Hunted and on the run, galactic smuggler Angel Torrence steals a ship to escape capture, not realizing until too late that the ship's computer, not she, is in control. Its disembodied voice - sounding arrogant and oddly male - blares out of the Icarus' control panel, ordering her to set a course for the most perilous planet in the known universe.
Angel has no choice but to go along with the Colonel's plans - and wait for an opportunity to escape. But she never expected the colonel's physique to be so magnificent or his heart to be so courageous. For the first time in her life, she might be falling in love. Too bad he thinks she's a boy. She's going to tell him the truth - just as soon as she retrieves his body from the Harvesters, restore his life essence and helps him complete his mission. What can go wrong?
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Read an Excerpt
Too Close to the Sun
By Robin T. Popp
Copyright © 2003
Robin T. Popp
All right reserved.
West Coast Beach
Las Vegas, Nevada
Earth, 2503 AD
"You're not afraid."
It was more observation than question and Nicoli Alexandres
Romanof did not bother to respond. Though he could sense his
friend's unease, short of changing his mind, there was nothing
he could do to lessen it.
There were others on the beach, enjoying the night-fishing,
the stars, the moonlight, each other. A couple sat watching as
the incoming surf chased their young children up the shore.
Their peals of laughter floated to Nicoli on a salty breeze
and mingled with the soft crash of waves. For a moment he
paused to watch, conscious of his lack of happy childhood
memories. A pang of guilt assailed him and he wished he could
warn them all, send them away to safety. But he couldn't. He
wouldn't. If the beach were empty, then they wouldn't come,
and it was imperative that they show up. Even knowing that
some of the others on the beach would die horribly tonight did
not alter his resolve. He tried to find solace in the
knowledge that what he was doing was more important than the
loss of these innocent lives; that the good of many often
comes at the sacrifice of a few. Failing, he forced his
attention back to his task.
"This will do," he said softly, selecting a patch of beach
somewhataway from the others.
The older man merely nodded and reached into his inner jacket
pocket to remove a slim silver disc, no larger than the palm
of his hand. Next he took off the chain he wore around his
neck, at the end of which hung a clear crystal tube, about
four fingers' width in length. He stared at them, doubt
clearly in his eyes.
"It'll work," Nicoli reassured him, nodding to the disc.
"This is not your best idea, Alex."
Nicoli smiled at the use of his middle name. Only Yanur
Snellen persisted in calling him Alex because, in Yanur's
words, "Colonel Romanof was too military and Nicoli sounded
too formal." Nicoli tolerated it, not because Yanur was the
most brilliant scientist he'd ever met, but because Yanur was
his friend. In a universe full of people, he only had one of
"If the Harvestors do show up tonight," Yanur continued, "and
this plan of yours works, it could be days, even weeks, before
your life essence is returned to your body." He paused before
quietly adding, "I don't know if I'll be able to put it back."
"If you can't put me back, then have my body programmed for
sex and give it to your maiden aunt as a present. Don't think
I haven't seen the way she looks at me. This way, the old girl
can do what she wants with my body and I won't be around to
"This is no time to joke."
"I'm not joking." He looked up and saw the concern in his
friend's eyes. "Okay, I'm sorry. Look, I have complete faith
in you, Yanur. You'll do your best."
"What if my best isn't good enough? You may actually succeed
in killing yourself this time."
"I'm not afraid to die," Nicoli assured him.
"That's what worries me."
"Yanur, the Harvestors must be stopped. Their systematic
annihilation of our people can not be allowed to continue."
Nicoli looked out across the horizon, his patience wearing
"I agree. But who made it your responsibility to save the
"Why? Why you?"
"Because I have the military experience. Because I have no
family to leave behind." He turned to face Yanur and looked
him directly in the eyes. "And because I figured out how." His
tone left no room for further argument. "Now let's get on with
this. The night is getting old."
Nicoli lay down on the beach, raising his arms to place his
hands, fingers interlocked, beneath his head. He crossed his
legs at the ankles and for all appearances seemed to be
resting peacefully. Farther down the beach, other
"moon-sleepers" lay in similar poses.
Resignedly, Yanur knelt and placed the silver disc on Nicoli's
forehead. He stood the tube on the disc, then ran his finger
along the side to activate a hidden switch, but hesitated at
the last moment.
"Are you sure there is no other way?" he asked, voice gruff
The answer was in Nicoli's grim expression. "Remember, once
the transfer is complete, leave. It won't be safe. Come back
at the first light of dawn. If my body's been taken, go to the
ship. Richardson will be waiting for you. If my body is still
here, we'll try again tomorrow."
"Don't argue with me. Just do as I say." Nicoli suffered a
moment's hesitation as children's laughter floated to him once
more. He cursed himself mentally for being weak, knowing that
despite a lifetime of practice, he had failed to rid himself
of all emotion. How many great plans failed because emotions
got in the way? At thirty-eight, he was getting soft. "One
more thing," he said softly. "When you leave, take that family
Yanur nodded and then, with their gazes locked, he pressed the
Immediately, Nicoli's eyes went blank and a wispy, amber light
seeped out of his body. The light grew stronger as it formed a
cocoon around the prone figure. The top of the tube opened
automatically with a quiet hiss. Yanur watched, with some
satisfaction, as the light gathered and was then sucked into
When all the light was contained inside, the lid lowered,
making a slight clicking noise when the tube was properly
sealed. Yanur placed two fingers against Alex's neck and only
removed them when he felt the strong, steady beating of a
pulse. It had worked! He was still alive, or at least his body
was. Even the worry of what lay ahead was not enough to
squelch a moment's elation for an experiment gone right.
He picked up the tube, now brightly glowing with Alex's life
essence, and secured it to the chain before hanging it around
his neck. He returned the silver disc to his pocket and lifted
his gaze to the night sky for a quick check. All was quiet.
He walked across the beach to talk to the young family, then
stood by and watched as they gathered their children and
belongings and headed for home. Once they were gone, he
returned to his friend's side and, ignoring the earlier order
to leave, settled down to wait.
Less than an hour later, an isolated portion of the night sky
began to shimmer and, like a hologram taking on definition and
substance, an alien spaceship appeared. Caught dozing, Yanur
scrambled to his feet, looking fearfully upward. Clutching the
tube hanging from his necklace in a death grip, he gave Alex's
body a final look and a silent prayer, then turned and ran
from the beach.
* * *
Skeeter's was the last remaining icon of an era gone by.
Situated at the remote end of the Las Vegas Coastal Airfield,
the Old World pub offered sanctuary to world-weary travelers
down on their luck. It was a place best avoided by
self-respecting, law-abiding citizens and the last place one
would look to find a young woman of good breeding and affluent
family. Which was precisely why Angel Torrence called it home.
Sitting now in the cockpit of her Falcon XLT, she studied the
pub's lights shining from across the tarmac. It had been a
safe place to hide these past two years. Given the
circumstances, she'd almost been happy here. But she needed to
This time would be different though. She ran a hand lovingly
along the console of her ship. Now she had the means to go
anywhere she wanted. With the money she'd earned from this
last job, she could make the final payment. This ship
Freedom. She'd been on the run since she was fifteen. Running
from those who wished to control her, use her for their own
purposes. Running from those who refused to let her go. There
had been times along the way when she hadn't known if she
would survive. But she was tougher, and luckier, than she
looked. Now she worked as an independent galactic courier. She
wasn't a certified pilot because that required registration
and a background check. But her lack of certification only
affected the clientele she attracted. Transporting illegal
goods wasn't always easy, but it was lucrative.
Right now, she had a job to finish and the sooner the better.
Dugan would be waiting to hear how things went on Felinea.
More important, he'd want his money.
Angel obtained final clearance for the Falcon with the Control
Tower, verified that the stasis field was in place and
prepared to disembark. Taking a cap from the closet, she
pulled it low over her head, casting her face into shadow. She
checked the gun in her shoulder holster, knowing it would be
well concealed beneath the flight jacket. When she reached for
the satchel containing Dugan's money and hefted it over her
shoulder, pain lanced through her side, reminding her that the
gash there was still raw. Sneaking a look beneath the jacket,
she could see that blood had soaked through her homemade
bandage to her shirt. But the stain was small and dry, so she
figured the bleeding had stopped and she wouldn't need
stitches after all.
Moving cautiously, she left the ship.
The sun was just beginning its ascent across the eastern sky,
painting the airfield in grayish blues and pinkish yellows.
Turning to her ship, she gave it a cursory once over.
Everything appeared in order. As much out of habit as
curiosity, she took note of her neighbors. Most of the ships
she knew by sight. On the left hovered TJ's derelict cruiser,
the kind typically used for common trade. On the right was a
sleek little number she'd not seen before. A real beaut. A
small three- or four-person craft designed for high-speeds and
long distances. She wondered if it handled as good as it
looked and ignored a twinge of longing to find out. Drawn by
peculiar openings on either side of the nose, she stepped
closer. Smartly embedded in the outer paneling were PCPs:
pulse cannon portals. Definitely not your standard aircraft.
It looked like Government Issue, but that didn't make sense.
The United System of Planets' Security Forces had its own
airfield not far from here.
Bold blue letters across the side spelled the ship's name,
Icarus. The name sounded familiar to her. She searched her
memory of ancient Earth folklore and remembered a character
from Greek mythology who had fashioned wings out of wax and
feathers to fly. Unfortunately, he had foolishly flown too
close to the sun, causing the wax to melt. He had plummeted to
his death. Angel couldn't help but wonder if this was an
appropriate name for a starship. Maybe the ship's owner had a
sick sense of humor. Which negated the government theory
seeing as how the government had no sense of humor, sick or
Turning from the ship, Angel scanned the tarmac once again
before starting across. The sense of foreboding that started
last evening before she left for Felinea was getting worse. If
what happened there was any indication of what was to come,
the sooner she left, the better.
Inside Skeeter's, things were quiet. Only the die-hard patrons
were still up and about at this hour. A few heads turned
briefly at her entrance. Across the room, Martin stood behind
the bar, cloth in hand, wiping down the counter. Ol' Joe was
passed out in his usual spot, head down, a thin stream of
drool leaking from the corner of his mouth to pool on the
countertop below. Over by the stairs, Pixie was finishing
"business" negotiations with a potential client. Angel had to
admire the older woman's stamina. This was probably her tenth
customer tonight. Others sat around gaming tables, wagering
and drinking ale. It was the same scene as a hundred times
before, right down to the outsider sitting in the corner.
He looked out of place drinking coffee, but he was minding his
own business. Angel could respect that.
She gave a mental shrug as she moved into the room. She had
her own problems to worry about. The door to Dugan's office
was closed and she knew better than to knock. Martin had no
doubt pressed the button under the counter alerting Dugan to
her arrival, so she headed over to the bar to wait.
"How ya doin,' Angel?" Martin's smile was warm and friendly.
She was afraid her own came across looking more like a grimace
as she tucked the toe of her boot under the bottom rung of a
stool and pulled it out. Hiking a hip onto the seat, she left
one foot on the floor for balance. With some effort she lifted
the satchel off her shoulder and onto the countertop.
"Jeez girl, what happened to you?"
Angel looked up and saw Martin staring at where her jacket
gaped open at the side. She quickly pulled it closed.
"Don't give me that. I know blood when I see it. You run into
trouble on Felinea?"
"Nothing I couldn't handle. You should see the other guy." As
a joke, it didn't work.
"Yeah?" He sounded skeptical. "Maybe I should take a look at
it. Clean it up. Do a little sewing?"
Martin didn't press her further, but instead reached under the
bar to pull out a double-shot glass, which he filled with an
iridescent sky-blue liquid.
He pushed the glass toward her. She downed the icy cool liquid
in a single swallow. Martian Ale went down cold, but arrived
hot. As the warmth spread throughout her body, she felt the
pain in her side ease.
Angel pushed the empty shot glass across the counter,
indicating with her hand that Martin should fill it again.
He gave her a questioning look. "You never drink more than
one. That side of yours must be hurting."
"I'm celebrating," she said, watching him fill the glass
"Really? Care to share the good news?"
"As of tonight, I am the proud owner of one Falcon XLT space
craft." Tonight, for the first time in my life, I'm free. But
she didn't say it out loud.
"And at such a young age, too." Martin smiled. "Well, I guess
congratulations are in order." He pushed the refilled shot
glass toward her, then poured a smaller one for himself. They
raised their glasses in a silent toast and downed the
contents. This time the icy burn wasn't as startling to her
"What's the story on the stiff in the corner?" Angel wanted to
change the subject.
"Don't know. He doesn't talk much, just sits and drinks
coffee. Every now and then, he'll look at his watch and go
outside. I followed him once, just to see where he went."
"And?" Angel prompted when he paused.
"And nothing. He walks over to that sleek little number on the
field, you know the one I mean, and just stands there for a
minute like he's waiting for someone. Then he comes back here
and orders more coffee."
Angel lazily pondered what the man was up to. Thanks to the
Martian Ale, she felt almost as good as new. Her hands
absently played with the empty shot glass as her attention
wandered down the bar.
"I miss something?" She nodded toward the images flitting
across the vid-screen.
"Harvestor attack, not far from here. West Beach."
Angel absorbed the news in shock. She'd just flown over that
area not an hour ago. "Damn."
"Yeah." Martin nodded. "It's getting so decent folk aren't
safe going out at night."
Angel shot him a look, eyebrows raised. How long had it been
since either of them had been considered "decent folk?"
"Point is, no one is safe anymore." He focused his look at her
"I can take care of myself."
"Torrence!" A male voiced bellowed. "Get your ass in here."
"Then again ..." She pushed the empty glass toward Martin and
slid from the stool. "Been nice knowing you." This time she
hardly winced when she hefted the satchel onto her shoulder.
With more calm than she felt, she walked into the back room.
Alistar "Skeeter" Dugan, Underground Boss of the West Side,
was in his mid-fifties and sported an athletic build just
starting to go soft. His commanding presence gave him the
stature his average height could not. He was overbearing,
unforgiving, and his sense of humor had died along with his
wife and daughter ten years ago. He was not a man to be messed
with and Angel had no doubt that if she irritated him enough,
he would forget how much she reminded him of his daughter.
"It wasn't my fault," she said, walking across the room to his
desk. She slid the satchel off her shoulder and let it fall to
the desktop. "Here's your money."
"Not your fault?" Dugan shouted, slamming the door behind her.
"You shot the son of Felinea's leading crime boss!"
"Give me a break, it's not like I killed him. It was just a
"You shot off his-"
"I know what I shot off," Angel interrupted. "Look, the guy
was all over me. I told him I wasn't interested, but the more
I said 'no,' the more he heard 'yes.' I didn't have any other
choice. Besides, what's the big fuss? He's Felinean. It'll
Excerpted from Too Close to the Sun
by Robin T. Popp
Copyright © 2003 by Robin T. Popp.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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