“Absolutely not! Have you lost your mind?” I glared across the desk, incredulous at what had popped out of my agent’s mouth. The woman couldn’t be serious. I’d been forced to perform some crazy stunts in my reality-show career, but this would take the cake.
“The ratings will go supernova,” Chantelle Aubergine said with a straight face.
“I don’t care about the ratings! This is my life we’re talking about.”
“You should care about the ratings—they keep you employed. Without good ratings, there would be no Sunny Weathers’ Excellent Adventures.”
Excellent adventures? What a crock. The reality show should be called Stick It to Sunny or Test How Much We Can Throw at Sunny Before She Loses It. The venture had started out as campy fun, but the stunts and segments had grown wilder and crazier. Now, I dreaded each new season.
“Sky diving, military boot camp, living in the jungle during monsoon season, working on a fishing boat, spending a month in the desert with the scorpions and snakes, I did it.”
Chantelle chuckled. “Military boot camp. Hilarious! You and Stormy were great.”
In the early years, my sister and I had teamed up to do the show, which had been called Sunny and Stormy’s Excellent Adventures. Then Devon had come along and put a halt to her career. To keep viewers engaged, Apogee Productions had upped the ante, demanding longer, weirder adventures.
“I draw the line at marrying a purple, scaly horned alien.”
“They’re not purple or scaly—although they do have horns. Women think they’re sexy.”
“The horns or the aliens?”
“I was referring to their horns, but both, actually.”
“Well, not me.” I shuddered. Dating out of my species did not interest me.
“You don’t understand what a great opportunity this is. The producers managed to get a slot for you. Do you have any idea how hard that is?” Chantelle said. “Since they’ve opened up the Terra-Dakon Exchange Program to all women instead of just convicted felons, women have rushed to enroll. There’s a waiting list a parsec long.”
“Then give someone else my slot. Slim as chances are for finding a husband, I’ll hold out for a human.” With more females than males on Terra, men had gotten picky, and few committed to monogamous long-term relationships anymore.
“I did some negotiating with Apogee on your behalf. I got them to sweeten the deal. You’ll get a bonus.” She grinned, a cat with a mouthful of bird feathers.
She could spin this as doing me a favor, but the truth was Chantelle had put the screws to Apogee because she received 10 percent of everything I earned. Besides, it was an agent’s job to negotiate for her client. But it was all moot. “No amount of money is worth marrying an alien,” I said.
“Technically, it’s not a marriage; it’s not a legal union on Terra.” She paused dramatically. “Apogee will pay you a two-million-dollar bonus on top of your regular salary.”
“Two million?” My jaw dropped. I received fifty K per episode, eight episodes per season. Sure, I earned more than the barista at the corner coffee shop, but a single “episode” took four to six weeks to shoot, and then you had to subtract Chantelle’s percentage and taxes. Plus, I wasn’t just supporting myself. With Devon so ill, Stormy couldn’t work, so I picked up the tab for their expenses and his medical bills. We were getting by, but two million could cushion our lives. I might even get a full night’s sleep without worrying what new disaster the morning would bring.
“One half up front, and the remainder after you return to Earth.”
“Oh, so I get to come back?” I said drily.
Chantelle missed the sarcasm. “Of course. No one expects you to hook up with an alien for life. After a year—”
“The time will go fast.”
“For you,” I snapped.
“After a year, you’ll come home, and I’ll renegotiate your contract with Apogee Productions. The ratings will have gone supernova, you’ll be a big star, and I’ll get you a more lucrative contract.” My agent’s eyes lit up with dollar signs.
My career might pan out the way Chantelle envisioned, but I wasn’t interested. The last time I’d gotten a free lunch, I was in the second grade, and some kid gave me the bologna sandwich he didn’t want. I would pay for any salary increase by having to perform more outlandish stunts, and I shuddered to contemplate what could be worse than hooking up with an extraterrestrial. When my contract expired, this trained monkey planned to run away from the circus. I’d had enough “excellent adventures” to last me a lifetime. I was outta here. Sayonara. Adios amigos.
But two million dollars…
“So, I get a big bonus and potentially a lot more money in the long run. What’s in it for the alien?” Why would he seek a creature from another planet? It had to be just as weird for him.
“A future. Dakon is critically short of women. After an asteroid strike threw the planet into an ice age—”
“The planet is in ice age?” Laughter, and not the funny kind, bubbled up and exited in a snort. Could the situation get any more ridiculous?
“Dakon is starting to recover. They get a good couple of months of sun, now. Anyway, a virus on the asteroid infected and killed most of the women and altered their DNA. Very few females are born anymore.”
“So the alien would expect me to bear his children?” I could not believe this conversation.
“He might, but you’re not responsible for his expectations.”
“Oh, good.” I rolled my eyes. “Because I’d hate to think you had offered me two million dollars to have sex with an alien.”
“You wouldn’t be required to engage in sexual relations because while prostitution is no longer illegal, it is against the law to force someone into it. Apogee abides by the law, and Sunny Weathers’ Excellent Adventures isn’t a sex show.”
Not yet, anyway. I gotta get out of this contract. “Why would he agree to this? He won’t be getting the mate he wants.”
“He won’t realize it until after the show.” She shrugged. “He can try again if he wants to.”
The proposition sounded like a scam. We’d be deceiving, cheating the alien. And that’s if it worked. He might not be human, but that didn’t mean he was stupid. “He’s going to notice the camera crew.”
“There won’t be one. They’ll send a robotic microcam prototype; the Dakonians won’t notice it’s there. This will be the beta test. If the cambot performs to spec, they’ll produce more for other shows.”
“How little are they?”
Chantelle formed a circle with her thumb and index finger.
“That’s still pretty big. They’ll be noticed.”
“You think so?” She jerked her head to a corner of her office.
Son of a production company executive! A winged orb slightly smaller than a Ping-Pong ball hovered close to the ceiling. Its body was a matte, mottled gray. Even searching for it, I’d had a hard time spotting it. I glowered at Chantelle. “I’m being videoed?”
“Prelim for the season.” She nodded. “Your reluctance will be a great episode.”
Sometimes I wondered whose interests she represented, mine or Apogee’s. Actually, the answer was neither. Chantelle served Chantelle. Well, Sunny was going to look out for Sunny. I crossed my arms. “I’ll tell the alien he’s being videoed and is on a show.”
“You’ll void the contract, you won’t receive the bonus, and you’ll be stuck on Dakon until the scheduled ship picks you up.”
I spoke directly to the cambot. “I won’t do it. I won’t sacrifice a year of my life—and it’s not fair to the alien.”
“I understand your reluctance—”
“Do you?” I doubted it.
My agent’s attitude indicated she considered this a good opportunity, but she wasn’t leaving her sister and nephew, freezing her ass off on an alien wasteland, and dating a horned extraterrestrial. “My answer is no.”
Chantelle peered down her surgically perfected nose. For as much plastic surgery as she’d had, you’d have thought she worked in front of the camera. “If you refuse, Apogee will sue for breach of contract.”
“Let them. I don’t have any money.” I acted tough; I hoped Apogee bought my bluff. They might make an example out of me, bankrupt me to deter other cast members who might be considering weaseling out of their contracts. What would happen to Devon? How would we pay for his medical care? If we were flat broke, we might be able to get him on public assistance, but that wouldn’t provide the specialized level of care he needed.
Would Apogee really sue? Was one insignificant cast member like me worth it? I resented how I’d allowed them to coerce me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I’d rolled over so many times, I was dizzy. The time had come to draw the line. Show no fear. I lifted my chin. “I won’t do it.”
“You’ll be blacklisted from every reality show and program for life. You’ll never work in this town again. Think about it before you decide. Call me in the morning.”