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

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

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 4

SELENA

Selena pushed her hair out of her face and gritted her teeth as she read through the Tarrin police reports again. The city-states were loath to share information with each other, and only slightly better at sharing information with the global defense force known as the Jhandarmi. Sometimes she thought the local police went out of their way to make their reports a nightmare slog of disjointed sentences and poor spelling.

This report was about suspected questionable activity between Tarrin and the city-state of Grise Harbor to the north. Of course, the Grise Harbor police hadn’t followed up on a known fugitive bordering the hypertram, and none of them had thought to tell the Tarrin police so they could pick Emery Kaffton up on arrival.

And now the report was over ten hours old and Kaffton’s tram had arrived over eight hours ago. If he’d stayed in Tarrin, he’d already gone to ground.

Pulling up the files on her implant she sorted through the mess of data always available to her. Everything was there with a thought, from the locations of the wrecks in orbit, to the maps of the solar system to an analysis of the composition of the dirt she’d stepped on walking to work. She mentally pushed that aside and opened up the Jhandarmi files on smuggler Emery Kaffton.

Thirty-one, light brown hair, dark brown eyes, favored women as lovers but had no long term relationships. Wanted for questioning as an accessory to the crimes of theft, and extortion in the city-states of Bellis, Quintiin, Harstad, Sandur, and Rodebay. Convicted of crimes of smuggling, forgery, and theft in Tarrin, Bellis, Clyde River, and Kivalina.

Kivalina Constabulary also wanted him in connection with an unsolved questionable death.

He was a busy man, Emery. With a fondness for art and dead drops.

She opened her eyes and opened a map of the art district of Tarrin. Her implant provided an overlay of blueprints and highlighted possible spaces accessible to an unaugmented grounder.

“Caryll?”

Selena looked up at the sound of her name, saving the data and maps to her implant for later use. “Yes?”

Her boss, bald and sweating even in the cold of the office, stepped into the doorway. “You have plans for today?”

She held up the report from Grise Harbor. “Kaffton might be in town. I thought I’d wander the art district, see if I could lay eyes on him or one of his known associates. Why?”

“One of the Fleet members is leaving Enclave,” Tyrling said.

Her eyebrows went up. “You told them it was dangerous? That there’s a legitimate threat?”

“I talked to Carver himself. Or someone who introduced himself as Carver. Our files are slim.” He let the unasked question dangle in the silence.

She closed her files. “The Jhandarmi don’t police the fleet so your files are going to stay slim.” She’d stubbornly refused to budge on data sharing. The Jhandarmi didn’t get fleet personnel files, and she didn’t talk about Jhandarmi cases with the OIA or Captain’s Council. It was safer for everyone that way.

Tyrling frowned. “The fleet warehouse downtown had an alarm go off, the Tarrin police sent someone down and they’re reporting it’s empty.”

Selena swore under her breath. “That was the medical shipment.” Moving from the low gravity of space to the full weight of sea level on the planet was hard on frail bones. The medicines combated the lack of bone density and the trouble with the new bacteria and allergens they’d encountered since landing. “On the black market…” She shook her head. “A few thousand dollars at best.”

“Here,” Tyrling agreed. “Smuggled out to one of the islands it’s worth a bit more. But we don’t have enough island trade that’d I’d worry about it. A thief is most likely to try to ransom the goods, same as they did with the hospital shipment two years ago.”

“Mud-lickin’ bastards.” She blinked. “No offense meant, sir.”

“None taken.”

She pressed her lips together in thought. “What are the odds of a known thief and hitman being in town when we have word about a possible assassination and a major theft of fleet property?”

“Not good,” Tyrling said.

“That’s what I was thinking. Did you try to wave the Starguard off the case?”

“We tried,” he said. “I told them the Jhandarmi would look into the matter. But they sent someone all the same. Probably curious to see the extent of the damage.”

“Do you know who?”

Tyrling shook his head. “Carver said he’d send his best officer. I assume his second.”

“That would be Hollis Silar.” Selena closed her eyes as a million scenarios streamed past, none of them good. “I’ll go. I can either divert or defend. Hollis has an ego the size of a planet but he’s amiable and malleable. Getting him back to Enclave won’t take much more than convincing him I’ll meet him for dinner sometime.”

Tyrling chuckled. “Sounds like a terrible time.”

“Fleet hasn’t figured out fine dining yet, but it’ll be a nutritionally ideal meal with a conversation about training programs and the quest for a new flight simulator that feels like the real thing.” Even to her it sounded like a terribly boring evening. Another sign she didn’t belong to the fleet.

Maybe she never had.

“Keep your comm on,” Tyrling ordered. “We’ll try to get a better lock on what’s going on while you’re out there. And, keep your head down, Caryll. Don’t become someone’s target of opportunity.”

She grabbed her purse and gave him a grim look. “No one’s managed to kill me yet.”

“Keep it that way.”

*** Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 4

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 1

A body at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an equal and opposite force.
– Newton’s First Law of Motion

Selena Caryll lost everything in the war: her ship, her crew, her family. The only thing keeping her going is the hope that somehow the feuding, ground-bound settlers and the fuelless space fleet can set aside their differences. But getting the politically-fractured fleet moving again is more than she can manage alone. For now, she has to settle for working undercover with the planetary police force.

When someone tries to reignite conflict between the planet-siders and the fleet, there’s only one person who has the rank and ability to help Selena protect the fleet: Titan Sciarra, Fleet Guardian—the one man she’s tried hardest to avoid since the war destroyed her life.

In a world where the stagnant weight of tradition can be as deadly as any knife, the only way to survive is to keep moving.

 

SELENA

The problem with vacations, Selena reflected as she adjusted her sweater outside of Cargo Blue, was that at the end, reality was always waiting. A quick search of the local security cameras found one that showed the peeling sunburn on her right shoulder blade.

Such was the curse of pale-skinned, ship-born Fleet personnel. Anytime she left the foggy belts covering the city of Tarrin, she barbecued like a shrimp. Otherwise, she’d flee even further from the Enclave and make her home on the equatorial beaches of the planet they were trapped on.

She panned the camera and checked her left shoulder. Black ink, dotted with stars, made a starscape that disguised three silver scars as three shooting stars. The painting covered her shoulder blade and part of her arm. As the artist had promised, the skin-paint had kept her from burning. With a few adjustments, her uniform covered most of the temporary art, which would keep her from having to explain to her fellow fleet officers.

Her arm warmed, an advance warning that someone was about to try to contact her through the tech implant tucked between her radius and ulna. She hesitated too long and the call came through, a persistent ping against her skull as the phantom image of her best friend floated on the edge of her vision.

Selena turned off the visual receiver, and answered. “Genevieve,” she said with a smile as the image of her vivacious, red-headed friend appeared.

A Grounder would have thought she was talking to herself, but Grounders wouldn’t set foot near the Enclave. The fleet ships hulking on the rocky beach served as a permanent reminder of the last war—and Selena’s folly.

Not a mistake. A decision.

The only people with any right to judge her rested with the Lost Fleet, just like the rest of her ancestors—

Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 1