BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 25 (The End)

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

The water falling from the three-tiered fountain in the center of the plaza shone with an ethereal blue light. Climbing roses framed every arch and window, and someone had come through to brush them with a luminescent nanite gel so they glowed a pale pink. Strings lights overhead mimicked distant stars, and already people were congregating around tables of food. Officially, the reception for Perrin and Genevieve didn’t start for another thirty minutes, but no one wanted to be late for a party.

Selena hung in the shadows, watching people arrive on the transport pad and via grounder cars. The warm summer air was encouraging everyone to come out.

Already, the happy couple was surrounded by well-wishers. Perrin’s adopted grounder family was there, although the youngest daughter had wandered off to flirt with Mars Sciarra. Captain Sciarra and her new second-in-command were there. The Lees, the Silars, most of the fleet, but Titan was nowhere to be found.

She pinged him again, trying to get a location, but he’d gone dark after breakfast this morning, promising only that he’d be back in time for the party. Looking over the crowd, she found a promising lead: Rowena Lee hiding in a small alcove. Selena made her way through the growing crowd. “Hello.”

Rowena put her hands behind her back, taking an at-ease stance. “Captain Caryll.”

“Do you know where my husband is?”

“I do. And I’m not allowed to tell you anything more than it is a surprise and he is safe.” She paused, then shrugged. “I’ve checked on him twice and he wasn’t bleeding, dehydrated, or in danger of losing oxygen either time, so he’s probably okay.”

Selena crossed her arms. “I thought he was planning to be here tonight.”

“Everyone is planning on being here tonight,” Rowena said, relaxing and sounding annoyed. “The invitations last week almost started a civil war and did trigger three mini-mutinies in crews who are stir-crazy. You opened up new housing outside Enclave, are throwing a party, and didn’t think anyone would come?” Rowena scoffed at her. “Hoshi’s favorite cousin almost killed him when the captain threatened to boycott the celebration.”

Wrinkling her nose, Selena considered the outcome. “Would it really have hurt…?”

Rowena gave her a glare she’d learned to accept over the past few weeks. “I’m not ready for a war.”

“When you are, Titan and I will be there for you. We owe you that. Meanwhile, Gen deserves a party after as long as she waited. So does Perrin.”

“We all deserve a party after this past month.” Rowena took a deep breath.

Selena nodded and waited for Rowena to leave, but the woman stayed stubbornly present. And silent. They watched more fleet and grounders arrive, more tables teleport in, more presents appear on the reception table. Finally Selena said, “Was there anything else you needed, or are we faking this buddy thing until Titan gets here?”

Rowena wrinkled her nose and raised a light sound shield. Nothing that would draw attention, but enough to keep anyone else form overhearing, or recording, their conversation. “I wanted to say thank you for the nanite gel you sent Aronia. The medicine helped, but we aren’t sure they would have both pulled through without it. The internal bleeding was extensive.”

“You’re welcome. Although that was meant to be a secret. I know what Hoshi thinks of me and I didn’t want to start any trouble.”

Rowena lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “No one knows, officially, but I knew the Sciarras didn’t have anything like it, and that Titan had used something similar. It wasn’t very hard to draw the right conclusion. I haven’t told anyone.”

“Thank you. How are Aronia and the baby doing?”

“Nia is up and moving. She’s feeling a lot better. The baby is good. They named him Ki, after a great-grandfather of ours.”

“Good. I’m glad that worked out then.” She stared off into the distance, not quite certain how she felt about the idea of sisters, babies, and bonding with Rowena Lee. It wasn’t as awkward as she’d imagined.

“You had a sister, didn’t you?”

Selena nodded. “Losna. She was eight years older than me and in crew training when I was born. We weren’t close like you and Aronia.”

“I’m sorry she won’t be here for your reception.”

She shook her head. “I don’t really remember her. She bunked with her age mates by the time I was old enough to remember anything, and then she went to the Academy. I was only home three weeks before she led a charge in battle and died.”

“Do you know who killed her?”

“No. I could. I have access to the files as captain. But I don’t want to carry that around.”

Rowena tipped her head in acknowledgment but not agreement. “I don’t know if I could be that restrained.”

“It’s easier when you know they didn’t love you.” The words seemed heavier than they were. She’d named the beast that had haunted her all these years. No one loved her. No one could love her. And now, that was changing. She was making a new family and crew with Titan. And—she glanced sideways—apparently with Rowena.

Every family needed uncomfortable sibling rivalries, didn’t it?

Rowena straightened up and looked around. “Titan says he’s incoming.”

“Why didn’t he tell me?”

“Because you’re shielding to the point of being invisible again,” Rowena said as she stood on her tiptoes. “Uh oh.” She dropped to her feet and spun around to inspect a rose.

Selena turned with her. “What’s uh-oh?”

“Silar is here.”

“Be more specific!” Half the crowd had red hair and freckles. Gen was well loved.

“Hollis!” Rowena sneered at the name. “I promised Ty I wouldn’t get into a fight tonight and…” She curled her lips in a dramatic look of disgust.

Selena rolled her eyes. “It’s his baby sister’s reception. He’ll be on his best behavior.”

“How do you find that reassuring?” Rowena asked. “His best behavior is flirting until your clothes spontaneously combust.”

“Never worked on me,” Selena said, amused. It wasn’t a bad description, but she’d never expected Rowena of all people to notice. Hollis had never flirted with anyone from the Lee crew that Selena knew about.

Rowena gave her a pained look.

“If I see you starting to smolder, I’ll dump the punch on you.”

“There are two of my three favorite ladies!” Titan’s voice made them turn.

Selena reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug, greeting him with a kiss. “Two of three?” She smiled at him. :Who am I forgetting?:

“Can’t forget my auntie,” Titan said before he gave her another quick kiss. “I’m glad to see you two getting along. What were you discussing?”

“Hollis Silar,” Selena said as she rested her head against Titan’s chest.

Titan raised his eyebrows. “Ways to kill him?”

“No!” Selena hit his chest. “We’ve talked about this. You can’t joke about killing my friends.”

“I’m confused,” Titan said. “Rowena talked about Hollis and murder didn’t come up as an option? Are you feeling all right, Ro?”

Rowena rolled her eyes. “I was up all night with the new baby on family duty. Call it a lapse of judgment. Or my present to Genevieve and Carver. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon enough.” She smiled viciously. “Where’s the present you’ve been teasing Caryll with for weeks?”

“Yes,” Selena held him tighter. “Where’s this present that kept you away from me all day while I was party planning? I was in desperate need of help,” she said dramatically.

“I saw you and Marshall out here. You didn’t need help, you wanted willing slaves. That’s what fleetlings are for.” Titan’s grin lit up the night.

“Excuse me?” Rowena held up a hand. “I’m leaving before you two have your first fight as a married couple. Caryll, try not to shoot the planet. Again.”

Selena pinged Rowena’s shield with the thought of someone sticking out their tongue as Lee retreated. Then she turned back to Titan. “Well? What’s this secret present you’ve been hiding from me for weeks?”

“I was getting this.” He teleported a small stick with a bundle of roots and four large, green leaves and let it hover in front of her.

Selena frowned at the twig. “Okay. It’s… a plant.” She looked from the stick to her husband. “Right?” There was nothing in her implant about Sciarra courting rituals. Was it a special plant? Was she supposed to eat it? Grow it? “Am I supposed to give you a plant?”

“No!” Titan laughed happily. “This is one of the plants that was sketched by your ancestors, or a descendent of the original at any rate. I spent the week tracking down a crew that had the seeds in stasis. I was thinking we could put it in our hydroponics section.”

“Greenhouse,” she corrected. The house didn’t have anywhere for a contained garden, but she’d make one for this, and for him. “Down here they have greenhouses, or conservatories. This is beautiful, thank you, Titan.” She kissed his cheek and took the plant.

He smiled and whispered in her ear. “I meant hydroponics.”

A shield she hadn’t noticed all day vanished and Persephone hit her with a dozen updates. It was a whirlwind of information that took her a minute to sort through.

“Estimated time to repair completion… two days?” Selena stepped away from Titan as she processed everything. “Two? Titan? What did you do?”

“You know the fighters that were mine as dowry?”

She nodded.

“I traded them for a convoy ship that lost its environmental controls but which had engines that matched Persephone’s. And then I twisted Rowena’s arm to help me fix it. My captain deserves a ship.”

Her jaw dropped. “Really?”

Titan nodded.

“We have a ship? A working ship? It’s perfect!” She fell into him again, teleporting them away from the party and to the bridge of the Persephone.

Everything was gleaming. The broken screen was repaired, the duty stations were waiting for a crew… Titan had even taken the time to install a chair for her second in command and her chief medic on either side of the captain’s seat. It was perfection, the one thing she’d wanted but never dared dream of having.

“Permission to come aboard?” Titan asked.

“Permission granted.” The words were a whisper. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything more. Selena walked around the bridge, touching the chairs and looking at the waiting consoles.

Persephone’s face appeared on the screen. “Welcome aboard, Captain.”

Titan wrapped his arms around her waist. “What are you thinking?”

“There’s no place to land her in Enclave. We’re still out of fuel.” There were so many things she’d overlooked.

“So we make new fuel. We land her somewhere else. We—”

“We have no crew.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“Love, what’s wrong?”

“You said we.” Selena looked up at him. “We. Every time I stood here as a captain, I stood alone. No future. No hope. No one there for me.” She’d bled and fought for her crew. She’d been ready to lay her life down for them. But, in the end when she needed them the most, they had left her. They’d fled to the life pods when she stood against Old Balaur. They’d run to other crews when she arrived in Enclave, broken and heart-sick. “It’s always just been me on the Persephone.”

Titan held her close. “That won’t happen again. Whatever fight comes next, I’ll be here. With you.”

She smiled as she claimed his lips in a kiss. “You’d better be.”

:Is that an order?: His hands slid down her back to squeeze her buttocks. One hand kept going, slipping down to the hem of her short dress to caress her leg.

Selena laughed as Titan brushed feather-light kisses down her jawline and slid the strap of her sundress down. “Persephone, dismissed.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The computers on the bridge shut down, leaving them truly alone.

Titan held still, watching her, waiting for her.

She blushed. “I don’t think our every moment together has to be recorded for posterity.” Sex on the bridge. There was a teenage fantasy she’d never envisioned coming true. “How long do you think we have before anyone notices we’re missing from the party?”

Titan’s smile widened. “I enlisted help from the Sciarra troops to accomplish my mission.”

“Your mission?” She couldn’t help but laugh.

“I have to see the morale and happiness of the crew.” He stole a lingering kiss that melted away her fears. “Relax,” he whispered as he massaged her back. “The Sciarras are on the ground handling that. If anyone asks, they just saw us go past or we just turned the corner. They’ll even cheerfully help people go search for us. Elea is going to answer our pings, and Rowena promised to make sure they don’t run out of food. We have hours before the festivities are over.”

She walked her fingers up his chest to reach the top button of his shirt and looked up at his gorgeous green eyes. “Have I ever mentioned how wonderful you are?”

“Several times.” A smile tugged at his lips as his eyes sparkled with joy. “Permission to proceed with my mission, Captain?”

“Proceed, Commander.”

THE END
…until the next book at least…

 

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 19

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

Selena stepped into Arwell’s climate-controlled house and slid the door shut behind her. All the party guests were outside, mingling and giggling as the first effects of the free-flowing alcohol took over their good judgement. Titan being here changed plans considerably. Titan knowing she was working with the Jhandarmi changed her long-term plans by more than she wanted to calculate at the moment.

Leaving the lights off she pulled the gauzy curtains shut with a twitch. She wouldn’t be invisible to anyone outside, but they wouldn’t be able to see her easily either. It was enough. Walking across the kitchen she found the electronic juicer Arwel had purchased on a whim years before and never locked against tech invasion. On one of her earliest forays into his house she’d programmed it to suit her purposes. Suspicious people would find her purse and check her phone, but they wouldn’t find anything compromising there.

She turned the juicer on and typed in the code.

Tyrling’s face appeared next to a logo with oranges circled by stars. “What’s going on? You were out of visual contact for a quarter hour.”

“Sciarra showed up.”

The Jhandarmi director rubbed his face as he swore. With a grumbling sigh he asked, “How much trouble are you in?”

“None, I think. Sciarra…” She wasn’t sure what to say exactly.

“He likes you,” Tyrling said. “Enough to be protective at any rate.”

Selena smiled. “Enough that you need to factor him in as a long term variable. We can read him in to the operations I handle later.”

Tyrling’s image split and broke for a second.

With a frown she checked the juicer’s energy supply. “Is something happening on your end?”

“Not a thing. The city’s quiet,” Tyrling said. He paused, and then his eyes narrowed. “When’s the last time nothing happened in Tarrin?”

“My implant says never.” She started to smile and then realized what the silence implied. “None of the corps or gangs are near war. Everything’s been quiet.”

Tyrling arched a shaggy eyebrow. “Except the theft.”

“Fleet has no plans for retaliation.”

“All the same…”

She nodded in understanding. “I’ll get the information from Kaftan tonight.”

“Are you sure you can without blowing your cover?”

“The Balaurs weren’t the only ones who learned torture techniques,” she said. “Trust me. I can make him talk. And I won’t leave a mark.” She turned off the juicer and looked down at her hands. Over the years she’d had a lot of blood on them, and it was rarely hers. But she’d worked hard to make sure the blood on her hands hadn’t been spilled by her either. With a little luck, and a lot of booze, she’d be able to resolve all this without anyone being the wiser.

Outside the music had been turned up, people were finally dipping their feet in the pool, and Arwel was drying the paint on a man who decided he had to try a free sample before the night was over.

Selena looked over the garden and her implant tallied the recording devices. Kaftan was standing conveniently close to one on the eastern edge of the yard. She put on her best smile, swung her hips, and sashayed over to the thief.

He looked up with hungry eyes. Not, she couldn’t help notice, filled with the adoration and love she saw in Titan’s eyes. Kaftan’s look was predatory. To him she was a victim. The poor fool.

“Hello,” he said, reaching for her as she walked up. “Have you been avoiding me all evening?”

“Of course not,” Selena lied. “I was waiting until I could catch you alone.” Her hand warmed as she sent a very specific code to her implant. Casually, she ran her hand across Kaftan’s back and watched him relax. The soporific effect of heat combined with slow sound waves below the range of human hearing.

Kaftan’s pupils dilated in pleasure as she pressed her body against his side. “Well.”

“You looked so busy earlier,” Selena murmured in a softly modulated tone meant to set him at ease. “You must be very important.” Her hand stretched down his side, reaching for his pocket.

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand to his torso with a laugh. “Important enough, but I’ll be more important later. Rich. So rich.” His eyes shut.

Too much stimuli. Selena cut the dosage in half, her hand cooling. She squeezed his shoulder and pulled away. “Too important to get a drink with a body paint model?”

His eyes stuttered open and he looked her over lazily. “What else do you do?”

“Advertising work. Modeling. Sometimes I work at a bar up by the High Street Market. It’s paying the bills for now.” With a flirty smile she took his hand, pulling him towards a table near the lights and the next recording device. “I love meeting new people, but there’s not really a degree for that at the university. I suppose I could try politics, but not here. I have too much of a reputation here.” She winked at her willing victim.

There was a static-y ping against her shields.

She sent a query to Titan and returned her focus to Kaftan. “What do you do?”

“This and that,” he evaded.

Selena turned the relaxant up. “Someone said you were in shipping. That sounds important. Getting this and that here and there.”

“I do that,” Kaftan agreed as she slid him into a chair. “I do a lot of that.”

“Anything recent?” She kept her hand on his arm as she reached across the table for a wine bottle.

The liquid sloshed into his glass with a hypnotic sound. “Rearranged some inventory on the docks. Brought in cash for a buy. The seller did the exchange. Then I moved the goods out.”

“You must know the docks so well,” Selena cooed. “Where did you-”

An explosion of light and sound knocked her from her chair. The soft grass cushioned her knees.

Kaftan jumped to his feet as he reached for a gun.

In the confusion, someone screamed.

Kaftan pushed away from the table and took off running.

She tried to teleport but her implant couldn’t find a path. :Titan?: There was nothing on the other end. It was possible to modulate energy waves to disrupt communication, like a white noise machine balancing out sound, but she’d never seen one on this scale.

“Selena?” Titan ran up to her, Arwel trailing behind him. “We need to get out.”

Arwel grabbed her arm. “What is happening?”

“I don’t know. I think Kaftan’s sale just went nova though.”

The sound of gun fire ripped through the air and turf exploded around them.

There were too many options. Keeping civilians safe took top priority, but she needed to finish the mission.

Titan squeezed her shoulder. “Go,” he said as if he could read her thoughts. “I’ve got the civilians.”

“Civilians?” Arwel echoed.

“Another time,” Selena said. “Go with Titan.” The words I Love You hung on her lips, not willing to fall. All she could manage was a tight smile. “Be safe.”

“Always.” His smile was enough.

Selena turned and ran into the debris cloud after Kaftan. Cycling her shields kept them up against the assault of the destabilizer but keeping it at full strength was impossible. A concussion grenade exploded near her feet and the shrapnel pummeled her bare legs.

Underfoot there was sharp joke and glass from a broken cup. All hidden by a smoky blue haze that burned her eyes and throat. Whoever had interrupted the party wasn’t worried about wasting resources. This was overkill.

“Minus ten points for style,” she muttered as she brought up a battle code. Let the grounders see her eyes glow, she was done pretending to be a civilian.

In the blink of an eye the battlefield changed from a field filled with chemical fog to a muted gray background where bodies appeared as bright red targets and the furniture became a soft green.

Kaftan was ahead of her, crawling on all fours towards the dubious safety of the house.

Rolling a clearing shield in front of her Selena brushed the debris away from her feet and ran after him.

Hot air turned to sticky condensation on her skin as Selena stalked forward. Her implant was filtering out sounds now, but she knew what she was missing… the screaming, the crying, the shouts of angry denial.

Ahead of her Kaftan managed to take down a guard with a quick stun shot. It wasn’t a bad idea, leave the soldier naked and unconscious and leave in his uniform. Kaftan was confident enough in his plan that he was stripping the guard down before the invaders opened fire.

Kaftan scrambled backward.

Selena blocked his path. “Oww!” Stupid yaldson was wearing boots.

The thief turned to her in surprise. “You again?”

She nodded.

“Sorry about this. Business gets messy sometimes,” he said as he raised his gun.

She pushed him so he was pointing at the attackers. “Did you bring them?”

“No!” He struggled to turn but she held him in place with telekyen and muscle.

“Who are they?”

“Someone who didn’t like the buy-in price for my auction, Arwel’s old clients, who knows. Let me go. What are you doing to me?”

She reached for his pocket where the datcube was. “Nothing personal. Just business. I know someone who will pay very well for the data you have.” Her fingers touched a hole in the lining of his jacket. Frantically she patted down the other side. “Where is it?”

Kaftan’s hand dropped, clenching and unclenching around the empty fabric. “I had it. It was… I fell.” He broke away from her, desperately searching the littered ground.

Everything looked the same to her. The datcube looked no different from a shard of glass and there was no way to do a search with her implant or by satellite. Panic closed her throat. She switched to normal vision and searched the grass for any sign of the datcube.

In the fog Kaftan squeaked joyfully.

She leaped, tackling him as another round of bullets ripped through the air.

“Trying to save me?” he panted.

“Not likely.” She punched him, but he rolled, pushing her away.

Kaftan kicked her bruised ribs.

The burst of pain made her see stars. Her muscles froze in agony. It was only for a few seconds, but it was enough.

Kaftan and the datcube were already out of reach.

But it was the little hairs on her arm standing on end that made her raise her full shield. A sense born of war and loss. When the blast hit she was thrown several meters, but she was alive.

She looked up, searching for Titan and saw his broad shield ripple and fall. He lay on the ground by a quivering Arwel.

Between her and safety the enemy was lining up another battery, like they were trying to herd everyone away from the exits.

No, not herd. Corral. Like forcing a squad of fighters into close formation so they could go down with one hit.

Without Titan’s shield everyone would die. She watched Kaftan bolt for the house, then turned and ran for Titan. Falling to her knees she checked his pulse. Alive, but bleeding and his eyes were glazed. “You were supposed to stay safe.”

“I tried.”

Arwel grabbed her arm with a bruising grasp. “What is happening? Why? Who?” He shook his head in confusion. “Your eyes are glowing.”

“I don’t know, but we can’t escape.”

“Can’t get a signal out,” Titan said weakly. “No rescue imminent.” He sighed and his eyes fluttered shut.

She brushed her hands across his face, assessing the damage and trying to attract his attention. He needed a full medbay, but even a nanite gel pack would be better than this. There was a box left on the Persephone.

Time slowed as she looked up beyond the haze and shields. “I can signal for backup.”

Titan managed to move his head. “Can’t reach Carver or Silar. Can’t reach Sabiha.”

“I don’t need Sabiha.” I need Persephone. She opened the link to her ship.

:Yes, captain?:

:Prepare a ground strike for these coordinates.:

There was a pause punctuated by another round of bullets spraying in front of the partygoers.

:Captain,: Persephone said, :those coordinates are very close to your current location. This action is not advised.:

:Story of my life.:

:Would you like to belay your order?:

The battery was nearly charged.

:Fire, Persephone. Make it a very precise hit.:

There was a muted grumble of protest from the AI.

Selena pushed Arwel down. “Close your eyes.” She held a hand over Titan’s face and looked up, watching the spear of deadly light fall.

It only took a moment. A ring of energy hit the ground with enough force to drive the attackers to their knees, and the following breaths let them inhale the heavy gases and fall unconscious.

A heartbeat later the entire district was red with alarms. The disrupters that had silenced communication were gone, the shield over the district burned with warning, and police sirens screamed in the distance.

Selena slumped down. “The cavalry is coming.”

As the dust cleared she saw Kaftan walking in a white business suit walking toward a waiting car. Looked like he was going to get his sale after all.

 

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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 12

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

This was why fleet didn’t keep secrets. When your movements could be tracked, your thoughts read, every microexpression analyzed there was no way to keep a secret for long.

You can’t tell anyone. Marshall had never been soft or that close to crying. She’d begged Selena to keep the secret.

Three years ago it had seemed easy enough. Back then the very idea of someone from fleet coming to the municipal heart of Tarrin was unthinkable. She’d only stumbled onto the city’s shield by accident, only recognized it because she knew the only people available to create this level of shield were too busy to have spent the time it took to code something so intricate.

Now, standing in an abandoned parking garage besides a prying Titan Sciarra, the fear of him realizing – the fear of having to explain – was making her break out in a cold sweat.

“It’s all right,” Sciarra whispered as he leaned closer.

She shut her eyes. To him this probably looked like a post-attack adrenaline jag. A simple reaction to being shot at. It would be hard to make him understand that being shot was only a threat if she cared if she lived or not without letting him see how much of her soul the war had destroyed.

Four black Jhandarmi vehicles pulled up outside the garage.

Titan caught her hand as she walked away. “Do you want me to take the lead?”

“No. Thank you. I’m angry he got away, not hurt.”

“You can’t win every battle.”

“You can if you’re Caryll,” she said without thinking. It had been not her family motto per se, but her parent’s response to her childhood insecurities. CAN’T was never accepted.

I can’t.

You can if you’re Caryll.

They’d probably meant it to mean that she could because of who she was. But even as a child she’d heard, “You aren’t really one of us unless you can do this.” Failure meant becoming an outcast.

Some things never changed.

Tyrling took off his sunglasses as he walked into the shadows. “You two found a dead body or made one? The answer changes who I can send in.”

“Kaffton shot a man I can’t identify,” Selena reported.

“You’re sure it was Kaffton?” Tyrling looked skeptical.

“Captain Caryll saw him pull the trigger,” Titan said.

Selena zapped him, not hard, but enough to make his mouth snap shut. :He did not need that information!:

:Why not?: Sciarra sounded bewildered.

:Kaffton has never had enough evidence against him to bring him to trial. A witness-:

“A witness?” Tyrling’s smile was the calm before the storm, the promise of destruction on an epic scale. “Did he see you?”

She shrugged. “I was projecting a visual shield. It’s possible, but unlikely.”

The Jhandarmi officer laughed out loud. “Oh!” He raised his arms above his head and stepped into the sunshine with a smile. “Do you see how beautiful today is?”

:Is he feeling well?: Titan asked.

:You just handed him the biggest intelligence coup of the decade. I have footage of Kaffton murdering someone. It’ll be enough to get him executed in half the city-states on the continent, or make him hand over names of bigger targets.:

If she were Kaffton she’d be standing nearby with a sniper rifle.

Tyrling walked back to them. “The crew is going down. We’ll have the body identified and autopsied by tonight. The medical team needs to know if you’re injured.”

Selena shook her head. “A little hungry from running, but not injuries. Do you want us to stay?”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” Tyrling said. “Take my vehicle, leave it downtown, and get back behind your fancy defenses.”

“What about the list?” And Jalisa. “We don’t have it. I didn’t complete the mission.”

Tyrling held up a hand. “We’re searching the area on a grid. Kaffton won’t be able to move freely. If he’s smart, and time and again he’s proven he has, he’ll hole up and wait for the buy.”

“We don’t know the address will lead to the buy.” She argued.

The director raised his eyebrows. “At that address? We both know it,” he said in a softer voice.

She looked away, not quite ready to quit.

“You put him on the run. We have him on camera. We can track him down.”

“And, if the list gets out?”

“We’re putting contingency plans in place right now.” Tyrling looked over at Sciarra. “Ah, Commander? Guardian?”

Sciarra took an at-ease position. “Guardian.”

“Please inform your commander that we’ll have an update for him in a few hours.”

“Will you have more information about the threat against the fleet at that time?”

Tyrling and Selena shared a look. It would be better to tell them the truth… but perhaps not here in the open.

“I’ll have something,” Tyrling said. “The vehicle should recognize your code, Caryll. Leave it somewhere convenient.”

Grinding her teeth she went to the car. The problem was that it made sense. The Jhandarmi had the personnel and infrastructure to hunt for Kaffton. A full crew of people working for them. It stung that she wasn’t in charge, and it was strange having the backup when Tyrling so often let her fly solo in the field. Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 12

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

 

NOTE: This novel was originally posted as a serial in Summer 2017. The posted chapters are from an unproofed draft and may contain errors.
The final, fully edited, manuscript is now available for sale.

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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