BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 11

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

They’d gone beyond the perimeter of the art district and the walls were changing back to the concrete foundations of heavier buildings. Whoever they were following, they were moving fast. Once or twice they’d rounded the corner and seen a light up ahead, but then it turned a corner leaving them trailing again. Titan was about to turn the latest corner when he heard a low voice indistinct in the darkness.

Another voice answered, higher in pitch but still low enough to suggest a man.

Selena leaned forward, peering around the edge of the wall. :Kaffton and someone else. Their lights are pointed down.:

He felt her frustration as well as his own. :Do you see anything that looks like a list? Papers? Data chip?:

:Nothing yet. Charging in does us no good unless we get the data.:

:Let’s get Kaffton and then get the data from him,: Titan argued. :This is not the time and place for Caryll kindness.:

:We can’t kidnap grounders.:

He frowned. :Even if we give them to the Jhandarmi? I could tie a bow or something…:

A sound he’d never heard before cracked through the hull. Titan froze, watching the ceiling.

:Gun!: Selena ran away from him towards the sound.

There was no choice but to follow. Heavy shields up he ran after her towards the fallen man.

Kaffton didn’t see them perhaps, but the dust was enough to warn him. He fired twice, and then ran.

Selena lit up, glowing like the moon as she knelt beside the man. “Dead. He’s not in the database. Crack my hull, Tyrling isn’t going to like this.”

“What’s he got on him?” Titan asked, keeping the shields up and watching the path Kaffton had taken.

Selena patted the man down. “Nothing. Nothing.” Something crunched audibly when she patted his hip pocket. “Something?” She reached in and pulled out a thin strip of paper. “An address in one of the newer areas. Nouveau Riche, style makers, and heirs… it’s a good place to mingle at a party and do some business on the side. Lost Fleet take Kaffton why did he shoot?”

“Didn’t like the terms maybe?” Titan guessed.

“Or didn’t want to wait to get paid.”

She shook her head. “This is the man we followed from the dead drop. Kaffton wouldn’t have handed over the list if he hadn’t been paid. And he’d have no reason to shoot a potential client.” She looked at the man’s face. “We need to get above ground and have the Jhandarmi ID him. Where’s the last place we saw an exit?”

Titan closed his eyes and visualized the map he’d recorded as they’d followed. “We’re near the center of town. Heavy shields above, and the last open entrance we saw was over two klicks back.”

With a swipe of her hand Selena projected the map of the city over the map of the tunnels and the map of the blind spots for Tarrin security. Here, over by the old hospital and the city’s original morgue. They had six sublevels at one point. I bet there’s an exit there.”

Why dig so far down?”

She looked up in surprise. “Officially? If you ask the Tarrins it was to keep the bodies cool. Caryll database says that some anti-imperialists were housed there in the early days of colonization. Icedell was meant to be a penal colony. Descent was going to be a vacation spot for Imperial workers, the workforce would come from the penal colony stock.”

“I never heard that.”

“The Carylls were sent to set it up, originally. But the captain who led our armada didn’t think it was feasible. After the wormhole collapsed they saw no reason to pursue it.”  The soft glow that surrounded her changed to a cold, deep sea green and fell over the dead body. “That’ll keep him until we can get someone down here. I have facial scans and fingerprints.”

“I’d been about to suggest that.” Titan crossed his arms. Fingerprinting a victim was a rather esoteric practice these days. It had gone out of use when implants became common.

Selena stood and brushed a loose strand of hair back from her eyes. “Let’s go. I need a signal.”

The connection between them filled with schematics of implants as Selena quietly picked apart the design trying to find a way to send a signal past the layers of rock and shielding.

“We could just break the shield,” he muttered. It was a very, very good shield. Anomalously good, in fact. There wouldn’t be any slipping through without triggering an alarm. But that’s why begging for forgiveness had been invented. “Who put this shield up?” he asked as the corridor narrowed.

Complete lockdown. The flow of shared information was cut dead. Selena’s eyes went wide with projected innocence. “I don’t know.” She shook her head.

:Liar.:

“I can’t say?”

The gun sound cracked again. They’d caught up with Kaffton.

Habit made Titan reach out mentally to pin the man down, but Kaffton had no telekyen on him.

Selena ran forward, enhancing her shield as she moved and presenting only a blurred shadow for Kaffton to see.

Kaffton fired again. The bullets ricocheted away, sparking off the walls as they bounced. Perhaps panicking, Kaffton ran. He turned a corner, moving out of sight and there was a heavy groan of a metal door closing.

Turning the corner in pursuit they saw the sliver of daylight vanish with a thud.

“No!” Selena ran up to the door and banged her fist on it. She wedged her shoulder against it and pushed.

Focusing on a brute shield Titan followed, pushing with all the weight he could concentrate on the door.

It squeaked, caved in at the center, but didn’t budge.

“We need to go back the other way,” Titan said. “There’s not another exit near here.”

“I do not have time for that.”

Selena’s face was suffused with rage, her eyes glowing a bright stellar blue. She reached her hand out and ran it along the door looking for a weak point.

“We have to-”

She clenched her hand into a fist and the door crumpled in on itself like a wadded linen.

Titan stared in disbelief at the tiny ball of metal hanging suspended in the air. “That’s…”

“An opening,” her voice was a dangerously low growl of fury and command.

Scared by Selena Caryll… even if he replayed the memory for his crew no one would believe him. “I am so glad you learned that trick after the Landing.”

“I didn’t.”

The crumbled door spun on its axis over her palm and then shot ahead, flying across the empty parking garage on an arching trajectory. It cut a deep groove in the stone floor as it landed.

An attack like that… “Can you do that with all metal?”

“I can do it with anything,” Selena said as she stalked toward the entrance.

“Please don’t crumple the suspect. We need to question him.”

Her shield spiked, flipping from defense to full offensive attack. And then she took a deep breath and seemed to return to normal. “I’ve lost him anyway.” She pulled out her phone. “I’m calling the Jhandarmi in. We need to get this area locked down and searched.”

Angrily glaring at her phone she continued walking toward the exit.

:You’re inviting another attack, pacing out there.:

:Let him try.: There was a quick flash-thought of Kaffton attacking and the metal of his bullets stretching and looping to become binders for his legs.

:There’s not enough metal.:

Selena shot him an annoyed look. :A girl can dream.:

“Tyrling, yes, it’s Caryll. I need a team at my location ASAP. We have an unidentified male victim and Kaffton is at large and armed.” As she listened to the Jhandarmi’s response she glared out at the quiet buildings outside. “Understood, sir. I’ll expect you shortly.”

:They’re on their way. Do you see any movement?:

:None. He could have gone up, or kept running. There aren’t many security blindspots here. We’ll find him.:

There was something in the way that she continued pacing that made it clear that it wasn’t just Kaffton’s escape bothering her. There was something else, a private goal she wasn’t sharing.

Titan crossed his arms and waited. He wasn’t quite as good as Rowena at getting secrets out of people, but he would get them eventually. But he wasn’t feeling patient.

Reaching out with a thought he tugged at Selena’s arm.

Her shoes scuffed the ground as she paused and turned. She tilted her head to the side and he felt rather than saw her confusion.

Words seemed inadequate for what he wanted. It was safety, but something more. If she’d been crew, he would have opened her arms to hold her, check her for physical injuries. If physical touch wasn’t allowed, he wanted at least physical proximity,

With an understanding half-smile, she walked over to him. “You’re being a little overprotective.”

“You’re being a little reckless. I’m trying to balance out this little partnership we have.”

Her shoulder bumped his arm. “If you think this was reckless it’s a good thing you slept through the war.”

“War is different.”

She shook her head.  “No. It’s all the same.”

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 10

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

The storm that had hung heavy over Bellis was on the distant horizon as Selena exited the hypertram at Tarrin’s main station. If the familiar scents of linden trees and the sea breeze didn’t give away the city-state, the buildings did. The architecture was overly Tarrin, lots of arches and curved corners that seemed designed to stamp into visitor’s heads that they were not in the rival city-state any more. Even the portrait of the Lethe family, the owners of hypertrams the world over, was in a nice round frame.

Selena arched an eyebrow at the vacant smile of Sonya Lethe, Tarrin-born Lethe heiress, and wondered what to do next. Tyrling’s directions had been vague, and information had been uploading to the Jhandarmi database as she traveled. There was too many possibilities and not enough certainties.

“You’re frowning,” Sciarra murmured as he stepped up beside her, blocking the spring chill.

“I’m debating the merits of walking into the art district, slamming people’s heads together and demanding answers.”

He tilted his head as he considered the idea. “Tempting, but not good for the fleet’s overall appeal.”

“The Combine’s brand,” she corrected. “Remember who you are.”

“A slightly menacing gentleman from Descent who might be here to purchase land, or art, or a little of both.” He made a show of looking at his watch. “All the good businesses should be open. Shall we prowl?”

A corner of her mouth twitched up in a smirk. “Indeed.” To everyone watching they weren’t just outsiders, they were wealthy outsiders dressed in the height of Descent fashion. They’d blend in well on the streets of Royan, but here in Tarrin they stood out. Being the center of attention was fine when everyone was simply sizing up her sexual appeal, this level of scrutiny made her hair stand on end.

The train station opened out to the grand terrace, a series of long, shallow steps, and then onto one of Tarrin’s many formal gardens. It wasn’t the right time of year for the grand display, but there were hints of the show to come, pale green buds ripening on the frail flower stems, dark dirt turned and nourished by gardeners dressed in the deep ocean gray of Tarrin’s civil service.

:Do you want me to hail a cab?: Sciarra asked via the implant.

:We can walk. Tyrling gave me a map of blind spots and I want to see if we can get between here and the art district without leaving it.: She sent him the map.

Sciarra sent back a sensation of disgruntlement. :The station is wide open, where could he have dropped out of sight?:

:The first blind spot is near a food court in the indoor shopping plaza.: It was redundant to send him the image of the glass and steel building ahead of them, but she did. Terminal Plaza had once been the stopping point for the tram before the rail was extended to the port. Now it was part botanical garden, part tourist trap.

Stepping in front of her Sciarra caught the heavy door and held it open. “After you, miss.”

Selena pulled up the map again as they stepped inside to the dry warmth of the shopping center. The lower level had the food court that smelled of grease and intoxication, an indoor river, trees that caused the major security concerns, and a row of knick-knack shops. :Do you see an opening out of here?:

:Maintenance door to the left of the bagel shop,: Sciarra said. :There’s trees blocking the view from two angles.:

She checked the schematics. :Passcode protected so there’s no camera on the inside until the hall splits.:

They stopped in front of it and let the other people flooding off the tram flow past.

Sciarra gave the handle a wiggle. “Locked.”

:Could you get through it without augmentation? Kaffton has none.:

A security guard came into view, following the crowd and pausing here and there to give directions to tourists.

Sciarra pulled a paper map out of his pocket. “It came in the food basket. You said you wanted to look at the dress shop first?” he asked, a little louder than was necessary.

“Only if they carry Kellington’s designs,” she said as the guard walked past. Her mouth snapped shut with a frown as the guard stepped out of sight.

“What tools would Kaffton have had?”

“Whatever professional tools someone like hi-“

A worker in the bright blue-and-orange stripes of the Dreamy Cream ice cream shop shoved between them and unlocked the door.

Sciarra grabbed the handle before it shut. “The security here-“

“- is abysmal,” Selena agreed. “But it’s likely how any thief would get in.”

They stepped inside the service hall, a small, cramped space overwhelmed by the smell of cooking grease. Ahead of them the worker’s footsteps echoed off the concrete walls.

:The next security array is at the T-intersection ahead. Camera, motion sensor, and a heat sensor,: Selena said.

Sciarra’s eyes glowed a bright green as he scanned the area, the information trickling back to her on a slight time delay.

Even during the war she hadn’t always appreciated a constant stream of intel from the rest of her squad, it kept her from thinking. Sciarra’s information was different though, no commentary or assumptions, just flat data. Facts without chatter. The scan he was using showed the support beams in the wall, a hairline fracture that needed repairs in one of the floor panels, and a hidden door halfway down the hall.

Cautiously, Sciarra pushed on the wall panel and the door fell back with a hydraulic whine of a mechanized hinge. :Are these on the city blueprints?: Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 10

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 9

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

Fog curled over the hypertram tracks as the steady rain beat a dreary tattoo on the roof. A feeling of alien otherness consumed the station. The walls were stretched too high, the passageways felt too narrow, the people who scurried past with their eyes averted were thin, short, and silent. Titan looked around with a frown. These were the coordinates Caryll has given them in their brief conversation. He was dressed for the mission. But she was missing and he felt like an over-sized idiot.

The timepiece on his wrist was heavy, cold, and useless. The black sweater he was wearing was clinging in the damp air and leaving him chilled not warmed. Caryll didn’t seem like the type to play mind games with him, but is she didn’t appear in the next five minutes he was tossing the tickets in the nearest recycling bin and teleporting back to Enclave.

He turned again, watching the crowds streaming through the main checkpoint and lobby, and his heart stuttered as his other senses flew on high alert.

Cutting through the throng like a shark in the shoals a woman in tight black pants and a silvery-blue shirt rivetted his attention. Her pale, moon-blonde hair was swept up in a sleek ponytail, and even at a distance he saw the dark makeup lining her eyes. She looked up, and his shield cracked open. :Selena.:

:Guardian.: She sliced through the mob of passengers, sleek and lethal, and took the stairs up to the boarding platform as the hypertram pulled in behind him.

Titan held her ticket out. “First-class passenger car, like you asked.” He pinged her with a question mark.

“Thank you.” She watched the slowing tram. :It makes us visible and trackable.:

:I never thought those would be good things.: The face of his watch caught the light of the tram and he noticed it perfectly matched the blue of her shirt. A small smile tugged at the corner of his lip.

Selena turned to him, the bare hint of an answering smile on her lips. “Did you have time to review the data I sent you?”

“I did.” He nodded as the proximity between them allowed their shields to meld. His heart rate dropped to beat time with hers. “Did you bring the identification?”

A whistle sounded and over the station loudspeaker the boarding was announced.

Titan took the lead, and noticed a new weight in his pant’s pocket as he approached the gate. Sliding his hand into the pocket he felt a heavy wallet. :That was a neatly done teleport.:

Selena’s answering thoughts were fuzzy, distracted and tense.

They found their seats near the front of the tram, a comfortable, semi-private booth perfumed by the bright coral flowers in the built-in vase and a lingering scent of rain. Titan let Selena pick her side, back to the front of the train, and sat across from her. “Is everything all right?” Her emotions were swirling just out of reach and he couldn’t gauge her mood.

She pulled on a black jacket cut to emphasize her slender build and shrugged. “I expected things to resolve faster than this. Being used…” Her lips curled in an angry grimace. “I don’t like being played the fool.”

“No one does.”

Another whistle sounded, lower this time, and the doors to the hypertram slammed shut with authoritative finality.

“This should be interesting,” Titan murmured.

Selena’s nose wrinkled in disagreement. “An inefficient waste of time.”

“But remarkably advanced considering what the colonies started with.”

“I suppose.”

The hypertram slid out of the station, the outside scenery blurring as they raced passed.

Titan put a minor sound shield up, not enough to block out everything, but enough that no one passing by would hear their conversation. “Have you been on one of these before?”

“A few times,” Caryll said, still holding her emotions tight. “We landed in the port outside Tarrin but for a few weeks we were looking at housing some of the crews here in Bellis. The OIA job gave me the right to travel and purchase land and houses, but there was too much push back. The grounders were scared of us, and the fleet was scared of losing its identity.” She shrugged.

“Did you consider taking your crew here?”

The look she gave him was icy. “Briefly. Before they left.”

A memory spilled out over her shield, her fears, and her hopes as she bought apartments for the nearly 600 Carylls who had survived, of seeing a bright future, and then learning they’d betrayed her.

Titan sent thoughts of sympathy mixed with affection. Losing his parents in the war had been hard enough even though they’d been distant in the final years. He couldn’t imagine losing his entire crew.

She scowled at him. “I don’t need your pity.”

“I’m not offering any. I was trying to let you know I understood a bit about betrayal. My last captain tried to kill me, you know.” Neit had been his mother’s little brother, his uncle, and an unholy terror he was happy he helped Elea kill.

“That’s not quite the same.”

“No. Not quite,” he agreed.

A woman wearing a red vest over a pale gold shirt and black slacks stepped beside their seats wearing a name tag that read: JAFFIA.

Titan dropped the sound shield. “Yes?”

“Would you care for a complimentary snack? This tram offers a selection of the finest Bellis food products to all our first-class guests.”

Caryll sent an affirmative signal but didn’t turn away from the window.

“Yes, thank you,” Titan said.

The woman smiled brightly and brought over a basket with the red, black, and gold Bellis flag on it. “Enjoy your morning,” she said.

After putting the sound shield back Titan picked through the food. “Five Winds bramble jam. Five Winds sausage. Five Winds bread. I feel like I’m missing a joke.”

“The Five Winds was the first colonial ship to land on this continent,” Selena said.

“I thought it landed in Tarrin?”

She shrugged and looked over at the food. “Both Tarrin and Bellis claim the ship landed in their borders. Tarrin even has part of it on the north end; they use it as a concert hall. But realistically the ground here is too swampy ten months of the year and it either landed on the beach near Enclave or further north near Kivalina.” Her shields stayed tight.

“I don’t think anyone appreciates how much you gave up when the Persephone was lost.”

“Not lost,” Selena corrected. “Lost would be forgivable. I gave up the Persephone. Intentionally let her crash. All for strangers. If I’d lost her in battle it would have been a tragedy. But giving up? The fleet will never accept that.” She turned her attention back to the window.

He leaned back in his seat. “Do you know what my penance was after the war?”

“I didn’t really expect your captain to make you do anything. She took the command with your help, and you weren’t in the war. Officially.”

“True.” Officially he hadn’t been much of anything. Unofficially he’d been in the first attack on the planet. It was a fact he hoped he’d never need to share with her.

He weighed what to say to her. See how far we have fallen, the forgotten generation, the children of distant stars.

Rowena’s words echoed in his mind, “The fleet’s been dead for years. The next step is all of us leaving Enclave and becoming grounders. That’s it. That’s the only option other than mass suicide.”

Here lies a sailor, enlisted in the Lost Fleet too soon. May their name never be forgotten. Death is their captain now. Death their ever-sure companion. The words to a sailor’s dirge older than the fleet.

If he accepted Rowena’s prediction, there was no point in saying anything else. But…

Under the table he rolled up his left sleeve and ran his thumb down the thick, silver grooves in his skin. He should have died in that crash. His implant had overload and he’d never found an explanation for why the electrical overload ended at his elbow instead of following his nervous system to his brain.

Maybe his ancestors had blessed him. Or maybe Death was a coward. Either way, he wouldn’t be a Sciarra if he was willing to go down without a fight.

Danger to the left, danger to the right, ahead a certain death, and behind a certain fight.

The fleet needed a third option. They needed someone like Selena Caryll, someone who could navigate the city-states and see ways to integrate traditions. She’d had a plan once, and he had a feeling that it was the same plan he needed now.

Which meant he had to win her trust.

He sent out a small pulse along their shared shield, a polite request for attention.

Selena glanced at him, expression disinterested.

“Elea, my aunt and captain, saw being Mal Balaur’s second at the Academy as crime enough. My penance was making a projection of what would have happened in the Balaur attack succeeded. I wrote a 1100-page treatise on why following bad orders is horrible using that information and other historical examples. Every year, on the anniversary of the first battle, I address all the under 20’s in our crew.”

“Sounds horrifying,” Selena said without any emotion.

“It made me suicidal,” Titan admitted. “I realized that if Balaur’s attack had gone as planned, the planet would have been uninhabitable and we would have all died within 37 months. Starvation would have killed anyone who didn’t commit suicide.”

That got her attention. She turned, brow furrowed in confusion as she shook her head. “You don’t know that for sure. Balaur may not have attacked in the end.”

“I saw the battle plans.”

Her eyes narrowed “From the medical ward?”

“Someone I knew had a copy.”

“You can say Rowena. Everyone knows she has the best intel.”

He smiled in comfirmation. “Mal sent her a copy at some point. I think he realized something was off but couldn’t pinpoint what. The Balaur projections assumed the strike would free the orun deposit in the south sea.”

“There’s no math to support that.”

“The older Balaurs were better at intimidating underlings and shouting orders than they were at running figures. But I doubt they did even the basic research. Old Balaur ran on pure ego.” The rot had run deep in that crew, ancestors forgive them. “If you hadn’t given up the Persephone, we’d all be dead,” Titan said quietly. “And I don’t think everyone’s ever thanked you.”

“No,” she admitted. “And I doubt they ever will.”

“Thank you.” He backed the words with a feeling of gratitude and hope.

Selena had accented her high cheekbones with a silvery-blue blush that matched her shirt, and as she blushed the color leaned toward the palest amethyst. She bit her lip, then shook her head. “I wish you wouldn’t thank me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hate myself for giving up the Persephone. It was my duty. The best way to save the maximum number of lives. And I hate myself for it.”

“You shouldn’t. It was a risk, but you survived.”

She looked in his eyes, opened enough of a channel to let him feel the weight of the memories she was hiding. There was nothing there but despair. “I didn’t survive. I died with my ship. Lost everything. It took a while for my crew to leave, but they were as good as dead when I went into that battle. I failed them. I failed my parents, my ancestors. There’s nothing left.”

He reached across the table and took her hand. “You think that. I know, I see that memory. But there’s something else there too. The seed of something. From the ashes of defeat come-“

“- the greatest victories.” She finished the quote for him and pulled her hand away. “Platitudes won’t give me the future I want.”

“And, what do you want?” This was where faith kicked in. Part of him knew what she would say because it was what everyone wanted. Part of him was terrified that she’d given up hope like Rowena.

“My ship. A new ship, I suppose. A crew.” She drew in a breath and squared her shoulders. “I want the fleet back. I want to be part of something where I’m respected instead of mocked. I want a fleet that thinks about protecting what we know is left of humanity rather than trying to destroy it with petty in-fighting and ridiculous wars.” She sighed. “It’s impossible. Like asking for the sun, and moon, and stars.”

The last time he’d felt this happy had been the day he’d learned Rowena and Mal weren’t being executed. It felt like the first time he’d flown solo. Or like falling in love. “All right.”

“All right?” Her laugh was sharp and bitter. “All right what?”

“You want the fleet back, so we get the fleet back.”

Selena looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “Is your hull cracked? Did you spend the night breathing in engine fumes?”

“I’m serious.”

“You can’t be serious, Sciarra. Ships aren’t something you wish into existence. You can’t say, ‘Let there be purple unicorns!’ and have them grazing in the park. The fleet is fundamentally broken. If there were a way to fix it, trust me, I would have found a solution. I’ve been obsessing over this since the day I lost the Persephone.”

“No one thought Old Baular could be stopped, but you managed.”

She rolled her eyes and looked back out the window. “There were other ways to stop him. Most of them involved a catastrophic loss of life though. So here we are.”

“Look up real quick.”

Selena looked up into the blue sky where the first few wisps of storm clouds were visible on the horizon. “Am I supposed to be seeing anything?”

“The moon.”

“What?” She frowned at Sciarra. “Everyone knows you can’t see the moon during the daytime here. It’s not reflective enough.”

From his data banks he pulled an image of a page from a child’s storybook, a woman drwn all in shades of white, and blue, and silver standing against the gray background between a brown woman and blue man. “Once upon a time, Ground and Sky had a beautiful daughter, pale and fair,” he quoted.

“I know the story! What’s the relevance?”

He sent her twin images, one of the moon in her pale dress standing next to the golden sun, outshone and ghostly. Then the same image of the moon woman standing with the embodiment of night, dark and handsome. “When the moon was with the sun, no one could see her brilliance. She had to move to the night so everyone could appreciate her. The moral of the story always was: one small change can make a big difference.”

Selena twitched an eyebrow up. “I thought the moral was: don’t date abusive people who want to overshadow you.”

“That too.” He leaned forward. “We could work together. Be allies. The Sciarras are still a warmonger crew. Limited privileges. Limited access to the world outside Enclave, but eventually we all know that will fall apart. Either the trapped crews will rebel, or the allied crews will have to bend. Someone has to forgive first.”

Her eyes grew cold. “The other crews are all waiting for me to fold. They’re waiting for me to realize I can’t survive alone so that I’ll come begging for refuge. Take a lower rank. Offer then some priority Caryll tech. Something like that. Pardon me if I’m suspicious that you just are here offering to work with me for free on anything. No strings attached.”

“I have crew and tech. I have respect from most the fleet. What I don’t have is a single person who believes there’s a future for the fleet. Except for you.”

She laughed in surprise. “Me? You think I’m optimistic about our future?”

“You’re still here, despite everything. You still care. The fleet needs that. I need that. Everyone around me is willing to give up without a fight, I won’t, but I can’t do this alone.”

Selena turned to the window, looking more like the Moon in the child’s storybook than she could have imagined. “You’re asking a lot of a stranger.”

“I’m asking a lot of a friend,” Titan said. “But I’ll make it worth it.”

A whistle cut through the sound shield and he realized they were approaching the stop at Tarrin.

With a practiced air Selena erased the conflicted emotions from her face. She turned to him, looking as impassive as stone. “I’ll think about. For now, we have a job to do.”

It wasn’t a NO. He pulled out the wallet she’d given him and checked his identity. “Ti Tan of Descent. I work for the Carrilloni Combine?”

She pulled a business card from her breast pocket. “Selena Carrilloni, tech and medical supplies, at your service.”

“Carrilloni? A variant of Caryll?”

“The name my non-fleet ancestors used when they settled on Descent. The line was dormant, but I was able to resurrect it for business purposes. All it takes is a little bit of money and a genetic scan. Half the fleet probably has claims to titles and properties on the planet.”

“That bit of news does not help me convince everyone that the fleet can stay together.”

Selena leaned forward, for the first time finally engaging with him. “If you learned anything at the Academy, it should have been that we need to circulate our people more. Marshall went head to head with the best the fleet had and burnt our engines hard. Some of the people in Enclave need to step out. They were born fleet, but they weren’t born to be like us. Maybe they’ll be artists, or musicians, or poets, or bankers, but they deserve the choice to not be in the stars. They deserve the chance to choose both, or neither, or some third option we haven’t thought of yet. For that, I’m willing to fight.”

The tram rolled to a stop.

Titan stood and held out a hand for Selena. “Miss Carilloni.”

“Mister Tan.” She took his hand and stood. “Shall we go cause trouble?”

“That would be delightful.”

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 8

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

Sleep evaded Selena like a fighter jet dodging her kill shot. The metaphor was all too apt.

Adding pillows, changing the blankets, nothing settled her. A part of her was subconsciously seeking for the one thing she was forced to live without. Other discomforts had been a choice. She’d given up the Persephone. She’d chose to live outside Enclave. She had consciously decided to cut herself off from contact with the fleet on an emotional level.

But her implant constantly pinged the ether seeking a connection, searching for her missing crew.

After years of the program running dormant and forgotten, it was awake and seeking. Desperately searching for the connection she’d had earlier.

It hurt.

The absence of Titan Sciarra burned like a phantom limb.

Being near him, shields melding, surface thoughts blending with hers… She stared at the ceiling. It had been like finding oxygen again after drowning. Every day since her crew left she’d spent surviving. Limping along.

Today she’d been alive again. Fully aware and awake in a way she hadn’t been in years.

She turned over on her bed, cheeks burning in the darkness. It wasn’t sexual, not entirely. Sciarra was a temptation. If she were a little bolder, if she wasn’t certain the fallout would kill her, she’d rake the risk.

But it wasn’t sexual frustration keeping her awake. IT was the full contact that went past physical, became almost metaphysical. If there were such a thing as souls, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to believe there was life after death, than being connected to crew was spiritual. Being able to experience another person’s thoughts, to know where they were, to beg them for comfort from the nightmares… it was a drug. Before the war she’d never thought of it that way, but once she lost them all, when her crew’s implants cut her off as they left her, then she’d understood what held the fleet together.

It was sheer stubbornness that had kept her alive after she’d been viciously cut off.

The mental anguish had crushed her. She’d lost weeks broken and sobbing, and fought for every millimeter of recovery. And in one day Titan Sciarra had ripped her scars open leaving her bare and shaking.

Their shields had synched. For a few glorious hours she’d felt whole. Now, her implant searched, reaching out for the connection again. And she had to stop it. Had to break down the program and force herself to swallow the pain.

Almost unconsciously she reached out with a thought and tugged at the telekyen handle of her drawer. The knife she wanted floated in the air, the tantalizing promise of relief.

Carver hadn’t realized the temptation he’d handed her when he gifted her the obsidian knife. One for each of his best fighters: Gen, Marshall, Hollis, and her. The others took them as trophies. She could only picture cutting a long slit in her forearms and watching the blood run out, carrying away her pain.

The sheathed knife spun, the hilt catching the moonlight pouring through the window.

It would be so easy…  Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 8

How To Read An Editing Letter

Edits in progress for DECOHERENCE. This is what the manuscript looked like after I addressed all the issues but before the changes were accepted. Read means a scene has been added or cut.

Editing… at some point in an authors career they will receive an editing letter and a set of editing notes from someone. It might be a crit partner, a writing group, a freelance editor, an agent, or an acquiring editor, but the edits will come eventually. When the editing letter arrives the challenge shifts from writing the book to addressing the concerns in the editing letter.

Here’s what works best for me, take and adapt this to your editing style…

1) READ THE EDITING LETTER
Sit down with a glass of water, a box of kleenex, and your favorite comfort snack and read through all the notes. A novel is not a monolith, it’s an ecosystem of words and a minor change on page 17 can have major ramification on page 406. So, read through first and look at the big picture. Make a note of what’s working and what isn’t. Remind yourself that a crit partner can’t abandon you (see: Rules of Writing Friendships), a freelance editor is being paid to support you, and agents and acquiring editors already have a contract with you so they can’t reject you at this stage. Take a deep breath, wipe away your tears, and buck up. It’ll be okay.

2) ADDRESS THE MINOR ISSUES
Save time and brain power by going through and accepting all the recommended changes and fixing all the little things that you can. Typos, comma errors, and questions about word choice (did you mean cay or cave? blooded or bloodied?) can be done quickly. An hour or two and your full manuscript will be half-way edited. It’ll be the easy half, but it’s progress! Reward yourself for a job well done you fabulous person, you!

3) ANSWER QUESTIONS IN TEXT
This is a big one that tends to trip authors up. Editors will leave a question in the inline comments “Why didn’t Selena do XYZ instead of ABC?” Trust me, the editor does not want an email explaining the character choice. The answer needs to be put in the text. If you’re lucky this will mean a few words are added in. If you’re unlucky the editing letter will have exposed a major plot hole and you’ll have to do some serious thinking (or cutting – on deadlines I prefer cutting plot hole scenes).

4) REWRITES AND NEW WRITES
Editing feedback usually comes in 3 waves: first round content edits, second round content edits, line edits. After the first round with a content editor you should expect to write something new. It may be rewriting a clunky scene, it may mean adding a missing scene, but whatever it is there will probably be something to do. By the second round of content edits you should be only doing minor, cosmetic fixes to scenes. And by the line edits you’re quibbling over commas and word choice. The most important thing here is to make sure you budget in the time for these edits. Knowing what to expect helps you better prepare your schedule and time to accommodate the needs of the manuscript.

5) FINAL READ THROUGH
Before handing your manuscript over to the next step (from crit partner to query, from agent to editor, from editor to publication) do a final, non-editing read through of your book. If you can, I recommend loading the manuscript into a program like Calibre so you can produce a digital file you can read on your favorite e-reader. If you’re an indie author going to print I’d recommend getting a proof copy from CreateSpace and going over it with a red pen (in traditional publishing these are the unedited ARCs and proof copies). The goal is to read through and make sure that 1) there are no errors and 2) that you are satisfied with the book you’ve written.

If you find yourself unhappy with a scene consider your deadlines, what time you have left, and whether you’re being a picky perfectionist and should just let the book go to print or whether it needs more editing. One of the hardest lessons for an author to learn is when to stop editing a project and let it go. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress.

6) MOVE ON
Whatever the goal of the project is, once you’ve finished edits it is time to push the manuscript off to the next step in it’s progression and free your time so you can tackle the next thing on your To Do list. Whether that means posting to Tumblr, sharing the work on your blog, sending a query to an agent or magazine, or handing it over to the formatter for publication that’s how you finish edits. You push the manuscript out of the nest, treat yourself to a night of self-care and relaxation, and hit the keyboard the next work day to tackle your next project. Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, celebrate with friends, and stop worrying about the finished manuscript. You’ll be happier for it.

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 7

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

Rowena slumped in the back corner seat of Cargo Blue with a heavy shield turning the rest of the bar into blue shadows and faint music. All it took was a day and a lockdown to turn a throbbing mess into a quiet chapel of despair and broken dreams.

Titan pushed a plate of fajitas in her direction. “Eat something. You look like you haven’t taken a break all day.

“Look who’s talking.” She hadn’t stopped since 0400 when she’d been called to fix a seal on the environmental system of the Tenshi crew’s Wángzuò and things had gotten worse from there. It was 2200 and she was nursing her first glass of water of the day like it was her last. And Titan looked worse.

He sat across from her, slouched over, arms folded on the table and his chin on top. Half his meal was eaten and the rest was slowly congealing.

“What happened to you?”

“First we have the Jhandarmi with their psych campaign telling us someone is hunting a guardian.” He rolled his eyes. “Then the warehouse was cleared out. I wound up stuck between a local detective and a Jhandarmi regional director, and then our main suspect was found freshly murdered.” With a heavy sigh he closed his eyes. “Murder should be outlawed just for the paperwork it causes.”

She dipped a chip in the accompanying sauce and eyed it dubiously. The chef was trying to cook grounder-style food, but she wasn’t sure they’d picked the right mesh. Orange sauce and corn chips sounded like a bad combination. “Could have been worse.”

“Not by much.”

“I had a broken environmental system, fleetlings to train, and one of the engineers on the Aryton had a nervous breakdown. Top that.” Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 7

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 6

SELENA

The art district was a colorful beehive of hexagonal plazas with statuary of various kinds on the display in the center. Once upon a time there was probably a theme behind the displayed art and the shops. The statue of a maiden holding a rose could have represented the classics, and the rearing horse could have been a sign that cat sculptures were nearby.

Whatever the original plan had been the art district was now a microcosm of civilization, an eclectic mix of legal businesses, illegal enterprises, food shops, and housing that moved against the background of a musician playing a haunting melody on a dulcimer.

The spring wind knocked pale pink blossoms to the ground and Sciarra sent her a flash image of her framed by the falling petals.

Selena shot him a quelling glare, but stored the image in her implant. It had been a long time since she’d felt beautiful, and even longer since someone she trusted told her she was. Sciarra undoubtedly wanted something. The fleet economy was built on barter, but for the moment she didn’t let it bother her. Their quarry was up ahead, winding through the narrower streets lined with makeshift apartments, and her way was clear.

Prow’s signal vanished.

“What happened?” Sciarra asked.

“He probably crossed into the boundary of another tech baffle. They’re woven throughout the area so no one can teleport in and out with ease. It was the one thing the Tarrins insisted we do before Landing.”

Sciarra followed her out of a plaza with the statue of a winged lizard and into an alley. “Were they that concerned we’d steal something?”

“Invade their homes, rob their banks, desecrate their holy places. The grounders have a long history of seeing the fleet as savages. In most their literature we’re slavers and pirates.”

“That’s awful.”

“It’s why Tarrin let us land. Their city was built be colonists who mutinied en route and landed without permission. It’s a point of pride for them.” She walked slowly, dragging her hand across the daub and stone walls of the older buildings. Beneath the surface she could feel the metal bones of a ship that had been stripped for parts to build this place.

By bouncing a signal through the building she could get an impression of how many people were moving inside. Not many right now. It was mid-day and even the most reclusive introvert in Tarrin would venture out to find a quick meal from a street vendor. Half the apartments didn’t have running water, let alone electricity to preserve food.

Her scan caught the presence of telekyen.

Selena looked over at Sciarra. “Do you read that? Upper southwest corner?”

Sciarra closed his eyes. “One level from the top, a minute amount of telekyen. Small enough to be a comm or a weapon.”

“Do we want to call him, or just drop in?” There wasn’t movement in the apartment that she could sense, but there was a heat signature.

“I prefer the element of surprise.” Sciarra stepped in front of her, opening the door and heading for the stairs. Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 6

Write For Love – Publish For Money

Start here with Derek Murphy’s wise words:

 

The number of times I’ve wanted to punch someone for implying that artists ought to starve to create, that our lives and time aren’t worth more than pennies, is a number higher than zero but not a number so high that you need to call the police. So put the phone down.

See that last sentence? “It’s also the reason we have an epidemic of authors who are feeding a billion dollar publishing industry by spending more than they make on their books.” That’s not a joke. That’s the very awful reality of many authors.

Because, somewhere out there in the web of crazy that is the internet, someone told a young author that giveaways and a pretty cover will sell books. The advice looks something like this…

“To throw a good launch you’ll need a great cover ($800), giveaways ($300 w/ shipping), a launch party ($50 for cake and plates), and don’t forget to send reviewers copies of your book ($7/book/reviewer going up to $500 to pay a big name publication to review your indie work)!”

That will generate a lot of buzz. But you’re spending up to $2000 out-of-pocket to promote the book and earning royalties of something like $0.30 to $3.00 per sale (depending on price and royalty rates). If your book is selling as a 99cent ebook (very popular for a time on Amazon) you need to sell close to 7000 copies of your book to break even.

The average book sells 250 copies per year.

At that rate, the author will earn back their money in 26.6 years.

BUT ONLY IF THEY KEEP SELLING.

This is where it all falls apart. People do these big launches, they maximize their newsletters, invest in their careers, and then launch a book into the world that is the what cat drool is to caviar. A poorly written book isn’t going to sell.

I mean, sure, you can buy 5000 copies of your own book and make it look great, but it won’t be a great book. You might get a buzz off of it. If it’s erotica you might get a few sales from hate reads. But a bad book isn’t going to sell 250 copies a year. It isn’t going to sell 7000 copies in 27 years. The idea that an author should write anything they want without thinking about market, audience, genre, or deadlines is absolute horse hockey. Telling writers to write in a vacuum, writing for passion rather than pay, destroys careers and leave authors broke and suffering.

Good authors write on deadlines with an audience in mind.

To quote a friend, “Shakespeare wrote to deadlines, with actors standing, handed out for the scripts he had written that day. Dickens wrote for a magazine with a deadline. If he didn’t write quickly, his story did not appear. Same for Conan Doyle.”

Good authors publish so they can get paid.

Writing is an intimate act. For some it’s therapeutic, for other people it’s a hobby. When you publish you are saying to the world, “I have this thing of value, that I have invested time, thought, and education into. It has worth. It will be good for you. It will sell.”

Never apologize for telling the world what you are worth.

There will always be people lining up to tell you that you, your time, your effort, your education, your intelligence, your talent isn’t worth paying for. Those people are liars and thieves who are hoping to take advantage of you. Ignore them. You have worth. Your work and your effort have worth. A year of your life writing and editing a novel has worth. Real, actual, measurable, pay-me-in-cash worth.

Authors as a collective group need to stop humbly accepting the push to starve authors, to make us work for free. A world without art is not one worth living in. Books are an affordable luxury, a vacation in 300 pages. Books are love, comfort, and family to the lonely. Books are happy memories for the sad. Books are magic. The world needs books, it needs authors, and it doesn’t need anyone to starve and suffer to make the world a better place (the whole There Must Be Poor! fallacy is something we can discuss another day).

Know your worth. Charge what you are worth, plus a little extra for inflation. And don’t apologize for getting paid.

 

 

 

The Trouble With Going Offline

There will never be a shortage of posts telling you to get off your computer and go enjoy nature. Being in the woods is touted as a miracle cure-all for everything from mental illness to asthma. And, I admit, I do not mind being outside. Especially if that outside is near tropical water on a warm beach.

I am more a Beach House person than a Lake House person.

But, as I’m writing this from a cabin on a lake front in my final days in Alaska, I realize what I miss about being online isn’t my email or Twitter or the mind-numbing websites that are so easy to find. I miss the mental space that comes with being some place I can write.

I miss being able to forget about bears, spiders, mosquitoes, and kids drowning in the lake or breaking the house. I miss escaping into fiction for a little while.

Thankfully, it started raining and I was able to open an old manuscript that needs some editing. It was nice to get away from it all and wander around the space port.

Books are the best virtual reality. 🙂