Pages Navigation Menu

Dark Lords, Book One: Shadows, Chapter 40

Posted on 26 Mar, 2015 | 0 comments

cover-dark-lords-1

 

Chapter Forty
Souvenirs
New Oxford, Grand Lucian Hotel and Conference Centre Parking area, Albion, Realm

Kelvin was smelling the rose in his right hand. Sarah was waiting for him. Though they were both officially spares, their high genetic count meant that they could marry. He’d bought the ring and just needed to figure out how to give it to her. Brendan, his guardian and if the truth be told, the man he thought of as father, was possibly more excited than his mother, Elaine.
Brendan had made many suggestions, each one more romantic than the last. Sarah’s family knew this was coming. They had already started the bickering. As both Sarah and he were not destined for a Seat, they could live, once married, where ever they choose, but because the kids they would produce would most likely be pure’s, there were political implications. Kelvin, quite honestly, and despite his mother’s best attempts, did not care.
He cut through the alley between the Grand Lucien and the Fortuna Casino. With ease he hopped onto the recycling receptacle and over the fence. Sarah worked for the Grand Lucien, had done so for the last two years while he finished his biology degree. She had stood firm on taking the job and could justify it as part of her finance training.
Of course, mused Kelvin, everyone was going to lose their hair when he told them his plans to study possible rabbit migrations on the southern tundra of Tawaret. Sarah was already making jokes about his guardian and step-father taking up rabbit shooting.
How was he going to tell them about his plans on becoming a vet?
Worse, far worse, how do you tell the people who love you that you’re planning to live on the Southern continent of a world forty light years away? That you want to spend the next five hundred years of your life looking after livestock?
Sarah had plans for developing a Crofters co-op. She had gone with him to meet Dr. Black, who was the biologist looking into the changing environment and how it could be used to help speed up terraforming operations all over the galaxy. Kelvin thanked his ancestors that she’d fallen in love with the vast empty spaces. That walking through the small towns, meeting the villagers had not put her off. She had started to get a feel for the people. They had been so happy to meet her.
Perhaps it was the hospitals, or the injuries caused by hard physical work. Whatever, she had chose to share her gifts with many. Kelvin blushed at the memory of his Sara marching off to go hunting with some local men and women. He remembered her face when she had come back. She had found him on the wind swept heather, collecting data on the rabbit kits.
Kelvin smiled, his steps slowing as he closed his eyes and smelled the rose. Felt the silk of the petals against his lips. Sarah had almost flung him to the heather, her flesh hot, her stomach full of fresh meat from the Great Deer she had run down. They had shared blood and flesh and love.
The rose tickled his nose. The petals almost as soft as her skin.
“Hello.”
Kelvin froze. A large man had detached from the shadows. Odd, there were no service or other entrances along here. He looked down the alley and back the way he had come. He was at the mid point between the two buildings.
“Are you lost?” Kelvin asked.
The man was still coming toward him. He had hard features and a strange grin that did not reach his eyes. “No. You?”
“No.” Kelvin felt a tingle of unease. “Excuse me.”
The man moved to block his path. “No.”
“I am late.” Kelvin looked up. Were there no cameras here? The ones further down pointed at the fire escape doors. “If you will excuse me, sir.”
The blow caught him square in the face. Kelvin knew his nose was broken as he fell back, blind, blood pouring, he did not see the next blows. Ribs broke as all the air left his body. Gasping he hit the concrete.
“Just say aaah.” The man grabbed his hair and yanked back his head.
Kelvin opened his eyes. The man had a pair of pliers in his right hand. Kelvin, heart racing, twisted free then struck out. He tried to get up but the man hit him in the right kidney. He could not even scream. Grey flecks danced in his vision.
Kelvin could barely breath as the man sat on his hips. The man bent his head back so hard Kelvin thought his neck would break. With all his strength he tried to hold back the hand with the pliers but it moved slowly toward his mouth.
“Ease up, kid. He just wants a souvenir. I don’t have to kill you, but I will, if you make me.”
As the man shifted his grip over Kelvin’s broken nose. Kelvin bit him, hard. As soon as his glands fully released into the man’s wrist he knew it was the biggest mistake of his life.
The large heavy man grunted. The pliers hit the ground as the man dropped his full weight onto Kelvin’s back.
“Frack me.” He hissed, his breath hot on Kelvin’s cheek. “Oh, gods.”
Kelvin tried to open his mouth, tried to pull free. The man grabbed the back of Kelvin’s head and pushed down. Hard. Kelvin tried to cry out as his fangs and teeth tore the man’s skin. He gagged on the blood. His right fang wrenched in his mouth, the pain ran through to his very soul.
“Swallow. Swallow!” The man spoke through clenched teeth.
Kelvin could not help it. He swallowed, choking, struggling to breath, but the blood went down his throat. With each taste he became dizzier. His pain seemed to intensify. The man’s rage filled his mind. The man was holding him so tight, he couldn’t breath, each attempt was pain as the feeding weakness took him.
The man moaned, but did not release his grip. He rolled slightly off Kelvin, gave him the chance to breath. He released Kelvin’s head.
“Drink! Drink!” He was begging now. But Kelvin could drink no more. He shifted, trying to free his teeth from the man’s hand. Kelvin was desperate, had to get away before—
“Ohh,” the man moaned. Kelvin could feel the rush of connection. Their two system joining, not through some piece of computer hardware, but through their blood, through the chemicals that he had injected. The man had gone through the initial rush, now came the follow up. The heightened emotions, senses, the desire.
The man’s mind was an overwhelming morass of shame, rage and loneliness. HE wanted a pair of fangs for a souvenir. HE had deleted the man’s name. HE caused shame and pain without thinking about it. HE owned the man holding Kelvin.
The man was desperate, hungry for human contact.
No, not this! Kelvin fought, but the man tore into Kelvin’s memories. Kelvin’s love for Sarah. The moments they had spent together. From the first time he saw her to their first time making love as their minds had touched.
The man dove deeper into Kelvin’s soul. Kelvin’s love of animals. His desire from his time in Military Service to help. He had flown medi-vac, gotten his Medic Certification. His first time walking on a dead world that could be terraformed to helping people on a planet going through the process. Flying in supplies. Flying in and out people. Moving through space with a white and brown world below and know he would live long enough to see it become a living blue green world.
The man’s mind was a blank but there were hints. Kelvin tried, desperately, but his own mind was not fully trained. Certain abilities would come with age, and now the man understood that Kelvin was really not much more than a child, he was not even thirty standard years old yet.
Still, they tried together to pull up the man’s memories. The little they could find left behind from those who had erased who the man had been was hard to hold onto. The technicians had been thorough. Only vague blurs emerged. The man clung to them even tighter then he now crushed Kelvin to him. There was a child’s laughter, a woman talking, but the words were unclear. A dog barking. Lights on a tree. Just smears of what once might have been.
The man’s need for human contact, for love, overwhelmed Kelvin. How could such loneliness, such aloneness exist? How could anyone survive it?
“What are you doing! Leave him alone!”
The words came from far away. Someone yelling. Yelling for help.
The man snarled. He let go of Kelvin. They would die for daring to come between Kelvin and him.
Having trouble breathing, Kelvin had to stop him. He knew who’s voice he’d heard. The two young men who loaded the recycling containers.
“No!” Kelvin called out mentally and raggedly from his throat.
He felt the man’s hand crushing the throat of one of the young men, but he stopped him from snapping the young man’s neck.
A searing pain ran through Kelvin’s head. The Man was being summoned by HIM. Kelvin’s mind struck out instinctively. He tore at the connection between the Man and HIM. Blinking tears, gasping for air, Kelvin crawled to the first body.
Danny, Dave, Doug? He couldn’t remember. He was even younger then Kelvin. He lay gasping, his crushed throat unable to get air to his lungs. Kelvin pulled out the knife that Brendan had given him. His medic training came back. He performed an emergency tracheotomy. He used the kid’s pen, emptied of the innards to keep it open so he could breath.
The second man was still moaning. Kelvin wanted to say something, but breathing was getting harder. Flashing lights descended from above even as darkness closed in.
* * *
George hurried through the hospital doors. It seemed he’d just been here, it had been less than three weeks. Everywhere people stood, shock on their faces. His security team motioned him through a familiar door. He stood again in the ICU observation room.
Brendan and Elaine were in the room. Brendan was staring at Dr. Shepard and Dr. Oberlander. The deja vu hit George, he gripped a chair then stood straight. They needed him to be strong.
Brendan turned to him, his face pale, ashen, his eyes red rimmed. “He is in surgery.” Brendan’s hands were open, palms up. {Why?}
The word stopped George with its punch of emotion. He staggered and looked at Dr. Shepard. His mind brushed aside the doctor’s defenses. Kelvin would live. He’d be in the hospital for at least ten days, unheard of for a Vampyre, but he would live.
The doors burst open and all turned to see a woman hurry in. She stared at them a moment then moved to the observation window. Elaine turned, throwing her arms around the woman. They sobbed together, two mothers whose children would live because of the actions of the other. The woman’s relief was washing through the room though it was quickly overpowered by her thanks.
She let go of Elaine.
“They told me,” she wiped her face and turned to Brendan. “They told me what he, what Kelvin did. If he had not …”
Brendan nodded and returned the woman’s embrace.
“Your son was … thank you.” The woman looked up at him, tears running down her face. “I need to thank him, he saved him, my Derek, he’s my only boy.”
* * *
They were in the private waiting room. A nurse had come in several hours earlier and offered Elaine blood, but she had declined. Brendan stood staring at the painting of Dragon clan seals on the wall. He had not moved, only his breathing and occasional blink showing him to be more than a statue.
“George.”
George started. He looked up at his oldest and dearest friend. “Brendan?”
“Did the officer tell you?”
George shook his head. “Tell me what?”
“The man was after his fangs.”
George felt his gorge rise and found himself on his feet. Elaine stifled a sob. He looked to her and she nodded.
“One of them wanted a souvenir, George, of their time in the Realm. They found the pliers. Dental pliers. The thing was after his fangs!” Brendan’s hands were fists. “It broke his jaw, nose, fractured his cheek, nearly broke his neck.”
George said nothing as tears ran down his face.
“Did I tell you that he is regrowing a kidney?” Brendan turned now, his face white to look at George. “His left lung was punctured in six places. Almost all of his ribs were broken, more than once. They had to insert guides so they would grow back correctly. Both his hands, George, were crushed. Right arm broken in three places. Left shoulder fractured. Eight fractures in his spine. Eight.”
Elaine slumped into the chair, pulling her legs up. George wanted to go to her and comfort her, but he could not move. He could not contain the rage boiling out of Brendan. It was washing over him, drowning him.
“If young Derek had not interfered that man would have killed Kelvin and ripped out his teeth. Did you see Derek, George?”
George shook his head. All he’d seen through the glass of the young man was a flash of pale flesh as nurses and doctors worked around him.
“His throat was crushed. His right arm was broken. When the other young man tried to run away, that thing broke his back. Both security guards are dead, George. Both of them. It ripped their arms off. Crushed their chests.” Brendan grew quiet, He turned back to the painting. Motioned with his hand but whatever the words were he was going to say, died on his lips.
Slowly, Brendan turned back to George, his eyes first lingering on his wife, then he looked his friend of over seven hundred years in the face. “There was a time when … they were after his teeth, George.”
And George knew what his friend was telling him. Without Brendan’s vote, without his support, he would lose the council’s support. The Realm would, at the next vote, close its borders with the HFSS and the rest of the universe.

George left the hospital after Kelvin was out of the ICU and in recovery. The doctors would not let him regain consciousness until they had a psychologist present. The man that was being brought in specialized in psychic and physical assault.
Getting into the car, his driver, Owen, informed George that there would be a delay before leaving. Pulling out of the underground parking lot, George was shocked to see crowds of people. Police were attempting to keep traffic flowing, but the crowd was growing too fast for them. The atmosphere was hushed, somber, there was no sign of violence but there was tension. Many had scarves or even coloured sheets upon their backs. He recognized the scarves. Their colours those of the House of Ector. He felt more tears threatening.
You are an old man, George, he thought to himself.
Kelvin was Brendan’s spare. Both he and George were beyond their fertile years and he smirked, wiping at the blasted tears, remembering Elaine’s jokes about the turkey baster. Yet Brendan loved Kelvin, loved the boy without regret or regard. Their first son, Philip, was an Admiral in the Royal Armed Forces and was being considered for Vice Admiral, if he returned, that is.
“Sir, military and police offices are reporting thousands attempting to sign up, it is causing traffic jams downtown.”
George nodded, pulled from his reverie. Why were so many people seeking Public Service?
As they crawled forward the crowds were silent, inches from the car. George watched as hands began reaching out and lightly touched the car. Most just trailed their fingers on the vehicle. Without thinking he placed his own hand on the window.
The crest of the De La Roche was prominently displayed on the car and on the flags flowing at the back and front. He was not sure if he should be afraid or inspired. He could feel their concern, their desire was that he knew they were there to support the Vampyre. Through the tinted windows, no one could see him. He let the tears fall.
As they turned toward the main road, George saw that large posters of the dead security guards had been put up on the fence. Everywhere flowers and notes were being tied to the chain link so that already it seemed more like a fluttering privacy wall.
His heart started pounding at the large posters of Kelvin and the two young men who had stopped the attack. They had to drive around the crowds. Many wearing Ector’s colours but just as many he now saw were wearing the black, red and tan of the De La Roche.
Driving through town he started to see halt signs with coloured flags or even scarves on them. They were tied like streamers, some had so many that no part of the pipe showed. George wiped his eyes. He felt his composure return.
“Owen, what is that about?” He motioned to yet another halt sign festooned with colorful stripes of material.
“The Forgotten, Sir.” Own said from the front seat. George gave him a blank expression. “Those Houses that we have lost and have chose to forget, sir.”
Arriving home he found Castle Cor quiet. Perhaps it was just all the noise of the months before but the house seemed hushed. Those he passed bowed their heads, no doubt worrying themselves about poor Kelvin.
George headed to his room, he needed to change, to get rid of the scent of the hospital. He needed to call Abigail, to hear her voice. And Johanna. Why did she need to run off right now!
Thomas stood waiting by the elevator, his face somber. George felt his heart rate speed up.
“Sir, there has been a development. We require you in the den.”
Thomas hit the button. George felt his stomach twist. {Was it Daniella? Had she made contact? Had something happened to Abigail? To Johanna?}
{‘No.’} Was all Thomas sent back.
They passed Mrs. Findley in hall, George felt sick, she had been crying. He entered the den to find Claudette sitting at her desk, her secretary standing nearby. He was surprised to see the Armorium and security staff.
“What has happened?”
“News from Section 42. Alex did not disembark from the Burru. The hauler’s manifest indicate he boarded then he was deleted from it.” Claudette said, her voice firm. He could feel her thinking. Feeling her mind in the room humming like the engine of the ship that was his life.
George felt a moment of confusion. Alex was safe! If that was the right word. In less than two days he was boarding the Jules Verne for parts unknown. He had gotten his re-certification and he was far from the political muddle and any intrigue. Had not Charlie Girard promised that?
He queried her telepathically and she responded, {Scenarios.}
Scenarios? Thought George, scenarios of what?
“Charlie is waiting to speak with us,” Claudette said as images of Alex flashed through her mind.
George stood looking up at the screen. The call holding image vanished. The signal was heavily encrypted and it took a moment for the two systems to align.
“Hello. Sorry to be calling with bad news.” Charlie Girard’s face was huge on the screen, and he did indeed seem concerned. “First, let me make it clear, we weren’t going to interfere with Mr. Hunter’s choice, we were merely going to offer him another option.”
“To work for you?” Claudette asked. “If he said no?”
“We would have respected his decision.” Charlie looked her in the eye as he spoke. “Imagine our surprise when he didn’t get off the Burru. Our first thoughts were that he never got on the Burru. Logs and video confirm his departure from Farrago Lagrange Station. Also three of his bags were found in the hold.”
“Did it stop anywhere?” Claudette asked.
“Just a breather at jump point Xanadu.” Charlie motioned with his chin and three images appeared in boxes across the bottom of the screen. “Here are the scans of his room, I’m sending you all the data we have. Our people entered at 0700 and immediately sealed the room as a possible homicide scene.”
“Why?” George looked at the screen. Could that really be a stateroom, his bathroom was bigger!
“There was blood on the side table and wall, not all of it belonging to Mr. Hunter. Traces of blood were found on the bed linens and doorframe. Along with other genetic material. As you can see, there are clear signs of a struggle. Also, none of Mr. Hunter’s belongings were in the room. Found on the floor between the bed and side table was a shot glass and a deck of cards still packaged, bought on Albion.”
Claudette looked down over the report now displayed on the tablet her secretary had given her. Possible sexual assault.
George sucked in his breath. {‘No, Alex would not do that!’}
Claudette turned at George’s telepathic yell. “Dear, he is the victim, these are merely scenarios of what might have happened.”
“But?” George was having trouble breathing. He took the drink Thomas offered him and downed it. Taking a deep breath he stood behind his wife, he squeezed her shoulders.
“We have confirmation that he boarded by two staff members. His room wasn’t cleaned due to the staff shortages. After reviewing all logs, we discovered Mr. Hunter had received a bounced, scrambled comm message that appeared to be from somewhere in the Uncharted Regions. Then he went to the exercise room from 0500 to 0700. Returned to his room.
“Water use, residue from the shower and washing area leads to the conclusion that he had been showering at the time a Mr. Gautier Song headed down the hallway near Mr. Hunter’s room at ship time 0715. The hall monitors and room monitors of Mr. Hunter’s room had stopped functioning at 0725.”
“This Gautier Song turned off the cameras?” George asked. Girard nodded.
“We believe he entered the room using an illegal device called an AllKey. It was found in the recycler. We know he entered the room because his DNA has been found throughout.”
“He is a biological sleeve for whom?” Claudette asked.
“A specialized unit contracted to Mr. Gabriel Durand.” Charlie looked down at something before he continued. “Mr. Durand is a fixer for Mr. Williams, the Industrialist. His being on the Burru is odd. We believe that Saturn Industries has reconsidered its position on Alex Hunter’s re-engineered power system design.”
“Why did they not just contact him?” George asked.
A look passed between Claudette and Girard.
“Why pay for what you can take,” Armorum Bowie said with a shake of his now completely bald head.
Charlie’s smile was somehow both sardonic and sad. “There would be no reason for someone like Alex Hunter, the son of a plumber from New Canada to be under any sort of high level surveillance even though he just left a restricted region.”
“I do not understand?” George looked over Claudette’s shoulder. “It says here Alex is missing? Where could he have gone? How big is the Burru?”
“Several possibilities, he could be with Mr. Durand. A life boat was jettisoned, he could be on that, though with the shape of the units on the Burru, that’s not a high possibility. Or, more likely he was taken somewhere else, killed and given an enzyme shot. With the time elapsed, there would be nothing left to find of Mr. Hunter in the recyclers.”
“Charlie, why is Mr. Durand not in custody?”
“He is an Upper Elite, dear.” Claudette sighed. “No officer without serious friends would dare detain him. As for arresting him…”
George shook his head. He turned to those in the room. Thomas’ outrage hummed loudly. All present were stone faced and none would meet his eyes. George turned back to Charlie. “I believe Alex is alive. He a very resourceful young man.”
Charlie smiled. “I read the report you sent on his disarming of the synthetic. And the bomb. If he was as resourceful with Mr. Durand, then I believe he will turn up. I’m afraid I have a very important meeting to attend. I just wanted to communicate directly on what we found. I will continue to update you, George.”
George sat, his mind wondering over the time he had spent with Alex. He had kept wanting to spend more time with the young man. It seemed that at every turn, something happened. A mental prod from Claudette, surprised him.
“Thank you, Charlie for your help with this matter and our daughter.”
“I just wish we had any news for you.” Charlie was all somber, George wondered if the feelings were real or if Charlie practiced in a mirror. “The verse is a big place, but there are warrants out. My best to you both.”
George took another drink from Thomas. As Bowie, his security seconds and Claudette went ever increasingly horrible scenarios George felt himself feeling more and more sick. He needed out of the office, he needed to hear his daughters’ voices.
Abigail was out and so was Johanna. He could take it no more and with his dogs George went for a walk.
Four hours later, he found Claudette in bed. “I talked to Abigail.”
“How is she doing?”
“Why did you pick the Salazars?”
“I met someone they helped. They are very good helping Initiates who have been traumatized.” Claudette put down her tablet. “George?”
“I contacted Ashley, she claimed Johanna was out.” George hit replay on the message they had received earlier.
‘Hey, Mother, Father, just in from shopping at a scandalous store, All That Sparkle! We really have to take Abs there when she gets back. Everything here is, well, it is Troth. Going out this evening with the girls. Peaches sends her love, Mother. Everyone is worried about Dani. Waiting to hear good news. Love, Jo.”
“She is trying to have a good time, George.”
“Johanna shopping with her sister missing?” George was giving Claudette an incredulous look. “Jo? She hates shopping.”
“I think that is why she is doing it.” Claudette shrugged. “I almost did not let her go, but she needs to take her mind off things. You know the girls had this planned from before the Symposium and they get so little time together.”
George pulled his wife close. Held her.
“Be as thankful as I am that our Jo has your sense, George. At her age I would have commandeered one of my father’s ships and hired a band of mercenaries. There would be blood being spilt in bars and doors being kicked in across the verse.”
“I am.” George was glad his wife could not see his face. ‘All That Sparkle!’ was currently shut down for renovations.

Dark Lords, book one: Shadows, Chapter 39

Posted on 26 Mar, 2015 | 0 comments

I hope you are enjoying, Dark Lords, book one: Shadows. This story, it’s verse and all the characters are property of T. Masters Heinrichs; if you are enjoying the story, please share…

Chapter Thirty-Nine
Connections…
Outer Xanadu System, HFSS
Jason raised an eyebrow, looking up at the ceiling of the corridor. “Please repeat, Lieutenant Kwan.”
Now the Communications Officer, Kwan’s voice came over the Ivy’s com. “Lady De La Roche requests we pick her up at Post 7, 192 by 886. ASAP.”
Oh, how petty, Jason thought at the stab of satisfaction, he knew he was smiling and reached up a hand to hide it. “We are not at Lady De La Roche’s beck and call, Lieutenant. Please tell her to use one of her own ships. We are on a mission.”
“Lady De La Roche, this is Ivy actual, unable to comply. We are a military vessel, under orders.” Kwan’s voice did not sound so positive.
“She would like to speak with you directly, Captain.”
“I bet she would.” Jason stopped outside the doors to forward hanger bay two. “Tell her I am busy and to get off my comm.”
“Lady De La Roche, this is Ivy actual. This is a restricted military channel not for civilian use. If this is not an emergency—” Kwan voice was sounding stained. “She says you owe her, my Captain.”
“Yes, yes I do.” Jason nodded. Oh, yes. “Please tell her to frell off, I must follow my orders from the Navy. Can not help her.”
“Lady De La Roche, this is Ivy actual, we are a serving vessel. Please refrain from using this comm channel. We will be reporting—” Kwan’s voice stopped again. After a short pause and with a tremor in her voice she said, “She has utilised the Privilege Command, Captain. We are compelled to give her aide, my Captain.”
Jason’s pursed his lips and turned. Yoeman Jones was holding the hard sided box and staring at the corridor hall with great intensity.
“Have nav calculate the time with a six, no, eight hour lag, to her coordinates.” He waited.
“She says that is acceptable, Captain.”
“That is acceptable,” Jason said quietly in a high whiny voice.
“What was that, my Captain?”
Jason felt his face heat up. Okay, not very Captain like. “As you were, Lieutenant.”
He clicked off the comm and nodded to Jones. They headed through the doors. Inside, at attention were the fifty marines, in two groups of twenty-five. Down the middle were the six artillery soldiers and the four snipers. In front of them stood the ILARS, not the standard nine, only four, and of course Lieutenant Leigh Dawson. As per his instructions they were all in their shiny new dull combat armour.
Master-Chief, Davies, was standing at the front facing his troops. Jason could feel how pissed off the man was, their connection would last at least seventy-two more hours.
The troops had been given fifteen minutes to get into full gear. By the look of things, that had not been enough time. Average time for troops to put on gear was seven minutes. I just want ten, Jason didn’t sigh, too loudly.
The Master-Chief spun, stepped forward and saluted. “Sir!”
Jason blinked, ears ringing.
“Ready for inspection, Sir!” The Master-Chief continued just as loud.
“The citizens of the Realm have worked hard, making sure each of you is outfitted in the best armour science can create. Do you know why?” No one moved. Jason noticed a few loose buckles. “Because you defend them. When a child lays in her or his bed at night, when the parents tuck them in, they are safe because you are here. Defending them. Standing between them and the darkness.”
Jason felt a twinge, and each of you are someone’s child. The small pang of guilt gave a twist, then he thought of Claudette De La Roche. He motioned for Jones to step forward. “Our standard armour is the equivalent of the elite amour of our neighbours. Why? Because each of you matter. Any one of you can be the one who makes the difference between life and death for all of us.”
Yeoman Jones opened the hard side case and held it up. Jason reached into the case of concussion grenades he had already set to two and almost faster than the eye could see, armed them and tossed them.
They fell, clattering among the troops. More than a few heads turned. A few started to run.
Whump! Whump!
On the upper level above and behind them a few items rattles. Jones had blinked, his personal shield had flashed, taking almost all of the energy. Jason’s own shield had caused sparks to dance in his vision.
He looked to the troops. Guess he had been—bodies began dropping. Lieutenant Dawson pulled off her helmet, her eyes, nose and ears bloody. She swayed.
“I am afraid I will have to put off inspection till a later time, Master-Chief.” Jason turned. Jones was looking nervous, but now the Yeoman knew his personal shield would hold. It would give him confidence, hopefully not too much.
Heading into the hall, Jason shrugged off the guilt as the medical teams rushed past him. Each floor had an emergency med bay. The three level two ensigns looked panicked as they hit the bay doors.
“Jones, have our final officers arrived?”
“Not yet, Captain.” Jones said.
“When will they get here?”
“We will rendezvous at 14:30 hours, Captain.”
Jason tapped his comm. “Engineering.”
He waited for the beep of pick up as they headed into the lift.
“What?” Came a gruff voice.
“Is this Engineering?”
Some muttering occurred then a young male voice took the comm. “Engineering, Lieutenant Carpenter, Captain?”
“How’s the docking net coming?”
“Sorry, Captain, at least thirty hours to go.”
“Captain out.” Damn, they were going to have to stop to pick up the shuttle, Claudette will have to wait a little longer. Jason stepped into the lift, he had to work at hiding his smile.

Dark Lords, Book one: Shadows, Chapter 38

Posted on 26 Mar, 2015 | 0 comments

I hope you are enjoying Dark Lords book one, Shadows…

Chapter Thirty-Eight
Silence
Black Swan, Solaris Industries Series 900 (2000 Cabins), Civilian Liner, Realm

 

“Are you sure, Johanna?” Francesca Boneville of House Blackwood of Albion asked.
Johanna took the older woman’s hands. “Yes, Francy.”
“Oh, Jo.” Francesca put her arms around Johanna. “You know we dated, well, we went on a couple of dates. Thirty years ago, at least.”
They were walking down the ship’s main corridor toward the suites. Nodding to everyone they passed.
“What is he like?” Johanna asked, her hand right hand again interlaced with Francesca’s left.
“Scandalous, that’s why I went out with him. Utterly scandalous.” Francesca laughed. She leaned in close. “Its sex or a bite, not both, with him. Never. And he would not bite me.”
Johanna was shocked.
“I know, I know. And no male lovers.” They headed into the main private salon.
“But … he’s barely over a hundred? I mean …” Johanna had heard he flaunted convention … but was there something wrong with him? Suddenly her plan seemed less than wise.
“I know, Jo. Scandalous.”
“There you two are!” Debra Logan smiled. She was two seats away from Lord Blackwood, Francesca’s grandfather, who sat snoring in his chair. Sitting next to him was his equally attentive personal secretary, Wilson.
“We’re planning our shopping run, Ladies.” Chelsea Fenice smiled. “We must not be frugal.”
Even Johanna could not help the laughter. They had been given clear orders to spend in the primary and secondary markets of Troth. To party, to be seen and to enjoy the nightlife.
{‘So what’s going on, really?’} Debra Logan sent telepathically as she pulled out a flyer from New Reykjavik. “Look at the dance clubs in Dalvik!”
{‘Jo thinks she has a lead on Dani.’} Francesca sent as she nodded over a diamond display from Vogar. “Oh, look at this, Ashley?”
{‘Is it dangerous, Jo?’} Chelsea sent. “We need to go to Trieste. They have a hand blown glass industry that will ‘G1’ all of you!”
The ladies laughed.
“Seriously, we need to be careful,” Winifred Blegen smiled as she spoke, her eyes locked on Johanna’s longer then the rest. “We have to spread our money, our time, wisely.”
Johanna sent them her plan to check out a couple locations. To seek out leads and that if any showed promise she would immediately report them to the Guard. She was waiting on Kelvin to send her some more info, but she could wait no longer. {‘I have a private ship waiting for me at Sassari Lagrange Station. Then I will meet up with Jason Malwas, he is now Captain of the Ivy.’}
“Scandalous!” Laughed Winifred. “Someone’s in love!”
All eyes were on her now and Johanna could feel her face heating up.
“Sleeping Beauty!” Ashely Bean covered her mouth. “It’s the story of Sleeping Beauty.”
Each of the ladies saw Jason Malwas through Ashley’s eyes. Her memory of seeing him pause and turn to watch a young woman cross the High Street at Lexington four years earlier. He had been watching Johanna.
Suddenly they were sending all at once. Johanna found herself blinking at their excitement even as they nattered incoherently over the pamphlets and catalogues. Perhaps she would indeed wake the sleeping prince with a kiss.
“Where are the children?”
They all jumped at Lord Blackwoods words. He had yelled to be heard over them.
“Where are the children, Francy? You girls, where are they?” He was looking around the salon, lost. Beside him Wilson was snorting awake.
Francesca jumped up. “Grandfather, it is okay.”
“Where are they?” He was looking at the young women, his confusion clear. Johanna felt her stomach tighten. The laughter was gone.
“There are none, grandfather.” Francesca said, dropping to her knees next to her grandfather and holding his hand.
“What? Nonsense! You are all beautiful, in my day … Wilson? Wilson!”
“Sir!” Wilson snorted. “David, what? Lord?”
“Right here, Wilson, right here. Where are the kids?”
“Must be in the crèche, my Lord.” Wilson struggled to his feet and started to wonder off. “I will check.”
“Grandfather, you need to relax.” Francesca smiled, giving his hand a squeeze. “We are on the Black Swan, on our way to Troth.”
“Where are the Damsels? You are not being uppity are you? I will not put up with that!”
“No grandfather. There are no Damsels with us.” Francesca patted his hand and nodded to his nurse.
Johanna saw Ashley’s eyes go red. Once upon at time, she would have been such, as the only none Vampyre female present.
“John, perhaps a drink for Grandfather? Maybe if he sees Aidan? Lady and Lord Raine are in their cabin.”
“Domina?”
“None, grandfather.” Francesca patted her grandfather’s shoulder.
Chelsea Fenice took Johanna’s hand, and whispered in her ear, “Jo, do you love him?”
Johanna looked at their faces. She swallowed. She let her feelings surface. Somewhere, somehow it had happened. “Yes.”
“Then love him. Find him, love him. Do not wait for the right moment. It never comes.” Chelsea had tears in her eyes. Johanna felt the fool. Chelsea’s brother had gone missing eighty-seven years earlier. None had forgotten Daniella, but she had forgotten Luke Fenice.
Francesca sat down and hugged Jo. Johanna felt ashamed of how angry she had been the day before. Believing their avoidance of anything to do with Daniella had been a kind of denial. That had not been the case, they just did not known how to help, and each wanted so desperately to help.
Now as they looked at her, Johanna knew how far they were willing to go. Ashley would cover for her as she could pass for Johanna with the right outfit.
“We have a lot of work to do, to get you ready.” Winifred giggled.
Francesca joined them. “Charlotte is going to bring Aiden to the creche once he’s eaten.”
“I can not believe he is five already.” Debra smiled.
“Almost six,” Chelsea laughed and they shared her memory of the little heir to House Raine telling her his birthday was in eight weeks.

Dark Lords, book one: Shadows, Chapter 37

Posted on 26 Mar, 2015 | 0 comments

Chapter Thirty-Seven
Digging…
Jax Industries Lifepod from the Burru, #278, Outside the Xanadu System

“He’s got to be part cat,” Alex said, getting up from the lifepod’s floor. He put the welding torch on the main table. The power line was fixed. “Forty to sixty people, my ass.”
Alex flinched. Well, almost.
His fingers brushed his right pocket. The little square was there, charged.
Ping! Tink!
“Oh, come on!” Alex grabbed the sealer. The hissing as atmosphere escaped into space hurried him to the two new holes in the side of the lifepod. He squeezed the plunger and the sealant filled the first hole.
Crack!
The far small porthole was fracturing. The seal he’d put on earlier around the window’s edge was giving way, damn mould! Of course, without proper maintenance, the outer porthole covers had stopped working years ago. Turning the nozzle he pumped out a flat smear of sealant. It took him half an hour to completely seal the porthole. He hurried to the last pin hole. Damn milk runs!
Feeling giggly, Alex went to the atmosphere mix. Too much oxy, again. He turned it down.
“Fungus and Mould, the Spacefarer’s Greatest Enemy!” Alex said the old vid’s title in a dramatic voice. He opened the second floor panel. The reek made him gag. “Frell, fracking brundi!”
Alex giggled again. “That did not make any sense … Pod size means you have to wait till the oxy drops. Now, zelfts brundi, or Fex sex, those are good ones.”
Slapping hands over his mouth, he listened.
Silence. Was the fracking transponder even working? Had he frelled it changing it’s code? Was he too oxy high? Had Jason tried to contact him to tell him he wouldn’t be picking him up? Had mould and fungus dissolved too many parts?
“Stop it, Alex! It’s only been five days. Yeah.” Alex rubbed his face. “And its a big frigging system.”
His stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten for eight hours. He opened the third emergency rations locker. Picking up the sanitising spritzer he sprayed the slimy interior. “Someone has a sick, sick, sense of humour.”
He pulled out two packets, the only two flavours on board. “Sir, you have a choice this evening for your dining pleasure. You can have chicken Alfredo and apple pie or veal Alfredo and apple crisp. Both tasting strangely identical to protein carb paste.”
Alex squeezed both packets to make sure they were still sealed. That had been a nasty surprise on his first night in the pod.
“Dai, I win our bet!” Alex yelled to no one. “Typical civi! The cleaner runs in, does a pass and goes. Milk runs!”
Alex went to the water recycler. Filled the veal Alfredo. Waiting for it to reconstitute, he walked to the main view port. Outside he could see the Xanadu system. The amount of debris around an active system always surprised him. With all the rules on dumping junk in space, where did all the crap come from?
Outside an old space boot floated, held by the larger mass of the pod. Alex sighed.
“I’m sending a letter of complaint to the,” he lifted the ration packet up, “Standard Rations Company, Inc., you guys should eat your own food.”
Alex slurped down the ration, then headed back to the manoeuvring jets. He needed to be at least close to where Jason said he’d be … like he knew where that was.
“Should have dated, Lisa. That chick knew her nav.”
* * *

Abandoned Mining Asteroid BT 11987, Lost Souls Astroid Belt, System 873,
Edge of Uncharted (Wilds) Zone
Dani came awake, the pain intense. She hit the skrim rat gnawing on her left forearm. The thing squealed, it’s back broken. The others scattered, out of reach.
Across from her the girl was eating one, watching her. Her incredibly blue eyes piercing in the darkness. Dani picked up the rat like creature and broke the thing’s neck. Her stomach ached. She bit into the fur and gagged. The thing was covered in a bitter fungus. She vomited.
Picking up the small stinking body she threw it at girl. The girl was fast. She caught it through the bars. Her hand pulled it into her cage.
“Are they looking for you?”
The girl kept moving from foot to foot.
“They are looking for me.” Dani nodded. Screaming echoed from down the hallway. The sound of insanity echoed in her head. “Right now. They are looking right now. They are going to find me.”
Dani got up on shaking legs. Her throat burned. At the back of the cell water ran, pooling, too mineralised to drink. “You went through so much trouble!”
Her voice was harsh, broken. Why? Why go through all the trouble of getting her here to watch her die slowly in a cell?
The sound of metal on metal surprised her. Dani looked up, the girl was gone. She blinked. The cell looked empty. Dani moved to her bars, gripped them. The girl? Was still. Perfectly still. Why was she not moving?
“Help! Please, Lord! Help me!”
Dani tried to look down the hall.
“Here!” She choked out. “Please!”
A shadow danced strangely on the floor. The man stumbled into view.
“Please! Oh, Lord, please!” He was up.
Could he not see? He stumbled, tripping over broken bars from a cell further down. He reached out and touched the wall, crying out as his hands hit a patch of acidic fungus.
Dani looked at her hands. They were ghostly to her eyes. Why had she not noticed? That meant the light levels were extremely low. She was seeing in the ultraviolet, seeing heat, her mind filling in the blanks.
The man stumbled down the hall.
“Here!” Dani called.
“They’re after me!” The man was crying. “Please Lord, save me!”
He was almost to them. Dani looked across. The girl was perfectly still. The skrim rats were nervously moving in closer. Movement to Dani’s right. Spiders!
A group were moving along the ceiling. There was a flutter as a bat like creature darted in and grabbed one.
“Please! My lord! Save me!” The man was nearly to them.
“I am here!” Dani cried. The man made it to her bars. Crying.
She reached through. He gripped her hands.
“They are coming. Our Lord will save us.” He sobbed. Dani gripped him tight. “Pray with me.”
What? Dani let go of the man, but he gripped her tightly. Pray? No!
The Old Enemy … Dani started to cry. Tears, bitter, dripped down her cheeks.
“He who is Lord of Heaven, protect us from demons. Protect us from—” A howling turned both of them. A group of twisted, eight or nine were on him. Dani pulled back her hands. Two of them lunged for her. She stumbled scattering skrim rats.
The man screamed as he was lifted. They bit into him. Drinking!
The blood smell filled Dani with hunger. No!
Crying Dani retreated to the bitter water. The man was whimpering. One of the twisted, the leader, by the size of him, watched her with large bright grey eyes. He swallowed, his eyes fixed on her. Dani tried to looked away. Tried. A part of her mind was telling her she had to know. They dropped the body, it moaned, no more prayers upon his lips.
Dani curled up into a ball. They were at her bars now. Loud whimpering made her look up. A group of the human Thralls were just in view. The big male thew the body at them. The body moaned too weak to scream as they started eating his flesh. Smaller ones. Children? Were tossed chunks of meat.
The man, she knew the scarred and pitted face belong to a man because he wore no clothes on his scared and burnt body, moved to the bars. He was interested in her. His erection both lewd and not. He gripped the bars, shaking them. The others, three of which were women, joined him. He turned his head sharply at them, showing far too many sharp teeth. They all lowered their faces. None had yet to speak.
Submission. They are showing simian submission.
Again he shook the bars. Dani looked at the flowing water. The bars were shaken, pounded. Rock dust was starting to rise as several of them slammed their weight against the bars.
What are the four simian responses to threat? Dani heard Mrs. Heg the biologist and behaviourist at Albion University. The four responses are flight, fight, posture or submit.
Dani stood. She stepped toward the man, but stayed out of reach. He growled at her. Not a fake growl, but something that his throat should not be able to do, low and guttural. He glared, but she refused to break eye contact. The others went into a silent frenzy. Climbing on the bars. Flinging themselves at the carbon silica. They were clawing at the top, digging at the bottom, their claws gouging the stone. Over them she clearly heard the others eating.
“They are going to get in here.” Her words froze them. They all looked at her with their crazy eyes. Even the others, still eating behind them, were watching her now.
Dani stepped closer to the man. He was not particularly large. A metre eight, maybe. Just under six feet. She reached up and undid her shirt. He licked his lips and showed her his teeth.
She showed him her teeth. He snarled. They were going crazy again, shaking the bars. The larger frame the bars sat in started to move. On the right side they were being loosened from the top. Stone fell in chunks from the ceiling.
Boots, running boots. Dani felt a stab of satisfaction. The Old Enemy would not want her to have a quick death.
The Twisted crawled up the walls. Dani watched them. What were they up too? Why weren’t they running away? Laser bolts hit some of the Thralls. They scattered, running to her right past her line of sight. The troops, all in black, jogged past. Did they not see the Twisted ones? Dani looking up, realized she could not see them! Their heat signatures had vanished.
The troop was almost past when the Twisted struck. It was over in seconds. Blood splashed her face, hot and sweet. Shaking Dani could not watch. Then the Twisted were gone, fleeing. For a moment the man stood outside the cell looking at her. He tossed her an arm, then he vanished with the rest of them.
Blue eyes watched her from the other cell. The girl had not drawn any attention to herself. A part of Dani’s mind kept pointing this out, but she did not care. Dani sat and licked blood from her arms, but did not touch the gift left at her feet.

Dark Lords, Book One: Shadows, Chapter 36: Intervention, Vampyre Style…

Posted on 26 Mar, 2015 | 0 comments

I hope you are enjoying Dark Lords (Copyright 2013 T. Masters-Heinrichs); if so please share and comment if you can… here is chapter 36

Chapter Thirty-Six

Intervention, Vampyre Style…

New Somerset, South Continent, Planet: Hallstat, Realm

John Whitherly, Lee Garcia and Sheila Kasa sat in the quiet basement. Sheila had made coffee, thick and strong, for the two men. She knelt on the floor, eyes down. They needed her.
All looked up when another woman came down the stairs. Coral Bosworth, her black skin of her legs showing under her skirt as she hurried down to them. She stopped just shy of the rug.
“They have come. The beasts are here.” There was a tremble in her voice.
“Worry not, child of the Light. God will protect us. They will not find us, should they search a thousand houses.” Lee’s voice was filled with love and joy.
“They are not searching.” Coral’s voice was a whisper as she chewed her lip.
“What do you mean, Child?” John Whitmore asked.
“A Vampire is standing in the square.”
The two men looked at each other.
“The police?”
“It is an intervention!” Sheila gasped. “You must flee! Both of you!”
“Calm, Child.” Lee reached out his hands, placing them on Sheila’s shoulders. “Our God is stronger than the Demons! Our God will—”
Sheila jumped up. They all felt it.
“It is too late.”
“What is it?” Lee asked, a sense of wonder coming over him. “They can’t touch us … can they?”
“God will protect us!” John yelled.
Then they were aware of the women, not as other but as them.

Claudette opened her mind further, reaching. Becoming a conduit for all the minds about her. Hers joined the other mature Vampyres, the other high level telepaths.

John gasped. “No! No!”
They were staring at him. The two whores and that bumbling idiot … “NO! That’s not what I think of you!”
“I’m sorry.” Lee turned to Sheila. “I have had unclean thoughts about you. I’m sorry.”
Sheila was crying, tears flowing down her face. Her baby … her baby was gone and not waiting for her … her baby. Lee put his arms around her, he knew her loss, it was his loss. Coral hugged her friend. She had not known about the child. Lee was looking at her.
I want, need to help, to do good … Coral looked at Lee.
Lee had been so lost, so alone, so afraid. Being with the God of Light followers had given him a place, a group, a tribe. He had friends, food, direction. He needed direction, he wanted to help others.
“No! No!”
They all looked at John.
“Lies! All lies.”
They looked into John. A sham, but a great money maker. Just wait till you see some of the ass that comes with the job. We’ll start shipping in trouble and make double. These fang freaks won’t know what hit them. They are fracking vampires, could it be better than that? We’ll be Kings in no time!
John screamed. They saw through his eyes, he/they watching the women getting beaten. Getting hard watching them being raped. Feeling the power he had over them. Over all of them. Lee threw up. Coral squeezed his shoulder as she glared at John. He ran up the stairs and they followed.
In the front yard, Jamie was screaming. He swung at John as the older man ran past him. Down the street a woman was screaming, yelling just like Jamie.
“I’m special! Me! Not you! You are a fake, John Whitmore!” Jamie screamed. He turned, Lee and Coral put themselves in front of Sheila. “Get out of my head! You are not real! It is fake! God loves me! Not you! I’m chosen! Chosen!”
They walked quickly at first then slowed. None could refuse the summons, especially those who did not want to come. Who did not want to look into the eyes and minds of those they had hurt.
Around Lee, Sheila and Coral, everyone, from every part of the town, men, women and children were walking toward the parade grounds. They could see the Vampire. Coral was surprised, it was a woman. Her name was … Claudette. She was a mother. She too had lost children. Sheila let her tears fall. A woman they had not known, but now knew, hugged Sheila.
By the time they reached the parade grounds, the three knew and understood evolution, stardrives, basic maths. Gaps in their knowledge closed. As the night lightened to day, they knew all their neighbours, asked questions, learned answers.
Lee no longer felt shame. He desired women and men because he was human. He was a sexually mature bi-sexual male. He understood the biology of it. He did need acknowledgement, he did need respect, but he did not need to dominate. He needed, wanted to earn respect. He didn’t want what the Sons of Light were selling. He saw now the masochistic nature and cruelty of their teachings. Their love of death, of endings! Of being the important, special ones who go to the light while the rest suffered.
What kind of people believed in a paradise for themselves at the expense of the suffering of others?
They were selling the relationship of master and slave, not true friendship and never equals. What he wanted was respect and partnership. He wanted a family, friends … to love and to be loved. He wanted to protect. Not fear. Not the forced love and submission, they demanded.
Give up reason and come to us, the Sons of the Light, even now begged them. Embrace reason and make your own decisions, the Vampyre offered them.
Coral lay back in the grass. Men had always confused her, but they really weren’t that different. She had never realized how aware of other males they were, of being challenged, of always needing to be ready to posture. The biology and psychology of it filled her with understanding. What surprised her was how much most of them loved women!
They loved their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives, their lovers. They loved being loved, they loved giving pleasure. Oh, some were lazy, some scared, but the women were no different. Coral liked sex. It was not bad, it was natural.
She hadn’t realized she was so like Lee, that they were so similar. They were warriors. Her rage melted back to frustration. She wanted, needed to make a positive difference. She needed work that mattered. Coral felt shame even as she understood how the Sons of Light had convinced her of their lofty intents.
Sheila wrapped a blanket about herself. She experienced the pain and focus of giving birth, the love, joy and exhaustion of a newborn. She shook her head. She no longer felt inferior. She wanted to create a home, a safe place. She wanted to love and be loved.
Then it was over. People were up, hugging, crying, talking. Coral was on her feet. She wanted the connection to come again. She’d been plugged in years ago and it hadn’t been like that. This was kind and gentle, not an overwhelming reality imposed by circuits.
“They are arresting people,” Orson, a father and electronics sales representative said. He also secretly painted landscapes, was too embarrassed to show them to people.
Coral looked. Yes, John, Jamie, Vanessa, at least three others. She felt unclean. They had beaten and raped people. The sense of disgust filling her almost made her throw up, she could feel a hint of what the women and children and several young men had gone through. She could feel the pain and fear of the men they had beaten. She could feel the loss and pain of the families, her families, of the men and women who had been killed trying to stop what was happening.
“This is what they do at the Great Festival, except you decide to join in or not.”
Coral looked over at the young man, Dennis, he was talking about the Vampires.
“You go to school at the uni. Taking history classes.”
“Yes, Coral, that’s me.” He looked at her and she could see he thought her beautiful. He was physically attracted to her and it didn’t frighten her. She returned his nervous smile.
“No wonder religion does not exist in the Realm, who needs if you have … what ever that was.”
Claudette was exhausted. Three police officers had joined the five house guard surrounding her before she was fully disengaged. Her personal secretary, Jules Kesler, held Claudette as she came back to herself. “There is a reason the Great Festivals were ever only held every five years.”
“Yes, My Lady.” Jules helped Claudette into the waiting military hover car.
Claudette shook her head. Twenty-seven women and eight men had been killed. One-hundred and eighty-three women and girls had been beaten and raped. Eleven young men and boys had also been beaten and raped. Anger filled her.
Shock and stun the population. Decry the very violence you secretly promote. Then supply the services to ‘save’ the people from your actions. She had seen it all before, too many times.
“My Lady,” Jules said, “the financial backers have been found. It appears to be the Seven again.”
Claudette closed her eyes. The Armada was too far away. If the Seven Financial Corporate Institutions acted now, the Realm could be lost. “I must speak with my husband.”
“An issue has come up at home. There was a Challenge to Justice. Johanna acquitted herself … traditionally.”
Claudette could not sit up, she stared at Jules a moment, trying to figure out what her secretary had just said. “What do you mean, a challenge?”
“A call for Justice, my Lady. The unclean should still be alive upon our return.”
At least Abigail had not been at Cor. We should have prepared Johanna for such a contingency. Claudette shook her head. “I am getting old.”
“Rest, my Lady.” Jules sat back and look out the window. 

 

Why do you want lower ebook prices?

Posted on 17 Aug, 2014 | 0 comments

As many of you know, I follow stories and read articles written about publishing (and writing). I pay special attention to the stories like, “James Patterson: If I were Amazon’s Jeff Bezos,” (which you can find at http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/07/opinion/patterson-if-i-were-jeff-bezos/index.html?iref=allsearch). After reading the article (any article) I find the comments are often more insightful about how people feel regarding the issue than the article.

So far I’ve discovered a reality about ebook readers who comment that seems sadly (at least to me) universal. They don’t value story. They don’t value quality. They don’t care about anything but price. Very few have bothered to educate themselves about the costs that go into producing a book, ebook or audiobook.

The arguments that I see over and over again in the comments are that, ‘data is nearly free’ and that, ‘…it costs less then $0.01 to make an ebook…’ or that, ‘all costs in book production have to do with printing, shipping and storage.’

According to the majority of ebook readers commenting it appears that they see no value in the author’s time, having a work curated (quality/writing level established), editing (any form of), layout & design, cover art, nor even in the storage of files. The only thing they appear to value is the cost to them. Basically an ebook is barely given the value of the weight it possesses in the physical world.

It’s actually taken me some time to accept this about the majority of ebook readers/writers commenting. I don’t believe they all feel this way. I don’t believe that book readers feel this way. But I am now accepting that the majority of people commenting do feel this way.

When I bring up the cost of editing, I’m called elitist. If I try to talk about curation (quality/level of writing coupled with suitability of subject) I’m called a snob and much worse. Just try and talk about punctuation, wow! The fact that all these factors are about the ability of the author to communicate effectively to their desired audience means nothing.

The fear that Amazon’s approach to books would devalue story has come to pass. After all, anyone can run a marathon and anyone can write a book (thanks to writing programs you can write several books a week). Anyone can upload anything and anyone can pay for 5 Star Reviews (I’ve got an offer in my inbox when I started writing this article). The writer of today doesn’t need to know grammar and punctuation, forget editing or even how to spell. And if you want to be a successful ebook author all you need are deep pockets…

Actually this is nothing new. Lets be honest, vanity presses have existed and do exist, but no one takes a vanity author seriously. Why? Quality. I’m not saying that all vanity published authors do not produce quality work, only the majority don’t. But currently the argument appears to be that when it comes to ebooks the reader should curate, edit and pay for the privilege of doing so.

Oh, and the biggest argument and the one that has me flummoxed is being made by people who have the most to gain by not having more competition, especially from people with edited, curated and polished works. If, over all, an author produces a superior product (sorry, the ability to communicate effectively counts as higher quality) why would you want such next to your (developing—I’m making the assumption that the majority who have read this far are working on improving their craft) work? If you’re priced lower, then according to your own arguments, you’ll get more sales. That is, unless the consumer can get a better product for the same amount.

The content creator (that’s the person writing) gets a benefit from higher prices from the curated works. Only the content provider gets a benefit from having better work available. So having lower ebook prices of higher quality work is not in the writers best interest but certainly is in the case of the distributor (and that isn’t just Amazon).

If people are reading your work and you’re working to improve your quality or you started with a high quality product, then you win again with having your product priced lower. So I’m confused, but I’m confused about a lot of things.

If I thought that way that most of the commenters appear to think and I were (and I am) one of the majority of ebook authors who don’t make enough on my ebook sales to buy a cup of coffee (tea in my case) then I definitely would want less competent competition (As far as I’m concerned, as long as people are reading in the genres I write, I gain market because people read more than one book a year and more people reading means a larger market, but that’s me).

Hey, keep writing, keep working on craft because a lot of readers really do care!

 

Re-Value(ing) Words

Posted on 28 May, 2014 | 0 comments

I’ve been following the demise of the written word for some time now. It’s taking place primarily through one of it’s main forms, story. The ‘story’ can be housed in either a physical or electronic form.

The first step was to remove the value of story by converting story to a widget. Of course, those of you with like minds who have been watching the drama might say that it already happened, but I will argue that no, it hasn’t, not truly. I do admit we’re on the cusp. The quality of story has definitely overall plummeted—but it is not yet gone. I will also argue that unlike other things (like butterflies) that once gone we can not bring back, story will always be with us so long as we are human.

The changing of the form from a physical to electronic medium allowed value to be moved from story (content) to the medium. Altering medium also made the switch to something of intrinsic value with a long life and small environmental footprint to a product that is a short life consumable with a very large environmental footprint and for the first time the medium would require constant input, further increasing it’s already outsized environmental costs.

Since the value is now the medium, content has become a secondary factor, hence it plummeting quality. Content has also become a huge income stream for the main players in the drama.

What one party will view as a strength, others view as weakness. This truth is never more realized than with the two mediums that now deliver story.

For the physical, it’s physicality gives it permanence which is seen as a strength by many. From the tree farms to the environmentally biodegradable inks, glues and local printing it takes physical space. Story in this form delivers jobs, green space primarily used by wildlife between cutting and planting and is itself a carbon sink, but that very physicality requires space. Space to grow the trees, to grow the plants that produce the inks, to process it in environmentally regulated production facilities.

The physical has weight, volume. It takes up space in your life. The physical is also fixed. Its form once created exists unchanging. I would argue it’s main value is not in its decomposable matter, but that it is unchanging. That it will be almost five hundred years before those reading the story in todays’s language would need help deciphering it. That if hidden away, the physical could be rediscovered and thus story remains.

Point of view is everything. The space needed to produce the physical can be turned to much more profitable intensive monocultures, be reutilized for resource extraction or consumed for some other uniquely human need. The factories are highly regulated, thus have limited profitability, moving them to less regulated areas where the damage can go unnoticed by the consumer is SOP found in any corporate manual.

The new medium by contrast is primarily created in such a way that the consumer can easily ignore it’s production costs. The medium is heavily wrapped in marketing to discourage scrutiny. To further draw attention from its constant cost to the consumer (through power use) catch phrases like dead tree are used to throw aspersions onto the physical form.

The biggest change is that the medium’s nature means that story suddenly is not permanent. Some argue that this is the best feature of the medium, the ability to change story with a stroke of a few keys. To alter meaning, shorten length, remove or adjust language within story, thus finally making story a true widget and completely adjustable to market pressures from the bottom up, top down or other financial motivation. There has been surprisingly little upset with this feature of the medium, even as it is employed by schools, religious groups and corporate governments. Consumers will adjust to almost anything if the changes are instituted in small enough increments. Now that the consumer is becoming conditioned to these aspects of the medium, continuing alterations to direct consumer behavior and expectations is and will give those in control of the medium tremendous influence.

There are also three connectivity areas to consider. The first is access to power, should it be limited or halted for any reason, the medium has only a short period of time before a power source must be located. The constant use of power is a revenue stream meaning that story is finally a true consumable. The second is that the medium must connect to a source of content. Managing content, owning content, supplying content are all highly valuable areas that allow access for media exploitation. Medium obsolescence is the third and though not considered as important as other areas, it will drive device value and consumption.

The medium’s main benefits are it’s ability to carry vast numbers of stories, it’s lack of physical space and weight and it’s ability to adjust font size. It’s environmental footprint aside, the medium allows many who struggle with the reality of the physical form to enjoy story.

For those of us who love words, that believe in an intrinsic value to story, who do not believe that story can be just another widget, we must act. We buy the world we and our children will live in. When we buy the physical story, we must spend wisely and only on those products that are produced in a biologically sustainable manner, created by environmentally regulated industries, supplying jobs in locally, not globally—where costs are so easy to hide—locations. When we use medium to consume story, we must buy quality over quantity, for we are investing in the value of the work that created story. Always be vigilant that medium doesn’t control story, that the story’s core is not compromised for the medium. When a particular story moves you so much that its physical presence is something you want, read deeply. Compare. If we love story, if words have value that is not tied to a dollar sign then we must guard against censorship in all its forms.

 

Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows; Chapter 34

Posted on 16 Nov, 2013 | 0 comments

cover-dark-lords-1

I hope you are enjoying Dark Lords (Copyright 2013 T. Masters-Heinrichs); if so please share.

Chapter Thirty-four

The Little Things…

Castle Cor, Planet: Albion; Realm

Johanna sighed. Until her parents returned she was expected to be in the Voices Vestibule, who named it that? Listening to the concerns of the subjects of those under House De La Roche. She had listened to four people, their concerns mostly for her, not themselves. Oh, by the Blood, Dani! Please come home!

Howard Wiltmore was introduced, his life-partner Bill Stevens was with him. “Hello, Lady De La Roche.”

“I greet you in the name of the Lord and Lady of Castle Cor, House De La Roche. Come, sit and enjoy sustenance, for we break bread as equals.”

“As equals we are honoured to sit with you.” Both men took her hand and kissed the back of it. She really hated the formal language. Daniella always made it sound so smooth and easy; natural and definitely not rehearsed.

The older of the two men, Howard, was large, with big, working hands and thick white hair. He had large fuzzy eyebrows that reminded her of caterpillars and a thick jet black moustache. His Life Partner, Bill, was his opposite. Fine boned with the hands of a pianist. His fine red hair was curly, his eyes feminine under his delicate brows and a warm full mouth set in a smooth face. They both had the sour scent of worry.

Johanna motioned them to take their seats at the round table. All three chairs were equal distance apart, set up anew for each visitor. They even changed the table for larger groups. Tea and coffee had been set out.

“I would be honoured to serve you.” Damn, wrong. Johanna’s mind was blank. “May I serve you?”

“I would rather she brought the tray here,” muttered Bill into Howard’s curly white hair.

“Good. I am always afraid of getting it wrong,” Johanna said lifting the large tray with ease and setting it on the table between them. Bill’s eyes lit up at the biscuits displayed. Howard slapped his life partner’s hand and received a glare for it.

“Lady De La Roche,” Howard sighed. “I employed the unclean, I feel shame …”

“Please, call me Johanna, Mr. Wiltmore.”

“Call me Bill, Johanna, and Howard here is being silly.”

Howard Wiltmore harumphed. “The damn thing worked for us, Bill. Us.”

“Are either of you are telepaths, psychologists or profilers?”

Bill laughed, Howard looked sombre.

“No, Johanna. By the blood, no.” Bill chuckled and snatched a cookie.

“We’re shippers,” Howard said, he nodded to the offer of coffee.

“He worked very hard at keeping hidden.” Johanna shook her head. She reached out as she had been shown. Both men now understood that it was not their fault. They understood how it had hidden itself. Now they knew in their hearts as well as their minds. Howard wiped his face with his handkerchief. Bill hugged his bear of a partner. Johanna gripped each of their hands. There might easily be ten years between them, but their love was a solid thing.

“There must be a Great Festival, soon. We need the sense of security it brings,” Bill said. “Some think there may never be another Great Festival.”

“Community,” Howard said. “There are so few Vampyre on Albion.”

“Shush, once we have a Great Festival the sense of unity will return,” Bill said.

“The next festival is planned for eighteen months. As far as I know there is no reason for it not to go forward.” Johanna sat back. “You are shippers?”

“Yes, Always Fresh, that is what we call our little company. Did not want to call it Wilt-more.” Bill chuckled. “Not when you specialize in shipping perishables.”

Johanna smiled. “Yes, I can see that.”

Bill leaned forward, he gently gripped her hand again. “What is it dear? You can tell Bill?”

She looked down at his musician’s hands and let him feel her worry. “My sister … still no word.”

Howard made a growling sound. “Scoundrels, I get my hands on—”

“Shush you old sheep dog. Johanna, you think she was taken live?”

“Yes. With what happened to Abigail.”

“Going after a child! Bastards!” Howard muttered. “Get my hands—why would they want to grab a pair of kids—”

“Breeding!” Both Bill and Johanna said together. They looked at each other.

“Why grab a pair of young Vampyre on the verge of adulthood?” Johanna asked.

“To get a pair. There are few enough around. The old enemy wants the Vampyre destroyed!” Bill sat back.

“Who would want us alive?”

“What! You two are outrageous!” Howard shook his head. “Well, if this someone is kidnapping young ones, there should be more missing. Why go after two high profile children?”

“Because there are no low profile children left,” Bill said, eyes wide.

“What if they, who ever they are, are not just going after children? During the last five hundred years the number of accidents involving Vampyre have been steadily increasing. Weird accidents.” Johanna was staring down at the cookies. All the reading she had done on Jason …

“What?” Howard was sitting up now, his bushy brows facing off. “How so?”

“The Carodoc’s. Neal Carodoc and his wife, Jullietta Malwas died in a freak hover accident over the ocean on Esmeralda over a hundred years ago. Their bodies were never recovered. Mary-Anne Kaherdin went missing two hundred years ago hunting on Troth. No trace of her was ever found. Darling Olwyn while travelling in his personal ship in the Zuhause System, went missing eighty-five years ago between Francia and Vehmas. In the last one hundred and fifty years Jessa Ragnall, Cora Lee Mateo and Adele Deveau have all gone missing.”

“The Watt family,” Howard said quietly, then he spoke louder. “The Watt family. They were travelling with friends. All of them went missing on the edge of the Bata system. Eighteen people. We never found a trace of them”

“I remember, all our ships were put on alert.” Bill looked down at his fifth cookie. “The youngest was five.”

“How would you do it, Howard?” Johanna asked.

“Tell her Bill, what you said to Dave and Maya. Tell her!”

“My ancestors forgive me. I would, I would ship a Vampyre in a worm can. Put an anticongelante into their system, assuming they could take it, mind you,” Howard Wiltmore shook his head. “I would put an oxy mask on them, almost pure so they did not asphyxiate.”

“It is how they got slaves off the restricted colonies over three thousand years ago. Except they did not need an anticongelante.”

“A what?”

“When you ship the protein worms, not grubs like the old days, but worms, they have to be cooled to just above freezing. Usually plus one or they will die from starvation.” Howard looked sad. “So you put the anticongelante in the person in case the can drops below freezing. They go into a short term hybernation state, but you can not do it for long.”

“Some types of grubs you have to ship at minus five. They do not register as alive. When you put anticongelante into an animal for shipping, they also do not always register as alive.” Bill gripped Howard’s arm. “Tell her Howard, tell her about the shipments.”

“We shipped a lot of cans to those ships. If they put someone in one of them, they would not register on the scanners, if they pumped them full of an anticongelante.” Howard sighed. “White Tower shipped over eighteen hundred cans. We shipped twenty-two hundred cans. StarFresh shipped three thousand cans.”

Johanna felt her stomach grow cold. Bill was gripping her hand.

“If they wanted a live Vampyre, that is the best way, but why? Our Lady will fight them. She will find a way and get free. The risk!” Bill was shaking his head, she could feel that he was so angry that his emotions were raw.

“I need to show you both something.” Johanna got up, found paper and a pencil She pushed the tray aside. Closing her eyes she took the first picture, cleared her mind and focused. Then from the left top corner of the paper drew it in. When she was done she handed it over and started on the second picture.

“A hauler of some kind.” Howard hummed as Bill looked closely.

“An old Derby.” Bill tapped the corner of the picture. “Cans.”

“Maybe.”

Johanna showed them the second picture.

“You are right, cans.” Howard tapped the slighter larger view. “That makes no sense.”

“Why?” Asked Johana.

“An old Pegasus Industries Derby Hauler does not have tanks. They can not use protein grubs.” Howard shook his head.

“They are used to digest waste, then are converted into food for the crew.” Bill added. “Eight cans is enough to fill twenty-four tanks. A liner, or military vessel.”

“Or base, still, you would not ship them in a container.”

“What?” Johanna looked. Just on the edge of the picture the long coffin like cans were being loaded into a container. “What kind of container is that?”

“It is a cooler. You do not normally keep grubs that way. You put them in the bottom hold and drop the heat.”

“On an old Derby?” Bill shook his head. “There are no tanks. Derby’s are fast haulers. Why rush cans? They can sit in storage for up to three years.”

“I must tell …” Johanna froze. Tell who?

“Bah! We have no proof. No reason. This makes no sense.” Howard shook his head. “No one is going to believe us and if we are wrong, our Lady could die.”

“Do you have any idea where this picture was taken?”

They both looked at each other.

“Not a clue my Lady.” Bill said shaking his head.

“Well, not in the Realm or HFSS.”

“What?” Both Bill and Johanna looked at the picture. Howard pointed to the left edge of the picture, to a ship just behind the one in the photo.

“See that.” He tapped that wall just above it. “That is an Independant’s Sigil. And that, what you can see the edge of, is the Free Systems symbol. This is a moon or old base. Where ever this place is, my Lady, it is far, far from here.”

 

* * *

The UFSS Registered Ship: Barru; Type: Jax Industries Hauler, HFSS Territory,

Xanadu System jump point

 

Alex stepped out of the tiny personal wash closet. He had paid extra for hot water instead of a sonic shower. Sonic always made his teeth ache. Around him the feel of the ship’s engines had changed. They had reached jump point Xanadu. They weren’t actually in the Xanadu system but were using it as a point to set the ship for the next jump that would bring them to the Olympia system. They were out of hyper and slowing. He started cleaning his teeth.

The talk at the table the night before had turned to the Vampires and the Realm. No one it seemed, had really thought about what would happen if the Vamps vanished. No, that wasn’t the right word. Weren’t there between us and the verse. Just after Dai had mentioned Alex’s trip, he’d felt such a pang that … getting that com this morning … Alex sighed.

The ship’s vibration changed. Power transfers? Port side conduits regulators most likely needed calibration. Alex shook his head. He cleaned his tooth brush and picked up his shaver. He rubbed a hand on his stubble, it was rough and itchy. There was a mod that might be worth a try, no more hauling a shaver around the verse.

Wiping the mirror again, he started shaving. Dai had mentioned that the environmentals were off. The little cubicle, though open to the room, was filled with steam.

He’d learned that the ship was overloaded and understaffed. Things were getting rough in the HFSS if the greasers and geers onboard were getting full pay with no holdbacks. The clone problem wasn’t confined either. The Burru had lost eight of its cleaning staff, including the bot programmer. Why hire when you can buy a plug in?

The management were using all the bots upstairs and the clones were all failing,    only secondary machines down here. Thank the laws of chance, he’d splurged for the cabin, Alex thought. With no services, the bunks would be horrible. The heads were always breaking down. Of course he hadn’t mentioned any of that to Lisa, she’d never flown bunks and with her standards hopefully never would.

Alex, you could have had a few more memories last night, he thought, putting down his shaver and wiping the mirror with his left hand. He needed to make some comms—a shape moved in the clear smear. He spun around.

A large man was looking at him from the other side of the bed. The guy had to be a heavy worlder, or big into mods.

“Hello, Alex.” The voice was low, deep.

Who the frack?

Alex grabbed a towel, quickly wrapping it around his waist. “This is a private room. You need to leave.”

The man came around the bed it two strides. Alex went for the alarm by the headboard. The stunner was on the bedside table on the other side.

The man caught him by the right arm. Alex rolled driving his left heel into the man’s groin. His left elbow into the man’s face. The man grunted and Alex was thrown back against the wall with the wash station.

“That wasn’t very nice, Alex.”

The man slapped him, hard. Alex could feel blood running down his face. The second blow was to his diaphragm. Gasping for breath he dropped to the floor.

“Guess I look a little different.” The man grabbed him by the throat and lifted him against the wall. He pulled off Alex’s towel and used it to wipe his own bleeding nose. He breathed deeply of the towel then dropped it to the floor. Alex was trembling, choking. The man had his head against the wall. Alex was on his tip toes, seeing spots.

Across the bed, sitting on the night table was the stunner. It was less than three metres away. He tried to get his hands under the man’s fingers. He couldn’t force the man’s hand open. He kicked at him. The man pinned him against the wall with his body, he was taller and wider by more than a hands span.

“Let me properly introduce myself.” The man put his cheek against Alex’s and breathed deep before he spoke. “My name’s Gabriel, Gabriel Durand. Last time we met I was more myself. Good news. Mr. Williams has changed his mind. Both Saturn Industries and Saturn Systems will be utilizing your re-design.”

“You’re too late.” Alex choked out. “The Vamps signed the rights.”

“You know that’s not how it works, Alex.” Gabriel ran a finger around Alex’s right eye. “Heard you were in a Sedan accident. Really? Was it the Vamp from the symposium? He seemed a little hands on.”

Gabriel stepped away. Alex dropped choking to the floor. He kept his feet under him, knees together, back against the wall.

“Alex. You need friends right now. I could be a good friend, a gentle friend. Because, let’s be honest, I find that bit of antiquated tech you were hauling on Albion and we don’t actually need you.” Gabriel squatted down next to Alex. “Look at me, Alex.”

Alex turned his head. Gabriel’s expression was one of concern. He was resting his face on his left hand. He ran the back of his right hand down Alex’s arm. He motioned with his head to the end of the bed. Alex looked. At the wall, the new suitcase was sitting on top of the dresser in the space for luggage. The tan, high end, hard side was open, his DataBox sitting on top.

“Oh, look. There it is.”

Goose flesh had risen all over Alex’s body. Promise him what ever; get to the stunner; put him down; get the hell out of here.

“I have a proposition.” Gabriel’s finger tips found Alex’s left knee. “I didn’t appreciate being stood up before, neither did Williams. To him you’re not relevant. His advisers view your discovery as a fluke.”

Alex pulled his legs closer together, turned himself more toward the wash unit. He kept his head down, not making eye contact, his arms wrapped around his shoulders. He was still wet from the shower.

“They argued that someone as flat as you, with your background only gets one good idea. You’re a single function algorithm that got lucky.” Gabriel shifted. “They don’t see what I see. Flukes don’t have friends who are Admirals and Rear Admirals, they don’t stay at Dark Lord’s castles and they don’t jump up the re-cert levels like you have.”

Water was dripping from Alex’s hair, running down his back in cold rivulets. He was shivering. The heat from the shower had dissipated. His legs were getting stiff. Rear-Admirals? Admirals? What the frack was he talking about?

“The Jules Verne? They’re throwing you away, Alex. Don’t you see? It’s not an award. They are literally putting you on ice. They will be able to find you, to get to you when, if, they need you.” Gabriel sighed. “You’re cold.”

Gabriel started to stand. Alex hit him with his shoulder. Looking surprised, Gabriel fell back onto his ass. Alex was on the bed, his left hand on the book. His right hand reaching for the stunner.

He was yanked back. Deja vu from the Clover. Heart thudding, he scrambled, throwing the book, breaking the lamp, scattering everything from the top of the night table.

The pain was everything. Alex, curled around his groin. He couldn’t breathe. He almost vomited. 

“We could have been friends, Alex.” Gabriel grabbed Alex’s hair. Opening his eyes, Alex swallowed. Gabriel let go, he was staring down at Alex, hands on his hips. Gabriel shook his head. Neither of them breaking eye contact.

Alex knew he was supposed to submit. He remembered the training, had hated it at the time. Don’t make eye contact when dealing with a much stronger attacker. Use your military training, if that does not get you out of the situation, then you must try to survive until help comes. Remember details about your attacker. They never covered what to do when help isn’t coming. 

“Very well. I don’t believe you’re a one shot. I think there’s a lot more going on in there,” Gabriel tapped Alex’s head three times, “than Williams realizes. They wouldn’t put you on ice if you didn’t have other value.”

Gabriel looked down at Alex. “I’m not going to kill you Alex, but I am going to define our relationship. First, no one’s coming to rescue you. Second, you do manage to make it to the hall and there isn’t anything anyone on this ship can do for you. Thirdly and most importantly, from your point of view, is the fact that I’m the only one between you and death. A quick death, a slow death, either way, dead is dead. Do you understand what I’m telling you? Nod if you do?”

Alex nodded.

“Good, boy.” Gabriel reached down and ran a hand over the curve of Alex’s hip. “Now to the defining part.” Gabriel undid his shirt. Alex shifted back. He could feel the Neal Stephenson book against his shoulder. Something small and hard next to the book, digging into his back against his shoulder blade. Something small and hard.

Shifting to his left, Alex pushed the book away.

“Sorry, Alex,” Gabriel said. “You had your chance for nice.”

Alex glanced down at what was between the meatsuits legs. “Frack!”

Gabriel looked down. “Yeah, I know. It’s a guy thing, isn’t it? Hey, I was alreading paying a lot for this meatsuit, might as well get the extra centimetres.”

Alex was having trouble breathing. He scrambled sideways, he could hear stuff falling off the bed. Trembling, he pulled away, turning. Where the frack is it!

Gabriel’s eyes were drawn to the book. “Whoa, where did you get this?”

He reached for the hardcover. “Do you know what that tree symbol means?”

“It was printed on old Earth.” Alex’s left hand closed on the object still tangled in the blanket. Gabriel looked down at him.

“We’ll discuss this later.”

Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 35

Posted on 16 Nov, 2013 | 0 comments

 

cover-dark-lords-1

Chapter Thirty-Five

Wolf’s Shadow

Excalibur Shipyards, Albion System, Realm

 

The engines hummed. Jason could hear the change from resting state to maintenance cycle. He looked at the view screen as the left engine’s aft skirt flew off. It was caught in the wash and vaporized. He raised an eyebrow at the greaser on the bottom left of the screen.

“We’ll fix it.” The man growled. He turned away, muttering curses just before his picture vanished from the screen.

“Wilson, you need—Frack it. Cut the coms.” Jason stood. Who was he fooling? 

Around him the bridge was silent. Nav Ensign, MacDuff was sweating, the scent of her fear flowed about the room stiring up doubt. He couldn’t wait to see how she reacted when they were actually out of drydock. Jason raised an eyebrow. On the left screen, he could see the engine outputs.

“Where’s the rattle?” Jason asked.

“The what?” MacDuff whispered to Ensign Wagner, he shrugged.

The whole ship shuddered. The view port showed the docks tilting madly and Ivy bucked as she came up hard against the restraining cables.

“Okay, so we’re a little out.” Lightyears. Jason had kept his feet, now he helped Kwan and Major Calendri, the computer engineering officer, to theirs. “People, we have restraints for a reason.”

Dr. Carver’s anxious face filled the screen, she was running. “Medical emergency, Captain. I need you in engineering, engine room seven, access hatch fourteen-A.”

“Calendri, bridge!” Jason yelled as he headed past the lift. For him, it was faster to take the currently open bridge maintenance hatch. He ran through Ivy’s schematics in his mind. Jason, yelling for people to get out of the way, darted through two more hatches, down three flights of stairs and into section seven of the main port engine room. The open access hatch number 14-A was surrounded by people. The smell of fear was a wall he pushed through as he did those watching.

“Move! Move!” Jason stopped. Blood, his stomach clenched, mixed with the guttural smell of a ruptured bowel. Jason stopped on the narrow metal maintenance scaffolding that ran down the length of open area above the port engine coupling. Five metres below him, he could see seven people struggling. Under them, wedged in the area between the keel port pipe and the lower coupling was a body. Jason ran a hand through his hair. Then the body moved.

“Shit!” He jumped. Caught a support and dropped lightly onto the pipe that he had crawled through only four hours earlier. He avoided the blood covered areas and scrambled down to the broken body. The legs were all wrong. Spine broken. Two grey loops that Jason wanted to be wiring, but knew were not, rested against one of the smashed legs.

The rough looking greaser, Simon, was laying on the pipe, holding the young man’s hand. Jason covered his mouth with his right hand. Damn! Damn! Damn it! It was the kid! The damn kid who was going to save the fucking universe! Somehow he had managed to wedge himself under the pipe. His welder, was jammed in with him. It had opened him across the stomach.

“Hey, Cap,” Simon looked up at him, “had ourselves a slip.”

“Sorr-ry,” choked Yeoman Dex Weaver. “Did not, have, my … tie.”

“Next time you tie your sorry ass before stepping out, right Yeoman?” Simon’s voice was firm, as if the kid was fine.

Dex coughed. “Yes … yes ma’am.”

Three metres above them a lower hatch swung open. Dr. Carver stuck her head in. “Move it people!”

Jason reached up and helped her down. She started scanning Dex. “Okay, Raife, push in the sarc.”

Above them a new large portable severe-trauma medical unit scraped loudly through the access hatch. The two and half metre white tube would move easily in the new ships, but Ivy’s hatches were a tight fit. He could see shiny metal where the paint was being scrapped off.

The Sarc, short for sarcophagus, the nickname for the self-contained medical sleds that could survive decompression, lowered slowly. It stopped above the tube. Dr. Carver nearly slipped onto her patient. Jason caught her by the arm.

“We have a metre lift people,” Dr. Carver said as she knelt down. Lieutenant Raife was climbing down, an equipment bag over his shoulder. Dr. Carver called to him, “Jon, we need full boards. Captain, I need you to support Yeoman Weaver until we have him fully hooked up.”

“What?” Jason looked from Dex to Carver. “What do you mean, support him?”

Carver looked up at Jason as Lieutenant Raife, with the greasers’ help, started putting compression bandages on Dex.

Jason was having trouble breathing. He looked at Dex, the boy was dying, would die as soon as they pulled him out from the pipe, if they could pull him out.

“Guess I should have kissed Gwen,” Dex said softly.

“Captain?” Carver stood, stepping away from Dex. She took his arm and lead him a few metres down the pipe. “Jason?”

“You have a girlfriend, Dex?” Raife asked.

“What are you talking about?” Jason looked back. The silent heart monitor was flashing erratically. Raife had slapped on more shock packs. “I do not—”

“No, never kissed …” Dex’s voice was fading.

“He will not survive being lifted without your support. A biological link?” Carver blinked, suddenly incredulous. “Oh, shit, you have no idea what I am talking about.”

“Don’t you worry, Dex. You’ll get to do more than kiss a girl.” Simon said with a smile.

“Tell me what to do! Tell me and I will do it.” Jason looked from Dex back to Carver. She was shaking her head.

“What level of training do you have?” Carver asked quietly.

“I did not complete high school, Doc.” Jason’s voice was quiet. Dex wanted his mother, wanted a message sent to his family.

Carver put her hand on Jason’s arm, her face turned back to Dex. “Maybe if we amputate … if we can seal his trunk above the broken spine—”

“No.” Jason’s stomach twisted. He tapped his comm. “Kwan, I need you down here, now.”

A few minutes later an out of breath Grace Kwan looked down from the hatch. “My, a, Captain?”

“Down here, Kwan.”

Jason looked up as Kwan nodded and jumped.

“Shit!” Jason leaped. He caught her before she could hit the sarc. His left elbow cracked against it’s hard surface.

“Are you crazy?” Jason held her as he landed less than elegantly next to Carver.

“I trust you, my Captain.” Grace looked over at Dex and paled. She looked suddenly ill.

“I need to support Dex. To get him into the sarc.”

“A bio link?” Grace looked from Carver back to Jason. “Have you ever done one?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”

“That is it then. Raife, we are going to—”

“No!” Both Jason and Carver looked at Grace Kwan. She took a deep breath. “Every minute counts. Doctor, we each use the neural venom. A three way link. If you don’t fight us, then the Doctor can direct and I can guide you.”

“Okay. But if I bite you—”

Grace shook her head. “No. Just neural. Open your mouth.”

Jason did as she said, he braced for the pain, leaning in to her if as if for a kiss. Her lips found his and her tongue slid into his mouth, finding his left fang. He let them drop. She pushed delicately, then hesitated. Using her right thumb she held it on his right fang, not allowing the venom to leak out.

Both Grace and Jason shivered at the same moment. The link was strong. She was in his head. Jason blinked. No intensity. The sensation that had run through his core had been like a shiver but there had been no pain.

Doctor Carver leaned in and ran her tongue on his right fang. Immediately, Jason realized that they were losing Dex. She was not even sure in this would work.

Leaning down next to Dex, Jason reached out his left hand and slid it between the wall of the chamber and Dex’s chest. He could feel broken ribs. Good! Stop!

He knew that if he mixed his blood with Dex’s, the boy would die instantly. Only the nervous system and lymphatics! Be ready to break connection if we lose him!

The shock packs were pumping oxygenated fluids into Dex at a high rate.

Jason blinked. Grace Kwan had not trained with a specialist but had studied everything about Vampyres she could. Jason extended his claws, except, not. They were tubes, growing into him and out into Dex. The pain was incredible as they cut along his tissue and hooked up to his lymph system and nervous system. Both Grace and Carver were shuddering. Carver hit Jason with a pain killer, it only dulled the pain of his hands shredding internally.

Straddling Dex, Jason put his right hand behind the back of Dex’s neck and head. Again he forced his claws to grow out and in. They were around him. Raife, a medical grad student—lucky we got him!

Winnie was counting. “On three!”

Dex was coming apart! Jason could feel it! Could feel the boy’s body separating!   His hips—Dex’s hips! 

Focus! 

Another set of hands—Grace’s hands! Had Dex. Simon slapped two more shock pack onto Dex’s back. Then she was helping lift. Not just synth blood, but nannites as well. Jason was slipping! The blood on the tube! 

“Got you! Lift!” His Master Chief had him, physically lifting him, pulling him back onto the tube. Have to climb on top.

Jason scrambled backwards, his knees on the open lid of the sarc. Then Jon Raife, Grace and Winnie were hooking Dex up even as the auto systems took over.

“Not stable! Stay with him.” They were moving now, Dex and he. The sarc was filling with med gel. The nanites and gross trauma robotics working quickly. Up they went to the main access shaft.

“Shut that door!” was yelled from below.

Gage’s voice echoed in Jason’s head. He looked up. The maintenance hatch was too small with the sarc’s lid open. The group of dirty coveralls and pale faces vanished as they slammed it closed. The auto system took the next fastest route and they went through the main doors right into the med bay.

Lieutenant Todd was there, but she just stood aside as the unit plugged itself in.

Jason looked at her. The level two Lieutenant was saying something to him.

“Stable!” Debra Todd shook Jason. “Disengage, Captain!”

How? Jason tried to talk but his mouth was dry. He was getting cold, freezing in fact. Everyone was so far away. Except there was one voice and it was getting louder.

“…chondra! A bunch of babies! Who the hell fills a ship with—by the Black!” Gage’s large hands grabbed his and twisted them. Jason felt the snaps as his not claws broke free of Dex. Each one a searing pain as his hands leaked. He fell to the floor. Inside him, the other end of his claws broke apart like glass throughout the flesh of his hands. He curled around the pain.

Gage was beside him.

“Captain?”

Grace was sobbing somewhere, holding her hands, crying uncontrollably.

“Give him this now!” Raife pushed a hypodermic against Jason’s neck. The pain in his hands lessoned.

“What is wrong with him?” Gage asked.

“He has not fed recently.” Winnie Carver shook her head. “You need to feed! Now, Jason. We have overstrained your system. You have gone into shock.”

Jason curled around his hands. He just needed to sleep, that’s all. He had synth blood in his room. A shot was all he needed. 

Winnie was holding him up. Gage had his arm in front of Jason’s face. Jason turned away. No! No! They would not force him! He would never be forced again!

“Captain! Jason!”

Jason blinked. He was in the Ivy’s main med bay. Gage had an elbow around his throat, strangling him. He eased up. “Captain Malwas! Captain! Captain!”

Jason gulped air, he had pushed them away. Winnie was on her ass, being helped up by Raife. Grace and Todd were getting up. Grace’s eye was swelling. Jason was shaking. I did that … I hit them.

“Captain! We need you! Sir!” Gage yelled, spoke?

“Dex?” Jason could not get his legs working. His hands throbbed.

“Stable.” Winnie said, stepping closer. “You need to feed, Jason. Now.”

“Synth.” Jason said. The connection was breaking down into a grey spots.

“No.”

“Your orders, Captain?” Gage had his arm in front of Jason’s face. The Master Chief looked like he was going to swear again. 

I need to talk to him about his mouth—You are one to talk! Grace’s voice snarled in his head.

Jason focused, Grace was glaring at him.

“On my desk, the command codes, our orders. You are in charge, Master Chief.” Jason swallowed, it was hard to talk. Winnie tore open Gage’s left sleeve. Jason leaned forward. His teeth broke skin and there was no pain. The rush came even as he relaxed into the warm darkness.

 

 

Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 33

Posted on 16 Nov, 2013 | 0 comments

cover-dark-lords-1

Chapter Thirty-Three

War Hymns

Lakash Intelligence Centre, KomaKuuu, World Rietmus, Lakash Space

 

“Lord Kenaha, most exalted. The Grand Armada has formed and now splits itself in three. They are leaving. Three different directions.”

When those words had come Lord Kenaha merely smiled. The female intelligence officer with her claws out had dropped to her knees. She had trembled, head bowed before him then lifted her muzzle exposing her throat. Ready to die.

“Fear not, Child of the Lakash, your Mothers await you.”

The Officer had straightened then returned to her post. If she was to meet the Mothers, then she would go proudly. That had been ten days earlier. He had sent his reports. As he watched the latest surveillance footage, he smiled. It was time.

“Prepare my transport.” Kenaha strode from the reporting room. He was still changing into appropriate breast plate and cloak when the demand for his immediate presence came from the communications officer on the Slayer of Dragons. The Empress herself was aboard the flagship.

With a smile that had inferiors on their knees and exposing their throats, Lord of Understanding, Kenaha Bru’Ta (True Blood) boarded his ship. He stood proudly at the command bridge for the short jump to BeTehHar (Seat of Power). His ship docked with GuJehHar (Where Power Floats Hungry) station. Sitting, like an enemy ready to attack, Slayer of Dragons was docked to the top of the two hundred kilometres long and half as wide battle platform.

Kenaha Bru’Ta walked, unarmed, guarded by the will of his Empress to the Grand Hall. Stepping into the vast space, he looked down. The illusion was of looking at the planet below. BeTehHar floated, the scars of the Vampire ship, Excalibur, were still a wound upon his home world, one visible from space. The death of the Excalibur had cracked the planet, blown free a third of the atmosphere and irradiated the entire biosphere. Even as he looked, he could see red molten lines about the edges of the grave of Excalibur.

“Tell me, Kenaha Bru’ta,” the voice was low, gravelly, female, “what feelings beat in your chest at the sight of your womb’s desecration?”

“To have such enemies, Queen of Heaven, Mother of Warriors, Eater of true Flesh!” As he spoke, Kenaha stepped forward, fell to his knees and raised his hands and head, exposing his throat, he smiled. His voice was filled with rapture as he continued to speak, “We are honoured above all others. Even our enemies strike fear into those that would stand against us.”

“Do our enemies wish to honour our warriors by sending them to the Hall of the Mothers?”

Kenaha shook his head. “Such would be a great end. Glorious, but it is not our time. Another must learn the bite of the Vampires.”

The view above changed. Instead of the sky of BeTehHar, a section of the space belonging to the insectoid TickTick  and Kay-dars appeared.

“Rise, Lord of Understanding, Kenaha Bru’Ta, tell us the story. Explain to us this new chapter in the Saga of the Vampire.”

Kenaha rose. He looked at those gathered around the edges of the room. There were the Generals of War, the Hunters of Truth, and the Keepers of Lists. The Empress herself and he without name who would ascend the Throne upon the first day of his one-hundredth life cycle and be named for the glory of the People, all had their eyes upon him, Kenaha.

“An enemy has scorned the Vampire. An enemy has insulted the honour of the Vampire. An Enemy has laughed, seeing the past as glorious and the present as its shadow. An enemy does not understand the Truth that the Lakash taught the Vampire and the Vampire brought back to the Lakash. Now, this enemy will learn.” His audience was enraptured. Kenaha stepped to the centre of the room. He pulled a data link from his pocket, a Keeper nodded and the information was uploaded.

Immediately the images above them changed. Notifications appeared. The Lakash and TickTick space border. The aggressive insectoid species got its name from the sound it made before attacking. They saw all ‘soft bodies’ and ‘warm bodies’ as food or infection. They had eliminated the eleven species that could one day have lifted themselves to the stars in the systems between Shedu A Lakash and TickTick space. The border skirmishes had become an hourly affair. So far the Empress, in her wisdom had not called for the War Drums, but it must be, any time now. A wall of TickTick ships had appeared, amassing along the border. As was their tactic, they would attack in overwhelming numbers when they were ready.

It would be minutes until what Kenaha had recorded would be shown. With a smile he raised his hands. He filled his words with dramatic emotion.

“The Pendock hear the Drums. We the Lakash, batter their ships. Their warriors die screaming, gutted on our claws! They die hungry, for we eat their meat! They die with honour, honouring us with their blood!”

Somewhere a soft drum beat had started. Kenaha let the music build a moment before continuing. “The Thisska, with their songs of peace, hear the Drums.”

He walked around the room, doing the ancient movements of the Dance of Life, his claws exposed, then hidden. He stopped turning suddenly and pointed to a small section of the stars above. “The Dreckets, scattered, like a nest of scosa fallen from a tree. They strike out! And we, in respect and honour break their necks. The Dreckets. Are they fit? Could the many packs be unified even for their own survival? Such would be a gift that their children for generations would sing praises to the Lakash. Or perhaps, there is a place in the Hall of Mothers for their great warriors.”

Kenaha stopped in what he hoped was the right place. He turned, raising his hands slowly. Then he exposed all fourteen claws fully and tore the sky. As he did so, what he was calling the White Running Pack, appeared along the border between the TickTick and the Lakash. With drama, Kenaha kept his hands spread, all seven claw tips on each hand still exposed and moved the angle to the FenDetHar Platform’s point of view.

His talk had raised the tension to the point he could smell the musk of the younger warriors. Now, even shrunk down, everyone in the great room sucked in their breath at the size of the Pack of Ships that were moving along the corridor truly made itself known.

“Fifty thousand Great Stars. Nine thousand Swords. Five thousand,” he let them watch the ships pass, slowing his voice as he continued, “forward Hunters. Twenty-three Star Killers.”

Somewhere a singer had started the Hymn of the Honoured Dead to Come to Hall of the Mothers. The musky smell had risen, glancing about, Kenaha could see the gleam of claw tips from almost every hand. The drum beat in rhythm as the mournful song continued.

“Eighty-thousand Hammers. Twenty-five thousand Serpents. Among them, eighty-one thousand Hounds.”

Those watching, could no longer sit still, they were spreading about the great hall. Walking under the expanse of ships that just kept coming. Every eye upon the Great Strength of the Vampire. The singer sang the last line then another started the Coming Battle Will Be Great.

“One hundred thousand Claws.” Kenaha moved, raising his hand so that his claw tip ever so slightly disrupted the image as the first of the five main battle platforms appeared. There had been a theory that they were actually ships, but none could believe it, now none could doubt it. “Five, Peace Bringers.”

Kenaha brought his hands down and roared a challenge. Everyone immediately lowered their own heads, ready to fend off the challenge or to join it. The Empress hissed defiance. Stepping forward, her colour raised, she stopped as the wall of TickTick ships appeared.

Compared to the Running Pack, the wall now seemed insignificant. Then the wall began to flow forward. The TickTick began to make their move. Sudden static startled everyone, but the Empress.

“We are Ships of the Dragon Fleet. Stand aside, for we pass in peace. Hinder us and we shall remember and our memories are long.” A female Vampire spoke the words in Lakash. Her grey robe, meant she was one of the Council of Nine. That meant War. Her words had caused every head to rise in submission at the strength of her power, of the ships at her command, even if the message was old and sent only to the defence stations and ships along the vector.

One did not raise her head. The Empress stood as if the image had spoken to her directly. The Empress even gave a motion of permission that one only gave to an equal. Every eye, Kenaha knew, saw their Empress as the Vampire’s equal.

The Empress moved now, her strength and beauty displayed for all as she circled. Her face flushed, her colour flared, red and yellow. She stopped on the Lakash side, as the TickTick ships began attacking.

The Running Pack came on. Not that they could simply stop. Yet they could have chosen to not fire, to ignore the TickTick, but the TickTick made the choice for them.

The sudden lines of golden light from the ships on the TickTick side was beautiful. The wall flowed forward and like a wave broke itself against the Running Pack. The Vampire fleet opened fire even as it spread itself out.

Now, all the Vampire Running Pack ships engaged the TickTick. They cut through the TickTick like claws through human belly flesh. The Running Pack was still entering the area, still not to it’s next leap point. Still moving at speed. Yet it turned to claimings for the recyclers the Wall of the TickTick.

“The Mothers honour us,” The Empress said. “Why have they done this?”

“They will meet their enemy on three fronts. It is good strategy.” Kenaha smiled. “Their enemy will not expect such. They will not escape with ease. They will find the Vampire teeth at their throats. Should they manage to run they will be badly wounded.”

The Empress nodded. Finally the end of the Running Pack appeared.

“Is it insult?” The voice of he who is not named asked.

“No insult is intended.” Kenaha spoke carefully. “They chose the path to show our enemies the strength of the Vampire. To show the strength of the Shedu A Lakash. They skirt our border, but do not enter our space. They fly with their guns hot. Their claws ready.”

“Who guards their dens?” He who is not named asked. “If they have sent all their ships to their enemy’s hunting ground. If their warriors now hunt afar, who guards their eggs?”

* * *

Excalibur Shipyards, Albion System, Realm

 

Jason reread the communication. Right, a new mission already. Before he was taking on this assignment there were a few comms he had to make. He just hoped he wasn’t too late for the most important one.

Coming to the mess, Jason noticed an older woman sitting at the Captain’s table. He checked his wrist com. Right on time, the ship’s doctor. Her grey hair was cut short, her dark skin was lined. He didn’t believe she had passed the minimum fitness requirements without a little help.

“Dr. Carver.” Jason slid his tray of rare beef, boiled potatoes and chopped spinach onto the table.

“Captain.” She raised an eye at his tray. “I will need to talk to the kitchen staff about the food.”

“We got a new head cook, Leo Barlow.”

“Tall fellow, built like a footballer?”

Jason nodded.

“He seems very emotional. He was crying over the spoiled lettuce.” Carver shifted in her seat. “How is your mouth feeling?”

Jason cut a small mouthful of beef, chewed it slowly. He shrugged. “Actually, Doc, I’ve been too sore to notice. I think it’s doing okay.”

“You have not fed since the operation? Pushing it a bit, are you not?”

Jason had taken another small bite of beef. Before he could answer, a tall, strongly built older man, white hair and a snap to his step approached the table.

“Sir! Master-Sergeant, Gage Davies, reporting for duty.” The man’s salute could kill and his creases could cut bread. Jason swallowed his beef and motioned for the man to take the seat next to him. He introduced the Doctor and Yeoman Jones across the table.

“You have your work cut out, Sarge. We have new orders. We ship out in two hours for Solaris Station.” Jason took a sip of his protein drink. “We are going to be boots dirty, hands bloody before this week is out. Sixteen of your marines were cadets last week. All four of your Ranger team have yet to get dirt under their nails and your Commander still hasn’t graduated. This is her first bird.”

Gage could have muttered, black side, chondra, fracking, Fex sex lovers, but such language was frowned upon in the Mess and definitely at the Captain’s table. Jason decided he had misheard.

“There also seems to be a problem with regs. We appear to be the only persons on a military bird during wartime.” Jason had yet to see a side arm or personal shield belt on any one but the Sergeant, Doc, Jones and himself.

“Indeed, Captain,” Gage looked around the room. “How many boots do I have?”

“Two twenty-five’s, two three’s on artillery and four snipers, all green or younger.” Jason motioned to Winnie. “Doc here has evac training and is our only confirmed pilot.”

Gage’s eyebrows rose. “No air support?”

“Ivy’s landside capable, but her guns are a little … missing.”

“Missing?” Winnie asked. “What do you mean our ship’s guns are missing?”

“She was supposed to have two fully functioning rail-guns. Unfortunately, they were removed, her main gun was deactivated and pulled before she was dry docked. Her mass driver is still intact but not hooked up to any power sources.”

“No guns? No birds?” Gage asked. He was looking pissed off.

“Oh, no, Sarge, don’t want to mislead you. Good news, we got fifty 311 Peace Keepers, bad news, one pilot, maybe. And we launch them from the aft storage bay. The one with a door cut in it.”

Gage looked at the Doctor. Winnie shrugged. “Dagmar asked.”

If he had been Dagmar, Jason thought, he would have told Alexandria to go screw herself.

* * *

 

The UHSS Registered Ship: Barru; Type: Jax Industries Hauler, Along the axis between HFSS and Free Space

 

 

Alex headed to the general mess. He was berthed in the upper steerage section. He’d never been in such a big cabin, usually he bunked it. The cabin was smaller than his bathroom had been at Castle Cor. A lot smaller.

Walking up to the mess entrance the steward held out his hand.

“Sorry, sir, upstairs is first class.”

“I know. This is steerage mess.” And crew, Alex waited. The man nodded, uncertain, then blinked, downloading Alex’s position on the manifest and his history.

“Hey! Lieutenant!”

Alex smiled at Furuta. She motioned him over. “You dress up all shiny, Hunter.”

He returned her hug. “Heard you were on this boat. Couldn’t miss a chance to see an old friend.”

“What have you been doing with your retirement?” She asked, looking him up and down. “Working hard?

“Mind out of the gutter, Dai.” Alex sat where Furuta indicated. Several men and women were giving him looks. Got to get new clothes.

“What?” Furuta said. “You dogs think everyone I know is a greaser? He’s the geer I was telling you about. This is Alex Hunter, Lieutenant Retired.”

He shook hands about the table. A couple of the women and one of the men were giving him more than a cursory glance.

“Shit, you really upgraded. Tweaks?” Furuta asked.

“No, just studied up. I was afraid to get re-cert in case I dropped a level. Guess that goes to prove you don’t know what you know.”

“I got the bottle you sent.” Furuta smiled. “Saving that for a very special day.”

“You deserve it. Guess I need to get some new rigs. Your room steward didn’t want to let me in.”

“You’re so shiny it hurt his eyes.” The table burst out laughing. The meal was awful, the drink sour and the talk all shop. Alex was at home in minutes.

Hours later he headed back to his room via the observation hall. Outside space was black. There were no stars visible in hyperdrive. A lot of people went crazy looking into that darkness, no sense of movement. That’s why it was called the Black. Upstairs, the rich got to see fake stars streaking past.

He noticed the woman, more because of how others avoided her then her clothing. She looked young, but looks were usually deceiving. Like him, she was dressed out of place, her hair perfect, her breasts a little too gravity defying. As Alex walked by she turned.

“Excuse me?” Her voice was smooth, deep and sultry.

Alex stopped. She looked so out of place on this level. So do you, Alex reminded himself.

“Care for a nightcap?” Her smile was tentative.

“I’m good, thank you. Are you sure you should be down here?”

“Are you?” She sighed. “Just needed a breather. I’m in contract, you?”

“No. Not in the business.”

“Oh, just thought.” She shook her head. She turned back to face the black. Alex waited but she just stared into the nothing. Mariners were warned never to look too long into the black, because just before you lose it, the black stares back.

“Actually, I could use a drink. My treat, no ob,” Alex said.

She smiled, a little sadly, shrugged, then took his offered arm. They sat in the forward lounge. She stared at him.

“You’re not uplinked, at all?”

“No.” Alex watched her digest that. “So you don’t know anything about me?”

“I’ll know what ever you want to tell me.” Alex ordered fried thet, the salty carb and protein came in short battered sticks.

She laughed, and he knew it had been a long time since she had laughed for real.

“My name’s Lisa.”

“Hello, Lisa, I’m Alex. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He stood and took her hand, kissed it as he would any woman from the Realm.

“Are you travelling for pleasure or business, Alex?”

“Both. I’m to be a member of the Jules Verne, exploratory ship.”

That caught her off guard. Lisa blinked, then with a faint smile said, “Seems a shame.”

“You?”

She flinched. “I’m boring. My story’s been told a million million times, Alex.”

“I haven’t heard it.”

“I was young once, for real. Thought I wanted to travel, see the stars. Couldn’t afford it so I sold myself into contract for the chance to see the verse. Saw too many vids where an Elite would sweep a poor little pretty off their feet.” Lisa sighed. She took a bite of the thet. “I used to eat this in school. Uni. I was going to get my degree in sociology and med tech, level twelve was my goal.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“A recruiter. There were these young women, thought they were young. Came around. They offered me a job, said I could go to school later. Made the life sound so glamourous.” Lisa picked up another piece of thet. “I sound bitter.”

“You sound tired.”

“They promised us a big party. No one said it would be for life. It wears you out.” Lisa took another bite.

“Why don’t you buy yourself out?”

“This doesn’t come cheap.” Lisa motioned to her face. “I’ve been modded so many times …”

She shook her head. Curled up her legs and sat back. “What about you, Alex? Why are you slumming?”

“Me? This is high up for the likes of me.” Alex shrugged. “I’m in an upper steerage cabin and not the bunks. First time.”

She raised one perfect eyebrow.

“That jacket isn’t synth, neither is your shirt. You’ve never been modded. The way the crew nods to you, who are you really? Part owner?”

“A retired Lieutenant. A geer, through and through. The clothing, gifts.”

“I thought you said you weren’t in the business?”

“I’m not. My life just got … complicated for a while. And part of that was losing all my old clothes.”

Lisa laughed. “Really?”

Alex nodded. “It was the strangest thing. All my military issued standards, even my briefs, gone. Not at once, it took a dirtside week. Gone.”

She smiled and leaned forward. She was looking at him closely. “The thing is, Alex Hunter, I think you are telling me the truth.”

“I am. It wasn’t my fault.”

“Hmm. I think you say that a lot, too.”

“Another glass of wine?”

“Actually, do you want to go back to your cabin.”

“Are you sure you want too?”

Lisa gave him an odd look. “They won’t notice me missing. Stars, are you with someone? Of course you are.”

“No.” Alex pushed aside Dani’s image. “No, no one.”

“That Alex, is the first lie you’ve told me. Was she part of the complication?”

“She didn’t, couldn’t notice me.”

“Ah. Complicated.”

“Very.”

Lisa leaned forward and kissed Alex. She suddenly smelled sexy and sweet.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Just, habit.” Lisa smiled. They walked back to his cabin. She laughed when they entered the little room.

“You weren’t kidding.”

“No.” He opened a bottle of sweet red wine. “So why the Burru? Seems low end for you.”

She lay on his bed and he sat in the very comfortably broken in chair.

“My current employer and his family are moving, well, running.”

“Trouble? The ToGartta again?” Alex kicked off his shoes and crossed his legs in the chair.

The ToGartta, have they ever stopped? I heard that they’ve been hitting liners, the big ones.” Lisa lay back on the bed stretched then she sat up and downed the glass.  “I don’t know if that’s true. ToGartta hitting the big ones. I mean, I doubt it. But now, anything’s possible.”

She held out her glass. Alex split the last of the bottle with her.

“The whole verse is in trouble. My boss says the umbrella has collapsed. Anyone near the edges had better run and find a deep hole.” Lisa dimmed the lights and let him refill her glass again, this time from a bottle of white wine.

He kept hearing about the umbrella closing … but it was hard to believe. What in the verse could cause that to happen?  “Are the Vampyre closing ranks?”

“Something like that. Their ships all went off somewhere. People are scared. Every ship from Farrago to Benft is filled with refugees. I was hoping to see the Realm. Not all of it, just one world. Troth, or Hallstat. Perhaps Allemagne. They say they’re all beautiful. Do you know anything about the Realm?” Lisa picked up the shot glass he had bought at New Oxford.

Was it because of Dani? How many ships would they send for her? Was the old Enemy attacking again? It would never be all the ships. Maybe it was the Lakash?

“I was there, for the symposium and trade summit.”

“Oh, and here I’m going on.”

“No. You really should go if you can. It’s beautiful. Like a history vid come to life. Like old Earth, and Eden and Terra all rolled into one.”

“Tell me?” Lisa curled up, her head on his pillow and Alex talked about Albion. About apple blossoms and geese, about horses and carriages. Half an hour later, Lisa had fallen asleep. Alex covered her with one of the spare blankets, then threw the other over himself. He pushed the chair back. It was just like one of the bunks, only more comfortable.

A loud buzzing woke him. Alex sat up. The bed was empty. He had set his alarm for seven hundred hours ship time, but the clock indicated it was oh-five twenty.

The buzzing was coming from the comm. Alex answered the hail.

“We have an incoming personal message. Will you accept?”

Alex felt his heart start beating. The message code was immediate family, medical emergency.

“Yes, I’ll take the comm.”

As he waited for the long distance communications to integrate. He noticed the wash station mirror. Written on it in something red, most likely lipstick was:

Had a great time, thank you, 

The Realm sounds wonderful,

Who ever she was, it was her loss,

Your friend Lisa 

She had kissed the mirror.

There was a beep. The image decoded. Alex blinked. Not who he had expected.  And by the look on their face, the news wasn’t good.