Happy Release Day to BODIES IN MOTION!

BODIES IN MOTION is out in the wild!!!! Wheee!!!!

What’s different from the free, serialized version on the blog?
– Grammar errors and typos have been edited away
– The Danielle Marie is the Danielle Nicole (a change explained in the back matter)
– Character bios for the main series characters are available at the end of the book
– The ship naming conventions for the fleet are explained (you may have caught on, or not, either way enjoy the Easter Egg!)
– Chapter 1 of the next book is available in the purchased edition of BODIES IN MOTION and nowhere else until the next book is released

The ebook is $4.99. The print edition is $15.95.

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

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

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

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 23 (Part 2)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

Another section of the hull fractured and buckled under the weight of someone’s rage.

“It’s not a bluff,” Titan said. The smell of fear and desperation filled the bridge. “There are officers who could destroy this ship.”

“They won’t,” Lily said. “We’re allies of the Balaurs. Of the Sciarras! Of the Warmonger crews. No one would dare go to war with us again.” Her face turned dark with rage. “I have other allies. Other weapons. I’ll take them all out.” She whipped around. “Put that out,” she ordered the comtech. “Tell the Allied crews to back away or I’ll fire on their home ships. I’ll kill their children if I have to.”

“No!” Titan strained against his shackles. “Belay order!”

The comtech hesitated, torn between duty to crew and fleet.

Titan sucked in the hot, stale air. “You can’t. Lily, it’s not the Allied crews. Carver would never do this. The Captain’s Council would never allow an attack. They would never get together that fast. This is one person. One Elite.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I can destroy one person.”

“You can’t.” He shook his head, ready to beg. “If it’s who I think it is, she has a ship in orbit that will take us all down.” If it was Selena, she was probably expecting him to rescue himself. “Give me an open line. Let me talk to whoever is out there. I’ll negotiate. For you. Whatever it is you want, I’ll find a way to get it for you if you’ll let me stop this.”

The comtech jerked his chin in an eager nod. The rest of the crew had fallen silent. The Acontinum floated there, wrapped in a deadly cage of telekyen and power.

“Please?” His voice shattered with fear.

Lily drew in a deep breath and her rage returned. “You had your chance. You had thousands of chances to give us what we were owed! You’re a traitor, and I’ll see you die as one.” She nodded. “We don’t need to teleport out. Bring the secondary engines online.”

“The old garbage burners?” The comtech asked in confusion. “Do those work?”

“We used them a few times during the war. They’re slow, but they’ll get us over the wall.”

“But… the shield?”

Lily lifted her chin. “It’ll be down.”

The techs scurried, rushing to secure themselves as the old tub rumbled.

It was a fight they couldn’t win. Maybe with a good crew, an officer or two with elite ranking, and some backup they’d have some hope, but like this? “It’s suicide,” Titan said. “Surrender so your crew doesn’t suffer. Lily, you need to surrender. It’s the only choice.”

“Incoming message from the Golden Apple,” the comtech reported, sounding happier than he should. “They have a sniper trained on the person below. There’s obscuring shield, but they won’t be expecting a grounder weapon.”

Lily smiled down at him. “Surrender is for cowards and traitors. I’m neither. Mister Esmer, tell the gunnery crews to go to their stations. Let’s see what the Allies think when we show them how we’ve spent the last few years.”

“Aye, ma’am,” a deep voice said behind him.

The bridge blurred as war memories threatened to engulf him. The feeling of utter helplessness that he’d felt when he was trapped in the medbay watching Mal and Rowena fight ran like ice through his veins. They’d had each other in the end, but Selena had no one.

He couldn’t let the Sekoos hurt her.

Titan braced himself for discomfort and turned his implant on, it was the only way. Fire and crippling pain crawled up his arm. He focused on the wires connecting him to the torture device, blocking everything. Still, in the background he felt an echoing scream of anguish.

Selena had connected to him and was sharing his agony.

Shaking, he fused the wires, melting them so they fell away from the cuff.

The hull buckled rapidly, sending screams of the terrified gunnery crew into the confusion. Running boots echoed ahead of the stale air rushed inward as the ship was devoured.

Aching, Titan stood as the light flashed out, cut with the power. Out. All he needed was to get out. But he couldn’t draw on teleport coordinates. He couldn’t focus. He closed his eyes, trying to find the one thing that would get him out.

And then the ship was gone.

He was standing outside, in the sunshine, staring at the rapidly constricting hull of the Aconitum crumpling into a ball, eclipsing the sun. The air hummed with a fury and a power.

Staggering, he looked around at the fallen Sekoos lying in the dust where there ship had been. They were all alive, although at least one of the men wearing a gunner’s uniform had a broken leg. He watched them, waiting for a response, but the stayed down.

It was the first smart thing they’d done.

Taking a deep breath of air chocked with dust he turned.

Selena stood alone, hand outstretched, glaring at the Sekoo’s ship.

The rest of Enclave was unusually silent, accenting the sound of screeching, tearing metal.

Titan limped toward Selena. Something was wrong. There was something catastrophically off and he was too muzzy headed to recognize it. “Selena?”

She didn’t acknowledge him.

“Caryll? Captain?” He reached for her hand and the air sparked bright green and gold. “Selena!” He shouted to get her attention. His words reached his ears muffled by unmoving air.

Titan looked up.

Nothing was moving in Enclave.

The dust he’d kicked up trying to reach her hung in the air.

Crews who had run outside to find out what the noise was were in a ring around them, silent and unmoving. Soundless. Not breathing….

He took a deep breath and tasted the same stale air. The kind found on dead ships and in very dangerous shields.

Selena hadn’t just put a battle shield up, she’d locked one down. This was a containment field. Isolating everyone. Limiting their movement.

He was the only one able to move through the mess.

:Do something!: It was Rowena on a tight beam.

He looked up, saw her trapped on the edge of the field standing next to his aunt. Their faces were a rictus of fear.

The sound of tortured metal stopped and the sun grew bright again. A ball smaller than his fist – all that remained of the Sekoo’s warship – dropped to the ground like a bomb.

“Selena,” Titan tried again. “I’m here.”

“They hurt you.” Her voice was distant, her eyes unfocused. The pain had drawn her back into the war memories. Whatever she was seeing was a ghost of the past.

The closer he drew to her the thicker the air became. It was like walking through thick mud. Every breath was a struggle. “Selena, you have to let them go. You have to let everyone go or you’ll kill them.”

“They deserve to die.”

“Maybe.” He pushed as far as he could on trembling legs. It wasn’t close enough. “Maybe they deserve this. Maybe the whole fleet deserves this for what we did. But not you. You don’t deserve to take this pain.”

Her eyebrows drew together in frustration.

“You’re not a killer,” Titan said. “That’s the one thing you have that no else can claim. We’re all battle-scarred. We’re all broken. But you’re bloodless. You don’t ever need to fall asleep remember the face of people you killed. You can’t. I know you, Selena. I know your thoughts, your heart, you’ll never forgive yourself for this if you let them die.”

The air shivered between them as a sea breeze snuck through her defenses.

He took a step forward. “Please. Not for them. Not for me. Please let them go because I can’t lose you, and I will. This will destroy you, and then I’ll be alone.” The air was getting easier to breath.

Selena reached out along their shared link, gently assessing the damage. Then the containment field snapped back in place. “They hurt you.”

He fought his way through the shield. “Not that badly.

Titan wrapped his arms around her. The sleeve of her blouse slipped up above her elbow revealing four deep, silver scars that merged into three.

“I don’t want to have another war. I don’t want to hurt like this.” A tear shimmered at the corner of her he.

He smiled, then bent to kiss her neck. “Love, I’m fine.”

Her hand dropped as she shook. The terror and rage were seeping out of her mind like a poison. “They made you bleed.”

“I did that by pulling an IV out.”

“They’re monsters.” The Golden Apple, the Sekoo’s family ship filled with their remaining crew, trembled. An engine collapsed on itself.

Titan held Selena tighter, trying to make her turn away from the remaining Sekoo ships. “Yes, love, but so are we all. Made of flesh and machine, cut off from the stars of our homeworlds. We are not the children our ancestors bled for, but we’re here. Making the most of every day we have. Making good choices and bad, because we’re human, and we’re only human if we choose. Right now, I need you to choose to forgive. To let them go. Please, Selena? Come back to me.” He turned her around so she could see his face.

The blue of her eyes burned brighter than burning copper chloride. “They hurt you.”

“Not badly. I’m a guardian, a Sciarra, I can take a beating.” He felt rather than saw her rage. “No. That’s not how this ends. You can’t destroy all their ships.”

“I could.” Her voice was calmer now, not threatening simply stating a fact.

He believed that. “It’s not the right thing to do.”

Selena took a breath, hesitating, uncertain…

“Drop the shield. Let the guardians take it from here. There’s more here than me being a little bruised. This is an attack on Enclave. On the fleet. And, right now, you’re the biggest threat. No one can breathe.”

She closed her eyes. For a moment it was like holding a statue; he couldn’t even see her inhale. The shield fell as she opened her eyes.

Air rushed back into Enclave with a clap of thunder.

Noise returned, a babble of voices and chaos.

People pinged him for information. The guardian’s channel was in an uproar. Every Sciarra demanded to know where he was.

Selena stood still, cold and beautiful as moonlight in the darkest night.

“Titan!” Elea pushed through the crowd with Rowena on her heels. “What happened to you?”

He opened his mouth to lie when a scream interrupted him. Turning, he saw Lily Sekoo stumbling forward.

Lily staggered to her feet, her face a rictus of pain and wrath. “How dare you?”

The crowd widened, leaving room for what everyone likely saw as a personal matter.

:Carver,: Titan pinged his commander. :Now would be an excellent time to stop the next war.: It was all he could do to stay standing and keep Selena from going nova.

Perrin Carver and Hollis Silar teleported in front of Lily.

She screamed wordlessly.

“Technician Lily Sekoo, you are under arrest,” Carver said, voice low and calm.

“You have no rights! No right! I’m a pureblooded daughter of the Empire. I was born to better things than licking grounder feet and bowing to weak fools.” Lily glared past the guardians to Selena.

Selena started. “Weak?” Her voice cut through the morning air like a knife. “You think I’m weak?”

“You let me live,” Lily said.

For a moment Titan thought Selena might change her mind about that.

Then she nodded. “Yes. I did. You will live. You will remember every choice you made. You will remember every single thing you did. It will replay in your mind until you lose your sanity. And even then, it will flay your soul so when your broken, withered body finally falls silent, there will be nothing for your ancestors to find. I let you live. Welcome to hell.”

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Ready to read the ending? BODIES IN MOTION is out today everywhere books are sold! Grab your copy now!

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Midnight Publishing Panic… the BODIES IN MOTION edition…

This is the opening page of BODIES IN MOTION.

Imagine my panic when I opened my ebook at midnight saw the raw draft pre-order-place-holder manuscript rather than this. There was screaming. There was panicking. There was a flurry on problems and discussions with Amazon. And it seems like the glitch was that the final manuscript didn’t upload properly. It’s been reloaded and should be fixed by morning. But, if it isn’t and you don’t see the sun and moon on your digital download, discard and try reloading later in the day.

If you take the book off your ereader, reload, and still don’t see the sun and moon please email me. I’ll send the proper .mobi file to everyone affected with profuse apologies.

The downside of digital (and being human) is that it’s sometimes harder to catch mistakes. I’m sure that in a few years this will make a great story. Right now, not so much, but the proper document is uploaded and on the way. So here’s hoping it all goes through smoothly. 🙂

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 23 (Part 1)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

The engines were coughing. It was a stupid thing to think when he felt like he’d been hammered to the ground, and his implant wasn’t responding, but that was his first thought. The engines needed a tune up. Maybe he could convince the Lees to loan him Rowena for a week.

Titan opened his eyes, blinking not at darkness, but the half-lit gloom of a damaged ship that wasn’t the Sabiha.

A support beam leaned against the wall, cracked. The flooring had been ripped up to repair the wires. Ancestors, if his chief engineer saw this mess, the man would weep. The wires weren’t meant to be tangled. He shook his head, tried to turn on his implant, and screamed as his arm burned.

“Finally!” Lily Sekoo stepped in front of him wearing cast-off Baular battle gear with a Sekoo patch inexpertly stitched on. “I was beginning to think you’d never wake up.”

“Not to be cliché, but where am I?” Titan asked. His brain felt like it was swimming through oatmeal. “Why…” He looked down at his arm. Tubes with red and blue liquid ran from needles in his skin and a poorly constructed wrist cuff with more wires strapped him to an interrogation chair. “Ah.”

Lily paced in front of him. “This should have been finished hours ago, but your encryption is good. We’ll crack it in time. Don’t worry. But it is causing us an inconvenience.”

He rolled his eyes. Those exact lines had been in a very popular holovid when he was a teen. What was it called? Eden’s Fall? Something like that. The Baulars had been the villains in that one. Kidnapping a guardian and forcing him to reveal where the Eden was hidden. As if the guardians knew where the old space station was. He rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is you want, this isn’t the way to get it.”

“You may not feel it yet,” Lily said, “but your implant is draining. The nanites are being destroyed by the serum. You may not want to give up the code for the shield, but I don’t need it. As soon as your implant loses its charge, the shield will drop.”

Only if he were an incompetent idiot who kept the largest shield in fleet hooked to his personal energy source. He didn’t even have his implant on. It was the one major change he’d made after the crash; if his implant misfired, it turned off. Being unconnected from his crew and mechanical memory was annoying, but infinitely better than burning alive again.

He looked around at the broken ship and slumped in frustration.

Hopefully someone would notice he was missing before suppertime, because he could spend the rest of his life waiting for the Sekoo’s plan to come to fruition. Even Rowena couldn’t get this ship in the air again.

The sound of running boots on metal flooring made him twist to look over his shoulders.

Sadly, it wasn’t the guardians come to get him out of this ridiculous situation. Or his crew. He sighed and turned back, wondering if he was clear-headed enough to break everything and escape on his own. His focus was drifting, but in an hour or so when the knock-out drugs had cleared…

“Lily!” Another Sekoo stepped in, panting. “Captain Sciarra contacted The Golden Apple.”

Lily crossed her arms. “And someone answered? I gave orders!”

“She’s—” The man sucked in air like he’d run a marathon. “She’s talking about a Declaration of Courtship.”

“What?” Lily looked at Titan speculatively.

He could see her tallying up the advantages. Titan let her do the math. If Elea was offering anything, it was because she was already hunting for him. A little bit of patience was all he needed now.

The man coughed. “Said something about wanting you to transfer to the Sabiha so this one could spend time with you.”

“Oh, Titan…” Lily laughed. “That’s pathetic. Did you think I actually liked you? Did you think anyone forgave you after you betrayed the cause?”

“The cause?” Titan raised an eyebrow. “There’s a cause now?”

She lifted her chin haughtily, ignoring the belief in his voice. “You betrayed the Baulars.”

“I never even fought. How could I betray anyone?” Even without his implant the memories were too raw. Lingering guilt over deaths he couldn’t prevent.

And then he remembered the look on Selena’s face when she stood in the shadows and showed him the scars on her shoulder. If he was guilty, so was she, and he’d never hurt her like that.

“You were there when they banished the Baular heir. You could have saved Mal. You should have! You were his sworn second!”

“In school!” Titan argued. “And once I knew what would have happened when the Baulars won, I didn’t support their goals. Neither did Mal. He knew the war was stupid. That’s why he wasn’t executed.”

Lily sneered at him. “The Baulars promised us land. Power. Positions. They owe us. Win or lose.”

“Then go collect from the Baulars. They’re dead and you will be too if you try to start another war.”

“There’s no need for a war.” Lily’s eyes lit with the fervor of faith. “When the shield is down the Aconitum will rise, like a phoenix from the ash of despair, and destroy the enemies of the cause.”

“On these engines?” For the first time he felt genuinely worried. “Can I get off, please? Before you try to fly?”

Lily stamped her foot. “The engines are fine!”

“They really, really aren’t though. Can’t you hear them? Those aren’t engines you can fly on!”

“All they have to do is make us move.”

“And combat gravity!”

Selena was going to kill him. He wasn’t just going to die. He was going to die stupidly. “This is embarrassing.”

Lily chuckled. “You thought you were so special. A guardian. A Sciarra. The Baulars’ best fighter. How does it feel to be taken down by someone you wouldn’t give the time of day to?”

Titan looked up at the ceiling. “I was supposed to have breakfast somewhere outside the mess hall this morning. I am missing breakfast with a beautiful woman to listen to your bad ideas. Would you just—”

The ship tilted and Lily laughed with mad delight.

“Engines working, captain,” a voice reported from somewhere out of sight.

Titan shook his head vehemently. “No, they’re not. You hear that whine? Those are your stabilizers about to hit max capacity and overload. You have, what, seven of them running? Maybe eight? You’ll get a few meters off the ground at most.”

“We have three,” Lily said.

The Aconitum was a war ship one size smaller than the Sabiha. It ran with a bank of thirty stabilizing energy relays and common Sciarra wisdom was to shut down any ship that didn’t have ten fully functioning. Anything less was courting death.

Titan stared fatalistically at the wall. After all this. I almost had everything. He closed his eyes and pictured Selena standing in front of him. Hopefully she was with the Jhandarmi today.

The Enclave shield wasn’t going to go down, the Aconitum was. Between the shield, the Enclave wall, and the active weapons on other vessels, they’d never get far. Selena didn’t need to see his body pulled from the wreckage.

“We’ve reached an altitude of ten meters,” a man reported.

“Ten more,” Lily said. “We need to clear the wall.”

Titan shook his head.

“The shield’s not down!”

Lily turned to him. “Drop it, Sciarra. I know you’re barely able to hold it.”

“Put the ship down,” Titan said.

Lily took a deep breath and turned. “Activate energy cannons.”

“But—” someone smarter than her started to protest.

“Do it!” The order cracked against the hull.

“The energy will splash back on you,” Titan said. “On us. Your stabilizers won’t be able to absorb the overload.”

Lily crossed her arms. “They will. This once, they will.”

“Cannons two minutes to full charge.”

Two minutes? How had these yaldson castoffs survived the war? Two minutes was an eternity.

Something metal-sounding crunched, echoing in the dark ship.

Cold terror ran up his spine. “What was that?” It sounded like a hull decompressing. It was a sound that gave him nightmares. He’d been trained since he could walk to run from that sound.

“It’s nothing,” Lily said.

There was another spine-chilling crunch.

Titan’s eye twitched.

“It’s not decompression,” Lily said. She sounded brave but the pulse at the base of her throat was jumping. “We’re not in orbit. A ship can’t decompress on ground.”

Somewhere in the depths of the ship, someone screamed.

Titan focused on the needles in his skin. Teleporting with drugs in the system was always rough. Thankfully, the Sekoos hadn’t had the foresight to use grounder materials. The needles slid out, scraping against his arm, and leaving him to bleed freely.

“Lily!” Two more Sekoo crew came running in. “The engine room is collapsing.”

“Collapsing? How?”

“It’s… it’s crinkling in. Being squeezed.”

She shook her head. “That’s impossible.”

Titan squirmed a little. He’d need to turn on his implant to get the wrist cuff off and it was going to hurt.

Lily kicked him. “Why are you shaking your head?”

“The Sciarras… we’ve done that before. During the first war we had a few people who could destroy a ship by crushing it. We took out a few of the Carylls that way. My captain? She could do it.” Elea’s call to the Golden Apple hadn’t been a signal he was safe, it was a warning to get out.

“Bring on the stabilizers,” Lily ordered. “Whoever is doing this has to have a close focus. We’ll move out of their range to safety.”

The ship tilted under them as the engines whined in protest. There was another sickening crunch of metal and the ship lifted.

Tossing her hair, Lily smiled. “We’re out.”

“Captain?” The man at the com turned, face ashen. “Our… our engines are gone.”

“Then how are be airborne?” Lily asked.

He shook his head. “Someone’s… holding us up? Maybe?”

“Impossible!”

Not for an elite. Not for someone like Carver or Marshall. The only thing holding them back was the political fallout of an attack. Selena. He licked his lips, remembering her crumpling a heavy metal door as it were cobwebs.

“We’re getting a transmission!” The comtech yelled.

“From who?” Lily walked over to the console. “I don’t know that code.”

The man shook his head. “There’s high level encryption behind it. The message says, ‘Teleport out now’ with a countdown.” His voice was filled with panic. “Ma’am, I can’t teleport. I’m not augmented. What… what are we going to do?”

“It’s a bluff,” Lily said. “We ignore it.”

Another section of the hull fractured and buckled under the weight of someone’s rage.

“It’s not a bluff,” Titan said. The smell of fear and desperation filled the bridge. “There are officers who could destroy this ship.”

“They won’t,” Lily said. “We’re allies of the Balaurs. Of the Sciarras! Of the Warmonger crews. No one would dare go to war with us again.” Her face turned dark with rage. “I have other allies. Other weapons. I’ll take them all out.” She whipped around. “Put that out,” she ordered the comtech. “Tell the Allied crews to back away or I’ll fire on their home ships. I’ll kill their children if I have to.”

“No!” Titan strained against his shackles. “Belay order!”

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 22

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

Persephone’s face filled the cracked screen. “Captain, it’s good to see you alive again.”

“Likewise,” Selena said.

A skitter bot brushed past her like a cat.

“Commander Lee,” Persephone said, using Rowena’s rank from the war, “it has been five hundred years, twenty-three days, and thirteen hours since a member of your crew was welcomed on board.”

“Persephone, where’s my rank?”

“Your rank?” Rowena asked, finally breaking her stunned silence. “Where in the name of the nine stars are we, Caryll?”

Selena looked around the burnt bridge. “This is the Caryll flagship Persephone. In orbit around Malik IV.”

Rowena sputtered in protest. “You can’t just force a teleport from ground to orbit!”

“I can though.”

“She can,” Persephone agreed. “Captain, the rank you threw is under the logistics station. There’s a crack in the computer casing. You threw it with some energy.”

Selena knelt in front of the logistics station and blindly groped in the crack until she felt the cold metal of her captain’s stars. A golden circle around a field of golden dots and a single shooting star in the center. She stared at it in her hand until Rowena walked over.

“Why did we come here?”

Selena closed her fist around the rank. “I need to meet Captain Sciarra, and it can’t be informal. You’ll need to do the introductions.”

“You aren’t my ally,” Rowena scoffed.

“Persephone?”

“Yes, captain?”

“Draft a declaration of allyship, effective immediately for one Captain Caryll and Commander Rowena Lee of the Danielle Nicole.”

Rowena balled her hands in anger. “It’s yeoman.”

“No.” Selena stood up. “According to the Persephone’s records, you were never officially demoted. And only senior officers can sign treaties.” The data stream from Persephone flashed across her inner eye. “Here.” She shot the declaration to Rowena. “Acknowledge and sign while I go change into my uniform.”

Her uniform has where she’d left it before disembarking after the war. She’d thrown her rank, because no captain would leave their ship and because she’d been too much of a coward to die like she ought to have. Selena ran her thumb over the stars. It had seemed like the easier choice back then. Walking away from the wreckage and letting herself get caught in the flow of rebuilding. Carver had given orders. She had obeyed. Tyrling had given orders. She had obeyed.

 

For years she’d been drifting. Cut off from family and crew and what was the difference? A little more oxygen. A slower death, but a death all the same.

And then there was Titan.

The memory of his smile, his kiss, strong hands holding her and the promise of so much more. Titan was offering her life after death. And she couldn’t find him.

The wall beside her buckled and Selena jumped in surprise.

“Captain?” Persephone’s face appeared on a corridor screen. “Is everything well?”

She stared at the damage she’d caused. Lashing out was something she’d learned to control when she’d put on her first gauntlet. The Caryll implants were too sensitive to allow someone who couldn’t control their emotions to be augmented. “I need to locate Titan Sciarra and I can’t.”

Persephone’s face split in static lines then reformed. “I have targeting computers online, Captain, but my sensor array is still non-functional. Would you like me to put those repairs at the top of the priority list?”

Selena was about to say no, then nodded. “Yes. Top priority. If this doesn’t work I’ll need them.”

“Estimated time to repair is one hundred fifteen hours.”

“Understood.” In the quiet of the Persephone’s war room, she changed into the navy blue flight uniform with the silvery-gold piping and the Caryll’s twelve-star insignia on her shoulder. She walked out to see Rowena waiting in the center of the bridge. “Are you ready?”

“To rescue Titan? Yes. To get between two feuding crews? Never. But I’ll do it anyway.”

“That’s the spirit, Lee.” Selena grabbed Rowena in a modified shield and transported them down to Enclave on the outside of the Sciarra shields.

Rowena landed beside her, scowl in place. “I’ll go talk to them.”

“They see us,” Selena said as a sailor waiting at the ramp moved toward them. “Give it a minute.”

The sailor approached. He grimaced at Rowena, and his frown deepened when he saw Selena. “Yes?”

“Captain Caryll for Captain Sciarra.”

The sailor squared his shoulders. “The captain isn’t expecting you and isn’t taking social calls at this time.”

Selena glanced at Rowena and nodded.

“I’m here at the behest of Captain Sciarra,” Rowena said. “She asked me to report back on an urgent matter.”

“Fine. What about you?” He nodded to Selena.

“I’m the urgent matter that Commander Lee is reporting on. If you hurry, there won’t be a war.”

His eyes widened in fear as shuffled backward. “I’ll… contact the captain immediately. Please wait here.”

“Thank you.” Selena took a breath and scanned for Titan again.

Nothing.

If he was hurt… She couldn’t let her mind go down that path. She couldn’t give room for the fear that he’d been taken from her after they’d only just found each other.

“Incoming,” Rowena muttered.

The sailor was running their way.

Selena allowed herself a tight smile of victory. “I thought they’d see things my way.”

“Watch it, you’re starting to sound like Marshall.”

“Ma’am, yeoman.” The sailor sounded slightly panicked. “Captain Elea Sciarra welcomes you the Sabiha and requests you teleport directly to her office. If you’ll hold out your hands I’ll transfer the necessary codes.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Selena said. She entrapped Rowena, shield and all, and transferred them to Elea’s office. It was very satisfying to see the look of indignant shock on Rowena’s face. But there wasn’t time to indulge. “Captain Sciarra, thank you for welcoming us.”

Elea Sciarra stood. She looked older than she had across the room at the Captain’s Council. More stretched. More stressed.

“Captain Caryll, Yeoman Lee. I presume you bring news about Titan?”

“We have a theory,” Selena said. “After conferring with Commander Lee, it seems likely that Titan is being held by the Sekoos. Since they won’t communicate with the commander or myself, we’ll need your help.”

Elea looked at Rowena. “I believe her rank is Yeoman.”

Rowena nodded.

Selena shrugged. “The Caryll crew never recognized her demotion, and we will continue not to recognize her demotion. I may not love everything about the commander, but I won’t have a fleet officer insulted.”

There was a ping against her personal shield; Rowena trying to get clarification.

Selena pinged her, sending a flurry of memories of Titan praising her and the understanding that Titan and Rowena would always be close. Rowena was important to Titan, so Rowena was falling under Caryll protection whether she wanted it or not.

Captain Sciarra raised her eyebrows. “Now that you mention it, I can’t find any record of the Sciarra crew accepting the demotion in our records.”

Selena nodded to Rowena.

With a heavy sigh, Rowena nodded back. Her eyes lit up, a glowing black with silver streamers of light. “Now this moment shall be recorded for posterity.”

The formal words sent a shiver of fear up Selena’s spine. Generations had passed since the Carylls had made an alliance like this. Ancestors forgive me. I fell in love. Accept him. Welcome me. The prayer was as long as a heartbeat, and just as important.

“Captain Elea Sciarra, born aboard the glorious ship Hazel Ying Lee, you are an ally of Lee crew, laud and honor to you. I am Yeo-ommander,” Rowena tripped over her title. “I am Commander Rowena Lee, born aboard the glorious Danielle Nicole, flagship of the Lee armada. Captain, I wish to formally introduce you to Captain Selena Caryll, born of—”

:The Diana,: Selena said.

“Born of the glorious Diana.” Rowena took a deep breath and gave her a side-eye glare. :I can’t believe I am going to say this on official fleet record.:

:Do it for Titan,: Selena said, keeping her eyes on Captain Sciarra.

“Captain Caryll is known to me. She is a fierce fighter with combat skills.” Rowena rolled her eyes. “She is praised, and honorable. A good captain.”

Selena could hear Rowena grinding her teeth.

“Before her, enemies flee,” Rowena said. “Or they are destroyed. In the defense of Malik IV she destroyed Bassi, Aryton, Theoano.” All Lee ships. “She defeated the Baular flagship Sárkány. I recommend her to you as an ally.”

Captain Sciarra raised an eyebrow. “Why does that sound like a threat?”

“Because Commander Lee values military might,” Selena said calmly. “What she does not mention is that I have powerful allies who will becomes your allies. I have contacts in the city-states of Tarrin and Royan. Allying with me will open trade for your crew, entry to training programs on Malik IV, and access to the Tarrin universities. I also have lands and holdings should you wish to house your crew in shielded places outside Enclave. Furthermore, I come with a gift of priority Caryll tech.” She held up a datdisk she’d brought from the Persephone.

Captain Sciarra nodded. “Is it the targeting program you used last night in defense of the Jhandarmi?”

“It’s an invasive code that can decrypt an enemy’s code in a matter of minutes, giving you full access to their computers.”

Rowena sucked in her breath in surprise.

“You have something like that?” Captain Sciarra’s eyes narrowed. “If you did, why didn’t you use it?”

“The Caryll senior officers considered it too dangerous,” Selena said, still holding the datdisk out. “I haven’t written a counter program to it. Yet.”

“Commander Lee, the Sciarras offer you our thanks. Captain Caryll, your offer of allyship is accepted.”

The light in Rowena’s eyes died. She shook her head to clear it and wrinkled her nose.

Elea Sciarra took the datdisk. “What is your plan?”

Selena took a deep breath. “I think Titan is with the Sekoos. They’re one of the few crews with access to the grounders, they had rights to the warehouse, have grounder contacts-“

“None of which adds up to them taking Titan,” Rowena argued. “Being a Warmonger doesn’t automatically mean they contributed.”

“No, it’s not about them being Warmongers. It’s about the explosion.” The thought had been nagging her all night. “It was out of place. Unless someone was targeting Titan. The Jhandarmi knew there was an assassination ordered, but the assassin didn’t survive. Kaftan blamed his suppliers.”

Captain Sciarra frowned in thought. “Why my nephew?”

“The shields,” Selena and Rowena answered in union.

With a glance at Rowena, Selena nodded. “The Enclave shield tracks anyone who moves through it, and everyone knows Titan wrote the code. Earlier they might have just wanted a window to move goods, but now they’ve lost Kaftan and their contacts, their plan is crumbling, they need to get out. Titan makes a good hostage.”

“How does this work?” Elea asked.

Contact the Sekoos and talk to them. Anything that will keep them connected for at least a minute. The program here will hijack the com link and search for Titan.”

“How?”

“It’ll identify anyone with two implants,” Selena said. “Titan still has parts of the original implant fused to his bones.”

Captain Sciarra inhaled sharply. “That was classified information.”

“There’s only one way Titan got those scars on his arm and no medic in the fleet would have authorized a full removal,” Selena said with an apologetic shrug. “Don’t waste secrets on something anyone with half a brain could figure out.”

“It’s a good way to find Titan,” Rowena said.

She hadn’t expected backup, but it was nice.

Elea nodded. “If I can verify that they have Titan?”

“Tell me which ship they’re in and I’ll handle the rest,” Selena said.

“Shouldn’t we call the Starguard?” Rowena protested. “We don’t want another civil war.”

“Don’t worry.” Selena smiled. “I have every intention of making sure they understand this is a personal matter.”

With a nod, Elea walked back to her desk. A blue shield shimmered into place as she made the call.

Selena looked over at Rowena. “You’ll want to stay back until you see my signal.”

“And what’s that likely to be?”

“When people start screaming, you can come running. If I’m dead…” She smiled. “I’m sure you’ve kept up your combatives practice. Feel free to kill them all.”

“You were weird to begin with. I don’t think I like this creepy side of you.”

“I’m not creepy. I’m angry. And no one in fleet has ever seen me angry.” She chuckled to herself. “Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to this. I’ve never had a chance to let loose.”

Rowena looked skeptical. “You’re going to lecture them to death?”

“Killing people isn’t what wins wars. If you want to truly defeat someone, you crush their hopes and dreams. Let them sit by as everything they love dies. You break them without ever shedding a drop of blood.” She took a deep breath, inhaling the cool, clean scent of ship’s air. “It’s what the fleet did to me.”

 

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Will the ending of BODIES IN MOTION be posted online?

Lovely Reader says…

Hey Liana, I was curious if your serialized version of Bodies in Motion was done at Ch 21, if there are more chapters coming, or if one needs to buy the book to finish the story. Since your site says it’s serialized through 9/8, I just wanted to be sure…

ANSWERS: The original plan was to have the whole book on the blog by Sept-8 (now updated!). That did not happen. The original plan was also for BODIES IN MOTION to be a novella. That. Did. Not. Happen.

So ignore the September 8th finale plans.

Chapter 21 finished posting on Friday, and there are 25 chapters in the finished novel ( which is 88,500 words long – or roughly 350 pages). That means the last chapter will publish after the release date. But it will publish.

CHANGES: With all serial projects like this there are some scenes that get changed in edits. These aren’t major changes, it’s more aesthetic work… fixing the make up, adjusting the typos, giving the pacing a little nip and tuck… If you opt to keep reading the unedited draft on the blog you won’t miss much. If you opt to buy the ebook or print edition you’ll find there’s a little bonus material, including character bios and chapter one of LAWS OF ATTRACTION.

You can pre-order the ebook now for $4.99
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Inkprint Press

Print Editions will also be at Conflux 2017 in Australia. I will, sadly, not be attending Conflux but Amy Laurens will be there with all the Inkprint titles including the Even Villains… series, Bodies In Motion, and her own Roads Between series.

Signed Editions I haven’t found a local bookstore to partner with for signed editions yet so those are going to be rarer. There will be a giveaway for a signed edition next week, and if you don’t win that you can order a signed edition directly from Inkprint Press starting September-19.

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 21 (Part 3)

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

The coordinates landed Rowena on a grassy hill, under the shade of a pagoda covered in vining plants. It was out of sight of the city cameras, windows, and pedestrians. She patted the knife in her pocket for comfort. After this was over she’d have to find a way to get it back to Silar. It had a good weight to it. She could throw it at his head.

In Cargo Blue while he was drinking would be the best time.

If she could get it to smack into the wall right by his head, that’d be perfect.

Grinning, she headed down to the Jhandarmi offices. She’d never studied architecture, but the white column against the mirrored glass and silver dome was pretty if not functional. There was undoubtedly some long and storied history that the mudders – she caught herself – that the grounders liked.

“Grounders. Ground-siders,” she whispered under her breath. “They are people. I will treat them like people. Even if they are people who don’t like engines.” Highly suspicious that. Who didn’t like the comforting sound of an engine to fall asleep to?

The broad double-doors slid open as she approached and the fresh air smelling of grass clippings was replaced by a rush of chilled office air. The Jhandarmi needed a new filter for their air cycler. And, possibly, soap.

A young woman with brown hair pinned in rosettes at her nape smiled from behind a desk as Rowena walked in. “Good morning, ma’am. May I help you?”

Rowena bit back the need to correct her. Yeoman was an enlisted rank, she wasn’t Ma’am any more. But, according to her implant, the ground-siders sometimes used it as a respectful title for someone they didn’t know. “I’m looking for Guardian Sciarra from Enclave. I’ve reason to believe he’s here working with the Jhandarmi on a case.”

The woman smiled brightly. “Of course, ma’am. If you’ll sign in here.” She held up a tablet. “And I’ll get you a badge. The join offices are on the fifth floor.”

Rowena took the round badge and pinned it to her shirt. “Do you have stairs?”

“The lift is around the corner on the left,” the woman said. “If you have any trouble, come back to my desk and I can take you through the worker’s entrance. The lift is supposed to be fixed though.”

She nodded. The building felt strange, overgrown almost. The ceilings were too high and the halls too wide. Unless they planned on running a regiment through here, they were wasting space.

Around the corner was a bank of silver doors.

Rowena stepped in front of one and tried to trigger it with her implant. There was no data receiver and no telekyn in the doors. “Fifth floor,” she said.

The doors remained inert.

“It’s a push button one,” said a voice behind her.

She looked over her shoulder at a bullish, bald man who her implant hadn’t been able to find because of his lack of telekyen. Her first real grounder. She blinked.

“Tyrling,” he said reaching out and hitting a small, rectangular button. “From Marjori, originally.”

“Rowena Lee off the Danielle Marie,” she said. “Are you going up?”

“I am indeed.” He placed his hand over the open door as she stepped inside, then followed.

“Fifth floor, please.”

Tyrling nodded and pressed a button on a panel. “Danielle Marie, famous scientist from the start of the space age, wasn’t she?”

“Yes.”

He nodded as the lift ascended quietly. “You here on business?”

“Trying to contact someone from Enclave who is working on the theft of fleet property.”

His head bobbed again. “I know that case. Are they expecting you?”

“No, but I needed to get the information I came across promptly.” That seemed like a safe answer. It justified her presence without giving too much away.

The bullish man smiled. “Excellent to hear. The Jhandarmi appreciate fleet support. I’m Tryling, by the way. Director Tyrling.” The lift chimed and the doors slid open.  He motioned for her to proceed. “One of my best field agents is on that. I’ll send her your way. Can I persuade you to take a seat in our conference room?”

“That would be agreeable.”

Tyrling led her to a small room with frosted glass walls and a thick sliding glass door. “Just here, if you don’t mind. It won’t be but a moment.”

Rowena glanced around as she walked in took a seat. At the far end of the hall there was a small gallery that looked like a break room. And on the table a white cup with Titan’s name scrawled across it. She relaxed.

He was here.

The director shut the door with a smile leaving her to watch the spectral figures who passed. They spoke in hushed voices and moved with urgent purpose.

Rowena closed her eyes, trying not to remember the brig she’d sat in for months at the end of the war. The first days had been like this, no news, no contact, only voices of people out of sight.

It made her want to scream.

The door opened and Selena Caryll walked in wearing grounder business clothes. Her shield was muted, offering no information and hidden from all but a direct search.

She stared at Rowena for an uncomfortably long moment then quietly closed the door. “When Tyrling said someone from fleet had come looking for Titan, I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I wasn’t expecting you either.” Rowena refused to take a defensive posture or be goaded into a fight, but every hair on the back of her neck stood on end. “I know Titan’s here. The guardians tracked his shield here and there’s a cup with his name on it.” Her belligerence wavered under Caryll’s quiet stare. “He’s here. If the Jhandarmi are holding him-”

Caryll shook her head and sat down. “No, we aren’t holding him.”

The we rocked Rowena to the core. Selena Caryll was a lot of things she hated, but she wasn’t a traitor. “We? You’ve left fleet?”

“I’m the OIA liaison. Over the course of my work I took the Jhandarmi training.” She took a seat across from Rowena. “I hold rank in both places. It’s all or nothing any more. It can’t be if we want to survive.”

Rowena sucked in a breath, trying to hold back her growing unease. “Where’s Titan?”

“I wish I knew. The cup in the break room was from breakfast. I ordered for him because he didn’t come directly here after his meeting with Lily Sekoo. He didn’t answer when I pinged, but I thought he might had had crew business.” Caryll’s expression was hollow, guarded and worried. She was watching Rowena like she held the secrets of the universe.

“He left with Lily.” Rowena shook her head. “That’s… that’s the last anyone’s seen of him. But the Sekoos say he isn’t there. I went to the Starguard and they tracked Titan’s shield here.”

“Most likely tracked my shield,” Caryll said. “I helped Titan modify his shields when I realized he’d be around grounders. I imagine they’d look very similar. It’ll keep him safe from any local weapons though. Including the obsidian knife in your pocket.”

Rowena started, looking up in surprise. “That wasn’t supposed to be detectable.”

“It’s not… to most people. Carver had five of them; one each for Gen and Hollis, Marshall, me, and one for himself. I added it to my security scans. It makes it easier to track them all down in hurry. Except most of us have quit wearing them since the war ended, and I doubt you bought yours on planet.”

“Silar gave it to me,” she admitted, touching her pocket. “So I wouldn’t be outside Enclave unarmed.”

Caryll seemed to consider this and then nodded slowly. “That’s a very Hollis thing to do. Especially if he thought I was down here in trouble.”

“I’m not your backup.”

Caryll’s eyes flashed a white-blue as she smirked. “I don’t need backup, Lee. I need answers. Where do you think Titan is?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how to find him.”

“Did you need to find him right now?”

Rowena weighed her options. At the end of the day, Aronia’s life was worth what little pride she had left. “I traded the Sekoos for medicine for my sister. Three boxes, and they got an hour with Titan. We scheduled the trade last night and I sent them an alignment coil for a stabilizer since they put the word out they needed one.”

“Good trade tactics,” Caryll said with a nod. “What went wrong?”

“The medicine wasn’t what we needed. Some of it was, but some had been switched.”

Caryll frowned. “Could it have been switched?”

“No.” Rowena shook her head. “It was repackaged and resealed. Either the manufacturer made a mistake, or someone tampered with it after shipping. I haven’t heard of any recalls on the grounder communiques.”

“Neither have I.” Caryll sighed and sat back in her seat. With a sigh, she closed her eyes. “I have a really bad idea.”

“Sounds like you.”

Caryll shot her a glare. “I know how to find Titan, but I need Sciarra resources to do it.”

“Good luck with that.”

“You’re going to help,” Caryll declared as she stood up. Her sudden smile was not reassuring.

Rowena crossed her arms. “How are you going to convince me to do that?”

The room shifted abruptly, the grounder offices being replaced with a scene of broken chairs and the smell of a burning ship.

“Welcome aboard the Persephone,” an AI voice said as the captain’s whistle rang around Rowena.

Selena Caryll walked across the bridge of her warship. “You should know better, Lee. Captains never ask, they order.”

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 21 (Part 2)

ROWENA – warning! Long Chapter Ahead! (broken into 3 parts)

Start at Chapter 1

Deep in the heart of the Danielle Marie the halls outside the medical bay were silent. Hooks overhead and clefts in the wall showed the age of the ship built before artificial gravity. Welding marks ran along the bulkhead, ripples and patterns that Rowena knew by heart. When she’d been young the old zero-grav hooks had held flowers. She could still remember being carried to the medical bay by her father and trailing her hand through the multi-colored blooms. The plants had been taken down the following year by the new captain, not military enough.

One day… one day she’d bring the flowers back.

The medbay door slid open as she approached and the chief medic looked up. “Yeoman.”

“Doc.” Rowena held up the medications.

Doc’s perpetually worried face melted into softer lines. “Wonderful. I should never have doubted you.”

Rowena handed over the medicine. “How is Aronia?”

“Awake,” Doc said. “I gave her the patch the Sciarras sent over and she seems a little more lively now. Good tech. We’ll have to see if we can get a bit more for emergencies?”

She perked up at the idea of new tech. “No one mentioned anything to me.”

“Maybe they thought you thought you wouldn’t be interested.” Doc gave her a pointed look.

The old woman had never quite forgiven Rowena for not pursuing medical research. Her explanation that she was not a People Person hadn’t gone over well. “I pay attention to tech,” Rowena said, side-stepping Doc and hurrying to the small corner room where Aronia was waiting. Someone, probably Aronia’s husband, had brought in a tiny tree with twisting branches and bright red chokeberries to sit on the table by her bedside. It was the only decoration in the otherwise sterile room.

Aronia smiled, eyes brighter and more alert than Rowena had seen all week. “Hello, Ro, how’s the engine?”

“Still working,” Rowena said, taking a seat so they could be eye level. “How are you two?”

Her sister ran a hand around her swollen belly. “His heartbeat has stopped dipping. Doc says the nanite gel Sciarra sent over is helping stop the internal bleeding. My nanites were trying, but I just can’t produce enough to keep the placenta from tearing.” She took a deep breath and grimaced as she pushed on her belly. “His foot is in my ribs.”

“At least he’s head down,” Rowena said. “And, I’ll talk to Ty about getting some more of the… the whatever.”

Aronia lifted the corner of her shirt to show Rowena a square patch of blue cloth on her side. “It has a gel filled with undefined nanites. They pass the skin barrier, scan for major injury, and gather for repairs. It tickles a little, like being attacked by rogue bubbles. Doc says they’re limited life and non-replicating.”

“I’ve never seen one.” Rowena reached out and scanned the material. It wasn’t coded with any Sciarra signifiers and the nanite structure was one she hadn’t seen. Didn’t mean it wasn’t Sciarra tech, but it was something she would have expected them to use during the war. “Odd time to bring it out.”

“Limited supplies maybe?” Aronia sighed. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not!”

“Liar.” Her sister reached for her face. “Are you okay? You look like you haven’t slept all week. I heard the formation running past in battle gear and Doc keeps pacing by the door. Want to tell me what’s happening?”

“Not really.”

Aronia dropped her hand.

“You don’t need the stress. And it isn’t…” She was about to say a threat, but that was a lie. “It isn’t a direct threat. Just a little SNAFU downtown. Someone triggered the security shields in Tarrin and suddenly everyone’s jumpy.”

“Do you know what triggered it?” Aronia asked.

Doc cleared her throat loudly as she walked in. “A malfunctioning piece of tech,” the old woman said in a firm tone that meant she would accept nothing else. “Yeoman, your sister needs her rest. Come here, please. Now.”

Rowena looked apologetically at her sister. “I’ll be back tonight once I’m off-duty. Rest up.” She squeezed her sisters hand and trundled out after Doc. As soon as Aronia’s door was shut she said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to stress her out.”

“No one is,” Doc said in a kinder tone. “But I need you to look at something all the same.” She led Rowena into her small office space where a bulging pipe had warped the ceiling and wall, and motioned to two piles of pills on her desk. “The white ones are the bio accelerant we need for Aronia and the baby. The pink ones came from the other, sealed packs. They’re meant to treat bacterial imbalance in the intestines. Is that what you traded for?”

Her heart stopped in fear. “No.” The word sounded so small in helpless. “No… I… this is a misunderstanding.” It had to be. “I’ll contact the supplier immediately.”

Doc nodded. “Thank you. We have enough for five days, and that might be enough to get Aronia to a point where she can deliver the child safely, especially with the Sciarra patches, but…” She shrugged.

Doc was old fleet, she’d survived two civil wars and at least four hostile command changes that Rowena knew of. Who knew what in-fighting the old woman had survived to get to be the chief medical officer of the Lee flagship. Her generation expected things to be done a certain way. Giving them bad medicine made Rowena look bad, it made the Lees look bad, it there were captains who would interpret it as a declaration of war.

“Can you avoid telling Captain Lee until this evening?” Rowena asked. “Give me time to sort this out? It’s an allied crew, but I used back channels to expedite things.” Because Hoshi would drag his heels until Aronia died. I’m not ready for another war.

“If it was the Sciarras, I will contact them directly,” Doc said. “They owe me.”

Rowena shook her head. “Titan helped with the payment, but it was a C-class crew.”

Doc wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Unfortunate.”

The rebuke was well-earned. “I was desperate.”

“It made you stupid.”

“I’ll fix it,” Rowena promised. “Give me an hour. I’ll fix it.” She teleported to the safety of her engine room. Double-checking her perimeter she pinged Titan. No response.

She tried putting a quick trace on him. It would have gone better with the right tech, since she was essentially hacking the Enclave security system to scan for his image, but nothing turned up. And the Lees didn’t have access to a satellite.

Hands gripping the console of her communication station with white-knuckles she stared blankly ahead as she assessed the options. None of them looked for appealing.

“Crack my hull.” She punched in the code for the Golden Apple.

After a moment the screen showed the face of an older veteran with a long scar running past his ear. “Golden Apple, who are you?”

“Rowena Lee for Lily Sekoo, please.” Polite wasn’t easy, but sometimes it worked with the older generation.

The man snarled and stepped away from the com screen. A few minutes later he returned. “Lily’s not in coms range.” The screen went dark before she could ask for anything more.

Frustrated, she dialed the official code for the Sabiha.

Jata Sciarra came on screen looking grim as he ever did. “This is Lieutenant Sciarra of the Sabiha.” He blinked. “Yeoman Lee?”

“Is Titan on board?”

Jata shook his head. “He left this morning and hasn’t checked back in or crossed our shield.”

“Is Mars available?”

Jata didn’t need to check, he shook his head. “He’s in training for the rest of the morning, then goes to do his crew rotation at fifteen-hundred. Would another officer be acceptable.”

Rowena sighed. “Captain Sciarra, please.”

The com officer gave her a look derision. “Yeoman?”

“It’s an urgent matter. Patch me through or I’ll come over in person.” She might have been demoted after the war, but she’d be trained for command. A little ice in her voice and a stern look was all it took to make Jata look away.

“It’s your career,” the com officer muttered. “Patching you through to Captain Elea Sciarra now.”

The image on her screen waivered and the com officer was replaced by the sharp angles and black eyes of Elea Sciarra.

Rowena bowed her head out of habit. “Captain Sciarra, thank you for taking time for me.”

“The com officer said it was urgent. Talk.”

“I need to know where Guardian Sciarra is,” Rowena said. “He was helping recover the medicine my crew needed.”

“I’m aware of that.” Captain Sciarra’s voice was cold as vacuum.

Rowena met her eyes with unfeigned rage. “Titan secured three packages of medicine my sister desperately needed, but they were tampered with. I need to let him know so no one is injured. Where is he?”

The captain raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms. “Last I saw him he was leaving in your company to contact the Sekoos. We haven’t heard from him since and I know he hasn’t left Enclave. The Jhandarmi director reached out to us about ten minutes ago asking for Titan’s presence.”

“Has he ever gone off coms before?”

“Since Landing?” Captain Sciarra’s face wrinkled in thought. “A few times when he was in the lower levels of the Star Guard complex. There are thick walls meant to prevent communication. It’s possible he’s there. I could find send a runner.”

Rowena quickly shook her head. “I’ll go. There’s no point in having a Sciarra run over when I’m the one with the information.”

The captain nodded. “Yeoman?”

“Ma’am?”

“The Sabiha has an opening in our engineering section. With all the changes that are imminent I feel you should know you will have allies here, should you ever need them.”

“Thank you, captain. I’m quite comfortable with my current assignment.”

Captain Sciarra tilted her head, accepting the rejection. “Let me know if the situation changes. And, when you find my nephew, tell him to check in. Our medic says it’s bad for my health to worry about him this much.”

“I’ll have him signal you first thing,” Rowena promised.

The Starguard…

The com deck went dark and she took a deep breath. Thus far she’d avoided the Star Guard’s vault of paperwork and Allied fighters.

Off the top of her head Rowena could only think of three things worse than having to go deal with the guardians. Letting Aronia die and letting Titan die were the top two of the list and the third was such a wild nightmare that the chances of it happening were too low to worry about.

Even if it did involve a Silar.

Rowena shrugged off her coverall and looked down at what was left, a plain black combat tee, her six-pocket pants, and her combat boots. She patted herself down for contraband weapons. Picking up misplaced wrenches and knives wasn’t a bad habit, but there weren’t any Warmongers besides Titan in the Starguard.

Going unarmed and looking helpless was her best bet for getting cooperation.

Once she was sure she couldn’t kill anyone with anything other than her bare hands, her bootlaces, or her implant she took a moment to wash her face. With the water, she slicked her hair back and tied it into a tight knot out of the way.

There. She looked suitably defanged and helpless.

Teleporting to the OIA building she took a deep breath, and then pushed the door open and stalked down to the dungeon-like offices. Titan said they remind him of deep space, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it needed engines. If there weren’t engines, it wasn’t meant for living in. And no amount of citrus-scented cleaner was ever going to erase the unpleasant organic scent of dead leaves and dirt.

She pushed open the doors to the main bullpen and scanned the room, desperately hoping Titan was somewhere in the maze of desks, cubicles, and glass-walled offices.

“Yeeeeeoooomannnnn Leeeeee.” Hollis Silar stepped into view, stretching her name out and accenting all four syllables. He sized her up with a predatory smile. “From the battle shield you have up I’m guessing you aren’t her to flirt. How disappointing.”

“Guardian Silar.” Her jaw clenched as she bit off his name.

The red-head held up a hand. “Wait!” His eyes glowed a deep gold as he accessed his implant. Quiet seconds ticked by.

Rowena raised an eyebrow.

Silar snapped his fingers “Seventy-three!”

“What?”

“This is now our longest civil conversation on record. The last civil interaction we had lasted seventy-two seconds.”

She remembered easily. If there hadn’t been a drill instructor nearby, and if her place on the Academy flight team hadn’t been at risk, she would have broken his jaw. “You’re an idiot,” she muttered, hoping it was low enough Silar would miss it.

“Ninety-eight seconds. A new record.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Should we push for two minutes? You’re looking remarkable non-combative now.”

“Can you be serious? I’m not here for your sadistic entertainment.” Rowena resisted the urge to strangle Silar with his obnoxious, too-long hair. It hung above his collar, and even tied back it made her eye twitch. Pressing her lips together she kept herself from starting another civil war. Barely. “Where’s Titan?”

Hollis shook his head. “No idea. He’s on medical leave.” He shrugged. “Did you check the Sabiha?”

Rowena narrowed her eyes. “For the love of… Of course I checked the Sabiha! There’s protocols.” Taking a deep breath she counted to ten and changed track. She tried smiling. “Guardian, let me rephrase this; I know you have ways of tracking everyone traveling in or out of the Enclave shield and you can find anyone from the fleet anywhere they are. Right?”

Silar walked in front of his desk, casting an intimidating shadow, and then sat down so he was nearly eye level. He was a big bastard. Somehow she always managed to forget how small he made her feel.

Habit made her take a fighting stance, feet slightly apart, muscles tensed.

If Silar noticed, he didn’t say anything. “Now, Lee, you know I couldn’t confirm or deny that sort of thing. The tech the Star Guard uses is classified and can’t be shared with individuals who do not have the appropriate clearance.” He was going to bury her in red tape, is what he meant.

“I don’t need you to confirm,” Rowena said slowly enough for his one functioning brain cell to process. “I need you to do. Find Titan for me. He’s not responding, his crew has no clue where he is, and neither do you. Under some law I’m sure this qualifies as an emergency and reasonable use of your tracking skills.”

Silar raised an eyebrow. “Guardian Sciarra left a message saying he was going to meet with Lily Skeoo off The Golden Apple last night. I’m not one to judge-”

“You better not!” Rowena snapped.

“- but shouldn’t you check to see if he’s there first? He isn’t scheduled to work this morning. Maybe he decided to go… relax.” Silar’s smile managed to be suggestive, pitying, and dangerous all at once.

She took a second to look around the room. There were four other guardians in view, all carefully pretending not to watch. Violence was out of the question. “Titan is not looking to court Lily.”

Silar rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Not to tell tales, but most the women in fleet don’t mind spending time with a man like Sciarra without a promise of commitment.”

“But he wouldn’t,” Rowena insisted.

Silar’s brown eyes locked onto her with interest.

Internal alarms flared. If she wasn’t careful, she’d give away more than the Lees could afford to lose.

Taking an at-ease stance she tried waiting him out, but he wasn’t looking away and no one was filling the silence. Finally, she said, “Titan has drafted a declaration of courtship.”

“Congratulations!”

Rowena’s fist moved and collided with Silar’s shoulder before she could stop herself. “Not for me! You crack-brained Silar!” She glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed her breach of conduct.

Silar rubbed his shoulder and chuckled. “How faithful-”

Huffing, she glared up at him, furious beyond words at the suggestion.

“Right. Forget I asked.” He sighed in resignation. “So Sciarra wouldn’t have a reason to go off-coms around Lily so he could have some privacy. Did he go see this other individual?”

She hadn’t thought of that. “Possibly, but he wouldn’t have turned off his com if he were. Not after everything last night.”

“You mean the malfunctioning battery canon?” Silar asked, radiating innocence.

Rowena sucked her cheeks in. “For one minute, Silar, remember who you are talking to. I’m not some numble-brained fleetling that can’t tell an orbital bombardment from ground ordinance. Titan was at ground zero for that, and medical leave or no, he’ll be going back today.”

For a second Silar’s arms sparked gold as he accessed his implant. His growing smile was hard to read, but she knew she’d made a misstep. He looked far too pleased for her comfort. “One final question. Why do you need him?”

She crossed her arms.

Silar held up his hands in mock surrender. “He’s off duty, Lee. If this is a matter another guardian can resolve, we should try that.”

Rowena weighed her options, shut her eyes, and went all in. “The Sekoo’s said they’d found some of the missing shipment. The price of the medicine Aronia needs was one hour of Titan’s time with Lily Sekoo. HE agreed because he knows I love Aronia, and because the Jhandarmi have no other leads on the case.”

“Why do you have better information for this case than I do?”

“Because I’m better than you,” Rowena said flatly. “Titan left with Lily eighty-six minutes ago. He should be back, and in coms range” She looked at Silar to see if he understood.

He nodded.

“The first box had the appropriate medicine but the other two didn’t.”

“And Sciarra could help you how?”

She took a deep breath. “I… He…” She hadn’t thought past forcing the Sekoos to give her the rest of the medicine. “I had to tell him. In case someone else didn’t recognize them, or if the other boxes were packed with something dangerous. It’s his case, and this might mean something. Now… can you check for him? Pl-”

“Please!” Silar’s eyes went wide. “Rowena! Control yourself!” he said too loud for her comfort.

She snapped her mouth shut and glared.

Silar leaned so he was close enough to slap. “There are other people here. If they see you being polite to me, they’ll know there’s something between us.”

“There is,” Rowena said quietly, “animosity and atmosphere. Same as always.”

He laughed and walked around back to his monitor. “See? That’s what life’s been missing. I don’t suppose the Lees would consider letting you become a Star Guardian?”

“Are you not getting punched enough?”

“Combatives training isn’t the same when there isn’t a tiny woman trying to knock your lungs out through your back. You’d be so disappointed,” he said as he typed something into the computer, “some of them have started pulling their punches.”

“Marshall isn’t training anymore?” That was good gossip. Made sense with how much she’d been away.

Silar shrugged. “Nah, she’s around, but I like my eyeballs in my head. Thanks. And Carver leaves me with bruised ribs. Sciarra is good, but he’s been too friendly this past week. I think Selena rattled his brain when she punched him. Poor guy. That is not a woman you want on your bad side.”

“Caryll? He’s on her good side.”

Silar shot her a quizzical look. It quickly became another enigmatic smile. He clicked his tongue. “Caryll and Sciarra?” He shook his head. “Who would have guessed? I had the likelihood of that pairing below twenty percent.”

“Why’d you run the probability at all?”

He shrugged. “I do it for everyone. Want to know who you’re a good match for?”

“No.” That was a trap she didn’t need to walk into. Silar would probably give her some random name, and then tell her it was the name of his charge pistol.

“Ah, well another time.” He twirled in his chair. “Titan is probably in the Tarrin city center at the Jhandarmi offices.”

She frowned. “What? Why? And what do you mean probably?”

Silar spun the monitor around so she could see. “We can track shielding and tech signatures. This is a ninety-nine percent match for Sciarra’s last scan two days ago. He likes to tweak his shields, so it’s a safe bet it’s him. Unless you know of someone else with the exact same tech signature. You know him better than me, but I don’t see Sciarra handing out his shield parameters to anyone, courtship or no.”

“But that can’t be. Captain Sciarra said he hadn’t crossed the Enclave shield. They track that. Why isn’t he responding to coms? I sent him an emergency code.” They were best friends. No matter what, Titan was the one person who had never abandoned her. Never hated her for what had happened. Fear rubbed across her raw nerves. She stepped away, shaking her head. “He… he wouldn’t ignore me.”

Not unless things had changed.

Silar watched her without a readable expression. “There’s no distress signal, no reason for me to send a guardian. But, if you want to go down to Tarrin, you can.”

“No. I can’t.” She looked him the eye, wishing she had an ally here.

He shook his head, not understanding. “Why not? Grounders aren’t that scary. They don’t bite unless you ask nicely.”

“I’m a yeoman. And a Lee. I don’t have travel access without authorization.”

“Oh! Right.” Silar stood up. “You need permission from the Captain’s Council or the senior guardian on duty.”

Rowena nodded, and then looked around for Carver. “Right…” They hadn’t always been friends, but they’d been on flight team together. Maybe he’d let her go for nostalgia’s sake.

“Which is me.”

She looked up at Silar in horror. There went that faint hope.

“There is a form you can use to file a request.” He held out a stack of papers. “Usually you need a senior officer from your crew to vouch for your self-sufficiency but that can be waived under certain circumstances.”

With a scowl she looked at the form. “That’s a declaration of hostile command change.”

“Is it?” His brown eyes widened in surprise. “Well, dear ancestors, how did that get there?” He stubbornly held the form out.

“I’m loyal to my captain.” And not stupid enough to start an internal war with no backing and her sister vulnerable. Clever of Silar though, if she went charging after Hoshi the Silars wouldn’t have to worry about the Lees, or her, ever again. Very neat and tidy.

With an eye roll Silar withdrew the form and picked up a small, green envelope off his desk. “Rowena Lee,” he said, taking out a thick, clear rectangle, “put your thumb on the right side and transfer the requested data.”

“What is this?”

“Take it.” He wiggled the card at her.

Rowena took it and pressed her thumb into the clear gel. Her crew information and face appeared. The rectangle split, forming two thin cards.

“One for you, one for me. This is an official travel card for fleet officers under the aegis of the Starguard. All the travel details are there. You have a code to leave and return to Enclave. Please use it.”

She clung to the card with both hands. That was too easy. “Thank you? I’ll go now.”

“Ah-ah!” Silar reached for her arm as she started to walk away. “I’m not done yet.” His hand hovered at the edge of her shield. “Safety rules. No fleet weapons outside Enclave. Do not use your implant in front of grounders, it scares them. If you run into trouble, send a distress code to the guardians, not your crew. If you can’t communicate for some reason, break the card.”

She frowned down at the travel card. “Break it?”

“Snap it. Smash it. Step on it. Throw it in a fire. Break it. It’ll send out a distress beacon and I will be there in seconds to come get you.”

“You?” She didn’t mean for it to sound rude, but dismay crept into her voice.

“Me, or whoever is the senior field guardian on duty. It’s always someone combat trained. Usually me or Carver.”

Rowena tried to that thought on for size. “My own evil genie.”  She put a shield around the card to protect it and slipped it into her pocket. “Anything else?”

“One more thing.” Silar held up his hand and something flew across the room and smacked into his palm. Most people were careful when they made something levitate, but not Hollis. He’d always been aggressive. It made most people flinch.

She held her ground.

Silar held out a cloth-covered object slightly longer than his hand.

Gingerly, she picked it up and flipped the cloth cover over. “A stone knife?”

“Most shields aren’t programmed to stop one of that size, and grounders can’t detect it. Keep it out of sight. Only use it if you need to. If you do use it, contact me directly, not the Starguard or your crew.”

She wrapped the black knife up again. “Seriously? If I’m in trouble I’m supposed to ask you for help.”

“It’s worked so far.” Something in his voice made her look him in the eye. There was an undertone of sincerity and concern she’d never heard from a Silar before.

Rowena shook her head and offered him the knife. “No.”

“Yes.” Silar pushed it back with a telekyen shove and a smile “Can’t have my favorite Lee going out there unarmed. Be safe.” He turned away, acting completely disinterested. “Let us know if you find Titan.”

The knife was heavy in her hand, but a quick scan came back clean. “I will.” She tucked it into her pant’s pocket and teleported out. For the first time she was free of Enclave.

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 21 (Part 1)

ROWENA – warning! Long Chapter Ahead! (broken into 3 parts)

Start at Chapter 1

Rowena was quizzing Mars on historical battles he needed to know for the officer candidacy test when Titan walked up grinning like a lunatic. She raised an eyebrow. “You look cheerful for someone who had a bomb dropped on his head.”

“Was it an orbital bombardment?” Mars asked, looking a little too excited by the idea. “Rowena said it was, but the official story was that some grounders had a battery cannon that blew up.”

Battery canons didn’t leave streaks of light searing the night sky.

“It was a precision orbital strike,” Titan said in the infuriatingly calm voice he used when he wanted to understate the amount of danger he’d been in. “No one was killed.”

She rolled her eyes and she stood and stretched. “Only the Carylls would design a weapon that has that much precision and doesn’t actually kill anyone.”

“It would kill an intraorbital craft,” Titan said. “A precision strike like that would swat down fighters like flies. It would have been devastating if they’d ever used it.”

“I suppose it’s good she can’t break shields with it,” Rowena said. “Caryll’s had enough fights over the past few years, she could have rattled some cages with that.”

Titan pressed his lips together.

She shook her head. “There’s no shields down there, Ty. We all know that.”

Mars held his breath.

“Titan.” Rowena gave him a warning look.

He shrugged. “There’s a shield. A Balaur shield. Mal offered it up for trade after Landing.”

“To get banishment?” That idiot. Mal always expected as much from other people as he was willing to give, the good and the bad.

“To keep you alive,” Titan said with an apologetic look.

She closed her eyes. Poor Mal. Ancestors keep him.

Mars made a cooing sound. “That’s romantic.”

She glared at him as Titan shook his head.

“It wasn’t like that with me and Mal,” Rowena said. “We were life partners, Old Balaur wanted a Lee as Mal’s spouse, but it was never a romantic relationship. We were friends.” She looked at Titan. “Tell me he didn’t leave a note coded in the shield or something pointless like that.”

“Selena told,” Titan said. “I don’t know if I would have guessed it was Mal’s shield otherwise. It was much more elegant than the ones he made at the Academy. Beautiful work, while it lasted.” He sighed, then frowned. “That doesn’t go past us.” He pointed a warning finger at Mars. “The grounders think the shield was a warning system only. If they knew the Persephone could crack a shield like that we’d all be in trouble.”

Mars crossed his heart with two fingers. “Deleted from my implant already. I didn’t hear a thing.”

Rowena nodded. “Not that a grounder would talk to me, but same. I know nothing about any shields or Caryll death rays.” What a weird thought. Caryll really wasn’t the kind of person who would do something huge and showy. Rowena wrinkled her nose in thought. “I hate myself for asking… was Caryll hurt?”

Titan frowned in confusion. “No. Why?”

“I was trying to figure out what pushed her over the edge.”

Mars clicked his tongue and looked pointedly at Titan.

“Were you hurt?”

“Not significantly,” Titan lied badly. He didn’t look worse than he had before, but she’d known him too long to ignore that tone of voice.

“Should I be taking you near the Sekoos?”

He rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “Honestly? I want to go. They might be the only ones with answers right now.”

“I’ll come too,” Mars said, hopping down from his perch on the Sabiha’s landing gear.

“No,” Titan and Rowena said in unison.

Mars’ face crumpled in hurt shock. “What?”

“They’re not a crew for you to spend time around,” Titan said.

“What happened to equality and all fleet’s the same, respect every crew?” Mars argued. “You can’t say the Sekoos aren’t ‘our kind of people’ when you’re spending time kicking your heels with them.”

Titan looked over at her for support. “This is different. The Sekoos aren’t expecting you.”

“They’re scavengers,” Rowena said, cutting across Titan’s delicacy. “Users. What’s the heart of every crew?”

“Kids and research,” Mars said automatically, looking baffled.

Rowena nodded. “The Sekoos have neither. They take in disaffected people from other crews, the ones who can’t learn to keep their hands to themselves or never know when to shut their mouths. The strays bring old tech. ”

“There’s a place for them,” Titan said in his tight, calm voice that sent most people running for cover. “The Sekoos have skills the fleet needs, but that doesn’t mean you have a place near them right now.”

“They’re in trouble,” Rowena translated because she doubted Captain Sciarra had sat her fleetlings down for lectures about the importance of the right allies they way she and Titan had been lectured before going to the Academy. “Lily Sekoo has medicine that was stolen from the fleet. If she went looking for it so she had an excuse to spend time with Titan, that’s one thing. Dubious, but forgivable. If she knew about the theft in advance?”

Rowena shook her head. “The Jhandarmi are the closest thing the grounders have to marines. They’re the major law enforcement entity for the planet. And someone attacked their agents, that’s a declaration of war. The Sekoos are opportunistic idiots. One of them traded short term benefits or lifelong consequences. We all know how that engines runs.” She gestured to the graveyard of ships filling Enclave and the great, domed shield overhead. “Our ancestors, may they freeze in the black for eternity, decided their petty wars were better than keeping enough orun to breath. Now look at us.”

Titan cleared his throat.

She grimaced in apology. “We would have still run out of fuel. But, the fact remains, if you don’t think of the future consequence you aren’t likely to have a future.”

“Do the Jhandarmi want to question the Sekoos?” Mars asked. “Would the Captains Council allow it?”

“I’m allowed,” Titan said. “I’m a guardian and Selena is the OIA liaison with the Jhandarmi and she approves.”

“Selena?” Mars’ lips curled into a frown.

“Get used to it,” Titan advised. “She’ll be one of your in-laws soon enough.”

Rowena’s implant chimed. “We got to go, Ty. The Sekoos are waiting for us.” She nodded to Mars. “Keep out of trouble.”

“I won’t get caught,” he said with an impish grin.

“Mars,” Titan’s voice held a note of warning, “what you heard, it stays between us. You, me, Ro, and the captain. That’s it.”

:And your other captain?: Rowena asked, nudging him.

“And Selena,” Titan said out loud. “She’d aware of the full scope of this investigation. If anyone else asks, you know nothing. If you hear something relevant, you get the info to one of the four of us. Light speed. Got it?”

“Got it,” Mars said. “I’ll be the model of discretion.”

Titan nodded. “Good. Get back to the ship. I know you have studying to do.” He waited until Mars teleported out before turning. “He’s a good kid.”

“If he doesn’t make captain one day I’ll eat my rank,” Rowena said as they walked through the forest of landing gear.

“Sounds yummy. What’s yeoman rank taste like?”

“Stale bread and moldy ration bars.” One day she’d burn her rank. Toss it up in the sky and hit it with a plasma beam until there was nothing but slag.

Titan must have caught her expression because he bumped her shoulder. “We’re trying not to scare the Sekoos.”

She gave him a bored look. “Hate to break it to you, but anyone with three working brain cells knows enough of our histories to shake in their boots when they see us coming. Everyone knows what we can do if we want to.”

He nodded in agreement. “Still rules out the Silars.”

Rowena covered her mouth as she giggled. “Oh, ancestors, Ty! What are you going to do if you actually court Selena Caryll? I mean…” She shook her head in disbelief. “The logistics of it are insane. You realize that, don’t you? Captain Sciarra has to either invite Caryll to the Sabiha or meet her on neutral ground. They have to sign a non-aggression pact at the very least. There have to be introductions, and there are protocols. These things can take years.”

“Elea has until I finish packing my quarters,” Titan said.

“So, what? You’ll go live in Caryll’s hovel of an apartment? Or are you going to knock a wall out in the BOQ so you can push two of those tiny beds together?”

He smirked. “We’ll make it work.”

“You’re crazy.”

“I’m in love.” His smile was kind. “You’ll see. One day when your head is spinning because all you can think about is a person who lights up the night, and makes you feel whole, and loves you even though you know you don’t deserve it, you’ll understand.”

Rowena sighed and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I see that happening. Me? In love? Probably not before the heat death of the universe but stranger things have happened. Even if I felt something, which we all know is as likely as the emperor returning, we’d have to convince them to love me back. There’s not enough mind-altering drugs in the universe.”

“I love you,” Titan said.

“Not the way you love Caryll.”

“No, not in that way,” Titan admitted as he put an arm around her shoulder. “But then again I was never the brightest star in the fleet. Someone will come along and realize what Mal and I knew all along, you’re amazing, Ro. You’re loveable.” He gave her a tight, side-ways hug that made tears sting at her eyes.

“You’re an idiot, Sciarra.”

He let her go with a smile. “So you’ve told me.”

“Does Caryll know that we come as a package deal?”

“I told her,” Titan said as the bulk of the Golden Apple came into view. “You two will get along.” His steps faltered as he got distracted by his thoughts. “Eventually.”

Rowena let it go. It wasn’t that she couldn’t get along with other people. It was that she hadn’t, and there was no reason to expect anyone to forgive her for that. Apologizing wasn’t going to bring back the dead. Guilt and self-loathing wouldn’t erase the war. She’d tried it. What was left was survival.

She fell in step with Titan and pushed away a nagging sense of doom. Her instinct for trouble was well-honed, but it was useless to worry about now. Her best friend was in love, and in time he’d drift away from her, but that didn’t mean she was going to abandon him now.

A Sekoo guard with a too-loose uniform motioned for them to stop as they approached the outer perimeter.

Titan took an at-ease stance and Rowena followed suit.

“You Sciarra?” the Sekoo asked.

“Yes,” Titan said. :Do I look that different from usual?: he asked.

:I’m not in charge of explaining Sekoo behavior,: Rowena said, pushing a memory of utter confusion at him.

The Sekoo walked behind the Golden Apple’s shield and contacted someone with a box device.

:Are none of them augmented?: Rowena asked.

:Most of them aren’t,: Titan said.

:You’d think they would have traded for that by now.:

:No medics, maybe? Or implant allergies? I’ve heard it can happen.:

Lily Sekoo hurried down the ramp, dark hair neatly braided and pulled back. She looked almost professional.

Almost.

Rowena’s teeth ground together as she fought the sense of wrongness in the scene. The two Sekoos lurking by the ram weren’t a problem, probably just chaperons trying to make sure that Titan didn’t woe one of their better techs for the Sciarra crew. She didn’t like Lily’s smile, but that wasn’t new, the Sekoos made her angry. All that tech and they still never managed to do more than scrape by. They kept waiting for a hand out, waiting for help, waiting for the emperor or whatever else. If she had all that tech she’d build a whole new ship.

:Think friendly thoughts,: Titan advised. :You’re shield’s slipping to battle mode.:

:All that pretty tech hoarded by people who want to melt it for scrap,: she complained. :Makes my heart break.:

:And here you keep saying you don’t have one.:

She sent gave Titan a mental kick in the leg. He only grinned.

“Commander Sciarra,” Lily said as she approached. “And, Yeoman.”

Rowen was definitely an after thought.

“It’s good to see you again, Technician,” Titan said. “How are you recovering?”

Lily’s laughed coyly and dropped her eyes.

:Flirting?: Rowena said. :She’s flirting?:

:Some people like flirting.:

:Just get me the meds so I can get out of here.:

Titan smiled. “Do you have the medication the Lees need?”

“Of course!” Lily looked over her shoulder and waved to one of her crew members. “Three boxes, as promised. Enough for the current crisis, and a little extra to set aside for even future misfortunes.”

Rowena watched the box with a knot in her shoulders. Ancestors, but she really was the worst friend ever. Eighteen pills for her best friend.

:It’s fine,: Titan reminded her. :Even if I didn’t need to interrogate the Sekoos, I’d do this.:

She took the offered boxes and checked the seal. “Looks good. Thank your supplier for,” she told Lily. :Do you want me to stay?: she asked Titan.

:I’ll scream if I need help.:

:Scream loudly,: Rowena said. :You’re isolated out here.:

Lily’s eyes narrowed as her smile turned sharp. “Is there anything else, yeoman?”

“Nothing,” Rowena said. “Good trade. Enjoy your, ah, hour.” She stepped away, still trying to shake the feeling of dread. Taking a deep breath, she walked faster. There was time for Aronia and the baby. The meds would buy them more time. “It’s going to be okay, Lee. Believe it.” I want to believe.

 

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 20 (Part 2)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

Elea Sciarra was, at least in Titan’s opinion, the best captain the crew ever had. She was also his nearest surviving blood relative.

Her perfection was tempered by humanity and a forgiving heart.

In the old day, she would never have been promoted past junior gunner.

But these weren’t the old days, and now Titan stood across from her gaping, black desk and watched her warily. Black uniform against black skin and against the oh-so-typical black walls of a Sciarra captain’s office. The whites of her eyes stood out like twin suns.

She moved, and the lights changed, projecting the image of a baby blue nebula against the wall. The black desk lit up with files, images, and status icons. “Well. Titan. How are you?”

“I’m well, thank you, captain.”

The captain leaned back in her chair. “I understand there are rumors running around the fleet that someone left a hole in the middle of the expensive end of Tarrin. I’d normally ignore these rumors, except someone swears it was the Caryll’s Persephone that launched the attack and, curiously enough, you’ve been chasing Captain Caryll for the past few days and weren’t in your quarters last night. During lock down. When you were on medical leave.” Her tone cooled noticeably. “Which begs a very interesting question: where were you last night? And, don’t lie.”

“I was in Tarrin last night. With Captain Caryll. But there isn’t a hole in Tarrin.”

“That’s the engine you want to run on?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll share a recording of the event from my implant with time stamps and everything, if that’s what you need.” It’d be an unusual request, invasive by most standards, captains weren’t supposed to have a second in command they couldn’t trust. But these were unusual times.

She narrowed her eyes. “Am I going to like what I see?”

“No, ma’am. I was in combat when I should have been resting.”

“Ancestors above protect this stupid boy!” His aunt turned her face to the ceiling and shook her head. “What would your mother say if she were alive, ancestors keep her.”

“In my defense, ma’am, I did not plan to be in combat and if I hadn’t been there civilians would have died. I was doing my job, not because I went looking for trouble, but because it found me.”

She didn’t look convinced.

Well, all in all it had been a good life. Short, but memorable. Hopefully Selena wouldn’t start a war if his aunt killed him in a fit of over-protective rage.

Elea rocked her chair back and forth with a meditative creak like a clock counting down to doomsday. “Captain Caryll?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“As outrageous as that sounds, I can only assume it’s the truth. It doesn’t have the logic of lie.”

He kept his mouth shut.

“Was it fleet business?”

“In a manner of speaking, captain.”

The creaking stopped.

“Explain.”

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, prayed to his departed ancestors, and threw himself at his aunt’s mercy. “After meeting with the Jhandarmi director this evening I tried to find Captain Caryll to ensure she’d received proper medical treatment after this afternoon’s events. Carver assured me she was being treated by Captain Marshall, but Rowena said Marshall was out of coms range. The Jhandarmi had let slip the address of the operation they were going to run tonight,” only a small lie, “and found Captain Caryll’s implant signature in the area and concluded she was probably observing the operation. I felt that I was healthy enough to check on her wellbeing and return to Enclave without risking further injury.”

“It looks like you failed,” his aunt said dryly.

“The Jhandarmi considered the operation to be low-risk.”

“They weren’t trying to go in the field after being hit by an EMP blast and having their abdomens sliced open.”

“My implant was recharged to a safe level.” If thirty percent counted as safe.

The captain’s chair began creaking again. “What did you find?”

Selena was going to kill him if this went nova. No, scratch that, everyone was going to kill him if he couldn’t convince his captain the plan was sounds. “Captain Caryll was near a safe house established in the first days after landing. It has a heavy shield, one of the Caryll specials, and while it wasn’t on my personal data base, I don’t believe it’s illegal in any way. She has an established grounder identity that the Jhandarmi were using to infiltrate the auction of the stolen data and apprehend the thief.”

“Why did she have a grounder identity?”

Titan shook his head. “I’m unclear on how it came to be, but it was part of the Landing protocol and signed off on by the Captain’s Council.”

“Was the data recovered?”

“No, ma’am.”

“The thief?”

“Found dead after the incident.”

Elea leaned on her desk. “Caryll is trouble.”

“People have said that about me too,” Titan said. “They’ve probably said it about you.”

His captain smirked. “Eventually, but by then it was far too late.” She sighed and her eyes glowed a silvery sage green. After a moment of stillness she shook her head. “Is there any way I can persuade you that further contact with Captain Caryll and the Jhandarmi is too disruptive to the health of the crew?”

“Only if you can prove that this crew doesn’t need a little disruption. We’re on a collision course with extinction, captain. If something doesn’t change in the next decade, we’re dead. Our way of life, our culture, our crew cannot live ground-bound and entombed alive in this ship. Someone has to change the course we’re on. Why not me?”

“Injury, inexperience, head trauma” the captain said, ticking the items off on her fingers, “I can think of a dozen reasons I ought to lock you in the brig for your own safety.”

Titan smiled. She was his favorite relative for a reason. “But you won’t.”

“But I won’t,” she agreed. “What do you need from me?”

“Immediately? Permission to go spend time with Lily Sekoo off the Golden Apple.”

His captain watched him in damning silence. “Titan, please tell me you are not so brutally stupid that you think you can string a fleet captain along with promises of romance while keeping a low-class scavenger on the side.”

“No! The Sekoos told Rowena they have access to the medication Aronia Lee needs. Selena is aware of this and supports this action.”

“You’re talking about Captain Caryll as if she were your spouse.”

“She will be.”

The declaration hung between them.

Elea tapped a slow tattoo on the table as she thought. Finally she asked, “Is Captain Caryll aware of your intentions?”

“Yes.”

“Is it even legal?”

“With a declaration of courtship, yes. Unprecedented, a bit extraordinary, but so is everything in life.”

His captain shook her head in disbelief. “I never thought I’d see the Sciarras allied with the Carylls. But I never thought I’d make captain either.” She waved her hand. “Fine. Yes. I’ll draft a declaration for you. And you-“ she paused to look him over and shake her head “-shower before going to meet the Sekoos, eh? You’re filthy.”

“I’ve looked worse.”

“Yes, you have. Dismissed.”

Titan saluted.

“Come home alive, Titan,” he aunt said.

“I will.”

 

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