Larry, an undercover agent for the Interstellar Exploration Program, stumbles on a covert operation by Zilon, a ruthless member planet of the Galactic Union. In the process, a fellow agent is killed. He seeks to expose the operation and obtain retribution for his dead colleague, but the Ziloni frame him and he becomes a fugitive from the Union.
Larry flees to present-day Earth, where the existence of the Union is unknown. Karen is an Earthgirl seeking the man responsible for her sister’s death. She mistakes Larry for the killer, and unwittingly stows away on his spaceship.
Unable to return to Earth because Ziloni ships are waiting for him, Larry’s only chance is to infiltrate a Ziloni military base and obtain evidence to clear his name. Karen has to accompany Larry on his dangerous mission.
They land on Zilon undetected, and survive capture by guards and a terrifying ordeal in the military base. Karen’s help is pivotal to their success.
They make their escape from the planet, with the vital evidence they have obtained, and avoid recapture by Ziloni secret agents. Larry smuggles Karen into the Union where he delivers the evidence to clear him. In the process, he is critically wounded.
As Larry fights for his survival and recovers, Karen finds that her reckless decision to stowaway has ended with her finding a new life and love among the stars.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I have had the outline structure in my head for a number of years. The key idea I wanted to explore was how a present-day Earth woman would react if she accidentally stowed away on an alien spacecraft.
I gradually fleshed out the main elements of the plot in my mind until I had the whole plot outline in reasonable shape. Then I started to write the whole story, adding additional plot features to increase the suspense and conflicts.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
One of the main protagonists was the Earth woman whose dilemma I wanted to explore, and her character was governed by what she did and how I wanted her to react to her dilemma, and to grow in personality as she coped with her situation.
The other main protagonist was the man whose spacecraft she stowed away on, and I needed him to be the sort to get himself in a difficult situation but have the boldness to take risks to solve his conflicts.
The story revolves very much around these two characters, and remaining characters were essentially just “bit parts”.
Sitting in his favourite bar enjoying an early evening beer, Larry looked up with interest when the girl walked in. Something about her did not seem quite right.
She was fairly tall, about a metre seventy, with a generous figure. In her late twenties at a rough guess. Casually dressed in a tee shirt, jeans and trainers. A bit too much make up on her plump face, with stylish glasses framed by blonde, shoulder-length hair. Yes, that was it. She wore a wig – and not a very good one, at that.
Week after week he saw the same people in the bar, tucked away at the end of Bridge Street. A new face made a welcome distraction from his enforced idleness. The novelty of living on this primitive planet had long since faded.
The bar was quiet and cool despite the heat of the day outside. Only the faint swish of the fan overhead intruded on the silence. The other customers were absorbed in their dominoes game, oblivious to both him and the girl.
In spite of the wig he found her attractive, and he studied her more closely. She also seemed to be wearing padding and cheek pads to make her look larger. He tried to picture her without the padding, glasses and wig – and maybe with a blouse and short skirt as well. That might be very interesting.
To his embarrassment, she caught him staring. He looked away, but not before he had seen the hostility in her gaze.
She ordered a drink and sat down at the other end of the bar, on a seat facing him. Her light, graceful stride belied her apparently well-built body. Her hand never strayed far from her small clutch bag, and it gave a heavy clunk when she put it down. She sipped her wine and shot him at least a couple more hostile stares. Then, with a hurried glance at her watch, she left without finishing her drink. That was odd.
Larry turned his mind back to his own problems. He hated being on the run from the Galactic Union, all that was left to him since he’d been framed by the damned Ziloni. Sure, he’d found this nice little hideout here on Earth, where no one was aware of the existence of the Union. He had all the latest audio-visual equipment to keep himself entertained in the up-market apartment he’d rented.
But after eight weeks, he could only read for so long and he’d watched all the good movies. He’d also had about as much as he could stand of current affairs, the interminable soap operas and the reality shows that dominated the TV channels. He had even contemplated taking a job, but the hassle of getting the necessary documents had deterred him. He’d had enough trouble with a fake driving licence and paperwork for his car.
He finished his beer. The slightly bitter taste made a refreshing change from anything he’d had at home, but he didn’t feel like another at the moment. He toyed with the empty glass, contemplating what to do instead. He might as well make another reconnaissance trip. The chances were remote that anything had changed, but he liked to make regular trips to check whether the hunt for him had died down, and at the moment he needed action.
Larry strolled out to his sleek red Audi convertible. As he approached the car, his mind drifted back to the girl in the bar and the way she had looked at him. Had her hostile gaze been personal, or the result of his own obtrusive stares? And what reason could she have to change her appearance with that clumsy disguise?
He flicked his remote control to disable the car’s aversion field – no worries about leaving it with the top down when he had that on board. He slid into the driver’s seat and gunned the motor. The car was fancier than he needed, but he enjoyed the feel of the wind and the impression of speed from the low driving seat, and he had plenty of cash to spare from the gemstones he had sold. Driving was one of the few pleasures left to enjoy at present.
He followed his familiar route into the countryside and up into the hills, which were taking on a golden hue in the evening sunshine. On the open road, with no other traffic about, he eased his frustration by powering the car into the bends. After half an hour, he turned off the road and down a narrow rutted track. It was an uncomfortable route, but he had chosen his destination for its seclusion. No one ever came this way, which made it ideal for his purpose. Up here, high in the hills, the air was cooler, the hedges were wild and ragged and the grass thin and wiry. Even the trees looked tired, in contrast to the lush growth in the valley far below, as if worn out by the fight for survival.
Larry’s target came into view as he crested a small rise – a large, old, stone-built barn in a hollow surrounded by trees. Several stones in the wall were crooked and the slate roof leaned slightly. Two large wooden doors filled most of the front end wall. They were riddled with woodworm, unpainted and grey from age, but they had been made to last and were still secure.
He stopped the car well clear of the barn and deactivated the barn’s aversion field with his remote. No one could fight the strong field protecting the barn, even if they knew what it was – they would be laid low with nausea long before they got close to the doors. It was the only reason he dared park his ship here in his old barn, instead of having to keep it in a parking orbit.
He got out of the car, strolled over to the doors and swung them open. Except when the doors were open, one small window, high up in the gable end, provided the only light, and most of that came from a missing pane of glass. The remaining panes were thick with grime and cobwebs.
He drove his car into the barn and parked it alongside his ship, which took up the rest of the space inside. The air inside the barn had a characteristic musty smell from years of accumulated dust and decay. He swung out of the car without a backward glance and crossed over to his craft. A brief pressure on the door release pad brought it folding down to form two steps up into the interior.
The already dim light in the barn faded further and a crash made him jump. What the hell was that? Oh, just a gust of wind that had caught one of the barn doors and swung it shut. Better now than as he backed the ship out. It took him a minute or two to find a pair of rocks to wedge the doors open. A brisk, chilly breeze had sprung up, along with heavy clouds promising a shower before long. He should be away before it arrived, though.
He activated the motor to counteract local gravity, lifted the ship and guided it carefully out of the barn, floating about twenty centimetres from the ground. Once clear of the building he settled it back onto its supporting legs, barely marking the dry, rocky soil.
He closed the barn doors, reset the aversion field and walked briskly back. He climbed the steps and closed the door behind him, swinging down the lever that ensured it was secure. Turning toward the cockpit, he slipped through the narrow aisle between the pairs of seats and settled into the front left-hand position. The familiar routine helped him to relax. As he sat at the controls, he could almost feel as if things were back to normal and he was still an agent of the Interstellar Exploration Programme, instead of a wanted fugitive, on the run from the Galactic Union.
He eased up on the thrust control stick to lift well clear of the surface and pitched up to the vertical. The gravity compensator kicked in with a gentle hum, counteracting the effect of acceleration so that there was no sense of motion. He accelerated smoothly upward until his atmospheric speed indicator showed Mach 0.9. The initial whisper of air over the hull and control surfaces rose to a muted roar, like the sound of a distant waterfall.
The ground fell away behind him. The view vanished briefly as he punched through the edge of the threatening shower cloud and again, much higher up, as he passed through another thin cloud layer.
Gradually the sky darkened from eggshell blue to indigo to black, while the airflow noise faded to the faintest whisper. It was peaceful out here beyond the atmosphere, with the hum from the gravity compensator barely perceptible and the gravity wave drive silent as always. It didn’t matter how many times he flew, Larry still loved the contrast of the peacefulness with the raw power of the drive unit so casually overwhelming the gravitational pull of the planet. He could have let the automatics do all the flying, but the buzz of feeling the ship respond to his control inputs was much more rewarding.
He rotated the ship to his required heading. In spite of the automatic shields, the sun was dazzling in the incongruous pitch black darkness of the sky, casting razor-sharp shadows in the cabin. He rolled away from the glare, which brought the panorama of the Earth’s surface into the overhead position of the canopy and bathed the cabin in muted Earthlight.
Larry eased the thrust stick most of the way forward and the speed began to build. The arc of the Earth moved backward across the canopy, slowly at first but progressively faster until it was out of view, the cabin lights brightening to compensate for the loss of Earthlight. He trimmed the stick to maintain the thrust and settled back for the ride out to the hyperspace boundary.
A few minutes passed peacefully, then a voice behind him shattered the silence.
‘Hello, Grant. I bet you didn’t expect to meet me again.’
He leapt up and spun round. It was the girl from the bar, now sitting in his rear seat and pointing a gun at his head.
About the Author:
Graham Keeler was born in Hertfordshire and grew up in neighbouring Essex. He studied Physics at Queen Mary College, London, and graduated in 1965 with First Class Honours, continuing to a PhD in 1969. He lectured in Physics at Salford University from 1970, developing an interest in the computational side of the subject. He retired from full-time teaching in 2002, but continued to work part-time at the University until 2012.
His interests include badminton and tennis, which he still plays on a regular basis, representing local clubs in league matches. He also enjoys playing bridge, and flying. He has a private pilot’s licence and has toured in the UK and abroad, making his longest journey in 2002, to Marrakesh. He is fascinated by anything to do with space travel, and applied to be a British candidate for the first American Spacelab mission.
He has written, co-authored and edited seven books on various aspects of microcomputers and the development of physics software simulations. Stowaway to the Stars is his first science fiction novel.
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