BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 25 (The End)

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know where my husband is?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You had a sister, didn’t you?”

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

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

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

“Do you know who killed her?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Why didn’t he tell me?”

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

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

“Silar is here.”

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

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

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

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

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

Rowena gave her a pained look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.

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

Her jaw dropped. “Really?”

Titan nodded.

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

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

“Permission to come aboard?” Titan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Love, what’s wrong?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titan held still, watching her, waiting for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Proceed, Commander.”

THE END
…until the next book at least…

 

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 24

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

Enclave was quiet in the pre-dawn hours. The only sound was the gravel crunching Hoshi’s angry stride and the warble of early morning birds greeting the rising sun.

Rowena kept pace, staying a little behind and to the side of her captain as they approached the OIA offices.

Hoshi led the way through the doors and under the dome to the deliberation chamber that had been sealed after the last war trial. It had been reopened for the week’s events.

Jhandarmi and Tarrin police milled by the OIA exit, giving the fleet’s dark blue crew uniforms curious looks.

“Interlopers,” Hoshi muttered under his breath. “Lazy—” He bit off the insult as Hollis Silar stepped into the hall wearing his Starguard all-blacks.

“Captain Lee, yeoman.” Silar nodded in greeting. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Hoshi sneered at him. “Then let us in.”

“Yeoman Lee only,” Silar said.

“Why is she allowed in and I’m not?” Hoshi demanded. “I’m her captain! I won’t be locked out of this.”

“Apologies, captain. My orders are to escort Yeoman Lee in and no one else. She’s here to be a witness.”

Hoshi rolled his shoulders back, squaring off for a fight he could never win. “The Captain’s Council will hear about this.”

“The Captain’s Council is equal to the Star Guard,” Silar said. “If you want to make a complaint you’ll need to file a report with the fleet marshal. Yeoman, if you’ll come inside, please.”

“There’s no fleet marshal left!” Hoshi complained as Rowena walked inside.

Silar shrugged. “The Captain’s Council can elect one in times of duress,” Silar said. “The Starguardwould be able to ratify the decision. Good day, captain. The Starguardwill see Yeoman Lee is safely returned to her vessel when this matter is concluded.”

The door shut in Hoshi’s face with a nudge of telekyen. A heavy shield formed, silencing Hoshi’s shouted protests of unfairness.

Silence being a better tactic than braggadocio, Rowena kept her mouth shut.

Silar led her down a narrow back hall, past the courtrooms, and to a small room with a large conference table and an eclectic assortment of people.

At the head of the table on the right, Hermione Marshall sat flanked by two empty chairs. She was wearing her dark gray uniform, shot with gold flecks and her family’s crest pinned where her ship emblem should have been. Captain Carver sat across the table from the door, wearing his all-black uniform and facing Titan and Caryll.

At the left end of the table a woman with a pale pink suit sat, a grounder tablet in front of her, two men and woman who might have been a bodyguard behind her.

Tyrling paced in front of the false windows on the far wall.

“Good,” Marshall said as Silar held out a seat for Rowena. “Now that everyone is here, we can move on.”

There was a murmur from the assembled fleet personnel.

The woman in pink looked at Rowena, appraising her. “Very well. We shall proceed. From this moment on, all conversation will be recorded.” She touched her tablet and pushed it to the center of the table to record. “For the record, will all parties please state their name and reason for attendance. In the case of subordinates, the senior member of the party may speak. I will go first.”

“I am Felila Conn, speaker for the continent of Icedell, Council Member in Full, born of the city-state Omul, descendant of the ship Quiet Way. With me are my advisors and troubleshooter. I speak on behalf the Assembly of Malik.” She nodded.

“Director Nate Tyrling, regional director of the Jhandarmi of Malik.”

“Captain Perrin Matteo Carver, commander of the Star Guard, speaking on behalf of the Starguardand the fleet.”

“Captain Hermione Marshall, member of the Captain’s Council, Council Member in Full, born of the city-state Ryun, junior delegate to the assembly of Mithila, speaking on behalf of the Marshall clan of Descent, the Captain’s Council of the fleet, and advisory chair for the Imperial Officer’s Academy.”

“Captain Selena Caryll, captain of the Persephone, member of the Captain’s Council, fleet-Jhandarmi liaison, lead investigator for the case number 18038-9R.”

“Commander Titan Sciarra, second-in-command of the Sabiha, senior officer of the Star Guard, speaking on behalf of my crew and as lead investigator—fleet—for case number 18038-9R.”

“Commander Hollis Silar, senior officer of the Star Guard, speaking on behalf of myself.” He looked at Rowena.

“Yeoman Rowena Lee of the Danielle Nicole.” She looked to Titan questioningly.

“Rowena is here as a witness,” Marshall said, “and as an Academy representative. She’s taking over as a drill instructor when classes resume next month and has a vested interest in the future of the fleet.”

Nice of someone to tell her that in advance. Considering the Academy had been shut in the early days of the war, she wasn’t even sure how they’d train, but if it made everyone feel better about her presence, then so be it.

Felila Conn nodded. “Now for the matter of the trial.”

“Shouldn’t the Sekoos be here?” Rowena asked.

Conn shook her head. “The Sekoo matter was resolved, according to all reports.”

“Sentenced and transported to one of the coastal prisons,” Tyrling said as he continued pacing. “They’ll rot in the damp.”

Conn nodded. “That matter being resolved, we will begin with the trial of the Enclave Treaty.” She reached out and touched her tablet again. The tension in the room dropped by a factor of 12. “Enough formalities. Let’s hash this out. I’m in the wrong time zone and I want dinner.”

“We are taking war off the table,” Marshall said. “Aggression, submission, and withdrawal of treaty are all off the table.”

“Agreed,” Conn said in a quick way that made it seem as if she’d done negotiations like this a dozen times.

“Upheld,” Tyrling said.

Behind Conn one of her minions made a note.

Carver raised a finger. “Can the current level of peace be maintained?”

“Arguably,” Tyrling said as Conn and Marshall both shook their heads.

“Make a note that both fleet counsel and Assembly reject the option of status quo. Changes must be made.”

“Agreed,” Marshall said as quickly as Conn had.

Tyrling grimaced. “Upheld with reservation.”

“Isolation and the idea of separate-but-equal was unpalatable three years ago and has proven unfruitful at best. Recommendation is full integration.” Marshall’s eyes narrowed, making her recommendation a threat.

Carver held a hand up to object but Conn’s raised hand silenced him.

“Define,” Conn said.

“Full access to lands held by the people under the governance of the Assembly of Malik for the fleet,” Marshall said. “Open enrollment to the Academy and pilot training programs for everyone in the system.”

Rowena tried to tally up what it would take to rebuild the Academy, once a space station for aspiring fleet officers, as something on the ground. None of the buildings were well-suited to the task. Even if they gave up the BOQ there was no place for zero-g training.

Conn shook her head. “No.”

No need to worry about finding gauntlets for grounder applicants than.

“Counter,” Selena Caryll’s voice was a surprise to everyone in the room. “A seat on the Assembly for Enclave, incorporation and recognition of Fleet as a House on the public rolls of the Malik System.”

One of Conn’s assistants leaned forward to whisper something in her ear.

She nodded pensively and turned back to Caryll. “To allow this someone in the fleet would need to own lands untied to another house. If you use the lands of Captain Marshall you will become a vassal of the Marshalls.”

Caryll looked over at Titan as they shared some silent conversation. He nodded, and Caryll turned. “I hold land and companies in two city-states on Icedell, purchased at Landing as housing for my crew.” Her smile was bitter. “We were larger at the time. The holdings have served as rental properties since the time of purchase.”

“What of the company?” Conn asked.

“Kore Information Systems, which specializes in researching historical documents and authenticating antiquities.”

:How did I not know this?: Rowena asked Titan.

:She kept the records very well hidden. It would have been public, but her crew pre-empted the announcement with their decision to leave for other ships.: He sounded smug.

Rowena sent him the memory of an eyeroll.

:Don’t hate me because I didn’t underestimate my enemy,: Titan said. :Selena was front and center in the war, anyone could have courted her.: There was a moment’s pause and then he said. :It’s good she’s on our side.:

Rowena kept her face emotionless. There weren’t sides anymore. There was only chaos.

Conn’s assistant passed her a data tablet and conferred quietly before Conn nodded. “Icedell welcomes Enclave into the Assembly. You are permitted the standard twenty-three member team as other city-states. You will have five years to establish trade agreements with your neighbors.”

“Agreed,” Marshall said.

Shock rippled around the room. Her implant tagged over a dozen different messages pinging around the room. The fleet had always been separate. They had a different history, different reasons for being in-system.

Rowena took a deep breath as she re-coded her decision-making algorithms. The fleet had never had a voice in the government before. Being welcomed in, given equal status and citizenship. She pinched the bridge of her nose. :Half the fleet is going to move out tomorrow,: she told Titan.

:No, they won’t.: He sounded amused. :There’s a housing crisis in the city-states. And even if they move out, they can teleport back for work in the morning. It did just open up the dating pool though.:

She considered this, and shook her head. :All I can picture is the Silars expanding exponentially.:

:A red-head in every house?: Titan sent her the memory of a laugh.

She snuck a look at Hollis to see how happy he was. She’d expected a smile, but his face was blank, there was no sign he was taking pride in Marshall’s leadership skills or joy at the prospect of flirting freely with the grounders. If anything, he looked a little concerned. There was a tightness around his eyes that didn’t make sense to her.

Silar looked up, catching her gaze with his chocolate brown eyes. His eyebrows lifted a fraction in silent question.

Rowena looked away, feigning disinterest.

“I’d like to make an addition,” Tyrling said, interrupting the silent conversations around the room. “The Jhandarmi request a skills exchange and a Jhandarmi presence in Enclave.”

There was a murmur of disapproval from the fleet and grounders alike. Tech expertise was the only thing the Starsiders had to trade.

“You get Caryll and Sciarra,” Carver said. “They’ll be Jhandarmi and Starguard.”

:There goes my free time,: Titan grumbled on a tight beam.

Tyrling nodded. “The skill exchange?”

Carver looked over at Caryll. “Your call.”

“The Jhandarmi training isn’t anything strenuous. It’s adapted for the unaugmented, so we wouldn’t need to restrict it to higher ranks, and it would be good for the fleet to learn techniques adapted to living in a gravity well.” She looked at the other fleet officers before nodding. “Skills exchange is approved. We’ll train Jhandarmi on how to handle weapons that may have leaked because of this incident, as well as provide consulting experts for unique problems. Weapons specialists will be made available to help review the Sekoo’s records and identify what might be in the general population now.”

“Do you have a weapons expert with that breadth of knowledge?” Conn asked.

Marshall and Carver looked at each other and then to Silar. There was a conversation going on a tight beam. Marshall nodded and Silar turned.

There was a light tap on her outer shield, someone knocking for attention.

Rowena raised an eyebrow and made a place in her shield for the non-priority message.

:Would you be willing to be the fleet weapons expert?: Silar asked.

She let her confusion at his asking instead of Titan slip through.

:Would you?: Silar asked, ignoring the question she couldn’t form.

With a tight nod she accepted.

“Rowena Lee,” Marshall said, it was more question than statement.

“She’s the fleet’s most qualified engineer,” Silar said, smoothly taking control of the conversation. “The Starguard already consult with her on other matters, and she works for the OIA already, so there’s no clearance issue.”

The Jhandarmi director gave her a dubious look. “Do you have much experience with groundside operations?”

“No,” Rowena admitted, “but I’d be happy to take the Jhandarmi training courses you’re offering. In exchange, my expertise is at your disposal. I promise you no one alive knows as much about weapons and engines as I do.”

Tyrling nodded and smiled. “Accepted with amendments. The matter is resolved.”

:Hoshi is going to love this,: Titan said with a chuckle.

:Hoshi can breathe vacuum. And so can Silar. Why was he the one reaching out to me? You’re my Starguard liaison.:

Across the table Titan gave her an apologetic look. :When we were planning the hypothetical Academy here on the ground Carver put Silar in charge.:

:What?: She looked over at Silar again.

He was waiting for her this time, watching, probably wondering when she’d realize that she now reported to him. :What’s that look for?:

:I’m wondering how many of your bones I can accidentally break in training,: she said, sending along the Academy color code for a fight.

He sent a memory of that last time they’d had a real fight, on the desk of the Silar’s crippled warship Aquila. It hadn’t ended well for her. :Looking for a rematch?:

:Name the day.:

Titan rapped at her shield with a stinging shock. :Be good and looking at Silar. You’re making me nervous:

:He’s the one who’s going to go home bloody.:

“Would anyone like to present further business before we adjourn?” Conn asked.

Titan held up a hand. “Were the Jhandarmi able to track the information Kaftan stole?”

The grounders exchanged grimaces.

“We were able to identify one of the injured men as a contract mercenary for the Lethe Combine. Their lawyers contacted the Jhandarmi the next day,” Tyrling said. “The Lethes control a majority of the transportation on all three continents. They’re wealthy, powerful, and very, very careful. There’s no way to prove they did anything wrong.”

Titan looked surprised. “With a smoking hole in Arwel’s backyard and witnesses?”

The Jhandarmi director’s calm expression turned into a bitter scowl. “Two months ago Sonya Lethe’s security detail reported her missing. They found her within a few hours with the help of the local police and the Jhandarmi, but she’d been drugged and beaten. The Lethe family told us today they believed family secrets had been taken during the time she was missing and that the Lethes acted within their rights to retrieve their secrets.”

“But, there were witnesses,” Titan protested. “Selena and I weren’t the only ones who were there.”

“Arwel withdrew his claim earlier this morning,” Tyrling said. “The explosion was blamed on an unfortunate sink hole. They do happen occasionally in Tarrin, and someone generously volunteered to pay for repairs as part of their civic charities.”

“Lethe,” Marshall said without hesitation. “Everyone at the party will get a generous donation to their bank accounts and a note telling them they saw nothing out of the ordinary. If they speak out,” she looked pointedly at Caryll and Titan, “they’ll be silenced. She wants to see who she can push, and who she can control.”

Caryll snarled audibly. “So, she’s made herself untouchable?”

“Patience is power,” Conn said. “Powerful families like the Lethes will spend years setting the stage for a power play. Decades. Centuries. It doesn’t matter to them.”

“Why do the Lethes want the information?” Carver asked.

Marshall sat back in her chair with a  chuckle. “Power. It’s always about power. Sonya and I went to school together. I remember her, an unremarkable child convinced she was destined to rule the world. She’s descended from the first governor of Malik, a title that’s been in abeyance since the wormhole collapsed. When we were both eight, she signed her papers Governess Sonya Lethe of Malik IV. For all that, she has only a passing understanding of how power is used. She probably hopes to either curry favor with the Jhandarmi or blackmail them. The Lethes rarely go to battle. They look for chinks in your armor, exploit your weaknesses.” Her words drifted off into a nostalgic smile.

“Power.” Conn shook her head.

“Patience first,” Tyrling advised. “We know where the information is. Now we watch and wait. We attend to the weak spots and let the enemy show their hand.”

Marshall grimaced. “Still, if Sonya has shown her hand like this it means she plans to expand her little empire. Much like the Sekoos, she believes she’s entitled to control of the population. Kaftan wasn’t a stupid man, he would have encrypted the data and kept the key safe until he was away with his money.”

“what are the chances he gave her the key before dying?” Conn asked, looking between Marshall and Tyrling.

Tyrling tilted his head back and forth in thought. “Time of death compared to when he left, very low. He was dead within an hour of leaving. Either the Lethes didn’t anticipate an encryption or they had someone already lined up to crack it. We’ll keep our ears to the ground. Rumors about these things always turn up, you just have to turn over enough rocks.”

“The Jhandarmi will have fleet backing if Lethe moves against you,” Carver said.

Tyrling nodded in thanks.

The meeting closed rapidly. Papers and tablets were passed around the table for signatures and witness statements. Conn spoke with Carver and Marshall, then with Silar. Tyrling had a few quiet words with everyone but Rowena on his way out. History was made with a quick exchange and no fuss. One word—agreed—and everything was different.

Rowena drifted out of the conference room, not quite ready to return to the Danielle Nicole, but at a loss as to where else she could go. A ping from Titan told her to wait, so she stopped at the intersection of a back hall and a service corridor.

At the far end of the hall she heard Titan say, “I love you, I’ll catch up soon.” He kissed Caryll before she teleported away, and then walked to Rowena. “How does it feel to be in the room where history happens?”

“Surreal,” she admitted. “It was all… easy. Like a play. Everyone seemed to know their lines except me.”

“Selena spent most the night filling me in on the political history,” Titan admitted.

Rowena smirked. “What a waste of a first night as a courting couple.”

He laughed and looked up at the ceiling to avoid her gaze.

“Are you here to gloat or did you actually need something?”

“I want to get Selena a proper courting gift.”

“Isn’t it a bit late for that? The entire fleet saw you two yesterday. Courtship declared and accepted.”

Titan rolled his eyes. “I know, but we won’t have the celebration for a few months. Or at least not until Carver and Silar have theirs.”

Rowena looked up in surprise. “Carver finally acted on that?”

“Genevieve told him she was tired of him trying to get killed before their wedding. They were either signing the spousal contract or she was going to find someone else who wanted to be with her. Selena offered them a house in Tarrin since the news about her land holdings was going to be public anyway. They’ll have a celebration in a few weeks. Then Selena and I will have ours.”

“What do you want to get her?”

Titan’s smile lit up the room. “You’ll back me on this?”

“For every crazy plan,” Rowena said. “That’s what friends are for.”

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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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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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Impulse Buy Book of the Week: LIMELIGHT by Krista D. Ball

Anna Lainey is a successful author who values her privacy. The last person she would imagine herself dating is a movie star–yet when she meets Benjamin Worthington on the set of a major motion picture, sparks fly–and before she knows it, she’s caught up in a very public whirlwind romance.

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Krista is an adorably trusting Canadian who allows other people to write her bios for her. When she isn’t cooking amazing – and historically accurate – feasts or chasing her small army of teenagers she works with the homeless, helps young authors find their Voice, and writes. She’s an unapologetic geek who likes cosplaying as Spock, and if you visit she will try to force you to appreciate poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds… no, we can’t explain, it’s a CANADA THING). She has a B.A. in British History from Mount Allison University and will talk endlessly about historical accuracy if you let her. Find her online at Twitter and on her Website.

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