Thank you for reading BODIES IN MOTION!

Dear Reader,

Thank you for coming along on the journey that is BODIES IN MOTION.

When I first came up with this story it was something much shorter, with much less depth and impact. It was a story about a missed opportunity, a war, and a second chance at love. I toyed with the idea of writing the war itself, and decided that the war never mattered. Wars happen all the time. Wars are universally painful. Wars are universally tragic. Even when a war wins something crucial – like freedom or safety – everyone who survives walks away scarred. What is unique is how those survivors live with the scars.

The common wisdom is that wars and collapses of society are exciting, but rebuilding is boring. I hope BODIES IN MOTION gave you a different perspective. Personally, I’ve seen enough war in my lifetime. I’ll probably live to see more war and more scars. But with every war will come the challenge to rebuild. With every scar we’re given a chance to rebuild ourselves, or let the wound seep, rot, and inevitably destroy us. I’d rather rebuild than rot.

BODIES IN MOTION became not just a larger novel, but also my first serial novel, and that was a fun adventure.

One of my dedicated fans in Australia wrote to tell me she was late to work because a chapter posted and she had to read before leaving home (Sorry!). People from all around the globe found BODIES IN MOTION. We chatted about who was guilty, who was falling in love, and speculated on who Rowena would find love with in LAWS OF ATTRACTION. Can I tell you a secret? Up until June Rowena was slotted for a very different story arc and One True Love. Up until early June, she was actually going to meet a new character in LAWS OF ATTRACTION.

One scene changed that.

The interaction was too good between Rowena and (SPOILER!) so I threw out everything I had for Book 2 and took LAWS OF ATTRACTION in a completely different direction. I have the first quarter of the book written and I think you’ll like it. But you’ll have to wait until 2018 to read.

For now, BODIES IN MOTION will stay up in all it’s drafty glory on the blog. Most of you already know how to get EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE for free (hint: sign up for my newsletter), but I think for other readers who stumble across here in the next year or so BODIES IN MOTION is a good place to start.


BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 23 (Part 2)


Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please?” His voice shattered with fear.

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

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

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

“But… the shield?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn’t let the Sekoos hurt her.

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

Selena had connected to him and was sharing his agony.

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

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

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

And then the ship was gone.

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

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

It was the first smart thing they’d done.

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

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

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

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

She didn’t acknowledge him.

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

Titan looked up.

Nothing was moving in Enclave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They deserve to die.”

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

Her eyebrows drew together in frustration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did that by pulling an IV out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selena took a breath, hesitating, uncertain…

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

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

Air rushed back into Enclave with a clap of thunder.

Noise returned, a babble of voices and chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perrin Carver and Hollis Silar teleported in front of Lily.

She screamed wordlessly.

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

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

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

“You let me live,” Lily said.

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

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

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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 23 (Part 1)


Start at Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Lily looked at Titan speculatively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And combat gravity!”

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

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

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

The ship tilted and Lily laughed with mad delight.

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

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

“We have three,” Lily said.

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

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

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

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

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

Titan shook his head.

“The shield’s not down!”

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

“Put the ship down,” Titan said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Cannons two minutes to full charge.”

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

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

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

“It’s nothing,” Lily said.

There was another spine-chilling crunch.

Titan’s eye twitched.

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

Somewhere in the depths of the ship, someone screamed.

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

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

“Collapsing? How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then how are be airborne?” Lily asked.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 20 (Part 2)


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.


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?”


“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)


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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 18 (Part 2)


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“Taking your victims home is messy,” Titan said. “Unprofessional. Your DNA will be all over her.”

“Don’t worry,” Kaftan said. “I’m good at making these things look like accidents.” He smoothed his hand over his pants. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go circulate. Can’t get a good auction if you don’t have buyers frothing at the mouth.”

“Kaftan?” Titan said, stalling.

The man turned. “What? What I says goes. Done is done.”

“This is a side matter, something personal.”

Kaftan slowed and pivoted back to him. “I’m listening.”

“During this operation, my employer hired some local talent. Sent orders outside our usual chain of command. Me and my fellows had a bet about who’s name was to be rubbed out. Care to give me a hint? I can make it worth your trouble.”

“Shame I’m a thief, not a liar, I’d love to take your money. But I don’t know. The supplier said it would be easier for them if a certain officer of the law was scrubbed out. Would have put the city on high alert if any more of them dropped. It was bad for business. If the supplier wants to do something now, that’s their business.” Kaftan shrugged as he walked off.

Titan stared after him in horror. Employers and suppliers did not add up to a small operation. He turned just in time to see Arwel sweep through a group of giggling women who were enjoying an anecdote from a dark-haired model.

“Sir! I apologize, I didn’t catch your name when you came in.”

“Ty is what my friends call me.” He watched as Selena moved out of view following one of the illuminated paths into the artificial jungle. “Was there something you needed?”

“Need? No. I want to introduce you to someone if you feel inclined to socialize.”

More like he wanted to steer his unvetted visitors away from the black market traders, but at this point any information would help. He hadn’t missed a mission briefing since he was fourteen, now it seemed like he’d have to reset the clock.

His host gestured for him to follow along a flagstone path. “Are you enjoying the garden?”

“It’s… interesting,” Titan said.

“Different than the formal gardens in Descent I imagine. I’ve been to Kytan, of course, it’s practical a requirement if you love horticulture, but it was the wind forests in Essan that really captured my imagination. The little rock pools and hidden forests tucked away in the rills and valleys were quite breathtaking.”

Titan nodded as he made a note to look up the places Arwel was naming.

“That couldn’t be done here, naturally,” the man continued on as the path snaked across a decorative creek and behind the crashing sound of the waterfall, “but I think my designer did a good job of catching the creative spirit of the original. There are hidden vistas around

every corner. And hidden beauty.” He stopped and smiled.

It took Titan a moment to realize that Selena was standing in the shadows of the artificial rocks watching the party. Their approach hadn’t triggered a response.

His approach hadn’t trigged a response. He’d expected their shields to synch again, but they weren’t. She’d reconfigured hers in the brief time they’d been apart.

Arwel winked at him and mouthed, “Good luck,” before slipping away down the path.

For a moment Titan let the moment be. Selena Caryll, alone in the moonlight and shadows, waiting for a chance to step into the spotlight. She was beautiful.

And tired.

There was the first dark shadow of fatigue under her eyes, a hint of strain around her eyes, a pinch to her lips that spoke of anger, weariness, and control. He wanted to take away her worry, rush her away from her, or fight the battle, or do whatever needed to be done to wash the darkness from her eyes.

Stepping loudly he walked up behind her.

Selena pivoted, a wide-eyed expression of startlement and fear on her face. For a drawn out moment she stared at him uncomprehending? “Titan?”


She shook her head in disbelief, shields and data tight as the night she’d punched him. “You’re not supposed to be here! You need to leave. Now.”

“I will, in a moment.” If she gave him no other choice. “But I behaved badly earlier and I wanted to apologize.”

He expected her to draw up her shoulders and nod knowingly the way most people did when he acknowledged he treated them poorly. Selena only looked at him in confusion.

“This afternoon,” he said, slowly trying to feel his way across the sudden gap between them, “I left. With Lily Sekoo. Because she was injured, and I didn’t check on you. As your partner I should have followed up.”

“You were concussed, bleeding, and your implant was exhausted. You didn’t to do anything but get to the Sabiha’s medical bay without collapsing. Which it seems you did. Well done. Go home.”

“I came to make sure you were okay.”

Selena shrugged. “I received the medical treatment I needed. Does that satisfy you?”

“Not really,” he admitted. Again, he felt there was a key piece to the puzzle that was missing. None of her reactions made any sense. Immediate forgiveness was probably unlikely, but being locked out hurt.

She raised her eyebrows. “What?”

“I thought we’d developed a bit more of a dialog and I’d get more information than an ensign on their first day on the bridge.”

Glancing back through the trees at the part Selena sighed impatiently. “Would you believe me if I said it wasn’t personal?”

“If it didn’t feel personal, yes.”

She glared at him, blue eyes cold as the black between stars. “I did what you suggested and archived my war memories so I could focus on the task at hand.”

Titan expanded his shield so it brushed against Selena’s. It was like trying to catch mist in his hand. “Did I hurt you so much that you had to erase me too?”

“It was a calculated decision.” Her voice was chilly and distant. “Painful. Torturous. I can’t go through that again. I can’t take another loss like I did with the Persephone and my crew.”

“And, you think I’d leave you?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Her forehead crinkled as she let her fear bubble to the surface. “When this is over and you have no reason to keep company with me? When your crew, and captain, and allies start questioning why you spend time with that worthless Selena Caryll, what did you plan on doing?”

“I planned on asking permission to court you.”

She closed her eyes. “Oh, Titan.”

“Did you not want that?” He sorted through every moment they’d spent together trying to find the cues he’d missed.

“As a woman, yes, I’d be delighted to be courted by you. As a senior officer? No, I can’t let you for the same reasons your captain will reject the suggestion: I have nothing to offer.”

Titan took a step closer. “What do you mean?”

“There is no advantage to your crew if you court me. I can’t offer ships, officers, training berths, or even a social boost. I’m worthless.”

Force teleporting a captain somewhere so he could yell at her gave him an estimated survival rate of zero-point-nine percent, his implant informed him. Besides, he didn’t have a suitable venue picked out. Clearly an oversight.

Selena crossed her arms, signaling an end of the discussion.

“What about your intelligence?” Titan asked.

She shrugged. “What about it?”

“Isn’t that something you can offer? Your years of experience? Your contacts with the locals, which are obviously much more developed than you led anyone to believe. My captain doesn’t need ships, she needs to build a future. I need a future.”

“I doubt your crew would accept that argument.”

“Then I find another crew.”

The nearby waterfall seemed to grow louder as the silence stretched between them.

Finally Selena said, “You don’t mean that.”

“I do.” He tried to force a smile. “It was bound to happen anyway, wasn’t it? If you wanted to change crews you would have done it by now. That means you want to keep the Caryll name and any spouse will have to join your crew.”

“I don’t want to ask for that kind of sacrifice.”

“You don’t need to.” He risked taking another step closer.

Her crossed arms became a closed-shoulder self-hug. She shook her head. “You think you know how this ends. You think you’ll spend more time with me, learn my secrets, and still love me. You won’t. Whatever fantasy you’ve built in your head, I’m not that woman.”

“I don’t have any fantasies, not about who you are at least,” Titan said. “I’ve seen you work, and fight, and lead. I’m not promising you every day will be perfect, but the bad days together will be worth fighting for. I know that. Because when I’m around you I’m happy. I have hope.”

“Don’t do that,” she said, her voice breaking. “Don’t make me your source of happiness. I can’t give you that.”

Titan stepped close enough to reach her if he dared. “I’m not asking you for anything but a chance to be beside you every day. The good days and the bad. I promise you, I’ll always be there.”

She shook her head again. “No. No you won’t. There’s things I’ve done-“

“We’ve all done things!” He inhaled sharply to keep from yelling. “We’ve all done things,” he said again, quieter this time. “We aren’t children. We’re survivors of a war and there isn’t anyone here who can’t tell you who they killed, or who they wanted dead, or who killed someone they loved. That happened. There’s nothing you did that would make me think less of you.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Then tell me,” Titan challenged. “Tell me what you did that you think I’ll never forgive. If you’re right, I’ll leave. If you’re wrong…” He spread his hands in surrender. “We’re all wrong sometimes.”

Selena turned away, shields tightening around her.

“If you’re going to banish me from your life, shouldn’t it be like you’re imagining? Let me storm out.”

“Can’t you just accept that you’d hate me?”

He took a deep breath and resisted the urge to start the next civil war at some grounder’s garden party. Luckily, his ancestors had blessed him with a wealth of stubborn women in his life so he knew the right answer here. Very calmly he said, “You do not get to dictate my feelings or my reactions. You can give me facts, but that’s all you can do. I get to choose whether I am angry or not. I’m not an infant who needs protection. Let me take my hits like an adult.”

An angry silence shimmered in the air between them.

Titan smiled. “That’s what I thought.”

Selena frowned over her shoulder at him, half question, half condemnation.

“You’re not worried about what I think at all. It’s not my forgiveness you’re doubting.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“If your goal was driving me away, and you had a weapon to use, you’re smart enough that you would have used it by now.”

She turned slowly, unfolding with a quiet fury until she looked every inch a fleet captain. “Did it ever occur to you that I was trying to spare you?”

“I don’t need to be spared.”

Silver-blue lightning flickered in her eyes. “I shot you down. That night Balaur led the strafing run?  It wasn’t Hollis Silar with Perrin and Hermione, he didn’t have the fighters. I did. I took the shot that should have killed you.”

The memory was still raw, the smoke in the cockpit burning his lungs, the alarms and sound, the rushing sensation has true gravity grabbed him and pulled him down. His throat tightened around a remembered scream.

“I shot you down, and you weren’t there when Balaur needed you. You missed the war. You let people die.”

He shook his head, forcing his thoughts to the present. “No. That’s me. That’s survivor’s guilt. You may have heard the echoes in my mind, and I’m sorry for that, but that’s not me. I know if I’d been there for Mal I would have either died in war or been executed after. The Sciarra crew wouldn’t have survived. My Aunt Elea never would have taken control of the crew. Mars. Rowena. All of them would have died if I hadn’t been there after the war. I was the only Warmonger the Star Guard would take. Carver trusts my loyalty and common sense, and me being free of the war is the only bridge we had to rebuild on.”

“That doesn’t make it forgivable.”

“Maybe it makes it inevitable,” Titan said. “Maybe our ancestors knew and changed your shot.”

She curled back in on herself. “Or maybe I’m a worthless shot. If you’d died we may not have ever gone to war.”

Stepping forward he held out his hand, silently willing her to reach for him. “Our other was starvation. Maybe not for your crew, but most the Warmongers were low on rations. We’d been limiting births, cutting back training, we were dying. Landing at least gives us a chance to live, even if it means changing how we do things. I’m not ever going to be angry that you shot me down. It was the right choice.” He gave her shield a gentle nudge as tears filled her eyes. “Selena, I’m here.”

With a tiny grumble of forfeit she stepped forward into his waiting arms.

Titan wrapped his arms around her, lowering his shields so there was a place for her and her wet cheek rested on his chest.

“If you say I’m beautiful when I’m angry or something stupid I’m going to drop-kick you into vacuum,” she muttered as she hugged him back.

“Not a word,” he promised, though she was always beautiful. He traced the painting on her arm, the stars and comets with silver tails that were three thick, wide grooves in her arm. They started just above her elbow at almost the same place his scars ended.

Selena shivered and pulled herself together as her shield melded with his. Gently, she pushed him away. “I…”  There was a tsunami of emotions flooding his senses. She wanted to apologize, wanted to yell, wanted to run away from all of this, but the core of Selena had always been duty. Loving a captain was like that, it meant loving not only them but their work.

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “I know, the job comes first.”

“I need to go keep an eye on Kaftan.”

“He knows you were there today,” Titan said. “He saw you.”

She tossed her wet hair. “I was counting on it.” The words dripped fleet arrogance. With a smile she ran a hand down his shirt. “You really should go, though. You’re exhausted and you’re injured.”

“I’d rather stay nearby even if I’m not involved in the op. Kaftan said something that makes me think we don’t have a handle on this yet, and I don’t want you walking into this alone.” He shot her the conversation as he felt her gathering her objections. “I promise to stay out of the way and only jump to the rescue if you actually need.”

“Hmm, Captain Sciarra trained you how to be a second in command very well.”

He chuckled. “Don’t I get credit for doing anything on my own?”

“Mmmm…” She wrinkled her nose. “No. Not when you’re wounded. Maybe when you can fight back…”

The image of hitting the wrestling mats with Selena made his heartrate jump.

Soft fingers caressed his jaw. “It’s been a while since I had a training partner.”

“I’ll tell Silar he needs to find someone else’s ribs to break.” He kissed her fingertips before she pulled away.

Her smile was pure bliss.

“Couldn’t we leave Kaftan for the night? There are so many better things I can think to do.”

“Tempting, but if the Lees need the medicine, we need information now not later. If we catch Kaftan selling the information we can probably get him to hand over the details of the heist.”

Titan closed his eyes and sighed. When he’d pictured declaring his undying love to someone he hadn’t factored in the possibility she’d be in the middle of a mission. Although, considering the kind of women he was attracted to, that was a dramatic oversight. He made a mental note to warn his future children that chasing aggressively intelligent lovers would mean chasing them into the field sometimes.

Selena leaned in. “I can hear your brain overheating.”

“I’m making notes.”

“For children we don’t have yet.”

“It’s still something I need to remember.” She’d said YET. He was giddy with hope. “I should let Ro know I’m staying here for a bit before she raises a fuss.”

Nodding, Selena stepped away. “And I need to find Kaftan and convince him I’m enamored with his self-absorption and money.” She winked at him. “How do I look?”

“More beautiful than the moon and stars.”

She sent him a burst of affection and then hurried away through the shadows back to Arwel’s party.

:Ro?: He kept the message on a tight beam so he didn’t trigger any of the grounder’s safety precautions.

:Where in the name of my ancestors are you?: Rowena demanded. :Mars is pacing and I almost bit my nails.:

:Don’t lie. You never do that.:

She an image of a thread she’d unwound from her socks. :We’re worried. And bored. Mostly bored. Are you done chasing shadows?:

:I’m staying here tonight.:

Rowena responded with a memory of her banging her head on the hull of the engine room.

:It’s not what you think. Selena is helping the Jhandarmi and I’m being a perfect gentleman.:

:I know what that means,: Rowena said caustically. :And I can’t imagine you have the energy to make their whole team that happy in one night.:

He smiled. :I’m a talented man.:

:You’re going to be a dead one if you-: Rowena cut herself short.

Titan waited, then pinged her. :Ro? Are you okay?:

There was the faintest tracery of contact, a simple message on a distress frequency.

He pinged Selena and felt the message break apart as soon as it left his shield. Someone was jamming fleet communications. They were under attack.


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BODIES IN MOTION: Chapter 18 (Part 1)


Start at Chapter 1

It was quiet downtown.

There were no generators running to keep the air pure in the ships; no family arguments spilling out of cargo holds to become fistfights on the rocks. On the horizon there was no wall, and no OIA building standing sentinel.

A light breeze ruffled luminescent leaves, pale and green, on the thin branches of the terraformed trees lining the road. Their soft light was enough frame the row of elegant homes, subdued visions of grounder wealth.

Caryll’s signature this here, but cycling, like she was walking in and out of a shield.

Titan raised an eyebrow and slipped on the Guardian Veil. A faint shimmer gave away a hidden shield over a large house in the middle of the block. There was a wide, inviting porch held up by white columns and three stories of windows.

There were smaller ships in Enclave.

He approached cautiously, testing the limits of the shield. The first layer was a scatter field meant to make people look away. It would discourage random intrusions but not much else. The next layer in—Titan jumped back, mentally stung. He’d wager a week’s pay that the next layer was set to kill anyone who touched the house.

It was not the kind of shield someone put over a Jhandarmi safe house during peacetime. It was a war shield meant to repel everything up to and including an orbital bombardment. Someone had been making a point.

The Carylls had a few shields like that, most of them tuned to attack only things or people with telekyen in their system. A groundsider was probably safe knocking on the door.

He wasn’t.

Rocking back on his heels, he grimaced. Teleporting home was probably the best option. Selena was safe enough behind that shield.

As long as she stayed there.

Her signal appeared again, inside the house next door to the heavily shielded one. When the Jhandarmi director had said there was a safe house in the area he hadn’t expected the two addresses to share a fence line. But the address was the one Kafftan’s victim had dropped.

Pulling his shields in close so that Selena wouldn’t sense him, he weighed his options. If she’d gone in it was to make contact with the Jhandarmi operative. It could mean nothing. It could mean trouble.

Titan hesitated, watching the movement of shadows in the windows of the house.

The door to the house opened, spilling light into the dark street. “Hey!” a figure in the doorway shouted. “You coming in, man?”

Titan tilted his head to the side.

“Party’s going raw!” The figured gestured wildly.

Telling himself it was due diligence, Titan approached, grateful he’d changed out of his uniform before going to meet Rowena. The long-sleeved shirt meant to wear under a pilot’s jacket and black cargo pants didn’t scream Fleet, although they probably weren’t the height of grounder fashion either.

As Titan drew closer, he could see the man, a tall and muscled man with blond hair pulled back in a bun. He was wearing shorts and nothing else.

Apparently, cargo pants made him over-dressed for this event.

The blond tipped his head. “You new in town?”

“I’m from Descent,” Titan said, a plausible lie. Hard for a Tarrin to check and he knew the accent. All he had to do was think back to Marshall’s first year at the Academy.

“Right!” The man held out his hand. “Arwel, Arwel Art and Design. Come on in. Did you bring swim gear?”

“Um… no,” Titan said as he stepped into the domed entry way. Life-size photographs of women lined the walls, all strikingly beautiful, all painted with elaborate body art.

“Stunning, aren’t they?” Arwel asked. “All mine.”

Titan raised his eyebrows. “All the women?”

“Oh!” Arwel’s eyes went wide in shock. “No, no, no. All the art. I painted them. I’m painting tonight too. Was that… Wasn’t that what you were expecting?”

An honest answer wasn’t going to work, so he found another lie. “I met a woman downtown in an art gallery and she mentioned she might be here. I found myself at loose ends this evening so…” Titan let him fill in the gaps.

“Brunette, blonde, or red head?” Arwel asked.

“Blonde.” Titan’s searched the gallery for Selena’s face, but she wasn’t on display.

Arwel’s face brightened into a wide smile. “Willowy blonde with fair skin and ocean-blue eyes?”

Titan nodded.

“Selena!” Arwel said. “She brings in the best international clients. She’s out back by the pool. I just finished her shoulder. Unless you’re an artist you probably won’t notice how flawless her skin is, but trust me, she’s the perfect canvas.”

“I’ve noticed she’s flawless.” In so many ways.

Arwel chuckled. “Yeah, good luck with that.” He patted Titan on the back. “That woman is married to her work. I have watched many a man and woman fly to that sun and be burned.”



“Selena means moon,” Titan corrected. “And I’m not Icarus. I doubt I’ll get burned.”

“That’s the right attitude.” Arwel clapped him on the back again. “Come on through the kitchen. There’s a guest bathroom with outfits over there if you feel like taking a dip. Have you been to an event like this before.”

Flight team parties probably didn’t count. “No.”

“It’s more a Tarrin thing, I think. This is a networking event. Jorjes Kerl of Kerl Investments is looking to hire new talent, so he scheduled with me. Anyone interested came come. I provide the venue, the food, the models, and everyone else gets to shine. You will notice the models are exceptionally food at getting your logo seen. Feel free to ask any of them about the advertisements painted on them. Everyone I hire is tested for memory and trained for sales. This is the least intrusive way to get your brand noticed by investors.” Arwel’s sales pitch rambled on.

Titan tuned him out, nodding where needed, as he assessed the situation.

The kitchen had been laid out with trays of food and drinks ready to be taken outside. Tidy packets of swim wear and towels were available for guests. He didn’t reach for one though Arwel made a point of offering the packet to him. Titan’d never learned to swim and didn’t see a reason to start now.

The gray-tiled kitchen flowed out to a seating area, then to a wide deck and a garden beyond. People in a variety of swim accessories moved between tables and lounging areas. Painted men and women worked the crowd, standing and posing in the lights before moving away again.

At the center of the garden was a waterfall, rushing over artfully arranged rocks into a jewel-blue pool lit from within. A plaster gem in an artificial paradise.

Arwel stepped up beside him, beaming at the stage he’d set. “Lovely, isn’t it? All the exotic colors of the islands without pesky things like traveling or insects.”

“It’s… something,” Titan agreed.

“Give it an hour,” Arwel said. “It’s early and no one’s relaxed yet. Once they’re done sorting out dominance and using up their best pick-up lines on my models they’ll start having fun. That’s when the real networking begins. Get two people chatting by the pool about what macroeconomics and a year later we have a new company in the commerce district. It’s magical!”

Titan didn’t even feign interest. Grounder commerce and capitalism were – thankfully – above his pay grade. All he was interested in was spotting Selena, and the Jhandarmi operative, before they spotted him.

A man in the crowd noticed Arwel on the patio and waved him over.

“Excuse me,” Arwel said. “I’ve got to go play host. If you need introductions, come find me.”

“I will. Thank you.” Titan nodded as Arwel walked away. A sweeper pass brushed against Titan’s shield like a cold breeze. In it he caught Selena’s now-familiar touch and an echo of concern. She was on guard, but not aware he was there. Yet.

It took all his focus to keep his shield from adjusting and melding with hers.

Behind him someone opened the patio door and then shut it with a slide and a snick. “Are you from Descent?”

“Yes,” Titan said as he turned.

Kaftan stood beside him. A little shorter than he’d seemed in the tunnels, bonier than most grounders, with a sandy stubble on his chin and red-rimmed eyes he looked more like a destitute dock worker than a thief and a killer. But it took all kinds.

“Didn’t I say I’d handle it?” Kaftan demanded, lips curling into a snarl. “Tell your lady I don’t need a bodyguard or a babysitter.”

Titan kept his face emotionless as a thousand possibilities flew through his mind. “I’m not here to do either,” he said carefully. “At the moment, I’m a casual observer.”

“Ha!” Kaftan stalked over to the ledge and gripped the railing like he meant to strangle it. “So you’re the cleaning crew.”

“Only if you need one.”

Kaftan’s right hand jerked to the front pocket of his pants, then darted away. “You can leave. Sonya and I had an agreement; she got what she wanted and I got what I wanted. Almost didn’t because of that fish-brained gizzard-eater who put a hit on the spacer.” He sneered. “It was me that made this work. Not you lot. Without me you’d still be sitting around panting after those parts. I made good on delivery. Any by-product is my profit, not your catch.”

“I’m not arguing with that,” Titan said calmly. “Still, this is a sale.”

“Yeah.” Kaftan shrugged. “What of it?”

Titan looked around. “Sales have buyers. Auctions have bidders.”

Again, Kaftan’s hand dropped to his pants pocket.

“I have money,” Titan said.

“Your own?”

“My employer has a far healthier account.” Carver was going to kill him. The guardian’s slush fund of grounder cash wasn’t enough to buy new office chairs let alone the information Kaftan was auctioning.

But Kaftan was already shaking his head. “Not happening. Rules is rules. Can’t do business with the same person twice in a row. It’s bad luck. Starts a pattern. Gets a man noticed.”

“There are different kinds of notice,” Titan said. “My employer is influential, powerful, wealthy.”

The thief’s eyes narrowed in pecuniary speculation.

“The authorities are only a problem if they can find you,” Titan said, dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “With the right… friends… you won’t need back ally dodges and side hustles. You wouldn’t need to be guests at pay-as-you-go parties.”

Kafftan took a deep breath in, inhaling the possibilities. Then he stopped and shook his head. “No. No! Rules is rules. Besides, I have other things to do tonight.” He nodded to something in the distance.

Titan turned to look just as Selena stepped into view.

Creamy white skin and hair pale as moonlight… She was an alabaster goddess in a single piece of black fabric that Titan hoped wasn’t actually paint. Or maybe he hoped it was. Either way, she was all he could see.

His mouth went dry as Selena tied a sheer, black skirt around her waist and posed in one of the spotlights.

Her left shoulder was painted with a nebula and three shooting stars. When she turned, she was everything: night and stars, fire and magic, promise and hope.

Selena moved, breaking away to pose by the edge the pool. She took off her skirt, tossed it aside, and dove in.

Suddenly, Titan saw the merits in learning to swim.

Kaftan tapped the balustrade, oblivious to the exchange. “Lovely girl. Arwel says she’s here nearly every night. Pity, really, but she was in the parking garage earlier.”

Now that Titan looked at the shield running along Arwel’s eastern perimeter he recognized the familiar whorls of coding that were unique to Selena. A house next door. A job as a model. All those looks between her and Tyrling hadn’t stemmed from the Jhandarmi director’s frustration, they’d been coded orders.

“It won’t be a problem for long,” Kaftan said, misinterpreting Titan’s furious frown.

“Good,” Titan muttered.

Kaftan watched her. “It’s going to be a fun night.”

“Taking your victims home is messy,” Titan said. “Unprofessional. Your DNA will be all over her.”

“Don’t worry,” Kaftan said. “I’m good at making these things look like accidents.” He smoothed his hand over his pants. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go circulate. Can’t get a good auction if you don’t have buyers frothing at the mouth.”

“Kaftan?” Titan said, stalling.

The man turned. “What? What I says goes. Done is done.”

“This is a side matter, something personal.”

Kaftan slowed and pivoted back to him. “I’m listening.”

“During this operation, my employer hired some local talent. Sent orders outside our usual chain of command. Me and my fellows had a bet about who’s name was to be rubbed out. Care to give me a hint? I can make it worth your trouble.”

“Shame I’m a thief, not a liar, I’d love to take your money. But I don’t know. The supplier said it would be easier for them if a certain officer of the law was scrubbed out. Would have put the city on high alert if any more of them dropped. It was bad for business. If the supplier wants to do something now, that’s their business.” Kaftan shrugged as he walked off.

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