BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 7

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

“What happened to you?”

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

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

“Not by much.”

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 6

SELENA

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

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

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

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

Prow’s signal vanished.

“What happened?” Sciarra asked.

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

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

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

“That’s awful.”

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

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

Her scan caught the presence of telekyen.

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

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

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

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

Write For Love – Publish For Money

Start here with Derek Murphy’s wise words:

 

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

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

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

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

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

The average book sells 250 copies per year.

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

BUT ONLY IF THEY KEEP SELLING.

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

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

Good authors write on deadlines with an audience in mind.

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

Good authors publish so they can get paid.

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

Never apologize for telling the world what you are worth.

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Trouble With Going Offline

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

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

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

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

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

Books are the best virtual reality. 🙂

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

But… do I really need an editor?

Spoiler Alert! Editors talk to each other. A lot.

It’s no surprise that our talk often circles around subjects like the success of our clients, the state of the industry, and what’s not working. One thing that came up in a recent conversation is the number of authors opting out of having an editor entirely. It started when a friend who has degrees in writing, over a decade of experience in the publishing industry, and lots of experience editing trying to decide if she wanted to do an honest review of the literary merits of a “best seller” indie book.

What did she find?

1 misused apostrophe
3 overly-repeated words (not used as a literary device)
2 run-on sentences
3-4 redundant uses of conjunctions
10 uses of the word “that” (not including previously cited repeated words)
15 uses of “was” or “were” (not including cited repeated words)
At least 3 examples of missing punctuation
Cliche (3 or 4)
Ineffective / idiomatic / juvenile metaphors.
Sentence variation practically non-existent.
Overly long, rambling sentences.
Jumping subject mid-sentence.
Seriously rushed, made me re-read several chunks over and over to find my feet

…. all in the opening pages of the book.

These are basic errors that an editor would pick up. And that weren’t picked up because the author opted out of using a content editor.

Other editors were quick to point out other problem books. Ones with teaser sentences with obvious errors, or ones with blurbs with typos. It happens. Authors are human. And even Big 5 books sometimes have typos (usually caused by editing too fast or the change being rejected rather than accepted in the final draft). But it’s baffling to see so many poorly edited books flooding the market.

Until someone said one of her clients had canceled because a popular indie author guru (who I never did catch the name of) said indie authors didn’t need editors.

Now… I kind of get this. Edits are expensive, usually costing a $1/page ($0.004 per word) or more. Not every author has a few hundred dollars to do a book that way, and I understand that. The upfront cost for a self-published novel run from $200 to several thousand depending on the cover art, quality of your editor, and whether you hire a formatter or not.

It’s tempting to say that your crit partner can edit for you and that your digital design skills are enough to make a cover. Which… they might be. If you’ve been writing for a few years, have a crit partner you brought up through the ranks and works as a professional editor, and are trained in graphic design – yes! – you can skip hiring an editor. But not everyone is in that situation. Not everyone has the connections.

But you still need an editor.

If you can’t afford good cover art and a good editor then you know what you do? YOU QUERY THE MANUSCRIPT.

Write your query (back-of-book-blurb + word count and title + two sentences about you) and you query that thang! You send it out to small presses or agents. Because, with traditional publishing, the editor and cover art are part of the contract.

“But… what if my book isn’t good enough to query?” … I’ll be honest. If you don’t think your book is query-ready than it isn’t editor-ready or publication-ready yet. If you have edited that manuscript as best as you know how, and it isn’t ready to show a big New York publisher with money to burn, then that book shouldn’t be published. Put the manuscript down, give it an affectionate pat, and go write another book.

Self Publishing is not an excuse to skip the work, be lazy, and publish rough drafts. Your paying readers are not a test group or a beta reader.

Self Publishing means you do the work up front, pay up front, and earn more after sales. It’s riskier, because there’s no promise you’ll make back what you put in, but you have more control over the situation, publish on your own schedule, and have final say on what you do. These are the trade offs.

If you want a career in publishing you need to invest in your work. Respect all the time and effort you put into writing and make sure you only publish your best work. Hire an editor or query your novel. Either way, make sure you get an editor’s eyes on it. You did not spend years of your life writing that book you love only to publish the rough draft. You’re better than that.

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 3

ROWENA

The com crackled with static. It didn’t too, Rowena’d had the part on hand for years now, but it was one of the little warnings that told her someone was trespassing into her domain.

Technically the crew, ship, and even her engineering section belonged to her captain, and Hoshi never let her forget it. Bit, since they’d held the same rank until the end of war, she couldn’t really find it in her heart to forgive him.

Now his round face appeared on the screen, thin-lipped and angry. “You have a visitor.”

Crack. She pressed her lips together and surveyed the partially dissected environmental array she’d been cleaning. With a shield over it, it’d be fine. “I can be up in the conference room in ten minutes, sir.” As long as they didn’t mind her looking like she’d gone straight from cleaning fryers in the kitchens to engineering and hadn’t showered since yesterday.

“Don’t bother. I’m sending them down.”

Which meant they were either Lees or …

Titan Sciarra materialized at the edge of the engineering safety doors wearing his all-black Star Guard uniform with the tiny gold leaf for his rank.

“Commander,” she said politely, not bothering to get up off the floor.

“Permission to enter?”

Rowena nodded and dropped the personal shield that kept the Danielle Marie’s engines safe from junior crew and her safe from everyone.

“Spring cleaning already?”

“If I can’t get these filter coils cleaned we’ll have to replace them and Hoshi doesn’t know who to trade for them.” She did, just like she knew almost everything else going on in Enclave, but Hoshi wasn’t going to ask and she never volunteered anything.

Titan sighed as he looked around. “I’m surprised your captain let me in if you’re this busy.”

She knew he didn’t say understaffed because he knew she didn’t let anyone else in the engine room. “Hoshi thinks you might be trying to court me. The Sciarras have better ships and political leverage. He’s willing to trade unwanted kin for that.”

“Um…” Titan looked nervous.

“It’s an assumption they run on, not me.” She put extra emphasis on THEY to differentiate the rest of the fleet from their little dangerous duo. “You’re bachelorhood is safe for another day.”

“Ro, if…”

She shot him a quelling glare. “We’ve been over this. I’m not using a marriage contract as an escape hatch from a bad situation. I don’t want to be Sciarra. You don’t want to be Lee. And, no offense, but I tried kissing you once and licking a wall is more exciting.”

Titan laughed.

Rowena went back to scrubbing coils. “What are you doing here in your all-blacks? Is this a formal reprimand for last night at Cargo Blue?”

“Nah, it’s a recruiting drive,” Titan said as he leaned against the bulkheads. “I want you to join the Star Guard.”

“Ha. Ha. Funny.” She made a face of distaste. Three years since they’d landfall on this vicious mudball of a planet, nearly 300 executions and banishments, and still the warmonger crew weren’t welcomed into the political system of the fleet.

Seats on the captain’s counsel were nice, and she appreciated that they’d spared her life – most days – but she’d find the Lee’s missing space station before the Star Guard offered her a job.

“What’s this really about?”

“Really? I need your help with something.”

If it had been anyone but Titan she would have kicked them out. But, he was her friend. Her only friend after last night. “Parts and repairs I can handle, but I don’t solve people problems. Unless we’re moving a body.”

“That’s close to my problem.”

She looked up in surprise.

“Do you know of any feuds going on in Enclave?”

“Besides the usual ones?” She pulled up a list on her implant. “I mean, the general Allied verse Warmonger tension is there. A couple of the smaller crews are scrapping over salvage rights. The Silars are baiting as many high-level officers as they can, and giving Carver blue balls in the process. Sciarras. Lees. Crack, I’d start a war if I thought you’d forgive me. Anything is better than this.” She gestured to the parts that should have been replaced a century ago.

“It’s not natural, fleet holding still. We’re explorers caught in this prison.”

“It’s for-” Titan started the standard lecture and she shut him down with an electric shock from across the room.

Rowena glared. “It was about safety. Three years ago. Now, it’s about fear.  Cultures that stagnate die. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re clinging so hard to the old ways that we’re going to strangle ourselves.”

“You saying you’re going to go marry a grounder?”

“Not if my ancestors came to a dream and told me to!” She spat on the floor. “A grounder couldn’t keep up with us. Not this generation. But, with training? Maybe my nieces and nephews could marry in.”

Titan nodded agreement. Grounders couldn’t keep up with someone augmented like they were. “How is Nia anyway?”

“Nine months pregnant, acting like she’s eighteen months along, and likely to kill you if you don’t use her proper name. Aronia is married now.”

They both chuckled.

“Ro,” Titan said. “If you wanted to attack the fleet, destabilize us, who would you kill?”

She raised her eyebrows. “What’s my goal?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“What do you know?”

“The Jhandarmi in Tarrin think there’s a credible threat to the fleet and a hitter has been hired to kill an officer. By officer I assume they mean someone augmented, but…” He shrugged. “That’s it. So, who would you kill?”

Rowena stood up. “For pure chaos, Perrin Carver. His crew was allied with the Baulars at one point. He has fire power and respect on both sides. He’s charismatic and well-known by the grounders. Kill the figurehead and we’d have chaos.”

“No, we’d have Marshall or a Silar,” Titan said.

“Killing Marshall is always a tempting thought, but it’s not a smart play. She’s nearly as powerful as Carver, held her own against the Baulars, and her family has political connections on all three continents. That’s not an anthill you want to kick.”

Titan nodded in agreement. “One of the Silars?”

“But which one?” Rowena asked. “There’s a few thousand of them. I’d murder Hollis myself if I were ever alone with him without witnesses for no other reason than I want to wipe that smirk off his face. But, there’s the problem.”

Titan raised an eyebrow. “To many witnesses?”

“No, too much skill. If you or I wanted to kill someone how hard would it be? Warmonger or not, we’re still among the elite. Who could take you down?”

He grimaced. “Carver and I are evenly matched. He has more brute force, I’m better at shielding. Hollis Silar…” Titan made a disgruntled face, “he’s wicked fast with a knife. Lots of brute power but low focus. It’s be anyone’s fight. Marshall is better at me with a shield, but doesn’t have finesse.”

“Marshall doesn’t need finesse. I’ve seen her kill with augmented force and her bare hands. Even if you won the fight, her ghost would kill you.”

“Which leaves you,” Titan said, “maybe my cousin Mars. My captain.” He paused. “Caryll?” It was a question, not an addition to their list of elites.

Rowena rolled her eyes at the name. “No-shot Selena? Perfect aim, decent shields, and no kills to her name. She’s too nice. And that’s beside the point. What I’m saying is that if we wanted someone dead, it wouldn’t be a matter of if but when.”

“Right.”

“Fleet doesn’t hire hitters. Especially not mud-loving grounders. Not for a personal vendetta.”

Titan crossed his arms. “So it isn’t personal.”

“Or the person is very weak.”

“It could be someone from outside the fleet hiring. Anyone around here would just find a warmonger officer.”

“Rowena,” Titan’s voice held a note of warning.

She held her hands up. “I’m just saying! If you wanted someone discretely vanished, all the fleet knows to ask a Lee. Unless they wanted you dead, of course,” she said as a bit of a joke.

Titan sneered at her. “You wouldn’t take work from a Silar anyway.”

“True.” She rubbed a hand over tired eyes. “This isn’t helping, is it?”

“We have six people who probably didn’t hire the killer,” Titan said.

“Out of how many billion on the planet?”

“Keep it simple. Let’s assume the client and target are both local. A grounder hitter means outside Enclave, because they can’t get past my shield without help.”

“So your victim is someone who might leave Enclave,” Rowena said. “That narrows it down a bit.”

Titan nodded. “A bit, but not enough.” His eyes glowed for a moment. “I’ve got an incoming transmission.”

Rowena nodded to her board. “It’s secure.”

The board turned on showing Perrin Carver looking furious. He nodded. “Rowena.”

“Commander.” She looked up at Titan, trying to guess how serious he’d been about the recruiting drive joke.

“Sir?” Titan looked wary, which was promising in some ways.

Carver eyed her and grimaced. “You need to get back here, Sciarra. We have a situation with the delivery.”

Rowena raised her eyebrows.

“Sir, you sent me here to get information,” Titan said. “It’s Rowena. She’ll know in five minutes even if we don’t tell her, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have to come back and ask her to use her connections to gather intel for us anyway.”

Carver frowned. “Why don’t you work for us?”

Rowena looked up at the catwalks running over the engine. “Mmmm… almost everyone in the Star Guard has tried to kill me at least once, and I’ve killed some of their family, and Hoshi would have a temper tantrum if you recruited me before one of his nephews. Oh, and I hate you all.” Her smile was sharp enough to cut bone.

“Wars over,” Carver said as Titan said, “She’s joking.”

:Am not.: She sent the thought to Titan on a tight beam. :None of them were there for me when I needed help. No one defended me.:

:This is me defending you. No more wars.: Titan’s voice stayed impassive but there was a rush of emotions attached.

She rolled her eyes. “Sorry, hangovers make me grumpy.” It was a weak excuse but Carver looked ready to forgive.

“There’s a problem with the supply delivery in Tarrin,” he said.

“I’ll take a squad to pick it up instead of sending two people,” Titan said. “It won’t be an issue.”

Carver shook his head. “It was dropped off last night and the alarm went off ten minutes ago. The Tarrin police called me and the Jhandarmi. You need to get to the main office and handle things here while I go figure out the situation.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be there immediately,” Titan said.

“Are you out of your star-crazed mind?” Rowena demanded.

:Rowena Eden Lee!:

:Titan Sa’ĩr Sciarra!: Rowena gave him a mental push. “Perrin, we’re on lockdown. Did you slam your head against a hull this morning?”

Carver looked confused.

“You can’t go, sir,” Titan said. “If you die, there’s going to be chaos.”

“I can’t send a pair of rookies out there either! I’m not getting anyone else in the fleet killed today.”

The need to volunteer choked Rowena. She’d trained for this. Worked her butt off for years to know how to handle exactly a situation like this.

“I’ll go,” Titan said. “Captain Sciarra won’t mind, I’m a neutral party so none of the other captain’s will feel insulted, and my crew is stable enough that if something happens to me they’ll survive.”

“No!” Rowena protested in unison with Carver.

Agreeing with him left the taste of bile in her mouth.

On the screen Carver leaned back in his chair. “I know Tarrin. I grew up here.”

“I make a better defensive shield,” Titan argued.

Carver shook his head. “You don’t look like a grounder. You don’t move like one.”

“I’ve taken the training to leave Enclave,” Titan said. “I know all the distribution routes. If you’d let me go out to guard a minister from the OIA why not to do this? All I need to do is go to a building and check the records. It’ll take less than an hour.”

“A little bit more,” Carver said. “Teleporting in is going to attract the kind of attention you can’t afford.” He shook his head. “I’ll go. The family that adopted me after the crash still sends me clothes on my birthday every year.”

“I’m serious, Carver,” Titan said, standing up. “Sir. If someone’s going to get shot at, let it be me. I can take the hit. Even if I get killed, it won’t endanger anyone else. I’ll let my captain know I volunteered. Rowena is my witness.”

:This screams trap in big, blood-red letters.:

:Let someone try,: Titan said silently. :Let them see a Sciarra.: For a moment a flame-blue knife flickered into existence in his hand away from the screen, then burned out.

Carver looked unhappy.

“You know it’s the best choice,” Titan said aloud.

“Doesn’t mean I like it,” Carver said. “Fine. Go. Report back as quick as you can. Lee?”

Rowena raised her eyebrows in question.

“If you hear anything on the back channels about this, tell me immediately,” Carver ordered. When she didn’t respond quickly enough he snapped, “I mean it!”

“Yes! Fine! Good grief, Carver. You’re commander of the Star Guard not the hull cracking Marshal of the Fleet!” She rolled her eyes at him. And to think they’d almost been friends once. Ugh.

Titan slapped the com console, turning it off and making it wobble.

“Gentle with my tech. I don’t have the replacement parts for that.”

“You should have been polite.”

“I should also be a ranked officer who isn’t treated either like a pariah or a child,” Rowena said, trying to check her annoyance.

He winced. “I’m sorry. It’s not…” He closed his eyes and dropped his shield enough for her to catch the terror he was carrying. The fear that one wrong move would plunge them all into unending darkness.

Carefully, she wrapped an inner layer of her own shield around her sympathetic thoughts and then sneered. “All doom and gloom, Sciarra? Living in this gravity well is making your brain melt. This isn’t a problem. It’s a temporary setback.”

His laugh was weak, unbelieving. “And last night?”

“Bruised egos,” Rowena said. “I was mad Silar was paying more attention to No-Shot than me.”

A guffaw of laughter burst from Titan’s mouth and he gripped his abdomen. “Oh, ancestors! No! I have this image in my mind.” He covered his mouth and shook his head.

Rowena smiled. “See? It’s not all bad.”

“Remember when we did those training flights on the old fighters and the environmental system malfunctioned on mine?”

She nodded.

“It feels like that. I’m frantically trying to reset the system, telling myself not to panic, an praying to my ancestors that the light will flip back on. Every breath is getting harder. And… the lights not coming on.” He bit his lip.

“You survived.”

“I keep thinking my luck’s run out.”

She picked up the coils, working with her hands helped her think. “You crashed, that night. Mal and I thought you were dead. But you got home. Ancestors, or guardian spirits, or random chance… whatever. You teleported from the planet’s surface to the medical ward on your own power.”

Titan ran a hand over his damaged left arm. “I don’t know if I was entirely alone. It never felt that way.”

“And you aren’t alone now. I’ve got your back. If you get in trouble out there, holler. I’ll break your shield and come get you.”

He smiled. “Thanks.”

“Go on.” She waved him out of her engine room. “Go be a good little guardian and save civilization.”

“See what you can find out about all this? Please? Names of anyone who might be outside the shield, and anyone who might be nursing a serious grudge.”

Rowena nodded. “I will, but only because it’s you asking.”

“You’re the best, Ro.” Titan stepped into the hall to teleport out.

“Stay safe, Sciarra.”

She watched him wink out and then reset her shields.

An assassination and a theft. She hadn’t seen those coming.

Somedays she missed the clean order of battle. It had been awful. People had died by the dozens every day. But people hadn’t lied about how they felt.

If they were angry, they shot at you.

If they were happy, they told you.

If they loved you, they kissed you.

Not that anyone had loved her, and it wasn’t like she’d ever trusted the rest of her crew to have her back, but it had been uncomplicated. She followed orders, shot at her targets, and waited for death to enlist her in the Lost Fleet with her ancestors.

Now… she looked around the poorly lit engine room, silent as a tomb.

Now she had to make other plans. Death wasn’t coming for her, and neither were the living. She was in limbo, the living dead. Unwanted and forgotten by everyone but Titan.

Titan better come back safe.

The only reason she didn’t punch a hole through the Enclave shield and fly one of her ships off to the black was because she knew Titan would be upset. He’d already lost too many friends, suffered through being injured and helpless while people he loved died around him.

She couldn’t bring Mal back, or Titan’s parents, but she could make sure he had a friend no matter what.

 

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The Silliness of Butterflies

There’s something a bit magical about butterflies, isn’t there? The bright colors, the paper-thin wings, the way they glide and flit across a summer glade like broken rainbows… I find them fascinating. This little guy (gal?) had an injured wing and was crawling through the grass near a playground full of kids. I took a few pictures and found some nice bushes safely away from small feet. This is a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, native to Canada and Alaska.

Look at that cute furry body! Aren’t butterflies extraordinary?

What are the little things in life you find magical even though they’re ordinary?