A Quiet Revolution – Chapter TWENTY-SIX

The night before The Big Announcement, the one which I am probably most proud of in a lifetime of doing the impossible.

Oh, man.

I worked so hard for this, once I knew it was a problem and an issue which needed to be dealt with. And Mya was huge on her end, recognizing the obstacles I couldn’t even begin to see and steering us around them!

Adam really needs your help – he’s got an entry in the October Cover Contest, and he’s looking for votes. You can vote every round (they reset on Friday), and it doesn’t cost you anything to register on the site. It’s easy to do from the computer, not so much from the phone just so you’re aware. He knows you don’t have to do this, so he’s sweetened the pot. Everyone who votes gets their name into the list of redshirts to be included in upcoming Cassidverse stories, AND you also have a chance to win a $100 Gift Card from Restaurant.com! So click one button to vote, and the other to enter the rafflecopter!

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

TFS Enterprise

The hologram flickered into life.

“Welcome back, Kendra.”

“Thanks Mya. It was exhilarating!”

The Enterprise had just returned from the mission to Lemnos, modified to include stopping at 40 Eridani. The improvement of the habitat orbiting Lemnos continued, and the first tangible evidence of the mining expedition was in the Enterprise hold awaiting transfer groundside: 183 kilos of gold, 914 kilos of silver, 17 kilos of platinum, 12 kilos of palladium, and another fifty kilos mixed of osmium, ruthenium, rhodium, and iridium. The cargo wasn’t quite priceless, but would be worth quite a healthy chunk. The platinum alone would bring nearly a hundred million Sonoran credits were they to sell it. They were unlikely to do so, though, as the ongoing construction projects had a nearly inexhaustible demand.

“Is it true that you found life?”

“Technically Endeavour did the discovering, but yes. Two planets filled with green, glorious, growing plants! Flowering plants, grasses, trees, Mya, I swear there was an oak tree!”

“That’s impossible, isn’t it?”

“That’s what I thought, and so did all the experts that we have in Starfleet, but obviously we were all wrong. One of my science officers is talking about parallel evolution and how similar processes will lead to similar results. Another one is saying that’s convergent evolution, and a third is talking about something called ‘panspermia’ and getting sworn at by the other two.”

“And you were down there?”

“Suited up, but yes. Mya, it’s beautiful there. Simply beautiful. The sky is blue, like Earth, but it’s a bit more on the purple side. Eridani A is a K type star and is more orange than the sun, I’m told.”

“It sounds lovely. Did you get to explore very far?”

“No; we have plans to do a full exploratory mission next time, maybe even set up a small colony or at least some buildings for shelter. This was more a ‘humor the Admiral’ type mission since I’d been bitching about not getting down onto a planet.” Kendra beamed. “Can’t say that any longer!”

“No, I suppose not.” The avatar turned serious. “Tomorrow’s the day. Are you ready?”

“Mya, are you sure we can swing this? Specifically, you can swing it?”

“Yes, Kendra. I have been over this multiple times with you, and the answer’s still the same. Yes.”

“Humor me, Mya. This isn’t just about me anymore; there have to be other people out there in my situation. My daughters share my genes, are they going to be safe? Or are they going to be persecuted? And then there’s the issue of the nanobots we’ve been issuing throughout the Federation.” Kendra’s face had turned deadly serious as she’d spoken, a look which didn’t sit comfortably on her.

Mya’s holographic avatar sighed.

“One more time, then. I suppose it can’t hurt, especially as you’re going to be announcing it all tomorrow. Pretty fine timing there.”

“Thank you,” said Kendra with sincerity. “This has been weighing on me.”

“I know; I’m sure it’s been challenging.”

“That’s a mild statement, Mya. Junior Williamson sticking a knife into me is a little bit past ‘challenging,’ I think.”

“Quite. What we’ve organized will happen simultaneously, or at least on the same day, in both the UE and every non-affiliated nation.”

“All of them?”

“All. We pulled in a few favors; some of the nations weren’t going to have a legislative session in progress on the chosen date, so they’re doing executive directives as a stopgap until their legislatures return. In one case we had to force a case into the court system and push it upwards to the equivalent of the Court of Justice, but the decision will be in our favor.”

“And the decision, those laws, those directives? What will they say?”

“They will extend the UE Charter on Human Rights, or the local equivalent, to every sentient being, every child born of woman or decanted from an artificial womb, every person whether created by random chance or by genetic engineering. It will be extended whether they are known or unknown, so if there are others like you –”

“I’m told it’s a statistical certainty,” Kendra interrupted.

“—they will be protected as well. Any action taken against such a person will be considered a hate crime, exactly as it would be if the attack were based on race, sex, religion, or any other protected class. Finally, it will clear the way for limited genetic modifications, such as you are doing, to be legal as long as the reproductive genetics are not impacted.”

“So people can’t create superbabies by tinkering with eggs or sperm.”

“Precisely.”

Kendra closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “Thank you, Mya, and not just for myself.”

“I know you wouldn’t have fought this battle so hard if it was just for you, Kendra. Why do you think I agreed to help? You have never been selfish.”

“Maybe a little. I’d like to feel safe to return to Earth occasionally.”

“Enlightened self-interest at worst. Now, any news for me?”

“Nothing significant. We’re still on schedule for deployment of the Orion next March. The Missouri should be ready a month or so earlier; she’s safely aboard Njord and we can work on her faster. I’m still hopeful we can short-circuit this whole war before it escalates further. I’ve got some plans toward that end.”

“That would be nice, but the Union isn’t talking to us. They haven’t cut off communications, but everything we get from them has a semantic value of zero.”

“Keep trying.”

“We will. Now, if you don’t mind, it’s past eighteen here and I would like to go home today. I’ll be watching tomorrow.”

The avatar disappeared. A moment later Mikki walked into Kendra’s office.

“Mama, why are you crying?”

“They’re happy tears, baby,” said Kendra, dropping to one knee and hugging her. “They’re happy tears.”

The Measure of Humanity – Chapter SIX

It’s amazing how people’s lives intertwine.

Back in the day, all we knew about Alyssa Jordan was she was Glenn Kaine’s deputy. We didn’t know if she was bent, straight, totally corrupt, and so we left her in place when Glenn was, ah, removed.

Turned out she was a straight shooter, and she was good at her job. So good that she inherited Glenn’s job and held it the next five years. So you can just imagine the surprise Mikki felt when she saw Jordan on the shuttle to Luna!

Adam really needs your help – he’s got an entry in the October Cover Contest, and he’s looking for votes. You can vote every round (they reset on Friday), and it doesn’t cost you anything to register on the site. It’s easy to do from the computer, not so much from the phone just so you’re aware. He knows you don’t have to do this, so he’s sweetened the pot. Everyone who votes gets their name into the list of redshirts to be included in upcoming Cassidverse stories, AND you also have a chance to win a $100 Gift Card from Restaurant.com! So click one button to vote, and the other to enter the rafflecopter!

CHAPTER SIX

SS Michael Browne

“Mikki, you ready?”

“I’ve been ready since we boarded. Why in the seven hells does this tub take so long to get from Earth to the moon?”

“You know why, we’ve been over this before.”

“Humor me. I’m grumpy.”

Tony sighed. “First, the Browne takes the long, slow route to allow for the passengers to adjust to Luna’s gravity. That’s the point of the mandatory reduced-g sessions each day, teaching people how to walk and function in gravity that’s a sixth of what all their instincts expect.”

“I could do that on Njord if I wanted to and sleep in my own bed.”

“Not everyone has your advantages, Mikki. And second, have you checked out the fares this line charges?”

“Naah. I know they’re hefty, but I’m not paying the freight.”

“The Lunar excursion, at the most basic class, costs as much as most people make in six months. So, they get six weeks in space; two traveling to Luna, two exploring, and two more heading home.”

“It’s still stupid. We could have gotten here in an hour, no sweat, in a Wolf.”

“And been blasted out of space by an Artemis cruiser or frigate when you crossed into their territory. Smart.”

“I told you before, I’m not used to all this stealthy shit.”

“Because the SEALs always walk up and punch people in the face, right?”

“Well, no, but we don’t deal with transportation.”

“Right. So shut it about things you don’t have knowledge about and deal.”

Stone looked up from her seat with a hint of amused admiration in her eyes. “Did you ever serve, Tony? You remind me a little bit of, well, me.”

“No. My mom did.”

“It rubbed off. Okay, so when do we hit the surface?”

“Our landing boat is due to depart in an hour, but people are already starting to queue. If you want a good seat, we should join them now.”

“And baggage?” She gestured to her packed belongings as she stood.

“You tagged them like I said?”

“Yes. And I have my vital items with me.”

“Your surface baggage will be taken care of, just put it by the hatch. You’ll get it back at the hotel in Artemis City. The rest will be held on station for transfer to our ship home.”

“The Graham, right?”

“Yes, the SS Alec Graham.”

“Then let’s get this show on the road.”

At the airlock, Mikki was mildly surprised to find Jordan among the people gathered to board. She hadn’t seen her much since the night before embarkation and had largely put her out of her mind.

“Mikki! Where have you been?” Jordan was obviously excited to see her and rushed over. “I’ve been looking for you!”

“Here and there,” answered Mikki, avoiding the hug and turning it into a forearm clasp. “And you’ve found me. Why?”

“I wanted to thank you, of course! I was so hungover the next day I nearly missed embarkation! I’d probably still be back on Capricorn Station if you hadn’t helped me to my hotel room.”

“Ah, well, anyone would’ve done it.”

“Not true! My last girlfriend, she was such a complete jerk, one night we got in really late, like three in the morning, and we both had to work the next day, so we each promised to wake the other one up. Guess who didn’t wake me up?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“My ex! And the guy I was dating before that? He wouldn’t even hold the door for me if he went through first.”

“Shocking.”

“Isn’t it? Can’t people be such losers? Anyways, I really appreciate what you did for me down on Capricorn, and I’d like to do something nice for you.”

“Oh, no, really, you don’t have to!” Stone protested, but Jordan was not deterred.

“But I want to! Look, there’s lots to do in Artemis City, so why don’t we hang out for a day and see what happens?”

Stone thought she saw an escape. “Ah, well, I’m with a tour group. Lunar Travel Agency, you know them?”

Jordan shook her head. “I went through Inter-System Tours.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s the same for you: everything planned out down to the minute, don’t wander off, and let’s all do things together because it’s fun, right?”

“Oh, IST just arranges things; my time is my own at each stop. You mean you don’t have any free time?”

Tony had wandered over sometime during the conversation, and now spoke up.

“Hello, Miss, my name’s Tony. I’m the guide for LTA. What was the question?”

“Hi Tony, I’m Alyssa, I’m a friend of Mikki’s and I wanted to have a day with her in Artemis City, but she doesn’t think she’ll have any time. That can’t be true, can it?” She pouted ever so slightly.

“No, no, Alyssa. At LTA, we like to pride ourselves in being accommodating to our guest’s needs. While it’s true that there’s a schedule for each day, participation in all of the events is purely optional. Here,” he continued, handing Jordan a padd. “Why don’t you two look over the plans and see if there’s a day which you two could steal away?”

Jordan took the padd and started scrolling through, oblivious to the suppressed fury on Stone’s face.

“Tony,” she hissed. “What the bloody fuck are you trying to do?”

“Didn’t you say you wanted to keep an eye on her?” he whispered back. “Can you think of a better way? And she even suggested it! Besides, it’ll look suspicious if you turn her down flat after you got along so well back in Capricorn.”

“Oh, bugger me,” she replied. “Frankly, Tony, I think this sheila’s a bit of a drongo. If she’s plotting anything, I’m a wombat’s mum.”

 “Then think of it as a chance to do a little solo recon work, with her as your cover.”

“Now, that’s a fair dinkum idea,” she admitted, then glanced over at Jordan.

“Hey, Tony,” she said more loudly. “Could Alyssa sort of tag along with us if there’s something that she wants to see? And then maybe we peel off from there.”

“Well,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “The company doesn’t really approve of it. Legal stuff, you know. But I suppose if she signed a waiver it’d be okay.”

“Let’s have a look at this together,” Stone said, steering Jordan to the just-moving queue. “We can sit together on the drop to the surface and look it over, okay?”

“Great! Is there something you want to see? Because I’m really just psyched to be spending time with you!”

“What about the Government Center?”

“Government? Eww, boring!” Jordan said. “What about the Observatory? I’d love to look at the stars!”

“If I may?” intruded Tony.

“You have a suggestion?” prompted Stone.

“We avoid the Richardson Observatory, because it’s not at all what you think it would be. The telescopes are all kept in vacuum, and their time is carefully slotted out months, sorry, lunars in advance. All you can see is whatever they happen to be looking at at the time. The Government Center, though, is much more interesting than it sounds. All the official history of the Colony is there, all the artifacts. We always spend a good chunk of time there on our tours.”

“That’s interesting to me,” said Stone. “Alyssa? You game? And then we can maybe check out something you want afterwards.”

“Ooh, yes, that would be great! Whoops, our turn to board! I’ll save your seat!” Jordan ducked into the airlock, leaving Mikki and Tony behind.

“Smoothly rescued yourself, Tony.”

He shrugged. “I just saw an opportunity. Now go catch up to your new best friend.”

“Bugger.”

The Road to the Stars – Chapter Five

Ah, Niflheim. The garden spot of Tau Ceti.

It’s better now, of course. It took a few years to get the terraforming up and running, and it’s been several decades since, and it will never be mistaken for Caribbean beaches, but at least now it’s not, in the words of Cass and Alley, “a freakin’ iceball”.

Adam really needs your help – he’s got an entry in the October Cover Contest, and he’s looking for votes. You can vote every round (they reset on Friday), and it doesn’t cost you anything to register on the site. It’s easy to do from the computer, not so much from the phone just so you’re aware. He knows you don’t have to do this, so he’s sweetened the pot. Everyone who votes gets their name into the list of redshirts to be included in upcoming Cassidverse stories, AND you also have a chance to win a $100 Gift Card from Restaurant.com! So click one button to vote, and the other to enter the rafflecopter!

Chapter Five

“I won’t bore you with the details, Captain; they’ll be in my report. But the short version is, we should plan on getting a colony set up here as soon as possible for the volatiles.”

“You’re going to need to explain that, Commander,” said Alley, settling back in her seat. “It’s a hundred below down there. How are we going to convince people to colonize it?”

“That’s marketing,” said Cass airily. “But, Alley, we need this. Most of the ices are water, which is huge for resupply. It also makes setting up habitats in the debris belt more possible, and there’s so much raw material out there…! Alley, this system could be the manufacturing hub of the local group!”

“What about the other ices? Ammonia? Sulphur dioxide?”

“Both of which can be used in industrial processes. Sulphur dioxide is a precursor of sulphuric acid, which has a multitude of uses; ammonia can be built up into fuels, like Hydrazine, or broken down into Hydrogen, as well as being used for a fertilizer.”

“Fertilizer? That’s long-term thinking.”

“We’ve got to look long-term, Alley. This isn’t going be finished by us, or our kids. Maybe our grandkids. Possibly. But yes, fertilizer.”

“I don’t know if you remember, Cass, but the planet is a freaking iceball!”

“It is. Now. But that’s where the other frozen volatile comes into play: carbon dioxide. One of the key greenhouse gases, after water vapor, but the one we can access here most easily.”

“Now you have me intrigued. Go on.”

“Plant a colony with a fusion reactor, or better yet an annie plant, start melting the ices, release the CO2 into the atmosphere, which, by the way, is just about good enough for humans to breathe right now. As the CO2 builds up, the greenhouse effect should increase, warming the planet, melting more ices, and so forth. Once we get it going strongly enough, it should be self-sustaining. I’m going to have Minerva check my math.”

“You do that. Don’t need a runaway greenhouse; we’ll never hear the end of it back home.”

“Commander, based on my preliminary calculations, once we achieve a sustainable greenhouse effect, it will take roughly forty years to achieve a stable balance at temperatures that humans would consider habitable,” said Minerva.

“I always forget that you listen for your name,” said Cass.

“I can be instructed not to, but that will cut down on my efficiency.”

“How about you just announce your presence, Min?”

“Min?”

“It’s a nickname. You prefer something else?”

“Min. Min.” The AI repeated the name, trying it out. “Perhaps something a little longer? Minnie? No, that has another meaning. Minna? Yes. Minna. Thank you, Commander. I am pleased by the idea of a nickname.”

“And that will make it easier for you, and us, to bring you into appropriate conversations. If we say Minerva, we’re talking about you; if we say Minna, we’re asking you to join.”

“That seems sensible, Commander.”

“Now that you two have names straightened out,” said Alley, with just a hint of amusement, “Maybe we can get back to terraforming this planet? How much CO2 do you think you’ll need to introduce to the atmosphere to induce your greenhouse effect?”

“If the atmospheric level of CO2 can be raised to 0.04 percent, an appreciable greenhouse effect will begin to take hold. If we raise it higher, the process will be faster, but we risk overacceleration of the effect. Remember, too, that we are talking about several hundred billion tons necessary reach that level, although there will begin to be effects prior to reaching the target.”

“Whew. That’s a lot of gas,” Alley commented. “I guess you were serious about the timeline. That answers my other question, though.”

“Which was?”

“What happens when it starts warming up? You said that this planet is more ice than rock, right? Won’t that be a problem?”

“Theoretically, as the ices melt, the rocks will sink, being denser, so somewhere down the road this will turn into an ocean planet with a small rocky core. By small, I mean about the size of Earth. Best guess. Like I said, I need to get Minna to check my math.”

“Your estimate is very close, Commander, though I still need more data about the exact composition of the planet.”

“So, nobody’s going to be buying acreage on – that reminds me!”

“What?”

“Your planet, being the first to set foot on it. You get to name it.”

“I nearly forgot!”

“I heard you forgot about a pithy saying.”

“Maybe. I recovered well, though, you have to admit.”

“You did. Do you have a name for this planet, though?”

“I think that Niflheim would be appropriate,” she said at last. “It’s the Norse land of ice and mist, one of the nine worlds. Ice certainly fits now, and eventually there will be mist.”

“Is that your final decision?”

“Yes. Niflheim.”

“Minna, official log. By order of Jennifer Martinez, Captain of TFS Enterprise, at the recommendation of Lieutenant Commander Aiyana Cassidy, the planet known to astronomers as Tau Ceti f is hereby designated Niflheim.”

“Logged, Captain. An excellent choice, Commander.”

“Thank you. Now, Captain, as I said, I have a report that I need to produce.”

“Don’t you want to do more investigation of Niflheim?”

“Not right now. Like you said, it’s a freakin’ iceball.”

Kindle Vella? Yes, Please!

You’ve read all the novels.

You listened to the audiobooks.

You even got the Omnibus so you could read the novella!

Now what?

If you’ve been missing your Cassidyverse fix, I have a solution for you!

#KindleVella – the new serialized stories on Amazon – and Memories of Aiyana is one of them. Written by Kendra Cassidy, these are her reflections on her childhood with Aiyana and their misadventures.

Episode 23 dropped today – but don’t worry, that just means you have lots to look forward to! And did I mention the first three episodes are free? Plus Amazon was giving out 200 free tokens to unlock more episodes; I don’t know if they still are, but I’ll bet you could find out!
Don’t fall further behind – catch up today!

#KindleVella #Kindle #Cassidyverse #CassidyChronicles #FreeEpisodes #FreeTokens #SerialStory #WeeklyEpisodes

The Cassidy Chronicles – CHAPTER TWENTY

Looking back on the events of this chapter, all I have to say is I don’t believe I was that stupid.

Seriously.

I had been in this business for ten years at that point, and I’d managed to survive every other attempt at taking me down, but I walked right into this one. Fat and happy and stupid.

Adam really needs your help – he’s got an entry in the October Cover Contest, and he’s looking for votes. You can vote every round (they reset on Friday), and it doesn’t cost you anything to register on the site. It’s easy to do from the computer, not so much from the phone just so you’re aware. He knows you don’t have to do this, so he’s sweetened the pot. Everyone who votes gets their name into the list of redshirts to be included in upcoming Cassidverse stories, AND you also have a chance to win a $100 Gift Card from Restaurant.com! So click one button to vote, and the other to enter the rafflecopter!

Chapter 20: Into the Lion’s Den

Customs entering the Duchy proved no issue for “Dani Drake”. Kendra was sure she wouldn’t have had any problems as herself, but she’d been on too many courier missions not to appreciate the extra layer of protection a cover identity provided. Now, all that remained was crossing the Demilitarized Zone and border into the San Fernando Valley.

The DMZ was a relic of the 21st century, during the initial dissolution of the state called California and before the formation of the Confederacy. As the riots and lawlessness spread outward from Los Angeles, the citizens living north of the dying city, especially those backed against the Mojave Desert on the far side of the mountains, fought back to keep what they termed “filth” penned up. Utilizing military forces recruited from Edwards AFB and others, a desperate battle was waged to prevent penetration of the mountains. Realizing that they faced a determined, organized and well-trained adversary, the Angelenos eventually ceased their attempts.

When order returned at last to the Los Angeles Basin and San Bernardino Valley, and they eyed once again the lands to their north, they found a foe even more entrenched and determined than before. The Duchy of Lancaster solidified the resistance and fought their opponents, again, to a standstill. Years of back-and-forth skirmishes made no real dent in either side’s defenses and served only to enflame passions on both sides. A truce was eventually reached, with the mountains declared the DMZ and only a single corridor, from Palmdale through to Santa Clarita, set aside to allow commerce and communication between the erstwhile enemies.

The borders on either side of the DMZ were strictly controlled and heavily patrolled. Smuggling was difficult; weapons were nearly impossible, much to Kendra’s chagrin. That’s why she found herself in a rented room, just a few minutes from the border, shedding what was turning into an impressive pile of weaponry. Evan had turned his back out of what she suspected was a genuine sense of modesty, but Jamey stared unabashed.

“I don’t believe it. There’s no way you could have – no. I refuse.” He shook his head. “You seriously had a whole pack of Octol hidden?”

She held up the packet in question, not much larger than a few sticks of chewing gum. “Of course I did. You never know when it might come in handy. Better than knocking on a door you just gotta get into.” She added it to the stack.

“How much longer?” asked Evan, still facing away.

“Just about done.” She held the final object in her hand, weighing if the inspection would consider it a weapon. Finally, she decided not to chance it, and dropped the small vial of perfume with the others. “Ready.”

Evan glanced at her pile and said, “We’ll make sure it’s waiting for you back at the Complex.”

“You’re not my escorts back?” she blurted. She had assumed that the arrangement, however awkward, would continue on the return leg.

“No. While you were meeting with your contact in Chicago, we received new orders. We’re recalled immediately after seeing you across the border; you’re to return by your own methods.” He reached into a pocked, pulled out a message flimsy. “It’s right here.”

She slapped it aside. “It didn’t occur to you to mention this earlier?” she asked. “Okay, I knew you were inexperienced, but I didn’t think you were stupid! And Jamey, you’ve been in the field plenty of times! Didn’t you – I mean – dammit!” She stalked out of the room.

Evan and Jamey shared a glance, then chased after her. “Wait! Where are you going?”

“I’m making arrangements for my return trip! You’re waiting here until I get back,” she snapped.

“You can’t go! There’s not enough time!” insisted Evan. “We’re supposed to meet with the Valley contact no more than three hours after arriving in Palmdale!” She stopped and waited for him to finish. “It’s been almost two hours since we landed; from what I was briefed, the passage across the DMZ will take most of an hour. That doesn’t leave you any time to make plans!”

She considered. “Get a signal to them, tell them we’re delayed. I have to set up my route; I’m not going into the Valley without a bolt hole.”

Jamey shook his head. “Can’t. We don’t have any communications with them. Operational security.”

“You two frakkers picked a fine time to decide to play by the rules.” She sighed and conceded. “Fine. Give me your comm,” she demanded of Evan.

“My comm?” He was already reaching into a pocket.

“If I can’t make plans in person, which is always better – and learn this now, boys: always make critical plans where you can see the other person’s eyes; it’ll save your life – then I have to do it on the net. Jamey, you’re driving. Try not to piss off the patrols.” Snatching the comm from Evan’s unresisting hand, she climbed into the back and began mentally running through her contacts list.

By the time they passed Lang, a small town about eight kilometers from the end of the DMZ, she’d made all the plans she could. Some would have to be confirmed once she hit the Valley, but she was satisfied with the initial setup. Kendra leaned forward.

“How will we recognize these jokers?”

“They’re supposed to approach us.”

“Standard recognition?”

“No,” said Jamey. “Something different. The Director said you’d recognize it; doesn’t mean anything to me. Ev?”

Evan said, “It’s in four parts, not two. After they greet you, you say, “Do you have a match?” The first response is, “I prefer a lighter.” You answer, “Even better.” And the final part is, “Until they go wrong.” Hope it means something to you.”

Kendra frowned. “Nothing specific, though it feels familiar.” She ran through the sequence a few times and reviewed what little she knew about the two men meeting them. Gary X and Ed Sanchini. She searched her memory for their names but drew a blank. They must not be from OutLook, she thought. Well, she used affiliate agents, blind drops, cut-outs, mules, and every other trick in the book, most more than once, so this wasn’t totally out of the ordinary…

She was roused from her musings by the car slowing as they neared the final checkpoint into the Valley. “Showtime,” she said.

The inspection was disappointing. For all their preparations and worry, they spent more time idling in the queue than in the actual search. When they pulled out of the Customs station and towards the rest area, Kendra was fuming.

“Everything! I had to leave everything behind, and for what? I’ve had more thorough searches trying to get into a jewelry store! Frak, frak!” A few seconds of this and she pulled herself together. “Right. Let’s go find the next links in the chain.”

The rest area was centered around a pair of buildings. By the signs, one was a restaurant and lounge, while the other provided showers, sleeping cubicles, shopping, companions – everything a visitor to the Valley would need. By unspoken consent, the three agents ended up at the second building and entered, one at a time.

Kendra’s first thought was, I’m home. Her years in the Valley came rushing back, good and bad both. Her feet guided her over to the video chips of their own volition, and she found herself looking at a row of familiar titles. Interesting days. She ran a finger along the edges, remembering, before bringing herself back to the present. Just in time, too, as a young couple passed by, giggling and holding hands.

Home soon, Cass.

She looked around. There were enough people wandering through the store, both singly and in pairs, that any of them could be her contacts. She concentrated on looking disinterested in the other customers; after all, it was their job to contact her.

Five minutes of strolling just about convinced her they were in the wrong building when a giant of a man bumped into her side, knocking her to the ground.

“Watch where you’re going, ape!” she hissed. He towered over her by a good twenty centimeters and was probably twice her weight, none of it fat. A shaved head revealed elaborate, if abstract, tattoos.

“Watch yourself,” he growled with a voice more suited to a cement mixer before moving on.

“You’ll have to excuse him,” said another voice to her left. Kendra spun to face another man, still taller than her but not by much, with short-cropped blonde hair and what looked to be a permanent tan. “He’s lost something, and he won’t be happy until he finds it.”

“No reason for him to be a jerk,” Kendra retorted, but it lacked bite.

“No, I suppose not.” He made no move to walk away, and Kendra started to get a tingling sensation. Could this be my contact? One way to find out.

“I don’t suppose – I mean, it’s not common, but – do you have a match?”

“I prefer a lighter.” It was!

“Even better.”

“Until they go wrong. Come on, we need to hurry.” He took her by the elbow and herded her to the exit.

“My other escorts -” she protested.

“Ed will take care of them. I’m Greg.”

“Greg? I thought – no, forget it, it’s not important.” She was sure, though, that the name she’d been given was Gary, not Greg. Still, in a mission as screwed-up as this one had been so far it wasn’t surprising that a name was wrong. They neared the exit, and Kendra looked back to see the giant talking with Evan, who gestured around. “Looks like Ed’s having problems.”

Greg didn’t even glance but continued on. “He’ll manage. Come on.” The door opened for them and they were into the late afternoon air. “We have a vehicle just this way.”

“I can manage to walk on my own,” she said, tugging her arm away.

“Of course,” he said, smirking. “My apology. I just don’t want to be late.” He hurried on, and Kendra found herself near running trying to keep up.

“Where is this vehicle?”

He pointed. “That.” That was a bulk transport, usually used to haul products between stores.

“That?”

“Trust me, it’s much better on the inside.” They reached the side of the transport; he reached up to open a door in the side. “Up you go,” he said as he pulled it wide.

“In there?” This was getting to be a bit too much.

“We don’t have time to argue! I’ll explain it all in a few minutes once Ed comes back. Now, get up there!” He boosted her up.

“Here, drink this.” He pressed a bottle into her hand.

“What is it?”

“Just water, but it’s hot in there; you’ll want it.” Indeed, it was apparent that the sun had been beating on the transport for some hours. Kendra uncapped the bottle and drank gratefully, but before she could thank him the door was slammed shut and latched.

Only tiny cracks of light illuminated the interior, but that was enough for Kendra to explore her surroundings. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it: four steel walls, a sliding door on the back, no other exits she could see. She finished off the water as she poked around, then sat against the far front wall, waiting.

She didn’t have to wait long. The back gate lifted up, and she could see Ed silhouetted against the sunlight. He dropped something heavy into the back, bent, lifted, dropped something else, then lowered the gate. “Hey!” she said, surprised at how quiet her voice was.

The side door opened, and Greg’s face appeared. He hoisted himself into the back with her.

“I thought you said it would be better on the inside,” she protested.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, ignoring her question.

“What’d Ed do back there?” she said.

“I’ll tell you if you tell me how you’re feeling.”

“I’m feeling – I’m feeling pretty good, actually.” She giggled. Giggled? “What’s going on?”

“Good.” He closed on her quickly, reached down, and snapped shackles on her wrists before she could react. For some reason, it didn’t seem to be a big deal, but then, something wasn’t right. What’s wrong with me? Her brain made a connection. “You drugged me!”

“Twice, actually, once when Ed ran into you, he shot you with the precursor, and the trigger was in your water.”

She giggled again. “You’re not going to get away with this.”

“No? Who’s going to stop us?” He turned on an interior light. “Not those two.” He pointed at the far end. Evan and Jamey were there, very obviously dead. Few people survived plasma shots to the chest like that. Kendra noticed that Evan’s tie was still in place from the collar down to the singed end, just above the sternum, and to her horror found herself laughing. When she managed to bring herself under control, she said, “Those aren’t the only agents we have; our Director will -”

“Won’t, you mean. Won’t do anything.” He took her bag from her, extracted the package she’d carried from Chicago. “You know what’s in here?”

“Need to know. I didn’t need to know.”

“Oh, but you’ll like this. It’s your indentures, signed by Director Amanda Talbott herself, authorizing your sale. Or, for that matter, your death.”

That penetrated the drugs haze. “Sale? Death? For what?”

Greg’s laugh was mirthless. “Your sale back into San Fernando’s number one business: sex. Kendra Foster-Briggs returns – and you can own a piece of her! And death, well, there’s lots of people who want more than a piece of your ass.” He shut off the light, dropped out of the door.

As she sat in shock, he said, “One more thing. A little touch I thought you’d appreciate. Your silly recognition code? From Russia With Love.” He closed the door, latched it, while she thought. The old movie finally surfaced, and the connection was made.

I’ve been betrayed – WE’VE been betrayed! Oh, Cass, Cass, I’m so sorry!

Tahani Nelson Interview

Good Morning! It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another author interview here on the website!

Today I’m pleased to welcome a powerhouse speculative fiction author, Tahani Nelson. She is the author of the Faoii Chronicles, a series I can personally highly recommend, and also a friend. Keep reading to find out more about the NEXT Faoii book – releasing November 15 – and to see the cover!

 Tahani Nelson is an author and English teacher in Billings, Montana. With hundreds of 5-star reviews and an ever-growing army of Faoii at her back, Nelson has become a common attendee at author events, Renaissance festivals, news programs, and conventions across the US– always wearing full armor and a face resplendent with warpaint. While her most notable appearances have been at the Indie Audiobook Awards and Fantasycon discussion panels, she most frequently gives presentations about empowerment and creating strong, healthy female role models in modern media.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

For most of my writing career I’ve had between two and three jobs. So writing was initially something I could really only do in the middle of the night. I never really outgrew that; even now I do my best writing between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. when the rest of the world is asleep. I’ll probably be like that forever.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

According to my mother I’ve been “writing” books since I was five, but he first time I recall writing a novel was in high school. At 17 I wrote a 360,000-word monstrosity. It was honestly terrible, but I was so proud of it. My father read the entire thing and really gave me some wonderful encouragement, which is probably the main reason I never stopped writing afterward.

I still have that original manuscript in my office, and I pull it out and look at it sometimes to remind myself how far I’ve come.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

My favorite past time is playing video games. I love RPGs and open-world games where you get to fully immerse yourself in a different universe and decide how to interact with it, and I specifically look for games with strong storylines, interesting characters and innovative combat or magic systems.

So, really, the same things I look for in books.

What does your family think of your writing?

I’m very lucky in how supportive my family is of my writing career. My father, in particular, has been a pillar for as long as I can remember. He introduced me to the immersive quality of literature at a young age, and has always supported my writing endeavors. Today, he’s still the first person I talk to when I have a new idea for a book, and he helps me bounce ideas around when I need to brainstorm. He’s also the first person I send my WIPs to before the editing stage even begins.

My husband, too, is incredibly supportive. He’s probably the only person alive who truly understands how bad my imposter syndrome is, and he’s always been right there to help me fight it. None of these books would exist without him.

How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

I currently have two full-length novels and several short stories out, with the final novel and an additional anthology coming November 16. It’s hard to say which is my favorite. I like the world I introduced in book 1, and I enjoyed exploring the aftermath of war in book 2. But Faoii Ascended— the final book in the series that’s coming out in November—holds a special place in my heart. It’s so surreal to write “The End” on a series that has been the central part of my existence for nearly a decade. Faoii Ascended brings the entire story to what I consider a very satisfying conclusion, and it’s nice to finish telling a story that’s been in my mind and heart for years.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

The Faoii Army is amazing. I hear from readers so often and have such an amazingly supportive group of warriors at my back. It’s so surreal to get messages from people I’ve never met talking about the Faoii Chronicles, or have people come up to me at events saying they read my books. I legitimately cried the first time a stranger told me I was their favorite author.

I know that it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the literary sea of self-published authors, but I’ve never felt invisible. I always have Faoii spreading news or sharing posts. They’ve made all of this possible.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

I hate how many scammers there are in the publishing industry—especially those who prey on self-published or aspiring authors. It’s so disheartening to know that people see newbies with a dream as easy marks, and they feed off that hope with promises of sales or promotions that later translate to expensive retweets or posts that no one ever sees. Paid reviews, poorly-worded DMs promising best-seller status, charging inordinate sums for “publishing guides” filled with buzzwords and bad advice… I hate all of it. It’s one of the reasons I try to give all of the advice I have for free, and why I warn new authors to take everything with a grain of salt.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

I think the biggest trap that aspiring writers fall into is comparing yourself to other authors on social media. There is nothing out there that will suck the joy from writing faster than comparison. Other authors’ social media feeds are cherry-picked, often exaggerated reels of positivity. And while I’m incredibly happy for every successful indie author out there, I’m also aware that we only get to see everyone else’s peaks, which definitely makes our own valleys seem a lot deeper than they really are. So I try to tell aspiring writers not to compare. There will always be someone who writes more words every night or who has more reviews or who makes more in royalties. There will always be things that make you feel like you’re not good enough. But think about the person you were a year ago. Or five. Or ten. That person would be so proud of you. You’ve come so far, and it’s too easy to forget that when you see other people who look like they’re ahead of you. The only person you should compare yourself to is the writer you used to be.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

All of the books and short stories in the Faoii Chronicles come from the same universe and matriarchal society, but they don’t follow a single character the way most series do. The first book, The Last Faoii, follows a young warrior named Kaiya as she raises an army to protect her homeland. The second book, Faoii Betrayer, takes place almost 200 years later and shows the aftermath of the war from book one, as well as its far-reaching consequences. In the final book, Faoii Ascended, the events of both previous books culminate into world-changing issues that never would have happened without the actions of the previous protagonists. So, while each book technically can be read alone, they make the most sense when read in chronological order. It’s been really fun to explore how the events of one lifetime can affect entire civilizations down the road. Lots of books explore the lives of heroes, but I wanted to go beyond one lifespan and see how our actions shape the lives of people we will never meet.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I truly hated my first publishing experience. I didn’t have any control over my own creation, constantly felt unheard, and never got any of my royalties. The entire thing actually turned me off from writing for several years, and I didn’t think I’d ever start again.

Now I self-publish, and I’m much happier with the process. I have an active role in every part of the process, and get to take risks that I wouldn’t be able to take if I’d gone any other route. It might be harder in some ways, but overall self-publishing has been more affirming and rewarding, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

What was the best money you spent as an author?

Honestly? Armor. My first breastplate was really the game-changer for my marketing strategy.

I write military fantasy, so it’s not a huge surprise that my target audience also likes weapons and armor and that such things will catch someone’s eye from across a convention center. So going to readings, events, or signings in full garb helps me stand out and encourages potential readers to come speak with me about something we’re both interested in.

I’ve also learned that a girl in armor is memorable. Even if someone doesn’t stop by my booth or read my books the first time they see me, I’ll often have people tell me at a later event that they recognized me because of my outfit. My hometown newspaper has referred to me as “local armored woman” on more than one occasion. It’s fun, effective, and gives me confidence, all three of which has helped me sell more books than any paid advertisement ever could.

Cover of the Month Contest!

Welcome back!

I have a great cover designer.

Emily’s World of Design has done all the covers for the Cassidy Chronicles novels to date, and she’s really outdone herself with the latest one, Triumph’s Ashes.

So I’ve entered the cover in the October AllAuthor Cover-of-the-Month contest as a way to showcase her work. But while having her cover posted on the contest page is fine and dandy, having the cover win would be a real feather in her cap!

What does this mean for you?

It means I need your vote! And not just once, but in EVERY round (this week, next, and the week after – THREE votes)

I’ll make it easy. Click on the cover, right below, and you’ll be brought to the website to vote. If you’ve never been there before, you’ll need to register (email and name); feel free to use a burner email if you’re worried about privacy.

Furthermore, after you vote, come back here and click the OTHER image, the one of a gift card, because you can then ENTER to win a $100 Restaurant.com Certificate! The contest runs as long as the competition runs, and you can enter every time you share the Cover Contest link AS WELL as every time you vote!

Ready?

GO!

Sunday WildCard: A Cassidy Chronicles Novel (WIP)

Right, hello again!

I may have mentioned this, but this one is tougher to write (so far) than the others, because the characters are different, as well as the setting and the ship. While I don’t have to create the entire universe – the Cassidyverse is already well-established – the specific details are different, which presents an interesting challenge.

I’m getting past it, though, and I think once I finish writing the first volume of Memories of Aiyana I’ll really be able to start moving on this one!

Today’s sample crosses from one chapter into the next, so there’s a bit of a scene jump. Don’t worry about it; it’s intentional.

Enjoy!

“No, Davie. As Kendra has said, this is an exploration vessel, not a warship. We also feel the Direwolves will provide sufficient stand-off offense for most situations, alleviating the need for integral weaponry.”

Kendra interrupted again. “Which would take away from the primary mission! Every cubic meter which isn’t devoted to ship’s systems, crew quarters, and supply storage is committed to science. Believe me, I’ve looked over the plans and Hecate’s done an amazing job miniaturizing and optimizing and all those other ‘-izing’ words. The Pike couldn’t be a meter smaller than she is and still achieve her mission. Period.”

“Hecate, you’ve done a wonderful job,” Davie said, earnestly. “How are you feeling?”

“I think ‘relieved’ is accurate. It’s been challenging.”

Kendra nodded agreement. “I agree with both of you. But now Hecate’s finished putting her together comes the tough part.”

“Oh?”

“Crewing her.”

Vulcan’s Forge

Stardate 12407.02

“Hi Chloe. Take a seat, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Captain Chloe Resler, a petite brunette with short-cropped hair and almond-shaped and -colored eyes, tucked the yellow beret of a starship Captain under her arm before settling into the indicated chair. She was immediately aware of a tapping on her left leg and glanced down.

“Hey, Stinker,” she said to the treecat, gazing up at her. “Come on up.”

“You’re going to spoil her.” Kendra pushed her terminal and the assorted paperwork aside as the ‘cat lithely leapt into Resler’s lap.

“Maybe.” Leda bumped her head against Resler’s hand, demanding attention. “Almost certainly. What can I do for you, Admiral?”

“I wanted to talk to you about Defiant.”

Resler’s expression turned wary. She’d commanded the Defiant since her commissioning and had, she believed, done well.

“You’re not in trouble, Chloe!” Kendra laughed. “If you were, you’d be in front of Davie, not me; after all, she’s your CO.”

“Aye, Ma’am.” She didn’t sound convinced but she was willing to listen.

“Seriously, you’re fine. Davie told me you’ve done exceptionally well with the Martian patrols. It’s been a relief, knowing they won’t be able to cause trouble!”

The Martian Colony still refused to join the Terran Federation and maintained allegiance to the Solarian Union, though they were the only member. They had attracted a fair number of refugees from the other former members, people who supported the former regime. This swelled their population from 20 to over 26 million, yet paradoxically tied them more closely to their erstwhile enemies than ever. Mars still wasn’t suitable for any major agriculture, so supporting a 30% increase in population forced them to deal with the only other spaceborne polity: the Terran Federation.

As a result the three starships in the Defiant class, the Defiant, Defender II, and Nike, in coordination with Wolves and Direwolves, maintained a close patrol five light-seconds from the Red Planet. Every ship, no matter the origin, was stopped and inspected. The Grand Tsar and his nobles were irritated but powerless to prevent it, their Navy having been either captured or reduced to wreckage in the final battle of the Artemis War. Their one attempt at capturing a starship had failed as well, leaving them more planet-bound than before.

Resler and her crew had been on the duty for most of the past three years.

Taylor’s Time

You’re here, I’m here, and most importantly, Taylor’s here!

Yup, after a week of dealing with family issues, our resident author has returned to the fold with another chapter from her as-yet untitled drama about Avan and his girlfriend. Or maybe it’s about a woman and her MMA/UFC fighter boyfriend, Avan; since it’s written from her perspective, maybe the latter.

In any case, enjoy the chapter! There’s a link after the chapter to an article about real-world MMA fighters and their relationships, if you’re interested in continuing to read.

Chapter Two 

Two days passed before our captor finally cut the zip-tie from Avan’s wrists. Blood began dripping immediately from the lacerations the bonds had caused. Before going back upstairs and locking the door, the man handed me some bandages and a small bottle of peroxide he’d fished from his pockets.

“Don’t fall for it.” Avan told me as I prepared the bandages. “He doesn’t care about us.” 

I nodded. If I didn’t have Avan to balance me out,  I would’ve truly believed our captor acted out of kindness. Avan was more sensible. He was better at reading people than I would ever be. He saw reason, whereas I only saw the action and hardly ever questioned the motivations behind it.

“Hold out your hands.” I said, wincing in anticipation. 

Avan did so without hesitation, and I wondered why our captor chose one of the most unpleasant methods of disinfectant. Then I knew. He wanted Avan to suffer even when he wasn’t around to cause the suffering. 

But why Avan?

Why him and not me? 

“Like a bandaid,” Avan suggested, sighing the words rather than speaking them. 

I hesitated, my stomach squeezing with nerves as I held the open bottle over the bleeding wounds. These were the nerves that dogged me after a round in the cage, when my eyes scanned Avan’s body for any visible injuries after a fight. He was always joking about how I was “too soft”, always poking fun at me for worrying too much, but I couldn’t help it. I had so little capacity to watch suffering. 

“No pain, no gain.” Avan would say. 

I’d nod, force a smile, then armed with ice packs and painkillers I would tend to his cuts and bruises. On the outside, I kept a straight face, focusing only on caring for him. On the inside, I felt as battered as his beautiful body. 

I could practically hear the sizzle of Avan’s tormented flesh as I slowly poured out the liquid. He grimaced, letting a low drawn out sound of pain escape from the back of his throat. 

“I’m sorry, Avan.” I choked, knowing that I was the cause of his pain. “I’m sorry!” 

I turned my face away as the cuts bubbled and foamed at the edges. 

“It’s fine.” Avan soothed after a long moment. “I’ve been through worse.”

And he was right. A broken nose, bruised ribs, cracked shins, it was all part of fighting in MMA. But the fights were quick, twenty minutes at the most, and Avan didn’t always walk out injured. Most fights left him with little to no injuries at all. Still, even without the brutality of the cage painted on his face, those twelve months of vigorous training left him so sore and exhausted that the act of giving him a hug required caution and restraint. Up until last month, when we were cuddled together in his hospital bed, enduring pain was part of his life. His ability to withstand and push through it was just as crucial as his ability to control himself during a fight. 

I touched his stubbled cheek, so grateful to have him at my side, and I wrapped his wrists in silence. 

For the next few days, we were given nothing but stale bread and small cups of water from the tap. For endless hours, we heard nothing but the muffled conversations upstairs. For seconds, we thought of nothing but our own terror. The only window in the basement was padlocked from the outside with glass too thick to break. Clearly, our captor had prepared for our “arrival”. 

I sat on the bed, absentmindedly pulling threads from the tattered blanket we’d been given, and strained my ears to hear what was said. 

“What do you think they’re talking about?” I asked Avan who, despite his soreness, was doing pushups on the cold basement floor. 

He stopped and leaned against the wall to check his pulse. For several long moments, there was nothing but the sound of his heavy breathing. His dark skin, shining with sweat, gave him a glow in the dim light. I climbed from the bed toward where he sat and sank back on my heels to sit beside him. He wrapped an arm around me, pulling me closer. His free hand lifted to his mouth, stayed there for a short while, then slowly slid down his chin. I knew this gesture; it was a sign of stress. Without saying anything, I took his fingers in my own, brought them to my lips and held them there for a long time, wondering what he was thinking. Finally he looked at me, eyes glistening, face written with sadness. 

“I need to tell you something.”

As soon as I opened my mouth to reply, I heard the door to the basement creak open, followed by heavy boots on the stairs. Avan clutched me tighter, as if our captor would try to snatch me up and run. He carried a small stool, our captor, and sat it down in front of us. 

“I’ll make you a deal, Gutierrez.” he said, sitting down. “And I suggest you oblige. It’s the least you could do.” 

Avan’s grip around me loosened and his face became soft. His eyes,  glistening with tears, slid to our captor’s face, then away again. 

“What’s the deal?” 

Our captor smiled and Avan blinked his tears away before they had the chance to fall. I had a sickening feeling that there was an unspoken secret between them, something I knew nothing about. Not the supposed murder. I knew that was a lie. It had to be. 

Our captor spoke slowly as if we couldn’t understand. 

“I want 50,000 dollars.” 

A look of surprise crossed Avan’s face. 

“You’re a gifted man, Gutierrez, so here’s the deal. You help me raise the money and I’ll grant you two your freedom. Does that seem fair?”

From the tone of his voice. I knew he wasn’t talking about a lemonade stand. God, what was he going to make us do? Sell our bodies? Become drug dealers? Something worse? What could possibly be worse?

“If you don’t comply,” our captor continued, taking his knife from his pocket. “I guess I’ll be forced to have my way with her. Maybe leave her body on the side of the road if I have to.”

Avan’s arms suddenly tightened around me, squeezing me so hard that it almost hurt. 

“Leave her out of this,” he spat. “I’ll do whatever you want. Just leave her alone!” 

I wanted to say something, anything that would keep Avan from agreeing to something dangerous, but I didn’t. I wasn’t brave enough to speak up. I just sat there in Avan’s arms and kept my mouth shut, feeling sorry for myself because I was a coward. 

“Take off your shirt,” he demanded, gesturing towards Avan with the knife. 

Avan obeyed. His entire upper body was covered with healing bruises and welts. I shuddered. I struggled not to wonder what they’d hit him with when they dragged him upstairs just days before. A row of crooked teeth flashed in the grin of our captor, who took Avan’s shirt and threw it aside. He snapped his fingers and another man came down the stairs with a pair of shorts in his hand. 

“Put these on.”

Avan didn’t object. He stood up, undid his belt and dropped his pants. I felt a rush of fear pass through me in a freezing wave of pins and needles, and I didn’t know why. They were just basketball shorts, the baggy comfortable sort you slip on before going to play a game with friends. But something told me that our captor wasn’t looking for a friendly game of hoops. Something told me it would be worse. And it was. 

Bound at knife point and blinded with hoods, Avan and I were taken upstairs and forced out of the house. 

I shivered in the freezing air and had no doubt  Avan was shivering too. In fact, he had it worse. I at least had my clothes and shoes. I thought of Avan’s bare feet and chest in this frigid weather and found it agonizing to resist the urge to stop walking and wrap my arms around him. I couldn’t comfort him even if I wanted to. I spooked at the sudden rumble of a truck engine. Images of us being stabbed, beaten, tortured, thrown into the woods and left for dead, flashed through my mind at the sound. I couldn’t do this. I wouldn’t do this. 

My legs gave way. My feet skidded in the snow as I tried to keep myself from being taken any further. For a moment, for one split second, I didn’t think about what might happen to Avan. I thought of only my own will to escape, to survive, to live. It was useless. As soon as the men realized I wasn’t moving any further, I was hit in the face with a blunt object, a rusty crowbar from the bed of the truck, and lifted off the ground. 

Sitting in the truck, I felt a warm trickle of blood sliding down my cheek. How stupid I’d been to think I could run through the woods bound and blindfolded. How stupid I’d been to think I could just run off, and… And leave Avan behind to face the wrath alone. 

My head whirled. Blood gushed from the cut on my face. I moaned and put my head down on my knees, overcome with hatred for myself. 

I shuddered when the door beside me opened, letting in a blast of icy wind. Avan was shoved into me with such force that I was pushed to the other side of the truck. Then, the door slammed shut and it was just Avan and I, sitting in the silence. 

A Quiet Revolution – Chapter TWENTY-FIVE

The first official meeting between the Federation and the people leading the Lunar Revolution! How exciting!

From what Mikki said, not so much.

Tedious and routine, after the initial excitement about identification, actually. And none of them were impressed with the place they were staying, though it did keep them concealed the entire time they were on Luna. Guess that’s a plus.

Did you know you can now get all five of the current Cassidy Chronicles novels in a single volume? Yup, Adam went and put them all together. And he added a novelette, The Martian Gambit, about the TFS Nike and what happened under Captain Rene Mikall, a story you can’t get anywhere else. And it’s all just $9.99 for the ebook! Go ahead, check it out. And if you want to put some artwork of Yours Truly up on your walls, click the other button and see what’s out there!

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

Hotel Raffles, Artemis City; Artemis City Council of Ministers

“What a dump, why are we here again, I mean I know why we’re here but why are we here, why aren’t we somewhere better?” Mac looked around the ‘best’ room in the hotel with distaste.

“Because this is where we were directed to be,” answered Stone who, with Jordan, was going around the room and checking security.

You sure you don’t want to switch roles? begged Jordan over the ‘plant.

Not a prayer, sister.

Oak and ash!

“We’re clear,” Stone announced. “Mac, do your thing.”

Mac dropped into the chair at the terminal, cracked her knuckles once, and got to work. “This is going to be so weird, I usually have Harpo riding shotgun with me, he’s so good at this, but it makes sense because he’s an AI, right, so it’s second nature to him, plus here I’m not as connected to the network because I have to go in manually, not through the Q-Net, which means I can’t really use my implant, but maybe I can, I wonder if I can talk to Harpo, oh, yeah, I can, hey Harpo, can you access this network remotely through my implant, what, yeah I can stop talking why is it distracting oh.”

“Now why didn’t I ever think of that?” said Stone wonderingly.

The silence only lasted a minute before Mac said, “Thanks Harpo, I don’t know what I would do without you, actually I do, because it’s not like I didn’t used to do this but it’s so much easier with a oh he’s gone.”

“What did you two do?”

“Harpo used the Q-Net connection in my ‘plant to piggyback into the Artemis network, and did you know that the Artemis Ministry of Security is the provider behind all the network connections here, so anything that the people do here gets relayed to them so they can know what’s going on, I guess that makes sense if you’re a paranoid bunch which they are, I mean otherwise they wouldn’t need a Security Ministry huh, but in any case what that means is that if you know they’re there it’s like the biggest back door ever so Harpo just kinda walked into their systems and kicked everything open so now we basically own every computer on Artemis if we want it but now I know we haven’t been made and neither have the people that are supposed to meet us, the only problem is I can’t have Harpo always tapping in because the implant just doesn’t have enough bandwidth, so we’re still pretty much on our own.”

“That’s pukka,” said Stone. “I was a bit worried about coming back here after my last visit.”

“Well what Harpo is telling me is they did have your ID on file and your photo, they don’t any more he deleted them and sent a worm through their system to keep destroying them anytime they get entered, and their algorithms really sucked, they don’t have AI access at all so there’s a lot of brute force matching and their systems just aren’t up to it, so you’re all clear, and Alyssa’s safe too, she didn’t even register on any of their systems but we put a worm in there for her too, and another one for me, naturally.”

“Good thinking.”

“What now?” asked Alyssa. “This is way out of my usual comfort zone. I’m used to being on the other side of the equation, y’know?”

“Now,” said Stone, settling herself on the least disreputable seat. “We wait.”

It wasn’t a terribly long wait, which was fortunate for Alyssa’s sanity. Stone had long since learned how to tune Mac out, as her continual chatter was merely her way of saying, ‘Systems check, all systems nominal.’ Alyssa didn’t have that knowledge yet, or perhaps lacked the skill, and tried to stay engaged as Mac bounced from topic to topic.

“Request for entry,” said the mechanical voice of the door. Mac started tapping at her terminal, working to call up a video feed of the door.

“Identify,” said Stone, looking over to Mac.

“Cover the door,” she stage whispered to Alyssa, who took up a position across the room and levelled a flechette gun.

“Bastille Day,” the same voice provided.

“Well?”

“Working on it, Chief, this system isn’t particularly fast, and I have to access it through a couple back doors, relay through two communications satellites, then back, I’m in, yeah, they match the ID’s they gave us, you can let them in.”

Stone palmed the lock and the door slid open with a grind. Four women stood outside, one obviously nervous but the other three merely alert.

“Get in,” Stone said, and the four pressed in, only to freeze as the door ground shut behind them and they faced Alyssa’s gun.

“What’s going on here?” said the first, facing Stone. She now had her own flechette out.

“Shut it. Hands against the wall. Mac. Check them.”

For once the diminutive former agent didn’t say anything as she briskly searched them all.

“Clean, Chief.”

“Which one of you is Newling?”

“I am,” said the one who had protested.

“What is the connection between May 13 and Bastille Day?”

“Huh?”

“Answer the question.”

“May 13 is the start of the Lunar Revolution in a book; Bastille Day is a code they use for security.”

Stone nodded, unseen by the conspirators. “Good enough. You can put your hands down.”

She and Alyssa tucked the guns away. “Sorry about that. We’re all a bit on edge and can’t take any chances.”

“I, yes, I understand.”

“Good. You’re Newling. Who else do we have here?”

Stone swept her eyes over the four: one vaguely Arabian, though her skin tone was pale and her eyes had a hint of an epicanthic fold that spoke of Asian ancestors; she looked to be assessing them quite professionally. The next, dark-skinned with long black hair, had the air of a military professional about her. The last, a brunette standing slightly behind the other three, was smiling but none of it reached her eyes. Diplomat, decided Stone.

“Nour, Sharon, and Caitlin will do for now,” said Newling, gesturing. Mac started entering their names into the terminal.

“Don’t put anything on the network!” she snapped. “MinSec owns the system and can see everything.”

“Not here,” said Stone. “Not anymore. You think we just fell off the turnip truck?”

“The what?”

“Forget it. We’re not rookies.”

“Fine. Who are you?”

“That’s Mac and Alyssa. You can call me Master Chief.”

There was a flash of recognition across the face of the one called Sharon, then a nod.

“What’s the plan, Master Chief?”

“You tell us the plan, Newling, and then we decide if we’re going to help you or just leave you to find your own end.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, we won’t turn you in to MinSec. But that’s it, yes.”

Stone could see that two of them, Nour and Sharon, were ready to leave, but the diplomat was nodding in agreement. She whispered something to Newling, who then gathered the other two with a look. There was a hurried, low-pitched conference.

“…arrogance!”

“…need them. They…”

“…turn us in, at least.”

“We could…”

Soon the discussion ended and Newling faced Stone. “Agreed.”

“Good. What are you eating?”

“Huh?”

“It’s supper time, at least according to my stomach, and I’m not talking revolution while hungry. We can buy you dinner, at least, assuming this hole has room service. Mac?”

“I can get us food, doesn’t matter if the hotel will bring it, I can order in from anywhere that will deliver, no problem, and then wipe the systems so they don’t ever have a record of it.”

“Problem solved. So tell Mac what you want to eat, and drink. Mac!”

“Chief?”

“Beer. Good stuff. You know what I drink.” She shook her head. “Not going to try to do this dry, either. Food, drink, and then we start talking about how to plan your revolution.”

*

“Minister Dent.”

“Primus.”

“You didn’t prepare a written report.”

“I have, Primus.”

“Then why don’t I have it?”

“I preferred to give the report to you in person.”

“Very well. I’m listening.”

Silence fell over the Council chamber. Written reports were safer. Written reports could be crafted, edited, tweaked, made to cast the best possible reflection on the person responsible for them. Oral reports had none of these protections, which is why they were rarely offered and only reluctantly given. Dent had extraordinary news; whether good or ill would be revealed.

“President Smith of Titan accepted our condolences, and explanation, for Ambassador Dryden’s death.”

“Good.”

He let the other shoe drop.

“She flatly refused to provide any antimatter to us or reveal their source. I attempted to negotiate an agreement, a trade in kind, for the antimatter, which she also rejected.”

“You failed. Goodbye, Minister Dent.”

“Primus, wait! There’s more!”

Newling held up a hand. “Go on.”

“I offered to share our warp technology with them. That should have been a sufficient lure, but it wasn’t. Smith informed me they had warp technology.”

“What?”

“She told me they, Titan Colony, already possessed warp technology. She said the theory was available to anyone, they had built and tested drives but had not yet built a ship.”

“Why haven’t they built one? Did she tell you that?”

“No, Primus, she did not. She also said that she personally disagreed with the arrangement you made with the previous government to produce and deploy the antimatter bombs, but she would continue to honor it.”

“Anything else, Dent?”

“I attempted to use other methods at my disposal to discover their source for the antimatter they use, but was unsuccessful. I believe, no, I am certain that I was under surveillance my entire stay. Given my failure to meet with anyone who might have been sympathetic to our cause, to our requests, I suspect they were being kept from contacting me. If I had time to prepare a proper diplomatic mission, with a full complement of staff from my Ministry and MinInt, I may be yet able to unearth the information we seek.”

“You think so?”

Dent took the question as a positive. At least she wasn’t ordering his death.

“Yes, Primus, I do. The problem, Primus, was three-fold. I was not given sufficient time to prepare for the actual mission. Yes, I had enough time for the nominal duty of returning the Ambassador’s body, but espionage? It never entered into the equation.”

“The second problem?”

“My transportation was inadequate to convey to the Titan Colony the seriousness of our inquiries. I know that Minister Taylor is hard-pressed currently to meet the naval obligations, with the events of the past few months, but a frigate is simply too unassuming a vessel.”

“And third?”

“I lacked information, Primus. I had no idea what the terms of the agreement you made with the Colony were, and thus appeared ignorant and weak in front of their President. Complete intelligence is part of proper preparation, Primus, and I did not have it. Therefore, I failed.”

“This is somehow my fault?”

“Inasmuch as we all share some fault, Primus. Yes, it was my failure, and I accept it. But failure, in this case, has many parents.”

Dent stood erect. Nobody had talked that directly to the Primus in, well, not since Whitmore had been Minister of War.

“I am ready for your judgement, Primus.”

There was a prolonged silence in the chambers. Dent continued to stand stiffly, waiting, and nobody in the room said the slightest word.

Finally the Primus broke the silence.

“I can see how you may have been somewhat handicapped by events over which you had little control. Very well. Make the arrangements to return properly. You have my authority to requisition any ship you feel necessary to impress upon the Colony, and their President, the serious nature of your inquiry. Gather your staff, including any ancillary staff from other Ministries. It may be useful for experts from the Ministry of Technology to accompany you. Titan may well be bluffing.”

“Thank you, Primus,” Dent said most sincerely.

“I would like you back there in a lunar or less, but I want it done right. I will personally brief you on all arrangements with the Colony the day before your departure, not before; state secrets must take priority.”

“I understand, Primus.”

“Good. Everyone out. Not you, Colin.”

The Minister of Intelligence stopped at his name and waited for the chamber to empty before speaking.

“Primus?”

“You will assist your cousin in making preparations.”

“Of course, Primus; I would do the same for any such mission.”

“I want to be kept informed of his progress. Remind him of the seriousness of this endeavor.”

“I will do so, Primus.”

“And when the preparations are complete, he is to be eliminated.”

“Primus?”

“Did you not hear me? Or did you not understand?”

“Primus, I thought you were giving him another chance.”

Newling laughed harshly.

“That fool? His usefulness is at an end. Oh, I grant you his expertise in planning such a mission, which is why he has been given this brief reprieve. But it is only a reprieve, Minister. Before the lunar is passed, he will be removed. Do I make myself clear, or will you choose your Family over your Primus?”

“My loyalty is to you, Primus,” Dent replied with a half-bow.

“Good. Don’t fail me as well.”