BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 22

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

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

“Likewise,” Selena said.

A skitter bot brushed past her like a cat.

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

“Persephone, where’s my rank?”

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

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

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

“I can though.”

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

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

“Why did we come here?”

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

“You aren’t my ally,” Rowena scoffed.

“Persephone?”

“Yes, captain?”

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

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

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

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

 

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

And then there was Titan.

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

The wall beside her buckled and Selena jumped in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Captain Caryll for Captain Sciarra.”

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

Selena glanced at Rowena and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

“Incoming,” Rowena muttered.

The sailor was running their way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rowena nodded.

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

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

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

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

Selena nodded to Rowena.

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

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

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

:The Diana,: Selena said.

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

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

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

Selena could hear Rowena grinding her teeth.

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

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

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

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

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

Rowena sucked in her breath in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How does this work?” Elea asked.

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

“How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what’s that likely to be?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Will the ending of BODIES IN MOTION be posted online?

Lovely Reader says…

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

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

So ignore the September 8th finale plans.

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

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

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

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

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

BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 19

SELENA

Start at Chapter 1

Selena stepped into Arwell’s climate-controlled house and slid the door shut behind her. All the party guests were outside, mingling and giggling as the first effects of the free-flowing alcohol took over their good judgement. Titan being here changed plans considerably. Titan knowing she was working with the Jhandarmi changed her long-term plans by more than she wanted to calculate at the moment.

Leaving the lights off she pulled the gauzy curtains shut with a twitch. She wouldn’t be invisible to anyone outside, but they wouldn’t be able to see her easily either. It was enough. Walking across the kitchen she found the electronic juicer Arwel had purchased on a whim years before and never locked against tech invasion. On one of her earliest forays into his house she’d programmed it to suit her purposes. Suspicious people would find her purse and check her phone, but they wouldn’t find anything compromising there.

She turned the juicer on and typed in the code.

Tyrling’s face appeared next to a logo with oranges circled by stars. “What’s going on? You were out of visual contact for a quarter hour.”

“Sciarra showed up.”

The Jhandarmi director rubbed his face as he swore. With a grumbling sigh he asked, “How much trouble are you in?”

“None, I think. Sciarra…” She wasn’t sure what to say exactly.

“He likes you,” Tyrling said. “Enough to be protective at any rate.”

Selena smiled. “Enough that you need to factor him in as a long term variable. We can read him in to the operations I handle later.”

Tyrling’s image split and broke for a second.

With a frown she checked the juicer’s energy supply. “Is something happening on your end?”

“Not a thing. The city’s quiet,” Tyrling said. He paused, and then his eyes narrowed. “When’s the last time nothing happened in Tarrin?”

“My implant says never.” She started to smile and then realized what the silence implied. “None of the corps or gangs are near war. Everything’s been quiet.”

Tyrling arched a shaggy eyebrow. “Except the theft.”

“Fleet has no plans for retaliation.”

“All the same…”

She nodded in understanding. “I’ll get the information from Kaftan tonight.”

“Are you sure you can without blowing your cover?”

“The Balaurs weren’t the only ones who learned torture techniques,” she said. “Trust me. I can make him talk. And I won’t leave a mark.” She turned off the juicer and looked down at her hands. Over the years she’d had a lot of blood on them, and it was rarely hers. But she’d worked hard to make sure the blood on her hands hadn’t been spilled by her either. With a little luck, and a lot of booze, she’d be able to resolve all this without anyone being the wiser.

Outside the music had been turned up, people were finally dipping their feet in the pool, and Arwel was drying the paint on a man who decided he had to try a free sample before the night was over.

Selena looked over the garden and her implant tallied the recording devices. Kaftan was standing conveniently close to one on the eastern edge of the yard. She put on her best smile, swung her hips, and sashayed over to the thief.

He looked up with hungry eyes. Not, she couldn’t help notice, filled with the adoration and love she saw in Titan’s eyes. Kaftan’s look was predatory. To him she was a victim. The poor fool.

“Hello,” he said, reaching for her as she walked up. “Have you been avoiding me all evening?”

“Of course not,” Selena lied. “I was waiting until I could catch you alone.” Her hand warmed as she sent a very specific code to her implant. Casually, she ran her hand across Kaftan’s back and watched him relax. The soporific effect of heat combined with slow sound waves below the range of human hearing.

Kaftan’s pupils dilated in pleasure as she pressed her body against his side. “Well.”

“You looked so busy earlier,” Selena murmured in a softly modulated tone meant to set him at ease. “You must be very important.” Her hand stretched down his side, reaching for his pocket.

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand to his torso with a laugh. “Important enough, but I’ll be more important later. Rich. So rich.” His eyes shut.

Too much stimuli. Selena cut the dosage in half, her hand cooling. She squeezed his shoulder and pulled away. “Too important to get a drink with a body paint model?”

His eyes stuttered open and he looked her over lazily. “What else do you do?”

“Advertising work. Modeling. Sometimes I work at a bar up by the High Street Market. It’s paying the bills for now.” With a flirty smile she took his hand, pulling him towards a table near the lights and the next recording device. “I love meeting new people, but there’s not really a degree for that at the university. I suppose I could try politics, but not here. I have too much of a reputation here.” She winked at her willing victim.

There was a static-y ping against her shields.

She sent a query to Titan and returned her focus to Kaftan. “What do you do?”

“This and that,” he evaded.

Selena turned the relaxant up. “Someone said you were in shipping. That sounds important. Getting this and that here and there.”

“I do that,” Kaftan agreed as she slid him into a chair. “I do a lot of that.”

“Anything recent?” She kept her hand on his arm as she reached across the table for a wine bottle.

The liquid sloshed into his glass with a hypnotic sound. “Rearranged some inventory on the docks. Brought in cash for a buy. The seller did the exchange. Then I moved the goods out.”

“You must know the docks so well,” Selena cooed. “Where did you-”

An explosion of light and sound knocked her from her chair. The soft grass cushioned her knees.

Kaftan jumped to his feet as he reached for a gun.

In the confusion, someone screamed.

Kaftan pushed away from the table and took off running.

She tried to teleport but her implant couldn’t find a path. :Titan?: There was nothing on the other end. It was possible to modulate energy waves to disrupt communication, like a white noise machine balancing out sound, but she’d never seen one on this scale.

“Selena?” Titan ran up to her, Arwel trailing behind him. “We need to get out.”

Arwel grabbed her arm. “What is happening?”

“I don’t know. I think Kaftan’s sale just went nova though.”

The sound of gun fire ripped through the air and turf exploded around them.

There were too many options. Keeping civilians safe took top priority, but she needed to finish the mission.

Titan squeezed her shoulder. “Go,” he said as if he could read her thoughts. “I’ve got the civilians.”

“Civilians?” Arwel echoed.

“Another time,” Selena said. “Go with Titan.” The words I Love You hung on her lips, not willing to fall. All she could manage was a tight smile. “Be safe.”

“Always.” His smile was enough.

Selena turned and ran into the debris cloud after Kaftan. Cycling her shields kept them up against the assault of the destabilizer but keeping it at full strength was impossible. A concussion grenade exploded near her feet and the shrapnel pummeled her bare legs.

Underfoot there was sharp joke and glass from a broken cup. All hidden by a smoky blue haze that burned her eyes and throat. Whoever had interrupted the party wasn’t worried about wasting resources. This was overkill.

“Minus ten points for style,” she muttered as she brought up a battle code. Let the grounders see her eyes glow, she was done pretending to be a civilian.

In the blink of an eye the battlefield changed from a field filled with chemical fog to a muted gray background where bodies appeared as bright red targets and the furniture became a soft green.

Kaftan was ahead of her, crawling on all fours towards the dubious safety of the house.

Rolling a clearing shield in front of her Selena brushed the debris away from her feet and ran after him.

Hot air turned to sticky condensation on her skin as Selena stalked forward. Her implant was filtering out sounds now, but she knew what she was missing… the screaming, the crying, the shouts of angry denial.

Ahead of her Kaftan managed to take down a guard with a quick stun shot. It wasn’t a bad idea, leave the soldier naked and unconscious and leave in his uniform. Kaftan was confident enough in his plan that he was stripping the guard down before the invaders opened fire.

Kaftan scrambled backward.

Selena blocked his path. “Oww!” Stupid yaldson was wearing boots.

The thief turned to her in surprise. “You again?”

She nodded.

“Sorry about this. Business gets messy sometimes,” he said as he raised his gun.

She pushed him so he was pointing at the attackers. “Did you bring them?”

“No!” He struggled to turn but she held him in place with telekyen and muscle.

“Who are they?”

“Someone who didn’t like the buy-in price for my auction, Arwel’s old clients, who knows. Let me go. What are you doing to me?”

She reached for his pocket where the datcube was. “Nothing personal. Just business. I know someone who will pay very well for the data you have.” Her fingers touched a hole in the lining of his jacket. Frantically she patted down the other side. “Where is it?”

Kaftan’s hand dropped, clenching and unclenching around the empty fabric. “I had it. It was… I fell.” He broke away from her, desperately searching the littered ground.

Everything looked the same to her. The datcube looked no different from a shard of glass and there was no way to do a search with her implant or by satellite. Panic closed her throat. She switched to normal vision and searched the grass for any sign of the datcube.

In the fog Kaftan squeaked joyfully.

She leaped, tackling him as another round of bullets ripped through the air.

“Trying to save me?” he panted.

“Not likely.” She punched him, but he rolled, pushing her away.

Kaftan kicked her bruised ribs.

The burst of pain made her see stars. Her muscles froze in agony. It was only for a few seconds, but it was enough.

Kaftan and the datcube were already out of reach.

But it was the little hairs on her arm standing on end that made her raise her full shield. A sense born of war and loss. When the blast hit she was thrown several meters, but she was alive.

She looked up, searching for Titan and saw his broad shield ripple and fall. He lay on the ground by a quivering Arwel.

Between her and safety the enemy was lining up another battery, like they were trying to herd everyone away from the exits.

No, not herd. Corral. Like forcing a squad of fighters into close formation so they could go down with one hit.

Without Titan’s shield everyone would die. She watched Kaftan bolt for the house, then turned and ran for Titan. Falling to her knees she checked his pulse. Alive, but bleeding and his eyes were glazed. “You were supposed to stay safe.”

“I tried.”

Arwel grabbed her arm with a bruising grasp. “What is happening? Why? Who?” He shook his head in confusion. “Your eyes are glowing.”

“I don’t know, but we can’t escape.”

“Can’t get a signal out,” Titan said weakly. “No rescue imminent.” He sighed and his eyes fluttered shut.

She brushed her hands across his face, assessing the damage and trying to attract his attention. He needed a full medbay, but even a nanite gel pack would be better than this. There was a box left on the Persephone.

Time slowed as she looked up beyond the haze and shields. “I can signal for backup.”

Titan managed to move his head. “Can’t reach Carver or Silar. Can’t reach Sabiha.”

“I don’t need Sabiha.” I need Persephone. She opened the link to her ship.

:Yes, captain?:

:Prepare a ground strike for these coordinates.:

There was a pause punctuated by another round of bullets spraying in front of the partygoers.

:Captain,: Persephone said, :those coordinates are very close to your current location. This action is not advised.:

:Story of my life.:

:Would you like to belay your order?:

The battery was nearly charged.

:Fire, Persephone. Make it a very precise hit.:

There was a muted grumble of protest from the AI.

Selena pushed Arwel down. “Close your eyes.” She held a hand over Titan’s face and looked up, watching the spear of deadly light fall.

It only took a moment. A ring of energy hit the ground with enough force to drive the attackers to their knees, and the following breaths let them inhale the heavy gases and fall unconscious.

A heartbeat later the entire district was red with alarms. The disrupters that had silenced communication were gone, the shield over the district burned with warning, and police sirens screamed in the distance.

Selena slumped down. “The cavalry is coming.”

As the dust cleared she saw Kaftan walking in a white business suit walking toward a waiting car. Looked like he was going to get his sale after all.

 

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