This month is the third anniversary of my m/m sci-fi book An Endless Sea of Stars, so I’m showing Lieutenant Tobias Dekker and Commander Caden Flynn some love on this Throwback Thursday. Stop by my blog to read the first chapter for FREE! And it’s ON SALE for only $0.99 at my Payhip site! https://payhip.com/jamielynnmiller
AN ENDLESS SEA OF STARS
The Florida sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky as twenty-three year old Tobias Dekker made his way down the boardwalk, adjusting the collar of one of his many colorfully patterned shirts, his flip-flops smacking against the weather-beaten wood.
Another day in paradise, he thought, looking up as a shuttlecraft buzzed by overhead, coming from one of the resorts, heading to the landing pad here at the marina.
A few more steps and Toby pulled open the door to Captain Hook’s Fishing Charter and Dive Center, taking off his sunglasses and tucking them into his shirt pocket. He ran a hand through his short blond hair, his blue eyes scanning around the interior of the shop. He inhaled deeply, a smile crossing his face at the familiar smell of the ocean that permeated even inside. Hook’s had been his home away from home throughout most of his teenage and young adult years. It meant even more to him now that he was living on the other side of the country in San Francisco and didn’t make it down here as often as he wished.
He made his way toward the front counter, weaving through the many tourists, both human and alien, who were browsing the scuba and fishing equipment, eager to start their ocean adventure here in the Keys. Toby couldn’t help but do a double-take at a species he’d only seen on holo vids. He hadn’t realized that the small, orange-skinned Woldun had begun visiting Florida.
He smiled and shook his head. It shouldn’t surprise him. So many things had changed in the last fifteen years. He’d only been eight years old in 2106 when the first alien species made contact with Earth. That was two years after manned space flight broke free of both the Earth’s and the moon’s orbit and struck out into the Milky Way. All thanks to the StarDrive engine and the Gemini prototype spacecraft. Eighteen months later astronauts had visited all nine planets and then explored nearly every corner of the Milky Way. Plans were made to begin construction of a NASA base on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
Alien enthusiasts all over the planet were crushed to receive absolute proof that there was no other intelligent life in our solar system. But their disappointment soon turned to absolute joy when an alien spaceship appeared in the sky above California. The Malorians had arrived.
They truly came in peace, as cliché as it sounded. They felt that Earth was technologically advanced enough now to make first contact and wished to explore diplomatic relations.
Flash forward fifteen years to today, 2121. Thanks to a successful relationship with the large, brown-furred cat-like Malorians, Earth now had contact with over a dozen different alien species. Diplomatic and economic agreements were made and trade between worlds began to flourish.
The Malorians also became scientific advisors and helped form a new Earth agency, the Intergalactic Exploration Alliance. It was dedicated to the advancement of the Gemini project, to eventually break the fourth light speed barrier and get spacecraft beyond our own solar system. The second barrier had been broken. Once the StarDrive engine broke the final barrier Earth would be on its way to the far edges of the universe. It would be a momentous time in Earth’s history.
“Well look what the cat dragged in!” a voice boomed from the back of the store, pulling Toby from his musings.
Toby smiled broadly at the friendly greeting as he walked up to the counter, sticking out his hand to the man behind it. One look at Hank Hanley and you’d immediately know he was the owner. Tall and broad, with salt and pepper hair tied back in a pony-tail that tried to disguise his true age of fifty-six, with a skull and crossbones tattooed on the upper arm of his deeply tanned skin. Hanley was a sailor through and through.
“Hey, Hank!” The two men grasped hands warmly and Toby was pulled into a one arm hug over the top of the counter.
“Great to see you, kid,” Hank smiled. “Been too long.”
Toby came around behind the counter. “Well you’ve got me for awhile this time.”
“I’ll have to send the Alliance a thank you note ‘cause business is booming and I could really use the help.”
“Well put me to work, then! Been too long since I’ve been out in the water.”
Hank clapped Toby on the shoulder. “Funny you should say that ‘cause I’ve got you down for an open water dive certification consultation this morning. Guy should be here shortly.”
Toby nodded. “He’s completed the academics and confined water work?”
“Says he has, but not from me. Need you to go over his paperwork, get him signed up for his first dive.”
“Can do, boss!” Toby saluted jokingly.
“I see the Alliance is finally making you treat your elders with respect,” Hank winked, then hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Gotta get back to the tourists. Holler if you need anything.”
“Yes, boss!” Toby replied with a smirk then turned and sat at the desk behind the counter, his back to the front of the store. He had no more than begun to shuffle through the mess of data pads on Hank’s desk, looking for at least the name of the guy he’d be teaching to scuba dive, when he heard someone clear their throat behind him. Toby stood and turned around, blinking and doing his second double-take of the day at the man that stood before him. He was in his mid-30’s, short brown hair, dressed in faded blue cargo pants and a gray Henley t-shirt, with aviator style sunglasses perched on the top of his head.
“Excuse me,” the man said. “I’m – “
“Commander Flynn!” Toby burst out. Eyes wide, he stepped forward and nearly tripped on the leg of the chair as he extended his hand.
Caden Flynn tipped his head to the side as he shook Toby’s hand. “Have we met?”
“Yes! I mean, no! I mean…” Toby fell over his words before taking a breath. “Lieutenant Tobias Dekker, sir. You were a guest lecturer at my advanced engineering class last semester. Amazing speech, sir.”
Flynn grinned. “Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Alliance, eh? What are you doing down here, working at a dive shop?”
“Oh, I’m from Florida, sir,” Toby answered. “I’ve finished all my courses and I’m awaiting my orders. Sort of on my summer vacation.”
Flynn nodded. “Been there myself. The waiting’s the hardest part, wondering where you’re going to be assigned.”
Toby sighed. “Tell me about it, sir. You’re a long way from Alliance HQ yourself. What brings you to the Keys?”
Flynn set a data pad down on the counter. “I’m actually here to complete my dive certification.”
Toby’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me! You’re looking at your instructor, sir.”
“Well I know I’m in good hands, then,” Flynn smiled warmly, holding Toby’s gaze and Toby felt a tiny flip-flop in his stomach. He swallowed and looked down, busying himself with the pad on the counter.
He touched the screen and flipped through the documents. “So…umm, why complete your certification out here, sir? There is an ocean just off the coast of California,” he grinned.
Flynn shrugged. “Heard the diving down here was excellent. And just…wanted to get away from the Alliance for a few days. Speaking of which, since we’re both off-duty, so to speak, call me Cade, okay?”
Toby nodded. “Okay, then, call me Toby.”
He looked back down at the pad. “I see you passed your academics with flying colors, not to mention your confined water dives, si—er, Cade,” Toby commented, finding it a bit strange to address the Commander by a nickname but enjoying it just the same. He looked back up. “I’m impressed! I don’t see scores like this too often, especially on someone’s first try.”
Cade shrugged. “What can I say? I’m an over-achiever.”
“Well you shouldn’t have any problem with the open water portion, then. We’ll need to schedule five dives.”
Cade looked thoughtful. “I guess I’ll have to do this in stages, then. I’m only down here for another two days. But I get a long weekend once a month. Can we schedule one for tomorrow then a couple for next month and the following one as well?”
“Sure, sure, we can do that,” Toby replied, reaching for the pad with the dive schedules.
“Does that mean you’ll still be down here in August?” Cade inquired and Toby paused at the hopeful note in Cade’s voice.
“Umm, yeah, actually. I’ll be here ‘til the 15th.”
Cade’s smile lit up his hazel eyes. “Perfect. I mean, I’d hate to start with one instructor and then have to switch to another, you know?” Cade explained quickly, then cleared his throat. “So…what do you have available for tomorrow?”
Toby blinked, suddenly feeling a bit off-kilter around Cade. “Ummm…” he pulled his gaze away from the other man. “How ‘bout one o’clock?”
“Works for me,” Cade answered.
“Do you need to rent gear? We’ve got everything here.”
Cade shook his head. “Nope, I’ve got my own. Just need a tank.”
Toby typed in Cade’s name on the schedule. “Not a problem. Looks like I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
Cade stuck out his hand, which Toby shook, and which Cade held onto for a heartbeat longer than normal. “Looking forward to it,” he replied, then pulled his sunglasses down and turned and headed for the front door.
Toby stood there stock-still until the door closed behind Cade and then he sat down heavily in the chair behind him.
What the hell just happened?
He was still sitting there staring off into space five minutes later when Hank’s voice roused him.
“You’re doin’ an awfully good impression of a fish out of water with your mouth hanging open like that.”
Toby snapped his jaw shut but must’ve still had a confused look on his face.
“What’s with you, kid?”
“Do you have any idea who that guy was?”
Toby jumped to his feet. “It was Commander Flynn! Caden Flynn!”
Hank furrowed his brow. “He’s an Alliance guy?”
“Not just any Alliance guy, the Alliance guy! His father built the StarDrive engine! Without that, we’d still be stuck on Earth!” Toby started to pace, hands flying around. “It’s my Holy Grail, for cryin’ out loud! It’s what I’ve been striving for since I joined the Alliance. To work on that engine and the Gemini project! And Cade…he’s a legend in his own right. The man’s amazing. Best test pilot in the Alliance. We will break that third barrier and it will be because of him. That man’s gonna be captain of the first intergalactic ship, too, I guarantee it. And what are the chances he walks in here and I get to teach him to dive?! It’s nuts!”
Toby stopped his excited pacing to see Hank looking at him, amused, arms crossed over his chest.
“Sounds like you got a case of hero worship goin’ on. Or is it more than that? I mean, I wouldn’t blame you. He’s a good lookin’ guy.”
Toby was taken aback. “What? No, it’s not like that. I just admire the man, that’s all.”
“Mmm-hmm. Last time I saw you this worked up about a guy you were asking him to move in with you.”
Toby made a face. “Yeah, and look how that turned out. The Alliance and relationships don’t mix. I found that out the hard way. I’m never going down that road again. Besides, I’m not attracted to him.”
Hank pushed away from the counter with an arched eyebrow and a smirk.
“I’m not! Really…I’m not,” he called after the other man, but deep down Toby wondered who he was trying to convince.
PAYHIP: ON SALE FOR ONLY $0.99! https://payhip.com/jamielynnmiller