Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Sixteen

Notes: More Reformation, yay! In which Garrett talks to himself, because lord knows it's hard to find intelligent conversation these days.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Sixteen


Chapter Sixteen

There was an old Earth game called chess that was supposed to be a useful tool for developing your sense of strategy. Miles played it, Garrett knew, but he’d never tried to get his son interested in it beyond the basics. Garrett knew why, and he wasn’t offended. Chess was all well and good for a conflict that could be played out in three dimensions, but for all the bitching he’d done as a young man, for all the running away from conflict and burying his head in hedonism and trying to ignore the universe, Garrett—when he focused—played his life to win in every dimension he could think of. And there was nothing more important right now than winning. But what was the ultimate goal?

Saving Pandora, that was in there. He’d laid the threads for success, and if Miles used the information Garrett had given him, then their odds went up. It might be too late to save Jonah—not that Garrett would ever openly admit that to himself, because that would mean he’d already lost a major battle, the kind he might not recover from—but it wasn’t too late for the colony. Or for the poor green kids being sent out to manage a situation that was almost designed to get them killed.

Saving Jonah—well, obviously that was important. Garrett might as well be saving himself by saving Jonah, because there was no guarantee he was going to be able to hold his mind together, drugs or no, if his husband was dead. Saving Cody—right on par, and a major misstep for Garrett. He should have moved faster, gotten Cody in hand before he told him what was going on. But Cody had Ten with him, and Ten was the human equivalent of a flamethrower: illuminating, useful, and incredibly dangerous. Cody was in good company. The other kids were with Miles, so as safe as they could be without causing a diplomatic incident and pulling Grennson off the ship, which he wouldn’t tolerate if it meant leaving Darrel behind.

What else here was worth saving, though? The rift between the Central System and the fringe planets grew day by day, their respective governments so full of mutual loathing that they set up blockades to getting actual progress made—any progress—at every turn. Financial centers played games with their assets, and the people in charge passed the risk on to their poorest customers. The president of the Federation was a dictator in the truest sense of the word, expecting perfect obedience and more than willing to kill if he didn’t get his way. And yet, they all pretended everything was fine. Because what was the alternative? Anarchy? The dissolution of the federation itself?


The biggest problem with that, as far as Garrett was concerned, was that the bulk of the military power in the federation rested in the central system, and revolved around the Academy. If that power structure didn’t change while the balance of power shifted, then what was now a nominal federation would turn into a system of conquest. Fringe planets would be actively invaded by Central System planets with enough ships to make their voices heard, and people would be effectively enslaved.
So then. That was something that needed to be dealt with too. Luckily President Alexander had already taken care of the heavy lifting.

Garrett sent of call requests to half a dozen different people at once. They wouldn’t all get back to him quickly, but it didn’t matter—he needed time to think. He sat back in his chair, linked his hands behind his neck and stared out at nothing for a moment. He had to deal with Raymond. He had to deal with the military. He had to deal with the financial centers, powerful entities in and of themselves. And he had to do it in a way that meant he wouldn’t get stuck holding everything together in the end, because Garrett was a lot of things, but presidential wasn’t one of them.

“I think you could be pretty presidential if you set your mind to it, darlin’.”

Garrett frowned. “Hush.”


“Because,” he said on a sigh. “You’re not really here. You’re just my own subconscious projecting the thing I want most of all to me in a moment of mental weakness.”

“You’re not weak, Gare.”

“If that was true, you wouldn’t be sitting across from me right now.”

Jonah leaned forward and propped his chin up on his hand. “I don’t know about that. Seeing people who aren’t actually there isn’t the worst thing, as coping mechanisms go.”

“Well I think it’s pretty bad. Or don’t you remember how I get when my brain chemistry is off?” Garrett chuckled. “Of course you do, because you’re a part of me. This is a bad road to go down.”

“Then go to the nearest autodoc and let them adjust you,” Jonah suggested. “Get that brain chemistry wrangled back into submission and you can go back to your thinking, and not missing me.”

“I’d miss you either way.”

“And you get to see me this way.” Jonah smiled. “So why not run with it, darlin’?”

“Because…” Garrett stared hungrily at the image of his husband. “Because it’s not enough. It’s not real, and I don’t need it to handle things right now.”

Jonah shrugged sympathetically. “Are you sure about that? Maybe if Miles was still here, or Claudia and the girls, but they’re all gone. Everybody has left you, and they didn’t want to, you know they didn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have. So why begrudge yourself a simple coping mechanism?”

“Cody wanted to leave me.” Garrett’s eyes hurt when he said it, and he squeezed them shut. “He chose to go. No one made him do it.”

“His love for me made him do it. That doesn’t mean he loves you less, just that he was less worried about you.”

“He didn’t trust me to have a plan.”

“He didn’t want to sit idle while you did everything yourself,” Jonah corrected. “Like you almost always do. People need to be useful, babe. Cody especially.”

“I don’t…” Garrett sighed. “I don’t know how to help him. He’s on a Drifter ship, which is literally one of the only places in the universe that my reach doesn’t extend to. He’s with Jack, and we know what a brilliant thing that is. He’s got Ten, but who’s to say they’re even going to go to Pandora? Why not steal him and keep him with them forever? You know Jack wants him.”

“Jack doesn’t know what he wants.”

“Yes he does, he’s not subtle about it. He wants Cody and he wants you, and he wants me out of the picture.”

“But as long as the rest of us don’t want that, then he’s got no leg to stand on, darlin’.” Jonah smiled gently at him. “I’m yours. For life. For more than that.”

“Life could be a long time,” Garrett mused. “Marriages are more about assets that emotions these days. Why tie yourself down when you live so long?”

“Because I want to be tied. Bedroom metaphors aside, you know I do. And I know that you do too. You want something permanent, you always have.” Jonah slid a hand across the table toward Garrett—not close enough to touch and ruin the illusion, but close enough to see the tiny mole on the back of his left index finger, right at the base. Close enough to see the smooth veins wind beneath the surface of the skin, close enough to see the jagged clip on the edge of his right thumb where Jonah had probably cracked it while doing maintenance on his ship. They had tools for that, damn it, he didn’t need to mark himself up just to get the job done.

“I know,” Jonah said. “But I like getting my hands dirty every once in a while.”

“Is anything you say not laced with innuendo?”

“Only you can answer that question, Gare.”

Garrett blinked at his husband tiredly. “I miss Robbie and Wyl.”

“I know you do.”

“I wish they were here. They would have stayed.”

“Probably. But they’re not here, and they ain’t comin’ back any time soon. You’ll have to manage without them.”

“I can, I just don’t want to.”

“I know, sweetheart.”

Garrett chuckled. “You’re getting soft if you’re calling me sweetheart outside of bed.”

Jonah shrugged. “It’s a special endearment. Sometimes something special is called for.”

Garrett opened his mouth to reply, but then his comm started to ping. Who was it, Liang? No, the first return caller was Berengaria. Well, not the easiest to deal with, but her role was the simplest. He activated the call. “Ms. Alexander.”

“Mr. Helms. Your message said it was urgent.”

“It is.” Garrett rubbed his eyes for a moment, then sat up in his chair. When he looked, the seat across from him was empty. He sighed. “Let’s talk about your family holdings.”

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm genuinely grateful for this holiday right now, because it reminds me that not everything has been a clusterf*ck this year. I'm thankful to be having a wonderful dinner with my excellent husband in our own home, which we've been in for a little over a year now, with our dog who's been here for almost half that time.

I'm thankful for my loving family, who are spread out all across the globe. I hope they have exactly the Thanksgiving day that they want, or at least the best they can get in places where there are no cranberries or turkey.

I'm thankful for my readers, who are all that make me put fingers to keyboard sometimes, and especially for the ones who send me messages, encouragement, help me plan or just say hi. You guys are something special.

I'm thankful for my coauthors, who are wonderful writers and also extremely patient for the most part, and I'm happy to be a member of the writing community that, generally speaking, gives me a lot of joy.

Thanks for making my year, and my entire life, better 💖💙💚💛💜

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Fifteen

Notes: Back to Cody and Ten! More specifically, back to Ten, who is paranoid. Whatever, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Fifteen


Chapter Fifteen

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Ten was a genius. It might be an exaggeration to say that all of hir ideas were good, but when it came to problem solving in a pinch, Ten was second to almost none. Ze would have been a brilliant tactician, hir instructors at the Academy had lamented, if ze was better at taking into account the human cost of things. Ship in a bind? Surrounded on all sides by the enemy, no way out? Ten would blow up the ship. Not only would ze blow it up, but ze’d do it in the biggest and most spectacular way possible, to maximize destruction. Yes, it meant ze died, along with all of hir crew, but that was the point, wasn’t it? Win at any cost? Needless to say, it was an attitude that had permanently sidelined hir from any chance at a command track in the Academy, which was exactly what ze’d meant to happen.

Ten was actually very cognizant of life, when it suited hir to be. Hir life, of course, was paramount when it came to preservation, because otherwise ze couldn’t do a damn thing to look after anyone else, but the lives of hir loved ones came in a close second. In Cody’s case, that second was so close a space as to be practically nonexistent. And here they were, on a Drifter ship that was verging on derelict, puttering through space with a bunch of people who either disliked them because they were outsiders, disliked them because they didn’t fit the mold, or were curious about them but not willing to do anything to help them. Ten didn’t trust Jack as far as ze could throw him, but at least ze knew he’d look after Cody. Jack wasn’t a mechanic, though, and it was inevitable that Ten and Cody would eventually be separated during their work. So, a few safeguards were in order.

Cody’s eyebrows went up the “morning” of their second day on board the ship, when Jack was called to pilot and they were going to get a handle on everything that needed repairs or upgrades. “Are you serious?”

“What?” Ten asked, still holding out hir “keep Cody alive” emergency kit. “It’s not like any of this stuff is super obvious. No one will know that we think they’d a pile of advantage-seeking , scum-sucking—”

“That’s not fair to say, we don’t even know them yet.”

“We don’t need to. We can infer everything we need to know about them.”

“And your inferences have led you to decide they’re…scum-sucking?”

“More like they think we’re scum-sucking lowlifes taking advantage of Jack’s stupid hospitality, but that’s six in one, half a dozen in the other. The point is, a lot of these people aren’t going to like us, and there are a lot of ways that things can go wrong on a ship, especially a ship carrying five hundred people that looks like a floating tumor.” Ze pressed the kit at Cody again. “Take it. Come on.” Cody still looked doubtful. Time to break out the big guns. Ten took two steps forward, plopped down in Cody’s lap and leaned into him, wrapping hir arms around his neck. “For me,” ze whispered, and kissed him.

Bad idea. Oh no. It had been so long since they’d had sex, days, and they hadn’t had a quiet moment together in almost as long as Ten was a lot of things but an exhibitionist wasn’t one of them, especially not with Cody’s creepy dad not two rooms away, and damn it, damn it, ze could grind down on his lap right here and get hirself off in two minutes, ze was sure of it.

They were supposed to be in the engineering section of the ship in ten, and it would be a fast walk as things stood.

“Oh my god, really?” Cody demanded as soon as Ten pulled back. “Now?” He’d sprung up almost instantly, and his expression was pained as he pressed a palm against his groin. “We don’t have time.”

“I know.”

“I hate this.”

“Me too! If you’d just taken my present in the first place, you wouldn’t have had to be reminded about how much you’re missing all of this right now.” Ze indicated hirself with a wave of hir hand as ze stood.

“I don’t need a reminder,” Cody groaned. “I think about you all the time anyway. Shit.” He shut his eyes for a second, then held out a hand. “Give it to me.”

Success! Ten handed the kit over and watched as Cody deftly took the pieces apart, slotting them into place on his body and clothing. Perfect, perfect, perfect. As soon as the booster went over his implant, Ten reached out. Can you hear me now?

“Loud and clear.”

Use your implant.

Yes. Cody winced. “Ugh, I don’t like that.”

“It’s harder without Hermes to help,” Ten agreed. “We should use it in case of emergencies only, but at least it’s a way for us to communicate if they stick us on opposite ends of this crate.”

“It’s not a crate.”

“It’s a flying basket case. It’s the space equivalent of a ship’s graveyard come back to life—it’s a zombie ship. Have you ever heard of zombies before? Because this thing is one of them.”


“They have an average of three leaks a day on this ship. Three! A day! We’re talking hull breaches here, and I don’t care if it’s a little one, when the part of your ship that keeps you from decompressing and freezing in space is malfunctioning, you need to dedicate some time to it, not just keep slapping patches on and calling it good.”

“I know, I—”

“That’s why the kit is important, okay?” Ten stopped pacing and looked at Cody. “I know you think I’m overreacting and that this stuff isn’t necessary, but it is, and not just because someone might do something stupid and malicious. It’s an anti-accident kit too. It could keep you alive, and I’d give you one even if you weren’t a natural. I don’t care about that, you know I don’t.”

“I know.” Cody got up and straightened his clothes. “And I know you’re wearing one too, so it makes me feel a little better. Same gear?”



“I know you don’t like the shocker but that thing has saved my ass several times, and I’m smaller than you. People are going to try to take advantage of that.” They stepped off Jacks’ ship and headed toward the hall that led to engineering.

“It might not be as bad as you think.”

Ten snorted. “You’re the most annoyingly optimistic person I’ve ever met, and keep in mind, I know Grennson. You leave him in the ether, though.”

Cody shrugged. “Why borrow trouble when we’re not going to have any shortage of it ourselves?”

“Hence the need for the kits.”

They made it to engineering with a minute to spare, not that it seemed to matter. The compartment was immense, like an ancient depiction of a hive of bees, full of ladders and corridors and people, each one moving with purpose, some of them accompanied by sparks.

“Fun,” Cody said, looking around.

“Tragic,” Ten corrected. “Fucking tragic, a first year Academy student could organize a workplace better than this.”

“I guess we need to find ourselves something to do.”

Ten’s idleness, at least, was put to an end the second a small, slender woman with dark skin and neon bright hair saw hir standing in the doorway. “Hey, you!” Ten glanced hir way. “Yeah, you! Whatshirname, Tiennan.”


“Right. You know how to weld?”

“Does a baby know how to drink milk and shit?”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Answer the question, smartass.”

“Yes,” Ten said, enunciating clearly. “I can weld. Any idiot can weld.”

“But I need an idiot who can do it in tight quarters, and Corva said we’re to keep you kids working, so!” She clapped Ten on the shoulder, knocking hir forward a step. “My name’s Livia, and you’re coming with me to sanitation. We’ve got a containment issue.”

“Joy,” Ten said sourly. “And Cody?”

“Eh, the little prince will find work for himself soon enough, right?” She glanced disinterestedly at Cody, who just shrugged and smiled at Ten.

“I’ll be fine. You go have fun in sanitation.”

“I hate you.”

It was unfair how Cody’s grin made Ten’s heartrate pick up so reliably. “I know.”

“Enough sweet talking, kid.” The woman pushed an old-fashioned portable arc welder into Ten’s hand, along with an apron and a pair of goggles that had clearly seen better days. “You ready to get down and dirty?”

“I suppose I have to be.”

Ten looked back once as ze followed Livia down the hall. People moved around Cody like they didn’t even see him. He didn’t seem bothered, though.

Good luck.

Cody sent back the mental equivalent of a wink. It would have to be enough.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Fourteen

Notes: Back to Jonah. I've never had to work quite this hard before, but trust me when I say I'm writing some of this from memory. What can I say, backpacking in Colorado for the win!

Title: Reformation: Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fourteen

Jonah couldn’t see anything.

Well. He could see in flashes, the sudden crack of lightning illuminating the terrain in front of him in flickering waves, then vanishing just as fast and leaving nothing but darkness and rain behind. The water poured off the ends of his hair and into his eyes, slipping inside the hood of his jacket like it wasn’t even there thanks to the unpredictable wind. The light at his waist was only good for a few feet, directed as it was at the ground, and he couldn’t lift it up to look ahead because he had to keep his hands on the cords binding Lacey’s stretcher to him. He didn’t dare let go. Already the wind had tried to rip it from him, the rain had loosened his grip to the point of endangering it, the ground had tilted and twisted him as he plowed across the slick, uneven rock. One misstep, and he’d drop her. If he dropped her, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to pick her up again.

“I gotcha.” He said it for himself, not for her; Lacey was unconscious, and so much better off for it. “I gotcha.” He had her, and he had a destination in mind. He just had to make it there. “I gotcha.” Was he still going the right way? Would he even recognize the bunker when he got there? If he got there? If the lightning died and the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in ever tighter, would he even see it, or would he walk right off a cliff and take Lacey with him.

“No.” He wasn’t going to do that. He had a responsibility, damn it, and he was going to see it through. What kind of person was he if he couldn’t even manage that? What kind of man?

“Nobody’s perfect, Jonah.” Garrett had said that to him once, after what Jonah couldn’t remember, something insignificant that had still gotten Jonah’s brain in an unhappy place. It hadn’t soothed Jonah as much as he’d wanted it to, because if anyone ever came close to perfect, for all his flaws and faults, it was his husband. And right now, anything less than everything would end up meaning…nothing. For him and for Lacey.

Fuck, but it was cold out here. Jonah paused and regripped the straps, taking a long breath as he waited for the next flash. It showed him an uphill slope, maybe as steep as thirty degrees and slicker than all get out, the kind of rock that crumbled beneath your feet and treacherously took you down with it. He had a couple hundred meters of that ahead of him, and just the thought of it made his legs tremble. His hands were mostly numb by now, but he forced them to hold on tighter anyway.

They weren’t that far from the ship. He could turn around, take them back to where they’d be dry, if not perfectly safe. It wasn’t too late to go back. Jonah shut his eyes against the driving rain and ducked his head, inhaling fast and deep. No. He’d started it, he had to go on. There was no way forward but one foot after the other. “Go,” he told himself. “Go. Go, damn it, go.”

Finally his legs listened. They picked up, sluggish and straining against the weight of the travois, but they moved, and everything else moved with them. Jonah forced himself up the hill, slipping and sliding, getting buried up to his knee in scree at one point, feeling the sharp rocks poke at his leg and break the skin around his ankle where his pants had ridden up. Defensive fabric was only useful where it covered you, but he couldn’t bent down and fix it, not now. Not on the hill, not when he was only halfway up. Less than that.

Jonah took a breath, and a step. Another breath, another step. He couldn’t remember working this hard in his life before, couldn’t remember being so cold and numb and in pain all at once, couldn’t remember if his back had ever spasmed like this, or if his hands had ever been so cold he lost all sense of them. He couldn’t remember anything except the feel of driving, needle-like rain, the ache in his shoulders that spoke of Lacey’s weight, the weight of the travois, sitting heavy on them. He felt the burn in his lungs and throat, and the beat of his heart echoed in every vein in his body. He felt it all, and he moved for it. It was terrible, but if it stopped, so did he, and he couldn’t let that happen.

When the ground leveled out, Jonah actually fell down onto one knee, it was so unexpected. He instantly forced himself back up, because no, no, he couldn’t stop, he couldn’t take a break, and what was that sound

He turned back to look the way they’d come, back toward the little shuttle that had provided so much and been so inadequate in the end. It probably wasn’t even a kilometer distant at this point, he could see exactly where the shallow, flat spot they’d crashed in was, see the wire twisting where it held the ship in place, see…

No shuttle. Holy shit. Even as he watched, the wire whipped around in the wind, still attached to the port on the shuttle. It was just the rest of the shuttle that was gone, the rock beneath it scraped even flatter as it fell away into the sea. Fuck. Fuck.

“Well.” It hurt to talk now, but silence didn’t seem right in the face of what had been so close to utter disaster. “Glad we left.” Otherwise they’d be sinking right now, water pouring in from a dozen tiny faults in the hull, going deeper and deeper or just lodging on the sharp rocks below and Jonah could be drowning right now, he could be watching Lacey drown, he could be spending his last breaths screaming uselessly for his husband, his son…

It was too cold for thinking. Jonah turned away from the ruin of his former path and pressed on, across the expanse that stretched too far in front of him. One kilometer down, one more to go. He could do this. He’d recognize it, he’d seen them before: a dome, something round in the midst of sharp edges, something smooth where everything else was rough. Lighter in color, not the blue-black of the rock but the dull grey of indestructible concrete. He’d see it. He’d see it. He would.

He did. It actually took him a moment to recognize that he was looking at his salvation, it had risen out of nowhere so unexpectedly. The bunker was set a little ways back in a sheltered section of cliff, pointing right at him, it’s old-school rotary handle staring him in the face. “Shit.” He glanced back at Lacey, but her face was covered against the rain. It didn’t matter. “We’re here, darlin’.”

Setting her down was a trial, not because he didn’t want to let go but because he couldn’t, not at first. His hands were cramped into claws, wound ‘round with cloth so tight the stitching was burned into the skin of his palms. In the end he had to crouch and take the weight off to manage it, and his legs screamed at him indignantly as he did. Once she was down, he just had to open the place.

Thank science for non-rusting materials. The handle stuck a little bit, grit in its gears, but once Jonah go it going it turned smoothly, not needing more than a guiding hand to spin in place until the locking mechanism let go, and the door cracked open.

It was dark inside, and the air smelled stale. It was cold too, but it was dry, and as soon as Jonah stepped in the emergency lighting flickered on. He dragged Lacey after him, too desperate to get her inside to appreciate their surroundings yet. He shut the door, moved the shield covering her face and leaned in to make sure she was okay. For one, brief moment Jonah couldn’t tell whether or not she was still breathing, and his heart picked back up into attacking territory before he finally made out the incredibly slow rise of her chest.

“Fuck,” he groaned. “Don’t scare me like that, kiddo.” Reassured, he left her alone for a moment as he forced himself back up to standing and looked around. He could hear the hum of the generator, years’ worth of fruitless power now coming to bear. He saw the cot illuminated by the neon light, the cabinets against one wall that probably had food and water, the best of all, the little Regen unit that glowed with life. It wouldn’t fix everything, but it would keep Lacey stable. Thank fuck.

There was a little table in the middle of the floor, with a book on it. Jonah hobbled over to it and picked up the book. It wasn’t an antique—the pages were a durable blend of metamaterials that were resistant to staining, tearing and other sorts of destruction—but it was a real, genuine book. On the cover were the words The Road. On the inside cover was an inscription: Read this and tell yourself that things could be so much worse.  It was Garrett’s handwriting. Of course it was. Who else would think of stocking an Old Earth survival novel in every bunker?

Jonah laughed until he cried.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Well, that bullsh*t happened.

I know I live in a liberal area of the US, but I didn't realize it was so liberal as to be an anomaly. Colorado went for Hillary Clinton--not by much, but by enough--but almost all of our neighbors didn't. The big swing states didn't.

I don't know what it says about me, that I am so surprised at how many people could support a person like Donald Trump, who exemplifies so much of what I despise. It's certainly motivational with regards to standing up for what I believe in. I'm still hopeful about the future, though. A Trump presidency won't be an easy presidency for him, no matter what the makeup of Congress is. He doesn't have a mandate in this country, and his coalition is as fractured as ever.

My father, a veteran, voted for Hillary. My mother, a southerner, voted for Hillary. My brother, who works in oil and gas, voted for Hillary. My sister, a doctor, voted for Hillary. I voted for her. And none of us are going to turn tail and cozy up to our new president-elect just because people are wagging their fingers at us and saying "Unity!" in the face of the dirtiest, most racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-POC and anti-Muslim election in modern American history.

We're not done working. We're not done fighting. We'll never be done striving for what we believe in.

/end rant

If any veterans are reading this, thank you for your service to our country. I respect you greatly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Thirteen

Notes: More Reformation! Back to Miles and Garrett, because they like to be in the thick of things. It isn't the longest one (lots on my mind today--omg it's election day, I wish it was over already) but interesting, I hope.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirteen


Chapter Thirteen

“What do you mean, he’s missing?”

“I mean exactly that.” Miles wasn’t sure what it meant that his son could look so calm talking about Cody’s disappearance, but given the way his kid tended to repress, it couldn’t mean anything good. “He’s gone missing. Or rather, I know where he is at this point, but there’s no way I’m going to get him back short of dragging him out of a very precarious situation by abusing my authority, and I’m not going to compromise him or Ten like that.”

“I wondered where Ten was when I came to get the boys,” Miles said.

Garrett laughed. It wasn’t a good sound. “They’re inseparable. It could have broken a thousand regulations and laws and Ten still would have found a way to stick to Cody. That’s literally the only bright spot I’m seeing right now, apart from the fact that at least you got Darrel and Grennson. How are they?”

Miles leaned back in his ready-room chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Confused. Unwillingly excited. Afraid. Curious. You name it, they’ve probably felt it.” He was leading three thousand cadets so green they’d barely even sprouted into a battle he had nothing but bad intel for, and their youthful, endearing and stupidly optimistic outlooks were the only thing keeping Miles from giving his personal sense of foreboding more room to flourish.

“Not surprising. And your officers?”

Miles shrugged. “No one I’ve worked with before. They look good on the screen, but not many of them have active combat experience. I’m going to be doing a lot of live drills and handholding on the way to the Fringe.”

“When do you estimate you’ll get there by?”

“We have a twenty-one ship armada, ranging from two fifteen-person Quicksilvers to my seven hundred-person Annihilator. Not all of them have the same power, and while normally I’d send some of the fleet ahead to scout, something about this…” He tapped his fingers on the console. “It bothers me, beyond the extreme circumstances that brought it about. We have fluctuating data on the pirate fleet that makes anything we think we know suspect, and so little of it that it’s virtually useless regardless of numeric values. They could have anywhere from five to fifteen to fifty ships, and all I’m sure of with regards to weaponry is that it’s more intense than anything most Fringe planets are able to handle. Has there been any word yet from Pandora?”

“None,” Garrett said. He sounded like he was gritting his teeth. “I know their shield is holding, and I know if it’s still up then they’re still experiencing problems. Also, I can tell you that there are twenty-nine vessels in orbit above Pandora that have no recognizable Federation digital insignia.”

Miles frowned. “How do you know that?”

“I have my ways. I’m going to set up a link between my live data stream and your personal implant. It’s heavily encrypted, and should only be accessible by you. If it goes dead suddenly, you’ll know I either had to shut it down to prevent us being spied on, or I’ve lost the mechanism for getting the data in the first place.” He tapped a few things on his console, and a moment later Miles’ implant let him know he was receiving data. He opened it up to project in front of his eyes, and inhaled sharply.

“Satellites? I didn’t think there were any Federation ones that close to the planet that had survived the initial attack.”

“They didn’t. Everything emitting a Federation signal was incinerated within the first five minutes of battle. I used a few Fed satellites further out as bouncers, but this one is personal.”

Miles blinked. Even for Garrett, that was extreme. “You set up a personal satellite to orbit Pandora?”

“Disguised as a meteor,” Garrett confirmed.

“How long ago?”

“Years.” His son smiled grimly. “You can call me a lot of things, but you can’t say I’m unprepared.”

“That’s true.” Miles shut his eyes and examined the ship signatures for a long moment. All mid-sized, from the look of things, but that in and of itself didn’t really make any sense. This wasn’t how pirates operated. “Interesting that they managed to target Federation satellites so specifically. Those signals are supposed to be unhackable.”

“One more item for the list of ‘interesting’ things about this whole shit show,” Garrett said. “You see what’s going on now, of course.”

“I do.” Miles opened his eyes. “We’re going to have to recalibrate our shields if they’re going to stand up to heavy fire from our own weapons. I’m going to raise a lot of eyebrows in the engineering departments.”

“Let them rise. If your officers refuse to comply, you can always throw them in the brig or out an airlock, whichever is closer.”


“I’m serious. Don’t let your own people endanger your life because they don’t have their priorities straight.” He sat up in his chair. “Dad, if you happen to find evidence of a Drifter ship in the vicinity of Pandora, I need you to do your best to ensure that it survives, okay? This is really important.”

“This is about Cody, isn’t it?”

“I can’t say that for sure.” But there was surety in his son’s voice, in the cold glint of his eyes, in the way he clasped his hands together like if he didn’t, they’d be squeezing someone’s throat. “Just look out for them. Please.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Thank you.”

“Anything for you, kid, you know that.”

Garrett nodded. “I know. Claudia and the girls are safe, by the way. I made sure of it.”

“Yeah, she messaged me.”

“Okay.” Garrett looked down at his hands for a second. “Keep me updated.”

“I will.” Miles ended the call without ceremony—more emotion wouldn’t do his son any good right now. He took a moment to himself to read between the lines: Cody and Ten had run off with Drifters headed toward Pandora, there were twenty-nine ships that were far too big to be pirates waiting for them once they arrived, and those ships were armed with plasma cannons. Probably standard torpedoes too, but the cannons were the thing that would cut through their shields without too much effort. Normal countermeasures didn’t work on them, and in fact, they’d only begun installing the cannons in Federation ships within the past five years. Miles called for Shen Lin.

His personal secretary opened the door a moment later. “Sir?”

“Do me a favor and run an inventory analysis on all the public data we’ve got for Federation shipyards. I want to see where supplies have gone, more particularly which ships have been upgraded to plasma and which haven’t. I’d also like to see raw numbers for orders, if possible. If a shipyard received eighty cannons and only installed sixty, I want to know it.”

If she wondered why he was giving her what probably seemed like busy work, she didn’t mention it. “Yes, sir.”

“Forward all of your findings to Garrett. File it under ‘interesting.’”

“And if I don’t find anything amiss?”

“Then we’ll still know something important.” Namely, that Raymond Alexander has managed to get his hands on enough funds to privately, and quietly, build a fleet of his own, which almost certainly means he’s stealing money from somewhere. Either way, it would give them a lead. If Miles knew how Garrett’s mind worked, he knew that his son was already building a file of incriminating evidence. Anything Miles could do to thicken it, he would.

“Yes, sir.”

“Also, set up a group comm with all the captains in the rest of the fleet. I need to pass along some technical details.” There were sure to be dissenters when he proposed his strategy, but he could phrase it as a way to keep idle hands busy for the next few days, and a learning experience for the cadets. In the end, too, he could simply tell them to get it done and expect that they would. And if someone didn’t, well…

That would also be…interesting. Sabotage within the ranks should have been a minor threat, but the way things were going right now, and with so many unproven cadets under his command and care, Miles wasn’t going to take anything for granted.

“Anything else, sir?”

He shook his head and reactivated Garrett’s stolen data feed. “Dismissed.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reformation: Chapter Twelve

Notes: This is for my poor sick darlin', who needs something happy in her life. Have some Cody and Ten!

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twelve


Chapter Twelve

Not my ship, not my ship, not my ship...

Sometimes, in dreams, Cody thought he relived his early childhood on a Drifter ship. He would walk down endless, twisting corridors made from mottled patches of metal, rusty scraps scraped just clean enough to catch a bond with newer polymers. Sometimes he was running toward his father, sometimes he was running away from other people, but Cody was never still when he dreamt of Drifting. He and his dad had left the clan when he was only five, but occasionally he would catch a whiff of burning solvent or thick, ancient oil and stop in his tracks, his head turning to track the smell despite himself.

Cody knew that leaving had been better. He’d been a liability on a Drifter ship; his dad had never said it, but Jack had uncomfortably intimated as much more than once. Kids who couldn’t heal fast were burdens, and nobody had time to take care of a burden when you were expected to start working as soon as you could walk. Instead, Cody and Jonah had made a new family with Garrett, and Cody wouldn’t trade it for the world. Still, there were times when he felt like a bird trapped not in a cage, but underwater, in a place it shouldn’t be able to survive. He couldn’t be a Drifter because he was a natural, but he would never really fit in with the glitz and glamour that came with Garrett’s lifestyle either, for the same reason.

Ten, on the other hand, would thrive anywhere. It was evident from the moment they caught sight of the enormous Drifter ship, well beyond the orbit of Olympus, where it would have had to pay docking fees. Jack eased them in toward what sort of, kind of looked like a port that would work for a little skip ship like his, and Ten actually twisted hir head to follow the motion. “How will we—oh, of course, at an angle. So you can cluster ships around a central intake. Clever. Very ungainly, but clever.”

“Don’t matter how elegant you look when all you’ve gotta worry about’s livin’ in space,” Jack muttered as he delicately guided his craft into the cradle. “No gravity to break you down. Now look, this skipper’s mine, but that don’t mean other people ain’t gonna come in here. You got a way of locking that bike?”

“Why don’t we just stay in here?” Cody said. He already felt like his skin was crawling at the thought of going onto the enormous ship. So many people who he didn’t know, who hadn’t wanted him…

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, we can make our quarters here, can’t we? So we’re out of the way?”

“Can’t contribute as easy when you’re out of the way,” Jack said. “’Sides, everyone’s gonna want to see you. I’ve been talkin’ you up for a while now.”

“Even to Grandma?”

Jack clapped Cody on the shoulder. “Let me worry about your Grandma.” The little ship docked with a faint clunk. “She shouldn’t kick up too much of a fuss. Like I said, we’re headed there anyway. Just makes sense to take you with us.”

Ten was frowning. Cody cut in before ze could say anything to Jack. “Thanks.”

“I’m going to lock the bike,” Ten announced. “Cody, come with me so I can show you the code.”

Cody frowned, but followed Ten back to the storage bay of the ship. “There is no code,” he pointed out once they were alone. “It’s DNA-keyed, I remember because you pricked my finger for hours before you got it to work right.”

“You’re not going to freak out on me, are you?”

Cody blinked. “What?”

“You aren’t going to suddenly decide that you wish you had been a Drifter all along and dive into assimilating their culture and forgiving them for all the awful things they did to you just because you’re lonely and looking for a connection?”

Cody parsed Ten’s breathless question out bit by bit. “Okay, first off, I’m not lonely. I’ve got you.”

Ten rolled hir eyes. “What about when I’m not enough for you?”

Cody actually laughed. “When have you ever been not enough? Do you even remember our time on Perelan? Who was the one who took time out of hir busy schedule to come back inside and do martial arts that I know you hated with me?”

“I don’t hate them, I just find them inefficient,” Ten defended hirself. “There are so many more practical ways to prevent someone from messing with you. Poison comes to mind. A mild poison,” ze amended when Cody raised his eyebrows. “Just enough to make them fall down and not be able to get up and exact vengeance, which would give you time to really make them regret it.”

Well, that sounded disturbing. “Do you actually have something like that?”

“We’re getting way off subject here.”

“Right.” Cody took a breath. “I don’t wish I was still a Drifter. I might sort of wish I’d been able to find a place here when I was a kid, but I didn’t. They didn’t want me, and they didn’t give my dad much of a choice, and we left and it was the best thing for both of us. I wouldn’t have met Garrett otherwise, which means I wouldn’t have met you, and I can’t imagine my life without either of you.”

Ten looked a bit shocked. “That’s…good.”

“And I do want to assimilate as well as I can while I’m here, but I don’t really give a fuck whether they like me or not as long as they get us where we need to go. My dad is what matters now, not me having a bunch of friends. I don’t need to make friends anyway, I brought my own.”

“Ha,” Ten muttered. “You mean I brought myself, that’s what you really mean. And it’s a good thing I did, because—”

“I know,” Cody said. “I already know. I always know exactly how lucky I am whenever I’m with you. That’s how I feel, okay? We’re here and I’m going to be polite, but the only person whose approval I need is yours. Got it?”

Ten’s mouth silently opened and closed a few times, the way it often did when ze was trying to think of a way to be verbally affectionate that didn’t make hir also feel over-exposed. Cody took pity on hir.

“Let’s say it’s done and get back out there, okay? We’ve got some meeting and greeting to do, I bet.”

“Right. Yes.” Ten’s hands twitched, but ze kept them at hir side. “You’re still in uniform. We both are. Should we change?”

“Why bother? If they can’t handle us like this, they probably aren’t going to be any better if we’re in civvies.”

“Who would ever have thought that of the two of us, you’d be the one to screw convention?”

Cody took Ten’s hand and smiled. “Can’t have you getting bored. Come on.”

It turned out, the term committee was a drastic understatement. There had to be fifty people waiting for them in the little docking bay once they were out of the ship. Jack swore quietly. “Let me do the talkin’, okay?” he murmured to Cody before stepping forward to face a woman with short, storm-gray hair and a face like an angry walnut.

“Corva, I can explain.”

“Explain a pair of strangers on board my ship?” Her voice was as dry as dust. “I’d hope so.

“Cody’s no stranger.”

“Cody’s been a stranger since before he was born.” Cody was really glad he was holding Ten’s hand, because it was oddly comforting to feel Ten’s nails dig into the back of his palm with barely-restrained emotion. It was nice that he wasn’t the only one.

“He’s got news about Pandora. He needed a lift there. Ain’t like we don’t have the space.”

“And what makes you so sure we’re still headed that way, eh?” she taunted him. “Why not find an easier drop for our goods?”

“Because the price on Pandora’s the best for five systems and you know it,” Jack replied. “You ain’t gonna give up that kind of profit without a fight.”

“Don’t mean we need useless people on board, taking our resources without giving anything back.”

“They’re mechanics. Engineers. They can work on the ship, get some of the dark parts lit up again.” Jack was incredibly persuasive when he wanted to be, Cody had to admit. “And they’ve got credits to pay their way.”

“Credits only spend on Central planets, and we don’t deal in places like this for long.” She glared over Jack’s shoulder at the two of them. “Or with people like them.”

“Corva. I gave ‘em my word.”

She glared at Jack. “Keep this up and your word won’t be worth the price of space junk.” She turned to shout at the watching crowd. “Get back to your stations! I want the stench of Olympus out of my nose before another hour passes! Get us up to speed toward Pandora.” She turned back to Jack. “As for them? They’re your problem. Put them to work. Feed them from your share. I don’t want to see them. I don’t want anything to do with them.” She turned and stalked off down the hall.

“Bye, Grandma,” Cody muttered.

Yep, this was going to be fun.