Nin didn’t know what to expect when they crash-landed in the patch of green behind the dwelling. A wave of heat blasted him when he opened the cockpit door; this world was far too hot. The second thing Nin noticed was the odd smell of chlorine coming from an unusually small pond—they had landed next to an odd-looking body of water. He found the scent unusually calming. The sky was a bright blue, and the moist air reminded him of Xavi’s drunken breath after five pints. As far as he could tell from the star map, they’d arrived at a planet called Earth. Nin walked through the ship where everything was strewn about to the shuttle bay.
“Is everyone okay? Any injuries?” Nin yelled over his shoulder to Ferrix and Xavi.
“Yeah,” Ferrix said, rubbing his temples and following Nin to the shuttle bay. “Where are we?”
“I am confirming we are on Earth,” Nin said. He lacked his usual enthusiasm, even though he tried his hardest to mask it. He pressed a release, and stairs extended from the ship’s side to the grass below the shuttle bay.
Xavi, the loudest of all of them, asked, “Where are we on Earth?” He followed Nin and Ferrix, who were already descending the stairs to disembark the ship.
Nin touched the digital screen on his wristband. The ship’s AI-powered computer, F.U.C.K.D.E.E.P, which stood for First Universal Conscious Knowledge Desk Early Edition Program, whirled to action. “You’re in a town called Media, and it’s 21.9 miles from a large city called Philadelphia,” the ship’s computer responded briskly.
“I’m starving,” Xavi said, stepping onto the patch of green. “F.U.C.K.D.E.E.P, what is there to eat?”
The computer returned with results that usually varied from somewhat helpful to downright sassy: “If you are ever in Philadelphia, the Philly Taco is a delicacy you should try. You can find it in the city I mentioned, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Its reviews are, as they apparently say on Earth, a mixed bag.”
“I love tacos,” Xavi said. “Remember when we were on that planet in the Epsilon Eridani system. The tacos were radical!”
“The Philly Taco is a cheesesteak wrapped in a slice of pizza,” F.U.C.K.D.E.E.P clarified. “It sounds horrifying.”
“Man, that’s gross,” Ferrix said. “Do the people of this planet willingly eat that?”
“I don’t care. I’m going to fall over if I don’t eat something soon,” Xavi whined.
“It sounds oddly intriguing and equally disgusting,” Nin said.
He let the conversation die out as he looked around. It didn’t take long for the shock of their situation to settle in. They would be stuck here until Ferrix repaired the ship. He stood there for a long moment pondering the mission he and his colleagues were sent on. They needed to find suitable mates to take back to Erion, or their species wouldn’t survive. Nin didn’t anticipate the power of Earth’s gravitational pull, and he’d crash-landed in a suburban town where it wouldn’t take long until someone started asking questions he wasn’t prepared to answer.
A woman in a sleek business suit walked out of the dwelling and stared at them with a perplexed look.
Nin sensed Ferrix tense beside him. Ferrix always clenched his fists before he released the blue energy blades that could easily claw an enemy to death, but this female with the strange leg coverings didn’t appear threatening. Nin shot him a look to stand down so they scare her. Ferrix nodded, unflexing his fists to keep himself in check.
Nin cleared his throat. “Sorry to barge in like this, but we could use some help. I’m Nin, and this is Ferrix and Xavi,” he said, gesturing toward them. “I hate to say it, but we’ve been marooned.”
* * *
Rae looked at him with a stoic expression. She didn’t have time to figure out what on Earth these three men were doing in her backyard. Were they men? What was that thing next to the pool? It appeared to be some sort of flying vehicle, but nothing Rae had ever seen before. Breath. They aren’t aliens. There must be a rational explanation for them appearing out of nowhere, but either way, she would be late for work. Her boss was going to fire her. Rae was already under the gun. She didn’t need this on top of everything else. Rae also had no idea how to deal with this situation. She eyed the flying vehicle again. Maybe she should test her theory that perhaps they weren’t from this planet.
“So, you’re stranded on Earth,” Rae said, folding her arms.
“Yes,” Nin said. “We need some help until we can repair our ship.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Let me call someone,” Rae said while rolling her eyes. “I’ve got a great mechanic!”
“Good luck with that,” Ferrix said, with just as much sarcasm dripping from his voice. “It will take me a few days before I can get us back online.”
This couldn’t be happening. Clearly, she needed to make an appointment with her therapist because her anxiety had probably turned into a full-blown delusion, complete with hot alpha-male alien hallucinations. Three gorgeous men landed in her backyard and man if she didn’t want to be whisked away from her terrible marketing job and boring life. Wait. What was she saying? She must be dreaming, and that would explain everything. Rae pinched her arm. No dice. They were still staring at her with those reflective eyes that were making her stomach flip with ridiculous high school giddiness.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude,” Rae said, “but I have to go to work or wake up. But it was nice meeting you, but I’ve gotta run.” She turned around, whirling toward her kitchen door.
“Wait!” Nin exclaimed. “We’re stranded. We really need your help!”
Hearing that, she stopped in her tracks and turned back around. Her heart was beating rapidly. Rae squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again. Oh, my God. This was real. Her eyes started to water.
“Are you okay?” Nin asked.
Nin was the delicious looking man who stepped out of the broken vehicle behind him first. He was tall, tanned, and muscular. It looked like he had a nice body under his clothes, which resembled a uniform or military fatigues. His eyes were intense, and his dark hair was in a slick ponytail. Rae was drawn to his eyes. She couldn’t tell the color, but they were amazing and reminded her of moonlight. Rae found herself inexplicably wanting to brush her fingers against his cheek. Just stop it, she told her hormones to chill. It had been a while since she’d had sex with anyone. Not since her divorce, but this was a ridiculous situation. Rae started laughing. She held her sides as her belly jiggled. They were staring at her, their foreheads were furrowed and their eyebrows were raised.
“I’m sorry,” Rae said. “I think I might be losing my mind.”
“Losing your mind?” Xavi asked. “Where has it go—”
“I’m sure this comes as a shock to you,” Ferrix interrupted, shooting Xavi a look. “We mean you no harm.”
Xavi nodded. “We didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“I am Nin. This is Xavi and Ferrix.” Nin said again, gesturing toward the other two men.
“My name is Rae,” she responded. “I apologize for not welcoming you, but you’re our first aliens in Media.” Rae couldn’t help but laugh again. This was the wildest morning of her life!
Nin’s face scrunched up. “We’re from a planet called Erion. We were on a mission to help our planet when we crashed.”
“Oh? What’s your mission?” Rae asked.
“We’re seeking suitable partners for mating,” Ferrix said. “Could you tell me about your courtship rituals?”
Rae’s mouth dropped open. Her heart was beating so fast. She felt like she would pass out from the stress of it all. She was so nervous she couldn’t even put a sentence together. She started laughing again and found it impossible to stop. Her belly jiggled; her cheeks hurt from the strain of laughing so hard. There was something wrong with her. This was either a nervous breakdown, a psychotic episode, or Earth was under an alien invasion. Either way, she would enjoy this moment because she would have to deal with the harsh reality that this was a dream or an unfortunate side effect of her anxiety when she woke up tomorrow.
“Are you quite alright?” Nin asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. You asked me about my courtship rituals,” Rae said, still laughing and shaking her head.
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry, it’s just… it’s a long story, but we won’t survive unless we find mates who can bear our offspring,” Ferrix said solemnly.
His explanation only made it worse and she laughed harder. Ferrix frowned.
“I’d love to hear about your courtship rituals. I think it’s fascinating,” Nin said, his eyes gleaming as his gaze dropped to the neckline of her blouse. “When is your mating season?”
Here she was in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and these men were trying to ask her about dating. It was all too much for her. She thought about her ex-husband. Entertaining the idea of dating after their relationship ended made her eyes water again. Kat had been trying to convince her that the best way to get over someone is to hop on top of someone else, but Rae wasn’t down with that suggestion.
She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Earth doesn’t have a mating season.”
“But you must have rituals for pair bonding,” Ferrix insisted. “Tell me about them. I must understand your mating rituals.”
“We’ve never had a problem with a shortage of men,” Rae said. “We don’t have a mating season, and we don’t have any mating rituals.”
Nin and Ferrix exchanged glances, some sort of unspoken communication passing between them. Nin’s cheeks glowed blue for a second, and he wrung his hands. Maybe Rae imagined the blue blush that had crept to his face. Ferrix rubbed his chin as if he were trying to solve the puzzle and she was the puzzle.
“That is... unfortunate,” Nin said. “Perhaps you could tell us more about your customs so we can plan accordingly.”
Her horrible job working for Basil flashed through her mind. She had a decent home, but Rae also had a hefty mortgage she couldn’t afford on her own, not after the divorce wiped her out. Every day was the same excruciating grind, like Ground Hog’s Day. Rae also knew that she couldn’t hold onto the hurt and the pain forever. If Rae was honest, she hated her repetitive life. Granted, she knew nothing about the three sexy aliens who’d landed in her yard, but their appearance forcibly lifted her from her uninspiring life.
Rae stared at the three of them for a few moments, confident none of them would try to kill her or probe her or whatever it was aliens did to humans when they encountered them. What was she supposed to do? She didn’t believe in aliens. Rae had been to the National Air and Space Museum. She’d seen all the exhibits and knew they didn’t exist. Or did they? And they were asking her to explain the courtship rituals of Earth women.
“Sure, come with me,” Rae said as she turned back to the house and gestured for them to follow her. Getting them inside was probably a good idea considering the neighborhood busybodies in Media, especially Ruth from the homeowner’s association.
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