BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 17

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not that I’ve seen.”

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

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

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

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

Titan looked away. “I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“No! Pick something else!”

“Carver?” Titan hesitated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who recommended this?” she demanded.

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

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

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

“Who recommended this?”

“Selena.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She has Hollis’s.”

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

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

“Run a scan!” Titan said.

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

“Titan has a concussion.”

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

“See!” Titan glared victoriously.

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

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

“Sugar and cheese?” Titan asked skeptically.

Mars shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was. And a highly sexualized drawing of Caryll.

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

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

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

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

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

“Unless she likes it rough,” Mars said.

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

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

“No I didn’t!” Rowena said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mars frowned. “That seems unlikely.”

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

Titan pivoted, fists clenching at his side.

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

Silence descended as Titan stopped moving.

Rowena held her breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titan nodded.

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

“I have to go stop her,” Titan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 16

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

Now it was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was only one place to escape them all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She dismissed the notification and stepped into the empty hall.

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

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

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

:Acknowledged. Open.:

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

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

She’d left the medkit there.

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

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

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

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

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

It was a savagely brutal psychological attack.

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

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

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

“I loved him,” she whispered.

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s not from an allied crew.”

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

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

“But it’s still on the books.”

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

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

“No, thank you, Persephone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll live.”

“That does seem likely.”

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

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

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

“Please stop.”

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

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

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

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

“She was an exemplary captain.”

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

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

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

“Is that Titan’s genetic worksheet?”

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

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

“Very efficiently too, from the data available.”

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

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

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

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

“Would you like your rank?” Persephone asked.

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

“No. I have no reason to wear it.”

“Where would you like me to store it?”

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 15

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you?”

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

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

“Paid vacation? What’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

He took a seat next on Carver’s left.

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

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

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

Her face remained impassive.

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

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 14

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’d expected to be executed.

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

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

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

“It won’t be you!”

She nodded in agreement. “Understood, sir.”

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

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

If they had assistants.

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

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

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

“You will not be welcome.”

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

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

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

“Understood, yeoman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoshi walked away humming to himself.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

“All Sciarras are stubborn.”

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

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

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

“I’m not in the mood for Cargo Blue.”

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

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

“Great! Bring some of the Giggle Water.”

“You know it has no alcohol, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know who?”

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

“And you are…?”

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

“Right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, no, it’s always like that.”

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

“Rowena?”

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

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

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

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

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

Forcing a smile she held out her hand.

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

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

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

“Oh.” That made no sense.

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

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

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

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

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

“Which is?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Medicine?”

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

“Go on.”

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

“You need to tell the guardians.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily stomped away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 13

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

“Nephew!”

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

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

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

Right now her lips were creased in a frown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry, auntie.”

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

He closed his eyes. “It was unplanned.”

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

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

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

“No, auntie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumaka fled the medbay with graceless haste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She hasn’t told me that. Yet.”

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

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

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

“No!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or he’d thought.

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

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

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

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

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

*** Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 13

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 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

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