Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Two

Notes: More Reformation, this time with Cody and Ten and a little family time...which goes terribly, as family time occasionally does.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Two

***

Chapter Twenty-Two




“This is ridiculous.” Ten stared at the three-dimensional model of the ship that Cody had helpfully projected in their quarters and shook hir head. “Completely ridiculous. I can’t believe that while I’ve spent the last week being dragged through fifteen levels of sanitation—fifteen levels! Like they can’t settle on a central location and route everything to be processed there, because nooo, that would be too easy—you’ve managed to just…just spy your way across a third of the ship with no one fucking wiser!” Ze turned to glare at Cody. “Since when did you get good at being covert?”

“I’m not being covert,” he said. “I’m walking around in an engineering uniform and fixing things. People are happy to see me. It’s amazing what you can get done with a molecular bonding wand and a little conversation.”

“You should bring me with you next time.” Ten reached out and flipped the hologram around, peering into its corners. “You’re missing a few deep pockets here and here, we should go back and fill those in. And two of us would be a lot faster at mapping out the rest of this thing. You’ve got the ports and engineering and a lot of the housing section, but there’s a plethora of secondary and tertiary piping that it would be good to get a handle on, especially if we want to be able to estimate how things will react with each other in unpleasant circumstances.”

Cody didn’t bother trying to correct Ten about any future unpleasantness. Ze was probably right, after all. Still… “I’m not the one who’s been whisking you off on projects every day without giving me a second glance. Livia, right? Chief sanitation engineer?”

“Chief pain in my ass,” Ten muttered. “She looks over everything I do. Everything! Like I need supervision or something! Like I’m not the best welder on this whole stupid ship, because it’s a skillset any infant could pick up. Like I don’t know how to connect pipes carrying disparate acidities and have no idea how to manage basic chemical interactions, my god. It’s like being with Symone again. I’m so sick of it.”

“Not sick enough of it to tell her no.”

“We’re supposed to be making ourselves useful, right?” Ten shrugged. “I recall that being shoved in our faces by the bitch that runs the place. I’m trying not to give her an excuse to make a nuisance of herself. But if you asked for me to go with you instead, I bet Livia would say yes.”

“Maybe.” Cody leaned back against the wall behind their cot. “And then maybe she’d bring it to Grandma’s attention and instead of me being able to slip away unnoticed because no one wants to work with me, we’d be watched and followed and everything would be reported back to her.”

“Everything is probably reported back to her anyway.”

“Yeah, probably. But she hasn’t—” The com unit on Jack’s ship sounded, and a second later they heard his voice.

“Corva wants to talk with you, Cody.” He didn’t sound happy about that fact. “There’ll be someone to escort you to her audience room waiting outside the shuttle. Don’t…don’t stall, okay?”

Ten arched an eyebrow and looked at Cody. “She hasn’t what? Kicked us off the ship yet? Clapped us in irons? Summoned us to her fucking audience chamber, who the hell does she think she is, queen of the universe?”

“I guess I spoke too soon.” Cody hesitated, then reached out and took Ten’s hand. “You don’t have to come. You could stay here and—”

“Yeah, no, crazy, you’ve got to be ill to suggest such a thing, are you ill?” Ten pressed the back of hir free hand to Cody’s forehead. “Don’t be stupid.” Ze leaned in and kissed Cody, then toppled forward onto his lap as Cody tugged at hir hand. “Mmmno, we—”

“Have to go, I know.” Cody knew he should feel nervous about it, but the truth was he was having a hard time feeling much of anything lately. It had been a week—a little more than that, actually—since he’d found out about the attack on Pandora. He’d spent the first part of that time feeling so much, worried and afraid and angry, so, so angry at everyone even obliquely involved. Angry at his dad for being there, angry at Garrett for not stopping this from happening, angry at Darrel and Grennson and even Ten for not being as affected as he was. It was stupid, and exhausting, and he’d felt guilty over it even as he’d indulged himself.

Walking around the way he had, just him and his mapmaking and his small efforts at fixing small things, had been kind of meditative for him. It had helped him tamp down on the storm inside of him, enough that he could at least make a good effort at being okay with the world. That kind of repression wouldn’t fly with Ten for long—ze noticed everything eventually, it was part of what made hir such a good scientist—but as long as he maintained his equanimity around hir, he could probably manage for a while longer. Of course, going to see his grandmother would probably test him, but he wouldn’t know until he tried.

“Okay.” He kissed Ten one more time, desperate to pull hir back down onto the cot so they could just be together for a while, doing anything other than talking, but now wasn’t the time. “Let’s go.”

The person waiting for them was Livia, a familiar face at least, but as usual she made no eye contact with Cody. “Let’s go, kiddos,” she said impatiently as they stepped down the shuttle’s ramp. “It’s not good to keep Corva waiting.”

“Ask me how much I care,” Ten replied.

“Ask me how many more kilometers of pipeline there are to be fixed up over the next week.” She turned and led them out of the bay, and Cody silently activated his map. If they were going somewhere new, he wanted to document it.

“Not fair, not fair at all, I’ve been doing more work than all the rest of your minions combined for the past week and you know it. You should let me do something interesting, I’m curious about the state of your oxygenators—are you using algae in conjunction with the sanitation system to emit more for the environmental system, or are you just cruising through space hoping you don’t run out of the stuff and that your scrubbers keep working and that there’s no localized explosion that opens a gap and vents all your precious resources into space before you can refill at whatever planet will have you?”

“You never shut up, do you?”

“You already knew that.” Ten kept up a steady flow of questions as they walked…and walked…and walked. It took almost half an hour of winding walkways and some very improbably stairs to finally make it to Corva’s location. Cody was sure they hadn’t gone the easy way. If she was trying to make it hard for them to find their way back, well…he smirked quietly as he registered the route and watched the changes integrate into his map.

The audience chamber wasn’t all that large, but it was definitely the most technologically advanced room that Cody had seen so far. Screens and holograms projected flight data, ship specs and a series of more personal notes that vanished the moment Cody and Ten walked into the room. In the center of it all was Corva, sitting in a chair that had an old-school direct connection to her ancient implant. She lifted her head off of the metal prong that slotted into the back of her head, and turned to look at them. She might have frowned, although it was hard to say—her expression barely changed. She reached for the mug sitting on the armrest of her chair and sipped at the dark, oily liquid within.

“Finally.” She glanced at Livia. “Leave. Take the other one with you.”

“Ten stays.”

“You’re in no position to make demands of me, child. Livia.”

Ten was making that face ze made when ze was about to do something spectacularly destructive, and so Cody squeezed hir hand. “It’s okay. I’ll be back with you in just a few minutes.”

“Is that true?” Ten demanded of Corva.

“Get out and find out.”

“Really.” Cody smiled for Ten, grateful that he was still so empty it felt natural. “I’ll be fine.” We won’t be disconnected, he added via the implant, and Ten nodded reluctantly. Livia pulled hir away, and as soon as the door closed, Cody turned back to his grandmother.

She didn’t waste any time. “There are no communications going in or out of Pandora. None. The planet is either dead or under siege, and this ship has no business putting itself in harm’s way. Not for the likes of you.”

“You were heading there anyway,” Cody reminded her. “Your business there came before me.”

“We can sell our goods elsewhere.”

“Not for as much.”

“Better that we still have someone to sell them to than risk annihilation at the hands of whoever is attacking that colony. I don’t want to go to Pandora.” She cocked her head. “But I also don’t want you on this ship.” Her voice turned harsh. “You’re a canker, a blemish. You’re a scut child who should never have been made, much less born. I told your father to get rid of you once he realized there were going to be problems, but he wouldn’t. I raised him too softly.”

“I’m sure you don’t make that mistake anymore.” Cody was amazed he sounded so calm.

“You’ve got them all fooled, don’t you? Fooled into thinking you’re a real person, when you’re just as fake as the womb you were incubated in. You’re a medical mistake, and it doesn’t do to let people start thinking of things like you as real. I won’t kill you,” which answered a question he hadn’t let himself wonder yet, “but I won’t be responsible for keeping you alive here. We’re turning toward Pollux. You’ll be on your own there.”

“No.” It was a gut instinct to argue, and Cody knew he had to follow it up with facts, fast. Corva clearly hated him—he had to make it worth her while to stay on course. “You should keep going to Pandora. Not because of the trade for your goods you’ll get there, but because of the trade you’ll get for me.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“The Federation has deployed a fleet to the colony. They’ll be there soon. They’ll take care of the pirates, and they’ll pay for my return.”

“The Federation doesn’t pay for hostages.”

“Then they can be used to relay a message about me to my stepfather, who will pay for me. He’ll pay anything you ask.” Cody knew that much was true. He hadn’t left things very good with Garrett, but Garrett would never turn away from him.

“That’s a lot of trouble to go to for an uncertain future.”

“Everything about your entire life is uncertain,” Cody said, letting a little of his disdain show. “Your ship is falling apart. Your people live huge parts of their lives in the dark, reduced to their work and nothing else. You have cargo that you can’t easily offload, but you have an expensive hostage to help offset your costs if you play your game right. Wait and see what the fleet can do. Bargain for me. You’ll be surprised at what you get.”

“Perhaps.” Her lips pursed like she was about to spit. “You know, I’m inclined to keep your little friend. Livia says he’s useful.”

“It’s ‘ze,’” Cody corrected. “And trust me when I say that you can’t handle the hurricane Ten would drop on your ship if you tried to separate us.”

“Fine. Then you’ll be offered as a package deal, but if I don’t get enough for you? I might rethink my stance on keeping you alive.”

“Understood.”


Well. At least it was all out in the open now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-One

Notes: Let's visit with a less familiar face these days, huh? It's time to do some digging.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-One

***

Chapter Twenty-One



The campus of the Academy felt disquietingly empty. Unprecedentedly empty.

It wasn’t that cadets had never been called to war before. The last time was nearly fifty years ago, but Sigurd could still remember the effects of that battle, even though he hadn’t been an admiral back then. That was the battle that Foster Alexander had truly made his name in, as a military commander and a leader. His family’s fortunes had risen ever since, continuing even after his death. Or, at least they’d risen for one member of the family.

Sigurd settled back into his chair and closed his eyes, thinking. He’d dismissed his staff—there was no sense in keeping around a host of schedulers and secretaries and professors when there was no one around to mind or corral or teach. He was alone in the central office building for the first time in…perhaps forever. Which was just as well, if he was going to be reviewing classified messages from Garrett.

“Mercury, repeat last transmission.”

The message began to play.

“I spoke to our ghost. She confirmed what I’ve suspected—narcissists with God complexes tend to keep their plans, and their resources, to themselves. I was worried we’d be dealing with a massive conspiracy, and there’s plenty of blame to go around for inaction and bad action, but when it comes to funding we’re looking at just one credit stream: Raymond’s. The ghost receives a yearly stipend from him to keep herself in style, but doesn’t have any access to the family fortune. She’s not allowed to make private investments, or make extra money off her own talents. She gets a brief financial breakdown each year of their holdings, but it’s nothing not available to the general public.” Sigh.

“I’m still working on tracking down how he’s paying for a war on the Fringe, but when it comes to who, I think you’re better equipped to go digging. Look at the specs I’ve sent you for the ships out there. We can’t get audio transmissions, but think about who could be manning this effort. This is about more than monetary policy, that’s not going to square with a lot of people. The ones he’s got playing pirate and attacking Pandora are good at what they do. Most places they’re hitting and running before we can get out there to properly investigate or counter; Pandora’s holding out because of a repulsion energy shield, but if they’re keeping at it then they’re organized.” There was another pause, this one accompanied by the sounds of Garrett’s hands in his hair, then sliding down over his face.

“Find me his captains. People who went through the Academy, people in positions of command who’ve either been dishonorably discharged, retired under suspicious circumstances, or gone rogue. I need to know who’s in charge if I’m going to know where to hit them. Tell me as soon as you find something solid.” The transmission ended.

Sigurd didn’t need to watch it again to see Garrett’s slow but inexorable decline—he could hear it in his voice. He wasn’t taking care of himself, but he wouldn’t, not yet. Not until he had taken care of Raymond Alexander, and Sigurd wasn’t in any position to step in and chide him. They didn’t know each other well enough, and he couldn’t risk estranging Garrett. The best he could do was help things along to a rapid and satisfactory finish, and get everyone back where they belonged.

“Mercury, cross-reference all Federation forces’ dishonorable discharges for the past…” He considered the timeline, when Raymond had come to power and how. “Fifteen years with notable associations, political, monetary or social, with President Alexander.”

Processing.” Then a moment later, “Complete. Seventeen names found.

“Remove deceased or currently imprisoned.”

Eleven names found.

“Remove those not working in a command capacity.”

Six names found.

“Read them to me.”

Abenabad, Afi. Glazer, Domingo. Hall, Prinze. Orwell, Carver. Wellington, Fernanda. Xidao, James.”

“Known associations with each other?”

“The Hunter Massacre.”

Of course. The Hunter Massacre was the biggest black eye the Federation had sported in the past two decades, and it was entirely the result of over-eager, gun-happy officers deciding to take a nearby colony’s environmental emergency into their own hands. The Hunter expedition had been a colonizing effort that had gone wrong fast: the weather was too unpredictable, the crops were unable to grow as fast as they needed to, and those that did grow had carried pathogens that had taken weeks to manifest in the nervous system, but when they did—seizures, fainting spells, and memory loss for the mildly afflicted. Complete loss of mental and physical control for the moderately afflicted, including a predisposition to lash out at their surroundings for no reason.

Their medical staff was under-prepared to deal with the fallout, and requested Federation aid. Three ships had gone with supplies to take care of, and possibly evacuate, the colony. Less than a week later, they’d opened fire on the habitat from space, obliterating it and all its residents, as well as destroying one of their own ships, which had been the one actually spending time on the ground. Their rationale had been absolute bedlam in the colony, irreversible medical effects and the potential for spreading disease among their crews.

An investigation had proven that not only was the illness non-transferrable—you could only get sick if you ate the food—but that there had been significant disagreement among the leadership as to what course of action was best. The man in charge, Vice-Admiral Orwell, had insisted upon separation between his crews and the afflicted. One of his captains and all his medical staff had complained, and in the end, it was that captain who took her ship down to actively provide assistance. His response had been swift and deadly. Three hundred and twenty-one Federation officers were killed, and almost nine hundred colonists.

The hell with a dishonorable discharge, the man should have been court-martialed and thrown in prison for the rest of his very long life, but his trial was overshadowed by the sudden deaths of most of Raymond Alexander’s family. The news cycle churned on, and probably due in part to his long service and in part to the skeletons he could unbury if he needed to, Orwell and his officers were spared. They would never serve in a reputable navy again, but apparently they’d found a very disreputable one to lay claim to.

“Current employment records for Orwell.”

Self-employed.

“Bullshit. Fine. Past five years.”

Consulting work for IslaTerra, Black Sky, Luminox.

“A think tank that specialized in population control, a defense contractor, and a weapons manufacturer.” How unsurprising. “Correlations with any Alexander holdings?”

None evident.

That didn’t mean they didn’t exist. “Flag those corporations and dig deeper, using any of the extended Alexander family names.”

Processing. Complete. Substantial investments in all three companies under the name of Evan Hardwick, Haven Alexander’s brother. Evan Hardwick has been deceased for twelve years.” Haven was Foster Alexander’s last wife, and had died at the same time he had. Her brother had passed away the following year in a shuttle accident, but before that he had run his own investment corporation. There had been a lot of dark money flowing through those channels, but it all should have ceased on Evan’s death. He had no children, and had kept a much lower profile than his sister. To use his name meant whoever was behind this—and Sigurd didn’t have to wonder too much about that—hadn’t been in a position at the time to act without it, but had been in a position to hide the illegality. Interesting.

“List all available monetary actions by Evan Hardwick in the past twelve years.”

There were over a hundred actions listed. Sigurd flagged them to be sent on to Garrett. “Correlate actions with any associations with Orwell.”

It didn’t stop at the three companies the computer had found before. If what he was looking at was true, President Alexander had been bankrolling Orwell ever since his discharge, and a lot of that money had gone into subtly-veiled construction. Some of those contracts had even gone through the military—bits and pieces of things, more little threads to pull that might lead to the revelation of an entire fleet of ships made by a thousand different hands, all of them pulling their creations into a dark void of secrecy.

Well. That couldn’t be allowed to stand. “Bundle this information and send it to Peacock. Highest level encryption. And recall my staff. I’m going to pay a surprise visit to the construction docks this afternoon. We’re going to get some records pulled.” The docks’ accounting system had a private server that he couldn’t access from here. Once he was on site, though, he should be able to get his hands on their raw data. A surprise inspection should do the trick, and if he had his staff run interference for him, a few minutes alone was all he needed.

The docks are off-limits to all visitors without prior authorization by the Admiralty.

“I’m an admiral, I think I qualify.”

You will be challenged.

“They’ll let me through if they don’t want to be court-martialed.”

Your time there will be limited.


“I know.” Sigurd smiled. “It’ll be a race.”

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Word For The New Year



So, my honey and I have a tradition of picking a word that we want to define our upcoming year. It's not a resolution or a goal or the kind of thing you pin your hopes on that then inevitably falters and makes you feel like you're not even good at being you, much less anything else. It's just a word that puts a few syllables to the scattered pieces of our lives and tugs them all in the same direction. Last year my word was "expansion"--I wanted to try some new things and see some new places. And I totally did! The RT Conference, Cambodia, rapid fire coauthoring, hell yeah--WIN!!!

Wait, you say, but that's so lazy, it means next to nothing when you can just shoehorn any accomplishments into--

SHUT IT! I WIN!!!

For 2017, I've decided to use the word "agency," in the sense of the second definition of the word according to Merriam Webster:

Definition of agency

plural 

agencies



  1. 2:  the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power 

I want some more power over my life, my work, and my own capacity. I wrote 100k words in November, way outpacing any of my previous productivity. I want that more often--not necessarily that huge, but 50k a month? Why not? 

So, agency is my word. That's as detailed as I want to get looking forward to a new year, because on a macro level I can't imagine that 2017 will be much brighter than 2016 was, so I've got to settle in for the long haul and try to keep the faith. Write, fight, and love on. That's what me and my sense of agency are shooting for.

Happy New Year, darlins. I'll be right here with you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Twenty

Notes: A new chapter of Reformation, yay! With Jonah getting cabin fever, and then trying to fix it by tempting hellfire and damnation. Good job, babe ;)

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty

***

Chapter Twenty



There were only so many things Jonah could do before he ran out of ways to be responsible. After he staggered into the bunker, he got Lacey set up on the cot and attached her to the Regen unit. Even though the serum didn’t work on her the way it would on him, it was still full of nutrients and painkillers and would keep her hydrated, which was better than nothing. He watched the slender needle penetrate her arm, read her values on the diagnostic screen and watched her pulse and blood pressure stabilize, and let out a sigh of relief. Lacey was as good as she was going to get right now, and still unconscious. He could move on to settling himself.

Jonah checked the cabinets and found the enhanced water, preserved food and a bunch of blankets. He drank until his thirst was gone, used a few of the blankets on Lacey and took the rest to make himself a pallet on the floor. He let the Regen unit check him quickly, not wanting to strain its resources, but apart from a minor electrolyte imbalance and fatigue, he was still good. He lowered himself onto his pallet and almost immediately fell asleep, with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Waking up was…not as satisfying.

Lacey was fine—she had moved from unconscious to asleep, and Jonah wasn’t looking forward to explaining to her exactly what was happening or what she was going to have to deal with, but she was stable for now, and that was the most important thing. The storm was still raging outside. They were safe, they had survived. Great.

Greeeeeat.

There had to be more to do. Jonah went through the cabinets again, taking notes on all the food and water and rationing it out in his head. On one of the bottom shelves was an old-fashioned radio, the kind that had been passed around way back at the founding of the colony. They’d been prepared for a lot of contingencies early on, making sure people could contact each other and the colony ship no matter where they were. A lot of those emergency preparations had fallen by the wayside as the colony matured, but Jonah was pretty sure he could still figure out how to work the thing.

He pulled it out and attached a line from it to the generator, and held his breath as he waited to see if it would initialize. It should—it was practically an antique, a combination of analog and digital that hadn’t been popular since Old Earth, with no way to access an implant but with the span to detect most modern frequencies. It should work.

The screen flashed on, and Jonah rubbed his hands together. “Good.” He found the dial—an actual dial, a device that only saw regular use on Drifter ships and even there, was considered passé—and began scanning for frequencies. All he got was a lot of static.

Jonah frowned. “Maybe the concrete’s too thick.” He’d have to go outside. He was surprisingly okay with that.

It was still wet, cold, and blowing out there—surprisingly refreshing after the stuffiness of the bunker, which had a circulation unit to keep the air from getting stale, but that was sluggish at best. Jonah left the door open just a crack to keep the radio plugged in, and then propped the tarp he’d taken from the travois up to protect them from the rain. Jonah settled in over the radio and began to turn the dial.

There—a steady ping, ping, ping. That had to be the emergency beacon. At least it was still broadcasting. Jonah hadn’t been sure it had survived the shuttle’s descent into the ocean. He hadn’t seen a beacon inside the bunker yet, and until he was sure they weren’t going to be shot at again, he wasn’t going to turn it on even if there was one. A little further—these were the frequencies that were dedicated to the Box, the ones that the colony had originally inhabited. They’d expanded since then, but these were the foundations of Pandora’s communications. He should have been able to hear something from them. Instead there was just…an auditory blank. Not even static, just emptiness, like the wavelengths had been destroyed. Or were being blocked.

The shield. If the colony had gotten it’s shields up, then nothing was getting in or out. That was it. It had to be.

Jonah took a deep breath and kept going. He turned the dial as far as it would go, through all the available frequencies, and then back again. Nothing but the emptiness and the ping and—wait. There was something else, just on the edge of his hearing. It was so faint he thought he might be imagining it. He increased the power and reached for it again. It was fuzzy, but it was there. And—huh. It was getting clearer. Jonah turned the power to high and listened closely for a long moment. There was a particular rhythm to the signal, something kind of familiar, almost like—

“Shit!” He shut the power off and pressed himself back against the bunker as he looked up into the dark sky. Maybe he was wrong, maybe it was just a—nope. That wasn’t lightning, it was too steady. That was a contrail from a ship. It was too far away for Jonah to make out the specs for it, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that it was closing in on the coast, heading toward the left of the bunker, near where—

Plasma fire exploded from the nose of the ship, scraping over the cliff’s edge and down into the water indiscriminately. It rained hell down on where they had landed and below it, until a fireball erupted from the ocean. It was a secondary explosion—that had to be from the shuttle, it must not have sunk too deep. Well, it was sunk now.

The ship pulled back, then began to circle. Jonah hoped to whatever God there was that the bunker looked less like what it was from above. But nothing could get through the concrete, not this formulation, so even though they had the generator on they’d be safe.

Only…he’d left a crack in the door.

Shit!” Jonah pulled the power wire free, reached over and heaved the door shut. He didn’t have time to get himself inside; he had to stop any signals as quick as he could. Even the slightest power signature might cause problems if the ship was especially touchy, but hopefully there was enough feedback left from the explosion that it hadn’t noticed them. Nothing was on, and he didn’t have any active implants or devices. He watched, breathless and afraid, as the ship circled closer and closer. At least if it shot them, it would be over fast. If it shot them…well. Cody and Garrett would have each other. Lacey’s dad had more family, he’d be all right. Everyone else would survive.

They’d be miserable.

Keep moving, please keep moving, keep moving, go, go. And after a long, terrible moment when it seemed like the ship was going to come down right on top of them, it did move on. Jonah watched it disappear into the clouds, stayed where he was in the rain for another ten minutes just to make sure he wasn’t going to draw it back when he opened the door, then shakily reentered the bunker, set the radio to the side, and collapsed in a heap against the wall.

They—whoever was attacking them—were actively scanning for new signals. They hadn’t given a damn about the beacon until Jonah had started messing with the radio, and then…better safe than sorry, apparently. Even though the shuttle was underwater, it hadn’t stopped them from eviscerating it. So. No reaching out, no using the radio, no jury-rigging something that might help them penetrate the energy shield. He and Lacey were most definitely on their own.

“Someone’ll come looking for us.” Eventually. Once the threat was met—if the threat was met and contained. And without an emergency beacon, they’d be harder to find. Due diligence would eventually send someone to check the bunkers, but who knew how long that might take?
There were other things in the cabinet that Jonah could look at, down where he’d found the radio. Hardcopy maps, a schematic of the bunker itself. Right now, though, he couldn’t bring himself to try and tackle responsibility again quite so fast. Not when his last attempt had led them so close to disaster.

He sighed, got to his feet and dried himself off as best he could. He grabbed a ration bar and a packet of jerky, checked Lacey’s vitals one more time, and then grabbed the book from the table and settled in next to the cot. “The Road,” he said. “By Cormac McCarthy.”


It was time to gain a little perspective.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Nineteen

Notes: Darrel perspective this time! A little aside on sucking, which I was really feeling fit my life yesterday, and what you can do to snap out of it. Also, in case I don't talk to you again between now and then...Merry Christmas, darlins!

Title: Reformation: Chapter Nineteen

***

Chapter Nineteen



Actually helming a starship was nothing like the sims. After his first session shadowing Lieutenant Reyes on the second set of controls, acting as her backup but not given actual control of the ship, Darrel was convinced that whatever he’d been doing at the Academy so far was designed to frustrate, not educate. He watched Reyes look at her gravity map and adjust thrusters and tried to see what she was seeing, tried to get a handle on what he should be doing to compensate, but it completely evaded him. There were no consequences for his poor response time other than an amber light briefly flickering on Reyes’s control panel, but it was embarrassing to see her turn her head and look at him assessingly—again—like she couldn’t figure out his dysfunction. Well, fuck it—he couldn’t either.

Darrel just wasn’t a natural pilot, not like Cody. He could read the schematics of a ship until he was blue in the face, understand the physics of landing and takeoff and increasing speed, adjusting for gravitational waves and the firelines of other ships, and he understood it all. Intellectually. Actually doing something with it was a whole other story, and his acceptable performance grades in the sim did him almost no good on a real ship. By the end of his eight-hour shift, he was about ready to fry the secondary control panel just so he didn’t have to sit there and suck so badly again.

“First shift dismissed, Second is ready to take control.” General Caractacus’s voice was as calm as ever, and went a little ways toward calming Darrel down. If the general had noticed how lousy his second helmsman was, he hadn’t mentioned it yet. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t, though. They were headed for a fight, and if Darrel couldn’t figure out how to manage input from his implant and sensory data from the ship itself as they headed into battle, he could fly them into the path of their own fleet’s missiles. Fuck, what would his grandparents have to say then? The son of a Federation hero, a famous pilot, destroying his own ship in a mistimed maneuver. He’d be posthumously disowned.

Darrel pushed back from the control panel and headed for the exit. He needed some more time in the on-board sim, and dinner, and some time with Grennson. The Perel was pulling overtime in the infirmary as a counselor, his empathy giving him a huge advantage when it came to diagnosing and settling nervy cadets, and he loved the work, but he’d take a break for Darrel.

“Cadet Parrish!”

Darrel stopped in his tracks with a little internal groan. That was Reyes. He turned and faced the senior cadet, already a tabbed lieutenant with a promised placement on a ship as soon as this action was over. “Ma’am.”

“Where are you off to so fast?”

“Simulator. Ma’am,” he added. “I obviously need to get some more time in before anybody lets me near the real deal.”

“Aw, you’re not so bad.”

Darrel couldn’t stop his eyebrows from rising. “You must not have been watching the same performance as me, Ma’am. All of my reactions were off. I didn’t respond within the same parameters as you more than ten percent of the time, and even when I did, my responses weren’t always accurate. I basically—”

“Sucked harder than a black hole?”

Darrel nodded stiffly.

“Good lord.” Reyes threw an arm around his shoulder—not the easiest thing, since Darrel had at least eight inches on her—and guided him down the hall. “No you’re not going to sims, you’re going to come eat with me and let me talk your ear off for a little while, okay?”

“Will you talking my ear off make me better at the helm?” Darrel asked a little morosely, and Reyes laughed.

“Maybe not, but it might make you feel a little better. I don’t want to send you back to your friend looking like you have the weight of the universe on your back; he’ll think we’re abusing you on the bridge.”

Darrel shook his head. “Grennson knows better than that.”

“He knows a lot, huh? The empathy thing, I mean.”

“Kind of. It’s not exactly like mind-reading, though. There’s no actual telepathy except between bonded individuals, and even then it doesn’t reach that level very often. But it does give him a lot of insight into the emotional states of different beings.”

“I’m surprised the brass aren’t training him up to be military intelligence,” Reyes commented as she steered them into the mess. “All our advancements, and we still don’t have a unbeatable lie detector. Someone who understands emotional responses to stress and subterfuge would be a huge asset for them.”

“Yeah.” Darrel smiled a bit smugly as they got into line for their food. Looked like…beige glop today. Mmm. Glop. The worst thing about living on a ship, after sucking at his job, was the food. Darrel was ready to kill for one of Grennson’s muffins. “They’re not allowed to use him that way. It’s part of the treaty with Perelan, and it carries a lot of penalties if they try to break it. Grennson is probably the most protected person at the Academy, in a way. He’s got two different governments looking out for him so that they can keep talking to each other. He doesn’t let it go to his head, though.”

“Sounds like a good guy.”

“He is.”

“You are too.”

Darrel was already starting to shake his head, but Reyes held up a hand as they sat down. “No, don’t let your issues at the helm start to creep into the rest of your head. You can be good at almost everything, and then the one sticking point in all your proficiencies ends up being enough to drag you down that spiral of shame. You’ve got to kick it in the butt before it gets that far.”

“How?” Darrel spooned up a bit of glop unexcitedly. “I’m awful at it.”

“Because you’re thinking too hard about it.” Reyes frowned. “They don’t tell you this at the Academy, of course, but the simulations there are slowed down by as much as fifty percent. The idea is that you get the actions down, then as you continue your education, they’re sped up to more normal speeds. And of course, you’re supposed to be able to practice on little ships before they stick you on a big bubba like his one. You were what, second year? Just starting?” Darren nodded. “Then it’s ridiculous to think you’d do any better than you are right now. I don’t care if you’re Parrish the Pilot’s kid or not. Your dad wasn’t born knowing how to fly a star ship, and neither were you. Neither was I! But everybody can learn.”

“But it’s—” Darren paused, trying to think of how to express his thought without sounding like a complete idiot. “It doesn’t feel that way. It feels like I should know, you know? That’s the vibe I got at the Academy too.”

“Fucking Academy bullshit and their ‘vibes.’” Reyes rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m not talking down about the Legacy program, I know it gets a lot of kids an education they might not get otherwise, but it also sets a lot of people up with incredibly unrealistic expectations. Your dad died when you were, what, under a year old? And people expect you to just pick up piloting like it’s nothing, like you’ve been studying it for decades like he did? It’s crap. But it’s not like they make it easier for you to do anything else, either. If I had to guess…” She looked at him narrowly. “I’d say…diplomatic track. The way you talk about your friend makes me think your interest is more than passing.”

“I’m doing a dual-track,” Darren admitted.

“You make it sound like that’s a bad thing.”

“It’s a distraction. Or so I’m told.”

“People suck.” Darrel coughed out a surprised laugh, and Reyes pointed her spork at him. “They do! It’s one of the few truisms I feel like I can really get behind. Space is full of surprises, the path of life never runs smooth, and people suck. Not all the time, thank goodness, but enough that most of the time I just wish I could fly the ship all by myself, if that makes any sense.”

“You might be able to. You’re fast at the helm.”

“Nah, I’d get tired after a few hours, but that’s nice to hear. Now. About your piloting. We’re gonna go to the sims together after lunch, and I’m going to use my badge to enter a program that will give you an accelerated practice regime. We’ve got a week and a half before we get to Pandora, and if you spend a few extra hours a day on the simulator, you should be able to get your reflexes up where they need to be by the time we arrive. Sound like a plan?”

“Why are you helping me?” Reyes looked hurt by the question, and Darrel moved fast to explain. “I’m really grateful that you are, but it’s like you said…people suck. And there’s a lot of competition here, a lot of cadets looking to distinguish themselves and get tabbed before they graduate, like you did. Nobody else has offered to help me with anything.”

“Have you offered in turn?”

Darrel felt himself start to flush. “No. I haven’t.”


“Well, it’s got to start somewhere. Your friend knows that. Take a screenshot from his data pad and give it a try, pay it forward. I’m sure someone out there would love to learn how to speak Perel but doesn’t feel bold enough to ask Grennson.” She winked. “Just a thought. Now, finish your delicious glop and lets get going before the simulators are all full.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Risky Behavior w/L.A. Witt!

Omigosh, I have a cover to show you and everything!

Risky Behavior is the first of a planned trilogy that I'm writing with L.A. Witt (we're actually 20k into the third book right now, so when I say I'm writing it, I mean we're fucking writing it, light speed). It's a romantic suspense novel, heavy on the suspense. Look at it. Look! I'm adding a link, in case you want to read more about it or, y'know, pre-order. ;)





It’s day one of Darren Corliss’s career as a detective, and not only has he been assigned a notoriously difficult partner, but the guy might also be a pill-popping dirty cop. Internal Affairs needs proof, and Darren gets to be their eyes and ears whether he wants to or not.
Detective Andreas Ruffner doesn’t play by the rules, and he doesn’t play well with others. With bodies piling up and a list of suspects who are way above his pay grade, the last thing he needs is a wet-behind-the-ears kid for a partner. Or babysitter. Not even if that partner is easy on the eyes.
As Darren gains Andreas’s hard-won trust, they both realize there’s more than just mutual suspicion simmering beneath the surface. But their investigation is heating up as quickly as their relationship, and Darren has no choice but to go along with Andreas’s unorthodox—and borderline unethical—methods. As IA puts the squeeze on Darren to give up the man he’s falling for, he has to wonder—is Andreas the only cop left in this town who isn’t dirty?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Eighteen

Notes: Another new perspective, because I'm apparently a glutton for punishment and complication. Enjoy seeing Miles from a different direction.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Eighteen

***

Chapter Eighteen



“I don’t understand this man’s love of in-person meetings,” Captain Rianna Kylal muttered to her fellow captain, Blake Obede, as they made their way from the Academy fleet flagship’s dock to General Caractacus’s ready room. “We’re barely three days out from Olympus and he wants to speak to us again? All together? What’s so important that it has to be said in person as opposed to over a private comm?”

“He’s old-fashioned, I suppose,” Blake replied easily. They’d come without their aides—not a requirement, the general’s personal secretary had stressed, but as said aides wouldn’t be allowed into the briefing, it didn’t make much sense for them to tag along. After all, they had their orders from the admiralty. Nothing Miles Caractacus could do would change those, at this point. “Or perhaps he’s just reinforcing his position as the head of our little armada.”

Rianna snorted. “Please. This is a milk run, we all know it. Why the admiralty bothered to pull in a marine general, of all people, instead of giving it to an active duty captain I have no idea. Maybe Garrett Helms made them.”

“You think Helms has that kind of pull in the senate?”

“There’s no telling what that snake is capable of. His own kid’s not on the roster here, did you know that?” Rianna shook her head. “Coddling him won’t do him any favors.”

“Or maybe he knows something we don’t.”

“Conspiracy theories, Blake?” She nudged him. “Don’t get buzzy on me. I need someone around who knows how to keep a level head.” They were coming up on the general’s ready room. His secretary, Shen Lin, was waiting at the door, immaculate in a space-black suit, her hands crossed in front of her.

“Thank you both for coming,” she said. “You’re the last to be accounted for, so if you would please enter and be seated?”

“Last in and first out,” Rianna whispered as they walked in. Blake just eyed her sidelong before taking his seat. Fifteen other captains were already there, and she flushed a little at the sudden attention. Whatever, they weren’t that late. At the head of the table was General Caractacus, and Rianna made a show of leaning forward and focusing on him. The sooner they’d sopped his ego, the sooner she could get back to her ship.

The general smiled. “Thanks for coming so promptly. Now that you’re all here, I’ll get right to the point.” Digital data sheets suddenly displayed on the tables in front of each of them. “These are your new crew rosters. I want you to inspect them, bring any potential issues you have with them to me by the end of the day, and be prepared to implement them by tomorrow.”

Captain Uris asked the question that was on everybody’s mind. “Why are we making changes to our crews? Our current rosters were designated by the admiralty themselves.”

“Indeed they were,” the general said mildly. “By the admiralty: not by the instructors at the Academy, not by Admiral Liang, not by anyone who would be in a place to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the cadets under your command. Several of you were given helmsmen who have less than a hundred hours of simulation time—only helmsmen with low preparedness, for all shifts—as opposed to here of you who were given senior cadets with over a thousand hours on the sim, and actual flight time in crafts ranging from shuttles to Destroyers.”

“Surely that was based on potential proximity to combat,” another captain protested. “A fifty-crew puddlejumper is far less likely to encounter armed resistance than the destroyers we’re putting to the front of the line.”

Rianna bristled slightly—she was captaining one of those smaller ships, and she didn’t appreciate it being referred to as a puddlejumper—but the general was quick with a response. “The original crew orientation is included in the data. Feel free to flip back and take a look, and I think you’ll find that there was very little combat strategy applied to the placement of crew. Four destroyers were given fewer than ten percent upper classmen, whereas our communications ship—which is certainly meant to be at the back, and I’m not suggesting otherwise—is entirely staffed with juniors and seniors. Cadets, in fact, that all have a direct connection to members of Parliament.”

A strange silence descended over the group. Blake eventually ventured to speak. “You’re saying that the admiralty cherry-picked which cadet would be placed on which ship, regardless of capacity.”

“I am.”

“That’s a bold claim to make, sir.”

The general waved toward the table. “It’s not bold if it’s true. The evidence is there. You can peruse it on your own and get back to me as to whether you agree or not, I don’t care. I don’t have to care, even though I do. But the fact of the matter is, this fleet was put under my command. No matter what we’re heading into, whether it’s a skirmish with pirates that’ll be over before we know it or something bigger, I am the final arbiter of who serves where now that we’re underway.”

“I don’t think the admiralty would appreciate your changes, sir.” Captain Uris again. She, Brianna recalled, was married to a cousin of President Alexander.

“I don’t feel the need to care about what they would appreciate,” he replied easily. A few of the other captains looked to be stifling smiles. “They’re on the ground, we’re in the air. Command may issue guidelines at this point, but any orders go through me first. Unless you feel that I’m asking you to do something that is immoral,” he added. “In which case, it’s your prerogative to file a report with the admiralty in accordance with the law. I imagine they’ll get around to reviewing it before we reach Pandora, but until that time, you’ll obey my orders. Do you find reshuffling your crews to be an immoral act, Captain Uris?”

Her hands were clenched, but she persisted. “I’m simply stating that the admiralty must have had their reasons for doing what they did, and for you to step in and rearrange something that is possibly beyond your comprehension for reasons of—”

“You can stop right there.” General Caractacus sat forward and fixed his pale eyes on Uris. Brianna felt the second-hand tension like it was her own, quickening her heartbeat and tightening her muscles. “First off, your insinuation that I’m ill-prepared for this command is a slap in the face of the very admiralty whose intentions you purport to know better than myself. I was pulled out of retirement, against my wishes, to take this post. I intend to do my duty to the best of my abilities regardless, and the safety of my people is of paramount importance to me. You don’t like it, take it up with my record of service.

“Secondly, don’t talk to me about reasoning before you’ve even so much as glanced at the data in front of you. If you’re here to shill for the admiralty, you’d have better luck doing your research first and attacking after instead of the other way around.” Captain Uris’s face was getting redder and redder, but the general pressed on.

“Thirdly, if we’re going to be asking questions about the whys of crew placement, I invite all of you to ask yourselves—in the quiet of your own ready rooms—why you were given the cadets you were, and whether or not their placement was logical. If you disagree with a move I’ve made, I want you to step forward with it. Feel free to challenge me, but the information I’m giving you here is about more than just your individual ships. I’ve shared the data for every ship’s personnel, so when you look through the rosters, I want you to weigh the benefit of each orientation—the original, and the new one I’m proposing. See if it doesn’t make more sense. And if it does make more sense? Well.” He sat back in his chair.

“You can stop thinking as soon as you agree with me, if that’s the way you prefer to work. Or you can consider the reasoning behind the admiralty’s original decision, and ask yourself what in the hell they were thinking when they divided our people up the way they did.”

“You’re asking us to commit an act of treason—”

“A thought is never treasonous, only an action is,” the general snapped. “If we were tried on the basis of our thoughts, no one would make it to adulthood. It’s not treason to question, but if you’re going to question me you’d better back your claims up with hard facts and not expect me to cower just because you’re tight with the admiralty. Otherwise, you do as I say, or I replace you with someone more discerning. Do you understand me?”

Nods and murmured, “Yes sirs,” went around the room. Even Uris nodded after a moment.

“Good. Then I expect to hear from you before the start of third shift tonight if you disagree with any of my changes. Otherwise, I want this done by second shift tomorrow.” He pushed back from the table and stood up. “Dismissed.”

Uris left in a huff, and most of the other captains left quickly, eager to get back to their ships and prepare. Rianna waited for Blake to join her, glancing back once at General Caractacus as he conferred with his secretary.

“Do you think he’s right?” she whispered as they walked. “About the…cherry-picking?”

Blake looked grim. “All I know is that my own ship is ninety percent full of freshmen and I didn’t even realize it until now. No wonder our exercises have been going so slow. My new XO didn’t tell me any of this, either.”

“You aren’t still working with Johnson?” They’d been a command team ever since Rianna had first me Blake, almost twenty years ago.

“No. He was reassigned.” Blake’s lips tightened. “To Captain Uris.”

“You think the general is on to something?”

“I think I’m going to obey my orders and get my ship’s crew straightened out. And I think I’m going to be a lot more careful about how I go about my business for the rest of this deployment.” He glanced at her. “I suggest you do the same.”