Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Eight

Notes: The battle has begun! Have some starships duking it out for a while. Tactics, treachery and a whole lot of Darrel doing his best to follow along.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Eight


Chapter Twenty-Eight

They weren’t caught off guard. That was the best that could be said of the Federation Fleet’s initial foray into battle. They knew what they were flying into, and that was the only reason that the descent from liminal space didn’t result in a bloodbath. That, and modified shields that gave the Federation ships a better chance against energy weapons that tore through their outer resonances like they were cobweb.

Darrel sat frozen in his seat behind Cadet Reyes, watching the numbers fade in and out on her tactical screen and listening to General Caractacus respond to his crew’s information with calm, detached orders. “The Pisces is heeling, sir, portside shields look to be completely down!”

“The rest of Pisces’ detachment will bring up cover for her. Keep our firepower on the ship in front of us.” He sounded so certain, but Darrel knew there was no certainty in the heart of battle. It was clear now which commanders had been slow to respond to the general’s staffing and defensive orders—they were taking heavier damage, and were slower to respond to threats. Their fleet was outnumbered initially, twenty-nine ships to eighteen, but they weren’t entirely outgunned. The pirates in front of them—and Darrel had never even heard of pirates who had access to a military-level Destroyer, it was a fucking farce—were being surprisingly chary with their ammunition, and their delays gave the biggest Federation ships time to maneuver themselves into the line of fire.

One of the ship designations on Reyes’ screen suddenly went dark. “Enemy ship destroyed, sir!”

“Target the next closest of a similar size within the same zone. On my mark, turn broadside guns on it and focus our forward firepower on the ship harassing the Cleaver.”

“Sir,” one of the tac officers called out worriedly, “if we change our heading like that, we open ourselves up to enemy fire against the dorsal shields. They’re down to fifty-one percent.”

“If we lose the Cleaver, we open up the smaller ships she’s protecting to firepower they can’t expect to handle. We’ll manage, Cadet. In three, two…mark.”

The Triumph was a Super-Destroyer, a new class of ship that was bigger and more powerful than anything the Federation had put out in decades. There hadn’t been much of a need, without open warfare dogging them, but the admiralty had wanted a new toy. The Triumph was half again larger than a regular Destroyer, had more flexible defensive capabilities and a weapons system that was more than a match for anything they were facing. That was good, since it was the only ship in the fleet that was doing consistent damage to the enemy ships. The Triumph’s starboard battery opened fire on the harrier-class that was firing on them, hitting it with a flurry of destructive power so vast it had no choice but to run. It tried, but it didn’t make it far. “Enemy ship destroyed, sir!”

“Two on our tail, sinking under to fire on our belly!”

“Fire ventral thrusters fifty percent, take us down. Maintain forward firepower on the Cleaver’s enemy.”

“Aye, sir.” The ship began a vertical roll, its stern dropping as the bow remained fixed on the ship it was engaging there. The forward guns weren’t as powerful as the side batteries, but between their firepower and the Cleaver’s defensive shots, the enemy ship had to turn tail and run.

“They’re following and firing, sir, impact in six seconds.”

“Ventral thrusters to full power, end forward engagement. Brace for impact.”

Three, two, one… Darrel counted down in his head, gritting his teeth, but when the shots hit it wasn’t nearly as stunning as some of the earlier hits had been.

“Deflection to ventral shields was seventy-five percent. We’re holding steady, sir.”

“Good. Give me a count.”

“Twenty-four enemy ships remain. We have all eighteen, although—” The tac officer cut off for a moment. When he spoke up again, he sounded worried. “Pisces is in bad shape, sir. Captain Himmel has ordered an evacuation. Their shields are next to nothing, and there are two ships converging on it.”

“Where’s Himmel’s detachment leader?”

“Captain Uris isn’t responding to the comm, sir.”

“Force a connection, and get us to Pisces, now. Inform Captain Gorion that the Cleaver will have to stand in front for the moment.”

“Aye, sir!” People got to work, and Darrel’s hands itched with the urge to be doing something, anything, other than watching. On the other hand, seeing how hard Reyes was working just to get the Triumph going in the right direction, much less responding to commands from the tactical staff, and he had to admit that he was probably doing more good by not doing anything at all.

“Connection holding, sir! We have the Hammerfall on the conn.”

“Captain Uris.” Darrel shivered at the dark tone of the general’s voice. He’d first met the man as Cody’s grandfather, a kind, patient man. He’d gotten to know him better as a commanding officer, hard but fair. This tone, though? There was nothing kind or fair about it—he sounded coldly furious. “Why aren’t you covering your detachment?”

“I’m currently engaged with two separate warships, General,” Captain Uris snapped. “Forgive me if I don’t have time to pander to your urge to backseat command.”

“Your destroyer should have been at the front of your detachment, not cowering behind a Class-Five Skyblazer. You’ve been engaged with those two ships for half an hour. They’re a third your size. Why aren’t they destroyed?”

“Not all of us have your firepower, sir. My shields are at forty percent and dropping, I don’t have time to—”

“Captain Obede.” The general cut off the detachment commander, talking directly to her subordinate. “Status, now.”

“Shields at eighty-five percent, sir.”

“Why are you shadowing Uris instead of assisting the Pisces?”

“Sir, I was ordered by my commanding officer to maintain a defensive position on Hammerfall’s port side.” He sounded tense.

“Shut your mouth, Obede. That’s an order!”

“Ma’am, my general has asked me to report. I must comply with his direct order, the same as I did for you.”

“Open my comm to the rest of Uris’s detachment,” Miles directed his communications officer. When she nodded, he spoke with resounding authority. “Captains Obede, Kylal, and Terry, I’m reassigning you to my detachment. Disregard all former directives and protect the evacuation of the Pisces. Kylal and Terry, for the time being, follow Captain Obede’s lead.”

“Aye, sir.” A chorus of what sounded like relieved voices echoed through the comm, and Darrel could see the ships begin to move away from Hammerfall.

“You can’t steal my detachment in the middle of battle!”

“You haven’t proven to me that you deserve them,” Miles retorted. “How many enemy ships have you destroyed, Captain?”

“I’ve been faced with a situation that—”

“None. And according to my engineer’s scan, your shields are over ninety percent. If you want your protective detail back,” and oh, the general sounded positively vicious now, “then you’ll prove your mettle by putting your ship on the line for this fleet. The Hammerfall is the second most powerful ship we have. It needs to be doing the second-highest amount of damage.”

“You don’t understand anything.” Captain Uris was practically spitting into the conn. “This can only end one way, and I’m not going to drag myself and my crew through the black just so you can go down in a blaze of glory! I refuse to follow your immoral orders. We’re leaving.” And a moment later…

Hammerfall has entered liminal space, sir.” The communications officer sounded stunned. “She’s gone.” And all the enemy ships that had been closing in on her were suddenly free to target other, less defensible vessels.

“The Pisces’ main engine has just blown, sir,” a tac officer added. “It’s completely disintegrated. Last evac numbers were at eighty percent safely away.”

“And Captain Himmel?”

“I believe the captain went down with the ship, sir.”

A moment of solemn silence reigned before Miles spoke again. “Pursue broadside engagement against the three nearest ships. Roll us if you have to, we’re playing a game of brute force now.”
Rolling them would expose the fragile dorsal shields. But the Triumph was the only cover some of the smaller ships had, and would make itself vulnerable accordingly.

Darrel gritted his teeth and took a deep breath as the ship began to twist.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Seven

Notes: I now it isn't long, but it's some of your favorite people! Jonah! Cody! Ten! Not all together quite yet, but still, we're getting there. Enjoy ;)

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Seven


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Jonah knew it was dangerous, but he had to get out of the bunker. He couldn’t stay and listen to one more rasping breath from Lacey, couldn’t listen to the Regen unit fight her body’s failure for another second. She’d been unconscious ever since the crash—two weeks, God, had it really been two weeks? It was incredible that she was still alive, but that wasn’t going to last much longer. Her organs were starting to shut down, and no amount of Regen was going to start them up again. She needed direct intervention, maybe even organ replacements, but until they got back to the Box…if they ever got back to the box…

Two weeks of failure. Two weeks of careful, delicate forays out from the bunker, so cautious after almost getting found. They weren’t far from the city, Jonah knew they weren’t, but the few miles might have been a mountain range for all his likelihood of making it through, while towing Lacey, and not getting shot down on the trip. The bombardment of Pandora City seemed to have diminished, at least, but there were still ships patrolling all around it, searching for breaks in the shield, for suspicious heat signatures, for new ways in.

There were no ships out tonight, though. Jonah lay on his back and looked up at the sky, beautifully clear after the last storm had blown over yesterday. The stars were sparse out here on the Fringe, none of the glittery nights he remembered from his brief stay on Olympus, but he could name every one of them. It had been a thing for Cody for a while when he was a child, learning all of the star names and then promptly making up his own, along with brand new constellations. Jonah raised a hand and traced a line between two faint white stars, looping it down to a third, reddish one near the horizon. The Fishhook, Cody had dubbed it. “But not a real one, Daddy, because it’s not nice to the fish,” he’d added seriously after telling Jonah its name.

“Good call,” Jonah had said. “I’m sure the fish will appreciate that.”

God, he missed his kid. He missed him like he missed home, but he was so grateful that Cody wasn’t here. Jonah was already failing one child. If he’d failed his own as well, he didn’t think he’d be able to live with himself. Garrett would probably have some strong words for him about that…but then, Garrett probably would have found a way out of this situation a week ago. It was only thanks to Garrett thinking ahead and stocking these damn bunkers that Jonah and Lacey were still going. Everything in there was a little reminder of his husband, and the only comfort that Jonah was likely to get at this point.

He wasn’t going to run out of food any time soon. He had the generator, he had shelter, he even had Regen for himself if he got injured again. None of that would be any good to him if Lacey didn’t make it, though, and at this point…well. He wasn’t sure what the odds were, but he’d be surprised if she lasted through the night. He should be in there, comforting her. Staying beside her, even though she couldn’t feel him, even though she’d never feel anything again.

Jonah’s breath caught in his throat, and he blinked hard to clear the tears from his eyes. Damn things, making the sky blurry, making it seem like the stars were…moving… Only, no. Those weren’t stars. And they weren’t satellites. Those were ships, the brightness of them visible to the eye for the first time, and they were—firing on each other?

Jonah scrambled to his feet and squinted up at the battle. What the hell? When had this started, when had things changed? Who was fighting who? A scope, there had to be some kind of scope in the bunker…

He wouldn’t be able to see much, but he was going to catch every detail he could.


If there was one thing Ten didn’t like, it was being told what to do.

Well, in perfect honesty, there would never just be one thing Ten didn’t like. The universe was full of things that were stupid, inefficient, incomprehensible, and just plain dumb. It would be impossible to list every single one of the things Ten didn’t like, because it was a list with no end. Every time one thing came off it, two more were added. But right at the top of the list was a dislike for being told what to do, because ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Ten had a better handle on whatever was going on than the supercilious person informing him of what had to happen next.

Quickly climbing that list, though? A thorough and virulent dislike of people trying to tell Cody what to do. Yeah, sure, Ten did it hirself every now and then because Cody wasn’t as alert as he should be and it was worrying, what if the man piloted himself into a black hole someday because he let himself get distracted by, whatever, fluffy catterpets needing adoption? It was the sort of thing Cody might do, was what Ten was getting at here. Ze couldn’t put anything by Cody when it came to being a self-sacrificing moron, which was why ze started putting in place precautionary measures as soon as Cody told hir the deal he struck with his heinous, hidebound, vacuum-sucking bitch of a grandmother.

“I’m mostly concerned she’ll turn tail as soon as we get to Pandora if things aren’t calm,” Cody had confessed earlier in the week, his hands stroking a nervous pattern across Ten’s back as they huddled together on their cot. Jack hadn’t been back to his ship ever since they first boarded. Apparently the matriarch of the clan was keeping him close. Ten snorted to hirself. Like ze’d ever rely on someone so fundamentally useless to assist with something as important as keeping Cody safe. “Bypass it and head straight on to Pollux.”

“It would be a waste of resources. Food, fuel, money—a total waste.”

“Yeah, one that she’d love to take out of my hide.”

“You’re not letting her, though.” Ten lifted hir head and looked at Cody bluntly. “You’re not letting her wear you down. She doesn’t have the right to touch you, much less punish you.”

“Of course not!”

“Good.” Ten had snuggled back in contentedly. “Then there’s not going to be an issue. Trust me.”

“But…no one’s being put in danger, right?”

“I’m a genius, not an evil genius, of course no one’s in danger.” Not mortal danger, anyway.

“What did you do?”

“What makes you think I—”

“Ten.” That was Cody’s “I’m not kidding around” voice, and Ten responded to it even though ze didn’t like to. “Really. What did you do?”

“I…might…have reprogrammed a section of their hygiene protocols to force a massive overflow into the central tank as soon as our speed is cut enough to establish orbit.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that as soon as we stop to take a look at Pandora, the shit tank is going to overflow. Like, massively. There are spilloff pipes, but half of those have been very slightly compromised, just enough to spring a leak or two or, perhaps, two-hundred and eighteen. It will force an emergency shutdown of the engines due to environmental hazards, and take at least a week to repair. And by that time, if we’re close enough?” Ze glanced over at Cody’s shrouded bike. “Well, I guess we’ll be hoping the modifications to that hold up, won’t we?”

Cody hesitated for a moment before a huge smile split his face, and Ten sighed with relief. Internally, of course, it didn’t do to share that ze had been nervous. “You think of everything, don’t you?”

“I try.” Ten shut hir eyes and pressed a kiss to Cody’s shoulder. “I really try.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Six

Notes: Happy Valentine's Day, darlins! Thanks to everyone who played along with my audiobook contest, and thanks to everyone who's commented and messaged me. I'm moving a little slowly lately (really persistent cold) but I swear, I'll get back to you soon. In the meantime, enjoy some new perspectives.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Six


Chapter Twenty-Six

Miles sat alone in his ready room, eyes darting between the message he’d just received from his son and the data he was getting on the enemy fleet’s formation. They were less than a standard day’s distance from Pandora. Now, he reminded himself firmly, was not the time to turn this ship around and blast Raymond Alexander’s personal residence into atoms.

They’re safe. That was the first thing Garrett had said, that his girls were safe. It was a good way to start, because the story that followed was harrowing enough without a load of uncertainty on top of it. Explosions, deaths, being hunted down and almost captured if not for intervention from Perelan’s ambassadors. Now his family was on the way to an alien planet where the Federation had very little jurisdiction, which was a comfort. The president’s gamble had failed.

You’re next. His son had sounded hollow as he said the words, like all the energy had been burnt out of him. He’ll have them focus on your flagship, to try and take you out. It’ll sow dissension and put your fleet into a state of chaos. You should hang back, let other ships take the brunt of the attacks while you whittle them down.

It was a loving thought, but not a practical one. Miles’s ship was the flagship for a reason—it was half again as big as any of the other vessels, and had the best shields and guns by far. Miles had already pulled his senior staff aside and had them install a program into the tracking systems that was calibrated to center on the energy signatures of the waiting ships, instead of arriving in a flurry and wasting valuable time trying to identify the enemy. He’d gotten some side-eyes for it, but nothing he couldn’t defuse and certainly no accusations, not after laying down the law with his subordinate captains. They could complain about him all they wanted to, but they would follow him into battle and follow their orders or he would install a new captain in their place.

Less than twenty-four hours before they arrived. He should sleep. He should send Garrett more than a rote affirmation of receipt of his message. What he wanted to do was contact the Perel ship directly, but that could draw attention that would be unwise, not to mention deadly for everyone aboard. They wouldn’t be safe until they were actually on the planet. Raymond hadn’t grown bold enough to attack a sovereign alien world, not yet. Not ever if Miles had his way.

His children were in the hands of the Perel. He, in turn, had one of their children on his ship. Miles rubbed his eyes for a moment, then went back to studying the spacescape over Pandora. He was going to do everything in his power to make sure that child was returned, safely, to his home.


There was a strange sort of tension on board, nothing like what Darrel had imagined when he thought about serving in the Fleet. He had assumed that activity would far outweigh any downtime, that excitement would supersede boredom, that duty wouldn’t feel like so much terrifying obligation. He was wrong. They were heading into a fight tomorrow, and far from bluster and brashness, everyone around him was just…quiet. Like they couldn’t quite believe what was happening to them, and didn’t want to think about it anyway. Most of the crew were first and second year cadets, so that stood to reason.

Eventually he took refuge in the room he shared with Grennson, who looked as disturbed as Darrel had ever seen him, all his quills sharp and lifted. “Oh,” Darrel said, finally understanding. “This must feel even worse to you.”

Grennson nodded miserably. “There’s a lot of fear. It’s…without something like adrenaline to combat it, fear is an exhausting emotion to subject yourself to over and over. It grates against the mind, always moving, never silent. It’s radiating at me from all corners of the ship right now, and I can’t escape it.”

Darrel sat down next to him. “Am I making it worse, or do you want me to stay?”

Grennson immediately took his hand. “Stay. You make everything better.”

Darrel had finally gotten over his blushing reaction every time Grennson complimented him, but he still felt a little swell of warmth from it. “Here, sit down in front of me.” He tossed a cushion on the floor. “And try not to stab me, okay?”

“Okay.” Grennson got down on his knees, facing away from Darrel, and Darrel cracked his knuckles and tried to remember what Jason had told him about tension headaches and Perel. Light and gentle, focus on the temples, deep breaths, easy strokes. He set his fingertips along the ridge of Grennson’s eyebrows and stroked outward, following the curving bone to the very edge of Grennson’s temples, then repeating it. Slowly he got into a rhythm, and as he made his gentle motions, his own nerves started to settle. He could see the good it did Grennson, the stiffness of his quills lessening until at last they were feather-soft again, his shoulders gradually lowering until they didn’t almost touch his ears anymore.

Darrel wasn’t sure how long he’d been going, but by the time he stopped he could tell that their breaths, even their heartbeats, were in perfect sync. It was the sort of empathic connection Perel were only capable of with people they were especially close to, and he felt grateful that he qualified. “Do you think you can sleep?”

Grennson nodded. “Do you feel ready for tomorrow?”

Darrel shrugged. “I’ve spent so much time on the sims lately I feel like I’ve been living there. I feel better about being Reyes’s backup, at least. I think that’s the best I can hope for.”

“Then it will be enough.”

Darrel hoped that Grennson was right.


“You’ve got to sleep, darlin’.”

Garrett shook his head, resolutely not looking at his hallucination of Jonah. “I’ve got to finish this first.”

“Sigurd’s working on it. Let him handle things while you take a break.”

“It’s too much for just one person to work out.”

“Especially when one of them is dead on his feet.”

“If you could avoid that word while I don’t know whether you’re alive or not, I’d really appreciate it,” Garrett snapped, breaking his resolution and glaring at the image of his husband. He knew he wasn’t there, he knew it, but he didn’t feel it. It felt like Jonah, and if he let himself go too far down that hall, he wouldn’t be able to back out of it. Especially if Jonah really was… “I’ll sleep in another few hours.”

“Fifteen minutes,” Jonah wheedled. “Fifteen minutes to let Sigurd tie the net tighter without you. That’s all.”

“There’s no time to—”

“There is, darlin’. I swear there is. You know it must be true if you’re the one thinkin’ it.”

Garrett sighed. “Stop logicking me.”

“You’re doing it to yourself. C’mon.” Jonah patted the couch where he was sitting. “Come and sit, just for a little while. Come back at it fresh.”

“Just for a little while.” Garrett’s arms felt like lead as he pushed away from the table, and it was surprisingly difficult to get all the way over to the couch. He sipped from the bottle of water Jonah pointed out on the side table, then leaned his head back with a sigh. It wasn’t fair. Humans had figured out cures to almost every disease and disorder that could come at them, had found a way to practically defeat death itself, and yet there was still no way to go completely without sleep. Oh, there were stimulants that would let you evade it for days, weeks if need be, but none of them came without permanent side effects. Garrett was rather fond of his brain, all things considered—he wasn’t about to sacrifice it for the sake of a few more minutes, even though he kind of wanted to.

“No, you don’t.”

“Stop telling me things I already know.”

“Somebody’s gotta say them out loud.” Jonah was so close, Garrett could feel the heat of his thigh. Or rather…well, it was as though he could, which was better than the alternative. Wasn’t it?

“If you’re that confused, you need more sleep.”

“Anyone would be confused talking to their hallucination,” Garrett defended himself. He had to keep saying that—as tempting as it was to live in the delusion more fully, his actual husband was on Pandora fighting for his life. He’d better be fighting for his life, at least. Garrett couldn’t let himself forget that.

“He’d want you to sleep too. C’mon, kick your shoes off, darlin’, stay a while.”

Garrett sighed. “One hour.”



“Three and a half.”

“Two and a half.”

“Three it is.” Jonah sounded satisfied. “Lay down, relax. I’ll get you up in time.”

Garrett didn’t let himself think too hard about his own sub-conscious promises as he settled on the couch. A minute later, he couldn’t think at all.

Sleep had never come so fast.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Five

Notes: New Reformation at last! I'm mostly over my damn cold at this point. Enjoy some Ferran and Jason. Also--comment on my contest post, let me give you a copy of my supervillain audiobook! C'mon, play along with me ;)

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Five


Chapter Twenty-Five

Ferran had long ago become accustomed to human-style parties. He was inevitably surrounded by curiosity seekers, some of them genuine in their interest, many of them looking for nothing more than a photo op or a chance to feel superior—or worse, feel entitled. Socializing was part of his work as an ambassador, and he bore it gracefully. Positioning himself as the center of attention allowed his husband to escape some of the more rigorous social niceties at these things, and Jason always made it up to him later.

Right now, Ferran was answering the same question for the fifth time tonight and making a mental list of the many, many things Jason would be owing him later tonight. “Yes, my quills do respond to my mood, and no, I would prefer that you not touch them, thank you.”

The woman facing him looked nonplussed, her bright golden hair floating around her head like thousands of tiny tentacles. “I thought that Perels liked touch! Your species has a reputation for being rather…open to that sort of thing.”

“Our youth certainly can be,” he replied calmly. “Especially when they’re on their post-adolescent tours, but I am part of an established relationship and save such liberties for my husband.”

If anything, the feel of her interest increased. Ferran resisted the urge to roll his eyes, a purely human reaction that he’d picked up over the years. “Well, I’d be more than happy to include your husband in any touching that happened between you and me.” She winked. “Shall we go and find him?”

Jason, come and rescue me before I’m forced to be rude.

On my way. His mental voice seemed—worried.

Is everything all right?

We have to leave. I’ll explain when we’re alone.

If both of them had been Perel, Ferran could simply have looked a little deeper into his husband’s psyche and divined whatever it was that had him so concerned. A psychic and empathic connection between spouses was the standard for their people, but no one had thought that Ferran and Jason would manage to develop the same thing. He was human, after all, and they weren’t notorious for their psychic abilities. They’d managed to build a strong connection anyway, but it wasn’t a typical one and didn’t behave that way.

Jason walked up behind him a moment later. The woman brightened. “Speak of the devil and he shall appear! Commander Kim, my name is—”

“You’ll have to forgive us,” Jason said, taking Ferran’s hand. “Something has come up that requires our immediate attention.” He turned away. Ferran went along gratefully, even though his own worry was growing.

“Enjoy the party,” he called over his shoulder before they were out of the ballroom. They walked in silence to the docking bay, but their minds were active with each other.

What is it?

A distress call. Our ship is the closest to handling it.

Ferran frowned. From whom?

Claudia Caractacus and her daughters.

Ferran was stunned. He remembered—vaguely—a plan that Garrett Caractacus had worked out, the equivalent of a mutual defense pact, between members of his family, the children, and those close to them. Ferran knew that he and Jason were on the list, but he’d never imagined they’d actually be called to act on it. Where are they?

Phracian Colony, above Kyres. The distress call has been going for the past five minutes. I conferred with Garrett and we can be there in under half an hour if we burn enough fuel.

Ferran tried to remember the details of the emergency protocol that had been set in place. They’ve abandoned their residence, then.

Their residence was destroyed. Local law enforcement found three bodies in the wreckage, none of them Claudia or the girls, but their bodyguard was there.

Ferran felt sick. And the other two?


No one is unidentifiable in your modern society.

Jason’s forehead furrowed. These two were. It’s a dark op, pure and simple. They’ve undoubtedly got more people looking for the escape pod. We have to move fast.

They made it to their ship, got permission to leave and were in the air in record time, leaving behind the thronging party moon they’d been booked at and heading for the tiny Central System planet of Kyres.

“If there are people looking for the pod,” Ferran said, checking that their nav system was appropriately keyed in to the distress signal, “then they will certainly be on their guard against interference.”

“That’s true.”

“We won’t be able to get them without a fight.”

Jason leaned over and kissed Ferran’s temple. The strength of their emotional connection surged with touch, and Ferran felt himself calm as his husband’s equanimity swept over him.

Then he saw what his husband planned to do, and his calm vanished.

“That is a bad plan!”

“They won’t expect it.” Jason kissed him again, then went back to pulling on the thin suit that would provide a barrier between his body and the atmospheric suit that he’d layer over it.

“Because it isn’t sane.”

“Marines do these sort of ship-to-ship maneuvers all the time.”

“Between friendly ships, not enemy ones,” Ferran reminded him. “And what about the pod?”

“You’ll have to grab that while I’m dealing with them.”

“What if there is more than one of them?”

“Then we’ll handle it.”

Ferran narrowed his enormous amber eyes. “You are never this optimistic. Are you sick?”

“Just determined.” Jason reached out and stroked a hand over the small, soft quills at the edge of Ferran’s neck. “Imagine if it was Grennson. Wouldn’t we want someone to do everything they could to take care of him?”

“Of course,” Ferran whispered.

“And Miles is doing that, right now. The least we can do is look after his family in return.”

When Jason was right, he was right. Ferran turned back to the control. “We’re coming up on the location of the distress signal.”

“Slow us down, get us as close as you can. And when I give the signal, open the top airlock.”

“I will.”


The suit had been a gift from Ferran’s mother, part of a matched set. “To keep you safe while you explore the emptiness that is most of space,” she’d said, and whoever she’d commissioned them from, they’d done a fantastic job. It was close-fitting, with all the latest amenities to keep him from feeling the vacuum around him. Jason had thanked her, and then taken it to Wyl and had it modified to include some less-than-legal weaponry. Laser cutters, pulse emitters, a miniature gravitational tractor beam powered by a nuclear battery, even some old-fashioned vibro-blade in his gauntlets—it was stocked. Wyl had been amused.

“What, you’re going to storm another ship the old-fashioned way?”

“If I have to.”

“You do know that’s dangerous, right? I mean, the last person I heard of doing it was a cyborg, and even that’s just hearsay.”

Jason had shrugged. “I like to be prepared.” He would have called it overkill if he wasn’t so naturally inclined toward caution. As it was, he considered his extras adequate. Tonight would test that theory.

He’d been a part of dark ops in his distant military past—not participating directly, but hosting operatives on his vessels and running them from afar. Jason knew that the people going after Claudia and the girls wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than success. Even if the pod was hard to track, they’d stay in the area, trying and trying. Soon they wouldn’t have to try—they could just follow his ship’s trajectory and find them that way. Jason couldn’t let that happen.

We’re close. I’m homing in on the signal.

Good. Jason sent a little surge of pride through their connection to his husband—Ferran had come a long way in his piloting skills. And what about interference?

There’s one other ship in detectable range. It’s starting to close the distance.

Patch the coordinates through to my suit. A moment later a breakdown of their relative positions appeared in his visor. Jason patched his implant in, running the heavy math with his own mind. Three minutes to minimum approachable distance. He could do that. I’m going to use our ship as a launch pad when they get close. Open the airlock.

Jason…be careful.

I will be. A few seconds later, his suit firmed up as vacuum surrounded him. He pushed out of the tiny dorsal airlock, let the implant image overlay his natural vision, and assessed.

They were definitely being followed now. The ship was small but well-armed, rather anomalous for something the size of a trader. Ferran was keeping them on course for the pod, which wasn’t visible to the naked eye yet. A few more hundred yards, and Jason would be within range of deploying toward their tail.

If he was seen, he could be shot. The guns on that ship would turn him into frozen slurry in an instant. So as much as he wanted to take the direct route, he couldn’t. His body should be slight enough to slip under their radar, but he needed to avoid coming at them head-on. Which meant he needed to let their ship get close if he was going to swing around behind it.

Slow down.

If I slow much more, I won’t have time to get the pod aboard before they’re on top of us.

I’ll handle that, but I have to reach them first. He felt the ship’s velocity drop off, and attached a nanotube filament and reel from his back to the airlock. As long as he didn’t sever it accidentally, he should be able to reel himself back in to the ship. Jason took a deep breath, waiting for the perfect moment, and then carefully pushed off their ship.

His suit didn’t have thrusters, exactly, but he could redirect his spare oxygen into exhaust vents to give him some sense of direction. He floated, silently, toward the false trader. Damn, those guns were…big. Really big. Good thing they weren’t motion sensitive—a precaution against overzealous firing, smart for a ship meant to be doing covert work. Jason relaxed a little as he passed under the ship. Now all he had to do was get around to the back of it, locate the closest fuel port and—

Jason! They’re preparing to fire!

What? What?

Over the comm, they just said—they’re going to fire if I don’t transmit them the location of the pod! They can’t see it yet, I almost have it, but—

Don’t reply. Fuck going around the back. He was going to have to get friendly with the guns after all. Just—stall, I’ll take care of it. Jason activated his tractor beam and let it pull him onto the bottom of the ship. He adjusted the strength of it to allow for him to move, then began to crawl back toward the front. He could hear the guns adjusting, going from neutral to firing position and readiness. He moved faster, as quick as he could, using the vibroblades to gouge grips into the bottom of the ship that propelled him faster. He rounded the nose just as the guns began to fire.


We’re not hit! Jason shut his eyes for a split-second in sheer relief. It was a warning shot, but they’re going to fire again in ten seconds. Jason, I can see the pod, but I’m not going to bring them on board if we’re just going to be killed.

You’re not going to be killed. He crouched beneath the right-side gun, leveled his laser cutter up at the belly of it and turned it on high. The laser made enough of a hole that he could jam a pulse emitter into the gap, which began to break the hardened metal apart. The growing whine of an impending shot abruptly cut off.

He moved over to the left gun, doing the same thing. By the time he had the second emitter in place, the first gun had already shaken itself into pieces. Flashing lights on the ship’s hull indicated their state of emergency. Good.

It wasn’t enough to just disarm them, though. He had to disable them. They knew the energy signature of Jason’s ship now, and if they were desperate enough they might try to ram it before they could get up to speed. Jason situated himself right beneath the control cabin and turned his laser cutter on.

Ship shields were designed to combat laser systems. Big ships had big defenses in place, and lasers were considered a primitive means of fighting them. Little ships like this, though, while still shielded, weren’t nearly as tough. A powerful, focused laser with enough time could penetrate a hull, and Jason wasn’t going anywhere yet. It took five minutes, but when he felt the ship shudder beneath his hands, he knew he’d penetrated deep enough. He put his last few emitters into the subsequent hole, then pushed off and away. Let them fly with the hole that was about to erupt from their belly.

I’ve got them! Are you coming?

I’ll be there soon. Jason set his reel to bring him back. He kept his eyes on the ship, watching with cold satisfaction as it began to list. Their fuel storage had been compromised—excellent. The shaking was growing more pronounced—even better.

Where do we go now? To find Garrett? Ferran asked.

No. Nowhere in the Central System would be safe for them now. We go to Perelan.

An explosion in the enemy ship lit the darkness for a moment. A second, larger one followed. The shock wave helped push Jason along a bit faster.

At least we won’t be followed.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Where There's Smoke Audiobook Contest


Where There's Smoke is an audiobook now, narrated by the fantastic Nick J. Russo!

You can get it at Audible, iTunes or Amazon (links above) or you can win a copy from me! I'm actually giving away three of them, and all you have to do is comment on my blog post (or on Twitter or FB or anywhere comments can happen) and tell me who your favorite supervillain is, and on Friday the 10th I'll tally comments up and pick 3 random winners. So simple, darlins, so easy!

Play along, win an audiobook, and get ready for the sequel, which should be out in April!