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

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Inkprint Press

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 17

ROWENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not that I’ve seen.”

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

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

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

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

Titan looked away. “I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

“No! Pick something else!”

“Carver?” Titan hesitated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who recommended this?” she demanded.

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

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

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

“Who recommended this?”

“Selena.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She has Hollis’s.”

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

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

“Run a scan!” Titan said.

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

“Titan has a concussion.”

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

“See!” Titan glared victoriously.

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

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

“Sugar and cheese?” Titan asked skeptically.

Mars shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was. And a highly sexualized drawing of Caryll.

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

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

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

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

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

“Unless she likes it rough,” Mars said.

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

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

“No I didn’t!” Rowena said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mars frowned. “That seems unlikely.”

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

Titan pivoted, fists clenching at his side.

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

Silence descended as Titan stopped moving.

Rowena held her breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titan nodded.

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

“I have to go stop her,” Titan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ehlers-Danlos In Fiction

I never meant to drag my illness into fiction. In fact, it’s been something I’ve intentionally avoided. Ehlers-Danlos is a weird genetic mutation. The things it does would make most editors frustrated.

It turns out: it does frustrate editors. A lot.

Without planning on it I accidentally gave the Lee sisters in BODIES IN MOTION Ehlers-Danlos symptoms. Arnoia’s pregnancy is threatened by a late-stage placental tear, something that ended six of my mother’s pregnancies. My mother miscarried in the later part of the second trimester with each one. With modern medicine I might have had older siblings, but with what was available in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was nothing to be done.

Rowena has the fragile Ehlers-Danlos skin although it’s protected by her augmentation. And that’s what my editor picked up on. She noticed a later chapter of BODIES IN MOTION where Rowena cuts the palm of her hand with her nails. “Not possible,” my editor said.

I looked down at the scratches on my hand, deep grooves left from a midnight mosquito bite and itching in my sleep. Nails can most certainly cut skin! But not all skin. Just skin like mine… papery thin, velvety to the touch, changed because of a mutation in the body’s connective tissue.

Changing Rowena and Aronia would have required very little. I could have given Aronia other pregnancy problems, there are many. I could have had Rowena express her rage another way. But I’m not going to.

I won’t name Ehlers-Danlos in text because BODIES IN MOTION is not an Earth-centric novel. There’s no mention of Earth, or the cultures we know, and I want that separation. I am not dwelling on the disease in the book. No one is getting magically cured. No one is going to be debating the worth of their life because of having Ehlers-Danlos. This isn’t a novel for the inspirations market, it’s unapologetically SF and SFR.

But it will be in the series.

So, if you are an EDS spoonie and want a book with a hero like you (or anti-hero/antagonist/whatever Rowena winds up being), here’s a pair of fighter pilots and warriors with genes like you. Ehlers-Danlos is found the world over in every genetic group. It’s hard to diagnose, autosomal dominant, runs in families, and can be undiagnosed for years if not generations. It’s a disease that will undoubtedly follow humanity where ever we go. Now it gets a face to go with it. I have full faith Rowena will Ehlers-Danlos regret trying to hold her back.

 

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