Excerpts

The Nanite Warrior

As the heli settled on Enforcer Precinct’s landing deck, Ithan heard the massive overhead doors moving into place to seal the port. Ithan rose and snapped his fingers. Leid followed at his left heel, and he followed a few steps behind the stretcher carrying his new prisoner-wife. Randall walked on his right side.

He knew he should feel far more upset with his idiotic action. His claiming, certainly in his own mind, ranked as the most outrageous and strangest departure from Agin’er behavior ever, and he could guess what Lord Van Garth would think. After all, while McDirk had claimed his valuable prize before she was beheaded for crimes against Aginfeld, he already knew exactly who she was. Ithan knew there would certainly be repercussions over his claiming, especially since his wife was obviously on the Colonial Pact payroll. Yet, somehow, his decision made him feel more in control of his own life, even made him feel adventurous. And certainly he had thwarted Lord Van Garth’s plan. No potential wife would marry him now.

The Enforcers’ medical team, led by Doctor Branduff Tik-Slade, tall and blonde with his habitat’s heritage, already waited on the landing deck as he emerged from the ship. Tik-Slade’s presence caused Ithan some dismay.

Aginfeld’s Sovereign Comyn Tik-Slade was the doctor’s cousin, and the sovereign would surely learn of what had transpired quicker than Ithan could make any report.

Doctor Tik-Slade glanced at him, taking a second from his examination of his new patient. “Thank God, the message said it was you we would be treating.”

“Don’t know how that miscommunication happened.” He smiled as the doctor’s face relaxed. They had worked together for years in the Enforcers, and had become friends due mostly to Ithan’s medical background.

“Take care. You handle his wife, newly claimed,” Randall spit out in gruff disgruntlement. “Must be the position…making too many decisions disturbs the mind and causes even clever men to make rotten personal choices.”

Ithan threw his bodyguard an expression that ordered him to desist, since the doctor had done something very similar. Randall huffed and fell into position.

“She is off-world. Her flight crashed, and she halo-jumped to escape.”

Tik-Slade gave him a protracted look before he turned his gaze to the medical reader on the woman’s neck. His medical team transferred her naked body to the waiting treatment carrier. More than one took a second glance at the firm musculature of her long frame. Beneath her life support garment, they had found another wound, a short but deep slicing wound that left dried blood on the inner support garment, and a small tag pulled from the muscle, hanging outside the body from the wound, wires still connected it to the body. “Don’t touch that,” Tik-Slade ordered his team. He read his medical reader. “Close the medical carrier and increase the pressure, let’s get her to the infirmary,” Tik-Slade told his team while he finished connecting various tubes and equipment. Within two minutes the three medical personal were rushing the carrier to the infirmary in the Enforcer Precinct.

Before following the medical team, Ithan spoke to the officers awaiting his orders. “Take the flight and life support suits to discovery, explain the situation, and tell them to see what info can be learned. Tell tech to track that ID tag, and as soon as the weather clears, send out another flight to inspect the crash site. Have the crew collect the debris and take it to the science lab. They might be able to tell us something, even if it’s only flight data information. Make sure there are no transponder devices left.”

He looked around the deck. His men worked storing equipment while cleaning, and securing the just-landed heli. Already the landing circle slowly rotated, moving the heli to the correct position to be moved into line with the other atmospheric craft parked in a semi-circle around the landing deck’s perimeter. The hum of equipment, voices, and the distinctive scent of the bio-fuel lingered in the air.

His wife waited. The thought drew his attention and he left the landing deck.


Trixie's Hot Box 

Book contains Adult Content, excerpt is PG

From MuseItUp Publishing, June 2012
Urban Fantasy.


Excerpt:
I walked around the bar to the front door to get a better view, still polishing a glass. The walnut front door was dark, heavy, and thick, the glass filled two-thirds of the door’s height. With the soft burr of the interior’s equipment, I couldn’t hear anything outside, yet saw, nearly felt, the man’s gaze on me.

Which is crazy. On a bright sunny day like today, no one can see what’s happening inside because of the dark window glass.

A memory not my own flew through my mind. Eva watched two men replace the windows with tinted glass. With her hands on her hips, the feisty former proprietress declared, “That’s the last bar brawl taking place here. It’s nearly the eighties, for heaven’s sake. Time to clean up this old joint.”

She may or may not have been a relative. I don’t know. Except once her memories became mine, I felt her as part of me. Is this feeling wrong? Was my owning Eva’s memories what Nancy resented? This was my first soul collection, so… Je ne sais pas.

“You sure he’s gonna come in here?” Nancy asked.

The stranger moved, turning slightly, permitting me a long look at his face. My starved libido jumped to instant alert. The man possessed wide shoulders, and he was taller and trimmer than I thought. He wore his black hair in a professional cut at a nice run-your-fingers-through length. Deeply tanned skin stretched over exquisitely molded features shiny with sweat. The image might charge anyone’s pump.

As he waved an arm at Juan, I saw sweat lined his shirt, too. “So take off the jacket, you tight-ass moron.” His gaze swung toward the door, his face angry. I almost believed he’d heard me. Although he wore sunglasses, he looked at the front door, perhaps considering what he’d find inside. He couldn’t actually see inside, couldn’t be looking at me.

I finally answered Nancy. “Oh, oui. I’m sure.” Plain clothes—a detective, what could he want?

Juan approached and knocked on the front entrance and called my name. The stranger stood next to him.

I quickly glamoured my appearance. It’s not control of mind or manner. Well, maybe it is more truthful to say it’s not supposed to be mind control, or so Eva says. Glamouring is reading the other person’s body language, sensing their scents, what touches them, what they envision, and manipulating your body movements and their senses to what you wished them to see. My
symbiont manages the rest.

Unlocking the door, I let the men enter. Juan’s anxiety pheromones and heavy sweat hit my senses first, followed by the sweat undertones of the stranger. He wore an unfamiliar cologne or aftershave. It wasn’t a sweet or overpowering scent, smelling more subtle, heavy in sandalwood, spicy; effectively concealing his scent. I couldn’t determine his mood. He didn’t let Juan speak.

“Miss Gregory? I’m Detective Michael Quentas with the St. Louis County Police Department...”



Crewkin

MuseItUp Publishing
Renna felt as lifeless as Sen's cold body on the bed next to her. She packed her possessions in her travel bag with careful precision. They were few enough. Everything else belonged to the ship, or the crewkin as a whole, so reverted to Markham Company. Renna didn't care. She needed no reminders. The vision of the bodies of her kin, removed one after another from this hospital room promised memory enough.

"You can't survive."

The doctor echoed Sen's last warning. A glance showed the doctor, leaning against the door, watching her, waiting. She didn't know his name. He never identified himself. Another anonymous Markham employee, dressed in a Markham medical uniform, as foreign to her as everyone else.

Years of ingrained prohibitions prevented the response screaming inside. She controlled her voice. "You recommend I join Sen, join my crew?" Like you and your staff encouraged her? Helped her? A final joining? Bastard. Renna closed her bag.

Truth struck her. I don't want to. I'm afraid of dying. Coward. She couldn't look at Sen, loyally joined with her dead kin.

"Where will you go? You are genetically unfit to live planet-side and mentally unprepared to interact with another ship's crew. Crewkin are longhaulers, not shortrunners. We recommend a final joining because we know you won't fit in."

Renna looked around the windowless, beige room, now mostly empty with her kin and their hospital beds removed. Only Sen's bed and hers remained. Sleeping alone in a bed had seemed so strange. Perhaps another unspoken means to encourage her kin to their final joining? Although her eyes burned, she held no more tears.

"My problem, doctor." Me, mine, my, such strange pronouns after we, ours, and us—now unimportant, like everything else.

Renna snapped the closures on her bag and turned to the door. He remained, relaxed against the door frame.

"The staff understands your pain, no matter what you think. I've seen kin like you before. You're conditioned to survive within your own society. Believe me, we only want to provide for your needs, for your comfort."

Renna looked away, escaping his gaze. No. Not me. Her kin, her future, her known existence ended with Markham3's failure, yet she refused the doctor's cure. In the awkward silence, she left. He didn't move as she passed. She sidled around him to prevent any touch. He huffed, shaking his head in unvoiced comment on her defiance.


Change
From Wings ePress
The flaming brand heavy in her hand, Tyna took two steps and thrust the short length of wood into the carefully built structure. Dry kindling quickly ignited. Like a replay of the life it consumed, the fire remained hesitant at first. Small nascent flames crawled in pale transparent lines along pine branches to suddenly crackle with the energy of young life. Air caught and twined the glowing currents in endless possibilities and eddies that eventually whipped into a crescendo of radiance, engulfing the pyre. She imagined she saw her mother writhing within, as she had before the fever claimed her. The image was so strong she nearly called out.

“Your mama is now at rest.” The cleric patted her arm and left.

At rest? Mama never rested. She caught herself up, hearing Naomi’s curt reply to calling her 'Mama'. “I am Naomi, owner of a caravan and mother of two girls, but still myself. You will call me Naomi.” Her words backed her strong Kernite belief that the Holy One was everyone’s parent; his followers were all brothers and sisters, meant to work together but maintain independence. Tyna murmured an answer to her memory. “I am sorry, Naomi, but you will always be my Mama.”

Nor would Naomi have approved of the funeral service, but no Kernites homesteaded in the surrounding area. At least the Holy One’s words given by the cleric provided Tyna comfort.

Her workers spoke their condolences, then left for the caravan’s campsite. Tyna remained. She watched the flames until the conflagration died and only embers remained. There would never be reconciliation with Kissre. She had sent messages, but her sister had neither come nor sent word. She should have been here, should have helped, should have made peace and said goodbye. Now her chance was gone. Death never waited on personal choice.

Jebe stood nearby. A man hired by her mother to lead and protect the caravan. Unreliable, stout, middle-aged Jebe, who needed frequent hygiene reminders and memory prods about life’s niceties. He covets your caravan. She put the thought aside as inappropriate.

As the fire ebbed, Jebe urged her home. They walked along the icy riverbank to the painted and merchandise-festooned wagons of Naomi’s trade caravan, grouped on the fringes of a small hamlet. Jebe helped her step onto the back door step of her wagon and waited while she lit the lamp hanging outside the door. He bid her goodnight. She watched him walk away.

Stepping into the wagon she looked around the interior. Fresh awareness of her loss brought tears denied during the funeral. Her mother’s work gown hung next to hers. All their small necessities of dress and personal adornment intertwined within the small space. But Naomi was gone, and continuing the caravan fell to her. A gust of wind blew out the lamp. She closed the wagon’s door. Sinking onto her narrow bed, she listened to the wind. Eventually rain poured over her wagon, drumming a soft, slushy rhythm on the roof, broken later by the hard rap of hail.

Acceptance

From Wings ePress
Unobserved on a footpath high above the river valley, Kissre pushed wind-blown hair from her face and watched the wagons below her. The wind squalled down the valley’s walls with a cold wail and the sting of icy air. It came at her from ever-changing angles, pushing her both forward and back, urging her to any direction. Ever obstinate, she remained immobile.

Her mother’s caravan wove through the rutted path along the river’s edge. The ox teams appeared cantankerous in the erratic wind. She recognized the single outrider, Jebe. He scouted the route, but for him, muck and mire created a more imminent danger than any covert observer.
Always dangerous, Seer Pass worsened at this time of year. Receding high spring waters allowed uncertain travel along the rocky track strew with boulders dislodged from the gray cliffs by winter’s ice.

Bother pulled against Kissre’s rein-filled hand, signaling his restlessness. He stomped, digging a hoof into the gravelly soil, then shook his head with a spine-bouncing shiver that ran down his back. When she held him at a halt, he gave a deep, nostril-blowing snort, and heaved his sides in a sigh of resignation.

From Bother’s offside Fudge yawned with a funny dog sound. Even sitting, his shaggy brown head reached well above her stirrup. Catching her gaze he wagged his tail. Both animals reacted to her procrastination. A glance showed the lazy roan packhorse stood behind Bother with eyes closed, apparently asleep and unfazed by the wind.

Her eyes returned to the wagons. Naomi still employed Jebe as guide. Kissre huffed her contempt. He rode ahead of the three wagons checking the terrain, but never looked up, never noticed anything above his restricted view.

Naomi and Tyna were down there; her mother and sister. The anticipated family reunion did not engender felicitous expectation. Only Tyna’s plea in her last letter had brought Kissre this far. A visit put off far too many months by the requirements of duty, plausible excuses, then sheer evasion.

“I’m a coward,” she told Fudge. The huge walnut-brown dog rose to his feet. His lean Gazehound body stood poised to move and his whip-like tail waved, oddly dissimilar from his shaggy coat. It hit Bother on the flank. The horse sidestepped from the buffeting with a low nicker of warning and a hind foot lifted in threat. Fudge’s tongue lolled, smile-like, from a mouth hidden beneath an umber moustache.

Switching the reins to her left hand, she reached down to caress the wiry fur muzzle. His rough tongue licked her hand. Grimacing, she wiped her hand on her leather-covered thigh. Bother snorted at her shifting, off-center weight, so she stroked his wheaten neck in apology.

“Facing an army in the field is easier than meeting my ‘gifted’ sister and Naomi.” Thoughts of heading back into Kaereya flitted among possible alternatives. Bother sensed her indecision. She felt him tense through the saddle. His head bobbed and twisted, pulling at the bit. He wanted to go.

Kissre sighed and urged her horse down the steep embankment. No sense in putting off the inevitable.


Magic Aegis
From Wings ePress 
Quillon, waiting for Duke Aurelias, had just entered the vestibule in time to watch the tableau with the clansmen, without time to divest himself of cloak and hood. The girl’s distress didn’t alarm him. An unwilling Handfast was neither unknown nor unheard of even among his own people, let alone these strange tribes of the far north. He had come in to speak with the clansmen about their horses. The duke always looked for good stock. In his inspection of the animals, he found the fine leatherwork of the saddles impressed him as much as the horses.

He heard the girl, heard her low spoken words and stopped in shock. He saw her and took a step forward. The young clansman threw a defiant look in his direction, and Quillon realized his mind played a trick on him. Recognition was impossible. With awareness of a situation in progress, he stepped back into the shadows and watched the young suitor bundle his prize and leave. The taller man looked as unhappy as the girl, surely the signs of an inauspicious Handfasting.

Even as the trio rode away, a Kennetsurean woman entered the vestibule carrying a cloak. Quillon took another step back in surprised recognition, which drew her attention.

“The clansman, have they already left?” she asked, searching the shadows to see his face.

“Yes, mistress.” This sudden trip finally fell into a pattern and Quillon reeled with the implication.

“With the girl?”

“Yes.”

“But I have her cloak. It is so cold and they have so very far to go.” She stood there, but he had nothing to say. Giving up, her face aged in resignation. She wrapped the cloak around herself and exited into the rainy night.

“May the night swallow you, harpy bitch,” he said after she left, his fury overcoming his well-developed sense of precaution. Never did he think one from his own province would betray their calling. With another dumbfounded thought, he nearly took out after the clansmen, but his duty to the duke stopped him. Reflection on the incident told him what he imagined couldn’t be true.

The duke didn’t leave until the end of the celebration. Then, rather than join his hosts in their carriage as they bid, Aurelias rode back as he had come, on his horse with his armed men around him.

“You saw her?” he asked Quillon as they rode.

“Yes, and recognized her. Recognized her... mother. I didn’t believe it.”

The duke didn’t speak until they dismounted in the covered portico of his host’s house. “Tomorrow I leave. I wish you to stay and investigate this matter. Find me the facts on this woman and her daughter.” He slapped his reins against his saddle, spooking his mount into a side jump. One of the outriders grabbed the horse’s bridle near the bit and calmed him. The duke apologized to his man and let him lead the horse away. He turned to Quillon. “Tell me if this town harbors a murderer but do not raise any suspicions of yourself, for I do not want her to fly to some new spot.”

“And the girl?”

“I can make no move yet. With the threat this recent attack signifies, it is too dangerous.”


Rogue's Rules

From Wings ePress
“This target differs from the ships you’ve hit before,” Chambers told her team. The quarterdeck’s plasmetal grid floor clanged as the team shifted positions. She raised her voice and continued over the noise. The sound muffling coating had worn-away long ago on the Migrant Sun, and like most nonessentials on Tricome’s ship, remained in disrepair.

She looked over her team, disliking what she saw—fringe outcasts and criminals. Those signing onto a ship like this were necessarily society’s detritus. Tricome hired anyone he found capable of a particular job. With her engine design background she knew her options were more open. She could have a legal berth despite her reputation, had filled six of them since her discharge from the Ranger Forces. None satisfied her.

On this ship she needed, and honed, her talents for self-preservation. The crew remained suspicious of her authority. Her eyes picked one crewman, Cor, out of the group gathered around her. She felt her face stiffen. He had worked a week in bruised discomfort when he didn’t accept an order, but her aggression had, at least, taught the others obedience. Now they cringed whenever she unleashed her temper.

There was plenty to criticize on this ship. Tricome owned the Migrant Sun and based his command on own desires, not the ship’s needs. The crew’s restless movement at her prolonged silence drew her attention.

“Besides standard laser defenses, this drone is equipped with the latest in grid defenses. It’s a lethal combination. The devices are not easy to spot, but watch for this.”

As she spoke, she punched up a holo display of the ship’s design and a close-up of how the devices appeared, followed by a simulation of a man triggering one. The deck lit with blinding bright light when the simulation device triggered. Its bolt beam fried the intruder’s image. Startled, those nearest the demonstration threw arms across their faces and stepped back.
“Watch for them,” she said.

Silence engulfed the quarterdeck. Continuing with the visual, she showed the target. “This is the passageway we take. We take these cargo containers, and only these. I will access the ship’s computer and disarm this hold and the defenses along the passageway to it.” The display highlighted the route in fluorescent blue. “I am not turning on environment, so you’ll need to stay suited in xvee. Done properly, no one will know we hit the drone until she docks. Any questions?”

“Won’t tampering with the defense start ship lock-down?”

The crew stirred at their crewmate’s question. She knew interfering with a ship’s systems was an unfamiliar tactic for them. Obtaining ship codes was a tricky business and differed from Tricome’s method of finding a small cargo hauler, usually a family concern, in dock and tracking it through the Fringe until he could strike. Mostly, he had the crew seize the prize before the cargo even entered a ship. Chambers caught her contemptuous answer in mid-sneer, and controlled her expression.

“Not necessarily. A design routine allows sectional disarmament for repairs and emergencies, but too many deviations from the program will trigger the defenses.”

“Why just this cargo?”

“We are taking the most valuable and resalable cargo. Our goal is to get in as fast as possible and be gone with the best before any system disruption turns on surveillance.”

A few more questions arose, but most of the party seemed satisfied. “That’s it, let’s move.”
Sanker Tricome, huge and bizarre as a genetic experiment gone wrong, watched his crew file into the shuttle while he stroked his great orange-tiger cat. He brushed his identical orange facial hair into smooth alignment, then placed his hand on Chambers’ arm, detaining her. At her subtle withdrawal, he returned to stroking his cat.

“A marvelous plan, dear Jezlynn.” Tricome said in his high tenor purr. “An easy job, hey? Even for those not Ranger trained.”

She shrugged, said nothing. Her glance moved from Tricome to Merit, the other new crewman. The short woman, closer to teen than adult, with a near shaven head, flinched as Chambers’ eyes measure her where she stood with the raid team. Lowering her eyes, the woman scooted into the shuttle. A minute later Chambers ducked to ease through the hatch, indicating as she passed for the crewman to close and lock it.


Loser's Game
From Wings ePress 

As he neared, she inspected his face. “No rest for the wicked, Krayne.”

"You don’t look like you slept well yourself,” he said.

A husky chuckle followed his sally. “Thought you’d come here when you finished talking with those space wheels at the Guild,” she said in a voice tinged with mirth.

“Clancy knows nothing. So I thought I’d head you off. Dress whites?” She reached out and gently tugged the white fabric of his sleeve. “You out to attract trouble?” She grinned at him as she looked past his shoulder. “See you succeeded. Keep moving. You should be more careful of the company you keep.”

“Does that include yourself?”

“Definitely.” Another deep chuckle followed her words.

“I thought they might be with you.”

An inelegant snort met his remark. “I seldom resort to violence. Leaves bad feelings. Surprise, reason, or stealth work much better.”

“I met with Port Authority police this morning,” he said. “Impressive uniforms kindle respect. Rather brave of you to meet me like this.” He slipped a hand under her elbow, but she pulled her arm away.

“Nah. I’d be eluding a detainment warrant if you had any proof. The same could be said of you.” She picked up the pace slightly.

Krayne also heard the steps behind them. “So it could. For curiosity’s sake, do you mind telling me why three freighters in one night?”

Devil's Due

From Wings ePress

Liz watched the last ensign depart and waited while silence reigned too long. Officer Yen nudged Murray, who remained unresponsive, glaring at Chambers. Chambers remained indifferent, seemingly oblivious to the tension surrounding her. She stepped to Yen and removed the remaining key from his slack fingers. “I believe this is mine.” Touching the pad on the corner of the small oblong wafer, she read the printout. “Major J. A. Chambers, yes, I see it is,” she confirmed with easy confidence.

Her voice surprised Liz--a soft contralto untouched by emotion.

Ignoring Yen’s astonished look, she gave him a charming smile. “Officer Yen, Murray.” Chambers nodded at each. “Officers,” Chambers turned and nodded to Liz and those near her. Then she headed for the dock’s oversized hatchway, skipping introductory civilities.

She halted as she drew near a waiting maintenance officer. “Lieutenant, this shuttle’s starboard lateral thruster pack is out of balance. One of the parallel pipes is not firing, it sounds like a damaged vent.”

The surprised officer nodded mutely. Liz grinned at his surprise.

The Embassy posted Ranger guard snapped to attention as Chambers approached the hatch, obviously aware of the insult given the Rangers through Chambers. Liz’s lips twisted in a wry smile, anticipating the stories that would travel the ship.

“Corporal, you put me in a quandary.” Unmistakable drollery threaded Chambers voice. “Do I follow elite acknowledgment or Ranger protocol?”

Liz held her breath and glanced at Ella at the ‘elite’ disparagement inherent in Chambers’ words. The guard remained at attention. Chambers suddenly snapped a crisp Ranger salute. “Do not salute me out of Ranger uniform again, Corporal.” Her command tones reverberated around the deck as she left the bay. An unrepentant smugness remained on the Ranger’s face.


Home World ~ Aginfeld
From Wings ePress 

Zach rose to the bait. “You’re a thief, Alix. I’ve known it for years--an uncommonly reckless thief. Where is the seal?”

“As I remember, Zach, you aren’t much better, are you? And haven’t improved much with age, either.”

“And you’ve graduated to felony.” He moved to stand over her. Nickal noted the intimidation tactic failed. Zach didn’t. “You hit the wrong vault, Alix. Now you’re caught. No Agin’er would suffer the kind of insult you inflicted. You stole the seal, and you’ll pay.”

“Master Rosly. This is my interrogation,” Nickal warned Zach calmly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m I supposed to have stolen a seal from Aginfeld? You’re wrong. When?”

Nickal gave her the date and time in a flat disinterested manner.

She laughed. “I was no where near Aginfeld and I can prove it.”

“Whatever falsehoods you’ve manufactured to cover your activities won’t do. This time you left proof. You won’t escape our justice.” Nickal leaned down and confronted her nose to nose. “It fits your typical heist pattern.”

She didn’t flinch. “I have no typical heist pattern and you’ll have trouble proving I do.”

“Not on Aginfeld.” He let his contempt show. Rising, he walked around the table, taking a position behind her.

She remained unfazed. “You’re guilty of kidnapping. That’s an even more serious crime than theft.”

“Not on Aginfeld.”

“I see. Truth, facts and legal procedure don’t matter on Aginfeld?”

Nickal whipped her chair around to face him. “You’re the liar. Look at truth and fact.”

The clip played on a large wall screen. He watched her to see the trap spring. She viewed the images caught on the screen. The vault door closed, cutting off the blast of light that blinded the camera. In its wake, the outline of a figure moved, green lines picked out the feminine curves. She wore a small e-lume that lit objects as bright as if sunlit to the camera. Black gloved hands sorted through several drawers and finally grasped what they wanted.

Zach huffed. Nickal ignored him and watched Alix. She gave nothing away. The next images reversed to a selected view and closed in to show a reconstructed profile revealed under a mask. The next views showed images of Mister Brodie in Abode. It ended with close-ups of the man’s face. Marker identifiers appeared and matched it to the vault profile. Each echoed that of the prisoner watching the report. The play ended.

Alix Risseu looked down for a minute, then looked into Nickal’s face. “How careless of me.” Her insouciance galled him.