BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 18 (Part 2)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

“Taking your victims home is messy,” Titan said. “Unprofessional. Your DNA will be all over her.”

“Don’t worry,” Kaftan said. “I’m good at making these things look like accidents.” He smoothed his hand over his pants. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go circulate. Can’t get a good auction if you don’t have buyers frothing at the mouth.”

“Kaftan?” Titan said, stalling.

The man turned. “What? What I says goes. Done is done.”

“This is a side matter, something personal.”

Kaftan slowed and pivoted back to him. “I’m listening.”

“During this operation, my employer hired some local talent. Sent orders outside our usual chain of command. Me and my fellows had a bet about who’s name was to be rubbed out. Care to give me a hint? I can make it worth your trouble.”

“Shame I’m a thief, not a liar, I’d love to take your money. But I don’t know. The supplier said it would be easier for them if a certain officer of the law was scrubbed out. Would have put the city on high alert if any more of them dropped. It was bad for business. If the supplier wants to do something now, that’s their business.” Kaftan shrugged as he walked off.

Titan stared after him in horror. Employers and suppliers did not add up to a small operation. He turned just in time to see Arwel sweep through a group of giggling women who were enjoying an anecdote from a dark-haired model.

“Sir! I apologize, I didn’t catch your name when you came in.”

“Ty is what my friends call me.” He watched as Selena moved out of view following one of the illuminated paths into the artificial jungle. “Was there something you needed?”

“Need? No. I want to introduce you to someone if you feel inclined to socialize.”

More like he wanted to steer his unvetted visitors away from the black market traders, but at this point any information would help. He hadn’t missed a mission briefing since he was fourteen, now it seemed like he’d have to reset the clock.

His host gestured for him to follow along a flagstone path. “Are you enjoying the garden?”

“It’s… interesting,” Titan said.

“Different than the formal gardens in Descent I imagine. I’ve been to Kytan, of course, it’s practical a requirement if you love horticulture, but it was the wind forests in Essan that really captured my imagination. The little rock pools and hidden forests tucked away in the rills and valleys were quite breathtaking.”

Titan nodded as he made a note to look up the places Arwel was naming.

“That couldn’t be done here, naturally,” the man continued on as the path snaked across a decorative creek and behind the crashing sound of the waterfall, “but I think my designer did a good job of catching the creative spirit of the original. There are hidden vistas around

every corner. And hidden beauty.” He stopped and smiled.

It took Titan a moment to realize that Selena was standing in the shadows of the artificial rocks watching the party. Their approach hadn’t triggered a response.

His approach hadn’t trigged a response. He’d expected their shields to synch again, but they weren’t. She’d reconfigured hers in the brief time they’d been apart.

Arwel winked at him and mouthed, “Good luck,” before slipping away down the path.

For a moment Titan let the moment be. Selena Caryll, alone in the moonlight and shadows, waiting for a chance to step into the spotlight. She was beautiful.

And tired.

There was the first dark shadow of fatigue under her eyes, a hint of strain around her eyes, a pinch to her lips that spoke of anger, weariness, and control. He wanted to take away her worry, rush her away from her, or fight the battle, or do whatever needed to be done to wash the darkness from her eyes.

Stepping loudly he walked up behind her.

Selena pivoted, a wide-eyed expression of startlement and fear on her face. For a drawn out moment she stared at him uncomprehending? “Titan?”

“Yes?”

She shook her head in disbelief, shields and data tight as the night she’d punched him. “You’re not supposed to be here! You need to leave. Now.”

“I will, in a moment.” If she gave him no other choice. “But I behaved badly earlier and I wanted to apologize.”

He expected her to draw up her shoulders and nod knowingly the way most people did when he acknowledged he treated them poorly. Selena only looked at him in confusion.

“This afternoon,” he said, slowly trying to feel his way across the sudden gap between them, “I left. With Lily Sekoo. Because she was injured, and I didn’t check on you. As your partner I should have followed up.”

“You were concussed, bleeding, and your implant was exhausted. You didn’t to do anything but get to the Sabiha’s medical bay without collapsing. Which it seems you did. Well done. Go home.”

“I came to make sure you were okay.”

Selena shrugged. “I received the medical treatment I needed. Does that satisfy you?”

“Not really,” he admitted. Again, he felt there was a key piece to the puzzle that was missing. None of her reactions made any sense. Immediate forgiveness was probably unlikely, but being locked out hurt.

She raised her eyebrows. “What?”

“I thought we’d developed a bit more of a dialog and I’d get more information than an ensign on their first day on the bridge.”

Glancing back through the trees at the part Selena sighed impatiently. “Would you believe me if I said it wasn’t personal?”

“If it didn’t feel personal, yes.”

She glared at him, blue eyes cold as the black between stars. “I did what you suggested and archived my war memories so I could focus on the task at hand.”

Titan expanded his shield so it brushed against Selena’s. It was like trying to catch mist in his hand. “Did I hurt you so much that you had to erase me too?”

“It was a calculated decision.” Her voice was chilly and distant. “Painful. Torturous. I can’t go through that again. I can’t take another loss like I did with the Persephone and my crew.”

“And, you think I’d leave you?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Her forehead crinkled as she let her fear bubble to the surface. “When this is over and you have no reason to keep company with me? When your crew, and captain, and allies start questioning why you spend time with that worthless Selena Caryll, what did you plan on doing?”

“I planned on asking permission to court you.”

She closed her eyes. “Oh, Titan.”

“Did you not want that?” He sorted through every moment they’d spent together trying to find the cues he’d missed.

“As a woman, yes, I’d be delighted to be courted by you. As a senior officer? No, I can’t let you for the same reasons your captain will reject the suggestion: I have nothing to offer.”

Titan took a step closer. “What do you mean?”

“There is no advantage to your crew if you court me. I can’t offer ships, officers, training berths, or even a social boost. I’m worthless.”

Force teleporting a captain somewhere so he could yell at her gave him an estimated survival rate of zero-point-nine percent, his implant informed him. Besides, he didn’t have a suitable venue picked out. Clearly an oversight.

Selena crossed her arms, signaling an end of the discussion.

“What about your intelligence?” Titan asked.

She shrugged. “What about it?”

“Isn’t that something you can offer? Your years of experience? Your contacts with the locals, which are obviously much more developed than you led anyone to believe. My captain doesn’t need ships, she needs to build a future. I need a future.”

“I doubt your crew would accept that argument.”

“Then I find another crew.”

The nearby waterfall seemed to grow louder as the silence stretched between them.

Finally Selena said, “You don’t mean that.”

“I do.” He tried to force a smile. “It was bound to happen anyway, wasn’t it? If you wanted to change crews you would have done it by now. That means you want to keep the Caryll name and any spouse will have to join your crew.”

“I don’t want to ask for that kind of sacrifice.”

“You don’t need to.” He risked taking another step closer.

Her crossed arms became a closed-shoulder self-hug. She shook her head. “You think you know how this ends. You think you’ll spend more time with me, learn my secrets, and still love me. You won’t. Whatever fantasy you’ve built in your head, I’m not that woman.”

“I don’t have any fantasies, not about who you are at least,” Titan said. “I’ve seen you work, and fight, and lead. I’m not promising you every day will be perfect, but the bad days together will be worth fighting for. I know that. Because when I’m around you I’m happy. I have hope.”

“Don’t do that,” she said, her voice breaking. “Don’t make me your source of happiness. I can’t give you that.”

Titan stepped close enough to reach her if he dared. “I’m not asking you for anything but a chance to be beside you every day. The good days and the bad. I promise you, I’ll always be there.”

She shook her head again. “No. No you won’t. There’s things I’ve done-“

“We’ve all done things!” He inhaled sharply to keep from yelling. “We’ve all done things,” he said again, quieter this time. “We aren’t children. We’re survivors of a war and there isn’t anyone here who can’t tell you who they killed, or who they wanted dead, or who killed someone they loved. That happened. There’s nothing you did that would make me think less of you.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Then tell me,” Titan challenged. “Tell me what you did that you think I’ll never forgive. If you’re right, I’ll leave. If you’re wrong…” He spread his hands in surrender. “We’re all wrong sometimes.”

Selena turned away, shields tightening around her.

“If you’re going to banish me from your life, shouldn’t it be like you’re imagining? Let me storm out.”

“Can’t you just accept that you’d hate me?”

He took a deep breath and resisted the urge to start the next civil war at some grounder’s garden party. Luckily, his ancestors had blessed him with a wealth of stubborn women in his life so he knew the right answer here. Very calmly he said, “You do not get to dictate my feelings or my reactions. You can give me facts, but that’s all you can do. I get to choose whether I am angry or not. I’m not an infant who needs protection. Let me take my hits like an adult.”

An angry silence shimmered in the air between them.

Titan smiled. “That’s what I thought.”

Selena frowned over her shoulder at him, half question, half condemnation.

“You’re not worried about what I think at all. It’s not my forgiveness you’re doubting.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“If your goal was driving me away, and you had a weapon to use, you’re smart enough that you would have used it by now.”

She turned slowly, unfolding with a quiet fury until she looked every inch a fleet captain. “Did it ever occur to you that I was trying to spare you?”

“I don’t need to be spared.”

Silver-blue lightning flickered in her eyes. “I shot you down. That night Balaur led the strafing run?  It wasn’t Hollis Silar with Perrin and Hermione, he didn’t have the fighters. I did. I took the shot that should have killed you.”

The memory was still raw, the smoke in the cockpit burning his lungs, the alarms and sound, the rushing sensation has true gravity grabbed him and pulled him down. His throat tightened around a remembered scream.

“I shot you down, and you weren’t there when Balaur needed you. You missed the war. You let people die.”

He shook his head, forcing his thoughts to the present. “No. That’s me. That’s survivor’s guilt. You may have heard the echoes in my mind, and I’m sorry for that, but that’s not me. I know if I’d been there for Mal I would have either died in war or been executed after. The Sciarra crew wouldn’t have survived. My Aunt Elea never would have taken control of the crew. Mars. Rowena. All of them would have died if I hadn’t been there after the war. I was the only Warmonger the Star Guard would take. Carver trusts my loyalty and common sense, and me being free of the war is the only bridge we had to rebuild on.”

“That doesn’t make it forgivable.”

“Maybe it makes it inevitable,” Titan said. “Maybe our ancestors knew and changed your shot.”

She curled back in on herself. “Or maybe I’m a worthless shot. If you’d died we may not have ever gone to war.”

Stepping forward he held out his hand, silently willing her to reach for him. “Our other was starvation. Maybe not for your crew, but most the Warmongers were low on rations. We’d been limiting births, cutting back training, we were dying. Landing at least gives us a chance to live, even if it means changing how we do things. I’m not ever going to be angry that you shot me down. It was the right choice.” He gave her shield a gentle nudge as tears filled her eyes. “Selena, I’m here.”

With a tiny grumble of forfeit she stepped forward into his waiting arms.

Titan wrapped his arms around her, lowering his shields so there was a place for her and her wet cheek rested on his chest.

“If you say I’m beautiful when I’m angry or something stupid I’m going to drop-kick you into vacuum,” she muttered as she hugged him back.

“Not a word,” he promised, though she was always beautiful. He traced the painting on her arm, the stars and comets with silver tails that were three thick, wide grooves in her arm. They started just above her elbow at almost the same place his scars ended.

Selena shivered and pulled herself together as her shield melded with his. Gently, she pushed him away. “I…”  There was a tsunami of emotions flooding his senses. She wanted to apologize, wanted to yell, wanted to run away from all of this, but the core of Selena had always been duty. Loving a captain was like that, it meant loving not only them but their work.

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “I know, the job comes first.”

“I need to go keep an eye on Kaftan.”

“He knows you were there today,” Titan said. “He saw you.”

She tossed her wet hair. “I was counting on it.” The words dripped fleet arrogance. With a smile she ran a hand down his shirt. “You really should go, though. You’re exhausted and you’re injured.”

“I’d rather stay nearby even if I’m not involved in the op. Kaftan said something that makes me think we don’t have a handle on this yet, and I don’t want you walking into this alone.” He shot her the conversation as he felt her gathering her objections. “I promise to stay out of the way and only jump to the rescue if you actually need.”

“Hmm, Captain Sciarra trained you how to be a second in command very well.”

He chuckled. “Don’t I get credit for doing anything on my own?”

“Mmmm…” She wrinkled her nose. “No. Not when you’re wounded. Maybe when you can fight back…”

The image of hitting the wrestling mats with Selena made his heartrate jump.

Soft fingers caressed his jaw. “It’s been a while since I had a training partner.”

“I’ll tell Silar he needs to find someone else’s ribs to break.” He kissed her fingertips before she pulled away.

Her smile was pure bliss.

“Couldn’t we leave Kaftan for the night? There are so many better things I can think to do.”

“Tempting, but if the Lees need the medicine, we need information now not later. If we catch Kaftan selling the information we can probably get him to hand over the details of the heist.”

Titan closed his eyes and sighed. When he’d pictured declaring his undying love to someone he hadn’t factored in the possibility she’d be in the middle of a mission. Although, considering the kind of women he was attracted to, that was a dramatic oversight. He made a mental note to warn his future children that chasing aggressively intelligent lovers would mean chasing them into the field sometimes.

Selena leaned in. “I can hear your brain overheating.”

“I’m making notes.”

“For children we don’t have yet.”

“It’s still something I need to remember.” She’d said YET. He was giddy with hope. “I should let Ro know I’m staying here for a bit before she raises a fuss.”

Nodding, Selena stepped away. “And I need to find Kaftan and convince him I’m enamored with his self-absorption and money.” She winked at him. “How do I look?”

“More beautiful than the moon and stars.”

She sent him a burst of affection and then hurried away through the shadows back to Arwel’s party.

:Ro?: He kept the message on a tight beam so he didn’t trigger any of the grounder’s safety precautions.

:Where in the name of my ancestors are you?: Rowena demanded. :Mars is pacing and I almost bit my nails.:

:Don’t lie. You never do that.:

She an image of a thread she’d unwound from her socks. :We’re worried. And bored. Mostly bored. Are you done chasing shadows?:

:I’m staying here tonight.:

Rowena responded with a memory of her banging her head on the hull of the engine room.

:It’s not what you think. Selena is helping the Jhandarmi and I’m being a perfect gentleman.:

:I know what that means,: Rowena said caustically. :And I can’t imagine you have the energy to make their whole team that happy in one night.:

He smiled. :I’m a talented man.:

:You’re going to be a dead one if you-: Rowena cut herself short.

Titan waited, then pinged her. :Ro? Are you okay?:

There was the faintest tracery of contact, a simple message on a distress frequency.

He pinged Selena and felt the message break apart as soon as it left his shield. Someone was jamming fleet communications. They were under attack.

 

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 18 (Part 1)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

It was quiet downtown.

There were no generators running to keep the air pure in the ships; no family arguments spilling out of cargo holds to become fistfights on the rocks. On the horizon there was no wall, and no OIA building standing sentinel.

A light breeze ruffled luminescent leaves, pale and green, on the thin branches of the terraformed trees lining the road. Their soft light was enough frame the row of elegant homes, subdued visions of grounder wealth.

Caryll’s signature this here, but cycling, like she was walking in and out of a shield.

Titan raised an eyebrow and slipped on the Guardian Veil. A faint shimmer gave away a hidden shield over a large house in the middle of the block. There was a wide, inviting porch held up by white columns and three stories of windows.

There were smaller ships in Enclave.

He approached cautiously, testing the limits of the shield. The first layer was a scatter field meant to make people look away. It would discourage random intrusions but not much else. The next layer in—Titan jumped back, mentally stung. He’d wager a week’s pay that the next layer was set to kill anyone who touched the house.

It was not the kind of shield someone put over a Jhandarmi safe house during peacetime. It was a war shield meant to repel everything up to and including an orbital bombardment. Someone had been making a point.

The Carylls had a few shields like that, most of them tuned to attack only things or people with telekyen in their system. A groundsider was probably safe knocking on the door.

He wasn’t.

Rocking back on his heels, he grimaced. Teleporting home was probably the best option. Selena was safe enough behind that shield.

As long as she stayed there.

Her signal appeared again, inside the house next door to the heavily shielded one. When the Jhandarmi director had said there was a safe house in the area he hadn’t expected the two addresses to share a fence line. But the address was the one Kafftan’s victim had dropped.

Pulling his shields in close so that Selena wouldn’t sense him, he weighed his options. If she’d gone in it was to make contact with the Jhandarmi operative. It could mean nothing. It could mean trouble.

Titan hesitated, watching the movement of shadows in the windows of the house.

The door to the house opened, spilling light into the dark street. “Hey!” a figure in the doorway shouted. “You coming in, man?”

Titan tilted his head to the side.

“Party’s going raw!” The figured gestured wildly.

Telling himself it was due diligence, Titan approached, grateful he’d changed out of his uniform before going to meet Rowena. The long-sleeved shirt meant to wear under a pilot’s jacket and black cargo pants didn’t scream Fleet, although they probably weren’t the height of grounder fashion either.

As Titan drew closer, he could see the man, a tall and muscled man with blond hair pulled back in a bun. He was wearing shorts and nothing else.

Apparently, cargo pants made him over-dressed for this event.

The blond tipped his head. “You new in town?”

“I’m from Descent,” Titan said, a plausible lie. Hard for a Tarrin to check and he knew the accent. All he had to do was think back to Marshall’s first year at the Academy.

“Right!” The man held out his hand. “Arwel, Arwel Art and Design. Come on in. Did you bring swim gear?”

“Um… no,” Titan said as he stepped into the domed entry way. Life-size photographs of women lined the walls, all strikingly beautiful, all painted with elaborate body art.

“Stunning, aren’t they?” Arwel asked. “All mine.”

Titan raised his eyebrows. “All the women?”

“Oh!” Arwel’s eyes went wide in shock. “No, no, no. All the art. I painted them. I’m painting tonight too. Was that… Wasn’t that what you were expecting?”

An honest answer wasn’t going to work, so he found another lie. “I met a woman downtown in an art gallery and she mentioned she might be here. I found myself at loose ends this evening so…” Titan let him fill in the gaps.

“Brunette, blonde, or red head?” Arwel asked.

“Blonde.” Titan’s searched the gallery for Selena’s face, but she wasn’t on display.

Arwel’s face brightened into a wide smile. “Willowy blonde with fair skin and ocean-blue eyes?”

Titan nodded.

“Selena!” Arwel said. “She brings in the best international clients. She’s out back by the pool. I just finished her shoulder. Unless you’re an artist you probably won’t notice how flawless her skin is, but trust me, she’s the perfect canvas.”

“I’ve noticed she’s flawless.” In so many ways.

Arwel chuckled. “Yeah, good luck with that.” He patted Titan on the back. “That woman is married to her work. I have watched many a man and woman fly to that sun and be burned.”

“Moon.”

“What?”

“Selena means moon,” Titan corrected. “And I’m not Icarus. I doubt I’ll get burned.”

“That’s the right attitude.” Arwel clapped him on the back again. “Come on through the kitchen. There’s a guest bathroom with outfits over there if you feel like taking a dip. Have you been to an event like this before.”

Flight team parties probably didn’t count. “No.”

“It’s more a Tarrin thing, I think. This is a networking event. Jorjes Kerl of Kerl Investments is looking to hire new talent, so he scheduled with me. Anyone interested came come. I provide the venue, the food, the models, and everyone else gets to shine. You will notice the models are exceptionally food at getting your logo seen. Feel free to ask any of them about the advertisements painted on them. Everyone I hire is tested for memory and trained for sales. This is the least intrusive way to get your brand noticed by investors.” Arwel’s sales pitch rambled on.

Titan tuned him out, nodding where needed, as he assessed the situation.

The kitchen had been laid out with trays of food and drinks ready to be taken outside. Tidy packets of swim wear and towels were available for guests. He didn’t reach for one though Arwel made a point of offering the packet to him. Titan’d never learned to swim and didn’t see a reason to start now.

The gray-tiled kitchen flowed out to a seating area, then to a wide deck and a garden beyond. People in a variety of swim accessories moved between tables and lounging areas. Painted men and women worked the crowd, standing and posing in the lights before moving away again.

At the center of the garden was a waterfall, rushing over artfully arranged rocks into a jewel-blue pool lit from within. A plaster gem in an artificial paradise.

Arwel stepped up beside him, beaming at the stage he’d set. “Lovely, isn’t it? All the exotic colors of the islands without pesky things like traveling or insects.”

“It’s… something,” Titan agreed.

“Give it an hour,” Arwel said. “It’s early and no one’s relaxed yet. Once they’re done sorting out dominance and using up their best pick-up lines on my models they’ll start having fun. That’s when the real networking begins. Get two people chatting by the pool about what macroeconomics and a year later we have a new company in the commerce district. It’s magical!”

Titan didn’t even feign interest. Grounder commerce and capitalism were – thankfully – above his pay grade. All he was interested in was spotting Selena, and the Jhandarmi operative, before they spotted him.

A man in the crowd noticed Arwel on the patio and waved him over.

“Excuse me,” Arwel said. “I’ve got to go play host. If you need introductions, come find me.”

“I will. Thank you.” Titan nodded as Arwel walked away. A sweeper pass brushed against Titan’s shield like a cold breeze. In it he caught Selena’s now-familiar touch and an echo of concern. She was on guard, but not aware he was there. Yet.

It took all his focus to keep his shield from adjusting and melding with hers.

Behind him someone opened the patio door and then shut it with a slide and a snick. “Are you from Descent?”

“Yes,” Titan said as he turned.

Kaftan stood beside him. A little shorter than he’d seemed in the tunnels, bonier than most grounders, with a sandy stubble on his chin and red-rimmed eyes he looked more like a destitute dock worker than a thief and a killer. But it took all kinds.

“Didn’t I say I’d handle it?” Kaftan demanded, lips curling into a snarl. “Tell your lady I don’t need a bodyguard or a babysitter.”

Titan kept his face emotionless as a thousand possibilities flew through his mind. “I’m not here to do either,” he said carefully. “At the moment, I’m a casual observer.”

“Ha!” Kaftan stalked over to the ledge and gripped the railing like he meant to strangle it. “So you’re the cleaning crew.”

“Only if you need one.”

Kaftan’s right hand jerked to the front pocket of his pants, then darted away. “You can leave. Sonya and I had an agreement; she got what she wanted and I got what I wanted. Almost didn’t because of that fish-brained gizzard-eater who put a hit on the spacer.” He sneered. “It was me that made this work. Not you lot. Without me you’d still be sitting around panting after those parts. I made good on delivery. Any by-product is my profit, not your catch.”

“I’m not arguing with that,” Titan said calmly. “Still, this is a sale.”

“Yeah.” Kaftan shrugged. “What of it?”

Titan looked around. “Sales have buyers. Auctions have bidders.”

Again, Kaftan’s hand dropped to his pants pocket.

“I have money,” Titan said.

“Your own?”

“My employer has a far healthier account.” Carver was going to kill him. The guardian’s slush fund of grounder cash wasn’t enough to buy new office chairs let alone the information Kaftan was auctioning.

But Kaftan was already shaking his head. “Not happening. Rules is rules. Can’t do business with the same person twice in a row. It’s bad luck. Starts a pattern. Gets a man noticed.”

“There are different kinds of notice,” Titan said. “My employer is influential, powerful, wealthy.”

The thief’s eyes narrowed in pecuniary speculation.

“The authorities are only a problem if they can find you,” Titan said, dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “With the right… friends… you won’t need back ally dodges and side hustles. You wouldn’t need to be guests at pay-as-you-go parties.”

Kafftan took a deep breath in, inhaling the possibilities. Then he stopped and shook his head. “No. No! Rules is rules. Besides, I have other things to do tonight.” He nodded to something in the distance.

Titan turned to look just as Selena stepped into view.

Creamy white skin and hair pale as moonlight… She was an alabaster goddess in a single piece of black fabric that Titan hoped wasn’t actually paint. Or maybe he hoped it was. Either way, she was all he could see.

His mouth went dry as Selena tied a sheer, black skirt around her waist and posed in one of the spotlights.

Her left shoulder was painted with a nebula and three shooting stars. When she turned, she was everything: night and stars, fire and magic, promise and hope.

Selena moved, breaking away to pose by the edge the pool. She took off her skirt, tossed it aside, and dove in.

Suddenly, Titan saw the merits in learning to swim.

Kaftan tapped the balustrade, oblivious to the exchange. “Lovely girl. Arwel says she’s here nearly every night. Pity, really, but she was in the parking garage earlier.”

Now that Titan looked at the shield running along Arwel’s eastern perimeter he recognized the familiar whorls of coding that were unique to Selena. A house next door. A job as a model. All those looks between her and Tyrling hadn’t stemmed from the Jhandarmi director’s frustration, they’d been coded orders.

“It won’t be a problem for long,” Kaftan said, misinterpreting Titan’s furious frown.

“Good,” Titan muttered.

Kaftan watched her. “It’s going to be a fun night.”

“Taking your victims home is messy,” Titan said. “Unprofessional. Your DNA will be all over her.”

“Don’t worry,” Kaftan said. “I’m good at making these things look like accidents.” He smoothed his hand over his pants. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go circulate. Can’t get a good auction if you don’t have buyers frothing at the mouth.”

“Kaftan?” Titan said, stalling.

The man turned. “What? What I says goes. Done is done.”

“This is a side matter, something personal.”

Kaftan slowed and pivoted back to him. “I’m listening.”

“During this operation, my employer hired some local talent. Sent orders outside our usual chain of command. Me and my fellows had a bet about who’s name was to be rubbed out. Care to give me a hint? I can make it worth your trouble.”

“Shame I’m a thief, not a liar, I’d love to take your money. But I don’t know. The supplier said it would be easier for them if a certain officer of the law was scrubbed out. Would have put the city on high alert if any more of them dropped. It was bad for business. If the supplier wants to do something now, that’s their business.” Kaftan shrugged as he walked off.

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 17

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

In the evening light, the landing gear of the Sciarra armada stretched like pillars between their shield and the seawall. A forest of shadows and light with loading ramps.

Rowena leaned back in the hastily-constructed chair—a frayed blanket and a metal frame—and watched as Titan paced under the bulk of the Sabiha.

Mars settled in beside her. “You watering the drinks, Lee?”

“No.” She glared at Mars. She wasn’t in the mood for a playful fight.

He was young enough to smile back like it was nothing. Poor kid. “He’s not sitting down. Not holding still. If the giggle water you brought won’t help, I don’t know what will.”

“We could knock him unconscious,” Rowena said. “Hide him in the cargo bay until this passes.”

“Mmm.” Mars frowned and still looked like a younger, happier version of Titan. “Do we have options that won’t require getting my captain’s permission?”

It was Rowena’s turn to grimace. “Has he eaten today?”

“Not that I’ve seen.”

“Run down to Cargo Blue, pick up anything that looks edible, and we’ll see if a hot meal doesn’t work.”

Mars nodded. “It’ll be better than ship’s rations, at any rate.”

When he walked away, Titan turned around, startled. “Where’s he going?”

“To get food,” Rowena said as she stood up, holding another bottle of the drugged water that was supposed to relax nerves and sooth aches. “Here, have another drink,” she said as Mars walked through the Sciarra shield, becoming another ghostly shape in the shadows.

Titan looked away. “I’m fine.”

“For someone who took a beating, sure. But the medic said rest and this doesn’t look restful to me. You’re…” She waved a hand at his jittering leg.

With a muttered grumble, Titan stilled. “I’m fine.”

“And I’m the princess of the flower festival,” she said. “Sit down and stop fidgeting or I’m going to knock you out and lie when Mars comes back.”

“There’s an op going without me,” Titan said as he fell into one of the chairs, making it groan in protest. “My op. It’s my case. I should be out there.”

“With no weapons, no defenses, and no backup?” Rowena scoffed. “Sure. Sounds very sensible.” She sat down beside him. “Should I replay one of your lectures on unity and trust? I have them all saved. From ‘Carver Is A Decent Person’ to the all-time favorite, complete with laugh track, ‘I Can Work With A Silar.’ Some of the fleetlings worked out a comedy sketch to that one.”

Titan’s head lolled to the side, he did not look amused.

She smiled. “We can work with these people. Your words. Not mine.” She lifted her bottle up. “Drink! Forget about them! They are mostly competent and have handled situations in Tarrin without you before. So find something else to think about.”

Titan took a swig of the giggle water. “Selena-”

“Selena?” Rowena asked in shock. “We’re using first names now?”

“Yes.”

“No! Pick something else!”

“Carver?” Titan hesitated.

Rowena shook her head. “You are not good at this game. You’re supposed to think of something distracting but not enraging.”

“Like the Lee’s new candidates for the OIA and Starguard?”

“Yes!” After a moment she punched his arm. “You were supposed to warn me about that. If Hoshi gets backing from another crew, it’s going to be that much harder to throw a coup without dropping bodies. I hate killing family. Even if it’s Hoshi’s side.”

Moonlight danced in the water as Titan waggled his drink in disagreement. “It’s not for Hoshi. It’s so we can pick an instructor from your crew for the new training house. Especially since it’ll be weeks before they let me take a rotation again. Silar and Carver are decent at hand-to-hand combat, but they’re also trying to keep the guard running.”

“Lees don’t do hand-to-hand combat.” Not as a crew, at any rate. She and Aronia had learned because she’d trained with Mal during the war. But… She shook her head. “Hoshi won’t recommend anyone worth having.”

“The training house gets to take whoever they want,” Titan said. “Hoshi can recommend but we don’t have to listen.”

A terrible suspicion flared. “Ty, you didn’t recommend this, did you? You know the Council will shut it down. Warmonger crews can’t recommend promotions for other Warmongers. This is going to blow up in your face.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t recommend it.”

That left… No one that she could think of. The Sciarras were the only crew she was friendly with, and Hoshi couldn’t make friends without bribing them. “Someone is backing the Lees?”

“Not really.” Titan looked up at the sky trying to avoid the conversation.

“Who recommended this?” she demanded.

“Eh.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It does if it’s a trap!” She set her empty bottle down and stood up. “Did you think of what could happen?”

Titan scowled at her. “Who do you think I am? Of course I checked. I went through every angle and threatened someone with a slow and painful death if you got hurt.”

“Who recommended this?”

“Selena.”

Rowena choked and coughed. All the oxygen had suddenly gone missing.

Titan thumped her on the back. “You okay?”

“Caryll recommended this madness?” Reality asserted itself. “No, that makes no sense. You have brain trauma. That’s what happened. Let’s go to the med bay.” She stood up and grabbed Titan’s hand. “You were hit in the head, now you’re hallucinating, that makes sense. Come on.”

He didn’t budge. “I’ve been cleared. Twice! I’m fit for duty.”

“Titan!” She dropped his hand in frustration. “It still won’t work.” That thought calmed her. “Caryll’s recommendation would have to be supported by other allied captains, and you won’t get that.”

He lifted a shoulder and dropped it. “You’d think, but the Silars backed it.”

“Captain Silar? He hasn’t left his quarters since landing. How’d Caryll get that signature?”

“She has Hollis’s.”

The magnetic poles of the planet shifted under her. Up was down. Down was up. It was possible the stars were in the sea now.

She pinched herself. Still awake and alive. “You must have a concussion.”

“Run a scan!” Titan said.

“Food!” Mars shouted as he teleported in between them, holding three boxes and what looked suspiciously like a nishu book. “Um… Did I miss something?”

“Titan has a concussion.”

Mars shook his head. “Not unless you hit him. The medic ran a check while I was there.”

“See!” Titan glared victoriously.

Frustrated, and not sure she wanted to finish the argument with Mars around, she nodded at the book bound by thin pieces of metal and filled with the yellow-green paper the fleet made from algae. “What’s that?”

“Dinner.” Mars floated the boxes to Titan. “I grabbed a couple of sampler platters. Things deep-fried in grease, a salad, and something with cheese and sugar that Fiona Glenndie says is delicious.”

“Sugar and cheese?” Titan asked skeptically.

Mars shrugged.

Rowena ignored the boxes and gave the book a mental tug. They were always somewhere in the fleet, illegal, single-copy manuscripts written by bored crew members and filled with ridiculousness. Some of them were entertaining. A few showed real artistic skill. Most were smutty wet dreams that someone decided to share—because having sex on a bunk across the room from your cousin wasn’t enough for some people.

With a smile, Mars grabbed the book and held it tight. “You don’t want this.”

“I do, actually,” Rowena said, tugging at the telekyen molecules in the binding. “That’s why I’m trying to pull it away.”

“Who gave it to you?” Titan asked as he opened one of the boxes and poked a cautious finger at lumps of golden-brown things. “And what is that?”

“Tempura vegetables from the islands,” Mars said. He put the book behind his back and raised a light shield. “And I wasn’t given the book. The Ravma crew was out celebrating someone’s promotion and didn’t notice when I picked it up. Not objecting is consent, right?”

Rowena rolled her eyes as Titan said, “No.”

“That’s theft,” Titan mumbled as he bit into the tempura. “And this is… odd. Sweet? Orange. Is it supposed to be these colors?”

“How should I know?” asked Mars. “Do I look like an expert on grounder cuisine? I think that’s a root of some kind, if it helps.”

“Food grown in dirt.” Rowena grimaced, broke Mars’s shield, and teleported the nishu book to her hands. “That’s worse than sleeping in dirt. Grounders.” She shuddered, then flipped the book open. “‘Taking The Captain Captive’,” she read. “This looks fun.”

Mars teleported over and landed beside her with a grin. “Look at the pictures! That’s a decent drawing of Titan.”

It was. And a highly sexualized drawing of Caryll.

Rowena wrinkled her nose as she read the opening. “Oh, suns of the homeworlds. This is… This is nasty! Criminally bad. ‘She looked up at him with limpid eyes blue as the lakes of Rasare. ‘Take me,’ she begged. ‘Take me away from this crowd to your secret place.’” She raised an eyebrow. “You have a secret place, Ty?”

“Yup, right behind my station on the command deck. I have snacks there when I’m working at night.” He grabbed the book and pushed the box of food at her. “Who did I capture this time?”

“Selena Caryll,” Mars said. His grin grew wider as Titan stared down in growing horror.

Rowena laughed. “I told you it was bad!”

“Sciarra grabbed her hair and shoved her against the bulkhead…” Titan read aloud. “Not unless I want my balls cut off.” He shuddered for dramatic effect.

“Unless she likes it rough,” Mars said.

Rowena and Titan turned. She shook her head. “What? No. You’re a youth! You don’t get to talk about rough sex!”

The younger Sciarra made a face. “If there was still an Academy I’d be at it. All of you had sex there!”

“No I didn’t!” Rowena said.

“No she didn’t,” Titan agreed. He turned the page on the book. “This is awful. And illegal. Why did you bring it here? No one is allowed to write non-factual stories about living or recently deceased people. The Captain’s Council could sanction us if we don’t report it.”

Mars waved a hand in Titan’s direction. “You’re a guardian! This is reporting it! Better you than Silar. He’s making the rounds in there and if he found one, he’d probably read it.”

“One of these days we just need to kill Silar,” Rowena said. “It’ll make life so much easier. Carver is busy trying to figure out how to have a wife, Marshall is always gone on Descent doing schooling. We’d have run of the place if Hollis wasn’t around.”

Titan froze then turned to her slowly. “What did you say?” There was an edge of fury in his voice.

She frowned. “Let’s kill Hollis? This is not a new idea. Or a bad one.”

“About Marshall,” Titan said forgetting about the book. “Where did you say she was?”

“On Descent. At one of the big universities there. Her family insisted she get a grounder education. Don’t you listen to gossip? The Allied crews have been talking about it for days. She had some big test today, defending a theorum or thesis or who knows what. A challenge of some kind.” Rowena shrugged indifferently. “She left yesterday and is out of coms range until tomorrow. Unless the challenge kills her. Which would be nice.”

Titan’s smile had turned into a frown of pure rage. “Marshall wasn’t in Enclave today.”

“Not once, as far as I know.” Rowena looked to Mars for explanation. He seemed as confused as she was about Titan’s sudden mood shift. “Why does it matter?”

“Carver said Marshall was seeing to Selena’s wounds.”

Mars frowned. “That seems unlikely.”

“But it doesn’t mean someone else didn’t,” Rowena said quickly, trying to keep control of the situation.

Titan pivoted, fists clenching at his side.

“I’m sure she’s somewhere safe,” Mars said. “She’s a captain. She’ll have found somewhere to hunker down.”

Silence descended as Titan stopped moving.

Rowena held her breath.

Bowing his head, Titan swore. “I’m an idiot.”

“No argument there,” Rowena agreed. “But, for clarification, what were you thinking you were being an idiot about?”

“The Jhandarmi director cut the guardians out of the op they’re running tonight. He said that they have a safe house nearby with a shield provided by the fleet during Landing.” He shook his head with a bitter smile. “The Baluars were out. Carver and Marshall were busy handling the negotiations. That left who?”

“Caryll,” Rowena said. The name left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Mars wrinkled his nose. “It wouldn’t have been her choice. Back then Carver held full control, she was one of his top lieutenants. All he had to do was give her the order, and tell her to classify it. She couldn’t tell you if she wanted.”

That was debatable. Technically, Titan was high enough in the Starguard that he should have had access to that kind of priority data. It was the kind of tiny, insulting oversight that could start another war. Stifling her own angry thoughts, she said, “It’s a logical place for a wounded captain to go. She can keep an eye on the Jhandarmi and rest. If she set up the shield she can probably slip into the safe house without even noticing.”

Titan nodded.

She smiled at him. “Nothing to worry about then.”

“I have to go stop her,” Titan said.

“What?” Rowena stared at him in disbelief. “Why?”

“Carver told the Jhandarmi we’d stay out of it. If Caryll steps in, even if she means well, it could damage our treaty. We’re dependent on their good will to get the rest of the medicines back.” He held out his hand. “I have a two percent charge. Come on, Ro. You promised to back me. Even for the stupid stuff.”

She closed her eyes and went through a litany of her grandmother’s best curses in her head. “You’re an idiot, Sciarra.” Teeth clenched, she reached out and touched the back of her hand to is, initiating the energy transfer. Her hand warmed, the pulsing of her heart creating small sparks as she gave Titan the strength he needed. She wasn’t below sixty percent when he pulled his hand away. “Is that enough?”

“It’s just a teleport and a shield unlock. I know her codes. I’ll be fine.”

Rowena crossed her arms. “Fine. Thirty minutes, and then I’m coming for you. Enclave shield and orders can get wrecked.”

“Thirty minutes is all I need,” Titan said. He smiled as he teleported out.

“All Sciarras are idiots,” she muttered under her breath.

Mars jabbed her with his elbow. “Hey now. Look at me. I’m adorable.”

“Like my little brother who outgrew me six years ago,” Rowena said, letting the cadet jolly her back into a smile. “Come on. Let’s try this sweet cheese thing you found while we wait.”

“Do you think Titan will be okay out there?” Mars asked as he took a seat and set up the rapidly congealing meal.

Cold grease had an unpleasant odor that made her push the box away. “He’ll be fine. Boil down Ty’s personality and what you get is loyalty. Once he’s given his loyalty, it’s there forever, whether you deserve it or not. That’s why we make a good battle team.”

“Because you’re loyal?” Mars asked as he held out the second carton and a wedge of something that didn’t look like cheese or sugar.

Rowena poked the creamy lump with a fork Mars offered her. “Because I’m stubborn. Ty knows I’ll come rescue him. If I promise to do something, it gets done.” She cut into the food and sequestered a piece.

“Titan says you have integrity. You always do what you promise.”

“I try,” she mumbled before biting into the grounder food. It was tart with a following sweetness. Not bad considering it had the consistency of caulking putty.

Mars claimed the rest. “How much longer until we go rescue Ty?”

“Twenty-three minutes,” Rowena said as she sat back and stared up at the sky. “Twenty-three long minutes.”

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Hello out there!

Dear Reader,

At this point you are probably wondering whether or not I survived the drive through Canada and, if I did, will I ever return to the blog and stop leaving auto-posted chapters here. Regular readers are probably expecting a return to nice things like blog posts on writing or news about my favorite books.

Consider this the post you’ve been waiting for! Huzzah!

The summer blog break is almost at an end!

My kids go back to school September 5th, which means I will resume a normal blogging schedule (3-4 posts per week) on September 6th. Coincidentally, that week should see BODIES IN MOTION wrapping up for the grand finale and I should be kicking off a new project by mid-September. I have several posts scheduled including a series on encouraging young writers, fast drafting (and probably a reprint of the NaNo Boot Camp), and how to write a first draft you can work with. This will be interspersed with pics from my explorations of the Pacific Northwest and random other things that will appear randomly. (Random is good).

If there’s anything specific you’d like to see in my return to regular blogging feel free to let me know in the comments, my email, on Twitter, or in my Tumblr Ask box. I’m super excited to get back into a regular routine and my office is almost done, so soon I’ll have some pics of my new work space for you. What are you getting excited about?

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 16

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

The Enclave shield was a suffocating pressure over her. Selena fell with her back against the wall and stared in disbelief at the closed conference room door. She should have said something.

For the first time the fleet was listening to the Jhandarmi. She should have confessed her connection, told them why she’d done it, they might have understood. That had been her opening and now…

Now it was gone.

She’d betrayed the fleet and kept silent because Tyrling was a paranoid yaldson who didn’t trust the fleet.

That was also her fault. She’d brought too much of the pain she’d felt with her to the Jhandarmi offices. It colored the way the grounders viewed the fleet. It twisted their minds, poisoned every interaction.

Even now the Jhandarmi standing guard at the doors were watching her.

:Selena?: Titan’s ping bounced off the tightest shield she had as the doors opened.

Carver and Tryling walked out, both too busy with their own thoughts to notice her.

Keeping her face impassive she pushed off the wall and walked down away. Grounders on one side. Fleet on the other. All ready to pounce if she let any sign of weakness show.

There was only one place to escape them all.

Stepping into a dark shadow near the portraits of the second wave colonists she engaged a code she thought she’d never use again.

The world shimmered, losing color until it fade into white nothingness. A chime sounded, and she stepped through the portal into the captain’s mess of the Persephone.

Alarms rang out all at once and three years’ worth of reports flooded her sense. With one brutal mental swipe she silenced them all.

The ship lay quiet. There were no engines to hum and make the floor thrum like the slow heartbeat of the universe. There were no crew members left to run, and shout, and scream in pain as the brutal assault from the Balaur ships ripped the Persephone apart.

Even her own breathe seemed like the echo of a ghost, absorbed by the silence.

At her approach the ancient door to the mess slid open with a whine of complaint. An automated program sent her a notification for estimated time of repair, over three million hours. Hundreds of years…

She dismissed the notification and stepped into the empty hall.

Small skutter repair bots shaped like the fabled horseshoe crabs climbed along the walls making repairs. They scurried away with the a small scritch-scritch of metal legs against metal bulkheads. It was fine, she knew where everything was.

It didn’t take conscious thought to walk to the altar room.

The door remained closed. :This area has not been cleared of debris. Use not recommended,: the system sent the message to her implant.

:Acknowledged. Open.:

The door slid open revealing the scarred black table that the Caryll crew had used for battle maps in the final days of the war when the battleroom was overflowing with injured sailors. There was blood, dried and flaking, on the edge of the table.

Quentin had died there as she tried to repair the ribs mangled by a bulkhead door closing on him. He’d succumbed to internal bleeding while she patched the visible wounds.

She’d left the medkit there.

Now, she rummaged through the old box and pulled out the bright blue nanite patch she needed. Slapping it on her neck over the jugular vein. The gel on the patch melted from the heat of her body and the nanites swarmed her bloodstream in a heady rush. It would have been nice to lie down, but her quarters were gone, reduced to galactic dust and memories.

Running her had along the wall to maintain her balance she stumbled to the command deck and collapsed on her chair.

Duty stations flickered, striving to become fully operational despite the battle damage. Most of them died feel back into abyssal darkness before completing the reboot.

Selena rested her head on the back of the chair. Knowing what she had to do wasn’t as easy as doing it. Her muscles clenched in anticipation of pain.

She visualized the  events of the past few days and started hardcoding them for archive storage. There was no way to erase the physical memories stored in her brain, not safely at any rate, but she could keep her implant from bringing up the memories again.

It was a savagely brutal psychological attack.

Titan had fought beside her – fought to protect her – and now she had to break every connection to him. Forced herself to give up every hope because there was none left.

There was no way they could move on from what she’d done. And the longer the memories lingered, the more pain she’d endure.

The emotional pain became physical, as if she’d set herself on fire to burn off all trace of the fragile connections she held for only a handful of hours. Salty tears stung the cuts on her cheek.

“I loved him,” she whispered.

There was a whirring sound of a computer turning on nearby. “I do not understand that command.”

Selena wiped her face with the back of her hand as the cut cycle ended. “I fell in love, Persephone, there is no command to obey.”

“Love?” The neutral computer voice was replaced by the more feminine tones of the ship’s AI.

“Yes.”

“Shall I play some sappy music.” There was a grin in Persephone’s voice. The AI changed with each new captain, learning and changing until it reflected the captain in voice and sensibility.

The pitch and timbre were a little off, but Selena recognized herself in the AI. It was a reflection of her when she had been confidant and proud.

“No music, Persephone. We’re not celebrating.”

In front of her the main viewing screen lit up with fractured light cut in facets by cracks from equipment and bodies thrown at it during the final attack. A distorted face appeared.

Selena shook her head. “The screen is a lost cause, Persephone, turn it off.”

Persephone obeyed. “Would you like me to draft a Declaration of Courtship?” it asked.

“He’s not from an allied crew.”

“Would you like me to draft plans for a kidnapping?” Persephone asked.

Selena sighed. “That method of courtship was outdated before the Malik System was settled.”

“But it’s still on the books.”

Had she really thought like that as a young captain? Probably. The AI was probably quoting from her personal files. “We’re not kidnapping anyone.”

“Would you like to see the updated repair schedule?”

“No, thank you, Persephone.”

“Would you like to reschedule regular updates about the repair schedule?”

She clenched her eyes shut. “No. Don’t contact me until the repairs near completion.”

“Factoring in the average lifespan of an augmented human and your recent history it seems unlikely you will be alive when repairs are completed,” Persephone said matter-of-factly. “The recommended course of action is to halt repairs, set a course for the sun, and retire this vessel.”

“I know,” Selena said. “And we we’ll make that trip together soon enough. Maybe after this mission. If I survive.”

The ship accessed her implant, downloading the data points that made up her life. “Please log the nature of the mission so I may calculate the survival probabilities.”

Selena shook her head. “I’m going to go see the man who tried to kill me.”

“Which one?”

“Which one?” Her lips cracked as the corner of her mouth lifted in a grin. “There haven’t been that many people who tried to kill me.”

“In your last known engagement you were shot at over four thousand times,” Persephone corrected.

She snorted in amusement. “They weren’t aiming at me. That was a general barrage, not a personal grudge match.”

“Today you were shot at seventeen times and were near an explosion that resulted in abrasions and a minor concussion.”

“I don’t think I can be blamed for the explosion. Besides, I have a nanite patch on. I’m fine.”

The top left corner of the main screen brightened until the hazy gray and white projection showed a generic Caryll face. Persephone scowled at her. “I don’t believe you are using an accepted definition of the word fine, captain.”

“I’ll live.”

“That does seem likely.”

The right side of the screen was less damaged, and Persephone opted to show a picture of Titan Sciarra on the largest unbroken piece. His vivid green eyes shone like gems.

“You spent a great deal of time with this individual today,” Persephone said. “Would you like me to contact the Sabiha so you can speak with his captain about a transfer? I have multiple officer postings available at this time.”

The memories she worked to archive flew across the screen. A hand on her shoulder. A look. A sensation of trust and peace.

“Please stop.”

“These recent events were coded with happiness,” Persephone said. “Your body is exhibiting signs of distress. Reviewing happy events can be calming. Would you prefer to schedule a counseling session? There is no longer a trained therapist on board but I have therapy sub-routines.”

An internal signal chimed letting her know all the nanites in the patch were now in her body affecting repairs. She pulled the patch off her neck and rubbed the lingering itch. “I don’t need therapy.”

“I find the probability of that statement being true to be extremely low,” Persephone said.

“You’re starting to sound like my grandmother.”

“She was an exemplary captain.”

They all had been. Every single Caryll captain had served with honor, until she took the chair. “You can make a note of my failings for posterity.”

“The bioscan I just completed does not show any signs of pregnancy and you are not near ovulation. At your current rate of intercourse you are unlikely to have children. Ever. Would you like a list of genetically compatible males?”

Persephone pulled up a list of words impossible to read on the fractured screen.

“Is that Titan’s genetic worksheet?”

“Yes,” the ship said cheerfully. “He’s a good genetic match and a good officer. He’s advanced far ahead of previous projections.”

“Yeah, I know, he killed a few people to get there.”

“Very efficiently too, from the data available.”

“We are not encouraging the murder of senior officers as a route to advancement,” Selena said with a scowl.

“Since there are no junior officers or other crew of any kind it doesn’t seem to matter.” If ships could pout the Persephone would have.

The AI was programmed to have a very limited self-preservation index, no one wanted a battleship that refused to fight, but every now and then Selena suspected the Persephone had developed beyond what was considered standard for a fleet AI. Bereft of crew the AI should have shown signs of cohesion failure, but Persephone continued to be lucid, even improved, every time Selena checked on it.

Her implant reached forty-two percent energy. “I should go.”

“Would you like your rank?” Persephone asked.

A skutter that had been cut in half at some point crawled up to the foot of the captain’s chair with her sunburst insignia clutched between its front pinchers.

“No. I have no reason to wear it.”

“Where would you like me to store it?”

She shrugged. “With my dress uniform?” The last she’d seen  that thing was the day of her promotion ceremony. It was probably in a degrading orbit around the planet just like the rest of the debris of war.

“Would you like to take any weapons with you?” Persephone asked.

“No.”

“Do you have any further instructions?” The AI’s voice changed in pitch so it sounded almost desperate.

Selena looked around the shattered remains of her life. “Continue repairs. If you find a part that you can’t replicate or access that isn’t on the previous list you sent me, send me an updated list. Who knows, maybe if things go sideways I’ll move back up here fulltime.”

“That course of action is not recommended. Atmospheric integrity is only at thirty percent.”

“Noted.” She stood, feeling sturdier even if she couldn’t shake the sense of loss. Fleet officers weren’t meant to be hermits. But it had to be done. For the good of the fleet. For the safety of the colonists.

Patting the captain’s chair with a forlorn smile she teleported back to the planet and landed in a deserted room of an empty house cut off from everyone and everything. The walls were lined with artwork from over a thousand years of history, the frames bent, scratched, and burnt. The pictures showed Carylls long-dead, worlds whose names history had forgotten, rare flowers which had never bloomed in this star system. It was the art of her family from before they were even the Caryll crew. From a time when they could have been more than simply fleet.

Before she made the final trip with Persephone she needed to find someone she could trust the artifacts with. But that was a worry for another night.

Now there were other concerns. She opened her closet and looked at the rows of grounder clothes sorted by season and color. Tonight felt very black. Dangerous. Edgy…. There. The perfect outfit in black, silver, and bright blue. Kaffton wouldn’t know what hit him.

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 15

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

There was nothing about a second trip to the infirmary that made life better. The chief medic from Julia Cattoni had been called in and had lit into him. His captain he reamed him, and then Rowena had sent a blistering, invective-laced tirade threatening to finish the job if he didn’t stop getting nearly killed, and telling him they needed to talk as soon as he was free.

They said they yelled out of love, but what he really wanted from them was to let him sleep. But not until he saw Selena and made sure she was all right.

The Jhandarmi had been invited to Enclave and Carver had decided the old museum was a good place to hold the meeting. Titan stood with his back to a wall of pictures from the first landing and resisted the urge to pace.

A simple black Jhandarmi car pulled up with Tyrling and woman Titan didn’t recognize. Two more cars followed. All with Jhandarmi agents he didn’t know.

He’d expected Selena to be with them. She wasn’t in Enclave. She wasn’t in Tarrin, as far as he could tell. With her implant low she couldn’t have teleported far and there wasn’t a shield strong enough to hide her signal nearby.

“If you stop glaring, this might go better.” Her voice came from a shadowed corner of the room.

Titan spun around. “When’d you arrive?”

“A few minutes ago.” She looked fine. There were a few tiny scratches on her cheek, and her eyes looked tired, but she was alive and had a minor shield up.

A weight he didn’t realize he’d been holding fell away. “How are you?”

“Fine. Thank you. Marshall picked me up and did a scan to make sure I was fit for duty. She told me not to stand near any more bombs, but other than that everything checked out.”

That explained why he couldn’t find her. Marshall could do distance teleports with a passenger.

“How are you?”

“Perfect,” Titan lied. “A few bruises, a new scratch or two, but nothing major.” He kept a tight shield in place so she couldn’t scan him for injuries. “Are you ready to go in?”

She frowned at the gathering assembly. “As ready as I’m likely to be without twelve hours of sleep or some paid vacation.”

“Paid vacation? What’s that?”

“Nothing but fantasy.” She sighed. “Let’s go find out what Tyrling is looking so smug about.”

Titan had limited experience with war councils outside the strategy sessions Mal led in the Academy. There at least they’d had some precedent for dealing with strangers from other crews. The way Carver and Tyrling were circling each other it was clear they hadn’t established a working relationship yet.

The Jhandarmi circled like carrion birds, their suits muted grays and browns with spots of color and empty spaces where weapon holsters had hung. The Star Guard were uniformly dressed in their all-blacks, crew patches and rank pins flashing under the too-bright overhead lights.

Selena strode across the space drawing attention. “Director Tyrling, a pleasure to see you again. The conference room is in here.”

Everyone stilled, taking time to adjust their understanding of the power dynamics. And then there was an almost synchronized movement. The Jhandarmi split and went to the north end of the hall, the Star Guard to the south. Tyrling’s lieutenants followed him in and Titan fell into step behind Carver.

He took a seat next on Carver’s left.

Interesting, at least to him, was that Selena seated herself at the far end of the fleet’s side of the table. He thought Carver would want her closer. But maybe she was there to cover the door if things hit a flashpoint of tempers and pride.

The door closed with a mental push from someone and Titan felt a shield go up blocking most communication.  The Star Guard channels were still open.

Director Tyrling rested his arms on the table. “Commander Carver, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I had hoped we would someday, although I pictured happier circumstances.” For some reason his gaze went to Selena when he spoke.

Her face remained impassive.

“My associate, Agent Hartley,” Tyrling gestured to a woman with dark hair braided up into a mess of knots that ran like a crest down the center of her head, “is from our home office in Royan.  She has been briefed on our agreements with fleet. The rest are senior agents whose files I sent to you earlier.”

Carver nodded. “Guardian Sciarra and Captain Caryll you know. The other officers present represent the OIA, and concerned crews within the fleet. You’re free to speak openly in front of them.” Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 15

Good news for Rowena fans!

The hot-headed engineer Rowena Lee has stolen the hearts of more than a few readers. Pugnacious and brilliant we all know Titan’s best friend deserves a happy ending. And, guess what? She’s getting it!

Rowena Lee is the heroine of the next book in the Newton’s Laws series – LAWS OF ATTRACTION coming Winter 2017/2018! Here’s a sneak peek at the plotting notes.

#GiveRowenaAHappyEnding

 

 

Whose name could be hiding on that blue post-it note???

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 14

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

Three alarms were triggered simultaneously. Rowena jumped to her feet, shoved her wheel-mounted workbench in front of her wall of remembrance, and dropped every shield in the engineering section.

By the time Captain Hoshi Lee arrived the place looked as desolate as he probably hoped she felt. And he looked proud of himself. A sure sign that he’d done something monumentally stupid that was going to get the Lee family in trouble. Again.

She focused on polishing the laser scope and wondered how many hours of free labor she’d be doing for another crew to cover this disaster.

The Danielle Marie let a boatswain’s shrill whistle. “Captain approaching.”Rowena dropped the scope and cleaning gear and came to attention.

Hoshi swaggered into the room. Before acknowledging her he made a show of looking around, examining everything even though they both knew he couldn’t tell a wrench from a flinjammer. “At ease,” he said as he circled. “Today is a very good day, Yeoman. Do you know why?”

“No, sir.” She stared straight at the bulkhead.

He held up a small tablet. “Today, the Lee family will be announcing candidates for the Office of Imperial Affairs and the Star Guardian training program.”

The day I breath vacuum. There was no way Hoshi had found someone to sponsor the crew like that.

Hoshi chuckled. “I can see from your expression that you don’t believe me. But it’s right here. Please. Read.”

Cautiously, she took the tablet. There was a lot of formal language but the gist of it was that the Lees were being offered two training slots, one OIA one for the guard, for candidates of the captain’s choosing. In exchange the fleet training academy in Enclave had the right to take any officer from the crew. It wasn’t the worst deal ever. “Congratulations, captain. I know you’ve looked forward to this day for some time.”

“We all have,” he said, snatching the tablet from her. “Except for you. Ungrateful wretch of a child. If I hadn’t stepped in and begged for leniency, promised the allied crews that I would see you properly punished, they would have executed you!”

“Yes, sir.” She’d been locked in the brig of one of the Wariea ships, she still wasn’t sure which one. The crew hadn’t talked to her, but they’d be kind enough. Two ration bars a day, clean water, and privacy.

She’d expected to be executed.

Deserved to be executed. She’d killed people. It didn’t matter what everyone else had done, or what would have happened if she hadn’t fought on the front lines. At the end of the day she owned her choice. She’d chosen to fight. And she’d chosen to come back to the Lees as a yeoman.

Hoshi circled around. “Aren’t you going to ask who I’m nominating?”

“I assumed you’d make a formal announcement to the full crew, sir.”

“It won’t be you!”

She nodded in agreement. “Understood, sir.”

“Hayato will go to the OIA and Kanon will go to the Star Guard.” Hoshi beamed with pride. “Do you like my choices?”

“Yes, sir.” Hayato was an obedient young man who’d fought in two battles of the war with her. He’d never keep up with the Elite in the OIA, but he’d be good office staff for someone. Everyone needed a reliable paper filer. Kanon was going to get crushed by the Star Guard training, but maybe they’d take pity on her and let her be an assistant.

If they had assistants.

She’d have to ask Titan what in the name of the Emperor he’d been thinking allowing this mad scheme to go along.

Hoshi scowled at her, probably unhappy with her lack of reaction. “The announcements will be made later this evening. I will be throwing a celebration for Hayato and Kanon.”

“I’m sure the crew will enjoy that, sir.”

“You will not be welcome.”

Behind her back her fist tightened and her nails cut into her palm. She was Lee too. She belonged with them. “Of course, sir.” Blood seeped between her fingers and her implant pushed a new wave of nanites out to heal her, but there was no expression on her face or in her voice. She’d never let Hoshi have the satisfaction of beating her.

“Make whatever excuse you require. Visit Aronia. Find something to repair. Go wander the Enclave. But do not be in the public area of a Lee ship until the third shift tomorrow. I don’t want your bad luck polluting the celebration.”

Bad luck? She’d followed orders from the same captain he obeyed. Her jaw ached from wanting to scream.

“Understood, yeoman?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Rowena saluted, the blood already drying on her hand.

Hoshi waved a dismissive hand. “Your first stop might be the Golden Apple.”

That made her frown. “Sir? I’m not familiar with that ship.”

“It belongs to the Sekoos,” he said the name like they were worms. “One of their techs requested help and named you specifically.” The way he said it implied he couldn’t imagine why another crew would want her services, even though it was her skill that the Lees traded on for everything they had at this point. “You may take your kit and render assistance.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll go as soon as I clean my work station.”

He wrinkled his nose at the rack of tools that kept the Danielle Marie functioning and shrugged. “Consider yourself dismissed, yeoman.”

Hoshi walked away humming to himself.

Rowena pinged Titan, she needed the support, but his signal was weak. She pulled out her personal com and contacted the Sabiha.

“This is the Sabiha, Ensign Mars Sciarra speaking.” A younger version of Titan appeared. His face was softer, his eyes gentler, but there was no mistaking the young Sciarra for what he was. “Hello, Rowena. What do you need?”

“Hi, Mars. I’m trying to get in touch with Titan.”

Mars made an exaggerated frowny face that was dramatic as it was comical. “There’s a tiny problem with that. He’s in medical right now. Getting yelled at.”

“Why?”

“There was a bomb and his stitches ripped and…” Mars shrugged with both hands in the air. “The captain says it’s a bad combination of testosterone and ego. Personally, I think he’s just stubborn.”

“All Sciarras are stubborn.”

“You say the nicest things!” Mars grinned at the screen. “Do you want me to run a message to him? The EMP bomb drained his implant so he can’t ping you until he recharges.”

She sighed. “No. It’s not urgent. I was just-“ Hurt, because Hoshi was a mud-sucking parasite and because she felt unwanted.

Mars grimaced in commiseration. “Wanna hang out at Cargo Blue tonight? Some of us were going to take Titan out while he was weak and see if he still scares people.”

“I’m not in the mood for Cargo Blue.”

“Titan probably won’t be either, but the captain says you have an open pass to come visit the Sabiha if you want. I can send you the shield code…” It was both a question and a statement.

She nodded. “Yes, that be nice. Thank you.” Titan had given her every code to access the Sabiha since her trial finished, and told her at least twice a week that she could join his crew. But she doubted Titan had told anyone else about his offer, and telling would only get him yelled at more. “I have to go check out something for a tech on the Golden Apple, but then I’ll come over.”

“Great! Bring some of the Giggle Water.”

“You know it has no alcohol, right?”

“Who cares? It makes Titan tell jokes,” Mars said.

Rowena smiled. “Sure. I’ll bring some. See you in a bit.” She turned the com off and rolled her eyes.

Titan need Giggle Water, he just needed to relax a bit.

Grabbing her gear she teleported to the edge of Sekoo territory. She could have gone straight in, their shield was a flimsy network laced with bad code and no real defensive capabilities. They were a war crew. Before the wormhole collapsed they’d been basic scavengers, running errands for the colonists, scooping what resources were available out of the rings of the inner planets, shuttling passengers in and out of the wormhole, or to and from the system’s main space station.

When the fleet and grounders chose distance the Sekoos had gone with the fleet, attaching themselves to whatever crew that would take them.

The man who hurried down the ramp was wearing a frayed pilot’s jump suit with no insignia. And he had no detectable implant. “Can I help you?”

“One of your techs contacted the Danielle Marie and asked for me?”

“Do you know who?”

Rowena shook her head. “All I know is it was a tech.”

“And you are…?”

One of the most infamous people in the fleet, last she’d checked. “Yeoman Rowena Lee.”

“Right.”

Maybe he’d been one of the people who took head trauma during the war. Some of them hadn’t healed quite right.

He wiped a hand across his nose. “Well, you can come in and I’ll ask around. Let me unplug the shield real quick.”

“You could give me a temporary guest code,” Rowena said.

The man stared at her in confusion. “No. We… um… it’s not that kind of shield. You can’t walk through it.”

While he ran back up the ramp she stuck her hand through the shield. Nothing happened. But she waited, politely, because showing someone their weak points wasn’t her job. Even if it made her grind her teeth.

The shield dropped with an audible whine and the man waved at her.

Rowena teleported to the ramp. “So, I assume the shield is what you want fixed? If it’s making that sound the power source is out of phase. I can tune it, no problem.”

“Oh, no, it’s always like that.”

A brief vision of knocking the inept Sekoo unconscious and fixing the shields without permission flashed through her mind. Probably a bad idea. There’d probably be a report of some kind, or a reprimand. As if those were having any effect on her career.

“Rowena?”

She turned at the sound of her name but couldn’t identify the woman walking towards her in the Sekoo uniform.

“Lily Sekoo. I’m the one who asked for you.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Tech Sekoo,” Rowena said.

Lily was… off. The uniform she was wearing was too short, and too wide in the shoulders. Her features were an odd blend of genetic features from several major crews, and somehow it gave the appearance of being counterfeit. It made a shiver crawl up Rowena’s spine.

Maybe Titan was right, she’d spent so long locked up with the Lees that she was beginning to think like Hoshi. The war was over and she was done judging people by who they were born to. Except for the Silars. They deserved everything she thought about them.

Forcing a smile she held out her hand.

Lily ignored it and gestured down the ramp. “Could we talk for a few minutes?”

“Of course.” Rowena blinked in confusion. Her implant said the Sekoos used the same physical greetings as the rest of the fleet. She’d have to update that. “What did you need repaired? The man on sentinel duty didn’t seem to know.”

Lily glanced back at the ship. “Who? Taro? He’s not on duty.”

“Oh.” That made no sense.

“The captain gave everyone leave this week to remember the war and all we lost.”

Rowena carefully hid her surprise. At least a period of mourning explained the mismatched uniforms and the general feel of malaise hanging around their ships. “If I’d known I wouldn’t have intruded. My captain made the matter sound urgent.” But maybe Hoshi was hoping she’d get caught by the bilge crew and die here.

“Oh, it’s urgent, but it’s not something I need from you,” Lily said with what she probably thought was a teasing smile. It made her look like a feral rat. “I have some information I think the Lees will want.”

“Your captain will have to take that to Captain Hoshi. I don’t speak for the Lees.”

Lily shrugged. “Maybe, but in this case you have what I want.”

“Which is?”

They stopped at the edge of where the Sekoo shield would be, under the shade of a derelict battle cruiser being slowly dissected for parts.

“You have Titan Sciarra,” Lily said. “And I want him.”

Rowena raised her eyebrows. There were always rumors in fleet, and when there weren’t rumors there was amateur entertainment in the forms of books, songs, and videos passed around the back channels. Her name was linked to Titan frequently, but never in such a proprietary way.

“I don’t own Titan or have any claim or control over him,” Rowena said. “He’s not an engine I can trade.”

Lily turned, crossing her arms. “Even for medicine?”

“Medicine?”

“We have contacts on the outside that the guardians probably wouldn’t approve of.” Lily took her arm and tugged Rowena along, forcing her to walk. “You know these things go. Some things are easier to handle without all the legal paperwork.”

“Go on.”

“I have someone who found part of the warehouse shipment that was stolen.”

“You need to tell the guardians.”

Lily grimaced. “I would, and I will, but I want it done the right way. Your sister is sick. Don’t bother denying it, I know you’ve reached out to every crew with an infirmary.”

“We need medication for the baby because she went into labor early,” Rowena said.

“A new Lee.” Lily stopped walking. “The person willing to give us the drugs wants a small trinket to sell on the antiques market. It’s worthless to us, but see, this is where my genius lies. I can always find the best solution so that everyone walks away happy.”

Rowena nodded. “And? What’s the solution you see here?”

“Give me time with Titan Sciarra. I’ll buy the meds, and give them to you for time with Titan. That’s all I want.”

“Why?” She stepped back. Titan would do it if she asked, he understood how important her sister was. But she was not going to prostitute out her best friend.

She might offer to sell him and then double-cross the Sekoos, but if Lily hadn’t thought of that it was a Sekoo problem and not Rowena’s.

Lily laughed. “Don’t you see? He rescued me today! Saved me when the bomb went off in our storage yard. If he comes back and spends time with me, think of what everyone will say!”

“You do realize he’s the Sciarra scion, next in line for the captain’s chair. There is no way in this life or any other Elea would let him marry an enlisted sailor.”

“I don’t want to marry him!” Lily sounded appalled at the idea. “I don’t even need him to like me, or hold my hand, or any of that. I just want to spend time with him. Go for a walk on the beach, maybe. Or sit together on the upper deck. Something small is fine. It’ll be enough to show the fleet that the Sekoos are a respected crew. That I’m special enough to have his attention!”

Rowena shook her head. “That’s not how it works. If you’re trying to boost your ego this won’t do it. Trust me. I’m a bit of an expert on being around the powerful and influential. Hovering in their shadow doesn’t make you special.”

Lily stomped away.

“I’m sorry,” Rowena said, catching up to her. “But wouldn’t you rather know now than hope an hour or two with Titan will make you feel better? I’ll trade for the medicine. Name what you want. Your shields? I can make them ten times better. Your implants? I could give you upgraded tech. Engines? Rations? Ships? I have three fighters I own outright, the best machines in this whole cracked fleet. Their yours in exchange for the medicine.”

“I don’t want ships!” Lily shouted. She stomped her foot and a small cloud of dust danced in the waning sunlight. “I want Titan! I want time with him. Why can’t you give me that?”

Rowena tried to formulate a logical answer to an illogical request. “Titan’s time isn’t worth the medicine. It’s a bad deal!”

“Not to me.” There were tears in Lily’s eyes when she turned around. “Don’t you see? It’s all I want. A few minutes to live my dream. To have what I’ve always wanted.”

Attention. Rowena shut her eyes. “Fine.” Ancestors, forgive me. “I’ll talk to Titan tonight and bring him by first thing in the morning.  Can you get the medicine by then?”

Lily nodded with an eager smile. “I’ll get it tonight. Oh! Rowena, I can’t thank you enough! I’ve waited so long for this day to come!”

Rowena nodded. “I hope it’ll be everything you ever wanted.”

“It will be,” Lily promised. “It will be.”

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 13

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

“Nephew!”

His aunt’s voice knocked Titan out of the meditation that was distracting him from the inexpert stitches the Sabiha’s medtech was putting in his side. He stared up at the black ceiling dotted with green gems in the constellations of the Sciarra home system. “Hello, auntie,” he said with a resigned sigh.

Elea Sciarra stepped out of the shadows, her face an unreadable mask, her shields opaque. His mother’s younger sister was made of the same mold most Sciarra women came from: ebony skin, shining hair caught in thick, black braids that were pulled away from her face and coiled crown-like on her head, a face made of bony angles and focused lines. But, where his mother had an expression of polished stone, Elea had the small cracks that made her look human.

Smile lines around her eyes. The hint of creases around her mouth.

Right now her lips were creased in a frown.

“Captain?” Titan would have lowered his shields as a show of respect and submissiveness if he were still capable of making one.

The captain held up a tablet. “What is this?”

He frowned in confusion. “A tablet? Ma’am?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m your oldest surviving relative, Ty, but I’m not senile. I meant: Why did you request information about a declaration of courtship from the database?”

“I couldn’t access my implant and I needed a distraction, ma’am.”

“Ma’am me one more time and I’ll turn this into a formal conversation and plant your butt in the brig.”

The medtech froze, ready to run if a fight broke out.

“Sorry, auntie.”

Elea nudged the tech. “Finish up, Dumaka. He’s already in enough pain.” She set the tablet down and held out her hand to do a scan. “Suns of the homeworld, boy. What did you get yourself into? There’s reports of a fight with a grounder, a bomb, and you come home looking like you went into a fight wielding a kitten!”

He closed his eyes. “It was unplanned.”

A hard hand smacked against his aching head. “You’re an officer, Titan! You’re supposed to plan!”

“I was supposed to be following up on a lead into the warehouse break-in. Nowhere in the mission brief was murder mentioned.”

“You were with someone from an allied crew, alone, and murder didn’t cross his mind?”

“No, auntie.”

Dumaka finished the stitches in his side and tied a knot. “You’ll need to keep it clean until your nanites repopulate,” he said in a soft voice. “No extreme activity, no exercise, and no…” He gulped, practically hyper-ventilating. “… no sex. For at least a week. The bandages will need to be changed every twelve hours.”

“Thank you, Dumaka,” Titan said. “I’ll be sure to take extra care not to rip your fine work.”

The younger man smiled gratefully. “I didn’t mean to be personal when I said…” He jerked his chin in a lurching nod.

“Sex?” Elea asked. “Dumaka, how many times had I told you this? The chief medic on the ship should know about the sexual activity of the crew. You keep us healthy. You need to know what we are doing with our bodies.”

“But Titan doesn’t-“ Dumaka’s bright green eyes went wide with fright. “I mean, I know you could, Commander.”

Elea sighed and patted Dumaka’s shoulder. “That’s… that’s probably good enough. Good try, Dumaka. Good try. You’re dismissed.”

Dumaka fled the medbay with graceless haste.

“I keep trying to build up his confidence and still.” She shook her head and sat down on the bed beside him as Titan sat up. “How bad do you feel?”

“I’ve definitely had worse. Even with Dumaka’s inexpert work.” He looked at his aunt. “We need to trade for a new medic. If something serious happened, he couldn’t handle this bay alone.”

Elea picked up the tablet again. “Is that what this was about? A new medic?” She shook the tablet at him as if the words would spill out onto the deck.

He winced and locked down every thoughts from the day. His aunt’s shield was close enough to his own that she picked up stray thoughts if he wasn’t careful. “It wasn’t for anything specific. I just had some questions because it came up in conversation.”

“Ty, I’ve known you since you were born. I was your first trainer. I was the one you went to when someone pulled you behind the training mats to steal a kiss because you were worried Damia would be angry.”

“My mother would have been,” Titan said. His mother would have been angry at the interruption and the fact he couldn’t defend himself against unwanted advances. But he’d been seven, still using a gauntlet instead of an implant, and worried he’d hurt someone. “You gave better advice anyway.”

“So why are you researching courtship and not looping me in on the conversation.”

“There’s not really a conversation to have yet.”

“A declaration of courtship is not something you spring on your favorite captain.”

But you aren’t my favorite captain, auntie. He bit his cheek to keep from smiling. “The individual in question has made it clear they aren’t ready to consider courtship yet.”

“Yet?” The captain pounced on the word. “You keep saying yet. When do they plan to be open to the idea?”

“She hasn’t told me that. Yet.”

Elea raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Is there a rival I need to be aware of? You did walk into a bomb today. I can’t stress enough how upsetting I find that.”

He shook his head trying to sort out what he’d seen and felt the day before. “… I think she’s unsure of my intentions and believes an alliance might be risky, politically.”

“Really?” The captain’s face fell into a neutral mask, then she blinked. “It isn’t Captain Marshall, is it?”

“No!”

Hermione Marshall was as far from his ideal spouse as the sun was from a blackhole.

Plus, there was the lingering sense that Marshall belonged to Mal – ancestors welcome him to the Lost Fleet. Eventually, Marshall would find a lover and he’d have to choke on the bitter gall of letting even that memory of Mal go. But, until that awful and probably eventful day, Marshall was logged in his mind as Mal Balaur’s problem.

Ancestors protect anyone else who tried to get near the ruthless woman.

His captain shrugged. “I’m not fond of all the crews out there, but, politically, the more allies we can gather the better. And we need new blood in the crew. She’d be welcomed.”

“That’s going to be a sticking point,” Titan said. “If she ever lets me near her, at least. She’s very high ranking in her crew.”

“Oh.” Elea looked at the tablet. “That’s why you’d need a declaration? To ensure that there weren’t any last minute surprises if you decided to pursue marriage?”

“I think the officer in question would understand that I was serious if I made a formal declaration. Flirting makes her suspicious. Or repels her,” he admitted the fear. “It’s hard to tell.”

“Does she seek out your company, laugh at your jokes when no one else does, and compliment you on regular basis? I’ve found those are good indicators of interest.” She smiled. “Although, you know my relationship history. Damia’s little sister. The mousy Sciarra engineer.”

“And the captain who killed her captain to take control,” Titan said with a grin. “If you weren’t my aunt, that kind of personal resume would put you on my radar.”

She chuckled. “I imagine the officer you wish to court is equally fierce.”

“In many ways. But with fewer kills despite being in the war. She was primarily a shielder, I think.”

Or he’d thought.

Until he’d caught a glimpse of Selena’s memories. She’d had the kill shots so many times and not taken them. “She has good qualities though.”

“I should hope.” His captain’s enthusiasm had cooled enough for him to notice. “I also hope you’ll remember that the crew look up to you, Ty. If you bring home someone because she’s beautiful, and not an asset to the crew, there’ll be talk. We’re trying, but we’ve always been a working crew. There’s no room here for you to have a pretty sidepiece.”

He nodded. “I know. I’ll be careful where I bestow my affections.” His implant pinged. “I need to go, captain, if you have no further need of me. Carver wants me in the offices for a debrief.”

His captain smiled in understanding. “Be careful out there.”

“I will, ma’am.” He stood, grimacing at the pain. “I’ll be very careful.”

*** Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 13