BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 11

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

:We can’t kidnap grounders.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or didn’t want to wait to get paid.”

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

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

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

Why dig so far down?”

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

“I never heard that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

:Liar.:

“I can’t say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do not have time for that.”

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

“We have to-”

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:There’s not enough metal.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“War is different.”

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

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 10

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sciarra gave the handle a wiggle. “Locked.”

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

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

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

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

“What tools would Kaffton have had?”

“Whatever professional tools someone like hi-“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 9

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No one does.”

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

“This should be interesting,” Titan murmured.

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

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

“I suppose.”

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

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

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

“Did you consider taking your crew here?”

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not quite the same.”

“No. Not quite,” he agreed.

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

Titan dropped the sound shield. “Yes?”

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

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

“Yes, thank you,” Titan said.

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

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

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

“I thought it landed in Tarrin?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which meant he had to win her trust.

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

Selena glanced at him, expression disinterested.

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

“Sounds horrifying,” Selena said without any emotion.

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

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

“I saw the battle plans.”

Her eyes narrowed “From the medical ward?”

“Someone I knew had a copy.”

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

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

“There’s no math to support that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m serious.”

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

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

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

“Look up real quick.”

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

“The moon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Carrilloni? A variant of Caryll?”

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

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

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

The tram rolled to a stop.

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

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

“That would be delightful.”

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 8

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

It hurt.

The absence of Titan Sciarra burned like a phantom limb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 7

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

“What happened to you?”

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

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

“Not by much.”

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 6

SELENA

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

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

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

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

Prow’s signal vanished.

“What happened?” Sciarra asked.

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

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

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

“That’s awful.”

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

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

Her scan caught the presence of telekyen.

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

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

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

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 5

Titan

Selena Caryll pulled her hands away, shields on high, and he felt only skin. There should have been a tug, the warmth of friction as their shield fought to separate, but there was none. Their shields were identical.
The corner of his lip twitched up in a smile.
He hadn’t been the only one projecting. Fear and anxiety were high on Caryll’s mind, which was normal all things considered, but he’d also caught a memory of her watching him with a sense of appreciation.
She didn’t hate him.
It was a slender reed to build a house of dreams with, but what had Fleet Marshall Tandroi said during the third wave of colonization? ‘All great achievements begin with a single thread of hope.’
Caryll froze halfway to the door, almost making him collide with her. She shook her head and he felt rather than saw her run a diagnostic. There was an accusing glare on her face when she turned. “Did you say something?”
Titan shook his head.
“You’re certain?”
He nodded.
“It’s just… my implant pulled up famous quotes by Fleet Marshall Tandroi and highlighted one. It’s a subroutine left over from Academy…”
“I was thinking about one of his quotes,” Titan admitted. “I probably had famous quotes set to add to my shield scroll…”
“… and since you just worked on my shield, the information uploaded automatically,” she finished. “Let me shut that down real quick.” Her eyes turned a brighter blue for a moment but he saw no other change.
“Try adding something to your scroll.”
He put the symbol for Allied Crew on his scroll.
“Stop setting a bad example. Lying is a crime, you know,” Caryll chided.
“Things change,” Titan said. “Allegiances change. If you knew my captain, maybe you’d get along with her. Maybe our crews would be allied.”
Her laugh was sharp and bitter. “Poisoned honey, Sciarra. The rose’s sweet scent conceals the biting thorn.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means any good offer from fleet is a trap. Allied crews?” she scoffed. “At what price? My blood? My genes? My tech? My crew?”
“We’re not like that-”
“You’re fleet,” Caryll said, cutting him off. “You’re all like that. Crew first, the rest of humanity can breathe vacuum.” Her skirt snapped and swirled as she turned angrily away. “You’re all the same.”
Titan watched her walk to the door in confusion. It was obvious there was a crucial piece of data missing in his analysis of Selena Caryll, but he didn’t know where to go looking for it. If she’d accused him of being like the other warmongers, he would have understood, even if he disagreed. But the same as the Silars? As Carver? As Marshall? Those were her friends and allies.
Unless… they weren’t.
He watched Caryll greeting the arriving police officers. Her shoulders lost some of the tension they’d been holding, and she smiled at the officers as if welcoming familiar faces. She shook their hands in the grounder style. And the dark cloud of fury didn’t return until she turned to face him.
:Is everything all right?: he asked over a tight beam.
Across the dark warehouse Caryll stared at him. Motes of dust danced in a lancing sunbeam and the silence seemed to stretch to the ends of the universe.
:Caryll?:
She turned to a dark-skinned man with a bright magenta streak in his coarse, black hair. :Everything is fine.: A smile flashed across her face, dangerous as a shark’s fin cutting through the waves. “Detective Jamar Hastings,” she said as she pushed the dark-skinned man forward, “this is Guardian Titan Sciarra.”
Hastings held out his hand.
For a brief second Titan considered refusing the gesture of equality, but he caught himself and reached out to shake the man’s hand. No shield. No augmentation. No protection.
In the fleet, Hastings would be no more than a low-level enlisted sailor.
“Here I thought everyone in fleet was as pale as you, Lena.” Hastings smiled and nudged Caryll’s shoulder.
Titan’s smile grew tight.
:Your shield just went to battle mode,: Caryll said.
:That’s not the correct diminutive of your name.:
:I get to decide what I take as an insult.:
:I’m the guardian here.:
:And I’m the captain.: Cold, blue eyes met his. :Behave.:
:Yes, ma’am.:
Hastings coughed. “I feel I’m missing something.”
“Only a silent debate over protocol for this particular situation,” Caryll lied. “I think I’ll work with the crime scene techs and leave you two to argue with the Jhandarmi officers over who gets to canvas the neighborhood for information.”
“I hate knocking on doors asking for info,” Hastings complained.
Caryll shrugged. “Not my jurisdiction, I’m afraid. My hands are tied.”
Hastings sighed as Caryll walked away, pulled out an electronic tablet, and turned to Titan with an apologetic half-smile. “Guardian, my apologies, I suppose we are more informal than you’re used to.”
The scent of Caryll’s soap was still clinging to him. Minutes ago he’d been a thought away from public indecency. He cleared his throat. “I can manage with informal.”
“Wonderful.” Hastings smiled. “Perhaps you could tell me how the Star Guard would normally conduct this type of investigation and I can find where our procedures match.”
Titan raised an eyebrow as his implant scanned for the relevant data.
Hastings took a step back, wary.
“Were my eyes glowing?” Titan guessed.
“Yes, is that normal?”
“Only for an augmented officer accessing information on their implant.” He lifted his left arm to signal where his was, buried in the muscles between his radius and ulna. “As for the procedure for theft, we don’t have one. The last theft on record was over seven-hundred years ago.”
“A crime-free society?” Hastings chuckled as he shook his head. “Must be nice.”
“Not crime free, but ships are easy to patrol. Everyone is in charge of something, there’s constant surveillance.” Memories of the fleet before Landing turned his mouth sour.
:Sciarra?: Caryll sent feelings of concern and worry.
He responded with a placating thought as he grimaced. “The crimes that are committed in full view of everyone are often more vile than theft, because you’ve convinced everyone that an atrocity is acceptable.”
Hastings stared at him.
Realizing he was probably scaring the grounder more than was needed, Titan moved on. “Crime is very limited in the fleet. A senior officer knows where everyone in their crew is at any given moment, either by pinging their implant or their call sign.”
“Call sign?”
Titan touched his shoulder. “A, um, insignia almost?”
:What is the grounder equivalent of call sign?: he asked Caryll.
:Communications patch.:
“A communications device worn on the shoulder. It keeps the children out of restricted areas, opens doors, allows you to find anyone on your ship.”
“That makes finding out if one of your people raided the warehouse easy,” Hastings said.
“If I know the time of the attack, I can check the shield log,” Titan said. “Everyone leaving Enclave is supposed to register with the Starguard and it would be posted on the log.” He altered his shield enough so his voice carried to Caryll.
Hastings drew his head back quickly and muttered a word under his breath that Titan was fairly certain Carver had said was not to be used in public.
“Problems?”
“There.” Hastings nodded to the doorway where a bullish man with reddened skin and a bald head was climbing out of a black car. “Tyrling. This is not good.”
It was the same man who’d called Carver earlier in the day. “Why is he bad?”
“He’s the Jhandarmi regional director,” Hastings said as Caryll moved to intercept Tyrling. “If he’s shown up, this isn’t a routine case.” The police officer covered his mouth and muttered another curse.
Caryll caught Director Tyrling and steered him away from the crime-scene techs.
“Detective Hastings,” Tyrling said with a fraternal nod as he approached.
Hastings gave a tight-lipped nod in return. “Director.”
Tyrling studied Titan. “And you are?”
“Guardian Sciarra, sir. You spoke with my commander this morning.”
Tyrling glanced at Caryll before nodding. “Of course.”
“To what do we owe the honor of your arrival, director?” Hastings asked, every sign indicating he wanted the Jhandarmi officer gone as soon as humanely possible.
:What am I missing?: Titan asked Caryll.
Her face remained perfectly blank. :I don’t know. He wasn’t expected.:
“The timing of the crime caught my attention,” Tyrling said as he looked around. “There’s, what, two dozen shelves? How full was the warehouse?”
“There were six-hundred, seventy-three boxes of supplies in twenty-nine large containers,” Titan said with a frown. “Why?”
Tyrling pursed his lips. “The alarm went off less than thirty minutes ago and the place is empty.”
A tight beam of information came from Caryll, approximate weight of the boxes, average loading times. Titan lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug. “With the right people you could clear this place in under six minutes.”
“An Starsider could,” Caryll said. “A grounder couldn’t.”
Hastings raised his eyebrows. “And a person from Enclave would leave a trace in your shield, wouldn’t they?”
Caryll’s mouth pinched into a frown. “There are a few ways around it. The stolen goods wouldn’t need to go back to Enclave-”
“But it wouldn’t make sense to move it in the city either,” Titan said. “And there’d be a trace smell, at least of the explosives. The air smells fresh, not burnt.”
“That’s a problem,” Hastings said. “If we don’t have a timeline, you can’t check your logs, can you?”
Tyrling nodded as if he’d been expecting this news. “There was a similar case two months ago in Wellden. A warehouse was robbed overnight of a large shipment of weapons headed for the militia armory. The alarm went off the following morning, tampered with and preset. Neither the Wellden police nor the Jhandarmi have had any luck tracking down the culprits.”
“It’s a jump from weapons to medicine,” Caryll said.
“With the current population crisis in some of the city-states, it’s not hard to imagine a war,” Tyrling said.
Titan shook his head. “Our medicine was for pregnant women and the elderly. A few vitamins for the children. None of it would be useful in war.”
“It would be useful in a siege,” Hastings said.
The warehouse fell silent for a moment.
Hastings shrugged. “If someone want to de-seat a ruling authority, having medicines of any kind could win people over.”
“Or it could be as simple as a ransom demand,” Caryll said. “This isn’t helping. We need the security footage from the street and we need to talk to the guards. For a heist like this, the thieves had to know how much there was to steal and what equipment they’d need to lift it. These boxes aren’t light or small.”
“Where were they ordered from?” Tyrling asked.
“The shipment came into port in Clyde River and came by tram.”
“The Jhandarmi will talk with the dock workers and the tram operators, since neither belong to a city-state’s jurisdiction. Detective, I trust you’ll be able to secure the security feeds?”
Hastings nodded. “I have people collecting the independent feeds from shop owners now, along with witness statements.”
“That leaves the guards,” Caryll said, and her eyes glowed a soft white-blue. “Martin Larangi has already arrived at the police station voluntarily. That leaves Eton Prow.” She frowned. “I don’t have an address on record for him.”
Hastings pulled out his tablet and began a search at the same time Titan checked his implant.
“Nothing on record,” Hastings said. “His last known address was condemned last month. He’s listed as migrant.” He grimaced apologetically. “Technically it isn’t illegal. He has another six weeks to register a home of address.”
“Guardian records only have the old address,” Titan reported. “He didn’t inform anyone in fleet that he was moving.”
“I’ll put the word out,” Tyrling said. “The Jhandarmi might be able to uncover something.”
Caryll shook her head. “Prow favors the art district.”
Titan turned to her. “How would you know that?”
“I’ve talked to him before. He took this job so he could spend more time working on his glasswork. He was, at least in his own opinion, becoming very talented. And he was given a standard fleet com, an old JK-37.”
He had to check his implant to find something similar. “That’s an antique.” More than an antique—the last working one in the Sciarra holds had fallen into disrepair before the fleet had separated from the colonists. “It worked for him?”
“Once we modified it with some current grounder tech, yes.” Caryll looked to Tyrling. “I might be able to trace that, but not from here. There’s too many tech baffles downtown. I’ll actually need to walk the grid.”
“Fine,” Tyrling said.
“Unacceptable.” Titan shook his head. “The fleet is on lockdown. We can modify something the police have to search for whatever element Caryll thinks is out there.”
“Um…” Hastings looked confused. “What would we use? How would we do this?”
Caryll pinged him with the sign for annoyance. “They don’t have the tech, Sciarra.”
“We can provide Caryll with a bodyguard,” Hastings said.
“Or the Jhandarmi can,” Tryling said.
“Or,” Caryll said, “you boys can stop making this an ego contest and remember that I’m fully capable of walking down a city street all on my lonesome.”
:There’s been a threat against fleet,: Titan told her. :You shouldn’t be alone.:
:I don’t look fleet,: she replied as she smiled at Tyrling. “Sir, detective, I’ll contact you as soon as I find Prow.”
“We,” Titan corrected. He nodded to the two men. “A pleasure to meet you both.” A quick teleport and he was standing outside the door, waiting for Caryll. :You shouldn’t have done that. It makes the fleet look weak. Divided.:
She did something then that cut him off. No ping. No information streaming. Her shields almost vanished.
Titan frowned, trying to figure out what had happened.
Caryll kept going, weaving past the forensic team with her skirt snapping in the early spring wind.
He fell in behind her and sent her a questioning ping. :Shields?:
“My shield is there, but the art district has a lot of very sensitive pieces of tech meant to detect anyone trying to take illegal photos or make recordings of musicians. A shield on full guard will set it off,” she explained. “And I didn’t divide the fleet any more than it was already fractured. I’m doing my job.”
“Technically, you’re doing my job.”
Caryll led him across the street and into a park where a screen of trees hid the view of the warehouses. “OIA handbook section one-thirty-nine, subsection G.”
The relevant data hit his implant hard. “The OIA land officer shall handle the hiring and firing of civilian employees? I’m not sure that applies.”
“It does.” Caryll stopped in the shade of a large tree out of sight of the police and Jhandarmi. “Your shield is still too loud. Give me your hand.”
Titan held his out so they almost touched. His shield shimmered and even with the Guardian Veil it seemed to vanish, though he knew it was still there. “That’s a nice trick.”
“Don’t try to replicate it, you might explode. And don’t use the glowing eyes outside of here. The grounders will notice.” Her words were tense, agitated, her body language dismissive.
Somewhere, he felt he’d missed a segue. They’d been getting along amiably before the police arrived. Caryll had been almost flirtatious, for Caryll. Now he was apparently an inconvenience. He let his patience slip a little. “I’m going to pretend you said that because you care enough not to want me hurt, and not just because you don’t want to clean up the mess.”
Titan let her enjoy the silence while he sent an update to Carver. “The guardians in Enclave will start making inquiries with the people who have done pick-ups before. And Carver wants to debrief us, the sooner the better. When can I tell him to expect us back?”
Caryll looked unsure for a moment, then shrugged. “Two hours, maybe three?”
“I’ll tell him we have a romantic luncheon planned.” Titan winked at her, just to see what her reaction would be.
It was the same startled silence as before.
He sent her a memory of laughter and the bright blue-green that was the Academy color-code for good fun.
There was the tiniest crinkle at the edge of her eyes. A hint of a smile as she pursed her lips that didn’t reach her eyes. “What would your crew say if they could see you now, Sciarra?” Caryll shook her head as if disappointed, but her smile was genuine.
“That I’m being a perfect gentleman.”
“That has so many meanings in fleet.”
It did, and for a moment he allowed the thought of Caryll naked under him. Or on top, sunlight spilling over her pale skin as her head rolled back in pleasure…
“Titan Sciarra!” Caryll punched his shoulder, not his face, which was an improvement.
But the bright pink blush on her cheeks was not putting his libido in check.
“I’m sorry.” He was, sincerely sorry… at least that she’d caught the spillover of his thoughts.
There was a moment where they were too close, her emotions grazed his mind, touching and leaping off again, leaving cascades of thought in their wake. She’d been stressed in warehouse with so many people around, worried about something going wrong, worried about safety.
“Caryll, you know I wouldn’t let anyone hurt you.”
She stopped walking and stared at him in confusion.
“You were… worried? At the warehouse.” He shook his head as he realized he hadn’t understood her correctly. “You weren’t worried?”
“Not about myself, no.”
None of the thoughts he’d caught from her had expressed concern for the grounders. Which left only him. “You were worried about me?”
Her eyes widened in exasperation. “A little. You’re a high-profile target, easily recognizable, and I don’t know what would happen if you were injured in Tarrin. I can’t even imagine what your crew would say if they saw us keeping company. There are too many variables and too many ways this ends badly.”
“Let me worry about my crew’s gossip.” He took a few long strides to catch up to her. “For now I’ll keep you company, keep my shields up, and make sure your report to Carver won’t include a corpse. Okay? Let me do the worrying. It’s my job. I’m charged with finding ways to make life better for everyone in the fleet. Improve morale.”
Caryll sighed and he could feel her relax just a little. Her tired look became sardonic. “Morale? Does imagining me naked help with that?”
Titan titled his head to the side in an apologetic shrug. “It improved my morale.”
“While crossing the border of decency. What if it made me uncomfortable?”
“Then I’d apologize profusely and scrub those images from my implant’s data bank. But…” he leaned down to whisper in her ear, “it didn’t make you uncomfortable.”
She met his gaze, vivid atmosphere-blue eyes filled with a myriad of emotions. “Anything between us would lead to a fallout of cataclysmic proportions. Your crew would have a fit.”
“I’m not worried about my crew. Only you.” He felt her shields tighten. “Because I’m your guardian today, and my job is to take care of you.”
“Nice recovery, Sciarra.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and continued toward downtown Tarrin.
He fell into step with her. “Captain, how much trouble am I in and how much groveling do I need to do to get back in your good graces?”
“None,” she said with another cryptic smile. “You were never in my good graces so you, logically, can never fall out.”
“And you’ll forgive the Sciarras as soon as the seas turn red?”
She shrugged, her shields sharing nothing with him. “What’s to forgive? We’ve been at odds since the Empire was still around, and on the opposite sides of two wars. At this point, the matter is settled. We don’t see eye to eye.”
“Our crews didn’t,” Titan corrected. “You and I might.”
“As individuals.” She said it with the tiniest frown, as if she wasn’t sure what she thought of removing them from the safe definitions or crew stereotypes.
Titan was certain how he felt: like he was in free fall. There was a sense of freedom being out of uniform, away from his crew and cohort, alone with Selena Caryll. Or as alone as anyone could get in a city.
If there wasn’t a robbery to deal with, he’d be almost giddy. Although, without the robbery, he wouldn’t have a had this chance. He’d have to thank the thieves when he found them.
Sunlight shot through the branches again, filtering through Caryll’s skirt.
He looked away because it was his job to scan for danger, not because he didn’t enjoy the view. There were a fair number of people walking under the trees and eating lunch at the benches that lined the divide between the warehouse district and the art district.
Gazes followed them, but they weren’t threats, they were looks of admiration.
“Do you have an actual plan for finding Prow, or are you just hoping to catch him out picnicking?” Titan asked.
“The com has telekyen and several other rare minerals. We walk. We scan. We hope we get lucky.”
He chuckled as he adjusted his shields to passively scan for telekyen, a useless practice in Enclave where everything had it, but not here.
The brightly-colored shops had nothing made from the one substance the fleet couldn’t live without. It was a little mind-altering to realize that no one out here but Caryll and himself could manipulate an object with a thought, or teleport, or shield, or share a thought.
Caryll’s focus shifted suddenly to something across road. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him across the cobblestone street to a small art gallery that seemed to specialize in paintings of fountains. “I’ve been meaning to see this showing.”
Titan looked at six rows of nearly identical paintings of a three-tiered fountain surrounded by roses in various shades of pink.
“It’s supposed to be a metaphor for women.” She stopped in front of one and tilted her head to the side. “Although, the red roses look a bit unhealthy if these all represent vaginas.”
His eyebrows went up. “Why did you say that? All I saw was a fountain.”
“But,” she smiled wickedly, “if you look long enough a familiar, yonic shape takes form. Surrounded by rosy buds and gushing forth. The fountain has a nice domed shape, almost like a…”
“Oh. Don’t. No. Gushing?”
“Would you prefer moist, or pulsing?” She was laughing at his discomfort.
Titan shook his head. “You’re a horrible person.” But she was smiling now. Her emotions were melting into her shield again, and it felt wonderful.
“You said you wanted to make me happy.” A pink blush tinted her cheeks as she realized she was emoting again. “Who else was I going to share this with? Genevieve is the only one who would dare come downtown with me and if she knew what this was supposed to represent, she’d buy every canvas and plaster the walls with them.”
A brief vision of Starguard offices covered with vaginal metaphors made him shake his head. “I accept you not buying Silar one of these as a peace offering.”
She lifted a price tag casually. “You know, at these prices, I might want to shock the Starguard more than I want to have peace with you.”
He looked over her shoulder. It was more than he wanted to pay for anything, but Caryll probably had crew funds invested in more ventures than his salary allowed. Although a quick check of his implant didn’t show an official record. If she was living off only the OIA salary, she couldn’t afford a single rose bud, let alone the whole garden.
It was another fact to file away. Caryll was an intriguing puzzle of a person. She’d always seemed comfortable in her own skin. Uninhibited. It was one of the first things he’d ever noticed about her.
The first time he’d seen her in the Academy he’d been struck by the dichotomy she presented; moonlight-blonde hair against the black of her martial arts uniform. She’d always looked so gentle, and yet her skills had marked has as one of the most dangerous people in their cohort.
And now, dressed to blend with the groundsiders, looking sweet and flirtatious, the dichotomy was still there, because in her eyes he saw hardness and deception.
His files on Selena Caryll defined her as a quiet individual with a gift for shield coding and an outstanding shooting record in the Academy. She was supposed to be bland, another face in the fleet, but Titan was beginning to suspect Caryll was hiding more secrets than the Starguard intelligence officers had guessed.
Titan wanted to uncover them all.
Without warning his implant override engaged, bringing up tracking data. Someone carrying small amounts of telekyen was moving down the road one block over.
“That looks promising,” Caryll said. “Ready to go meet Prow?”
“Lead on, captain.”

Saying Good-Bye to My Moose

Alaska…. what a crazy adventure.

I’m realizing that most the good things in my life weren’t things I planned for. I didn’t plan to get married in my 20s, or have four kids, or become a writer, or move all over the country every few years. I had my heart set on staying near the equator, working on a boat, and studying marine life. But good things fell in my path and I took a chance. Which led me down curious roads and to places I never imagined going.

Like Alaska.

The Land of the Midnight Sun was never on my itinerary. Not even as a vacation spot. Now it’s hard to believe we’re leaving.

I can’t help it! I’m used to having this view out my window almost every morning. I used to the moose! The long summer days and the clear, blue skies are beautiful! There’s of me that loves a part of Alaska. The summer part. Not the winter part. Definitely the summer part. But I do love it, and I’m going to miss it.

By the time this posts I will probably be in Canada driving through Yukon Territory. I have no idea what’s out there, although I hear bears are common.

I’ll try to take some good pictures and share when I get back to the states. In the meantime, enjoy wherever you are. Bloom where you’re planted. And be ready to go when it’s time to make like a tumbleweed and travel!

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 4

SELENA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Caryll?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None taken.”

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

“Not good,” Tyrling said.

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

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

“Do you know who?”

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

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

Tyrling chuckled. “Sounds like a terrible time.”

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

Maybe she never had.

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

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

“Keep it that way.”

*** Continue reading BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 4