Chapter One
01:38 Hours


           The music was too fucking loud. In fact, it was almost eardrum-shattering loud, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. As a matter of fact, on second thought, the loud music was all right with her. This way she couldn’t hear those nasty little devils whispering in her head. As long as she stayed here and drank herself into mindless oblivion, she could live with herself for another day.

            As she relaxed in a corner booth, Maurra casually kept an eye on the clientele coming and going from the bar. They were a rag-tag lot, mostly miscreants and questionable criminals, as the higher class customers kept their distance from places like this. This time of night there were more people coming in than heading out, which meant there was a greater chance of someone getting pissed and slitting open someone else’s abdomen, or a body part that resembled an abdomen. If and when that happened, she’d have to step in and assert her authority, whether she wanted to or not.

            That was another thing about being here that she liked. She could handle drunks better when she’d downed a few herself. Especially mean drunks. She could bash their skulls in with little guilt.

            The music died briefly, long enough for the band to quench its six throats. The semi-quiet would be short-lived. Creatures around her continued their chitter-chatter. Some used electronic translators. Some had implants. Most conversed as best they could with sign language and the occasional grunt, along with a smattering of Varonese, the universal language at this end of the Carbucharon galaxy.

            Maurra uncrossed her ankles and re-crossed them where she was resting her feet on the seat across from her. Here in the near darkness at the far end of the room, and away from the door and stage, her deep scarlet uniform was almost black in color. It was the best camouflage she could manage. However, there were several patrons who had already spotted her. Although they didn’t know her personally, the crest in the center of her chest identified her as a JoJo. For some, they moved closer, as if having her nearby ensured their safety. For others, they quickly moved to the other side of the bar, or left altogether before she could discover what nefarious nastiness they were up to.

            It didn’t matter. Her initial job on this planet was completed. The bad guys had been caught and were awaiting extradition. The bosses had sent her their congratulations. She figured she deserved a little rest and relaxation before boarding her own flight back to Narcissus and the station where she resided.

            Sighing, she took another sip of her drink. Whatever the stuff was, it was potent. Gulping it outright could put her in the hospital in no time flat. Sipping it would not only keep her insides from blowing up, but it would also make the drink last longer. She wouldn’t need more than one stein of this stuff to make her ass-over-elbows drunk, anyway.

            A scuffle at the end of the bar drew her attention. Maurra squinted to clear her vision the same moment a loud and definitely irritated roar nearly shattered the nearby mugs. It was an Ellinod and what looked like two Par Mattas. She grunted. This should be good. The Ellinod was at least two meters taller, and a goodly number of kilos heavier than both Par Mattas bolted together. She continued to watch the scene unfold, but already she could feel her body steeling itself just in case she needed to step in.

            The slimy Par Mattas were squeaking up a storm and waving their tentacles in the air. They were either excited or pissed off. Or both. Maurra wondered how the Ellinod fit in. The beastly looking creatures were loners. They didn’t do business with other species outside of their mining operations, and rarely ventured away from their home world. When they did, however, it had to be for a damn good reason.

            A frown creased her forehead. The Ellin system was a good two dozen or more light years from here. What in the world would an Ellinod be doing on Cura-Cura in the first place?

            Now her internal alarm was going off, warning her that too many variables weren’t adding up properly. Slowly, almost nonchalantly, Maurra unhooked her ankles and lowered her booted feet to the floor. She sat up straighter, never taking her eyes away from the scene that was drawing more attention to itself.

            The Ellinod’s gnarly face was almost gray in color. From the little she knew about the creatures, that gray was a sign the monster was upset. No. He was angry.

            No. Correction again. He was livid.

            If he reaches out and grabs one of those—

            The Ellinod threw back its head and let go with another roof-rattling roar, raising massively-muscled arms ending in fists that looked ready to pound the Par Mattas into oblivion. Suddenly, and without warning, a thick arm shot out, and the enormous hand closed around several sections of the Par Mattas, catching them both in its steely grip. Before anyone could react, the other arm reached down and scooped the semi-aquatic blobs up against its chest. Striding over to the doorway, the Ellinod heaved the two creatures out into the street amid squalling, screeching, and screaming.

            For two whole seconds the patrons of the bar held their breaths, waiting to see what the enormous Ellinod would do next. When it gave its huge, curved horns a shake, and a little shrug of its enormous, muscular shoulders, then turned to resume its seat at the bar, the place gave a silent sigh of relief, and things went back to normal.

            Maurra had no idea she’d gotten to her feet, one hand lightly resting on the butt of her psionic pistol, until a Madranite scuttled past her and hurried away. Cursing silently, Maurra tried to blend back into the shadows but it was too late. The Ellinod had already noticed her. Or maybe it had noticed her long before the incident started. It was hard to tell, and frankly she hadn’t been trying very hard to remain incognito.

            The first thing she noticed was that the creature wasn’t dressed like a typical Ellinod. The usual coarse shirt and baggy pants that most of them wore was replaced with a smart-looking, high-quality dark blue shirt and vest, and black, form-fitting breeches. Instead of sandals, this one wore heavy black boots. It was also bigger than most Ellinod she had encountered in the past. Bigger and taller, and wider. There wasn’t an ounce of extra fat on it, meaning this one was used to hard labor. Maurra looked back up at the thing’s face to find it staring at her. The expression was brooding, almost as if it was trying to send her a silent signal.

            A shiver went down her spine. Icy cold, it sent an additional warning to her brain. Her body automatically went into JoJo mode as her muscles hardened. She could already feel the familiar tingling in the middle of her forehead as her psionic powers focused.

            The beast must have noticed the translucent glittering. Her power would have stood out in the shadows like a beacon. Slowly, the Ellinod shook its ponderous head with its enormous horns that stretched all the way to the ends of its shoulders, and resumed sipping its drink. But the creature continued to keep an eye on her. For what reason, she couldn’t begin to guess.

            It was difficult to tell whether the thing was male or female. Both sexes looked almost identical as long as their clothes were on, but word was they were humanoid. For some reason, Maurra tagged this one as male.

            With the huge alien backing away, Maurra allowed herself to relax, easing back down onto the small bench that sufficed for a chair. Another possible disaster averted, thank the stars. In all her years on the force, she’d never had to subdue an Ellinod before. Was she strong enough to handle one, if it came down to it, she wondered? There’s always the first time to find out.

            Apparently she wouldn’t get the chance to find out this time around. Her ruminations were interrupted when the Ellinod got up from his seat and walked out the front door. By his gait she could tell he was a little on the tipsy side. Drunk or not, the alien was still powerful and dangerous. And unpredictable.

            A sexy Blois slithered over to her and asked if she wanted another drink. Maurra frowned at the couple of sips left in the bottom of her mug and drew a finger across her throat. The little incident with the Par Mattas had burned away the nice buzz she’d been nursing. Damn. Drawing on her energy always did that, but she should have known better than to come down to the seediest side of town and expect to spend an hour or two in relative quiet.

            “Fuck this.”

            Tossing back the rest of her drink, she paused long enough for the bubbles to explode in her esophagus. Maurra let out a belch, which helped to relieve some of the pressure.

            All right. Let me have a decent night’s sleep so I can catch tomorrow’s flight and arrive back at headquarters looking better than I feel.

            It sounded like an acceptable plan. Funny thing, though. The universe had the biggest sense of humor. It especially loved to screw with people’s lives.

            Gritting her teeth, Maurra left the bar without interference. The night was balmy. Amazingly quiet, considering. What sky she could see overhead was brightly lit with the planet’s nine moons in varying phases.

            It was because of the quiet that she was alerted to the faint sounds of struggling. Flat, smacking sounds told her someone was getting the shit beaten out of him. What other sounds she could catch were muffled.

            There was no hesitation in deciding what she had to do. Being a galactic law enforcement officer was more than a job—it was her life. Her whole life. In fact, it was everything and the only thing in her life. Once she’d taken the vows, and her power had been reinforced, there was no turning back.

            The pistol was in her hand before she could think about it as she raced around the side of the building and into the alleyway behind it. When she reached the small back lot, she was already primed to use her psi abilities.

            Maurra felt her mouth drop open when she saw the more than half a dozen Kronners furiously beating the hunched-over figure. There was a moment when the sight of a pair of curling horns came into view, and she immediately noticed that one of them flared to the right, like a birth defect, or the result of an accident.

            It was the Ellinod from the bar.

            The Kronners were trying to take out an Ellinod? For crying out loud, why?

            She started to order them to cease, when she hesitated. Yes, the Kronners outnumbered the Ellinod, but she had been wrong about who was getting their asses kicked. In fact, it was somewhat amusing to watch as the little creatures, the tallest of which only came up to the Ellinod’s knees, tried to punch and kick the enormous beast into submission.

            Maurra smiled. From what she could see, the Ellinod was doing just fine without her, and she leaned back against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest, to watch.

            To his credit, the Ellinod was being amazingly gentle with the stick-thin Kronners, tossing them away or brushing them off with swipes of his huge hands. Treating the little creatures like so much dirt coating its uniform.

            Fuck this. She wasn’t needed here. It was obvious the Ellinod could take care of himself. Still smiling, she turned to leave when her psi senses burned a warning. Maurra whirled around just as another half a dozen Kronners came running in to join the fray, and this time they were carrying stunners.

            The unarmed Ellinod no longer had the advantage.

            “By the law, I command you to stop!”

            She drew a bead on the cluster converging on the Ellinod. The Kronners may have been a fraction of its size, but by bringing in the stunners, they had shifted the odds in their favor. Not to mention outnumbering the Ellinod twelve to one. But the biggest factor forcing her to intervene was the fact that the inebriated beast they were trying to subdue was not able to function at peak efficiency. They had managed to ambush him at a very opportunistic time.

            Or maybe they’d planned it that way.

             Either way, the Ellinod was giving as good as he got, flinging the Kronners around now like he was wringing his hands of water. His roars of anger were deafening. The attack must have just started when she left the bar, or else she knew she would have heard the ruckus from inside.

            “You are ordered by galactic law to stop!” Maurra shouted again, although it wasn’t necessary. She’d already given them the prerequisite initial command. She could feel her powers focusing, strengthening, narrowing. Aiming the pistol, she fired.

            A field of strong psi powers blasted from her weapon. Bright, blue-white light wrapped around the Kronners, and the creatures shrieked as their nervous systems shut down. The aliens dropped in their tracks.

            It took a few seconds for the Ellinod to shove the unconscious Kronners off of him and struggle to his feet. She had hoped to avoid hitting him, but there was always a possibility some residual power would strike him. Maurra could see he was stunned. Hurt. Confused. Angry. Several deep cuts on his arms and chest were bleeding freely. From the way he was breathing heavily, she could tell the attack had taxed his physical resources. Hell, if she didn’t have her psi powers, she doubted she would have lasted as long as the Ellinod did.

            Holstering her gun, Maurra hurried over to him as he collapsed again to his knees. “Sorry about that. Sometimes a little backlash happens. How do you feel? Do I need to notify medical?”

            The Ellinod lifted his head, and she was taken aback by the human looking eyes staring down at her. Light green eyes. Eyes that were still dazed from drink, the beatings, and the psi ray. A trickle of dark blood seeped from a cut in the creature’s forehead. The beast tried again to get to his feet when he swayed, almost toppling over.

            Automatically, Maurra reached out to help when the beast’s eyes widened. She knew instinctively the creature was looking past her. Behind her. He opened his mouth to warn her.

            She never had the chance to turn and defend herself when she was hit hard and felt excruciating pain. She was unconscious before she fell to the ground.