Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Upcoming vacation and feelings of quease

Hi darlins,

I know, I know. Where is your chapter? How can I leave you with SO MANY CLIFFHANGERS? What the hell is wrong with me? The answer is: morning sickness. Yeah, still. Apparently the magical three-month mark was less magic and more "meh" for me, because I'm still sick. Not as bad, but definitely not bright-eyed and bushy tailed. I'm not doing a great job focusing on the screen today, so I'll try and write more Reformation later in the week. Right now all I can do is lie down.

Also, next week: vacation! Kind of! I'll be in Atlanta for RT, and before that I'm visiting friends in Tennessee. If you're going to be at RT, please, please, find me and let us hello each other! I'll be in wildly colorful and incredibly comfortable dressed (I had to kiss my jeans goodbye, damn it). If not, next week will be a deliberate story hiatus (as opposed to today, blerg) and then I should be well into month 4 and feeling...better? Please? C'mon baby, don't be like that baby.

Thanks for being patient. *genuflects*

Monday, April 24, 2017

Where There's Fire Audiobook Contest

First it was Where There's Smoke,  and now we have Where There's Fire! Again with Nick J. Russo narrating, my supervillains get a second life!


It's available at Amazon or Audible, and just like last time, I'm running a contest! I've got three copies to give away, and all you have to do is comment on my blog (or via Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever you see this) and tell me what superpower you'd choose (if it were up to you). The contest ends Friday the 28th, when I'll tally the comments and pick winners. Play along! The worst thing that could happen is you win a book with absolutely fantastic narration!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Three

Notes: Are you ready for some conniving? Some intrigue? Some evil plotting? Because I am. I'm about to go Shakespearean tragedy on this bitch.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Three

***

Chapter Thirty-Three



Watching the battle over Pandora was…strangely unsettling.

In retrospect, Raymond could see the places where he’d gone wrong. He’d deployed his dark fleet too soon to Pandora, given them too much leeway. They’d expended valuable resources on a fool’s errand and he hadn’t thought to tell them no. They should have saved their energy ammunition for the incoming Federation force, not spent so much of it against Pandora’s shield. Not that he’d expected the shield to be as resilient as it was—the technology had developed further than he’d been aware, and that too was unacceptable. His staff was meant to keep him up to date on everything that could conceivably change his strategy, and that they’d missed a key piece of data like this was a black mark against them, and by proxy, himself. He’d exact an appropriate punishment once he was in a more comfortable situation, but for now all he could do was watch and silently seethe as Pandora City rested unscathed within its protective cocoon.

His choice in commanders could have been more nuanced as well. Raymond strongly believed in owning up to his own missteps, so that they wouldn’t be repeated. In this case, Carver Orwell had been a better match by the data than in actual practice. Raymond had underestimated his bloodlust, and the lengths he went to to indulge it. Strafing runs on the coast? Useless wastes of time and energy. And where Orwell was brilliant in command of a small group of vessels, it was clear he had little in the way of a grand strategy when it came to putting them all to use simultaneously. They’d outnumbered the Federation fleet of callow youths nearly two to one, and Miles Caractacus had still managed to hold them at bay and, in some instances, put them at a serious disadvantage. Even the deliberate incompetence of some of Raymond’s hand-picked Federation leadership hadn’t prevented the man from pulling off a near-rout of the dark fleet before his own ship was destroyed, and his second-in-command was still fighting, and worse, winning. Whether Caractacus had died or not was largely immaterial—that he’d managed to be so effective before doing so was intolerable.

The dark fleet wasn’t going to accomplish its primary objective, Raymond could see that. He commed his personal aide. “Begin the dissolution protocol with regards to our long-distance project.”

“Total dissolution, sir?”

“Total,” he affirmed. But there was no need to finish things too early…the remnants could still do some damage before they were rendered harmless. “Set timer to four standard hours.” That should give them enough time to take out a few more Federation ships first.

“Understood, sir.”

So, there was one problem resolved. Not the biggest problem, though. Raymond had spent a lot of his political capital sending the Federation ships off to the Fringe to do battle, and to have them be triumphant was even more expensive to his closest allies than failure would have been. It was so irritating, having to balance them all. Raymond vividly remembered the puzzle his father had given him as a child, the little cups spread out on all sides, each one trembling, just waiting to tip over and send the entire thing into disarray. Too many cups. He’d made it too big, too unwieldy. To bring it back into balance, he had to remove more players. Make it simpler, make it stronger. No one took the long view as well as Raymond did—if they could, they would be the ones ruling the known human-inhabited universe, not him. He could do this. Consolidate, cleanse, and move on. He could come back from this. He would. Which meant his next step had to be getting rid of Garrett Helms.

It was a move that was past due. He’d kept Garrett around far longer than he should have, partially because the man was obnoxiously well-protected—the difficulty Raymond had had in accessing his family members was proof of that—but also because he was, well, interesting. He was one of the very few genuinely interesting people in Raymond’s life, which made him oddly precious, for all that he was the enemy. Raymond could count on one hand the number of people that had ever fascinated him: his father Foster, so bright and complex and, in the end, so fatally unreliable. His sister Berengaria, but in a more pitiful way, as one would admire the tenacity of a microbe that clung to life in the vacuum of space despite inevitable death pressing ever closer. Kyle, who was so close to being the son Raymond should have had, and so infuriatingly far from it at the same time. And Garrett, who was beautiful on the outside but just as sick and twisted on the inside as anyone else, and far more fascinating because of it.

It probably said something that all of the people Raymond admired were also people he had either killed or wanted dead, but that was his own little burden to bear. He commed his assistant again. “It’s time to initiate the three-volley salute."

“Understood, sir.” The was a pause, and then his aide said, “It won’t be easy. He’s in a secure location.”

“Use whatever resources are required, but I want it done and scrubbed clean within the next twelve hours.”

“Scrubbed completely clean?”

“That is what I said.” Raymond restrained a sigh of irritation. “Is there something you want to tell me?” Say it’s not possible and I’ll find someone who will make it possible, and you’ll be scrubbed clean too.

“No, sir.” His aide’s voice was cool and reserved. Good. “I’ll see to it personally.”

“Good.” He closed the link and propped his head on his hand. It would be better for him to be off-planet when things happened. It had been far too long since he’d visited the surrounding planets anyway, and with the senate effectively on break while the military action was underway, there was no one to object. He’d take his personal ship to Hydrus, see firsthand the beautiful new chemical compounds their biggest industry was known for.

It was decided, then. Raymond got to his feet and started to pack.

***

Honestly, Garrett had been expecting the incursion for days. He looked at the notification on the edge of his implant screen and snorted. “Finally.”

“Finally what?” Jonah asked.

“Alexander’s finally cracked. He’s sending out his kill squads.”

“Why are you smiling about this?” Jonah’s voice was tense. “’Cause I’m thinkin’ anything called a ‘kill squad’ should be taken a little more seriously.”

“I take them very seriously,” Garrett assured his husband. His non-existent husband—fuck. “I put countermeasures in place over two years ago, when we first moved back so Cody could go to the Academy. I’ve been refining them ever since. I know every person Alexander is sending after me, and if he’s somehow added someone new, well, I’ve got eyes everywhere. Nobody’s going to get close enough to get a shot at me. But a lot of them will die horribly, so, y’know, object lesson.”

“That’s…really awful, darlin’. You understand that, right?”

“I really don’t care.” There was no time to care about assassins, other than making sure they didn’t achieve their goal. He sent a ping out to Berengaria, waiting for her to get back to him. The odds were good that if Raymond Alexander was finally moving on Garrett—admitting defeat, in a way—that he was moving on her too, as someone who’d helped Garrett out. Her message system admitted him. “Hey, it’s time to take evasive action, your brother’s finally broken. Be safe.”

“What’s she supposed to do with a message as oblique as that?” Jonah sounded confused. Garrett wasn’t surprised. Even in his own head, he couldn’t bring his husband to be as conniving as he himself was.

“She’ll get it,” he promised. “She’ll understand.”

***


A thousand miles above the surface of Olympus, Berengaria Alexander wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. It wasn’t a completely sane smile either. “At last."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Two

Notes: Back to Jonah, because he needs some love. I don't give him the love he needs, poor thing, but them's the breaks. Enjoy!

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-Two

***

Chapter Thirty-Two



It felt odd, to be watching a battle from so far away. The scope Jonah’d pulled out from a cabinet wasn’t great—it could get through the atmospheric pollution but the ships were still too far away to get a real bead on. All he could make out clearly was the light, light streaming through space from one cluster of ships to another. A light in the dark, each bright beam carrying death and destruction with it.

“What the hell is happening?” he muttered to himself. That Pandora was under attack, well—he already knew that, having been a casualty. But who specifically was doing the attacking? And who were they fighting? It had to be Federation forces of some kind, there was no other fleet out there to bring this kind of firepower. That meant politics had gotten involved, which meant Garrett’s hand was in this somehow. Probably propelling the fleet forward, honestly, given how the president felt about the colonies these days, especially ones under the aegis of whomever he considered his “rivals.”

But Garrett had mustered a fleet and sent out. Of course he had. Jonah smiled for a second before pushing the thought of his husband away. Garrett had to be fucking frantic, and just thinking about it would be enough to push Jonah over the edge if he wasn’t careful. He couldn’t dwell on what was going on in his husband’s mind, and he couldn’t bear to think about Cody or, worse, Lacey, so he stared at the sky and let the distant violence quietly fill his mind. It was almost meditative, in a horrible way. So much so that he barely noticed one of those bursts of light getting bigger. Definitely brighter. So bright that—

Jonah pulled the scope away from his eye and watched, transfixed, as what looked like an escape pod hurtled through the atmosphere, limned in fire. The farther it descended, the brighter the fire became, until all of a sudden some sort of threshold was passed, and the blaze went out in less than a second. Jonah tried to track the pod then, but it was too dark out, and he lost it to the building clouds in moments. He didn’t have time to wonder about its fate, though; seconds later another pod began glowing in the sky, then another, until the stars themselves were overshadowed by the glory of a hundred human meteors hurtling through the darkness, each one lighting its own way.

They covered the sky from horizon to horizon, it seemed, spread out so far that he had no hope of keeping track of them all. A few seemed on track to come down fairly close to him, though. Those ones he managed to follow in the darkness, watching but more hearing the moment their chutes opened, the ancient method of slowing their speed boosted by anti-grav units. Two of them drifted down into the water, and Jonah pursed his lips and prayed that whoever was in those pods had the sense to keep the anti-grav going as long as they could, to help keep the pods on the surface of the angry sea. The water was tough to navigate with a fully-functional ship, it would be hell on those awkward, egg-shaped pods.

A gentle movement caught his attention, and Jonah turned to watch one of those pods float down no more than a kilometer away from him, hitting the ground with a crunch he could hear even though the landing had been relatively calm. He shuffled around to his knees and bit his lip. He could go and investigate it. He probably should; it would be good to gather some intelligence, and maybe whoever was in the pod could tell him something about what was happening up there. On the other hand, it was entirely possible that whoever was in that pod was an enemy fighter. If Jonah went to spy on them and got caught, or followed back to the bunker, then he’d be giving them Lacey. That was the last thing he wanted.

In the end his curiosity won; he had to know more. He could be quiet, bring the scope and watch from a distance until he was sure it was a friend instead of an enemy. If it was a friend, he could offer his own aid, poor as it was. And if it was an enemy, well…he could avoid them. Come back to the bunker and lock himself in, and hope they didn’t look around too hard.

Yeah. That sounded like a great plan.

Wonderful, now he was hearing Garrett in his head. He must be goin’ crazy. “You don’t get a say when you’re not here, darlin’,” he whispered before getting to his feet. He was going to check it out. He’d be careful.

A kilometer in the dark was hard going, even though it was a lot easier without the rain making every step a peril. Jonah used his light as little as possible, moving slow and mostly stopping himself from stumbling. He pulled himself over sharp-edged knolls and finally hunkered down in a crevice about a hundred yards out, reconfiguring the scope for the close distance and lifting it to his eyes.

The pod’s paint was charred from its entry, making identifying it by its markings impossible. The hatch was open but he couldn’t see anyone moving around, no evidence that anyone had emerged from it yet. Disoriented? Injured? He couldn’t know without moving closer, and he wasn’t going to do that until he had a better idea of what was happening here. Despite the way it tugged at his impatience, Jonah settled in and waited for whoever was in the pod to reveal himself.

In the end, it ended up being herself. A young woman eventually emerged from the hatch, moving slowly and groaning loud enough for him to hear over the wind. She was moving like a hundred-year-old natural; right, she’d probably been banged up good inside that little thing, even if she’d strapped in. He watched her rub her left shoulder with her right hand, wincing before letting it go, then touch her ear, as though she was speaking into a comm. A military comm unit, in fact. And even in the dark, Jonah could see the insignia on her shoulder. This girl was Federation. A lieutenant, it looked like; a young one.

He moved before he’d made a conscious decision, stepping out of the rocks and onto the small shelf where the pod had lodged. The girl looked his way instantly, tension filling her frame. “Who’s there?” she shouted. “Who are you?”

“I’m a friendly,” he replied. “Resident of the Box.”

She didn’t relax. “What are you doing out here, then?”

Jonah sighed. “My ship was shot down a while back. I’ve been out here since long before you fight began.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jonah Helms.”

She went still for a moment, before a little of the wariness bled out of her posture. “Cody Helms’ father?”

“Yes!” Oh shit, had Cody been on that ship? Was he out here in a pod somewhere, bobbing like a cut flower on the water? “Was he with you?”

She shook her head. “No, but his quadmate was my shadow for a while. Cadet Parrish.”

Darrel. If Darrel had been on board, then Grennson surely was as well. “Is he all right?”

“Last I knew.” She finally relaxed, and Jonah made his way over to her side, making sure she could see his hands the whole time. “The ship was being evacuated. Darren was one of the last to leave the bridge, I think he stayed there to make sure the General came with him.”

General? What was a general doing being in command of a ship? “You mean admiral?”

“No. General Caractacus was charged with leading the fleet here from Olympus. He’s…” Gradually it dawned on the lieutenant that this news might be more than a little revelatory for Jonah, and her voice trailed off. “Oh.”

“Oh.” Miles was commanding the fleet? That made no sense, unless, again, politics had come into play. Miles was retired; it was a big deal for him to be reinstated, and Garrett would have fought it every step of the way. Holy hell. His husband had to be going out of his mind.

“I’m Lieutenant Agnieszka Reyes,” she offered by way of distraction. “It’s…nice to meet you, but...not really like this, you know?”

“I do.” Jonah replied on autopilot, his mind working at lightspeed. He had to make sure. “You’re sure my son wasn’t on your ship?”

“He wasn’t assigned to the fleet, from what I know. It’s possible that—” Whatever she was going to say next was cut off with the pain of her gasp, and the sudden burst of darkness on her arm that could only be blood.

Jonah moved without thinking, tackling Reyes to the ground and hauling both of them behind the pod as more gunfire broke the peace of the night. Actual gunfire, with—hell, were those bullets? Who in the universe still used actual bullets?

“Come out, come out, poor little Olympians!” A shot rang off the top of the pod. “Come out and I’ll make it quick, I promise.”

Well, fuck.


Turned out that space pirates had escape pods too.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty-One

Notes: Time for Cody and Ten to make questionable decisions together! Oh, young love...

Title: Reformation: Chapter Thirty-One

***

Chapter Thirty-One



Two hundred and eighteen little leaks amounted to a hell of a lot more confusion and discord than Ten had expected. Yes, of course there was going to be a certain amount of pandemonium, that was the point. Almost as soon as they got to Pandora, Corva had thought better of it. In her defense, Ten hadn’t expected them to come in quite so close to the actual battle, and what a battle it was. The Box was the only city on Pandora, the place that all trade went through, and the warring fleets had massed above it and were going after each other with all the fire and fury they had. Bits and pieces of detritus struck the Drifter ship, a few of them causing minor hull breaches, and that was when Corva pulled the plug.

Unfortunately, her plug triggered the waste system’s meltdown, and that triggered everyone else’s meltdown. It was—okay, it was messy, pretty gross really, and Ten maybe hadn’t anticipated all the nooks and crevices that connected the waste system to other parts of the ship, because shit was getting everywhere. On the other hand, the ship itself was going nowhere, so…Ten was calling this a win.

“Time to go,” ze announced to Cody as ze joined him in the hold of Jack’s ship, where he was inspecting the new shield that they’d installed. It was meant to be a joint sophomore year project, the sort of thing that they’d have months to work on and perfect before installing for a very careful—but not too careful, this was them, after all—test fall through Olympus’ fairly forgiving atmosphere. Instead, they were going to try it over Pandora, which had one of the most tempestuous climates among the Fringe planets. They had to plot a path through the storms, through the debris, down to the ground and then hope—very strongly hope—that the parachute deployed the way it was supposed to and their thrusters didn’t overheat or freeze and that they landed close enough to the city that they could walk inside of the shield, but also far enough away that they didn’t bounce off the surface of it on their way down. All of which also assumed that their oxygen held out, their restraints held on, and their nerve held, period.

It would be interesting, for sure. Ten wished ze had time to document all the variables more fully, because it was hard to get a perfect statistic for their probably survival. Ze would tell Cody seventy percent, if he asked. That was the kind thing to do.

“Are you really sure about this guidance system?” Cody asked, seating the module a little deeper into the front console of the bike.

“As really sure as I can be given the tests I’ve been able to do. It’ll scan constantly until we enter the atmosphere, and as soon as we break out below the storms it’ll pick up again. We’re in luck there, actually, there’s a big clear path over the Box right now.”

“Okay.”

Ten rolled hir eyes. “Okay? This is our lives you’re talking about, this is our very existence being called into question.”

“I know.” Cody’s smile was wide, his eyes a little too bright when he looked up at hir. “It’s gonna be fun.”

“That’s not your usual reaction to my experiments.”

“We’re doing something. Even if it ends with both of us smeared across the upper atmosphere, at least we’ll have tried.”

Well, that sounded…reckless. Not that Ten cared, really—ze’d be with Cody, and that was assurance enough for hir—but Cody actually had a support system that would miss him if he died. One he’s already spurned, Ten reminded hirself. Cody knew what he was doing. And so did ze. “Let’s suit up.”

The suits were more than your usual atmospheric pressure units—they were designed for deep-space miners, people who might vacillate between the hottest and lowest survivable temperatures within the same shift. They bulked them up with all sorts of additional venting and coolant and pockets in case of emergencies, and each one was equipped with a personal parachute. They carried enough oxygen to last for two hours, which was double what Ten expected they’d need. “After all, we’re not the first people to do something like this,” Ten had expounded when they first started the project. “It’s been done successfully at least ten times before on different planets.”

“And how many times has it failed?” Cody had asked as they laid out the framework for the shield.

“Those failures are irrelevant to our success.” Which was a total lie, and Cody had made hir lay out all the ways something could break, lose power or otherwise end their lives. They’d handled those design flaws, though. This was going to work. It totally was. Ten wasn’t going to have it any other way.

“Let’s get to the airlock,” ze said once ze got hir helmet in place. The air it circulated was cold, a side-effect of all the coolant, but it tasted fresher than the atmosphere inside the ship, particularly now.

The bike, massively redesigned though it was, still moved easily on its anti-grav tracks. They carefully propelled it out of Jack’s ship and toward the internal airlock on the other side of their landing pad. “It would almost make more sense to steal his ship,” Ten lamented—just a little. “He’s not going to need it for anything.”

“We’d need clearance from central to open the airlock that much, which means Corva would see it,” Cody said. “And if we compromised the bay, it could lead to a massive depressurization. We’re not here to get people killed.”

“Just maybe ourselves.”

“Exactly.”

They stopped in front of the airlock. Ze input the code to open it—of course ze had them, ze hadn’t been idle even while ze was confined to working on the goddamn sewage system. The Drifter ship dumped more waste into space than it really should, and that meant that Ten got access to the basic codes. The light flashed amber, once, then turned green. Ten frowned. “Strange.”

“What?”

“Prooobably nothing.” The lock opened and they wheeled the bike inside. Ten turned back and shut it, then to be careful, input the naughty code he’d learned from Livia that would jam the door hard for five minutes no matter what. It was used to torment people on the engineering teams, but Ten wasn’t going to take any chances. “Okay. The outer door should open in two minutes. Let’s get rigged.”

A hoverbike was not a spaceship. It wouldn’t protect them from the intense heat of deceleration or the brutal vacuum of space. Or at least, it wouldn’t if they hadn’t installed a nano-diamond shield that spread out from a heat cone on the nose. Cody took the front seat, Ten took the back, and once they were in position, Cody activated the system.

Smart harnesses melted out of the body of the bike and closed around their limbs and helmets, holding them firmly in place. The nav system uploaded and immediately began scanning potential routes down onto the planet, their modified thruster fired up to give them the push they needed to fall toward the Box, and the shield itself unfolded like a translucent shroud around them. The heat displacement coils followed, and a final check of parachutes and safety redundancies followed. All green.

“Looks good,” Ten said.

“Excellent. One more minute to open.”

“Cody, what the hell are you doing?” That came in over the loudspeaker, noisy enough that they could hear it through their helmets and the shield. They didn’t have a lot of mobility left, but still managed to turn their heads back and look at Jack. He was punching furiously at the keypad.

“Huh. I guess it was an alarm,” Ten mused.

“Cody! This isn’t funny, deactivate your stall code and get back inside the ship!”

“He won’t be able to hear me if I speak,” Cody said.

“Nope.”

“Good. ‘Cause I don’t have any words for him anyway.” He turned his face resolutely forward.

“I will come after you! I’m not letting you do this, do you understand me?”

“Why does he even want you?” Ten asked. “He hasn’t spent more than ten minutes in your company since we got on board.”

“Games. Just games.” Cody shook his head a little. “Ten seconds, you ready?”

“As ready as I can be going into a largely untested experimental flight with no fallbacks.”

“I knew you were having fun.”

“Cody! Cody!

Five…four…three…two…one…


The airlock opened, their thruster fired, and the hoverbike tumbled into space.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Thirty

Notes: A little longer today, yay! Prepare for...baaaattles iiiiin spaaaaaaaace! Next week will be Cody and Ten making more questionable decisions, which should be lots of fun.

Title: Reformation: Chaper Thirty

***

Chapter Thirty



The air reverberated with the sound of alarms, yellow and red lights almost blinding as they blinked in time with their auditory accompaniment. Darrel sat fixed in his chair, hands gripping the seat so hard he couldn’t even feel them anymore, heart racing.

“Forward shields down to fifteen percent, sir! Ventral shields down to five. One more strafe across the bottom and we’re going to start venting!”

“The Cleaver is dead in space, sir! Full evac ongoing, but two Starshatterers are closing in on it.”

“Captain Obede says he needs another five minutes before he can safely break formation, sir.”

“Sir—”

Sir—”

“All firepower and shields forward, full weapons spread and engage wherever we get a lock. If our shields are low, theirs have to be close to tatters.” General Caractacus’ voice cut through the babble like a scalpel through flesh. “Put as much of our bulk between the Cleaver and her pursuers as possible. Acknowledge Obede, but tell him to shave two minutes off that time, because we’re not going to be able to maintain our position for longer than that.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “And signal our own evacuation. All non-essential personnel are to proceed to the escape pods immediately.”

“But sir—”

“We’re not going to survive many more direct hits. We don’t have the power or maneuverability this close to the other ships, but if we don’t stay close to cover their retreats, more lives will be lost. Signal the evacuation now. I want to see progress with our battery, give me a status update!”

More happened, the timbre of the alarms changing, more orders shouted, officers scuttling to obey, and yet for Darrel everything felt like it was coming at him through gauzy layers of cloth. Even his breaths, tight and short as they were, seemed muffled, like he was inhaling into a pair of pillowcases, not lungs. They were the best ship in the fleet, and they were evacuating. What did that mean for everyone else?

Clumsily, Darrel pulled up his seat’s nav screen. He could have looked over Lieutenant Reyes’ shoulder, but he didn’t want to risk distracting her. He scanned the numbers, desperate for a sign that the general was overreacting, that things weren’t as bad as he feared. But…no, it was bad enough. Their original contingent of eighteen was down to twelve, nothing but the smallest ships and their own super-destroyer still bringing the fight. On the other hand, the pirates had gone from twenty-nine ships to fifteen, and even as he watched, another one of their signals flared briefly, then died. They still had their own destroyer, though, and if the Triumph went down, it would be able to pick off the remnants of the fleet, mostly Skyblazers, built for speed but not meant to sustain heavy damage. On the other hand, if they could take out the destroyer first, then the Skyblazers would have an even fight ahead of them, slightly outnumbered but better prepared to move and dodge.

There was no way, though. All scans of the enemy destroyer showed robust shielding still holding at fifty percent, and the ship had no compunction about ordering smaller vessels into the path of the Triumph’s fire to save it from more damage. It was a bulky, clumsy thing, but in a toe-to-toe fight right now, it would win. It was winning, because Miles was concerned with saving his people’s lives, and the enemy captain clearly wasn’t.

“Pirates, my ass,” he heard Reyes mutter, her hands flying over her screen. “No pirates are this disciplined. They should have cut and run like the Hammerfall an hour ago.”

“Update on the Cleaver, sir, all crew accounted for and away.”

“Including Captain Gorion?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And our own evacuation?”

“Fifty percent and—enemy ship rolling beneath us, sir, we’re going to take fire!”

“Shift all power to ventral shields, maximum thrusters for a portside roll, now!”

The Triumph began its maneuver, but Darrel was positive they were too late. Their belly was raw and exposed, and even a little ship like that could do enough damage to send them reeling. If they hit the engines, the super-destroyer would be blown in half. He and everyone else on the bridge held their breath as the nav officer said, “Taking fire in three, two—missed us, sir!” He sounded amazed. “Not entirely, some hit the starboard edge, but we’re doing all right. Ship is—”

“Continue the roll.”

“Sir, then we’ll hit the enemy ship!”

“Exactly.” He sounded darkly satisfied. “Brace for impact.”

Darrel braced, but it still wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling the vibration of the blow all the way into his teeth, the ground-shattering feeling of two enormous vessels of war colliding in an otherwise frictionless environment. More alarms sounded, but it hardly mattered at this point—they couldn’t get any more distracting. Vaguely, Darrel felt a fluttering at the edges of his mind that he knew was Grennson, desperate for answers. He should have evacuated already…

“Sir, we’ve lost our portside thrusters, shields down to two percent!”

“Evacuate the essential personnel and pass me helm control. Get yourselves to the escape pods.”

There was a moment of pure, stunned silence on the bridge, and then an outcry from every person there.

“We can’t leave you to—”

“I can stay, I can—”

“Let us—”

“Please, don’t—”

“This is not up for discussion!” There was the scalpel voice again, and this time it stabbed Darrel straight in the heart. “Give me control of the helm and get to your pods, now. That’s an order, people, move!” And reluctantly, unhappily, people did.

Reyes touched Darrel’s arm, drawing him out of his distracted state. “C’mon, cadet,” she murmured. “We have to go.”

Darrel didn’t respond, watching the new course Miles plotted on the nav screen. He was heading straight for the destroyer, a lurching, tilted charge thanks to the loss of one whole set of thrusters. The destroyer was already backing away, firing full tilt at the same time. It was a race to see if the Triumph would reach it before it exploded.

<Darrel? I’ve saved a pod, come meet me!>

He sent back a general feeling of wait before getting to his feet. There was something he needed to do first. “I’ll be right there,” he said. “You go, Lieutenant. Thank you.”

She frowned. “Cadet, I’ll make it an order if I have to.”

He smiled unsteadily. “I’m already disobeying one order, I’ve got no problem disobeying another one. Go on, I’ll be right there.” He had to keep Miles from doing something stupid, first.

In another thirty seconds, it was just the two of them on the bridge. “I believe I told you to evacuate, Cadet,” Miles said, but the ferocious sense of purpose had gone out of his voice.

“I will, sir, but only if you come with me.”

“Don’t worry about me, I don’t intend to commit glorious suicide today.”

Darrel bit his lip for a moment, then rushed ahead. “Captains never do, but eight out of ten times in similar situations, they do it anyway. My father did. I read all the transcripts of the battle he was in, I analyzed it over and over, and—he could have gotten away. He could have lived. He chose not to, because he thought he was helping more people by staying behind, but he didn’t. I’ve aggregated reports for every major battle of the past fifty years and investigated similar scenarios, and with very few exceptions, when a captain stays behind, they do so for no palpable gain. But they do it, because something about being in charge makes you feel too responsible.” He risked a touch of Miles’ arm. “Don’t do that to your family, please. Cody would never get over it.”

Miles raised one eyebrow. “I feel like you’re blackmailing me, Cadet.”

“Maybe I am, sir.”

“And I think it’s working.” Miles shut his eyes for a moment, then his fingers began to fly across the nav screen. “All right, I’ve autoset our course. If that destroyer gets smart we’ll miss it entirely, but we’ve still got a chance of hitting it.” He got up out of his chair. “I assume Grennson is holding a pod?”

“How did you—”

“Oh please. He wouldn’t leave without you. Lead the way, Darrel.”

The halls were empty of people now, and they couldn’t walk more than five steps without being sent staggering as another explosion rocked the ship. By the time they got to Grennson, Darrel was afraid the Triumph would break apart under their feet.

“Oh good!” Grennson beamed at them, and it was like sunshine in the middle of Darrel’s mind for a moment. “You brought him! Get in, everything is prepped to go.”

The launch sequence seemed to take forever, even though realistically, Darrel knew Miles was working as fast as he could. Finally the airlock closed, and the mechanism gave the pod a gentle push away from the carcass of their ship. The three of them clustered around the single window, watching as the Triumph gradually came into view.

“Poor girl,” Miles murmured. “My poor, poor girl.”

“You did your best by her, sir,” Grennson murmured comfortingly.


“Perhaps. If not, then it’s too late for—” His voice cut off abruptly as the ship suddenly flared with light, a coruscating series of explosions breaking it into pieces at last. “Boys, get dow—” They didn’t have time to strap in before the shockwave reached them, though, and sent the pod hurtling toward Pandora at breakneck speed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Nine

Notes: Finally a new chapter! I'm doing better, as evidenced by the fact that I can write at all. It's slow going, but I shall persist :) Have some scheming Garrett.

Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Nine

***

Chapter Twenty-Nine



It was amazing to Garrett how much authority was conferred by numbers. Population, mineral resources, planetary wealth, personal investments: it was a web that even a supercomputer had a hard time tracing, some lines thickly tethered together, others so thin they were barely visible, but still vital at the same time. Numerical superiority in the Senate meant the difference between representation and willful ignorance, face time and brushoffs, dedication and criminalization. There were a few outliers whose policies were driven more on principle than profit, but they were few and far between. For not the first time, Garrett considered the merits of complete and total anarchy.

“That wouldn’t get you anywhere, darlin’.”

“It would make me feel better,” he snapped at his hallucination of Jonah. “I could do it with what I’ve collected already. I could burn the entire Federation establishment to the ground, ruin every leading political figure in the eyes of their own constituents, cut off the head of the snake.”

“Too many people rely on Federation programs for their lives. A disruption like that would mean an awful lot of people are going to die.”

“Maybe they deserve to as well, for being so fucking gullible.”

“Garrett.” He didn’t look as the hallucination leaned in, warm breath feathering across his cheek. “You’re tired, and you’re stressed, and you’re sick. I know you don’t mean that.”

“I suppose not.” Although the more he thought about it, the less sure he was.

“Besides, that would make you into just another dictator. You want that burden on your shoulders?”

Garrett closed his eyes. “No. I want to go home and lie down on my bed with you and forget about everything else.”

“And you will, darlin’. Soon. I promise. We’ve just gotta get this situation in hand first.” Jonah leaned back. “What’s next on your list?”

“I’ve got the shipyard numbers from Liang. Looots of interesting and completely illegal activity going on there. I’ve got the latest figures from Berengaria on her family holdings, and the computer is working on the relationships between those and other members of the Senate.” He glanced at the glowing red icon in the far right corner of his implant’s visual screen. “The battle is still being fought above Pandora. The last I checked—” two minutes ago “—our forces were holding steady.”

“Good. And now?”

“Now?” Garrett tilted his head back and stretched his arms above his head. He hadn’t been enjoying much of life lately, but he was pretty fucking sure he was going to enjoy this next part. “Now I give my grandmother the opportunity to recuse herself from the shitstorm that’s about to occur. Because she might be a dried-up, embittered, single-focus excuse for a human being, but she and I both care about family.”

“Very gracious of you, darlin’.”

“I agree.” Garrett relaxed and stared pensively at the ceiling for a moment. “She doesn’t really deserve the consideration, but Miles would be disappointed if I didn’t make the attempt.”

“Why do you dislike her so much?”

“Because Dame Mildred Caractacus is a flimsy paper mask of a person who would rather pretend that everything is perfect than put the work into fixing what’s wrong. She adored my mother because she raised my father’s ‘profile,’ but that changed after my mom’s suicide. I’ve been tainted by association ever since, and so have you and Cody.” He snorted. “Not that she’s ever even bothered to talk to Cody, because of his ‘obvious flaws.’”

“A lot like his other grandma,” Jonah said pensively. Garrett glanced at him.

“You’re pretty insightful for a hallucination.”

“Now you’re just complimenting yourself.”

Garrett shrugged. “Maybe. Doesn’t matter. I’ll give it a try and we’ll go from there.” He sent out the signal that should end with a direct call to his grandmother’s personal line, and waited for her to pick up. And waited. And waited…he was just about done with waiting by the time she finally responded.

“Garrett.” Her perfect, twenty-five-year old face appeared in the screen. Mildred Caractacus was not the sort of person to enter her old age without a fight to the death: in this case, the death of her dignity. She had the form of a young woman, but the mannerisms and movements of someone well beyond her second century. It was a nauseating dichotomy. “What do you want?”

“I can’t just call to check in?”

“You never have before, so I don’t see why you’d begin bothering with basic courtesies now.”

“Good point,” he agreed. “You’re right, I don’t really care how you’re doing.”

Mildred arched an eyebrow. Garrett imagined he could hear her muscles creak. “The feeling is decidedly mutual. Why are you calling, then?”

“Because I want to offer you the opportunity of a lifetime.”

She chuckled. “You sound like a bad investment scheme. I can’t imagine there’s any sort of financial advice you could give me that’s worth listening to, and if what you want is my money, well. Perhaps this will teach you to regret cutting ties with your family so completely.” She reached out to end the connection.

“I’m going to ruin the economy.”

Mildred paused. “What?”

“Or at least vast swaths of it,” Garrett continued. “Everything that President Alexander has personally invested in, certainly. I’m going to ruin it. I’m going to break it down into its component parts and get it reduced, reassessed, and reassigned. I’m going to do this within the next forty-eight hours.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Exactly what I’m saying.” He leaned forward and made sure their gazes connected. “I’m going to take down President Alexander in the ways that will hurt him most. I’m going to ruin his reputation as a leader, a politician, and a businessman. I’m going to destroy every positive facet of his public personality until it’s completely broken, and everyone can see him for the stinking, shriveled piece of offal that he is. I’m going to obliterate every trace of his influence and make him into the most hated man in the Federation, and once that’s done, I’m probably going to get him killed.” Garrett shrugged. “I might even give him the opportunity for a trial first, but that all depends on what happens at Pandora.” No Jonah and Cody, all bets are off. Fuck having a trial, he won’t even have a grave.

“Pandora? What…what does that backwater have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with it,” Garrett said gently. “As you’d know, if you ever bothered to come out of your chrysalis and talk to your son.”

“You can’t do this.” She sounded more confident now. “You can’t do any of this. You don’t have the means or the influence. You’re not the Senator, not the Governor—nothing like your father. You can’t—”

“It’s a terribly bad idea to tell me what I can and can’t do,” Garrett advised her. “It makes me angry in ways I’ve got very little voluntary control over right now. This is a courtesy call, Millie, nothing more. I suggest you divest our family’s holdings from big Federation institutions as fast as you can, because they might not be around much longer.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You realize I could take this threat to the president himself?”

“Why would he listen to you? He knows who I am, and he doesn’t think I can do it either. He would laugh in your face, call you too credulous, maybe call you a threat yourself.” Garrett shrugged. “Do what you want, but I’m going to act soon. It’s up to you whether you want to be bankrupted or not. But Miles and I, and our families? We’ll be fine.” He had seen to that years ago.

The red light in the corner of his vision started flashing. “I have to go.”

“Wait! We’re not done here, Garrett. I need more details—I need more information about this!”

“I don’t have time to give you any more.” He cut the connection and opened the icon. It took less than a second to realize why it had started pinging him.

“Oh.” Garrett stared at the ship indicators numbly. “Oh, no, please. Oh no, nononono…”

“What is it?” Jonah asked.

“It’s…” He couldn’t say anything, though. He could only watch in helpless thrall as the worst thing he could imagine happened right before his eyes.


“No.”