jen asked as we slid out of the Jeep. She and Malcolm probably had the least to drink, but she was still wobbly on her heels. Why a girl as tall as her felt the need to wear heels to a bowling alley was beyond me. “No, it’s fine. I’m just going to the security office to check my e-mail and then I'll probably head to bed. It’s been a long day." I yawned and stretched my arms over my head, hoping that she wouldn’t catch me in my lie. “Yeah, I guess it’s been a pretty interesting night for you with all that Ace stuff." She looked over her shoulder at the group of interns talking, and then back at me. “Look, I know what they’re saying about Ace is true, but I don’t think he’d ever hurt you. I think Gavin is just being a jealous boy or whatever.” I shrugged. “Yeah I’m not too worried about it.” Really, I was a nervous wreck and wanted to get to the bottom of it. I was hoping that by confronting Ace he wouldn’t try and kill me right then and there, but that was a chance I was willing to take. I knew if I didn't then, it would just mull in my head for the rest of the night and possibly the rest of the week until I got to the bottom of it. If I was really falling for this alien, I needed to know if he was dangerous. I watched as everyone walked down the hall to the boys' room and waited a few minutes so I knew that they wouldn’t follow me. I had looked in the computer system for where Ace’s room was and knew it might take me awhile to get to the other side of the building. I walked down blinding white hallway after blinding white hallway, squinting my eyes as I searched for his room. Finally, the temperature dropped so low that I could see my breath, and I knew I was close. I turned to face a metal door that looked like something that would be on a meat locker, a stream of ice billowing from underneath. I knew it was Ace’s room. I knocked as quietly as I could, hoping with as late as it was I wouldn’t wake up any other aliens. By the third knock he opened the door, rubbing his eyes from sleep as he adjusted to the bright lights of the hallway. My eyes widened like saucers when I saw that he was dressed in nothing more than a pair of black boxer shorts and his gloves, with the rest of his white skin exposed and glowing in the fluorescent light. I tried not to let my eyes wander, but I couldn't help letting them linger along his abdominal line as a warm electric cloud feeling simmered in my belly button. My eyes stopped wandering as they reached the V line where his boxers met his skin, and the electric cloud feeling started traveling down my stomach. “Alex, what are you doing here? Is something wrong?" He ran a gloved hand through his hair and scanned the hallway. I tried not to stare at the way the muscles in his arms moved as his fingers grazed his scalp. When did he find time to work out? Or were the muscles from killing people with his bare hands? I shook away my lustful gaze from his hip bones and looked back up to his face. "We need to talk." He moved out of the doorway and motioned for me to come inside. I wished I had on my suit. The inside of his room made me feel like I was encased in ice. Temperature aside, it looked like a normal boy’s dorm room with the regulation twin-sized bed and dresser. A dark glow fell over the room as if it were only lit by black lights that glittered against his pale skin. I started to wonder if there was something else hiding in his room besides the regulation furniture and laptop. I stared at the blank walls. Nothing stood out. No pictures or even some kind of a band poster. It was as if he was trying to hide who he was. Or maybe that was just how he wanted to remain, a mystery. He closed the door behind him “So what do we need to—" He turned toward me, stopping abruptly. Quickly he crossed the room to stand less than a foot from me.“Alex, you’re freezing. You shouldn’t have come here without your jumpsuit on!" He reached over and grabbed the black comforter from his bed, wrapping it around my shaking body. He rubbed his hands against my shoulders. My body warmed beneath his touch, but I shook off that sense of comfort and tried to push back my body's urge to follow that feeling the electric cloud left in my stomach. “Why are you being so nice to me?” I asked. “Well, you were cold, so I got you a blanket.” “I don’t mean that." I shoved his arms aside, wrapping the blanket closer around me. I might have been mad, but I wasn’t about to be freezing and mad. “I mean, why are you nice to me all the time? Why do you care so much what I think and go out of your way to save me like you’re my knight in shining armor or something?” He stepped back, shaking his head as he lifted his palms out in front of him. “Alex, where is this coming from? I thought we were friends?” “Yeah, well, friends shouldn’t lie to each other or keep big secrets from each other.” He took a step closer. “Is this about me not going to the bowling alley? I really didn’t think you wanted me to go. Your intern friends hate me.” “Or did you not go because you don’t have clearance and you're considered dangerous?" He winced as soon as the words left my mouth. “When you came to my room I certainly wasn’t expecting you to say that." He sighed. “But I guess I should have expected it sooner or later.” “That really didn’t answer anything." I stepped closer, cautiously, hoping I wouldn’t push the wrong buttons that would make him do something that really was dangerous. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Alex." His eyes couldn’t meet mine as he leaned from one side to the other. “Just tell me the truth, Ace. What is your real interest in me? Why did you kill that alien who attacked me? Why did you save me from the aliens in the lunchroom? Why do you look at me the way that you do? Are you going to try and kill me, too?” His eyes finally found mine. Instead of the harsh black, I saw something softer, almost human. He leaned closer. “Is that what you think, Alex, that I want to hurt you?” “Well, no, I mean…" I let out a deep sigh as I looked down to the ground. “I don’t know. I’m just really confused.” He took another step closer, sliding his body against mine, as the coldness of his skin gave me goose bumps. His fingers tiptoed around my waist. I held back a soft gasp as the warmth of his fingers pushed into the small of my back. He pressed his forehead to mine. “I killed Magpie because I wasn’t going to let her hurt you. I would never try to harm you and I wouldn’t let anyone else harm you either.” His icy breath was like a cool breeze on my lips as he continued, "It took a lot of convincing for the board to let me stay here after that, but they knew it was the only way that she could be stopped. And you've got to admit—" He paused, brushing his lips against mine as he smiled. "—I do have some redeeming qualities that would convince them to let me stay." I gulped, trying to catch my breath as my body trembled against his. “You don’t think I can take care of myself?” His smile widened with every bit of his white teeth gleaming. “I’m pretty sure any girl that would walk into a Caltian’s room in the middle of the night, unarmed, can handle herself." He wrapped the blanket around both of us, pressing his body to mine. I felt an icy hot sensation race through me. “But it doesn’t mean that I can’t try and help her out.” “So, what’s your real interest in me, then?" My lips almost vibrated right onto his as I spoke. I couldn’t help but wonder how they would feel against mine. “The most dangerous thing of all." “And what is that?" I questioned, hoping my knees wouldn't give out as I pressed my body tighter against his. “I'm falling in love with you." As the words left his mouth, his lips pressed to mine, giving me the most intense and explosive kiss I had ever had. With the coldness of his lips and the warmth of his tongue beneath mine I saw fireworks and felt them through every part of my body. Chapter 13 I opened my eyes only to be encased in more darkness. Was last night a dream or did Ace kill me in my sleep? I started clawing at the blackness before I realized that it was just a comforter wrapped around me. Ace’s warm touch caressed my wrist. Ace’s warm touch? Crap. I threw the blanket off me, only to realize that I was still in Ace’s room, in his bed no less, and it was freezing. I threw the blanket back over me and turned to see Ace trying to cover his mouth and laughter. “Is that how you always wake up in the morning?” I looked down at my body, fumbling my hands over the same clothes I had worn the night before. All of my clothes were still on and all my organs still felt intact, so nothing happened as far as I could tell. “Um, what am I doing in your bed?" I looked over at Ace to see that he was still shirtless and hoped that he still had on the shorts from the night before. “Well I’m glad that I’m that forgettable,” he teased and inched closer. “But, really, you just got tired and started drifting off, so I just let you sleep here. Nothing else happened, I promise." A Cheshire-like grin crossed his lips. “Well, except…” I sat up, covering the ridiculous amount of cleavage that Jen’s shirt left me with. “Except what?” This wasn't like me. I hadn't done anything more with a guy than make out and some touchy feelyness, but I'd never actually gone to bed with a guy. I wondered if Ace thought I was easy, or worse, what the other interns and my dad would do if they knew I spent the night in Ace's bed. “You talk in your sleep, a lot,” he managed to get out before bursting into laughter. I flicked his shoulder. “Shut up, I do not!” “Oh Ace, I love your cold skin and your statuesque face. Will you take me away?" He mocked in the voice he used that sounded almost identical to mine. I could feel the heat rise in my cheeks. I hid my face in the bed. “I’m sorry. I won’t tease you anymore." He pressed his frosted lips to my cheek leaving a trail of ice. It was hard to ignore the tingle that lingered from my cheek down to my chest and made me want to stay in his bed even longer. I turned my head toward Ace, leaning in for his lips when I got a view of the clock on his desk. “Crap! It’s nine!" I threw off the blanket and shot off the bed, knocking myself back into reality and realizing that Jen and Riley were probably wondering where I was, or worse they knew where I was and were talking about it. What if this ended up just like the first day and someone tried to kill me for this? “Yeah." He stood up, stretching his arms above his head. “You want to go down and get breakfast?” I found a mirror and stared at myself. My hair was thrown around my head like a rat’s nest and my makeup had somehow all ended up underneath my eyes. I looked like the poster child for the walk of shame. There was no way that anyone would believe that I had just fallen asleep in Ace's bed. “You know I’ve never been with a human girl before, but do you always check yourself out in the mirror in the morning and make faces like that?" Ace slid behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist and kissing the top of my head. I released myself from his arms and turned around to face him. “How can you be so calm about this? I fell asleep here and people could be looking for me! What if there is a search party or a rescue team or something?" Ace furrowed his brow and stepped back, raising his hands in the air. “I promise you it’s fine, Alex. No one saw you come in and all you have to tell your roommates is that you fell asleep in the office or something." He put his hands down. “I promise it will be fine.” "How is it that you can act so aloof, like you want nothing to do with me one day, and the next you're all touchy feely?" He shrugged. "Maybe I just realized that it was finally time to give into my feelings toward you." I shook my head. I wasn't sure if that was the answer I wanted. I actually wasn't even sure what the answer was that I was looking for. I didn’t even look at him as I headed for the door. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you at work. Bye.” I raced out of the room, not looking back or even up from the floor, and headed down the long stretch of hallways that lead back to my own room. “Look who finally decided to come home!" Riley yelled as I walked through the door. I ignored her and headed straight for the bathroom. I waited until the water sprayed a steady stream and fell over my body before I let the tears spring from my eyes. What had I done? I was falling in love with an alien and I was pretty sure that had to be against one of the rules. Though to be fair, I didn't really read the packet I was given on the first day so I wasn't even sure what the rules were. But if all my friends freaked out about me even talking to Ace, or thinking about him, what would they say if they knew I had spent the night with him? Or worse, if they knew that I might be falling in love with him? “Alex?" Jen yelled. It was my fault for not locking the door. I wasn’t in any mood for a lecture; in fact I wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone. “Is everything okay?” I saw her silhouette walk toward the shower. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just really tired,” I yelled back, wiping away my water-soaked tears as if she could actually see them through the curtain. “Do you want to talk about it?" Jen said softly as she leaned in closer to the curtain. I swallowed hard. I didn’t want to lie to Jen, but I also wondered what her reaction would be if she knew the truth. “It’s fine. I just fell asleep in the office, no big deal.” I was hoping that would be enough and she would go back into the room, but she just stood there against the curtain. “Did you see Ace while you were there?" Her question wasn't pointed, and I didn't think anyone had seen me leave his room, but for some reason Jen's words made me defensive. I turned off the water and ripped my towel off the rack. I threw open the shower curtain and wrapped the towel hastily around me. “Why do you assume just because I didn’t come to the room last night that I was with Ace?” Jen's eyes widened. “Whoa, Alex, I was just asking a question.” “Well, don’t. I’m fine." I stormed past Jen and threw myself in bed, covering myself from head to toe in my comforter. I heard Jen walk out of the bathroom and her and Riley whispering, but they didn’t bother me. In fact they didn’t bother me for the rest of the day. The cluster of emotions running through me was exhausting. On one hand, my heart was still pounding in my chest from being so close to Ace. But on the other hand, I knew how the other interns felt about aliens and humans dating. Who knew what the other aliens would think? My mom called sometime that afternoon. Even though I could hear the phone vibrating on my dresser it felt like it was a million miles away. I was lost in my own thoughts. Was this what Juliet felt like as she pined for Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Could it really be that easy? The way my whole body trembled at the very thought of Ace's lips on mine made me think that I could defy the stars for him, but the lingering feeling of Gavin's glare made me wonder if it was even possible. By Monday morning I realized it was time that I call my mom back. If I didn't, I knew she would just call my dad panicking and I didn't want him coming to my room and asking where I had been. "Alexandra! I feel like it's been forever since I've heard your voice," mom proclaimed. I could hear the sounds of opera music in the background and knew she was probably sitting in her office working on a new manuscript. Sometimes it was hard to tell if her overdramatic outbursts were directed at me or her characters. "It really hasn't been that long." Greetings weren't a huge thing between mom and me. She said it was just a waste of breath to say hello when the other person knew who was calling anyway, so formalities didn't matter. "It seems like forever." She let out a deep breath. "How is everything there in the desert? I assume the internship is going well?" "Yep, everything is going great." "Have you met any boys? Is that why you haven't been returning my calls and e-mails?" I could practically see her eyebrows wiggling on the other end of the phone. "That's really not something a daughter discusses with her mom." "I knew it!" I heard her clap her hands together "So tell me what is he like? Does your father know?" I wasn't expecting mom's sudden mound of questions. I thought about what would happen if my father really did know, or what mom would say if I told her the boy was actually an alien and I spent the night with him. "Well Mom, it looks like it's almost time for work to start. I'd better get going so I'm not late," I stammered, trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible to avoid the questions. She sighed. "Oh fine. I guess I should be getting Elijah ready for his music class anyway. But don't think I've forgotten about this conversation." "I won't, Mom. Talk to you soon." "Ciao." I hung up the phone and realized that I was still in my towel with my hair unbrushed, so I got up and quickly got ready to face the world. I sucked in my breath and made the walk down the hall to the cafeteria. I felt like all eyes were on me, but I knew of only one pair that was staring at me so intently that it took everything I had to look away. Ace didn’t approach me like he usually did in the lunch line before we retreated to our separate spaces. He just sat there, staring from his table. When other people would catch his gaze he would look away, but part of me knew that he was still watching in his own way. “So, Riley said that you had a late night in the office on Saturday?" Justin asked as I sat down at the table. I glared in Riley’s direction, but she didn’t look up from her bowl. Everyone was watching for my reaction. I sat there in silence. “Look who finally decided to come out of her room,” Gavin yelled and plopped down next to me. “I was afraid that Ace creep took advantage of you and you’d be missing your organs or something.” Jen shot Gavin a warning glare, but he ignored her and inched closer to me. His breath was hot on my ear. “Tell me, Alex, what is sex like with an alien? Does he even have a dick? Or does he just probe you with those nasty gloved fingers?” “Gavin!" Jen screeched and stood up from the table. I looked around to see if everyone in the room was staring at us. I saw the only person that I cared about was looking right at us. As soon as Ace saw me look in his direction he stood up and walked out of the cafeteria. He didn't even bother to say anything as he pushed his way past people until he made his way out of the cafeteria. “Look, she’s even still watching him. I knew I was right about her." Riley shook her head. “That’s just disgusting, fawning over him like that.” I didn’t look at anyone at the table as I stood up. “I’m not hungry anymore." I tossed my tray into the trash and started running down the hall as fast as I could. I stopped when I saw Ace sitting in the office, staring blankly at the computer screen. “Hey." I took my seat next to him. He didn’t move. He didn’t even look in my direction. “About what happened in the cafeteria…” “I heard what they said Alex. I’m not deaf. I actually have a really sharp sense of hearing." He turned toward me; his eyes were so black that they looked darker than any storming sky. I gasped, hoping that he really wasn’t as dangerous as everyone said he was. “What bothers me is that you didn’t say anything back. You just let them say all of those things about me and you. Like you actually believed them. And by the way you ran out of my room yesterday, I’m pretty sure that you do." He turned back toward the computer. “Oh and by the way, yeah, I do have a dick, but I’m not just going to go parading it around and start acting like one. Like your little Boston friend.” I couldn't put into words how I felt and I didn't know how to apologize. So I did the only other thing I knew would do what words couldn't. I pushed my chair back and grabbed his face with a strength I didn’t even know existed, turning him toward me to crush his lips against mine. It took him a little while before he even moved, but when he did the kiss was even fierier than our first. Every part of me ached to be near him and a cold flame surged through me. His lips molded to mine and he curved his arms around my body, his heart beating wildly against my own. I pulled away, panting, as I pressed my forehead to his. Staring into his eyes, I could see they were no longer the color of my nightmares, but more like the color of my dreams. "I'm sorry," I murmured. He grinned, wrapping his arms tighter around my body. Even though the temperature control suit, I could feel the warmth spread across my back. "Maybe we should fight more often if you're going to have this kind of reaction." He kissed me again, not holding back as his fingers slid down my body, letting every part of me that wasn’t covered by the suit feel his warmth. I didn’t know where this was going to end up. By Gavin and Riley’s reactions I knew that a lot of people wouldn’t approve. But as Ace’s lips trailed down to my neck I tried to close my eyes and push back all the negative thoughts, no matter how much they seemed to be fighting against me. Chapter 14 The rest of the afternoon went on as if the whole world had changed, but Ace and I were the only ones who were part of the new one. He held my hand as we went through our e-mails and would run his fingers through my hair when I thought too long on a problem. There was something in me that always had harbored feelings for Ace, but once it was out in the open it was hard to keep my thoughts from wandering to anything other than the feel of his hands on mine. Behind closed doors I wasn’t so worried about what people thought about us, but when it was time for lunch, my nerves started to get the best of me. “You ready to face our adoring fans?" Ace squeezed my hand when he noticed me staring blankly at an alien’s dating site profile. When I didn’t answer he let out a deep breath. “I’ll go in ahead of you. You just do whatever you feel comfortable with. I'll try not to get angry this time." He let his gloveless hand graze the side of my face. “We can just keep this between us as long as you’d like.” I didn’t watch him as he stood up, slid his gloves back on, and walked out of the door. I sat another few minutes, counting the beats of my heart. I didn't know what to expect when I went back into the cafeteria. What people would people say about my running out of the room, or how would Ace really react if Gavin said anything again at all? When I got through the lunch line, I scanned the tables. Ace wasn't looking in my direction when he sat down. Instead, he was busy talking to a group of his friends and acting like he was completely engrossed in the conversation. I looked over to the interns’ table and saw Jen waving wildly in my direction. Cautiously, I edged toward the table and set my tray down next to her. “Hey Jen." I forced a smile, but just as I sat down I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Riley with her hands on her hips. “What do you think you’re doing?" I didn’t answer her. She tapped her clogs on the floor. “Maybe you should go sit with your boyfriend.” I looked from Riley, then back to Jen. “You know what? I think I will." I smirked in Riley’s direction and picked up my tray, heading toward Ace’s table. Everyone’s eyes in the cafeteria's were on me and a hush fell over the room. I guess everyone else had heard Gavin's rant that morning, or no other human had dared to sit at a table full of Caltians. I only concentrated on Ace. I put my tray down and sat as close as I could to him, placing his hand in mine, before laying our intertwined hand on the table between us. Ace raised an eyebrow and looked down at our hands. His eyes rested back on me as if he was asking, are you sure? “I’ve never been good at keeping secrets.” I looked down at our hands, and then turned to face the cafeteria crowd. My gaze fell on each table as they pretended not to notice my stare. "And if anyone's got a problem with us dating then they'd better find another alien center to hang out at!" I yelled. I wasn't speaking to anyone in particular, but I focused right on Riley and Gavin, who couldn't help but let the fire ignite in their eyes. It was going to take a lot more than their glares to bring me down. **** I spent the rest of lunch meeting and chatting with Ace’s Caltian friends who had also served in the military. They seemed to be fascinated that I knew so little about the alien world until I came to Circe. Ace’s hand never left mine, not during lunch, not while we walked back to the office, or while we worked. But as soon as the workday ended and we saw Jen standing outside of the office doors, we decided it was time to let go. “I’ll see you at dinner?" He raised his eyebrows as if they were knitted into a question mark. “Yeah, that’s fine." I nodded and looked from Jen and back to him. He stood there for a moment just staring at me before he finally turned and took off toward his room. I watched until he disappeared down the hall. “Are we going to talk about this?” Jen stepped to the side of me. I stared straight ahead and started walking. "Is there really anything to talk about, Jen?" I didn't even glance in her direction as she picked up the pace to keep up with me. “Well for starters, friends should tell their friends when they have a secret alien boyfriend and not lie to them about it.” “It just sort of happened, and besides—" I stopped and turned to face her. “—it’s not like you didn't encourage us to date. You even dressed me up and made me over to go ask him to go bowling. So why act so surprised and unsupportive now?" I threw my hands out to the side before curling them back in around my chest. “Well for one, I’d tell you that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into." Her left foot fidgeted, making a soft tapping sound against the floor. “You’ve only been around aliens for a few weeks, and you already think that you can just go and break all the rules and everything will just be fine and dandy.” She let out a puff of air, blowing a blond curl out of her face. "There are things that you don't know about Ace, things you don't know about aliens and you can't just think it's going to change because you fell for one." "I already know that he has some stupid classification, Jen, and I'm not worried about that." "Alex, there are rules that you just don't understand," she whispered. “What rules am I breaking, Jen?" I leaned closer. “Some kind of laws of chemistry that say humans and aliens shouldn’t be together? Well maybe you need to study those chemistry books a little harder and figure out that sometimes the answer to everything isn’t in some book!" “You know what?" Jen walked past me, yelling, “Suit yourself. Learn from your own mistakes because I’m tired of watching you make them.” I didn’t feel like going to dinner and seeing the rest of the interns or going back to my room to watch Jen and Riley glare at me, so I went back to the office and started scrolling through every blog I could think of. I broke two computer mice in the process of my angry clicking. Ace came in to check on me when I didn't show up for dinner, but once he saw the first of the two mice in the recycling bin, he kissed the top of my head and excused himself from the room. By the time my eyes glazed over from staring at the screen, and I had already sat in the office past the time I knew Riley and Jen would have gone to bed, I crept back to my room. Like I predicted, Riley and Jen were sound asleep. I tiptoed as lightly as I could on the cold tile floor, changed into my pajamas, and finally let sleep overcome me as I fell into bed. It was the least restful sleep I'd ever gotten. Jen's warning swirled into my dreams: You have no idea what you're getting yourself into. Her words lashed around me, and my body became encased in ice. The nightmare surrounded me in darkness and I tried to scream, but the words were choked out of me by some invisible force. I tried as hard as I could to wake myself up, but the more I tried, the further the darkness pulled me in. A sharp, silvery laughter surrounded me, echoing through my head and sending shards of icy pain down my spine. It felt too real to be a dream. A pair of coal-black eyes that looked familiar, yet looked as deadly as a serpent’s, came toward me. It was a woman with snow-white skin and hair as dark as night staring down at me. I tried again to speak, but my voice still wouldn't come. I wanted to know why she was haunting my dreams, what she wanted from me, but she did nothing but laugh. My eyes burst open. I opened my mouth to scream but my throat was painfully dry. I swallowed hard and looked over to where Jen and Riley still slept soundly. They had no idea about the nightmare I just had. Even though I was parched, I had practically soaked through my pajamas and was covered in a cold sweat. I definitely wasn't about to wake Riley up for comfort and I doubted Jen wanted to talk to me after our encounter earlier that day. Quickly, I changed out of my damp clothes and slid out the door as quietly as I could. I practically ran down the long hallways, nodding at the guards that passed me, pretending like I wasn't about to go into full-blown panic mode. It was as if he was expecting me. After only one knock Ace threw open the door to his room. His eyes widened as he looked over my shaking body. “Are you okay?" He motioned me into the room, shutting the door behind us. “I had a bad dream." My teeth chattered; my whole body still felt like it was incased in an icy chamber. Ace put his hands to my face. I waited for the warmth to circulate his through my body and I stopped shivering. “Do you want to stay here tonight?" I swallowed hard, nodding. He didn’t ask any more questions and led me to the bed. Beside him, he pulled me as close as two people could be without being connected. His hands stayed at my sides, letting the heat run through my body, leaving only the lingering feeling that something was undeniably not right about my nightmare. Chapter 15 The nightmares didn't stop and only got worse as the nights went on. I stopped sleeping in my own room, so I wouldn't give Riley and Jen even more of a reason to hate me. The only way that I could wake up from my nightmares was by screaming. I started spending my nights in Ace's room where he would put my hands in his until the heat would come back into my body and I would stop shaking. After Ace's alarm would go off, I would sneak back into my room, still exhausted from my sleepless night, shower and head to work. Jen and Riley wouldn't even look at me and the other interns had started whispering when I would walk by in the cafeteria. I stopped caring about what everyone else had to say around me. The nightmares continued to cloud my vision whether I was sleeping or not. When Ace was close the darkness would subside, but only briefly. I was too scared to actually voice what was happening and I didn't want to look like some sort of lunatic if I told anybody that I was being affected by a bad dream. At least I didn't think I cared what other people thought, until the day we received a visitor in the security office. Ever since I stopped talking to the interns, we rarely had anyone stop by, so Ace and I were both shocked when we heard the door open. Ace went to let go of my hand, but I tightened my grip, not wanting to deal with what visions could show up if he let go. "Alex?" I spun around to see my dad standing in the doorway. The lines of his face tightened and everything about him tensed up. Ace pulled his hand away from my grip and stood up. "Colonel Bianchi, it's been a long time." He put his hand out toward my dad. Dad just stared at Ace's hand, before Ace pulled it away and sat back down. "Alex." Dad swallowed. "Can I see you out in the hallway for a moment?" I glanced over at Ace, who nodded like it was okay for me to go, then looked back at my dad. "Okay, but then I have to get back to work." I followed him silently into the hall. He just stared down at me, watching my every move. "Alex," he finally said after we had walked a few yards away. "Yeah, so what's this about? You know we think we may have a guy from Jupiter who is trying to hack into the Missouri capitol that we need to handle." I jabbed my index finger in the direction of the office door. "I'm putting you on a new assignment. You won't be doing security anymore." "What?" Everyone in the hallway stopped to stare at me. Dad shot them a look that said there's nothing to see here and everyone started moving along, pretending like they weren't listening to our every word. "Alex," he whispered, "I just think it may be better if you spent some time in another department." "Or is it because you heard about me and Ace and you don't approve of me dating someone that I work with?" I threw my hands out. "Just because you move me to another department doesn't mean I'm going to stop seeing him." "That's why you will also be on twenty-four hour watch, so I don't have to worry about that." "What the hell, Dad?" I leaned in, pushing my face closer to him. "Since when do you care about who I date? It's not like you've really been in my life for the past seven years and now you want to come and play the overprotective dad? This is bullshit!" "Alex." He put his hands out, lowering his voice in hopes that I would lower mine as well. "You don't understand the consequences of your actions." I rolled my eyes. "Oh, that's awesome. You think if you speak to me like one of your Air Force lackeys that I'll listen?" "Alex you don't know what you're getting yourself into. Ace is—" I held my hand up to stop his words. "I know he's been classified as dangerous and potentially hazardous to humans, but he hasn't done anything that's been dangerous to me, Dad." I folded my arms across my chest. "In fact he's been there for me more than you ever were. He actually does care about me and isn't just forced to do it because he got my mom pregnant." That was when I knew I'd crossed the line. Dad's eyes widened and then he grabbed me, lifting me off the ground and throwing me over his shoulder like I was some sort of a rag doll. "What are you doing? Let me go!" I screamed, pounding my fists on his back and kicking as hard as I could. He didn't let go and continued down the hallway. "This is for your own good." He didn't stop no matter how loud I screamed. He just kept walking until we reached a small, windowless office that looked like one of those interrogation rooms from cheesy cop shows. He set me down on a cold metal chair, and reached into his pocket to pull out a blinking black monitor cuff. "What are you doing with that thing?" He bent down next to me and clamped the cuff onto my ankle. It beeped a few times before tightening onto my skin like a blood pressure cuff, but much more painful. "What the hell?" I reached down and scratched at the cuff, trying to tear it off. "This will make sure that you only stay in the hangar, cleaning airplanes with Malcolm. You will eat all your meals in the hangar and return to your room when you aren't there," dad replied in a matter-of-fact tone while he towered over me. I looked up, tears springing freely from my eyes. If I didn't have Ace then the nightmares would be back, the visions. Even worse, I wouldn't be able to feel his touch. I couldn't do that. I shook my head violently. "No, Dad, you can't do this to me. Please!" I opened my eyes as wide as I could behind the tears, hoping to block out the nightmarish visions. "I'll do anything if you just let me see him!" Dad shook his head, trying to avoid my eyes. "Alex, someday you'll understand all of this." "Why can't you just tell me now? Why are you hurting me so bad?" I gulped between sobs. "Someday you'll understand that this is the best thing for all of us. These aliens are more dangerous than you might think and I don't want to see you end up in the autopsy unit." He pulled me up so that he could look into my tear-filled eyes, and the darkness from my nightmares clouded everything in sight. I let myself collapse into his arms as he held me, running his hands through my hair. I didn't want to accept his comfort, but the farther I buried my face into his chest the farther away I was from the darkness. **** After my crying fit was over, dad walked me over to the hangar where Malcolm was waiting near a small green plane that looked more like a bullet than something that would fly into space. "Malcolm, I've got your new recruit here, who is more than willing to start working." Dad patted my back as I looked up at Malcolm with bloodshot eyes. I couldn't ignore the dark cloud surrounding everything that I looked at, but the more I thought about Ace the more my heart ached. "Yeah, I think I can handle her, Colonel." Malcolm grinned, his big gap-toothed grin. "Alright, well I think she's in good hands." Dad patted my back one more time before heading out of the hangar. "So, ever work on a plane before?" Malcolm clasped his hands together. I shook my head, not in the mood for small talk. He sighed, rubbing a hand over his small stubble of hair. "Look I heard about what happened with Ace; the whole center knows about it. I'm not going to sugarcoat things. It sounds pretty bad." I looked up, scooping my finger underneath my glasses to wipe the tears back. "What did you hear?" Malcolm looked around before taking another step toward me, lowering his voice. "I know Ace is kind of your guy and all, but when they classified him as dangerous, well they weren't kidding" I snorted. "Tell me something I don't know Malcolm. Everyone keeps telling me he's so dangerous, but he's never done anything to hurt me. In fact, as everyone seems to forget, he saved my life the first day I was here. As well as that day in the cafeteria." "Yeah." He nodded, taking a few steps behind the plane, motioning for me to follow. "But remember that alien that he killed?" How could I forget the Cephalopod with her slimy hands circling my neck? I nodded. "Well, she isn't the only alien who wasn't too keen on your lack of alien knowledge." He took a wrench from a toolbox near the plane and started tossing it back and forth between his hands. "What do you mean?" I knew that the other interns weren't too thrilled about alien and human relationships, but I never expected it would be that blown out of proportion. "I mean, it's like if you and I dated." He stopped twirling the wrench and sat it down on the plane next to him. I snorted. "Uh, sorry, Malcolm, you're not exactly my type." He rolled his eyes "No, think about it. If you and I dated, people would be up in arms about us being an interracial couple." "Um, this isn't the sixties. Remember that whole Civil Rights movement?" "Alex." He looked down at me, the stillness of his face let me know he was serious. "The Civil Rights movement never happened in the alien world. My granddaddy got tossed in jail for just looking at a white woman, so think of what would happen when you get two powerful sides who don't agree with mixing. They can work alongside each other, but it's with protest and a lot of treaties." "So this is all one big Civil Rights movement? The aliens versus the humans? Two sides that hate each other like the Capulets and the Montagues, but still forced to work together?" "Not exactly. Not all aliens feel that way, but there are enough that do." He raised his shoulders. "This is the first time I've ever heard of any Caltian being with a human and before you came around Ace was always kind of pretentious, only keeping to himself, or talking to the other Caltians. Like he was better than everyone else." He let out a deep breath before focusing his eyes back on the ship. "Then you came around and all of a sudden he was walking around like an obsessed teenage boy, following you around and staring at you with those big black puppy dog eyes. It was kind of cute at first until you actually started to like it." He glanced over at me, raising his eyebrows. "Well, what's not to like about it? He saved my life, he is there for me more than my dad ever was, and I don't know, he just makes me feel good. Is that really so wrong?" I said, holding my hands out. "No." Malcolm picked the wrench back up. "But I just don't want there to be another war because of it." Chapter 16 The days dragged by. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy Malcolm's company, but the longer I stayed away from Ace the more frightening my nightmares became. Sometimes it would just be the woman standing there and staring at me with those dark eyes. Just hours and hours of her staring at me. Sometimes the dreams would seem so life-like. I would feel her sharp laugh as it took the air from my lungs and circled my body until I awoke in a shivering sweat. All I wanted to do was see Ace, but I was alone. I spent a lot of my time reading through books of alien folklore, figuring out what I could about alien and human relationships. "Find what you were looking for?" Malcolm yelled from underneath a ship. I walked over, crouching next to him. "It just doesn't make any sense. I don't know why he would save me from the Cephalopod if he knew that aliens and humans aren't supposed to be together." Malcolm slid out from under the ship. "Did you ever think that's maybe why he's so intent on saving you? Every time there is trouble he's always there for you. Like your knight in shining armor or something." That was when it all started to make sense to me. The only person that Ace was really dangerous around was anyone who tried to hurt me. When the Cephalopod tried to kill me, he was there. When the two aliens fought in the cafeteria, he was there. Even when my nightmares threatened to hurt me, he was the first one I leaned on and without him around I was afraid that I really would fall. I spent all day wondering how and when I'd ever see him. Too concentrated on my thoughts to do anything else, I went back to my room at the end of the night in a haze. My world was in a fog, and I wasn't sure if I would ever get out. "Are you okay, Alex?" It was the first time that Jen had spoken to me since our confrontation in the hallway. I was shocked to hear her say my name. I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking how hard it would be to just travel through the pipes until I found Ace. I wanted to see if my ankle bracelet would go off if I wasn't technically in his room, but in the ceiling above it. "Yeah, just fine." I pointed my finger up at the ceiling and started making circles in the air. "Okay." Jen got up from her bed and plopped down next to me. "Obviously we've established that you're a horrible liar, so when are you going to tell me the truth?" I put my hand down and looked over at her. How could I explain everything? I didn't even know where to begin. I didn't want to look crazy talking about my nightmares or how I didn't understand all things alien, so I just stared at her, blinking slowly. "Come on, Alex." She scooted closer, until she was lying next to me. "I know we haven't talked lately, but I've wanted to." She stared at the same spot I had in the ceiling as she cocked her head toward mine. "I see how mopey you've been without Ace, and I definitely can't ignore those screams you try and muffle with your pillow in the middle of the night. It's kind of scary." "Do you think I'll ever get to see him again?" I looked up at Jen. My glasses were so dirty from being stained with my tears and dust from the hangar that I could barely see through them. "Well, maybe once you leave Circe you can convince your mom that he's just a foreign exchange student," Jen said, smiling. I took off my glasses and wiped them on my shirt. "You don't think I'll get to see him again before I leave? There's still a few weeks left," I protested, sitting up and positioning my glasses back on my face. "I don't know. They've tightened security quite a bit and have tried to keep everything mum between the Caltians and humans so this doesn't start some kind of a conflict." She slowly sat up, leaning her back against the wall. "Why would this start some sort of a conflict?" Jen rolled her eyes. "Did you and Ace never talk about these things when you were together?" "Yeah, sometimes." I widened my eyes as I saw Jen raise her eyebrows. "Not like that! I just meant that he never mentioned anything that would signify that us dating would cause some Caltian conflict." "Anyways, since it seems like you weren't really talking, it looks like he didn't happen to tell you that he's what Caltians would refer to as a prince. His mom's the queen of Calta." My mouth dropped open. "Shut up, no he's not!" She nodded. "I take it that's one he didn't tell you?" I shook my head. "No, I had no idea. Not that it would change anything, but it's kind of an important detail to find out that your boyfriend is prince of a planet." "I found that out right after that night we went bowling. I thought there had to be a reason that he would be able to get away with a dangerous classification, but still stay at Circe. I wanted to tell you, but after our argument in the hallway I thought that was the last thing that you would want to hear." She looked down at the bedspread, making shapes with her fingertips on the comforter. "So, why did he come here? Was the queen not happy about it or something?" She looked up from the comforter. "Well Queen Mama wasn't too happy with her son's constant longing to travel to Earth, and she was even less happy when he turned of age and decided to come down and help out with World War II." "So, finding out that he was in love with an Earth girl could make things even worse for Earth and Calta relations," she added, raising her eyebrows at me. "Jen, how do you even know all of this?" She laughed. "Well Miss-Wants-to-be-a-journalist." She nudged me with her elbow. "Some of it I learned from what I researched on Caltians, some of it I learned from the alien database, but most of it I learned from my co-workers gossiping about the other planets." "I guess gossip does come in handy sometimes." I laughed. "Only when you use it right, but seriously." She cleared her throat. "Do you understand now why we were all so worried about your interest in Ace? Being a prince, his interest in a human is a good enough reason for his mom to be pissed." "So basically like my dad's reaction times a million?" "More like a billion." Jen got up off the bed and headed toward her dresser, pulling a towel out of the top drawer. "What's it like being with an alien anyway? Like really being with one?" "Do you mean sex, Jen?" I raised an eyebrow as she threw the towel over her shoulder. "No!" She walked back toward my bed. "But if you want to give me those details, you can." She wiggled her eyebrows. "We definitely haven't done that, but just feeling the warmth from his hands on mine is enough for me." My eyes glazed as I imagined his hands intertwined with mine, and tried to picture what they looked like in my head. She rolled her eyes. "You sound like my grandma getting excited about hand holding." "Hey," I called as she headed for the bathroom. "Don't knock it until you've tried it." She shook her head. "You are something else, Alex." She closed the door behind her while I sat staring at the blank wall. Maybe I really was something else. Someone like Helen of Troy who whole cities fought over, or just another teenage girl that got stuck in a feud between families. Now how would I get to my Romeo when I needed him? Chapter 17 After making up with Jen and spending the night gossiping about different humans and aliens around the center, we finally fell asleep. That was until a scratching sound at the window pried my eyes open and knocked me out of my sleep. I sat up, pulling the covers close around my body as I looked around the room. It wasn't a nightmare, or else I would have felt the darkness and seen the woman, but I saw neither. I looked over at the window to see a shadowed figure standing outside, its fingers tracing along the glass. I wanted to scream, but at the same time, I was more confused than frightened. I wondered if this was someone from my nightmares coming to kill me or just an alien out for a midnight flight. A small popping sound came from the screen and I realized that the shadowed figure had broken the glass out of the window. I reached at the side of the bed for my pepper spray gun that my dad had given me as a sixteenth birthday gift. I didn't know what pepper spray would do against an angry alien, but it was all that I had. I crept toward the window, looking around to see if Jen and Riley were still asleep. Figures, they were both off in dreamland unaware that we could all be attacked and killed. A long white hand slipped around to the lock on the barred window, melting it until the bars swung open, and the shadowy figure perched on the windowsill facing me. "Freeze dirtbag!" I yelled, holding up the pepper spray gun to the figure's face. I was hoping that the look of the gun would scare whoever it was and they wouldn't just laugh at my cheesy cop show line. Jen immediately stirred, sitting straight up in bed and looking around until she gasped when she saw the figure. Riley, of course, slept with her headphones on and the sleep mask, so she was oblivious. I guess if one of us had to die I wouldn't have chosen me or Jen. "Alex, it's me," the figure whispered as he raised his arms above his head while still crouched in place on the windowsill. "Ace?" I raised an eyebrow. leaning forward, and dropping the gun in the process. He moved his head so that the moonlight danced on his face. It was definitely Ace. "What are you doing here?" I whispered. "Are you coming to kill us?" Jen whispered in a panic as she came rushing to my side. I glanced over in Jen's direction, shaking my head before I turned back to Ace. I was sure if he was there to kill us he could have already done so. He shook his head and hopped down from the window. His feet didn't even make a sound as they landed on the floor below. "I just couldn't go another day without seeing you." His eyes met mine and all those feelings of nightmares and sadness were wiped away in their own pool of shadows. He stepped closer, taking my hands into his gloveless ones, letting the heat from them send an electrical current through my body. "You know, this is really illegal. We could get in so much trouble for this." Jen's eyes darted around the room while she tried to control the pitch of her voice. "Well ,then we just won't let anyone find out." Ace grinned and crouched down at my feet. "Ace, what do you think you're doing?" I looked down, only to see the top of his spiky black hair as he wrapped his fingers around my ankle cuff. "That might have some sort of a sensor." He let his hands sit on the cuff until I felt the heat radiating onto my ankle. The cuff opened and fell off me, like it was nothing more than some plastic toy. "It does have a sensor." He slowly inched up, rising to his full height as he held the cuff in front of me. "And that's why I had to take it off you, so that we could leave." I didn't ask any questions, just smiled back at him, and took his hand as he threw the ankle cuff onto my bed. "Where are you going? Are you going to come back?" Jen piped in as Ace led me to the window. He was already half in, half out when I realized what was going on. We were actually leaving. He sighed. "I don't want to, but I'll bring her back. I promise that she'll be in good hands." He smiled in Jen's direction and hopped out of the window, standing there with his elbows resting on the edge and holding out his hands for me. "Alex." Jen grabbed my hand. "Just be careful, okay?" I offered her a small smile. "I will, Jen, I promise. I trust him with anything." Jen wiped her eyes and smiled back. "I know you do, and so do I. That's the only reason I haven't called security or set off your ankle cuff. Just promise you'll be back before breakfast?" I smiled, looking from Jen and back to Ace, not taking my eyes off his as I answered Jen, "I promise." I approached the window, looking past Ace and hoping that I wasn't going to have to jump all the way down to the desert floor. But when I looked down I saw what looked like a floating red Vespa. "What's that?" I whispered, pointing at the Vespa as he secured his feet on the bottom. He smiled and reached to help me out of the window and onto the vehicle. "It's a hover bike." “Do they seriously make these?" I looked below my feet to see nothing but rocky earth. "And more importantly, if you can't leave Circe, how did you get one?" Ace ignored my question, smiling as he bent over the bike, placing his hands on either side of my face, instantly making my whole body tingle. “I missed you.” “I missed you, too,” I whispered into his lips. He leaned in to brush them against mine. He pulled away, looking into my eyes while cupping my face in his palm. “Ready to see this place from the outside?” I nodded as he turned around, situating himself in front of me. He placed his hands on the steering levers of the bike. He turned his head in my direction and glanced over his shoulder. “Are you holding on?” I pulled my arms tightly around his waist and pressed my legs against his. The coldness from his body didn’t radiate the same shivers from my nightmares, but more of a tranquil touch, like the feel of the first snowflakes of winter as they fall to the ground. “You better hold on tight; it’s going to be a little bumpy.” I gripped tighter, leaning my face into his back and inhaling his wintery scent. I'd missed him so much that past week. That scent of desert sage lapped onto my cheek as the warm night air swirled around me. He revved up the bike’s engine and it came to life. I looked back as we sailed above the valleys and made our way from my room. I saw the faintest hint of blond hair looking out of my bedroom window, but saw it disappear as we darted behind a mountain. Jen was watching me and probably had her reasons to be worried. I was out in the open, exposed with my arms around Ace. But I wasn’t scared or even worried. All I cared about was that I got to be with him, no matter how brief that moment was. Chapter 18 One minute I remembered laughing, sitting on the back of the bike with my arms around Ace as we zipped through the valleys and mountains that encompassed Circe. Then, I remembered falling. I didn't know how I started to fall or why, but I remembered the look on Ace’s face as he watched my body suspend in midair. I could see his eyes widen and his mouth launch a voice that sounded like a dying animal. I remembered the silvery laughter and how it engulfed me before everything went blacker than my nightmares. I saw her standing over me. She cocked her head and stared down at me. This time it wasn’t a nightmare. It felt too real to be a nightmare and I didn't have a cold chill. “What do you want?" I asked. She didn’t answer, just stared at me, a tight-lipped smile crossing over her white face. “What do you want from me?" I screamed. “You’ll see,” she whispered in a voice that was the same silvery tone as her laugher. Her body wavered like a mirage. My face was overcome by a wave of heat that slowly brought me out of the darkness and into the light. “Alex, can you hear me?" His voice sounded so far away and a faint clicking fell around me. “Alex?” I blinked; I was alive after all. Ace’s voice sounded closer and closer as the clicking sound got louder and louder. I opened my eyes to see that Ace was hovering over me and that clicking sound was actually coming from his own mouth. He ran his hands over my body, letting the heat explode onto my skin while he continued on with clicking his tongue. I moaned, trying to lift my head, but Ace caught it in his hands, and helped me to slowly prop myself up. I looked out to see that we were sitting on a small cliff overlooking a range of mountains. The sun was just starting to peak over the mountaintops, leaving the brown dust of the desert gleaming in a low orange light. “How long was I out?” “Long enough to scare the crap out of me." He smiled and pulled me closer, leaning my back against his stomach as he rested his chin on the top of my head. “I’m sorry," I whispered. He kissed the top of my head. “It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have been so crazy around those turns. Something really bad could have happened to you and it would have been my fault.” I looked up at him, drinking in the lines of his face. “Why did you bother saving me?” He arched an eyebrow and looked down at me. “Why wouldn’t I save you?” I sat up, facing him. “I know about the whole humans-and-aliens-don't-mix thing." I focused in on him. “Why save me and continue to save me when you knew that it could cause all of this mess?" I waved my arm in small circles above my head. He sighed. “Because the whole idea of aliens versus humans is stupid.” I raised an eyebrow. “Do tell?” He pulled me closer. He traced the lines of my jaw with his fingertips making an electrical current flow through my face. “Because I’ve been on this planet for decades. I've watched as humans dated each other and aliens found their soul mates. But I found no one. I didn't have anything in common with my own species or human girls." He ran his hands through my hair and stared out over the desert. “I was so afraid that just by talking to a human girl I would cause some sort of war. I couldn’t bear it. Sometimes I would even get blamed for human deaths just because I was around at the time and I was alien. That is how I got my label as dangerous, because I'm a warrior and because I never bothered to save anyone. But that all changed when I saw Magpie attack you.” The sound of her name sent a nightmarish shiver up my spine. It vanished as soon as I felt Ace's touch lingering on my chin, pulling my face up toward his. “Death wasn’t surrounding you. It wasn’t your time to go and I wasn’t going to let her take the life from you. So I stopped her." His lips grazed mine briefly before he continued. “That’s when I knew that the whole not-dating-humans thing was stupid. There wasn’t some dark figure looming around us at all times and Earth seemed to stay in order, so I let myself fall for you.” I shuddered as I thought of the darkness that surrounded my nightmares and started to wonder if maybe he was wrong, and the nightmares were only the beginning of it. He held me close, probably figuring that my shuddering was only because of the coldness of his body against mine. His hands trailed to my back, letting the warmth fill my body before he kissed me and let his lips linger down to my neck. “I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you,” he whispered. I closed my eyes and silently prayed he was right and the darkness wouldn't come. Ace drove back to Circe like he was actually his real age instead of the eighteen-year-old body he’d been encased in forever. He took the turns slowly, and I didn’t think the speedometer moved above twenty the entire time. “You know, you can go a little faster,” I yelled. “I’m not going to let you get hurt again,” he yelled back. I rolled my eyes and pulled myself closer to him, watching the sunrise over the mountaintops. Dawn was approaching and even though I could have stayed on the cliff forever enveloped in Ace’s arms, we both knew that we had to get back. I didn’t know when I would see him again. He said that his plan was to talk to the governing board and try to persuade them to let us see each other because we planned on keeping in contact when I was outside of Circe anyway. He was also hoping that he would be granted clearance to leave the grounds of Circe. I wondered how hard he would have to beg for that one and if it would even work. He slowed down to an idle as we approached my bedroom window. None of the lights were on around the mountain-like building, so it seemed like everyone was still asleep. He pulled in so that we were right underneath the window, getting the bike as close as he could without hitting the building. He turned toward me, putting both hands on my sides. I looked down at his hands, arching a brow. “What are you doing?” He grinned, lifting me off the back and seating me in the windowsill. I covered my mouth to stifle a giggle. “Oh Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou, Romeo?” He let his hands stay at my side and leaned in, the grin spreading wider on his face while he nuzzled his nose against mine. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” he whispered into my lips. “That I shall say tonight until it be morrow,” I whispered before letting my lips pursue their course. I could have sat in that windowsill kissing him until my lips were raw, but he pulled away. “Okay, I should really get going before someone notices that I took this bike without permission.” “They already have," Riley's high pitched voice rang from inside the room. I gasped as I swung my legs into the room, coming face to face with dad standing next to Riley, who had a smirk on her face, and five armed Circe guards staring back at us. Dad waving the ankle cuff in his hand was not a good sign. Chapter 19 Everything moved in slow motion. I turned, yelling back to Ace to run, but before he could move the armed guards had pulled both of us into the room. It took only one tall guard to pull me through, but it took the other four to pull Ace in as he struggled against them. He head butted two of the guards and the other two trembled underneath as he tried to release himself from their grasp. "I'm sorry. Riley got to your dad before I could stop her!" Jen yelled. I screamed and tried to kick the guard off me, but the only thing I was successful in doing was knocking my glasses off and having them fly onto the floor. This made things worse since all I could see was the outline of Ace’s body as one of the guards sent an electro shock through his chest, leaving him to fall limp. They dragged him out of the room and the last guard held me back. I screamed and screamed until my voice became hoarse and it hurt to continue. Jen was at my side, petting my head and whispering that it would be okay. I shook her hands away and continued to try and fight off the guard until my arms and legs became too heavy to fight anymore and he let me go. “Are you done, now?” A blurred blue figured stood over me. I knew from his deep voice that it was dad. He handed me my glasses, and Jen helped situate them on my face. The frames were broken and sat crooked on my face, the lenses were caked in dust from the desert sand. I looked around the room, seeing that Riley had left with the guards. Good thing or else I didn't know what I would have done to her with my remaining strength. “There was no reason for you to take him like that." My voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “Alex.” He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “He just stole a government vehicle, broke into your room, and then destroyed government property by removing your ankle cuff. Oh, and did I mention breaking your regulated clearance?” “Well, if you would have just let us see each other, this would have never happened,” I huffed, and the guard finally let go of me. “Alex, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. That Caltian is dangerous." Dad raised his voice another decibel, trying to be assertive without yelling. “His name is Ace!" I screeched. “And he’s never hurt me!” Dad let his eyes trace down my body. “Really?" He crossed his arms over his chest, looking down. “So what’s with the marks on your head and legs then?” I looked at the dark red welts that had formed on my legs from the fall. “Those weren’t his fault!" I proclaimed, trying to fight the tears. “It was an accident.” “Uh huh." He nodded. “And I’m sure it was an accident when he killed those girls in France as well.” “He didn’t kill them!" I strained, trying to scream. “He wouldn’t kill anyone unless he had to.” “That’s for the board to decide." He nodded in the guard's direction and marched toward the door. “I will see you at lunch this afternoon. It’s almost eight so you’d better get ready for work. Malcolm is waiting." He smiled like nothing had happened and walked out of the room. I screamed the loudest I could, which did nothing but leave my throat hurting even more. I fell to the floor with tears running down my face. Jen crouched down beside me, her hands trailing down my arms while I rocked back and forth. “It will be okay. The board will get this all figured out,” she whispered. “And what if they don’t?" I sniffled, my voice coming out like a croaking frog. “I don’t know." She bit down on her lip. “But there is nothing that you sitting on the floor crying is going to help.” I sat up, wiping the tears from my face. “You’re right. There’s nothing I can do here.” It took all the strength I had to force myself into the shower and get ready for work. I had no desire to sit in the hangar and hand Malcolm wrenches, but because he was a third-year intern, I figured he might have the knowledge I needed. **** “Whoa, what happened to you?" Malcolm took in the sight of me, his eyes widening when he saw my taped-together glasses and the bruise, which had started to turn a dark purple, covering the entire left side of my face. And that was just the damage that he could see. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear." I leaned up against the small blue ship he was working on. “Ace took a hover bike out and we got caught. They took him away this morning and I have no idea where he is.” He shook his head, blowing out a mouthful of air. “I have never seen a girl get in this much trouble here until you came around.” “What’s an alien base without some sort of excitement?" I laughed, but it was weak. My voice was still strained from all the screaming and I felt like my heart was breaking underneath my skin. It was bad enough that I hadn’t seen Ace in a week, but what would I do if I never saw him again and the last memory would be of his unconscious body being carried out of my room? “Well, I heard they are having some sort of an emergency board meeting this afternoon, so I’m guessing it’s probably something about that." He shrugged, tightening a bolt that jutted out from the ship. “What do you think will happen?" I pressed. He shook his head, not looking up from the bolt. “I don’t know. Last time something like this happened was a few years ago and I had only heard about it third hand.” “Well, what did you hear, then?" I slid closer, focusing in on him the best I could with my broken glasses. He let out a deep breath, putting down the wrench before he looked at me. “Look Alex, all I know is that the last time an alien stepped out of line and broke as many rules as Ace did, he ended up not being at Circe anymore. They either exiled him back to his planet, or something else.” “What’s that something else?” “There are two possibilities." He held up his fingers, counting off them. “One is the prison cell block they keep in the basement. The other, involves them going to a different prison that isn’t on this planet or there is—" He made a slicing motion across neck with the last finger, making a cutting sound with his lips. “Oh my gosh!" I covered my mouth. “Do you think they’ll execute Ace?” He shrugged. “It’s a possibility, but if you want to find out they’re probably holding him in the cell block.” My eyes widened as I slid my hands down to my side, rolling them into tight fists. “Are you telling me to go down to the cell block?” “I’m not telling you what you can and can’t do, and I know you’re too bullheaded to listen to me if I told you not to." He flashed a smile before going back to work on the ship. “I owe you one." I patted his back and started running out of the cargo unit. “Hey,” Malcolm yelled. I stopped quickly, turning back toward him. "Yeah?" “Just don’t do anything to stupid, okay? I can only cover for you down here for so long." “I won’t." I turned back around, running in full force toward the cellblock. I didn’t know what I would find, but I hoped that Ace would still be down there and not already headed for option number two. Chapter 20 You would think that a prison block on an alien base would have more security guards. But as I ran down the long white hallways and into the basement I didn't see a single guard or even a single person or alien. As I approached the rows of cells I realized why. They weren't ordinary prison cells with metal bars, but lines of green electrical currents that ran the length of the large room, squaring off each snarling prisoner from each other. I ran down the rows, looking in each cell. Some of the prisoners looked like old women begging for me to help them, and others were sneering beast-like creatures who would growl and jump toward the electric currents only to get thrown back by the shock. I finally made it to the end of the block to a small green-lined cell with Ace crouched in the corner. His head was down, and his suit and hair were singed from either the electric shock when he was detained, or from running into the electric currents surrounding him. "Ace?" I whispered, trying to hide the horror on my face from seeing him look so helpless with his face buried in his knees. He slowly tilted his head up toward me. The fire in his eyes was gone and all that was left were pools of sadness on his blackened face. "Alex?" He stood up gradually as if it took a great effort for him to move toward the cell wall. Standing only a foot from me, I wanted to reach out and touch him, make the burn marks go away, but I knew it would only electrocute both of us. "It's me." I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and tried my hardest to fight them back. "What are you doing down here?" he whispered, looking around. "This could get us in even more trouble." I shook my head. "I don’t care. What else can they really do to me? They've already taken you away and left me in my own prison." I looked at the green currents surrounding him. "I mean, um, not exactly prison." He smiled an actual small flash of white against his otherwise darkened face. "I know what you mean, Alex. You don't have to explain it to me." “I’m sorry." I pushed back my broken glasses to wipe the tears from my eyes. “But I just don’t know what to do anymore.” He let out a deep breath. “Well, the board is supposed to meet today to decide what’s going to happen.” I longed to reach out and touch him, to feel the lines of his face against my hand, and let his lips trail to mine. But the constant buzzing of the green bars let me know it wouldn’t be happening. “What do you think will happen?" I pressed. He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve never really seen another alien get in trouble for being with a human girl.” I gulped, thinking of what my dad had said about him killing other human girls in other countries. I didn’t want to upset him anymore, but I had to ask. “My dad said some things to me.” His eyes met mine. A fire was slowly burning behind them. “What did he say?" he spat between gritted teeth. “Well…" I bit down on my lip, trying not to meet his gaze. “He just said that there were other human girls besides me.” He let out a relieved sigh, raising an eyebrow as I looked up at him. “Is that what this is about? Are you jealous that there were other girls before you?” I could feel the color rise to my cheeks. “No that’s not what I was saying! Just wondering.” “I think your girlfriend is jealous,” a small alien that looked like he could have been someone’s grandpa, but very yellow, yelled from the cell next to Ace. “I am not!" I scowled at the old man. Ace shook his head, smiling over at him. “Can you give us a little privacy here?” The old man lifted his arms up and turned the other way in his cell. “That goes for the rest of you as well,” Ace yelled as I watched all eyes shift off of us, and pretended they weren’t hanging on our every word. Ace turned back to me, his eyes fixed on me like I was the only one in the room. “I told you about the other human girls. The ones who had their lives sucked from them right in front of me. For years it was as if death had surrounded me. I would pass women in the street who were on the brink of death, begging anyone to come and save them." His eyes dazed off as if he were in a dream. "Sometimes I wondered if they knew I could have saved them if I wanted to, but I think most of them were just clinging on to whatever shred of life they could find." His eyes met mine again as I saw the darkness spread over them. "Death surrounded me for years like it was waiting for me to screw up. I wouldn't listen to its call, not once looking at one of these girls, and then I met you." He put his hand into a fist and laid it on his chest. “The only time I can feel my heart beating so hard it’s threatening to leap right out of me is when you are around. You’re the only one that makes my heart beat so fast that I never want it to stop." He closed his eyes and then slowly opened them. He released his hand from his chest and put it back down. “There has never been anyone else who can do that to me, human or alien. I will not lose the only girl that will ever have my heart.” My lips trembled as I tried to fight back the tears that threatened to escape my eyes. I didn’t know what I would do if Ace was executed. How could I live without someone, who even though I’d only known him a short while, could leave me breathless? I leaned as close as I could to the electric bars without getting shocked, whispering, “As long as my heart is beating, I will never let it stop beating for you.” “I’m pretty sure we can change that.” I turned to see five large men with flowing black robes and snow-white skin come barreling toward Ace’s cell. I jumped back, trying to catch my breath that I almost lost when I was caught off guard. “What are you doing here?" Ace glared up at the man who had spoken to me. Just the mere sight of his face was enough to make me gasp. He had the same statuesque facial structure as Ace, but his had been hardened like a worn-out basketball and decorated with thin scares that stood out against his pale skin, which was pulled even tighter by his long black braid. “What do you think we are doing here, Ace? It’s time to come home." The man grinned such a wicked smile that it spread across his pale face and curved into the corners of his dark eyes. “What do you mean, go home? You can’t do that!" I protested, lunging at the man, but I was pulled back by two of the other guys with him. “Oh, my dear human girl.” He stepped closer to me. His long fingers drew a line down my face. He left the same icy hot tingle as Ace’s fingers and at that moment I knew he was a Caltian. He shook his head and looked toward Ace. “You couldn’t have at least picked a girl with a decent pair of glasses? Or maybe even a blonde?” Ace growled at him. "Take your hands off her." The Caltian slid his hand out from my chin and took another step toward Ace's cell. "My, my, all these years on this wretched planet have made you quite the angry Caltian." "This doesn't concern her. Just let her go." Ace narrowed his eyes, his hands balling into tight fists at his sides while the Caltian stood there, smiling and carrying on. "Oh, my dear Ace, I think we both know that this has everything to do with her." "If you do anything to her. I swear—" "You swear what?" The Caltian arched his pencil-thin eyebrows. "It looks like you've already done a fine job protecting her." The Caltian glanced over at me. I tried to fight the other two Caltians off me, but they had strength that I was definitely lacking. "Just look at her. Broken spectacles, bruises, and she doesn't even know how to respect her elders." He shook his head, turning his attention back to Ace. "I'd say it's time to—oh, what's the human expression—let sleeping dogs lie?" Ace opened his mouth. His lips lurched back as a loud, animal-like growl came from deep within his throat. He thrust his hand through the bars, the electric shock barely fazing him as he reached for the Caltian's neck. "Ace, no!" I screamed. Before he could even react the Caltian pulled a small disc-like object from his cloak and thrust it hard against Ace's hand. The growl was replaced by a whispered gurgle. His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he fell backward onto the floor of his cell. The Caltian laughed a high, sharp cackle, like the one from my nightmares. “Oh Ace, you should know better than to get angry." He pulled a small silver key from his pocket that glowed against the walls of the cell. He slid the key into the lock and the door opened. Two of the other Caltians pulled Ace out of the cell and to his feet. “Now let’s get you back home. We have big plans for you." The Caltian let his fingers trace Ace’s limp face before he let out another silvery laugh. “What are you going to do to him?" I begged, watching the Caltian and the others turned toward the door. The Caltian stopped and looked back in my direction. “Oh, dear little human girl.” "Oh, dear little Caltian," I mocked before gargling a mouthful of spit and shooting it in his direction. The wad froze in midair before it even hit his face. The two guards holding me back laughed. "This one definitely has some spunk," one of them added. "Yes, and we all know that I hate spunk." He took another step toward me, pushing the frozen spit wad until it broke against my face. "Gee, and I was just hoping to get on your good side." He pointed the silver disc at me. “You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.” He thrust the object into my chest. I felt the surge of electrical energy flow through my body, my arms and legs flailing like wet noodles. I fell to the ground, unable to move as the sound of my own heart pounded in my ears. “How is that for my good side?" He laughed as I sailed back into the darkness of my nightmares. Chapter 21 Instead of the woman’s laughter, I heard the sound of alarms ringing through the darkness. I didn’t know if they were part of my nightmare or where they came from, but the noise was highpitched and deafening. I opened by mouth to scream but it was engulfed by streams of black. I coughed, trying to spit the darkness out, but every time I tried, the inky blackness would just burrow farther into me. I saw Ace in the shadows. His hair had molded in with the black as he started to melt away before my eyes. I tried to reach for him, but every time I lifted my arms the Caltian man would pull me back until I couldn’t see his face anymore. “Alex,” the Caltian said in a lower whisper. I couldn’t answer, but his voice got louder and louder. The blackness started to fade and I could feel the light warming in my eyes. I reached my arms out, pawing and hoping that the warmth was Ace lying next to me, and it all had been just a very bad dream. “It looks like she’s waking,” a voice called, coming closer to me as I reached for the light. It was familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I'd heard it. I opened my eyes only to be surrounded by green with a pair of beady bug eyes staring at me. I tried to scream, but when I opened my mouth, a pool of sweet green liquid flowed into it. I quickly looked to see that there was light above me. I swam up until I was able to gasp for air, spitting out flakes of green goo in the process. I wiped my eyes, feeling the warm gel slide through my fingers until I could finally see the little orange doctor standing on a platform in front of me. “Welcome back, Alex." She smiled those pointy teeth. “What happened? Where am I?" I looked down and realized that I was floating in one of the tubes filled with green jelly that I had seen during my tour on my first day at Circe. "You've had quite a bit of damage to your human shell, so I thought it was best that you take a soak in the healing tank." She poked at my outstretched hand, taking a droplet of the green goop and rubbing it between her fingers. "It looks like you've healed fairly well for your first time." I wiped more of the gel from my face and slid out of the goop and onto the platform next to the doctor. She was right about the healing. Even though I was dressed in not much more than my underwear and covered in green goop, my body actually felt like I had just woken up from a long nap. I was completely relaxed, but I couldn't ignore the aching in my heart when I thought about what happened before I ended up in the tank. "Where's Ace?" “It seems there has been a bit of dilemma." She started down the platform's small ladder, her tiny voice fading the faster she traveled. “What kind of dilemma?" I followed her down, trying not to slip on the rungs. Before the doctor could speak, Jen and Malcolm ran through a large metal door. “You’re finally awake!" Jen screamed, running over to me and almost knocking the doctor over as she rushed to my side. “We were worried about you when the alarms started going off." Malcolm popped his head over Jen’s shoulder. “Wait, what alarms?" I asked as Jen placed a new pair of glasses on my face. “What happened? And how do I get this stuff off me?" Jen laughed, putting her hand to my arm. She pulled off a long strip of goop. It came off like wax, only less painful, leaving only smooth skin underneath it. "It's like paraffin wax, you know when you get a manicure and they dip your hands in that stuff to make them all smooth?" I shook my head and peeled another layer from my skin, eager to get the goop off and get some clothes on. "But back to my other question, what happened and how did I get here?" “I was hoping you could tell us that one." The doctor edged in front of Jen. “An escape alarm went off, so a group of guards headed for the cell block. That's where they found you, lying unconscious, and Ace’s cell wide open and empty.” “Wait, Ace is really gone?" I looked to each of their questioning faces. Jen and Malcolm looked at each other, then back to me. “Yeah, we sort of figured that you helped him escape,” Jen replied tentatively. I carefully shook my head, standing up as straight as I could without hurting myself. “No, a group of guys with jet-black hair and black robes came in and took him. There was a tall, slim guy with scars all over his face that put some sort of a disc-like Taser on me that made me black out. That's the last thing I remember.” The doctor looked up at Jen and Malcolm. “Sounds like Caltians to me.” “Why would Caltians be here and what do they want with Ace?" Malcolm asked, looking down at the doctor. “Well, if that guy Alex said tasered her is the same long-haired guy I’ve seen in pictures, then it’s pretty serious if the queen would send Marsilo down." She blinked, looking from the floor and back up to Malcolm and Jen. “Hello?" I peeled the last layer of goop off my face and reached for a temperature control suit that was hanging on a rack near the tube. “Can someone clue me in as to what’s going on?” The doctor walked closer to me. “Marsilo is the queen’s right-hand man. He’s the one she uses to take care of business when she can’t handle it herself.” The doctor turned her attention back to Malcolm and Jen. “So, it doesn’t make sense why she would send him down just to retrieve Ace when she hasn’t even seen him in decades.” The three of them started rummaging through theories as we headed out of the room and into the hallway. I followed closely behind them, trying to pay attention to what they were saying, but all I could think about was why anyone would come and take Ace. A crackling noise sounded as a small screen popped out from each doorway. Everyone passing through the hall grew silent. An olive-skinned woman with the bluest eyes I had ever seen popped on the screen. “Nerses is speaking; this is serious,” the doctor mumbled. “Who is Nerses?" I whispered to Jen, not taking my eyes off of the screen. “She’s the director of all of Circe,” she whispered back. “Good afternoon residents of Circe, it is with great urgency that I address the recent security breaches at our base." The woman’s voice was calm and cool despite the alertness of her eyes and stiff stature. “Our Public Affairs department has reached out to the queen of Caltia, but we have not yet received comment from her communications department as to why she would choose to breach our system. Twelve of our armed guards were attacked and one of our inmates was taken.” “She’s talking about Ace,” I whispered. “But we assure you that we are on top of the situation and that there is nothing to worry—" Her voice was cut off and the screen started to fade out. “What’s happening to the screen?" Jen asked and looked around to see that all the other screens were doing the same thing. Then the screen faded back to a woman. It was the same woman from my nightmares with the white skin and long black hair. I gasped as soon as I saw her haunting smile spread across her pale face. “Nothing to worry about Nerses? I think you know me better than that." She laughed that poignant laugh that instantly sent chills to every part of my body. “Now where was I?" She smiled again, her hair fading into a shadowy background. “Oh, yes.” “Now that my son is safe on my ship, I have a message for the populace of Circe, especially the little tart who is after my son’s heart." She closed in on the screen; her dark eyes were locked right on me. “Yes, you, the girl with the big hips and awful glasses." She looked to her side and nodded before looking back at the screen. “Alexandra Bianchi, a colonel’s daughter no less. You really should have known better, my dear.” She shook her head, letting out that witch-like cackle. “You really think that a human girl, from the slums of the universe, a girl who can’t even get into a decent college, deserves my son?” She lifted her long, gloved fingers and pointed to the screen. “The citizens of Calta will not stand for this disrespect and pollution of our kind, and therefore—" She stood up, her long body coming into full view. “—we declare war on the pathetic creatures of Earth, starting first with your lovely Circe Operations Center.” Gasps and screams came from the other people in the hallway while they stared at the screens. Hushed questions were whispered back and forth as they waited for the screen to fade out. The queen’s eyes focused back onto me. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, you pathetic human harlot?” Everyone's eyes were glued to me. I turned toward the queen's dark eyes and stared right at the screen, but was caught off guard when I heard a high-pitched scream from my left. I turned to see Riley with a Circe-issued gun in her hand pointed right at my temple. "Uh, Riley?" I'd admit that she was one of the last people that I wanted to see. Especially since I knew she was the one that reported me in the first place and got Ace locked in the cell. But this wasn't the same Riley that I knew. Her hair was disheveled and the dark rings around her eyes made it look like she hadn't slept in days. "Shut up, just shut up!" she screeched, pushing the cold barrel of the gun to my forehead. A silent crowd had gathered, their eyes wide, waiting for Riley's next move. "You're the reason all this is happening. If you would have just followed the rules, I could have gotten out of this hell hole by now and wouldn't have to worry about some slimy bug destroying humanity!" Some of the aliens started whispering as Riley spoke, questioning why she wasn't locked up somewhere. I looked away from her narrowed eyes, hoping that a guard or someone would come to help me, but I couldn't see anyone rushing in. All the guards were probably busy after hearing Nerses and the queen's message. "Riley, you don't want to do this." "You don't know what I want! All you've cared about this summer is your precious alien boyfriend and you haven't thought about how it affects us humans!" Her voice and hands shook. She swallowed hard before she pushed the gun harder against my temple. "And that is why it's time to end this. If I kill you the queen will show me mercy and I can go back to living my happy, alien-free life back in Philly." "But what if that doesn't work, Riley? What if you kill me and she still attacks?" I asked, trying to remain as calm as a girl with a gun to her forehead could. "Then I'm just going to have to show the world that aliens exist. Shout it from the rooftops and make everyone listen. Tell them that they are all in danger because of some stupid high school chick and her alien boy toy. They can't ignore an environmental scientist!" I waited to hear the sound of the gun cock, thinking of the quickest way I could release it from Riley's grip, when a rush of blond hair came from my right, knocking the gun away from Riley and tackling her down in the process. "No, you can't do this!" Riley screeched. Jen secured Riley's arms behind her back and edged her up from the floor just as two guards came barreling down the hallway. "You all know the rules! She's the cause of all of this!" "And I'm sure you running around with a weapon and threatening to expose Circe is going to help?" Jen smirked. "I think it's time for Riley to visit the memory detoxification room in the psych ward," one of the guards remarked as they picked her up and dragged her down the hall. I watched as her flailing body disappeared, thinking that one crazed human was only the beginning of my problems. Chapter 22 "What's your plan now?" Jen rotated her neck in a circle. "I hope we're not just going to stand around here and wait for another crazy anti-alien person to come." "I'm sure the board is meeting right now to think of something." Malcolm tried to keep his tone neutral, but it wavered on the edge of babbling. I was still staring down the hallway while everyone around me started going into full panic mode. Some of them were running and screaming and others were reaching for whatever weapons they could, ready for war. "Alex?" The doctor tugged at my leg. I let my eyes drift around the hallway. Some aliens were staring at me with fear in their eyes and others looked like they were ready to attack. "I think we should probably get you out of here," she whispered. "We don't want another repeat incident." I looked back in her direction, nodding. "Sounds like a good idea to me." I wanted to thank Jen for knocking Riley out of the way, but my mind was jumbled with so many thoughts that I couldn't think straight. After only a few seconds of walking, mass chaos ensued. Entire alien families ran down the halls; parents yelled at their children to hurry up or they would miss their ship. Guards were everywhere, guiding people and trying to get everyone to remain calm. "You want us to remain calm and orderly?" a small green woman screamed. "One of the most powerful queens in the universe just said that she is going to attack this base, and you expect us to remain calm?" I gulped, looking around at the faces of the scared alien children. They reminded me of my little brother and the way he would look at me when there were storm warnings, crying with those big blue eyes and begging to stay in bed with me until the thunder stopped. It was my turn to be the big sister again, but this time it had to be for an entire planet. "Where is my dad?" I looked over at the doctor, who was perched on Malcolm's shoulder as the four of us made our way down the crowded hallways. "He was scheduled to be in the board meeting this morning, so I'm sure they're still meeting to discuss what happens next." Her voice was calm, almost soothing. Despite all the chaos she still maintained a clear head. I stopped and turned toward the three of them. People around me were startled by my sudden halt and mumbled things under their breath as they hurried around me. "Can you take me to him?" I stared right into the depths of the doctor's tiny little eyes. She nervously fiddled her fingers in her palms and looked from Malcolm to Jen to see if they would answer the question for her. "Well, it's a confidential meeting. They usually don't let anyone in unless it's a matter of life and death," she replied weakly. I snorted. "Well, I think that a queen kidnapping my boyfriend and then threatening to wipe out the entire planet qualifies as a life and death situation." Malcolm shrugged. "The girl's right and if we don't help her find the board meeting she'll probably just find a way to do it anyway. She's kind of stubborn like that." Jen and the doctor nodded. "I know," they practically said in unison before staring at each other. I rolled my eyes. "Okay, now that you've all figured out that I'm stubborn and determined, let's get to my dad before that grubby little ice queen can do anything to Ace." People stared at me. Some of them gasped or walked by with their eyes widening to the fact that I would dare say anything against one of the most powerful intergalactic queens. I figured if she could say those things about me and would rather have her son miserable than happy, then she definitely wasn't someone who deserved my respect. The doctor sighed. "The meetings are usually held up in the E tower near Nerses' office." "Well, what are we waiting for?" I backed down the hallway, holding my arms out to the side. "Do you even know where we are going?" Malcolm asked as they quickened their pace to keep up with me. "Nope." I turned around and started walking faster. "Just tell me where to go, where to turn and I'll be fine." We walked down long hallway after long hallway until we approached the elevator that would take us to E tower. "Are you really sure that you want to do this?" Jen asked as we stepped into the elevator. I pushed the button for the top floor, watching the doors close behind us. "I really don't think that me interrupting a board meeting is going to hurt anything. I'm already the target for some sort of an intergalactic war, so I probably should know what the plan of attack is." We stepped off the elevator where three Circe guards greeted us. "Is there something we can help you with?" A tall guard with a horrible gray crew cut looked down at me, smiling like I was a little kid asking for a piece of candy. "Maybe we should just—" I cut Jen off before she could say any more. "I'm here to speak to Nerses and Colonel Bianchi." I narrowed my eyes, staring right at the guard. "Well, Miss Bianchi, they are in a board meeting, which is closed to the public, but I'll be sure to leave them a message." He smiled an all-too-smug smile at me. "Come on, Alex." Jen put her hand on my shoulder. "We can talk to your dad after the meeting." I nodded, turning toward the elevator to follow everyone out. Just as we got to the doors I turned around. Seeing that the guards were talking among themselves. I started sprinting as fast as I could through the middle of them. One of the guards tried to grab me by the waist, but I elbowed him in the chest and snatched his gun from his belt in the process. My shoes skidded on the floor as I slid down the hallway until I reached the big silver doors, closed and looming over me like two gray giants. I glanced over my shoulder to see that the guards were running after me in full force. I turned back toward the door, hoping that it wouldn't be bullet proof, cocked the gun, and fired straight up so the bullet went through the top of the doorway and hopefully wouldn't hit anyone on the way in. The two doors flew open and I saw at least a dozen aliens and humans sitting around a large, round table in a bright white room. Their eyes were all turned toward a giant screen with the queen's face blown up across it. My bullet had left a smoking hole right through the center of her head. "Miss Bianchi, it's a pleasure to finally meet you." A woman, who I recognized as Nerses, stood from the head of the table and walked in my direction. She stopped a few feet from me and that was when I realized how tall she really was. If she was human she would probably be the tallest woman in the world, or at least the same height as a basketball star. The three guards came barreling behind me, followed closely by my friends. "Nerses, I'm sorry. She ran past us and took my gun. We couldn't stop her." The guard with the horrible crew cut approached me, breathing heavily. "Do you want me to take her down to the cells?" Nerses raised her hand, shaking her head. "No need to, Dalton. She has every right to be here." I wanted to turn around and stick my tongue out at Dalton, but I decided to try and remain as professional as I could. "And besides—" She smiled and looked down at me. "—if we're going to win this war we definitely need someone with her kill shot on the team." Chapter 23 Jen, Malcolm, and the doctor were ushered out of the room by the other two guards, but Dalton just stood there staring at me. "Can I help you with something, Dalton?" dad asked, his face clearly painted with annoyance. I couldn't tell if it was aimed at Dalton or me. Dalton shuffled back and forth before finally speaking. "Yeah, I'd kind of like the kid to give me back my gun." Everyone's eyes turned to me and Nerses. She just smiled coyly as she took the gun from my hands and walked over to Dalton. "If I ever see a kid take your gun again, you'll be demoted." She spoke with such charm that I didn't know whether to fear or envy her. Dalton chose the former, saluting her before heading back through the damaged doors, trying to close them as far as they would go before he left. "Now where were we?" Nerses walked back over to her seat. "I say we nuke the hell out of the Caltians. My planet's been waiting to do it for years," yelled a small alien with green-tinted skin and hair the color of freshly fallen snow, pounding his lizard-like fists on the table. "Yeah, it's about time someone stands up to those cold-bodied maggots," yelled another alien with a dozen different eyes and raised her tiny yellow arms in the air. "Now, Thales, we can't jump to any rash conclusions." Dad held up his hands, locking eyes with Thales. "No disrespect, sir," a large fish-like alien piped up from across the table, "but you should be the first one to want to go after the Caltians when they are directly attacking your gene pool." "Yeah, Melissus is right," chanted another. "We should just give the queen what she wants, the human girl!" Some of the other aliens around the table started cheering and eyed me hungrily. "Now wait a minute." Dad stood up, placing his hands on the table. "We can't just hand Alex over to the queen." "Why not? Just give the queen what she wants and maybe she'll go back to Calta," another alien added. Nerses stood up, raising her hand out toward the group. Everyone grew silent as they watched her. "Before we jump to any rash conclusions, I'd like to know what we are dealing with." Her eyes darted in my direction and my body was instantly pulled toward the seat next to her. "Alexandra, tell me what you saw down in the cell block." I gulped, trying to divert my eyes anywhere but to hers and dad's as I sat down. "Well I was cuffed and supposed to only go to the hangar and my room." "Oh, stop with the excuses. We all know that they found you down near Ace's cell, so just tell us what happened," yelled one of the few humans in the room. "Thank you, Adam." Nerses nodded in his direction before locking her icy blue eyes back on me. "Now that we've got that out in the open, tell us what happened." I let out a deep breath, looking down and recounting all the details from the storming of the Caltians, Marsilo's argument with Ace, and even what the instrument looked like that we were electrocuted with. By the time I was done, I looked up to see that everyone was staring at me. Some of them had their mouths open and others had their hands balled into fists, ready to fight. "Who does the queen think she is? Just walking in and taking what she wants? We can't just go and give her what she wants just because she demands it. Or next time she'll demand more than the girl." A human woman stood up, slamming her large hands on the table. Thales stood up as well, her red eyes glowing like two fiery embers. "Mary is right. We've let the Caltian queen bully all our planets for years. Letting her take and do whatever she wants out of fear is a losing proposition." I thought back to what Jen had said my first day at Circe. How she told me that Caltians were like the popular kids of the universe. I looked around the table at the aliens and humans and realized that they were like the kids in my high school: the science geeks, the misfits, the ones who needed a voice most of all. Unlike Riley they didn't want to give me up to the queen because they didn't like me. Their intentions were purely rooted in fear. They had feared the queen all of their lives, let themselves become her punching bag, but now it was time for the punching bags to fight back. I stood up as everyone grew silent, their eyes slowly trailing up to my face. "I think it's time that we take a stand against the queen. Not just because she took my boyfriend or because she had someone attack me, but so all of Circe and the entire universe knows that bullying and threatening other creatures of the universe will not be tolerated!" The crowd around the table stood up and cheered, raising their fists in the air, ready to join the fight. Nerses raised her hand again and the crowd grew silent, her eyes locked right onto mine. "I thought that might be your answer." She pressed a button on the table and a new screen came down with Justin and another small purple alien appearing across it. "Philo and Justin." She stared at the screen. "Yes, Nerses?" Philo's eyes were so huge behind the pair of Coke-bottle glasses on his purple alien head that I wasn't sure where his face began and where the glasses ended. "How long do you estimate before the Caltians attack?" Nerses asked. Justin pressed a few keys on the computer. "We can't be too sure. It could be days or it could only be a few hours. It looks like they are still sitting just outside of Earth's atmosphere and they haven't sent any drones out yet." Nerses nodded again. "So can you get all able-bodied aliens and humans equipped for battle within, oh say, an hour and a half?" Philo blinked twice, looking over at Justin before they shrugged at each other and then turned back to Nerses. "It's worth a try." "Thank you." Nerses nodded before turning off the screen. "You heard them, soldiers. Get your gear and your direct commands, and report to Philo's lab where you'll start your briefing." The aliens got up from the table, some of them cheering and some of them passing by to add their support for me before they left the room. I started heading for the door when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see dad staring down at me. His eyes were circled with dark purple rings like he hadn't slept in days. "We need to talk, Alex." I froze. The last time we talked he slapped an ankle cuff on me and told me that I couldn't see my boyfriend anymore. I gulped. It was as if all the adrenaline I had built up from meeting with the board had been washed away by dad's dark circles. "Is this really important? I think I should head down with the rest of the troops to get briefed." "Alex, there are some other matters we need to discuss. Matters of you and Ace specifically." I rolled my eyes. "Dad, this isn't just about me and Ace anymore. This is about what is right for everyone. Because of my relationship the queen thinks she can push us around. It isn't fair to anyone. Not to me, not to Ace, and not to the rest of Circe, who is tired of living in fear of a tyrant." "Alex, you don't understand." Dad lowered his voice in an attempt to draw away the attention of Nerses and one of the guards. "Do you understand, Dad?" I placed my hands on my hips. "You left me and mom seven years ago to go on your alien-saving missions. You've always wanted to be the hero for the downtrodden; it's why you joined the Air Force. Now I want to be the one to do that, to not just go unnoticed, and maybe even save the guy who has done everything he can to make me not feel like an outsider." I took a step forward, meeting dad's eyes. "Ace has been there for me when I needed someone the most this summer. Whether I needed someone to save me from an alien attack or just to listen when I was fighting with my roommates. Now it's my turn to save him." He shook his head, letting out a deep puff of air. "Alex, I'm not saying you shouldn't go. I'd prefer that you didn't, but I'm letting you know that I understand and that's why I didn't want you to get involved with an alien." "How could you understand? As far as I know you haven't had so much as one date since you and mom divorced." I shook my head. "You're right." He nodded. "But it doesn't mean that I don't know what it means to risk everything for someone else, family, friends, job, and to just hope that it all works out in the end." I raised an eyebrow, having absolutely no idea what he was talking about. "Are you trying to tell me that you have a girlfriend?" "Well, I think that she would be considered a little bit more than a girlfriend and would probably be offended to hear you call her that." "Then what is she?" Great, I had my boyfriend kidnapped, was almost killed by another intern and a Caltian, and got to hear about my dad's new girlfriend all in one day. Couldn't I just have been normal for once? My dad's eyes lifted as the doors opened. I turned to see Nerses walk back in, a large smile crossing her face. "I take it you told her?" I looked from my dad to Nerses and back again, watching as their eyes lit up as they fell on the other person. It looked like I wasn't the only one in the Bianchi family dating an alien. Chapter 24 "So that's why you left me and mom? Because of the offer from Nerses to come work here?" I sat on the couch while dad plopped a tea bag in a cup of hot water. His room was in the officer's quarters and was complete with its own sitting room and kitchen. He walked the few steps from the tiny white kitchen over to the couch, holding the two mugs out for us. When he said that he wanted to talk I was expecting it to be something about not wanting me to go to battle or even just lecturing me about my relationship with Ace, not the fact that he was actually involved in a secret alien relationship of his own. "I loved working at Randolph and being with you and your mom, but when I first heard of Circe, it was all that I could think about." He took a sip of his tea before setting it down on the wooden coffee table in front of him. "Then Nerses approached me about it one day when I was on duty. One look at her and I knew that I was meant to be at Circe and meant to be with her." I swallowed hard, letting the steam from the tea rise to my face. If I wouldn't have seen the way that Nerses looked at my dad, the same way that Ace would look at me as I would wake up from one of my nightmares, with the lightness glowing in his eyes, then I wouldn't have believed it would be possible for my dad to leave us. It also really made sense how I got the internship. I guess dating the director did have some perks. "So you can see why I was so nervous when I found out about your relationship with Ace." He swirled the cup, making a ring on his coffee table. "I know how dangerous and hard alien and human relationships can be." "Do other people know about you and Nerses?" "Some do, but most don't. You can understand the controversy that surrounds alien and human relationships." He let his hands trail back to his lap. "Some people think it's disgusting and unnatural, but others really do understand and support it. Those are the few people that know about our relationship." "And you didn't want me and Ace to deal with those people that think it's unnatural?" He smiled. "When you've had Neptunian gelatin thrown at your head because someone thinks you only made it this far because you're dating the boss, you realize that you never want that to happen to someone you care about." He reached out his hand, laying it on mine. It wasn't the same warmth that I would get from Ace's hands, but it was the first time I ever felt real comfort from my dad. "So what does her family think of you and her?" Dad sighed, picking up his mug with his free hand. "She doesn't have any family. Her planet was destroyed when she was just an infant. Earth is the only planet she knows and Circe is the only family she has." "Oh." I looked down at the swirling liquid in my mug. Dad might have understood what it was like to fall for an alien and even what it was like when your friends found out, but the whole alien boyfriend's mother trying to kill you thing was pretty foreign to him. "But that's why we have a trained human and alien army here. Taking a Circe resident was just the ammunition they needed to fight." He smiled. "So hopefully things will get back to normal soon." "I'm not really sure if my life is every going to be normal again." I took a sip from my mug. He laughed. "Who said normal was all that great anyway?" "Sure, Dad." I blinked, taking my eyes from his and looking down at my mug. "Look, I know it hasn't been easy for you since I left and I'm sorry for that. There were so many times that I wanted to tell you what was going on and bring you here, but I couldn't." He put his mug down and laid his hands on his lap, pushing them back and forth. "That's why when your mom told me about Columbia, I thought that you doing an internship here would not only help out your college resume, but could also bring us closer together. You could finally understand what Circe is about." I shook my head, trying to remain calm as a storm of emotions rumbled through my head. "If you cared so much about Circe bringing us closer together then why did you slap an ankle cuff on me and refuse to let me see Ace? Why couldn't you just tell me what was going on?" I let out a puff of air, looking down at the coffee table. "I’m not a little kid anymore, Dad, and if you would have just talked to me like an adult in the first place all of this probably wouldn't have happened. I wouldn't have had to sneak out and we wouldn't have to go to war with some stuck-up aliens." "Alex." He put his hand on my shoulder. "I had to protect you. I was afraid that something like this would happen and I didn't know what else to do." I pushed his hand off of my shoulder; his comfort felt false to me. Like everything that he was saying didn't make sense. "Didn't know what else to do? How about just, I don't know, tell me that you were afraid that I could really start an intergalactic war? Oh, or how about that you have an alien girlfriend of your own?" "Alex." He sighed. "What, Dad? Explain it to me, I'm all ears and ready to listen." "I was scared, okay!" He threw his arms up, before lowering them and drawing his eyes down to the ground. "I didn't know what was going to happen. I knew it was a possibility that the Caltians would attack, but I thought if I just kept you from Ace then you might even forget about him when you left here." "But then the queen would just continue ruling the universe with fear. Don't you see that? Nothing would have changed." I shook my head. "Could you forget about Nerses and just move on from Circe?" He let his eyes trail up to mine; the fear was shining brightly through them like a window to his inner terror. "No." He shook his head, and set his arms down at his sides. "And I should have known better than to expect you to do the same thing." "Then why did you try?" I pressed. "I don't know. I think I just forgot what it was like to be a teenager." He put his hands on his knees. "And I should have realized how powerful a relationship is between an alien and a human." I didn't know what to say as I really saw my dad for the first time in years. I didn't see him as the guy who abandoned my mom and me, or the guy who put an ankle cuff on me, but for the first time I actually saw him as another human being. One of the only ones that actually understood what I was going through with Ace, and one of the few people I felt like I could actually talk to about it. "I'm sorry Dad, for everything. For blaming you for mom, and for blaming you for locking up Ace." I put my hand on his back. "I know now that you were just trying to protect me, in your own clueless way." He laughed, shaking his head. "I guess I should maybe start listening to you instead of being so impractical." "Believe it or not, sometimes I actually know what I'm talking about." "Like that time you told your mom and me that it was evil garden gnomes who painted the living room furniture blue?" He arched his eyebrows. "Exactly like that." I laughed. Dad reached over, placing his arms around me and pulling me into a hug. He rubbed my back while I tried to choke back the tears that were threatening to break through my eyelids. "I love you, Alex." "I love you, too, Dad." He pulled away, leaving his hands on my shoulders. "And I want you to do me a favor." "Anything, Dad." "I don't want you to join in the war. I want you to stay with Nerses in the underground bunker until it all blows over. Can you do that for me?" Chapter 25 "What?" I shook my head, staring at dad and wondering where he came up with a question like that. He sighed, removing his hands from my shoulders. "I don't want to lose you again and if you go up there, I know you may never come back." "And you expect me to just sit hunkered down in a bunker somewhere hoping when it's all over Earth will still be here?" I focused in on him, not letting my eyes leave his. "Alex, there are plenty of trained aliens and soldiers who are more than ready to handle an attack like this." He patted my shoulder. "It will be fine." I stared at my dad, narrowing my eyes. "It will be fine? My boyfriend is stuck up in a spaceship, I was tasered by some creepy dude with a name I can't even pronounce, and you're telling me that it's going to be fine?" "Alex, there is no reason to worry. The trained soldiers will take care of this. I really don't want to see you get hurt and I’m sure Ace wouldn't want that either." I threw dad's hand off my shoulder. "You have no idea what Ace would want. You know nothing about our relationship and all the time that you had to get to know us, you decided to just ignore what you saw." I jumped off the couch, leaning over dad and stepping closer, not letting my stare waver from his. "You knew when you walked in on us that day we said we were looking at people's e-mails that there was something going on between us. But instead of talking to me about it, you decided not to say anything until you knew that you could just walk in, smack a tracker on my ankle, and try to control me." "Alex, it's not like that." He put his hands out, whispering, "And keep your voice down." "Keep my voice down?" I crossed my arms over my chest. "Dad, you can't expect to just lead me into your suite, make me a pot of tea, blow a bombshell like that, and expect me not to freak out." He sighed again. Dad was becoming a professional sigher. "Alex, I've already lost you once. It was hell not being able to see you the past few years. There were so many moments that I thought I had lost you forever, and if something were to happen to you, I don't think I could live with myself. I just want to protect you." I nodded, holding back my tears. "I understand, Dad." "You do?" Wrinkles creased his forehead and made him look years older. "Yeah, you're just being a dad and I'm sure it would be pretty hard to explain to mom if anything happened to me." I forced a tight-lipped smile. He didn't need to know what I was really thinking. He let out a deep breath. "Okay, well how about you get to your room and pack up? Then I'll come and get you when we're ready to go down to the bunker?" "Sounds great." I tried to get as much enthusiasm in my voice as I could muster. I left him standing in his suite, thinking that he had actually made headway. **** "So how would someone go into an intergalactic battle without their dad knowing?" I called as I stepped in the room. Jen was perched on the bed, her computer on her lap and her bag packed and ready on the floor beside her. She put her computer down and sat up. "You're not serious, are you?" I ran over to her bed and sat down by her feet. "What else am I supposed to do, Jen? Just sit back and watch almost everyone I know and love possibly die at the hands of some evil queen?" "But you've never flown a plane. It could be really dangerous. You would be an immediate target." She leaned in closer, making sure I fully understood her words. "Yeah, I've realized that, but don't you think Ace would do the same thing for me? Don't you think he would have already taken a plane and started fighting before anyone gave him the go ahead?" I widened my eyes. Jen shook her head, smiling. "From what I've seen of Ace, I think we both know that he would definitely do that." She put her hand up before I could respond. "But, Ace is also a trained Caltian and Army Air Force fighter, so it's safe to say that he probably has a lot more experience than a high school girl from Illinois." "I can see your point, but do you really think that it's going to stop me?" She shook her head, letting out a deep puff of air from her nose. "No, I really don't think that anyone could. You're kind of stubborn." I shrugged. "I take after my dad's side." She rolled her eyes. "So what's your brilliant plan then, Helen?" "Helen?" "You know, Helen of Troy? The whole reason they started the battle of Troy? Well, of course, she actually didn't fight anyone. I think the gods were the only mythical creatures that actually kicked butt." She smiled. "Maybe I need a more kickass nickname instead of all these star-crossed lover ones. Have you ever seen any of these damsel-in-distress-type characters just go off wielding a knife and start fighting back?" I scooted farther onto the bed. "No, I guess that's what history will have you for. The first kickass damsel in distress." She looked down at her comforter. "And after seeing the way you handled that guard's weapon I have no doubt that you can at least get a few shots in against the Caltians." "Some dads just send their daughters a card with money for their birthdays. My dad sent me certificates for shooting lessons and self defense classes." I laughed. Jen shook her head and looked up at me. "So what's your plan then, damsel?" I shrugged. "That's why I came here. I'm not really the planning type as you may have come to realize." Jen pulled up her computer. "Well, you should be lucky then that you have a friend like me who's done her research." I looked at the screen to see a map of a triangular Caltian spaceship with some notes typed at the bottom. "Where did you get this?" I adjusted my glasses and leaned in closer to the screen. Jen pushed a few buttons, making the ship light up on the screen. "I spend my day working in an alien laboratory and reproducing cells, but you don't think that I can find a copy of an alien mothership?" "Touché." I stared at the dark blue screen with white lines tracing the triangular shape of the ship and labeling the different locations. It looked nothing like any of the planes that I had seen when I lived with my dad on base and couldn't believe the intricate levels and details. Everything seemed meticulously planned and positioned, from the large engines that sat near the back of the ship to the command center spreading across the front. I tried not to tremble as I wondered what kind of artillery they had lying in the bottom level marked "weapons chamber," and feared if one little Taser could take me out of commission, then something in that chamber could probably kill me with only the push of a button. Jen pointed to a small area at the back, lower chamber of the ship that was lit up in green. "Every ship has its Achilles heel, and even though the Caltians really don't have much of one, there is still a way for you to get on board." "You want me to board the ship? How am I supposed to do that? Are you going to beam me up there?" I looked over at Jen. She rolled her eyes, looking off the screen. "Have you learned anything while you've been here or do you still believe everything you see in science fiction movies?" "A little bit of both." Jen tossed her hair over her shoulder. "The beaming technology has been looked into, but it's still in the trial stages and it is usually only used when you know exactly where you are going and aren't guessing." My eyes widened as I looked from the screen back to Jen. "So you don't exactly know where I'm going?" Jen bit her lip. "This is a few decades old, but I'm pretty sure that it's accurate enough to get you in." "And then what happens?" "Justin," Jen called, pushing a button on her computer. Justin's freckled face popped up on the screen. "Yo, Jen." His eyes trailed over to me. "Oh, hey, Alex, heard you have one hell of a kill shot. Can't wait to see it in action." He winked. "Justin, this is serious right now." Jen narrowed her eyes at the screen. Justin rolled his eyes. "I know, I know, but if you aren't nice to me I'm not going to show you the new toys that I made for Alex." "Toys?" I questioned. "Toys, or weapons of mass destruction, but that's your call." He bent over, letting his head go off the screen. He came back up holding a small instrument that looked like a silver banana. "This little beauty is what I like to call the ice box, specially designed to withstand the cool temperatures present on any Caltian ship. Lightweight and deadly." He smiled, tossing the gun back and forth in his hands. Jen stared at the screen. "How is a gun going to destroy an ice queen?" Justin shook his head, wagging his finger at the screen. "Such little faith." He set the gun down and picked up two little red balls that looked like marbles on fire. "These are volcanic fireballs. Filled with liquid hot magma and able to penetrate the thickest, coldest objects we could come up with in the lab." "Do you think it can take down a Caltian army?" I stared at the glowing red light. "Well if it doesn't, we do have some other weapons that will knock them out of commission for awhile." He grinned and picked up a small silver object that looked like a whistle. "This little girl is what I like to call the Carrie. One little squeeze and your enemy is instantly covered in burning red syrup." He leaned in toward the screen. "Aim for the eyes and they'll be temporarily blinded." I nodded, watching the way Justin handled the weapons like they really were nothing more than toys. "And if all else fails—" He reached over and pulled a small blue flashlight-looking object infront of the screen. "—we have the freezeray, which does exactly what it sounds like it does, freezes your enemy for no less than three minutes so you can either get away, or if you're really ambitious, break them apart like an ice cube." I stared at the objects Justin had placed in front of him. Each one looked so complicated and intricate that I didn't know if I'd ever be able to use them. "Do you think this is actually going to work, Justin?" His eyes locked right on mine as he stared into the screen. "I wouldn't trust anyone else but you to find out." Chapter 26 I watched out the window, the same window where not long before Ace had leapt through and taken me out for the ride that changed everything. I watched as a few Circe ships disappeared into the Arizona sunset. I hoped they might actually stop the Caltians before I had to risk my life. "Are you sure you want to do this?" Jen put her hand on my shoulder, sliding in next to me at the window. I looked over at her, putting on my bravest face and pulling my shoulders back. "I'm sure." "You know it takes a lot of balls to do what you're about to do. I don't know if it's to prove that David can stand up to Goliath, or if it's the ultimate gesture of romance." She put her hand on mine, not taking her eyes off the mountains ahead. "But whatever it is, I hope you and Ace both come out of this alive." I took in a deep breath, slowly letting it out. "Me too, Jen." "And I'm sorry I didn't listen to you about Ace earlier. I can see how much you really do care for each other and I'm sorry for doubting that." "Well," I started, my shoulders falling as I let out a deep breath, "as long as Ace and I can survive kidnapping, breaking and entering, and whatever other laws I'm about to break, then I'm sure our relationship can last through anything else." "I'm still wondering how the meet-the-parents scenario is going to go." Jen coughed, clearing her throat. "Sorry, I realized what I said after I had already said it. That was kind of a bad word vomit there." "Yeah, I'm sure all girls have to worry about the fact that their boyfriend's mom may kill them when they first meet her." "I'm sure it happens all the time, so we'd better get you prepared." She put her arm around me and led me to the doorway. Most of the residents of Circe were either down at briefing or hunkered in underground shelters waiting for it all to be over. Jen and I looked in either direction before we made our way down the hallway toward the hangar. "Have you thought of an excuse to tell my dad to explain why I'm missing?" I whispered. Jen shrugged. "I hadn't thought that far yet." As we turned the corner, I gasped when I saw dad talking to a guard standing a few doors down from us. I ducked back around the wall and pulled Jen with me. "How are we going to get past my dad?" I whispered, looking at Jen as she poked her head around me. "You're the master of espionage, not me. I'm just a scientist," she whispered back. I looked to either side of us, when I spotted a supply closet. "In there!" I pointed to the closet. We ducked inside and shut the door before dad could make his way in front of it. "Are you planning on dressing up like a Circe guard?" Jen asked, fingering a white leatherlike suit, hanging in the closet where we hid. "I was planning to just stay in here until my dad was out of the way, but your plan works too." I beamed and pulled a suit down from the rack for myself and one for Jen. It was difficult for us to get into the suits. We were boxed into a very small space together, and Jen's Amazon arms kept bumping into me. Eventually we were able to put the guard suits on and found some blacked-out flight helmets so that no one would recognize us. When we emerged back into the hallway, the chaos had really started to unfold. Guards were directing people to go either underground or to the battleships. All around me were familiar faces that I had seen so many times around Circe, and I wondered if this was the last time I would see some of them. I choked back that fear and kept walking in stride with Jen. This wasn't the time to fall apart, and no matter how much I wanted to run and hide in the bunker, I knew I was the one that got everyone into this mess, and it was up to me to get us all out. **** "Well, that's a new look for you." Malcolm laughed. Jen and I pulled off our helmets as soon as we were safely in the hangar. I rolled my eyes, tossing the helmet to the side. "We had to improvise." "Well, you can't fly in that thing." Malcolm tossed me a black jumpsuit. "Duck behind something and get your flight suit on." "Aye, aye." I mock saluted him, grabbing the suit and jumping behind a ship to change. "Aren't you guys getting ready to go, too?" I poked my head from around the ship. Jen and Malcolm looked at each other, then back to me. "Interns really aren't supposed to go on these kinds of missions. They wouldn't exactly know how to explain to our parents or colleges if something were to happen to us." Jen bit down on her lip and looked to the ground. I zipped up the front of my far-too-tight suit, stepping out from around the ship. "So you're trying to tell me that I'm doing this solo." Justin popped out of nowhere and came sauntering toward us like he didn't have a care in the world. "Not completely solo." I beamed, looking over at him. "So, you're coming with me?" Justin held up his hands. "Oh definitely not. I'm just here to equip you with weapons and your communicator." Justin held up what looked like a black work belt. “This front pocket—” He tapped the small pouch in the front. “—holds your volcanic fire balls, and I’ve slipped your gun and other weapons in the back." He turned the belt around to show where the gun stuck out and two bulges that flanked both sides of it. I took the belt from Justin and secured it around my waist. “And this—” He held up what looked like a wristwatch with an oversized screen. "—is your communicator. Lose this, and we may lose you." I took the watch from Justin and fastened it around my wrist. “So what you’re trying to tell me is, no pressure, right?” Justin cracked a nervous smile before he looked out into the horizon. “I just hope this works out for all of us.” He looked down, whispering something that I couldn’t hear. “What was that?" I leaned toward him. He turned back around. “Oh nothing. It’s stupid.” “No, I want to hear what you had to say." Justin’s eyes widened at my look of defiance. He looked over at Malcolm and Jen who nodded their heads before he turned back to me. “I know it seems kind of silly, at a time when you don’t really know everything that’s out there in the universe, but I was just saying a small prayer." He unzipped the top of his suit showing a small cross necklace. “No matter how many things I’ve learned about this universe and beyond, I’ve realized that sometimes you still gotta have faith.” I nodded, looking down at the cross and remembering going to Mass with my dad as a little girl. The way that he would hold my hand as we stood in our pew, telling me that God would always be watching, just like he said he would always be looking out for me when he left that day for Circe. I was only a little girl and couldn’t understand why my dad would have to leave me. Now, years later I finally understood why and gained that bit of strength I needed to do the same. “Well, with that I think it’s time that Malcolm teaches me how to get this bird up in the air." I hit the side of the plane in front of me. Malcolm glanced around. “It looks like most people have taken off, so you should be clear." He walked over to the plane, letting down the step. “Have you ever actually flown one before? I know you don’t have the best eyesight.” His voice drifted as he secured the step. I shrugged, putting my foot down on the first rung of the step. “I've gone up once or twice with my dad, and I figure that I’m a fast learner. If I turn my head quick enough I can see to the right and left.” Malcolm forced a smile, but from the way he was sweating I could tell that he was pretty nervous that I wouldn’t be coming back. “Alright, climb in and we’ll test out the communicator so I can give you directions.” I nodded in Malcolm’s direction, then looked over at Jen and Justin. “I will see you all when I’m back on the ground, hopefully with my alien sitting co-pilot.” Jen and Justin waved. I could tell that they were fighting back the tears and were unsure if I would make it back. I sucked in my breath, waving one last time before climbing into the plane. When I was younger we lived on base for awhile and I remembered sitting in the cockpit with my dad and playing with all the buttons while the plane was turned off. This was a little bit different and all those buttons were intimidating. I shrugged off my fears the best that I could and hopped into my seat, letting the overhead canopy close down over me. “This is Big Poppa to Juliet, can you hear me?" Malcolm’s voice called over my wrist communicator. “My code name is Juliet? Really, Malcolm?" “Well, Jen said you didn’t like Helen of Troy and Big Poppa was already taken, so Juliet it is.” He laughed. “Okay then, Big Poppa, let’s get Juliet up in the air so she can save her Romeo.” I fastened my seatbelt, yelling into the communicator. “Okay, the first thing you’re going to want to look for is the master switch, which should be in the upper right of the armrest.” I looked down at the armrest. “Do you mean the big red thing that says master switch?” He laughed. “Yeah, smart ass, now flip it.” I flipped the switch and all of the lights came on around me. It looked like a glowing Christmas display with bright colors and words popping along different screens. “Alright, now you should see the switch for the lights, navigation and oxygen there, so switch them all on as well,” Malcolm called. I turned on all the other switches, watching each display as it lit up. “We have made contact with the Caltian mothership at 120,000 feet,” a voice called over the plane's radio. “Do you hear that?" I whispered into my communicator. Before Malcolm could speak the same voice came over the radio. “The drones are out! I repeat, the drones are out!” A lot of static came on the speaker. “I’ve been hit! Number 247 has been hit!" More static came on the air before the line went dead. I sat in silence, trying to catch my breath before Malcolm spoke over my communicator. “Are you sure you still want to do this, Alex? Your dad just sent out an announcement looking for you and it’s not too late to go back.” I fought back the tears as I slid on my helmet and oxygen mask. I couldn't deny that I was scared out of my mind. I never stood up to the popular girl in school and never dreamed that I would actually be standing up to anyone even more powerful than the leader of a high school clique. But I had to shake off my fears as I thought of Ace sitting up there and facing who knows what kind of torture. He saved my life the first day at Circe and had been there for me no matter what others thought of our relationship. Now it was my turn to be the one to save him. “I’m more than ready, Big Poppa, let’s do this.” “You’re either the bravest chick I’ve met, or the stupidest, but God's speed to you." His voice shook as he gave his last commands. “Now I want you to add fuel to the throttle and once the fuel is up to fifteen percent you will see it light up,” he called. I revved up the fuel and felt the plane come to life under my feet. “Got it. What’s next?" I yelled over the rumble of the engine. “Okay now, gently release the parking brake and you’ll throttle up on that stick to your left.” I released the parking brake, grabbing the throttle in the process. Suddenly the plane started inching forward. “What do I do now?" I shook, looking down at the plane. “Don’t get nervous on me now; you’re doing great. We’re going to follow you out to the runway and help you get in the air." I looked down to see Malcolm pointing me toward the white outlined path that would usually be full of planes waiting to take off, but now it was just me. “Now you’re going to deploy your flaps at ninety degrees,” he yelled into the communicator, trying to keep up with me as he hurried down the runway. I found the switch for the wings and let them out. “Check.” “Now you are going to go full stick and once you’re up to about sixty, you’re going to pull back on the throttle and go airborne,” he yelled breathlessly as he stopped following me. I closed my eyes while everything moved in slow motion. I pushed on the gas and opened my eyes just as the RPMs went up to sixty. Pulling the throttle as hard as I could, I let out a sigh of relief when I felt the wheels tuck away and the plane start heading toward the sky. Malcolm, Justin, and Jen cheered from the ground. “Congrats, Juliet, I think you just earned your wings.” “Yeah." I swallowed hard and watched the ground below me get farther and farther away as the plane traveled higher into the clouds. Hopefully I wouldn't lose my wings on the same day that I earned them. Chapter 27 “So isn’t 120,000 feet kind of high for a regular plane?" The desert floor disappeared below me and all I could see was the blue sky and tiny puffs of clouds. I heard Malcolm laugh at the other end of the communicator. “Do you really think that Circe has normal planes?” “Touché.” I looked around, hoping to see some signs of life in the sky. Even though Circe and the surrounding area had a pretty restricted air space, I still expected to see something as I accelerated into the air. The clouds disappeared and I was surrounded by a sea of blue sky, the same blue as my little brother's eyes. I wondered if I would ever see him again. I didn't have a plan for what I would do once I was in the air, but I knew where the entrance to the ship was. I hoped somehow I could get in and eventually get out. I didn't know what would happen if I couldn't, how my dad would tell my mom, and how on Earth she would explain it to Elijah. He had cried, clinging to my leg, when I left for the airport and begged me not to go. Tears welled up in my eyes when I considered that the airport would be the last time I would see my little brother. I was knocked out of my reminiscent daze by a call over the plane’s radio. “We are asking that all troops retreat back to Circe. I repeat, we ask that all remaining troops return to Circe.” “Juliet, this is Big Poppa. It looks like something went down up there. Are you alright?" Malcolm called over my communicator. “Yeah, I’m fine, I don’t see—" I stopped, catching my breath as I saw four small black Wshaped planes heading toward me. “Crap,” I yelled. “What do I use to shoot?” “There should be a small button on the control stick," Malcolm said as calmly as he could, but I could hear Jen asking questions in the background. I looked down to see a small button on the side of the control stick. I pressed it as fast as I could and moved the stick from side to side, figuring that was what I did in video games, so it might work on a real plane. Too bad video games weren’t like real life. My plane started spinning into barrel rolls as missiles screeched out of the nose of the plane. Some of them hit the targets, but mostly the other planes just got out of my way to avoid me spinning into them. I shrieked each time my plane came charging toward another one, afraid I might crash into them and leave both of us stuck in the sand below. I jerked the control stick, thinking that might steady me out, but it just caused me to move faster and spin even harder. Droplets of sweat started to drip down from my forehead and into my eyelashes. I shook my head, trying to keep the sweat out of my eyes and to figure out what I needed to do to get away from the ships and stop spinning. “Juliet, this is Big Poppa, do you read me? Your plane is out of control. You need to release the control stick," Malcolm yelled over the communicator. I let go of the control stick and the plane finished its last rotation, putting me right-side up. “I think I may vom.” “This isn’t some rollercoaster ride; this is the real deal.” I pressed my palm to my forehead, hoping that would make my dizziness stop. “You don’t have to tell me twice.” The sky ahead of me was blocked by a dark blue triangle that glowed like an icy orb against the backdrop of the setting sun. It was almost beautiful as it loomed over the clouds with such force and presence that it made me gasp. The ship had to be a few miles long and maybe even that wide, with a mass that I was sure could crush my tiny plane in an instant. “Are you sure you're ready for this?" Malcolm called again. As I crept closer to the massive ship, a swarm of Circe drones came toward me, whizzing by and making my plane teeter back and forth. “Soldier, what are you doing? Fall back, fall back,” a voice came over the plane’s radio. I looked over to see Circe planes on either side of me, the pilots staring right at me. I shook my head, not answering the radio, too afraid that my dad might recognize my voice. “Don’t be a hero, soldier. This is no time to go rogue. She’s already taken down half of our planes. We don’t want to lose another man,” the voice called again, in a hazy two-pack-a-day tone. I glared right at the plane to my right and took all the courage I could muster to speak into the plane’s radio. “Well, then I guess it's about time you sent in a woman to finish the job." I left the pilot staring as I pulled back on the throttle and rose higher, accelerating to full speed toward the ship. “Alexandra, is that you?" dad called over the plane’s radio. “I think our cover’s been blown," Malcolm mumbled over my wrist communicator. “Alex? Listen to me. I know you want to save Ace, but the best plan right now is to let the soldiers do their job." Dad tried his best sympathetic tone, but he couldn't control the urgency in his voice. "You don't know what you're up against. You need to turn back right now." I shook my head, not taking my eyes off the giant Circe ship. It looked even bigger than I thought. My plane seemed like it was a tiny fly compared to the massive vehicle in front of me. “Dad, please understand this is just something that I have to do. You would do the same thing if you were in my place.” “Alex, I am a trained colonel. I have years of experience and I would never go in without backup. If you just come down we can talk this over and see what we can negotiate with the queen.” I shook my head again, sucking in a huge chunk of air through my mask. “What do you think will happen if we try and negotiate with the queen? Have you ever tried to negotiate with an evil dictator before? Ace never backed down all those times he put himself in danger to save me, and now I have to do the same for him.” Dad sighed into the radio. “Alex, you’ve never flown a plane. How do you plan on landing?” “I’d like to know that one myself,” Malcolm added. “I never did teach you that part.” I gulped. I hadn’t even thought about landing or even where I would land. Before I could even consider how I would get that far, another set of smaller Caltian drones came barreling toward me. They were so fast that they were next to me in an instant. But instead of shooting at me, they were herding me like cattle, trying to bring me closer to the bigger ship. “What the hell is going on up there?" Malcolm asked, the panic rising in his voice. “I have no idea." I looked into the other ships, only able to see the wicked smiles of the Caltian pilots. “Try spinning again; see if that helps," Malcolm yelled. I shook the control stick back and forth as fast as I could, sending my plane into a headfirst spiral right toward the opening of the ship. But my spiraling didn’t stop the Caltian pilots this time. They just circled me closer, the blades of my plane colliding with theirs as we went at lightning-fast speed toward the bigger ship. I let go of the control stick, my ship came to a halt. All of the lights turned off inside the plane and I heard Malcolm’s panicked voice over my wrist communicator. “Alex, are you there? Are you alright? You went off the radar.” “Yeah." I started pushing different buttons, hoping something would turn on as the Caltian drones circled even closer. Their wings were pressed against my plane, pulling me toward the bigger ship. “I'm trying, but nothing is turning back on.” I tried not to freak out and moved the control stick and throttle, trying to shake away from the Caltian drones, but my plane wouldn’t budge. My plane headed straight for the opening of the bigger ship and I knew at that moment there was no turning back. Chapter 28 I slowly opened my eyes to see five sets of dark Caltian orbs staring at me through my plane's canopy. "It's time to come out, Alexandra. We don't want to hurt you," one of them cooed, his lips curling into a smile that rivaled the Grinch. I couldn't see anything past those eyes and started wondering how I was going to escape. Something poked into my back and I remembered the gun in the back of my belt. I heard the scratching at the side of my canopy and knew they would have the hatch open soon. Without looking away, I slowly slid the gun out of the back of my belt, cradling it behind me and holding my breath as one of the Caltians finally got the canopy open. Five pairs of gloved hands reached for me. Before they could grab me, I thrust my foot forward and kicked one of them in the head. He flew backward and off the plane. The others reached farther, their gloved fingertips only a few centimeters from my face. I threw my hand out from behind my back and caught another one off balance, knocking him off the plane. I was still out numbered three to one, and before I could pull the trigger on my gun, one of the Caltians knocked it from my hand. Another grabbed me by the hair and dragged me out of the plane. I screamed, kicking my legs and waving my arms, trying to hit the guy dragging me. He made sure that I hit every step on the way down. A sharp pain stabbed me in the back and I realized that I still had two other weapons that could be of use. I reached around to the back of my belt and pulled out the Carrie. The Caltian looked down to see what I was doing. I squeezed a large glob of red liquid into his face. He squawked and released his grip on me to claw at his eyes. The two other Caltians came rushing toward me, pushing the guy who was rubbing his eyes out of the way. They crouched down in front of me; their lips peeled back to reveal sharp white teeth as they hissed. "What, are you all part cat or something?" I cocked an eyebrow and held the Carrie out in front of me. That just aggravated the Caltians more and one of them lurched at me, swiping at the Carrie. A huge pool of red liquid floated into the air before the Carrie fell to the ground. I slid to the left, avoiding being hit with any of the liquid. I looked over to see that the two Caltians were back in their crouching position; their eyes narrowed into tiny slits as they lunged in my direction. I quickly reached around my belt and pulled out the freezeray, pointing it at them. "Don't step any closer, or I'll shoot." They cackled. "Another human contraption? Do you really think that's going to stop us?" "Yep." I pressed the freezeray's button, shooting a cool blue steam that instantly left the two Caltians looking like ice sculptures. I smiled and ran in the other direction. I had a brief idea where certain parts of the ship were located and thought I could find some hiding places on my way to find Ace. I started running down the landing pad and farther into the ship when I ran face-first into a dark object that I thought was a wall. I turned to move to the left when a pair of ice cold hands grabbed me by both shoulders. I fumbled to press the freezeray button when another pair of hands came out and knocked it from my grip. Crap. The two sets of hands belonged to more Caltians, who were stronger than the last five and instantly had me wrestled to the ground. One of them stuck a small needle in my arm, a dark blue liquid pushed through my veins, making my body tingle all over before it went completely numb. They then grabbed me by the hair and started venturing deeper into the ship. "What do you want from me?" I yelled as they dragged me across a cold metal floor. The room grew darker and darker as they dragged me farther into the ship. I looked up to catch glimpses of Caltians hanging over small metal balconies. Their laughter filled the darkness as I went from the ship's large landing area and down dark hallways that were lit only by tiny glowing lights that lined the copper walls. The two Caltians joined in on the others' laughs. "Oh, human girls, they are so insignificant." One of the Caltians looked back at me with a wicked smile crossing his face. "The queen has given us orders to keep you alive, but we'll see how long that lasts." I tried to kick and break my arms free from their grasp, but my body was completely numb. I couldn't move anything below my neck, but I could feel everything as they dragged me through a small doorway and into a room that was colder than any Illinois winter. "The queen wants you to wait in here," one of the Caltians said and pressed a button, letting a large steel cage fall around me. It was so small that I couldn't move from my sitting position and wouldn't have room to stand. "We're sure that you'll be very comfortable." The two of them let out a laugh that sent chills through my body. They turned off the dim lights, so that I was left in a darkness that felt like something from my nightmares. **** I didn't know how long I was in there. My head had been hit multiple times on the way into the cell and I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. As the feeling slowly started to come back to other parts of my body, I could feel every ounce of pain that shot through me. It was like I was reliving the battle blows over and over again when each part of my body came to life. I tried to ignore the pain and the feeling like I was slipping away into a painful nightmare, but the more I pushed myself to stay awake and fight, the more I drifted. I looked down at my communicator and realized that it had broken on the way in. I was stuck with no way to communicate with the outside world. I tried to stop my eyes from closing, but the darkness fell around me no matter what, and then the nightmares came. They felt even more real than before, and I swore I was actually living them. I saw the queen and her laughter surrounded me. Her white hands reached for me, finding every bruise and open wound she could to cause pain. I screamed out, but no one could hear me. No one was coming for me. I felt hopeless. I wondered what my mother was thinking. She had no idea that Circe was more than just an Air Force base and probably thought that I was just filing papers in some higher-up's office. Little did she know that I was lying in an ice box so cold that I couldn't cry because my tears would just turn to ice before they even left my eyes. I thought about my dad and wondered if he thought that this was his fault for insisting that I do the internship. He just wanted to help me all along and I took it for granted. I realized that he really had a reason for not wanting me to see Ace. And Ace, my Ace, my beautiful alien. I wondered if I would ever see him again or if the queen would destroy me and the planet before I would even get to say good-bye. I thought about the way his hair lay on his head, spiking wherever it decided, and the way it felt as he laid his head next to mine. I wondered if I would ever feel the tremble of his lips and that icy hot sensation they left on mine when he kissed me. I was roused out of my trance when I heard movement in the room. I thought it was finally my time to meet the queen and see my execution. I tried to sit up, but I couldn't move. I felt like I had at least a few ribs broken and it hurt to breathe. "Are you here to kill me?" I whispered. A hand reached through the cage and I felt the warmth pressing against my face. It wasn't like the hands of those Caltians that brought me in there; it was familiar. A comforting touch. "Ace?" I breathed. "It's me," he whispered. "I thought I would never see you again." I squinted in the dark, barely able to make out the outline of his face. "I can barely see you." "I'm right here and this time I promise not to leave you. I missed you too much for that," he said and pressed his other hand to my face. "I missed you, too," I said, choking back the iced tears that paraded on my lashes. "I wish I hadn’t put you through all of this, but I didn't think it would happen this way. The last thing I wanted was for you to get hurt," he said and brushed the hair away from my face. His warm touch on my bruises numbed the pain. "You shouldn't have come here." I looked down at my bruised body, thinking how none of this would have happened if I would have just joined some sort of club at school and got into Columbia on my extracurriculars. But as my eyes trailed back up to the outline of Ace's face I knew that there was no way that I would have changed meeting him for the world. "You would have done it for me," I whispered. "The day you saved me from Magpie was the day my life truly began." Ace cupped my face in his hands. I leaned toward the edge of the cage and he pressed his lips to mine. Every ounce of pain that I had felt previously floated away from the touch of his mouth on mine. I wanted to stay in that moment forever and just pretend that all of the bad things hadn't happened. When he pulled away, I sighed. I wanted more, but he pressed his fingers to my lips, his dark eyes glowing. "I don't want you to have to ever miss me again." He moved his fingers from my lips and put both of his hands on the bars of the cage. I listened as he bent them back, watching the heat from his hands molding the bars like Play-Doh until there was a big enough opening for me to get through. Ace put his arms around me, pressing my body against his and pulling me out of the cage and onto his lap. "So is that where that super strength comes in handy?" I wrapped my arms tightly around him, enveloping myself in the feeling of his hardened chest against mine. He let out a breath of air though his nose. "Remind me never to be in a dangerous situation with you and try not to laugh." I searched the darkness to see if there was a way to escape. "So what now? Have you killed off all the guards and now we can get away?" "Not exactly." He shifted his body and helped me rise to my feet. After lying on the floor for hours I was pretty stiff, and my broken ribs felt like they were about to puncture right through my chest. "I just found the right moment to sneak out and find you. After that I really wasn't sure where to go from there." I held onto Ace, trying to steady myself. "You really don't have a plan?" "Do you have one?" His face was right next to mine. As his words hit my lips I realized the full gravity of our situation, and that we definitely weren't free yet. "I was thinking that we'd wing it." I bit down on my lip. Ace let out a cold puff of air and pressed his forehead to mine. "We can't just sit in this closet all day kissing and hoping that no one comes looking for us." I smiled. Despite everything that had happened I was still completely in love with the alien, and there was nothing he could say that wouldn't make me smile. "As tempting as staying in here and kissing all day is, we should really find a way to get back to Circe and go from there." He nodded, taking my hand in his. "There should be a few ships that are available out in the landing area that we could use, and the queen definitely wouldn't attack if I was at Circe." "Sounds like a plan to me." I followed Ace as he let go of my body, still gripping onto my hand, and we walked toward the door. "Okay, I'm going to open this door and we are going to make a run for it as fast as we can to one of the fighter drones. Do you think you can run?" he whispered, looking back at me. I winced. The pain in my legs and chest had gone away with Ace's touch, but it was back with a fiery vengeance. "I can try." Ace opened the door, the dim light from the hallway felt like a million tiny needles on my face as we pushed through. I was ready to run, to be free, to get back to Circe, and to have everything go back to normal. We turned to our left, but before we could even get a footing we were greeted by a wall of Caltian guards. "Crap," I murmured, looking up at Ace. "What do we do now?" The dark eyes of the Caltian guards were locked on us as their wicked smiles curved along their faces. "Run," Ace said in a voice barely above a whisper. He whipped me around and started sprinting at full speed, dragging me along with him. "Ace, I don't know if I can do this." My ribs ached as I tried to catch my breath, lagging behind while he had to forcefully pull me alongside him. "You have to. It's not much farther; I promise." Ace glanced back at me. "Take off your belt or something if that will help you move quicker." My belt. I stopped but Ace pulled me harder. "What are you doing?" Ace widened his eyes, pulling me along as he kept on running. I unzipped the front pocket of my belt and felt the heat of the fireballs in my hands. I looked over my shoulder at the guards who were almost an arm's length from me. Thumbing one of the fireballs in my hand, I threw it as hard as I could at the guard in front of the line. Laughing, he caught the fireball and looked down at its glowing red mass. "Silly girl, you think your human weapons can harm me?" He closed his hand around the ball, pressing his fingers against it. Before he could say another word, his body was engulfed in orange flames. They started from his palm and quickly leapt along his body. His mouth opened to scream, but his body rapidly took on the appearance of a melting candle. The other guards stopped and stepped back, staring at the fiery guard's melting body until he became a small pool of liquid on the floor below. Ace did a double take, then looked down at me, eyeing the remainder of the fireballs in my hand. "Do you think you have enough of those to stall them until we get to the landing pad?" As the air around the fiery guard cooled down, the other guards' angry faces came into view and they started sprinting at us in full force. I took a handful of fireballs and threw them with all my strength at the guards, lighting five of them on fire. Their screams rang only briefly before their bodies melted to the ground. I turned back to Ace, my grin spreading. "I think I can manage." Ace sprinted down the hall as I followed, keeping one hand in his and the other throwing fireballs at the guards as fast as I could. We made it through each dark hallway, lighting them up like the Fourth of July as the flames engulfed the guards, leaving nothing but liquid pools of their remains. "I can see it. The landing bay is right through these doors," Ace yelled, pointing to a set of large double doors. I lost track of the remaining guards and figured that most of them were either covered by the flames or lost in the smoke and ash. Ace stopped in front of the doors, just long enough to lean in and cup my face in his hands. "You're amazing, do you know that?" I could feel my face turn as hot as the fireballs. "It really wasn't anything. Ace grinned, kissing my forehead. "And modest, too." "Don't thank me yet. We still have to make it out of here." "Right." He nodded, turning back to the double doors and pushing them open. I felt the cool breeze of the desert sky coming in through the ship's opening, but my smile faded as my eyes fell onto Marsilo standing in front of a throng of guards. His evil smile lit up the whole room. "And where do you think you two are going?" Ace tightened his grip on my hand, waiting for me to throw another fireball. I reached into the front of my belt, but realized there was nothing left inside. How could I have used all of them? I searched the belt, realizing that there was nothing left. I gasped, looking from Ace to Marsilo. There was no way out. Marsilo's dark eyes fastened on me as that sinful smile curved farther into his face."I guess it's about time you meet mommy." Chapter 29 I'd never really experienced the whole 'meet the parents' rite of passage. Most people in Winnebago knew everyone and it wasn't like I'd ever had a real serious boyfriend anyway. So, combine the fear of meeting the boyfriend's mom, with the fact that she threatened to kill said girlfriend, and I instantly turned from the warrior for the weak to the wimpiest of the weak. Ace didn't loosen his grip on my hand as we walked down the cold hallway. I wasn't moving very fast and had no idea about the extent of my injuries. Plus, I hadn't seen a mirror in quite some time and probably looked worse than I felt. "Everything will be fine," Ace whispered. We had guards on our backs, sides, and Marsilo leading the way. I knew that there was no way to escape at that moment and somehow I didn't think that everything was going to be fine. Marsilo stopped in front of two large doors that looked like they were made out of marble with intricate carvings wrapping from corner to corner. He pressed a gloved hand into one of the carvings. A screen popped up in midair, and a spiky-haired man with an angry scowl stared out at us. "What is it now, Marsilo? Can't you see that we are trying to start a war here?" the man asked in an accent that sounded like a mixture of a choir boy and my uncle Guido. Marsilo smiled an all-too-coy smile and waved his hand in my and Ace's direction." I just thought that the queen might want to see what her son has been up to." The screen turned toward Ace and me, zooming in and out on our intertwined hands. I gulped, trying to loosen my grip from Ace's hand, but the more I tried, the harder Ace's hand clung to mine. He held his chin up and stared right at the screen with an expression that said try me. "This isn't on the queen's schedule." The face on the screen sighed. "But I'm sure this is something she'd like to see." The screen disappeared just as quickly as it appeared, followed by the doors slowly creaking open. I was expecting something industrial-looking like the rest of the ship with its dark walls and twinkling blue lights, but the queen's office looked more like something from a medieval castle. The perimeter of the room was covered in floor-to-ceiling textured walls that had the same intricate carvings that decorated the marble doors outside. Large, dark pillars flanked each side of a large, raised platform. On the platform sat an oversized, claw-foot chair that looked like it had been made from one of those twisted trees that you see in fairy tales when someone goes down the wrong path into the woods. But this definitely wasn't a fairy tale, because sitting on the chair and staring down at me was the same woman who had been starring in my nightmares, the queen. "Well, what have we here?" She pressed her long, gloved fingers together. "I found them trying to break out, your highness." Marsilo took his spot, standing to the right of the queen's platform. "Did you now?" She didn't take her eyes off me and raised her eyebrows. Her voice carried the superiority you would expect from a queen and was the same tone as her silvery laugh. "Your highness, if you would just—" Ace started, but the queen raised her hand and he stopped speaking, gripping so tight onto my hand that I swore it was on fire. I didn't understand why he was calling his mother your highness, but any woman who commanded authority like the queen did was not to be messed with. "So this is the little human girl that's causing all the fuss?" She tilted her head and looked at Ace. "You couldn't have at least picked a blonde?" "What is with Caltians and blondes?" I whispered. "Excuse me?" The queen shot her head back in my direction. Eek, great time for me to try and ask a question. "Um, your highness." I did a half-bow, halfcurtsy, unsure how I should address her. "I'm just very confused by this whole situation and would think that someone with your great power would be able to explain why it's such a big deal for your son to be dating a human girl." My knees started to shake. The queen stared at me, her eyes narrowing into tiny slits as she leaned in closer. I didn't know what kind of power she had, but I didn't doubt that she could probably destroy me without even trying. "The big deal?" She laughed, sending chills all down my body that made me feel like I would collapse right there. Ace stood closer to me. He must have felt the tension run through me. The queen shook her head. "The Caltians have been ruling this universe for thousands of years. Our posterity always paired with the best and the brightest, making sure that we maintain our superiority in this universe." She leaned in closer, rising from her chair to show her full height, which had to be at least six feet if not more. "So tell me, Miss Bianchi, what about you and your lowly human life thinks that you are good enough to be the mate of a Caltian prince?" "Your highness, I can explain." Ace took a step closer, not letting go of my hand. The queen raised her hand, not taking her black eyes off me. "I want her to explain. I've heard your reasoning and now I want to hear what she has to say." Ace took a step back as I felt the heat from his eyes on me. Everyone's eyes were on me. This was my chance to finally stand up to the bully, the mean girl, and finally voice all the things I'd been keeping inside since I got on the ship. My palms were slippery with sweat. I knew that I had to do this not only for us, but for my dad and anyone else that didn't want to live in fear of what others thought. I had to swallow my fear and do this for everyone back at Circe. I took in a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "Because I've never loved anyone like I love your son, and I was willing to give up everything to come here and prove it." I looked over at Ace, not taking my eyes off his. "He's the first life-form I've ever met that has made being awake and in the real world better than anything that could come from a dream." I slowly looked to the ground, the tears begging to break through my lashes, but I fought them away and then looked right into the queen's ominous eyes. They held the same darkness that swirled in my nightmares, but I knew if I wanted to get out of this alive I had to face my fears. "And I'd rather have my heart stop beating than to have Ace lose his place in it." I knew she could kill me without even trying, but I let out the breath that I had been holding since I entered the room and began to feel at ease just knowing that at least I was finally able to stand up to someone. Even if it ended in my death. The queen just stared at me and took a step closer. "Is this true, my son? Do you—" She swallowed hard like something had gone down the wrong pipe and circled me as if I were some sort of disgusting science experiment. "—love this human girl?" Ace took a deep breath, nodded before he replied, and looked straight at his mother. "I do, your highness." He squeezed my hand, ignoring how sticky it was. That was the first time either of us had ever said that word out loud, but at that moment I knew there was no one else I could have loved more. Her eyes flickered to Ace briefly before a small smile crept on her lips and she turned toward Marsilo. "Give them a ship and let them go back to Circe." I looked at Ace, opening my eyes as wide as they could go and wondering if I heard her speak correctly. Ace looked just as stunned with his mouth gaping open. "But, your highness, the rules, the danger to our society." Marsilo turned to me, curling his lips in disgust. "You're going to let him just go back down to that slum with this human trash." Ace lunged at Marsilo, his fist raised before the queen put a hand to his chest, holding him back. "Yes, Marsilo." She didn't look at me or Ace. "Don't make me repeat a direct command." Marsilo shook his head before turning back to me and Ace, his disgusting smirk prominent on his white face. "Right this way." Ace took my hand again and we started toward the door when the queen cleared her throat. "Oh, and Miss Bianchi?" Every part of my body tensed up at the sound of her voice. I slowly turned my head back toward her, trying not to make eye contact and hoping that she wasn't leading us into a trap. "I was just wondering how you've been sleeping lately." Her lips curved into a sly smile. The air felt like it was being robbed from my lungs. Why would she ask a question like that unless she knew about my nightmares? "We've both been sleeping just fine." Ace turned me around and quickly ushered me out of the room. I could still feel the glare of the queen's eyes on my back as we walked out. "Why didn't you tell me about the dreams?" Ace whispered. His were eyes focused on Marsilo's every move as we followed him down to the landing bay. "I told you I was having nightmares." I just had left out that his mom happened to be starring in them. He shook his head. "That explains how she knew so much. Caltian woman can sleep creep, meaning they can control people's thoughts by walking into their dreams." He stared off. "Usually, if there is another Caltian around, it's harder for them to enter a dream, but they can still find a way to get inside the person's head. I just didn't think she'd stoop that low." If she would go the distance to invade my dreams, I wondered what else she could do to me. I hoped I'd never find out. Chapter 30 I couldn't believe that the queen was letting us leave. No matter what she ended up thinking of me in the end, I knew I would soon end up safely back at Circe. Ace acted like it was more of a punishment than anything. He didn't take his eyes off Marsilo as we followed him down the same dark hallways until we reached the landing bay. A crowd of Caltian soldiers stood on metal balconies, their menacing stares locked on us as we passed. "We finally get to go home, Ace," I whispered and nudged his side with our intertwined hands. I did think there was something suspicious going on, but I was trying my best to keep Ace from doing something that he would later regret. I could just imagine him attacking some random Caltian and getting us locked up in the ship forever. Mostly, I was just eager to be back on the ground and away from the dark walls of the ship. "That's what they want us to think, at least," he whispered back. "I've never known the queen to do something just out of the goodness of her heart." "What do you really think it is, then?" I tried my best to push his feelings toward the queen's abrupt kindness behind me and stay positive. But it was definitely weird that someone who only hours before was planning my demise was now setting me free. I just chalked it up to my heartfelt speech and figured that I had Ace, and that was all that mattered. He shrugged, craning his neck from side to side. "I don't know, but I'm sure we'll find out soon enough." "I'm certain with those ancient things that they give you on Earth, you'll be fine with one of our older models." Marsilo stopped walking and stood near a small ship that looked like one of the drones that had attacked me on the way in, but a few centuries older. The black paint was halfway chipped off and looked like one of those old cars you'd see on the side of the road. It might have actually been missing a few parts, given the fact that it sat lopsided and didn't shine like the other ships. "You expect us to get back down to Earth with this broken-down thing?" Ace put his free hand out toward the ship, glaring at Marsilo. Marsilo let out a deep puff of air. "Well it's the only one we can spare and I thought you would be a little more gracious after we spared the life of your human maggot." "Alright, that's it," Ace snarled, dropping my hand and lunging for Marsilo. I stepped between them, raising my hands as Marsilo stepped back, laughing. "My, my, Earth has made you quite violent and ungrateful." I put my hands up to Ace's breastbone, a calming technique my mom had used on me when I was younger. His heart was beating so fast it felt like it would fly right out of his chest. "He's not worth it, Ace." I waited until Ace's heartbeat slowed and he was finally able to look at me. I could see the fire slowly die down in his eyes as he looked down into mine. "Sorry, Alex." "What is that human expression?" Marsilo laughed. "I believe they say you are whipped by your human." Ace growled a low animal-like sound that came from the pit of his stomach. I pulled his face down toward mine, so he wouldn't look at Marsilo. "Ace, let it go. We'll be back at Circe soon and this will all be behind us." He stopped the growling and closed his eyes and then opened them slowly as he nodded. "You're right, let's go." He took my hand and opened the canopy of the ship. It was even smaller than the plane I took from Circe, complete with a ripped-up velvet seat and smell like formaldehyde wafting from the springs. I was really curious as to how we would both fit in it and be comfortable. "You can sit on my lap, but that means you'll have to drive." Ace swallowed, looking down into the ship. Marsilo laughed. "I hope the heifer doesn't squash you." Ace and I both looked up, glowering at Marsilo. He lifted his hands and started walking farther back into the ship. "Have a safe trip back!" he called, echoing his hoary laughter all through the landing bay. I shook my head. "That guy gives me the creeps." Ace climbed into the small ship, sitting down in the chair before looking up at me. "That makes two of us." He smiled, reached his hand up and intertwined his fingers with mine as he helped me into the ship. I positioned myself on his lap. "The only way I was actually able to fly that Circe plane was when Malcolm told me how to and now my communicator is broken, so I can't exactly follow his directions now." Ace pulled the canopy over us, enclosing us in one of the smallest, most uncomfortable, and worst smelling places I could have ever been trapped in. I tried to concentrate on the fact that I would be back, safe, on Earth again soon with Ace at my side, but when the smell of burning flesh sifted through my nostrils, it was the only thing I could concentrate on. Ace's lips brushed against my cheek before lingering by my ear. "You really think that after years of training as a Caltian pilot that I wouldn't know how to fly one of these?" He flipped a small switch to the right and the ship roared to life. Well, not exactly a roar, more of a sputtering old man roar, but it turned on. The controls started flashing and dozens of blue lights surrounded me. "I guess that's what I get for doubting you." He laughed and I smiled at the vibration of his chest against my back. "Well, Alex, it looks like it's time to go home." He took my hand and put it over a small control stick in the middle of us, slowly inching it forward. Before I knew it we were out of the belly of the ship and soaring among the clouds. I wondered what everyone back at Circe would think of all of this—if Ace and I would be regarded as heroes or if I would be even more grounded than I already was. "So what happens now?" I glanced back at Ace as we made our descent to Earth. He shrugged, the weight of his shoulders pressing against mine. "We get you back to Circe and then figure out visiting arrangements so I can spend some time at this Columbia that you won't stop going on and on about." "For real?" I turned to look back at Ace, but felt a shudder from the left side of the ship. Ace quickly turned his head to look out the side window. His breathing got heavier as he stared out into the sky. "Did something fall off? I knew this thing had to be ancient," I remarked. "No." Ace turned his head back and flipped a switch near the control stick. A screen popped up, showing a diagram of the ship with the left wing flashing bright red. "I think we're under attack." I turned to look out the side of the ship, expecting to see Circe fighters that had made some sort of mistake, but it was no mistake. Caltian drones were headed straight for us. "Let them go my ass," I mumbled, scanning the different buttons in front of me. "What are you looking for, Alex?" Ace looked from the window, back to me. "What do you think I'm looking for?" I tilted the control stick forward as far as it would go, trying to gain some speed. "I say we shoot them back." "I guess I should have never doubted that you would want to fight back." He slid my index finger down to a small silver button on the control stick. "I'm just hoping that this still works." I pressed the button and an intense blue laser shot from the front of the ship. "I think this means it's time to kick some evil Caltian butt." I tilted the ship to the left and started firing as fast as I could in the direction of the other Caltian ships. "Bank right and try to avoid anything you see that looks like a missile," Ace ordered. "Shouldn't I have some sort of force field that protects me from this stuff?" I yelled while the ship sputtered underneath me. "Alex, this isn't a science fiction movie. Those things don't happen in real life," Ace yelled back over the roar of the engine. I tried to accelerate, pushing toward Circe, but the ship was older than I was and it took everything that it had just to make sure we didn't hit any of the other drones that were attacking us. "Now, when you see the front of the drone is close enough that it looks like you can reach out and touch it, then fire," Ace commanded. I looked for the nearest ship and spotted one headed toward us. I gripped harder on the control stick, ready to fire. "Not yet, not yet," Ace whispered. I could feel the sweat as it gathered at my hairline. The drone was close enough that I swore I could hit it with a rock, but Ace still hadn't told me to shoot. "Okay, now," he yelled as two other drones flanked the one in front of us. I pressed down hard on the button. The radiant blue light streamed out of our ship and hit the drone in front of us. Instantly, the drone reacted to the missile and lit up in a large black burst of flames that glittered for a brief moment before it completely disappeared into a cloud of smoke. "Whoa, is that what happens every time a Caltian ship gets hit?" "Not always instantly," Ace said as I launched a missile at the other two ships, "but you wouldn't want to have spaceship parts lying around Earth, so something has to happen to them when they receive a fatal blow." I had seen a lot of violence and even been a part of a lot of it, but seeing the way the Caltian ships disappeared in a cloud of smoke suddenly made me realize how close I really was to dying. One little missile from a Caltian drone could make both Ace and me disappear into a cloud of smoke. I swallowed hard, not wanting to die that way. I felt the fear that had finally caught up with me and I shivered throughout my body. I pushed harder on the control stick, moving the ship in all directions to attempt to avoid the drones. I tried my hardest to make sure that none of them were at my back and if they were I made sure to get out of firing range. I could see the eyes of the Caltian pilots and their curved smiles as they approached my ship, ready to kill me without even thinking twice about it. But I would find a way to dodge out of the way or shoot them before they could get me. Their smiles disappeared with the smoke just as quickly as they appeared on their faces. I wanted nothing more than to get back down to Earth and never see the black smoke again. "Look." Ace pointed out of the front of the ship. "You can see Circe probably about 50,000 feet below us. All we need to do is get within the mountain range and we should be able to lose them." I pushed my glasses up so I could see the panorama of the Circe mountain range coming into view. It looked like something you would see in a miniature museum with tiny hills and tiny airplanes, but it was so real and so close and so much bigger. I pushed the control stick as far as it would go, sliding it from side to side and making loops with the plane in hopes to get the other Caltian ships off our trail "You're doing great. Not much farther." I nodded, concentrating on the mountain range below me and pushing back the thoughts of Ace and I disappearing in a cloud of black smoke. I swore that I could actually see my old dorm room and Jen's blond head poking out of the window. "Alex, look out!" Before I could hit the button or turn my eyes to the left, I felt a wave of pressure fall over the ship like a giant tremor. "Did we get hit?" I yelled, the ship shaking ferociously beneath us. As I turned to look toward where my peripheral vision failed me, I saw another blue missile heading straight for us. Chapter 31 My life flashed before my eyes. It wasn't like when Magpie attacked me and I saw visions of my mother and little brother. This was different. It was the same darkness from the nightmares, but this time it was calming instead of threatening. I saw Ace's eyes stealing private glances at me when he thought I wasn't looking at work. I saw myself comforting my little brother when he was afraid of the dark. Everything played through my head like a movie. I opened my eyes to be blinded by a bright light. "Am I in heaven?" I murmured, squinting as I held my hand up to my eyes. I heard soft laughter and a rumble on my back. I looked up to see Ace smiling down at me, his teeth sparkling in the sunlight. "Are you in heaven, too?" He shook his head. "Alex, sometimes I wonder where you come up with this stuff." I looked down to see that we were floating down toward the Circe mountain range. "But how?" I glanced up to see a large, white parachute floating above us, a harness wrapped around Ace, connecting him to the parachute while he held me tightly against him. "How did you know to do that?" I asked, pushing my glasses back, which had a new crack in the left lens. "Well, my plan was originally just to take you and leap out of the queen's ship with this parachute, and when she came up with that bogus offer I knew it was too good to be true and had to have a plan B." I smiled up at him. "You're so smart. How the hell did a lowly human like me end up with an alien like you?" He laughed and shook his head. He definitely didn't have the same silvery laugh as his mother or Marsilo, and it was one that I loved to hear over and over again. "I think I'm the lucky one to have a human girl that was willing to break into a Caltian ship and defy the queen for me." "What can I say?" I pretended to rub some dirt off my shoulder. "Your girlfriend can be talented when she wants to be." He tightened one arm around me and used the other to lift his hand to my face. He pressed his lips to mine, locking me in a kiss that took the little breath I had left away. "I love you, Alex," he whispered into my lips. "And no matter what happens—" He let his fingers brush through my hair before wrapping his arm back around me. "—I always will." "I love you, too, Ace." I looked down at the Circe mountain range only a few feet below us. "And I'm hoping that nothing else happens to change that." Ace took me into his arms and carried me as we landed on the Circe runway. But just as our feet hit the ground, swarms of Circe guards ran toward us, armed and yelling, "Let the girl down! Back away from the human!" Ace put me down on the ground next to him and unbuckled the parachute harness. Slowly, he raised his arms in the air. A herd of Circe guards circled us with their guns pointed straight at Ace. "Step away from the girl!" one guard yelled, his gun pointed at Ace's head. "Stop!" I yelled, stepping in front of Ace. "He didn't hurt me. He's the one that saved me from getting killed up there!" "At ease soldiers, at ease!" a deep voice boomed through the crowd. I caught a glimpse of dad pushing past everyone until he stood in the middle, directly across from Ace and me. "Dad!" I ran toward him and collapsed into his arms. "I thought I would never see you again," I whispered. Dad pulled away from me, letting his hands rest on each side of my shoulders as he studied my face with a softened gaze. "I was afraid I lost you. You shouldn’t have gone out on your own like that. You're not trained to do so." I felt Ace's touch on my shoulder as he stepped next to me. "She may not be trained, but without your daughter neither of us would have made it back alive." "Ace." Dad let go of my shoulders and stepped back. The softness in his eyes disappeared and was replaced by his stony gaze. "Dad…please…" I begged, but my dad put his arm up to stop me and stepped closer to Ace. "Any alien that would risk his life and family to save mine is an alien that I'm happy to have dating my daughter." He put his hand out toward Ace. Ace took dad's hand as everyone around us cheered. I looked from dad out into the crowd to see Jen, Malcolm, and Justin push their way through before they almost knocked me down from their exasperated hugs. I tried to hold back my screams when their hugs pressed right into my broken ribs, but I didn't care. At that moment I was just happy to be back on Earth and not being chased by evil Caltians. "You'd better not do that to me again!" Jen yelled and enveloped me in her long arms. "Man, girl, I think you just put the rest of the pilots up there to shame." Malcolm laughed, patting me on the back. I thought I was imagining things at first when I heard everyone fall into a hushed silence around me, but I knew I was wrong when Ace whispered in my ear, "You may want to turn around." I slowly turned to see Nerses standing there, her piercing eyes focused on me. She stepped toward me, her heels clicking on the pavement. "Miss Bianchi, it's good to have you back." I swallowed, looking up at her. "Thanks, Nerses." "And once you get cleaned up, I'd like to see you in the board room." She looked over at Ace. "You too." She didn't wait for our reply but headed down the runway. Maybe surviving the queen was the least of our worries. Chapter 32 Ace was waiting for me outside of my room. After a bath in the goo, the doctor gave me a new pair of glasses and sent me to my room to shower. I kept asking the doctor to give me a sedative or just to say that I was too hurt to go to the meeting and have a longer soak, but she kept assuring me that everything would be fine. From the way that she did everything she could to avoid my eyes, I knew she wasn't actually sure herself. "Well, you know that she won't try and kill you." Jen tried to console me while I zipped up my suit. "At least I don't think she would do something like that." "Gee, that's reassuring." "I don't exactly know what the procedure is for something like this. You did break a ton of rules and who knows if the queen is actually still planning to attack or not." "Thanks, that really helps." I rolled my eyes. Just what I wanted to hear, that this really wasn't the end of the queen's quest to end Ace and my relationship. And that we would be punished by Nerses on top of it. I looked back at Jen. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go face Nerses." I turned toward the door and headed out to see Ace, waiting like he had been there for hours. "Are you ready for this?" He reached his hand out toward me. I placed my hand in his; they weren't their usual warmth. I thought it was because of his gloves, but I realized it was because he was just as nervous as I was. The clamminess from my hands moistened his, but he didn't act like he minded or was in any way repulsed. I smiled, trying to assure him that I was just as scared as he was. "I think I've faced a lot of things that I thought I couldn't handle today, but somehow I survived them, as long as I knew that you would be there in the end." He squeezed my hand. "You're getting pretty good at this reassuring girlfriend thing." I shrugged as we got into the elevator. "I try." He pressed the button to the thirteenth floor and looked over at me. "You know we could always just get the elevator stuck for awhile and make out." He leaned over, nuzzling his nose against my cheek. I closed my eyes, inhaling his cool scent and the feel of his skin on mine. "As much as I'd like to—" I opened my eyes, meeting his. "—this is something we'd better not be late for. Nerses scares me almost as much as your mom, I mean, the queen." I bit my lip at my mistaken choice of words. Ace slid his hands around my waist and his fingers trailed to my back. "Alex, she may be my mother and the queen of Calta, but that doesn't excuse what she did to us. She may have given birth to me, but that doesn't mean she can control who I date." I sighed, looking into his eyes, and wishing that I could just stay lost in their beautiful darkness forever. "Ace, Miss Bianchi." Ace removed his arms from around me as we looked over to see three guards standing in the open doorway of the elevator. "Nerses is waiting." I nodded in their direction and placed my hand back into Ace's. "We're ready." I tried my best to force a small smile. We followed the guards down the hallway to the steel doors, which had been replaced since I had shot through them. They looked even sturdier than the last ones. One of the guards opened them to reveal that it was just Nerses and my dad sitting together at one end of the large, white table. "I thought this would be some sort of board meeting to decide our punishment." Ace looked at all the empty chairs before we took our seats across from my dad and Nerses. Nerses sighed, looking down at the table. "Sadly, with these unprecedented circumstances we've had to take a different direction on how to handle this situation." A blue beam of light poured from the ceiling above, forming a long cylinder of luster down to the table. Slowly, a white silhouette formed until the full body of the queen of Calta stood staring down at me. Her eyes narrowed in my direction as the blue light faded out. "Your majesty." Nerses stood up alongside my dad. Ace and I followed suit. I leaned toward him. "Why couldn't we have just used that beaming technology instead of getting shot down in a broken ship?" I whispered. Ace covered his mouth to stifle his laughter at my comment, but stopped once the queen got down from the table and found her seat at the opposite end from the rest of us. Ace and I took our seats as well. "Machiavelli, always good to see you looking so—" She flicked her wrist, curving her lips into a weak attempt at a smile. "—happy, I guess, is the word." "Who is Machiavelli?" I whispered to Ace. "Besides the Italian philosopher?" The queen laughed that eerie laugh. "Oh, my son, you tell me that you are in love with this girl and she doesn't even know your real name?" Her dark eyes focused on me."You ever wonder how that other Machiavelli got the idea to title his book The Prince? You don't think his pathetic human parents came up with that last name on their own, do you?" She raised her eyebrows. I made an O-shape with my mouth and thought that would be something I would need to talk about with Ace later. If there was a later. "Where is Marsilo, Mom?" The queen cringed as Ace overemphasized the word. "Yes, Marsilo." She folded her hands onto the table. "He had enough earthly excitement to last him centuries, or so he says. Nerses thought it would be best if it was just the five of us discussing this matter." My eyes trailed over to Nerses. This was her idea to put us in the same room as the woman who tried to kill me? I narrowed my eyes, wondering what her motive was. "Yes, your highness." Nerses eyes went from the queen back to Ace and me. "I invited you here to figure out how we can come to a peaceful agreement between Circe and Calta. I've already had the paperwork drawn up and I can have my public affairs department make any changes that you deem necessary." She smiled, placing a large stack of papers infront of her. "A peace agreement?" The queen tilted her head back, letting out a single laugh. "How long have you been on this planet, Nerses? You're trying to adapt their same crazy logic." "Now, your highness, I know it might not make sense to you," dad interjected. "But I don't want to see our children continue to be stuck in the middle of all of this." His eyes trailed over me. "We have seen what happens when we've tried to separate them, and they found a way to see each other. Who knows what could have happened to them if they didn't succeed." Dad sighed, looking over at the queen. "As a parent, I don't want to have to go through that again with my daughter, and I doubt that you would want anything to happen to your son." I held back a snort. Like the queen actually cared about Ace. She would have let him die alongside me in that ship. The queen's eyes softened when she turned to Ace. "Is this what you really want? To be stuck on this technology-deprived planet with this human girl forever?" Ace looked over at me and placed his hand onto mine, laying them on the table. "There is nothing that I want more than to stay here with Alex." He looked back at her. "I ignored all of the rules and followed my heart. It may have gotten me into a lot of trouble, but to me she will always be worth it." He squeezed my hand, not taking his eyes off the queen. "And do you plan on making this girl your mate?" That evil smirk curved into the corners of the queen's face. His mate? I was only seventeen! I was sure in my heart that I loved Ace, but I didn't think I was ready to be someone's mate. "I think we'll have to wait until she at least has her bachelor's degree for that one." Ace smiled, keeping a cool demeanor. "Or a master's, whichever she decides to get," dad added. "And we can put that all in the peace agreement. Even if for some reason Ace decides that he wants to leave Alex, we can still have peace between Calta and Earth," Nerses added, shuffling the papers. "Well, then Alex." The queen turned her murky eyes on me. "After you get all of these nonsense degrees, do you plan on letting my son take you as his mate? For all of the universe to see?" I looked at the queen, watching her eyes as they searched my face for the answer. I could tell that she was hoping that I would pick the wrong one and choose not to spend the rest of my life with her son. Her superior smirk said it all. My dad sat silently with small beads of sweat forming at his widow's peak, the way it always did when he was nervous. What was the answer he was looking for? Was he ready to see the daughter that he had just started to get to know give up everything she had to spend her life with an alien? I looked over at Ace, his gaze fixed on me. I had spent most of the summer wondering what was behind that gaze and slowly falling for the soul of the alien. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life without him, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend the rest of my life knowing that I would be mated to an ageless alien. Whatever that meant. I swallowed hard, not taking my eyes off Ace. "Well Alex, do you have an answer for me?" she questioned. "It's kind of a big deal for her; she may need some time to think about it," Nerses replied in a calm manner. "But if we can just get these papers signed." "Some time to think about it?" I looked over as the queen rose from the table, slowly making her way toward Ace and me. "I stopped forty thousand Caltian ships from coming down to destroy your planet because my son insisted on saving this human girl, and she needs some time to think?" A slow fire brewed in her voice as she loomed over us. It was just like a scene from one of my nightmares, but this time it was real. "Are you going to let this pathetic human control your every move for all of eternity? How is a prince supposed to live without the respect of his mate?" "Your majesty," Nerses started as she and my dad were at the queen's side. It was too late. The queen had risen to her full height and her body began to slowly levitate off the ground. Darkness fell around her. The room slowly faded to black and clouds of silver smoke billowed around her extended arms. "How dare you defy me! My own son!" Her words boomed from her throat while she hovered over Ace. She lifted her long, white fingers, pointing them at Ace's head. A flurry of sparks formed a ball at the end of her fingertips, gathering into a blinding blue light. The dark room was illuminated by its glow. "No!" I screamed and sprang from my chair, knocking Ace out of his and onto the floor below. The blue light started to fade away and the queen slowly made her way back down to the ground. The storm clouds disappeared and the lights flickered back to life, but all I could focus on was Ace's shivering body below mine. "I'd do anything not to see you hurt." I looked into Ace's eyes and saw the shadows that I knew would forever be mine. Dad and Nerses rushed to our side, quickly helping us to our feet so that we could face the queen. "So do I take that as a yes?" The queen arched her eyebrows. I looked around at all the faces in the room. I didn't know the answer they all wanted me to say, but in my heart I knew the one I wanted. "Do I take that as you'd hate it if I called you mother-in-law?" Chapter 33 Ace and I walked back to my dorm room in silence. No one seemed pleased that I agreed to someday marry Ace, not even him, and especially not my dad. The agreement was that nothing would happen until after I finished school. My dad made sure that was in the peace agreement just like the queen made Nerses promise to keep all air space above Circe available for Caltians at all times. But it still left an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I was only seventeen and I felt like I had just made one of the biggest decisions of my life on a whim. Ace ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes doing everything they could not to meet mine. "I'm going to go back to my room for awhile. It has kind of been a crazy day." I nodded. "Yeah, I should spend some time with Jen anyway. She probably wants to know everything that's going on." "Hey, Alex, I was wondering when you'd be getting back." I looked up to see Gavin, leaning his body against the doorframe. "Ace." He nodded in his direction. "Gavin." Ace mumbled. "Yeah, we just got back not too long ago, but we had a meeting that we had to attend." I looked up at Gavin, wondering if he knew that I had just given my life away to an alien. If he had a bad reaction to the fact that Ace and I were dating, I was afraid of what he would do if he knew about my impending marriage. "Well, I guess I'll let you have some human time." Ace embraced me in such a passionate kiss that I was actually embarrassed to be displaying that kind of affection in plain view of everyone. Ace let go of me, squeezing my hand before he started down the hallway. "Come by my room when you're done," he yelled and headed down the hall. "Jealous much?" Jen popped her blond head out of the room, staring down the hallway before she looked back to Gavin and me. I shrugged. I never thought of Ace as the jealous type, but I guess he always did seem to get nervous whenever Gavin was around, and the fact that I just made myself his future princess bride probably escalated his jealousy. "You know Ace." "Actually, I really don’t." Gavin pushed his bangs out of his eyes. "That's kind of what I came here for." "Well, I'm going to go meet Malcolm in the library, so I'll let you two have your alone time." Jen stepped out of the room. "But don't do anything you wouldn't want a jealous Caltian to see," she called before she disappeared. Gavin and I stood in the doorway, staring at each other, before I cleared my throat to hide the tension. "Um, do you want to come in?" "Uh, yeah, that'd be cool," he muttered and followed me into the room, closing the door behind us. I looked around for somewhere to sit. I didn't want to sit on the bed and give him any ideas, so I just stood near my desk and luckily he didn't feel the need to sit either. He stood at the other side of my bed. "Look, Alex, I know I've been kind of a jerk throughout this internship about the whole Ace thing." I let out a stifled laugh. "Kind of a jerk?" He pushed his hair out of his eyes. "Okay, a big jerk about it." I nodded. "Go on." "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for not even trying to understand what was going on between the two of you and instead just judging you for it." I arched an eyebrow. Gavin let out a big sigh. "I've just been working around these aliens for so long that I know what they're capable of. Good, bad, and just plain evil. When I met you I thought it would actually be cool to spend my summer with someone normal that wasn't an alien or hung up on themselves like the other human interns can be." He took a step around my bed, approaching the desk. "Then I found out that you started to see that—" He swallowed holding back whatever words he really wanted to say. "—to see Ace," he finished. "I was just pissed off that the first girl I could actually see myself wanting to get to know during this program would prefer to be with an alien than me." I took a step back, not sure what his motives were and not wanting to be too close. "Well Gavin, it's great that you're telling me this now, but you know very well that I'm with Ace." He nodded, stepping back. "Yeah, we heard all about you stealing a plane and getting held captive inside the mothership." He looked down, his eyes fixed on me like I was being interrogated in a dimly lit room. "But my real question is, is it true that to save both your lives you agreed to marry him?" I did everything to avoid his stare. "I, uh, well…it's kind of complicated." "I knew it!" I stepped back, gasping at his sudden outburst. He stood there, shaking his head, and slammed his fist into his other hand. He stepped so close to me that I could feel the heat from his words on my forehead when he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. "How could you do that to yourself? A high school girl engaged to an alien? That sounds like something you would see in the supermarket tabloids." I didn't know how to respond, because secretly that was exactly how I felt on the inside. I knew in my heart that I never felt for anyone else the way that I felt for Ace, but the moment I had agreed to marry him all I could think about was saving both of our lives. I didn't have time to consider what that actually meant. "I mean, how do you even have sex with a creature like that? Are you even going to be able to have children?" The anger rose in his face as the veins on his forehead began to bulge when he stopped shaking me and just stared. Sex wasn't something I wanted to talk about, especially since my virginity was very much intact. I had spent many nights in Ace's bed, but those were spent sleeping and trying to keep the nightmares away, not trying to populate the future alien and human hybrid race. Gavin let out a deep breath and shook his head. Letting go of my shoulders, he took a step back. "I’m sorry that got out of hand, Alex. I just wanted you to know how I felt. I guess I just took it a little too far." I nodded, not looking up from the ground. "It's okay. I understand." Gavin left the room, not saying another word as he closed the door behind him. I definitely understood what he had been saying. The worst part was that he had said everything I was too afraid to even let myself think. Chapter 34 The interns' last day really wasn't spent working, but more like visiting every department so you could say your goodbyes and be treated with whatever was the specialty dessert of that planet. Mars had the best gelato, but Venus had a concoction that I didn't think any human or alien should even try to consume. Things between Ace and I hadn't been the same since we came back to Circe together. Sure, we still worked together, and some nights I would stay with him in his room, but there was this unanswered tension that neither of us wanted to bring up. Our conversations always danced around what we really wanted to talk about and usually were limited to talking about work. He didn't even look at me the same. Instead of his eyes glowing when he saw me and his teeth gleaming as he smiled, he just looked like an empty vessel, without a thought behind his face. When he kissed me it felt just as empty as his eyes. There wasn't any passion behind it and he always looked away when he was done. I wanted to talk about everything from being captured to our agreed-upon, future marriage. But every time I thought about bringing it up I couldn't. I did everything I could not to talk about it, even though it was all I could think about, and I wanted some comfort as to what our future was going to be like. "Congratulations on surviving your internship!" Ody grasped me into a giant bear hug that I swore broke another two of my ribs. "Thanks, Ody." I tried to breathe against his chest before he let me go. "Are you going to come back next year? I'm sure that Ace will always save a spot for you in the security office." Ody looked past me, his eyes searching the room. "Where is that Caltian of yours anyways?" "Oh, he's in the office. I was on my way to go see him." I sported the biggest grin I could for Ody's sake. "You'd better not keep your future husband waiting." Ody winked, patting me on the back before I started toward the office. The differences I saw in Circe since I first started my internship were bizarre. Instead of being scared of the aliens that walked by me, it was like they had become my new family. Some of the aliens or humans would avoid me when I first arrived, but now they went out of their way to talk to me or ask how Ace and I were doing. I didn't fear the different creatures that would sometimes fight in the cafeteria, but I did learn to hold up a tray if an ink-spraying species started fighting with another alien. Circe had become a second home to me. One where I actually felt like I belonged more than I ever did in high school. The feelings I had for Circe made me really think about my relationship with Ace. Sure, it wasn't the normal high school relationship that other girls my age were having. He wasn't going to give me his class ring, and we weren't going to talk about going to prom. I had to face the facts that I wasn't really a normal high school girl to begin with anyway, and being happy meant a whole lot more to me than being normal. "Ace?" I pushed open the door to the office, knowing that Ace would be inside. He sat in his usual chair, but instead of turning toward me when I walked in the room, he sat still and stared at a blank screen. Nothing was on it. No alien dating profile or some sort of demonic alien blog, just a blank screen. "Is everything okay?" I walked closer, taking my seat next to his. He shook his head focusing his dark, empty eyes on me. If I knew he had tear ducts I would swear that he might have been crying. "Everything is fine." He took his eyes off mine and turned back to the screen. I grabbed his hand, even through his gloves I could usually feel his warmth when it would radiate through me, but they felt as cold as the rest of his body. "What's going on? For real." His eyes slowly shifted from the screen until they were fixated on mine. The sadness behind them was the kind of dark sadness that you found when you turned the lights off in an orphanage. I could barely look at them without tearing up myself. "Do you really want to be with me, Alex? Or did you just say those things to spare your own life?" I shook my head. "What are you talking about? Of course I want to be with you." I scooted my chair closer to his, feeling the cold shock from his body when I leaned in. "I heard your conversation with Gavin." I rolled my eyes. "Oh please, since when do you care what some lame human guy thinks?" "Since you actually listened to what that lame human guy had to say." I tried to catch my breath, realizing that Ace was right. Instead of enjoying what little time I had left with Ace at Circe before going home, I was letting what Gavin said about our relationship get inside my head and tear me away from all of the things I really felt. "I'm sorry," I whispered, looking down to the ground. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. This alien gave up everything to be with me and stay on Earth, and I took it for granted by listening to what Gavin had to say. "Hey." He tilted my chin up with his fingers, letting our eyes meet. I could feel the warmth as it started to spread back through his hand. "Nothing to be sorry about. If that's how you really feel, we have at least five years before you're done with school and we have to figure it out. But in the meantime there's no reason why we can't just try and be a normal couple." A small smile started to creep onto my lips. "Since when have we ever been a normal couple? I don't think we've even been on an official date." "That's because you always pick the stupidest movies to watch." I started to laugh, but stifled it, knowing this was a serious conversation despite his attempt to make jokes. "Ace, I do want to be with you, whatever that means now and for our future. I'm not going to let someone else make my decisions for me. You should know better than that." He grinned, the whiteness of his teeth spreading over his pale face as he leaned in closer. "So you're saying that you still want to be with me? Maybe even think about wearing a tiara?" I shook my head. "I am not wearing a tiara. That's not my style." "Well I've got a few years to convince you of that." His other hand trailed up my side, landing on the small of my back as he pulled me closer. "You'll have a lot of time to think when you're sitting alone in your room back in Illinois or your dorm room at one of those Ivy League schools." I didn't want to think about spending the next year without him. How was I going to explain to my mom about my new boyfriend? How would I even arrange to see him? "I'm sure we'll have the holidays together and The Northern Arizona University isn't that far away from here." He tilted his head. "You know, I'm pretty good at Earth's geography and I'm pretty sure that Columbia isn't in Arizona." "Well then it's a good thing that I'm not going to Columbia." I breathed the words onto his lips before he kissed me. His warm glow radiated through every part of my body and made me never want to leave that moment. Chapter 35 "Elijah has been talking non-stop about how his big sister went off to spend her summer playing with airplanes," mom gushed as we pulled into the familiar oak-lined neighborhood. I smiled, watching out the window. Kids played in the yard, making the most of their last few days of summer. I might have hated living in small town suburbia for so long, but there was something eerily comforting about the cookie-cutter homes with their white picket fences and two-car garages. I figured just because I was with an alien didn't mean I had to give up that little piece of suburbia. After spending the summer watching aliens surf the internet, I knew most of them lived farther into the suburbs than I did. "Yeah, I'll have to tell him all about it." Of course, I had to leave out the fact that I was actually interning at a secret government alien operation center, but I was sure he would lose interest as soon as his favorite show came on TV. Mom pulled the sedan into the driveway of our brick home that I never thought I would see again after that summer. I inhaled the scent of fresh-cut grass and hose water as I walked down the stone path to the front door. Inside I was greeted by the familiar red walls of our living room and let my feet tap on the hardwood floors. It smelled like my mom had attempted to bake, again, and the aroma of spices and yeast rolled in from the stainless steel kitchen. I dropped my suitcase near the leather sofa and scanned the room, taking in everything from the pictures on the walls to the toys scattered randomly on the floor near the TV. Everything that I thought I would never see again and there it was. After spending the summer coming so close to death more times than I could count and living my daily life among people I barely knew, it felt good to be in some place so familiar. I took in everything that I used to complain about from the house's open floor plan, with the living room and kitchen all combined into one and realized how good it felt to be among the things that were normal. I knew there wouldn't be any evil queens or aliens coming out from the fireplace, and even though I missed Ace and the other alien friends I made, it was so good to be back home. "Awex, you made it back fow me!" Elijah ran toward me as fast as his chubby little legs could carry him. Watching the way his eyes lit up when he saw me made it all worthwhile to be back on Earth alive. "Hey, little man." I crouched down as Elijah threw himself into my arms. "Did you bwing me somefing?" He pushed back a strand of curls that had stuck to his forehead. I smiled. "Well if you look in the front pocket of my suitcase you might find something for you in there." "So it looks like the internship turned out better than you thought." mom placed her hands on her tiny hips. She looked more like my older sister than she did my mom with her fitted t-shirt and boot cut jeans clinging to her small frame, but I guess I couldn't blame her for looking good in whatever she wore. She was still my mom and it was good to be able to see her again. I shrugged and stood up. "I think it won't hurt to put on my application to Northern Arizona." "Northern Arizona?" she questioned, tossing her blond ponytail back before crossing her slim, pale arms across her chest. "What happened to Columbia?" "Awex?" Elijah tapped his tiny fingers at my leg. I looked down at him. "Yeah, El?" "Who's dis?" He held up a picture. I grabbed the picture from him, almost forgetting that I put it in my suitcase. It wasn't anything special, just one that I happened to snap when Ace and I were fooling around with the webcam in the office. Even a photograph couldn't hide the way that Ace's dark eyes could take my breath away, or how much his radiant white smile could always make me smile as well. "That would be someone very special to me," I replied. "Is he youw boyfwiend?" Elijah giggled and flashed his tiny teeth. Boyfriend? It seemed kind of silly to call the guy that I had agreed to someday marry in front of one the most powerful queens in the universe my boyfriend. "Yeah." I smiled, not taking my eyes off the picture. "That would be Ace." "Would this be your reason for wanting to go to Northern Arizona?" My mom plucked the picture from my hand, studying it as if Ace were any other boy with spiky black hair and what looked like guyliner. "Don't you think that he's a little old for you?" She looked back at me. I rolled my eyes, taking the picture from my mom. "He's only eighteen." I turned, hiding my secret smile, wondering how long I would be saying that about him. Elijah found the plastic toy airplane that I had brought for him and was played with it on the floor. "I guess I better start unpacking." I grabbed my suitcase and headed down the hallway toward my room. I opened my door to see it was exactly how I left it—same twin size bed in the corner, desk with my laptop, and posters of different celebrities (who I now knew that most of them weren't from this planet) parading my purple walls. But as I shut my door, I suddenly felt different about my room, like something had changed in me that made me a whole new person. I smiled to myself, thinking that even though I was a different person than the girl that left this house, one who knew more of what she wanted in life, I wouldn't have traded my summer at Circe for anything in the world. I set the picture of Ace down on my desk, propping it up against a stack of books. I looked up from the picture at my computer screen where I saw the outline of someone's head. I gasped, grabbing a paperweight from my desk as I turned around. But it wasn't an evil alien coming to destroy me, or even just my mom coming in to check on me, but my favorite alien. "Ace?" I whispered, putting down the paperweight. "How did you get here?" He looked out of place in his temperature control suit, standing in the middle of my pink shag rug and I could tell that he felt it the way he shifted from side to side. I started to feel selfconscious about having him in my room, which was definitely crazy since we had been through a lot more together than most couples did in their entire relationship. But yet I still felt the urge to throw the kitten stuffed animals off my bed and hide all traces of my girliness before he saw it. "Did you really think that I could go that long without having you try to hit me with a paperweight?" He stepped closer and I felt the cool air from his body press against me. "But how did you get here?" I stood on my tiptoes to look past him. "Did my mom or Elijah see you walk in?" He shook his head and took my face in his hands. "Did I ever tell you that you worry way too much?" "Did I ever tell you that I usually have good reasons for worrying?" He let the air escape through his nose as a large grin crossed his face. "I figured since the Caltians had perfected the beaming technology that there wasn't any reason I couldn't use it to see my girlfriend a little bit more than a couple times a year." I wrapped my arms around his neck and leaned my body against his. "Don't you think it's kind of a funny term? The whole girlfriend and boyfriend thing?" He pressed his forehead to mine. "What would you rather I call you? Future princess of Calta?" I shook my head slowly. "No, how about we start with just Alex for now?" "I think I can live with that one." He leaned in closer, letting his lips press to mine. That summer started out with me being so worried about college admissions and things that didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. There was a whole big universe out there, full of aliens who were fighting every day, and some of them spending their days hanging around an operations center in the Arizona desert. I might have only gotten a small hint of what was out beyond the realms of Earth, but I knew one thing was for sure: I never thought that I would have a Romeo and Juliet romance with an alien, and I was pretty happy that our story didn't end like Earth's version of Romeo and Juliet. Some day, years from now, aliens will be able to come out in the open, and people on Earth will know that humans aren't alone in the universe. At that time, I expect there will be lots of press conferences, and as one of the first humans to successfully have a relationship with an alien I will probably be asked to speak. I envision one of the many reporters asking, "So Alex, how does one date an alien?" I will smile and look over at Ace, who will be at my side. I will size up the reporter, and wonder how she ended up sitting there and asking me that question. I will lean over the microphone, and say to the world, "A lot of patience, tenacity, and always remembering to lock your door so that no one walks in on you." Acknowledgements First off, I should thank my parents. Thanks for making me an only child and bringing on my crazy imagination. To my wonderful husband Tim, for encouraging me to keep writing and to go for my dreams even when I was at my lowest. To Olivia, for no other reason than just being you. To my wonderful critique partners Leta Doerr, Lynsey Newton, Kelsey Ketch, Rachel Johnson, and the ladies of Heart & Scroll. This story would be nothing without you! To my wonderful cover designer, Steven Novak, thank you for helping me to rebrand this series and make it amazing. To Stacey Kade, for coming up with Ace’s name when he was just ‘Alien boy.’ To Adam Lambert, for the gorgeous Caltian-like face and music that propelled this story. We should do lunch and discuss your awesomeness. To Dani Crabtree, thank you for saving this hot mess of a book with your editing skills! There is a thin line between the Darkside and the light side and I thank GP Ching every day for bringing me to the Darkside. To Megg Jensen, Karly Kirpatrick, and Angela Carlie, thanks for believing in me and helping my alien story to see the world. About the Author Magan is a self-proclaimed geek-to-glam poster child who channels her inner geek by writing science fiction for teens. Even though she slept with a nightlight until middle school for fear of alien attacks. She now lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in central Illinois where she still sleeps with a nightlight…just incase. You can find her online at www.MaganVernon.com. How to Break Up with an Alien Book 2 in the My Alien Romance Series Chapter 1 One would think that saving the world from evil aliens would be enough to exempt me from my senior year of high school. Or even the fact that I was promised to the prince of Calta, home of said evil aliens. A future Caltian princess needed her beauty sleep. But no, I was expected to join the non-alien masses in Advanced Senior English at 8 a.m., which meant I had to be awake enough to get through my school and work day. Only there weren't enough sheep in the world to count my way into sleep. My anger and annoyance kept me wide awake. A brilliant blue light streamed down from my bedroom ceiling, reflecting off the mirror above my dresser. “You’re late,” I mumbled, not even lifting my head from the pillow. The light disappeared and the weight shifted on the left side of my bed. A cold burst of air bore through my covers and I knew that my alien was nearby. “I’m sorry. There was some sort of Martian threat on the Utah capital and I had to handle it.” Ace’s warm fingers brushed against my cheek. The rest of his body might have been cold, but his hands were always warm and left me with a sensation that I couldn't resist. It felt like rubbing aloe on a sunburn. “A likely excuse.” I opened my eyes and grabbed my glasses from the nightstand, placing them on my face and sitting up next to him. “But I brought you something.” He grinned, pulling a box from behind his back with a giant cartoon purple dinosaur on it. “Feeble Weebles!” I tried not to scream and wake up my family in the middle of the night, but it was freaking Feeble Weebles! The Caltian cereal that was like Lucky Charms but with only marshmallows. “So does this make up for me being late?” He leaned in closer. I nearly brushed my lips against his, pulling the cereal from his grasp. “I’ll think about it.” “Oh, come on, for me?” He lifted his eyebrows and flashed his irresistible smile that could have been on its own cereal box. I swallowed, setting the box on my nightstand. I tried to think of something to say instead of just staring at the way his temperature control suit molded to body. With his body's normal temperature being half of what a human's was, he always had to wear it when he visited, which was supposed to be around ten o’clock instead of two in the morning. "I just wanted to come and wish you luck on your first day of school and work." He ran his fingers along where my sleeve met my arm. "Sorry, I couldn’t get here earlier.” “Is this what it’s always going to be like?” I looked up to meet his eyes. They were endless pools of black, a bit frightening, but intriguing at the same time. “Always like what?” He lay down next to me, his long body spreading along my twin-sized bed while he propped his spiky-haired head up on his extended arm. I sighed. “Me waiting up for you, only to have you show up late or busy with some alien duty.” Ace shook his head, his hair brushing against my headboard. “I hope not. Once you are at Northern Arizona, I can arrange to see you more often. Then we won’t have to worry about sneaking around when your mother isn’t awake, and you can even come see me instead of this beaming thing.” I lay down next to him, pressing my body to his. His muscles shivered underneath me, and even through the temperature control suit I could feel his icy hot chill. “How about you figure out how to beam me places, and then I can just come see you at work whenever I want?” Ace pressed his forehead to mine, his eyes dark and close. “Why must you ask me questions that you know are impossible?” “Impossible things are happening every day.” Ace let out a silent laugh, the cold air blowing through his nose and tickling my lips. “You stayed up watching musicals while you were waiting for me, didn’t you?” “I can sing some of them if you would like.” “I think there is something better that you can do with your mouth than sing.” He tilted his head and pressed his lips to mine. After waiting all night for him, the electric current his touch sent through my lips and all the way down almost made up for it. Almost. "Alex?" a woman's voice rang through the door. Crap, my mom. I broke the kiss and put my finger to my lips. Ace rolled off the side of my bed and crawled underneath it. I pulled the comforter up and over the side to try and hide him the best I could. The door squeaked open and mom poked her blond mess of hair in. She reached her fingers under her thick glasses, rubbing her eyes. “Is everything alright? I thought I heard something?” "Oh, no, just woke up and thought I would listen to some Ira Glass podcasts.” I pushed the comforter farther onto the side of my bed, hoping that she wouldn't walk over and see Ace lying between the bed and the window. "Oh.” She glanced at my IPod in the dock. Hopefully she was too sleepy and wouldn’t realize that nothing was actually on. “Well you should probably get to sleep. I know the first day of school is exciting, but it'll be better if you are awake for it. You need your rest." "Okay, I will do that.” She nodded and I thought she would leave the room, but instead she walked over to my nightstand. My heart pounded as I thought about how close she was to finding Ace under my bed. Hopefully he didn’t breathe too loud. “What is this?” She picked up the box of Feeble Weebles, squinting at the giant purple dinosaur. “Just some cereal I got the other day. Been hiding it in my room so I wouldn’t have to share with Elijah.” Good excuse, Alex, Good excuse. Mom shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I shrugged. “Yeah it’s new.” “Huh. Alright, well next time let me know when you get a box and I will try and get some for Elijah as well.” “Will do.” Finally she walked to the door and closed it behind her. I waited until I heard the door to her bedroom shut before I pulled up the comforter and leaned over the side of the bed. But Ace wasn't there. Nothing but dust bunnies. Huh. I sat back up and felt something cold against my back. I looked up and there was Ace, kneeling behind me. "Looking for something?" He placed his hands on my shoulders and brushed his lips to my forehead. If only I had the speed that my alien boyfriend had, then I could just zip through my senior year and forget about distance and mom’s annoyingly great sense of hearing. But when said alien boyfriend was in my bed, I wanted nothing more than the opposite speed. I wanted to freeze time to keep everything just the way it was.
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