Encased in ice, traveling through space and thousands of years adrift from his world, Viking Einarr Bloodaxe can’t help but respond to the call of his female and finally break free of his magical entrapment. For this woman he’s willing to defy everything—even time…
“We’re not going to survive this time, brother.” Aki’s voice echoed around the dark cavern as they ran. “Someone betrayed us.”
“I know that,” Einarr snarled. “And, by the Gods, he will regret it.”
“If we live.”
Einarr took another turn and continued downward, the sound of underground water now in front of him. “We’ll live.” He slowed his step, as the light ahead grew stronger.
“By running away like cowards?” Aki was breathing hard. “They’ve blocked the entrance to this cave. All they have to do is come after us. We’ll be easy prey.”
“We’re not running away.” The eerie white light bounced off Einarr’s shield and axe. The power of his ancestors surged within him and answered the call of the an- cient magic. “Grandfather told me about this place. He said that if I ever needed an escape, the waterfall would provide one.”
Aki gasped as they stepped into a huge cavern where water tumbled in a frothing white mass down from the farthest black rock formation.
“There’s a way out?” Aki had to yell to be heard.
Einarr reached behind him and grasped Aki’s arm ring, sending a wave of power that pushed his words directly into his twin brother’s head.
“Aye. Behind the waterfall. We just have to walk through to the other side.” Einarr took a step forward, one hand on his axe. “Be careful. It’s slippery.”
Aki followed him as the well-worn path climbed steadily until they reached a smooth stone platform that seemed to disappear directly inside the roar of the white-flecked water. Einarr set down his shield and his brother did the same.
“Hold onto my cloak.” Einarr said.
“I’m not a babe in arms,” Aki complained, but obeyed him anyway. “May Odin protect us.”
As Einarr inched forward, everything inside him slowed and coalesced into a burning hot sensation in his fingertips. He reached out his hand and the water turned to steam, lifting the curtain to show him the continuing path and a narrow cavern behind the falls. He kept moving and the waterfall closed behind them leaving an eerie screaming silence that made him want to shove his fingers in his ears and shriek like a frightened child.
The noise rose until the rocks were vibrating, and all the hair on his body stood upright like an animal at bay. Sparks flew from his outstretched fingertips ricocheting off the walls and slicing through the water like the sharpest dagger cuts.
He looked back and Aki screamed as the water turned inward and coalesced into ice. Then he knew no more.
“So what we have here, Tecky is a bona fide prehistoric popsicle?”
“Not quite prehistoric, but certainly ancient.” Frey glanced over at the ship’s captain and tried to smile. “My name’s Frey, Captain Travis, not Tecky.”
He held open a door and locked it behind her with yet another security code. “I know what your name is. We call all the science officers Tecky. It makes things easier to remember as you come and go so fast.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
She tried to sound calm and approachable. It was her first job, and she didn’t want to give the wrong impression. The FREN organization, the Federal Research Environmental Nation, employed all the scientists on Trios System ships, and she desperately wanted to be one of them for more than just her probationary year. Unfortunately, from what she’d seen so far, the crew on this particular ship was rather casual about rules and regulations and found her insistence on following protocol rather amusing.
“I’ve been specially trained to keep an eye on this cargo, Captain.”
“Why, what do they think is going to happen?” Travis laughed, the sound bouncing off the spherical metal walls. “Hopefully that thing is frozen solid.”
“The ice is untouched. And that’s how it will remain until we put down on Alpha Station Three.”
Travis unlocked the last door and handed her the secure passkey. The temperature dropped as they approached the glass-viewing screen. Frey flipped the lights on.
“Well, Holy Magnet, he looks like a real live man, doesn’t he?” Travis whistled. “Like he was freeze-framed from a holo-image rather than really frozen. Do you guys know how it happened?”
“We’re not quite sure. It looks as though he and the other specimen were encased in ice so suddenly that they were preserved intact.”
“When do you reckon that was?”
“About four thousand Earth years ago.”
Travis whistled again. “Who found them?”
“Part of an old copper mine gave way near the ancient city of York and revealed the caverns beneath the city. The Earth scientists believe the males might be of Viking origin.”
“You’re kidding,” Travis leaned in on the glass and shaded his eyes with his hand. “Looks like the guy has some kind of axe.”
“You’re correct, captain. The other specimen on your sister ship is holding a sword or a bow. We’re not quite sure what it is yet.”
“So they’re going to defrost them on Alpha Three like frozen pigcow?”
“It’s a bit more technical than that, but I suppose it is a similar process.”
“We could stick him in our FoodPro and see if that would work. We’d save billions for the Trios Space Agency.”
Frey smiled tightly again as the ship’s captain laughed at his own joke and left her to survey her frozen science project. Travis was a confident man and despite first impressions seemed efficient, which was why she supposed he’d been chosen to carry such a precious cargo.
She went to switch the lights off and then lingered, one hand flat on the glass. Every time she looked at the Viking she noticed more details, the dark stubble on the warrior’s chin, the heavy rings on his fingers and the arm bands with the Nordic writing and runes no one had gotten close enough to yet to decipher.
But soon they would. Frey could only hope she’d be allowed to stay and watch the great thawing out. The Alpha Three scientists were renowned for rediscovering and reintroducing lost species to their native environments. As far as she knew, no one had ever tried to revive two ancient Vikings…
With a quick look behind her, she let herself into the holding cell. Despite what she’d said to the captain, the FREN team had already penetrated the ice around the male more than once. Four tiny microscopic probes had been inserted. She was the only one onboard with the necessary clearance to read and monitor those probes.
The block of ice stood about three meters high and a meter wide on a plinth that provided power and cooling jets to keep the ice from melting or deteriorating further. This close, the ice was almost clear. Sometimes, it felt like the warrior’s eyes were following her around as she worked, but they were still closed tight. She wondered what his eye color would be when he finally regained consciousness, and what he would make of the world he’d woken up in. She had to assume it would be terrifyingly unfamiliar.
She checked the sensors. Everything registered a big fat zero, which was just fine with her. It was quite a responsibility, but she was more than up for it. She’d also been given detailed instructions about what to do in any kind of emergency situation and how her primary function was to save the ice warrior at all costs. Not that anything would go wrong. The small crew flew this route at least twice an Earth month, and there was nothing hostile on the way to Alpha Station Three.
“Tecky, you receiving me?”
She didn’t need to use her com to hear her fellow Pavlovan. They were both telepaths. Frey hadn’t made many close friends during her year on Earth. She’d either been studying too hard, or been too reserved to get into the whole college culture. As a result, she valued having someone around on the ship she could talk to so easily. “Yes, First Officer Slavin.”
“Come and strap yourself in, we’re about to depart.”
Frey blew a scandalous kiss to her important cargo, and after securely locking the series of doors, made her way to the bridge where the other members of the crew were already seated.
Slavin smiled as Frey went by her seat. “All secure down there?”
“We’re not anticipating any problems on this flight. It will take about five cycles. We’ll sleep through most of it.”
“Good.” Frey settled more comfortably in the deep padded seat and studied the blackness of space. There was so frakking much of it that sometimes it scared her. She liked her world to be ordered and controllable and…why the heeze had she ever wanted to work for an intergalactic corporation?
During the first space jumps, they’d all be immobilized in a semiconscious state as the ship followed its pre-programmed course and brought them closer to where they needed to be. The chairs acted like life support, monitoring body signs, offering the necessary nutrition and sending all pertinent information back to Earth and the various planets involved in case of emergency.
“There is one interesting thing happening out there,” Slavin added. “We’re expecting an up-close and personal look at a massive eclipse.”
“Oh, that’s right! Five planets are lining up.” Frey grinned. “Being a science geek, I’m ridiculously excited about this.”
“Alpha Station Three is between the last two of the aligning planets, Thor and Odin.”
“Then my Norseman will appreciate that.”
Slavin raised her eyebrows. “Your Norseman?”
Frey pointed down at the hold. “The frozen guy. Thor and Odin are Viking gods.”
“Then it’s a shame he won’t be awake to see it.”
“Maybe I’ll open up the viewing screens in the lab so that he can get a peek at it. I’ll probably have to view most of it from there anyway to catch and interpret the data stream for TSA and FREN.”
“Lucky old you.”
Frey relaxed as the thrusters started to rumble, and Slavin turned her attention to piloting the ship out of the dock and into open space. Sensors emerged from the arms and back of the chair and coiled themselves around Frey as the big engines kicked in and they set up for their first jump.
Now all she had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride.
Something called to him…
Something he couldn’t see, but could sense deep within, like the pounding of his heart, the suck of air into his lungs or the throb of his cock…
Did he want to respond to that nameless urging? He’d tried before, but had given up in despair, his power too weak to force himself out of his stupor.
But this was more visceral. More of a demand, as if something gripped his heart and threatened to rip it from his chest while it was still beating… Had Odin finally released him from his hell with the promise of a fight to the death and the ultimate glory of a seat in Valhalla?
The smallest pinprick. A blackish glow that infiltrated his skull like a red-hot wire or the tang of a bloodied lip. It burrowed inside him and shattered into a thousand pieces. He screamed in agony.
Frey knew she was talking to herself, but she didn’t care. There was no one else in the lab aside from the unmoving slab of frozen Viking. So, she talked to him when no one was around. What was wrong with that? Okay, she dreamed about him too, but those images were too erotic to think about while she was working.
She’d opened the viewing screens on the lower deck so that she could get a good look at the eclipse, which was lining up to be spectacular. Four of the planets, including her home planet Pavlovan were now aligned, and the fifth would be engulfed fairly shortly. The reflected light made the planets glow blood red, like four various sized discs superimposed upon each other. The smallest planet, Thor, would slide into place within the next few minutes and then hold position for about the same length of time until the planets moved away from each other again.
Data streamed down from six screens in an endless torrent. Frey had no time to analyze it properly, which didn’t sit well with her. Her role was to make sure all the cameras and readers were functioning and relaying the information back to the FREN and Pavlovan scientists who had never witnessed this particular phenomenon before.
First Officer Slavin had said that several nations were also monitoring the eclipse. She had offered to stay on the bridge for the nightshift just to watch it hap- pen. Frey thought seeing it through the sealed windows of the space ship was way more interesting than just staring at the screens. As far as Frey knew, there was no danger in looking directly at the alignment through the thick protection of TecGlass, so she was soaking up every second.
After another quick check of the screens, she turned back to the window, holding her breath as the planet Thor finally slid into place right in the center of the slightly bigger Odin. Waves of redness seemed to undulate from the five planets making Frey blink.
“That’s awesome,” she whispered suddenly aware of what that overused word really meant.
A flash on one of the monitors made her look up as all the screens suddenly went haywire.
Frey tried to make sense of the gibberish now running on the screens, which flashed on and off. With a sudden explosion of color, the image disappeared leaving all the screens black.
“Holy heeze,” Frey muttered as she frantically pushed every button she could find. “What happened?”
“Are you okay down there?”
“Yeah, but the data stream just collapsed. Is everything okay with the ship, Slavin?”
“Nope, all screens blacked out here and the coms. Life support is fully functioning though.”
“Frak,” Frey muttered as the screens flashed from black to red and back again. “Do you need to wake the captain?”
“I’ll—” Slavin’s breath hissed out. “Oh, thank the Gods, we’re back online. I’m going to run some tests. You okay down there?”
Frey blinked as her screens stayed red, and random columns of figures cascaded downward like an uncontrollable waterfall.
“I’m registering something. I’m not quite sure what it is.” She leaned closer to the screen and squinted against the fierceness of the red. “It looks like gibberish and it’s certainly not English. Hieroglyphics maybe? Runes?”
The six screens flashed simultaneously and Frey instinctively shut her eyes. When she opened them again the data stream had returned to normal.
“Tecky? Frey? Are you still there?”
She fumbled to sit upright, mortally embarrassed that she’d somehow ended up under her desk like a three year old. “I’m fine, Slavin. It just got a bit bright in here. Everything’s back to normal now.”
“Good.” Slavin hesitated. “You sound a bit shaken. Do you want me to send security down?”
“No, I’m good, I really am.” Frey shook herself and stood up, smoothing down her tightly tied back hair. She tried to appear like the competent officer she was. “I have to check on my cargo.”
She picked up the specially tuned recorder the FREN rep had given her and turned toward the cold storage zone. Even through the glass, she could still see the block of ice and the Viking encased inside. Red light reflecting off the eclipse out- side gave the ice a rosy pink glow with a smattering of dancing crimson lights.
Frey unlocked the security door and went in. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until it whooshed out in a little cloud of heated air. She put a tentative hand on the ice. It was frozen hard and the cooling jets beneath it still functioned perfectly.
Turning on the recorder, she walked around the block of ice, giving the receptors time to pick up all four probes. The signal beeped and registered another zero, and Frey sent a prayer up to the Pavlovan heavens. She’d go through the complete records tomorrow, after she’d reported the fault to her superiors back at FREN. They’d probably already noticed there was a break in transmission, but there was a slight delay in receiving information so she didn’t expect to hear back from them right away. It gave her plenty of time to analyze the problem and send them a complete report herself.
A flash of light glinted off the ice, and she stared back through the glass into her empty lab where the screens were functioning perfectly and beyond her desk to the still amazing sight of the aligned planets. A soft sigh echoed around the en- closed space and the ice creaked and groaned.
The recorder in her hand buzzed. She looked down at it and then further down to the metallic floor where something red glinted against the corner of the ice block. Frey crouched down and studied the gleaming red droplet, laughing with stupid relief as she realized it was just a reflection of the eclipse. For a second, it had looked more like a solid gemstone.
Her smile dimmed. Her back was now blocking the colors of the eclipse and yet the red was still there…Tentatively she leaned forward and touched the droplet. It adhered to her skin, a perfect red globe and she brought it closer to her face and sniffed it, wondering at the coppery smell. Was one of the probes within the ice malfunctioning or even worse, rusting? It seemed unlikely, but she would mention it on her next report.
Even as she stared at the red droplet it started to lose its shape. She flicked her finger and jumped as a sharp pain pieced her skin.
“Ouch! What the frak was that?” She flinched as a bead of her own blood now bloomed in the exact same place as the red droplet had been. Instinctively, she brought her finger to her mouth and sucked on it.
“Eew, no that was stupid!”
She flicked her fingers, and holding her hand up and away from herself went through the process of relocking the security doors until she was safety back in the lab and able to raid the medical kit for a disinfectant spray to close the wound. She should have been wearing gloves before she touched the ice or even went near it. In her haste to check that the Viking was still okay, she’d forgotten procedure and ended up doing something monumentally stupid.
God knows what she could’ve done in there, adding her blood to the controlled atmosphere around the ice. She was a complete idiot. It was so not like her to do something so unprofessional.
“Everything okay down there, Tecky?” Slavin came on the com.
“Yes, everything’s fine. No change in our cargo, and all my screens are working perfectly now.”
“Good, I don’t think there is any point in waking the whole crew up over this. We’ll mention what happened to the captain at the handover in the morning, okay?”
“Fine by me.”
“Then I’ll see you up here on the bridge in three hours.”
“Will do.” Frey signed off and put away the medical kit. She’d give her report to the captain in the morning as to the effect of the eclipse on her sensors and instruments, but she wasn’t going to mention her bleeding finger. Unfortunately, that information would be available for FREN to view on their specially installed cam-eras in the hold, which meant she might be about to lose her job.
With a groan she glared at her throbbing finger. So much for her long career as a Science Officer roaming the galaxies for FREN and TSA. She’d blown it. As soon as she got to Alpha Three she’d be fired.
She probably wouldn’t even be allowed to stay long enough to see what happened to the Viking, and without FREN security clearance she probably never would find out if he survived… And that was unacceptable. She already felt a deep connection with him that unsettled her. Maybe it was that being associated with his reemergence into the world would help her scientific career, but it felt so much more…as if she was somehow supposed to defend him against everyone and every thing.
There was no point trying to hide what she’d done. Perhaps her honesty would work in her favor and they’d simply demote her rather than letting her go.
“Yeah, right.” Frey muttered. “FREN is so well known for its compassion.”
She settled back in her seat and started to compose her report and, just in case, her resignation.
The buzz of her com in her ear woke her and she sat up, aware that she’d fallen asleep at her desk analyzing data and that her hair was stuck to her face with what was either tears or drool. Whatever it was, she was glad there wasn’t any vidscreen action. She hated looking less than immaculate.
“Tecky? We need you up here pronto.”
She wished she had time to change but did the best she could to smooth down her hair and freshen up. She took the elevator to the bridge and arrived to find the whole crew already there.
“I hear there were some problems last night.” Travis nodded to Frey to sit down and then pointed at Slavin. “What happened?”
“There was a small blip in our power when the eclipse reached its magnitude. I checked with Tecky in the lab to see if she was okay. Just as I was doing that all my systems returned to normal.” Slavin consulted her handtech unit. “I’ve tested all systems and security classifications and there is no damage or indication why the outage occurred.”
“Life support wasn’t affected?”
“No Captain, just the screens on the bridge, which became nonfunctional for about thirty clicks.”
“What about the navigational functions of the ship?”
“Unimpaired. It was as if the data streams were interrupted for a few seconds.” Slavin shrugged. “I wondered if the perfect alignment of the eclipse had something to do with it, but as we’ve no record of this planetary event happening before, I don’t have any data to back up my theory.”
Captain Travis studied the data Slavin handed him. “Carry on with your tests and relay everything you’re doing back to FREN, Earth and Pavlovan. They might have additional information for us. Until we hear anything different, we’ll proceed as planned to Alpha Three.”
“Yes, sir.” Slavin nodded.
Frey tensed as the captain turned to her.
“Everything okay with your cargo, Tecky?”
“My screens went off for a few seconds, but there was no damage to the ice or the Viking that I could see. I’ve also written a report for FREN if you wish to read it.”
Travis nodded. “Hell no, that’s fine. Just make sure you send a copy along with Slavin’s and any extra data you gathered when you checked your systems to FREN and every other damn agency that will insist on seeing it.”
“Yes, sir.” Frey sank back into her chair aware that Slavin was watching her closely. She made sure her telepathic shields were as high as she could before rising to her feet and nodding at the other crew members.
“I’m going to get something to eat. Is anyone coming?” Frey asked in her most cheerful I have nothing to hide voice.
Slavin joined her in the elevator, her blond hair neatly tied back in a ponytail, her expression concerned.
“Why should anything be wrong?” Frey asked.
“Because before you shoved your shields up, I sensed that you weren’t telling the captain the entire truth. Is everything okay with your cargo?”
“He’s fine. It’s just that I forgot to put my gloves on last night and touched the ice barehanded. I’m worried I might have contaminated the space.”
“The Viking’s still frozen stiff, right?”
“Yeah he is.”
The doors of the elevator opened on the mess level. “Then you should be okay.”
Frey followed Slavin out of the elevator. “You don’t know FREN. They are really strict about proper procedure, and I’m a science officer. I should have remembered to keep the atmosphere pollutant free.”
“It was an emergency situation. You did your best.” Slavin said firmly. She pushed open the mess hall door. “Now come and get something to eat.”