Prologue

Orariel sighed, staring out over the sun-drenched hills of Yaidon. The rolling terrain was covered in a violet-hued grass, its stalks whispering in the light breeze as the bluish sun, Arvald, set lazily in the distance. The Alintean leaned back on the grass, folding his arms behind his head and relaxing on the ground. It was far too rare of a pleasure to be able to relax like this – he'd only come to Yaidon six or seven times in his life. If he survived until retirement, this was where he was going to live.

He closed his lime-colored eyes, savoring the feel of the gentle breeze on his lightly furred skin. The wind carried with it the smell of some of the flowers that dotted the field, and the trees behind him rustled softly, their branches adding to the symphony of nature that surrounded him.

Orariel lay there for a considerable length of time, his arms never leaving their position behind his head. With a sigh of contentment, he wished this moment could last forever. He knew it couldn't, but he wished it would nonetheless. Even aging N-Sec officers were allowed to have their fantasies.

He sat up, propping one knee up near his chest and draping an arm over it. He was getting close to retirement – he still had to survive that long, but he was getting there – and he could hardly wait. He'd been with N-Sec for almost four thousand cycles. It was time for a change. Only one-twenty more, and he was officially a free sentient. No more slaving over paperwork for him. He could lounge around at home and do absolutely nothing.

The Alintean stood, his joints popping as he rose. It was time to head back. He'd been on Yaidon for almost ten rotations, and he wanted to be back in time for work tomorrow. With one last longing glance at the gentle hills, Orariel turned and headed back toward the small city of Lonaris. His shuttle would be leaving soon, and he really didn't want to miss it.

Then again, it wasn't as if he had anything worth returning to on Nihran. Namrah, for all its vastness, was just a big cleanup he had to deal with. Every few minutes there was an Iharsh-Daraz causing trouble, or an argument between vendors, or a Heil getting drunk and trashing something… it just never ended. N-Sec was made out to be glorious, honorable work. Orariel felt more like a janitor.

Orariel chuckled to himself, breaking into a slow jog as he moved toward Lonaris. Namrah: the planet's fastest growing pile of problems. And when things began to show – when the leaks began to rain on anyone with any kind of standing in the city – it was N-Sec and its employees who got to clean up the aftermath.

This vacation had been good for him: it had been his first in over a thousand cycles. But all good things eventually come to an end. As the lights of Lonaris shone on the horizon, Orariel could feel his good spirits beginning to lower. Within the next rotation, he was going to be back at his desk, filing more paperwork than he could burn if he wanted to. He could hardly wait.

It wasn't all sarcasm – he did enjoy his work – but it got boring and repetitive. He enjoyed working for N-Sec – making a difference in the city, helping people, fixing the messes caused by lawless Iharsh-Daraz, et-cetera – but every now and then he just wanted to leave it all behind. Settle down somewhere with a loving wife, maybe raise a son… but he was well past his prime. No right-minded Alintean girl would look at him twice unless they needed help.

Orariel picked up his pace, breaking into a brisk run. He could feel the warm breeze as it raced across his body, the sensation sending little jolts of pleasure through his skin. As far as LifeMating went, he was out of the pool. He was battered, used up, tired and old. Not exactly the most stellar qualities for attracting a mate. He wasn't even that attractive. Some Alinteans aged gracefully. Not him. His proboscis was a tad too long. The lines in his face were too pronounced, and his eyes seemed almost sunken. The crest on his head wasn't as prominent as it was on some Alinteans, and his stature was slightly shorter than the usual seven feet. Instead, he hovered around the six-and-a-half foot mark. Short for an Alintean.

Lonaris grew closer as he ran down the hills, his three-toed feet pounding the hillside as he went. He'd grown used to his solitude, but that didn't mean he couldn't be envious of the younger males – those that had no difficulty in attracting the opposite sex. He had once met Commander Dartimien and had immediately been surprised by him. He was cold, calculating and methodical – everything a military leader should be. Surprisingly, he completely ignored (and even seemed intimidated by) his throng of fans. Apparently he was considered even more attractive than some of the most brilliant minds on Nihran. Why he would cast it away was beyond Orariel.

He reached the outer gates of Lonaris, slowing down to a brisk walk. The breeze was picking up a bit, blowing his wingflaps around like twin sheets of cloth. With a sigh of resignation, he pushed open the gates and stepped into the city, preparing to head back to Namrah and resume his duties as the Senior Officer at N-Sec HQ. Just what he wanted to do immediately following a nice, relaxing vacation.

Oh well. Someone had to do it. Might as well be him – at least that way, the job got done right.