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.”

Meet The Characters
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Worth A Watch – Killjoys

My second Worth A Watch show is the Canadian export KILLJOYS on Syfy. Not only does a great job of putting a WOC front and center, but it’s also LGBT+ positive with good rep, and has some pretty good disability rep. It’s at times heart-breaking, sometimes heart-warming, always a touch crazy, and has some of the best secondary characters on TV at the moment.

What’s the story? Season 1 starts with a girl on the run and her best friend/bounty hunter buddy getting into a fight, then rescuing his brother, then getting in the middle of a major war. To survive everyone will need to face their pasts, admit their mistakes, accept their differences, and make the most of what they have.

It starts with all the classic tropes – big buff hero dude, geeky nerd type, beautiful and rich witch – and twists the tropes so they’re fun and wonderful again. There’s a found family vibe and the later seasons really look at class warfare and nationalism/racism in a way that doesn’t feel preachy. It’s fun but it’s heavy at times too. Did I mention the secondary characters that I love? This show has Pree played by the super sweet and totally talented Thom Allison who I may or may not Twitter-stalk sometimes. Pree is hilarious and for me he adds the bit of light, joy, and sarcasm that it needs to keep it from being too weighty.

Who’s it for? People who like strong female characters, platonic m/f relationships, strong communities, and Found Family stories. If Stephanie Plum ran away with the crew of Firefly but was good with guns you’d get something like Killjoys. It’s not quite space western, but it’s not Star Trek either. It’s a show for people who like explosions, one-liners, and fighting injustice.

What’s the culture like? Killjoys is a Canadian show so it feels more like what an American would expect. It’s more sexually open/sex positive than some American TV with a couple of major nudity scenes. Not Game of Thrones level nudity, but more than you’d find on prime time family TV in the USA. I bring this up because Killjoys is very casually LGBT+ positive. No one says they’re gay or not. No one mentions they’re bi. But it’s there. It’s accepted. It’s part of the character. It doesn’t feel gratuitous. And it isn’t an exploration of what it means to be a certain sexuality. There’s a feeling in a lot of Hollywood shows that someone being anything but heterosexual is a Really Big Deal and we need to talk about a coming out story, and then explore the sexual tension, and angst about feelings and not being “normal” … I think US television is kind of breaking away from it, but Killjoys does a good job of skipping the angst and letting characters be more than their sexuality.

Bonuses? Hackmods played by actual actors with disabilities. Found family vibes. Redeemed bad guy. Sassy AI. Secrets. Everyone is bisexual! Plus some super cute platonic relationships. PREE!!!!

What to watch out for? Major characters death, cliffhangers, and some really sad moments. For all the fun and wit Killjoys is not a comedy.

How many seasons? Three and we’re hoping to hear about S4 soon.

Dutch is the best, but Pree is the person I’m going to buy drinks and talk to all night.

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 20 (Part 2)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

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

Her perfection was tempered by humanity and a forgiving heart.

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

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

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

“I’m well, thank you, captain.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn’t look convinced.

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

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

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

He kept his mouth shut.

“Was it fleet business?”

“In a manner of speaking, captain.”

The creaking stopped.

“Explain.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why did she have a grounder identity?”

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

“Was the data recovered?”

“No, ma’am.”

“The thief?”

“Found dead after the incident.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She will be.”

The declaration hung between them.

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

“Yes.”

“Is it even legal?”

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

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

“I’ve looked worse.”

“Yes, you have. Dismissed.”

Titan saluted.

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

“I will.”

 

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 20 (Part 1)

TITAN

Start at Chapter 1

At four in the morning Titan gave up and lay down on the small couch in the back room where he’d been quarantined. The front rooms of Selena’s house had been turned into a Jhadarmi control center to handle the mess outside.

So, that was battle on grounder turf. Not nearly as neat and tidy as war viewed from a fighter’s cockpit. Things had… splashed. Shattered. He ran a hand down his leg over the healing burns of a broken oil lamp.

The nanite gel patch Selena had given him was speeding things up nicely. He’d have to figure out where she’d found one. It’d be a good segue to the conversation they were about to have about how she’d just bombed the planet from orbit.

Ancestors above, that had not been expected.

The Carylls were supposed to be out of the game. Defanged and harmless. The Persephone was listed as a floating wreck, no engines or weapons left, no repair possible. Selena wasn’t supposed to be able to produce a targeted strike like that. He wasn’t sure he could coax the Sabiha into half that precision, and she was the best ship in the Sciarra armada.

That was another thing to put on the to-do list. He sighed, and stared at a painting blue flower alien to him. The pearlescent white frame hide the scorch marks on the canvas well, but not well enough.

“Do you like it?” Selena’s voice startled him.

Titan stood up. “The flower? Yes, although I don’t know the name of it.”

“The blue dianthus is native to the Caryll home world. It’s been extinct since before the settlement of the Malik system. One of my ancestors painted the flowers in her garden before our family was called into the Emperor’s service. I had them removed from the Persephone before her final battle.”

She walked over to another painting and tapped the glass flame. “See this? The painting was burnt over three hundred years ago during a candlelit dinner between lovers.”

“How did that relationship end?”

“Poorly.” She sounded angrier than she looked.

Titan moved toward her, tugging gently with telekyen until she stepped into his embrace. “This is an impressive defensive position you built yourself.” Her skin was chill and there was a lingering scents of floral soap. At least she’d taken the time to wash away the blood of the day.

“Oh?” She lifted her chin so she could maintain eye contact. “Do you like my shield?”

“I do. Almost as much as I like the woman it’s guarding.”

Selena’s hands slid around his neck, caressing him, holding him…  Her head fell to his chest.

Titan’s hands wandered from her waist, massaging the muscles in her back. It was a stolen moment that wouldn’t last, but all happiness was built in stolen moments.

She groaned with pleasure, lifting her head.

He leaned down and trailed hungry kisses down her neck.

Her eyes fluttered open. “You’re making me forget why I came in here.” She touched his chest, starting to push him away, and then her fingers curled, pulling him closer. “I came to check on you.”

“That wasn’t a bad idea. It saves me from having to come fine you.” His found her lips, brushed across them in silent question.

Selena’s tongue ran across his mouth, begging for entry, and he let her in.

Their shields intertwined, melting together until every emotion circled back. He could feel her pleasure as he lifted her up, the hunger wasn’t in her kiss alone, but in her thoughts and pressure of her fingertips digging into his shoulders and pushing for more.

He stepped back until he fell onto the couch with Selena on top, her long, blonde hair falling around them. Her whole body grew warm. It was like holding the warmth of a flame, the tension in his muscles eased, and he was lost in her touch. Lost in the pleasure of finally holding her, kissing her. He’d risk death to stay beside her. Kill to keep her happy.

It took all his strength to open his eyes and focus on reality. The stunning, amazing, reality of Selena Caryll in his arms. “You’re beautiful.”

The look in her deep blue eyes was soft, glazed with pleasure as she stole another kiss he willingly gave.

If he could control time they’d stay here forever. Forget about the smoking ruins next door, and the mob of Jhandarmi and police on the other side the wall. All he wanted was to hold this moment forever.

Selena pulled away leaving him cold.

Reluctantly, he let his eyes drift open. The look of despair on her face stabbed at his heart. Words failed him. His blood pounded in his ears as he realized she was stepping away. “Selena?”

She held up a hand covered in blood.

Titan stared at it, light headed. “I…”

“You’re bleeding!”

Relief that she was angry over his healthy, not over his kiss, made him slump back in the cushions. “It’s bleeding less than it was. I’m fine.” He reached for her again.

Selena’s glare was fierce, and not nearly as playful as he wanted.

“I will live through this.”

“Sick leave, Sciarra, ever heard of it?” She spun around and marched off down a dark hall.

:Romance, Caryll, ever heard of it? If I have to chase you down, I might rip my stitches again.:

She teleported back to the room holding a square patch of a swollen, blue cloth. “You think I wouldn’t have noticed your stitches had ripped again? What was your plan here?”

“I’m not sure I had plans. Fantasies, yes, but not plans.”

The look she gave him was only a few degrees warmer than zero Kelvin. “You must not have gotten very far in your fantasies if you kept your shirt on.” A first-aid kit floated out of the cupboard. “Or were you planning on blindfolding me?”

“Tempting idea.” Titan pulled her back between his legs as she unwrapped the bandage. “But I doubt you want any more surprises after the day we’ve had.”

“Yet here you are,” she said as she lifted his shirt off, “surprising me in the worst ways.” Tender fingers ran along his side. “Why didn’t you say anything? I could have had a medic in here taking care of you.”

He glanced at his scars long enough for Selena to notice them.

“Oh.” She ran her hand along the grooves in his arm, then kissed him.

Titan drank her in, moonlight and power, the stars and the sky here with him.

“Who knew you had a poetic side?” she said with a smile. “I’ll the nanite patch on, then find you another shirt. Tyrling has almost finished out there and he’ll want to debrief you soon.” She peeled a backing off the blue patch and stuck a cool gel on his side. “Nanite patch,” she said by way of explanation. “It’ll boost your all-purpose nanites for twelve hours and help you recover faster.” Her smile was sorrowful.

“What’s wrong?”

“I have to let you go, don’t I?”

“Possibly, for a little bit. Elea will expect me to tell her face to face that I’m transferring to your crew.” Saying the words out loud felt strange, but there was pleasure in them. “And I ought to pack my gear. I won’t be gone long, promise.” He lifted her hand and kissed the palm.

She twined her fingers with his. “What am I going to do with you?”

Through their shared link he suggested multiple ideas.

Her cheeks blushed a bright pink as she smiled. “I think the zero-g one is probably out of the question in the near future. And at least two of those would require me to have my old Academy uniform. Is this a kink I should know about.”

“It’s an old fantasy,” Titan said, wrapping his arms around her. He let his gaze drop, running along her body like a caress. “Gi pants and a silver shirt dropping off your shoulder? Barefoot and soft-eyed on my lap?”

There was a twinkle and a hunger in her eyes.

“I think you underestimate how attractive you have always been. Said with all due respect, Captain.”

Selena laughed before kissing him again.

“Caryll!” Tryling’s bellow echoed through the room as a door slammed open behind them.

:Not a part of my fantasy,: Titan grumbled.

:Reality rarely us.: Selena stood up and teleported in a shirt that she tossed at him. “Sir? I’m over here.”

Tyrling walked around the couch and nodded to him. “You look more alive than you did.”

“Thank you,” Titan said. “I hope you’ll forgive the lack of proper reception.”

“Kaftan’s dead,” Tyrling said without preamble. “Shot in the head at point-blank range and dropped behind the hypertram station. A couple of patrollers found him ten minutes ago already going cold. The datcube was missing.”

Selena crossed her arms. “That’s it the?. We don’t have any other leads?”

“I might have another one,” Titan said. “The Sekoos reached out to Rowena and said they had some of the medicine Aronia needs.”

The look Selena gave him could have peeled paint off a hull.

“It was something I wanted to talk about in private, but then we were getting shot at.” He shrugged apologetically. His side ached in protest.

“Convenient,” Tyrling muttered.

“Very,” Selena agreed. “How did they get the medicine?”

Titan tipped his head in acknowledgment. “How do they get anything? They’re a C-class crew, non-combatants, but they adapted to Landing quick enough. They sell scrap metal for the most part, and I’m sure some of their contacts would have black market contacts.” He grimaced as he realized how bad that sounded. “Maybe just back channel. Not illegal, but unofficial?” He reached out to Selena, :What’s the grounder word for this?:

:Black market is probably accurate.: She crossed her arms. “What do the Sekoos want from Lee in return?”

“Me,” Titan said.

Selena’s eyes went wide and the memory of a burning precision strike hit his shield with full force. :No.:

“Lily wants an hour of my time,” he out loud for the director’s benefit. “Not for anything physical, she wants to talk,” Titan said. He reached for Selena. :I love you. It won’t be anything but a talk.:

“Do you object to going?” Tyrling asked.

“Not unless Selena objects.” What he wouldn’t give to have a few hours truly alone with her. To talk. To hold her. Giving time to Lily Sekoo seemed like a crime, but he was a fleet officer and someone needed his help.

Selena smiled softly. :We’ll have time together.:

:Never enough.:

“I don’t mind Sciarra going,” she said in a formal tone. “It’s business. Part of the job is sometimes spending time with people we wouldn’t pick to socialize with in our free time.”

“Too true,” Tyrling said but his eyes were narrowed in thought.

Titan gave Selena’s arm a mental tug so she took a step closer and he could touch her hand. He needed her touch right now, the memory of moon and star light, of safety and serenity.

:Poet.: Her gentle laugh was a balm.

Tyrling cleared his throat. “Did I miss something here? I thought you didn’t know him well,” he said pointing from Selena to Titan.

“We’re, um…” Selena frowned and Titan saw the tumble of words her implant was sorting through. “I don’t know what the grounder equivalent. Not dating, because that’s how you get to know someone, but not officially a spousal couple? Engaged sounds a bit too militant.”

“We’re courting,” Titan said. “It’ll be official once my captain gives her seal of approval and permits me to move to another crew. Which will probably be later today unless someone starts another war.” He squeezed Selena’s hand.

Tyrling blinked. “That’s… fine? Does this mean I’m losing you, Caryll?”

“Titan will be my second. We’ll negotiate a new contract, read him in, and you’ll get my full crew backing Jhandarmi operations. It’ll open a avenues of inquiry for us. We’ve talked about investing more in my business person persona. It’ll be easier to sell that with Titan beside me.”

“Fine. We’re going to be renegotiating with Enclave anyway. Might as well rearrange everything in my life. Maybe I can go home and move my furniture around tonight. That way I can know everything’s changed.”

The word MOVE triggered a cascade of memories from the previous night. Titan raised a finger for attention. “There’s something I forgot.”

Selena and Tyrling both turned to him.

“Last night Kaftan said the suppliers ordered the hit to clear a Star Guard out of the way. If he stole the medicine to sell, why would he say suppliers?”

Tyrling rolled his neck, glared at the ceiling, and cursed. “I knew we were missing something! That’s why Kaftan was on the tram. He wasn’t coming to town, he was working on the tram. Switching goods in the boxes.”

“Then, what, someone took what he smuggled in out of the warehouse?” Selena asked.

The director nodded. “It’s a classic move. Change out the already cleared cargo, leave money or goods, take the boxes from the warehouse after they’re unloaded.”

“Why leave the disaster then?” Selena asked. “If Kaftan could get in and out without leaving a trace why would he need to blow the warehouse doors in.”

“Amateurs,” Titan said thinking back on his conversation with Rowena. “Kaftan knew what he was doing, but his suppliers didn’t. They were amateurs, inexperienced, so they didn’t know how to cover their tracks. They probably thought the threat of an assassination attempt would be enough to keep the guardians cowed.”

Selena shook her head in disagreement. “No one would think that. No one in fleet.”

“It makes sense,” Tyrling said. “Basic crime theory says the first crimes a person commits are the most personal, and the most likely to reveal how they work. Look at what they left: explosive markings, a mess, and signs of fear, not of the Jhandarmi but of fleet. Which makes me wonder what they were giving Kaftan.”

That seemed obvious. “Tech,” Titan said. “The weapons last night, the disruptor that silenced communications, I bet they were all old fleet tech. Obsolete for the most part, but every crew has a junk ship piled up with bits and pieces they hope they can one day re-purpose. You don’t destroy anything because there’s no way to replace it once it’s gone. We don’t have the resources to be wasteful.”

“And the antiques market is the biggest source of income for the crews,” Selena said. “Selling off old scrap computers can be profitable. Crack the hull! A crew wouldn’t even need to sell weapons. Some of those could have been sitting in grounder vaults since before isolation. All they needed for half of them was an upgraded power source.”

Titan stood up. “I know how we can find out. Want to bet me dinner I can sweet talk Lily Sekoo into letting the name of her contact drop?” He winked at Selena.

She rolled her eyes. “Ridiculous man. Fine, yes, go be charming. But bet my lunch. I don’t want you gone that long.” She reached up and brushed debris from his shoulder. “Stay off the training mats, okay? You’re supposed to be healing.”

Titan leaned down and gently kissed her. “I’ll be back in time for lunch. Promise.” He smiled to Tyrling as he headed for the door.

“What, no kiss for me?” the director demanded.

With a  grin, Titan leaned over and kissed Tyrling’s cheek. “Love you too. Promise. Just not as much as her.” He teleported to Enclave, catching the full strength of his aunt’s wrath as he passed through the Enclave shield. The orders were clear: report to the captain. Immediately.

It was time to let Captain Sciarra know where he’d been all night, and with who.

 

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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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Impulse Buy Book of the Week: GETHYON by Pippa Jay

Abandoned. Hunted. Out of control. 

Gethyon Rees had always felt at odds with the universe, and hoped for an escape among the stars. But discovering he has the ability to cross time and space with just a thought brings more problems than it solves: a deadly bounty hunter who can follow him anywhere, the unwelcome return of Tarquin Secker—the mother who abandoned him—and an ancient darkness that seeks him and all those with his talents.

When an unforgivable act sets him on the run, it’ll take more than his unearthly powers to save his skin and the lives of those he cares about. It’ll take a sacrifice he never expected to have to make.

 

$3.99
Amazon
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A science fiction adventure novel previously published by BURST (Champagne Books), and part of the Travellers Universe. A 2014 SFR Galaxy Award Winner for Most Awesome Psychic Talent and a 2015 EPIC eBook Awards finalist in the Science Fiction category. Also now includes the SF short story The Bones of the Sea.

“With colorful worlds full of nuance and dimension, characters that walk off the page…” J.C. Cassels, author of The Black Wing Chronicles series

“This fast-paced, gripping ride zips through time and space, love and loss, rebellion and acceptance.” Anna McLain, SFR Galaxy Award judge

 
Pippa JayAfter spending twelve years working as an Analytical Chemist in a Metals and Minerals laboratory, Pippa Jay is now a stay-at-home mum who writes scifi and the supernatural. Somewhere along the way a touch of romance crept into her work and refused to leave. In between torturing her plethora of characters, she spends the odd free moment playing guitar very badly, punishing herself with freestyle street dance, and studying the Dark Side of the Force. Although happily settled in the historical town of Colchester in the UK with her husband of 22 years and three little monsters, she continues to roam the rest of the Universe in her head.

Pippa Jay is a dedicated member of the Science Fiction Romance Brigade, and Broad Universe, blogging at Spacefreighters Lounge, Adventures in Scifi, and Romancing the Genres. Her works include YA and adult stories crossing a multitude of subgenres from scifi to the paranormal, often with romance, and she’s one of eight authors included in a science fiction romance anthology—Tales from the SFR Brigade. She’s also a double SFR Galaxy Award winner, been a finalist in the Heart of Denver RWA Aspen Gold Contest (3rd place), the 2015 EPIC eBook awards, the 2015 RWA LERA Rebecca (2nd place), and the GCC RWA Silken Sands Star Awards (2nd place).

You can stalk her at her website, or at her blog, but without doubt her favorite place to hang around and chat is on Twitter as @pippajaygreen.

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Impulse Buy Book of the Week: MACHINATIONS by Hayley Stone

Machinations_StonePerfect for fans of Robopocalypse, this action-packed science-fiction debut introduces a chilling future and an unforgettable heroine with a powerful role to play in the battle for humanity’s survival. 

The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race.

A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself.

Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

$2.99
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“A tension-filled story of loss, loyalty, and forgiveness, with abundant Terminator-style shoot-em-up scenes and a snarky, kickass female warrior. I inhaled it!”
Jennifer Foehner Wells, bestselling author of Fluency

 
“This violent, bloody, romantic tale is full of awesome mechanical foes and authentic characters you love or hate, like real people . . . The nuances of the title promise more than meets the eye, and the prose delivers.”
Perihelion
 

Machinations is an action-packed SF thriller loaded with fantastic characters and gut-wrenching emotional twists. [. . .] The prose is stunning, the action is non-stop.”
Linnea Sinclair, RITA Award-winning author of Gabriel’s Ghost
 

Machinations is a thrilling fusion of action and heartbreak, with quick pacing, rich characters, and a one-of-a-kind story. A great debut.”
G.T. Almasi, author of Blades of Winter

 

Hayley Stone_author photo_2_resizeHayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as a graphic designer, falls in love with videogame characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento.

Machinations is her debut novel from Hydra/Random House. Its sequel, Counterpart, releases October 11th, 2016.

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